A REVIEW OF 2018

The statistics provided for our blogs make interesting reading, particularly as I look back on another year of posting about this or that. That most of my viewers are from South Africa pleases me, for it is my home audience after all. The United States of America and the United Kingdom provide the next most viewers – although the spectrum of viewers from all over the world is exciting, for it is good to know that what I post has a broad appeal.

I am intrigued that the top search term remains black jack plant.

It is thus not surprising that the most popular post is Weeds with a History, which was first published in 2015. It received seven views then and 323 views this year! This post came about as a result of a trip we did through the Free State at a time when the Cosmos flowers were blooming; we had walked through the veld to view military graves and returned covered in Black Jack seeds; and had inadvertently crushed Khakibos underfoot, which released a particularly fragrant aroma I have always associated with my childhood in the Lowveld.

All three of these weeds came to this country as a result of feed brought in for the British horses during the Anglo-Boer War.

The next most popular post is War Horses: the role of horses in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). This was posted in 2016 after a trip to KwaZuluNatal during which we visited the horse memorial at the Weston Agricultural College. Even though I was familiar with the well-known horse memorial in Port Elizabeth, I found this a particularly moving experience and felt compelled to research and write about the role horses played during this war.

It was viewed 49 times in 2016 and 297 times this year, which encouraged me to conduct further research and to write about this topic in greater detail to present as a talk to three very different audiences.

What has taken me by surprise though is the popularity of the post on Flying Ants, which was also published in 2016, gaining an initial nine views then and garnering 233 this year – simply an observation of what was happening in my garden!

What about the posts published in 2018 then? Blackjacks tops the list – this is a more in-depth exploration of these weeds which came about as a result of the popularity of the search term. My short story, Poor Uncle Kevin couldn’t go to the party – based on my son’s dog which died this year – came second, with National Bird of South Africa – the Blue Crane – coming third.

Thank you to everyone who has taken time to read my posts, to those who have become followers, and especially to those who have liked and commented on my posts. This has been a wonderful way to connect with readers and has enriched my blogging experience enormously.

I hope you will all enjoy a happy festive season.

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CHILDHOOD GAMES: HIDE-AND-SEEK

A traditional childhood game I never particularly enjoyed playing as a very young child was Hide-and-Seek. It wasn’t so bad when we played it at home, for at least the environment was familiar. For me the worst was playing it at a neighbour’s house while my parents were visiting. We nearly always played this game in the dark. This made it much scarier – which was probably the whole idea! I didn’t mind the hiding, but loathed the prospect of having to look for anyone in the dark – especially in a home I was not familiar with.

I eventually tumbled on a way of avoiding having to be ‘it’ for as long as possible – always hopeful that someone would think of another game to play in the interim. I would flatten myself against the wall as close to the ‘den’ as possible – fully aware that it would take time for the eyes of the seeker to adjust from the light to the dark. If I was passed by I knew I would be reasonably safe for the time being. If there was a strong chance of being discovered, I would give the seeker a fright, which would in turn give me a fractional advantage to reach the ‘den’ first.

My older grandchildren often play Hide-and-Seek with friends in either their garden or mine. They play it during the day, which is friendlier, I think, even though hiding successfully may be more of a challenge. I listen to the laying down of the rules – usually relating to places where one may not hide. Then comes the hotly contested decision about who the first ‘seeker’ will be and up to how much the counting should go – obviously the higher the number, the more time there is to seek a hiding place. My heart lifts at the sounds of muffled laughter, the skittering of leaves or snapping of twigs against the backdrop of very loud counting.

“Ready or not, here I come!” The seeker announces this loudly and starts prowling around the most obvious sites in the garden. More muffled giggles come from the hidden ones, followed by squeals of laughter when discovered. Sometimes I hear the inevitable shouts of “You cheated! You must have peeped!” if someone was found ‘too quickly’.  Some children seek out the same hiding place time and again – and continue to be surprised when they are pounced upon.

Did you enjoy playing Hide-and-Seek when you were very young?

STONE THE CROWS

No, I do not mean that literally – that is the last kind of behaviour I would encourage! Rather, stone the crows is a phrase generally understood to be an exclamation of incredulity or annoyance. Although this is not a term widely used in South Africa, it occasionally springs to mind when crows squawk and gurgle as they fly over my garden or settle in one of the tall trees before being mobbed by some of the smaller denizens of the area.

Until about five years ago, crows of any kind were more often seen in the area known as Burnt Kraal and around the municipal dump, both on the outskirts of our town. Now I see both Cape Crows and Pied Crows daily in the suburbs – occasionally even a White-necked Raven.

The Pied Crow (Corvus albus) is the most common and widespread all over the country.

