Friday, 27 December 2013

Facebook Files - Local Events

Having dealt in a skittish sort of way with some of my facebook postings this year concerning international affairs I thought I’d finish this sorry story by recounting some more local postings, peppered with random photographs - 

Snail fit for a main course . . .
Man’s best friend; after Yorick the Cat, 
Hamlet the Dog, and Susan the Goldfish
 - I give you Garry the Ghecko! Highly 
trained Mozzi catcher - non-toxic and 
you don't have to light his coil every night.

Work and more Work
I really do try not to impose work related issues on my facebook page. Why should my mundane issues be any more interesting than anyone else’s? But just occasionally the daily grind, the quotidian plod yields a nugget or two of humour – usually self depreciating of course!

Some days into a fairly dense legal proceeding the 95 or so handwritten pages of notes is testament to the weight of the matter. One of the Attorneys remarked that I am writing in shorthand. “No, not really,” I said modestly, “I just write fast & shorten a word or two here and there.” But on checking my notes I find that I have written in shorthand - but I’m buggered if I know what system I’ve used . . . or who is going to decipher it . . .

I consider myself to be very lucky. As Consultants we deal with a very broad range of projects - in a very broad range of roles. I recently had an enjoyable eight or so days traversing the country in connection with a national housing project. Aside from a Ugandan colleague I was the only non-Swazi on this expedition. One incident prompted the following necessarily long (and admittedly self absorbed) post -

So there I was visiting a rural police station with colleagues to inspect potential development sites.

The station commander introduced himself with excessive politeness by saying “My name is Crocodile – I like to explain my name to non-Swazis.” “Ah Babe Ngwenya,” I responded, quick as a flash and very pleased with myself. “Very pleased to meet you.” My colleagues and the accompanying Top Cop from HQ all grinned, and I thought were almost on the point of applauding my grasp of siSwati, the lack of which had been the subject of some earlier discussion.

Mr. Ngwenya’s two i/c stepped forward and introduced herself. “And I am Mrs. Zebra.” Nonplussed and temporarily speechless my mind went blank until I finally stammered through the ensuing laughter - “Good Morning Make Zebra.”

Hoist once again by my own petard!

I did manage to make a recovery on leaving by saying to Mrs. Zebra "Sala kahle Make Dube." My new found knowledge courtesy of a soto voce briefing from Mr. Crocodile

Nkoyoyo Sunset - from the album
"African Skies"
In contrast to “hard” development issues we also deal with the “softer” social issues, like telling potentially affected people about projects.

It’s been a funny sort of a day. Facilitated a Scoping Meeting this morning. 100 + community members attended. My words of wisdom were translated into siSwati by my colleague JB. I can usually judge the “pause place” to allow for translation, but at the end of one particularly convoluted explanation JB looked at me and said with a grin, “Steve - what was the last thing you said?” and I said “I can’t remember.” He laughed at me, and I laughed at him, and the expectant audience laughed at both of us. I do like this sort of work!

This post was reacted to by Bheki Makhubu who posted the following wonderful nugget -  

Reminds me of a story I have heard of King Sobhuza II speaking to the nation at the national kraal in siSwati and his words translated into English. At one point when the interpreter had spoken, the king leaned towards him and said "angikasho njalo", which means "I didn't say that."

This next posting falls quite neatly into the grumpy old man category and I’m slightly ashamed to include it here, and am equally ashamed to admit that it is true.

Sometime ago I put a box by my office door with a notice over it saying "Please deposit guns and cell phones and retrieve on leaving." The gun threat has receded but other people's cell phones continue to pollute my space. Am I a lone voice? Oh - and I had to take the notice down because people stopped visiting me . . . . .

Of course one is not just a worked in the infrastructure development sector but also a citizen and consumer.

Open letter to the Mbabane City maintenance department: - Dear Mr. Shongwe, as a resident of our fair city I would like to applaud your departments efforts in dealing with all the pot-holes that have popped up following the recent rains; however I do have a question. Why is it that while the vast proportion of potholes are either round or oval, the repairs and patches are always square or oblong? Yours etc….. PS I do hope you respond favourably to my recent friend request.

Pot-holes on the Komati River 

That Other Social Networking Device . . .
In a sort of desperate dream-world I decided to really fling myself out there and sign up to Twitter. Anything for a bit of self advertisement

Okay - I give up! Some time ago I signed up on (to?) Twitter. (Are you allowed to talk about twitter on facebook?). After a couple of months I still don't know what the point is. What do you do? What information are you supposed to get? How do you connect with - and who? And I don't understand the few tweets I've looked at. Am I completely alone in this morass of ignorance - this (apparently) quagmire? And why are 5 people following me and I've done nothing (and I don't know them!) (1/7/2013)

I did get some responses to this pathetic cry for help, principally along the lines of “don’t waste your time with things that are clearly well beyond your meagre intellect.”

So I just received an email from a nice chap (I assume - both the chapiness and the niceness) saying I'd been mentioned in a twitter conversation, which is jolly nice. But the extent of the "mention" is - @SmitchSteve together with a whole list of other similar @so-andso's and no explanatory text.
So –
·         WTF?
·         What am I expected to do?
·         What is it telling me?
·         Am I doomed to be a mere "@" and never a "#"?
·         Is this my planet?
I need help from at least - xxxxyy & sympathy from yyyxxxxy, and anyone else who can be bothered! (27/9/2013)

. . . and Adverts . . .
There is something about the web that induces an asinine fog in advertisement copywriters, or perhaps it is just that anyone can now do it? Either way it’s a rich source that needs to be mined sometime.

