After a delightful game drive we rounded a bend and there before us was a fairyland under the acacias: Candlelit tables; white tablecloths; mounds of food and litres of grog; Dinner under the stars;
Litres of grog. We felt obliged to indulge. Wonderfully festive and everyone in expansive, friendly and bonhomie mood. Well, me anyway. I had fallen amongst thieves and was being happily led astray. Again.
Hyenas around the camp watched us just outside the circle of firelight. Every now and then someone would shine a torch round and there were those eyes, watching us and taking notes.
We drank all the bottles. We tried hard to drink all the boxes.
Landrovers left, one after the other. We drank on. Then came that fearful dirge, dreaded by all soaks: Time gentlemen please. Gotta go now. The last Landrover is leaving.
Go! we said. No Worries! We’ll catch the last hyena home. Bacchanalian Bravado. The rangers who’d drawn the short straw rolled their eyes and waited, then patiently herded us into the last Landrover and drove us home, pretending to enjoy our songs and wit. Some of us sitting on the bonnet passing the last box of wine from mouth to mouth.
Back in River Camp they resignedly open up the pub and we drank some more. Strangely enough we felt thirsty, they always say one should drink a lot – avoid dehydration. There was a bit of spillage on the bar counter due to enthusiasm and slight co-ordination challenges. But more No Worries, we dutifully mopped up the bar counter leaving it clean and tidy. Vicious rumours circulated that I played a central role, hoovering up the booze lake. Tall tales were told how I was held by the legs and torso by sundry drunkards and long-lip suctioned up the leftover moisture. I was only trying to help. One should act responsibly I feel.
Merriam-Webster says (paraphrased): German tipplers toasting each other’s health sometimes drank a brimming mug of spirits straight to the bottom-drinking “all-out.” They called it – gar aus. The French adopted the German term as carous, using the adverb in their expression boire carous (“to drink all out”), and that phrase, with its idiomatic sense of “to empty the cup,” led to carrousse, a French noun meaning “a large draft of liquor.” And that’s where English speakers picked up carouse in the mid-1500s, first as a noun (which later took on the sense of a general “drinking bout”), and then as a verb meaning “to drink freely.”
dictionary.com says: carousal – [ kuh-rou-zuhl ] – noun: a noisy or drunken feast or social gathering; revelry.
A Fierce Feathered Dinosaur took um at a Faithful Amiable Amphibian who was just doing his duty recently. The Redwing Dinos were filled with amour and nesting fervour. They had their eye on a spot on my stoep – the Black Flycatcher nest.
But le frog was on duty, determined to put them off.
The male starling pestered him
‘e chest-bumped le frog; who landed with a splash
Undaunted, le frog he say Mon Dieu and went back on duty; whereupon ‘e got attacked from le rear and landed face-down, falling on hard tiles ‘e did, shame. ‘E almost croaked
I picked ‘im up; I patched ‘im up; I gave him le pep talk. So zis time ‘e decide No More le Watchfrog! Zis time ‘e OCCUPIES!
No, better! It’s actually a Starred Robin! I said excitedly.
A frosty silence descended.
‘DO YOU KNOW I’M THE CHAIRMAN OF THE HERMANUS BIRD CLUB?’ came the imperious question.
That’s very nice, I said without taking my binocs off the robin, But that doesn’t make a robin a shrike. Look at its beak.
A classic attempt at eminence over evidence. Whattahoot!
We moved on, back to our bush camp near Lake St Lucia. Things were uncomfortable, as Jess and I were actually their guests, and mine host’s ego was wounded.
That night I aimed my tiny little 22X Kowa spotting scope at the full moon, setting the tripod low so the kids could get a lovely look.
Again I felt the ambient temperature drop drastically. There were mutterings by Ma, sending The Chairman of the Hermanus Bird Club scuttling off to his son’s bungalow and emerging twice with two large wooden boxes and one small one. A huge tripod emerged from one of them. Unfolded, it resembled the Eiffel tower. From the other box a white tube like an Apollo rocket. The Professional Celestial Telescope! After much assembling and urgent furtive instructions the fussing codgers and the favourite son start searching for the moon. Hey! It’s not easy to find with those bazookas. You move it a millimetre right and you’ve got Jupiter; a millimetre left and its Mars. Go too far down it’s Uranus. Eventually the moon is located and focused on. Ma, Pa and favourite son step back satisfied, and invite the kids to look at THIS telescope. A real one. A chair has to be found for them to stand on.
