Thursday, November 23, 2017

Memory Lane

Stanley - Thursday

I was thinking about my childhood recently - of the Fifties and Sixties.  And how fortunate I was to have a loving family, food on the table, and parents who prized education and, of course, books.

That sparked memories of things that if I told youngsters of today, they would look at me blankly.

A tickey box

Public telephones used to cost threepence for a three-minute call.  In South Africa, a threepence coin was called a tickey.  Hence the name.

I remember the tickey box at the tuck shop at school - some enterprising future scientist had rigged up a wire from the innards of the box which, if you touched it to a small metal plate on the receiver, completed the call without having to pay.

Abandoned tickey boxes
A one-and-thrup

Comic book stories - longer and more complex than Superman or Popeye - were very popular.  For us they were expensive, but much sought after.  They cost one shilling and threepence (thruppence).


A popular sweet (candy) was a small packet of what we called sherbet that came with a straw.  Sucking the fine powder was wonderful, except if you accidentally inhaled it.  I'm sure it was just flavoured confectioner's sugar.

Brown cow

I still enjoy an occasional brown cow - half coca cola, half milk.

White cow

I never enjoyed a glass with half milk and half lemonade (Sprite).

A sammy

My family bought most of its vegetables from an Indian man who drove along the streets with a specially adapted bakkie (pick-up truck) displaying his wares.  I guess the word sammy was slang for an Indian man.  I don't remember if it was pejorative, but it probably was, given this was South Africa.



Bug house



Cloth on the back of a seat to protect the fabric from being stained with hair oil (macassar or brylcreem).  "Brylcreem - a little dab'll do ya!" was the radio jingle for Brylcreem.

Anti-macassars on a train

Swimming costume

Bathing trunks

We still use this term in South Africa.


Swimming costume

Spend a penny

To urinate.

Public ablutions cost a penny to use.

Monkey gland steak

Exotic simian meal.

Just kidding!  Monkey gland sauce is a tangy sauce to put on steak.  A good recipe can be found here.

Chappies bubble gum

Fruit-flavoured bubble gum

Nigger balls

We never knew that the name of those hard, black sweets was offensive - partly because the word 'nigger' was not in common use in South Africa.  We had our own offensive terms.  They are now called black balls.

Nigger balls

Delivered milk

At the front door - every day. With dollops of cream at the top.


Pronounced as many Americans say 'roof'.  Or perhaps how Caro would say it.

Louis Washkansy

The recipient of the first heart transplant - done at Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town by Dr. Chistiann Barnard on December 3, 1967.  He lived 18 days.

Apartheid signs

No comment necessary.

Ag, Pleez Deddy

The most famous song from the Sixties was what was known as Ag, Pleez Deddy.  Jeremy Taylor wrote and played "The Ballad of the Southern Suburbs", which mildly mocked the language and accent of the southern reaches of Johannesburg.  Taylor was later banned because of his anti-apartheid stance.  You can listen to the song here, scratches and hiss included.

I'm sure everyone reading this will have similar lost memories.  Please share some.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Princess Only After Death

When times are frightening, worry comes easily. It’s much harder to be the one to step forward into harm's way. 

Recently, my attention was drawn back to World War II and one of its greatest heroines, aka the   “Spy Princess.” 

I am thankful for what she did—and I wish more people knew about her.

Noor Inayat Khan was born in 1914, with a background that feels uncannily familiar to my own. She had a father born in India, and a mother from the West. A cross-cultural marriage at that time seems unlikely--but it really occurred. 

Noor’s mother, Ora Ray Baker, was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At age 20, Ora Ray attended a lecture in San Francisco given by Inayat Khan, a musician born in Punjab in the Sufi dervish tradition. Ora asked him for an interview, and the two fell in love and married. Inayat came from a fascinating lineage: his own father was Maula Baksh, founder of a famed music academy in Baroda named the Gyanshala, and her grandmother was Casimebi, a descendent of Tipu Sultan, the Muslum ruler of Mysore who died fighting the British in 1799.

Performer Mata Hari with the Royal Hindustan Orchestra

The daring young couple married in London, and Ora Ray took the Muslim name of Amina Sharada Begum and began dressing only in sari to show her enthusiasm for India. She traveled the world with the musical group that Rahmat Khan founded, the Royal Hindustan Orchestra. Their eldest child, Noor, was born on January 1, 1914 in Moscow. After the outbreak of the Great War, the family fled to England. During their years in London, Inayat performed for both Mahatma Gandhi and Indian soldiers convalescing in hospital—as well as for grand opera productions such as Lakme that capitalized on the European interest in the Far East. Inayat came under government suspicion due to his connection to Gandhi and his skill at establishing Muslim and Indian community groups in Britain. He was seen as a risk to the stability of the British Empire. So in 1920, the family shifted to Tremblaye, France, so the musical group and other activities could continue without as much surveillance.

