Yesterday would have been Margo Durrell's birthday. There was always a little bit of confusion about her age because she used to chisel off a year here and there. She died in 2007 at an agreed age of 87. So to commemorate her 97th birthday I have written this short piece.
I have fond memories of Margo as a highly energetic fun loving woman. As a child my mother could never understand why I would spend ages upstairs drinking tea with gran but never consumed a drop downstairs. It was of course the free reign I was given (with a mischievous grin) over the sugar bowl.
It was Margo who was my first source of books for reading. She passed me a huge variety from Oscar Wilde to D H Lawrence and just about every occult related book that was published. We used to spend many a day trawling the second hand bookshops around Boscombe, Charminster and the wider Bournemouth area. My favourite was a converted church called the ‘Ashley Road Book Shop’. It was gigantic and stuffed to the rafters with first editions and other curiosities. We used to pick up our booty and then retire back to her flat for tea, biscuits and fun chatter.
Margo’s spirituality was something that never struck me as odd at the time but now, looking back, I think it was very unusual. She had become a buddhist chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” to a little scroll in a box. On Thursday’s she was a tour guide at Christchurch Priory, seizing every opportunity to flirt with the vicar, whilst she also liked to pass the days with a couple of “handsome young Jehovah’s Witnesses”, who proved their devotion by sitting on the sofa trying to get a donation. Their mission was doomed from the outset, for Margo was much more comfortable seducing than being seduced. Perhaps it was the array of books with titles such as ‘The Power Of The Subconscious Mind’ that kept her safe, although, one I read called ‘Tibetan Secrets Of Youth And Vitality’ didn’t triumph in the end.
I wouldn’t ever say that I saw overt gestures of feminism such as I saw in the fragments of ‘The Durrells’ series, but it was evident in the style in which she lived. She was independent, strong, un-beholden to men and lived a pretty wild life travelling Africa, the Americas and elsewhere.
I always love to remind myself of the sound of her contagious laughter and amusingly outrageous comments. On one occasion she recounted being told by the then mayor of Bournemouth at a dinner party that they represented the “cream of Bournemouth”. Margo replied without a hint of irony, “well if this is the cream of Bournemouth then we are in real trouble!”
Despite so many happy memories, my mind tends to flick back to the day before she died and we held hands. She couldn’t speak but her piercing blue eyes looked afraid and she squeezed my hand tight. The time for the last journey of the last Durrell had arrived.