Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Posting pictures

Is it just me, or is everyone's blog giving trouble with picture posting. My connection keeps timing out or being re set. what's going wrong?


Just been reading through the current issue (6th October) of the South African Farmers weekly.

In the game section, there is an article entitled “Hyenas: man made predators”, which claims to be based on an article in the net based African Indaba Magazine, by Steve Pope.

I've not had a chance to read Pope's original yet, but have some serious issues with the FW article by Roelof Bezuidenhout.

The thesis of the article is that the left behind carcasses of hunted or culled animals, the un buried carcasses of dead farm animals and scraps or bait put out to attract predators for tourists, have lead to Hyena numbers increasing so rapidly that they are no longer a scavenger, but “by adopting the tactics of African wild dogs, they could now hunt for themselves and could drive a pride of lions off a fresh kill. Hyena cubs, raised in dens, were protected from lions, whereas the greater number of hyenas made it more difficult for lionesses to protect and feed their cubs”

It then goes on to blame the increase of hyena numbers for the decline in Lion, zebra and other game, and ends with:

“how long is it going to be before Logic prevails and effective conservation of Africa's true predators begins”...

“- but only if Hyenas are returned to their original scavenging role through controlled hunting or culling”

First I'll put in my one point of agreement: that leaving carrion around is not a good idea, however my thinking is based on the principle that I don't want predators to associate humans or livestock with food.

I disagree totally with the idea that a hyena was originally a scavenger. Yes it scavenges very efficiently, but:

Define a true scavenger and a true predator; simple, you can't. the roles overlap so much as to be meaningless. Apart from a few precarious specialist niches (such as an ant eater that's toothless jaws form a tube, limiting it to a diet of termites), most animals are opportunist.

The Shetland pony that we were bought as children and was such an evil little bastard that we soon lost interest, took to killing lambs and chewing off the parts it was able to.

Sea birds on the Farne islands off the Northumbrian coast, took to dive bombing the resident bunnies, because the bunnies had started eating chicks.

Take a look at humans for the ultimate in opportunism (we refer to our rival opportunists such as cockroaches, rats mice and foxes as vermin, I think that says something).

Now to the role of the hyena.

Our collective evidence prior to the 1950's is largely from the daytime observations of hunters and the traditional knowledge and mythology of their trackers and porters, some of whom came from cultures that traditionally put out their dead and dying for animals to take.

It is hardly surprising therefore that the hyena was dismissed as the taker of the dead and dying, or a lowly scavenger.

By contrast, the lion was regarded as the king of beasts, and yielded a much more impressive and macho trophy than a hyena's scruffy pelt.

This preconception appears to have continued into the writings of George and Joy Adamson and the writing and films of Armund & Michaella Dennis, and later.

None of this explained why a lowly scavenger should have such a massive cardiovascular system a pack social system, and jaws to rival or exceed those of any predator. true it doesn't have the retractable claws of most cats, but then neither does a cheeter.

It is only since the 1980's that starlight cameras have been used for research, and that appears to show hyenas accounting for a majority of kills, and the noble king of beasts as a bullying thief of carcasses.

To summarise my argument: prior to the 1980's we did not know what went on after lights out, we may have been mis attributing hyena kills to lions.

The hyena is fantastically equipped for life both as a predator (with amazing endurance) and as an opportunist scavenger, and so are lions.

Lion social structures are male dominated, and a new male taking over a pride will kill all the cubs that it can find, to bring the females into heat. The possibility of infanticide within the lion population reducing lion reproductive success does not appear in the reasoning presented in the FW article.

I do not think we have the evidence base to assign the role of predator or scavenger to either, they are both opportunists which are well capable of either role.

I don't think that the scant evidence put forward in the Farmers weekly article does the magazine, hyenas or conservation any favours.

Just as a sideline, spotted hyena social structures are female dominated (all males are subordinate to any female), and, like the spitting image portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, taking a leak standing up, a female spotted hyenas' clitoris forms an erectile tube, of similar size to a male's penis, which it urinates through! I don't know what else it gets up to with it after lights out.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Patty and the Swans…

These were at Musselbrough. I think they were taking on some fresh water before migrating further south. they certainly didn’t seem too upset by humans.

