{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

December 7, 2016

Book Review || The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

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So disconnected am I with the latest publications (having hundreds of books to read right at home) I did not even know that Anne Rice, one of my favourite authors - she who inspired the sexy vampire craze of the '90s - released a novel (four years ago nogal!) taking on the myth of the werewolf, 'The Wolf Gift'.

Werewolves are much maligned in horror and fantasy literature. They are rarely anything but beasts controlled outright by a monthly alteration into a creature that kills relentlessly and remorselessly, having literally no power over the change. Even the revolutionary nineties and naughties could not change this idea and werewolf films still retain these ideas for the most part (Exceptions can be found, such as the Underworld series). It is then fitting that a master of transforming the vampire from a creature bound by the need to feed into a flesh and blood, though dead, immortal in need of love and companionship take on the werewolf and attempt to revolutionise it.

And although I enjoyed the novel and would thus love to say it has become one of my favourites, this cannot be so. I'll admit this is perhaps because I have a sentimental love and connection to the vampire stories I became drunk on in my teens.

'The Wolf Gift' is, I think, aimed at making werewolves as glamorous and charismatic as Rice's vampires were. However, there is an inevitable sort of 'cut-and-paste' feeling for me: the wealth, the attractiveness of these men (for all the werewolves are men, of course), the ancient history. I feel like there was too much of an emulation of the vampires' ancient background for me to be entirely gripped by the read. And it was such a boys' club!

I did enjoy her attempt at modernising the myth with the aid of scientific terms and theories. I also relished the fact that all evidence of the werewolves - blood, hair, skin - would disappear once it was disconnected from the person's life force. However, the metaphysical questions her creations attempt to pose to us feel too much an echo of the vampires' search for meaning, having control of immortality and yet still not knowing the answers. Now, here is a new set of creatures created with their own myths and ancient legends and they also do not know any answers. Agreed, there are no creatures on Earth who know the answers but it feels repetitive.

Even the moral calling of the werewolves is an echo of Louis, the vampire from 'Interview with the Vampire', but in this case the werewolves are drawn to destroy evil instead of making the choice to do so.

Rice also attempted to show that werewolves really are a more brutal reflection of immortality. Vampires never physically alter and their choices to be 'beasts' seem to be less limited. Werewolves on the other hand have the ability to entirely change their physical appearance - at will, too - and their beast-like instincts lie right on the surface. They have a 'true' connection with nature, sensing it and smelling it and even experiencing a deep connection to it. In this regard, I found their killing of animals with relish and without necessity confusing, since nature is by all intents innocent and their change induces an inherent attraction and malice towards evil. This idea is addressed by discussions about all of us being both good and evil at once, but it rings hollow when you consider that they have the conscience and mind of the human being. If they are close to nature, surely running rampant through the night slaughtering dozens of birds, feasting on every animal in sight seems to be more linked to the irresponsible nature of the all-devouring human than a beast at one with the ecosystem. It feels more like an assertion of their power over nature than an acceptance of being one with it and respecting it, which is what I would have thought would happen to a human suddenly exposed to the true wonder of it all.

I suppose they are at once man and beast and perhaps that is how they can reconcile the needless killing of creatures - needless because it is neither for survival nor for feeding that they kill - with an indulgence in power and blood, a trait that seems all too human for a group of men supposedly so connected to nature who are all also philosophers, poets, and scientists.

'The Wolf Gift' feels too much like a modernisation of The Vampire Chronicles, replete with references to Facebook, the Internet, cellphones, global media, and even scientific theories. This is not to say that I did not enjoy reading it, as there was a stage where I could not put it down, simply needing to know what happened next. It's just that at the end of it all I felt disappointed. Perhaps I'm being too judgmental as a result of my aforementioned sentimentality over The Vampire Chronicles, and also because this is only the first novel in a series.

Have you read it and what did you think? Have I judged it too harshly?

{Image credit: By Lucas Cranach the Elder - Gotha, Herzogliches Museum (Landesmuseum), Public Domain, Link}

November 30, 2016

10 Things You Didn't Know About Whales

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Whale Flickr-Guarda La`
I have always been fascinated by whales and indeed they are one of the reasons my family and I went to the seaside this month (we weren't lucky, by the way, although we did get a glimpse of dolphins). But despite my purported love for them, I didn't even know how astonishing these creatures are. I'm again referencing Diane Ackerman's amazing collection of essays 'The Moon by Whale Light...' (which has been one of my favourite reads so far this year) in order to support my astonishment and awe of these creatures and the natural world that allows us to share this earth with us.

I'll start off with this thought-provoking quote:
We ache to know of other forms of equally intelligent life in the universe and yet here are creatures as unknown as extraterrestrials right among us, moving in a slow-motion ballet under the ocean. [112]
Ackerman's essays are filled with sentiments such as these bemoaning humankind's skewed value systems.

These are the 10 most interesting facts about whales that I uncovered in her essay.

1. Whales have the largest brains on Earth. While this might not come as much of a surprise, considering how large some of them become, it is not a matter of matching size: their brains are as complex as ours, probably even more so.


2. There are two types of whales. Toothed whales use echolocation and have a single blowhole. Dolphins, which are cetaceans just like all whales, fall into this category along with orcas and porpoises. Baleen whales are all the larger whales that eat by filtering their food through baleen plates. These whales have two blowholes, just like our nostrils.

