So on waking up this morning I stirred, in almost a drunken stupor, I got up, stumbled towards the window and peered through the curtains at a wet British morning…scowling at the weather as I had thought of going for a run – and though it is only rain I had hoped for a sunny Sunday morning run, I returned to my bed as it was only 0530 and for some reason my thoughts started drifting to years gone by, but not here in the UK, more so back to Zimbabwe and to memories. In a way having to close my eyes to look at photographs, images seared into my memory – more so than view actual photographs.
When I was roughly nine or ten my grandmother who lived in Durban in South Africa gave me a grey, Kodak photo album for 35mm film photo’s and as I developed a hobby in photography at a very young age, as a kid, growing up in Africa what better hobbies to have than the bush, horses (which is a passion that has grown as as I got older I’ve learnt about the connection with horses and the unique print they have in their souls and on ours and our lives) and photography? It really can’t be beaten, can it?
In Zimbabwe my family moved around a lot and with my father having spent the beginning of his adult years with 1 Commando, the Rhodesian Light Infantry until 1980 obviously started off at Cranborne Barracks in Salisbury (now Harare), then we moved to Bindura for a few years and started my schooling there, then to Marondera in 1987, then Chipinge, then back to Marondera where I spent the majority of my formative years – moving around stopped for a few years. We lived in Wedza on a huge farm, originally formed of four farms called Poltimore Estates which is where I learnt quite a bit about life. I learnt how to speak Shona fluently and with it being a game farm I learnt how to track and became a pretty good shot, when I wasn’t at school I was on the farm with my friends doing what kids did back then, enjoying the bush and farm life, fishing, running through the bush shirtless and shoe-less, helping farm workers with their daily jobs – life on Poltimore became a passion and to this date I honestly cannot say there is nothing about that life that I didn’t enjoy, it became my home and because it was at such an important phase in life I think it always will be home, there is a lot that I owe my being to Poltimore for, without the corruption of who I’ve become as an adult of who I must admit I am struggling to find who I am.
After we left Poltimore and I hit adulthood life became just a little more complicated, I felt torn in society – I obviously worked here and there but I never really felt a part of society, I always felt divided, I felt in my heart a Zimbabwean but I didn’t feel a part of society – wherever I moved with my family I pretty much became comfortable being myself. At the turn of the millennium we moved to Headlands in the Manicaland province, still living at home and already having had several jobs under my belt I kind of floated about a bit and became more involved with horses than I had ever been, it was bliss, I became a regular African cowboy and the farm I initially helped out on belonged to a very good family and was allocated a horse which I was ultimately to inherit in years to come, unbeknown to me. But I forged an amazing bond with this horse, he was dark bay, not very big, over 15 hands and under 16 but very powerful and exceedingly fast but I always felt safe in the saddle, I was never afraid to take him from a walk to a canter and then to a gallop, though stopping him could be a mission but even despite that it was never a problem. We would ride fence lines, herd cattle, even in stormy weather. It was a great time and was at my happiest being in the saddle. You can almost feel what its like for cowboys in the States, but the cowboys who aren’t letting that way of life die away, just a fraction of what its like though, I don’t think branding or lassoing on the trail would ever have been a way of life in Zim.
But anyway, not to get stuck there I’ll carry on (man, I must not let this become an autobiography). Some time after that I went to farm sit for an Australian lady in Headlands who went to the Zambezi valley for a while and who lived in possibly the most heavenly part of Headlands that I had ever seen and to get to the farm you would descend into a valley and luckily for me she had horses and allocated me a feisty skewbald but again, nothing I couldn’t handle, he was just over 16 hands but again, formed a good bond and I was later told by his owner that I was literally the only human male he accepted. The farm was amazing and day in day out while I farm sat (which was a better part of a month) I rode valleys, streams, foothills, gullies. Right next to the house was a hill and most days I ended riding to the top and watching the sun set, obviously with it being dark by the time we came down I would walk him down, reigns in hand, and not having light pollution my eyes would adjust quickly, a lot quicker than they do to dark here in the UK. It was heaven there. But whilst there I made sure to take my camera with me which was a 35mm and took great photos, photos to keep for special, happy memories – photos of the views, the horses, me on horseback – the best photos ever.
Now after my farm sitting stint and before I eventually moved away from home we went to live on the farm where I had had the most ever interaction with horses than I had ever had and just before I inherited my dark bay. Again, life with that horse resumed (his previous owners due to the fact he was dark bay eloquently named him after Black Beauty, very original – I did try rename to Destiny and it didn’t feel right, then I tried Pilgrim after the horse in The Horse Whisperer but it just didn’t work so kept his name but removed ‘Black’ and kept him as ‘Beauty’). Our reunion was a happy one and he seemed to remember exactly who I was. Anyway, my African Cowboy way of life resumed, it was fun.
But within this time my parents hired a rather dishonest servant and in that time it turned out he was slowly pilfering stuff and one of the things he stole was my photo album, I had lost the negatives (the downside of film) – I have never ever been so up set about stolen memories, or the broken trust my family had given by letting this guy into our house. Over the years, from even before that I had collected special memories; of family, of trips up the Chimanimani Mountains with my Dad. Memories to be ever embraced, stolen memories, memories that are only seared into my brain, they are there at least, but memories that would be great to look at, once in a while. They are the memories I’d have given anything to look at this morning. Stolen memories.