Country Life, UFO’s and Russian Spies

Image result for victorian villas in nzAnother installment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

As the Thomas Case unfolded, we were putting together a new life, and moving out of the city.

I’d imagined living in a village, but the New Zealand country-side is not like that. Instead there are a few scattered small towns among dairy or cattle farms which spread in great swathes across rolling hills and fields.

We, of course, didn’t want a farm, but somewhere to live not too far from Auckland to work. We found it. A half- acre of abandoned tennis courts forty minutes from the city. It lay in a valley mostly farmed by descendants of the original settlers, and who, we learned later, were well known in those parts for somewhat antique life styles and opinions which had not changed much since their ancestor’s distant pioneering days.

In the beginning we were an exotic phenomenon. Half the farmers were Catholic, so Patrick was a familiar personality to them through the Catholic newspaper, and as such we were disapproved of … were we married or not? Others decided we were Jews, which was not a term of approval. Others were not too keen on people who were undermining the justice system, and trying to get a guilty man who’d murdered one of their kind out of prison. ( All this information came home via the children at the village school)

As time went on I compounded this mistrust by campaigning in my columns (which were read) against the spraying of the fields with a dioxin pesticide, 245T – now discontinued – felling of trees, treatment of animals and other unpopular causes.

We found an old Victorian villa, with traditional white lacy carving along the verandas, and moved it out to our little piece of land, transforming the wrecked shell into a warm, colourful and beloved home, and planted trees and grass and flowers over time.

While we were still settling into the house and the community, I flew to the South Island to open a solo parent conference in the mountains above Nelson, a beautiful little city. On the way I stopped in Wellington, the capital, to have lunch with a well- known lawyer and civil rights activist- Shirley Smith- who had contacted me. She was married, I learned, to another well-known New Zealander, Bill Sutch, historian, writer, top civil servant, ex-diplomat, now retired and Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Arts Council.

The diminutive, untidy sweet- faced woman who met me at the airport was quite unlike the elegant sophisticated lawyer I’d expected. She had a wonderful simple directness, as well as being articulate, warm and intelligent. Being a somewhat disorganised housewife, she stopped at corner shops on the way up Wellington hills to pick up butter, bread and various things for lunch.

And then this highly civilised woman took me into her house on the hill where I enjoyed her conversation and the resources of her remarkable mind. It’s a rare pleasure in these times, for someone to be able to fall back on ancient poetry or history to illustrate a point, and when few people are fluent in Greek and Latin, French and German- and also Anglo-Saxon- which she had learned to keep pace with her daughter when she was at University.

I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the house designed by renowned Austrian architect Ernst Plishke and filled with fascinating and precious objects…walls of books, tribal rugs, a large T’ang horse, pictures by famous painters stacked because there was nowhere else to put them, brass Buddhas, ancient terracotta Etruscan figurines, Eskimo carvings, antique pewter. I learned later that her husband Bill’s collection was famous.

Bill himself now came in from the garden, which was his pride and joy, and in which he’d created a Mediterranean micro-climate to grow olive trees and protect other exotic fragile plants from the cold Wellington winds. He was wearing an old red checked shirt pinned together with safety pins at irregular intervals where there had long ago been buttons, and wearing battered corduroy trousers…

He was shabby and courteous and delightful. As time went by, I loved him for his sense of humour and incredible erudition, for his love of sophisticated art and his joy in simple things like my blackberry and apple tart or bunch of buttercups on our dining table.

On this day, lunch was eaten at their table, laid with fragile German china on a Mexican tablecloth, with reminisces about how these things had ended up in Bill and Shirley’s home, mixed with anecdotes about Bill’s time in politics, with UNRRA after the war, and at the United Nations in its earliest days… places and people from the headlines of my childhood, from all over Europe and all over the world… at the League of Nations and watching Anthony Eden battling at Geneva before the war, Eleanor Roosevelt after the war, his struggle to keep Unicef going when the UN wanted to close it down, (one commentator has said that Bill should have been included in Unicef’s Nobel Peace Prize) Bill tramping across Tashkent, Samarkand, Afghanistan, into North-western India in the twenties, exploring Mexico together, and Shirley’s memories of pre-war Oxford when she was studying classics.

Shirley’s simplicity was the polarity of Bill’s immense complicatedness. Bill cared for the under-privileged because it was the duty of all upright people to do so. Shirley loved the poor and the oppressed. She was incapable of passing by anyone who needed help, and spent most of her time in her law practise helping those whom others wouldn’t help, acting for those who couldn’t afford legal expenses. She never made a penny out of her practise.

When they delivered me back to the airport, I was drunk on the glory of enjoying what Mr Eliot in Persuasion described as the best company – “clever well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.”

