According to the four-year-old in the house, Basil Mills is the best.
Best out of three different children’s shows he’s seen at the National Arts Festival.
Amazwi Storytelling has things, props and stuff. “We saw a real wagon,” chirps the four-year-old.
“Ja,” says mom, we did. But it wasn’t the whole wagon, he showed us how to make a wheel.”
“But how do they make the iron go around the wheel?”
“They make it red, like Basil said, and bend it round.”
Basil’s got all the intriguing stuff. A museum of it. Real iron helmets lined up on the heavy wooden wardrobe behind him, yoke for an ox-wagon, a rawhide rope, horns of gunpowder, a horn for brandy, great hat, a whole wagon wheel which he lifted up with mighty arms.
Also: a great drooping handlebar moustache, grey locks, and a twinkle in the eye.
What’s more, he’s done all the things he talks about. Name an outdoor adventure you can have involving animals and livestock in South Africa, and he’s done it.
Books also come into it. Today, after a preamble about what life was like on the highveld and the difficulties of piloting an ox-wagon through a town, he told the tale of Jock of the Bushveld, having met Percy Fitzpatrick’s daughter. Not the whole tale, of course, but the gist, with exciting details and anecdotes.
The press pic for Amazwi is one fellow Grahamstonian now ex-Makhandan Obie Oberholzer took of him, decades ago. It appears in Raconteur Road, and Obie in his caption describes driving onto the farm to photograph Basil, and meeting his wife, gunbelt and Colt revolver slung around her waist, mounting a white horse.
Basil, with his pet ox and boa constrictor and dogs and geese and khaki shorts, is a learned man, having been asked by Guy Butler to run the National English Literary Museum, now the Amazwi South African Museum of Literature, where he has ever since been a raconteur to groups of children.
The Amazwi show on the National Arts Festival is free of charge, and via a Zoom link, with Basil propping a tablet up on his desk; relaxed, but quite professional.
He talks a bit fast, as if, carried away by how interesting everything is, is trying to fit a lifetime of discovery into 30 minutes. Less info a little more time might allow more to sink in, but if nothing else, our laaities attention was held by the uncomplicated enthusiasm in Basil’s voice.
It felt like he was speaking just to us, because he was speaking just to us.
We unmuted ourselves at the end, to say thank you.
The four-year-old asked him for a playdate. Basil didn’t hesitate: “come and visit anytime.”
Treat your child to a Basil Mills storytime at 2.30pm today. Click here for access.
Photo of Basil Mills by Obie Oberholzer, taken from Obie’s book, Raconteur Road.