When we arrived to live in the farmhouse of Lower Craik Cross, the tar road from Cathcart heading west to join the Queenstown- Fort Beaufort main road had been recently completed, but it had been a very difficult contract. Persistent rain and cold had led to water springs gushing up in the newly cut foundation, much to the frustration of the construction crew. When there was a heavy snowfall on 12th December – midsummer in the southern hemisphere! – it was another setback.
“When the hell do you have Summer in this place?” demanded the foreman of farmer, Denton Brown, whose farm the new road skirted.
Denton thought for a while. “Well, if I remember rightly, last year we had it on a Wednesday!”
Such was Denton’s sense of humour, and if there were any shenanigans afoot, he was usually involved.
Lu and John Amos Brown, his next-door neighbour and distant relative, had a cockatiel named Piet. When it died, it was replaced by another. Male or female, it was always named Piet. Piet, according to Lu, was looking poorly, not eating. She phoned Denton to come and give his advice on what might be the problem. Denton and his 13 year-old son, Rob Denton-Brown, duly came to inspect Piet. Lu. busy on the phone, waved for them to make themselves comfortable while they waited. Rob had a packet of candy-coated chocolate eggs. Denton selected one realistic-looking egg and popped it into Piet’s cage.
Lu finished her phonecall and went to the cage, calling Denton over to inspect the ailing Piet. Sighting the egg, she was delighted, as it was now obvious to her what had been bothering the bird.
“Of course! Piet was laying her first egg, no wonder she’s been out of sorts!”
Lu sent for husband John to abandon his farming and join them. They broke out the brandy and raised their glasses.
“To the egg!”
“To the egg!” toasted Denton. When he got home, he packed a bag and dashed off to the coast to go fishing for a few days until Lu had calmed down.
Lu had a Chrysler she called Bluebird which she was very proud of. One night, Denton and a couple of neighbours pushed Bluebird out of the garage and hid it in a farm barn, replacing it with the bodyless chassis and drive train of a derelict Plymouth truck.
Shock and horror when it was discovered in daylight. It took a while before Lu noticed the beer bottle on the radiator, then her wrath was boundless and the hunt was on.
Rob reminded me recently that Lu planned her revenge shortly thereafter with a raid to remove every item of clothing from the men’s homes. With visits arranged for breakfast the next day, there was a mad scramble for them to find something with which to garb themselves. Denton found an old tux in a cupboard in the spare room. Paul Miles got a greatcoat and walked to a neighbour’s house where he managed to borrow some trousers. Mac Maclean dressed himself up in Xhosa tribal gear and frightened the maid when she came to work.
Of course Denton got at least some come-uppance when he was newly married to Ollie and they spent their first night at home. Undoubtedly it would have been Mac and Paul who dressed a ram up in a zebra skin and let it loose in the farmhouse passage, its hooves clattering up and down the wooden floor.
Undoubtedly the tales of the Modderlaagte get more embroidered with each re-telling, but who wants to spoil a good story with the truth?