Another chapter begins. I’ll be leaving the home I’ve lived in the longest in my life – sixteen years. The kids were eight and four when we moved in.
How hard can it be, right? You sell, bank the cash and drive off into the sunset. So I called Aitch’s friend and colleague in her four-year stint as an estate agent, Pam.
Pam, You Know What You’re Doing, You Come And Do This.
So you know what she does? She gives me a list as long as your arm! You do this, then you do this, then . . she’s as bad as Aitch was!
So she tells me: Sell your furniture; sell your books; sell the many wall hangings which haven’t hung on a wall for ten years since Aitch went; Fix the cracks, the windows, the doors, the ceilings; Paint – a lot; Rip up those carpets; New light bulbs;
Mow the lawn – WHAT!? Now you’ve gone too far!
Hell, if I didn’t do all those things for us, why should I do them for strangers? Cos you want to sell the house, Pete.
I decided I’ll never get this done, so we put the house on the market “as is” – its called voetstoots in South Africa. And on that very day we got two offers for the full asking price. A week later their finance was approved and so I asked ‘Must I Leave Now?’ No, they said, it takes about three months before you’ll have your money! Damn!
Now it is very real and I sat Jess and Tom down and broke the news. They picked what they wanted from the house, a truckload went off to Tom’s rented rooms:
Jess wants less, but the other fridge and microwave will go to her.
Here’s hoping the Black Flycatchers breed on the old stoep again, Last time was in a cycling helmet; before that in the bougainvillea creeper that has been removed. This time a plastic flower pot modified and mounted for the purpose.
They have filled the pot with nesting material and the female is starting to spend more time in it. She’s there in the the top right close-up pic, you can just see her tail.
Here are the nests from years gone by, in the creeper and in the helmet:
The female Black Cuckooshrike returned and I got a better view. Pics are poor as I took them through my dirty window rather than open up and spook her. One bird, I compiled this montage with FastStone again.
While our renovations were being done in 2011 and 2012, we lived in the bedroom wing. Jess and Tom kept their bedrooms, mine became the lounge; we all shared their bathroom and my bathroom became the kitchen. Worked fine.
I had a mattress on the lounge floor which I’d stow away by day. Looxury.
‘Course it took longer than we planned, but we were OK.
There been herds o’ butterflies mooching through my garden lately. I been shooting them, but still they come. So I thought I’d post some of those I shot for the enjoyment of them that are fond of the lil guys. Like me.
I’ve posted them – and many other creatures and plants – on iNaturalist.org here.
“I been shooting them, but still they come,” is me quoting from a book I read long ago, “The Man-Eaters of Tsavo.”** It told of settlers living in early Kenya who planted citrus trees. The elephants in that dry country loved them and they shot them and shot them, “but still they came.” Aren’t we humans delightful?
** which man-eater story, incidentally I recommend one takes with a huge pinch of salt. I don’t think lions behave that way, and I don’t think humans behave that way. But it sold like hot cakes and was imitated and frauds were perpetuated on its wave of success (at least one book had that title but the stories inside had nothing to do with the title!).
One of the world’s most popular nature apps, iNaturalist helps you identify the plants and animals around you. Get connected with a community of over a million scientists and naturalists who can help you learn more about nature! What’s more, by recording and sharing your observations, you’ll create research quality data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature. iNaturalist is a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.
What started out as a routine roof inspection has morphed into a general sprucing up at 10 Elston Place. Geoffrey Cholmondeley Caruth esq. famous painter, builder, redecorator, raconteur, empire-nostalgic, makeover artiste and paddler, came over and made some suggestions and we ended up deciding to fix the roof, bargeboards and fascia boards and paint them; fix the windows and paint; replace the old gutters with aluminium gutters; Almost forgotten in the mix was my second main aim: To catch my rainwater; We’ll add a 5 000l tank to catch the rainwater off the garage roof; Oh, and we’ll also add a door to the flatlet; fix a door frame and paint four doors.
Especially paint four doors! I’ve been wanting to paint these doors a proper deep cobalt blue for a long time. A blue to match Aitch’s blue kitchen wall back at River Drive!
I wasn’t brave enough to paint a wall such a blue, but two outside doors was my kick for touch. And the colour blue the doors have been for nine years is fine, but not right; The first blue Geoff showed by painting half one door was way better, but still not quite right.
Then he got it: The right blue. I call it Deep Cobalt Blue, or (as he has traces of Pommy in his veins) British Racing Blue. Above we have the old blue and the better blue. But wait till you see the Right Blue: Deep Cobalt Blue!
