Switzerland. June. In June my mother William and I went to the Alpenrose Hotel in Wengen, Switzerland.
We had a delightful time; the snows were still lying on some of the lower mountain sides and of course on the breathtaking peaks, and the crocuses were just coming through. Some hillsides were covered in gentians and we travelled a great deal in chair-lifts and just about every type of transport devised by the Swiss to tackle all the different terrains we encountered. We visited Murren, Grundelwaldand Kandersteg and walked for miles to the Blue Lake. It remains a mystery to this day how my mother kept up with us. I know I was quite incapable at her age of doing the walks she did with us.
Wengen just outside the Alpenrose Hotel
Walk to the waterfall at Bort
William and my mother after the long walk to the
Blue Lake at Oeschinensee above Kanderstag.
At Mary’s Café, Wengen
Colleen and her wills. 1985. We left Colleen, blind, in the hands of her crooked servant, who had slowly cleaned out her bank account, sold all the furniture, dismissed all the other servants and now looked to get hold of Colleen’s brother Roy’s estate in England. Colleen had, so we later learned, made a will, probably leaving everything to her brother Roy. Her solicitors were her immediate neighbours in Bangalore whose properties adjoined one another. Before Roy’s funeral, my mother had gone through his address book to find out if Roy had any friends or relatives of whom she was unaware. One name in particular turned out to be distant relatives, I think on Roy’s father’s side. Anyway, it so happened that they were in England at the time, I think it was mother and son. My mother got in touch and invited them to the funeral. At the funeral mother told them of Colleen’s unfortunate circumstances and asked them to look her up on their return to India, and see what they could do to help her, she also gave her some money to give to Colleen, who from the tone of her letters was now destitute. They duly returned to India, and called on Colleen. They realised that she needed to be rescued from the clutches of her servant and somehow, one day when he was out, smuggled her out of the house and into a care-home. The Bangalore Friend-in-Need Society. The Society was a charitable organisation, for, I think, destitute residents of Bangalore. No communication with us, so we were unaware of what was going on. The relatives then drew up a paper which they got Colleen to sign, leaving her estate to them. I do not know if it was a recognisable will, but in the absence of anything else may have been accepted by the corrupt law courts of India provided enough money changed hands. Early in 1985, Colleen solicitors, having tracked her down, called on her. She told them of the so-called will she had just signed of which she was very unhappy and requested them to draw up a new formal Will leaving her estate to my mother and her sister Joan. On the 15th April she signed the will and on the 20th she died. The main reason, she had given Roy, not to join him in England, is that she wished to be buried in her wedding dress next to her husband. She finished up in a pauper’s grave, nowhere near her husband’s grave, wherever that was, and I don’t know what happened to her wedding dress, I suspect it was sold off with everything else by her servant. None of this information was known to the family at the time. And it was only when the solicitors got in touch from India to inform us of Colleen’s death and will, that the whole sorry story came out. What a sad and awful end to poor Colleen’s life. And so began the long, long saga of proving the will in India’s corrupt courts which were all of a sudden positively awash with scraps of paper purporting to be wills by Colleen. All of which, no matter how batty were registered by the clerks of the courts, presumably after a suitable sum of money had changed hands. But more of this later.
India. Lawrence Memorial Military School. My mother together with my aunt Joan and her husband Derek joined a trip to India with the Old Lawrencians to visit Lovedale School. For some reason which I cannot remember, I did not go, and have regretted it ever since. They had originally planned to visit Colleen but were too late. They visited the ayah’s grandchildren, tried to see Colleen’s house to no avail, but did see the evil servant who destroyed her life who came to the gates of the property with his fierce dogs and told them to go or he would set his dogs on them. They visited the School at Lovedale, which brought back my mother’s entire fondest memories; they were the happiest days of her life. Mine the complete opposite. I should have gone with them and laid some of my ghosts. One day in Madras my mother, Joan her sister accompanied by her husband Derek went to look for their mother’s grave. I think I have recounted elsewhere what they found and how devastated they were by the experience.
Joan with my mother and Pushpa my ayah’s daughter
My mother in the Holy Land. My mother joined members of the Edmonds family and went off on a trip to see the Holy Land. It was organised by the Edmonds local priest. They visited all the famous Biblical sites and Masada. It sounds as though there was a great deal of praying done, whenever they hit any site which I don’t think was to my mother’s taste. The whole trip sounds absolutely frightful being hedged around with a great deal of praying but I think she enjoyed it and she loved being in the company of the Edmonds family.
