My Life – Page 27

1994 Cape Town and Wills. We decided to visit Joan, William’s stepmother in South Africa, she was constantly asking us to visit and we need very little encouragement, thinking, as indeed turned out to be the case, that we would probably never visit again. She had sold up her flat in which she had lived with William’s father Ted and had moved into a small flat in a retirement home. All meals provided and maids to clean, etc. I have forgotten how long the flight was but it was delayed and we arrived in a state of complete exhaustion. We were booked into the flat next door to Joan’s which was vacant at the time. It was very basic, just a couple of beds, a table and two chairs, as it presumably was to be let unfurnished waiting for its next tenant but Joan had managed to scrape together enough furniture to make it comfortable. When she had sold up her home, she had given almost everything she possessed to her relatives and we found that she had not retained for herself enough glasses to drink out of, no crockery – she had to borrow from neighbours, typical Joan behaviour. Anyway we unpacked and crossed to her flat for tea though we would have much preferred to go to bed. Joan made the worst cup of tea in the known world. Absolutely foul tasting, we later worked out why, apparently when she had been growing up in the bush in South Africa, water was scarce and so every drop was precious. She had brought this habit with her and we found that she never changed the water in her kettle just added to what was standing at the bottom. Anyway armed with this awful tea, trying to find somewhere to ditch it, we sat down to hear her news and to tell her ours. However, we had hardly been seated when Joan explained that a relative, a lawyer had appeared out of the blue and made contact after many years, I don’t know if she had ever met him before, though both must have been in their 70s, and apparently he was now looking after her affairs, she having dumped her and Ted’s solicitors of many, many years. Fair enough, it’s nice to have a relative looking after you. She told us he had immediately persuaded her to make a new will. This began to sound worrying. And what must Joan do but begin to read the will out to us. By this time William was fast asleep in his chair but something told me that the new will would not be good news. It wasn’t. Part of Joan’s money came from the sale of her flat and was invested and brought her a handsome income which, so she confided in me, paid for all her expenses. William now asleep. She paused, and explained, that Ted’s legacy of stocks and shares to her, which originally came from William’s grandfather had just been accumulating to such an extent that she was now a millionairess and William would inherit it virtually unused by her.  So back to the will. The first pages were taken up with a detailed list of bits and bobs to William, nothing of any value other than of family interest, which his father had retained in South Africa, and a watercolour by Lamorna Birch, very faded as it had been sitting in the South African sun in her living room, there were a few more small mementoes left to friends and the remainder of the estate was divided up among her relatives, no mention of William inheriting his father’s money.  So, I thought,  if that is what she wanted to do with her money i,e, give it all to her relatives,  that was up to her. But why say William would inherit his father’s estate to her which she had virtually left untouched and why read the will to us which made it clear he was not to inherit a penny ?  She clearly did not realise that under its terms all William’s father’s money was going to her relatives and not a cent was to go to him.  William still fast asleep and we had only arrived an hour or so ago. I did not demur and just kept smiling, and to rub salt into the wound she seemed to want our approval of what she had done.  It later transpired that she was indeed under the impression, I wonder who from, certainly not from us, that William’s father’s money would automatically come to him without her having to mention it in her will. We decided that her will was not going to spoil our visit. And we had a delightful time in the Cape, Visited the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, a riot of colour with humming birds flitting about.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

We went on a short coach excursion to False Bay near Cape Hangelip and saw a whale and its young in Hermanus Bay, apparently they come to the Bay to give birth and stay for quite a period.

False Bay

Hermanus Bay

When we returned home I wrote to Joan and said I was a little perturbed by the terms of her will and explained that under its terms and not according to her wishes,  William would inherit nothing. She was appalled.  She had been led to believe that Ted’s money would automatically revert to William and that she had no control over it disposition. She then made changes to her will, but her relative solicitor was not going to be beaten. He calculated the exact value of Ted’s estate at the time of probate, and specified in the will that only that exact amount would come to William under the terms of her will.  Most of the assets Ted had devised to Joan had remained untouched and were now worth twice as much. Joan wrote to say that in her new will all Ted’s assets were now devised to William and that she had been told by her solicitor relative that it was not lawful for her to read her new will to us. Alarm bells ringing. The solicitor must have been terrified that she would let slip what the actual terms were. So we left it at that thinking that all the assets from Ted’s estate would be coming to William as she clearly intended, and only found out the truth when she finally died. William got the amount of shares equal to the original bequest to Joan, the remainder went to her relatives.  Poor Joan, I don’t think financial matters meant anything to her, other than the giddy fact that she was worth more than a couple of million thanks to Ted. I hate to think what William’s parents or indeed his grandparents would have made of the fact that a considerable proportion of their estates finished up in the pockets of Joan’s rather well-to-do relatives. One of Joan’s friends whom we had met in Cape Town and corresponded with said she thought it would probably pay for a couple of their lavish parties. But for our visit to Joan, and her extraordinary unprompted reading of her will to us, everything she possessed would have gone to her relatives; at least now a  part of Ted’s estate came to William.

