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(Boxing Day 1974 saw Much Better Half and I setting off from Durban on ‘rideabout’ in our Combi Camper ‘Cambi’ with our daughters aged 4 & 7. By Saturday 28th December we had reached Upington, and while camped on their island in the Orange River we were adopted by a scraggy ginger cat. After we had tried and failed to find where he belonged or any SPCA, he stayed in the Camper while we booked into the hotel overnight. Next day he came with us to Augrabies Falls and then into South West Africa. We camped on the edge of the Fish River Canyon and he vanished just after we saw the New Year in, but reappeared in daylight many hours later. After visiting Luderitz for a few days during which Ginger showed a willingness to go on amazingly long walks with me, we went to Keetmanshoop and to the incredible balancing Finger Rock where Ginger wanted to head for the hills. Then we had to leave him at Windhoek SPCA while we went through the Namib Desert Park. We collected him again on 10th January, 1975.)
We had started asking ourselves whether it was going to be fair to Ginger to subject him to the concentrated motoring across the African continent that would now be necessary to get home in time. ‘I think we were over-hasty,’ I said. ‘With Fiz being so used to travel, he probably belonged to a camper, and then settled in at the campsite.’
We felt even worse about it when we booked in to Hardap Dam, where we had decided to spend our petrol-less weekend. It turned out to be another reserve, and poor Ginger had to be put into the kennels at the entrance.
During a lazy weekend of swimming in the pool (7-year-old Elder Daughter suddenly discovered how to swim properly there) and generally doing lots of nothing-much, we did visit him as often as we could – ED and I cleaned out his cage industriously – but we could see he wasn’t amused.
Ginger was obviously very relieved to be rescued when we set out again after lunch on Sunday. Near Mariental all of us (Ginger included) were fascinated at the sight of a derailed goods train with police swarming like flies.
Trees were sparse – but local birds made full use of the ones that did exist!
We had enough petrol to get to Grunau but stopped 50Km short at a dry (of course) river bed. There we went rock-hunting before supper. Ginger was in his element – he wandered all over, and climbed up and down a few trees in delight at finding that such things still existed.
He must have found something during his wanderings which didn’t agree with him, though, because that night he was violently sick over YD’s pillow – charming!
As we approached Upington again Ginger grew more alert and excited. We parked near the spot where we had found him, and he leapt out of Cambi with a cry of joy. We couldn’t find anyone to ask whether there had been any enquiries about him, and MBH said, ‘He must make up his own mind about it.’
So we had lunch while Ginger ambled here, there, and everywhere in his familiar surroundings; but mostly within sight. When we started packing up to leave, however, he vanished. The kids wanted to call him, but I said, ‘No, that wouldn’t be fair.’
We waited for some time, until it seemed silly to stay longer. I started the engine with the sliding door still open, but nothing happened. ‘Right, close up, kids, we’re off,’ I said, and called out in the direction of the river, ‘Thanks for sharing our holiday with us, Ginger. We’ll never forget you.’ Although I was sure we had done the right thing, my heart was heavy as we drove off …
Then, above the sound of the engine, a cry of pure kitty outrage was heard: ‘And where do you think you’re going without me?’
I didn’t even have to stop. ED opened the door as I slowed down, and an indignant and fluffed-out Fizzy leapt in and glared at us while she shut it again. Need I say that it was a rather … emotional … moment?
Thus it was that, on 13th January, 1975, Fizzy-Willy, Ginger William of Orange, became a full member of the Colonialist household. How I’ve wished over the years that he could have told us his earlier history!
Our exhaust was damaged again later that day, and we had to call at a service station in the middle of nowhere to have it fixed – at a cost of R1-20! The owner was a man who had been brought up in an English-speaking home in Port-Elizabeth and attended English-medium schools – but after 12 years in SWA could only communicate in Afrikaans or German!
We had supper in Kimberley and then stopped by the roadside some distance beyond, now with the luxury of a table, chairs and a refuse bin typically found at most rest stops in South Africa in those days. When I let Ginger out in the morning he returned a scant few minutes later with a mouse which he proceeded to eat, tail and all. The rest of the day he slept the meal off with a satisfied grin on his ginger face.
Just after 7:00 p.m. on 14th we arrived home in Durban, after a trip that had been 4264 miles – some 6860 Km – inside of 3 weeks. And with only an 80 Km speed limit!
By the following day, Ginger had already integrated with the rest of our zoo. He regarded himself, however, as a cut above the rabble, and insisted on coming with us next evening when we went to MiL’s home for supper.
He had a thing for water. Perhaps it reminded him of the Orange, and provided him with a comforting familiarity. We had a fishpond outside our bedroom window at our original small suburban home, and this became his ‘territory’. Of course, it attracted toads, and I remember the occasion when, after sleep-interrupted nights, I collected a bucketful of them and Fizzy and I took them some Kms away in the car for release in a wild area. A couple of days later there was a procession of returning toads coming up our 39 front-garden steps – the latter always reminded us of John Buchan’s book ‘The Thirty-nine Steps’. I’ll never forget the look on Fizzy’s face as he sat halfway down the flight, head turning as he watched each one hopping up past him.
Anyway, after we dug in a large Portapool at the back, Ginger adopted that area as his place to be, and when we moved to our present home – although he would often follow me through the forest and right down onto the beach – he didn’t regard the sea as a reasonable substitute. However, when we finally put in our present swimming pool his joy was complete. He became our pool-attendant for all the many remaining years of his lovely life.
© Colonialist November 2013 (WordPress) November 2007 (24.com)