Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I survived! Barely...

Merry Christmas Bloggers! Sorry, it's late, I know, but better late than never!
As the Christmas period draws to a close, one seems to always find one's thoughts wandering to just how over-socialised they have been over the last week and just how over-fed they have been within that same time frame. I, in particular, have been running around from function to function, all of which require a great deal of eating, and it's really taken its toll...
...or so I thought...
Last night I didn't sleep very well. I'm currently house-sitting for my cousin and her husband. They recently moved into a new house, which is enormous by the way, and have yet to actually move in, in the sense that all of their worldly possessions are still in boxes, strewn across the floor throughout the house. While this doesn't bother me in the least, the sheer size of the place does somewhat. It is just so big, and everything gets all creaky at night! To add to the sense of unease, last night it rained, while I watched a movie called 'Turistas' about Brazilian organ trafficking, which didn't ease my nerves at all, and thus, I didn't sleep very well.

Normally this wouldn't be a problem, I'd just go about my day feeling tired, potentially grumpy, and hit the hay early the next evening. But today, my parents and I had decided to go on a 7km hike at an amazing place north of Pretoria, called Tswaing Crater. It's a meteor impact crater with a salt-lake in the middle of it. It's really beautiful and, apart from the foul-smelling salt lake, very interesting.

The amazing part about the whole thing was that despite my lack of sleep, recent over-eating and complete absence of exercise I managed to do it all with ease! I am most impressed with myself! The only down side to the day was not taking enough water with and the resulting headache that I now endure. That, and the fact that my mother nearly passed out from exhaustion...


Fooling around with the camera in the car on the way there

The view from the crater rim

The plaque of Dr. Eugene Shoemaker, a brilliant scientist, according to the plaque anyway...

A typical, dramatic, stunning and beautiful South African scene

The view from the bottom...

For all your previous-drunken-night-can't-remember-how-I-got-that-cut brawl needs...Puncher repairs! :D

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Nostalgia and the embarrasment of the past...

So, this morning, my parents and I went over to my grandmother's for tea, as we do on Sundays. Somehow, we got round to discussing photos and in the process, began looking through some of my grandmother's old photos. Here is a selection ranging from the ridiculous, to the beautiful...

Believe it or not, these beauties are in fact part of a Church acting ensemble! And they are in fact all women!
This is in fact a photo of my grandmother some time ago. I thought it was quite striking because:
  • She looks rather beautiful and sometimes, I think anyway, it's hard to imagine grandparents looking anything other than wrinkly and old.
  • She's got the look of a Hollywood starlet, riding the crest of her own wave of fame... :)

This is a pic of my great-grandmother. Apparently she didn't have much of a sense of humour...you wouldn't think so, would you?

Here we see a rather cute picture of my great-grandfather, doing what dad's do best...pushing kids around in a wheel-barrow! Go great-grandad!

I just like this one because the puppy is cute :D

I think we can all agree that we are, if only just a little, glad that the 50's and 60's have ended...The really scary part:
The one on the right in purple with the disturbing unilateral nipple-stand is the BRIDE! The side-kick is her bridesmaid.

Finally, this is a picture of the Namib desert in Namibia, taken by my father on a family holiday. It's bleak, barren and beautiful...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The most random shopping trip ever

My mother is of the opinion that one should do all their grocery shopping on a weekly basis. Generally, this happens on a Friday evening so that the rest of the weekend is completely uninterrupted, but occasionally, it has to happen on a Saturday morning, as was the case with 'The most random shopping trip ever'. I took a series of photos on my phone during the trip to give you a taste of the weird things that we encounted on this trip...

The first thing that should have pointed to the odd nature of this excursion was the fact that the shopping centre was hosting what they termed, 'Adventure Christmas!' It was basically a whole bunch of games and fun things to do in the parking lot of the shopping centre. It included rock climbing (pictured here), a mechanical bull, paintball and some other stuff. After all, what is Christmas without a good game of paintball?

As we turned down one of the aisles, my sister shrieked and pointed out that this doll has no pants. She failed to notice that the child-doll-thing at her feet has no face whatsoever...

For some strange reason, management of the store obviously felt the need to comfort shoppers when they buy eggs. Thus they created the 'Safe Zone', an area where all buyers of eggs would have sanctuary from the harrowing and dangerous world of the egg aisle...

As we were waiting at the tills to pay for our shopping my sister and I confirmed that the shopping centre was just a tad on the confused side. After all, how many store managers can claim to play host to the Christmas Bunny?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sodwana! Diving! Sea-sickness! Pills! Happiness! :D

This past weekend, I went to Sodwana bay to partake of my final, qualifying scuba dive, and have an all-round awesome time. And I am pleased to announce that I achieved both goals!

The trip down was really great fun! Helen and I spent the majority of the trip chortling away, as we do, while Jenny and Megan (our trip-mates) tried to zone out and ignore us in the front seats. Several key themes would emerge during this drive that would alter the direction of our holiday completely, including the emergence of Helen's narcolepsy (discussed here...) and the overriding theme of conversation that would emerge at random during discussions throughout the following 4 days...taxidermy.

We arrived in Sodwana in the late afternoon, excited, tired, amazed at just how hot it was and generally confused as to why the reception desk was being manned by a Dan Brown novel and not by a person. A little walk around the dive charters camp bumped us into the operator, Eve, who was very nice and checked us in. She then lead us around and explained all to us, including giving us a tour of our accommodation for the next 4 days. Helen and I selected bunks immediately (a VERY hasty decision which I would regret soon thereafter...) and after some dinner cooked in the communal cooking area, we went to bed. After all, we were due for our first dive the next morning and were all very keen and needed to be well rested.

That night, as I ascended onto my bed, the top bunk - Helen, had the bottom one - I immediately realised what a mistake the bed selection had been. There are more steady chronic drunks out there than that bed! It swayed with every bowel movement or breath of both Helen and myself! So, eventually, at about 4AM, I decided to give up on the bed and dismounted to sleep on the floor.

As it turned out, this was probably my best decision as the floor wasn't moving and happened to be the coolest part of our furnace-like room...

The next morning, after a great deal of confusion surrounding whether I had fallen out of the bed or leaped from it in sheer desperation, we all got up and got ready to go diving. We were due to dive at 10:30, and so thought it best to get to the beach by 9:30 at the latest.

Eventually, we left for our dive at 11:30. I would be lying if I claimed that I had been anything short of anxious about this dive, it being my first-ever ocean dive. None the less, I boldly helped push the boat out into the surf, scrambled into the dingy and held on for dear life as we scooted over the waves into the open ocean...

The boat ride out was SO cool! I loved it! It would soon emerge that this was one of the best parts of going scuba-diving, an opinion echoed by both Helen and Jenny. And, apart from one incident where the skipper nearly killed us all, it was great fun and one always felt at ease with having your life in the hands of a hairy old sea dog (...well, only one of them could really pass as a hairy old sea dog, but there's very little drama in describing them as ripped blonde kids in their twenties taking a gap year...).

Eventually, we found our place over the reef and, after being helped by the skipper to don all the gear (an exciting new experience in itself - we were all used to having to struggle and do it ourselves), we dived. I lasted about 34 minutes on my first dive, and following a 5 min ascent to the surface, I was helped into the boat by the skipper. I soon realised that I, in fact, was one of those unfortunates that suffer from sea-sickness. I was given a lollipop by the skipper and I then learned another valuable bit of information: NEVER take the sweet! It makes things SO much worse!

I felt progressively more and more ill while diver after diver emerged from the depths to sing the praises of those who came up with the idea to go under water with a can of pressurized gas on their back. In truth, the diving experience was fantastic, something I'll never forget, but at the time, the sheer amazingness of it all had been overshadowed by my need to reveal my breakfast to the world. After everyone had returned to the surface, we headed back to shore. The ride back was fun (albeit, not as fun as the ride out had been) and as soon as the boat came to a sickening stop on the sands of the beach, I stumbled off and, weight belt and fins in tow, headed back to our gazebo to have a little sit-down.

For all the subsequent dives, I graciously took medication that Helen gave me which worked like a charm! I was due to dive later that day, but hadn't felt confident that the sphincters holding my stomach closed would not stage a coup, and thus opted out. It did allow me to take some great photos of the boat being launched, the beach and the waves:

Our trusty wave-riding, streamlined, balloon...

Look! There's a boat zooming off into the surf!

The beautiful Sodwana coastline

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Party! I wish not...

So, seeing as every other person I know that has a blog has taken to writing again, I feel compelled to do the same. Gotta keep up with the Jones's and all that...

I recently went to a party to celebrate a 25th wedding anniversary. In this day and age, simply having a 25th wedding anniversary is quite a feat and cause for great celebration. However, in this particular case, I just wish that I didn't have to celebrate it with the couple in question. The problem is that they are a family who I have known for some time and in that time I have grown to like them less and less. They are crass, crude, entirely self-centered and juvenile, all of which I cannot stomach. I realise that I am a snob, but what can I do?

