Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

SO I found my flahsdrive! turns out I left it at work... so Christmas morning after going to say Hi to my grandmother (who can't join us today because she's not able to climb in and out of cars any more) and dropping off a DVD so that she would have something to watch and won't be all unhappy, then rushing off to church to see that some of the kids that I sued to babysit are now looknig older than me... then I rushed in to nuiversity to take the mp3s that I sorted through the other day home to amke an MP3 CD for LAra who just got an MP3/CD system for her car for Christmas.

So I figured, while I am probably the only person on campus, besides some rather disgruntled-looking security guards I might as well take a minute to say MERRY CHRISTMAS to all you people out there!

so MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Carols and I wish I was still a narcoleptic

So on Saturday night I ended up taking some fudge across to Chief Goth's house and playing guitar hero again. Lara was there as well as Laurin-of-the-spastic-colon who once AGAIN invited herself along. She has to leave early at least, to collect her friend Keegan, who she swears is actually female, but judging by the fact that a)we've only ever known male Keegans and b)she only got home at about 3am we're all pretty sure that there's something she's not telling us. In a rare moment of shared bitchiness, Lara and I waved goodbye while screaming out a fantastic rendition of "I kissed a girl" which, while not particularly melodious, was very well received - at least by our audience of Chief Goth and the next door neighbours.

We also watched some of a weird horror movie which was hysterical (to me), weird (to Chief Goth) and terrifying (to La). It was very weird trying to watch a movie with so many different reactions, and so we decided to skip Buzz and go straight to guitar hero. I was a lot more relaxed and managed to kick some serious butt, beating Cameron again as well as his friend Sean. I felt quite bad because apparently Cam was quite upset when he got home, but he liked the fudge and I promised to make him a batch so I hope that makes him feel better.

Other than that I worked yesterday morning, but was more just sitting around like a zombie, and at least it was quiet and there wasn't much to do. We're in the middle of a serious heatwave at the moment though and our air conditioning is broken so I ended up going to nearby restaurant and begging a bucket of ice from them, which Josh and I finished off in less than an hour.

Last night was the big carol service at church. I rebelled a bit in my own way - for once I arrived on time, I usually go late to skip the singing which annoys me, but considering it was a carol service unless I 'got the time wrong' and missed it I wasn't given much of a choice, but I wore a skull-and-crossbones necklace and some rather hectic makeup and didn't talk to anyone. As someone once said, I have no problem with God, I just have issues with the fan club.

The service was actually pretty cool. I usually hate carols, a result of being forced to play/sing them every year since I was about 6, but I think I might be moving past that now and I had fun singing them and listening to the choir battling through some rather tricky stuff. It was also nice to watch all the people around me and see how they reacted to various bits of music or changes in accompaniment. Adding in the fact that I am now FINISHED Christmas shopping, I feel like the spirit of Christmas is moving in now that I don't have much to complain about. All I have to do now is help clean the house in preparation for relatives, put up Christmas decorations and wrap presents. In no particular order.

So after all that I went home, made dinner for my family (they're all very involved at church and wouldn't be getting home for a while) and collapsed on my bed. And didn't sleep. Yes, that's right. I've gone full circle from narcolepsy (which, despite all the shortcomings left me refreshed and alert most of the time) straight to insomnia. I finally got to sleep about about 5am and only managed to wake up at 10am. So now I'm thinking seriously about taking a nap over my keyboard until my meeting in about 10 minutes.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

So I blinked and...

It's less than a week before Christmas! When on earth did that happen? As always, I had a bunch of goals for before Christmas, which are going to become 'before New Years' which will quickly descend into new years resolutions...

In the spirit of recovering from fieldwork, narcolepsy, diving and life in general, December has vanished into a haze of memories, mostly involving a few special friends and inane games (except for guitar hero, which I still love, but don't rock at nearly as much, but which will never be inane in my book).

