A ‘piece for the day’, was first published in the Personals column of the classifieds listings in the Rhodesia Herald 35 years ago, by my late father John Lentell.
From 1968 to around 1976 John published, at his own expense, a “piece for the day”. Each daily listing was hand typed and delivered to the local newspaper office two to three days in advance of publication. There were no fax machines, email or Internet in those days!
I’ve kept the carbon copies of his two finger typed classified ad form submissions and I am republishing them, one-by-one, in honour of John and his son JP who never knew him. Nor did I know of JP until he found me on Facebook in 2008.
For many years John had threatened to write an entertaining, warts and all biography called Lentell Soup, but it never happened.
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 turned 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.
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:
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…