Good photographers have presence of mind. I’d like more of that stuff.
Last night I leaned back in my office chair – director’s or boss’ chair deluxe, high-back, padded armrests – luxuriously and started to put my feet up on my imbuia wood desk. The smooth motion didn’t stop there, I kept going backwards, the high-back cushioned my head as I crashed, the wheels of the chair caught under the desk, sending a full glass of red wine and a plate of fine curried mutton pie and tomato sauce crashing to the tiled floor, along with the PC monitor and my drone remote control.
Fokop. Chair horizontal, desk at 45 degrees, blood on the floor, legs in the air, same air blue with profanity.
A photographer would have taken a great picture, especially as the blood oozed towards my collection of eleven Okavango Delta books I’d gathered together as I’m getting rid of my library.
I very boringly tidied the broken glass and ceramic, mopped the red wine, re-assembled the scattered shrapnel and then thought: Damn! A picture would have been good.
I sort of re-staged it this morning to show how the chair’s wheeled legs tipped up the old desk on the right.
“Insanity like yours should be recorded,” I said to Charles in 2015. “You might not think so, and your children might not want to read it, and even your grandkids might yawn. But your great-grandkids WILL be fascinated . . . or their kids.”
He said ‘Let’s meet,’ and so it was that for the first and last time in my life I had tea at Rose’s Tearoom in Kloof.
Which worried me. Mr Lion Ale suggesting we meet for tea. Especially when he actually ordered tea. And this was not Rosie’s Cantina. I cleared my throat and was about to say what I had rehearsed: You have paddled down one river 49 times for 49 years in a row. This perseveration needs to be analysed in case it is contagious. We need to save future generations from such insanity, but Charles pre-empted me. In that way that he has, Chas earnestly said, ‘Well, this is very opportune, you know. Next year is the fiftieth Umko,’ and proceeded to turn the focus less on himself and his amazing paddling, organising and mentoring career, and more on the river and race that he loves. So the rest of 2015 and the first two months of 2016 I wrote and he helped edit Umko 50 Years, finishing it in time for the 50th Umkomaas Canoe Marathon where it was given to around 300 paddlers who did that historic race.
So we had to re-start the process.
Charles did that race, his 50th, but ‘only’ his 49th finish (he broke his boat in 1970, thank goodness, then got married to make up for it). Not learning anything, he went on to complete his 50th – and then two more. So after the 2019 Umko I cleared my throat again and this time he listened; and so we started writing what I called The Book of Charles, Chapter 77 (years old), verse 52 (Umkos). Later he and his long-suffering wife Barbs came up with a much better title. We started by meeting every Tuesday morning. My manager Raksha Singh at work rolled her eyes and cleared my appointment book till 11am Tuesdays. At first we met at Ninos for breakfast, later we settled down on my stoep, where the coffee is cheaper.
Roses came into the story again in July 2019 when a deadline was missed; Charles’ excuse was: ‘Got a couple of English Roses here. They leave on Sunday.’ Granddaughters. Over the two years many other excuses have come fast and thick: We’re walking in the Drakensberg; I’m going to Dermot’s funeral; Writers’ block; Have to mow the lawn; My bakkie needs a new windscreen; The Chief Whip (aka The Typing Pool) made me do ____ (whatever) she was often blamed; We’re moving house; I’m hiking the Baviaanskloof; etc etc. Weak excuses when there was work to do.
Rory Lynsky, old friend of Charles’, got involved from early on and was a huge help. He did stuff we would never have even thought of, like genealogy, checking stuff for accuracy, punctuation n shit. Also he coined the lofty title for our scribe: ‘The Bard of Everton.’Chas and I asked other geriatrics for help and some did. Others: ‘Budge has burst from his South Coast obscurity. Had a phone call. ‘Twas difficult to follow the inebriated diction. He wants to contribute. We’ll see if push turns to shove.’ It didn’t. Rasmussen – another old paddling friend – pledged to try, but pre-emptively pleaded an ancient and addled brain.
The earliest time I saved what he’d written on my computer was August 2019. We were not what you would call a well-oiled machine. Nor would you call us efficient, driven, focused or any of those corporate-speak words. But we did have a lot of fun.
Especially when Barbara started taking an interest. Her rise in the then three-man organisation was swift. She moved from expressing a desire to not be mentioned at all – to be strictly the typing pool only – to becoming chief puncture-rater, liberally sprinkling commas throughout the manuscript, to co-editor with Rory, to eventually appearing in fourteen of the sixteen chapters.
We have to mention Rory Lynsky again at this point as he was the only oke who knew what he was doing. Luckily he was far away in Aussie, so we could continue with our weekly or twice-weekly high-powered meetings that would start with coffee then move on to “I thought YOU were going to do that.” Rory and Charles have known each other since before the rinderpest was a sniffle, so not only was his journalism, editing and published author background handy, he could add stories and fact-check Charles, as he was right there in a number of Charles’ adventures! Charles even took some of his advice, but Rory is polite, so when he asked why exactly the story of three other ous paddling down another river at another time was relevant to this book, Chas just blithely ignored him. My role as cheerleader, compiler and picture-inserter meant all I said was, “It’s your book, Charles, it has got to be your book. People have got to hear the voice of the Charles, Chas or Charlie they knew and know, leaning back and saying ‘Life’s Not So Bad,’ as he pops open another frosty.”
Barbara was a major asset once we’d corrupted her. At first she was all censorship, and, commas, comma. At one point she wrote a resignation letter of sorts: “Pete, I don’t do commas anymore, as you and Charles don’t feel they are very important. It kills me as I read over chapters, and I dare not put in a comma where I feel there should be one. Months ago I thought I had been retrenched from the punctuation job after Charles said of my corrections, ‘Gee Barb, it looks like a bloodbath!‘ It’s been quite peaceful since then.”