So anyway last week I got to go for a real University Lunch, which basically involved going for lunch and then going back to university in time to pack up for the evening. It was fun and I do hope we'll be doing it again soon! I have seen what used to be a special friendship fall into dust (not including me this time, but I am saddened and definitely affected by it). Went Christmas shopping with friends, which was a lot more fun than shopping on my own, but took several hours longer. On the plus side, besides having Luke there to giggle at the random men stripping/walking around in girls' tanktops, kids with mullets... it also meant that we got to have a coffee break in the middle! Usually on my own I shop frantically, then go home and collapse. The injection of caffeine into the middle of the expedition made it infinitely more bearable.

The much anticipated 'Goth Clubbing Night' fell away when chief Goth broke her leg. It was sad and I hope she feels better soon as we played guitar hero last night and she was looking sore and unhappy and generally miserable about life. In true goth fashion, she could have gone clubbing anyway, as she doesn't dance, and her awesomely-cool leg brace thingie means that she has an excuse to wear a scary high shoe on the other foot so that she doen't hurt herself hobbling around, but I'm tired and I can't stay out late and to tell the truth, I'd prefer a nice evening with her and a couple of other friends arbing around (and playing guitar hero).

Guitar hero for the second time was a bit disappointing. I wasn't the incredible player anymore. I still beat everyone, but it was expected this time and not nearly so cool. I also felt that I wasn't playing very well, but I've also reached the point where playing anything (other than Raining Blood which is MY song) at the easy level is boring, so now I play on medium which I don't do nearly as well but at least I don't feel bored and cranky.

I got a really awesome Christmas bonus from the vet this morning! It was very unexpected and totally awesome and will go straight into my camera fund (I am upgrading to an SLR early next year and I'm so ecited I could explode!) and I managed to avoid any guilt becasue I had made them fudge as well as bought stickers for the vets' kids. Hannah Montana all the way!

That's all for me at the moment, must go off and get ready for another fantastic evening of guitar hero!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Once again... why do I do this to myself?

So on Thursday night I headed off to movies with Luke, Duncan, Dave and Athena. Bearing in mind that this is the first movie I've been to since Batman (I fell asleep in the car-chase scene - maybe narcolepsy was beginning a long time before I noticed it?) I was pretty excited, but ended up screeching into the centre exhausted having rushed home, rushed off to collect Elvis, rushed to return diving gear and then rushed to go and meet Luke to grab dinner before the movie. In my defence I managed to only be about 45 minutes alter than I'd planned and I managed to sneak food into the movie-house so all was not lost (so for all guys out there, THAT is why we have bags. That and the fact that we feel an instinctive need to be prepared enough to survive on a desert island should it ever happen. More about this later).

We saw Madagascar 2 and I laughed the whole way through, but not enough to draw too many strange looks. Moderation and so on you know? When I got home at around 11pm or so I found myself nearly having a fainting fit in my bedroom. I sat down and had some water (it couldn't have been blood sugar as I'd had a massive blue slushie in the movie house) and decided that I had to take it easy for the next few days. All those good intentions...

To avoid being sucked into long long conversations with the other student in my lab, when I eventually dragged myself out of bed, dropped off Christmas presents and then stumbled into university I hid out in Luke's lab for the afternoon, and managed to get a lot of work done in not much time as well as helping him to write his first macro in visual basic. From there I went home and watched an episode of the x-files before heading off to my ex-work for the Christmas party. No, I wasn't going to egg them or anything, I just resigned over a year ago but still work there so I was invited to the party, and as they have a secret Santa I was kind of obliged to at least make an appearance.

I didn't anticipate staggering home well after midnight having laughed so hard I'm sure I tore a few stomach muscles. Lara was there and as usual the two of us went off on our own wavelength and ended up ripping everyone around us to shreds without them even noticing. The 'in my pants' game also made a glorious comeback, which was hilarious particularly (at the time) because we ended up running (literally) into a random restaurant at 11pm and settled down at a table next to a couple who were very obviously on their first date. It was fun to be completely immature for an evening!

