Clarens Flora and Fauna (CLARENS NEWS:  19th July, 2012) Clarens residents with a leaning to the botanic side of life will have noticed a new addition to the town’s tree population.   A fine specimen of the genus Cellicia Emteenus Africana has spread its luxuriant branches over the town’s 5-star public ablutions, rising high into our big sky and almost dwarfing its sandstone container, opposite the Bibliophile.   This tree is well-suited to the dry Eastern Free State, as its water needs are minimal.   Bird-fanciers will be delighted to see that this splendid addition to the town’s green belt has already attracted the attention of a rather persistent woodpecker, whose now somewhat truncated beak confirms that the Cellicia Emteenus Africana is indeed a seriously hard wood.

Ornithological Update (CLARENS NEWS:  8th August 2012) Since last week’s publication the editor of this magazine has been inundated with requests from local farmers for more information with regards Woody’s prosthetic replacement. It is with everlasting regret that we must retract the previous article as an ill-conceived hoax, and extend a sincere apology to the Cluny Trust and Kat Barker for any inconvenience it may have caused. We would also like to report that Woody is doing very well and will continue to feature as an ongoing recipient of this magazine’s care and best wishes. Ornithological Update  (CLARENS NEWS:  2nd August 2012) Clarens News (21 July 2012) reported that a very cute but demented woodpecker had bent its beak trying to bore a hole into the new MTN mast on the square.    Hundreds of letters and emails of concern followed, expressing concern about this concussed visitor to our treetops.    Clarens News can report that local veterinary hero, Cat Barker, has fitted a prosthetic beak to ‘Woody’ and that he is back trying to burrow his way into the  local network.    Stay connected for further news on this heart-warming tale, and send donations to the Cluny Animal Trust to cover the cost of Woody’s titanium pecker.

Ornithological News Flash:  Woody Takes a Mate!(CLARENS NEWS: 24th August 2012) For those of you who have been following the heart-warming tale of Woody the eccentric woodpecker, you will be delighted to hear that he has found a mate (apparently on the dating service provided by local meeting place, Friends).    Woody and Doris (yes, really) have set up home in the luxuriant foliage of the town’s splendid Cellicia Emteenus Africanus tree.   This is entirely fitting, since it was Woody’s misguided assault on the steely bark of this landmark tree that first brought him to the attention of Clarens bird-fanciers.   His replacement titanium beak is working well, and he has managed to make a 1mm indentation in the trunk of his new home.   Judging from the chirps of contentment emanating from the highest branches, he and Doris are more than a little turned on by the 8000watt red light that now casts a romantic glow over our nocturnal activities.

  1. Ornithological Notes  (CLARENS NEWS: 6 September 2012) APOLOGY:  The Twitcher has been asked to apologize unreservedly to the proprietors of the Mosaic Pizza Emporium.   The disclosure, in last week’s column (Clarens News,30 August) that Woody and Doris, the town’s celebrity Ground Woodpeckers, have been dining for free on Mosaic Pizzas, has led to long queues of itinerant Indian Mynas, house sparrows, Hadeda Ibis, and even a family of merecats, demanding a slice of the action.  Mosaic’s owner (name withheld for fear of intimidation) lamented that while he was prepared to provide basic Neapolitan pizzas, the merecats’ demand for extra salami and artichoke hearts was a bridge too far.  He said that the angry birds had taken up positions on his Jungle Gym and had threatened to take hostages, while the merecats had gone into hibernation under his bar counter with a bottle of Irish whiskey.   Woody and Doris, recognizing that discretion is the better part of valour, have now reverted to ordering take-aways, which are delivered to the north-east corner of the MTN red-light district, under cover of darkness.   It is hoped that things will return to normal, although the hatching of 300 woodpecker eggs in the spring may yet threaten civil order and peace in Clarens. The Twitcher PS: Early birds and late night revellers will have been startled to see two large cows grazing on the recently reinvigorated spring lawns of the Clarens Square, on Monday morning.   The fact that they were neatly tethered suggested they were not Gauteng holiday makers but locals bent on getting their greens.   The owner was nowhere to be seen but, when I went to have another look an hour or two later,  they were gone, suggesting either that the previous evening’s magic mushrooms had induced a bovine hallucination, or that the Town Fathers had acted quickly and decisively to ensure that no Harley-Davidson or Ferrari would be spattered by second-hand grass.

Ornithological Notes (CLARENS NEWS: 11 September 2012)

Things have gone quiet since Woody and Doris elected to take a spring break, and hired a sit-in maid (Grizelda the one-winged Guinea Fowl) to take care of their clutch of 300 woodpecker eggs buried deep beneath the Leaning Tower of MTN. Your correspondent was however struck this week by the sudden appearance of a fairly innocuous African Pied Crow (Corvus albus, to fellow twitchers) with the most astounding call ever recorded in these fair mountains. This little fellow has been seen and heard the length of the village mouthing (beaking?) the Moonlight Sonata, as well as a number of rather irritating ABBA songs. Bird experts from all over South Africa have been descending on our fair village to record this extraordinary cacophony of birdsong and can be seen at all hours lurking with their binoculars and recording equipment in the village’s rapidly greening shrubbery. Indeed, international interest has been sparked, not least because the little fellow’s choice of ABBA songs defy common decency and taste. However, all good things come to an end, as your correspondent discovered when he bumped into the larger than life proprietor of the Phatt Chef Restaurant. Apparently his new smart-phone, endowed for some inexplicable reason with his personal choice of ring tones, was snatched from atop his freshly-barbequed steak last Sunday afternoon (when his attention was disengaged) by – yes – a Pied Crow. Attempts to bring the bird down with an empty wine bottle only resulted in the poor creature gulping in fright and swallowing the phone. Anyone calling Simon should be warned that he will be stuck on voice mail for a while and that the signal may fade as the new owner ascends through 5000 metres to escape other birds equally irked by ABBA songs. It can only be hoped that the battery dies before the Crow enters Gauteng airspace and triggers SA’s air response system.

CLARENS NEWS: 20 September 2012

News from the woodpecker nest under the Leaning Tower of MTN is that all is well, and that Grizelda (the one-winged Guinea Fowl) is assiduously sticking by her task as egg-minder while Woody and Doris Woodpecker take a break on the beaches of Cape Town.   Postcards from Woody confirm that his titanium pecker is the centre of attention amongst the bird set of Clifton, much to the annoyance of Doris.   (Readers will recall that Woody came to the attention of Clarens bird watchers when he attempted to bore a hole in the village’s newest tree, Cellicia Emteenus Africanus, and bent his beak irreparably on its metallic trunk; following an outpouring of public concern, Woody was given a shiny new pecker and found love in the wings of Doris, a shy but fertile lady woodpecker).   More news of the African Pied Crow (identity withheld until next-of-kin are advised), which swallowed a cell phone and triggered a national emergency by burping ABBA ringtones across the country from 5000 metres (Clarens News 14 September):  He flew north in a desperate attempt to escape the fury of more conventional (but jealous) songbirds, and was reported shot down by a ground-to-crow missile in the Middle East.   Swedish music promoters are apparently offering a large reward for the remains of the not-so-smart phone and plan to erect a monument to the Unknown Crow in central Stockholm.   Finally, mystery surrounds the whereabouts of a large clutch of Guinea Fowl eggs last seen on the edge of the Clarens Town Dam.   Local sources suggest the complicity of a duck in the egg-jacking.   More will be revealed in coming weeks as the mystery deepens.The Twitcher

The excesses of the Christmas season are almost over and there is a sense of semi-hysterical relief that the world did not end as predicted by a group of dyslectic Mayan soothsayers.    Or perhaps it did, and Heaven simply looks a lot like Clarens.    Whatever.   The welcome arrival of the rains may have frustrated visiting golfers but it has cheered the farmers, who are up to their tractor bearings in mud and looking forward to a rich harvest.    The greening of the valley has also done wonders for the mood of the avian population, with an infinite variety of LBJs darting from the treetops to plunder the braai tables of our visitors.   Turns out that the experts who compile the bird books we refer to in times of confusion (pretty much every time we see a bird), have elected to change the names of many of our feathered friends however.   Of the 858 species which grace our share of the planet, it appears that many have been renamed as a result of ‘Taxonomic changes’, which frankly sounds more like an intervention by the Receiver of Revenue.   All sorts of other baffling terms are used to describe this assault on your faithful scribe’s already stressed memory banks, including something called ‘nomenclature’, which I thought was the rust that formed on the cod-pieces of medieval suits of armour.   Anyway, the net effect of this is that fellow twitchers everywhere are going to have to buy some new reference sources if they want to sound suitably clever at their next cocktail party.   Strangely, Woody and Doris Woodpecker (Geocolaptes olivaceus) are quite excited at the prospect of all this ornithological change and are contemplating changing the names of their chicks from Golum, Lefty and Squawk to Jacob, Cyril and Ace.   Political opportunism if you ask me. Now, to follow up on my pre-Christmas warning of sinister sightings in the Clarens underbrush!    Well.    It turns out that unidentifiable but seriously gargantuan tracks have been found along our enchanting hiking trails, suggesting the possibility that our very own ‘Bigfoot’ is abroad.    Several readers have called in to describe their unusual finds on the paths that criss-cross our scenic mountains, and agree that the creature responsible must be bigger than Bruce Weyer but smaller than King Kong.   Local palaeontologists have ruled out a dinosaur although they concede that the late hatching of a Massospondylus egg, perhaps part of a clutch from the Golden Gate National Park, could not be ruled out.    Casts of the footprints have been made and indicate a four-toed creature, weighing around 175kgs and standing up to 2,5 metres in height.   This description fits the Silver Wings biker known to be hibernating in Holkraans cave, except for the fact that he has only three-toes on each foot, as the unfortunate result of modifying his Harley to make vertical take-offs.   The plot thickens and any readers with more information, photographs or sightings should submit these to the Clarens Brewery for display on their ‘Creature Wall’.    Readers are urged to avoid any direct contact with the creature until there is confirmation of his/her dietary status.    Since the term ‘Bigfoot’ has been copyrighted by the Disney Corporation, readers are also invited to submit suggestions for a name for the village’s newest (?) resident.

The Twitcher

17 01 2013  …Since I have been rudely accused of ignoring matters ornithological of late, a short story, which I am reliably informed is true and is certainly too good to dismiss.   My source is an esteemed Clarens resident, of impeccable credentials and a complete stranger to fiction.   The stirring story goes as follows:  Those of you who turn your eyes to the Heavens, for whatever reason, will have noticed that there are several families of Black Eagles in residence, particularly around the pass to Bethlehem.   Known more formally as Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii) these magnificent birds of prey (sorry, not vegetarians) were first recorded by the French naturalist Jules Verreaux, who visited southern Africa to open a chain of Brasseries in the early 18th century.   Males of the species weigh in at over 4kgs and have a wing span approaching 2.2 metres, so they are hard to miss if they swoop down to pinch your wig or snaffle your miniature Poodle – although they prefer Dassies.   The point of the story is that these noble creatures normally fly for about 30 summers before succumbing to age and the elements – largely as a result of their beaks wearing down and limiting their hunting abilities.  However, some Black Eagles reportedly decide not to turn their claws up and die, but instead  initiate a process to reinvent themselves.   In short, they retire to the hills and find a sharp rock on which they grind-down their beaks, stimulating a regrowth which, after some long while, results in a shiny new beak.   The plot thickens, as these feisty birds then use this new proboscis to pull out all their feathers, again to stimulate regrowth.   Thus, assuming you could penetrate the high mountains and were lucky enough to happen upon this process of reinvention, you would be confronted by a bright pink, duck-like apparition with a monstrous pecker (sorry, beak).    In due time, its thick black plumage grows back, although some cynical observers suggest that instead of a white ‘V’ on its back, there will now be a ‘VI’.   Once reborn, this extraordinary hunter then takes to the skies once more and lives another 30-years of rejuvenated life.   How’s that for overcoming adversity? Of course, there is no reason homo sapiens (no, that’s us, silly) couldn’t do the same.   Anyone wishing to go into the mountains to grind down their noses and tug out their thinning grey hair should contact the Twitcher for directions, who may be found most evenings on the third bar-stool on the left in the Clarens Brewery.   Take that David Attenborough!

Well, only 226 shopping days to Christmas and the ankle-biters are all off to school again to rack up another year of educational achievement.    Thank goodness Clarens is not in Limpopo or we wouldn’t even be able to say that.   On a domestic note, several readers have called to claim sighting of the creature reported in last week’s Clarens News but as yet no-one has come up with a decent picture of this elusive visitor.   The ‘Creature Wall’ in the Clarens Brewery is yet to have any postings, so please come forward if you have anything to report.   Your faithful scribe has meanwhile done further research and can confirm that in the USA, where rates of obesity would make any Bigfoot hard to spot in a crowded mall, sightings of this creature seem quite common…In that confused continent, Bigfoot is commonly described as a large, hairy ape-like creature, in a range of 2–3metres tall, weighing in excess of 230kgs, making our little chap/chapess seem quite delicate, or perhaps simply a petite female of the species.   Theirs is also known as “Sasquatch” and is covered in dark brown or dark reddish hair, has large eyes, a low-set forehead with a pronounced ridge, and is commonly reported to have a strong, unpleasant smell.   On hearing this description, a farmer’s wife from Fouriesburg nodded knowingly and suggested her own dear husband as a candidate for any identity parade, should one be held.   In the USA, the enormous footprints for which it is named are up to 60cm long and 20cm wide.   While it appears to have five toes — like all known apes — some tracks have only two to six toes, putting our own little cuddly bunny right in the zone.    Only problem is that America’s Bigfoot is usually described as a bipedal humanoid, and as we have not found any bicycle tracks, they may be unrelated.    The most recent reported sighting in our fair village was at the corner table in Mosaic last Friday night, although the lack of any clothing and widespread pizza smearing could mean that this was simply a well-proportioned visitor from Friends.   Please keep your eyes peeled but any further correspondence on the subject of Steel Wings members going walk-about will not be encouraged.   On a positive note, the Clarens Conservancy has suggested s/he be encouraged to eat the goats and cattle currently devastating the reserve, and will put up some signs to guide the dismemberment of these invaders. Finally, since our newest citizen may be around for a while to come, the Twitcher would welcome ideas on an appropriate name for our shy and odiferous friend in the veld.    “Kaalvoet” has been suggested by a committee in Ficksburg, while a feminist group in the Golden Gate has proposed “Koeksister”, in the conviction that she is a sweet (if hairy) girl and entitled to extensive Constitutional rights.   But I feel sure we can do better than that, and look forward to readers’ suggestions, which will be displayed on the Brewery’s “Creature Wall” in due course. The Twitcher