1994. In Trust for the Nation, Paintings in National Trust Houses. An exhibition of paintings from NT houses was held at the National Gallery in 1995. As Laing acknowledges in his catalogue, there is no way that the catalogue could have been produced but for the incredible work of his secretary Sarah. One of the most efficient he ever had. How she managed to put that catalogue together is a mystery. She lived way out in the country and her journey to and from home took a considerable time. Invariably Laing would appear in the office about 4.30 or even later, with a stash of written manuscript, together with a stack of queries that he needed her to check. And she would work on way past her time for going home as she was determined to meet the deadlines for publication. We were both rather taken aback to find that one or two pictures were in fact not held in Trust for the Nation, far from it, they were still in private ownership but just happened to be in an NT property. A wag of an art historian who we met on one of our organised trips mentioned that he had spotted this and compared the In Trust for the Nation to a sale catalogue! And indeed, sometime after the exhibition the Jan Steen of ‘The Burgomaster of Delft’ was sold by the owner.  I was able to be of some help to Sarah at this time, because it was decided at this crucial juncture, to move Laing’s office to an adjacent building.  I said I would organise everything for the move so that she would be able to concentrate on the catalogue. This time I was able to view the new offices and drew up plans for sufficient bookcases to be built to accommodate the valuable collection of art books which had been growing apace over the years and I then supervised the move. Unbeknown to me Sarah had been told by Laing that there were some prints which were kept in his room which were to be looked after by her during the move. In the turmoil of the move and because she was so busy, she forgot about them and it appears that someone walked off with them. Laing tore into the room when he realised they had disappeared and ripped into her for her carelessness. There she was trying desperately to put together his catalogue, the IT people just having managed to get her set up in her new desk, and then this. Why she did not walk out on him there and then says a lot for her character. I could not believe my ears at the way she was spoken to.  Why on earth did he not tell me to look after them.   The Trust, by way of thanks for organising the move, presented me with a bottle of champagne. What is it about me that I get landed with bottles of champagne when I can’t stand the stuff.  I gave it to the tramp who begged outside the underground station, I hope it made him happy.  Sarah herself I know was very unhappy with working for Laing and vowed she would leave the minute the catalogue was in print and the exhibition opened. She did and the Trust lost a very valuable member of staff. I think she moved to Wales, we kept up a correspondence for a short while but it lapsed as these things do.

Talking of art historians, we have certainly met quite a few in our time on our escorted tours and cruises, many of them ex-Courtauld students and a strange though quite jolly bunch they are when you get to know them. My goodness they have a rich fund of tales about the sexual adventures of their fellow ex-students. The extraordinary thing is that we heard the same tales repeated many times so some of them must have been true or just part of the mythology of that apparent hotbed of sex. These colourful tales will remain unprinted though I am sorely tempted.

One former secretary of Laing’s, a bright young lady straight from university told me, on one of my then infrequent visits to London, now that everything was on line there was no need for me to attend at the office in person, that she had given in her notice because she never wanted to speak to another art historian in her life.  She thought they were the most insufferably arrogant people she had ever had to deal with, all of whom treated her as though she was imbecilic and were extremely short of good manners.  Instead of studying art history which is what she had thought she wanted to do, she was going to take up nursing instead.  She was obviously extremely upset and very tearful as she, unprompted, poured all of this out to me. I thanked my stars I no longer had to work in that office.

1994. August. Prospect Tour of the Palaces and Gardens of Franconia. Flew to Nuremberg and were coached to Pommersfelden to visit the Castle Weissenstein. One of Germany’s outstanding Baroque Palaces the home to the Schonbrun family who still live there. It has the largest private collection of Baroque paintings in Germany.

