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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 20-07-2019 11:54

The roots of Andrew Graham-Yooll, the bilingual journalist

Being ‘ex-Ranelenses’ and both writers, we shared a great deal over these last 20 years in Buenos Aires.

Ranelagh, a town in the province of Buenos Aires, can boast of two outstanding figures: Roberto De Vicenzo and Andrew Graham-Yooll, OBE. Not according to Wikipedia, however, who only cites the famous Argentine golfer and a list of supposed “personajes.” But to anyone brought up in “el pueblo de Ranelagh” from the mid-1940s onwards, Andrew will always remain in our local lore.

“The village” (‘el pueblo’) is where my mother did her grocery shopping. We bought ice creams at the baker’s, or went into Don Andrés’ to buy a spade. In our childhood, the milkman, in his cart drove up to our houses along the earth roads and poured fresh milk from the large cans into a saucepan. Milk that had to be boiled. Progress and change to a cart l e a v i n g u s green bottles of pasteurised Martona milk at the gate. A baker’s cart also came by with his “lactal” bread. Sometimes we were allowed to take a ride! Vegetables, fruit, bread, milk, coal, quebracho wood, even ice – all brought to the door. This all formed part of Andrew’s childhood.

In the 1940s, there was no school in the village for the many children born from British or North American parents. Many of their fathers worked in Ducilo, located in Berazategui. This void led some couples in the local community to get together and the decision was made to build their own school, hiring a teacher or two of English, besides the obligatory Spanish ones.The Ranelagh Community School was born. “Tiny” Tovar and Ethne, Andrew’s uncle and aunt, were one of the five founding families, which also included my parents. In 1950, Andrew began first grade, plus the Tovars, Mazar Barnetts, Garvies, Kirbys, Macfarlanes, Yates, Pratts, Sewards, his sister Joanne, etc… There were Sánchez de Bustamantes and Chiriguinis too.

The school only catered to primary level, so at the end of sixth grade, sometimes before, children went off to secondary level schools in Quilmes, Lomas de Zamora, Adrogué, taking long train rides. Unless they went to a boarding school, that old English custom.

Andrew and his sister moved to Uruguay in their teens. But Andrew never forgot his Ranelagh school friends and companions. Sharing a past childhood in Ranelagh is a set up for one’s future: it is a condition that has translated into a recognition and a sense of identity regardless of age gaps, family backgrounds or whatever life offered later. Another prevalent condition – what every child learnt in the small, shared classes – was to speak ‘Spanglish’, ‘Spanglés’ or ‘Espanglish’ as Andrew named his series of books. It was a “normal” language, and neither our Spanish, nor our English teachers, could fully understand what we were saying!

In a book called Aquel colegio inglés, author Jimmy Mazar Barnett published an interview with Andrew conducted and sent in from London in 1990. Although he confesses to have deleted memories of Ranelagh after he left and lived abroad, he paid a brief visit in 1982 when covering the Malvinas-Falklands war. And it was then he understood that, after having lived in many parts of the world, “Ranelagh appeared as the only place in his life which had been his ‘pueblo’; and its school his only cultural anchor.”

Andrew went on to use his writing skills by publishing this unique form of communication, mainly in his poetry. When he applied it in writing, those with both languages could catch the meaning. A difference: he didn’t take kindly to any writing that tended towards an Anglo-Argentine speech, and was vocal about his disapproval! (But Andrew! ‘Countryside’ doesn’t mean the same as ‘campo’… ‘Rubbish’ does not equal ‘basura’!)

Although my journalistic career began in the Herald, we did not coincide there, except for when he returned to the newspaper in the 1990s. But working on staff in the 1980s is when I learnt to appreciate and admire what he had achieved before his exile, and throughout his career. He represents what any self-respecting journalist would wish for: freedom of speech, and especially, reporting news as facts, with no chosen side.

He has been judged for reporting on left-wingers, right-wingers and anything in between. Opinions, conclusions, queries, analysis as editor, yes – he was incisive and clear. It would be a mute question as to how many journalists currently in Argentina can measure up to his standard of stating truths versus buttering up to ideologies and commercial convenience.

Being ‘ex-Ranelenses’ and both writers, we shared a great deal over these last 20 years in Buenos Aires. He helped me set up the introductory chapter to my second book. Often my mentor, answering my calls for help, and with great generosity, he’d point out ways to solve writing puzzles. Generosity in taking the time to teach was one of his greatest assets. Always charming and deferential to women (another asset!), it was as much a delight as a challenge to work with him.

I can only be sorry not to have taken up his request to write his biography – it would have been deeply interesting, and equally sad as well as humorous.

Missing the friend with whom to spar, I recently found an autograph that reflects our friendship, written in his book El país que nos parió: “For very dear Cate – with much love and shared interests (sometimes). A G-Y (09/2017).”

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Catherine Kirby

Catherine Kirby

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