The joy of life for him in his job was Boston Stump, his great, white mule. Scarcely a day went by without him mounting Boston and going to different places with a Foreman on mule-back to inspect some work on roads or culverts or houses or other buildings that the dozen construction and repair gangs of the Olaria were occupied in carrying out. This tour of the work might take him a couple of hours, a whole morning or even a full day, but he seldom missed doing the rounds each workday, firstly because, as the Chefe, he felt he should show himself to the workforce and was not just an Office-bound boss and another reason was because he loved the riding. High up on Boston’s sure, firm back treading a route guided by B along the ways by which now he was so familiar, he felt at ease with himself and, as time passed, he became a familiar figure; people would greet him, sometimes stop him for a chat or make a request for some work to be carried out in their Company rented house. The riding kept him healthy and now, in his mid-thirties, he was as lean and as fresh-air fit, as anyone could hope to be.

In addition to this daily riding when working he would also go riding some week-ends with Ursula, out into the hills where they would gallop one behind the other on the hill-side paths that had been cut to run alongside the flowing waters that had been channelled for the Company’s hydro-electric system. These were called ‘regos’ and proved ideal for riding around mountainsides, sometimes in the full glare of the sun and other times through thickly wooded areas filled with bird-song in dim dappled shade with speckles of dancing flakes of sunshine. And even this was not sufficient riding for him; he would also organise mule rides whenever a demand arose from his workmates or their wives. Strangely enough this was not too frequently. Most newcomers to the Mining Company would ask him to arrange mules for them to ride at first but soon lost interest after a few outings. It was the human condition he supposed, to dream about having something or being able to do something and then to become disinterested as soon as this ‘something’ became readily available.

There was however an enthusiastic turnout for a mule ride from Belo Horizonte to Nova Lima with part of the route along the new BR3 Highway that was in the process of being constructed. When he and Ursula with Julie were holidaying at the Lake House at Lagoa Grande in 1955 and seen the work being carried out at a distance of a mile or so away on the far side of the Lake which continued throughout the night under arc-lights and they could hear the low rumble, like distant thunder across the Lake when the wind was in the right direction. The lights shone evocatively in the darkness, but it seemed like an intrusion because, up to that time, the whole, vast, empty landscape had seemed to belong only to them. The BR3 was being built to link Belo Horizonte to Rio de Janeiro, 500 kilometre to the South and was a sign of Brazil’s stirring to modernity.

The 120 Company mules were his responsibility and so it was an easy matter to arrange the details of the proposed ride. He sent two Camerados , Jair and Edouardo, to take ten mules over hills to Belo early in the morning. There they would be watered, fed and rested until the Company bus brought the excursion party into town at 9 0’clock. The mules were waiting for them at the pre-arranged place, a wide, residential road, paved with limestone chips and bordered with flowering trees and the outer foliage in the grounds of the mansions belonging to the wealthy owners. The only people astir at this hour in such a place were the servants, fetching and carrying or cleaning and polishing. They seemed to have no impact on the proceeding merging, as it were, into the background where they were pleased to be away from any spotlight that might suddenly pick them out with unwanted results. B guessed that having a posse of mules tethered along such a road would draw the least attention.

There was a sense of suppressed excitement within the group as they bade the bus driver ‘ate logo’ as he left them to return to Nova Lima and greet the waiting Camerados with ‘bon dias.’ and knowing smiles, while those who could by now speak Portuguese, asking how the journey had been over the sierra; this would have been a distance of 20 kilometres compared with the 30 or more kilometres they were about to make, detouring this mountain range. The mules looked fresh after their outward journey and B nuzzled Boston who stood out amongst the others by his size and his colour.

The saddle straps had been loosened for the journey over the Sierra and the stirrups, which were of the local type, of leather and closed at the front, had been tied up over the saddles. The mules had been pre-selected according to the choice of each rider and now these riders prepared their own saddle girth straps and stirrup lengths. Jair and Edouardo went round helping while B took photos of the preparations. There were John and Jean Bryant, Gerry Lee, Peter Laubster, George Elliot, Harry Lowes, Mike Thompson, Jean Dempster and Ursula and Bill Mason; a representative number of the new input of ex-patriates and their wives, except for Harry Lowes who was the only ‘old timer’ of the group. They did not know it but they were to be the last generation of ex-patriates in the one hundred and fifty year history of the British owned, Brazilian mining company.

The group comprised an easy acquaintanceship, laughing, joshing, bantering amongst themselves but, inevitably, as in any group and more so in such a confined location that existed in Morro Velho, there were underlying frictions; special likes and antipathies that were concealed at times in superficial camaraderie such as now, but revealed at other times when the tides of good-will ebbed, and resentments were aired. The atmosphere of general cheerfulness prevailed whilst the preparations were underway and when all was ready for moving off, the dozen riders spread out in single file as they made their way along the out-lying roads in a subdued buzz of talking, the mules’ iron shoes clattering on the hard core, stone surface.

