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Careful Where You Step!

Recording and reminiscing; with occasional bokdrols of wisdom. Possibly.

Random, un-chronological memories after marriage, children and sundry other catastrophes.

– this swanepoel family –

My pre-marriage blog is vrystaatconfessions.com. Bachelorhood! Beer! River trips! Beer!

bokdrols – like pearls, but handle with care

Natural Health Drink

The conifers are a wonderful group of trees including pines, yellow-woods, redwoods, junipers, cypresses, larch and spruce trees.

From the bark and sap of the pine one can distill TURPENTINE; and

From the berries of the juniper one can distill GIN. – . . . sort of . . .

YAY!!

Juniper berries are actually modified pine cones, but fleshy and edible.

Gin was first mentioned in the 13th century (in Belgium – called jenever) and the first recipe for gin was written in the 16th century.

For all our lives we’ve had to drink London Dry Gin.

Now we can drink JOBURG DRY GIN!

YAY!!

Now, don’t tell anyone, but gin is actually distilled from ANYTHING and then that clear spirit is just infused with juniper berries to make it taste (slightly) better. It’s cheap! Shhh

The way they ‘infuse’ it is to sommer bliksem whatever they’re adding, into the container holding the gin (called ‘bathtub gin’); or to go fancy by sort of ‘steaming it with the botanicals.’ Right!

Gin was REALLY popular in London around 1750. Cos it was cheap, it was loved. So much so that there were 7500 ‘Gin Joints,’ and being drunk was called being ‘gin-soaked’ and gin was called ‘mother’s ruin’. In Victorian times Gin made a comeback in ‘Gin Palaces.’ Same thing, but slightly higher-toned.

So tonight we’re drinking – Local; – Anti-malarial; – Convivial – GIN & TONIC

To get gin-soaked and experience mother’s ruin.

And because IT’S MEDICINAL.

Tonic

The poms in India had to drink quinine to stay alive. Being poms, they mixed the quinine with gin.

It tasted awful but they persevered. They’re poms.

Someone began mixing the powder with soda water and sugar. That was a bit better, and thus a basic tonic water was created. That way the poms drank more gin.

The first commercial tonic water was produced in 1858.

So: The mixed drink “gin and tonic” originated in British Colonial India when the British population would mix their medicinal quinine tonic with gin. They’re poms, see.

So remember: IT’S MEDICINAL.

YAY!!

To make Pink Gin or Pink Tonic:
Simply add Angostura bitters, a botanically infused alcoholic mixture, 44.7% ethanol, gentian, herbs and spices, invented by a German doctor in the town of Angostura, Venezuela on the banks of the Orinoco River.

And remember it too, IS MEDICINAL!

Cheers!

~~~oo0oo~~~

More Palmiet Privilege

Spring has sprung.

~~~oo0oo~~~

2007 M.A.H.E.M Hysterical Tour

Ken Gillings led us on a Magical Avian and Historical Expedition to Memel in the Free State in 2007.

Mahems – Crowned Cranes who trumpet ‘Ma-Hem!’ as they fly overhead – are found year-round in Memel, but I can’t remember if we saw any. They’re nomadic, so they come and go. Did we see any? Someone may remember.

The reason birders go to Memel is the vleis – the marshlands – the wetlands

. . and the grasslands – the vlaktes – wide open spaces

Or, if you’re a history buff, cos kak happened here. Here’s Ken telling us what shit went down here, right here, on this spot

– right over there, Steenkamp shot Poncenby – morsdood – war is hell, I’m not to blame –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Maputaland Meander

Re-post from 1992 when Mike & Yvonne Lello kindly lent us their Isuzu Trooper 4X4 for a breakaway (OK, another breakaway) where I knew we’d be on soft sand and needing 4X4.

Aitch was impressed with out first stop: Luxury with Wilderness Safaris at Ndumo, grub and game drives laid on. Ice in our drinks. Boy! For an oke who usually sought compliments if the ground she had to spread her sleeping bag on was softish, I was really going big! In our luxury permanent tent on a raised wooden deck with kingsize four-poster bed, she had fun with the giraffe’s dong, saying what a decent length it was – implying something? I dunno. ‘It’s his tail,’ I said, spoil-sportingly. ‘Or her tail.’

Magic walks among Sycamore Figs and drives among Fever Trees.

– my pic from a later visit –

So where are we going next? she asks. ‘You’ll see,’ I said airily. Hmm, she said, knowingly, raising one eyebrow but saying no more . . .

This Isuzu Trooper was magic – just the right vehicle for our Maptuland Meander. Leaving Ndumo, we drifted east to Kosi Bay and inspected the campsites, then drove on to Kosi Bay Lodge. ‘I’ll just run inside and arrange things,’ I said, optimistically.

So I walked into the lodge and came out and said, ‘We’ll just camp outside the gate, I brought a tent!’ Ha! You hadn’t booked! I knew it! Aitch announced triumphantly. She’d known all along. She actually loved it. She didn’t really mind the roughing it and the uncertainty and she LOVED catching me out and teasing me about my disorganisation.

