Everyone turned to look at the sobbing child in astonishment. She was clutching onto the railings as though her life depended on it, tears streaming down her cheeks, her cloud of blond curls lit golden in the sharp highveldt sunlight. ‘Poor brownie bear,’ she repeated piteously. "No Mummy, no Daddy, no Tessie, no Janie…poor, poor brownie bear."
Her father scooped her up and hugged her tight to him. By this time the dark-haired, freckled faced toddler who had been standing next to her was bawling as loudly as she was. As a graceful woman crouched down to comfort the second child, a crowd, drawn by the rising duet of distressed sobbing, had gathered around the bear enclosure at Johannesburg Zoo.
Our parents never took us to a zoo again. The only large animals we ever saw from then on in were those roaming free across the wild African savannah.
My sister Janie - muse, mentor and best friend in all the world - has a birthday today. She is 18 months younger than me, but I look to her for advice and guidance because she has always been far less volatile and impulsive than I am – and considerably more wise. But she still cries for brownie bears – both the human and animal variety!
Janie and friends in Lamu
Janie is one of those exceptionally annoying people who are blessed not only with beauty, but brains and talent in abundance as well. She’d been published by the age of five, for goodness sake! It may only have been in our prep school magazine, but that didn’t make it any less impressive. Here, for your edification and delight, is the extract:
“When I grow up I want to sit at home in a big chair and knit socks and make babies.”
Whether it was because, even at that age, we’d already travelled a great deal with my parents and she just wanted the stability of home, or that it really was her ultimate ambition, we’ll never know. She most definitely has never sat at home and knitted socks – far from it. The girl is an out and out adventurer and explorer. As for babies, she has one lovely daughter, a son-in-law she adores and two of the most deliciously delightful grandsons you could ever imagine.
Janie and Jemma with the Ellies - then
Grandsons Wizz and Alex - now
Together, Janie and I have conquered the world. If I were to recount all our adventures together here, it would become a book – so we’ll leave that for another day.
Another birthday - another country
Safari kitchen - Janie calm, Tessa in a tizz
Suffice it to say that she is a truly excellent cook - her dinner parties are legend - and a gardener who can transform a patch of red African earth into an Arcadian paradise. Irritating, eh? And believe it or not, she is also great mechanic on top of all her other attributes, and the fact that our old Landie made it from the very tip of Africa, across that vast continent to our destination at the foot of the Mountains of the Moon in Uganda in our epic expedition a few years ago is testament to her skills.
Mechanic in Malawi
Landie running smoothly - Zimbabwe
Jay in her studio
Janie has promised to tell us about her adventures in pottery here on this blog one day soon, so do keep an eye out for that post because I know you’ll enjoy the trip.