Part 4

143 terryMy mother’s best friend when she lived at Clifton was Terry Strauss, a woman whom I remember mostly for the lasting effect that her presence had on my psyche. I can say without doubt that I am still attracted to women who resemble her, both because she was, by conventional standards, a beautiful woman, and because such women evoke, for me, her erotic presence, however faintly. I have it in my mind that she died young, in the early 1960s, although I cannot say where I learned this.

I have only a few facts about Terry – she was married to Alec Strauss, a beefy, grumpy man who managed the Clifton Hotel, a swanky establishment situated above our bungalow. She came, I think, from Switzerland, or had some other Swiss connection. I seem to recall that she spoke with a slight accent, but I may be confusing her with other women who had such accents. What I mainly remember about her is an atmosphere of vivacity and warmth, and her hair – long and dark, worn in a plait or chignon or hanging loose, as in the photograph – and the sense that those dark tresses were the most attractive thing in the world.

167 lesley head 167 terry head

I do know that for a few years, sharing the same spatial axis – the beaches, bungalows, ocean and mountain backdrop of Clifton in the 1950s, she and my mother were together every moment that they could contrive. This cinematic pair, for no-one could help noticing that they both resembled film-stars, must have had a powerful presence among the others with whom they mixed, but it is through Lesley’s eyes that we must look at the friendship.

168 terry eyesI cannot say how much of my memory of what Terry looked like is by now based on the two photographs in Lesley’s album. I look at the eyes in the grainy print. They are not dark as one might infer from her hair and eyebrows. Are they green or blue or, like mine, somewhere in between? I cannot recall.

The first mention of Terry in Lesley’s diary is on the 1st of May: ‘Terry came for lunch – we toasted the day with a little Terry champagne.’ On the 5th, when Jack is working to reinforce the retaining wall behind the bungalow, ‘Terry sent down steel rods to help construct the back bank. Had a long talk to her about going away – does she really want to go?’ The next day, ‘Uys came for the afternoon and evening – Terry too – Uys thinks such a lot of Terry and was really hurt at the rebuff two months ago at Onrust. Uys read his Afrikaans translations of Lorca – and pointed out how very like the Spanish the sounds were. He is an excellent Afrikaans poet.’

On Sunday the 8th, Lesley ‘cooked an elaborate lunch to which no-one turned up. Terry was too excited at the news of a booking with Eve Boswell to go to England, and ate nothing.’ Later there is a party at the Clifton Hotel ‘for the musical review people who entertained us at the mike – huge banquet spread – whiskey flowed – but I could not feel a part of it – I had nothing to say. Light music-hall wit – dirty jokes – tap-dancing. Terry looked charming but constantly smiling and strained – a good hostess! I came home at 1.30, three hours before the party broke up. The party was for Eve Boswell.’

In the evening on Friday the 13th, she is ‘off to the market with Terry in the evening. What a lot of vitality she has – she loved the market and we loaded the van with goods for the hotel and us.’ That Monday, ‘Terry brought Gigi Lupini down for tea and to see my paintings with a view to buy – he was extremely critical, but not a sound critic. “This one is too carefully painted – looks too feminine – This one is masculine (lots of palate knife) etc.” His criticism on tone values was accurate & helpful. Needless to say he bought nothing.’ On the Tuesday they are off to market again, and on Wednesday Lesley records, ‘Uys for lunch in excellent form. Terry and Uys play the fool a lot together.’

On the 24th, Raymond’s birthday, she and Terry take a small party of children to the Hout Bay sand-dunes. On the 28th, she ‘washed Terry’s dog who smelt like merry hell,’ probably from playing with the rotten red-bait that sometimes washed up on the beach. On the Monday, before leaving for a painting trip, she ‘met Terry at the Hotel at 7.30 who gave me enough tinned food for a month – a water carrier, chicken, & bread.’ When she returns on Thursday, in time for Jack’s birthday the following day, she notes: ‘children so glad to see me – Terry also.’ On Jack’s birthday, she ‘took the van in the afternoon to post Gigi Lupini’s painting. In the evening to dinner at the Chinese restaurant with Jack & Terry, which was unusual and pleasant. Had a drink at the Clifton Hotel against my will – my intense disliking for Alec Strauss keeps me from going there.’

On June the 5th, ‘Terry, Pippa, Raymond, Jillian, Piken [Michael], Jack and I all sunbathed and swam. Had both lunch and afternoon tea on the beach.’ On June the 16th, they learn that Terry’s husband ‘is definitely interested in buying this property from Billy Ray,’ the landlord, which puts their plans to alter and expand the bungalow on hold, and renders their tenure insecure. Terry, on the other hand, is arranging to sell Lesley’s paintings and lending her money: ‘Borrowed fifteen pounds from Terry – now owe her twenty-one pounds,’ she notes on the 23rd of June. The next afternoon, she ‘took Terry to Constantia. Terry was dressed most unsuitably for the occasion – rich black embroidered top with checked hose pipe trousers gone baggy at the knees, black sox and shoes and reeking of sweet perfume – but she was genuinely terrified and her face and hair lovely as usual.’

On the weekend of the 25th of June, Lesley cooks a chicken for Terry to take on a picnic. Terry invites Jack and Lesley for supper on the Saturday, but ‘completely forgot at the last minute. She had the most sexy dream last night about Jack and told him all about it.’ The next day Terry, ‘looking radiant, is off to her picnic with champagne and two glasses. What I find intolerable is her affectionate way with her husband when she tells us that she finds him crude and unbearable. She now vows and declares – once more – that she is definitely off – it’s the cry wolf story.