Oh, I much prefer that one, says the grandkid and then Jessica agrees, and then the other grandkid says Yes, That one’s much better, POINTING AT MY TINY KOWA! It’s a social disaster! Their own grandkids betraying them in their moment of triumph!
I hastily step up to their scope and say Ooh! Aah! and Wow! Magnificent! Powerful! What else? All you can see is white. It’s focused on an insignificant bath mat-sized area of the moon. Whereas with mine you can see the whole moon the size of a dinner plate, this one you could see a dinner plate on the moon. Except there’s no dinner plate to see. Mine shows mountains and craters, this monster shows white.
Cast a pall on the evening it did. Gloom descended. Some went to bed early after some muttered explanation of how the better telescope WAS actually much better.
Hilarious, if a bit stressful at the time for a polite person.
We have a new book out! ( – get it on takealot.com – )
OK, the author has a new book out, his first. School friend Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots is Harrismith’s latest published author, following in the footsteps of FA Steytler, EB Hawkins, Petronella van Heerden and Leon Strachan. There must be more? Indeed – Pikkie reminded me of Johann Lodewyk Marais and Anita van Wyk Henning.
He has published it as an eBook – and I have now received my hard copy too.
I had the privilege and fun of reading it as he wrote and re-wrote it, as one of his proof-readers. It was a blast! I climbed his mountains without getting breathless – except occasionally from laughing, as we relived the olden daze..
Now you gotta realise, Pikkie is a mountaineer and trekker. These are phlegmatic buggers; unflappable; understated. So when he says ‘we walked and then crossed some ice and then we got here: ‘
. . with lovely pictures and fascinating stories along the way . . you must know what he doesn’t show you:
And this is the third highest peak he climbs in Africa! There’s more to come!
Those of us who climb Mt aux Sources should also remember how we drive to within an hour or two’s leisurely walk from the chain ladder. To get to these higher mountains there’s days of trekking before you reach the point in the picture. And there’s way less oxygen available up there! After reading some chapters I had to go’n lie down for a while.
Here’s the back cover blurb: ( – get the book on takealot.com – )
Riposte and Touché:
Pikkie appointed a fellow-mountaineering Pom John as another of his proofreaders. This John asked ‘What’s it with you Saffers and exclamation marks?’ I puffed myself up and replied the problem was not that we use too many; the problem was that Poms use too few!
John’s rejoinder was, “Not true. We use our national quota. It’s just that we allocate almost all of them to teenage girls.”
Green beetle bugs have little bugs upon their heads to bite ’em, And little bugs have lesser bugs, and so ad infinitum. And the great bugs themselves, in turn, have greater bugs to go on; While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.
In the cottage while Jess was being ridiculously fussed over a hawk moth in her bedroom, she spotted a snake under her bed. This didn’t faze her, it was the moth that bothered her! She watched me catch it, photograph and remove it and carried on gaan-ing aan about the moth on her wall! I said Jess! You’re my field ranger! Relax! It’s a moth, f’gdnis’sake. After releasing the snake we couldn’t find the moth, so Jess went to bed warily, one eye open . .
