Friday, 19 November 2010

Jock Of The Bushveld

"It was my dawg!"
By a curious and perhaps unfortunate association, Remembrance Day always reminds me of my most treasured possession.

On 27th October 1919, South African politician, financier and author Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, suggested that the dead of the Great War be remembered by a moment's silence on the anniversary of the Armistice. His suggestion was forwarded to King George V, who was enthusiastic and who proclaimed, on 17th November 1919, that two minutes' silence should be observed annually in perpetuity, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Percy Fitzpatrick, in the course of a colourful career, had worked during the 1880s as a prospector's assistant and ox-wagon transport rider in the goldfields of the Transvaal. He was friendly with Rudyard Kipling, who persuaded him to write a children's book based on his experiences. Jock of the Bushveld was an instant success and has become a classic, going through over ninety editions to date. How's this for an opening line:

 "Sonny, you kin reckon it dead sure, thar's something wrong 'bout a thing that don't explain itself."

It has always been a favourite, and as an engagement present my mother had my rather battered copy rebound in green leather and gold-leaf by a local book-binder named Sidney Aitken, who combined artistry with sensitivity by including the original cover illustration opposite the frontispiece in the rebound edition.

Jock of the Bushveld is the third thing I would rescue, after Lynn and Eddie, if the cabin went on fire.

Charmingly, Sidney made a mistake when he reset the spine. It reads:

Jock of the Bushveld
Sir Percy Fitzgerald

I love that.

Fitzpatrick died in 1931 aged 68, and is buried near Port Elizabeth in South Africa's Eastern Cape, at a beauty spot called the Look Out, overlooking the Sunday's River Valley.

Sunday's River

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