The next morning I was totally exhausted and sat semi-comatose at the vet. Fortunately it seemed pretty quiet and I was able to help the few people who came in without needing to wake up too much. Then at about 10:30 6 separate clients walked in at exactly the same time. so I had to wake up to handle the chaos of dogs chasing cats, puppies escaping, crying people, people yelling and the phone ringing incessantly.

We only closed about an hour after closing time as people kept arriving and I haven't got the heart to turn away people who need dogfood or medication for their pets. Finally I managed to grab the phone between calls and switch it to answering machine mode and then cash up (for the third time) and sprint out the door with only an hour to spare before I had to meet Lara to go to her friend Storm's house. Storm is a huge One Republic and Maroon 5 fan, and as they were having a concert that night her friends had bought her a ticket and were surprising her with it that afternoon. Needless to say I arrived an hour and a half late and missed the surprise, as well as running off to the bathroom during dinner to put on makeup as according to Laurin (of the spastic colon) I looked 'totally worn out' (i.e. terrible).

The concert was awesome! I am not a maroon 5 or a one republic fan, but they had two of my favourite bands playing first as well as three little bands doing a battle of the bands type thing. The group that one definitely had the best bad, but their lead singer should be shot. One of the bands that I really wanted to see was really incredible. They aren't as much a band as two guys who DJ while playing about 5 different instruments each at various stages. It was amazing! Admittedly I was the only one in my immediate vicinity who even knew their music (and went ballistic, to many strange looks from the people around me) but by the end of their set everyone was going ballistic. at one point one of the guys was playing a little saxophone riff and we all started singing along, to the point where he was able to stop playing while we sang it back to him, over and over and over. His smile just got bigger and bigger and we got louder and louder. It must be amazing to have a huge arena with a good 20 thousand people in it singing your music back at you!

Once we got to the main acts I got through mostly on the strength that La and I have been to so many concerts together that we know when the other wants to dance like a moron/sing along/make snide comments or just be left alone to listen (that's usually more me than her). We also totally filled in Timbaland's part in Apologise (Eh! Eh!) which was awesome although we were nearly lynched a few times. Some of my students came to say hi, but I think I scared them a bit... We finished up at around 1am (having been standing/jumping around for a good 7 hours) and I headed over to Lara's house where she made me a huge mug of coffee and we ended up staying late talking crap. Like how that Bear guy said if you want to be rescued on a desert island and you have red lipstick you can write HELP with it. Of course that has its problems as (according to Lara) only sluts wear red lipstick therefore only sluts would be rescued, unless we were to start carrying it around as a precaution in case we were ever to end up stuck on a desert island. And that is how out bags get fuller and fuller!

Eventually she managed to shut me up long enough for her to go off to bed and I passed out in her room for about 5n hours until we got up and had breakfast with her mom. It was really awesome, sitting around eating snack-witches in out pyjamas while her mom recounted every episode she'd ever seen on national geographic (this is a relatively common reflex for most people when they find out that they've just met a zoologist). I felt like I was 15 again and it was awesome!

So after all that I went home and lay down for a nap before I had to get up and get some work done. I woke up about 7 hours later and had to rush off to church before rushing off to the ex-work to protect Lara from Laurin and get a movie. And then I settled in bed with my laptop (around 11ish) when Duncan decided that he's had enough to drink and that it would be a good time to call me. It was very entertaining but after about 40 minutes my mother started screaming at the computer so I had to help her. Turns out she was trying to talk to my aunt in the UK over Skype, but my aunt couldn't hear her. After I plugged the microphone in it was all fine though and I went off to bed.

