A splendid piece of Africana?
LAST week we discussed the contretemps when British entertainer Spike Milligan accused the people at the Oceanographic Research Institute aquarium of ill-treating an octopus by keeping it in a crevice in the rocks. This has prompted Rob Cross, former director of the Natal Performing Arts Council, to send me a book, Who's Zoo?, that is a fascinating piece of Africana, involving Milligan.
Rob is also a stalwart of the Wildlife Society. In the 70s the Natal branch was trying to raise funds to buy the Umgeni Valley Ranch, near Howick, to become base for its conservation education programme. There were fetes, tea parties, little old ladies furiously knitting – that kind of thing.
Then somebody brought along to a fundraising meeting a paperback by Spike Milligan, filled with his delightfully ridiculous animal sketches and his equally nonsensical verse.
"So we wrote to Spike and asked if we could steal the idea and the title of his book and create our own Who's Zoo? as a fund-raiser for Umgeni Valley.
"He wrote back giving us carte blanche and so I sent a sheet of white A4 paper, a black fineliner and a stamped and self-addressed envelope to about 150 'celebrities of the day', with a letter explaining why we were raising funds and asking them to draw, write, scribble 'anything amusing' on the paper."
The result is an extraordinary collection of sketches, squiggles and bits of doggerel from people including Milligan himself, Alan Paton, conservationist Ian Player, Helen Suzman, former State President CR Swart, Tommy Bedford (Natal and Springbok rugby captain), novelist Nadine Gordimer, heart transplant pioneer Chris Barnard and novelist Nicholas Monsarrat (The Cruel Sea). Plus Jack Shepherd-Smith, an Idler of long ago.
The book sold out when published in 1975 and the money was raised to buy Umgeni Valley which is today headquarters of Africa's leading conservation education programme.
Some of the contributions to Who's Zoo? (And in their own handwriting):
The chicken is a noble beast
The cow is much forlorner
Standing in the pouring rain
With a leg at every corner.
Dr Alan Heydorn (Director of ORI)
Sketch of a disgruntled-looking octopus.
The ostrich is a mighty bird
Though lacking in mentality
It bravely tackles every foe
But will not face reality
It has its imitators too
Alas, I cannot tell you who
Ian Player – addressing a sketch of a mirror.
This is a mirror. Look into it and you will see the most dangerous animal in the world …
Nolly Zaloumis (a dentist by profession), chairman of the Natal branch of the Wildlife society, with a sketch of himself with a drill, about to get to work on the teeth of a basking crocodile:
View this spot with hilarity
This bloke may be filling his last cavity!!!
Helen Suzman – entirely surrounded by men in parliament:
"A political animal: Only surviving member of the female of the species – Helen Suzman – in her natural habitat."
Radio personality Hugh Rouse (naming a sketched drinking giraffe in Zulu, English and Afrikaans)
It seems such a pity
The one that looks over the trees,
Must slake a long thirst
While looking his worst
In a position all elbows and knees.
This eighteen-foot staff
That we call the giraffe
In his neck has but seven true bones;
Though when sipping a drink
Away down he must sink
He can more than keep up with the Jones.
With all the facts bared
On the strange kameelperd
He clearly should have a groot dors;
And imbibes with a will
When drinking his fill –
Enough for a camel and horse.
Wilbur Smith, author:
Sketch of a human posterior and two rhino horns. Then: "Close up of black rhino horn, and my backside ascending thorn tree. Umfolosi Wilderness Trail"
Splendid stuff. And all this in the contributors' own handwriting. Has such a book ever been put together before?
HE TAKES her home after their first date.
"Can I come inside?"
"After only our first date? Certainly not!"
"And if it's our last date?"
What is life but a series of inspired follies? The difficulty is to find them to do. Never lose a chance: it doesn't come every day.