3. Anyone can guess why the Right Whale was so named: it was literally the 'right' one to kill, as its body did not sink and it was also relatively docile. If sanctions had not been placed on whaling, this would have been the only animal found all over the world to have been extincted by humankind.

Blue Whale
4. When a Blue Whale is vertical to the ocean floor, its body experiences three different atmospheres.

5. A whale's body, because of its size, generates so much heat that when dead, and even if in icy water, the flesh burns and chars the bones. Whales' bodies thus have to be harvested of all important parts before it becomes a 'burnt whale'.

6. When a whale sings, no air is released from its lungs or anywhere else.

7. Whales sometimes balance their tails out of the water for fun.

8. Whales are made of 97% water and thus babies will hear their mothers perfectly for the entire year of their gestation.

9. At the time of the book's publication, the actual act of copulation between humpback whales had never been seen or filmed. However, the first photograph of these whales mating was taken in 2010 and only released in 2012 after a study was being completed.

10. Humpback whales, known for their hauntingly beautiful underwater songs, use rhyme to remember long songs, which are copied and adapted amongst the males of the species, a complex idea that not simply any organism could understand.

If you'd like to try spot some whales this year, check out this list of spots where you can spot whales in South Africa before the end of December.

{Image credits: 
Lead: Flickr/Guarda La` [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Species branching: By Jérôme Spitz , Andrew W. Trites, Vanessa Becquet, Anik Brind'Amour, Yves Cherel, Robert Galois, Vincent Ridoux [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Blue Whale: By NOAA Photo Library - anim1754, Public Domain, Link}

November 26, 2016

The Disrespect of Pardoning a Turkey

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The festival of Thanksgiving has ended and an annual precursor to these celebrations, the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation, which includes the 'pardoning' of two turkeys, took place the day before. While there have been many articles talking about the true history of thanksgiving in terms of the colonisation of North America and thanksgiving as mourning on the part of Native Americans, there are hardly any in the mainstream media considering the ethics of mutilating and consuming 46 million turkeys every year.

Every media house however did, aside from listing the many, many ways that a turkey can be cooked, cover the traditional 'pardoning' of the turkey, and I suddenly wondered what exactly was the turkey being pardoned for? Crimes against the State? Using up more space in its cramped, dark shed than it should? Rallying a group of activists to call for equal rights (or rights, period)?

After some research I discovered that the first turkey pardon was actually a frustrated and snide joke. Ronald Reagan is the first American president on record to 'pardon' a turkey, after hitting out at criticism over the Iran-Contra affair and whether or not he would be pardoning someone for allegedly being involved. So the original pardon had nothing to do with ethics or compassion - it was just a joke. It was disrespectful.

George HW Bush then instituted the turkey pardoning as an official annual event as a response to the efforts of animal rights activists, in an effort to show that the State can indeed be empathic and caring. Wow, really? One whole turkey out of millions? (Well, I'm not certain of the number of turkeys slain in 1989, but it was likely a lot - especially after Bush popularised the turkey as the cornerstone of the Thanksgiving meal.) I hope the activists weren't satisfied with such a response, as it was thoughtless and disrespectful.

Since then, two turkeys have been pardoned every year, being sent to wonderland locations around the country. Like Disney Land.

It's all such a farce. It's misdirection. These turkeys are mutilated and tortured: they are debeaked, have their claws slashed off, and males have their snoods cut off - without anaesthetic. They live in sheds among thousands of other turkeys, walking in their own droppings and sometimes resorting to cannibalism. They are very likely to die during transport to slaughter due to stress. And, worst of all, they are not recognised (in the US) as applying to the Humane Slaughter Act. This means they can have their throats slit, be pummelled on the head, be singed in a steamer, be plucked, and who knows what else while still alive and conscious. To treat any living being in such a way is disrespectful.

Oh, but this is alright because two turkeys have been pardoned for what would appear to be nothing but the mere fact of their existence to feed us humans, apex predators that we are. 

Personally, I cannot imagine a bird the same weight as my three-and-a-half-year-old toddler lying on my table and being the centre of a meal about being thankful. 

Certainly we humans can be thankful it is not we who make the centrepiece of a dinner spread, because we have rights.

Further Reading:

November 24, 2016

Dad Embracing Fatherhood = No Troubled Teen. What?!

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According to a study carried out in the United Kingdom, trouble with unruly teenagers can largely be avoided if fathers embrace their fatherhood and have a positive attitude towards it, and it does not matter whether or not said father assists in childcare, spends time with children, or helps out around the house. Well, that's the basic tenet of the study, the focus of an article on The Guardian. However, I find this conclusion problematic.

In no way am I disputing the fact that a positive attitude in a father towards his role in his children's lives will have an equally positive effect on their development. I would, however, like to point out some issues I have with the conclusion insofar as it may create the incorrect assumptions about troubled teens and parenting.

First of all, the participation of either parent in the study was different. The mothers were only asked about their children's behaviour, such as their ability to share and social skills - answers which I believe can be fairly objective on the part of the mothers as observers. The fathers, on the other hand, were asked questions that could largely be answered subjectively: how they felt about fatherhood, how confident they were as a parent, and whether or not they enjoyed spending time with their children. Researchers admitted the study relied mainly on self-reporting and from this we can see there must be quite an emotional response underlying the answers.

