High as a Kite (if you want to . . )

Faster than Light (if you want to . . ) – Moody Blues “The Best Way To Travel”

I’ve always wanted to fly. Who hasn’t?

But I dislike noise, so while my first flight in a light aeroplane – with an Odendaal or a Wessels piloting it – was great, and my first flight across the Atlantic in a Boeing 707 at seventeen was unforgettable, it was a glider flight that first got me saying “Now THIS is flying!!”

We hopped into the sleek craft, me in front and my pilot Blom behind me. Someone attached the long cable to the nose and someone else revved the V8 engine far ahead of us at the end of the runway of the Harrismith aerodrome on top of 42nd Hill. The cable tensed and we started forward, ever-faster. Very soon we rose and climbed steeply. After quite a while Blom must have pulled something as the cable dropped away and we turned, free as a bird, towards the NW cliffs of Platberg.

Up One Man's Pass - Down ZigZag Pass

“OK, you take the stick now, watch the wool” – and I’m the pilot! The wool is a little strand taped to the top of the cockpit glass outside and the trick is always to keep it straight. Even when you turn you keep it flying straight back – or you’re slipping sideways. I watched it carefully as I turned. Dead straight. “Can you hear anything?” asks Blom from behind me. No, it’s so beautifully quiet, isn’t it great! I grin. “That’s because you’re going too slowly, we’re about to stall, put the stick down”, he says mildly. Oh. I push the stick forward and the wind noise increases to a whoosh. Beautiful. Soaring up close to those cliffs – so familiar from growing up below them and climbing the mountain, yet so different seeing them from a new angle.

Years later I’m married and Aitch, having checked that my life insurance is up-to-date (kidding!) gives me a magic birthday present: A Hans Fokkens paragliding course in Bulwer KZN. We arrive on Friday night and check into an old house on the mountain side of the village.

Hans disagrees with Douglas Adams who said in Life, The Universe and Everything, There is an art, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Hans says you don’t throw yourself at anything with his wings, nor do you jump off the mountain. You FLY OFF THE MOUNTAIN! He tells me how airflow works and how wings fly and then feeds us from a huge pot of stew and we sleep. Luckily I had been through ground school before; years before, when Colonel Harold Dennis taught me how heavy things fly in Oklahoma.

The next morning we’re on the hillside getting air into the wing and learning to lift, turn, run and FLY! The first time you lift off you think No-o! Yesss!!

Soon I’m able to take off at will on the beginner slope and we move up the mountain. I love the fact that you pack your own wing in a backpack and carry it up the mountain yourself. My first flight was fantastic but short, basically straight down and a rough and tumble landing. My next flight is way better, way higher and way longer, as this time Hans attaches a walkie talkie to me and can tell me what to do. “Lean right! Hard right! More!” comes over the speaker and thus he keeps me in a thermal and I keep climbing. Fifteen minutes in the air, rising 100m above the take-off point! 

Aitch had gone off to read her book and chill, so no pics were taken of my soaring with the eagles and the lammergeiers!

Wonderful, silent, wind-in-your-hair flight at last!

bulwer paraglide
– this pic is not me but it was just like that! –

After that amazing and unforgettable quarter of an hour, I descend slowly, and by watching the wind sock I can turn into the wind at the last moment and land like a butterfly with sore feet.

Beyond stunning!!

~~~oo0oo~~~

~~~oo0oo~~~

Sheffield Beach Tribal Gathering

When I found them they were huddled together like Vaalies on a beach. Oh, wait! They WERE Vaalies on a beach. I should have taken a picture of Brauer’s beach outfit: A double-padded fluffy anorak. Sort of a Tshwane Tshpeedo. And a hoed.

We soon scurried off the dreaded sand in search of lunch. In their defence, it was blowing a gale. I kindly took them on a guided tour of – what place was it? – and then speedily straight to Canelands overlooking ve beach.

Back at the cottage:

– ‘thinks’ – is this old top in an anorak in pain? What’s that noise? –

Their cottage overlooked the beach from on high and despite being grandkid-infested, was very pleasant except for the absence of beer.

Perched high on a cliff, it puzzled me. I thought I remembered our cottage back in 1980 as being right on the beach . .

