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Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sold the farm - whoopeeeee !

I have been a little lax in writing for this blogspot for a couple of days. Not really because I was lazy, but because Liz and I have had a couple of house guests. An extremely pleasant and friendly couple – in fact a younger version of us to the tee (is that how the phrase is spelt?). Anyway it was an extremely fruitful weekend which ended up with us all shaking hands on selling the farm. Riaan and Juan Mari are an artist/musician and a medical doctor respectively, and will be moving in by January 1st when she takes up a position at a local psychiatric hospital.

We just knew that there was a buyer out there somewhere – it turns out that they were hidden away in Bloemfontein in the Free State. They will be just perfect for Martindale Farm and have said that they will take on Jack and Bob, out two neutered cats. Now we just have to wait for the banks – hold thumbs.  Hope to get Liz across the pond before Christmas and I will follow when the financials are all sorted out. I will not have too much time for writing during the coming weeks. We have to sort out all the stuff we are sending over and must carry out a few small jobs about the house before the handover.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Is this the First Mud Duplex?.

The Mud Home story continues. This morning, before breakfast, Liz noticed that our two small friends were entering their reconstructed nest by way of the old tunnel. The new tunnel is now about half the length of the old (see latest pic) and is parallel to and adjoining the old. The big question is this – is this the first swallow’s nest with two entrances? My guess is that there cannot be too many that have been recorded by camera, which is why I have placed a watermark on the photograph. If anyone reading this would like a copy of the original please contact me.

I was doing a Google search for photographs of swallows’ nests a few minutes ago and was horrified to find that there are companies that actually specialize in the extermination of swallows. The ones I came across were in Florida and California. Watching the fascinating way that our two little friends have meticulously built up their home day after day has only left me more than ever at wonder with the great mysteries of our Universe. Life, however small, is a wondrous thing.     

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Black Tuesday

Not being a journalist, I have yet to grasp the full meaning of the Freedom of Information Bill, but from the comments I hear on Radio Algoa, our local radio station, if the Bill is passed into an Act today by parliament, then today will indeed be known in future years as Black Tuesday, for yet another nail will have been hammered into South Africa’s fast-growing coffin. Often misquoted, it was Lord Acton who said in his Historical Essays and Studies that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” I have witnessed close up in what is now Zimbabwe what the misuse of power can do. Sadly it seems that South Africa, a beautiful country that looked as though it had a bright and colourful future under Madiba, is showing all of the signs of going in the same direction.

When my American wife Liz first arrived in this country in 2002, I made a point of telling her some of the signs to keep a lookout for, signs that had reared their ugly head in Zimbabwe in the late 1980s, signs that would eventually trigger our relocation to more acceptable climes. Now those signs are here. Reverse apartheid, corruption, bribes and mis-management in quasi-government agencies and local government, and ministries that have all but ceased to function. I recently had to wait eight months for a computer generated printout of my marriage certificate, and then only after a personally addressed letter to the Director of Home Affairs. This seemingly simple task is something that would have taken less than five minutes in any developed country.

The Freedom of Information Bill, if passed into law, would be a blatant misuse of authority that would prevent South Africa from ever being a truly democratic society.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The two G’s – Gullible and Greedy

Maybe I’m becoming completely paranoid, but every time I see one of those marketing ads on DStv, I say to myself, and sometimes to Liz, “How can South Africans be so gullible as to fall for that?” The “that” can be anything from a collection of see-through storage boxes to the latest product I witnessed, a flexible metallic vegetable holder that can be used for blanching vegetables and the like. “R99!” I ventured, as we waited for the price to be shown. Liz was beaten by the screen, which came up with the incredible R149.99. Liz’s first remark was “You can get those in Wal Mart for 99 cents.” – Liz is American and knows her Wal Mart prices. I know she’s right because we actually have a similar contraption in one of the kitchen cupboards that I bought in an Abu Dhabi souk some 25 years ago (my, how time flies!). In those days I paid just a couple of rupees – certainly less than the equivalent of R10. I think I’ve used the device three or four times all told. This type of product appears all too often on our television screens. The target of these clever marketing ads is the gullible South African who has never ventured outside the country’s borders, knows no better and must add this invaluable contrivance to his or her collection. 

At the other end of the scale, and this is something that can probably only be seen by visitors to South Africa, is the business that overcharges for a product or service. I have for many years held the opinion, not always to myself, that the world’s worst banks are all housed in South Africa. No bank in any other country (to the best of my knowledge) charges for putting money in the form of cash into your account. The excuse used to be “Oh, but someone has to count it.” Recently one bank that has introduced a new ATM that counts your cash decided to make the account holder pay for this once-free service, even though the ATM counts the cash. No doubt the excuse will be something like “Oh, but we have to check that the machine is correct!”. Even the government gets in on the act. How many South Africans are aware that this is probably (and I would stand corrected here) one of the only countries in the world in which you have to have a license to own a television set (other than the United Kingdom, I am informed). 

It’s not just big business that is accused of being greedy. My next door neighbour is a European who spends several months each year in South Africa. This man is an investment advisor, highly educated, and something of a philanthropist. He decided to build a house in the Eastern Cape, where he has invested in some land. The price he was charged by a local architect and the quotes he received from local building companies were, apparently, laughable. So much so that he has put his project on hold. It reminds me of another local resident of European extraction who did build a house here. He came up against a similar obstruction, and ended up flying a handful of artisans in from Europe to build the house for him from scratch. The total cost of the house including airfares was in the region of 50% of what he was quoted locally.

I am not gullible, and I’m certainly not greedy. This blog will probably do nothing to change the situation, but at least I have the satisfaction of airing my views to those that care to read them.

