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?

Retirement – permission to misbehave?

Suggested by Debra Hall Thursday 18 March

It’s not so much what you can do, when you retire, but how much you can’t do before you do.

From before memory what we hear is: “No” “you can’t have that” ”do what I say” “this is the way we do things here” with sub text “and if you don’t then we are not for you”.

So one would think that retirement would be like letting go of a wound up elastic band: Twwwaaangggg!!! Don’t stop me now…!

Thinking about what you’re going to do when you are free to do it is quite fun. No-one said it better than Jenny Joseph in her “Warning”.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

….and learn to spit

But she didn’t really know, she was only 29 when she wrote the poem.

It isn’t like that, immediately anyway. Stopping the engine from continuing to run at working speed takes time. You can’t just start sleeping in because you are retired. The dog still wakes you at five, your eyes open and your heart starts fast and you leap up to get the day on the go because you know if you don’t you’ll be late for work…. Oh, Duh!. 

Retirees struggle to fill their day. Retirement is a new job; you have to start from scratch again. Finding things to do when you’re used to trying to find time to do things is the world upside down. Getting things done when there is no structure and deadlines is difficult.

Learning to sit and relax and read or do nothing without guilt only comes after years of practice. When you can have cake everyday, it doesn’t taste so good.

You don’t have to shave, but you do. I wear my comfortablest (and tattiest) old clothes quite often. 

I say things which I expect to provoke, but they don’t! Somehow it seems to be expected from the older generation. Anyway what we oldies think is provocative or challenging is not seen as so. 

As we grow older and age, so do the values and attitudes we held. So being provocative is not easy. Its not easy to find that you have not moved with the times and whilst you might have been progressive or even radical when you were young, you find that you are far more conserv ative now.

 I mean I wasn’t quite  a Trotskyite but I was threatened with deportation once. (Mind you that was South Africa in apartheid heyday, so the bar was not very high…) Bit like Australia: if you are naughty we’ll deport you …plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose?

So I am not going to dye my hair (haven’t got enough left) or get a tattoo (so common these days and they look ghastly on flabby old bodies)

But I do have a floppy tatty hat which I love and a canary yellow waistcoat and salmon pink trousers and blue vellies!

I am such a rebel!

Orson Welles suggested: I don’t say we all ought to misbehave, but we ought to look as if we could.

That sounds good to me.

Tin Mines in Mbabane

Following the discovery of gold in the Transvaal, prospectors swarmed all over the sub-continent of Africa, fossicking and digging and squabbling over access to likely ground.

In 1874 two Scots acquired the first mining concessions in Swaziland, then a region ruled by Mbandzeni with an unsophisticated people still embracing Iron Age technology.

There was no regard for the environment or the interests of the people who were easily corrupted by modern trade goods, particularly alcohol.

By 1890 so many concessions had been granted for so many purposes that practically the whole country was covered two, three, or even four deep in concessions of all kinds and for different periods.

White settlers flooded the country and Swazis quickly took up favours offered without concern for regulation or control. Settlers pillaged the country, despoiling the land and rivers, consuming the game animals and generally corrupting the Swazi, under the guise of civilization.

The tin miners were the worst. Mbabane was initially a tin mining village before it became the capital in 1902. Tin mining was very simple, they washed away the hillside to expose the nuggets of tin that lay above the bedrock. This meant that miners needed long canals to get enough water pressure  to hose away the hill.

It took until the 1950’s to stop their depradations. This accounts for a large amount of deep erosion gullies  as seen at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary

The soil that was washed away tended to accumulate and create swamps or wetlands, polluting the rivers and streams with silt, killing cattle.

I remember the dams  and claybelts all around Mbabane. Playing in the dams was strictly forbidden as a few years before a child had drowned in Lake Adelaide. I recall my Dad telling of having to dive in to retrieve the body, which was tangled in reeds on the dam floor.

However our gang of young boys found an old raft of petrol drums with a deck of wattle sticks on a small dam which we couldn’t resist, and had an inspired  pirate game. Unfortunately one of the gang lost his pellet gun overboard there – we were too scared to dive for it.  I wasn’t too sorry as he had shot me in the leg once, possibly by mistake…

Below Mbabane Club there were a number of claybanks which saw many a clay fight. Fortunately we could wash some of the red clay off in the river afterwards.

We later moved to Havelock Mine nestled in the East Drakensberg Mountains in the north of Swaziland. As boys we roved the hills and mountains and found prospectors’ trenches and implements all over the area.

Tin, gold, asbestos, iron ore, coal, diamonds lured many who came to love the land and its people. But they have run out now, so the burgeoning population has to rely on other ways of selling their resources.

Overpopulation and a lack of planning and control of development is turning many areas into semi-desert. So sad.

Photos courtesy of Swaziland Digital Archives

Whistler’s mother and her sheepdog

Story suggested by Debra Hall Wednesday 17th March

James Abbott McNeill Whistler painted his mother in 1871 and titled it “Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1.” After her husband’s death,  Anna Matilda McNeill Whistler wore black for the rest of her life. She was described by a sister-in-law as “so unshakeable that sometimes I could shake her.” 

This hints at the source  for the artist’s characteristic flamboyance – his signature was a blue butterfly.

When he worked as a map maker, his habit of filling his maps with mermaids, sea monsters, and other mythical creatures cost him his job.

One of Whistler’s foibles was the dog which he had inherited from his mother. A great big, hairy lump of an English sheepdog – it intruded and prevailed upon many a social occasion, annoying and distracting colleagues, customers, models and family members alike.

The dog accompanied him wherever he went. His mother had trained it to sing for snacks. If they were not forthcoming it growled sufficiently convincingly to elicit hasty rewards.

She had been excessively fond of the dog and shampooed and groomed it weekly. However, it was expensive to keep, having a voracious appetite and no respect for other people’s property. Whistler was forever having to pay off butchers for stolen sausages. They were too afraid to challenge it, as it was as big as a bear!

He eventually sold the dog to a circus, where it excelled for some years before succumbing to its over-familiarity with a tiger.

It is believed that Whistler was not too distressed.

(I must admit I made up the story of the dog.)