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 remembers it?

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!!