I was lucky enough to be working in West London in 2012 so I helped John move to Rosemary House. Then, when he became ill and was in hospital, I visited many times. After the vasculitis, when John had memory problems, I referred to some of the paperwork that was rescued from 28A to stimulate some of the long term memories. The majority of the early period of John's life comes from talking to him, reading the paperwork that was rescued and from his brother and sister.
Back in 2012, John moved from his home of 33 years in Park Avenue to sheltered accommodation. When clearing the old flat and sorting through his possessions, there was an old suitcase filled with papers. John took a quick look and said there was nothing in there that he wanted, but, knowing how easily things can get missed, we were checking everything, and there at the bottom was his birth certificate, and in the section for Place Of Birth, it read Casablanca.
John’s father, Robert, was the son of a vicar. He married Helen Mary nee d'Este. The house of Este can trace its roots back to the Italian Renaissance period and the Borgias, something that could be mentioned at mealtimes should mother have been doing the cooking. Robert was in the consular service and was stationed in various locations across North Africa and the Middle East. By 1932, the family was in Casablanca, Morocco hence John's birth certificate identifying that town. In 1939, they had moved to Harrar in Abyssinia, modern Ethiopia. John said he had some very hazy memories of the place; quite why he got embroiled into smuggling a live calf into the family dining room I will leave to his co-conspirators to explain. With the outbreak of war, they were recalled and in 1940 took a train to Djibouti. A boat to Genoa (arriving 1 week before the Germans started invading France) followed by a train to Paris and then the Channel coast, crossing France whilst the Germans were invading. They caught the last boat from France to England.
John was sent to Bigshotte Preparatory School, Crowthorne. There, he heard, and felt, the effect of a V1 flying bomb, known more commonly as a doodlebug, and was evacuated to the countryside.
From 1945 to 1951, John attended Clifton College, Bristol. The written reference he got from the principal states that he was an effective and sometimes witty speaker in public and private. Whilst there, he managed to persuade the authorities that he wasn't going to do cricket or rugby, or any other ball sport, and used to spend the time cycling out to look at historical buildings. I cannot see that being allowed in this day and age. The reference also notes his interest in classical music, drawing, medieval history and craftsmanship, as well as describing him as being a tough cyclist who covered great distances on an ancient machine.
He was a member of the school archaeological society and wrote the end of year report for the school magazine in December 1950. The society tended to look at historical buildings rather than go digging. As a member of the school cadet force, he was able to convince the sergeant major that he wouldn't be any use at any of the outdoor military pursuits and took over doing the corps paperwork instead.
From Clifton, John went on to The Queen's College, Oxford, where he read Modern History. After graduating with a third and receiving his degree from Maurice Bowra, the English classical scholar and academic, John worked on several archaeological digs. In 1955, he worked under Sheppard Frere at the Roman town of Verulamium, modern St. Albans, on a rescue dig on the site where the new visitors' car park was going to be built. This was followed in 1957 by a site in France, a small hill fort close to Le Charlat, near Ussel, between Limoges and Clermont-Ferrand. Again he worked under Sheppard Frere.
By 1962 he was back in the UK and working at a dig in Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk. He led this excavation and it is his report that is filed in the archives. During the dig, Sheppard Frere was called away to London and before setting off, demanded that John find him a hand axe before his return. When Frere returned he asked about his axe only for John to say which one, as they had found two.
During the later 1960s, John started work at a solicitor's office and eventually took his articles, specialising in conveyancing. He would hold this job until long after he could have retired, partly due to the fact that the solicitor was in prison for fraud and John was running part of the office.
Throughout most of his life, there has been classical music. Whilst living in Eastbourne, that is sometime between 1952 and 1957, his parents insisted that he get headphones to listen to his music – so that they didn't have to. Noisy kids - nothing ever changes. John was passionate about Wagner and Verdi (amongst others) but it wasn't just the work, the conductor's interpretation of the music was crucial to his enjoyment. He always regretted that he never saw Arturo Toscanini conduct. His friend, Thomas Heinitz, who owned the HiFi shop where John bought his equipment from, had seen Toscanini and John was highly envious. Amongst his other favourites was Sir Thomas Beecham and he saw him a couple of times back in the early 50's. Simply mentioning names like Wilhelm Furtwangler, Hans Hotter, Karl Muck would have John reminiscing about concerts he had been to or records he had owned. Just don't mention Solti. A long time attendee of the Royal Opera House, John had to queue overnight on a several occasions (including co-opting Frank into saving his place) to make sure he secured tickets for the slips – his favourite seating area. When there was something that he considered special, he would buy, or attempt to buy, tickets for every performance.