So, to the title of this post, once again ti is morning, I am at university and I'm exhausted. Why do I keep doing this to myself? And why do my friends have to be so much fun that I can never go for 'an hour or so' as I promise myself every time so that I can go home and sleep? I am a lucky lucky person! Darn it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The crappiest miracle ever: a guest post

So the other day Luke and I were discussing random stuff, as we do, and somehow ended up talking about childbirth. So I begged and whined until he agreed to write a guest post on childbirth: the male perspective. While I am female, and should probably have very different perspectives, I must admit to agreeing to a lot of his points.

Anyway here it is:

The Crappiest Miracle Ever

I am forever grateful for the fact that I have testes. Apart from the obvious bonuses of being able to stand and pee, and never having to consider the pluses of buying sanitary pads with or without wings, there is the glaringly obvious forte of never having to give birth to a child.

I have given the idea a great deal of thought over the years and have come to the conclusion that I doubt that I will ever have children of my own. I love kids, they’re great! However, I can’t get over that little voice of social conscience in my head that reminds me just how many children there are in this world already and how many, particularly in South Africa given our current AIDS pandemic and the related orphan crisis, desperately need homes and families. So, in light of my internal Jiminy Cricket, I think it is safe to say that, should I someday decide to have kids, I will adopt.

But adoption is not the point of this post. This post is about carrying a baby for 9 months. It’s the male’s perspective on how grateful we are that we won’t ever have to do it. It’s about how much I admire women for baring the brunt of the continuation of our species.

While I am most definitely not against the procedures leading up to pregnancy, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the whole idea scares me! The thought of having a small creature growing inside of you is a little too close to something out of ‘Alien’. Interestingly enough, the developing embryo does behave like a parasite in many ways; sapping the mothers bodily resources for example. So while the ‘little miracle’ drains the mother’s life blood (almost literally…) she has the joy of lower back pain, a bladder that functionally mirrors that of a small rodent and the hormonal imbalances and associated mood swings of a psychotic.

Naturally, never having experienced this all, I’m giving a very one-sided view. But, on the plus side, women’s boobs get huge, which, I think we can all agree, is appreciated by all parties…

Then comes the exciting and delightful right of passage: the birth itself.

I never cease to be perplexed by the range of types of birth that one can select from. I remember seeing a documentary about several births that occurred simultaneously in several countries around the world. It was fascinating to watch but, aside from the stark social contrasts between the individuals shown in the different countries the range of ways it could be pulled off was fascinating! From the classic scenario of the gynaecologist taking a look and shrieking something like, ‘Oh sh*t! We’re gonna need help…like, NOW!’ to the water birth, the possibilities seem endless. The latter is a great cause for concern in my mind. The idea of spending a few hours in a large vat of warmed water, swirling with your own blood and faeces, doesn’t exactly leave me feeling like I need to bring a life into this world…

There are several aspects to the birthing process which I cannot fathom. Firstly, the need to dilate a hole, normally the size of a golf-ball to approximate a watermelon. That in itself must be agony, but, as if God hadn’t put females through enough, this often doesn’t happen and there are one of two possibilities; tearing of the tissues to make the hole big enough (voluntarily or otherwise) or a caesarean section.

You are not likely to find many individuals as squeamish as myself, and so naturally, the idea of tearing tissues freaks me out completely! Not only that but tearing tissues in your nether regions of all places! I take my hat off to any mother who has endured a natural birth!

I have heard from many people that the C-section is by far the best and easiest means of extracting the child from your innards. I was recently told by a friend that the stress of the birth process, an aspect that is lacking from the procedure of the C-section, is vital for the normal psychological development of the child as it grows later in life. This aside, I’ve always wondered about how good it is for a child to spend the first moments in it’s new world with all manner of pain medication coursing through the veins that it shares with it’s mother.

