Extract from Kefani, a memoir of Africa, due out on 4th April 2016. Kefani, by Catherine Broughton
Around Alice the veldts stretched, it seemed, across the world, on and on forever as far as the blue-grey outline of mountains, broken only the black flick of birds as they cut through the sky. Gentle hills, soft like velvet, undulated amid the kralls and villages, and often we heard the rich, rythmic sound of people singing, somewhere out there, out of sight. Drums and the metallic twang of a thumb-piano, so far away that the distant notes were carried to us only on the breeze. Birds yelled out messages from tree to tree. Somebody shooing a stray thieving monkey from their stoep. Black people talking, feet bare and wide hips swinging, as they made their way down our road. The sounds of Africa permeated our days.
Beyond the garden, way over on the horizon, you could just pick out the Amatola Mountains. The land was flat and stretched for miles, past the Hubert’s krall, out on to the veldts, on and on till it started to climb. The sun rose before we woke in the mornings, but set while we were still up, over there somewhere on the road to Cape Town, a startling red flung greedily across the sky, like a great mantle of lush velvet. The sky was huge, somehow. Bigger than it is in Europe. The road all along the coast to Cape Town is still known, as it was then, as the Garden Route. Poinsettias grew wild on the veldts, a carpet of red throughout the European winter. Nowadays they are cultivated but I don’t think they were then. My mother knew all the names and, if she was alone in the car with us children, she would say the names as we drove by.
“Those are fairy bells,” she’d say, or, “those are Livingstone Daisies.”
I doubt it interested John or the older boys, and I don’t think it interested Polly, but the names fascinated me and perhaps triggered my love of sketching flowers in later life. Some of the names were so evocative:
“Pin cushions!” my mother would exclaim, “what a lot of them!”
And on another trip it would be:
“Red Robe over there, Catherine.”
Violets, Cape Smilers, Queen Pinks, Cape Aloe, Goat’s foot, Hottentot fig, sea pumpkin, morning glory, wild dagga, impala lily … she knew all of them.
To this day agapanthus is my favourite flower. It grew everywhere in South Africa. Even when it is pouring with rain here in Kent, just looking at agapanthus evokes a flood of childhood memories.