Beverley Bennett – September 24th, 2011

I met Beverley at her home at the Philo Pottery Inn and we sat in the lovely garden with some ‘real’ tea and biscuits (cookies) as we began our chat…Beverley was born in 1951 in Calcutta, in the Indian state of Bengal, the only child of parents George Bennett and Bridget Osbourn, who always went by her middle name, Sheila. The Bennett’s were a British family of greengrocers (vegetables and fruit) who had lived in the English county of Kent – the ‘Garden on England’ – for many generations. Beverley’s grandfather, Sidney ‘Ginger’ Bennett (he had red hair), had joined the British Army in India in the 1920’s when the country was under British rule. He had retired to work on the Indian railroads as an engineer based in Calcutta where, after ‘Ginger’ married Adeline De Cruz, from a family of shopkeepers and bakers of Portuguese/English descent, Beverley’s father George was born.
As George was growing up, a girl of his age called Sheila Osbourn had become a neighborhood friend. The families were friends and they grew up playing with each other with Sheila later attending a girls’ school in the Himalayan Mountains near to George’s all-boys school. In his late teens, George asked Sheila out on a date. According to George, “She had many boyfriends and I thought I had no chance but she said ‘Yes’! Her mother, Biddie, did not approve of my drinking and I’d sometimes pick Sheila up when I was half drunk so eventually Sheila gave me an ultimatum to ‘smarten up.’ I said I’d try and gradually I changed. I stopped drinking, told my friends I was happier being like this, and became a good boy. From that day on Sheila and I were never separated. Our relationship was simple – very sweet; very, very loving, and it grew stronger every day.”
The Osbourn family were also British and grandfather John Osbourn left England and became a structural engineer in India, where among his projects was the Howrah Bridge in Calcutta – the busiest bridge in the world with more than half a million pedestrians crossing every day. He married Beverley’s grandmother when she was just fifteen. “He had money and my great grandmother encouraged my grandmother to marry him because of that. However, after two years and the birth of my mother, she left him because of the abuse that came as a result of his alcoholism. My grandmother had a good time before beginning back-to-back long-term relationships with very wealthy men. This allowed my mother to attend finishing school, have her clothes hand made, be driven by a chauffeur, and, because of the gentlemen’s wealth, have bodyguards.”
“Both the Bennett’s and Osbourn’s were families of the Raj with servants. With India changing so much after partition in 1947, and horrible scenes that followed, they all knew they would leave one day. To stay you would have to be Indian, follow the Hindu religion, wear saris, and adapt Indian customs. We were British, Catholic, and would never fit in.”
George moved out of his family home and lived with Sheila’s family – “where they could keep an eye on me.” They dated for a year or so before getting engaged, which was sealed with a kiss at the cinema, and then saved money for a year to buy a wedding ring. They were married in 1950 and moved into a rented one-bedroom apartment and Beverley was born a year later. “I grew up with my closest friends at school being Portuguese and Dutch Jews, who together with the Brits had been very influential in India to that point. My Dad was an engineer with an air-conditioning company and Mum worked as a telephone operator, although she really didn’t have to and played most of the time. She did attend secretarial school and shorthand and typing because she thought that was the independent thing to do. However, she knew her mother had plenty of money and privilege if times got hard… My paternal grandmother, Adeline, thought that the Osbourn’s were snobs and that their coloring was ‘too dark’ for us to be associated with. Conversely, Winnie, my maternal grandmother, thought the Bennett’s were socially beneath them and had no money. She really spoiled me and my mother and made sure I had the right nannies.”
