After a long gap from paddling I decided to relaunch my river paddling career, striking fear into the heart of all contenders.
I would need a boat. Being a cheapskate I searched far and wide, high and low and I found one far and low. In PMB dorp. A certain gentleman in fibreglass, Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw had one for sale at a bargain price. His glowing description of the craft made me know this was the boat with which to relaunch – OK, launch – my competitive career in river paddling.
At Hugh’s place he showed me the boat and it did indeed look pristine. I went to pick it up and load it on my kombi’s roofrack, but Hugh held me back with a firm, ‘NO. Let me have that done for you!’ Customer service, I thought. User-friendly. So I watched as he got his two biggest workers to load the boat for me, which they did with ease. Big, strapping lads.
On the way back to Durban the kombi seemed to be struggling. I had to gear down on the hills, never had that before. Strong headwind, I thought.
The boat stayed there till Thursday, the big day. The first day of my relaunched paddling life. The dice on the Umgeni river outside my Club, Kingfisher. And then I understood. Getting the boat down off my roofrack took a Herculean effort. When I plopped it into the water the Umgeni rose two inches.
I can say this: Rands-per-Kg I got the best bargain from Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw of that century.
While I was contemplating thus, Ernie yelled at me through his megaphone and the water exploded around me. What the hell!? All these fools around me suddenly went berserk, water was flying everywhere. It took a few minutes before calm returned and I was sitting bobbing on the disturbed surface. This tranquility was again ruined by Ernie yelling through that same damned megaphone: ‘Swanie what are you waiting for!?’
Jeesh! I headed off after the flotilla disappearing in the distance and after twenty or thirty strokes it suddenly came to back to me in a blinding flash of realisation: I knew why I had stopped paddling. It’s damned hard work.
Mother Mary (85 in 2013) went into Pick ‘n Pay looking for smoked hocks to use for making soup.
Two delightful ladies behind the butchery counter looked at her curiously when she asked for smoked hocks.
“What?” they asked “Smoked ‘ocks?”
“Yes,” she replied, “Smoked hocks.”
“No, sorry, we don’t have smoked ‘ocks.”.
“But I bought some here last month and made the most delicious soup!” Mary protested mildly.
The two of them looked at each other, turned to Mother Mary and the one said decisively, “We have never had a smoked ox in this shop.”
Friend Rita in Cape Town remarked: Reminds of the time I ordered two de-boned chickens. When I went to fetch them, the ladies at the cash desk were having a big discussion about my chickens. Eventually, one said, ‘Madam, we can’t let you have these chickens – they are flat!’
This is a re-post transferred from my Olden Daze blogvrystatconfessions.com– about growing up handsome and clever back in the old Vrystaat. If not that handsome or particularly clever, then young.
The story is by Harrismith author and historian Leon Strachan. For more pictures see it in Afrikaanshere.
Four Spies brothers lived in the Harrismith and Kestell district. These broers had very different personalities; it was said Andries fought for the Spies clan, Hans cursed for them, Frikkie drank for them and Martiens prayed for them.
Leon Strachan has kept this lovely tale of an amazing Eastern Free State character alive.
Andries was known locally as Thor, as his strength was legendary. People soon knew not to mess with him. Somewhere around 1920 a young Andries Spies went hunting jackals on Freek de Jager’s farm. The jackal escaped down an aardvark hole and the dogs could not get it out. Andries shucked off all his clothes and went into the hole butt-naked, head-first, taking a riem and a pocket knife. After fifteen minutes of noise and dust down the hole he came into view again, reversing out feet first. Covered in dust and blood he handed the riem over and said “pull’ – and out came the jackal. One of many instances told of where he did unusual things and performed unusual feats of strength and bravery – and foolhardiness? This story was to have an uncanny follow-up a century later.
He was a boxer, wrestler and strongman, and he was also a very wily showman and self-promoter. Legend has it he would hop on his bicycle, pedal to Bloemfontein – that was over 200 rough miles back in the 1920’s – enter a boxing tournament at Ramblers Club, win it and cycle home with the prize money!
