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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)
what a fabulous story – so glad kitty got on board just In the nick of time 🙂 – a good use of tension in the story telling there colonialist! Love the photos of the combi – it is just like looking at my parents photo album of our trip in 1975 (even your wife’s dress looks like a photo of my Mum back then).
That moment was the highlight of the whole trip.
Amazing – the exact same year!
What a wonderful saga, Col. Ginger William obviously knew which side his bread was buttered when he thought you’d decided to leave Upington without him. Thanks for all the photos, and for the happy ending. 🙂 The princely sum of R1-20 to get your exhaust fixed? Those were the days my friend. 😦
He was determined to come with us, indeed. It was a joyful outcome, indeed.
Those were indeed the days!
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Aw, he sounds like such a special cat, and how wonderful that he walked around with you….even down to the beach. You wrote the story beautifully keeping us in suspense about Ginger Williams fate, and I was so glad that he decided that home was with you. What an epic adventure, and with two young children. I take it they liked to ride in the camper van, and didn’t constantly question whether you were there yet! A wonderful tale of a gingery cat 🙂
He was most special. I had to try and convey some of the suspense we ourselves had, until he decided to adopt us completely!
The kids had become accustomed to ‘there’ being wherever we happened to get to, and kept themselves amused by playing or fighting in the back.
I loved this story. I got Goosebumps when Ginger became a fully fledged member of the Colonialist family. As for your Eldest, its funny how, and when kids just suddenly realise how to swim – even after lessons 🙂
So do I even now, recalling it!
We didn’t have our own pool then, of course, so she was far slower to learn than her niece who did 400m aged 4!
Fantastic ending, Col! I enjoyed reading this series quite a bit.
What a sweet story! A pool attendant, love it! 🙂
Oh I’m so relieved… I feared you might think that Ginger would be happier free, and what a wonderful moment when he made his wishes quite clear. I love him from this time and distance…
After seventeen dogs, we were adopted by a cat, and now I’m totally in thrall to them – Ginger William sounded so special… you must miss him…
Wonderful story, and such interesting pics of a landscape so few of us have seen…
It was indeed an absolutely magical moment.
I love dogs dearly, but from the time of being taught to walk during wartime years by our cat of the time who travelled everywhere with us, I have had a special thing for felines,
And they all lived happily ever after 🙂
Indeed so – this was a fairy tale which came alive.
brill’ recollections and re telling of a wonderful era.. enjoyed them.. 😉
Appreciate your saying so!
Very nice retelling, and quite the adventure. Coincidentally, we are looking at smaller motor homes, but all seem to be quite pricy ($80K+).
Will probably look at used ones, as we don’t plan to own one more than 5-6 years or so. We’ll see.
Of course, I will not be looking to adopt any critters during our travels. I think we’ll be critterless for a while.
Secondhand should be fine for that. Just beware of critters adopting YOU!
what a wonderful tale of love and dedication.Any idea why Ginger cats are always tom-cats?
He was wonderful.
Females are rare, but do occur. It needs a ginger tom and a ginger queen to breed them due to the genetics.
He was – utterly!
What an absolutely wonderful story of an extraordinary cat and delightful family holiday, i am so glad i popped in today so that I got to read this.. just perfect, I love happy ending.. c
I am so glad you did get to see and enjoy it. This is one of my most special sets of experiences with a cat, and I love recounting it and remembering it.
the shots were great too, what a treat! c
All specially rephotographed by me from rather faded slides.