. . . to be continued . . .
. . getting closer. I showed Geoffrey a pic of the old 1999 kitchen blue vs the sample. Also I described the blue of a cuckoo-shrike I had seen in bright sunlight in Mkhuze . .
. . and he came back with the right blue:
I got my blue.
So we moved onto door knobs. I asked Sir Geoffalot for good outdoor knobs, not the el cheapos that hurt my lily-white hands. You’ll get only the best, he assured me. They look great! Are they definitely outdoor quality? I checked with the master designer. Absolutely, saith he, they come with our extended warranty:
Fourteen Days. Partly guaranteed. As long as it doesn’t rain.
Ah, well. He bribes me with good muffins for morning coffee.
And so we carried on! Now the one cottage wall is being painted. Oy! I said to Geoffroy the Pom GCMG, I still don’t have my water tank!
We’re victims of Mission Creep, Fauntleroy the Master Pom replied airily.
I know I should work to earn money so I can one day sit on my arse and listen to the birds and photograph butterflies. And see two gory kills within minutes, with two animals dying before my very eyes to satisfy the hungry needs of their predators.
So this morning:
Flies don’t even have to be buttered to be photographed:
A drongo zapped an insect in mid-flight and a sunbird nabbed probably a spider off the mistletoe, killing them mercilessly for food in the great cycle of nature. Someone has to be sitting on his arse to witness these things.
This time I was determined to concentrate. I gazed at my cellphone fiercely for hours. Once I had to change the camera’s battery. This Forest Queen thought he could outwit outplay outlast me!? Huh! I was determined to catch him opening his wings to make sure he was a male. I was occasionally distracted. Had to make coffee, had to reply to some slights on whatsapp, had to take these photos to show the remote setup and my impressive camera (you’ve heard about okes with small willies having to compensate with big cameras, right? Well.). And once I was also – fatally – distracted by Tommy who NEEDED me to transfer cash to his eWallet.
Jess is my spotter in the game reserves. ‘Dad What’s That?’ she’ll say time and again. And it’s always something interesting. Once she said ‘Dad What’s That?’ and I peered and peered and eventually saw it after she’d told me exactly where to look – a snake in a tree as we were driving past! That’s amazing.
Walking to breakfast in Tembe we had Jess bringing up the rear as Aitch, Tom and I strolled ahead. ‘Dad What’s That?’ she said.
Today she called me out to the porch. This time she said ‘Dad There’s a Snake.’
In forty one days of lockdown I had taken the car out two or three times. Yesterday I took the car out three or four times! Once to fetch Ziggy with the shopping from the nearby PnP; once to take Ziggy to the taxi rank where she headed off to work at her call centre; once to fetch a parcel from Sheila, delivered just up the road; and once to get out of the way of the plumber who came to replace our burst geyser!
Then today we had a visitor, one of only three all lockdown. The first two I had immediately shooed off the premises: Rasta and Thandi, well-meaning, but sorry, no visitors! Just cos our gate slides open doesn’t mean you can stroll in. But this was our housekeeper Cecilia Shozi, and she had come to fetch her ID card which she had left here over 41 days ago when I sent her home to her girls before lockdown. We weren’t expecting her, it was a surprise call, so thank goodness the place was looking presentable. Ziggy had cleaned the kitchen; I had mopped the floor, swept the patio and tidied my office; and Jess had swept the TV room and lounge; So when I served her tea on the patio she couldn’t laugh at us and tell us how we cannot live without her! Even though that’s true.
Such activity! I had to lie down a while once they’d all left.
When we bought a house, but were still living in our flat in Durban, Dave and Goldie Hill presented us with a magic little feisty puppy, half Staffie half Jack Russell, delivered in a shoebox. We called her TC.
She was joined soon after we moved in to our home in Westville by my big rival for Aitch’s affections: Matt the man, named Matt cos he certainly wasn’t glossy at first.
Matt died on the M13 on the hunt for an intriguing smell which he knew was important and exciting, he just didn’t know why! He was only two-plus years old, so I’d guess he probably died a virgin. Our property was fenced but obviously not escape-proof.
After much mourning and a burial in the garden, Matt’s replacement was chosen, also in a backyard, also of interesting parentage. Trish Humphrey always thought she’d call a dog “Bogart” one day, and so Bogart got his name. To TC’s disgust a second small male dog was introduced and – again – he soon outgrew her. She always remained boss-dog though!
About two years later Bogart also went missing. I searched again and found him on a highway. This time the N3. Another burial in the garden followed.
