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. Nor night-time. 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 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 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 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 2020 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 cake 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) and 978-0-620-93271-4 (e-book). Read online here.

Today Fifty Years Ago

Sheila kept a diary in high school. It’s amazing reading such detailed notes of long-forgotten happenings. Last time it was a trip up Mt aux Sources. This time it’s a winter trip to the warm sub-tropical south coast of KwaZuluNatal by a family of Vrystaters.

Pennington, Monday 5 July: – Walked to the beach alone. Stayed for a while. Walked home (± 1 mile – the distance from our beach cottage to the beach). Left for Hibberdene with the whole family. Elsie & Richard Scott were there. Barbara went with them. Went on to Port Shepstone. Went to see Upsie Sorenson, a friend of Dad’s. Walked around a bit in town. Spoke to Lilly du Plessis. Went to Margate. Spoke to Philly and the whole Mikkers family. Swam in the sea with Philly. Went to Port Shepstone to the Sorensons. Chatted to Upsie and his daughter Ingrid. Had tea. Stopped at Park Rynie went to Scottburgh. Bought stuff. Came back to Umdoni Park/Pennington. Went to the café. Went to Uncle Joe Geyser’s sister’s house near our cottage. Met Danie & Pearly (Geyser) du Toit and Pieter Geyser. Went home, had supper with Mom, Dad and Koos. Bathed. Went for a drive. Came back. Barbara & Richard were here. He left. Chatted to Barbara.

Tuesday 6 July: – Had breakfast with the family. Walked to the beach with Mom & Barbara. Swam in the rock pool. Went to the café. Walked to the Caravan Park. Spoke to the Macgregors. Met Glenda & Joan Brand. Went to the beach with them. Spoke to Denise Brand, Glynis and Brian Fisher. Went for a walk alone. Sat on the beach alone. Walked to the café. There were six guys there on three motorbikes. They had met Barbara. They said they are having coffee at our place. They gave me a lift home on the buzz bike. Had lunch with the family. Then the guys, Mike, George, Charles, Terry, Dogs and Kevin arrived. Sat and chatted. Went down to the beach with them. Nine of us on three bikes. I was with Terry & George. Went to the café. They brought us home. Stood and chatted outside. Went to the Happy Wanderers Caravan Park at Kelso with the family. Sat at the boys tent. Had supper in the café. Chatted to them all in the café. Went to Park Rynie with Terry on the buzz bike, Barbara went with Mike. They brought us home. Chatted for a long time. They left. Mike brought Koos back.

