I was born in Elland, Yorkshire in November, 1955. In the winter of 1957, we relocated to Grimsby in Lincolnshire. There was thick snow on the ground and so we took the train. Apparently I caused quite a stir on the trip to Grimsby. All I can remember is eating crisps and switching the lights on and off in the carriage… to the extent that I featured in the local paper! We moved quite frequently when I was a child as my Dad was in the Post Office, and the move from Yorkshire to Lincolnshire was a promotion for him to Assistant Head Postmaster. When we lived in Grimsby, I went to St Martin’s Preparatory School. On a Friday evening we would go for a treat to a local fish and chip shop. My one abiding memory of Grimsby is the fish smell at the docks. I can still recall it to almost 60 years later.
It takes guts to do this! German Lukas Irmler in his successful world record attempt to walk across Victoria Falls on a tightrope, an event he spent 2 years training for
In the early 1960s my Dad was promoted to Head Postmaster in Guildford. We moved to Onslow Village whilst Dad took up his appointment at the Post Office in Woodbridge Meadows. I transferred to Rydes Hill Convent school and it was quite a shock for me to discover that the school was run by nuns. At the time, the headmistress was called Mother Patricia. One of my favourite teachers, was Sister Mary Gerald. When I first went there the nuns were dressed in the full habit (think Sound of Music) but when the rules were relaxed the nuns could wear a less formal piece of headgear, which actually meant that for the first time we could see their hair. I remember as a 9 year old exclaiming to my friend ‘she’s got hair!’
At the age of 11 years, I sat the 11+ and got into Guildford County Grammar School for Girls on the Farnham Road. In those days it was an all girls school and so we looked forward to the annual barn dance that took place at the Royal Grammar School on the High Street. I loved school.
Me aged 5
At 14 years old I took up the clarinet. I went to the Guildford School of Music, took several clarinet exams and was a member of the Guildford and Woking wind band. However, I also loved to sing and sang a solo at a school concert. A member of the audience sought out my parents, and said to them ‘your daughter has a real gift. You should get her voice trained’. At the time, my parents weren’t in a position to fund both singing lessons and clarinet lessons and so I was given the choice to carry on with clarinet or move on to singing lessons. Although I enjoyed the clarinet, I did find it quite a hard instrument to play. So began my singing career. I attended Guildford School of Music under the tutorship of Miss Jean Bush and regularly entered the Godalming Festival of Music and Drama. I won loads of certificates at the festivals!
Me in my Rydes Hill Convent School uniform
When I left school I went to the College of All Saints in Tottenham, North London to study to be a Home Economics and French teacher. I also studied singing at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, with an Italian singing teacher. Whilst at college, I got involved in a local church and met Claire White who is still a friend of mine. She and I began to sing together, often meeting up with a few other musicians. We began writing songs and before we knew it, we’d been approached by a music studio in Eastbourne about doing an album. The Valley of Achor was released in 1975 and exceeded ALL our expectations. Considering we had trialled a new type of microphone, whom we nicknamed Archie due to it being in the shape of a head, none were more surprised than us! Our success led to us forming a band called Achor, recording 4 more albums and touring the country doing concerts. I even got to sing a duet at the Royal Albert Hall!
My Dad (third on the left) as Head Postmaster at his office in North Street, Guildford in 1965. Notice the North Street market in the background which still exists today
It was the most amazing time of my life, and something that I will treasure forever. (All the albums are on You Tube if you’re really interested!)
