Friday, 23 October 2015

Settling down to married life and farming at Chimbada Farm in Raffingora. 1970.

Farming at Raffingora was something entirely new to me; our main crop was cotton, which involved quite long and hard work during the picking season. It had to be continually watched and treated for unwanted insects and disease;  the spray plane came in regularly! When we were picking, all the staff and their families, children included, were busy during all daylight hours and they were paid according to weight picked. Pickers were also shared, being moved around between neighbouring farms to keep up with the work required, hoping that everyone's crop did not need picking quite at the same time!
Neil checking the cotton; behind him, his means of transport around the farm!

Crop spraying.  Note the guy with the marker!  Not at all healthy for him, I imagine! I am sure today with GPS navigation this would not be necessary.

Cotton barns.

Baled and off for sale.

In winter, we grew wheat.  Not as time consuming as cotton, but also a lot of work keeping an eye on growth and potential problems. 
Checking the wheat.

The combine harvester at work.

As for the farm house, I loved it! It was small with only two bedrooms, but it suited us well. We had no electricity and this took some getting used to. Water was heated outside the back door in a huge drum,  with a log fire built in underneath it. We had a young black guy who came in and cleaned the house for us; another of his jobs was to see that the fire never went out under the water drum! We had an elderly wood stove in the kitchen which was always kept burning; the only time it ever went out was in the height of summer, when I could not stand the heat any more! For those times, we bought a couple of small gas burners for cooking the essentials. Sadly I never took any photos of the inside of the house. (I was not a blogger in those days!)

The only photo I have of the house is this misty looking picture of the front door with Neil sitting on the wall and his brother and fiancée, who were visiting, standing.

Next door to us was the main house on the farm, where lived friends Wendy and Neville. They had arrived a couple of years before us. They had electricity, so we occasionally had the chance to catch up on world news on their TV! Wendy strangely enough had also been at Arundel school, though being a year older was one class ahead of me. It was good, though, to have someone I knew close at hand and she had two lovely children whom she schooled on the farm. She also had a passion for gardening, so we were lucky enough to be able to enjoy her terraced garden which led down to the Hunyani river. 

Wendy's garden looking down at the river, in a tranquil state in the dry season when this was taken.

Rocky my Great Dane in the garden looking after a lamb that we were bottle feeding; they became very attached to each other!   We had a small herd of sheep and this poor lamb lost its mother giving birth.  In the background is Neil's German shepherd Pandora. 

The source of the Hunyani river is at Marandellas; it gets progressively wider until it reaches the town of Sinoia (close to our farm) and from there it crosses into Mozambique where it becomes the Pahame river, eventually joining up with the mighty Zambezi, the fourth largest river in Africa. When the Hunyani was in flood, we could not get off the farm by way of  the bridge near Sinoia, so we bought a small motor boat, in which we used to cross the river.

The river in flood, full of mud, covering the bottom of Wendy's garden. That mud acted as good top soil when the water level went down again!

Creeping up the garden getting ever closer to the house.  It never quite made it past the final step to cause a problem in the house!  

We would leave our car on the farm on the opposite bank, where the owners allowed us to build a car port. Motor boating sounds like lots of fun, but crossing a fast flowing river, carrying a couple of weeks' groceries was not easy, as the bank on the opposite was quite high, and of course muddy in the summer rainy season. We used to shop in Salisbury (now Harare), which was about 80 miles from the farm, so we only went there once a fortnight.  To add to this, there was always the chance of meeting up with a crocodile, of which there were several in that area, but thankfully there were no hippos. I remember one night we had spent the evening in Raffingora, on the opposite side of the river, with neighbours and their young son from the next door farm.  A good meal, a few drinks and a game of darts had everyone a bit revved up! Returning home, rocking the boat seemed good fun until the son went overboard. A few minutes of panic and he was back in the boat, but it certainly sobered us all up very quickly. 

My Mum and Dad arriving for a visit. It was a shorter drive to arrive via the farm opposite us on the river, than to take the long drive around by the bridge (if it was in use!).

Our carport on the opposite side of the river after a massive hail storm. Luckily for us the car was on our side of the river in the garage that night!

During this period, we both carried on with a little falconry, in which I had sound training from John Condy and which I have spoken about earlier in this blog.   I am with a Little Banded Goshawk and Neil is with a Lizard Buzzard.

My Life Before Charente to be continued :-) 


The section of my life story during our overland trip is published on Kindle if you should be interested:-

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Goodbye to my show jumping days, getting married and a move to Raffingora.

