Friday, May 22, 2015

Cabbages, Ripe Tomatoes & Eggs

The title of this post should clearly tell you what actors and politicians have in common.

Both these professional groups have been on the receiving end of all three.

The two professions of course have other things in common. They tell lies or porky pies if you are more familiar with the Cockney rhyming slang.

Ronald Regan, ex-president of the USA and Arnold Schwarzenegger ex-governor of California are two very well known actors who became successful politicians.

The actors that have dabbled in the machinations of governance cover all countries.

Eva Peron from Argentina, Sidney Poitier US ambassador to Japan, Stephen Harper a conservative ex-Prime Minister of Canada, Jaya Bachchan an MP in India, Gina Lollobrigidia an unsuccessful candidate to the European Parliament, Jaroslaw Kaczynski a Prime Minister of Poland, Glenda Jackson a Labour Member of the UK’s Parliament. The list goes on and on and can easily be found by doing a Google search.

In the last few years Nigel Farage leader of UKIP, David Cameron the UK Prime Minister & Ed Miliband leader of the Labour opposition have all been pelted with eggs while campaigning for support, and others have received cabbages and rotten tomatoes.

The one and only time I have been pelted with assorted fruit, vegetables & eggs was when I was in the company of Charles Hawtrey of The Carry-on movies fame, Peter Bowles co-star of the BBC sit-com “To the Manor Born” with Penelope Keith, and John Challis.

 John was a young actor at the time and was yet to gain fame as Boycie in “Only Fools and Horses” and “The Green Green Grass”, both highly successful BBC comedies.

We were all in Tom Stoppard’s wonderfully satirical play about a Parliamentary Select Committee called “Dirty Linen & New-Found-Land”.

It is actually two separate plays but Stoppard, for some unexplained reason coupled them together.

Dirty Linen is a masterpiece of cynical political comedy. They are a pair of plays that are always performed together and were seen first as an Ambiance Lunch-Hour Theatre Club presentation at Interaction's Almost Free Theatre on April 6, 1976.

New-Found-Land is slipped in between the two halves of Dirty Linen. The curtain falls after the first half of Dirty Linen and then rises again for New-Found-Land in which an older and a younger man, two other Members of Parliament, briefly discuss the naturalization of an American into British citizenship. They laud the American nation as a whole, including every American patriotic cliché they can remember. 

After another fall and rise of the curtain the audience is returned to the Select Committee of Dirty Linen for the closing scene.

The production enjoyed a critical and box office success in South Africa and was invited to what was then Salisbury in the UDI state of Rhodesia.

Thus theatre entered the realm of politics. The whole cast was approached and after much deliberation it was decided that we would go to Salisbury for one week, Bulawayo for one week and have two stops at the towns of  Kwekwe and Gweru, two mining towns in the centre of the country.

At the time Rhodesia was in the state of what can only be described as Marshal-law. Driving between the major cities had to done in convey as both Mugage’s ZANU forces and those of ZAPU under the leadership of Joshua Nkomo, were roaming the country.

The South African producer and the producer from Rhodesia that invited us made a huge mistake.

They assumed that the reaction from the audience in both countries would be the same. The quasi-liberal theatre going audience in South Africa at the time enjoyed the way Stoppard ridiculed the UK parliamentary committee system and the producers expected the same reaction from the Rhodesians.

It was not to be.

Little did they know the Rhodesians were very Pro-British, loved the Queen and were enamoured of the UK Parliament, so anybody who said anything bad about the system would be in for a bad time.

Throughout our opening night in Salisbury we did not get the expected laughs or rounds of applause, just a few gasps, titters, and occasional boos.

When the curtain fell instead of the rapturous applause we received in Cape Town and Joeys, we got boos and were pelted with eggs,cabbages and over-ripe tomatoes.

Charles Hawtrey and Peter Bowles, the stars were quickly whisked away in the producer’s Mercedes back to the hotel, leaving us junior actors to fend for ourselves.

John and I went to the front of house bar and had a couple of drinks before going to the car park to our hired vehicle.

It was here we were confronted by about eight burly soldiers from the Rhodesian Front Army, these were the young white Rhodesians who were conscripted into the local army. The confrontation was what can be described in military terms as “A stand-off”. They hurled insults at us.

“Commie-Bastards!|” seemed to be the most insulting. “Monkey-Lovers!” and “Libby-Limeys!" were another two.

John and I decided to skirt around the group off soldiers and make our way to our car, but we were out-flanked by two enormous young men who blocked our path.

“Toddie” came to our rescue.

“You like a drink?” I said as I offered “Toddie” to the larger of the two.

He grunted a duo-syllabic reply, “What’s it?”

“Good Commie-Polish vodka, you can’t get it here.” I said.

He looked at his mates, and took a huge gulp. The normal coughing spluttering ensued, “You trying to poison us as well?”

“No”, I said, “Trying to make friends.”

His buddy laughed and grabbed “Toddie” and took a sip. He smiled and said, “Kowalski”, offering his hand. I tentatively took it and almost had the blood squeezed out of my palm.

