The Theosophist, October 1976 (published there as Off the Platform)
Clara Codd - Off the Platform
by Lily Darby
When Clara Codd was a National Lecturer I was a very young Syllabus Secretary, having achieved the position by sheer accident when the member whom I was helping unexpectedly left the Midlands. Some older theosophists, who felt grey hairs to be an essential adjunct to Lodge work disapproved, but Clara, who liked young people, thought differently and her opinion, expressed during a visit to Birmingham silenced the critics.
The Birmingham Group of the Midland Federation comprised of a number of Lodges and Centres. We could use a tour lecturer for at least six days, and occasionally they remained in the area for two or three weeks. They often stayed with Miss Chadband for the whole period, going each evening to a different Lodge, and National Lecturers who spent all their time on tour welcomed the opportunity to spend a few days in the same house. I remember Clara sinking down into an easy chair with an expression of pure bliss on her face as she murmered "Two weeks, two whole weeks in one bed".
In those days there were no microphones to aid speakers and it surprised me that Clara managed to make herself heard in a large hall. In her early lecturing years an expert in elocution had told her that she would never become a public speaker, that her voice was unsuitable, and that it lacked volume; how wrong he was.
Lecturers were difficult to meet at New Streets Station in Birmingham where there were three different exits. Despite detailed instructions our visitors' movements were often quite unpredictable, and Clara headed my list, coming an easy first in the matter of unpedictability. Efficient on the platform, she could be amazingly vague and absent minded in everyday life, she also had an unfortunate habit of leaving letters unopened, it being her intention to read them when she had time.
On one occasion I had arranged to meet her in Queens Drive, a private road that cut through the centre of the station and I parked there more in hope than expectation. At that time Mr. and Mrs. Ross were living with Miss Chadband, and Mrs. Ross sent her husband to help me meet Clara. He positioned himself on the bridge by the flight of steps that led down to the platform, the only public exit from the trains. He waited in vain, Clara did not arrive. To my surprise she appeared in Queens Drive plus a porter carrying her luggage, I did not know Mr. Ross was at the station, so off we went to Moseley. Arriving, and not having seen Mr. Ross, his wife immediately decided that he must have had an accident, but eventually he returned safely. He announced that Clara had missed the train, and was surprised to see her sitting by the fire.
Then we discovered what had happened. Clara got off the train and said to a porter "A friend is meeting me, where do you suppose she might be?" Luckily he chose the right place, he took her via a porters's tunnel (not used by the general public) hence her non-appearance on the bridge. When I said "I wrote to you," Clara said "Oh" and delving into her handbag she produced a pile of unopened letters, and that was that.
We had more adventures when Mrs. Ross and I took her to the station to put her on the train to Walsall. We arrived in good time and Clara decided that she wanted a newspaper, and I walked down the platform to the bookstall. Then she changed her mind and wanted a different paper, so Mrs. Ross hurried to tell me.When we returned with the paper Clara had vanished! A train standing at the platform was due to leave, and the guard was about to raise his flag when I suddenly realized what had happened. I remember saying "Don't blow your whistle, there's a lady on this train who has to go to Walsall". At that precise moment Clara looked out of the window of a nearby carriage, she waved her hand and called gaily "Good-bye, have you got my paper?" "Good heavens, is that her?" said the guard "I've only just put her in," so he had to get her out again. When we explained to Clara that the train she had got in was not going to Walsall, she said "That must be why the poor guard was so upset."
Despite her deceptively gentle manner Clara usually knew what she wanted, and when offered a choice of entertainments for her free day she chose to go to see Buffalo Bill at the Cinema, a choice that quite startled Miss Chadband. I took her to the matinee, and she thoroughly enjoyed herself, and when the Indians were pursuing the hero, Clara sat on the edge of the seat, bouncing up and down and saying "Go it, go it".
Whenever I took Clara out something usually happened, there was the occasion when the lights were down in the cinema when we arrived. It seemed very dark after the sunlight despite the flash lamp held by the usherette. We headed for two empty seats half way across the row, suddenly I heard a masculine gasp of surprise, and found Clara calmly sitting on a gentleman's knee. She settled down and seemed quite unaware that he was underneath, apologies followed and all was well. On another free day Miss Chadband booked two seats at the theatre for Clara to go see the play "Murder in the Cathedral," I took her plus a sizable box of chocolates. Clara had the chocolates in her lap, and at the critical moment when Thomas à Beckett was about to be murdered she suddenly sat up and saying "They'll get him," she shot the box up in the air and chocolates flew in all directions.
But once on the lecture platform it all changed, she spoke with simplicity and conviction, and I think it was her genuine sincerity that convinced so many doubting inquirers.
She used to say that the thing to do in any difficulty was to stand and look helpless, but she was far from helpless when it came to question time, she could reduce the expert heckler to silence, but after all she had been a militant suffagette in her youth.
When she lectured she offered an individual viewpoint and a depth of understanding that gave an immediacy to the subject, and a living quality to her words, and when she was no longer able to visit us we all missed her very much.