1820 SETTLERS MONUMENT

It broods on Gun Fire Hill and dwarfs Fort Selwyn that once provided the town below with a sense of security. It dominates the skyline on that side of town. From some angles it looks like an enormous concrete block. From another aspect it is meant to provide a stylistic image of a sailing ship – an image brought to mind more easily when flags are flying from the masts during occasions such as the annual National Arts Festival. It is the 1820 Settlers Monument in Grahamstown.

This is no ordinary monument made of marble or bronze. Rather, it is a solid structure built of brick and mortar, steel and glass. It is a living monument – a useful one that is in constant use: conferences, meetings, performances, graduations and prize-givings. It has become the hub of large gatherings for the whole town. Schools use it, the university does, cultural groups do, visiting musicians do … and that is what it is meant to be: a useful monument that honours the English settlers who arrived in this area 1820 and who made a significant contribution to the development of this country, such as promoting the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association and promotion of the English language, art, literature, poetry and music.

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POWDER MAGAZINE

There is an oddly shaped building in the car park outside the hairdresser I visit now and then.

There is no window and only one door. It is a powder magazine, dating back to the days when Grahamstown served as a military post and, as you can tell from the sign on the door, it is now used to store refuse from the various businesses nearby.

No information about this particular magazine is readily available, so I turn to the old Powder Magazine in nearby Bathurst. Unlike the aforementioned one, this bears a plaque indicating it has been proclaimed a National Monument.

It has a slit of a ‘window’ high up the wall in the rear and a door in the front of the building. The walls are 60cm thick. According to https://www.artefacts.co.za/main/Buildings/bldgframes.php?bldgid=4527 this particular powder magazine at one time carried 271kg gunpowder, 7 000 ball cartridges and 60 rifles.

The pitched roof disguises the fact that it has a domed ceiling inside – which makes me wonder if the Grahamstown one was once covered in a similar fashion. The domed ceiling is designed as the weakest part of the structure to allow the force of an explosion to project upwards and allow the thick walls to remain standing.

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to have a larger view.

LIONS

It was while I was listening to the sound track of Born Free this morning that it struck me how fortunate I have been to have seen lions so often in the wild. It is the one animal that tourists – and not only the ones from abroad – have at the top of their wish lists when they enter game areas such as the Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. We have enjoyed some of the best sightings at the latter place and yet have also spent ten days there without seeing a single one!

We had been waiting patiently at a water hole shortly after sunrise. Our attention was focused on birds and the activity of a couple of jackals nearby when this pair of lions came padding across the dry river bed. Notice the dust being thrown up by their large padded paws.

They drank deeply and for a long time.

Early on another morning our attention was drawn to definite sounds of distress not far from the camp we were staying at. The gates had opened not long before and we were met by this scene of two lionesses doing battle with a wildebeest, kicking up a lot of dust in the process!

Within minutes Black-backed jackals had come to investigate within a safe distance as the two lionesses settled down to rip open the carcass – only to be usurped by an enormous male that appeared from nowhere! While on the subject of males, tourists would give their eye teeth for a sight such as this one strolling across the road in front of us in the Kruger National Park. This photograph gives you a good idea of how large their paws are.

Much closer to home, here is a lion seen in the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape.

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger view.

APPROACHING HELP DESK

I recently found the transcription of this conversation which took place several years ago. It was not funny at the time, but looking back on it now in my retirement, I find it amusing – I probably recorded it because I felt so frustrated. My matric class was studying a particular film and their double lesson of English was the best opportunity for them to watch part of it. Anyone who has planned any kind of presentation will understand that feeling of helplessness when one is let down by technology. I switched on the computer and the data projector … nothing happened and the precious minutes ticked by. Leaving the class to discuss an aspect of the film that we were intending to focus on, I hot-footed it over to the IT department and approached the chap manning the Help Desk:

Me (M): The lamp appears to have blown on my data projector.

Help Desk (HD): Your lamp?