One day in 1929 his neighbour came to him with devastating news: his fiancee had upped and offed with another man. Hugely upset, Andries packed a suitcase and left the farm without a backward glance. It would be ten years before he returned. In those years he was mainly a boxer. He fought in Joburg and Durban. One fight at the Seaman’s Institute in Point Road in Durban so stunned an English preacherman – Andries’ style consisted of a non-stop flurry of furious blows from the opening bell with no thought of any defensive tactics – that he christened him ‘Caveman.’ And the name stuck.
His next port of call was England. He left on a below-decks ticket with just £10 in his pocket and one extra set of khaki clothes. In London in his first fight he KO’d his opponent with his first blow. He could still get opponents after that as his build was not impressive – he looked average and he used that to his advantage, as he was often underestimated. Soon his reputation started preceding him and it grew harder to find men who would fight him, so he crossed the Channel.
A typical story was a fight in Stockholm where the ref tried to stop him as his opponent Anders Anderson was ‘out on his feet.’ But Caveman wanted him out off his feet! So he KO’d the ref! Spectators stormed the ring in fury – so he KO’d a few of them too!
The same pattern happened in Holland, Belgium and Germany: He would knock out a number of opponents, then run out of people to fight and move on. When this happened in Germany, he issued a challenge to Max Schmeling, heavyweight champion of the world: Fight me for 500 marks! Apparently this was all Andries had in his money belt. Eventually Schmeling gave in to his persistence and agreed to fight this Caveman character from South Africa.
Well, this was a horse of an entirely different kettle of tea! In his own words he approached Max in his usual crouched stance and received a mighty short right hook to the head and after that ‘I don’t remember much at all! Except a minute or two of gloves raining on me and then merciful oblivion! The biggest hiding I ever received, but well worth it, as I met the great Max Schmeling. He was a good sport – and after the fight he sent me back to my hotel full of beer and Rhine wine, plus an amazing 1000 marks! Schmeling gave me his 500 marks too!’
In Spain he knocked out ‘The Basque Wrestler’ Antoine Germatte in the first round – drying up any chance of further fights, so he thought he’d try bullfighting. One look at the bull, though and he decided ‘this is out of my league!’
His French opponent Leon Cartout was disqualified for biting the Caveman. After eighteen fights on the Continent, he returned to England, where a raft of better fighters were keen to challenge him as his fame was now such that they wanted to be seen in the ring with him. Things were looking up.
Then he caught a bad bout of flu and ended up becoming asthmatic. He got so bad in the English winter he decided it was home time. Back in South Africa he won a few good fights then ran up against the experienced Tommy Holdstock. He lost so badly that he decided to switch to all-in wrestling which had become very popular and was paying well. The showmanship also suited his extrovert and mischievous personality and his remarkable strength.
In a typical rabble-rousing traveling series he fought a Russian named Boganski, who became a great friend. They toured the land. The legend of Caveman cycling to Bloemfontein was well-known, so at each scheduled fight venue he would stop their car outside the town and get onto his bicycle; timing his arrival at the ring just in time for the fight, covered in sweat having ‘just got there all the way from Harrismith!’ This put all the locals on his side like – our poor man now has to fight this blerrie Russian when he’s so tired, having cycled so far!
The showman promoter in him loved public wagers. On the wrestling tour in Grahamstown he bet the local auctioneer, a Mr King, that he could carry a 200lb bag of mealie meal across the town square in front of the cathedral in his teeth without stopping. He did it, donated the bag to child welfare and publicity from the stunt filled the hall for the fight that night!
In Chodos furniture store in Harrismith’s main street the guys were ragging him as they often did about his strength: You can’t really punch a hole through a meal bag! ‘Bring it,’ he said, and walked away with £10, leaving Woolf Chodos and his staff to clean up the flour all over the counter and the floor. He couldn’t resist a challenge or a dare. In 1936 someone said he’d never walk from Harrismith to Cape town in less than ninety days. He did it in seventy three, averaging twenty eight miles a day. This one earned him £75.
