Rugby Was Certainly A Culture Shock Prior to leaving England for Africa, the only male member of our family whom I had any regular contact with was my grandfather and he was rarely in the house when I was awake. Hence I had never heard of Rugby, as in those days it was mostly a Public School activity. The horizon of women rarely rose above ladylike pursuits, add to this the fact that playing in the street was anathema to our family, for these reasons I was only vaguely aware of the games real people played. My first real run in with life in the raw came about almost as soon as we had arrived in Livingstone, it was a rugby match.
Most of the civil servants were hand-picked which meant Oxbridge, if not that, then Public School, so the prevalent games were rugby, golf and tennis in that order. Hence, as a matter of course, we attended a rugby match at the first opportunity. I hadn’t a clue what was going on, I recognised the ground was hard because I was standing on it and if I had had any doubts to the fact, when two or three of the players, including the dentist, were carried off with broken bones or concussion, I had ample proof. It was an impressive introduction to Africa.
The Case Of The Surgical Saw I loved the sensation of the sand under my bare feet and when out of parental gaze I would kick off my shoes and run about barefoot. Totally daft behaviour, there were all sorts of grubs and creatures just waiting for lunch, and, of course, I paid the penalty, I contracted a sore on the instep of my left foot which would not heal. Years later Willie, my mother, told me it was Beri Beri, but I think she must have been mistaken. We had no private medicine, there were doctors provided by our avuncular Colonial Service and they operated from the hospital. If you were sick you went there unless you were too sick, and then they came to you. I had earlier contracted a severe and persistent case of malaria, so I was well versed in the habits of our local medical profession.
The sore made itself a nuisance at about the time my brother was born, so Willie had her hands full and as I knew most of the medicals socially as well as professionally, she sent me up to the hospital on my own for treatment. As I remember it, there was little to choose between the architectural design of the hospital and our bungalow, just a few extra stabs with the bungalow rubber stamp and hey presto, a drawing for a hospital. Someone or other must have told me to wait because I was seated on the veranda at the back of the hospital kicking my heels and looking round me. People passed and spoke and so time moved on until a doctor stopped, looked at me and said something like ‘I won’t be long’, and disappeared, only to reappear with a bone-saw in his hand. It was similar to the things butchers use, a coarse version of a hacksaw. ‘Won’t be long, Jack,’ he said brandishing the saw and smiling from ear to ear like a pantomime demon, ‘When I’ve finished with this chap you’re next,’ and he gave another flourish with the saw and disappeared.
Aged seven plus, I was no coward, but I let out a screech and my feet barely touched the ground as I ran crying all the way home. Some joke! The fact that I remember it is not surprising, it is still vivid. What I really wonder is whether it really had any long term affect on me. I probably had nightmares for a day or two, but at that age, I believe there was too much going on for it to be taken seriously and I’m sure my parents were not too bothered. Jung, Adler, Freud and litigation were not on everyone’s lips and in those days, it was probably all treated as a silly prank. Pity! Today I’m sure I’d have been scarred for life and only compensation in six figures could possibly assuage the hurt.