So, on Sunday evening, I was dragged, reluctantly, along with my family to this party. Due to the fact that my one sister is currently in the UK, our party of party-goers consisted of my parents, my sister and I. The party was set to start at 5 (what kind of dinner party starts at 5 in the afternoon?!) and the dress code, according to the invitation anyway, was 'smart'. This in itself caused great consternation as none of us could figure out where on the continuum between naked and meeting the Queen of England 'smart' lay, but we figured it sat around the region of smart-casual and dressed accordingly.

Upon our arrival, we realised that smart actually meant, dress as if you are going clubbing in a really seedy area, or alternatively, as if you were going to a house party.

Starting the evening realising that you are severely over-dressed didn't help to improve my outlook on the festivities. The immediate arrival of a waiter with sparkling wine improved my assessment of the situation and after discovering the snack table, I began to think that perhaps things really weren't going to be all that bad. I was gravely mistaken...

To cut a very long, and painful, story short, things tobogganed downhill from this point on. The sparkling wine ran out within about the first 30 minutes, only to be replaced by a truly vile, dry white wine which put a proverbial cork in my sister's and my plans to get tipsy in an effort to make the experience bearable. The DJ for the evening turned out to be tragically overconfident with regard to the ability to woo the audience with his wit. In addition to this, his ability to cram just about every politically incorrect concept into everything he said, as well as a great number of expletives as punctuation didn't exactly warm my sister or I to him. There are hip movements displayed by a 50-something old man on the dancefloor I witnessed that are now permanently burned into my mind which, really, I could have done without. Not knowing a single person there, apart from the celebrated couple and their family didn't help much, but having a camera eased the boredom slightly.

Luckily, we had been placed at a table with a family that had two small children, thus providing the means for our escape. We kept a close eye on the state of fatigue of the children and with the emergence of the first yawn, we proclaimed that we too had best be on our way.

Much to my relief, my mother has decided that this was to be the final event of the family in question that we would ever attend. I've waited about 5 long years to hear that...

Saturday, November 08, 2008


Behold! The Majesty! It has finally happened! A company has realised the superiority of E171 and E133!

For the average Joe, that means, someone is making blue food...

For all who don't know me, I am a huge lover of all things blue! In fact, I believe that Helen and I once devoted an entire afternoon to finding out if what we thought was a truely blue fruit actually existed. Turns out, it was a white fruit but the photo had been taken with a flash in such a way as to make it appear blue. We were crushed...or at least, I was...
Cocktails are always better when they are blue (except for that one that had the dead fly in it...)! Blue pasta rocks! And now, blue chocolates! Thank you Nestle!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On uncertainty and the future

It's finally here. That stage in your research we have to write everything up, and spend hours and hours in front of the computer typing furiously. It's strange because you never really think that it'll come about. But one of those things that you always imagined will eventually happen in the future but it'll never really happened to you. Sort of like being mugged…

But the worst part of it all is the sudden realization that you will, in fact, have to find a job at some stage in the near future. Now this wouldn't be so bad, were it not for the fact, that I have absolutely no clue what I want to do. Actually, that's not entirely true. I do know what I want to do, it's just not necessarily available or an option.

Over the last few months have been sending out my CV to a whole host of different potential employers, both locally and internationally. I know that doing this is probably a good idea, but it can be incredibly frustrating. The fact that the majority of people that you send your CV to don't actually respond, doesn't really help much.

I did once receive a response from a UK based group that I was applying to work with. I had sent them my CV, along with a very enthusiastic e-mail, detailing exactly what it was that I was looking for, which coincidentally, was pretty much anything. They responded with an e-mail saying that they would love to have me come and work for them and that I must please give them as much information about myself as possible, which I did shortly thereafter.

Now you would think that this would mean that perhaps they were actually interested. However, there distinct lack of response thereafter, led me to think otherwise.

Lesson of the day: if you are an employer, please have the courtesy to respond to potential job applicants! It's most frustrating to be left in the dark...

Friday, September 26, 2008

'The most random thing...cont.

Blogger is being retarded and won't let me make a long post, so you'll have to read this in installments...

So, this film crew were running around the zoo, interviewing Dominic and film various animal species. Keith continued to question me about all my research. I explained my volunteer study and, after noting that this obviously wasn't what he was looking for, I volunteered information on my other work. I began by mentioning the study that I conducted looking at the behaviour of chimps in single-sex groups. At this point Keith's face lit up and he said something along the lines of, 'That's just what we are looking for!'

He proceeded to explain that the theme for that episode of said talk show was, what he called, the Patriarchy VS Matriarchy debate. He further explained that he would like to interview me along with Dominic on the topic.

Not thinking, I assumed that he meant, perhaps, at some stage in the future, we could organise it and he'd let me know. But this was not to be. Moments later the cameras were on, there was a mircophone and boom in my crotch and Dominic and Keith were practicing their entrance walk. Meanwhile, Athena had gacefully and cunningly darted inbetween the film crew and was standing behind them all grinning at me.

So, completely unprepared and, to a degree, in a state of shock, I was interviewed. Part of the interview was asking about bonobos, which are a species of chimp with a notorious sex life. It was really awkward being asked, and I quote, 'Who do you think has the better deal? Bonobos, or chimpanzees?' I responded with, 'I'd have to say, bonobos...'

Overall, it was quite fun, but definitely the most random thing that has happened to me in a long time!

The most random thing...

So I've not posted in a very long time, but I've been very busy, learning to Scuba dive, writing up my masters dissertation, going on 60km cycle races without any training...that sort of thing. But this post isn't about that. No, this post is about something that happened to me yesterday while I engaged in the seemingly benign act of chimpanzee observations at the zoo...

I was observing with a friend who is also one of my volunteers, Athena. It wasn't a fantastic observation day as there were countless numbers of irritating school children running amok in the zoo, hurtling food items whily-nilly at the chimpanzees, which always puts a dampener on things. None the less, we had been observing for about 20 min, not counting all the times I had to stop to shout at children. Suddenly, I felt a hand slap my side and a voice said, 'Howzit Bud'?'

As one may have guessed, this doesn't happen very often when one is doing chimpanzee observations...

I finished marking the behaviour I had just observed, being a scientist data collection comes first, and turned around. I was surprised but relieved to see that the slapper was Dominic, the curator for carnivores at the zoo. He's a really nice guy, who I've never really met but always insists on smiling and being very friendly towards me. Better that than the alternative I figure...

So I greeted him and we chatted a bit about how annoying the little children are. Then, he turned around and spoke to some people behind him. 'Don't you want to speak to him instead,' he said, referring to me. 'After all, he studies chimps...'

The small gathering behind him concluded that this was a good idea and a tall individual with an...interesting beard, approached me. He introduced himself (anyone who knows me knows that I am hopeless with names, so for the purposes of this post, he shall be called Keith - it's really just to protect the innocent...) and began asking me about my research and what I did. It was at this point that Dominic explained that they were a film crew who were shooting a small insert for a talk show and that they had been around the zoo looking at the different animals.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hell hounds and sleeping late

'Sup gangsta's?

It's been ages since I last blogged, and, as usual, the reason is that things have been getting a little hectic of late. The latest event-o-hecticness has been house-sitting for my aunt and uncle while they cruised along french canals on a riverboat with their daughters. I always love house-sitting for them because they have a really nice place and I get to be away from my family. Now, don't get me wrong, I love them all very much and I love being with them. It's just that a man (it feels SO wrong to refer to myself as a man...it should say 'boy', or at the worst 'guy') needs to feel independent, even if it's not real independence. And I love the freedom of living on my own, having to cook for myself (I LOVE COOKING!!! The novelty will ware off, I'm sure...) and just generally living at my own, albeit slowish, pace.

Coupled with the glorious fantasticallity of house-sitting, comes the actual job of upkeep of the house and it's inhabitants. My aunt and uncle have a cat (previously two cats...a story for another day for those who don't already know it...), a dog and a whole host of potplants. The first and last on that list are a piece of cake to care for, despite my constant forgetting to water the plants. It's the dog that's the problem.

He's a black labrador retriever. He's not even a year old and he has already wraught more damage on that house than a mob of angry peasants storming a castle. In the first week that I house sat for them, he managed to do the following. I kept a list, for my own amusement and to ensure that I could report the horror to the rest of the world via this, my blog.

10/08 Woke up to find that the dog had, during the night devoured a frisbee, a DVD cover, a pack of Prestik sticky putty and a full pack of 'Happy Birthday' stickers, leaving the kitchen floor coated in small festive birthday wishes and bits of plastic.

11/08 Woke up to find that the dog had left, not one, not two, but THREE steaming brown mountains on the kitchen floor. Coupled with this, the mutt had somehow managed to pee UNDER a couch in the TV room! (How a dog does this, I do not know!)

