Part 6 - Back in Africa!
Right!! We are back in Africa. I had
my 21st birthday the day we landed from the Winchester Castle
in Capetown. It was great to be back and we saw beautiful South
Africa on our drive up in a new Austin A40 brought from UK. No
dramatics, just wonderful to drive through the bush back to NR.
After a few days in Lusaka my father was posted to Kalomo to build
the new bridge there. I believe that at that time it was the largest
reinforced concrete bridge in N.R. .There was no house for him
but PWD needed a Road Foreman for that section up to Monze and
a house was supplied with that post so once again I was 'nominated'
by my father to become the Road Foreman so that we could all share
'my' house while he built the bridge.
Kalomo was great fun. A community of
farmers with a good rugby club. Unfortunately my accident prevented
me playing, apart from the fact that I was only about half the
size of the mainly Afrikaner team, but I enjoyed all the social
side. We frequently made forays to Livingstone with five or six
of us in the back of a Chev. vanette, with mattresses on the floor
and a case of Castle. Mainly to the bioscope but sometimes to
the clubs. It was great. Especially the ride home under the stars
with only the throb of the engine.
I got some hunting there, mainly smaller
game like reedbuck and duiker. I was due to go once to the Kaprivi
Strip with a party of farmers but could not go. One of them, I
think a Horton (please forgive me if I am wrong) was killed by
an elephant on that trip.
As Road Foreman I learnt new skills
while maintaining the all dirt road. The usual way to reduce corrugations
in the laterite surface was for five or six labourers to drag
a 'brush' made of tree branches five miles and then back each
day, first north and then south the following day. I thought this
crazy and made a much heavier brush and towed it with the 5-ton
Bedford. It worked fine and reduced the need for so much labour
but I had to stop it because it created such a cloud of dust that
no vehicles could drive through it and secondly the need was to
employ as many Africans as possible.
The bridge work lasted about 6 months
and at the end of that time my father no longer had need of my
house and I resigned and we moved to Lusaka.
I was fortunate in making contact with
one of UK's largest civil engineering contractors, John Laing
& Son, who were expanding in NR. I
joined them as a Student Engineer and began formal training. Many
in-house courses in addition to a correspondence course in civil
engineering. I lived with four others
around my age in a single quarters in Woodlands, not far from
the "Woodpecker Inn".
It was great fun. I bought a motorbike,
a Norton Dominator 650cc twin ,with a 'featherbed' frame. It was
long and low and very exciting. I was first involved on a construction
site with a new sewerage system for the hospital. One day I was
carrying an African carpenter on the pillion and after stopping
at a junction I accelerated away, from under him which left him
sitting, still holding his tools, in the middle of the road wondering
what had happened!
The 'single quarters' bought an old
Chevrolet and painted it in John Laing colours, black and yellow
and added art work, such as pin-ups, to the outside.
We carried two red fire buckets full
of water in the boot and would frequently come to a halt in the
middle of Cairo Road, then someone would get out, retrieve a bucket
and throw the water over the engine. Mad, but fun. Perhaps someone
While there, the dog living next door
contracted rabies and the five of us had to report each day to
the hospital for a series of 21 injections in our stomachs. It
was very uncomfortable and each injection swelled to a very painful
golf-ball size. We each worked out our own pattern for the sequence
of injections to keep them as far spaced (in time) as possible.
We treated it as a rather painful joke but we all felt great sympathy
for the little four-year-old girl next door who had also to suffer
these injections, apart from having lost her pet dog. I don't
know how many people have seen a rabid dog but it is not fun although
we thought it was when one of our housemates, Claude Easter, was
frantically trying to fend off a very small dog with a broom.
When the dog began losing teeth in the broom-head it was biting
we realised it was not just a mad game, but a mad dog!
I studied hard but still managed to
enjoy myself. We frequently, after an evening at the Woodpecker
pub, climbed over the wall at the municipal swimming pool to have
a late night swim. We also managed to introduce a crocodile to
the fish pond at the Ridgeway Hotel. I had obtained the croc from
Kafue. My first, but far from my last meeting with crocodiles!!
The debate over the new hydro-electric
supply for the Federation was in full swing. I was part of a team
surveying for the access road to the possible Kafue dam project
and spent weeks out in very remote hilly bush doing a geodetic
survey. However the Salisbury government decided on Kariba for
the development. We in Northern Rhodesia were very incensed and
I climbed 30 feet up a lighting standard outside the Ridgeway
Hotel at 2 o'clock one morning to hang an effigy clad in an old
pair of my pyjamas (gosh!! I wore pyjamas in those days!!) with
a notice hung round his neck stating, "he voted for Kariba",
and a blood-stained knife in his heart.
The work I was involved in was all very
interesting (except the sewerage scheme at the hospital). A concrete
diving platform at the swimming pool, my first 'personal' job,
was to design and build the car parks, flower beds etc for the
electricity supply company, and then I got a job of my own building
a coaling ramp in the goods yards opposite the Kafue Hotel
it may still be there; a sloping railway up on a steel framework
where the wagons were pushed and then dumped their coal into hoppers
below which supplied coal into the steam locomotives below them.
Such a shame if all is now diesel! I stayed in the Kafue Hotel
and remember some monkeys in a cage outside which were disgusting
they used to 'play with themselves' and afforded lots of
amusement to visitors. I also remember that the bar music was
78 and 33 rpm records, one being the Bruch violin concerto; where
would you find such music in a bar these days?
I then went on to Chilanga where I was
in charge of the night-shift building the circular concrete silos
for the cement works. I hope they are still there, perhaps someone
will let me know, although it was nearly 50 years ago. The night
watchman on this job did a roaring trade with rats and mice which
he trapped and then skewered four or five at a time and smoke
dried. Very artistically presented and sold to the day shift.
I tried them and they were very tasty. I think they cost about
a soosoo each skewer.
I nearly killed myself several times
on the motorbike. Although I loved the Norton it had to go and
I bought a side-valve Morris Minor which I 'hotted up' with 'straight
through' exhaust (just a lovely noise but probably no more power)
polished ports, increased compression and very stiff shock absorbers
and I rallied and raced it to great effect. I once raced it at
the Lusaka circuit against a woman racing driver, very rare in
those days, Faye Taylor, who was driving an MG TC and I beat her!!
Eventually, John Laing considered I
was safe to send off on my own (or unsafe to stay in the 'civilised'
surroundings of head office) and arranged for me to go and work
in Nyasaland building bridges.
That was the start of another interesting
period of bush life involving hunting, crocodile professional
hunting, shipwrecks, car wrecks etc, of which more next time!!