The truly amazing man who lives in the old farmhouse next to our security housing estate in Waterfalls (in the Natal midlands of South Africa) is locally known as "Lord Patu."
The gentleman is of indeterminate age -- probably somewhere in the mid sixties -- and lives with a lady whom we presume to be his wife, but to whom he only ever refers as "Hey, You!"
Nobody had ever seen 'Lord' Patu speaking to anybody else, except, of course, Tom van Rooyen -- the grounds man in charge of the gardens in our security village -- with whom 'Lord Patu' has, for several years, conducted an acrimonious running battle.
One further exception occurs to me in retrospect; that being the occasion when two young policemen appeared at 'Lord' Patu's residence in connection with a complaint about some shots that had been fired from a .44 calibre revolver after a particularly heated exchange between 'Lord' Patu and Tom van Rooyen. Upon that occasion, I am reliably informed, the two young policemen left 'Lord' Patu's home with an unseemly element of haste, after a few more shots had been fired from the same .44 calibre revolver, and one of the policemen had lost the seat of his uniform trousers to an huge black dog. Tom van Rooyen, apparently, at the same time - and despite his age and a serious gout condition - managed to clear 'Lord' Patu's bougainvillaea hedge in a single bound, and without its thorns troubling the fabric of his own trousers, even.
'Lord' Patu and 'Hey You' actually have five dogs. Two are basset hounds, two are Jack Russell terriers, and the last is the biggest black dog I have ever seen in my entire life: that being the one which I assume to have been guilty of the assault upon the young policeman's trousers.
I have no idea why first I mentioned this gentleman's wife and pets, because the true interest in the old farmhouse is, of course, 'Lord' Patu himself.
For we all knew that he was completely mad.
The bougainvillaea hedge which surrounds the farmhouse is all of twelve feet high, and, although displaying a magnificent bombshell of uncontrolled colour in the blooming season, has the effect of screening this gentleman (except for a few small gaps in growth) from the prying eyes of his interested neighbours.
And all his neighbours are interested.
'Lord' Patu is reputed to have come from what was, then, Rhodesia. He is almost totally deaf (reputedly the result of a landmine explosion), probably weighs in excess of two hundred and fifty pounds, and has long grey hair, which he wears in a ponytail. His bulk becomes even more impressive when one considers that he has only one leg. (One may only assume that it must have been a very busy little landmine.)
All the children (and some others) within our security village are frightened of 'Lord Patu'; but it has since, become, however, my firm belief that although he is undoubtedly insane -- in the purely clinical sense, at least -- there is no valid basis for their fear, despite the incident with the policemen.
Upon the occasion when my son kicked his rugby ball over the farmhouse bougainvillaea hedge, (that was on Sunday, the 4th of September, 2005) I, at the continued insistence of my wife, had occasion to strike the rusty old bell which hung dangerously upon one screw from a gum pole outside the farmhouse kitchen fence. The gum pole had probably, originally, been erected for no other purpose than to hold the bell, for it formed no part of the fence itself.
On that particular Sunday morning, despite the immediate cacophony set up by the dogs, I had, with some consternation, to strike the bell eight times before an elderly lady came to the kitchen door to ascertain the cause of the commotion.
The lady did not invite me in.
Having ascertained the nature of my business at the farmhouse, she simply nodded and replied "I'll get 'im ... you'll need to shout, mind, 'cos 'e's a little deaf."
I was actually quite glad that the lady had not invited me in, because that enormous black dog did not appear to have cleaned its teeth that morning, and to my inexperienced eye, and judging by its copious slavering, appeared not even, recently, to have been fed.
I stood nervously on the safer side of the fence, and it could not have been more than twenty minutes later, when I experienced my first close acquaintance with 'Lord' Patu himself.
He was, indeed, an impressive sight.
His bulk was even greater than my occasional glimpses of him -- through the small gaps in the bougainvillaea hedge -- had led me to expect.
What surprised me more, however, was the enormous revolver that was stuffed into a worn leather belt around his copious waist.
It would be considered unusual (even in South Africa) to wander around one's house so armed, but that which was even MORE confusing, was that 'Lord' Patu wore absolutely nothing else.
Deafness did not appear to have affected his manners, however, for he immediately invited me into the hot and smoky interior of his kitchen, where "Hey You" was preparing a delicious smelling lamb potjiekos over open coals.
The enormous black hound was half a step behind, and continued to sniff me with a disturbing degree of interest, and to slobber over my Sunday church trousers, but he did not actually eat me as I followed the voluminous naked buttocks into 'Lord' Patu's house.
