January 28, 2022 at 3:13 pm #6262
In reply to: The Elusive Samuel Housley and Other Family Stories
From Tanganyika with Love
continued ~ part 3
With thanks to Mike Rushby.
Mchewe Estate. 22nd March 1935
I am feeling much better now that I am five months pregnant and have quite got
my appetite back. Once again I go out with “the Mchewe Hunt” which is what George
calls the procession made up of the donkey boy and donkey with Ann confidently riding
astride, me beside the donkey with Georgie behind riding the stick which he much
prefers to the donkey. The Alsatian pup, whom Ann for some unknown reason named
‘Tubbage’, and the two cats bring up the rear though sometimes Tubbage rushes
ahead and nearly knocks me off my feet. He is not the loveable pet that Kelly was.
It is just as well that I have recovered my health because my mother-in-law has
decided to fly out from England to look after Ann and George when I am in hospital. I am
very grateful for there is no one lse to whom I can turn. Kath Hickson-Wood is seldom on
their farm because Hicky is working a guano claim and is making quite a good thing out of
selling bat guano to the coffee farmers at Mbosi. They camp out at the claim, a series of
caves in the hills across the valley and visit the farm only occasionally. Anne Molteno is
off to Cape Town to have her baby at her mothers home and there are no women in
Mbeya I know well. The few women are Government Officials wives and they come
and go. I make so few trips to the little town that there is no chance to get on really
friendly terms with them.
Janey, the ayah, is turning into a treasure. She washes and irons well and keeps
the children’s clothes cupboard beautifully neat. Ann and George however are still
reluctant to go for walks with her. They find her dull because, like all African ayahs, she
has no imagination and cannot play with them. She should however be able to help with
the baby. Ann is very excited about the new baby. She so loves all little things.
Yesterday she went into ecstasies over ten newly hatched chicks.
She wants a little sister and perhaps it would be a good thing. Georgie is so very
active and full of mischief that I feel another wild little boy might be more than I can
manage. Although Ann is older, it is Georgie who always thinks up the mischief. They
have just been having a fight. Georgie with the cooks umbrella versus Ann with her frilly
pink sunshade with the inevitable result that the sunshade now has four broken ribs.
Any way I never feel lonely now during the long hours George is busy on the
shamba. The children keep me on my toes and I have plenty of sewing to do for the
baby. George is very good about amusing the children before their bedtime and on
Sundays. In the afternoons when it is not wet I take Ann and Georgie for a walk down
the hill. George meets us at the bottom and helps me on the homeward journey. He
grabs one child in each hand by the slack of their dungarees and they do a sort of giant
stride up the hill, half walking half riding.
Very much love,
Mchewe Estate. 14th June 1935
A great flap here. We had a letter yesterday to say that mother-in-law will be
arriving in four days time! George is very amused at my frantic efforts at spring cleaning
but he has told me before that she is very house proud so I feel I must make the best
of what we have.
George is very busy building a store for the coffee which will soon be ripening.
This time he is doing the bricklaying himself. It is quite a big building on the far end of the
farm and close to the river. He is also making trays of chicken wire nailed to wooden
frames with cheap calico stretched over the wire.
Mother will have to sleep in the verandah room which leads off the bedroom
which we share with the children. George will have to sleep in the outside spare room as
there is no door between the bedroom and the verandah room. I am sewing frantically
to make rose coloured curtains and bedspread out of material mother-in-law sent for
Christmas and will have to make a curtain for the doorway. The kitchen badly needs
whitewashing but George says he cannot spare the labour so I hope mother won’t look.
To complicate matters, George has been invited to lunch with the Governor on the day
of Mother’s arrival. After lunch they are to visit the newly stocked trout streams in the
Mporotos. I hope he gets back to Mbeya in good time to meet mother’s plane.
Ann has been off colour for a week. She looks very pale and her pretty fair hair,
normally so shiny, is dull and lifeless. It is such a pity that mother should see her like this
because first impressions do count so much and I am looking to the children to attract
attention from me. I am the size of a circus tent and hardly a dream daughter-in-law.
Georgie, thank goodness, is blooming but he has suddenly developed a disgusting
habit of spitting on the floor in the manner of the natives. I feel he might say “Gran, look
how far I can spit and give an enthusiastic demonstration.
Just hold thumbs that all goes well.
your loving but anxious,
Mchewe Estate. 28th June 1935
Mother-in-law duly arrived in the District Commissioner’s car. George did not dare
to use the A.C. as she is being very temperamental just now. They also brought the
mail bag which contained a parcel of lovely baby clothes from you. Thank you very
much. Mother-in-law is very put out because the large parcel she posted by surface
mail has not yet arrived.
Mother arrived looking very smart in an ankle length afternoon frock of golden
brown crepe and smart hat, and wearing some very good rings. She is a very
handsome woman with the very fair complexion that goes with red hair. The hair, once
Titan, must now be grey but it has been very successfully tinted and set. I of course,
was shapeless in a cotton maternity frock and no credit to you. However, so far, motherin-
law has been uncritical and friendly and charmed with the children who have taken to
her. Mother does not think that the children resemble me in any way. Ann resembles her
family the Purdys and Georgie is a Morley, her mother’s family. She says they had the
same dark eyes and rather full mouths. I say feebly, “But Georgie has my colouring”, but
mother won’t hear of it. So now you know! Ann is a Purdy and Georgie a Morley.
Perhaps number three will be a Leslie.
What a scramble I had getting ready for mother. Her little room really looks pretty
and fresh, but the locally woven grass mats arrived only minutes before mother did. I
also frantically overhauled our clothes and it a good thing that I did so because mother
has been going through all the cupboards looking for mending. Mother is kept so busy
in her own home that I think she finds time hangs on her hands here. She is very good at
entertaining the children and has even tried her hand at picking coffee a couple of times.
Mother cannot get used to the native boy servants but likes Janey, so Janey keeps her
room in order. Mother prefers to wash and iron her own clothes.
I almost lost our cook through mother’s surplus energy! Abel our previous cook
took a new wife last month and, as the new wife, and Janey the old, were daggers
drawn, Abel moved off to a job on the Lupa leaving Janey and her daughter here.
The new cook is capable, but he is a fearsome looking individual called Alfani. He has a
thick fuzz of hair which he wears long, sometimes hidden by a dingy turban, and he
wears big brass earrings. I think he must be part Somali because he has a hawk nose
and a real Brigand look. His kitchen is never really clean but he is an excellent cook and
as cooks are hard to come by here I just keep away from the kitchen. Not so mother!
A few days after her arrival she suggested kindly that I should lie down after lunch
so I rested with the children whilst mother, unknown to me, went out to the kitchen and
not only scrubbed the table and shelves but took the old iron stove to pieces and
cleaned that. Unfortunately in her zeal she poked a hole through the stove pipe.
Had I known of these activities I would have foreseen the cook’s reaction when
he returned that evening to cook the supper. he was furious and wished to leave on the
spot and demanded his wages forthwith. The old Memsahib had insulted him by
scrubbing his already spotless kitchen and had broken his stove and made it impossible
for him to cook. This tirade was accompanied by such waving of hands and rolling of
eyes that I longed to sack him on the spot. However I dared not as I might not get
another cook for weeks. So I smoothed him down and he patched up the stove pipe
with a bit of tin and some wire and produced a good meal. I am wondering what
transformations will be worked when I am in hospital.
Our food is really good but mother just pecks at it. No wonder really, because
she has had some shocks. One day she found the kitchen boy diligently scrubbing the box lavatory seat with a scrubbing brush which he dipped into one of my best large
saucepans! No one can foresee what these boys will do. In these remote areas house
servants are usually recruited from the ranks of the very primitive farm labourers, who first
come to the farm as naked savages, and their notions of hygiene simply don’t exist.
One day I said to mother in George’s presence “When we were newly married,
mother, George used to brag about your cooking and say that you would run a home
like this yourself with perhaps one ‘toto’. Mother replied tartly, “That was very bad of
George and not true. If my husband had brought me out here I would not have stayed a
month. I think you manage very well.” Which reply made me warm to mother a lot.
To complicate things we have a new pup, a little white bull terrier bitch whom
George has named Fanny. She is tiny and not yet house trained but seems a plucky
and attractive little animal though there is no denying that she does look like a piglet.
Very much love to all,
Mchewe Estate. 3rd August 1935
Here I am in hospital, comfortably in bed with our new daughter in her basket
beside me. She is a lovely little thing, very plump and cuddly and pink and white and
her head is covered with tiny curls the colour of Golden Syrup. We meant to call her
Margery Kate, after our Marj and my mother-in-law whose name is Catherine.
I am enjoying the rest, knowing that George and mother will be coping
successfully on the farm. My room is full of flowers, particularly with the roses and
carnations which grow so well here. Kate was not due until August 5th but the doctor
wanted me to come in good time in view of my tiresome early pregnancy.
For weeks beforehand George had tinkered with the A.C. and we started for
Mbeya gaily enough on the twenty ninth, however, after going like a dream for a couple
of miles, she simply collapsed from exhaustion at the foot of a hill and all the efforts of
the farm boys who had been sent ahead for such an emergency failed to start her. So
George sent back to the farm for the machila and I sat in the shade of a tree, wondering
what would happen if I had the baby there and then, whilst George went on tinkering
with the car. Suddenly she sprang into life and we roared up that hill and all the way into
Mbeya. The doctor welcomed us pleasantly and we had tea with his family before I
settled into my room. Later he examined me and said that it was unlikely that the baby
would be born for several days. The new and efficient German nurse said, “Thank
goodness for that.” There was a man in hospital dying from a stomach cancer and she
had not had a decent nights sleep for three nights.
Kate however had other plans. I woke in the early morning with labour pains but
anxious not to disturb the nurse, I lay and read or tried to read a book, hoping that I
would not have to call the nurse until daybreak. However at four a.m., I went out into the
wind which was howling along the open verandah and knocked on the nurse’s door. She
got up and very crossly informed me that I was imagining things and should get back to
bed at once. She said “It cannot be so. The Doctor has said it.” I said “Of course it is,”
and then and there the water broke and clinched my argument. She then went into a flat
spin. “But the bed is not ready and my instruments are not ready,” and she flew around
to rectify this and also sent an African orderly to call the doctor. I paced the floor saying
warningly “Hurry up with that bed. I am going to have the baby now!” She shrieked
“Take off your dressing gown.” But I was passed caring. I flung myself on the bed and
there was Kate. The nurse had done all that was necessary by the time the doctor
A funny thing was, that whilst Kate was being born on the bed, a black cat had
kittens under it! The doctor was furious with the nurse but the poor thing must have crept
in out of the cold wind when I went to call the nurse. A happy omen I feel for the baby’s
future. George had no anxiety this time. He stayed at the hospital with me until ten
o’clock when he went down to the hotel to sleep and he received the news in a note
from me with his early morning tea. He went to the farm next morning but will return on
the sixth to fetch me home.
I do feel so happy. A very special husband and three lovely children. What
more could anyone possibly want.
Lots and lots of love,
Mchewe Estate. 20th August 1935
Well here we are back at home and all is very well. The new baby is very placid
and so pretty. Mother is delighted with her and Ann loved her at sight but Georgie is not
so sure. At first he said, “Your baby is no good. Chuck her in the kalonga.” The kalonga
being the ravine beside the house , where, I regret to say, much of the kitchen refuse is
dumped. he is very jealous when I carry Kate around or feed her but is ready to admire
her when she is lying alone in her basket.
George walked all the way from the farm to fetch us home. He hired a car and
native driver from the hotel, but drove us home himself going with such care over ruts
and bumps. We had a great welcome from mother who had had the whole house
spring cleaned. However George loyally says it looks just as nice when I am in charge.
Mother obviously, had had more than enough of the back of beyond and
decided to stay on only one week after my return home. She had gone into the kitchen
one day just in time to see the houseboy scooping the custard he had spilt on the table
back into the jug with the side of his hand. No doubt it would have been served up
without a word. On another occasion she had walked in on the cook’s daily ablutions. He
was standing in a small bowl of water in the centre of the kitchen, absolutely naked,
enjoying a slipper bath. She left last Wednesday and gave us a big laugh before she
left. She never got over her horror of eating food prepared by our cook and used to
push it around her plate. Well, when the time came for mother to leave for the plane, she
put on the very smart frock in which she had arrived, and then came into the sitting room
exclaiming in dismay “Just look what has happened, I must have lost a stone!’ We
looked, and sure enough, the dress which had been ankle deep before, now touched
the floor. “Good show mother.” said George unfeelingly. “You ought to be jolly grateful,
you needed to lose weight and it would have cost you the earth at a beauty parlour to
get that sylph-like figure.”