Bearing all this in mind, there are still people on this planet. That means that either we are so genetically hard-wired to procreate that we cannot stop ourselves, or that perhaps there is something to the bond formed between mother and child in jointly enduring the horrors of birth. I know, from discussions with my own family, that apparently, once you see your child, belting forth and covered in afterbirth, you cannot help but instantly fall in love with it. I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit that there is always a part of me that goes all ‘Awww…’ whenever I see a baby too so I can’t point any fingers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I don't feel like writing anything profound

So I figured I'd try out the video posting thing. Here is a segment form one of my favourite video-clips. It's from the desert mole-rat expedition 2 years ago (two years already?) and it features Luke and the German who took us to help her on fieldwork. Luke has an annoying and uncanny ability to sense when he's being filmed, but in this case the german had no idea... unfortunately she caught on pretty quickly and so a lot of the other clips came out slightly staged-ish.

This is real, unedited fieldwork in all its glory! I had to cut the beginning because it was too big, so excuse the random start. And my inane questions were usually to try and promote some kind of conversation (it's amazing, you have the weirdest, most random conversations about everything, but the minute a camera comes out - even if people have no idea that they're being filmed, it all stops...).


video

Monday, December 08, 2008

I'm going to be a cheesy blogger

I'm going to be a cheesy blogger and write about my weekend. After all the misery of being 'unfriended' on Friday, I was fortunate to have an awesome weekend with some very special friends and it made me feel 10000000% better!

So on Friday after Luke was really nice to me and gave me advice, helped me to reply to the friend who was being so immature and accompanied me on several admin trips - the last of which we did barefoot! It was raining and we were both in slip-slops which are really dangerous to walk in when they are wet... I ended up finishing my day by helping my supervisor catch a likkewaan (monitor lizard) and then going to gym.

I'm really enjoying gym at the moment and not ending up in excruciating pain like last time I started exercising regularly. It's really nice and something about running 3km before I go home every day (I know, I know, but it's been a while!) that makes me super-energetic and happy with life. Gotta love those endorphins! From there I headed home, took a nap (still battling the narcolepsy a little bit) and headed off to Nicola's house for a games evening of buzz and monopoly.

I got there to find that there was no power, but it came back on after a little bit (to great cheers from the Cantina Tequila across the road) and that Nicola had forgotten monopoly and that the buzz kit had disappeared into the black hole of scariness known as her brother's room. so we played Guitar Hero instead.

I had never played it before and I was quite nervous. Lara and Nicola played first so I was terribly intimidated by Nicola's performance and then terrified by the fact that Lara's turn only lasted about a minute because she's so bad that it cut her off after not very much... So I took my turn. And I was awesome! It turns out that it's really not very different to reading music and considering that I could read music before I could read words, I think all those years of music lessons (from before I started school until a year or so after I started university) paid off. Nicola wouldn't believe I'd never played before and I beat her and her brother's high scores on the hardest song! I felt quite sorry for Lara but she was really nice about the fact that we were having an awesome time and she failed on 'Slow Rider' about a million times (it was stuck in my head for days) and I left there really really late still laughing from the fun of spending time with special friends and not doing anything too special but just enjoying their company.

Saturday morning was really difficult. Besides the fact that I had to work at the vet and I was exhausted, the vet had been up later than me the night before, and by some awful coincidence (kind of like when everyone brings puppies on the same day) we had a whole bunch of dogs who were put to sleep, one after the other. So in the waiting room I had crying owners, crying other owners who saw the situation and joined in, I was battling the tears, the vet was battling the tears... It was the hardest shift I've ever had to work. So I went to see Lara right after and she made me feel better and I went home and narcolepsed on the nearest flat surface (in this case, very fortunately, it was my bed, but I wound up sleeping upside down with my feet on the pillows and my head hanging off the side) until Luke called to find out about our plans for the evening.

We ended up at a pizza place near the zoo with about 10 zoo-keepers who kept us entertained with a whole bunch of funny zoo stories. By now I've heard most of them before, but I love them anyway.

After all that I got home and in bed by around midnight and had to be up super-early to get to one of the zoo vet's homes by 6:45 am to go diving for the day. I just made it in time but Elaine and Caleb who were also diving, were late so it was ok. My sinuses are still bothering me and I was exhausted and not very enthusiastic, but Caleb got me coffee on the way which probably saved my life!

