Notes from The Bridge: I’m just on the phone…


When I devised my survival in the workplace courses I asked employers which new-employee behaviours most bugged them. Cellphone and telephone usage topped the list.

I once joined a company at which there worked a recently appointed assistant by the name of Amy*. Amy’s job was to, well, assist myself and another, which she would do in a so-so fashion, when she wasn’t busy yakking on the phone.

Now Amy wasn’t a naturally devious person and she adhered to the company rule of not making personal calls during working hours. So she got her boyfriend, father, best mate to call her; either on her cellphone or the landline. Brilliant. But what Amy, and the company, forgot to factor in was the hidden cost.

I did a quick sum: if Amy was paid R7 500per month and spent an estimated 60 minutes of her eight-hour day on personal calls, then she was flushing R937.50 of the company’s money down the toilet. This was money she was being paid, but was not earning.

As this was a small company and everyone reported directly to the CEO, I brought this to her attention and she suggested – quite reasonably – that I manage the situation. I suggested – equally reasonably – that such challenges might be avoided if she amended the company policy, but I’m not sure if that ever happened.

After another day of observing – and hearing – Amy’s behaviour I stopped practicing conflict avoidance and recommended that she keep her personal calls for her lunch break. Her response? ‘I like to eat and read my book at lunch time.’ I then mentioned that she was wasting valuable work time; to which she responded that she was quite capable of talking and working. If this was the case I might have conceded the point, but her work wasn’t of a high standard and she needed all the help she could get to improve matters. She was most unhappy when I pointed this out, and spent the next twenty minutes outside, on her cellphone, telling her boyfriend what a monster I was. (I’m not making this up.)

Another matter I raised was that no one was able to talk to her while she was on the phone. I couldn’t ask for her assistance, and clients and colleagues were getting  tired of leaving voice messages.

I was brought up to not interrupt people while they were on the phone – regardless of their age or position – so I found it extremely difficult to walk up to her and instruct her to terminate her call. I needn’t have worried about being rude: when I did attempt to do so, she turned her back and carried on talking. On one occasion I even resorted to emailing her a ‘please come and speak to me when you’ve finished talking to your dad’. Amy was furious; utterly indignant that I’d dare make such demands. What was I thinking?

If you’re now convinced that Amy was in fact the monster and I should have been a whole lot tougher, think on this: Amy truly believed she was entitled to jabber away on the phone – as long as she wasn’t the one running up the phone bill. She firmly believed that to suggest otherwise was unreasonable. And she firmly believed that grass would be softer on the other side, so she left to seek her fortune.

Sadly, unless Amy gets her act together, she won’t find her fortune. She’ll hop from job to job, leaving before she’s accumulated enough skills to move vertically rather than horizontally. She will continue to waste company resources and she will remain under-productive. As long as she refuses to accept that business rules are often not the same as her social rules, she will hold herself back.

When I tell students this story, I make it about them: what they can learn and how they can become more productive; how they can benefit from playing by the house rules. But managers and employees also have a responsibility to ensure that the rules make sense and are clearly communicated.

Next week: Bugbear #2 Punctuality and time management.

*Amy isn’t her real name.

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He pushed my button!


image: toptenz.net

I was one of the lucky 98 000 who attended the U2 concert last night. And I wouldn’t have missed the fist fight for anything.

Not that I enjoy violence; generally it reduces me to tearfulness and trembling. As it did last night. But it was an acute reminder that there are raging bulls in our midst – and it doesn’t take much to set them off.

It happened more or less like this (I was four rows back from the action and refused to stand on my seat for a better view, although my inner savage was tempted; so the facts and the truth might not entirely align):

There was a chap sitting on the steps who did something to raise the ire of a burly little bugger sitting to his right, one row in front. The BLB then rose out of his seat, crashed through family members and complete strangers all the better to beat the bejesus out of the chap on the steps. And before you could say ‘Bono saves’ all hell broke loose; with good guys trying to tear them apart, bad guys egging them on, and everyone straining to get a better view. The good guys managed to get the BLB back into his seat while his wife tried to placate him in a manner that suggested she’d done this before. But he was having none of it and, the second he was released, he hurled himself over the seats to plant his fists where they longed to be. By now most of the women were wiping away tears and spilt beer and the men had formed two distinct clans: ‘Someone get that idiot out of here’ and ‘Fight! Fight!’