On 31st December, 1967, Neil's 21st birthday, we got engaged, with no further dates in mind at that time for getting married.  He was busy working at the farm in Beatrice, 50km away from Salisbury and I loved my job and the horses, which were all stabled with my Dad.

Engagement 31 Dec 1967

In 1968, my star horse Kubla Khan started contracting colic quite badly and regularly, so I was hardly able to ride him at all! We finally sent him out to the farm with Neil, where we turned him out in the paddock, hoping that the rest would bring on a recovery. Unfortunately, after what looked like some good progress, the colic returned and getting a vet to go to see him out at Beatrice was not a practical option. We therefore brought him back to my Dad's home at Borrowdale, Salisbury. It was eventually agreed by our own vet, and from a second opinion, that there had to be an internal problem and the only answer was to put him out of his misery. It took me some time before I could agree to this and when I finally did, I took him to the Vet Research Laboratory where my boss Dr John Condy finally put him to sleep and did a post-mortem. The right decision thankfully had been made; we discovered that he had a badly ulcerated intestine, which the vets suspected was due to a massive dose of worms probably when he was younger. I was utterly heartbroken that such a brilliant horse should end his days this way, but I can only say that we did at least find an explanation for the persistent colic. If the post-mortem had produced a negative result I don’t think I could have ever lived with myself.
Kubla Kahn.

As I was then pretty much without a show jumping horse, I managed to find and buy a 16.2 hands high 5 year old gelding called Chervil during 1968. He had only raced a couple of times and both times had ended up at the back of the field! This meant that I had to go back to the very beginning again and spend much time on schooling and training him as a jumper. Chervil made his debut in the low grades in 1969, showing lots of promise, but he did not have the enthusiasm that I was accustomed to from Kubla Khan and I felt this partnership would mean a slow rise back to the higher grades! 

At the beginning of 1969, Neil moved from the farm at Beatrice to work for one of the local vets, who owned a farm at Raffingora, 140km north of Salisbury. As this was much further away than Beatrice, to see him on the odd weekend was not nearly so easy for me.  We decided now that it was time to finally get married. This of course meant two major changes for me, in that I had to leave my job with Dr Condy, and my riding days became somewhat numbered, being so far from Salisbury, where equestrian activities were centred.
20 Sept 1969
Neil and Diane

Myself with my two bridesmaids.

The Bruss and the Beak families
Don Beak, Georgia Bruss, Neil, Diane, Les Bruss, Dulcie Beak.


Meanwhile, Chervil had been improving all the time, though slowly, but of course my time was limited for schooling and for entering shows even more so. In 1971, one of the young riders that had just gone into adult classes made me an offer for the horse. As he was by then, all I had, I turned it down. They were obviously very keen and kept phoning me. After talking it over with Dad and Neil, I put a price on Chervil that I considered to be outrageous, so I hoped then that they would not bother me any more. The next thing I knew was that I had a cheque in my hand and no horse in the stable! Chervil in fact did very little after I sold him and I never did get to see him in the higher grades as I had expected which was quite disappointing. Maybe the sale was definitely in our best interests!!

My Life Before Charente to be continued :-) 


The section of my life story during our overland trip is published on Kindle if you should be interested:-

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Very Early Days

Apologies I just updated a label here and it has jumped back to the end instead of at the beginning!!!

I was born during the latter part of the Second World War, in Poole, which is a coastal town in the English county of Dorset.

Apparently I was two weeks late arriving and my mother Dulcie told the story many times, of how, during this period, she had been put in baths of hot water, and then wrapped in hot towels to induce the birth. One of her favourite anecdotes about this treatment was the occasion when the doctor said she may as well go home for the weekend and come back on Monday. She was leaving the hospital with her suitcase when the senior matron asked her where she was going. My mother told her what the doctor had suggested and the response from the matron was “What do you think this is - a bloody hotel?” My mother duly went home and returned to the ‘hotel’ on Monday! If all this had happened nowadays, I guess that my Mum would have had a caesarean, or been given some drug to induce the birth and I would now be a few days older than I am at present! Nevertheless, it was a normal birth, and apart from the fact that I apparently looked two weeks old when born, all went well.
Another of my mother’s favourite stories was that she had prayed that I would have red hair, to take after my father Don, who was in the Merchant Navy at the time. When I was born one of the first questions she asked was “has she got red hair?” and the answer was "yes". In horror, my Mum said “Oh I forgot to pray that it would be curly”; she did not have to worry, as a teenager I spent my time trying to iron my hair straight!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

An update on my Great Dane, Rocky.

