TC was her first dog, and she was Aitch’s favourite. She arrived while we were still living in our flat in Marriott road. She was a flat dog for a month or two and couldn’t believe the wide open spaces of our first suburban home.
Then Matt (because he wasn’t glossy when he arrived) came along and HE was definitely her favourite. Big time. She wept when he died, killed on the M13 highway one night. Bogart tried his best and she loved him too, but Matt was a hard act to follow, he was soppy and used to bring her dried leaves in his mouth as a gift! We buried Matt near the river at 7 River Drive.
Bogart (Trish’s maiden name was Humphrey) was third. He had a tail. Docking tails had been stopped – at last! What’s a dog without a tail? Shame, man!! She loved old Bogie. He was killed on the N3. Buried at River Drive.
And then came Bella! Bellisimo!
All the while, TC was still there, still the boss; wondering why we kept getting new tiny black nuisances which grew up to be bigger than her.
Now, make no mistake, Bella became Aitch’s all-time favourite. She loved Matt next best and Bogart too. Also Shadow and Sambucca in later years. And TC all along. But Bella!? She and Bella the Brak won the top prize at dog training. Her friend who won second prize with her pedigree German Shepherd turned to Trish when Bella won the last round and said “You know, Bella would fly if you asked her to!”
TC died of old age at River Drive, where we buried her on the banks of the Mkombaan river near the paperbark Commiphora, near Matt and Bogie. (Note to new owners: Don’t go digging too much in 7 River Drive!).
Yes, Bella you WERE her favourite, but then kids arrived and took over. And then Aitch rescued Houdini from euthenasia and look how he is pushing in while you wait politely as ever for your turn!
Houdini escaped once too often, never to be seen again. Which is how we got him to start with: A friendly dog that no-one knew who he belonged to was given to Aitch by a vet.
So when we moved to Elston Place, Bella AT LAST had the family to herself. Didn’t last long: Aitch decided Bella ‘needed company’ and told me “Bella is lonely, I want to get her a puppy.” “Absolutely not!” I decreed, laying down the law as the boss of the house. “No more puppies!”
So she got two. Enter Shadow and Sambucca:
Sambucca was in danger of becoming “Sweetie” (Jessie’s choice of name!) so we sent out an SOS for a name for a pitch black dog. Terry Brauer came up with Black Sambucca – just right!
Bella died at 17yrs old, about a year before Aitch died. Aitch was right there with her when she died. We buried her in the garden at 10 Elston Place. Only Sambucca outlived Aitch.
We stayed at an old sheep shearing station in Lesotho one winter – 2001. The innkeeper welcomed us on a chilly night with a deep bath full of hot water, a hot coal stove burning in the kitchen and warm friendliness.
We had taken our time on the way, so it was dark when we arrived.
The main lodge was the residence of successive traders who ran the Molumong Trading Station, the first of whom was apparently a Scotsman, John White-Smith, in 1926. He got permission from Chief Rafolatsane – after whom Sane Pass was named. Just look at the thickness of the walls of the old stone house in that open window.
We ate well by candle-light and slept warmly. The next morning I braved the outdoor chill. Overcast with a Drakensberg wind blowing. Sheep shit everywhere, from the front door step to as far as the eye could see, the grass munched down to within a millimetre of the dry brown soil. No fences, the sheep have to have access to everything growing.
I wandered over to the shed below the homestead where a Bata shoe sign announced:
“Give Your Feet A Treat Man!”
Soft Strong Smart
An elderly gentleman sat on a chair behind the counter, his small stock on the shelves behind him. I greeted him, taking care not to slip into isiZulu here in seSotho country. “Dumela” I said. “Good morning, lovely day!” he answered in an impeccable English accent.
He was the last trader at Molumong before it closed down, Ndate (Mr) Gilbert Tsekoa, who was retired and instead of trading wool and arranging the shearing, was now running a little shop in the shed, where locals and lodge guests could buy sweets, soap, headache powders, cooking oil, salt, rice and other basic necessities.