LATEST TWITCH 25 01 2013

…Turns out that far from hiding in the Clarens woods (well, what’s left after the annual wood-chopping season), our Bigfoot clone has been seen cashing in empties at the Old Stone Bottle Store (Carling Black Label, if you are interested in his/her drinking habits) and caught on security cameras rising from the depths of the Ash River.     Kaalvoet was even photographed on the SAPS gate camera at the local Police Station, but somehow was neither spotted or detained.   Readers with more photographs to post should hurry along to the Brewery asap, as space on the ‘Creature Wall’ is running low. Turning to matters ornithological, as you would rightly expect, I have been pestered all week by growing flocks of Common Myna birds, or Indian Mynas (Acridotheres tristis) as they are more commonly known.   This little fellow is a member of the family Sturnidae (starlings and mynas) and is/was native to Asia.   It is an omnivorous open-woodland bird with a strong territorial instinct, and has adapted extremely well to urban environments like Clarens – in spite of its rural location!   You will be riveted to know that the Indian Myna is an important motif in Indian culture and appears both in Sansrit and Prakrit literature (copies definitely not available at the Bibliophile).   The word “Myna” (as if you cared) is derived from the Hindi language mainā which itself is derived from Sanskrit madanā, but locally it is simply known as a cheeky little bugger.   The real point is that the range of the Myna is increasing at such a rapid rate that in 2000 the  IUCN Species Survival Commission declared it one of the world’s most invasive species and one of only three birds in the top 100 species that pose an impact to biodiversity, agriculture and human interests.   Whew!   Judging by the number of these visitors to my little corner of God’s green acre, it’s turning into a very real problem for Clarens. So I got to thinking.   We could arm the population with air rifles and publish recipes for Myna stew, Myna á l’Orange, or that well-known stand-by, Myna and Cherries in Phyllo Pastry.   However, given the average age of the village population and the prevalence of bottle-bottomed glasses, I suspect we would wind up with long queues in Casualty and not a dead Myna to our collective name.   So, it occurred to me that the previous Government, which we may or may not remember but obviously never supported, put a metaphorical fence around the Free State and insisted that visitors of Indian origin had but 24-hours to cross this enchanted land – and required a visa to do so.   At risk of exciting a host of retired civil servants now running cafes on the coast, could we not re-introduce this remarkable legislation and curb the widespread incursions of this bothersome creature?    Just think, whole squadrons of hot-air balloons with nets deployed across the Malutis; employment for legions of rubber-stamping visa issuers who would (again) simply refuse every application; and clear skies over Clarens!?!   Hhmmmm.   Perhaps I will just buy a pellet gun. The Twitcher

1 February 2013

Well, only 226 shopping days to Christmas and the ankle-biters are all off to school again to rack up another year of educational achievement.    Thank goodness Clarens is not in Limpopo or we wouldn’t even be able to say that.   On a domestic note, several readers have called to claim sighting of the creature reported in last week’s Clarens News but as yet no-one has come up with a decent picture of this elusive visitor.   The ‘Creature Wall’ in the Clarens Brewery is yet to have any postings, so please come forward if you have anything to report.   Your faithful scribe has meanwhile done further research and can confirm that in the USA, where rates of obesity would make any Bigfoot hard to spot in a crowded mall, sightings of this creature seem quite common. In that confused continent, Bigfoot is commonly described as a large, hairy ape-like creature, in a range of 2–3metres tall, weighing in excess of 230kgs, making our little chap/chapess seem quite delicate, or perhaps simply a petite female of the species.   Theirs is also known as “Sasquatch” and is covered in dark brown or dark reddish hair, has large eyes, a low-set forehead with a pronounced ridge, and is commonly reported to have a strong, unpleasant smell.   On hearing this description, a farmer’s wife from Fouriesburg nodded knowingly and suggested her own dear husband as a candidate for any identity parade, should one be held.   In the USA, the enormous footprints for which it is named are up to 60cm long and 20cm wide.   While it appears to have five toes — like all known apes — some tracks have only two to six toes, putting our own little cuddly bunny right in the zone.    Only problem is that America’s Bigfoot is usually described as a bipedal humanoid, and as we have not found any bicycle tracks, they may be unrelated.    The most recent reported sighting in our fair village was at the corner table in Mosaic last Friday night, although the lack of any clothing and widespread pizza smearing could mean that this was simply a well-proportioned visitor from Friends.   Please keep your eyes peeled but any further correspondence on the subject of Steel Wings members going walk-about will not be encouraged.   On a positive note, the Clarens Conservancy has suggested s/he be encouraged to eat the goats and cattle currently devastating the reserve, and will put up some signs to guide the dismemberment of these invaders. Finally, since our newest citizen may be around for a while to come, the Twitcher would welcome ideas on an appropriate name for our shy and odiferous friend in the veld.    “Kaalvoet” has been suggested by a committee in Ficksburg, while a feminist group in the Golden Gate has proposed “Koeksister”, in the conviction that she is a sweet (if hairy) girl and entitled to extensive Constitutional rights.   But I feel sure we can do better than that, and look forward to readers’ suggestions, which will be displayed on the Brewery’s “Creature Wall” in due course. The Twitcher

Not much happening, I’m afraid to report (or not, as the case may be), but I can say that our very own Kaalvoet has gone to ground and disappeared.   Seems s/he has gone walkabout and has not been seen for some days.   Pity, since we need all the waiters we can get for the Beer business and there is a spare waiter’s uniform, apparently, in size XXXXXXXXX. This may explain my absence from these hallowed pages this last week, as if you noticed!   Or cared.    Weighing my options, I finally borrowed an air rifle with telescopic sight and took up position overlooking my rooftops, now liberally spattered with the effusion of these pesky little intruders.    I waited until a line of the little birds (they do look bigger through the scope) was in place and took aim in the hope of the pellet passing through three or even four skulls.    I had the telescopic sight focused and prepared to squeeze the trigger in the approved manner.   What I did not consider, however, was that while the scope was lined up and clear, the barrel of the rifle was several centimetres lower and directed straight into a drain pipe.    I squeezed the trigger, per the instructions, and promptly had a bowel collapse.   The pellet, travelling at several thousand metres per second apparently, set off on a journey of many parts, not least a final ricochet straight back at my head.   So it was that I reported for attention at the local hospital with a pellet lodged in my forehead and the scope lodged in my mouth, as a result of the fall from the ladder and an ensuing tumble into some rose bushes.   You will be pleased (?) to know that I am quite recovered and should soon be able to take solid food again.    As for the Mynas, they continue to spatter my rooftops with what amounts to glee and I would swear that they are multiplying at a prodigious rate.    Just you wait, you little buggers, vengeance will be mine. Otherwise, at my humble abode on the Golf Estate, we have lost sight of the Guinea Fowls that sack our broken Mealie stock every evening.   Indeed, we have lost sight of the houses and trees, even the mountains, as the grass around us grows ever higher.    It would seem that there is an unspoken agreement amongst the staff to tempt fire into the valley by growing an inordinately tall crop of grass around the Estate, so shielding us from the nightly pounding of what passes as music, which rolls up the valley from ‘Lower Clarens’.    We know not and are currently seeking the whereabouts of the main gate, to fetch in supplies for the winter.   Should readers see a flock of confused Guinea Fowls, please feed them at once – or eat them, if they are a bit on the slow side.    I’m not a bit surprised that Kaalvoet has vanished and can only hope that s/he is suitably accommodated for the duration.

The Twitcher 21 Feb 2013

Christmas is just 191 shopping days away, so this is a good week to lay something bye.   Or someone, depending on your inclination.    Or luck.   More importantly, the Clarens Craft Beer Festival starts tomorrow with no end in sight for the plethora of hangovers expected on the Square.   As the good and the great (and the thirsty) flock into town, our thoughts turn to Cynthia, the white swan reported missing from the zoo at Bruce Weyer’s little weekend hideaway on the lake, just last week.   Cynth was thought to be nesting and so concerns were muted.   But the discovery, by your earnest scribe, of some VERY LARGE white feathers on the trail above the village and a set of what might be liberally described as VERY BIG footprints disappearing into the undergrowth, paint a very different picture. …..(continued from main page)……     On the face of it, the evidence suggests that our very own Kaalvoet seems to have developed an appetite for game birds, starting with Bruce’s cuddly little long-necked swan.   If this theory is correct, the duck and swan population at Lake Clarens may be under threat.   Alternatively, someone VERY BIG may have snuck into town, bent on a mouthful of feathery fun.   Whichever the case, it is no longer safe for birds of a gamey nature to meet together for a chat and a snooze on the waters of our founding fathers’ lake.    So, what is to be done, one innocently asks? First, we should summon the cavalry: The SAPS have their very own mounted unit, under the command of a Veldkornet, which lives across the way in Qwa Qwa.   Surely they should ride to the rescue and pick up the tracks of the phantom Swan Canoodler sooner rather than later.   After all, the thought of Bruce lying awake at night is too much to bear!   Second, we should offer a reward for the (mis?)apprehension of Kaalvoet.   If anyone has any money left after a weekend of carousing on the square, this should be sent to The Twitcher without delay.   I can’t guarantee that it will be used for the purpose intended and don’t have a registration number for the receipt of public monies, but I can promise that I will think hard about the problem while drinking it away.   Third, we could simply pretend this never happened and that there is not a 2.3 metre tall monster lurking in the Holkrantz.    It’s a bit of a stretch, I grant you, but so much less demanding.    So, that’s settled then.   Send some money and we’ll buy another swan. I have been inundated by readers concerned about the fate of our cute Common Myna bird population, by the bye.    I can report that they are lousy eating so the plan to stem their assault on the Clarens valley and in fact, the entire Eastern Free State, is now under review.    One option is to export them (ideally in tins) back to Bangladesh, but catching the little buggers turns out to be a problem.    We have experimented with cardboard cut-outs of particularly good-looking females, but these have simply been pinched by a broody dove, for purposes unknown.   We have tried a long line of broken maize into a large pen, but gave up after 109 Guinea Fowls turned up (anyone wanting a pot of Guinea Fowl Swazi-Spa should drop us a line and fifty guineas).    So, we are officially back at the drawing board, scratching our collective heads.   Any suggestions would be welcomed and the authors thereof will receive a standing ovation at the next Dhilabeng Council Meeting. Now, as the actress said to the Bishop, for something entirely less demanding and quite coincidental: A recipe for Swan Soup!    Take a swan.   Any swan, actually.   And peel it, or more correctly, denude it of its feathers.   Assuming you are still alive after this taxing exercise, kill the sodding thing the kindest way you know how, but just do it.   You will now have a very large pink thing with an over-extended neck and no pulse.   Optimally, you should undo its tummy (Ed: that’s the part between its legs and below its rib cage) and empty out all the frogs and other low-life creatures it has ingested.   As you will know, trying to roast a swan is delicate work; the inside bits are always raw and you can’t close the oven door on its neck.   So, a tip: Firmly grasp the butt-end of the swan, insert a well-greased hand until you reach its beak, and turn it inside-out.   The swan may have lost some of its visual charm by this point, but will be a lot easier to cook.   Simply souse it with some sherry, a lot of pepper and grill it on High for 3 days.   You will find, I am reasonably sure, that there is very little left of the beast and that your Eskom bill is into five-figures.   At this juncture, give up the whole thing and go out for a pizza. The Twitcher 7 Feb 2013 205 shopping days to Christmas and a Craft Beer Festival to get through.    God, the pressure!

27 Feb 2013 Whew.   What a beer festival.    What a hangover.   Well, actually, about three and half-thousand of them to be precise.    And a budget speech to follow; what rotten luck.   By the way, there are only 184 shopping days to Christmas, but of more immediate import to the little village of Clarens, is Easter.   That particular weekend is, as of today, only 29 days away.   So the big question is, what does Clarens plan to do about it, apart from emptying the pockets of countless visitors  – or FTs, as they are fondly known elsewhere in this shrinking world of ours. For those readers with enquiring minds (yes, both of you!) Easter was known in ‘Old English’ as Eostre, or amongst the Eastern Orthodox as Pasch… Odd names but they all mean that Easter is a Christian festival celebrating the resurrection of Christ on the third day after his crucifixion at Calvery. By a process of shrewd deduction, you will by now have realised that Easter – apart from being the busiest Sunday in church’s calendar – is also the end of something called Lent, an oddly-named forty-day period of  fasting, prayer, and penance.   Which suggests that the Clarens beer festival was more or less the start of Lent, which makes you think, does it not?    So, assuming that the village’s churches will be doing bumper business on Easter Sunday, what will be happening on the other days of this bumper weekend?? It goes without saying that a great deal of alcohol and food will be channelled down visiting gullets, and that countless daredevils will be consigned down the Ash River on large bits of inflated rubber.   Some will listen rapturously to local music while others will join the growing throng beating the bushes with pitchforks in search of our ownKaalvoet.   A number will buy art works, great and small, or books, while others less well-endowed with the capacity to make unaided decisions may go quad-bike riding.   They will certainly screw up our prospects for parking in this fair community, and may even drink the village dry.   Many, at least of those of heterosexual persuasion, may be making fumbling attempts at reproduction, depending on their consumption of Tequila shots and beer snorters.   All in all, it will be much like other weekends but much more so.   Much more so. Which brings me neatly to the subject of our feathered friends and their role in this weekend celebration.   First, the duck community have organised a fly-over: While it has to be admitted that this is less about precision formation flying than dumping on the heads of our visitors, this should make Saturday a highlight to be remembered.   Come Easter Sunday, the combined flocks of Guinea Fowl have agreed to do a synchronised march-past at the DRC, depending on whether or not they can all find the place, or, for that matter, find one-another.    Three Bostrychia hagedash (hadidas, you ignoramuses!) have volunteered to do some cricket catching on the Square, while a lone Grey Heron will sit atop the monument for the entire weekend and attempt to turn it white.   The Mynas, naturally, wanted to do everything, at once, but have been barred on account of their illegal immigration status and lack of work permits. For my part, I shall be driving round and round the Square looking for parking until, at last, I find one.    At about four-fifteen in the morning.   On Tuesday; after Easter.

Ornithological Notes:

128 shopping days to Christmas and counting.   Clarens, currently bathed in the balmy warmth of an Indian spring, is bracing itself for the arrival of 2,500 mountain bike riders, their loved ones and possibly their families.    That, as the actress said to the Bishop, is an awful lot of people, beers, Boerewors rolls and toilet paper, to be compressed into our little village in a single, frenetic weekend.    So what should we be doing about it?

First, in keeping with the national imperative to move money offshore, we obviously need to erect toll gates within the next 24 hours.    Mountain bikes do an immense amount of damage to tar roads, as several never to be published studies will show, and so must be protected from this annual onslaught.    Teams of municipal workers should therefore be tasked with building boom gates and camera systems at 100 metre intervals around the square, down the Main Road and up to the Nek, with immediate effect.    There is, of course, the small matter of planning, materials acquisition, deployment, wages, overtime and leave.   However, on past form these issues take about 12.6 months to resolve, if ever, so that probably negates the municipality as a role player in our bid to increase the nation’s offshore account holdings.   Second (there is always a Plan B), we could levy a voluntary tax on the use of the road.   Since a fuel levy is probably out of the question, maybe a Rubber Tax (no, not that kind of rubber, silly).   Perhaps we could ask every rider to put R1,000 into a large tin, marked National Retirement Fund, on the square?    But perhaps not, as there are no municipal staff available over the weekend to guard it.   Whatever happens, we have finally got an explanation for the little red light on top of the very large MTN toilet brush next to the Public Toilets (to be commissioned in June 2029) on the square: It is required to guide home the lame and lazy after dark, to ensure they can slumber in the collective warmth of their family bosom and have the odd drink or nine at the village’s fine hostelries.

In fact, what we really need to do, is make these athletes (and their extended families, handlers and pets) very, very welcome.    With a little effort, we can turn 2,500 cyclists this year into 25,000 next.   Where they will all sleep is anyone’s guess, but then what better reason for keeping the pubs open all night.   Making this race a success means avoiding running any of them over and helping wherever possible; see the Stop Press below for starters.   So, in addition to everything else you were planning to do this weekend, let’s make the MTN Race a winner in every sense.

Last week I suggested that Clarens was on something of a roll.  Well, in terms of building anyway.  Imagine my surprise when the long weekend (yes, OK, happy Woman’s Month yet again) inundated the village with more visitors than Easter, apparently confirming the level of interest in the Clarens experience?  Sure, there were well-founded rumours of snow in the high mountains of Lesotho but breaking every sales record in the history of the Clarens Brewery??  Now that’s a measure of success.

Being an exploratory sort of fellow, I ventured out of my darkened study into the Clarens CBD on Saturday night and into a maelstrom of sound and light.  Mrs Twitcher and I shimmied into a well-known hostelry and found ourselves nose to speaker with Rooibard, the band.  No birds to speak of, other than a thicket of young things moving myopically to the beat, but an experience of serious note.  Through a haze of cigarette, smoke the band sashayed their way through three-hours of amazement without doing a single cover.  And were they good!!

