The Teaching Autobiography, Contents: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 3 Photo 4
Johannesburg And Port Melville
I was now eighteen and from the age of fourteen had had no real family life. Johannesburg was a complete break from all that had preceded it and looking back I can see it marked the beginning of a sense of detachment. It is difficult to explain that state of mind. By comparison this period contained important events. In it I fell in love and got married. Nevertheless in all this African time, there was a feeling of being an observer, not a participant in life.
The incessant whirl of Johannesburg society never quite captured me. The fact that I worked in my father's office every morning saved me from being engulfed in the routine of lunches, bridge, tennis and dancing that made up its pattern. It is true that my job at first was little more than that of an office boy. Although I never delivered letters, I kept copies of every letter sent out. I forget the exact procedure but it entailed wetting and pressing, a process that needed care and neatness, qualities not often found in conjunction with office boys and comparing the letter books before and after they were in my charge, I accepted without question, that the wage I was given for a morning's work was worth what the boy would have had for the day. I learned to type accurately though not at great speed and was getting on to more interesting work when I left, for I was there a little more than a year.
Town life has never appealed to me and although I enjoyed tennis, swimming and dancing, I was bored with conventional social life and earned a reputation for disappearing out of the side door with my dog if visitors knocked at the front. The country surrounding Johannesburg was high veldt. It was a landscape of coarse tufted grass with the bare red earth showing between, a wide expanse sometimes broken with rock crowned kopjes. This stretched as far as the eye could see, bare sweeping lines, no trees, exactly the same fifty miles away as it was underfoot. When you had grown up in a country of green pastures and woodland, where you would perhaps turn and see outlined against the sky humped chalk downs or heather covered hills, where every stream and coppice was the home of wildflowers, the monotony of the high veldt was not likely to appeal. But I can imagine growing up there; the magic colouring of its distance might make you forget its sameness, while the tremendous feeling of space and light it gave, might hold its own appeal but it was not and never became my country.
A dog was the indirect cause of my first seeing Port Melville and it was not the casual holiday I expected, because it again changed the direction of my life.
I had been given a borzoi puppy to look after while his master ranged over South Africa looking for a farm. From the queerest looking object, the puppy grew to be a handsome and very intelligent dog and we were inseparable. His master eventually settled in Rhodesia. To be fair, he genuinely wanted me to keep 'Sport' but an interfering sister of his laid such emphasis on the value of the dog that I would not keep him. The result was a tragedy. As soon as Sport arrived at his new home in Rhodesia he ran away and all that was left of him by a leopard was found many miles South. I felt he had tried to get back to me, that I had sacrificed him to my pride and between grief and influenza was laid low. My mother was also recovering from an attack of the same thing and my father decided that a change to the sea was the best solution and sent us both away to the coast.
There was a family debate as to where we should go. Mother suggested Port Melville in Portuguese East Africa where she had once enjoyed a quiet holiday with my father but Muriel suggested that it would be better if we went to Durban, a gay city where my mother had friends and I should get tennis and dancing. My mother felt the force of this argument and began to waver. I had seen neither places and had not felt specially interested, so that I surprised myself quite as much as the others when, giving way to a sudden gust of irritation, I said: "Well, if you decide to go to Durban, I had rather not go at all." There had already been a discussion about my hair, which had never been put up but worn in a style called a 'door knocker'. I was nineteen and Muriel had sensibly pointed out that the holiday would be a good opportunity to put it up properly, for by the time I returned I should have lost all self-consciousness about it and have had some practice in the art. Having won that point, she wisely decided to leave our destination alone and I was left wondering why I had been so emphatic but it had the effect of turning the scales in favour of Port Melville.
In England men had not figured much in my life, unlike that of my sister Muriel round whom youths always seemed to buzz and towards whom I had been mildly intolerant. Now I found I enjoyed the companionship of men and made a few light hearted friendships of my own. I took it for granted, without much speculation, that one day away in the future, I should marry, so that I was quite unprepared for the strange idea that awaited me in Port Melville. For I became aware that there I should meet the man who was to become my husband. This sounds more fantastic than true but it explains why even that event did not break my sense of detachment, of being an onlooker, which dominated my African life. So strong was this conviction, that I can remember on being introduced to two strangers, thinking to myself: "Oh, I do hope it will not be either of you." and feeling of relief when I found one of them at least was already married.
Our first week passed pleasantly and I relaxed and stopped worrying. I spent quite a lot of time with the Kennedys, a married couple with a seven year old son. They spoke intermittently of a friend of theirs who was away and of whose return they were not certain. From their conversation, he possessed every masculine grace and virtue. Such praise might have had its usual antagonising effect if they had not added that he was a hunter and spent most of his leave shooting in the bush veldt. I had been fascinated by what I had seen of this country from the train on our way to the coast, was wishing I could see more of it and was eager to learn all I could of its wild life.
One evening Mrs Kennedy asked us to join them, saying they were going down to the square listen to the band and watch the people. My mother, a little tired, decided she would rather stay behind and write letters but urged me to go. Just as we were starting I discovered that first they were calling at the house of this friend who had just returned and it was he who was taking them to the English Club, the verandah of which overlooked the square. Finding it was a prearranged party I tried to back out but it was too late and laughingly they overruled my protest.
When we arrived and the introductions were over, I found there were three men, Mr Carey the special friend, another bachelor who messed with him and a friend on a visit. They were all three most interesting and I thought I was getting on quite well until, while sitting on the verandah talking to the married man, Mrs Kennedy intervened to draw me into her conversation with Mr Carey. She had told him that the bush veldt fascinated me and said I wanted to hear about his hunting experiences. He turned to me and said, with what I felt was a doubting and supercilious air, that he thought dances would be more in my line. Slightly ruffled I dealt with him as briefly as I could and then resumed my interrupted talk with his companion.
It was probably this incident that made me say, in discussing the evening later with my mother: "As usual I liked the married man best but you will be able to judge for yourself, because Mr Carey included me in an invitation to Mr and Mrs Kennedy to dine with him tomorrow and when I refused and explained I would not leave you alone, he asked me if he might call on you sometime during the day and then perhaps you would go too."
That was the beginning of a fortnight in which Mr Carey, or Anthony, as I learned to call him, saw that we met continuously. Not knowing his reputation, at first I thought he was just nice to include me in his arrangements and had no idea of the agitation it was creating in the circle of his intimate friends. He was a confirmed bachelor of thirty eight and had never been known to pay attention to any young girl before.
One day we went in a launch lent by the Portuguese Governor General, across the bay and up a river. Although only a glorified picnic, we did see crocodiles, a variety of birds and the bush from the river bank and my pleasure must have convinced Anthony that his first appraisal was incorrect. Nevertheless it was after a dance, when taking me back to the hotel that the climax was reached, a proposal not in the least like a romantic book but all muddled with incoherent suggestions that he had never believed in love at first sight and anxiety about the difference in our ages. I believed myself in love with him. He left me in no doubt as to the state of his own feelings, so that in the calm acceptance of a preordained fate, I felt he seemed to be making a quite unnecessary fuss.