I continued my journey to Nelson, wearing what Patrick used to describe as my Russian spy outfit, consisting of a long high-necked black coat trimmed with fur, black trousers and long black boots, and large black sunglasses. This was quite relevant when Patrick rang me the following Friday afternoon.

“That charming gentleman you had lunch with last week”, he said, “has just been arrested as a Russian spy”. He added – “I hate to think what the SIS made of you arriving at the airport in your Russian spy outfit, going up to their house, and returning to the airport to fly out again”. “I don’t believe it,” I replied, and sat down to write to Shirley. I learned afterwards that many of their friends deserted them after this appalling incident.

Shirley was in a state of shock after the Secret Intelligence Service- SIS – had crashed into their house late at night after they’d arrested Bill- who didn’t drive – walking up the street with a bottle of milk from the dairy…having been seen talking to a Russian diplomat. The SIS men went through the house, taking out every book in the shelves, searching for any incriminating evidence – none of which they found.

Bill’s trial – the first and only spy trial in this country, was set down for the next year, but now in December, we were caught up again in the Thomas Case. I used to say we ate, drank and slept the Thomas Case, with phone calls, conferences, Thomas family calling in to see us, angry, desperate Vivian visiting, public meetings, and now the Court of Appeal in Wellington.

Patrick was the go-between and principal mediator between the different branches of the campaign, including the Thomas family, his parents and all his brothers and sisters, the lawyers, the Retrial Committee, the police, the newspapers, and the politicians.

While Patrick was in Wellington battling the arrogant bullying Chief Justice and his panel of mainly prejudiced judges, I stayed behind with the children and had the first of many extraordinary experiences. At the Guy Fawkes gathering, and over tea at the Country Women’s Institute I had heard people claim to have seen UFO’s in the valley.

Farmers up at four o clock in the morning for early milking saw them, one woman was terrified when she saw them and locked her doors, others were more pragmatic and curious. I didn’t know what to think… farmers tend not to be fanciful…

On this evening, at about seven o’ clock on a summer’s night, when it was still light, with no stars in the sky, I saw a large light hanging above the hill opposite our house. As I stood there, wondering if this was a UFO. I became convinced. It was too large for any star. It hung there silently and unmoving. Then suddenly it shot up vertically and without a sound at enormous speed, and disappeared and I was left with a strange sense of joy and peace.

The next day I flew down to Wellington to the Court of Appeal and sat through the drama and hate and pain which pervaded the court room.

To be continued

 Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 A friend was coming unexpectedly for supper last week when the cupboard was somewhat bare… we’re half anhour away down a muddy tortuous road to the nearest shops, so there’s no chance to nip to a corner shop for emergency supplies. So out of the deep freeze that afternoon came a packet of frozen pumpkin soup and some frozen chicken. I boiled the chicken with onion, carrot, celery and garlic, which gave me chicken stock and chicken.

I flossied up the pumpkin soup with a chicken bouillon cube, stirred in some butter, cream and nutmeg, and this cheered up a bought soup. I made a risotto with the chicken stock, white wine, onion, garlic, chopped mushrooms and arborio rice, and at the end grated a courgette into it before adding the chopped chicken, cream, salt and pepper and some fresh parmesan.

We were having this meal on our knees on a cold winter’s night, so the soup was served in cups to sip. The risotto with extra parmesan was easy to eat on our knees, especially since I’d put the vegetables in the dish, so we didn’t have to cope with salad. My friend was trying to lose weight so I didn’t make a pudding but arranged on a pretty plate dates, walnuts, dried figs and crystallised ginger so she could graze if she wished. She did – strict diet not withstanding! And we all downed with gusto the pink champagne she had bought.

Food for Thought

We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody. R. Buckminster Fuller






Filed under beauty, cookery/recipes, culture, history, jane austen, kindness intelligence, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized, village life

29 responses to “Country Life, UFO’s and Russian Spies

  1. I marvel at your delicious detail, Valerie – remembering a tablecloth, a old red checked shirt pinned together with safety pins. The horror of having the SIS invade a beautiful home is hard to imagine. Your ability to describe friendships and events truly keeps me on the edge of my seat. Thank you or another exciting chapter. By the way, my father who was a realist, said that he too spotted a UFO – he described the sighting in exactly the same way you did. Interesting…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh Rebecca, how interesting that your father saw and described a UFO the same way that I did … actually, there’s more and different to come… later ! It’s so lovely that you enjoy my opus, dear friend, I really appreciate it…
      As for remembering the detail, my love says I have an eidetic memory… I remember colours and scenes and words and places, and tastes and smells so the picture as a whole is always there…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with your love – you do have an eidetic memory. A gift to us all because we benefit from clarity or your descriptions. Looking forward to the next installment. Hugs!


