South Africa

Drumming off into the blue, and other things I never knew!

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By Donette Read Kruger

Is it  a while since you made your Resolution to return to Zimbabwe?

Accordingly, I paid the deposit for my 200L drum and emptied cupboards in anticipation. That was almost ten days ago now. Everything I own is still standing in the middle of my small single room, but at least the cupboards are bare. There have been setbacks accompanied by worrying dilemmas, but I am confident I will get there in the end.

Oh yes, the drum duly arrived but the first set back was it weighed 70 kgs as opposed to 10 kgs because it was full of someone else’s treasure bound for Zimbabwe! The second set-back was being told that those strong, 45-gallon steel drums are no longer being used and blue plastic drums were now the order of the day.

I was devastated but, what the heck, and while I waited for the inevitable to arrive I wondered what I could use a blue plastic drum for in Kariba, other than to catch precious rainwater and carting water up to the Heights from the lake below? I began to worry: if a tidal wave washed it overboard, would it float ashore to some desert island where the contents could bring happiness to some hermit? Certainly my varied collection of books might, but as for the gadgets? Only if the stranger had electricity!

Those strong sturdy steel drums, easily recognised before you arrive at any ZRP roadblock, protecting the officers of the law, provided us with so many alternatives yesterday, and Security measures in place were just one.

No matter how much you weighed, they were great for standing on to clear the gutters after the first rains! And, it was these same steel drums that provided a platform at the end of the rains to stand on and repaint the walls of the house in the dry season. Nothing has proved more practical. You can even walk about on the top of a steel drum; you can’t do that on a step-ladder.  In the evenings they made a wonderful stage for the kids to perform on, but what about finding a plank and making a seesaw?

I remembered that in 1971 I organised a masked ball at a hotel in Bulawayo. In the centre of the ballroom I placed six gaily painted steel drums, and throughout the night masked teenage dancing girls leapt up to show their skills at go-go dancing

Standing high up on a wooden platform overlooking the garden, filled with water from a borehole, the metal drums still make a good reservoir from which water can be channelled as an outside shower, or to irrigate the vegetables and garden, giving us food and beautiful flowers.

Split lengthways these tin baths were very useful for bathing the dogs in on a hot day, or as a trough to feed the pigs, cattle and goats! Do you recall trying to keep the dogs out of the bath, then? No chance!

Half drums still serve well for marimba steel bands especially at the Notting Hill Carnival; sometimes used as just that, drums, they render exciting rhythms.

As these aged and rusted, the faithful and reliable drums were sawn into two. One half filled with soil and manure then stabbed in the sides was perfect for growing strawberries. Upside down on bricks, half a forgotten drum could prove a secret nesting place for Mum’s hen that would, to everyone’s astonishment, emerge one day with a peep of cheeping fluffy day-old chicks! (Some would call them a clutch of chicks but I prefer the word ‘peep’. Are you aware that a cockrell and a rooster are two different birds of the one species? Any vet can tell you that a cockrell is a young rooster – and a pullet is a young hen. Perhaps that’s where the phrase ‘did you pull’ originated?)

Opened at one end only, with an old rug thrown in, the drum proved to be a magnificent kennel. Remember waking up in the morning and seeing your bitch with her new litter of puppies crawling all over her. It’s strange that the one word, which has never changed it’s meaning, is still dog-box! Did dad really crawl in there last night because he was too drunk to find his own bed?

The donkey boiler still provides what is really hot boiling water. That also consists of a steel drum, but why did they call it a donkey boiler? I think it’s an old Cornish phrase. (Answers on a postcard please…)

So there you have it: the 45-gallon steel drum, a valuable vessel starting off life as a container for fossil fuels and now recreated in blue plastic. I wonder, is there any chance the new drums can be recycled in the same way as the steel drums, providing protection, food, music, homes, braais, pets, shelter and occasionally rainwater…

It’s truly the end of life, as we knew it, when plastic takes over!



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