Walking the Umgeni

It was a sad fact. The Umgeni was going to be dammed. Again. The fourth big dam on its course from the Dargle to the sea. Many people love dams. I hate them. They ruin the valleys and change nature for ever. Dams wipe out species – many before we even discover them; they flood huge areas of wetlands, riverine forest and grasslands; they displace people and affect everything living downstream.  Large dams hold back not just water, but silt and nutrients that replenish farmlands and build protective wetlands and beaches. If you love rivers, dams are the enemy – the disease that kills. Dams don’t just change the river valleys in our waterways, they obliterate them. Yet people love them.

So the Umgeni was going to be dammed and damned; and I wanted a last paddle on that part of the river which was destined to be for ever gone.

So I rounded up some boats and some non-paddling friends in August 1988. Come and paddle a part of the famous Duzi Canoe Marathon course, I said. And the suckers fell for it! Geoff Kay, Mike and Yvonne Lello, Pete Stoute, sister Sheila; and wife Trish joined me in the valley. Some brought some kids, and some valley kids joined us.

We launched the boats with fanfare, breaking a bottle of champagne on each one’s hull (OK, not really) – AND:

They didn’t float! The river was so shallow they hit the bottom, even thought their draft was like two inches!

Oh well, it turned out to be not a paddle but a trudge. And – literally – a drag. But fun nonetheless!

I stared at the banks and the valley walls as I trudged. Soon yahoos would be racing outboard motors here. Soon this life and interesting variety all around us would be drowned forever.

Progress, they say. Not.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Bufftail Hoot

It’s been a long time since I last heard the plaintive, mournful-sounding hoot of the Buff-spotted Flufftail, Sarothrura elegans. But the last few nights he has been hooting gently outside my window in Westville above the Palmiet River:

– sound from xeno-canto.org – thank you –

Hope they stay awhile . . .

– crispin hemson pic from pigeon valley durban – thank you –

I heard it for years at 7 River Drive on the Mkombaan River in Westville, but although I searched and stalked and lay in wait at all hours, the only one I saw was one the bloody next door cat killed! Something like this:

– not my pic –

~~~oo0oo~~~

And then at last I saw one of Crispin Hemson’s tame*** flufftails at Pigeon Valley in Durban. One lone male. And just for a few seconds before he ducked into the undergrowth. I was pleased to see one of Crispin’s pictures has been used in wikipedia.

*** not really tame – just on his famous patch!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Friend Rob Davey is a security camera boffin. He aimed one at his birdbath out north of Durban:

List of Birds of 7 River Drive – my patch

Mkombaan River valley, Westville KZN – Jan 1989 – Dec 2003

Breeds – Y means we have seen an active nest or young being fed here

Spotted ThrushSeen three separate winter-times in 15 years
Kurrichane Thrush
Y
Olive Thrush

Narina TrogonThree times in 15 years, once stayed a week
Pigmy KingfisherThree times
Brown-hooded KingfisherNests in a bank in Deon’s yard next door (no. 5)Y
Malachite KingfisherOnce
Olive Bush-shrike (ruddy formOnce – stayed about a week. Lovely song
Orange-breasted Bush-shrikeHeard quite often, seen about three times
Black SparrowhawkRaises a chick here most yearsY
GymnogeneRaises a chick here most yearsY
Crowned EagleFlying & calling overhead
Fish EagleFlying & calling overhead
African GoshawkResident King of the woodsY
Black-headed HeronFlying overhead
Pied CrowFlying overhead
Barn Swallow

Lesser Striped Swallow

Rock Martin

White-rumped Swift

Little Swift

Palm Swift

Reed CormorantOnce, flying overhead, then circled and landed in the Mkombaan River!
Woolly-necked StorkPerched on a garage roof at top of our valley!
Bush BlackcapOne winter, stayed ten days
Willow WarblerArrives every summer from frosty England
Red-backed Mannikin

Bronze Mannikin
Y
Bar-throated Apalis

Yellow-breasted Apalis

Rudd’s Apalis !!?Unlikely, yet seen close-up by Trish and I on potplant on the driveway! Nov 2003; Needs verification!
Natal FrancolinHeard often, seen once
Buff-spotted FlufftailHeard very often, never seen
Red-chested CuckooJuvenile seen once in fig tree over pool
Emerald CuckooIncluding a juv being fed by Olive sunbirdy
Klaas’ Cuckoo

Black Cuckoo

Diederik Cuckoo

Longbilled Crombec

Tambourine DoveOften
Emerald-spotted DoveSeldom
Red-eyed DoveMost common dovey
Laughing Dove
y
Ring-necked parakeetOnce, flying past into no. 14
Fiery-necked nightjarHeard often, seen twice
Paradise flycatcherNests every yeary
Dusky FlycatcherNests every yeary
Blue-grey FlycatcherNests most yearsy
Spotted FlycatcherA few visits
Black Flycatcher
y
Purple-crested LourieNested in Umdoni tree on River Drivey
African HoopoeOnce at top of River Drive
Red-billed Wood HoopoeHave nested in our nestboxes about 3 timesy
Lesser HoneyguideOften
Greater HoneyguideSeldom
Scaly-throated HoneyguideSeldom
Sharp-billed HoneyguideTwice
Blackbellied Glossy StarlingsNest most yearsy
Green TwinspotSeen four times, heard more times
Long-tailed WagtailUp & down the river, occasionally next to pooly
Cape WagtailNests in Dracaena outside front door
Pied WagtailNext to pooly
Southern BoubouHeard all the time, seldom seeny
Golden-tailed WoodpeckerNests most yearsy
Cardinal Woodpecker

Olive SunbirdThe Boss; Once raised an Emerald Cuckoo chicky
White-bellied SunbirdUsually behind house, seldom in front garden!
Collared SunbirdNests most yearsy
Black SunbirdOccasional
Grey SunbirdOften
Black-collared BarbetAlwaysy
Crested BarbetOnce
Golden-rumped TinkerAlways
HamerkopOften – heard more than seen
Yellow-billed Kite

Burchell’s Coucal

Grey-headed SparrowSeen twice
Streaky-headed Canary

Yellow-eyed Canary

Bully Canary

Tawny-flanked PriniaNests every year in long grass above washliney
Natal RobinTrish’s friend – also spotted chicks most yearsy
White-browed Scrub-robin

Southern Black Tit

Terrestrial BulbulOutside bedroom window
Black-eyed Bulbul
y
Sombre Bulbul

Black-headed Oriole

Black Cuckoo-shrikeIn fig tree most years
Fork-tailed Drongo
y
Puffback

White-faced Whistling DuckWhistling high overhead at night
Cape White-eye
y
Bleating Bush Warbler

Neddicky

Indian Mynah

Cape Glossy Starling

Plum-coloured Starling

Thick-billed Weaver

Spotted-backed Weaver
y
Spectacled WeaverNests every yeary
Forest WeaverSeldom
Blue-billed Firefinch

Common Waxbill

Grey WaxbillRegular in early years, scarce lately
Swee WaxbillTwice
Redwing Starling

Chin-spot Batis

Cape Batis

Hadeda Ibis
y
Sacred IbisFlying overhead
Speckled Mousebird
y

