My A-Z autobiography … Lions – and life in Africa – the photos are from a public domain website.
The only thing I really clearly remember about this day – I was four – was that I got to hold a tame cheetah cub and have been hopelessly addicted to cheetahs ever since, but the story has been told so often, and by so many different family friends, I re-tell it with confidence.
This was a wonderful, and special, day out at a private game park – special, because the park had been given two young lionesses which would be ceremoniously released into the park after the guests had enjoyed a braai (what the rest of you might call a barbecue).
The lionesses were admired through the fence of their pen, the cheetah cub was detached from me with some difficulty, and the dozen guests were taken for a viewing drive in open land-rovers. A spectacular buffet, with fires already dying down to hot coals ready for the braai, greeted us on our return. The spot was well chosen, in clear veld out in the open miles from anywhere so as to have the best possible view for the highlight of the day.
Game viewing is hot and thirsty work so the guests were crowded round the temporary bar but I, bored and a bit hungry, wandered over to investigate the buffet tables. It was at that point that the young lionesses, bored with waiting for their moment in the spotlight, escaped from the back of their pen and padded over to join the party. The guests promptly attempted to get behind the little bar, climb one of the few spindly thorn trees, sprint in the direction taken by the rangers in the land rovers, or cram themselves into the small catering truck which represented the only other refuge. My mother looked round anxiously – to see me, on my own, completely unaware of the new arrivals, and raptly contemplating the desserts buffet. She darted across, swung me up onto the buffet, climbed up herself, grabbed a tray of raw steak and started flipping prime sirloins towards the advancing lionesses. Apparently they entered into the spirit of things with grateful enthusiasm and she had nearly emptied the tray by the time the hastily-summoned rangers hurried up to herd them away, now completely without ceremony, to their new lives. I had made nearly as many inroads on the chocolate eclairs and was completely unaware of any drama.
My father had to be helped down from a thorn tree, having painfully punctured his hands and thighs, and used to get quite irritated when she told the story, which, it has to be admitted, she did a lot. But then I told the elephant story of being abandoned on my honeymoon quite a lot, too. Just proves, girls do tend to marry their fathers.