Being brought up on a farm is a wonderful way for any child to grow up, and Kenya with its space and sunny climate must be one of the best places in the world to live in. I feel very blessed that I was born there and had to opportunity to experience all the wonderful things that it had to offer.
Everything about Africa is interesting; its varied history, the different people who reside there, the wild life, and the majestic and diverse scenery that can be seen from Cape Town to Cairo. The natural harsh flamboyance of the continent is irresistible, and one can only be aware of one’s insignificance in the magnificence of those surroundings.
It’s an exciting place to live in. Things are always happening – wonderful things, funny things, annoying things and things that aren’t so nice. You need to be on your toes, to be aware, to remember you are responsible for yourself, and to always be conscious of the fact you’re in Africa. But being aware sharpens your senses, so you always feel more alive when you are on African soil.
In Zambia the biggest danger we had was the vast number of venomous snakes. There were mambas, puff-adders, Gaboon vipers, cobra’s and many others. My husband was always trying to find out the approximate number of snakes per square mile in Zambia, no one could tell him, but there were a lot! My biggest concern was for the boys and the dogs, and during our time there one of our dogs was bitten by a puff-adder – and survived, and Jamie had a cobra spit into his eyes when he was about three years old. But there were many other frightening incidents that luckily resulted in no injuries.
I was born into a wonderful family. My parents were farmers, but my father also worked for the Soil Conservation Services in Thomson’s Falls. In my early years, my maternal grand-parents lived on our farm as well. My grand-father died when I was very young, but my grand-mother lived until I was eight years old and was a very important person in my life, it was she who instilled in me good Christian values.
I have a sister, who is two years older than me, and to my delight we got a baby brother when I was eight. I don’t think he was planned, but he was an unexpected blessing to the family and I absolutely loved him.
Later on when I was about ten, my paternal grand-parents built a house on our farm. So our family life was very good and I don’t think anyone could have asked for a more solid grounding for life ahead.
When I got married I had two boys of my own, Shaun who was born in 1977, and Jamie who was born in 1983. They also had the great good fortune to grow up on a farm, but this one was in Zambia. They were able to roam about the land at will, and I think it was a wonderful life for two little boys. Fishing was one of the activities they loved, and they spent many happy hours trying their luck on various dams and rivers. Fishing in Lake Kariba was probably the most exciting fishing that they did.
Animals have always been a big part of my life and there have been very few nights when I haven’t had a dog or a cat, or both, or several, sleeping with me! They have all been loved and cherished during their short lives, and grieved when they finally died.
In the past I’ve had a pack of dogs and several cats, but now I only have one dog – a little fat Staffy, Toto, who has a wonderful disposition and is a marvellous companion. When it gets cold at night she sneaks under the duvet and lies with her head sticking out at the bottom of the bed. She makes a lovely hot water bottle!
Dogs and cats are not the only pets I’ve had. We had budgies, when I was a child, and also rabbits, guinea pigs, and horses. Then there were the farm animals, of course, which were always a source of interest and entertainment.
Later as an adult we seemed to get some more unusual pets as well. There was Tintin, the duiker. He was orphaned and we brought him up on the bottle. The kids loved him and he used to play with them, butting them with his little hard head. He slept under the bougainvillaea bush in the garden, but was always with us when we were out and about walking on the farm. Then one day he disappeared and the boys were heartbroken. But surprisingly he turned up some months later. By then he had grown some little horns on his head, so the butting wasn’t such fun for the recipient! He didn’t stay for long, however, and the next time he came to visit us he had a little female duiker with him. She was very shy, being a completely wild animal, and after that we never saw them again.
Piggy was another rather unusual pet that we acquired. He was brought to us along with his brother, Porky, when they were very little. Some Africans had killed their mother for meat, and decided to play on our emotions and offer us the sweet little piglets for a price. We bought them both, of course, but while Piggy thrived, Porky never did well and eventually died. Piggy ran with the dogs for quite a long time; he enjoyed playing with them, but eventually he became too rough and I was concerned that he would hurt one of them badly. He also used to dig up the garden with his nose in a sort of bulldozer action, ruining our lawn and destroying the flower beds, so eventually he had to live in an enclosure outside. I was warned many times to be careful of him because he was massively strong and had incredibly big teeth, but he never did any of us any harm, other than to knock us over occasionally when he was feeling rather frisky.
The kids wanted some hens, so we got a bantam hen and a cock. They soon had babies and each one was given a name and treated as a pet. They became incredibly tame and it wasn’t unusual to come into the sitting room and find a child sitting with a bantam on his lap while he watched TV or read a book! To stop them getting inbred we had to acquire some more pairs and soon we had a large flock. At first they used to roost in the trees at night, but the genet cats were eating them, so we had to build a house to lock them into at night. Jamie would rush around making sure they were all put in. He would make each one sit in its designated place on one of the perches and was never satisfied until he had them all in place and locked in. I used to tell him that if he waited a little, they would all go in by themselves when it started to get dark and all he’d have to do was shut the door, but he just didn’t believe me. Then one evening we came home later than usual after visiting friends and as soon as we got back he rushed to put his chickens to bed. To his surprise they were all in their house – they were even all in their designated places!
