Hartford House

The Home of Good Conversation, Fine Wine and Classic Horses.

Award-winning hotel and restaurant situated at Summerhill Stud on the picturesque KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander, South Africa.

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ABE SEGAL : Tennis Legend and Raconteur

Abe Segal / Tennis Week (p)

Abe Segal / Tennis Week (p)

We were privileged this week to have as a guest at Hartford House  Mr Abe Segal, South African tennis legend and raconteur.

Abe has recently launched his autobiography entitled, “Hey, Big Boy!” which offers readers an “unfettered, unadorned, unabridged and largely unedited" insight into the "rambunctious, boisterous, funny, informative and chaotic" memoirs of Abe Segal himself.

The following extract from the Evans Report by Richard Evans has a closer look at Abe Segal and his memoirs, “Hey, Big Boy!”

”Well, what about Big Boy’s book? It’s a fun read and opens up a large and well decorated window on an age that today’s tennis pros can barely believe ever existed. It was an age of traveling on a shoe string; receiving hard cash under the table and hoping that some of the rich patrons of the country clubs in which many of the tournaments were played invited you to stay at their mansions. Many did because, as Segal points out, there were a lot of rich wives who were bored with their rich husbands and liked nothing better than a passing dalliance with a virile young tennis player.

And then there was the movie star set. Frequently accompanied by the man to whom the book is dedicated, Lew Hoad, Abe became friends with a whole host of stars from Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall, to whom he seems to have taken a distinct dislike, to Richard Burton and Peter Ustinov, whom he obviously adored.

Abe was the son of poor Polish Jewish immigrants and much of the early chapters are taken up with an account of how he climbed out of poverty by virtue of his winning personality and talent with a racket. Eventually he would meet and marry the beautiful Bermudan, Heather, who came from an altogether classier background and whose English friends obviously bored Segal to tears.

One of his best stories concerns the upper-crust dinner party Heather dragged Abe to in London. Ustinov was starring in a West End hit "Stop Light" at the time and the guests were soon bemoaning the fact that tickets were absolutely impossible to come by. "How many do you want?", asked Segal suddenly, making his first contribution to the conversation of the evening.

"Five, actually," somebody sneered. "But how do you think you’ll manage that when we’ve exhausted every avenue?"

So Abe excuses himself and calls Ustinov at the theatre.

"Peter’s on stage at the moment but will call back," he told the snickering, disbelieving guests on his return. Sure enough, an hour later, the butler came in to announce, "Mr Ustinov on the line for Mr Segal."

Unable to resist mimicking a ticket tout’s accent, Ustinov spoke to Segal in loud Cockney. "Ow many tickets you lookin’ for Saturday night, guv?"

Not surprisingly, Abe says he could have kissed him.

But there are stories for every taste, some of them a little crude; some of them downright scary. With Heather and his Australian doubles partner Warren Woodcock in tow, Segal got himself mixed up with a bunch of Chicago hoods and was actually present when the order was given for someone to be "taken out."

Any doubts about what they had heard were removed next morning when the newspaper headlines read: "Two Men Found in Back of Bullet Ridden Car."

Perhaps it was a good thing that Segal, always on the look out for a witticism, had introduced himself to some of the more notorious gangsters with: "I’m Abe Segal, no relation to Bugsy in case you’re wondering." Evidently they weren’t.

The tone and style of this book are in total contrast to the best selling and beautifully written "A Handful of Summers" penned many years ago by Gordon Forbes, the player with whom Segal enjoyed most success on a doubles court. Perhaps because of that Forbes does not feature as much as one would have expected and certainly not nearly as much as Segal himself did in Forbes’ tome.

But Segal is especially good on Herbie Flam, the troubled American player and Art ‘Tappy’ Larsen, another of that post war generation who played and behaved in ways unimaginable today. There are Dick Savitt stories, too, and revelations about Fred Kovaleski being a CIA agent. Others relate to his close friendship with Sol Kerzner, who built Sun City in Boputhatswana and made Abe the Director of Tennis before going off to develop Paradise Island in Nassau. And then there was Stan Getz and racing driver James Hunt and Sean Connery who wrote the introduction.

