Lockdown Lookback -4

Here’s a stirring tale of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides and my family. It also obliquely references a lockdown and social distancing. In fact a much longer lockdown than we have endured: From 13 October 1899 to 17 May 1900, the people of Mahikeng – which the Poms called Mafeking – were locked down and besieged by the locals during the Anglo-Boer War. Theirs lasted 217 days.

In Oct 2018 I wrote: Whenever I hear Jimmy Buffet singing Pencil Thin Mustache I think of my uncle Dudley, oops, my cousin Dudley.

Dudley Bain was a character and my second cousin. I had known him over the years when he used to visit his old home town of Harrismith, but really got to know him once I started practicing optometry in Durban. He was very fond of his first cousin, my Mom Mary – and thus, by extension, of me.

Dudley worked in the Mens Department of John Orrs in downtown Durban back when there was only downtown. Anybody who was anybody worked in downtown. Anywhere else was “the sticks”. Even in 1980 I remember someone saying “Why would you want to be out there?” when optometrists De Marigny & Lello opened a practice in a little insignificant upstairs room on the Berea above a small gathering of shops called Musgrave Centre.

Dapper, hair coiffed, neatly dressed, often sporting a cravat, Dudley had a pencil thin moustache and definite opinions. He was highly chuffed he now had a pet family optometrist to look after him when I first hit downtown and then Musgrave centre.

– dear old Dudley – spot the moustache –

Fitting his spectacle frame was a challenge as he got skin cancer and his surgeon lopped off ever-bigger pieces of his nose and ears until he had no ear one side and a tiny little projection on which to hook his glasses on the other side. He would hide these ala Donald Trump by combing his hair over them and spraying it carefully in place. I am glad I wasn’t his hairdresser.

He would pop into the practice frequently ‘to see my cousin’ – for me to adjust his frames by micro-millimetres to his satisfaction. He walk in and demand ‘Where’s my cousin?’ If the ladies said I was busy he’d get an imperious look, clutch his little handbag a bit tighter and state determinedly, ‘I know he’ll see me.’ They loved him and always made sure I saw him. He’d ‘only need a minute; just to adjust my frame, not to test my eyes,’ and half an hour later their knocks on the door would get ever more urgent. Then they’d ring me on the internal line, and I’d say ‘Dudley, I got to go.’

I would visit him occasionally at their lovely old double-storey home in Sherwood – on a panhandle off Browns Grove. Then they moved to an A-frame-shaped double-storey home out Hillcrest way, in West Riding.

We had long chats while I was his pet optometrist and I wish I could remember more of them. I’ll add as they come floating back. I’m trying to remember his favourite car. One thing he often mentioned was the sound of the doves in his youth. How that was his background noise that epitomised Harrismith for him. The Cape Turtle Dove . . here it is:

~~~oo0oo~~~

Dudley married the redoubtable Ethne, Girl Guides maven. I found this website, a tribute to Lady Baden-Powell, World Chief Guide – so that’s what made me link this post tenuously to our lockdown:

Olave St. Clair Soames, Lady Baden-Powell, G.B.E., World Chief Guide, died in 1977. In 1987 her daughter and granddaughter, Betty Clay and Patience Baden-Powell, invited readers to send in their memories of the Chief Guide to The Guider magazine.

They wrote:-
Everyone who knew Olave Baden-Powell would have a different story to tell, but if all the stories were gathered together, we would find certain threads which ran through them all, the characteristics which made her beloved. Here are a few of the remembrances that people have of her, and if these spark off similar memories for you, will you please tell us?

Here’s Ethne’s contribution:
3 West Riding Rd, Hillcrest, Natal 3610, South Africa
When I was a newly-qualified teacher and warranted Brownie Guider in Kenya in 1941, our Colony Commissioner – Lady Baden-Powell – paid a visit to the Kitale Brownie Pack. Due to an epidemic of mumps, the school closed early and Lady B-P was not able to see the children, but she took the trouble to find me and had a chat across the driveway (quarantine distance) for a short time.

A year later at a big Guide Rally at Government House in Nairobi, the Guides and Brownies were on parade, and after inspection Lady B-P greeted us all individually, and without hesitation recognized me as the Guider who had mumps at Kitale. Each time we met in the future, she joked about the mumps.

My next encounter was some twenty years later, on a return visit to Kenya, in 1963, with my husband (that’s our Dudley!), our Guide daughter D. (Diana) and our Scout son P (Peter). We stayed at the Outspan Hotel at Nyeri where the B-Ps had their second home Paxtu. We soon discovered that Lady B-P was at home, but the Hotel staff were much against us disturbing their distinguished resident. However, we knew that if she knew that a South African Scout/Guide family were at hand she would hastily call us in. A note was written – “A S.A. Scout, Guide and Guider greet you.” Diana followed the messenger to her bungalow but waited a short distance away. As lady B-P took the note she glanced up and saw our daughter. We, of course, were not far behind. Immediately she waved and beckoned us to come, and for half-an-hour we chatted and were shown round the bungalow, still cherished and cared for as it had been in 1940-41.

Baden-Powell house Nyeri Kenya
– ‘Paxtu’ at Nyeri –

It was easy to understand her great longing to keep returning to this beautiful peaceful place, facing the magnificent peaks of Mount Kenya with such special memories of the last four years of B-P’s life. From her little trinket-box, Lady B-P gave me a World Badge as a memento of this visit which unfortunately was lost in London some years later. Before leaving Nyeri we visited the beautiful cedar-wood Church and B-P’s grave facing his beloved mountain.

My most valued association with Lady B-P was the privilege and honour of leading the organization for the last week of her Visit to South Africa in March 1970. Each function had a lighter side and sometimes humorous disruption by our guest of honour. The magnificent Cavalcade held at King’s Park, PieterMaritzBurg deviated from schedule at the end when Lady B-P called the Guides and Brownies of all race groups to come off the stand to her side; they were too far away. A surge of young humanity made for the small platform in the centre of the field where she stood with one Commissioner, a Guide and three Guiders. Without hesitation, Gervas Clay (her son-in-law) leapt down from the grandstand two steps at a time and just made Lady B-P’s side before the avalanche of children knocked her over. Anxious Guide officials wondered how they were going to get rid of them all again. The Chief Guide said to them, “When I say SHOO, go back to your places, you will disappear.” Lo, and behold, when she said “SHOO, GO back!” they all turned round and went back. You could hear the Guiders’ sighs of relief.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Steve Reed wrote: Hilarious – I reckon every family worth its salt should have had an uncle like that. Something for the kids to giggle about in secret at the family gatherings while the adult dads make grim poker faced humorous comments under their breath while turning the chops on the braai. And for the mums to adore the company of. Good value.

And funny Steve should mention that!

Sheila remembers: “After Annie’s funeral, in our lounge in Harrismith, Dudley was pontificating about something and John Taylor – married to Sylvia Bain, another cousin of Dudleys – muttered to me under his breath ‘Still an old windgat.‘”

~~~oo0oo~~~

Family tree: (Sheila to check): Dudley Bain was the eldest son of Ginger Bain, eldest son of Stewart Bain who came out to Harrismith from Scotland in 1878. My gran Annie Bain Bland was Ginger’s sister, so Mom Mary Bland Swanepoel and Dudley Bain were first cousins.

Published by bewilderbeast

It's about life, marriage, raising kids, paddling rivers, travel in Africa . . . re-posting thoughts written over decades - at random, I'm afraid.

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