Noor plays the sitar 

Noor grew up with interests in poetry and mysticism, as would seem natural for someone with such a creative family life rooted in the Sufi tradition. Her happy life changed in 1927, when Inayat Khan traveled back to India to see his family, and fell ill and died in Delhi. So it was under tragic circumstances that the fourteen-year-old Noor had her first visit to India in 1928, to pay respects along with the rest of her family at Rahmat’s tomb. Now she had to be the mother leading the family in their existence in France, because her grieving mother retreated in to a life of seclusion. Their Indian uncles living in France supported them financially. Noor played sitar, piano and harp; but she also had the gift of story. After attending a French university, she began a career writing children’s stories and translating Indian stories into English. Then the Germans invaded France. Their way of life had ended. This was a watershed moment for the family who had grown up believing strongly in nonviolence. Would they aid the British, who had been the enemy of their father?

Noor as "Nora Baker" serving with the SOE

Noor understood the the danger of the Nazis. She and her brothers felt called to support the resistance, and they decided the best way to do that seemed to return to England and offer their service. Here she used the name Nora Baker to fit in with the other women workers and not attract suspicion due to her half-Indian heritage. The story of her childhood and the challenge she faced is well-described in a biography by Shrabani Basu. A PBS documentary-drama, Enemy of the Reich, is another take on her story.

Noor was one of the first women radio operators trained in Morse Code—and decoding messages for the government could have been the extent of her work, save for one fact. She was a fluent French speaker, and that attracted the attention of the office of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the famed espionage organization set up by the British to sabotage Nazi operations in Europe. Noor was interviewed by Selwyn Jepson, the British crime writer who became the SOE’s chief recruiter. Jepson asked if she would be willing to travel back to France and transmit messages. He said she would not be protected by international laws of warfare, and only receive ordinary service pay that would be held for her in England and given to her upon return—or to her survivors, if she didn’t.

Despite the danger of job, Noor immediately agreed. While Jepson felt confident about her, other men in the SOE were concerned that perhaps she was too naïve and honest. Her own father had taught her that the worst sin was to lie. While in training as an agent in Britain, she spoke to a police officer who stopped her and said she was in the SOE—a major mistake. She was counseled and allowed to continue, in large part because her speed and skill at transmitting messages was top notch.

Noor parachuted into France in 1943, clinging fast to the 30-pound suitcase carrying all her transmission equipment and false identity papers naming her “Jeanne-Marie.” Her codename, “Madeleine,” was one she chose from the stories she wrote. Just like her own mother--she had changed identity. Noor's first action was to unite with the spy network, Prosper, to which she was assigned; but within a week, all of the members of the group were betrayed and arrested. The rookie espionage agent was on her own. The London office ordered her to return—but she refused, saying that since she was the only information conduit from Paris, she would stay until a replacement came. The government knew her capture was inevitable, but saw her act as the sacrifice of a soldier in the line of duty.

"Jeanne-Marie" worked hard sending messages and running from one part of Paris to the next, evading capture several times. She was doing the work of a six-person group alone. She communicated with a small group of French agents as well as the British. Some of her achievements during her first four months of work were identifying places for British to drop arms, assisting agents in getting out, managing distribution of arms, and insuring the escape of 30 airmen who’d been shot down in France.

The Germans knew of her existence, so she began changing her hair color—first to red, and then to blonde—and went back to the old neighborhood where she’d lived as a child. Former neighbors were willing to take her in, despite the danger she posed.

With the frequent captures of agents all around her, she must have known how close she was dancing to the fire. One day, she went to meet Canadian agents per London’s directions; the problem was, the Canadians had been captured and the people she met were non-German Nazis. Noor worked unknowingly with them for several weeks, but she was ultimately arrested and questioned in a Gestapo interrogation prison set up in an elegant mansion at 84 Avenue Foch. Unfortunately, it took quite a while for the British to understand she’d been captured—they kept sending messages on the radio, and the Germans answered using false information.

Other people held at the same time said that Noor resisted giving information even under torture. She attempted escape at least twice; in the end she was kept in solitary confinement and shackled. I can only imagine how dispiriting this must have been, and I wonder if she turned to the prayers and songs of her childhood for comfort.

The war had definitively turned in the Allies’ favor in September, 1944, and it became crucial for the Nazis to eliminate imprisoned agents who might later reveal their actions during the war. Noor and other women resistance agents were transferred from France to Germany and the Dachau 
concentration camp in Germany. There, Noor was identified as an especially dangerous type—they called her “the Creole” and was given the most sadistic treatment. She spent her sole night at Dachau being kicked and beaten and was ultimately shot to death along with the other women agents. It was September 13, 1944—seven months before the camp was liberated by the Allies.