On Tuesday, Lesley writes that ‘Terry sent me a box of mixed fruit and veg – then came to tea. I went to town to buy a few essentials for framing… Terry joined me and asked me to run her all the way to Constantia where she went upstairs with Ronald while I cut roses in the garden, had tea and scones at Kirstenbosch and bought cooldrinks and scones for them. He offered me a lovely wicker barrow which Terry claimed – and as she kept me waiting longer than she promised, I came home livid with her and let her have every rose – every twig etc.’ On Saturday the 2nd of July, she ‘lent Terry the van to dash out to Hout Bay to see R. She says she stuck in the sand and bumped another car – the gear lever feels most peculiar – but we’ll hope for the best. She informs me that she can drive anything from a tractor onwards, but that she found the van tricky.’

On the 7th, Lesley writes that ‘Terry took me upstairs and told me a fabulous story of a first marriage. Most wealthy people who pushed her into marrying a specialist – when she had changed her mind. His sexual technique was most crude on discovering her a virgin. She was frightened and disgusted. On reaching Switzerland she removed her ring and left it on the table and walked out – never having heard of or seen him since.’

‘Terry tells me of a car – Chrysler New Yorker – ’48 model bought in the Congo,’ Lesley writes on Sunday the 10th, ‘but must be returned and resold in the Congo. I am very tempted at the offer – fetch Terry from Meller House in the afternoon and we go to the yacht club to see the car and return her to Alec. It looks battered – windows cracked etc. – but goes well. Had a long chat to Denis who tells me of some of the snags – sale is illegal.’ On Tuesday, she ‘took Terry to town to see Ronald – she came back in tears as he won’t include her one hundred percent in his life. If only she’d go overseas! She seems to love me too much.’ Lesley dashes to Johannesburg to try and arrange an exhibition, and when she returns by train she remarks ‘how lovely to see Jack and the boys all smiling to greet me at the platform. Terry and Uys at home ready with tea. Uys stayed to supper.’ The next day she writes, ‘Ronald asked me to go and chat and say goodbye. He seems upset but is not prepared to go through with his Terry affair. I suspect he is too bonded to Odette.’ The next day, ‘Terry arrived in floods of tears. She loves R. and suspects most strongly that she’s pregnant. Her old fat Brindle [the dog] is spending most of his time here.’ That was Tuesday. On Wednesday, ‘Terry had supper here – much more cheerful. I will keep Brindle till their return – they’re off on a holiday right round the Union – how she will enjoy that.’ On Thursday, there are only two lines: ‘Terry and Alec off for a holiday – Brindle absolutely at home.’

Terry must have returned to the Clifton Hotel while Lesley was showing her paintings in Johannesburg. The day after she gets back, she takes nine paintings to the hotel. The next day, a Tuesday, ‘Terry lay on my bed feeling rotten. She says she’s going to send me down yellow curtains. A lovely box of fruit & veg from her today.’ On Thursday, the last sentences in the last entry read ‘Terry gave me a rubbish box of Chinese characters which I shall frame instead. They are made of padded silk, etc.’

I do not remember Terry’s dog. I must have accompanied them, at least once, to the night-time market. The only other piece of information I have concerning Terry Strauss was conveyed to me by Lesley when she was in her sixties. Terry, she told me, had ‘made a pass’ at her. She had not responded and it had not disturbed their friendship. To me, it seems merely to confirm Terry’s status as Venus, the ocean-born goddess of love. Whatever opinions we can form about her must finally be nothing but reflections on ourselves, for within a few years she was stone dead.

173 terry venus


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157 m&r&vicky&glinkaMy dog, whom I wanted to call Vixen but who, on Lesley’s insistence, we ended up calling Vicky or Victoria, was a runty fox terrier whom I preferred to represent as a true-bred miniature. I cannot say whether I truly loved her, but it is clear that the dog was favoured in many of the photographs of me taken at that time. In the picture here, I sit with her, perhaps on the day I got her. Behind me stands Raymond with Glinka, my mother’s dog, named after a Russian dancer. Although I am certain that I often played with Vicky, I cannot recall the warmth and contact that others report with their pets. Although small, she was a farm dog and was expected to get on with it and not bother the humans too much.

There were spotted eagle owls that nested on the rock-face of the koppie, enormous birds whose wingspan was as wide as Anton was tall. One dusk, such an owl swooped and picked Vicky up off the back lawn, flapping heavily away among the trees. Bitchy, an ageing dog of no known breed, raced after them barking and howling. But I think that it was Vicky’s weight that defeated the owl, for after maybe twenty wing-beats, the owl dropped the squealing and yipping Vicky and flew off. I can recall this scene in vivid detail – the barking dogs, the dark and pale wings flapping silently in the dusk, the trees looming above. However, I believe that I did not actually witness it – my mother had been present and had reported it to me.

158 m & vickySomething that did happen to me, perhaps that same year, was that the owl buzzed me, as I climbed on the koppie near her nest. She flew at me several times as I cowered on the open granite face and then, lowering her talons like the undercarriage of a Spitfire, she scratched my cheek, narrowly missing my eye. I ran down to the rondavels of Luitingh’s Guest Farm below, crying and holding my bleeding face.


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Given playing conditions about as good as could be offered to any child, we were expected to get on with it and not bother the adults too much. This applied at Clifton, where the beach, the ever-changing sea, the maze of steps, paths, gardens and storm-water drains that connected our bungalow to those of the many children living there, afforded a safe, exciting and endlessly variable adventure ground. Luitingh’s Guest Farm was also a good place to play. There were two stone Anglo-Boer War laagers on the koppie above the house. On the far side of the back koppie was a shaft dug deep into the hill where an obsessed local farmer would come at night to dig for the Kruger millions. The orchards, with their piles of wooden packing-crates and dropped fruit, were ideal for orange wars, with the crates built into forts and castles. There were big leaf boats to sail down the bilharzia-infested canals, crewed by strange beetles and large black ants. The farm was inexhaustible, and we ranged over it freely, inscribing it into our inner cartography. This meant that while we occupied ourselves, the adults could get on with their lives.

Deadlines made them more distant from us children – when Lesley was working towards an exhibition, she would spend more and more time engrossed in her artistic work.

