My wife Sandi and I were really quite flattered when Lord Patu's wife 'HeyYou' arrived upon our doorstep early one afternoon with a verbal invitation from His Lordship to join him and HeyYou for a casual braaivleis at their farmhouse behind the bougainvillaea hedge, the following Saturday afternoon.
'Suspicious' might, perhaps, have been a more accurate description of my wife's initial reaction, although I, at least, most certainly was flattered.
For -- to my knowledge -- nobody had ever previously been accorded that particular honour.
My elation, however, diminished in almost exact proportion to the departing figure of HeyYou as she slung the shotgun over her shoulder and shuffled away up our driveway in the direction of the Old Manor. For, watching her full length frock sweeping a path in the dust up our driveway, it suddenly occurred to me that I had, forgetfully, neglected to advise Sandi that His Lordship habitually affected an altogether less formal manner of household attire.
In fact he had not, on the three occasions when he had entertained me 'at home', worn any clothes at all, except for the leather belt which held the harness attaching his wooden leg, and into which his enormous revolver was invariably stuffed. (That may not be totally correct, because I do vaguely recall him donning a battered old wide-brimmed leather hat upon one occasion, when the sun was particularly hot and we had ventured to the end of his garden at midday for a pee, and where, at the same time, he had permitted me to admire the excellence of his mbanje plantation.)
Nevertheless, my forgetfulness (in having neglected to inform Sandi of His Lordship's unusually casual sartorial preference) immediately presented a dilemma, because Sandi comes from a relatively sheltered background.
Originally a farm lass, she was educated at the Sacred Heart Convent outside Bulawayo, and she might, therefore, not necessarily have appreciated the full significance of Lord Patu's strange clothing habits.
(And before you bound to the conclusion that there may have been an element of male insecurity behind my concern, may I assure you that I have never suffered from any such complex -- even as a young boy after having swum in the icy waters of the Inyanga dam before breakfast, and in the depths of winter, even.)
But I digress.
I was attempting to explain what Sandi's reaction might have been when confronted, for the first time, by Lord Patu in his 'au naturel' (if revolver'd) finery.
I spent a confused morning wrestling with the problem.
The only two possibilities that immediately occurred to me, were that either I could confess my poor memory to Sandi, and warn her of possibly impending embarrassment, or, alternatively, that I could wander across to Patu Manor, bearing gifts, and suggest to His Lordship that we should treat the prospective afternoon braai as something of a 'fancy dress' affair -- the costuminal (should such a word exist) costs of which would, naturally, be for my account.
Eventually, I dithered, and did neither.
And so it was with an advanced degree of trepidation that, upon that fateful Saturday, I accompanied Sandi to Lord Patu's house, and tentatively struck the rusty old bell which was still clinging precariously, by a single screw, to the gum pole by the fence outside his kitchen.
My relief was almost tangible when His Lordship appeared in person at the kitchen door, without his .44 calibre revolver, but much more importantly, dressed in a smart new pair of baggy khaki shorts.
The fact that he had neglected also to don a shirt caused me absolutely no concern, for Sandi (coming, as she did, from the sub-tropical climate of Matabeleland) was quite comfortable with the concept of above-waist male nudity.
Lord Patu kicked the enormous black dog out of the way with his wooden leg, and advanced expertly to open the gate for us.
He politely shook hands with my wife as I tendered the introductions, and once again I was ushered into his kitchen, where I noted the presence of a bottle of wine in a frosted silver wine cooler upon the scrubbed pine table (I had advised him on a previous visit that Sandi drank nothing but white wine).
Sandi immediately engaged in small talk with HeyYou whilst His Lordship poured them each a glass of wine, and it was then that I learned for the first time that HeyYou had at one time been christened 'Gertrude.' (It caused me momentary embarrassment to realise that I had never displayed the common courtesy to have made a similar enquiry, but I mentally excused myself on the grounds of my initial awe when confronted by Lord Patu's awesome physical presence.)
The ladies served, His Lordship offered me the customary beer, and having accepted, I coughed loudly as he bent to open the door of the scruffy old refrigerator.
I need not have done so, because Lord Patu appeared to have oiled the refrigerator door since my previous visit.