Despite the available privileges, Beverley grew up in an average middle class apartment but when her grandmother wanted to see her she would be picked up in their own rickshaw or chauffeur driven car and taken to the movies, or to her Indian dance lessons, or to hang out at her grandmothers where there were many servants inside a large compound with many bodyguards. “Tailors and cobblers would come to the house and measure us for clothes and shoes, returning later the same day with the finished products – of a very high quality, I should add. My parents did have a nanny for me and also had a cook but it was not like my grandmother’s home. I attended a Catholic nursery school and was not a nice child, being thoroughly spoilt by my grandmother. I remember I got perfectly good nannies fired just because I could. My friends were mainly my cousins and any others that I had were picked for me.”
Beverley’s father’s family had left India before partition and by 1955 he father was been strongly encouraged to join them in London. “India had changed so much in those years. India wanted to be India with as little to remind them of colonial rule as possible. A form of racism against the former rulers was everywhere and my father would never be allowed to get a decent job. There was nothing for him in India anymore. He went to England and stayed with his parents in Edmonton, north London. My mother and I stayed for a few months as they kept refusing our passport application. Eventually my grandmother Winnie went to the passport office. She presented the official with a rolled up newspaper and suggested he read it. She had figured it out and had put a load of cash inside the paper. We got our passports… She was very, very upset at our departure – I was the apple of her eye, but staying was not an option… We could not take any money with us out of India, and my mother wore as much of her jewelry on her hands, feet and neck as she could… After making a few visits to Britain, Winnie did eventually come and live with us in London in 1968 – when her wealthy consorts died she had nothing. She even worked as a secretary for a time! She died in 1984…”
Meanwhile, Beverley was now in London, wandering “What did you do to me?” She and her parents lived in the attic at her father’s parent’s home along with various other aunts, uncles, and cousins. “It was damp and cold. I was told to no longer speak any of the languages I knew – Hindi, Urdu, Tamil – just English, and I had no nannies. I was very miserable. My mother literally couldn’t boil an egg – she had never had to cook. There was no chauffeur, just these big crowded red vehicles called buses! People did not know what to make of me and my mother and our dark skin. On top of all that my grandmother Adeline was an abusive tyrant to me. I hardly saw my grandfather although I do remember him rolling cigarettes with one hand, his very red hair, and him brewing his tea at night for drinking the next morning – it must have been like mud.”
Beverley’s father got a job in a factory while her mother became a secretary at the Norwegian Consulate. “I went to a local school, St Edmund’s Catholic, where I was the only ‘Wog’! – Western Oriental Gentleman was the normal explanation for this term – one that was very prevalent during the fifties, sixties, and seventies. It was a derogatory term for people from most of the British colonies. Later two cousins came over from India who were as dark as me so I was not the only one anymore. I was a very social child and made friends at school – including Rossina Rossi. Her family owned a café (diner) and she was my first crush when I was 11, or maybe it was the food at her parent’s café – it’s was all a bit of a blur at that age!”
In 1963, Beverley started at Sir Thomas More Grammar School, a mixed sex school that required a school uniform. “I was always getting into trouble by ‘fashionizing’ my uniform. I was pretty good at my studies but in my situation, further education was not an option – it was to be a job at 16 and marriage not long after. My first job was as an operator with the national telephone company, run by the Government Post Office Department. I worked in the seedy district of Soho, which was a big eye-opener at the time, with its adult clubs, cinemas, strippers, and prostitutes. My cousin Jackie, who is five years older than me, led my social life and she’d get me into pubs at 16 (the drinking age was, and is, 18 in the U.K.). They were not strict with I.D.’s and we’d also go to dances and a blues club called the Ferry Pub where I saw Elton John, Long John Baldry and others in their early days. I even saw The Dave Clark Five before they became big in England – one of them cleaned my Mum’s office!”
