Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Yes! It is a huge NO!

Great news. My editor has now sent me six chapters back and I will start, yet again, grinding through it. It has to be perfect. Not like some of the mistakes on the blog, but that is different.

One of the wonderful things about me and my editor, is how I freely granted him to freely say whatever he thinks about the book. Unlike other editors, who caress your ego and entice more cash out of you to ‘tidy’ up a few problems, mine is an honest gent. He should be - he is also BSAP. Actually, that has sod all to do with it. The reason he can say what he likes is that talk is free and so is his fee – hah hah.

Still, it is looking good. I will let you know what he has messed about with in due course but in the meantime, I copy his lovely quicky note to me that I received this morning –

Howzit Penga man

Shamwari, I can assure you that you are unlikely to ever appeal to a Rhodie audience: you diss everyone.
You also appeal to every Rhodesian/white supremacy-hater that every crawled the Earth... not to mention every BSAP officer still alive who regards any former member under 80 as much use as a Nottingham Hoodie.

I could dissect your work to the nth degree, but I will stick with my job of editing this discombobulating compendium of random thoughts and striking memories.

After six chapters I have reduced my role to casual, yet knowledgeable observer.
You are unlikely to ever sell a copy.
But, that's not why you're doing it.
And that's why I love it.
Thanks for doing this thing, champ.

Well, was I pleased or what? Yes, yes, yes – if my own editor disses me, it means I have a massive hit on my hands!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Rhodesian way of life : Reality TV?

Suddenly, I had divine inspiration. I needed beer. So I went out for a walk. To the nearest shop. My mind was pondering. Since I sent the whole lot to the editor - I feel a little lost. So I started researching about POD (Print on Demand), and Amazon, and Lulu and stuff, and came to the gloomy conclusion – writing the book is the easy part.

I have chatted with other poor saps trying to make few bucks flogging a book. It isn’t easy. But more wailing about this at a later date. Now I have to tell you about my divine inspiration.

So, there I was mulling and moaning away, as I slogged my way through bitter cold to get my fix, when suddenly I stopped dead stoned, and drunk. It is because I saw the light. I was farting around trying work out what the hell for a celebrity I had created.

Of course – it could be a mini-series! Make a poorly made reality TV episodes - but set in the mad world of Rhodesia! I will expand on this grand plan later.

Meanwhile. I decided to work on the back cover. Not bad for a start, but it could be a tad too long –

War torn Rhodesia 1976 -78

After proclaiming the coveted crown of Rhodesia has no Talent, along with the X-Factor and semi-finalist in Strictly come Soldiering, the Gokwe Kid now has only one more triumphal title to achieve. To be the ultimate outback detective – Dick of the Bushveld.

Patrol Officer Greenberg is his name – outranking stupidity is his bane; as he battles protocol and dodges the evil gooks of Mugabe. From his inauguration into the world’s finest police force – the British South Africa Police, he is threatened with terrible death on an almost daily basis from his ‘friends’, whilst his enemies avoid him like the plague.

A mocumentry, a tragic/comedy – this is the true story of torturous transition. A deranged, juvenile delinquent motormouths into a manly, deranged delinquent - and fails rather dramatically in that task as well. This hilarious weepy will have you attached to alcohol and giant joints.

As the whites only ‘Rhodesian way of life’ reality TV show’s ratings plummet, the legend in his own mind finally screams –
‘I’m a celebrity – get me out of here!’

So, after messing around with that, and a couple of whatevers later, I decide, whilst pissing around with another version, I come up with a rather odd idea for a prologue -

21 December 1979
Reporting from Lancaster House

With the world wide viewing figures of the reality TV show Rhodesian way of life hitting rock bottom, and advertising revenues at a critical point, the shows founder, Ian Douglas Smith, finally acknowledged the game was up.