'Lord' Patu offered me an home-brewed beer, which I accepted with some trepidation. He retrieved the beers from a rusty old refrigerator, the door of which made a rude noise as 'Lord' Patu bent, extending his wooden leg, to select two bottles from a multitude of similar containers in its interior.
"Pig!" said 'Hey You', kicking the huge black dog out of her way as she moved around the kitchen table.
'Lord' Patu appeared to be experiencing some inconvenience from fleas, and was scratching himself, so I rejected his kind offer to open my beer, and instead, unscrewed the cap myself, surreptitiously wiping the neck of the bottle upon the front of my shirt, before following him down the passage to their front stoep.
The huge black dog maintained his position a mere few inches behind me, and I crossed my legs quickly as I accepted the riempie chair that 'Lord' Patu had indicated.
His Lordship sat in an identical chair opposite me in the coolness of the stoep, and I could not help but wonder at his inventiveness for having cut the first two lines of 'riempie' cord from the seat of both chairs. Although mine was marginally uncomfortable until I became used to it, I could, again, not help but notice how perfectly his own testicles dangled in the space provided by the absence of the first two riempie cords, that would normally have provided a superior degree of vertical support.
Not wanting to appear overly interested in 'Lord' Patu's matrimonial assets, and feeling, further, the need to make casual conversation, I asked him why he felt it necessary to wear a .44 magnum revolver within the confines of his own home.
When I had repeated the question, a little louder, 'Lord' Patu guffawed with laughter, and when the big black dog slunk off to get the water out of its eyes, I was reminded again of the refrigerator door.
"I have been mole-hunting ... " 'Lord' Patu informed me. "I am very fond of the little buggers, actually, but they DO fuck up my lawn!"
"Why, then ... " I asked, as the large black dog returned and urinated upon my leg, " ... do you feel it necessary to carry a .44 magnum revolver, if you are simply hunting moles?"
"Ahhhh ... " replied 'Lord' Patu, scratching his balls again beneath the chair from which the riempie cords had been cut " ... that is because I love the little buggers. I would never harm them, even though they do such damage to my lawn. The reason why I use a .44 magnum is that the percussion stuns them when I stick the barrel down their burrows and pull the trigger. I then collect them, bring them round again, and then deposit them, through that hole in the bougainvillaea, into your complex next door."
Lord Patu farted again, and grinned contentedly before continuing.
"Mr. Van Rooyen, who is in charge of your gardens, would like to kill me. That is why we keep that stupid big black mutt who has just shat on your shoe. I must appologise for that, by the way; he is supposed only to do it to Dutchmen."
We went on to discuss many things in the delicious coolness of his stoep during the passage of that hot afternoon, and I became ever more entranced by his deep knowledge of all things natural: of flowers, trees, wildlife, birds, seasons, weather, etc.
Somehow it seemed churlish not to accept the home-grown mbanje reefer that 'Lord' Patu produced after lunch -- although I do not normally smoke -- and its effects may also, combined with myriad beers, have contributed towards the feeling of general contentment and wellbeing which comfortably blanketed me throughout that sunny afternoon.
It was many hours later, and the sun had already slunk glowingly below the bougainvillaea hedge, when I finally wandered, in a slightly roundabout fashion, back to my own home. The potjiekos that 'Hey You' had prepared had been truly magnificent, and went well with the supply of quarts of excellent home made beer that 'His Lordship' (as I found myself calling him) collected with very satisfactory regularity from his rusty old fridge with the rude door.
I found, indeed (after the first few beers, anyway), that I was no longer particularly concerned by 'Lord' Patu's big black dog, or, as a matter of fact, by His Lordship's flatulence. Even his strange attire seemed, somehow, to have acquired a degree of casual normality.
Later that afternoon -- I seem to remember -- my son appeared a little disappointed that I had forgotten to retrieve his rugby ball, and that my wife was unimpressed when I divested myself of my clothes and cut two strands of the leather thongs from the seat of my own dining room chair.
But nevertheless I felt the afternoon had not been totally misspent.
For I had begun to doubt 'Lord' Patu's madness. And that opinion did not change, even when my wife made me clean the remains of an enormous dog shit from my left shoe, and declared that I was not only irresponsible and drunk, but also totally mad.
'Mbanje' (Zulu.) -- "Dagga"-- "Marijuana".
'Potjiekos' (Afrik.) -- Literally translated from Afrikaans, "Little Pot food". Food cooked slowly in a cast-iron three-legged pot, traditionally over a few sticks of glowing charcoal.
'Riempie' (Afrik.) -- Leather thongs forming the base of a chair's seat.
'Stoep' (Afrik.) -- Veranda.