Okay, audio-anarchy pretty much sums it up, but what can you say about a group which plays (?), in addition to three guitars and clump of drums, a whistle, a violin, a squash-box, a scratchy thingie and a didgeridoo.  The latter did serious damage to my sternum and moved my gonads to a different plane of, dare I say it, enlightenment.  All in all an experience that our visitors will not forget in a hurry – and the whole thing fired by Tequila!

Which brings me neatly to the drop in temperature and the onset of winter.  Rumour has it that the Clarens Coat Shop has bribed Mother Nature to revert to type and bring in the clouds.  Whatever, the plunge in degrees Celsius has knackered the local bird population, who are now sheltering in the Old Stone Bottle Store’s technicolour dustbins.  So, if you are in need of a Yellow-Billed Hawk or two, a few Drongoes or a brace of Pigeons, you know where to look.  Don’t dip your hand in however; there are baboon droppings in the vicinity and signs of a Merecat, so do your bird-shopping with care.

Speaking personally, I have started waxing my skis, filling the brandy barrel on my St Bernard’s collar and checking the candles.  Don’t know about you, but I have no intention of being snowed-in, much as I love this idyllic little village.  Happy snow.

08 March 2013

177 shopping days to Christmas, with Easter, Workers Day, Women’s Day and many more along the way to frustrate and upset your plans and civic responsibilities.   Talking of which, the skies over our fair village are darkening with gathering clouds of vultures and other carnivores, ahead of the Tourist Forum’s report back on its endeavours to market the Clarens Centenary.   Indeed, the internet is awash with reports, questions, accusations, counter-accusations, independent views, scientific assessments and even more reports.   So what a good time to avoid the entire subject and talk instead about sex, rose-growing or anything else unrelated to matters politic. A good place to start is with the letter ‘A’.   For example, “As the Actress said to the Bishop”.    This is generally adjudged to be a useful sequel or precursor to any important statement, such as, “the Tourist Forum report back will be a bloodbath – as the Actress said to the Bishop”.    The letter ‘B’ is also good, and starts off many important words, like “Balls-up” and “Board”, as in, “the Board will avoid any direct answers to questions”.   Skipping unimportant letters like ‘C’ and ‘D’, we proceed to ‘E’, and a statement like, “Elections for the Board have not occurred in living memory”.   Jumping forward to that sparkly letter ‘M’, we have statements like “Mandy Prior is less than happy with the Board’s report”, while ‘R’ can be used for “the general manager of the Golf Estate refuted allegations that the course was in poor condition”.   And finally, with due discretion, the letter ‘X’ commends itself to statements such as “what the XXXXXXX XXXX has the XXXXXXX board been doing all this XXXXXXX time?”    So you see, children, when there are contentious issues in prospect it is so much healthier to focus on other, less controversial issues. Turning to matters ornithological, as indeed I should, I can report that the Guinea Fowl flocks are burgeoning: My own little troop has increased by 12 hatchlings, taking it to 23, alternatively expressed as a 5kg bag of broken maize every 3 days.   At this rate, either I will be insolvent within 6 years or the local feed suppliers will move to the South Coast to avoid the growing complications of the supply chain.   On a more positive note, I can report that Kaalvoetappears to have decamped!    There is no trace to be found of him/her in the surrounding area and the paths are quiet again.   But who knows? And finally, as the Actress said to the Bishop, the seasons are turning: The first sharp temperature fluctuations are in evidence come sundown and the leaves are turning on a good many trees around the valley.   While winter may be a little way off yet, the signs are there, so be warned and rush to the Little Coat Shop without delay and avoid the coming rush!

If you are not completely blind-sided by the imminence of Easter, you may be interested to know that you have exactly 170 shopping days left to buy gifts for your nearest and dearest, before Christmas.   Be warned; for a number of totally inexplicable reasons, the economy needs you to spend every last cent you have and enter the great, wide world of debt as soon as possible.    So you might as well have some fun doing it.   For now, your attention should be focused on matters of far greater gravity than painted eggs and small children snapping at your ankles, demanding money and chocolate.   For starters, there is the small matter of winter’s stealthy approach and the strong possibility that you could be frozen to death in your car on the way to the shops.   Before June.

Another week, another woodpecker.    Well, three more actually.   Woody and Doris are delighted to announce the unseasonal arrival of their first clutch of hungry offspring, signalled by the loud cracking of eggshells in the night, below MTN’s failed tribute to post-modernist architecture and forestry.   Named Golum, Lefty and Squawk, these new additions to the avian population of Clarens were busy digesting their first meal as dawn broke over the prone bodies of bikers hibernating on the village square.    Yup, the Steel Wings are in town again, having taken flight from the urban smog to celebrate the birth of the Woody’s heirs with a 4-million decibel cacophony of flatulent rumbling.   Not surprisingly, the Guinea Fowl have fled the noise and even the White-Faced Duck have gone silent and sunk to their eyeballs in the reeds.   Speaking of which, the 12 Guinea-Ducklings and the subjects of my ill-fated observation of last week, have also had enough.   After weeks of attempting to master the art of rowing their reed rafts around the Golf Course dam, under the confused tutelage of their self-appointed foster-mothering White-Faced Duck, they too have had it and fled the scene.   Protracted paddling in a clockwise direction has exercised their left wings to the point of absurdity, while their under-employed right wings are hardly more than speckled stumps.    In a concerted mutiny, they made the shore and sprinted for the familiar shape of Gargantua Guinea Fowl, their biological mother, disappearing under the cover of her welcoming wings in the long grass.   Aaaah!    Sir David will be pleased at this heart-warming end to a tale of the very unexpected. The Twitcher ( With his titanium pecker and cellphonicly charged love nest, we await the reply to Woody’s application to become the world’s first bionic bird by officially getting his own Steel Wings – ed)

I have decided, in the interests of personal sanity, to ignore the birds this week and turn my attention elsewhere entirely.  Specifically, to the limited pleasures of visiting that smoking ruin of a traffic jam resplendent under the towering neon signs of Sodom and Gomorrah, known colloquially as Jozzie.  For those of you born in the last century, that means the country’s largest mining camp, Johannesburg.I’m certain that its gated suburbs, some of them at least, are quite splendid; possibly even attractive and surely well-served by succeeding sets of malls, nightclubs, casinos and restaurants.

My destination was more central however, and a great deal less salubrious, in spite of its 5-star billing (in both senses of the word).  The hotel itself shall remain nameless, in the interests of good relations with their legal representatives, but suffice to say that it occupies the most expensive patch of Johannesburg turf known to man.  It plays smarmy host to legions of travellers from the world beyond our shores, accepting their currencies with ill-disguised disdain.

My arrival in its salacious reception area, apparently styled after the Great Disney Empires of the north, was unremarkable, particularly as they had never heard of me.  After a little unpleasant interchange the matter was resolved and I was granted entrance into the high life of the jet-set.  Happily, for the record (and SARS), I was not paying the bill.  So here’s the thing: Turns out that your faithful Twitcher was the only South African staying there, while the staff appeared to entirely sourced from Lagos and Harare.  A quick scope of the place confirmed that I was trapped in a United Nations exchange programme, with an encyclopaedia of language options to add to the confusion.

Every one of these international travelers had clearly studied voice projection from Grade 1, been taught to chew with their mouths fully open and had the dress sense of retired (striking?) miners.  By evening I had barricaded my doors to drown out the sound of manic conversation and marbled teeth grinding raw salmon into a paste.  Liberal quantities of liquor added a level of hysteria to the hubbub and I took the gap to a charming little place down the road.  This turned out to be a way-station for international development agencies and the diplomatic corps, and was so expensive that I settled for a starter and a glass of tap water.

So here’s my point, well, a couple actually: First, there are apparently only a handful of locals left in what is laughingly known as Gauteng.  Second, international jet setters are loud, generally unattractive and almost entirely lacking in manners.  And third (yes, I know I said a couple), the grass is not only greener in Clarens but our little village is also distinguished by a gentle charm and some measure of rural civility.

So, the message is simple: Take the greatest care of our weekend guests from the rubble of civilisation to the north; remember the roads (?) they have had to navigate to get to our fair playground; and try to ignore their primitive ways (of eating and drinking in particular).  Remember from whence they come and grant them a little peace on our earth.

Having ignored the birds altogether last week, due to a fit of outrage at international tourists in Johannesburg, I thought I should make up for this indiscretion this week with due regard to the sensitivity of ornithologists everywhere and pick a really BIG bird.   Like an Ostrich.

The Ostrich (struthio camelus) is unfortunately subject to some discriminatory prejudice about its alleged failure to fly.   Flight is after all pretty much an acid test for birds, so I have decided to end the speculation.   A Dutch sculptor called Bart Jansen has coincidentally just released a YouTube video of an Ostrich flying quite impressively.   Doubtful?   Go to YouTube (“ostrichcopter”) and be thrilled by the aerobatics of this graceful bird.

The Ostrich is the largest of the 8,600 bird species which currently exist (excluding the Maluti Double-Breasted Pushover) and stands tall on long, bare legs (see, more discriminatory comments).  It has a long, curving, predominantly white neck and the humped body of the male is covered in black patches while its wings and tail are tipped with white – reminiscent of a Church of Scotland preacher.   These are seriously big birds, reaching a height of 2.6 metres and weighing in at around 135 kilograms, so would put a serious dent in your budgie feed bill.

My late brother-in-law used to breed these beasts and the first thing you need to know is that, come nightfall, they sound just like lions.   Absolutely true and certainly enough to make an unsuspecting tourist mess his pants, alone in his little pup-tent in the open plains of Africa.   Granted, they are too big to sit on your wrist and don’t talk much, but I’ll bet they could be taught to do tricks for the children.   Unlike house sparrows, they make good eating, assuming you can you can shoot one from the skies.   At 165 calories per 100 grams of raw, ground (?) Ostrich, you can glut yourself and have little fear of getting fat, given that these jolly creatures are only 13% fat and will buck up your system with tons of vitamin B6 and B12.   By the way, Ostrich neck in red wine is a Swiss favourite and beats the hell out of Oxtail.

And the feathers are a delight, either at the end of a feather-duster or in the hands of an attentive lover.  But don’t try to eat an Ostrich omelette unless you have a death wish; apart from its size, which is formidable, this little treat is rich beyond measure and will surely reduce you to a cholesterol seizure in minutes – although you will die with a contented burp.  One way or another, this bird is for serious enthusiasts and should be treated with care, given the size of its claws and its ability to unzip hapless adventurers from stem to stern.

So, depending on your inclination, you can either try to run one down on the open plains of the Eastern Free State and domesticate it in your living room, or you could visit Riempies the Butcher and begin the easy way – with lots of salt and pepper.   Enjoy.

The Twitcher

As might be expected, your faithful correspondent was resplendent in a deer-stalker hat and heavily camouflaged track suit, pursuing several species of rare and exotic birds this week.  In the interests of detailed reporting, I clutched an enormous pair of ex-naval binoculars (Battle of Jutland, 1916) and had a notebook in my sweating left hand.  But as I loped from shrub to dead fruit tree in pursuit of my feathered quarry, it became increasingly obvious that I was also moving from building site to building site.

Could this be Clarens, I asked myself, or had I wandered over a provincial border into another century?  Having checked my bearings and consulted several passers-by, it became clear that I was in Clarens, now liberally dotted with houses rising from the virgin veld. What?

I doubled back and began counting these new dwellings and stopped at 10, since primary school math had not prepared me for life in the fast lane.  Sure enough, there are at least 10 new homes in construction in our fair village, and I suspect many more on the drawing boards or locked in municipal process.  Somewhat disbelieving, given the odds against persuading ESKOM to part with any of their electricity, I stumbled into the nearest estate agency and learnt that they had been doing about two deals a month since January.

They also told me that the flow of enquiries was better than it has been for the last many years and that interested ‘buyers’ were coming back again and again!  Could this be the sleepy hollow that fell out of the property market four or five years ago?

Still discombobulated (don’t you love the English language?) by this information, I lost my binoculars and stumbled onto the village square.  As I drew in great draughts of fresh mountain air, I swung around to confront the sight of a large erection on the corner (no, silly, a building!).  What had once been a refreshingly grubby spot, with a quota of unwashed sandstone carvers hawking their wares, was now pockmarked by foundation holes and the apparent makings of a 10-Pin Bowling Alley rising from the proverbial.  On enquiry, the builder told me (confidentially, of course) that this was stage one of a Teasers franchise, with a KFC and undertakers on the ninth-floor.

Shocked, I moved down the street looking for a bar to straighten out my thoughts, only to trip over the new owner of what was once Valley Cats, opposite the 423-room Protea Hotel.  On his knees, he was attempting to find True North with an antique ‘dumpie’-level, in preparation for the conversion of his newly-purchased property into a shopping emporium.  Up the road, the equally new owners of an empty stand were ruminating on the merits of a glass elevator on the north side of their proposed building.  Down the road (thankfully, with a bar) the Artichoke’s proprietors were celebrating the first phase construction of an opera sound stage, overlooking the Lake!

Development on this scale would hardly signify in a halfway-decent gated estate in Johannesburg, but in Clarens this almost qualifies as boom times!  So, what can this mean, your shaken scribe asks himself?  First, people with sufficient intelligence and breeding to want out of the urban sprawl will eventually find their way to the village life.  Second, people are fed up to the back-dentures with banks withholding the means to procure new and exciting places to live, and will make a plan – and therefore make banks less meaningful.  And third, the cost of a little piece of God’s green acre (well, actually fairly brown at this stage) has descended to levels too good to miss.

This information is of course strictly private and confidential, and anyone acting on it to secure the last 23 stands in the village will have to buy me a drink.  Now where did I put my binoculars?

Last week I suggested that Clarens was on something of a roll.  Well, in terms of building anyway.  Imagine my surprise when the long weekend (yes, OK, happy Woman’s Month yet again) inundated the village with more visitors than Easter, apparently confirming the level of interest in the Clarens experience?  Sure, there were well-founded rumours of snow in the high mountains of Lesotho but breaking every sales record in the history of the Clarens Brewery??  Now that’s a measure of success.

Being an exploratory sort of fellow, I ventured out of my darkened study into the Clarens CBD on Saturday night and into a maelstrom of sound and light.  Mrs Twitcher and I shimmied into a well-known hostelry and found ourselves nose to speaker with Rooibard, the band.  No birds to speak of, other than a thicket of young things moving myopically to the beat, but an experience of serious note.  Through a haze of cigarette, smoke the band sashayed their way through three-hours of amazement without doing a single cover.  And were they good!!

Okay, audio-anarchy pretty much sums it up, but what can you say about a group which plays (?), in addition to three guitars and clump of drums, a whistle, a violin, a squash-box, a scratchy thingie and a didgeridoo.  The latter did serious damage to my sternum and moved my gonads to a different plane of, dare I say it, enlightenment.  All in all an experience that our visitors will not forget in a hurry – and the whole thing fired by Tequila!

Which brings me neatly to the drop in temperature and the onset of winter.  Rumour has it that the Clarens Coat Shop has bribed Mother Nature to revert to type and bring in the clouds.  Whatever, the plunge in degrees Celsius has knackered the local bird population, who are now sheltering in the Old Stone Bottle Store’s technicolour dustbins.  So, if you are in need of a Yellow-Billed Hawk or two, a few Drongoes or a brace of Pigeons, you know where to look.  Don’t dip your hand in however; there are baboon droppings in the vicinity and signs of a Merecat, so do your bird-shopping with care.

Speaking personally, I have started waxing my skis, filling the brandy barrel on my St Bernard’s collar and checking the candles.  Don’t know about you, but I have no intention of being snowed-in, much as I love this idyllic little village.  Happy snow.    The Twitcher

Okay, okay.  So there was no snow last week and the Big Blue overhead suggests that it may be somewhere ahead.  Maybe next year.  Simple proof that your correspondent is far from fool-proof, albeit well-intentioned.

