By the beginning of March, 1966, my severance with the South African Navy was paid, the Official Secrets Act form was signed and I was on my way.
Go North, Young Man.
Hopping onto my trusty thumb, I hitch-hiked back to Rhodesia. The finger of Up-Yours-Britain was everywhere. Even died-in-the-wool scotch drinkers had changed to South African brandy.
Briefly, I stayed with an old school friend, Joan Robertson, whose dad managed a quarter-million acre ranch for Ernest Oppenheimer in the Shangani area. I went horse riding and was a bit late back, so was very embarrassed when I got back to the homestead to find everyone out looking for me, assuming I’d got lost. The sheer size of the cattle ranch, with its head manager and several section managers, impressed me enough so that it came to rest in an embellished form, in my story, ‘Purgatory Road’. http://www.amazon.com/Purgatory-Road-Peter-J-Earle/dp/1848765533/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1344148674&sr=1-2&keywords=Purgatory+Road
Joan’s brother, Andy, was a tobacco-farm manager near Raffingora, Central Mashonaland. Joan and I met up again while both visiting him there. Visable, and indeed, dominating the skyline was a bald rock dome Andy told me was Mt. Chiwe. He said that his labour had told him that it was a sacred site; that they kept away from the mountain.
Andy dropped Joan and I off near the forbidding rock for a day’s exploration. By luck we found a crack that led us to the top. From there it was a magnificent view across Mashonaland. Feeling rather pleased with ourselves, we set off back down and home. It had been a special day in the company of someone of whom I had always been hugely fond.
Andy was not best pleased that his little sister had climbed Mt. Chiwe before he had even tried to do so, with the result that, a day or so later, he and I went off to conquer it again.
Talking about mountains, if you know anything about mountaineering, you will have heard of Eric Earle Shipton. He was my dad’s first cousin. In, then Salisbury, now Harare, I based myself with Eric’s sister, Marjory and her husband, Bill Boultbee, who had retired there after a life of farming and, earlier, tea-planting in Sri Lanka, when it was called Celon.
I don’t recall the circumstances that led the way, but soon after deciding to find a job, I became a member of the Rhodesian Department of Customs and Excise. I found myself in an office in Customs House, down-town Salisbury, in the company of a delightful old Scot, Mr Mackenzie, known, of course, to all as Mr Mac. The head of our department, which concerned bonded warehousing, was Taffy Britton, another wonderful character, an ex-Palestine Policeman, who told risqué jokes to the ladies wherever we went to check up on bonded warehouses, whether they be in clothing factories or liquor stores.
The effects of Britain’s embargo were already evident. The routes of import were going underground and becoming increasingly devious. I visited a Land Rover assembly plant where there were rows and rows of visible crates of spares, but there were empty. Rhodesians were determined not to let on that the embargo was affecting them adversely. Everywhere, factories were springing up to make the items that had previously been imported. Belts were tightened, but innovation flourished.
Thirty years later, out of the blue, Taffy Britton said hi to me from beyond the grave on an Ouija board. I had not thought of him for many years and certainly not told anyone about him in the company that day. The Ouija is not a phenomenon that I have dabbled with much, but I have had all the proof I need to know that it is a keyboard to the greater Internet, the Akashic Field, to what I call the Intergel.
With the border war hotting up, I had to register with the military. I reported to the (already no longer Royal) Rhodesia Regiment on whose books I was now listed, where a sergeant treated me like dirt until he found that I had, like himself, been a career soldier (sailor, in my case) and his attitude changed. However, Customs obtained a deferral for me as they needed me more urgently due to a severe shortage of officials. I was, in any case, going to be sent to Chirundu, on the Zambian border. I could hardly wait!