Two very different books about Africa.
TWENTY CHICKENS FOR A SADDLE by Robyn Scott
I devoured this book once I got my hands on it; I’d waited a long time to read it, and it was well worth the wait. I loved it. It’s an account of a Botswana childhood, lived in the bush, with eccentric parents. The unconventional characters, living in the bush in Botswana, enjoy a life that is part camping, part adventure . The unusual title stems from the bargain that Robyn struck with her parents to acquire a desperately longed for saddle: she had to rear baby chickens and sell them in order to earn her saddle. Mum is a dedicated alternative lifestyle amateur vegan dietician, with large ideas about absolutely everything, including home schooling, which she tackles in the most arbitrary manner but somehow produces three brilliant children who went on to impressive graduate careers in later life. Dad, a flying doctor, was always on a crusade – proponent of Moducare (trade name for plant sterols) to fight AIDS; he was an enthusiastic farm/land owner, the unsuccessful organiser of the PC Limpopo Farmers’ Association. And to top off the family, there was Grandpa Ivor: irascible rough diamond, dreamer, always yelling, bellowing, shouting, doing and saying exactly as he pleased and getting away with it. Such fun to read about the Scott family, and such a relief not to be part of the family oneself! Oddly enough the author landed up at school in the Bulawayo Convent during the mid-90s, where my Mum taught in the mid-80s. I would love to have heard Mum’s verdict on this enterprising girl.
The Temptress by Paul Spicer
The life story of American Alice Silverthorne, spoilt American rich kid who married the French Count, Frederic de Janze, and became his Countess. I felt sorry for Frederic de Janze, in love with and incredibly accommodating towards his selfish, self-centred completely amoral wife. She ignored – no, perhaps ‘abandoned’ would be a better word – her two daughters to the care of her American relatives (fortunately for the children!) and became part of the infamous Happy Valley set in 1920’s and 1930’s Kenya. Apart from telling her story, Spicer sets out to prove – pretty convincingly – that she was the murderer of her sometime lover of twenty years, the notorious womaniser Joss Erroll. His murder is officially still unsolved, after Jock Delves Broughton was tried for the crime in the Kenyan High Court, and released on the Not Guilty verdict. It’s fascinating to read about the aristocratic British settlers who went out to Kenya prior to WWII. Now, of course, it’s a story of a bygone era, of a different world, where the isolation and possibly the altitude had something to do with the dissolute life many of them lead. Let me hasten to add that many of the settlers carried out sterling work for the Colonial Service, as did the commercial coffee planters and farmers. Perhaps it was just the Happy Valley set who lived a life of debauchery, tucked away in the heart of colonial Africa at 6 000 feet. As I said, perhaps the altitude had something to do with it.