The Candlelight Theatre evening at the Darling Museum was a great success. A long table down the centre of the main hall with 50 guests. Six short stories. Readers hidden from view and stories playing with our minds and imaginations by subdued candlelight.
The stories ?
- ‘A change of heart’ by Jeffrey Archer
- ‘In the Withaak’s Shade’ by Herman Charkes Bosmon
- ‘Oom Albert and the Ostrich’ by John Duckitt
- ‘The first Cape Slave revolt’ by Roger Webster
- ‘Crime Pays” by Jeffrey Archer
- ‘Beware of Greeks bearing Gifts’ from the BBC radio programme ‘My Word’
- Homemade Bread by Groeneweide
- Mixed Green Salad by Sue Hooks
- Lamb Potjie by Jane Wallace
- Cheese Cake by Cathy Hall
Wonderful atmosphere, gripping stories, an excellent meal and a memory of Van clutching onto his beloved Dundee Cake. You’ll have to ask him.
We are very fortunate to have John Duckitt’s original text of his story about Oom Albert, enjoy it. Sincere thanks to you John. A very special story as was read by the author; truly a Darling story.
Uncle Albert and the Ostrich.
Even in the time when men were big because all work was hard manual labour, Uncle Albert was a big, big man. His 6’ 7” frame was large in every sense. Not only did he have a big laugh and a big appetite, but he was also exceptionally strong. In his younger days he was reputed to have won a bet after carrying a horse up and down the stone steps to the loft. He could single-handedly unload a cartload of wheat bags faster than his team of farm labourers! He did it because he was strong enough to be able to run up the stone steps carrying three bags at a time, one in each hand and one across the shoulders. Piece of cake, you say, but today not many men can carry one of those old 220lb (100Kg) bags, let alone lift one in each hand. Needless to say, Uncle Albert rarely paid for his drinks in the pub, because very few men ever beat him at arm wrestling. To liven up the evening, he would apparently place a £5 note on the table for anyone that could beat him at arm wrestling. Apparently he never lost it, even if he had a lot of competition, because in the late 1800’s, £5 was a huge sum of money.
However much the stories grew with time, Uncle Albert also grew in time. In his younger days, his large-framed riding horses could carry his 300lb (135Kg) weight for most of the day. Nobody was brave enough to ask him his weight in his later years, but suffice it to say that he had to change horses after his lunch break. Now, anyone with a slight sense of compassion would recognise that carrying around a 300lb body all day would require an exceptional horse. Uncle Albert had a whole string of very large Suffolk Punch draught horses which he trained as riding horses because they were strong enough to carry his weight. He was most fortunate, because as a JP (Justice of the Peace) he was invited to attend the signing of the peace treaty with the Boer generals Smuts and Manie Maritz at the end of the Boer War. General Manie Maritz was apparently no smaller than Uncle Albert, and he had this beautiful black horse which he sold to Uncle Albert after the treaty was signed. I am surprised at this, because Uncle Albert was not known to have paid for goods he could win in an arm-wrestling match. I much suspect that the real story is that he acquired this horse, which he afterwards proudly named “Maritz”, in an arm-wrestling match from the much younger but war-wearied General.
My Great-grandmother was Uncle Albert’s sister. They were also fortunate enough to be neighbours, so the families saw a lot of each other. Hunting season, the month of June, was one of those joyous times when people could get together, when all the troubles on the farm would be left behind, and they were out purely to enjoy the hunt in each other’s company.
In those days, everyone hunted from horseback. The hunters would ride in to my Great-grandfather’s farm from wherever they lived on Friday evening, stay the night, hunt on Saturday and ride home on Sunday or Monday. Uncle Albert and some of the other neighbours and friends who lived close-by, would ride in on Saturday morning, and ride out on the hunt after a cup of coffee and a rusk by about 10 o’clock in the morning. The hunt stopped for lunch more or less at midday at a place called “MiddelDam”, a fountain-fed depression in the landscape which formed a small dam in the middle of the veld. It was a very convenient place because not only could they water the horses there, but the large expanse of grass made an ideal and comfortable picnic spot for the tired hunters. Some of the neighbours would bring a second horse with a “handlanger” to carry the game, however, a most important part of the hunt was the wagon which carried the provisions for the lunchtime braai. This would accompany the hunt, loading up the gutted buck on the way, until they reached “Middeldam” where two of the workmen would then set up the braai for lunch. After lunch the cart would be loaded with all the game that had been shot in the morning and on arriving at the house, the livers and kidneys would be removed for the next morning’s breakfast with a scrambled ostrich egg. The lunch always included braaied curried pork chops, big fat pork sausage in pork casings, and bread and butter, jam and coffee. Everyone had their speciality, which they were proud to display. No-one eats Citron jam anymore, but that was one of my great-grandmother’s specialities. The farmer’s wives spent a lot of time and effort preparing the food for this annual outdoor occasion, and there was always great competition amongst the hunt-master’s wives for who could set the best, most laden, most sumptuous table out in the veld. Altogether, the hunt was not just an occasion to cement family, farming, financial and neighbourly ties, it was really a wonderful get-together, an occasion to be enjoyed not only for the hunt, but also for the camaraderie and the banter that always went with a bunch of friends getting together.
