Sep. 8th, 2015

gurthaew: (Cat in sun)
Thank you all for coming today, to celebrate the life of someone who was, in the best sense of the word, a character.

Rikki held firm views on most subjects. Although famously allergic to small children, Rikki was for a time a Brownie pack leader, and thus acquired her preferred name. Bagheera being taken, she became Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the mongoose in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. It was more than 20 years before she revealed the fact that her given name was Daphne, which she loathed

(Early history)
Rikki was born on 18 February 1934 in a house on Brunswick Road, Acton, West London and lived there up until 1944, when her father, a laboratory manager was relocated to Warwickshire and the family moved to the village of Hopwood. Rikki’s bedroom window looked out across to the Lickey Hills in what is now South West Birmingham. It was at her primary school that she met a friend whose family owned horses and she learned to ride. She loved horses for the rest of her life. From primary school she moved to the girls’ grammar school in Redditch. in 1948 her father was offered a promotion, but it would have required them all moving “up North”, something her mother wasn’t keen on. The compromise was to move back to London, where Rikki would live from then on.

Aged 16 in 1950 she was working in the local public library but, much to her annoyance, was not allowed into the reference section, the most interesting bit for her. After a few years she moved on to the Harrods Reading Room, which was a private library for their customers. At the time it had around 700 readers. She was there for 7 years and then took up a position at the Inner Temple library in 1961, the job she would keep until she retired some 30 years later. Rikki was the first woman to be in full employment at the Temple Inn. She was the Deputy Librarian for most of that time and this is where Rikki met Wallace Breem, who was then the Librarian. They were married at the Temple Church in 1966 and were a blissfully happy couple until his early death in 1990. They were both founder members of the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians. The current Library has benefited greatly from all the careful conservation, cataloguing and bibliographical work carried out by Wallace and Rikki.

Rikki said that, quite often, she or Wallace would come home and say “Oh, by the way, I bought a book today”. So, not content with working in a library, they built one in their flat. Some thirty years ago, I can remember visiting and watching Freya and Maxi patrolling around the top shelf of the floor to ceiling books and glaring down at the imposters who had invaded their territory.

There were always cats. During the war, Rikki had a cat that was afraid of bombs so her mother had it put down. She got another from a neighbour who happened to have two, but this was put down when the neighbour's cat died as it might have become lonely. She was then offered a Siamese and her mother went ballistic. Fast forward some thirty years, and there was Freya, the pedigree Burmese. Rikki bought her from Alex, who in turn had purchased Freya’s mother from a friend at the Royal Opera House. Rikki and Wallace bred Freya, who had four kittens, Maximillian, Julia, Livilla and Octavia. And no, I don’t know how you go from Norse mythology straight to the Julio-Claudian dynasty. From then on, Rikki was a member of the Burmese Cat Club. Julia, Livilla and Octavia were found loving homes despite Octavia being their favourite. Freya doted on Wallace and didn’t like to be far from him, even when he was in the bath. The inevitable happened – Freya slipped and fell in and had to be rescued by Rikki.

Cats like to have their comfort and Freya and Maxi were no exception. On one occasion, when there was no cat sitter available, the two cats had to be taken to a conference that both Rikki and Wallace were attending.

Cats appeared throughout her life, there was the colony of cats on an island close to Qasr Ibrim, in Lake Nasser, that would be fed by the passing cruise boats, cats in Greece (she was fond of the Greek Island Cats Calendar), cats in and around restaurants in Egypt and Sudan. In fact, if there was a cat around, Rikki would try to befriend it. Except for Binky, because he nipped her when she wouldn’t move out of his armchair.

Rikki was a committed Wagnerite as well as a lover of the music of Verdi. Music came in two categories – music that she loved and music that she most certainly did not; not least some upstart hip beat combo called the Beatles. Their 1969 album (recorded in the studios next door to her flat) featured cover art of the band members on a nearby pedestrian crossing, thus ensuring that, for ever after, it became a shrine to Beatles aficionados. I can confirm that they were still present, meandering about, cluttering up the pavement, taking selfies and disrupting the traffic flow on Sunday 23rd. August last.

She was a regular at the Royal Opera House and said once that she felt sorry for the younger generation (and I’d like to include myself in that) in that she had been lucky enough to see some of the greats, whereas we youngsters never could. Astrid Varney, Elizabeth Schwartzkopf and Kirsten Flagstad being particular favourites. It was Astrid Varnay singing Isolde’s Liebestod as you came in, a CD taken from Rikki’s collection.

Like many a classical music aficionado, the conductor was the key defining factor in any particular concert or recording. As ever, Rikki had her likes and dislikes, and, I suspect, precious little in between. I discussed conductors with her on one hospital visit; Arturo Toscanini (very good, but she had never seen him), Rudolf Kempe (very good), John Barbirolli and Sir Malcolm Sargent (I think these two were classed as not bad to OK) and then I mentioned Sir Thomas Beecham. Her face lit up and she said “Ah, Tommy” – she had seen him conduct on several occasions. Being me, I had to tease her slightly, so I pointed out that we hadn’t mentioned her absolute favourite, Sir Georg Solti. That earned me a dark glare and the comment “bollocks”. I use that word unashamedly as I know Rikki will never forgive me if I didn’t.

