A yarn comes this way concerning my old colleague Jack Shepherd-Smith, who wrote this column yonks ago then went on to launch and edit the very successful Scope magazine.
To celebrate Jack’s 75th birthday (I won’t say how long ago this was) his family bought a handsome bench and donated it to Letaba camp in the Kruger National Park, which was their favourite spot. Mounted on the bench was a bronze plaque inscribed with a quotation from Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country.
Then the bench suddenly was no longer there. Jack had no luck trying to trace it. He and his wife Margaret told the story to Rose McDonald over dinner one evening in Pinetown, where they are retired. Rose’s heart just about skipped a beat.
She knew the bench well. It was her favourite viewing spot. She had even copied the Paton inscription into her diary.
Next time she went to Letaba, she got hold of David Motsosi Molobi, the camp manager, and told him the story. He promised to investigate.
A few weeks later David phoned to say he had traced the plaque to a storeroom at Skukuza camp where it had been placed after the bench was “retired” because of wood decay. He then mailed it to Rose.
“All this had happened without Jack’s knowledge, and one day I took the plaque to him. The delighted smile on his face was wonderful to see.”
Paton’s words, as inscribed on the plaque: “Wilderness – keep it, guard it, care for it. Destroy it and man is destroyed.”
Yes, Alan Paton was one of the early protagonists of conservation as an imperative, a sacred duty, not just a sentimental thing. I’m sure he had in mind the kind of tenacity shown in this instance by Rose McDonald.
Close to civil war
I WAS still figuratively in short pants as an apprentice scribbler when Jack Shepherd-Smith was writing the Idler’s column.
I vividly remember the time he almost caused civil war in this province.
Apropos of nothing very much, he wrote a paragraph that went something like this: “Last week they held a beauty competition in Ladysmith. Nobody won.”
The folk of Ladysmith were furious. The town council called a special meeting and passed a motion of censure on The Mercury. A group of Ladysmith blokes actually tried to kidnap Jack.
It rolled on and on, the rest of the province convulsed with mirth, Ladysmith taking it very seriously.
I’m not sure if it was Jack or one of his successors who added another chapter: “Last week they held a Miss Lucky Legs competition in Ladysmith. It was won by the billiard table in the Royal Hotel.”
For a long time, successive Idlers would, whenever they mentioned Ladysmith, add the letters wtmb (wherever that may be).
I think I’ll give Ladysmith a miss for a while (wtmb).
I SPENT some time yesterday persuading the council people to reconnect my electricity which they insisted had not been disconnected.
The lights went out. I phoned Faults. A team arrived. They said my supply had been disconnected – not at the meter, where it normally happens, but inside that yellow fuse box thing on the pavement (where I, as householder, am not allowed to venture). The disconnection notice was inside the fuse box.
Weird, especially as I knew my account was up to date. The Faults team agreed it was weird. They had to move on. I phoned Accounts. Yes, my account was up to date. No, a disconnection had not been ordered.
“But I’m disconnected.”
“You’ll have to speak to Faults.”
A four-hour badminton match between Faults and Accounts ensued, myself as shuttlecock. Accounts can’t order reconnection of a supply that hasn’t been disconnected. Faults can’t repair a wrong disconnection.
Eventually the lights flicked on. I rushed outside hoping to discover who the phantom disconnector/ connector might be. I saw a leg disappear into an already moving car, and the door slammed as he swung round the corner. He looked like the Amazing Spider-Man. But this might have been my overheated imagination.
THE POLICE have just been to my house to tell me my dogs are chasing people on bicycles. That’s nonsense. My dogs don’t have bicycles.
We do not know what we want and yet we are responsible for what we are – that is the fact. – Jean-Paul Sartre