Also, the fathers were asked how much they helped around the house, and the mothers were not; we can thus infer that there is an implicit bias in the study: mothers are the main caregivers and thus do, or are expected to do, all the housework.

Most studies heretofore have focused on a mother's role in the positive development of their children and this study has been praised for putting the focus on the fathers, who are overlooked much of the time. I agree with this statement: fathers are often not viewed as particularly capable when looking after children and sometimes are seen as completely useless and any time they spend looking after children is sweet (take a look at these comments comparing how mothers and fathers are treated when caregiving).

However, a study that determines that legions of teens are troubled because they simply did not have committed fathers is not considering all the aspects that are involved when raising children. Perhaps I am mistaken, but I see the study as finding that the father needs to do nothing at all but be positive towards his child and confident in his own capabilities. He does not need to spend time with his children; he does not need to help the mother in caregiving or housecleaning; he does not even need to engage with them. As long as he is confident as a father.

This rings incredibly hollow to me and I can see it working for a nuclear family where the mother is not depressed, not lonely, and perfectly happy to be the only one to engage with the children. But picture this: the father - who is confident as a father and enjoys being with his kids - goes to work and the mother cares for the child. She does everything during the day, from cleaning up and wiping bums to teaching the alphabet or counting, reading a bedtime story, and tucking the kids in for the night. The father comes home and relaxes. The mother is exhausted, making her short-tempered and impatient with the children and not at all invested in doing activities with them. She is not happy and her emotions seep into her children.Perhaps the father's unwillingness to help with the chores frustrates the mother even more, resulting in screaming arguments. Or perhaps throw in a father who enjoys overindulging in alcohol after getting home from work and tends to get rowdy and perhaps a bit rough. He still likes being a parent though. And the study is telling me that these children will still end up as untroubled teens?

We are told that maternal love activates cognitive development. We are told that a depressed mother can repress this development. We are told the mother is the centre of the family, that her feelings of stability, her relationships, and her parenting can make or break a happy home. If the mother is not experiencing feelings of security in the different aspects of her life, the child's cognitive development is at risk. But it's all good and dandy as long as the father is happy? Because then the kids won't be troubled? They may be less clever but they won't be troubled.

Thus should the study in question not be focusing on the confidence and happiness of both parents? Surely the happiness of a child heading into their teen years depends on an array of aspects, from tension between parents, depression of parents or child, secret physical or sexual abuse, bullying, the loss of a loved one, drug or alcohol abuse (by child or parent), or peer pressure. It certainly isn't enough to say that a father confident in fatherhood equals a happy teen.

As a mother, if this is true, it is disheartening to think that all the effort I put into raising my child will be for nought unless my husband continues to be confident in his fatherly skills and happy as a dad.

Perhaps I'm jumping the gun as I have not read the study in its entirety and I also don't know what variables were used to decide who would take part in the study, aside from families where the parents were still together until the child was eight months of age. Also, I don't think that only 10 440 children are really statistically valuable or accurate. After all, there are over 11 million children under the age of 18 in England (as of 2014). But hey, I don't know anything about statistics.

{Image credits: 
Header: Flickr/Mindaugas Danys [CC BY 2.0]
Inset: Flickr/Stuart [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]}

November 11, 2016

10 Things You Didn't Know About Alligators

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The only thing that comes to mind when someone mentions alligators is the swamps and marshes of Miami and the fatal attacks that take place there. Imaginations run wild and we assume dozens of people are taken by the crocodilians every year when the reality is only 23 people have been killed by alligators in the whole of Florida since 1948.

Like every creature on Earth, knowledge about these fascinating creatures can only inspire astonishment, respect and further interest, much as it was for me with tarantulas. Crocodilians and alligators are no different and it is quite amazing what you don't know until you do some research. After reading Diane Ackerman's 'The Moon by Whale Light and other adventures among bats, penguins, crocodilians, and whales', I decided to do a series of posts on facts about the four creatures she meets - the first was about bats - because it was amazing how an animal lover like myself had no idea about these animals.

Here are 10 jaw-dropping facts about alligators:

1. It is the female who instigates courtship. The male is so focused on guarding his territory that she literally has to smash into him, climb on him, and basically make a nuisance of herself until he reciprocates. I use the word 'smash' because, for us, that's what it is - it looks soft and gentle as an observer but our delicate bodies would be crushed by the force. In essence, this groping serves for both parties to test each other's strength.

2. The male also has his part in the mating ritual: the water dance. When he bellows, inaudible sound waves vibrate the water around his body, making the water around him look like miniature fountains. While the bellowing scares other males, the females also seem to enjoy it.

3. Alligators can jump. They don't do it often, but they can. They can also climb fences.

4. Their eyes are in possession of football-shaped pupils that remain vertical to the horizon all the time - like a gyroscope. This is most likely the reason alligator-handlers put alligators on their back (most likely before they put their hands in their mouths), because moving them literally disorients them. It has nothing to do with strength or taming the creature and everything to do with the fact that the poor alligator feels like it's been thrown off a building. [Read about why some animals have vertical pupils here.]

alligator-eye5. Female alligators have a clitoris, large enough to be confused with a penis. No one, however, knows if they can have an orgasm, as it's a bit difficult to do with a 2.6 metre toothed deathtrap in a science lab...

6. In certain atmospheric conditions and temperatures, it may look as though crocodilians are emitting vapour from their noses when they bluster. In this case, they could truly look like dragons blowing smoke out their nostrils.

