February 2, 2022 at 1:15 pm #6268
From Tanganyika with Love
continued part 9
With thanks to Mike Rushby.
Lyamungu 3rd January 1945
We had a novel Christmas this year. We decided to avoid the expense of
entertaining and being entertained at Lyamungu, and went off to spend Christmas
camping in a forest on the Western slopes of Kilimanjaro. George decided to combine
business with pleasure and in this way we were able to use Government transport.
We set out the day before Christmas day and drove along the road which skirts
the slopes of Kilimanjaro and first visited a beautiful farm where Philip Teare, the ex
Game Warden, and his wife Mary are staying. We had afternoon tea with them and then
drove on in to the natural forest above the estate and pitched our tent beside a small
clear mountain stream. We decorated the tent with paper streamers and a few small
balloons and John found a small tree of the traditional shape which we decorated where
it stood with tinsel and small ornaments.
We put our beer, cool drinks for the children and bottles of fresh milk from Simba
Estate, in the stream and on Christmas morning they were as cold as if they had been in
the refrigerator all night. There were not many presents for the children, there never are,
but they do not seem to mind and are well satisfied with a couple of balloons apiece,
sweets, tin whistles and a book each.
George entertain the children before breakfast. He can make a magical thing out
of the most ordinary balloon. The children watched entranced as he drew on his pipe
and then blew the smoke into the balloon. He then pinched the neck of the balloon
between thumb and forefinger and released the smoke in little puffs. Occasionally the
balloon ejected a perfect smoke ring and the forest rang with shouts of “Do it again
Daddy.” Another trick was to blow up the balloon to maximum size and then twist the
neck tightly before releasing. Before subsiding the balloon darted about in a crazy
fashion causing great hilarity. Such fun, at the cost of a few pence.
After breakfast George went off to fish for trout. John and Jim decided that they
also wished to fish so we made rods out of sticks and string and bent pins and they
fished happily, but of course quite unsuccessfully, for hours. Both of course fell into the
stream and got soaked, but I was prepared for this, and the little stream was so shallow
that they could not come to any harm. Henry played happily in the sand and I had a
most peaceful morning.
Hamisi roasted a chicken in a pot over the camp fire and the jelly set beautifully in the
stream. So we had grilled trout and chicken for our Christmas dinner. I had of course
taken an iced cake for the occasion and, all in all, it was a very successful Christmas day.
On Boxing day we drove down to the plains where George was to investigate a
report of game poaching near the Ngassari Furrow. This is a very long ditch which has
been dug by the Government for watering the Masai stock in the area. It is also used by
game and we saw herds of zebra and wildebeest, and some Grant’s Gazelle and
giraffe, all comparatively tame. At one point a small herd of zebra raced beside the lorry
apparently enjoying the fun of a gallop. They were all sleek and fat and looked wild and
beautiful in action.
We camped a considerable distance from the water but this precaution did not
save us from the mosquitoes which launched a vicious attack on us after sunset, so that
we took to our beds unusually early. They were on the job again when we got up at
sunrise so I was very glad when we were once more on our way home.
“I like Christmas safari. Much nicer that silly old party,” said John. I agree but I think
it is time that our children learned to play happily with others. There are no other young
children at Lyamungu though there are two older boys and a girl who go to boarding
school in Nairobi.
On New Years Day two Army Officers from the military camp at Moshi, came for
tea and to talk game hunting with George. I think they rather enjoy visiting a home and
seeing children and pets around.
Lyamungu 14 May 1945
So the war in Europe is over at last. It is such marvellous news that I can hardly
believe it. To think that as soon as George can get leave we will go to England and
bring Ann and George home with us to Tanganyika. When we know when this leave can
be arranged we will want Kate to join us here as of course she must go with us to
England to meet George’s family. She has become so much a part of your lives that I
know it will be a wrench for you to give her up but I know that you will all be happy to
think that soon our family will be reunited.
The V.E. celebrations passed off quietly here. We all went to Moshi to see the
Victory Parade of the King’s African Rifles and in the evening we went to a celebration
dinner at the Game Warden’s house. Besides ourselves the Moores had invited the
Commanding Officer from Moshi and a junior officer. We had a very good dinner and
many toasts including one to Mrs Moore’s brother, Oliver Milton who is fighting in Burma
and has recently been awarded the Military Cross.
There was also a celebration party for the children in the grounds of the Moshi
Club. Such a spread! I think John and Jim sampled everything. We mothers were
having our tea separately and a friend laughingly told me to turn around and have a look.
I did, and saw the long tea tables now deserted by all the children but my two sons who
were still eating steadily, and finding the party more exciting than the game of Musical
Bumps into which all the other children had entered with enthusiasm.
There was also an extremely good puppet show put on by the Italian prisoners
of war from the camp at Moshi. They had made all the puppets which included well
loved characters like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the Babes in the Wood as
well as more sophisticated ones like an irritable pianist and a would be prima donna. The
most popular puppets with the children were a native askari and his family – a very
happy little scene. I have never before seen a puppet show and was as entranced as
the children. It is amazing what clever manipulation and lighting can do. I believe that the
Italians mean to take their puppets to Nairobi and am glad to think that there, they will
have larger audiences to appreciate their art.
George has just come in, and I paused in my writing to ask him for the hundredth
time when he thinks we will get leave. He says I must be patient because it may be a
year before our turn comes. Shipping will be disorganised for months to come and we
cannot expect priority simply because we have been separated so long from our
children. The same situation applies to scores of other Government Officials.
I have decided to write the story of my childhood in South Africa and about our
life together in Tanganyika up to the time Ann and George left the country. I know you
will have told Kate these stories, but Ann and George were so very little when they left
home that I fear that they cannot remember much.
My Mother-in-law will have told them about their father but she can tell them little
about me. I shall send them one chapter of my story each month in the hope that they
may be interested and not feel that I am a stranger when at last we meet again.
Lyamungu 19th September 1945
In a months time we will be saying good-bye to Lyamungu. George is to be
transferred to Mbeya and I am delighted, not only as I look upon Mbeya as home, but
because there is now a primary school there which John can attend. I feel he will make
much better progress in his lessons when he realises that all children of his age attend
school. At present he is putting up a strong resistance to learning to read and spell, but
he writes very neatly, does his sums accurately and shows a real talent for drawing. If
only he had the will to learn I feel he would do very well.
Jim now just four, is too young for lessons but too intelligent to be interested in
the ayah’s attempts at entertainment. Yes I’ve had to engage a native girl to look after
Henry from 9 am to 12.30 when I supervise John’s Correspondence Course. She is
clean and amiable, but like most African women she has no initiative at all when it comes
to entertaining children. Most African men and youths are good at this.
I don’t regret our stay at Lyamungu. It is a beautiful spot and the change to the
cooler climate after the heat of Morogoro has been good for all the children. John is still
tall for his age but not so thin as he was and much less pale. He is a handsome little lad
with his large brown eyes in striking contrast to his fair hair. He is wary of strangers but
very observant and quite uncanny in the way he sums up people. He seldom gets up
to mischief but I have a feeling he eggs Jim on. Not that Jim needs egging.
Jim has an absolute flair for mischief but it is all done in such an artless manner that
it is not easy to punish him. He is a very sturdy child with a cap of almost black silky hair,
eyes brown, like mine, and a large mouth which is quick to smile and show most beautiful
white and even teeth. He is most popular with all the native servants and the Game
Scouts. The servants call Jim, ‘Bwana Tembo’ (Mr Elephant) because of his sturdy
Henry, now nearly two years old, is quite different from the other two in
appearance. He is fair complexioned and fair haired like Ann and Kate, with large, black
lashed, light grey eyes. He is a good child, not so merry as Jim was at his age, nor as
shy as John was. He seldom cries, does not care to be cuddled and is independent and
strong willed. The servants call Henry, ‘Bwana Ndizi’ (Mr Banana) because he has an
inexhaustible appetite for this fruit. Fortunately they are very inexpensive here. We buy
an entire bunch which hangs from a beam on the back verandah, and pluck off the
bananas as they ripen. This way there is no waste and the fruit never gets bruised as it
does in greengrocers shops in South Africa. Our three boys make a delightful and
interesting trio and I do wish you could see them for yourselves.
We are delighted with the really beautiful photograph of Kate. She is an
extraordinarily pretty child and looks so happy and healthy and a great credit to you.
Now that we will be living in Mbeya with a school on the doorstep I hope that we will
soon be able to arrange for her return home.
c/o Game Dept. Mbeya. 30th October 1945
How nice to be able to write c/o Game Dept. Mbeya at the head of my letters.
We arrived here safely after a rather tiresome journey and are installed in a tiny house on
the edge of the township.
We left Lyamungu early on the morning of the 22nd. Most of our goods had
been packed on the big Ford lorry the previous evening, but there were the usual
delays and farewells. Of our servants, only the cook, Hamisi, accompanied us to
Mbeya. Japhet, Tovelo and the ayah had to be paid off and largesse handed out.
Tovelo’s granny had come, bringing a gift of bananas, and she also brought her little
granddaughter to present a bunch of flowers. The child’s little scolded behind is now
completely healed. Gifts had to be found for them too.
At last we were all aboard and what a squash it was! Our few pieces of furniture
and packing cases and trunks, the cook, his wife, the driver and the turney boy, who
were to take the truck back to Lyamungu, and all their bits and pieces, bunches of
bananas and Fanny the dog were all crammed into the body of the lorry. George, the
children and I were jammed together in the cab. Before we left George looked
dubiously at the tyres which were very worn and said gloomily that he thought it most
unlikely that we would make our destination, Dodoma.
Too true! Shortly after midday, near Kwakachinja, we blew a back tyre and there
was a tedious delay in the heat whilst the wheel was changed. We were now without a
spare tyre and George said that he would not risk taking the Ford further than Babati,
which is less than half way to Dodoma. He drove very slowly and cautiously to Babati
where he arranged with Sher Mohammed, an Indian trader, for a lorry to take us to
Dodoma the next morning.
It had been our intention to spend the night at the furnished Government
Resthouse at Babati but when we got there we found that it was already occupied by
several District Officers who had assembled for a conference. So, feeling rather
disgruntled, we all piled back into the lorry and drove on to a place called Bereku where
we spent an uncomfortable night in a tumbledown hut.
Before dawn next morning Sher Mohammed’s lorry drove up, and there was a
scramble to dress by the light of a storm lamp. The lorry was a very dilapidated one and
there was already a native woman passenger in the cab. I felt so tired after an almost
sleepless night that I decided to sit between the driver and this woman with the sleeping
Henry on my knee. It was as well I did, because I soon found myself dosing off and
drooping over towards the woman. Had she not been there I might easily have fallen
out as the battered cab had no door. However I was alert enough when daylight came
and changed places with the woman to our mutual relief. She was now able to converse
with the African driver and I was able to enjoy the scenery and the fresh air!
George, John and Jim were less comfortable. They sat in the lorry behind the
cab hemmed in by packing cases. As the lorry was an open one the sun beat down
unmercifully upon them until George, ever resourceful, moved a table to the front of the
truck. The two boys crouched under this and so got shelter from the sun but they still had
to endure the dust. Fanny complicated things by getting car sick and with one thing and
another we were all jolly glad to get to Dodoma.
We spent the night at the Dodoma Hotel and after hot baths, a good meal and a
good nights rest we cheerfully boarded a bus of the Tanganyika Bus Service next
morning to continue our journey to Mbeya. The rest of the journey was uneventful. We slept two nights on the road, the first at Iringa Hotel and the second at Chimala. We
reached Mbeya on the 27th.
I was rather taken aback when I first saw the little house which has been allocated
to us. I had become accustomed to the spacious houses we had in Morogoro and
Lyamungu. However though the house is tiny it is secluded and has a long garden
sloping down to the road in front and another long strip sloping up behind. The front
garden is shaded by several large cypress and eucalyptus trees but the garden behind
the house has no shade and consists mainly of humpy beds planted with hundreds of
carnations sadly in need of debudding. I believe that the previous Game Ranger’s wife
cultivated the carnations and, by selling them, raised money for War Funds.
Like our own first home, this little house is built of sun dried brick. Its original
owners were Germans. It is now rented to the Government by the Custodian of Enemy
Property, and George has his office in another ex German house.
This afternoon we drove to the school to arrange about enrolling John there. The
school is about four miles out of town. It was built by the German settlers in the late
1930’s and they were justifiably proud of it. It consists of a great assembly hall and
classrooms in one block and there are several attractive single storied dormitories. This
school was taken over by the Government when the Germans were interned on the
outbreak of war and many improvements have been made to the original buildings. The
school certainly looks very attractive now with its grassed playing fields and its lawns and
bright flower beds.
The Union Jack flies from a tall flagpole in front of the Hall and all traces of the
schools German origin have been firmly erased. We met the Headmaster, Mr
Wallington, and his wife and some members of the staff. The school is co-educational
and caters for children from the age of seven to standard six. The leaving age is elastic
owing to the fact that many Tanganyika children started school very late because of lack
of educational facilities in this country.
The married members of the staff have their own cottages in the grounds. The
Matrons have quarters attached to the dormitories for which they are responsible. I felt
most enthusiastic about the school until I discovered that the Headmaster is adamant
upon one subject. He utterly refuses to take any day pupils at the school. So now our
poor reserved Johnny will have to adjust himself to boarding school life.
We have arranged that he will start school on November 5th and I shall be very
busy trying to assemble his school uniform at short notice. The clothing list is sensible.
Boys wear khaki shirts and shorts on weekdays with knitted scarlet jerseys when the
weather is cold. On Sundays they wear grey flannel shorts and blazers with the silver
and scarlet school tie.
Mbeya looks dusty, brown and dry after the lush evergreen vegetation of
Lyamungu, but I prefer this drier climate and there are still mountains to please the eye.
In fact the lower slopes of Lolesa Mountain rise at the upper end of our garden.
c/o Game Dept. Mbeya. 21st November 1945
We’re quite settled in now and I have got the little house fixed up to my
satisfaction. I have engaged a rather uncouth looking houseboy but he is strong and
capable and now that I am not tied down in the mornings by John’s lessons I am able to
go out occasionally in the mornings and take Jim and Henry to play with other children.
They do not show any great enthusiasm but are not shy by nature as John is.
I have had a good deal of heartache over putting John to boarding school. It
would have been different had he been used to the company of children outside his
own family, or if he had even known one child there. However he seems to be adjusting
himself to the life, though slowly. At least he looks well and tidy and I am quite sure that
he is well looked after.
I must confess that when the time came for John to go to school I simply did not
have the courage to take him and he went alone with George, looking so smart in his
new uniform – but his little face so bleak. The next day, Sunday, was visiting day but the
Headmaster suggested that we should give John time to settle down and not visit him
When we drove up to the school I spied John on the far side of the field walking
all alone. Instead of running up with glad greetings, as I had expected, he came almost
reluctently and had little to say. I asked him to show me his dormitory and classroom and
he did so politely as though I were a stranger. At last he volunteered some information.
“Mummy,” he said in an awed voice, Do you know on the night I came here they burnt a
man! They had a big fire and they burnt him.” After a blank moment the penny dropped.
Of course John had started school and November the fifth but it had never entered my
head to tell him about that infamous character, Guy Fawkes!
I asked John’s Matron how he had settled down. “Well”, she said thoughtfully,
“John is very good and has not cried as many of the juniors do when they first come
here, but he seems to keep to himself all the time.” I went home very discouraged but
on the Sunday John came running up with another lad of about his own age.” This is my
friend Marks,” he announced proudly. I could have hugged Marks.
Mbeya is very different from the small settlement we knew in the early 1930’s.
Gone are all the colourful characters from the Lupa diggings for the alluvial claims are all
worked out now, gone also are our old friends the Menzies from the Pub and also most
of the Government Officials we used to know. Mbeya has lost its character of a frontier
township and has become almost suburban.
The social life revolves around two places, the Club and the school. The Club
which started out as a little two roomed building, has been expanded and the golf
course improved. There are also tennis courts and a good library considering the size of
the community. There are frequent parties and dances, though most of the club revenue
comes from Bar profits. The parties are relatively sober affairs compared with the parties
of the 1930’s.
The school provides entertainment of another kind. Both Mr and Mrs Wallington
are good amateur actors and I am told that they run an Amateur Dramatic Society. Every
Wednesday afternoon there is a hockey match at the school. Mbeya town versus a
mixed team of staff and scholars. The match attracts almost the whole European
population of Mbeya. Some go to play hockey, others to watch, and others to snatch
the opportunity to visit their children. I shall have to try to arrange a lift to school when
George is away on safari.
I have now met most of the local women and gladly renewed an old friendship
with Sheilagh Waring whom I knew two years ago at Morogoro. Sheilagh and I have
much in common, the same disregard for the trappings of civilisation, the same sense of
the ludicrous, and children. She has eight to our six and she has also been cut off by the
war from two of her children. Sheilagh looks too young and pretty to be the mother of so
large a family and is, in fact, several years younger than I am. her husband, Donald, is a
large quiet man who, as far as I can judge takes life seriously.
