A week before Christmas in 1984 veteran broadcaster Kim Shippey accompanied me to Robert Kirby’s play “Wrong Time of Year.” It was followed by supper at The Palace in Rosebank, Johannesburg.
This is what Kim wrote about our evening together:
What does one say about a girl who loves TS Eliot and Vivaldi, Cote d’Or and Camelot and thinks she’s a vampire?
I suspect even Erich Segal would be stumped by that one.
Draw a little blood, you might say, and analyse it carefully?
Or keep out of her way.
But what do you do when she insists that she’ll lose her job unless she can take you to a show of your choice and a nightspot of her choice?
Turn up the volume on Richard Harris and see what he says about handling a woman?
No, you climb meekly into that blood-red sports car and let her drive fast to Kirby’s first night.
It’s a funny play about people who are not quite sure whether they’re trying to fight their way into or out of a paper bag.
Suddenly I’m one of them and Jani is holding the paper bag.
She’s enjoying the game, even more that she is the show …
The questions flow gently, most of them disguised as observations on human nature. There’s no follow-through, no asperity, no sign of blood anywhere.
That famous peaked cap stays firmly in place, and even the softest rebuff is twirled away on ribbons of laughter.
Clearly there’s going to be no winner here. It’s even doubtful whether the game will run its course.
It’s so hard to hurt someone who enjoys being scratched, and even harder to deflate someone who isn’t blown up.
Before the final curtain, we’d declared a truce and swopped favours.
Her’s was Blaise Pascal, unsullied by translation, mine was pure Eliot.
An evening with Jani …
“…is something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you.”
This is what I wrote about that evening:
What made the man agree to the chimerical caper? I still do not know. Perhaps it is because he possesses true style. His actions are committed with flair and cut with an edge. And, in an uncool world, someone whose deeds throw sparks or who dares display wit publicly is hard to find.
At the theatre he moves through the froth at the top, stately as a Sarabande and the embodiment of savoir vivre.
The play is very funny. Kim laughs at all the lines. Even those that are a little risque.
He doesn’t talk during the performance, but then I didn’t think he would. It isn’t proper.
After the play, I ask him if he wishes to mingle. He suggests we go straight to supper.
We roar off to the restaurant. Out of the corner of my eye I see Kim stifling a yawn, but made of the right stuff, as he is, he’s going through with the whole gambit.
At The Palace, he graciously accepts the waving of palm fronds and implicit hosannahs.
The sweet-box shiny interior and the cuteness of the waitress amuses him. He orders the entrecote and a Perrier water.
I announce that I wish to drink champagne. I feel desperately embarrassed when Kim, poker-faced, asks if all I ever drink is champagne. (It is.)
Now his cordial manner is counterpointed with gentle jesting.
I gulp my drink and comment that the play reminds me of Simon Gray’s “Butley”. Butley, like Kirby’s Professor Haversham, shares a passion for TS Eliot.
Kim and I agree that Eliot is sublime. His comment about the poet jingle with shafts of insight.
Kim suggests getting up a sliver before sunlight before the principality of the sky lightens and going for a run.
Spending a day in the country could also be sublime. So could sailing on Long Island Sound. He reads voraciously. Several books at once. And writes poetry.
We talk more. About music. Vivaldi, Mozart and Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, Welsh male choirs. And films.
I watch “Camelot” twice a week, I tell him defiantly.
“That slop,” he says disparagingly. But compassion rubs a soft patina on the cutting comment and when he suggests that we recite that last famous poignant scene together, he’s word-perfect.
And evening spent with Kim Shippey?
“… the roses had the look of flowers that are looked at.”