Afterwards, Aitch would tell people there had been a bit of muttering and a few mild imprecations erecting the unfamiliar tent, which I’d also borrowed from the Lellos. It had poles that seemed unrelated to other poles and it was dark. OK, she actually told of some cursing. Loud cursing. The air turned blue, she would exaggerate.

The next night we camped in a proper Kosi Bay campsite. They are very special sites, we love them.

Borrowed Lello's tent, too

We drove along the sandy track to Kosi mouth:

ndumo-kosi-mabibi-isuzu-1
– fish traps in the estuary –

Then onward, southward. Where are we staying tonight?, she asked sweetly. ‘You’ll see,” I said airily. Hmm, she muttered knowingly, raising one eyebrow. Well, let me just say ONE thing: We are not staying at Mabibi. The newspapers have been full of stories about bad guys at Mabibi. ‘Izzat so?’ Yes. We can stay anywhere but Mabibi.

Through bustling KwaNgwanase town . .

Now we were on my favourite road in all of South Africa: The sand roads through our vanishing coastal grasslands. Some kids shouted Lift! Lift! and hey! ubuntu! and anyway, it’s Lello’s car . . .

Well, Rocktail Bay Lodge was also full and we drove on as evening approached. The fire watchtower man had knocked off and was walking home. We stopped to ask directions, then gave him a lift so he could show us the way. He settled down into the bucket seat, pushing Aitch onto the gear lever, taking us left then right then left – straight to his village. As he got out he pointed vaguely in the direction of Mabibi. ‘You can’t miss it,’ I think he implied.

You are going to Mabibi, aren’t you? I knew it! said the all-knowing one. ‘Well, there’s nowhere else,’ I mumbled. When we got there she surprised me by saying Let’s just sleep under the stars, I’m too tired to pitch the tent. So we did. My brave Aitch! Here she is next morning.

Mabibi Camp. Aitch aziz

Soon after we arrived a night watchman came to see us. His torch beam dropped straight out of the end of his torch onto his toes, so I gave him new batteries. He was so chuffed! A torch that worked! Those bad guys better look sharp tonight!

The next day we drove the best part of this perfect road, past Lake Sibaya.

– the Indian Ocean behind the dunes and Lake Sibaya at our feet –

One more night, in relative luxury, if the little wooden cabins at Sibaya camp can be honoured with such a flattering description! I think they can, but I was over-ruled.

