Wednesday, December 15, 2010

62. Pass the cheese and push the car

The decline of Rhodesia after it became Zimbabwe was slow at first; some items of food were scarce, cheese when available was sold in tiny two ounce blocks. We were having lunch out one day and sitting at a nearby table were four affluent looking black men who had asked for the cheese board. When it arrived one of the men took a big plastic bag out of his pocket and put the whole, large piece of Cheddar cheese into it. I stared in amazement and one of the other men at the table caught my eye, indicated to me his disapproval but also a warning not to make a fuss! The cheese board was then brought to us with just a scrap or two of cheese left, which I refused. On the way out I told the owner in a fairly loud voice, that I hoped, in future, he would only serve small pieces of cheese on the board which could be replaced when used. I was furious.

But the worst shortage was that of petrol. Under UDI petrol was rationed according to our travel requirements so we were assured of basic requirements, but after Independence finding petrol was a matter of luck. We would drive our cars to the nearest petrol station at night, and stay in a queue until the station opened, then a man would walk down the queue handing out numbered cards and if there were no more cards left by the time he reached me, I just had to turn round and drive back home, using more precious petrol. We had a station wagon and it was very difficult trying to steer and push at the same time, turning on the engine would have wasted what little petrol we had.

My mother now made a decision that must have been very difficult for her. Her English old age pension had been frozen for many years and she was receiving something like nine pounds a month, on which she could not survive. We helped her financially but, being fiercely independent, this was hard for her to accept. She was also worried about medical bills. The little flat attached to Ivy’s bungalow in Thundersley became vacant and mother decided to return home to England and live in it. Doris and Ivy were very excited at the thought of them all being together again. We packed her little household of furniture and off she went. I can tell you, that was a heartbreaking farewell.

And here I must tell you about mother’s sideboard which had been purchased from Bentalls in Wimbledon when we were living in Raynes Park. It was quite ornate, had four drawers and two bow shaped side cupboards. Each cupboard had a loose shelf which was balanced on little block of wood, and would tip over very easily. On one shelf mother kept six very pretty coloured cocktail glasses, heaven knows why she had them, she never drank cocktails or anything else alcoholic, and the blue, orange and gold shimmering colours fascinated me. Of course I was the one who tipped up the shelf and smashed the lot. I was always a clumsy child. Anyway, this sideboard had travelled everywhere with mother, England to Durban, Durban to Rhodesia, Rhodesia back to England, and England to South Africa. We used to tell her that when she died we would take out the draws, fit her in it and push her out to sea!

So many things had happened to the family during the preceding three years, father and Tony Bulling had died, Jeni and Tony had married, had a son and moved to Umtali, Mugabe had come to power, my darling mother had returned England to live with her sisters and now Jeni and Tony were making another move, this time to South Africa. Tom was no longer well enough to work, we were worried about the shortage of drugs and medical treatment, and his doctor said he must live at sea level. Our time in Africa was over, or so I thought.

Arrangements were made to move back to England, destination unknown. By this time the Rhodesian economy was in a mess, money could no longer be transferred and, because people had been taking goods out of the country instead of money, severe restrictions were put on the export of goods. This was rather short sighted because as long as furniture was being bought people were being employed making it. The long and short of it was, we were allowed to take personal possessions, plus one bed each, one armchair each, one table and two chairs, one chest of drawers and couple of other items, including a little nest of tables given to me by Rosemary. No radios or kitchen electrical equipment. No lounge suites, bedroom or dining room suites. Six years after leaving we would be allowed to remit a limited amount of money, and every two years over a six year period one 6th of the remainder could be sent. So it would take twelve years to receive it all. Tom had been awarded a small medical pension after less that ten year’s service with the Prudential and when it could no longer be remitted Tom transferred it to someone else in Bulawayo, until the Zimbabwe currency was devalued to such an extent that it was only enough to buy one slice of bread. When I heard that Zimbabwe was now run on American dollars, and that pensions were being remitted I wrote to the company but did not receive a reply, and the money has not been accounted for since before 1999. I should be receiving a small widow’s pension from them.

Our pathetic allowance of stuff was sorted and the rest sold. The removers were at the door and, after passing customs inspection, it was loaded into a container headed for England. Tom went to stay with Maureen while I went on ahead to find somewhere for us to live and, with many a tear, I left the country and the people I had come to love with no idea if I would ever see Jeni and her family again. The only consolation was that I would be in the same country as my mother.

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