I’ve just come across this daft triumphalist piece of advertising on the web page of a well known software supplier:– “HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE, ENGINEERED TO WORK TOGETHER” Isn’t this a bit like saying – “TOOTH BRUSHES – GOOD FOR TEETH” Or, “CARS – FOR DRIVING FORWARDS ON ROADS” Or, . . . . . . . . (25/6/2013)

Mind you the fault often lies with the reader . . .

So I had clicked on an interesting advertorial, and then forgot about it until I got round to looking at the url at the top of the screen but could not for the life of me remember what I had clicked on – until I opened it and then remembered that it was about spotting five signs that you will suffer from Alzheimer’s. I didn’t read any further to discover what the other four were. (13/8/2013)

Starting price for green beans - E3. Managed
to negotiate it up to E6. Always
prided myself on my bargaining skills
. . .  and Blogging . . .
Back the nub of all this – writing! I receive an inordinate number of anonymous comments that the blogging platform is good enough to filter out – but I do sometimes read them and particularly liked this one which I reported on-

A recent response to my blog -

"You really make it appear really easy with your presentation but I to find this topic
to be actually one thing that I feel I might by no means understand. It seems too complex and very broad for me. I'm looking forward on your subsequent submit, I'll attempt to get the cling of it!"

On the face of it a little odd but quite nice - except that the posting in question was another whimsical piece about my cat - not exactly intellectually challenging - and the comment ended with an invitation to a web page about penis enlargement cream. My battered confidence has taken a turn for the worse . . . , but I am clinging to it . . .

Finally, just occasionally, out of the blue comes a bolt of hope.

I was at Waterford Kamhlaba School on the day of the celebration of 50 years in existence and bumped into this chap while I was making coffee for myself in the Development Office, and he said to me: –

“Are you from the BBC?” To which I replied, quick as a flash, “No, not really, at the moment . . .. Why? Who are you from?” (Clever hey?) And he said, “I’m from the Guardian.” To which I said, ...“Oh Gosh! I was brought up on the Guardian. Swaddled in old editions as a babe in arms I was during cold winter nights to keep me warm in my Parents hovel; that was after they’d burnt all the furniture of course.”

“Goodness me he exclaimed – there’s obviously a short story there; maybe even a blog article”! “Funny you should say that,” I gasped at the sheer audacity of the idea, “Aside from being a boring old Quantity Surveyor I happen to be a serial and obsessive blogger.” “Well Gosh”, he rejoined. “Tell you what – anything you write I guarantee I will get published in the Guardian.” “Wow!”, I said. That’s awfully decent of you.” “Not a bit of it old chap,” he said with a grin, unfolded his wings, and lifted off towards the squash courts . . . . . . ., and then I woke up.

But I live in perpetual, if not a little misguided hope.

Yorick woke up this morning to glorious 
sunlight,and thought "God-wot, I seem to have 
missed last Saturday! I'll just hang around until the next one."
Yorick woke up this morning and said "Morning? 
What's good about it? Its wet, windy and cold. 
Forsooth - I'll wait for Saturday."

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Facebook Files - World Events

I was a slow starter but once I got going on Facebook I took to it like a mouse maddened by temptingly smelly cheese balanced on a delicately set mouse trap. But rather than posting unappetising photos of my breakfast or passing on soppy aphorisms with underlying threats of death and disease if I didn’t pass them on I have tended to fire off pithy, or thought provoking, or allegedly amusing posts with the sole intent of eliciting responses. Some have resulted in a satisfying flurry of responses, and some have been complete blanks.

Current events of 2013 have of course been a rich source of comment and I also had fun in posting thought provoking photographs.

The Royal Baby July 2013
And we all love a royal birth don’t we? I was glued to this breaking news for two whole days:-

The Times of Swaziland bill board this morning; "Duchess Kate Gets a Boy". Well it was a delivery I suppose . . . . . .(23/7/2013)

Can I just say that I am really beginning to enjoy The Royal Baby Story. It’s as if the entire media world has just slipped into LaLa Land . . . . . (23/7/2013)

According to the BBC Online Duchess Kate's Mum said that her Grandson is "absolutely beautiful". Well she's hardly likely to say "he looks like a frog" now is she? (23/7/2013)

George Alexander Louis - GAL for short. I don't think they've really thought this through - the First Form boys at Eton are going to have field day! (24/7/2013)
Just occasionally you see a sign
that defies further description!
The copyright on this photo is MINE!

Crime & Security
From East Africa - 

So the Kenyan National Police Commissioner has been sent a severed head in a box with an accompanying message saying "You are next". The police say they are interpreting it as a death threat. Gosh these guys are on the ball!

Our own traffic cops can certainly not be faulted for their dedication to duty.

Dear Commissioner Magagula. I write to you in your capacity as Police Boss, and would like to firstly congratulate you on the fine job your boys (and girls) in blue do in reeling in the criminals of our society. Indeed I was rightly nabbed the other day for the heinous offence (forgive the vocabulary  – but I’ve been spending far too much time with my lawyer ‘friends’ lately!) of having a cracked windscreen. Can I however suggest that the smart place to catch more of us miscreants would be to position your troops at traffic lights so that when the lights change to red the officers can leap out and carry out ad hoc windscreen inspections.  A winning formula providing of course that the officers do not get mown down by all the drivers who regard the green light as “go”, amber as “go before it gets to red” and red as “go faster before it gets to green again”. Is there I wonder a direct connection between the proliferation of cracked windscreens and national colour blindness? In which case well done in catching the problem at its source!

We are no slouches either when it comes to private investigators.

