PHILIPPA REES. ( more relevant present-click)
This book is about life; all of life; and one life. It has (force majeur) to draw from the author’s single remembered life, which certainly has been varied and every part harvested for this work. I hung back as long as I dared, but as you can see, Time’s winged chariot isn’t far off.
I was born in South Africa in 1941 and, looking back, realise my solitude (only child, single mother) was the root of all enrichment in other directions, necessarily spending school holidays on safaris with my beloved multilingual grandfather inspecting schools in the remote interior of Botswana, or later on horseback with a Austrian doctor attending mountain clinics in Lesotho. My galleon grandmother had known Cecil Rhodes, and Jan Smuts and was related to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her family had had a significant role in the life (and death) of George Eliot’s stepsons. All this extravagant narrative washed over my head, and I believed none of it, until recently when the evidence of all of it came to light. I discovered that much too late. However independent minded women… and the virtues and necessity… of independence loomed large from an early age.
In early years I shuttled between rigid boarding schools trying to be Roedean and the wild freedom on Noel, my horse in Lesotho. Later consolation was to be found in literature, and two inspiring teachers, one English— The Metaphysical and Romantic poets, the other Theology and comparative religion.
At University after indecisively sampling five faculties( such a rich choice of culture, where did one begin?) I fell into Psychology and Zoology under both the seminal palaeontologist Raymond Dart and the ‘father of embryology’ B.I. Balinsky. Then marriage to a marine biologist/photographer involved deserted mangrove islands in Mozambique scouring mud flats for supper (lavish sea food, lobster, crab, and coconuts and cashews for an exiled ( (and bored) five star chef to turn into dinner- salary was a mattress and his helping) but starved for company. Then the sophistication of the Max Planck Institute with Konrad Lorenz in Bavaria, living in an 11th Century Mill with an unrepentant Nazi landlady (who, by then, should have been extinct but was alive and well and playing Schubert.) Then it was Florida (kept company by an air-conditioner) until the experiences that led to this book sent me into exile. I landed in Southampton with five pounds , two small children and a manuscript…
The academic underpinning of this book was offered in lectures on Saints and Scientists at Bristol University, while building a home and an arts and concert hall for chamber music, raising four daughters, and living in Somerset, which continues.
Almost nothing planned, happened. Everything that wasn’t, did. It was all reclamation, mental or physical, books or bricks required demolition and reconstruction.
I no longer have four daughters but friends, an arthritic dog, and when I can find him, a deaf husband, who thanks God for it and the invention of subtitles.