WHAT an interesting man. He told me a bit about his life and the days of the wool trade. I wish I had recorded him speaking! Here he is with good friend Bruce Soutar on another visit. Ndate Tsekoa is the younger-looking one with hair. Bruce and his optometrist wife Heather kindly arranged for Ndate Gilbert to have his cataracts removed in Durban, which made his last years better and clearer. He passed away in 2009. Bruce tells me he sent his sons to study at Oxford University in faraway England.
Later, when the sun warmed up, I gave three year-old Jess a warm bath alfresco on the lodge front lawn. We’d put her straight to bed the night before when the hot water was available.
Magnificently isolated on the gravel road between Sani Pass and Katse Dam, surrounded by the hills on the high plateau between the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains, the lodge offers self-catering rooms and rondawels, serenely electricity-free and cellphone-free: Truly ‘Off the Grid’! Three-day pony treks to southern Africa’s highest peak, Thabana Ntlenyana (3482 m) can be arranged with a local moSotho guide.
The house can accommodate twelve guests, the backpackers another eight and the rondawel sleeps two in a double bed. You can also camp in the grounds.
We were so lucky when we started fostering kids that Anna Kiza Cele was with us. She taught us which end to wipe and which end to feed. I’m sure she must have done some private eye-rolls at what we didn’t know!
Here she is with her big mate Aitch, plotting against poor me:
This year, 25 year later I whatsapp’d her – she’s farming down in Izingolweni now – accusing her and Aitch of ganging up against me. Her reply was four laughing emojis and “as we always did sometimes.” There you have it: An admission! They did! I’m not paranoid. Those two wimmin plotted and schemed. I had no chance.
After this contact I saw Kiza updated her status with a tribute to all the friends she’d lost to cancer. It started “I hate cancer!”
I would think I’d call an adopted daughter of mine a lovely Zulu name. But Jess arrived as Jessica, two years and two days old and named Jessica by her fifteen year old mother Thembi. Just Jessica. Of course, we couldn’t imagine her as anything but Jess/Jessie/Jessica now! ‘Cept maybe JessiePops, like godmother Dizzi calls her.
Thembi had been checked in to hospital for a five month course of TB treatment and Durban Child Welfare decided Jess had to be fostered. They phoned us and we said Sure! We’d been about four months without a foster kid.
We took her straight to Thembi at King George V or VI Hospital* after checking it was safe to do so. We wanted Jess to see where Thembi was, and Thembi to know Jess was in good hands. We – especially Aitch – visited her often till she was well and discharged.
We met the family that had first rescued Thembi from her fate as a child domestic worker who had been impregnated by her boss. They were South Africans – ‘Indian’, ‘Coloured’ and ‘African’ if you must. This was why Thembi only spoke English to Jess. The lingua franca in her lovely circle of benefactors was English. She was given a corner on the floor in the lounge of a small flat in Melbourne Road, where she could be safe, raise Jess and go out to do whatever work she could find.
Then followed a number of years of Trish raising two ‘children’, little Jess and her tummy mummy teenager Thembi. Aitch was amazing in her support of Thembi and helped her to adulthood and some measure of independence. Literary classes, computer classes, sewing lessons and more were arranged. Hair appointments were made, dentists appointments for significant repair work.
Thembi then met a long-wanted boyfriend who was so good for and to her. Tragically, though, she ended up becoming HIV positive. Trish arranged expert care and a reliable source and clockwork collection of antivirals by meeting with the lady in charge of the HIV / AIDS program at King Edward VIII Hospital. Soon into the relationship, Thembi asked us to adopt Jess. Whattapleasure.
Fortnightly lunches with Thembi were unmissable. Aitch would arrange to meet, pick up Thembi and the three girls would find the shops for Thembi’s needs, and a restaurant for a meal and for Aitch and Thembi to swop news; then Jess and Thembi would chat – just a little at first, but later they would take to giggling together like schoolgirls, discussing the clothes and actions of passersby. Jess still fondly talks about those gossipy times.
