A day in the life of Sam

It takes a long time to get to the other side of the country.

To be sure, there are adventures to be had, mortal dangers to avoid and many different, friendly and unfriendly people to meet on the way. The variety of the different kinds of food would be a wonderful experience, if you are brave enough to taste them.

Sam woke up one morning with a tingling in his foot. He had been born with only one foot – that was the one that was tingling! He reckoned that the tingling must mean something. Then he had the brainwave! It means I need to travel. Where should I go? Just look North and step forth as they say in the classics!

So that is what he did. He hoisted all his worldly possessions on his back, checked where the sun was to find North and slipped silently on his way. No goodbyes or explanations to any of the others, who still slept – this was his own adventure!

He made good progress, crossing a patch of forest, but it was hot! Sam realised that moving during the day was not as wise as doing it in the cool of night. As he was thinking about perhaps holing up for the rest of the day, he was knocked over by a mighty blow!

Looking up he saw the face of a great furry monster looming over him. He quickly dived into his house and sealed the entrance with his foot. Nothing happened for a moment, although he thought he could hear heavy breathing.

All of a sudden, his foot was tickled and he began to giggle, even though there was something very big and dangerous out there…

The cat pulled a face and said Yuchh! and spat out the taste of the slimy snail foot and stalked away, sure that he would never taste a snail’s foot again.

Phew ! said Sam after a while, that was a lucky escape! He stretched out of his shell, tested the grass with his tongue (it tasted a bit different to the lettuce he was used to) and looked about to see if it was safe to go on. Which it was, so he slipped along for a while, up and down over grass blades, until he got to a flat hard desert like surface.

Far on the other side he could see some green, so he set off. It was very hot and he began to feel sorry that he had left home and his family and friends. There was no one to talk to and… suddenly there was a loud squeewitt!! and a shadow fell over him. It was a Magpie Lark who thought Sam could be lunch; but Sam was fast. He slipped into his shell and gripped the ground tightly with his muscular foot. Tap! tap! peck, peck! on his shell, but it was too hard for the bird, which flew off with a disgusted Sqweewitt!

And that was enough adventure for Sam. He turned away and sprint-slipped back the way he came. He got back home as the sun was going down.

All the other snails who lived under the same pot as he did said Where have you been? You were gone when we woke up and we searched and searched but couldn’t find you…

The other side of the world Sam said, don’t go there and fell asleep.

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The Shadow of the Cross

For a lapsed Catholic, I spend a lot of time thinking about religion. Even more so as I have been asked to stand as a Godparent for my grandson. Now that is awkward, as my belief in God is constrained.

I believe God is the manifestation of our need for God and has been substantiated by many accounts and in many forms. However, I have no faith in the reliability of man’s accounts of God.

Quite rightly for Christians, Good Friday is a sombre day for repentance and spiritual contemplation. In Catholic churches, icons are covered, the altar is bare and bells are replaced by wooden clappers. It is probably the most meaningful of Christian holy days as it has not been commercialised, other than supermarkets touting fish as good for Lent!

The ritual of Stations of the Cross is observed on Good Friday, visualising the indignities and agonies Jesus suffered before and during his crucifixion. It engenders powerful feelings which are probably confirmatory of beliefs.

Rituals reinforce beliefs and involvement demonstrates piety. The Way of the Cross engenders religious ecstasies in some cultures, where devotees flay themselves and carry heavy crosses wearing thorny crowns.

The last days of Jesus provided most of the symbols, rituals and beliefs that base the Christian faith, enshrining sacrifice and matyrdom and ensuring that Jesus is remembered whenever Christians eat and drink.

Notwithstanding the earthquake and the tearing of the veil in the Temple when he died and the mysterious disappearance of his body, Jesus’ divinity was rejected by most of the Jews.

Nevertheless, the testimony of his disciples and Jesus’ return founded a religion which has the greatest following in the world.

I remain unconvinced but cannot deny that I am aware of the shadow of the cross.

Memory is not what I thought it was

“Many people believe that memory works like a recording device. Memory works a little bit more like a Wikipedia page: you can go in there and change it, but so can other people”

So says Elizabeth Loftus an American cognitive psychologist and expert on human memory*. And she walks her talk with an impressive array of research.