~~~oo0oo~~~

Medical Rounds

7.30am Jessie to the dentist up the road in Westville. A filling dropped out. I leave her there – she can walk home.

10am Mother Mary to the ophthalmologist in Pietermaritzburg (PMB). R. 6/18 and L. 6/36 no worse than before; Pressures holding good with the drops; field loss very near to the macula. All much the same as a year ago, so at least that’s the good news. She’s around -2,50 / -1,50 and you know what? She can read much better if she removes her son’s glasses. Funny that . .

11.30am the old man to the optometrist in PMB. Thanks to my good friend Owen Hilliar we don’t need him to schlep to Durban this time. Ooh! His eyes widen and he sits up straight. This is a better optometrist! She’s young and female! He’s been saddled with an old bald plump male optom down in Durban for years. And: She, at least, laughs at his jokes!

He has lost his slight myopia and doubled his astigmatism to -1,50 so this should help a bit. Still only 6/15+ best though. Of course, he doesn’t actually need glasses, ‘I can see perfectly without them; just not when I have to read small print , or in poor light, or the score on the TV, or road signs, but otherwise PERFECT.’ But to humour his son he’ll get some glasses. ‘See this here? If I took it out into the sun I could read it no problem without any glasses.’ Ja, Dad, it’s overcast and raining today. Hmph . .

Read this: M S R U – ‘Um, Vee, Ess, Aar, Gee.’ OK, close. That was the 6/12 line, so she gave him 6/15+.

When we leave I try and pay or get them to claim from Medshield. Ooh, no, sir, we have strict instructions from Mr Hilliar not to charge you anything. Quite a guy, young Owen Hilliar!