I'll get the photo up when the connection is faster

Don’t fly through a BAA airport (I thought Luanda airport was bad…)

Flying out through Edinburgh, and this (apart from the fat arse in the view) was the size of box hand luggage was supposed to fit into.

A little blonde haired bitch in what looked to be a police uniform (but wasn’t) was enforcing the “law” and said she was just doing her job (echoes of Nuremberg there, it was not the law and it was certainly not enforced at non BAA airports. It was another example of British over reaction…).

I ended up with my laptop in a thin plastic bag meant for news papers, a Nikon D70 and 2 lenses in the map pocket of my coat and my underground helmet complete with light, on my head. My laptop case and camera case had to go as hold baggage through Paris, to Johannesburg (Johannesburg is notorious for lack of security, accountability and stealing from baggage).

Once at Paris, the Air France cabin crew were very good at finding me safe stowage for the breakables, and were totally bemused at the British idea of “security”.

I have to say it again. I think that the whole explosive liquids thing is bull shit, and a distraction thrown up by Blair and Bush.

There might be some truth in “intelligence” coming out of Pakistan, but whether that amounts to more than a bunch of semi literate Pakistani cops kicking the crap out of someone until he was inspired to confess, we will probably never find out.

Whatever happens, that bottle label that said “The Taste Explosion” has a lot to answer for.

A Smith's final resting place

I finally got around to recording an inscription on the back of a tombstone at a now redundant church in North east England. The back reads:

My Anvil and Hammers lies declined

My Bellows have quite lost their wind

My Fires extinct, my Forge Decayed,

My Vice is in the Dust all laid.

My Coals is Spent, my Iron; gone.

My Nails are drove, my Work is done

My mortal part rests nigh this stone

My Soul to heaven I hope is Gone.

On the front, below small carvings of smith’s tools, the main inscription is:

Here lies the body of John Hunter from Black Hedley Woodhouse who departed this life April 10th 1796 aged 86.

The stone is in remarkably good condition after being exposed for 200 years, which is more than can be said for a large mausoleum tomb near it which has had some of the carvings stolen from it. The church is reasonably interesting to, and I’ll just have to go back because I didn’t get the second inscription….

A few of the pleasant points of Britain

It was mushroom season, and a little wood that I know grows excellent boletus edulus, while the mushrooms were cooking Frank the vet and shiela came to visit, bringing Buster.

Buster is a border collie, with more feet than teeth and more teeth than brain cells. He’s about 3 years old, and was not cut out for a life as a sheep dog. He is capable of acts like running full speed into a land-Rover coming at 40MPH towards him, so he’s taken early retirement as a house pet.

Yes, that mushroom season was good, even on the day I flew out, I got enough horse mushrooms to cover the passenger seat in Patty’s car. One of them was dinner plate sized.

Moving the family.

While we had been in enemy territory, the land of the porridge wogs, the fourth world shithole, sorry; Britain, the family had been staying with Gabriella, an ultra organised naturalized Irish of Swiss origin. I don’t know of another person who takes the animals they are looking after for a business into their living room…

So while we packed, the babies stayed with Gabriella.

We made our farewell visit to Dennis & Sandra at The Circle of Friends in Inistioge, payed the rent on the cottage up to the year end and packed the cars.

We picked the beasties up about 4:30am. Gabriella was already up.

After a lot of deliberation, we had booked the slow ferry from Dublin to Holyhead in that Albania to out west, the land of sheep shaggers; Wales, on the basis that with some early gales being likely, it would be less bumpy and more reliable than the fast ferry.

Infact, it was the smoothest crossing that I’ve ever had, and the dogs stayed in the car (they screamed when I tried to put them in the ship’s kennels).

After that it was a long drive up to my folks for an overnight stop, then on to Edinburgh.

The long drive gave a chance to catch up with a few friends, especially Julie (the international business woman - formerly known a Geoffry) .

When we got to the folks, there was a barbecue burning fiercely and some friends had taken a collection of old tractors around. so we ended up with a sociable evening, and the dogs getting to know each other.

During the stay, the animal count went up from 11 to 12.

Hobnob, a mis-shapen wormy little cat with a fantastic temperement had a litter of kittens ready to go, so we grabbed the most adventurous one, a little tom with the same colouring as his mother, and stuffed him into Pissy Puss' bed for the journey.