After qualifying as a teacher I worked in London for a while. My first job was as a Needlework teacher at Corpus Christi school in Leyton. Considering my sewing teacher at school used to give up in desperation with me, I managed very well. My abiding memory is of 11 year olds sewing their fingers together with a needle and thread, and the constant cry of “Miss, my machine needle’s broken/ my machine doesn’t work/ I’ve cut my skirt by mistake’. In 1978 I was promoted to head of the Home Economics Department at Waltham Forest special school in Chingford. We had a real mixture of children, from those with behaviour problems, but academically very able, to abused and traumatised children with major learning difficulties. I’ve had to deal with a black belt karate, axe wielding 16 year old boy to a Downs Syndrome teenager who used to strip off when she got too hot in cookery classes! I’ve had teenagers urinating in their shoes out of fear of going home to abusive fathers and a boy who had never spoken due to being whipped with his father’s belt. One day in Woodwork he saw his teacher’s Pirelli calendar (full of scantily clad women) and said’ tits’. His first word at the age of 11 years old. Those experiences and their faces have stayed with me. In spite of the daily challenges I loved teaching them cookery and housecraft. Pastry skills, sponge cakes, bread, Christmas puddings and cakes, mincemeat for mince pies, how to make a 3 course meal. It’s such a shame that teenagers today come out of school without these basic homemaking skills.
I met my first husband in 1981, going on to have two children together in 1983 and 1985. (My 3rd grandchild is due tomorrow!) We were married for 23 years. In that time, we moved from Loughton in Essex to Buckhurst Hill, Essex to Peterborough, and then to Johannesburg, South Africa.
I had first visited South Africa in December, 1980 when I went to stay with my friend Claire, and her family. I knew the minute I landed that one day, I would live in South Africa. And so it happened that over the years we returned a number of times, both for work, and for holidays to that nation. In 1997 we made the decision to relocate from the UK to Johannesburg. During those years in the UK I had several businesses ranging from making wedding cakes (the traditional 3-5 tiered ones) to teaching skin care & make up classes and selling costume jewellery. I successfully worked in the Direct Selling arena for many years, winning several awards. I still have some of the luggage and crystal wine glasses that I won!
A simple example of needlework
We arrived in South Africa on the morning of Monday January 13th 1997 and went straight into an interview at a local school that afternoon. My husband’s company paid for our relocation and travel expenses and put us up in accommodation for 6 weeks while we searched for a house to rent. We came out of the interview with a HUGE list of school uniform, stationery and school books which we needed to purchase. Tuesday was spent shopping, sewing labels into uniform and covering and labelling ALL the exercise and text books!!! Wednesday morning we were all up at 5.30am as the children had to be at school for 7.15am. We waved goodbye to them and then my husband went off to work giving me the car keys and a map with a request to collect our air freight from the airport. ‘No problem” I thought to myself as I have a very good internal compass. However I had forgotten to factor in that in the southern hemisphere, the sun is in the north and not the south! OR Tambo International airport is to the east of Johannesburg and I was happily driving west. It took me many hours to navigate Joburg traffic, robots (which are traffic lights), hawkers at the robots selling everything from CDs to bags, hats and rugby shirts to Joburg taxis, which are a law unto themselves.
Our house in Johannesburg
The children stayed at the school for a year. However, moving nation is a huge task, not just physically, but also emotionally, and neither of them really settled. We made the decision to homeschool them, joining a number of other families that had also made the decision to homeschool. One Christmas we were studying a unit about kindness and sharing with others. We’d heard of a group volunteering at an informal settlement, north of Johannesburg and we decided to go and help with serving the Christmas meals. Refilwe, meaning gift in Zulu, had started life as a medical clinic. I discovered a small group of ladies who were sewing. When I walked into the sewing room one of the ladies said, ‘Hello madam, can you sew?’ With my experience teaching sewing I couldn’t really say no. Her reply was ‘We’ve been praying for a sewing teacher for months’.