Quite interesting collection of paintings, hundreds of them including paintings by Rubens, Durer, Titian, Rembrandt and Van Dyck.   What a start to the tour.  We then drove to our hotel in Bamberg. Very comfortable. The following day we visited Wurzburg to see the Residenz. It is vast, one of the largest Baroque Palaces in Germany finished in 1744. Built as the residence of the Prince Bishops.  Where did all the money come from?

Of course the highlight is the vast unbelievable Tiepolo ceiling for the Grand Staircase.  It is one of those spaces you have to occupy. In my mind it is one of the great wonders in the world. It is pure and utter delight  for the eyes and just meant to make the senses almost swoon.

And as for the court chapel, everyone who enters has a jaw-dropping experience. White and gold, and gold and gold, angels dropping down everywhere and two Tiepolo paintings. Then there is the White Hall, like an enormous inverted wedding cake, covered in white decorative swirls like enormous swathes of icing.

Then there are the sumptuous apartments, including the Mirror Cabinet which is a room covered in mirrors which was destroyed during the war and now re-created at what must have been mind blowing expense. And then there is room after room covered in magnificent tapestries. And if that wasn’t enough there are the rooms of paintings including more by Tiepolo. Follow that. We visited the cathedral which was virtually rebuilt after the war and is awash with tombs of bishops and is renowned for its carvings.  The highlight is the Riemenschneider tombs, one for the  for the Prince Bishop of Scherenberg (left). The cathedral like the residence were by Balthasar Neumann.

The following day we explored Bamberg on foot. Cathedral.  It two great treasures are the tomb of Emperor Henry II (973-1024) and his Empress Kunigunde, one of the masterpieces of Tilman Reimenschneider, a sculptor we were to meet quite often.

Tomb of Emperor Henry II (973-1024)
and his Empress Kunigunde, by Tilman Reimenschneider

The other treasure is the Bamberg Horseman who may be the Hungarian King Stephen I (13th century).

On to the New Residence of the Prince Bishops.

Vast is the only word to describe it. What on earth did they do with such palaces. Our palaces could be fitted  into a couple of their rooms. Wonderful collection of portraits. Room after room of sumptuous decoration.  The following day we visited Bayreuth. To the Ermitage where the Margrave of Bayreuth went to play at monks and which was later made palatial and looks all very pretty.

The Grotto which sports some 200 jets of water from the floor !

   The Japanese room


I think this was the Marble Hall.

Very pretty gardens, very pretty fountains and cascades,  very pretty features everywhere. All very pretty and after a while very wearisome. The Margrave Opera House  built as a private theatre for the Margravine Wilhelmine.  Quite splendid piece of kitsch. I bet the seats were more comfortable than those at Wagner’s down the road.

The next day to Coburg to visit Coburg’s Veste one of the largest and best preserved German castles and dating from the middle ages. Displays of Luther memorabilia and some Cranach paintings. The highlight of the day was the visit to Ehrenburg the childhood home of Prince Albert and also Queen Victoria’s mother.

We were intrigued to be told that no one let on to Victoria about the loos. Apparently she was used to being able to flush hers but at the Palace there was someone waiting in the back with a bucket ready to flush when she presumably pulled the chain.

Related image

The Giant’s Hall has 28 massive stucco figures of giants. The following day we went to see two stunning Baroque churches in Franconia. First to Veirzehnheiligen Church one of those incredible icing cake confections that need to be seen to be believed.

Image result for vierzehnheiligen church

The second was the Monastery of Banz.

Another white and gold confection, built in 1710-1719.  I’m afraid to say we were getting very tired of them. There were magnificent views from the terrace. Sad end to our trip.  We were bussed to Nuremberg and returned home.

1995. May. Swans cruise.   We spotted another cruise which, though it visited many places we had been to before, there were one or two very important sites we really wanted to visit. So on the 18 May we flew to Athens and joined the Orpheus at Piraeus and set sail that evening. 19-21 May. We visited the island of Delos, always a joy, then on to Syracuse in Sicily, then to Agrigento to see the temples, about our third visit. The temples still as splendid  and awe inspiring as ever. On  22 May we dropped anchor at Valetta to visit the island of Malta, which was new to us.

Visited the Grand Master’s Palace begun in the 17th century and which contains a vast collection of armour and some very majestic rooms  with some good portraits, A Van Loo of Louis XV and one of Catherine the Great and a Ribera, no less.