The Swazi Observer today reported a quote from our famed Private Investigator Hunter Shongwe - "I am not like Jesus who said when someone slaps you on the left chick you should also give him the right chick. I don’t forgive that easily" Is this taking being Streetwise a tad too far; or am I confusing this with Kentucky Fried Cheekin?
Bit of behavioural guidance . . .17/12/2012
World Affairs
No – I have not burst into posts about Hollywood Starlet’s and Basket Ball players, but I have commented on even dafter people –

Oh Dear, oh dear oh dear. So Justin Bieber has been rebuked by the UK Office for Budget Responsibility for being a tad economical with the truth about recent economic facts - and David Cameron has been caught out for being a fresh faced turd with more influence than should be allowed to any public personality. No hang on a mo, have I got this quite right?

In August a daft organisational story broke.

So the UK Ministry of Defence has admitted administrative & computer errors leading to the expenditure of 40,000 pounds sterling on phone calls to an automated "speaking clock". There are so many angles to this bizarre story that even my overactive imagination has become overloaded! My initial reaction is thank God I'm not living there - with this level of competence I don't think I would feel particularly safe from a defence point of view. My second thought is that with this level of competence I don't think I would feel particularly safe from an attack point of view! People of the UK - should you not be really very, very worried?

November saw a mouth watering incident in America which should be a rich source of further scatological investigation.

LA Airport is in the throes of "multi patient incident". This, in this instance, is a euphemism for "someone with a firearm has shot a number of people". And I've just realised the true meaning of a "Euphemism". It means something has just occurred that we are actually (yet again) deeply disturbed about but to disguise our embarrassment we are somehow downgrading the severity of the event by shrouding it in mundane and intentionally misleading descriptions. Or perhaps I am being oversensitive.

A new verb swung across my field of vision, one with which I think English Teachers could have an absolute field day. “Potts Minor.” “Yessir?” “Conjugate the following verb.”

I've just discovered a new word - Twerking - thanks to a chick called Miley Cyrus -and apparently it’s gone viral. 'Twerking is a dance move that involves a person shaking the hips in an up-and-down bouncing motion, causing the dancer to shake, "wobble" and "jiggle."' So I'm told by Wikipedia. My cat Yorick - who is also a celebrity - has being doing this manoeuvre with the dogs for months. So what's the news?

A Competition
In November and apropos of absolutely nothing I set a little competition, a geo-photographic quiz, which went like this -
One of these photos is of a slab of rock, and the other is of a slab of landscape; or to put it another way the distance from camera to subject is 1.34km for one and about 1.34m for the other. Guesses? 6/11/2013
Photo B
Photo A

Facebook administration is itself also a source of amusement and sometimes intense frustration – if you let it get to you.

I'm getting "suggested posts" on my main facebook page (by "main" I mean the bit in the middle!). These are adverts by any other name - and I don't want them! Is anyone else afflicted in the same way; and is there a way of stopping this? I signed up to be in contact with friends that I have chosen. I have not chosen to be friends with (for instance) “#^>%< Paints” - of whom I know nothing, and what’s more don't want to know about.

This became a bit of mantra.

They're back again - like a rash - “#^>%< Paints”. I keep un-friending them, but they keep bouncing back again. "Who will rid me of this troublesome Paint?" (13/4/2013)

“#^>%< Paints”! They're back again! They're like dandruff on a shirt collar. Just can't get rid of it. Surely there is the social media equivalent of "Head and Shoulders"? (18/7/2013)

No one seemed to be able to help so I went straight to the top and faithfully reported the results

Dear Facebook,

I recently sent the following complaint to you -

"I am getting adverts posted on my news feed. Please remove them – I do not want them. They are intrusive. Of all the changes made to fb over the past two or so years this is the one that would most persuade me to cancel my facebook subscription and find another social network platform. I wonder if you will pick this comment up and respond directly - I somehow doubt it!"

You replied directly to my email address as follows -

"Hi, Thanks for your feedback. We're constantly trying to improve Facebook, and your input is important to us. Unfortunately, we can't respond to individual feedback emails, but we are reading them. "

I do not believe that you ARE reading mine, or anyone else's feedback; but I know you CAN do because Mr Edward Snowden has said so. Now is your chance to prove to me and my fb friends that you really DO read my and other people's feedback.

I look forward to your reply, Cheers! (23/7/2013)

I’m still waiting!

"Good to be heading home" thought the 
Great Turtle of the South as it floated through 
the cool untroubled waters of a Western 
sun-set sky. 21/7/2013

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Frames 2

I had expected the old man to listen to our tale and make an appointment for a later date and an insitu inspection, but no, this does not happen. He dons a long beaded necklace with what look like sharks teeth (but aren’t) around his neck and under his arm like a bandolier (frames 1).
He pushes a small enamel bowl over towards me. It is heaped with an assortment of objects, primary among which are what appear to be the knuckles from the spine of a medium sized mammal, each well polished and yellowing and tied round with wire. There are a couple of large shells. He indicates that I am to make a loose fist with my hand and blow through it onto the objects. I do so. He takes back the bowl and gathers the objects in both hands and clutching them together as a large fist thumps his hands hard on the ground a couple times and releases the objects which scatter across the reed mat.

As the objects settle I see a couple of dice, two or three small domino tiles, sundry stones and metal disks and other small bits and pieces. In all there must be fifty or so objects.

The old man talks a lot, Sibusiso listens attentively and my mind drifts.

