Jongwe

Jongwe 

Shona 

n, an adult male chicken

Example sentence:  Ndakanzwa jongwe richichema (I heard a rooster crow)

 

Starting out in life as a young couple can often be difficult – it doesn’t matter where in the world you are – with the biggest concern being where you’re going to live. Unless your parents are blessed with having lots of spare capital and you’re equally blessed by them being generously disposed towards you, the choice of accommodation is, more often than not, based on affordability and not aesthetics and location. This is how it came to pass that Lynda and I shared a house for a while with two good friends, Jeremy and Heidi.

The house, which was divided into two self-contained units connected by a door, was ideally suited to our arrangement. Lynda and I, blessed with a baby boy, were in the larger unit, whilst childless Jem and Heidi were content to occupy the smaller space. The massive two-and-a-half acre property, which was overgrown and messy – badly needing attention, was surrounded by a high diamond-mesh fence. Fortunately the four of us shared a common interest in gardening so any costs we incurred in that direction were shared. We also had the added bonus of being at the end of the municipal water reticulation network where, to prevent the pipes from silting up, the municipality would regularly have to bleed the pipes. Jeremy, an irrigation design engineer by profession, installed an irrigation system in the garden so when the municipality did their thing we would hook up Jem’s system and the entire garden would benefit. Everybody was happy.

Life is simpler when you’re young. When I think back on those times the word idyllic comes to mind. In essence the two families would live separate lives during the week – occasionally bumping into each other from time to time – and getting together to do things over the weekends. I can remember there being a lot of laughter.

One day all of that changed.

It’s an oft overlooked fact that introducing another element into an existing arrangement will inevitably impact on the dynamic. For example (and without going into the philosophy of it, because that’s not what this story is about) imagine a young couple living together quite happily. They have a routine, a rhythm, a balance and then, because for some reason that’s not enough, they get a puppy. The puppy comes bouncing cutely, happily into their lives and everybody loves it because, let’s face it, puppies are just adorable (so are kittens but I’m using puppies for this example). But puppies need attention. They make messes that need to be cleaned up; they need to be fed the right food at certain times so they grow healthy bones; they need pampering and discipline and love because that’s what happens in a pack. It’s irrelevant how willing the couple is to give all the care and attention necessary – that’s not the issue. The issue is that the dynamic has changed and adjustments have had to be made. Another example would be having a guest come and stay with you for a few days; it’s like having a fish. At first you don’t notice it’s there but after a while you can’t help but to notice it.

Anyway, this story is neither about puppies nor fish; it’s about chickens or, more specifically, bantams!

I know right! Bantams? What on earth could bantams possibly do to upset the even balance of things? Read on and you’ll find out.

Heidi, bless her, was enthralled by an advert she’d read that chickens are an asset to any suburban garden. Beguiled by evocative statements like, there’s nothing like a fresh tomato picked right off the vine and mmmmm! Fresh homegrown vegetables and herbs are healthier, contain more vitamins and minerals, and are tastier by far than anything you can purchase at the local market backed up with the promise that, by introducing chickens to the mix, she could say hello to dark, nutrient rich garden soil, a weedless wonderland of bounty, an insect free gardening zone, a rowdy soil mixing rally and vibrant delicious vegetables chock full of good-for-you vitamins and minerals! She became quite fervent in her quest to lead us all down the road to a healthier lifestyle, not to mention the massive amount of money that could be saved by eating home-grown chicken eggs.

I have to state here, for the record, that I was not really up for the idea [of keeping chickens] at all. I did not have anything against free-range chickens (I was quite for it actually) I just didn’t like the idea of having free-range, indiscriminately-crapping chickens in my garden. But, I would be lying if I said I objected strongly; in fact I would be lying if I said I even aired my objection at all. The sands of time have clouded my memory but I imagine I would have discounted the danger of standing in chicken crap against the sheer size of the property (and as I recall, that never became an issue) so when Heidi came home from work one day with a box containing six cute, tiny little balls of feathers I was not alarmed. Au contraire! Most baby animals are cute and baby bantams (yes, they were bantams, not chickens) rank right up there with puppies, kittens and baby rabbits so it was delightful to watch them as they cheep-cheeped about on the carpet in Heidi’s lounge.

The novelty wore off quite quickly for me, I must say, whilst Jeremy (who’d studied animal husbandry when he did his farming degree at Gwebi Agricultural College) was torn between the practicalities of rearing wild birds in captivity and his love for his girlfriend (she became his wife later); patiently enduring her wheedling attempts to make the chickens a permanent household fixture.

“No, they can’t sleep in the bed”, he’d tell her, “they aren’t house-trained”, or “Heidi, don’t even think about giving them a bath” and so on and so on until eventually he managed to convince her that the very best place for them would be outside.

He made up a nice little run for them on the floor of the garden shed with a light and plenty of food and water and for several weeks the cute little feather balls did nothing more than eat, drink and sleep until Jem, the nominated poultryman, deemed them mature enough to roam. Thereafter the little fowls, scraggly and moth-eaten and well past their cute-by date, had free run of the garden during the day. Every night-time they’d be shepherded back to the safety of the shed so no harm could come to them.

So far, so good.

Very early one morning and I mean REALLY early, around two am, I awoke from a deep dreamless sleep. I didn’t know why but my heart was pounding and my instinct alerted me to the fact that something was wrong. I lay awake in the darkness, listening intently, barely breathing, waiting for the danger to reveal itself. I listened and listened until finally I convinced myself that I was being paranoid and let my body relax. But as I was dozing off, just as I got to that no-man’s land between wake and sleep, I was jerked fully awake by the unmistakable sound of someone being throttled – just outside my bedroom window.

I sat bolt upright in bed with adrenaline coursing through my veins and my heart once again thumping furiously. I didn’t want to turn on my light for fear of alerting the strangler that I was awake (and a potential witness to his foul crime) so, in the darkness, I peeled the bed clothing off me and, moving very slowly so as not to make any sound, ever so carefully started getting out of bed. Then, just as my second foot touched the carpet, the sound came again only this time, because I was wide awake, I recognised it for what it really was – an immature cockerel’s crow.

I quietly chuckled self-consciously and felt a bit foolish yet, at the same time, pardoned myself for making the mistake. I was also chuckling over the fact that one of Heidi’s prize-winning layers was never going to lay eggs on account of it being the wrong gender. It was with that thought that I finally drifted back to sleep – despite the continued abortive, mildly irritating, attempts the apprentice fowl made to convert his strangled gasp into a full-fledged, something-to-be-proud-of crow.

I made a point of speaking to Jem and Heidi about the incident before they left for work in the morning, going as far as reproducing the sound the little rooster had made, which made all of us laugh but I must say, Heidi was a little disappointed (as well as a bit cross) to learn that one of her hens wasn’t a hen at all. Jem was able to mollify her though. Drawing upon his vast experience as a stock-man he was able to explain that sexing little chickens is complicated, “and sometimes”, he said, “they can get it wrong.”