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

. . and then I remembered: It was Blythedale Beach in 1980. Not Sheffield . .

Sat, Feb 12, 2011(Newser) – An asteroid all but buzzed Earth on Friday, NASA has revealed. The asteroid, known as 2011 CQ1, passed just 3,405 miles above the Earth’s surface as it hung a sharp turn around the planet. That’s the closest near-miss ever recorded, beating a record set by a rock in 2004 by a few hundred miles. The asteroid was just a meter wide, small enough that Earth’s gravity would affect its course, in this case bending its path 60 degrees. Not that there was any real danger if the asteroid had veered into Earth’s atmosphere . . OK, they’re starting to talk nonsense so we’ll cut them off there.

Me: Brings to mind the heroics on Blythedale Beach when we single-handedly (the other hand was holding cheap liquor) fended off the comet which was threatening planet Earth at the time. Whether it was the coleanders and coriander and spatulas or the alcohol fumes from our breath that caused it to veer away is a moot point: Bottom line is it BALEKA’d and the planet was saved.
Funny how little credit we have got for that over the years. Maybe we fell asleep at the medal awards ceremony . .

Steve reed wrote: Jees – I had [almost] forgotten that heroic weekend. I now recall the collander, and making do with some pretty substandard alcohol [probably not a GREAT wine as in 4 Hillside]. Also I recall some of us may have slept on the beach. Bulletproof days. Was that Filly with us as well as her friend whom I remember clearly was from Marandellas in Zim. Wait! A flashback:

‘Comet – it makes your breath small clean;

Comet – it tastes like gliserine.. ‘

Of iets. Not sure that I want to remember too much more…

Me: So many flashbacks! Maybe as the brain cells die, those old pickled ones gain more prominence? Maybe the flashes are vitreous detachments? Surreal. The sales jingle for comet continues:

‘Comet! It makes you vomit

So take some Comet

and vomit

Today . . ‘

Hooligans. I was innocent. I fell amongst thieves . .

But its all true. You can check the 1980 newspapers: How many comets hit Blythedale beach that year? NONE. Not one.

OK, so our comet – probably 8P/Tuttle 1980XIII – may have been further away at 37,821,000km, but it was 4500m in size, not a puny 1m rock. So it’s still a good thing we were out there all night shaking our fists at it, daring it to approach.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

The next day the weather improved, so I claimed some credit: ‘Did you get the good weather I prayed for for you guys?’

Brauer: You clearly have a more direct line then this bunch of unbelievers.

The sun shone down on them. Smiling grandkids, happy windloos days. Actually I hadn’t actually prayed. I pulled some strings. As St Peter I have connections, so I called on the Roman god Venti and the Egyptian god Amun about the wind. Together, they delivered. Bacchus was unable to help with the wine situation.

An Armrest Kink

You need to kick back with Binocs, Beer, Telescope on Tripod and – lately – Camera to do your front porch birding justice, and I have just the chair for it on my porch – a Lazy Boy thingamiebob. Newish . .

An Argentine-African United Nations veterinarian writes a lovely blog he calls A Bush Snob Out Of Africa. In it he has a feature called Spot The Beast in which he shows a picture of a cryptic or camouflaged creature and invites you to find it. Then he zooms in to reveal an insect on bark, or a mantis, a leaf butterfly or moth, a frog, even a cheetah hidden in grass. I love it.

So go back to the picture above and see if you can spot the dragon or dinosaur sharing my chair today. Only then scroll down:

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A Striped Skink waits for flies to approach

While I’m at it, I may as well mention some other lizards I have seen . .

A snake?

No, a Legless Skink, on the road in Hluhluwe Game Reserve

A snake?

No, A Grass Lizard – The Cavern, in the Drakensberg
Spot three of his tiny legs

A snake? About the size of an earthworm . .

Yes, a Thread Snake at home in Westville. The sharp tip is his tail

Maybe Peters’ Thread Snake Leptotyphlops scutifrons – known to be found in the Durban area.

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Here’s the birding spot in full operational mode:

What a Storm!

Left home at 9am and got back at 2pm. Never did get to work.

