An Empty Coast

An Empty Coast
My latest novel

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Commando!

"Aaaaargh!" Mrs Blog just screamed.

Mrs B is lying on our mattress in the tent while I sit here, blogging while pretending to be working on my seventh novel.

"What?"

A snouted dog-like face just appeared beneath the fly sheet of the tent and fixed her with evil red eyes. A second later I heard the grunting - not her, I hasten to add.

Baboon. Commando.

As I type (coming to you live from Africa, Legion of Fans) I can hear shouts of anger, panic and fear in Afrikaans and English echoing around the rest of the camp ground. The weekly raid has begun and all we can do is sit and wait and pray that it will soon be over.

If the ververt monkey is (as I have claimed repeatedly) the pirate of the primate world, then the baboon is the commando.

Pirates (as in human pirates) are bad, OK. Vervet monkeys are also bad, with their thieving, destructive, poohing and weeing ways, but, like human pirates (fictional ones, at least), there is something about them that is strangely redeeming. There is something devil-may-care and oddly cute about the vervet. It's the cheeky look on his face as he takes a dump on your tent, or the way he swings almost casually from branch to branch while effortlessly evading the rock you have just thrown at him. And their kids are cute when they're little.

The vervets plunder the campsite with the impudence and agility of Erol Flynn stabbing his dagger into a sail and sliding effortlessly down its face (oh, how I would like to do that in real life). If they could throw you a cheeky salute before bounding off to steal another banana or have sex with their sibling, they would.

Not so the baboon.

If the vervet is a diminutive, lithe hairy Flynn, then the baboon is an un-waxed Stallone or Schwarzeneggar.

There are no antics in a baboon raid, as there are in a monkey mission. No cunning diversions, no hide and seek, no play, no pauses for throwing eggs at one another.

Their arrival is heralded by a scream (in this case, the diminutive Mrs Blog) or the screeching sound of twisting metal as another baboon-proof rubbish bin fails to live up to its name.

"Hut, hut, hut, hut, hut," they grunt, urging each other on like members of a SWAT team. While one does the bins another rips into a tent - and I do mean rips. Baboon Blitzkreig is a thing to behold.

A tourist bravely picks up a pebble, raises an arm to throw it at a baboon.

The baboon squares up, and stares the would-be defender in the eye. He barks: "You want a war. I'll give you a war you won't believe."

Undeterred, the simian Stormtrooper snaps the metal band that holds the garbage bin to the steel post and up ends it.

Maximum destruction and minimm distraction. These are the hallmarks of a commando raid. Their credo: hit hard; hit fast; cram cheek pouches full of oranges, bread and koeksisters; and leave no marshmallow behind.

The baboon commando will retreat in the face of a determined counter-attack by armed men (they are sexist in the extreme and do not fear women campers at all. Fact: baboons will surround lone female humans. I have returned to a campsite to find Mrs B encircled, wooden spoon in hand and trembling). However, they will return at the first opportunity, sometimes minutes later, if they know there are still bins to be raided or eskies (cooler boxes) to be pillaged.

They pick their days and times well. Sometimes it's a Sunday, when most of the camp cleaning staff have a day off, but the bins are full after the departure of the weekend crowd. At other times, like today, it's a quiet mid week morning, just before the bin man does his rounds.

They continually communicate, after a fashion, as they sweep through the objective.

Stallone Baboon: "Wadda wadda wadda," grunting and pointing at a cooler box left unattended outside a tent.

Schwarzeneggar Baboon: "Ugh." (rips off lid) "Hasta la vista, esky."

Eastwood Baboon (staring at national parks ranger armed with catapult, while continuing to rummage through bin): "Go ahead, make my day." (turns head a fraction so that rock from catapult flies past ear). "A (hu)man's got to know his limitations."

Jean-Claude Van Damned Baboon (picking up a piece of ververt monkey pooh, left on Ouma's tablecloth outside caravan after the morning's monkey business, and tasting it): "Merde. Allez, mes amis. Time to 'ow-do-you-say, exfiltrate."

They leave with same military precision as their infiltration. Single file, taking it in turns to climb the chain link fence, hand over hand until they get to the electrified strands. At this point they leap, clearing the live wires, and land like parachutists on the other side.

Behind them are trembling camp wives, gesticulating men, crying children, torn tents, scattered debris, smoking camp fires, overturned bins, empty eskies.

"The horror, the horror," I breathe.

Schwarzeneggar Baboon: "We'll be back."

4 comments :

ali g said...

Any SSgt Barry Sadlers in the baboon crop?
Africa's best and all that...

Muriel said...

Inspired!

meggie said...

Brilliant.
I am too faint hearted to risk such things.

redcap said...

Truly brilliant :) I know it's not very nice, but as soon as you said commando baboons, I had a horrible vision of shiny baboon butt. Going commando, of course.