Then we hit the ugly tarmac highway home. A very special place, is Maputaland.

~~~oo0oo~~~

TomTom Homework Book

Found an old primary school workbook of Tom’s. School was not his very best thing.

– Tom starting a new school –

He summed up school as –

S.ix C.rual H.ours O.f O.ur L.ives !!

Math –

M.ental A.buse T.o H.umans !

Homework –

H.alf O.f M.y E.nergy W.asted O.n R.andom K.nowledge !

. . . and ended with a heartfelt plaintive broadcast question; I suspect not really expecting an answer –

In The Name Of Jesus, Why Does School Exist!?

– hurry up and take it, Dad – at least I can wear civvies today – last day of term –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Cars n Aeroplanes

January 2010:

Have you checked my white horse? Well, white VW kombi – WHICH . . was towed into the garage while on holiday two days before new year. Today I towed it again – to a clutch place. I’ve been driving Trish’s ole man’s 1980 Opel Kadett. He handed me the keys, his vision is shot. Glaucoma and deciding not to use the drops for years as they irritated his eyes and blurred his vision. He was right, xalatan is a bitch. But . .

I await the verdict on the kombi’s clutch – which I hope is better than VW’s R17 290.

I KNEW I shoulda fitted a Stromberg.

Peter Brauer wrote:

How thick can ONE man be?

Read what you wrote: ‘Been driving Trish’s ole man’s 1980 Opel Kadett.’

Do you not see the message in that? Let me help you: 1980……Opel . .

Give the kombi to the clutchplate and buy a fucking Opel. Of ALL people I thought you would have learned something as a student.

I wrote:

Problem is – no matter how hard I try – I don’t get the 1980 feeling driving it. I just remember Kevin Stanley-Clarke’s firm statement, as he drove us around Doories in his chocolate brown Alfa: “When driving, always watch out for old toppies wearing hats. Give them a wide berth.” My current cap says DAS Pilsener.

Also, clicking in the gearlock, fitting the steering lock, feeling the ceiling fabric fluttering on my bald head as I drive with all windows open – the aircon substitute. Then waiting for the misfiring to end after switching off – it all brings back TOO MANY memories.

PS: New crutch and “dual flywheel” (TF is that?): R9 900.

Steve Reed wrote:

Like I said: Buy a Toyota.

I wrote:

The WORST thing is, you’re right. As my Toyota patients never tire of telling me. With the Durban Toyota plant just down the road I see a fair number of them and their suppliers; and they have NO doubt as to what I should do. Trouble is: The Hi-Ace minibus has a bench seat – I can’t stroll back for a beer or a kip or to feed the kids. That’s a deal-breaker.

Steve wrote:

I never owned a Toyota in my life, despised them in fact, till arriving here in Australia and had to take the cheapest / most reliable / least offensive on the tweedie handsey (second hand) market.

Try standing on hot used car lots in the Brisbane heat !!!  Water boarding is a kinder form of torture.

Eventually when my head and body was about to be fully done in, I gave way and said “OK OK  I’ll take it”  and by some luck I was standing on the Toyota forecourt at the time.

VERY pleased I was not standing next to a Kia or a Holden Captiva.

As for the clutch, anything that can take six months of the good wife Wendy’s clutch abuse and still be on the road is ok for me. And I am brave enough to say this in front of herThen duck.

I wrote:

It’s a sad state of affairs that I will take anything that doesn’t give me kak in the line of cars and women nowadays.

Which reminds me:
Bob Ilsley was at Addington when I got there in my khaki uniform. He was in legs, I was in eyes. He made woorren legs for the hobbling. He’s turned 81 now, still flies the plane* he made in his garage – a Piper Vagabond – and waltzes around in rude T-shirts. One says, ‘IF ITS GOT TITS OR WHEELS IT
WILL GIVE YOU SHIT.

I’ve made glasses for him since 1980: Glass PGX execs; 3 cyl power, same axis; SAME heavy, dark Safilo zyl frame (same frame, not same type of frame), same add, same same; Tried changing a number of times to new frame, multi, CR39, flattops, different axis, whatever, and every single time we go back to EXACTLY what he had before.

Last year we tricked him. We made a free pair of CR39 flattops (‘temporary’ we told him) in a better frame (still zyl, but thinner) and made him wear them while we took his old specs and “searched for a frame just like his perfect one”. The search continued while his wife, all his girlfriends and mates told him he looked much better. Now he has stuck to them (except every now and then he walks in with his old ones on and kicks up a huge stink in the front office when its crowded about how “These bloody new frames you gave me are NO GOOD!”).
He’s a character. Sharp as  a whistle. He flies and signs off home-built planes – experimental aircraft – before they can be licensed.

* or would still be flying his Piper Vagabond tail-dragger if he hadn’t pranged it on take-off in PMB with his wife on board. He is re-building it in his garage now.

Bob’s Vagabond in his garage, being rebuilt after the PMB prang – never did fly again.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Anyway, owning a Toyota probly makes you more boring in the long run: You, for instance, would not have to catch a lift with friend Bruce to fetch your car in Umbilo Road (and the clutch feels kak, thank you).

We made a detour for lunch – a currie at Gounden’s. Gounden’s is at the back end of a panelbeating shop between Umbilo and Sydney roads. You walk thru the workshop to get to it. Lekker bare place, cheap tables with a big bar doing good trade. Many ous there for liquid lunch. We took quarter bunny mutton, made my hyes water.
Washed it down with Black Label and coke – one bottle, one can, long sips from one then the other. R80 for the both of us. Service: Of the Hey You variety. Ambience: Faint sounds of panel beating in the background.
Gounden opened this “restaurant” to spite his wife when they divorced. Her restaurant is a few shopfronts away, on the street: Govender’s Curry House. We feel in such cases of matrimonial argy bargy, we should support the husband.

~~~oo0oo~~~
My good wife Aitch also should be employed on a test track for concept offroad trucks along with Wendy. A mate from England visited and Aitch drove them around quite a bit while I worked to make money to take them all to Mkhuze. He drives ancient Peugeot heaps and lovingly tends them with kid gloves, keeping them alive long past their date de vente (sell-by date), so this was an eye opener to him. He said a Cockney version of Yussiss! and described how she takes no shit from a gear lever, nor a clutch. She knows first is somewhere up in that far left corner and she shoves the lever there without any how’s-your-father.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Bob is now 82. Last week he came in with his “Recycled Teenager” T-shirt. To proudly collect his – wait for it – Glass PGX Exec Bifocals in Thick Square Plastic Frame.
“Much better” he says.
His CR39 flattops were coated with a thick layer of some spray. Took lots of cleaning with acetone to get them clear and smooth. He did acknowledge they were clearer than they’d been in months. But the execs were better.

Today he’s back from passing his flying medical.
“Told you” he says.
“You wouldn’t lissen” he says.

Today he’s off to Kokstand to check if a home-built – built by the local hardware man – is safe to fly another year. He’ll certify it if all’s well.

Next week he’s on his way to Oshkosh in Wisconsin to the world’s biggest home-built aircraft show. Sleeps in a pup tent in the campground to save tom.

Last time he flew a simulator of the Wright Brothers’ first aircraft. Crashed after 3 seconds. Went to the back of the queue and stood in line again to have another go.
Flew it for 44 secs that time. Longer than the brothers themselves.

