Farouk – Floppy and Fearless

Story proposed by Amory Cobbledick  

The names of our pets reflect the world at the time of naming. So when my Shetland pony, Pikkie (Afrikaaans for little one) had a foal, my father christened him Timoshenko, after a World War 2 Russian General.

Our neighbours in the late 1950’s, got a dog and he was christened Farouk. I assume something about this large bull mastiff must have brought to mind His Majesty Farouk I, by the grace of God, King of Egypt and the Sudan.

The name means “the one who distinguishes between right and wrong”. Not a good name for this dog who struggled to make that distinction, nor I believe, could his namesake.

 Farouk was of 10/16 Circassian 3/16 Turkish 2/16 French and 1/16 Albanian descent – in other words a real mongrel. Ruki, the name we called the dog, was pure-bred, but also behaved like a mongrel.

The Bullmastiff breed was bred to tackle and pin a poacher that comes onto private land which was sometimes awkward.

Ruki was also called Slobber Joe on account of the copious saliva slobber he produced. This young dog was very big, undisciplined and randy – he tried to knock down any running thing – and then he would mount and hump it, which could be embarrassing or hilarious, depending on your viewpoint.

It happened frequently to all of us. I can remember being paralysed with laughter when it happened to others and absolutely mortified when it happened to me.

Invariably, the subject of his affections was covered in slobber. He also hated horses but was otherwise quite friendly stupid.

While talking about dogs and embarrassment, I will share an agonising experience, if you promise not to tell. Sir Brian and Lady Riva Marwick came to say goodbye to my brother Tim and I at our boarding school, St Marks. Sir Brian was the retiring Resident Commissioner of Swaziland and an old family friend. As briefed, we were waiting, polished and clean in front of Duncan House, when the Austin Princess with fluttering flag rolled up. We could hear the whispers and scuffles of the boarders peering through windows and doors.

Sir Brian and Lady Riva alighted and bade their adieu’s and we blushed and mumbled. Just then Fly, the school mongrel arrived to see what was going on. Unbeknown to His Excellency, Fly cocked his leg and piddled against his tall grey flannelled leg.

Immediately Tim and I gasped and snorted and squirmed and bit our lips; while the audience erupted in poorly suppressed giggles. It was sheer agony.

Fortunately Lady Riva had seen what had happened and hustled him into the car and away. Oh dear! That was extremely painful and funny.

My Dad’s dog Bessie, a red bull terrier kept us in line: she was patient and wise and more sensible than any of us.

Sometimes on Sundays, we would go on a hike into the mountains around Mbabane, taking Farouk and Bessie to look after us.

Mum wrapped tomato sandwiches in greaseproof paper and we would take Daddy’s army haversack and water bottle and off we’d go climbing the hill behind the Police camp. Bessie would lead the way and try to curb Ruki’s exuberance.

We must have made an inspiring sight: three small barefooted boys in large hats accompanied by a towering mastiff and led by a grey muzzled bull terrier.

One terrible day, we met an old grey horse and Farouk went for it, leaping up and biting its throat.

It galloped off bleeding from the throat and we fled. We heard it was found dead and lived in terror for many days…

I don’t recall any other adventures with Farouk, so maybe he was moved to an area where there were no horses and people didn’t mind being knocked over and humped!

I also cannot think of that dog without a grin!

Eating litchis

Story proposed for my grand daughter, Elba Rose, 3 years old Tues 2 March

It appears that some people spell and pronounce the word as lychee (ugh!) 

The litchi is a member of the Soapberry family, but should have been classified under sugarberry. It is a small juicy, deliciously sweet fruit. Accordingly a number need to be eaten at a time.

Delicate people choose to pierce the thin, slightly spiky skin with a knife and peel it off with their fingers, thereby losing most of the juice. For a number of good reasons, I just bite into the skin.

That way, if you simultaneously slurp, you get most of the juice that explodes from the fruit. The rest runs down your chin and neck. I have got used to that and shower after finishing as many as I can eat.

