The British Empire Library


Ex Africa: African Bees, African Topics, Family Life in Africa

by Ronald Hedley Brown

Birds, Beasts and Bature

by Vic Smith


Courtesy of OSPA


Review by Keith Arrowsmith (E. Nigeria 1949-57: Uganda 1957-65)
In 1964, Ron Brown retired as Director of Education, Northern Rhodesia, and two years later Vic Smith retired from Nigeria's federal veterinary service. Both writers, in addition to their respective jobs, had their particular interests: in the case of Ron Brown, bees - and in that of Vic Smith, birds.

On page 100 of Ex Africa, we are told that, soon after arriving in Lusaka, following a year's study leave in Britain, the author was adopted by a swarm of bees coming into his garage - an event which was to change the whole pattern of the rest of his life. The first part of the book - amounting to a quarter of it - is devoted to the subject of bees. The technical information it contains, while being of considerable interest to apiarists, is likely to be of only limited interest to the ordinary reader.

Vic Smith arrived in Vom on the Plateau in Nigeria in 1957 where, apart from about a year in Lagos and a month or two in Bornu Province, he worked in the Veterinary Research Laboratories until his departure from the country. He writes in a straightforward way about diseases such as rinderpest, rabies and foot-and-mouth, and the production of viral vaccines. The technical information he gives is enlivened from time to time by anecdotal material eg the fine vegetables on sale to Europeans in Jos "grown in plots fertilised with 'night soil' from the native quarters"; and the dead horse on the coldroom floor, "its legs pointing vertically upwards with cartons of precious vaccines balanced precariously on its hooves"!

Vic Smith's book gives a good idea of what life was like for an expatriate in Vom during the late 1950s and early 1960s. One learns a lot also about the bird life, and the methods adopted for photographing, netting, ringing and, sometimes, nursing the many birds which frequent or visit on migratory flights the Nigerian Plateau area.

Ron Brown arrived in Broken Hill with his wife and small daughter in 1949. His book gives a good insight into his work, about which he writes modestly. He records that the achievement which gave him the greatest satisfaction was the construction of some 50 swimming pools serving all kinds of schools (high schools, primary and infants).

In "Ex Africa" his description of life in Zambia in the 1950/60s will bring back memories to many expatriates who served in the former British colonial territories in Africa during those years. In the section dealing with wild life, I particularly liked the reference to a croc's eyes at night showing up like cats' eyes on a road, and I had had no idea that gold dust could be gleaned from a crocodile's guts! The author writes entertainingly about everyday matters such as gardening, motoring, witchdoctors and Rotary Clubs.

Both little books give very pleasing vignettes of very varied lives lived to the full and of benefit to many - both men and beasts.

British Empire Book
Author
Ronald Hedley Brown
Published
1996
Pages
112
Publisher
Venture Press
ISBN
0952893606
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon
British Empire Book
Author
Vic Smith
Published
1996
Pages
163
Publisher
The Pentland Press
ISBN
1858214041
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon


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