At two o’clock the following morning, when the entire continent was tucked up in bed and fast asleep (quite right too) the little guy, who still hadn’t been taught how to tell the time, got a jump-start on every rooster in the world and started his weird strangled crow that, despite the fact that it didn’t scare me awake like it had the night before (this time I recognised the sound for what it was), was very irritating. The term “BIRD BRAIN with various connotations bounced around in my head as I yet again endured his pathetic attempts to crow properly before he finally gave up and I fell asleep.

“Did you hear your chicken last night?” I asked Heidi as she was climbing into her car the next morning.

HEIDI:    No I didn’t. Was he crowing again?

ME:        (Hmmm, it was really loud. Surely she heard it) Yes, he started at the same time – two o’clock.

HEIDI:    Hahaha. You look like you haven’t slept very well. Hahaha

ME:        (It’s not funny) Yes, I do feel tired. That’s two nights in a row and my eyes feel like they’ve got sand in them. I can’t wait till the guy learns how to tell the time. Ha

HEIDI:    Sorry, was there something else? I can’t be late for work today.

ME:        No, I’ll see you later. Bye

It was a fairly difficult day for me, what with the disturbed sleep and all, so I was glad when it came to an end and I was finally able to get into bed. I’m one of those lucky individuals who can fall asleep at the drop of a hat and the moment my head hit the pillow that night I was out for the count.

According to The Moscow Rules (and Sir Ian Fleming), once is an accident, twice is a coincidence but three times is an enemy action.

When that bloody chicken started its weird throat-gargle at exactly two o’clock the next morning I started having visions of pulling its head off with my bare hands. Being woken up was one thing but listening to that incomplete crow was, without a doubt, the most frustrating thing I’d ever had to endure in my life. It would start beautifully, with a robust OOOH-A-OOOH-A…. but fizzle out into a gasp that sounded, like I described before, someone being strangled and their last breath leaving their body…. uuuuhhhh. Time after time, over and over and over. I could imagine all of his little chicken mates sitting up there on the perch with him egging him on.

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-uuuuhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #1:            Ahhh, nice one mate, you almost had it there

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Yeah mate, nice one.

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A- uuuuhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #1:            No, you lost it that time mate. Give it another go

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Yeah mate, give it another go

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-oUUuuhhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #3:            Oh wow, that one was so close mate. Give it another go

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-UUuuhhhhh

…for ages and ages over and over. There was no earthly reason for the little bastard to carry on. He couldn’t do it for goodness sake. As rooster crows go his was, without a doubt, the most pathetic crow in the history of the entire world but the stubborn little FUCK just went on and on. There’d be silence for five minutes and I’d tell myself it was all over, that his voice box (which hadn’t been in a good way at the beginning of the exercise) had finally packed up and I could get some sleep. But then, almost as if he was telling himself that he couldn’t let the side down, off he’d go again, OOOH-A-OOOH-A, and I’d say to myself, “he’s going to do it right this time, it’s going to end in that triumphant OOOOOOH OOOOOOOOOOOOH and all his mates will pat him on the back and he’ll be chuffed with himself and he’ll go to sleep and I can bloody well go back to sleep”. But each time I was wrong, and aaagggghhhhhh – I wished that fucking chicken would just die.

My eyes, the next morning, felt as if they had been rubbed with sandpaper and the word exhausted did not come close to describing how tired I was. I bathed and dressed then made my way out to the shed hoping to identify the culprit. I suppose I thought that it would help if I put a face to the voice.

I was disappointed. They all looked the same, apart from the colour of their moth-eaten feathers, a mixture of black and brown, so my feeling of frustration intensified. The exasperation of not knowing which one of the little clucking bastards was to blame for my disturbed sleep was indescribable so, instead of directing my rage at just one of them I simply hated them all!

I restrained myself though. I recalled Heidi’s face when she’d brought her little charges home all those weeks ago. She’d been beaming from ear to ear as she set the box down on her lounge carpet and cooed and fussed over them when they’d cheep-cheeped and run around like little clockwork toys. She absolutely loved them.

“No”, I told myself, “let them be. Whichever one is the culprit he’ll grow out of it soon enough”.

Strangely, neither Jem NOR Heidi, who I saw outside before they left for work, had been disturbed which I found a little unfair; “they are their chickens after all”, I’d thought.

ME:        Hey guys, did you hear your chicken last night?

JEM:      No

HEIDI:    No. Aaaah Jelly Tot (that was her pet name for Jem) why can’t we hear the cute wikkle chicky-wicky crow.

JEM:      Animal husbandry doesn’t work like that darling

ME:        (YOU CAN’T BE FUCKING SERIOUS) Seriously? You didn’t hear the bastard thing starting its shit at bloody two am? Seriously?

JEM:      (Looking puzzled) No, not a thing

HEIDI:    (Eyes filling with tears) NO *sob*

Jem ended up driving Heidi to work because she was too upset to drive herself. I wasn’t sure whether it was because she hadn’t heard the damn thing crowing or because I’d called it a bastard.

I struggled to stay awake at work that day. I cannot recall ever being so tired before. At the tea station I told my colleagues about what was happening at home and they all found it highly amusing which, strangely, went a long way to lightening my mood. I somehow managed to see the day through without falling asleep at my desk and managed to drive home without nodding off at the wheel and causing rush-hour carnage. It was an early night for me.

Although I had expected it, when that fucking chicken did its pathetic death-rattle parody at two am, I was incensed. I lay awake shaking with rage, imagining the joy I would get by murdering the bastard thing as endured an encore from the previous three nights. So imagine, if you can, how I felt when, after listening to that unearthly sound for at least fifteen minutes, the scenario took a turn for the worse. Yes, it got worse. Instead of a single voice screeching out an ill-timed reveille, there was suddenly an entire cacophonic chorus.

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-uuuuhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #1:            Ahhh, nice one mate, you almost had it there

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Yeah mate, nice one.

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A- uuuuhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #1:            No, you lost it that time mate. Give it another go

2nd APPRENTICE ROOSTER:           OOOH-A-uuuuhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Whaat? Who was that?

2nd APPRENTICE ROOSTER:           (Proudly) That was me

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Woooow. Duuuuude. That was so gooood. Do it again

2nd APPRENTICE ROOSTER:           OOOH-A-uuuuhhhh

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-oUUuuhhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #3:            I want to try, I want to try!

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Go for it dude.

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #3:            A-oooouuuuuh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Hmmmm, not bad, try saying OOOH-A-uuuuhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #3:            A-oooouuuuuh

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-UUuuhhhhh

2nd APPRENTICE ROOSTER:           OOOH-A-uuuuhhhh

And on and on and on – driving me absolutely nuts until eventually, I simply couldn’t take any more. I took the pillow I was using to cover my head and flung it across the room then threw off the bed-clothes and leapt angrily to my feet swearing to commit bloody murder.