Once the skin is pierced and the first juice splash slurped, delicately peel off the top half of the skin shell with your teeth. Then squeeze the bottom half with your fingers and the fruit pops into your mouth. Savour the soft sweet flesh, then bite softly to the hard smooth pip in the centre and peel off the flesh which can be swallowed without hardly any chewing necessary. Discard the pip and the peel after ensuring any remaining juice has been slurped.

We had great pleasure introducing my daughter’s well brought up young Englishman to litchis.

He is highly observant if somewhat hasty, as young men can be. He skilfully mimicked my bite and slurp with a masterly tilt of the head and salacious slurp. To our surprise and glee, he then chewed and swallowed the pip! He had been too shy to ask, and just assumed!

 It was also the favourite fruit of a Chinese Emperor’s favoured concubine. The emperor had fresh fruit delivered from Guangdong to the capital at great expense by a special courier service with fast horses.

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!

 

 Litchis contain several healthy minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, such as potassium, copper, vitamin C, epicatechin, and rutin. These may help protect against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

The pip may be slightly poisonous. 

My eldest brother, Mpunzane is a litchi addict. Whenever he noticed a litchi tree in fruit in his suburb, he would send in my brother and me under cover of darkness, to liberate a sample of the fruit. After some close calls and an attack of conscience (our mother’s), he planted a litchi tree in his garden. 

In those days he didn’t have Google to tell him that the trees bear fruit in about three months. Somebody told him it took seven years. We would be taken to inspect the tree each year. It never yielded any fruit, until it was seven years old, at least twenty feet high and wide. After good early rain it gave rise to a myriad of fruit flowers, then cascades of fruit started developing to everyones’ joy.

Yet, no ripe fruit survived. Until on a visit, I awoke very early one morning and went for a walk. I heard noises from the tree and went to investigate. There was the gardener hauling down branches and plucking the fruit which he dropped into a sack. 

To cut a long story short, he had been doing this every year, hence no fruit, since year one.

Well now,  with the thief gone, we could look forward to a harvest. We left them for a few more days to ripen perfectly. The evening before thay long awaited, glorious first harvest we heard an ominous sound – the happy call of a vervet monkey. We rushed to the tree and 30 monkeys scattered. The ground was littered with fruit peels and pips. The total harvest was 17 fruit – the monkeys and thieves got the rest – every year.

That should tells you something about the joy of eating litchis.

Umqombothi

It’s a lovely word. The ‘qo‘ just rolls of the tongue onto the roof of your mouth with a soft click and the next ‘o’ comes out as ‘aw’: oohm tk awm baww tea

It is the chicken noodle soup of South Africa especially in the Eastern Cape.

It is brewed for special occasions. For young Xhosa men (abakwetha) the introduction to umqombothi is usually painful. It is brewed to celebrate their initiation to manhood, which involves isolation and circumcision. I have never drunk it.

Beer is of course a staple of most civilisations, essentially because back in the day local water supplies soon became contaminated by poor sanitation and livestocks’ lack of regard for water purity. The alcohol in beer killed most of the germs in the water and the grain was extremely nourishing. That is why most wise people like beer – they are survivors.

In Africa where my soul was born, there are a number of natural brews of which probably the most popular is mahewu because of its simplicity. It is essentially ingrained into the rural dweller’s life and is shared communally. Both these drinks are grain based and only mildly alcoholic.

However, as has no doubt been experienced recently in South Africa, where alcohol sales were banned in the Covid lockdown, people go to great lengths to make alcoholic drinks.

I can remember my father warning me never to drink home brewed shebeen beer, makanjane, as brewers often added dubious ingredients to improve the ‘kick’. Such ingredients included methylated spirits and battery acid, as well as dead rats…. Mind you there is a pervasive myth that the secret Guinness ingredient is a beef hindquarter!

The brewing of pineapple beer was part of the unofficial curriculum for most young schoolboys: pineapple peel, brown sugar and water buried in a jar for a few days!

Once when I had mumps and was in bed upstairs in our house in Mbabane, my brother Mpunzane remembered a jar he had buried and forgot about when he went off to boarding school, three months before.

When he loosened the soil above it, the jar exploded, shooting the lid into the eaves outside my room. Impressive brew!

I think that was when we got the warning from Dad.

