“… and there are going to be bouncers –” The boy’s voice sounded apologetic.

Bouncers?” His sister’s voice rose to a screech. “A party for twenty-five people and we’re having bouncers? Get real Gary!”

“Well, Dad said –” He sounded crushed.

Dad said?” The girl grabbed her brother’s arm and swung him round to face her. “It’s your party Gary. Take charge! What will people think?” The couple were pushed aside by the crowd of boys and girls making their way to the school assembly.

Gary pulled himself away from his sister’s grip, straightened the sleeve of his jersey and made to move on. “It’s Dad’s party too,” he mumbled, head bowed. The emphasis on ‘Dad’ was a clear indication that he had given up. As he shuffled his way through the crowd, he wondered yet again if it had been worthwhile acquiescing to his parents’ offer of celebrating his eighteenth birthday at their holiday home at the coast.

The guest list had been a major hurdle. His sixteen-year-old sister, Stephanie, had insisted on including some of her nerdy friends; his mother wanted to fly down the sons and daughters of people she seemed to have befriended since birth; his father thought it appropriate to include the sons of some of his ‘high-up’ colleagues. “Always good for business my son,” he had said heartily, patting the back of Gary’s head. “Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” The determined ring in his father’s voice was not hard to miss. “You’ll be invited to theirs and who knows what doors will open.” He winced at the inevitability of his father’s next words, “I never had the opportunities you have, son. Make the most of them.”

‘Make the most of them!’ The words swirled around in his mind as he crossed the uneven path, automatically avoiding the roots of the jacaranda that had pushed through the cobbled paving. His mouth had slackened into an unattractive pout: all the ‘have tos’ left only six places for him and his mates at his own party!

What he really wanted to do was to sneak off to the local pub and order a beer, proudly producing his ID if necessary to prove he had reached the legal age for drinking! His father had often told him that his father had taken him to the pub in the town nearest to their farm to celebrate his coming of age when he could both legally drink and cast a vote in national elections.

Now, Gary thought sadly, there was no family farm to go to. Instead, he and his sister had been bundled off to a private boarding school in order to “make connections my boy. The ‘old school tie’ counts for a lot in business.” His father’s gravelly voice intruded once more on his thoughts, crowding his mind with the oft-repeated reasons why he should be grateful for the experience.

Gary listened to the ripples of applause during assembly and watched the formally clad boys walk across the stage to collect their certificates, medals or trophies. Some simply shook the Headmaster’s hand in recognition of what they had achieved. The list included athletics, swimming, cricket, and colours for hockey, music awards, debating, and even a prize for art. As he idly watched each boy in turn move back to his seat in the hall, Gary’s heart began to lighten and a faint smile started to play around the corners of his mouth. The heaviness of the pout began to dissipate.

He would turn eighteen on Saturday and would be leaving school at the end of the year to study sports science or physiotherapy in Cape Town. His father wanted him to take up engineering, but he had got the school counsellor to put the kibosh on that. ‘Round one to me,’ he thought happily, cracking his knuckles. ‘Let Dad bluster on if it makes him happy. I have my own life to live.’

Gary listened to the taunting of his sister again after their orchestra rehearsal later that afternoon. She was embarrassed at the thought of bouncers standing guard outside their holiday home during the party. How many would there be? Where would they come from? Her demands were relentless. “You shouldn’t just give in to Dad, Gary. We’ll be the laughing stock of the school!”

She easily manipulated her parents – with their mother her strongest ally – to get designer clothes, to spend holidays with friends abroad and having more freedom than he had enjoyed at her age. She was whining now and tears glistened in her eyes as she begged him to get their father to reconsider his decision. For the first time that he could remember, Gary felt nothing. These were the tools of her manipulation. He was not going to give into her. For the first time too, Gary felt it was important to let his father have his way.

An impressive array of luxury vehicles crowded the driveway of Peebles, the name was meant to be a fun allusion to the round pebbles that formed the crunchy driveway that spanned the front of the seaside home “all the better to alert us to intruders” his mother had declared. The fact that it was also the name of a town in Scotland was only drawn to her attention when Gary had mischievously painted pop: 6 705 underneath the name, having copied it from the 1989 version of his school dictionary. His mother had been furious with him, but his father had laughed heartily and allowed the scrawled figures to remain.

Gary surveyed the bar area next to the open dancing floor created by the clearance of the triple garage adjacent to the large family room. A marvellous feast was laid out on the veranda that ran along the length of the house. He moved onto the lawn from where he could see two bouncers at the front gate and the two guarding the softly-lit swimming pool. He was aware of a young couple employed to roam the passage which led to several bedrooms. A young woman was keeping tabs on the bathroom assigned to the girls.

He grinned in the dark at the memory of Stephanie throwing a tantrum earlier in the evening about being in Fort Knox. His father had responded with “I can arrange for a driver to take you and your friends back to school if you don’t like it. This is Gary’s party and I want his friends to celebrate without fear of falling foul of school rules. There will be no hanky-panky here, just good clean fun.” Gary had walked away from the kitchen unobserved. His step was lighter, along with his mood.

