Sunday, 18 November 2012

Memories of Professor Salvador de Madariaga and A Very Special House

I read an article earlier this year about the house where Salvador de Madariaga lived for many years in Oxford. I have been inside that house on several occasions. It was awarded a coveted Blue Plaque  The article below evoked a lot of memories from the past.

The connection is that my father used to be the gardener for Don Salvador de Madariaga while he lived in this house. I sometimes accompanied my father while he was carrying out his duties in the garden, and so I met and spoke with the owners, Professor Salvador de Madariaga and his wife, Emilia Madariaga.

They were a lovely couple and were very kind and friendly towards me and my sisters. They even came round to our house once for homemade Italian food, cooked by my mother. I wish I could remember more about that event!!

I have a personal signed copy of one of his novels called "Sir Bob" dated 1969.  Sir Bob is "A Tall (Though Not Grown-Up) Story for Children from Nine to Ninety". I enjoyed reading it immensely.

The garden was kept beautifully neat and tidy by my father, and I remember there was a fabulous miniature doll's house in a corner. Sometimes I was invited to look inside it by Mrs Madariaga and it fascinated me as it was so incredibly detailed.

In their later years after they left Oxford, the couple stayed in a beautiful hotel in Locarno, Switzerland. It was "Hotel La Palma au Lac".

 I and Mrs Madariaga became very good penfriends. We wrote letters and postcards to each other in Italian, Spanish, French and German, as we both loved languages.  She gave me a lot of encouragment when I was younger, and she was thrilled to read about my adventures abroad.

I remember when my sisters and I were very young, she used to call us " Le mie tre principesse".

Although there was a big age gap between myself and Mrs Madariaga, it didn't matter at all, because we both had so many things in common. A love of languages, a love of the Classics, a love of travelling, a love of translating. Mrs Madariaga was a professional translator, interpreter and editor. I know that I have a collection of her letters somewhere hidden away, and I am determined to find them one day and reread them all. They are a link to my forgotten childhood and youth. She was very encouraging towards me. I loved receiving her letters from Hotel La Palma au Lac in Locarno, Switzerland. The address is etched in my mind forever.

 One of the many lovely postcards I received from Locarno from Mrs Madariaga.

The highlight was when my family and my uncle's family all descended in Locarno one day to say hello to the Professor and Mrs Madariaga. The look on the faces of the diners in the very elegant restaurant as we all traipsed in, was priceless. We were invited to sit down and join them and a few pleasant hours were spent in their company. The views of the lake from the terrace was stunning. I wish we had taken a photo of that scene for me to be able to recount what happened more vividly!! All I know is we were tired after having travelled in a Morris Oxford (6 of us) from Oxford, on our way to a holiday in Italy and to be welcomed so enthusiastically by the Professor and his wife, is one of those classic unforgettable moments in my whole life.


My father was able to communicate with people from all walks of life, and so he made friends with the Professor, and they had a mutual respect for each other, despite coming from hugely different social and cultural backgrounds. My father had no pretence to be anyone other than himself. He was down to earth and called a spade a spade.  I believe this is what endeared him to the Professor.  My father has many fond memories of his days spent working for Professor and Mrs Madariaga.

My sister used to play the classical guitar. She was incredibly excited when Professor Madariaga very kindly arranged a meeting with Andres Segovia, the world famous Spanish classical guitarist, who was visiting his home in Oxford. She was presented with a ticket to watch his classical guitar recital at the Sheldonian Theatre Oxford, and has a programme signed by the grand master himself.

 Below you can see a photo I took of St Andrew's Church a few months ago. The tombstones in the cemetery are just about visible. This is very near to the house and garden which holds so many happy memories for me.

To read more about a very pleasant stroll down Memory Lane whilst I was in Old Headington, you can view this post from my Project 366 blog, called Day 47:A Walk Down Memory Lane.

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