Our Memories Are Our Own

Our memories are our own and when we try to overlay them with someone else’s there is rarely an exact fit. Though I sometimes challenge people on particular facts and dates, this is as much to try to sort out my own knowledge of my lived history as to correct theirs. The meaning one attributes to the past is a product of one’s life course rather than something that originated back then; as subsequent lives diverge, so do the memories of a shared past.

Doing the research for this book has made me realise that a deliberate examination of the past prompts the realisation that much of our life never was given enough attention at the time it was lived for it to become a resource for remembering later. I have also realised that context changes how it was that memories were laid down, just as much as how they are retrieved later. Memory is unreliable for the retrieval of “fact”, but it can be very useful for unearthing sentiments and emotions, what was important then, now and along the path between the two. I’ve spent rather a lot of time over the past few years reading and listening to other people’s memories and sizing them up against my own. In this section of the site I want to ponder the nature of memory and I feel that I am entitled only to analyse the meaning of my own recollections, not those of others – the section called “Instead of Forgetting” presents what other people think is significant. I want to start here with some thoughts about memory and the emotion of terror.

The Caves

Until recently I have had a recurring nightmare of being buried alive. I wake screaming and terrify anyone who is in the same building. It is not a dream that has ever needed any interpretation, as I have always been able to explain its origin – it goes back to a Sunday in 1962, when I bunked out of Sherwood House, Jean Rennie School in Lusaka with two friends.

Some boys from Gilbert Rennie were taking us on a picnic to some caves near Chilanga. I was pretty jittery from the start of the expedition, as it was an expulsion-worthy offence and there was no other school in the country where I could complete my A-Levels. When we arrived at the caves mere apprehension became terror – they weren’t talking about an open-mouthed cave in a rock face, the sort of place Robinson Crusoe made into a desirable residence, it was a hole in the ground into which we lowered ourselves, holding candles, creeping though passages, sidling along narrow ledges over chasms. Bats flew about and I was convinced there’d be a snake every time I put my hand down to steady myself. Eventually we came to an open chamber and sat on a ledge: it was magical in the candle light, stalactites and stalagmites, just a little of the terror ebbed away. In times of stress I find myself in those caves again, this time alone, then the candle goes out …

During the course of this research I met Sue Hoar (then Filmer), one of my closest friends at Jean Rennie. We’d last seen each other in London in 1966 after which our lives took very different paths, but meeting up again in London there was immediate recognition. As we sat reminiscing about the horrors of Jean Rennie food, the lunatic rules and the “jolly japes in the dorm”, Sue suddenly said, “You were with me on that caving expedition weren’t you?” I explained it had haunted me all my life; she was incredulous – surely it was FUN?

A few days later Sue sent me an extract from her diary from that day. It looks as though my extreme terror set in later, that the memory of the fear of interment alive wasn’t laid down on the day but the caves had become a resource for fantasising horror (maybe even merged in with bits of films and novels?) According to Sue’s contemporary account, it would seem the most I could have been at the time was a bit scared.

Sunday 17th June 1962

I was to be one of the four who were going if the boys had a woman with them.  They said they’d come at 11.00 and until then we hung around waiting.  They didn’t come until 12.00, and then they didn’t have a woman.  Somehow or other we got Miss Tom to sign out for us, and we just walked out with the boys.  It was very lucky for us that Mrs Walters wasn’t there.  In the car were Buddy, Paul and this friend called John.  The three of us girls (Anne had gone out with her aunt, and that left Mucchi, Pam and me) climbed into Buddy’s car and dashed off.