It was hard diving with other people. For one thing, everyone in the group I was with had been trained by the same people so they had quite an in-depth bunch of procedures and hand signals that I just didn't understand. I'm also still battling a bit with my buoyancy and weighting just because I haven't dived much over the last few years and that can only come right by practise. the other thing was that I'm a little bit afraid of the two instructors (I love them both to bits, but they scare me!) and if you're nervous you tend to hold more air in your lungs than you realise and that makes you float...). But ti was fun and once I got used to it I think I did ok. I got to see three friends of mine qualify which was really special and I managed to get 2 dives on a single 10 litre tank (everyone else was diving with at least 12 litres) which means that my breathing is starting to get under control a little bit.

By the end though my tank was so light that I ended up spending my safety stop (3metres underwater) holding on to a piece of rubble and trying to think calm thoughts so I wouldn't shoot to the surface. I'm glad I went though it was a lot of fun, I only passed out once (on a boardwalk in the sun, so my nose is a lovely shade of beetroot now), I ate between dives, which was totally bizarre for me as I'm normally too seasick to eat or drink anything. I found blue food and had a bright blue mouth for the last dive which caused much hilarity!

After all that we headed home, I picked up my car and then went to Nicola's house to drop off money for tickets for New Year's (we're going to a rock circus this year) and then went and had coffee with Lara and Laurin which was awesome because I haven't had any decent girly conversation in a while and they didn't disappoint!

So now I'm sitting in my lab, trying desperately to stay awake but pretty happy with life in general! So all in all, it was a good weekend, even though I think I'm going to revert to full-time narcolepsy to recover from it!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Go back to high school

SO, once again I have promised to write about something and I'm not going to. Yet. I will have to make a list and work through it all one day. I DO want to write about diving, I DO want to write about visiting the zoo yesterday and seeing the monkeys again and playing with a lemur. And back in time I still need to write about the desert trip and the bush pig bathtub guy and the farmers wife with her leaf blower.

But for now, something is bothering me.

I have a friend from high school. Most of the people I spent time with back then I have lost touch with and, thanks to Facebook I chat to one or two of them from time to time, but that's about it. Partly because high school was not a happy time in my life by any definition of the term, and partly because I find that if I do see them we have nothing to talk about. I'm away a lot and so when I'm around I really try to make an effort to be a good friend, but that means (as nasty as it sounds) prioritising people. I can't get my work done and still see all the people I care about. I can barely cope with getting my work done and seeing the friends I would classify as 'close' plus the people I am in the "getting to know" phase with who I really do want to get to know better.

I used to be a good friend, I never forgot birthdays, I kept up to date with how everyone was, I drank so much coffee with various people that my mild liking for coffee developed into a full-blown addiction. But not anymore.

So back to the point. This girl is... difficult. We were friends through school because we did a lot of extracurriculars together. We were at a fancy private school where I didn't fit into the traditional mould of "long blonde hair and eight layers of makeup" and neither did she. She went off on a weird pagan phase and I was into punk rock and metal and would have dyed my hair blue if a)my parents and b) school regulations would allow it. We were both from normal families which had morals and values rather than piles and piles of money and as such we found that we could relate to each other.

But after school things changed. I went to university and on my first day, in my first lecture I found an empty seat and shyly asked if I could sit there, and the girl who moved her bag out of the way became one of my closest friends. And so it continued. I'm not saying that university was a social cakewalk... but I was never alone or unhappy and I have been blessed with some of the most incredible people who I can call my friends.