(all our corrections were red pen and ink, as Charles avoids the computer where he can, hence ‘bloodbath’).
Once, Charles scurried in looking excited. ‘Quick!’ he said, ‘Get the kaalgat picture in. Barbs has said it’s OK for us to use it!’ Up till then as self-designated Sales Executive I had been pushing for more swearwords, racy pictures, nipples and tales of bachelor conquests, but Charles had been dubious and nervous, fearing possible Catholic repercussions. He had tried sneaking a few things in to see if Barbara would notice. Now the floodgates were open and sales were set to soar. A New York Times Best-seller listing loomed and we discussed upping the print run from fifty to a hundred. Especially when ‘Abandon hope all ye maidens . . ‘ went into the chapter called The Restless Years.
When lockdown came we changed gears. Charles said ‘This reminds me of Arnold’s stormy weather strategy on Uzulane: Haul down the sails, batten the hatches and open a bottle of Tullamore Dew.’ I responded, ‘That’s exactly what we have to do! Chill. Think. Reminisce. Drink. Limit our worrying and Be Grateful. And in your case: Edit. Revise.’
Milestones in the writing: Charles got rid of two his boats that he’d had since Noah was into boats: A green vinylon-decked Limfy and a blue fibreglass-decked whitewater boat from Gordie Rowe. Both were just short of fifty years old. Then their 45yr-old Everton home went! Luckily for him, Barbara let him keep the fifty year marriage, the biggest milestone while we were scribbling.
A red letter day: On Tuesday 12th February 2021 I texted Charles: ‘The Full Manuscript version XXIII has been converted into eucalyptus pulp format ready for the red ink inspection.’
Sundry rejected covers and titles:
We decided to do an index of all the characters who appear in the book, a kind of Rogues Gallery. Many of them I suspected to be illiterate; many of them I knew to be dead. This way they could look up their name, check where they appeared, and more easily decide whether to sue Charles or not; I wanted to make it easy for them cos they’re so old. So Chas listed all names – six pages. It was too long, we needed to compress them into columns. Lack of skill once again came to the fore, but luckily when discussing Patricia Stannard one morning and how helpful she’d been in the Umko book, Chas mentioned that she’s a librarian. I knew we had our answer. I am a big admirer of librarians. Skilful, useful, underrated people. ‘Ask Patricia to do columns for us,” I urged. He did. She did. And she made them so they work even when we inevitably have to add in names dredged up in long-forgotten stories that come to light over coffee and Barbara’s home-made rock cakes. Perfect. The cakes and the columns.
Talking about adding names, how do you finish a book sub-titled Odyssey of an Adventurous Beancounter when he won’t stop having adventures? He wanders off to walk 120km along the Wild Coast, then climb the Drakensberg, then hike the Baviaanskloof. I have to squeeze in the new stories, bumping pictures off pages and generally causing havoc due to a slight shortage of skill in what to do in such cases. If we could include half the swearwords I muttered slaving over a hot desktop on the book we’d have a runaway bestseller.
The messaging back-and-forth while writing:
The Editorial Board had to communicate. Here’s an early example of a successful Old-Bullet Memory-Mining Operation. Most of these produced no mineral-bearing ore. (Nor any scandal-bearing ‘ores, come to that):
18 April 2019 I wrote: Hi Rory – Hope this finds you well. I haven’t badgered you for a long time now and that must end. In 2015 I set out to badger Charles to get his story on paper, but he side-stepped and turned the exercise into a book for the 50th Umko. We have now re-started the Charles Fred Project and we have a better chance of success this time as Barbara has joined the team! There’s a bit more focus and discipline now. We’re looking for any memories of times with Charles – not just Umko-specific. Any memories, paddling-related or not.
19 April 2019 Rory John replied: Morning squire. So old “Fred” is going to get the full Monty treatment. Looks promising if the family are on board. I gave it some thought in the wee hours of the night and after ceiling-staring I think I have a story which only Bren and Barbara would recall. It has nothing to do with A) canoeing, or B) shooting poor unsuspecting buck. I’ll put something on paper. It may need some embellishment, and when in draft form Barbara may need to vet a few details as it took place a long time ago. Questions: Does he know about this project? – What is your time line? – What length story? – Would you like photos with it?
19 Apr 2019 Me: Hi Rory & Brenda. ‘shooting poor unsuspecting buck!’ I’d temporarily forgotten about his murderous instincts! We’ll have a chapter on bambi slaughter in the mountains of the Eastern Cape! Barbara will conspire with us I’m sure. She’s the stabilising force in the project.
Your Questions: 1. He knows and is involved. This does not mean we cannot spring a surprise or two; 2. When you can; 3. Any length; 4. Photos would be great – a paper book may have photo limits, but in an ebook there’s no limit;
17 May 2019 Rory John: Morning Pete. I’ve started writing up a story, but some way to go. I thought I’d just let u see what I’ve completed to date and if this is the sort of thing you’re looking for. The story does get more eventful. End of June okay with you? (note: Rory was concerned about deadlines, not knowing that at the end of June 2021 we’ll probably still be plugging away).
18 May 2019 Me: Exactly right! Perfect! Keep it going! End-June is fine. PS: Allie Peter has written on bambi slaughter. It’s gruesome and relentless. Dead warthogs and mounted baboon bums feature . . .
21 June 2019 Rory wrote: Morning Pete. I attach my contribution with photo. I passed it by Bruce Webber as a courtesy since it was his place we were staying at, also to check for accuracy after 37 years. He enjoyed it! The photo was taken at the Webbers after the Tshani Marathon as Charles enthralled his young audience of Catherine, Joanna, Anthony and Maurice with tales of derring-do. The foursome are now 40yr-olds – how time flies.