Our next door neighbours are the Bank Manager and his wife, a very pleasant
couple though we seldom meet. I have however had correspondence with the Bank
Manager. Early on Saturday afternoon their houseboy brought a note. It informed me
that my son was disturbing his rest by precipitating a heart attack. Was I aware that my
son was about 30 feet up in a tree and balanced on a twig? I ran out and,sure enough,
there was Jim, right at the top of the tallest eucalyptus tree. It would be the one with the
mound of stones at the bottom! You should have heard me fluting in my most
wheedling voice. “Sweets, Jimmy, come down slowly dear, I’ve some nice sweets for
I’ll bet that little story makes you smile. I remember how often you have told me
how, as a child, I used to make your hearts turn over because I had no fear of heights
and how I used to say, “But that is silly, I won’t fall.” I know now only too well, how you
must have felt.
c/o Game Dept. Mbeya. 14th January 1946
I hope that by now you have my telegram to say that Kate got home safely
yesterday. It was wonderful to have her back and what a beautiful child she is! Kate
seems to have enjoyed the train journey with Miss Craig, in spite of the tears she tells
me she shed when she said good-bye to you. She also seems to have felt quite at
home with the Hopleys at Salisbury. She flew from Salisbury in a small Dove aircraft
and they had a smooth passage though Kate was a little airsick.
I was so excited about her home coming! This house is so tiny that I had to turn
out the little store room to make a bedroom for her. With a fresh coat of whitewash and
pretty sprigged curtains and matching bedspread, borrowed from Sheilagh Waring, the
tiny room looks most attractive. I had also iced a cake, made ice-cream and jelly and
bought crackers for the table so that Kate’s home coming tea could be a proper little
I was pleased with my preparations and then, a few hours before the plane was
due, my crowned front tooth dropped out, peg and all! When my houseboy wants to
describe something very tatty, he calls it “Second-hand Kabisa.” Kabisa meaning
absolutely. That is an apt description of how I looked and felt. I decided to try some
emergency dentistry. I think you know our nearest dentist is at Dar es Salaam five
hundred miles away.
First I carefully dried the tooth and with a match stick covered the peg and base
with Durofix. I then took the infants rubber bulb enema, sucked up some heat from a
candle flame and pumped it into the cavity before filling that with Durofix. Then hopefully
I stuck the tooth in its former position and held it in place for several minutes. No good. I
sent the houseboy to a shop for Scotine and tried the whole process again. No good
When George came home for lunch I appealed to him for advice. He jokingly
suggested that a maize seed jammed into the space would probably work, but when
he saw that I really was upset he produced some chewing gum and suggested that I
should try that . I did and that worked long enough for my first smile anyway.
George and the three boys went to meet Kate but I remained at home to
welcome her there. I was afraid that after all this time away Kate might be reluctant to
rejoin the family but she threw her arms around me and said “Oh Mummy,” We both
shed a few tears and then we both felt fine.
How gay Kate is, and what an infectious laugh she has! The boys follow her
around in admiration. John in fact asked me, “Is Kate a Princess?” When I said
“Goodness no, Johnny, she’s your sister,” he explained himself by saying, “Well, she
has such golden hair.” Kate was less complementary. When I tucked her in bed last night
she said, “Mummy, I didn’t expect my little brothers to be so yellow!” All three boys
have been taking a course of Atebrin, an anti-malarial drug which tinges skin and eyeballs
So now our tiny house is bursting at its seams and how good it feels to have one
more child under our roof. We are booked to sail for England in May and when we return
we will have Ann and George home too. Then I shall feel really content.
c/o Game Dept. Mbeya. 2nd March 1946
My life just now is uneventful but very busy. I am sewing hard and knitting fast to
try to get together some warm clothes for our leave in England. This is not a simple
matter because woollen materials are in short supply and very expensive, and now that
we have boarding school fees to pay for both Kate and John we have to budget very
Kate seems happy at school. She makes friends easily and seems to enjoy
communal life. John also seems reconciled to school now that Kate is there. He no
longer feels that he is the only exile in the family. He seems to rub along with the other
boys of his age and has a couple of close friends. Although Mbeya School is coeducational
the smaller boys and girls keep strictly apart. It is considered extremely
cissy to play with girls.
The local children are allowed to go home on Sundays after church and may bring
friends home with them for the day. Both John and Kate do this and Sunday is a very
busy day for me. The children come home in their Sunday best but bring play clothes to
change into. There is always a scramble to get them to bath and change again in time to
deliver them to the school by 6 o’clock.
When George is home we go out to the school for the morning service. This is
taken by the Headmaster Mr Wallington, and is very enjoyable. There is an excellent
school choir to lead the singing. The service is the Church of England one, but is
attended by children of all denominations, except the Roman Catholics. I don’t think that
more than half the children are British. A large proportion are Greeks, some as old as
sixteen, and about the same number are Afrikaners. There are Poles and non-Nazi
Germans, Swiss and a few American children.
All instruction is through the medium of English and it is amazing how soon all the
foreign children learn to chatter in English. George has been told that we will return to
Mbeya after our leave and for that I am very thankful as it means that we will still be living
near at hand when Jim and Henry start school. Because many of these children have to
travel many hundreds of miles to come to school, – Mbeya is a two day journey from the
railhead, – the school year is divided into two instead of the usual three terms. This
means that many of these children do not see their parents for months at a time. I think
this is a very sad state of affairs especially for the seven and eight year olds but the
Matrons assure me , that many children who live on isolated farms and stations are quite
reluctant to go home because they miss the companionship and the games and
entertainment that the school offers.
My only complaint about the life here is that I see far too little of George. He is
kept extremely busy on this range and is hardly at home except for a few days at the
months end when he has to be at his office to check up on the pay vouchers and the
issue of ammunition to the Scouts. George’s Range takes in the whole of the Southern
Province and the Southern half of the Western Province and extends to the border with
Northern Rhodesia and right across to Lake Tanganyika. This vast area is patrolled by
only 40 Game Scouts because the Department is at present badly under staffed, due
partly to the still acute shortage of rifles, but even more so to the extraordinary reluctance
which the Government shows to allocate adequate funds for the efficient running of the
The Game Scouts must see that the Game Laws are enforced, protect native
crops from raiding elephant, hippo and other game animals. Report disease amongst game and deal with stock raiding lions. By constantly going on safari and checking on
their work, George makes sure the range is run to his satisfaction. Most of the Game
Scouts are fine fellows but, considering they receive only meagre pay for dangerous
and exacting work, it is not surprising that occasionally a Scout is tempted into accepting
a bribe not to report a serious infringement of the Game Laws and there is, of course,
always the temptation to sell ivory illicitly to unscrupulous Indian and Arab traders.
Apart from supervising the running of the Range, George has two major jobs.
One is to supervise the running of the Game Free Area along the Rhodesia –
Tanganyika border, and the other to hunt down the man-eating lions which for years have
terrorised the Njombe District killing hundreds of Africans. Yes I know ‘hundreds’ sounds
fantastic, but this is perfectly true and one day, when the job is done and the official
report published I shall send it to you to prove it!
I hate to think of the Game Free Area and so does George. All the game from
buffalo to tiny duiker has been shot out in a wide belt extending nearly two hundred
miles along the Northern Rhodesia -Tanganyika border. There are three Europeans in
widely spaced camps who supervise this slaughter by African Game Guards. This
horrible measure is considered necessary by the Veterinary Departments of
Tanganyika, Rhodesia and South Africa, to prevent the cattle disease of Rinderpest
from spreading South.
When George is home however, we do relax and have fun. On the Saturday
before the school term started we took Kate and the boys up to the top fishing camp in
the Mporoto Mountains for her first attempt at trout fishing. There are three of these
camps built by the Mbeya Trout Association on the rivers which were first stocked with
the trout hatched on our farm at Mchewe. Of the three, the top camp is our favourite. The
scenery there is most glorious and reminds me strongly of the rivers of the Western
Cape which I so loved in my childhood.
The river, the Kawira, flows from the Rungwe Mountain through a narrow valley
with hills rising steeply on either side. The water runs swiftly over smooth stones and
sometimes only a foot or two below the level of the banks. It is sparkling and shallow,
but in places the water is deep and dark and the banks high. I had a busy day keeping
an eye on the boys, especially Jim, who twice climbed out on branches which overhung
deep water. “Mummy, I was only looking for trout!”
How those kids enjoyed the freedom of the camp after the comparative
restrictions of town. So did Fanny, she raced about on the hills like a mad dog chasing
imaginary rabbits and having the time of her life. To escape the noise and commotion
George had gone far upstream to fish and returned in the late afternoon with three good
sized trout and four smaller ones. Kate proudly showed George the two she had caught
with the assistance or our cook Hamisi. I fear they were caught in a rather unorthodox
manner but this I kept a secret from George who is a stickler for the orthodox in trout
Jacksdale England 24th June 1946
Here we are all together at last in England. You cannot imagine how wonderful it
feels to have the whole Rushby family reunited. I find myself counting heads. Ann,
George, Kate, John, Jim, and Henry. All present and well. We had a very pleasant trip
on the old British India Ship Mantola. She was crowded with East Africans going home
for the first time since the war, many like us, eagerly looking forward to a reunion with their
children whom they had not seen for years. There was a great air of anticipation and
good humour but a little anxiety too.
“I do hope our children will be glad to see us,” said one, and went on to tell me
about a Doctor from Dar es Salaam who, after years of separation from his son had
recently gone to visit him at his school. The Doctor had alighted at the railway station
where he had arranged to meet his son. A tall youth approached him and said, very
politely, “Excuse me sir. Are you my Father?” Others told me of children who had
become so attached to their relatives in England that they gave their parents a very cool
reception. I began to feel apprehensive about Ann and George but fortunately had no
time to mope.
Oh, that washing and ironing for six! I shall remember for ever that steamy little
laundry in the heat of the Red Sea and queuing up for the ironing and the feeling of guilt
at the size of my bundle. We met many old friends amongst the passengers, and made
some new ones, so the voyage was a pleasant one, We did however have our
John was the first to disappear and we had an anxious search for him. He was
quite surprised that we had been concerned. “I was just talking to my friend Chinky
Chinaman in his workshop.” Could John have called him that? Then, when I returned to
the cabin from dinner one night I found Henry swigging Owbridge’s Lung Tonic. He had
drunk half the bottle neat and the label said ‘five drops in water’. Luckily it did not harm
Jim of course was forever risking his neck. George had forbidden him to climb on
the railings but he was forever doing things which no one had thought of forbidding him
to do, like hanging from the overhead pipes on the deck or standing on the sill of a
window and looking down at the well deck far below. An Officer found him doing this and
gave me the scolding.
Another day he climbed up on a derrick used for hoisting cargo. George,
oblivious to this was sitting on the hatch cover with other passengers reading a book. I
was in the wash house aft on the same deck when Kate rushed in and said, “Mummy
come and see Jim.” Before I had time to more than gape, the butcher noticed Jim and
rushed out knife in hand. “Get down from there”, he bellowed. Jim got, and with such
speed that he caught the leg or his shorts on a projecting piece of metal. The cotton
ripped across the seam from leg to leg and Jim stood there for a humiliating moment in a
sort of revealing little kilt enduring the smiles of the passengers who had looked up from
their books at the butcher’s shout.
That incident cured Jim of his urge to climb on the ship but he managed to give
us one more fright. He was lost off Dover. People from whom we enquired said, “Yes
we saw your little boy. He was by the railings watching that big aircraft carrier.” Now Jim,
though mischievous , is very obedient. It was not until George and I had conducted an
exhaustive search above and below decks that I really became anxious. Could he have
fallen overboard? Jim was returned to us by an unamused Officer. He had been found
in one of the lifeboats on the deck forbidden to children.
Our ship passed Dover after dark and it was an unforgettable sight. Dover Castle
and the cliffs were floodlit for the Victory Celebrations. One of the men passengers sat
down at the piano and played ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’, and people sang and a few
wept. The Mantola docked at Tilbury early next morning in a steady drizzle.
There was a dockers strike on and it took literally hours for all the luggage to be
put ashore. The ships stewards simply locked the public rooms and went off leaving the
passengers shivering on the docks. Eventually damp and bedraggled, we arrived at St
Pancras Station and were given a warm welcome by George’s sister Cath and her
husband Reg Pears, who had come all the way from Nottingham to meet us.
As we had to spend an hour in London before our train left for Nottingham,
George suggested that Cath and I should take the children somewhere for a meal. So
off we set in the cold drizzle, the boys and I without coats and laden with sundry
packages, including a hand woven native basket full of shoes. We must have looked like
a bunch of refugees as we stood in the hall of The Kings Cross Station Hotel because a
supercilious waiter in tails looked us up and down and said, “I’m afraid not Madam”, in
answer to my enquiry whether the hotel could provide lunch for six.
Anyway who cares! We had lunch instead at an ABC tea room — horrible
sausage and a mound or rather sloppy mashed potatoes, but very good ice-cream.
After the train journey in a very grimy third class coach, through an incredibly green and
beautiful countryside, we eventually reached Nottingham and took a bus to Jacksdale,
where George’s mother and sisters live in large detached houses side by side.
Ann and George were at the bus stop waiting for us, and thank God, submitted
to my kiss as though we had been parted for weeks instead of eight years. Even now
that we are together again my heart aches to think of all those missed years. They have
not changed much and I would have picked them out of a crowd, but Ann, once thin and
pale, is now very rosy and blooming. She still has her pretty soft plaits and her eyes are
still a clear calm blue. Young George is very striking looking with sparkling brown eyes, a
ready, slightly lopsided smile, and charming manners.
Mother, and George’s elder sister, Lottie Giles, welcomed us at the door with the
cheering news that our tea was ready. Ann showed us the way to mother’s lovely lilac
tiled bathroom for a wash before tea. Before I had even turned the tap, Jim had hung
form the glass towel rail and it lay in three pieces on the floor. There have since been
similar tragedies. I can see that life in civilisation is not without snags.
I am most grateful that Ann and George have accepted us so naturally and
affectionately. Ann said candidly, “Mummy, it’s a good thing that you had Aunt Cath with
you when you arrived because, honestly, I wouldn’t have known you.”
Jacksdale England 28th August 1946
I am sorry that I have not written for some time but honestly, I don’t know whether
I’m coming or going. Mother handed the top floor of her house to us and the
arrangement was that I should tidy our rooms and do our laundry and Mother would
prepare the meals except for breakfast. It looked easy at first. All the rooms have wall to
wall carpeting and there was a large vacuum cleaner in the box room. I was told a
window cleaner would do the windows.
Well the first time I used the Hoover I nearly died of fright. I pressed the switch
and immediately there was a roar and the bag filled with air to bursting point, or so I
thought. I screamed for Ann and she came at the run. I pointed to the bag and shouted
above the din, “What must I do? It’s going to burst!” Ann looked at me in astonishment
and said, “But Mummy that’s the way it works.” I couldn’t have her thinking me a
complete fool so I switched the current off and explained to Ann how it was that I had
never seen this type of equipment in action. How, in Tanganyika , I had never had a
house with electricity and that, anyway, electric equipment would be superfluous
because floors are of cement which the houseboy polishes by hand, one only has a
few rugs or grass mats on the floor. “But what about Granny’s house in South Africa?’”
she asked, so I explained about your Josephine who threatened to leave if you
bought a Hoover because that would mean that you did not think she kept the house
clean. The sad fact remains that, at fourteen, Ann knows far more about housework than I
do, or rather did! I’m learning fast.
The older children all go to school at different times in the morning. Ann leaves first
by bus to go to her Grammar School at Sutton-in-Ashfield. Shortly afterwards George
catches a bus for Nottingham where he attends the High School. So they have
breakfast in relays, usually scrambled egg made from a revolting dried egg mixture.
Then there are beds to make and washing and ironing to do, so I have little time for
sightseeing, though on a few afternoons George has looked after the younger children
and I have gone on bus tours in Derbyshire. Life is difficult here with all the restrictions on
foodstuffs. We all have ration books so get our fair share but meat, fats and eggs are
scarce and expensive. The weather is very wet. At first I used to hang out the washing
and then rush to bring it in when a shower came. Now I just let it hang.
We have left our imprint upon my Mother-in-law’s house for ever. Henry upset a
bottle of Milk of Magnesia in the middle of the pale fawn bedroom carpet. John, trying to
be helpful and doing some dusting, broke one of the delicate Dresden china candlesticks
which adorn our bedroom mantelpiece.Jim and Henry have wrecked the once
professionally landscaped garden and all the boys together bored a large hole through
Mother’s prized cherry tree. So now Mother has given up and gone off to Bournemouth
for a much needed holiday. Once a week I have the capable help of a cleaning woman,
called for some reason, ‘Mrs Two’, but I have now got all the cooking to do for eight. Mrs
Two is a godsend. She wears, of all things, a print mob cap with a hole in it. Says it
belonged to her Grandmother. Her price is far beyond Rubies to me, not so much
because she does, in a couple of hours, what it takes me all day to do, but because she
sells me boxes of fifty cigarettes. Some non-smoking relative, who works in Players
tobacco factory, passes on his ration to her. Until Mrs Two came to my rescue I had
been starved of cigarettes. Each time I asked for them at the shop the grocer would say,
“Are you registered with us?” Only very rarely would some kindly soul sell me a little
packet of five Woodbines.
England is very beautiful but the sooner we go home to Tanganyika, the better.
On this, George and I and the children agree.
Jacksdale England 20th September 1946
Our return passages have now been booked on the Winchester Castle and we
sail from Southampton on October the sixth. I look forward to returning to Tanganyika but
hope to visit England again in a few years time when our children are older and when
rationing is a thing of the past.
I have grown fond of my Sisters-in-law and admire my Mother-in-law very much.