This girl (who I will call Susie for anonymity and because I can't think of a better name) had a similar atmosphere. I know some people from her classes and I like them all. They're all lovely, sweet, friendly people. And yet by the end of a four-year degree, she had no friends in the world except for me and her next-door neighbour. We went of field trips for our studies, I went to a lot more than she did, and I survived everything from sharing a 1-person hut with 6 other people to showering in shoes because of a spider invasion, to sharing 2 showers with 60 other people and getting up to shower at 3am to avoid the queue, only to find a queue because everyone else had had the same thoughts. And those trips are among the happiest memories I have. You learn to appreciate the awfulness of a situation for it's humour and for the weirdness of choosing a career where getting into the shower to open the door to get out of the bathroom while trying to keep your socks dry in subzero temperatures can be considered normal. And through it all you bond as a group in a way that I've never known in any other situation.

She went on her first trip and phoned me every day to complain because the bath was dirty (first rule of fieldtrips: DO NOT use the bath! Shower if you can, otherwise find some extra-strength disinfectant first!). She made no friends on that trip. One of my brother's closest friends and a girlfriend who went to the same place, and she told me that she'd never had more fun...

I tried to prompt her into a more positive outlook. I like to whine myself, but usually purely for the drama of it, but I tried to explain that she would have more fun if she tried just a little bit... But it didn't work. As the years passed it got harder and harder for me to spend time with her. We really have nothing to talk about. I got tired of the phone calls which, as if scripted always go as follows:

me: "Hello?"
Susie: "Hi, is that Helen?"
me: "yes."
Susie:" It's Susie, how are you?"
me: "I've got a leg in traction and I haven't slept for 3 days, but otherwise everything's awesome! how are you?" (obviously the injuries change between calls)
Susie: "*sigh*" and then a half-hour rant about how awful her life is and how cute her dog is and how he sat when she told him to, but the he wanted his rawhide bone. Not the rawhide bone that you get from the petshop down the road from her, he only likes the rawhide bones from the market... and so on.

I know that her life is, to all extents and purposes, pretty empty, but at the same time every call got a little bit more draining until I just couldn't. So sometimes when she called I wouldn't answer and I would wait until I had a bit cup of coffee and I would listen to her voicemail. And then I would call back, or send a message or something and we'd invariably end up having coffee or something where I'd end up having to hear all about her dog again.

The kicker for me was when she got her name changed (officially) because she didn't like correcting people's pronunciation. It was the equivalent of doing all the paperwork to change her name from "Susan" to "Susie." She's adopted, and her parents waited for over 2 years to get her, and they picked out her name really carefully and they love her to bits. I I felt like she was kicking them in the face for it.

And so, over the past 6 years our friendship has kind of deteriorated and I feel guilty, but I'm just not around enough to spend lots of time with her, and I know that every time she calls and I'm out of town she feels like I'm avoiding her, but there's nothing I can do!

So anyway. She called about a week ago while I was having a narcoleptic episode and didn't leave a message. I would have answered it too, but - as anyone who knows me during nap time will tell you, it would take a small earthquake to wake me and my ring tone isn't that loud. I didn't call back because I figured if she hadn't left a message it was because she would call back. Then the conference and diving happened and I hadn't had time to sit still since then when I woke to this message this morning:

I just want to say that I won't bother u with phone calls or smses anymore since u never answer them. Good luck with everything. Our friendship was great while it lasted. Susie"

And now I don't know what to do. I know she's lonely, but I don't know if I should respond, or leave her to her sulking. And if I respond what do I say? I feel like I'm 15 all over again!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Don't kick the narcoleptic!

So the conference was actually quite interesting, and I found myself enjoying it far more than I wanted to admit! I met some nice people (of course I ended up sitting with a bunch of zoo-keepers, I seem to attract them!) and heard some interesting talks. It was at a dam that was more like a small ocean, it had waves and everything!

My talk was ok, I think. There were a lot of questions and I had fun as always (I love the question session in a masochistic kind of way, it's when you figure out if you REALLY know your stuff or not!) and I was asked a question about my lizards by the guy the lizard was actually named after! HOW cool is that? Yes. I'm a nerd.