Whenever the circus came to town Caveman would be there, ready to shine. Owner and strongman William Pagel‘s feats of strength and his control of the big cats soon made him a household name in South Africa, particularly in the countryside. Small towns loved the circus!
Pagel had a wild mule and offered £50 to anyone who could ride it. Many tried, including Moolman the policeman. Very soon there was Moolman, soaring through the air back into the stalls in an ungraceful arc. Caveman stepped up, jumped on and the mule went wild, bucking, backing up, scraping his legs against the railing, but Cavemans’ legs were firmly hooked under its ‘armpits’ and he rode every move. In the end the mule lay down, exhausted, Caveman still astride it. Get off, said Old Pagel, ‘No, first give me my £50,’ said Caveman. Get off first, said Pagel. He then refused to pay on the grounds that Caveman ‘wasn’t allowed’ to hook his legs under the mule! Caveman threatened ‘Pay me or I shut down the show. Honour your bet!’ Two Alpha males at bay, both famous! Caveman got his due.
Stanley Boswell also had challenges meant to draw the crowds which drew Caveman like a magnet. He had a strongman lifting weights on a wooden platform. ‘Any non-professional weightlifter who can match (exotic strongman name – maaybe Otto Acron?) will win a prize!’ he boasted. The Harrismith crown bayed for their hero, ‘Show him Caveman! Wys hom! Show him!’
Caveman stepped up, nonchalantly lifted the main man’s maximum weight and looked at Boswell. Boswell, knowing Spies’ reputation, said, ‘No, you’re professional,’ ducking out of his responsibility. Caveman looked at him, looked at the crowd and slammed the weights down, wrecking the stage as the crowd roared their approval.
Stories grow. Seldom will a re-teller tell a milder story than the original! And so Caveman’s legend grew. Not only did he ride a bicycle to Cape Town; when he got there he boarded a ship to America; the ship sank and he had to swim more than halfway across the Atlantic; arriving in America just in time (covered in sweat?) for a fight against Joe Louis! Of course, he bliksem’d Joe, caught a ship back to Cape Town, where he got on his bicycle and pedal’d back to Harrismith to calmly tend to his flock of sheep! Of course . .
In our time in Harrismith – fifties to seventies – Hansie and Pieter Spies were legends in their own right. Nephews of Caveman, they would apparently tell stories of this special and unusual extrovert uncle. In his old age his right hand started shaking – probably the beginnings of Parkinson’s disease. Challenged, he would blurt, ‘Ag, it’s my hand! Leave it alone if it wants to shake! Or I’ll donner you!’
A Century Later
Truth is stranger than fiction! In 2020, just about one hundred years after Andries went down an aardvark hole to drag out a jackal this video appeared on youtube:
It went viral and I saw it on two of my whatsapp groups. Soon after, Leon Strachan messaged me: Hi Pete, Do you remember how Caveman crawled down a hole to drag out a jackal? Pure madness! Well, believe it or not, the people in this video are my neighbours and the man down the hole is a great grandson of Hans Spies – Caveman Spies’ brother!
The strain of eccentricity lives on! Mind you, it is getting diluted. Notice how he kept his clothes on?
None of this is new, you’ve seen it all, but I hope by showing you where it comes from that you’ll be better equipped to handle anti-mask bullshit from bloviaters.
Masks make a difference. They do help. How do we know that? I’ll show you. Usual mea culpa: I’m an amateur who believes the experts – and only the experts, based on real research – not an expert myself.
I’ve gathered some of what experts have done – and then what they say. After that, we’ll check the anti-mask “evidence” spread on social media by non-experts who often say what HUGE experts they are, then tell you masks are bad without doing any experiments (cos designing, then doing, good experiments is not easy and it takes time) and without any valid evidence.
