02 October 2011 by Chris Marais

Ahem. Fire!

Looking at the photograph above, you’d imagine this scene to be somewhere in rural England. Even the name - Caversham Mill - supports that speculation.

And even though the building doesn’t look older than 50 years, it still feels like Thomas Hardy once lived just around the corner. It’s peaceful, there’s a gentle river rolling by on unthreatening rapids and the colours of autumn daub the flora with grace.

This Caversham Mill, however, is smack dab in the glorious Midlands of KwaZulu Natal. I’ve always loved driving through this area, especially in the autumn months, and best still in the early morning.

But I have to tell you about a night at Caversham that was far from calm and peaceful.

My wife Jules and I were doing research in the area and staying at Caversham Mill, which has comfortable accommodations and a good restaurant.

We’d spent most of day mucking about with glorious Nguni cattle and were booked to have dinner with the McCarthy family of Curry’s Post.

We arrived early and sat at our riverside table, gazing in wonder at the twilight joys of the Midlands.

I took the paper serviette out of my wine glass and began pouring a good red for both of us. By mistake, I rested the serviette against a calmly sputtering tea candle on the table.

And carried on yammering away to Julie.

The next thing you know, the woman at the next table was staring in disbelief at us, and then desperately trying to get our attention.

“Ahem. Ahem. Fire! I say, Fire!”, she began mildly, in the unmistakeable town of Basil Fawlty trying to sound the fire alarm in one of the Fawlty Towers episodes. Finally, she raised her voice and we noticed her.

We also noticed our table on fire. Minor chaos ensued. Julie snatched up the offending serviette, blazing away, and whipped it in the general direction of the curtains. Just before she burnt down the whole restaurant, she managed to hurl it onto the floor and to stomp the fire out.

A light rain of ash descended on our table, just as the restaurant manager and our guests arrived on the scene. Except for the lady at the next table, who had escaped to the other side of the eatery, it was as if no one had noticed…

Category: Culture & History

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