Sandi offered to help HeyYouGertrude in the preparation of the salads, and having satisfied ourselves that the ladies were, indeed, gainfully so employed, Lord Patu and I made our way to the stoep, where the braai fire was already burning merrily.
There, I also found that smart crochet mats and superior silver cutlery had been laid upon the stoep table, accompanying some beautiful freshly-cut flowers in a crystal bowl. In addition, I was impressed to note that all but one of the riempie chairs had been complimented with a comfortable-looking cushion.
Lord Patu took the only chair that had not been so adorned, and I sat in the one next to him as we opened our first beer. I found the chair, now, to be impressively comfortable.
(In retrospect, four empty bottles next to his Lordship's chair suggested that this might not have been his first ale of the day, but, as always, neither his speech nor demeanour even hinted towards any such previous refreshment.)
As usual when in His Lordship's company, I spoke more loudly -- and, necessarily, with more repetition -- than is my wont, but it was not long before Lord Patu broached the subject that had clearly been the primary reason for our invitation that particular day.
I learned that Lord and Lady P's son, Albert, would be visiting them the following weekend, and that neither of his noble seniors could stand the young fellow's wife.
His Lordship, unusually, seemed a little hesitant when he raised the matter.
"Burt's wife is such a prissy bitch, and I was wondering, young feller, whether you and your lovely wife would join us for lunch next Sunday? Just to balance the company a bit, don't you see ... ?"
In fact I saw with great clarity.
We were to be his foil to parry the condemnation that Lord Patu's rough and ready nature might elicit from his 'prissy' daughter-in-law. Our current invitation was clearly intended to be some sort of dress rehearsal for the main event, which was scheduled for the following Sunday.
My immediate emotions were torn between further flattery -- that Sandi and I had, so soon, received our second joint invitation to Patu Manor -- and a certain vague unease that His Lordship had pegged us (upon his social scale) as falling somewhere between his own unusual status, and that of his priggish daughter-in-law.
Nevertheless, I immediately accepted. (Although it might prove expensive, I could always sort out any of Sandi's possible objections later.)
This may seen strange to you, but even now -- when I know Lord P and HeyYouGurtude so much better -- it seldom occurs to me to decline any suggestions that His Lordship might make.
Lord Patu seemed genuinely delighted, and was much more his normal relaxed self thereafter.
We had a couple more beers, sorting out the ladies' refreshments at the same time, and discoursed upon many matters before the ladies joined us, and it was time to put the meat on the braai fire.
We men did the cooking, and, even if I do say so myself, the results were superb. (For those of you who enjoy casual outside cooking, may I advise you that really good home-made beer is an essential prerequisite?)
I was, by now, once again completely relaxed (somebody had locked up the huge black dog somewhere -- so I need not even have worried that it might have urinated on Sandi's leg) and Sandi seemed genuinely to be getting on with HeyYouG -- who turned out to be positively charming.
It was yet another splendid afternoon at Patu Manor.
Soon before we left (after many more beers), I inadvertently passed wind, and although, of course, I immediately apologised, I thought I detected a fleeting look of disapproval upon Lord Patu's countenance.
When Sandi and I finally returned home, I opened the final beer with which the Patus had sent us upon our way, poured Sandi a last glass from our own wine, and we sat discussing the afternoon.
"What a lovely couple." Sandi opined.
"hic … Mmmmm." I replied.
"Gertrude is sweet ... " Sandi continued " ... and she has some fascinating reminiscences. And Lord Patu has such beautiful manners -- he also holds his booze so very well, don't you think?" She offered.
Not being prepared to enter that particular minefield, I made a non-committal grunt, and relapsed into silence which lasted a few minutes, before Sandi again ventured, "Lord Patu has enormous balls, hasn't he ?"
"Has he?" I enquired, innocently, although slightly confused (remembering the voluminous shorts His Lordship had, so thoughtfully, donned for the afternoon).
"Oh! Indeed ... " my wife replied " ... I was sitting opposite him at lunch, and someone had undone the central seam of the shorts he was wearing. I now understand why you cut those two strips of riempie from your own dining room chair ... " She paused for a moment, before continuing, " ... but in your case, would not one strand have been sufficient?"
"Mmmmm." I replied.
-- KK Brown
Article © KK Brown. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-06-26