Lear’s Old Man of Coblenz
There was an Old Man of Coblenz
The length of whose legs was immense
He went with one prance from Turkey to France
That surprising Old Man of Coblenz
Edward Lear A Book of Nonsense 1846
Little did I know when I giggled at this limerick at the age of 8 how true these words would ring for me.
Since emigrating to South Africa from England in October 1977, I have always felt like this Old Man – one foot in each country. My stride, is, naturally, rather bigger than his.
John, a South African, and I met in Halifax, England, in 1977 when he and his friend were on a round the world ticket. I don’t think he intended to come home with a wife !!
It was a real wrench for me – I was at the top of a 4 year career as “Miriam Backhouse, First Lady of Folk”, and leaving all my family behind to travel 6,000 miles to a new adventure proved to be a bigger gut twister than I could ever imagine.
However, love knows no bounds and, after a demanding farewell tour, we arrived in SA and settled in Durban in November.
You all know that November in England is rainy and cold – I did not know that November in Durban is rainy, HOT, HUMID and STICKY – a body shock indeed. Shopping in Durban was a physical nightmare, going from the sweltering heat of the street into a freezing air conditioned shop, then out again – a bit like a Swedish Sauna !
For the first few years – before family and ‘life’ took up so much time, I wrote home to both my mum and John’s mum – we were also 450 miles from John’s parents in Pretoria.
Letter from England
I would buy a stash of both local and overseas airmails – remember them ? – and, at first by hand with a carbon copy, and, later on an old clacky Olivetti, write a weekly scribe to them, sending the top copy to each one in turn.
They would also write back once a week, and it kept us in touch that way.
Pile of letters
When my mum died 9 years ago, we found a box of these letters, and it has been wonderful to read about our early married life as reflected in them. I also kept all of their letters and they are in a filing cabinet here.
Farm road in the Downs
I had been brought up on the Sussex downs, so was very content to settle in The Valley of 1,000 Hills.
Our Valley Road
I know I will always have one foot in each land, especially as our daughter has reversed the process.
Now I realise what my Mother went through. I don’t think I appreciated it back then. Too young and too busy I guess.
Ironically, it is her birthday today, 22nd May.