Micro-Hippos (or tardigrades)

I’ve had to re-post this 2017 post cos there’s been a wonderful new discovery! At the end of the post, DO click over to the CBS News site – a great article ending in a quirky song by a quirky tardigradologist! Here’s a sneak peek at the new 16 million-year-old discovery:

– we are talking microscopic –

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Americans call tardigrades ‘water bears’ and Europeans call them ‘moss piglets’. I think Africans should call them micro-hippos. They’re obviously more closely related to hippopotamuses than bears or pigs. Just look at them. Anyone can see that’s a microscopic hippo wearing his old wrinkled khaki safari outfit.*

Anyway, they live in water, like bears and pigs don’t. Microscopic, blobby-bodied tardigrades measure mostly between 0.3 to 0.5 millimeters in length. The tiny creatures have endearing features if you have a good enough microscope: fat, lumpy bodies; oblong heads, sometimes with a tubular mouth; four pairs of chubby legs tipped with grasping claws like a sloth. The word tardigrada is Latin for ‘slow stepper’.

They are famed for their ability to survive in extreme conditions, even appearing to come back from the dead. They’re found around the world on damp moss and algae, but you can’t really see them with the naked eye. Yet somehow German dominee-zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze discovered them back in 1773. I love it. Back in the days when dominees were useful! I hope he mentioned them in his next sermon on fortitude.

Researchers have found that tardigrades can withstand searing heat up to 149 degrees Celsius and freezing cold as low as minus 200 degrees Celsius. They emerge unscathed after exposure to boiling, high pressure, and the radiation and vacuum of space.  They expel the water from their bodies and enter a suspended state. In this state they’re called ‘tuns’. They retract their limbs and shrink into tiny, desiccated balls, emerging only when life-threatening conditions have passed. OK, so that’s not like hippos, but nor is it like piglets. Bears do their hibernation thing, true.

They come in various kinds. Here’s another one and a cute micro-hippo embryo:

Scientists are studying how these amazing beasts do what they do. One is Thomas C. Boothby of the University of North Carolina. He grew up in Africa, so I hope he calls them micro-hippos!

More here and here and here

*Matt Simon on wired.com called them something like “cannons in wrinkled khaki”

– a MicroHippo (or tardigrade) –

Once again, go see the new fossil discovery here.

~~~oo0oo~~~

dominee – preacher, pastor, pontificator

Why Do Chillis Burn and Make Us Sweat?

– nobel medal –
(Photo by Niklas HALLE’N / POOL / AFP)

Re-posting this 2015 post after the winners of 2021’s Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine tell how they used the chili pepper’s capsaicin to narrow down the molecule that lets us sense heat and pain (or temperature and touch) – a ground-breaking discovery which is going to lead to advances in medicine). See link at the end. And step up your chili eating!

~~~oo0oo~~~

I love hot food so I looked into the whole effect-of-chilis thing a couple years ago and was really intrigued and pleased at what I discovered.

nsmail

  Good stuff

Tongue
– human tongue up close –

If you could watch cells and nerves on your tongue through a powerful microscope as someone burnt them with a flame you would actually see them get physically damaged as they sent a mad “heat and pain!” signal to your brain. If you watched them as you ate a habanero chili the same urgent message would be sent, but NO HARM would be happening to the cells! No harm whatsoever.

Once you process this info you can really start to relax and enjoy hot food. It’s “capsaicin” that’s responsible for that burn and pain sensation. Marvellous stuff! Capsaicin selectively binds to a protein known as TRPV1 that resides on the membranes of pain and heat-sensing neurons. TRPV1 is a heat-activated calcium channel that usually opens between 37 and 45°C. When capsaicin binds to TRPV1, it causes the channel to open at or below normal human body temperature, which is why capsaicin is linked to the sensation of heat. Glorious heat! So what happens when you add chillis to your grub is your body thinks it is being exposed to heat. Your tolerance for heat in the exposed tissues goes so low that the temperature of your own body is mistaken for a serious burn. Your brain says ouch! and eina! at first, but once you know what’s happening you learn to say Ooh! and Aah! and you get to LURV that sensation and the feeling of well-being that follows.

So: You can go on a long boring run for your endorphin pleasure, or you can sit and enjoy a delicious meal for the same effect!

