Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rumours of Mrs Pig's death may have been greatly exaggerated


Around the time of Mrs Blog's significant birthday, back in November, there was a very portly, very pregnant warthog who did a good job of keeping the grass down outside the Pretoriuskop fence.

Mrs Pig, as we named her, was eating for several - five including herself, as it turned out. Warthogs can be a bit fussy sometimes, getting down on their front knees to root about in the dirt for tubors (whatever a tubor is), but this was a pig on a mission. She hoovered up everthing in her path - grass, weeds, plants, small creatures, and even the mess left over after a particularly messy night on the drink at the Blog campsite. Enough said about that. (Note, though, Legion of Fans, that Mrs B and I do not deliberately feed any birds or animals in the Kruger Park).

With impressive timing Mrs P gave birth to a litter of four exceptionally cute hoglets just in time for the Australian invasion, in which 21 people arrived in Africa for Mrs B's birthday.

She (Mrs Pig, not Mrs Blog) was living in a drainage culvert just up the road from the camp, near the turn off to Skukuza, and was regularly spotted by our guests, proudly posing with her porky brood.

Imagine, then , LOF, the horror when Pat the national parks night drive guide let slip in front of the entire party of Australians that a leopard had been seen outside the Pig House and that Mrs Pig had not been seen for some time.

Consensus around the camp, for days after, was that Mrs Pig had gone to all that fattening effort solely to provide an early Christmas dinner for Mr Leopard.

However, on Christmas Day, 2007, as Mrs Blog and I strung our hammocks between trees at the Pretoriuskop swimming pool and popped open a celebratory beer or two a group of young African boys pointed to the fence and said "Look. A pig."

In fact, not just one warthog, but four. A portly mother pig, who looked remarkably familiar, and three little piglets who looked about a month old.

One piglet might not have made it - sad, but not unusual - or it could have been a completely different Mrs Pig.

The next day, this Mrs Pig and her little ones entered the camp via the revolving gate in the fence that separates the main part of the camp from a path leading to the staff village outside. The revolving gate was designed to keep animals out, but pigs, so I'm told, are clever animals.

A smartly-uniformed national parks desk wallah sidled up to me while I was taking a picture of the warthog and her babies, and said to me: "Be careful, these things are very dangerous. She may charge at any moment, to protect her piglets."

I knew that, technically, he was right, though Mrs Pig had never struck me as the aggressive, tourist-killing type.

She obviously knew we were talking about her, however, because she squared up, right then and there. She tossed her head imperiously and took three steps towards us. The office Johnny turned and took three back, before peeking over my shoulder.

What happened to "don't run", "don't turn your back", and "don't show fear" I wondered? I sincerely hoped we didn't come across Mr Leopard.

But then I took another look at those stubby tusks, that knobbly head, and what might just have been a killer gleam in her beady eye.

I was about to take a step back myself, but a green-uniformed field ranger armed with a catapult appeared on the scene, much to the relief of his pig-shy colleague. The ranger had been out deterring monkeys with his catapult and a bag of stones, but the warthog knew she had met her match.

She gathered her porkettes and the four of them trotted off down the fence line, tails raised like aerials, until she came to the revolving gate and barged her way through.

A pig that's smart enough to tell desk jockeys from bush rangers, and to teach her babies how to open an animal-proof gate is smart enough to save herself and three piglets from a leopard, I reckon.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

'Tis the season...


...to stick beer cans up chickens' bums!
Ho ho ho. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all, Legion of Fans, and obscure googlers. Life is good here in the Kruger National Park during the festive season - unless you're a chicken, of course.
Long-term readers and that man who googled "braaing chicken with beer can" (site meter is such a good way to spy on you all) will recall that while I am not the inventer of the Beer Can Chicken recipe, I am one of its strongest advocates.
So it was with utter glee that I found on a recent shopping trip to my most favourite shop in the world, Outdoor Warehouse, a magnificent new South African invention called the Beer Bird.
The Beer Bird takes all the hassle out of beer can chicken cooking. Not that i's actually a very stress-free way to roast a chook. The recipe is simple: take one chicken, take one can of beer, take two big sips out of can, insert can in chicken's orifice, stand on braai (barbie) grill, cover with cardboard box lined with tin foil (and punch four holes in the box top); wait one hour and eat perfect roast chicken.
Only two things can go wrong with beer can chicken, LOF - and both happened to me during the early trials.
Firstly, the cardboard box can catch fire. This occurs if there is insufficient tinfoil covering the exposed bits. Not good, LOF, not good.
The Beer Bird can't stop that happening, but it does eliniminate, completely, the other risk associated with cooking a chicken this way - the bird falling over. It's not easy to balance on a hot grill for an hour with a can stuck up your bum (try it some time... you'll see what I mean).
The beer bird is a welded metal contraption designed to hold the can of beer upright. The chicken is wedged down securely on the tin and can't go anywhere. Handy carrying handles allow the bird to be positioned and removed with the greatest of ease.
My picture doesn't do the gadget justice, so you may wish to visit the official Beer Bird Website for more information.
The Beer Bird also comes with a recipe book and way too many fowl jokes. Like this one:
Q: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
A: Neither. The rooster did.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Book without end

(Warning: This post contains a long, boring book review, almost as long as the book being reviewed. Does, however, contain coarse language, sexual references and Lesbian scenes.)

"What do you read?" is one of the questions I always get asked when I'm being interviewed about my books.

I always plug my very good friends Peter Watt and David A. Rollins, because I do read their books and enjoy them very much, and because they're published by my very, very good friends Pan Macmillan. If I was a chick, I would say that I read books by my other very good friend (and one of a select, tiny group of people who can drink Mrs Blog under the table) Di Blacklock.

When it comes to international authors I always list Nelson De Mille (who may very well be the best thriller writer in the world), Bernard Cornwell (he of the Sharpe books), and Ken Follett.

Ken Follett also happens to be published by Macmillan and so it was with much fanfare that my Grace Kelly (when-alive and young) lookalike publisher, C, presented Mrs B and I with a signed copy of Kenny's new book, World Without End, for Mrs B's recent birthday.

I was stoked, Legion of Fans (mine, not Ken's in case any of you have found your way here. Ken has enough fans - millions of you, in fact - while I have only four, but I cherish you all, dearly). I have read every book Ken Follett has ever written - even the old ones that were re-published after he became famous.

World Without End - for those of you who have just been born or are suffering from alzheimers - is the long-awaited sequel to Pillars of the Earth.

Pillars of the Earth was an internatioanl besteller and I, along with millions of other people, read it. I loved it. I remember being engrossed in it, unable to put it down for the days and days it took me to read. It was a huge book and I am a slow reader, but that just made it more fun. It seemed like it would never end, and I didn't want it to.

But I can't remember a word of it.

I'm not saying this in a bad way. Sure, I know it was about this bunch of geezers who built a church, but that's it. That's all I can recall of it. It didn't change my life or force me to reconsider my values or beliefs, and it didn't move me to tears (few things do - not like, say, "Flaming Star", the only Elvis Pesley movie in which the King dies).

Now, there could be a few reasons why this is so. Perhaps I'm suffering alcohol-related brain damage or the early onset of old-timer's disease. Perhaps it doesn't matter that I can remember little of a book I read 10 or maybe 15 years ago - I can't remember.

What I did recall, something I think I'd forgotten, but which came back to me while reading Word Without End over the last week or so, was that Ken Follett is The Man.

It's writers like him that made me want to write. So blame him. What a gift it is to be able to create a whole world out of thin air. To breathe life into people who have never and will never exist, and have a reader - a real person - so engrossed in their day-to-day lives that they forget their own. I want to be able to write like that when I grown up.

I've hardly said a word to Mrs Blog this past week, and the experience of reading World Without End has left me feeling mildly depressed (oh, no... warning - this has finally become one of those self absorbed, wallowing-in-self-pity blogs!).

Why am I depressed? Firstly, because it's over.

To tell you the truth, apart from the onset of the Bubonic Plague, not a lot happens to the good citizens of Kingsbride, who make up the cast of this book. They're the descendents of the original characters in Pillars of the Earth. This tale is partly about the building of a bridge, as opposed to a cathedral, but, of course, the real guts of it are the daily lives, loves and struggles of the characters.

Central to the plot is the on-again, off-again romance of Caris (a small but perfeclty formed spunk rat who morphs from merchant's daughter to merchant to nun in the book), and Merthin, an apprentice chippie who becomes the greatest architect in medieval England. Will they or won't they get together iin the end? I won't spoil the ending, but, hey, it's a Ken Follett book.