When mother left she took, in a perforated matchbox, one of the frilly mantis that
live on our roses. She means to keep it in a goldfish bowl in her dining room at home.
Georgie and Ann filled another matchbox with dead flies for food for the mantis on the
Now that mother has left, Georgie and Ann attach themselves to me and firmly
refuse to have anything to do with the ayah,Janey. She in any case now wishes to have
a rest. Mother tipped her well and gave her several cotton frocks so I suspect she wants
to go back to her hometown in Northern Rhodesia to show off a bit.
Georgie has just sidled up with a very roguish look. He asked “You like your
baby?” I said “Yes indeed I do.” He said “I’ll prick your baby with a velly big thorn.”
Who would be a mother!
Mchewe Estate. 20th September 1935
I have been rather in the wars with toothache and as there is still no dentist at
Mbeya to do the fillings, I had to have four molars extracted at the hospital. George
says it is fascinating to watch me at mealtimes these days because there is such a gleam
of satisfaction in my eye when I do manage to get two teeth to meet on a mouthful.
About those scissors Marj sent Ann. It was not such a good idea. First she cut off tufts of
George’s hair so that he now looks like a bad case of ringworm and then she cut a scalp
lock, a whole fist full of her own shining hair, which George so loves. George scolded
Ann and she burst into floods of tears. Such a thing as a scolding from her darling daddy
had never happened before. George immediately made a long drooping moustache
out of the shorn lock and soon had her smiling again. George is always very gentle with
Ann. One has to be , because she is frightfully sensitive to criticism.
I am kept pretty busy these days, Janey has left and my houseboy has been ill
with pneumonia. I now have to wash all the children’s things and my own, (the cook does
George’s clothes) and look after the three children. Believe me, I can hardly keep awake
for Kate’s ten o’clock feed.
I do hope I shall get some new servants next month because I also got George
to give notice to the cook. I intercepted him last week as he was storming down the hill
with my large kitchen knife in his hand. “Where are you going with my knife?” I asked.
“I’m going to kill a man!” said Alfani, rolling his eyes and looking extremely ferocious. “He
has taken my wife.” “Not with my knife”, said I reaching for it. So off Alfani went, bent on
vengeance and I returned the knife to the kitchen. Dinner was served and I made no
enquiries but I feel that I need someone more restful in the kitchen than our brigand
George has been working on the car and has now fitted yet another radiator. This
is a lorry one and much too tall to be covered by the A.C.’s elegant bonnet which is
secured by an old strap. The poor old A.C. now looks like an ancient shoe with a turned
up toe. It only needs me in it with the children to make a fine illustration to the old rhyme!
Ann and Georgie are going through a climbing phase. They practically live in
trees. I rushed out this morning to investigate loud screams and found Georgie hanging
from a fork in a tree by one ankle, whilst Ann stood below on tiptoe with hands stretched
upwards to support his head.
Do I sound as though I have straws in my hair? I have.
Lots of love,
Mchewe Estate. 11th October 1935
Thank goodness! I have a new ayah name Mary. I had heard that there was a
good ayah out of work at Tukuyu 60 miles away so sent a messenger to fetch her. She
arrived after dark wearing a bright dress and a cheerful smile and looked very suitable by
the light of a storm lamp. I was horrified next morning to see her in daylight. She was
dressed all in black and had a rather sinister look. She reminds me rather of your old maid
Candace who overheard me laughing a few days before Ann was born and croaked
“Yes , Miss Eleanor, today you laugh but next week you might be dead.” Remember
how livid you were, dad?
I think Mary has the same grim philosophy. Ann took one look at her and said,
“What a horrible old lady, mummy.” Georgie just said “Go away”, both in English and Ki-
Swahili. Anyway Mary’s references are good so I shall keep her on to help with Kate
who is thriving and bonny and placid.
Thank you for the offer of toys for Christmas but, if you don’t mind, I’d rather have
some clothing for the children. Ann is quite contented with her dolls Barbara and Yvonne.
Barbara’s once beautiful face is now pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle having come
into contact with Georgie’s ever busy hammer. However Ann says she will love her for
ever and she doesn’t want another doll. Yvonne’s hay day is over too. She
disappeared for weeks and we think Fanny, the pup, was the culprit. Ann discovered
Yvonne one morning in some long wet weeds. Poor Yvonne is now a ghost of her
former self. All the sophisticated make up was washed off her papier-mâché face and
her hair is decidedly bedraggled, but Ann was radiant as she tucked her back into bed
and Yvonne is as precious to Ann as she ever was.
Georgie simply does not care for toys. His paint box, hammer and the trenching
hoe George gave him for his second birthday are all he wants or needs. Both children
love books but I sometimes wonder whether they stimulate Ann’s imagination too much.
The characters all become friends of hers and she makes up stories about them to tell
Georgie. She adores that illustrated children’s Bible Mummy sent her but you would be
astonished at the yarns she spins about “me and my friend Jesus.” She also will call
Moses “Old Noses”, and looking at a picture of Jacob’s dream, with the shining angels
on the ladder between heaven and earth, she said “Georgie, if you see an angel, don’t
touch it, it’s hot.”
Mchewe Estate. 17th October 1935
I take back the disparaging things I said about my new Ayah, because she has
proved her worth in an unexpected way. On Wednesday morning I settled Kate in he
cot after her ten o’clock feed and sat sewing at the dining room table with Ann and
Georgie opposite me, both absorbed in painting pictures in identical seed catalogues.
Suddenly there was a terrific bang on the back door, followed by an even heavier blow.
The door was just behind me and I got up and opened it. There, almost filling the door
frame, stood a huge native with staring eyes and his teeth showing in a mad grimace. In
his hand he held a rolled umbrella by the ferrule, the shaft I noticed was unusually long
and thick and the handle was a big round knob.
I was terrified as you can imagine, especially as, through the gap under the
native’s raised arm, I could see the new cook and the kitchen boy running away down to
the shamba! I hastily tried to shut and lock the door but the man just brushed me aside.
For a moment he stood over me with the umbrella raised as though to strike. Rather
fortunately, I now think, I was too petrified to say a word. The children never moved but
Tubbage, the Alsatian, got up and jumped out of the window!
Then the native turned away and still with the same fixed stare and grimace,
began to attack the furniture with his umbrella. Tables and chairs were overturned and
books and ornaments scattered on the floor. When the madman had his back turned and
was busily bashing the couch, I slipped round the dining room table, took Ann and
Georgie by the hand and fled through the front door to the garage where I hid the
children in the car. All this took several minutes because naturally the children were
terrified. I was worried to death about the baby left alone in the bedroom and as soon
as I had Ann and Georgie settled I ran back to the house.
I reached the now open front door just as Kianda the houseboy opened the back
door of the lounge. He had been away at the river washing clothes but, on hearing of the
madman from the kitchen boy he had armed himself with a stout stick and very pluckily,
because he is not a robust boy, had returned to the house to eject the intruder. He
rushed to attack immediately and I heard a terrific exchange of blows behind me as I
opened our bedroom door. You can imagine what my feelings were when I was
confronted by an empty cot! Just then there was an uproar inside as all the farm
labourers armed with hoes and pangas and sticks, streamed into the living room from the
shamba whence they had been summoned by the cook. In no time at all the huge
native was hustled out of the house, flung down the front steps, and securely tied up
with strips of cloth.
In the lull that followed I heard a frightened voice calling from the bathroom.
”Memsahib is that you? The child is here with me.” I hastily opened the bathroom door
to find Mary couched in a corner by the bath, shielding Kate with her body. Mary had
seen the big native enter the house and her first thought had been for her charge. I
thanked her and promised her a reward for her loyalty, and quickly returned to the garage
to reassure Ann and Georgie. I met George who looked white and exhausted as well
he might having run up hill all the way from the coffee store. The kitchen boy had led him
to expect the worst and he was most relieved to find us all unhurt if a bit shaken.
We returned to the house by the back way whilst George went to the front and
ordered our labourers to take their prisoner and lock him up in the store. George then
discussed the whole affair with his Headman and all the labourers after which he reported
to me. “The boys say that the bastard is an ex-Askari from Nyasaland. He is not mad as
you thought but he smokes bhang and has these attacks. I suppose I should take him to
Mbeya and have him up in court. But if I do that you’ll have to give evidence and that will be a nuisance as the car won’t go and there is also the baby to consider.”
Eventually we decided to leave the man to sleep off the effects of the Bhang
until evening when he would be tried before an impromptu court consisting of George,
the local Jumbe(Headman) and village Elders, and our own farm boys and any other
interested spectators. It was not long before I knew the verdict because I heard the
sound of lashes. I was not sorry at all because I felt the man deserved his punishment
and so did all the Africans. They love children and despise anyone who harms or
frightens them. With great enthusiasm they frog-marched him off our land, and I sincerely
hope that that is the last we see or him. Ann and Georgie don’t seem to brood over this
affair at all. The man was naughty and he was spanked, a quite reasonable state of
affairs. This morning they hid away in the small thatched chicken house. This is a little brick
building about four feet square which Ann covets as a dolls house. They came back
covered in stick fleas which I had to remove with paraffin. My hens are laying well but
they all have the ‘gapes’! I wouldn’t run a chicken farm for anything, hens are such fussy,
Now don’t go worrying about my experience with the native. Such things
happen only once in a lifetime. We are all very well and happy, and life, apart from the
children’s pranks is very tranquil.
Lots and lots of love,
Mchewe Estate. 25th October 1935
The hot winds have dried up the shamba alarmingly and we hope every day for
rain. The prices for coffee, on the London market, continue to be low and the local
planters are very depressed. Coffee grows well enough here but we are over 400
miles from the railway and transport to the railhead by lorry is very expensive. Then, as
there is no East African Marketing Board, the coffee must be shipped to England for
sale. Unless the coffee fetches at least 90 pounds a ton it simply doesn’t pay to grow it.
When we started planting in 1931 coffee was fetching as much as 115 pounds a ton but
prices this year were between 45 and 55 pounds. We have practically exhausted our
capitol and so have all our neighbours. The Hickson -Woods have been keeping their
pot boiling by selling bat guano to the coffee farmers at Mbosi but now everyone is
broke and there is not a market for fertilisers. They are offering their farm for sale at a very
Major Jones has got a job working on the district roads and Max Coster talks of
returning to his work as a geologist. George says he will have to go gold digging on the
Lupa unless there is a big improvement in the market. Luckily we can live quite cheaply
here. We have a good vegetable garden, milk is cheap and we have plenty of fruit.
There are mulberries, pawpaws, grenadillas, peaches, and wine berries. The wine
berries are very pretty but insipid though Ann and Georgie love them. Each morning,
before breakfast, the old garden boy brings berries for Ann and Georgie. With a thorn
the old man pins a large leaf from a wild fig tree into a cone which he fills with scarlet wine
berries. There is always a cone for each child and they wait eagerly outside for the daily
ceremony of presentation.
The rats are being a nuisance again. Both our cats, Skinny Winnie and Blackboy
disappeared a few weeks ago. We think they made a meal for a leopard. I wrote last
week to our grocer at Mbalizi asking him whether he could let us have a couple of kittens
as I have often seen cats in his store. The messenger returned with a nailed down box.
The kitchen boy was called to prize up the lid and the children stood by in eager
anticipation. Out jumped two snarling and spitting creatures. One rushed into the kalonga
and the other into the house and before they were captured they had drawn blood from
several boys. I told the boys to replace the cats in the box as I intended to return them
forthwith. They had the colouring, stripes and dispositions of wild cats and I certainly
didn’t want them as pets, but before the boys could replace the lid the cats escaped
once more into the undergrowth in the kalonga. George fetched his shotgun and said he
would shoot the cats on sight or they would kill our chickens. This was more easily said
than done because the cats could not be found. However during the night the cats
climbed up into the loft af the house and we could hear them moving around on the reed
I said to George,”Oh leave the poor things. At least they might frighten the rats
away.” That afternoon as we were having tea a thin stream of liquid filtered through the
ceiling on George’s head. Oh dear!!! That of course was the end. Some raw meat was
put on the lawn for bait and yesterday George shot both cats.
I regret to end with the sad story of Mary, heroine in my last letter and outcast in
this. She came to work quite drunk two days running and I simply had to get rid of her. I
have heard since from Kath Wood that Mary lost her last job at Tukuyu for the same
reason. She was ayah to twin girls and one day set their pram on fire.
So once again my hands are more than full with three lively children. I did say
didn’t I, when Ann was born that I wanted six children?
Very much love from us all, Eleanor.
Mchewe Estate. 8th November 1935
To set your minds at rest I must tell you that the native who so frightened me and
the children is now in jail for attacking a Greek at Mbalizi. I hear he is to be sent back to
Rhodesia when he has finished his sentence.
