Baby elephants are cute, yes? Ever been knocked flying by one? I have. Through a fence. I was leaning on it at the time. He was being ‘introduced’ back into the wild. I’d been feeding him oranges. That’s gratitude for you.
I was in Swaziland, ‘managing’ the camp for a bunch of archaeologists out in the bush. In practice that meant cooking over an open fire without falling into it or melting my jumper – and making sure everyone took their malaria pills. But I was also there because I was – the shame of it – tagging along with a man. Tagging along and archaeology are a kind of leitmotif for me.
I was already a seasoned weekend digger, a dab hand at scraping out cesspits (I’m not making it up) in the City of London, on sites now groaning under glass and steel. This site, though, was out where the buses don’t run. Rhinos, yes, buses, no.
The ‘camp’ was perched on an escarpment near the border of Mozambique – where a civil war was raging at the time. Each evening I’d cook things like impala stew in my witch’s cauldron. On special occasions a nice young man from Texas would grill wildebeest burgers. The nights were cold but we slept out on sun-loungers, sheets of plastic tucked over our sleeping bags to protect us from the heavy morning dews.
Morning began with tin mugs of tea, half an hour’s drive in dodgy old Land Rovers, a walk along a dried-up stream bed then a climb up a rock face to reach a cave. There we’d get on our knees, stick our heads in a dusty hole and dig. Except for tagalongman, who’d walk around debating things with the director – like the effect that baboons rolling rocks over, looking for grubs, would have on the landscape.
Now, even if you don’t get on your knees and dig, even if you’re just thinking great thoughts about baboons rolling rocks, you still have to walk through dusty, scrubby vegetation, which means you end up with dirty … socks. Yes, THE socks.
Right. I’m just saying ‘no’ to drugs for today (it involves a mohair salesman – there isn’t time before your cuppa goes cold).
So, still to come in the socks, spoons, sunsets and stones saga: the washing of the socks. The pornographic ‘Why not?’ disco. Percy Sledge. Enforced exile and wooden spoons. A nice young man. And drugs.
Time for a glass of wine.