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The First Seventy Years: 42 – On Rocky Roads

...My repeat encounter with this stretch of what passed for a Mozambique road was to become a nightmare. Again my engine revved loudly at the same time as the car ceased to move forward in a consistent manner. Trouble soon set in when no amount of coaxing would persuade the car to move...

Eric Biddulph recalls experiences on a rocky African road.

To read earlier chapters of Eric’s life story please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_first_seventy_years/

Mary became involved with Save the Children Fund. She spent one afternoon a week sorting donated clothes received from Australia and New Zealand and matching them to children who came along to be fitted out.

Christmas 1971 and 1972 saw our involvement in the organisation of parties for the children of university staff at all levels, academic and non-academic. I was involved in one particularly distressing incident which was entirely my fault.

I was driving my car full of children home after a party. As already stated most Malawians did not wear shoes. This particular day was no exception. It was imperative on safety grounds to ensure that no child fell out of my car. I made it my business to close and lock each of the three passenger doors. Upon reaching the first stopping point, after some ten minutes, I became aware that one small boy had had one of his big toes trapped under the bottom of a door. Tears filled his eyes, but he had remained totally silent about his distress. Needless to say, I felt really bad about it.

It was always my intention to undertake travel from our base in Malawi. One of the attractions of teaching was the greater opportunity to take longer holidays.

Our first trip was only of two weeks’ duration, Easter 1971. Rhodesia had been in the news for several years since declaring itself independent of the UK without permission, and more importantly without UN approval. A decision was made to drive down the eighty kilometre stretch of road to the Mozambique border which linked Malawi with the rebel state.

We then drove the six hundred kilometres to the capital of Salisbury, since renamed Harare, before continuing eastwards towards the Vumba Mountains. After a pleasant holiday we set off to return by the same route. Our return trip by ferry boat across the wide and mighty Zambezi River brought us once again to the rocky and diabolical road which would I take us back into Malawi.

On our outward journey I had become aware of sudden loud revving of the engine accompanied by a break in the drive. As this did not occur for more than a few seconds at a time, I did not think much about it, writing it off as just another hazard of the African driving experience. It disappeared once I hit the tarred road surfaces of Rhodesia.

My repeat encounter with this stretch of what passed for a Mozambique road was to become a nightmare. Again my engine revved loudly at the same time as the car ceased to move forward in a consistent manner. Trouble soon set in when no amount of coaxing would persuade the car to move.

By this time it was getting late and darkness was descending. A lorry driven by a Portuguese guy came by. He stopped to see if he could help. He carried out an inspection and advised me that the clutch had burned out. So that's what it was all about. The rocks had been periodically knocking the exhaust pipe on to the clutch cables bringing about a disengagement with the plates.
Subsequent knocks were shifting the pipe off the cables, enabling the drive to be once again taken up.

Our car was fixed up with a tow rope fastened to the lorry. It was not long before I had to give a blast on my horn to get him to stop. The speed was too fast for me to steer the car around some of the larger rocks as they loomed up in my headlights. We proceeded at a slower pace.

Just as I began to relax we hit a particularly rough patch of road. The boot door of the Ford Cortina Estate sprang open. A cascade of camping equipment and countless other items fell on to the road into the darkness. I pressed on the horn for several seconds before the lorry came to a sudden halt. We walked back down the road with a torch picking up disgorged items. Inevitably many of them were never retrieved.

As soon as we reached the Malawi border I was overcome with exhaustion. I arranged for Mary and the children to be taken to Blantyre. I remained with the car until arrangements could be made to get me and the knackered vehicle to a garage during daylight hours. This was the first but not the last bad motoring
experience of 1971.

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