Steve wrote:

Amazin. Where do you get PGX glass execs from? That stuff is illegal here – we live in a nanny state though. Had a dude on the phone for 20 minutes wanting glass PGX trifocals.  Banging on about how he could buy PGX exec TRIfocals on the net if only he could get someone to fit them for him. Had not given up and had been trying for 18 months. PLUS of course being a veteran he needed to have them free. Veterans Assistance (V.A) here only does SV or bifocals, plastic only and a free pair every two years. Clear rules. He has been in battle with the head office of V.A. and after 18 months says he is beginning to make progress.  Fantastic. Over here if you whinge long enough, know how to use email, have time, and use the term “human rights” you can have anything. Just shout loud enough. Its all yours. And then the taxes go up.

I wrote:
Your veteran sounds like Bob.

On the execs, I got a definite NO WAY from Zeiss, Essilor and Hoya, but of course in Debbin there are lots of little one-man labs with family connections in places that keep Morris Oxfords running for half-centuries after their sell-by dates.

They woke up Hoya who then found a pair covered in dust. The add was +1,75 not +2,00, but I said “What’s the difference?” and we made them up. Bob’s as pleased as punch, like I told you. He loves a good “I told you so”.

Steve wrote:

Like Horseshoes and Handgrenades, closies DO count.  Excellent.

~~~oo0oo~~~

2009 D.A.F.T Hysterical Tour

Ken Gillings decided to make it more real this time: We’d actually walk the Fugitive’s Trail from Isandlwana to the Fugitive’s Drift across the Mzinyathi (Buffalo) River, then up a little way on the other side on Fugitive’s Drift Lodge land belonging to David and Nicky Rattray.

(Slides change every four seconds. To pause click top right corner. To speed up or go back, use arrows).

On the trail there was a bit of oofin’ and poofin’ – and some lying down and contemplating the sky.

It was 6km as the crows fly, but we weren’t equipped for flight. It took us a while, and when we eventually reached the next Quantum Leap (back into our taxis), it was good and dark. It was a lovely, unforgettable adventure.

~~~oo0oo~~~

I had run the trail before this – or the road more-or-less parallel to it.

Aitch’s Dogs

Aitch TC (2)

TC was her first dog, and she was Aitch’s favourite. She arrived while we were still living in our flat in Marriott road. She was a flat dog for a month or two and couldn’t believe the wide open spaces of our first suburban home.

Then Matt (because he wasn’t glossy when he arrived) came along and HE was definitely her favourite. Big time. She wept when he died, killed on the M13 highway one night. Bogart tried his best and she loved him too, but Matt was a hard act to follow, he was soppy and used to bring her dried leaves in his mouth as a gift! We buried Matt near the river at 7 River Drive.

Bogart River Dr (3)

Bogart (Trish’s maiden name was Humphrey) was third. He had a tail. Docking tails had been stopped – at last! What’s a dog without a tail? Shame, man!! She loved old Bogie. He was killed on the N3. Buried at River Drive.

And then came Bella! Bellisimo!

All the while, TC was still there, still the boss; wondering why we kept getting new tiny black nuisances which grew up to be bigger than her.

Now, make no mistake, Bella became Aitch’s all-time favourite. She loved Matt next best and Bogart too. Also Shadow and Sambucca in later years. And TC all along. But Bella!? She and Bella the Brak won the top prize at dog training. Her friend who won second prize with her pedigree German Shepherd turned to Trish when Bella won the last round and said “You know, Bella would fly if you asked her to!”

– Canine Academy Winners!! –
Family 2004 Frame 2
– Houdini the blonde pushy – Bella polite –

TC died of old age at River Drive, where we buried her on the banks of the Mkombaan river near the paperbark Commiphora, near Matt and Bogie. (Note to new owners: Don’t go digging too much in 7 River Drive!).

Yes, Bella you WERE her favourite, but then kids arrived and took over. And then Aitch rescued Houdini from euthenasia and look how he is pushing in while you wait politely as ever for your turn!

– Houdini the blonde –

Houdini escaped once too often, never to be seen again. Which is how we got him to start with: A friendly dog that no-one knew who he belonged to was given to Aitch by a vet.

So when we moved to Elston Place, Bella AT LAST had the family to herself. Didn’t last long: Aitch decided Bella ‘needed company’ and told me “Bella is lonely, I want to get her a puppy.” “Absolutely not!” I decreed, laying down the law as the boss of the house. “No more puppies!”

So she got two. Enter Shadow and Sambucca:

Sambucca was in danger of becoming “Sweetie” (Jessie’s choice of name!) so we sent out an SOS for a name for a pitch black dog. Terry Brauer came up with Black Sambucca – just right!

Bella died at 17yrs old, about a year before Aitch died. Aitch was right there with her when she died. We buried her in the garden at 10 Elston Place. Only Sambucca outlived Aitch.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Safari 2003

On our trip up north in 2003 Aitch and five year old Jessie kept a diary; when they got home they made this picture album as a memento of the trip. Enjoy the slideshow!