Noor Inayat Khan was just one of many women working against Hitler who were killed in the line of duty. She is popularly called her the “Spy Princess” due to the longago link to Tippu Sultan, although she was by no means a royal.

Noor never was able to see her family after leaving England for France in 1943--and she certainly didn't get the service pay the British government promised for her service. But she was one of three SOE women awarded the George Cross, and she also received the French Croix se Guerre.

Five years ago, the British artist Karen Newman sculpted her image. Her likeness stands in London’s Gordon Square near her former childhood home. Fortunately, it does not say "Spy Princess," a title she would never have been called, had she lived. Noor's face holds a quiet, melancholy expression--as if she knows this, too. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Modi's haunts

This is a big year for Modigliani. He left us in 1920 but his paintings sell for millions and there's a show at the Tate Modern in London.
Here's a link to an article from the Guardian. I like how the journalist searches out some of his haunts, as I did and also huffed and puffed up to his last studio wondering how a tubercular man could do it everyday.
However, when I visited his former atelier (before this couple started giving dinners) I loved looking out the window, seeing the light as Modigliani had seen it.
On the floor below lived an older Russian artist, a woman who greeted me with wild piled up hair, and what do you want? To see your studio, Madame, maybe?
Ah no, I'm working. But over her shoulder I got a peek of an atelier that hadn't changed since Modi's time.
In Modigliani's lifetime he had one solo painting exhibition which was quickly closed by the police for indecency.

He sold few works in his lifetime, even with an agent who gave him a studio space in his home on rue Joseph Bara and fed him for awhile. He died tubercular and penniless in the charity hospital after living in a cold attic garret with the mother of his child, Jeanne a painter herself, pregnant with their second. Two days after Modi died, his friends gave him a big send off at Pere Lachaise, some said almost in guilt for the neglect they'd shown him. Jeanne, unable to attend the funeral and taken hostage by her strict Catholic family, jumped from their apartment roof to her death with her unborn child.
The year hadn't passed before his paintings were selling.
Granted he couldn't have been an easy friend - always without a sou in his corduroy jacket pocket, his drinking, feverishly ill
arguing with Picasso, dancing on the table at la Rotonde cafe and tearing fellow patron Lenin's newspaper out of his hands. True. Lenin hated him.  So fascinating that these two icons knew each other. When I found this out researching Murder Below Montparnasse, it stimulated a what if...what if that moment was about something else?
His surviving daughter whom Jeanne's parents refused to acknowledge was sent to Italy and raised by Modigliani's family. She came back to France joined the Resistance and had two daughters by a Resistance colleague who was married. According to reports, his daughter believed a dodgy art historian who authenticated fakes and died penniless herself. That injustice stirred me in so many ways that it had to go in a book.
Cara - Tuesday

Monday, November 20, 2017

Jane Peterson at Home and Abroad

Annamaria on Monday

What you see above is the cover of the catalogue to a fabulous exhibition--the first one-woman retrospective of Jane Peterson's work in forty-five years. You can see it at the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, Connecticut.  I would not have been part of this endeavor if I did not have the huge good fortune of being part of this MIE blog team.

You see, in April of 2015 I posted about one of my favorite artists.  I love her work, and I so admire the adventurous, independent woman she was. David and I discovered Jane Peterson in our search for original American Impressionist art that we could afford. Highly appreciated in the first part of her career, Peterson’s pictures were later eclipsed, with the dawn of abstract art.  While men of her generation—like Childe Hasam, Maurice Prendergast, and William Merrit Chase—remained in the public eye, Jane was one of those massively under appreciated painters who possessed the flaw of being female in a man's world.

And I don't mean that Peterson was just no longer famous.  She has been almost completely unknown.  Consider this: About three years ago, when the Director of the Mattatuck Museum came across two Petersons in an obscure collection in Maine, he--an art expert--had never heard of her.  He emailed his colleague Cynthia Roznoy, a PhD art historian for information about Jane.  She also drew a blank. Reasearch began. And, mirabile dictu, my blog post came up in the ensuing internet search. When Cynthia contacted me, I was thrilled to hear that Peterson might be finally getting the new recognition she deserved. I became an enthusiast for the idea of a retrospective.  Once work on the show was well underway, Roznoy met with a group of us collectors and we became charter members of the New York Chapter of the Jane Peterson Fan Club!

Cynthia Roznoy, with a great deal of passionate work—new scholarship, tracking down works, negotiating loans from collectors and museums, inspiring donors to support the exhibition—brought the project to fabulous fruition. Here are some images from the special preview last Thursday evening. 

Cynthia Roznoy introduced Peterson with this beautiful portrait, which
she described as so like Jane--perched on a chair, with her hat on and
her paint box in her lap, ready to get outside and get to work.