Then on to the National Museum with a lot of cases of prehistoric bits but the most important part is on the upper floor which had a good collection of paintings which I did not expect. I remember there were a collections of portraits of the Grand Masters and a Guido Reni. But of course what we were all wanting to see was Cathedral with the great Caravaggio of The Beheading of St John. It has that wow factor and is one of those images I carry around in my head.

The St Jerome by Caravaggio is also displayed. The cathedral is supposed to have housed the forearm of St John the Baptist but it appears it was nicked by the last Grand Master. We set sail at 1.30pm across the Mediterranean to Tripoli in Libya. 195 nautical miles. Everyone on board very excited.  23 May. We arrived in Tripoli at about 7am. Everyone out on deck. Breakfast served from 6 am. This is one of the main reasons we came on this cruise, for today we were to visit the Roman city of Leptis Magna. We were coached and as the journey is 85 miles we made a stop at a hotel on the way where we ate our picnic lunches.

Hotel Naggaza, near Leptis Magna, Libya

Everywhere, from the moment we disembarked at the dock and all along the roads we were faced with Colonel Gadhafi, from garish lit portraits in the dock and in the hotel to vast posters along the road wherever you looked. A curious fact was how there were clearly no arrangements for clearing house rubbish, which sat in great mounds outside houses or the walls surrounding houses, also where was everybody, the roads were empty of people, very few cars about.   All very strange. The gardens of the hotel were unkempt and there did no appear to be anyone staying there. Guards with guns everywhere and of course when you walk into the lobby there was the Colonel in a neon lit frame in garish colours, looking, well, very colourful.

Leptis Magna. The site of the city is vast. It is one of the great provincial cities of Rome. The birthplace of the Emperor Septimus Severus. This is the emperor who died in York in 211 AD. It was originally settled by the Carthaginians but began to take off as the marvel it is under Augustus. When Septimus Severus became emperor he apparently lavished all he could on Leptis and it became the third most important city in Africa after Carthage and Alexandria. It eventually fell into the hands of the Vandals who destroyed the city walls and opened the way to the Berbers who sacked the city in the 6th century. The Romans recaptured the city but it eventually became a provincial city of the Byzantine Empire. The harbour silted up and the Arabs conquered it. It was looted by the British who removed a large number of pillars from a temple and sent them off to England and they now lie in a sad pile in Windsor Great Park on the shores of Virginia Water. The first monument of significance is the vast Arch of Septimus Sevrus, which has been lovingly restored.


The Arch of Septimus Severus 203 AD

The beautiful theatre has also been restored and a group of children, the only other visitors to the site, were playing on the stage.

The Theatre 1-2 AD

The exterior of the theatre

The vast forum, everything in Lerptis is vast, was created by Septimus Severus and is surrounded by porticoes and shops.

This marble fish formed the leg of the fish stall in the market place 

The road leading from the theatre

The Arch of Trajan. 109-110 AD

There are temples, a Severan Basilica, a Nymphaeum, Hadrianic Baths.

The Hadrianic Baths. Dedicated to Hadrian and built in 126-127 AD 

The marble communal latrine under which was a flushing channel. Three sides with seats and facing a wall with niches for statues.

The old Forum which contained an inlaid bronze inscription
to Proconsul Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso 5-2nd century BC

The vast Nymphaem. A fountain for the worship of the Nymphs
Period of Septimus Severus

The Severan Forum. 193-211 AD

The Severan Forum. 193-211 AD

The Severan Forum. 193-211 AD with its heads of the Medusa


The exterior of the Basilica

William in front of one of the inscriptions on the exterior of the Basilica 

Columns everywhere, many standing. And then there is the background of an incredible blue sea with a cool breeze blowing over the site. It must have been a wonderful place to come to in its heyday. But what devastation.   Everywhere piles of intricate marble carvings lying on the ground. In fact every single building seems to have been made of white marble.  All the most important sculptures found on the site and been taken to the museum in Tripoli which we visited later. The view from the theatre with its statues and vast array of columns forming a foreground to a blue sea. Breathtaking. An incredible amphitheatre, almost next to the sea. The Hadrianic Baths, the floor gone but exposing the massive area beneath which heated the floor and as for the Severan Basilica as mass of toppled marble columns, many pillars intricately carved in the most minute detail. The Libyans have done an incredible amount of restoration work but it would need an army of workers and billions to even begin to think of major restoration. The terrible thing is that many of the marble pillars are still there lying on the ground where they fell.  The Severan Forum pillars were decorated with Medusa heads between each arch.  They are now all lined up on the ground.  We had one of the most wonderful days of our lives at Leptis Magna. Unforgettable. We then returned to Tripoli and went to see, as it was then called, the Jamahiriya’s Museum.  There are a great number of galleries devoted to prehistoric pieces, but I have to confess we gave them a miss.  What was the main draw for us was the statuary. And what statuary. And what we liked about it was the great idea of covering the walls with enormous photographs of the sites where they were discovered. No guide books, no postcards, nothing explained in English but what the heck.  So much of the content of the museum has probably never been photographed, I have certainly not discovered any books other than a garish book we picked up from a stall outside which contents itself with two pages on the finds at Leptis. Sated we returned to the ship at about 6pm.