145 diary first pageShe kept a diary during exactly four months, from the 25th of April to 25th of August, 1955, three years before we left the Cape for the Transvaal. Unlike my father, Lesley was not a regular diarist, and this is the only diary she kept until she was in her sixties.

The events, feelings and impressions it recounts build up to an exhibition of her paintings at the Lidchi Gallery in Johannesburg on the 5th of August that year, and taper off with the aftermath of the show. After the 25th of August, she did not write again. I find it almost impossible to imagine that the pages in the book describe scenes from my own life, so opaque is the curtain of forgetting that our journey to Luitingh’s Guest Farm drew over that time.

146 lesley lidchiThis cutting, tucked into the hand-made cloth cover of the diary, shows a tense woman in her early thirties. Although she is clearly my mother, the picture stirs no reliable resonance. It is too blurry, the face too generically like her, tension making her look older than her thirty-three years.

146 drillersBut on the wall behind her, between her and Mr. Sylvester Stein, I can make out faintly the curves of a painting, the suggestion of a figure. Is it perhaps Prisoners Drilling or Two Drillers, both listed at the beginning of the diary in a list of titles? Other titles include Goukama Valley, Crayfish, The Measuring Tower, The Grindstone and Boy with Pigs. There are fifty-one titles listed. The distorted shadow which blurs into a painting does seem familiar, but no more than that. I do not know the whereabouts of the fifty-one paintings listed in that old diary, or even if they still exist. If I were a detective or an academic researcher, I would comb the diary for sales, and try to trace the purchasers or their descendants. I would seek Advocate I. Stoller, of 726 His Majesty’s Buildings, Eloff Street, Johannesburg, who paid fifteen ‘Mrs. Kotkin’ or ‘Sylvester’, who waited until the exhibition was closing and bought at discounted prices. It was the latter who took Pneumatic Drill for thirty guineas, reduced from forty-five. both listed at the beginning of the diary in a list of titles? Other titles include Goukama Valley, Crayfish, The Measuring Tower, The Grindstone and Boy with Pigs. There are fifty-one titles listed. The distorted shadow which blurs into a painting does seem familiar, but no more than that. I do not know the whereabouts of the fifty-one paintings listed in that old diary, or even if they still exist. If I were a detective or an academic researcher, I would comb the diary for sales, and try to trace the purchasers guineas for the only painting sold at the opening, or perhaps But the fifty-year-old trail is so cold that my chances of finding anything are close to zero.

Albie thought for a while that Jack and Lesley Cope were ‘the ideal couple, living in ideal circumstances, manifesting ideal happiness.’ If exercising one’s creativity by painting pictures and living the bohemian life are still regarded by some as a route to a kind of happiness, then the diary shows in detail how this was not so for Lesley. In the first entry, she complains of stomach pains and expresses the concern that these may indicate ‘something worse’. On the 9th of May she writes, ‘Beautiful clear day at last but I remained in bed reading War and Peace – tummy so sore.’ (Where were Raymond and I, aged three and seven?) On the 10th, she had a very inflamed eye and severe nagging indigestion. The same day she framed pictures and got her Fordson van back from the garage (looking fine.)

148 fordsonThe next day she had burning indigestion after an opening of a photographic exhibition. On Sunday she was in a bad mood, asking ‘How can I paint with no studio – with constant advice and interruptions?’ She ends the entry by noting that ‘Jack is completely unsociable – he never talks to me much, works in his study day and night – even reads there rather than talk.’

On Wednesday the 19th, she feels ‘incredibly weary and depressed – either anaemia or worries.’ On Saturday, she writes that it is ‘quite impossible to find quiet to paint on this rainy day the house milling with kids and no private corner for me. Even Jack flung things down and shouted when I asked him what he was doing in my small selected corner. He shouted, before slamming the front door, that he was going to mend my make-up box, evidently looking for little screws. He can work all day in his closed study and has absolutely no feeling for me to find a corner to work. I am just a third-rate artist wasting my time.’ On Thursday, she ‘soundly spanked Michael for wetting. Scolded Jack for his completely negative role with regard to me – said that there was no hope of mending an already too-far-gone situation – spanked both kids for squabbling constantly – felt defeated and guilty and came to bed.’ The next day she records that she ‘must have a chill in my womb for I was awake half the night with pain – took Gelonidas and stayed in bed in the morning. Michael played so happily, my knees under the bed-clothes being a mountain, he was racing motor-bikes all over it. Finished War and Peace skipping out the long theories on war and Napoleon’s reasons for his actions etc, knowing that I have ploughed through it all before – but besides that, what a book!’

The following Monday, she sets off on a painting trip, leaving the children at home. But, before leaving she stops off at Groote Schuur Hospital for ‘the fantastic performance of X-ray. Barium meal – tipping beds in the dark – white food in the dark that goes down the wrong places. No wonder the three-year-old girl screamed so before me. Left town at eleven and slowly came here – Hawston – stopping to give odd characters a lift and eat on the way. Have suffered from the most acute headache.’ She stays until Thursday, sleeping in the van, which was ‘leaking badly and difficult to find a dry spot to sleep.’ Back home, ‘there seems to be no contact with Jack at all. He defrosted the fridge as soon as I arrived and now prefers to write in the study than talk to me. I find it also very difficult to enthuse as he isn’t interested – never asks to see my work, etc.’

That Sunday, packing for another painting trip, she writes: ‘My boys are so good about letting me go – no fuss. I wish I knew that about Jack – he hasn’t put his arm around me or touched me for a good two months – I get so bitter about it instead of playing up to him – that I doubt he’ll ever want to touch me again.’

000 lesley paintingIn mid-June, there is a patch of summery weather and Lesley’s mood picks up. But on Monday the 13th she writes: ‘Raymond, Michael and I all have colds – how tired I am and full of cold.’ On Saturday, she reports ‘a lazy sunny day but I’m quite happy to rest on my bed with a hot-water bottle. I have such internal inflammation.’ That night at a smoky theatre party she ‘was in such a low depression that there was absolutely no connection between me and the people there – I sat dumbly stroking a cat – the atmosphere giving me painful conjunctivitis – Jack also preferred to ignore me totally in my plight.’ Home from her painting trip a week later, she finds that Raymond who had just turned seven, ‘has been very bad this week, stealing money and tearing his school clothes.’