Nothing to report on the ornithological front either, unless you count the positively fecund activities of the doves which soil my gutters.  Cute in its own way, this reproductive activity coincides with the greening of the Willows and the proliferation of buds on every tree I seem to have.  Must mean spring is imminent, which makes a mockery of my predictions of snow.  Or does it?  15,000 shepherds in Lesotho can’t all be wrong.

So to the forthcoming Spring Art Festival in our sleepy village, an event that may over time grow to be a serious date on the national calendar.  For now, the village’s artists are wrestling with venues, programmes and openings, all calculated to fill Clarens with art buyers, critics and aspirant artists.  So, fingers crossed, we look forward to a surge in our weekend visitors, sustained through the week and into the following weekend.  May they buy freely and with thick wads of folding stuff (which used to be known as ‘stiff notes of corruption’ until our Government made this description somewhat ironic).

However, all this emphasis on visitors raises the question of local interest and participation: Notwithstanding the valiant efforts of our Clarens Art Guild, now showing in the Protea Hotel, when did you last see a local in any gallery in the village – unless they were buying wine, of course.  This is a serious question.  We have over 20 well-signposted galleries and studios in Clarens, but I’ll wager that few locals could name more than three, and probably haven’t crossed their thresholds since the old King died.

So come-on Clarens, you have filled the Phatt Chef and 278 on Main pretty much every Monday and Wednesday night since Simon and Sue initiated their contribution to social intercourse in the village.  What about taking a trip to see what your local artists have been doing?  You don’t even have to buy (although that’s a nice prospect) but give your creative juices a stir with a little ramble amongst the galleries.  There are probably about 3000 paintings, drawings and sculptures on show, together with artists plying their craft to the delicious background rumbling of old jazz, so there has got to be something of interest – even if it is only a glass of wine.
See you there.
The Twitcher

Oh, the joys of travel: A week free of twitching and wrestling with an intransigent keyboard, a change of altitude and diet, and new faces untaxed by the stresses of life in Clarens.  Miles of open highway, strangely unblemished by potholes; thousands upon thousands of Rands-worth of petrol stops; villages after towns, mostly unremarkable but some delightful and quite instructive in terms of competitive tourism.

But the greatest delight, believe it or not, is returning to this quaint settlement on the Maloti Route.  Yes, it’s true.  The grass is definitely greener in Cape Town, but the cars were floating in floodwater, so perhaps that’s a self-solving equation.  Hermanus was gorgeous and testimony to effective Provincial administration and the value of foreign investment.  Plettenburg Bay was, well, short of water, but the floods were close behind me and closing fast.  Heading north, the Karoo was simply grand once Prince Alfred’s challenging Pass was conquered, as was Graaf Reinet, fourth-oldest of South Africa’s towns and looking every inch (millimetre?) the stylish centre of early exploration.  A voyage of discovery, one way or another, and an expanded sense of what the country has to offer.

Which makes homecoming immensely pleasurable.  To see Clarens in the context of at least parts of the Western and Eastern Cape is both edifying and stimulating: We have a particular charm that is somewhat unique and benefits from its proximity to Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and the Natal Midlands – notwithstanding the impediment of the dysfunctional Oliviershoek Pass (does anyone else remember the legal requirement for a functional alternative route to toll-roads?).  We also have an awful lot to offer.  A new Clarens website, now under construction, is inundated with things to do, see, eat and sleep in, to the extent that it keeps being delayed by fresh information.

So, if you are feeling stale or even faintly jaded, pack a bag, top up your petrol card and head on out (but stay on the highways).  I can’t guarantee that you won’t fall in love with another little town somewhere, but the odds are that you will return home feeling very grateful for this little refuge from the twenty-first century.

Finally, turning to matters ornithological, as required by my contract with this august publication, I observed quite a few birds along the way.  I have to tell you, regrettably, that the ubiquitous Indian Mynah has settled in the Western Cape and all points in between, bringing a flavour of New Delhi and the Punjab to our pristine shores.   Raptors were in short supply, perhaps hiding in the low cloud base along the way, but generally speaking, I had the sense that aliens were overwhelming the indigenous birds we may remember from Roberts guide to our home-grown species.  Perhaps a metaphor for our two-legged population, now around 96 million and apparently rising by half-a-million a day, judging by the shops I passed along the way.  Oh, must go, there are some Canadian Snow Geese to be fed and an Ethiopian Snipe has just landed………………

Being back in Clarens is a serious reality check.  For starters, life moves so quickly here that it is almost impossible to distinguish one day from another.  I accept that Saturdays stand out by virtue of the thousands of tourists who gorge themselves at our tables, buy our quaint offerings and drink the Brewery dry, but apart from that, one day sort of blends into another.

I was reminded of this truism by my reading of George Bernard Shaw, the distinguished twentieth-century Irish dramatist and occasional economist.  He once remarked that ‘the secret of being miserable is to have the leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not’.   Well.  Looking about me, I have to say that for a village at the centre of universe, there are a lot of quite depressed-looking people about.  No criticism of course; I have it on good authority that my own lips point southwards more often than seems reasonable.  But the question that arises is why we are not permanently wreathed in smiles?

The birds all look quite happy, indeed they are mating like rabbits as we speak.  Even Bigfoot, or Kaalvoet as he is locally known, appears content with his solitary ramblings in the Clarens mountains; if you doubt this, have another look at the Creature Wall in the Clarens Brewery and observe his bemused grin.  Okay, Clarenites might not have Biblical knowledge of one another quite as often as our feathered friends (or as they might like), and might not have the balls and bearing of Kaalvoet, but is it really necessary to go about looking as though we are in the grip of a locust-plague?

The short answer is no.  We are lucky enough to enjoy our leisure time in a very special spot, assuming you can afford the golf fees, and even the weather is comparatively benign.  If you doubt this, turn on your radio of a morning, lie back and peel an apple while listening to traffic reports of trucks pirouetting on the N3 and bumper-to-bumper cars from Brakpan to Pretoria.  Although our architecture will win few prizes, at least you can see the bloody houses without having to stand on a two-metre ladder.  And so on.  The point is that there is no good reason to be miserable, unless you forgot about Ubuntu Monday or missed your tee-off time at the Golf Club.

Perhaps the problem is the social strait-jacket we all seem to wear.  Considering the size of our village, I am constantly stunned to meet complete strangers who have apparently lived here for 20 years.  I vividly remember the late-lamented Ken Stewart of Bibliophile responding to my question about what had brought he and Debra to Clarens: ‘It is’ he said ‘a refugee centre for eccentrics’.  Well, to appropriate George Bernard Shaw yet again, ‘We want a few mad people now.  See where the sane ones have landed us!’  Put differently, what we need is a friendly smile from everyone, a wave and even – dare I say it – an exchange of greetings; perhaps even a booking with someone you don’t really know at one of our many great restaurants in Clarens next week.

I have it on good authority that this is not a dress-rehearsal.  We are on a finite leash and owe it to ourselves and those we share this space with to enjoy every waking moment.  So, go on and invite someone you suspect might be half-way human to dinner, or even a mountain hike, if they don’t look too much like an axe-killer.  Whatever else you do, smile at someone new today, and hope that you are not locked up for impropriety.

All smiles this week.  The sun shines, spring is sprung, the grass is riz.  In short, all we need is a serious rainy season to make the year complete.  Starting tomorrow.

Little to report on the ornithological front, other than some reproductive antics from our resident Hadedas, Darby and Joan.  In a time-honoured tradition, Darby appears to feel a profound urge, jump on top of Joan and balance there for as long as it takes.  Joan meanwhile, keeps extracting worms from our greening lawn and appears oblivious to the invasion of her, um, space.  Of more immediate interest are matters bovine: Some of our readers may have noticed an invasion of apparently quite hungry cattle in and on our CBD.

In and of itself, this phenomenon is quite romantic from a tourist perspective and is even reminiscent of rural landscapes by Gainborough and his chums.  Certainly good for the odd picture postcard.  Or is it?Yesterday, your faithful scribe had to take desperately evasive action to avoid a collision with a young heifer on the Golden Gate Road outside the village and today left long skid marks up Main Street, narrowly missing a cow with some serious attitude.  On further inspection, I saw another milk-provider munching the pot plants outside a local carpet shop and heard the clattering of not-so-tiny hooves passing Highland Coffee’s shady surrounds.  And at the Golf Estate, the security guards were manically chasing another small herd off the entrance garden (?), where the beasts were cropping the emerging greenery.

This would be tremendously fulfilling if we were, say, Animal Action, but in fact we are not.  We don’t even own any of these flatulent creatures, which incidentally look splendid on the farms around us.  Just not in our gardens, roads, shops (unless they carry Visa cards) and parks.  Perhaps the SAP should take some action, given official regulations about livestock on roads, but of course they won’t.  So what now?

Well, we could wait for a fatal collision on the byways around us, the trampling of innocent tourists on the square or real damage to retail and domestic properties.  Or we could do what the locals have always done: Break out the chain-saws and have the biggest braai in the history of the square.  No doubt this would get the attention of our masters but the problem is that we would get charged for all sorts of misdemeanours, not including heartburn.  Perhaps it’s just me, but is there something wrong with this picture?

One of the most important things about living in a community is that you are a part of it; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer, to steal a line from the somewhat ironic litany of the Christian wedding vows.  This is true of Clarens, which, if I think about it, is a bit like a large, fractious family.  No matter how much we fight and snarl at each other, and we do, we tend to pull together when we are threatened or when our lives and futures are at stake.

Dismiss these platitudes at your peril however, for they have some force and conviction to them.

For example, the village of Clarens is about to initiate an October Classics festival, which will involve the translocation of thousands to see and hear great music and fine entertainment – and celebrate a bookfest; well, the four or five surviving Free State readers anyway.  While this is an early stage in Clarens’ development of arts and culture as a spectator sport, it promises much.  Imagine the reaction of the City Fathers of Grahamstown when some palooka first suggested an arts festival to swamp the town?  Yet look at their festival today, corporate sponsors and all.  The point is that, as stakeholders in Clarens Inc., we are potentially at the same point of lift-off, awaiting a trigger-finger to start a fire in the hold.  Well, a smouldering ember at least.

Yet in the same week, as we rush manically about trying to play catch-up against shrinking festival deadlines, one of our respected senior citizens is done to death for a cell-phone, music centre and elderly Toyota.

South Africa’s reality is our own and upon our doorsteps.  We can focus our attentions on the business of tourism and have a gay old time (sorry!) dancing the light fantastic around the square to raise money for Kgubetswana charities, but the truth is that we are as vulnerable as the rest of our benighted land.  Certainly, the incidence of crime in Clarens is somewhat lower than the rest of South Africa’s, as too is its severity.  But the hard truth is that we have just lost a friend, colleague and fellow-citizen to the madness of need and greed.  And surely, we will lose others over time, albeit at a fractional proportion of the country’s losses.  The victim of this murder was a gentle man who grew and gave away vegetables, who minded his own business and who gave a great deal more than he ever took.

So, as we gear up for a party celebration, we will be looking over our shoulders and wondering how this could have happened in our little village.  There will be anger, belligerence, threats and more.  Hopefully, the police will do what they are paid for and catch those responsible.  Calm heads will no doubt prevail, but there will be a sense of betrayal to deal with; a social compact broken and unwritten agreement dishonoured.  The question is whether we can rise above this jolt to our sense of security, and deal with being South African rather than merely Clarenites.  The answer is that we have to grieve and celebrate in equal measure – not just for the death of one man, but for the end of an era in which we all believed that we were somehow invulnerable here in the mountains.

Ornithological Notes

After the drama of last week’s Twitch, the news of arrests in the murder of Daan Wybenga is good indeed and reminds us that criminals in our society are not fireproof, even if the courts have a habit of letting them walk all too soon.  So, we can turn our attention to matters ornithological again.

First, the matter of the Piet-my-Vrou: Yes, he is back – well a few of them actually, signalling in a plaintive way that summer is really here.  A member of the Cuculidae family, this entertaining little fellow is actually more formally known as the Red Chested Cuckoo.  His common (Afrikaans) name stems from his song, which will be familiar to everyone in the village, unless you don’t have a tree in your little corner of God’s green acre.  Usually solitary, the Piet-my-Vrou is highly vocal and lives in forests and plantations, eating insects to pass the time between romantic encounters.  As a model for Clarens residents this bird does not necessarily score big on propriety, as it is voraciously bigamous and uses the nests of other birds to lay its eggs.  Just a thought.

Hopefully this begins the restoral of my credentials as a dedicated ornithologist.  But wait, there’s more.

On a return journey from the micro-city of Bethlehem this week, I chanced to spot a Secretary Bird stalking through the veld!  This is a very large, mostly terrestrial bird of prey (like most secretaries, now I come to think of it) called Sagittarius serpentarius.  It is endemic to Africa, sub-Saharan Africa in particular, and is actually related to diurnal raptors such as Kites, Buzzards, Harriers and Vultures.  Ringing any bells yet?  Well, it should, as it appears on our National Coat of Arms, as well as those of Sudan (North, South, who knows anymore?).  That association should score you some points in the next pub quiz, should Clarens ever have one.   Of more quizzical interest, perhaps, is the alleged origin of its name: It is popularly thought to derive from the crest of long quill-like feathers on its head, lending the bird the appearance of a secretary with quill pens tucked behind his or her ear – as was once common practice before the invasion of the dreaded computer.

Somewhat bigger, in fact seriously big, is our old friend the Ostrich.  The Common Ostrich (Struthio camelus) is the largest living bird in the world and can perambulate over the countryside at up to 70kms per hour, making its capture an unpredictable event.  Not surprisingly, it also lays the largest eggs of any living bird which brings me to the reason for this lesson: Ten such eggs have successfully hatched just the other side of the nek and the chicks are now obediently following their proud parents about on foraging expeditions.  Quite a sight for my tired old eyes but nice to know that these magnificent birds are not on the endangered list.

Finally, just when you thought it was safe to go roaming in the hills, there are rumours of very large footprints being found on the trails again.  Do not let it be said that I was in any way responsible for starting unsettling tales, but could it be that Kaal Voet has stirred from his long winter hibernation and is striding the valleys once more?  Watch this space.

Another week in Clarens and the Classics Festival is thankfully behind us.  Reminds me of the old chestnut: What if you gave a party and nobody came?   Not strictly true of course.  The few hundred paying guests probably had a high-old time but it was hardly what you would call a triumph.  Pity really, but if you pick the quietest weekend of the year and keep the event a secret, you must take what you can get.
Much better news from the Bibliophile BookFest though.  An excellent three-days laid an important foundation stone for future Clarens Arts Festivals and gave Clarenites a treat at several different venues.  Robin Binckes, author of Canvas under the Sky (a tale of sex, drugs and volk spele in the Great Trek) and The Great Trek Uncut was very entertaining at the Sheepshed Gallery and the Phatt Chef.  He was supported by inputs from Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrob (Winnie Mandela: A Life), Refiloe Mabejane (Strawberry Lips), Chris Maris and Julienne du Toit (Karoo Keepsakes 2), Lanny Mokwena (Radio Lesedi playwright), Stephen Gray (Bosman editor and poet) and Maya Kriel (Rings in a Tree).  Stephen Gray also introduced the Sheepshed Gallery audience to the world of Herman Charles Bosman, together with Peter Badcock-Walters, designer and illustrator of the Illustrated Bosman, who discussed his illustrations and technique.  Stephen also read his poems (Shelley Cinema) at 278 on Main.
All in all a solid second year – and much more to come next year apparently.  Remarkable what you can do without a sponsor, but I suppose that Exclusive Books were too busy keeping the auditors at bay to honour their obligations to Clarens.
Having honoured my own obligations to this august publication last week by reviewing some early summer birding highlights, I have to report that the clutch of ten Ostrich chicks spotted over the nek, is down to five – and counting.  Such is the way of Mother Nature of course: Jackals and poachers et al, and perhaps a rare but contagious neck infection, seek out only the fittest for survival.  These little darlings are easily seen from the road so keep your eyes peeled, whatever that may mean.
In last week’s ornithological offering, I also warned that Kaalvoet was apparently abroad again.  For those of unfamiliar with this immense and extraordinary creature, check out The Creature Wall in the Clarens Brewery.  Variously named Big FootPea Brain (due to his/her unfortunate habit of walking into trees) and Kaalvoet, this shaggy fellow/female appears to have stirred from his/her winter slumber and re-entered the world of man.  Various reports have put his/her location anywhere from The Old Stone Bottle Store (Saturday evening break-in and consumptions of 37 bottles of beer, October 12, 2013) to the abseiling cliff used by Clarens Extreme (Tuesday morning, October 15, 2013), where he/she surprised a young lady relieving herself in the bushes.
I observe the ‘his/her’ rule of thumb in deference to the Gender Commission of South Africa, rather than make assumptions about the creature’s gender, due to the extensive camouflage of its dark brown body hair.  The important thing of course is to keep your distance and avoid pointing camera’s at the creature, which has a reputation for gentleness but an overwhelming fondness for peanut butter sandwiches.  Getting too close, particularly with a sandwich in your sticky little hand, could make for some hard choices.  And with the doctor here only twice a week, that’s not something you want to test.
The Twitcher

No news of Kaalvoet this week, which is perhaps as well, given the influx of mounted aliens from all points north, south, east and west.  These gentle souls are dedicated to the preservation of American culture and consider the flatulent rumble of a Harley exhaust a thing of beauty and joy forever.  It may be that one Harley exhaust gently chuckling on a Free State mountaintop is indeed something special, but massed in discordant harmony, the result is far from orchestral perfection.  Still, their obsession with Captain Morgan’s and flat Coke means that they will spend large parts of the weekend either unconscious or incapable of riding their mopeds, so we may be spared the cacophony for some parts of their time with us.