24th May. We sailed to Tunisia and disembarked at Sousse. From there we were bussed to El Djem to visit the spectacular Amphitheatre – 3rd century AD.

It originally accommodated 35,000 spectators.   El Djem  or Thysdrus its original Roman name, was once the wealthiest city in North Africa. The amphitheatre was used for gladiator fights and chariot races. It was virtually untouched until the 17th century when the stones were used to build the village of El Djem. Some of the magnificent floor mosaics of the Roman villas which formed the city of Thysdrus have been unearthed and are now displayed in a museum in El Djem which we visited next. 

The people of the city must have been extremely wealthy to have been able to afford such magnificent mosaics in their homes.  We left about 4pm and returned to the Orpheus.

25 May. Another of the great days on this trip. Passengers were allowed to choose from a variety of places to visit.  One group went to Carthage, one to Rhuburbo Majus and the third, which is the one we choose was Dugga (or Thugga). Only the two of us had put our names down for the visit to Dugga which was not enough, so we managed to persuade two others to join us so just the four of us and our guide from the ship set off by coach.  It was a very long journey and after two hours we stopped off at a hotel in Teboursouk for a short beak. Delightful place, built around a central courtyard. Served cold drinks and snacks. On to Dougga itself. Well, the other members of the party who chose to go on the other trips did not know what they were missing. The Roman town is set in a beautiful hilly landscape. It is mostly built on a slope.  UNESCO considers it to be the best preserved Roman town in north Africa.  It was founded in the 6th century BC  and became a Numidian settlement but came into its prime during the Roman era when it was given the status of a city.

The majority of the remains are Roman of the 2nd and 3rd century. One of the early monuments is the restored Mausoleum of Ateban, 2nd century BC which is a very rare example of royal Numidian architecture.

It was severely damaged by  Sir Thomas Reade in 1842 who prized off the inscription (now in the British Musum).  There are bits of two triumphal arches remaining.


The Arch of Septimus Severus

The restored theatre with it pillars and magnificent view over the countryside is a real gem. The Tunisians have done a fantastic job of restoration. There are three recognisable Roman Baths all in good order, though, sadly, the mosaics have been removed to the Bardo Museum. As for the temples, the so called 2nd century ‘Capitol’ is the best preserved and they think is dedicated to Jupiter.


William dwarfed by the temple

The temple has Corinthian columns about 24 ft high at the top of which is a pediment with a depiction of the Emperor Antonius Pius being carried off by an eagle to be elevated as a god. Little remains of the large number of other temples dedicated to Mercury, Minerva, Pluto.   The temple of Saturn however has some pillars remaining and is beautifully situated overlooking the valley below. However the Temple of Juno Caelestis still has many of its columns intact on a high podium and was erected in 222-235 AD.

Temple of Juno Caelestis

There are cisterns and aquaducts, paved streets and a host of mosaics on the floors of many of the houses. Our local guide carried a large bottle of water which he kindly poured over the mosaics bringing them to life.


The Licinian Baths, mid 3rd century

And of course the marble public toilets situated between the
Cyclops Baths and the Brothel. The channel at their feet was filled with water into which you dipped a sponge and did the necessary

All the most important mosaics had been removed to the Bardo Museum and were being viewed by other members of the party. One’s lasting memory is that of magnificent ruins set in shady olive groves which cover part of the site and the magnificent views from the city over the lush countryside. It appeared that we were the only visitors to the site that day. Sad. We stopped off at the hotel again on our way back and had a splendid lunch, roast beef with a salad. The wine flowed rather freely and one of the party was smashed all the way to the boat.

26th May.  Sailed to Naples where we disembarked about 8am.

