Africa 1928 – 30, The car as a battering ram

Our house was on a corner at the junction of two dirt roads and when we were going on trips my father would take the car and set it on the edge of the road, facing downhill, towards the River and the Falls. The servants would then load the car, my parents would get in, the servants would climb onto the mudguards and then we’d be off. When I actually joined in the proceedings is not clear except on THE Day. On that occasion, probably 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.
To this day 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. If my memory is correct it started to track from one side of the road to the other at a narrow angle, 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.

Categorized as General

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