There's a beastly Nobleman (Follett is a well known lefty and there's always an element of evil aristocracy subverting poor but honest peasants in his books); a peasant girl who's besotted with a farm boy who loves someone else; and an assortment off greedy, self-serving Monks who are all try one-up and up-one another over the years the story takes place.

Ken Follett's greatest achievement in the world of literature has been the popularisation of the Lesbian scene and the threesome in mainstream fiction (ie the kind you can buy sans brown paper bag).

In the Key to Rebecca the plucky heroine turns the course of the war in North Africa by diverting a German spy (played, incidentally by David Soul of Starsky and Hutch fame in the minis series) by getting it on with him and his belly dancer girlfriend at the same time

Ken had quite a name for a while there, mid-career, as the king of naughty bits in fiction. The high point (or low point, depending on your point of view) was Lie Down With Lions, which was set in Afghanistan in the early 80s against the back drop of the Russian invasion. There was lots of inappropriate and graphic behaviour between the leading characters, but it was also such an in-depth, erudite, informative work on the history of Aghanistan and its people that it was still an incredibly popular book when I was serving in Afghanistan with the Australian Army in 2002. I can, in fact, recall my good friend Herr Doktor, telling me what an interesting read it was as he sauntered off to the Portaloo with a well-thumbed copy under his arm.

Mr F has, I'm afraid to say, either decided (or been told) to clean up his act as it were, and his more recent books have contained far less gratuitous and descriptive sex than his older ones. (Kenny, I can sympathise, mate. C is always telling me I have too many Lesbian scenes in my books, which is why none of them never make it to publication).

Having said that, there was a welcome return of the same-sex scene - chicks, of course - in 'Jackdaws', and I can reveal that World Without End does contain the odd Sister act in the nunnery.

However, not much happens to the characters, apart from the odd bit of rumpy pumpy and the loss of many of them to the plague, but it was just so pleasant being a part of their lives for the past week that I am now actually very sorry I had to leave.

Follett says of his own writing that he never wants a reader to have to read one of his sentences twice to understand it. I think that's quite lovely and it's why I like reading his books. He lays out the complicated nature of human life so simply and clearly - in his prose - that it's impossible not to understnd what's going on in these people's heads and to feel their pain and joy with them.

It's like a really good soap opera - if such a thing exists. Not a lot happens, but you still can't wait to find out what's going to happen next.

If I had to find a fault with World Without End it would be the length. Like this review, everything that needed to be said could have been said in about a third of the space it takes. At more than 1,100 pages it is about as long as three Tony Park books, which is probably why it took Ken so long to write it.

However, I don't really see it as a fault, as - and I know I'm repeating myself - I enjoyed getting lost it in. I'm goofing off (errr, I mean researching and writing) in Africa, so I have the time to laze about and reach more than a thousand pages of fiction, but I might not have been so enthralled if I was reading 10 pages a day on the 8.17am train from Chatswood to Sydney.

Caris and Merthin almost get together three or four times in the book. Ralph the wicked nobleman almost gets it in the neck three or four times, and the evil Monks almost get their comeuppance three or four times. The truth is, the book could have ended at pages 300 or 600 or 900 instead of 1100.

But, I didn't want it to.

But all good things, and even mediocre things, like this review, and the world, I suppose, must come to an end some time. And here we are.

Oh, and the second reason why I'm depressed?

I've still got about 100 pages of my current book to write and it's not easy - damn hard, at times, in fact - to invent a parrallel universe populated with characters who will so engage people that they can't live without them, and hope and wish they would go on for ever. Not easy at all.

Well done, Mr F.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ein Einsamer Tod...


(Warning: This post contains a good deal of shameless self promotion)

Ein Einsamer Tod (once more for the search engines) is, for those like me who can speak only one language, "A Loney Death" in German.

It's also the poignant new title for "African Sky", in the guise of its German translation. It's just been published and released in Germany by my new very good friends, Random House, Germany.

So, wilkommen German googlers, if you're out there.


I met an interesting pair of Germans in Zimbabwe a few years ago - a couple who had cycled all the way from Cape Town, via Namibia, to Zim. When they arrived in Hwange National Park they were told they couldn't go game viewing on their bicycles (meals on wheels and all that). Disappointed, they sat at the entry gate to the park, trying to hitch hike on to a game drive. I stopped and offered to take them, but warned them it would be very uncomfortable for them to sit in the back of the Land Rover on the bare wheel arches. "We have cycled from Capte Town," said the guy; "we have very tough backsides".

So far my books have been published in Holland, Italy, Latvia (note to Latvian publisher: still waiting for that limited edition Latvian copy of Zambezi), the UK, and, now, Germany. There is a Czech Republic deal in the wind as well, which I believe I have already mentioned on the blog. They're also distributed in New Zealand and, of course, in South Africa, where African Sky recently rocketed to nunber 2 (OK, only in once bookshop, but I'm still chuffed).

Interestingly, African Sky, which mentions The War (the big one - WWII), has had the most take-up overseas.

I've been told by my charming, witty, Grace Kelly-lookalike (when Grance was alive, that is, in her Hollywood heyday) publisher, C, that I should get out more and promote myself, so expect to see me in a library, bibliotek, or bookstore, or on a street corner wearing a sanwich board near you in 2008.

My early New Year's resolution is to become rich enough to only ever fly business class (for the leg room, as well as the food); to stay in Tinga (there's that name again) Private Game Lodge whenever the mood takes me; and to get Tonka's engine reconditioned.

So, do me and my long legs and my old Land Rover a favour, Legion of Fans. Tell a friend, or, better yet, buy a friend a copy of Safari, or 'Ein Einsamer Tod', or Zambezi, or African Sky, or Il Respiro Della Savanna, or Far Horizon for Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Chalk one up to the good guys...

And just to prove to you that truth is actually more interesting (and gritty) than even Tony Park fiction, here's an extract from a South African National Parks media release about a fire fight that happened not far from us, yesterday:



Kruger National Park (KNP) rangers and operators from South African National Parks (SANParks) Corporate Investigation Services (CIS) shot and killed a poacher during a skirmish in the early hours of this morning (Friday December 14, 2007).

The incident happened shortly after midnight when a group of poachers walked into a KNP ranger patrol in the Stolsnek Section of the KNP.

In the resulting fire-fight, one of the poachers was killed and follow up operations are being conducted in the area in concert with the South African Police Service (SAPS) in an attempt to find the rest of the group.

Rangers from Stolsnek Ranger Post and the CIS special operations team have been extensively patrolling the area after two rhino carcasses were found in the area two weeks ago.

Various weapons, including a highly modified hunting rifle and a home-made shotgun, spotlights and camouflaged uniforms have been confiscated.

The shooting incident is being investigated further by the SAPS.

Stolsnek Ranger Section is in the South Western area of the park between Pretoriuskop and Berg-en-Dal rest camps.



(We're staying in Pretoriuskop Camp)

Hooah.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Off-road etiquette



Someone once said that the definintion of good taste is someone who knows how to play the piano accordian, but chooses not to.

In the African context, it would be owning a pair of sandals and a pair of socks, but choosing not to wear them together, or having the right to drive off-road in a national park, but choosing not to do so at every opportunity.

And so, Legion of Fans, we segwe ever so slowly towards yet another plug for Tinga Luxury Safari Lodge, located in the Kruger National Park on the banks of the Sabie River.

The definition of stupidiy, LOF, is the blogger who frantically reaches for his spare digital camera flash card, mid-way through shooting pictures of a pride of lions, and finds that he has forgotten to download the pictures off the spare card!

However, it's an ill wind that blows no good and when I got around to downloading the old photos I found they were from our recent stay at Tinga, which was, up until that moment, fading to a dim memory in my old man's mind.

But back to good taste and responsible driving in the national park. On the day the pictures in this post were taken a pack of Painted Hunting Dogs (aka wild dogs) had chased a young leopard up a tree, near the access road to Tinga Narina Lodge (there are two Tinga Lodges, Narina and Legends). The leopard would have been about 100 metres off the road, I guess, surrounded by 17 dogs, who were yapping, playing and generally having an excellent time chasing each other and harrassing said leopard.


We arrived on the scene with our guide, Mr Q, who is, in fact, the head guide at Tinga. Two other Tinga vehciles were already there, watching the leopard and the dogs interact, from the road.

Tinga occupies a private concession insie the boundary of Kruger, and unlike what goes on in the the rest of the park, the guides are allowed to drive their vehicles off road within the concession lands, in order to get a better view of a game sighting - ie: they can't just bundu (bush) bash on spec, hoping to stumble on (or not run over) something.

