Category “Johnie’s Journal”

Audience on the Run

Wednesday, 29 April, 2015

by Johnie Jonker

As was the custom at the time, our 1974 Std 9 class held a school concert in order to raise funds for that year’s matric farewell.

One of the items on the program was live music provided by a school band. The band members comprised Bernard on guitar, James on drums and myself on keyboards – that being the upper and lower manuals of a Yamaha Electone organ.

As a group, the three of us had made our debut during the previous year’s Musiek Aand, organized by the very likeable music teacher. In haste, the band was named “Hot Ice” by one of the teachers.

That event was a rather serious music evening comprising song upon song performed by the choir and solos by Marietjie, who later made a professional career out of operatic singing.

Numerous piano solos and duets, pieces for two pianos – some with lid open and others with lid closed – followed. If it was at all possible to fit THREE people abreast behind a single piano, the concert would have contained trios also.

The (welcome) light relief was provided – briefly – by Hot Ice just before interval. We shot to instant fame, as old tannies recognized us on the street afterwards, on our way between the school and the Springbok Kafee on a Tuesday (langdag). They wanted to know why we did not play more than the allocated 3 numbers, as they liked the variation very much.

This was the basis from which we started rehearsing for the Std 9 concert.

But this time we felt that a fuller sound was required. Basically this meant “louder”. Bernard wanted to sound like Carlos Santana, James like Ringo Starr – he already had the hair to go with it – and me like Santana, Deep Purple and Focus, all rolled into one.

In addition to Michael who volunteered as conductor, we enlisted the help of 3 matrics to expand our sound. Let me introduce them to you:

Pop: Owner of a 12-string acoustic guitar which he could play really well. We had all heard him on a number of occasions previously, and especially his rendition of Donovan’s “Catch the wind”, was a favourite.

Bruce: You could not tell the difference between him and George Harrison when it came to playing Daytripper. Accurate, tonally perfect – a good rhythm player for the band.

Patrick: Band manager.

He was one of those laid-back people who could insult you to your face and you would not realise it. At times we thought that his response towards teachers bordered on disrespect and that surely some repercussion would follow, but he somehow used to charm his way out of it.

Now, we thought that such a diplomat would be beneficial to our band’s existence. This, and his actions during the compulsory weekly singing period in the hall, which comprised all the senior classes.

In spite of having 3 resident music teachers, for some reason the headmaster decided to lead this gathering himself. He would start us off on the first song and would then ask for suggestions from the floor. An indeterminate voice – we all knew it was Patrick – would suggest: “Page 29” of the songbook. Our choirmaster would then fervently page through the book and discover that it had only 28 pages. This led to him becoming visibly annoyed – not to the point of his favourite expression: “Mark my words, Pappa”- but rather: “Jy’s nie snaaks nie!” We of course thought otherwise.

OK, so we would sing patriotic songs: “Nooit hoef jou kinders wat trou is te vra …”, English drinking songs: “Hahaha, you and me, little brown jug oh I love thee” and then the “indeterminate voice” would suggest: “On Top of Old Smokey”. Not because that was a particularly popular, emotional or upbeat song, but rather of the way in which it could be manipulated.

The first verse still went as expected, but the second time round, the chorus would be somewhat altered in terms of timing – like this:

“On top of auld Smoooooookeeeeeee,….





The rest of the assembly would have finished “I lost my poor lover, for counting so slow” when Patrick and his male sub-choir would still be finalising the previous line. “Yes sir. Sorry sir. No, never again, sir.” Until next time.

In summary, therefore, Patrick’s demonstrated excellent understanding of timing was the deciding factor to his appointment as band manager, what with compiling the practise schedules and getting us to the sessions in good time. And talk us out of a hole, should the need arise.

Now for those that are unfamiliar with music amplification, there are a number of industry standard names. Back then it was VOX and Fender. The latter did not only make amplifiers but also guitars. Almost all blues guitarists have at least one Stratocaster.

We managed to borrow one each of the above for the event, and Bruce was completely smitten with the valve-driven 100W Fender – with Tremolo – and duly annexed it for his sole use. It had to continuously be turned down – after he turned it up – during rehearsals.

We were rehearsing in the sick bay behind the administration block – and were becoming somewhat of a public nuisance due to the sheer volume of the music. It even warranted an investigative appearance by the headmaster – his office was well within earshot – on occasion. It is probably becoming clearer now why we needed Patrick: “Yes sir. Sorry sir. No, never again, sir.” And the band played on – at a somewhat subdued level. Briefly, at any rate.

Finally the big day arrived. With great anticipation our appearance was awaited by our supporters – the last item of the evening. At least our play list had now been expanded to 5 items – Black Magic Woman, Evil Ways, House of the Rising Sun, Yellow River and Paint it Black.

Everything was going well, but when we started the second number, Bruce “GOTTA play that FENdah!” stepped forward and turned up the volume from 6 to 7. It was now getting somewhat loud. The fact that the hall did not have good acoustics – hard walls – did not help either, as you …

Lesotho – Katse Dam

Wednesday, 28 September, 2011

By Johnie Jonker

Over an Easter week-end our family of four visited the Katse Dam in Lesotho, entering at Caledonspoort.

We had grand plans to also head towards Sani Pass from there, and went on a (very) brief recce out on the road to Thaba Theka. If that first 3 km was anything to go by, you could possibly average 40km/h. Taking the distance to Sani Pass into consideration, this would turn out to be quite a trek.

We subsequently gave that idea up, due to it predicting to be a much more major outing than anticipated; a treatMENT rather than a TREAT.