7. Alligators measure their prey by height, so one way to scare one off if it wants to attack you is to stand upright. (Don't take my word for it!)

8. Alligators live to 30 years in the wild.

9. Large alligators bite down with 1342,6kg of force. It's one of the most powerful ever recorded.

10. Alligators also eat fruit when they have the opportunity and they are possibly important dispersers of plant seeds.

As a final thought from Ackerman's book:
That a creature so beautiful, wild and mysterious could be turned into a handbag or pair of shoes gave me a slow chill. [79]

{Image credits:
Lead: By Kate Perez - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
Alligator eye: By Everglades NPS from Homestead, Florida, United States (Alligator Eye, NPSphoto, G.Gardner) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, Florida Memory Project}

November 4, 2016

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Bats

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Bats are an incredibly important part of every ecosystem on earth and it can be argued that humanity depends on them quite a lot; and yet they are one of the most hated and stigmatised creatures on the planet.

A lot of the modern fear for bats has to do, I think, with a lack of knowledge about them. It is very rare for us metropolitan dwellers to encounter a bat aside from perhaps seeing them flitting about at dusk, distinctly different from birds only in their frantic flapping and seemingly chaotic flight patterns, and as a result we’ve only met them in popular culture: as the familiars of witches, the alternate form of vampires, creatures who purposefully tangle themselves up in women’s hair, animals who carry the rabies virus and suckle blood from unsuspecting sleeping cows. When we are asked to picture a bat, we see a darkness filled with grimacing and angry creatures with a sinister purpose, not their diversity, nor their need for society and dependence on one another, and certainly not their potential to affect humanity.

I hope that my list of the most amazing facts about bats found in Diane Ackerman’s essay ‘In Praise of Bats is an attempt at demystifying and destigmatising the misunderstood creatures:

1. A colony of bats can consume 150 tonnes, or 150,000kg, of small insects a night. That is a lot of mosquitoes. One has to wonder what the bat populations are like where the Zika virus or malaria are rampant? Hint: Worse than they should be. [Brazil | Africa]

2. Bats live for more than 30 years and are thus the longest-living mammal in relation to their size.

3. Bats only have one pup a year, so you can imagine how long it would take a population to replenish itself after a colony is destroyed. An entire colony can be destroyed in one go by irresponsible or misinformed persons, since millions of these creatures gather together in vulnerability.

4. The Vampire Bat is thought to be monogamous, and the male and female share child-rearing responsibilities. They are also altruistic, doing favours for others; they also remember those who have helped them before so they can return the favour.
Big eared townsend bat
5. A single bat will eat so much food in one night that it will weigh 50% more than it did at dusk. The Little Brown Bat in America can eat around 1,000 mosquitoe-sized insects in an hour.

6. There are two types of bats: microbats and megabats. The former are usually echolocators (that is, they trace their food using sonar) and the latter are usually fruit bats. The largest of the megabats can reach a wingspan of 1.7m. The smallest bat, the Kitti's hog-nosed bat (also known as the bumblebee bat), is only a maximum of 170mm in size.

7. A pup's voice is so unique that its mother will hear them in the nursery, often made up of thousands of little bodies.

8. There are some bats that feed on nectar and the plants they harvest their nectar from have evolved specifically so they can be fed on by the bats. Bats are thus important pollinators for species such as bananas, peaches, baobab, guavos, avocados, and organ-pipe cacti.

9. Bats are equipped with the same skill as migrating birds, sometimes flying for miles for winter hibernation. Echolocators can usually only recognise topography within a few metres so this is an amazing skill. Even blind bats can make the journey.

10. Bats have been useful to humankind in many ways: they have aided in the development of vaccines, birth control, navigational aids for the blind, surgery in low temperatures, and artificial insemination techniques. They are also a top fertiliser provider and help keep insect populations down. For a South African example, hundreds of thousands of bats live in the De Hoop Cave and it is thought farmers in the region don't spend as much on insecticides because of their contribution.

Golden crowned fruit bat
As a final statement, I would like to leave you with this quote from Ackerman's essay:
The gray bat went from filling the night skies to having to be officially listed as endangered a few years ago. In the Southwest, the freetailed bat...has declined by as much as 99.9% in some places... How  far does a bat [population] have to decline before it's declared endangered? An even more important question is: How many bats are essential to maintain the balance of nature? [46]
By the time a animal is declared endangered, the ecosystem has already been irreparably damaged and the population is too small to have any major effect.

{Image credits: 
Main: Flickr/guilherme jofili [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Big eared townsend bat: Wikipedia
Golden crowned fruit bat: By The original uploader was Latorilla at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2743619}

October 28, 2016

Book Review || The Moon by Whale Light by Diane Ackerman

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Celebrated naturalist Diane Ackerman’s intriguing and enlightening collection of essays ‘The Moon by Whale Light and other adventures among bats, penguins, crocodilians, and whales’ is one of those books that reaffirms the majesty and beauty of nature and its creatures, and how humans, who have declared ourselves the most intelligent and the most deserving of God’s blessings, have lost their way by not remaining connected to the natural world.

Ackerman’s passion for her subject is revealed in beautiful, detailed and eloquent descriptions of, literally, everything: from the many sunrises and sunsets she has been honoured to witness and the many people she has met to the utter magnanimity of nature and the creatures she has been sent to study.

