Thursday, November 18, 2010

54. Bulawayo - visit No.3

Because of his musical talents, Patrick was friendly with Des and Dawn Lindberg, who often hosted musical Sunday afternoons, and I spent some time at their lovely home. Dawn was a delightful, very artistic and talented woman and I thought Des treated her with less respect than she deserved. They were very liberal for that time, allowing their black staff to sit in their enormous entrance hall to enjoy the music. Des was a very good photographer and took some lovely pictures of Jeni, Juliea and me, and when it was time for me to leave Johannesburg, it was Dawn’s brother who came to my rescue and took me and my luggage to Johannesburg station. Jeni and I hugged for a long time before saying goodbye; parting was extremely hard for us both of us. The marriage was a complete disaster, and my parting words to Jeni were “Whatever you do, do not get pregnant again.”

The journey from Johannesburg to Bulawayo by ordinary train was much more fun than the expensive Blue Train. I shared the compartment with a delightful Afrikaans lady who, in typical Afrikaans style, had a huge picnic basket filled with lovely food. Afrikaans women are famous for their cooking and baking. Although her command of the English language was limited, and my knowledge of Afrikaans was zero, we enjoyed each other’s company and she insisted that I share her food and not spend a fortune in the train dining car. From what I hear, one could not enjoy such a safe and comfortable journey to Zimbabwe today. Eventually the train pulled into Bulawayo station and there, once more, the family were waiting to greet me. It was a joyous reunion.

Of prime necessity in Africa is transport, and on a very limited budget all I could afford was a motorised bicycle, and I don’t mean a motor scooter. A motorised bicycle was an ordinary bike with something like a garden mower engine attached to the chain, it ran on a tiny petrol tank holding about half a gallon of fuel, and it had to be peddle assisted up hill. Of course my mother did not expect me to contribute to the household expenses at this stage because I had no money – so what else is new? – but later Tom found ways of buying American dollars in Bahrain, and sending them to me whenever possible. Although the black market value was much higher, I took the dollars to the bank for exchange because I was not about to get in trouble with the law. A resident’s or working permit was easily obtained under Ian Smith’s government, and I was employed as an assistant buyer with African Associated Mines. Soon I had enough money to buy a Honda motor scooter which I just loved. Crash helmets were not obligatory then, and I would ride home for lunch or out of town up to Waterford where Jane lived, at thirty miles an hour, or even faster.

Something I have not mentioned before. On my previous visit Father had wanted me to buy a cottage on a one acre stand, supposedly for Tom and me when Tom retired. I told him that I did not have the money for the deposit and that I could in no way commit to anything so important without Tom’s agreement, but he threw a temper tantrum and said well he would buy it then, which he did. Father borrowed money for the deposit from a man who wanted the money repaid in England, because of UDI there were lots of illegal deals going on and, sometime between that visit and this one I had, in fact, met someone in London to whom I handed over the money father had borrowed. This meant that it was Tom who had paid the deposit although the house was not in his name. There were tenants in the house and the rent was paying off the bond. I cannot tell you how, but Father had a way of getting people involved in stuff, willing or not. A few years later when the police were investigating the money lender, father dropped me right in it, our transaction was uncovered and I was in danger of being prosecuted. I was questioned by the fraud squad, or exchange control board or whatever, and gave a truthful account of the whole business. The result was they dropped my case and went looking for bigger fish to fry.

Now we come to another crucial part of the story, and I just hope I have not yet lost you! One evening Jeni telephoned me from a public telephone in Johannesburg to ask if she could come up for a short holiday. It was obvious that she was not alone. Question and answer indicated that this was not to be a short holiday, but a permanent arrangement and while this news did not surprise me it did present several problems, number one being, how was I going to find and pay for accommodation and support us all on my meagre salary?

Father had so enjoyed having me at home, I really had gone out of my way to keep him happy, and he was terribly angry at this new turn of events. We will not emphasise the misery of it all, but he forbade mother to see us or help us in any way, the old “make your bed and lie on it” attitude, and so before Jeni arrived I rented a small caravan on a camping site for a month. When I met Jeni at the bus station she held a tiny toddler by the hand, carried one small suitcase, and was five months pregnant, or thereabouts. The immediate problems seemed insurmountable, but I was so happy to see her.

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