Here I am sitting in the hut of a respected Sangoma seeking his help in the matter of three missing window frames. A petty crime that the conventional police will not be in the least interested in and one that the community police who are too far away to be concerned with will also be of no use. Besides it would take half a day to get either of them out there. An appeal to the umphakatsi, the chiefs traditional homestead, would be laughable; they have far more pressing matters to attend to, and anyway the property lies betwixt and between two chieftaincies and of course I don’t know where the felons hale from.
Kuthula Cottage from Hawane Hill
My expectation was for the Sangoma to have come to the farm, conducted an insitu inspection and made many loud and very public incantations of a threatening nature to warn off the perpetrators. This is how I understand the psychology of the witch doctors craft. Perhaps I’m wrong!

During my reverie the old man, the Sangoma has been throwing the bones (I have to call them “bones” although this is a misnomer given the predominance of other un-bone like objects). Every so often he takes up a shiny metal tube in the shape of an old fashioned police whistle and gently blows into it giving a mournful kazoo like sound. He reads more information from the bones. He tells us we have lost money from the cottage – which is true, and I am hugely impressed by his knowledge of this incident. He tells us that there are three miscreants, that one of them is female and that they make a living stealing. I want to ask if they specialise in window frames or do they do door frames and roof sheets as well – but don’t, fearing that it might be regarded as a frivolous question.

He throws the bones again and, as he bends over them there is a harsh intervention of a ringing cell phone. My cell phone is on silent and I look daggers at Sibusiso, but it is the Sangoma who delves into his shirt and brings out a small pouch from around his neck from which he pulls out a phone, looks at the screen and answers it. With a shudder of delight I wonder if the spirits have also embraced the electronic age. Or perhaps this is a complainant for whom a love potion has gone pear-shaped, or maybe it’s the wife reminding him to get some cooking oil on the way home.
A Sangoma sitting on my shelf.
With due acknowledgements to the comic genius
of the late Austin Hleza
The phone call is finished and the Sangoma is continuing with the bone throwing. I nudge Sibusiso and murmur that there has been no mention of money and payment. This is something that I am getting a little concerned about. What if the consultation fee is greater than the value of the window frames? I’ll look an utter idiot and will be too embarrassed to recount this story. Sibusiso murmurs back that payment will only be due when we get the frames back, “cash-on-delivery” as it were. I am greatly impressed and the few lingering doubts that I have had about this process are completely dissipated.

The consultation seems to be coming to a close. I sense this, not because the demeanour of the Sangoma has altered in any way, but because he has stopped throwing the bones and is now carefully tearing a page of the Times of Swaziland to make a large square shape. He carefully glances over the classified deaths column before he finally tears off the redundant strip - perhaps to see if he recognises any old clients? He reaches across the low table of sundry containers and selects a deep off-white plastic screw-topped container from which he ladles out two large table spoons of mustard/khaki coloured powder onto the paper, which he then folds into an intricate flat package the size of two match boxes. This process takes about five minutes not for any ritualistic reasons, but rather because he is talking continually with illustrative hand gestures that keep interrupting his actions.

The Sangoma pushes the neatly wrapped muti over to me. He tells me (in translation) that the muti can be used anywhere. I could be in England and use it and it would be just as effective as here in Swaziland. The Sangoma also tells me that he can enter my bedroom when I am asleep, wherever I am in the world. I am suitably impressed and feel ever so slightly threatened. He tells me that after we have used the muti I (and presumably Sibusiso) will see one of the miscreants in a dream. We are then to use the muti again to tell the felon to bring his (or her) fellow crooks to show themselves to us and return the missing frames.
Homestead without a lot of window frames
Sibusiso gestures that we can leave. I say that I want to thank the Sangoma profusely – ngiyabonga kakhulu, but Sibusisio says NO, we do not need to say “thank you very much indeed”. And I start to say I want to at least say sala kahle – goodbye; but Sibusisio says NO we do not need to say “goodbye”. From his emphasis I realise that Sibusiso means we “must not” and not “need not”. I reluctantly acquiesce and we silently leave.
The Sangoma left the hut a minute or two after us as we finished putting on our shoes and there was no contract between us at all. It was as if we to him, or he to us had never had any dealing. We drove away; Sifiso, who had remained outside the hut for the entire time, the younger man who we had first encountered with the Sangoma, Sibusiso and I. We returned along the long ruinous road back through Mpolonjeni where we dropped the nameless “younger man”, back to Nkoyoyo to drop off the helpful Sifiso, and back to the cottage.
 "We need to get containers for the muti so’s we can split it between us”, said Sibusisio. “Did you understand the instructions on how to use it?” I said no.
“You take a pinch of it on your hand and with your heart heavy with the wish to see the crooks you blow the muti away, and you can do this anywhere.”

He said that some time over the next two weeks we should get some sort of a result. He then went on to express his admiration for the Sangoma who has so much faith in his muti that payment will only be due once its results have been seen.
I am light-headed from lack of food and water, driving back along the busy highway to the City of Mbabane. I feel a sense of timelessness. All morning and half the afternoon have been spent on an errand that my rational mind tells me is a wild goose chase. My intuitive mind has however been completely at one with an experience that has no explanation, and I am happier in that state. I will this evening take a pinch from the old soap tin into which I put my half of the muti (Sibusiso got an old salt container), and with a heart raging with anger summon the crooks to appear before me and return my window frames.

And I have no doubt that they will do as instructed.
A soap-tin of Muti

Thursday, 28 November 2013

By The Way . . .

I once berated a young employee as follows:-

“If I ever catch you using that word again in this office I shall sack you. Sack you on the spot,” I said. “Sack you” I continued, “without notice, or the benefit of appeal to the Industrial Court. Bugger the consequences of such draconian behaviour - I don’t care. The pain of fines for alleged unfair dismissal will be far, far out-weighed by the satisfaction of having cast from our midst such a verbal and literary excrescence.”