21 June 2019 Me: Hi Rory – Thanks v much! I’m sure Charles Fred will be very chuffed. I’ll send it on to him and Editor-in-Chief, Censor and Chief Whip Barbara for their perusal. Once Charles gets through all the many stories we’ll have to start choosing chapter headings and how to run a thread through the whole autobiography. It has been a fascinating exercise so far and the hard bit is still to come!
An example of feedback to the Editor-in-Chief, Censor and Chief Whip after one of our high-pressure morning editorial meetings: 8 August 2019: Me: Great. Thanks Barbara. Good decision. I look forward to reading it. We went over the hunting scandals and I have the obituaries to add to it. We were very focused this morning, and our wandering far and wide was kept to a minimum.
Gallivanting: 12 November 2019: Rory wondered if we were still awake, having to ask again if we had received some of his work. I replied: Yes, that was wonderful. We went over it only this morning. Very irresponsibly, The Bard was off gallivanting and doing totally unnecessary and uncalled-for things like family business and trudging from shebeen-to-shebeen on the Wild Coast near Mtentu with some fellow vagrants. He has lost focus on the main objective: The Book of Charles! Barbara has been very busy too – side-issues like family, friends, churches and ashrams – and when she’s not around, productivity suffers. Charles will tell you he needs to issue orders, meantime she’s the Chief Whip.
An Alarming Scandal: 21 Nov 2019 Research into Charles’ Pommy ancestry revealed an acute shortage of baptisms! Rory’s genealogy sleuth John Powell in England searched for piousness in vain: ‘Looking for Mason baptisms was a completely unsuccessful exercise, I must say. Were the Masons perhaps Baptists (no baptisms) or, more likely, Methodists?’ . . . I felt I had to hasten to alert his good Catholic wife in an effort to forestall an annulment: Hey Barbara, have you had Charles baptised? Maybe a ceremony in the waters of the Umkomaas is needed?
Money Troubles: As so often on these big money projects, a financial dispute rose its ugly head. 11 Dec 2019: Me: Hi Barbara. Charles is writing about the first Umko race and needs some excerpts from the Umko book. I managed to find some of the stuff he wanted, but unfortunately it will need to be re-typed! Charge him per word.
Barbara: Hi Pete. He doesn't pay his accounts!
Me: A delinquent !? We'll just attach his boats at KCC . .
Charles: They wouldn't be worth attaching.
On 27 Dec 2019 we had a Major Breakthrough!
Barbara wrote: Dear Rory, Thanks for your practical suggestions some of which we miss because we go backwards and forwards and have read it many times. When I was typing a section for Charles I also said to him, “You mention Barbara – no one knows who Barbara is. Those things are important or they frustrate the reader. Rory replied: The same thought crossed my mind. I wondered when we would hear more about ‘Barbara’ while the lads were engaged in all these Boys Own adventures. I look forward to a Chapter entirely devoted to Barbara from The First Meeting to the Altar. (Editor-in-Chief Swanie please Note).
Ha! I wrote to Rory: The cat is among the pigeons. Charles is grappling with this. Initially he was under orders not to write about Barbara, but we have discussed it before – and had a long discussion over coffee this morning. He will now write all he wants while – initially anyway – not revealing it to The Chief Whip. “In public” he will continue with all other aspects of the book – there’s plenty to keep him busy. After that . . ons sal sien. I personally think she’ll be fine with what is actually a fun tale of their eyes meeting across a crowded licencing office, match-ups plotted, Comrades races, restaurant dates, a modern, less conventional wedding, a honeymoon featuring underwear, etc. There’s no doubt it will have to be faced! Like The Approaches, followed by No.1 rapid, he will simply have to paddle through it and write about Number One.
Delinquency and Dancing Winds: 10 August 2020 Barbara:Charles is off tomorrow to walk in the Champagne area of the Berg. I was wondering why he wasn’t making much of a contribution towards the group’s food, but then saw him packing a box with six beers and a bottle of white wine. With the ban on the sale of alcohol, this is pure gold. I enjoy these times when he goes away. We get on well but it is good, as Kahlil Gibran says, “To let the winds of heaven dance between you.” I know just what I will do with the next few days.
Puncture-ation: Deep discussions were held on punctuation. Commas and apostrophes were debated the most. Barbara:I’ve been reading a book on punctuation written with a lot of humour by someone who calls herself a stickler for correct pronunciation and punctuation. She dithers outside a charity shop that has a sign in the window which reads, “Can you spare any old records”. There is no question mark! Should she go in and mention it? “But what will I do if the elderly charity shop lady gives me the usual disbelieving stare and then tells me to “Bugger off, get a life and mind your own business?”Well, Barbs knows my sympathies lie not with the author, but firmly with the old charity shop lady!
Nativity Nonsense: 12 Nov 2020 Barbara wrote: Hi to you two from a very tired typist. Recently I was retrenched from the job of proof reader when I tried to put about a hundred commas into one chapter and things have been quiet for a few weeks, but tonight I have been back on the job of typist with a very exacting task master next to me trying to get me to type a timeline for him. The meticulous ‘Virgo’ at his best.
Rory, I include you in this ‘just to keep you in the loop’. I say this facetiously, as Charles and I are very critical of these buzz words and we have laughed at this. The end is in sight for this ‘bestseller.’ All we do now is sit back and wait to be acknowledged as a finalist in the Pulitzer prize. Except he can’t get that because he is not American. Anyway, Charles wants to know if he has missed anyone in his acknowledgements. Enough nonsense for now. Good night.
Rory John: All looking good. I like the timeline for 1966. Were the two events linked? “Met Barbara” – “World’s first heart transplant” – ?? As for acknowledgements – BARBARA should be Highlighted in Rhinestone.
Me: Hear hear – Long service medal, VC with Halo and a Pugilist Prize.
