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!

A Magistrate’s curse in colonial times

Story suggested by Louis Boshoff Tuesday 23 March

In small towns in the colonies, the magistrate is often one of two senior government officials, the other is the District Commissioner. 

They are required to reside in large houses with large grounds, which if you are a young bachelor is a curse.

When I was appointed as Resident Magistrate in Mtoko in the North East corner of Rhodesia, the only furniture I possessed was my bed; my bedside table was a beer crate. I also had a hi-fi player.

I was given three weeks ‘ notice to move. All of a sudden I was required to furnish a 3 bedroomed house with a large sitting room and dining room. Then there were two acres of garden to keep neat. I was given three weeks’ notice and a day off to shop for furniture.

What to do? I didn’t have a girlfriend to advise me and Mum was still in Swaziland. My friends were beer drinkers and rugby players.

I went to an auction and bought a lounge suite, dining room suite, a bed, some bedside cabinets, some crockery and a tray full of cutlery.  There was also a set of Impressionist prints on boards which were quite good, so I took them to add colour to the walls.It took about an hour. 

Next door was a drapery shop where I bought some calico material for curtains, orange and green for the Irish flag. 

So I arrived in Mtoko and was taken on a grand tour by the departing magistrate: Police, Prison, District Commissioner and army HQ. Ex officio, I was appointed as Chairman of the local Sports Club. This was awkward as until then in the city, I had enjoyed the anonymity and freedom of an ordinary man in the street beer drinker…

The best advice I had been given was to engage a reliable man of all trades. Thankfully, I was introduced to John, a regal grandfather who introduced himself as Tickey (I am embarrassed to say I have forgotten his surname; I called him Baba which means father).

He was a real gentleman’s gentleman and cared for me as if I was a prince and not a dissolute bachelor with paltry, shoddy possessions and no woman. I gave him money and he bought food and fed us, telling me when we needed more. He fed the dogs and cleaned the house, removing the occasional reptile and washing and ironing. He took my curtain material to the local tailor and I had curtains in two days.

He would not do the garden, but fortunately a gang of prisoners would come up occasionally to cut grass and weed. Some became quite familiar and greeted me in a friendly fashion, even though I had sent them down.

So there were blessings to accompany the curse.

The duck, the monkey and the elephant

Story suggested by Michelle Craik Monday 22 March

A duck and an elephant walked into a bar. The elephant had a monkey on its back.

It’s not as strange as you think, as it was a bar on the beach so the elephant could  just stroll up to the counter. The duck flipped up onto a barstool and watched her friend fondly. The monkey hopped onto the thatched roof to sit in the sun.

Barkeep, I have had a bad day and a real monkey on my back, so give me something to bring the sun out

The barman had been around the block a few times, so it took a lot to shake him.

Coming right up and what can I get for your pretty friend?

As he spoke he opened two bottles of sparkling wine and emptied them into a bucket, threw in two half oranges and a bunch of celery. He then added a bottle of tequila, a tin of passion fruit and a bowl of cherries.

There you go big fella, that is called a Bahamas Sunshine and should straighten the kinks in your tail!

The elephant inserted his trunk, sucked up the lot and squirted it into his mouth. 

Goodness gracious me! That was a very fine drop! Hit me again, but make it a double! Oh and my friend will have a beer (make it a half, ducks don’t have a very good head for liquor.)

You got any peanuts for my driver?

The barman didn’t know if he was glad or sad that there were no other customers in his bar.

The duck made some soft quacking noises to the elephant, who said: Can you point us to the facilities, it’s been a long trip.

Thinking quickly the barman realised that his tiny facility would not accommodate an elephant: The ladies is down that passage, but I am sorry there is a burst pipe in the gents, so if you don’t mind, there is a grove of coconut palms just outside, next to the garden… 

The duck waddled off and the elephant headed for the palm trees.

A few minutes later a familiar, strident voice was heard from the kitchen: Henry! There was a duck in the facilities; I shoo’d it away and luckily it just quacked off!

The barman replied yeah! she came in with her buddy the elephant.

The voice from the kitchen took on an accusatory tone: Have you been smoking that Jamaican tobacco again?!

Henry began to wonder, when neither the elephant nor the duck returned. Just then the monkey scampered by saying: where’s my ride?  

The barkeep sat down and poured himself a double scotch; he had stopped smoking after getting weird dreams – maybe this was an after kick, it was good stuff!

Later that day the phone rang: Hi – you may remember me, I was in earlier for a drink, the big guy with the pretty girl friend? Anyway, sorry for ducking out, but I had to find a way to get the monkey off my back.

I’ll settle the tab on my next visit, you pour a mean breakfast cocktail. Ooops! gotta go, this is a trunk call… 

Henry put the phone down and decided may be he would start smoking again.

What is Treason?

I was saddened some time ago when I saw report  about the Saudi Shi’ite woman facing beheading for protesting against government  policies.

Horrified, yes; surprised, no.

Apostasy (forsaking, criticizing or attacking religion) was the original treason and the penalty was a horrible death. It was extended to monarchs, as they were considered to be ordained by God. Parliaments have now been similarly hallowed. In Dante’s Inferno, the ninth and lowest circle of Hell is reserved for traitors (i.e. those who commit treason).

In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed 47 prisoners including … a revered Shiite cleric and government critic  who had been convicted of sedition and other charges.

The Muslim world still practices what we would regard as extreme sanctions against dissent.

In England, high treason was punishable by being hanged, drawn and quartered or burnt at the stake if you were a woman. (Tsk! tsk! Blatant discrimination even then!)

After the execution of Lord Haw Haw in 1946, the penalty was changed to life imprisonment. Even now in Australia, the only permissible penalty for treason is life imprisonment.

It is clear that a priority of those in power is self protection and extreme action is sanctified.

But mass protests are permitted in many countries – such defiant and disrespectful acts as burning the national flag or effigies of politicians, the burning of property and tossing of Molotov cocktails and other violent assaults on police forces are tolerated. Sedition and incitement to violence  are commonplace and tolerated.

Where is the line drawn and how do we see it? As always the choice remains with the government  and that will always be weighed in the scale of political popularity, not the interests of public morality or common decency or established principle.

Public morality and common decency are currently being dictated by social media mobs who lynch any defiance of the fashionable viewpoint. These mobs are currently moving to re-define history and compel obedience to their views.

Even parliaments have been seen to take a knee!

Treason is now any defiance of the twitterati.

I am going to cancel my account – is that treason or just defiance or maybe just a senile snit?