The plan was to stay over at the self-catering guest houses at the dam. This used to be the constructors’ village, and is now available to travellers for a very reasonable R750/night, sleeping four people. There are also larger units which sleep six.

The first obstacle was to telephonically get through to the Katse Lodge, which is part of the Orion Hotel group. After trying many numbers, this one – 00268 28910202 – worked. But also only sometimes, as it seems that the connection is via satellite. With the poor weather conditions leading up to the week-end, this was a hit and miss affair at best. It just rings.

But we eventually managed to get hold of Violet and Mats’ele at reservations, and via email at could reserve and pay for the booking.

It is often cliché’d that the journey is part of the holiday, but in this case, very true. The scenery is spectacular, even though it rained intermittently all the way there – Caledonspoort, Butha-Buthe, Hlotse, Pitseng, Lejone, Seshote and eventually Katse.

[Source: Imagery ©2011 TerraMetrics, Map data ©2014 AfriGIS (Pty) Ltd, Google]

We reached a view point at 3098m ASL, but as we passed through the cloud base 98m earlier, found nothing much to see.

At the time we thought that perhaps on the way back the weather would have improved and we should be able to see down into the valley, 1.4km below.

And yes, the weather was good second time round, and NO we still could not see – same cloud base problem.  We were wondering why they bothered to call it a view point, being a waste of a perfectly good signpost.

Arriving at Katse, we were pleasantly surprised regarding the accommodation.

Under-cover parking, two bedrooms – each with built-in heater, lounge with DSTV (limited bouquet) and oil heater, and a north-facing kitchen – fridge, stove, microwave – with great mountain views.

The bedroom heaters were turned on when we arrived, making us feel very welcome. The bathroom was also up to scratch. Watch out for the hot water though – it seems to be just below boiling point.

If you did not feel like self-catering, you could have your meals at the lodge, with the bonus of a fire going in the lounge every night. The pub will also sell you beers to take home – at lounge prices.

Other than the very worthwhile (and cheap! – R10/adult, children half-price) dam wall tour – daily at 9 and 11 am, you can do a boat trip – although the price here depends on how many people, as the comPLETE boat is for rent – a guided village walk and visit the botanical gardens.

“Botanical Gardens” leans somewhat heavily on poetic licence, as rather than an image of Kirstenbosch, it is more a nursery – housed chiefly in plastic tunnels – to grow seedlings for the gardens around the hotel.

There are two tennis courts – with nets AND lights – and also two squash courts. The latter has been nicely renovated lately – floors, lines, walls – but failure to remove the pigeons nesting on top of the ample neon lighting, requires some bird-crap cleaning off the floor of Court 2, prior to playing.

There is really not much else to do – unless you bring it along yourself – and something which the hotel group could definitely improve upon to attract more visitors. Mind you, they were fully booked for the Easter period a week in advance.

But then again, if you were looking for a place to chill, you’ve found it. There is no cell phone reception there, in spite of claims: Only MTN. Not even.

Hence most visitors stay only the one night, leaving the lodge deserted from around nine – via a dam wall tour and then onwards – until 4 pm, when the next batch of travellers start arriving.

The next morning we also went on said tour.


Having had to (and still) attend countless boring presentations in my career, I can confirm that the lady doing THIS presentation, was absolutely top-notch. Even though she had a PR background, she could also give good explanations of the technical features within the dam wall.

Posters in large print formed a story-board in front of the lecture hall – which most people had read prior to the start of the information session. So, no, she did not read it off, or consult any notes, for that matter. Neither did she simply convey the information as it appeared on the panels from left to right. She also shared a lot of new information.

Some random facts – mostly in response to the visitors’ questions – are:

  • The cement was brought in pre-mixed from Ficksburg, a truckload every 40 minutes. It took us 2:30 to do that stretch, the trucks took closer to 8 hours. Doing the sums, beggars belief how anyone could even THINK this dam could be built, considering its remote location.
  • The wall is of double-curvature design and the second highest in Africa at 85 m. The highest wall was built 2 years ago, at 88m.
  • If the Vaal Dam was always at maximum level, it would hold more water than Katse. But as it is not, this is not the case. The dam at this stage needed an additional 40cm of water prior to overflowing, but this requires a huge amount of rain, as the catchment area stretches back for 54km behind the wall. But in January – peak rain season – this regularly happens.
  • Why is water let out now? This is to fill the coffer dam, below. Should the dam overflow, the

Gobabeb, Namibia – Part 1

Tuesday, 13 September, 2011

By Johnie Jonker


Reading an article in an old Leisure Wheels magazine – March 2009 – It sure beats working – my eye caught an image of a spider at Gobabeb. 

This reminded me of way back when, when my wife and I toured Namibia and visited the Gobabeb research station, experiencing “A day in the life of a conservation researcher”. 

As access to the research station is now public and it is quite easy to reach in even a non-fourwheeldrive vehicle, I thought some background may be of use.

So in a flush of nostalgia, I compiled a trip report with a bit of a wheels theme, including scans from reprinted slides and photographs.   Shortly therefore, my somewhat belated – 24 years late – Gobabeb Trip Report.

Reporting for duty, sir!

Reporting at the Bronberrik Naval Base in Centurion [it’s only 600km’s away from the sea…. – PGJ] for the final transport arrangements 2 days prior to my third National Service camp, I was informed that it had been cancelled.

After failing to argue myself into an alternative camp, I arrived home disappointed, complaining to my wife that I had prepared myself mentally for being away from work for 4 weeks, but would now have to return.

