We said we were going to drive down the road, find a house and move there! Our Johannesburg friends thought us mad and said so. Nevertheless, we did just that and returned to say we’d bought a house in Beaufort West. Everyone howled with laughter. “You can’t go. You’ll be back. No one lives there.” We went, we never came back and we loved Beaufort West. Initially we thought we’d fix the house, sell it and leave, but what we didn’t know was that once the Karoo has crept into your heart you can go away, but you can never leave. Part of you remains bonded to the Karoo forever.
The house needed lots of TLC – someone had tried to “modernise” this handsome Victorian home, designed by Sir Herbert Baker and built in 1903 for the first secretary of the Divisional Council. Doors had been removed, wooden floors had been ripped out and replaced with ceramic tiles, Turkish arches had been smashed into some inside walls and an old feeding trough, rubbed to a sheen by countless horse necks, had been ripped out and installed as a “mock lintel” at a restaurant in town. We fixed the arches, left the floors and mourned horse trough. On the positive side, the kitchen was a barn, but at the same time, a dream. I could indulge my love of cooking and from this beginning a book of Karoo recipes grew. But, best of all, the house was haunted. At times a gentleman could be heard tapping down the long passages with his walking stick, a lady in a floral dresses was fleetingly seen near the lounge and a dog frequented one of the guest rooms. We soon found ghosts were the greatest fun, excellent conversation pieces and great burglar deterents.
Friends came to visit from Paarl. We had not seen them for absolute years. Wally and Reg made the years disappear as they reminisced over many whiskeys and a couple of bottles of red wine at dinner. The evening rolled gently through a sumptuous dinner and into the small hours and liqueurs were flowing without too much coffee accompaniment . Reg got up to visit the smallest room in the house and in the doorway lost his footing at exactly the spot where the ceramic tiles met the wooden flooring. “You’re drunk,” said his wife. “Not at all,” said he rubbing a spot on his chest, “It was the old man with the walking stick. He pushed me.” It was a good story and he never deviated from it. I loved it and I was instantly off ghost hunting through the entire Karoo. I found many splendid stories.