7 min read

Margo Williams Interview Part 3. Only Hotel in Hellsville

Margo and Walter Williams made friends and enemies in the stinking desert cannery town where giants dressed for low beamed church on Sunday. Next stop Hellsville.
Photo montage of Margo Williams and scenes of Whaler Station in Africa

Science and the Serious Case of Spontaneous Combustion

  • Warning Content includes graphic descriptions of cruelty to animals, including Whale processing

Summary of contents Part 3: Interview in Under a Minute | Night and Day in Cannery Row | Less Cats than Fish | Midnight at the Oasis | Breakfast in Hellsville | Whaler Wharf | Science and the Serious Case of Spontaneous Combustion. | Fossil Bone

Part 1 Margo Williams Interview. Africa. Heaven on Earth.

Part 2. Sweet Thursday in a Cannery Town

Interview in Under a Minute

Ghost-hunter Margo Williams and husband Walter escaped a war-cratered city of London and found themselves at a wooden town whaling station in the Namibian desert coast in Africa.

Out of the darkness of late night she walked into a bar in a desert-shack hotel heaving with English-hating Afrikaners. The air stank of cigarettes, alcohol, vomit and whale-blood.

Genius explosives expert Walter Williams summoned to solve the serious case of spontaneous combustion - exploding fish.

The Williams' journey to that moment offered a portrait of the couple, good times and bad. To Hellsville, on planet earth where “normal” is as relative as weird.

Night and Day in a Cannery Row

Evenings are short and nightfall comes early in the desert.

The lab became home to a stray cat. It just wandered in one day and I fed the scrawny creature. That was the trouble, perhaps I encouraged it. But nobody wanted it, so every day I put out scraps and milk for her. And as female cats do, she fell pregnant and produced a litter of kittens.

A week later, the fashionable Afrikaner lady arrived at the lab to see her husband. She brought a child. We hadn't spoken since first meeting, I tried to be pleasant as I explained the two men were at the cannery and should be returning soon.

She pulled up a chair to wait, sat glaring at me while nostril-picking daughter occupied her lap. Young son wandered out of the office, but she seemed unconcerned. We sat in silence.

From outside came the noise of a child's laughter followed by a weird splattering sound. I rushed outside to find the boy holding one of the kittens by its back legs, hitting its head against a wall.

Nearby lay the pathetic bloody bodies of the other two kittens. I grabbed the kitten from the child but it already was dead. The child screeched and began to wail with tears. Mother came racing from the lab and flew at me.

I tried to explain and the child screeched all the more. I pointed to the dead kittens; the mother cat was washing their corpses, her mournful mewling sounded counterpoint to angry Afrikaans' and tantrum.

The fashionable-booted woman kicked the mother cat on the side of the head, sent it against the wall where it crumpled to the ground and lay still.

“Plenty more where they came from, Redneck,” glowered the kitten-killer's mother.

There Are Less Cats than Fish in the Sea

Which was more or less what Walter said when I told him about the incident after I buried mother cat along with her kittens in the garden. He was in no mood to discuss it. He was preparing for his journey to the whaling station, busy in the lab gathering test tubes and petrie dishes, muttering “spontaneous combustion.'

He seemed obsessed, said it over and over. Someone's mistake. Walter raged, worked into a tantrum of his own adult grievance and bitter-blaming. He looked ready to explode.

I suggested perhaps we could go out somewhere for a walk, but he grumbled about not having time and there was so much to do. So I took myself out into the garden. Let him cool down. I thought of cats; thought of the fashionable woman. Thought of the black giants stooping into the funny wooden box and wished I was any place else away from the terrible cloying stench.

Photo image of Margo Williams with car in Africa
Taxi to anyplace else.

Midnight at the Oasis

When I returned to the lab, Walter was ready to leave. An hour to wait for the transport. Just long enough for me to pack. I told Walter I wanted to go with him.

“You won't like it,” he said.

'Can't be worse than here,' I thought.

We arrived during night, baggage-led to a large wooden building. The only building, so far as I could see in the darkness. After hours and hours of driving through the desert I felt glad to finally reach our destination.

But now, not so sure.

Light and raucous laughter spilled out of the windows. Walter walked up the step way but I waited at the bottom. “Come on.” He was tired and irritable. At least the smell in the air was different, but I didn't like it at all. Stench of marine blood and rotting flesh.

A fresh roar of laughter from inside followed by the sound of smashing glass. “It's the only place to stay,” said Walter before he disappeared through the door. I followed.

A man greeted us. I peered through the doorway into a room, white men drinking and smoking; a congealed pile of vomit close inside the door.

