COREOPSIS HAS SET IN

If you have never read The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber then now is the time to do it. We all daydream, but Walter Mitty’s escapism is in a class of its own. A memorable line is when he is fantasising about being a surgeon and takes over an operation while commenting seriously “Coreopsis has set in.” This is memorably funny because coreopsis is a flower!

These pretty yellow blooms, commonly known as Tickseed, grew prolifically in our farm garden, so I was delighted to find a tray of seedlings in our local nursery last summer. As they had bloomed so bountifully, I rather hoped they would seed themselves in the garden – especially as one gardening guide helpfully states that “Plants will reseed themselves with a little encouragement.” The drought has put an end to anything trying to grow!

Coreopsis lanceolate were introduced here, like so many other plants, for their ornamental qualities. Even though they have not reproduced in my drought-stricken garden, it has spread so successfully elsewhere that it is regarded as a problem invasive plant particularly in KwaZulu Natal and in parts of the Western Cape. As with so many alien plants the coreopsis both competes with indigenous plants and are poisonous to livestock.

Having said this, local gardeners in other areas are encouraged to plant these late summer bloomers for a splash of colour that will attract butterflies in particular. I am still hopeful that – should we get rain – some dormant seeds might have survived to provide some colour in the garden later on for this drought-stricken garden is sadly lacking colour at the moment and I would enjoy it if the coreopsis were to “set in”!

 

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CHEVAL-DE-FRISE

Who would have thought that events from the 1600s would give rise to a name still used today as part of a defence mechanism?

A cheval-de-frise was originally a movable obstacle covered with spikes attached to a wooden frame that was used to obstruct cavalry. Such objects were apparently first used in the Siege of Groningen that took place in 1672 during the Franco-Dutch war, when that city was besieged by the troops of the Bishop of Münster, Bernhard von Galen, who wished to push deeper into the Netherlands. The Frisians lacked cavalry and so the name is a French reference to these ‘Friesland horses’. The victory is still celebrated as a local holiday in the city of Groningen on 28th August each year.

These days the term cheval-de-frise can also refer to a row of nails, spikes, barbed wire, or broken glass set on top of a wall or fence to deter intruders. This is a typical modern version:

While this version would not fit into the above description, it is also a form of deterrent for ‘intruders’, only in this case these electrified strands have been employed around certain waterholes in the Addo Elephant National Park to prevent the domination of the water by elephants so that other animals can get a fair chance to drink too.

This alpaca, whose job it is to protect sheep, is safely behind another kind of razor wire:

Sometimes spiked railings such as these are used as a deterrent:

These spikes appear to be more decorative than useful:

Here is a serious obstacle to deter intruders!

Sadly, this type of cheval-de-fries is becoming all too common around both businesses and homes:

CURROR FAMILY

My maiden name is CURROR, which has an Anglo-Saxon origin. It is a Scottish surname that is not only French in origin, but is descriptive of an occupation for it was given to a person who was either a messenger or who dressed tanned leather. The name is derived from the Old French words corëor or courreour, meaning courier or messenger. The family motto is Merite, which is the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward.

First names are always an interesting link when delving into family history and I have been fascinated to discover how far some of the recurring names in our family go back:  a William Currour was assizer (a juror) in Edinurgh, 1402; William Currour has been recorded as a charter witness in Edinburgh, 1425; and it is thought that William Curroure held lands near Edinburgh in the same year. There are several variants in the spelling of the name, as surnames were only standardised with the advent of Poll Tax between 1694 and 1699. William Currour or Courrour, then a merchant of Scotland, had safe conducts into England, 1408 and 1410. A George Currour was charged with “trublance of the toune” of Aberdeen, 1512, and William Currour was factor for the abbot of Jedburgh, 1560.  Much of this information comes from https://forebears.io/surnames/curror

The original Curror to settle in South Africa was my father, William David Curror, who sailed on the City of Hong Kong from London to Cape Town en route to the then Southern Rhodesia, where he was to be a Premium Apprentice on a tobacco farm. This was in about 1932. He later moved into the mining industry in this country. My father, who could speak English and a bit of Welsh, would be surprised to know that his family now encompasses Afrikaans- and German-speakers too!

In his memoirs, my father wrote: “We do not know the exact time that we [the Curror family] came to Dunduff [Scotland], but we can assume that it was sometime before 1715. As far as I am able to calculate, the first Robert Curror, shown on the [family] tree, of Dunduff and Craigdookie, was born in 1715. It is extremely probable that he was born in Craigdookie; his son was. He, also Robert Curror, was probably born in 1745.”

My father was keen on farming and always wanted to restore the name Dunduff, the original family farm in Scotland, to the Curror family and eventually did so in the De Kaap Valley near Barberton.

That farm has been sold and another generation has continued the name in another part of the country.

LYCH GATE

Apart from the vehicle entrance, the pedestrian entry to the campus of the school I used to teach at was a small lych gate. Lych gates are more commonly seen as entrances to a churchyard or consecrated ground.