Pic of us three taken in Harrismith around about then:

~~~oo0oo~~~

oops, posted this a bit late, but what’s a couple days after fifty years!?

vrystaters – citizens of the province of song and laughter – the Free State

Birdbath Flurry

The birdbaths have been quiet. Maybe the winter rain we’ve had? Yesterday was different, we had a little flurry. I heard the tirrilink of firefinches and there they were, at the dripping tap birdbath. They usually hide from me.

– African Firefinch and Spectacled Weaver –

A Dark-capped Bulbul, A Dusky Fycatcher and Cape White-Eyes joined them.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Special Little Ducks

On honeymoon in America in 1988 we saw lots of ducks! America has so much water; In the Everglades, Yosemite, the Puget Sound, Wyoming and Cape Cod we went looking for water – rivers, creeks, lakes and ponds, islands and sea inlets – and saw plenty of waterbirds, including thirty species of swans, geese and ducks. Being from Africa, the specials I was really looking out for were the swans – we saw Trumpeter and Mute – and the eider ducks – we saw the Common Eider.

But there was another special duck we really wanted to see! As huge fans of the Pygmy Goose in Africa, we noticed it had a rival: The Harlequin Duck. What fabulous little birds:

– African Pygmy Goose Nettapus auritus & Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus

I was reminded of this by a great post on DailyKos, where I learnt (a lot) more about the Harlequin Duck:

“I remain in awe of this plucky little duck and its amazing life history. I think of Harlequins as “feathered salmon” — making these epic lateral migrations from the ocean to inland freshwater streams to breed, similar to the upstream migration of salmon to freshwater spawning habitats. After pair-bonding at the coast, the male Harlequin follows the female inland to her natal stream, just as adult salmon home to the stream of their birth. Along whitewater streams within old-growth forests, the female selects a well-concealed nest site in a tree cavity, on a stump, or on a small cliff. Once she lays her clutch of 5-6 eggs, the male departs for molting grounds on the coast, leaving the female to incubate and raise the brood alone. In late summer, the female and her brood migrate together to the coast to ride out the storms of winter. What a life!”

We saw our Harlequin Ducks off beautiful Orcas Island while lurking naked in a hot tub overlooking an inlet to the Puget Sound.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Pygmy Goose pics by By Derek Keats on wikipedia and Harlequin Duck pics by giddy thing on DailyKos and By Peter Massas on wikipedia – Thank You!

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.

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~~~

Hluhluwe with Jess

Just two nights with Jess at Hilltop camp. This time the luxury of ‘breakfast included’ in the restaurant, while for dinner we grilled big juicy steaks both nights.

Dad, you’re not taking photos of impalas, are you?! Jess likes to keep moving, looking for the Big Five and teases her friends who want to take pics of things she’s seen before! Yes, Jess, I like their bums and I like the different sizes, three Moms, a teenager, a pre-teen and a toddler. Hmph!

Omigawd! You seriously stopped for a butterfly!? she teases next. Don’t worry, it’s all a game.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Ex Freistata Semper Aliquid Novi

Hey Eddie! Thanks a lot.
I had a lovely quiet day at home with lots and lots of messages – way more than I deserve, as I remember only a few birthdays, so I say to them – as I say to you here – hope you have a wonderful day and year too! So many people remember my ruddy birthday. Can’t think why???

Spoke to Mother Mary on the day. She’s well. Also to the old goat, who pretended to hear what I was saying. Sisters Barbara and Sheila both phoned, and a host of others; a call from Janet in Botswana, a long call from Glen and Ali in Aussie, an even longer call from Larry in Ohio; people are amazing. Messages from all over. And all because I was lucky enough to be born on a highly suspicious day on the Gregorian calendar that people tell me is somehow appropriate to me!?

And guess what I found out yesterday for the first time in sixty six years? Mary said, “Yes, you made a fool of me that day. You arrived two days late. You were due on the 30th March.” First time I ever heard that! Who the hell would want to be born on the 30th March!?

I’m guessing as Mom’s recent grey cells die off, and she loses what happened yesterday or this morning, some of the ancient ones – up to ninety two years old – are getting a fresh look at daylight, being dusted off and telling their story? Maybe?

Thank goodness I waited those two days, incubating quietly and delaying getting out into the noise. My whole life would have been different if I hadn’t been born on the 1st April. Different; Less fun, I think.

~~~oo0oo~~~

“Yes, you made a fool of me that day. You arrived two days late. You were due on the 30th March.” Then, “Did I tell you that?” Poor dear Mom Mary repeated that surprise news in the same call, not three minutes after telling me the first time.

Birds n Ballies

. . and a lower quota of Booze.

Lang Dawid came to visit after decades in the hinterland. Always very organised, he sent bearers ahead of his arrival bearing two lists: Ten new birds he wanted to see; and Three old bullets he wanted to see.

We delivered thirty percent of his bird list: A Red-capped Robin-Chat, A White-eared Barbet and a Terrestrial Brownbul;

Forty percent if you count the bonus male Tambourine Dove that landed in a patch of sunlight, a lifer for Dave.

– Dave’s dove –

All this thanks to Crispin Hemson showing us his special patch, Pigeon Valley in urban Durban. Talk about Guru Guiding! with his local knowledge, depth, anecdotes, asides and wandering all over, on the ground and in our minds. And his long-earned exalted status in this forest even allowed us to avoid arrest while climbing through a hole in the fence like naughty truant schoolboys. Whatta lovely man.

– Crispin scans, Dave holds his bazooka at the ready – turn a blind eye to the bottom left corner –

Then Dave and I retreated home to my patch in the Palmiet valley, where Tommy had cleaned up, readied the cottage for Dave’s stay and started a braai fire. Spot on, Tom!

