The mud house that collapsed
When I was a little girl of eight years old and my sister, Catherine, was an even littler girl of four, we lived on a plot in the country. The house we lived in was very old and there was a metal rainwater tank on a high metal stand right next to the garage. It was very well placed for two small and adventurous girls to climb up to the top of the tall stand and jump onto the garage roof. The garage roof was flat and it was a very nice place to play on warm winter afternoons. During the hot summer months the garage roof was not an option. The corrugated metal sheets literally shimmered with heat and were not welcoming to small, bare feet.
There were lots of other interesting places to poke around in. One was the old reservoir, a large rectangular cement structure that had been emptied out. The reservoir was not completely empty as it had collected rainwater over the months since it had been emptied and there was a green, murky pool at the bottom. The water was rancid and during the summer the water would be alive with tadpoles in varying stages of development. We were forbidden by our Mom and Dad from going near the reservoir but the allure of the tadpoles was far too much for two inquisitive little girls. We spent many a happy hour climbing down the rickety and rusty metal ladder that was attached to one side of the reservoir wall and hanging over the water in order to catch tadpoles in our little plastic buckets. Catherine and I became quite expert on the life cycle of the frog as a result of this enterprising activity. Funnily enough, I have never liked frogs but I have always enjoyed watching tadpoles. Fortunately for us, the metal ladder never gave up on us and we never had any falling or other accidents.
The other place of great fascination for us girls was the old farm rubbish dump. This was in front of a group of ruined cottages where, in some bygone day, the farm workers had lived. We found all sorts of interesting things during our jaunts down to the rubbish dump. We acquired a whole collection of plastic farm animals, most of which were fairly intact. We also discovered a collection of old-fashioned glass bottles with stoppers that looked like glass marbles on a metal hoop. My Dad took these bottles and cleaned them up, they were antiques and were collectibles.
Our cousins, Gary and Ian, who were older than us at twelve and ten years of age, respectively, used to come and visit us on the plot and were a great pair for coming up with mischievous ideas for our collective entertainment. On one bright and sunny afternoon, the four of us had gone down to the rubbish dump to play. Gary and Ian had brought their action men and Catherine and I had our Cindy dolls. I only had one Cindy doll and she was my pride and joy. The plan for the afternoon was for us to split up into pairs and build a mud house for the dolls out of the loose, dark mud that surrounded the old rubbish dump. Gary always paired up with Catherine and I paired up with Ian. Together, Ian and I built the walls for our house out of the dirt which we mixed into mud by adding water from an old tap outside the ruined cottages. We were having some difficulty getting the consistency of the mud for our house right. It was a bit to runny and gloopy for building. As a result, our house was not as stable as it could have been. Ian decided to put his action man and my Cindy doll into the house regardless of our doubts about the strength of the walls. Sadly, while we were adding the roof, made from pieces of the veld grass broken to make straws of a similar length, the whole house collapsed. My beautiful doll was completely buried in mud and straw. We dug the dolls out of the ruins of the house. My doll’s hair was all matted with mud and I was very upset. We gathered up our toys and headed back to the house, covered in mud and me with tears sliding down my cheeks. I shouldn’t have been such a baby but I really couldn’t help myself.
My mother cleaned up my doll. She washed her dirty hair and clothes and wiped her down with a cloth. Sadly, her hair went quite frizzy as a result of the hair washing and she was never quite the same again. You would have thought I would learn my lesson after this and would have been much more careful about my dolls. I didn’t learn though but that is a story for another day.
Robbie and Michael Cheadle are the co-authors of the Sir Chocolate Book series