Lessons in Africa

Boris returns from Tanzania to conclude that the lady who threw the cat in a wheelie bin should experience a safari camp with a pride of lions

Like all leading moralists of the age, I have spent the past few days brooding incessantly on the lady who threw the cat into the wheelie‑bin.

Unlike my rivals, I have come up with the perfect punishment. In the grand tradition of the British criminal justice system, I propose we pay to send this miscreant to some holiday destination – say, Tanzania, the very place, in fact, from which I have just returned.

What was the most striking thing about her behaviour? Was it the duplicity with which she petted the poor critter before she binned it? Was it the artful way she checked to see if she was being watched? Was it the sweet innocence with which she turned her back on the green plastic cat-prison and trotted off to continue making tea at the vicarage or working with the deaf, or whatever blameless life she leads when she isn’t persecuting cats?

No, I’ll tell you what struck me most. It was her sense of power. In her swift and easy assertion of the dominance of the human species, she perfectly expressed the wickedness of the way we treat nature; and if you fly to Dar-es-Salaam, you will see what I mean.

It was about 6am and a beautiful dawn was breaking as the captain drew our attention to an incredible sight on the starboard side. “We’re flying over Mount Kilimanjaro,” he said. I craned my neck and then gasped with horror. The last time I had seen the great mountain was 34 years ago. Today, the difference was obvious.  When I last came to Tanzania in 1976, the place had a population of 17 million. That has now more than doubled to almost 43 million. It is the relentless expansion in the number of human beings that is polluting the air and burning off the forests and driving species after species to the verge of extinction. That is why the remaining wilderness of Africa is so glorious and so important.

It is not just that you can go there and see a carnival of animals and birds like nothing on earth – as though you were walking among the living relics of the Pleistocene. You also understand that there are still some places on the planet where you are not the top of the food chain. We were lucky to have our trip organised by a family called Fox, whose senior representative had been sent out in the 1950s to grow tea for Brooke Bond. On some nights, he would tell us stories of encounters with animals (“Fantastic, Mr Fox!” we would breathe). There was the hippo whose ivory sabres almost chopped one of his workers in half, spilling his guts.

There was the croc who pulled all the meat off the arm of another, like a chicken leg. “We packed them both off to hospital patched them both up – and you know what, they didn’t complain once. They were just happy to be alive.” He described a wonderful prelapsarian world in which he and his children would camp under the stars, with nothing but mosquito nets, or dive to retrieve fishing lures from croc-infested pools. If you’re just learning to set up camp as a camping newbie, Techie Camper is our go-to blog to learn how.

It was a Wilbur Smith Africa, innocent of elf and safety or ambulance-chasing lawyers. To a marvellous degree, in these safari camps, it still is.

There is the head waiter whose temples are scarred with the bite of a lion, and who still does his job perfectly in spite of losing two teaspoonfuls of brain. Only the other day there was the Italian woman who disobeyed the guide and got trampled to death by an elephant; and do you know what her husband did? He didn’t sue. He didn’t take action against this excellent company. “It is destiny,” he said, and there is much that we in Britain could learn from his example.

It is the place, my friends, to which we should now despatch the beleaguered cat-baiting Mrs Dale. I propose that she be taken out in a Foxes Land Rover, late in the afternoon, somewhere on the banks of the Great Ruaha River.

There she will find, as we did, a pride of lions. Like all lions, they will spend most of their time doing two thirds of damn all. But just as dusk is falling, and just as they are rousing themselves for their nocturnal hunt, Mrs Dale may discover – as we did – that the Land Rover mysteriously won’t start, and the radio won’t work, and nobody knows she is there.

Then she will look with new respect at the big bushy-maned male sitting only feet away; and as she twitches like a grub in the roofless, sideless machine, the king of all cats will suddenly turn and notice her; and his eyes will glow in the gloaming like golden marbles of fire.

He will suddenly yawn, and show his teeth, and she will smell a carrion gust like a rubbish van, and she will stare down a mouth as wide as a – as wide as what, my friends? – as wide as a wheelie-bin!

And in that instant of terror, it is probably too much to hope that she will be cured of her odd propensity to small acts of unkindness. But at least she will understand that not every cat can be pushed around; and at least she will see that there are still parts of the world where a human being can feel like a poor defenceless animal. It is vital we keep it that way.

You can read the full column in  The Daily Telegraph today.

11 thoughts on “Lessons in Africa”

  1. Much as I feel for the cat, Lola got off lightly. Has she ever been fired from a cannon? I still have nightmares about the miscalculation, ballistics wise, whereby I sailed through the roof of the circus tent and landed in the back of a lorry taking sheep to the abbattoir. I came this close to ending up on someone’s dinner plate. Mint sauce anyone?