Rikki had a beloved goddaughter, Chrisina who remembers that

On my birthdays a lovely book or book token would arrive and the imaginary places the books took me to were always intertwined with Rikki (and Wallace) in my mind. I know Rikki was not a fan of children, but she was always lovely to me throughout my childhood, and had great taste in children's books. I treasured the Beatrice Potter books she sent me, and particularly loved the Neverending Story book beautifully printed in green and red ink.

I felt very honoured to go to the Temple and I remember practically peeking over the edge of Wallace's vast desk in order to see him seated behind it, framed by many books of course.

Over the years, and after Wallace passed away, we used to chat in her flat, see Cats in theatreland, and meet in Baker Street for tasty meals, sharing stories of London, our respective travels, and generally disagreeing about anything political. Later, when she became less mobile, I made the trips to her flat see her, taking her bottles of Lebanese red wine from Berry Brothers when she was still allowed to drink, and chocolates from a shop on St John's Wood High Street which had been there forever. Rikki represented to me someone with the imagination and will power to live life differently to the norm and I was impressed with her life choices and her love of life - she always said she was never bored, and even in the nursing home, she didn't seem to be affected by boredom.

When I presented her with a photograph of my new born son she said “he looks a wicked little sod.

(Egypt, the Middle East, Rome)
Rikki had a passion for the history, language and culture of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, and was a member of the Egypt Exploration Society, the Sudan Archaeological Research Society, The Thames Valley Ancient Egypt Society and The Friends of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Despite two artificial hips, but with sterling help from Egyptologist Paul Whelan, she made it down the narrow stairs of the tomb of Sennenmut (TT353) and saw the astronomical ceiling; something she had wanted to see for years. She went on a number of trips organised by the Friends of the Petrie Museum, not only to Egypt, but to America, Canada and Copenhagen, visiting Egyptological museum collections. In Copenhagen, there was a superb dinner with Annie, of lobster, steak and strawberries, at a restaurant by the harbour. A bargain meal, except that the consideration of a glass of red wine each, immediately became a bottle which was better value. Not such a bargain when the second bottle was added. She took both the certificate and diploma in Egyptology at Birkbeck College, and had her health allowed would have progressed to the degrees offered by University College, London.

She travelled widely with Wallace, especially to Italy when Wallace was researching material for his books. They had their favourite hotel in Rome, close to the Coliseum, and within easy walking distance of the ancient city centre. After Wallace died, she went around the Middle East on cruises with Swan Hellenic. Here she could take more relaxed trips to the ancient sites as well as indulging her passion for limocello in Italy, retsina in Greece and the red wine of Chateau Musar in Lebanon.

(The TS and other societies).
Annie says
“I first met Rikki when we joined the Tolkien Society in 1977, both being great admirers of the writing of J R R Tolkien, and have remained members ever since. Rikki took an active part in the running of the Society, being Treasurer for 15 years (a record that will not be easily surpassed) for many of those years while I was the Secretary. She was a firm restraining hand when the Chairman or other committee members had cunning plans that could seriously have endangered the financial security of the Society, and was so famous for ensuring that a “cushion” of £2000 was always held in reserve, that a brightly-coloured cushion with £2000 embroidered on it was presented to her when she finally retired. Rikki was a regular attendee at the Society’s AGMs which held all over the UK and the annual Oxonmoots, as well as hosting the February meetings of the London group, Northfarthing”.

There are many other facets to Rikki's life, the Violet Needham society, the Rider Haggard Society, the Ermine Street Guard, The Trireme Trust, the Scwartzkopf/Legge society, and the Rudolf Kempe Society.  Her generosity and love of animals was evident in the number of animal charities she supported, the Brook Sanctuary, Cats' Protection and not least the Burmese Cat Club. I suspect there will be others that we find when we clear her flat out.

Many people have expressed their regrets regarding Rikki’s long and painful stay in hospital and Forrester Court care home, following her fall at home a year ago, and how hard it must have been to see her in such distress. Yet, she was always pleased to receive visitors, even when the opiates clouded her mind and made speaking difficult. Just being there with her at times seemed to be enough.

At the time, I was fortunate to have been working in West London and will always be grateful for the time I was able to spend visiting as we would talk about anything and everything, in fact, making up for lost time as her condition had prevented her from getting out and about for far too long, and I hadn’t seen her socially for too many years. She was happy to talk about periods of her life that I knew nothing about and these have formed a part of this eulogy. I am indebted to a great many people, many of whom cannot be here today, who have shared their memories and helped give a picture of a wonderful life.

I would like to leave the last words to Wallace. Taken from the late Alex Noel-Tod’s eulogy for Wallace in 1990, these lines were written by Wallace in 1984, in a typically generous tribute to a retiring founder member and President of the British & Irish Association Of Law Librarians.

Wallace wrote in the present tense, and I see no reason to change that, although I have adjusted the wording for gender, as the achievements and personality of Rikki Breem will remain for all of us a present example and inspiration:

'Like all the best professionals she cares more for the work than its rewards. She wears her learning so very lightly, deploying her talents with deceptive ease as befits the most distinguished member of our profession. Her lien upon our affections is unassailable.'


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