It will be a while before we can venture out to find lions in a national park.

Meanwhile, this the time of year when we can see their tails at least. I used to have two shrubs of Lion’s Tail growing in my garden. Their beautiful orange flowers would attract a variety of nectar feeding sunbirds as well as ants, butterflies and bees. Their woody stems are surprisingly brittle and can break in strong winds – mine eventually succumbed to the prolonged drought – and so it is pleasing to see them growing in grasslands nearby.

Known officially as Leonotis leonurus, it is widespread throughout South Africa. Leonotis comes from the Greek words leon (lion) and -otis (ear), while leonurus means lion-coloured, a reference to the flower colour. This plant has a number of common names such as Lion’s Ear and Wild Dagga.


The War Memorial in Cathcart, Eastern Cape, is set in well-tended grounds along Main Street.

A uniformed soldier stands guard at the top. Traces of red paint from an earlier bout of the vandalization of monuments was still visible in 2016.

Even more so from behind.

The monument bears a plaque: THIS MONUMENT IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF THE MEN OF THE TOWN & DISTRICT OF CATHCART WHO LAID DOWN THEIR LIVES IN THE GREAT WAR 1914-1918. Apart from giving their ranks, the names of the eighteen dead are written out in full. Two possibly come from the same family, if not brothers then they are surely cousins: Scout John Henry Ferguson and Private Arthur William Ferguson. The sentiment ‘laid down their lives’ refers to the giving up of one’s life for a good purpose or to die for a good cause. The implication that we should honour these men for doing just this is thus clear in spite of the reminder – so in keeping with many memorials of the time – in the familiar quotation from John 15:13 – “GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS, THAT A MAN MAY LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS” at the end.

What no-one realised at the time was that another sacrifice of loved ones would be called for during the Second World War. LEST WE FORGET this plaque, erected by the M.O.T.H.S reads ahead of the ROLL OF HONOUR OF THE MEN OF CATHCART AND DISTRICT WHO MADE THE SUPREME SACRIFICE IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR. This time, as well as their rank, twenty names are given in full – all from families that remain in the Eastern Cape. The final quotation is “NOT FOR OURSELVES BUT FOR OTHERS”. This, I understand, is derived Cicero’s treatise On Duties.

That is where most war memorials would have ended, except that South Africans have been embroiled in other conflicts since. Another plaque was erected. This one is headed DIED IN SERVICE TO THEIR COUNTRY and contains only the name of Cpl. Paul Kruger.

The red spray painted letters of ANC is still clearly visible on the stone.

Lest we forget is a phrase we have become used to associating with Remembrance Day services. While the concept of not forgetting is mentioned in Deuteronomy 4:7-9, the phrase was popularised by Rudyard Kipling, who used it several times in his poem Recessional.


Most of us are used to seeing enormous trucks driving along the main roads, carrying various loads from one place to another. The mechanical horse and trailer fit together like a cup and saucer – until one comes across a mechanical horse sans trailer, then it looks odd: too big to have what appears to be such a short wheel-base; the cab set far too high … the same applies to a gecko or a lizard that has lost its tail. Look at this one:

These marvellous creatures can sever their tails as a form of self-defence as the wriggling tail is quite likely to distract its predator. This self-amputation is known as autotomy (from the Greek ‘self’ and ‘sever’). There is no blood loss, and the tail regrows over several months. I have seen some with forked tails or rather skew tails too – possibly because they have not regrown properly.


We are familiar with birds being named for certain physical characteristics that make them easy to identify. Short-tailed Pipit, Cape Glossy Staring, and Red-fronted Tinkerbird come to mind. A glance through a bird guide index reveals two speckled birds: the Speckled Pigeon and the Speckled Mousebird.

According to the Collins Concise English Dictionary, ‘speckled’ describes small marks, usually of a contrasting colour, as one might find on eggs. The source of the word is spekkel, which comes from Middle Dutch.

It is probably their white spotted wings that prompted the name change of the Rock Pigeon to Speckled Pigeon (Columba guinea). The former name adequately described its penchant for choosing mountains, cliffs and rocky gorges for its habitat in the wild.

Speckled Pigeons have made themselves very at home in man-made structures, whether in towns, on farms, or in game reserves. One pair moved into a gap in our eaves several years ago. Our  home now hosts about six pairs!

While grain farmers might rightfully regard them as pests – they gather in large flocks when feeding in grain fields – they can be pesky in suburban gardens too. Apart from their increasing numbers, these birds are larger than the various doves that come down to feed on the grain I put out for them. A few have even learned how to muscle in and dominate Morrigan’s feeder, filled with fine seed to attract smaller birds such as weavers and the Bronze Manikins.

The Speckled Mousebird (Colius striatus) survived the name changes. There is one on the left of the above photograph. They have the habit of clinging closely to the branches and disturb easily – especially when a camera is nearby!

A marked characteristic of Speckled Mousebirds is the bill, which is black on top and white underneath.

Granted, it isn’t always easy to see these overall grey-brown birds very clearly in between the branches and foliage, but where the speckled part of its name comes from, I am not sure. Some ornithologists describe a distinct fine barring on the mantle and rump that are visible at close range – perhaps this is visible when one is very close. What is understandable is that the texture and colour of their plumage, their long tails and their general behaviour resembles that of a mouse – hence ‘mousebird’.  The Colius part of their name means scabbard or long sheath – a clear reference to their tails. Flocks of them regularly work their way through the garden in search of fruit, leaves, buds, flowers and nectar.


Several examples of the Victorian fashion of cast-iron (or carved wooden) lattice trellis work can be seen in Grahamstown.

This ornate ironwork is charmingly known as Broekie Lace because it resembles the lace edgings on women’s underwear (broekies = panties).  Introduced by the English settlers, these trims were applied to the eaves of corrugated iron veranda roofs, which were often supported on slender cast-iron columns and cast-iron brackets.

Cast-iron railings made an attractive addition to homes and gardens.