Jack’s first novel, The Fair House, began with an epigram from The Merry Wives of Windsor:
Falstaff: Of what quality was your love, then?
Ford: Like a fair house built on another man’s ground; so that I have lost my edifice by mistaking the place where I erected it.
Jack was, of course, referring to the colonial presence in Africa, and it was a daring and foresightful thing to say in the early 1950s. Lesley must have been familiar with the quotation, but having simultaneously lost Anton and found both a society of friends and a purpose in life, she chose to remain on the sold farm.
In the poem The Blue Sky, Gary Snyder writes of meeting the great seer Ramana Maharshi in a dream. The Ramana is drinking buttermilk. ‘Where d’you get that buttermilk?’ the dream Snyder asks, ‘I’ve been looking everywhere for buttermilk.’ ‘At the OK Dairy,’ the Ramana replies, ‘right where you leave town.’
Right next to the main house, and visible through bushes from our bedroom windows, stood the double bungalow which had housed first a succession of guests under Hopper and the Luitinghs (including granny Vere and grandpa Jim), then the office from which Anton had attempted to run the farm. Being the only Hopper building built of fired bricks and cement, it was the last structure still standing from that regime, and unlike the other guest cottages, it was not round but four-square, consisting of two rooms connected by a semi-enclosed stoep. Having secured a lease, Lesley moved from the main house into this structure, and set to work converting it into a home.
Lesley’s ideological life took place in the era between the suffragettes and the feminists, and she did not have the plethora of guidebooks, critiques and so on now available in matters of gender roles. Being a bohemian, however, gave her an unorthodox attitude to her own competence and capacities, and, unlike many of my avowedly feminist friends and acquaintances, she cheerfully tackled manual work of the kind usually reserved in our social order for men.
She was good at building, and now, ten years after creating her dream-house with Anton, she re-enacted their efforts on a more modest scale on a site not ten metres away. She got pine boards for panelling and staircases cheap from the sawmill, hauled cement in by the bag from the Co-op, persuaded friends to do those fittings she couldn’t complete, and found brick, mortar and spade labour among the friends and connections who had once been her husband’s employees. She built a garage on the slope below the cottage, on top of which she had a garage-sized studio, accessed with an outside stair.
I don’t know how she financed all this expenditure, but I speculate that her mother, then living at Sunwich Port on the Natal South Coast, helped. Perhaps there was a settlement with Anton. The new owners connected the farm to the ESKOM grid, and the cottage had electric wires running to it. But Lesley elected not to use electricity, preferring gas and paraffin lamps and candle-light, which suited her new rhythm of very early rising to meditate alone in the dark.
However she achieved it, within a few months she had a home which many people have described to me as among the most beautiful, peaceful and creative environments they have encountered, concentrating as it did a lifetime of carefully collected and created things of beauty (though not necessarily of value) into a small, neat and well-conceived space, and managing, in spite of the great number of objects, not to seem cluttered. To me, the space seemed normal, full of the familiar and welcoming, like ‘home’ that had at last come home.