Sunday’s Piece

Everyone (friend and foe alike!) seems pleasurably surprised when they visit either our shop at C.A.B.S. Basement First Street or our factory at the Industrial Sites. We welcome visitors to the factory – it is a quick run from town. Ring 23673 for directions and bring that broken chair in the garage with you.

John Lentell – Barum & Sarum

December 14th, 1967

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Saturday’s Piece

We are not selling as much as we ought at C.A.B.S. Basement First Street but (heaven be praised!) it does attract a lot of furniture repair, renovation and re-upholstery work. There is something funny about basements in Salisbury as former tenants and C.A.B.S. would readily testify – funny peculiar not funny ha! ha! The repair orders could be because we seem to be the only people offering on a factory scale woodwork and upholstery repairs combined.

John Lentell – Barum & Sarum

December 13th, 1967

Friday’s Piece

“Tom died – as other Toms must die.

Tom lied – as other Toms may lie –

Tom squall’d – as other Toms do squall –

Tom was of “Barum’s vale” the pride –

Tom lived a “Goose” – a “Goose” he died.

(Tim Vortex)

(Barum is the Latin word for Barnstaple in North Devon – founded as a Borough in 930 and claimed as England’s oldest Borough. It celebrated its Millenary in 1930).

Barum & Sarum

December 12th, 1967

Thursday’s Piece

We have to move sometime in the New Year – when our tenancy at C.A.B.S. basement expires. we are looking for extraordinary premises to suit our extraordinary business. Shopocracy comes to Salisbury! Suggestions would be welcomed – to John Lentell at 23673 (factory).

Barum & Sarum

December 11th, 1967

Wednesday’s Piece

It won’t sell much of our ‘pickled furniture’, but we like it –

“When you were a tadpole, and I was a fish,

In the Palaeozoic time,

And side by side in the ebbing tide

We sprawled through the ooze and slime”.

(A toast to a Lady – Langdon Smith, 1858-1918)

Barum & Sarum

December 10th, 1967

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langdon_Smith

http://www.chss.montclair.edu/english/furr/int/evolution.html

Sunday’s Piece

Believe it or not but a commercial enterprise can have a soul – it can think and feel (other than in terms of profit). Confronted by never-ending obstacles, frustrations and adversity, punctuated by moments of sheer joy, we have every reason to think deeply about things and it would seem to be a good idea to share such thoughts. We shall be handicapped by pressures and laziness (or even censorship!) and we might not make it to this column every day but it is worth a try.

“Candour, who, with the charity of Paul,

Still thinks the best, whene’er she thinks at all,

With the sweet milk of human kindness bless’s,

The furious ardour of my zeal repress’d”

(Charles Churchill)

Barum & Sarum

December 7th, 1967

JP

More than anyone else, this blog is for JP.

JP
JP

In August 2008 I had been living in Sydney for eighteen years when I received an anonymous short message through Facebook that opened “Hi i am interested in finding the sons of the late John Robert Lentell…”.

The message was from JP. I replied to confirm I was indeed the son of John Lentell, asking why he might be interested.

His reply reassured me he had ‘no hidden agenda or suspicious intentions’ and went on to to say:

“I have been curious for sometime now whether or not to get in touch with yourselves, I remember speaking with one of you over the phone when I was about ten years old, I saw photo’s and heard all about you, from your father of whom, according to himself and my mother, is my biological father too! Your father unfortunately passed away a year later when I was 11 and I never really got to know if any of you were aware of my existence or were willing to accept it either! It has been a long time and I have since relocated to South Africa due to the political situation in Zimbabwe, the only thing I have of “my father” is a photo and a ‘sentimental’ wine glass of his, I am not asking for anything except I would like to know the other side of my ‘family tree’ if I can put it that way, it is half of who I am, I do know a bit about where your father was born, where he grew up, the three of you, but that’s about it. I guess I want to know more and perhaps your acknowledgement of me would mean a lot too! Other then that I am not looking to ‘attach strings’ if you understand what I mean! I do hope to hear more from you, if not I can accept that too.”

Well, as John would have said, ‘how about that!’. I checked out JP’s photos on Facebook and sent him a few photos of John to add to those he would see on my Facebook profile.

Many years ago John had mentioned that he’d had a relationship with a young woman whom he was also helping / mentoring at the time, that she’d fallen pregnant, given birth to a son and that he might be the father. I was living overseas at the time and knew my father would have enjoyed the telling of the story even it were only a remote possibility, so best to wait for the reality to present itself. Besides I was young and making my way in the world and couldn’t really deal with it anyway.

So twenty five or so years later the reality presented itself through Facebook. My partner at the time took one look at JP’s photos and commented “of course he’s John’s son, look at his nose”. She was right.