She has a great sense of humour and has entertained me with stories of her very
eventful life, and told me lots of little stories of the children which did not figure in her
letters. One which amused me was about young George. During one of the air raids
early in the war when the sirens were screaming and bombers roaring overhead Mother
made the two children get into the cloak cupboard under the stairs. Young George
seemed quite unconcerned about the planes and the bombs but soon an anxious voice
asked in the dark, “Gran, what will I do if a spider falls on me?” I am afraid that Mother is
going to miss Ann and George very much.
I had a holiday last weekend when Lottie and I went up to London on a spree. It
was a most enjoyable weekend, though very rushed. We placed ourselves in the
hands of Thos. Cook and Sons and saw most of the sights of London and were run off
our feet in the process. As you all know London I shall not describe what I saw but just
to say that, best of all, I enjoyed walking along the Thames embankment in the evening
and the changing of the Guard at Whitehall. On Sunday morning Lottie and I went to
Kew Gardens and in the afternoon walked in Kensington Gardens.
We went to only one show, ‘The Skin of our Teeth’ starring Vivienne Leigh.
Neither of us enjoyed the performance at all and regretted having spent so much on
circle seats. The show was far too highbrow for my taste, a sort of satire on the survival
of the human race. Miss Leigh was unrecognisable in a blond wig and her voice strident.
However the night was not a dead loss as far as entertainment was concerned as we
were later caught up in a tragicomedy at our hotel.
We had booked communicating rooms at the enormous Imperial Hotel in Russell
Square. These rooms were comfortably furnished but very high up, and we had a rather
terrifying and dreary view from the windows of the enclosed courtyard far below. We
had some snacks and a chat in Lottie’s room and then I moved to mine and went to bed.
I had noted earlier that there was a special lock on the outer door of my room so that
when the door was closed from the inside it automatically locked itself.
I was just dropping off to sleep when I heard a hammering which seemed to
come from my wardrobe. I got up, rather fearfully, and opened the wardrobe door and
noted for the first time that the wardrobe was set in an opening in the wall and that the
back of the wardrobe also served as the back of the wardrobe in the room next door. I
quickly shut it again and went to confer with Lottie.
Suddenly a male voice was raised next door in supplication, “Mary Mother of
God, Help me! They’ve locked me in!” and the hammering resumed again, sometimes
on the door, and then again on the back of the wardrobe of the room next door. Lottie
had by this time joined me and together we listened to the prayers and to the
hammering. Then the voice began to threaten, “If you don’t let me out I’ll jump out of the
window.” Great consternation on our side of the wall. I went out into the passage and
called through the door, “You’re not locked in. Come to your door and I’ll tell you how to
open it.” Silence for a moment and then again the prayers followed by a threat. All the
other doors in the corridor remained shut.
Luckily just then a young man and a woman came walking down the corridor and I
explained the situation. The young man hurried off for the night porter who went into the
next door room. In a matter of minutes there was peace next door. When the night
porter came out into the corridor again I asked for an explanation. He said quite casually,
“It’s all right Madam. He’s an Irish Gentleman in Show Business. He gets like this on a
Saturday night when he has had a drop too much. He won’t give any more trouble
now.” And he didn’t. Next morning at breakfast Lottie and I tried to spot the gentleman in
the Show Business, but saw no one who looked like the owner of that charming Irish
George had to go to London on business last Monday and took the older
children with him for a few hours of sight seeing. They returned quite unimpressed.
Everything was too old and dirty and there were far too many people about, but they
had enjoyed riding on the escalators at the tube stations, and all agreed that the highlight
of the trip was, “Dad took us to lunch at the Chicken Inn.”
Now that it is almost time to leave England I am finding the housework less of a
drudgery, Also, as it is school holiday time, Jim and Henry are able to go on walks with
the older children and so use up some of their surplus energy. Cath and I took the
children (except young George who went rabbit shooting with his uncle Reg, and
Henry, who stayed at home with his dad) to the Wakes at Selston, the neighbouring
village. There were the roundabouts and similar contraptions but the side shows had
more appeal for the children. Ann and Kate found a stall where assorted prizes were
spread out on a sloping table. Anyone who could land a penny squarely on one of
these objects was given a similar one as a prize.
I was touched to see that both girls ignored all the targets except a box of fifty
cigarettes which they were determined to win for me. After numerous attempts, Kate
landed her penny successfully and you would have loved to have seen her radiant little
Dar es Salaam 22nd October 1946
Back in Tanganyika at last, but not together. We have to stay in Dar es Salaam
until tomorrow when the train leaves for Dodoma. We arrived yesterday morning to find
all the hotels filled with people waiting to board ships for England. Fortunately some
friends came to the rescue and Ann, Kate and John have gone to stay with them. Jim,
Henry and I are sleeping in a screened corner of the lounge of the New Africa Hotel, and
George and young George have beds in the Palm Court of the same hotel.
We travelled out from England in the Winchester Castle under troopship
conditions. We joined her at Southampton after a rather slow train journey from
Nottingham. We arrived after dark and from the station we could see a large ship in the
docks with a floodlit red funnel. “Our ship,” yelled the children in delight, but it was not the
Winchester Castle but the Queen Elizabeth, newly reconditioned.
We had hoped to board our ship that evening but George made enquiries and
found that we would not be allowed on board until noon next day. Without much hope,
we went off to try to get accommodation for eight at a small hotel recommended by the
taxi driver. Luckily for us there was a very motherly woman at the reception desk. She
looked in amusement at the six children and said to me, “Goodness are all these yours,
ducks? Then she called over her shoulder, “Wilf, come and see this lady with lots of
children. We must try to help.” They settled the problem most satisfactorily by turning
two rooms into a dormitory.
In the morning we had time to inspect bomb damage in the dock area of
Southampton. Most of the rubble had been cleared away but there are still numbers of
damaged buildings awaiting demolition. A depressing sight. We saw the Queen Mary
at anchor, still in her drab war time paint, but magnificent nevertheless.
The Winchester Castle was crammed with passengers and many travelled in
acute discomfort. We were luckier than most because the two girls, the three small boys
and I had a stateroom to ourselves and though it was stripped of peacetime comforts,
we had a private bathroom and toilet. The two Georges had bunks in a huge men-only
dormitory somewhere in the bowls of the ship where they had to share communal troop
ship facilities. The food was plentiful but unexciting and one had to queue for afternoon
tea. During the day the decks were crowded and there was squatting room only. The
many children on board got bored.
Port Said provided a break and we were all entertained by the ‘Gully Gully’ man
and his conjuring tricks, and though we had no money to spend at Simon Artz, we did at
least have a chance to stretch our legs. Next day scores of passengers took ill with
sever stomach upsets, whether from food poisoning, or as was rumoured, from bad
water taken on at the Egyptian port, I don’t know. Only the two Georges in our family
were affected and their attacks were comparatively mild.
As we neared the Kenya port of Mombassa, the passengers for Dar es Salaam
were told that they would have to disembark at Mombassa and continue their journey in
a small coaster, the Al Said. The Winchester Castle is too big for the narrow channel
which leads to Dar es Salaam harbour.
From the wharf the Al Said looked beautiful. She was once the private yacht of
the Sultan of Zanzibar and has lovely lines. Our admiration lasted only until we were
shown our cabins. With one voice our children exclaimed, “Gosh they stink!” They did, of
a mixture of rancid oil and sweat and stale urine. The beds were not yet made and the
thin mattresses had ominous stains on them. John, ever fastidious, lifted his mattress and two enormous cockroaches scuttled for cover.
We had a good homely lunch served by two smiling African stewards and
afterwards we sat on deck and that was fine too, though behind ones enjoyment there
was the thought of those stuffy and dirty cabins. That first night nearly everyone,
including George and our older children, slept on deck. Women occupied deck chairs
and men and children slept on the bare decks. Horrifying though the idea was, I decided
that, as Jim had a bad cough, he, Henry and I would sleep in our cabin.
When I announced my intention of sleeping in the cabin one of the passengers
gave me some insecticide spray which I used lavishly, but without avail. The children
slept but I sat up all night with the light on, determined to keep at least their pillows clear
of the cockroaches which scurried about boldly regardless of the light. All the next day
and night we avoided the cabins. The Al Said stopped for some hours at Zanzibar to
offload her deck cargo of live cattle and packing cases from the hold. George and the
elder children went ashore for a walk but I felt too lazy and there was plenty to watch
That night I too occupied a deck chair and slept quite comfortably, and next
morning we entered the palm fringed harbour of Dar es Salaam and were home.
Mbeya 1st November 1946
Home at last! We are all most happily installed in a real family house about three
miles out of Mbeya and near the school. This house belongs to an elderly German and
has been taken over by the Custodian of Enemy Property and leased to the
The owner, whose name is Shenkel, was not interned but is allowed to occupy a
smaller house on the Estate. I found him in the garden this morning lecturing the children
on what they may do and may not do. I tried to make it quite clear to him that he was not
our landlord, though he clearly thinks otherwise. After he had gone I had to take two
aspirin and lie down to recover my composure! I had been warned that he has this effect
Mr Shenkel is a short and ugly man, his clothes are stained with food and he
wears steel rimmed glasses tied round his head with a piece of dirty elastic because
one earpiece is missing. He speaks with a thick German accent but his English is fluent
and I believe he is a cultured and clever man. But he is maddening. The children were
more amused than impressed by his exhortations and have happily Christened our
home, ‘Old Shenks’.
The house has very large grounds as the place is really a derelict farm. It suits us
down to the ground. We had no sooner unpacked than George went off on safari after
those maneating lions in the Njombe District. he accounted for one, and a further two
jointly with a Game Scout, before we left for England. But none was shot during the five
months we were away as George’s relief is quite inexperienced in such work. George
thinks that there are still about a dozen maneaters at large. His theory is that a female
maneater moved into the area in 1938 when maneating first started, and brought up her
cubs to be maneaters, and those cubs in turn did the same. The three maneating lions
that have been shot were all in very good condition and not old and maimed as
maneaters usually are.
George anticipates that it will be months before all these lions are accounted for
because they are constantly on the move and cover a very large area. The lions have to
be hunted on foot because they range over broken country covered by bush and fairly
I did a bit of shooting myself yesterday and impressed our African servants and
the children and myself. What a fluke! Our houseboy came to say that there was a snake
in the garden, the biggest he had ever seen. He said it was too big to kill with a stick and
would I shoot it. I had no gun but a heavy .450 Webley revolver and I took this and
hurried out with the children at my heels.
The snake turned out to be an unusually large puff adder which had just shed its
skin. It looked beautiful in a repulsive way. So flanked by servants and children I took
aim and shot, not hitting the head as I had planned, but breaking the snake’s back with
the heavy bullet. The two native boys then rushed up with sticks and flattened the head.
“Ma you’re a crack shot,” cried the kids in delighted surprise. I hope to rest on my laurels
for a long, long while.
Although there are only a few weeks of school term left the four older children will
start school on Monday. Not only am I pleased with our new home here but also with
the staff I have engaged. Our new houseboy, Reuben, (but renamed Robin by our
children) is not only cheerful and willing but intelligent too, and Jumbe, the wood and
garden boy, is a born clown and a source of great entertainment to the children.
I feel sure that we are all going to be very happy here at ‘Old Shenks!.
Eleanor.January 28, 2022 at 2:29 pm #6261
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, EleanorJanuary 28, 2022 at 1:10 pm #6260
From Tanganyika with Love
With thanks to Mike Rushby.
- “The letters of Eleanor Dunbar Leslie to her parents and her sister in South Africa
concerning her life with George Gilman Rushby of Tanganyika, and the trials and
joys of bringing up a family in pioneering conditions.
These letters were transcribed from copies of letters typed by Eleanor Rushby from
the originals which were in the estate of Marjorie Leslie, Eleanor’s sister. Eleanor
kept no diary of her life in Tanganyika, so these letters were the living record of an
important part of her life.
Having walked across Africa from the East coast to Ubangi Shauri Chad
in French Equatorial Africa, hunting elephant all the way, George Rushby
made his way down the Congo to Leopoldville. He then caught a ship to
Europe and had a holiday in Brussels and Paris before visiting his family
in England. He developed blackwater fever and was extremely ill for a
while. When he recovered he went to London to arrange his return to
Whilst staying at the Overseas Club he met Eileen Graham who had come
to England from Cape Town to study music. On hearing that George was
sailing for Cape Town she arranged to introduce him to her friend
Eleanor Dunbar Leslie. “You’ll need someone lively to show you around,”
she said. “She’s as smart as paint, a keen mountaineer, a very good school
teacher, and she’s attractive. You can’t miss her, because her father is a
well known Cape Town Magistrate. And,” she added “I’ve already written
and told her what ship you are arriving on.”
Eleanor duly met the ship. She and George immediately fell in love.
Within thirty six hours he had proposed marriage and was accepted
despite the misgivings of her parents. As she was under contract to her
High School, she remained in South Africa for several months whilst
George headed for Tanganyika looking for a farm where he could build
These details are a summary of chapter thirteen of the Biography of
George Gilman Rushby ‘The Hunter is Death “ by T.V.Bulpin.
Terrifically exciting news! I’ve just become engaged to an Englishman whom I
met last Monday. The result is a family upheaval which you will have no difficulty in
The Aunts think it all highly romantic and cry in delight “Now isn’t that just like our
El!” Mummy says she doesn’t know what to think, that anyway I was always a harum
scarum and she rather expected something like this to happen. However I know that
she thinks George highly attractive. “Such a nice smile and gentle manner, and such
good hands“ she murmurs appreciatively. “But WHY AN ELEPHANT HUNTER?” she
ends in a wail, as though elephant hunting was an unmentionable profession.
Anyway I don’t think so. Anyone can marry a bank clerk or a lawyer or even a
millionaire – but whoever heard of anyone marrying anyone as exciting as an elephant
hunter? I’m thrilled to bits.
Daddy also takes a dim view of George’s profession, and of George himself as
a husband for me. He says that I am so impulsive and have such wild enthusiasms that I
need someone conservative and steady to give me some serenity and some ballast.
Dad says George is a handsome fellow and a good enough chap he is sure, but
he is obviously a man of the world and hints darkly at a possible PAST. George says
he has nothing of the kind and anyway I’m the first girl he has asked to marry him. I don’t
care anyway, I’d gladly marry him tomorrow, but Dad has other ideas.
He sat in his armchair to deliver his verdict, wearing the same look he must wear
on the bench. If we marry, and he doesn’t think it would be a good thing, George must
buy a comfortable house for me in Central Africa where I can stay safely when he goes
hunting. I interrupted to say “But I’m going too”, but dad snubbed me saying that in no
time at all I’ll have a family and one can’t go dragging babies around in the African Bush.”
George takes his lectures with surprising calm. He says he can see Dad’s point of
view much better than I can. He told the parents today that he plans to buy a small
coffee farm in the Southern Highlands of Tanganyika and will build a cosy cottage which
will be a proper home for both of us, and that he will only hunt occasionally to keep the
Mummy, of course, just had to spill the beans. She said to George, “I suppose
you know that Eleanor knows very little about house keeping and can’t cook at all.” a fact
that I was keeping a dark secret. But George just said, “Oh she won’t have to work. The
boys do all that sort of thing. She can lie on a couch all day and read if she likes.” Well
you always did say that I was a “Lily of the field,” and what a good thing! If I were one of
those terribly capable women I’d probably die of frustration because it seems that
African house boys feel that they have lost face if their Memsahibs do anything but the
most gracious chores.
George is absolutely marvellous. He is strong and gentle and awfully good
looking too. He is about 5 ft 10 ins tall and very broad. He wears his curly brown hair cut
very short and has a close clipped moustache. He has strongly marked eyebrows and
very striking blue eyes which sometimes turn grey or green. His teeth are strong and
even and he has a quiet voice.
I expect all this sounds too good to be true, but come home quickly and see for
yourself. George is off to East Africa in three weeks time to buy our farm. I shall follow as
soon as he has bought it and we will be married in Dar es Salaam.
Dad has taken George for a walk “to get to know him” and that’s why I have time
to write such a long screed. They should be back any minute now and I must fly and
apply a bit of glamour.
Much love my dear,
S.S.Timavo. Durban. 28th.October. 1930.
Thank you for the lovely send off. I do wish you were all on board with me and
could come and dance with me at my wedding. We are having a very comfortable
voyage. There were only four of the passengers as far as Durban, all of them women,
but I believe we are taking on more here. I have a most comfortable deck cabin to
myself and the use of a sumptuous bathroom. No one is interested in deck games and I
am having a lazy time, just sunbathing and reading.
I sit at the Captain’s table and the meals are delicious – beautifully served. The
butter for instance, is moulded into sprays of roses, most exquisitely done, and as for
the ice-cream, I’ve never tasted anything like them.
The meals are continental type and we have hors d’oeuvre in a great variety
served on large round trays. The Italians souse theirs with oil, Ugh! We also of course
get lots of spaghetti which I have some difficulty in eating. However this presents no
problem to the Chief Engineer who sits opposite to me. He simply rolls it around his
fork and somehow the spaghetti flows effortlessly from fork to mouth exactly like an
ascending escalator. Wine is served at lunch and dinner – very mild and pleasant stuff.
Of the women passengers the one i liked best was a young German widow
from South west Africa who left the ship at East London to marry a man she had never
met. She told me he owned a drapers shop and she was very happy at the prospect
of starting a new life, as her previous marriage had ended tragically with the death of her
husband and only child in an accident.