Let’s go on holiday, Rosemary said. Yes, I agreed. What about Namibia – we leave Saturday!

The Journey

Namiba tour


The map gives a very summarised indication of the trip, just to give you an idea where in the world we were.

On our second day in Namibia, I rolled the Jetta on the road between the Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop and Mukurob (the Finger of God, which incidentally, also rolled over in sympathy the following year).

After repairing the severed fuel line, the left hand wheels had to be removed, as both tyres had de-beaded due to the sideways skid prior to the flip-over. The supplied hexagon-shaped pipe wheel spanner however went oval trying to undo the wheel nuts, so with our survival kit – warm jackets, bottle of water and a roll of toilet paper – we started walking towards a farm-house we recalled spotting some distance back.

After a few kms, two farm labourers in an ancient Landcruiser pick-up stopped next to us. The driver and his colleague returned with us to the car, BEAT the pipe back into a spanner with a hammer using the head of another as anvil, and fitted the space-saver spare wheel. The front of the spanner had however by now split due to the repeated cold forming, and the second wheel could not be removed.

The LC wheel spanner did not fit the nuts, but the farmer, who had in the meantime been summonsed by radio, brought his Mazda 626 spanner, which worked.

The wheel was removed and the LC spare tried, but was of a different PCD. So one of the two original tyres was re-inflated by hand pump, fortunately sealing the bead, and after the refit we followed the procession back to the homestead, with both front and rear windscreens on the back seat.

It was explained to us that we were fortunate in being found on the same day, as we were on a road pretty much less travelled AND this farm had actually been reduced to cattle station status and was usually uninhabited.  [So the two vehicles on the picture actually counts for a traffic jam, it seems – PGJ]

The only reason anyone being there, was because it had recently been sold and the owner was in the process of “clearing out” – which I later understood to mean shooting out as much of the game – Springbok – as possible. We were given a hearty supper and put up for the night.

The next day, we continued on our holiday, as Windhoek was much closer than home. The remaining flat tyre had since been refitted to the rim, so the space saver could now go back into the boot.

We still had unfinished business at the Vingerklip (Mukurob), and stopped by for the obligatory foreground pose.


We could now progress faster than 80km/h, and stopped in Mariental, where we bought a roll of duct tape (probably from a Pupkewitz franchise) with which to better retain the front and rear windows, which were taped back in.

The car was going fine, and the only disadvantages were the wind noise, extra effort required on the steering wheel to keep going straight and the sequence of door opening due to the roof now being somewhat skew. First the left REAR door, THEN the front one could be opened, and vice versa.

Arriving in Windhoek, the car was taken to a local panel beater to find out whether it could be fixed in a couple of days, but the answer was: not even in a couple of weeks.

I should have expected that response, judging by the way the owner cocked his head in disbelief as he slowly walked around the car, going tut-tut or whatever the local equivalent of that sound was – perhaps !Xauk! – !Xauk!

Plan B, borrow the Mazda of my brother PG – who was seconded to Namibia for his second year of National Service in what was then still known as the SWA Territorial Force – and leave the bent VW with my cousin in Windhoek, awaiting our return to tackle the 2000km trip back home.

Prior to continuing our trip with the Mazda 323, we visited the Nature Conservation offices in Windhoek to enquire whether a national serviceman friend of mine – a nature conservationist – was still at Gobabeb, where he invited me when we parted ways at our previous camp.

Communication with Gobabeb was only possible via the Walvis Bay Radio ship-to-shore service, which basically entailed phoning the radio station via land-line, them linking you up via radio.

Although you were talking into a telephone your end, phrases had to be ended by “OVER”, so that the radio operator in the middle could switch his Gobabeb radio link to receive mode for you to be able to hear what the other party was saying. The once-daily 15 minute communication slot between Nature Conservation and Gobabeb had expired for that day, but the next morning we could get directions and a …

Gobabeb, Namibia – Part 2

Tuesday, 13 September, 2011

By Johnie Jonker

After turning right just past Vogelfederberg, we arrived 60km later at Gobabeb, where we were put up in the international visitor’s facility, being the special guests of Joh and his wife.


The next morning we crossed the Kuiseb in a well-used Land Rover 110 pick-up with rather special tyres, to Joh’s research site among the dunes, where he was studying the Dancing White Lady spider.

View from the LR. Note the spare wheel tyre.


This trapdoor spider burrows into the side of the dune, lining its tunnel with silk. Joh had pegged out a large research area in a 10m x 10m grid, this being crucial to the survival of his specimens. After taking the spiders to the research station for measurements, they had to be returned to within a few meters of their origin if they were not to be attacked by neighbouring spiders, due to the territorial nature of the species.

For more detail, refer to the paragraph on Study Area here:…-30-02-321.pdf

Team Spider, with our transport parked doer in the distance.


Joh was expert in spotting the outline of the trapdoors, and we also soon got the hang of it.

Trapdoor: The C-shaped trapdoor, with the tell-tale spider footprints leading up to it, indicating a nest.



He would measure and record the angle of the dune slope and the diameter of the trap door, then start digging around the outside to determine the angle of the sack into the side of the dune and also its length. 

The prey contents at the bottom of the nest also had to be analysed, but the spider was still in there, hanging underneath the trapdoor trying to keep it shut against the intruders. The trapdoor was then prised open, and the spider would raise its four front legs in an aggressive stance, realize that it’s up against something completely outside of its league and make a duck for it.

Spider: The spider and sack.

