February 2, 2022 at 12:33 pm #6266
From Tanganyika with Love
continued part 7
With thanks to Mike Rushby.
Oldeani Hospital. 19th September 1938
George arrived today to take us home to Mbulu but Sister Marianne will not allow
me to travel for another week as I had a bit of a set back after baby’s birth. At first I was
very fit and on the third day Sister stripped the bed and, dictionary in hand, started me
off on ante natal exercises. “Now make a bridge Mrs Rushby. So. Up down, up down,’
whilst I obediently hoisted myself aloft on heels and head. By the sixth day she
considered it was time for me to be up and about but alas, I soon had to return to bed
with a temperature and a haemorrhage. I got up and walked outside for the first time this
I have had lots of visitors because the local German settlers seem keen to see
the first British baby born in the hospital. They have been most kind, sending flowers
and little German cards of congratulations festooned with cherubs and rather sweet. Most
of the women, besides being pleasant, are very smart indeed, shattering my illusion that
German matrons are invariably fat and dowdy. They are all much concerned about the
Czecko-Slovakian situation, especially Sister Marianne whose home is right on the
border and has several relations who are Sudentan Germans. She is ant-Nazi and
keeps on asking me whether I think England will declare war if Hitler invades Czecko-
Slovakia, as though I had inside information.
George tells me that he has had a grass ‘banda’ put up for us at Mbulu as we are
both determined not to return to those prison-like quarters in the Fort. Sister Marianne is
horrified at the idea of taking a new baby to live in a grass hut. She told George,
“No,No,Mr Rushby. I find that is not to be allowed!” She is an excellent Sister but rather
prim and George enjoys teasing her. This morning he asked with mock seriousness,
“Sister, why has my wife not received her medal?” Sister fluttered her dictionary before
asking. “What medal Mr Rushby”. “Why,” said George, “The medal that Hitler gives to
women who have borne four children.” Sister started a long and involved explanation
about the medal being only for German mothers whilst George looked at me and
Later. Great Jubilation here. By the noise in Sister Marianne’s sitting room last night it
sounded as though the whole German population had gathered to listen to the wireless
news. I heard loud exclamations of joy and then my bedroom door burst open and
several women rushed in. “Thank God “, they cried, “for Neville Chamberlain. Now there
will be no war.” They pumped me by the hand as though I were personally responsible
for the whole thing.
George on the other hand is disgusted by Chamberlain’s lack of guts. Doesn’t
know what England is coming to these days. I feel too content to concern myself with
world affairs. I have a fine husband and four wonderful children and am happy, happy,
Mbulu. 30th September 1938
Here we are, comfortably installed in our little green house made of poles and
rushes from a nearby swamp. The house has of course, no doors or windows, but
there are rush blinds which roll up in the day time. There are two rooms and a little porch
and out at the back there is a small grass kitchen.
Here we have the privacy which we prize so highly as we are screened on one
side by a Forest Department plantation and on the other three sides there is nothing but
the rolling countryside cropped bare by the far too large herds of cattle and goats of the
Wambulu. I have a lovely lazy time. I still have Kesho-Kutwa and the cook we brought
with us from the farm. They are both faithful and willing souls though not very good at
their respective jobs. As one of these Mbeya boys goes on safari with George whose
job takes him from home for three weeks out of four, I have taken on a local boy to cut
firewood and heat my bath water and generally make himself useful. His name is Saa,
which means ‘Clock’
We had an uneventful but very dusty trip from Oldeani. Johnny Jo travelled in his
pram in the back of the boxbody and got covered in dust but seems none the worst for
it. As the baby now takes up much of my time and Kate was showing signs of
boredom, I have engaged a little African girl to come and play with Kate every morning.
She is the daughter of the head police Askari and a very attractive and dignified little
person she is. Her name is Kajyah. She is scrupulously clean, as all Mohammedan
Africans seem to be. Alas, Kajyah, though beautiful, is a bore. She simply does not
know how to play, so they just wander around hand in hand.
There are only two drawbacks to this little house. Mbulu is a very windy spot so
our little reed house is very draughty. I have made a little tent of sheets in one corner of
the ‘bedroom’ into which I can retire with Johnny when I wish to bathe or sponge him.
The other drawback is that many insects are attracted at night by the lamp and make it
almost impossible to read or sew and they have a revolting habit of falling into the soup.
There are no dangerous wild animals in this area so I am not at all nervous in this
flimsy little house when George is on safari. Most nights hyaenas come around looking
for scraps but our dogs, Fanny and Paddy, soon see them off.
Mbulu. 25th October 1938
Great news! a vacancy has occurred in the Game Department. George is to
transfer to it next month. There will be an increase in salary and a brighter prospect for
the future. It will mean a change of scene and I shall be glad of that. We like Mbulu and
the people here but the rains have started and our little reed hut is anything but water
Before the rain came we had very unpleasant dust storms. I think I told you that
this is a treeless area and the grass which normally covers the veldt has been cropped
to the roots by the hungry native cattle and goats. When the wind blows the dust
collects in tall black columns which sweep across the country in a most spectacular
fashion. One such dust devil struck our hut one day whilst we were at lunch. George
swept Kate up in a second and held her face against his chest whilst I rushed to Johnny
Jo who was asleep in his pram, and stooped over the pram to protect him. The hut
groaned and creaked and clouds of dust blew in through the windows and walls covering
our persons, food, and belongings in a black pall. The dogs food bowls and an empty
petrol tin outside the hut were whirled up and away. It was all over in a moment but you
should have seen what a family of sweeps we looked. George looked at our blackened
Johnny and mimicked in Sister Marianne’s primmest tones, “I find that this is not to be
The first rain storm caught me unprepared when George was away on safari. It
was a terrific thunderstorm. The quite violent thunder and lightening were followed by a
real tropical downpour. As the hut is on a slight slope, the storm water poured through
the hut like a river, covering the entire floor, and the roof leaked like a lawn sprinkler.
Johnny Jo was snug enough in the pram with the hood raised, but Kate and I had a
damp miserable night. Next morning I had deep drains dug around the hut and when
George returned from safari he managed to borrow an enormous tarpaulin which is now
lashed down over the roof.
It did not rain during the next few days George was home but the very next night
we were in trouble again. I was awakened by screams from Kate and hurriedly turned up
the lamp to see that we were in the midst of an invasion of siafu ants. Kate’s bed was
covered in them. Others appeared to be raining down from the thatch. I quickly stripped
Kate and carried her across to my bed, whilst I rushed to the pram to see whether
Johnny Jo was all right. He was fast asleep, bless him, and slept on through all the
commotion, whilst I struggled to pick all the ants out of Kate’s hair, stopping now and
again to attend to my own discomfort. These ants have a painful bite and seem to
choose all the most tender spots. Kate fell asleep eventually but I sat up for the rest of
the night to make sure that the siafu kept clear of the children. Next morning the servants
dispersed them by laying hot ash.
In spite of the dampness of the hut both children are blooming. Kate has rosy
cheeks and Johnny Jo now has a fuzz of fair hair and has lost his ‘old man’ look. He
reminds me of Ann at his age.
Iringa. 30th November 1938
Here we are back in the Southern Highlands and installed on the second floor of
another German Fort. This one has been modernised however and though not so
romantic as the Mbulu Fort from the outside, it is much more comfortable.We are all well
and I am really proud of our two safari babies who stood up splendidly to a most trying
journey North from Mbulu to Arusha and then South down the Great North Road to
Iringa where we expect to stay for a month.
At Arusha George reported to the headquarters of the Game Department and
was instructed to come on down here on Rinderpest Control. There is a great flap on in
case the rinderpest spread to Northern Rhodesia and possibly onwards to Southern
Rhodesia and South Africa. Extra veterinary officers have been sent to this area to
inoculate all the cattle against the disease whilst George and his African game Scouts will
comb the bush looking for and destroying diseased game. If the rinderpest spreads,
George says it may be necessary to shoot out all the game in a wide belt along the
border between the Southern Highlands of Tanganyika and Northern Rhodesia, to
prevent the disease spreading South. The very idea of all this destruction sickens us
George left on a foot safari the day after our arrival and I expect I shall be lucky if I
see him occasionally at weekends until this job is over. When rinderpest is under control
George is to be stationed at a place called Nzassa in the Eastern Province about 18
miles from Dar es Salaam. George’s orderly, who is a tall, cheerful Game Scout called
Juma, tells me that he has been stationed at Nzassa and it is a frightful place! However I
refuse to be depressed. I now have the cheering prospect of leave to England in thirty
months time when we will be able to fetch Ann and George and be a proper family
again. Both Ann and George look happy in the snapshots which mother-in-law sends
frequently. Ann is doing very well at school and loves it.
To get back to our journey from Mbulu. It really was quite an experience. It
poured with rain most of the way and the road was very slippery and treacherous the
120 miles between Mbulu and Arusha. This is a little used earth road and the drains are
so blocked with silt as to be practically non existent. As usual we started our move with
the V8 loaded to capacity. I held Johnny on my knee and Kate squeezed in between
George and me. All our goods and chattels were in wooden boxes stowed in the back
and the two houseboys and the two dogs had to adjust themselves to the space that
remained. We soon ran into trouble and it took us all day to travel 47 miles. We stuck
several times in deep mud and had some most nasty skids. I simply clutched Kate in
one hand and Johnny Jo in the other and put my trust in George who never, under any
circumstances, loses his head. Poor Johnny only got his meals when circumstances
permitted. Unfortunately I had put him on a bottle only a few days before we left Mbulu
and, as I was unable to buy either a primus stove or Thermos flask there we had to
make a fire and boil water for each meal. Twice George sat out in the drizzle with a rain
coat rapped over his head to protect a miserable little fire of wet sticks drenched with
paraffin. Whilst we waited for the water to boil I pacified John by letting him suck a cube
of Tate and Lyles sugar held between my rather grubby fingers. Not at all according to
That night George, the children and I slept in the car having dumped our boxes
and the two servants in a deserted native hut. The rain poured down relentlessly all night
and by morning the road was more of a morass than ever. We swerved and skidded
alarmingly till eventually one of the wheel chains broke and had to be tied together with
string which constantly needed replacing. George was so patient though he was wet
and muddy and tired and both children were very good. Shortly before reaching the Great North Road we came upon Jack Gowan, the Stock Inspector from Mbulu. His car
was bogged down to its axles in black mud. He refused George’s offer of help saying
that he had sent his messenger to a nearby village for help.
