Och aye, it were Robbie Burns night, Jan 25th 1999. That dynamic lass, Antonia Fay Forster, armed with a genuine imported haggis was determined to celebrate it as best as possible in the Kalahari Desert town of Maun, Botswana. No matter that she’s Irish. No matter that the next best thing to the pipes was Sheila Earle on her piano accordion. And the kilts and tams? No problem says Fay, and the material shelves of the fine men from Gujarat were scoured for tartans, to be run before willing, and reluctant, sewing machines, bare minutes before the celebrations began at the “new” Duck Inn, still with Bernadette Lindstrom at the helm.
Go picture the entourage, already buoyed by a few drams: Fay, her tam attached to a bright orange wig, bearing the sacred haggis, with the sheet music pinned to her back, followed by Sheila trying to read it and play, followed by yours truly trying to keep a torch focused on the music sheet. All get stuck in the entrance doorway and have to start again with suitable adjustments. Hoots, mon.
There followed much practice, usually at Amanda Raw’s abode. Amanda was known as the Cello Fellow, Fay on her flute, Becky Collins on guitar with beautiful voice, Sheila mostly on piano accordion, although she had a multitude of instruments to choose from at home – piano, guitars amongst others. Myself? Vocals, after a fashion. In July 1999, calling ourselves The Leprechauns, we had an English Pub night under the stars at the Sports Club, with renditions of The Streets of London, Those Were the Days, Green Sleeves, A Tavern in the Town, Home on the Range, Yesterday, Clementine, The Quartermaster’s Store, etc.
More practice, then an Irish Night where I murdered Danny Boy, Willie McBride, Maggie, Black Velvet Band, The Leaving of Liverpool, Whisky in the Jar, The Mountains of Mourne, and so on. At the Sports Club. With drink taken.
Fay, the only true Irish among us, left Maun, so, Irishless but now calling ourselves The Shamrocks, we ploughed on regardless. With Chris Thorpe, the Delta Waters International School headmaster, and a couple of O’Hollanders (Mieke van der Post and Danie Somebody) and an O’Zambian to expand the numbers, we had a gig at the French Connection Restaurant of George and Marie van Meer. It was shortly after the famed hunter, Lionel Palmer, had passed away – Amanda and Sheila had played at his memorial – so Peter Perlstein, among the audience, requested that we dedicate our rendition of Danny Boy to Lionel’s memory as it was a favourite of his. No problem, says I, two sheets to the wind by that time, and with awful bogus brogue, I waffled on about dedicatin’ our next song to… um… er… our dear departed friend, a stalwart of the community, etc, etc…
Utter blank. Lionel’s name escaped me totally. My fellow vocalist, Danie Somebody, a recent arrival in Maun, whispered loudly: “Who? Who?”
Lionel, I sincerely apologise, although you would probably have laughed. RIP.