In 1996, I visited Zimbabwe to do the research for my Honours dissertation, When “Back Home” isn’t England: making visible the memories, lives and experiences of some white women in Rhodesia. One of the women I interviewed was my Aunt Doris, my father’s brother’s wife. She told me this story about my grandmother and grandfather (my father’s parents).
My aunt told me about when she and Uncle Peter got married (in 1941). They invited Mama and Papa for Christmas dinner. Aunt said, “I was very nervous and wanted everything to be just right.” So she laid the table and lit candles. When Papa arrived he said, “Aren’t the lights working?” and flicked the switch. When the lights came on he said, “Well, Good Luck!” and blew out the candles. Aunt said she was so mortified she didn’t have lit candles on the dinner table for the next 25 years! She said, “Papa related candles with poverty”.
I sometimes wonder what my grandmother had to say about it. Probably not very much as she was not a great talker. My aunt admired her hugely, as did most people. Aunt said, “Mama was … she was a great philosopher. She was wonderful. She was very wise. The time I loved her most was, she never gave advice. She never pushed herself on you. She was lovely. She was quiet and she was wise. And she worked very hard.
Many, but not all, of the stories from the research made it into my dissertation. So there’s a possibility for more blog vignettes.
This is the final volume in the Neapolitan Novels. I’ve lived these novels and sometimes it has been a difficult process. Elena and Lila were born the same year as me so it seemed natural to extrapolate (if that is the right word) what was happening in their lives in Italy to mine in a distant, different world. This final volume was, for me, the most harrowing. As with the other three volumes, while I read this book I had to take time away to recuperate and reflect on the story.
I realise these books are not for everyone but I believe that reading them has enriched my life. These stories have given me a new understanding of friendship, of engagement and life generally. If there was a fifth book in the series, I would snap it up in the blink of an eye.
While decluttering my old tin trunk I found a diary that I had kept as a teenager. This was the year I first flew from Africa to Europe. My parents and younger sister had travelled by passenger liner – Union Castle – but I was not permitted to take time off school. I can’t remember if I flew BOAC, SAA or CAA. The plane was probably a Vickers Viscount. As far as I remember the route was Salisbury, Nairobi, Khartoum, Rome and then London, so probably BOAC. I’m not sure why the flight was diverted to Kano but may have had something to do with the Benghazi aircraft accident. I do know my parents were extremely concerned that I may be on the aircraft that crashed – and were happy to see me safely in Rome! It was a long journey for a solo fourteen year old, but I don’t remember being in the slightest bit nervous.
According to my diary we left Salisbury (Harare) on the afternoon of 9 August. The preparations I made for the journey were to have my hair done (no doubt a nice big bouffant which I promptly redid when I got home) and read a book: The Mask by Stuart Cloete.
To say I was boy-mad is an understatement! My first impressions of Rome seem to be mainly concerned with the handsome men I saw. Apart from checking out the talent, we did a lot of sightseeing including the Trevi Fountain.
Dad took us to the opera – Aida – performed outdoors at the Caracalla Baths. According to my diary I was impressed by the scenery, the camels pooping on the stage and the size of the opera singers. Oh, and staying up till after 1.00am.
I can’t remember the return journey but we were away for at least six weeks, touring Europe and the British Isles. I didn’t return to Europe until 1976 with Roland and Kath.
Decluttering has turned up some amazing memories so I shall continue.
Main Camp, in retrospect, was a place where I learned many things and unlearned many others. In Main Camp I was given a puppy, a Doberman bitch. I named her Liza. Her mother was called Janz and her brother, Prinz (you get the drift). Liza was my best friend and my only confident throughout those years in National Parks. She saved my sanity in Main Camp and in Binga, Roland’s next posting. Liza’s tail was docked, that’s the way things were done in those days. I used to wonder what she would look like with a tail. She was amazingly quick – both in physical speed and mental acuity. Liza would help me in the garden, carefully digging up everything I planted. She was extremely protective of me from the beginning right up until the day she died twelve years later.
In Main Camp I learned that women had little value. They must not be seen as being independent and, frankly, were not really welcome. Most of the other Rangers’ wives in the camp were unimpressed with me and I was made to feel an interloper. The Alpha-woman had ‘chosen’ a bride for Roland and that bride was not me! I learned fairly early in the piece to curb my tongue, to placate and defuse the situation. For a sparky, even volatile, person like myself, this was purgatory.
So, truth be told, the first year of married life was ghastly. If I had had the courage to drive out on my own, I would have done so. In the event, Liza was my salvation. With Roland away on patrol for weeks on end, she was by my side, supporting me in my isolation and in my anger and sadness.
Of course there were highlights. It was not unmitigated doom and gloom. My younger sister came to stay and one night I showed her the elephants as they scratched their thick hides against the corner of the house and munched on the mulberry trees. She was kneeling up on the couch peering through the window and I can remember her saying, “Where are they? I can’t see them!” and then I pointed to the gleaming tusk not a metre away from her. I wonder if she remembers falling backwards off the couch onto the cement floor?
One evening I was walking Liza down on the airstrip and noticed that the Park’s pack-horses and donkeys had not been rounded up for the night. I managed to get behind them and, with Liza’s help, herded them toward the camp. We had not gone far when I realised I was rounding up a herd of wild zebra. In the half-light of dusk their stripes were inconspicuous. We beat a quick retreat. The danger of lions had completely escaped my attention.
In Main Camp, Aaron came to work for me. Aaron was cook, housekeeper and friend. He came with us when we moved from Main Camp to Binga and when we moved from Binga to Salisbury (Harare). He stayed for a while in Salisbury but it was far from his home and he eventually moved back to be nearer his family in Matabeleland.
I am writing down memories. As memories go, there are some that I would not consider committing to paper – and some of this feels like one of them! Some memories are too incriminating of me and some may be hurtful to others. Nevertheless, there are some I’d like to “write out” but not in a public forum. Many of my less savoury experiences I have written about in my private journals. Sometimes I feel this is merely burying them deeper in my psyche. Would publishing them prove to be cathartic?
My first yoga teacher, Lyn Dorfling, died in South Africa on Sunday.
Lyn was a yoga pioneer in South Africa and by the time I met her in 1964 she had already studied with BKS Iyengar in India and, I think, had been initiated by him. She visited us in the Hwange Game Reserve where Roland (her nephew) was working as a ranger. Although she was his aunt, she was only five or six years older than him. Roland and I had only been married for a few weeks and I had not met many of his relatives. Lyn was married to Desmond at that time but they later divorced and she remarried. We lost touch and I believe she was widowed or perhaps divorced again. It seems she was teaching yoga right up to the end as there are classes listed for her in the studio where she worked…