I hoped that conditions would be better on the Great North Road but how over
optimistic I was. For miles the road runs through a belt of ‘black cotton soil’. which was
churned up into the consistency of chocolate blancmange by the heavy lorry traffic which
runs between Dodoma and Arusha. Soon the car was skidding more fantastically than
ever. Once it skidded around in a complete semi circle so George decided that it would
be safer for us all to walk whilst he negotiated the very bad patches. You should have
seen me plodding along in the mud and drizzle with the baby in one arm and Kate
clinging to the other. I was terrified of slipping with Johnny. Each time George reached
firm ground he would return on foot to carry Kate and in this way we covered many bad
patches.We were more fortunate than many other travellers. We passed several lorries
ditched on the side of the road and one car load of German men, all elegantly dressed in
lounge suits. One was busy with his camera so will have a record of their plight to laugh
over in the years to come. We spent another night camping on the road and next day
set out on the last lap of the journey. That also was tiresome but much better than the
previous day and we made the haven of the Arusha Hotel before dark. What a picture
we made as we walked through the hall in our mud splattered clothes! Even Johnny was
well splashed with mud but no harm was done and both he and Kate are blooming.
We rested for two days at Arusha and then came South to Iringa. Luckily the sun
came out and though for the first day the road was muddy it was no longer so slippery
and the second day found us driving through parched country and along badly
corrugated roads. The further South we came, the warmer the sun which at times blazed
through the windscreen and made us all uncomfortably hot. I have described the country
between Arusha and Dodoma before so I shan’t do it again. We reached Iringa without
mishap and after a good nights rest all felt full of beans.
Mchewe Estate, Mbeya. 7th January 1939.
You will be surprised to note that we are back on the farm! At least the children
and I are here. George is away near the Rhodesian border somewhere, still on
I had a pleasant time at Iringa, lots of invitations to morning tea and Kate had a
wonderful time enjoying the novelty of playing with children of her own age. She is not
shy but nevertheless likes me to be within call if not within sight. It was all very suburban
but pleasant enough. A few days before Christmas George turned up at Iringa and
suggested that, as he would be working in the Mbeya area, it might be a good idea for
the children and me to move to the farm. I agreed enthusiastically, completely forgetting
that after my previous trouble with the leopard I had vowed to myself that I would never
again live alone on the farm.
Alas no sooner had we arrived when Thomas, our farm headman, brought the
news that there were now two leopards terrorising the neighbourhood, and taking dogs,
goats and sheep and chickens. Traps and poisoned bait had been tried in vain and he
was sure that the female was the same leopard which had besieged our home before.
Other leopards said Thomas, came by stealth but this one advertised her whereabouts
in the most brazen manner.
George stayed with us on the farm over Christmas and all was quiet at night so I
cheered up and took the children for walks along the overgrown farm paths. However on
New Years Eve that darned leopard advertised her presence again with the most blood
chilling grunts and snarls. Horrible! Fanny and Paddy barked and growled and woke up
both children. Kate wept and kept saying, “Send it away mummy. I don’t like it.” Johnny
Jo howled in sympathy. What a picnic. So now the whole performance of bodyguards
has started again and ‘till George returns we confine our exercise to the garden.
Our little house is still cosy and sweet but the coffee plantation looks very
neglected. I wish to goodness we could sell it.
Nzassa 14th February 1939.
After three months of moving around with two small children it is heavenly to be
settled in our own home, even though Nzassa is an isolated spot and has the reputation
of being unhealthy.
We travelled by car from Mbeya to Dodoma by now a very familiar stretch of
country, but from Dodoma to Dar es Salaam by train which made a nice change. We
spent two nights and a day in the Splendid Hotel in Dar es Salaam, George had some
official visits to make and I did some shopping and we took the children to the beach.
The bay is so sheltered that the sea is as calm as a pond and the water warm. It is
wonderful to see the sea once more and to hear tugs hooting and to watch the Arab
dhows putting out to sea with their oddly shaped sails billowing. I do love the bush, but
I love the sea best of all, as you know.
We made an early start for Nzassa on the 3rd. For about four miles we bowled
along a good road. This brought us to a place called Temeke where George called on
the District Officer. His house appears to be the only European type house there. The
road between Temeke and the turn off to Nzassa is quite good, but the six mile stretch
from the turn off to Nzassa is a very neglected bush road. There is nothing to be seen
but the impenetrable bush on both sides with here and there a patch of swampy
ground where rice is planted in the wet season.
After about six miles of bumpy road we reached Nzassa which is nothing more
than a sandy clearing in the bush. Our house however is a fine one. It was originally built
for the District Officer and there is a small court house which is now George’s office. The
District Officer died of blackwater fever so Nzassa was abandoned as an administrative
station being considered too unhealthy for Administrative Officers but suitable as
Headquarters for a Game Ranger. Later a bachelor Game Ranger was stationed here
but his health also broke down and he has been invalided to England. So now the
healthy Rushbys are here and we don’t mean to let the place get us down. So don’t
The house consists of three very large and airy rooms with their doors opening
on to a wide front verandah which we shall use as a living room. There is also a wide
back verandah with a store room at one end and a bathroom at the other. Both
verandahs and the end windows of the house are screened my mosquito gauze wire
and further protected by a trellis work of heavy expanded metal. Hasmani, the Game
Scout, who has been acting as caretaker, tells me that the expanded metal is very
necessary because lions often come out of the bush at night and roam around the
house. Such a comforting thought!
On our very first evening we discovered how necessary the mosquito gauze is.
After sunset the air outside is thick with mosquitos from the swamps. About an acre of
land has been cleared around the house. This is a sandy waste because there is no
water laid on here and absolutely nothing grows here except a rather revolting milky
desert bush called ‘Manyara’, and a few acacia trees. A little way from the house there is
a patch of citrus trees, grape fruit, I think, but whether they ever bear fruit I don’t know.
The clearing is bordered on three sides by dense dusty thorn bush which is
‘lousy with buffalo’ according to George. The open side is the road which leads down to
George’s office and the huts for the Game Scouts. Only Hasmani and George’s orderly
Juma and their wives and families live there, and the other huts provide shelter for the
Game Scouts from the bush who come to Nzassa to collect their pay and for a short
rest. I can see that my daily walk will always be the same, down the road to the huts and
back! However I don’t mind because it is far too hot to take much exercise.
The climate here is really tropical and worse than on the coast because the thick
bush cuts us off from any sea breeze. George says it will be cooler when the rains start
but just now we literally drip all day. Kate wears nothing but a cotton sun suit, and Johnny
a napkin only, but still their little bodies are always moist. I have shorn off all Kate’s lovely
shoulder length curls and got George to cut my hair very short too.
We simply must buy a refrigerator. The butter, and even the cheese we bought
in Dar. simply melted into pools of oil overnight, and all our meat went bad, so we are
living out of tins. However once we get organised I shall be quite happy here. I like this
spacious house and I have good servants. The cook, Hamisi Issa, is a Swahili from Lindi
whom we engaged in Dar es Salaam. He is a very dignified person, and like most
devout Mohammedan Cooks, keeps both his person and the kitchen spotless. I
engaged the house boy here. He is rather a timid little body but is very willing and quite
capable. He has an excessively plain but cheerful wife whom I have taken on as ayah. I
do not really need help with the children but feel I must have a woman around just in
case I go down with malaria when George is away on safari.
Nzassa 28th February 1939.
George’s birthday and we had a special tea party this afternoon which the
children much enjoyed. We have our frig now so I am able to make jellies and provide
them with really cool drinks.
Our very first visitor left this morning after spending only one night here. He is Mr
Ionides, the Game Ranger from the Southern Province. He acted as stand in here for a
short while after George’s predecessor left for England on sick leave, and where he has
since died. Mr Ionides returned here to hand over the range and office formally to
George. He seems a strange man and is from all accounts a bit of a hermit. He was at
one time an Officer in the Regular Army but does not look like a soldier, he wears the
most extraordinary clothes but nevertheless contrives to look top-drawer. He was
educated at Rugby and Sandhurst and is, I should say, well read. Ionides told us that he
hated Nzassa, particularly the house which he thinks sinister and says he always slept
down in the office.
The house, or at least one bedroom, seems to have the same effect on Kate.
She has been very nervous at night ever since we arrived. At first the children occupied
the bedroom which is now George’s. One night, soon after our arrival, Kate woke up
screaming to say that ‘something’ had looked at her through the mosquito net. She was
in such a hysterical state that inspite of the heat and discomfort I was obliged to crawl into
her little bed with her and remained there for the rest of the night.
Next night I left a night lamp burning but even so I had to sit by her bed until she
dropped off to sleep. Again I was awakened by ear-splitting screams and this time
found Kate standing rigid on her bed. I lifted her out and carried her to a chair meaning to
comfort her but she screeched louder than ever, “Look Mummy it’s under the bed. It’s
looking at us.” In vain I pointed out that there was nothing at all there. By this time
George had joined us and he carried Kate off to his bed in the other room whilst I got into
Kate’s bed thinking she might have been frightened by a rat which might also disturb
Next morning our houseboy remarked that he had heard Kate screaming in the
night from his room behind the kitchen. I explained what had happened and he must
have told the old Scout Hasmani who waylaid me that afternoon and informed me quite
seriously that that particular room was haunted by a ‘sheitani’ (devil) who hates children.
He told me that whilst he was acting as caretaker before our arrival he one night had his
wife and small daughter in the room to keep him company. He said that his small
daughter woke up and screamed exactly as Kate had done! Silly coincidence I
suppose, but such strange things happen in Africa that I decided to move the children
into our room and George sleeps in solitary state in the haunted room! Kate now sleeps
peacefully once she goes to sleep but I have to stay with her until she does.
I like this house and it does not seem at all sinister to me. As I mentioned before,
the rooms are high ceilinged and airy, and have cool cement floors. We have made one
end of the enclosed verandah into the living room and the other end is the playroom for
the children. The space in between is a sort of no-mans land taken over by the dogs as
their special territory.
Nzassa 25th March 1939.
George is on safari down in the Rufigi River area. He is away for about three
weeks in the month on this job. I do hate to see him go and just manage to tick over until
he comes back. But what fun and excitement when he does come home.
Usually he returns after dark by which time the children are in bed and I have
settled down on the verandah with a book. The first warning is usually given by the
dogs, Fanny and her son Paddy. They stir, sit up, look at each other and then go and sit
side by side by the door with their noses practically pressed to the mosquito gauze and
ears pricked. Soon I can hear the hum of the car, and so can Hasmani, the old Game
Scout who sleeps on the back verandah with rifle and ammunition by his side when
George is away. When he hears the car he turns up his lamp and hurries out to rouse
Juma, the houseboy. Juma pokes up the fire and prepares tea which George always
drinks whist a hot meal is being prepared. In the meantime I hurriedly comb my hair and
powder my nose so that when the car stops I am ready to rush out and welcome
George home. The boy and Hasmani and the garden boy appear to help with the
luggage and to greet George and the cook, who always accompanies George on
Safari. The home coming is always a lively time with much shouting of greetings.