Of particular concern to your faithful correspondent is of course the effect of this tsunami of noise on our birdlife.  I watched with concern as my Guinea Fowl flock decamped from the plains of the Golf Estate, but it turned out to be the predatory ramblings of my Norwegian Forest cat, Zak.  They are apparently oblivious to humankind’s obsession with noisy toys and hardly cast a glance at the leather-clad strangers.  So perhaps it is just us after all.

The good news is that Monday will come again, becalming Clarens in blissful silence.  The rhythms of the community, like the pace of the Ox, will be restored, and the village cleaning staff will be able to wipe away all trace of the Steel Wings 2013 extravaganza.  Of course, like most of us, I love them dearly and have the opportunity to indulge a boyish (?) fascination for these sculpted beasts; I refer, of course, to the chicks who hang precariously from the back of their machines, mentally rearranging their last testaments as they fly through the thin air of the Free State.  Ah, what dreams we had………

Of course, if we had a lick of sense, we would be falling on these Angels with hugs and kisses.  After all, they have braved the roads to get here and surely deserve rows of medals and gongs.  No wonder some of them bring their bikes on trailers!  Speaking personally, I had the privilege of four-wheels rather than two on a Monday return trip to Pretoria, but was left traumatised by the potholes between Reitz and Frankfort.  Frankly, and with due deference to our Provincial masters, I think we have to conclude that filling potholes with sand, year in and year out, is not a scientifically robust solution.

And on a lighter note, you may be interested to hear a little Clarens scandal:  An eminent lady in the village arrived home this week to find her son-in-law furious and packing his suitcase.

“What happened ?” she asked anxiously.

“What happened!!  I’ll tell you what happened.  I sent an e-mail to my wife – your daughter – telling her I was coming home today from my fishing trip.  I get home and guess what I found?  Yes, your daughter, my Jean, with a naked guy in our marital bed!  This is unforgivable, the end of our marriage.  I’m done.  I’m leaving forever!”

“Calm down, calm down!” said his mother-in-law. “There is something very odd going on here.  Jean would never do such a thing!  There must be a simple explanation.  I’ll go and speak to her immediately and find out what happened.”

Moments later, his mother-in-law returned with a big smile.  “I told you there must be a simple explanation: she didn’t get your e-mail!”

Happy Steel Wings weekend.

It seems eons since the invasion of the Steel Wings and Clarens has begun to melt into the rainy season with a satisfied sense of accomplishment.  The farmers are smiling – well, they’ve stopped snarling at least, and there is green of every hue in all directions.  So, what’s new, given my absence from the old desk last week?

First, there is news hot off the presses: Clarens has its first traffic light!  Yes, a robot has brought us shivering with anticipation into the twenty-first century.  We have come a long way since the trekkers dug the first long-drop on Market Street and the village first drew its water from a tap.  So it is that the Clarens News is able to report this technological breakthrough, placing us on par with our Mother City/Town (?), Bethlehem.  As is always the case with such breakthroughs, there are one or two minor issues associated with this development.  Well, one really.

The fact is that the robot (named Doris by its last owners) is in fact located in the Clarens Brewery, and therefore a little out of mainstream traffic flow (notwithstanding the odd Harley).  It would appear that due to a century-old bye law, we need the permission of the State President to allow us to locate any traffic control (or birth control) measures in the precincts of the village.  Ordinarily this would not be a problem, but it would appear that he is rather busy opening a tuck shop in Nkandla.  So, regrettably, this important innovation will remain off the grid, so to speak, for a while.  However, the Brewery has risen to the challenge and has agreed to keep Doris (the robot) in running order by regulating the drinking habits of its patrons.  This is in keeping with the spirit of South Africa’s drink-driving laws and the Brewery is pleased to be able to play its part in keeping the village sober.

In short, patrons may drink to their heart’s content when the robo is green, but must place their last orders when it winks orange.  Red, naturally enough, signals that the taps are closed and that another night of revelry is over.

Second, your faithful correspondent notes with considerable pleasure that the Clarens Galleries Association has decided to put its collective muscle behind a reinvigoration of the village art scene.  Plans are afoot to launch an annual Winter School to put the village squarely on the country’s art map.  Coupled with cooking courses, a writers’ workshop and visiting performing arts, this puts a buzz into 2014 that we can all look forward to.  And there’s more: Plans are also in hand to train some personable guides to provide tours of the Clarens galleries, to order.  Perhaps it is time we reinvented ourselves as the art capital of the New Republic – Watch this space for further details!

And finally, Kaalvoet is back in the news.  Notwithstanding rumours of her infatuation with Big Bruce of Artichoke fame, it appears that she has a new quarry.  Early risers will have been startled, on their early morning walks, to see the recumbent form of a gently snoring lad outside the Bibliophile.  This experiment in nocturnal exhibitionism has sparked a rare dividend however, as Kaalvoet is now in residence in the Clarens red light district, and spends her evenings gazing lovingly at her prince.  Where will this cross-species infatuation end, and do they listen to the same music?  Watch this space for more news of this unlikely (and perhaps one-sided) romance.

Birds next week.  Plenty of ‘em.

First, apologies to those nice people who drove round and round the Clarens Square looking for the village’s first traffic light, as reported in last week’s Clarens News. However, your frustration at not finding it would have been resolved by reading all the way to the bottom of my column: It is in fact operating quite effectively in the Clarens Brewery, literally lighting up the lives of many happy imbibers. So park your car and pop in for the safest drink in the country. Provided the light is green, of course!
Last week I promised birds. Lots of birds. Well, I’m embarrassed to say that I have failed in my mission to find new and exciting species to report, notwithstanding a clutch of White Storks busily turning the soil outside Bethlehem. Winter visitors from Europe, these creatures are more charismatic than most Scandinavian tourists and have a particular fondness for small tractor drivers. If you happen upon an empty pair of Wellington boots beside an idling tractor, you know what happened. A Crested Barbet (or two) is currently patrolling my garden and a pirouette of Mouse Birds are standing guard over my fledgling grapes, waiting for the moment they fill with sweet juices. Not much more to report, however, and I haven’t seen a Black Eagle since the old King died. Ah well, maybe next week.
Lots of reaction to the news of a Gallery Association Winter School next year: Ladies from a retirement home in Fouriesburg have volunteered to pose nude for the life drawing class and the sale of easels in Bethlehem has skyrocketed. With dates yet to be announced, enquiries about accommodation have started streaming in. Watch this space. Again.
Finally, and a little sadly perhaps, our lady Kaalvoet has vanished once more. Possibly frustrated by her unrequited love for the man of her dreams, she has decamped to pastures fresh. Size 19 footprints have been spotted along the Ash River and there is speculation that she might have ambitions to give the Loch Ness Monster a run for his/her money. What an adventure that would be! Just imagine a hairy three-metre creature emerging from the white waters of our favourite rafting destination, dripping trout and frogs, to the sheer terror of boatloads of German accountants. No time to take a pic, of course, and she will simply vanish into the depths again, a smug grin lighting her craggy brow. Just think, if she really likes it, she could head downstream to the Vaal Dam and scare the crap out of whole flotillas of Gautengers. And why stop there? There are oceans to be had either side of our New Republic, and some seriously large ships to upset. And to think it all began in our little village…………

Well, it had to happen.  I have just glanced at my well-thumbed diary and realised that Christmas is just around the corner.  Quelle surprise!?  So as we grind our weary way to the end of another year, mistletoe clamped between our teeth in the hope of getting lucky, it occurs to me that we are knee-deep in the Advent Calendar.  Never heard of it?

It turns out that the Advent Calendar is a special calendar used to count or celebrate the days in anticipation of Christmas, and overlaps with the Christian season of Advent.  I don’t know whether the Hindus, Muslims and Jews have anything similar, but apologise just in case, as I am seriously allergic to religious persecution.  Most commercially available Advent Calendars start on December 1 and have 24 windows, one for each of the days leading up to Christmas Day.  Some anonymous person (probably a Chinese Buddhist) has endless joy putting little poems, pictures of puppies and portions of religious stories in these, each of which is ripped open in the mindless spree leading to the big day itself.  Apparently these are very popular in communities where television and conversation have yet to penetrate.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, it turns out that a dear friend believes my life will be enriched by a daily dose from the Advent Calendar and, being a generous sort of fellow, I felt compelled to share these riches with you, given that our bird life seems to be on holiday in Margate.

Given the limited frequency of this esteemed publication, you get to share Day 5 on the aforementioned calendar today, and next week Day 12, and so forth.  It turns out that the riveting information contained in this window tells us that, and I quote, it is illegal in Britain to eat a mince pie on Christmas Day.  Perhaps not surprisingly, this is the liberating work of one Oliver Cromwell and has never been removed from the Union’s statute books.  But wait, there’s more!  Window 5 tells us that the British Legal system only began to update its laws in 1965, before which there were many laws still in place that, while perfectly reasonable at the time, sound utterly ridiculous now! Here are 19 pearlers to enrich your day:

– It was illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament – simply because if you did you would fall under the jurisdiction of the royal coroner and could have been entitled a state funeral.

– It was also illegal to enter Parliament wearing a suit of armour.

– In the Cathedral Close of Hereford and within the city walls of Chester it is legal to shoot a Welshman with a long bow (not surprising really).  It is also legal to shoot a Scotsman within the city walls of York, providing he is carrying a bow and arrow, except on Sundays of course!  These laws were made to keep out Welsh and Scottish invasions before Britain became united as one.

– It is still legal for a pregnant woman to relieve herself wherever she wants – including in a policeman’s helmet should she have the urge!

– You cannot enter the hull of the Titanic under the Protection of Wrecks order 2003 without permission of the Secretary for State.

– In Scotland, it is an offence to be drunk whilst in charge of a cow. This law also applies to horses and steam engines across the rest of the country under the Licencing Act 1872.

– You must carry a bale of hay in your vehicle at all times, why? To feed the horse of course!

– In London it is illegal for cab drivers to transport rabid dogs and corpses.

– Polish potatoes are illegal in England… no seriously, under the Polish Potatoes (Notification) in England Order 2004, “No person shall, in the course of business, import into England potatoes which he knows to be or has reasonable cause to suspect to be Polish potatoes”.

– It is illegal to gamble in a library as of 1898 – internet gambling is off the cards then! The same law prohibits “abusive or obscene language” in there too.

– You could be breaking the law if you have a pigsty in front of your house, unless it is duly hidden. As good of an excuse as any to keep your front garden nice and tidy!

– It is illegal to beat or shake your carpet, mat or rug. You may beat your doormat (ooooooh!) but only before 8 in the morning!

– Any washing line that is put up across a street is an illegal erection.

– It was illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas day – we found this hard to believe too, but Oliver Cromwell actually banned these yummy treats when he was attempting to tackle rising gluttony.

– All dead beached whales must be offered to the monarch before you can do anything else with them. Realistically, the royal family have no interest in beached whales, your best bet should you ever come across such a sad sight would be to contact the Natural History Museum or the police.

– The death sentence still applies if you poach a royal deer or allow your pet to mate with a pet from the royal household without due permission. Note to self – don’t take the dog for a walk around St. James’ Park any time soon!

– It is still illegal to eat Mute Swan as they belong to the Queen and only she is legally allowed to eat them, weirdly you are an exception if you are a guest of St. John’s College in Cambridge though.

– The royal family are forbidden from marrying Catholics – clearly created when Henry VIII disowned the Catholic Church and created the Church of England, although it’s hard to imagine this being enforced today.

– It is illegal to sew the royal coat of arms onto a bed quilt!

Can you but imagine what our own fair Legal System has lurking in the archives, although I am reliably informed – for example – that it is still illegal to wear short pants in Durban’s West Street.  Think on these things as Christmas unerringly approaches.

Apologies!  Your faithful scribe had matters constructive to attend to last week, attempting to ensure at least the partial completion of Clarens’ newest commercial building, ‘On The Square’, and was otherwise occupied.

It is Advent Calendar time again, following the previous week’s introduction to this time-honoured tradition of communicating gay (?!) Christmas tidings in the 24 days leading up to the Big Day itself.  As will be obvious, these Advent greetings are entirely out of kilter and sequence as they arrive daily, and I write weekly at the behest of my dragon editor.  So, welcome to the 8th and 15th Days of Advent, respectively, on the 20th of December, the point of which will soon be revealed.

In the first window (8th Day of Advent), we are advised that the ancient Germanic calendar was divided into six periods of 60 days each, known as tides. Yuletide, then, refers to the two month ‘tide’ corresponding to modern December and January.  Within this time period falls the Twelve Days of Christmas and the winter solstice.  Like Samhain (Samhain or Halloween had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead and was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year.  The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld), the ancients felt that the spiritual veil was thinner during Yuletide, and ghosts and spirits walked the land.  It was also considered an ideal time for divination.  And drinking.  So why am I telling you this?

First, it reminds us that Clarens is a very spiritual place and that there are a number of houses unquestionably inhabited by, well, things that go bump in the night.  Given the season – and Yuletide specifically – we can expect even more bumps than usual, so brace yourselves, boys and girls.  A renowned authority on the subject, ‘Jenny’ (real name Jenny), cautions that you must not betray any fear but rather go with the flow, so to speak.  In other words, if your lights start going on and off without rhyme or reason, offer up a glass of good red wine and drink it immediately.  Similarly, if you happen upon an unknown visitor in bed with your loved one, close the door discreetly and havetwo glasses of red wine.  Or call your lawyer.

Second, given the note about the ghosts of the dead mingling with the living during this Samhain season, here is a tip on spotting the difference: If a stranger claims to be an accountant, Member of Parliament or banker, simply punch them hard on the nose.  If they vanish in a puff of noxious smoke, you hit a genuine ghost.  If however they reel backward screaming hysterically, they are quite possibly living and, again, I suggest you call your lawyer asap.