Poor TC now had another black dog join her, a third!! Also small, also soon to grow big. This time a lady, Bella, who was destined to become a huge part of our, and especially Trish’s life for the next seventeen years. She, too, was of interesting parentage.
TC ran out of steam after thirteen years and is the third and last of our dogs buried at 7 River Drive Westville, near the banks of the Mkombaan under a paper-bark Commiphora harveyi tree. A ‘kanniedood’ tree! Bella was then joined by Honey, ‘rescued from euthanasia’ at the vet. He’d apparently been sentenced to death for excessive wandering! Aitch said ‘can’t be!’ and took him home. Well, little did she know just how determined a wanderer was old Honey. Jess christened him Honey, and he was mostly called that, but once his habits became evident I called him Houdini. No matter how we tried to keep him in, he got out and wandered the streets, meeting new friends.
Houdini disappeared, maybe ‘rescued’ again by someone who finally managed to coop him up permanently? I hope not. I hope he wanders still. Now Bella was alone and Aitch decided she was lonely. No, no, I said, she’s enjoying the peace and quiet! So I put my foot down and issued a decree as titular Man of the House: We Cannot Get Another Puppy.
So Aitch got two: Shadow and Sambucca.
Shadow was a lovely dog but became our first dog to be euthanased. She bit a neighbour kid and then did it again. Sam is still around, twelve-plus years old and when cleaning out the garage recently I found a very novel item: A pedigree certificate! Aitch had hidden from me that Sam was our first dog without character and lacking in hybrid vigour! (Read about Sambucca’s parents here).
Jessie named the black lab ‘Sweetie’ – horrors! So we scrambled to find a better name: Terry Brauer suggested Black Sambucca and that stuck, thank goodness. She and Bella became good friends – Aitch was right again! Bella finally breathed her last in Aitch’s arms at seventeen – she had been a champ!
Poor ole Sambucca is ageing rapidly now. Eighty five in human years, she has a tumour growing apace on the side of her face. So far she’s still comfortable, eating – though losing weight – and tail-waggingly keen for a tummy rub. Her vet says keep her comfy and keep watch, but an op would likely be too drastic and risky for her.
Mostly small and all harmless. The snakes I have found in my garden in Elston Place, Westville over the last twelve years. The biggest were the skinny Spotted Bush Snake and the skinny Brown Water Snake at about 40 to 50cm; Down to the Black-headed Centipede Eater at about 12cm and the tiny Thread or Worm snake. The only one with real venom was the tiny little Stiletto Snake I wrote about earlier.
The Brown House Snake above was ID’d by Nick Evans our favourite herpetologist. He’ll squeeze mice and swallow them. The snake, not Nick. This one was about 20cm long. He’ll need to seek out baby mice, I’d think.
This Red-lipped Herald Snake (named after the Port Elizabeth newspaper The Herald), below, is tiny – check his size against a credit card! He eats frogs at night. One lives under our outside scullery sink, where some Guttural Toads live. They’re much bigger than him so he better watch out. The one old toad sometimes sits in the outlet pipe so his lies are amplified as he serenades potential lady mates with promises he’ll never keep. He lets the water wash over him, but sometimes it’s hot water and he leaps out of the pipe with an indignant grunt-squeak and a scalded cloaca.
A Black-headed Centipede Eater on an A5-size snake book. Mildly venomous but harmless, he’s only a danger to centipedes.
We see the ‘big’ beautiful slender and harmless green Spotted Bush Snake most often, so its weird I have no pics of him – he’s very nervous and quick. He eats lizards and tree frogs. This Brown Water snake on the patio was spotted by Jess as we came home one night. He’ll eat frogs, fish, mice and nestling birds. No poison, he’s a constrictor. Swims really fast. Much feared by the Zulus in KwaZulu Natal who call him iVuzamanzi and through long generations of folklore believe him to be very dangerous. He’s entirely harmless. Here’s a thought: How do you constrict a fish?
And a gorgeous little Rhombic Night Adder. That’s the bottom of an HTH bucket, so he’s only about 10cm long. Mildly venomous, but harmless to us, he eats tadpoles while he’s little. One day he’ll eat frogs and toads which he smells out at night.
And a tiny little Worm or Thread snake. Not that much thicker than pencil lead, he eats termites:
I was actually looking for a pregnant chameleon. Didn’t spot her, but snapped flowers, including some non-indigenous interlopers – Aitch was a softie towards the end, and allowed some strange plants in.
Also a (deceased) bush squeaker and a grasshopper – which reminds me: I must tell you the story of grasshoppers one day . . .