Back around 1962 we joined the du Plessis on a beach and fishing holiday on the Natal north coast – Chaka’s Rock! They were beach regulars, this was one of our two beach holidays that I can remember. It was amazing! The cottage on a hill above the beach, the rocks and seaside cliffs, narrow walkways along the cliffs that the waves would drench at high tide; magic swimming pools set in the rocks. The men were there to fish:
We baljaar’d on the beach and sometimes even ventured into the shallows – just up to safe vrystaat depth. A swimmer I was not and I still vividly remember a near-death experience I had in the rock pool: a metre-high wave knocked me out of Mom’s arms and I was washed away out of her safe grasp! I must have been torn away by up to half a metre from her outstretched hands; little asthmatic me on my own in the vast Indian Ocean for what must have been a long one and a half seconds. Traumatised. To this day I am wary of the big-dam-that-you-can’t-see-the-other-side-of.
Before we learnt to drink beer on the banks of the mighty Tugela, we drank oros and water while observing our elders drinking beer on those rocks on the same bend in the river. Here’s an old 8mm movie taken back in the early 1960’s – before we followed suit in the seventies.
Note Kai and Gee in the motorboat and Barbara and Bess paddling in the shallows. Check out Doc Reitz’s old Chev OHS 71.
Sheila kept all Dad’s old 8mm movies and has now had them digitised, saved on a memory stick! I’m slicing and dicing and joining them and saving them ‘to the cloud.’ Here’s the clip of Gretel, Joyce, Mary and Isabel walking along that stunning driveway along the (amIright here?) Grecian columns to the old double-rondawel thatched homestead:
People often rail against cuckoos and use all sorts of pejorative descriptions about them and their ways. Hey! Cuckoos gotta do what cuckoos gotta do. Nature. Survival of the fittest. Evolution. Life. Bird life.
Consider three things: 1. Cuckoos have no alternative. This is the ONLY way they can breed; 2. Cuckoos eat a whole bunch of caterpillars, even the ones with poisonous hairs and barbs. We need cuckoos. 3. Anthropomorphising animals is never a good idea. Cuckoos aren’t little feathered humans deciding ‘What the hell, I’ll drop the kids off at a neighbour’s house and abandon them there.’
So I’m always disappointed when people use descriptions like ‘nasty cheat’, ‘treacherous’, ‘deceitful’, etc when describing cuckoos. Many birds like hawks and eagles who do bring up their own young catch and kill other birds – including baby birds taken from their nests – to feed to their young. It’s all just nature, people!
In fact the ‘arms race’ between cuckoos trying to lay their eggs in their hosts’ nests and the hosts trying to thwart the cuckoos makes for fascinating natural history. And every now and then one might even get to see it happening! I did once and this story of an African Cuckoo coming to a sticky end after trying to enter an Indian Mynah nest reminded me of it.
My encounter was on the last day of a Dusi Canoe Marathon back in the nineteen eighties. I was drifting along on the Umgeni River just upstream of the big N2 bridge across the river, wishing the current would do a bit more to get me to the finish at Blue Lagoon, when I heard a ruckus and saw a bunch of weavers chasing and mobbing a bird. As I got closer I saw it was a Diederik Cuckoo pulling its best aerial dogfighting maneuvres to try and escape the mob. Even flying upside down much of the time so its claws could fend off the pecking. To no avail. They beat her down into the reedbed and then down the reeds onto the water. Then I was past the scene of this neighbourhood vigilante action. So I didn’t see the end and don’t know if the Diederik was actually killed, as the Mynahs in North West Province killed the African Cuckoo. Fascinating!
Thanks to rockjumperbirding.com for the Diederik and hbw.com for the African cuckoo photos.
We were talking of our younger days when we occasionally, perhaps, got up to some light mischief which pedants might have regarded as slightly illegal. Such as hopping fences without having purchased tickets to see international sporting events at Ellis Park Joburg – rugby tests and tennis internationals. One of my fellow culprits named Stephen Charles Reed mentioned that we even ended up getting good seats. And that reminded me:
Talking of good seats: Do you remember when you took me – new in Debbin (Durban) and you an old hand, having emigrated down there a year or two before – to my first Durban July! The Rothmans Durban July Handicap?
Here’s the way I remember it:
We dressed up in the best we had and stood in a long queue to place a bet on the first race. Took forever. Then we rushed to the fence to watch the race and our horse was running in reverse and eventually had to be picked up and carried off half an hour after the race finished or it would still have been running.
Everyone then went back to the betting windows to queue again to place bets for the next race, determined to throw away their money.
This left the fence, crowded as hell a minute before, quite empty and we spotted a bench at the finish post. We scurried over and occupied it and made a very intelligent decision on the spur of the moment: We would not place any more bets, we would not move from that bench and we would spend all our money on champagne.
