Mole in the Hole

Written By: The Lowdown - Dec• 31•12

Christmas Shopping


I was up at 4 am, into a motor car before 5 and away from Kalulushi to get to Ndola airport by 6 just in time to check in for the Zambia Airways flight at 7 down to Lusaka. The 748 heaved off the ground with me in it (always a bit of uncertainty there, you might have a confirmed flight but you could still be unlucky, left behind, your seat taken by some Apamwamba) and droned down to the Big City to land there just after 8 o’clock. Then there was the long wait in the International Airport for the one flight per day to South Africa. It was only when the SAA 737 took off with you in it at 3 o’clock that you knew that you were going to make it to Jo’burg. I was met at the airport and taken to the Carlton Hotel in the middle of a very different city from the one that you know today. There was no Sandton City in those days and one could walk around the city centre without being mugged!


I had come down to visit the firm making drifter drilling machines, not least to point out the little problems we were experiencing, so that minor modifications could be made to them. This however, also allowed me to put into action a great little wheeze that I had thought up. Buy a second hand motor car, then, fill it with all the possible goodies required for a major thrash on Christmas Day and drive back with all the spoils. The motor car could be kept with SA plates on it and it could then be lent to people who wished to do a similar trip. For, folks, the world had turned. It was in 1978 and the borders to Rhodesia/Zimbabwe were once again open. The fleshpots of Jo’burg were only a day and a half away by road.


The business was soon sorted out and the drilling company allocated me a minder, young Doug Adam, to assist me in the search for a car. Krugersdorp was full of places that had lots of jalopies and it was without too much difficulty that a beautiful blue Toyota Corona was found for the modest sum of R1800. Doug undertook to get the car serviced and checked whilst I went off to Checkers to buy goodies. The place was a positive treasure house. There were cheeses, turkeys, tins of mussels, boxes of chocolates; I will not go on, suffice to remind all that the shops in Zambia were fairly threadbare and had been for some years. On to Benny Goldberg’s emporium where there were cases of tinned beer and wine in 5 Litre boxes, My Word, What a good idea! Sherry was also available in the same packaging, then there were the champagnes (well, the South African version of same), the fine brandies, Angostura bitters and, having already found sugar lumps, I was now fully equipped to produce champagne cocktails at the drop of a hat!


It was early on the Sunday morning that my fully laden Toyota came out of the underground car park of the Carlton and turned north for home. The plan was to stop with friends in Salisbury(soon to be renamed Harare) overnight and be home in time for tea on Monday night. All went well, the car performed magnificently until it decided that it had gone too far and started to misbehave so that it eventually ground to a halt in the middle of the fair metropolis of Potgietersrus. This occurred at about 10 in the morning, when all and their mothers were in church or contemplating their sins. I walked up the road to where I could see a filling station that had the Toyota service sign outside. After a bit of a chat and the passing of a few rand the attendant made a callout to the duty mechanic. Shortly thereafter two young lads sped up on motor bikes, managed to coax the Toyota into the workshop and commenced investigations. They had virtually no English, were fairly brusque with this “Rooinek” and his rubbish motor car but they decided it was something to do with the timing and worked away. It was pretty hot in this big workshop and I heard one say to the other that he could do with a drink. It was a matter of seconds to provide the lads with cold beer, a few more minutes to stack some wine and more beers in the office fridge, no time at all to get music blaring from the tape deck in the car and we were all set to have a party. The parents, Oupa and Ouma as well as a few select friends all pitched up and a very jolly and convivial time (had to have a dance with Ouma, scandalous behaviour on a Sunday)  was had whilst the car was repaired. I set forth from there with new lifelong friends (the sort that you will never see again) and somewhat worse for wear with drink! A change in plan, better you stop for the night in Pietersburg; a good idea as it turned out as half way there the Toyota boiled over. A Good Samaritan helped me with some water and I could then make it to the Holiday Inn where I could recover my composure and sleep off the effects of the afternoon. In my defence I have to say that I did go to the Toyota garage in the morning to see if I was in for more surprises but I was turned away, all were far too busy to look at my banger. It was, then, with some trepidation that I resumed my journey North. The Toyota performed like a dream and in no time at all I was in Harare, where my friends awaited my arrival with keen anticipation, for I had allowed for them in my foray to Checkers.


