An Empty Coast

An Empty Coast
My latest novel

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stupidity has a new name...

...and it's the same as mine.

I use my Leatherman tool, Legion of Fans (LOF) every day. Whether it be fixing tonka, opening a beer or extracting a thorn from my sandal (or foot), the Leatherman is an essential item for life on the road in Africa.

You can even, if you are a dufus, use the extremely sharp serrated blade to cut into a slippery, wet frozen plastic soft drink bottle.

Carefully position the bottle on its side and gently saw around the circumfrence of the bottle. See how easily the blade's teeth glide through the plastic?

If, after separating the severed halves of the bottle the ice block inside (essential for your wife's vodka, lime and soda) is still stuck, pierce a hole in the base of the bottle.

WAIT........

DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME. OR IN AFRICA. OR ANYWHERE ELSE IN FACT. ARE YOU MAD?

I upended the bottle, holding it in my left hand, placed the tip of the saw blade against the thickest, slipperiest part of the bottle and pushed down on it. Hard.

As I did so, I clearly remember thinking; "Mr Blog, are you mad? This is a very stupid thing to be doing and you should stop it right..."

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHH!"

My next conscious thought (I have tried very hard to recall them all) was; "F-ck, I hope there isn't an artery in the palm of my hand."

The blood, LOF, the blood. Poor Tonka, fresh from his own traumatic experiences at the hands of Dr C, the Land Rover mechanic, was spray painted with blood. It jetted out, covering the door and shot up as high as the windscreen panels.

I grabbed a tea towel and Mrs Blog came racing back from the loo and reached inside Tonka for the first aid kit.

Herr Doktor, are you out there? Remember, back at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, when you gave me a bundle of military wound dressings for my first aid kit in Africa and I said something along the lines of "what am I going to use these for?" I have an answer for you.

The bulky cotton pad of the dressing, designed for use on, say, bullet wounds, was soaked in about five minutes. By then I was wrapping one of the nice white towels Uncle and Auntry Blog donated to us last year (a kind, but inexpensive gesture, as they had stolen the towels from a hotel in Paris en route to Africa).

The towel, too, was saturated by the time a very nice couple from Johannesburg pulled up at our campsite in their Mercedes. They offered to rush us into the nearby town of Malelane and find a doctor.

It was Saturday afternoon, LOF, in the middle of South Africa's Reconciliation Day long weekend, but even so the doctor said he would be there in less than 15 minutes, when Mrs B called the after hours emergency number printed outside the surgery.

I was feeling very queasy by this stage, and recognising and trying to mentally document all the symptoms of what I knew was shock. People often get stabbed and shot in my books, so I thought that I would buoy my spirits by trying very hard to recall what was happening for me.

Number 1 memory was the complete absence of pain. I had just driven a pointed, serrated blade halfway through my palm and it didn't hurt. Not a twinge. That came later, but for now my hand was just a wet, slippery mass of bandage and soaking towel.

Shallow and rapid breathing - check. Next came the queasiness (I'm getting a little post traumatic queasiness now, just thinking about it).

And then the yawning.

I'd had a biggish night the night before, and had spent Saturday packing up our huge tent, so I had justification for yawning, but I couldn't stop. Then I remembered reading something somewhere years ago in a book about someone feeling very tired as they began to die of blood loss. "STOP YAWNING" I told myself.

At that moment a bakkie (ute/pickup) pulled into the driveway. Mrs B, our Samaritan friends and I all felt much better, until we saw that the occupants were two teenage boys who had probably stolen their parents' vehicle.

"Can you move the car, please," one of the lad said to us, "so we can park."

What were these two disaffected youths doing pulling into the secure parking area behind the doctor's surgery, we all wondered aloud.

The next minute the alarm inside the surgery beeped off and the door opened. There was one of the boys, dressed in T-shirt and board shorts, inviting us in.

"I'm Dr J," he said, adding a nod and a look that seemed to say, "no, I really am."

"And this is Dr G, who will be assisting me," he said, motioning to his 16-year-old friend. They looked as though they had just come from a braai (BBQ) which, this being South Africa on a Saturday, was highly possible. I wondered if Dr G had driven because Dr J was unable to. In fact, I wondered if Dr G had stolen his elder brother's licence, as well as his parent's truck.