Barbara: Hi to you both, once again. I must reply to the last email. Rory, I take it that having my name in Rhinestone, is some acknowledgement of my efforts as typist. Thanks for that, although I don’t quite understand the use of that word. Pete, I do try to polish my Halo, but it is still very tarnished and sits cock-eyed on my head. Your mention of me getting the Pugilist Prize reminds me of a conversation between Charles and I which made me laugh, although I don’t think it was supposed to:
I was telling him a story from my childhood. My mother and her two sisters were Catholics, so the children of those three sisters had a religious upbringing. Every Christmas, the four little girls (the two boys were probably already showing signs of agnosticism or atheism) would put on a Nativity Play. We organised it ourselves and had rehearsals and I think the adults enjoyed it. It was usually performed on Christmas night. My cousin, Sylvia, was the leader and so she chose the prettiest role – she was the angel, Sharron was Mary, my sister Irene was St. Joseph. I was saying to Charles that I don’t remember what part I played, when he said, “You were probably Herod.” So you see Pete, you weren’t far off the mark. Until the next time.
Me: That really cracked me up. I had a long hearty chuckle at that. Luvvit! In our Nativity Plays stretched over my (it seems) one hundred years in the Harrismith Methylated Spirits, it was of some concern to me that I never rose above the station of being a sheep. I wanted to be a shepherd because of their cool long wooden crooks painted gold – not even aspiring to be Joseph or anything, just a shepherd. But a sheep I was destined to be. I suffered but I dared not complain. The threat of arousing FC’s ire was ever-present. In our church, FC was more often considered in actual practice than JC. JC was fine, but FC actually delivered the goods!
Then: An Actual Book!
I was eager to have one amateur copy of the book printed and be damned. Without any professional designer or printer involved. ‘Take a chance on saving the money.’ I said to Charlie, ‘We’ll learn something from the exercise before we commit to making lots of them. Maybe we’ll collapse with laughter and embarrassment and realise we do need an expert. But maybe, just maybe, it’ll turn out fine.’ Charles was bok for it: ‘Order TWO!” he commanded boldly.
The April day that the ‘test’ books arrived, Charles was in the wilderness trudging the Trappist Trail, doing penance for being half a catholic. You have to trudge for miles and miles from one monastery to another monastery and live like a monk till you come right. Or something. I’m not clear on the details of why one trudges when transport is available. Maybe he has to do it to compensate for those trudges when he goes from one shebeen to another shebeen on the Wild Coast?
I was going to await his return but he clambered to the top of the cross on top of the steeple of the monastery at Centocow to get signal and phoned me: ‘Go ahead and open it,’ he commanded boldly. I did. It looked great until I noticed it was only half a book. It ended at chapter nine, and we had sixteen chapters. I hastily opened the other copy. Darn! Same half. If it had been two different halves we could have breezily said, ‘Yes, Charles’ Memoirs Appeared in Two Volumes,’ but no such luck.
Finally, the book arrived. We thought. This time it was three chapter headings and twenty six pages of text short! Whoa! Now we were rattled. A double and triple check was done and we pressed PRINT again. Third time lucky, right?
Indeed! The final saga was learning how to insert page numbers, we held our breath and ordered thirty copies, which arrived in two boxes, safe and sound:
Bakgat by Charles Mason ISBN number 978-0-620-93270-7 (print). Read online here.
17 August 2021: Now also in hardcover!
Is this the start of a new publishing powerhouse? bewilderbeast publishers – pete@bewilderbees
Pierre Antoine Delalande (1787 – 1823), French naturalist, explorer, and painter from Versailles, was the son of a taxidermist in the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. He worked for the museum from a young age, and became the assistant of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. He was also a painter who had trained in the studio of animal painter Jean-Baptiste Berré, situated in the Jardin des Plantes, and who exhibited landscapes and animal paintings in the Salons de Paris.
As an employee of the Museum, Delalande travelled to southern Africa in 1818, accompanied by his 12-year-old nephew Jules Verraux. They made three journeys into the interior between November 1818 and September 1820: eastward along the coast from Cape Town; northward to Olifants River; and northeastward from Algoa Bay as far as the Keiskamma River.
On their return in 1821, they took back an astounding 131,405 specimens, among them the museum’s first complete whale skeleton (from a 23 metre beached whale he dissected in situ over a period of two months), as well as giraffes, rhinoceroses, a hippopotamus, and human remains (some of them unearthed (i.e stolen) from an old cemetery in Cape Town and from the Grahamstown battlefield). He also brought back a mineral collection, 10,000 insects, 288 mammals, 2205 birds, 322 reptiles, 265 fish, 3875 shellfish, and various human skulls and skeletons from a Cape Town cemetery and from the 22 April 1819 Battle of Grahamstown between the invasive British forces and the local Xhosa. All the living plants in their collection were abandoned in Cape Town and many specimens of their extensive herbarium were lost in transit.
He returned to France with his health badly damaged by tropical infections. For his efforts he received the Légion d’Honneur but no financial reward. Shortly before his death, he published an account of his expedition in the museum bulletin.
He is honoured in the specific names of a swallowtail butterfly, Papilio delalandei ; three birds, Delalande’s sand frogTomopterna delalandii in the picture above, three lizards, a gecko and a snake.
Sources: JSTOR; wikipedia; M. Prevost and J. Balteau, 1933, Dictionnaire de Biographie Française: 662-663.
Now that Charlie and I actually have his book at the printers (we were going to order one book, but in a bold move we doubled the order!), I can tell the story of The New York Times Best-Seller List. Hold on to your seats, it’s a roller-coaster ride.