“Please to meet you, Cess Poole,” I said.

The ice was broken and the tension eased, and within the next hour John and I were being introduced to the night life of Salisbury by Dave, Stephen, George and Stephan Kowalski. The latter was of Polish-Jewish extraction and his parents had been moved from Warsaw to Rhodesia during the last years of the Second World War.

During our conversations on that night I learnt a great deal about the Terrorists and the war going on in Rhodesia.

The news filtering through to the world was very one-sided as most liberal European countries were siding with the Africans and supporting the independence stance of ZANU & ZAPU. But I had no idea of the amount of arms that were being smuggled into the country from the communist block.

Hungarian and Czech tanks that were being reconditioned by the South African company Armscor were appearing on the battle front. American small arms and the Russian rifle, the Kalashnikov, were also appearing. The young Rhodesian soldiers where capturing arms from all around the world. They described the situation as “A total shitty mess of money & politics”.

They informed us that Britain, for one, kept on supplying oil to the rebels. Washington was dealing in strategic materials, especially chrome. The Soviets accounted for more than half of Rhodesia's illicit deals. These transactions were arranged through pliant companies in Austria, West Germany, Switzerland and Belgium. Heavy machinery came from the East, usually in shipments brought by Yugoslavs who had no qualms about flying to Salisbury, as long as their passports were not stamped.

My eyes were opened and continued to be on stalks even on the next day, when Dave and Stephan took John and I into the African township called Harare.

It was here that I was introduced to Rape & Mopani worm stew.

These worms are not worms but caterpillars and are found usually on the Mopane tree and known in Zimbawe as Macimbi if your’e from the Ndebele clan, or Madora if you’re from the Shona tribe.

Dave and Stephan said they were an important source of protein and were a common snack for the “Ters” and themselves. The stew was delicious. Cooked on the roadside in an up-turned metal dustbin lid, it slid down our gullets and was washed down with a Carlsberg lager bought from a near-by “shebeen”.

I often wondered why the African name for an illicit drinking abode was stolen from the Irish, but that’s another story.

So the Danes were in on the illicit trading deals!

I digress, sorry.

We learnt that the worms are hand-picked in the wild, often by women and children. In the bush, the caterpillars are not considered to belong to the landowner (if any), but around a house permission should be sought from the resident. When the caterpillar has been picked, it is pinched at the tail end to rupture the innards. Then they squeeze it like a tube of toothpaste to expel the slimy, green contents of the gut.

The traditional method of preserving the worms is to dry them in the sun or smoke them, whereby they gain extra flavour.

The dried worms can be eaten raw as a crisp snack, as Dave and Stephan had told us or they are soaked to rehydrate, then fried until they are crunchy, or cooked with onion, tomatoes, spices and the green spinach like vegetable called Rape.

After our tour of Harare we were returned to the Meikles Hotel where we were billeted, to be told by the rest of the cast, that we were only going to do two more performances in Salisbury before we travelled south to Kwe-kwe , Gweru and Bulawayo for our final week. The producers had cancelled the other mid week performances and we would only be doing the last two shows on Saturday.

John and I were delighted as this meant we had more time to spend with our newly found friends.

We invited them for lunch at the hotel and they told us the whole history of the Meikles Hotel. It was named after the founding family who came to Sothern Africa from Strathaven, Lanarkshire in Scotland in 1915 and they gave us the address of one of the great-great grandchildren who now lived in Bulawayo. A young girl of twenty one called Wendy. John, who unlike me, at the time was unattached, quickly jotted down the name and address for future reference.


 The rest of the week was spent visiting the Salisbury Sports Club, which is now the Harare Sports Club and hosts all the international cricket teams that visit the country.

The ground is surrounded by Jacaranda trees and has a beautiful gabled pavilion. It’s in the heart of the city and was an easy walk from Meikles Hotel for John and I to avail ourselves of the cheap alcoholic beverages on offer.

We bade farewell to Salisbury and travelled in convey on Sunday to Kwe-Kwe for two performances on Monday and Tuesday, then another convoy to Gweru on Wednesday for three shows, before we moved onto Bulawayo the following Sunday.

The production was received far more cordially in Kwe-Kwe and Gweru.

The audience was composed mostly of ex-Brit-Pats who worked in the chrome and coal mining industry in these towns. They were working class Brits and warmed to Stoppard’s cynical ridicule of the Uk’s parliamentary system, and particularly enjoyed our leading lady’s entrance clad only in her bra and panties.

Our final week in Bulawayo was also better received than Salisbury but even so the early week performances were cancelled and we only performed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

This gave John time to track down Wendy and discover that she had a younger eighteen year old sister, so John and I had a foursome swimming pool party on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Douglasdale. The suburb was named after The Douglas family, descendants of William de Duglas , the leader of late 12th century Scotish clan.

The sisters were fantastic hosts and at a party after our closing night they served omelets to the whole cast with a side salad of fresh tomatoes just to remind us of our reception in Salisbury.

1 comment:

Gebo said...

Just goes to show that Culture is not the same to all cultures.