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REMINISCENCES OF DOREEN SIMMONS

Reminiscences of Doreen Simmons (Girton, 1950-53; Hughes Hall, 1953-54)
Joined January 28, 1976: 29 years a member

My introduction to the C & O came in the 1970s through the British Council, which at the time was housed on one floor of the Iwanami Building in Jimbocho. I had been working for over two years at the International Language Centre, which occupied the floors above and below, before somebody told me about the British Council's annual no-fuss "light" lunch for the C & O, consisting of an assortment of cheese and biscuits, and the mainstay, a delicious liver paté made in pottery bento containers by two or three Council wives from a recipe handed down for years by the wives of successive Representatives. I joined the Society on one of these occasions, on January 28, 1976. At another, two years later, I heard of a Japanese foundation looking for a native rewriter; after a succession of interviews I landed the job at the Foreign Press Center/Japan which is still my main employment and which completely changed the course of my life. The paté lunches were a great success until the wife of a new Rep. declared "We can do better than paté and cheese!" -- and indeed they did; a talented organizer and a forceful personality, she dragooned all the wives into assembling a vast hot meal of gourmet dishes. This so exhausted the ladies that they never hosted us again.

I have always felt comfortable in the company of people one or two generations older than myself. Perhaps it's because I'm five years older than my nearest cousins, so as a child I was accustomed to being in the company of my elders. Most of my early memories of the C & O are of long pleasant chats with dear old gentlemen -- and one or two ladies -- who went to Oxford or Cambridge round about the time I was born. Some are no longer with us; others are still alive and reaching for the record books in one capacity or another. Of these, without doubt the most important to me was Masayoshi Kakitsubo (Trinity Hall, Cambridge, 1932-35). We shared an office at the Foreign Press Center for nearly nineteen years and never had a cross word; this was not the least of his achievements. He was a retired diplomat. One of his early assignments was to supervise the evacuation of the British Embassy at the outbreak of World War II, ferrying the diplomats to the Port of Yokohama in a fleet of taxis. He was also sent to take over the Australian Embassy but was kept waiting outside for a long time; when he finally got inside the boiler was almost red-hot -- they had been burning all their documents! During the War he was assigned to Subhas Chandra Bose as his English-Japanese interpreter. For this reason he was often interviewed in later life by foreign journalists, especially Indians. In the 1950s he had been Japanese Ambassador to the United Nations and for decades thereafter continued to be sent on missions to Geneva and elsewhere for disarmament conferences. Outside these activities he was one of the most undiplomatic people I have known, and his frankness was very refreshing. It was accepted that he would stay in harness at the FPC; from time to time people at the Gaimusho had tried to "tap him on the shoulder", but he was so far senior to all of them that they gave up discomfited. His mind remained sharp as a tack right to the end, though his body was beginning to wear out. He often said it was good to die quickly; and that is what he did, on January 3rd, 1997, six months short of his 90th birthday.

Another member of that generation, still alive but housebound, I believe, was Toshio Katsube (All Souls, Oxford, 1931-32), who as a young diplomat incurred the disapproval of his superiors by marrying Lillias, an enchanting red-haired Scottish contralto. In his Oxford days he had achieved a certain fame for his legal acumen; brought up before the magistrate for "careless driving" he explained politely that, being a beginner, he had, in fact, been driving most carefully; though he would certainly admit to "unskillful driving". The beak is said to have let him off. The marriage was a long and happy one, and towards the end of it Lillias and I became good friends. As she gradually succumbed to multiple sclerosis (fortunately her mind was the last to go) I was often invited to their home in Meguro for wide-ranging conversation. I also retyped (and gently subedited) some of her memoirs. I wonder if they ever found a publisher. Toshio himself had some fascinating tales to tell. As one of the young diplomats assigned to work with the Americans on the drafting of the postwar Constitution, he was full of illuminating anecdotes on that process. One I particularly recall was the shock of the Americans on being told, "The Japanese of this passage can be understood only by Japanese people with a good knowledge of English."

Another lively and amusing man, a few years younger, was Toshio Yamanaka (Trinity, Cambridge, 1939-40); he hadn't been to a meeting for years, but we exchanged New Year cards until last year, when I received notice of his demise in late 2004. He was always good for a lift (and extra conversation) back to Kasumigaseki for Mr. Kakitsubo and me; since he stopped coming to meetings, New Hall, for instance, has never been such a good option as a venue.

A man I particularly remember over the years is the architect Hidehiro Takaki (Gonville & Caius, Cambridge, 1927-30). At our first meeting, in the Shell Theatre I believe, I cautiously asked "How do you spend your days?" and was floored when he replied, "I keep my mother amused." She was about 103 at the time; she lived to 107. Mr. Takaki is still with us and will turn 99 this summer.