(Slides change every four seconds. To pause a slide, click in the top right corner. To speed it up or to go back, use the arrows).

~~~oo0oo~~~

High as a Kite (if you want to . . )

Faster than Light (if you want to . . ) – Moody Blues “The Best Way To Travel”

I’ve always wanted to fly. Who hasn’t?

But I dislike noise, so while my first flight in a light aeroplane – with an Odendaal or a Wessels piloting it – was great, and my first flight across the Atlantic in a Boeing 707 at seventeen was unforgettable, it was a glider flight that first got me saying “Now THIS is flying!!”

We hopped into the sleek craft, me in front and my pilot Blom behind me. Someone attached the long cable to the nose and someone else revved the V8 engine far ahead of us at the end of the runway of the Harrismith aerodrome on top of 42nd Hill. The cable tensed and we started forward, ever-faster. Very soon we rose and climbed steeply. After quite a while Blom must have pulled something as the cable dropped away and we turned, free as a bird, towards the NW cliffs of Platberg.

Up One Man's Pass - Down ZigZag Pass

“OK, you take the stick now, watch the wool” – and I’m the pilot! The wool is a little strand taped to the top of the cockpit glass outside and the trick is always to keep it straight. Even when you turn you keep it flying straight back – or you’re slipping sideways. I watched it carefully as I turned. Dead straight. “Can you hear anything?” asks Blom from behind me. No, it’s so beautifully quiet, isn’t it great! I grin. “That’s because you’re going too slowly, we’re about to stall, put the stick down”, he says mildly. Oh. I push the stick forward and the wind noise increases to a whoosh. Beautiful. Soaring up close to those cliffs – so familiar from growing up below them and climbing the mountain, yet so different seeing them from a new angle.

Years later I’m married and Aitch, having checked that my life insurance is up-to-date (kidding!) gives me a magic birthday present: A Hans Fokkens paragliding course in Bulwer KZN. We arrive on Friday night and check into an old house on the mountain side of the village.

Hans disagrees with Douglas Adams who said in Life, The Universe and Everything, There is an art, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Hans says you don’t throw yourself at anything with his wings, nor do you jump off the mountain. You FLY OFF THE MOUNTAIN! He tells me how airflow works and how wings fly and then feeds us from a huge pot of stew and we sleep. Luckily I had been through ground school before; years before, when Colonel Harold Dennis taught me how heavy things fly in Oklahoma.

The next morning we’re on the hillside getting air into the wing and learning to lift, turn, run and FLY! The first time you lift off you think No-o! Yesss!!

Soon I’m able to take off at will on the beginner slope and we move up the mountain. I love the fact that you pack your own wing in a backpack and carry it up the mountain yourself. My first flight was fantastic but short, basically straight down and a rough and tumble landing. My next flight is way better, way higher and way longer, as this time Hans attaches a walkie talkie to me and can tell me what to do. “Lean right! Hard right! More!” comes over the speaker and thus he keeps me in a thermal and I keep climbing. Fifteen minutes in the air, rising 100m above the take-off point! 

Aitch had gone off to read her book and chill, so no pics were taken of my soaring with the eagles and the lammergeiers!

Wonderful, silent, wind-in-your-hair flight at last!

bulwer paraglide
– this pic is not me but it was just like that! –

After that amazing and unforgettable quarter of an hour, I descend slowly, and by watching the wind sock I can turn into the wind at the last moment and land like a butterfly with sore feet.

Beyond stunning!!

~~~oo0oo~~~

~~~oo0oo~~~

A Gardener’s Wisdom

Bruce sent this:
always mow the lawn after 3pm.
Then the dog turds are dry !!

….

Me:
Hosed myself!! Just picked up some steaming ones this mornin’
Strategically placed by Sambucca the black labrador where I’m most likely to step in them.

I just KNOW she’s thinking “Ooh! UGHHHH! There! He can’t miss that one”.

….

Jon Taylor wrote:

Very thoughtful dog u have. But time to delegate the task.

….

Me again:

A few years ago I offered Tobias R10 a day to do it Mon, Wed & Thursday. I figured it wasn’t part of his JD so when I asked him I added a carrot. He said “Sure!” He’s no fool.

I offered my kids R5 a day to do it on the other four days. I got, “NO WAY” “Yecch!” “She’s not my dog, Dad!”
….

The gardener’s wisdom reminds me of my Clarens mate Steve Reed’s quiet wisdom.

On windless days he’s apt to murmur:

“Not a leaf stirred;

  Not a dog stirred.” 

(needs to be said out loud)

~~~oo0oo~~~

Molumong – Wool Trading Station

We stayed at an old sheep shearing station in Lesotho one winter – 2001. The innkeeper welcomed us on a chilly night with a deep bath full of hot water, a hot coal stove burning in the kitchen and warm friendliness.