She was consulted by Harvey Weinstein who asked her: ‘How can something that seems so consensual be turned into something so wrong?’

Memories are reconstructions; they are not literal representations of what actually happened … (memory) is highly malleable and open to suggestion.

She has also shown that false memories can be embedded by leading questions and psychotherapy.

In a 2013 TED talk entirled “How reliable is your memory” she reported that one project had identified some 300 people who were convicted of things they didn’t do, based on DNA analysis. Three quarters of the cases were due to faulty eyewitness memory.

The implications for eyewitness based testimony and the validity of repressed memories are huge. It means that single witness evidence should not be regarded as sufficient evidence of truth, unless there is other direct evidence to support it.

In the US, some states refuse to prosecute cases based on recovered memory testimony and some insurers decline cover to therapists on recoved memory malpractice suits.*

Testimony from Professor Lucas in the two headline inquiries in Australia into rapes by a Minister or in a Minister’s office may well be enlightening.

But sadly, the outcomes of those inquiries have already been decided, without the need to hear evidence.

In my view, the sooner we get rid of juries, eyewitness evidence and judges the better: we need to promote universal surveillance, compulsory truth serums and lie detection and use a computer to evaluate the evidence.

*Wikipedia – Elizabeth Loftus

Against all odds

For purely practical reasons I am not a punter and if I do gamble I fully prepare to lose my money – I rarely win. If I do I get so exhilarated I blow the winnings on the next bet. I tend to bet on my gut feel; ’tis my Irish ancestors….

Just an aside before the main tale. For obvious reasons, I rarely go to the horse races: I usually can’t afford it and if I have some spare cash, I lose it quickly.

But the elements conspired against me. A friend had been given some complimentary tickets to the members’ enclosure. Now, this is quite swanky and has a fine view of the track, the parade ring and the spectators, as well as a well stocked bar. Rugby season was over, so what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon?

To cut a long story short, a man who I didn’t send to jail but fined heavily for repeated drunk driving gave me a tip, which I put a small bet on, not really trusting the source.

It cruised in at 10-1, so drinks were on me.

I should have sent him to jail. At a subsequent meeting he again gave me a tip and I bet half my salary – the bloody horse is still running….!

Anyway, what I meant to tell you about was an amazing stroke of luck in the middle of the Botswana desert. A group of us were on a fishing trip, travelling in two utes (Australian for bakkies) when I noticed a single wheel overtake us – it was ours!

We had sheared a half shaft. Fortunately we had an engineer with us. Engineers never travel without their tools, but no-one carries spare half shafts.

Unfortunately we were 170 kilometres from Gaborone and 120 from Palapye in the semi-desert of Botswana. There was little traffic.

Our engineer went off to Palapye in our other vehicle; we expected him back in 3 to 4 hours. We were not unduly worried about being stranded in the Botswana semi-desert.

Our supplies were ample: a case of tinned peaches, a case of bully beef and eight crates of beer. We lay down in the shade to snooze (to avoid the temptation of starting on the beer…)

To our surprise, after less than an hour, we were roused by a beep beep beeep!

This is the part that is hard to believe.

About 20 minutes down the road, Peter, our engineer saw a cluster of houses just off the road and a tree with an engine suspended on a chain from a branch.

He stopped and inquired. When showed the broken half shaft, the man said “No problem” and led the way to an Isuzu bakkie, smashed up front. In 20 minutes they had stripped an identical half shaft, paid the man R200 and driven back to us.

It fitted perfectly! We went on to have a wonderful fishing trip.

Once back home the vehicle owner decided to order a spare half shaft, in case of another problem (he was an engineer..) There were none to be had in the Western Transvaal, nor Johannesburg ! Eventually, after a few weeks, a spare was sent from Cape Town!

Now what are the odds one could be found in the bush on the edge of the Kalahari desert?

Happy Hookers FC

We thought it was a quite amusing name for our venture. FC of course stands for Fishing Club, which in itself is quite amusing, as we weren’t really fishermen. Most of us were amateur birdwatchers.

It was an idle suggestion which bubbled up during a few beers at the club after work. Henties Bay came up and how renowned it was for fishing and now there was no longer a war in Namibia, it was safely accessible. It wasn’t long before somebody said “let’s go there”.