That’s the brain’s response. Meantime, your body responds to this heat like it would normally by trying to cool you. Capillaries expand in the area of contact and redness and swelling begin so the blood can carry heat away and bring in healing factors to fix the injury (in this case: “injury”). The chemical only works locally on the tissues it directly touches (on nerve endings). This is why your tongue and lips will burn, as they have lots of nerve endings close to the surface. But the pain may also cause general stress sweating as your body is chemically reacting to pain and trying to counteract it. Your body thinks it is in the presence of a dangerous level of heat and responds with the sensation of pain even though there is no danger.

Incidentally, your body’s ability to feel temperature is a separate sense. TPRV1 receptors are an “Ouch! that’s hot” sense not a “Hmm, this is hot or cold” sense. Normally heat only begins to generate pain if it goes over about 37°C and the pain climbs as the heat does!

You get used to (and learn to love) the effect of chillis. Repeated exposure to capsaicin causes the chemicals that communicate pain to be depleted from your nerve endings, making you tougher and less of a ninny. Did I mention: Marvellous stuff!?

Aside: Chillies originally come from South and Central America, and were taken to Europe first and then to India and Asia, where they became an integral part of Asian cuisine.

(Thanks to Ariel Williams on quora for a lot of this!)

Remember: 'Tis a boring man who can only spell a word one way.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Read how the chili pepper helped us find out more about how heat and pain works.

Who Benefited?

. . from the looting and the plundering last month?

Well, I for one. Maybe I did? In the thick of the looting a bakkie arrived at my gate and a guy came running in carrying furniture. He dumped it on my stoep and ran off.

I managed to get a picture of the perpetrator. Bit blurry, but we’ll know him by his bling shoes. And no-one wears corduroys like that anymore:

What a comfortable rocking chair! Check it gleaming golden in the setting sun. On closer inspection, it must be said . . he must have looted a second hand shop . . or was he clearing up his stoep?

~~~oo0oo~~~

bakkie – pickup truck

stoep – porch

Second Jab

Well, what can you do? Never thought I’d do it, but then never thought I’d work at a Catholic institution neither! Went for my second Pfizer jab at ‘St Joseph’s.’

It was long and slow, and I’m hoping that’s a good sign. My first jab I was about fifth in the queue and was through in no time. The longest part was waiting fifteen minutes afterwards to make sure I didn’t have a funny turn. This longer queue means more people are waking up. I hope.

This time the fifteen minute recovery period was the shortest part of the procedure. But it was all done very well, very efficiently and in a very helpful and friendly fashion. I got three badges on my shoulder as I passed various stations.

The Book of Charles

A Scribbling Saga

“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.”

– 2016 book –

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.

– the Bard of Everton arriving for work – bakkie parked so he can run-start it –

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.

– same Bard in winter gear, contemplatively hard at work in the office –
– the editorial office setting –
– we made notes –

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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!

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

– Chas and Barb on a family camping trip next to those waters –

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?

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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!

~~~oo0oo~~~

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:

– Irene, Barbara, Sharron & Sylvia –

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.

– JC and FC –

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!

~~~oo0oo~~~

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:

~~~oo0oo~~~

Bakgat by Charles Mason ISBN number 978-0-620-93270-7 (print). Read online here.

17 August 2021: Now also in hardcover!

Seventy Long Years

On the 14th July 1951 the biggest hugest massivest humungousest stroke of luck to befall him in all his life befell Pieter Gerhardus Swanepoel. By far. By a very long long way the biggest.

And he didn’t realise it, still doesn’t.

This morning Mary will wake thinking, I wonder how Pieter is, I hope he’s alright.

Happy 70th wedding anniversary, Mom n Dad.

COVID Hits Home

Last year on the 18th March, one week before Cyril could tell us to Go Home, Stay Home, I dived under my duvet and stayed there. I’ve been here ever since.

On 1st June Raksha said Let’s open up again, and I said ‘No! Keep your head down!’ On 8th June she opened up, can’t wait on a wimp. I said ‘No-one will come. Who’ll be foolish enough to roam the streets, never mind go have their eyes tested!?’ We’ll see, she said. Let’s go!