‘Jambo’, and ‘Habari ya safari’, whilst the dogs, beside themselves with excitement,
rush around like lunatics.
As though his return were not happiness enough, George usually collects the
mail on his way home so there is news of Ann and young George and letters from you
and bundles of newspapers and magazines. On the day following his return home,
George has to deal with official mail in the office but if the following day is a weekday we
all, the house servants as well as ourselves, pile into the boxbody and go to Dar es
Salaam. To us this means a mornings shopping followed by an afternoon on the beach.
It is a bit cooler now that the rains are on but still very humid. Kate keeps chubby
and rosy in spite of the climate but Johnny is too pale though sturdy enough. He is such
a good baby which is just as well because Kate is a very demanding little girl though
sunny tempered and sweet. I appreciate her company very much when George is
away because we are so far off the beaten track that no one ever calls.
Nzassa 28th April 1939.
You all seem to wonder how I can stand the loneliness and monotony of living at
Nzassa when George is on safari, but really and truly I do not mind. Hamisi the cook
always goes on safari with George and then the houseboy Juma takes over the cooking
and I do the lighter housework. the children are great company during the day, and when
they are settled for the night I sit on the verandah and read or write letters or I just dream.
The verandah is entirely enclosed with both wire mosquito gauze and a trellis
work of heavy expanded metal, so I am safe from all intruders be they human, animal, or
insect. Outside the air is alive with mosquitos and the cicadas keep up their monotonous
singing all night long. My only companions on the verandah are the pale ghecco lizards
on the wall and the two dogs. Fanny the white bull terrier, lies always near my feet
dozing happily, but her son Paddy, who is half Airedale has a less phlegmatic
disposition. He sits alert and on guard by the metal trellis work door. Often a lion grunts
from the surrounding bush and then his hackles rise and he stands up stiffly with his nose
pressed to the door. Old Hasmani from his bedroll on the back verandah, gives a little
cough just to show he is awake. Sometimes the lions are very close and then I hear the
click of a rifle bolt as Hasmani loads his rifle – but this is usually much later at night when
the lights are out. One morning I saw large pug marks between the wall of my bedroom
and the garage but I do not fear lions like I did that beastly leopard on the farm.
A great deal of witchcraft is still practiced in the bush villages in the
neighbourhood. I must tell you about old Hasmani’s baby in connection with this. Last
week Hasmani came to me in great distress to say that his baby was ‘Ngongwa sana ‘
(very ill) and he thought it would die. I hurried down to the Game Scouts quarters to see
whether I could do anything for the child and found the mother squatting in the sun
outside her hut with the baby on her lap. The mother was a young woman but not an
attractive one. She appeared sullen and indifferent compared with old Hasmani who
was very distressed. The child was very feverish and breathing with difficulty and
seemed to me to be suffering from bronchitis if not pneumonia. I rubbed his back and
chest with camphorated oil and dosed him with aspirin and liquid quinine. I repeated the
treatment every four hours, but next day there was no apparent improvement.
In the afternoon Hasmani begged me to give him that night off duty and asked for
a loan of ten shillings. He explained to me that it seemed to him that the white man’s
medicine had failed to cure his child and now he wished to take the child to the local witch
doctor. “For ten shillings” said Hasmani, “the Maganga will drive the devil out of my
child.” “How?” asked I. “With drums”, said Hasmani confidently. I did not know what to
do. I thought the child was too ill to be exposed to the night air, yet I knew that if I
refused his request and the child were to die, Hasmani and all the other locals would hold
me responsible. I very reluctantly granted his request. I was so troubled by the matter
that I sent for George’s office clerk. Daniel, and asked him to accompany Hasmani to the
ceremony and to report to me the next morning. It started to rain after dark and all night
long I lay awake in bed listening to the drums and the light rain. Next morning when I
went out to the kitchen to order breakfast I found a beaming Hasmani awaiting me.
“Memsahib”, he said. “My child is well, the fever is now quite gone, the Maganga drove
out the devil just as I told you.” Believe it or not, when I hurried to his quarters after
breakfast I found the mother suckling a perfectly healthy child! It may be my imagination
but I thought the mother looked pretty smug.The clerk Daniel told me that after Hasmani
had presented gifts of money and food to the ‘Maganga’, the naked baby was placed
on a goat skin near the drums. Most of the time he just lay there but sometimes the witch
doctor picked him up and danced with the child in his arms. Daniel seemed reluctant to
talk about it. Whatever mumbo jumbo was used all this happened a week ago and the
baby has never looked back.
Nzassa 3rd July 1939.
Did I tell you that one of George’s Game Scouts was murdered last month in the
Maneromango area towards the Rufigi border. He was on routine patrol, with a porter
carrying his bedding and food, when they suddenly came across a group of African
hunters who were busy cutting up a giraffe which they had just killed. These hunters were
all armed with muzzle loaders, spears and pangas, but as it is illegal to kill giraffe without
a permit, the Scout went up to the group to take their names. Some argument ensued
and the Scout was stabbed.
The District Officer went to the area to investigate and decided to call in the Police
from Dar es Salaam. A party of police went out to search for the murderers but after
some days returned without making any arrests. George was on an elephant control
safari in the Bagamoyo District and on his return through Dar es Salaam he heard of the
murder. George was furious and distressed to hear the news and called in here for an
hour on his way to Maneromango to search for the murderers himself.
After a great deal of strenuous investigation he arrested three poachers, put them
in jail for the night at Maneromango and then brought them to Dar es Salaam where they
are all now behind bars. George will now have to prosecute in the Magistrate’s Court
and try and ‘make a case’ so that the prisoners may be committed to the High Court to
be tried for murder. George is convinced of their guilt and justifiably proud to have
succeeded where the police failed.
George had to borrow handcuffs for the prisoners from the Chief at
Maneromango and these he brought back to Nzassa after delivering the prisoners to
Dar es Salaam so that he may return them to the Chief when he revisits the area next
I had not seen handcuffs before and picked up a pair to examine them. I said to
George, engrossed in ‘The Times’, “I bet if you were arrested they’d never get
handcuffs on your wrist. Not these anyway, they look too small.” “Standard pattern,”
said George still concentrating on the newspaper, but extending an enormous relaxed
left wrist. So, my dears, I put a bracelet round his wrist and as there was a wide gap I
gave a hard squeeze with both hands. There was a sharp click as the handcuff engaged
in the first notch. George dropped the paper and said, “Now you’ve done it, my love,
one set of keys are in the Dar es Salaam Police Station, and the others with the Chief at
Maneromango.” You can imagine how utterly silly I felt but George was an angel about it
and said as he would have to go to Dar es Salaam we might as well all go.
So we all piled into the car, George, the children and I in the front, and the cook
and houseboy, immaculate in snowy khanzus and embroidered white caps, a Game
Scout and the ayah in the back. George never once complain of the discomfort of the
handcuff but I was uncomfortably aware that it was much too tight because his arm
above the cuff looked red and swollen and the hand unnaturally pale. As the road is so
bad George had to use both hands on the wheel and all the time the dangling handcuff
clanked against the dashboard in an accusing way.
We drove straight to the Police Station and I could hear the roars of laughter as
George explained his predicament. Later I had to put up with a good deal of chaffing
and congratulations upon putting the handcuffs on George.
Nzassa 5th August 1939
George made a point of being here for Kate’s fourth birthday last week. Just
because our children have no playmates George and I always do all we can to make
birthdays very special occasions. We went to Dar es Salaam the day before the
birthday and bought Kate a very sturdy tricycle with which she is absolutely delighted.
You will be glad to know that your parcels arrived just in time and Kate loved all your
gifts especially the little shop from Dad with all the miniature tins and packets of
groceries. The tea set was also a great success and is much in use.
We had a lively party which ended with George and me singing ‘Happy
Birthday to you’, and ended with a wild game with balloons. Kate wore her frilly white net
party frock and looked so pretty that it seemed a shame that there was no one but us to
see her. Anyway it was a good party. I wish so much that you could see the children.
Kate keeps rosy and has not yet had malaria. Johnny Jo is sturdy but pale. He
runs a temperature now and again but I am not sure whether this is due to teething or
malaria. Both children of course take quinine every day as George and I do. George
quite frequently has malaria in spite of prophylactic quinine but this is not surprising as he
got the germ thoroughly established in his system in his early elephant hunting days. I
get it too occasionally but have not been really ill since that first time a month after my
arrival in the country.
Johnny is such a good baby. His chief claim to beauty is his head of soft golden
curls but these are due to come off on his first birthday as George considers them too
girlish. George left on safari the day after the party and the very next morning our wood
boy had a most unfortunate accident. He was chopping a rather tough log when a chip
flew up and split his upper lip clean through from mouth to nostril exposing teeth and
gums. A truly horrible sight and very bloody. I cleaned up the wound as best I could
and sent him off to the hospital at Dar es Salaam on the office bicycle. He wobbled
away wretchedly down the road with a white cloth tied over his mouth to keep off the
dust. He returned next day with his lip stitched and very swollen and bearing a
resemblance to my lip that time I used the hair remover.
Splendid Hotel. Dar es Salaam 7th September 1939
So now another war has started and it has disrupted even our lives. We have left
Nzassa for good. George is now a Lieutenant in the King’s African Rifles and the children
and I are to go to a place called Morogoro to await further developments.
I was glad to read in today’s paper that South Africa has declared war on
Germany. I would have felt pretty small otherwise in this hotel which is crammed full of
men who have been called up for service in the Army. George seems exhilarated by
the prospect of active service. He is bursting out of his uniform ( at the shoulders only!)
and all too ready for the fray.
The war came as a complete surprise to me stuck out in the bush as I was without
wireless or mail. George had been away for a fortnight so you can imagine how
surprised I was when a messenger arrived on a bicycle with a note from George. The
note informed me that war had been declared and that George, as a Reserve Officer in
the KAR had been called up. I was to start packing immediately and be ready by noon
next day when George would arrive with a lorry for our goods and chattels. I started to
pack immediately with the help of the houseboy and by the time George arrived with
the lorry only the frig remained to be packed and this was soon done.
Throughout the morning Game Scouts had been arriving from outlying parts of
the District. I don’t think they had the least idea where they were supposed to go or
whom they were to fight but were ready to fight anybody, anywhere, with George.
They all looked very smart in well pressed uniforms hung about with water bottles and
ammunition pouches. The large buffalo badge on their round pill box hats absolutely
glittered with polish. All of course carried rifles and when George arrived they all lined up
and they looked most impressive. I took some snaps but unfortunately it was drizzling
and they may not come out well.
We left Nzassa without a backward glance. We were pretty fed up with it by
then. The children and I are spending a few days here with George but our luggage, the
dogs, and the houseboys have already left by train for Morogoro where a small house
has been found for the children and me.