John's passion for Wagner led him to Bayreuth, where Richard Wagner had commissioned the building of his own concert hall specifically for the performance of his works. The Festspielhaus was, and is today, a place of pilgrimage for those who wish to enjoy Wagner's works at the annual Bayreuther Festspiele.
When we cleared 28A Park Avenue, the 33 and 78rpm records were collected and, when stacked together, measured about 14 metres from one end to the other. The 33s were sold to a dealer for £1200 and we fed John for about a year with that money. Disposing of the 78 rpm records, a mere 2.5 metres, was more problematic.
John's passion for medieval architecture started in Perranporth, Cornwall where he would cycle out from his grandfather’s house. It would stay with him for the rest of his life. He loved the craftsmanship of those long forgotten masons and had been in the process of cataloguing the window tracery of churches so that he might produce a distribution map of the workers based on their styles. He cycled to St. David's from the school at Bristol. Then, in the last term, he cycled to Cambridge, The Wash, Lincolnshire, York, Beverley, Wensleydale, Cumbria, along the Roman wall, back to York before finally getting a train to Bristol. He reckoned it was about 900 miles in total. On another occasion he did a cathedral tour across N and NE France on a bone-shaker. Sadly, Reims cathedral was shut due to war damage.
John relished what he called church crawling. The Church Monuments Society as well as historian John Vigar both run tours to parts of the UK and visit historically important churches. These could be day trips or long weekends, and John went on many of them. He would also organise his own trips, leaving the flat early and taking public transport as far as possible, finally walking the remaining distance to a specific church. Then he would reverse the journey and come home – one long day to do one church. Later on, Annie and I started treating him to his own customised tours, John would choose what and where (usually opting for the more isolated churches) and we would sort the logistics of getting there and back. These got more and more complex as the close-by churches were ticked off, and day trips turned into over-nighters, and then a whole weekend when we went to Somerset and Devon. I still have his proposed itinerary for the 2013 crawl in Wiltshire that we had to cancel when he fell ill and he never recovered enough for us to take him.
If you ever received a Christmas card from John, the chances are that it had a hand-drawn picture of a church from that year's crawling.
It was Christmas 1940, that John was given a copy of Tolkien's The Hobbit by the family's governess, Mavis Reynolds. This is possibly the start of John's love of that author. He joined the Tolkien Society in December 1979 and was a regular attendee of Northfarthing meetings, the first being in May 1980, and the last, a smial meeting at his sheltered accommodation in February 2015. He was at several Annual General Meetings and Society Seminars, and attended many Oxonmoots, the most memorable occasion perhaps being when he acted the role of the Parson in the Society’s production of Farmer Giles of Ham in Oxford Town Hall in 1989. He was also one of the singers, along with Priscilla Tolkien, in a scratch choir formed for a rendering of Paul Corfield Godfrey’s choral piece Narn i Hîn Húrin performed at the Cotswold Lodge hotel during the 1982 Oxonmoot.
He made many contributions in the form of reviews, articles and his inimitable cartoons to Amon Hen and Mallorn, as well as other publications. In Mallorn especially, he contributed some very fine, learned pieces, such as ‘The Legendary War and the Real War’, ‘Tolkien and Beethoven’, ‘Gandalf, Bilbo, and Sherlock Holmes’, ‘Tolkien’s World and Wagner’s: the music of language and the language of music’, and ‘From Fëanor to Doctor Faustus: a creator’s path to self-destruction’.
However, it was in the publications of the Northfarthing Smial (which contained many of his cartoons) that he displayed his genius for parody. ‘The Adventure of the Morgul-hai’ in The Northfarthing Post in 1984 explored the remarkable connections between the world of Sherlock Holmes and Middle-earth. The ‘Dear Bil’ Letters in The Farthing in 1984-5 were an account of the events of The Lord of the Rings as seen through the eyes of Celeborn in letters to ‘Bil’, i.e., Bilbo in Rivendell. They were based on the ‘Dear Bill’ letters then current in Private Eye. ‘The Alternative Hobbit’ in _The Farthing_ in 1985-6 was a retelling of The Hobbit in the style of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories. Here, a hobbit-version of Jeeves himself accompanies Bilbo on his adventures. ‘Yes, Mr. Frodo’, in The Farthing in 1986-7, was set in the modern world in a format suggested by the Yes, Minister television series.
John was assistant editor Mallorn for nos. 30–32 and 34–44. Inevitably, as the years passed, he was unable to take so active a part in Society activities but belonging to the T.S. always meant a great deal to him and he was generally content just to be at its meetings.
I would like to record my thanks to Charles Noad for the Tolkien Society information and also to Stephen for supplying the music.