Among the ladies, I met two dai-sempai Girtonians: I used to enjoy chatting with Teruko Kachi (1933-6) whom I have not seen for many years, but Ineko Kondo (1937-39) is still active and always a pleasure to meet. She was a contemporary and remains a friend of Alison Duke, the don who was to become my own Director of Classical Studies at Girton in 1951.

Dudley Morgan (Christ's, Cambridge, 1929-33) was unashamedly "closed entry" -- he cheerfully said to anyone who would listen that he was the only boy available for a particular place that had to be taken up by his school in Wales. He was one of our Honorary Secretaries for years. When in the late 1980s I pioneered putting the address list onto a primitive word processor, he never caught on to its advantages, but continued to hold on to the details of new members until he had collected about a hundred -- at which point he would carefully write them out in longhand in alphabetical order and post them to me. In vain did I point out that if he sent me each new member's information as it arrived I could now input it immediately and the page would adjust itself round it; and that once input correctly and proofread, the same text could be called up and used again and again; new typing errors were a thing of the past. Finally he took my printout, sent it to someone's secretary, and got her to do the whole thing again from scratch. In one sense all my work was wasted; on the other hand I got into computers, and online, several years before most of my younger colleagues, and this gave me a considerable advantage at my four paying jobs.

Ambassador Tadao Kato KBE (Emmanuel, Cambridge, 1939-41) was another wit, and handsome, too; I believe it was Sir Michael Wilford who introduced us at a large lunch in the Ballroom of the Residence, perceptively observing, "Doreen, you need men at your table!" Lady Wilford later came and sat with us, and I cheerfully said apropos of the apple pies, "You must have sat up half the night peeling apples," and without missing a beat, she answered, "Oh no, the real bother was slivering all the almonds for the trifles!" I have fond memories of the Anglican priest Canon Paul Sekiya (Westcott House, Cambridge, 1931-32) who was a member at one time, though I knew him mainly through St. Alban's Church; he died in 1994 aged 89. At the end of his funeral at St. Andrew's Church I made a dignified Japanese-style bow to the line of relations, but his younger brother introduced me to his siblings as "the sumo lady" and with big smiles and cries of recognition they broke out of the receiving line and slapped me on the back. Heigh-ho.

My slightly older contemporaries, Hugh Wilkinson and Peter Milward, are well able to speak for themselves; but I should mention a slightly younger contemporary, Ken MacDonald (Brasenose, Oxford, 1956-59) whose plummy, orotund voice was much in demand for narrations. I knew him mainly through being a guest on some of the Advanced English TV interview programmes he hosted on the NHK educational channel (ah, those were the days!). Before each programme he was a mass of nerves, belying the calm assurance he showed onscreen. He had a reputation for asking searching questions in the interviews, and during his lifetime I never let on that these were actually scripted by the Japanese producer. But I promised myself that if he said dismissively, "Well, that's all very interesting, isn't it" just one more time, I would brain him with one of the potted palms. Still and all, it was NHK Educational that started me on a profitable sideline in narrations and voiceovers, long before the satellite channel began its sumo commentaries.

Still happily among the living, a sort of country squire back in Shropshire, Leslie Fielding (Emmanuel, Cambridge, 1953-56) only two calendar months my junior but through a combination of circumstances three years after me at Cambridge, came here to set up the EU Delegation (and though he was never officially an ambassador himself, managed to ensure that his successors were). He's a Sir now, and after leaving the diplomatic service was Vice-Chancellor of Sussex University. In March 1980 Leslie hosted a big lunch for us at the Kaiyu Kaikan; it was there that I got to know Seizo Hinata (Magdalen, Oxford, 1937-38), another former ambassador, this one married to a Francophone Japanese lady for whose bilingual French/English books I did quite a bit of translation and editing.

Finally, let me drop down a number of years to remember another thoroughly nice man as well as an outstandingly talented writer about the Japanese scene, this time twelve years my junior: the journalist Robert Whymant (Magdalene, Cambridge, 1963-67), who used to bring a large dog with him when evening meetings were held in one of the houses at the UK embassy; she would sleep in his car until the meeting ended; then he would let her out for a prolonged sniff around the shrubbery and we would chat companionably under the stars. His death at age 60 is shockingly recent; he was drowned in the tsunami in Sri Lanka on Boxing Day 2004, and with Robert I round out my list of affectionate remembrances of both the living and the dead.

Doreen Simmons
March, 2005

Posted in | Submitted by Doreen Simmons on Mon, 2005-02-28 15:00.
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