George tells me that all the German males in this Territory were interned without a
hitch. The whole affair must have been very well organised. In every town and
settlement special constables were sworn in to do the job. It must have been a rather
unpleasant one but seems to have gone without incident. There is a big transit camp
here at Dar for the German men. Later they are to be sent out of the country, possibly to
The Indian tailors in the town are all terribly busy making Army uniforms, shorts
and tunics in khaki drill. George swears that they have muddled their orders and he has
been given the wrong things. Certainly the tunic is far too tight. His hat, a khaki slouch hat
like you saw the Australians wearing in the last war, is also too small though it is the
largest they have in stock. We had a laugh over his other equipment which includes a
small canvas haversack and a whistle on a black cord. George says he feels like he is
back in his Boy Scouting boyhood.
George has just come in to say the we will be leaving for Morogoro tomorrow
Morogoro 14th September 1939
Morogoro is a complete change from Nzassa. This is a large and sprawling
township. The native town and all the shops are down on the flat land by the railway but
all the European houses are away up the slope of the high Uluguru Mountains.
Morogoro was a flourishing town in the German days and all the streets are lined with
trees for coolness as is the case in other German towns. These trees are the flamboyant
acacia which has an umbrella top and throws a wide but light shade.
Most of the houses have large gardens so they cover a considerable area and it
is quite a safari for me to visit friends on foot as our house is on the edge of this area and
the furthest away from the town. Here ones house is in accordance with ones seniority in
Government service. Ours is a simple affair, just three lofty square rooms opening on to
a wide enclosed verandah. Mosquitoes are bad here so all doors and windows are
screened and we will have to carry on with our daily doses of quinine.
George came up to Morogoro with us on the train. This was fortunate because I
went down with a sharp attack of malaria at the hotel on the afternoon of our departure
from Dar es Salaam. George’s drastic cure of vast doses of quinine, a pillow over my
head, and the bed heaped with blankets soon brought down the temperature so I was
fit enough to board the train but felt pretty poorly on the trip. However next day I felt
much better which was a good thing as George had to return to Dar es Salaam after two
days. His train left late at night so I did not see him off but said good-bye at home
feeling dreadful but trying to keep the traditional stiff upper lip of the wife seeing her
husband off to the wars. He hopes to go off to Abyssinia but wrote from Dar es Salaam
to say that he is being sent down to Rhodesia by road via Mbeya to escort the first
detachment of Rhodesian white troops.
First he will have to select suitable camping sites for night stops and arrange for
supplies of food. I am very pleased as it means he will be safe for a while anyway. We
are both worried about Ann and George in England and wonder if it would be safer to
have them sent out.
Morogoro 4th November 1939
My big news is that George has been released from the Army. He is very
indignant and disappointed because he hoped to go to Abyssinia but I am terribly,
terribly glad. The Chief Secretary wrote a very nice letter to George pointing out that he
would be doing a greater service to his country by his work of elephant control, giving
crop protection during the war years when foodstuffs are such a vital necessity, than by
doing a soldiers job. The Government plan to start a huge rice scheme in the Rufiji area,
and want George to control the elephant and hippo there. First of all though. he must go
to the Southern Highlands Province where there is another outbreak of Rinderpest, to
shoot out diseased game especially buffalo, which might spread the disease.
So off we go again on our travels but this time we are leaving the two dogs
behind in the care of Daniel, the Game Clerk. Fanny is very pregnant and I hate leaving
her behind but the clerk has promised to look after her well. We are taking Hamisi, our
dignified Swahili cook and the houseboy Juma and his wife whom we brought with us
from Nzassa. The boy is not very good but his wife makes a cheerful and placid ayah
and adores Johnny.
Iringa 8th December 1939
The children and I are staying in a small German house leased from the
Custodian of Enemy Property. I can’t help feeling sorry for the owners who must be in
concentration camps somewhere.George is away in the bush dealing with the
Rinderpest emergency and the cook has gone with him. Now I have sent the houseboy
and the ayah away too. Two days ago my houseboy came and told me that he felt
very ill and asked me to write a ‘chit’ to the Indian Doctor. In the note I asked the Doctor
to let me know the nature of his complaint and to my horror I got a note from him to say
that the houseboy had a bad case of Venereal Disease. Was I horrified! I took it for
granted that his wife must be infected too and told them both that they would have to
return to their home in Nzassa. The boy shouted and the ayah wept but I paid them in
lieu of notice and gave them money for the journey home. So there I was left servant
less with firewood to chop, a smokey wood burning stove to control, and of course, the
To add to my troubles Johnny had a temperature so I sent for the European
Doctor. He diagnosed malaria and was astonished at the size of Johnny’s spleen. He
said that he must have had suppressed malaria over a long period and the poor child
must now be fed maximum doses of quinine for a long time. The Doctor is a fatherly
soul, he has been recalled from retirement to do this job as so many of the young
doctors have been called up for service with the army.
I told him about my houseboy’s complaint and the way I had sent him off
immediately, and he was very amused at my haste, saying that it is most unlikely that
they would have passed the disease onto their employers. Anyway I hated the idea. I
mean to engage a houseboy locally, but will do without an ayah until we return to
Morogoro in February.
Something happened today to cheer me up. A telegram came from Daniel which
read, “FLANNEL HAS FIVE CUBS.”
Morogoro 10th March 1940
We are having very heavy rain and the countryside is a most beautiful green. In
spite of the weather George is away on safari though it must be very wet and
unpleasant. He does work so hard at his elephant hunting job and has got very thin. I
suppose this is partly due to those stomach pains he gets and the doctors don’t seem
to diagnose the trouble.
Living in Morogoro is much like living in a country town in South Africa, particularly
as there are several South African women here. I go out quite often to morning teas. We
all take our war effort knitting, and natter, and are completely suburban.
I sometimes go and see an elderly couple who have been interred here. They
are cold shouldered by almost everyone else but I cannot help feeling sorry for them.
Usually I go by invitation because I know Mrs Ruppel prefers to be prepared and
always has sandwiches and cake. They both speak English but not fluently and
conversation is confined to talking about my children and theirs. Their two sons were
students in Germany when war broke out but are now of course in the German Army.
Such nice looking chaps from their photographs but I suppose thorough Nazis. As our
conversation is limited I usually ask to hear a gramophone record or two. They have a
Janet, the ayah whom I engaged at Mbeya, is proving a great treasure. She is a
trained hospital ayah and is most dependable and capable. She is, perhaps, a little strict
but the great thing is that I can trust her with the children out of my sight.
Last week I went out at night for the first time without George. The occasion was
a farewell sundowner given by the Commissioner of Prisoners and his wife. I was driven
home by the District Officer and he stopped his car by the back door in a large puddle.
Ayah came to the back door, storm lamp in hand, to greet me. My escort prepared to
drive off but the car stuck. I thought a push from me might help, so without informing the
driver, I pushed as hard as I could on the back of the car. Unfortunately the driver
decided on other tactics. He put the engine in reverse and I was knocked flat on my back
in the puddle. The car drove forward and away without the driver having the least idea of
what happened. The ayah was in quite a state, lifting me up and scolding me for my
stupidity as though I were Kate. I was a bit shaken but non the worse and will know
better next time.
Morogoro 14th July 1940
How good it was of Dad to send that cable to Mother offering to have Ann and
George to live with you if they are accepted for inclusion in the list of children to be
evacuated to South Africa. It would be wonderful to know that they are safely out of the
war zone and so much nearer to us but I do dread the thought of the long sea voyage
particularly since we heard the news of the sinking of that liner carrying child evacuees to
Canada. I worry about them so much particularly as George is so often away on safari.
He is so comforting and calm and I feel brave and confident when he is home.
We have had no news from England for five weeks but, when she last wrote,
mother said the children were very well and that she was sure they would be safe in the
country with her.
Kate and John are growing fast. Kate is such a pretty little girl, rosy in spite of the
rather trying climate. I have allowed her hair to grow again and it hangs on her shoulders
in shiny waves. John is a more slightly built little boy than young George was, and quite
different in looks. He has Dad’s high forehead and cleft chin, widely spaced brown eyes
that are not so dark as mine and hair that is still fair and curly though ayah likes to smooth it
down with water every time she dresses him. He is a shy child, and although he plays
happily with Kate, he does not care to play with other children who go in the late
afternoons to a lawn by the old German ‘boma’.
Kate has playmates of her own age but still rather clings to me. Whilst she loves
to have friends here to play with her, she will not go to play at their houses unless I go
too and stay. She always insists on accompanying me when I go out to morning tea
and always calls Janet “John’s ayah”. One morning I went to a knitting session at a
neighbours house. We are all knitting madly for the troops. As there were several other
women in the lounge and no other children, I installed Kate in the dining room with a
colouring book and crayons. My hostess’ black dog was chained to the dining room
table leg, but as he and Kate are on friendly terms I was not bothered by this.
Some time afterwards, during a lull in conversation, I heard a strange drumming
noise coming from the dining room. I went quickly to investigate and, to my horror, found
Kate lying on her back with the dog chain looped around her neck. The frightened dog
was straining away from her as far as he could get and the chain was pulled so tightly
around her throat that she could not scream. The drumming noise came from her heels
kicking in a panic on the carpet.
Even now I do not know how Kate got herself into this predicament. Luckily no
great harm was done but I think I shall do my knitting at home in future.
Morogoro 16th November 1940
I much prefer our little house on the hillside to the larger one we had down below.
The only disadvantage is that the garden is on three levels and both children have had
some tumbles down the steps on the tricycle. John is an extremely stoical child. He
never cries when he hurts himself.
I think I have mentioned ‘Morningside’ before. It is a kind of Resthouse high up in
the Uluguru Mountains above Morogoro. Jess Howe-Browne, who runs the large
house as a Guest House, is a wonderful woman. Besides running the boarding house
she also grows vegetables, flowers and fruit for sale in Morogoro and Dar es Salaam.
Her guests are usually women and children from Dar es Salaam who come in the hot
season to escape the humidity on the coast. Often the mothers leave their children for
long periods in Jess Howe-Browne’s care. There is a road of sorts up the mountain side
to Morningside, but this is so bad that cars do not attempt it and guests are carried up
the mountain in wicker chairs lashed to poles. Four men carry an adult, and two a child,
and there are of course always spare bearers and they work in shifts.
Last week the children and I went to Morningside for the day as guests. John
rode on my lap in one chair and Kate in a small chair on her own. This did not please
Kate at all. The poles are carried on the bearers shoulders and one is perched quite high.
The motion is a peculiar rocking one. The bearers chant as they go and do not seem
worried by shortness of breath! They are all hillmen of course and are, I suppose, used
to trotting up and down to the town.