I hurried after my husband, he carried our bags upstairs. As we reached the top I heard a loud voice yell: “Don't lock your door, Redneck. We'll be up soon.” A roar of laughter assented to that.

No one came up in the night. Nothing would have woken me.

Breakfast in Hellsville

Next morning the place was deserted. We were alone at the breakfast table. Walter silent reading through his papers. “I hope you brought something good to read. The bar is best avoided in the evening,” he said at last.

“I can see that,” I said.

“And it's not safe to be alone out at night, either.” He put down his paper. “In fact it's not safe to be out alone during the day.”

I asked what I was supposed to do.

His reply was a cold shrugged, “You asked to come." But softened. “Come with me today and perhaps we can find someone friendly. But behave yourself,” he snipped. “We are in luck. They've just brought in a whale.”

I followed Walter along the street toward the sea; again the smell of blood and rotted flesh made me choke. Not much of a town. Only the hotel and a few wooden sheds. That was it; the hotel literally falling into the street. Soon the sheds would be the only place to stay.

Sand dunes surrounded the town. The whaling station was a more impressive collection of vast wooden sheds and jetties. Here and there lay rotting pieces of flesh covered in flies. The sight nearly turned my stomach.

Photo image of whale on African wharf
Whale on the Wharf

The Whaler Wharf

The wharf swarmed with black men and white men. Walter kept us at a distance but close enough to watch what happened. The whites all were Afrikaners I guessed; big crude men who leered and shouted obscenities at each other and the black men who hauled the huge silvery beast up onto the concrete.

Sunlight shimmered off the wet surface of the beast as it was roughly manoeuvred away from the edge to where a group of black men waited armed with saws.

In contrast to the obscene language from the whites, the blacks began to sing as they hacked into the flesh. Red spurted and cascaded everywhere, spattering their faces and bodies. The whites urged them on with even fouler swearing.

The stench of fresh whale-blood carried through the air in overwhelming waves but the blacks continued singing as the whites swore at them all the more.

Walter seemed fascinated by the spectacle, watched as if mesmerised while the flesh was carved into pieces and carried inside the sheds.

I looked away from the horror. But everywhere were reminders of the business. Above every doorway hung different marine trophies – jaws and teeth of sharks and whales, nailed to the wood in eternal screams of agony.

Spontaneous Combustion and the Appliance of Science

The appalling-spell broken, Walter steered me between two sheds, through another in which stood row upon row of filled sacks. I asked what it was.

“Fish meal,” Walter answered.

Through another door, out into sunshine; followed a path to a group of smaller sheds. Activity in one of them; men coming in and going out. I noticed something hanging over the doorway, but couldn't make out what it might be.

As we drew closer I realised, horrified what it was – a dismembered penis of a whale hung over the main office doorway.

Two rough-looking men pointed at me and laughed. I didn't want to pass under the thing but Walter pushed me inside. Someone scraped a chair across the floor for me to sit.

No greeting between Walter and the manager. Papers were raised, figures numbered. They set to with the problem-solving. I vaguely heard their yelling contest. Another ship on fire. The company couldn't afford to lose another load.

"My experiments are making progress," Walter insisted.

"Do something about it, bloody quick, Williams!" The manager cursed the university, cursed Walter and ordered him to stay all night and find an answer for the disaster.

“It is simply a matter of mixing the correct compound,” Walter replied. "Cover fifty bags of fish meal in one shed. Fifty in another and compare temperatures."

Heart and Darkness

That night Walter kept watch on his bags of fishmeal. He measured, and made notes of temperatures. During his absence, the door handle to our room was turned but the lock held and I didn't bother to tell him.

I couldn't sleep.

Saw the whale, its massive silver body thrown onto the floor; the singing black men ankle deep in its blood. The taunts and filthy coarseness of the whites relishing the awful dismemberment. And Walter, dressed in his white coat sticking thermometers into sacks of fish meal.

I sat on the small balcony, tried to ignore the stench of the whaling station and focus on the distant sea where the full moon cast light upon the waters leading to the horizon. I thought back to the night before our journey into the desert cannery town when I had freely wandered to the seashore to be amongst the rock shapes of my favourite beach.

Sometimes when I lay in the horrible darkness of the air raid shelter I would dream of a place like that.

Photo image of Margo Williams on Noordhoek Beach, Africa
Margo Williams and Elmer finder of a rare fossil on Noordhoek Beach, Africa

One day on that beach in Noordhoek, Elmer found a bone.

Thank you for your company on this introduction to Margo Williams' backstory. If you would like to know more about her investigations of the paranormal read this book. Now available from Amazon.

Cover book link to print or ebook from Amazon
Now available in print or ebook from Amazon