12/08 Woke up to find another turd on the TV room floor.

13/08 Dog obviously felt that previous days present wasn't sufficient and doubled his efforts: two piles of processed dog food on the floor.

14/08 For some reason the pooch was so excited about the prospect of going outside in the morning that he wet himself...and the floor...

15/08 The dog once again felt that he needed to give more. He pooped on the floor again (Thank God for tiles!!!)

16/08 Awoke to discover the remains of a book of unknown title (apparently something to do with buffalo from what I could make out of the pieces of the cover I could find...), a series of magazines, several unopened letters of my aunt and uncle's.

This is but a taste of the horror that is this dog. Coupled with these little daily extras was constant bringing-in of bits of garden, the removal of several bits of paving and the attempted and (luckily!) failed devouring of a garden hose.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Damn! This CD is good...

So, on Friday I went and bought myself a CD. I was given a gift card by a friend for my birthday earlier this year and I hadn't used all the credit on the card yet, so I thought, before it expired (assuming that they can do that...) I'd better go spend the remaining money.

So I went off with my sister to go and select a CD. I was down to three options: The soundtracks of 'Hero' and 'V for Vendetta', both great movies with good music, or a compilation of the singles of Basement Jaxx, a UK dance act. It was a tough decision, but I went with Basement Jaxx and I'm regretting it now. However, the regret is for strange reasons...

The CD is AWESOME!!! I can't get over how cool it is! I love it! But I hate it at the same time! It's terrible because the music is so catchy that I end up with one song stuck in my head for hours on end. It's incredibly frustrating! Mostly because, as much fun as it is to sing to ones self, one can never do the original justice, leaving you with that well-that-was-crap feeling.

Hats off to Basement Jaxx!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Slurry birthdays

It is a tradition within the animal behaviour research group at the University of the Witwatersrand that when it is someones birthday, we throw a party. The parties are usually surprise parties, with some being bigger surprises than others. The last one was hosted yesterday. And it was a big surprise...

It was a joint party for Brian and Sneha, two fellow MSc students. Both had had birthdays in the last month, and we hadn't managed to organise parties for either of them on time, so it was a combined belated birthday party. After about two weeks worth of organisation and coordination between Helen, Megan and I we finally picked a date and set things up. I'm not entirely sure who did the actual setting up because, I left to go and do observations on the chimps at the zoo and when I returned, my lab was the picture of festive fun.

Through this, I learned a very valuable lesson, appropriate for anyone who is planning to throw a party at any stage in the future. Silly string is a bitch to clean up. It gets everywhere and appears to chemically bind to linoleum floors and almost all types of paint.

I also learned that a dust-pan makes an excellent silly-sting scraper.

The party was not expected and so Brian and Sneha were greatly taken aback. To add to this, shortly after being thrust through the door into the lab, they each had a cup shoved into their hand filled with jello-shots.

For those who have an intact liver or are innocent, jelly-shots are just shot-glasses of jelly (that's Jello for you Americans out there) that has been mixed with vodka or some other alcoholic beverage. I've only ever had them once. Given that I am a vegetarian, I don't eat gelatin, the principal component of jelly, and so was spared having to take jelly-shots. The others all told me that they were very strong...
It can't have been as bad as Govan's birthday last year though. At that party, it was a rule that if you walked through the door, you had to drink a mandatory 'shot' of vodka. It was 09h00 and a 'shot' was what most would consider to be half a cup. My supervisor has a heavy hand and sick sense of humour.

Part of the wonder of yesterdays birthday celebrations was the random birthday crap that Helen managed to buy at a ridiculous price from china town. This included balloons like the one pictured below which were always humorous and sometimes, a little creepy...

All in all, a fun time was had by all and we undoubtedly look forward to the next one...which should be Megan. Oh what pleasures await...!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Another one bites the dust...

Tonight on the news, it was announced that Robert Mugabe, current self-appointed president of Zimbabwe, no longer has control of the country and that it has now fallen into the hands of the Generals and ex-militia that formerly supported him. Coupled with this, there have been reports of escalating violence in the country and the ruling Zanu PF group are claiming that it is a result of the opposition party, that majority of whom withdrew from the recent run-off election between them and Mugabe for fear of their lives, are mobilizing, training and arming themselves. The country is in the state of a 'minor civil war'.

Why am I suddenly delving into the realms of international politics? Because, I am ashamed to admit, now it affects me. It is a horrible thing when one realises that you are just as bad as all those people who just don't give a crap about Africa because it's not on their doorstep. Well, now it is on my doorstep and I am heartbroken.

I love Africa. I'm not entirely sure why I do (living here probably had something to do with it...), but it occupies a very special place in my heart. For example, I can't help but choke-up when I hear African choirs singing. It's bizarre, but true. And now to see another African country dissolving in the corrosive effects of corruption and loonies, I am truly sad. Not just for the people who may die, be raped, mutilated or forced into service against their will, but for what the whole situation says about Africa. It says, Africa is a place with no hope. If one of the most successful and rich countries on the continent crumbled as easily as Zimbabwe did, just because of one man with syphilis, what hope is there for the rest of them? It sounds horrible, but I am getting to a stage where I have lost all faith in current world leaders and really wouldn't mind if some sort of underground organisation were to simultaneously eliminate them all in one painful pull on the plaster hiding the worlds wounds. That or just have the human populous be eliminated by the most deadly virus the species has ever known...either way!

What really scares me is that I know that this is a dangerous place to be in. Revolutionaries and dictators rely on the fact that there are people like me around. The ones who need a new hero to lift them out of their ditch. Bearing this in mind, I shall persevere and pray for a better tomorrow, while knowing that tomorrow won't be better, just different.

Monday, July 07, 2008


Today I had my first-ever motor vehicle accident. Granted, I've had one other collision but it was with my dads parked car and my mother should not have let me reverse her car when I was 11 years old...

Back to the story at hand. I cannot describe to anyone just how crap the experience was. I should have known that my day was going to be really poo when I was awoken by my sister, 45 min after I was supposed to get up because I'd set my alarm for 6:15 PM instead of 6:15 AM. It set the tone for the day and after a VERY hastey breakfast (an apple while running around...), we departed on our ill-fated trip to university.

I remember little bits of this morning, but accidents have an amazing property, in that they wipe vast chunks out of your day. We left the house and had to stop off shortly after leaving to clean the ice off the windshield. It was a really cold morning today and so we had to create a wad of tissues to wipe with. A little further on our way I remember hearing the news being read on the radio and thinking to myself, 'Oh good. The news is on. That means we can't be too late.'

Part of our route to university takes us along a long straight road called, Cumberland St. It has many perpendicular ajoining roads along it, but usually only on the one side. It was along this road that it happened.

Suddenly my sister was yelling and the car infront of me was really close. I braked and started to swerve to try and miss it. It was too late. I hit the back of the BMW in front of me and it went up one of the ajoining roads. It seemed to gain speed as it went uphill and, ramping the pavement, took out a STOP sign, eventually coming to rest against a tree.

At this point I remember thinking, 'I'd better move my car so that it's not blocking the intersection.' which I did. I stopped the car just off the intersection and got out. I ran around my car to the other side where I was greeted in language that I shall not repeat here, by an irrate greek man. After much swearing I went to my car to collect something to write on to get his details, while doing so, I phoned home to let them know.

Luckily for me, my uncle Vic was at home and he guided me through all the details I needed and what to do. Within minutes a swarm of tow-truck drivers had arrived and began circling the carcass of the BMW. My car still looked like it had some life in it and so, was left alone for the most part.

Nobody was seriously injured nor was anyone killed. It was just not fun at all. I must point out the irony in the situation though. Just the other day I was chatting to a friend and I happened to mention that my other sister was leaving for the UK (She left on Thursday last week). I also mentioned that it was a bad thing for her siblings she left behind because the last time that she left, we both got into trouble (I arrived home drunk and so did my sister, one week later. The parents were most unimpressed...) and so now that she was leaving again, we were bound to get into trouble again. And, like clockwork...we did. Luckily that should be the last time that she leaves, so life should be smooth sailing from now on...

Monday, June 30, 2008

Hair wax and puppies

I'm currently house-sitting for my aunt and uncle who are on holiday. It is one of my favourite things in the world, house-sitting. I love the freedom that one has to eat when one feels, sleep when one feels, do whatever you want, watch whatever you want on TV; it's fantastic! Naturally, with all of this, comes the responsibilities of looking after the house. In this case, they include feeding and caring for a black Labrador puppy and a cat.

I have not had a puppy in a long time. We last got a puppy when I was still in high school, over 7 years ago, so I'm not all that familiar with puppy behaviour. I should have gathered some insight when I read my list of instructions from my uncle which included things like, '...and ensure that all chewable items are well out of reach of the dog!'. While I heeded the warning, I don't believe that I grasped the full extent to which this rule should be applied.