Mpunzane, who became a beer rep for a while, tells me it is marula season in Swaziland and he has plans for for some muganu – marula beer to celebrate his 80th birthday.

Those of you who have seen elephants and baboons staggering about after eating rotting marula fruit, will know that a potent beer is possible.

If you are totally teetotal in rural Africa, your other and probably only alternative is amasi, which is yogurt before it was invented.  

Sorry for you!

Story proposed by Mike Ellis

Middelmannetjie Mania

43 hours since lift-off from Musk City on Mars. The rocket’s cameras revealed the desolation of the Serengeti Plain in Africa; the sensors displayed almost zero oxygen and a surface temperature of 67 degrees Centigrade. There was no sign of life.

‘Mythbuster’ C-well had returned to the planet that his ancestors had abandoned in the 21st Century, days before the apocalyptic finale of the nuclear war between China and the United States. All known animal forms of life on Earth’s surface were believed to have been eradicated. This was his last chance to prove life existed on his ancestral planet.

His Martian colleagues in the LifeForm Ministry had scorned his conviction that some forms of life had survived the radioactive blasts and heatwaves which scorched Earth for decades. However, his persistent searches of Earth images over time had detected some remnants of vegetation. It was this evidence that persuaded MarsGov to fund his exploration.

The transit vehicle went into Earth orbit at 300 kilometers and C-well (call sign MbC) entered his drone with his technician and co-pilot Vingers Verranti (VV2). Their destination was the junction of the Mlawula and Black Umbuluzi Rivers near the border between eSwatini and Mocambique.

Many years before MbC’s great grandfather Jaime had been an Ecologist and Game Warden in the region. He had left annotated journals of the animal, plant and insect life in the area. This was the reference material which was to guide their search.

Jaime had affectionately been called Malusa Timfene by the locals, – guardian of the baboons, because of his diligent protection of the ecology of the region.

They had sufficient oxygen and battery life in their suits for 36 hours, before they would be forced to leave or die.

The drone blew up a cloud of dust as they landed. They descended and stood in the shade under its wings. They would search  a roughly square area sided by the Umbuluzi in the North and the Mlawula on the East and South. A dirt track formed the left boundary of the search area.

A few leafless trees seemed just alive in the river beds, which had some wispy grasses growing on the banks.

Every footfall raised a puff of dust, There were no animal tracks and no birds in the sky. MbC felt like weeping, having read of the abundance of wildlife in the area.

In the first 30 hours he must have traversed his section of the area over a thousand times without observing any vestige of life on his monitor gauges or through his magnified, wide angle spectacle visor.

He was growing despondent.

When he looked up he saw VV2 watching him, then breaking into a space age version of the sibhaca dancing they had seen on archive movies. That brought a grin and new energy. VV2 looked like a giant armoured insect capering about.

That brought something to mind from the old journal. Jaime had written in his journal of the plethora of insect life which inhabited the grasses and shrubs that grew in the middle of the dirt roads – known as the middlemannetjie – the little man in the middle.

He had described a life chain starting with the antelopes that slept in the roadways at night, marginally safer than the grasslands as predators could be detected and escape at speed was easier.

Their droppings had fostered a myriad of insect life from carpenter ants, millipedes, ant lions to dung beetles. Those patient, diligent, comic beasties that rolled dung into balls in which to lay their eggs.

He returned to the side track and increased the magnification of his visor to examine the dusty surface.

There were still a few brown grass blades emerging from tufts of stubble in the middle of the road. He gasped! There was a faint double line of dots in the sand – insect tracks! He whooped and VV2 came lumbering over to see what was the cause of his obvious glee.

They searched wider and found more tracks and near the river, bigger insect tracks, somewhat more erratic, leading to a stunted shrub.

Under a root they discerned a round ball – it was a dungball. It had apparently been cached by the female.

Dung meant animal life!

Such joy – MbC’s persistence was vindicated!

As resources were dwindling, they were forced to return to Mars. No further evidence had been found, but the dungball would justify larger expeditions and maybe the re-colonisation of Earth.

MbC’s thesis was published to great acclaim on Mars.