  2. Circus Monkey, I pity you, you poor primate.
    But it’s those frogs that I feel most sorry for; condemned to a life in tiny wheelchairs, just to satisfy a Gallic taste for idiosyncratic cuisine.

  3. After “What I Did On My Hols” and the piece about the Turkish airport, I’m looking forward to Boris’ exposition of the works of the esteemed Roman orator, Quintus Maximus Flatus.

  4. [Ed: Edna – Hi love, the location was a tease]

    Tell yous what, folks. When B says he ” has spent the past few days brooding incessantly on the lady… “, I was shocked, I thought he was going to tell us something, like, some matter of the heart! Never mind.

    And about the lady who chucked that kitten into the bin – we haven’t still been told if the bin was either empty, half full or nearly full which could help us imagine the conditions in which the cat had to suffer.

    OK so she did a bad thing, but surely that’s a matter for the police to deal with. Death threats from outraged animal lovers all over the world? World wide condemnation? Hate filled blogs, Facebook pages hastily set up to swear at the cat woman? Er… er… especially the ones in… CHINA ( !!! )

    Give me a break!

  5. To be honest with you Edna when I read the Chinoise have hurriedly set up web sites, Twitter pages and Facebook pages to criticise the woman for gently placing the kitten into the trash can I nearly had a heart attack Edna to tell you the truth love, who would have thought eh Edna? of all countries to be honest with you love.

    My John told me never read any horrible stories like that again and I think he is right and all. Oh some righteous people nowadays they think they own the world, one mistake you make and they will come and castrate you and all, and they keep telling us to forgive and forget like the Lord, Lord me ass. By the way Kate Moss has been dropped by Topshop Edna have you heard love? They say her designs are no longer hip or something like that and don’t sell well like they used to, anyway take care love.

  6. Poor lady must have had a damaged background.

    Perhaps she had been dumped by people around her (physically and emotionally) – and now Boris wants to dump her with some lions. Have mercy on her, people! I am with Edna on this one.

  7. Ta, Mel.

    Alreet, Edith? Alreet love? Oh aye I know what you mean love, folks are so violent nowadays and I blame it on them console games, XBox they are addicted to, they believe the console games’s world and the real world are just the one. Oh funny old world if you ask me love.

    But they only dare pick on the weak ones, they do, you make one mistake and they will come to your house and do you in, except that when them London bus bombers made one mistake and failed to detonate their body trapped bombs, from being obvious terrorists the cops downgraded them to mere terror suspects, why? because they can’t deport them or they dare prosecute them that’s why.

    So the terror Patels get put into rent free council houses for life, receive all sorts of social benefits for life, Jobseeker’s Allowances for life as they are under house arrest and they can’t go out look for jobs. That’s justice for yous love.

    I’ll tell you what love, we had this group of potty mouthed hate preachers who shouted abusive at our British Armed Forces home coming parades soldiers marching through Wootton Bassett . The papers took their bearded mug shots, they know their names and where they work, some of them even work as baggage handlers at the big airports. But did their bosses dare sack these Patels? did they hell love. And this cat lady works in a bank and now her bosses are going to sack her for this, that’s justice for yous love.

    Folks are so violent nowadays, you put one foot wrong and they can gather enough people through the ‘net and march to your house and sort you out, as if. But they only dare pick on the weak ones love. Shame on them. I’ll tell you what love, during the war my Cyril single handedly killed the Germans with his bare hands and normally he was a very limp-wristed man, if you know what I mean love, and that’s what I call bravery for sure.

    Forgive and forget, love? Don’t you even get me started on that Edith. What do they know about forgive and forget? Tell you what love, my Cyril strayed once and I took him back no questions asked, no questions asked whatsoever, that’s me, that’s me, always Edith, a doormat I am.

    To be honest with you love, you don’t get married to get divorced do you? Believe you me love, after that I even bent over backwards to invite Cyril’s lover over for a family BBQ and he was really a nice chap he was, just like Cyril had told me beforehand, so I don’t blame me Cyril one bit whatsoever love. You don’t know someone until you meet them and have a chat with them do you? A nice lovely chap he was I must say to be honest with you.

    Kate Moss love? Don’t tell me her fashion ideas have gone up with her marijuana smoke after only 3 years with Topshop. Anyway her fashion clothes designed with young people in mind wouldn’t suit you at all Edith so you have no complaints there love. Tara love.

  8. Off topic, I learn that the BBC’s staff are to strike as a consequence of their pensions being brought into line with everyone else’s.
    Why are they going on strike? What do they hope to gain by not working?
    And how will we know that they are on strike?

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