Tomb of Robert the Wise, 14th century. Church of Santa Chiara

Visited the church of Santa Chiara, 14th century with its wonderful collection of tombs, then to the Capella San Severo containing three quite remarkable Baroque statues. A veiled Christ by Sanmartino 1753, a full length prone Christ covered in a veil, another veiled figure this time of a female, Chastity, this by Corradini 1751 and the quite remarkable Despair showing a figure emerging from a covered net by Queirolo 1742.  Remarkable because it seems impossible that anyone could have carved the net.

A romp of a ceiling, The Glory of Paradise by Francesco Maria Russo 1749.

Capella San Severo


Back to the ship for lunch and then a visit to the Naples Archaeological Museum where many of the great Roman finds from Pompeii, Herculaneum and Rome are housed. The colossal Farnese Bull depicting the death of Dirce restored by Michelangelo together with the Farnese Hercules both found in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, the vast mosaic showing the Battle of Issos between Alexander and Darius found in Pompeii, and room after room containing many of the original wall paintings and a vast array of sculptures discovered at Herculaneum and Pompeii.


(left) The Farnese Bull, depicting the death of Dirce, carved from a single block stone and restored by Michelangelo.  (right) The Farnese Hercules. Both found in the Baths of Caracalla, Rome. 

Detail of the mosaic showing the Battle of Issos between Alexander (above) and Darius. Found in the House of the Faun, Pompeii

Wall painting of Chiron and Achilles from Herculaneum

A bewildering feast. One really needs many visits over days and we had the afternoon. Overnight we travelled to Cittavecchia where we arrived at 7am. 28 May. Bussed to Tarquinia where we visited the interiors of Etruscan tombs and the Etruscan museum. I’m not certain which of the tombs we visited, certainly four of them. Smallish rooms covered in paintings.  One was the tomb of the Leopards showing a dining scene, the servants quite naked and leopards shown above, being entertained by a number of dancers and players on the harp and flute.   All very jolly.

The Tomb of the leopards

The Triclinic tomb also with dancers. The museum contain many of the sarcophagi from the tombs. In the afternoon we were bussed to Ostia to see the Roman ruins. Theatre, mosaic floors preserved in almost all the public and private buildings. Very bewildering. I would have preferred to see the museum but it was at the other end of the site which is huge.

Theatre at Ostia

The Capitol showing a temple of Juno, Jupiter and Minerva,
2nd century AD. Ostia Antica.

Set sail for Marseille. 29 May. Sailed all day and arrived in Marseille at 8pm. It’s extraordinary to think that Marseille is the second largest city in France after Paris and has the largest Corsican and Armenian population in France. Managed to see the interior of the opera house. Very Art Deco. The Musée des beaux-arts de Marseille had an excellent collection of paintings. Almost everyone and anyone who painted in the 18th and 19th century is represented they even have a small collection of Spanish works. At 2pm we set off for Nice passing the Chateau D’If.  One of the famous settings for one of my favourite novels The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas.  Some of the scenes still make we weep and as for some of the drama.

The infamous Chateau D’If

30 May. Took an optional visit to Grasse. All we managed to see was some awful perfume factory. A tale to end. During the voyage we came across this rather lonely lady who was one of those people who in talking to you wanted the whole room to hear what she was saying.  Each evening after dinner, we usually sat in one of the lounges, I think it was where the library was situated. This was also her favourite haunt where she sat each evening in a splendid evening gown loaded with jewellery. And into her net like a spider she would entrap a married couple. She never ever spoke to us.  To these poor wretches she would pour out her daily spiel about the fact that she had two sons who were the most brilliant sons anyone could ever have, how they had won every honour and prize throughout their private schooling and university and how they were incredibly successful in business and in fact ruled half the financial world, what magnificent houses they had all over the world, what incredible wives and children they had, da, da, da. And at the end she struck, ‘And tell me dears what do your children do?’, waving her bejewelled hands with an unspoken ‘Follow that if you dare’.  She did this a number of times and we became fascinated by each performance and the luckless pair she entrapped. After a while I think word got about and she was avoided like the plague.