Along with the 'chewable items' rule, came one regarding the feeding of the dog. It's a process that requires confining the animal to the kitchen and feeding him, without allowing him to escape because, according to the instructions, he would run off with his food bowl. So I fed the dog as per the instructions and to my amazement, after wolfing down his meal, he grabbed his bowl in his mouth and ran to the door with it! I retrieved the bowl and examined it. I then understood why him running off with the bowl was a problem.

He had been chewing his own food bowl! But it isn't a plastic one! It's aluminium! So I conclude that the dog is insane.


A while back, a good friend of mine was travelling in Italy and was given a free sample of some hair wax. He, never using the stuff or any other hair product really, gave it to me when I saw him next. I never use hair wax but decided I'd give it a try at some stage and placed it into a bathroom cupboard, never to be seen by human eyes again...

...until now...

So, while packing for my house-sitting stint, I found said hair wax. I decided that I would take it with me and give the stuff a try the next day. So, today I tried the stuff out.

I've used gel before, but hair wax was alien to me. I glanced at the package and noted that all the instructions on the side were in Italian, rendering any effort to come to terms with the use of this, futile. In truth, I probably could have read it but I was just feeling too lazy.

I figured that it can't be all that difficult to apply and that it probably behaved in much the same way that gel did, only a little more firm. So I took a little dollop, placed it into my hand and ran my hand through my hair. The result was what looked like a head-on (excuse the pun) collision with a candle. I had wax all around my fringe and nowhere else on my head.

While this was happening, the puppy was outside barking madly at the cat who ignored him as I imagine Marie Antoinette had ignored the revolting peasants outside he chateau during the revolution...

I decided, after a little contemplation, that hair wax was, indeed, retarded. It had to be washed out. So I grabbed the shampoo and washed my hair. After the rinse, I realised, to my horror, that it had done little to remove the wax, but, the action of washing my hair had spread the wax a little so that I didn't look quite as waxy. I did some fiddling and managed to get it all looking relatively decent.

I later learned that one should rub the wax in one's hands first and then, when it it warm, apply it. If only they had said that, in English, on the label...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Compliments and murder

Firstly, compliments. I never know how to take them. I always appreciate them, as does everyone (or maybe I'm not as weird as I think...?). I just cannot help but cringe every time I get one. I am always thrilled to receive them, but there is still a part of me that really wishes that I wouldn't receive them. As anyone who knows me can testify, if I am given a direct compliment, I tend to either go crimson (Helen can testify to this one...) or I try to leave the situation asap! I recently received, what I consider to be a compliment from my cousin, Duncan in a post dedicated to me and it made me realise just what a nutter I am with regard to compliments.

Bearing this in mind, I am still open for compliments by whomsoever wants to dish them out! Ego-boosts are always great!

Secondly, MURDER!!! For the last two and a half years, I have unwittingly been witness to one of the most longwinded, drawn-out murders of all time. It is not technically a murder, but that depends on your interpretation, I suppose...

There is a building that I walk past on a daily basis from my parking to the building that I work in. It is the campus canteen/shopping centre. Now, somehow, whenever I walk up past this building, I am unfortunate enough to experience the slaughter...of a trumpet.

There has been someone who, all this time, has been 'practicing' on their trumpet. And I put practicing in inverted commas because it implies some sort of improvement over time. And apparently nobody has had the heart to tell this person that:
  1. What they are doing is cruel
  2. Sometimes, things just don't work out, and you need to know when to quit (in this case, over 2 years ago!)

Here is a clip which I recorded on my phone today while walking up from parking. It's not great quality, but you can experience the full horror for yourself none the less...

I can't figure out how to load the sound...Any ideas? It's well worth the listen, in a sort of watching-horror-movies-is-well-worth-scaring-yourself-shitless kinda way...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I have balls! Now all I need is a screw with a nut...

So the hunt for the balls for my devices continued on Tuesday. I arrived at Wits depressed and despondent as I had gone to practically every Asian wholesale retail outlet in the greater Johannesburg area, and returned completely empty handed. I followed my normal morning routine and checked my e-mail after having dumped my jacket and set up my laptop. While doing my e-mail check, I was greeted by Sneha, one of my fellow masters students. We got chatting about the weekend and her birthday, which had been on the Friday. I happened to mention to her that I still hadn't found the balls and that it was stressing me out.

She suggested that I try out a place called 'Discount Cash and Carry'. I was somewhat sceptical but felt that even the tiniest lead would be great compared to my situation at the time. So, after much searching for directions on the net, I left to find the store.

I got lost.

Following the detour, I managed to find my way and arrived at the store. It was really more of a warehouse than a store, but as I walked through its dodgy, fetid rotary gate, I was amazed to discover just how massive a store it was! They had tons of stuff of every kind! It was HUGE! After asking a few people for the toys section, I eventually found it. All four aisles of toys. This discovery was followed by much searching and finally, the discovery of the sports toys section.

I went up and down the aisle but didn't see the type of ball I was looking for. My heart sank. I decided to walk in the direction of the check out tills and, should I by some bizarre twist of fate find what I needed along the way, so be it.

So it been!

I walked past a cage filled with mini soccer balls. Now, my original plan for the device was to use mini soccer balls as they are quite tough and about the size I was thinking of. But these ones looked a little small so I was still not convinced. But I took one and after consulting the aisle attendant on just how big the balls could get, I went off to pay.

Once back at Wits, I pulled out one of the devices to look at how the balls size would compare to the hole of the device. The device already had a ball in it, but I tested it anyway.

In one of those moments that, had it been a made-for-TV-movie, would be characerized by celestial voices and a bright yellow back light, the ball didn't fit into the hole! It was perfect! I was so thrilled that I immediately dropped the ball, grabbed my car keys from my desk and hurtled off to ask Helen if she wanted to join me in my revelry and go buy the remaining 60 balls I needed.

The pair of us arrived at the store and minutes later, walked out with a very large bag of mini soccer balls. I can't speak for Helen, as it probably wasn't nearly as exciting for her, but it was the most amazing sense of relief as I dumped them into the car.

The rest of the day progressed in just the same serendipitous manner. I received a travel mug (it can be plugged into my car or my laptop to keep things warm!) and two bottles of blue creme soda (its so artificial tasting that nobody else will drink it. I LOVE it!)!

Now, the only remaining search I have to do is the one for the screw with a nut. My bicycle seat is held in place by a bolt and a nut, but both appear to have disappeared. So I need to find those and return my bike to its complete state...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

MIA...and screwed

Howdy blog folk!

I've not blogged in some time now. It's been a little frustrating because I've really wanted to but of late my internet connection has been playing up. To be fair, it really was more the fault of my laptop, more than the internet connection...(Note to self: NEVER buy a celeron based computer ever again unless it is to be used in a capacity that is intended to hinder one's life...)

So, not really much to report. I've had a bit of a frustrating last few days. For the chimps that I work with, I am building a type of feeding device. I've mentioned them before and at the moment I'm having a whole lot built to put into the chimp enclosure at the zoo as part of my experiment. Now, part of this device requires that I place a number of durable balls into the device. The idea is that they obstruct the chimps and make it a little more time consuming to get the food that will be in the device.

Last year I built a few of these devices and I managed to find (what I figured was) as perfect a ball as I was going to find to put into the devices. The really cool thing about the balls, other than the fact that they were the right size and all, was that they were ridiculously cheap and availible freely from China Town. So I got the balls I needed for the devices for last year.

So this year, I return to the same stores in China Town (actually, it's called Asia City, to be precise) to find more balls for the new batch of devices I'm having built. To my horror, none of the stores stocked them anymore! Not only that, but they all seemed to think that I was insane and that there had never been such an item invented my a human mind, never mind being sold in their stores! So I freaked out a bit and spent much of time for the last few days trying in futile despiration to find the damn things!

So if anyone knows where I can buy 'Monster balls' at a relatively cheap cost, PLEASE contact me asap!!!! They look a little like tennis balls with a thyroid problem. They're just a bit smaller than a soccer ball but larger than a tennis ball, but still have the shape and pattern of a tennis ball.


PS. If you have not yet seen it, go see The Happening. It's tre cool!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Ironic title

For those who don't know me all that well, I am a huge fan of the TV series 'Lost'. I was introduced to the series by Helen, and I have never looked back. It's fantastic!

So, tonight was the finale of the series. And, I have to say that I was most impressed. Not only did they tie things up, but they left you feeling as if you had less understanding of what was actually going on than when you watched the first few episodes! It's great!

Now I know that most people would find this infuriating to watch, but for me it was perfect! I especially liked the cliff-hanger ending! Brilliant!

I also now realise the fantastic irony in the title of the series. It describes how one feels after watching it! Completely lost! Yay!

That's all...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Please Flush Urinal After Use!