The spider was quick, but no match for Joh, chasing after it in full cry with his camera, prior to capturing Leucorchestris arenicola and putting it into a plastic vial with some breathing holes in the cap. 

Back at the lab the spider was weighed, sexed and coded, quite cleverly, with dots of different colour Tippex on its legs, so that if it was re-captured after release, something could be learnt of its movements.

The Tale of the Topnaars

Another piece of research undertaken by the Centre, was to determine how – when other animals were looking for shade – the Oryx could stand out in the midday sun and not collapse from heatstroke.

This trait was also displayed by the Topnaar goats, so the facility bought one from the local inhabitants and implanted a number of temperature sensors into various parts of its skull.

These sensors were wired to a transmitting collar and could be monitored real-time. From this data it was learnt that air in the nose cavity circulates over an area of high density blood vessels, and by increasing the airflow through panting, heat is drawn from the blood prior to reaching the brain. As often, technology imitating nature, the same principle is applied in a car radiator, with the fan increasing the airflow, reducing the coolant temperature.

But there is a twist to the tale.

Once the research was completed, the Centre had no purpose for the goat anymore and returned it to the Topnaars, who were now seriously suspicious of it. I mean, it does not make economical sense: First, these people buy the goat from us – we get money – now they give it back without wanting a refund?! The animal must be jinxed. (Hierrie bok is getoor!).

So they promptly turned it into a braai.

Our final night was one of those “big sky” moments, camping at Mirabib under a rock overhang. With the full moon lighting up the landscape, you (once again) realized just how insignificant you were.

Cave: Our campsite at Mirabib.

Mirabib: Morning of our final departure to Windhoek via Gamsberg Pass.

Upon our return, I complained in writing to VW about their sub-standard wheel spanner, and after a few weeks received a brand new – properly designed – spanner through the post from VW Germany.

As mentioned in the introduction, this article was triggered by re-reading the March 2009 LW article: “It sure beats working”, which contained an inset about the Dancing White Lady Spider, compared to a similar-looking spider of a different species.

I recognized the spider, but seemed to “remember” that similarly to the Carparachne aureoflava, it ALSO formed a wheel, rolling away when threatened.

I contacted the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre to enquire the whereabouts of Joh. Well, not only is Dr Joh R Henschel still there, he has been the director of the facility since 2002.

Here is his comment on my query:

“The spider we ‘chased’ was Leucorchestris arenicola, the Dancing White Lady Spider, and not the Golden Wheel Spider, Carparachne aureoflava. Only the latter spider wheels (as does the White Wheel Spider, Carparachne alba, but that one is uncommon). These spiders (Leucorchestris and Carparachne) look quite different, but belong to the same spider family, Sparassidae (or huntsman spiders); in taxonomic terms, a family is a group of closely related genera, another example of a family is for instance Canidae, or all jackals, coyotes, and wolves of the world.”

Studying some additional material on the Gobabeb website, showed that where our visit took place in an era where the facility was open only to researchers – and socially only possible by personal invitation – it is now open to the public, with facility tours and guided desert walks, also offering accommodation.

Being one of those rare places you sense, rather than see, I would recommend a visit for those who experience nature similarly. I’ve seen someon commenting that it does not have the greatest dunes. Namibia is about a lot more than dunes – and its driving – and this is not a reason for going to Gobabeb.

Even for those whose leisure wheels are a bit disappointing off the beaten track, this would be do-able. Although gravel, access is via a proper road – somewhat potholed …

Trunk Call

Tuesday, 9 November, 2010

By Johnie Jonker


In April 2001 the South African Natural History Unit (SANHU) released a wildlife TV film commissioned by Discovery Channel International, Animal Planet and HIT Entertainment. The press release read as follows:

Described as one of the most exciting natural history shows ever seen on television, ‘Ele Tele’ offers 50 minutes of sensational viewing from the unbelievably exciting personal perspective of a mature African elephant cow as she ranges through South Africa’s Addo Elephant National Park.

In a world-first, SANHU filmed the footage for the programme using a specially-designed camera and microphone rig (called the EleCam), attached to a collar worn by Afslurpie – an elephant specifically selected for the project by South African National Parks (SANP). Since the EleCam was controlled remotely, there was no film crew close to the elephant or her family. As a result, the recorded footage – filmed between mid-January and mid-February this year – reflects the uninhibited behaviour of elephants in the wild and has provided revelatory information for scientists about elephant behavioural patterns.

Not covered by the film, however, was the learning curve which commenced exactly a year earlier, leading up to the (eventual) successful shooting of this footage. The following is an attempt to relate these events as an eyewitness report.


The original camera was contracted to a UK company who installed a radio controlled zoom camera with video transmitter inside an enclosure, to be mounted on a collar attached around the elephant’s neck.

As my employer at the time did the maintenance on the Route 66 helicopter camera equipment – which provided aerial footage for the project – we were known as having some experience in the design of cameras, and the Elecam was brought to us for comment.

It was immediately clear that the designers knew only the first thing about elephants – that they were big – hence the camera did not have to be “discreet”. They did not realise that elephants also:

  • Swim, with only the “periscope” up
  • Squirt themselves (often!) with muddy water and dust
  • Although not that fast, have LOTS of momentum when crashing through trees
  • Are intelligent and inquisitive

to name the immediately obvious ones.

Although dirt obscuration was anticipated to be a problem and the prototype camera was equipped with a window washer, the tank capacity was inadequate. It was however decided to use it as is for the initial testing in the Kruger National Park – but of course with the hope that it would be successful and sufficient to complete the program first time round.