The former won and within minutes tattooed security guys in muscle-sculpting red t-shirts politely accosted him and firmly led him, protesting and bristling, up the steps until he was adjacent to me. At which point he uttered the words that explained everything: ‘He pushed my button.’

And I looked into his raddled, petulant face and saw him for what he was: an undisciplined, frustrated, angry, out of control overgrown toddler. A man who really wasn’t a man at all.

I felt deeply sorry for his wife and family. How mortifying to have your husband/father lose his rag at this glorious love-fest. How hideous to have to constantly tiptoe ’round his highness in case anyone else should ever push his button. How mind-blowingly infuriating to miss U2 because you now have to go and pick up the pieces.

I would have taken his car keys and told him I’d bail him out in the morning. Or not.

How was the concert? Outstanding. Amadou & Mariam blew me away with their smart, funky, wild Malian rock. Springbok Nude Girls gave me and my oke a chance to buy beers and smoke (sorry Arno, but it just ain’t my thing). And U2… Well picture a monstrous quadrupedal crustacean spaceship washed with a constantly morphing kaleidoscope of light and images while a modest moon sidles across the open sky above Soccer City. Add a flawless delivery of perfect, familiar sound, sucking in the audience like Papal devotees drunk on beer and revelations. Chuck in a sneaky dollop of our darling Madiba, a witty measure of a chuckling Tutu and the gift that is Hugh Masekela and you have one of the cleverest, least subtle and most enjoyable audio visual masterpieces of the decade.

I loved it.

Stephen Watson: The music in the ice


My habit of alternating trashy with ‘good’ began at the age of four-and-a-bit when I started reading Rice Crispies boxes. I think my first realisation of the power of words came upon spelling out ‘Free inside!’ which I considered a good read, along with The Swallows and the Amazons, anything by Agatha Christie, and Little Women. I still read Agatha (now sadly in the trashy pile) and still want to be Jo March. I no longer, however, want to get lost downstream with nothing more than an apple to sustain me while being pursued by Nazi spies; though I do admire people who do.

Having completed my umpteenth reread of whodunit, The Hollow, I recently embarked on Stephen Watson’s soul-stirring The Music in the Ice, a compilation of essays ‘On Writers, Writing & Other Things’. That may sound a tad demanding for those of you who’d rather go to bed with Michael Connolly than with Margaret Atwood, but if you’re one of those who would happily retire with either, here’s why you’ll love it.

It feels good.

The cover, I mean. I’m not fussed about what a book looks like: often the most enticing covers hide the least appealing reads, but the texture of a cover is important; you will, after all, be holding and stroking it for days to come. The Music in the Ice is as alluring as the freshly shaven cheek of a lover: kissably smooth with the merest hint of rough (assuming you’re into men). And the pages have their own appeal: grainy ivory with a whiff of old dust. None of that slippery, ice-white crap from that Cape-based publisher who should have stuck to text books.

It’ll give you something to talk about.

The first essay I dived into was on Leonard Cohen. I’ve often defended Leonard to my male friends who are all convinced he’s a suicidal groaner who can hold neither his liquor nor his wimmin. No! I cry. He’s a lover, a poet, an artist who truly, truly loves and understands women (ie, me). Bollocks, they mutter; eager to say more but silenced by my blind devotion and brandished corkscrew.

Seems we’re both right. In ‘Leonard Cohen & Longing’, Watson writes:

“If Leonard Cohen, in short, was avid, he was also in matters of the heart intensely ambivalent, even grievously divided. In later years his self-understanding would be acute: ‘I think the experience of love is that you dissolve your sentries and your battalions for a moment,’ he remarked in an interview in 1995. ‘Your heart opened and of course you’re completely panicked because you’re used to guarding this organ with your life.’ As a young man and even later however, he would not always command that panic. If he was loved, he was often incapable or returning that love. If he considered himself a ‘student of love’, he was forced to concede that it was a love that he himself was never able to give.”
I have come to a new understanding of Cohen: still groaning at seventy-five and still one of life’s gifts to poetry and love.