In the two years we’ve spent writing this best-seller-to-be (well yes, Charles wrote, but someone had to supervise, and OK, yes that was mainly Barbara, but someone had to edit. OK, so Rory was chief editor, but only cos he had experience and has actually published a book himself. Jeesh, I can prove I was there!). As I was saying before I was pedantically interrupted, while the author and I were in our office at the publishing house week after week except during lockdown, which knocked out a few months, and excluding while Charles was away on multiple adventures on mountains, beaches and kloofs, we casually discussed the New York Times Best-Seller List from time to time.
Did I say office? We actually used the boardroom, so we could spread out our plans and drafts and photos and things:
Over coffee and stone scones freshly-made by Barbara – who would phone to check they’d been delivered and not secretly scoffed, they were that delicious – we would casually throw around NYT BS List numbers. That’s New York Times Best-Seller List for those who aren’t as aux fait with these things as we are. Various numbers were thrown around and eventually we settled on these: Fifty or One Hundred. It’s a big decision. We haven’t decided yet. But then came trouble: I started reading about the NYT BS List.
I know why people warn against reading. Reading is dangerous. You find out things. I too sometimes warn against reading certain stuff. Not our book! No, you must read our book when it comes out to great fanfare, but other stuff you must be careful, cos if you read, you find out stuff.
Like how to get on to the NYT BS List. Here’s how:
There are “marketing consultancies” which specialise in getting books onto bestseller lists. For clients willing to pay enough, they will even guarantee a No. 1 spot. They do this by taking bulk sales and breaking them up into smaller, more normal-looking individual purchases, thus defeating safeguards that are supposed to make it impossible to “buy” bestseller status. In other words, they’ll cheat for you.
It’s not cheap. Here’s an example from 2013: If your book is listed at R400 retail, it might cost you about R336 a copy. To ensure a spot on the (lesser) Wall Street Journal bestseller list, you’d need to commit to a minimum of 3000 books – about R1 000 000. A million Ront. Multiply these numbers by a factor of about three to hit the more desirable New York Times list. We’re at THREE MILLION RONT Sterling. Plus there’s the crooks’ “consultancy fees” for cheating and lying and manipulating on your behalf. That was around R300 000 in 2013.
Authors who do this often reach the required pre-sale figures by securing commitments from corporate clients, who agree to buy copies as part of speaking fees, and by the authors buying copies for themselves to hand out to friends and family and to resell at public appearances.
It’s a laundering operation aimed at deceiving the book-buying public into believing a title is more in-demand than it is. People in the industry don’t like talking about bestseller campaigns, as they know any detailed discussion exposes the fact that they simply allow people with enough money, contacts, and know-how to buy their way onto “bestseller” lists. Appearing on the New York Times Best-Seller List increases sales by 13 or 14 percent on average, but first-time authors’ sales increase by 57 percent! We could sell 157 books here!
Right, so that’s what we’ll do.
Sure, we might need to sell our houses and Charles his 1979 shark-gilled Mercedes, but he says he’d get a good price for the Merc cos of the gills in the bodywork which he says are actually functionally necessary, not just babe-catchers. Myself I wonder, but I spose when one is catching older, more sophisticated babes the mating call of a loud exhaust note alone won’t cut it?
In an interesting example of how, once you start lying you have to keep lying, and then when you’re caught lying you just say, “Well, I didn’t mean it to be taken seriously, and no-one believes I’m serious anyway.” When The New York Times was sued for $6 million by an author who claimed that his book had been deliberately excluded from the list, The Times countered that the list was not mathematically objective but rather was “editorial content;” that it’s just “free speech,” and thus protected under the US Constitution. Holy guacamole! They’re saying, “Yeah we lied, but we’re allowed to lie.”
So, seeing that the famous list that everyone wants to get onto is not objective factual content, the Times assumes the right to exclude books it doesn’t like from the list! The august ‘paper of record’ is saying something like: “Well, this IS a ‘best-seller’ list (more or less) IF we think the book should be a best-seller. It has little to do with whether or not it actually has ‘sold best.'”
We have a new book out! ( – get it on takealot.com – )
OK, the author has a new book out, his first. School friend Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots is Harrismith’s latest published author, following in the footsteps of FA Steytler, EB Hawkins, Petronella van Heerden and Leon Strachan. There must be more? Indeed – Pikkie reminded me of Johann Lodewyk Marais and Anita van Wyk Henning.
He has published it as an eBook – and I have now received my hard copy too.
I had the privilege and fun of reading it as he wrote and re-wrote it, as one of his proof-readers. It was a blast! I climbed his mountains without getting breathless – except occasionally from laughing, as we relived the olden daze..
Now you gotta realise, Pikkie is a mountaineer and trekker. These are phlegmatic buggers; unflappable; understated. So when he says ‘we walked and then crossed some ice and then we got here: ‘
. . with lovely pictures and fascinating stories along the way . . you must know what he doesn’t show you:
And this is the third highest peak he climbs in Africa! There’s more to come!
Those of us who climb Mt aux Sources should also remember how we drive to within an hour or two’s leisurely walk from the chain ladder. To get to these higher mountains there’s days of trekking before you reach the point in the picture. And there’s way less oxygen available up there! After reading some chapters I had to go’n lie down for a while.
Here’s the back cover blurb: ( – get the book on takealot.com – )
Riposte and Touché:
Pikkie appointed a fellow-mountaineering Pom John as another of his proofreaders. This John asked ‘What’s it with you Saffers and exclamation marks?’ I puffed myself up and replied the problem was not that we use too many; the problem was that Poms use too few!
John’s rejoinder was, “Not true. We use our national quota. It’s just that we allocate almost all of them to teenage girls.”
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.
(I’m 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 . . ‘
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!?’
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);
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.
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.
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, nor the porno rip-off Trader Hornee!).
The movie was rather horrible and did zero justice to the life and philosophy of ‘Wish Smith,’ the old rogue and skelm who was saved in the nick of time from a lonely anonymous death in downtown Johannesburg, and whisked into quite astonishing fame for a few years in his late 60’s early 70s.