On the 15th Day of Advent, we are advised that, according to Swiss legend, Tante Arie (also known as Aunt Arie, you Anglophile), is a creature that’s a bit like a cross between a witch and a fairy.  She lives in a cave among gold-filled treasure chests (the Holkranz perhaps!?) and wears a diamond crown.  Supposedly having iron teeth and goose’s feet, she rides on a donkey during Christmas Eve, giving gifts to the good children but punishing the disobedient ones.  Well!  Clearly Clarens has its own Tante Arie but the question is, who is she?  Answers on this delicate subject to the Editor, Clarens News, but by way of a clue, it is not our own Kaalvoet, now resident on the Vaal Dam and sinking boats with a happy passion.

That’s all for the final lap into Christmas, so to all our feathered friends and their two-legged companions in Clarens, our felicitations and greetings.  More Advent windows in a year’s time, but for now, be well.

Well, a little passé perhaps, but Happy New Year to all our faithful readers!
Assuming you survived the fireworks of course.  We are used to Kgubetswana lighting up, come midnight on Old Year’s Night, but having the Clarens Square turned into the Edinburgh Festival with 86-decibel sound effects was a new experience.  Great fun, notwithstanding the bangs, and may introduce a new tradition to the village calendar.   The village dogs may not of course agree; ours had a shared bowel collapse and hid behind the loo all night.  Perhaps the compromise is limiting the level of noise and controlling the time of the event, this 2014 New Year.  The good news is that we aren’t living in the maelstrom of Durban, which rivals the First World War for explosive sound and light – although the acrid stench of mustard gas is replaced by the curry aromas of mince samoosas and bunny chows!The curious thing about Clarens though is its failure to do anything about Christmas.  Nary a light on the square, or for that matter in most shops and restaurants.  Your faithful scribe is not, for the record, a Christmas tree hugger or much into Carol singing, but the sight of our square without a car in sight on Christmas Day, no festive trappings and almost no shops open really begs credulity.  If we aspire to being a holiday destination, we have to review our approach and remember that our clients and customers expect us tobehave like a tourist attraction.  I have a creepy feeling that many (most?) retailers and restaurateurs will contest this view, but perhaps a debate on the subject is long overdue.  After all, who do we blame if our Clarens Christmas season slowly fades and dies?  Our annual rate of retail and accommodation growth is probably four- or five-times higher than that for the rest of the country, but we need to wake-up to the fact that this can turn on its head if our visitors go cold on us.  About as cold as we were over Christmas, actually.
But enough banter: 2014 has started in grand style with idyllic weather.  Post-Christmas tourists are gambolling happily along the trails, packing out the Brewery and spending with gay abandon.  I even saw two farmers smiling, so the rain must be good.  But perhaps best of all, we haven’t had a newspaper to speak of for over a week, so the mood of the town has skyrocketed: No Zuma, no Nkandla, no E-tolls, no politics.  If that’s not a seasonal gift from the Gods, I don’t know what is.  Next week, birds, birds, birds.  Until then, blessings for the New Year.

I promised you birds last week, and birds you shall get.  Well, a few anyway.  First, the baby Ostriches over the Nek are not so little any more.  Half the height of their parents, they are looking positively adolescent and quite chubby, in the irritating way that adolescents have.  Point is that the Ostrich population in the immediate neighbourhood seems to have doubled overnight and, save a raid by the valley’s surviving jackals, may be competing with us for space on the Square.  And if they have R50 for a year’s trading licence and the phone number of the Dihlabeng Economic Development Forum, their presence is a certainty.

More parochially, I literally tripped over a Piet my Vrou in the garden last weekend, having never laid eyes on one before.  Like every other resident of Clarens, their call rings in my ears year-round, but for some reason I haven’t actually seen the little buggers before.  So, glass of wine in hand as I perambulated about my little corner of God’s green acre, I swung past a gum tree to confront the little fellow leaping about in search of food or some other social adventure.  I was with guests who masquerade as Twitchers in a neighbouring country of limited economic significance (just saying), and they brightened visibly at the sight of what was for them also a first sighting.  I have to say, as first times go, it didn’t rival my sexual debut a century ago, but was still rather satisfactory.  The little fellow is quite stout and sports a striped chest like a public school tie.  Most importantly, he was not the slightest bit put out by our presence and bounced about for about five minutes, almost at our feet in fact, turning over bits of twig and gum.  So, in summary, I can confirm the presence of this lovely little not-so-brown-job in my garden, and now wear a smug smirk every time he (she?) pierces the afternoon with a distinctive cry.

Finally, Indian Mynahs.  And Red-Winged Starlings.  In my grapes.  I have just finished construction of a machine gun emplacement overlooking my fledgling vineyard and with tears streaking my ancient cheeks, watching as these unspeakable creatures split grape after grape in search of a drop of sweetness.  Needless to say the gun jammed at the critical moment and I was reduced to bayonet-charging them with limited success.  What to do?  The factories that make bird netting are closed for the summer, it appears, and another year of satisfying grape-trampling and bottling is rapidly slipping by.  So, notwithstanding my deep respect for the Indian Cricket Council’s abbreviated tour of South Africa, I may have to make a formal application to have the visas of all adult Indian Mynahs rescinded.  I know, I know.  It’s hard to make ends meet back on the Sub-Continent, but these fellows will have to learn not to interfere in our wine industry if they know what’s good for them.  In any event, they are lousy eating and I’ve just remembered that these are actually table-grapes.

So birds can be quite interesting, after all.  But not half as interesting as our Kaalvoet who has apparently tired of dunking water-skiers on the Vaal dam and is, as we speak, on her way to the South African base on Marion Island.  A series of hitch-hiking adventures took her to the Cape (not to be confused with the Mother City of Fouriesburg) and a XXXXXX-overcoat got her on board the Navy’s Good Ship Venus.  So we bid her farewell, at least for now, and hope her search for an equivalent partner (check Singles365 for 2.5 metre tall, sensuous silver-backs) and a long and happy life here in the mountains.

What we all want really.

Imagine the Clarens Sector Police Forum.  Imagine them engaged in earnest discussion of matters politic, community policing and social responsibility.  Stern, upright men of letters; steely-eyed, gazing into the future with determination and honest vigour.  Imagine them ordering a round of Coke to parch their strained throats, hoarse from the stresses of their unselfish task.  Wednesday evening in the quiet village of Clarens.

Imagine this halcyon scene outside a place of social interaction.  Well, actually, the Grouse and Claret.  Imagine that – coincidentally – an irresponsible driver, somewhat detached from reality, was to circle the Clarens Square on two wheels, at rather high speed, before executing an intriguing manoeuvre in which he rotates his borrowed VW Golf on the proverbial ‘tickey’ and spins around the corner into Van Zyl Street.  All the while, and this is a completely non-judgemental statement, with his car radio straining the range of human hearing.

Imagine, if you can calculate the odds against this, that this young man loses control of his borrowed and uninsured vehicle, and accelerates across the lane and into a parked car approximately one-metre from the assembled ranks of the Clarens Sector Police Forum, now arrested (if you will pardon the expression) in mid-swig.  Imagine, if you can, the moment of complete silence that follows as several brains attempt to re-assemble the chain of events that has, quite fortuitously, unfolded before them.

Fast forward as the SPF kick back their benches and leap into action to save the unfortunate driver (?) from a potentially flaming wreck, only to review their selfless action and switch to arrest-mode as what turns out to be ‘the culprit’ endeavours to reverse away/flee the scene/take a swing at the SPF/have a drink.  The resulting pursuit in a borrowed 5-ton truck of uncertain vintage rivals the Keystone Cops for authenticity but comes up empty.  Only half-an-hour passes before the Police roar onto the scene and begin processing the evidence.  Imagine that one of the stunned assembly considers the thought that the car hit in this incident looks remarkably like his.  Indeed, it is his, a fact confirmed by the long arm of the law in its patient enquiries at the scene.  Thank God for insurance; but – alas, alack – the offending driver doesn’t have any.

Moral of the story?  If you are a lawyer, you might want to avoid attempting the defence of a demonstrably dangerous and negligent driver when the witness list includes the entire Clarens Sector Police Forum, sober and wide-eyed with outrage.  And the owner of the recipient vehicle in this unintended automotive mating.

Oh, and did I mention the horse?  The appearance of an anonymous rider galloping a horse repeatedly around the Square added immeasurably to the wild improbability of the scene.  All we were missing was a young woman with blue hair skateboarding back and forth in front of the Brewery to qualify Clarens for the hologram of the century award.  But of course that’s simply impossible, since such creatures don’t exist.  Do they?

Finally, birds, which is what the editor pays me to write about.  I think there were one or two at the scene, possibly a Swallow or even a White-Faced Vulture, but I confess I was too shaken to take notes.  Not due to shock or moral outrage; but the fact that the aforementioned lunatic missed my car by millimetres, on his way into what will henceforth be known as Lucky Mark’s car.

I do love the quiet of post-Christmas Clarens.

I have really tried hard to write about birds this week.  I really have.  But when a rumour of global proportions does the rounds, what can a boy do, especially when it’s about cricket?

It appears (as the actress said to the Bishop) that a local farmer and businessman has the healthiest of obsessions with red balls and white caps.  In short, he has the most laudable of ambitions: namely, to bring civilisation to Clarens by building a world class cricket pitch on his farm, thus liberating it from the lowly role of feeding the people and boosting the economy.  Well, he is a farmer, so maybe that’s not strictly true.

The point is that this farm, in the shadow of a mushroom rock, could soon be heaving to mammoth fours and sixes at the behest of tall, chisel-featured cricketers of every make and persuasion.  Yes, it may indeed be true.  Imagine, if you will, dear reader, the visiting Australian cricket team taking to the field and bowling cabbages back and forth – all to the rapturous applause of both Australian residents of our own dear village.  And imagine the opposition, the Clarens and Country Districts All Stars, gearing up in the nets, in the shadow of one of the village’s premier wedding venues?

Picture Bruce Weyers, trim in skin-tight Teflon strides and size 59 pads, leaping gymnastically to his left and right, demonstrating the fine art of wicket-keeping.  Conceive, if you will, of the Sector Police Forum Chair lying crumpled on the turf after receiving a vicious bouncer from Les ‘body-line’ Thake.  Picture Ollie  ‘the kilted catcher’ Esplin at silly mid-on and Greg ‘the prowler’ Mousley at silly mid-off, taking profane direction from team Captain and star of the third-worst batting line up in the world, Brad ‘one off the wrist’ Goldblatt.  Imagine!

And imagine the start of play, following the toss with an elderly Kruger Rand.  Crowd tense, cameras rolling, television viewers around the world aghast at the cattle grazing contentedly at third-man.  An expectant hush as a three-metre Australian ultra-fast bowler sends down an ultrasonic bouncer, missing the scalp-hair of Clarens All Stars opener Chris ‘expresso’ Pefanis by millimetres.  Minutes pass and the All Stars are 3 (extras) for 9 and wilting badly in the summer sun.  All appears lost, but wait: Last man standing (well, sort of) is Ray ‘the postman’ Meyers who fends the spinning ball away with alacrity.  The unnamed four-metre Oz spinner rushes down the track and glares down at our Ray with intimidating Antipodean fury and snarls, “Mate, why are you so fat?”

Ray glares back, sparky as ever, and replies, “Because every time I bonk your wife, she gives me a biscuit”.

The match is drawn, due to the visitors being incapacitated by laughter.  That aside, gear up, dear readers, with floppy white hats and cases of the bubbly stuff, because this halcyon vision may soon be a reality.  Just imagine!!

Wouldn’t you know it: Valentine’s Day has come around again, much the same time as last year.  And the year before that.  In fact, checking my old diaries, it seems to be a perennial feature of life in the romantic lane.  As a social phenomenon, it stretches back centuries and has attracted the interest and witticisms of many a writer, professional and amateur.  The key difference of course, is that the amateurs don’t get published much, but probably score more dividends than all the pros put together.

Aberjhani, author of The River of Winged Dreams, waxed lyrical about love, saying, “What a lover’s heart knows let no man’s brain dispute”.  This suggests that idiots can function just as well as academics, although there are generations of respectable ladies who would put their money on a romp with a car mechanic in preference to a professor of Ancient Greek.  Ah well.  The same erudite author ventured that “This is what our love is––a sacred pattern of unbroken unity sewn flawlessly invisible inside all other images, thoughts, smells, and sounds”.  Confusingly, this may be more reminiscent of the public loos of Clarens than an ode to love.

Lisa Greenwald, lesser known author of Sweet Treats & Secret Crushes, states the obvious in her own simplistic way: “Today’s Valentine’s Day.  There’s a whole day devoted solely to love.  Does that make any sense?  Nah.  Love makes us all crazy.  But it’s fun too”.  Point taken, but Ernest Hemingway has a strange sense of irony in his 88 Poems, saying “If my Valentine you won’t be,
I’ll hang myself on your Christmas tree”.   Jarod Kintz, in 99 Cents For Some Nonsense, gets right to the point and says “Why send roses?  Wouldn’t it be more romantic to deliver a dozen orgasms?  For only R99.95, I’ll deliver them to your woman any day of the year.  But be sure to book early for Valentine’s Day”.

Hardly surprising that Rae Hachton, in Frankie’s Monster, warns “Run, sweetheart, run”.

Then there is good old common sense:  “If every lover was treated like they matter — everyday – Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be so special”, according to philosopher Mokokoma Mokhonoana.  Well yes, although another philosopher, Mehmet Murat Ildan injects a note of advice to the occasion, saying, “The best thing about Valentine’s Day is that if you don’t have a lover, you badly remember to get one!”

Ooops, almost forgot the gender issue (which is somewhat buggered by the need to avoid specifying the gender of the parties involved).   “In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better show more affection than she feels”, said that arch cynic, Jane Austen.  And the French, in the form of Honoré de Balzac, wryly note that “First love is a kind of vaccination which saves a man from catching the complaint a second time”.  Samuel Johnson, with history on his side but pursuing the same theme, argues that “A second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.”

And in a punt for that timeless illustrated tome, The Kama Sutra, Elizabeth Barrett Browning asks, “How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways”.

Self-avowed genius Oscar Wilde said of love, “They spoil every romance by trying to make it last forever”, but covered his back (?) by adding, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it”.  American comic and occasional philanderer Woody Allen confirms his reputation for the obtuse by musing, “To love is to suffer.  To avoid suffering, one must not love.  But then, one suffers from not loving.  Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer.  To be happy is to love.  To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy.  Therefore, to be happy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness”.On a more positive note, Woody added, “Sex without love is an empty experience, but, as empty experiences go, it’s one of the best”.

And the last word goes to a tall anonymous blonde who waxed warmly in the Grouse & Claret about her hopes for Clarens on this Special Day: “Give me Bruce; a picnic beneath a full moon and iridescent stars; black olives; cherries; dark things; a canoe on Lake Clarens…that’s romance”.


Oh the luxury!  Two whole weeks between Twitching, not a care in the world and twenty-five hours a day of shooting hints for amputees on television.  Can there be anything better than this?!

Of course the weather has put a bit of a damper on outdoor activity: no nude sunbathing on the square; the Vaal River rising precipitously and lapping at Bethlehem’s back door; Gautengers fleeing for their lives and finding breathless solace in the flesh-pots of Clarens.  Oh, the drama, the drama!  Our minor leaks and wet washing are not too bad, comparatively speaking.  But what to say this week, with a hindsight view of events stretching back fourteen days?

Well, for starters, what a show at Gosto’s last weekend, the new porro restaurant on the square!  Almost two-metres of tantalizing temptress, nom de guerre of Cat Simoni, wowed audiences two nights running with her take on Barbra Streisand.  Best bit, for those with staying power, was the impromptu jamming session late Saturday night (well, Sunday morning actually), with Hansie on piano and matching chords in short supply.  How good to have supper theatre in Clarens, with more to come.  Rumours of whisky bars at the Highlander and Mexican cuisine (??) up the road abound.  So gird your autumnal loins, dear Clarenites; the good times are about to get better.