Speaking to a large audience of cheering, communist insurgent bastards, the man known as, The Great White Bwana, spoke with sorrow as he acknowledged that the plug had been finally pulled on the show, that its height, was watched by millions of whites only fans.
‘It was a great run. The people really loved it for the first ten years but then the blacks wanted to become contestants as well and just wouldn’t take no for an answer. We did propose that if they agreed that only white contestants can win farms and Mercedes Benzes as prizes, and that black contestants would receive a bar of Sunlight soap and a Cecil John Rhodes colouring book - they went fucking ape shit! The ungrateful bastards.’

Wiping away a tear, the man that would inspire Simon Cowell decades later, continued,
‘Remember in ‘76 to ’78, when we really struggled to get viewer ratings up and we had that twat from the British South Africa Police appearing in all our shows? Was that funny or what?  Pissed out his head on the X-factor, starving to death on I’m a celebratory get me out of here’ and best of all, when he won the Rhodesia has no talent, we tricked him into paying for the shows caterers. What an imbecile. He even believed the gook nonsense about winning and getting great big farms full of tobacco and maize fields and a luxury car. Hah-hah. Silly sod. Those were the days!’

Even the commie insurgent bastards shut up in respect. Some also remembered the show which had been beamed via Russian satellites to their base camps.

 Great White Bwana Smithy continued.
‘Aah, remember that time when he tried to chat up that nun with the hairy legs. Laugh? I nearly shat!’

Then a well known heckler in the audience, a dim-wit called Mugabe, chirps up,

‘Yes, yes, I remember that episode, and then we went and murdered her, hah-hah!’
And the room erupted into laughter as many recalled that and other favourite scenes.

The Great White Bwana then lost his composure for a minute.
‘And that is exactly why this show is gone, because you fucking lot went too bloody far! It’s all well and good to take the piss out of some poor bastard for a few laughs, but you lot – went totally over the top. So, you have only yourselves to blame. Once you ass holes start your own produced reality TV show, and it all go well tits-up, don’t come with your begging bowls. You can fuck off!’

After putting up with some enthusiastic jeering, Smithy, as the former producer had been nicknamed by his adoring fans, continued,
‘I never did work it out. That fool PO Greenberg, talked so much shite, but the bloody viewers never voted him off, no matter how much we manipulated the votes!’

‘Hah,’ screamed that idiot Mugabe, now backed by the whole pack, ‘That’s where we can teach you stupid whiteys a lesson!’
Smithy frowned and made a rude gesture towards Mugabe, and wrapped up the interview on a rather soft note,
‘I still wonder what happened to the Gokwe Kid. I was always amazed that he was never butchered by any of us. I hope he writes his memoirs one day. He was a true bush detective. A real Dick of the Bushveld.

‘More like “Dickhead”,’ shouted Mugabe, to roars of laughter.

The Great White Bwana stood up and with dignity walked the walk. It was all over. But he knew, this wasn’t the end, for – the show must go on…

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Gokwe Kid - Dick of the Bushveld

What’s in a name? Especially for a book. I gnaw at my beer can. So far, as I intend to have a prequel and a sequel - which I think means it is a trilogy of utter insane gibberish - what about the title of the middle one?

Okay, we have Last of the Rhodesians and Chronicles of an African anarchist covering the lot. But, whilst I like The Gokwe Kid bit, it is this bit ‘Dick of the Bushveld’ I am not so sure about. Maybe I am being a little toooo clever-clever. Two reasons –
  1. How many people associate the word ‘dick’ as in detective, and at the same time it is also short for ‘dickhead’, which unquestionably I was/am?
  2. It is also a word play on a very famous ‘Boy’s Own’ type colonial book, Jock of the Bushveld, by South African author Sir James Percy Fitzpatrick. A true story, I remember reading this and howling my head off at the end. It is about a dog.
‘It was weedy, ill-proportioned and was the victim of constant sibling attack. The odd little puppy grew into a great and fearless dog. He was well liked, well respected and well behaved and this was the start of many a great adventures.’ (Wikipedia)
So I started out just like Jock - but forget the ‘great and fearless’ bit. Think more of ‘ungrateful and brainless’, and sadly Jock gets his brains blown out whilst I get to keep mine whilst well blasted out of them most of the time.