Prenisha was with her. Let’s go! said Prenisha. They hired locum optometrists and got going. We won’t make breakeven turnover, thought the hidden wimp, all panicky. They did – every single month! They paid the rent, paid their own salaries, paid our locums’ salaries, paid expenses. And – bless them – they even paid me a part-salary! Me, the undeserving fugitive. – – Wait! Were they paying me to stay away?

And so it has gone. Thirteen months later, joined now by Yandiswa (also saying Let’s go!), they’re still doing a wonderful job, I’m still under my duvet. But now one of them has tested positive and we have closed, as everyone takes time to isolate and recover for the one, and avoid contagion for the others.

One day at a time. We’ll test and monitor and open again when we can.

What STARS!!

~~~oo0oo~~~

And then: Two days after we closed for COVID isolation our centre got ransacked in the looting inspired by the greed brigade who got used to robbing us blind under Zuma and used his eventual deserved jailing as an excuse to incite the poor to loot. A shameful attempt at an insurrection, people way past their sell-by dates hoping to topple our government so they could get back to looting the budgets of each govt department.

So our practice closed again. Eleven weeks later, having re-built it and re-equipped it and re-stocked it, we begin again on 11 October 2021. We’re in a wrecked-looking centre, with many shops still boarded up (many will never re-open).

My ever-optimistic ladies Raksha, Prenisha and Yandiswa – now vaccinated – are back too, saying Let’s go!

Fingers crossed we can rise from the ashes again.

~~~oo0oo~~~

A Decade

It has been a decathlon. It would have been useful to have you around. Still would be. Ten years without you, but very few days where we don’t think of you.

We had a good system going, you multitasking and me doing as I was told; After? Let’s just say a couple things did fall through the cracks. A couple more than would have.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Blood on the Floor

The ole man has another tale to tell in the dramatic saga that is LIFE when approaching your centenary:

‘I looked down in the shower and my red facecloth was lying there. I thought Who The Heck put it there? Its usually in the bath, not the shower.’

Then I looked again and it was bigger than my facecloth and growing in size. It was blood. The shower floor was covered in blood. I immediately knew what it was.’ (He always immediately knows what things are, what caused them, and if you wait half a breath he’ll tell you the cure for it as well).

It was my diverticulitis again. You bleed out your bum from little pouches in your colon rupturing. I had an op, you know, years ago, but now it was back.

I called the office and two ladies came to help. I told them the cause and they lay me down and inspected my exhaust pipe. While the one was gazing intently up there, the other one said Hey, Look! There’s a big cut on his ankle!’

Turns out there was a sharp splinter on the corroded part of the shower aluminium door at ankle height and I had cut my ankle without even noticing it.

They bandaged me up and all’s well. AND as a bonus, I now know my bum’s fine.

Poor ladies need a medal, dark glasses and probly therapy.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Magistrates Court

Welcome to the real world! Walking towards the entrance of the Durban Magistrates Courts, the first convo I overhear is, "Ons sukkel om n prokureur te kry vir Pa, hulle se almal, 'domestic violence?' en dan weier hulle." !!
Once inside I wander around, lost. A tall masked man all dressed in black sees me and asks Need Help? I say 'First Timer.' He says, Well, see if you can get legal aid, otherwise, here's my number. My fees are low for first appearances. Lovely friendly guy, name of Neville. Sounds very English! I tease. Neville Ngcobo, he says in a private school accent. I say my friend inside is N Ngcobo too! Ms N Ngcobo. I'll have to give you an even better deal! he now teases. 

A scrawny lil guy with an older guy is nearing the end of his tether. 'If he say-s that one more time I'm going to swear him!' he threatens in that unmistakable Durban-Delhi accent. Older guy with him tells him Calm Down.
'Go and wait outside, security will call you in by the name of the person on the list,' says the man at the info desk on the first floor. I go out onto the lawn. Lovely day. Sunny with a nice breeze, which I keep so its always blowing away from me. As the sun strengthens I seek shade for my bald head.