Yesterday we had one of our rare trips to Mbeya. George managed to get a couple of
second hand tyres for the old car and had again got her to work so we are celebrating our
wedding anniversary by going on an outing. I wore the green and fawn striped silk dress
mother bought me and the hat and shoes you sent for my birthday and felt like a million
dollars, for a change. The children all wore new clothes too and I felt very proud of them.
Ann is still very fair and with her refined little features and straight silky hair she
looks like Alice in Wonderland. Georgie is dark and sturdy and looks best in khaki shirt
and shorts and sun helmet. Kate is a pink and gold baby and looks good enough to eat.
We went straight to the hotel at Mbeya and had the usual warm welcome from
Ken and Aunty May Menzies. Aunty May wears her hair cut short like a mans and
usually wears shirt and tie and riding breeches and boots. She always looks ready to go
on safari at a moments notice as indeed she is. She is often called out to a case of illness
at some remote spot.
There were lots of people at the hotel from farms in the district and from the
diggings. I met women I had not seen for four years. One, a Mrs Masters from Tukuyu,
said in the lounge, “My God! Last time I saw you , you were just a girl and here you are
now with two children.” To which I replied with pride, “There is another one in a pram on
the verandah if you care to look!” Great hilarity in the lounge. The people from the
diggings seem to have plenty of money to throw around. There was a big party on the
go in the bar.
One of our shamba boys died last Friday and all his fellow workers and our
house boys had the day off to attend the funeral. From what I can gather the local
funerals are quite cheery affairs. The corpse is dressed in his best clothes and laid
outside his hut and all who are interested may view the body and pay their respects.
The heir then calls upon anyone who had a grudge against the dead man to say his say
and thereafter hold his tongue forever. Then all the friends pay tribute to the dead man
after which he is buried to the accompaniment of what sounds from a distance, very
Most of our workmen are pagans though there is a Lutheran Mission nearby and
a big Roman Catholic Mission in the area too. My present cook, however, claims to be
a Christian. He certainly went to a mission school and can read and write and also sing
hymns in Ki-Swahili. When I first engaged him I used to find a large open Bible
prominently displayed on the kitchen table. The cook is middle aged and arrived here
with a sensible matronly wife. To my surprise one day he brought along a young girl,
very plump and giggly and announced proudly that she was his new wife, I said,”But I
thought you were a Christian Jeremiah? Christians don’t have two wives.” To which he
replied, “Oh Memsahib, God won’t mind. He knows an African needs two wives – one
to go with him when he goes away to work and one to stay behind at home to cultivate
Needles to say, it is the old wife who has gone to till the family plot.
With love to all,
Mchewe Estate. 21st November 1935
The drought has broken with a bang. We had a heavy storm in the hills behind
the house. Hail fell thick and fast. So nice for all the tiny new berries on the coffee! The
kids loved the excitement and three times Ann and Georgie ran out for a shower under
the eaves and had to be changed. After the third time I was fed up and made them both
lie on their beds whilst George and I had lunch in peace. I told Ann to keep the
casement shut as otherwise the rain would drive in on her bed. Half way through lunch I
heard delighted squeals from Georgie and went into the bedroom to investigate. Ann
was standing on the outer sill in the rain but had shut the window as ordered. “Well
Mummy , you didn’t say I mustn’t stand on the window sill, and I did shut the window.”
George is working so hard on the farm. I have a horrible feeling however that it is
what the Africans call ‘Kazi buri’ (waste of effort) as there seems no chance of the price of
coffee improving as long as this world depression continues. The worry is that our capitol
is nearly exhausted. Food is becoming difficult now that our neighbours have left. I used
to buy delicious butter from Kath Hickson-Wood and an African butcher used to kill a
beast once a week. Now that we are his only European customers he very rarely kills
anything larger than a goat, and though we do eat goat, believe me it is not from choice.
We have of course got plenty to eat, but our diet is very monotonous. I was
delighted when George shot a large bushbuck last week. What we could not use I cut
into strips and the salted strips are now hanging in the open garage to dry.
With love to all,
Mchewe Estate. 6th December 1935
We have had a lot of rain and the countryside is lovely and green. Last week
George went to Mbeya taking Ann with him. This was a big adventure for Ann because
never before had she been anywhere without me. She was in a most blissful state as
she drove off in the old car clutching a little basket containing sandwiches and half a bottle
of milk. She looked so pretty in a new blue frock and with her tiny plaits tied with
matching blue ribbons. When Ann is animated she looks charming because her normally
pale cheeks become rosy and she shows her pretty dimples.
As I am still without an ayah I rather looked forward to a quiet morning with only
Georgie and Margery Kate to care for, but Georgie found it dull without Ann and wanted
to be entertained and even the normally placid baby was peevish. Then in mid morning
the rain came down in torrents, the result of a cloudburst in the hills directly behind our
house. The ravine next to our house was a terrifying sight. It appeared to be a great
muddy, roaring waterfall reaching from the very top of the hill to a point about 30 yards
behind our house and then the stream rushed on down the gorge in an angry brown
flood. The roar of the water was so great that we had to yell at one another to be heard.
By lunch time the rain had stopped and I anxiously awaited the return of Ann and
George. They returned on foot, drenched and hungry at about 2.30pm . George had
had to abandon the car on the main road as the Mchewe River had overflowed and
turned the road into a muddy lake. The lower part of the shamba had also been flooded
and the water receded leaving branches and driftwood amongst the coffee. This was my
first experience of a real tropical storm. I am afraid that after the battering the coffee has
had there is little hope of a decent crop next year.
Anyway Christmas is coming so we don’t dwell on these mishaps. The children
have already chosen their tree from amongst the young cypresses in the vegetable
garden. We all send our love and hope that you too will have a Happy Christmas.
Mchewe Estate. 22nd December 1935
I’ve been in the wars with my staff. The cook has been away ill for ten days but is
back today though shaky and full of self pity. The houseboy, who really has been a brick
during the cooks absence has now taken to his bed and I feel like taking to Mine! The
children however have the Christmas spirit and are making weird and wonderful paper
decorations. George’s contribution was to have the house whitewashed throughout and
it looks beautifully fresh.
My best bit of news is that my old ayah Janey has been to see me and would
like to start working here again on Jan 1st. We are all very well. We meant to give
ourselves an outing to Mbeya as a Christmas treat but here there is an outbreak of
enteric fever there so will now not go. We have had two visitors from the Diggings this
week. The children see so few strangers that they were fascinated and hung around
staring. Ann sat down on the arm of the couch beside one and studied his profile.
Suddenly she announced in her clear voice, “Mummy do you know, this man has got
wax in his ears!” Very awkward pause in the conversation. By the way when I was
cleaning out little Kate’s ears with a swab of cotton wool a few days ago, Ann asked
“Mummy, do bees have wax in their ears? Well, where do you get beeswax from
I meant to keep your Christmas parcel unopened until Christmas Eve but could
not resist peeping today. What lovely things! Ann so loves pretties and will be
delighted with her frocks. My dress is just right and I love Georgie’s manly little flannel
shorts and blue shirt. We have bought them each a watering can. I suppose I shall
regret this later. One of your most welcome gifts is the album of nursery rhyme records. I
am so fed up with those that we have. Both children love singing. I put a record on the
gramophone geared to slow and off they go . Georgie sings more slowly than Ann but
much more tunefully. Ann sings in a flat monotone but Georgie with great expression.
You ought to hear him render ‘Sing a song of sixpence’. He cannot pronounce an R or
an S. Mother has sent a large home made Christmas pudding and a fine Christmas
cake and George will shoot some partridges for Christmas dinner.
Think of us as I shall certainly think of you.
Your very loving,
Mchewe Estate. 2nd January 1936
Christmas was fun! The tree looked very gay with its load of tinsel, candles and
red crackers and the coloured balloons you sent. All the children got plenty of toys
thanks to Grandparents and Aunts. George made Ann a large doll’s bed and I made
some elegant bedding, Barbara, the big doll is now permanently bed ridden. Her poor
shattered head has come all unstuck and though I have pieced it together again it is a sad
sight. If you have not yet chosen a present for her birthday next month would you
please get a new head from the Handy House. I enclose measurements. Ann does so
love the doll. She always calls her, “My little girl”, and she keeps the doll’s bed beside
her own and never fails to kiss her goodnight.
We had no guests for Christmas this year but we were quite festive. Ann
decorated the dinner table with small pink roses and forget-me-knots and tinsel and the
crackers from the tree. It was a wet day but we played the new records and both
George and I worked hard to make it a really happy day for the children. The children
were hugely delighted when George made himself a revolting set of false teeth out of
plasticine and a moustache and beard of paper straw from a chocolate box. “Oh Daddy
you look exactly like Father Christmas!” cried an enthralled Ann. Before bedtime we lit
all the candles on the tree and sang ‘Away in a Manger’, and then we opened the box of
starlights you sent and Ann and Georgie had their first experience of fireworks.
After the children went to bed things deteriorated. First George went for his bath
and found and killed a large black snake in the bathroom. It must have been in the
bathroom when I bathed the children earlier in the evening. Then I developed bad
toothache which kept me awake all night and was agonising next day. Unfortunately the
bridge between the farm and Mbeya had been washed away and the water was too
deep for the car to ford until the 30th when at last I was able to take my poor swollen
face to Mbeya. There is now a young German woman dentist working at the hospital.
She pulled out the offending molar which had a large abscess attached to it.
Whilst the dentist attended to me, Ann and Georgie played happily with the
doctor’s children. I wish they could play more often with other children. Dr Eckhardt was
very pleased with Margery Kate who at seven months weighs 17 lbs and has lovely
rosy cheeks. He admired Ann and told her that she looked just like a German girl. “No I
don’t”, cried Ann indignantly, “I’m English!”
We were caught in a rain storm going home and as the old car still has no
windscreen or side curtains we all got soaked except for the baby who was snugly
wrapped in my raincoat. The kids thought it great fun. Ann is growing up fast now. She
likes to ‘help mummy’. She is a perfectionist at four years old which is rather trying. She
gets so discouraged when things do not turn out as well as she means them to. Sewing
is constantly being unpicked and paintings torn up. She is a very sensitive child.
Georgie is quite different. He is a man of action, but not silent. He talks incessantly
but lisps and stumbles over some words. At one time Ann and Georgie often
conversed in Ki-Swahili but they now scorn to do so. If either forgets and uses a Swahili
word, the other points a scornful finger and shouts “You black toto”.
With love to all,
Eleanor.January 28, 2022 at 2:29 pm #6261
In reply to: The Elusive Samuel Housley and Other Family Stories
From Tanganyika with Love
With thanks to Mike Rushby.
Mchewe Estate. 11th July 1931.
You say that you would like to know more about our neighbours. Well there is
not much to tell. Kath Wood is very good about coming over to see me. I admire her
very much because she is so capable as well as being attractive. She speaks very
fluent Ki-Swahili and I envy her the way she can carry on a long conversation with the
natives. I am very slow in learning the language possibly because Lamek and the
houseboy both speak basic English.
I have very little to do with the Africans apart from the house servants, but I do
run a sort of clinic for the wives and children of our employees. The children suffer chiefly
from sore eyes and worms, and the older ones often have bad ulcers on their legs. All
farmers keep a stock of drugs and bandages.
George also does a bit of surgery and last month sewed up the sole of the foot
of a boy who had trodden on the blade of a panga, a sort of sword the Africans use for
hacking down bush. He made an excellent job of it. George tells me that the Africans
have wonderful powers of recuperation. Once in his bachelor days, one of his men was
disembowelled by an elephant. George washed his “guts” in a weak solution of
pot.permang, put them back in the cavity and sewed up the torn flesh and he
But to get back to the neighbours. We see less of Hicky Wood than of Kath.
Hicky can be charming but is often moody as I believe Irishmen often are.
Major Jones is now at home on his shamba, which he leaves from time to time
for temporary jobs on the district roads. He walks across fairly regularly and we are
always glad to see him for he is a great bearer of news. In this part of Africa there is no
knocking or ringing of doorbells. Front doors are always left open and visitors always
welcome. When a visitor approaches a house he shouts “Hodi”, and the owner of the
house yells “Karibu”, which I believe means “Come near” or approach, and tea is
produced in a matter of minutes no matter what hour of the day it is.
The road that passes all our farms is the only road to the Gold Diggings and
diggers often drop in on the Woods and Major Jones and bring news of the Goldfields.
This news is sometimes about gold but quite often about whose wife is living with
whom. This is a great country for gossip.