The four essays that form part of this collection focus on very different creatures, and yet they are all connected through their very real need for society, nourishment, love, and survival - needs humans happen to share with them.

In Praise of Bats is my first favourite of the collection since it focuses very much on the bats themselves, such as their positive characteristics and interesting facts about them, the mythology that has controlled how we see them, and how they positively contribute to their environments and ours.

The Eyelids of the Morning, while taking as its focal point the lives and times of crocodilians, is a more poetic look at the animals in question, but still quite eye-opening if you ever thought that these animals were nothing but hulking, hungering beasts.

The Moon by Whale Light is my second favourite of the collection. It is a treaty about cetaceans and how little we truly know about the ocean and its depths.
We ache to know of other forms of equally intelligent life in the universe, and yet here are creatures as unknown as extraterrestrials right among us, moving in a slow-motion ballet under the ocean. [112]
In this essay, Ackerman delves into such mysteries as humpback whale singing but it is obviously geared at showing us how much we have yet to learn about the animals we share this earth with and how little we are doing to respect them. She also spends more time speaking about the people who have devoted their lives to studying these animals.

Diane Ackerman
White Lanterns I enjoyed the least, not because it was uninteresting but because the focus seemed to shift from describing the journey to and terrain of Antarctica to the penguins rather than following a single thought - it was as though there was so much to see and learn that Ackerman tried to cram the essay with everything she could.

All four essays, however, are connected by the common thread of the danger in which these animals are from the creature at the top of the so-called food chain: us. Through our relentless boring into and robbing of the earth, we have not only changed the environments these animals live in but in some cases have irreparably damaged their habitats and populations. And we don’t stop there: we slaughter them for food, leather, trophies, or personal gain. Just this week, results of a study were published that found that nearly three-fifths of vertebrate animals had been wiped out by us since 1970. Global wildlife stocks could drop to just two-thirds in the next four years. Four years!? And what will we do when we are all alone on this planet?

It seems this is the question Ackerman poses to her readers in all her essays, and the solution can only be to respect them all and the natural environment that we share. Is it crazy for us to believe we can stop it all now? Is it too late?

{Image credit: Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons}

October 19, 2016

The Dive Sites of South Africa || My Bucket List

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I have lived in South Africa all my life and still have not see an iota of what beauty the country has to offer me. I wish that I could simply caravan across the country, living on the land, bartering, taking photos. Sweet dreams these, but until then, all I have are my to-do lists! After reading Anton Koornhof's detailed 'The Dive Sites of South Africa', underwater sites have also found a way onto my bucket list of life.

Here are the top 11 diving sites I hope to visit when one day I have that skill:


1. Elands Bay

While I wouldn't go diving in Elands Bay for the common reason - crayfishing - I would love to see some kelp forests and watch the crayfish in their natural environment. Perhaps I should also learn how to surf and while I'm at it I'll visit the cave to see some ancient art, cut open my feet on Mussel Point, and visit Verloren Vlei.


2. Justin’s Caves and Coral Gardens Oudekraal

The appeal of Justin's Caves is not only its easy access; being a shore dive, it is filled with large boulders that are stacked to create overhangs, tunnels, and cave-like features. Coral Gardens is one of the top 10 dive sites in South Africa. It has stunning biodiversity and interesting topography.


3. Vulcan Rock

Vulcan Rock is close to Hout Bay and is the exposed pinnacle of a large granite reef. Below the waves, the rock is peppered with holes and caverns, and there is one cave, called 'balloon cave', with a domed ceiling - something I'd particularly like to see. There is also a long tunnel, and the site is close to Di's Cracks, another popular site. There are plenty of sponges and even some nudibranches.


4. Smitswinkel Bay

There are five diveable wrecks that were scuttled by the military in Smitswinkel Bay in order to create an artificial reef. This dive may be too challenging for me (since I'm so unfit :P ) but getting fit may be worth it simply to see the monstrosities rise up from the sea bed, and the wrecks are covered with starfish and nudibranch, as well as some anemones.

5. Partridge Point

Partridge Point's dive site features underwater caverns and swimthroughs and is filled with diverse invertebrates. I may be lucky to see some pipefish and it is practically inevitable that I'll encounter members of the seal colony that lives on Seal Rock close by.


6. The ‘A’ Frame

The 'A-Frame' is on my list because of the kelp forest and boulders, where there are also overhangs and swimthroughs. Perhaps I'll be lucky enough to see an octopus! Plus, the site is quite pretty out of the water, too!

7. Santos Reef

Santos Reef is on my list because of the 'garden of featherworms' (I know them as tube worms) as well as the possibility of seeing octopus and sea fans. Maybe I'll find a sand dollar.


8. Tapas Jetty

A graveyard of scrap metal I will mostly ignore, the Tapas Jetty is popular for the opportunity to see the Knysna seahorse. I've only seen them in aquariums and would love to see them in their natural environment - well, as natural as it can get for a shore dive.


9. Bruce se Bank

I would like to see the most beautiful reef in the country. It is known for the prolific invertebrate life, including cauliflower corals and white starburst corals. Alas, I cannot find a picture of this reef :'(.

10. Jacob’s Poort 

This one is on my list because I would love to see the dolphins, whales, sunfish and rays the area is known for.

11. Sodwana Bay

Sodwana Bay is arguably one of South Africa's most popular diving sites. Near the St Lucia estuary and Lake Sibhayi, this one's on my list for the whale sharks.