The Western Cape is a very fertile region for farming and wine making
I left seven years later, having taught this little group of women every Wednesday. In that time, I taught them sewing machine skills which they have since used to set up their own businesses. We made clothing and furnishings for their little shacks. We did craft work: patchwork, appliqué, quilts, embroidery and fabric painting. The quality of their work was so high that we were approached by a linen company in Johannesburg, who wanted us to produce a range of white baby linen with appliqué and embroidered elephants on! The women lived in shacks with no running water, and no electricity. And yet, when they took the work home to finish (with a pillowcase to keep it in to keep it clean), it came back pristine. We sold hand embroidered, and hand tied quilts overseas to America, Australia and the UK. These funds helped the women put their children through school. I learnt some Zulu whilst there and was once called a black woman in a white woman’s skin!
Table mountain, looking out over Cape Town
After leaving Refilwe I trained in Vocal Pedagogy at the Sing-Your-Heart-Out studios, eventually teaching singing to 150 students ranging in age from 8-70 years. Everyone can be taught to sing in tune and it’s so fulfilling to see the joy on their faces when eventually they sang in a small concert. I had the privilege of featuring on several of their CDs and appearing in many of their concerts. I sang popular Broadway hits to arias and once even tackled Carmen!
My husband and I amicably divorced in 2005 and in 2010 I remarried a South African. We set up a successful business in Johannesburg delivering fruit and vegetable boxes to customers, educating them and introducing them to the joys of fresh food and a life of health once again. Up at 3.30am in the morning to go to the big fruit and vegetable market in Johannesburg, unpacking and sorting the produce and then delivering it, we would fall into bed at 11.30pm at night. Exhausted but happy. I had also re-started my wedding cake business and was super busy. It was such an enjoyable time of my life and has given me so many happy memories.
Ladies doing volunteer sewing projects to raise money to put their children through school
In 2012, we made the decision to relocate to the UK to look after my elderly father, who was suffering with dementia. We closed our business down, put our house up for rent, said goodbye to friends and family and moved back to the Horsham Road in Cranleigh. My husband, Bernard Potgieter, soon found himself working as restaurant manager at Notcutts garden centre. He soon became a popular figure with the regular customers, bringing his own kind of South African flair and work ethic. I’m not sure that the staff knew what had hit them when he arrived! He oversaw the refurbishment of the kitchen and restaurant and introduced his Notcutts ‘silver service’ at Christmas time, once being tipped £15 for his attentive manner.
Even though he enjoyed working at Notcutts, Bernard yearned to again work for himself and so The Genuine Living Company was born. We began looking for skin care products that were real, natural, organic and which promoted radiant wellness. We wanted to rid our lives of chemicals. We were eating an organic, plant based diet but my make up and beauty products read like a laboratory experiment! We began to research some of the chemicals used in skin care, hair care, body care, household cleaners and found that time after time the chemicals were known to be carcinogenic or dangerous to health.
Elephants in Chobe Game Reserve, Botswana in 2014
Out went the make up, skin and body care, shampoos, shower gels . . . but to our horror many companies claiming to be natural and organic had some of the known ‘nasties’ in their products! As a result we developed a small range of 69% organic moisturisers that have been EU safety tested, making them suitable for selling to the public.
In the meantime, Bernard was studying beekeeping and I was doing a Diploma in Naturopathic Nutrition at the esteemed College of Naturopathic Medicine. During this time he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, and sadly died in July 2015. Since then, The Genuine Living Company has gone from strength to strength and I have won 3 awards as a Nutritional Therapist. These days I call myself a “Health Detective” looking for the clues that trigger my clients’ health issues and then teaching them how to interrupt the drivers of their conditions. My speciality is gut health because it impacts so many areas of our lives. How often have you said ‘I’ve got this feeling in my gut”?
My graduation as a Therapist
I am currently writing an online course called ‘Lose Your Lockdown Love Handles’ which I am launching in July as so many people have gained weight during lockdown, myself included!
What does my future hold as a soon-to-be 65 year old? I am planning on setting up a retreat in South Africa when COVID-19 allows. Life is for living, for adventure, for helping others and I am making the most of my time here. I have so much more to accomplish . . .
Sue Potgieter, July 2020
Nutritional Therapist & Naturopath mANP rGNC