Mr Q (that's not him in the picture at the top of the post) decided to take us a little way in off the road - about 50 metres or so - just close enough so that trees and bushes weren't obscuring our view of the leopard in the tree. If he'd driven too close the dogs might have run off. This would have allowed the leopard to escape, possibly, but that wasn't our call, as humans, to make.

Once we'd taken our fill of flash cards we backed out and the next Tinga vehicle moved in to take our place. It was all done in a thorougly orderly and well-managed way.

Mrs B and I have been lucky enough to stay at a couple of other private game reserves, in South Africa and Zambia, and I wish I could report that all of the drivers are as responible. In one, we followed a clearly stressed leopard for some distance through the bush (I think the guide just thought we were being polite when we said; "no, really, that's enough, let's go back to the road"). In another, the driver not only went off road, but parked underneath a leopard in a tree, no more than five foot below it. It was thrilling, of course - possibly dangerous - but the thing that got me afterwards was that it really was an invasion of this animal's personal space.

How much do you hate it when someone bends into your face, blowing booze, spittle and garlic all over you at a Christmas party? Know what I mean?

I hate those pictures you see from time to time of the Masai Mara and the Serengeti - some poor old lion or cheetah encircled by zebra-striped Kombis, or their indelible wheel ruts.

In the case of the Painted Dogs, we didn't have to follow them any distance, as they came to us, like the curious puppies they are.

The other interesting thing we saw on a drive with Mr Q was the Umfeleni Pride of lions (Unfeleni means water in Shangaan), so named because they live along the banks of the Sabie River. Sabie means fear, and there are plenty of scary things in and around the river - not to metnion the lions themselves.

We saw them a few times during our stay at Tinga, but the most memorable moment was when this HUGE flatdog (crocodile) approached through the water, close to the shore. The pride had been reclining on a grassy river bank, but the boss lioness (there are four adult lionesses and four juviles in the pride, from memory) was on her paws in flash as soon as she spotted the croc. Her siblings and children and neices and nephews all joined her on the shoreline to watch as the prehistoric-looking reptile motored by.

You don't have to go to a luxury private game lodge to see fascinating things in Africa, but sometimes being that little bit closer helps. But like piano accordian music, less is usually best.

This morning's drive in Kruger...




Sometimes only a giraffe will do

Saturday, December 08, 2007

We have a winner - TWO in fact!

Ladies and Gentleman, boys and girls, raise your glasses to Herr Doktor (a distinguished veteran of several military excursions and one of the few people who can drink me under the table), and Crookedpaw, fellow blogger and book reviewer, who both leapt on the buy-some-books-and-help-lock-up-a-poacher offer.

I was only going to sell off one set of four books to help raise money for the SAVE the Rhino's Imire game reserve appeal, but, big softy that I am, I will now be donating $160 - the proceeds of the sale of two sets of my books to Crookedpaw and the good Doktor.

Thanks, guys for your quick reply, and to Ali G and Bubu who I have also learned made a significant donation to the appeal.

For the latecomers, SAVE is helping raise reward money, which will be used to try and catch a gang of poachers who killed three black rhino at Imire Game Reserve recently.

Herr Doktor and Crookedpaw, the remaining rhinos of Africa thank you, as do I.

Herr Dok, I will email you. Crookedpaw, can you please email me at: mail @ tonypark.net (with no spaces) and I'll give you details on how to pay.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Help give a rhino poacher a bad Christmas...

Due my technical inability, the post I wanted to post today about my special cheap-books-for-Christmas offer - which will raise money for a reward fund to catch some rhino poachers - has appeared two posts down, under a December 5 dateline (the date I drafted it).

So, scroll down for the offer of the year and help in the fight against rhino poaching!

Hurry - this offer won't last.

Raise a glass of Windhoek to... Windhoek

In honour of my loyal, if somewhat neglected Namibian fans, (that's you, anonymous) if you click here you can read a story I wrote for the London Daily Telegraph about Namibia's charming capital and excellent beer, both named Windhoek.

Cheers (or is that, prost?)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I've got camping to do...


(Warning:'s this post contains toilet humour)

Some unkind people (lots, in fact) occasionally (OK, often) ask me: "What exactly DOES Mrs Blog do all day in Africa while you're writing your next Number 2 (in Exclusive Books, O.R. Tambo International Airport) bestseller, Mr Blog?"

Hmmm.

Good question. She does not, despite the impression the above picture may give, spend all day snoozing in her hammock. No, Legion of Fans, that's Mrs B passed out, overcome with exhaustion, after a hard day's camping.

Camping is not all toasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories around the fire, LOF (in fact, I've never toasted marshmallows or told a ghost story in my life). It's hard work. Damn hard work.

OK... I may be exaggerating slightly, but the simple fact is that the simple act of living takes twice as long (or more) when you're living under canvas (or polypropylene, as we do).

As I type this, the industrious Mrs B is opening the door of the tent. In a house, one turns a knob and the door opens. Right now, the small but perfectly formed Mrs B is working her little biceps out big-time, trying to roll up the front flap of the tent. Next, she's standing on tippy toes trying to secure it. This whole action has taken two minutes and 23 seconds. That is, in fact, two minutes and 22 seconds longer than the equivalent action would have taken in a house or flat.

She is (bless her giraffe pattern socks) now serving me breakfast - a toasted sandwich from the Pretoriuskop Takeaway shop. Back in the wide brown land (Australia) she would pop two pieces of bread in the toaster and push down the thingy. Hey presto, toast in a matter of seconds. Here, she had to walk through the rain to the shop, some 300 metres away, queue, repeat herself twice so the African lady behind the cash register could understand her Australian accent (or, as I'm not there, perhaps talk in her posh faux Zimbabwean madam accent that I constantly chide her about) and wait for the slow but perfectly formed sandwich to be produced. She must then trudge back through the herd of impalas and their babies, fight off rampaging vervet monkies, sidestep the pack of dwarf mongoose that currently infests the campsite, talk to the neighbours about the weather and animals we have spotted on our respective game drives, and, finally, unzip the flyscreen.

Phew! I'm tired just thinking about it, and all I've done is sit here blogging (while pretending to write my new Number 2 besteller).

And don't even think about the romantic notion of toasting bread on the camp fire. If your camping experience is limited to one wet Easter weekend on the New South Wales south coast per year, then standing around a smoky fire in soggy clothes drying out a wet slice of Tip Top Low GI-Plus might be fun, but try doing it every day and the novelty will soon wear off.

I've even given up barbequeing (braaiing for the RSA residents among us) with wood. It takes an hour to burn a pile of wood down to useable coals and here in southern Africa you are either deforesting the country of native hardwood or (worse) having to use store-bought "Alien Invader" firewood (wattle and other non-indigenous species of tree which are quite rightly being eradicated, but have the cooking longevity and intensity of burning wet cardboard).

Lest you all think I am a lazy slob who is waited upon hand and foot, I can assure you that I, too, have a list of camping chores as long as a guy rope to complete every day. Dig that rain trench; fill that Land Rover gearbox with oil; lift that charcoal; tote that bail; get a little drunk and land in jail - yes, LOF, it's hard work living the life of the grey-templed nomad.

But what, I hear you ask, of the toilet humour? (And we take a break to welcome you random googlers - shame on you). Like I said, everything, even the most basic of human functions, takes longer when camping. There is the long walk to the ablution block for a shower, and the even longer walk back when you realise you've forgotten your soap or towel or shirt; or some Kiwi backpacker has stolen the toilet paper and you need to go to the loo.

There is the queue for the shower when the three young siblings from one family take over all the cubicles and insist on singing and throwing wet underpants at each other over the walls or, worse, when the overland truck of dishevelled dreadlocked backpackers arrives from Mali and the occupants get their first taste of hot water in three months (or, as famously happened to Mrs Blog one day, two female backpackers decide to take a LONG shower TOGETHER!).

There is a little secret, however, known only to long-term campers. I feel guilty even mentioning it, but those of you who have spent more than one night in the bush will know what I mean if incline my head slightly, raise an eyebrow, and then nod towards....

The bucket.

The rule about the bucket is as simple as it is inflexible. You use it - you clean it. So, those minutes saved in the middle of the night will be stripped back from you tenfold the next day and you will pay, dearly LOF, for those few brief moments of blissful relief.

Why not use a tree, I hear Ali G ask? Acceptable, in moderation (you don't want to use the same tree for 28 days in a row, believe me), but the moment you find that darkly shadowed spot, away from the tent, will be the precise moment the six-year-olds from next door's caravan decide it's time to go spotlighting for wild animals along the camp fence. No, far too much explaining to do and potential for criminal conviction if one goes down the tree root (pun intended).