M: Yes, I got one of the boys to check the red flashing light. It is definitely the lamp.

HD: Your data projector is old.

M: It was one of the first to be installed. I need to use it now. Do you by any chance have a spare lamp? [Silence] Or should I find another classroom?

HD (biting his fingers and rolling his eyes): Your data projector is very old.

M: It is, but do you have a spare lamp for it? I need to use it now.

HD (cupping his chin in his hand and shaking his head slowly): I don’t think so. The projector is so old you see.

M: So you’re saying I should find another classroom? I have a double lesson of film study right now.

HD (biting his fingers): Let me check with the manager. [He disappears down a passage and returns with the IT Manager (IT)]

IT: Your data projector is old.

M: It was one of the first ones installed. Are you able to help or must we move to another classroom?

IT: When?

M: Now. I have a double lesson of film study with the matrics.

IT: When does it start?

M: It’s already begun, but if there’s no spare lamp –

IT (turning to Help Desk, who is still gnawing on his fingers): Stop biting your nails!

HD: I’m not biting my nails!

IT: What are you going to tell your children when you grow up?

HD: I’m biting the skin. I’m not biting my nails.

M: Can you help or shall I move to another venue for my film study lesson?

IT: When is it?

M: Now. It’s already underway and I must get back.

[Some rapid-fire dialogue takes place between IT and HD. IT cuffs HD on the side of his head.]

IT: Get on with it!

HD: We’ll sort it out.

Near the end of the first lesson HD turns up with a spare data projector which he set on the table … a lot of fiddling takes place … he pulls books from the shelves to balance it on to gain some height, focuses it and at last the lesson can go ahead more or less as planned.

SMALL ROUND-LEAVED PRICKLY PEAR

We are used to seeing prickly pear plants all over this country. All prickly pears here are regarded as alien invasives even though some are used for fodder and many people enjoy eating their fruit.

The unusual purple fruits of these plants on a farm in the Stormberg area caught my eye. They are from the Small Round-leaved Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii), also known as the Kleinronderblaarturksvy.

The plant, which can grow to 1, 5m tall, is smaller than the more common ones we come across.

As you can see, the plant has long white spines and bears purple, fleshy, edible fruits.

Like so many alien invasive plants, the Opuntia engelmanii was probably introduced as an ornamental plant that has since escaped the boundaries of gardens. Originating from North and Central America, it has been listed as a noxious weed in this country since 1984 and is a particular problem in the Limpopo, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Northern Cape, Gauteng and Free State provinces. The spines can injure livestock and wild herbivores and its presence in grazing areas can curtail the movement of such animals.

SEVEN GARDEN FLOWERS

Don’t expect miracles. Mine has become a forested garden over the years with very few sunny spots. Add to that a prolonged drought that has led me to try ‘container’ gardening and you will appreciate that I do not grow flowers in abundance. Nonetheless, here are seven bright blooms that bring me considerable joy after a summer of no flowers at all.

What we colloquially call Wild Garlic. I have planted these all over the garden, but there are only two blooming at the moment – in the sunniest spot.

The only Geranium to survive the summer – when it should have been blooming.

Tiny Marigolds blooming in a pot.

Alyssum, which I hope will seed itself and regenerate in other parts of the garden – also growing in a pot.

A robust Aloe Tenoir, which has not grown any larger in eight years. I give it top marks for tenacity.

Canary Creeper. These bright yellow flowers are draped all over our garden and swathes of them cover trees and bushes in the suburb, attracting all sorts of insects.

A variety of Lavender which I grew from a slip taken from a friend’s garden a few years ago.

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger view.

ZEBRA MOTHER AND FOAL

Who can resist the sight of a fuzzy young zebra foal staying close to its mother for protection?

This mother appears to have an unusually large rump – or a sunken back.

A Blesbuck is on the right of her. A mixed herd of normal blesbuck and white blesbuck roam on this farm a few minutes from town – this one seems to be an ‘in-betweener’. Something must be annoying the mother.

Got it!

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger view.