Major Jones now has his brother Llewyllen living with him. I drove across with
George to be introduced to him. Llewyllen’s health is poor and he looks much older than
his years and very like the portrait of Trader Horn. He has the same emaciated features,
burning eyes and long beard. He is proud of his Welsh tenor voice and often bursts into
Both brothers are excellent conversationalists and George enjoys walking over
sometimes on a Sunday for a bit of masculine company. The other day when George
walked across to visit the Joneses, he found both brothers in the shamba and Llew in a
great rage. They had been stooping to inspect a water furrow when Llew backed into a
hornets nest. One furious hornet stung him on the seat and another on the back of his
neck. Llew leapt forward and somehow his false teeth shot out into the furrow and were
carried along by the water. When George arrived Llew had retrieved his teeth but
George swears that, in the commotion, the heavy leather leggings, which Llew always
wears, had swivelled around on his thin legs and were calves to the front.
George has heard that Major Jones is to sell pert of his land to his Swedish brother-in-law, Max Coster, so we will soon have another couple in the neighbourhood.
I’ve had a bit of a pantomime here on the farm. On the day we went to Tukuyu,
all our washing was stolen from the clothes line and also our new charcoal iron. George
reported the matter to the police and they sent out a plain clothes policeman. He wears
the long white Arab gown called a Kanzu much in vogue here amongst the African elite
but, alas for secrecy, huge black police boots protrude from beneath the Kanzu and, to
add to this revealing clue, the askari springs to attention and salutes each time I pass by.
Not much hope of finding out the identity of the thief I fear.
George’s furrow was entirely successful and we now have water running behind
the kitchen. Our drinking water we get from a lovely little spring on the farm. We boil and
filter it for safety’s sake. I don’t think that is necessary. The furrow water is used for
washing pots and pans and for bath water.
Lots of love,
Mchewe Estate. 8th. August 1931
I think it is about time I told you that we are going to have a baby. We are both
thrilled about it. I have not seen a Doctor but feel very well and you are not to worry. I
looked it up in my handbook for wives and reckon that the baby is due about February
8th. next year.
The announcement came from George, not me! I had been feeling queasy for
days and was waiting for the right moment to tell George. You know. Soft lights and
music etc. However when I was listlessly poking my food around one lunch time
George enquired calmly, “When are you going to tell me about the baby?” Not at all
according to the book! The problem is where to have the baby. February is a very wet
month and the nearest Doctor is over 50 miles away at Tukuyu. I cannot go to stay at
Tukuyu because there is no European accommodation at the hospital, no hotel and no
friend with whom I could stay.
George thinks I should go South to you but Capetown is so very far away and I
love my little home here. Also George says he could not come all the way down with
me as he simply must stay here and get the farm on its feet. He would drive me as far
as the railway in Northern Rhodesia. It is a difficult decision to take. Write and tell me what
The days tick by quietly here. The servants are very willing but have to be
supervised and even then a crisis can occur. Last Saturday I was feeling squeamish and
decided not to have lunch. I lay reading on the couch whilst George sat down to a
solitary curry lunch. Suddenly he gave an exclamation and pushed back his chair. I
jumped up to see what was wrong and there, on his plate, gleaming in the curry gravy
were small bits of broken glass. I hurried to the kitchen to confront Lamek with the plate.
He explained that he had dropped the new and expensive bottle of curry powder on
the brick floor of the kitchen. He did not tell me as he thought I would make a “shauri” so
he simply scooped up the curry powder, removed the larger pieces of glass and used
part of the powder for seasoning the lunch.
The weather is getting warmer now. It was very cold in June and July and we had
fires in the daytime as well as at night. Now that much of the land has been cleared we
are able to go for pleasant walks in the weekends. My favourite spot is a waterfall on the
Mchewe River just on the boundary of our land. There is a delightful little pool below the
waterfall and one day George intends to stock it with trout.
Now that there are more Europeans around to buy meat the natives find it worth
their while to kill an occasional beast. Every now and again a native arrives with a large
bowl of freshly killed beef for sale. One has no way of knowing whether the animal was
healthy and the meat is often still warm and very bloody. I hated handling it at first but am
becoming accustomed to it now and have even started a brine tub. There is no other
way of keeping meat here and it can only be kept in its raw state for a few hours before
going bad. One of the delicacies is the hump which all African cattle have. When corned
it is like the best brisket.
See what a housewife I am becoming.
With much love,
Mchewe Estate. Sept.6th. 1931
I have grown to love the life here and am sad to think I shall be leaving
Tanganyika soon for several months. Yes I am coming down to have the baby in the
bosom of the family. George thinks it best and so does the doctor. I didn’t mention it
before but I have never recovered fully from the effects of that bad bout of malaria and
so I have been persuaded to leave George and our home and go to the Cape, in the
hope that I shall come back here as fit as when I first arrived in the country plus a really
healthy and bouncing baby. I am torn two ways, I long to see you all – but how I would
love to stay on here.
George will drive me down to Northern Rhodesia in early October to catch a
South bound train. I’ll telegraph the date of departure when I know it myself. The road is
very, very bad and the car has been giving a good deal of trouble so, though the baby
is not due until early February, George thinks it best to get the journey over soon as
possible, for the rains break in November and the the roads will then be impassable. It
may take us five or six days to reach Broken Hill as we will take it slowly. I am looking
forward to the drive through new country and to camping out at night.
Our days pass quietly by. George is out on the shamba most of the day. He
goes out before breakfast on weekdays and spends most of the day working with the
men – not only supervising but actually working with his hands and beating the labourers
at their own jobs. He comes to the house for meals and tea breaks. I potter around the
house and garden, sew, mend and read. Lamek continues to be a treasure. he turns out
some surprising dishes. One of his specialities is stuffed chicken. He carefully skins the
chicken removing all bones. He then minces all the chicken meat and adds minced onion
and potatoes. He then stuffs the chicken skin with the minced meat and carefully sews it
together again. The resulting dish is very filling because the boned chicken is twice the
size of a normal one. It lies on its back as round as a football with bloated legs in the air.
Rather repulsive to look at but Lamek is most proud of his accomplishment.
The other day he produced another of his masterpieces – a cooked tortoise. It
was served on a dish covered with parsley and crouched there sans shell but, only too
obviously, a tortoise. I took one look and fled with heaving diaphragm, but George said
it tasted quite good. He tells me that he has had queerer dishes produced by former
cooks. He says that once in his hunting days his cook served up a skinned baby
monkey with its hands folded on its breast. He says it would take a cannibal to eat that
And now for something sad. Poor old Llew died quite suddenly and it was a sad
shock to this tiny community. We went across to the funeral and it was a very simple and
dignified affair. Llew was buried on Joni’s farm in a grave dug by the farm boys. The
body was wrapped in a blanket and bound to some boards and lowered into the
ground. There was no service. The men just said “Good-bye Llew.” and “Sleep well
Llew”, and things like that. Then Joni and his brother-in-law Max, and George shovelled
soil over the body after which the grave was filled in by Joni’s shamba boys. It was a
lovely bright afternoon and I thought how simple and sensible a funeral it was.
I hope you will be glad to have me home. I bet Dad will be holding thumbs that
the baby will be a girl.
Very much love,
“There are no letters to my family during the period of Sept. 1931 to June 1932
because during these months I was living with my parents and sister in a suburb of
Cape Town. I had hoped to return to Tanganyika by air with my baby soon after her
birth in Feb.1932 but the doctor would not permit this.
A month before my baby was born, a company called Imperial Airways, had
started the first passenger service between South Africa and England. One of the night
stops was at Mbeya near my husband’s coffee farm, and it was my intention to take the
train to Broken Hill in Northern Rhodesia and to fly from there to Mbeya with my month
old baby. In those days however, commercial flying was still a novelty and the doctor
was not sure that flying at a high altitude might not have an adverse effect upon a young
He strongly advised me to wait until the baby was four months old and I did this
though the long wait was very trying to my husband alone on our farm in Tanganyika,
and to me, cherished though I was in my old home.
My story, covering those nine long months is soon told. My husband drove me
down from Mbeya to Broken Hill in NorthernRhodesia. The journey was tedious as the
weather was very hot and dry and the road sandy and rutted, very different from the
Great North road as it is today. The wooden wheel spokes of the car became so dry
that they rattled and George had to bind wet rags around them. We had several
punctures and with one thing and another I was lucky to catch the train.
My parents were at Cape Town station to welcome me and I stayed
comfortably with them, living very quietly, until my baby was born. She arrived exactly
on the appointed day, Feb.8th.
I wrote to my husband “Our Charmian Ann is a darling baby. She is very fair and
rather pale and has the most exquisite hands, with long tapering fingers. Daddy
absolutely dotes on her and so would you, if you were here. I can’t bear to think that you
are so terribly far away. Although Ann was born exactly on the day, I was taken quite by
surprise. It was awfully hot on the night before, and before going to bed I had a fancy for
some water melon. The result was that when I woke in the early morning with labour
pains and vomiting I thought it was just an attack of indigestion due to eating too much
melon. The result was that I did not wake Marjorie until the pains were pretty frequent.
She called our next door neighbour who, in his pyjamas, drove me to the nursing home
at breakneck speed. The Matron was very peeved that I had left things so late but all
went well and by nine o’clock, Mother, positively twittering with delight, was allowed to
see me and her first granddaughter . She told me that poor Dad was in such a state of
nerves that he was sick amongst the grapevines. He says that he could not bear to go
through such an anxious time again, — so we will have to have our next eleven in
The next four months passed rapidly as my time was taken up by the demands
of my new baby. Dr. Trudy King’s method of rearing babies was then the vogue and I
stuck fanatically to all the rules he laid down, to the intense exasperation of my parents
who longed to cuddle the child.
As the time of departure drew near my parents became more and more reluctant
to allow me to face the journey alone with their adored grandchild, so my brother,
Graham, very generously offered to escort us on the train to Broken Hill where he could
put us on the plane for Mbeya.
Mchewe Estate. June 15th 1932
You’ll be glad to know that we arrived quite safe and sound and very, very
happy to be home.The train Journey was uneventful. Ann slept nearly all the way.
Graham was very kind and saw to everything. He even sat with the baby whilst I went
to meals in the dining car.
We were met at Broken Hill by the Thoms who had arranged accommodation for
us at the hotel for the night. They also drove us to the aerodrome in the morning where
the Airways agent told us that Ann is the first baby to travel by air on this section of the
Cape to England route. The plane trip was very bumpy indeed especially between
Broken Hill and Mpika. Everyone was ill including poor little Ann who sicked up her milk
all over the front of my new coat. I arrived at Mbeya looking a sorry caricature of Radiant
Motherhood. I must have been pale green and the baby was snow white. Under the
circumstances it was a good thing that George did not meet us. We were met instead
by Ken Menzies, the owner of the Mbeya Hotel where we spent the night. Ken was
most fatherly and kind and a good nights rest restored Ann and me to our usual robust
Mbeya has greatly changed. The hotel is now finished and can accommodate
fifty guests. It consists of a large main building housing a large bar and dining room and
offices and a number of small cottage bedrooms. It even has electric light. There are
several buildings out at the aerodrome and private houses going up in Mbeya.
After breakfast Ken Menzies drove us out to the farm where we had a warm
welcome from George, who looks well but rather thin. The house was spotless and the
new cook, Abel, had made light scones for tea. George had prepared all sorts of lovely
surprises. There is a new reed ceiling in the living room and a new dresser gay with
willow pattern plates which he had ordered from England. There is also a writing table
and a square table by the door for visitors hats. More personal is a lovely model ship
which George assembled from one of those Hobbie’s kits. It puts the finishing touch to
the rather old world air of our living room.
In the bedroom there is a large double bed which George made himself. It has
strips of old car tyres nailed to a frame which makes a fine springy mattress and on top
of this is a thick mattress of kapok.In the kitchen there is a good wood stove which
George salvaged from a Mission dump. It looks a bit battered but works very well. The
new cook is excellent. The only blight is that he will wear rubber soled tennis shoes and
they smell awful. I daren’t hurt his feelings by pointing this out though. Opposite the
kitchen is a new laundry building containing a forty gallon hot water drum and a sink for
washing up. Lovely!
George has been working very hard. He now has forty acres of coffee seedlings
planted out and has also found time to plant a rose garden and fruit trees. There are
orange and peach trees, tree tomatoes, paw paws, guavas and berries. He absolutely
adores Ann who has been very good and does not seem at all unsettled by the long
It is absolutely heavenly to be back and I shall be happier than ever now that I
have a baby to play with during the long hours when George is busy on the farm,
Thank you for all your love and care during the many months I was with you. Ann
sends a special bubble for granddad.
Your very loving,
Mchewe Estate Mbeya July 18th 1932
Ann at five months is enchanting. She is a very good baby, smiles readily and is
gaining weight steadily. She doesn’t sleep much during the day but that does not
matter, because, apart from washing her little things, I have nothing to do but attend to
her. She sleeps very well at night which is a blessing as George has to get up very
early to start work on the shamba and needs a good nights rest.