On one particular night, Dad had been going down to the stables at regular intervals to monitor a horse which was not well and on one of these occasions, while approaching the house, he saw the light of a pencil torch and someone peering through one of the windows.  He suspected we might have a  burglar!  

My parents owned two poodles and this light must have made them aware that there was someone around, so they both started yapping loudly. This, in turn, disturbed Rocky and he careered around the outside of the house in full pursuit of the prowler! My father ran up the path and shouted at Rocky, who obediently returned to his side, only for Dad to discover that he was covered in blood.

His first thought was that the prowler (if that is what it was) was carrying a knife and he had slashed at Rocky, but after washing him down we discovered no marks on him at all! By this time, it was around three in the morning and as attention to Rocky had been our priority, anyone trying to break in would have undoubtedly long since disappeared! My father thought that there was little point at that stage in phoning the police, but he proposed to report the incident in the morning, which he duly did. Later that day, the police phoned us to say that a gentleman from our area had been admitted to hospital with part of his buttocks missing! The patient said that he had been out walking in the early hours and that he had been attacked by a lion! We then knew the source of all the blood which we had washed from Rocky! Up to that time, we had always thought that Rocky was very good at sounding alarms, and had the loudest growl we had ever heard, but we had had our doubts  that his "bite was as good as his bark"!  He had certainly proved us wrong with this behaviour! 

My Dad getting a big kiss from Rocky.

A couple of years later, when we were all away for the day, a police sergeant and a constable came to speak to my father about a car of his which had been stolen. They arrived at the house, opened the gate and Rocky, who met them on their way down the drive, happily walked along with them. They walked onto the verandah and after knocking at the front door several times, they realised there was nobody at home. They turned to leave, only to find Rocky lying in the entrance to the verandah, growling at them. Neither was brave enough to find out how serious he was and it was some several hours later when one of the stable hands came up to the house to check on something, that the situation was discovered. When the police phoned Dad the next day, they said that they felt absolute fools, but after that earlier prowler episode, I am sure that they did the right thing by not taking any chances with him.

What a great dog he turned out to be and I was always very confident when he was by my side.

My Life Before Charente to be continued :-) 


The section of my life story during our overland trip is published on Kindle if you should be interested:-

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

My Mum buys a race horse.

At the end of 1963, my Mum successfully bid for a horse called Thorstone at an auction at the Borrowdale race track. 
Thorstone when we bought her.

She was a large, very gangly chestnut mare who, to that date, as a two year old had shown nothing at all on the race track. Dad was convinced that as a three year old, she would fill out and with that would come the improvement he expected from her. His patience paid off and she had a number of second places, which more than paid for her keep, before finally gaining some wins.

My Mum leading in Thorstone, with jockey Charles Purchase, into the winning enclosure on 14 March 1964.

and with Jockey Ian Mackenzie-Smith 4 July 1964

In September 1965, when there was a large amateur race meeting at Borrowdale,  I partnered her, to win the main race of the day.

A proud Dad leading Thorstone and me into the winning enclosure.  This win actually caused a big upset, as the horse that finished second had been very heavily backed!  At least the bookmakers were happy!

I had an excellent day’s racing, achieving another two wins, riding a chestnut called Significance and a dark bay called Happy Time.
Significance owned by Mrs Nicholas, trained by Errol Abrahams and ridden by myself. Won by a short head!

Kubla Khan was still going from strength to strength and by this time he was well into A grade and competing in the Rhodesian team events. He had certainly taken over where Mr Smith had left off. He was an extremely strong horse and it had taken me some time to find the solution to the problem of keeping him under control! I came up with the idea of using a hackamore, which is a bitless bridle, and this just worked miracles with him. Suddenly I was in full control and he listened to every move I made. He was the only horse on which I had ever used one of these bridles  and I was more than impressed with the result!

Myself, and Kubla Khan wearing a normal snaffle bit in this photo.

The next couple of years were a mixture of the Veterinary Research Laboratory, wild life work, falconry, riding Kubla Khan and competing in local shows, while at weekends, when possible, going to the farm to see Neil. 

Myself on the farm with Neil's two dogs, Yogi on my right and Trixie under arm.

 Dad was still training, enjoying it, and holding his own with a number of wins at the race track.

Dad leading in Budget with jockey Andrew Erasmus in the saddle.
19 April 1965

Me leading in Budget with Roddy England in the saddle.
7 June 1965

Note:  My Mum would have been 100 years old today, 10 June 2015. RIP.

My Life Before Charente to be continued :-) 


The section of my life story during our overland trip is published on Kindle if you should be interested:-