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.