I’d recently ruptured an Achilles tendon and as a single parent running a home with three kids, I was feeling under the gun and a little sorry for myself. I found it increasingly daunting and cathartic as I started to think about JP’s question asking me to tell him about his (our) father whom he’d never known. It’s one thing to describe briefly and selectively one’s father to unrelated people, but where on earth do you start, via email, to tell your newly discovered twenty six year old old half-brother about your father whom he’d barely known. And John was not an easy man to describe, nor was he unblemished.

I thought I’d wait for the right time and head space to attempt answering his question. But of course, more than year later, despite my best intentions and growing guilt, I still had not replied. The only consolation was that we were connected on Facebook so at least we could share some of our lives that way. I also realised it would be a lot easier if we could meet and start the conversation face to face.

As it happened, just over a year after JP first contacted me a friend and I spontaneously decided to travel to Namibia. The flights took us in and out through Jo’burg.

So I took the opportunity to meet JP for a few hours one Saturday morning. It was great.

I’d always imagined how difficult it must be for JP, never having known our father or his brothers, to face the reality of making contact. At least my brothers and I had definition to our youth and lives – we had each other and we had two parents whom we knew and had lived with – whereas half of JP’s heritage was effectively a blank sheet. Much easier and emotionally more secure for me meeting him for the first time than him meeting me. During our conversation JP commented his partner and fiancée had observed that she’d never seen him more nervous than during the few hours before he to come and meet me.

I asked JP about his two year old son and what his name was. He explained it was ‘Devonte’. He and his fiancée had been chosen it because they liked French names and had found it during an internet search. They liked the sound of the name as well as it’s uncomplicated, uncontroversial French meaning of ‘man of Devon”. I immediately asked JP if he knew that John was born in Devon, England. He was speechless for a moment as he’d always understood John was from Taunton, Somerset and had no idea that in fact he’d been born in Barnstaple, Devon.

That karmic moment swept away any doubt that JP was indeed the son of John.

Having carried John’s ‘pieces’ around for many years without knowing quite what I’d do with them, the reason I started this blog more than any other was to start answering JP’s question, “can you tell me more about my father… “.

About Lentell Soup

A ‘piece for the day’, first published in the Personal column of the classified ad listings in the Rhodesia Herald 35 years ago by my late father John Lentell.

For 1968 to around 1976 John published at his own expense a “piece for the day” in the personals classified column of the Herald national newspaper. Each daily listing was hand typed and delivered to the local press office two to three days in advance of publication. No fax machines, email or Internet in those days!

I’ve kept the carbon copies of his hand delivered, two finger typed classified ad form submissions and in honour of him and the son JP who never knew him but found me on Facebook in 2008, I am republishing them, one-by-one, on the Internet.

For many years John had threatened to write an entertaining, warts and all biography called Lentell Soup, but he never quite made it.

This is my homage to his memory..

WHO WAS JOHN?

John was born on 9th July, 1926 in Barnstaple in the county of Devon, England of English / Scottish parentage. He spent most of his childhood in Taunton, Somerset and, as was common at the time, he left school at the age of 14 to enter the workforce. Although too young for army service during WW2, he did time with the British army in Palestine around 1946-48.

Despite his apparent English / Scottish genetic ancestry, after I had my DNA analysed at 23andMe it turns out John’s genetic heritage arose out of the Near East and north eastern Africa and his particular Haplogroup is found in northern Iberian populations, especially in Portugal and the Spanish region of Galicia. Which is all the more karmic as throughout his life he enjoyed travelling to Portugal and had a number of close Portuguese friends.

As a young man making his way in early 1950s post-war England, he took the opportunity to seek his fortune in the colonies and migrated to Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia as it was then known.

John was successful in business for a number of  years as the local sales agent for English brands such as Jacob’s Biscuits and Twinings Tea. He met my mother Sylvia, a young biology teacher from Cape Town working in Salisbury, and they were married in 1957. My brothers and I were born in the early 1960s.

After the unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) in November 1965 by the Rhodesian government of the day lead by Ian Smith and the subsequent imposition of trade sanctions by the international community, John was no longer able to continue in business as an import agent.

John and Sylvia had been vocal supporters of the burgeoning African independence political movement and in opposition to and protest at UDI decided to leave Rhodesia. However after an uncertain period of nine months living in Cape Town and with John being blacklisted by the South African government for his political views and activism, the family moved back to Salisbury.

In the following years John sought to establish a new career as an antique dealer, starting a business called Barum and Sarum (Latin for Barnstaple and Salisbury) and later adding a custom jewellery business named Utopia. Whilst these businesses survived for a number of years, it was always a struggle, compounded by the worsening political and economic environment during the escalating years of violence and warfare in the torturous journey of Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, and ultimately they failed.

