POLITELY OVERFULL

Based on a conversation at a gathering years ago:

“My brother and I were taught to be polite and on our best behaviour, especially when we went out with our parents.”

Thus began the tale of two young children whose parents often took them to visit their good friends, Ted and Susan, who lived in a small house tucked back from the street with a wide entertainment area outside. Their parties were both legendary and long, so the children always arrived well prepared with books, crayons and paper to while away the time before their parents were ready to take them home.

The other thing that Ted and Susan were widely known for was their Beef Goulash.

On one such evening the children had been fed early, as they usually were before their parents went out to a party. As they were the only children there, once they had politely greeted everyone on arrival, they took their activity bags and settled down on the kitchen floor to play. The children had been there for some time, playing quietly whilst listening to the roar of conversation, scraping of chairs and the clinking of glasses outside. When Ted walked into the kitchen and saw them he exclaimed, “My goodness, would you like some Beef Goulash?”

The children looked up brightly. “Yes please” they replied in unison and tucked into the sloppy pile of juicy meat on their plates. Once complete, they had hardly placed their plates in the sink, just as their mother had taught them to do, when Susan came tottering in on her high heels. She swooped down on the two children, who had just settled back on the blanket spread out under the kitchen table.

“You poor neglected darlings!” She kissed them both firmly on the cheek, enveloping them with the mixed fumes of brandy and perfume. “You must be starving! Would you like some Beef Goulash?” Not waiting for a reply, she ladled the meat into two dessert bowls plucked from the draining board.

To their horror, Susan sat down heavily on a kitchen chair to watch them eat. They obligingly dug in with the soup spoons she had balanced on the top. “You’re eating so slowly … don’t you like my goulash?” She bent down towards them.

“It’s delicious,” one of them responded.

“So delicious that I want to really taste every mouthful,” the other chimed in.

Susan rose from the chair with some difficulty and clapped her hands before tottering off. “Everyone likes my Beef Goulash” she told them, leaning against the door frame. “Eat up, children. Don’t be shy for there is plenty more!”

HUNGRY JACKAL BUZZARD

During the summer, I would often see at least one Jackal Buzzard (Buteo rufufuscus) in the area around town – once one perched on a lamp post in the street below our home. This is not surprising as they are endemic to the southern part of Africa. It is a large, heavy bird with striking black, chestnut, and white patterning that makes it stand out from some of the many raptors in the area.

In common with other raptors, it is frequently observed on prominent lookout perches, such as dead trees, fence posts, telephone poles as well as rocks. They sit very still while searching for prey, but tend to take off as soon as a vehicle approaches along the road – and are beautiful to see in flight.

Although I have seen them swooping down to catch their prey, today is the first time that I have seen one on the ground from only a short distance away.

Jackal Buzzards are known to feed on small mammals up to the size of a hare, as well as on lizards, snakes, and smaller birds. When one flew low over my garden earlier this year the birds disappeared into the trees and shrubbery in a flash – and didn’t make a sound! They are known to scavenge on carrion too when food is scarce. This one is feeding on a Scrub Hare that must have been killed by a passing vehicle during the night.

I imagine is was very hungry, for it didn’t move when the vehicle stopped and allowed me to observe it for several minutes, during which time I noticed its mate flying low overhead.

THE COY WATER BUCK

This water buck jumped over a fence from the road into a game farm. It stood still for several minutes observing us watching it. As you can tell, it was rather coy about showing itself in full until the end.

The morning was overcast and still fairly misty. Some of the blurring is because of the fence that is in the way.

Look at his beautiful horns.

He steadfastly remained a little hidden by the bush in front.

He moved away at last, although now the fence blurs in the foreground. Nonetheless, what a wonderful sighting!

A PUB STORY FROM THE PAST

As strange as it may seem today, women were not allowed in South African pubs when I was a student during the 1970s. Instead, hotels had quaintly named ‘Ladies Lounges’ where women could enjoy alcoholic drinks in comfortable surroundings which included upholstered chairs clustered around low tables. This sounds so civilised, but as a friend and I would find out, there was a catch to it.