I tell them all to take a week off in December, they’ve been so kind. They don’t believe I have that kind of authority. ** sigh **

~~~oo0oo~~~

Explorers 14. Gerrard

William Tyrer Gerrard sent a stuffed aardvark to Derby! How cool or how bad ass is that? You receive a parcel from your botanical collector: Here are some flowers and some leaves; oh, and one aardvark! Poor bloody aardvark had to stare out on grey Pommie skies from then on.

– Derby Museum and Library – thanks to Chris Harris on wikipedia –

I went looking for his story after seeing a Forest Iron Plum tree at Sand Forest Lodge in Zululand, the Drypetes gerrardii.

He was an English professional botanical (and anything else) collector in Natal and Madagascar in the 1860s. Born in Merseyside in 1831, he worked in Australia, then in Natal, where he collected over 150 previously unknown plant species and . . it was a Natal aardvark he stuffed and shipped to England. He left Natal in April 1865 for coastal Madagascar, where he made large collections of plants, insects, and birds. He died age 34 of yellow fever in Mahavelona on the north east coast of Madagascar, north of Toamasina.

Gerrard was obviously good at finding plants, as In the early 1860’s he gathered the only known specimens of an Emplectanthus and an Adenia species. Considered Critically Endangered and possibly Extinct according to IUCN Red List criteria, they were only re-discovered in the lower Msikaba River valley and the lower Tugela River Valley in 2006 and 2016 respectively.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Old Lilani Spa

On our first visit, with Bruce and Heather Soutar, the remains of the old hotel were still there. You walked into the foyer under a roof, the reception counter awaited you; But you soon walked out into the sunshine, as it was just a remnant of roof and a built-in counter with nothing behind it, only three of the walls still standing. Less than this:

But that was OK as it was the hot baths we were after.

While sitting in the warm water of these old baths drinking beer, we heard a loud ‘Pretty GEOR-gie’, looked up into the tree overhead and saw this:

emerald cuckoo
– emerald cuckoo – Roger Hogg’s pic from Westville –

Then they had a big revamp, demolished the old hotel and did up the baths like this:

– we enjoyed some lovely times here –

Now it has fallen into disrepair again and in 2019 there’s this:

– hope this sign is at the top of the valley, not only when you get to the bottom! –

I looked up some of the history of the resort:

In a 1900 school geography and history book, Robert Russell, the Superintendent of Education in the Colony of Natal wrote, ‘The Ehlanzeni and Kranskop districts are noted for their wild country. Hot springs with a temperature of 101°F, more or less sulphurous, are found in the Ihlimbitwa.’ These were Lilani’s hot springs.

In 1905, Mr St Vincent Erskine, on behalf of the Grand Lilani Hot Sulphur Springs Syndicate Ltd, leased 10 acres of land around the hot springs from the Natal Government for a period of five years at £25 per annum. The “syndicate was granted a lease of two of the warm springs to develop them for the benefit of the sick as a ‘sanitarium’ – especially to overcome rheumatism and nervous disorders, though they soon claimed way more benefits than that, including curing constipation. One would hope that particular cure wasn’t instantaneous; like, in situ, ne?

An article in the local newspaper announced that as of the 1st August 1906 a charge of two shillings per day was to be made for the use of the hot springs to non-syndicate shareholders. During this time facilities were being built down at the hot springs. The initial part of the hotel was then built which included accommodation for the proprietors. The first access road was built to the top of the northern escarpment at the present day village of Eshane, and people descended on foot or were carried down by litter into the valley.

Later a rough road was built to the hot springs resort.

In 1908, a new lease for 25 years was drawn up, increasing the land from 10 acres to 32 acres, in favour of the Hot Springs Syndicate, owned by Messrs Menne, Matthews and Gibbs. This was then sublet to Mrs Matthews for 10 years from April 1910. Dr J Wright Matthews, M.D., was the resident physician and Mrs LV Matthews was the manager of the Sanatorium. In 1914 the Hot Springs Syndicate went insolvent and the ownership of the lease passed to Mrs Matthews.

Advertising and Publicity

Advertising was not shy: “The panoramic view of the surrounding mountain scenery was said to be truly magnificent, and the climate, one of the most equable in South Africa.” “The wonderful powers of the hot mineral springs found here have long been known to the Dutch community in Natal, and an analysis proves that the waters in a great degree possess the same chemical constituents as those which make Harrogate and other spas of a similar character in Europe in so much request.”

Breathless reports in The Greytown Gazette, Friday, 26 July 1912, page 4, col. 5 : ‘A large party comprising several families, left Greytown at the beginning of the month for the ever-famous Lilani Sulphur Hot Springs, which are under the able management of Dr and Mrs Matthews, who at all times show unstinted hospitality to visitors. On arrival at the Springs the party camped out in 15 to 20 large tents erected around the place which presented a gay appearance. The baths are very healthy and bathing commences as early as 4.30 in the morning and is indulged in till ten and eleven o’clock in the evening. The patent oven, dug out in a large donga, in which bread is baked comes in for a great amount of attraction and the bread produced from this oven is both delicious and wholesome. In the evenings Dr Matthews entertains the visitors with magic lantern lectures, which are greatly appreciated.

– a magic lantern –

The party are having a most enjoyable time at these Springs and are expected to return to Greytown early next week.’

Italian POW’s

Later a Mr and Mrs Hobbs ran the resort. During the Second World War they went to one of the large POW camps in Pietermaritzburg, where many Italian Prisoners were detained and chose three prisoners to work at the Lilani Hot Springs. The three men were Frank, Mario and Inchenso Caruso. The men worked there from March 1945 until 1948; building, terracing the gardens, and generally helped with the running of the Hydro resort for a shilling a day. In 1948 Frank Caruso applied to remain in South Africa and was accepted. Mr and Mrs Hobbs and Mr Sayer offered him a partnership in the resort which he accepted on the condition that he was given a trip home to Italy the following year, which condition was granted (Caruso, 1996). They now called the resort the Lilani Hydro Mineral Hot Sulphur Springs, Holiday and Health Resort. Trips off the tongue.

‘I’m from government and I’m here to help you’

In 1966 the Apartheid government decided to make sure resorts were strictly Whites-only or Blacks-only, so they terminated the lease and paid the owners R44 000 for their improvements. In 1972, having done sweet buggerall with their investment, they tried to get Frank Caruso to take back the lease, but he declined.

– the valley – check that glorious winding road – all downhill! – running west to east –

Correspondence and financial transactions before EFT and email:

Dr J Wright Matthews, the first proprietor of the Lilani Hot Springs Spa, applied for a prospecting license to search the valley for gold, asbestos, whatever. His application was granted and he paid the sum of £2.10 shillings as a deposit to the Natal Native Trust, Colony of Natal, on 28th July 1909.

In a letter, dated 21st December 1911, Dr Matthews applied for the return of his money as he had not used his prospecting license. In the reply to his request, dated 28th December 1912, his request was granted by the Acting Chief Native Commissioner in Natal, on the condition that Dr Matthews forwarded an affidavit to the effect that no surface damage was done under the prospecting permit. This affidavit was duly drawn up in Johannesburg, dated 5th January 1912. The Acting Secretary for Native Affairs in Pretoria was then instructed to forward a cheque to Dr Matthews by the Acting Chief Native Commissioner in Natal in his letter dated 9th January 1912. Nineteen days from application to ‘Refund granted – please pay the man!’ Not bad by any standards. Especially over Xmas / New Year time.

The hot springs

Six springs are known in the vicinity. Their temperatures range from 35°C to 40°C and their flow volume per hour from 770 to 3500 litres. The total flow of over 10 000 litres per hour would thus fill an average home swimming pool in about five hours.

The original founder of the Lilani Hot Springs as a spa

Mr Mbulungeni an early member of the community and who could have been an inkosi of the community, is spoken of in oral tradition as the ‘founder’ of the Lilani Hot Springs. Mr Mbulungeni is said to have sat on a large rock while waiting for the sun’s rays to shine into the valley, either before or after having a bath in the hot springs. When he died he was buried beside the large rock and to some of the community it is known as Remembrance Rock. It is situated above the road, at the last fork to the right before the turning circle at the old hotel site.