First, why even talk about masks? Because we breathe. We all know people who emit spittle as they talk, and we dodge them and stand back when they get excited! But we don’t all realise that we ALL emit droplets when we speak. Here are two graphs in the same block of someone saying the words “stay healthy” while wearing a mask and while not wearing a mask. The person’s emissions were video’d under special conditions (check the link):
Here’s a snapshot of one frame in the video, which corresponds to the top bigger red arrow in Panel A – the highest number of speech droplets visualized in an individual frame of the video recording.
OK, so we have evidence that we spray. Of course, your Granma knew we spray germs when she told you to ‘catch your cough’ and when she avoided you when you had a cold (which is also a corona virus).
Next we found out that COVID-19 can be found on way smaller droplets than these – called ‘the aerosol effect.’ Now you need to not just avoid being coughed on or ‘spoken on,’ you need to be wary of the air where people have been, as aerosol particles linger WAY longer and travel WAY further than the bigger droplets which led to the 2m ‘social distance’ guideline (which politicians and businessmen soon reduced to 1,5m, down to 1m, down to ‘full taxis’ – side-by-side. These reductions were NOT done for our safety, BTW!).
Next, we (“we” – scientists on behalf of “us” – humans who know the scientific method is the best way to investigate things) looked at old epidemics and noticed there was less spread in places where people are used to wearing masks. In April already, this effect was noticed in the current pandemic too.
Next, scientists looked at 172 studies on corona-type viruses. After very careful analysis they gave a sober, cautiously-worded statement (this is a tiny excerpt – click the link to read the full study): ‘We found evidence of moderate certainty that current policies of at least 1 m physical distancing are probably associated with a large reduction in infection, and that distances of 2 m might be more effective, as implemented in some countries. We also provide estimates for 3 m. The main benefit of physical distancing measures is to prevent onward transmission and, thereby, reduce the adverse outcomes of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Hence, the results of our current review support the implementation of a policy of physical distancing of at least 1 m and, if feasible, 2 m or more. Our findings also provide robust estimates to inform models and contact tracing used to plan and strategise for pandemic response efforts at multiple levels.The use of face masks was protective for both health-care workers and people in the community exposed to infection, with both the frequentist and Bayesian analyses lending support to face mask use irrespective of setting.’
The most recent study I found was in Denmark where masks were not compulsory and most people did not wear them. A trial showed that people who did wear them in a randomised trial did get some benefit, even when all others around them were not wearing masks.
SO: You’ve always known this, but which is the best mask to use? Its not important. Comfort is probably the most important consideration, as wearing it comfortably and consistently is key. Having the ‘world’s best mask’ around your chin helps a rich, approximate, earth-shattering, statistical fokol. That’s zero. May as well strap it around your wrist fgdsake.
If you want a suggestion, surgical masks are generally more protective than cloth masks, and some people find them lighter and more comfortable to wear. The bottom line is that any mask that covers the nose and mouth will be of benefit. The concept is risk reduction, not absolute prevention. Don’t not wear a mask ‘because it’s not 100 percent effective.’ That’s just silly. Nobody thinks burglar guards are 100% effective, they install them to substantially reduce their risk.
Remember ‘All I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten?’ Wash your hands often and well; Wear your mask; Keep more distance than you think (3m is better than 2m is better than 1m is MUCH better than french kissing); Avoid closed spaces (any indoors if you can help it; at least reduce that ‘essential’ indoor time); Avoid people (yeah, yeah, as far as you can – and that’s usually more than you do; also reduce your time spent with them); Get your groceries delivered (Checkers charges R35 to deliver up to 30 items within one hour – it costs you more to drive there and back and you’re rating your time at R0 – How much time have you got left on earth? Correct, you don’t know. But you do know that it’s precious).
