We arrived in Rhodesia from Cape Town in May 1958 when my stepfather, Cyril Williams, was transferred to Gwelo (Gweru) as General Manager, Prices Candles Central Africa.
By the end of the year he had lost that position and we moved to Sinoia (Chinhoyi) where my parents were to manage the Sinoia Caves Motel. The trip was quite an adventure with our trailer losing a wheel on the dirt road between Hartley (Chegutu) and Sinoia via Gadzema. (These are stories for another time).
There was no high school in Sinoia (that opened in 1960) so in the January of 1959 I was enrolled at Guinea Fowl School (GFS), halfway between Gwelo and Selukwe (Shurugwe). I was in Wellington House (WH) at the school. My brother was born in Sinoia in April 1959.
GFS was a great school, way out in the bush and almost every weekend would be spent walking and exploring.
Some time in about mid-to-late-1959 my stepfather caused the owners of the Caves Motel to, reluctantly in my mother’s case, let them go. My mother wrote and told me about this and said Cyril had got a job at Copper Queen near the Sanyati – way out on the Alaska road. He had been friendly with the people who offered him the job. The accommodation, I was to learn, was primitive – not to put too fine a point on it.
Towards the end of 1959 I had no idea where my parents were.
I subsequently learned that the job at Copper Queen had ended and my parents were, by that time, living on a very basic farm (rondawels with no electricity or running water) with a chap named van Tonder about halfway between Karoi and Sinoia (I know it was 28 miles from Sinoia).
I had not been in contact with my parents for some time and I must have said something to one of the teachers. The upshot of his was that under no circumstances was the school prepared to let me get on the train to Sinoia until contact had been made with my parents. There was some discussion about what to do because the school would be closed. One of the cook matrons was approached and she offered to look after me until my parents could be contacted.
Accordingly, on the last day of term, I accompanied the lady (I will call her Mrs Brown for ease of reference and until I learn her actual name) to her home in Hunter’s Road, where her husband was a warder at Connemara prison.
They were lovely, kind people and I remember running around the area, exploring here and there. I don’t remember if they had children of their own but I remember that there were children around my age – perhaps neighbours?
After a few days Mr Brown announced he had taken a week off and was going to go down to his gold mining claims near Fort Victoria (Masvingo). He wanted to do as much as possible in his mine as he could because Lake Kyle (Lake Muturikwe) was close to completion and had already started to fill. When the lake was full all the little mine smallholdings would be under water.
He asked if I would like to go with him – I jumped at the chance and we set off. I cannot remember the accommodation there but I think Mr Brown had a small cabin that we stayed in.
I do remember exploring the mine. It was quite extensive with drives into hillsides and long dark tunnels and some deep, dark shafts. On one occasion I was walking along a tunnel and Mr Brown suddenly stopped me rather sharply. He then pointed out the shaft in the tunnel floor that I had not noticed. He showed me how to walk around this black hole and warned me about the care needed in the tunnels. He forbade going into the mine drives alone.
I did do a lot of exploring in the area on my own while Mr Brown and his black workers were occupied in the mine.
One day I was up on the hillside and had been peering down some of the open and unprotected shafts that were dotted around. At one of these shafts I was standing about half a metre from the edge and leaning slightly forward to peer into the dark hole, tossing a couple of pebbles in to hear if they hit bottom or splashed into water.
Somewhat engrossed in this boyish activity I suddenly heard an angry HISS by my feet.
Now HISS is misleading. It leads one to think of the insignificant sound of a tyre deflating…this was more like an EXTREMELY amplified consumptive wheeze, a noise you make in the back of your throat but loud and sinister! Think of the second syllable of BACH (yes, the musical genius – unless you can’t pronounce Bach …?) and imagine that CHCHCHCCH….at your feet but at CONSIDERABLE volume? That is the closest I can get to describe the sound of a startled serpent.
The next sequence of events took place so quickly that for many years I have believed that, in times of stress, one of the SIXTH SENSES is telekinesis.
I glanced down. The cobra was reared up. Its head was level with my knee, hood spread. Another angry CCCCCCHHHHHHH…. then I fell over a log some three or four metres BEHIND where I had been standing.
Trembling, I stood up, all the time staring at the place I had been standing. There was nothing there! Nothing. I picked up a large stick and looked around wildly…was the snake slithering towards me? Would it be angry and come after me? After another moment of dithering I fled. I am glad there were no hidden shafts in my path as I scampered pell-mell down the hill and back to our camp.
When Mr Brown got a message from home that my parents would be coming to fetch me we packed up and drove back to Hunter’s Road.
A day or two later my parents arrived to collect me. Cyril was grumpy that he had had to travel all that way and that I had wasted the train fare. He wanted to know why I had not got on the train – I think he had arranged for someone to meet me…but he had not told the school anything!
Anyway my mother was pleased to find me safe and well and thanked Mrs Brown and her family for their kindness. Although My recollection is scant on detail, and I have forgotten their name, they were the nicest of people – the best of Rhodesia. I have never forgotten this episode.
My stepfather enrolled me at the new Sinoia High School in January 1960. It only had form one in the first year and I had to hitch-hike 28 miles from the farm in the bush every morning. I was always late and I resented being put back a year. My behaviour was not exemplary and this resulted in Mr Talbot-Evans, the new head and my ex-housemaster from Wellington, giving me a talking to before he caned me. First boy to be caned at Sinoia High School – what an achievement.
Because of my rebelliousness it was recommended I go back to GFS and, two weeks late for the start of term I was back in junior dorm at WH.
By the end of 1960 my parents had moved to Salisbury and in 1961 I had to go to Cranborne High, near where we were living. This was because my stepfather could no longer pay my boarding fees due to his depleted circumstances.
1961 was eventful…I started at a new school where I refused to do Latin because I had been due to stop it at GFS. I was downgraded to a B stream as a result…My sister was born in the March…I broke my arm in the April (?), just before end of term…and then, a week or so after start of term, on 11 June 1961, my stepfather was killed in a car accident.
I missed the rest of second term, we went to stay with relatives in South Africa but came back to Salisbury within months. At the end of the year I came seventh in class. As promised for passing the year, my mother bought me a bicycle. It cost her eighteen guineas that she paid off and it was many years before I comprehended what it took for her to keep her promise.
My mother made a life for us, made a home for us and brought us up. I was fourteen, my brother was two and my sister three months of age when she was widowed. She always said that had we stayed in South Africa she could not have done that but, in Rhodesia, she could.
I have written a little about these events in my anecdote titled AFTER GUINEA FOWL SCHOOL.http://eriktheready.com/after-guinea-fowl-school-gfs-2/