A visit was made to Thembi’s family home outside Port Shepstone for her mom and gran – Jess’ gran and great-gran – and the extended family to see how Jessie was doing among the umlungus. Over the years, a sister and the great-grandmother died, coffins and funerals were arranged.
When she moved out to Newlands West, Trish sourced clothes and other articles she could sell on the street and door-to-door.
When Thembi got sicker and weaker she was booked into Addington hospital. Jess wrote her a letter. By now Aitch was not too well herself so I would usually go and deliver the goodies – I remember a cellphone charger, airtime and food goodies being among the things Trish would send Thembi.
Thembi died in Addington. Another coffin and transport. Her brother Dumi and her boyfriend – who were both good to her, as she was to them – took her body back to Port Shepstone.
* Now King Dinuzulu Hospital. Isn’t that a better name for a hospital in KwaZuluNatal? I don’t know anything about either of them, but as an African, Who the Hell is King George!? Now King Dinuzulu, lemme go and look up about him . . .
First job in California is to get into the nearest cheap motel and start the search for a Ford Econoline Camper! We’re going to drive our own home for a week! Of course, I’ll do the sums. I’m not irresponsible. It’ll have to be reasonable . . .
Those days you still used telephone directories, yellow pages and a phone plugged into the wall!
Off to Yosemite! Heard about it all my life and now we were going there!
Favourite birds probly the Acorn Woodpecker, the California Quail and the Roadrunner.
From Yosemite we headed back to the coast in an arc to drive the Big Sur coastline
We were in California cos Aitch said ‘Hey! We can’t only be in the sticks! I’ve never seen an American city with its shops and bright lights. You have.’ OK, m’dear I said, thinking Yosemite, Redwoods, Big Sur coastline. Oh, and San Francisco – we’ll ‘do’ San Francisco, OK?
So we did, we hired a small car after handing back the camper – and paying in for a bumper bashing while reversing in Yosemite – and roamed the streets, going down the famous twisty Lombard Street and catching a few trams. And, unfortunately, shopping. I dunno what Aitch bought, but I got caught for such a sucker when I bought a telescope. One of these salesmen: ‘Ah! South Africa! Aangename kennis! Hoe gaan dit?’ you know the kak. So I overpaid for this telescope which was OK, but not what I had wanted. ‘Sucker!’ chortled Aitch, showing zero sympathy. Was this what marriage was going to be like? Was she not going to be like my Ma, who would have sympathised with her poor boy?
I cheated a bit, using the car to also go across the big bridge and into the redwood trees at Muir Woods, just 20km north of San Fancisco. This using her ‘city time’ for my ‘backwoods time’ did not go unnoticed, nor unmentioned. But she loved the redwoods as much as she’d loved the sequoias!
We loved California. Now, we were off to Wyoming – I’ve been to Yosemite, now I’d love to go to Yellowstone! You too, right Aitch?
We flew into Jackson Hole from San Francisco. Change in temperature. I was still in short pants – had to change pretty quick! This was week three of our honeymoon, so we were into the groove: Fly in, find a car, then look around for the best places to visit and find cheap lodgings near there. Aitch was better’n me at that. She’d actually look and weigh up options.
Soon I was warm. Toasty, in fact, as I was sitting – still in short pants – in a Toyota Tercel! A little all-wheel-drive station wagon with four doors and a barn door in back. The four wheel drive system included an unusual six-speed manual transmission with an extra-low gear. It could be moved from front- to four-wheel-drive without coming to a full stop; That was nifty. The 1500cc engine produced 71 HP and awesome torque – more than ample with that light body. I had a SIX speed gearbox on honeymoon in 1988! Formula 1 cars only had five at the time. Plaid seats, two gear levers, four pedals and an advanced 4WD monitoring / information system were standard. Trish asked me, ‘Who do you love more? Me, or this one-week rental car!?’
I cleared my throat . . um, YOU – in a Toyota Tercel!