Birds Seen: 1. Ostrich Grey goway bird Loerie Speckled Mousebird Red-collared Widow Long-tailed paradise Whydah Pintail Whydah Southern Boubou Dark-capped Bulbul 10. Stompstert Crombec Arrow-mark Babbler European Roller Lilac-breasted Roller Rattling Cisticola Zitting Cisticola White-brow Scrub Robin Yellowbill Hornbill ForkTailed Drongo Lesser striped Swallow 20. Barn Swallow Black belly Starling Redwing Starling Blue Waxbill Grey head Sparrow Buzzard common Crested Barbet Scimitarbill Southern black Tit Palm Swift 30. Southern masked Weaver Lesser masked Weaver Village Weaver Spectacled Weaver Golden-breasted Bunting Village Indigobird Dusky Indigobird Whitebellied sunbird Amethyst Sunbird female Scarlet chest Sunbird female 40. White-throated Robin Chat Blue grey Flycatcher Spotted Flycatcher Black Flycatcher Crested Francolin Helmeted Guineafowl Redbill Firefinch Striped Kingfisher Brownhooded Kingfisher Magpie Shrike
50. Red back Shrike Black crown Tchagra Green Woodhoopoe Bronze wing Courser Tawny-flanked Prinia Cardinal woodpecker Emerald spot wood Dove Cape turtle dove Laughing dove Redeyed dove 60. Burchells Coucal (fukwe) Woolly neck Stork Black belly Bustard Redbill Oxpecker Cardinal Woodpecker Bearded Woodpecker YellowBreasted Apalis Diderik Cuckoo Hoopoe Rufous-naped Lark 70. Gorgeous Bush Shrike Pytilia Yellow-fronted Canary Cape Batis Natal Spurfowl Sombre Greenbul Wahlbergs Eagle Golden-tailed Woodpecker Little Bee-eater Chinspot Batis 80. Black collared Barbet Pied Barbet White helmet Shrike .. 82 species Heard calls only: Grey headed Bush Shrike Orange-breasted Bush Shrike Camaroptera Black Cuckoo Piet my vrou European Bee-eater Brubru Woodland Kingfisher
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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!
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!
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.
Palmiet Nature Reserve is ready for Spring! We’ve had a cold winter, some early rain, wind storms and today a hot ‘Berg wind.’ Nature lovers in the Palmiet Rangers group have been spotting all sorts of interesting life in our valley.
Then some Palmetians went to Roosfontein and shot a Nightjar!
Meantime, Pigeon Valley in Glenwood has also been busy, with ‘Friends of PV’ honcho Crispin Hemson keeping us all up-to-date about his patch as always:
Oh, and babies! I forgot about the babies. When Spring springs, babies pop out . . Warren Friedman is the host daddy to these two broods. And the videographer.
Reading Tramp Royal again! So here’s a re-post from 2016:
I lapped up the famous Trader Horn books ‘The Ivory Coast in the Earlies’ and ‘Harold the Webbed.’ I’m still looking for their third book ‘The Waters of Africa.’ ‘Their’ being his and the special and talented lady whose sudden insight made it happen when she befriended a tramp at her door in Parktown Johannesburg back in the mid-1920’s – Ethelreda Lewis.
If ever the philosophy of ‘Be Kind Always’ paid off, it was in this tale of a friendship that developed after the reflexive dismissal of a tramp at the door of a middle-class Parktown home was changed to a sudden, instinctive ‘Wait. Maybe I will buy something from you . . ‘ and – even better – ‘Would you like some tea . . ‘
After reading Trader Horn I was then even more enamoured of Tim Couzens’ book ‘Tramp Royal – The true story of Trader Horn’, as it validated the Trader Horn legend – Alfred Aloysius ‘Wish’ Smith was real and he had got around!!
Couzens died in October this year, tragically – he fell in his own home. I thought OH NO!! when I read it. He was a gem, almost a Trader Horn himself – what a waste! Too soon! He did the MOST amazing sleuth job of tracking down all Trader Horn’s jaunts n joints across the world and revealing that – despite the skepticism that had followed the incredible fame and Hollywood movie that had followed the success of Aloysius ‘Wish’ Smith – now famous as Trader Horn – ‘s first book in 1930. MOST of what the old tramp, scamp, rogue and adventurer had claimed to do he had, in fact, done! Tramp Royal is a wonderful vindication, and a moving, fascinating and captivating read.