Today, I went to one of the bathrooms in the building in which I work. As I walked into the room, I realised that something was different. Something had changed. My eager bladder overcame any thought processes and I moved quickly, to the urinals. It was then that I noticed what had changed. There was a large sign above the urinals that said, ‘Please Flush Urinal After Use!’

My initial reaction was to find this a little amusing. I do have a little toilet humour (pun intentional) in my head, so this wasn’t all that odd. But soon thereafter, I began to think to myself that it was not so funny that that sort of thing was necessary. I mean, it should come as second nature that one flushes once one has emptied! This sort of thing would never be needed in a woman’s loo!

This then got me thinking. Guys are not the most skilled, not considerate bathroom users. We have been blessed in so many ways! We can stand and pee at the same time! We don’t have to go through childbirth (Adam must have done something right, at the beginning, to get that one!), nor do we have to carry our developing offspring! It’s fantastic! We don’t have to worry about having periods! It’s fantastic! And yet, we often take it all for granted.

The sign shows just how little we appreciate it. I mean, flushing is SO simple and yet there are people out there that don’t! Horrors! Our inability to be courteous in the bathroom extends to many other areas. For example, guys, if you have really bad aim, please learn to aim! Practise if the years leading up to your current age have not been practice enough! If all else fails, and you are still battling to hit the target, please don’t leave evidence of your willy’s triumph over hygiene all over the toilet seat! Clean it up for crap’s sake!

At this point I imagine all female readers of this blog are sitting thinking smugly to themselves, ‘Finally! I guy who sees our side of the story!’ Women are not blameless in this regard! I’ve learned many a thing about the internal workings of the female body from the contents of a toilet bowl…considerably more than I’d like to know, let me tell you! And women, it’s really not all that hard, just lift the toilet seat UP when it’s down, instead of bitching about it!

In short, let’s all make an effort to make the bathroom experience a pleasant one! Happy bathroom’ing people!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Another Saturday, another Matric dance...

For those of my readers who are not South Africans, nor do they have or have had any contact with a South African there are some things that one must know about our culture. Apart from having words which have no other equivalent in any other language, one must understand that when one is in their final year of high school (termed 'matric'), one of the ways in which one is permitted to celebrate the finality of the year is through a matric dance. Basically the same as a prom, or a farewell dance for the final year, this is an event which all South African youths must enjoy/endure (depending on your stance) as a rite of passage into the final exams and eventually, the rest of your life. I am one of those that endured.

My cynical view of the event is purely to be blamed on women. For reasons which, after years of contemplation, are only beginning to become apparent to me (and of course through various explanations from the women in my life - thanks guys!) women tend to become possessed by 'the spirit of the matric dance'. This basically means that, much like most things female, logic gets tossed out of the window, along with a sense of rationality and they become hyper-sensitive, obsessive lunatics who place the event on a pedestal which would make the colossus look like a Lego man. They get themselves so hyped up about this evening and spend thousands (if they have any say in the matter) of their parents monies on clothes, hair and make-up, only to realise, halfway through the evening that they really can't dance in stilettos and that the pain from their feet is in fact very real. This is usually accompanied by much complaining to the partner...

So, being a person who cares about those who I surround myself with, I always feel that the event practically is designed to disappoint, of which I do not approve.

So, when I was invited to go to matric dance by someone from the zoo, I was not all that happy about the idea. The enormous age gap aside, I did agree to it, knowing that the person in question had been trying to find a date, but had failed to do so, for some time and was not very happy about the situation. And so, things went ahead and, as it happens, the dance itself was last night.

It has to have been one of the most eventful dances I've been to in a very long time. My date was pestered every two seconds by people screeching, 'Oh my God! You're in a dress!', as if they had expected her to arrive in scuba gear. She grew weary of this very quickly but the relentless classmates continued.

I also met Helen's cousin, who teaches at the school of my date. She also seemed to have heard of me long before I had even arrived (I assume through Helen or one of her parents) which was kind of freaky.

Then, there was the waitress who slipped on the floor next to me, fell, dislocated and fractured her knee and had to be taken away in an ambulance by paramedics. It was really terrible! The poor girl just lay on the floor, crying in agony and clutching her knee and there was nothing we could do! (It turned out that my date and half of her friends are first aid'ers so they all flocked to the scene, leaving the dates to stand around awkwardly).

There was also the usual matric dance cheek ache which is characteristic of having to be photographed by absolutely every human being you come into contact with during the course of the evening.

And finally, at one stage my date decided to take off her shoes because the pain was getting a bit much, and the whole thing would make dancing that much easier. As it turned out, this was not a good time for her to do so because she returned to the table moments later, having been stood on by some other girl in stilettos on the dancefloor and had a large sheet of skin removed from one of her toes. However, this didn't slow her down at all.

Overall, it was one of the best matric dances that I have ever attended, and I have attended a few (approx. 5). Which is why I have decided that I will end it all on a high note. No, suicide is not on the cards just yet, but I will no longer be attending matric dances. Also, the fact that I am old enough to be the teacher of the girls that are in matric at the moment, adds weight to this decision. So girls, I'm sorry to say, that I am retiring from the field of the matric dance. You will have to look elsewhere for partners, from now on...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Something you should NEVER do while washing someone's hair...

Today I went for a haircut. This was a bit odd for me. As a zoologist, one rarely really gives a crap about how one looks (within reason). So, also being a student, I have been resorting to the cheaper option for the last few years. I've been cutting my own hair with an electric shaver. It's been pretty functional, so I've not really had a problem. Thus, today's events were a change from the norm.

My sister came along with me to get her hair cut at the same time. On our way there, she and I were discussing what I should do with my hair. I wasn't particularly fussy about how it turned out, just as long as I don't have a mullet (Eeugh!). After mentioning this, my sister changed her tone to one of concern. She warned me that I had better make it explicitly clear to the hairdresser that I wasn't going to have a mullet as, she said, the hairdresser had a tendency to cut mullets with gay abandon.

Arriving at the hairdresser, I was already feeling a little silly, with images of people walking out of her shop with mullets, looking very miserable while she cheerfully waved them off on their merry way. My sister went through first to have her hair cut and while I waited to be called through to have my hair cut, I quickly sent my cousin a few messages, mostly nonsense, to pass the time. Then, I was summoned.

I went through to the basin to have my hair washed. There wasn't anyone there at the time so I just sat myself down. I sat and pondered how I would break it lightly to the hairdresser that I, being a man of conscience and decency, was not going to sport a mullet. How would one explain the sheer horror of the idea of walking around with long tassels hanging from the back of one's hea-

A strange noise interrupted my thought. It was sort of a combination of a grumble, grunt and a gurgle all in one. I couldn't place the sound and so brushed it off, figuratively speaking. Moments later, I felt a towel being placed on the back of my neck as the hair washer started to get me ready to wash. I sat forward, allowing her to tuck in the towel. She then leaned me back and started washing. I started to think about how some people enjoy getting their hair washed. Personally, I've never been one to really enjoy it. I don't know why but I just don't re-

There it was again! That strange sound! It seemed slightly more familiar this time. I could almost place it, so I decided to listen up in case it happened again. I thought about the possible causes for such an odd sound. It could be the drain, maybe not draining properly...

Then it happened again and this time I knew exactly what it was. I was horrified and repulsed to realise that it was the washer herself! She was snorting! While washing my hair, she was using the time to ensure that her nasal passages were entirely mucus-free! It was disgusting! To make things worse, given my already silly mood, my immediate response was to giggle! Luckily, I stiffled the giggles and managed to go through the haircut unaffected, apart from the psychological scars naturally.

Once all was done, I headed off with my sister into the very cold, very wet streets of Malverne. When we reached the car, I told her the terrible tale of my hair wash and she too said that the washer had done the same with her! It was really repulsive! So, let it be a warning to all in the public eye, especially hair washers! Don't SNORT while washing peoples hair!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The lighter side of xenophobia

As many people the world over now know, South Africa, once the 'rainbow nation', a haven of tolerance and acceptance, is in the throws of a spate of 'xenophobic' attacks. How much the attacks have to do with actual xenophobia and how much is simply displaced rage at the government for failing to provide the necessary poverty alleviation and housing that they promised, I do not know. It has been really terrible to watch how a small band of disgruntled citizens have completely destroyed the countries image and caused untold suffering to the people that they are attacking.

While all of this has been happening, something that has fallen to the wayside is the reactions of the rest of the population to the violence. Naturally, good people don't make for good news, unless they slip up and get caught doing something bad. But it has really been amazing to see just how the country has opened it's arms to those affected by the violence and has taken them in.

Over the airwaves, there have been public declarations of disgust over the behaviour of the individuals perpetrating this violence, and unusually, there have been no misguided politicians saying that they agree with the xenophobes! (This sort of idiotic thing does tend to happen with South African politics...). It's been refreshing to see that the vast majority of the country actually have their heads screwed on the right way and have shown that they will not tolerate this behaviour!