LYNDA:                 Where are you going

ME:                        I’m going to kill those bloody bantams

LYNDA:                 (Always the voice of reason) You can’t kill them. Heidi loves them.

ME:                        She’ll get over it (How can Lynda want anything other than death for those feathery little bastards)

LYNDA:                 (Shouting in a whisper because she didn’t want to wake the baby) David, get back in the bed now!

ME:                        (You’re not my father, you can’t tell me what to do) No, I’m going to kill those chickens.

LYNDA:                 If you harm a hair on their heads I will never speak to you again.

ME:                        (Ha, chickens don’t have hair. Is she being serious?) Those chickens are going to die. They have to die!

LYNDA:                 You’ve heard me. Touch those chickens and you’ll regret it.

ME:                        I’m going to kill them (Shit, I can’t kill them. She’ll make my life a living hell)

And with this I stormed angrily out of the bedroom, walked down the corridor and through the kitchen to the locked door. I took the key off the peg and unlocked it and stepped out into the star lit night.

The cool air had some sort of calming effect on me. I already knew I would not be able to kill those little creatures (despite the possibility that all of Heidi’s hens were, in fact, cockerels) but I still had to find a way to shut them up. I would not be able to take another night like this. Oddly I hadn’t heard a sound from the birds since I’d come outside and, because of that, I almost turned around and went back into the house. I knew, though, that if I did, they would start up again the moment my head touched that pillow.

Then I saw Heidi’s top-loading washing machine nestled in a little veranda alcove between their section of the house and ours and the answer came to me.

I went to the shed and flipped the light switch to be confronted by six very wide-awake bantams, sitting on a perch looking curiously at me. They didn’t flap, squawk, cluck or crow – they just looked at me. They looked quite cute. I felt my anger slip several notches so I said, “you fucking noisy little bastards, I came here to kill you” (to harden my resolve) but they still didn’t register any alarm – just carried on looking at me.

So I stepped into the shed and felt my bare foot squish in chicken shit. I yelled with renewed anger to be rewarded by the sextet leaping off their perch, to run around on the floor squawking and clucking and flapping in alarm – making one hell of a racket.

They were difficult to catch but I managed to round them up, one by one, then, one at a time, I carried them out of the shed, making sure to close the door behind me so the others couldn’t escape and create mayhem (stupid birds) and put them into the top-loader. As I put the last one in and closed the lid, muttering “now try to crow you fucking little bastard”, Jeremy came round the corner, which took me a little by surprise.

JEM:      What are you doing?

ME:        Aaaagggh, don’t sneak up on me like that.

JEM:      What the bloody hell are you doing? What’s all that racket?

ME:        (Aaaah, good – they’ve heard something) Jem, why are you carrying that knobkerrie?

JEM:      I heard the bantams squawking and thought a jackal might be prowling around. (Puzzled look) What are you doing?

ME:        (Feeling a little stupid now) I’m keeping these fucking, goddam chickens quiet.

JEM:      (Furrowed brow, even more puzzled – notices the shed door standing open) What are you talking about? (Walks to the shed and looks inside)

ME:        They’re not in there. They’re in here (pointing foolishly at the washing machine)

JEM:      (Face registering utter disbelief) They’re what?

I said nothing more. I pointed at the washing machine again and turned and walked into my house. I went back to bed, making sure to wash and dry my feet first.

I slept the whole night through.

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The Insomniac’s Lament

 This poem won't make proper sense unless you've read the story behind it. Go to The Bald Naked Guy In The Room Next Door

The Insomniac’s Lament

If I could live my life again and know what I know now

I would not do some of the things that brought me shame somehow

If I could turn the clock hands back and make all things come right

I would surely change the memory that was given me that night

When I, alone in a foreign land, did ponder how unsightly

it was to have, on full display, my private tidy whities!

As hotels go, mine was the best, I really could find no fault

That is to say, if you disregard the massive clothing vault

The room was clean, as clean could be, the linen white as white

The carpet plush and welcoming, the curtains dark as night

Indeed all things considered, I could not have asked for more

except for one tiny little thing – the cupboard had no door.

Now some would say, “Just let it go, it really doesn’t matter”

But tell that to an insomniac whose nerves are all a-shatter

I’d tossed and turned from ten pm, awake the whole night through

I’d watched the clock pass through the hours of twelve then one then two

Finally at three am when sleep had still not come

I found myself sitting on the throne lamenting my sore bum

I’d counted every ceramic tile upon the walls and floor

I’d calculated the distance from the bath tub to the door

I’d experimented with the sound control that piped the music through

And thought about using toilet paper to polish my dusty shoes

When it came to me out of nowhere, hit me like a well aimed brick

The panel wasn’t a panel at all; I really had been thick

Anxious to close that gaping cave I wiped my bum and flushed

No noise did stir the corridors the hotel was quiet and hushed

I stood before the looming frame to see if I was right

Then braced my legs on either side and pushed with all my might

It moved a bit, and then again and then again some more

But to my horror light shone through – it was a flaming door.

Oh no, oh no, it cannot be I’ve really done it now

I should have left it all alone, and sweat came from my brow

The neighbour’s going to wake for sure and scream till he’s fit to bust

I’ll be arrested and charged and I’ll be tried and in a gaol I’ll rust

But hang on there, don’t panic yet, perhaps not all is lost

Maybe you can push it closed without there being a cost

So I pushed and pushed and heaved and shoved as hard as hard could be

But it wouldn’t budge a tiny bit it felt just like a tree.

 So I paused a bit and thought about the plight that I was in

And told myself to think about the ways that I could win

It came to me quite suddenly, quite unexpectedly

There’s something blocking its path I said, that’s what it has to be

So I made my way to the neighbour’s door no longer being cautious

And as I stepped into the light I felt confident and joyous

But then all joy was cast aside and I shat myself fair quick

For there was the neighbour, fat and bald displaying his ugly prick

OH NOOOOO I screamed as I leaped from him in fear and mighty fright

Only to realise, as I did, it was I I’d seen that night

Now since that day I’ve thanked the stars that I was not undone

And I’ve taught myself to think things through, to walk before I run

And time will come and time will go but memory remains

Of the night I stood with all to bare and created that awful shame

And if I could, then I’d change things now to put my mind to rights

And nothing would ever make me think of the horror of that night


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The bald naked guy in the room next door

Have you ever been so embarrassed that you would give anything, ANYTHING for the ground to open and swallow you?

Of course you have! It happens to everybody at least once in their lives and if it hasn’t it’s going to happen to you one day – because that’s life.