Then we found the Antler Motel. I said I LIKE the look of this place. She said ‘You’re only looking at the price.’ How do they do that? Only married a couple weeks and already she can see right through me!
We found out we were too early for Yellowstone – the road was still blocked with a wall of snow and we were turned back well short of the park boundary. Still, the view was breath-taking. All the way on our left the Grand Teton mountains loomed, disappearing behind cloud and then fully revealed as the cloud cover cleared from time to time. All around was deeper snow than either of us had seen before and on our right were rivers with Trumpeter Swans. And a moose!
One evening we went to the elk winter refuge, and enjoyed a sleigh ride on which we saw a grouse in a tree. Grouse, swans and elk in the wild – things I’d read about all my life, and here they were! I was chuffed. Also, being married . .
Also, I had read Thunderhead as a ten year-old. About a horse in SE Wyoming. I loved that book and also My Friend Flicka (Thunderhead’s mother), which I read next. Those books’ descriptions were all I knew about Wyoming, but it was enough to want to get there. Plus the attraction of Yellowstone (which I could have checked if it was open before we flew in!).
Every stream I came to I’d get out and search. Then I saw it: A Dipper – at last! It flashed down onto a rock next to the current – and dived underwater! I’d spotted a dipper! I’d read about these little songbirds for years – and here was one doing what they do: hunt underwater!
What a honeymoon! A. You, my dear; B. The Dipper; C. The mountains; D. That Toyota Tercel.
That night in our cozy motel room my sternest critic suggested I was thickly settled:
Wait! Did I show you a pic of our Toyota Tercel? It was all-wheel . . what? oh ok
Next: On to Washington State . . . we have a ferry to catch.
There are rules to how you name things. Plants and animals and things. The rules are something like this: The first one keeps its name, all others after have to fit in. So if a tree is named ‘acacia’ and another thousand acacias are found after it, it remains the type specimen for acacias and will always be an acacia. If changes happen, tough luck to the others, THEY have to change.
Unless you bend the rules.
And the Aussies bent the rules! Gasp! Who’d have thought that!? Aussies! But – they’re so law-abiding . .
So back in 1753 a tree was discovered in Africa and named Acacia scorpoides. Its name changed to Acacia nilotica, the well-known and beautiful tree we got to know as the Scented-pod Thorn when Trish and I first started identifying trees ca. 1985 using Eugene Moll’s unpretentious-looking but wonderful book with its leaf-identification system, under the guidance of good friend Barry Porter. The Scented-pod Thorn Tree was one of the easier acacias to ‘ID’, with its distinctive-looking and sweet-smelling pod.
So it would forever be an acacia. Unless a dastardly plot was hatched by people (whose continent shall remain temporarily nameless; anyway, they had co-conspirators from other continents) determined to steal yet another of Africa’s assets. Why? ‘Cos Money, Prestige, Laziness, Not liking the name Racosperma; and because they could. So what did they do? They got some sandpaper and started roughing up the ball. They got 250 people to email the oke who was in charge of the committee, ‘supporting’ this unusual name change which went against the established rules. How Australian. Yes, 244 of those emailers were Australians, just saying. Sandpaper.
So in Vienna in 2005 the committee said ‘Let’s bend the rules’ and put it to the vote. So 54.9% voted to retain the current African type for the name Acacia. 54.9% said let’s NOT bend the rules. So they bent the rules cos another rule said you need 60% to overrule the committee. They sandpaper’d the rules cos Money, Prestige, Laziness, Not liking the name Racosperma.
How do you explain that? Well, its like if one’s ancestors were convicts and you didn’t want them to be convicts, you wanted people to nod when you said ‘I come from Royal blood,’ but the ancestral name (say Dinkum) was listed in the jail rolls; and you wanted to be a surname not on the jail rolls so you said ‘I know: Windsor!’ so you call yourself Windsor from that day on. Something like that.
And, like politicians, here’s how this was sold to the public: ‘The International Botanical Congress at Vienna in 2005 ratified this decision,’ sandpaper-talk, instead of a truthful ‘The International Botanical Congress at Vienna in 2005 failed to overturn this decision as, although 54.9% voted against it, a 60% vote is needed to overturn it.’