Segal was a good friend of Mark McCormack’s, too, and, at Mark’s request, became coach to Betsy Nagelsen for a time before she became Mrs. McCormack. But, throughout the book, Lew Hoad, one of the greatest players ever to pick up a racket, is never far away. In later years, before Lew died of a rare blood disease at the age of 59, Abe spent a great deal of time at the Campo de Tenis that Lew and his wife Jenny used to run in Mijas on the Costa del Sol. For years the picturesque club was the meeting point for stars of stage, screen and sport who liked to sip Rioja at Lew’s bar and party under the palm trees after a little tennis. Those were the days, Big Boy.”

Emanzini Suite 11 at Hartford House

Emanzini Suite 11 / Hartford House (p)

Emanzini Suite 11 / Hartford House (p)

We are blessed on our farms with an abundance of water, with numerous underground springs spread across the length and breadth of the property. The word Emanzini means “at the waterside” in Zulu, and this suite takes its name from its proximity to the swimming pool, the Wellness Centre and the springs. . “The Springs” was also the name of the farm in East Griqualand on which Pat Goss snr. founded his renowned racehorse breeding enterprise in the 1930’s.

Emanzini was one of the first exercises in building with bricks and mortar for our previously unskilled Zulus, who in our opinion, made an excellent job of what seemed like an impossible task when we first set out.

This suite fronts onto the old wisteria pergola, which dates back to the foundation of the Manor House, in 1875. The Moors, who were the first occupants of Hartford as we know it, initiated a habit of giving to each other a plant or a piece of garden statuary or ornamentation on wedding anniversaries, and the pergola was one of the first of these. Since then, the Ellises and the Gosseshave perpetuated this rather quaint habit, and most of what you see in the garden today came about as a result.

OF CAMPANOLOGY AND FRIENDS

Church Bell / Neil Gould (p)

Church Bell / Neil Gould (p)

"For whom the bell tolls..."

We have as guests at Hartford House a rather rare species, in the form of a church bell ringer. Commander John & Mrs. Anne Ford have been clients of Summerhill for more than a decade now, and they’re residents, in their normal lives, of a small village called Blakesley in Northamptonshire, UK. They’ve kept mares with us for throughout this time, and they make an annual pilgrimage, having a deep and lasting affinity for this part of southern Africa.

However, it is in another of her capacities that we pen this note, as Anne teamed up with a compatriot from the same village in a bell-ringing exercise at St.George’s Cathedral in Cape Town last Sunday. Her fellow campanologist was no less than the Honourable Gillian Foster, wife of yet another very long serving client of Summerhill. Alec Foster has been associated with us for just about all of the thirty years we’ve been in business at Summerhill, first as a client of Mick Goss’ law practice, and for at least the past two decades, as a keeper of his mares on the farm.

At this time of year, our friends come in every shape and size and from every corner of the world, yet this was an unlikely duo, in an unusual exercise at the southernmost tip of what the civilized world still calls the “Darkest Continent”.

Could this be the Great Trek?

the great trek

The Great Trek?
(Hartford House)

Anyone visiting Summerhill this week could be forgiven for thinking they were witnessing a pilgrimage. While there will no doubt be others who pitch randomly, already we are expecting visitors from several different directions of the world.

The English are here in force, headed by Sir Bruce and Lady Hester Martin, Stuart and Adele Silvey, Commander and Mrs John Ford, while the Welsh, who lowered the English flag at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, are represented by the Mercers and the Dawsons of Usk Valley Stud Farm. Gold Circle are here with an Mpumalanga delegation on Thursday, local trainers Mike Miller, Garth Puller, Dennis Drier and their respective spouses were here on Monday.

Riding legend Michael Robertsand his wife Verna were diners at Hartford the same day. Summerhill stalwart Steve Sturlese was accompanied by his racing manager, Peter de Marigny and his newly acquired son-in-law, top jockey Brandon Lerena, whilst shipping supremo, Brian Roux, Arthur and Vynettevan der Heijden and Standard Bank will all have darkened the portals of the farm before the week is out.

No wonder we know so few people in the neighbourhood! Yet we wouldn’t trade it for anything: these are the people that bring the colour to our lives.