Warming to my theme, as if I needed to, I pressed home the point, “I can think of no occasion or context, in this office, when this word could conceivably be appropriate. Not one.” She quailed under my impassioned onslaught and steely stare. 

Well actually no, she didn’t. 

She grinned and said something along the lines of – “Okay I got it,” or “Right,” or “Cool,” or some such, but her eyes and her body language were eloquently saying  - “Jeez Steve man – get . . . a . . . life!” Sometime later she amicably left our employment and moved on to better things, but I can guarantee that while I never caught her using the offensive word, at least in writing during office hours, she has since used it in her subsequent work places.

I can guarantee that because I hear it, and I see it continually on public notices, read it in newspaper articles and on bill boards. Even political statements contain it and I am sure that if I bothered to look it would also have infected law reports – I must ask my friends in the profession if this is so.

The offending word?

Painful though it is to hear the word, let alone speak it, or heaven forbid write it I suppose this diatribe would be toothless, not to say pointless without actually repeating the word. Here goes - at the risk of the earth yawning open under my feet and the lightening bolt of Lexicog the enraged God of Language striking me on the forehead and singeing my designer stubble . . .

Here it is, writ small -  Temporal!

Or to lessen the pain and frame it in the form of a cryptic crossword clue – “A spot mixed in part is not sacred (8)”

Oh alright then – it’s Temporal!

I have to admit that my pet hate is indeed the use of the word “temporal” where “temporary” is not only correct but is not open to some weird form of theistic or spiritual interpretation.  I realise however that any amount of crusading to recapture the true meaning of “temporal” is a non- starter. Once I see newspaper advertisements warning of Temporal Road Diversions, or notices on the door of the Water Services Corporation satellite offices declaring Temporal Closure for Refurbishment I have to throw in the towel and admit that here is one word the misuse of which is permanent and, well frankly, not temporal.

What I don’t understand is how this particular error has crept into the vernacular, and cloak it in any way you like – it is an error! Somewhere, sometime, some years ago  someone made a lexicographical mistake which far from being corrected has somehow entered the language, to the extent that teachers are teaching the word “temporal”, the word appears in exam papers (yes really!), administrators, lawyers and politicians are using it and the media are reporting with it.

Okay – I concede that there is a gossamer thread connecting temporary, via time to temporal, but god knows it is a very thin thread. The nuanced time element in “temporal” has great and important subtleties that direct one towards the ties and tensions between the worldly and the spiritual. Time in a temporal context is existential, something grand and central; but in a temporary context it is fleeting and vapid.

I have a favourite in the misuse of borrow and lend, and here I have to admit to such a level of self mockery that I find myself forgetting which is correct. As I jocularly request that someone “borrow” me a book I find myself wondering if I am in fact correct after all. Oddly enough this juxtaposition really does not worry me –borrow and lend are after all, to all intents and purposes synonymous and their correct usages hinge only on the relationships between the Borrower and the Lendee, or is it the Lendor and the Borrowee, or perhaps the Borrowee and Lendee? Whatever - the point being that no other concept is obfuscated or interfered with.

Another mystery that I cannot unravel is the use of the phrase “by the way”. In traditional usage – as I remember it from the country of my birth – it is an idiom that adds additional information to a conversation (my car is in the garage and as a temporal arrangement I am driving a hire car which by the way is very economical to run), or can be used to open a new strand or subject during a conversation (By the way do you still have that book I borrowed to you about Keeping Cats?).

What has happened here in Swaziland though is that the phrase has taken on a new life - a sort of verbal open-palmed smack up the forehead that exclaims “of course I should have remembered . . . such and such”! But again, as with “borrow” and “lend”, such usage does not detract from the interjectory or additive usage I was brought up on.

However hard I try I do feel that my attempts to bring some sense of decorum to the use of English – the language of Shakespeare; the mellifluous cadences of Byron, Shelly, Becket, Heaney  and Thomas;  the Mother Tongue of glorious colonialism - that English is no longer said as she ought to be spoke. Don’t “these people” realise the importance of English as she is spoke?

Well of course “they” don’t, because like any live and dynamic language our English changes and adapts and what is actually important is that we can converse at a common level of understanding. Language is after all an expression of our sentience. It is undergoing continual change as a response to whatever environmental pressures abound. This language species is subject to continual lexicographical evolution. As an adaptive strategy the changes that are occurring are working, because we continue to converse and understand each other. The trick perhaps for us language fascists is to lighten up, get a life and luxuriate in the changes that are occurring and celebrate the nuances created by such changes.

And I will continue to beat my own revolutionary path by splitting my infinitives and starting sentences with “and” and “but”. Because lets face it without language evolution we could all be speaking Shakespearean English in the cadences of the English midlands and having to contend with his god-awful speling.

I will however still summarily sack anyone in my office that has the temerity to use the word “temporal” in any context . . .
Yorick, a closet language subversive, researching for
interesting synonyms . . .

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Frames 1

The walls of the single room hut are a lurid, almost luminescent green. The single glazed window is closed but the rough timber door is ajar allowing some air movement, otherwise the heat radiating through the pitted corrugated iron roof would be intolerable.