Forward in time to our day in Nice. We all had to pack before we left the ship and our luggage had been taken to the airport, so we had our hand luggage with us. Our bejewelled spider decided that instead of coming on any of the excursions for the day she would spend it on the front at Nice. She waved us a bejewelled goodbye as she descended the gang plank alone, we all waiting for our busses, and stepped into her waiting taxi. We later learned her large handbag was loaded with her jewellery. Apparently she fell into the company of a personable couple, whom she no doubt entertained with her life story but who robbed her of her bag, removed her rings, her passport, wallet, everything and rather badly manhandled her. We knew nothing of this except that, looking very subdued and minus her jewellery, she was the last person to get on the plane and poured out her sad tale to all and sundry. We last saw her sitting by herself, for we all had to pass her as she was sitting in the front  on the plane, while we all got off as presumably having no ticket she had to wait for the staff to help her through security. Sad, sad, sad.  For the first time we felt really sorry for her and would have liked to have done something to comfort her.   She must have been devastated. We flew home from Nice.

June 1995. Joanna got married to Stephen Firestone.  Sadly the marriage did not work and after some years they divorced.

July, 1995. Sale of London flat.  We decided to sell our flat in Marlow House, Bayswater, as we were spending more time in Bridport than we were in London and so on the 7 July it was sold for the princely sum of £67,950.  I understand it is now probably worth about three-quarters of a million. In a way we regretted having to sell it as we had been very happy there and my mother, particularly, felt very sad about it.  But it was becoming a burden and frankly some of the new neighbours were dreadful. Real dregs of humanity.  In the next block to ours, two prostitutes plied their trade, and customers, used to queue up along the balcony corridor 24 hours a day so that people had to almost fight their way past them into their flats. The police, so they told the residents committee,  could do nothing about it.  The noise was also increasing so that every night we were disturbed by police vans, ambulances, fire engines, drunken revellers, not to mention our new neighbour who thought nothing of playing as loudly as he could, the works of Wagner at 2 in the morning.   And then a new whining noise joined the throng, I could not locate where it was coming from and it was giving me sleepless nights. So I thought the only way to find out would be to go out at about 2 am when things were more or less quiet and see if I could locate which shop it was coming from. It turned out to be coming from the new air conditioning system on the roof of Whiteleys store. But in order to locate the noise I had to go outside and walk along the streets.  I was absolutely amazed to find myself accosted by prostitutes lined up at intervals every 20 yards or so along some of the streets.  Clearly we had to leave and not a moment too soon.

Mother with Marjorie Soares who was a colleague of my mother’s in the Red Cross in Madras. It was she who told me the tale of the Dutchman.

My mother in the gardens of Melplash 

My mother outside our old conservatory which we replaced.

The last photograph taken of my mother

My mother – 10 May, 1996. For some months my mother had been feeling tired and slightly unwell. She wasn’t able to do much, but still accompanied us on local shopping expeditions and short walks along the promenade at West Bay. She lost her appetite.  She then discovered a slightly sore lump half-way down her rib-cage . The doctor was summoned, and instantly admitted her to Dorchester General Hospital. In those days there was an ancient annexe (now demolished) attached to the grand new hospital, and to this ghastly smelly place my poor mother was consigned on Friday 10 May. The original diagnosis was that it was probably diverticulitis or possible a tumour. She was put on a drip for a few days and because of the tests being carried out was virtually starved for those days. She was x-rayed – verdict inconclusive; Barium meal test – verdict inclusive; Scan – verdict inclusive. Day after wretched day passed while my mother wasted away under our eyes. The room contained a number of very elderly women, mostly I suspect in the last stages of their lives , the lady next to her bed, moaned to herself all day and night like a wounded animal, no one visited her, she had refused to have any food and was clearly dying.  The stench from the nearby toilets was gagging at times. Either the ward smelt of faeces or overpoweringly of disinfectant. Time and time again my mother begged me to take her home, but by then she had become incontinent and I did not think we could possible get reliable 24 hour care. What if nurses did not turn up on time and I was left with my dying mother.  Knowing what I now know, I should have taken her home and bought 24 hour care, but it would have meant going backwards and forwards to the hospital for what seemed endless useless tests. Her pleading eyes haunt me to this day and I still have nightmares about it.

My mother – 28 May, 1996. Seeing that my mother’s stomach was extremely distended and uncomfortable to the point that she refused to eat, William and I made an appointment to see her hospital doctor. He, being so busy, we had to wait for a date which suited him. When we did finally see him he announced that they did not know what was wrong, but that the next test which had been booked for her was a colonoscopy.  However, the vagaries of the hospital’s budget being what they were the test could not be carried out for another five weeks.