Morningside is well worth visiting and we spent a delightful day there. The fresh
cool air is a great change from the heavy air of the valley. A river rushes down the
mountain in a series of cascades, and the gardens are shady and beautiful. Behind the
property is a thick indigenous forest which stretches from Morningside to the top of the
mountain. The house is an old German one, rather in need of repair, but Jess has made
it comfortable and attractive, with some of her old family treasures including a fine old
Grandfather clock. We had a wonderful lunch which included large fresh strawberries and
cream. We made the return journey again in the basket chairs and got home before dark.
George returned home at the weekend with a baby elephant whom we have
called Winnie. She was rescued from a mud hole by some African villagers and, as her
mother had abandoned her, they took her home and George was informed. He went in
the truck to fetch her having first made arrangements to have her housed in a shed on the
Agriculture Department Experimental Farm here. He has written to the Game Dept
Headquarters to inform the Game Warden and I do not know what her future will be, but
in the meantime she is our pet. George is afraid she will not survive because she has
had a very trying time. She stands about waist high and is a delightful creature and quite
docile. Asian and African children as well as Europeans gather to watch her and George
encourages them to bring fruit for her – especially pawpaws which she loves.
Whilst we were there yesterday one of the local ladies came, very smartly
dressed in a linen frock, silk stockings, and high heeled shoes. She watched fascinated
whilst Winnie neatly split a pawpaw and removed the seeds with her trunk, before
scooping out the pulp and putting it in her mouth. It was a particularly nice ripe pawpaw
and Winnie enjoyed it so much that she stretched out her trunk for more. The lady took
fright and started to run with Winnie after her, sticky trunk outstretched. Quite an
entertaining sight. George managed to stop Winnie but not before she had left a gooey
smear down the back of the immaculate frock.
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 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.December 16, 2021 at 1:51 pm #6240
Phyllis Ellen Marshall
1909 – 1983
Phyllis, my grandfather George Marshall’s sister, never married. She lived in her parents home in Love Lane, and spent decades of her later life bedridden, living alone and crippled with rheumatoid arthritis. She had her bed in the front downstairs room, and had cords hanging by her bed to open the curtains, turn on the tv and so on, and she had carers and meals on wheels visit her daily. The room was dark and grim, but Phyllis was always smiling and cheerful. Phyllis loved the Degas ballerinas and had a couple of prints on the walls.
I remember visiting her, but it has only recently registered that this was my great grandparents house. When I was a child, we visited her and she indicated a tin on a chest of drawers and said I could take a biscuit. It was a lemon puff, and was the stalest biscuit I’d ever had. To be polite I ate it. Then she offered me another one! I declined, but she thought I was being polite and said “Go on! You can have another!” I ate another one, and have never eaten a lemon puff since that day.
Phyllis’s nephew Bryan Marshall used to visit her regularly. I didn’t realize how close they were until recently, when I resumed contact with Bryan, who emigrated to USA in the 1970s following a successful application for a job selling stained glass windows and church furnishings.
I asked on a Stourbridge facebook group if anyone remembered her.
AF Yes I remember her. My friend and I used to go up from Longlands school every Friday afternoon to do jobs for her. I remember she had a record player and we used to put her 45rpm record on Send in the Clowns for her. Such a lovely lady. She had her bed in the front room.
KW I remember very clearly a lady in a small house in Love Lane with alley at the left hand. I was intrigued by this lady who used to sit with the front door open and she was in a large chair of some sort. I used to see people going in and out and the lady was smiling. I was young then (31) and wondered how she coped but my sense was she had lots of help. I’ve never forgotten that lady in Love Lane sitting in the open door way I suppose when it was warm enough.
LR I used to deliver meals on wheels to her lovely lady.
I sent Bryan the comments from the Stourbridge group and he replied:
Thanks Tracy. I don’t recognize the names here but lovely to see such kind comments.
In the early 70’s neighbors on Corser Street, Mr. & Mrs. Walter Braithwaite would pop around with occasional visits and meals. Walter was my piano teacher for awhile when I was in my early twenties. He was a well known music teacher at Rudolph Steiner School (former Elmfield School) on Love Lane. A very fine school. I seem to recall seeing a good article on Walter recently…perhaps on the Stourbridge News website. He was very well known.
I’m ruminating about life with my Aunt Phyllis. We were very close. Our extra special time was every Saturday at 5pm (I seem to recall) we’d watch Doctor Who. Right from the first episode. We loved it. Likewise I’d do the children’s crossword out of Woman’s Realm magazine…always looking to win a camera but never did ! She opened my mind to the Bible, music and ballet. She once got tickets and had a taxi take us into Birmingham to see the Bolshoi Ballet…at a time when they rarely left their country. It was a very big deal in the early 60’s. ! I’ve many fond memories about her and grandad which I’ll share in due course. I’d change the steel needle on the old record player, following each play of the 78rpm records…oh my…another world.
Bryan continues reminiscing about Phyllis in further correspondence:
Yes, I can recall those two Degas prints. I don’t know much of Phyllis’ early history other than she was a hairdresser in Birmingham. I want to say at John Lewis, for some reason (so there must have been a connection and being such a large store I bet they did have a salon?)
You will know that she had severe and debilitating rheumatoid arthritis that eventually gnarled her hands and moved through her body. I remember strapping on her leg/foot braces and hearing her writhe in pain as I did so but she wanted to continue walking standing/ getting up as long as she could. I’d take her out in the wheelchair and I can’t believe I say it along …but down Stanley Road!! (I had subsequent nightmares about what could have happened to her, had I tripped or let go!) She loved Mary Stevens Park, the swans, ducks and of course Canadian geese. Was grateful for everything in creation. As I used to go over Hanbury Hill on my visit to Love Lane, she would always remind me to smell the “sea-air” as I crested the hill.
In the earlier days she smoked cigarettes with one of those long filters…looking like someone from the twenties.
I’ll check on “Send in the clowns”. I do recall that music. I remember also she loved to hear Neil Diamond. Her favorites in classical music gave me an appreciation of Elgar and Delius especially. She also loved ballet music such as Swan Lake and Nutcracker. Scheherazade and La Boutique Fantastic also other gems.
When grandad died she and aunt Dorothy shared more about grandma (who died I believe when John and I were nine-months old…therefore early 1951). Grandma (Mary Ann Gilman Purdy) played the piano and loved Strauss and Offenbach. The piano in the picture you sent had a bad (wonky) leg which would fall off and when we had the piano at 4, Mount Road it was rather dangerous. In any event my parents didn’t want me or others “banging on it” for fear of waking the younger brothers so it disappeared at sometime.
By the way, the dog, Flossy was always so rambunctious (of course, she was a JRT!) she was put on the stairway which fortunately had a door on it. Having said that I’ve always loved dogs so was very excited to see her and disappointed when she was not around.
Phyllis with her parents William and Mary Marshall, and Flossie the dog in the garden at Love Lane:
I’ll always remember the early days with the outside toilet with the overhead cistern caked in active BIG spider webs. I used to have to light a candle to go outside, shielding the flame until destination. In that space I’d set the candle down and watch the eery shadows move from side to side whilst…well anyway! Then I’d run like hell back into the house. Eventually the kitchen wall was broken through so it became an indoor loo. Phew!
In the early days the house was rented for ten-shillings a week…I know because I used to take over a ten-bob-note to a grumpy lady next door who used to sign the receipt in the rent book. Then, I think she died and it became available for $600.00 yes…the whole house for $600.00 but it wasn’t purchased then. Eventually aunt Phyllis purchased it some years later…perhaps when grandad died.
I used to work much in the back garden which was a lovely walled garden with arch-type decorations in the brickwork and semicircular shaped capping bricks. The abundant apple tree. Raspberry and loganberry canes. A gooseberry bush and huge Victoria plum tree on the wall at the bottom of the garden which became a wonderful attraction for wasps! (grandad called the “whasps”). He would stew apples and fruit daily.
Do you remember their black and white cat Twinky? Always sat on the pink-screen TV and when she died they were convinced that “that’s wot got ‘er”. Grandad of course loved all his cats and as he aged, he named them all “Billy”.
Have you come across the name “Featherstone” in grandma’s name. I don’t recall any details but Dorothy used to recall this. She did much searching of the family history Such a pity she didn’t hand anything on to anyone. She also said that we had a member of the family who worked with James Watt….but likewise I don’t have details.
Gifts of chocolates to Phyllis were regular and I became the recipient of the overflow!
What a pity Dorothy’s family history research has disappeared! I have found the Featherstone’s, and the Purdy who worked with James Watt, but I wonder what else Dorothy knew.
I mentioned DH Lawrence to Bryan, and the connection to Eastwood, where Bryan’s grandma (and Phyllis’s mother) Mary Ann Gilman Purdy was born, and shared with him the story about Francis Purdy, the Primitive Methodist minister, and about Francis’s son William who invented the miners lamp.
As a nosy young man I was looking through the family bookcase in Love Lane and came across a brown paper covered book. Intrigued, I found “Sons and Lovers” D.H. Lawrence. I knew it was a taboo book (in those days) as I was growing up but now I see the deeper connection. Of course! I know that Phyllis had I think an earlier boyfriend by the name of Maurice who lived in Perry Barr, Birmingham. I think he later married but was always kind enough to send her a book and fond message each birthday (Feb.12). I guess you know grandad’s birthday – July 28. We’d always celebrate those days. I’d usually be the one to go into Oldswinford and get him a cardigan or pullover and later on, his 2oz tins of St. Bruno tobacco for his pipe (I recall the room filled with smoke as he puffed away).
Dorothy and Phyllis always spoke of their ancestor’s vocation as a Minister. So glad to have this history! Wow, what a story too. The Lord rescued him from mischief indeed. Just goes to show how God can change hearts…one at a time.
So interesting to hear about the Miner’s Lamp. My vicar whilst growing up at St. John’s in Stourbridge was from Durham and each Harvest Festival, there would be a miner’s lamp placed upon the altar as a symbol of the colliery and the bountiful harvest.
More recollections from Bryan about the house and garden at Love Lane:
I always recall tea around the three legged oak table bedecked with a colorful seersucker cloth. Battenburg cake. Jam Roll. Rich Tea and Digestive biscuits. Mr. Kipling’s exceedingly good cakes! Home-made jam. Loose tea from the Coronation tin cannister. The ancient mangle outside the back door and the galvanized steel wash tub with hand-operated agitator on the underside of the lid. The hand operated water pump ‘though modernisation allowed for a cold tap only inside, above the single sink and wooden draining board. A small gas stove and very little room for food preparation. Amazing how the Marshalls (×7) managed in this space!
The small window over the sink in the kitchen brought in little light since the neighbor built on a bathroom annex at the back of their house, leaving #47 with limited light, much to to upset of grandad and Phyllis. I do recall it being a gloomy place..i.e.the kitchen and back room.