The walls are clean and have probably been recently painted, but when the old man leans forward the plaster behind his back is visible where the paint has been rubbed off. Clearly he always sits in this position on the grass mats spread around the corner of the room. Sibusiso and I sit on mats against the adjoining wall. He comfortably with his legs bent and to one side, leaning on one arm. Me with my knees uncomfortably against my chest and arms protectively around my shins. I randomly wonder why we mlungu find it so difficult to sit on the ground – not enough practice I suppose.
Deepest Mpolonjene
It had taken hours to get here.
First we had gone to Babe Makhanya’s homestead. He was not there, but he could be found at Nkoyoyo where he had taken the cattle to the dip, and I remembered that it is Wednesday - dipping day. A young lady from the homestead gave the number of someone else who may be able to help - a Mr. Hadebe.
The road from Kuthula Cottage to Nkoyoyo - which is as bad as it
As we battled our way through the deeply vegetated edges of the homestead fields Sibusiso suggested that we could track down Babe Makhanya at Nkoyoyo. I said “Look Babe Makhanya is only going to be acting as a middle man surely you know someone rather than having to go through Makhanya. He thought this a good idea, and anyway Makhanya always got drunk when he went to Nkoyoyo and would therefore be difficult to deal with. Pleased that we had established that the Makhanya route was probably a potential blind alley we resolved to phone Babe Hadebe. In order to do this we drove a kilometre North to the top of a ridge between two koppies to get a better cell phone signal.
Inside the room is a long low table along the wall next to the old man. It is laden with a great variety of containers ranging from canteen size Ricoffee tins to small tubs that once contained Vaseline or lip salve, and screw-topped pill pots. Against the wall opposite us is a rough timber shelving unit leaning at such a crazy angle that it threatens to collapse at any moment spilling onto the floor more boxes and pots, and two litre plastic bottles containing nameless and mysterious liquids that are plainly not what is advertised on the peeling and fading labels.
As it later transpired fortune smiled on us, because once we had managed to find a signal we rang Babe Hadebe’s number and there was no answer. “There is no answer” shrugged Sibusiso, “listen” handing the phone to me. “I am sure you are right,” I said, but listened to the ringing tone anyway – more through a sense of camaraderie than because I had doubted him.

“Sibusiso”, I said, “we are getting nowhere. I would much rather that we find someone who you know – rather than going through second and third parties.”
“Okay”, he said, “let’s go to Nkoyoyo where I know someone who knows someone who lives in Mpholojeni.”
“Right”, I said, “let’s go to Nkoyoyo.”
The road from Nkoyoyo to Mpolinjane - which gets a lot worse
during summer
In the far corner of the room by an old car seat is a pile of vegetation. I can see herbs and woody species. Incongruously above this pile is hanging a freshly laundered pinafore dress made up of what I think of as the famous blue patterned Tishweshwe cloth. Idly I wonder if the seat belongs to the battered vehicle parked outside the hut.

In the corner between the old man and me is another pile of herbs out of which protrudes the handle of a golf club. I wonder if the old man actually practices his putting, or uses it to thresh his herbs, or thrash recalcitrant creditors perhaps?
Nkoyoyo is not far, 5 kilometres or so, but the road is in appalling condition. Sibusisio congratulated me on the excellence of my 4x4 vehicle and we discussed the relative merits of diesel over petrol.
At Nkoyoyo we picked up an old school friend of Sibusisio’s called Sifiso who climbed into the back of the vehicle to show us the road through Mpolonjeni that would lead to our goal. The Mpolonjeni road was even worse than our road and made more dangerous by the speeding taxis waltzing around cavernous potholes and leaping over aggressive ridges and dips. While relatively stable now this road must be nigh on impassable after heavy rain.
After three or so kilometres we arrived at a collection of three un-plastered concrete block one roomed huts. We parked, and in that familiar manner of studied reluctance deferentially approached an old man clad in a loose shirt, tracksuit pants and broken-down sandals sitting with a younger companion on a grass bank in the shade of a tree.
 Despite his obvious youth in the face of the old man Sibusiso explains with confidence, enthusiasm and verve the purpose of our visit.

Sibusiso explains that I own a cottage beyond Nkoyoyo towards Hawane, and that there is a smaller empty workers cottage obscured by trees some 100 meters distance from the main cottage, and that the building has three windows in it, or rather that until recently there were three windows in it but now there are only three gapping holes where the window frames used to be and that we do not know who has stolen these window frames, but it happened over a period of perhaps four weeks and we (Sibusiso and I) are very upset about this state of affairs and would like the frames to be returned and would also dearly like to see the people responsible for this heinous crime in the flesh and to see them roundly condemned as criminals and be suitably punished, and anyway we are also fearful that further such crimes may be committed in the future.

Sibusiso explains that I own a cottage beyond Nkoyoyo 
towards Hawane . . 
At least I must assume that this is what he is saying, because the entire proceedings take place in siSwati with occasional brief translation for my benefit, and the breathless explanation has gone on for an awfully long time.
I had expected the old man to listen to our tale and make an appointment for a later date and an insitu inspection, but no, this does not happen. He dons a long beaded necklace with what look like sharks teeth (but aren’t) around his neck and under his arm like a bandolier.
I am a rationale being, a family man, a law abiding, respected (I think!) and responsive member of society. A cat loving person with two university degrees and membership of a number of learned societies who has demonstrated a capability and willingness to change the odd nappy or two. I am sitting in a hut in rural Swaziland consulting a traditional Sangoma about the case of the missing window frames.

If I pinch myself hard enough I will wake up . . . except I don’t want to!

Friday, 15 November 2013

A Spam Too Far

Where had I got to before – on the verge of blogging when the only traumas were related to spel cheques and to utterly useless help pages with labyrinthine links accessed from blue underlined portals

At that point I had a grand total of one post and from that point on I was hooked. Hooked like an armchair cricketer with a shelf full of Wisdens Cricketer’s Almanac at my elbow completely obsessed with statistics.