It’ll broaden your horizons.

I’m a little nervous writing anything about Camus, as my experience is limited to the obligatory reading of The Plague and The Rebel when I was plagued by rebellion in my late teens. But that’s not to say that I – or you for that matter – shouldn’t read about him. The essay, ‘The Heart of Albert Camus’ peels back the life of this serial fornicator, son of an illiterate Algerian laundress, and ‘one of the great articulators of the existential and political dilemmas of twentieth-century humanity…’

In writing of Camus ‘bestseller’, The Outsider, Watson tells us: ‘It harbours, still, something of the charisma of that which is all paradox. Few novels, even in the twentieth century, have been more studiedly, casually cool – thus answering to the perennial need of the young to armour themselves in an emotional style. Few have been so adroit in depicting how people avoid the pitfalls of meaninglessness (as well as meaning) by taking nothing too seriously. At the same time, almost no other book remains so passionate in its rebellion against the false gods of religion, so concerted in its attempt to find this mortal world enough.’

Those words alone made me place my order for The Outsider – and this is perhaps the greatest gift that any writer can give: to set a reader on a new path of discovery. For me, on reading Stephen Watson, this has not been only a discovery of new books, but the discovery of myself; particularly on reading his essay on ‘The Rhetoric of Violence In South African Poetry’. For the first time I came to understand what it has meant to me growing up in post-colonial South Africa; how my thoughts, attitudes and actions have been shaped – not only by the pervasive ‘violence’ – that word that ‘suddenly acquires the status of a new verbal deity’ – but by belonging in a state of not belonging.

Argh! Enough angst for one morning. I now need to reread the penultimate essay in this rich collection: ‘Hannah Hunter Watson’ – the author’s letter to his daughter. It will inspire you to think even more softly of your own offspring.

My recommendations for enhancing this reading experience (feel free to add your own):
Best place to read this book: at Moyo Zoo Lake; it’ll keep your mind off the non-existent service.

What to drink while reading it: personally, if I’m in the money I’ll go for a Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2008 – on ice, you won’t want to keep jumping up to go to the fridge. If I’m broke, a nice pot of English Breakfast tea will do just fine.

And to eat: one-handed food is advisable, so Kate Sidley’s guacamole and nachos with the wine, or Moyo’s chocolate brownies with the tea.

Best place to buy it: Kalk Bay Books, Main Rd, Kalk Bay is one of the best places in the world to buy – and be.

Read about Stephen Watson here, and here.

Published by Penguin
EAN: 9780143026907
Recommended retail price: R200

(This review first appeared on http://www.newstime.co.za/column/GALLIMAUFRY/ALL_BOOKED_UP/92/2324/)

Thava: South Indian delights in the ’burbs


Where, in Johannesburg, can you take your fussy vegetarian daughter, your carnivorous boyfriend and your discerning son – and still fulfil your need for the ultimate prawn curry; all without overlooking a car park or breaking the bank?

Thava, situated on The Avenue, Oaklands is a fairly recent discovery that I now think of as my upmarket local (my downmarket local being The Radium). The food is, quite simply, sublime. And the very clever tapas menu means you can have a taste of many dishes, allowing a satisfying sense of gluttony without causing bodily harm.

The dosa – a gluten free, dhal based, light-as-a-feather pancake filled with chicken khorma – is a particular favourite; as are the heavenly vegetable patties. The tandoori line fish had my son grinning and cooing like a contented tourist and my boyfriend still reminisces fondly about the lamb rogan josh with mint and coriander raita (sheer heaven). My daughter is determined to return as often as it takes to enjoy every combination of all eleven of the vegetarian curries and the various starters.

And that prawn curry, fragrant with tamarind and coconut? Well that was my motivation for writing this review.