Talking of which, has anyone else noticed how busy our little village has been in what has traditionally been called the New Year vacuum.  I can understand the Rand-exchange rate of course: Who wouldn’t travel at R423.63 to the British Pound?  But it is not just itinerant Europeans and Poms.  Accents have ranged across the spectrum, not least Afrikaans, even without the impetus of escaping Johannesburg three-metres under old mine water (why do perfectly nice people still live there?).  No, it is more than that: Things, dare I say it, are looking up.  If you discount the repeated waves of Germans in their condom-wrapped, extra-secret Mercedes test cars, there is still a real sense that Europe has actually discovered Clarens.

We’re not talking about thrill seekers after Kaalvoet, but proper people driving cars (rather than dozing in buses en route to Kruger Park); people keen to see Lesotho and climb a mountain or six; and spend a few hard-earned Euros on our little trinkets.  If you are doubtful, spend an hour or three on the square (oh, alright, in a pub on the square) and use your eyes and ears; the brewery is a good place to start, by the way.  The point is that these nice folks are multiplying rapidly and probably won’t disappear even if the Rand surges to R320.56 to the Pound.  So, bone up on your French; wear orange and speak a little Dutch; or go all out and make jokes in German.  Okay, maybe that’s a bridge too far, but be nice and remember that we are in fact a tourist destination – employing a lot of people and feeding a lot of families.  And maybe even having a lot of fun.

So what next?  Well, if you are into risking your all (no, silly, not getting married) a casino opens its doors tonight; the community braais for charity; the multi-coloured Kgubetswana Stadium opens; local author Don Emby (Soweto Burning) launches his book next week; and Peter Badcock-Walters opens his Gallery On The Square.  On the list of things not to do, is dump your garbage on the village pavements: Clarens manager Peter Reed has given his all to transforming the village and its environs (is the rising tourist traffic really coincidental?), and is none too tickled by ‘dumpers’ spoiling the picture.  You know who you are, so stop it before you get struck by lightning.

Oh, about the birds, which is my real remit: They’re actually not very visible at the moment, for the simple reason that my grapes are ripe and the Mynahs, Starlings and others are just too fat to fly.  Expect more (hungry) birdsong sometime soon however.  Whew.

With Easter on the horizon and the Gods of Winter mustering their wrathful breath for a frosty blow through our little valley, autumn promises to be quite an interesting place to be.

That’s right.  There are only 276 sleeps until Christmas Day, so time to start ironing your old wrapping paper and breaking out the gifts you didn’t want or like from last year.  Try not to give them to the people who gave them to you, however, or there may be a long silence ahead.  Talking of which, what constitutes a shopping day in this Year of Our Lord 2014?

For starters it probably depends where you are.  In New York, for example, 275 days means 275 shopping days.  In Lusaka, by contrast, it probably means 27 shopping days, while in our sunny village it depends WHO you are and what your sleeping habits involve.  Ten short years ago, Clarens slumbered until 09h00 of a morning, most mornings, and certainly didn’t entertain any shopping on a Sunday afternoon, a Monday possibly or a Tuesday certainly.  In fact, this was quite variable and depended whether or not the Shad were running on the South Coast or there was a newly-divorced person (or either sex) in town.

The net effect was, and to an extent still is, that shopping, dining and/or wining in Clarens was an uncertain experience.  The interesting fact, however, is that our clientele does not read from the same page of the Hymnal.  Since the days of Oom Paul, we have stumbled uncertainly into a tourist era that has been equally uncertain; the meandering Transvaalers and Free Staters who passed through our village, admiring the Holy Acre and Security Key Point that passes as our Square, have grown up and changed nationality, language and interests.  For starters, they now have the temerity to come seven-days a week; they simply don’t seem to know that Clarens celebrates Mondays and Tuesdays as alternate days of rest, or that we work from 09h00 to 16h00.  Sometimes.

Anyone who is on the Square from 07h00 onwards will have noticed squadrons of tourists, hands bunching Euros, Pounds and Dollars in their designer-jean pockets, stalking about looking for a place to off-load their newly-inflated largesse.  More to the point, we’re talking about those sacred days of the week when tourists are not supposed to be here.  Oddly enough, there are growing numbers of Clarens business people (okay, insomniacs) up and about at that hour, who are actually selling stuff; moreover, unless they suffer a chronic illness during the trading day, they discover that these self-same tourists are still financially-active after 17h00 – an hour when Clarenites are traditionally into their fourth beer.

So what to do?  Well, best we recognise that the game has changed.  We have just had a brilliant couple of months when we were supposed to be hibernating, and the markers for a great trading year are up.  Weekdays are open-season for shoppers of all descriptions and the Rand is plumbing new depths and due to meet the Australian dollar coming the other way.  The Clarens shopping experience has matured almost beyond imagining and the range of dining experiences has reorganised itself to actually be quite inviting.  We have the best little Brewery on the planet, a wonderful bookshop and even a mini-casino in situ, all of which seems to be quite appealing to our European cousins, judging from their steely-eyed circumnavigation of the Square of a morning.

So, dear Clarenites, gear up, spread your wings and open your doors seven-days a week: You have 275 days to make some money and have some fun, before wishing your dear ones a Merry Christmas and facing the challenges of 2015.  You have been warned.

One long weekend down, two to go.  Judging from the reaction of the restaurants, bars, coffee shops and guest houses, you could be forgiven for thinking we had won the lottery.  But if you happen to be a gallery or retail store owner, maybe not so much.  The point is that spending is selective in these stringent economic times:  Fill the tank with gas, fill the tummy with steak and craft beer and lay your tousled head upon a rented bed – and all is well with the world, apart from an upcoming election of course.  But whether or not you were on the receiving end of tourist largesse, it has to be said that Clarens at Easter was simply gorgeous: The trees are somewhere between butter and brown and the sunsets are an extreme exercise in sky theatre.  And if the Easter Bunny forgot about you, go buy your own little slice of chocolate heaven at your nearest village grocer; they need some business too!

In the lull between a four-day weekend and a three day affair (no, I’m not talking about our unmarried guests) we have had a breath-taking insight into the Affairs of State.  Well, local actually; in fact, the Municipal Budget presentation.  Before you yawn yourself into a coma, pause to consider that our friends in Dihlabeng don’t do this for any old Eastern Free State town; it’s just us actually, and we get a pat on the back for our engaging criticism and friendly advice.  Ho ho.  After half-an-hour of comic relief in the Marty Lotz Hall, we moved into the Coffee Shop there, in order to actually hear the presentation, given the intervention of an eighty-five decibel hail storm on an old tin roof.  Point is that we run at an immense annual deficit (about R85 million) in spite of our weighty rates and taxes, not least because of the Municipality’s salary and wage bill, and there is no prospect of change any time soon.  The MEC for Finance, a very jovial chap, responded patiently to an hour of gripes about the ‘inability’ of some of our esteemed Councillors to pay their rates.  Given that he sighed and noted that this was always our main priority, it would seem that our annual bitching doesn’t penetrate the Council Chamber down the road.  So what to do?

Slashing Councillor’s salaries and allowances is clearly not an option two weeks before an election, so perhaps it’s time for Clarens to think it’s way out of this civic cul-de-sac.  Perhaps it is time for some creativity and lateral thinking:  After all, we are actually sitting on a tourist gold mine in idyllic surroundings, and about the most progressive idea in currency is to build a retirement home on the Golf Estate!  We have to do better than that if we are going to protect our business futures and operate in a municipal environment free from bankruptcy hearings.

So, let’s make a start: First, who fancies a cable car to the top of Mount Horeb?  Just think, bright young things taking your money in 11 official languages while you sweep skywards in a rainbow-coloured car to scones and coffee on the peak of our most dominant mountain?  Don’t laugh.  Think for a moment about half of Johannesburg and one-third of Pretoria queuing to give their hard-earned away to the Clarens Mountain Railroad and Scone Company.  Move over Cape Town, here we come.  Second, anyone remember that we are sitting on one of the country’s biggest aquifers, snug beneath the Clarens Golf Course?  Of course you do; why else would your little white ball swerve erratically away from the 12th hole every time you play?  Point is that we could go down as well as up.  Think for a moment about National Geographic running a deep-diving mini submarine to a wine and oyster bar on the bed of our biggest natural water reservoir.  Admittedly, you would have to hold your breath a while and it would be a bit of a mission clutching your oysters in the dark, but I’m betting that Free Staters would kill for the experience.

But third, and without doubt the clincher, how about the biggest adventure ice-skating rink in the country, smack in the Clarens Square?  Just imagine, Victorian balustrades encircling an immense stretch of ice, with ramps and slopes sculpted around towering Voortrekker ice-wagons; first-aid stations interspersed with ice-skate sellers and 44-gallon drums of Schnapps to keep your cheeks warm.  And that’s only in summer.  If it catches on, we could do a ski-jump down Main Street, landing on the Golf Course, and – you guessed it – catching a ride down to the Wine and Oyster Bar.  Oh, the money that will roll in………………..

So come on Clarens.  Time to brain-storm our way out of this Municipal delinquency and make our village the centre of the known universe.  Why spend trillions on space exploration with the prospect of a breathless hot and sticky planet to live on, when you can stretch your legs and minds in this splendid part of the planet, 1867metres above the predicted high-tide mark for 2019.

Oh bugger.  I forgot the birds again.  Sorry.

Whew!  Another election gone and everything stays the same.  Give or take a percentage point here or there, all we have to show for billions of Rands-worth of hot air in the media is the introduction of red berets to the Parliamentary fashion ramp and the demise of the oldest politician on the block.  Along with some other long-standing stalwarts of Parliamentary privilege, Mangosuthu and his late-lamented goat herders have largely disappeared, leaving KZN with some pretty boring okes in dark suits.  Gone forever are nights of intrigue in what was briefly the world’s smallest provincial capital (to whit, a one-roomed hotel and a three-storey parliament) and cow’s foot soup for breakfast.  He will be missed, not least by journalists everywhere, as the longest speech-maker in contemporary history.  Your faithful scribe actually remembers the world’s newspapers calling his offices in Ulundi (or should that read, in desperation), asking them to halt a 794-page faxed speech from their silky leader.  Ah, those were the days of real communicators.  Goodbye Gatcha and enjoy the pension.

Some commentators actually seem surprised by the opening surge of the Entertaining Fat Fellows, and their showing in third place; but who would you vote for if all you had to show for 20 years of democracy was a cardboard shack and lots of leisure time?  If nothing else, we can look forward to some riveting debates in the Big House down south and lots of frustration for the Speaker.  The real interest lies five-years ahead, when it seems likely that a coalition of opposition interests may make it difficult for our dancing President’s successor to rule unfettered.  Always something new out of Africa, as the actress said to the Greek Archbishop.

Closer to home, rumour has it that only about 10% of Clarens voters, of what might be dubbed a Typex complexion, bothered to vote this time around.  Pity really.  If they had, control of our mini-metropolis would have changed profoundly, much to the chagrin of Big Brother.  There really are times when complacency is rather counter-productive, but who am I to criticize the political process?  As least someone somewhere listened to Red Ronnie Kasrils, who in spite of his odd campaign to advocate a zero ballot, actually voted himself; just shows how dark and devious intelligence people really are.

What has changed, thank the Gods, is that Clarens is almost back to normal.  Six-weeks of rampant tourism have eroded our stocks of life support materials, such as beer, bread and venison.  Locals have been seen eating Mexican in desperation, but this is unlikely to become a habit unless the Good and the Great declare another 40 public holidays.  Talking of tourists, has anyone else noticed that they are getting younger, happier and actually spend money?  At risk of being repetitious, for those of you who have read more than one of these humble offerings, it appears that we are living through a sustained boom of sorts; pretty much everyone with a till reckons they are up between 30% and 50% over this time last year and are smiling in a rather self-satisfied way.

But given the volume of visitors and their interest in finding a new home in the mountains, it is simply remarkable that the Clarens Golf Estate remains a comparative virgin.   The obviously shy bankers who own most of the empty stands on the Estate seemed disinclined to advertise their holdings or even market their empty stands anywhere or in any way.  Amazing really, given the bank’s proclivity to spend millions in real money on international sports advertising, and the fact that properties in Clarens are selling fast and furiously without them.   Still, when you have already repossessed 11 golf estates, perhaps you would also prefer sipping Martinis at Old Trafford and ruminating about bad investments.

Finally, before some local busybody beats me to it, it has to be said that last week’s show at Gosto’s was pretty damn good, apart from some frivolous and rather risqué comments directed at your faithful scribe.  Dubbed ‘Mr Kiss’ by two-metres of gorgeous Bond Girl, your correspondent had to endure the sniggers of locals imbibing both too freely and too often.  What is wrong with an honest cup of tea at dinner, I ask you with tears in my eyes?  Fortunately, I have a hide like the last White Rhino (and freshly Botoxed lips, in anticipation of increased demand) so will endure these little barbs with fortitude.  And wait for Cat Simone’s next show, Rocky Horror and Abba, in June.   Winter is almost upon us, notwithstanding these last rays of Indian summer, so enjoy them while you can; the birds certainly are, but it has to be said that most of them have flown east to sun themselves on Durban high-rises and add to the nice white streaky effects down their aluminium and glass-sides.   Nice to be able to return a favour to our KZN visitors.

Okay, birds.  Which is actually the remit of your faithful scribe.  After all, what else is there to write about in the autumn of one’s senses, here in Never-Never land.  Certainly not politics.  For her part, Mother Nature (why this gender distinction when no-one knows for sure?) seems undecided about the transition from summer to autumn to winter, so has apparently compromised on an exquisite combination of clear sparkly days and nippy nights.  Whatever, it is quite delightful and charms visitors out of their 4x4s and into the village shops in large numbers.

But if only they would spread their wings, so to speak, and do the countryside as well.  They would discover, for example, blue-grey mountain ranges and verdant hidden valleys to die for, nestling countless guest houses, B&Bs, wedding venues and country shops.  The Golden Gate Park, literally around the corner, sports red sandstone formations that dominate deep blue skies and over 175 species of birds.  You’ll probably see Buzzards, Kestrels, Verreaux’s Eagles, Lanner Falcons, the Cape Vulture and even the threatened Bearded Vulture, but you really need to look!  And who wouldn’t commit a Schedule 4 crime for the sighting of a Buff-Streaked Chat or Gurney’s Sugarbird?  On an unrelated quest for fresh sightings, your faithful correspondent was press-ganged into taking the alternative route from Clarens to Fouriesburg, actually with a wine-farm destination in mind (yes, there is one and very splendid it is too!).  Sitting mulling through the complex aftertaste of this year’s fledgling reds, the trip along the Lesotho border came sharply into focus, confirming that the term ‘paradise’ was not far off the local truth.  Long assumed by uitlanders to be flat, big-sky country churning out maize by the container-load and rugby players by the klomp, it turns out that the Eastern Free State is a sensory geographic experience not to be missed.

So what about the birds?  Well, for those dark souls who prowl the night, the Spotted Eagle Owl is on the hunt, clearly fond of now very chilled rat au gratin.  They are a nocturnal species and emerge at dusk to start hunting voraciously; as a salutary lesson to the residents of Clarens, they are unfashionably monogamous and have one partner for life.  On the Golf Estate they sport and play in a haunting dress-rehearsal for the mating season, enchanting visitors and residents alike with their seductive calls (to whit, and I quote: hoot hoo-hoo buhoohoo-hooo).  For their part, it appears that the Indian Mynahs have flapped back to points east, finding succour in their Natal bridgehead.  They have left behind a copious collection of fruit and seed eaters, now restored to their indigenous dignity, and the rare Southern Bald Ibis (Geronticus calvus).  More a decorative tractor than bird, these spectacular creatures stalk the golf course, scaring the crap out of city golfers, since their shiny pates are clearly reminiscent of auditors and accountants, the most feared of predatory creatures for any aspirant city businessperson (note the politically-correct gender delineation?).

