Food for the wildlife

After carefully selecting a rut in which there appeared to be no snake hole, I threw down my sleeping bag and backpack and joined the others for our tasty evening meal. It was something out of a pot. It tasted of curry but I couldn’t say what it was.

As darkness fell, I heard the distinct “whoop…whoop…whoop.” Hyenas. Everyone other than yours truly, had camped in Africa many times.

“Sheila”, I asked one of them, “what does a hyena do if it finds you in the night?”

“Oh, my dear,” she replied cheerfully, “it eats you!”

I decided then and there that I was in the company of lunatics.

So let me take this opportunity to introduce them, as best I can, given that this was almost 40 years ago:

Our group leader was a middle-aged Englishman called Jack. His wife Mrs Jack (as I have forgotten her name) was the cook.

Taff, a young lad from Wales was our intrepid, always good humoured driver.

Patrick was a 30-something dentist from Ireland. He sat almost always at the back of the truck, uncomplaining and always cheerful. One day he went silent and glum and then we knew we were in trouble!

Jim was your average retired English-twit. You always knew where he was because you could hear his annoyingly grating voice drawling forever: “when I was in Thailand….”

Graham, on the other hand, was a lovely man. Also from England, he was middle-aged but I don’t remember his profession. He had lost an arm and although he normally used a prosthesis, on this trip he found it more practical to leave it at home. He wore lace-up shoes and he tied them up every day one-handed. Graham coped with everything much better than the rest of us, without complaint, and he somehow never seemed quite as unkempt as we did.

Sheila was a late-60’s English lady who had been involved perhaps with theatre. She seemed “arty”. She had a flat in London where she lived with two Burmese cats that had been trained to use a human toilet. Well, you know I would remember anything about cats! Sheila was very nice, even though she told me a hyena would eat me.

The next lady, also British, I have to refer to as Albert-Hall lady, because I have forgotten her name. She worked in some capacity at the Albert Hall in London, and was very into classical music. She was middle-aged and a veteran of many cross-Africa trips.

I likewise do not re-call Swiss-vet lady’s name. She was middle-30’s and a bit different. She carried a tape-player with her and in the evening would disappear into the dark, then we would hear bits of Mozart on the night breeze, which was strangely uplifting. Her favourite thing was when we came upon dead animals. Then she would get out her camera and start photographing the corpse with great enthusiasm.

There was a young American lad who I shall call Mike which may even have been his name. He barely spoke, and it was impossible to guess what he was feeling at any given time, because his expression never seemed to change. One afternoon, though, I came to appreciate that he was a decent chap. I had acquired some sort of dire gut ache and was feeling very out-of-sorts and when we stopped for tea, Mike suddenly walked up to me extending a mug of something warm. “It’s chamomile tea”, he said, “it’s good for your stomach”. I hadn’t realized he even knew I was suffering. I was very touched, but that was the only time we ever spoke.

The Austrian banker was dubbed “DOOM”. He wore a black raincoat draped over his shoulders, even when the temperature hit 100F. During our extended delay in Khartoum, he had gone off in search of information and suddenly arrived back, making the agitated announcement that we must “leave immediately”, “get out of the country while we still can”, but that was the moment when Sudan Airways finally decided we should board their flight, so Doom’s proclamations went ignored and he just followed on behind us. We didn’t ask him what had got him so wound up.

Mikki was a flight attendant with TWA. She had been flying for more than 20 years and had been everywhere, done everything. She carried an oversized bag and was able to produce, at a moment’s notice, anything anyone could possibly want. She was great fun. Her favourite hobby was collecting buttons.

My buddy Tim in those days worked for South African Airways, although he is a Brit. He started working for the airlines back in the early 60’s at Gatwick Airport and came to New York with British Caledonian. When they ceased to operate, he elected to remain in the USA and SAA took over his sponsorship, making him their Catering Manager. He had persuaded them he was a connoisseur of South African wines!

If you count us up, that makes 14, so either I have forgotten two people or we were in fact not a party of 16. Either is possible but I hardly think it matters. We were a slightly odd group of people, I suppose. Must have been to go camping in Sudan!

We rose at dawn each day and assembled around a fire, waiting for the kettle to boil, while eating Alpen with diluted evaporated milk. Taff made huge pots of tea to wash it down. The only place to sit was on the ground, so most of us stood. After all we were going to spend all day in the truck.

One morning while we ate breakfast, an evil smell wafted over us. Turning our heads we noticed Swiss-vet lady rushing off with her camera and sure enough there was a dead horse just upwind. It quite made her day, but not mine.

Sometimes our entertainment for the day would be provided by “Big Fly”. This was a surret, or gad-fly. His bite was extremely nasty and he would swoop about the back of the truck, as we drove along, making us all jump. Finally he would get one us and the victim would cry “AOW!”

Otherwise mostly we got to enjoy the scenery for 10 hours….

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