"Yissus," Dr J said to his learned colleague as he pulled away the soaked crimson layers of towel and field dressing, "this thing is really bleeding, hey?"

For a moment I felt relieved that I wasn't the most foolish person in the room.

"Where did you get this dressing, dude?" Dr G asked, seemingly more interested in the printed instructions ('this side towards wound') and provenance of the military bandage than the hole in my hand.

"Afghanistan."

"Cool."

"I think we're going to have to stitch this," Dr J said, bringing us back to the matter at hand. My hand.

"This is going to tingle a little bit," Dr J said, readying an anaesthetic syringe.

"HOLY f-ck!" I said, or words to that effect. I had plunged a saw into my palm and not felt a thing, but this tiny needle felt like someone had applied a flamethrower to my hand. (OK, some exaggeration there, but, comparitively, the needle really did hurt).

Blood was coninuing to flow from the wound, so Dr J picked up another needle and stuck it in me. "Check this," he said to Dr G.

"Awesome," Dr G said. "That adrenalin really works, hey?"

I asked what was going on and Dr J informed me that a shot of adrenalin in the area of a wound will slow the bleeding. Useful, I thought, for my research, though I felt I would be a bit more comfortable if I could convince myself that this wasn't the first time either Dr J or Dr G had seen this medical marvel in action.

Dr G probed around inside the wound now that the bleeding had stopped and informed me he couldn't see any tendons, which was a good thing. "They look like... like these little white strings, hey."

I was pleased he knew what he was looking for.

I leaned back, not wanting to watch as Dr J quickly and deftly inserted four perfect little stitches. Next time I checked he was applying a tiny dressing no bigger than a band aid over his handywork.

"Good as new," he said, and gave me some antibiotics and painkillers.

I was impressed. The whole operation had taken less than 15 minutes.

I stood and as I began to thank them I felt a dripping off the tip of my fingers. Blood was pouring on to the surgery floor.

"Uh-o," Dr G said.

"Maybe we need a bandage as well?" Dr J said.

"You think, dude?" I felt like saying.

He re-dressed the wound and I left with a much more substantial bandage, nicely padded out wiht copious amounts of gauze. I felt much better as I could hardly return to the camp ground with a band aid, after having left in such spectacular fashion.

On the way back to camp, with me nicely bandaged and no longer a risk of messing the upholstery, Mrs Blog and I settled into some nice small talk with the couple who had gone out of their way to take me to the doctor and then bring me back to camp. When we all found out what each other did, the lady, S, said; "You're not Tony Park, are you?"

"Um yes."

"I've read three of your books!"

This was great, on one hand, that she had read my books (and bought them as gifts, it turned out), but not so good that she would be able to tell all her friends that she had met me, and that I was clearly an idiot who could not be trusted with sharp objects.

It's five days later now and the wound looks good and the bandage has gone. I'm typing (albeit with a lot of tingling going on), so it looks like Dr J and Dr G did a very good job. I haven't done them justice in this post. Young, they may have been, but they were quick, courteous, efficient and clearly knew some sh-t.

Unlike me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tonka Watch Day 27... and he's BAAAAAAAACK


"Beep beep."

At ease, Legion of Fans (LOF); snuff out those votive candles, untie those yellow ribbons and cancel the benefit concert by a bunch of failing rockstars who think Tonka is a country in Africa or a political prisoner.

If you've just joined us, he's a Series III Land Rover and after 27 days in captivity he is back on the dusty road again, so crack open a cold one.

It was touch and go to the end, LOF. Yesterday afternoon we were summoned the hospital (the garage in the cane farming town of Malelane on the southern border of the Kruger National Park) and invited to take the patient for a test drive.

He started and, even better, managed to attain his customary maximum speed of 78kph on the N4. Woo hoo. Things were looking good, but I did some serious checking under the bonnet, quibbling like a difficult customer and checking hose clamps, springs and wires.

When I was satisfied Mrs B and I got in him and I turned the key. I noticed, pedant that I had become, that the little orange light indicating the glow plugs (sometimes known as heater plugs) were working didn't come on.

No dice.

The mechanics had, I was told, replaced one of the glow plugs, but now none of them was working. Consultant surgeon Dr A was paged and arrived, stat, and after much jiggery pokery with the wires discovered that another plug had burned out.