Sat the whole time in this storm. Thought it was bad till I saw the videos of the worst places! This was mild!

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Meanwhile at the practice, the ladies were having their own good time:

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Bloody Tropical Storm Koos!

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Cleanup day today. Jessie and Tobias came in to help Raksha, Prenisha and Yandisa.

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After we’d mopped we got the pros in – R5000 for the wet vacuum cleaner hire!

Bass Straits and Dire Straits

Early Sunday morning I roust the lil bastids. C’mon, Up! Let’s go. Off to Inanda Dam where they’re going to slay the bass. Tom, Jose & Ryan. 45yrs of trouble on six legs and, according to them, fishermen of note.

We hire two canoes from Msinsi and off they go. “See you in about two hours, Dad!” shouts Tom as they wobble off.

Inanda Dam fishing (12).jpg

I chill and watch the terrific birdlife. Wrynecks, woodpeckers, waxbills, prinias, canaries, sunbirds, geese, a fish eagle, herons, neddicky, bush shrikes, etc.

Six hours later a weary and sunburnt crew return. They had flattened the eats and drinks I packed and it’s lucky I did: No fish were harmed in the filming of this movie (none were even disturbed).

Lugging the boats back to the boathouse (with much help from Dad) they unanimously decide they would not be doing the Dusi anytime soon.

Inanda Dam fishing (16)

Dusi – The Dusi Canoe Marathon, 120km 3-day river race from Maritzburg to Durban passes by this point on the Umgeni river.

 

The Old Pont

It’s 2015 and I’m on the banks of the Umtamvuna on the border of the old Transkei  and old Natal. It’s paradise. There’s a broad deep river, a great sunset and the sounds of herons, guineas and francolin settling for the night. Also a black cuckoo complaining he’s feeling indisposed.

All of it drowned out by my camping neighbours from BoksburgBenoniBrakpan whose fokkins are matched by the  local South Coast chicks’ fuckings. Loud music. LOUD. Did we ever play it this loud? Well yes, but it wasn’t a mixture of much-too-current  and rooi rokkies, bakgats, Meidjie en Lola.

‘Kinell!!

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At least my three 13yr-olds are in their element. They’re at the riverside on the wooden peir catching Africa, real crabs and imaginary fish.

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My second double G&T from the bar is helping, also a good book.

But it’s hard not to eavesdrop. One oke has just chooned a chick he met that evening she’s a fokkin’ pussy and another chick complained confidentially to her mate that “Mandy’s a problem when she gets drunk: She takes off all her clothes”. Obviously entirely a chicks-only problem, I think, peeping out of my tent.

The next night the gazebo next to our tent on the opposite side gets going. I meet a swaying Kehle nearly my age in the ablution block and over the communal urinal he tells me that he’s from ‘Toti and his wife works in Umthatha and they’re gathering with family and isn’t it *hic* WONDERFUL how peaceful and quiet it is here on the Umtamvuna compared to the din of the city *hic*? I would agree with him except I can hardly hear him as his party has a massive boombox thundering deep bass  while the ladies of the party are singing and ululating to an entirely different choon. The car is playing modern while the aunties are shouting traditional.

Squeaking through every now and then is the paid lone guitarist at the camp pub on the far side of the gazebo. He’s doing stuff I actually recognise – umlungu hits from the 70’s, but he’s losing the volume fight.

Later on the three 13yr-olds in our tent (I’m sleeping in the bakkie) get the giggles as they hear what’s happening around them.

Bloody hell! I’m looking forward to peace and quiet back in the city.

At least the nearby coast was peaceful:

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Tugela Gorgeous – Boats and Bosoms

Bernie Garcin (Bernie and the Jets), Doug Retief (Doug the Thief), Dave Walker (Lang Dawid) and me at Fig Tree Sandbank campsite, one of the planet’s most beautiful spots.

Three plastic (or ‘tupperware’) Perception Dancers and one Quest in 1984 and 1985 – we went both years. In those early days old-timers would still mock plastics, saying ‘tupperware keeps turkeys fresh’ but we knew the joy of not having to schlep fibreglass patch kits along and just smiled!