Any ideas?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Last of the Rhodesians – Monochrome

Well, as promised, things must change. The new look is far from perfect and I do not care as of this moment because I am…Drunk!  I will mess with it as I go along. Still, it is rather…posh! Very slick. Anyway, please feel free to do the usual, ‘I can’t be arsed commenting’, which after 6 years I am a tad used to.

You can of course use some Cut and Paste templates to save you the bother.
1.      The bollocks of a posting, Ek Se
2.      Die Mugabe, Die
3.      Eish, me so pissed man
4.      Defend the Regiment, old boy, defend the regiment! Or be dammed.
5.      White thieving colonial bastards etc etc.

So, I will give you another tiny teaser. This is actually cut from Chapter 30, but even I thought it might be worth messing around a bit with it and doing it as a prologue. I must think about it. Anyway, this extract is deep into the story and NOW we have a mystery thriller. It is middle to tilting to low brow prose. That is obvious because I am writing with the perspective of a middle to tilting to low education 18 -20 year old idiot, and hence, I am not exactly articulate in the words of clever-clevers. If you doubt my ability to write clever-clever, I will happily bombard your Email address with some of my university essays. They are so clever-clever - I haven’t a clue what the stuff is about – but I got some cracking marks…hah hah.
Okay – Enough. Below is the unedited extract and I hope you like the new  Blog look. Ciao

It all started on an autumn morning - the sun blazing away gently outside the window with a few clouds breaking the monotony of perpetual light blue. I neatly filed my last bit of paperwork and bantered with Leon and Ian, the last of the gang that I had sort of started out with. The two dim-wits puffed furiously on their fags whilst swearing at the ancient typewriters and threatened me with the usual disembowelment if I didn’t shut it. I didn’t mind, they were both ignorant twats, but it was nice to have some company for a change. My desk was clear and I was wondering if I might pop out for a little cruise around town under the pretence of maintaining an active presence of smiling, happy caring cops. (Just keep an eye out for the missing landmine.)
I snickered loudly as Leon ripped a thick bunch of papers and carbon from the guts of the protesting machine, whilst screaming obscenities about the stupidity of carbon paper that prints backwards on the back of the page instead of the next one. I ducked the screwed up paper ball aimed viciously at my head just as the Boss walked in with a huge pile of papers stacked under his arm.
A quick scan of my two partners, whose sudden eruption of typing and  frenzied  paper pushing showed immense skill in trying to avoid what was coming next; my stupid smiling face and cheerful ‘Good morning Sir’ settled my fate.
Dumping this mountain on my desk, my greeting was repaid with an added line,
‘Sort this out, it’s a bloody mess, and soon.’
He walked out and the gleeful cawing from the peasants at the other desk really rattled my cage as I gazed at the evil mound of mixed recycled brownish paper, along with a pile of white crime report forms, enough to open up my own police station. This didn’t look too good. This was a mess, no doubt about it and it took four long studious days, and a second desk, to get some kind of picture in my head of what was going on.
What I had here, spread neatly over two desks, was, technically, theft and fraud. What looked just like a simple case of stolen cheques fraudulently cashed, didn’t show that many entire families existence was threatened by starvation. The picture doesn’t always tell the whole story. At last I had something to really get my teeth into. So far, all cases were wrapped up in hours or a few days, weeks, months... It was all so simple. We got an accused - job done. We have none - job not done – pass the paper work up the ladder. There was nothing complicated to test my detective skills acquired from years of reading The Hardy Boys detective novels and The Three Investigators. I now had my wish, because in this game - there are snakes that counter the ladders and the serpents had all landed on my desk. Time to roll the dice and this time - I dice with death…

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Join the BSAP – it is so Cool!

