A Tribute to my Mother

On the one-year anniversary of her passing… If she were alive today my mother would undoubtedly say that these facts are not entirely correct. But they are as I remember them being recounted to me and how we lived them!

WORDS Mandy Azevedo Coutinho Reynolds

Joan Brenda was born in Norfolk. She didn’t like being plain Joan and wanted a fun name. She made up the name Nikola Lorraine herself as a young adult. Later, in Portugal, she always preferred to be called Joana. 

Nikola Lorraine was a wannabe film actress in the 1950s. Before inevitably becoming rich and famous, she decided to work in a petrol pump station in north London with other out-of-work actresses, filling up cars and cleaning windscreens on rollerblades! They lived off their tips. 

Nikola spent her money on unwise purchases like paintings she fell in love with and bought on impulse or last-minute reduced tickets for the Last Night at the Proms. She lived in a bedsit in St John’s Wood, belonging to a charming “Jewish” couple who would later become great friends. 

One particular chap, David, drove past the petrol station regularly to fill up with petrol but also to get a good glimpse of this dark-haired, blue-eyed, voluptuous beauty. She was stunning but somewhat shy. One day he asked her to go to a rugby match with him. She accepted and turned out all dolled up, a little too dolled up for the occasion, but still a sight for sore eyes and a sight he never forgot, even in his later years!

Fast forward a few months and not only was Nikola engaged to be married, but she had also befriended John and Anita Garveigh, her landlords, who were planning a European tour. Nikola then worked as a special orders car delivery person, mainly delivering specially commissioned cars such as Jaguars and Rolls Royces to private clients nationwide. 

Joan in 1954

She was also paying a little extra rent at this stage, which John and Anita held as credit towards her share of the costs for joining them on their European adventure. David, her fiancé, declined travelling with them, claiming quite confidently that Nikola should go and would come back, if it was meant to be. I guess he regretted this decision somewhat – I met David many years later and he told me he did! 

Nikola packed her bags and set off to the European continent for the first time in her life with John and Anita. Joining them would be a Portuguese friend of John’s called Maria, who worked as a consultant PR for the Portuguese government of the day and her recently single brother. The self-nicknamed “Pedro the Iberian Wolf” had at this stage already seen a couple of pictures of Nikola and was smitten, or at least smitten enough to have written a few passionate and cheeky messages to the beautiful Nikola prior to their European jaunt. 

When they all met up in Paris, it was “lust at first sight”! Pedro had just escaped an arranged marriage (the way it was back then) which had gone terribly wrong and he was looking for an outlet for his dented Portuguese ego. Nikola believed in love and romance, helped somewhat by the glamour of the trip – Paris was followed by Venice and Rome, including a visit to the Vatican to ask the Pope for an annulment of Pedro’s previous marriage.

By the time Nikola returned to the UK, not only were they helplessly in love, but also pregnant! So, she broke her engagement to a sad English fiancé and travelled from London to Norfolk to tell her parents her big news! When she arrived, she did not find the courage to drop the bombshell on Fred and Mabel Smith. She returned to London and phoned the news instead! Her somewhat bewildered parents then visited her in London to wave goodbye and wish her the best as she set off to a brand-new life in Portugal. 

Joan and Pedro, Venice 1956 (on the back of the photo he writes: “will you, my darling Nicky, marry this Portuguese black wolf?…… Pedro”).
Joan and Pedro with their first born Sandra, around 1957

So starts my life story and that of my sisters: Nikola Lorraine, aka Joan Brenda Smith, and Pedro are our parents! Nikola never became rich and famous but instead settled in a remote fishing village just north of Lisbon called Figueira da Foz, where my father worked for a family business called Vista Alegre, the porcelain makers and where my eldest sister, Alexandra Maria (aka Sandra) was born. They later moved to Coimbra where their second child, Luisa Ana (aka Lou), was born.

At this time Pedro’s mother, my Portuguese grandmother, Maria Antónia was based in Oporto with her daughter Eugénia (the youngest of eight children). Despite an aristocratic background, they had no money, due primarily to bad investments from my grandfather’s side. 

Avó (Portuguese for grandmother) was quite a formidable lady, but on meeting my mother, behaved like the “grand dame” that she was, took her own engagement ring off her finger and offered it to Joan as an engagement symbol from Pedro, who obviously could not afford one. 

Thus, Avó accepted and welcomed Mummy into the family fold despite being presented with a very difficult moral and social situation (my parents living together and having two children before marriage in 1950s Portugal). My parents eventually married, a simple affair in Portugal.