One (small) reason I LOVED the trader Horn books, besides the original title:
Trader Horn; Being the Life and Works of Aloysius Horn, an “Old Visiter” … the works written by himself at the age of seventy-three and the life, with such of his philosophy as is the gift of age and experience, taken down and here edited by Ethelreda Lewis; With a foreword by John Galsworthy
(phew!) . . . . . was the number of places A. Aloysius Smith – ‘Trader Horn’ (or Zambesi Jack or Limpopo Jack or Uncle Pat – he had aliases!) had been to that I have also been to:
Joburg, his least favourite city in the world. He was in a doss house in Main Street in 1925, I was in Eloff Street in 1974. Parktown, where Ethelreda Lewis ‘discovered’ him. He would have died there, unknown and in penury, had it not been for her sudden decision to listen to him tell a story. ‘Wish’ came to love Joburg, as did I. In Parktown he was in Loch Street in 1926, I was in Hillside Road in 1977;
Hwange in Zimbabwe, or Wankie in Rhodesia as it was then; – BTW, pronounce Hwange ‘Wankie’;
Harrismith, where he went with Kitchener’s Cattle Thieves to steal Boer cattle and horses in the scorched earth tactics of the wicked looting Brits; He showed his humanity by describing the Boer women’s sadness, and states – I hope its true – that they always left ‘one milk cow behind for the kids; and we called it Pansy.’ And Harrismith is where I was born and raised;
The west coast of Madagascar where our yachting trip to the island of Nose Iranja took us quite close to his ‘Chesterfield Islands’;
The east coast of Africa, although he spoke of Zanzibar and we visited Mombasa – which he probably visited too, as he sailed up and down the coast;
Oklahoma, where like me he befriended and was befriended by, the local Native Americans – his mostly Pawnees and Osages, mine mostly Apaches, Kiowas and Cherokees;
Georgia, where he behaved abominably and which I used as a base to go kayaking in Tennessee. He drank in a doctor’s house and I drank in a dentist’s house;
The Devonshire Hotel in Braamfontein, where both of us got raucously pickled;
The Seaman’s Institute in Durban where he holiday’d happily for two pounds a month while waiting for his book to be published; His editor needed a break from him and sent him off by train on the 2nd April 1926 to avoid the Jo’burg winter. My only connection here is drinking in the nearby Smuggler’s Inn. If it was around back then, Wish Smith would have gone there!
Kent, where he died in 1931; I visited Paddock Wood on honeymoon in 1988.
Wish himself would be saying, ‘What, you haven’t been to Lancashire!?’
I would love to see his river – the Ogowe or Ogooue River in Gabon. Everything I’ve seen on youtube verifies Aloysius’ lyrical descriptions. Here’s an example (but turn the sound off);
I also loved the unexpected success of the first book. Written by an unknown tramp living in a doss house in Main Street Joburg, the publishers Jonathan Cape advanced fifty pounds which Mrs Lewis gratefully accepted. Other publishers had turned it down, after all. Then the Literary Guild in America – a kind of book club – offered five thousand dollars! They expected to print a few thousand, and also offered the rights to a new publisher called Simon & Schuster, who hesitated then went ahead, receiving advance orders for 637 copies.
Then it started selling! 1523 copies one week, then 759, then 1330 and then 4070 in the first week of July 1927. Then 1600 copies one morning! Then 6000 in a week. They now expected to sell 20 000 copies!
Up to November that year sales averaged 10 000 a month, thus doubling their best guess. They had already run ten reprints, the last reprint alone being 25 000 copies. 30 000 were sold in December alone up to Christmas day. The story grows from there – more sales, trips by the author to the UK and the USA, bookstore appearances, talk of a movie. The trip continued until he had gone right around the world, drinking, smoking and entertaining the crowds with his tales and his exaggerations and his willingness to go along with any hype and fanfare. At his first big public appearance at 3.30 pm on Wednesday 28th March he spoke to a packed house in the 1,500 seater New York City Town Hall off Times Square:
‘William McFee was to have made an introductory address but the old man walked on the stage (probably well fortified with strong liquor), acknowledged tremendous applause with a wave of his wide hat and a bow and commenced talking in a rambling informal style before McFee could say a word. He started by quoting advice given to new traders: “The Lord take care of you, an’ the Divil takes care of the last man.” He spoke of the skills of medicine men, rolled up his trouser leg above his knee to show the audience his scar, and threatened to take of his shirt in front of the whole Town Hall to show where a lion had carried him off and was shot only just in time. When the aged adventurer paused to take a rest in the middle of his lecture, McFee delivered his introduction.’
