First Time in Binga – Bob, Martin and Reg

 Our team was supplemented after a few days by a visit from a UK officer working on secondment to Tsetse Control, Martin Warnes, and Bob Drummond, the retired head of the National Herbarium in Harare.  Martin could stay for an extended weekend and Bob was to be with us for a couple of weeks before heading back from Hwange Airport.  Two more different people you would never think could have been thrown together.  Bob we had met in Harare before setting off.  An old Rhodesian of British stock, he appeared very frail out in the bush in his blue shorts and open shirt, his skin covered in liver spots and moles and dappled from to many peelings in the sun, his knobbly knees bent uncertainly, the tight skin over his legs scratched by many thorns and grasses.  You could never believe that he would survive more than a few hours in the bush.  But time and again on this trip he would surprise us by insisting on walking well into the bush or to the top of a hill, and scramble around in the thickest scrub.  He could also be quite a cantankerous and stubborn gent.  If something happened he did not approve of then you knew about it quickly.  He would not completely refuse but would walk about as if he was a scolded child, some twenty feet behind the rest of the party, scuffing his brown shoes on the dust as he walked.  If you ignored this, he would eventually tell you what was wrong.  Usually it was of such minor consequence that we let him have his own way, and he immediately cheered up and became the life and soul of the group.

Elephants at Busi Hills

Elephants at Busi Hills

 Martin would admit that he was totally dissimilar from Bob.  He was only a few years older than me, early thirties.  He was married to a lovely lady – Heather, who had helped moderate his rugby playing, beer swilling days of his twenties.  Despite that, we realised that away from Heather’s control in the bush, he was quite likely to slip into his old habits.  He was rather brusque in manner, mainly from his frustrations at trying to get any Zimbabweans to do any work for him.  He spoke quickly and with authority, although you were always suspicious he never had much conviction in what he said.  He was a tsetse scientist, but he admitted that he was bored of the rigmarole and torpor of doing research and waiting years for publication or recognition.  He had spent time in the UK government Tsetse research unit at Bristol University (shortly before it was closed down), and was now on a long term overseas posting, after which he had no idea what was going to happen.  Both Martin and I were stimulated into this kind of work by a wonderful guy from NRI, one Reg Allsopp.  Possibly the first of a handful of people at NRI to really have a lasting impact on my career path, Reg had been the one to approve my visit to Zimbabwe with Judith, in collaboration with my immediate boss, Jane Rosenberg.  He also was a big support in my forthcoming studies in London, and I was saddened when he moved away on a long term posting to Botswana.  Reg had a way of controlling your work which was unique in my experience.  He was a doer, and was far happier out spraying tsetse from a helicopter than sitting in an office filing papers.  As he became more senior, he had to spend more time as a manager and realised there was more to tsetse control than just killing the blighters, and he was big enough to admit that he could never know everything about the subject.  In that way he dragged people in from all sorts of backgrounds, geographers like myself, biologists, field staff, statisticians, botanists, livestock experts and sociologists to try to tackle the tsetse problem from new angles.  He worked on tight outputs (which were always difficult for us woolly geographers to meet) and woe betide you if you fell behind.  I always tried to help Reg out if he had a problem, but being in the same corridor as him at work, I could quite easily be pestered by his questions four or five times a day.  He realised what he was doing after a while.  It wouldn’t stop him being persistent in getting me to drop everything and help him out, but he prefaced his remarks by saying “I know you’re busy but……”.  For his staff in Zimbabwe like Martin Warnes and another good friend of mine, Steve Torr, there was no escape.  Although he couldn’t run down the corridor to them, he would spend hours on the phone to both of them checking that the work was progressing.  I think Reg had the largest phone bills in the institute.  The spread of email in the mid 1990’s was no help, not only would he email long instructions there, he would still phone these guys up in Zimbabwe and go through it point by point.

 Martin was from this stable of Reg’s men, and his way of working was partly in response to the almost military outlook of tsetse control experts.  He still played sports in Harare but various tumbles on the rugby field gave him muscular jip.  He still drank beer like a rugby player.  I was amazed one night when the four of us were sitting around the dinner table sharing Castles that Martin would drink two to our one, finish up Judith’s when she started getting giggly and would drink no more, and be proud of the accumulating pile of bottles to the side of his chair.

 The animosity between Bob and Martin was incredible almost as soon as Bob tumbled out of Martin’s Defender Land Rover.  Bob took us to one side, and whispered – “he nearly cracked my ribs the speed he went over those roads”.  Martin then took us aside and said “Best journey down here – only four hours – but boy that guy is a complaining old sod.”

 What amused both Judith and I was that in many ways, Bob was just an older version of Martin – Bob I have little doubt would have got up to the same childish games, hold the same standards and ideals as Martin had now, and Martin sneakingly knew that he would turn into a Bob in his retirement.

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2 thoughts on “First Time in Binga – Bob, Martin and Reg

  1. First Time in Binga – Bob, Martin and Reg – String Knife and Paper

  2. First Time in Binga – Bob, Martin and Reg – String Knife and Paper

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