If Lesley’s life with Anton was marked with misery, it was also marked with strong enjoyment, and the moments that I remember as the best times from that era are all occasions when Lesley and Anton set out with the specific purpose of seeking pleasure and relaxing – holidays and weekend picnics. Above White River and about fifty miles beyond it loomed the escarpment, a continuation of the Drakensberg, where the land rises sharply from the Lowveld to the higher and cooler regions beyond – the Middleveld and Highveld.
The escarpment scooped extra rain from the sky, and along this edge were waterfalls, rapids and streams hidden among pine plantations and the almost-vanished indigenous kloof forests. It was here that we often went to picnic and to swim in the pools, explore the landscape and clamber over the fantastical sandstone boulders that characterize the region. On these excursions, a magical-seeming atmosphere arose. Whatever differences and tensions we normally lived with were set aside in favour of the enjoyment of the moment. Picnics in the pine plantations, with pine-cone wars the night.and the soft prickly underbed of needles, brought out a relaxed playfulness in Anton. Away from the problems of the farm, he was an amiable presence, full of the grace and competence of a superb wild animal at ease in its environment, and it is in these moments that I was most able to like, perhaps even love him. It was after such a day that Anton once kissed me good-night as I lay in my bed in the rondavel, the only time that he ever did so, and I can still feel the bristly prickles of his moustache on my lips, and the confusion of love, fear, envy, anger and other less explicit emotions that filled me as I lay in my bed listening to the clicking of the termites and the crickets and frogs that filled
The Lopes* family, who were coffee importers from what was then known as Lorenço Marques, had connected with the Luitinghs before our arrival – many Portuguese families sent their children to South Africa to learn English, after they had completed their education in Moçambique.
The three Lopes children shown below are Luis, Maria and Carlos, along with, I think, their mother, whose name I don’t recall. Behind my mother on the right is her Taunus station-wagon.
Through our connection with them, we often vacationed in L.M. and further north. These holidays enjoyed, by and large, the expansive and relaxed feeling of an extended picnic as Anton’s outdoor skills found appreciative use, were put to use and appreciated, and we abandoned ourselves to the pleasures of camping at San Martino, Ponte d’Oro, and Inhambane, of puttering about in boats and of filling our senses with what seemed an exotic culture and landscape.
Once we arrived at San Martino in the late afternoon, after a day of driving in the Bedford truck, with the three-room tent that Lesley had sewn on her 1920s Singer sewing machine and all our camping equipment piled and tied in the back. We had brought Mhlolo, the kitchen servant, with us – a custom among many holiday-making white South Africans – and our arrival at the lagoon marked his first sight of the sea, the water of which was reputed to have magical or beneficial properties. We found our campsite and before unpacking dashed for the lagoon in the dusk half-light. That evening the phosphorescent algae were blooming, and wherever the water was agitated, it was lit with green flame. Our progress into the warm, knee-deep lapping waves was accompanied by a glowing wake, and each splashed drop cut its living trail through the air, picked out in green against the darkening water. Mhlolo stood splashing entranced, a beatific smile on his face, his arms flailing like a neon windmill as he sent streams and balls of radiant green into the sky. Eventually we returned to unpack, leaving him there until well after dark.
* It turns out that the photo is not of the Lopes family but the Buntings.