For some of us, it was our first overnight sleepout in wild country.
Not camping. Sleeping on a bedroll with a sleeping bag, under the stars, while lions and elephants roam free, nearby. The way our forefathers did it.
To do this, someone stands watch while the others sleep, and you take turns.
It was a great evening, clear, dark sky and crisp, beautiful stars.
We shared fireside stories and a simple meal, and by about ten, we were all drowsy, including those lucky enough to have the first shift.
The night was relatively quiet, with the odd unexplained crunch or rustle, but no big scary sounds.
Then came my turn to stand guard. Or, in fact, sit guard.
There was a foldout steel table and a chair for the watch, and after boiling some water on the embers of the small fire, I had coffee and sat down to do my three hours. It was two o’ clock in the morning, and all was good.
Behind me was a neat row of people sleeping peacefully. Well, one or two snored or snorted a little, others just rustled the leaves with heaving deep breaths, others still made small comfort sounds or farted discreetly or indiscreetly.
I love being on my own with my mind wandering around in uncharted territory, so I have to say standing guard was no chore, rather a pleasure.
I had a torch, which lay on the table near the trusty steel kettle, and from time to time I shone it at some small noise, real or imaginary, but out there on the savanna, all was silent, peaceful, and empty.
After about an hour, I heard a very slight noise about a hundred metres straight ahead of me. It was the most interesting noise. Sounding like a noise that something did not intend to make, but having made it, did the best to keep it as quiet as possible.
I picked up the torch, and was about to shine at the noise, when the first shockwave of the roar hit me.
I have to say, that if I wasn’t already up and alert, I would have had a serious sphincter problem.
The roaring was so loud, it was more of a physical assault than an audio experience.
This was backed up by the kettle, which vibrated off the steel table and collapsed with a clattering whimper on the ground.
At this point, I became aware of other, unusual noises behind me, so I reluctantly took my eyes off the three sets of smouldering eyes I could see in the torchlight.
Standing upright, looking for all the world like newly discovered and awakened Mummies of the African Bush, were the eight members of our slumber party, fully clad in their sleeping backs, complete with very large owl eyes.
‘I suppose you’re wondering why I called this meeting?’ I asked the Mummies, who werenot amused, trapped, as it were, in their sarcophagi.
The tallest of the Mummies, trails ranger Gary Freeman, of Gary Freeman Safaris, wriggled all six feet five inches of himself out of his sleeping bag, picked up his trusty .458, and came and stood next to me, watching the roarfest.
The lions, one male and two lionesses, lay there roaring their territorial imperative at us for at least another hour.
During this time, everyone had coffee, chatted nervously and excitedly, and then slowly migrated back to their cosy sleeping bags.
Gary and I have been friends for almost thirty years, so we decided to watch the rest of the night through, and struck up a conversation about lions in general, and these lions in specific, and our voices (or the subject matter), probably lulled everyone back to sleep.
The lions themselves were unimpressed with our lion knowledge, and showed their disdain by slowly getting up and marching off to other parts of their territory.
Gary and I talked until the dawn light, and I took away a few lessons from the night.
One. It’s not always the biggest noise that should get the most attention. Two. If you’re in lion country, nail your kettle to the table.