So then African acacias got one more African name, Senegalia (from Senegal and meaning, maybe, water or boat), which was nice; and one more Pommy name Vachellia, after Rev. John Harvey Vachell (1798-1839), chaplain to the British East India Company in Macao from 1825-1836 and a plant collector in China, which wasn’t so lekker; But the Acacia name was undoubtedly more prestigious, long-established and well-known. More desirable, y’know (imagine that said in an Aussie accent). It was derived from Ancient Greek with THORN in the meaning – ἀκακία (‘shittah tree’). Also ‘thorny Egyptian tree.’ Greek ‘kaktos’ also has been compared. A word of uncertain – but ancient – origin.
So I thought Oh Well, We’ll Get Used To It. You get used to anything except a big thorn sticking into your shoe – which reminded me that Aussie acacias are wimpily thornless – but some Africa tree people were less accommodating and determined to fight this rule-bending. Maybe they might have accepted Senegalia, but that other Pommy dominee name? Aikona!
The next gathering of the International Botanical Congress was in Melbourne in 2011! And there the decision to ratify the decision to bend the rules ‘was ratified by a large majority’ (I haven’t been able to find the actual vote yet). So strict scientific priority lost out to a more convenient and pragmatic solution. For Aussies. Desperate to keep their 900 species as Acacias. And willing to do anything to force it through.
So Vachellia xanthophloeait is. Our Fever Tree. umkhanyakude in isiZulu. Seen here at Nyamithi Pan in Ndumo Game Reserve in Zululand.
And Senegalia nigrescens with its distinctive leaves and knobbly bark. The knobthorn.
So I’ll mostly be using Senegalia and Vachellia now, just as I use the new bird names as they change. Adapt or dye. In the veld I just say thorn trees.
Anyway, they have thorns, our thorn trees.
lekker – nice; not so lekker: yuck;
dominee – vicar; shady man of the cloth
aikona! – No Way!
umkhanyakude – means ‘shines from afar’ and in the feature pic you can see how the fever trees on the far side of Nyamithi Pan show up against the other, ‘more anonymous’ trees;
It was a sad fact. The Umgeni was going to be dammed. Again. The fourth big dam on its course from the Dargle to the sea. Many people love dams. I hate them. They ruin the valleys and change nature for ever. Dams wipe out species – many before we even discover them; they flood huge areas of wetlands, riverine forest and grasslands; they displace people and affect everything living downstream. Large dams hold back not just water, but silt and nutrients that replenish farmlands and build protective wetlands and beaches. If you love rivers, dams are the enemy – the disease that kills. Dams don’t just change the river valleys in our waterways, they obliterate them. Yet people love them.
So the Umgeni was going to be dammed and damned; and I wanted a last paddle on that part of the river which was destined to be for ever gone.
So I rounded up some boats and some non-paddling friends in August 1988. Come and paddle a part of the famous Duzi Canoe Marathon course, I said. And the suckers fell for it! Geoff Kay, Mike and Yvonne Lello, Pete Stoute, sister Sheila; and wife Trish joined me in the valley. Some brought some kids, and some valley kids joined us.
We launched the boats with fanfare, breaking a bottle of champagne on each one’s hull (OK, not really) – AND:
They didn’t float! The river was so shallow they hit the bottom, even thought their draft was like two inches!
Oh well, it turned out to be not a paddle but a trudge. And – literally – a drag. But fun nonetheless!
I stared at the banks and the valley walls as I trudged. Soon yahoos would be racing outboard motors here. Soon this life and interesting variety all around us would be drowned forever.