Evening, Holland Fishermen, Volendam, 1907*
The lead off picture in the show was this one, the earliest of her paintings,
a proud moment for me, since it is one of mine and David's.

Here, also ours, is the evidence of Peterson's adventurous spirit.  She traveled alone to Turkey and North Africa in the mid-1920s to paint the exotic scenes she craved.

Street in Old Constantinople, c. 1924*

Here I am with my friend Sid Hauser, fellow founding member of the NYC
Chapter of the fan club. That's his Venetian scene between us, mine and David's on either side.
And here are some better images of our works: 

Venetian Lagoon, c. 1920*

Clock Tower, c. 1920*

*Photographs, Josh Nefsky

In exhibitions like the one just opened at the Mattatuck, I like to fantasize about which works I would take home if I could.  Here (with apologies for my lopsided photography) are the ones I would have spirited away:

This first one because it is of my favorite ghost of New York, as well as being beautiful:

1918 Victory Arch at Madison Square, 1919
Herschel & Adler Galleries, New York
 And this one because it is so gorgeously chic with its dark background, especially in its perfect tarnished silver frame.

Still Life with Flowers (Tulips), c.1925-30
Eskenazi Museum of Art,
Indiana University

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Celebration Every Day

Zoë Sharp

If you’re involved at all in the writing world, you’ll be aware that November is NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. This is the time of year when writers of all kinds try to get 50,000 words of a novel completed in 30 days.

And no, sadly, I won’t be managing that aim this year, although there is still time for me to complete this month’s goal, which is to finish outlines for the next Charlie Fox novel plus a possible spin-off crime thriller. I’m well on the way with both.

But what does NaNoWriMo have to do with Peanut Butter, Manatees, Vegans, Native American Heritage, and Pomegranates?

The answer is that November is also officially the month to celebrate all these things. I had no idea.

Not only that, but 2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, according to the United Nations. The resolution, passed in 2015, was described as “a unique opportunity to advance the contribution of the tourism sector to the three pillars of sustainability—economic, social and environmental.”

And November itself is positively bursting with celebration days. I’d no idea that November 1st was Authors’ Day, as well as Extra Mile Day, aiming to encourage people to go that little bit further towards helping others. Other celebrations on the first of the month included Go Cook For Your Pets Day and, perhaps in line with the start of NaNoWriMo, Stress Awareness Day.

November 2nd was Men Make Dinner Day. It was also Deviled Egg Day and the day to Use Less Stuff. Any connection between those, do you think?

November 3rd was the day for lovers of Sandwiches, Fountain Pens and Jellyfish. November 4th was Use Your Common Sense Day, and Numbat Day. No, I’d no idea what one of those was, either.

November 5th, as well as being Guy Fawkes’ or Gunpowder Day, was also the time to remember Orphans, Love Your Red Hair, and do nothing, as it was Zero Tasking Day. November 6th was the day for Saxophones and Nachos. Nov 7th was a time for eating Bittersweet Chocolate With Almonds (honestly, I’m not making this up), preferably whilst Hugging A Bear—probably not a real one.

November 8th was the day to remember X-Rays and also the day to Cook Something Bold and Pungent. Nov 9th was Chaos Never Dies Day. (Don’t ask me what that’s all about.) Nov 10th was the time to get excited about your Area Code and Sesame Street.

Nov 10th? Origami Day. 11th? The Day for the International Tongue Twister, the Fancy Rat And Mouse, and Pizza With The Works Except Anchovies. (Come on! Really?) Hope you all took part in World Kindness Day on Nov 13th? And that you venerated Spicy Guacamole and Pickle on Nov 14th, as well as the Operating Room Nurse.

Nov 15th was I Love To Write Day, but, just in case the muse wasn’t with you, it was also Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day. Nov 16th was Have A Party With Your Bear Day, as well as the time to celebrate Buttons, Tolerance, Beaujolais Nouveau, Fast Food and Social Enterprise.

Nov 17th was a time to Unfriend someone, to Take A Hike (or possibly a combination of the two), celebrate Prematurity, Petroleum, and bake your own Homemade Bread. Nov 18th is the day for the Occult and Mickey Mouse.

And today, November 19th? Well, let’s just say it with pictures, shall we? Best guesses, please!


No2 ... obviously



This week’s Word of the Week is dískoblundur, which is an Icelandic word which apparently means to take a nap before going out clubbing. Thanks to former Murder Is Everywhere blogmate, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, for that one.

Upcoming Event:

Thursday, November 23rd at 6:30pm, the Portsmouth Writers Hub presents ‘Femmes Fatales 2’ as part of DarkFest Portsmouth with Diana Bretherick talking to Alis Hawkins, Liz Mistry, and Zoë Sharp. Should be a ball!