27 March 2014


Small motorcycle progress added to the Guzzi post (LINK), sorry for those who come here for flowers but this is just as pretty.

18 March 2014

Hoekwil forest

On a back road between George and Wilderness, just past a small settlement of low-cost government houses, there is a dirt road marked "Big Tree". It doesn't look very promising, but only a few hundred metres down the road, the dairy pastures and dusty stands of weeds give way to a cool green cathedral of Afrotemperate forest. On this late Sunday afternoon leaves were glowing stained glass, the streams murmured quiet prayers of thanks for last week's rain and the forest provided a silent sermon on the nature of time.

12 March 2014

It's March again.

On the sandy floodplain south of De Hoop vlei, this Haemanthus flower is pushing up. Only later the two broad, dark green leaves will appear, flat on the ground.

It's interesting that Amaryllidaceae have recalcitrant seeds. This sounds like it means they are stubbornly resistant to growing at all. Botanically, it actually refers to seeds that are not able to dry and will germinate immediately when ripe. This explains why Amaryllids all over the world flower just before the rainy season of their native habitat. Unlike most plants, the ripe seed could not survive even a single dry season.  Here in the winter rainfall areas of the Western Cape, that usually means the many and varied Amaryllidaceae appear in early March, often pushing up out of hard, dry ground.

I'm not sure why this species is named H. sanguineus, but I'd like to think that it was presumed sanguine to be waking right at the end of summer, confident that the winter rains will be along shortly. A good word that, sanguine. One doesn't see it nearly often enough any more.

10 March 2014

lost and found

A few days ago I saw a lone ginger kitten emerge briefly from the dusty grass next to a dirt road many kilometres from the nearest farmstead. I'm not sure what made me stop a hundred metres down the road and turn around to investigate. The last stray kitten I tried to rescue as a child was a terrified, un-tameable wild animal, spraying faeces everywhere whenever disturbed. Not an experience I'd care to repeat, especially inside my car with cloth upholstered seats, and sleeping bag and pillow on the back seat.

This little bedraggled mite had definitely been living rough for a while. Emaciated, filthy, patchy fur, tattered whiskers, scarred ears, and hosting more giant fleas than I've ever seen. But as I approached slowly, something unexpected happened. The purring started, and he came running over, rubbing up against my ankles. So into the car he went, and I set off with great trepidation. Apart from shedding flea eggs like sand, he only looked around with great curiosity at this novel experience, before settling down on the passenger seat.

The next day he joined our meeting, ate raw sausage and lapped milk like he'd never seen food before. He survived threats of drowning and shooting from two stern conservation men who rightly disapprove of all cats, and especially voracious, future bird and reptile murdering strays, but clearly didn't have the heart to do him in. However, we cannot keep a cat, I am mildly allergic, the cockatiel is very allergic, and the dog would consider him a snack. I stopped in Bredasdorp, the nearest small town on the way home, to drop him at the animal shelter. After looking over the miserable cages, and knowing his likely fate there, I was slightly relieved that they were closed and there was no answer on the after hours mobile number. In Cape Town, Rosie had already established that all the nearby animal shelters were full. So for a few days he was banished to the garage, with brief excursions when the mewing was replaced by constant purring. That time was enough to establish that he was intelligent and civilised enough to figure out how to use a sand box after one day,  and exceedingly hungry all the time. After the fleas were dealt with and he accepted being bathed with minimal fuss, it became apparent that he really was thoroughly adorable, that the purring might never stop, and that laps were a lot more pleasant to be in than end of summer dry and dusty wheat fields.

The power of social media saved us from becoming cat people, and on Saturday the ginger kitten joined a loving family and was named Lenard. The pictures and video posted so far show a very small cat establishing that he is the boss of two large dogs, a besotted, gentle blonde toddler, and the adults in the house. He is now certain of the finest food money can buy, comfort and constant love. Sometimes a happy ending is that easy.