~~~oo0oo~~~

In June 2021 I received a wonderful visitor to this blogpost! She fills us in on more of the history of this special place:

Ernest Benjamin Cyril Maud Blaine and his wife Emma Sparrow Blaine were both nurses and had traveled from South Africa to Michigan in the early 1920’s to study hydrotherapy with Dr. John Harvey Kellog at the Battle Creek Sanitarium and Hospital in Michigan. After hydrotherapy training with Dr Kellog they returned to South Africa and purchased Lilani Hot Springs where they set up hydrotherapy treatments in the bath house in conjunction with the mineral baths. Guests came from all over South Africa, some from England and the African interior and they would stay at the resort for a week or longer to take treatments. The spa had accommodations available in the main hotel building, about 10 bedrooms. Grandmother Emma Blaine was a wonderful cook and supervised the kitchen staff who prepared food on old-fashioned wood-burning stoves. Not only was she a good cook, she was famous amongst the locals for killing two black mamba snakes with one shot!

In 1931 my father, Dr. John Delabere Blaine brought his American wife and 2 young babies to Lilani Hot Springs so that his parents could meet his new family. Dr Blaine graduated from the Loma Linda University Medical School (then College of Medical Evangelists) in 1929, and had to spend a year at the university hospital in Edinburgh Scotland to obtain his credentials to practice in South Africa. ( FRCPS Fellow Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons). Previously Dr Blaine had left South Africa in 1920 to attend college and medical school in the United States and returned home with a wife and 2 small children in 1931 ready to set up his practice in South Africa.