My mother – 30 May, 1996. My elastic snapped. I said I would privately pay the doctor who was due to carry out the colonoscopy. Needless to say the doctor, presumably having smelt money, was almost immediately available to examine my mother prior to carrying out the procedure. In a very short time he arrived at my mother’s bedside. I was not present, having no idea that he would visit so soon and without letting me know. Apparently he examined her for a few moments and instantly declared to her face that she had a massive inoperable cancer of the abdomen, the primary cancer probably being ovarian. In his opinion a colonoscopy was unnecessary as the cancer had nothing to do with the digestive system and was too advanced for surgery of any kind. He more or less told my mother she was going to die shortly and there was nothing he or anyone could do about it.  He departed and duly sent me his bill.  My poor mother fell to pieces.  He should not have told her, I knew she would not be able to take such news.  She was terrified of dying and remained terrified to the last day of her life. Fortunately William and I were with her constantly trying to share her intolerable grief, but felt utterly helpless. She was informed of this opinion on the 30 May; she had been in hospital for 20 days and had only been correctly diagnosed when I paid for a competent doctor to examine her. Mother insisted that the opinion given to her should be confirmed and I insisted that she be transferred from the old smelly hospital to the new Dorchester General. So she was finally moved and found herself in a pleasant ward with light coming through the windows and people who were not dying around her at a rate of knots. A laparoscopy, (keyhole examination of the infected area) was duly carried on the morning of the 5th June. The following day she was told that the cancer was worse than originally thought and there was nothing anyone could do and that maybe she had a few months to live.  In fact she had six days. She settled into a sort of routine in the new hospital, but as there was nothing they could do for her, they felt that she should go for a few weeks to a hospice to recover from the considerable trauma of the last few days and then go on to Bridport Cottage Hospital.

My mother – 10 June, 1996. She transferred to a hospice, the Joseph Weld, Dorchester on Monday 10 June. She was placed in a room by herself, and though the hospice had a fine garden she was faced with a brick wall a few feet from her window. There was one thing my mother could not stand and that was being alone. Why could they not have taken her to the garden with other patients to sit in the sun? We shall never know.  She had several visitors that day, her sister Joan and her husband Derek had by coincidence come down to stay with their daughter in nearby Colyton and of course there was William and I and Anne and her husband, Vic. The following day we had lunch with Joan and Derek at home in Bridport, prior to going to the hospice, and during lunch we had a call from the hospice saying that mother had asked when we were going to visit. Joan Derek and I set off immediately and arrived at about 2pm; we greeted her and kissed her.  She died five minutes later holding our hands. Right to the end she had no pain; we have to be thankful for that, but the suddenness of her death was deeply shocking.

My mother at peace, 1996. My poor mother had had a roller coaster of a life, first the death of her mother, her family leaving her behind in India, her trials in the jungles of India, my father’s TB and leukaemia, and for all those years having to bring up her two children on a pittance. Her life had fortunately then changed, when I got my job with Stretford and she was able to stop work. Things then got better and better for her. She loved London and seeing all her friends and she loved our flat, had no money worries and then had Joanna to bring up.  Finally, she travelled the world with us and her friends.  Her last important trip was to New Zealand to meet up with one of her closest school friends.   Thus, William and I were able to make her life extremely comfortable; she kept up a massive correspondence, and went each year to her precious school reunion. I miss her daily, and sadly still see her face pleading with me to take her home away from the hospital.  All the good memories get swamped in my mind and I am left with that one haunting image which I shall carry to my grave.  Everyone who knew her would describe her as a kindly and gentle woman. She never lost her temper, she did not have one, she was soft-spoken and extremely shy with strangers, all in all she was a great lady and I’m proud she was my mother.

My mother – cremation, 1996. Her cremation was well attended, and her closest friend from Lovedale School, Patsy Lynch, travelled by taxi all the way from Oxford to attend. She left us at the crematorium with a heavily scented musk rose to plant in our garden in memory of my mother.  It still blooms each year and is an ever present memory of them both and their beloved Lovedale.  A few weeks after my mother died a letter arrived from the hospital making arrangements for a colonoscopy! Before her death, I had arranged with her GP for my mother to come to Bridport General Hospital to be nearer to home we still thought she had six months to live.   Her GP rang some weeks after her death to say she had made the necessary arrangements. No one had bothered to tell her of my mother’s death and nor had she made any enquiries of the hospital or us, as to her well-being!  Whenever I see TV shows about caring family doctors I realise just how misguided such programmes are. Once my mother had been transferred to the hospital her GP washed her hands of her. Caring family doctors indeed.


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