He had entitled it: Middelmannetjie Mania.

Story proposed by James Culverwell

African Odyssey

 

We took off from Perth at 20 to midnight and landed in Joburg at 10 to five – but flew for 11 hours overnight, during which sleep was elusive.

Immigration was quick and impassive, baggage delivery slow but effective: all there and undamaged. Customs alert and easy going. Friends beaming at the gate – AT 5H30 ON SUNDAY MORNING!! Such love!

Car hire…eish! system is down… but sorted and 4 suitcases, 4 hand luggage squeezed in and away we go. At garage exit, we are stopped by a slovenly policeman. (Rat smell!) – kept cool and stared him down, he checked driver’s licence and let us go: Welcome to Africa!

Things have changed and we got lost in Boksburg North and stopped to listen to hadedas and then arrived at Bridie’s. Last home of Mum and Dad, with same furniture, curtains, vases. Watched the rugby test, specially recorded: boring draw! Grand breakfast.

Little snooze and in walk Jeff and Gail, besties from the ou dae! Beer and braai and a bietjie wyn! Heart full as I thought we might miss them.

Early bed – to awaken at 2am – ain’t jet lag grand!

Lingering, languid lunch with Jen and Rich – awake at 2 am again! Aaarghh!

 

It was about here that I realised this could turn into an epic requiring undue perseverance by my faithful few readers, so ……. I wrote a sort of travelogue poem, condensing our trip while trying to cover itinerary, cast list and feelings about what we saw and did.

Here is a link to the poem, which I called Second generation Souties

 

 

Special Courts

(This is an extract from my book “Rough Justice” which records some of my experiences in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe during and after the liberation war. –Available on Amazon)

Part of the strategy for combatting the war against terror, was the establishment of Special Courts, which travelled into rural centres to try offences against the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act.

Offenders were people who carried arms of war – active terrorists; gave aid and support to terrorists and / or failed to report the presence of terrorists, which were capital offences with a mandatory death sentence  upon conviction.

The death penalty was a very strong part of the judicial armoury in Africa up to the 1970’s. As was corporal punishment – a light cane for juveniles and a heavy cane for adults.

sten gunJudges’ Clerks were required to act as Chauffeurs and Bodyguards for our Judges and we were issued with Sten guns, 45 calibre sub machine guns, produced in WW2 for 2/6d, which usually jammed after the second round.

The best part was driving the big Mercedes Benz car merited by the judge.

The administration of Justice was very swift, with most of the accused admitting the facts, notwithstanding the mandatory death sentences and despite the efforts of their appointed defence barrister.

On one sad day we passed the death sentence on four people: two in Inyanga in the morning and two in the afternoon in Umtali.gallows noose

After the accused were found guilty, it was the duty of the Judge’s Registrar to address them were as follows:

You have been found guilty of the crime of contravening the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act by giving support to people bearing arms against the State: do you know of any reason or have anything to say as to why sentence of death should not be passed upon you?”

My repugnance for what we were doing grew after one dignified old gentleman replied: “My Lord, when a man bearing a rifle tells me I must report anyone who carries weapons who comes to my village or I will be hanged, and then later, another man also carrying a rifle tells me if I report his visit I and my family will be killed, what must I do?

He was duly sentenced as the Act required, but I know the judge recommended clemency. That evening was the only time I saw a judge get drunk.

He resigned after that.

In fact, most if not all mandatory death sentences which did not include murder or acts of violence were commuted to life imprisonment and these people were released on independence.

Slaughter in the night

(This is an extract from my upcoming book about working on the mines during the South African struggle.)

“Mama ….. Mamie … Ma…”

I covered him with a blanket. Then he died.

Still young, his innocence and lack of survival instinct had left him sleeping in his room, where the killers found him. In keeping with custom, he was stabbed and sliced by all his attackers, in order to bind their silence by joint guilty involvement.

His arm hanging by shreds of skin, he was left to bleed to death; his killers slinking away at our approach. We were just in time to hear him die. I wished afterwards that I had knelt and pronounced words of absolution – many Sothos were Catholics.

Ghostly groups of hunter killers slipped away through the early dawn mist and tear gas remnants. We called for an ambulance.