It’s happened to me many times (and I like to think it’s because I have lived long enough for the fickle finger of fate to have found me and not the alternative; that I’m an idiot) and, whilst there are some incidents I would struggle to recall, there is one memory that is so clear that I still cringe inwardly when I think about it. It happened on that same trip to China – the one where I helped myself to a bean.

If I have learned anything from visiting China (apart from never touching your food with your fingers), it is that you must not compromise when it comes to hotel accommodation. You should always stay in a Five-Star hotel and, having stayed in a fair number of them, I can say with some authority that there can be big differences in quality between them. To account for these differences I surmise that there is considerable latitude permitted when examining the criteria governing the awarding of star grading between regions. To be fair though, it was usually the small items, the lack of attention to detail, that let the establishments down.

The story I’m about to tell you happened in a hotel whose staff could not be faulted when it came to service and responsiveness to my requests (not that I had many) and its facilities were, on the whole, excellent. However, when I was shown to my room, which was palatial in every sense, I noticed that the built-in cupboard, which took up the entire length of one wall didn’t have a door. It was odd but having become used to the unexpected and not wanting to make a fuss, I said nothing to the porter beyond thanking him and sending him on his way.

As I was unpacking and putting my belongings away (I was going to be there for three nights) I looked more closely at the cupboard, which appeared to have been constructed from an exotic dark wood. It was augmented with a huge panel on one side that was as wide as both of my outstretched arms and filled the entire space between floor and ceiling. It was very odd; it didn’t seem to serve any purpose whatsoever. Beyond that weird decoration the cupboard was appointed with enormous shelves, plenty of hanging space and, as one would expect, a safe for valuables. I must say though, that after I’d unpacked and squared everything neatly away it felt strange to have my belongings (including my tidy whities) on display. I didn’t dwell on it though. I deposited my passport and cash in the safe, set the combination, and went and did my thing.

I don’t handle jet-lag very well and on the second night of my stay in the hotel I was having trouble getting to sleep! I’d done everything I could think of to get my brain to shut down for its much-needed regeneration; counted sheep, watched Chinese TV (there’s only so much of that one can do in a lifetime), counted backwards from three hundred and twenty (umpteen times), meditated, stared at one spot and taken several showers but nothing had worked. It wasn’t helping that I had a slightly upset stomach and that is how it came to pass that I was feeling rather sorry for myself and sitting, yet again, in the bathroom, wide awake, at 3 o’clock in the morning. By then I had already counted every tile on the walls and floor several times and I was bored, very very bored!

I was looking through the bathroom door (it was open) and looking absent-mindedly at the now familiar sight of the doorless cupboard which was directly in my line of vision. I could see my shoes on the bottom shelf, my neatly folded ‘smalls’ on the next shelf up and, although I couldn’t see them from that angle, I knew that my socks were sitting, folded, on the shelf above that, below the shelf containing my briefcase. I could see, to the left of the shelves, my shirts and trousers hanging from a rail.  I half registered that, although the light in the bathroom was bright, it had nothing to reflect off beyond the door and it was as if it was being absorbed by that big, useless panel next to the cupboard. I was musing, yet again, on the inconsistencies of Chinese architecture and design when something went pop in my brain. It suddenly dawned on me that the panel probably wasn’t a panel at all; that it was actually, most probably, a sliding door!

I stared at it short-sightedly from where I was sitting, about ten feet away, and saw what appeared to be rails at the top and bottom of the open cupboard reveal. “Well roger me with a fish fork Blackadder”, I breathed to myself, “you’re right, that’s a bloody door!”

It’s a truly sad state of affairs when one finds oneself, thousands of miles away from home, in a foreign land, getting excited at 3 o’clock in the morning, over discovering a door when, moments earlier, there hadn’t been one.

I felt like Howard Carter must have felt in 1921 when he discovered the entrance to Tutankhamen’s tomb.

I abandoned my tile-counting mission and completed my primary task so I could go and check it out from close-up.

I stood in front of the door and stretched my arms out to either side and slightly forward so I could get a good grip on the sides of the thing. I looked down and saw no sliding mechanism so I looked up and… voila! The door was suspended from some strange rollers, one of which had come adrift from its slide. So, with a firm grip, I lifted the massive panel (that was now a door) upwards to move the roller into the slide. It was too heavy for me but it did budge slightly. I gave up any idea of trying to repair it myself but, because I was bothered by the fact my personal belongings were on display, I was absolutely determined to force the thing to close, right there, right then, on my own….! I spread my feet further apart to get better purchase and gave a bit of a lift and a shove and, sure enough, it slid a couple of inches. I was very pleased with myself, so I did it again and it moved a little more.

It was then that I noticed a light shining from beyond the cupboard door and I came to the horrible realisation that it wasn’t a cupboard door after all. It was, in actual fact, a sliding partition that opened into the room next door to mine. My heart started thumping in my chest and my head started spinning as I imagined, in absolute panic, the headlines in the next day’s newspaper

外国恶魔变态被抓住了

Foreign devil pervert caught in the act

OMG! I was expecting someone to waken at any minute and start screeching at the top of their voice that a Foreign Devil Pervert was breaking into their room. I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared, even when I got caught stealing grapes from Mr Payne’s garden when I was at school – and that guy was crazy!

In desperation I tried to push the partition back but, to my horror, the effing thing, no matter how much effort I put into it, refused to budge! Thoughts of me ending up in a Chinese pervert-gaol were consuming me; my brain really was in a state of extreme agitation. It occurred to me that something was probably jamming it near the floor at the entrance to the other room so I stopped pushing and let go. I hadn’t yet heard any shouts of alarm from my neighbour’s room and I started to hope that perhaps he was out (maybe in the bar downstairs) so, if I was lucky, I could get the door closed again and he would be none the wiser.

I moved quietly towards the opening where the light was spilling onto the carpet in my room then, unable to see any obvious obstruction from where I was standing, I threw all caution to the wind and went directly to the opening between our two rooms.

I nearly died of fright!

The horror I felt when I looked up and saw a bald naked guy standing before me is indescribable.

I involuntarily jumped backwards and screamed – I literally screamed!

I can recall, as my brain raced at a million miles an hour, how aghast I was at being discovered in such a compromising position. I can remember thinking that no-one was ever going to believe my excuse that I had thought it was a cupboard door; who does DIY on a faulty cupboard door at 3 am? I can remember wanting the hands of some clock to turn back in time so I could be back in my bed albeit sleepless and I can remember hoping that somehow a big hole would open up and swallow me.

And as I said, “I’m really sorry”, fully expecting him to start screaming at the top of his voice, I realised I was looking at my own reflection in a huge, previously concealed, floor-to-ceiling mirror, which was also reflecting the bright light from the bathroom behind me.

Talk about being scared by your own shadow. True story!

