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.)

The sound of bellbirds in the kowhais

Story suggested by Veronica Wilson Tuesday 16 March

The bellbird is called korimako or makomako in Maori and is endemic to New Zealand.

These birds are a type of honeyeater, a bird that mainly feeds on nectar. They mainly sip nectar from native and introduced plants. However, they also feed on fruits and will even eat insects.  Sadly, it is one of the native birds that is impacted by the introduction of exotic mammalian species like stoats, rats and possums.

The blooms of the kōwhai are widely regarded as being New Zealand’s national flower

The word kōwhai is also used in the Maori language for the colour yellow, because of the bright colour of the flowers

Bellbird song can be heard all over New Zealand, but it is Tuis’ calls which are more widelyknown, starting with Wellington airport where taped recordings echo continuously through the building.

Bellbirds and Tuis can be heard all over the country in woodlands and add a sweet and almost mystic experience.

The bird and the flower and especially the birdsong are New Zealand icons. The bird itself is not particularly remarkable other than its song. Brown and similar hues seem to be the most popular colours for inhabitants, other than the flashy Tui.

Sadly there are very few bird types in New Zealand. Born and bred Kiwis are amazed by the plethora of birds in neighbouring Australia and the raucous cacophony they create. They somewhat resent the few rainbow lorikiets that have been blown across the Tasman to North Island. They are very loud and garish – quintessentially Australian.

But Kiwis love what they have got, and that is good.

What about undersea sustainable cities?

Story suggested by Bob a.k.a. Tinker Connolly Monday 15 March

The continent of Atlantis was an island
Which lay before the great flood
In the area we now call the Atlantic Ocean
So great an area of land, that from her western shores
Those beautiful sailors journeyed
To the South and the North Americas with ease
In their ships with painted sails…

Hail Atlantis! Way down below the ocean
Where I wanna be, she may be

or

Under the sea
Under the sea
Darling it’s better
Down where it’s wetter
Take it from me

It seems crazy to be talking about settling Mars when there is so much space under the sea.

In modern times, it was probably the intrepid underwater pioneer Cousteau and his Conshelf research habitat built under water in the 70’s that sparked interest in the possibility of living underwater.

 Under sea habitation could alleviate over-population problems, or guard against the possibility of natural or man-made disasters that render land-based human life impossible.

Skylab has clearly demonstrated that it is possibleto survive for long periods out of the atmosphere. The difference with underwater is increased pressure as opposed to no pressure.

The pressures at any deeper than 1,000ft (300m), would require very thick walls and excessive periods of decompression for those returning to the surface, but there is plenty of sea bed above that level.

Energy can be generated harnessing wave action or placing solar panels on the surface.

The air composition needed to sustain the aquanauts depends upon the depth of the habitat. Current habitats use compressors to constantly push fresh air from the surface down tubes to the habitat. Growing plants using natural or artificial light could be used to generate a fresh supply of oxygen, or other methods could be developed to produce oxygen.

There are hotels which have underwater modules.

Water can be created using condensation or desalinisation. Depending upon the size of the colony, human waste could be treated and released into the environment.

Homes with undersea modules have been developed

A number of ideas and proposals are under consideration and undersea mining and marine fish farms are significantly large industries.

The sea is being recognised as an opportunity for expansion. Let us hope we can clean up pollution before we start living there. And keep it clean. And minimise our impact on a different eco-system….

Any bets we can do that? Thought not.

plane seats on the wings

Story suggested by Rubes Carter Saturday 13 March

Plane seats on the wing is a notion which looks like it may be fun and cool. Closer examination of the idea reveals a number of probably fatal flaws.

Flying on a wing and a prayer was a description of the desperate condition some shot up aircraft returning home after raids on enemy territory, only just getting home…. or not.

Then there are wing walkers who perform crazy stunts for entertainment purposes – not very many people have that sort of confidence.  My tummy wobbles just thinking about it.

At the speeds that aircraft move, it would not be easy reading a book or drinking coffee on the wing; conversation and safety announcements would be a tad awkward too. You would have to rug up too -those lightweight airline dishcloth blankets won’t keep the icicles away!

So plane seats on wings probably won’t go very far as a paying proposition. 

However, for those keen on the idea, if they are willing to accept a compromise, they could sit inside the wing quite comfortably and a lot more safely. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has just partnered with a university to develop the “Flying-V,” a radical new airplane design that puts passenger seats inside the plane’s wings — and it could decrease the amount of fuel needed for flights by a substantial 20 percent.

Modern designs of aircraft are moving away from a central fuselage and towards an all wing aircraft.

Of course, we are really talking about living on the edge. The more confident, some may say foolhardy may try the extreme. Wingsuit flying provides experiences as close to bird-like soaring as human beings are likely to experience, given the configuration of our bodies.

It is possible for a wingsuit flier to approach speeds of 150 mph!

This extreme form of flying makes wing walking look like paddling in a puddle and it really looks like the stuff of dreams.

Once or twice in my life I have dreamed I was flying, just soaring through the skies …. what a feeling it was!

I could do it if I wanted to, but these days I prefer to stay away from the edge.

To see what it looks like, check out this video link to wingsuit flying, it will take your breath away!

So I guess plane seats on the wings won’t fly. 

This video of future flying machines may cure you of your need to sit on a plane wing!