Amazingly, it is sort of a wrap. As in - 40 chapters sent to the editor with 352 pages. That is without photos and cartoons. Okay, he is missing one chapter, a big one. I am still awaiting some FACTS. Okay, things will start to change on this blog soon, but meanwhile…

Hard to believe, but my guardian angel (after a long bloody break), decides to turn up and casually toss a bit of a teaser in my lap. So…when I was a little boy and a gob shite Boy Scout, the police turned up one night at our Scout Hall during our weekly Friday bum-chumming. Of course, I legged it quick because they might still be looking for the bush arsonist from a few years ago,…not really (not).

Anyway, they looked really cool and showed us a film about why we should join the BSAP. I had forgotten about this film until I saw it again today.

If you want to purchase my book – watch this please, because it will make you not only understand, but transport you into the magical surrealistic world of the BSAP of Rhodesia. Little had superficially changed by the time I joined. I recall as a nipper going to the BSAP show. By the time I joined it had been stopped due to lack of manpower due to the war. Anyway – watch this. It is a bit long, so get a drink…

The film was made in 1968. Ron Steele, ex BSAP, was involved in the making of it whilst working with Liaison & Recruiting. It is pure propaganda…I bloody love it – YEAH!

The Peacekeepers from Ron Steele on Vimeo.

Friday, November 11, 2011

How to Write About Africa – The Gokwe Kid style.

Today is of course a special day. One when we remember our fallen colleagues. I remember them very much, day after day, as I wrap up my memoir. It is of course also the day when Smithy and the boys told Harold Wilson where to shove his pipe. The rogue Rhodies picked the day on purpose. It was a clever propaganda shot.

To lighten up the tone a little, I thought you might like this bit of fun –

How to Write about Africa by Binyavanga Wainaina, appeared in the magazine The View from Africa and was first published in Winter 2005.

I read it with interest, totally forgot about it, and when I stumbled across it once again a few days ago, I decided to use it as a checklist for the contents of my African memoir.

How to Write about Africa

Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. (Aah, I don’t quite have that, but ‘Dick of Bushveld’, as part of the subtitle, does have an African theme.)

Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans. (Ooh, I have loads of tribal, primordial guerrillas in my memoir, but they play just a small nasty part as I had little time for them.)

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress. (I have a picture of me arresting bad thief Robert Mugabe. He is wearing ‘Western’ style clothing, so are my fellow Ground Coverage constables. I am wearing a uniform, a sort of Whiteman’s Zulu outfit, so I am almost there.)

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. (Well, they weren’t when ‘we’ were charge. My memoir is set in the past - not today. Also, I must digress; for you have an oxymoron. You can’t have starving people alongside huge herds of animal - unless of course the herds are owned by Robert Mugabe or that slapper Grace. Also, I am not sure about all this ‘hot and dusty’ stuff. When I turned up in Gokwe it was bloody pissing down all the time and the ‘dust’ was giant pools of mud called ‘roads’.)

Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. (Nope, sorry, as much as I try, I can’t fit them in to my memoir. But! I do recall Alan shooting a monkey and our Black BSAP lads made some great monkey gland steaks out of it. But, they were not short people. But the monkey had a short life. Does that count? I have people emigrating. They are now called Rhodesian Diaspora (tend to be White), or Zimbabwean asylum seekers (tend to be Black)).

Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular. (That is a bit of a pisser! Maybe I offer them a discount on the Ebook version. The printed version they would just use for rolling joints and I do not want to promote drug abuse. Hah-hah. Yeah. And this bit – ‘keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular’, I have some romance, but it is all evocative one sided and the cow dumped me, which I suppose is unparticular (what ever that bloody means!)).

Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. (Like Food Aid? Or genetically manipulated?) Do not mention rice and beef and wheat (I do in my memoir, and it doesn’t sound too good even by Whiteys standards!); monkey-brain is an African's cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. (I am not surprised at all. Serves ‘em right for kicking Whitey off the farms! I have some insect eating in my memoir, but you have to buy the book to find out.)

Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it—because you care. (I didn’t care one jot. The only thing I cared about was me and my ever scarcer contents of my wallet.)

Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation. (Hah, I got you there, I mention sex between Africans a few times and well maintained schools for well fed black children-  till the Gooks came and trashed the lot. African intellectuals? Mm, yeah, I mention some. Except that Kambasha bloke was a little too clever and did me over, over half a dead cow.)

Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad I-expected-so-much tone. (Sadly I cannot do that. My voice tends to be of outrageous arrogance along with indignant whining of self pity. Occasionally I have a blotto voice. Blotto = drunk.)

Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can’t live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love—take advantage of this. (I have plenty of that, till I decide the place is going tits-up.)

If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. (Hah hah hah – you bet I was trying to thrust myself into (female) virgin forests. Still, I have no sex scenes at all. Too short really to warrant more than a Julius Caesar miss-quote –vidi, vici, veni.)

If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed. (Nothing to do with me.)

Your African characters may include naked warriors, loyal servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermitic splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and prostitutes you have slept with. (I have a few of these characters, but I gave the prostitutes a miss because I couldn’t afford them and it was generally frowned upon if White police officers hang around Black beer halls chatting up dark ladies of the night.)

The Loyal Servant always behaves like a seven-year-old and needs a firm hand; he is scared of snakes, good with children, and always involving you in his complex domestic dramas. (My loyal servant was called Thomas, and he washed my clothes. I can’t remember if he made my bed.)

The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona). He has rheumy eyes and is close to the Earth. (No he isn’t. He was my Boss and is a Whiteman.)

The Modern African is a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Legal Conservation Areas. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned serial-killing politician in a Savile Row suit. He is a cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich witch-doctor who really runs the country. (In my book, Mr Kambasha, is no way as nasty as that, but he did do me over, over half a dead cow - as previously mentioned.)

Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She must never say anything about herself in the dialogue except to speak of her (unspeakable) suffering. (Nope, sadly I have none of those. The only person who was starving now and then was me because I refused to pay for food.)

Also be sure to include a warm and motherly woman who has a rolling laugh and who is concerned for your well-being. Just call her Mama. Her children are all delinquent. (Aah Bless, I mention my poor old Mum quite a few times, and I was definitely delinquent enough to join the BSAP.)

These characters should buzz around your main hero, making him look good. Your hero can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if reportage), or a beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat who now cares for animals (if fiction). (The anti-hero is me and the other characters buzz around me making me look a total twat and it is all true.)

Bad Western characters may include children of Tory cabinet ministers, Afrikaners, employees of the World Bank. When talking about exploitation by foreigners mention the Chinese and Indian traders. Blame the West for Africa's situation. But do not be too specific. (Hah, I have them all, the bastards! And I clearly explain how sanctions made us almost 100% self sufficient and the budget balanced (except in my wallet), and the only big examples of handouts was me begging for fuel coupons.)

Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life—but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause. (Nope, sorry, no can do. My Black characters have dialogue, and are a great lot. Well most of them, except the Gooks.)

Describe, in detail, naked breasts (young, old, conservative, recently raped, big, small) or mutilated genitals, or enhanced genitals. Or any kind of genitals. And dead bodies. Or, better, naked dead bodies. And especially rotting naked dead bodies. Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the ‘real Africa’, and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this: you are trying to help them to get aid from the West. (Unfortunately, this does occur in some form, but not quite as extreme.)

The biggest taboo in writing about Africa is to describe or show dead or suffering white people. (Who are you kidding! I was suffering almost immediately after joining the police!)

Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well rounded, complex characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing their manes proudly) and have names, ambitions and desires. They also have family values: see how lions teach their children? Elephants are caring, and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas. Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or a gorilla. Elephants may attack people’s property, destroy their crops, and even kill them. Always take the side of the elephant. Big cats have public-school accents. Hyenas are fair game and have vaguely Middle Eastern accents. Any short Africans who live in the jungle or desert may be portrayed with good humour (unless they are in conflict with an elephant or chimpanzee or gorilla, in which case they are pure evil). (I have loads of animals, but unlike other Rhodesian memoirs, they tend to stay in game reserves and not be constantly falling into farmer’s swimming pools. Nor do they tend to talk a lot because I do all that, and couldn’t put a trunk in sideways.)