I was most interested to see the bridegroom and stood at the rail beside the gay
young widow when we docked at East London. I picked him out, without any difficulty,
from the small group on the quay. He was a tall thin man in a smart grey suit and with a
grey hat perched primly on his head. You can always tell from hats can’t you? I wasn’t
surprised to see, when this German raised his head, that he looked just like the Kaiser’s
“Little Willie”. Long thin nose and cold grey eyes and no smile of welcome on his tight
mouth for the cheery little body beside me. I quite expected him to jerk his thumb and
stalk off, expecting her to trot at his heel.
However she went off blithely enough. Next day before the ship sailed, she
was back and I saw her talking to the Captain. She began to cry and soon after the
Captain patted her on the shoulder and escorted her to the gangway. Later the Captain
told me that the girl had come to ask him to allow her to work her passage back to
Germany where she had some relations. She had married the man the day before but
she disliked him because he had deceived her by pretending that he owned a shop
whereas he was only a window dresser. Bad show for both.
The Captain and the Chief Engineer are the only officers who mix socially with
the passengers. The captain seems rather a melancholy type with, I should say, no
sense of humour. He speaks fair English with an American accent. He tells me that he
was on the San Francisco run during Prohibition years in America and saw many Film
Stars chiefly “under the influence” as they used to flock on board to drink. The Chief
Engineer is big and fat and cheerful. His English is anything but fluent but he makes up
for it in mime.
I visited the relations and friends at Port Elizabeth and East London, and here at
Durban. I stayed with the Trotters and Swans and enjoyed myself very much at both
places. I have collected numerous wedding presents, china and cutlery, coffee
percolator and ornaments, and where I shall pack all these things I don’t know. Everyone has been terribly kind and I feel extremely well and happy.
At the start of the voyage I had a bit of bad luck. You will remember that a
perfectly foul South Easter was blowing. Some men were busy working on a deck
engine and I stopped to watch and a tiny fragment of steel blew into my eye. There is
no doctor on board so the stewardess put some oil into the eye and bandaged it up.
The eye grew more and more painful and inflamed and when when we reached Port
Elizabeth the Captain asked the Port Doctor to look at it. The Doctor said it was a job for
an eye specialist and telephoned from the ship to make an appointment. Luckily for me,
Vincent Tofts turned up at the ship just then and took me off to the specialist and waited
whilst he extracted the fragment with a giant magnet. The specialist said that I was very
lucky as the thing just missed the pupil of my eye so my sight will not be affected. I was
temporarily blinded by the Belladona the eye-man put in my eye so he fitted me with a
pair of black goggles and Vincent escorted me back to the ship. Don’t worry the eye is
now as good as ever and George will not have to take a one-eyed bride for better or
I have one worry and that is that the ship is going to be very much overdue by
the time we reach Dar es Salaam. She is taking on a big wool cargo and we were held
up for three days in East london and have been here in Durban for five days.
Today is the ninth Anniversary of the Fascist Movement and the ship was
dressed with bunting and flags. I must now go and dress for the gala dinner.
Bless you all,
S.S.Timavo. 6th. November 1930
Nearly there now. We called in at Lourenco Marques, Beira, Mozambique and
Port Amelia. I was the only one of the original passengers left after Durban but there we
took on a Mrs Croxford and her mother and two men passengers. Mrs C must have
something, certainly not looks. She has a flat figure, heavily mascared eyes and crooked
mouth thickly coated with lipstick. But her rather sweet old mother-black-pearls-type tells
me they are worn out travelling around the world trying to shake off an admirer who
pursues Mrs C everywhere.
The one male passenger is very quiet and pleasant. The old lady tells me that he
has recently lost his wife. The other passenger is a horribly bumptious type.
I had my hair beautifully shingled at Lourenco Marques, but what an experience it
was. Before we docked I asked the Captain whether he knew of a hairdresser, but he
said he did not and would have to ask the agent when he came aboard. The agent was
a very suave Asian. He said “Sure he did” and offered to take me in his car. I rather
doubtfully agreed — such a swarthy gentleman — and was driven, not to a hairdressing
establishment, but to his office. Then he spoke to someone on the telephone and in no
time at all a most dago-y type arrived carrying a little black bag. He was all patent
leather, hair, and flashing smile, and greeted me like an old and valued friend.
Before I had collected my scattered wits tthe Agent had flung open a door and
ushered me through, and I found myself seated before an ornate mirror in what was only
too obviously a bedroom. It was a bedroom with a difference though. The unmade bed
had no legs but hung from the ceiling on brass chains.
The agent beamingly shut the door behind him and I was left with my imagination
and the afore mentioned oily hairdresser. He however was very business like. Before I
could say knife he had shingled my hair with a cut throat razor and then, before I could
protest, had smothered my neck in stinking pink powder applied with an enormous and
filthy swansdown powder puff. He held up a mirror for me to admire his handiwork but I
was aware only of the enormous bed reflected in it, and hurriedly murmuring “very nice,
very nice” I made my escape to the outer office where, to my relief, I found the Chief
Engineer who escorted me back to the ship.
In the afternoon Mrs Coxford and the old lady and I hired a taxi and went to the
Polana Hotel for tea. Very swish but I like our Cape Peninsula beaches better.
At Lorenco Marques we took on more passengers. The Governor of
Portuguese Nyasaland and his wife and baby son. He was a large middle aged man,
very friendly and unassuming and spoke perfect English. His wife was German and
exquisite, as fragile looking and with the delicate colouring of a Dresden figurine. She
looked about 18 but she told me she was 28 and showed me photographs of two
other sons – hefty youngsters, whom she had left behind in Portugal and was missing
It was frightfully hot at Beira and as I had no money left I did not go up to the
town, but Mrs Croxford and I spent a pleasant hour on the beach under the Casurina
The Governor and his wife left the ship at Mozambique. He looked very
imposing in his starched uniform and she more Dresden Sheperdish than ever in a
flowered frock. There was a guard of honour and all the trimmings. They bade me a warm farewell and invited George and me to stay at any time.
The German ship “Watussi” was anchored in the Bay and I decided to visit her
and try and have my hair washed and set. I had no sooner stepped on board when a
lady came up to me and said “Surely you are Beeba Leslie.” It was Mrs Egan and she
had Molly with her. Considering Mrs Egan had not seen me since I was five I think it was
jolly clever of her to recognise me. Molly is charming and was most friendly. She fixed
things with the hairdresser and sat with me until the job was done. Afterwards I had tea
Port Amelia was our last stop. In fact the only person to go ashore was Mr
Taylor, the unpleasant man, and he returned at sunset very drunk indeed.
We reached Port Amelia on the 3rd – my birthday. The boat had anchored by
the time I was dressed and when I went on deck I saw several row boats cluttered
around the gangway and in them were natives with cages of wild birds for sale. Such tiny
crowded cages. I was furious, you know me. I bought three cages, carried them out on
to the open deck and released the birds. I expected them to fly to the land but they flew
straight up into the rigging.
The quiet male passenger wandered up and asked me what I was doing. I said
“I’m giving myself a birthday treat, I hate to see caged birds.” So next thing there he
was buying birds which he presented to me with “Happy Birthday.” I gladly set those
birds free too and they joined the others in the rigging.
Then a grinning steward came up with three more cages. “For the lady with
compliments of the Captain.” They lost no time in joining their friends.
It had given me so much pleasure to free the birds that I was only a little
discouraged when the quiet man said thoughtfully “This should encourage those bird
catchers you know, they are sold out. When evening came and we were due to sail I
was sure those birds would fly home, but no, they are still there and they will probably
remain until we dock at Dar es Salaam.
During the morning the Captain came up and asked me what my Christian name
is. He looked as grave as ever and I couldn’t think why it should interest him but said “the
name is Eleanor.” That night at dinner there was a large iced cake in the centre of the
table with “HELENA” in a delicate wreath of pink icing roses on the top. We had
champagne and everyone congratulated me and wished me good luck in my marriage.
A very nice gesture don’t you think. The unpleasant character had not put in an
appearance at dinner which made the party all the nicer
I sat up rather late in the lounge reading a book and by the time I went to bed
there was not a soul around. I bathed and changed into my nighty,walked into my cabin,
shed my dressing gown, and pottered around. When I was ready for bed I put out my
hand to draw the curtains back and a hand grasped my wrist. It was that wretched
creature outside my window on the deck, still very drunk. Luckily I was wearing that
heavy lilac silk nighty. I was livid. “Let go at once”, I said, but he only grinned stupidly.
“I’m not hurting you” he said, “only looking”. “I’ll ring for the steward” said I, and by
stretching I managed to press the bell with my free hand. I rang and rang but no one
came and he just giggled. Then I said furiously, “Remember this name, George
Rushby, he is a fine boxer and he hates specimens like you. When he meets me at Dar
es Salaam I shall tell him about this and I bet you will be sorry.” However he still held on
so I turned and knocked hard on the adjoining wall which divided my cabin from Mrs
Croxfords. Soon Mrs Croxford and the old lady appeared in dressing gowns . This
seemed to amuse the drunk even more though he let go my wrist. So whilst the old
lady stayed with me, Mrs C fetched the quiet passenger who soon hustled him off. He has kept out of my way ever since. However I still mean to tell George because I feel
the fellow got off far too lightly. I reported the matter to the Captain but he just remarked
that he always knew the man was low class because he never wears a jacket to meals.
This is my last night on board and we again had free champagne and I was given
some tooled leather work by the Captain and a pair of good paste earrings by the old
lady. I have invited them and Mrs Croxford, the Chief Engineer, and the quiet
passenger to the wedding.
This may be my last night as Eleanor Leslie and I have spent this long while
writing to you just as a little token of my affection and gratitude for all the years of your
love and care. I shall post this letter on the ship and must turn now and get some beauty
sleep. We have been told that we shall be in Dar es Salaam by 9 am. I am so excited
that I shall not sleep.
Very much love, and just for fun I’ll sign my full name for the last time.
with my “bes respeks”,
Eleanor and George Rushby:
Splendid Hotel, Dar es Salaam 11th November 1930
I’m writing this in the bedroom whilst George is out buying a tin trunk in which to
pack all our wedding presents. I expect he will be gone a long time because he has
gone out with Hicky Wood and, though our wedding was four days ago, it’s still an
excuse for a party. People are all very cheery and friendly here.
I am wearing only pants and slip but am still hot. One swelters here in the
mornings, but a fresh sea breeze blows in the late afternoons and then Dar es Salaam is
We arrived in Dar es Salaam harbour very early on Friday morning (7 th Nov).
The previous night the Captain had said we might not reach Dar. until 9 am, and certainly
no one would be allowed on board before 8 am. So I dawdled on the deck in my
dressing gown and watched the green coastline and the islands slipping by. I stood on
the deck outside my cabin and was not aware that I was looking out at the wrong side of
the landlocked harbour. Quite unknown to me George and some friends, the Hickson
Woods, were standing on the Gymkhana Beach on the opposite side of the channel
anxiously scanning the ship for a sign of me. George says he had a horrible idea I had
missed the ship. Blissfully unconscious of his anxiety I wandered into the bathroom
prepared for a good soak. The anchor went down when I was in the bath and suddenly
there was a sharp wrap on the door and I heard Mrs Croxford say “There’s a man in a
boat outside. He is looking out for someone and I’m sure it’s your George. I flung on
some clothes and rushed on deck with tousled hair and bare feet and it was George.
We had a marvellous reunion. George was wearing shorts and bush shirt and
looked just like the strong silent types one reads about in novels. I finished dressing then
George helped me bundle all the wedding presents I had collected en route into my
travelling rug and we went into the bar lounge to join the Hickson Woods. They are the
couple from whom George bought the land which is to be our coffee farm Hicky-Wood
was laughing when we joined them. he said he had called a chap to bring a couple of
beers thinking he was the steward but it turned out to be the Captain. He does wear
such a very plain uniform that I suppose it was easy to make the mistake, but Hicky
says he was not amused.
Anyway as the H-W’s are to be our neighbours I’d better describe them. Kath
Wood is very attractive, dark Irish, with curly black hair and big brown eyes. She was
married before to Viv Lumb a great friend of George’s who died some years ago of
blackwater fever. They had one little girl, Maureen, and Kath and Hicky have a small son
of three called Michael. Hicky is slightly below average height and very neat and dapper
though well built. He is a great one for a party and good fun but George says he can be
Anyway we all filed off the ship and Hicky and Cath went on to the hotel whilst
George and I went through customs. Passing the customs was easy. Everyone
seemed to know George and that it was his wedding day and I just sailed through,
except for the little matter of the rug coming undone when George and I had to scramble
on the floor for candlesticks and fruit knives and a wooden nut bowl.
Outside the customs shed we were mobbed by a crowd of jabbering Africans
offering their services as porters, and soon my luggage was piled in one rickshaw whilst
George and I climbed into another and we were born smoothly away on rubber shod
wheels to the Splendid Hotel. The motion was pleasing enough but it seemed weird to
be pulled along by one human being whilst another pushed behind. We turned up a street called Acacia Avenue which, as its name implies, is lined
with flamboyant acacia trees now in the full glory of scarlet and gold. The rickshaw
stopped before the Splendid Hotel and I was taken upstairs into a pleasant room which
had its own private balcony overlooking the busy street.
Here George broke the news that we were to be married in less than an hours
time. He would have to dash off and change and then go straight to the church. I would
be quite all right, Kath would be looking in and friends would fetch me.
I started to dress and soon there was a tap at the door and Mrs Hickson-Wood
came in with my bouquet. It was a lovely bunch of carnations and frangipani with lots of
asparagus fern and it went well with my primrose yellow frock. She admired my frock
and Leghorn hat and told me that her little girl Maureen was to be my flower girl. Then
she too left for the church.
I was fully dressed when there was another knock on the door and I opened it to
be confronted by a Police Officer in a starched white uniform. I’m McCallum”, he said,
“I’ve come to drive you to the church.” Downstairs he introduced me to a big man in a
tussore silk suit. “This is Dr Shicore”, said McCallum, “He is going to give you away.”
Honestly, I felt exactly like Alice in Wonderland. Wouldn’t have been at all surprised if
the White Rabbit had popped up and said he was going to be my page.
I walked out of the hotel and across the pavement in a dream and there, by the
curb, was a big dark blue police car decorated with white ribbons and with a tall African
Police Ascari holding the door open for me. I had hardly time to wonder what next when
the car drew up before a tall German looking church. It was in fact the Lutheran Church in
the days when Tanganyika was German East Africa.
Mrs Hickson-Wood, very smart in mushroom coloured georgette and lace, and
her small daughter were waiting in the porch, so in we went. I was glad to notice my
friends from the boat sitting behind George’s friends who were all complete strangers to
me. The aisle seemed very long but at last I reached George waiting in the chancel with
Hicky-Wood, looking unfamiliar in a smart tussore suit. However this feeling of unreality
passed when he turned his head and smiled at me.
In the vestry after the ceremony I was kissed affectionately by several complete
strangers and I felt happy and accepted by George’s friends. Outside the church,
standing apart from the rest of the guests, the Italian Captain and Chief Engineer were
waiting. They came up and kissed my hand, and murmured felicitations, but regretted
they could not spare the time to come to the reception. Really it was just as well
because they would not have fitted in at all well.
Dr Shircore is the Director of Medical Services and he had very kindly lent his
large house for the reception. It was quite a party. The guests were mainly men with a
small sprinkling of wives. Champagne corks popped and there was an enormous cake
and soon voices were raised in song. The chief one was ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’
and I shall remember it for ever.
The party was still in full swing when George and I left. The old lady from the ship
enjoyed it hugely. She came in an all black outfit with a corsage of artificial Lily-of-the-
Valley. Later I saw one of the men wearing the corsage in his buttonhole and the old
lady was wearing a carnation.
When George and I got back to the hotel,I found that my luggage had been
moved to George’s room by his cook Lamek, who was squatting on his haunches and
clapped his hands in greeting. My dears, you should see Lamek – exactly like a
chimpanzee – receding forehead, wide flat nose, and long lip, and such splayed feet. It was quite a strain not to laugh, especially when he produced a gift for me. I have not yet
discovered where he acquired it. It was a faded mauve straw toque of the kind worn by
Queen Mary. I asked George to tell Lamek that I was touched by his generosity but felt
that I could not accept his gift. He did not mind at all especially as George gave him a
generous tip there and then.
I changed into a cotton frock and shady straw hat and George changed into shorts
and bush shirt once more. We then sneaked into the dining room for lunch avoiding our
wedding guests who were carrying on the party in the lounge.
After lunch we rejoined them and they all came down to the jetty to wave goodbye
as we set out by motor launch for Honeymoon Island. I enjoyed the launch trip very
much. The sea was calm and very blue and the palm fringed beaches of Dar es Salaam
are as romantic as any bride could wish. There are small coral islands dotted around the
Bay of which Honeymoon Island is the loveliest. I believe at one time it bore the less
romantic name of Quarantine Island. Near the Island, in the shallows, the sea is brilliant
green and I saw two pink jellyfish drifting by.
There is no jetty on the island so the boat was stopped in shallow water and
George carried me ashore. I was enchanted with the Island and in no hurry to go to the
bungalow, so George and I took our bathing costumes from our suitcases and sent the
luggage up to the house together with a box of provisions.
We bathed and lazed on the beach and suddenly it was sunset and it began to
get dark. We walked up the beach to the bungalow and began to unpack the stores,
tea, sugar, condensed milk, bread and butter, sardines and a large tin of ham. There
were also cups and saucers and plates and cutlery.