Our young-ish friend Jane, aged 23-and-a-bit, was exposed to the rigours of camping at the tail end of the recent Mrs Blog Birthday Festival. She stayed with us for three nights - the longest time she'd spent out in the woods ever, and the first since a Year 9 School excursion (which she was still young enough to remember) during which there was, apparently, some marshmallow toasting.

She found, as we know, that it's hard work, but rewarding, in a masochistic sort of way. She learned to make a fire with charcoal (and ended up looking like Beyonce); posed with a hammer in her hand poised over a tent peg for a photo opportunity; discovered to her immense relief that there was a power point for her hair dryer in the ladies' ablution block; and fell asleep outdoors, on the grass, in the rain, during a party in the camp ground (so overcome was she with the serious work of camping).

In fact, she coined a lovely phrase that I intend to use lots in the years to come. When phoning her family back home in Australia to recount her cooking/tent pegging/hair drying escapades she signed off the call, with a degree of earnest urgency, as follows: "Gotta go, I've got camping to do".

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

SPECIAL OFFER! Help nail some poachers and get cheap (signed) books for Christmas

Step right up, Legion of Fans, for the win-win of the festive season.

Here's your chance to knock over a sizeable chunk of your Christmas shopping and help catch a gang of rhino poachers in the process,

Attentive readers will recall that I am speaking at the SAVE (NSW branch) fundraising dinner dance on February 9 at the Hunters Hill Sailing Club and that tickets are AUD$80 per head.

The organisers have said I don't have to pay, but I think that I should kick in 80 bucks of my own, don't you?

SAVE is currently helping to raise reward money which will be used to try and track down the gang of poachers who killed three adult black rhinos at Imire Game Reserve in Zimbabwe recently. Imire is run by friends of friends of ours and they've done great work in the past breeding these endangered creatures. There's a full report on what happend at Imire, and details of how to contribute direct to the reward fund here.

And now for my Christmas anti-poaching deal...

I'm offering one full set of all four of my books, signed, for AUD$80, posted anywhere in the world (at my expense). That's right, LOF, four books - Far Horizon, Zambezi, African Sky, and Safari, for 80 aussie dollars, nothing more to pay. (It'll be the small paperback versions of the first three and the big paperback of SAFARI, but it's still a cheap deal, believe me!).

I'll then give that $80 straight to the SAVE people for the Imire reward money fund - every red cent of it.

This offer is not open to relatives by blood or marriage. Why? Because I said so, that's why.

First person to post a comment, claiming the offer, gets the complete set of books for $80. You can pay me via paypal through my website or cash in small denomination unmarked bills.

Whatever happens, (even if none of you cheapskates take up this generous offer) I'll still kick in the $80, so why not join the hunt for the bastards who killed the Imire rhinos (and get a stack of books for all those relatives you don't really like, but have to buy presents for).

Let's help give these tsotsis a Christmas they'll never forget.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Big head

I have a big head, Legion of Fans. Size 58, in fact.

It's so big that I have trouble finding hats to fit me. As a young soldier, my army-issue kevlar helmet was so big that it looked like Darth Vader's headdress. When I parachuted, I never worried that my 'chute wouldn't open, as the wind resistance from my helmet would have slowed me enough.

Here's me and my big head (so big, in fact, Mrs Blog couldn't get it all in the frame) at my new most favourite bookshop, Exclusive Books in O.R. Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, where, as you can see, the small paperback version of African Sky was number three in their top 10, when I passed through the terminal on my way to Mozambique recently.

As if my head wasn't big enough already, my charming, well-read, witty, glamorous, single publisher, C, who had joined us in Africa for Mrs Blog's birthday, reported the other day that when she passed through the airport African Sky had climbed to number two.

So, watch your back, John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell, the good people of South Africa and several overseas tourists (and, probably, a few of my relatives), are voting with their wallets.

To Tish, the lady on the plane from Mozambique who had also bought African Sky, and everyone else who has bought one or more of my books, I'd just like to say a very big (headed) thank you.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Ola!


Which is to say, g'day (or howzit) in Portuguese.

Mrs Blog and I have just returned to home base in Pretoriuskop Camp, Kruger National Park, after a four-day sojourn to Mozambique in search of inspiration (for book 6), sun, prawns and different brands of beer. I can report we were successful on all fronts. I'm inspired, sun-burned, stuffed to the gunwales with seafood and several kilos heavier thanks to 500ml cans of various local brews (a very sensible quantity for any beverage in Africa and much better than South Africa, where a paltry 340ml is the norm).

We decided to fly from Johannesburg to Vilanculos, the closest airport to the Bazaruto Archipelago, rather than drive Tonka there because... well, becaused we couldn't be arsed driving 1000km. Better, we reasoned, to spend more of our remaining time in Africa chilling in Kruger and watching animals than driving vast distances on bad roads at 75kph.

It was quite the international-leisure-set thing to do, flying into Mozambique, although our well-heeled, well-dressed fellow passengers all seemed to be jumping on transfers out to luxury resorts on the beautiful islands of the archipelago once we arrived at the grandiosley-named Vilankulo International Airport (in reality a bumpy strip with a WWII-style air traffic control bunker), unlike us, who stayed in a B&B in Vilanculos.

Actually, Pameiros Lodge, where we stayed, was much nicer than it looked on the internet. Nice gardens, spotlessly clean, and well-run by some Zimabwean expats, it was situated just across the dirt track from the beach.

Vilanculos copped a pasting from cyclone Fabio earlier this year and the whole town is looking a bit the worse for wear. Palmeiros lodge is ship shape again, though its eponymous palms all look like they've had a lop-sided haircut.

The town - like most of Mozambique -is a mix of tumble-down thatched huts and gutted concrete hulks of old Portuguese colonial beach villas and hotels. An interesting place to hang out and research a novel, but you wouldn't want to spend much longer on the mainland than the four days we did.

Far nicer, Legion of Fans, are the islands that make up the Bazaruto Marine National Park, so we took a dhow trip out for the day to the nearest, Magaruque.



Now we were talking, LOF... azure waters, squeaky white sandy beaches, reefs teeming with those stripey fish we used to have in the fish tank when I was a kid, jovial crewmen working their rippling ebony muscles (with apoligies to Mr W Smith) hoisting the stiched and tattered sail, cold Dois M beers in the sun. You get the picture.



Noice.

We snorkelled along the rocky reef, or rather caught passing glimpses of fish as the fierce current whisked us past the shore.

Ye olde dhow was pretty cool, too - especially the sand-filled wooden box in the middle, reinforced with rusting corrugated iron, in which the crew made a fire to brew tea and cook fish steaks for lunch!



The next day it rained - all day - which was, actually, quite nice, as Mrs B and I did nothing but sleep and read. It was, dare I say it, like being on holiday.

Over the four days we spent a fiar bit of time in an atmospherically-stark bar called Smugglers, which was full of rum characters and piratical old salts. Without giving away too much about book six, this was also a very handy spot for research. Expect to see the seafood platter, with a lobster the size of a small dugong, feature in the book.

Other than going out to one or more of the islands, there wasn't a lot to do in Vilanculos. Mrs B and I are pretty much over the whole backpacker thing, so I couldn't see much point in visiting the local market (African markets are all pretty much alike - tomatoes, sunlight soap and over-sized bras).

It was much nicer, in fact, to do nothing at all for a few days.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Gone fish(eat)ing

Mr and Mrs Blog are currently hard at work in Mozambique, researching sand, sun, water, seafood and local beers for book six.

More blogging when we return to the world of reasonable internet connections, next week.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In the lap of luxury


Wrinkled, Legion of Fans (LOF), is what Mrs Blog and I were after two days in the luxurious Tinga Legends private safari lodge.

If we weren't in the beautiful infinity pool watching animals across the Sabie River we were in the bubble bath sipping champagne (laid on by the lodge for Mrs B's birthday); cleansing ourselves in the double shower; or taking port and coffee under the stars in our own private heated plunge pool on the deck of our luxury suite.

No traipsing through dirt and puff adders to the ablution block at this place, LOF. Each luxury air conditioned unit has a monstrous bed, mini bar, widescreen TV, DVD player and sound system.

Some silly people have said to me ridiculous things such as; "Who needs five-star luxury in the African bush?"

I'll tell you who, LOF - ME and Mrs Blog. When you live in a poly-propylene igloo or on top of a Land Rover for five months of the year, a little air-con and DSTV (satellite TV) goes a very long way!

