Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America

Homage to Way

I was looking through my files, searching for a possible blog post, when I came across an old letter to a friend. Buried within it there is a description of the weather in Zimbabwe followed by mention of a man called Harry. Suddenly memories came flooding back and I realized that I ought to make clear the debt I owe to Harry.

And what better way to do so than to follow my thought processes as I came to this conclusion? To begin with, here is the extract from the letter I mentioned:

Weather in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, the rains depend entirely upon something called the Congo Air Boundary (CAB). This defines the outer limits of the equatorial air currents that form that great belt of near-constant and heavy rain which, in turn, creates the rain forests of the Amazon, the Congo and Indonesia/New Guinea. Although the equator has no seasons, the northern and southern limits of the CAB bulge outwards in accordance with the seasons; they follow the sun. So, in the southern hemisphere's summer (winter for us) the CAB begins to move south, bringing rain to Zambia and, usually, Zimbabwe. Because Zimbabwe is at the outer edge of the CAB's journey, it experiences drought from the CAB's non-arrival more frequently than countries further north. It also has a shorter rainy season since the CAB arrives late and leaves early.

The CAB is Zimbabwe's only major source of rainfall. In winter, vagaries of wind patterns might bring isolated light rainfall in parts of the country in the form of drizzle (known as guti), but generally the winter months are dry. This gives Zim nine months of no rain at all and then three months of heavy rain if you're lucky. In those years when the CAB decides not to go as far south as usual, Zim has drought. Two or three years of drought in succession means disaster for the crops; it is rare but it does happen.

During those nine months of the winter, the heat builds steadily until, by October, it becomes unbearable. Preceding the CAB comes humidity and this increases with the heat until one begs for rain. So when the rains arrive, it is an incredible relief. Suddenly the heat and humidity are forgotten and the earth and air is washed clean, like a rebirth of the world into new hope. In Africa one learns to love the rain.

And what rain it is! Torrential hardly describes it. There is little wind with it so it falls straight down as if a giant shower had been turned on just above your head. It soaks you and the earth in seconds and in minutes dry river beds turn into raging torrents. In the 1980s, Zimbabwe suffered a series of drought years that almost turned the country into a desert. All the dams, even the major ones, sunk to their lowest levels ever and the experts were predicting that it would take ten years of good rainy seasons to fill them again. Then two normal rainy seasons arrived and the dams were full. That is how it rains in Zim.

As a child in Cape Town, I hardly noticed the weather and I remember it now as perpetually sunny. But I know that's not true; in fact, the southern tip of Africa has proper seasons and its stormy south easters are renowned as wet and miserable times. In Zim, however, it was impossible to be unaware of the relief brought by those first rains. As young as I was, I still remember how suddenly everything was changed by them.

It was Harry who first made me think of what memories I have to write down. Otherwise I might never have realized what a rich source of cheap blog posts resides in my memory. And they are cheap; the very fact of their being African lends them a certain allure (although it was all very ordinary to me at the time - it was all I knew, after all) and the magnifying glass of childhood allows me to pick out aspects that impressed me while ignoring the commonplace. So I trade upon the accident of being brought up in a continent that few have visited and has always had a reputation for being wild and unknown.


I first met Harry in chat. His chosen identity was Wayfareingstranger (the mis-spelling quite deliberate, no doubt caused by the correct spelling having been usurped by an earlier arrival) and we always abbreviated this to "Way". My own alias at the time was Wyrfu, inevitably shortened to "Wy", and this led to the occasional confusion between us as people read "Way" for "Wy" and vice versa.

The similarity in our chatnames was to prove quite apt and, on a few occasions, I was honored with the accusation of being "just like Way". That was a gross exaggeration, however, as I could never aspire to the quirky and quick wit that Harry exhibited in chat. But we were similar in the fact that we both were writers, something that I did not discover until I had known Harry for quite some time. In a chatroom one day, he gave out the URL for some of his writing and I crept off to have a look.

He was good enough to make me worry about the quality of my own writing. It had always been my policy to avoid mentioning my writing in chat and this confirmed me in my reticence. Harry was competition I could do without!

In chat one tends to find a room that suits and stick with it. But rooms are growing things and their character changes over time so that eventually one sets out to wander other rooms in search of adventure. And it was in doing this that I discovered that Way was something of a chat nomad. Like me, he preferred rooms with just a few inhabitants and I often found him sitting in a corner of such a room, amusing or annoying the locals with his wry comments. It became my habit to seek him out and then stay to watch the fun, occasionally contributing my own humble attempts at humor.

Then blogging descended upon me and I left chat behind. For a time I made rare and brief visits to advertise the blog and this may have had something to do with several of my chat friends starting blogs of their own. One of these was Harry.