Initially, we were a Production Manager on a gold mine, two Personnel (HR) superintendents and an accountant, all over 40 and not exactly athletic. We invited some young fellows who were actually fishermen and full of energy who could do the driving and heavy lifting.

After weeks of serious planning meetings over beers at the club, we departed.

It was a long trip, almost 1800 kms and most of us had never been to Namibia.

We travelled in two four wheel drive bakkies (utes in Australia) and those sitting in the back on our luggage, played long games of liar dice and slept a lot.

We had booked into a motel – no roughing it or camping had been one of our first rules. On arrival we prepared our tackle and planned what to do with our catches.

The next day, after breakfast, we drove to the area where the best fishing was to be had. No-one caught a fish all day. We retired early to drink beer and plan. The next day we went to Swakopmund to eat the legendary German Eisbein. The restaurant only had four left, so we had to draw straws. I lost and have never had eisbein since in protest.

The next day we drove out and saw an animated group of fishermen who were feverishly casting into a shoal of steenbras. We managed to catch two and a small shark. That was the sum total of our catch on the trip. It is a bleak country and the coast is covered in a fog belt, making everything grey.

Not a very succesful first trip, but we had quite a good time, drank some beer and there were no fights.

We decided that the next trip would combine fishing with birding. We travelled 1700 kilometers to Shakawe on the Okavango Delta in Botswana and had a marvelous time. We caught no tiger fish but bagged a few bream which we ate. The birdlife was wonderful.

The next trip was to Pafuri, 800 km away on the northern border of the Kruger National Park and the border with Mocambique. There was no fishing but the bird life was wonderful.

The following year, we went to Kosi Bay, only 780km away in kwaZulu. We saw quite a few birds, but caught no fish even though it was a legendary spot for grunter and kingfish.

It was hot, so we drank lots of beer.

At Morgans Bay on the next trip (about 900kms), two cold fronts passed over, so it rained the whole time. We only caught one small fish and we barbecued the squid and sardines we had bought for bait – it was wet, so we drank lots of beer

There was another trip to Pafuri as well.

All in all, we made six trips, travelling almost 14, 000 kilometres and caught at least ten fish.

It was, I believe, a very succesful association.

Fish after all are slimy and smelly….

who am I /who I am

Having been a taxpayer in five countries and a citizen of five, not all the same, including one in which I never lived, I sometimes ponder on the nature of my ethnicity and nationality.

My patronymic grandfather was born in Ireland and I believe is descended from 11th Century knights from Normandy, who assisted William the Conqueror invade England and later Ireland. They in turn were descended from Alaric the Visigoth, who trashed Rome.

Thus I am an Irish citizen by descent.

By naturalisation, I am also a New Zealand citizen and have been a citizen of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, Swaziland and the United Kingdom and Colonies.

But I can’t really call myself Irish or Kiwi because I sound like a rooinek Japie from South Africa. My paternal grand mother is descended from Scottish Brownlees (landing in South Africa in 1817) and Dutch De Jagers (1697) – making me a 10th generation South African.

On my maternal grandfather’s side I am an Englishman descended from John Vialls of Orton in the 1600’s. My Gogo (grandmother) was descended from Danish and German settlers in 1700’s (perhaps Huguenots fleeing religious persecution?)

Now here’s a thing! Geni genealogy website tells me that I am directly descended from John Lackland Plantagenet, King of England following Richard the Lionheart, through both my father and my mother. Genealogy is a fascinating subject!

(No need to stand on ceremony, the occasional Milord will do).

So that is why why I support the Bokke then the Wallabies (I live there) and then the All Blacks, but Ireland above all of them.

Strangely I would probably never support the English!

Of course being white skinned and English speaking I am rejected by Afrikaner and black and brown Southern Africans. I have too many Afrikaner ancestors to be denied (at least 18 different Afrikaner family names in my family tree), but only a Timorese ancestor in the 1600’s to darken my skin.

I feel like a colonial mongrel, but I suppose at the end of the day, we all are!

Who is their hairdresser?

Story suggested by Lynda Owen Guy Saturday 27 March

The picture of the sheep with the curling horns prompted the question in the title. Animals do have some weird looks. They have little choice.