My nights are not so good, because we are having a plague of rats which frisk
around in the bedroom at night. Great big ones that come up out of the long grass in the
gorge beside the house and make cosy homes on our reed ceiling and in the thatch of
We always have a night light burning so that, if necessary, I can attend to Ann
with a minimum of fuss, and the things I see in that dim light! There are gaps between
the reeds and one night I heard, plop! and there, before my horrified gaze, lay a newly
born hairless baby rat on the floor by the bed, plop, plop! and there lay two more.
Quite dead, poor things – but what a careless mother.
I have also seen rats scampering around on the tops of the mosquito nets and
sometimes we have them on our bed. They have a lovely game. They swarm down
the cord from which the mosquito net is suspended, leap onto the bed and onto the
floor. We do not have our net down now the cold season is here and there are few
Last week a rat crept under Ann’s net which hung to the floor and bit her little
finger, so now I tuck the net in under the mattress though it makes it difficult for me to
attend to her at night. We shall have to get a cat somewhere. Ann’s pram has not yet
arrived so George carries her when we go walking – to her great content.
The native women around here are most interested in Ann. They come to see
her, bearing small gifts, and usually bring a child or two with them. They admire my child
and I admire theirs and there is an exchange of gifts. They produce a couple of eggs or
a few bananas or perhaps a skinny fowl and I hand over sugar, salt or soap as they
value these commodities. The most lavish gift went to the wife of Thomas our headman,
who produced twin daughters in the same week as I had Ann.
Our neighbours have all been across to welcome me back and to admire the
baby. These include Marion Coster who came out to join her husband whilst I was in
South Africa. The two Hickson-Wood children came over on a fat old white donkey.
They made a pretty picture sitting astride, one behind the other – Maureen with her arms
around small Michael’s waist. A native toto led the donkey and the children’ s ayah
walked beside it.
It is quite cold here now but the sun is bright and the air dry. The whole
countryside is beautifully green and we are a very happy little family.
Lots and lots of love,
Mchewe Estate August 11th 1932
George has been very unwell for the past week. He had a nasty gash on his
knee which went septic. He had a swelling in the groin and a high temperature and could
not sleep at night for the pain in his leg. Ann was very wakeful too during the same
period, I think she is teething. I luckily have kept fit though rather harassed. Yesterday the
leg looked so inflamed that George decided to open up the wound himself. he made
quite a big cut in exactly the right place. You should have seen the blackish puss
After he had thoroughly cleaned the wound George sewed it up himself. he has
the proper surgical needles and gut. He held the cut together with his left hand and
pushed the needle through the flesh with his right. I pulled the needle out and passed it
to George for the next stitch. I doubt whether a surgeon could have made a neater job
of it. He is still confined to the couch but today his temperature is normal. Some
The previous week was hectic in another way. We had a visit from lions! George
and I were having supper about 8.30 on Tuesday night when the back verandah was
suddenly invaded by women and children from the servants quarters behind the kitchen.
They were all yelling “Simba, Simba.” – simba means lions. The door opened suddenly
and the houseboy rushed in to say that there were lions at the huts. George got up
swiftly, fetched gun and ammunition from the bedroom and with the houseboy carrying
the lamp, went off to investigate. I remained at the table, carrying on with my supper as I
felt a pioneer’s wife should! Suddenly something big leapt through the open window
behind me. You can imagine what I thought! I know now that it is quite true to say one’s
hair rises when one is scared. However it was only Kelly, our huge Irish wolfhound,
George returned quite soon to say that apparently the commotion made by the
women and children had frightened the lions off. He found their tracks in the soft earth
round the huts and a bag of maize that had been playfully torn open but the lions had
Next day we heard that they had moved to Hickson-Wood’s shamba. Hicky
came across to say that the lions had jumped over the wall of his cattle boma and killed
both his white Muskat riding donkeys.
He and a friend sat up all next night over the remains but the lions did not return to
Apart from the little set back last week, Ann is blooming. She has a cap of very
fine fair hair and clear blue eyes under straight brow. She also has lovely dimples in both
cheeks. We are very proud of her.
Our neighbours are picking coffee but the crops are small and the price is low. I
am amazed that they are so optimistic about the future. No one in these parts ever
seems to grouse though all are living on capital. They all say “Well if the worst happens
we can always go up to the Lupa Diggings.”
Don’t worry about us, we have enough to tide us over for some time yet.
Much love to all,
Mchewe Estate. 28th Sept. 1932
News! News! I’m going to have another baby. George and I are delighted and I
hope it will be a boy this time. I shall be able to have him at Mbeya because things are
rapidly changing here. Several German families have moved to Mbeya including a
German doctor who means to build a hospital there. I expect he will make a very good
living because there must now be some hundreds of Europeans within a hundred miles
radius of Mbeya. The Europeans are mostly British or German but there are also
Greeks and, I believe, several other nationalities are represented on the Lupa Diggings.
Ann is blooming and developing according to the Book except that she has no
teeth yet! Kath Hickson-Wood has given her a very nice high chair and now she has
breakfast and lunch at the table with us. Everything within reach goes on the floor to her
amusement and my exasperation!
You ask whether we have any Church of England missionaries in our part. No we
haven’t though there are Lutheran and Roman Catholic Missions. I have never even
heard of a visiting Church of England Clergyman to these parts though there are babies
in plenty who have not been baptised. Jolly good thing I had Ann Christened down
The R.C. priests in this area are called White Fathers. They all have beards and
wear white cassocks and sun helmets. One, called Father Keiling, calls around frequently.
Though none of us in this area is Catholic we take it in turn to put him up for the night. The
Catholic Fathers in their turn are most hospitable to travellers regardless of their beliefs.
Rather a sad thing has happened. Lucas our old chicken-boy is dead. I shall miss
his toothy smile. George went to the funeral and fired two farewell shots from his rifle
over the grave – a gesture much appreciated by the locals. Lucas in his day was a good
Several of the locals own muzzle loading guns but the majority hunt with dogs
and spears. The dogs wear bells which make an attractive jingle but I cannot bear the
idea of small antelope being run down until they are exhausted before being clubbed of
stabbed to death. We seldom eat venison as George does not care to shoot buck.
Recently though, he shot an eland and Abel rendered down the fat which is excellent for
cooking and very like beef fat.
Much love to all,
Mchewe Estate. P.O.Mbeya 21st November 1932
George has gone off to the Lupa for a week with John Molteno. John came up
here with the idea of buying a coffee farm but he has changed his mind and now thinks of
staking some claims on the diggings and also setting up as a gold buyer.
Did I tell you about his arrival here? John and George did some elephant hunting
together in French Equatorial Africa and when John heard that George had married and
settled in Tanganyika, he also decided to come up here. He drove up from Cape Town
in a Baby Austin and arrived just as our labourers were going home for the day. The little
car stopped half way up our hill and John got out to investigate. You should have heard
the astonished exclamations when John got out – all 6 ft 5 ins. of him! He towered over
the little car and even to me it seemed impossible for him to have made the long
journey in so tiny a car.
Kath Wood has been over several times lately. She is slim and looks so right in
the shirt and corduroy slacks she almost always wears. She was here yesterday when
the shamba boy, digging in the front garden, unearthed a large earthenware cooking pot,
sealed at the top. I was greatly excited and had an instant mental image of fabulous
wealth. We made the boy bring the pot carefully on to the verandah and opened it in
happy anticipation. What do you think was inside? Nothing but a grinning skull! Such a
treat for a pregnant female.
We have a tree growing here that had lovely straight branches covered by a
smooth bark. I got the garden boy to cut several of these branches of a uniform size,
peeled off the bark and have made Ann a playpen with the poles which are much like
broom sticks. Now I can leave her unattended when I do my chores. The other morning
after breakfast I put Ann in her playpen on the verandah and gave her a piece of toast
and honey to keep her quiet whilst I laundered a few of her things. When I looked out a
little later I was horrified to see a number of bees buzzing around her head whilst she
placidly concentrated on her toast. I made a rapid foray and rescued her but I still don’t
know whether that was the thing to do.
We all send our love,
Mbeya Hospital. April 25th. 1933
Here I am, installed at the very new hospital, built by Dr Eckhardt, awaiting the
arrival of the new baby. George has gone back to the farm on foot but will walk in again
to spend the weekend with us. Ann is with me and enjoys the novelty of playing with
other children. The Eckhardts have two, a pretty little girl of two and a half and a very fair
roly poly boy of Ann’s age. Ann at fourteen months is very active. She is quite a little girl
now with lovely dimples. She walks well but is backward in teething.
George, Ann and I had a couple of days together at the hotel before I moved in
here and several of the local women visited me and have promised to visit me in
hospital. The trip from farm to town was very entertaining if not very comfortable. There
is ten miles of very rough road between our farm and Utengule Mission and beyond the
Mission there is a fair thirteen or fourteen mile road to Mbeya.
As we have no car now the doctor’s wife offered to drive us from the Mission to
Mbeya but she would not risk her car on the road between the Mission and our farm.
The upshot was that I rode in the Hickson-Woods machila for that ten mile stretch. The
machila is a canopied hammock, slung from a bamboo pole, in which I reclined, not too
comfortably in my unwieldy state, with Ann beside me or sometime straddling me. Four
of our farm boys carried the machila on their shoulders, two fore and two aft. The relief
bearers walked on either side. There must have been a dozen in all and they sang a sort
of sea shanty song as they walked. One man would sing a verse and the others took up
the chorus. They often improvise as they go. They moaned about my weight (at least
George said so! I don’t follow Ki-Swahili well yet) and expressed the hope that I would
have a son and that George would reward them handsomely.
George and Kelly, the dog, followed close behind the machila and behind
George came Abel our cook and his wife and small daughter Annalie, all in their best
attire. The cook wore a palm beach suit, large Terai hat and sunglasses and two colour
shoes and quite lent a tone to the proceedings! Right at the back came the rag tag and
bobtail who joined the procession just for fun.
Mrs Eckhardt was already awaiting us at the Mission when we arrived and we had
an uneventful trip to the Mbeya Hotel.
During my last week at the farm I felt very tired and engaged the cook’s small
daughter, Annalie, to amuse Ann for an hour after lunch so that I could have a rest. They
played in the small verandah room which adjoins our bedroom and where I keep all my
sewing materials. One afternoon I was startled by a scream from Ann. I rushed to the
room and found Ann with blood steaming from her cheek. Annalie knelt beside her,
looking startled and frightened, with my embroidery scissors in her hand. She had cut off
half of the long curling golden lashes on one of Ann’s eyelids and, in trying to finish the
job, had cut off a triangular flap of skin off Ann’s cheek bone.
I called Abel, the cook, and demanded that he should chastise his daughter there and
then and I soon heard loud shrieks from behind the kitchen. He spanked her with a
bamboo switch but I am sure not as well as she deserved. Africans are very tolerant
towards their children though I have seen husbands and wives fighting furiously.
I feel very well but long to have the confinement over.
Very much love,
Mbeya Hospital. 2nd May 1933.
Little George arrived at 7.30 pm on Saturday evening 29 th. April. George was
with me at the time as he had walked in from the farm for news, and what a wonderful bit
of luck that was. The doctor was away on a case on the Diggings and I was bathing Ann
with George looking on, when the pains started. George dried Ann and gave her
supper and put her to bed. Afterwards he sat on the steps outside my room and a
great comfort it was to know that he was there.
The confinement was short but pretty hectic. The Doctor returned to the Hospital
just in time to deliver the baby. He is a grand little boy, beautifully proportioned. The
doctor says he has never seen a better formed baby. He is however rather funny
looking just now as his head is, very temporarily, egg shaped. He has a shock of black
silky hair like a gollywog and believe it or not, he has a slight black moustache.
George came in, looked at the baby, looked at me, and we both burst out
laughing. The doctor was shocked and said so. He has no sense of humour and couldn’t
understand that we, though bursting with pride in our son, could never the less laugh at
Friends in Mbeya have sent me the most gorgeous flowers and my room is
transformed with delphiniums, roses and carnations. The room would be very austere
without the flowers. Curtains, bedspread and enamelware, walls and ceiling are all
George hired a car and took Ann home next day. I have little George for
company during the day but he is removed at night. I am longing to get him home and
away from the German nurse who feeds him on black tea when he cries. She insists that
tea is a medicine and good for him.
Much love from a proud mother of two.
Mchewe Estate 12May 1933
We are all together at home again and how lovely it feels. Even the house
servants seem pleased. The boy had decorated the lounge with sprays of
bougainvillaea and Abel had backed one of his good sponge cakes.
Ann looked fat and rosy but at first was only moderately interested in me and the
new baby but she soon thawed. George is good with her and will continue to dress Ann
in the mornings and put her to bed until I am satisfied with Georgie.
