The Black Notebook
She would say: ‘Yes, Mr Rodde,’ and giggle and sit coyly on his bed to smoke a cigarette. Like a schoolgirl. I remember Paul saying: ‘Do you really think it’s right for a socialist to get what he wants by making a fool of an old woman?’ ‘I’m earning her a lot of money.’ ‘I was talking about sex,’ said Paul, and Willi said: ‘I don’t know what you mean.’ He didn’t. Men are far more unconscious than women about using their sex in this way; far less honest.
So the Gainsborough hotel was for us an extension of Left Club and the Party group; and associated, for us, with hard work.
We went to the Mashopi hotel for the first time on an impulse. It was Paul who directed us to it. He was flying somewhere in the area; the aircraft was grounded because of a sudden storm; and he returned with his instructor by car, stopping off in the Mashopi hotel for lunch. He came into the Gainsborough that night in high spirits, to share his good-humour with us. ‘You’d never believe it — slammed right down in the middle of the bush, all surrounded by kopjes and savages and general exotica, the Mashopi hotel, and a bar with darts and a shove-halfpenny board, and steak and kidney pie served with the thermometer at ninety, and in addition to everything, Mr and Mrs Boothby — and they’re the spitting bloody image of the Gatsbys — remember? The couple who run the pub at Aylesbury? The Boothbys might never have set a foot outside England. And I swear he’s an ex-sergeant-major. Couldn’t be anything else.’
‘Then she’s an ex-barmaid,’ said Jimmy, ‘and they’ve got a comely daughter they want to marry off. Remember, Paul, how that poor bloody girl couldn’t keep her eyes off you in Aylesbury?’
‘Of course you Colonials wouldn’t appreciate the exquisite incongruity of it,’ said Ted. For the purposes of such jokes, Willi and I were colonials.
‘Ex-sergeant-majors who might never have left England run half the hotels and bars in the country,’ I said. ‘As you might have discovered if you were ever able to tear yourselves away from the Gainsborough.’
For the purposes of jokes like these, Ted, Jimmy and Paul despised the Colony so much they knew nothing about it. But of course, they were extremely well-informed.
It was about seven in the evening, and dinner at the Gainsborough was imminent. Fried pumpkin, stewed beef, stewed fruit.
‘Let’s go down and have a look at the place,’ said Ted. ‘Now. We can have a pint and be back to catch the bus to camp.’ He made the suggestion with his usual enthusiasm; as if the Mashopi hotel was certain to turn out the most beautiful experience life had yet offered us.