The Journey

The adventure started one rainy day in January 2000. This was not just any rainy day, but was the early stages of the flood period remembered for Rosita Pedro, the Mozambican baby, born in a tree. The helicopter that picked us up in Centurion was loaded to capacity and we v-e-r-y slowly gained height on our way to Skukuza. The weather report indicated that the cloud base was too low to get over the Drakensberg under VFR (Visual Flight Rule) conditions, and the pilot therefore headed for Haenertsburg, flying in driving rain all the way. When we reached the outskirts of the township, the streets were muddy rivulets, and the helicopter was brought to a hover to assimilate the situation. It was almost surrealistic the way the collective pitch lever between the two front seats were pulled up  like the handbrake of a car, as if at an intersection, Piet Otto slowly rotating the helicopter to pick the best route. This turned out to be down the Olifants River Valley, and what a ride!

All the passengers were on look-out duty for cables strung across the river by the locals, used to transfer their possessions and gatherings from one side to the other – we were that low. Having spent many hours in helicopters prior to this, it was unusual to have most of the environment above and around, rather than below, as is the norm.

We broke cover as the gorge opens up at the bottom of the Abel Erasmus pass and from there had a clear run via Hoedspruit to our destination.

 The Equipment

As the video image was to be transmitted live from the camera, a receiving point was required. This was provided by the SAPS Air Wing in the form of a loan mobile receiving station. This consisted of a trailer resembling a horse-box, with a pneumatic mast with an omni-directional antenna on top which could be extended to 30m, providing good reception coverage. This system is normally used by the Air Wing as receiving station for the stabilized cameras they have on their helicopters.

As the transmission frequency was dependent on line-of-sight between transmitter and receiver being maintained (pretty much like the signal between a cell phone and the nearest tower), the terrain where it was set up was also chosen to be relatively even, so that the signal would not be obscured by tall geographical features.

This MGRS (Mobile Ground Receiving Station) was hauled along from the Johan Coetzee SAPS Airwing HQ in Pretoria to Skukuza by SANHU, where we camped – within the staff village – for the duration of the trials.

The Process

The procedure was planned to be executed as follows:

  • The chosen elephant would be separated from the herd by cutting it off with the Route 66 helicopter

  • The elephant would then be darted from the helicopter after rounding it up to a location as close as possible to where the ground crew was waiting on one of the “no entry” roads
  • Next, the collar would be installed. This consisted of a wide synthetic strap with the camera in the centre, and the two ends going round to below the elephant’s neck, attached to a car battery in a box. The battery provided both 12V power to the camera and served as counter-balance to retain the camera position central to the head of the elephant.
  • Conservation personnel would be in continuous attendance and monitor the vital signs of the elephant. One of their activities would be to apply water to the inside of the elephant’s ears as coolant, as these are an elephant’s radiators. Due to the flapping action required to make it work, this cooling function would now be absent.

The saving of Sam

Tuesday, 9 November, 2010

By Johnie Jonker

Sam was my 8-year old medium-sized cross-breed dog which was given to me by my future wife a few months into our relationship.

A mostly black – with tan details – superbly intelligent, enthusiastic, energetic, loyal family dog. Endless entertainment for my two young sons. In fact, we seem to recall that my oldest son – almost 5 at the time of the events described below – Jacobus’ first words were not Mamma or Pappa, but Saaa..!, Saaa…!, toddling around the yard looking for the dog. His next word was Tee….taa! (tea-time – this he learnt from his grandfather) when he was thirsty. But I digress.

Prior to leaving for Norway as technical support for a tracking camera system used at the speed-skating and ski-jumping venues of the 1994 Winter Olympic Games, the sliding gate at home packed up and was stuck in the open position. Sam was standing inside the drive-way, when the neighbour from across the street’s Staffordshire terrier managed to slip out their gate, came over and attacked him, in the process breaking both bones of his left front lower leg.

We had spent quite a bit of money on vet bills – reasonably beyond the point where most people would have had their pet put down – trying to get the leg fixed, but Sam kept on eating the plaster-of-Paris off in order to get to the itch. We had given up hope on the leg healing due to the persistent infection, and were considering whether the leg should be amputated or perhaps even the dog put down as a cheaper option. These were some of the thoughts I left home with.

Back to Norway. On the days when there were no speed-skating events in Hamar, we were free to travel on the official buses which continuously commuted between the various Olympic villages from 4 am to 12pm daily. In this way we (the rest of the UK/American camera crew and me) got to do quite a bit of sightseeing in terms of events. Our accreditation IDs – hanging around our necks – allowed access to all the other venues. As Lillehammer was the main village, and also where the company – Aerial Camera Systems – which contracted my services were stationed, I went there a number of times.

On one of these occasions I was up at the ski-jumping arena, where the opening ceremony also took place and where rehearsals for the closing ceremony were presently under way. One of the events were going to be the entry of the Olympic mascots – two kids named Haakon and Kristin, doll-children from Norwegian folklore – on a sled pulled by a team of huskies.

The dogs were quite unruly and keen to run, almost to the point of destruction, and were howling away, tugging at the reins. As I stood there watching this I suddenly burst out crying uncontrollably. At first I thought maybe I was just homesick – I had been away for three weeks now, and it would take another three weeks before I got back – but once I could think clearly, I realized what it was.

That evening when I got back to Hamar – normally I’m too stingy to phone, I rather write emails – I phoned my wife and told her that whatever the cost, we must save Sam’s leg.

She wanted to know how I came to this decision. I said:”The huskies told me”.


