I had hoped, long ago, that a note such as this would have been set across a worthy Acknowledgements page in a beautifully bound hardback book, copies of which I would have posted at great expense to all the kind people who helped me unravel the story of Olive Higgins. I trust that this modest mention on the “Cloud” will suffice.
As a journalist since the age of 21, I have always been staggered by the ready willingness of people to help this stranger in his pursuit of some facts. Researching a story 90+ years old in Paris with schoolboy French (A-Level failed. Twice), took this job to a new level of difficulty and comedy. I have been touched by the assistance of so many along the way. It is impossible to name everyone, but a special few deserve a mention.
Firstly, in Paris: Contrary to its hard-won (and, often, deserved!) reputation for being a city of unhelpful and grumpy residents, I was helped gracefully during two long research and writing trips. In no particular order, my thanks go to Pascal Boissel, archivist at Le Grand Hotel and to Christophe Laure, its General Manager; Pierre Vidal at the National Opera; the resourceful Soeur Anne Therese at Soeurs de Notre Dame de Sion and its helpful archivist Céline Hirsch Poynard; Marie Privat and Helen Lacroix at L’Institut. I have irreplaceable memories of the late Jean and Catherine Edelmann, my colourful landlord and landlady in 2001. Une grande merci goes to Marie Saurma-Liang, who by some miracle twice found me wonderful homes in Paris. But, more than that, her unique insight helped shine a powerful light on Olive’s death at a time when all I saw was darkness.
In England: My thanks begin with John Trott, the jolly, celebrity-loving gardener at Brockley Cemetery who found Olive’s grave for me; Professor Richard Evans at Cambridge University; Sister Mary Kelly (RIP); Father Vincent Coyne at Our Lady of Dolours Servite; the extraordinary Don Galloway (RIP). In Margate, my thanks to Ian Dickie, Brian Wallis, Mick Twyman (RIP), Dr Alan Kay (RIP), Bob Bradley, Alex Claridge, and all the helpful staff at Margate Library. I must also mention some of the previous staff at the fabulous old Colindale Newspaper Library, who diligently and professionally helped me work through 2,600 local papers during several weeks, with not so much as a smile. Quite an achievement! My thanks also go to the incomparable Alva Ramsden (Eng Lit teacher, 81-83, folks!) for vital feedback on one of the books that never was (on that note, I may as well thank the various agents and publishing editors who turned down my early literary offerings on Olive’s story. You were all RIGHT back then, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!). For more recent help in raising awareness for Olive’s story, a big cheers to Belinda Goldsmith at Reuters, Arianna Huffington at HuffPo, Dominic Ponsford at Press Gazette, and to my old golfing caddie, Burger King’s Piers Morgan for mobilising his Twitter army. On the technical side, a gigabyte of thanks to the great geek Tom McCaul at TomandCo. Visit his website and hire him. A name-check also goes to Chuck Cramer for…buying drinks.
On a personal note, heartfelt thanks go to my family – Katrina, Ali and Jayne – for maintaining interest and, most notably, to my mother, Toni, for tolerating being dragged back into the long-forgotten past far too often. Love and thanks also to The Artist, my wife Emma, for never doubting my commitment to this story, nor its importance.
Above all, my thanks go to Ian Burt, the builder and occasional antiques dealer who gave me Olive’s diary on 9th March 2001. I first started reading it at 12.58pm on that day. When I told him later how much it had affected me, and that I’d like to write about it, he said: “This is fate, Rob. FATE!” I have never stopped believing that it was indeed a most glorious moment of fate. Although my quest to find a way to tell Olive’s story has been utterly maddening, I have never once considered it anything less than a blessing that her beautiful diary came into my life.
Finally, a grand “Hurrah” for Olive Higgins!!!!!! (who so loved her exclamation marks). Thank you, Ol’, old girl. I know you’re doing fine. I just hope you haven’t minded all the attention. Thank you.
3rd March 2014