We said we were going to drive down the road, find a house and move there! Our Johannesburg friends thought us mad and said so. Nevertheless, we did just that and returned to say we’d bought a house in Beaufort West. Everyone howled with laughter. “You can’t go. You’ll be back. No one lives there.” We went, we never came back and we loved Beaufort West. Initially we thought we’d fix the house, sell it and leave, but what we didn’t know was that once the Karoo has crept into your heart you can go away, but you can never leave. Part of you remains bonded to the Karoo forever.
The house needed lots of TLC – someone had tried to “modernise” this handsome Victorian home, designed by Sir Herbert Baker and built in 1903 for the first secretary of the Divisional Council. Doors had been removed, wooden floors had been ripped out and replaced with ceramic tiles, Turkish arches had been smashed into some inside walls and an old feeding trough, rubbed to a sheen by countless horse necks, had been ripped out and installed as a “mock lintel” at a restaurant in town. We fixed the arches, left the floors and mourned horse trough. On the positive side, the kitchen was a barn, but at the same time, a dream. I could indulge my love of cooking and from this beginning a book of Karoo recipes grew. But, best of all, the house was haunted. At times a gentleman could be heard tapping down the long passages with his walking stick, a lady in a floral dresses was fleetingly seen near the lounge and a dog frequented one of the guest rooms. We soon found ghosts were the greatest fun, excellent conversation pieces and great burglar deterents.
Friends came to visit from Paarl. We had not seen them for absolute years. Wally and Reg made the years disappear as they reminisced over many whiskeys and a couple of bottles of red wine at dinner. The evening rolled gently through a sumptuous dinner and into the small hours and liqueurs were flowing without too much coffee accompaniment . Reg got up to visit the smallest room in the house and in the doorway lost his footing at exactly the spot where the ceramic tiles met the wooden flooring. “You’re drunk,” said his wife. “Not at all,” said he rubbing a spot on his chest, “It was the old man with the walking stick. He pushed me.” It was a good story and he never deviated from it. I loved it and I was instantly off ghost hunting through the entire Karoo. I found many splendid stories.
The end of a perfect day
The Khoisan called it the Great Dry Thirstland and now it is living up to its name. Beaufort West, which was my home for 13 years, has no water. Things there are so bad that people I have never heard of here in the Free State are sending me e.mail messages entreating me to call on everyone I know to pray for rain for Beaufort West. Bloemfontein has had a few good showers lately and I feel guilty knowing how the people of Beaufort West are struggling. Some of the recent e.mail messages have included photographs of the Great Gamka Dam in the Nuweveld Mountains. Gamka, is the San word for Lion, and in its heyday the Gamka was a lion of a dam. When I lived in Beaufort West it was a wonderful stretch of water, stocked with fish, a beautiful sight right on top of the mountains, but then, water is always a welcome sight in the arid zone. Wally and I often drove up into the mountains on hot summer afternoons to get away from the oppressive heat of the town and each time we did we would glimpse the waters of the Gamka Dam as we rounded the bend on the of the first steep curls of Molteno Pass and feel confident that it would always keep the town supplied with water. In those days it was full and the sight of all that water was comforting. Now this once mighty dam is empty. Farmers have tried to rescue the fish. They scooped up bucketsful and carried off hundreds of fish in bags and huge drums on the backs of their bakkies, but even this gargantuan effort was not enough many were left struggling in the mud which now, as some of the photogtraphs show, has turned to cracked ground. Despite these hardship, I miss the Karoo. I miss the sunrises, the sunsets and the Nuweveld Mountains, which seemed to be right in my backyard. On the positive side, I believe Beaufort West is installing a plant to purify waste water and that this is one of the first of its kind in the country. Well done! Just goes to prove the people of the Karoo are as hardy as the land itself – they can always make a plan!
I haven’t gone for an earth-nap under the “lang bome” I am still very much alive and well. Can’t say the same for my trusty old computer that was an extension of my brain – perhaps much more my brain that I gave it credit for. It took just one lightning flash – like a shot of Doom it hit my trusted tin brain and exterminated all my data, plus my mailing list. For a few days I moped thinking that’s that – it’s an omen, just stop. Then I looked around at all the books with little papers popping out of their pages marking special items on the Karoo, the filing cabinet with its masses of raw, unsorted Karoo bits and pieces for Round-up and, like Frank Sinatra I decided to “pick myself up, dust myself off and get back in the race.” More easily said than done. I felt as if I was standing at the foot of Everest and I wasn’t sure whether I had the courage to take the first step, but my young niece had a friend who was “a computer boffin” – he conducted a post mortem and salvaged what he could. “Facebook,” said my niece, “is the way to find friends.” I couldn’t believe I’d master such a step from the deep history where I live into the modern world, but I tried it and now I am taking the second step. I am trying my hand at “blogging”. No end to the wonders of the world, it seems.
The driver was my undying love for the Karoo, my passion to share what I find as I scratch about in history. I had never heard of the place before we went to live there, but once we bought that house in Beaufort West I caught such a severe dose of the Karoo that I will never be cured.