I am the surviving member of the John D Blaine family, born in 1934 in Durban, and remember spending many wonderful visits at Lilani during the years my grandparents operated the spa. They closed down their operation in the mid 1950’s and sold the property to a church group.
In May of 1954 I immigrated to the United States and am now 86 years old and have such wonderful and fond memories of Lilani Hot Springs.

~~~oo0oo~~~

The first part of the history from a 2000 thesis by Ross Johnathan Hoole for his MSc in Geography at UKZN Pietermaritzburg – thank you!

And thanks to Coralynne Joy (Blaine) Estes for adding her family’s story, which was missing. I hope Ross Johnathan Hoole finds this! I’m sure he’d be fascinated.

Explorers 7. Wahlberg

Johan August Wahlberg (1810 – 1856) was another Swedish naturalist and explorer. He traveled in southern Africa between 1838 and 1856, especially in Natal and South West Africa, sending thousands of natural history specimens back to Sweden.

The journals of his travels are generally brief and objective (and I haven’t been able to find them yet! So I know little about him, even though his name is honoured in many species – moths, lizards, birds, plants, etc), and his portrayal of people he met is usually reliable and unprejudiced.

Wahlberg’s elephants – in Namibia? –

Wahlberg is commemorated in Wahlberg’s Eagle, Wahlberg’s epauletted fruit bat and the beautiful little bush squeaker frog Arthroleptis wahlbergi. That’s my pic on top of one of the little squeakers; fully grown, he’s the size of your top finger digit. This one lives in our garden in Westville.

– Wahlberg’s eagle and bat –

‘Sport’ in those days consisted of shooting as much as possible for the tally, the ‘bag.’ These pale chaps ran amuck, trying to score a century, even though cricket was only 240 years old in 1838.

His diary in Natal: 23 August – near Umgeni river: (shot) 1 Ichneumon taenianotus (a mongoose); 1 Boschbock; 1 red-buck (red duiker?); 1 birds.

‘I was so intent on the bucks that the fall of darkness took me (by) surprise. I lost the path and so entangled myself in the thickets that I sure that I should have to pass the night in the woods. I shot six alarm-shots. I was glad to hear them answered by regular salvos from the village. Flayed the boschbock and left the carcase in the wood.’

31 August – near Umkamas river: ‘Continued hunting hippopotamus; no luck. In the evening, accompanied only by one Hottentot Bastard we came sufficiently near to hippopotamus. Two bullets went whistling at the same moment, and found their mark in the head of a young sea-cow. She came to the surface several times, spouting blood high in the air. An adult now appeared; once again our shots sounded as one; it showed the whole of its body above water, dived, a strong furrow appeared in the water, moved rapidly towards the shore, and soon the whole body of the monster was visible above the surface, in form and attitude like a gigantic pig. With incredible swiftness it hurled itself once more into the stream, and rose several times in succession, each time spouting blood. Darkness fell and we were forced to return.’

1st September – ‘We looked in vain for the hippopotamus.’

2nd – ‘Saw numerous buffalo but was unable to get near them. Clouds of locusts darken the sky. We go further afield to a smaller stream.’

3rd – ‘Lying in wait for the buffalo. Hear them approaching at full gallop through the bushes. Climb an acacia. Give the first bull a bullet, which makes him fall back upon his hind-quarters. He gets to his legs again and escapes.’

Well, at least this time Africa got its revenge! Wahlberg was killed by a wounded elephant while exploring along the Thamalakane river about 10 km northwest of Maun just south of the Okavango Delta in today´s Botswana.

– Dear Museum, I have a white rhino skeleton for you. Signed Johan August –
– books based on Wahlberg’s journals and letters –
– he was the first to collect the red-headed weaver, near Thabazimbi –

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

wikipedia; van riebeeck society; alchetron.com; aviation demography unit;

Family Gatherings

Gathering the troops for family meetings used to be hard. You’d no sooner get one to the table than they had disappeared when you got back with the other. Not anymore: For instant family gatherings, with everyone – including Cecilia – crowded round the router with a WTF look on their faces, just switch off the wifi.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Early mornings are not young people’s best. It’s not just Christmas when ‘all through the house; Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;’ I get up in the morning and all is dead quiet. To use another Free State Reed-ism ‘not a leaf stirred, not a dog stirred’ (geddit?*).

They lie low as I pad up and down the passage. Even if I stick my lips at the door crack and ask ‘You Awake?’ not a peep.

Until I walk past with shoes on. Then it’s instantly ‘Where’re you going?’

FOMO.

~~~oo0oo~~~

  • . . not a dog’s turd. This Reed-ism is best orally, not so good in print.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Blue Wall leads to Blue Door

One wall in the new kitchen in River Drive ca.1999 had to be cobalt blue. I dunno why; mine is not to reason why. Aitch said it must be cobalt blue and so of course it was. Some of the other colours she and Nanich painted the house were also to dye for. See below. Lucky I’m a mild-mannered diplomat.

– Xmas day 2002 with Tommy, 1 year and 2 weeks old –

So when the post-Aitch renovations happened ca.2012 in Elston Place, there had to be some blue. I made the scullery and laundry doors blue. I looked for cobalt blue, but this was the closest I found.

– smiling Cecilia Shozi at the blue stable doors –

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

~~~oo0oo~~~

Jessie’s 21st Party

Low-key at home. Jess did it all herself; drew up lists, hired lights, organised a DJ who brought her own equipment; we bought some stuff; we bought booze. Jess invited a few good friends round, and so did I.

Jess 21st party at home

The oldies came early, we had a slide show on Jess from the early days. I was being a bit Nervous Norman, so thank goodness for hooligan friends. First the Lodders added their usual mayhem. Then star Lydia our Gautengaleng student friend stepped forward, deciding things were a bit quiet for a 21st. She took over the bar, mixing cocktails and getting the kids to pour them down their throats. The party was launched!

The adults disappeared except me in the background. Jess and her gang had a lovely evening with their favourite music and lots of chatting. Later, some boys arrived drunk but peaceful and friendly, and joined in. At eleven a neighbour complained about the music. I told him ‘just relax till midnight.’ – mea culpa, I had forgotten to tell the neighbours about the party! At midnight the DJ’s mom arrived to fetch her, they packed up and peace returned to the Palmiet valley.