I have bored family and cafĂ© life witless with constant updates of the number of “views” my blog has had. The studied off-hand opening gambit of “I’d just like to report that I have had xxx views of my blog” was initially met with genuine interest, then polite interest, then polite barely disguised disinterest, and finally with no interest whatsoever, and latterly I find people have to frantically find the toilet or need to get to the shops ‘before they close’. Even the animals are growing restless with this admittedly daily statistical litany.

But then there is the geography! Blogger, the platform from which this particular post is being “launched” provides information about where in the world views or hits are happening. To alleviate the glazed looks after reports on viewing frequency I do manage to elicit genuine responses when I can say with all honesty. . “and I’ve been read in 51 countries!” “Really?” people say dabbing their eyes to remove the tears of boredom.  “Yes – Bahrain, Belgium, Bolivia, Botswana, and Brazil” I sing out alliteratively.

So after three months, 20 posts and 2,500 hits and a world of a million readers just waiting to be captured I thought I’d got it cracked!

But no I hadn’t. 

It had taken me hours of effort to get to this zenith of success. Hours of heartbreak and tantrums, not to say tears. My newly acquired son-in-law who has proved to be an inexhaustible supply of IT knowledge is, I am sure, questioning the wisdom of marrying into this family; because it is he who has been on the receiving end of wailing and teeth gnashing emails that rail about the vicissitudes of computer-speak.  Evening after evening I sat snorting and snarling at the computer as I engaged with  a whole variety of help pages and forums (for the purist this should surely be fora and I fully agree – but the spel chequer won’t allow it and anyway no one else seems to mind). All this online assistance served only to confuse even further and I tumbled like Alice down one blue-lined and underlined rabbit hole after another, each becoming more foetid then the next with over-information, until I slung out another foul-mouthed and repetitive email distress rocket to the now long suffering and eternally patient son-in-law.

It was round about this time of high anxiety and even higher blood pressure that I discovered that I was reading the word ‘varnish’ on a computer software ‘help’ page, a word that I felt would have been happier in the context of wooden floors and antique furniture. I was so confused that I fled to Wikipedia for intellectual support and protection and was given none. I could not understand the language let alone the explanation. “Now is the time,” I mused, “to say stuff it and stick to what you know and stop trying to be clever.  Just carry on writing and don’t worry about trying to increase audience figures.” And so I did.

Then I discovered a potential measure of success – an indicator of a blog gone right perhaps. An increasing number of bizarre spam messages.

Does this curious and irritating phenomenon happen at a certain threshold of views I wonder? It certainly explains the unusual number of views that I started getting from Poland, Russia and the Ukraine because a number of spams have included hyper links to a variety of web pages with addresses that have no vowels, allude to dodgy pharmaceutical products, and have the telling “pl” and “ru” suffix in the domain names. I appear to have become a vehicle for flogging genuine Louis Vuiton Handbags (genuine - yea right – tell that to Louis), green coffee extract (which sounds faintly poisonous), something to do with self-tantric massage (the mind boggles – in a rather exciting sort of a way), and making a modest income in US dollars from home while being happily encumbered with bumptious toddlers. Other than the extreme annoyance that these advertising bandits are using my space – my effort to hawk someone else’s wares, not even their own mind, someone else’s, I fail to see what possible income there can be derived from posting clearly devious adverts about obviously faux Hermes and Gucci leather products on an intensely passionate (so I would like to believe) piece on the decimation of the world rhino population. No one but a blithering idiot (obviously excluding handbag salespersons) – or a not particularly subtle piece of software could make such an ironic mistake  . . .  but there you have it – nut-shelled and ship-shaped – there is nothing subtle about this business

What characterises these communications is that they are mostly empty folksy comments couched in bland terms designed (I suppose) to fit in with almost any blog posting and supposed to persuade the reader  to open their own innocuous blog which is entitled “health tips and green coffee beans” (green coffee again!)  but actually leads you to an Uzbekistani porno page -  I know because I’ve been there . . . once. Oh and they are all signed by the same nice chap named “Anonymous.”

I recently had a lovely spam, from my old mate Anonymous, which read:-
"We're a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your web site provided us with valuable information to work on. You have done an impressive job and our whole community will be grateful to you. Feel free to visit my web site “Arizona outlet malls"
I was so busy feeling pleased and successful that I almost forget that the posting that Anonymous was referring to was another piece of whimsy about throwing balls for dogs but I do hope that it has added value to their community efforts . . .

So, here I sit after having now been blogging for a little under 10 months. I’ve posted 43 articles of a variety of subjects with an admitted bias towards my cat, mountaineering and trekking, and fat-headed attempts at engagement with the “third world.” The number of hits I have had far exceeds my initial (admittedly low) expectations, and recently the daily hit rate has accelerated. However I have received only 29 "real" comments and a massive 780 or so spam comments - all of which have been filtered out by Blogger - for which I am very grateful! But I wonder to what extent my hard work is being read by real people as against spamming machines?

I blog because I enjoy writing. If I do get comments then it is to an extent a validation of what I have done - which is very nice. I don't think however that I am writing and posting to elicit comments. Broadly the validation of my efforts lies, in my mind, in the number of hits that I have achieved - and it is the uncertainty surrounding those statistics that is exercising my mind.

I don't really mind the hundreds of senseless spam comments that are trying to persuade me to purchase erectile dysfunction cream but it is the implication in my mind that "hits" are in fact "bot-hits" and the thought of that pisses me off!