Joan in Cascais, 1963.
Joan and all her daughters in Mozambique, 1964. Mandy just been born.

By 1960, they were living in Mozambique, where both my parents worked for Sena Sugar Estates – it was an exceptional place and a unique time to live in one of Portugal’s colonies! My parents had two more children while living there, Ana Mafalda and me (Maria Madalena, aka Mandy). On the social side, my parents had a great group of friends and enjoyed a life of hunting camp weekends, beach holidays on Moz’s fabulous coast, golf and tennis tournaments, playing bridge and of course, lots of G&Ts. 

One story in particular springs to mind about this time. My mother was quite a good shot, so when the Landrover got stuck in a half-dry riverbed in the African bush with my dad, my father thought nothing of leaving her behind to guard it, while he walked off to the nearest village to get some help. But he had only walked a few metres when he started to hear Joan’s hysterical screeches – he ran back to find her covered in leeches which had slowly crept up from the riverbed!

Joan in Mozambique, 1964.
In Mozambique just before we moved back to Portugal, 1972/73.

John Garveigh moved to the Algarve in the 1970s with his business partner, David Symington, to become one of the first property developers in this area. In 1973, my father was offered a chance to return to Portugal and work in Praia da Luz, running Luz Bay Club for John Garveigh and David Symington, who is from the Symington port family. 

John was a widower, his first wife Anita sadly died quite young. He subsequently met my Aunt Eugénia, my Dad’s youngest sister, whom he married and they moved to the Algarve. She was known locally as Gina Garveigh.

At this stage, my parents adopted the surname “Peniche” (one of the Portuguese family titles) as it was simpler for the Brits to pronounce than “Azevedo Coutinho” ! Unfortunately, life back in Portugal did not go according to plan. Following the 25 April 1974 coup, John and David left the country to avoid persecution and Luz Bay Club was taken over by the workers. Not only was Pedro left without a job, but my parents’ marriage deteriorated and they separated. 

After my parent’s divorced, my father eventually returned to live in Africa, but Joan stayed on in her adopted country. My eldest sister returned to Mozambique to marry her then-boyfriend, and Lou and Mafalda went to Canada to work as au pairs. As the youngest, I was still living at home and I saw Mummy develop into an incredibly strong woman working through numerous setbacks to keep me fed and clothed and to stay above water. 

She ran the Concha Restaurant in Burgau for a bit, then worked at the Boutique Capricho by the beach (belonging to the Mallings) during the day and at the Fortaleza Restaurant (under Mike Johnson) at night. She joined Peter Buckland and the Algarve News team a few years later, which she loved. She did a bit of everything from being the assistant editor to delivering newspapers once a month, an exhausting job driving up and down the N125 all along the Algarve before the A22 was built. We moved house a lot during these years, to wherever the rent was cheaper during the low season or for a spot of house and pet sitting in exchange for somewhere to live. 

Eventually, John Garveigh and David Symington returned to Portugal to restart their development business, creating the Ocean Club. They also asked Joan to be their PA. She was an incredibly hard-working and ferocious guardian of their interests, and many people still reel in the memory of being caught on the wrong side of my mother! Joan worked for Garveigh and Symington until retiring. As a thank you for her loyalty, they gave her a prime plot of land next to the Barroca Restaurant in Praia da Luz. 

After 20 years of experience in the construction industry, Mummy built her cottage. She was very particular with what she wanted: a “palace on a postage stamp”. and drove my brother-in-law Len Lane (a local builder who headed the project) bonkers! Once the house was completed, Joan decided she was bored and needed another job, so off she went to work as Robin Crossland’s PA at the Ocean Club. During these years, she would save like mad to travel, joining me in London where I was living before going off on joint adventures, including Marrakech, Amsterdam, Greece and, for her 70th birthday, a cruise down the Nile (this time with Mafalda and Len). We also went to Paris, Venice and Rome together, triggering her memories of my dad and their past life!

When Robin Crossland left the Ocean Club, my mother’s job also ended, and she lived quietly in her cottage in Praia da Luz till the end of her days. Many Luz locals will remember walking past and stopping for a chat, Mummy often cadging a cigarette (she never quite quit smoking) and offering them a glass of wine. 

Mummy suffered a stroke late in 2019 and then dementia set in. She lived in her own home until just three months before she died, where we split her care between myself and my sisters. My sister Lou, who lived nearby, could also provide many extra hours of serene companionship that someone with dementia so dearly needs.

Joan Peniche died on 15 September 2022. She is survived by four daughters, two granddaughters and four great-grandchildren. 

And Nikola Loraine never stopped loving Pedro the Iberian Wolf!


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