Pissy Pus is about 8 years old, and we got her as a re home from an American family. She is particularly lazy, and normally won't move from under our bed covers. She is also the sort of cat that would happily put up with being dressed in doll's clothes.

Pissy puss decided that the kitten was the work of the devil, and with one well placed bladder full, got four pillows and the quilt on our bed....

statement made...

For the journey up to Edinburgh, we took the back roads to avoid the speed cameras that are placed anywhere that the main roads are straight enough to overtake.

Big mistake, we had arsehole Scottish drivers cutting in front and breaking hard, then doing a constant 40 MPH (even through the 30 limits), and bike boys intent on doing 100 around the tight corners.

Once we got settled in, we got little Wart Hogg out. The kitten climbed up to see and it was love at first sight - for both. The kitten tried to suckle, ended up washing Wart hogg and then falling asleep cuddled up to her.

Back to the Fourth World; househunting

I'm writing this long after the event, so the key parts stand out.

For the flight in, the heather was still fantastic, the shot shows the area around Hamsterly, between Weardale and Teesdale in the North Pennines. Once on the ground the reality began to sink in.

The airport announcements were in the un-intelligable local lingo (Geordie) and the number of people in traditional local costume (baseball cap, peroxide blonde hair and pink shell suit), made it clear that we were a long way from any form of civilization.

Our lift was on time (and, no jokes, in a Bently) and by mid morning we were running the gauntlet of speed cameras, in an aging Subaru, with leather seats and wobbly steering.

The weather was crap, and only deteriorated after we took our last breath of un-polluted air and crossed the border into enemy territory.

We stopped for some (fresh vegetable free) lunch, north of Jedburough. Patty, who'd been asleep most of the way, complained that she coudn't understand the natives speaking. I re-assured her that understanding what they were saying would be the least of her problems.

On to Edinburgh, and found a hideously expensive B+B with a creepy owner (he wouldn't be out of place in "League of Gentlemen", or "Little Britain"), but it didn't matter, we were knackered so we took the room and went straight to sleep.

What happened over the next few days was worse than we had been expecting, I know looking for rental accomodation with 11 animals in tow is not the easiest, but;

Virtually everyone whose job it was to help us did the oposite, they wasted our time. That goes for estate agents, the people on the accomodation office front desk at the university, rental agents etc.

The people who were helpful were ordinary local people who we asked when we got the chance, bar maids, local farmers, the Post master at West Linton, the lady who produces the parish magazine in Carlops, The owners of the Silver Witches Cattery at Auchindinny....

Of the ones whose job it was to be helpful, Anna, the Factor and Lady Dalmeny at Roseberry estate, I think stand out almost alone.

After a weekend back home we got a call from a really nice couple whom we visited on the monday, and slept in their little cottage that night. It was ideal, forestry on one side, bog on the other and at the end of a dead end lane, with about a mile to the main road.

So, we made a quick trip down to get a flight to dublin, missed it, and payed over the odds for one the next day.

Made the mistake of calling at the office on the way home and ended up spending about 3 hours there, oh well.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dangerous Stuff?

"Caution: Contains: Milk"

I think it speaks for itself and for Britain

Which sad little bastard's career was getting that warning printed the highlight of?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Air Travel Chaos

I'm writing this almost a week after the events. (I feel a bit guilty about writing a blog rather than catching up with Family and Friends).

Finishing on site was a last minute rush, as expected. I was out at 7:00 am taking water samples and purging putrid partially decomposed polymer out of the boreholes.

A young English speaking Angolan guy who I had got some job contacts for and found some temporary work for, asked me what I was going to give him so that he would remember me as his friend. I pretended to mis understand and said something about my email address.

A guy on the flight who I told the story to suggested that I should have given him a black eye. There was something typically south African about that thought...

Check in at the Airport was at 9:30am for a circa 2:00pm flight.

Luanda airport is a real example of socialist ineficiency, when you go in you need to go to a counter and present your passport and flight documents twice Before you join the checkin que.

The little bureaucrat at the first desk told me that I needed to put some bank notes in my passport for the chief, otherwise I would have to que and get my bag searched. I told him I wasn't putting anything in.