~~~oo0oo~~~

A Muddy Slog

– all clean beforehand –

Dad, says seven-yr-old Tom, I’m tired of the 5km and 10km races with Mom. I wanna go on a longer race with you, please.

So we enter the 18km race starting at the Eston country club and meandering thru Tala game reserve. Days before, it starts raining; and it rains; and there’s mud – A LOT of mud. And mud puddles and pools of water and muddy lakes to cross at every dip in the road.

I pushed, I shoved, I carried, I dragged. I went ahead, dropped my bike, went back and scraped mud off their bikes, then pushed them; When I couldn’t free the brakes from the balls of sticky mud, I carried them.

We watched people bail left and right. Tractors and trailers were available en-route to offer rescue, and the trailers got piled high with bikes abandoning the slog. But we pushed on, stopping every few metres to scrape sticky mud out of the brake calipers.

And they made it! Not many did. On the way home they recuperated like this:

– komfy kombi kipping –

Not one pic of the mudslog! Aitch had the camera; Anyway, my hands would have been way too muddy!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Looking at the pictures I thought, ‘Am I imagining how tough that day was?’ So I went looking and found an actual report on the race – still no pics! It was too wet and muddy to carry cameras, I guess.

August 2009 – Eston Illovo mud bath

Rode the Eston Illovo MTB Challenge last Sunday. A race from hell. 30mm of rain the night before and wet, misty conditions on the day. Temp about 12degC. The mud was so thick it took us 45minutes to ride / push / scrape the first 3 kms. So you imagine.

Seemed to improve a bit after that, but that was just a wish. Slippery and muddy all the way. I fell going into a drop down to some single track. Bit dazed, but OK. Actually, I seemed to have put my bad shoulder back into place. Made our way to the first water table. Many people opting to get a lift home from there. I decided to push on and it took 2 hrs to complete the last 15 kms. I must have pushed about 15 kms overall in the race.

Bikes breaking all around. derailleurs, chains most common. Guys where pushing home with 20 kms to go with no chain. Took me 2 days to clean my bike. Had to renew my disc pads @ R400. Like servicing a car.

Completed in 5hr40 minutes. Only 1000 completed of the 3000 starters. – The Dodge

The same guy did a 20km ride at nearby Hammarsdale, and finished in 1hr 31mins!

