. . you can’t go home! You can’t go back to Botswana! Who’s going to help me keep Tom in his place!?
Tumisang Lekoni studied hospitality at the International Hotel School up the road from us and she and Tom became good friends. Twenty two pounds ringing wet and four foot two (I exaggerate!), she has a lovely strong voice and is one of the few people who can get a word in edgeways when Tom is off on a monologue.
You spoilt Tom rotten, helping him with his chores after a full day’s work in which he’d mostly sat on his bottom!
We’ll miss you big time Tumi. Our little valley is emptier without you.
Here we see Tom ‘Not Dropping His Phone’ – cos ‘I never drop my phone, Dad, it just breaks!’
The building trade in Maritzburg is the worst I’ve ever dealt with. They’re useless, useless.
Its my xmas phone call from the old goat. He’s been in the old age home retirement village for something under a year now and has finally achieved one of his many goals to change things there, to improve things. Meaning, to do things his way. He has covered in the small veranda that was useless, useless, so he can now use it as a workshop. Or at least he has nearly covered it in. The steel framework for the windows and the door has been installed after much fighting with a guy ‘who Sheila has known for forty years. You’d think he would do my installation right!’ Now he’s fighting with glaziers. The glaziers in Maritzburg are the worst I’ve ever dealt with. They’re useless, useless.
I would do it myself, but I cant lift my right arm and my ladder has one dodgy leg, like me. My leg is 98yrs old, so it has an excuse. Otherwise I would just do it myself. They say I must use 4mm glass, but I’m going to use 3mm. I’ll save over R500. I should just do it myself.
I’m tired of cooking, eating, cleaning. I enjoyed it for a while, I was like a little girl playing house, but now I’m tired of it. It’s not productive. Cook, eat and clean; I’m not achieving anything.
So now I’ll have to wait till after xmas. I think I’ll phone them on Monday and shit all over them! What do you think?
Me, bellowing down the phone: NO, I DON’T THINK THAT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA. PHONE THEM AND BE NICE AND SAY PLEASE.
Good. I’ll do that then. I’ll phone them and shit all over them.
** sigh ** I’ll get on now with preparing our lunch. His phone call interrupted the proceedings. I’m busy glazing the gammon.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Ken Gillings decided to make it more real this time: We’d actually walk the Fugitive’s Trail from Isandlwana to the Fugitive’s Drift across the Mzinyathi (Buffalo) River, then up a little way on the other side on Fugitive’s Drift Lodge land belonging to David and Nicky Rattray.
(Slides change every four seconds. To pause click top right corner. To speed up or go back, use arrows).
On the trail there was a bit of oofin’ and poofin’ – and some lying down and contemplating the sky.
It was 6km as the crows fly, but we weren’t equipped for flight. It took us a while, and when we eventually reached the next Quantum Leap (back into our taxis), it was good and dark. It was a lovely, unforgettable adventure.
I had run the trail before this – or the road more-or-less parallel to it.
TC was her first dog, and she was Aitch’s favourite. She arrived while we were still living in our flat in Marriott road. She was a flat dog for a month or two and couldn’t believe the wide open spaces of our first suburban home.
Then Matt (because he wasn’t glossy when he arrived) came along and HE was definitely her favourite. Big time. She wept when he died, killed on the M13 highway one night. Bogart tried his best and she loved him too, but Matt was a hard act to follow, he was soppy and used to bring her dried leaves in his mouth as a gift! We buried Matt near the river at 7 River Drive.
Bogart (Trish’s maiden name was Humphrey) was third. He had a tail. Docking tails had been stopped – at last! What’s a dog without a tail? Shame, man!! She loved old Bogie. He was killed on the N3. Buried at River Drive.
And then came Bella! Bellisimo!
All the while, TC was still there, still the boss; wondering why we kept getting new tiny black nuisances which grew up to be bigger than her.
Now, make no mistake, Bella became Aitch’s all-time favourite. She loved Matt next best and Bogart too. Also Shadow and Sambucca in later years. And TC all along. But Bella!? She and Bella the Brak won the top prize at dog training. Her friend who won second prize with her pedigree German Shepherd turned to Trish when Bella won the last round and said “You know, Bella would fly if you asked her to!”
TC died of old age at River Drive, where we buried her on the banks of the Mkombaan river near the paperbark Commiphora, near Matt and Bogie. (Note to new owners: Don’t go digging too much in 7 River Drive!).
Yes, Bella you WERE her favourite, but then kids arrived and took over. And then Aitch rescued Houdini from euthenasia and look how he is pushing in while you wait politely as ever for your turn!
Houdini escaped once too often, never to be seen again. Which is how we got him to start with: A friendly dog that no-one knew who he belonged to was given to Aitch by a vet.
So when we moved to Elston Place, Bella AT LAST had the family to herself. Didn’t last long: Aitch decided Bella ‘needed company’ and told me “Bella is lonely, I want to get her a puppy.” “Absolutely not!” I decreed, laying down the law as the boss of the house. “No more puppies!”
So she got two. Enter Shadow and Sambucca:
Sambucca was in danger of becoming “Sweetie” (Jessie’s choice of name!) so we sent out an SOS for a name for a pitch black dog. Terry Brauer came up with Black Sambucca – just right!
Bella died at 17yrs old, about a year before Aitch died. Aitch was right there with her when she died. We buried her in the garden at 10 Elston Place. Only Sambucca outlived Aitch.