Archive | 23:50

Fort Knocks

27 Aug

Tory Boy has been asking me to tell you this story. As it is twenty years possibly to the day since it happened, because TB was born in the April of 1990 and we took a road trip to Zimbabwe when he was four months old, which makes it August 1990, I might as well; an anniversary is as good an excuse as any.

We were living in South Africa and Tory Boy was four months old – cue cute picture of him at three years old because we haven’t got any scanned of him at four months; another job to add to my ever-growing list of things I mean to get around to before I die and probably won’t.

The Hub was working for Henred Fruehauf in Jo’burg, selling articulated trailers. He had been with them just over a year and was away a lot and I was a bit fed up of it, especially when he came home. Oops, sorry; accidental full stop there. Especially when he came home and told me about eating in expensive restaurants every night and staying in five star hotels. Such a hard life.

He was making a trip to Zimbabwe and his boss said he could take Tory Boy and me with him if we drove up; food & hotel & petrol would be on them. It was quite a good company for trying to keep the families of the salesmen sweet. When they returned from a trip, they were allowed to take their families for a meal as a thank you from HF for letting them go off and stay in five star hotels and eat caviar made from mermaid’s tails. The Hub, poor love, was sick to death of eating expensive food every night and just wanted a home-cooked meal – even mine; which shows how terrible eating steak & salmon & soul & the livers of lambs raised in gold palaces every night must have been for him – and would not want to take me out. We rowed a lot over this. I had been stuck at home alone for weeks with a baby…umm, at my parents’, actually, being spoiled rotten and run around after. But that’s not the point, is it? He should have taken me out, and didn’t. And I should have cracked him one, and didn’t; I’m the (dover) soul of restraint. Eventually, we reached a compromise: the occasional night out but otherwise takeaways on the night he returned home, inclusive of, but not limited to, a bottle of my favourite wine and enough main courses to do next night’s dinner as well.

I believe it was his guilt at keeping me chained to the house that led to him agreeing to the wife and sprog coming along on a business trip. Also, we had just bought a new car and the Hub was keen to give it a long run and a happy wife can be good company if she doesn’t talk too much.

The car was an Opel something-or-other and just twelve months old; it had been AA checked and the Hub had given it a good look over. We were all set. We woke TB at three in the morning – such a happy baby! Not at all grumpy in the mornings. I miss him. The one I have now hasn’t voluntarily seen daylight since 2004.

We drove through the night and early morning; made Beitbbridge in good time and were allowed to enter Zimbabwe on our British passports, South African passports being frowned upon and all that because of Apartheid. When we first married, we had ex-Rhodesian neighbours who described it as ‘God’s own country’ and they weren’t lying: it is stunningly beautiful. Or was, but that’s a genocidal maniac for you: no respect for scenery.

We had reached the town of Masvingo and the Hub was telling me it had just achieved city status – all three streets of it – when ominous noises and smells began to happen to the car. It broke down. The Hub spent a while fiddling with it; he’s quite handy and can do basic car maintenance, but magic new spark plug leads and a new distributor – both of which had melted – from stifling Zimbabwe air was beyond even caviar-eating-never-taking-his-wife-out-though-she-was-wonderful-back-then him.

This raised another problem: Opels were not driven in Zimbabwe and as a consequence, no Opel parts were available for us to repair the car. This was a country that had so few resources, you had to take back your empty cool drink bottle before buying a new one. Furthermore, there were no mobile phones in those days so he had to trudge the city streets until he found a public phone and a place selling cool drinks who would sell him a cool drink without an empty bottle to trade.

The whole event took several hours, and this brings me to the point of my story: Tory Boy, four months old and sitting in a car during a roasting Zimbabwe lunch time, was brilliant. He didn’t cry or complain or moan or whinge once. Granted, he couldn’t talk, but I’m an excellent mother and I could interpret every sound he made. Even today when he comes out of his room at midnight and grunts, ‘Fude!’, I know he’s actually saying, ‘Mother dearest, be a love and prepare some of your delicious vittles for my aching belly hole, wot can’t live without your egg & chips another minute.’

The Hub contacted his biggest customer as I sat in the car with Tory Boy and watched the slowest man I have ever seen shift in his seat slightly: we had stopped beside veld and I gradually became aware that a tall, thin man was sitting there, watching us. He never came over or spoke to us, he just watched. Silent; still; expressionless. It took him three minutes to turn his head to one side. The seat-shifting took what seemed like an hour. He reminded me of that old story where someone is sitting somewhere and says to someone who asks what he is doing (okay, the details are a little sketchy), ‘Sometimes I just sits and thinks; and sometimes I just sits.’

The Hub came back and the man watched that too, and the Hub said that his customer was going to send a driver for us the next day and arrange for the car to be towed back to South Africa. We were to stay in Masvingo’s best hotel. Also its only hotel, but it was clean and welcoming and our night was only spoiled by the Hub’s incessant squabbling with the mosquitoes storming the room. The Hub was terrified that one of them would bite Tory Boy, who had no net over the cot. I think the Hub had already had malaria by then, which would explain his paranoia.

The baby survived the night thanks to his vigilant father keeping me awake, and I was only a little grumpy in the morning. Only a little, because I was staying in a two star hotel and eating plain food and really enjoying myself.

It was at breakfast that I realised we were the only white people in the hotel; I hadn’t noticed until then. I mention it because South Africa in 1990 was tense due to the struggle against Apartheid, and South Africans were very aware of who was white, black, brown, purple or whatever. In Zimbabwe in 1990, the struggle had been over for quite a while and President Mugabe wasn’t emulating Stalin’s best bits at that point; the country’s atmosphere was warm and welcoming and skin colour really wasn’t an issue. It was a wonderful moment for me; it makes me sad to think of Zimbabwe now.

Our driver arrived in a huge Mercedes around noon, and delivered us to Meikles Hotel in Harare a couple of hours later; most definitely five stars and guaranteed to make me smile twenty years on at the memory of it. I had a happy week of shopping (excellent exchange rate), eating mermaid’s soles in expensive restaurants and room service for a treat, and generally being in a good mood and speaking to the Hub for at least half of every day.

The Hub had promised his little boy a present for being so good while we were stranded, and he scoured Harare’s stores until he found the very thing: a wooden fort. Just what a four-month-old baby needs: war lessons. The Hub and I argued a bit about it, but he persuaded me that it would be a good present because it was expensive, well-made and would last him a lifetime if he looked after it. And he has. He has it packed away now but he played with it a lot over the years, and even let Spud use it on high days and holy days.

He doesn’t remember his trip to Zimbabwe, of course; or his first flight home, on a plane that had the same initials in its registration as he has in his name (this snippet comes to you courtesy of the plane geek who is his father), but he told me the other day that he remembers receiving it, young as he was. We gave it to him around the time of the photo on this post and he has loved it ever since. The Hub was right to buy it: it’s not a toy; it’s a happy memory. For all of us.

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