As well as simple lip service, there have been countless charities and volunteers that have given of their time and money to help the displaced. There are shelters being set up everywhere, for affected peoples to stay, out of harms way. People are volunteering at police stations to help feed and clothe people, as well as help look after children. It has been truely amazing to see that we are not a bunch of ignorant thugs who can't think for ourselves, but are in fact a caring nation who love who we are and are not willing to allow the actions of few to ruin it for the rest of us! Well done South Africa, your actions have made me proud to be a South African and to share this beautiful, amazing place with you, in love.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Crisis? I laugh in the face of crisis!

So, for those who don't know me in person, the last week has been a little harrowing. I've had another setback at the zoo. This really got me mad because I've been trying to work on my masters project now for about a year and a half but I've had to restart the whole thing about 4 times because the zoo kept screwing things up. So, when I found out that there was another problem this week, I nearly lost it completely.

I'd tried to contact the primate curator at the zoo during the week, but had not managed to get a fixed time and date that I could talk to her about the problems that I had. So, on Friday I told her that I would be coming to see her on Saturday and that she must just give me a time that she would be free. So, today, after finishing with my volunteers and locking my car keys into the trunk of my car (another story entirely!), I went to go and meet with her.

Now, it is important to understand that I am not a confrontational person. I am a pacifist to the core, so any form of confrontation freaks me out completely! Thus, this morning, before the meeting, I was incredibly nervous! The situation wasn't made any easier by the fact that I am good friends with the curator as well, so there was the added element of not wanting to start a fight with a friend.

Eventually, I met up with her and we had our meeting. It went fantastically! She agreed to all the conditions that I proposed and then agreed to allow me to draw up and implement my very own enrichment design schedule with the chimps for during the course of my experiment! That last bit totally came out of left field and was particularly amazing because it was something that I had been wanting to do there myself for a very long time!

So now I have not only solved an existing problem that I had, but I've also managed to organise things so that now I have the power to give the animals enrichment as I feel fit, which is perfect for my project! I'm so thrilled!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Riots, mob mentality and rage

I'm sure many of you may have seen things on the news about the current violence in South Africa. It started in the same region that I live in and it has affected me deeply! Having lived here all my life, I always assumed that somehow, South Africa was different to the other African states. We were a nation of enlightened people, who, through the struggles of appartheid, learned the value of human life and the necessity to treat all as equals. However, the behaviour that we are seeing at the moment in this country leads one to believe otherwise.

It is really terrible. Just last night on the news, I saw footage of gangs of men moving from house to house, sending in one man at each house. My dad then explained that that was how they recruited people. The guy goes in and says, either you join us or you die. I was horrified because I knew that that was often done in countries that are in civil war and it suddenly hit me that we were no different to those countries! We were being just as savage as people during the wars in Rwanda, the Congo....

It has really changed the way that I think about South Africa as a whole, and more importantly, it's people. I'm deeply saddened and disappointed. And at the same time, enraged that people can forget what we, as a nation, stand for! The one nation in the world that has truely undergone a radical transformation from a racist, cruel government to democracy! We were the rainbow nation!

This is why I am joining a protest march on Saturday morning in Braamfontein. It will be starting at 09h00 on Saturday the 24th at Marks Park, near Hillbrow, on Empire road. Please, if you are available, come and join the march! This action should not be allowed and will not be tollerated by South Africans! Join us and show that you too care about the country we live in! Bring placards and signs! No weapons! It'll be my first ever protest march!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Need brownie points? Take grandma to the zoo!

On Friday I took my two grandmothers to the zoo. It was something that they had asked me to do a while ago but, as life tends to do, things snowballed and I just didn't have the time to do it. Until Friday that is...

So, after going in to Wits and having a brief social gathering with all of the other behaviour students and my supervisor, I headed off to fetch the aging matriarchs and head off to the zoo. We arrived and headed off into the zoo. Neither of my grannies are particularly fit, given their 70+ year status, so I went off to organise a zoo buggy for us to travel around in.

Zoo buggies are highly over-priced, electrically powered golf carts that the zoo hires out to the aged, the infirm and the down-right lazy. They are really great fun to drive around, but at R70/hour, should be avoided unless one has recently come into a considerable inheritance and lacks the foresight to invest. In hindsight, I suppose that it's not all that expensive for a non-student who is not spending part of every day at the zoo...

Once I'd acquired my zoo buggy (buggy number 9 in fact!), I shot off down the hill to meet my grandmothers, waiting for me on a bench by a pair of central African monkeys. Once I reached them, and we were all on the cart, we began our tour of the zoo. First up, the chimps!

We went up onto the chimp platform and watched them for a while. Both grandmothers were very happy to see the chimps and fired a barrage of questions at me about them, my project and chimpanzees as a species.

I'd like to take this point to inject a little fact that I recently became aware of and which I find very exciting! Apparently, the mapping of the chimp genome has been redone and, contrary to our original estimations of genetic similarity between our species and them, originally thought to be up to 96% in common between the two, the percentage overlap in genetic material has been re-evaluated. It now appears that we share 99.6% of our DNA!

While up on the chimp platform, my one grandmother noticed the orang-utan in the enclosure opposite and insisted that we go and have a look. We headed back to our faithful buggy. It was then that my one gran pointed out the fact that the buggy was a left-hand drive! Which is not the norm for South Africa. None the less, we headed off to the Orang's.

The rest of the day was spent going all over the zoo, seeing the orang-utans, the meerkats, seals, ring-tail lemurs, elephants, sitatungas, snow leopard, yellow, hamadryas and chacma baboons, mandrills, lions and finally the tigers. It was the last exhibit which really made my grandmother's day. The zoo has plenty more animals and I would have loved to take them to see them all, but exhaustion sets in quickly in the aged...

The tiger exhibit had not been altered in any way since the 1970's and was in dire need of being rethought. So, the zoo built them a new one and converted the old one into baboon enclosures. Now, the new tiger enclosure has only recently been completed and neither of my grandmothers had ever seen it. It's a fantastic enclosure, built with a swimming area, loads of grassy hillside for them to romp around on and plenty of trees to climb. But, one of the best features of the enclosure, from the point of view of the public is that the enclosure has three viewing windows, from which the public can view the tigers from approximately 15cm away.

Another amazing feature is the 'Loo with a view'. It's a public bathroom that is built into the side of the enclosure, from which people can view the tigers, as they do their business. The viewing window is not visible to any people however!

So, as we arrived at the enclosure, my one grandmother went off into the bathroom, while I, and the other gran, waited outside, looking into the enclosure. It was just then that one of the bigger tigers in the enclosure decided to visit the window. It performed beautifully! I couldn't have asked for a better moment!

My gran was so amazed by the experience! She'd never been so close to a big cat and had never realised just how big, powerful and beautiful they were up close. It really made her day! Meanwhile, the other one was inside the bathroom and she too saw the tiger at the window and marvelled.

It was so amazing for me to see how special such a moment could be to them! Working in the zoo almost every day, I think that I often fail to remember that not everyone gets to have the experiences that I am afforded. For me, seeing that tiger so close, while definitley one of the more memorable moments at the zoo, was not nearly as amazing as it had been for my grans! I think it goes to show that it's important that we remember just how lucky we are, in all aspects of life and appreciate every blessing we are given.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The green card tastes like chocolate!

Yesterday, as the day was drawing to a close, I was sitting in my lab, trying to look productive in the hopes that, should anyone who actually gave a crap walk in, I might seem to be terribly efficient and hard at work. In truth, my brain had seized up like a poorly lubricated motor and wasn't planning on doing anything vaguely constructive any time soon.

While staring at my computer, contemplating whether it was actually okay to scoot off, seeing as I had nothing left that I could do, I heard a sound coming from the lab opposite mine. This lab is occupied by two of the most fantastic people I know: Sneha, by far the most kind-hearted, gentle soul I have ever met, and Megan, a genius in her own right and about as nutty as a jar of Skippy's.

On this particular evening, it was Megan who was in the lab. She has been working like an absolute slave lately, lecturing at our university to medical students and, at the same time, lecturing at another university entirely, on the other side of town. She was busy packing herself up and getting ready to head off home. I walked in to say hi, and we got chatting.

After a brief discourse over what examples she had used to illustrate some of her points to the medical students (most of which would be considered by most to be wildly inappropriate, such as phantom limb patients experiencing orgasms in both their genitalia and in their phantom limbs!), the conversation somehow ended up on synesthesia.

Now, for those who are normal, and have not memorised some of the more obscure psychological and neurological conditions which exist, synesthesia is a bizarre situation where people have linked senses. For example, in an individual that experiences this, sight and taste may be linked. In such a case, the individual in question will experience a taste when they see a particular colour, as real to them as it is to you when you taste something.