Human beings however excel when it comes to choosing how they look. Hairdressers and cosmetologists have achieved a highly valued position in society since the beginning.

The fact that hairdressers were the first to be let out of lockdown in Australia during the current plague and are prominent on preferred immigration skill lists in many countries emphasises their importance.

Hair grows and it gets dirty and needs constant attention to avoid discomfort and disapproval. The wealthy employed specially skilled staff to attend to this. It has become a clear expression of class, personality and inclination.

The ancient Assyrians wore elaborate curly hair styles; Egyptian men and women shaved their heads and wore wigs; Greek women dyed their hair; Romans bleached theirs, Japanese women used lacquer to maintain their styling.

Egyptian priests became barbers as it was believed evil spirits entered the body through the tips of the hair. Cutting hair exorcised them. I wonder if this is the original reason why monks shave their heads?

Because the barber was skilled with cutting instruments he was also approached for bloodletting, which was one of the main treatments for most illnesses. Eventually they began treating people generally for all sorts of ailments: medical and dental. They advertised their presence by wrapping bloody bandages around poles.

Haircutting trade was boosted when priests were forbidden to treat sick people and in 1092 by papal decree they were required to be clean shaven.

Hairdressing really grew during Renaissance years with the womens’ bouffant fashion of piling hair on top of the head a la Marie Antoinette. To compete men wore wigs, so hairdressers had to acquire new skills, again.

Eventually the surgical and the barbering developed into separate careers and haircutting suffered as styles simplified.

Then Hollywood reincarnated the hairdresser to maintain and enhance the looks of the stars. New technology and styles like marcelling became the rage.

The most telling suggestion as to the enduring presence and status of the hairdresser is that they were often among the first to hear news. From ancient times all mannner of people, if they were rich summoned a hairdresser daily and if not, attended the hair salon or barber shop frequently… and chatted. So hairdressers know lots of secrets…

So if you are new to town, get your hair done – you will likely get some curly tales as well as a short back and sides .

As a remedy for baldness, chopped lettuce and ground-up hedgehog spines were applied to the scalp. Others tried camel dung and bear grease. None have worked for me, but I don’t really care – I haven’t been to a hairdresser for about 30 years!

Having an opinion in this politically correct world.

Title suggested by Michelle Craik Friday 26 March

My mother was very “proper” and her sternest reprimand was “that is not done (in good society)!”  My father was big on chivalry and respect.

Their ethos was maintaining the status quo. They would have been aghast by today’s cancel culture, the bastard child of political correctness.

Social media has weaponised the assault against anyone right of centre. Freedom of speech is drowned by the floods of woke activists; intolerant of differing opinions, they publicly shame and punish dissenters. 

Sadly  politicians have all submitted to the tyranny that political correctness now promotes.

When a faceless mob starts dictating what can be said and what cannot be said, then democracy is at death’s door.

Thus the woke mob has enabled conviction upon mere allegation, the disregard of due process and the immediate destruction of reputations without allowing defence. Debates are reduced to memes and emojis, dissent is dissed.

The fear of being pillored makes us inhibited and afraid to address even the most banal issues directly. We have taken a knee and will be obliged to do so until we get brave enough to challenge the mob.

We have ourselves to blame.  Our society has forgotten that freedom must be cherished and enjoyed responsibly. We have forgotten that freedom extends to everyone and we have become prisoners of populism.

The mob has grown and has immense power and influence. So much so that governments tailor their policies and actions to conform.

And in the naked light, I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sound of silence

Paul Simon, 1964

Bird spotting in the Okavango

Story proposed by Louis Boshoff Thursday 25 March

We awoke early in the morning to a twittering, swirling flock of carmine bee eaters flying above the house we had slept in.

Can you believe the exhilaration of the birders in our party. We stood open-mouthed at our first sighting of this quite rare bird, certainly none were to be found in the Transvaal or Eastern seaboard that we knew.

Our safari had arrived at our destination after two in the morning and fallen exhausted into our beds, having been on the road since about 8 am the previous day and travelling over 1300km’s.

We were a group of work mates who had formed a travelling fishing club. Not for us the muddy dams and turgid rivers of the Western Transvaal – we wanted to get away from there. Not all of us were avid fishermen. Of the dozen or so of us, maybe two were real fishermen. Most of us were more interested in bird watching and beer.