It was 3.50pm Friday afternoon, LOF. There was no way I was going to leave him in that place another night, and no way we were going to get an auto electrician to come visit.

"Forget it," I said to Dr A. "I've got a spare glow plug back at camp. I'll fix it myself."

And guess what? I did.

A small thing, I know, but it was nice to know that as well as having our Land Rover back I was able to contribute, in a tiny way, to his recovery (leaving aside the fact that all four glow plugs were working perfectly when he went to the mechanic). It was, and I hate to use this word, empowering.

I know, I shouldn't ever use the word empowering, and promise never to do so again, but it was a good feeling, all the same, as I sipped a cold Windhoek Draft in between inserting (installing?) the new plug. Mrs B and I danced a little victory jig when the little organge light came on, and we knew, at last, our first born was safe and sound.

And.... as of this morning, sounding more like a VW Kombi than a Land Rover. It appears in their haste to be free of Tonka the mechanics didn't quite reconnect the exhaust (which may also explain why there has been so little smoke coming out the tail pipe - something I was quite pleased about at first).

But I can fix the exhaust.

I hope....

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tonka watch... Day 26 - BACK ON THE ROAD!

...and then off the road, 12 minutes later.

Yes, we were told he was ready to go and after ponying up an amount of money so great that I am ashamed to mention it here, Mrs Blog and I took Tonka out for a test drive on the N4. With B-doubles full of sugar cane trundling around us and suicidal minibus taxi drivers screaming past at 140 kph the newly 'repaired' Tonka managed a staggering 20kph before I was able to turn him around (at some risk to Mrs B and I) and limp back to the garage.

Legion of Fans (LOF), are you as sick of Tonka Watch as I am? I doubt it. However, once he is back on the road, for good, I will get back to tackling the big issues, such as plastic shoes, German safari fashions and monkey pooh. I promise.

Today's lessons in motor vehicle repair:

1. Don't pay until you've done a test drive (duh, I hear you say)
2. Don't believe any mechanic who says, "one week, 10 days at the most".

The latest train of diganostic thought is that it's the injector fuel pump. Never mind that there was nothing wrong with the injector fuel pump when we took Tonka to hospital, or that he was doing his customary and health 80kph maximum speed on the way to town.

The only good news amid all this tragedy is that I am rocking along with book seven, which is now about two-thirds of the way through.

Oh, and SILENT PREDATOR has been picked up by my very good friends TEA Publishing in Italy, for translation and release next year. It will be called "Cacciatore Silenzio" (or something like that) which means "Silent Hunter". Who'd have thought Cacciatore meant 'hunter'. I always thought it meant 'stew'. I love the Italian language, even if I don't understand it, almost as much as I love all the people in Italy who have bought my books so far.

In other news just to hand... plans are afoot for my next round-Australia tour, to promote Book 6, which is due out next July/August. Guess what?

Yes, South Australians, roll out your churches and your serial killers... I expect to see plenty of both when the Blog roadshow rolls into ADELAIDE!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Tonka watch... Day 20. And some shameless self promotion

Ag, shame. When I'm feeling down, Legion of Fans (LOF) - like, for instance, when my Land Rover has been in the workshop for 20 days - I like to read nice things about myself.

I can't help it. Not only does it cheer me up and feed my ego, it also makes it seem like I'm actually making much more money than I really am from my books. A morale booster, if you will.

So if you go here to the news section of my website you can read a very nice review of SILENT PREDATOR from my very good friends at the Australian Defence Force newspapers, and an excellent story from my local newspaper here in South Africa, the Lowvelder (or Laevelder, as the delectable Inspector Sannie van Rensburg would say).

Incidentally, Charlize Theron, if you're doing a spot of self googling and would like to make a movie back home in Sarf Efrica, you could do a lot worse than mention SILENT PREDATOR to some of your Hollywood producer friends. You'd be a walk-up start for the part of Sannie.

What do you reckon, LOF?

* Special bonus feature: The story from the Lowvelder includes a rare shot of the elusive and internet-shy Mrs Blog. Go stalk.. I mean, go check her out now!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Tonka watch... day 18

Engine in... engine out.

Day 18 and we are still Land Roverless, Legion of Fans (LOF). An air of weary resignation hangs over the campsite as Mrs Blog and I wait with varying levels of patience for news of poor Tonka, the usually-trusty Series III Land Rover.