At one hotel in Pietermaritzburg this concession to ‘ladies’ extended to a collection of white metal tables and chairs on a patio outside the ‘Ladies Lounge’ – a perfect setting for when the weather was hot. At least this is what we had in mind as we strolled down the road from the university campus after having played several strenuous games of squash. Still dressed in our short white skirts (this was the 1970s) and carrying our squash racquets, we entered the hotel courtyard feeling hot and flushed from our exercise.

Enjoying a cold beer was uppermost in our minds as we chose our seats and revelled in the slight breeze. We were the only ones there. A waiter, tray in hand, hovered around the edge but neither made eye-contact nor ventured any closer. It was as if we didn’t exist in his eyes. We had been sitting there for long enough to cool down completely and remained puzzled at the waiter’s refusal to acknowledge our presence. Feeling annoyed, my friend approached him and ordered two beers.

The waiter gave an imperceptible nod and disappeared indoors. By this time we were no longer really in the mood for an ice cold beer as we were more concerned that we may be late for supper in the residential dining room on campus. It felt as though another age had passed before the waiter arrived, placed our beers on the metal table and took our money. He paused for a moment, seemed to scan the area anxiously, and then returned to continue hovering around the fringes.

We clinked our glasses and had just settled into enjoying our delayed drink when the manager approached our table. “Good afternoon ladies.” He bent his head slightly towards us, clasped his hands together in front of him, his elbows bent. His smile was tight. “Is anyone coming to join you?”

This elicited a merry chuckle. “Not a chance! We’ve just been playing squash.” We gestured towards the racquets resting on an empty chair.

The smile widened yet remained tight. The manager scanned the area as the waiter had done. We were still the only patrons. “You aren’t meeting any boyfriends here?”

“Should we be?” The taste of the beer was already souring in my mouth. I sensed trouble.

“Strictly speaking,” the manager now leaned forward to place both hands on the edge of our table. He adopted a strained, though more confiding tone. “Strictly speaking, we cannot really serve you alcohol here unless you are accompanied by at least one male guest.”

“But this is a Ladies Lounge!” My friend pointed to the discreet sign near a large potted palm. “’Ladies Lounge’ must surely mean that ‘ladies’ can drink here without a ‘man’ to watch over them,” she spluttered indignantly then took a long sip of her beer whilst glaring at him.

The manager straightened, pushed up his cuff ever so slightly to better see his wristwatch, and then allowed his eyes to wash over us and our beers. When he spoke, his voice was clipped. “The early evening clientele will be arriving soon. Drink up quickly ladies. I want you out of here before they come.” He turned on his heel and strode away, pausing only to exchange a few words with the waiter. Both looked in our direction before he disappeared.

We felt indignant, humiliated, ‘flat’, and became acutely aware of how cold the breeze had become. Despite our initial thought of defiantly sipping our drinks as slowly as possible, it was getting late and hunger pangs growled in protest about the possibility of missing our supper. We had no sooner placed our empty glasses on the table when the waiter darted forward to remove them and wiped the table dry in a single swift movement.

These days, of course, women are fully entitled to drink in a pub sans male company if they choose to.

GLADIOLUS MORTONIUS II

Three years have passed since I first saw the beautiful pink blooms of the Gladiolus mortonius or Small Salmon Gladiolus among the grass growing next to the verge in the industrial part of town. Even though this flower is endemic to the Eastern Cape, I have sought it in vain since then – until my eye was caught by something bright pink on Sunday!

I simply had to stop to feast my eyes on these beautiful funnel-shaped flowers a little way off the dirt road I was driving along.

The sword-shaped leaves were nestled in the grass. I did not see any other of these plants nearby.

I like the darker stripes on the petals – possibly to guide pollinators – and I think there may be a praying mantid in this one. The pictures were all taken on my cell phone and so are not clear enough to zoom in on, unfortunately. I didn’t notice it at the time or I would have taken a specific photo of it.