Our first trip had been an 1800 km trip to Henties Bay in Namibia. We hadn’t caught many fish at this legendary locale, but we had drunk Namibian beer, eaten Eisbein and had a great time.

This trip was to Shakawe at the top of the panhandle of the Okavango Delta. Two of our members were managers in TEBA the mine recruiting agency,which had recruiting stations in some of the most exotic places in Southern Africa. Each station had a well appointed, serviced guest house which often went unused for years at a time.

This station had two boats with which to navigate the river. The Okavango river was well known for tiger fish and delectable three-spot bream.

The fishermen pointed out that it was possible to fish, look for birds and drink beer while cruising the river. They were wise men! There was no dissent so we embarked after a sumptuous breakfast of scrambled eggs, boerewors and bacon, with toast and marmalade to accompany strong coffee.

The river tiger fish is a worthy opponent and we lost many more than we landed. Once hooked they will leap into the air and shake their head violently. This is usually enough to shake free the lure which comes whizzing back at dangerous speed.

The river is wide and there were virtually no other boats other than a mokoro. On the papyrus islands in the river, large Nile crocodiles sunned themselves, slipping into the water if we got too close.

A first for us all was seeing African skimmers, fishing by skimming their lower beaks in the water. We saw their nests on sandbanks and had to slow the boat to avoid swamping them.

Fish eagles and kingfishers of all sizes abounded. As did the carmine bee eaters, which nested in the river banks. There were also European, Little and White fronted bee eaters. Birdlife abounds, so the birders were happy.

The fishermen were defeated by the tigers, so we adjourned to a local lodge for G&T’s. In the evening some fished for the legendary three spot bream and caught enough for supper. 

Over our three days there were nudges from crocs and charges by hippos and lots of laughter. The only bird we missed seeing was the Pel’s fishing owl, but our faculties became quickly distorted after nightfall; we would likely have missed a passing ostrich by then!

That was a trip to Paradise and worth the thousands of kilometers. I would like to go again.

Rugby players drink lager

  Story suggested by Simon Pius Wednesday 24 March

When we are young we pass swift judgements and cling to our beliefs stubbornly – something like nailing one’s colours to the mast.

Being a British colonial male of European ancestry, I was naturally a rugby player. Soccer was an Englishman’s game, played by hairdressers and ballet dancers as well as Continental drama queens and natives.

The fact that rugby originated in England is a bit puzzling but it is believed that Rugby College banned poetry and invented rugby which became the gentlemens’ opportunity to let off steam.

English grammar schools continued poetry and Shakespeare and played soccer. In recent years they have been offering cooking and interior decorating classes. It was believed this gave the hoi-polloi wider scope for their talents.

Rugby players can tell who is a soccer player. They use hair products and frequently flick their hair out of their eyes; they are also believed to use handcream and shave their armpits. Soccer players have a high sense of drama and a low tolerance for pain.  Sometimes these two areas overlap.They have been seen to abuse referees, for goodness sake! 

The clearest indicator used to be that a man is a soccer player if he chooses pale ale instead of lager. 

This is a telling point. Pale ales are warm brewed and all the fermentation occurs at the top of the beer, giving it a significant head.

They are fruity and frothy with the occasional bitter edge and there is a wide variety. 

Lagers are consistent, conservative and unchanging; they are cold brewed and not as frothy. They are more about hops and malt, slightly bitter; certainly not fruity. There is a slight difference with Pilsener which is a lighter beer but not complex nor even  a bit fruity. Wingers have been known to drink them.

Rugby forwards sometimes drink stout and porter, which may technically be ales but they have a hint of chocolate, so it is understandable the fatties like them.

It must be said that a rugby player will watch soccer if there is only badminton or chess to watch and the pub has television. What they can’t understand is why soccer players get paid so much for just kicking a ball around. They believe it must be the necessary dramatic skills which for them is a bridge too far.

These days of course, with traditional society being stood on its head by cancel culture and all sorts of creatures emerging from hitherto unknown closets, rugby players are far more tolerant. Some have come out and admitted they have tasted pale ale and they have been kept on the team!