‘Good clean fun’. Perhaps not quite what his father had intended, but he had made good buddies at school and the best of them were celebrating with him tonight: Cameron had proved to be a tough adversary at chess; Henry seldom beat him at Scrabble; Ross had drawn him into the school orchestra; and Jarrett was the one who had helped him to put his father’s wealth into perspective. “It’s their dough,” he had often reminded him, “and they want to flash it. They can’t help it, but we must make our own way; decide on our own route to happiness.”

The band left at midnight amidst groans from the teenagers; the bar closed an hour later and most of the guests departed to their assigned sleeping quarters soon after. Drawn by the familiar tobacco smell, Gary stepped into the back garden to seek out his father who was nursing a glass of whisky on the wooden bench next to the herb garden. They listened to the muffled sounds from the house and watched the lights go out. A warm feeling of mutual understanding flowed between them for the first time in years. “A good party, son?” His father spoke softly.

“Not really my style Dad. I think I would have preferred a fish braai on the beach with my mates.”

“Too public,” his father laughed. “I’ve always wanted to give you the best.” He sighed and patted his son’s knee. “You’ll be a good sports scientist, but you aren’t going to get wealthy.”

“Engineering could do that for me?”

“Perhaps. If there is one thing I have learned in life it is that you can’t buy happiness, Gary. And I want you to be happy.”

“I am Dad, very happy.” They hugged each other affectionately. “Thanks Dad, for everything.”



The delightful news was going to be that the long-suffering pair of Lesserstriped Swallows finally finished rebuilding their mud nest during the first week of February. A bit late in the season for breeding, I thought, however that instinct to procreate must be hard-wired into them. Sadly, the nest fell down only a week later. Such have been their ups and downs that I am unable to tell whether or not they have raised any chicks this summer.

Meanwhile, the Whiterumped Swifts that moved into the snug nest the swallows left intact last year have bred successfully. As they tend to flit into the nest after dark and leave before sunrise, it is only the lack of their mess under the nest that suggests they now have migration on their minds. This picture of a young Whiterumped Swift was taken near Brits last year.

I welcome the sound – and sight – of African Green Pigeons and Redwinged Starlings feasting on the first figs of the season. They are joined by Speckled Mousebirds, Cape White-eyes, Common Starlings and the Knysna Turaco amongst others. The Knysna Turaco regularly flits about the branches of the large Natal fig tree chasing one bird after another, as if to establish its right to be there.

The sound of Redfronted Tinkerbirds fill the air akin to a conference of tinkers beating their pots at different times – they are not at all easy to spot, especially since the trees have responded to the rain this month by ‘bushing out’ their foliage. A single Yellowfronted Canary made a brief appearance a few days ago.

We have also had exceptional views of the local Gymnogene (African Harrier-Hawk) flying very low over the garden for several days in a row. On one occasion a plucky pair of Forktailed Drongos mobbed it. I have already devoted a post to the Spotted Thickknee seen this month – a wonderful sighting that was!

My February bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene)
Barthroated Apalis
Barn Swallow
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Black Saw-wing
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Speckled Mousebird
Spotted Thickknee
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowfronted Canary


Usually the Brown-veined White Butterflies (Belenois aurota) migrate all over South Africa from late November to mid-February, depending on the weather conditions.

It is our most common butterfly and occurs in most areas in South Africa. While the main migration appears to be over for this season, a few stragglers still pass through the garden now and then. Judging from the travel torn wings of the one in the photograph below, I should perhaps say a few ‘ragglers’ can be seen now and then.

As these fragile looking creatures fly long distances, laying eggs as they go, and have been known to fly as far as Mozambique and even across to Madagascar, it is important to maintain several nectar-bearing plants in our gardens to provide some sustenance for them.


An unusual visitor outside my kitchen door:

I watched this praying mantid as it slowly made its way from the harsh sun into the cool shade of some succulents.

I thought it was interesting to see its face – especially the mouth.


The name Knysna Loerie trips off the tongue and I suppose the new moniker Knysna Turaco (Tauraco corythaix) will too – in time – after all, Shakespeare told us long ago that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. This truly beautiful bird is found only in South Africa and parts of Swaziland. It regularly appears on my monthly list of birds seen in our garden, yet I seldom show pictures of it as they flit through the treetops so silently and ‘disappear’ into the foliage in the wink of an eye. We mainly see them hopping about from branch to branch in the canopy of the Natal Fig and are always thrilled to see the red wing flashes when they fly across the garden from one tree to another.

Apart from the figs, there is plenty of other food for them in our garden including the fruits of the White Stinkwood (Celtis africana), Cotoneaster berries,

Crossberry, (Grewia occidentalis),

Wild Plum (Harpephyllum caffrum) and the Wild Peach (Kiggelaria africana). Although they cannot always be seen in the dense foliage, we can generally hear their rasping kow-kow-kow calls.

This week I was treated to a wonderful view of one preening itself after a light shower of rain.


On a day such as today, with the temperature rising to 30°C and above while a strong, gusty and warm Berg Wind blows, Twinings Blackcurrant tea is the one to reach for. Its flavour is fulsome, rounded and rich. With or without milk, it is a refreshing drink that requires no accompaniment at all.

This very fine black tea has been expertly blended with the juicy flavour of blackcurrants to create a tea with a strong, fruity aroma and the characteristic sweet and tangy taste one would expect of such a fruit.