He, poor mite, has a nasty rash on face and neck. I am sure it is just due to that
tea the nurse used to give him at night. He has lost his moustache and is fast loosing his
wild black hair and emerging as quite a handsome babe. He is a very masculine looking
infant with much more strongly marked eyebrows and a larger nose that Ann had. He is
very good and lies quietly in his basket even when awake.
George has been making a hatching box for brown trout ova and has set it up in
a small clear stream fed by a spring in readiness for the ova which is expected from
South Africa by next weeks plane. Some keen fishermen from Mbeya and the District
have clubbed together to buy the ova. The fingerlings are later to be transferred to
streams in Mbeya and Tukuyu Districts.
I shall now have my hands full with the two babies and will not have much time for the
garden, or I fear, for writing very long letters. Remember though, that no matter how
large my family becomes, I shall always love you as much as ever.
Mchewe Estate. 14th June 1933
The four of us are all well but alas we have lost our dear Kelly. He was rather a
silly dog really, although he grew so big he retained all his puppy ways but we were all
very fond of him, especially George because Kelly attached himself to George whilst I
was away having Ann and from that time on he was George’s shadow. I think he had
some form of biliary fever. He died stretched out on the living room couch late last night,
with George sitting beside him so that he would not feel alone.
The children are growing fast. Georgie is a darling. He now has a fluff of pale
brown hair and his eyes are large and dark brown. Ann is very plump and fair.
We have had several visitors lately. Apart from neighbours, a car load of diggers
arrived one night and John Molteno and his bride were here. She is a very attractive girl
but, I should say, more suited to life in civilisation than in this back of beyond. She has
gone out to the diggings with her husband and will have to walk a good stretch of the fifty
or so miles.
The diggers had to sleep in the living room on the couch and on hastily erected
camp beds. They arrived late at night and left after breakfast next day. One had half a
beard, the other side of his face had been forcibly shaved in the bar the night before.
Mchewe Estate. August 10 th. 1933
George is away on safari with two Indian Army officers. The money he will get for
his services will be very welcome because this coffee growing is a slow business, and
our capitol is rapidly melting away. The job of acting as White Hunter was unexpected
or George would not have taken on the job of hatching the ova which duly arrived from
George and the District Commissioner, David Pollock, went to meet the plane
by which the ova had been consigned but the pilot knew nothing about the package. It
came to light in the mail bag with the parcels! However the ova came to no harm. David
Pollock and George brought the parcel to the farm and carefully transferred the ova to
the hatching box. It was interesting to watch the tiny fry hatch out – a process which took
several days. Many died in the process and George removed the dead by sucking
them up in a glass tube.
When hatched, the tiny fry were fed on ant eggs collected by the boys. I had to
take over the job of feeding and removing the dead when George left on safari. The fry
have to be fed every four hours, like the baby, so each time I have fed Georgie. I hurry
down to feed the trout.
The children are very good but keep me busy. Ann can now say several words
and understands more. She adores Georgie. I long to show them off to you.
Very much love
Mchewe Estate. October 27th 1933
All just over flu. George and Ann were very poorly. I did not fare so badly and
Georgie came off best. He is on a bottle now.
There was some excitement here last Wednesday morning. At 6.30 am. I called
for boiling water to make Georgie’s food. No water arrived but muffled shouting and the
sound of blows came from the kitchen. I went to investigate and found a fierce fight in
progress between the house boy and the kitchen boy. In my efforts to make them stop
fighting I went too close and got a sharp bang on the mouth with the edge of an
enamelled plate the kitchen boy was using as a weapon. My teeth cut my lip inside and
the plate cut it outside and blood flowed from mouth to chin. The boys were petrified.
By the time I had fed Georgie the lip was stiff and swollen. George went in wrath
to the kitchen and by breakfast time both house boy and kitchen boy had swollen faces
too. Since then I have a kettle of boiling water to hand almost before the words are out
of my mouth. I must say that the fight was because the house boy had clouted the
kitchen boy for keeping me waiting! In this land of piece work it is the job of the kitchen
boy to light the fire and boil the kettle but the houseboy’s job to carry the kettle to me.
I have seen little of Kath Wood or Marion Coster for the past two months. Major
Jones is the neighbour who calls most regularly. He has a wireless set and calls on all of
us to keep us up to date with world as well as local news. He often brings oranges for
Ann who adores him. He is a very nice person but no oil painting and makes no effort to
entertain Ann but she thinks he is fine. Perhaps his monocle appeals to her.
George has bought a six foot long galvanised bath which is a great improvement
on the smaller oval one we have used until now. The smaller one had grown battered
from much use and leaks like a sieve. Fortunately our bathroom has a cement floor,
because one had to fill the bath to the brim and then bath extremely quickly to avoid
being left high and dry.
Lots and lots of love,
Mchewe Estate. P.O. Mbeya 1st December 1933
Ann has not been well. We think she has had malaria. She has grown a good
deal lately and looks much thinner and rather pale. Georgie is thriving and has such
sparkling brown eyes and a ready smile. He and Ann make a charming pair, one so fair
and the other dark.
The Moltenos’ spent a few days here and took Georgie and me to Mbeya so
that Georgie could be vaccinated. However it was an unsatisfactory trip because the
doctor had no vaccine.
George went to the Lupa with the Moltenos and returned to the farm in their Baby
Austin which they have lent to us for a week. This was to enable me to go to Mbeya to
have a couple of teeth filled by a visiting dentist.
We went to Mbeya in the car on Saturday. It was quite a squash with the four of
us on the front seat of the tiny car. Once George grabbed the babies foot instead of the
gear knob! We had Georgie vaccinated at the hospital and then went to the hotel where
the dentist was installed. Mr Dare, the dentist, had few instruments and they were very
tarnished. I sat uncomfortably on a kitchen chair whilst he tinkered with my teeth. He filled
three but two of the fillings came out that night. This meant another trip to Mbeya in the
Baby Austin but this time they seem all right.
The weather is very hot and dry and the garden a mess. We are having trouble
with the young coffee trees too. Cut worms are killing off seedlings in the nursery and
there is a borer beetle in the planted out coffee.
George bought a large grey donkey from some wandering Masai and we hope
the children will enjoy riding it later on.
Very much love,
Mchewe Estate. 14th February 1934.
You will be sorry to hear that little Ann has been very ill, indeed we were terribly
afraid that we were going to lose her. She enjoyed her birthday on the 8th. All the toys
you, and her English granny, sent were unwrapped with such delight. However next
day she seemed listless and a bit feverish so I tucked her up in bed after lunch. I dosed
her with quinine and aspirin and she slept fitfully. At about eleven o’clock I was
awakened by a strange little cry. I turned up the night light and was horrified to see that
Ann was in a convulsion. I awakened George who, as always in an emergency, was
perfectly calm and practical. He filled the small bath with very warm water and emersed
Ann in it, placing a cold wet cloth on her head. We then wrapped her in blankets and
gave her an enema and she settled down to sleep. A few hours later we had the same
thing over again.
At first light we sent a runner to Mbeya to fetch the doctor but waited all day in
vain and in the evening the runner returned to say that the doctor had gone to a case on
the diggings. Ann had been feverish all day with two or three convulsions. Neither
George or I wished to leave the bedroom, but there was Georgie to consider, and in
the afternoon I took him out in the garden for a while whilst George sat with Ann.
That night we both sat up all night and again Ann had those wretched attacks of
convulsions. George and I were worn out with anxiety by the time the doctor arrived the
next afternoon. Ann had not been able to keep down any quinine and had had only
small sips of water since the onset of the attack.
The doctor at once diagnosed the trouble as malaria aggravated by teething.
George held Ann whilst the Doctor gave her an injection. At the first attempt the needle
bent into a bow, George was furious! The second attempt worked and after a few hours
Ann’s temperature dropped and though she was ill for two days afterwards she is now
up and about. She has also cut the last of her baby teeth, thank God. She looks thin and
white, but should soon pick up. It has all been a great strain to both of us. Georgie
behaved like an angel throughout. He played happily in his cot and did not seem to
sense any tension as people say, babies do. Our baby was cheerful and not at all
This is the rainy season and it is a good thing that some work has been done on
our road or the doctor might not have got through.
Much love to all,
Mchewe Estate. 1st October 1934
We are all well now, thank goodness, but last week Georgie gave us such a
fright. I was sitting on the verandah, busy with some sewing and not watching Ann and
Georgie, who were trying to reach a bunch of bananas which hung on a rope from a
beam of the verandah. Suddenly I heard a crash, Georgie had fallen backward over the
edge of the verandah and hit the back of his head on the edge of the brick furrow which
carries away the rainwater. He lay flat on his back with his arms spread out and did not
move or cry. When I picked him up he gave a little whimper, I carried him to his cot and
bathed his face and soon he began sitting up and appeared quite normal. The trouble
began after he had vomited up his lunch. He began to whimper and bang his head
against the cot.
George and I were very worried because we have no transport so we could not
take Georgie to the doctor and we could not bear to go through again what we had gone
through with Ann earlier in the year. Then, in the late afternoon, a miracle happened. Two
men George hardly knew, and complete strangers to me, called in on their way from the
diggings to Mbeya and they kindly drove Georgie and me to the hospital. The Doctor
allowed me to stay with Georgie and we spent five days there. Luckily he responded to
treatment and is now as alive as ever. Children do put years on one!
There is nothing much else to report. We have a new vegetable garden which is
doing well but the earth here is strange. Gardens seem to do well for two years but by
that time the soil is exhausted and one must move the garden somewhere else. The
coffee looks well but it will be another year before we can expect even a few bags of
coffee and prices are still low. Anyway by next year George should have some good
return for all his hard work.
Lots of love,
Mchewe Estate. November 4th 1934
George is home from his White Hunting safari looking very sunburnt and well.
The elderly American, who was his client this time, called in here at the farm to meet me
and the children. It is amazing what spirit these old lads have! This one looked as though
he should be thinking in terms of slippers and an armchair but no, he thinks in terms of
high powered rifles with telescopic sights.
It is lovely being together again and the children are delighted to have their Dad
home. Things are always exciting when George is around. The day after his return
George said at breakfast, “We can’t go on like this. You and the kids never get off the
shamba. We’ll simply have to get a car.” You should have heard the excitement. “Get a
car Daddy?’” cried Ann jumping in her chair so that her plaits bounced. “Get a car
Daddy?” echoed Georgie his brown eyes sparkling. “A car,” said I startled, “However
can we afford one?”
“Well,” said George, “on my way back from Safari I heard that a car is to be sold
this week at the Tukuyu Court, diseased estate or bankruptcy or something, I might get it
cheap and it is an A.C.” The name meant nothing to me, but George explained that an
A.C. is first cousin to a Rolls Royce.
So off he went to the sale and next day the children and I listened all afternoon for
the sound of an approaching car. We had many false alarms but, towards evening we
heard what appeared to be the roar of an aeroplane engine. It was the A.C. roaring her
way up our steep hill with a long plume of steam waving gaily above her radiator.
Out jumped my beaming husband and in no time at all, he was showing off her
points to an admiring family. Her lines are faultless and seats though worn are most
comfortable. She has a most elegant air so what does it matter that the radiator leaks like
a sieve, her exhaust pipe has broken off, her tyres are worn almost to the canvas and
she has no windscreen. She goes, and she cost only five pounds.
Next afternoon George, the kids and I piled into the car and drove along the road
on lookout for guinea fowl. All went well on the outward journey but on the homeward
one the poor A.C. simply gasped and died. So I carried the shot gun and George
carried both children and we trailed sadly home. This morning George went with a bunch
of farmhands and brought her home. Truly temperamental, she came home literally
under her own steam.
George now plans to get a second hand engine and radiator for her but it won’t
be an A.C. engine. I think she is the only one of her kind in the country.
I am delighted to hear, dad, that you are sending a bridle for Joseph for
Christmas. I am busy making a saddle out of an old piece of tent canvas stuffed with
kapok, some webbing and some old rug straps. A car and a riding donkey! We’re
definitely carriage folk now.
Lots of love to all,
Mchewe Estate. 28th December 1934
Thank you for the wonderful Christmas parcel. My frock is a splendid fit. George
declares that no one can knit socks like Mummy and the children love their toys and new
Joseph, the donkey, took his bit with an air of bored resignation and Ann now
rides proudly on his back. Joseph is a big strong animal with the looks and disposition of
a mule. he will not go at all unless a native ‘toto’ walks before him and when he does go
he wears a pained expression as though he were carrying fourteen stone instead of
Ann’s fly weight. I walk beside the donkey carrying Georgie and our cat, ‘Skinny Winnie’,
follows behind. Quite a cavalcade. The other day I got so exasperated with Joseph that
I took Ann off and I got on. Joseph tottered a few paces and sat down! to the huge
delight of our farm labourers who were going home from work. Anyway, one good thing,
the donkey is so lazy that there is little chance of him bolting with Ann.
