Let's face it, mysterious benefactors became extinct around the time of Dickens last book, didn't they?
Apparently not, as I found out on a September morning in 2007.
It seemed a morning like any other. My colleagues and I meeting up for a brief fat-chewing session before going over to the lodge to pick up our guests for the days stalking. It was a fine clear morning and all the better for following a night of ground frost; thus marking the end of the Reign of the Midge. We stalkers also believe the frosts trigger the Red Deer rut so are doubly glad to see them.
So there we are, discussing winds and deer movement, when Fred, our Head Gamekeeper appears. "Listen lads" he says "The laird and N O (one of our regular grouse shooting guests) have had a chat and are wanting to offer an exchange. It'll mean one of his wardens from his reserve in South Africa coming here and one of you going over there. It'll be for two or three months and family can go too. Is anybody interested?"
If I hadn't been nonchalantly propped against a land rover, I would have been reeling! "Yes" I hear myself reply but I somehow feel far removed from my voice. And with that, my world changed.
I remember spending the rest of that day- and a good chunk of that night too- with my thoughts in an absolute turmoil. Where was this place? What would I be expected to do? What preparations would be needed? How would Louise (my wife ) and Jack (my, then, 1 year-old son) deal with it? These and a thousand other thoughts roiled and boiled in my mind.
As it was, the exchange didn't happen until January 2009, which is maybe just as well, seeing the amount of preparation it required. But happen it did, and what followed was just an amazing experience.
So amazing that I had to keep a daily diary to make sure I would never forget a moment of it (if you knew how feeble my memory is, it would stun you.) So I kept this diary and emailed it to a few friends and to the laird and to N O. N O liked it enough that he put it on the reserve website (http://www.tswalu.com/) and I got requests from friends of friends to be included on the mailing list. It was real-life, bona fide, adventure. Give the website a visit and see.
Since coming home, I've had lots of positive feedback (and a comment on the website calling me a wanker) and have been cajoled into doing this blog. What have I let myself in for?