We had taken our time on the way, so it was dark when we arrived.

The main lodge was the residence of successive traders who ran the Molumong Trading Station, the first of whom was apparently a Scotsman, John White-Smith, in 1926. He got permission from Chief Rafolatsane – after whom Sane Pass was named. Just look at the thickness of the walls of the old stone house in that open window.

We ate well by candle-light and slept warmly. The next morning I braved the outdoor chill. Overcast with a Drakensberg wind blowing. Sheep shit everywhere, from the front door step to as far as the eye could see, the grass munched down to within a millimetre of the dry brown soil. No fences, the sheep have to have access to everything growing.

I wandered over to the shed below the homestead where a Bata shoe sign announced:

“Give Your Feet A Treat Man!”

Soft Strong Smart

An elderly gentleman sat on a chair behind the counter, his small stock on the shelves behind him. I greeted him, taking care not to slip into isiZulu here in seSotho country. “Dumela” I said. “Good morning, lovely day!” he answered in an impeccable English accent.

He was the last trader at Molumong before it closed down, Ndate (Mr) Gilbert Tsekoa, who was retired and instead of trading wool and arranging the shearing, was now running a little shop in the shed, where locals and lodge guests could buy sweets, soap, headache powders, cooking oil, salt, rice and other basic necessities.

Molimong Trader touched up

WHAT an interesting man. He told me a bit about his life and the days of the wool trade. I wish I had recorded him speaking! Here he is with good friend Bruce Soutar on another visit. Ndate Tsekoa is the younger-looking one with hair. Bruce and his optometrist wife Heather kindly arranged for Ndate Gilbert to have his cataracts removed in Durban, which made his last years better and clearer. He passed away in 2009. Bruce tells me he sent his sons to study at Oxford University in faraway England.

Later, when the sun warmed up, I gave three year-old Jess a warm bath alfresco on the lodge front lawn. We’d put her straight to bed the night before when the hot water was available.

Magnificently isolated on the gravel road between Sani Pass and Katse Dam, surrounded by the Maluti Mountains, the lodge offers self-catering rooms and rondawels, serenely electricity-free  and cellphone-free: Truly ‘Off the Grid’! Three-day pony treks to southern Africa’s highest peak, Thabana Ntlenyana (3482 m) can be arranged with a local moSotho guide.

– Jess and I explore the grounds –

The house can accommodate twelve guests, the backpackers another eight and the rondawel sleeps two in a double bed. You can also camp in the grounds.

molumong lodge older

Contact them: Noma – Phone: (+266) 2700 9843 / 5399 9843  molumonglodge@mail.com –

I found two websites for Molumong Lodge: https://molumong.wordpress.com/ and https://molumongecolodge.wordpress.com/ – It seems one you’d book through a South African, the other direct with Noma who lives at the lodge.

~~~oo0oo~~~

We loved Molumong. So much so that we went again later that same year, meeting good friends Dizzi and Jon Taylor there. October, a lot greener.


Some Spring Sightings

Palmiet Nature Reserve is ready for Spring! We’ve had a cold winter, some early rain, wind storms and today a hot ‘Berg wind.’ Nature lovers in the Palmiet Rangers group have been spotting all sorts of interesting life in our valley.

Then some Palmetians went to Roosfontein and shot a Nightjar!

Meantime, Pigeon Valley in Glenwood has also been busy, with ‘Friends of PV’ honcho Crispin Hemson keeping us all up-to-date about his patch as always:

~~~oo0oo~~~

Oh, and babies! I forgot about the babies. When Spring springs, babies pop out . . Warren Friedman is the host daddy to these two broods. And the videographer.

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What a Lady

We were so lucky when we started fostering kids that Anna Kiza Cele was with us. She taught us which end to wipe and which end to feed. I’m sure she must have done some private eye-rolls at what we didn’t know!

– Um, OK, chapter one, page 12 –

Here she is with her big mate Aitch, plotting against poor me:

This year, 25 year later I whatsapp’d her – she’s farming down in Izingolweni now – accusing her and Aitch of ganging up against me. Her reply was four laughing emojis and “as we always did sometimes.” There you have it: An admission! They did! I’m not paranoid. Those two wimmin plotted and schemed. I had no chance.

After this contact I saw Kiza updated her status with a tribute to all the friends she’d lost to cancer. It started “I hate cancer!”

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Trader Horn and Me

Reading Tramp Royal again! So here’s a re-post from 2016:

I lapped up the famous Trader Horn books ‘The Ivory Coast in the Earlies’ and ‘Harold the Webbed.’ I’m still looking for their third book ‘The Waters of Africa.’ ‘Their’ being his and the special and talented lady whose sudden insight made it happen when she befriended a tramp at her door in Parktown Johannesburg back in the mid-1920’s – Ethelreda Lewis.