They dropped us in town to buy some things while they fetched some candles and rope and we wandered round hoping that we wouldn’t see someone we knew.  I felt so very guilty – more like an escaped prisoner than a schoolgirl going on a picnic.  The caves were about 20 miles away and in the car we were in I doubted if we would even get that far.  We did, and landed up in the bush.  We went to inspect the cave openings – just three gaping black holes.  We girls took our skirts off and then we lit our candles and approached the cave entrances.  We went down the first one as it was the biggest and the easiest to climb down, although there was a danger of the bees which were buzzing around frantically. We went nearer and nearer the blackness over the loose rubble of stones, down and down, until the daylight was all blotted out.  I hated walking into the pitch darkness with just a small candle for light.  After climbing over rock after rock we arrived in the first cave where the bats were flying aimlessly round and round squeaking their heads off.  How I hated it!  We went further and further into the blackness, clambering over the rocks along passages and down and down and down.  Soon we left the squeaking bats behind and came into caves with bats clustering the walls and ceilings in their hundreds.  There was no place that was flat – all was rocky and uneven, all places leading either sharply up or sharply down.  We clambered up almost impossible slopes and I can’t think how I managed to remain alive.  There was nowhere pleasant where we could sit down – we went on and on with an occasional rest on the damp rocks in the inky blackness.  I was filthy from the guano that I had to crawl along and the wax that kept dripping onto me from my candle.  The boys were a great help: they told us where to place each foot and hauled us up and held us when we were coming down, sometimes catching us when we had an awkward drop.  I don’t know how they managed to find their way in those caves.  They went on and on, linking up all underground.  I hadn’t much time for admiring the wonderful rock formations – I couldn’t see for one thing.  It was lovely when we sat down for a rest: we all squatted on the rocks, our faces partly illuminated with the candles and the inky blackness all around.  We talked and laughed and then went on.  Now I think of it, some of the places were extremely dangerous, but somehow while I was down there I didn’t fear the danger.   It was all so unreal – I pretended I was just in a story and everything always turns out all right in a story.  Soon I conquered my fear of bats and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  It was such a wonderful experience.

After about an hour and a half down there we climbed up into the sunlight and sat under the trees drinking Coca Cola and eating sausage rolls.  It would have been very pleasant but for the fact that John would insist on talking about us “Bloody Pommies” and dragging up the Boer War etc.  He really was repulsive in the way he spoke, but I won’t dwell on him.  We talked for a little longer, washed our filthy hands and then clambered into the car, this time Pam on Paul’s knee and me next to him.  I like him the best I think.  It was so nice escaping the hostel and I really did enjoy myself.

 

I thought I’d dig around a bit and see if I could find Buddy Budkowski, as he’d organised the expedition (if “organised” isn’t rather a strong term). His reply is a good example of the way that memory is jogged and then fine tuned, his second message showing how he revised his recollection of which “Paul” was in the party. Quite incredibly, he seems to have forgotten all about taking three girls along!


Hi Pamela,

Gosh, you’ve stirred a few dormant memory cells there… mind you, my memory’s never been that good in the first place, I often need triggers.

However, I do remember that cave system – it was/is really extensive, Paul & I never managed to explore all of it. Paul (Horn) was the first drummer in our rock band, and he discovered the caves in the first place; his dad wanted bat guano as fertiliser, and as I recall, Paul queried a number of Africans in Lusaka, eventually getting the details from one of them. I don’t think the caves were ever named, and at the time, I doubt any white folks knew of them, or even nowadays. I say them, because it was a really large complex of interlinked tunnels, once you got down the first part, whichever entrance you used. The main entrance had a massive tree (and bees…) above it.

Sue’s diary is quite right – the caves were 19 – 20 miles out, along the Kafue road. There was a dirt road/track turn off which led to the big tree, and past it, I think. Not much of a road, I have no idea what it was for, and it’s probably fallen into total disuse now. We were the only guys collecting the guano, it had clearly lain untouched for god knows how long, and the stuff was so concentrated that you had to dilute it before using it. I still have a couple of photos I took down there, from another exploratory trip with another friend of mine (Alec), but I can’t put my finger on that photo album at the moment; I’ve been looking for it, as Alec’s daughter has been pleading for photos of her dad. If I find the album, I’ll happily send you a couple of cave shots, but don’t hold your breath – we have a very big archive/warehouse/junk heap that needs attacking when I find time.