After celebrity activists and aid workers, conservationists are Africa’s most important people. Do not offend them. You need them to invite you to their 30,000-acre game ranch or ‘conservation area’, and this is the only way you will get to interview the celebrity activist. (Oddly, I do have a bit of that sort of stuff. See the posting below.)

 Often a book cover with a heroic-looking conservationist on it works magic for sales. Anybody white, tanned and wearing khaki who once had a pet antelope or a farm is a conservationist, one who is preserving Africa’s rich heritage. (That’s me! I had a pet snake for a while but it got out and there was a right hullabaloo about it all.)

When interviewing him or her, do not ask how much funding they have; do not ask how much money they make off their game. Never ask how much they pay their employees. (I did. The Yank youngsters made a buck a day – bloody fools as far as I was concerned.)

Readers will be put off if you don’t mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a must. It is always big and red. There is always a big sky. Wide empty spaces and game are critical—Africa is the Land of Wide Empty Spaces. When writing about the plight of flora and fauna, make sure you mention that Africa is overpopulated. When your main character is in a desert or jungle living with indigenous peoples (anybody short) it is okay to mention that Africa has been severely depopulated by Aids and War (use caps). (Mm, to be honest, that is real ‘girlie’ type prose. Whilst I generally couldn’t be arsed with such nonsense, as I spend most of time talking about how wonderful I am - but, for the sake of sales, there are a few ‘Africa’ type descriptions. I mention the sun, as you would have to be blind not to notice it, and I use the word bush a few times. What is in it is long grass, thorny things and rocks and trees that should really be bulldozed down and made into a six lane motorway, as to be honest I hated walking in the friggin stuff! As for AIDs, it wasn’t around in my time, but war was.)

You’ll also need a nightclub called Tropicana, where mercenaries, evil nouveau riche Africans and prostitutes and guerrillas and expats hang out. (Well we had Club Tomorrow and the Le Coq Dor. Definitely filled with nutters, but not sure about the prostitute thing.)

Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care. (Actually my book ends with a quote from an ex-door neighbour and it is not very flattering! But as if I cared.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Secret Lives of Elephants

How weird is this? I was busy redoing an important chapter, when I noticed in the information I have been given, the mention of a National Parks HQ up in North West Gokwe. I figured out that this had to be the Hostes Nicolle Institute for Wildlife Research. Well one thing led to another, but first look at this extract from another chapter which was written entirely from memory –

I think that Alan rather liked being my teacher. School outings were great fun and very educational. Not only that, the scenery was stunning. The natives seemed cheerful enough and waved enthusiastically as we tootled along. Being paid to play tourist was certainly up there amongst my favourite ways to earn money by doing the littlest as possible. Ah, this was the life. On the downside, we didn’t have a tape deck in the Landy. Bit of a bummer. I just had to imagine the chords of the Out of Africa main theme, ‘I had a farm in Africa, till the Gooks stole it’, soaring to the heavens as we zipped through the game reserve, past herds of elephants, kudus and the occasional lions. All I needed now was a wicked wench and a chilled glass of vodka, lime and lemonade, served to me by a waiter wearing white gloves over black hands, to make my life fulfilled.