We decided to have an early meal and George called out to the caretaker, “Boy
letta chai”. Thereupon the ‘boy’ materialised and jabbered to George in Ki-Swaheli. It
appeared he had no utensil in which to boil water. George, ever resourceful, removed
the ham from the tin and gave him that. We had our tea all right but next day the ham
Then came bed time. I took a hurricane lamp in one hand and my suitcase in the
other and wandered into the bedroom whilst George vanished into the bathroom. To
my astonishment I saw two perfectly bare iron bedsteads – no mattress or pillows. We
had brought sheets and mosquito nets but, believe me, they are a poor substitute for a
Anyway I arrayed myself in my pale yellow satin nightie and sat gingerly down
on the iron edge of the bed to await my groom who eventually appeared in a
handsome suit of silk pyjamas. His expression, as he took in the situation, was too much
for me and I burst out laughing and so did he.
Somewhere in the small hours I woke up. The breeze had dropped and the
room was unbearably stuffy. I felt as dry as a bone. The lamp had been turned very
low and had gone out, but I remembered seeing a water tank in the yard and I decided
to go out in the dark and drink from the tap. In the dark I could not find my slippers so I
slipped my feet into George’s shoes, picked up his matches and groped my way out
of the room. I found the tank all right and with one hand on the tap and one cupped for
water I stooped to drink. Just then I heard a scratchy noise and sensed movements
around my feet. I struck a match and oh horrors! found that the damp spot on which I was
standing was alive with white crabs. In my hurry to escape I took a clumsy step, put
George’s big toe on the hem of my nightie and down I went on top of the crabs. I need
hardly say that George was awakened by an appalling shriek and came rushing to my
aid like a knight of old. Anyway, alarms and excursions not withstanding, we had a wonderful weekend on the island and I was sorry to return to the heat of Dar es Salaam, though the evenings
here are lovely and it is heavenly driving along the coast road by car or in a rickshaw.
I was surprised to find so many Indians here. Most of the shops, large and small,
seem to be owned by Indians and the place teems with them. The women wear
colourful saris and their hair in long black plaits reaching to their waists. Many wear baggy
trousers of silk or satin. They give a carnival air to the sea front towards sunset.
This long letter has been written in instalments throughout the day. My first break
was when I heard the sound of a band and rushed to the balcony in time to see The
Kings African Rifles band and Askaris march down the Avenue on their way to an
Armistice Memorial Service. They looked magnificent.
I must end on a note of most primitive pride. George returned from his shopping
expedition and beamingly informed me that he had thrashed the man who annoyed me
on the ship. I felt extremely delighted and pressed for details. George told me that
when he went out shopping he noticed to his surprise that the ‘Timavo” was still in the
harbour. He went across to the Agents office and there saw a man who answered to the
description I had given. George said to him “Is your name Taylor?”, and when he said
“yes”, George said “Well my name is George Rushby”, whereupon he hit Taylor on the
jaw so that he sailed over the counter and down the other side. Very satisfactory, I feel.
With much love to all.
Your cave woman
Mchewe Estate. P.O. Mbeya 22 November 1930
Well here we are at our Country Seat, Mchewe Estate. (pronounced
Mn,-che’-we) but I will start at the beginning of our journey and describe the farm later.
We left the hotel at Dar es Salaam for the station in a taxi crowded with baggage
and at the last moment Keith Wood ran out with the unwrapped bottom layer of our
wedding cake. It remained in its naked state from there to here travelling for two days in
the train on the luggage rack, four days in the car on my knee, reposing at night on the
roof of the car exposed to the winds of Heaven, and now rests beside me in the tent
looking like an old old tombstone. We have no tin large enough to hold it and one
simply can’t throw away ones wedding cake so, as George does not eat cake, I can see
myself eating wedding cake for tea for months to come, ants permitting.
We travelled up by train from Dar to Dodoma, first through the lush vegetation of
the coastal belt to Morogoro, then through sisal plantations now very overgrown with
weeds owing to the slump in prices, and then on to the arid area around Dodoma. This
part of the country is very dry at this time of the year and not unlike parts of our Karoo.
The train journey was comfortable enough but slow as the engines here are fed with
wood and not coal as in South Africa.
Dodoma is the nearest point on the railway to Mbeya so we left the train there to
continue our journey by road. We arrived at the one and only hotel in the early hours and
whilst someone went to rout out the night watchman the rest of us sat on the dismal
verandah amongst a litter of broken glass. Some bright spark remarked on the obvious –
that there had been a party the night before.
When we were shown to a room I thought I rather preferred the verandah,
because the beds had not yet been made up and there was a bucket of vomit beside
the old fashioned washstand. However George soon got the boys to clean up the
room and I fell asleep to be awakened by George with an invitation to come and see
our car before breakfast.
Yes, we have our own car. It is a Chev, with what is called a box body. That
means that sides, roof and doors are made by a local Indian carpenter. There is just the
one front seat with a kapok mattress on it. The tools are kept in a sort of cupboard fixed
to the side so there is a big space for carrying “safari kit” behind the cab seat.
Lamek, who had travelled up on the same train, appeared after breakfast, and
helped George to pack all our luggage into the back of the car. Besides our suitcases
there was a huge bedroll, kitchen utensils and a box of provisions, tins of petrol and
water and all Lamek’s bits and pieces which included three chickens in a wicker cage and
an enormous bunch of bananas about 3 ft long.
When all theses things were packed there remained only a small space between
goods and ceiling and into this Lamek squeezed. He lay on his back with his horny feet a
mere inch or so from the back of my head. In this way we travelled 400 miles over
bumpy earth roads and crude pole bridges, but whenever we stopped for a meal
Lamek wriggled out and, like Aladdin’s genie, produced good meals in no time at all.
In the afternoon we reached a large river called the Ruaha. Workmen were busy
building a large bridge across it but it is not yet ready so we crossed by a ford below
the bridge. George told me that the river was full of crocodiles but though I looked hard, I
did not see any. This is also elephant country but I did not see any of those either, only
piles of droppings on the road. I must tell you that the natives around these parts are called Wahehe and the river is Ruaha – enough to make a cat laugh. We saw some Wahehe out hunting with spears
and bows and arrows. They live in long low houses with the tiniest shuttered windows
and rounded roofs covered with earth.
Near the river we also saw a few Masai herding cattle. They are rather terrifying to
look at – tall, angular, and very aloof. They wear nothing but a blanket knotted on one
shoulder, concealing nothing, and all carried one or two spears.
The road climbs steeply on the far side of the Ruaha and one has the most
tremendous views over the plains. We spent our first night up there in the high country.
Everything was taken out of the car, the bed roll opened up and George and I slept
comfortably in the back of the car whilst Lamek, rolled in a blanket, slept soundly by a
small fire nearby. Next morning we reached our first township, Iringa, and put up at the
Colonist Hotel. We had a comfortable room in the annex overlooking the golf course.
our room had its own little dressing room which was also the bathroom because, when
ordered to do so, the room boy carried in an oval galvanised bath and filled it with hot
water which he carried in a four gallon petrol tin.
When we crossed to the main building for lunch, George was immediately hailed
by several men who wanted to meet the bride. I was paid some handsome
compliments but was not sure whether they were sincere or the result of a nice alcoholic
glow. Anyhow every one was very friendly.
After lunch I went back to the bedroom leaving George chatting away. I waited and
waited – no George. I got awfully tired of waiting and thought I’d give him a fright so I
walked out onto the deserted golf course and hid behind some large boulders. Soon I
saw George returning to the room and the boy followed with a tea tray. Ah, now the hue
and cry will start, thought I, but no, no George appeared nor could I hear any despairing
cry. When sunset came I trailed crossly back to our hotel room where George lay
innocently asleep on his bed, hands folded on his chest like a crusader on his tomb. In a
moment he opened his eyes, smiled sleepily and said kindly, “Did you have a nice walk
my love?” So of course I couldn’t play the neglected wife as he obviously didn’t think
me one and we had a very pleasant dinner and party in the hotel that evening.
Next day we continued our journey but turned aside to visit the farm of a sprightly
old man named St.Leger Seaton whom George had known for many years, so it was
after dark before George decided that we had covered our quota of miles for the day.
Whilst he and Lamek unpacked I wandered off to a stream to cool my hot feet which had
baked all day on the floor boards of the car. In the rather dim moonlight I sat down on the
grassy bank and gratefully dabbled my feet in the cold water. A few minutes later I
started up with a shriek – I had the sensation of red hot pins being dug into all my most
sensitive parts. I started clawing my clothes off and, by the time George came to the
rescue with the lamp, I was practically in the nude. “Only Siafu ants,” said George calmly.
Take off all your clothes and get right in the water.” So I had a bathe whilst George
picked the ants off my clothes by the light of the lamp turned very low for modesty’s
sake. Siafu ants are beastly things. They are black ants with outsized heads and
pinchers. I shall be very, very careful where I sit in future.
The next day was even hotter. There was no great variety in the scenery. Most
of the country was covered by a tree called Miombo, which is very ordinary when the
foliage is a mature deep green, but when in new leaf the trees look absolutely beautiful
as the leaves,surprisingly, are soft pastel shades of red and yellow.
Once again we turned aside from the main road to visit one of George’s friends.
This man Major Hugh Jones MC, has a farm only a few miles from ours but just now he is supervising the making of an airstrip. Major Jones is quite a character. He is below
average height and skinny with an almost bald head and one nearly blind eye into which
he screws a monocle. He is a cultured person and will, I am sure, make an interesting
neighbour. George and Major Jones’ friends call him ‘Joni’ but he is generally known in
this country as ‘Ropesoles’ – as he is partial to that type of footwear.
We passed through Mbeya township after dark so I have no idea what the place
is like. The last 100 miles of our journey was very dusty and the last 15 miles extremely
bumpy. The road is used so little that in some places we had to plow our way through
long grass and I was delighted when at last George turned into a side road and said
“This is our place.” We drove along the bank of the Mchewe River, then up a hill and
stopped at a tent which was pitched beside the half built walls of our new home. We
were expected so there was hot water for baths and after a supper of tinned food and
good hot tea, I climbed thankfully into bed.
Next morning I was awakened by the chattering of the African workmen and was
soon out to inspect the new surroundings. Our farm was once part of Hickson Wood’s
land and is separated from theirs by a river. Our houses cannot be more than a few
hundred yards apart as the crow flies but as both are built on the slopes of a long range
of high hills, and one can only cross the river at the foot of the slopes, it will be quite a
safari to go visiting on foot . Most of our land is covered with shoulder high grass but it
has been partly cleared of trees and scrub. Down by the river George has made a long
coffee nursery and a large vegetable garden but both coffee and vegetable seedlings
are too small to be of use.
George has spared all the trees that will make good shade for the coffee later on.
There are several huge wild fig trees as big as oaks but with smooth silvery-green trunks
and branches and there are lots of acacia thorn trees with flat tops like Japanese sun
shades. I’ve seen lovely birds in the fig trees, Louries with bright plumage and crested
heads, and Blue Rollers, and in the grasslands there are widow birds with incredibly long
black tail feathers.
There are monkeys too and horrible but fascinating tree lizards with blue bodies
and orange heads. There are so many, many things to tell you but they must wait for
another time as James, the house boy, has been to say “Bafu tiari” and if I don’t go at
once, the bath will be cold.
I am very very happy and terribly interested in this new life so please don’t
worry about me.
Much love to you all,
Mchewe Estate 29th. November 1930
I’ve lots of time to write letters just now because George is busy supervising the
building of the house from early morning to late afternoon – with a break for lunch of
On our second day here our tent was moved from the house site to a small
clearing further down the slope of our hill. Next to it the labourers built a ‘banda’ , which is
a three sided grass hut with thatched roof – much cooler than the tent in this weather.
There is also a little grass lav. so you see we have every convenience. I spend most of
my day in the banda reading or writing letters. Occasionally I wander up to the house site
and watch the building, but mostly I just sit.
I did try exploring once. I wandered down a narrow path towards the river. I
thought I might paddle and explore the river a little but I came round a bend and there,
facing me, was a crocodile. At least for a moment I thought it was and my adrenaline
glands got very busy indeed. But it was only an enormous monitor lizard, four or five
feet long. It must have been as scared as I was because it turned and rushed off through
the grass. I turned and walked hastily back to the camp and as I passed the house site I
saw some boys killing a large puff adder. Now I do my walking in the evenings with
George. Nothing alarming ever seems to happen when he is around.
It is interesting to watch the boys making bricks for the house. They make a pile
of mud which they trample with their feet until it is the right consistency. Then they fill
wooden moulds with the clayey mud, and press it down well and turn out beautiful shiny,
dark brown bricks which are laid out in rows and covered with grass to bake slowly in the
Most of the materials for the building are right here at hand. The walls will be sun
dried bricks and there is a white clay which will make a good whitewash for the inside
walls. The chimney and walls will be of burnt brick and tiles and George is now busy
building a kiln for this purpose. Poles for the roof are being cut in the hills behind the
house and every day women come along with large bundles of thatching grass on their
heads. Our windows are modern steel casement ones and the doors have been made
at a mission in the district. George does some of the bricklaying himself. The other
bricklayer is an African from Northern Rhodesia called Pedro. It makes me perspire just
to look at Pedro who wears an overcoat all day in the very hot sun.
Lamek continues to please. He turns out excellent meals, chicken soup followed
by roast chicken, vegetables from the Hickson-Woods garden and a steamed pudding
or fruit to wind up the meal. I enjoy the chicken but George is fed up with it and longs for
good red meat. The chickens are only about as large as a partridge but then they cost
only sixpence each.
I had my first visit to Mbeya two days ago. I put on my very best trousseau frock
for the occasion- that yellow striped silk one – and wore my wedding hat. George didn’t
comment, but I saw later that I was dreadfully overdressed.
Mbeya at the moment is a very small settlement consisting of a bundle of small
Indian shops – Dukas they call them, which stock European tinned foods and native soft
goods which seem to be mainly of Japanese origin. There is a one storied Government
office called the Boma and two attractive gabled houses of burnt brick which house the
District Officer and his Assistant. Both these houses have lovely gardens but i saw them
only from the outside as we did not call. After buying our stores George said “Lets go to the pub, I want you to meet Mrs Menzies.” Well the pub turned out to be just three or four grass rondavels on a bare
plot. The proprietor, Ken Menzies, came out to welcome us. I took to him at once
because he has the same bush sandy eyebrows as you have Dad. He told me that
unfortunately his wife is away at the coast, and then he ushered me through the door
saying “Here’s George with his bride.” then followed the Iringa welcome all over again,
only more so, because the room was full of diggers from the Lupa Goldfields about fifty
Champagne corks popped as I shook hands all around and George was
clapped on the back. I could see he was a favourite with everyone and I tried not to be
gauche and let him down. These men were all most kind and most appeared to be men
of more than average education. However several were unshaven and looked as
though they had slept in their clothes as I suppose they had. When they have a little luck
on the diggings they come in here to Menzies pub and spend the lot. George says
they bring their gold dust and small nuggets in tobacco tins or Kruschen salts jars and
hand them over to Ken Menzies saying “Tell me when I’ve spent the lot.” Ken then
weighs the gold and estimates its value and does exactly what the digger wants.
However the Diggers get good value for their money because besides the drink
they get companionship and good food and nursing if they need it. Mrs Menzies is a
trained nurse and most kind and capable from what I was told. There is no doctor or
hospital here so her experience as a nursing sister is invaluable.
We had lunch at the Hotel and afterwards I poured tea as I was the only female
present. Once the shyness had worn off I rather enjoyed myself.
Now to end off I must tell you a funny story of how I found out that George likes
his women to be feminine. You will remember those dashing black silk pyjamas Aunt
Mary gave me, with flowered “happy coat” to match. Well last night I thought I’d give
George a treat and when the boy called me for my bath I left George in the ‘banda’
reading the London Times. After my bath I put on my Japanese pyjamas and coat,
peered into the shaving mirror which hangs from the tent pole and brushed my hair until it
shone. I must confess that with my fringe and shingled hair I thought I made quite a
glamourous Japanese girl. I walked coyly across to the ‘banda’. Alas no compliment.
George just glanced up from the Times and went on reading.
He was away rather a long time when it came to his turn to bath. I glanced up
when he came back and had a slight concussion. George, if you please, was arrayed in
my very best pale yellow satin nightie. The one with the lace and ribbon sash and little
bows on the shoulder. I knew exactly what he meant to convey. I was not to wear the
trousers in the family. I seethed inwardly, but pretending not to notice, I said calmly “shall
I call for food?” In this garb George sat down to dinner and it says a great deal for African
phlegm that the boy did not drop the dishes.
We conversed politely about this and that, and then, as usual, George went off
to bed. I appeared to be engrossed in my book and did not stir. When I went to the
tent some time later George lay fast asleep still in my nightie, though all I could see of it
was the little ribbon bows looking farcically out of place on his broad shoulders.
This morning neither of us mentioned the incident, George was up and dressed
by the time I woke up but I have been smiling all day to think what a ridiculous picture
we made at dinner. So farewell to pyjamas and hey for ribbons and bows.
Mchewe Estate. Mbeya. 8th December 1930
A mere shadow of her former buxom self lifts a languid pen to write to you. I’m
convalescing after my first and I hope my last attack of malaria. It was a beastly
experience but all is now well and I am eating like a horse and will soon regain my
I took ill on the evening of the day I wrote my last letter to you. It started with a
splitting headache and fits of shivering. The symptoms were all too familiar to George
who got me into bed and filled me up with quinine. He then piled on all the available
blankets and packed me in hot water bottles. I thought I’d explode and said so and
George said just to lie still and I’d soon break into a good sweat. However nothing of the
kind happened and next day my temperature was 105 degrees. Instead of feeling
miserable as I had done at the onset, I now felt very merry and most chatty. George
now tells me I sang the most bawdy songs but I hardly think it likely. Do you?