Ivy and my mother in the gardens of the Tomb of Christ, Jerusalem
My mother seated among the ruins of a 3rd century synagogue at Capernaum
Dorothy Brown. I went up to Salford to visit my old teacher and friend Dorothy. It was the last time I was to see her. It breaks my heart to think that I did not visit her more often.
GLC. Fred and Seamus. Before I leave the GLC, some more characters from the staff must be introduced. Let’s start with, well, let’s just call him Fred. A teacher at Fred’s small town school had taken a shine to him (nothing inappropriate) was an ex-don of one of the universities of Oxford or Cambridge, I cannot recall which, and had settled for a life in this backwater where Fred was receiving his education. The ex-don managed to get Fred educated to a standard which got him into his old university. There he studied law. And again with presumably a great deal of tuition Fred had got his Law Degree. To the GLC Fred duly came as an articled clerk. Here he was given study leave like the other articled clerks to enable him to pass his Solicitors’ final examinations. For a considerable number of years he failed. Each time coming back from the examination very pleased with what he had written and convinced he would pass with flying colours. Eventually he gave up. From what one gathered from other articled clerks the answers for which Fred was so pleased with were apparently the law according to Fred, and nothing to do with the law as set out in his law books. Sadly Fred had it in his head, no doubt planted there by his university, that he was potentially a ruling member of society, something he never failed to bring to the notice of anyone who voiced an opinion with which he disagreed. He astounded me one day by admitting he had never read a single book other than for the purpose of study, this from someone who had come out of one of the leading universities with a BA. Anyway, he was given more study leave, and was shifted from division to division, so that eventually he had been in virtually every division in the legal department. In one division he made a close confidant of the Irishman, let’s call him Seamus. Seamus had fled Ireland when his father died as the farm on which his family lived was inherited by his elder brother. Anyway, he finished up working in the Legal department of the GLC. Seamus had come very late to sex, something like his 30s, but having discovered it he was off like a rabbit. He worked his way through a few of the GLC ladies and then discovered gay sex among the trees and shrubbery of night time Hampstead Heath. One night in the shrubbery he found a rather well-to-do young man, and he abandoned the small flat in which he lived and settled down with his new found friend. From now on he had a companion with whom he set off quite regularly to the shrubbery for new conquests. It just so happened William and I had a mutual acquaintance in Bayswater who wished to introduce me to a friend of his from Ireland, a fellow member of staff, who turned out to be Seamus. From then on, Seamus would come to my office and regale me with detailed descriptions of his frolics in the shrubbery and the incredible people from all walks of life he met up with, many of them well-to-do who then took him on expensive holidays and showered him with gifts. So here we have Fred and Seamus working in the same room at the GLC. Fred totally unaware of his new found confidant’s sex life or perfidy. Fred poured out his heart to Seamus, telling him of the most intimate details of his life, including that he was incontinent which was duly relayed to all Seamus’s acquaintances. Somehow Fred got engaged, but was apparently totally ignorant about sex. So wrote to his school mentor, who wrote back to him spelling it all out in great detail with diagrams. These Fred gave to Seamus to look over and advise. Seamus held his tongue, presumably looked duly impressed with such ‘useful’ information, and promptly sent copies around the department for everyone to read just in case anyone else needed tuition in the subject. Shortly after Fred got married. And in due course, no doubt following instructions, a baby was due. Some wag from the office said that the event was probably the second recorded ‘immaculate conception’. I now realise just how bitchy people in an office can be. When the GLC came to be abolished, Fred applied for and became Town Clerk of a large city. I’ve always wondered how he got on. Meanwhile, Seamus’s new found companion, with whom he lived in some comfort, sadly contacted Aids. At the same time and before he was disabled by it, his parents died, totally unaware of their only son’s way of life or that he was dying from Aids. Seamus then found that his friend had inherited a considerable fortune together with a large number of blocks of flats in Maida Vale not to mention the vast parental home in Hampstead, to which, for obvious reasons he had never been invited. Friend became bedridden, blind and helpless and had to have professional 24 hour nursing care at home and I have no doubt was cared for as best he could be by Seamus. Meanwhile Seamus did not feel he should give up his adventuress life, and the house in Hamptead was most convenient for his nightly escapades. His companion duly died and left his fortune and properties to Seamus. The last time I met Seamus was when he came to the London Residuary Body to meet up with his old buddies and to show off his magnificent car, one of many cars he now possessed, he now wined, dined and night clubbed and no doubt slept around with the great and good of society and regularly appeared in society magazines.