Tinga is not cheap, but fortunately Mrs Blog has a very altruistic brother, who kindly spotted us for a couple of days at the lodge in honour of Mrs B's significant birthday.

Tinga (let's say that name again) also happens to feature in my next book, which is due for release in August 2008, so expect a good deal more shameless promotion and cross-promotion in the months to come. Tinga was established a few years ago when South African National Parks offered a number of concessions to private operators inside the Kruger National Park. Tinga's concession covers the game-rich land between the Sabie and Sand rivers, not far from Skukuza.

The only problem with Tinga Legends Private Safari Lodge is that it is so luxurious it's tempting to stay indoors, or on one's private deck, rather than go out on the twice daily game drives. Mrs B and I have spotted more than our fair share of animals on this trip, however we did go out on three of the four drives available during our stay.

It was worth it. We saw all of the big five, including two different leopard sightings. The first leopard our guide found for us had been chased up a tree by a pack of wild dogs (possibly the same painted puppies we saw on Mrs B's birthday) which were still milling and squeaking around the base of the tree. In the world of game viewing, LOF, it doesn't get much better than that.

And hearing the distant moan of a lion or the whoop of a hyena while watching the stars from a bubbling private pool? Priceless.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A painted puppy (or 17) for her birthday



A long-held tradition here on the Blog Safari, Legion of Fans, is for Mr and Mrs Blog to take a very early morning game drive to celebrate Mrs B's birthday. It's always in November (funnily enough) and we're always in Africa in November.

Unusually, this year, was the fact that there were 21 other people in Pretoriuskop Camp in the Kruger National Park for this year's birthday, along with enough alcohol to stop an army. So, getting up at 4.15am, in order to be out the camp gate by 4.30am, required significant effort and commitment on the birthday girl's part (and mine).

We cranked Tonka the Series III Land Rover into action (to all of you who have kindly asked after his health I can report that he is, complete with new clutch plate and pressure plate, fit and well - at least as fit and well as a 23-year-old Land Rover can be) in the knowledge that in Africa the early bird does, indeed, catch the lion.

On cue, at Shitlhave Dam, about 1okm there was an impressive male lion, a fitting curtain raiser to the main event which was the appearance of 17 endangered African Wild Dogs (also known as Painted Dogs) at Transport Dam.

Regular readers will know that I rarely let an opportunity for shameless self promotion (or promotion of worthy causes) slip by in this blog. Wild Dogs feature in my latest book "SAFARI" (rrp AUD$32.95 at all good bookstores and now available in South Africa).

The book opens with a dedicated wildlife researcher getting a bit emotional after one of the Painted Dogs she has been studying is killed, defending her brood of puppies, by some nasty old lionesses.

I like Wild Dogs, almost as much as I like people who buy my books, so it was great to hear, recently, from an Aussie couple behind the Painted Dog Conservation organisation, who were not long back in Perth after spending quite some time researching dogs in Zimbabwe, where the book is set. Painted Dog Conservation is dedicated, not surprisingly, to the conservation of painted dogs. They support research and local education projects and conservation activities. Their cause is good, and they're very nice people, to0.

The couple in question had read SAFARI and, to my intense relief, didn't email me saying "you have no bloody idea what you are talking about". Phew, legion of fans.

On the big B-Day, Mrs B and I arrived at Transport Dam for the aftermath of a particularly grisly affair - the killing of a pregnant Waterbuck. Not good pre-breakfast viewing for the faint hearted, but, hey, a dog has to survive and there are a lot more waterbuck in Africa (believe me) than there are Wild Dog, which are down to a few thousand.

They're Africa's most successful, efficient predator, and their kids are cute when they're little. Although they can't breed with domestic dogs, they do share certain traits, such as rolling around in pooh and dead things, sniffing each other's bottoms, dragging said bottoms along the ground, and standing around with their tongues lolling out of grinning, goofy mouths.
They're a great animal to see in the bush, not only because they're rare, but also because they are always doing something in daylight hours - trotting, sniffing, giving each other piggy backs, ripping other creatures apart. Excellent stuff, unlike lions, which spend most of the (human)waking day sleeping. The highlight of a lion sighting is usually some big over-stuffed cat rolling over on its back for five seconds.

Sadly, one of the adult dogs in the impressive pack we saw on B-Day had a snare around its neck, which was causing a nasty wound. Not even the magnificent Kruger Park can escape the problem of poaching. In this case, the snare was, I suppose, set by someone trying to catch a small buck to eat - or sell as bush meat. Mrs B and I reported the snared animal, and the pack's location, to a wild dog hotline, run by researchers in the park.



The Painted Dog Conservation people in Australia have kindly invited me to speak at a fundraiser some time in the future if I ever get to Perth and I would be very keen to do so.

Don't worry, Rhino people, I haven't forgotten you and, as a reminder, I will be talking about rhinocerous conservation and Land Rover spare parts at a dinner dance for the SAVE foundation, NSW branch, on Saturday, February 9, at 7pm at the Hunter's Hill Sailing Club, Merrington Place, Woolwich. (For details contact: theafricanqueen@bigpond.com )

But back to the birthday girl and the dogs. Mrs B, now that she has recovered fully from her hangover, says thank you all for your kind wishes (and gifts, where appropriate). For the dog lovers (and I know you are out there), here are a couple more pics.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mrs B-Day and a night driver to remember

Today is Mrs Blog's birthday plus-one here in Safari land and, let me tell you LOF, there is not a lot of movement in the bushveld.

A cast of thousands (well, 23) gathered here in Preotoriuskop Camp to celebrate Mrs B's significant chronological milestone (we don't mention the number, itself, out loud). Party pictures may be posted in the near future - subject to approval by the birthday girl and laws regarding nudity on the web.

There was Jane, aged 23-and-a-bit; Di The Leopard Whisperer (DiTLW - so named because her snoring once attracted the noctournal amorous gruntings of a male leopard in a remote campsite in Zimbabwe - true story); that doyen of aged drug-addicted punk musician wastrels, The Barman, and The Barmaid, who also turned 40 (oops, sorry), the day before Mrs Blog; Brother-in-law Book, looking like a cross between a Columbian drug lord and 70s pornstar with his "Movember" facial hair; Mother-in-Law Blog; Mother Blog and Ali G; Colonel G (an army buddy of mine); and my glamourous, well-read, brainy, stylish, financially-independent, single publisher, C and her lovely kaftan-wearing sister, L; to name but a few.

The night before the birthday (I may fall asleep, hungover, at the keyboard before we get to the actual bash, so stay tuned) Mrs B and I organised a Kruger Park night drive for all the guests.

This was a high-risk event, LOF, as Mrs B and I have been on more than our share of long, cold, boring night drives over the years, however sometimes you strike it lucky.

Not so the three other people (two of them dour-faced Dutch ladies) and another gentleman, who rolled up to the Pretoriuskop filling station, definitely out of luck, to find they would be sharing the 23-seat national parks game viewing vehicle with 20 drunken loud-mouth Australians.

Mrs B went through the motions of trying to shush the crowd, but once the first champagne cork bounced off the roof there was no turning back. A group setting away from home brings out the worst in any nationalitly, I find, and Australians are no exception to this rule (in fact, I think we wrote the text book regarding drunken obnoxious behaviour abroad).

Well, LOF, our captives - I mean fellow passengers - could have stepped up and joined the party, or remain fixed in their seats with arms folded, lips pursed and disapproving scowls branded on their faces for the entire trip. The ladies chose the latter.

Anyway, we set off into the late afternoon, the breeze through the open-top vehicle providing a little relief from the still-strong heat. Mrs B raised her highly attuned little nose and said; "Smell that? Elephant."

I nodded, as I always trust her olfactory judgements - even though to me it smelled like a two-day-old lion kill, to me - perhaps a buffalo carcas, I mused silently.

"Cheese and bikkies?" asked DiTLW, who was sitting in front of us with Jane, aged 23.bit. DiTLW and Jane, 23.bit, have been bunking together during the trip and are, in the eyes of the Kruger National Park, officially a "couple" in terms of their entry permit - something that caused their first outburst of hysterical laughter, which has not abated for four days.

DiTLW, like Mrs Blog and me, is biologically old enough to be Jane 23.bit's parent, though DiTLW is, as they say in the classics, young at heart, or, as Jane 23.bit put it; "She's great - I thought that I was, like, going to be the immature one until I met Di!"

As I accepted the proffered biscuit and cheese Mrs B looked at each other. We had both been wrong, but the cheese tasted quite good - dead elephant odour notwithstanding.

