My father, John Francis Durham ('Tim') Elkington was born in 1920 and was an RAF pilot in the Battle of Britain. Later in the war, he served in Russia, the Battle of the Atlantic and India. He stayed on with the RAF until 1975, when he retired as a Wing Commander and set up an art and picture-framing business. An independent spirit. I inherited at least some of his stamina.
My mother, Patricia (Pat) Elkington, born in Birkenhead, Merseyside in 1922. She and Tim met at Castle Gogar (see below), inhabited by her aunts, Brenda and Dorothy. Brenda was married to Gogar's owner, Sir James Steel-Maitland. At the time, Tim commanded nearby RAF Turnhouse and met Pat when making a courtesy call. The courtesy continues. I inherited her love of words and reading.
Sir James Steel-Maitland: As my godfather, he sent me gifts I loved as a child - a silver christening mug made from part of a section of elephant's tusk, hairbrushes made of ivory and whale bristle - gifts that I later learned to see with radically different eyes.
Major 'Ned' Adams: He and Mrs Adams ran our prep school,
Glencot, near Wells, Somerset, where I arrived in 1959. He taught me various
things: French, Maths, Latin. A tremendous teacher, but also a frantic caner,
he was eventually committed to an asylum. At one stage I was getting caned
more or less every week. For years I thought I must have been a masochist,
or just plain stupid, but then read that the part of the brain that handles
the trajectories of stones, spears and the like also handles thinking about
Isabel Griffin/Elkington/Coaker: My father's mother, half-American, Isabel gave an aura of sophistication to our childhood. When Elaine and I lived alongside her in Knightsbridge in the early 1970s, we traded stories of transcendental experiences, she having had an out-of-body experience when she almost died as a child in South Africa.
Rudyard Kipling: Unfashionable today, perhaps, but his Just So Stories left a huge impression, particularly drawings such as 'The Whale and the 'Stute Fish' and 'The Cat That Walked by Himself'.
Henry Williamson: Stories like Tarka the Otter and Salar the Salmon had a profound influence on me as a child.
Kerry Effingham: I met Kerry, alias Irene, Countess of Effingham, when she lived in Rose Cottage, Little Rissington. I was in my early teens, and she was one of my closest friends until she died at the age of 89 in 2001. Raised in India, she worked for Eisenhower in WWII and, among many other things, taught me to weave and dye.
The Beatles: They helped create an opportunity space
for my generation for which I am eternally grateful. They appear in my 'Desert
Island Discs' selection (Revolution). Whether we made sensible
use of that opportunity space is another matter entirely.
Siblings: A huge influence, in one way or another. My brother Gray (and his wife Christina) and my sisters Caroline and Tessa (and her husband John Chambers).
Mother Superior: I don't know what her name was; all I know was this was Limavady, Northern Ireland, in the mid-1950s. I was perhaps 6 or 7, and I clearly rattled her with an innocent question about whether animals went to heaven? Her response has unintended consequences. (see Jain Spirit article)
Molly, Terry and Peggy March: We spent the late 1950s
in Cyprus, growing up alongside Americans, including the March girls. They
helped give me an appetite for America, including the Beach Boys.
Rachel Carson: I can't remember when I started reading her work, but books like The Sea Around Us and Silent Spring (the first on the world's oceans, the second on the way insecticides like DDT were ravaging wildlife) helped transform the way I looked at the world - and at the future.
Thor Heyerdahl: I read The Kon-Tiki Expedition and, while Heyerdahl (1914-2002) was probably (gloriously) wrong in some respects, the Kon-Tiki (1947) for me was a metaphor for casting forth - and of small groups of people of multiple nationalities learning to get along together, as we have at SustainAbility.
Jonathan Levy: A friend at Bryanston, Johnny helped reinforce my love of the popular music of the 1930s and 1940s. The son of actress Constance Cummings and playwright Ben Levy, he was like a human gramophone.