During these first few years in England, Beverley also traveled abroad with her cousin Jackie, mainly in Western Europe, but at 19 her mother told her that she had a friend in America whom she could stay with. “I didn’t care where I went as long as I had somewhere cheap to stay. I had not really thought about the States until my mother mentioned her friend, who lived in San Francisco. I did not know much about it when I arrived in the Haight Asbury district in 1971. The relics of the summer of love were still around – burned out hippies not knowing what to do. I stayed for three weeks and my Mum’s friend, Chita, said I was welcome to come back anytime. She even said I could work for her at the nanny service she did out of her house.”
“After I returned to London I realized that I wanted an adventure and to stay in the States for an extended time. My Dad couldn’t understand why and we argued a lot about it. But my mind was made up. The U.K. had changed and racism was on the rise with the arrival of many West Indians, Pakistanis and Indians in recent years. Two months later I was back in the U.S. to stay, living on Cole Street in S.F. – it all just fell into place, I was extremely lucky.”
Beverley moved into the house on Cole Street and started work. “From having had a nanny years before, I now became one! I found it very easy and there were two great things about living on Cole Street – Maude’s lesbian bar and Bradley’s Corner gay men’s bar. I was ‘out’ in the U.K to most people, but not my parents. The scenes I had already experienced were quite scary – ‘maybe I’m not gay’, I sometimes thought. Maude’s was one of the only two real lesbian bars in the City at the time – 1971; the other was Peg’s Place. I was into clothes and dressed quite differently to most people, certainly compared to most dykes with their plaid shirts and jeans. They did not like me in Maude’s because of this, and maybe my accent too, I don’t really know. Anyway, on only my third time there a woman chased me out with a pool cue in her hand. I ran over to Bradley’s where they bought me a drink and were very friendly. That became my bar of choice and they showed me the ropes and even found me women! I did go back to Maude’s a couple of times but they ignored me when I ordered drinks so that was that for the next few years.”
By the mid-70’s, after a few years of the dating game, Beverley started a serious relationship with Jean Bowker, a woman twenty years older who was a stewardess with Unite Airlines. They were together for a number of years. “I would still visit the U.K. once a year and my parents began to visit me in S.F. I had started studying psychology at City College, while continuing the nanny job, and I moved in with Jean at Page and Stanyon Streets. When we broke up I enjoyed a couple of years as a bachelorette when I was a very happy camper, always out in the ‘scene’, with many dates, before starting another serious relationship with Nancy Keller. I left the nanny job and worked for an answering service for various businesses in the Castro district… After Nancy and I broke up, I went back to the party lifestyle once more and really experienced life with a whole range of drugs, women, and a crazy social scene of clubs, music, and parties.”
Around 1983, Beverley was at Maude’s when she was offered a drink by a woman that she refused. The woman was quite upset at the snub and continued to pursue Beverley for the next year. “I don’t remember this but apparently I ignored her and then, a year later, this same woman ignored me at a club one night. I did not recognize her. She told me about the incident at Maude’s but I did not remember. Anyway she did not want to know me at that point but now I was interested and so I bribed her friend to get me her number. It was Monika Fuchs, a German woman, the original lipstick lesbian… She went to Germany for a trip the next day but I did not know this and called the number hundreds of times – I broke her answering machine. Eventually, after she returned, she agreed to meet me for coffee at Café Flore. She made me wait for forty minutes and then wanted champagne, not coffee. I did not have enough money on me so I suggested we went somewhere else – where I knew the bartender and would get the drinks free. We had a good time and Monika and I have not been apart since – that’s twenty seven years and counting…”