You are all invited to the reception at the William IV where we hope to have readings from some of John's parodies including the “wool” ones.
Thank you all for coming today, to celebrate the life of someone who was, in the best sense of the word, a character.
Rikki held firm views on most subjects. Although famously allergic to small children, Rikki was for a time a Brownie pack leader, and thus acquired her preferred name. Bagheera being taken, she became Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the mongoose in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. It was more than 20 years before she revealed the fact that her given name was Daphne, which she loathed
Rikki was born on 18 February 1934 in a house on Brunswick Road, Acton, West London and lived there up until 1944, when her father, a laboratory manager was relocated to Warwickshire and the family moved to the village of Hopwood. Rikki’s bedroom window looked out across to the Lickey Hills in what is now South West Birmingham. It was at her primary school that she met a friend whose family owned horses and she learned to ride. She loved horses for the rest of her life. From primary school she moved to the girls’ grammar school in Redditch. in 1948 her father was offered a promotion, but it would have required them all moving “up North”, something her mother wasn’t keen on. The compromise was to move back to London, where Rikki would live from then on.
Aged 16 in 1950 she was working in the local public library but, much to her annoyance, was not allowed into the reference section, the most interesting bit for her. After a few years she moved on to the Harrods Reading Room, which was a private library for their customers. At the time it had around 700 readers. She was there for 7 years and then took up a position at the Inner Temple library in 1961, the job she would keep until she retired some 30 years later. Rikki was the first woman to be in full employment at the Temple Inn. She was the Deputy Librarian for most of that time and this is where Rikki met Wallace Breem, who was then the Librarian. They were married at the Temple Church in 1966 and were a blissfully happy couple until his early death in 1990. They were both founder members of the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians. The current Library has benefited greatly from all the careful conservation, cataloguing and bibliographical work carried out by Wallace and Rikki.
Rikki said that, quite often, she or Wallace would come home and say “Oh, by the way, I bought a book today”. So, not content with working in a library, they built one in their flat. Some thirty years ago, I can remember visiting and watching Freya and Maxi patrolling around the top shelf of the floor to ceiling books and glaring down at the imposters who had invaded their territory.
There were always cats. During the war, Rikki had a cat that was afraid of bombs so her mother had it put down. She got another from a neighbour who happened to have two, but this was put down when the neighbour's cat died as it might have become lonely. She was then offered a Siamese and her mother went ballistic. Fast forward some thirty years, and there was Freya, the pedigree Burmese. Rikki bought her from Alex, who in turn had purchased Freya’s mother from a friend at the Royal Opera House. Rikki and Wallace bred Freya, who had four kittens, Maximillian, Julia, Livilla and Octavia. And no, I don’t know how you go from Norse mythology straight to the Julio-Claudian dynasty. From then on, Rikki was a member of the Burmese Cat Club. Julia, Livilla and Octavia were found loving homes despite Octavia being their favourite. Freya doted on Wallace and didn’t like to be far from him, even when he was in the bath. The inevitable happened – Freya slipped and fell in and had to be rescued by Rikki.
Cats like to have their comfort and Freya and Maxi were no exception. On one occasion, when there was no cat sitter available, the two cats had to be taken to a conference that both Rikki and Wallace were attending.
Cats appeared throughout her life, there was the colony of cats on an island close to Qasr Ibrim, in Lake Nasser, that would be fed by the passing cruise boats, cats in Greece (she was fond of the Greek Island Cats Calendar), cats in and around restaurants in Egypt and Sudan. In fact, if there was a cat around, Rikki would try to befriend it. Except for Binky, because he nipped her when she wouldn’t move out of his armchair.
Rikki was a committed Wagnerite as well as a lover of the music of Verdi. Music came in two categories – music that she loved and music that she most certainly did not; not least some upstart hip beat combo called the Beatles. Their 1969 album (recorded in the studios next door to her flat) featured cover art of the band members on a nearby pedestrian crossing, thus ensuring that, for ever after, it became a shrine to Beatles aficionados. I can confirm that they were still present, meandering about, cluttering up the pavement, taking selfies and disrupting the traffic flow on Sunday 23rd. August last.
She was a regular at the Royal Opera House and said once that she felt sorry for the younger generation (and I’d like to include myself in that) in that she had been lucky enough to see some of the greats, whereas we youngsters never could. Astrid Varney, Elizabeth Schwartzkopf and Kirsten Flagstad being particular favourites. It was Astrid Varnay singing Isolde’s Liebestod as you came in, a CD taken from Rikki’s collection.