OJ (i) and the Chapel of Rest. Another colourful member of staff of the GLC must be introduced; there were a few more colourful characters but this one will be the final one. When Kenneth was removed to another office I was presented with O. J. who originated from Africa and was a refugee from some African State better left unidentified. He was quite genial, fat, and had been a senior member of government until its ruler had been toppled and he together with, so he said, the Senior Chief Justice, also a member of staff, had fled to the UK. I had on the wall behind my desk a poster for the RA exhibition of the Cimabue crucifix rescued from the flood in Florence and which had been displayed at the Royal Academy. Not to be outdone OJ appeared with an even bigger poster of Christ in the most lurid colours with his arms outstretched and with a throbbing luminous bleeding heart. This he placed on the wall behind his desk. I was appalled and had to face this horror all day and every day. Some wag named our room the Chapel of Rest, I consigned Cimabue to the bin in the hope that he would do the same but sadly this did not happen.
OJ (ii) and the Grand Life. OJ entertained me with tales of the grand life he had led in Africa, how he had toured the world in private jets, had picked up a clutch of honorary degrees from many countries, had many wives and a multitude of children, had been taken around Bing Crosby’s house and had employed an architect to build him a replica, only bigger with more swimming pools etc. His work was none too good, and his lengthy advisory responses to letters took up many pages and invariably, his and my boss, Alan Hummerston, would have to rewrite his responses. Poor Alan had a great deal to put up with, first of all having to carry Kenneth and now OJ.
OJ (iii) Grapes and prison. During many a lunch break the former Chief Justice and OJ would indulge themselves with a bunch of grapes, both would stand behind OJ’s desk, leaning against the lurid Christ and having spread a newspaper on the desk would spit out the pips aiming for the newspaper while they gossiped in their own language. This was a very noisy and unpleasant process, and if I had had to work through my lunch-hour was a distracting torment. OJ spent most of his day on the telephone speaking in his African tongue. He had to write lots of dates in his diary and there was a great deal of spelling of, I presume, names, followed by addresses and many references to Registry offices. At the time I had no idea what was being said. After he left the GLC/LRB, I discovered that he had made headlines in the news. Apparently he was running a fake marriage business, where fellow Africans for a tidy sum were introduced to resident UK ladies for the purpose of marriage in order to be able to settle in the UK. The authorities eventually caught up with him and he was taken to court and given a prison sentence.
So ends my tales of my encounters with some members of the LCC/GLC staff. I have a fund of tales, but enough is enough. I have only recounted the more colourful members of staff, most were ordinary hard working, decent, pleasant people with whom I got on very well. I was to learn just how pleasant most members of staff were when I started to work as a volunteer with the National Trust, where I came up against, with a few exceptions, some of the most arrogant, ill-mannered people I had ever encountered in the whole of my working life.
The London Residuary Body 1985. Many members of staff in the Legal Department left and got new jobs, retired or took redundancy. Numbers were very pared down and fortunately for the LRB many of the stalwarts of the Department like Sylvia Marder stayed on. Those of us who did stay on were designated new jobs under the LRB and I was appointed the LRB’s Parliamentary Officer with four members of staff under me I was also in charge of what was reckoned to be the biggest law library outside the Law Society’s one in London and set about cataloguing it which had never been done.
