The Goings On at the Bottom of our Garden

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Me at Age 4

The Goings On at the Bottom of our Garden

October was ‘suicide month’.  The heat and the glare without a breath reverberated with the shrill of cicadas, emanating not from their throats but from the rasp of the membranes on the underside of their tummies, so Mommy said.  We thought nothing of it.  Relief came in the pool where we made friends with the big frogs and their mates who laid globs of eggs in the night that looked remarkably like the pudding we were regularly served by the custard cupful.

The Goings On at the Bottom of our Garden

The frogs took over from the cicadas as dark descended quickly after the pale haze of the sky showed its dusty palette.  Under the velvet of night the air was punctuated with the love songs of those frogs.  But Dad, being a doctor, was a light sleeper. The ring of telephone destroyed his sleep most nights after which he’d often have to pull his trousers over his pajamas and go out on a house call or to the hospital.

He  would not, however, tolerate the croak of frogs.  In the darkness we witnessed his famous surgical technique.  In his pajamas with a frying pan and butcher knife in hand he found the offenders while my mother assisted in her dressing gown shining the way with a torch.

Dad explained to the family at the breakfast table that this was a much more useful experiment of selective breeding than Mendel’s laborious study of green peas and yellow peas.  Over time we would breed a croakless frog.  We did not, like Darwin, have to sail away from England where everyone and everything in society was very staid.

Mommy meanwhile was reading to us from The Wind in the Willows. I remarked how well Toad from Toad Hall was dressed, when our frogs (weren’t they all closely related according to Darwin?) went around naked.  In fact, all our animals went running around naked and perhaps for decency sake we should at least dress our dog Bundu.

She replied, “No! No!  You see we can get away with a lot out here in Africa and no one turns a hair.  Everything, absolutely everything, you see, is much more civilized in England.  Perhaps we’ll all go there one day.  That’s why you’ve got to learn to use your knife and fork correctly.”

6 Comments

  • Peter E Ward

    Reply Reply April 23, 2010

    It’s funny, an image came to mind in reading the description of your home and the ‘night life’, but one that was closer to Maggie Hossel’s property, as I remember it in the 1950s. They had a rondavel that overlooked their concrete swimming pool. Unlike Morris, your father, I loved the sound of frogs at night and the sound of the sometimes deafening cicadas are so typically Africa, and, thank God, Australia. One of the things we have in common is a father being called out at all hours of the night, when on call, and having to go to Stanley House the next day. I look forward to your next installments.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 2, 2010

      Peter,
      So good to hear from you! You are thinking of our second home we had built in Hillandale in 1957. The memoir is set in our G and P Mine house where Dad was initially (1946) employed as the mine doctor before he established the private practice at Stanley House. I’m not sure I ever visited the Hossels house but they did live in Hillandale. Yes, Africa is rich in sounds as well as sights. I remember most the cooing of the mourning doves that we miss in North America. Yes, the doctor in those days really was at the beck and call of the community and when Dad first went to QQ there was no relief. He was on duty 24/7 and was continually sleep deprived hence the sort of manical behaviour regarding noisy frogs!
      Hope you enjoy my exerpt from the novel this week.

      Diana

  • Val Atkinson Barbour

    Reply Reply May 2, 2010

    Do you remeber travelling to Silobela or Nkai? In the wet…always carried a spade and sacks to dig the car out the mud! And the baoboabs – I remeber one near Turtle that had a hollow trunk. We had many a make believe session there. But most of all I remember riding our bikes in the veld, anywhere and for as long as we liked. The only possible danger was from animals and they never harmed us. Now the danger is from our own kind and our children’s movements are stictly monitored to keep them safe. Especially now in the build-up to the soccer world cup. We all fear that our children will be abducted and sold as prostitutes.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 2, 2010

      Val,
      Yes, the boababs are one of those African icons…so grotesque in a way and naked for so much of the time and yet are the tree of life. The hollow ones make wonderful never to be found hide and seek refuges and pirate hideouts. Yes, our bikes! They were our wheels to freedom. We didn’t have to be home til nightfall and no questions asked really. Childrens activities are so structured now they have forgotten how to make spontaneous fun themselves….missing the best part of childhood. Sorry indeed to hear your fears are as serious as abduction. I thought that only went on in Asia. Do hope you can clean things up before The World Soccer Cup. All eyes will be on SA and I’m sure you’ll put your best foot forward. Its a great opportunity I know you have all been working hard for.

      Diana

  • Ingrid Teulon

    Reply Reply July 29, 2013

    Hi Diana is your dad still alive?

    • Diana

      Reply Reply July 29, 2013

      Ingrid, No, unfortunately he died unexpectedly, suddenly, following a silver medal in swimming at the All Canada Senior Games in August 1999…active to the last.

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