The deteriorate of our relationship with our fellow Dutch passengers was most definitely not helped, LOF, when Colonel G saw the first rhino and barked, in a voice that would have set a regimental sergeant major's a heart a-flutter; "STOP!"

The driver faga-ed ma-brakes-i (came to an abrupt halt) and those who weren't in the brace postion suffered spinal injuries.

DiTLW and Jane 23.bit shrieked as their box of crackers slid off laps and the aforementioned stinky cheese (and I do not exaggerate here) flew into the air, over the shoulders of Mrs Colonel G and landed, with a malodourous "plop" in the lap of one of the dour-faced ladies.

She looked, in horror, at the piece of legalised mould sitting in front of her. For a moment even Jane 23.bit and DiTLW were silent as the woman lifted it, gingerly, as though she might die of framage poisoning, and tossed it back.

What could have been a jocular ice-breaker was, in fact, the nail in the coffin that buried any chance whatsoever at all that these ladies might enjoy themselves....

On the upside (and there is always an upside on the Park Safari) the drive turned out to be the best we'd had in 12 years of travel in Africa. We saw:

- lions (two males and then, later in the night, a posse of lionesses out shopping for meat)

- rhinos (by the score, or so it seemed)

- spotted eagle owl

- and, to top it all off, a leopard.

Age is an interesting thing. I am three years older than Mrs B and while she was concerned - quite rightly, I suppose, in her mind - for the well-being of the cheese-spattered ladies, I couldn't care less. If people choose not to have a good time, that is their problem. No one on the birthday safari was rude or abuse to them (though the cheese incident may constitute assault in some jurisdictions). One of the great things about getting older is not giving a F*%$ about lots of things.

Interestingly, too, some of the most raucous behaviour and inappropriate commentary during the drive came from the back seat, which was filled, to capacity with Mother Blog, Ali G, their travelling companions M and A, and several empty bottles of white wine. Good on them, I thought, though I did have to lower my head behind DiTLW's when Mother Blog started shameless flirting with the driver/guide.

Still, a fun time was had be all - well, most.

Mrs B likes lions, so here are a couple we saw on the night drive.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

SAVE a rhino and hear me talk about my clutch plate!

I'm honoured, Legion of Fans, to be able to help out the SAVE organisation in their worthy work of saving (hence the name) Africa's endangered rhinos.

Rhinos are one of my favourite animals and I can identify with them. Their eyesight is poor; they spend large amounts of the day doing nothing; they have large bellies and spindly legs; they like to pooh in the same place every day; despite their size they mean you know harm; and their chief interests in life seem to be eating, sleeping and copulating.

Yes, LOF, if I was an animal, I think I'd be quite happy as a rhino.

That is, if I lived in the Kruger National Park, of course, like this chap.


If not, I'd be in serious trouble. Rhinos are in danger throughout Africa, thanks to the enlightened ways of certain Asian and Middle Eastern gentlemen who seem to think that rhino horn is a better alternative to paracetamol for a headache (it's not, contrary to popular opinion, used as an aphrodisiac) or a handle for a dagger. I know what I'd do with the pointy end of a dagger if I met anyone clasping a rhino horn handle.

Speaking seriously, which I rarely do here, I had some terrible news the other day from my mate Ross. His friends, who Mrs B and I have met, own a game farm in Zimbabwe and someone broke into their property recently and killed their rhinos in their enclosure. Even though the rhinos had been de-horned, the animals were still slaughtered for the stubs that remained.

Bastards.

Anyway, thankfully there are still good people in Africa and abroad who are dedicated to the survival of these magnificent creatures and, as I said before, I'm honoured to be able to help them out.

My very good friends at SAVE, NSW Branch, are holding a dinner dance on Saturday, February 9, at 7pm at the Hunter's Hill Sailing Club, Merrington Place, Woolwich. And I, LOF have been invited to speak.

The cost is AUD$80 per head for a three course dinner and South African beers and wines. For Hunter's Hill and a venue with harbour views this is pretty good value, I reckon. As well as being a supporter of rhino causes, I'm also a big support of South African Breweries so I'm looking forward to downing a few Castles as well.

If you do wish to attend (for the South African booze, rather than hearing me speak) you should contact theafricanqueen@bigpond.com Dress for the evening is "cocktail with an African twist", which sounds interesting. I can hear my pith helmet screaming from it's wardrobe prison.

I don't know what I'll talk about, but here's a special offer for readers of this blog. For every one of you who attends (sidle up to me and mention you are a legionnaire) I will spend one minute less than I had planned to talking about Land Rover repairs and clutch plates. So there, the gauntlet has been laid down - come along to the SAVE dinner and help save a rhino and stop the audience from falling asleep.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

And I'm like...


Mother Blog and Ali G arrived in South Africa this week - phase one of the Great Australian Invasion, which will take place when no fewer than 23 people gather, Legion of Fans (LOF), to celebrate a significant "zero" birthday of Mrs Blog. We're not talking 30, and we're not talking 50 (and neither are we talking 10, Black Mustarfa). Decorum, and my wife, prevent me from saying which birthday it is.

Ali G - a regular poster on this blog and fellow bloggers' sites - is, I can now reveal, actually my stepfather. He and Mother Blog bought me the above "whatever" T-shirt, which I love so much that I only removed it (at Mrs Blog's insistence) after three days.

And so, LOF, we segwe, as I knew we must one day, into the thorny realm of Safari fashion.

Apart from my "whatever" T-shirt I am no style icon, LOF, and nor have I ever pretended otherwise. However, I am big-headed enough to be quite judgemental about what others wear, particularly when on safari in Africa.

Beware, if you are planning a trip to the dark green continent, of those trendy high street camping stores, specialist safari outfitters, or, worst of all, airport and safari lodge souvenir shops. It's a jungle out there, LOF, a veritable dripping green fashion hell, teeming with leopard and zebra print, barely concealed by a veritable forest of camouflage clothing.

Having the right clothing in Africa is important - and not just for creating the desired apres game viewing or hunting image. It may save your life.

When walking in the veldt, where dangerous game could be lurking around the next bush, it's important not to wear colours that scream "I'm a tourist, come and kill me", such as white, yellow, day-glo orange, or hot pink. Khakis, greens, and even dark blues are the colours of choice, here.

It confounds me, why, whenever we front up for a bush walk in the Kruger National Park with armed rangers, that the European tourist who happily wears head-to-toe camo or khaki when driving around in their rented Volkswagen Chicos show up for a close encounter with the Big Five wearing a floppy white vinyl hat that would have looked good on, say, Twiggy or Petula Clark. You couldn't blame an elephant for trampling that hat, or the head that thought it OK to wear it - on the grounds of fashion sense alone!

Natural hues are not compulsory when lounging around the rest camp or sipping sundowners by the waterhole, though green and brown are very practical colours - particularly if you are drinking Creme de Menthe, or eating chocolate ice-cream. These colours hide stains very well, and if you do dribble something (as Mrs B and I are want to do after one too many beverages) then you can pass the resulting mess of as trendy camouflage.

Here at Park Safaris the rule as regards leopard, cheetah or zebra skin is simple - we say no to fur or any animal print (with the exception of lingerie, of course).

Mother Blog and Ali G had put a lot of thought into their safari ensembles for the two weeks they will be staying with us. I suspect Mother Blog had invested the most thought as they arrived at Kruger's Malelane Gate wearing complementary T-shirts and matching three-quarter length jeans. Mother Blog's T-shirt was emblazoned with a bold "Je Suis Avec Stupid", and an arrow, pointing sideways to Ali G's shirt, which read, "Stupid".


Next day they fronted, like a pair of Japanese honeymooners, in matching safari gear.

Full marks, I gave them, for the baggy green T-shirts, which are the last word in practicality while travelling and camping. The three-quarter length khaki cargo pants scraped in - not too many D-rings; no zip off legs; no scribbled unintelligible writing. They even knew how to accessorise, with matching insulated safari coffee mugs from the Skukuza Souvenir Shop and Tacky Merchandise Emporium here in Kruger.

Re the three-quarter pants, I have to say that I like my shorts African style - short, and I make no apology for this. I know this is very un-trendy in the rest of the world, but here in the scorching summer it is perfectly acceptable for men to wear (green) hotpants.

Ali G is a terrific bloke and I like him a lot (especially for posting lots of comments on both of my blogs, which makes it look like people actually read them) but he did, however, let the side down badly two nights ago, when he and Mother Blog (Pink long-sleeve T-shirt - acceptable for evening wear - and long green flared trousers) dressed for dinner. He committed the cardinal sin, LOF, and he was unrepentant about it.