 

The Insomniac’s Lament

If I could live my life again and know what I know now

I would not do some of the things that brought me shame somehow

If I could turn the clock hands back and make all things come right

I would surely change the memory that was given me that night

When I, alone in a foreign land, did ponder how unsightly

it was to have, on full display, my private tidy whities!

As hotels go, mine was the best, I really could find no fault

That is to say, if you disregard the massive clothing vault

The room was clean, as clean could be, the linen white as white

The carpet plush and welcoming, the curtains dark as night

Indeed all things considered, I could not have asked for more

except for one tiny little thing – the cupboard had no door.

Now some would say, “Just let it go, it really doesn’t matter”

But tell that to an insomniac whose nerves are all a-shatter

I’d tossed and turned from ten pm, awake the whole night through

I’d watched the clock pass through the hours of twelve then one then two

Finally at three am when sleep had still not come

I found myself sitting on the throne lamenting my sore bum

I’d counted every ceramic tile upon the walls and floor

I’d calculated the distance from the bath tub to the door

I’d experimented with the sound control that piped the music through

And thought about using toilet paper to polish my dusty shoes

When it came to me out of nowhere, hit me like a well aimed brick

The panel wasn’t a panel at all; I really had been thick

Anxious to close that gaping cave I wiped my bum and flushed

No noise did stir the corridors the hotel was quiet and hushed

I stood before the looming frame to see if I was right

Then braced my legs on either side and pushed with all my might

It moved a bit, and then again and then again some more

But to my horror light shone through – it was a flaming door.

“Oh no, oh no, it cannot be I’ve really done it now

I should have left it all alone”, and sweat came from my brow.

“The neighbour’s going to wake for sure and scream till he’s fit to bust

I’ll be arrested and charged and I’ll be tried and in a gaol I’ll rust.

But hang on there, don’t panic yet, perhaps not all is lost

Maybe you can push it closed without there being a cost?”

So I pushed and pushed and heaved and shoved as hard as hard could be

But it wouldn’t budge a tiny bit it felt just like a tree.

 So I paused a bit and thought about the plight that I was in

And told myself to think about the ways that I could win

It came to me quite suddenly, quite unexpectedly

“There’s something blocking its path”, I said, “that’s what it has to be”!

So I made my way to the neighbour’s door no longer being cautious

And as I stepped into the light I felt confident and joyous

But then all joy was cast aside and I shat myself fair quick

For there was the neighbour, fat and bald displaying his ugly prick

“OH NOOOOO”, I screamed as I leaped from him in fear and mighty fright

Only to realise, as I did, it was I I’d seen that night

Now since that day I’ve thanked the stars that I was not undone

And I’ve taught myself to think things through, to walk before I run

And time will come and time will go but memory remains

Of the night I stood with all to bare and created that awful shame

And if I could, then I’d change things now to put my mind to rights

And nothing would ever make me think of the horror of that night

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The fish-killer

Most of us make some sort of effort to get on with people we meet in our lives (I know there are exceptions) and the amount of effort is directly proportional to the importance and or nature of that relationship. So, for example, the effort we make to get along with our work colleagues is naturally going to be greater than the effort we’d make when sitting next to a random stranger on a train and the degree of effort put in to the latter would be proportional to the length of the journey. This is all well and good as long as you’re in control of the situation and every aspect of the situation, which is quite impossible if you own a cat like Gary. For me to tell the story it’s necessary for me to give you a bit of background but, by the end, you will see see what I mean.

When we first moved, ten years ago, to the house we now live in and call home our direct neighbours were, on one side, a youngish couple (couple A) with a child – a son, aged about seven or eight. On the other side was another young couple (couple B) who were childless. Within a few short weeks of us arriving couple A had a massive barney, split up and sold the house. Their problems were quite public and, because our windows look down into their garden, we were privy to a lot of the goings on during their acrimonious separation negotiations. Without going into details here, because that’s not the story I’m telling, let’s just say that some soap-operas left more to the imagination than those two did. Couple B who, it turned out, were a very nice couple from oop naath decided to sell their house and return to those foreign climes just as we had progressed from the nod-politely-to-each-other-on-the-street stage to you-must-come-round-and-have-a-cup-of-tea-with-us stage.

Couple A’s house was bought by a Lithuanian guy, Tomas, who is married with two daughters. We get on reasonably well – conversing from time to time over the wooden fence that divides our two properties – a bit like Tim Taylor and his neighbour Wilson in Home Improvement, but he’s a businessman and travels a fair bit so he’s often not around.

A self-proclaimed prophet (I kid you not) from Ghana bought Couple B’s house but we hardly ever see him or his family because they’re always off somewhere on some mission (prophesying I expect). The elderly guy who lives opposite them despises them. There’s no obvious reason for his dislike but it could have something to do with the fact that they keep strange hours and are quite noisy. The elderly gentleman likes the odd drink and keeps regular hours (from opening time till closing time daily) at the pub, which is a mere five minutes walk from his house (and about fifteen minutes back with all the weaving he does). I was invited to attend a child’s birthday party (at the prophet’s house) so I accepted in the spirit of if one is going to get to know one’s neighbour’s one really should make an effort. I didn’t really enjoy myself – the music was too loud and the food was strange. I later got diarrhoea which may or may not have been from something I ate at that child’s party.

Another elderly couple used to live in the house opposite us but we fell out soon after we moved here (before we’d even met them actually) when they put their excess garbage into our wheelie bin one day without so much as a by-your-leave. I suppose my reaction to it was a little extreme; perhaps I shouldn’t have taken their garbage bags and put them outside their front door. In my defence, where else was I going to put them? I couldn’t leave them in my bin or I wouldn’t have been able to fit own my garbage in it. About two years on he died and his wife sold up and left, which we didn’t know about until one night we were sitting watching TV when we heard someone banging frantically on our door, and ringing our door bell over and over. We muted the TV and heard someone shouting FIRE, FIIIIIRE! I ran downstairs and opened the door to be confronted by the short white-haired, wild-eyed old guy. He said, you had better get out of your house – there’s a fire next door. I stepped out and had a look where he was pointing and, sure enough, there was a fire next door – Tomas’s place.

I thanked him and went back inside, “FIRE”, I shouted “FIIIIIRE” (I had always wanted to say that) and in no time at all we were outside with our most important belongings – our passports and animals.

Tomas’s wife’s car – a brand new BMW X3, parked on his driveway, was ablaze (very suspicious) and I sat in my car with Adam (Lynda was in her car with Leanne and the animals) and we watched the fire-brigade bring it under control and contain it before signalling the all-clear.

It occurred to me, while I was watching the blaze, that I’d never seen the white-haired man before. I was grateful to him for raising the alarm and for coming to warn us (I suppose it was the least he could do) because the angle of our house prevents us from seeing Tomas’s driveway and there was always a possibility that the fire-brigade would not have been able to contain the blaze, meaning we may have been trapped inside and unable to get out. I went and thanked him when the dust had settled and it turned out he and his wife had bought the house from the widow. His name was Terry and he seemed like a nice guy, confirmed when he suggested we get together for a beer at some time in the future. The gesture took me completely by surprise – that was the first overture of its kind from any of our neighbours – including Tomas and the prophet (apart from the child’s birthday party) – since we’d moved in.