Hundred Million Rands

Tuesday, 9 November, 2010

But for you, my friend, we make it Pounds Sterling

By JJ Jonker

Yes, that would be my net worth if I claimed some of the lottery wins of which I have been notified during the month of August. Being from a Calvinistic background however, I knew that all this money would corrupt me, and therefore opted out. It is however fascinating how widely one can amass money without even entering a lottery. All you need to do is send an email. This automatically enters you for the draw.

Exactly the opposite of the faithful Christian, who one day started complaining bitterly to God that in his experience, the power of prayer is a myth. This because he had been faithfully praying every night – since it’s inception – to win the Lotto. But to date, he has not even won any of the smaller, “3-correct number” prizes.  A voice from above then responded as follows: “Please help me out here and at least buy a ticket”.

To prove that I am not making this up, I attach a summary of (some) of my winnings for August:

I can declare solidarity with those intrepid astronomers of way back when they first realised the earth was not flat or that it was not the centre of the universe. Should they tell anyone?

The above results – multiple lottery wins on the same day, TWICE in one month – proves beyond a single thread of doubt that statistics and probabilities as we know it today, is complete hogwash.

In addition to the above wins, I have also been named the beneficiary of – amongst others – a USD4.5 million estate, should I claim to be the relative of one “Mr Andre Deek, who died in a terrible hot air balloon crash that also took the lives of two other innocent souls”. Barrister Ben Mnpapati from the Eenin Republic (could not find this on Google) goes on to say that: “All I require is your honest co-operation ….”

By these persistent attempts to separate me – and no doubt many others – from my money, I question the truth of the saying: “There’s a sucker born every minute”. No, it has to be more frequent than this, say every 5 seconds?

The background to these scams is usually well researched, and built around commonly known facts, e.g. the existence of the organization allocating/enquiring about any issue. Below is such an example, banking on the greed and gullibility of the human species. The highlighting indicating the hooks and their explanation is mine.

This is a confidential message (there we go, I am the only person to receive this) from IEFM Private Equity and financial Consultants.

We are conducting a standard process investigation on behalf of HSBC private bank (Yes, I’ve heard of them, they also sponsor Gran Prix motor racing), the private banking arm of the international banking conglomerate (Right again. Their head office is in Canada).

This investigation involves a client who shares the same surname (what a coincidence!) with you and also the circumstances surrounding investments made by this client at HSBC Private.

The client died in intestate (ag shame) and nominated no successor in title over the investments made with the bank. The essence of this communication with you is to request you (to) provide us (with) information/comments (sure, what harm can this do?) on any or all of the issues:

1-Are you aware of any relative/relation who shares your same name who’s last known contact address was Madrid, Spain?

2-Are you aware of any investment of considerable value made by such a person at the Private Banking Division of HSBC Bank PLC?

3-Can you establish beyond reasonable doubt your eligibility to assume status of successor (my goodness, what a stroke of luck!) in title to the deceased?

It is pertinent that you inform us ASAP whether or not you are familiar with this personality (so) that we may put an end to this communication with you and our nquiries (spelling mistake) surrounding this personality (not quite the Queen’s English).

You must appreciate that we are constrained (yes, of course I understand – banks can’t divulge personal details of clients to ANY outsider, related or not) from providing you with more detailed information at this point. Please respond to this mail as soon as possible to afford us the opportunity to close this investigation (I’m going to do so straight away).

Thank you for accommodating our enquiry (nice, civil people).

If you share my surname – or any other should also work – you are welcome to take up this offer on my behalf by contacting Paula at the address below. 

Paula Aguilar (nice Spanish name – where have I heard it before? A singer, perhaps?) Email:

Just imagine if the scammer put this effort into a real job – say journalism – what career heights could be achieved.

However, invariably, these letters contain poor grammar, spelling mistakes (possibly from a Nigerian dictionary) no official letterhead, and if so, a poorly scanned logo from e.g. a bank, which is easily detected due to its low resolution.

Although the example above has a name, these often sound fake, almost as if a computer generated it by taking a random name from one list and combining it with a surname from a second list, or quite often the combination of two surnames. Here are some examples:

Mr Haruna Sule, The Camelot Group on behalf of the UK Lottery, Mr Mohammad Noiraat from Sudan – presently residing in Kwazulu Natal and Morris Camara with the same details, George Garang (and others) from Stantanders Bank, London (no, this how they spell it), Mrs Selena Gomez Smith from (also) the UK National Lottery Commission.

Here’s one from a person who would like to know me better:

Hi, Good day, my name is Miss Stephanie 26yrs single girl, from Sierra Leone in West Africa. Presently residing in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) I will love to know you. Upon your reply I will tell you more about myself and send you my picture.
Love Stephanie

What a lovely letter. Not asking for any money. I like the girl already. It sounds like the type PG attracts.

Some offerings are of course more blatant right from the start, directly …


Tuesday, 9 November, 2010

By Johnie Jonker

Electro-Magnetic Compatibility, or rather, in this case, Incompatibility.

Well, what does this mean? Ever notice the CE, GS, TUV or any of a host of other markings on amongst other, portable electronic devices? It’s on your laptop power supply, your cell-phone charger, the food mixer, etc. These are international safety standards to which the various devices comply and (should) have been tested to, which means, amongst others, that when turning on one device, it will not electronically interfere with another, being compatible with it.

So if your wife switches on her hair drier, the TV picture does not go skew. Or Uncle Phil’s cardioverter-defibrillator (ok then, pacemaker) does not attack him. A necessary safe-guard, it would seem.