Best decision in the world! We saw everything, we didn’t waste our money, we got a liquid return on every cent we spent; we got delightfully pickled and awfully clever and we started making confident predictions on which nags would win. We had a system, based, I think on the deep bubbly-inspired insight “Usually It’s A Brown Horse.”
Soon people were coming up to us to inquire who they should bet on! They thought what with all the champagne and merriment that we were obviously winning and therefore knowledgeable. We freely advised them on how to invest their hard-earned cash by consulting the racing form guide – Give Beau Geste a bash! we’d say; or Sea Cottage looks good!What? Not running? Oh, try (check book): Lady Godiva! We took turns fetching more champagne.
A wonderful day at the races. ca1980. Edu-me-cational it was.
I seem to remember Steve had also convinced some lovely lass to tart herself up and accompany us in high heels? Wishful thinking?
The Umfolosi Wilderness is a special place. Far too small, of course, but its what we have. I’m reading Ian Player’s account of how Magqubu Ntombela taught him about wilderness and Africa and nature. The idea of a wild place where modern man could go to escape the city and re-discover what Africa was like was born and actioned.
My first trail was ca 1990, when I went with Dusi canoeing buddies Doug Retief, Martin & Marlene Loewenstein and Andre Hawarden. We were joined by a young lass on her own, sent by her father, who added greatly to the scenery:
A good sport, she took our gentle teasing well.
We went in my kombi and some highlights I recall were:
Doug offering “bah-ronies” after lunch one day. We were lying in the shade of a tree after a delicious lunch made by our guides: Thick slices of white bread, buttered and stuffed with generous slices of tomato and onion, salt and black pepper. Washed down with tea freshly brewed over a fire of Thomboti wood. Doug fished around in his rucksack and gave us each a mini Bar One (“bah-ronie”, geddit?). Best tasting chocolate I ever ate, spiced as it was with hunger and exertion.
After the five-night trail we went for a game drive on the way out of the park. Needing a leak after a few bitterly cold brews I left the wheel with the kombi trundling along amiably and walked to the side door of the kombi, ordering Hawarden to take over the driving. Not good at taking orders, he looked at me, waited till I was in mid-stream out of the open sliding door and leant over with his hiking stick and pressed the accelerator. The driverless kombi picked up speed and I watched it start to veer off-road, necessitating a squeezed premature end to my leak and a dive for the wheel. Thanks a lot, Hawarden!
‘Pleasure,’ he murmured mildly. Hooligan!
Thirty years later Andre Hooligan Hawarden wrote:
“Hey, remember that cool walk we did in the game reserve when you had the tape recorder and we attracted the owl? Then next day we lay on the bank of the Umlofosi river and watched the vultures coming down for a lunch time drink and a snooze? That was a wonderful experience. I’ve never forgotten it.”
Self-driving cars won’t need steering wheels one day.
Reminds me of thinking WTF? at the wheel of my puke-green 1974 Peugeot 404 station wagon on the corner of Musgrave Road and St Thomas near the Robert E Lee nightclub of old after hearing a loud thump left rear. What could that be? I asked my companions, but them being drunk they just thought whatever it was it was hilarious. Irresponsible passengers!
Either the pavement had leaned forward and caught the wheel and whipped the tyre off the rim, or the self-driving car had irresponsibly cut the corner. Nothing to do with me, but now I had to try and change that tyre while planet earth was rotating dizzyingly all round me irregardless. Peugeot having not yet perfected the self-changing tyre. My companions were only a handicap, giving raucous and useless advice. They’d been drinking.
And do you think the planet would just cool it for a minute and rotate and revolve less vigorously while I wrestled with the diplopia, the wheel and the swaying? No, in fact I swear it accelerated somewhat. Probably a Chandler wobble happened just then, moving the wheel about 9m from where I was trying to change it. It happens every 433 days.
Being a superb handyman and able to handle my liquor, and by leaning my forehead against the wheel-arch, I got the wheel changed and we staggered into the Robert E Lee and ordered a round, the drunks still telling me what I coulda, shoulda.
In the morning I staggered to the window in Wakefield Court Doctors Quarters in Durban’s Point Road area to look down at the Peugeot parked below in Prince Street. That feeling of relief that it was there and the mystery as to how it got there. Auto-pilot. Who needs Elon Musk?
Of course I no longer do that shit. In fact the last time I acted irremesponsibly was LONG ago in Mocambique after a few mega R&R’s (rum n raspberries). I was much younger. Must be eight, nine years ago. And I wasn’t driving. A drunk driver on the sand roads in the dunes was trying to shake me off the roof of his 4X4.
So why can’t my kids just skip this portion of their lives? I ask. I also ask critics of self-driving cars, ‘You really think cars can do a worse job than some of us drivers?’
