For a jape and a wheeze I once claimed that a family portrait of a girlfriend’s venerable ancestor killed fighting the Afghan Taliban on the North-West Frontier of the British Raj in Queen Victoria’s time, had winked (or blinked) at me.
There were 15 youngsters dossing on the floor of the rather grimly menacing mansion, perched eerily next to the graveyard of a 14th century parish church in the English west country. We were on our way to see Sir Francis (no..not Drake!!!) Chichester return from successfully circumnavigating the world solo by yacht.
Within half an hour all my travelling companions were — some fairly hysterically –– convinced the painting indeed winked or blinked and an hour or so later they almost had me believing the highly decorated, florid-faced cavalry-mustached half-colonel was indeed “making comms” with we, the living.
First time I heard about The Spook House at Msasa, I presumed it had that soubriquet as it was a “mess” run by junior and middle-ranking BSA Police officers, deployed on intelligence-gathering duties.
I remember clearly solid, middle of the road, middle class, sensible citizens –– who didn’t routinely overdo the brandywyn and coke or abuse controlled substances –– claim the property was spectacularly haunted. They had difficulty in recruiting domestic workers and those who signed on –– very unusually –– refused to sleep there.
Thirty-odd years on, the property still looks as if it were designed by Hammer Horror Films. It is not run by the Addams Family, but by the Joneses: Clive and Tracey (aka The Teletubbies”) and one of their sylph-like twin girls, Bronwyn.
And although Clive insists at least one upstairs store-room has a resident spectre, the most common spirits found there these days are cane, gin, vodka, brandy and “Chitungwiza scotch.”
Clive is a self-taught chef QBE (qualified by experience.) I’ve known the family perhaps three decades and he has always had a love of food: originally eating the stuff, which early on translated into the preparation of good square meals for family and friends.
The family went professional years back. Bronwyn trained under Prof Mike Farrell, locally, interning and working at Meikles Hotel and Inn on the Vumba.
Clive and Tracey, helped by various other relatives and in-laws, ran Hellenics amazingly successfully, then moved nearer their Greendale home, opening The Office, at Msasa. About a year ago the lease expired and they took over the then empty Spook House.
It’s softly, softly catchee monkey and, maybe nine months on, the main building and “gardens” are still very much a work in progress.
But if you don’t mind eating and drinking on a building site and a widely reputedly haunted one at that, Spook House may well be the place for you.
It was certainly pumping fairly early last Friday lunchtime. A friend seemed to know most of the punters and most of them sounded as if they were regulars, to the point of being permanent fixtures.
We wheedled out of Clive (who does all the cooking) the fact that it was his 50th birthday: an occasion which called for another round of Windhoek Draught cans served prosaically, half-a-dozen or nine at a time, in a plastic washing up bowl covered in crushed ice.
Why not? If the world’s best restaurants and night clubs serve the finest champagne in ice-filled silver-plated wine “buckets”, what’s wrong with offering lager in a re-cycled plastic Jagger’s $1,99 special sink bowl?
Not everyone gets the Order of the Bowl immediately. You have to win your spurs by demonstrating an obvious thirst and a clear capacity for consumption. It was only my second or third visit to Spook House, but I spent the equivalent of weeks, if not months, propping up the bar at the home of Clive’s late dad, my old pal and neighbour Major Bill “Darkie” Jones, MM, Croix de Guerre (among other gongs), a founder member of the British SAS, ex-Long Range Desert Group and nee the Stock Exchange Cadets!
His widow, Beryl — also known as “Flossie”— is still with us. She’s the identical twin of Mavis, wife of Sir Rex Hunt, governor of the Falkland Islands at the time of the Argentine invasion. Mavis was vividly –– and accurately — depicted wrapping her brolly round the head of an “Argie” officer who’d trampled on her rose-garden, in a BBC docu-drama.
Clearly an interesting family!
I had the “big” fish and chips and “big” it was. For $12: two huge fillets of white, flaky, golden beer-battered hake with a mound of great chips, creamed spinach, glazed carrot sticks and a warm pale green-hued tartare sauce.
My pal went for the $8 “pub” pork chops: again two with chips and veggies. The restaurant — indeed most of Harare — had no Zesa. The grill didn’t work and the meat was initially disappointingly chewy. It took one raised eyebrow for Bronwyn to whisk away the platter, which was replaced –– in its entirety –– five minutes later. Somehow the fat on the new chops was crisply edible, the crackling crunchy.
Apart from chef’s salad ($5) all dishes are $8-$12 other than calamari salad at $12 and a Desperate Dan helping of what I am assured is the most melt-in-the-mouth delicious rump steak. That costs $28, but it is a full kilo after cooking and would satisfy three or four normal appetites.
Clive loves offal, serving proper bleached white tripe and onions on a Tuesday, oxtail casserole on Wednesdays, liver-and-onions Thursdays. There’s a three-course Sunday lunch, usually focused on an English-type joint.
However, this Sunday, main course is an eat-as-much-as-you-can prawn special at $22 a head with a free bottle of wine per couple.
Spook House is at 190, Mutare Road (the service road running parallel with the main thoroughfare, turn left immediately off Citroen Road. Phone +263913558905)
If I didn’t actually see the Spook House ghost, I did do a double-take when a friendly Maltese terrier, startlingly dyed nipple-pink, stopped to wag a welcome and one of a pair of goats stuck its head nosily through the window!