So no, I wasn’t imagining it was a tough day out there!

~~~oo0oo~~~


Mfolosi – A Quickie

Mfolosi again. Just one night with three twenty year old lasses, Jess, Tarryn & Jordie.

– Kill Site! –

On the way up north one of my pet theories got a bit of backing evidence! When birding by car, I say, ‘Stop anywhere: There will almost always be some birds around’. Busting for a leak I stopped under a bridge on the N2 North. While sighing with relief, I spotted what looked like a black plastic bag flapping in the breeze in a small tree about 30m back; but my binocs revealed it to be a long-crested eagle staring intently at the ground a mere metre below it; then it pounced and fossicked around in the grass; when it flew up it had a plump grey rat with a shortish tail in its beak – a vlei rat, I’d guess. What a lovely sighting at a chance stop.

– the tree that Jess hit! – or almost hit! –

In the reserve Jess took the wheel awhile on a quiet raod on the far side, near the western gate; she hadn’t driven for a while, so I was pleased when she asked to; she did real well until – Murphy’s Law! – an open-top Land Cruiser came around the corner right in front of her, full of tourists and driven by a handsome tour guide; Distracted, and having to suddenly remember clutch in, steer left and gently brake was a bit too much so she just drove into a little thorn tree, slammed on brakes and stalled. I pretended to be peering into the thorns, some of which were in my open window, through my binocs! Spot the Jessie skid marks!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Green Cheese

A well-known tactic of the name-remembering incompetent is to use one ‘name’ for everyone when you can’t remember their names. In the sixties Uncle Jack Kemp used to call everyone ‘Cock’. ‘Hello Cock!’ he’d say and you could see his mind racing: Just WHO is this again? I mean, I know him but what’s his name again?! ‘How’re you Cock?’ In the eighties Peppy Peeperkorn, a delightful nurse friend at Addington Hospital when I was sentenced to live there by the army used to call everyone ‘Chicken Legs’! ‘Hey, Chicken Legs! What you doin’?’

I sometimes use Green Cheese: Have you fed Green Cheese yet? WHO!? You know: TC, Matt, Bogie, Shadow, Sambucca! SAMBUCCA! You know I meant Sambucca.

So I made the mistake of asking Tom after one of his home school lessons: ‘What did old Green Cheese teach you today?’ He cracked up and has called his tutor Green Cheese ever since, my protests and explanation and Hey, you don’t DO that! falling on delighted deaf ears.

This morning I overheard him as he walked in to start his lesson “Hey! That’s my chair! It’s made for my arse, not an old Green Cheese arse!’

He should get a klap on his ear from his older, bigger, cleverer, more capable, more focused third year economics student tutor, but instead – as so often with Tom – he gets away with it.

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Belle of the Ball

Again. She’s done this before.

Jess was invited to accompany Lelam to his matric dance at her old alma mater Wendon Academy. Yes, she’d go; No, she wouldn’t; Yes. No. I won’t enjoy it Dad. You’ll love it my girl. Cold feet. But we got going:

We bought a dress.

We used her silver shoes from her own matric dance in 2016, then got (shh! cheap) jewellery and a clutch bag to match them.

Charmaine up the road did her hair.

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– Jess all serious –

Her childhood friend Annabelle did her make-up.

– while Belinda took the pictures –
Jess & Annabelle
– Jessica & Annabelle go WAY back –

Lelam’s Dad phoned and organised things. He would fetch Jess and take them to the dance. He sounded like a lovely person, but a dark secret cast doubt on that assessment: He is a Michaelhouse Old Boy! I’d be keeping a close eye on him.

Proud Dad Mphathisi and Lelam arrived with a beautiful bunch of roses and a stunning corsage:

They had a lovely evening. We fetched them afterwards, so we got to see the star-studded hall.

Wenson Dance Jess Lelam 2018 (15)

They had danced all night; We had eaten, drank and solved the world’s problems all night. Mphathisi is a lovely guy even if he did go to a dodgy school – the one Tom whipped at rugby.

Next morning a beautiful Pearl Charaxes found the single malt dregs:

. . . and a skein of birds flew overhead:

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What a lovely day. The world is a good place to be.

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Aftermath – I wrote to Mphathisi:

I enjoyed this little snippet from last night:

Lelam told me at the hall when we fetched them that ‘he had taught Jess to dance’. I thought that was brilliant and interesting, as I have paid for YEARS of dance classes for Jess!

So this morning I probed gently:

How was the dancing?

Fun, says the monosyllabic one.

Did everyone dance?

Yes.

Was the music good?

Yes.

Oh, and the DJ’s assistant was “hot” – she’s opening up here!

Did you do any different dances?

What do you mean?

I mean did you learn a new dance or something?

Oh, yes, Lelam showed us a new dance and we did it.

BINGO!

Mphathisi replied:

HAHAHAHA – oh the trials and tribulations of parenthood. 😊 – And HE has not shut up about how he taught Jessica to dance. Big moment for him, that – LOL!!!

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feedback from friends and big supporters –

Terry: This made me cry twice. She looks just as Trish would have wanted Her too. What hugely handsome beaus too! Beautifully written Pete. 

Rita: She looked amazing – both times. Jess has really grown into a beautiful girl. Aitch would be proud. And don’t run yourself down. You do a good job.

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R.I.P Denis Barker

Denis finally passed away just short of his 88th birthday. The last few years were not good. Glen and Alli came to visit from Mudgee, which is to Australia what Kestell is to the Free State. We went out to supper after they had visited Denis; They were not sure if he had recognised them; The next day Alli phoned to say he had gone.

Despite his wake being held at very short notice and in the middle of a long weekend (the next day was Tuesday Workers Day May 1st) it was really well attended.

It was held in the Umzinto church he and Faye had got married in – which they had bought when the congregation fizzled and the building had been demystified. They moved it lock, stock, pulpit and baptismal fountain to Selborne. Then they got married in it all over again. Then Faye was buried from it four years ago. And now Denis.

Just like Faye’s the wake was first-class, and we all made sure the bar tab the family picked up was a hefty one. ‘I’ll have another one of those, please, and let me tell you THIS about Glen . . ‘

Denis and Faye had farmed in the Dumisa district – which made Kestell look urban – on Tanhurst and then moved to Selborne on the coast. I had once visited Glen at Tanhurst as a student, and then visited them often at Selborne, golfing at Umdoni, exploring Linton Hall and Botha House, checking out ‘Vernon the Villain’ Crookes’ beautiful manor house at Selborne – now Glen’s home; Denis and Faye were always so very kind to us and interested in our affairs. I saw Glen turn 21 there and get married there. Free beer!

Selborne Park
Barker Selborne

Denis soon began changing Selborne from sugar cane fields, a dairy and an anthirium nursery to his dream golf course. He had traveled to golf courses all over the world* and THIS was how he wanted his golf course to look. With more than a bit of an Augusta National Golf Club look evident!

Selborne golf course.jpg

*in the ‘States somewhere – I must ask Glen where – Denis once got a hole-in-one on a par four! What kind of bird is that!? An apteryx?

Denis and Glen were mad keen cricketers. Sometimes their club was really desperate and Glen would ask me – a FreeStater! – to fill in for them. I would happily oblige. About three or four times I traveled down to Umzinto, got a duck, dropped a few catches and did very well at lunch. Later when Denis wrote a book ‘Umzinto Cricket – The First 100 years’ I bought one, he signed it, and I eagerly read it from cover to cover. Then I checked all the stats. I was sorely disappointed. Complete waste of money. Obviously an incomplete history: I didn’t feature at all.

Umzinto Cricket 100yrs

I believe he wrote another book about a forefather who had survived Isandlwana. I didn’t read that one. I only hope he gave that brave warrior a bit more credit.

PS: If you really want to know accurate Barker history for goodness’ sake don’t read what I write! Ask Glen – he’ll give you lock stock and barrel!

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Dave Hill responded: Nice one Pete.

Denis and my dad, George were at Kearsney together…..so when I arrived there, a freshfaced Zambian boy in 1968, the only person I “knew” was Glen.

He took me under his wing and I spent many weekends at the farm. Denis taught me, sort of, to water ski on Ifafa Lagoon! Hard to imagine nowadays that there was water right up to where the highway passes by.

Later on I was called upon by Denis to drill for water at Selborne. We spent many hours talking during the 3 weeks we were there and I really got to know him rather well.

Those boreholes are still working today and I always bore [sorry!] my mates when playing a round there with war stories about drilling in 1983/4.

He gave me a copy of his Isandlwana book and we kept in contact via email until he sadly was unable to do so.

He hung in tough though and he can now finally rest in peace with his beloved Faye and Jane.

– gotta love the company slogan –