Sandals and socks.

What sets us (well, most of us), as Australians apart from our European ancestors is a firmly held belief that socks should not be worn with any form of open-toed footwear.

"But it's comfortable and cool, and it keeps my feet clean and you said I had to wear socks to keep the mosquitos from biting me," protested Ali G (he will have right of reply here).

All well and good, Ali G, but that doesn't make it right. If he buys a pair of those other tragic fashion disasters, "Crocs" (which are, at the end of the day, plastic clogs, so I rest my case) while he is here I may just have to shoot him.

At least, LOF, Ali G had the decency to wear black socks with his sandals, so we might have got away without too many people noticing in the restaurant. I did, however, see a couple of Germans and Poms nodding appreciatively as he strode down the platform at Kruger's Selati Train restaurant, which has a big old colonial-era steam locomotive as its centrepiece. Mother Blog was too busy saying things like "Be careful of my Limoges" and posing for picutres in the bar carriage to notice her husband's fashion faux pas.

There is so much camouflage clothing in Africa at the moment that it's easy to trip over fellow campers. Camouflage is, to inject a military metaphor, a minefield.

Yes, it's trendy and practical (when hiding from rampaging rhinos and lip-smacking Leos), but like flamethrowers and hand grenades, Camo is a two-edged weapon.

Mrs Blog has very fetching little US Marine Corps Middle East Theatre of Operations (I know my camo) mini skirt, which I had to bark like a Drill Sergeant to force her to buy. She doesn't regret it, and neither do I, for as well as being practical and made of sturdy military-spec material, it's also strangely arousing.

She went into Cape Union Mart (a South African safari clothing store of note) a while ago to spend some of her birthday money in advance of the big day and tried on a very respectable (not too short this time) US Army Jungle Leaf pattern skirt. It looked good (damn good), although she pointed out to the shop assistant that the hem had come undone.

"No, madam, that's the new fashion, to have the hem undone."

Well, LOF, let me tell you that Mrs B acted every one of her not insubstantial number of years when she retorted: "Well, I don't care if that's the fashion, it looks jolly untidy young lady and I won't be seen in a garment that is not properly hemmed" (or words to that effect). She bought it, anyway, and spent most of the other day sewing it back together.

When it come to camo, LOF, the rule is as simple as it is timeless. Less is more. Mini-skirts are better than full body-length Rhodesian Light Infantry jumpsuits any day, and it's always best to team an item of camouflage with something brightly civilian.

A couple of weeks ago a tourist from a certain European country that will remain nameless reported for duty at zee camp site next to us in Pretoriuskop dressed in head to toe matching camouflage. Worryingly (for someone who knows his camouflage), the pattern was very, very similar to WWII Waffen SS issue.

One doesn't want to be trampled to death in the African bush, Legion of Fans, any more than one wants to be shot as a mercenary - or, for that matter, mistaken as a resident of a foreign land.
Tread carefully, LOF. When on safari take only pictures, and leave only footprints (and socks) behind.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The pace of life in Africa

Not in a hurry


Very much in a hurry



Not moving from this spot for all the buffalo in Kruger (also titled: it's good to be the king)

Oh, all right, because you asked...






...and because a beer, a good book (not one of mine) and a hammock are beckoning, here are a few more pictures for your virtual safari...
The bird is a Goliath Heron, taken at Lake Panic Bird Hide (where the Hippo was sleeping under the floorboards). All the others were also taken in Kruger. I think Mrs B took the pic of the cute-as-a-button spotted Hyena.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Safari Chic(o)


Here it is, Legion of Fans, the latest word in rugged, dependable, macho African safari vehicles, Chico the Volkswagen 1.4 Citi Golf.

No photoshopping has been employed here to illustrate the difference in size between Mr Blog and the small-but-perfectly-formed Chico (just a slightly creative camera angle, but you get the picture - 6'6" blogger, 3'6" car).

Stuffed to the gunnels and riding low on his wafer-thin springs, Chico is doing valiant service while Tonka sits, in more than one piece, in hospital just across the Crocodile River from Malelane Camp, where I am currently blogging and drinking.


Dusk is falling and Mrs B and I spotted a leopard today not 200 metres away from where I am now. With a bit of luck we might hear him grunting away in the night.

Malelane's a lovely little camp on the southern border of Kruger. Some locals don't like it, because you can hear the train and the hum of traffic from the N4 freeway, and the see the smoke from the sugar refinery across the river.

Funnily enough, that's what I do like about it - knowing that there are leopards, lions, rhinos and Chicos literally a stone's throw away from civilisation as we know it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More pictures, I hear you call!









So here they are, Legion of Fans, some snaps of animals viewed during Uncle and Aunty Blog's travels in Africa - a very enjoyable, if difficult-to-recall 10-days of drinking and driving (not always at the same time).
(NB: No animals were harmed in the making of this blog. The lioness on the road, seen here as she crossed in front of Uncle and Aunty Blog's Nissan X-Trail was actually yawning and stretching at the time. She was very relaxed, unlike Uncle and Aunty B, who got close enough to see the plaque build-up on her teeth as she sauntered past the driver's side window)

Low maintenance camp guests and high maintenance vehicles

Another big couple of days, here on the blog safari, with the safe despatch of two low maintence relatives back to Australia, and the at-times-unsafe delivery of one high maintenance little Land Rover to a surgery in the sugar cane farming town of Malelane.

Uncle and Aunty Blog are now in Perth, after 10 days of immersing themselves in National Geographic Channel country (aka the Kruger National Park) and contributing mightily to the profits of South African Breweries.

The secret to being a low maintence camp guest - and Uncle and Aunty Blog set a new benchmark in this regard - here in Africa is to have the following:

1. The ability and willingness to drink copious amounts of alcohol at odd hours of the day;
2. A vehicle with appropriate towing points, in order to assist Tonka the Land Rover on his travels;
3. The ability to cook Fettucine Boscaiola;
4. A good and sometimes bizarre sense of humour;
5. A love of Africa and her wildlife.

Some people bring these with them to Africa, others rent them (vehicles wth towing points, that is). Uncle and Aunty Blog really got into the wildlife and the gentle pace of camp life (drink, sleep, drive, drink, sleep drive).

They tell me, by email, they had a wonderful time and were pleased that they didn't read the blog entries about them until now that they're safely back in Australia.

On a less relaxing note, Tonka set a new speed record for the 2.25 litre diesel Series III Land Rover yesterday, clocking 100km per hour on the flat. This is because Mr Blog was towing him, behind a mechanic's Toyota Hi-Lux. The knuckles were a tad pale, Legion of Fans, after the 76km drive from Lower Sabie Rest Camp in Kruger to the sleepy town of Malelane.

The gentlemanly tradesman insisted that Mrs B and I drive the towing vehicle, while he would sit behind Tonka's wheel. This was very nice of him, and probably the only concession to safety throughout the whole exercise. A couple of times I looked in the rear mirror of the Hi-Lux and saw Tonka, on the end of the tow rope, drifting out into the oncoming lane. I think the mechanic may have had a bit of a late night, but a few severe gear changes produced a suitable amount of jerking on the tow line and woke him up. Perhaps better, then, that he was the tow-ee, rather than the tow-er.

Anyhow, (or anyhoo, as an alarming number of people say in emails these days), Tonka is now in hospital, awaiting fitment (lovely, mechanical word, that) of a new clutch plate and Mrs B and I are zipping about in diminutive Volkswagen 1.4 Golf 'Chico', despite Avis Rent a Car's best efforts to up-sell us a more expensive model than the one I had booked over the phone. Hmmm.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Clutchless

Bad news, Legion of Fans. I know how closely all four of you follow the ups and downs of Tonka the plucky, slightly-battered Series III Land Rover's life in Africa so it is with a heavy heart that I have to report he is now clutchless - again.

Mr Sibanda's second-hand clutch plate (which dedicated readers will recall was salvaged from a pile of chicken pooh and snakeskins in a disused brewery in Zimbabwe) has given up the ghost.

Fortunately, the latest break down occurred in the very civilised Kruger National Park and Aunty and Uncle Blog were on hand (not 50 metres in front of us) to save the day with their natty rented Nissan X-Trail.

Mr Blog will no doubt soon be appearing in one or more South African newspapers and travel magazines that feature people breaking the rules in the national park. I got out of Tonka to attach a tow strap (getting out of one's vehicles in non-designated areas is a big no-no in a park full of lions, but, what can I say LOF, I am tough) and was standing next to Uncle Blog's vehicle, briefing him on the route back to camp, when a pair of elderly self-righteous South Africans drove past and snapped my picture.