If ever the philosophy of ‘Be Kind Always’ paid off, it was in this tale of a friendship that developed after the reflexive dismissal of a tramp at the door of a middle-class Parktown home was changed to a sudden, instinctive ‘Wait. Maybe I will buy something from you . . ‘ and – even better – ‘Would you like some tea . . ‘

– Ethelreda Lewis on the Parktown porch where they wrote the books –

After reading Trader Horn I was then even more enamoured of Tim Couzens’ book ‘Tramp Royal – The true story of Trader Horn’, as it validated the Trader Horn legend – Alfred Aloysius ‘Wish’ Smith was real and he had got around!!

Couzens died in October this year, tragically – he fell in his own home. I thought OH NO!! when I read it. He was a gem, almost a Trader Horn himself – what a waste! Too soon! He did the MOST amazing sleuth job of tracking down all Trader Horn’s jaunts n joints across the world and revealing that – despite the skepticism that had followed the incredible fame and Hollywood movie that had followed the success of Aloysius ‘Wish’ Smith – now famous as Trader Horn – ‘s first book in 1930. MOST of what the old tramp, scamp, rogue and adventurer had claimed to do he had, in fact, done! Tramp Royal is a wonderful vindication, and a moving, fascinating and captivating read.

One (small) reason I LOVED the trader Horn books, besides the original title:

Trader Horn; Being the Life and Works of Aloysius Horn, an “Old Visiter” … the works written by himself at the age of seventy-three and the life, with such of his philosophy as is the gift of age and experience, taken down and here edited by Ethelreda Lewis; With a foreword by John Galsworthy

(phew!) . . . . . was the number of places A. Aloysius Smith – ‘Trader Horn’ (or Zambesi Jack or Limpopo Jack or Uncle Pat – he had aliases!) had been to that I have also been to:

  • Joburg, his least favourite city in the world. He was in a doss house in Main Street in 1925, I was in Eloff Street in 1974. Parktown, where Ethelreda Lewis ‘discovered’ him. He would have died there, unknown and in penury, had it not been for her sudden decision to listen to him tell a story. ‘Wish’ came to love Joburg, as did I. In Parktown he was in Loch Street in 1926, I was in Hillside Road in 1977;
  • Hwange in Zimbabwe, or Wankie in Rhodesia as it was then; – BTW, pronounce Hwange ‘Wankie’;
  • Harrismith, where he went with Kitchener’s Cattle Thieves to steal Boer cattle and horses in the scorched earth tactics of the wicked looting Brits; He showed his humanity by describing the Boer women’s sadness, and states – I hope its true – that they always left ‘one milk cow behind for the kids; and we called it Pansy.’ And Harrismith is where I was born and raised;
  • The west coast of Madagascar where our yachting trip to the island of Nose Iranja took us quite close to his ‘Chesterfield Islands’;
  • The east coast of Africa, although he spoke of Zanzibar and we visited Mombasa – which he probably visited too, as he sailed up and down the coast;
  • Oklahoma, where like me he befriended and was befriended by, the local Native Americans – his mostly Pawnees and Osages, mine mostly Apaches, Kiowas and Cherokees;
  • Georgia, where he behaved abominably and which I used as a base to go kayaking in Tennessee. He drank in a doctor’s house and I drank in a dentist’s house;
  • The Devonshire Hotel in Braamfontein, where both of us got raucously pickled;
  • The Seaman’s Institute in Durban where he holiday’d happily for two pounds a month while waiting for his book to be published; His editor needed a break from him and sent him off by train on the 2nd April 1926 to avoid the Jo’burg winter. My only connection here is drinking in the nearby Smuggler’s Inn. If it was around back then, Wish Smith would have gone there!
  • Kent, where he died in 1931; I visited Paddock Wood on honeymoon in 1988.
  • Wish himself would be saying, ‘What, you haven’t been to Lancashire!?’
trader-horn_3

I would love to see his river – the Ogowe or Ogooue River in Gabon. Everything I’ve seen on youtube verifies Aloysius’ lyrical descriptions. Here’s an example (but turn the sound off);

– Ogooue river –
– Samba falls upstream on the Ngounie river from Trader Horn’s trading post –

I also loved the unexpected success of the first book. Written by an unknown tramp living in a doss house in Main Street Joburg, the publishers Jonathan Cape advanced fifty pounds which Mrs Lewis gratefully accepted. Other publishers had turned it down, after all. Then the Literary Guild in America – a kind of book club – offered five thousand dollars! They expected to print a few thousand, and also offered the rights to a new publisher called Simon & Schuster, who hesitated then went ahead, receiving advance orders for 637 copies.

the tramp in new clothes! –

Then it started selling! 1523 copies one week, then 759, then 1330 and then 4070 in the first week of July 1927. Then 1600 copies one morning! Then 6000 in a week. They now expected to sell 20 000 copies!