At 10.42 I go in and ask security wassup. 'No, we're still waiting for the list,' says the man  

At 11.24am there's a stirring. Everyone crowds towards the door. Names are called and people move in, going to support their people. Quite a few names are called with no reaction. No-one to help those poor blighters. Then Ziggy's name is called. I go in. 'YOU for Nonsikilelo Ngcobo!?' the lady with the list asks pointedly. I nod, walk in.
Now I'm in court D, waiting. The court official ladies are talking: 
We got a 'theft.' Hey, we got a 'driving under the influence.' Eish, when last!? We seldom get those. All we get is DRUGS.
Some poor young fella is up before the beak. He's entirely on his own. No one to support him. He is asked what language he prefers. English, he says. Magistrate looks up and peers at him over his specs: Own lawyer, represent yourself, or legal aid? asks the robe. I'd like legal aid please, says the young man. The magistrate intones, 'No bail is granted. You are remanded in custody till your next court date on 21st June.'  He tries to be brave but his shoulders slump slightly. 
I ask the policewoman in court if I just need to wait and get a bit of attitude, but at least she confirms Ziggy is here. Tells me, 'Wait outside, I'll call you.' Damn, I wanted to watch and listen!
At last there's Ziggy! She sees me with huge relief, so tears roll down onto her mask. She's been in police custody for three nights, barefoot and no cellphone. I signal relax relax and bump my heart "Don't worry girl, stay strong!" When no-one can see she whips her mask down and mouths "I'm so so sorry!" with more tears!
A legal gentleman (legal aid defendant?) asks, Who's here for Ms Ngcobo? I say I am, sir, and he comes over very polite and asks who am I? How'm I related?  Family friend? Where's her Mom? I give my details and her Mom's and he asks, after checking if I can confirm her Mom's address is real: How's R500 for bail? I say that's fine thank you. 

He tells the judge: First offender, no record, no job, no child, has a place to go to, has someone who'll pay. Will his lordship accept R500 bail? Prosecutor agrees. Magistrate says his ritual and agrees.  Tells her to show up on 24 June early am, tells her what happens if she doesn't: warrant for her arrest and forfeit bail. Then he grants bail. Relief. Zig tries to disguise her tears.
They keep her while I am taken downstairs to go and pay bail. Then back up two flights. There's Zig still. Hand over receipt and clerk says wait, you need to keep this to get it refunded.
And we're outa there. Ziggy barefoot since Friday. Hungry. I give her the packet with all the goodies n toiletries, toothpaste, tissues etc I'd packed for her Friday, Saturday, Sunday and today. Finally I can give it to her (no parcels allowed, no visitors allowed, nothing, both police stations said, even though the 'your rights' pamphlet they gave Ziggy clearly says she had the right to have certain visitors). 
She uses a kilometer of toilet tissue first, then cooldrink. Thank you SO much, Geezer!

We have a long barefoot walk to my car. She asks do you have a spare mask, Geezer? Oh thank you so much! Mine is full of prison! She's been wearing it for 72hrs straight, slept with it on in the crowded holding cells.
Then home. She has three weeks to ponder. 

~~~oo0oo~~~

The day before, Sunday, my lawyer had torn himself away from visiting friends in Ballito and joined me at Durban Central police station. They wouldn’t let him see Ziggy as he didn’t have his special Lawyer ID card, but they did take a note to her asking if she had a family lawyer, so at least she knew for the first time someone outside was aware she was inside.

Monday after the hearing I sms’d him: Got R500 bail, case set for 24 June. Thanks for your help! Tuesday I wrote his ladies, Your Boss was a star on a white horse on a SUNDAY, please send a bill. They wrote back a formal lawyer’s letter on a pdf, ‘Thank your for the gesture, we will not charge you for the work done on Sunday.’ So I sms’d him, ‘Does that motley crew you hang out with* know that you’re actually a gentleman?’ His reply: ‘Probably not. I don’t want that to get out and ruin my reputation.’

~~~oo0oo~~~

Ons sukkel om n prokureur te kry vir Pa, hulle se almal, ‘domestic violence?’ en dan weier hulle – Battling to get a lawyer for Dad; When they hear ‘domestic violence’ they don’t want to get involved.

* He hangs out with a bunch of geezers who swim from pier to pier in the early mornings. With the sharks and – IN SPEEDOS! At their age!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Took me sixty six years to learn what to do in a magistrate’s court. I spose some okes can do it with one hand tied behind their back. Maybe even both hands . . .