But all these culinary delights would mean little without the right location. I don’t know about you, but I strongly object to eating while inhaling car fumes. I also dislike having to trawl through a clanging, gleaming shopping mall to find the comfort of food.

Thava is situated at the quiet end Norwood; where Grant Avenue becomes simply ‘The Avenue’. While the interior of the restaurant offers a combination of contemporary and classical Indian style (which blends well with the beautiful carved beams; a legacy from the previous occupant) the best tables are on the enclosed balcony, where you overlook window boxes, trees and suburbia. It’s all delightfully welcoming, pleasing and uncluttered. There is also plenty of parking and a dedicated car guard.

Another bugbear of mine is tiny tables – the curse of shopping mall and pavement establishments – upon which glasses, side plates, cellphones and napkins all vie for a space. Thava has spacious, linen draped tables perfectly proportioned for platter after plate of sambals, sauces, breads and courses. This makes for a most relaxing dining experience, one which you’re reluctant to see the end of; which can only be good for business.

I’m trying to think of something negative to say, but all I can come up with is that, while the headwaiter is splendid, a couple of the other waiters are a tad inexperienced and not entirely comfortable speaking English; but somehow this serves only to add to the charm.

www.thava.co.za

info@thava.co.za

011 728 2826

The man in the mirror


The silver framed Edwardian shaving mirror was Julian’s most prized possession; not because it held any sentimental value, but rather that he felt perfectly at ease in its presence. If you’d asked him why, he wouldn’t have been able to tell you, but the reason is simple: it was as familiar to him as his own self.

The mirror was beautifully wrought, respectably tarnished, somewhat dented and as neat and clear and bright and functional as an aging mirror could be.

This treasured item rested on the mahogany shelf in Julian’s spacious bathroom alongside his Eau Savage shaving soap and brush and his Mach III razor. As Julian lathered the soap he would hum to himself; sometimes it was The March of the Toreadors and other times it would be an annoying Britney Spears number that had lodged stubbornly inside his head. This morning it was Rod Stewart’s Sailing, which was also annoying, but not as much so as Ms Spears. As Julian applied the lather to his neck he lifted his chin and gazed into the mirror; as he tilted his head from side to side adding more swirls and daubs of creamy foam, his eyes would remain fixed and any observer would assume that he was watching himself go about his morning ablutions, taking care not to miss a patch of prickly skin or skim the sides of his neat yet unfashionable moustache. But that observer would be incorrect; for Julian saw nothing as he gazed into the mirror. Or rather, he saw things that were not those in which any observer could share.

When Julian looked into that mirror his face instantly receded and his mind leaned out, and from it he would conjure dreams or plans or storylines from childhood books. Sometimes he would summon up work matters that needed his attention, other times it was his mother, gently nagging him to call and invite himself to tea. All of these things and more would appear before him; but never his own face. Never his own form.

Sometimes other mirrors – in hotel rooms or gentlemen’s outfitters – permitted this private miracle. Other less accommodating mirrors were to be avoided whenever possible.

Julian believed he was invisible. If asked to describe himself he would say ‘I am grey and invisible’ and one might argue ‘No! You are not. Your eyes are olive-leaf green, your hair as silver as rain in the street light, your skin still has a golden sheen from your week of tiger fishing on the Zambezi and the freckles on your hands are constellations of copper stars. Your tie, Julian, is as red as a bloody fire engine! How could you not see this?’ But you’d be wasting your words because not only had Julian decided that he was invisible, he preferred it that way, as it often did away with the need to hide. And hiding is what he liked to do – not from the world per se, but rather from the people that populated it. Oh, he could be as sociable as the next chap if he chose to be – at the club, sipping whisky at a riverside lodge, entertaining valued clients – but if he chose not to be, and this happened in the presence of most people, he would simply disappear.