His fame grew and he reveled in it.
Then suddenly, people started thinking old ‘Wish’ Smith’s whole story was a yarn, nothing but the inventions of a feeble mind, and wrote him off as yet another con artist – there were so many of those! It was the age of ballyhoo and fooling the public with bearded ladies, confidence tricksters and hype. Some critics grew nasty, depicting Ethelreda – without whom none of this would even have happened, and without whose kindness and perseverance Aloysius would have died in obscurity, never seeing his family in England again – as abusing ‘Wish’ for her own gain. The truth really was that she – in effect – saved his life; she certainly returned him to his family; and she enabled the kind of rollicking final few years his dreams were made of! He had people to listen to him; he had money to throw around! What a better way to go than dying anonymously in a doss house in Main Street Joburg!
The hype died, cynicism (the bad kind, not healthy cynicism) set in and old ‘Wish’ Smith – Trader Horn – died in relative obscurity with his family in Kent. It may all have been a hoax . . .
So was he real, or was it all a hoax? To know more, read Tim Couzens’ book – it’s a gem!
Here’s a silent movie of the old rascal on a Joburg street corner soon after he’d been kitted out in new clothes when the first cheque for his book came in.
Here’s the back page from the movie program. The movie, of course, was Hollywood – WAY different to the true story! An interesting facet was for once they didn’t film it all in a Hollywood studio; they actually packed tons of equipment and vehicles and sailed to Kenya and then on to Uganda to film it ‘in loco’ – although on the wrong side of Africa to where it had happened!
It was a landmark film of sorts that chalked up several firsts. It was the first fictional feature-length adventure shot on location in Africa (but the wrong location! East Africa while Aloysius’ adventures were in West Africa!). It was the first sound-era ‘White Jungle Girl’ adventure – many more would follow. It’s an old movie, sure, it is of its time; to me as a Trader Horn fan, the worst thing about it is: it isn’t the true story! Nevertheless, some rate it as ‘surprisingly engaging and worth checking out’ now that it’s been reissued on DVD. (NB: See the badly-made 1931 movie, not the worse-ly-made 1973 remake).
Trader Horn wrote glowingly of a real lady he met on his river: an American missionary, Mrs Hasking. She died on the river, and Trader Horn took her body down river to be buried. I found out more about her here.
Here‘s a much better, two-post review of the Trader Horn phenomenon – and Tim Couzens’ book – by fellow ‘tramp philosopher’ Ian Cutler. Do read it!
On 27 October 2016 I wrote to Ian Cutler:
Sad sad news today: Tim Couzens the master tramp sleuth has
moved off to join his Tramp Royal in the afterlife.
At 72 he was about the same age as the old rogue at his death.
Regards, Peter Swanepoel
Sad news indeed Peter. Thanks for letting me know.Ian
An exciting weekend in the valley; good sightings, plants to identify and maybe even a new species discovered!
The eggs – ?? – brought some guessing! I asked vegetable or animal? No-one knew. Fish eggs, with a water mongoose being the predator? Berries? Frog eggs? Crab eggs? Eel? Turns out Ingrid D’eathe had found them on the edge of her pond. Then Suncana posted a lovely flap-necked chameleon picture and she looked nice and chubby so I asked chameleon eggs?
Meanwhile on iNaturalist experts looked at them: Tony Rebelo thought regurgitated seeds? Wynand Uys thought eggs, reptilian or amphibian; Marion karoopixie said angazi; Johan Marais said not herp, maybe SNAIL; The mystery continues . . . So much we don’t know.
And the spider might be a new one provisionally dubbed The Red Widow; no ID yet; It (or one that looks very much like it) has recently been newly discovered on Table Mountain in Cape Town. Suncana has it on iNaturalist as a Cobweb SpidersFamily Theridiidae. She’ll soon get comments and support, I’m sure.