At the time Greg Bennett was sponsoring and competing in, a motorised rubber duck race down the Tugela (sacrilege!!). In ’84 he had Jerome Truran as crew, in ’85 Rip Kirby. We used Greg’s bakkie to get to Ngubevu.  Who fetched us at Jamieson’s Bridge?

Tugela boob2
– she was like –

On one of the trips bare-breasted maidens flashed us. We saw a Landrover parked on a hill on the left bank, then saw some swimmers in the river, who ducked down as they saw us. As we passed two of the girls popped up their lily-white tits to huge approval. They were like this except the water was brown. And they had no cozzies on:

Four-man Hole was soon after that and I crowded into a Bernie-occupied eddy straight after the drop and punched the nose of my Quest into his ribs. Being Bernie he didn’t even wince, but I knew it had hurt.

The current swept us past them, but the mammaries lingered on.

Cleavage
– she was like –

Overnight at the duck race camp the sponsors Lion Lager thought we were competitors so their beautiful beer hostesses liberally plied us with ale. OK, lager. When they ran out I rummaged in the boats and found wine papsaks we used for flotation and squeezed out the dregs. Karen the gorgeous, voluptuous newspaper reporter (remember the days when they wrote stuff on paper?) covering the event for The Natal Mercury held out her glass and as I dispensed I gave her the patter: “A good wine. Not a great wine, but a good wine, with a delicate bouquet”. She shook her mug impatiently and said endearingly “I know fuckall about flowers, I’m in it for the alcohol,” and I fell deeply in love. My kinda dreamboat lady in shape and attitude. She was like . .

Tugela beermaid
– she was like –

Dave too, was smitten as one of the comely lager hostesses joined him in his laager and treated him to sincere sleeping bag hospitality above and beyond the call of duty, ending the session with a farewell flash of delightful décolletage as she kissed him goodbye in the morning.

As we drifted downstream we sang:

The landlord had a daughter fair – parlez vous

The landlord had a daughter fair – parlez vous

The landlord had a daughter fair

Lily-white tits and golden hair

Inky Pinky parlez vous

We sang to the resident goats:
I ain’t afraid of no goats

We sang (to the tune of He Aint Heavy . . . ):

Hy’s nie swaar nie, hy’s my swaer

.