It is thought that the condition arises at a stage of brain development where the brain's neurons grow out and create new pathways. At a later stage, the brain begins to 'prune' some of these connections, severing those that are not needed or and not supposed to be there. The idea with synesthetics is that their brains have failed to sever all of the connections between the sensory centers, leaving links between senses that normally, are not linked.

The point of this diatribe is that during this discussion, I began to realise just how difficult life for a synesthetic must be. Imagine experiencing smells every time that you see something, over and above the already present smells in the air! And the smells wouldn't necessarily be pleasant! Imagine, for example, that every time you saw the colour blue, you tasted bile! And imagine how difficult it must be to try to describe to someone, what an amazing place the world must be when everything you see comes with it's own musical soundtrack that your brain generates and plays to you, as if it were really there. It must be a truely amazing and beautiful curse...

Saturday, May 03, 2008

In memory of Josh

On Thursday, 1 May 2008, Joshua the chimpanzee was euthanized, following a harrowing day and a half of medical attention and emotional trauma.

On Wednesday morning, something happened. There have been various stories that I have heard from different people about what exactly happened, but I'll give you the official story that was published in the newspapers. Two of the adult males in the chimp group at Johannesburg Zoo got into a fight. Unfortunately, as is a common thing in these sorts of scenarios, Joshua was dragged into the fight. I think that why he was dragged in was that, he never really learned to avoid the adults when they fought. If he got scared, he would usually just curl up on the floor, hugging as much straw under him as he could. So, he would probably have been easily accessible to the males who would have readily grabbed him and incorporated him into their displays or even used him as a weapon.

He was found by keepers and, after being removed from the enclosure, was rushed off to the zoo hospital. There vets examined him for injuries and, finding only a few, they suspected a head injury. He was then rushed to Milpark Clinic, a local (human) hospital. There he was x-rayed and eventually went in for a cat-scan to examine the extent of his head trauma. From the scan, it was found that he had multiple fractures to the skull and had swelling of the brain. As a result, he was moved to Onderstepoort Veterinary hospital where he was placed on a respirator as he was no longer able to breathe on his own.

There, sedated, he spend the night, surrounded by zoo staff and his human mother, Althea Guinsberg. The next day, following several tests to look at his brain activity, he was found to be completely brain dead and, around 12:12 pm, I was informed that he had been put down.

Now, I would like to do something that, for me anyway, is somewhat unorthodox. I would like to ask any of you who read this, please, to keep Althea in your thoughts and prayers. She loved Josh very much and, for her, he was her baby. It's just like losing a human child, only, here, it comes coupled with all the guilt of knowing that she was in charge of introducing him to the main group and that as a result of this, she feels his death is on her shoulders. As a friend and a scientist, I know that she's not to blame herself at all! It was a real risk that came with the intro and, had she kept Josh with her for longer, things would just have been harder for him in the long run. So please, think of her.

Goodbye Josh. You were an amazing individual who afforded me some very special experiences and the priveledge of getting to know you. You will always be remembered and missed dearly.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blame it on the weatherman

Today was marked by two extraordinary events. Both occurred at Wits. The first occurred while I was doing my marking at my desk in my office. I was busy going through one of the students answers that followed the mundane senselessness that is typical of the response of a completely uninspired student. You know the kind. The sort of answer to a question where the question is something like, 'If birds have wings, how do they help them fly?'. Naturally, students tend to respond with something like, 'Birds have wings. They help them fly. That's why birds have wings. To help them fly, because that's what wings do. They are there to help them fly. Flying is what birds do with their wings...' and so on, ad nauseum.

The best is when students write something like that, and after receiving their marked work back, demand to have it explained why exactly they didn't get full marks for the question...

Suddenly a face appeared at my door. He appeared just above my line of sight while I was marking, which added to the surprise, as I'm not used to having people appear at my door, half-way up. I looked up from my marking into a face that I instantly recognised as being one of some significance, but for the life of me, couldn't be placed. Now, this is fairly normal for me. I periodically run into people who I recognise visually, but can't remember their names.

So, I greeted him and he greeted me, continuing to ask if I had seen one of the lecturers in the corridor at all. I responded in the negative, all the while trying to figure out how the hell I knew this person. He simply thanked me and said that he'd keep looking for him. He then turned and left just as silently as he had arrived.

I resumed my marking, grateful that he hadn't referred to me by name, as this would have lead to a situation that required me to do the same. A moment later, it dawned on me who this fellow actually was!

It was Simon Gear, the weatherman from TV! It was really surreal to have had the weatherman appear at my door unexpectedly, looking for Ed, the lecturer. So Sarah, be sure to tell your grandmother that I have met Simon and that he is a very polite and quietly sneaky man.

The second incident occurred about an hour and a half later. I was walking down to my car, on my way to fetch my mother from work. On my way down the seemingly endless hill to my vehicle, I passed one of the female residences. There was a small crowd of girls standing outside the res, chatting. I didn't pay them much mind as this is a fairly consistent thing to see on campus. As I walked past them one of the girls broke away from the group. He walked over and greeted me.

This is the sad part. I immediately thought to myself, 'Oh crap...she probably wants to make a religious convert of me or is trying to pick my pockets...' which makes me feel terrible that I would think the worst of someone like that! She intercepted me and linked arms with me. As she did so, she said, 'I just wanted to touch you'. I, being very bad at thinking on my feet, responded with the cracking line, 'Uh...okay?'.

She seemed to see that I really hadn't got what she was trying to say and so, repeated herself, in a tone that implied complete earnestness. I responded with another 'Okay' and smiled at her. She then broke away from me, gently placing her hand on my shoulder and smiling. She then turned and walked back to her friends.

It was weird. I figure, either she was tripping on something, or she was coming onto me and I just didn't pick up on it at all...But it was a fitting end to my day!

PS. For anyone who has been wondering, Joshua, the baby chimp has now been introduced to the main chimp group save for one adult male, and everything has gone swimmingly! He's fully integrated and there are no signs of trouble at all!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Waiter...there's a fly in my California Iced Tea!

So yesterday was Helen's birthday (Happy Birthday again Helen!) and to celebrate, we went out to dinner in Fordsberg. Now, Fordsberg is a little dodgy area, mostly Indian and Arab inhabitants, that is very close to Wits. We were first introduced to it by a friend during our honours year, 2006 (Eebee, you is ROX!!!). The area is absolutely over-run with indian resturants, which is why we go there.

The food there is fantastic and is ridiculously cheap! So, as students, it is just our cup of tea...not literally.

So Duncan, Helen, Tom and I all piled into my car and we sped off into the night. We soon arrived at the resturant that we usually go to and after a slightly confusing conversation with the car guard (he seemed to think that I wanted him to wash my car) we went off to get food! Our food was really good and once the meal was over and we had paid the bill, I suggested that we go somewhere else to pass some time as I didn't feel like going home yet.

So we piled back into the car and sped off into the Johannesburg darkness once again. After some constination, it was suggested by Tom that we try out a new bar that had just opened up in Greenside, called 'Gin'. After a distinct lack of any opinion from everyone, it was decided that this was to be our destination.

We arrived and parked in a conveniently placed open parking bay (directly outside the bar!). We all piled out and scampered into the bar. The place was interesting and, for me anyway, played good music. All things were looking well and we went out onto the balcony that overlooks the road over the rest of the bar. We got ourselves a table right on the edge of the balcony and parked off. It was a little chilly but we managed to keep warm by bobbing about to the music which was very Vogue supermodel-ish.

Eventually, a waiter appeared and we called him over. He wasn't all that clued up on the menu and after we asked him for the cocktail menu, he reluctantly went downstairs to fetch it. He then reappeared with a large signboard with the cocktail menu written on it. We all felt bad for having asked him to go and fetch it. It did look a bit heavy and certainly not the size thing that you would want to be carting up and down a narrow staircase. And after much discussion about what cocktails were blue on the list, we placed our orders.

A while later, and after much jiggling to the music, he emerged from downstairs with our drinks. As it turned out, mine was the only blue cocktail, which upset Helen. Mine was also drinkable because hers was about 70% tequila, 29% Gin and 1% colouring. None the less, we all started drinking our booze and having a merry old time.

About a third of the way through mine, I noticed something swishing around at the bottom of my glass. I figured that it had to be a lemon pip as my drink was very tangy and definitely contained lemon juice. I didn't think much of it.

Then it swished up to the side of the glass and I realised, to my horror, that the lemon pip was black and had a pair of wings...

It was so revolting! I called the waiter over and pointed it out to him. He was somewhat incredulous but upon inspection of the 'pip' admitted that it was indeed a fly. He appologised and disappeared, only to reappear with another one, on the house.

At this point, I was really not going to drink anything that he brought me, free or not! Helen, seeing an opportunity was thrilled and took the blue cocktail. The irony was that the new cocktail tasted almost identicle to her first one. The only difference was that they had changed the food colouring for a blue one. So, after about 3 sips, Helen decided that it was enough and we all concluded that we should call it a night.