At the end of June she is ‘off early to Groote Schuur to get the results of my X-rays. Met George Sacks there who hurried me through the whole process – nothing wrong with me – X-rays clear – but pain persists – amidst nervous spasms which only I can relax and get rid of.’ The next week she is back ‘to hear the results of blood test at Groote Schuur – I realise fully how out of place I was – how ill so many poverty-stricken derelict characters were – I wouldn’t sit for the doctor and hardly waited for a chat – at least I found I was 108% in blood strength – whatever that is. Never will I go there again.’

After that there are fewer references to ill health, and things seem to have gone better with Jack. Eventually she secures a booking at the Lidchi Gallery. As the exhibition nears, the symptoms return: ‘Feeling morning sick which is either pregnancy or nerves. Very down about my paintings,’ she writes on the 27th of July. The next day she ‘woke up with a bilious attack, but had to get up early to do so many things.’ The following day she writes: ‘seldom had such intense pain. Carried on painting frames but am not achieving the effect I desire. They are propped and balanced all over the house. Kept on lying down and filling myself with Gelonida.’

I look for Gelonida on the Internet. The only references I find to this pharmakon are in German, French and Cyrillic script. I find what appears to be a description of the drug on a German website, copy it and get it translated by AltaVista’s Babelfish. Short description: Application: Pain/fever. Contains: Sodium salicilate / Paracetamol / Codeine phosphate. Prescription required. Side-effects of codeine include but are not limited to: addiction, drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation, urinary retention, sedation, tolerance to the drug, stomach bleeding, kidney damage, liver damage, ‘itchies’, hangover, tiny pupils, blurred vision, poor night vision, impaired ability to drive, disorientation, convulsions, hallucina-tions, depression, sexual problems, agitation, tremors and seizures. I ask Gus, my pharmacist friend, about it. Here is his reply:

Gelonida was a polycomponent painkiller. Later called Veganin. Now I think off the market. It contained the ingredients listed. Considered safe at the time though the salicylates were a bit dubious – gastric bleeding or blood dysecrasias. It has now been replaced by a number of similar combinations usually cotaning Codeine + Paracetamol and sometimes Aspirin. Codeine mildly addictive and contipating.

My mother took Gelonida every day – I suspect the calming effect of the Codeine was what she liked – but developed ulcers in the stomach – she had an operation. Thereafter she just changed to Codeine/Paracetamol.

On the last weekend of July, Lesley packs her van for the trip to Johannesburg and the exhibition, but still has ‘lots of pain and backache.’ The trip seems to require her full attention for almost three days, and on the Thursday, having arrived in Johannesburg, she receives a ‘most affectionate and loyal letter from Jack – how he changes towards me – but this makes me feel good.’

154 diary last pageAs I read this, I cannot help wishing that my parents will repair the breach between them, although I know well that this can never be. My wish reminds me of watching the performance of a Shakespearian tragedy, where, although the plot is well known, I cannot help being carried along by the feelings that the actors present, wanting to yell a warning, to stop the fatal blow.

The day after the exhibition, a Saturday, she records that ‘the Star critic came – but hardly another soul – never is a Cape Town gallery so deserted! I can feel the depression set in but must keep my chin up. I have 6/6 in my purse – £200 debt and 6/6 to my name! Mustn’t let it show.’

By Wednesday, she is writing: ‘Must hide and fight down my ghastly disappointment and depression.’ On Thursday, she felt ‘punctured and dazed… decided not to go to the gallery but lazed and slept most of the day. My stomach in a nervous state.’ But sales slowly pick up, and, moving through a whirl of social engagements, she manages to make arrangements to sell many of the remaining paintings, albeit at reduced prices. ‘The end of the exhibition has decidedly cheered up,’ she writes on the 18th of August, the day before leaving Johannesburg.

She returns to Clifton after a long drive in the van with some money from the sales. ‘Paid bills today, which is a great relief to both Jack and me.’ Then, noting how ‘neglected and grubby’ the house is, she sets about spring-cleaning, washing carpets, dusting shelves and painting. In the last entry, dated Thursday 25th of August, she ‘noted how old and wrinkled I’m becoming – I ought really to take care of myself – How I’d love a long laze in the sun – just rest and peace.’


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155 meredithA figure whom my father in some ways paralleled is George Meredith, who is seldom read now except by those who study Victorian literature. Meredith, like Jack, moved in literary and artistic circles. Both wrote poems and novels, and both, in old age, confined themselves to poetry. They were good conversationalists and storytellers, right to the end. Jack knew almost everybody who was involved in the country’s literary and artistic scene. Meredith’s friends included Swinburne, the Rossetti brothers and Robert Louis Stevenson. Both had to wait until their fifties to achieve a measure of popular success. They were influential in their circles, and en-couraged younger authors. Jack nurtured writers like Rive and Jonker. Meredith ‘discovered’ and nurtured Hardy, Gissing and others. Both became ‘grand old men’ of their country’s literary landscape.

Like Jack, George married an intelligent and not uncritical woman and, like Jack, his self-absorption and obsessive attention to literary endeavours cost him a marriage. George Meredith wrote about his disintegrating relationship with his wife Mary Ellen in Modern Love, a long poem published in 1862. The shocking idea that lurked in Modern Love was that if faith in one’s spouse goes, then the marriage goes, and with it religion, morality and everything else.

Then, as midnight makes  Her giant heart of Memory and Tears 
Drink the pale drug of silence, and so beat 
Sleep’s heavy measure, they from head to feet 
Were moveless, looking through their dead black years 
By vain regret scrawled over the blank wall. 
Like sculptured effigies they might be seen 
Upon their marriage-tomb, the sword between; 
Each wishing for the sword that severs all.