I take my hat off to you lot, there weren’t many girls around who would have dared to even think of such a jaunt! Mucky, but a memory that most other folk can’t match – The Lost Underground Bat Kingdom of Darkest Africa!

I don’t recall the John character, but it sounds like he wasn’t worth remembering anyway.

Hope that helps a bit. It’s great to see someone doing a book on the old days before they get forgotten & we’re all pushing up daisies. Is it just about Zambia/NR, or wider? I’ll be interested, so please keep me in mind. I assume you know how to go about publishing your book, but if you need any help, give me a shout.

All the best,

Buddy (to NR/Zambians, Bud to the RSA lot, and Jan in the UK, cos’ here they consider Buddy too American pleb…)
I sent the correspondence to Kevin Lee (now a very responsible forensic pathologist in Australia) to find out whether he’d ever heard talk of the caves:


I think I know the very caves! I went there myself with a couple of mates, taking acetylene lamps and a bit of rope. We got lost – that was a baaaaaad feeling that I still remember, when we thought we’d found our way out and then saw our footprints in the guano, going the same way we were heading. As we were bunking out and had hidden our bikes, no-one would have come looking for us.

Paul Anthony Adams and Buddy Budkowski were big mates at that time. They were in a band together. Thanks for the memory nudge!

Love

K


Kevin and I had been very close at one time, but neither of us had ever mentioned the caves to each other.
I sent Kevin’s comments on to Buddy:


Oops. Sounds like I may have been referring to the wrong Paul – Paul Horn was the first chap I went to the caves, with, the trip you’re referring to may have been with Paul (Tubby) Adams, who, coincidentally, was also drummer in our school band. At one point, I was with three bands, three lives, and only one small memory gland… So, if Paul was a little bit chubby, that’s Tubby Adams; if a lean, dark-haired guy, that was Paul Horn.

Pam, I’ll add some words happily, but I’m really stretched lately; we’re just in the process of creating two new magazines, and it’s close to a 24/7 process. Would it be of use if I sent you telex style data, for you to fill out or analyse, whatever? There was a lot happening in those days, I was born in Lusaka, and I just can’t get down to writing a decent submission.

Regards,

Jan

 

For the record, it was Paul Adams. Jan Budkowski now lives in Plymouth UK. He is a writer and publisher/bookseller specialising in the occult.
Having started on my mission of exorcising the caves, I decided it was time to find out where they were and what anyone knew of them. I discovered that they were the Chipongwe or Kapongo caves and that a speleologist called Jo de Wael had subsequently done some research on them. I emailed him:


Dear Dr de Waele,

I have been searching for information on the Chipongwe and Kapongo Caves south of Lusaka in Zambia and your name came up.  I am not a geologist at all but a social anthropologist.  My interest is partly personal as, as a schoolgirl in Lusaka back in 1962, I went on a completely illegal caving expedition and have never been more terrified in my life.  Currently I am doing some research on the white “Northern Rhodesian” diaspora and the caving “adventure” came up. I have subsequently discovered that several young whites at that time have these caves as a personal horror but thought no one knew about them outside their own clique. I have decided to try a psychogeography of their role in the young white colonial imagination (yes anthropology is very different from geology!) At the time I did not know their name, or even really where I was taken.

I wonder whether you have written anything about them and whether you have any photographs I could see.  I remember only climbing down into a small hole in the ground which opened out into passageways and interconnecting chambers.  In reality I saw little beyond my feet and the bats, as all the light we had was one candle each (obviously very irresponsible).

Yours hopefully,

Pam Shurmer-Smith

He clearly thought I was a lunatic and never replied!

A bit more searching and I did find some pictures online, posted by a Czech caver (who looks as if he was a bit better kitted out than we were).

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