Wednesday, January 08, 2003

I found this story in one of my old books. History repeating itself? Vico was right I think. James Joyce too in saying that it's a "commodious vicus of recirculation.

He felt that he had given South Africa a fair trial; and now after prolonged discussions with his wife, he had decided to leave it, he hoped for ever.
Primarily he was a farmer; secondly he owned a store or two; and now the trend of events of the past few years had turned him pessimist. Everything had gone wrong, and it was still going wrong, with the country and with himself. So far as he could see South Africa was not worth living in any longer “ there was nothing to look forward to, no future, no hope, nothing.
When a pessimist lets himself go he must do it thoroughly, otherwise he would not be a true pessimist.
Drought had followed upon drought, the effects of which were felt by every business and nearly everybody in the country. And as though that were not enough, politics – were stirring up bad feeling everywhere and making matters worse than they ever need have been.
Then there had been the adverse report on the mines, there was little hope of the mines lasting much longer, no hope of their ever being able to pay a year or two hence, they were finished , and if they were finished so was South Africa. The newspapers, too, were full of gloomy facts, natives were getting out of hand, there were more people leaving the Union than were coming into it, South Africa was being given a wide berth, there was trouble looming ahead, he had seen it coming for some time, and now he had "got the wind up" he was for fresher, freer fields and other pastures.
Not easily nor lightly had he and she decided upon this cutting away from the land of their adoption. It had been talked over between them for a long time, and it is a little sad to think that two once confirmed optimists should allow the trend of events serious enough in their way to narrow them down to this extent. But there it is – when one or two get into such a state as that, their only hope is to give up hope. They both did this as far as South Africa was concerned.
As true pessimists they had, of course forgotten the fact that there would be bad conditions elsewhere in the world; and they had forgotten that past droughts in South Africa had broken, and that for one hundred years there had been the Native menace, and that political upheavals came and disappeared as clouds from the sun. They forgot, too, that new mines are discovered from time to time and that in this vast land there must be large tracts of untapped sources of minerals. They had, in short, forgotten that there is the swing of the pendulum in the life of a country to adjust to matters, and that the nasty bump it gets from the heavy end of the pendulum goes down completely when it swings the other way.
In attempting to decide where to settle, the first important fact that struck them was that this was a large world. They looked at overseas papers and magazines and several other publications in this country, and many maps: and it was rather difficult to know just where to go. He was rather inclined toward Australia. She wished to go to England: she had an aunt there. He preferred Australia as being more likely to help them. England was decided upon, and the discussions that resulted in this need not be written about now. Personally, he did not mind much where he went so long as it was away from South Africa.and there were few happier men than he was on that intermediate boat when he saw the land of plagues and problems and politics, dissensions and discord, fading away behind the horizon. Pessimists, when they left South Africa, the sea and all that in it is, must have turned them into robust optimists within three weeks, for they hired a farm in England. He could not run a store in connection with the farm, for England was so very well provided with stores; in whatever it direction they walked there seemed to be a flourishing village with flourishing stores within half an hour or so of the farm.
In good time the income tax people discovered him, and he received a shock on learning that he was mulcted to the extent of a quarter of his income; that was very nasty. There was much that he liked about the country, but there was much that he disliked; particularly the cold, and that funny looking sun like a red-hot ha'penny somewhere behind a cloud or fog or mist. And he found also much dissension and discord whether in a bus or amongst the villagers, or in Hyde Park. And, what was worse still, there were politics the very thing he wished to escape from. What a nuisance. Of course, her aunt didn't mind all of this she had been brought up to it and would go down with it, but he talked it over with his wife the result that they both went to Kingsway House in the Strand, saw some excellent films and apples of Australia, interviewed several officials, studied pamphlets very carefully, looked at many pictures of farms and land, and they booked their passage out to Australia.
Perhaps their greatest delight on arrival was in seeing the sun once more shining over earth and trees with decent regularity. Later on, after they had settled down in Burramagidgee on a small farm, and with small store as an adjunct, he was not so delighted to see so much of the sun. In fact, he found that an Australian drought was a real drought, and when coupled with rabbits, was much harder going than mere ordinary drought with wireworm and politics in South Africa.
As for labour, whatever labour he got, labour had got him. Labour was so organised and so independent that he felt he should take his hat off to it, when he approached it and asked it for a job on his farm. Sometimes at night after they had washed up – and particularly on Monday nights after she had done the week's washing they would talk about other days when all this work was done for them. It was at shearing time that the die was cast for another move. The shearers struck work because there was no cake with their tea. Hens, like hens they had known before, didn't lay when they should have laid; and although the neighbourhood had been searched for eggs, none were obtainable and no cake could be made. So he and she had struck, too, and they began to look down the shipping lists, and more maps, to try to decide where to live. New Zealand and Tasmania, with land selling at so much per square yard, and labour difficulties, were turned down.