It was only when Julian was at home or at work that he felt truly present, but even then he measured himself by the objects that surrounded him. He would spend peaceful evenings chopping vegetables and stirring sauces and then would gaze around his Italian kitchen and think to himself: I am a man who cooks. He would complete the latest travelogue or political treatise, place it in his bookcase with quiet satisfaction and acknowledge: I am a man who is informed. Sometimes, after wining and dining a lady he would look at her and think to himself: In this seat sits a man who can share the company of pleasant women. But he rarely dated any one more than twice as they all shared the same annoying habit of layering him with attributes and fancies that he knew not to exist; creating, in effect, a picture of a visible man. Or even worse, they were determined to find out what lay beneath his linen and wool armour. And that would never do. (He had decided that his latest dinner date would be his last when the charming brunette leaned across the table and whispered that men should really remove their socks before their trousers as half-naked men do look funny with their socks on.)

Why was Julian this way, you ask yourself. What way, would be his answer. Is there any other way for me? And you might reply: Yes! The way of being one with your flesh; the way of facing your reflection and saying ‘you are me and I am you and we belong together’ despite the receding hairline, nobbly knees or whatever else it is that you find less than perfect about yourself.

But Julian wasn’t like that, although he believed that everyone else was; that all others had made the connection between flesh and spirit or body and heart and were happy enough with both to keep harmony in the ranks. Julian, quite simply, did not hold his corporeal form in high regard and so chose to do little more than sustain it, groom it and cover it. Apart from that, it was something of a traitor; not at all like the thinking, romantic, witty and rather brilliant being inside.

Still, the outer, invisible self did occasionally feel lonely. As did the inner man, but he was easier to assuage with books, fishing, dinner and the news. The poor tangible man had very little comfort; but why should he when he didn’t really exist?

Sometimes Julian was aware of how unfair he was on his outer self, but the alternative was… just too difficult to contemplate.

******

This morning, as on most weekday mornings, Julian walked from his apartment, along the cobbled lane, all the way up the high street and into the arcade below his offices. He enjoyed this walk whatever the weather and strode with absent-minded confidence past pedestrians, fire hydrants and lamp posts. It was only as he entered the brightly lit cave of commerce that his step faltered slightly and his eyes darted furtively. He didn’t know he was doing this and would have denied it if you’d pointed it out; but it was so.

The entrance to the arcade was cluttered with tie, sock and sandwich stalls, the newsstand and Vida e Caffè, after which came the small breathing space of Camilla’s Floral Creations to one side and GadZounds! to the other. Both of these shops remained closed until ten o’clock on weekday mornings.

Adjacent to the flower shop were the lifts to the upper level offices, the doors of which were clad in – and surrounded by – gleaming, golden, relentless mirrors. Opposite the lifts and abutting the audio shop was Armitage’s Africa Gallery, glass-fronted home to a kaleidoscope of contemporary and traditional pieces and workplace of the grave yet fair Elaine, a woman who was more of a Titian creation than a Gakere girl.

Mr Armitage insisted that Elaine open the gallery at nine o’clock so as not to miss the ‘Rolex trade’ on its way to work. Elaine had no objection to this as she liked to ease into her day with a decent cup of coffee, and was particularly partial to one of the trade; a man whose presence when he’d recently been absent for a week had been replaced by repeated viewings of Robert Donat as Mr Chips.

It was on the Jerusalem stone tiled crux between art and lifts that Julian found himself stranded five mornings a week. He knew it was coming and he was always prepared. His tactic was simple: stride to lifts, push brass button, face arcade entrance – avoiding all contact with mirrored wall – and gaze carelessly into the distance while waiting for the rescuing ping or the arrival of a colleague. 

Elaine had been eyeing Julian almost every weekday morning for the three months since she had started as Assistant Art Consultant at Armitage’s. At first she’s been amused by his regular pattern of studied nonchalance, then fascinated, then moved. By the end of the first month his regular ritual had her mesmerised and by half way through month two she was discreetly stalking him, coinciding her second coffee break with his first and taking to hovering next to the newsstand at his usual home time.