This is a church school and the gate is really only a stone’s throw from the school chapel, so the choice may be forgiven – I believe it was erected as a memorial to someone, although there is no sign of that on the gate. When I was there, very few of the girls attending the school knew what a lych gate represents. To them it was simply the name of a place: “meet me at the Lych Gate” was no different from “meet me at the drinking fountain”. The school, well over a century old, is peppered with names commemorating people or events from the past that have simply become names in the present – the historical significance gradually disappearing over time. The amusing aspect of this particular lych gate though is that a long-serving member of the administrative staff would regularly refer to it as the LYNCH gate! This might have been related to the spellcheck in MSWord – which duly underlined every ‘lych’ in this paragraph and suggested it be replaced with ‘lynch’. It was an interesting slip though for the word ‘lych’ comes from the Old English līc, meaning corpse.

In practical terms, a lych gate is a covered gate that was traditionally where the corpse bearers would wait for the priest to receive the corpse for burial. The one I mentioned earlier has low wooden gates, but this modern one at the entrance to the New Cemetery in Grahamstown, is a drive-through one.

Following tradition it has a pitched roof, this one covered with clay tiles. It also has small bench seats on either side, which would originally have been a resting place for the shroud-wrapped body or coffin. In these days of hearses, the best these narrow benches could offer perhaps is some shelter for a few people from the rain.

SPECTACLED WEAVER

Unlike the Village Weavers and the Cape Weavers that abound in my garden, the Spectacled Weaver (Ploceus ocularis) is heard more often than it is seen. It is a relatively shy bird that I used to catch sight of only every now and then. Over the past year or two though I see them often enough to have collected a number of photographs.

Note the pale eyes and black streak that runs through the eyes to the ear coverts. This is what gives rise to their common name. The black bib indicates that this is a male. The females also have a black line through the eye, but lack a bib. Both have a sharp pointed bill and a chestnut wash over their heads. While Spectacled Weavers are insectivorous, eating insects and spiders, they also come to the seed feeders and eat fruit as well as visiting the nectar feeder.

These weavers seem to be at home in our garden where they forage among the creepers, shrubs and tangled undergrowth. This one was caught in the act of singing.

In this pose he seems to be asking “What did you think of my performance?”

Do visit http://www.stellenboschbirds.com/spect-weaver.html for the most beautiful photographs of Spectacled Weavers for I have hardly done them justice.

JUST AROUND THE CORNER

According to the National Roads Agency the total proclaimed roads in South Africa cover approximately 535 000 km, then there are 366 872 km of non-urban roads and 168 000 km of urban roads. This doesn’t take farm roads into account. The Kruger National Park alone has a road network of about 1 800 km and there are several National Parks and nature reserves. This means there are a lot of roads to explore! South Africa is a country where there is bound to be something interesting ‘just around the corner’. The Franschhoek Pass in the Western Cape is such an example.

Beautiful flowers take root in the smallest of niches on the rocky sides of the pass.

Each corner opens up another vista.

More attractive flowers growing on the verge.

Looking down the way we have travelled.

There are folded mountains to wonder at.

With more folding bearing witness to a more tumultuous geological past.

 

RELICS OF A FARMING PAST

Farming is an obvious way for early inhabitants moving into an area to make a living off the ‘untamed’ land and it was no different in this country. Different people choose their own ways to utilise the land: some we could call free roaming pastoralists, who move their animals according to where the grazing and water is best, whilst laying claim to a property and fencing it in is best for others. This reminds me of the westerns I read while growing up in which there always seemed to be a conflict between the cowboys and the increasing number of sheep farmers – the latter were always associated with fences. This pattern of settlement has probably played itself out in many countries. Our visit to the Ciskei area reveals relics of similar conflicting ideas of landuse.

Early farmers in the Eastern Cape would use Sneezewood (Ptaeroxylon obliquum) to make their fencing posts to demarcate their farms and protect their stock. Ptaeroxylon comes from a Greek word meaning sneeze and wood; obliquum refers to the oblique leaflets of the tree. I have written about these fences before as I am in awe of the fact that so many of these Sneezewood fence posts still remain well after more than a century. These bear testimony to the hardness and durability of the wood, which is also termite-resistant.

When the Ciskei was declared a ‘homeland’ in 1972, private farms were turned into communal grazing areas. Many of the existing fences were removed and the wood used for other purposes. The photograph above shows the relic of one such fence. Near it is another relic of farming that is no longer used in this area: a cattle grid.

As you can see, there are cattle grazing in the open – the low fencing you see in the background is that of the public road – with no restrictions. There is no longer either a fence or a farm gate to keep the cattle within the confines of a designated grazing area. A young tree is pushing its way through the heavy metal grid and the earth on one side has worn away over the past thirty odd years. There may even come a time when people might wonder what this strange contraption is. I wonder what will happen to the tree.