What about “scientific evidence that PROVES masks are bad for you”?? Search for it. It will take you to wacko sites that tell blatant lies absolutely routinely. Always check the sites on wikipedia; and check their claims on snopes.com, and other fact-checking sites. Here are ten of the best fact-checking sites. Use them!
The Federalist is one bullshit site. They also publish false information and pseudoscience that is contrary to the recommendations of public health experts and authorities; and fake news about election results. Trump fans.
Typical of these sites’ disinformation was taking the Denmark study I mention and saying “A study in Denmark proved that masks are useless for COVID-19,” instead of the truth: The study found that face masks did not have a large protective effect for wearers — but did provide some protection to wearers, and did also provide benefits to other people. Note the difference in language: The DEFINITE conclusions by bullshitters; vs the CAUTIOUS conclusions that real scientists take, knowing things may change.
Another instance was taking one case of a driver who crashed his SUV into a pole in new Jersey on April 23. He blamed his collision on his mask. He told police he passed out because he’d been wearing an N95 mask for too long. Initially, the investigating officers believed him, writing in a Facebook post that he was the only person in the car and passed out due to “insufficient oxygen intake/excessive carbon dioxide intake.” The driver’s bulldust went viral! The police department later updated their post, stating that they didn’t know “with 100% certainty” that “excessive wearing” of an N95 mask was a contributing factor to the accident. They added that “it is certainly possible that some other medical reason could’ve contributed to the driver passing out.” But bullshit websites crowed “masks are bad for you, you get too much carbon dioxide!’ – and people who should know better forwarded and forwarded without checking (please don’t do that). A quick check can show you: actually, you don’t.
Another website The Gateway Pundit “is known for publishing falsehoods, hoaxes, and conspiracy theories.” So when they tell you ‘All the experts are wrong, we have scientific proof masks are bad for you!’, check their research, then check some real research – and then dismiss them with the contempt they deserve.
Go and find a fact-checking site now. A slightly different ‘ten best’ are suggested here.
There’s also AfricaCheck.org for checking bullshit in Africa – we sure need them, so I sent them a donation. Go and see how they caught Herman Mashaba bullshitting.
Oh, and please note I use the term BULLSHIT very deliberately. It’s a real thing:
In his essay On Bullshit (originally written in 1986, and published as a monograph in 2005), philosopher Harry Frankfurt of Princeton University characterizes bullshit as a form of falsehood distinct from lying. The liar, Frankfurt holds, knows and cares about the truth, but deliberately sets out to mislead instead of telling the truth. The “bullshitter”, on the other hand, does not care about the truth and is only seeking to impress.
Quote: “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”
Bullshitters can exhaust you. As Alberto Brandolini’s Bullshit Asymmetry Principle states, “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.” Dr. Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work seems like a very good and kind and decent person. Because she suggests we use generosity, empathy, and curiosity when speaking truth to bullshit (e.g. “Where did you read this? or Where did you hear this?”) can go a long way in our efforts to question what we’re hearing and introduce fact.
Trying to stay on top of COVID news? We have no choice but to do so, to best protect ourselves and our loved ones. It’s stressful and draining, but essential.
This post is paraphrased and shortened from an article by Alanna Shaikh, a global public health expert and a TED Fellow, for tips on how to navigate this information overload while staying safe and sane. ( for full article, see here )
1. Look for news that you can act on
When you’re trying to figure out what stories to stay on top of, ask yourself: “Will having this information benefit my life or my work? Will it allow me to make better-informed decisions?”
Accumulating masses of information that you can’t use isn’t so helpful.
For most people, the most critical information for you to follow is how the virus is transmitted. Scientists are still learning every day about how people get infected.
2. Turn to trusted sources
If something reaches you on your whatsapp or instagram in Blikkiesdorp, chances are people professionally covering the pandemic heard it before you did.
So go and see what they say about it. COVID-19 has been heavily politicized, and even some major news sources are basing their content more on opinion than on science.
You can generally trust the accuracy of top news sources like Nature,Wiredand The New York Times — to name three examples.