Of course cars, also being highly electronicised these days, have to comply with similar requirements. However…

Regular exercisers will be familiar with heart rate monitors, such as the Polar 610i.

These HRMs work in conjunction with a chest strap, transmitting the wearer’s heart rate at periodic intervals. The signal is of an electromagnetic nature and picked up by the wrist receiver or gym treadmill. The data can then be displayed and/or recorded in real time for an instant indication of effort, and also allow PC download and analysis at a later stage.

The basic formula for maximum heart rate is calculated by the HRM as 220 minus your age, so in my case a heart rate of 168 beats per minute should be achievable prior to being carried out on a stretcher.

I have however found a way to achieve even better heart rates without going to the gym at all. How, you may well ask – by sitting in my car. And no, not road-rage related.

Getting into the car with a heart rate of sub – 60 bpm, the moment the ignition is switched on, the indication revs up to 210 – 230 bpm, the abundance of electromagnetic interference flying around in the cabin totally swamping the Wearlink signal.

Now, if the over-reading was just a bit more realistic, say 85% of the max heart rate, one could (ab?)use it to effortlessly exercise and earn points through Vitality. “I’m going to the gym, dear”, would take on a whole new meaning: sitting in your car in the garage at home for 30 minutes, listening to some relaxing music, having a beer and a really good chill. But no, trust the car manufacturer to go and completely overdo it!

I am sure that at least some readers would agree that the above type of exercising may actually prove to be more beneficial to their health than a strenuous work-out at the gym. Yes?….No?

But back to matters automotive: If a local motoring magazine were to publish this information, I guess it would be under their “Leisure Heels” section.

This may also well be a world first and the dawn of a new era in terms of automotive advertising: “Go Green! Buy our new model, and communicate with the dolphins and whales!

Being bombarded with such an unseen force from within, I have become wary about possible, even bigger, forces from without. So when I’m on my way to the gym wearing the HRM, one of my “pre-flight” checks prior to departing from home, is to ensure that the sunroof is CLOSED, for fear of being beamed up by Scotty.


Argentina – Part 1

Thursday, 21 October, 2010

By Johnie Jonker

During Feb/Mar 2006 a colleague and I had the good fortune to visit Argentina for the installation of observation equipment on helicopters of the La Plata Police Airwing. La Plata is a university town 50km SE of Buenos Aires.

After an uneventful journey via Brazil with an overnight stop at a local hotel prior to getting a connecting flight the following day, we arrived in Buenos Aires from where a pre-arranged shuttle took us to the Hotel Corregidor in La Plata.

Uneventful maybe, but only due to taking precautions prior to leaving home. Brazil being a Yellow Fever zone, requires visitors to be vaccinated against this disease prior to departure from their home country. Not liking needles, I argued that as I am not visiting that part of Brazil where this disease is prevalent – just down the road from the airport as a transit passenger – this injection should not be required. I thought I was making progress with this argument, when the following scenario was explained to me: Upon arrival in Brazil, I am going to be asked to present my Yellow Fever vaccination certificate to the immigration official. Should I be unable to produce this, there are two options: Return home on the next available flight at your own cost, or have the relevant injection administered by a customs official. The thought of the second option somehow made me feel faint straight away and I resignedly went for the injection at my local travel clinic. Admittedly, it did not hurt that much.

Upon completion of our daily working activities at the local airfield – being picked up by the police at the hotel every morning, arriving back at around 4pm – Piet and I had long evenings to discover the town – shops stayed open till 7 pm – and see the sights. We also rarely dined at the hotel, but preferred any of the numerous restaurants in close vicinity.

After the second World War, many Germans (also Italians) left Europe and settled in Argentina, putting up breweries and restaurants. Two streets up from the hotel was one such German restaurant, which we frequented on more than one occasion. The fact that it had a genuine German name and typical beer-related logo did not necessarily mean that anyone working in the restaurant understood a single word of it. Their German was therefore on a par with their English.

Trying to decipher the menu we managed to work out the difference between chicken, beef and fish, but noted that absolutely no mutton was available. This puzzled me, as I distinctly remember attending an event as a student, advertised as an “Argentynse skaapbraai” [Argentinian sheep barbeque], where the sheep carcass was stretched flat and supported diagonally over the fire, almost like one side of a tent. Oh well, maybe a different part of Argentina then, or I was misled.

On our first visit we pointed to an item on the menu and were pleasantly surprised with a really good steak. The waiter fortunately understood what “birra” meant, which helped. Imagine our surprise when we visited the same restaurant a few nights later and ordered the same item, getting something looking and tasting completely different. In an attempt to get to the bottom of this enigma – via hand-signs and our best Spanish – we finally understood from the waiter the following: The previous time we had pointed at this item on the menu, we did so halfway through the description. This time we pointed 4 words on (in the same description). “Eet no same”. Dead right there, mate. Eat was very different.

On another evening, we made a unique discovery. We visited a nice family restaurant (although judging by the age of the patrons, it looked a bit like pensioners day at Checkers) right behind the hotel. What made it unusual was that it had an ENGLISH menu.

Also unique, was that the tables came with complementary peanuts. Roasted, but still in the shell. No provision was made to place the empty shells somewhere, but we noticed shells all over the floor throughout the restaurant. So, blending with the locals, we also tossed the shells over our shoulders as we worked through the contents of the bowl. It felt quite rebellious messing like this and not having to clean up afterwards. Oh, what fun!