After this I have to present my pasport, flight documents and a chit from the first guy before I can join an un labelled que to check in. (it is easy to get the que for the wrong flight).

Following an uneventful check in, I think documents were checked again and a form filled in before proceeding to the immigration desk, which takes about 5 minutes of typing on a keyboard for each person...

Then its on to security. Welcome to no liquids on flights. I Didn't witness it but heard of one man whose expensive aftershave was about to be confiswiped. He slapped a handfull on his own face and passed the bottle back for every other male in the que to do the same.

He need not have worried, it would not have been wasted, I expect it and a lot of other confistolen goods would be for sale on street corners that afternoon...

For some reason, I made it through un scathed, and was not invited into the small room to be searched for Kwanza (the local currency) which is not allowed to be taken out of the country, although i am told that some searchers get a little over enthusiastic and try to take dollars as well.

Next, sit in the departure lounge getting bitten by mosquitoes. there is a better lounge that you can pay to enter, but the basic one has a bar and good coffee, together with a hoard of female airport employees watching the soaps on the TV beside the bar.

Conversation in the lounge is generally good, as the expats begin to relax for the flight. I ended up talking to a man who has opened a small business in Angola with a helpful private partner who actually invested rather than asked to be given 51% of the funds brought in.

Miraculously, he has found good and reasonably priced living accomodation in the city as well. The normal going rate for a decent size house is $15,000 / month with 2 years deposit! No wonder everything else in the city is expensive.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

George to Tony

Sorry to put something political out:

Just Imagine the phonecall;

"Hi Tony? it's Dubya. Listen, I'm in the shit. I need a favour".

"You sound worried, what's happened?"

"A baaaaad pole."

"What, a migrant worker, but they're good for the econom...."

"No you asshole! opinion pole! There's a majority against us be-in in Eye-Rack. We've got to sway em. Listen, you got any suckers ready for the big one?"

"Loads, you know me, always got a supply of diversions...

What can I tempt you with? I've got a group in Luton with incediary turbans, a couple in Bolton with armor piercing sandals, an Indian takeaway in Kiveton Park serving botulism vindaloo, and some headbangers outside London with anti aircraft soda pop then..."

"át's a boy Tony, Anti Aircraft sodie pop... You good for Thurrrrsday?"

"Come on George, you can count on me, you know you can! Nothing like a bit of hardship to bring out that "Battle of Britain Spirit". I've a few comittees ready for chairmen, so the airline chiefs won't get too upset, and it's a great way to get a few more laws through and some bad news out when everyone's looking the other way".

"Tone, You just saved our retirement fund!"

Monday, August 07, 2006

The countdown has started

I'm flying out Saturday, so should be back home Sunday afternoon.

The drillers are at 30m on the last 45m deep hole, so should finish tomorrow, then they have a standpipe to put in and another hole to clean out for a water monitoring installation.

For me, there's logging of the samples, another half metre diameter auger hole should go in this afternoon (I'll get a picture of that up later), and there is some surveying to do.

After that it's paperwork.

Another thing that I will try to post about later (if the photo's look good enough) is the locals on the site with the AK slinging guards, fighting over scrap tin sheets from the old fence.

It shows the level of poverty among people who are willing to go out and try to better their living conditions.

There but for the grace of God...

Thursday, August 03, 2006


It looks like being a week Saturday before I fly out. Not good!

I don't know how other people cope with their working away. My technique is a compartmentalised mind, when I'm in one compartment, I can't see the others. It´s a bit like sitting in a cubicle in a big open office. Occasionally I hear something and stand up. then I can see the rest of my life; Patty, our home, and the little ones in it. Suddenly the cubicle is not important.

My house mates say that I'm mad for coming over here so soon after getting married. I aggree.

Time to forget about stinking sites in the third world and nerdy thoughts about gun's innards. time for some family life, before we all de-camp for Scotland. Trouble is it'll be another 10 days or so before I get home.

Just one outstanding thing from today: I found out that the young lady who has been temping here, has got herself a permenant post:

She'll be sitting in the same small room at the same office at the other end of town, that I worked in for a couple of months earlier this year.

It´s a small world. Terry Pratchet is right, there are only 40 real people in it, which is why our paths keep crossing.

Just looking forward to mine and Patty´s crossing again.