Had Jack read Meredith? You bet. When I was twelve, in 1964, I went into the musty cellar beneath the stone farmhouse that my ancestors had built near Mooi River, and there by the light reflected from the open door with its faded blue paint, I examined the remains of the library which my great-grandparents had assembled. All of the Victorian poets and novelists were there: Tennyson, Browning, Meredith, Arnold, the Rossettis, Dickens, and many others. Jack, a voracious reader, had read every book in the house by the time he left high school.


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My father’s diaries are lodged at the National English Literary Museum (NELM) attached to Rhodes University and are thus a matter of public record. There they are consulted by scholars interested in Ingrid Jonker or Uys Krige, for Ingrid and Uys present more engaging figures than Jack, as Jack himself was aware. Uys, he notes in his diary on the 5th of August 1955, has the common touch which he can never achieve: ‘I stand like the sentry in the destruction of Pompeii. While Uys is gambolling with the crowd in the street,’ he writes. Jeremy Fogg, one of the extremely gracious and helpful staff at NELM, transcribed for me the entries in Jack’s diary for the period corresponding to Lesley’s, and the two make interesting reading in parallel. Although they shared the same house and bed, the worlds that the diaries record hardly seem to overlap. What they do share is a commitment to the practical details of the life they are living as artists, all within an oppressively heavy atmosphere of financial anxiety.

The bohemian life at Clifton was not a financially secure one. People following such a lifestyle can determine the financial cost of their creative freedom by subtracting their actual earnings from their potential earnings, were they to devote their creative intelligence to more conventional forms of making a living. Lesley’s painting sales, along with Jack’s intermittent income from writing, were their sole sources of income.

Lesley’s 1955 diary, if read as a financial audit trail, shows that her business was not booming. Their tenure at Trinity Hall, the bungalow, is insecure from the start. Billy Ray, the landlord, is trying to sell the bungalow and the adjacent ones to Alec Strauss, Terry’s husband, who wants to use the land for development. The rent is low, but only because the place is cramped and dilapidated – a holiday shack rather than a home. In spite of their financial difficulties, they employ chars and Lesley notes on the 2nd of May, a Monday, that ‘little Winnie started working for me today – wonder how long it will last. She is clean, pretty and used to work.’

10th May: Selected three large oils for the Hotel. Man from the Karoo, Winery Constantia and Mouille Point. 20, 17 and 25 guineas respectively.

22nd May: Sold Crayfish gouache

3rd June: Jack took the van in the afternoon to post Gigi Lupini’s painting.

10th June: Raymond has been very bad this week, stealing money and tearing his school clothes.

13th June: Wrote to two galleries in Johannesburg.

14th June: God, if only there was some relief financially! My few debts worry me frantically. Took mirrors to Klein – Klein not impressed.176 mirror

16th June: After Terry has told us that Alec is definitely interested in buying this property from Billy Ray – Jack asked Lois only to be told that it probably will be – so not to go on with our alteration plans. This news together with our pathetic financial situation (I promised to send Nessie’s daughter a wedding gift – but where from?) succeeded in depressing me exceptionally – when telling Jack of my doldrums he says I shouldn’t be so dramatic – so I walked on the beach late at night.

17th June: Terry says the small painting of flowering gum that Dora bought from me has never been collected.

Winnie was pickpocketed and returned for a second salary!

18th June: Recovered my embroidered mirror from Klein who had stuck it away instead of displaying it – it looks much more charming in the house than in that modern shop.

Jack’s diary is void of entries until the 20th of June, the day he finished writing The Golden Oriole, so we cannot know what he wanted us to think he was thinking. But I find it significant that at the very end of the novel, as the protagonist, a Zulu intellectual attempting to become a novelist, lies dying, he asks if the sun is setting. “Brother, the sun is rising,” he is told.

“Ai, Sili,” he replies, “but I have sung . . . my song.”

177 golden oriole

I have placed selections from Lesley’s diary above entire entries for the matching date from Jack’s, in bold.


20th June: Jack has finished writing his second novel today. How glad he must feel. Now he has to revise and send it off.

Finished writing the draft of The Golden Oriole and feel almost light-headed with relief. The sun shining bril-liantly in my window, Lesley came in as I scribbled the last line. I slapped my hand on the ms. sheaf with a bang and said ‘That’s done!’ She nearly started out of her skin & thought I was trying to give her a fright.


23rd June: Borrowed fifteen pounds from Terry – now owe her twenty-one pounds. Fetched my van which goes like a bomb now & frames from Smith – nine pounds six and six. Raymond [aged eight] has again claimed a shilling from Miss Louw [the teacher] and I gave him his first thorough beating – six with a stick – a recurrence of an incident of the tenth.

Jack and I discussed it and we came to the conclusion that it may be our constant allusions to poverty that make him feel insecure – I must go to Miss Louw tomorrow for a long indaba.

Lois Commission. [Lois is the landlady – this might pay the rent.]

After revision, took in the last batch of my ms. to be typed. It is being done by Mrs Berenice Cornell and a first-class job she has turned out too. My third typist after Fred & Joan Johnson had let me down. Joan’s opinion expressed to Terry Strauss: ‘Why does Mr Cope write about Zulus? Nobody wants to read about Zulus. Tell him he should write about love& sex and he would make a lot of money.’ When Terry told me I solemnly undertook to follow Joan’s advice and suggested a title for my next book – ‘Goodbye Mrs Johnson.’


24th June: Took Terry to Constantia and went to Mary Browne’s to paint shutters for a commission.

Letter from Lidchi Gallery saying all booked up – suggest I try Lippmans.

Ring £25
Van £35
Framing £14/19
Chemist £7/7
Terry £21

Mother went off to stay the weekend with Pat & Peggy.Pat has been to Johannesburg to meet his constituents over the recurring crisis in the United Party. He threatens to write a book on his adventures in the political jungle during the past couple of years & says it would be dynamite. He never will, of course. The U.P. is riddled with treachery, intrigue, jealousy and sheer funk and he feels he will be out, for one reason or another, inside a few months.