Sometimes he glanced at her, once he half smiled and turned slightly pink, but his reserve only served to increase her fascination. He, quite simply, wasn’t like anyone else. He neither strutted nor posed, nor did he boldly insert himself into a space the way other men did: his movements were functional rather than considered. At first she had thought him shy, but then she chanced upon him eating calamari with a clutch of colleagues at the dimly lit Espelho and he was practically the life of the party; yet all his gestures were aimed inwards, Elaine noticed, and his exclamations were punctuated by unconsciously self-conscious glances into far corners.

It was at this point that she felt her heart drifting out towards him and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

Today, Julian’s usual journey was thwarted by a swarm of removal men blundering up and down the stairs and hogging one of the two lifts. Never mind, he was a patient man and, pushing the button with authority, he turned to face the entrance, but so annoying was the flurry of rug bearers, carton carriers and furniture jugglers that he was forced to turn to the mirrored wall and there, before he could stop himself, he caught the reflected eye of Elaine. Quickly he blinked and cast his eyes to the painting alongside her: a psychedelic drama of barbed wire and fire. It was too much, but as he shifted his vision he again caught Elaine’s eye and it seemed that no matter where he looked, there she was looking back at him. 

He blinked. And blinked again, harder this time, until suddenly she disappeared and all he could see was his own reflection: a tall, stooped man in a navy suit, white shirt and crimson tie. He dragged his eyes up his body and connected with his head: his still tanned, tense and lean face, his worried mouth beneath trimmed moustache, his alert grey-green eyes hidden behind silver rimmed spectacles, his closely cropped hair. He made eye contact and nodded slightly: a greeting to the grey and invisible man. Then the lift arrived and Julian stepped into safety.

Elaine gazed after him from her cocoon of colour, her cardboard coffee cup trembling in her hand.

He doesn’t see me, she whispered to herself. How is it that he doesn’t see me? Perhaps I am invisible.

(For M.C.)

At Hennie and Rosie’s Wedding


At Hennie and Rosie’s wedding,

floral girls danced

in silver sandals

and silver balls rolled across lawns as

neat as napes of

dapper beaux.

Streamers flew liked ribbons

of paint

from boys’ hands

into the sky.

And Hennie and Rosie

gazed into each other’s

eyes;

smiles as wide as their hopes

and dreams.

At Hennie and Rosie’s wedding

tears brimmed from eyes overflowing

with memories,

and children caught glimpses

of futures

as clear and bright as ormolu

dangling

from ladies’ ears.

Men gazed in wonder

at the next generation;

wondering where life

had gone

and what was to come.

And Hennie and Rosie

danced;

their touch as firm

and light as a kiss –

and their smiles as wide

as the mountains.

– Shelagh Foster

2.1.11

First eland


When winter comes

I feel and breathe

the air with desperate gratitude.

My dreams of space and light and sky

become a walk in solitude.

The hoar crisp stalks of fresh burnt grass,

the icy winds, the distant hills

all call me

to their sacred space

where lungs expand and

feet embrace

the awkward path,

which stirs my mind

to thoughts of fresh-born

attitude.

When winter comes

I draw it close

to join me in my stride.

My wind-chilled limbs, my head held high

all relish in the find

as there, beyond relentless rise

those creatures stand with fearless gaze

‘Respect’ they say

‘Or we will flee’

and this I heed

for they are me.

and my reward

for months of heat

is beasts, so splendid

none compete…

And I hear it

beneath my panting breath,

that secret sound

below the wind,

those subtle clicks,

a pause, and more…

And I raise my eyes

to the airbrushed sky

and thank God

for this holy ground.

The dumbing-down of children


I’ve been thinking a great deal about education lately: about why children are taught the things they are taught; why they aren’t taught to think; why so many children don’t enjoy school; why they leave school more clueless than when they started.

As is often the case when your mind is stretching along less explored paths, signposts pop up reassuring you that you are, indeed, heading in the right direction.

This was today’s signpost: one of the many gifts from TED.com. It arrived in my inbox the very moment that I was wondering how I might do things differently, should my journey into education reach my desired destination.

http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms.html?utm_source=newsletter_weekly_2011-02-01&utm_campaign=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email

I would love to know your thoughts. (And I would love to know how to embed video, but that will come.)