In 1983, after completing her associate arts degree at City College, Beverley went to S.F. State to get a B.A. in Women’s Studies and Psychology, during which time she supported herself with a job as a 411 operator with Pacific Bell telephone. She and Monika, who had been together since 1984, briefly lived together in a one bedroom apartment on Guerrero Street before moving to 15th and Castro, to the downstairs apartment in a huge Victorian house. “This was the mid-eighties and the A.I.D.S. epidemic was really starting to hit the City. We seemed to be always visiting friends in the hospital, going to a funeral, to the hospital again, a funeral, the hospital, a memorial, it went on and on… We lost many friends and walking around the Castro district you’d see so many people with sunken cheeks, grey-colored skin; twenty year olds in wheelchairs. You were not sure if you knew them or not. Often you did – they had changed so much, so quickly. It was devastating and every day, all day, it was the main topic of discussion. We couldn’t do it anymore and around 1989 decided to get away. Monika’s ex-husband, a gay guy, owned a resort on Key West with his lover, and we moved there to get away from all the sadness.”

Beverley got a job supervising the cleaning crews and maids at resort that had over two hundred rooms, and “worked my arse off… It was long hours during the tourist season then not much to do at the other times of the year. Monika was a bartender/hostess at a five-star restaurant… A couple of years later, just three months after Monika had visited her in Germany, her mother passed away and left her with some money. We had had it with Key West by that time and three years after leaving we moved back to San Francisco, buying a new car for the road trip. Key West did not offer much to us, other than steady work and lots of alcohol, and the fact that we lived in a house in Old Town. We had missed our friends and ‘family’ in S.F. – our home.”

In 1993, after briefly staying with a friend, they moved back into the house on 15th and Castro and it was a case of ‘did we actually ever leave?’ Beverley started a job for a non-profit – The Progress Foundation, which found temporary housing for the mentally ill. “They would need housing for sixty days before going to an independent living situation… By this time, the ‘cocktail’ to offset the A.I.D.S. virus had been found. “You would see people and say, ‘Oh my God, you’re still alive!’ People were still dying but less of them. We were able to buy a condo and moved out of the house. We also traveled a lot during that time – around California, to Europe, and Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and often to England and Germany of course. One of our things to do on our travels was to check out local real estate offices. We were on one of our trips, this time in the town of Mendocino, when we saw a Bed and Breakfast business available in Anderson Valley. We did not know where Philo was but decided to go by there on the way back to the City. It was closed but we looked around through the windows anyway. A week later Monika asked me what I thought. I had not really thought that much about it. I liked S.F. but I had to admit it I was growing out of it – I didn’t want to ‘play’ that much anymore. Anyway, a month later we met the owner, the recently widowed Jill Crane (now Derwinski) and made an offer that was accepted. I would run the Inn and Monika could continue her work from home as a travel agent. Our favorite thing to do was to have friends for dinner so this was something like that. Monika had always cooked and I did the grunt stuff – I loved it. Anyway, we had also just got Rupert, an Airedale/Border Collie mix, as we were leaving the City, so there was no turning back and we left and moved into the log cabin behind the Inn in the spring of 2001.”

Jill stayed for a short time to teach them the ropes. Beverley loved it and really enjoyed meeting the guests but, after a year, Monika lost her job and they decided she would run the Inn and Beverley would get a job elsewhere. “We kind of reversed roles. Monika flourished at the inn-keeping and I got a job with the County Mental Health Department. It all went well for a few years but we found the Inn to be very time-consuming and left us little time to ourselves for long periods but then nothing much to do at other times. It was not enjoyable anymore; we wanted to enjoy visiting friends and were unable to get away when we wanted. After five or six years I told Monika we had to stop – she agreed and we closed the Inn with great sorrow because we still enjoyed big parts of it. We moved into the main house and rented out the log cabin, where we’ve been very lucky with getting good tenants.”

Today, Beverley continues to work for the mental Health Department while Monika has worked at a few different wineries in the Valley such as Husch, Brutacao, Claudia Springs, and now Bink Winery in the Madrones complex just south of Philo. “I have been at my job for ten years now and really enjoy the actual job alot. I love working with the mentally ill and their families and seeing progress being made; I am very passionate about it. However, I do not like the department ‘politics’ and the effects that and the county government has had on our daily work. It seems as if we have less and less to offer – it’s getting very bad… My mother passed in 2006 and that was very, very hard on me and particularly my Dad. He wanted to stay in their house in London but just could not cope alone. He came to visit us here for two months but then went back. He was there for a year and not doing well. Eventually the family there said he had to move – he was living in one room and surviving on Chinese takeout food. He came to stay here with us in Philo and has been here for three-and-a-half years now… Socially, I like to hang out with friends here in the Valley and have dinner parties; I enjoy the Quiz at Lauren’s most weeks, go to Mosswood Market for my coffee and The Buckhorn for my beer, and we like to go for walks with Rupert and Karla, our German short-haired pointer/lab mix…”

I asked Beverley for a brief verbal image of her father. “A devoted and good husband. A polite Englishman”… And her mother? “A fabulous human being who, once people met her, they never forgot. She sparkled and glowed and was a great Mum.”

