Since the COVID-19 pandemic sowed pandemonium around the world in the wake of borders of provinces and whole countries being closed, local and overseas flights being cancelled, and stringent restrictions being placed on the movements of citizens, the sky above our town has been quiet indeed. No local planes being flown for fun, no hangliders, and certainly no sight or sound of large aeroplanes moving between Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg, for example. What an unusual sight this is then:

This has not been oft repeated. There was a time when the low hum of a large plane flying overhead was ignored, now I look up and wonder where the passengers are going … and whether these flights are going to be regular once more … only to be followed by days of silence in the sky. The national carrier is still grounded, smaller airlines have had to shut up shop, and those that have opened tend to bypass Part Elizabeth – our nearest airport.


We have got to know various members of the Urban Herd quite well over the years and have even named the more familiar among them. Before I return to them let me introduce you to an interesting South African breed of cattle called Bonsmara. Here are a few on a cattle farm in the Lothians area.

These reddish-looking cattle are the result of an extensive scientific breeding programme conducted by Professor Jan Bonsma from the Department of Agriculture to produce cattle that are well adapted to a sub-tropical climate; that will calve every year; and will produce good quality beef. The name is a combination of the name of the professor and ‘Mara’, the experimental farm on which they were bred. They animals have the attributes of both Bos indicus and Bos Taurus. Why this should make any difference I don’t know, but in order to conform to breed standards these cattle have to be de-horned!

Back to the Urban Herd. Look at the lovely shape of the horns on a cow we call The Master Hooter.

There are some interesting aspects about her, one of which you may have noticed is that, apart from an identifying notch in her ear, there is also a hole. Perhaps too many other cows have simple notches, although the pattern on the hide of this one is distinctive.

The other is that at some stage she lost the tuft at the end of her tail. The Urban Herd wander all over town and beyond, so who knows – it may have been grabbed by a dog or caught in a fence …

At this stage she and her companions are grazing along the road of our ‘industrial area’ on the edge of town. Behind her is a calf, sired no doubt by the Arctic Bull – who has sowed his wild oats across many of the Urban Herd cows!

Wait! Did you spot something interesting on the back of that calf? It looks equally interested and I felt ecstatic:

Red-billed Oxpeckers! How very exciting it is to spot these so close to home!

Cattle Egrets are the more usual companions of the Urban Herd, wherever they happen to wander.

Lastly, here is The Master Hooter’s Sister:


I think we all know that to cross one’s palm means to pay for a service or even to pay for that service in advance. It often refers to a bribe to smooth the way for information or for an action to be performed. Sometimes we hear of crossing one’s palm with silver – an allusion to the tradition of placing silver coins in the palm of a fortune-teller before having one’s fortune told.

All of which this palm is taking seriously indeed! Criss-crossing, criss-crossing the palm all the way up to the lofty height where leaves still sway and dance in the wind.


One cannot help noticing a strange looking building atop a sand dune on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth. This is a Coastal Fortress Observation Post – one of three – built during the Second World War to give advance warning of the approach of any unusual shipping and aircraft near the harbour.

It was constructed in 1940 and can be approached via a long, steep staircase of concrete steps. The double-storeyed building has a flat roof reached by a steel ladder, with loop holed free-form parapets rising above the roof, which give it this strange appearance to our modern eyes.

These strange looking parapets, the angle buttresses and ‘fins’ help to diffuse the otherwise box-like shape of the building when seen from the sea against the background of the bush.

Note the use of the ‘broken plate’ plaster finish on the external wall surfaces which serves as another camouflage feature of this building.

For an interesting in-depth article on these observation posts, do read the Second World War, 1939-1945: Artillery Buildings in Algoa Bay by Richard Tomlinson at