On one of these safaris, weather permitting, I met National Parks Head Ranger, Tony and his wife. This slightly built character was in charge of the 2000 square kilometre (772 square miles) Chirisa National Park. This was a place of undisturbed beauty of miombo and mopane trees scattered between the bush scrub.  Tony had been there almost three years and loved his job with a passion. He had to - this place was about as remote as it could get. At the park headquarters, Hostess Nichole, there was a tiny clique of White folk, with a few foreign scientists working on several projects in well-equipped laboratories.
To get to the complex we had crossed the Sengwa River gorge. The concrete bridge was tiny; barely the length of the Landrover, but below, the river had cut a deep and wide chasm into the soft surrounding rock, creating almost a tunnel with a narrow slit open to the sky. From one of the scientists I was to learn that one group had come all the way from America to study the place due to an unknown species of bats that lived there. All this was incredibly interesting stuff. From another of these dedicated academics I was showed the handmade fibreglass collars with imbedded transmitters that would be attached around elephant’s necks. By triangulating the signal they had been plotting the route and distance travelled by the herds through the park.
I spotted a couple of young Whites amongst the scattered sheds but they would have nothing to do with us. Alan explained they were Americans on some sort of aid project and insisted on working for the same rate of pay as the Blacks. We police were considered bad guys by these Yanks, and I considered them idiots for working for a buck a day.

You can make out Gokwe TTL boundaries. Where the bottle neck is, draw a straight line across. The south was BSAP Que Que Rural area. The massive lump north is where me and few lads did the business.

Now it seems I have spelt the name of the place wrong for a start. No big deal, but whilst checking some facts with Nigel Triggs, I sent him the above snippet and he came up with a name – Rowan Martin. This was the man I met in charge of the elephant research. It also turns out that his brother, Patch Martin, joined the BSAP! Now armed with a name I go a’lookin and there isn’t much, but I find out this –

The Government helped in the establishment on a 40 000 ha site in Chirisa Game Reserve at Sengwa Gorge of the Hostes Nicolle Institute for Wildlife Research and, on completion, this complex will consist of laboratories and research facilities that will be among the most modern in Southern Africa.

The above snippet I found on a fascinating blog called Our Rhodesian Heritage. Well worth a peeps here.

I also discovered that Hostes Nicholle was in fact the Interior Minister. He arranged for the funding and I guess the place was built in the early ‘70s. The next problem is that there are in fact two park/reserves next to each other. Chirisa is called these days a safari area, which means people can go there and shoot animals. The other, separated by a wire fence, is the Chizarira National Park. The actual so called western border of Gokwe Tribal Trust Land (as it was known at the time), follows through Chirisa Game Park, as I now believe it was called then, and follows up the entire eastern boundary of Chizarira. Now, running through Chirisa is the Sengwa River. This river is mentioned many times in my memoir. The Google map doesn’t show it well, but it starts just south of Gokwe village, runs due east for about a hundred kms, then turns 90 degrees north for about 200 more kms before going into Lake Kariba. Now along the north leg is Hostes Nicholle, near the aforementioned gorge. Now, remember the bit I wrote about bats? Well, how about this –

Between 10 January and 14 February 1976, activity patterns, habitat use, and selection of prey by some insectivorous bats were studied in mopane and brachystegia deciduous woodlands in the Sengwa Wild Life Research Area of the Hostes Nicolle Institute of Wild Life Research in Rhodesia (18⚬ 10 S, 23⚬13' E), using ultrasonic (=bat) detectors, light tags, and analysis of insect remains from bat feces.

To be found here.

This is just amazing! Except, the date is wrong, it would maybe have been Feb 1977 because I remember this! I visited with Alan in January 1977, and I couldn’t make this stuff up! Also in this academic paper, the fools got the coordinates wrong. I looked at my map and guessed that it is a printing error and should be 28 degrees not 23. As soon as I can work out how the hell I put that into Google maps I have the exact location of the place.