A last comment from faithful old Anonymous –
“Outstanding post but I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic? I'd be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Appreciate it! Have a look at my blog:- Trying to get pregnant.”  This on a posting about eating snake . . .
What the hell - so long as I can entertain or stimulate real readers the spammers, can as far as I’m concerned all go to hell in a handbag, a dodgy Louis Vuiton one!

What do you think?

Ivan the Spammer, busy at it in his cellar
in Uzbekistan.
With acknowledgement to the late Austin Hleza

Monday, 28 October 2013

Dog Ball – The Basics

For many months, in dog terms that can be translated as “for time immemorial”, there has been a fixed early evening pattern. The Master of the House (a nominal and honorary title) returns from a long day doing whatever the hell he does. He arrives in that big vehicle whose only real use is to transport dogs for walks. He ambles into the house through the kitchen door closely followed – herded if truth be known - by the dogs who dive through the kitchen corridor and lounge and head for the glazed stoep door. If the stoep door is open Seth completes a couple of circumnavigations of the house; stoep – garden – drive – kitchen yard – kitchen – corridor – lounge – stoep, howling like a banshee.
Dog Transporter - with fee paying passengers.
If the stoep door is closed then Seth will sit upright, taught and quivering with anticipation of the door being opened. Hamlet being of a more practical mind will fling himself at the door pulling at the handle. (Unfortunately the door sticks and requires a hefty human kick at the base for it to open. It is only a matter of time before Hamlet solves this by hitting the door in the upright position and simultaneously belting the bottom with both rear paws – and when that happens I’m leaving home because I am of no further practical use.)

Tyke will weave like a badly articulated bratwurst between the other two, fighting to get out first. She is neither big enough to get anywhere near the door handle, nor is she slim enough to sit upright, and she certainly can’t quiver with anything like the grace of the two Collies. She is however solid enough to un-jam the bottom of the door. If only she and Hamlet could work together . . . . and then I really would leave home.

Once the door is opened the two larger dogs take up their positions on the edge of the stoep, Hamlet statuesque, all muscles tensed. Seth equally still, head down but muzzle up, haunches elevated, sprung for action. And Tyke is still hanging on to the swinging cabin hook at the bottom of the door.
"Fetcher" waiting to fetch.
As an aside we once had a fellow consultant staying with us who on opening the stoep door asked what he should do with the “dog attached to the door”. Fair question really. The same consultant did later manage to encourage the dog to slide ignominiously off the slippery edge of the stoep while in pursuit of a torch beam; but this is another story which may also have something to do with snail racing.

So the stage is set – all players seem to be in position, all we await is the first ball to be thrown; and through this tableau strolls Yorick, equally ready for ball. He will shimmy up to both Collies, nuzzle against their quivering legs, walk round them a couple of times, try to push his head against their heads and on receiving no response will give an offhand “purrrp” and sit down between them, waiting for play to commence.
Waiting to start an evening match; expectant
"bringer", distracted "herder", and supremely
bored crowd.

And here I need to explain in detail the rules of Dog Ball.

Ball games in this household are strictly controlled affairs. They have evolved over time, and the rules have stood the tests of time (some would even go so far as to say the testes of time, and if you think about it there is an alliterative and poetic connection – but perhaps this should not be pursued).

  • The “ball” is thrown by a responsible adult (the “chukka)” from the “stoep”.
  • Hamlet and Tyke (the “fetchers” or “bringers”) chase the ball.
  • Seth circles both at great speed making no attempt whatsoever to pick up the ball. He is the “herder”.
  • One of the two ball “fetchers” (or “bringers”) picks up the ball at the “pick-up point” and returns towards the responsible adult – the “chukka”.

And that completes a round, or more accurately a “Ball”, quite a sensible description of the process really – a lot like cricket.

Simple, you may think - but no, it gets more sophisticated.
  • If the ball is picked up by Hamlet he will invariably drop it between the “pick-up point” and the “stoep”. This is known as the “half-way-line”.
  • At this point Tyke will take possession of the ball and in so doing becomes the “bringer” and will, with much asthmatic wheezing, lollop up the steps (the “steps”) of the “stoep” and place the ball at the feet of the “chukka”.
 (This may all be a little too much to assimilate in one reading so you may wish to re-read the preceding rules before you continue.)

The alternative is that
  • Hamlet will not drop the ball at the half-way-line but will bring it all the way to the foot of the steps and in so doing of course changes from “fetcher” to “bringer” as he passes the “half-way-line”.
Moment of uncertainty at the "half-way-line" as to who is
the "fetcher" and who is the "bringer"
This variant only really occurs when Tyke has retired indoors to have a minor asthma attack, and it does involve the “chukka” having to descend the steps of the “stoep” to retrieve the “ball” thus slowing the game down considerably.

It should be stressed that throughout the entire proceedings Seth has continued to herd whoever or whatever is moving at any one time. This “herding” strategy only stops when the ball is either out of play (ie lodged out of mouth-reach in the hedge, the rubber tree, any other bush, or on the roof) or is in the hands of the “chukka”.
Portrait of a "herder" - doing nothing interesting.
After a round (we call this a “lode”) of 10 throws (or there abouts – opinion is divided on the subject) the “chukka” retires to the fridge for another beer and after a short interval and a couple of gulps the game recommences.

Odd but true - no one has ever been known to have kept the score of one of these games, probably because no one has quite worked how to do it.

As can be seen this has developed over time, is bound by certain strategic conventions and has as a consequence cabalistic undertones – it has a lot in common with the human game of balls called “rug-by” but is far far more sophisticated, especially when the cat gets involved (of which more later).

Groundsman aka the "chukka" preparing the field of play
for another Lode of Balls.
Whichever way you look at it – it's a “lode” of “balls”.