That said, the crème de la crème of the local feathered community remains the Guinea Fowl.  Not, of course for its uncertain looks, which cast it between a Zebra and a Gadfly in terms of colour and design, but for its intense stupidity.  The growing flocks around the village are territorial to a degree and keep dividing and re-establishing themselves on ever-tighter turfs.  Our local flock numbers between 21 and 44 depending on the season, but collectively consume about two-tons of broken maize per week.  I’m not complaining however; it is a while since I last tripped over a snake on my front lawn and the bugs that once sported in the warmer months are nowhere to be seen.  The inherent problem with having a semi-tame flock of these creatures is of course their aggression: You have not felt true fear clutch at your heart until half-a-dozen of these mad creatures surround you looking for food!  Screaming hysterically, to the consternation of your guests, you have to make a wild dash for the safety of the nearest shed, pulse galloping, white and breathless, to retrieve a sack of finest Free State mealies.  Only then can you limp back to the safety of your little stone house and collapse with a very large libation of Scottish wine in your shaking hand.


There are times when birds simply don’t feature in a Twitcher’s life, overshadowed perhaps by events of apparently great public consequence: a riot; an earthquake; birth; death; or a beer festival.

In and of itself, the Clarens Craft Beer Festival was what you might expect.  Four and a half thousand thirsty visitors, more food of generally good quality than you can shake a stick at and the happiest little village in the Southern Hemisphere.  Oh, and seventy-two pregnancies, sixty-nine of them unplanned and one uncertain; the balance involved a twin-conception for a pair of lovelorn accountants from Parys who managed the feat in the toilets of the Highlander.  In short, it was a runaway success and confirms that people of all three genders will travel clear across South Africa to sample their favourite cup of foaming brew.  God knows what next year will bring, but odds on five thousand five hundred are pretty short.  So brace yourselves, Clarenites, and practice your dance steps.

Of equal interest is the re-emergence of our own Kaalvoet, a 3.5 metre princess of the Big Foot variety.  Readers may recall that she ran off to sink ski boats on the Vaal Dam before trekking south to mess with international shipping in Cape Town harbour.  Well, she was back for the beer festival.  Cunningly disguised behind an enormous pair of shades and wearing a fetching Korean engineer’s overall (retrieved from a fishing trawler in the fairest Cape) she called herself Edna and worked at a Durban brewer’s stall dispensing large volumes of Irish Red Ale.  For those in the know, her feet were a dead giveaway (size 18, matted brown hair and a beer cap on her pinkie toe) but at least two bikers from Pretoria proposed marriage to her before dusk.

The point is that she was very obviously with child.  No-one is talking (not surprisingly) but suspicion is growing amongst locals that she may have cohabited with a Japanese seaman on her travels.  It is generally agreed that the Japs are particularly non-discriminating when testosterone levels are up, and even Blue Whales have been known to move oceans when the moon is full in Tokyo.  So Edna may have been seduced by a bowl of Sushi and the promise of a visit to Yokohama.  Whatever happened, Slim Bruce is mad with jealousy and the Clarens Women’s Institute has started knitting quite large socks.  Perhaps the Creature Wall in the Brewery will soon have a new addition to its story of Big Foot colonisation, but spare a thought for the midwife to this quaint union.

As for the village, much gloom about the closure of three – or is it four? – businesses.  However, the opening of On The Square (yes, on the square) has introduced four new businesses to Clarens and relocated another; so we are still in credit, it seems.  Had Oom Paul been about, I feel sure he would have opened this spectacular creation in wood and iron with appropriate solemnity.  At least the architecture would have been familiar, and the taste of Portuguese tit-bits would have swept him back to Lourenco Marques and another, perhaps better, time.  The point is that Clarens is, like every other piece of geography, locked into cycles of growth and decline.  A brief examination of the last decade confirms explosive growth and now we are meandering through a national economic malaise which has in fact affected us far less than the rest of the country.

Time to start smiling again, notwithstanding only 258 shopping days to Christmas, and accept that we came to Clarens to have some fun.

Birds?  Did that last time, if you remember, and quite satisfying it was too.  But time for something new, methinks, to satisfy the inner man, or should that be woman; perhaps even person?  That’s the problem with gender.  Just when you think it’s all buttoned up (or should that be unbuttoned?) it turns out there is yet another group of activists determined to advance their take on what I always thought was pretty straightforward.  But maybe straight isn’t a politically-correct word either!

If you think I make light of the issue, bear in mind we are living in a world of person-hole covers, door-persons, chair-persons and even tea-persons.   I feel sure there are more, but I will not tax you, dear reader, with my over-fertile imagination.  Writing documents, particularly for the development world, isn’t what it used to be, either.  For example, acronyms now cover the first 42 pages and incorporate abbreviations for types of person (?), acts, attitudes and unguents which stretch the boundaries of credulity.  But they are taken mightily seriously and seem to require the daily rewriting of the Shortened Oxford Dictionary.  Nice though that everyone now gets a shout at redefining their gender, what they elect to do with it and who gets a sniff at it too.  One of the reasons, perhaps, why we all live in this little sheltered nest, high in the mountains of the Eastern Free State.  A much-loved resident of Clarens, now sadly deceased, once defined the village as a refugee centre for eccentrics; certainly that was a large part of the reason why Mrs Twitcher and I settled here.  What you see is what you get, so to speak, although there are a few residents about whom you might wish to know less.

The tourists love it though, bless them, and keep coming back for more.  They seem to like looking at us, buying our jam and drinking our local brew.  Whatever are they going to say when we pull the top off our own Apple Brandy in the next several months?  Certainly, if you fancy a bit of gender-bending, that’s the perfect lubricant for the job, I would say.  Stay tuned, for the elixir is ruminating gently in its French oak casks as I speak.  If our gender defines us then, what do we think about the size 15 bovver-boots worn by sylph-like little girl-persons (is that term actually acceptable? – Editor) or the flowing locks and lashings of mascara worn by hugely overweight boy-persons (or that? – Editor) who would struggle to make it through the door?  I josh you not: such persons were tripping the light-fantastic just the other day, en route to our neighbouring mountain-cabbage Kingdom, and no-one raised an eyebrow.   But then we are quaintly notorious for looking the other way if said tourist-persons elect to expose a little body hair, or tattoos of their Giraffe, while unfolding their stiff notes of corruption or shiny new credit cards.  The banks don’t care either it would seem.

Where was I?

Ah yes.  Gender.  What fun it is, not least when you are engulfed in very waves of it.  I think the idea, voiced under the breath so to speak, of painting the Clarens Square pink is splendid.  Peter Reed, whose gentle hands have manicured the pre-winter greenery, would of course shudder, but what is the point of having a sense of humour unless you use it.  Just think, the Golf Estate could toss out its architectural guidelines (they don’t really have any, do they? – Editor) and paint all the roofs a verdant day-glow pink.  Imagine Lake Clarens up to the brim with pink champagne, and Bruce frolicking in its heady essence?  Ah, that’s what eccentricity is all about, particularly when little pink helicopters are raining money on our little businesses.  Gather your strength, Clarenites, for pink is the colour of the century it would seem, and we must embrace the fashion or die trying.  With a little encouragement, I feel sure the Brewery would rise to the occasion and produce a vibrant pink beer.   Yes, it is time to embrace our eccentricity once more, even if it involves artist-persons, theatre-persons and blue-wigged hologram persons.  Brace yourselves, citizens, I believe I can hear the future coming……………………

Contemplating winter in Clarens is a confusing business.  Gaze out of the windows and the blue skies stretch to infinity while the sun butters the rolling mountains with awesome hues of khaki and gold.  Gorgeous.  Until you step outside and freeze where you stand.  Such is the social meteorology of our mountain perch, but I wax a trifle too lyrical perhaps.  In short, it looks brilliant out but don’t plan on spending too much time galloping about in it.  That is, after all, why God’s great plan includes breweries, restaurants and guest houses with large, roaring fires.

Which brings me, via a complex and tangential route, to painting by numbers.  You’ve seen them; of course you have.  The concept is simple: Some small Korean person makes a neat line drawing of, say, London Bridge or a bowl of Carnations, and carefully numbers each and every little piece of it, circumscribed by a clear and uncompromising line.  The number concerned matches, assuming you bought the right set, a collection of paints which – when carefully applied to the corresponding space on the paper or canvas – produce a pleasing (though sometimes puzzling) outcome.  As a new-borne artist, you will almost certainly leave the result in your will to some thoroughly undeserving member of your intimate family, and never do another one.

Which got me to thinking.  What if Clarens got hold of the idea to invigorate its burgeoning but largely idle artist population?  The concept has endless possibilities.  For example, the village landscape could be deconstructed to allow a lucky tourist buyer to paint all the dirt roads a crisp tarmacadam grey (with perhaps a touch of ivory white (No. 2) and magenta (No.9) to highlight the speed-bumps) to attract more unsuspecting Ferraris and Lambos.  The entire square could be turned into the Hanging Gardens of Dihlabeng with a little care, accented (isn’t that a bit twee? – Editor) with subtle shades of alizarin red (No. 14) and cadmium yellow (No. 16).  Some neat brush strokes and a little calligraphy might change the village shop-fronts for the better: Imagine, if you will, every restaurant sign proclaiming ‘Affordable Prices; Great Service; Trained Chef’ and, of course, ‘Free French Champagne and Irish Oysters’. 

And what if the lucky tourist buyer found his/her No. 2 Sable brush, and scooped up a load of rose madder (No.26) to paint smiles on the faces of all our policemen, as they bow and scrape their way about the village, assisting tourists in their enquiries and guiding their shiny new, dust-free cars into unlimited parking spots?   Imagine.  It doesn’t have to stop at the village precincts, of course: What if the new-borne artist sweeps around to encompass the Golf Estate in its perfect harmony with nature?  Well, okay, maybe not.  But that could be changed in the flick of a palette knife – imagine taking out the clutter of nine-storey villas on the mountain ridge and replacing them with elegant dwellings of style and flair, tucked unobtrusively into the slope.  Imagine, if you will, losing every second house entirely to provide landscaped gardens (sap green,No.31; chrome green, No.14; and yellow ochre, No.47) and a great big sign over the entrance gate saying, in an educated hand, ‘Estate Sold Out’ (post-box red, No.5).  How nice would that be?

For the more anally-retentive artist, intent on capturing the human condition, there could be small sets with highly detailed renderings of happy village families hugging one-another on receipt of massive tax rebates, notices of rates reductions or posters announcing bi-weekly beer festivals.  And, for the avaricious guest house owners amongst you, a giant landscape of the Clarens Nek featuring a 12-sheet billboard simply proclaiming ‘Weather Perfect; ALL Accommodation Full Until 2045. Sorry!!

Don’t you love a mystery?  A real one, I mean, involving a disappearing stream and sinking monuments.  Well of course you do.  Unless you are particularly fond of the Clarens village square, which you will note I have avoided terming a green for now.  At least for the next month or two, anyway.

So here’s the plot: Once upon a time, in a bygone era of creaking leather bridles and the clatter of unshod hooves, there was a tiny settlement hard by what we shall call Stone Mountain (well, they couldn’t spell ‘Horeb’ in those far off days).  The population, if that is not too formal a title for an unruly assortment of mountain people in veldskoens, spent their days wondering where they were and experimenting with new ways to render themselves insensible with Sotho Mountain Cabbage.  Entertainment was limited, apart from a one-legged duck, and their limited attention span was focused on the natural phenomena of the district.  The predominant feature, a mountain rising sharply to their west, presented a perfect profile of a well-known Boer Republic President, eyebrows and all, which of course they didn’t know, since there was no golf course to stand upon to contemplate the great man’s visage.  Nor did they have a street café to disport themselves in.  Or art galleries by the dozen.  In fact, all they had was what Oom Koos wistfully called two-thirds of bugger all.

Well, not entirely true: They had a stream of rushing water which tumbled down from a spring to the south, which was ironically (but lovingly) named the kleinJordaanstroompie.  This natural, unfiltered water flowed robustly through the centre of what they laughingly referred to as their outspan, before gushing away to draw a shallow border with King Moshoeshoe’s Kingdom to the east.  Even the one-legged duck liked it, although he was allegedly swept away in the great flood of ’77, or eaten by Oom Koos.  The point is that this gushing, galloping waterway flowed on for years as our forefathers (OK, fathers-in-law) began the tortuous process of assembling civilisation around its grassy banks.  A misunderstanding between the Boer Republics and the British Government led to some unpleasantness and a monument or two sprang up along the path of the kleinJordaanstroompie, lending a sombre touch to the idyllic scene.  Post-war, the Clarens village square became the centre of social life and discourse, playing host to horses and carts alike as their owners gazed dreamily about them, fantasising about coffee shops, bottle shops and brasseries (no, you fool, that’s spelt brassieres).  In short, Clarens had grown unerringly from its humble beginnings to a dot on the map so small that it was hidden by the ‘F’ in Fouriesburg, once (and arguably still) the capital of the Free State.  And all the while, the kleinJordaanstroomjie chuckled on.

And then one day, it didn’t.  Well, flow actually.  It simply disappeared.  About the time the Post House sank its foundations and the forerunners of SAPS first boiled a pot of water over an open fire.  The village population woke to a deafening silence where once there had been, well, the tinkling of a babbling brook.  The village people (I’ve been dying to say that) searched everywhere but the recalcitrant stream had simply vanished into the ground.  Dark rumours spread that King Moshoeshoe’s grandchildren had nicked it back or that it had been hijacked to provide hydro-electric power for the Transvaal.  But nothing was ever heard of it again!  Gone.  Vanished.

That’s the story.  Except for an important detail: Keen observers will have noticed that the monuments on the square are in fact sinking, slowly to be sure, but steadily.  The marble monolith which dominates the centre of the square was once nine-metres high, but only the old and infirm can remember this, since two-thirds of its historical significance is now underground.  Even the well-loved rows of rose bushes have disappeared, swallowed by the malevolence of a forgotten stream.  What does this mean?  In short, and at risk of spreading alarm and despondency, it is your faithful scribe’s duty to warn you that the kleinJordaanstroompie has been coiling its length beneath our feet all these years.  We are literally riding our luck as, by my calculation, the amassed volume is now roughly the equivalent of the Mediterranean Sea (and I did use a pocket calculator).

So, be warned.  A one-legged duck can’t be wrong.

Well, it had to happen.  After 72 editions of edifying social commentary from your faithful scribe, the Editor is going modern and taking this august publication into the twenty-first century.  Just like that.  Imagine, no more waiting with bated breath for a weekly dose of truth on a skewer (oh alright, fortnightly more recently).  Instead, you can now trip into the same diet of news and commentary daily, nogaal, courtesy of some clever people who opened up Facebook to an unbelieving world.  So that’s the deal, dear readers.  The Editor, not content with changing the world as we know it, is also putting up posters all over the village, offering the option of pointing your smartphone at what looks to me like a bloody enormous bar code, to take you straight to the Clarens News! Eish!  (And I don’t mean the other publication that a few of you sometimes read). As for me, it’s back to the World Bank, economic conferences, negotiating peace in the Middle East, judging Master Chef and inventing wireless electricity.  A fellow has to work, and this lull in my writing duties allows me to return the world stage a wiser but probably less articulate man.  It’s been fun though.  The haunting terror of having Bigfoot (well, Kaalvoet, as it turned out) stonking around the orchards of the village was an immense experience, not least taking the big lady (yes, she was a girl and oh so passionate) to a dance night at Friends.  David Attenborough messing with our ducks was another capital story, and there is an entire generation of feathered friends who nostalgically recall their BBC-crafted transportation across the ponds of Clarens.  Ah, those were the days.   Libel actions, proposals of marriage, beer tasting when the well-water got lumpy and other salutary experiences have brought tears of joy to my squint eyes.  All in the name of Clarens News. Well, it’s over now so you’ll find me on the third barstool from the end at the Brewery.  Unless of course, the Editor relents and asks me back……………… The Twitcher (retired) Editor’s note:  Follow us on facebook.   I’m sure we’ll find a way to sneak an ornithological note in somewhere.

Author: ClarensNews

Editor of Clarens News