At that time, my Great-grandfather had been given an ostrich by one of his neighbours, who had found it in the veld and reared it. It was a particularly large male ostrich because it had been hand-reared, who, by the time this hunt took place, had already taken a female, and was therefore very territorial. Even now, everyone has heard the stories of how dangerous an ostrich can be, but in those days, even if you specifically took the town Doctor on the hunt, everyone had a very healthy respect for the ostrich’s ability to defend its territory with its razor-sharp toenail. They are reputed to be able to cleave a man open from stem to stern with a single powerful blow. What most people don’t realise is that a hand-reared or “hans” ostrich is particularly dangerous because it is not afraid of people. Most wild ostriches, unless they are defending a nest or chickens, will run away from any human intrusion. Hand-reared or “hans” ostriches, however, have no fear of humans, and will readily come to check if they are not carrying something tasty to eat. The consequences of being caught out in the open by a “hans” ostrich and not having some delicacy for it to eat, can sometimes be dire indeed. I write with experience!
As it happened, my great-grandfather’s “hans” ostrich had set up home near “middeldam”. Not so near, mind you, that it would normally have caused a problem. Unfortunately, the month of June, which was then hunting season, is also the start of ostrich nesting time, and a time in which a male ostrich should definitely be proving his dedication to his family by coming to his mate’s defence, their nest’s defence and the defence of his territory.
It is also well known that when a male ostrich’s beak and legs turn bright red, he is not only ready to mate, but also can get very angry if anyone should dare to intrude on his territory or disturb his mate or nest. Normally a wild male ostrich, even one in full mating colours, will readily sound the retreat when a large group of mounted hunters arrives in his territory. However, a tame, hand-reared version is a different kettle of fish altogether, and a bunch of hunters setting up camp in the middle of the territory of a very large, young, virile male ostrich in full breeding colours is asking for trouble. The noisy bunch of hunters who were settling down for their not insubstantial meal, were definitely intruding on his territory. His mate, who might have been sitting on the nest at that time, might be disturbed by this noisy bunch, and having no fear of humans, and probably suspecting that he might even be able to scrounge something tasty, went to investigate.
Now, every one of those hunters had grown up in the veld. They knew exactly what an ostrich could do to them, so when this huge male, in all his puffed up glorious mating colours, strode purposefully into the middle of their camp, they made plans to get out of his way – fast. They dropped their plates and glasses and found a bush to hide behind very quickly. There was some confusion for a while, because some of the bushes were small and the numbers of people trying to hide behind them were too many. However the urgency of the situation dictated that they get themselves sorted in a hurry, and with much cursing and after only a very short while, everyone had found themselves a bush to hide behind, and they could look out to see if the ostrich was threatening them any further.
Much to their shock and dismay they saw Uncle Albert lying in the open, in the middle of the camp, with the ostrich walking slowly in his direction, head low down and swaying from side to side, his beady eyes glued on Uncle Albert’s inert body, as his suspicious little mind tried to work out the significance of that great lump of flesh lying on the ground. Everyone started shouting, as much to Uncle Albert to get up and run, as to try to scare off the ostrich. However, no matter how much they shouted, neither Uncle Albert nor the ostrich showed any signs of giving in. Uncle Albert wasn’t going to get up and run, and the ostrich was certainly not going to be scared off his inspection. The volume of the spectator’s shouting increased as the ostrich got closer, until he reached Uncle Albert, who, by now, had managed to move his hat onto his face.