I’m Losing My Social Skills and I Don’t Want Them Back

This heading really struck a chord with me. I clicked on it right away. Turns out it was about working in an office, then staying at home under COVID, so I could relate to that; but this was a far more serious case involving discrimination. His or her full post is here.

So very different, but a kernel of truth that related to me in there: I liked and could relate to his or her conclusion: I don’t want my old social skills back. He’s happy with giving less effs than before, and targeting more well-deserved effs where they’re deserved. And so am I.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Some of the comments on that post were great, too:

  • ‘I have worked through my people-pleasing issues;’
  • ‘I am curbing ‘a life-long habit of “giving ‘effs” to others who really did not deserve the deference?’
  • ‘It’s not that I dislike people, and have given them the mental “heave-ho,” instead it is that I love myself enough now to no longer allow my peace and sense of self to be captured and manipulated by others (even well-meaning others).’

~~~oo0oo~~~

I like to think its all part of a well thought out logical process. But it could, of course, just be the normal progression of life:

The progression of life . . .

Balls n Balls n Birthdays

I met Jaynee J through optometry. She had launched a hugely successful large-format glossy trade magazine VISION which changed the way eyeball marketing was done in Africa. So I had to meet her.

And there she was: This gorgeous blonde Pomshell laughing, thriving and swigging champagne! Succeeding and enjoying. Larger than life. Full of adventure, mischief and mirth. Unforgettable!

She got hugely involved in things optometric and ophthalmic, becoming famous in no time. Then suddenly one day Jayne’s focus changed. Oh no! She was no longer solely focused on us Eyeball Mechanics! She had a lot of strange new men in her life. What was going on?

Then I saw: She’d launched a similar magazine for vets. Veterinary surgeons. Testicle Mechanics. Now when I’d visit her, weird okes would rock up at The Rock with scarves tied round their heads. Everyone knows where a scarf goes. Around your neck. But these ous were on motorcycles. Holly DaveySounds they called them – and they had a weird sound. I dunno, a 1952 Vincent Black Lightning was always good enough for me.

Ever-versatile, our Jaynee J had transitioned from eyeballs to dogs balls. Detailed descriptions followed of primitive de-nackering surgery in Mocambique vs high-tech de-nackering surgery in Sandton. I think she enjoyed my empathetic squirming.

Jayne Champagne

Ever-mobile, she moved from Lonehill to the Reeds to the Rock to Vilanculos. Every place she moved into was The Best and Wonderful and became a place where great meals were served with champagne. Always lashings of champagne. ‘Hold the bottle at 45°and you won’t waste any!’ None was wasted.

Recently Jaynee J had a big round birthday and her kids Jessie and Jason gathered a bunch of tributes and made a video for her. Lots of lovely people saying lots of lovely things. All true, like this tribute.

She has also featured here and here and here and here and here and here.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Top pic: Jayne acting godma to our kids.

A Jessie Makeover!

Jessie’s new friend Sandy took her off to the Pavilion centre and sorted her out like a big sister! Even though she only takes Jess up to her shoulder, she’s a great big sis. They did hair, clothes, shoes – actually boots – nails, eyelashes, the works. A vast improvement from her boring Mom, me.

Sandy and husband Lwazi have been wonderfully supportive of Jess in her travails.

~~~oo0oo~~~

iNyanga vs EBM

On the way to Tobias Gumede’s umuzi north of Jozini on the Makathini Flats of the Pongola river floodplain, you pass a nyanga’s advertising billboard. He can sort out all your problems.

Not all his own, though, so he died and the new nyanga re-wrote the promises when we last went there.

Tobias’ home had also been upgraded. He’d added a covered entrance porch:

Leaving his home and continuing north you cross the Pongola where a magnificent old fig suffers the depredations of progress, erosion exposing its roots to a dangerous degree.

~~~oo0oo~~~

The new nyanga sign says (take my translation with a pinch of salt):

his gift we built

(can’t) stop

that which advances

the big (important) traditional doctor

~~~oo0oo~~~

April 2018: Tobias has just walked in. He has come to work straight from the hospital where they measured his blood pressure: 204 over 124! I sat him down and told him don’t move until that BP is down! So, much to his dismay, he’s under house arrest today. He has taken his muti and will take again tonight and tomorrow, then we’ll see if we can release him! But I’m fine! he protested, so I told him in gruesome detail what high BP can do to you, with a graphic artistic demonstration when I got to the ‘fall down dead’ stage. ‘Twas a powerful performance.