Sylvia Marder, Sir Godfrey and the nonentity. 1985. A few months before I took up my post with the LRB, I had decided to be elected to the committee of the GLC Union in the hope that I could influence their stand against negotiation with the government with regard to our pensions, little did I realise what an important step that was to be. The chairman and others committee members of the Union including myself were one day invited to meet the new board of the LRB with its chairman Sir Godfrey Taylor. I think I was probably the first member of the Legal Department to meet our new boss. Before I left for the meeting, two things happened, Sylvia Marder came to brief me. She said that I was to make it clear that unless Rex Lanham, currently the Deputy Solicitor was appointed as Solicitor to lead the Legal Department under the LRB, she and other heads of divisions in the legal department would be leaving and heaven help the LRB if they did. She said I should make it abundantly clear to Sir Godfrey that Lanham was a superb lawyer, second to none, and someone who had more or less carried the department for some considerable time and who many of the staff felt great loyalty towards, while his boss cavorted with Ken Livingstone. When I first joined the GLC Lanham was still an articled clerk, and was spoken of in awe in the department for his incredible ability as a lawyer and his capacity for hard work. The other thing that happened was that the chairman of the Union informed members of the committee, who would be attending the meeting with Sir Godfrey, that he and he alone would do all the talking and the rest of us were to remain silent. As far as he was concerned Sir Godfrey was the enemy and the tired old matter of no negotiation with the enemy was still to be played out. Of course Sir Godfrey meant not a jot to him and the majority of his GLC colleagues on the committee as they would all be leaving with their pensions. Quite extraordinary! I happened to be sitting next to the Union Chairman at the table facing Sir Godfrey and had before me a list of questions I wished to raise, notwithstanding the edict of silence from the chairman of the union. It was part way through his talking to Sir Godfrey that I realised that our chairman had run out of steam and had started to bring up general points I had typed down on my paper on the table. Our chairman had not taken on board that Sir Godfrey Taylor was going to scupper his ploy of being the only spokesman. After the chairman has said his piece, and silence ensued, Sir Godfrey, probably realising what was going on went around the table asking which departments each of us was from and if we were coming to work for the LRB and if we did had we any points to make. Most, if not all members said they were leaving and not joining the LRB, and then he came to me. I had a host of questions, many of which had been fielded to me by Sylvia Marder a number of which had already been raised from my notes by our chairman. When Sir Godfrey knew I was from the Legal Department, he said he was in a bit of a dilemma, he had two names for the future head of the LRB Legal Department and could not decide which one to appoint, one was the current chief solicitor and the other was his deputy Rex Lanham. I told him I had been approached by Sylvia Marder who spoke on behalf of some of the heads of divisions and relayed her remarks about Rex Lanham’s suitability, without the hidden threat which I don’t think would have gone down well. I think I ended by saying something like she would be uncomfortable serving under any one other than Rex Lanham. Sir Godfrey had clearly been briefed as to the important role she played in the department and acknowledged he knew of her. He heard me out, paused, looked around at his colleagues and said ‘Then Lanham it is and you can reassure your colleagues of his appointment’. Who would have thought I would find myself in such a position. Months before, the current chief solicitor had virtually abandoned the department when we were residing in Vauxhall and formed a small legal department in county hall who were dedicated to finding legal ways to deal with all the devious ruses that were being thought up by Ken Livingstone during the last months of the GLC. People like Sylvia Marder could not forgive him for that, and though she was a staunch Labour supporter she loathed Livingstone and all he stood for, and maybe there were other reasons of which I was unaware. My only brush with the chief solicitor, if brush it can be called was when his secretary Joan Hemsley informed me, I thought too gleefully, that he had told her that she was not to allow staff below a certain rank to come into his office. If there was any case to discuss, the lowly member of staff should brief a senior ranking member of staff, with whom he could comfortably deal. Absolutely outrageous behaviour, and totally unlike Lanham whose door was open to anyone. During the chief solicitor’s term in office and while he was still with the main department, there were at least four cases I had which needed his urgent attention because my boss was away on business or otherwise unavailable. One concerned a member of the public who had stormed into his office and refused to leave until he got a satisfactory answer to what was a difficult problem, which Alan Hummerston and I had been dealing with for many years. When such moments occurred, I had to scramble around to find a senior member of staff, swiftly brief them and let them attend on the great man. Needless to say it was a job to try to find a member of staff who would be prepared to take on such a task, without knowing the first thing about the case. Who would have thought that the nonentity, he was too grand to see, would one day help to topple him.
William and I accidently met up with Sylvia and her husband during the Edinburgh Festival at the Opera House on at least three occasions over the years. She was as charming as ever and happy to see me as I was her. She was thankful to be shot of the LRB and all its devious machinations, as she said, it had almost made her ashamed of being a local government officer, something in which she had taken pride for most of her working life. Meetings of the LRB, behind closed doors, became known as the Black Hole, as all papers, so rumour had it, were destroyed and no one was allowed to leave the meeting with notes. I heard that Sylvia died of cancer. A great lady, and I am proud that I was befriended by her.