It is easily recognised by its white breast and neck, both while flying or when it is on the ground. They have been recorded as being on the increase in South Africa, partly because of the availability of nesting sites on electrical poles coupled with roadkill as an available source of food. Any traveller along our network of roads will attest to this. The Pied Crow is highly adaptable in terms of the food it eats, which includes an omnivorous diet of fruit, seeds, small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects. They are known to raid the nests of birds for either eggs or nestlings, so it is no surprise that the Fork-tailed Drongos nesting the fig tree regularly chase one off the property. I wonder if they say stone the crows, wishing they could do this literally!

Pied Crows also remind me of a song we used to sing in primary school. It began:

Aai, aai, die Witborskraai!

Hiervandaan na Mosselbaai

–Oompie wil na Tannie vry,

maar Tannie trek haar neus opsy.

You might find this an interesting site to visit:

http://www.fitzpatrick.uct.ac.za/fitz/research/programmes/maintaining_global/pied_crows

The Cape Crow (Corvus capensis) used to be called (and is still widely known as) the Black Crow – perfectly understandable as it is a glossy black all over.

It is a common resident in grasslands as well as in the drier regions of the country. They are ubiquitous in the Addo Elephant National Park, where we saw flocks of close to fifty scattered across the veld in the vicinity of Carol’s Rest and elsewhere. They too are omnivorous birds, feeding on insects, small reptiles, birds, frogs, seeds, fruit and carrion.

POPPIES AND WAR

It is almost a week since Remembrance Day so I was taken aback to be asked “Why do poppies represent the end of the war when they flower in summer and the end of the war was technically winter?” Why, indeed? Poppies are not indigenous to South Africa, although a number of gardeners sow the traditional red poppy seeds in the hope that they will bloom at this time of the year. In my own garden self-sown Opium Poppies (Papaver somniferm) begin to bloom a few days before the annual Remembrance Day parade.

We must all be familiar with that moving poem In Flanders Field by John McCrae that begins with the words:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place

Seasons notwithstanding, the crimson poppy has become associated with the armistice – largely due, it is widely acknowledged, to the popularity of McCrae’s poem. As Corn Poppies (Papaver rhoeas) are pioneer plants, they were among the first plants to colonise the churned up battle fields – surely providing a wondrous sight in contrast to the destruction wrought on the landscape by war. The sale of artificial poppies have benefited war orphans, ex-service men and women and their families over the years.

Artificial poppies are more robust than real ones, which easily wilt and fall to pieces when cut.

The artificial ones for wreaths can be fairly elaborate.

While the ones generally worn on one’s left or right shoulder come in a standard form and are made from a combination of paper and plastic – this one has been pinned to a piper’s kilt for practical reasons.

These poppies have come to symbolise hope and gratitude.

Interesting information can be found at:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/why-we-wear-poppies-on-remembrance-day

https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/15492228

 

GRAHAMSTOWN REMEMBRANCE DAY 2018

The day began before 6 a.m. while the morning mist still hugged the hills around Grahamstown and the sun was struggling to break through the cloud cover.

This was when a group of four pipers and two drummers gathered at the 1820 Settlers’ Monument that overlooks the town to join in a world-wide commemoration of the signing of the armistice a hundred years ago.

The annual Remembrance Day Parade took place in Church Square later that morning:

ANTIQUE BRICK

The area surrounding Grahamstown is rich in clay deposits and so it was no surprise to find a thriving pottery industry when we arrived here.  It employed a number of people – much needed in this small town – and produced ceramics under the brand name Drostdy Ware. Sadly, the Grahamstown Pottery closed many years ago. Even then trucks carrying enormous bags of kaolin used to grind their way up the hill en route to Gauteng, where it is used both for the ceramic industry and as a composite in the manufacture of paper. At one time this area produced over half of the kaolin required for these industries.

A relic of a past industry that provided local employment is this clay brick – photographed in Port Alfred, although some of the older homes in Grahamstown still sport these on garden paths or verandas. It points to a time when the area was more self-sufficient because there were no alternatives.

This is a nod to the past:

MONKEYING AROUND

The omnivorous Vervet Monkeys are curious creatures, ready to explore their environment to the full in order to source food. Like Baboons, they are at their best when seen in their natural environment.

See this Baboon yawning:

This Vervet Monkey is having a natural snack.

Unfortunately, as is the case with Baboons, the human-like features and behaviour of monkeys bring out their ‘cuteness’ factor which encourages visitors to game parks and popular picnic spots to feed them. That might be fun for humans and animals alike in the short term, but it is dangerous in the long term as the monkeys come to expect food from humans. Campers, caravaners – and even visitors staying in chalets – in wild areas have become all too familiar with monkeys raiding one’s temporary living space. This Vervet Monkey has just been chased from a caravan and is about to inspect the kitchen area in the Mountain Zebra National Park.

Their bright eyes pick up anything deemed edible – even the tiny seeds that have been scattered around a campsite to attract birds.

Once they have become used to humans, monkeys are difficult to shoo away for they lose their natural sense of caution around us. Being the opportunists they are, a group of monkeys happily walked over cars in a car park – keep your windows closed when they are around – to see what they could filch, leaving tell-tale footprints in their wake.