The garden was lovely. Long and narrow with privet hedge dividing the properties on the right and the lovely wall on the left. Dorothy planted spectacular lilac bushes against the wall. Vivid blues, purples and whites. Double-flora. Amazing…and with stunning fragrance. Grandad loved older victorian type plants such as foxgloves and comfrey. Forget-me-nots and marigolds (calendulas) in abundance. Rhubarb stalks. Always plantings of lettuce and other vegetables. Lots of mint too! A large varigated laurel bush outside the front door!
Such a pleasant walk through the past.
An autograph book belonging to Phyllis from the 1920s has survived in which each friend painted a little picture, drew a cartoon, or wrote a verse. This entry is perhaps my favourite:
Clara wiggled her wooly fair isle toes in front of the log fire. She was glad she’d brought her thick socks ~ the temperature had dropped and snow was forecast. Good job we got that box out before the ground froze, she said to her grandfather. He made an indecipherable harumphing noise by way of reply and asked her if she’d found out anything yet about the inscriptions.
“No,” Clara sighed, “Not a thing. I’ll probably find it when I stop looking.”
Bob raised an eyebrow and said nothing. She’d always had a funny way of looking at things. Years ago he’d come to the conclusion that he’d never really fathom how her mind worked, and he’d accepted it. Now, though, he felt a little uneasy.
“Oh look, Grandpa! How fitting! It’s the daily random quote from The Daily Wail. Listen to this: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift; that’s why it’s called The Present.” What a perfect sync!”
“Oh aye, it’s a grand sink, glad you like it! It was about time I had a new one. It was a wrench to part with the old one, after seeing your grandma standing over it for all those years, but it was half price in the sale, and I thought, why not Bob, be a devil. One last new sink before I kick the bucket. I was fed up with that bucket under the old sink, I can tell you!”
Clara blinked, and then smiled at the old man, leaning over to squeeze his arm. “It’s a great sink, Grandpa.”
Bugger them all then, Lucinda said to herself, I’ll carry on here without them.
For a time she had been despondent at being abandoned, sinking into an aching overcast gloom to match the weather. Waiting for it to rain, and then waiting for it to stop.
On impulse, in an attempt to snap out of the doldrums, she signed up for a Creative Writing and Rambling course at the local Psychic Self Institute. Institutionalizing psychic matters had been the brainchild of the latest political party to gain power, and hitherto under the radar prophets, healers and remote viewers had flocked to sign up. The institute has promised pension and public health credits to all members who could prove their mental prowess, and needless to say it had attracted many potential scammers: useless nobodies who wanted to heal their diseases, or lazy decrepit old scroungers who wanted to retire.
Much to everyone’s surprise, not least their own, the majority of them had passed the tests, simply by winging it: making it up and hoping for the best. Astonishingly the results were more impressive than the results from the already established professional P.H.A.R.T.s ~ (otherwise known as Prophets, Healers and Remote Technicians).
This raised questions about the premise of the scheme, and how increasingly difficult it was to establish a criteria for deservingness of pensions and health care, particularly if any untrained and unregistered Tom, Dick or Harry was in possession of superior skills, as appeared to be the case. The debate continues to this day.
Nothwithstanding, the Institute continued to offer courses, outings and educational and inspiring talks. The original plan had been to offer qualifications, but the entrance exams had provoked such a quandary about the value and meaning (if any) of qualifications, that the current modus operandi was to simply offer each member, regardless of merit or experience, a simple membership card with a number on it. It was gold coloured and had classical scrolls and lettering on it in an attempt to bestow worth and meaning. Nobody was fooled, but everyone loved it.
And everyone loved the tea room at the Institute. It was thought that some cake aficionado’s had even joined the Institute merely for the desserts, but nobody objected. There was a welcome collective energy of pleasure, appreciation and conviviality in the tea room, and it’s magnetic appeal ~ and exceptional cakes ~ ensured it’s popularity and acclaim.
A small group had started a campaign to get it placed on the Institutes Energetic Cake Connector mapping programme. As Lucinda had said in a moment of clarity, “A back street bar can be just as much of an energy magnet as an old stone relic”, casting doubt over the M.O.S.S group’s (Mysterious Old Stone Sites) relevance to anything potentially useful.
“In fact,” Lucinda continued, surprising herself, ““I’ve only just realized that the energy magnets aren’t going to be secret, hidden and derelict. They’re going to be busy. Like cities.”
Several members of the M.O.S.S group had glared at her.
Lucinda hadn’t really thought much about what to expect in the creative writing classes.
When Albie woke up, it was shaking all around, as if the ground was quaking under him. It took him a moment to realize he was at the back of the jeep, and the jeep was careening on the dirt road, with none other than Mandrake at the wheel.
“I’m not sure you realized, but we’re being chased!”
The sound of a bullet flew by, missing the car window only thanks to an agile quarter turn of the wheel by Mandrake, followed by a sudden acceleration back onto the road.
“Who’s chasing us!!?” Albie was confused.
“Unclear!” Arona shouted, aiming at the black and white corvette behind them, with Ugo the gecko trying to keep stuck onto her head despite the shaking.
She fired three shots of her magical Owl Pellets, reloading after each one.
“We’re going to be short of ammo, Mandrake! How far?!”
“I DON’T KNOW” the cat meowed, braking to avoid running over a loitering marsupial.
“You have no idea how difficult it is to find a body of water in this place, do you?! We missed the turn to the waterhole about 30 miles ago, at this speed!”
“Better not to risk it, not enough water depth! We need the river.”
“Todd River should be around that cliff there,” he pointed. But the road ends… heEEere!!”
“GO FOR IT!”
** S PLASH **
The other car had braked just before the cliff, while the jeep was sinking slowly into the river which was carrying them near the shore.
All Albie could see next was the swirl of pouring light mixed into the water vortex.
He held his breath as tight as possible, for as… long… as… possible.
“Mmm, that was entertaining. But it ruined my dinner.”
The dragon was there, looking at the three of them drenched near its pool. They were back at the Doline.
What the dickens are you doing, Bert Buxton, I asked him. I mean really! So much to do and he’s messing around down there with things that don’t need to be done! I gave him a list a mile long of repairs that needed seeing to before the guests arrive: sort the sink out in room 8, have a look at the electrics in the dining room and stop that annoying strobing ~ what if one of these new guests is an epileptic, I said, and he said Oh alright then, he’s pretty good on the whole, old Bert. Then there’s Mater’s old sewing machine seized up and rusty and I’d promised a seamstress, and all the rest of it, not least that god awful stink coming from god knows where in Mater’s bathroom.
So why, I ask you ~ and I asked him straight out, I said Bert, what the dickens are you doing changing all the locks down there? Now, of all times, when there are so many jobs to do!
He didn’t tell me though, he said You do your jobs, and leave me to do mine, that’s what he said. And I thought, well, he’s right, I got more than enough jobs of my own to do, and left him to it.
Muriel looked at the unfinished construction work with an eye of reproach.
“No, it’s not the loo, dear. Your atrocious gargoyles, I may say, do add a bit of… Gothic flavour to it. Does for lazy bowels better than prunes if you ask me. I can’t be more in a hurry to leave the place. But no, it’s more the sink —or lack thereof— that I’m worried about. But of course I’m sure you have a plan for that…” She eyed Eleri over her round spectacles, precariously balanced at the tip of her angular nose, in a way that made Eleri uncomfortable.
“Well, we kind of lost hope, after all the joiners and handymen that have come to fix it, and abandoned the work.”
“So? Are you calling it quits? That’s not reasonable. Are you sure you’ve not badly chosen the spot, like decided to put in above a cursed indigenous cemetery, or that there isn’t some trickster pixie spell there?”
Glynis, who was there with a basket of laundry ventured rather boldly:
“I don’t think so, Morayeel.” She smiled innocently, knowing full well Muriel didn’t like the nickname and continued, even more emboldened.
“I have dejinxed the place myself. No, I think the problem is that it’s too clean now. I probably must lift the cleaning spell, or no worker will ever approach the place and get it finished.”
Fox, layered in warm clothes, looked dubiously at the hellishcopter. He had assumed it was fantastic and awe inspiring creature from the underworld. But it wasn’t.
“It’s a carpet with a circular wooden platform,” he said, feeling a bit disappointed. He noticed the steam that formed out of his mouth with every word and it made him feel cold despite the numerous layers around him.
The carpet was floating limply above its shadow on the snow. It looked old and worn out by years of use. The reds blues and greens were dull and washed-out, and it was hard to tell apart the original motives from stains. Oddly enough it was clear of dust.
“Not just a carpet, said Lhamom with her usual enthusiasm illuminating her face. It’s a magic carpet.” She wore that local coat of them which looked so thin compared to his multiple layers, but she had assured him it was warm enough for far worse temperatures. Steam was also coming out of her mouth when she talked.
Fox was still not convinced. “And how fast does it go?”
“Fast enough,” said Lhamom. “You’ll all be back in no time to the forest.”
“Isn’t there a risk for the luggage to fall off? I don’t see any practical way to attach them.”
“Oh! Sure,” retorted Lhamom with an amused look. “You won’t fall from the platform unless someone pushes you out.”
Fox winced and gulped. His mind had showed him someone shaken by an uncontrollable movement and pushing him off the platform above the sharp mountain tops, and even if it his fantasy had no sound, it was not very reassuring.
Lhamom looked at him sharply. “Are you afraid of heights?” she asked.
Fox shrugged and looked away at Rukshan who was busy packing the camp with Olliver and their guide.
“What if I am?” Fox said.
“I have some pills,” she said, foraging in her numerous pockets. She brandished victoriously an old little wooden box that she opened and showed him brown pills that looked and smelled like they had been made by dung beetles.
Rukshan had finished his packing and was approaching them with a messenger bag.
“Don’t play with him too much, he said, in his current state Fox’s will swallow everything, except food.” Rukshan and Olliver laughed. Fox didn’t know what to make of it, feeling too exhausted to find clever retorts. Lhamom winked at him and put the pills back in her pocket.
Rukshan put his hand on Fox’s shoulder. “We’re going home through a sand portal, he said giving putting a hand on his bag. I’ve gathered coloured sand from the different places we visited and Lhamom had brought some holy dripping water collected from the running nose of the lama headmaster of Pulmol Mountain when he last had a cold.”
That sounded a little complicated to Fox and he didn’t try to make sense of it.
“We’ll only go on the hellishcopter to fly throught the portal with all the stuff we collected. But I need time to make the sand portal, and from what you reported the dogs have said, we may only have little time available before that thing you have felt come to us.”
Fox started. With his bowel adventures and Rukshan’s previous dismissal of the matter, Fox had forgotten about the odd presence he had smelled and that had seemed to preoccupy the hunting dogs at night.
“What do you mean?” he asked, trying to not let worry crept back in his mind.