Why? Cos their reputations are at stake. And they have the kind of budget that lets them hire full-time journalists who will stand by the facts or who rely on fact-checkers to verify their information.
3. Check where their information is coming from
No-one actually KNOWS, so be wary of articles or sources that claim to have a definite answer to a complex question.
Right now, there is no consensus about a timeline — these people and organizations are simply offering their best guesses. Use fact-checking sites – find one here.
4. Look for news that works for you
For ordinary people whose expertise lies outside global health — i.e. us, you and me — find sources of information that you can read and digest without having to devote your whole day (or brain) to it. Like the Think Global Health website; it’s aimed at passionate non-experts. It’s not dumbed down, but it doesn’t assume you have a PhD.
5. Be prepared to change your behavior based on new information
No source is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you should disbelieve all sources. Research constantly changes and informs and shapes our ideas.
Remember when wiping down surfaces was the MAIN thing? Now, reputable organizations and scientists basically agree on masks, contact tracing and the existence of transmission of COVID by people who aren’t showing symptoms. If you get sick you will probably never know who ‘gave it to you,’ as they would have felt as healthy as you did the day the virus was transmitted.
Some of this info may change again, but we need to keep going along with best practice AS FAR AS WE KNOW TODAY.
6. Refrain from arguing with people who ignore the facts
Save your breath. Yours and theirs might be contagious!
You WON’T change their minds.
You are not a law enforcer.
Like it or not, this situation isn’t going anywhere. This pandemic is awful and complicated and changing. Finding our way through it won’t be smooth, nor easy, nor emotionally comfortable. It’s a constant, dynamic process of learning new things and adapting as we learn.
Lovely pic from the cover of Wits Review Oct 2020, magazine for University of the Witwatersrand alumni.
Boy, we had weather! Bright sunshine, then wind, then a massive ongoing thunderstorm at night, with the thunderclaps within a second of the bright lightning flashes. Then long flashes followed by bangs and long rumbles receding into the distance. Followed by really soaking rain. Then a cool cloudy day, less wind, but a stiff breeze.
Jess did her usual : ‘Dad, come look. What’s this?’
Lots of birds: I was fooled by a call I racked my brain for and then thought Ha! Goddit! A kingfisher: Woodland Kingfisher. Well, it was the Striped Kingfisher – a call I know so well, but I really am rusty!
Birds heard but not seen: Gorgeous Bush Shrike; Grey-headed Bush Shrike; Brown-hooded Kingfisher; Chinspot Batis; Boubou; Brubru; Camaroptera; Fiery-necked Nightjar; Purple-crested Turaco; Red-fronted Tinkerbird;
Seen: White-browed Scrub Robin; Cape glossy Starling; Black-bellied glossy Starling; Violet-backed Starlings – very active, lots of males chasing each other and investigating tree cavities; Scarlet-chested, Purple-banded, White-bellied Sunbirds; Lesser Striped, Barn and Red-breasted Swallows; Squacco Heron; Jacana; Cattle Egret in breeding plumage; Oxpeckers; Willow Warbler; Yellow-breasted Apalis; European Bee-eater; Bulbul; Sombre Greenbul; Golden-breasted Bunting; Crested Francolin; Crested Guineafowl; Yellow-billed Kite; Black-shouldered Kite; Rattling Cisticola; Yellow-fronted Canary; Yellow-throated Petronia (beautiful view of his yellow throat in sunshine, but me and my camera too slow to catch it!); Hoopoe; Wood Hoopoe; Scimitarbill; Reed Cormorant; Anhinga; Coucal; Ashy Flycatcher; Pied Crow; Red-chested Cuckoo; Cape Turtle Dove; Emerald-spotted Wood Dove; FT Drongo; Spurwing and Egyptian Geese; Hadeda; Grey Heron; Trumpeter Hornbill; Red-faced Mousebird; Oriole; Pytilia (Melba finch); Blue Waxbill; Red-billed Quelea; Red-backed Shrike; Black-crowned Tchagra; Grey-headed Sparrow; Woolly-necked Stork; Little Swift; Olive Thrush; Pied Wagtail; GT Woodpecker; Bearded Woodpecker;
Animals: Grey Duiker; Red Duiker; Kudu; Impala; Nyala; Wildebeest; Zebra; Lots of giraffe; No eles; No rhinos; No warthogs; No predators – Oh, one Slender Mongoose; One Monitor Lizard (water); Hippo;
We saw Patrick the Ezemvelo Field Guide and he recognised us again. ‘Where’s the boy?’ he asked and expressed astonishment that ‘the boy’ now prefers the city to the bush! ‘How long (this aberration)?’ he asked, probably remembering how he and Tommy had tickled scorpions all those years ago. 2009, that was!