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.
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!
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
Other people are as fascinated by this tale as I am. I see a movie about the making of THAT movie was made in 2009! Trader Horn, The Journey Back was filmed in some of the same locations as the 1931 film.
Always cook with red wine, taking care not to spill any on the food.
Peel and cut a potato into four; Peel and cut an onion into four; Rotate them in a microwave.
Cut a pork chop into small cubes. Be guided by your superstitions here, use another animal or tofu or soya or kale if you have to, but for best results, stick to what I say: Cut a pork chop into small cubes.
Cubes into a pan with yesterdays pan fat; fry till browning.
Add salt. Gulp some wine.
Add potato and onion and brown. Brown the stuffin the pan, nê.
Add some cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped.
Put a lid on it. I often say that when people are gaan’ing aan like this: Put a lid on it. Another favourite saying when my gast is flabbered: Dis my gat se deksel.
Chop up some spinach and green beans. The spinach I bought off the back of a bakkie downtown. R10 a bunch, dark green, delicious, did wonders for me – whatever dark green leaf vegetables are meant to do for you? It did it for me. Mainly, leaves me (geddit? leaves me . . ) with lots, cos the kids turn up they noses.
Did I mention this is a recipe for one bachelor whose kids would rather die of hunger than eat this stuff?
Steadily add wine and I find it helps to imagine your favourite TV chef while cookin’.
So imagine your favourite chef . . . No, its Nigella.
Which reminds me of the inimitable Barks who every holiday would cackle Haw Haw Haw Haw! After asking the question (again) and providing the answer: Where is Friderichs going these holidays, hey, hey? He’s going to Nigel. Haw Haw Haw Haw!
So Naai-Gella Awesome it is.
Keep lifting the lid and then at the right time toss in the chopped up spinach and green beans, never forgetting to keep steadily adding wine. Careful not to slosh any onto the food.
Add salt and a big knob of butter for the last round. Put a lid on it. The right amount of salt is the amount that makes it taste best. Did I mention this is health food? It is. Mental health.
Then eat it accompanied by sufficient more red wine. I actually licked the plate.
The 1812 overture was belting out in the background with real cannons. I hope they scared the neighbour’s incessantly-barking mongrels.
gaan’ing aan – blah blah; fit a cork; put a lid on it
dis my gat se deksel – literally, that’s my arsehole’s lid; blow me down
bakkie – small pickup truck
disclaimer: Written after consuming the aforementioned wine.
Other domestic chores included cutting down a big Australian Bottlebrush tree – or one of its trunks, at least.
. . and putting its flowers in one of Aitch’s old vases as a requiem:
I said the book was coming. Now it’s here! I’m on page 121 236 and I’ll report back soon.
I finished and will have to write a summary. What a saga! Twenty years of telling people one simple fact: What these developers are proposing will completely ruin Vetch’s Pier and Vetch’s Beach! And very few people listening. Eventually Johnny managed to get some people to listen. The result is he managed to SAVE VETCH’s BEACH!! – an amazing feat for one man, his two-man legal team – who did the work Pro Deo – and the people he managed to get to support these three principled people against huge evil rich crooked corrupt private and government adversaries. But Vetch’s Pier is gone forever.
My copy was hand-delivered by the author himself! Johnny Vassilaros met me in the PnP parking lot near my home – he had penned a lovely inscription -:
If you’re interested in Durban; if you’re interested in good governance; if you’re interested in skullduggery and corruption and thieving; if courage and principle is important to you; and if you’re interested in reading the Wonderful Prose of Johnny – get this book! – write to email@example.com –
I know I should work to earn money so I can one day sit on my arse and listen to the birds and photograph butterflies. And see two gory kills within minutes, with two animals dying before my very eyes to satisfy the hungry needs of their predators.
So this morning:
Flies don’t even have to be buttered to be photographed:
A drongo zapped an insect in mid-flight and a sunbird nabbed probably a spider off the mistletoe, killing them mercilessly for food in the great cycle of nature. Someone has to be sitting on his arse to witness these things.
This time I was determined to concentrate. I gazed at my cellphone fiercely for hours. Once I had to change the camera’s battery. This Forest Queen thought he could outwit outplay outlast me!? Huh! I was determined to catch him opening his wings to make sure he was a male. I was occasionally distracted. Had to make coffee, had to reply to some slights on whatsapp, had to take these photos to show the remote setup and my impressive camera (you’ve heard about okes with small willies having to compensate with big cameras, right? Well.). And once I was also – fatally – distracted by Tommy who NEEDED me to transfer cash to his eWallet.
Optometric colleagues and classmates from way back in 1977, Di Fotherby, Ray Schoeman, Terry Saks, Pete Brauer and I met at Zena Jacobson’s lovely home in Sandton a while back – 16 Feb – and how very fortuitous that turned out to be, as we have been a great support group for each other during lockdown!
One day talk on our whatsapp group turned to books, and the Schoemans showed their fascinating collection, plus one item of huge envy-producing – and real – value:
Here’s a close-up of the pièce de résistance! –
Signed by All Three Goons!
They also have two of Milligan’s many books:
And another prize collection:
. . and another:
There’s more – it’s an amazing library; Wilbur Smith and Bryce Courtenay novels; medical books, cookbooks, etc
Here are the librarians:
Myself I only have Spike’s scurrilous re-interpretation (improvement) of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, from which I quote: “
Johnny Vassilaros is a courageous mensch. And an author. And I can’t wait! If you love Durban, get your copy. Write to – firstname.lastname@example.org –
Foreward by Advocate Peter Rowan I have known Johnny since 2003. I have spent many long hours with him, in meetings, in consultations, in Court proceedings, in open debate and in argument (even between us). He is a man of the utmost integrity. He is a man of high intelligence, a man of conviction and undeniably strong character. He has values and standards to be admired, a man of good, fair and even judgement, a family man, a music lover, a historian and environmentalist. A spade is a spade, and he calls it that way. Nothing in the civic domain is done for his own ego, or his own pocket. What he does is motivated by distinguishing between principles of right and wrong, and then, resolutely pursuing what is good for the situation that lies before him. He is disciplined, tough and unrelenting in pursuing his goals.