~~~oo0oo~~~

R.I.P Ernie Alder

Dammit n SHIT!! Ernie died!

Fuckity fuck.

It’s bullshit. He wasn’t ready. He wasn’t finished. He wasn’t even close to wrapping up all the things he still planned to do – even after doing so much.

Damn! Too soon.

Ernie's Pub
– Ernie at his pulpit – ‘what’s the question?’ (when you asked for a Hansa) –

A very special human being.

Ernie’s wake will be held in Ernie’s Pub in Kingfisher Canoe Club on the banks of the Umgeni River in Durban. You KNOW you have led a really wonderful life when you’re going to be saluted in a pub named after you while you were still in your prime by your mates!

Ernest Alder – 17/08/1942 – 21/01/2018

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Also, that I know of:

He was involved in the Caister old age home while his Mom was there;

He owned a holiday home on a game farm up north, adjoining Mkhuze.

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Ernie on some of his Umko marathon experiences.

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Travis Wilkinson of KCC wrote:

It is with a heavy heart that I write of the passing of Ernie Alder!
There are very few truly selfless individuals, those that give of their time beyond what could ever be expected without seeking reward or adulation!
Ernie you will, for me, always be synonymous with KCC and there will never be a time, driving in to the car park, that I do not look for your vehicle, your welcoming smile or your loudhailer!
Rest in peace my friend, you did so much to assist me in my time as chairman and for the numerous chairs before and those that came after.
Your legacy will forever be intertwined with the history of KCC and you will be sorely missed at the club and along the many riverbanks and boat pounds across the country!

A gentleman, a gentle man! We will miss you – Elvis Kingfisher

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– I managed to see him in hospital before he waai’d –

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Mkhuze in Winter

Jess and I spent two nights at Mkhuze. Looking very dry and animals were few and far between. Still, we saw lots of the usual dependables: giraffe, zebra, impala, hippo, nyala, wildebeest and – at last! – one elephant. A young bull right next to the road. Jess, who watches too much youtube of eles goring and flipping cars, did not want to hang around, so we drove past him.

Also Banded and Slender Mongooses. One band of Banded and two individual Slenders.

But lots of birds. I won’t give the boring – to me exciting – list (78 species) but I will tell this story. In Mantuma camp – here:

Mkhuze July2017 (3)
Pink-throated_Twinspot_Mkhuze

I went looking for pinkspots (pink-throated twinspots). Like this:

I followed their high-pitched trilling cricket-like sound and found them and more:

There they were, in a bird party in the grass! Blue waxbills, green-winged pytilias, grey-headed sparrows, yellow-throated petronias, yellow-fronted canaries, red-billed firefinches pecked alongside the pinkspots on the sandy soil. And in the tree directly above them a small flock of red-billed woodhoopoes, a dark-backed weaver and a golden-tailed woodpecker. Just that one bird party made the whole trip worthwhile. I stood twenty metres from them and watched through my Zeiss’ for ages. ‘Saturation Views’!

On my way back to the chalet I watched a black cuckoo-shrike give a full, relaxed display all round me. I didn’t know this jet-black bird could be so BLUE! In the sunlight his ‘black’ shone a beautiful cobalt blue. This picture I found on ethiobirds is the only one that captures it well. See the difference!

– thank you ethiobirds and birdseye.photo –

Jess was our chief photographer:

Mkhuze July2017 (27)

~~~oo0oo~~~