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Richard de Nooy

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Time Machine

(Voyage of Rediscovery – Leg X – How Green was my Karoo?)

You’re very dead, Lawrence, I know, but there are things I need to share with you. Your time machine is parked here on the desk beside me. It’s as if a handful of autumn leaves have been stuffed between the covers, because I slapped Post-Its onto almost every page, marking passage upon glorious passage. In retrospect, a single Post-It on the russet cover would have sufficed, bearing the text: “Copy word for word!” There’s plenty of room for it between the gold-embossed “KAROO” at the top and “Lawrence G. Green” at bottom right. A shoemaker kindly dabbed glue on the spine cover once, but it keeps popping open like a badly designed secret compartment, revealing just how robust the underlying anatomy is.

I have the highly collectible first edition, dating from 1955. Second-hand, of course, because I wasn’t born until 1965. But I do know who first purchased my copy: Quinton’s Mammie and Pappie, who presented your book to their little darling at Christmas in 1957. I know this because Quinton’s Mammie has written a warm and somewhat unusual dedication on the title page. It looks like an equation, because it is peppered with decorative division signs! Like this:

÷Aan ÷
÷ Quinton ÷
÷ met ÷
÷ Innigste Kersfees Liefde ÷
÷ van ÷
÷ Pappie + Mammie ÷
÷ 25 = 12 = 57 ÷

But Mammie had ulterior motives, Lawrence! Her sole intention was to smuggle her darling Quinton aboard your time machine! And she has succeeded, because I spent no less than an hour gazing at her dedication before I stepped aboard. And now her little stowaway is freeloading again right here!

But Mammie certainly set the tone, because I too felt the urge to underline everything in your book. Good God, Lawrence, such magnificence! Or should I say: Mr. Green? There’s a photo of you between pages 80 and 81, which clearly shows that you’re a gentleman in optima forma. As if you’ve just stepped out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, with your snappy Homburg and dark suit, apparently oblivious to the relentless African sun upon your back. But the real Lawrence Green is not in the photo, he is in the caption:

“Perhaps the greatest botanical achievement of Charles Murray was the planting of the grape vine which is now the largest (or second largest) in the world.” The author with the Graaff-Reinet vine.

That bit in brackets – (or second largest) – that’s you, Lawrence. Green is in the details! You have the capacity to pick us up and transport to wherever your desire. Bring us to the Karoo, Lawrence! Take us back in time!

“It must have been a drought year when the first Hottentot tribes migrating southwards gazed on the Great Karoo for the first time. They named these plains Garob, meaning dry, unfruitful, uninhabited. Pioneer white farmers corrupted and used the Hottentot name, so that in documents of two centuries ago you will first discover the words Carro and Karoo.

In the karoo you may find children of five who have never seen rain. Yet this killing climate also holds great healing power. A karoo farmer, you will remember, invited a dying King of England to rest his stricken lungs in that buoyant air. Many have gone to the karoo under the cold sentence of death and returned to live beyond the three score years and ten.”

I suppose the effect is enhanced by the browning edges of each aging page, which evoke a sense of nostalgia, a niggling yen for things past but not lost. And that is somewhat disconcerting, because your book is full of rather twisted views of man and beast, which shamelessly trumpet the prejudice of times past. Then again, that adds to the charm and authenticity of the trip.

I’m not sure if every Public Parking Space for Time Machines has a copy of your book, Lawrence. I hope they do, because everyone deserves to take a trip aboard your ingenious machine. Perhaps this piece will serve as fuel.

That said, I’d like to sign off with one of the blander passages from your book. I’m sure astute readers will spot the Green in this:

“After it has been disemboweled, the dassie should be cut up into suitable pieces, placed on a tray, sprinkled with pepper and salt and left for twenty-four hours. Then place the meat in a large pot with three or four cups of water and slices of onion. Boil until tender. A little water should be added from time to time. When tender, the meat and onion should be allowed to brown. Then a little more water should be added and the meat cooked for a further thirty minutes before serving. A young dassie tastes like chicken. Older ones should be curried.”


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    September 25th, 2008 @07:53 #

    Mm mmm. Curried elderly dassie. Why isn't it stocked at Woollies?

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    September 25th, 2008 @08:51 #

    The older ones are more wily and harder to catch.


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