The nucleus of this book is the story of the Durban Paddle Ski Club, of which Johnny found himself as chairman, during the most taxing period in its history, and which was to have a profound effect on the plight of a most valuable public asset – Vetch’s Beach. This book has many interesting stories to tell. It brings colourful characters back to life by their amazing and often insane deeds in their pursuit of big fish on their little boats. And then, the anecdotes, historical facts about Durban, the pioneers of this city, shipping, the once dreaded “Bar” and shipping disasters off our coast, only a few life spans ago. For the fishing fanatics – just read it!
But this book is more than that. It also covers a most serious topic, that being the biggest and most expensive and controversial coastal development in the history of this city – the Point waterfront development. Having read the book, all I can say is “Wow!” The meticulous attention to detail and irrefutable accuracy on the facts is immaculate. Yes, some 250 pages are devoted to the tragedy of Vetch’s, where those who would like to know what truly happened, should read and read again. Johnny does not mince his words. He slaughters politicians, prominent municipal officials and powerful businessmen, decimates major role players from certain water sports clubs, all so justifiably, through their unethical deeds committed throughout the long Point waterfront years. If you don’t know who these individuals are, read about them in this book.
But the author doesn’t go at people simply for the sake of doing it. He acknowledges good and good people and good deeds. He despises bad or useless incompetent people, and most of all, reveals the wrongdoings, the corruption and skulduggery, all of which, we see aplenty in his book. He also provides more irrefutable facts, explaining how all this has led to the loss of the watersports clubs’ premises and the cost to the ecosystem at Vetch’s.
Johnny writes both from the head and from the heart. He adds comment which is well founded, and where he castigates the unfortunates and criticises others, he does so because it is relevant to the story he unfolds. His words amount to fair and justifiable comment and criticism, made for the public good, all within his constitutional rights and freedom of speech. The events that he describes involved matters that could so easily have been laid to rest around a table with sportsmen and women, as we were all meant to be, acting reasonably, in the interests of all our wants and needs of our respective sports. That’s what reasonable and civilised people with any sense of decency and good sportsmanship would have done.
But that was not to be. Not this bunch with whom we had to deal. Six individuals, who, as a committee, snuck off and formed a “Point Watersports Club”, with a “constitution” not remotely relevant to the aims and objectives of the water sports clubs, and, most importantly, in total contradiction to a legally-binding agreement they had all previously signed. And, staggeringly, with no mandate from their members and without any of them having any inkling that this was going on. And yet, this continued for years and the members still say nothing to this day.
How much in litigation costs did all of this amount to for the clubs, and ultimately the members? Johnny raises this in his book. I would conservatively estimate that between this “PWC”, whoever they may be, the DUC and the Durban Ski Boat Club, must have paid in the region of R5 million if not more. Look at what it cost the Paddle Ski Club and Save Vetch’s Association to save the beach, whilst others stood by – millions. What a waste! And how much irredeemable human and tangible destruction took place whilst all of this was going on?
And for me, one of the most dramatic standout points. How and why and on whose mandate did Hall, Kidger and Donald come to give away, in 2015, all the clubs’ rights to invaluable freehold property, to arguably own the highly valued land on which they were to build their clubhouse? Were these self-appointed directors simply dancing to the tune of the developer, giving away land that was worth millions, without a murmur? One can only be left wondering whether anyone was ever rewarded, for this act of “high treason”. No matter how one looks at this, it stinks. Rotten to the core. Should we not all be digging deeper into this? If we do, some people might just land up in jail. Johnny’s book lays this bare. Read it with care.
There is one last thing that needs to be published. The man I chose, during difficult times to put my money on, ahead of a multitude of erstwhile friends, the Geriatskis, and all of those who paddle with them. When I teamed up with the Geriatskis, paddling and socialising with them at DUC, it became one of the most motivating factors in my life. It was pure fun and pleasure. What camaraderie, banter amongst, what I imagined true friends to be! But when crunch time came, when it was clear that Hall was leading them down the garden path, and I started to ask questions and take a strong stance, where were these people? It seemed easier for them to step back and drift with the tide or blow with the wind.
Taking a strong value judgment call or a moral stance, or simply for the stark ecological sake of saving the beach, was not for these folk. But they paddle across that stretch of water, saved by others making huge sacrifices, day in and day out – conscience free, having done nothing to save the reef they so guilelessly now use. They went along with Hall because it was convenient and expedient. As tough and as sad as it has been breaking away and being excised from a strong group of wonderful erstwhile friends, and sad as the lonely situation is that I have now found myself in, I would suppose a gregarious fellow by nature, I wouldn’t swap Johnny Vassilaros and his solid principled fishing ski guys as friends for any one of these fickle souls – in my view, may they forever hang their heads in shame every time they paddle across the Vetch’s basin. Read about it.
I associate myself with all the facts set out in this book and with the words of the author, having been part of the action and privy to the multitude of documents and the voluminous court papers, which I still have in my possession. I am in the privileged position of being able to support or refute either the content of the book or any further comments that may arise. I challenge those who disagree with the content to revert, by way of constructive written exchanges, and back their views with adequate proof. I also challenge any one of you to take us to Court on whatever cause of action you may wish to rely upon.
I salute this man, Johnny Vassilaros, for his tenacity and his courage in disclosing the truth. He is a man who I would want alongside me if ever we were to go to war.