The ambulances were busy – 14 men had died in this senseless, hateless violence which set workmates at each other’s throats because sides had to be chosen. Many were injured in these crude, clumsy clashes with iron bars and bricks from torn down walls as weapons.

Amongst the casualties, who didn’t die, broken ankles were the main injury, sustained leaping out high windows to escape the hunter killers who slunk through the night seeking victims … anyone from the other side.

Most bodies were mutilated with multiple wounds, many clearly in sleeping attire, some still in their rooms.

As it became lighter, two factions formed, kept apart by armoured security vehicles and a SA Police unit with a mounted machine gun. 3000 men lined up facing each other about 50 metres apart.

They were divided along ethnic lines, those who teta – spoke with clicks, mostly Xhosa, armed with sabres and iron bar spears, facing the rest, predominantly Sotho, with some Shangaan, Swazi and Tswana, wrapped in blankets, mainly armed with cudgels and bricks.  Trees in the hostel had been stripped of branches and a 12 foot brick wall had been knocked down and the bricks taken for weapons.

 

The Happy Hookers Fishing Club

(This is an extract from my upcoming book on my years at Vaal Reefs Exploration and Mining Company – most of those 14 years were pretty rough; but there were some happy times too)

Maurice (James) and I and Denis Simpson started talking about a fishing trip to Henties Bay in Namibia. We constituted a fishing club and soon had an eager group planning the trip. Henties was on the West Coast in Namibia and was renowned as a fishing mecca.

Bossie Boshoff, Peter Turner, Alistair Barr and Andries Oberholzer were some of our fellow hengelaars – some were quite serious about fishing, others were mainly there for the beer (no names, but you can guess)

Most of us were amateur fishermen, but enjoyed the associated conviviality and the 4000 km round trip across Botswana and Namibia was a great success – some of us even caught some fish! Maurice and I were also keen bird watchers.

We were joined by Bushy Going from TEBA (the mines employment bureau) which was a major coup. TEBA had fully equipped and serviced manager’s houses in very remote areas of Southern Africa and we managed to visit 3 of the most exotic and exciting of these camps.

Shakawe was on the banks of the Okavango River, near the Caprivi Strip.tigerfish                carmine B eaterThere were boats, wonderful tiger and bream fishing and a rainbow array of birds and wildlife.  There were also crocodiles and hippos…

That trip alone deserves a separate book.

Kosi Bay was situated in a kwaZulu Natal reserve about 200 metres from the Kosi Bay estuary – the only house for miles. We caught no fish over 3 days!

narina-trogon.jpgPafuri is a private rest camp at the northern tip of the Kruger National Park where the Narina Trogon was spotted.

Peter Turner’s family had a house in Morgan’s Bay on the Transkei Coast.fresh-calamari.jpg    We caught only one fish between the two cold fronts that passed over dumping rain by the ton.

We were forced to eat our bait (squid/calamari) – quite good actually! (although our powers of discrimination were somewhat diminished…)

These fishing trips entailed many planning meetings and conviviality and provided great stress relief, during quite tough times.

Going back to Africa

I must confess to mixed feelings now.

It has taken some time to get to this point. Nearly twenty years in fact.

This has been quite a sudden realisation; not so long ago I wrote a poem about returning my spirit to Africa, where I grew up and where 10 generations of ancestors are buried:

Journey

Like a boomerang, we go forwards to go back

to our hearts home where our mum’s wombs rest.

From light to dark and smooth to shoddy.

People simple but direct, not so friendly.

But it’s the home of our heart and soul,

darker Africa, so far and so near.

The warm people now despondent

about unrealised comforts, leached away by lazy overlords,

Maybe blamed on us, who give, build and take.

 

Where I die, twirl a thorn twig,

catch my ghost and take it home,                                         

like a boomerang, back from where we came,

to the bosom of the family we left.

Then maybe I will rest.

 

Now our near family is here, not there. Without a doubt, feelings are mixed.

But now I feel as if I am leaving home, not going home.

I am happy and sad.

(The picture is a twig from the Umlahlankosi tree that can be used to carry the spirit of the deceased from the place of death to a new resting place).