“I first thought it was fantasies coming out of your imagination because of your poor health condition, but when I told Lhamom this morning she told me what it was.” Rukshan hesitated.
“What? asked Fox, his heartbeat going faster.
“Some kind of ancient spirit roaming through the mountain. It feeds of human flesh and is attracted by magic. It was liberated by an earthquake recently and it that Olliver and Tak felt. Up until now the dogs, who are the gardians of the mountains, were enough to ward it off for us despite the presence of the baby snoot. But now that Lhamom has brought the spoon and that I’m going to use magic for the portal, it may get bolder and the dogs will not be enough to stop it. Fortunately it only gets out at night, so we have ample enough time, Rukshan said cheerfully. Olliver also is exhausted and he can’t use his teleporting abilities for all of us. By using a sand portal I may even be able to lay a trap for the spirit when we leave, but I need to begin now and let’s pray the weather remains clear and windless.”
It took some time for the meaning and the implications of flesh eating to sink into Fox’s mind. He looked nervously at the sky where it seemed a painter had splashed a few white strokes of clouds with his giant brush. Were they still or moving? Fox couldn’t tell. He looked back at Rukshan and Lhamom.
“What can I do to help?”
“I need you to explain the plan to the dogs so that they release the spirit when I give the signal.”
“I feel really bad now,” Godfrey said to nobody in particular, although he hoped Finnley’s hearing was as good as usual, while she was busying herself dusting the booklice off bookshelves. With the humidity, there was an infestation, and Finnley was polishing her art of war against the invaders in novel ways each day.
“There’s really no need” she answered, or maybe she wasn’t, but Godfrey was glad for their parallel monologues.
“True, true, nobody has really forced anybody into a tooth synch…”
“How clogged is the sink is what to think about…” never-missing-a-bit-of-synch Finnley answered, taking her bag of booklice harvest to the kitchen.
Then, smiling wickedly while raising the bag to eye level “not as good as huhu bugs, but hey, it’ll make for a easier to chew medicine…”
“So, that’s where the gardener has been hiding all this time…” Godfrey thought, quietly stepping out of the shadows into the sinkhole tunnels. “Maybe I’ll just tell Liz’ he has resigned. Although she seemed more taken by this one than with the previous guys…”
While the gardener was snoring loudly, he took time to look around, and noticed the sprouting sack.
“How curious that those old books have started to come to life again…”
An idea had crossed his mind, both dreadful and exciting. The portal…
Leaving the gardener to his dreams, and taking another secret exit out of the dark tunnel, opening another succession of doors with the turn of a key hanging from the watch chain of his burgundy waistcoat, he soon found himself reappearing into a deep secret place. A small round room, almost like the inner chamber of a burrow, with no visible door, no window, seemingly lit only by a single ray of light coming from the pinhole in the ceiling, reflected on the glittering curved walls. At one side, was a well, and one could hear the humming sound of flowing underground water.
On the well, where deeply carved words : “HC SVNT DRACONES”. Just below them, painted in white in Godfrey’s flowering handwriting : “Here be dragons!”
There still was the heavy latch, bolted by a large futuristic-looking lock.
Popping a peanut in his mouth, he smiled wryly, reminisced of what Finnley had said about her “discovering” of the attic; yes, their secret was fine with them for now. At least so long as what was locked on the other side stayed there of course…
The sack got heavier with each step, as the old abandoned characters grew in anticipation, sending long tendrils through the loose weave of the hessian. The extra weight didn’t slow Roberto down, in fact he felt invigorated and inspired with something more interesting to do than pander to the others in that madhouse of Elizabeth.
One particularly persistent shoot near the top of the sack kept winding itself around Roberto’s neck, and when he unwound it repeatedly, it would jiggle as he walked and poke him in the eye, before curling itself back around his neck.
I wonder which character you will turn out to be when we get you planted, he admonished the tendril goodnaturedly, for it was a gentle twining around his neck, and playful.
As the gardener walked, appreciating the puffy white clouds scudding across the baby blue sky and the bird twittering and swooping, he felt a sense of purpose and depth that had been missing from his life in recent years. It had been entertaining at the madhouse, but only superficially. He had felt destined for more than raking leaves and pruning roses. Now he had a mission, and felt lighter at the same time as feeling very much more substantial.
The twining tendril round his neck suddenly thrust our several more pale green leaves, obscuring Roberto’s vision entirely. He was chuckling affectionately as he fell into the sink hole, and as he fell, the sack burst open, scattering the characters willy nilly into the vast underground cavern that he found himself in.
The garden was becoming too small for Gorrash. With time, the familiarity had settled down in his heart and he knew very well each and every stone or blade of grass there was to know. With familiarity, boredom was not very far. Gorrash threw a small pebble in the pond, he was becoming restless and his new and most probably short friendship with Rainbow had triggered a seed in his heart, the desire to know more about the world.
Before he’d met the creature, Gorrash could remember the pain and sadness present in the heart of his maker. He had thought that was all he needed to know about the world, that mankind was not to be trusted. And he had avoided any contact with that dragon lady, lest she would hurt him. He knew that all came from his maker, although he had no real access to the actual memories, only to their effects.
Gorrash threw another pebble into the pond, it made a splashing sound which dissolved into the silence. He imagined the sound was like the waves at the surface of the pond, going endlessly outward into the world. He imagined himself on top of those waves, carried away into the world. A shiver ran through his body, which felt more like an earthquake than anything else, stone bodies are not so flexible after all. He looked at the soft glowing light near the bush where Rainbow was hiding. The memory of joy and love he had experienced when they hunted together gave his current sadness a sharp edge, biting into his heart mercilessly. He thought there was nothing to be done, Rainbow would leave and he would be alone again.
His hand reached in his pocket where he found the phial of black potion he had kept after Rainbow refused it. He shook it a few times. Each time he looked at it, Gorrash would see some strange twirls, curls and stars in the liquid that seemed made of light. He wondered what it was. What kind of liquid was so dark to the point of being luminous sometimes ? The twirls were fascinating, leading his attention to the curls ending in an explosion of little stars. Had the witch captured the night sky into that bottle?
Following the changes into the liquid was strangely soothing his pain. Gorrash was feeling sleepy and it was a very enjoyable feeling. Feelings were quite new to him and he was quite fascinated by them and how they changed his experience of the world. The phial first seemed to pulse back and forth into his hand, then the movement got out and began to spread into his body which began to move back and forth, carried along with this sensual lullaby. Gorrash wondered if it would go further, beyond his body into the world. But as the thought was born, the feeling was gone and he was suddenly back into the night. A chill went down his spine. It was the first time. The joy triggered his sadness again.
The dwarf looked at the dark phial. Maybe it could help ease his pain. He opened it, curious and afraid. What if it was poison? said a voice of memory. Gorrash dismissed it as the scent of Jasmine reached his nose. His maker was fond of Jasmine tea, and he was surprised at the fondness that rose in his heart. But still no images, it was merely voices and feelings. Sometimes it was frustrating to only have bits and never the whole picture, and full of exasperation, Gorrash gulped in the dark substance.
Nothing was happening. He could still hear the cooing of Rainbow, infatuated with it eggs, he could hear the scratches of the shrews, the flight of the insects. That’s when Gorrash noticed something was different as he was beginning to hear the sharp cries of the bats above. He tried to move his arm to look at the phial, but his body was so heavy. He had never felt so heavy in his short conscious life, even as the light of the Sun hardened his body, it was not that heavy.
The soil seemed to give way under his increasing weight, the surface tension unable to resist. He continued to sink into the ground, down the roots of the trees, through the tunnels of a brown moles quite surprised to see him there, surrounded by rocks and more soil, some little creatures’ bones, and down he went carried into hell by the weight of his pain.
After some time, his butt met a flat white surface, cold as ice, making him jump back onto his feet. The weird heaviness that a moment before froze his body was gone. He looked around, he was in a huge cave and he was not alone. There was an old woman seated crosslegged on a donkey skin. Gorrash knew it was a donkey because it still had its head, and it was smiling. The old woman had hair the colour of the clouds before a storm in summer, It was full of knots and of lightning streaks twirling and curling around her head. Her attention was all on the threads she had in her hands. Gorrash counted six threads. But she was doing nothing with them. She was very still and the dwarf wondered if she was dead or asleep.
What do you want? asked the donkey head in a loud bray.
It startled the dwarf but it didn’t seem to bother the old lady who was still entranced and focused on her threads.
Nothing, said Gorrash who couldn’t think of anything he would want.
Nonsense, brayed the donkey, laughing so hard that the skin was shaking under the old lady. Everyone wants something. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want something.
Gorrash thought about what he could want, what he had been wanting that night. He remembered his desire to get out of the garden.
And there you are, brayed the donkey head, that’s a start. What do you want then?
Getting out of the garden?
Noooo! That’s a consequence of a deeper desire, but that’s not what you want.
I have never thought about desires before, said Gorrash. It’s pretty new to me. I just came to life a few weeks ago during a full moon.
The donkey head tilted slightly on its right. No excuses, it spat, If you’re awake, then you have a desire in your heart that wants to be fulfilled. What do you want? Take your time, but not too long. The universe is always on the move and you may miss the train, or the bus, or the caravan…
As the donkey went on making a list of means of transportation, Gorrash looked hesitantly at the old lady. She was still focused on her six threads she had not moved since he had arrived there.
Who is she? he asked to the donkey.
_She’s known by many names and has many titles. She’s Kumihimo Weaver of Braids, Ahina Maker of Songs, Gadong Brewer of Stews…
Ok! said Gorrash, not wanting the donkey go on again into his list enumeration pattern. What is she doing?
And, what is she waiting for?
She’s waiting for the seventh thread, brayed the donkey head. I’m also waiting for the thread, it whined loudly. She won’t leave my back until she’s finished her braid. The head started to cry, making the dwarf feel uncomfortable. Suddenly it stopped and asked And, who are you?
The question resonated in the cave and in his ears, taking Gorrash by surprise. He had no answer to that question. He had just woken up a few weeks ago in that garden near the forest, with random memories of a maker he had not known, and he had no clue what he desired most. Maybe if he could access more memories and know more about his maker that would help him know what he wanted.
Good! brayed the donkey, We are making some progress here. Now if you’d be so kind as to give her a nose hair, she could have her last thread and she could tell you where to find your maker.
Hope rose in Gorrash’s heart. Really?
Certainly, brayed the head with a hint of impatience.
But wouldn’t a nose hair be too short for her braid? asked the dwarf. All the other threads seemed quite long to him.
Don’t waste my time with such triviality. Pull it out!
Gorrash doubted it would work but he grabbed a nose hair between his thumb and index and began to pull. He was surprised as he didn’t feel the pain he expected but instead the hair kept being pulled out. He felt annoyed and maybe ashamed that it was quite long and he had not been aware of it. He took out maybe several meters long before a sudden pain signalled the end of the operation. Ouch!
hee haw, laughed the donkey head.
