It was 1975. My parents arrived for Christmas, full of anxiety over our delicate conditions. I was now six months pregnant, Michael was bruised and shaken from the accident and we were both suffering from shock, grief and denial.
We spent a quiet Christmas Day, forced to carry on with our traditions for the sake of the children. And also for the grandparents who had travelled all that way to be with us, and who had always pulled out all the stops to make our Christmases so memorable.
We had planned a camping trip to Victoria Falls, so we decided to leave as soon as we were ready on Boxing Day morning. We owned a yellow VW mini-bus (kombi), which seated us all pretty comfortably.
Our first night was spent at a small hotel in Potgietersrus. The building was modest, but the food was a legend. We were each given a menu, but not so that we could choose our entrees and mains. It was to inform us of the eight or nine courses that we would each be brought. So we ploughed our way through the soup, the fish, and the three meat dishes before trying to squeeze in the fruit, the cheese and the sticky date pudding.
We fell into bed distended around the middle and woke up ready for a large breakfast. (How can that be??)
We travelled up to Bulawayo, where we visited one of Michael’s uncles. Again we stayed in a similar hotel where we possibly slightly offended their culinary hospitality by declining some of the courses.
We drove through the Wankie game reserve (now called Hwange National Park), but the heat was so intense we struggled to keep our eyes open. Little Catherine kept us from completely falling asleep by pointing out ‘bidooms’ (baboons) at frequent intervals.
We pitched the tent in the Victoria Falls campsite and headed straight for the showers. We all stood for as long as we could under the cold water but were sweating again by the time we got back to the tent.
At the local butchery we bought some rump steak to barbeque for supper, and to this day I have never tasted steak as tender and full of flavour. But sadly, even then, the shops had little to offer.
At the Falls we lingered as long as we could in the cool mist, soaking up more than just the moisture. Birds that we could not see chirped and twittered; monkeys screeched and jumped in for a moment to pose before a random camera; a shy buck paused for a second in the long grass. And the water roared on. None of us rushed back to the oven that was our tent.
When we returned to Johannesburg, the shadow of Mike Blacow’s tragedy still hung in the air, but there was a feeling of unreality about it. My parents returned to the cold English January, and we just pushed on with life in South Africa, a life that was never quite the same again.