Africa 1928 – 30, The car as a Boy cartrier

They tell me that once a racist, always a racist, and they may be right. Brought up in the British Raj it is hard to eschew old habits so when I say ‘boys’, I mean men, big black ones at that, in this context anyway – although I have since been taught the error of my ways – I think.
In Africa we had a car, it was an American beast of great dimensions and incredible strength, called an Overlander. It had mica detachable side windows, which formed part of a soft, collapsible hood which rested behind the back seat. The wheels were huge, the mudguards were big and wide, and made an ideal seat for our African servants. Most weeks we went on picnics and this meant taking guards with us to guard the car and more importantly the food, not from marauding people, but baboons which gathered in enormous numbers around all the picnic sites. The servants also functioned in their named capacity and laid out the table cloth, on a low table or adjacent rock, brought chairs, and then set out the food. It is no wonder our neighbours who for all the years spent in Africa, had been dreaming of retiring to Eastbourne. When they achieved their wish after 1945, they only stuck it for two years and then returned to Africa. I suspect their muscles had forgotten what housework really meant
Usually we would take two of the ‘House Boys’, one on each rear mudguard, hanging on to the canopy as we went over dry earth roads which could be rutted after the rains by the wheels of ox carts. In the wet season we might take two more, perched on the front mudguards in case we got bogged down. Our two main venues were the Zambezi and the Victoria Falls, two of the most incredibly breathtaking sights I have ever seen. The River for its sheer width and impressiveness and the Falls because it was so vast, so varied and above all, for its majesty. Seen on film it is certainly majestic, but to see the immensity, the rush of water, hear the noise and feel the constant rain of the spray is an unforgettable lifetime’s experience.
Learning to Swim In The Zambezi The actual bathing was done in the Zambezi itself, an inlet in the bank reduced the velocity of the river to nearly nothing at that point. I have no recollection of currents being a problem. The main river was only about two miles from the Victoria Falls at that point so the velocity in the main stream must have been quite high. To protect the bathers from the ever present threat of crocodiles, wire netting on poles formed the perimeter of the pool, held to the bottom by stones, a crude system which later proved fatal for a friend of mine. There was a diving board of sorts and that was the total sum of the amenities available, but everyone was grateful for them, especially in the dry season.
My father held a bronze medal for life saving which he had gained in the UK before leaving for Africa and he was keen that I should become a strong swimmer. Typically, he therefore initiated a novel regime of teaching. I was expected to jump in to the river off the diving board – a drop of at least six feet – and flounder until, at the last minute my father would rescue me and trail me to shallow water. At that time there was a coin, a silver three-penny piece, called a ticci. Each entry from the diving board was rewarded by a ticci at the end of the session. I, like any other boy of that age, with pocket money scarce and a voracious appetite for spending, thought money had little relevance other than gratification. I was therefore almost prepared to drown if need be to gain another ticci, and at times I thought I might as my father seemed so dilatory in saving me. I was terribly innocent of course, instead of appearing to be a slow learner and extending the life of his tips, sheer self-preservation made me learn the dog-paddle within days, by which time the bonanza was over, there was no more need for further bribery.

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