  2. I didn’t know that Bill Sutch was so instrumental in saving UNICEF from dissolution by the US. We could do with the likes of Bill Sutch to stand up to the current US administration.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello Amanda.. he had such an interesting life didn’t he?
      I remember him telling me that when he was responsible for imports and exports during the war, he thought the morale of the country’s women was so important that he always made sure that there was enough lipstick to be had !
      I can see why he was supposed to be ahead of him time in so many ways…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Somewhere I have also read a lovely article on Shirley about her time at Oxford. I think it was written by her daughter. But I can’t locate it; bother. From what little I know about the Bill Sutch case, I would say that the SIS and the US, and probably the KGB, failed to understand the context of his life. So many of his age group were curious about new ideas and movements. But they were thinkers, intellectuals, and not traitors.


  3. I loved the meeting of your two untidy friends….I felt I was right there, getting to meet them and share in the beauty of who they were. I thought to myself I’ll bet you look darn right elegant in your all black outfit. Then I marveled at your amazing ability to make up wonderous food from a wee stock of supplies. I am thinking I am more like your un-tidy friend. I hope I’m sweet-faced, although I would rather think I’m more wrinkled faced!! 🙂

    Love your writing. Just adore it!
    Love you also! Hugs from way over here to you way over there!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dearest Linda, you are such a loyal and enthusiastic friend and reader – thank you for all your lovely words…
      I have no doubt that you are sweet-faced…I love it that you could see what fascinating people Bill and Shirley were – their story isn’t over !
      Much love to you… will be replying to your letter. XXXXXXXXXX

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I really do love reading your posts dear Valerieski. Wonderfully lived and written ! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ralph, it’s wonderful to have such an enthusiastic reader!!! Thank you…
    from Russia with love…..


  6. Jane Sturgeon

    My heart tore for Bill and Shirley. I was right there with you Valerie. in your elegant outfit, as you wound your way with Shirley to their home and then Bill came in from the garden. With the Thomas case too, there is a heart tearing from injustice. I love your writing and the way you weave your story. I save your posts, so that I can slow right down and savour them. I feel we can’t possibly be alone in this universe. Yes, we are all connected and all responsible for how we nurture our ‘ship’. I used to say to my ex.husband ‘You are torpedoing our ship from the inside and I can’t keep mending the holes on my own.’ Our marriage did not survive, but I pray earth and we all will. Huge hugs for you and much love. It always feels like we are sitting, sharing around your kitchen table and that is a joy. ❤ xXxx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. If your life wasn’t exciting enough, you witnessed a UFO as well! I marvel at your continued adventures and the interesting people you meet Valerie.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You have amazing skills to describe small details. Love the house description! Isn’t there something exciting to make a meal from scratch with very few ingredients? You were very creative! Love the plate to munch from!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dearest Valerie,

    You ended this one with a cliffhanger. I look forward to the next installment. Meanwhile, I enjoy your detailed descriptions that put me right in the past with you.
    I admire your ability to put a sumptuous meal together at a moment’s notice with what you have on hand. Our friend has practically sung arias in praise of your cooking. I suspect he’s more than accurate.
    As always love to you and himself.

    Shalom and hugs,



    • Good morning Rochelle,
      Thank you as always for your lovely enthusiasm for this series!
      Ah food, glorious food… thank you for your appreciation ! Food is a pleasure and creative delight to me on days when no other creative endeavour has captured me ! White paint and a roller has kept me busy the last few weeks !!!
      Himself sends his love as usual, while wielding a drill and a tape measure!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. From one extraordinary experience to the next! It is hard to know why you yourself were not nicked for one thing or another during all these experiences. I live in dread of the next encounter, with all those dice loaded against you.
    As for your UFO — I saw one that later I explained away with a temperature inversion to explain why it was going against the wind, and the appearance fitted a brown-paper-bag/candle balloon. Then, at The Dargle in the Natal Midlands one night, I saw a ‘satellite’ and called my wife to look for it coming across from the side of the house where she was standing, but before it got within her sight it did an instant right angled-turn and shot off at immense speed before disappearing.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m never going to get the image of you as a Russian spy out of my mind now, Valerie! can’t wait for the next installment…:>)

    Liked by 1 person

  12. eremophila

    Waiting patiently…… fabulous writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Shirley and Bill sound very much like people we would enjoy knowing…Russian spy not withstanding. I’m keen to know if he was acquitted so I must move along and read the next instalment… Also, your new home sounded lovely, made so by you, of course. Your observations of the judgements and comments about yourselves reminds me of the narrow-minded little town we grew up in, nice people, but highly distrustful of those who were different. It has hardly changed in that regard. xx


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