In the then Northern Rhodesia. On film today it is certainly majestic, but to see the immensity, the rush of water, hear the noise and feel the constant rain of the spray in those simple, uncluttered days, is an unforgettable lifetime’s experience. We had an enormous American car, called an Overlander, with a soft, collapsible hood resting behind the back seat.. The wheels were so huge the mudguards were big enough to form a seat for our African servants. Mostly we went on picnics to The Falls or the Zambezi, We needed guards with us to guard the car and more importantly the food, from baboons, which gathered in vast numbers around the picnic sites – they could be vicious. The servants brought chairs, and set out the food. We would take two servants on the rear mudguard, hanging on to the canopy as we went over dry roads, rutted after rain by the wheels of ox carts. In the wet season, we would take two more perched on the front mudguards in case we got bogged down. Neighbours of ours in Livingstone, had, for years, been dreaming of retiring to Eastbourne. When they achieved it, they only stuck it for two years and then returned to Africa. I suspect their muscles had forgotten what housework really meant.
The descriptions of The Victoria Falls run to 11 pages on the Internet; so I will be brief and describe what it was like 76 years ago. There were few visitors then, merely the locals. Both sides of the Zambezi were Northern Rhodesia, now, when crossing the bridge, built in 1908, one leaves Zambia for Zimbabwe, and the Falls Hotel is in Zimbabwe. Only as a special treat did we eat there, mostly we picnicked in an area where the ‘rain’ – spray thrown up by the force of the fall – was absent. Also in Zimbabwe is the Rain Forest, a treed area growing on the edge of the Falls and mostly, soaking wet from the spray The Boiling Pot was where the water from the river fell via the Cateract into the Gorge and with the turbulence and the spray was all the world like a bubbling pot. From the pages of the Internet the area now seems to be highly populated.
THE CAR AS A BATTERING RAM Our house was on a corner of a junction. of two dirt roads. On trips my father would set the car at the edge of the road, facing downhill.. The servants would load it, my parents would get in, the servants would climb onto the mudguards and then we’d be off. On THE day. to get me from under their feet, I was sent to sit in the car, which I did, in the driving seat. Where else? I naturally pretended to drive, who wouldn’t, aged seven. I maintain I did nothing, but then I would, wouldn’t I? It was hot. I know I was. I sat there for an age, and soon became bored with saying brmmm, brmmmmm, but what else was there to do? Start all over again? All I know is that the car suddenly started moving of its own volition and set off down the hill with an excited me on board, It started to track narrowly from one side of the road to the other, gathering speed until it reached the other verge, on a slight bend which it then mounted, knocking down some flimsy fencing, then a telegraph or electricity pole, which sheared at ground level, thanks to the attention of red ants, and which finally fell diametrically across the centre of a hut made of reeds and clay, used to house the servants working for another family. The pole demolished the hut. The car stopped short of the hut. For a short while nothing happened. Where the servants were who used the hut, I had no idea. There were no shouts or groans and death never occurred to me, I was too worried about the impending doom I could see gathering on the horizon, or more accurately at our garden gate.
I was whacked. On principle, if in doubt, whack. I explained or rather pleaded that I had touched nothing, total amnesia though is never an excuse. I found that out years later in the Navy. In fairness, my mother had lifted me from the car amidst the disaster, but she spoiled the effect by scolding. I was never believed by anyone but myself, and that’s no consolation. A totally different and more interesting story was told that evening at Sundowners – alcohol has that effect. My absence in body, if not totally in fact, had been an edict, so I only heard what was said through a crack in a half-closed door, but the story had become a saga, the nub of which was not what had happened to the hut nor to the people who might have been in the hut, not even the traumatic effects on the psyche of a quivering child, (who had never quivered in his life), it was a long and tediously detailed explanation, with many repetitions, of how the car had been extracted from the hut and that it had not sustained so much as a scratch. Everyone has his order of priorities, mine were severely changed that night.