The change from Mansions to hovels occurred within the distance of a few streets and B recognised the same sort of shacks on open ground he had walked through early one morning only a few months before. The BR3 Highway was not yet open to whatever little traffic there was at that time, and it would be a year before it would be ready for cars and lorries and other transport; meanwhile, all was deserted and it felt like progressing down a vast runway of a modern airport. On one side of this stretch of Highway there had been rising ground through which the bulldozers had cut a level and the exposed earth and rock seemed like destructive gashes made by some giant vandal. The constructors were paid by the cubic metres of earth shifted and, every so often, along the way, a rocky stalagmite reared upwards, left by the operators for the assessors to make their measurements from the top to ground level. Occasionally, an operator with a sense of fun had arranged his stalagmite so that a bush or small tree grew out of the top, perched aloft in tenuous isolation, its roots still holding on.

In places tarmac had already been laid down , but there were wider swathes of screened filling that were easier to ride on. On the side opposite the ‘cut’ was the ‘fill’ and then an embankment beyond which lay the empty plains of the West. Where they now rode would one day be filled with heavy concentrations of speeding, motorised traffic, of another age, which would both liberate and imprison the population in equal degrees. No longer would riders be free to make their way openly and un-restrictedly through the natural countryside as they were now doing, but the lorries would bring products and food to improve the lives of the people and cars would carry families to friends, relatives or to places for excursions or holidays. There can be no progress without sacrifice and in each one of us there is either a traditionalist or a moderniser and often both in uncertain measure.

With the two Camerados to oversee the little cavalcade B was free to circle around and exchange observations with each one of the group as well as ride beside Ursula and chat. he also did what he loved doing and that was subject the other riders to a mental review. With Gerry and Jean he had already engaged in a long mule ride (BLOG – A MULE RIDE 1); an even longer one with Ursula (BLOG – A MULE RIDE 2). He had made his first long ride in 1955 with Harry Lowes up the sierra they were now bye-passing, referred to in (BLOG – THE SERRA DO CURRAL). The name Serra is spelt differently due to local circumstances. Good old Harry, he thought – everyone’s favourite. He had been born in Nova Lima to his two ex-patriate parents and had done an electricians apprenticeship with the Mining Company. He had gone to England where he married Elsie from North Shields and now she and their two children were living in England while Harry worked here and would be retiring in a few years to join them there. And he was only in his mid-fifties. There were John and Jean Bryant; with John he was to make his last extensive mule ride ever in 1960 when they rode, as Company officials on the annual Company boundary check (BLOG – THE LAST ROUND UP). John was a man you could rely on, conscientious, hard working, thorough; a real asset to any organisation. Looking into the future John and Jean like six of the them in the group would be in different countries in a couple of years time when the British Gold Mine was taken over; they and their three children would leave for Canada. Only he and Ursula and Mike and Rose Thompson would remain in Brazil, but not here in Minas Gerais. Gerry and Moira and their baby would be in Ethiopia; Jean and her husband Eric and their baby would be in South Africa where they would divorce and Eric would become a Captain of Industry. Gerry and Moira too would divorce. Sad days ahead for some but now with the sparkle of youth they saw only the promising present. Then there was Peter Laubster, a mining engineer from South Africa, brought in as a last attempt to save the Mine like so many of these latest recruits. Peter was a level headed and wryly humorous person but his wife Lotte was Afrikaans and found it difficult in multi-racial Brazil and had refused to shake the hand of a black official at a reception. But she was a good organiser and ran many events for the community’s children. The Laubsters had never settled and went off to a Coumbian mine at the end of their contract. George Elliot was a reserved and discreet individual but underneath one felt he had great reserves and lived quietly with his wife Deirdre. The last of the group, Mike Thompson was married to the glamorous Rose who was born in Brazil and loved the social life whereas Mike, another unqualified Accountant like Gerry Lee was of a more reserved inclination and was rather overwhelmed with his lot in life. Like John Bryant he was reliable and hard-working and was rewarded in the Company’s dying days to be sent down to Rio de Janeiro as an accountant for some Holding Company put together by a group of the declining numbers of British businessmen in Brazil.

The group was strung out now as he concluded his mental summary of its members. Some galloped with exuberance, others talked or watched the landscape. It was easy going for the mules and the riders as this great, open stretch of a future Highway which lasted for some third of the way until Jair led the party into a cleft through the low hills to the left where a road was being cut to join it with Nova Lima. As they drew nearer to the town they passed fences with gates lying all in the open without houses which was unusual and he realised that this now precious land had been quickly acquired by the local businessmen and politicians who are always the ones to have prior information and knowledge of the Government’s intentions and plans. He knew already that Cecil Jones, the Mayor’s land had been levelled by the Contractor’s bulldozers and was planning to build a house with Company labour. Local corruption was done more flagrantly in Brazil than in his own country; indeed B was still naive enough to believe that such corruption did not occur in the UK.

After about the fourth hour the outskirts of the town came into view and the party headed for the Pensao Retiro Company Club where rest and refreshments would be waiting for them. There they would find the company of their more sedentary colleagues who preferred their drinking, billiards and other attractions of club life more than the discomforts of bouncing around the country on the hard back of a mule.