EVERY Christmas a card has arrived from Spain, printed from an unique watercolour, impressed by the pure world: almond blossom, maybe, or a nascent waterfall within the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the place Una Leonie Flett spent the happiest years of her grownup life.
However not final Christmas. Una died in mid-December, 2021, her solely daughter Rowan and her solely grandchild Julian by her facet, conscious that there are limits to a wealthy tally of 89 energetic years, and at peace with the thought. Her high-quality thoughts remained vigorous. She swapped Spanish for English as she talked to the workers within the Motril hospital, and shared conversations about Balkan literature with Rowan and British imperialism with Julian.
India – she was born in 1932 in Bihar, the place her father was Adviser to the provincial Governor within the dying days of the Raj – was embedded in Una’s soul.
It was not solely her birthplace, however belonged to the historical past of each dad and mom, and knowledgeable their tradition and attitudes – “ an openness to the languages, artforms and beliefs of others,” as Rowan places it. For me, from the second we met within the early Seventies, after six hours of continuous dialog and two bottles of wine, the breadth of her inventive pursuits and the drama of her life appeared dazzling.
What surfaced throughout that night was not solely India however a formidable mind and an urge for food for sensory expertise, a lot of it primed by the colorful years of her childhood.
“She was born an aesthete,” says her daughter. Una was an ready pianist, a choral singer, and an achieved sculptor – a “side-line” acquired via night courses at Edinburgh Faculty of Artwork whereas, as a mature scholar, she studied social anthropology at Edinburgh College.
Portray and tapestry weaving got here later as she responded to the colourful colors of Spain, and once we met she had additionally begun to write down, contributing common evaluations of ballet and different artwork types, in addition to journey articles on India, Sweden and Spain to The Scotsman and The Herald.
By then she was a widow, and the mom of two teenage kids. Behind her weren’t solely India however three years as a dancer with the Ballet des Champs Elysées in Paris, and two occasions which modified the path of her life.
Dancing had taken Una Russell from Edinburgh to London to Paris on the age of 17, however by the point she was 20, exhausted by the unforgiving disciplines of dance, the rigours of touring so far as Egypt, and affected by damage, she got here again to Edinburgh and an impulsive marriage to a GP, Hugh Flett.
“I’d additionally turn into conscious that I didn’t have the expertise to take my profession a lot additional,” she advised me. Nor may she accept the exclusion of the opposite inventive stimulants she craved, though she didn’t discover them as spouse and mom 60 years in the past within the north-west Highlands, the place a sudden tragedy left her homeless with two younger kids. Her husband, together with three others, was drowned on a late-night fishing tour off Gairloch.
With the assist of her dad and mom and late sister, Jill, she returned to Edinburgh to re-build her life.
Later, her misplaced id as ballet dancer and her years as a “fight nymph,” as she as soon as described herself , have been vividly chronicled in her first guide, Falling from Grace, revealed by Canongate in 1981. There adopted her solely novel, Revisiting Empty Homes (Canongate, 1988).
Una’s emotional life, by no means risk-averse, introduced her the enjoyment and ache of some key amorous affairs, however she by no means remarried.
Maybe from the off she was too decided to dwell her life on her personal phrases to make the inevitable compromises, and within the late 80s, by no means relaxed with Edinburgh’s gray complexion and stony class, she rejected alternatives for educational or civil service careers and moved to rural Andalusia.
Already fluent in French, she swiftly mastered Spanish to the purpose the place she contributed to the Spanish press, in addition to British newspapers. Productive years adopted with new contentment in her white village residence within the Alpujarra: extra fiction, quick tales and two radio performs for the BBC, and a prize-winning play, Zozienka.
Her final guide, accomplished and self-published solely two years in the past, was a labour of affection. This Different Father is a ultimate salute to the locations and instances which most profoundly formed her – India within the Nineteen Thirties and Edinburgh within the Nineteen Fifties – and a household memoir which reconnects each to the journey of her life.
It’s, supremely, a young tribute to the daddy she misplaced for seven wartime years to the colonial civil service; Sir Robert Russell later had a distinguished post-war profession on the town planning, and Una’s memoir attracts upon the cache of transferring letters preserved by her mom, in addition to some unique analysis.
As I re-read it I can hear her voice: all the time eloquent, usually introspective, typically difficult and sharp (you didn’t speak in confidence to Una except you have been ready for a candid response) however invariably charged with insights, opinions and affection.
She is survived by her daughter, her son Martin, her grandson Julian and his companion Marianne, and their daughter, Arya; to not point out a permanent circle of household and buddies in Scotland and Spain for whom her important spirit will survive so long as we do.