28th June: Tonight have been to see Gregoire and Marie in their new old house – full of possibilities and very much under repair – I am very envious of their house and secure position.

Spent more than an hour while 51 forms were filled in, stamped, sorted, filed etc to send off three parcels. Met Betty Allen in the airways office and persuaded her to come out to see us next Friday. Feeling now very much at a loose end – reading, sitting in the sun, playing on the beach with the children. Evening, drove out to see Gregoire & Marie in their new house at Kenilworth. Everything is still chaotic but the big roomy house and grounds are ideal for their habits & ideas.The children already have rabbits, chick-ens, birds etc & Greg wanders round like a takhaar in his yard.


4th July: Another gallery in Johannesburg can’t take me.

Took the van out to Rondebosch & asked Uys to join me in a panel of judges for the New Age short story competition. We called on Dr E.R. van der Ross who agreed to make a third. Had lunch with Mrs Krige and looked through some of Francois’s partly finished and rejected paintings. He is developing in new and exciting directions, towards a vital treatment of figure groups – workmen, women threshing, fishwives, coons etc, as well as typical treat-ment of landscape and life with glowing and trembling colour, strong but tender. Collected from Lionel 12 manuscripts entered for the New Age story competition. 


11th July: Billy and Lois took us to a meal at the Chinese restaurant and then to a show – The Three Murders – we both feel it’s definitely his conscience – he hasn’t mentioned the sale of our property.

Heard from James MacGibbon acknowledging the script of The Golden Oriole. He addressed me for the first time as ‘Jack’, adding a little note suggesting the ‘time has come to drop surnames.’ Lesley was much amused, I think, because she does not understand the extraordinary diffidence of the British middle-class over friendships. Also a pleasant note from John Fischer of Harpers promising to harass my ex-agent Chambrun until he forks up the remaining 75 dollars he owes me. Spent much time completing Raymond’s Pollock Theatre. Elzina came out for tea. Evening, to the Chinese res-taurant & the ‘pietchers’ with the pathetic Billy Kay and his long-suffering wife.


15th July: A long and tiring day in Johannesburg. I bussed to town and walked miles to the Lidchi gallery – Joyce Fourie was surprised to see me as she had just wired Cape Town about a cancellation on August the fifth.

The children are wearing me down & this morning Raymond put up a continuous scene for nearly two hours because he wanted to go out barefoot in the wet & cold.

 Read Lawrence’s ‘Odour of Chrysanthemums’ – fine, true and tremendously strong piece of writing. Then ‘England my England’ which is phoney. Even the writing and the dialogue go lamentably to pieces. A remarkable contrast. A wire came for Lesley from Johannesburg offering her a cancelled gallery booking.

Wired her & hope she gets it. – Only a few weeks’ time – early to mid August.


Saturday 16 July

Took out the boys & bought Raymond some shoes, to his immense pride. He is in a highly sensitive and self-conscious stage and I fear he feels humiliated by the fact that we do not follow the path to bourgeois comforts that he sees among his friends. In the afternoon I allowed him, very reluctantly, to go to a film with his friends. It had scenes of fear and violence with troops of elephants & so upset him that he either lay awake or tossed in nightmares.


23rd July: Huge thundering seas. Jack had news today that his English publishers accept his second book, and he’s very relieved.

A letter today from James MacGibbon setting my gloomy forebodings at rest. He is wonderfully enthusiastic about The Golden Oriole – though he wants ‘economies’. James is an economical Scot. 

At all events I am walking on air and my hat is over the stars. What will the Americans think of this book? Brilliant sun today, warm & soft.

I practiced sling shooting with Raymond. Drove to Hout Bay in the afternoon & raced with the children over the dunes. Read again Prishvin’s miraculous ‘Black Arab’.


27th July: Lois was upset about gossiping about selling this land.

No news, no letters, no money. I opened the grocer’s bill – £31, and not a bean to meet it. I feel desperate and depressed and there’s nothing I can do to relieve the immediate pressure. So I wait with head bowed.

 Slipped quickly through ‘The Philanderer’ and found it essentially dreary, forced though slick and nervous on the narrow range so often limiting the American writers. I should not criticise them for they aim at such a totally different objective.


28th July: Billy and Lois keep on popping over with things for us as they are packing and are eliminating the rubbish. Billy says we must go ahead with [sentence not completed.]

Mainly helping Lesley with her innumerable prepara-tions for the show in Johan-nesburg. She found today she had a broken front spring & this meant a hasty repair.

It’s a great risk to take this old van, but she is determined. And that usually means she will succeed. Evening to a ‘hobo’ party at Brian’s but hobos conspicuously absent. Talked to Phillippa Murrell who writes stories ‘for the few’. Poor Check cut me dead! Everything was at odds & depressing except Pat Weber of Woodstock. Carried Lesley’s pictures up the steps & carefully packed them in blankets in the van. L expressed the horrified hope that they don’t all come back.


5th August: Only one picture sold, to I Stoller, an advocate I had met before – fifteen guineas.

The story is going along satisfactorily in spite of sadly too many interruptions. A letter came from Lesley who seems to have achieved a miracle of hustle & endurance to reach Johannesburg to schedule. Sent her a wire of good wishes for the show. More hard work picking out the excavation and carting away some tons of earth & stones. Michael sometimes invents some amusing ideas. Detailing his journey to England he listed everyone he was taking and remarked, ‘I’m not taking any witches. They can jolly get there theyselves.’ Another time I said – ‘I shall be cross with you.’ He answered ‘I’ll cross the road with you Daddy.’


6th August: I have six shillings and sixpence in my purse – two hundred pounds debt and six shillings to my name! Good God. Mustn’t let it show. Wish Peggy wouldn’t pretend she was broke – she really doesn’t have to buy – why feel guilty about it? Jean said she was interested in buying a painting. I don’t believe her. Such a flat market has never been heard of.