Anyway, the mussels – with no garlic – I ordered, were tiny. Like the oysters you get in the tins, easily more than a 100 in a cereal bowl. The taste got a bit tedious towards the end, so we decided that we’ll be looking for a restaurant that serves Mexican food real soon.  

Regarding the language barrier, some keen local (Sefrican) linguists sometimes consider visiting this country for an extended holiday in order to practise their theoretical Spanish. This is not the place to do so, as the language has a large spattering of Italian intermixed. For learning a pure Spanish, Uruguay – just across the river mouth from Buenos Aires – is the better place.

In addition to our evenings out, we had one weekend of intensive sightseeing, and the following two parts describe this.

Part 2 to follow


Argentina – Part 2

Thursday, 21 October, 2010

March 2006: Buenos Aires

By JJ Jonker  

The hotel concierge explained to us in broken English – Eengleesh, she’s no beeg here – how to get to the bus terminus in La Plata, and which bus to take, so we left for Buenos Aires after breakfast. Busses depart every 20 minutes until 12 pm, and from then on every hour, so no real planning is required. Just arrive at the terminus and get on the first departing bus. It never ceases to amaze me – coming from a country where public transport is not a priority – how well it works in pretty much ANY other place I’ve visited.

Public transport is also very cheap. For this excursion, R9.20 covered a return trip of more than an hour each way in excess of 50km on a good dual carriage road and a very comfortable bus, including reclining seats. This is definitely the way to see Argentina as a backpacker.

When the bus arrived in BsAs, we reported at the Sheraton as per instruction by our concierge to enquire about city sightseeing tours, reserving seats for an afternoon tour. We then walked via a beautiful park to the tourist strip (Florida Street). The park has 200 year+ rubber trees and also Kapok trees with its beautiful pink flowers. Being from Pretoria, it was strange to also see Jacaranda trees so far from home. Subsequently I learnt that this tree is actually indigenous to South America, ours hailing from Brazil. A special enclosed area is provided for dogs – basically a crèche – where for a fee, you “park” your animal under supervision when you go shopping.

The city has a number of these green areas – well-maintained parks with ancient trees – and the odd vagrant sleeping on a bench. The main street, 9 July Avenue (when they declared themselves independent from Spain), is 140m wide. It has two sets of roads running parallel – 6 lanes and 2 lanes – in BOTH directions, claimed to be the widest in the world.


Just below the park is what used to be called the British Clock Tower. This Elizabethan-style 7-storey structure – the Argentine Big Ben – was a gift from the British community of Buenos Aires after building the nearby railroad station complex.

However, after losing the Falklands war, the Argentines were somewhat upset and went on a renaming spree concerning everything British, hence the tower was renamed the Torre Monumental. This differs from our local approach where the renaming spree followed a political victory. Sore losers on the one hand, vs sore winners on the other. Go figure.


The Florida Street area, which is open for pedestrian traffic only, is very viby, with especially leather and wine shops in abundance. A huge range of items is on sale here, mostly well priced even from a South African tourist point-of-view. This is where my colleague Piet Bosch cost me a lot of money.

He managed to get himself invited (or was that “solicited”?) by a marketeer to an off-street factory outlet for leather jackets. I ended up buying a jacket and he bought nothing. Contrary to the sales talk in the street regarding their claim that it will be made within 2.5 hours, this is not valid on a Saturday. It is not quite as cheap as in India, but better made. At least both of us got a hug from the young sales lady after signing the purchase. But as promised, the jacket was ready on the Monday, when Piet and I got on the bus again that afternoon doing the round trip from La Plata to BsAs in three hours, returning with the jacket.

On the way to the hotel to join the tour group, we stopped in the park again and sat on a bench. We were then approached by a very friendly local striking up a conversation by telling us what kind of trees are growing in the park, where to get tourist information, what to see, etc. But as you may well know, you can spot these types – and their mission – a mile off. Usually at your gate, late Saturday afternoon.

He was (as suspected), collecting money. This on behalf of the Argentinean Ministry of Health for their Campaign of National Struggle against Aids and Drugs. He explained that they were caring for 60 AIDS children in a home and that this was the purpose of his fund-raising. Not to depress him totally, we refrained from giving him our local statistics, and contributed happily for his dedication on a Saturday. OK, and also because he knew who Nelson Mandela was. His parting words were ‘Pretoria Forever!’

The bus tour was comprehensive, with a bilingual – English/Spanish – guide. Also on the tour, were two couples from Mexico and Peru, respectively. They acknowledged us when I had to announce where we were from, appearing noticeably puzzled. Possibly by our skin colour, I thought. White Africans?

One of the destinations was La Boca, the Tango district. This consisted of a brightly painted (like the Muizenberg cabanas) corrugated iron village, converted into curio shops. This was typical of how the poor lived way back. Couples demonstrated the tango in the streets, every 50m or so. But other than the touristy image portrayed by the shows, one got the impression that this was a hard life. Almost all the girls had a number of large holes in their black fish-net stockings, giving the dance the image of a subsistence industry. The tango seems very technical, and appears to be some form of competition, akin to ice skating, with definite sequences having to be performed during it. It is not flowing and does not look like fun either. Definitely not Kobus’ birthday opskop [party] at Sarelsrivier. 


This is also where we lost the Mexican couple on the tour. We had good instructions as to how to wander through the village ALWAYS making right turns to get back to the bus, but after ¾ hour plus an extra 10 minutes, we departed without them. Piet and I were in no hurry, but the guide probably had other commitments. Hopefully they got back to the hotel, as they had left their bag on the bus.


 Earlier in the …