One hundred percent of Dave’s list of old paddling mates arrived. Like homing pigeons, Allie, Charlie and Rip zoomed in. So I had four high-speed paddlers in their day on my stoep, race winners and provincial and national colours galore. We scared off any birds that might have been in the vicinity (feathered or human), but had a wonderful afternoon nevertheless, with lots of laughs.

After they left Dave and I had braai meat for supper; This morning we had braai meat for breakfast and he was off after a fun-filled 24 hours. I sat down to polish the breakfast remains and another cup of coffee and as a bonus, a female Tambourine Dove landed on my birdbath:

– not Dave’s camera –

A tragic consequence of their visit was an audit of my booze stocks the next day. Where before they’d have plundered, this time I ended up with more than I’d started with. How the thirsty have fallen!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Dave’s camera equipment is impressive: a Canon EOS 7D Mk2 body;
https://www.techradar.com/reviews/canon-eos-7d-mark-ii-review
and a 500mm telephoto lens and his go-to, a 70-200mm lens. His main aim is getting a pic of every bird he sees. He shot his 530th yesterday here in Pigeon Valley. So he chases all over Southern Africa ticking off his ‘desired list.’ A magic, never-ending quest: there’ll always be another bird to find; there’ll always be a better picture to try for.

Here’s an adventure Dave and I shared back when we were bachelors, not ballies. That time it was beer n boobs, not birds n ballies.

~~~oo0oo~~~

~~~oo0oo~~~

Let’s Save Us Some Souls!

(A re-post -I went looking for my ‘missionary’ post to link to, and couldn’t find it. Turns out I’d posted it only on my seldom-visited Apache Adventures blog. So without apology, I thought I’d also post it here).

The new preacherman at the Christian Church of Apache Oklahoma, looked me up after he’d been in town a while and invited me over to his place. Turns out he was interested in becoming a mission-nary to Africa and wanted to meet one of the real-deal Africans he’d heard and read so much about. Maybe suss out just how much we needed saving?

A HUGE man, six feet and nine inches tall, Ron Elrick wore a string tie, a 10 gallon stetson and cowboy boots, making him damn near eight feet tall fully dressed as he stooped through doors and bent down to shake people’s hands. I met his tiny little wife who was seemingly half his height, and two lil daughters. He was an ex-Canadian Mountie and a picture on his mantelpiece showed him towering over John Wayne, when Wayne was in Canada to film a movie.

Soon he invited me to join him on a ‘men’s retreat’ to “God’s Forty Acres” in NE Oklahoma (the yanks are way ahead of Angus Buchan in this “get away from the wife and come back and tell her you’re the boss” shit. I mean, this was 1973!).

– me – – Ron –

I had made it known from my arrival in Apache that I would join anybody and go anywhere to see the state (and get out of school – I mean I’d already DONE matric!). So we hopped into his muddy pinky-brown wagon with ‘wood’ paneling down the sides – it looked a bit like the ’53 Buick Roadmaster in the picture. We roared off from Caddo county heading north-east, bypassing Oklahoma City and Tulsa to somewhere near Broken Arrow or Cherokee county  – near the Arkansas border, anyway. Me n Ron driving like Thelma and Louise.

– me – – Ron –

Non-stop monologue on the way. He didn’t need any answers, I just had to nod him yes and he could talk uninterrupted for hours on end. At the retreat there were hundreds of men & boys just like him, all fired up for the Lawd, bellowing the Retreat Song at the drop of a hat:
“In Gahd’s Fordy Yacres . . !!”We musta sang it 400 times in that weekend. If I was God I’d have done some smiting.

We left at last and headed back, wafting along like on a mattress in that long slap wagon, when Ron suddenly needed an answer:
Had I ever seen a porno movie? WHAT? I hadn’t? Amazing! Well, jeez, I mean goodness, he felt it as sort of like a DUTY to enlighten me and reveal to me just how evil and degraded these movies could be.

So we detoured into Tulsa. Maybe he regarded it as practice for the mission-nary work he was wanting to do among us Africans? We sat through a skin flick in a seedy movie house. It was the most skin ‘n hair ‘n pelvis ‘n organs this 18yr old boykie from the Vrystaat had seen to date so it was, after all, educational. Thin plot, though.