02 March 2014

It's been five months.

The problem with a blog for personal pleasure is that when one is less than buoyant, it can feel a bit like work. Also, I find that more and more I want to get away from my computer and do stuff with my hands again. To have something tangible when I'm finished.

So I present to you what I've been up to today:  motorbike customisation progress - a pair of lovingly hand-fabricated headlamp brackets.

What you see here is about about 22 hours of Photoshop mock-up, cardboard templates, staring, measuring, staring, cutting, checking, staring, brazing, cosmetic filling with tin solder, grinding and painstakingly hand sanding to be ready for plating. Yes, that's only one small component of the bike. But aren't they pretty?

15 September 2013

Lake Como, Italy

(April 2013)

I am at that point in life when I am becoming aware that the passage of time is alarmingly swift. And worse, the past fades so quickly, leaving only the tragic and the transcendent. That puts a lot of pressure on holiday decisions.

Deciding to go to Switzerland was easy. Rosie's parents were going to be there, with extended family nearby to visit. Also, we'd probably never go otherwise. After that, Eastern Europe was attractive, but opened up a paralysing range of options, and the whole of France was tantalisingly nearby too.

Fortunately, the onward flight from Milan turned out to be about twenty times cheaper than a train ride via Lyon to London, or any other option. Since we were being blown to and fro by the winds of chance anyway, nearby Lake Como became an obvious choice when I discovered that the motorcycles I own and love are made there. However, we're both scientists, and that didn't seem an entirely rational basis for decision making. Some meticulous research was in order. Twenty minutes on Google Earth taking virtual strolls through every small town via Street View failed to locate a single scene that did not include picturesque lake views, or charming centuries old buildings, or both. Sold. Plane and train tickets booked. Done. Credit cards and the internet are a wondrous combination.

We left Switzerland in a new, immaculate train. In Milan we changed to a grimy local train to Lecco, from where we had to take a bus. We crammed in with a load of teenage school kids who were not fazed by the next hour of breathtaking lake views or the frequent near head on collisions with oncoming vehicles on what should really be a single lane road. Daily disaster is apparently avoided only by judicious application of the hooter at every blind bend. We got off at Visgnola, perched on the hill above bigger and more famous lakeside town of Bellagio, and wandered two hundred metres up the road in the drizzle to our home for the next two weeks, a little apartment above the square off Vicolo dei Frati.

Visgnola turned out to be an excellent choice. Our apartment was charming, clean, offered every amenity you could want, and being a little off the beaten path and outside tourist season, ridiculously cheap. When the rain stopped we went exploring and discovered that we had lucked into a rustic paradise of quaint architecture and breathtaking views.

Several seemingly sensible travel reviews had warned us that we could not stay up on the precipitous heights of Visgnola without a car. In reality the main town of Bellagio and all it's waterfront delights, turned out to be a gentle 20 minute stroll down a delightful stone passageway.

Real Italy, of course, could not possibly live up to the avalanche of clichéd travel writing. Sure enough, down on the Bellagio waterfront, there was a line of shops selling ghastly ducks and tortoises fashioned from lake pebbles entombed in plastic. Imported silk scarves  printed with hideous patterns in lurid colours a sad reminder that once there had been a flourishing silk industry in Como. I can imagine that in peak season the flocks of tourists become unbearable, but we were there just early enough to miss the crowds. For the first few very grey days we felt like we had the town to ourselves and we wandered around in a happy daze, drinking in the misty scenery.

The inevitable touristy bits fortunately included a number of lake side restaurants with only moderately inflated prices. Once the sun was out they quickly filled with customers basking in the gentle warmth.

Public transport is easy and not too expensive. Nearby towns, like the beautiful Varenna, are a quick ferry trip from Bellagio. Bus routes run all the main roads following the lake edge, and a rail line runs down the eastern side of the lake if you want to go further afield. But for the first week, we had no desire to go further than our daily walks around town.