My first R&R actually astonished me, true. The barman in Ponta da Oura (you guys will remember his name) filled the 500ml beer tankard with ice then poured cheap rum out of a plastic bottle to 1cm from the top. NO! I laughed, Whoa! Not so much! He looked at me in genuine concerned sadness and said “It is too late. I have already poured it”. I understood then, as I watched him add a splash of Schweppes raspberry. This was how it played in Ponta. I girded my loins. It would have to be done.
Part of Earth’s wobble may be our fault for driving around aimlessly at night burning up fossil fuels! Seems since 1899, the Earth’s axis of spin has shifted about 10.5 meters. Seems a third of the shift is due to melting ice and rising sea levels, particularly in Greenland. Another third of the wobble is due to land masses expanding upward as the glaciers retreat and lighten their load. The final portion is the fault of the slow churn of the mantle, the viscous middle layer of the planet.
Three modern bakkies and a 1979 Series II Landrover LWB with a Ford V6 3litre engine shoved in – and hand-painted flat white with bright red wheels – ventured up Sani Pass one day. The three very capable bakkies sailed up with ease, while Redfoot had to pause for a breather on a stream crossing and have its radiator topped up and let its heart rate subside.
Yet at photo op time everyone posed on old Redfoot the Landie! Hit it!
Aitch found Redfoot. One of her PMB doctors was ‘doing up’ an old Landie, putting a new engine in and it ‘would be like new’ he said. He was a fibbing car salesman but my Need-A-4X4-O-Meter was up and he could have sold me a – Wait! He DID sell me a Landrover!Never thought I’d fall for one of those.
‘Only one previous owner’ he said and that was true: Besides him, only one previous owner – The KwaZulu bantustan homeland Police Force. I only found that out too late but anyway he’d have re-assured me that they treated it with kid gloves and as if it was their own, sticking to the speed limit, never over-loading it and staying on the tar.
I bought it for R12000 in partnership with my three business partners, 25% each. I assured them they would thank me. I don’t think Lello and Stoute ever used it. Yoell did once. And Prem Singh used it once to take a wedding party to Ladysmith. Maybe Soutar used it a few times.
I spent a further R13000 on two more Ford engines and sold it with relief for R5000. This Sani trip was the only worthwhile exercise it ever undertook. Come to think of it, I don’t think my ungrateful partners ever did thank me! I don’t know why. It was a real conversation stopper. You had to say what you wanted before you left, cos on the journey there was no way you could even yourself speak. There was a hole in the aluminium between your knees and the engine compartment and a hole in the aluminium between your heels and the road, so lots of noise rushed in.
Stephen sent a terrible picture of a recovering drunk back in the old days. Around 1980. He found this poor soul asleep on the covered veranda of his top floor flat in 10th Avenue off Clarence Road in Windermere, Durban and cruelly photographed him, him unknowing. Sleeping with his specs on so as not to have blurry dreams.
Later he accompanied the poor soul to the cafe on the corner for something to slake our Sunday morning cotton mouth thirst. En route we came across the Salvation Army on the pavement, gearing up their instruments, getting ready to go and blast a bracing dose of Christian ‘look sharp’ into some poor sinners’ ears
We were convinced they’d marked us as just exactly the right type of sinners they needed. Neatly – if severely – dressed in their fierce outfits, sensible shoes and soldier-looking hoeds they glared at us, fiddling threateningly with their instruments.
I could feel their accusing stares boring through the back of my head as I minced delicately past them, taking a wide – but not too wide – berth by stepping down into the gutter – where I belonged? – trying not to upset them in any way. Had they sounded the horn and hit the drum we would have capitulated and joined immediately. Thankfully a baleful stare was all we got and we made it past them. We eyed them out from a distance from the cafe door and returned to Stefaans’ flat once they’d parum-pum’d off a goodly distance down the road
They were like this menacing-looking mob, except there were more tannies with sensible shoes, like in the top pic:
I was working with Serge in the UBS building in Field Street.
Bending over someone with my eye one centimetre from their eye gazing deep through their pupil with my ophthalmoscope when the building trembled and I heard a loud, dull thud. WTF? I thought; ‘Hmm’ I said, ‘Sounds like the UBS sign fell off the building!’ I was about to change eyes when next minute my door flew open and Serge darted in “Excuse Me”, flung up my window and hopped out nimble as a cricket, as old and grey as he was. WTF again?
I stuck my head out and there was Serge bending over a man in a grey suit lying face-down on the tarry-stuff covering the roof over the street-level shops below me.
Turns out he was a lawyer. Partner in the firm on the fifth floor, who took to plummeting. We were on the second floor so he only fell three stories and survived. Came back to work a few months later limping with a stick.
I dunno. Haven’t a clue.
pic of downtown durban from thegreengallery.co.za
Serge = Serge de Marigny, longstanding venerable catholic optometrist