Glad he didn’t see the nyanga. I’m an EB Medicine Man. Evidence-Based Medicine EBM.

Later: I bought a supply of his two tablets and kept them at home with strict instructions: If you forget to take your tablets at home, take them here. Never miss! Yebo baba.

March 2020: On his last day before the COVID-19 lockdown I gave them to him to take home. Now it’s April 2021 and he assures me he takes them faithfully. I once again asked him, When you hear a man has suddenly died, what usually killed him? He couldn’t answer right away and I prompted him and he remembered. Oh yes! The ‘PRESSURE.‘ Yep, Take Your Pills, I droned.

~~~oo0oo~~~

I’m a Missionary

I regard myself as a missionary. It’s an important job. There are a lot of people who need help and I – like the man from head office – am here to help them.

Take my mate JonDinDin and his eating habits. Weird. He made a porridge for me once and when I had finished picking twigs, bark, seed husks and I think even a few pebbles from my teeth, I politely asked him, ‘What The Actual Fuck?’ Roughage, he said. Fibre. Gives you moral fibre, makes you rugged. I explained health food to him and gave him some solid dietary tips. You know what food is good for you if it tastes lekker. If it tastes really REALLY good it’s health food: Mental Health. And that’s the important health, right? Mental Health. Also drinking. Eight glasses of water a day is for elephants after a drought. Drink when you’re thirsty, and sometimes drink stuff that makes you feel witty, clever and like you can dance like Nureyev. I don’t think he thanked me. Weird.

Take Chas and his perseveration. Someone has to be there for him. I say to him, Chas, if you have paddled from Hella Hella to Goodenough’s weir, you have paddled from Hella Hella to Goodenough’s weir. You’ve done it. You do not have to do it fifty times. Fifty three, he says.

I say to Allie, Allie, you have walked the Wild Coast. You have been there, done that. Also, if you must swim, there are lots of places you can swim with zero sharks in the water. I introduce a new concept for your consideration: Shark-Free Water.

But do they lissen!?

What made me think of my mission in life was this NEW Gary Larson cartoon. Yes, the wonderful news is that Gary Larson is telling the truth about life again! He stopped doing his The Far Side cartoons in 1995 but recently he started again! Not with pen and ink now, but on a tablet. Here’s the one that got me going:

isn’t Gary Larson awesome! Domestic dogs preaching like mormons or jehovah’s witnesses!! – – telling lies to dogs living the simple, truthful, real life! –

~~~oo0oo~~~

I went on a mission with a missionary once. Got saved and damned . . .

The Head Louse

in the house

– always a great believer in home remedies –

Don’t come and visit! I’ve got head lice. They’re all over. I’ve told Linda to keep great-granddaughter Katie away! I have used over R1000 worth of muti from Aidan the chemist, I’ve sprayed the carpets and bedroom with Doom, I even sprayed my head with Doom, I know I shouldn’t have, but they’re crawling all over my body.

OK. That doesn’t sound right, so I go and visit. No sign of head lice. Have you seen any? ‘Only one, in my bed, but I saw three or four eggs on the lice comb. The louse on my bed was about the size of a grain of rice.’ Hmmm.

I write it down so he can’t mis-hear me or get me wrong: “I don’t think you have head lice. I think you have crawling nerve ends. Peripheral neuropathy.”

I’m wrong, of course. Immediately wrong. This and that.

I spell it out again: “I do not think you have head lice. In fact I KNOW you don’t have head lice. Stop using poisons. Your shingles and nerve endings cause crawling and itching sensations. Basically it’s peripheral neuropathy – nerve damage.” You’re not allowed to say Dis Die Ouderdom, but nevertheless I say, “You don’t have any specific cause, so it’s probably age-related.”

He’s skeptical, but at least when I take him to PicknPay he doesn’t buy any more Doom – which was on his list.

Later I take him the blurb on neuropathy – which is also the most likely cause of his pins and needles fingers and burning feet. It’s a bugger. But it’s not lice.

Nowadays he tells people about peripheral neuropathy.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Dis Die Ouderdom – It’s your age; taboo