The pain brought out the memory of a man, white hair, the face all wrinkled, a long nose and a thin mouth. He was wearing a blouse tightened at his waist by a tool belt. He was looking at a block of stone wondering what to make out of it, and a few tears were rolling down his cheeks. Gorrash knew very well that sadness, it was the sadness inside of him. Many statues surrounded the man in what looked like a small atelier. There were animals, gods, heads, hands, and objects. The vision shifted to outside the house, and he saw trees and bushes different than the ones he was used to in the garden where he woke up. Gorrash felt a strange feeling in his heart. A deep longing for home.
Now you have what you came here for. Give the old lady her thread, urged the donkey. She’s like those old machines, you have to put a coin to get your coffee.
Gorrash had no idea what the donkey was talking about. He was still under the spell of the vision. As soon as he handed the hair to the woman, she began to move. She took the hair and combined it to the other threads, she was moving the threads too swiftly for his eyes to follow, braiding them in odd patterns that he felt attracted to.
Time for you to go, said the donkey.
I’d like to stay a bit longer. What she’s doing is fascinating.
Oh! I’m sure, brayed the donkey, But you have seen enough of it already. And someone is waiting for you.
The dwarf felt lighter. And he struggled as he began levitating. What!? His body accelerated up through the earth, through the layers of bones and rocks, through the hard soil and the softer soil of years past. He saw the brown mole again and the familiar roots of the trees of the garden in the enchanted forest.
Gorrash took a deep breath as he reintegrated his stone body. He wobbled, trying to catch his ground. He felt like throwing up after such an accelerated trip. His knees touched the ground and he heard a noise of broken glass as he dropped the phial.
“Are you alright?” asked a man’s voice. Gorrash forced his head up as a second wave of nausea attempted to get out. A man in a dark orange coat was looking down at him with genuine worry on his face.
“I’m good,” said the dwarf. “But who are you?”
“My name is Fox. What’s yours?”
“Glod help us all when Jacques Schitt and Frank Diddley Squat turn up”, Glodfrey remarked with a heartfelt sligh.
After perusing the latest plot proposal he felt a strong need to know just how many characters were potentially on the move. His head swam with the ramifications, and he had a sinking feeling that there were far more characters than he could begin to imagine.
So he started reading, inwardly screaming “don’t make me count!”. At first he’d only considered the earth bound more or less human characters.
“Glod help us all,” he repeated, his eyed glazed with apprehension. “Who will we ever get to ploof lead all this now?
“You deplessing old flart, Glodfrey, for leavens slake, it will be sluch flun!” Lilith said, giving him a playful plunch on the ell bough. “The arrival of The Time Travelling Absinthe Pirates might coincide with the government alien disclosure programme, what a hoot!”
After a couple of hours trudging along the beach, their thirst and fatigue increasing with each step, Igor and Mirabelle came upon a stream trickling into the bay. They followed the stream inland, hoping to find a place far enough from the sea that would provide them with fresh water to drink. The sun was sinking, casting a pinkish glow on the water, giving it the appearance of molten coppery rose gold.
“Listen! Do you hear that?”
“The parrot?” asked Mirabelle.
“No, not the parrot! The waterfall! I can hear a waterfall!”
“I miss Huhu”
“Never mind Huhu, come on! I thought you were thirsty.”
Mirabelle has stopped walking, cocking her head to one side to hear better. “Igor, wait! That parrot sounds just like Huhu!”
The breeze was brisk and refreshing despite the weighted heat of the sun, and there were windblown plums and oleander flower heads like dried roses scattered over the patio. Lisa turned the pump on to hose down the dog piss, and started in her customary fashion of starting at the bottom of the patio to wet it down to prepare for a smoother flow from the top near the house. A bit like whetting it’s appetite, she thought, for the stream of diluted yellow piss and detritus. When the bottom was lubricated, she dragged the hose to the top and meticulously hosed every leaf and dog hair from every nook and cranny, behind plant pots and chair legs, under the welcome mat, and the surface of it, chasing the debris with a narrow intense focus of water at times, and at other times with a broad spray, depending on which method was more efficacious in the situation. If it was very hot, sometimes she would spray the tree tops, for no reason other than to stand under the false rain and cool down. She avoided doing this in the middle of the day however, for fear of the water droplets becoming magnifying glasses and scorching the leaves. Making jungle showers was best done as the sun was sinking, when the heat of the day shimmered from every thing saturated with dense warmth.
But it was morning, late morning, and not too hot yet as Lisa continued directing the cleansing flow. She realized that she was very meticulous about hosing the patio, minimum twice a day, and always flushed the rubbish from behind each and every obstacle, even though it was not really necessary to do it so often; merely washing away the smell of dog urine would be enough. It was like a ritual, and she noticed for the first time that she was much more conscientious about, and indeed proficient at, manipulating a hose than she ever was with a broom or a duster. In fact, Jack had once said to her that she handled a hose like a Moroccan, and that had she been working on the building site that he was working on at the time, he would have given her the job of hosing. He said not everyone could handle a hose in such an efficient manner. Lisa was not known for being adept with tools at all, preferring to get on her knees to rake leaves with her hands than struggle with a rake. But with a hose, she was good, very good.
Lisa always checked that the bird bath was topped up with fresh water, and the water bowls for the dogs, wasps, and other creatures were replenished.
The levels that Jack had constructed worked marvelously well, and as the hosing continued the various streams gathered speed and joined together for the last slope into the garden, and down the path to pool at the bottom, next to the well from where the water was being pumped to the top from. Back to the source, full circle, impurities filtered through layers and layers of rock until sparkling clear once more, to restore and refresh another day.
Oh go on with you, Lisa giggled to herself, What a load of flowery nonsense.
Lisa felt constipated and feverish. It was the first signs of nicotine withdrawal. She shouldn’t have used so many patches before they left for the Island. And she hadn’t thought of bringing some for this journey. With the monotony of the landscape, her attention kept drifting away from their goals. She was thinking of Jack again. Was he able to manage all the dogs ? Had he neutered all the cats ? She had dreamt that he was bitten by Flint.
When they arrived near the coast, she felt disappointed. It was kind of greyish. And the drizzle, which started falling shortly after they left Gazalbion, felt cold on her cheeks. This wasn’t helping cheer up her mood. Besides, despite all the fun of ass traveling, after some time, your own eventually hurt.
“Where are the bamboos?” asked Fanella.
Lisa was shivering, the wind had become stronger, which oddly reinforced her feeling of isolation, and the sea looked agitated.
“Yeah! where are the bamboos?” she said, allowing her irritation to blurt out in her tone. Although, in a way she was relieved that they wouldn’t have to build their own raft. Maybe they could even rest a little. She looked at the greenish sand. Maybe not.
Her ass brayed something unintelligible, emitted a small surprised bark, then cleared his throat.
“Sorry for that, after a while, what you shapeshift into begins to run into you”, said Lazuli Galore.
“You must be shapeshifting quite often”, added Sanso pensively.
Lazuli didn’t know how to take that and decided to snort.
“I must have lost track”, he continued, “or the island have changed since the last time I went there, which was when I arrived on the island, and… that’s funny I don’t remember when. Anyway, I can still shapeshift into something else and carry you on the other size.”
“A whale!” said Fanella, excited at the idea.
“Not a whale!” countered Lisa, horrified. “He might think he’s one and make us sink with him.” Her teeth were chattering, she didn’t know if it was because of the cold or because of her withdrawal.
“A duck would be perfect”, she said with a resolute tone. “Ducks float quite well and we could get some warmth under the feathers. We should have taken blankets when we left.”
The ass looked at her, a bit puzzled. “Have you ever seen a duck ?” he asked, “they are quite small.”
Lisa was going to retort something she could have regretted, but Sanso spoke before she could.
“According to my experience, size is not an issue for you, Lazuli”, he said.
Fanella frowned, then put her hand to her mouth and tittered.
Before she could say Jackass, Lisa felt the ass grow between her legs. Soon enough, they were all comfortably settled on the back of a giant mandarin duck, floating away from the grey shore into the unknown.
They stopped on the edge of the main courtyard, from which a large part of the land nearby could be seen. Plumes of steam where raising around the areas where the river’s water fell onto the land below. For the palace and the land were built high in the sky, believed to be latched upon an immense lump of earth, raised from the island by the roots of a giant beanstalk.
King Artie had never ventured outside of the castle. “Tell me Downson, is it true what they say, about that giant beanstalk? I’d like to see it sometime.”
The Chamberlain replied shaking his knuckle-less hand in the air. “Oh well, Majesty, a trip can be arranged, for certain. It would require some magi to guide us, but it can certainly be done. And of course, yes, it is true. Might not have been the case before, but you know, matter and reality sinks their roots deep into beliefs. Whatever the good people believes is, in fact,… actually true.”
But King Artie’s mind was already quickly gone to another topic, not being too fond on dwelling on the metaphysical.
“Any word from Parsifal? Seems to have a unusual high activity of lost souls in the fog down below…”
“No, your Highness, no word yet from the Royal Sentries. Indeed, there has been unusual activity. Some people, I believe with a very active mind and quite an imagination. We had to ask our Priests to conduct a mass to repair a huge hole that appeared a few days ago.”
“Good. You should ask them to have the good people pray for some rain too. That damn heat is unbearable.”
“Of course, Sire. But you know, the good people’s beliefs are fickle, and apart from the farmers, a lot of the townsmen would prefer endless sun and no clouds. Hopefully our dear P’hope Jube the Brave will pray some sense into them.”
“Indeed. Otherwise, a good fall down the Fog Abyss will sure clean up our mass beliefs of those heretics, I expect.”
The ghost captain of the Santa Rosa was an old Peaslander, Peter Pugh, otherwise known as Petit Pois on account of his vast girth. He’d had a fascination with whales all his life, admiring their immensity and smooth shapelessness, and had devoted his life to increasing his own blubber ~ unfortunately to the point where his legs failed to carry him further and he died, alone and frozen, on a cold winter Peasland beach. A particularly wild storm with immense waves had sucked him out to sea, taking most of the beach with him, but his spirit lived on, piloting the galleon for his ghostly lover, Belen. It was a match made in heaven ~ in their ghostly forms, they were vast but weightless, able to occupy the galleon fully, filling every nook and mossy cranny with their energetic formless bulk (but without sinking the ship or flattening the foliage).
“Whale that!” he cried in response to Belen, excited to be teleporting to the balmy waters of the Pacific. The rough harsh climate of the Bay of Biscay reminded him of that cold winter in Peasland ~ he was looking forward to a tropical sojourn.
“To the Big Island!” he shouted, and did a merry jig which caused a tsunami a few hours later on the Galician coast.
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