© Michael J Mason 2011

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Mud Home takes a new turn

It seems like every morning I am presented with a new surprise by my two small friends. If you can make it out on the inset photograph, it appears that they have decided to bypass the old tunnel and may even have blocked off its inner end. What is certain is that they are now starting to build a new tunnel parallel to the old, and are progressing at quite a rate. It is now six days since the two tiny birds started their construction work, now nearing completion.

One of the joys of living in the countryside is to be able to witness Nature close up. I have tried recording the two swallows chatting to each other, which they seem to do every time that they arrive back from their source of raw material and perch on their wire, ready to add the next minuscule brick to their fast-growing mud home.

© Michael J Mason 2011

Thursday, 17 November 2011

More on the Mud Home issue

I feel obliged to my two little friends to write a sequel to my previous blog, since they have been so busy over the last three days. So busy, indeed, that they have almost reached their pre-decorating stage. I apologise for the quality of the photograph, but it is possible to make out the darker colour of the mud that has yet to dry out. The pair spend several hours each day flying back and forth to one of our two dams (about 200 metres each way), and there is evidence that they must start soon after dawn (about 0430 at this time of the year) since there is always new construction when we sit down for breakfast at 0800.

I have no doubt that our two little friends will complete their construction job over the coming weekend, and next week we'll see them scavenging for feathers, dog hairs and the like in readiness for a clutch of eggs. 

© Michael J Mason 2011

Monday, 14 November 2011

A Mud Home in the Eastern Cape

I have moved my domicile many times, and have lived in places as far afield as the north of Scotland at the one extreme and South Africa’s Eastern Cape at the other. That’s where I live now, with my American wife, two white shepherds and two domestic cats. One of the greatest joys of living nearly ten miles from the nearest tarmac road is the plethora of wild birds, and here on the farm we have a good cross section of them. Our more common visitors are the Blackeyed Bulbul, the Fiscal Shrike and the Hoopoe, although I have listed some thirty-odd species seen on our 18 acres farm at the end of this article. Today I want to write about just one pair of birds, because they are our favourite.

When Liz and I moved into Martindale Farm in 2005 there were the dried mud foundations of a swallow’s nest up under an overhanging porch. It was not until November of 2010 that a pair of Lesser Striped Swallows started rebuilding this mud home, laboriously flying back and forth with small mud balls in their tiny beaks until after some four weeks they had rebuilt a perfect nest, the main “living quarters” being some 15cms across where it joined the wall, tapering down into a 20cm long tunnel that served as the entrance, the whole nest being some 35cms from wall to entrance. While building the nest the pair had used our Christmas lights, which were strung along the front of the porch, as a perch. By mid December the pair had finished their home and were busy lining it with bits of dog hair (our shepherds were molting) and feathers shed by our free-range hens.  

I was loathe to pull down the lights after the twelve-day Christmas period of grace ended, but when I did, I replaced the perch with a thick piece of heavy-duty electric wire, which they soon became used to, as did their three babies, soon to be hatched. As the end of summer approached in early 2011, our pair and their offspring took of for climes unknown, presumably somewhere in Europe.

This year the pair returned, and one morning in early October we found the main living quarters of the nest lying broken on the concrete stoep, leaving only 20cms of the tunnel intact. It is now mid November, and a few days ago the pair began rebuilding their home, advancing the walls a few millemetres a day. There is still a wide gap between the “work in progress” and the inner end of the tunnel, but after dark we have seen their tail feathers protruding from the tunnel, which must be where they are roosting. We have come to know their small talk to each other as they perch on their wire, and we are now once more looking forward to the pitter patter of tiny feet.

© Michael Mason, Martindale Farm November 2011.

The following is a list of birds seen (or in the case of the Nightjar, heard) on our farm.

Pintailed Whydah
Longtailed Widow
Yellow Weavers
Blackeyed Bulbul
Sombre Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Forktailed Drongo
Redwinged Starling
Cape Glossy Starling
Redheaded Quelea
Black Sunbird
Greater Doublecollared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Fiscal Shrike
Cape Rock Thrush
Cape Wagtail
Blackcollared Barbet
Trumpeter Hornbill
Crowned Hornbill
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Brownhooded Kingfisher
Speckled Mousebird
Lesser Striped Swallow
Cape Eagle Owl
Knysna Lowrie
Purplecrested Lowrie
Martial Eagle
African Fish Eagle
Secretary Bird
Stanley’s Bustard 
Spotted Dikkop
Yellowbilled Duck
Egyptian Goose
Sacred Ibis
Hadeda Ibis
Blackheaded Heron
Jackal Buzzard
Countless and nameless raptors soaring above the farm

Martindale Farm is currently for sale. For details see here

© Michael J Mason 2011

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Updating Websites

Well over 90% of all websites, once up and running, are forgotten about by their owners in the sense that they are just left as they are with little of no updating ever carried out. Unless new content is added to a website and the source code optimized for search engines, the website will attract little attention. It will certainly never be found in the first few pages of a Google search. If you have such a website, maybe the time has come for a little updating, and this is one of Mike's fort├ęs.

One of the easiest ways of updating is to add a few pertinent articles that are scattered with the correct concentration of keywords (about 2% to 3% is a good figure). Older websites that were written in html code or a simple css system will both look and function better if they are converted to a cms (Content Management System) format, such as Wordpress, Joomla or Drupal. Mike is no only well qualified to write articles for your website, but can also convert it to a cms site and if you wish give the website a brand new look.

Contact him through the Contacts page here for further information at no obligation.

© Michael J Mason 2011