Mary came to look after the house and gave me an op-portunity for some more work on my story. After finishing in the afternoon I took a swim off the small stormscoured beach. The water warmer than I expected but strong & hungry. Some boys shot a small gull through the wing & Wally Speissegger picked it up. He & a group of children brought it to me. It valiantly pecked at everyone with its slender rubyred beak but its wing was shattered. All agreed it should be destroyed, but none could face it. The lot fell to me. And after I had taken off its head with an axe the children thought me terribly cruel.


8th August: Dinner this evening with Esther Chames and husband Jack Levet, two Czech export men – Bram Fischer and wife Molly, etc. – twelve guests – an expensive flashy house – too much to eat at an exotic dinner – Jack promises to buy two paintings – one for the Czechs and one for himself.

Uys came out & we sat in the warm sun on the beach and carefully, line by line, went through his story on Johannesburg – A Bouquet for Jhb. It is miles too long & discursive – nearly an hour of fast reading. But it is good in Uys’s excellent way. It has the common touch that I never achieve. I stand like the sentry in the destruction of Pompeii. While Uys is gambolling with the crowd in the street.


10th August: Saw Charles Fincham who says Jack’s novel is magnificent – I discussed my show with him and the possibility of offloading my paintings amongst his acquaintances. What a charming man he is. He took me to dinner at some exotic place called the Safari.


13th August: Had a letter from Jack today – he still has no news from his publishers – no money and seems depressed about it.

Met Uys, Dr van der Ross & Naomi in town for a picture to be taken of the judges of the story contest. Chatted to Jack Barnett in his office. He is busy on his big £120,000 job – a town hall for Welkom. Naomi had the latest New Statesman & chaffed me about a big ad. for the September London Magazine in which my name is printed above Auden’s! Revised work on the story & weighed in to more spade-work on my excavations. The paper has a story that Lady Packer’s first novel has been chosen for a best seller in the U.S. for next February! 

A genial, easy-going day in which I got in some work on the story – my longest yet – and did some mining, to the intense curiosity of the neighbours who can’t bear me doing anything without coming to nose out what it is! Wrote James MacG. a fairly clear SOS for funds.


16th August: Mrs. Kotkin tried to choose a painting, but without her husband she was unable to do so.

Finished the draft of my story and feel that with some revision it is a satisfy-ing job despite its great length – nearly 11,000 words at a guess. A glance through some of Lawrence’s stories show that he sometimes ran to twice, three & even five times this length! So it is not the length that damns me, although I shall probably never sell this story. Was tremendously impressed by Lawrence’s ‘The Blind Man’. For sheer writing it leaves me gasping with surprise & pleasure. I wish I had known Lawrence’s stories a long while ago. Side by side with it is ‘Tickets Please’ which is simply incredibly bad.


17th August: Mrs. Kotkin came in and decided to take Karoo Farm at ten pounds ten (from twenty guineas.) I hate to quibble but how I hate being cheated with no resistance. To dinner with the Sandersons – took a group of paintings for them to choose from – they chose Pneumatic Drill reduced from forty-five guineas to thirty, how I despise myself but my need is greater than my pride. This sale they considered private and wrote the cheque to me – no twenty percent commission for the gallery.

A very sad letter from Lesley who has sold only one picture – one of her smallest – on her Johannesburg exhibition.

This is shattering to her and unhappily I am not in a position to lift her up. The something, whatever it is I confidently & intuitively expect, is an unconscionable time turning up. Began a fairly careful revision & hit on a possible title for my story – A Speck in the Sun. Carried on with my quarrying operations and have nearly finished this part of the work.


18th August: Took Thunder’s owner a painting by way of thanks. The end of the exhibition has decidedly cheered up – when packing the paintings outside Jenny’s house, a woman saw the Solanum still life – later rang the gallery and offered me thirty guineas for it which I accepted. Mrs Kotkin’s daughter had wanted it but took Mary, Fisherman’s Daughter instead for fifteen guineas.

To town with Raymond & took him for the first time to the Public Library where he was rather shy but thrilled with the idea of taking out a book for himself. He chose a big illustrated Oxford book on journeys of discovery.


21st August: Paid bills today, which is a tremendous relief to Jack & me.

Three in the morning Lesley arrived home from Johannesburg. She had meant to stay the night at Laingsberg but had a dog & was refused accommodation. On the Cape Flats her battery petered out & luckily she stopped a friend who gave her a tow into Town. Very tired but fairly successful with her show & trailing Thunder, a cross terrier-spaniel, for the boys.


22nd August: Unpacked the van and took nine paintings to the Hotel: Xhosa Ganger, Measuring Tower, Bombed Church, Protea, Proteas, Boy with Duck, Fisherman’s Cottage, Marine Still Life and Bot River Hills.

To Town to clear up a few money matters & complete my income tax return. In-come for the past year – £318, debts £885. Some-thing must happen soon to crack this ominous trend.


190 golden oriole datesWhy did these intelligent and undoubtedly creative people choose, if indeed they chose, to live at such cost? If they were gamblers, what was the payout? Was Jack’s writing a muse-driven obsession, a shot at textual immortality, part of a modern project of selfhood creating himself as a literary figure, or a dodge to avoid emotional engagement with his wife? Was it some mixture of these or something else entirely? We shall never know by reading his diaries, for they, too, are literature.

The acceptance of The Golden Oriole recorded in the diary cannot have helped them much financially, whatever advances Jack may have been able to wheedle out of Heinemann, the publishers. In any event, the book was not to appear until 1958, the year my parents parted, which may account for the feeling of loss that accompanies, for me, the image of the book’s cover.