Christmas of my childhood

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.” 
Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

My earliest memories were from colonial days in the 1950’s, when we lived in Swaziland. There were certain rituals and traditions some of which have lived on through the generations.

xmas-treeThe first was the hunt for a Christmas tree. I seem to recall that there was some subterfuge required as pine and cypress trees in and about the town were council property. Daddy could not participate as he was a high panjandrum in the government, so it was up to Mum.

Suitable trees would be identified during the year. As it got dark, Mum would drive to the spot (usually next to Mbabane Oval) and the tree was quickly felled with an axe and the tree stowed in the boot and we would hasten home trailing pine needles. Dad would splutter but faced with a fait accompli he was powerless.tree-decorating

Decorations came out of a box: beautifully coloured delicate globes and silver and gold tinsel, with the Star placed on top by Daddy, which made him an accomplice. Presents were piled around the foot of tree – cause of much speculation and dreaming. Quite a few presents as there were six of us and Gogo (as Granny Vialls was called), Bessie (the dog) the servants: Samuel, Lamzima, Jane and Tsabetse, our convict gardener.

We also made streamers by cutting and plaiting strips of red and green crepe paper.

nativityCarols by candlelight were held at the amphitheatre. Daddy who loved to sing,  would sing protracted Noweeeeeeeels, much to the amazement of all in general and our acute embarrassment! There were a little crib and a live donkey: I always loved Away in a Manger thereafter.

The Christmas box was a local tradition where little gifts were given to deliverymekids-treen and service people like rubbish collectors. We carried wrapped sweets in the car to throw out to the Swazi children who would run along the side of the road calling out ma-sweeet, ma- sweeti!

Oxmas-sockn Christmas Eve we would be given orange bags as stockings to hang on the end of our beds for Father Christmas presents. We retired very early and awoke at about four a.m. to start investigating … soon rustle, rustle would turn to yips of glee and look what I’ve got’s.

The best gifts for my brother and I were a space-age machine gun which emitted a ferocious rattle and flashed sparks. No-one slept after four am that Xmas.

Gogo would make mebos (tart apricot preserve) which was a great temptation. As we would be going to communion we were not allowed to eat until after mass. The mebos suffered at the hands of early morning sinners…

Father Botta knew better than to delay his parishioners by a long sermon and we invariably passed the Anglicans as they came out of church. Dad would say: beat the Prods again! (Not very good behaviour for a papal knight!)

After breakfast, there would be tidying up and the grown ups would sip port and nibble mince pies, while we hovered around the Christmas tree where the family presents were piled.xmas-kids-and-dog

Eventually, Daddy relented and Tim and I being the youngest had to deliver presents after he had read the label.

Then tidying up again, laying the table, trying to sneak charms out the crackers and stealing nuts and mebos

Wxmas-faree still managed to eat turkey with cranberry sauce and roast potatoes, wearing silly hats and reading silly jokes… then came the pudding, bathed in blue flame with glints of silver treasure. In the pudding, Mum had inserted sixpences and tickeys (threepence) which was big money – our pocket money was tickey a week.

Then a toast to “Absent Friends” and Daddy would choke up and Mummy would finish for him.family-cricket

We’d clear the table and set up the kitchen table for the servants’ dinner; somewhat hurriedly as there was lawn cricket outside. We managed a few overs before Daddy nodded off behind the wickets.

 

We do it a bit differently in Australia these days and have Christmas braai (barbeque) on Christmas Eve, as it can get quite hot here in the day. But we still have port and mince pies and always remember “Absent Friends” which becomes harder as we grow older and the list grows longer…

One of our children has gone off meat so next year we will have vegetarian options:

  • Borshch (beet soup).
  • Vegeducken – layers of pumpkin, capsicum, zucchini and asparagus are filled with a crispy hazelnut stuffing and baked to perfection.
  • Vushka (small dumplings with mushroom).
  • Varenyky (dumplings with cabbage and potatoes).
  • Holubtsi (stuffed cabbage roll)
  • Kutia (sweet grain pudding).

merry-christmas-austrli

felinavidad