Friday, November 19, 2010

Working in London

London remains the capital of the English-speaking world, despite American pretensions. While working there as a correspondent for a group of SA newspapers in 1990 and 1991, it became quite clear to me that London is not only a very powerful financial centre, it is also hugely important as an information capital. You only had to read the five or six national daily broadsheets, and an equal number of tabloids, or watch quality TV on the BBC, ITV or Sky (not to mention the radio), to appreciate that London sets a global standard few can equal.

So I worked out of a tiny office in Hatton Garden, a street in Holborn (pronounced Hoburn) lined with jewellery shops. I kept this envelope with our address on it for the bizarre image of a man with a foot for a hand.

A couple more of the odd creatures which occupy my subconscious.

What was interesting about those drawings is that, apart from their obvious Klee-like brilliance, they were on the back of this letter to the late Jeremy Brooks. He was the Sunday Times correspondent in London for half the time I was there, and I often heard him chatting to Ewan MacNaughton on the phone. We had a close working relationship with the Daily and Sunday Telegraph. Jeremy actually headed off to the Persian Gulf to watch, at a distance, and report on the early part of the 1991 Gulf War. I remember him, full of chuckles, coming into the office with all his "gear" for the trip, including a gas mask.

I'm relieved that, 20 years on, a pound is still a pound and not a euro. Giro was a word I was unfamiliar with till I got to the UK, where it seemed to be used as slang for the dole.

Papers - newspaper - have always been part of my life.

Longing for the crocodiles and sharks of home.

Just a few words at the bottom of the text reveals these drawings are on a Guardian page.

Little Kin in Big London.

Time for a Saturday morning jog.

Let's face it.

It was sink or swim, really.

Healthy body, healthy food.

This was drawn on a leaflet evidently dropped off in Acton, where we lived.

The reverse of the page reveals it comes from the Conservative Alternative.

No idea who Jones was, but let's give him a ring.

A pith helmet in London?

This battering ram found itself at the bottom of a statement evidently from or about the recently unbanned ANC. In fact, by the time the ANC was unbanned in SA on February 2, 1990, I had already established solid relations with their London office, having personally met their London representative, Mendi Msimang. Dr Frene Ginwala was our ANC "deep throat", who could be contacted for comment at any time. This was especially important before the ANC's unbanning.

Again kept for the little drawings, the text here also has an SA connection: Nadine Gordimer.

Somewhat faded, I still rather enjoy this totem and would one day like to do it in paint.

Who would call a chemist shop Boots? Or a book shop WHSmith? But that's London, so get used to it.

I gather Trans World Airlines is now history.

Another wacky figure.

It was done on the back of this envelope. I love those postage stamps with the Queen's head which haven't changed throughout my 50-plus years. It signifies an appreciation for savings and austerity I'd love to see in this country.

The fax machine was to the 1980s what computers were to the 1990s and beyond. Where would we have been, as journalists, without the old fax? The world also lent itself to some ribald humour about faxing people.

Peas in a pod.

This multi-lipped lad finds himself beside a line about the IAAF. Covering SA's gradual readmission to the world, on all fronts, as we moved towards democracy was a key part of my work in London.

SAA, like so many other firms, was represented in a big way in London.

I added the note that this taxi trip was to the ANC office, though I wouldn't be able to say where it was today. I love the address for this company.

I recall this outfit as being seriously right-wing. Perhaps the little icon I drew on it is fitting.

This tiny figure has little intrinsic merit, but on the back was ...

Ah yes, a list, from our letterhead, of the SA Morning Group's member publications. So I was working for all the above - the bottom one is the Daily Dispatch.

Another piece of fax paper, another odd little figure.

Ooch, d'ya feel like a wee drink noo?

This drawing, too, hardly merits keeping, but I like the beer-drinking bear in the Tesco's ad. Beers are sold at most Uk supermarkets, unlike in SA where there is still a bizarre ban on the practice.

Shockingly, on the back of the above is a part of a report from South Africa - it looks like the Daily Mail - about the ongoing violence which racked parts of the country in the early 1990s.

This may look upside down, but I have used the Metal Bulletin page as a basis for a drawing.

Heavens, we seem to have landed up in Glasgow!

A legacy of centuries of empire, London still bristles with erudite societies and institutions where intelligent people wax lyrical about world affairs.

This Taffy seems to have his ear to the ground. Happy to see my multiplication was spot on.

Part of my job entailed sometimes covering for John Cavill, the group's London financial editor. I'm happy to report that I even landed a front-page lead in Business Day on one occasion.

Used for a while as a coaster for my tea mug, this drawing is done on a piece of card from a report by the Urban Foundation.

This crazy creature has all the ANC numbers you need.

People forever misspelt my name. Either it was Bently without the second "e", or Kin became Kim or Ken. I have a few treasured envelopes from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

This one contained an invitation to a wee soiree at the India Office Council Chamber, no less.

Here I have magnified substantially the embossed coat of arms on the back of the envelope.

Just to show you that sometimes they did get my name right.

On this occasion - white envelope - the coat-of-arms was printed, not embossed.

Another gem - this time from the House of Commons, the mother of parliaments.

Here the coat-of-arms is the portcullis at the entrance to the Palace of Westiminster - ie, the houses of parliament.

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