The Moltenos spent Christmas with us and left for the Lupa Diggings yesterday.
They arrived on the 22nd. with gifts for the children and chocolates and beer. That very
afternoon George and John Molteno left for Ivuna, near Lake Ruckwa, to shoot some
guinea fowl and perhaps a goose for our Christmas dinner. We expected the menfolk
back on Christmas Eve and Anne and I spent a busy day making mince pies and
sausage rolls. Why I don’t know, because I am sure Abel could have made them better.
We decorated the Christmas tree and sat up very late but no husbands turned up.
Christmas day passed but still no husbands came. Anne, like me, is expecting a baby
and we both felt pretty forlorn and cross. Anne was certain that they had been caught up
in a party somewhere and had forgotten all about us and I must say when Boxing Day
went by and still George and John did not show up I felt ready to agree with her.
They turned up towards evening and explained that on the homeward trip the car
had bogged down in the mud and that they had spent a miserable Christmas. Anne
refused to believe their story so George, to prove their case, got the game bag and
tipped the contents on to the dining room table. Out fell several guinea fowl, long past
being edible, followed by a large goose so high that it was green and blue where all the
feathers had rotted off.
The stench was too much for two pregnant girls. I shot out of the front door
closely followed by Anne and we were both sick in the garden.
I could not face food that evening but Anne is made of stronger stuff and ate her
belated Christmas dinner with relish.
I am looking forward enormously to having Marjorie here with us. She will be able
to carry back to you an eyewitness account of our home and way of life.
Much love to you all,
Mchewe Estate. 5th January 1935
You cannot imagine how lovely it is to have Marjorie here. She came just in time
because I have had pernicious vomiting and have lost a great deal of weight and she
took charge of the children and made me spend three days in hospital having treatment.
George took me to the hospital on the afternoon of New Years Eve and decided
to spend the night at the hotel and join in the New Years Eve celebrations. I had several
visitors at the hospital that evening and George actually managed to get some imported
grapes for me. He returned to the farm next morning and fetched me from the hospital
four days later. Of course the old A.C. just had to play up. About half way home the
back axle gave in and we had to send a passing native some miles back to a place
called Mbalizi to hire a lorry from a Greek trader to tow us home to the farm.
The children looked well and were full of beans. I think Marjorie was thankful to
hand them over to me. She is delighted with Ann’s motherly little ways but Georgie she
calls “a really wild child”. He isn’t, just has such an astonishing amount of energy and is
always up to mischief. Marjorie brought us all lovely presents. I am so thrilled with my
sewing machine. It may be an old model but it sews marvellously. We now have an
Alsatian pup as well as Joseph the donkey and the two cats.
Marjorie had a midnight encounter with Joseph which gave her quite a shock but
we had a good laugh about it next day. Some months ago George replaced our wattle
and daub outside pit lavatory by a substantial brick one, so large that Joseph is being
temporarily stabled in it at night. We neglected to warn Marj about this and one night,
storm lamp in hand, she opened the door and Joseph walked out braying his thanks.
I am afraid Marjorie is having a quiet time, a shame when the journey from Cape
Town is so expensive. The doctor has told me to rest as much as I can, so it is
impossible for us to take Marj on sight seeing trips.
I hate to think that she will be leaving in ten days time.
Mchewe Estate. 18th February 1935
You must be able to visualise our life here quite well now that Marj is back and
has no doubt filled in all the details I forget to mention in my letters. What a journey we
had in the A.C. when we took her to the plane. George, the children and I sat in front and
Marj sat behind with numerous four gallon tins of water for the insatiable radiator. It was
raining and the canvas hood was up but part of the side flaps are missing and as there is
no glass in the windscreen the rain blew in on us. George got fed up with constantly
removing the hot radiator cap so simply stuffed a bit of rag in instead. When enough
steam had built up in the radiator behind the rag it blew out and we started all over again.
The car still roars like an aeroplane engine and yet has little power so that George sent
gangs of boys to the steep hills between the farm and the Mission to give us a push if
necessary. Fortunately this time it was not, and the boys cheered us on our way. We
needed their help on the homeward journey however.
I am sorry to say that I am still not well, something to do with kidneys or bladder.
George bought me some pills from one of the several small shops which have opened
in Mbeya and Ann is most interested in the result. She said seriously to Kath Wood,
“Oh my Mummy is a very clever Mummy. She can do blue wee and green wee as well
as yellow wee.” I simply can no longer manage the children without help and have
engaged the cook’s wife, Janey, to help. The children are by no means thrilled. I plead in
vain that I am not well enough to go for walks. Ann says firmly, “Ann doesn’t want to go
for a walk. Ann will look after you.” Funny, though she speaks well for a three year old,
she never uses the first person. Georgie say he would much rather walk with
Keshokutwa, the kitchen boy. His name by the way, means day-after-tomorrow and it
suits him down to the ground, Kath Wood walks over sometimes with offers of help and Ann will gladly go walking with her but Georgie won’t. He on the other hand will walk with Anne Molteno
and Ann won’t. They are obstinate kids. Ann has developed a very fertile imagination.
She has probably been looking at too many of those nice women’s magazines you
sent. A few days ago she said, “You are sick Mummy, but Ann’s got another Mummy.
She’s not sick, and my other mummy (very smugly) has lovely golden hair”. This
morning’ not ten minutes after I had dressed her, she came in with her frock wet and
muddy. I said in exasperation, “Oh Ann, you are naughty.” To which she instantly
returned, “My other Mummy doesn’t think I am naughty. She thinks I am very nice.” It
strikes me I shall have to get better soon so that I can be gay once more and compete
with that phantom golden haired paragon.
We had a very heavy storm over the farm last week. There was heavy rain with
hail which stripped some of the coffee trees and the Mchewe River flooded and the
water swept through the lower part of the shamba. After the water had receded George
picked up a fine young trout which had been stranded. This was one of some he had
put into the river when Georgie was a few months old.
The trials of a coffee farmer are legion. We now have a plague of snails. They
ring bark the young trees and leave trails of slime on the glossy leaves. All the ring
barked trees will have to be cut right back and this is heartbreaking as they are bearing
berries for the first time. The snails are collected by native children, piled upon the
ground and bashed to a pulp which gives off a sickening stench. I am sorry for the local
Africans. Locusts ate up their maize and now they are losing their bean crop to the snails.
Lots of love, Eleanor
You can’t blame me for not updating my diary because bugger all has happened all year. Borders closed, no tourists allowed in. How are bespoke bijou boutique establishments like ours supposed to survive? But we’re still here. Somehow we’ve managed to keep the wolf from the door, but only just barely. I get a bit muddled up these days and can’t remember the dates. Sometimes I find myself living in the past for weeks on end: things change so little around her that it’s easy to do. But what does it matter anyway?
Mater went into a sulk the likes of which I hope never to see again, when her 100th birthday party was cancelled. I thought she might give up the will to live, but oh no. She’s determined now to have a 110th birthday party now. She says the bloody pandemic ought to be over by then. I hope she’s right. She changes her health food and exercise regimes as often as she changes her knickers. Well more often than that, probably, she doesn’t bother much with personal hygiene. She says the germs keep her immune system in good shape. I think the smell of her would keep any plague ridden body well away from her, but whatever works, I always say. At least she isn’t sulking anymore, she’s grimly stoic now and tediously determined to outlive me.
I had some worrying news through the telepathic grapevine about the twins and Pan, they’d gotten into the clutches of a strange cult over there. I’ve got a feeling they weren’t really sucked into it though, I think they needed to use it as a cover, or to keep themselves safe. I say cult but it was huge, took over the entire country and even started spreading to other countries. As if the pandemic wasn’t enough to deal with. I knew they shouldn’t have gone there. There’s been a peculiar blockage with the telepathic messages for ages now. It’s a worry, but what can I do. I keep sending them messages, but get nothing in return.
Ah, well. We carry on as best we can. What I wouldn’t give for an unexpected visitor to brighten things up a bit. Fat chance of that.
“Let me see that,” said Tara, snatching the phone off Star. “Aha!” she exclaimed. “Just as I thought! You’ve been hacked. I’d spot those tell tale typo’s anywhere. That’s not the real Lemoon. Now the question is, what have they been advising you to do? That’s exactly what these cults and oracles do, they infiltrate and dish out bad advice.”
“But why?” asked Star, “It doesn’t make sense!”
“To cause chaos, apathy and inertia?” interjected one of the middle aged ladies, who got a swift dig in the ribs with the other ones elbow and a whispered “Shh! You’ll blow our cover!”
“Since everyone seems to be blowing their cover, maybe we should all come clean,” said the elderly man, who had sidled up behind them unnoticed. “May I join you?” he asked, pulling a chair out.
“It’s another trick!” hissed Rosamund, hoping to salvage the situation. “Don’t trust him! Look at the tattoo on his neck!”
“Ah, yes,” the elderly man said, rubbing his neck ruefully. “Let me explain. I was kidnapped and this tattoo was done against my wishes.”
“Why should we believe you?” asked Tara suspiciously.
“Will you believe me if I take you to the cult headquarters?”
“But I wanted a raspberry tart!” whined one of the middle aged ladies. “You promised!”
“Oh bugger off and buy your own tart,” snapped Star. “We’re on an important case and we don’t have time for starving middle aged ladies.”prUneParticipant
She made us miss Mater’s birthday, didn’t she?
Idle had one job…
Truth is, wouldn’t have been much fun to party with masks on, although the thought occurred that a masquerade ball would be something to behold.
Oh well, Mater is going to have a field day making us all look guilty. I’m sure it’ll warm her soft heart. Might be all she needs nowadays.
Can’t say that the business at the inn had been splendid. We’ve grown so used to the idea we might have to sell it anytime, that it doesn’t feel such an earthshattering revelation.
But if we sell, how much can we scrap by to send Mater to a nice nursing home. She might screech and kick us if we only voiced the idea. People have no idea how feral she can be on the topic. Aunt Dido knows though. I’m sure she’s having a few hustles down the road to get the household afloat.
I’ll admit Mater did well with the get back into shape programme, despite my skepticism. She did hone her muscles a bit, but she was still harping on about wanting plastic surgery. I probably shouldn’t have asked her if she was showing off her biceps or her bingo wings the other day, because that started her off again. I tried to make it up by complimenting her thigh muscles, but spoiled it by saying it was a shame the skin hung down past her kneecaps. Bert said maybe she could hold the skin up with some suspenders and made me spit my eucalyptus tea out and nearly choke to death. Mater was all set to take offence until she saw me choking, and then she started laughing too. I’m smiling remembering it, because we all saw the funny side then and couldn’t stop laughing for ages. God knows we needed a good laugh.
I’d had another one of those telepathic chats with Corrie the day before. If I’d known those silly girls were going to navigate their way here via that route I’d have said something, but I never thought they’d be so daft. There’s me envisioning a pleasant drift through the Mediterranean, and an unexpected sail across an immense shallow lake that had appeared in the middle east with crystal clear waters and a sandy bottom (I could picture it all, I tell you) and then an invitingly tropical trip along the Indian coast with ports of call at virgin new coastlines ~ but no, they’d gone the other way. Across the Atlantic. And now they were fighting off bandits every step of the way and having to go miles out of their way to avoid plague ridden slums. They hadn’t even made their way past the eastern seaboard yet, despite it being considerably narrower now.
They lost Pan for days in one of those half submerged coastal cities, rife with lawless floating shanties. I hope my impressions are wrong, I do really, but it seemed like he’d been kidnapped for a barbecue. Tender and juicy.
His ability to stay submerged under the water for so long saved him, that and Corrie’s ability to stay in telepathic contact with him.
They left the coastline and headed south after that and didn’t head back towards land for awhile but when they did, they found the lagoons and inlets were infested with alligators and some kind of water pig. Not sure if I picked that up right, but seems like the hogs had escaped from the farms during the Great Floods and taken to the water. Pan was forbidden to waterlark in these waters and had to stay confined to the raft.
I don’t know if they’ll get here in time for Mater’s birthday. Might be my hundredth birthday by the time they get here at this rate.JibParticipant
Board 9, Story 3
Idle had licked the skin of the lizard Tiku had brought her. She wasn’t expecting a rainbow and a leprechaun but is glad to have found the treasure at the end of it. She already has ideas to revamp the Inn.
Board 8, Story 2
Margit, the maudlin woman on the beach, was clearly the mad doctors mother. The old snapshot Aunt Idle found of the boy Brynjúlfursdóttir a.k.a. Bronklehampton proved that he was indulging in strange experiments even as a young child.