Lovely message and pictures from Yvonne – ‘Our September Bells (a pressie from you and Trish twenty years ago)’:
umPhazane (Zulu); A slender tree, usually 4-7 m in height; The shiny simple leaves are oval or lanceolate with a paler underside which displays the yellow or reddish midrib and veins. Usually evergreen but may be briefly deciduous. The scented bell-shaped flowers are creamy white, usually with pink speckles in the throat, and are borne singly or in clusters of 2 to 4 on short side branches. They are about 25 mm long and 35 mm wide. The flowers are almost stalkless and appear in spring and early summer, from August to November. The trees are often in full bloom in September, hence the common name.
At the same time the Mackaya bella Trish planted was blooming in our garden:
Mackaya bella is a beautiful shrub or small tree with slender branches bearing dark green, simple and oppositely arranged leaves. Small, hairy pockets are often found in the axil of the veins. It has beautiful, large and attractive mauve to white flowers in terminal racemes usually marked with fine purple-pink lines. The beautiful Blue Pansy butterfly caterpillars (Precis oenone oenone) feed on this shrub.
One wall in the new kitchen in River Drive ca.1999 had to be cobalt blue. I dunno why; mine is not to reason why. Aitch said it must be cobalt blue and so of course it was. Some of the other colours she and Nanich painted the house were also to dye for. See below. Lucky I’m a mild-mannered diplomat.
So when the post-Aitch renovations happened ca.2012 in Elston Place, there had to be some blue. I made the scullery and laundry doors blue. I looked for cobalt blue, but this was the closest I found.
Already Tom’s memories are mainly The Legend of Mom, more than real memories. Jess remembers far more. So Tom had lots to say today about Mom. Jess was mainly quiet. As most years, Dizzi and Jon came round to clink a glass in your memory. Jess set a lovely formal table with flowers from the garden – and even a table cloth! I only remembered to take a pic after it was all over.
We had a medicinal G&T as we had all just been to sort-of malaria areas – me n Jess to Hluhluwe, Dizzi n Jon to St Lucia.
‘Please call the police; my friends are fighting and I’m very worried.’
The sound of a young woman’s voice early Saturday morning on my gate intercom. Luckily the intercom was in one of its working phases. They’d had a party, she said. Funny, I hadn’t heard anything. Sometimes the parties are really loud. I dialed 10111, explained, gave my name and address and the man said ‘I’ll send the police there’ which I found re-assuring. He said ‘I’ll send them’ not ‘I’ll tell them.’
Later the same lovely voice very politely checking ‘Did you phone the police? I’m so worried!’ I asked Are You Safe? Do you want to come in? To be behind the gate? ‘No, I think I’m safe,’ she replied, which I didn’t find overly re-assuring.
A short while later the gate again, ‘Thank you so much, they’re here,’ followed by three more Thank You So Much-es.
As far as I can recall, that’s the first time I have ever called the cops!
I spose I must have called them back ca.2004 when we had our only robbery – in 10 Windsor Avenue while we were out. Aitch’s Zeiss 8X32 binoculars and her wedding and engagement rings were gone. Typical Aitch, she replaced the binocs only.
. . raised a whole lot of money for Udobo School. Udobo is a pre-school in Montclair for the special kids of Montclair. Udobo – the name is isiZulu for fishhook – needs to raise funds to keep going and Aitch’s unused ceramics helped. Anne Snyders of Udobo set her kids to painting them, varnished them, and then auctioned them off to those wonderful suckers called parents, who each bid way more than the intrinsic worth cos THEIR kids painted it! Everybody wins!
In the Southlands Sun: UDOBO Pre-Primary School hosts an art exhibition and auction at the major hall of the Montclair Methodist Church on Saturday, 24 November from 11am to noon.
They sold tickets for R50 which included a meal and light entertainment. The children’s artwork was on sale, and the pottery pieces plus tablecloths decorated by the children were auctioned.
Hey! and they gave me a free plate, painted by Eli! Look how cheerful a kid can make a plain white plate!
Recently I took another load of Aitch stuff – books, picture frames n stuff, which occasioned this letter above. Hopefully they can put it to work for them too.
Udobo’s main source of funds is from Action Udobo in the UK. Their website has pics from Udobo just down the road from me in Montclair.