Like many a classical music aficionado, the conductor was the key defining factor in any particular concert or recording. As ever, Rikki had her likes and dislikes, and, I suspect, precious little in between. I discussed conductors with her on one hospital visit; Arturo Toscanini (very good, but she had never seen him), Rudolf Kempe (very good), John Barbirolli and Sir Malcolm Sargent (I think these two were classed as not bad to OK) and then I mentioned Sir Thomas Beecham. Her face lit up and she said “Ah, Tommy” – she had seen him conduct on several occasions. Being me, I had to tease her slightly, so I pointed out that we hadn’t mentioned her absolute favourite, Sir Georg Solti. That earned me a dark glare and the comment “bollocks”. I use that word unashamedly as I know Rikki will never forgive me if I didn’t.
Rikki had a beloved goddaughter, Chrisina who remembers that
On my birthdays a lovely book or book token would arrive and the imaginary places the books took me to were always intertwined with Rikki (and Wallace) in my mind. I know Rikki was not a fan of children, but she was always lovely to me throughout my childhood, and had great taste in children's books. I treasured the Beatrice Potter books she sent me, and particularly loved the Neverending Story book beautifully printed in green and red ink.
I felt very honoured to go to the Temple and I remember practically peeking over the edge of Wallace's vast desk in order to see him seated behind it, framed by many books of course.
Over the years, and after Wallace passed away, we used to chat in her flat, see Cats in theatreland, and meet in Baker Street for tasty meals, sharing stories of London, our respective travels, and generally disagreeing about anything political. Later, when she became less mobile, I made the trips to her flat see her, taking her bottles of Lebanese red wine from Berry Brothers when she was still allowed to drink, and chocolates from a shop on St John's Wood High Street which had been there forever. Rikki represented to me someone with the imagination and will power to live life differently to the norm and I was impressed with her life choices and her love of life - she always said she was never bored, and even in the nursing home, she didn't seem to be affected by boredom.
When I presented her with a photograph of my new born son she said “he looks a wicked little sod.
(Egypt, the Middle East, Rome)
Rikki had a passion for the history, language and culture of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, and was a member of the Egypt Exploration Society, the Sudan Archaeological Research Society, The Thames Valley Ancient Egypt Society and The Friends of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Despite two artificial hips, but with sterling help from Egyptologist Paul Whelan, she made it down the narrow stairs of the tomb of Sennenmut (TT353) and saw the astronomical ceiling; something she had wanted to see for years. She went on a number of trips organised by the Friends of the Petrie Museum, not only to Egypt, but to America, Canada and Copenhagen, visiting Egyptological museum collections. In Copenhagen, there was a superb dinner with Annie, of lobster, steak and strawberries, at a restaurant by the harbour. A bargain meal, except that the consideration of a glass of red wine each, immediately became a bottle which was better value. Not such a bargain when the second bottle was added. She took both the certificate and diploma in Egyptology at Birkbeck College, and had her health allowed would have progressed to the degrees offered by University College, London.
She travelled widely with Wallace, especially to Italy when Wallace was researching material for his books. They had their favourite hotel in Rome, close to the Coliseum, and within easy walking distance of the ancient city centre. After Wallace died, she went around the Middle East on cruises with Swan Hellenic. Here she could take more relaxed trips to the ancient sites as well as indulging her passion for limocello in Italy, retsina in Greece and the red wine of Chateau Musar in Lebanon.
(The TS and other societies).
“I first met Rikki when we joined the Tolkien Society in 1977, both being great admirers of the writing of J R R Tolkien, and have remained members ever since. Rikki took an active part in the running of the Society, being Treasurer for 15 years (a record that will not be easily surpassed) for many of those years while I was the Secretary. She was a firm restraining hand when the Chairman or other committee members had cunning plans that could seriously have endangered the financial security of the Society, and was so famous for ensuring that a “cushion” of £2000 was always held in reserve, that a brightly-coloured cushion with £2000 embroidered on it was presented to her when she finally retired. Rikki was a regular attendee at the Society’s AGMs which held all over the UK and the annual Oxonmoots, as well as hosting the February meetings of the London group, Northfarthing”.
There are many other facets to Rikki's life, the Violet Needham society, the Rider Haggard Society, the Ermine Street Guard, The Trireme Trust, the Scwartzkopf/Legge society, and the Rudolf Kempe Society. Her generosity and love of animals was evident in the number of animal charities she supported, the Brook Sanctuary, Cats' Protection and not least the Burmese Cat Club. I suspect there will be others that we find when we clear her flat out.
Many people have expressed their regrets regarding Rikki’s long and painful stay in hospital and Forrester Court care home, following her fall at home a year ago, and how hard it must have been to see her in such distress. Yet, she was always pleased to receive visitors, even when the opiates clouded her mind and made speaking difficult. Just being there with her at times seemed to be enough.