We formed a little circle of ex-chatting bloggers and would do the rounds of each other's blogs, commenting at length and often. Our chat habits dictated our comment style and we would have conversations that wandered from one blog comment system to another. There are plenty of examples amongst the early posts in this blog, light-hearted conversations between old friends exploring a new world. And it was in reading through some of these a few days ago that I realized just how much I miss Harry.

If you go to this link, you can read Harry's blog, From the Edge of the Swamp. It is a delightful mix of memories, fantasy and humorous verse, all delivered in an easy, warm style that makes you feel that he is speaking to you personally.

But it was in his memories posts that Harry had most influence on me. I had never thought of writing of my experiences in Africa and was happy to leave that sort of thing to Harry until, one day, someone made a comment that stung. Once again, it was a comparison between Way and myself and this time I was found wanting. It was meant as a joke but it stung me enough to wonder if I could do a Harry - to write memories as well as he did. The result was Okay, I Admit I Had a Childhood, an experimental post dealing with just one of my African memories. Many more were to follow, particularly as I found them easy to write and they seemed to entertain my readers. But I had nothing to equal the enthralling adventures of Harry; the man had led an interesting life whereas mine has been quite ordinary, in spite of its sometimes exotic locations.

Several months ago, Harry's posts became infrequent and then stopped altogether. I heard later that he had been very ill and is still recovering. There was a poem at Christmas to remind us of his greatness but nothing since then. And we in the blogosphere are left to soldier on without the benefit of Harry's wonderful posts and his delightful comments. Heck, I miss the old geezer.

Get well, Harry, and come visit us sometimes. That's an order...


Oh no! I didn't know Mr Way was poorly, I just assumed he was off exploring other arenas. Oh I hope he is better. I love Way's writing and he is the only person I've ever encountered who can write a Haiku that doesn't leave me cold. From only my small acquaintance with Mr Way I can tell he is an amazing human being with a wry eye for a good tale. Be well Mr Way, be well!

As for Africa and the rains there is nothing like it that I've encountered in the rest of the world. We were in Chobe just over the Botswana border and throughout the day the heat had risen until late afternoon. As we spent our last hour looking for lion I could see on the far horizon clouds building. Suddenly it was like Africa held its breath. Then the wind hit us heavy with that smell, the smell of wet dust and... well words fail to describe that smell. Then BOOM the rain came. Huge heavy drops falling like artillery. Everything was soaked in seconds. Oh! What a primal experience the rain is in Africa...
Date Added: 27/02/2006

Clive, You have the makings of a great essay here. Not only have you written a poignant tribute to a friend, but you've also crafted a rather marvelous metaphor as to why reaching out to others--the need to interact and be expressive--is so inherent to our very being. This one sentence conveys that sentiment so well: "But rooms are growing things and their character changes over time so that eventually one sets out to wander other rooms in search of adventure."
Date Added: 28/02/2006

Gone Away
I don't know anyone who doesn't like Way, Mad. The guy's a star!

And you have a fair turn of phrase yourself - Africa held its breath - that is exactly how that moment just before the rain feels.
Date Added: 28/02/2006

Gone Away
Thank you, Scot; I really appreciate your thoughtful comments on my efforts. Chat actually lends itself to metaphor. I always saw it in pictures, not as just the text, and sometimes waxed lyrical about it: We scratch out our lives in moving graffiti that travels up the white wall to disappear forever beyond the ceiling. Stuff like that, passing unnoticed amongst the general hubbub...
Date Added: 28/02/2006

Ned nags nicely.

This (typing; locating proper codes stored for breaks, etc) has become incredibly hard to do, I find, being that I am so out of practice.

Now I suppose I might apologize for vanishing from the scene as abruptly I did, but then that dismal act would surely dent the innocent and most-romantic notion of night ships passing.

"Ahoy! Sorry! Sorry there, I say!"

A faint, distant bell clangs. Timbers creak, followed by a muffled wet curse.

I also find that it's terribly embarrassing to read how well Clive has become at embellishing such a humble canard like myself, and I do not know what else could be added that might improve his case one bit, so I shant even try.
Date Added: 28/02/2006

Gone Away
It is just wonderful to hear from you, Harry. Ahoy indeed and I must apologize for any embarrassment caused. None was intended for I spoke truth only. The talent for words has not deserted you, however rusty the old codes may be. Sail well, old friend.
Date Added: 28/02/2006

Yeah, that's the fella! Nice to see you Mr Way. :D
Date Added: 01/03/2006

Good to see you way!
Date Added: 13/03/2006

Darn. I forgot to come back here.
Date Added: 23/06/2006

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