The next day I set off, full of optimism. The road was clear, the weather fine, the music on the tape deck splendid and all was well in the world. A fuel stop in Karoi was made and then it was on towards the border, only to have the engine go silent on me 30 km further on. It took another couple of hours before I was towed back into Karoi where checks revealed that the timing chain had snapped. It was explained to me that when that happens the coordination of the engine is disturbed so that pistons and valves collide within and all is “buggered.”  Spare parts would have to be ordered from Bulawayo. I got on the phone to my friends who undertook to acquire the said parts which would be sent up to Karoi on the parcels van run by Swift transport. In the mean time my friends had got hold of Round Tablers in the area and told them to look after me. I was on my way to the Karoi Hotel when a beautiful, young, lass intercepted me. It turned out she was the girl friend of the Chairman and assisted me in getting all my goodies over to the hotel. Later, the Chairman and others pitched up and several beers were consumed on the verandah of the hotel; an invitation to dinner issued, in return for which I delved into the stocks of my mobile party and brought out wine etc to go before and get cold. I was filthy, went up and took a bath, emerging from which I foolishly stubbed my toe on the lip and broke it! The only immediate remedy for this was to take to drink so the 5 litre cask of wine was well flattened by the time dinner was over. The conversation was interesting, to say the least. Barry Slater, the chairman, (later to distinguish himself at a Lusaka RT event by arriving, stark naked, on the back of a motor bike, driven by Paul Golson, at the Golson ménage; Di did not turn a hair) ran the telephone exchange in Karoi; maintaining communications at the latter stage of the “freedom struggle” was a difficult and dangerous job. Other guests had all been involved in the very unpleasant war which saw them out on extended tours of duty away from their farms and families, Karoi being very much in the front line of it all. Some were bitter, all did not know what the future held for them; most thought that they would have to leave their homes and start all over again in another country. Quite a number displayed the mental effects of what they had all experienced.


The pain in the toe diminished slowly as the days went past. The spare parts arrived, they were found to be incorrect, they were returned and it was over a week before the right ones pitched up. In the mean time I sampled life in Karoi. I met Rufus, the owner of the Twin River Motel. He had a large car; he would put his very large dogs in the back seat of the car; he would clamber into the boot with a crate of cold beer and tell his driver to put his peaked cap on and drive round town! I am not sure what the purpose of that was for but the dogs enjoyed the outing and Rufus liked getting drunk in the boot of a motor car.


Another vehicle broke down and the passengers came to lodge at the Karoi Hotel. It turned out that they were the Finnish ambassador to both Zambia and Zimbabwe and his son who was about to return to Finland to do his year of national service. The manageress of the hotel at that time was an attractive lady of Danish origin who was more than delighted to have a fellow Scandahooligan about the place and, within no time at all, amorous overtures were made. The ambassador, fearful for his virtue, appealed to me to ensure that I kept him safe. Dinner that night was the danger point but, with the application of more of my mobile party stocks I managed to get the pair of them past that dangerously amorous stage to a point where they were declaring undying love to each other but were totally incapable of demonstrating it. The ambassador’s son and I carried the insensible pair of them to their separate rooms and left them to sleep it off, virtue intact. Luckily their car was repaired the next day and they could escape from any further temptation.


It was another week before my tatty Toyota was repaired. I left Karoi at 4 in the morning, marveled at the stars at the top of the Zambezi escarpment, passed through the Chirundu border as it opened (there was a chicken nesting under the customs counter) and then reached home without incident. It was only a few days later that I noticed that the two left hand side wheels stuck out from the body more than those on the right hand side. A few more days later and one wheel fell off whilst the Madam was driving it, fortunately, she was only going slowly at the time. Then the Zambian customs turned round and said that the car must go back to South Africa and, rather than having another journey like the last one, I put it on a train and consigned it back to Doug who managed to flog it back to the garage for only R900. The jolly good idea turned out to be a jolly expensive one but, My Word, did we only have a magic Christmas Feast!

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