Whatever flight style or seat you choose, remember rule number one: Keep the blue side up!

Slip slops

Story suggested by  Gail Leaver Friday 12 March

Slip-slops, flip-flops, thongs (not to be be confused with other thongs, which are worn between the legs not the toes), pluggers, plakkies, jandals (Japanese sandals, duh!), slippahs and smakols are all descendants of japanese zori, introduced to the US by servicemen returning from occupation leave. They became popular unisex summer footwear in warm climes all over the world.

Japanese have been using different versions for two thousand years. Even before them, the Egyptians wore them as far back as 1200BC

It seems that the establishment disapproves of the flip-flop. When someone, usually a politician, changes opinion in a way that annoys people that is called doing a flip-flop

A minor controversy erupted in 2005 when some members of a national womens’ lacrosse team visited the White House wearing slip-slops. The team responded to critics by auctioning off their slip-slops on e-Bay, raising $1,653 for a young cancer patient.

Hmmm! One can almost understand the Trump phenomenon.

The Dalai Lama of Tibet is a frequent wearer of slip-slops and has met with several U.S. presidents, including George W Bush and Barack Obama wearing the sandals. Dubya awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. I don’t think it was just for wearing slip-slops.

Atlanta based company Flip Flop Shops claimed that the shoes were responsible for $20 billion industry in 2009. Furthermore, sales of slip-slops exceeded those of sneakers for the first time in 2006.

Podiatrists recommend avoiding the inexpensive, drug store varieties and spending more on sandals with thick-cushioned soles, as well as ones that have a strap that’s not canvas and that comes back almost to the ankle

However the evidence is overwhelming – these sandals are certainly the most popular footwear in the world. They are functional, cheap and easily replaced. They are ideal for the beach, hence their popularity in good beach countries.

They are not too popular in colder climes.

I must confess the sight of socks and flops puts my teeth on edge.

Personally, I don’t like ‘em, but that is probably jealousy, because I cannot wear them.

I wear crocs, which is why, I’ve been told I haven’t got lucky…

Rain on an old tin roof

Story suggested by Linda Owen Guy                    Thursday 11 March

Pitter….. patter….. pitter….. patter…. pitter…. patter.

Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, pitter-patter, pitter-patter

Rain falling  is a rhythmic pattering sound, like a lullaby it can help people fall asleep quickly. The brain unconsciously relaxes and produces alpha waves, close to the state of our brain when we sleep.

People listen to rain as white noise. Have a go, click the link – listen to the rain while you read!

Sitting under a tin roof, the first drop is a SPLAT! Followed by further splats and then a steady roar, making conversation difficult; anyway splashes will drive you inside.

As the  rain tails off we get an array of sounds:

pitter-patter.

drip-drop.

rat-a-tat.

splatter.

tap tap

pitter patter

pitapat.

pat

drip, drip, drip  …drip

After rain a strong earthy smell arises. It is rich and fecund, catching the back of your throat and prompts idle thoughts of becoming a farmer. Petrichor it is called.

The sun breaks through clouds. The tin roof goes skcilc, skcilc as the roof metal stretches in the warmth.

Tok tokkies

Story suggested by Susie Drake          Wednesday 10 March

I have always  had a little confusion about tok tokkies.

I knew they were insects but confused them with ant-lions, about which my elder brother is an authority. When he was about eight or ten he was sent to St Marks, a boarding school in Mbabane, about 75 miles from Stegi, which was home. He was in Duncan House and his best friend was Tienie Herbst. Sixteen years later I was in Duncan too and one of my classmates was Hennie Herbst.

My brother and Tienie kept ant lion farms. But back to tok-tokkies…

Tok-tokkies are clever beetles that live in the desert and collect moisture from fog. Darkling beetle is their formal name (Tenebrionidae if you want to be technical). 

They make a clicky-knocking sound to lure females. That is why they are called Tok-tokkies, after the children’s game of knocking on doors then running away.

I don’t think I have ever met a tok-tokkie beetle.

But I have met a number of ant-lions, which we called tok-tokkies, so I can tell you about them. They are fierce predators that dig pit traps for unsuspecting prey.

Once the prey falls into the trap, the ant-lion springs out from its cover and seizes a leg in its gruesome jaws and injects its venom. Slowly, inexorably, it drags the struggling prey under the sand and devours it.

I can remember tok-tokkies from when I was in Duncan. I suppose they were the descendants of my brother’s insects. 

They are very entertaining and can keep one absorbed for hours. There were some pits in the sand, near the boiler we went to smoke cigarettes.  If you tickled the sand of the crater with a grass stalk, the lion would spring out of the sand and grip it and you could lift it up to look at it.Even better was to get an ant and drop it into the pit. Quick as a wink it was goodbye Mr Ant.

To even the competition we got bigger insects, like a small hotnotsgod, a praying mantis. They could usually get away, but sometimes lost a leg.

After eating enough over a couple of years the ant-lion spins a cocoon and retires into it for a while. When the moon is full, it emerges as a delicate lacewing beauty who flies off in avid search of a mate. Her search is frenzied and relentless without pause to even eat. Once mating is over, she lays eggs in the sand, and dies.

Talk about Beauty and the Beast

Just imagine if there were giants of the species …. aarghhh!!