To really understand the situation, you have to put yourself into Uncle Albert’s size 14 boots. He was no longer young, and the last time anyone had asked him his weight, it was a substantial 300lbs, and he had grown quite a bit since then. There was therefore no way he could outrun his comrades so that the ostrich could carve them up first. In fact, Uncle Albert very quickly realised that, because he was definitely the slowest runner in the group, there was every chance that he was the one the ostrich would carve up. However, Uncle Albert was not a JP because he was stupid or because he panicked easily, and from the depths of his sharp mind he found a solution to his problem. He quickly realised that an ostrich can only kick forward and down, and worked out that if he lay down, the ostrich would not therefore be able to kick him. Additionally, perhaps if he was very still and did not move, the ostrich might not realise he was a real live human, worthy of being cleaved open from stem to stern with a very sharp and extremely dangerous toenail.
Similarly, if you look at things from an ostrich point of view, the “hans” ostrich was faced with a perplexing problem. He could smell food, but couldn’t find it. Additionally there was a big lump, much bigger than a mole heap, lying in the middle of his favourite grazing, which hadn’t been there the last time he had grazed there. This would all have added up to a difficult puzzle to figure out, and he stood there for quite a while, carefully examining the evidence with his beady eye, from close-up, while Uncle Albert watched the situation developing from under the brim of his hat.
What to do?
This “hans” ostrich had been given a huge boost above his wild-reared counterparts by being fed out of old Mrs Louw’s kitchen door. Not only was he bigger than his wild counterparts, but he had learned to reason a little, and work out simple puzzles, like how to get his head into a bag of barley to help himself to the delicious grain in there. However, this puzzle was one he was struggling a bit with. The big lump smelled a bit like food, but none of his careful visual inspection could find anything that resembled food or an opening in a bag to eat it. Having spent some time visually checking the lump, smelling it and even gently tasting it, he was completely baffled. Perhaps another ostrich had made a nest in his territory? Impossible, the lump did not taste or smell anything like an ostrich.
So what does a very large, virile and inquisitive young ostrich in full mating colours do when he finds a strange lump in the middle of his favourite grazing?
He sat down, right on top of poor Uncle Albert!!!!
The volume of the noise from the other hunters increased to levels which would put a jumbo jet at full take-off pitch to shame. My great grandfather wasn’t sure if the people were shouting to get the ostrich away or if they were howling with laughter, but nonetheless, the ostrich just wasn’t going to give up his prize. The increase in the noise levels made the ostrich realise that what he had done, was exactly the correct procedure to get some attention and therefore possibly some food. Meanwhile, it took the hunters some time to realise that the ostrich wasn’t going to move. Some of them bravely started waving their hats from behind the shelter of the bushes, carefully, so as not to attract too much attention, but nothing would deter the ostrich. Nothing they did could persuade the ostrich to release Uncle Albert from his misery.
Oupa grootjie, as hunt master, was faced with an ever worsening situation. This problem with the ostrich had taken a lot of time, and they had a long way to ride before the hunt could end, even if they took the short cut home. None of the guests had eaten yet, but if the ostrich cleared off immediately there would still be time to have a quick bite to eat as well as complete the hunt. Worse still, he realised that if he didn’t resolve the problem in a hurry, he would have to send the food-wagon home with the food uneaten, and, well, suffice it to say, the consequences of that would just be too terrible to contemplate.
So, shaking, with laughter he assured us, he resolved the situation the only way possible. He fetched his 32”double-barrelled Greener 12 bore hammergun, and quickly ended the ostrich’s short but eventful life where it sat, right there, on top of Uncle Albert!!
Uncle Albert said afterwards that he was really worried because my great grandfather was shaking so much, he was sure he would end up in the morgue himself. However, the bird was plucked and skinned, and a couple of the feathers were proudly worn in Uncle Albert’s hat. Unfortunately ostriches carry lots of unpleasant little bugs, which desert their host immediately it dies, and it took a substantial dose of the doctor’s cough medicine to remove the itch. The other hunters also declared that they were traumatised by the incident, and also had to have some of the good doctor’s special medicine. This, of course, delayed the hunt to such an extent that they had to take the shortcut home anyway. It did not take long for great-ouma to wheedle the story out of the hunters. She just knew there had to be a story when they appeared, all walking their horses home, guns in the saddle scabbards, and very much later than expected. Their explanation was that they were laughing so much, they would have fallen off their horses if they had actually tried to ride them.
Uncle Albert? The doctor had given him some really strong medicine to take away the pain of his ordeal, so he rode home on the food wagon, stretched out and sleeping comfortably with his hat on his face.