{Image credits:
Lead: By Neville Wootton from Liskeard, UK - 020 - Chasing Manta's, CC BY 2.0, Link
Elands Bay: By Ralph Malan (01 Elands Bay_1) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Justin's Caves: User: (WT-shared) Pbsouthwood at wts wikivoyage [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Vulcan Rock: By User: (WT-shared) Pbsouthwood at wts wikivoyage, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22710887
Smitswinkel Bay: By Jean Tresfon (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jtresfon/sets/) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
A-Frame: By User: (WT-shared) Pbsouthwood at wts wikivoyage, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22709177
Santos Reef: By Seascapeza (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Tapas Jetty: Flickr/flowcomm [CC BY-SA 2.0
Bruce se Bank: By Philippe Bourjon - Don de l'auteur à Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31179214}

October 13, 2016

Book Takeaways || Shipwrecks of The Dive Sites of South Africa

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Anton Koornhof's 'The Dive Sites of South Africa' has me wanting to take a scuba diving course and explore South Africa's coast. While outdated, having been published back in 1992, its highly-detailed descriptions of dive sites are filled with facts and tips. Some of the most attractive listings, for me, are those delving into the background of shipwrecks around the coastline.

Koornhof shares literally dozens of shipwrecks that can be accessible by divers, from the novice to the experienced. Even the SA History site lists only 26 shipwrecks, obviously including only those of historical import. Koornhof lists no fewer than 64 shipwrecks along the coast, with backgrounds ranging from the tragic to the mysterious. Most of the wrecks are the result of poor visibility or suddenly deteriorating weather conditions - the reason the southern-most point of Africa is known as the Cape of Storms.

So what is it that interests us so much when it comes to shipwrecks? It certainly isn't (only) the promise of some lost treasure, is it? I believe it is much more than that. Not only is it an opportunity to look into the past, or to see something that is not everyday and something that not many people have the chance to see, but it sparks something inside us about the mystery and transience of life: the wreck used to belong to someone; someone took the time to design it and build it and pay to make it; it used to be filled with living people, each with their own stories; it (usually) made more than one journey and imagine what it saw; and we love to think, 'If only this ship could tell us its story'. We are all storytellers by nature, and it is how our minds run away that intrigues us.

Below, I have linked to information on most of the wrecks if you're interested in learning about their backgrounds:

- HMS Sybille (1901) | This ship was blown off course and hit a reef off the coast of Lamberts Bay.
- SS Saint Lawrence (1876) | Ran aground at Paternoster Point.
- The Merestein (1702) | One of the more popular dives, as there is apparently quite a hoard of missing silver Dutch ducatoons dating from the 1600s to be found; the Dutch East Indiaman tried to port at Saldanha Bay to alleviate scurvy but hit reefs near Jutten Island. Only 99 people survived the wreck out of 200.
- MV Winton (1934) | Ran aground off Milnerton Beach in heavy weather and due to the captain becoming confused by a red light in the city.
- The Reijgersdaal (1747) | After anchoring off Robben Island, the weather deteriorated, cuasing the anchor cable to break and sending the ship careening into a reef of Springfortein Point; only 15 crew members survived.
- SS Hermes (1901) | Wrecked on Milnerton Beach after dragging anchor in a north-west gale.
- SS Hypathia (1929) | Grounded on Whale Rock and pounded by swells.
- MV Daeyang Family (1986) | Wrecked on Whale Rock when anchors dragged in heavy weather.
- RMS Athens (1865) | Wrecked during a hurricane in Table Bay; the Piscataqua wreck lies on top of her.
- SS South African Seafarer (1966) | Ran aground in storm off the Green Point Lighthouse.
- The Thermopylae (1899) | Ran aground in storm off the Green Point Lighthouse.
- George M. Livanos (1947) | Ran aground at Mouille Point, burning away.
- The Vis [PDF}(1740) | AKA De Visch; Wrecked when its captain attempted to sail it into Table Bay at night.
- The Trafalgar (1839) | Ran aground after anchors failed to hold; one person was killed when a mast fell over. There are two links to this one, with one reporting a grounding at Sea Point and the other a grounding at Table Bay.
- The Fame (1822) | A north-westerly storm threw the ship onto the rocks at Sea Point; remained undiscovered until 1965 when looted by divers.
- The Schuilenberg (1756) | Ran aground near Camps Bay in rough seas and has been identified as one of the first slave trading ships of the Portuguese.
- The Kraaiestein (1698) | Ran aground in thick mist; a popular site as three of 19 chests containing treasure still remain unaccounted for.
- The Antipolis (1977) | Well known because visible at low tide; lost her two and ran aground during a gale.
- The Romelia (1977) | Broke tug and ran aground during a gale.
Condenser of the SS Maori
- SS Maori (1909) | Ran aground in a storm near Llandudno; not much remains of the cargo, while wine bottles could still be found in the 1970s, exploding when brought to the surface.
- The Oakburn (1906) | Wrecked in fog, hitting the rocks of Maori Bay.
- Katzmaru (1970s) | Sank off the coast of Hout Bay in order, it seems to create a wreck-diving site for scuba divers.
- Clan Monroe (1905) | Wrecked in a storm off Kommetjie; was used to tell the tide's height until it broke up and sank.
- SS Lusitania (1911) | Wrecked in fog on Bellows Rock off Cape Point; its wreckage resulted in the construction of a new lighthouse on Cape Point.
- The Clan Stuart (1914) | Ran aground in a south-east gale; attempts to repair her were futile as the engine room flooded when she was refloated. Her engine still stands above the water at Mackerel Beach.
- The Meridian (1828) | Only discovered in 1965.
- The HMS Birkenhead (1852) | This wreck is apparently where the 'Women and children first' protocol came from.
- Esso Wheeling (1948) | Photo
- SS Adelfotis (1956) | Ran aground in thick fog near Quoin Point.
- MV Oriental Pioneer (1974) | Sprung a leak and beached near Cape Agulhas Lighthouse.
Repulse, an East Indiaman similar to the Arniston.
- The Arniston (1815) | One of the most tragic stories, with only six out of 378 people surviving. Enveloped by an unexpected hurricane off Agulhas Bank, causing her to hit a reef out at sea and break up. Survivors were discovered two weeks later in a nearby cave.
- Galera (1892) | Wrecked in a big gully near Danger Point, Mossel Bay with a cargo of copra, or the dried meat of the coconut.
- The Paquita (1903) | Ran ashore and filled with water; lies at mouth of Knysna Lagoon.
- The Fairholme (1888) | Caught alight near Cape Agulhas and drifted to Knysna, grounding on the Knysna Heads.
- MFV Athina (1967) | Hit Whale Rock and wrecked on Robberg Beach; had three names aside from Athina: Penstemon, Galaxidi, Rosa Vlassis.
- Sao Gonzalo (1630) | The 100 survivors of this wreck were the first known Europeans to inhabit the Plettenberg Bay area. A hundred and fifty sailors lost their lives when a storm hit the bay as repairs were underway on the ship causing it to sink.
- Queen of the West (1850) | Wrecked off of the Tsitsikamma Coast, losing all crew members to the ocean.
- HMS Osprey (1867) | Wrecked west of Seal Point Lighthouse in Cape St Francis.
- Cape Recife (1929) | Washed ashore in thick fog that kept even rescuers from discovering the wreck's whereabouts; found as a result of all crew members making a noise.
- HMS Zeepaard (1823) | Wrecked in fog at Sardinia Bay.
- SS Western Knight (1929) | Wrecked at Chelsea Point; this ship was illegally salvaged by an experienced diver, who became the first person to be sentenced with South Africa's heritage laws.
- SS Ourimbah (1909) | Wrecked in fog at Chelsea Point.
- SS Queenmoor (1934) | Ran aground. An engineer was found guilty of attempting to salvage metal from this ship despite its age and heritage status.
- SS Strathblane (1890) | Ran aground.
- MV Pati (1976) | Struck Thunderbolt Reef and sunk.
- MV Kapodistrias (1985) | Grounded off Cape Recife, spilling around 500 cubic metres of oil over 15 days.
- SS Itzehoe (1911) | Ran aground off Cape Recife near the lighthouse; artefacts can still be salvaged from the wreck.
- SS Fidela (1873) | Wrecked in fog near Cape Recife Lighthouse; used by SA Air Force to practice bombing skills.
- The Haerlem (1987) | Scuttled in Algoa Bay and turned into a haven for divers, but began to be plundered as scrap metal in 2014.
- The Inchcape Rock (1902) | Ran aground in a gale.
- The Briseis (1859) | Ran aground on a reef off Port Alfred; residents tell they woke up one morning to find the ship abandoned by its crew.
- SS Valdivia (1908) | Appears to have scraped open her bottom on an uncharted obstacle. Although it requested to urgently enter the harbour in East London, port authorities did not give permission and could no longer be contacted and the ship had to be abandoned.
- SA Oranjeland (1974) | Wrecked off the Esplanade in East London, just after dropping ashore the survivors of the Produce (see below), which had recently wrecked on Aliwoal Shoal.
- The Lady Kennaway (1857) | Wrecked in the mouth of the Buffalo River after losing both anchors in a gale.
- SS King Cadwallon (1929) | Collided with rocks off and caught alight, drifting for 41 days before resting in East London. Pieces of coal, which was the ship's main cargo, can still be found along the beach on occasion.
- The Produce (1974) - | Ran aground on the Aliwal Shoal.
- The Nebo (1884) | Thought to have capsized due to a huge wave hitting her near Aliwal Shoal, while other theories say it hit a pinnacle of the reef that has not been seen since or that it was overloaded, making the possibility of capsizing more likely. It has been alleged that this ship was the third vessel sharing the name Nebo that sunk on its maiden voyage.
- Ovington Court (1940) | Anchor dragged in heavy surf and the boat ran aground; it was reported the captain called for the ship to be abandoned: the crew was packed into the two lifeboats and while the first made it to the beach safely - amidst the cheers of locals - the second capsized. Local municipal and voluntary lifesavers managed to pull all 12 occupants from the sea, although four later passed away in hospital.

{Image credit: Wreck of the Birkenhead, Charles Dixon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
SS Maori Condenser, User: (WT-shared) Pbsouthwood at wts wikivoyage [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Repulse, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=266224}<script>
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September 6, 2016

Book Review || The Cult of Elizabeth by Roy Strong

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I've always been partial to period dramas, possibly as a result of my studies in English literature, and Roy Strong's 'The Cult of Elizabeth' was waiting for me at the library. I find the Elizabethan era utterly fascinating for many reasons, chief amongst these the fabulous and intricate handmade clothing worn by the elite, but the way of life is so strange by our modern standards. Can you imagine not having access to a toilet? Not even the Queen had access to an indoor toilet.

