Harold Strachan's Last Word

Giraffe Braai. Tall tales.

I tell you, few things are messier to work with than that polyethylene wood glue in a squeezy plastic bottle. But for sure it’s tougher than timber itself. I don a butcher-type long stripey apron and set to on a batch of artists’ canvas stretcher frames down in my workshop, and sharpen up my kitchen cutlery on the grindstone while I’m about it. Tralala, I sing a cheerful song, Mozart, but this is a dull way to spend a beautiful winter morning in Durbs, man, and it’s not long ere I get a bit teatime-ish and set off back to the flat for a cuppa in my lush subtropical garden.

At my parked car stands a certain Mrs Bhamjee from over the road. She coldly introduces herself. Do you kill animals? she asks. Sometimes it happens, say I, you know, cats mostly, but why do you ask? Because of your butcher’s clothes and tools, says she; do you mean to tell me people eat cats? Thai people do, say I. If they bring their own it’s half-price, sometimes I cut them up in small cubes to order for a special sort of curry they favour in Thailand. Immigrants from Hong Kong like snakes for a Chinese chow mein, they bring their own puff-adders and mambas and stuff and I slice them up on a bandsaw like polony only narrower and thicker. Also tortoises scooped out.

Mrs Bhamjee turns down the corners of her mouth in contempt. I don’t suppose you have a licence for it, says she. Well-er-no, say I, and I get paid in bank notes so I don’t tell SARS either. Even when I do sacrificial goats I get paid in cash. Seven hundred rands. Small goats five hundred. You murder goats on your premises? says she with a mixture of disgust and alarm. Oh no no! say I, I put on this, my special apron, and do it in a special place of ritual at a certain temple. Many priests agree with killing the goat, you see, but get a bit squeamish when it comes to cold steel and hot blood squirting all about so they call me in as a contractor. And you aren’t squeamish about the poor suffering animal, says she with some scorn. We-e-ell, not exactly, say I; I don’t use cold steel, see, I remove the head with a chain saw. Quick, quick and painless. They have this small room for it so the congregation doesn’t get sprayed all over by the splash of blood, then afterwards I take a nice hot shower and it’s over in half an hour. Profitable work.

Last year I did a giraffe for a Christmas braaivleis in Orania, say I. It’s a communal thing there, everybody chips in and every year they buy a different species of wildlife in memory of Pres Paul Kruger who loved hunting and braais. Fuel is problematic, of course, true Afrikaners don’t use supermarket charcoal, hey, but good dense traditional hardwoods: olienhout, ysterhout, that sort of brandstof, but it’s scarce and a fire including this giraffe’s neck would be simply too expensive, so I cut the head off at the shoulder and they turned the neck into long strips of biltong and got a record in the Guiness Book and the editor said they’d never heard of such a thing before.

The Orania Fire Brigade doesn’t use those old-time canvas hoses anymore but nylon-reinforced polypropylene which doesn’t need drying out after use, so that tall drying tower that fire stations have was not in use and we hung the biltong in there with mosquito netting over the ventilation holes to keep the flies out.

The torso was problematic too, being so big, but I sawed it open down the thorax and spread it out flat like a kipper then we fixed a chain to each leg and lifted it up with a construction crane with a long arm and suspended it over the fire. Turned out a splendid idea, we could raise and lower the giraffe for delicate slow browning and from time to time swing it away from the fire entirely so the Fire Brigade could squirt it all over with Mev Balls se Spesiale Orania Braaispesery.

They’ve booked a black market hippo for next year. The Orania librarian discovered that back in the 1500s a certain monk in Moçambique applied to the Pope to have the hippopotamus declared a fish for the ritual Friday supper because crocodiles had cleaned out the Maputo River, and the Orania Braai Committee has now decided to put this to the taste-bud test. Of course I should have to do it in its big crate with the chain saw, but the saw may be too small and maybe I’ll just turn it loose and shoot it with a rocket-propelled grenade.

I think you are an absolute b*st*rd says Mrs Bhamjee and I’m never going to speak to you again! A pity, say I, I was just starting to enjoy your company.

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