Give us some time to get settled”, said my new mate, “then we’ll get together for a pint”.

I went around to Tomas’s driveway the next day (he had been away at the time of the incident) to take a closer look at the burnt out wreck. I was astonished when I walked round the corner, to discover that TWO cars had burned – both of them new X3’s. I had to conclude that someone must have had it in for him. BMW’s don’t usually combust spontaneously.

A couple or three weeks later I got home from work and pulled up outside my house. I climbed out of my car (a Pepper Red Ford Focus, with stick-shift and alloys), locked it and started walking towards my house when, to my delight, Terry hailed me and quickly crossed the road to stand before me.

TERRY: ‘aw’right Mate (that’s the same in Essex as “Howzit china” in Zimbabwe or “G’day cobber” in Oz).
ME: Hello Terry (Cool, he’s come to make an arrangement for us to get together for a pint sometime)
TERRY: Do you have a minute? (these Poms can be ever so polite)
ME: Yes of course Terry, what can I do for you? (I wonder if Lynda will mind if I go for a pint this evening after supper?)
TERRY: Do you own a black and white cat?
ME: (Huh? What’s he on about?) Erm, yes, why do you ask?
TERRY: He’s been coming into my garden and killing my fish. I wouldn’t mind so much if he ate them, but he doesn’t; he just flicks them out of the water and watches them flopping around till they die.
ME: (He’s confusing Gary with that other black and white cat that hangs out near the vet. Bloody people who can’t keep an eye on their animals) There’s another black and white cat that’s been floating around impersonating my chap. My guy hardly ever leaves the property. There’s no way it’s my cat.
TERRY: (In a tone just a little too snippy for my liking) No, this is definitely your cat!
ME: (Who the hell did he think he was blighting my innocent lad’s good character) You want to be careful making accusations like that without any proof.

Terry pulled his cell phone (they call them mobiles over here) out of his pocket, fiddled with it for a bit in that awkward way that old people have when they use mobile devices, tapped the screen a couple of times, squinted myopically at it and handed it to me. At first I didn’t know what I was looking at because the video was shaking a bit but then it settled down and the evidence was indisputable. Gary! Crouching next to Terry’s fishpond watching a fish flopping helplessly on the pavement. There wasn’t another cat, dog, bird or human in sight.

ME: (Who in the hell would stand and take a video of a cat killing one of his prize Koi. Why doesn’t he go and put the fish back in the water instead of being so callous?) Gosh Terry, that certainly looks like Gary.

A moment later I saw Gary look up from the fish to stare at something and a split second after that Terry, clearly very angry, clad only in a pair of whiter-than-white Y-fronts, white holey vest and a pair of short black socks, entered the frame, waving a walking stick about furiously with one skinny arm and shaking his fist with the other. (Ahhh, it must be Terry’s wife taking the video from the upstairs window)

ME: (Bloody hell, he’s going to demand compensation. I want to kill that bloody cat)

And I carried on watching as Gary, who wasn’t the slightest bit concerned by Terry’s murderous intent, nonchalantly trotted over to the boundary wall jumped to the top and looked casually back at the enraged septuagenarian who had crouched next to his flopping Carp. He carried on watching, his face inscrutable, as Terry picked it up and lowered it gently into the water. Then Gary, who had clearly lost all interest by then, jumped off the wall and out of sight.

ME: (Dry-mouthed and extremely embarrassed) Erm, did the fish survive Terry?
TERRY: No. They’re all dead. I’m not going to keep fish any more. I’ve converted my fish pond into a water garden.
ME: I’m ever so sorry Terry, I’ll try to keep a closer eye on him. (Bloody cat. Bloody, bloody, bloody, bastard cat)
TERRY: Thank you. I’d not like to fall out with you over a cat.

There wasn’t a great deal to say after that. We exchanged a few polite words about the weather then I made my excuses and got out of there as quickly as I could.

Gary, the dickhead, then started bringing plants into our kitchen in the dead of night. Pond plants!

Terry and I don’t talk nowadays and we’ve never shared that pint.

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Run, run, run

Using an athletics track as an analogy; the starting pistol is fired and all but one of the runners sets off to run a circuit to get to the finish line. The last guy doesn’t see the point of going all the way round so he cuts directly across the field and get to the finish line way ahead of the pack and when they do eventually get there he’s bored and will want to go and do something else. Without medication it’s very difficult to control this behaviour.

Hyperactive Children with ADHD aren’t deliberately being naughty, they’re simply bored.

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Mermaid’s Pool

As a child one of the highlights of my existence was visiting a place called Mermaid’s Pool where a dam had been built across a small river that spilled down a massive granite rock whose surface was very smooth and slippery.

Sun lovers would picnic on either side of the water flow and when the mood took them they’d slide down the rock face on inflated inner tubes (of various sizes) to the pool below, taking care not to hit the ridge at the water line.

Here is an ancient movie of Mermaid’s Pool – I don’t know who took it.

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Do we strive for perfection or do we settle for something less?

I reiterate, I am not, as someone has suggested, against democracy but I am against its infallibility.

Because it’s corruptible (in its current form) it’s obviously not as perfect a method of governance as it ought to be so what sense is there in adhering to an imperfect and flawed system ad infinitum, when we know it’s defective? I concede that, even in its current state it’s better than some alternatives but it’s still not perfect.

If Democracy literally means “rule by the people”  it is unquestionably up to us – the people – to find something better, or to perfect it.

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We can talk about them behind their backs

Buddy, Adam’s dog, is a lot younger and, although he’s also a Jack Russell, is a lot bigger than The Ginger Kid, or Trevor, which are names we’ve given Stompie so we can talk about him without him knowing we’re doing so. Buddy is quite highly strung and easily spooked and somehow it seemed quite natural to call him Alan when we’re talking about him behind his back.

