For years Christmas was not Christmas without a copy of the annual album of Giles cartoons. That happy tradition was revived for the first time since the cartoonist’s death in 1995, when I found at a farm market in Howick, for just R50, a marvellous book of 150 cartoons about the adventures of the Giles family on travels to America, Bermuda, Spain and, naturally, around the UK.
What made the find extra special was that the text by columnist Peter Tory, a Daily Express colleague of Giles, included his humorous and insightful assessment of the “combative, awkward and bloody-minded genius” that was Carl Giles.
Published in 1993 and entitled, The Giles Family: The Illustrated History of Britain’s Best-loved Family tells of Giles joining the Sunday Express in 1943, when his prime targets were Hitler and Mussolini.
Their exit in 1945 created his need for a new focus, so he combined some other characters into a smallish family unit which he introduced to the world on August 5, 1945.
Grandma was there from the start. Dressed in her familiar floor-length black coat, hat, brolly, fox-head stole and padlocked handbag ready to wallop any irritating traffic warden or VAT inspector who crossed her path.
Who provided the inspiration for Grandma? Peter Tory believes Grandma was Giles. She had his spirit and sense of mischief, shared his love of betting, boating and motor bikes and was incensed by the use and abuse of power by minor pompous figures of authority. Both “were their own man”. His newspaper bosses wanted Giles to live in London. He refused to leave his Suffolk farm and dispatched his cartoons by train to the capital three times a week. He was a socialist who enjoyed the company of working men, but refused to stop speeding around in his beloved white XJ 120 Jaguar.
He and Grandma smoked, and he paid the price for his addiction: at 76, he had serious circulatory problems, which led to the amputation of both legs below the knee.
Giles and Grandma were involved in a major squabble when sculptor Miles Robinson was commissioned to create a bronze work for the centre of Ipswich to mark his 50th birthday. The sculpture depicted Grandma, the snuffling Vera, the robust twins and Butch, the family dog, lying across Grandma’s feet.
Giles was invited to view the half-ton work of art before it was cast in bronze. He grudgingly gave his approval. However, when he spotted a colour photo in his local newspaper of the finished product he exploded with rage. Butch didn’t look like that. He wanted it off the statue.
The poor artist was instructed to remove Butch entirely from the finished sculpture. As this was impossible he had to start the whole thing over again, “practically from the first fistful of clay”.
Our weekend visit to Howick in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands did not, alas, include a visit to the famous falls. But we had some lovely walks in the Amber Valley Retirement Village, an unusual development which incorporates substantial open areas which are allocated to the keeping of game.
We counted about 60 blesbok with their prominent white blaze, three zebra, seven impala and several families of warthog with babies running behind them with tails as erect as their parents. Except where the owners keep a dog, there are no internal fences between the homes. This allows the game to move and graze along the many water courses weaving through the village. Here and there, a homeowner had protected a special shrub with netting to prevent it being chomped by a passing browser interested in tasting the leaves.
The popularity of Amber Valley, completed in 2011, has spawned three other similar “eco” developments nearby and catching on down here. The only two women we chatted to on a Sunday morning walk both came from Cape Town. One was the sister of a Rustenburg classmate, the other came from Mowbray .The journey from Durban to Pietermaritzburg and on to Howick gave me new respect for runners of the Comrades Marathon. I had no idea that the “Up Run” had so many downs and the “Down Run” so many long, long ups!
The two good water-saving tips I received from readers – putting a bucket in the shower to catch the cold water till the hot water kicks in and using the shower water for rinsing the dishes – were both included in the comprehensive list recommended by the Tokai Neighbourhood Crime Watch in their newsletter emailed to people in the area. However, there is one tip which women in particular should consider implementing. That is cutting back on the amount of water usually used to shampoo and rinse their hair. A good friend recalls that when there was a serious drought situation some years ago, hairdressing salons were only allowed to give one wash and one rinse to their customers.
FMR’s bilingual presenter, Lorraine Braid, is passionate about Italy, so it was no surprise that on a recent Friday night she chose to highlight the career of tenor Luciano Pavarotti on her programme, “Great Interpreters”. Not surprisingly, we wanted to hear what she had to say about this fabulous tenor, but the snag was the thick walls of our Langebaan cottage which block out the FMR airwaves of FMR. However, we did have reception in our car next to the lagoon. So we sat for two hours in the dark listening to Pav and Lorraine. Reminded us of by-gone courting days….
The blonde was thrilled with her “Black Friday” bargains. “Look”, she said showing her new stilettos. “I only paid had to pay for one shoe… the other one was free.”