Hoots an' awa', Mon!

2010-08-21 00:00

NOW it’s a fair while since the Hon. Doc. Ivan Palaver S.W.R. (Saviour of the White Rhinoceros) conceived a great concept called the Wilderness Leadership Concept, and I was wondering if this concept is still around. Lest certain dear readers might think this concept was about Moses leading God’s People around Palestine without personal hygeine, well, no, it wasn’t. It was about the Hon Doc and his disciples blesséd of Mother Nature conducting believers round the Umfolozi Wildlife Reserve and teaching them how Nature must be Kept in Balance and how not to squash snakes and chop down trees for braaivleises and chuck their old fag packets and toffee papers all over the veld.

There were other places too; of course, you didn’t have to go to Antarctica in seeking a wilderness, nor even Gough Island. We had our own wildernesses with nice roads for game rangers in Land Rovers and vets in helicopters to see the beasts got patched up when they bit each other and nice rondavels for devotees to stay in, and in places like St Lucia you could learn how to paddle a canoe and how not to sh*t in the reeds lest a hippo put his foot in it, all that sort of stuff. There was even a school for it, called the Wilderness Leadership School where you could get a certificate saying you had qualified as a saint.

Then again, there’s Dan Cohen, my old road-running pal. I’m thinking of starting an Urban Followership School, says Dan. Dan likes climbing the Berg, it gives him a chance to eat bacon and blaspheme on Saturday. He climbs in a schloffish way, following everybody else, but he knows how to keep the old machine fuelled with plenty unrefined carbohydrates and some protein and something vegetable, which is to say for the Berg we take a big box of Jungle oats and plenty bacon and some sun-dried tomatoes. Our rations weigh about boggerol.

Gas cylinders are bulky. Now Dan’s got a big party together, eight, for a relaxed clamber up the Rockeries and down the Mnweni Pass — we will cut across a sort of bluff at 10 000 feet or so. All are old friends but one, a skinny Scot name of Jock in thick jaggy woollen socks and the gaudy Buchanan kilt hung on his buttockless bumbones. He speaks a sort of Gothic Scotch to show off. Och, says he, the sperrit’s aye wullin’ but the grummoch’s gied agley! He knows about mowntains frae the Hielands, see, and he’s been tae this ane afore and he knows a short cut and if we follow him we will all have a jolly time. Hoots an’ awa’, mon! he exclaims, and we’re off!

At the top it’s lunchtime, we stop for a bite and set off northwards. Nae, says Jock, we must go west rownd yon part of Lesotho, it’s quicker. So we do that and after a long long while it occurs to us if we go on like this we will pretty soon emerge at Walvis Bay or something. But before we confront him with being lost suddenly we’re in mist, cloud, dense as dense, we can’t see the sun for navigation and since now it’s damn nigh suppertime we decide just to eat and sleep there.We awake on the morrow to the sound of beasts foraging nearby, but we can’t see them because of the mist. Baboons, says Jock.

Well goats, actually, sniffing at our supper remains, and they’ve got Dan’s Jungle oats out of his bag and eaten the bloody lot — including the box, and his bacon — including the plastic bag, and now they’re busy with the tomatoes. Dan hurls rocks and blasphemies at them though it’s Saturday, and suddenly a great regal living statue emerges from the mist in the direction of the curses, a Basotho woman entirely draped in blankets except the eyes peeping out. She stands motionless, silent, we have no common language. After a bit she points at an empty half-jack whisky bottle. We give it to her, what a useful thing. Then she gestures for cigarettes and we give her some. She looks around. She points at Jock’s kilt. He thinks she’s pointing at his willy because she wants sex and covers it with his hands. The kilt, mon, the kilt! we all cry. But I dinna hae ony breeks! cries he. One of our number called Sal who has a majestic big bum, she goes to her rucksack and hauls out an enormous pair of elasticised blue cotton shorts and hands them to Jock. The kilt, mon, the kilt! we all cry. Jock disappears into the mist with Sal’s pants.

Well there’s one word the statue-lady does understand: Mnweni. She takes us straight to the pass, she knows every blade of grass round here. On the way down some serious mountaineers with alpine gear stop in disbelief. Jock looks really silly, I mean he really does, wi’ his wee pink ice-cream legs a’ covered in ginger heers, mon. You could get four such legs into each half of the shorts.

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