Gary, a massive black and white neutered Tom, who believes himself to be superior to all other life forms, has a variety of nicknames but my favourite, by far, is Filthy Farquhar

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CANCER – The Crab

The first thing to understand about Cancer, is that they are governed by the moon. As such, they are very changeable, experiencing different mood swings similar to the way our moon waxes and wanes each month. This moodiness makes them unpredictable but doesn’t mean that their essence changes. Never make the mistake of thinking that a Cancer is insincere, or a split personality. Their emotions are very real and deeply felt .
Cancer is symbolised by the crab. As such they have a hard crusty exterior and an extremely soft and vulnerable centre. They use this crustiness for protection and it is only when you gain their trust, that you will see their soft and kind inner self.
In line with the above, a Cancerian will appear shy and gentle, and at other times, be the life and soul of the party displaying incredible charm and warmth. They don’t pursue the limelight but don’t mind being the centre of adoring attention when it comes their way. They can become melancholy from some real or imagined slight and tend to retreat into their shells when this happens. They might secretly plan revenge but it will always come from a sideways angle (just like the crab) and not from a head on confrontation. When you hurt a Cancer, you will find it hard to regain his or her trust. That phrase “Once bitten, twice shy” is quite relevant to this personality. They would rather retreat into solitude and resentment, than have a” tell all “argument to clear the air. They do not forgive easily!
They are empathetic, deeply compassionate and intuitive. A Cancer will understand you without you having to spell out exactly what you are feeling. They can do this without having to expose much of their inner self .Like the crab – their secretiveness is their protection. They seldom judge, are extremely sentimental and like to keep things. A baby tooth could be one of their most treasured possessions! I say one, because Cancerians like to collect, in the extreme they can become hoarders, not willing to part with anything. This includes money. Our crab is very aware of “saving for a rainy day” (another form of protection) and abhors a spendthrift. This does not signify meanness; they are very aware of people in need of financial help but would prefer not to step in until all other avenues have been exhausted.
They are cautious and explore all the facts before jumping into any venture. Do you see the crab’s sideways approach to life emerging?
When a crab grabs you with his claws, he holds on. With Cancerians this is much the same, once they have made the decision to commit to you, they will hang on for dear life! This does mean that they can be clingy and unable to walk away from a relationship. It also means that they will endure staying in a marriage in the hope that their partner will return, even when it is clear the union is over.
Our crab loves being with family and is never happier than when at home. Cancerians adore their mothers. (I presume the same applies to a female with their fathers) Their constancy in marriage and family life is legend and they are often the backbone of any relationship. They are always there in times of crisis. They love children, food and money in that order. In line with this domesticity, they are good cooks, and have green thumbs. Now I come to think of it, my grandmother was a Cancer and she was an amazing cook and ran her household incredibly well under difficult circumstances. She also had the most wonderful of gardens! Funny how when you write, you remember things from your long forgotten childhood?
Cancers adore their children and will be there for them, even when they become old enough to be pushed out of the nest. Their clingy nature can prevent their children from learning to stand on their own preferring the safety of home life with “mother hen” to look after their every need.
I think I like Cancerians. They are difficult, moody and secretive, but sincere, compassionate, funny and empathetic. Personally I would rather have a crusty friend who makes me laugh and to whom I can entrust my deepest darkest secrets.

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The elephant and the Marabou stork

The breadth of the Zambezi [river], where it runs through the narrow gorge of Kariba, in many places cannot be more than sixty yards – narrower than at any other place I had yet seen. It seemed to have worn a deep channel through the hard rock, through which it rushed with a strong current, full of whirlpools and eddies. From the high water marks, I should think that when in flood the Zambezi must here rise quite twenty feet above its lowest level.

Frederick Courteney Selous 1881

Foreword
By 1959 the Rhodesians had built a dam across that gorge and the lake that formed behind it became the biggest man-made lake in the world. Many tales and legends have been told about the lake since then and the monsters that inhabit it; tales about the river-god Nyaminyami who was trapped below the wall and spends eternity trying to get past the barrier so he can be reunited with his wife, and tales of the giant fish Vundu, who lurks in the deepest parts of the lake and is big enough to swallow a grown man whole. The truth of it though, is that Nyaminyami is nothing more than an embellished story about a giant python made legend by the superstitious two-toed dagga smoking Tonga while the Vundu is nothing more frightening than a very large species of bottom-feeding catfish.

The Zambezi valley, before the dam was built, teemed with wildlife which had access to the fertile flood plain as well as riverine forest and the wooded hinterland but after the lake was created, all that was available was, in many cases, the wooded, rocky unproductive foothills and hilltops which lacked good grass and soil but suddenly became populated by wild animals – small and large. After the lake had reached capacity in 1963 there was a barren area where nothing would grow between high and low water levels and this made things even more difficult for the animals that had made their way to high ground to escape the floods. It was a worrying time where mass starvation was imminent but in 1967 a miracle occurred; an evergreen grass called Torpedo Grass (Panicum Repens)  began to grow in that band and within a few years was growing in abundance on all the shorelines, particularly in the game-rich Eastern areas. The grass is quite magical in that it can survive underwater for over a year (so is unaffected by the rise and fall of the water level), it reproduces so easily that a small stem broken off and dropped on moist soil will very quickly put out shoots and roots and grow into a new plant. It solved the starvation problem almost overnight and, to this day provides grazing for the herbivores around the lake shores.

In the shallows, which were once hilltops, the petrified remains of Mopane forests protrude from the waters. Their foliage is long gone and the grey skeletons are home to a multitude of creatures; bats, wasps, woodborers, insects and lizards. Cormorants are a common sight, perched on the branches with wet wings spread, and fish eagles build their nests at the tops of the larger sentinels.

Beneath the surface of the lake dwells a predatory fish known as a tigerfish and anglers from all over the world cannot resist the challenge of fishing for this magnificent creature. The introduction, by the northern Rhodesians, of a fresh water sardine known as kapenta, provided a miraculous boon for the predatory fish and guaranteed the species survival as well as providing a reprieve for the herbivorous fish such as tilapia and labeo, which could now thrive in the altered conditions.

(I’m not sure how to do this properly but I’d like to acknowledge Dale Kenmuir, someone whom I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting, and his book “A wilderness Called Kariba” from which I was able to get the FC Selous quote and learn many things about Kariba that I wasn’t previously aware of. If you want to know more about Kariba you can buy this excellent book online. Just click on the link) 

I love the wilderness of kariba and its shores and I was delighted to be invited to go on a fishing trip with my father-in-law (Peter) and brother-in-law (Gary) one December, which is when the story I am about to tell you took place.

The Elephant and the Marabou stork

We drove the 360km from Harare to Kariba and parked at Andora Harbour where Peter’s boat, fully fuelled, was waiting for us, then carried our supplies – enough for four days – down the slipway and stowed them. It didn’t take us long and within an hour we were underway, heading across the lake to the southern side and the Ume river.

The water up the river was high but murky because of recent heavy rains. Sometimes a lot of rain helps the fishing, particularly after the dry season when food such as drowned insects, spiders, worms, slugs and small mammals get washed into the rivers causing the fish to go into a feeding frenzy indiscriminately snapping at anything that floats past them. Sometimes it’s not so helpful though, because the silt makes the water murky and the fish don’t see your bait. We didn’t know what to expect.