He's just across the Crocodile River from us, in the town of Malelane. It's nice, in a way, being so close, so we can pop in every now and then and check on him in hospital, but maddeningly frustrating in other ways, knowing he's a hippo hop away and there is nothing we can do for him.

Tonka's engine continues to confound the experts. The chief mechanic, Dr C patiently explains new theories about what's going on in that steel heart of Tonka's every few days. I nod and go "hmmm" in that thoughtful way that men do when being told something they know nothing about and have no hope of comprehending.

The engine has been in and out a couple of times already. Sometimes it doesn't start, and on the occasions when it does it issues huge clouds of smoke. Piston rings and timing belt have been replaced, along with other bits and pieces I have never heard of. There is talk, this weekend, of pulling out the crankshaft (or was that camshaft?). I don't know.

Dr C will be working Sunday, although he has to go to his wife's cousin's wedding in Pretoria on Saturday. Yesterday (Friday) after discussing a whole bunch of stuff with me that went in one of my ears and out the other, Dr C slid his car keys across the workshop counter to me. "Take my bakkie (ute for the Australians, pickup for the north Americans)."

"I can't take your truck, man," I said to him. We had our trusty VW Polo, "Polly" (we had to give her a name - couldn't help it) from Avis parked outside, I explained (though I left out the bit about her name).

"You're paying a fortune for that thing. Take my bakkie," he insisted.

Try as I might I cannot imagine a motor mechanic in Australia handing over his personal vehicle to a foreign tourist customer. It was a nice gesture and, since we're into stereotyping here, allow me to say a very South African one. When the chips are down, as they occasionally are on safari in Africa, you want to bump into an Afrikaner.

So, Mrs Blog and I are now riding high (literally) in Dr C's late model Toyota Hi-Lux. I'm loyal to my Land Rover brand, LOF, but I'm not a snob. Some of my best friends are Toyota owners. I must say, the Hi-Lux is quite nice, if you like air conditioning, power steering, fast reliable engines and that sort of stuff.

So touched, were Mrs Blog and I by Dr C's gesture that we decided to wash out the load carrying compartment of the bakkie this morning. There was also the presence of a cloud of flies to consider, as well. Dr C is a hunter and on close inspection we found several signs that something dead had recently been carried in the back of his truk.

Playing at CSI Bushveld we inspected hair and tissue samples and decided it may very well have been an impala. There was also a bullet casing, which I picked up with a stick and bagged for ballistics. Mrs B took it down to forensics.

Our temproary Toyota sits outside the tent as I type. It's a sleek, speedy brute, but it is not our Tonka.

Tonka has no aircon, no power steering and no fast reliable engine (no engine at all, in fact, as of last night) yet still we wouldn't trade him for all the Toyotas in Japan. Why, I don't know? It is, as they say, a Land Rover thing, and until you've experienced it you can't understand it.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Proverbial Pirates


If you've just joined us, allow me to introduce you to one of the Pirates of Pretoriuskop, a band of manky, mean, thieving vervet monkeys who live in Pretoriuskop Rest Camp, in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.

I thought, for a brief few seconds, that I might be guilty of embellishing the Pirates' pursuits, in the name of trying to get people to read this blog. Was I being unfair, I wondered, in my portrayal of their wicked ways and dastardly deeds?

The answer to my questions came just the other day, when Mrs Blog and I caught up with some good friends from Johannesburg, who had come to Kruger with some other friends of theirs from Polokwane (the city formerly known as Pietersburg) and Serbia (the country formerly known as Yugoslavia).

The Polokwane people told me that while at Pretoriuskop a vervet monkey had gotten into their bungalow. As well as the usual scenes of devastation (food raided and consumed, coffee jar opened and upturned, etc) there was a terrible smell.

Vervets, as you may know from reading this blog or your own personal experience, like to add insult to injury by leaving a calling card at the scene of their crimes. I asked the guy if the monkey had left a little message on a table or on the bed.

"No," my new friend replied (he is now a very good friend, as he bought one of my books) "it was on the walls. All over the walls."

He and his wife had left the ceiling fan on, while out on a game drive.

The monkey had, indeed, left his message, but he had been up in the rafters of the thatched roof at the time.

"You don't mean..." I began.

Yes. The proverbial had, indeed, hit the proverbial.