Note: I go back to my posts to add / amend as I remember things and as people mention things, so the posts evolve. I know (and respect) that some bloggers don’t change once they’ve posted, or add a clear note when they do. That’s good, but as this is a personal blog with the aim of one day editing them all into a hazy memoir, this way works for me.
“To a person uninstructed in natural history, his countryside or seaside stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the wall” – THOMAS HUXLEY – English biologist
“Bird-watchers are tense, competitive, selfish, shifty, dishonest, distrusting and – above all else – envious. I know many who are generous, witty and delightful company – but they’re no fun!” – BILL ODDIE;
“I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment…and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn” – HENRY DAVID THOREAU, author, poet & philosopher – I once had a pigeon shit on my shoulder while collecting money for charity – shaking a tin – outside the Jeppe Street Post Office In Johannesburg; does that count?
“God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages” – JACQUES DEVAL , French playwright
“If you bird, you will see stuff” – THE ORACLE, birder
“A weird screechy howl, which rises in a nerve-shattering crescendo, to peter out like a cry of a lost soul falling into a bottomless pit” – AUSTIN ROBERTS, original author, Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa – talking about the Manx Shearwater? or me when dipping out yet again on an African Broadbill?
“I don’t GO birding. I AM birding!”– FAANSIE PEACOCK, birder – (always! I agree with Faansie, an amazing birder with the best possible name for one!)
“Use what talents you possess: The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best” – HENRY VAN DYKE, American author – who hereby gives me permission to sing in the shower and while driving . .
Every time I see a new bird I look it up and learn all about it, its scientific name and which other birds its related to. Just recently Steve in Aussie sent me his picture of a ‘Bush Stone Curlew’ nesting on an island in a parking lot.
That immediately reminded me of our water dikkops – I looked it up and ‘strues Bob’ they’re cousins – his is Burhinus grallarius and ours is Burhinus vermiculatus; Gondwanaland cousins.
When I see historical facts I’ve never heard of I look it up and learn something new every day.
Who is Irvin S Cobb? I didn’t know; now I like him; he wrote these instructions for his funeral:
Above all I want no long faces and no show of grief at the burying ground. Kindly observe the final wishes of the undersigned and avoid reading the so-called Christian burial service which, in view of the language employed in it, I regard as one of the most cruel and paganish things inherited by our forebears from our remote pagan ancestors. . . . . perhaps the current pastor would consent to read the 23rd Psalm, my mother’s favorite passage in the Scriptures . . . it contains no charnel words, no morbid mouthings about corruption and decay and, being mercifully without creed or dogma, carries no threat of eternal hell-fire for those parties we do not like, no direct promise of a heaven which, if one may judge by the people who are surest of going there, must be a powerfully dull place, populated to a considerable and uncomfortable degree by prigs, time-servers and unpleasantly aggressive individuals. Hell may have a worse climate but undoubtedly the company is sprightlier. The Catholics, with their genius for stage-management, handle this detail better. The officiating clergyman speaks in Latin and the parishioners, being unacquainted with that language are impressed by the majesty of the rolling, sonorous periods without being shocked by distressing allusions and harrowing references.
How are Canadian and Eurasian beavers different – they look identical and Canadian beavers have even been introduced into Europe? One has 40 chromosomes, one has 48. Completely different animals! They just look and behave (almost) identically!
Obviously, I did all this on Wikipedia.
I was therefore thrilled to see motherjones.com has hailed Wikipedia as one of its Heroes of the 2010’s decade. I don’t like the overuse of the word ‘hero’ – I’m being so restrained here – but motherjones is American, so the ubiquitous American concept of hero – ‘anyone I like,’ it seems – is probably not amiss here.
This was the decade we learned to hate the internet, to decry its impact on our brains and society and to detest the amoral organizations that dominate it. Facebook steals our data and abets Trump’s lies. Amazon is a brick-and-mortar–crushing behemoth, like the Death Star but successful. Instagram is for narcissists. Reddit is for racists and incels. Twitter verifies Nazis.
Amid this horror show, there is Wikipedia, criminally under-appreciated, a nonprofit compendium of human knowledge maintained by everyone. There is no more useful website. It is browsable and rewards curiosity without stealing your preferences and selling them to marketers. It is relaxing to read.
It’s wrong sometimes, sure. But so are you, so am I, and so are all your other sources – and most of them, there’s nothing you can do about it. On wikipedia, you can. Its transparency is a big plus. Wikipedia critics often seem to think ‘encyclopedias’ are better – you know, ‘encyclopedia brittanica’ anyone? Hell, those books are out of date long before they’re printed. That really is (early) last century! Many of its critics say you have to go to the academic source and read the latest research. Well, many of the custodians of those places are knowledge-hoggers, wanting to protect ’eminence’ rather than sharing knowledge. Well, phansi with them, I say. Phansi!
If you actually know something is wrong on Wikipedia, become an editor (full disclosure, I’m one – a very inactive one) and fix the info – don’t withhold, share!
With wikipedia you can – indeed you should always – check sources. Use the footnotes. Some pages need more information? You can add some. Governments, political figures, institutions – especially dodgy ones – or lackeys and fans of those politicians, ‘celebrities,’ or institutions may manipulate the info on themselves. Liars will always lie. But because it’s transparent, they usually get caught. Wikipedia has rules against “conflict-of-interest editing,” which you can read about at “Conflict-of-interest editing on Wikipedia.”
Founded in 2001, Wikipedia has spent the 2010s getting better and bigger. It now has over 377 million pages of info. It is a hero of the 2010s, because while the internet mostly got worse, it kept getting better, reminding us that the web can be a good thing, a place where we have instant access to endless information, a true project of the commons at a political moment when the very idea of the mutual good is under assault.
And it is free in a good way, not “free” like facebook and google which end up OWNING YOU.
(So I just sent Wikipedia my annual donation via paypal)