The continual business struggles, cash drain and inevitable stress contributed to the separation and divorce of John and Sylvia in 1974-75. My brothers and I lived with Sylvia and whilst we regularly saw and spent time with John, he essentially lived alone for the remainder of his life. As an adult experiencing trials and tribulations of my own, I’ve often had heartfelt thoughts about the loneliness and sense of loss of family I know he experienced.

TODAY’S PIECE

Despite increasing eccentricities in his later years, John was always an interesting, sociable, conversational, aspirational man and a loving father. For many years from the late 1960s he published at his own expense a “piece for the day” in the personals classified column of the daily national newspaper, The Rhodesia Herald. Each daily listing was hand typed and usually hand delivered to the local press office two to three days in advance of publication. No fax machines, email or Internet in those days.

It all started out as an alternative and unique personal form of advertising to promote his antique and furniture restoration business, tinged with a healthy dose of self expression and ego at times. You will see many ‘pieces’ that reflect this.

The very first piece was prefaced with:

Thursday 7th December, 1967.

Believe it or not but a commercial enterprise can have a soul – it can think and feel (other than in terms of profit). Confronted by never-ending obstacles, frustrations and adversity, punctuated by moments of sheer joy, we have every reason to think deeply about things and it would seem to be a good idea to share such thoughts. We shall be handicapped by pressures and laziness (or even censorship!) and we might not make it to this column every day but it is worth a try.

Many were perplexed as to why he persisted with it, but equally many enjoyed and appreciated his piece for the day in the national paper. As a child I often heard strangers remark “So you’re the John Lentell who does that piece for the day!” or “I love your piece, it’s the first thing I read each morning”.

Of course as children and teenagers we were great under-appreciators of the daily piece, except for Christmas Day, 1972. In our pre-pubescent days the family ritual was to gather in my parents’ bed for early morning tea and biscuits, with newspaper to hand. On that day John asked if any of us had read his “piece” yet. I happened to pick up the paper first and found my way to the ‘personals’ column in the classifieds section to find the following listing:

Monday’s Piece

Gour, Ross and Dickon!
The electric train set that I have wanted all my life is in the garage! Happy Christmas.

John Lentell (alias Dad)

LENTELL SOUP

For most of my teenage and young adult years, Dad was financially ‘hard-up’. He struggled by in his eccentric way, often having run out of cash and with no clear plan for how he was going to get through the week. He would smile and say ‘don’t worry, something will come along’, seemingly relaxed and confident in his karma and faith in people. It drove some people nuts. As his children we accepted it, learned to live with it and enjoyed the ambience he created, whilst secretly being thankful we had a secure and reliable home with our mother.

John was a voracious reader of biographies and keenly interested in ‘what made people tick’. He often remarked that his reading kept him sane, and often kept him company when he woke alone (and I’m sure  racked with worry) in the middle of the night. He developed a strong interest in graphology and would often garner the rapt attention of usually attractive or interesting women by “reading their handwriting’.

He espoused and lived by many fine values, which he summarised as “the three C’s” – Candour, Communication and Compassion. I believe he was true to that tenet.

As the years went by, John talked increasingly of grand ideas and aspirations along with promises of financial success and well being. One of the key planks was going to be the biography he had been promising to write for years, ‘Lentell Soup’. It was to be a warts and all, totally candid,  amusing and compassionate account of his life, loves, people and times. And it was going to sell by the million.

The dreams were never realised and the reality was a slow descent into alcoholism, frustration, loss of friends, unrequited love, loneliness and ill health. He died in Harare, Zimbabwe in early 1993.

Dad was a fantastic letter writer and two fingered whiz on the type writer. He religiously carbon copied and filed everything and for the past seventeen years I’ve carried around a box with files of letters he wrote and received as well as a bunch of old, mouldy bundles of carbon copies of his daily piece entries – I’m not sure whether they are all there, but there sure is a lot of them.

I’ve never being quite sure what I’d do with it all, and I thought I’d buried the idea (and hope) of Lentell Soup a long time ago.

My dad would have loved the internet, if only to update frequently his status on Facebook and, no doubt, write a blog or two.

One of his favourite sayings was “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party”. Well, now is the time. I’ve sorted and filed all those ‘pieces’ and I’m going to start out by committing to read every damn one of them and publish them daily on this blog, starting at the beginning.

Some of this soup is bound to be personal and specific to the man and the times, but not for one second would Dad consider excluding anything.

Other things of his may find their way on into this soup bowl in due course and I invite and hope that a few people who were close to him and are still with us might also contribute recollections and anecdotes.

I hope you find some enjoyment and inspiration in John Lentell’s daily thoughts from forty years ago…

Gour Lentell