At the time, I was fortunate to have been working in West London and will always be grateful for the time I was able to spend visiting as we would talk about anything and everything, in fact, making up for lost time as her condition had prevented her from getting out and about for far too long, and I hadn’t seen her socially for too many years. She was happy to talk about periods of her life that I knew nothing about and these have formed a part of this eulogy. I am indebted to a great many people, many of whom cannot be here today, who have shared their memories and helped give a picture of a wonderful life.
I would like to leave the last words to Wallace. Taken from the late Alex Noel-Tod’s eulogy for Wallace in 1990, these lines were written by Wallace in 1984, in a typically generous tribute to a retiring founder member and President of the British & Irish Association Of Law Librarians.
Wallace wrote in the present tense, and I see no reason to change that, although I have adjusted the wording for gender, as the achievements and personality of Rikki Breem will remain for all of us a present example and inspiration:
'Like all the best professionals she cares more for the work than its rewards. She wears her learning so very lightly, deploying her talents with deceptive ease as befits the most distinguished member of our profession. Her lien upon our affections is unassailable.'
Around 14/4/2013 the RAC should have taken a direct debit from my credit card. They didn’t, so I was without cover for the remainder of the year and also into 2014. Checking later, I could find no evidence of a payment having gone through.
On 20/2/2014 the van had a puncture and, although I could get the wheel nuts off, I could not loosen the rust joint between the wheel and the hub joint. Driving up and down with loosened wheel nuts did not break the joint. So, believing I was a member, I called the RAC. They said I wasn’t a member, that I had cancelled the payment (not true) and I would have to rejoin. Being stuck, I did not have much option (I needed the car to get on holiday that evening).
£141 later, an RAC man turned up and freed the stuck wheel and changed to the spare. He had a much bigger hammer than me.
Whilst on holiday, I received a telephone call from someone called Mikey, 0800722822, who said that there was a 50% discount available because I hadn’t cancelled the payment. He gave me a promotional code, RCDRL50, to use to get the discount.
On 4/3/2014 I called that number. It doesn’t connect. I called the standard RAC number 0800828282 at 14p/minute, for 11minutes 53 seconds, and waded my way through automated direction options. With help from the operator, I got put through to the payment people who said that because I had rejoined as a new member, they couldn’t refund me the money. They did say that I could upgrade. Apparently without using the promotional discount which isn’t transferable to the next year either. So the discount is completely useless.
Notes to self:
Payment terms are defined on page 47 of the T&Cs booklet. It does not say whether I have agreed to have my details stored on their database for automatic renewal. I don’t believe I did authorise that.
About 20th. January 2015, cancel all payments to the RAC and start researching Green Flag, AA etc.
Whilst helping haberdasher, I scrounged many things, mostly made of wood, that I could chop up and burn. He had two ammunition cases that had been used for storing Bren guns during WW2, but in fact date from WW1. Before I burnt this one, I thought it might be amusing to work out what the legend said.( TreenCollapse )
This morning, and for no known reason, I recalled a memory of my Grandfather singing what I suppose to be a nursery rhyme. I could remember the first two lines and had to do a search to find the rest of it. The closest I can come to it is this:
My Mother said, I never should
Play with the gypsies in the wood.
If I did, she would say;
'Naughty girl to disobey!
Your hair shan't curl and your shoes shan't shine,
You gypsy girl, you shan't be mine!
And my father said that if I did,
He'd rap my head with the teapot lid.
My mother said that I never should
Play with the gypsies in the wood.
The wood was dark, the grass was green;
By came Sally with a tambourine.
I went to sea - no ship to get across;
I paid ten shillings for a blind white horse.
I upped on his back and was off in a crack,
Sally tell my mother I shall never come back
Maybe I am misremembering but this does not seem to be the same version that Grandad sang. Does anyone else remember this one and do your lyrics differ from these? I'm sure that Grandad's words were more male-centric.
At present I'm helping Opera-Buff move into sheltered accommodation. This involves sorting through 33 years of accumulated strata in his old flat. There are going to be regions that have not seen light of day in decades but they are a joy to come.
He has decided to to keep all his CDs (ca. 1500 of them) but get rid of his cassettes and LPs. Most of the cassettes are his own recordings and not worth anything. The 1000+ LPs would need either Opera-Buff or an independent expert to value them. They, or rather, the ones we have found so far, are stacked up against two walls. Getting rid of most of his music meant he does not need his hifi any longer; these days he plays CDs on a walkman and uses headphones.( Cut for pretty pictures of old stuff.Collapse )