I suppose you could say I got saved and damned all on one weekend.

~~~oo0oo~~~

footnote:

Ron did get to Africa as a mission-nary. He was posted to Jo-hannesburg. Lotsa ‘sinners’ in Jo-hannesburg, I suppose. I’m just not sure they need ‘saving’ by a Canadian Mountie.

Muscle Memory

Finally! I paddled on moving water for the first time this century. I had often thought about it, I mentioned it a few times (I’m good at the talking side of things); I even bought a new boat in anticipation, years ago. Then yesterday, finally, I dipped my little toe into the nicely-flowing water of the wonderful Umkomaas river.

I was going to paddle with four other guys. Between the five of us we have about 371 years of life experience and 171 Umko canoe marathons; the “1” being mine.

I was going to paddle / drift the 12km with three of them, but Jess joined me and I didn’t want to leave her alone, so Charles, Hugh and Rob set off from Nyala Pans camp below the old No.8 rapid on their sit-on kayaks, while Chris, Ron (Hugh’s side-kick from PMB) and I drove to the takeout point at Josephines bridge.

– I paddled up a bit, then down to just above Wake-up rapid below the bridge and back –

I’ve often pooh-poohed the concept of ‘muscle memory.’ It’s your brain that remembers, I’d growl. But yesterday my muscles remembered that I hadn’t done any training for decades; and they remembered that paddling upstream is hard work and they don’t like it. Downstream was wonderful; whattapleasure drifting on the current. Brought back many happy memories.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Sabi Sabi carousal

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

internet pic from Timbavati, thanks

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.

Zululand Birds n Frogs

– a cattle grid gate on the D240 district road which runs thru it –

New place, I hadn’t heard of it. It’s west of the N2 highway opposite Mkhuze village, 26 000ha of land owned by various owners with one fence and an arrangement with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

We had all sorts of weather and saw 82 birds and heard a further eight.

..

..

..

Being on the road with a 23yr-old I listened to her music. The song she played the most was a torch song for the boyfriend: “Ever since I met you my love, My heart is at ease . . . “

At this point one has to paraphrase Augustus de Morgan’s paraphrasing of Jonathan Swift:

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 . .

– sunrise Jess –
– sunrise over the Lebombos –

~~~oo0oo~~~

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

~~~oo0oo~~~

gaan’ing aan – carrying on; making a fuss

~~~oo0oo~~~

and can one resist Monty Python . . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

Launch Aborted

After a long gap from paddling I decided to relaunch my river paddling career, striking fear into the heart of all contenders.

I would need a boat. Being a cheapskate I searched far and wide, high and low and I found one far and low. In PMB dorp. A certain gentleman in fibreglass, Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw had one for sale at a bargain price. His glowing description of the craft made me know this was the boat with which to relaunch – OK, launch – my competitive career in river paddling.

At Hugh’s place he showed me the boat and it did indeed look pristine. I went to pick it up and load it on my kombi’s roofrack, but Hugh held me back with a firm, ‘NO. Let me have that done for you!’ Customer service, I thought. User-friendly. So I watched as he got his two biggest workers to load the boat for me, which they did with ease. Big, strapping lads.

On the way back to Durban the kombi seemed to be struggling. I had to gear down on the hills, never had that before. Strong headwind, I thought.

The boat stayed there till Thursday, the big day. The first day of my relaunched paddling life. The dice on the Umgeni river outside my Club, Kingfisher. And then I understood. Getting the boat down off my roofrack took a Herculean effort. When I plopped it into the water the Umgeni rose two inches.

I can say this: Rands-per-Kg I got the best bargain from Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw of that century.

While I was contemplating thus, Ernie yelled at me through his megaphone and the water exploded around me. What the hell!? All these fools around me suddenly went berserk, water was flying everywhere. It took a few minutes before calm returned and I was sitting bobbing on the disturbed surface. This tranquility was again ruined by Ernie yelling through that same damned megaphone: ‘Swanie what are you waiting for!?’

Jeesh! I headed off after the flotilla disappearing in the distance and after twenty or thirty strokes it suddenly came to back to me in a blinding flash of realisation: I knew why I had stopped paddling. It’s damned hard work.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Mkhuze Mantuma Camp

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 watches the hippos I moved into picture –

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!

– Patrick the Shembe teaches TomTom his bushcraft in 2009 –