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159 lowveldIn the small piece of the 1961 edition of the Oxford Atlas above, Luitingh’s Guest Farm is situated near the left foot of the ‘h’ in White River. The darkest lines represent railway lines and the line from Nelspruit went beyond White River and ended at Plaston. Plaston had a railway station, two stores run by Indian traders, a post-office, a garage and a library which was a small room that opened its book-lined shelves to white people on Saturday mornings. Beyond the two words Nelspruit and White River, I cannot find any detail that has resonance for me, or that matches in any way the experience of the years that I was to spend crouched under the Oxford Atlas’ letter ‘h’. The koppie behind the house, being the highest point for miles, had on it a survey beacon – a white-painted concrete cylinder with an iron pole with four black painted metal vanes poking up from it. This beacon marked a precise cartographic point that could be identified on the detailed survey maps of the district, which Anton kept in his office, allowing us to close the analogical gap by standing there with the map in our hands. From the top of the koppie we could see other beacons across the valley through haze and heat distortion. Now, of course, the cartography is different. The bottom of the letters AL visible at the top of the map fragment, the last in TRANSVAAL, would no longer appear, the area now being called Mpumalanga (sunrise). Population densities have more than doubled, making the small towns into big ones. Roads and airports have been created where there were farms or locations. Entire cities of shanties have appeared where there was open land, although the physical details that the survey maps record, to whatever degree of accuracy, have hardly altered.

What had altered was Clifton, even by the time I first returned to it, perhaps two years after our departure for Luitingh’s Guest Farm. I do not know where, precisely, I went during those two years – possibly I enjoyed holidays with my father at Rudolf’s Hoek – but Clifton was a different place when we came back. During the time that we had been away, the entire scene of our early childhood had been demolished and replaced with blocks of flats, which now loomed over the beach like some vast flattened Roman Coliseum.

I make a trip to Clifton forty-nine years after the events re-corded in Lesley’s diary, hoping, if not to catch some glimpse of the earlier configuration, to capture an image of the actual place as it now exists, which I can compare with the old photographs. It is mid-morning on a perfect day, the 29th of February, the late summer sun bright in a blue and windless sky. We park on the road above Second Beach, opposite the block of flats called Heron Water. There is a curious tension for me in the buildings along Victoria Road, for they have each been gutted and remade many times since the 1950s, and each remake, while retaining some vague sense of the original shape, has moved successively in the direction which we call rich. It is as though I have arrived among a collection of ageing wives of wealthy men, all of whom I somehow know or ought to know, but who have had so many face-lifts, hair-transplants, lipo-suctions and the like, each dictated by ever-shifting tastes, that I can no longer claim with confidence to recognise them. The Clifton Hotel is no longer there, but a building consisting of several apartments still retains some semblance of its original shape. There is no public access and the periphery of the site is surrounded by formidable quantities of blade-wire. The pathway from Victoria Road to the top of the stairs leading down to the sand is still there, and it still looks as I remember it. But, like the former hotel, it is edged by a frill of blade-wire and the stakes, mesh and fencing to support it. The pathway is the same one which connected the stairs to the road before we left Clifton, but the stairs are not. These stairs, now much ground down by sandy feet, are the very ones that replaced the original wooden stairs during our absence in the Eastern Transvaal, and which appeared like a genie’s palace on our return. The pathways remain the responsibility of the city and not of the extremely wealthy people who have come to own the land and houses that they connect, and that is no doubt why they have changed so little.

162 lentonsThe pathway above, part of the route to where Trinity Hall, our wood and iron bungalow once stood, is almost exactly as it had always been. The bungalow in the picture was inhabited by the Lentons, a London family. The only major difference in this view is the pale fence in the centre, topped with a neat row of variegated ivy. The ivy, which is made of plastic, conceals a layer of dangerous spikes.

162 poison ivy

At the bottom of the stairs I try to position myself in the place where the photographer stood on that 1950s day to take this picture of Trinity Hall.

163 trinity hall 163 first beach 1

This is a tricky operation as the actual place is no longer there. Rocks have been moved to build a public lavatory where the sewage pump station stood. By climbing onto the deck of the new lavatory and leaning outward, I am able to take the picture above. The vantage point must be within a few metres of the original. The flats, several face-lifts later, are the same structures that were there when I first came back to Clifton from Luitingh’s Guest Farm in 1960.

164 duiker rockThe beach is almost deserted. One or two young people with unusually well-maintained bodies lie in the sun. Apart from our twins, there are no children at all. I climb over the rocks past Baby’s Beach to Moses Beach. Among the rocks are pools with sandy anemones, seaweed and tiny fishes. The mussels are packed densely on the rocks, but all are younger than those that Jack and Lesley would pluck to cook.

163 moses beachAt Moses Beach, all of the structures above the left side of the beach have been broken down, and recently, for the workers are still busy, their vast cranes hovering over the cement-lined pit that has been excavated in the place where I had expected to see the residences of the Foxes, the Gillises, the Rabkins and many other families. Only the shoreline and ocean seem unchanged, the hard granite of the boulders having worn so little as to make no discernable difference.

I seek out one particular spot on the rock that we called ‘red box rock’ because of the life-saving box with its float and spool of rope. When I say ‘spot’, I mean it quite literally, but when I say that I ‘seek’, I am speaking figuratively: one of the older boys – someone of Raymond’s generation, perhaps – had in 1959 found a small pot of sky-blue eye-shadow left behind by a sunbather, and with it had marked a thick greasy blue spot on the rock.

164 red box rockThe mark made there before we left Clifton outlasted the bungalows. Its secret placement on the side of the red box rock (one had to climb onto a ledge to be able to see it) may have helped to preserve it, for it lasted many years, and I can remember climbing out onto the ledge to find it or its diminishing vestiges shortly after every arrival at Clifton. The spot of make-up has, of course, been gone for many years now, and the rock itself gives no clue as to its original situation. Does a memory that is accurate to within a metre or two count as accurate in any sense?

As I leave First Beach, I notice that at the bottom of the stairs are two steps and the ghost of a third leading into a blank wall. They were the first of about eight or nine steps which once led to our home.

165 steps


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