Dinner, Moon Beams, Crystal & Candlelight

Dusk is gathering and the smoke fires are smoldering in the forty-four gallon drums in the centre of the stable yard quadrangle, designed to keep horse sickness at bay, which is deadly and carried by mosquitos.

The horses have been groomed, fed and put to bed for the night, each one thoroughly checked, their blankets secured properly, munching contentedly on their supper, a combination of oat bran, and various home-grown herbs like comfrey grown in the kitchen garden behind the stables.

I sit on an upturned metal water bucket at the stables, watching the evening sky change from pink to red then gold, darkness gathering and tumbling in. The sound of buckets clanging, the odd whinny, a contented snort or nicker, and the rich smell of freshly-cut hay mingled with leather.

I have been helping my mother and Morris prepare the horses for tomorrow’s horse show. Together we shampooed the show horses and Doonican, an iron-grey thoroughbred, was rinsed in very diluted gentian violet which made his fine, silky coat shine like mother-of-pearl and moon beams.

My older brother James also rides and competes. My middle brother, Gordon, has a love of tractors, machinery, and farming and he eventually taught his horse to be a gun horse. Having been unceremoniously dumped a few times as the loud bang rang out, and fumes of cordite filled the air, followed by a dull thump as an unfortunate guinea fowl plummeting to earth in a flurry of spotted feathers, brother Gordon would be left to walk home carrying his shotgun; his mount disappearing in a cloud of dust and clatter of hooves, stable bound. Many a guinea fowl was served up at our dinner table, slow roasted with rosemary and a red wine reduction, usually with a smattering of shot.

My father, a civil engineer, was always around but never put a leg across a horse. He was very happy to offer up juicy carrot treats and friendly pats, and that was as far as it went. He was very much involved in organising all the behind-the-scenes at horse shows and sorting out drivers and horse trailers. He was much loved and respected by all in the town of Umtali.

I walk along the stone path through the rose garden towards the main house, the air is filled with the heady smell of orange blossom. Soft lights twinkle through the windows, filtering through the wooden shutters. A shrill whinny rings out from the stables behind and cuts through the symphony of crickets shrilly serenading the starlight night sky in, and another fine day closes.

The long wooden table is elegantly laid with a white linen tablecloth. Fresh flowers from the garden are loosely arranged in a glass vase placed on the sideboard. Crystal glasses twinkle in the soft candlelight, the table is elegantly set for dinner.

Dinner was the one time we sat down together as a family, an Orr tradition, a fairly formal affair but always much banter and laughter. I remember my father often saying to my mother, ‘Ne parle ne devant les enfants.’ I didn’t really know what it meant, but understood whatever was being discussed was not for our ears.

Sunday evenings were relaxed. A simple boiled egg and toast served on a tray, not a formal sit-down dinner. I adored sitting by the fire wrapped in my dressing gown, eagerly awaiting story-telling time, surrounded by all our beloved felines who were curled up in armchairs or basking in the warmth of the crackling fire.