British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Patricia Jacobs
A Piano, a Buffalo and Kidneys in Red Wine
Steam Ship Robert Coryndon
I started married life in Northern Uganda in 1951, as the wife of a District Commissioner, on the Sudan border. We had been posted to the remote "out station" of Moyo on our honeymoon which was to be a wonderful three year experience.

Our house was a large one with the roof thatched with 25 tons of papyrus, elaborately woven into rolls. We had no electricity or running water so the prisoners from the nearby gaol carried our water in containers on their heads and filled up the tanks. Life on an out station was wonderful with a constant stream of visitors from all nationalities.

Shortly after arriving, my husband's wedding present to me was due on the Nile paddle steamer. The road from the port was like a river bed with an escarpment gradient. No tarmac or piano transport lorry! We collected old motor tyres for the piano crate to sit on and it duly arrived safely at our house. Pianos had never been seen or heard in the Northern Province before ours arrived. The locals roared with laughter on hearing it being played! It remained in the house for our three year posting, after which I decided to send it back to Nairobi for an overhaul whilst we went home on leave to the UK. This is when disaster struck. On being loaded from the lighter on to the steamer it was dropped into the Nile! People, animals and even cars had ended up in the water but never a beautiful Ibach Grand! It sank in its crate into the thick mud and remained there under water, so no chance of even playing the Water Music on this instrument ever again. Luckily it was insured and later replaced.

A Piano, a Buffalo and Kidneys in Red Wine
Ibach Grand Piano
Life was full of adventure in Moyo and one day a baby buffalo was brought to the house, as his mother had been killed for raiding the village crops. We named him Blitzen as we already had a dachshund called Donna. The two of them would tear around the garden like thunder and lightning. We employed a buffalo boy to cut fodder for him and they would go for walks together. When he first arrived it was milk he needed so we got large debbies (debe: a four gallon tin container used originally for petrol, kerosene etc...) of milk powder which helped him grow into a large frisky adult and a great attraction for our guests. One day the Governor's wife paid a visit and Blitzen disgraced himself by chasing her, with her only escape being a flying leap onto the verandah much to the embarrassment of all and sundry!

A Piano, a Buffalo and Kidneys in Red Wine
Buffalo and Calf
Blitzen survived for two years, when we promised to hand him over to Carr Hartley's Game Sanctuary in Kenya when we went home on leave. Sadly this never happened as he was shot by a visiting Game Ranger. Blitzen, in his usual boisterous and friendly manner, had spotted the Ranger's wife making her way to the loo at the rear of the Rest House. She took one look at him and fled, bolting the door behind her. He of course lay down outside and waited for her to emerge! When her husband returned he was so irate that he shot Blitzen... a sad ending for a delightful creature.

I was very interested in cooking and although I only had a paraffin Valor Perfection stove with two burners, I loved the challenge of baking. Our cook had a small Dover stove which he stoked with wood. Another visit from the Governor and his entourage meant a special lunch was the order of the day. Our cook was always delighted to look at the coloured photos in the Good Housekeeping cookery books and together we planned the lunch. Meat was hard to come by with beasts killed spasmodically in the village but on this occasion I managed to procure some ox kidneys so the main course was to be kidneys in a red wine sauce.

It was early in my married life and entertaining the Governor in primitive surroundings was somewhat nerve-racking. However all went well until the first course was cleared away. The house-boy came and whispered in my ear that cook needed to see me. All the guests heard the news. Disaster - the dish of kidneys had cracked and now lay in a heap in the ashes under the stove. As it was being taken out of the oven it broke and ashes, wine, meat and glass were all mixed together. No chance of a dash to the local takeaway or supermarket (a hundred miles to the nearest European station with the Nile in between) so a worried hostess saw her lovely red wine sauce gradually seeping over the cement floor! "Waste not want not" was my motto so at top speed I helped poor cook pick out all the kidney pieces and wash them free of ashes. Soup from the previous night's dinner was hastily reheated. Lea and Perrins added, and hey presto we had a replacement. I was congratulated by the Governor's wife for having "a little something in the fridge" and my reputation as a hostess remained intact!

map of Uganda
1963 Map of Uganda
Colony Profile
Uganda Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 98: October 2009


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