Having decided that I would leave the South African Navy when I had saved sufficient money to do so, my father reminded me, having just turned nineteen, that he would not allow it unless I had another clear career path in view. I announced that I wanted to write, so would like to get training as a journalist. In December of that year, 1965, I used my annual leave to go home to the farm, and from there, after getting a passport in Pretoria, and an interview with News Week magazine, I hitch-hiked north to Rhodesia, just after Christmas. Ian Smith had proclaimed the Unilateral Declaration of Independence on November 11th , of that year.
My mission for News Week was to write a view on how UDI would affect Rhodesian farmers, and thereupon would depend whether they would take me on as a cub journalist.
My mission for myself was to visit Ann Green who lived with her farming parents in the foothills of the Chimanimani mountains. She was studying in Pretoria and that had been where I’d met her, as room-mate of Sally Radulovic who had kindly come to the matric dance with me. Ann had not shown the slightest interest in me, but I hoped to change that with the visit as I was crazy about her.
Gone are the days when it is safe to hitch-hike in Africa. I remember little about the trip, or how long it took, but I loved it. The only clear picture I have or the journey is of a bulldog from the Birchenough Bridge Hotel that kept me company on the side of the road until I got a lift, then he set off home.
The Chimanimanis are a stunningly beautiful forested range that line the eastern side of Zimbabwe and form the border with Mozambique. Saw-mills and tea-plantation country. And a lot of then unspoiled natural forest reserve.
The Green family made me most welcome. Ann’s elderly father was assisted on the farm by her elder brother, George.
George, Ann and I set off to the local New Year’s Eve dance. Kind and friendly as she was, however, Ann still showed no romantic interest in me. So I got drunk. Nothing rowdy or belligerent, just uncoordinated. When I tried to sing Where have all the Flowers Gone? with the band on the stage, I couldn’t hear them and couldn’t synchronise. I was politely ushered off where I fell asleep in a chair on the Country Club veranda in the rain that was coming in. George and Ann escorted me to their Land Rover and we all went home; me sitting bolt upright and not saying a word.
It was the coffee I was given after we arrived at about 4 a.m. that made me sick. I headed for the bathroom and didn’t make it. I may have forgotten most of my visit, but I still have the clear vision of poor Ann wiping up in the passage.
The next morning I left the house early to walk on the farm, miserable and ashamed. I met up with George, doing farm things. Kindly, he grinned at my apology, saying that most of us disgrace ourselves at some time or other.
My diary for this period is missing, if I ever wrote one, so there is no key to unlock the memory banks. What filters through, obviously, are the highlights. The beauty of the area, the kindness and hospitality of the Green family, especially the song and the rain, despite the alcohol intake, and the shame of Ann taking care of my vomit, and the reassurance by George.
But, I now wonder why I remember the bulldog?
Oh, and I failed to become a cub reporter for News Week.