He was rather taken with Vancouver, and the chicken and dairy farm he had got hold of suited him to a certain extent, although he was always a little afraid of the Chinaman who was the one and only farm hand. The 'Chink' could work all right he could work all wrong, too- and he didn't like that look in the Chink's eye or the pigtail. He could never get used to the pigtail of the farm 'Chink'. Still, he could have put up with that, for the climate was ideal, there was rain when it was needed, there were rivers and fishing within a stone's throw, and perhaps money to be made out of the farm. But it was always that 'but'. If Australia was hard for a woman, Canada was harder still. Not a house servant for love or money. A good deal of entertaining was done "it was the custom" and lady "guests" were generally asked to arrive in good time to prepare the meal whilst the men, afterwards, were expected to clear away the debris and put the plates in their proper places, having washed them not quite so well as she had washed them in Australia.
And the small size of the "farm", too, made him feel rather like one of those many hens he had, cooped up in a cage, or run. There was no real scope, and it seemed to him that as soon as he saddled his horse (he had just bought a horse at an outrageous price just for the love of riding) it went into his boundary fence before he had mounted. He had also lost several hundred chickens on season from some new disease; and there were politics ; the papers were full of politics, and, as politics always do, it, or they, affected the individual; but more on her account than anything else "for it was a tough life for a woman" a new move was decided on.
For a change, since they had started out for a change, what about Mauritius, where the sugar comes from? They had heard it was "nice place" giving one more scope than trying to grow coffee in Java or bananas in Fiji. He had had an offer to go diving for pearls off Borneo; an had also received an offer of a partnership in Saskatchewan, where the snow and ice at certain seasons were so thick that one used a handline to guide one from the house to the log hut where the wood was stored for the kitchen fire.
In Mauritius, if he found, perchance, the sweets of life were lacking in the growing of sugar, he could change over to vanilla, or tea, or aloes for fibre: it might be a pleasant novelty to grow fibre for grain bags instead of wheat to put into them.
They settled, by accident, in a place in Mauritius where the rainfall was about 100 inches a year. He thought he was just out of the rain belt, but after he arrived the belt widened. These belts were annoying things; somehow he always managed to get into them, drought belts, hail belts, frost belts; and then he got into a malaria belt; and when he left the hospital for a seaside resort to recuperate, and found the first-class saloon of the train mostly occupied by natives, and he and she cut out any more experiments and took the first boat back to South Africa. And in all their travels nothing had ever thrilled them as on that memorable morning when, leaning over the rail of the ship, they saw the golden sunshine touch the top of Table Mountain.
They were sitting on the stoep on the farm he had hired and hoped to purchase eventually. The western sky was a blaze of crimson and pink and gold; a long and irregular line of deep blue and purple hills stood out sharply in the far distance; an overwhelming beauty and sense of peace hovered over the scene. What a fool he had been to lose faith and hope and all those years, searching for the impossible, searching for a land without disadvantages and difficulties, land where there were no politics nor pessimists. Why had he not remembered that these things were prevalent in South Africa even one hundred years ago and yet the country had progressed and developed developed, and so ready for further development. This vast South Africa, with its enormous spaces yet to be peopled, holding out more opportunities for those who would work than any land he had been to in all these wandering years ; the youth and newness and freshness of it. What land out of all those that had seen offered so fine a future for a man and woman and their children? Compared to the rest of the world South Africa was a baby "everything lay ahead of it" it had hardly been touched ; a million and a half Europeans scattered over nearly half a million square miles ; a great future waiting for it yet ; and he had been fool enough to think that it was finished and done, for what tricks a man's mind can play with him, how wrong he had been when he decided on that long-ago day to cut away from it for ever.
Strange how anybody living in a land of great spaces, great distances, great mountains, could become so narrow minded, shutting one's eyes to the good and the best and only seeing the worst. Perhaps it was the fault of the politicians, so many of them took only the narrow outlook, saw only the worst instead of the best, that must react upon the community :it must sub-consciously affect a people.
Well, no more narrow outlook for him: he had seen the world now, had lived under other conditions in other lands; he knew that he was jolly well off where he was now and that the country would continue to develop and progress as it had from the beginning. There would, of course, be checks and setbacks and disappointments from time to time, but in the long run it would grow and expand, as all healthy babies grow and expand.
New blood would come in, there would be new towns and new mines, new farms, new industries, new railways, new water schemes, new states, and with cheap living and cheap labour, dearer than it was, but still cheap 'the healthiest climate in the world'.
The hills faded away into the night; the sky was a mass of brilliant stars; the young moon was disappearing below the horizon; a dove cooed; all around intense silence.
"It is good to be back", said the woman.
"It is, replied the man. They were happier than they had been for years; happier and (of this he felt very certain)a little wiser, too.

* Leonard Flemming, from the "The Odd Koppie of A Veld Fool", 1st edition, AC White Printing and Publishing, Bloemfontein, 1929.