Becky regretted marrying Sean but was glad she kept the wedding presents, especially that YouDo doll. Who knew what that YouDo doll was capable of at the time, but it’s ability to teleport items during the quarantine was proving extremely useful.
Sam wasn’t impressed with the Spider Amusement Park. “It may have a spider, but it’s not much of a park and certainly doesn’t look very amusing,” he said while perusing the holiday brochures.
Board 7, Story 2
Hector Coon announces the winner of the biggest carrot competition at the Pillaughpiffleston Manor fete, as Phlynn the gamekeeper gloats over his first prize for the fancy dress party. Lady Theresa Eaglestone (a.k.a. T’eggy) is confident she can continue to conceal the true paternity of the newborn Lord of the Manor, with the help of her old friend Marvin Scrozzezi.
Aunt Idle found the food in Iceland ghastly, especially if you weren’t a fishy sort of person. She contemplated roasting the cat instead.
Francette Fine of the Theatre du Soleil and Igor Popinkin of Russian Ballet troupe set up a food stall to try and make ends meet during La Cuarentena, until large theatre gatherings are permitted again.JibParticipant
Board 6, Story 3
Board 3, Story 3:
Aunt Idle finds more than she bargained for in the basement of the old Bundy place.
Fanella is delighted to find their hot air balloon landed in a field in time for a fancy dress picnic partyDevanParticipant
Working at the gas station gave me the possibility to not only be confined at home but also at work. At least I could enjoy the transit between places, that’s what I told me everyday. And better go to work than turn around all day in the studio I rented since I left the Inn.
You can’t imagine how many people need gas during the confinement. It looks like in this part of the country people don’t have as many dogs as them in the big cities, so they do all sorts of crazy things to be able to get out.
A man came to the station this morning. I’m sure it was to give the equivalent of a walk to his brand new red GMC Canyon, you know, treating his car like she needed fresh air and to get some exercise regularly. From behind the makeshift window made of transparent wrapper, I asked him how was his day. You know, to be polite. He showed me the back of his truck. I swear there was a cage with two dingos in it.
The guy told me he captured them the other day in case the cops stopped him in the street with no reason to be out. At least, he said, I could still say I’m giving them a walk. I told him them being in a cage would hardly pass as a walk but he answered me with a wink and a big grin that cops weren’t that intelligent. I’m glad we have makeshift windows now, at least seeing his teeth I didn’t have to smell his breath. I’m not sure who’s the less intelligent in absolute terms, but in that case I’d rather bet his IQ would fail him.
Well that’s probably the most exciting thing that happened before I went home after work. As soon as I got home I received a phone call from Prune. On the landline. It’s like she has some magical means to know when I’m there.
Anyway, she asked me if I washed my hand. I told her yes, though I honestly don’t recall. But I have to make her think all is ok. She started to talk again about Jasper. Each time she mention the subject I’m a bit uncomfortable. I’m not sure I fancy having a brother, even if it’s kind of being in a TV series. She said she had looked for him on internet, contacted some adoption agencies, even tried a private called Dick. That’s all that I remember of the private’s name. Dick, maybe that’s because he never answered her calls. Might be dead of the pandamic I told her. PandEmic, She corrected. I know, I told her, I said that to cheer you up.
We talked about Mater too. That made me laugh. Apparently Idle saw her in a fuschia pink leotard. Prune half laughed herself when she mentioned the leotard, but she said : Truth is I don’t know what Dido had taken when she had seen Mater outside. I suspect the om chanting was simply snoring.
There was a silence afterward. Maybe Prune was thinking about age and the meaning of life, I was merely realising I was hungry. I swear I don’t know what crossed my mind. I have a tendency to want to help my sister even if I think there is no hope. You know, I told her, about Jasper we could still go and ask that woman in the bush. It’s like she already knew what I was going to say. Tiku? I knew by her tone that all the conversation was fated to lead there. Yeah. I can drive you there after work tomorrow.
Of course, we didn’t even have to go there after all.
Mater has started a fitness regime to make sure she lives long enough to make the milestone. She said if it had all happened a couple of years ago she wouldn’t have minded whether she popped off or not, but now that she was this close, she wasn’t going to be robbed of her glory.
It was hard to see the glory in that lumpy old flesh wobbling around the front yard, or why anyone would be interested in robbing her of it still less, but she was determined, and there was no putting her off. And it’s not just the jogging. I thought we had a swarm of bees on the porch yesterday and went out to investigate and it was Mater, sitting there on the wooden floor in an awkward parody of a guru pose babbling some Om sounds and humming. And that wasn’t the worst of it either, she was wearing a fuchsia pink leotard.
What that kid didn’t realize was that the dog showed me where every single camera was. That dog’s always been scared of cameras, you can always tell when someone’s got their camera out by Dusty’s reaction. I can’t for the life of me work out why they were there, though.prUneParticipant
I don’t know if that’s a second youth or what, but getting to that 100 line has put Mater in an energetic frenzy. She’s been putting her things in order, like she said.
My studies on machine learning and artificial intelligence are keeping me away for now. I’ve been studying hard for that Mars program selection, but it looks like it’s hopeless. Anyway, I had the good idea to put nannycams in all the hidden spots of the Inn. It’s not been as much fun as I’d hoped, spying on Aunt Idle and her manic ramblings. You would think she’s drunk all the time, but for all the recordings, I’d be damned if I’ve caught her yet on tape with a bottle. I guess her body just distills it on its own…
I’m not even mentioning the dubious trails of “Uncles” of late: the Fergus, Basil or otherwise. She’d known quite a few of these in her days, although she’s claimed to have been a paragon of matrimonial virtue, being single woman with kids in these parts must have been rough after she lost Pater.
I think I finally caught something between all the cloak and dagger mascarades, tatty letters and all. Digital footprint isn’t big, but it may be something tangible to begin with.
Meanwhile, we’ll have to get started getting the invitation list in order; Mater’s contemporaries are falling by the minute, and Aunt Dido’s braincells are probably dying as fast as that— it won’t be easy to get a complete list. I know I should enlist Devan, I even put him on that family group thing, but he’s not big with all the tech stuff. As for the twins, well… We still have to hear about their stories. At this rate, might be faster to learn to telepathically tack on Dodo’s brainwaves. She says to whomever wants to hear she’s got direct connection to them… Would sound cultish to me, if I didn’t know better about the sisters! I’ll be worried when Mater starts to take this woowoo seriously.
Well, it wasn’t what I expected. but once I got over being slightly miffed that it was all about Mater, stealing the limelight again, I realized that I would get my wish after all, if Corrie and Clove and the others were going to come back for a visit. When they arrived, they could tell me all about what had been happening. The twins and Pan were to set off soon, on a sea worthy raft they’d been working on. It would be a long trip and hard to judge how long it would take. The waters were uncharted in places, Corrie mentioned in the letter, given that the waters had risen in so many places, but it also meant there was a chance of safe passage by water in places that had previously been dry land. Narrow canals had become wide shallow lakes, so they’d heard. Pan would be able to dive to his hearts content along the way, and they were all excited about the coming adventure.
“We will continue to communicate telepathically during the trip, Auntie”, Corrie had written, which gave me a glow of pride and satisfaction. I hadn’t been making it up, we truly had been exchanging messages all along.
I wasn’t sure how easy it was going to be dealing with Mater in the meantime, though. She was demanding plastic surgery now.
“Plastic surgery?” I said, “You can’t even get a decent tupperware these days, lid or no lid. Where on earth are we supposed to get plastic surgery from?”
Almost a hundred years old, and still vain. I ask you. “Do you see me fussing over my looks?”
“Quite” she replied, and pursed her shriveled lips.
I wish now that I’d had the sense to open the letter in private. I can’t imagine why I didn’t think of that, but I didn’t. I tried not to make a drama out of it, I didn’t make an announcement or anything. One morning after breakfast I untied the string and opened the letter. It wasn’t any of the things I had expected. Clearly printed in large capital letters at the top was written DON’T TELL MATER.
Quickly I folded it over, dropping it discreetly into my lap under the table. “Any more nettle tea in the pot, Bert?” I asked and feigned a casual yawn.
“Well?” asked Mater.
“Well what?” I asked.
“I can read you like a book,” she said, to which I replied hotly, “Well then I won’t need to write one, will I.”
“What did the letter say?” she pressed on.
“What letter?” I said
“For crying out loud!” she said.
“Pass your cup then,” said Bert, giving me a piercing look. Over the top of Mater’s head he mouthed a word, with a questioning look. I’ve never been any good at lip reading, but it looked like he was trying to say Jasper.
“Who?” I mouthed back, but Mater saw me, so I pretended I had a bit of nettle stuck between my teeth.January 16, 2020 at 11:44 am #5593EricKeymaster
Was trying to get a basic timeline in place for future reference:
- (1935) Birth of Mater
- (1958) Mater marries her childhood sweetheart (ref)
- (1965) Birth of Fred
- (1970) Birth of Aunt Idle
- (1978) April 12th, Mater’s husband dies
- (1998) Birth of Devan
- (2000) Birth of the twins Coriander & Clove
- (2008) Birth of Prune
- (2014) Start of Prune’s journal about the Inn (she’s 6 at the time – ref)
- (2017) visit of Arona, Albie, Maeve, Hilda, Sanso etc. to the Inn
- (2020) The year of the Great Fires (ref). Mater is 85. Idle is 50. The twins are 20. Prune is 12.
- (2027) First settlers on Mars; Prune’s left for a boarding school to pursue her dreams
Fast forward 15 years later
- (2035) Idle receives news from the twins (now aged 35) & waterlark adventures.
Mater is alive and kicking at 100.
Fast forward a little more
- (2049) Prune arrives with a commercial flight on Mars, having won a place through a reality show.
Mater is deceased. She would have been 114.
Little after, the Mars mission is revealed to be an elaborately constructed mass illusion, and the program is terminated via an alien invasion simulation; like the other survivors from the program, she returns to Australia but cannot reveal the details of the program.
The more they hounded me to open the letter, the less I wanted to. I just wanted to dig my heels in at first, honestly when nothing ever happens for months and years on end, any little thing out of the ordinary is worth making a meal of. But the longer it went on, the more uneasy I got. What if it was disappointing, somehow? What if there was bad news, or news we didn’t want to hear that we wouldn’t be able to unhear, once we knew? What if it was none of those things and just a few scribbles the child had done, or a hand print? It was like opening a Christmas present with a dozen people looking at your reaction when you open it. What if it was something that didn’t tell you anything? Maybe something quickly tied together in a rush with no particular meaning? Of course that would be a treasure to receive, what with communications being so non existent, but still, it would be an anti climax after all this anticipation. What I wanted, I realized, was the complete story of everything that had happened since we last saw them. I wanted to know all about it.
I don’t know how I restrained myself from throttling Finly when she finally handed me the letter from Corrie. A whole week she’d had it, and wouldn’t share it until she’d cleaned every last window. Some peoples priorities, I ask you! The funny thing was that even when I had it in my hand I didn’t open it right away. Even with Mater and Bert breathing down my neck.
It was something to savour, the feeling of having an unopened letter in ones hand. Not that this looked like the letters we used to get years ago, all crisp and slim on white paper, addressed in fine blue ink. This was a bundle tied with a bit of wool pulled out of an old jumper by the look of it, all squiggly, holding together several layers of yellowed thin cardboard and written on with a beetroot colour dye and a makeshift brush by the look of it. The kind of thing that used to be considered natural and artistic, long ago, when such things were the fashion. I suppose the fashion now, in such places where fashion still exists, is for retro plastic. They said plastic litter wouldn’t decompose for hundreds of years, how wrong they were! I’d give my right arm now for a cupboard full of tupperware with lids. Or even without lids. Plastic bottles and shopping bags ~ when I think back to how we used to hate them, and they’re like gold now. Better than gold, nobody has any interest in gold nowadays, but people would sell their soul for a plastic bucket.
I waited until the sun was going down, and sat on the porch with the golden rays of the lowering sun slanting across the yard. I clasped the bundle to my heart and squinted into the sun and sighed with joyful anticipation.
“For the love of god, will you get on with it!” said Bert, rudely interrupting the moment.
Gently I pulled the faded red woolen string, and stopped for a moment, imaging the old cardigan that it might have been.
I didn’t have to look at Mater to know what the expression on her face was, but I wasn’t going to be rushed. The string fell into my lap and I turned the first piece of card over.
There was a washed out picture of a rooster on it and a big fancy K.
“Cornflakes!” I started to weep. “Look, cornflakes!”
“You always hated cornflakes,” Mater said, missing the point as usual. “You never liked packet cereal.”
The look I gave her was withering, although she didn’t seem to wither, not one bit.
“I used to like rice krispies,” Bert said.
By the time we’d finished discussing cereal, the sun had gone down and it was too dark to read the letter.
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