You cannot imagine how tenderly George nursed me, not only that day but
throughout the whole eight days I was ill. As we do not employ any African house
women, and there are no white women in the neighbourhood at present to whom we
could appeal for help, George had to do everything for me. It was unbearably hot in the
tent so George decided to move me across to the Hickson-Woods vacant house. They
have not yet returned from the coast.
George decided I was too weak to make the trip in the car so he sent a
messenger over to the Woods’ house for their Machila. A Machila is a canopied canvas
hammock slung from a bamboo pole and carried by four bearers. The Machila duly
arrived and I attempted to walk to it, clinging to George’s arm, but collapsed in a faint so
the trip was postponed to the next morning when I felt rather better. Being carried by
Machila is quite pleasant but I was in no shape to enjoy anything and got thankfully into
bed in the Hickson-Woods large, cool and rather dark bedroom. My condition did not
improve and George decided to send a runner for the Government Doctor at Tukuyu
about 60 miles away. Two days later Dr Theis arrived by car and gave me two
injections of quinine which reduced the fever. However I still felt very weak and had to
spend a further four days in bed.
We have now decided to stay on here until the Hickson-Woods return by which
time our own house should be ready. George goes off each morning and does not
return until late afternoon. However don’t think “poor Eleanor” because I am very
comfortable here and there are lots of books to read and the days seem to pass very
The Hickson-Wood’s house was built by Major Jones and I believe the one on
his shamba is just like it. It is a square red brick building with a wide verandah all around
and, rather astonishingly, a conical thatched roof. There is a beautiful view from the front
of the house and a nice flower garden. The coffee shamba is lower down on the hill.
Mrs Wood’s first husband, George’s friend Vi Lumb, is buried in the flower
garden. He died of blackwater fever about five years ago. I’m told that before her
second marriage Kath lived here alone with her little daughter, Maureen, and ran the farm
entirely on her own. She must be quite a person. I bet she didn’t go and get malaria
within a few weeks of her marriage.
The native tribe around here are called Wasafwa. They are pretty primitive but
seem amiable people. Most of the men, when they start work, wear nothing but some
kind of sheet of unbleached calico wrapped round their waists and hanging to mid calf. As soon as they have drawn their wages they go off to a duka and buy a pair of khaki
shorts for five or six shillings. Their women folk wear very short beaded skirts. I think the
base is goat skin but have never got close enough for a good look. They are very shy.
I hear from George that they have started on the roof of our house but I have not
seen it myself since the day I was carried here by Machila. My letters by the way go to
the Post Office by runner. George’s farm labourers take it in turn to act in this capacity.
The mail bag is given to them on Friday afternoon and by Saturday evening they are
back with our very welcome mail.
Very much love,
Mbeya 23rd December 1930
George drove to Mbeya for stores last week and met Col. Sherwood-Kelly VC.
who has been sent by the Government to Mbeya as Game Ranger. His job will be to
protect native crops from raiding elephants and hippo etc., and to protect game from
poachers. He has had no training for this so he has asked George to go with him on his
first elephant safari to show him the ropes.
George likes Col. Kelly and was quite willing to go on safari but not willing to
leave me alone on the farm as I am still rather shaky after malaria. So it was arranged that
I should go to Mbeya and stay with Mrs Harmer, the wife of the newly appointed Lands
and Mines Officer, whose husband was away on safari.
So here I am in Mbeya staying in the Harmers temporary wattle and daub
house. Unfortunately I had a relapse of the malaria and stayed in bed for three days with
a temperature. Poor Mrs Harmer had her hands full because in the room next to mine
she was nursing a digger with blackwater fever. I could hear his delirious babble through
the thin wall – very distressing. He died poor fellow , and leaves a wife and seven
I feel better than I have done for weeks and this afternoon I walked down to the
store. There are great signs of activity and people say that Mbeya will grow rapidly now
owing to the boom on the gold fields and also to the fact that a large aerodrome is to be
built here. Mbeya is to be a night stop on the proposed air service between England
and South Africa. I seem to be the last of the pioneers. If all these schemes come about
Mbeya will become quite suburban.
26th December 1930
George, Col. Kelly and Mr Harmer all returned to Mbeya on Christmas Eve and
it was decided that we should stay and have midday Christmas dinner with the
Harmers. Col. Kelly and the Assistant District Commissioner came too and it was quite a
festive occasion, We left Mbeya in the early afternoon and had our evening meal here at
Hickson-Wood’s farm. I wore my wedding dress.
I went across to our house in the car this morning. George usually walks across to
save petrol which is very expensive here. He takes a short cut and wades through the
river. The distance by road is very much longer than the short cut. The men are now
thatching the roof of our cottage and it looks charming. It consists of a very large living
room-dinning room with a large inglenook fireplace at one end. The bedroom is a large
square room with a smaller verandah room adjoining it. There is a wide verandah in the
front, from which one has a glorious view over a wide valley to the Livingstone
Mountains on the horizon. Bathroom and storeroom are on the back verandah and the
kitchen is some distance behind the house to minimise the risk of fire.
You can imagine how much I am looking forward to moving in. We have some
furniture which was made by an Indian carpenter at Iringa, refrectory dining table and
chairs, some small tables and two armchairs and two cupboards and a meatsafe. Other
things like bookshelves and extra cupboards we will have to make ourselves. George
has also bought a portable gramophone and records which will be a boon.
We also have an Irish wolfhound puppy, a skinny little chap with enormous feet
who keeps me company all day whilst George is across at our farm working on the
Lots and lots of love,
Mchewe Estate 8th Jan 1931
Alas, I have lost my little companion. The Doctor called in here on Boxing night
and ran over and killed Paddy, our pup. It was not his fault but I was very distressed
about it and George has promised to try and get another pup from the same litter.
The Hickson-Woods returned home on the 29th December so we decided to
move across to our nearly finished house on the 1st January. Hicky Wood decided that
we needed something special to mark the occasion so he went off and killed a sucking
pig behind the kitchen. The piglet’s screams were terrible and I felt that I would not be
able to touch any dinner. Lamek cooked and served sucking pig up in the traditional way
but it was high and quite literally, it stank. Our first meal in our own home was not a
However next day all was forgotten and I had something useful to do. George
hung doors and I held the tools and I also planted rose cuttings I had brought from
Mbeya and sowed several boxes with seeds.
Dad asked me about the other farms in the area. I haven’t visited any but there
are five besides ours. One belongs to the Lutheran Mission at Utengule, a few miles
from here. The others all belong to British owners. Nearest to Mbeya, at the foot of a
very high peak which gives Mbeya its name, are two farms, one belonging to a South
African mining engineer named Griffiths, the other to I.G.Stewart who was an officer in the
Kings African Rifles. Stewart has a young woman called Queenie living with him. We are
some miles further along the range of hills and are some 23 miles from Mbeya by road.
The Mchewe River divides our land from the Hickson-Woods and beyond their farm is
All these people have been away from their farms for some time but have now
returned so we will have some neighbours in future. However although the houses are
not far apart as the crow flies, they are all built high in the foothills and it is impossible to
connect the houses because of the rivers and gorges in between. One has to drive right
down to the main road and then up again so I do not suppose we will go visiting very
often as the roads are very bumpy and eroded and petrol is so expensive that we all
save it for occasional trips to Mbeya.
The rains are on and George has started to plant out some coffee seedlings. The
rains here are strange. One can hear the rain coming as it moves like a curtain along the
range of hills. It comes suddenly, pours for a little while and passes on and the sun
I do like it here and I wish you could see or dear little home.
Mchewe Estate. 1st April 1931
Everything is now running very smoothly in our home. Lamek continues to
produce palatable meals and makes wonderful bread which he bakes in a four gallon
petrol tin as we have no stove yet. He puts wood coals on the brick floor of the kitchen,
lays the tin lengh-wise on the coals and heaps more on top. The bread tins are then put
in the petrol tin, which has one end cut away, and the open end is covered by a flat
piece of tin held in place by a brick. Cakes are also backed in this make-shift oven and I
have never known Lamek to have a failure yet.
Lamek has a helper, known as the ‘mpishi boy’ , who does most of the hard
work, cleans pots and pans and chops the firewood etc. Another of the mpishi boy’s
chores is to kill the two chickens we eat each day. The chickens run wild during the day
but are herded into a small chicken house at night. One of the kitchen boy’s first duties is
to let the chickens out first thing in the early morning. Some time after breakfast it dawns
on Lamek that he will need a chicken for lunch. he informs the kitchen boy who selects a
chicken and starts to chase it in which he is enthusiastically joined by our new Irish
wolfhound pup, Kelly. Together they race after the frantic fowl, over the flower beds and
around the house until finally the chicken collapses from sheer exhaustion. The kitchen
boy then hands it over to Lamek who murders it with the kitchen knife and then pops the
corpse into boiling water so the feathers can be stripped off with ease.
I pointed out in vain, that it would be far simpler if the doomed chickens were kept
in the chicken house in the mornings when the others were let out and also that the correct
way to pluck chickens is when they are dry. Lamek just smiled kindly and said that that
may be so in Europe but that his way is the African way and none of his previous
Memsahibs has complained.
My houseboy, named James, is clean and capable in the house and also a
good ‘dhobi’ or washboy. He takes the washing down to the river and probably
pounds it with stones, but I prefer not to look. The ironing is done with a charcoal iron
only we have no charcoal and he uses bits of wood from the kitchen fire but so far there
has not been a mishap.
It gets dark here soon after sunset and then George lights the oil lamps and we
have tea and toast in front of the log fire which burns brightly in our inglenook. This is my
favourite hour of the day. Later George goes for his bath. I have mine in the mornings
and we have dinner at half past eight. Then we talk a bit and read a bit and sometimes
play the gramophone. I expect it all sounds pretty unexciting but it doesn’t seem so to
Very much love,
Mchewe Estate 20th April 1931
It is still raining here and the countryside looks very lush and green, very different
from the Mbeya district I first knew, when plains and hills were covered in long brown
grass – very course stuff that grows shoulder high.
Most of the labourers are hill men and one can see little patches of cultivation in
the hills. Others live in small villages near by, each consisting of a cluster of thatched huts
and a few maize fields and perhaps a patch of bananas. We do not have labour lines on
the farm because our men all live within easy walking distance. Each worker has a labour
card with thirty little squares on it. One of these squares is crossed off for each days work
and when all thirty are marked in this way the labourer draws his pay and hies himself off
to the nearest small store and blows the lot. The card system is necessary because
these Africans are by no means slaves to work. They work only when they feel like it or
when someone in the family requires a new garment, or when they need a few shillings
to pay their annual tax. Their fields, chickens and goats provide them with the food they
need but they draw rations of maize meal beans and salt. Only our headman is on a
salary. His name is Thomas and he looks exactly like the statues of Julius Caesar, the
same bald head and muscular neck and sardonic expression. He comes from Northern
Rhodesia and is more intelligent than the locals.
We still live mainly on chickens. We have a boy whose job it is to scour the
countryside for reasonable fat ones. His name is Lucas and he is quite a character. He
has such long horse teeth that he does not seem able to close his mouth and wears a
perpetual amiable smile. He brings his chickens in beehive shaped wicker baskets
which are suspended on a pole which Lucas carries on his shoulder.
We buy our groceries in bulk from Mbeya, our vegetables come from our
garden by the river and our butter from Kath Wood. Our fresh milk we buy from the
natives. It is brought each morning by three little totos each carrying one bottle on his
shaven head. Did I tell you that the local Wasafwa file their teeth to points. These kids
grin at one with their little sharks teeth – quite an “all-ready-to-eat-you-with-my-dear” look.
A few nights ago a message arrived from Kath Wood to say that Queenie
Stewart was very ill and would George drive her across to the Doctor at Tukuyu. I
wanted George to wait until morning because it was pouring with rain, and the mountain
road to Tukuyu is tricky even in dry weather, but he said it is dangerous to delay with any
kind of fever in Africa and he would have to start at once. So off he drove in the rain and I
did not see him again until the following night.
George said that it had been a nightmare trip. Queenie had a high temperature
and it was lucky that Kath was able to go to attend to her. George needed all his
attention on the road which was officially closed to traffic, and very slippery, and in some
places badly eroded. In some places the decking of bridges had been removed and
George had to get out in the rain and replace it. As he had nothing with which to fasten
the decking to the runners it was a dangerous undertaking to cross the bridges especially
as the rivers are now in flood and flowing strongly. However they reached Tukuyu safely
and it was just as well they went because the Doctor diagnosed Queenies illness as
Spirillium Tick Fever which is a very nasty illness indeed.
Mchewe Estate. 20th May 1931
I’m feeling fit and very happy though a bit lonely sometimes because George
spends much of his time away in the hills cutting a furrow miles long to bring water to the
house and to the upper part of the shamba so that he will be able to irrigate the coffee
during the dry season.
It will be quite an engineering feat when it is done as George only has makeshift
surveying instruments. He has mounted an ordinary cheap spirit level on an old camera
tripod and has tacked two gramophone needles into the spirit level to give him a line.
The other day part of a bank gave way and practically buried two of George’s labourers
but they were quickly rescued and no harm was done. However he will not let them
work unless he is there to supervise.
I keep busy so that the days pass quickly enough. I am delighted with the
material you sent me for curtains and loose covers and have hired a hand sewing
machine from Pedro-of-the-overcoat and am rattling away all day. The machine is an
ancient German one and when I say rattle, I mean rattle. It is a most cumbersome, heavy
affair of I should say, the same vintage as George Stevenson’s Rocket locomotive.
Anyway it sews and I am pleased with my efforts. We made a couch ourselves out of a
native bed, a mattress and some planks but all this is hidden under the chintz cover and
it looks quite the genuine bought article. I have some diversions too. Small black faced
monkeys sit in the trees outside our bedroom window and they are most entertaining to
watch. They are very mischievous though. When I went out into the garden this morning
before breakfast I found that the monkeys had pulled up all my carnations. There they
lay, roots in the air and whether they will take again I don’t know.
I like the monkeys but hate the big mountain baboons that come and hang
around our chicken house. I am terrified that they will tear our pup into bits because he is
a plucky young thing and will rush out to bark at the baboons.
George usually returns for the weekends but last time he did not because he had
a touch of malaria. He sent a boy down for the mail and some fresh bread. Old Lucas
arrived with chickens just as the messenger was setting off with mail and bread in a
haversack on his back. I thought it might be a good idea to send a chicken to George so
I selected a spry young rooster which I handed to the messenger. He, however,
complained that he needed both hands for climbing. I then had one of my bright ideas
and, putting a layer of newspaper over the bread, I tucked the rooster into the haversack
and buckled down the flap so only his head protruded.
I thought no more about it until two days later when the messenger again
appeared for fresh bread. He brought a rather terse note from George saying that the
previous bread was uneatable as the rooster had eaten some of it and messed on the
rest. Ah me!
The previous weekend the Hickson-Woods, Stewarts and ourselves, went
across to Tukuyu to attend a dance at the club there. the dance was very pleasant. All
the men wore dinner jackets and the ladies wore long frocks. As there were about
twenty men and only seven ladies we women danced every dance whilst the surplus
men got into a huddle around the bar. George and I spent the night with the Agricultural
Officer, Mr Eustace, and I met his fiancee, Lillian Austin from South Africa, to whom I took
a great liking. She is Governess to the children of Major Masters who has a farm in the
On the Sunday morning we had a look at the township. The Boma was an old German one and was once fortified as the Africans in this district are a very warlike tribe.
They are fine looking people. The men wear sort of togas and bands of cloth around
their heads and look like Roman Senators, but the women go naked except for a belt
from which two broad straps hang down, one in front and another behind. Not a graceful
garb I assure you.
We also spent a pleasant hour in the Botanical Gardens, laid out during the last
war by the District Commissioner, Major Wells, with German prisoner of war labour.
There are beautiful lawns and beds of roses and other flowers and shady palm lined
walks and banana groves. The gardens are terraced with flights of brick steps connecting
the different levels and there is a large artificial pond with little islands in it. I believe Major
Wells designed the lake to resemble in miniature, the Lakes of Killarney.
I enjoyed the trip very much. We got home at 8 pm to find the front door locked
and the kitchen boy fast asleep on my newly covered couch! I hastily retreated to the
bedroom whilst George handled the situation.
Eleanor.January 14, 2022 at 3:06 pm #6253
My Grandparents Kitchen
My grandmother used to have golden syrup in her larder, hanging on the white plastic coated storage rack that was screwed to the inside of the larder door. Mostly the larder door was left propped open with an old flat iron, so you could see the Heinz ketchup and home made picallilli (she made a particularly good picallili), the Worcester sauce and the jar of pickled onions, as you sat at the kitchen table.
If you were sitting to the right of the kitchen table you could see an assortment of mismatched crockery, cups and bowls, shoe cleaning brushes, and at the back, tiny tins of baked beans and big ones of plum tomatoes, and normal sized tins of vegetable and mushroom soup. Underneath the little shelves that housed the tins was a blue plastic washing up bowl with a few onions, some in, some out of the yellow string bag they came home from the expensive little village supermarket in.
There was much more to the left in the awkward triangular shape under the stairs, but you couldn’t see under there from your seat at the kitchen table. You could see the shelf above the larder door which held an ugly china teapot of graceless modern lines, gazed with metallic silver which was wearing off in places. Beside the teapot sat a serving bowl, squat and shapely with little handles, like a flattened Greek urn, in white and reddish brown with flecks of faded gilt. A plain white teapot completed the trio, a large cylindrical one with neat vertical ridges and grooves.
