I don’t like caves. There’s one in Zambia I never want to see again, a jagged hole in a shard of grey rock that punctures a flat horizon. At night sometimes it hums. A jackal lives there – he ventures out after dark and slyly pads around, like an evil spirit on a malicious haunting. Owls swoop down as soon as the sun sets, screeching like lost souls. Nice place to camp. Not.
But I’m digressing. We were in Swaziland. That’s where I had my first experience of an African cave – more precisely, a rock shelter. Yes, as well as cooking up a storm each day and nagging people to take their malaria prophylactics I’d decided to join the dig.
Now, anyone who knows me knows that I’m not built for shorts. I hate shorts. But it was hot. The bare rocks concentrated the heat. So I wore shorts, purple ones, quite long and a bit flarey to disguise the thighs. I hadn’t thought about the rear view so much, but if you’re digging a pit you’re kneeling on the edge and leaning forward, head in the hole – so your bottom’s in the air. It began to worry me. But why? Who was going to see?
Not tagalongman. As each day passed his demi-god status seemed only to grow. I, meanwhile, played the skivvy. I washed his SOCKS in an outdoor sink. In cold water for goodness’ sake. What was my mental state? In need of a good talking to, that’s what.
Enter the dig boss, Tex. (Remember him? Nice eyes and – did I say? – very long legs). He’d noticed the socks thing and was not impressed. Every evening he’d join me to make appetisers in my kitchen tent. Soon it was not just his tasty guacamole I was liking.
But what to do? We’re all together all the time – and sleeping outside, just feet from each other. Well, there’s only one time no-one’s watching, isn’t there? Think Enid Blyton and the Twins at St Clare’s – midnight feasts in the dorm and all that. Okay then, juveniles, think Harry Potter – clandestine jaunts in the invisibility cloak.
So. I wait till everyone’s asleep, edge myself carefully out of my sleeping bag and tiptoe through the slumbering diggers. There’s a little ledge partway down the escarpment that we called cocktail rock. A handy place for a midnight assignation, a mug of cheap red wine, or both. No, not everyone else was asleep.
But there’s only so much of this kind of thing you can do before people notice. Most people that is. The time had come, he had to be told.
Hell hath no fury like a demi-God’s protector when he’s scorned. The mighty director banished me. Cast me out into the wilderness.
So. I’m stuck thousands of miles from home with no money and a ticket to fly that’s not valid for weeks. Boy, what a few weeks they were.
Yet to come: pineapple fields, a murdered night watchman, the unlockable caravan. That mohair salesman & drugs. Car crashes at the Why Not Disco. Spoons. Etc.