Another annoying thing is the size of Chirisa. From a safari/hunting web site I got the 2000 square km figure, but the bit I found about the government building the station says 40 000 hectares - which is double! I wonder if they included the Nat Park. I will think about that one. Anyway, onto Mr Rowan Martin. It turns out this bloke is one Africa’s top elllie experts and what he showed me on that day was part of years of research –

Africa's Elephants: Can They Survive?
(Originally published in the November 1980 issue of National Geographic)

But not all our Rhodesian experiences were so gory. On a hill covered in orange and yellow mopane trees, where the Sengwa River runs under sienna-colored cliffs, stands the Hostes Nicolle research station. Here a young scientist, Rowan Martin, was working on an elephant-tracking program.
He had developed a new type of radio collar that used little power, and that could continue transmitting for more than 12 months and be received at a range of ten miles. Tracking was done from tall, rotatable antennas atop sheer hills. He had trained rangers to record the bearings of each of his 20 or so collared elephants every three hours, day and night.
Locating his elephants from his stations, on foot, and by air, Rowan has built up the most detailed data ever compiled on continuous elephant movements. His most exciting result is apparent proof of a new level of elephant society, the "clan," which is beyond the family units and the kinship groups that Iain has found.
Rowan has clear evidence that as many as a hundred individuals sharing a common home range freely associate with each other, but not with individuals of a neighboring clan. He also discovered, as Iain did at Manyara, that large strung-out assemblages of elephants show extraordinary coordination of movement. They rumble to each other, and at times their communication seems almost telepathic.
The full, and well worth reading, article is here.

By 1989, Rowan Martin is the deputy director of research in Zimbabwe's department of wildlife. But whilst his research led the way, it would take a while for the puzzle to be finally finished. From more searching I found this –

Especially baffling had been the way groups of elephants were observed to synchronize their activities while widely separated. In Zimbabwe, for example, the wildlife biologist Rowan Martin had radio-tracked female elephants from different families and noted that they would stay within a few kilometers of one another, even while changing directions and covering substantial territory. They moved in a coordinated fashion, almost as if they were communicating over great distances with . . . what? No one could recall any unusual vocalizations. The separated groups were not in visual contact. Communication by scent was conceivable, but the coordination occurred even when the wind direction was unfavorable. The zoologist Iain Douglas-Hamilton once remarked, “We didn’t mention ESP openly, but . . . some of us were ready to entertain the idea that these animals were sending bloody mind waves to each other.”

I even found another academic paper where they sent more scientists back to Chirisa and followed many of Rowan’s elephants, over a decade later!

So what is the great secret of the elephants? It is called infrasonic sound. The ellies communicate with each other in a decibel range we humans cannot hear. And, amazingly when they tested the theory in Etosha Nat Park in Namibia, they came to this stunning fact –

With data from sixty trials in total, the experiment confirmed that the elephants of Etosha were capable of responding to one another’s calls from as far away as 4 kilometers (2.5 miles), which meant that their communications could typically cover an area of at least 50 square kilometers (19 square miles). In a subsequent analysis, a team of meteorologists established that interactions between ground and air heat from dusk to dawn would expand those ranges. This would theoretically enable elephants to communicate with one another from a distance of about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), covering an area of some 300 square kilometers (115 square miles).

And finally, as more recent research has shown, elephants listen to infrasonic calls not only with their ears, which catch vibrations moving through the air, but also with the bottoms of their feet. The dense, fatty pads there contain specialized receptor nodes known as Pacinian corpuscles that can pick up vibratory information traveling as seismic waves in the ground. The implication is that the animals’ auditory field may be larger than Payne ever imagined, since low-frequency vibrations can travel even greater distances through the earth than through air.

The full article -

The Secret Lives of Elephants
An important conversation is taking place below the range of human hearing

-          can be found here.

It makes incredible reading, especially the part when Katy Payne, a Cornell University acoustic biologist, has literally the answer fly at her.

Obviously I cannot add all this to my memoir but I will add some in the Memoir Mutterings I put on the end of many chapters.

Okay, I have a book to finish, but cool stuff hey! I was actually there with Rowan showing me all the stuff and explaining what he was doing! (Alan Golden and Nigel Triggs were stationed with me at Gokwe. Both play a part and both have helped hugely with the writing of the memoir. I am truly grateful)

Catch ya all laters…
Mana Pools ca 1995 with the late Ranger Steve Pope.