And her responses to various Valley talking points? The wineries and their impact? – “Well they are certainly good for jobs and they do make some great wines, but I think we have enough of them now”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I love it and read it every week. It is good to know what is going on and what the community is talking about. I like the Sheriff’s log, the local news, Valley People, and what is happening at Turkey Vulture’s Three-Dot Lounge”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I don’t listen a lot although it is often on at home as Monika listens. I do like Fred Wooley’s show on Sundays”… The school system? – “I know that some of my friends who are parents say it is horrible and others say it is marvelous. It’s probably somewhere in-between”… The marijuana issue? – “The whole issue is a huge pink elephant in the county, a serious problem. I see the effects in my work every day as it really impacts young people. We need to address this problem because, whatever you may hear, we are not doing so at the moment. Those for and against the legalization of marijuana all seem to be avoiding the big picture”…

The A.V. Elder Home? – “Nobody knows anything about what is going on there – that’s what I know!”… The Health Center? – “It’s marvelous that they got the grant money. However, there are some issues I have with the administration side there – some people never get their bills and others are not even billed in the first place”… Law and order in the Valley? – “Well we definitely need two sheriffs. We are isolated here and protection is needed. It seems that it’s just ‘politics’ that are the reason for this whole subject being up for so much debate”… Changes in the Valley? – “Well in my ten years I like what has happened. The small changes have been good for the community overall. Many of the people who have moved here are like Monika and me – they love it here and respect it. Also, these people are not running away from somewhere else as much as perhaps some of those who came forty years or so ago were; they are coming here more because they choose to and not so much because they really want to leave where they were.”

To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to my guest. Some of these are from a questionnaire featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself. I posed these obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Beverley and asked her to reply as spontaneously as possible…

1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “My family of Monika and our dogs and cats.”

2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Negative people.”

3. What sound or noise do you love? – “The birds in the trees through the sound of silence.”

4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “The revving up of motorcycles. I used to have a bike and there is no need to do that.”

5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “Chicken curry and biryani rice.”

6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Gandhi… There were two sides to him – his famous side and the one that led him to sleep with many of his young female followers. I’d like to talk about them both with him.”

7. If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? – “My passport, some family photos, and my mother’s jewelry.”

8. What scares you? – “What we are doing to the planet…. And possible Republican Presidential nominee, Rick Perry!”

9. Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “A book would be ‘A Fine Balance’ by Rohinton Mistry about the changes in Indian society from independence in 1947 to the Emergency of the late seventies… A film would be ‘The Usual Suspects’ or ‘Fight Club’; and a song ‘Brown Sugar’ by The Rolling Stones.”

10. Do you subscribe to any publications or newspapers? – ‘Mother Jones’, ‘Dog Fancy’, and ‘The Sun’ – a magazine of short stories every month – Monika and I fight over who gets to read it first…”

11. What is your favorite hobby? – “Drinking beer and watching movies.”

12. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “A dancer on Broadway.”

13. What profession would you not like to do? – “Anything to do with bodily fluids.”

14. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “When I was eleven, Rossini Rossi came to my house and   we watched television and listened to records. She was the one that got away!”

15. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “No. Sure I was devastated when my mother passed away but I am who I am because of what has happened to me and I accept that.”

16. Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget. – “My school years at S.F. State were very memorable… Oh, and the trip to India with my Monika and my parents in the late nineties – that was very special.”

17. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “Having come from the beginning of my life to where I am now is something I am proud of – my journey so far…”

18. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “My ability to make friends and draw people in. Hopefully I have some of my mother’s qualities in that way.”

19. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well it would be good if she said ‘Well done! I know you had lots of fun; let’s have some more’.”

Published in: on October 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Thank you for the great read – I always have fond memories of staying at the inn and often wondered why it was no longer…best wishes to Monika and Beverley.

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