Moral of the story: AVOID GIN!!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The monkeys got the better of me...

For those of you who are new to this blog, or alternatively have no clue what I do, I am a zoologist in training. Specifically, I work on primates. I'm currently doing my masters on chimpanzee behaviour in captivity, but two years ago, I did my honours on baboon foraging behaviour in the wild. My research was based in a smallish reserve found south of Johannesburg, called the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve. It's named after a particular type of Protea tree that is found in the area, called the Suikerbos (translated into English from the Afrikaans, it means 'sugarbush').

My honours project spanned a year. It entailed driving around this reserve's one road, looking for troops of baboons, and on the rare occasion that one was found, observing their behaviour and recording it. The major problem was that the baboons were so hard to find in this reserve that after a full year of driving around, looking for the animals, I came away with the equivalent of about 2 hours worth of observation time.

The reserve only has one road that runs through it. The road is treated as a one-way road and, as I'm sure you can imagine, it does tend to get a little tedious after about the fifth day of driving on it. So, to liven things up a little, and simultaneously live on the wild side, we used to occasionally drive along the road, the wrong way! (We are such rebels...)

Anyway, today, I went back to Suikerbosrand with a group of people from two Roots and Shoots groups from Soweto. Roots and Shoots is a program run through the Jane Goodall Institute that focuses on uplifting impoverished communities, alleviating the suffering of animals and generally doing good. So I was asked to join the little expedition as an 'experienced individual with knowledge of the area'. Truth be told, I don't actually know all that much and I'm not really a fan of the place given my experiences in honours.

Despite this, I went along. All in all, the day was a great success. It was enjoyed by all the others and, apart from an incident with a very hairy caterpillar in my pants (a story for another day) and an overenthusiastic individual, determined to drown me in conversation after an exhausting day on the bus, myself too. In fact, the reserve is really quite a pleasant place when you are not looking for baboons to study. However, one thing that really killed me about this trip was that we saw baboons.

Not only did we see baboons, but we saw 4 troops of baboons! That was more than I would see in a week when I was there last time and this was on ONE DAY!!!

So, I have decided to relinquish my crown and admit defeat. The baboons have broken me and won. I shall not research those baboons ever again...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Spending all my hard earned cash...

Today I went off shopping. Normally I loath shopping and try to avoid it whenever possible. But this shopping was different. I was going shopping for my GPS!

My uncle had promised to buy me a GPS for my birthday. He had gone looking around and had decided that it was probably a better plan to leave it up to me and just provide the funding. I certainly wasn't going to object to that plan! So this morning, I got up and went off to the shops with my sister.

We got to the store and went to the GPS shelves in the hopes that, with sufficient gazing at the items on display, some over-enthusiastic store clerk might come swooping over to us to see if we could be helped. Apparently the enthusiasm levels of the store clerks are either just sufficient, or below what they should be, because nobody came over to help us.

So my sister jokingly thought it would be best if we waved one of them down, and decided to demonstrate what she meant. As it would so happen, just as she began to perform her over-exaggerated 'I'm a customer in need of help' wave, one of the clerks turned around and, looking a little confused but still keeping on his I'm-confident-and-know-how-this-place-works face, walked over to aid us.

He was very nice and after I had confirmed that I really did want the bright yellow one, he disappeared into the back room to fetch a new one for me. He soon reappeared with a box and we went off to pay at the till. The lady behind the till was very diligent and had the device rung up in no time. But, she seemed to have overcharged me by about R300! So, not wanting to be completely ripped off, I pointed this out to her. She looked at me and the box, equally incredulously and then bellowed to the clerk to check the price.

Once he had confirmed that we were, in fact, not insane, she redid the price and took our money. She then said, 'Sorry about that' with the tone of a woman who, while walking through a park has just had someones dog urinate on her shoe and had the owner arrive and congratulate the dog. So, determined to be the bigger person, I put on a charming smile (at least, it felt charming...) and said, 'Have a nice day!' and walked out.

Then it was off to Mr. Price! Mr. Price is a clothing store that stocks the kinds of clothes that will last you a few years but cost practically nothing. I really like their stuff! So, armed with R1000 of the money which I was given by the National Research Fund/Foundation (I'm not 100% sure about what the 'F' in NRF stands for...), I went a-shopping! It was actually quite fun! I never like clothes shopping, in fact, I detest it. But this time it was fun somehow. And I ended up with a whole bunch of clothes that, once home, I actually liked, as opposed to the kind that you buy in the store, get home and realise that you must have momentarily lost all sense of class and taste and bought a pair of bright red cargo pants...(True story I'm afraid...)

So that was my day! I'll have to take some pics of me in my brand-spanking new clothes to post here...coming soon!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

10 things I hate about you...NOT!

So Helen dedicated a post to all her friends and in the style of chain e-mails the world over has asked that they post a similar post with ten things that we, her friends, love about our own friends. So here goes...

  1. They are all just as crazy, if not more so, as I am. It's great knowing that if I feel compelled to go and moon the cashier who is unfortunate enough to be working the drive through that evening, I have a small possy who will come tag along and, more than likely, join in.
  2. They are all really supportive, in more ways than one. If I really need to talk to someone at 2:37 am, I know that I can give at least one of them a call and they'll talk to me. Granted, this doesn't apply to all of them...most would probably say things that I shan't publish on a web page that potentially could be visited by children and slam the phone down on me :) I love you guys! ;P
  3. They all have a wicked sense of humour. Practical jokes abound and wit reigns supreme amongst my friends and, most anyway, are more than happy to laugh at themselves.
  4. I can have a decent discussion with all of my friends. No matter what I want to talk about, be it the political crisis in Zimbabwe (Robert Mugabe is a total lunatic...and not in a good way mind you!) or the merits of examining the imprints on building windows left by misguided pigeons, I know that I can have a fruitful chinwag with them.
  5. Whenever one of us makes that fateful mistake of trying to use our atrophied muscles, and is feeling it the next morning, I know that we can all count on one another to tell us that we were stupid to think that those spindly strands that were once muscles would actually work again and sympathise.
  6. Another thing that I can always depend on my friends for is honesty. They all speak their minds, or at least, I think that they do...
  7. The majority of us have become hooked on Geocaching and this naturally leads to hours of getting lost together and enjoying the experience!
  8. We all compliment one another. I often feel that I bring a sense of rationality to many of my friends and they too each bring something to the table.
  9. My friends are all tallented, amazing people. Having them around inspires me and drives me to improve myself.
  10. All of my friends like Creme soda. That's about all that I'd have to know to be friends with them... :D

Ta-DAH! Now, if you are not jelous about me having the friends I have, there's something wrong with you... ;)

PS. For those who are wondering, the answer is NO, I did not just discover smileys. I just like using them :P

Friday, April 11, 2008

On moving out and not buying milk :D

I think that ever since I left high school, I've been thinking of moving out. It's not that I feel particularly uncomfortable at home, it's more that I really want to be independent. I get along with my sometimes overly-nutty family and, sure, every now and again, they really get on my nerves, but I love them very much and certainly don't want to get away from them. Like I said, I just want a place that's all mine, to do with as I will and to invite people over to whenever I feel like it.

This has just dragged my mind onto another thought path entirely...just how sad it is that I, a man of 24 years of age, still lives at home...

Coming back to the point of this story, I had a bizarre epiphany today while helping my mother unpack the weekly shopping. I suddenly realised that if I lived alone, I would never have to buy milk!

This may seem insane, but I am a strict vegetarian (or so I'm told...). While vegetarianism doesn't require that I abstain from dairy products (if I did I'd probably be a vegan...something else) I am really not a fan of milk. I find it really sweet and off-putting. Granted, the fact that I'd be drinking the mammary fluids of a bovid species doesn't exactly whet my appetite for the stuff, but I don't think that I'd drink it anyway. So, when I have cereal, I have it with fruit juice or sometimes, depending on how hard things are, even just plain water. It's actually not as revolting as one might think!

But then I thought to myself, what if I had people come over who want tea or coffee (two more things that I don't consume...but at least they are not going to go off over a matter of days, so I can stock them) and want it with milk? Then what?

So I decided that, when I have my own place, all my friends and visitors, will just have to bring their own milk. It'll be like a bring-n-braai, just with tea and milk. Just think how much fun that'll be!

So, this thought has to be added to my list of advantages to living alone in your own place. These include:
  • Cheaper electricity and water bills
  • Cheaper shopping bills (you only buy what you need)
  • Getting to decorate your own space (Our current house has the most revolting 'brown and beige' colour scheme
  • Getting to buy your own furniture (apparently it's great fun. Can't comment yet, but I'll let you know how it turns out)
  • Having your own internet (not having to share a stitch of bandwidth! YAY!)