Did they stop to ask what the problem was, or to gently remind me of the park rules? No, LOF, they were members of a particularly xeonophobic group of vigilantes who delight in sending pictures of law-breakers (cursed foreigners, it is usually alleged) and their number plates to columns with nifty names such as: "Krazies in Kruger"; "Claim to Shame"; and "Shame File".

Anyway, Uncle Blog towed the hapless Tonka back to Lower Sabie and insisted on giving me several beers in quick succession.

I was, however, pretty relaxed (even before the first beer) about the whole situation. I knew the clutch plate would not last and I have come to terms, at the age of 43, that sh*t does, indeed, happen, particularly with vehicles.

I know that we will be back on the road in a few days, and there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be stuck with a broken down vehicle than on the sunny banks of the Sabie River in one of the most beautiful national parks in the world.

There is ice, beer, red wine, red meat and good woman close at hand, and a Land Rover spare parts place in Johannesburg that can deliver a clutch plate overnight via express post.

What more could a man ask for?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Car key fever

We were a machine, Legion of Fans - a well-oiled, well-trained, experienced bunch of campers, up at the crack of dawn and racing to beat the world-record for tent derection (or whatever the correct term is for pulling one down).

We were there. Ahead of scedule, at 0617 hours, 13 minutes ahead of the ambitious time we'd set to be out the gate and on the road, spotting animals in the Kruger National Park.

Aunty Blog had swept the tent; uncle blog had organised coffee; Mrs Blog had given lots of orders and Mr Blog was pleasantly sweaty and grubby after rolling 25 kilograms of tent and loading in the back of Uncle and Aunty's rental car.

"OK, head 'em up, move 'em out," I said (or something like that).

"Where are the keys, hon?" said Uncle Blog to Aunty Blog.

"Not locked in the car - I didn't think that was possible with new vehicles," said Mr Blog, whose car is a 23-year-old Land Rover which is virtually impossible to lock.

"No," said Aunty Blog. "I unlocked the car before going to bathroom - that's why it's unlocked."

"Well, I don't have the keys, hon," said Uncle Blog.

"Well, I don't have the keys, hon," said Aunty Blog.

Camping with two vehicles can be a tricky business. You end up sharing out certains items of food and kit between the Land Rover and the Nissan X-trail. It's a bummer, when you wake up before the occupants of the other vehicle and need, say, coffee, or beer.

So, we devised a clever system where the car keys would be kept in one of those handy nylon mesh pockets in the front of the tent...

Which is, of course, where the keys were.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Of hippos, hangovers and handsome leopards

There I was, just six inches from the hippo's broad, bewhiskered snout, its massive jaws close enough to crush me...




True story, so far, Legion of Fans. Mr Blog came face to face with Africa's most dangerous creature yesterday. Hippos, according to common wisdom here in Efrica, kill more people than any other animal (apart, of course, from the mosquito which, while not an animal, kills millions, through malaria).




Close enough I was, LOF, to smell the rank breath exhaling from his huge nostrils. Aunty Blog, who was there at the time, said it smelled like regurgitated hay mixed with stagnant water (how she knows what that smells like, I didn't ask).




My first glimpse of him was of his broad back, only the hump of which was above the water. I couldn't at first, tell which end was which, until he conveniently farted (long and loud), sending up a trail of tell-tail (get it?) bubbles.




The hippo was, in fact, under the floorboards in the hide (small thatched shelter) overlooking Lake Panic, near Skukuza Camp in the Kruger National Park. Actually, the hide is currently overhanging Lake Panic, as the water in the dam is very full following recent rains. In case you're wondering (and in case you've bothered to read this far), Lake Panic was named after the man who built the dam - apparently when the first rains of the season started to fill the lake he thought he may have made a boo boo and the camp would flood - hence his panic.




But all turned out well and Lake Panic is a very agreeable spot, for humans and hippos alike. The hippo in question, a HUGE specimen, has found himself a lovely spot to lie up during the day, under the hide. He rests his chin on a supporting cross-beam, which brings his nostrils (and disgusting breath) within inches of unsuspecting tourists' feet.




I wouldn't have noticed him there (like the other people in the hide who were there when we arrived, blissfully unaware there was two-tonnes of killer beast under their flip flops) if not for my very good friends at Tinga Private Game Lodge who had warned me of his presence.




Mrs B and I had very pleasant lunch and game drive with one of our friends, who is a part owner of Tinga. Tinga is, as far as I'm concerned, the last word in luxury safari destinations. It's the sort of place I'd like be' a part-owner of. All I need to do is sell about another 20 million books.




We had a very good game drive around Tinga's concession in the Kruger park, during which I learned a lot about vultures and serial killers. One of our friends' guests was a young lawyer from the UK who knew far too many of Ted Bundy's direct quotes. Another was a friend of our's, a dentist, who knows more excellent dirty jokes than anyone I've ever met. Our guide knew a lot, too, though not much about serial killers. She told us that when you see a flock of vultures in a tree that doesn't necessarily mean (as Mrs B and I had always presumed) that there is a kill nearby (the serial killer expert was disappointed). The vultures may simply be waiting for the weather to change - specifically, for a bit of sun to come out and creat the thermals they need to fly high.




By use of a clumsy weather segwe I can report that Uncle and Aunty Blog have been doing some very successful game viewing, in between drinking, thanks in part to a change in the weather. It had been cool and overcast here for the first couple of days of their visit, but the reappearance of the sun yesterday seemed to bring a spurt of activity in the animal world.




As well as seeing a gazillions of giraffe and a veritable zoo full of zebras, keen-eyed Uncle Blog managed to spot that most elusive of all the Big 5, a big, handsome male leopard (actually, it walked across the road in front of the car, but Uncle has been calling himself the 'Leopard Man' ever since, in honour of his special sighting).




We celebrated the finding of the leopard and the 15-6 drubbing of the Poms by the Springboks with one too many bottles of South Africa's finest R40 (about AUD$5.50) champagne.




As I write this, Mrs B is doing a pretty reasonable impression of the Leopard's sawing cough, snoozing and snoring on top of Tonka the Land Rover at 1.10pm in the afternoon.
(Update - two days after drafting this post - Uncle and Aunty Blog have now seen all the big five, thanks to a nice view of a lion with a zebra kill. Mrs B has returned to solid food and had her first G&T in two days).




Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tell me why, I don't like monkeys


"There's something moving around out there," I just said, noticing a creature jumping around in the bush on the other side of the fence at Pretoriuskop Camp in the Kruger National Park.


"If it's a monkey I'm going to kill it," Mrs Blog replied.


The vervet monkey, cute, adorable little primate that he is, has just made the top of the list, Legion of Fans (LOF).


Mrs B and I arrived home at the campsite today after a particularly successful game drive (elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard) to find a small, monkey-shaped hole in the screen door of the Circus Tent (it's got a big top and a clown resides there, according to Mrs B).


Pirates.


Attentive, long-term fans (both of you) may recall my earlier posts about the Pirates of Pretoriuskop - a particulalry mangy, limbless and diabolical troop of monkeys.


I'm not particularly pleased to report, LOF, that the entire pirate crew - Broken Hand, Blue Balls, One-arm-one-leg, and their gaggle of wenches are very much alive and kicking. Curse them. What's worse, they have been procreating and there are several cute-as-a-button (not) little junior pirates scampering around, learning to rip open tents and raid garbage bins.


Uncle and Aunty Blog from Australia arrive today on the last leg of a round-the-world tour of sporting venues and traffic control centres (Uncle Blog's specialties - sport and traffic) and Mrs B and I had been doing some re-arranging to prepare for 10 days of international representative level drinking (Uncle and Aunty Blog's other specialty).


The big mistake Mrs B and I made (and this is a cardinal no-no in Africa) was to move the spare esky (cooler box to you African ranks of the LOF) into the circus tent, where uncle and aunty will be staying.


This was a very silly thing to do. Even though there is no food or drink in the esky (that would have been down right idiotic), we should know by now that even the site of Coleman or a Malleys is enough to drive a Pirate Monkey into a state of criminal euphoria.


They must have peeked under the fly and seen the red plastic prize there, waiting, nay asking, to be plundered.


They tore their way in, opened the esky, sorted through a crate of odds and ends and tossed my new shirt (still in its wrapping) on the floor. There was an empty beer can (a left over from last night), which had been upended, and the dregs drained.


The worrying thing is that the Pirates' usual MO is to leave a small calling card at the scene of every crime. I haven't found it yet, but the sun has yet to reach its zenith.


I do hate monkeys.