Ah! Those wuz the daze!

~~~oo0oo~~~

We stayed at Figtree Beach Camp again a few years later.

This should actually be on my pre-marriage blog vrystaatconfessions.com

Palmiet Rangers

Field Marshal Geoffrey Carruthers OBE VC ESO with bar, decided we needed to jack up the patrolling of the Palmiet Nature Reserve.

So he issued a decree and press-ganged a bunch of people into becoming rangers – Palmiet Rangers! and promised us suitable uniforms for the job.

We thought YAY! something like this:

Palmiet Ranger Issue

but all he gave us was this:

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We feel very vulnerable on patrol . . .

——-ooo000ooo——-

OBE – Old Bullet with Empire delusions

VC – Very Conservation-minded

ESO with bar – Extinguished Service Order with drinking experience

River trip Deepdale – Hella Hella

We left Bernie’s white Ford Escort at Hella Hella with the Porters, and drove round to Deepdale in my white Ford Cortina. Linda Grewar (who became a notable paddler herself – she later won the Fish river marathon mixed doubles with Bernie!) then drove my car back to Durban. ‘Seconds’! ‘Helpers’ ‘Chauffeurs’! What would we do without those wonderful volunteers?  It was winter on a low, clear Umkomaas and we set off happy as larks. Or otters. In our Perception plastic kayaks imported by Greg Bennett in his Paddlers Paradise daze.

Deepdale Falls
– how low can you go? –

We put in at the Deepdale railway bridge and drifted downstream, portaged around the waterfall – Well, you’d have heard a dull thud if you tried to shoot it at that level! Deepdale or Bald Ibis Falls. It was a glorious afternoon, warm and clear with hardly a breeze. We paddled at my pace which meant this was a two-day trip,  lots of drifting, lots of chat with my mate Bernie ‘The Jet’ Garcin, frequent stops, carrying back and shooting the bigger drops again. We stopped early, to camp while there was still light to cook by.

The night was as cold as a banker’s heart and I was in my sleeping bag straight after grub. Not so The Jet who first had to go through an elaborate foot-washing ritual in the freezing twilight. A long night on the hard ground, and off early next morning. We didn’t know how far we had to go. We knew some guys had done it in a day, so we weren’t too worried and kept to my usual blistering (!) pace. Bernie had stood on the podium in mixed doubles results in his day, so was no slouch. But he knew me and was resigned to (hopefully quite enjoyed?) my drift-and-gaze-in-awesome-wonder pace.

The rock gardens we’d heard about in Longdrop Rapid were wonderful. You’d drop into a little ‘room’ and find the outlet and then drop down into another, huge boulders all around you. We decided this would be very hairy in high water!

Deepdale Hella Kayak (5)

Dropping into a ‘room’:

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Deepdale Hella Kayak (9)

Bernie got wedged here. I made to rush back to free him, but he shouted “No! Wait! First take a picture!”

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Deepdale Hella Kayak (1)
look sharp territory

We paddled that whole sunny day with a leisurely lunch stop. As it started to get dark we quickened the pace, Bernie deciding we needed to get a move on. But night started falling before we got anywhere we recognised. Then we shot a weir we knew was not far upstream of the Hella Hella bridge and a nasty piece of rusty iron sticking out flashed past at eye height. We decided Whoa! time to call a halt. Bernie’s legs are a lot shorter than mine, and I knew the Porters well, so we decided I’d run to the farmhouse and drive back as close as I could get in his off-road Escort.

At the Porter farmhouse Barry & Lyn gave me a beer (‘um, forced a beer on me’ I explained to Bernie when he said “What took you so long?”). Driving back along the track down into the valley, a couple guys on horseback kicked their mounts into acceleration, just beating me onto the narrow track down to the river, so they had the benefit of my headlights to light up the way, and Bernie had the benefit of my taking longer to get to him.

Halfway down into the valley a fella on foot leaned in my window (it was slow going) and asked if HE could hitch a ride. “Sure” I said and THEY hopped in: Two guys, two dogs and a huge sack of maize meal in the Jet’s two-door Escort! Ahem, I’m sure Bernie won’t mind chaps, I said to no-one in particular.

Hella Hella from Deepdale

I stopped with the headlights on the two kayaks, lying cockpit to cockpit. No sign of Bernie. I got out and a head popped up, yellow helmet still firmly on his head. He had wedged himself between the boats. As he blinked in the headlights I saw his eyes widen as a guy in a trench coat got out of the passenger door. Then another. Then a mangy dog. Then another rangy dog with a curled tail. His mouth dropped when the two guys reached back into the car and hauled out a heavy sack. He said nothing. That’s Bernie.

We loaded and set off for Durban. After a while Bernie had to talk: Did I know he was surrounded by dogs growling the whole time I was gone? and what took me so long? and was I aware his car smelt of dog?

But he forgave me. He always did. He was a really good mate Bernie and I was very sorry when he buggered off to Aussie (not because of the dogs or anything, mind).

~~~oo0oo~~~

Two Birdies on One Hole

So I’m playing in an optom tournament at Umhlali in the 80’s. Golf.

Short hole. I drive the green.

Walking off the tee I spy a flash of yellow in the reeds (did I mention it was a water hole?). Something about it is a bit different, so I out with my binocs: It’s a brown-throated weaver – a first for me (or a “lifer”).

* Weaver_Southern_Brown-throated

I calmly sink the putt.

This second birdie helps me almost break 100 for the round.

The Photographic Record

Every year Trish got a professional photographer to the kids’ parties. Me, I’m scrooge. I’ll take the pictures. I can do this! So at the kids’ uShaka Waterworld party I tried to photograph everyone. But I didn’t get one of lovely young Hannah, and she left early.

I told Tom.

“Doesn’t matter”, he says, “She’s a brownie/blondie hair kinda person”.

Oh. That’s obviously okay then.

uShaka Joint Party J&T (25)

Tom with friends whose pics DID matter . .

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Joining the fourteen year-olds and the ten year-olds parties was not a clever idea! These below do not blend well with those above! I rushed around searching for bodies all day. Never again!

Jess 14th bday party uShaka (with Tom)