The Missing Pocket Watch and a Thorny Situation

The Hopcraft Home on Lake Naivasha

Part III The Missing Pocket Watch and How I Ended up in a Thorny Situation

There was never a dull moment in Kenya and when the next Christmas vacation rolled around we found ourselves with our family friends the Hopcrafts heading to their home on Lake Naivasha, known as Loldia House.  Pete Hopcraft hadn’t warned us that his parents were formal British Colonials expecting us for a proper Christmas dinner.  We made our way down the Rift Valley and promptly got desperately stuck in mud on the dirt road going around Lake Naivasha.  It took us three hours of pushing and shoving to get out of the muck.  I remember all us kids gathered behind the white VW bus, layers of mud stuck on the bottom or our sneakers, pushing as hard as we could as the wheels spun sending a spray of deep orange-East African mud all over our clothes.  It was great fun.

There were no cell phones back in those days so no way to warn anyone about our delay.  We arrived well after dark, mud-covered, exhausted and starving to find the elegantly dressed Hopcraft seniors surrounded by waiters in white coats and gloves awaiting our arrival.

Loldia,  the Hopcraft family home on Lake Naivasha is a spectacular old colonial bungalow made out of volcanic rock.  It has a lovely verandah and an enormous green lawn spreading out below it down to the lake.  With British elegance, they directed us to our rooms to transform ourselves from mud-covered to Christmas best.

Chistmas dinner was a memorable affair.  The Senior Mr. Hopcraft presided over the meal at one end. I remember my thirteen-your-old hand hovering uncertainly over a wide selection of forks to the left of my plate wondering which one to take and noticing the red-orange dirt packed under my fingernails. Mr. Hopcraft Senior rambled on at length about his hopes of getting the goodluck shilling that would be hidden in the Christmas pudding while his wife held court with charm at the other end. After several courses the famed Christmas pudding arrived and I must admit I was a tad disappointed by this brownish, purply-looking very British dessert. It only took a few bites and Mr. Hopcraft Senior turned beet red, bent over and started choking.  My 8-year-old brother, Stephen, stared at him in shock. Sitting at the other end of the table Mrs. Hopcraft seemed somewhat bemused as her husband appeared to be having a near-fatal choking attack.

Then the choking Senior Mr. Hopcraft spluttered, “I got it, I got it!!” and somehow a bizarre series of metal objects began to emerge from his mouth and he placed them proudly on the table. There were keys, nails, screws, even a long-lost silver pocket watch with his initials engraved on it. I thought Stephen was going to faint. Finally, with great effort, Mr.  Hopcraft Senior coughed out the shilling. “Well how’s that for Bloody Goodluck!,” he announced. “I’ve got the Christmas shilling and found my pocket watch to boot!” Gosh, What a marvelous, fabulous, memorable show!

The next morning we awoke to find a long line of tables with white table cloths on the front lawn and a fabulous spread for breakfast.   We ate buttered toast and jam, papaya and pineapple while staring out across Lake Naivasha to Mount Longonot.

After breakfast Pete Hopcraft decided to take any interested parties on a reconnaissance mission on Lake Naivasha to explore between the floating papyrus islands and the hippo population in a small boat.

The Hippo Hole

We spent several hours paddling around and eventually ended up in a cove not far from the house.  A strange looking water snake swam by but no hippos.  Then, as we were leaving the cove, somehow a wind came up and blocked our little boat between two floating papyrus islands.  It sounds absurd, but it was true. It was decided that I would make the swim to shore, run along the shoreline to the house and get some help.  I was terrified of meeting the snake again, or a hippo, but admitting fear was something you didn’t do in Kenya in those days, so I jumped overboard and swam as fast as I could to the shore.  Then I ran in my bathing suit with barefeet back to the house.  Unfortunately, along the way I stepped on a thorn from an Acacia tree.  Acacia tree thorns are several inches long.  I reached down, pulled it out and kept on running.

Back at the Loldia Bungalow, I found my mother enjoying a cup of tea and a good book on the verandah.  I urgently described the desperate situation out on the lake. She didn’t seem the least bit bothered, and I think she might have even said, “Oh, they’ll be just fine.”

I found a kekoi cloth to wrap around myself, plopped down in a chair, and looked at my foot.  It hurt where the thorn had gone in.  “Mom, I think I might have a Thorn tree thorn stuck in my foot,” I said, showing to my Mom.  Neither of us could see anything so she suggested I soak it in some hot water.  I did, and after a while it felt better.

To make a long story short, the men and children managed to make it back safely from their adventure on Lake Naivasha – the floating papyrus islands floated back the other way and the boat was freed.

One year later when I was playing field hockey on the Newton North Highschool Field Hockey team near Boston, I got a painful red bump on the bottom of my foot. Doctors ended up having to operate and found inside an inch-long piece of a thorn from an Acacia tree on the banks of Lake Naivasha.

I was pround of that thorn and kept it in a little plastic test-tube in my desk drawer for years. It was a piece of Kenya that I inadvertently brought back to the US with me.

And my mother was right. “I was just fine, and I still am.”


8 thoughts on “The Missing Pocket Watch and a Thorny Situation”

    1. Kathleen, Thank you for your sweet comment, but it’s not all adventures, dreams and fairy tales….I skip over the bad stuff. These days two out of three of my children are teenagers, and boy is it a challenge! I have spared my blog readers tales of the daily struggles, spats and hair-standing on end moments, maybe when I have more time to absorb it all I will be able to view current things with a sense of humor.

  1. I love it! These stories are truly charming. I had no idea you had led such an exciting life – and the well traveled thorn is quite a delight. Thanks for brightening up my day. I hope all is well with you and yours.

  2. . . the stuff I read in the ‘Boy’s Own Annual’ 60 years ago were nothing compared to this – adventures in (what was then called) Darkest Africa, with magic and hippos and swimming in snake-infested rivers. I think you’re making it all up ;-D
    Really nice post – I enjoyed it!

    1. I swear I am not making it up!! I was hoping to get a comment from you on the British Christmas pudding? Have you ever had that?

  3. Thank you for this lovely series! I love the photo of you, Gwen and your Mom. Grandpa/Great Uncle John and I would listen to the cassette tapes your Dad would send – wonderful stories! The photos now seal the image that those cassettes brought about. Thank you so much for sharing. “You’re just fine” was the mantra of parents in the 1960s. Quite different from now. I am really enjoying your blog!

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