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U3A Writing: Learning About Locusts

John Ricketts, who was the head of a school in Africa, learned something about locusts.

On my way out to Cape Town I shared a cabin with Derek Kent who was going up to Northern Rhodesia to become a site manager at the locust control authority in Abercorn. We had become friendly on the ship and on the train journey up to Bulawayo our paths parted.

We had written a couple of times, sending photographs which we had taken on our journey and as I was near I decided to call in and see him. I booked into the hotel at Abercorn, called him on the phone and invited him to have dinner with me.

I did not recognise him when he came in. On the ship he had been a smart, well-dressed fellow. His usual attire was the navy blazer of the Warwickshire County table tennis team of which he had been a member and sharply pressed grey flannels. The chap who appeared in the hotel had a full beard and hair reaching his shoulders. He was dressed in a ragged bush jacket and a hardly-decent pair of shorts. It was obvious that in the sixteen months that he had been there he had become a man of the bush.

Over dinner I asked him how he was getting on and from his answers it was obvious that he was loving it. I asked him if it would be possible to see the station and he agreed to take me round the next day.

“Though,” he added, “There’s not a lot to see. We’ve had a flap on the last couple of days and all the planes are away.”

I told him that we had reported the swarm of hoppers near Dodoma and he said that was one of the areas they were dealing with.

“That’s the easy one.” He said. “We know the bounds on that at least on one side. The river has been a limiting factor there.”

The most interesting thing to see on the station when I went the next day was an exhibit about the locust. It seems that they can live quite happily for years as solitary grasshopper, and then something happens to make them breed at a phenomenal rate. The female lays enormous numbers of eggs in holes in the ground. These hatch out into a miniature swarm. The females from this small increase again lay eggs which hatch into the little hoppers we saw. They develop wings after about three weeks and the wind carries the swarm sometimes hundreds of miles. They wreak devastation by eating everything in sight. Then late for some reason they settle down to a solitary existence again.

Derek in the next few days took me fishing, out in his boat, game stalking and swimming in the lake. This was a man who had only left England sixteen months before. He had also learned to speak Swahili with a Brumigen accent. It was amazing.

The night after I left Abercorn I stayed at Joe Thatcher’s hotel. I found out later that I was lucky to be able to. Thatcher and Hobson had run the business in Northern Rhodesia until the government bought them out. Hudson had carried on with the trucking business while Thatcher had retired to run a bush hotel. It seemed that when a traveller arrived, Joe would look him over and if he didn’t like his looks would send him on his way saying that he was full. I must have looked all right as he took me in.

The next morning he asked me if I would take a girl down to Lusaka with me. I said yes as I was glad of the company and she was a pretty little thing about twenty years old. During the journey I tried to make conversation with her but the most I got from her was ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It was most boring journey. I would have been better off by myself.

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