In the winter when the hens got broody and sat on a clutch of eggs, it wasn’t unusual to find snakes under the hen as well. I think the snakes went there for the warmth, but they sometimes bit the chicken, with disastrous consequences. Rats were another problem around the chicken house as they came to eat the chicken food. Jamie would often take the dogs ratting in the chicken house to try and keep the rat population down. One day he picked up one of the rats that he thought had been killed, by its tail, but it was only stunned and it turned around and bit him on his hand. The bite wasn’t serious, but Jamie had to have a series of rabies injections as rats can carry that dreadful disease.
When we moved to South Africa the kids had a rat for a pet. To start with we got a hamster because it looked so cute. We only got one as I was determined not to start breeding them. What I didn’t know of course, was the one we got was a female – and she was pregnant! So in no time at all we had lots of hamsters, but they really didn’t make very good pets as we found them quite bad tempered and noisy at night because they are nocturnal creatures. We managed to give them all away and then the boys wanted a rat. I wasn’t very keen; having spent a lifetime of keeping rats at bay it seemed rather ironic that we should have one as a pet. But the kids loved the one we got and it was very affectionate and liked playing with them. I must say I found it rather creepy, and our little dachshund was determined to do away with it!
INTERESTS AND HOBBIES
I love reading, walking with the dogs, horse riding and playing squash, but writing has always been my passion – and of course flying.
I remember when I was flying as a young woman, a German glider team came out to Kenya with their sophisticated gliders to see if they could break some records, and I agree to tow them up until the pilot and plane they had hired to do the job arrived a few days later. Although they seemed nice enough men, I found them rather overbearing and dogmatic. They were visitors to our club, but were quite dictatorial and most of them didn’t have a lot of English which sometimes made things difficult. When they were in the air they all seemed to talk at the top of their voices in German on their radios – it sounded a bit like the Luftwaffe had arrived in Nakuru! But they achieved their objective and broke records. They were flying incredible distances, managing to remain at altitude by taking advantage of the strong thermals and up draughts that are so prevalent in Kenya; several of them flying all the way around Mount Kenya and back to the Nakuru airfield.
Then one of the less experienced glider pilots didn’t make it back. Although he had managed to get his glider down in one piece in a small field, he was miles away from the airfield and it was evening time. The leader of their team decided that they wouldn’t be able to rescue him until the next day, but felt that he should drop him some provisions so he could survive the night. He came and asked me if I would fly him to the spot in the club’s Cessna 182. He said I wouldn’t have to land but just over fly the unfortunate man and they would heave the stuff out. I agreed of course, but he took simply ages getting the stuff together and I was worried because it was getting later and later and darkness falls quickly in the tropics. When eventually he had everything ready, I was quite amazed at what he considered necessary for a night’s survival. I think I could have survived for a week on it. The next surprise was the fact that there were three people coming along, all of them large and heavy.
We took the door off the aeroplane so it would make it easy to chuck the stuff out, and everyone piled in. By this time it the daylight was fading fast, but the three Germans seemed to be in good spirits and despite the engine and wind noise due to having the door off, they managed to keep up an animated conversation, punctuated by bursts of laughter. I couldn’t understand what they were saying so just concentred on the flying. Luckily we found the place where he had landed quite easily. It was it was on a small field that was surrounded by tall trees and hills. Due to the wind direction I decided to approach over the trees and then climb over the hills after we had dropped the provisions. I needed to get as low as possible so the others could heave the stuff out, so I brushed over the tree tops, easing on full flaps.
‘Lower, lower,’ shouted the Germans. I continued my decent, but looking ahead I was worried about the hills in front – there was a lot of weight in the aeroplane and would I be able to climb over the hills from this position if I got any lower? The Germans all had their eyes on the ground. ‘Lower,’ they all insisted.
‘Chuck it out,’ I yelled as we flew over the man on the ground.
‘Too high, get lower. Go around again and get lower.’
It was almost dark, so I certainly wasn’t going to go around again.
‘No. Throw it out,’ I yelled. ‘JUST DO IT!’
Reluctantly they pushed the whole bundle out and it landed some considerable distance in front of the glider with a puff of dust rising all around it. I lost no time in pushing the throttle right in, the engine roared and we started going up but with the weight of the three hefty men, our ascent was slow and mushy. I knew it was going to be touch and go. The Germans, who had all had their heads screwed around looking to see where the stuff fell, now looked ahead and saw the hill looming large and solid in front of us.
‘Up,’ they shouted in panicked voices. ‘UP, UP, UP!’ They gesticulated with their hands and arms, just in case I didn’t understand what they meant – or hadn’t noticed the hills in front of us!
‘Oh shut up,’ I thought. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the chap in the front seat put his hand up and I thought he was going to grab the control column and pull it back. This would have caused the aeroplane to stall and dive into the ground – not a good idea, so I turned and gave him the most venomous look that I could muster. His hand went down and he looked confused – maybe he was just going to cross himself. I was certainly praying by this time! The desperate shouts to go up died on their lips as the hill appeared to rush towards us out of the gloom of the oncoming night. Just at the last minute the Cessna was boosted up by a friendly upwards airflow and we sailed over the hill, missing the top by a whisker!
It had been a close call and everyone was silent on the way back to the airfield. It was totally dark by the time we got there, but a friend heard me coming back and drove his car to the top of the airfield and parked so that his head lights shone down the runway. We landed without mishap and taxied back to the Aero Club. The Germans thanked me in a subdued stilted way and departed, and my friend came to help me tie the plane down.
‘Everything okay?’ he asked.
‘Yeah, but we nearly didn’t make it,’ I replied. ‘We almost piled into a hill, so I could have been killed tonight, or even worse, not been killed and had to spend the night with that lot!’
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