A childhood friend is writing a lovely book on his mountaineering exploits and the journey he has made from climbing the mountain outside our town to climbing bigger and more famous mountains all over the world!!
Flatteringly, he asked me and a Pommy work and climber friend to proofread his latest draft. Being a techno-boff, he soon hooked us up on dropbox where we could read and comment and suggest.
I immediately launched in to making sensible and well-thought out recommendations which were instantly rejected, side-stepped or ignored, I dunno WHY!!
Like the title I thought could be spiced up. Three African Peaks is boring compared to Free A-frickin’ Picks!!! to lend drama and a Seffrican accent to it, right?! I know, you can’t understand some people. !
John, very much under the weight of a monarchy – meaning one has to behave – was more formal:
‘What is it with south africans and the “!”? (which is my major comment on your writing style!)
Well!!! Once we had puffed down and soothed our egos by rubbing some Mrs Balls Chutney on it, the back-n-forth started. I mean started!!
My defensive gambit was: ‘We’re drama queens!!’
My attack was an accusation: ‘Poms hugely under-use the ! In fact, they neglect it terribly! John was quickly back though, wielding his quill like a rapier:
‘Not true. We use our national quota. We just give almost all of them to teenage girls.’
I was on the back foot. When it came to the cover, the Boer War re-enactment resumed. I mean resumed!! I chose a lovely cover with an African mountain and a lot of greenery on the slopes. The Pom chose an ice wall, no doubt thinking of the London market. Stalemate.
Next thing he’ll be suggesting a stiff upper cover.
A strange thing has happened since John’s critique! I am using less exclamation marks! I have even written sentences without any!! It actually feels quite good. The new, restrained me.
Cecilia went home in March, as did Tobias. We thought it was for three weeks of COVID lockdown, but it turned out to be forever.
So now at last I was going to take the mountain of stuff she had accumulated while staying here, to her home in Mtwalume. She has always said she lives in Mtwalume. So with my white Ford Ranger loaded to the gunwales in the canopy and inside the cab – everywhere but my drivers seat, I headed south on the N2 highway. When I got to Mtwalume, I turned off the highway (1) – and phoned her.
‘OK, I’m at the Mtwalume turnoff. Where to from here?’
‘Go straight. There is a white cottage.’
Hm, there are about a dozen cottages, two or three are white. OK, which turnoff must I take – is this the right turnoff?
‘Go to Hibberdene, then look for Ghobela School.’ Ah, OK.
Back to the highway, seven kilometres later I turned off the downramp to Hibberdene (2); then turned right, turned right after Ghobela, turned right again past ‘Arts and Crafts’ and – just as she had said – there was a white cottage (3). Actually, two or three. Then there she was herself. Cecilia! Follow me, she indicated up a rough track.
I reversed up it, soon ran out of traction, engaged difflock and then eventually even that was no go. My wheels were spinning and when cow dung splattered on my rearview mirrors I stopped and we unloaded about thirty metres short of her house on top of the hill. Lots and lots of stuff.
The week before she’d come to Westville for our fourth attempt at satisfying the UIF requirements. This time we made payslips to match her Jan, Feb and March bank statements. Till today, still no luck. At least I could tell her to keep going, as Tobias had received a lump sum payment the week before!
