The circus is in town, encamped down near the old Natal Command site, the elephants tethered and contentedly eating tufts of hay. I wonder where the elephant trainer hoists a pint these days?
It used to be in the street bar of the old Marine Hotel, off the Esplanade. This was also quite near the old premises of this newspaper, in Devonshire Place.
Reporters from The Mercury met up with the elephant trainer from the circus in the Marine one evening and – as so often happens – one thing led to another.
Later they went off to Cartwright Flats, where the circus was camped, and came back leading a young elephant through the city. It was not quite a baby elephant but not quite fully grown either.
They took him to the back entrance of The Mercury and led him into one of the big lifts that were used to take heavy machinery into the works department. They pressed the button for second floor editorial, got out and led the elephant down the corridor to the swing doors of the sub-editors’ department.
I must explain about the sub-editors’ department. Today it is a brightly lit place with banks of PCs, many of them operated by girls.
In those days it was a dark, cavernous place where the sub-editors sat with their heavy moustaches, each in his own pool of lamplight, chewing pipe-stems and growling in the accents of Scotland and the North of England at the split infinitives and hanging participles they encountered. It was an unnerving and intimidating place.
These sub-editors were most of them ex-servicemen from World War II. They’d been around, they’d seen it all. They were world-weary and cynical. They were hard-bitten. Nothing could surprise them.
But when an elephant came in through the swing doors, they were surprised.
Especially when it seized the sugar bowl from the tea tray with its trunk and emptied it into its mouth.
This was not like in the Buddhist parable. This elephant in the room was noticed.
Further down the corridor was the telex room, news from every corner of the globe whirling off the chattering machines. An excitable old bloke was in charge and he would from time to time rip the sheets of paper from the machines and set off down the dark corridor for the sub-editors’ department with a sheaf of copy, exclaiming things like: “Bomb blasts in the Yemen!” and “Earthquake in Chile!” (He must have been a frustrated headline writer.)
That night he burst through the swing doors and ran smack into the rear end of an elephant. The reports from every corner of the globe were still fluttering in mid-air as he ran off shrieking into the night.
Yes, I wonder where the elephant trainer hoists a pint these days? Hmmm. No, it’s not on, I’m afraid. You could never fit an elephant into the lift in the new building.
Last week’s account of the hero who drove a Datsun Bluebird through the Mbotyi lagoon, to be the first to drive a motor vehicle on that stretch of Pondoland beach, reminds Val Johnson, of Kloof, of a story from the 1920s.
Her mother’s then fiancé, Captain Chummy Johns, landed his small biplane on the beach at Port St Johns in November, 1920. He had friends who owned a small guest house on the beachfront – and this was a birthday surprise for them
“This was a major event in the small community of the area at that time, many folk never having seen an aeroplane before.”
(Captain Johns was to die soon after the Port St Johns escapade in the violence of the 1922 Rand Rebellion.)
Yes, those Wild Coast beaches are so hard and flat you could just about land a Boeing on them.
This fellow drops in on a friend and is astounded to find him playing chess with his dog. “I can’t believe it!” he exclaims.
“That’s the smartest dog I’ve ever seen.”
“Nah, he’s not so smart. I’ve beaten him three games out of five.”
Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad |for the mind to be always part of unanimity. – Christopher Morley