There were two fridges under the high shallow wooden wall cupboard. A waist high bulbous old green one with a big handle that pulled out with a clunk, and a chest high sleek white one with a small freezer at the top with a door of its own. On the top of the fridges were biscuit and cracker tins, big black keys, pencils and brittle yellow notepads, rubber bands and aspirin value packs and a bottle of Brufen. There was a battered old maroon spectacle case and a whicker letter rack, letters crammed in and fanning over the top. There was always a pile of glossy advertising pamphlets and flyers on top of the fridges, of the sort that were best put straight into the tiny pedal bin.
My grandmother never lined the pedal bin with a used plastic bag, nor with a specially designed plastic bin liner. The bin was so small that the flip top lid was often gaping, resting on a mound of cauliflower greens and soup tins. Behind the pedal bin, but on the outer aspect of the kitchen wall, was the big black dustbin with the rubbery lid. More often than not, the lid was thrust upwards. If Thursday when the dustbin men came was several days away, you’d wish you hadn’t put those newspapers in, or those old shoes! You stood in the softly drizzling rain in your slippers, the rubbery sheild of a lid in your left hand and the overflowing pedal bin in the other. The contents of the pedal bin are not going to fit into the dustbin. You sigh, put the pedal bin and the dustbin lid down, and roll up your sleeves ~ carefully, because you’ve poked your fingers into a porridge covered teabag. You grab the sides of the protruding black sack and heave. All being well, the contents should settle and you should have several inches more of plastic bag above the rim of the dustbin. Unless of course it’s a poor quality plastic bag in which case your fingernail will go through and a horizontal slash will appear just below rubbish level. Eventually you upend the pedal bin and scrape the cigarette ash covered potato peelings into the dustbin with your fingers. By now the fibres of your Shetland wool jumper are heavy with damp, just like the fuzzy split ends that curl round your pale frowning brow. You may push back your hair with your forearm causing the moisture to bead and trickle down your face, as you turn the brass doorknob with your palm and wrist, tea leaves and cigarette ash clinging unpleasantly to your fingers.
The pedal bin needs rinsing in the kitchen sink, but the sink is full of mismatched saucepans, some new in shades of harvest gold, some battered and mishapen in stainless steel and aluminium, bits of mashed potato stuck to them like concrete pebbledash. There is a pale pink octagonally ovoid shallow serving dish and a little grey soup bowl with a handle like a miniature pottery saucepan decorated with kitcheny motifs.
The water for the coffee bubbles in a suacepan on the cream enamelled gas cooker. My grandmother never used a kettle, although I do remember a heavy flame orange one. The little pan for boiling water had a lip for easy pouring and a black plastic handle.
The steam has caused the condensation on the window over the sink to race in rivulets down to the fablon coated windowsill. The yellow gingham curtains hang limply, the left one tucked behind the back of the cooker.
You put the pedal bin back it it’s place below the tea towel holder, and rinse your mucky fingers under the tap. The gas water heater on the wall above you roars into life just as you turn the tap off, and disappointed, subsides.
As you lean over to turn the cooker knob, the heat from the oven warms your arm. The gas oven was almost always on, the oven door open with clean tea towels and sometimes large white pants folded over it to air.
The oven wasn’t the only heat in my grandparents kitchen. There was an electric bar fire near the red formica table which used to burn your legs. The kitchen table was extended by means of a flap at each side. When I was small I wasn’t allowed to snap the hinge underneath shut as my grandmother had pinched the skin of her palm once.
The electric fire was plugged into the same socket as the radio. The radio took a minute or two to warm up when you switched it on, a bulky thing with sharp seventies edges and a reddish wood effect veneer and big knobs. The light for my grandfathers workshop behind the garage (where he made dentures) was plugged into the same socket, which had a big heavy white three way adaptor in. The plug for the washing machine was hooked by means of a bit of string onto a nail or hook so that it didn’t fall down behing the washing machine when it wasn’t plugged in. Everything was unplugged when it wasn’t in use. Sometimes there was a shrivelled Christmas cactus on top of the radio, but it couldn’t hide the adaptor and all those plugs.
Above the washing machine was a rhomboid wooden wall cupboard with sliding frsoted glass doors. It was painted creamy gold, the colour of a nicotine stained pub ceiling, and held packets of Paxo stuffing and little jars of Bovril and Marmite, packets of Bisto and a jar of improbably red Maraschino cherries.
The nicotine coloured cupboard on the opposite wall had half a dozen large hooks screwed under the bottom shelf. A variety of mugs and cups hung there when they weren’t in the bowl waiting to be washed up. Those cupboard doors seemed flimsy for their size, and the thin beading on the edge of one door had come unstuck at the bottom and snapped back if you caught it with your sleeve. The doors fastened with a little click in the centre, and the bottom of the door reverberated slightly as you yanked it open. There were always crumbs in the cupboard from the numerous packets of bisucits and crackers and there was always an Allbran packet with the top folded over to squeeze it onto the shelf. The sugar bowl was in there, sticky grains like sandpaper among the biscuit crumbs.
Half of one of the shelves was devoted to medicines: grave looking bottles of codeine linctus with no nonsense labels, brown glass bottles with pills for rheumatism and angina. Often you would find a large bottle, nearly full, of Brewers yeast or vitamin supplements with a dollar price tag, souvenirs of the familys last visit. Above the medicines you’d find a faded packet of Napolitana pasta bows or a dusty packet of muesli. My grandparents never used them but she left them in the cupboard. Perhaps the dollar price tags and foreign foods reminded her of her children.
If there had been a recent visit you would see monstrous jars of Sanka and Maxwell House coffee in there too, but they always used the coffee. They liked evaporated milk in their coffee, and used tins and tins of “evap” as they called it. They would pour it over tinned fruit, or rhubard crumble or stewed apples.
When there was just the two of them, or when I was there as well, they’d eat at the kitchen table. The table would be covered in a white embroidered cloth and the food served in mismatched serving dishes. The cutlery was large and bent, the knife handles in varying shades of bone. My grandfathers favourite fork had the tip of each prong bent in a different direction. He reckoned it was more efficient that way to spear his meat. He often used to chew his meat and then spit it out onto the side of his plate. Not in company, of course. I can understand why he did that, not having eaten meat myself for so long. You could chew a piece of meat for several hours and still have a stringy lump between your cheek and your teeth.
My grandfather would always have a bowl of Allbran with some Froment wheat germ for his breakfast, while reading the Daily Mail at the kitchen table. He never worse slippers, always shoes indoors, and always wore a tie. He had lots of ties but always wore a plain maroon one. His shirts were always cream and buttoned at throat and cuff, and eventually started wearing shirts without detachable collars. He wore greeny grey trousers and a cardigan of the same shade most of the time, the same colour as a damp English garden.
The same colour as the slimy green wooden clothes pegs that I threw away and replaced with mauve and fuschia pink plastic ones. “They’re a bit bright for up the garden, aren’t they,” he said. He was right. I should have ignored the green peg stains on the laundry. An English garden should be shades of moss and grassy green, rich umber soil and brick red walls weighed down with an atmosphere of dense and heavy greyish white.
After Grandma died and Mop had retired (I always called him Mop, nobody knows why) at 10:00am precisely Mop would have a cup of instant coffee with evap. At lunch, a bowl of tinned vegetable soup in his special soup bowl, and a couple of Krackawheat crackers and a lump of mature Cheddar. It was a job these days to find a tasty cheddar, he’d say.
When he was working, and he worked until well into his seventies, he took sandwiches. Every day he had the same sandwich filling: a combination of cheese, peanut butter and marmite. It was an unusal choice for an otherwise conventional man. He loved my grandmothers cooking, which wasn’t brilliant but was never awful. She was always generous with the cheese in cheese sauces and the meat in meat pies. She overcooked the cauliflower, but everyone did then. She made her gravy in the roasting pan, and made onion sauce, bread sauce, parsley sauce and chestnut stuffing. She had her own version of cosmopolitan favourites, and called her quiche a quiche when everyone was still calling it egg and bacon pie. She used to like Auntie Daphne’s ratatouille, rather exotic back then, and pronounced it Ratta Twa. She made pizza unlike any other, with shortcrust pastry smeared with tomato puree from a tube, sprinkled with oregano and great slabs of cheddar.
The roast was always overdone. “We like our meat well done” she’d say. She’d walk up the garden to get fresh mint for the mint sauce and would announce with pride “these runner beans are out of the garding”. They always grew vegetables at the top of the garden, behind the lawn and the silver birch tree. There was always a pudding: a slice of almond tart (always with home made pastry), a crumble or stewed fruit. Topped with evap, of course.
“Not so fast!” Glor muttered grimly, grabbing a flapping retreating arm of each of her friends, and yanking them to her sides. “Now’s our chance. It’s a trap, dontcha see? They got the wind up, and they’re gonna round us all up, it don’t bear thinking about what they’ll do next!”
With her free hand Mavis felt Gloria’s forehead, her palm slipping unpleasantly over the feverish salty slick. “Her’s deplirious, Sha, not right in the ‘ead, the ‘eat’s got to her. Solar over dose or whatever they call it nowadays.”
“I’m trying to save you!” screeched Gloria, her head exploding in exasperation. She took a deep breath. Told herself to stop screeching like that, wasn’t helping her cause. Should she just let go of Sharon’s arm?
Mavis started trying to take the pulse on Glor’s restraining wrists, provoking Gloria beyond endurance, and she lashed out and slapped Mavis’s free hand away, unintentionally freeing Sharon from her grasp. This further upset the balance and Gloria tumbled into Mavis at the moment of slapping her hand, causing a considerably more forceful manoeuvre than was intended.
Mavis scrambled to her feet and backed away slowly, nursing her hand, wide eyed and slack jawed in astonishment.
Where was this going?FloveParticipant
“Clean it up yourself,” snarled Finnley throwing a piece of bhum bottle towards Liz. “You were the one what knocked it over.” She glared menacingly at Liz who jumped behind the philodendron plant in alarm.
“Finnley you are looking very ferocious … whatever is wrong?”
“I am not going to waste my life cleaning up after you!” Finnley tilted her chin defiantly. “I have aspirations, Madam.”
“But Finnley, cleaning is what I pay you to do.” Liz shook her head in bewilderment at the girl’s audacity. “We all have our gifts. I was blessed with the gift of writing. Roberto is visually fetching and potters in the garden. Godfrey … well I don’t know what he does but it could be something to do with peanuts—I must ask one day. And you, Finnley, you clean. It’s your vocation in life.”
Finnley beamed. “Vacation! now you’re talking, Madam! Where shall we go?”
“Vacation! I suppose you’ve heard of glowvid?” Liz waved her right hand at Finnley and then held the palm to her up to her face and considered it carefully. “Look, Finnley! The glow has all but gone.”
“I’ll be right back!” Nora told Will, who was stirring a big bubbling pot on the stove. “Need to wash my hands.”
She had a quick look around the bedroom she’d slept in for her missing phone. Nowhere to be found! Maybe she could find Will’s phone when he went out to feed the donkey, and call her phone to try and locate it. Damn, that wouldn’t work either. Will had said there was no network here. That would explain why her phone stopped working when she was alone in the dark woods.
“Smells delicious!” she said brightly, scraping a chair back across the brick floor and seating herself at the kitchen table.
The home made soup was chock full of vegetables and looked and smelled wonderful, but it had a peculiar acrid aftertaste. Nora tried to ignore it, taking gulps of wine in between each mouthful to eliminate the bitterness. She wished it wasn’t soup in a way, so that she’d be able to surreptitiously palm some of it off onto the dogs that were waiting hopefully under the table. If only Will would leave the room for a minute, but he seemed to be watching her every move.
“Very tasty, but I can’t manage another mouthful, it’s so filling,” she said, but Will looked so offended that she sighed and carried on eating. He topped up her wine glass.
By the time Nora had finished the soup, she felt quite nauseous and stood up quickly to head for the bathroom. The room started to spin and she held on to the edge of the table, but it was no good. The spinning didn’t stop and she crashed to the floor, unconscious.
Smiling with satisfaction, Will stood up and walked around the table to where she lay. Shame he’d had to put her to sleep, really she was quite a nice woman and cute, too, in a funny elfin way. He’d started to like her. Plenty of time to get to know her now, anyway. She wouldn’t be going anywhere for awhile.
He picked her up and carried her to the secret room behind his workshop on the other side of the patio. The walls and floor were thick stone, and there were no windows. He laid her on the bench, locked the door, and went back in the house to fetch blankets and bedding and a pile of books for her to read when she came round. Probably not for a good 24 hours he reckoned, somehow she’d managed to eat all the soup. He would put much less in the next batch, just enough to keep her docile and sleepy.
It would only be for a few days, just long enough for him to find that box and move it to a safer location. He’d been entrusted to make sure the contents of the box were preserved for the people in the future, and he was a man of his word.
If they had listened to him in the first place this would never have happened. Burying a box was a risk: all kinds of possibilities existed for a buried box to be accidentally unearthed. He had suggested encasing the contents inside a concrete statue, but they’d ignored him. Well, now was his chance. He was looking forward to making a new statue.
“But I can’t stand bloody opera singing,” Tara whispered back, “It’ll drive me mad. When they said he had a melodious voice I was expecting something more modern than this ancient caterwauling.”
“Do you want to solve this case or not?”
“Oh alright then,” Tara said grudgingly. “But your thinking better be good!” She clapped loudly and whistled. “More! More!” she shouted, stamping her feet. The assorted middle aged ladies joined in the applause.
“Yeah, you had to listen to opera with him, poor thing, but he did tip well.”
“Well, he told me a lot about opera. I thought it was a waste of time knowing all that useless old stuff, but listen: this song what he’s singing now, he’s singing this on purpose. It’s a clue, you see, to Uncle Basil and why Vince wants to find him.”
“Go on,” whispered Tara.
“Wasn’t that obvious from the start?”
“Well yes, but we got very cleverly sidetracked with all these middle aged ladies and that wardrobe! This is where the mule comes in.”
“Shh! Keep your voice down! It’s not the same kind of mule as in the opera, these middle aged ladies are trafficking mules!”
“Oh well that would make sense, they’d be perfect. Nobody suspects middle aged ladies. But what are they trafficking, and why are they all here?”
“They’re here to keep us from finding out the truth with all these silly sidetracks and distractions. And we’ve stupidly let ourselves be led astray from the real case.”
“What’s the real case, then?”
“How do you know that for sure?” asked Tara.
“I don’t know for sure, but this is the theory. Once we have a theory, we can prove it. Now, about that wardrobe. We mustn’t let them take it away. No matter what story they come up with, that wardrobe stays where it is, in our office.”
“But why? It’s taking up space and it doesn’t go with the clean modern style. And people keep getting locked inside it, it’s a death trap.”
“That’s what they want you to think! That it’s just another ghastly old wardrobe! But it’s how they smuggle the stuff!”
“What stuff are they smuggling? Drugs? That doesn’t explain what it’s doing in our office, though.”
“Well, I had an interesting intuition about that. You know that modified carrot story they tried to palm us off with? Well I reckon it’s vaccines. They had to come up with a way to vaccinate the anti vaxxers, so they made this batch of vaccines hidden in hallucinogenic carrots. They’re touting the carrots as a new age spiritual vibration enhancing wake up drug, and the anti vaxxers will flock to it in droves.”
“Surely if they’re so worried about the ingredients in vaccines, they won’t just take any old illegal drug off the street?”
Tara smiled ruefully. “Yeah, I guess that was a silly thing to say. But now I’m confused. Whose side are we on? Surely the carrot vaccine is a good idea? Are we trying to stop them or what? And what is Vince up to? Falsifying a will?” Tara frowned, puzzled. “Whose side are we on?” she repeated.
“But what if the client is morally bankrupt? What if it goes against our guidelines?”
“Guidelines don’t come into it when you’re financially bankrupt!” Star snapped. “Hey, where has everyone gone?”
“They said they had to pick up a wardrobe,” said the waitress. “Shall I bring you the bill? They all left without paying, they said you were treating them.”
Board 3, Story 2:
Sophie: “Jesus! What happened to our legs! They’re so skinny I can hardly see them!”
Barbara: “Smart, trying to outdo my beehive with a palm tree Sophie. But you’ll know who’s the boss here.”
Glor: “I got sand stuck everywhere, somebody help!”
India Louise: “Cuthbert, when you’re done with your funny hairy pajamas, you should get tested, that green blob of snot you made on the waxed floor does look terribly suspicious.”
The squirrel: “That scene’s too cute, I’m at a loss for quip.”
“I have no bloody idea what just happened here” mused Godfrey to his cashew nut, mimicking Liz’ odd behaviour when she talked to the drafts of air only she could see, and stopped dead in her tracks and with wide saucer-sized eyes as if she was talking to Faes invisible to mortals such as themselves.
“But seriously,… I feel a bit concerned,” he found talking to the renewed pile of cashews in his palm oddly soothing, as they one by one disappeared. “All this sudden concern of old age, retirement and whatnot. It’s not like Liz’. She’d better snap out of it. Her well of inspiration is getting drier every minute she spends worrying about money.”
He was considering naming the last cashew he’s salvaged. “What do you think, Rufus?”
“What are you doing!” Liz’ cried in anguish. “Not my plants!”