The very next day she messaged me: ‘Morning Daddy. I hope you go well yesterday. I got my uif now. We thank you sir.’
The eels in the Palmiet River down the road lead an interesting life. And there’s still lots we don’t know about them. Especially me, so know this is a story of our eels written by someone who’d like to know more.
Firstly, there are about four species. I say ‘about’ as the number is likely to change as we find out more. So this is a composite of the interesting things I have found out. OK?
The thing about being an eel is you should never have children. Never. This is good advice for other species too, like Homo sapiens, but especially for eels cos once you spawn, YOU DIE! You’ve been warned. Usually eels can spawn after seven years, but if they don’t they can live to eighty five years of age! Child-free!
Here’s the potted version of my title – know that there’s lots more to know and probably lots to amend. So parts of the story won’t actually pertain to our Palmiet eels, but to other Anguillidae eels world-wide, especially European and American eels on which most research has been done. They are fascinating fishes.
The eels we actually see in the Palmiet River are usually adults. They could leave on vacation at any time, downstream to the confluence with the Umgeni River of Duzi Canoe Marathon fame near the Papwa Sewgolum golf course; then on downstream to the famous infamous Blue Lagoon; then out into the Indian Ocean and the inshore counter-currents heading north; I would warn them they should think twice about leaving our beautiful valley, but you know how these primal urges are.
All the way up between Mocambique and Madagascar, past Beira, past the mouth of the Zambezi River, to where Africa bulges eastward around Mocambique Island, and into the open ocean where they spawn. Once. The larger females laying up to twenty million eggs, the males emitting their sperm onto the eggs. This is likely done in very deep water, as it has never been observed. And maybe they’re shy. Because it has never been seen, scientists speculate about ‘mass eel orgies.’ You know how people are when speculating.
The tiny larvae hatch and drift with the current back to Southern Africa; the southward currents which flow east and west of Madagascar and join to form the warm Agulhas current flowing away from the equator. They’re now often called ‘Glass Eels’ for obvious reasons:
They drift down to the mouth of the Umgeni, recognising Blue Lagoon at night by the pumping music and the whiff of bluetop and dagga drifting to sea; up the Umgeni they go, then ours hang a left up our Palmiet River. Others carry on up the Umgeni. All the while going through larval stages and getting more pigment as they go.
Then, seven to eighty five years later they may get an urge, just as their parents did before them, and head for the ocean again. ‘Again,’ in our story, but for the first time for each of them. Each one only does the homeward journey once, as a juvenile, and the spawning one-way journey once, as an adult.
The well-known story of the salmon migration has been told and shown so often it helps to explain the eel migration; Just the opposite of the salmon, our eels are freshwater fish that spawn in the sea; Ours spend most of their lives in the Palmiet, just taking this incredible, Every-Vaalie’s-Dream vakansie by die see to spawn.
We might be thinking what a hard journey. But ours have it easy. If an eel needs to get back to where Mom and Dad lived on the Zambezi it has to bypass Cahora Bassa and Kariba dams! Is that even possible!? Indeed it seems to be. They move overland if they have to!
Of course with everything in nature the story includes Homo sapiens. What we do. We transport eels, elvers and eggs to where they shouldn’t be; We introduce parasites from one area to another; We farm them, chopping up other fish to feed to them; We catch them to sell as sushi or jellied eel by the ton – so much so that catches are down to 10 to 14% of what they used to be in Europe. When the scarcity became known we stopped catching and eating them, right? No, the price just went up, businessmen offering over R20 000 per kilogram. Don’t eat eels; Don’t buy eels! Please. They’re endangered.
Next time I see an eel in the Palmiet I’m going to tell him or her: Stay put! It’s a minefield out there! That vacation has no return ticket!
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 . . .
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
We drove along the sandy track to Kosi mouth:
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.
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.
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.