Apart from these very domestic cares, Queen Elizabeth I and the intrigues of her court are so tantalising. How did she manage to rule for over four decades (right up to her death at the age of 70), especially in a world that believed that women were lesser beings? Certainly she was surrounded by many more experienced, but all the literature we have on her shows her to be an intelligent and shrewd ruler. It may have been tough for her at the beginning, but 'The Cult of Elizabeth' shows how she managed to hold on to the crown for much longer than she should have been able to, considering her age and her chief responsibility of providing an heir.

Elizabeth's supporters created a near-religion around their queen: She became the Queen of Love and Beauty, representing a chivalric code among her knights and courtiers; while she was ordained by God as the leader of England, her reign of peace served to settle her in the hearts of her subjects - then she defeated Spain; and finally, she became a symbol of the 'true religion', a saviour of her people's beliefs from the anti-christ of Rome.

nicolas-hilliard-man-amongst-roses'The Cult of Elizabeth' alludes to so many facts, events and names that it shouldn't really be seen as an introduction to the Elizabethan age. If you're interested in this, I would recommend 'The Elizabethan World Picture' as a start.

Roy Strong's book starts off with a look at the art that represented the Queen, that was done in honour of the Queen or, done to honour good works in serving the crown, showing how art in this age should be taken as symbolic and idealistic, and never representative of a single event. Art in this age did not take perspective into account, nor did it understand scale or reality: representations were more about the subjective experience of the onlooker than about any reality.

Strong looks at The Procession Portrait, initially thought to be representative of Elizabeth attending the marriage of one of her courtiers, and shows that it is really a subjective representation of Elizabeth in the context of her court. Showing all the most important people who surrounded her during the final years of her reign, it concerns Elizabeth the Triumphant and the 'dance of state'. Nicholas Hilliard's Young Man Among Roses comes next, and Strong describes the chivalry with which Queen Elizabeth's knights honoured her, as their favourite and most beautiful, yet unattainable, woman, pointing to various portraits of the Queen and explaining the symbolism within them. Finally, a look at Sir Henry Unton's memorial portrait is the perfect portrayal of Elizabethan attitudes to art, subjectivity, and honourable deeds.

The final chapters show how the workings of the court ensured Elizabeth's reign for so many years. Firstly, Elizabeth's Accession Day was celebrated by the entire nation. No governmental legislation demanded such festivities, but they were undertaken by the masses in every major city, in churches, and even in small towns. The revelries reached such a pitch, particularly after Britain defeated the Spanish Armada, that orthodox Protestants began to worry that the 'worship' of the Queen was comparable to the Catholic worship of Mary. Secondly, on Accession Day, elaborate tourneys were held in the honour of the Queen by her knights. These occasions saw the Queen's knights put on Masques in her honour before tilting in the lists with the aim of gaining her favour. Finally, The Order of the Garter was pursued as a way to instil chivalrous codes among the pageantry and reinforce the medieval feudal hierarchies.

'The Cult of Elizabeth' is an excellent choice if you'd like to expand your knowledge of the workings of Elizabethan England. The only drawback to the edition I read was that none of the artworks were in colour.

{Image credits: Elizabeth I Rainbow Portrait - Attributed to Isaac Oliver - http://www.marileecody.com/gloriana/elizabethrainbow1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3074044
Young Man Among Roses - Nicholas Hilliard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Procession Picture Attributed to Robert Peake the elder - http://tfeanda.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/elizabeth-i-her-people-national-portrait-gallery-london/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31801577}

August 31, 2016

DIY || Crochet Daisy Chain

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It's officially Spring tomorrow and there's nothing prettier than a daisy chain! While I made this for Emma when she was still little, you can follow my instructions to create a crocheted daisy chain, which you can make into a headband or bracelet. You can also simply make the single daisies on their own to use for other craft projects.

Note that you'll have to have a basic knowledge of crochet. If you're lacking in this department, check this link for help.

The size of the needle and the amount of yarn really depends on what kind of project you want to finish. I used remnants and would say I used about half a 50g ball for two bracelets, a necklace, and a headband (just a longer version of the bracelet), as well as some single daisies.

How to make the bracelet:

Start with a slip knot.
Ch 13.
Insert needle into 9th chain and pull thread through to make a circle or loop.
**Ch 6.
Insert needle in centre, pull thread through, ch 1.
Rep four more times.
Ch 7.
Insert into 4th chain, pull thread through, ch 1.
Rep from ** twice.
Ch 16.

completed-braceletTo finish off, you can crochet a bead onto the end using a simple slip stitch or create a knot. Then turn the first set of chain stitches on themselves to create a loop. If you are doing the beaded or knotted version, you will need to ensure the loop is the correct fit for the bead or knot. 
You can also add another two or three daisies, extending your final chain for about 12cm, or more if you prefer, so you can simply wind the bracelet around your wrist or finish off with the knot or bead to make a headband.


How to make the necklace:

Start with a slip knot.
Ch 10.
Join 10th chain with first.
Ch 44.
Needle into 40th chain, pull thread through and ch 1.
Work as for bracelet between ** five times.
Ch 41.
Attach bead or make knot.
Finish off.


Let me know how it goes! I would love to see your finished results!