Walking with buffalo


How doing the unthinkable can change your mind forever.

Walking with buffalo

They say it can’t be done; or, to be more honest, they don’t say it can. Game rangers, bush-whacking story tellers, grim-faced lodge hosts and other regalers of wildlife lore all warn: do not get out of your vehicle if you happen to be within lowing distance of a buffalo. And, if you should accidentally do so, get back in your vehicle and get the hell out of there swiftly, calmly and permanently.

So the possibility of deliberately initiating a close encounter with these powerful, magnificent and notorious beasts was no kind of an option until I met Jannie Jurgens, freelance trail guide at Kruger’s Wolhuter* wilderness camp.

He first suggested such a thing not 24-hours after we’d been charged by a woes, rain-befuddled white rhino bull and had lived to tell the tale. I discovered the distinct difference between fact and truth during that little adventure: the fact was that the beast was no more than four meters from me; the truth was that it felt like one. I also discovered that believing you’re about to be trampled do death by a four-legged tank is not as scary as having a calm, polite hijacker put a gun to your head. Funny that.

But back to the buffalo.

Our little troop of intrepid walkers consisted of one charming and handsome German couple, the witty and delightful Dutch siblings, a sweet and serious German photographer, my oke, me, Jannie, and his sidekick, John. By now we considered ourselves pretty au faix with rhinos and were used to our hearts leaping and adrenaline pumping every time we came over a rise to find yet another cow and calf. We’d even started joking that there were more bloody rhinos than impala at Wolhuter. You could sense our collective pride as we quietly trod our way in single file through the dense bush and over the recently burned veld; our silence broken only by the odd crunch, gasp and camera click.

Things changed when Jannie suddenly bristled like an excited Jack Russell and pointed to a hundred-strong buffalo herd not fifty meters from where we were admiring the sickle bush lanterns. I noted the fanatical gleam in his eye as he whispered, ‘I want you to relax. You must trust me. Keep quiet, stick close together and do as I tell you.’

I must interject here to tell you that he’d already shared his tale of sitting down like an English picnicker in a cow pasture, surrounded by hundreds of tranquilly grazing wild bovines. ‘Nutter’ was the word that came to mind.

But Jannie was the man with the gun and John didn’t roll his eyes at the boss’s orders, so we did as we were told and followed our guides closer to the now curious and seething throng.

I was quietly terrified, as was the pretty German woman, her eyes rolling like a nervous dog’s and her body as tense as stick of biltong. We took ten or so steps and then stopped. The buffalo followed our lead. We took ten more steps, as did they, and so on until the gap narrowed to the point where I knew they must smell my fear and hear the blood coursing through my veins. But as we drew closer, I noticed the most astonishing thing: while some of the bulls and larger cows were still checking us skeef, others had started chatting among themselves, even beginning to nonchalantly graze. One little chap was gawking at us with a lack of self-consciousness akin to a child spotting a goth at a church fete.

And so it came to the point were we were not ten metres from the herd.

‘What life is this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare. No time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheep or cows’**. It was like that. A mutual staring fest. And as I stared, I felt the deep emotion rising in me; a sense of raw wonder and gratitude so great I felt I might faint. I was no longer afraid. Wary, yes, but unafraid of these humungous creatures who could, if they would, maul and trample me to sausage meat.

I don’t know how long we all stood there. Probably only minutes. But they were some of the most wonderful minutes of my life. I felt that I had conquered Everest and found the Holy Grail. Then we quietly stepped away and the buffalo continued on their journey.

Magic.

Of course I wouldn’t now stroll up to a daga boy and ask him how it’s hanging. I’m still extremely wary of daga boys***. But I will seek out the opportunity to repeat my encounter with buffalo. Or perhaps lion next time.

*www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/tourism/activities/wilderness/default.php. You can request that Jannie be your guide. It won’t be a dull experience.

**By William Henry Davies

***Lone mature bull with attitude issues. http://www.outdoorphoto.co.za/forum/photopost/showphoto.php?photo=239723

(This column first appeared on www.newstime.co.za.)