Liz’ was appalled at the sight of the stash going in flames. “That’s it, I’m going to call the police!”
Godfrey had to rein her and her fury in, while her towel unravelled making her look madder by the minute. “Liz’, calm down, please. Don’t make it worse, I’ll help you get rid of her, if only for your peace of mind.”
“You snake!” She hissed, “I’m sure your in cahoots with her, she’s been planning her revenge ever since I gave all her suitcases of clothes to charity.”
“Liz’, please, listen to yourself, you’re not making any sense. Let me get you a coconut avocado smoothie to soothe your nerves. Finnley!”JibParticipant
Sophie looked dubiously at the shampoo bottle. It was smaller than the ones she was used to in the US, and It was written kókosolía. She had no idea what it meant but the picture underneath looked vaguely like two big coconuts.
She opened it, pressed the bottle to smell what was inside, then poured a bit of the white substance into her palm. No doubt there was coconut inside. She touched it. It was very oily. Maybe it was not shampoo after all. She looked at the other bottles. None smelled as good as the first one. She decided to give it a try.
After her shower she felt rejuvenated. It was like the old times, with her husband Bob they used to travel a lot and stay in all kinds of hotel. She always loved that moment when she was drying her hair and Bob would sneak in behind her and take her into his arms. She sighed. Nope, that would not happen today.
She almost jumped when she realized her hair was inflating. She had very thin hair usually and they were rather close to her head, but today it looked like they had a new life. She wondered if it would deflate as soon as she’d stop the hot hair. She hesitated but it looked almost done. She turned off the power and the hair stayed up.
She heard a knock at the door. She wondered who that could be.
“Sophie. It’s me”, said Connie’s voice.
“A moment said Sophie.” She put her old clothes on. She didn’t take much with her in her suitcase, she didn’t have enough room for clothes with all her apparatus. She checked her hair one last time, still up. Then she opened the door.
They looked at each other and said at the same time : “Oh! You used the coconut shampoo too.”
“Let’s have diner”, said Connie. “As for the hair, I bumped into other guests, and the ladies all seem to have the beehive haircut.”JibParticipant
Back at her desk after a crash course at zumba with the Chinese team, Connie was sorting her e-mails (meaning sending them to trash). Nothing fancy, nothing catchy, nothing to grab her attention span for more than a minute.
The noise of the open space was making her feel drowsy. Maybe a coffee would help her wake up, or maybe if something could happen to stir the pot. Connie deleted a few more e-mails to show the others that she was a busy reporter before leaving her desk.
Passing by the desks of her colleagues, Connie looked surreptitiously at their computer screens and saw that everyone was playing the busy game. It was sad to recognize that good news (meaning bad news) were hard to come by nowadays.
In times like these, she had to resist the tentation to create her own news, it was not that kind of press. But still toying with the idea and making up some outrageous stories with her team was a way to make time fly away more quickly. Once, Hilda had even reused one of the titles for a real stories that sadly happened shortly after she had made it up.
Rumour had it that Hilda’s great grand mother was a gypsy and could do palm reading. The gran even used palm tree leaves to do her reading when there was nobody, you just had to cut the leave in the shape of the person you wanted to read the future and she would tell you all about them. She was good.
“It runs in the family,” Hilda had said. “It’s helpful to be at the right place at the right time.” And for sure she was the most prolific reporter of the agency.
Connie sure would have used some of Hilda’s medium inner sight to know when something would happen.
She made herself a cappuccino and with the milk drew the face of Al Pacino. Many years at a press agency and you learn a few tricks to impress your friends.
She heard the slow and uneven pace of sweet old Sophie behind her. She sighed, she didn’t want to have to answer another of her dumb questions about the future. If Hilda could read bits of the future, Sophie was always thirsty about it. Maybe that’s why Hilda was more often in the field and not so often at her desk.
Connie turned and almost dropped her cappuccino as the old lady handed her a Fedex envelop.
“Sorry,” said sweet old Sophie, “That just arrived for you. I wonder what it is.”
“I’m sure you do,” muttered Connie.
“It’s from Santa Claus,” said the old lady with a conniving smile.
Connie looked at the old lady, with a forced smile. Was insanity a cause to get rid of one of your employee ? She took the package with one hand. Heavier than she had expected. When she saw the address, she couldn’t believe it was real. The sender’s and city’s names were certainly fake. Jesus Carpenter, Santa Claus, AZ
Sophie was still there, looking at Connie with a big smile.
“What are you waiting for ?” the reporter asked.
“Aren’t you opening it?”
Connie considered opening the package, but the avidity on the old face was making her uncomfortable. “Nope,” she said. With her cappuccino and the package she went back to her desk. Sweet Sophie was still looking at her with that greedy smile on her face. Connie shivered and shook her head. It was obvious, the old tramp was mad.
She touched the package, trying to guess what was inside. As no convincing guess presented itself in her mind, she stripped it open. There was an iPhone 5 SE with 64Gb memory in it, two plane tickets for Keflavik in Iceland, and a note.
‘If you want a good story prepare your suitcase. Bring Sweet Sophie with you. We’ll contact you once you are there.’
Connie thought of a joke. She checked the package and no matter how many times she looked it was still her name. She looked toward the cafeteria and she shuddered. Sweet Sophie was still looking at Connie with that strange smile, as if she knew. Or as if she had sent the package herself, the reporter thought.
“Someone knows where Hilda is ? I need to talk to Hilda.”
Fanella had been secretly watching Gustave at the bar with his entourage of old slappers, hiding herself behind a potted palm. She was biding her time, and building up her courage for a confrontation with a stiff martini, when the door opened and a crowd of handsome Russian men walked into the bar.
“Oh my god, Tina!” Becky shouted in alarm when she read the latest entry. “Not only do we have characters to worry about, the bloody characters have been creating rafts of refugee characters of their own! Where will it all end?”
“Well, at least this lot are all handsome,” Al interjected, with a mischievous grin.
“Dearie,” she took the little face in her hand to look her in the eyes. There was slight resistance in the girl’s, but she was compliant enough that the feedback encouraged Irina to continue. “I believe, you know how to talk, this grunting telepathic business is getting tedious, and Mr R isn’t telepathic, you see…”
“But Madam…” Mr R’s beginning to protest was quickly hushed by Irina.
“You understand, don’t you?… Yes you do. Communicate with me, okay? You’ve been there longer than I am, and we probably can help each other.”
Greenie’s eyes were showing clear signs of intelligence, and yet, there was some trauma still at the surface that she seemed to process, which made interaction tricky.
Greenie pointed at the place were Irina had tried to meditate for the past hours.
“Oh no, not again…” she sighed. She sat again cross-legged, but this time Greenie wasn’t finished.
“What is? What are you trying to tell me?” Irina was confused. She hoped it was not about praying, but then realized that Greenie wanted to join.
So they sat in front of each other, with Greenie’s small palms pressed to hers, and again started to meditate.
“Mr R, some music of the angels, if you will”
After a while, Mr R’s lulling music managed to appeased even the confused Huhu, and Irina started to feel a difference, as though she had broken out of her mind, and could connect to the teen girl in their light bodies.
The guy showed no sign of losing patience although they’d asked him the question whole morning long.
“That is unfortunate, Jeremy” the guy in charge said slowly. He was stroking Max in long broad stokes, flattening the ears with his palms, while the cat was purring like an engine oblivious to the danger in the room. “As you know, there are many ways to skin a cat…”
“Don’t you dare harm Max!”
“So let us recap from the start” the Chinese man said. “You told us you don’t know the man, or his companion. That they appeared and disappeared in a rag, to destination unknown.”
Jeremy nodded, trembling of rage at the way the man was holding his cat.
The Chinese man gave a brush of hand, which all the goons in the apartments took as a cue to leave them two alone.
When they were all gone, he tightened his grip around the cat’s soft neck, and leaned closer to Jeremy:
“My friend, the trace we left in our fugitive’s stomach led us to your place, so there is no doubt he was there. How he disappeared again is a mystery you will help us solve, whether you want it or not.”
Jeremy looked at him quizzically “so why don’t you use your trace to locate him again?”
“The problem is, by now, either he’s digested and dumped it somewhere in a hot steaming pile of shit, or he’s managed to cloak the signal. Those things were to be expected. I guess he went to you for a reason. He wasn’t able to locate our thief’s location without your help. So now, you will help us do the same.”
Jeremy protested “But we tried it already, with the cucumber and all, but it didn’t work!”
Somehow, a thought came with brief and intense clarity to him. The Chinese man noticed the glimmer in Jeremy’s eye and smiled thinly.
“What is it?”
“The map was working for him, as well as the cucumber, for some unexplainable reason. But not for you or me, it doesn’t mean anything! Of course! We have to try something different, focus on finding the person or thing you want, and let me draw another map.”
While the Chinese guy was busy calling back his goons, Jeremy quickly started to draw on the skin of his arm a symbol with swirly lines, and going in a trance, started to dance into a swirling vortex.
“He’s escaping!” Cheung Lok shouted in Chinese to the others, “Catch him!” he said, striving, but only too late, to catch the youngster who had just disappeared with his cat inside the vortex which was already rapidly closing around them.
Madam Li contemplated the pill-like translucent object glowing bright red which could barely fit in the palm of her delicate hand.
People usually said that you could try and hide your age as well as possible on your face, but that hands didn’t lie. Hers actually were still a young woman’s fine delicate and smooth work-of-art.
The snow had stopped immediately, leaving the weather in the Pudding area as it used to be: a pale mist of polluted fog, thus returning Shanghai to its normal weather patterns. The rote was there in her hand, full of the last surge’s energy, a tempting promise of uncontrollable power, but she had seen far too much power struggle and horrors to be really tempted by it.
Ed’s demise had taken her by surprise. Although she did look young, it was her heart who really betrayed her. She hated people leaving her, and she would have expected Ed to survive her own death. It was the first time she was considering ever so briefly the thought of retiring. Of course, she still would need to find a replacement at her post, but China was full of eager potentials, that wouldn’t take too long.
Putting the rote in the diplomatic case, her gaze trailed on the invitation, still on the table. She wasn’t ashamed to admit her first thought went to the cleaning lady who had been careful to dust all around it, without moving it an inch off the glass table top.
Spain just came as an afterthought, already having lost its appeal as soon as summoned.
Wrapping herself in her white fur coat, she called for a taxi. She would be just in time for the ice festival in Harbin with a warm dog legs’ soup and some yak butter tea.
Sha had been more enduring than Glo, that was hardly a surprise, but as much as it pained him to say, he had to proclaim their official death. Obituaries wasn’t his forte, and the fact they were plants notwithstanding, it wasn’t making things much easier.
At least, the ginger root had made new leaves like the tiny palm tree. He was starting to believe plants didn’t want to be around.
Ann wasn’t altogether sure what Godfrey meant when he referred to her new interest in continuity. Ann had always been interested in connecting links, yes, of that there was no doubt, but with so very many connecting links, and so many possible strings of connecting links, with so many possible divergences into yet more strings of connecting links, Ann really couldn’t fathom how anyone could possibly keep track of all those threads of continuity. Even a seemingly discontinuous assortment of unconnected links, once connected into a nonsense thread, became another continuity string. Furthermore, Ann continued ~ in a continuous fashion ~ to ponder, if everything is connected, then what, in actuality, was all the fuss about continuity? What exactly then WAS this concept of continuity? It seemed to Ann to be more like a string of barbed wire, or one of those flimsy but effective electric wire fences, boxing in the free flow of continuity, so that the objectively perceived continuity stayed rigidly within the confines of the preconceived tale. The inner landscape knew no such boundaries, although admittedly the inner landscape was far too vast to map.
Ann smiled to herself as she imagined trying to push pins into various inner landscape locations, tying strings from one to another, in an effort to map and label the inner continuity connections. Of course she was imagining it in a visual manner, because it was hard to imagine all those connections and strings being invisible and not taking up any space, and before long Ann’s inner map of pins and strings quickly resembled a tangle of overcooked spaghetti, perilously speckled with sharp pointy pins.
The image of the glutinous tangle dotted with sharp shiny pointers led Ann off on another tangent, but it was a tangent that soon became utter nonsense. Or was it, she mused. Perhaps it was those symbolically sharp pointy bits that in fact pointed out the immense variety of potential other continuity threads to choose from. Indeed, it could easily be said that having one of her characters dumped in Siberia in the previous story, painful though it was, was not unlike being pricked by a pin amidst the tangle of sticky pasta, a brilliantly effective pointer towards unlimited new directions.
Whichever way she looked at it (and Ann was aware that she might have gone down a side string) she simply couldn’t comprehend how anyone on this side of the veil could possibly even begin to understand the ramifications of the concept of continuity at all. Or how there could ever conceivably be a lack of it.
What was really intriguing Ann at this particular juncture of the experimental exploration of the story was the concept of the World View Library. This wasn’t unconnected to the continuity issue, far from it, it was all tied in (Ann sniggered at the unintentional pun) and connected. There were any infinite amount of potential continuity threads leading from, say, one persons desire or intent, to a particular world view in the library.
AHA shouted Ann, who at that moment had an ‘aha’ moment. Pfft, it’s gone, she sighed moments later.
Ann tried to catch the wisp of an idea that had flitted through her awareness. She had a visual impression of the library, endlessly vast and marvellously grand, with countless blindfolded characters dashing through, grabbing random pages or sentences, bumping into each other, snatching at phrases willy nilly, dropping notes along the way, and racing back out again into the ether. A stray thought here, a picture there, a name or a date, all on separate bits of crumbled paper clutched in the sweaty palms of the blindfolded characters as they rushed headlong back to their own realities to proudly share the new clues. Like magpies they were, snatching at anything that glittered brightly enough.
“I thought you said they were blindfolded?” interrupted Franlise.
Ann ignored the interruption, and continued ~ in a continuous fashion ~ to ponder the imagery of the library.
What the undisciplined purloiners of random snatches didn’t notice on their pell-mell excursions into the library were the characters in the library who weren’t wearing blindfolds. They smiled down from the galleries, calmly watching from above the mayhem that the news of the unlimited library access had occasioned, chortling at the scenes of chaos below. They smiled indulgently, for they too had first visited the library blindfolded, snatching at this and that, and racing home again to inspect the booty; they too had fretted and pondered over the enigmas of the incomplete snippets. Eventually (or not, it was after all a choice), they had bravely removed the blindfolds, slowed the mad race into a sedate stroll through the library, opened their eyes and looked around, sure of the way back home now, and not in a desperate hurry to blast in, snatch anything, and run back home.
After awhile, they began to realize that all the enchanting glittering jewels scattered around to catch their eye would still be there later, there was no urgency to grab them all at once ~ although, as Ann reminded herself, that too was a choice ~ some may well choose to be eternally snatching at glittering jewels.
Ann frowned slightly and wondered if she’d lost the thread altogether, and then decided that it didn’t matter if she had.
It was a choice, therefore, to remove ones blindfold, and stroll through the library ~ a choice to perhaps choose a book, sit down at a polished oak table and open it, a choice to stay and read the book, rather than ripping out a page and dashing back home. That would be one choice of continuity, a coming together of strings.
Ann wondered whether that would then be called a cable, or a rope ~ well perhaps not a rope, she decided, that had other associations entirely ~ but a cable, yes, that had associations of reliable and regular communications. There were always strings of continuity, then, strings of connecting links, between anything and everything, but when one stopped dashing about clutching at the sparkley bits, one might form a cable.
Or not, of course. Thin strings of continuity and connections were not ‘less than’ thick cables of reliable and regular communications. It has to be said though, Ann reluctantly admitted, that thick cables often made more sense.
She decided to hit send before embarking on a pondering of the meaning of Sense.
It was carrying many of her memories of this time. She’d taken it from the shores of the Kandulim that first night, taking the rough stone as something to cling on, and firmly grasp, to bring herself back to her own senses, and drown her fearfulness and disorientation in the strong presence of feeling alive.
She’d kept it for a while, and then had started to learn how to use stones to encode certain information. Of all the shiny crystals that she could have used, she’d preferred to keep the rough unpolished stone because of its genuineness.
Encoding it wasn’t as easy as for more regular crystalline structures found in more precious stones, yet it was almost as if she’d wanted this one to bear the mark of her mastery at this art.
She wasn’t very educated, and had not seen much of the Earth, but she had known at once that this place where they had docked the dinghy after that epic escape from the Sultan’s palace wasn’t like anything she could have found on Earth. Somehow, even her own body had begun to reflect that alien-ority to her.
The stone was showing her scenes she had conveniently let slip away from her current focus. As she was seeing them, appreciation was overflowing her heart. It had taken her a while to get accustomed to this place and eerily enough, despite that lack of familiarity, she’d had a knowing that she was meant to be there.
Her thirst of discovery was as immense at that time —not that it was less at the moment, but the contrast between her ignorance and the things she knew she could access had been stark and bitterly felt.
She couldn’t help but smile at the scene of her past self learning to read and write. When Madame Chesterhope had taken her under her wing in her schemes to approach the Sultan with a worthy price, she had begun to learn from her a modicum of English language, but she would never have dreamt of learning how to read.
And there, how ironic that the first place she would learn that, of all the many languages she would learn over the course of their explorations with Georges, was a place from another dimension, with a language she only started to feel she could utter the sonorities of.
It was no mistake Leonard had brought them here first. Now she was thinking back, reminiscing this period of time, she recognized how much she loved the languages of the Turmakis. For her, it was as close as “home” a foreign culture could be called.
- “The letters of Eleanor Dunbar Leslie to her parents and her sister in South Africa
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