We slowly made our way up-stream, hugging the left bank and trying our luck at all sorts of things but mainly bream and tigerfish. We’d chug slowly along, keeping our eyes open for a likely spot then kill the motor and drift up to a dead Mopane tree where I, who sat on the nose of the boat, would tie up. Each time the motor sputtered into silence I was struck by a sense of stillness and tranquillity, accentuated by the slap slap slap of water against the fibreglass hull. While I waited for the fish, which had been scared off by the boat approaching, to return, I’d sit in the warmth of the sun and listen for those familiar sounds that heightened the sensation of being one with this wilderness. The uh uh uh uhhh uuhhhh uhhh uh uh of a bull hippo warning rivals to stay away from his territory or the mournful, haunting cry of a fish eagle were as common out there as the sounds of yapping dogs in the suburbs of Harare but much more comforting. The bark of a baboon in the hills would sometimes carry clearly across the water but always, unceasingly would be the sound of birds, near and far, their cries both loud and soft intermingled in a heavenly chorus.

The fishing was bad. The water was too murky and we’d arrived too late after the rains had started so the fish were engorged as well as blind. We didn’t mind though, simply being out there enjoying each other’s company and the serenity of our surroundings was enough. The situation didn’t improve at all on the opposite bank when, after two days, we turned around and started making our way back towards the mouth of the river and the open water but we were catching enough bream each day for our evening meal so we were content. Each night we would make our way into a bay and, depending on the circumstances, would either tie the nose of the boat to a tree and float, or pull the boat on shore and spent the night aground. When we were settled we’d cook whatever fish we’d caught that day and fall asleep to the sound of the African night coming alive.

So it was that in the late afternoon of our last day we found our way into a huge bay surrounded by low hills on three sides and sheltered by a large island to our east. The river had been quite choppy all day but as we entered the bay we were all struck by the contrasting calm. The water was so still its surface was like a mirror and it was clear and inviting so we killed the motor and drifted while we took turns lowering ourselves off the back of the boat into the cool water then standing on the transom and soaping ourselves down to wash off the filth of the past few days. After I’d bathed I put on a clean pair of shorts and went to sit once again on the front of the boat, relishing the way the slight breeze cooled my wet skin and gave me goosebumps. We pushed our way through a mat of water hyacinth, through the shallows beyond and beached on a short strip of sand beneath a large grassy mound where I jumped to the shore to tie the rope to a big, half-buried log.

I was done with fishing. I made myself comfortable on the bow of the boat and contented myself with basking in the serenity of the setting. Pete and Gary fetched themselves a drink from the cold box, lit up some smokes and settled themselves on the back of the boat to cast into the peaceful waters and talk quietly. Nothing stirred the surface except for, ironically, fish jumping out of the water way out of casting distance as if to mock our earlier failed attempts to catch them and the occasional, very light, puff of a breeze that succeeded in creating a tiny ripple. I watched a Marabou Stork walking slowly up and down the length of the shore on the other side of the bay. He reminded me of an elderly gentleman strolling along a beach with his hands in his pockets, stopping occasionally to bend down and look at something on the ground in front of him then looking up and solemnly resuming the careful measured steps of his mission.

A whisper of something inexplicable caused me to look over my shoulder at the shore and, to my astonishment I saw an elephant cow standing on the crest of the hill not more than twenty metres away. I shouldn’t have been taken aback considering we were invaders in her world but the sight of her still took me by surprise. I held my breath as I watched her lift her trunk and move the flared tip to sniff the air before taking a step and start down the hill towards me. Because Gary and Pete had talked all the time I knew the elephant was aware of our presence and I knew she wouldn’t be alarmed when I quietly said, “Hey guys, look at this”.

They reeled in their lures, ready for a hasty departure if necessary, and the three of us sat quietly watching as this matriarch drew closer and closer and, without hesitating, stepped deliberately over the thick nylon rope I’d tied to the log half an hour before. At that point she was no more than ten metres away from me, close enough for me to smell the dust on her warm body and to count the individual lashes on her one visible eye. She continued for a few more metres then stopped and emitted a low rumble before moving on her way. Moments later another elephant appeared and, without hesitating, followed the path taken by the matriarch, then another and another until, all told, six elephants, comprising four females and two youngsters (one of them very small) had silently walked past us and made their way to the far side of the bay followed by an entourage of egrets. The stork, seemingly put out by the intrusion on his privacy, took to the air and flapped away.

None of us had been lucky enough to be close enough to wild elephants in similar circumstances before so we chatted casually about it and all agreed that it had been a magical moment. Pete and Gary returned to their fishing and I lay back and watched the elephants bathe before peeling away heading off, one at a time, into the trees at the top of the slope.

The larger of the two baby elephants had different ideas though. He told his mother he wasn’t ready to go yet; he wanted to hang out for a little while longer and he told his mother that he was big enough to look after himself. “You head on alone” he said, “and I’ll catch up with you later – when it suits me”.

So off she went and within no time at all her massive grey body disappeared into the dense foliage and the youngster, clearly a little more nervous than he was ready to admit, was left all alone on the shore.

As the small herd was starting to withdraw, old man Marabou had reappeared. He was high up, riding thermals, doing big wide circles, biding his time till peace and quiet returned to his tiny fiefdom. He circled a few more times after mother had left, getting lower and lower with every circuit, waiting for the youngster to leave too but when it became clear that he wasn’t going to, he quietly landed, put his hands in his pockets and resumed his sombre plodding.

The little elephant wasn’t paying attention to the stork; he was too focused on interesting things in his immediate vicinity; a stick here, a clump of grass there, a swish of dust or a sip of water and, all the time he was distracted, old man Marabou plodded closer and closer, minding his own business and just getting on with the serious business of being a scavenger. Old man Marabou was perhaps three feet behind the little elephant and was just leaning forward to pick something up in his beak when the little fellow turned around and saw him. He got such a fright that he screamed in alarm whilst the old undertaker was in turn sufficiently startled to squawk in alarm and flap into the air then land and rattle his bill angrily at the little pachyderm.

The display caused all three of us on the boat to burst out laughing – the sight of the little elephant getting a fright was too funny – but we stopped laughing immediately when mother, who’d obviously been waiting just below the ridge of the hill, (far enough away to give the little guy a sense of being alone but near enough to be useful in a crisis) burst out of the foliage on tip-toes and with her ears spread wide to signal her readiness to fight for her little boy if necessary. She had, naturally I suppose, assumed that it had been us who had caused her youngster’s distress. Fortunately her large brain very quickly took in all the facts as she came racing out of the bush and she could tell immediately that we were too far away to have posed any kind of threat. On the other hand, old man Marabou was still rattling his bill with indignation so she knew the scream had been a false alarm. She stopped her charge and turned towards the lad, who was now as embarrassed as a youngster can be when he’s made a fool of himself but she didn’t laugh at him or scold him; she reached out her trunk and rested it over his shoulder as if to say, “there there, it’s ok. You’re a brave lad”.

Then, they walked together up the slope and disappeared silently into the bush.

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