Up to November that year sales averaged 10 000 a month, thus doubling their best guess. They had already run ten reprints, the last reprint alone being 25 000 copies. 30 000 were sold in December alone up to Christmas day. The story grows from there – more sales, trips by the author to the UK and the USA, bookstore appearances, talk of a movie. The trip continued until he had gone right around the world, drinking, smoking and entertaining the crowds with his tales and his exaggerations and his willingness to go along with any hype and fanfare. At his first big public appearance at 3.30 pm on Wednesday 28th March he spoke to a packed house in the 1,500 seater New York City Town Hall off Times Square:

William McFee was to have made an introductory address but the old man walked on the stage (probably well fortified with strong liquor), acknowledged tremendous applause with a wave of his wide hat and a bow and commenced talking in a rambling informal style before McFee could say a word. He started by quoting advice given to new traders: “The Lord take care of you, an’ the Divil takes care of the last man.” He spoke of the skills of medicine men, rolled up his trouser leg above his knee to show the audience his scar, and threatened to take of his shirt in front of the whole Town Hall to show where a lion had carried him off and was shot only just in time. When the aged adventurer paused to take a rest in the middle of his lecture, McFee delivered his introduction.’

His fame grew and he reveled in it.

Then suddenly, people started thinking old ‘Wish’ Smith’s whole story was a yarn, nothing but the inventions of a feeble mind, and wrote him off as yet another con artist – there were so many of those! It was the age of ballyhoo and fooling the public with bearded ladies, confidence tricksters and hype. Some critics grew nasty, depicting Ethelreda – without whom none of this would even have happened, and without whose kindness and perseverance Aloysius would have died in obscurity, never seeing his family in England again – as abusing ‘Wish’ for her own gain. The truth really was that she – in effect – saved his life; she certainly returned him to his family; and she enabled the kind of rollicking final few years his dreams were made of! He had people to listen to him; he had money to throw around! What a better way to go than dying anonymously in a doss house in Main Street Joburg!

The hype died, cynicism (the bad kind, not healthy cynicism) set in and old ‘Wish’ Smith – Trader Horn – died in relative obscurity with his family in Kent. It may all have been a hoax . . .

So was he real, or was it all a hoax? To know more, read Tim Couzens’ book – it’s a gem!

Here’s a silent movie of the old rascal on a Joburg street corner soon after he’d been kitted out in new clothes when the first cheque for his book came in.

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Here’s the full program for the 1931 movie.

Here’s the back page from the movie program. The movie, of course, was Hollywood – WAY different to the true story! An interesting facet was for once they didn’t film it all in a Hollywood studio; they actually packed tons of equipment and vehicles and sailed to Kenya and then on to Uganda to film it ‘in loco’ – although on the wrong side of Africa to where it had happened!

It was a landmark film of sorts that chalked up several firsts. It was the first fictional feature-length adventure shot on location in Africa (but the wrong location! East Africa while Aloysius’ adventures were in West Africa!). It was the first sound-era ‘White Jungle Girl’ adventure – many more would follow. It’s an old movie, sure, it is of its time; to me as a Trader Horn fan, the worst thing about it is: it isn’t the true story! Nevertheless, some rate it as ‘surprisingly engaging and worth checking out’ now that it’s been reissued on DVD. (NB: See the badly-made 1931 movie, not the worse-ly-made 1973 remake).

Trader Horn pamphlet

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Trader Horn wrote glowingly of a real lady he met on his river: an American missionary, Mrs Hasking. She died on the river, and Trader Horn took her body down river to be buried. I found out more about her here.

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Here‘s a much better, two-post review of the Trader Horn phenomenon – and Tim Couzens’ book – by fellow ‘tramp philosopher’ Ian Cutler. Do read it!

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On 27 October 2016 I wrote to Ian Cutler:

Sad sad news today: Tim Couzens the master tramp sleuth has 
moved off to join his Tramp Royal in the afterlife. 
At 72 he was about the same age as the old rogue at his death. 
Regards, Peter Swanepoel
Sad news indeed Peter. Thanks for letting me know.
Ian

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Palmiet Sightings & Discoveries

An exciting weekend in the valley; good sightings, plants to identify and maybe even a new species discovered!

The eggs – ?? – brought some guessing! I asked vegetable or animal? No-one knew. Fish eggs, with a water mongoose being the predator? Berries? Frog eggs? Crab eggs? Eel? Turns out Ingrid D’eathe had found them on the edge of her pond. Then Suncana posted a lovely flap-necked chameleon picture and she looked nice and chubby so I asked chameleon eggs?

Meanwhile on iNaturalist experts looked at them: Tony Rebelo thought regurgitated seeds? Wynand Uys thought eggs, reptilian or amphibian; Marion karoopixie said angazi; Johan Marais said not herp, maybe SNAIL; The mystery continues . . . So much we don’t know.

And the spider might be a new one provisionally dubbed The Red Widow; no ID yet; It (or one that looks very much like it) has recently been newly discovered on Table Mountain in Cape Town. Suncana has it on iNaturalist as a Cobweb Spiders Family Theridiidae. She’ll soon get comments and support, I’m sure.

What a special valley, our 110ha wood.

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