Thanks to an email from Geoff Burrows in Australia, I now know much more about Nancy’s ‘great big blooming easy-going’ friend from her days at the Slade, Bee Falkiner. One reason it proved impossible to track her down was that Nancy, like most people, had misspelt her surname as ‘Falkener’ – though she was right about the location of their Surrey home, which was Reigate. It was a party at Bee’s home in Surrey that a car-owning Durrell was roped in to drive them all down to, right at the very beginning of their acquaintance. So, it turns out that Bee’s father Ralph was indeed very wealthy and did own vast tracts of Australia. And he was ‘large’ as eel and had been nicknamed ‘Big Chief’ on account of his huge sizel.
And Bee’s later life was as colourful as Nancy would have anticipated and hoped. She ran a textile business for many years in South Yarra called ‘Falkiner Fabrics’ and her work is displayed in the National Gallery in Victoria. According to her nephew she apparently had ‘quite a lot of marriages’ which sounds as though the family rather lost count of them.
When quite elderly, and following the death of husband number ?, her first husband, whose surname Taplin she had kept, came to visit her in the South of France. He stayed, eventually discarded his current wife and they seem to have lived happily thereafter.
How Nancy would have loved to visit her there – charming.
Not only did Bee rediscover an early love, but at the age of 90 she started an art school in the south of France. She died in 2010 – so if she was older than Nancy, she must have been 100 or so. I’d love to have known her – and how tantalising that I easily have met her.
Thanks to Geoff B for this fitting another missing piece in the ongoing jigsaw.
The little book of handwritten limericks Larry produced in 1941 when he and Nancy were in Kalamata has come up for auction, triggering an extraordinarily prurient and silly article by someone called Jack Malvern in Saturday’s Times. I feel a moment of shock/horror coming on – not at the little poems, which are harmless, but at the po-faced Pudding Islandness of the article. 4 columns are devoted to the booklet, but of course, no quotes can be given because they are ‘too obscene to appear in a family newspaper’.
The limerick which is illustrated also happens to be the one I quoted in my book:
There was a fair maid of Corfu
Who blocked up her joy-place with glue
With a certain mistrust
She was widely discussed
By the two or three people who knew.
The illustration is equally shocking (not).
Actually, as the book I have co-written with Alex and Marcus Lewis and which is published tomorrow (Tell Me Who I Am) is genuinely shocking, this kind of mimsy pretending to be shocked I find quite pathetic. The little book of limericks was handwritten and given to a friend, so entirely private. I hope Larry is chortling somewhere far from Pudding Island in another place, but my father Edward Hodgkin, one time Deputy Editor of The Times, must be turning in his grave at this Daily Mailish idiocy.
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Some serious sleuthing is going on in New South Wales. I was contacted a couple of days ago by someone who is reading Amateurs in Eden at the moment and noticed the Slade friend of Nancy’s whom I call Bee Falkener. I described her father as owning large tracts of NSW. Oz Sleuth suggested this might in fact be the Falkiner family, one branch of which lived near her when she was a child. In the next email Oz Supersleuth (upgraded) provided even more information:
Ralph Sadlier Falkiner (described as wealthy entrepreneur, inventor and manager of vast family estates) who lived at Colley Manor Reigate during the 1930s who had a daughter called Beatrice known as Bea. There is a tantalizing reference to ‘Bea’s’ Toorak studio being open in 1947 and lots of the Falkiners attending, but my research has been hampered by not being able to get on to Trove, the National Library of Australia’s website today. It seems RS loved machines, including a road train he imported and ran.
I had tried to find out what happened to BF, but was hampered, I now realise, by the wrong spelling. But it is lovely when these snippets of information wing their way in unbidden. Another little bit of jigsaw slides into place. Maybe some of her pictures are viewable online. We shall see.
Last night I went to see a documentary about Sharq al Adna, the broadcasting station in Jerusalem/Jaffa that my father was running when he met Nancy. It was interesting in a way, though there was very little about the context, or what was going on – the second world war barely merited a mention. But it was fascinating for me because it told the story entirely from the point of view of the Palestinian journalistis and broadcasters who worked on it, and after a brief mention of Wauchope at the beginning, one got the impression pretty much that it was Palestinian run. A useful corrective to the European view, I’m sure, but no mention of SOE or the German pre war broadcasts or even the move to Cyrprus. And as so often with subtitled films, a torrent of words is represented with a few pithy words at the bottom of the screen. So for me, sort of interesting, and also sort of dull.
It’s been a long time since I added a post, and I guess that is symptomatic of the fact that I am gearing up for the next book, so maybe it is time for this site to morph into an author website rather than a book one. I am going to Cornwall on 27th April for the rather grandly named Constantine Literary Festival, where I will be talking about Amateurs in Eden – but I think in the context of my transition from fiction to non-fiction.
But I have been completely immersed in the next non-fiction book, which is due out in July, and will be published by Hodder. It is a collaboration with Alex and Marcus Lewis, identical twins with an extraordinary story to tell, and is called TELL ME WHO I AM. The page proofs are due any moment.
Amateurs is not completely forgotten – far from it. Among the papers that were delivered here from the house my parents sold in 1952/3 was a bundle of manuscripts of Fielding Hall’s. He was the mysterious relative of my mother’s who left her all his money, thus largely financing their Corfu/Paris years. I have always been fascinated by him, and so, once the page proofs are sorted and the new book is off the starting blocks, I intend to see what his papers reveal. He has the kind of handwriting which looks incredibly neat at first glance, then turns out to be quite hard to decipher.
page proofs arriving – hurrah