So After about 24 hours of being there I got my uber-cool conference bag (it has a tomato frog on it) and drove the four hours home in some pretty intense rain. The traffic was appallin once I was nearly home, so I detoured to visit Lara for an hour or so to wait it out, and ended up staying for nearly 3 hours. She passed all her exams really well and now has a second degree! We also fell about giggling to a bunch of random songs that I had on my Ipod. I hadn't seen Lara for pretty much 4 or 5 months, except the occasional really quick hello, so it was really amazing to spend some time with her and remmeber how much her friendship means to me.

Soppiness over, I finally got home at about 10pm and had to pack for our departure at 6 the next morning. I managed relatively quickly and then couldn't sleep because I was so excited.

So basically, I elft home at about 6:30am on about 10 hours sleep total for the previous week, and very little sleep in total since about August. That kind of exhaustion is weird, because instead of the classic yawning and stuff, you get toally wired and bouncy and then occasionally your body decided that it's had enough now and you must sleep. So the first horizontal surface encountered becomes a temporary bed.

So halfway tot he beach I fell asleep in the car. It's really not that unusual to sleep in the car, but my friends seemed to find it amusing. It was only a short nap, and ended when I had a dream that we were driving up to a traffic circle and turning right, but I could feel (in reality) the car turning left so I woke up and said "We should turn right at the traffic circle!" Turns out we were at a stop-street, but we came across a bunch of traffic circles right after that which was quite creepy!

Over the weekend I gave several repeat performances. It didn't surprise me, I usually sleep a lot between dives, and on this trip there wasn't much organisation so the dives started being quite close together and I ended up not having my usual collapse-on-the-beach time so I slept whenever else I could.

What I don't understand is how people found it so incredibly funny that I kept falling asleep. For crying out loud I hadn't slept properly in about four months, it wasn't an amusing quirk, it was a necessity for survival!

I will write more about the trip at some stage, I'm just trying to get my thoughts about it all sorted out in my head. I also think I should catch up on some sleep, I'm still waking up at 6am automatically...

But I just want to say: if you have a friend who believes in power-naps, don't kick the narcoleptic!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

When music fades away in the roar

I am furious.

To put this in perspective, while I was away my supervisor called and pretty much insisted that I attend this conference. He said it would all be organised, that I could wait until I got home to do the paperwork and that everything would be fantastic. There was a university vehicle, so I wouldn't even have to worry about getting there, and so on and so forth.

OK, fine. I didn't want to do it, but I agreed eventually, realising that it would be good experience, and I've never done a proper presentation at a conference, only presented a poster, which is tedious and time-consuming and all-out horrible.

I haven't been able to track down the guy who will be driving there tomorrow, so today I went and got his phone number from his supervisor and tried to get in touch. No answer.

To put this in context, these people are the type that I think are very insecure and possibly unpopular way back in high school or something. They feel the need to develop an image of being 'cool' and they do so in the easiest way: they exclude other people. they are generally quite entertaining and as such the undergrad KIDS-es adore them, and they sue that to their advantage by shamelessly playing favourites. Amongst their peers they make sure that everyone knows what they are up to, and that everyone who is not a member of their little 'fan club' is quite aware that they aren't invited.

I'm sure if they weren't so desperate to feel adored they would be pretty nice - on several occasions on various trips I have spent time with them, and we usually get along really well, but the minute the trip is over and we're back in our labs they act as if we've never met. I refuse to hero-worship people who I don't find as funny as they think they are, or as 'cool' as they try to be. I left high school 6 years ago and I was glad to wipe my hands of the politics and mind games. I have great friends and we have fun, but I will NEVER try to exclude anyone (and if I do, please slap me or something!) unless there is a very good reason.

The whole cliqueyness of the situation drives me nuts, and as such I just plain avoid people like that, but, unfortunately when you work on similar stuff you end up running into each other from time to time.

Anyway I finally managed to ask the conference organiser if she knew how many people were going to be travelling in the university car, as it had also been volunteered to take people from the airport to the conference - a meagre 4 or so hour drive. She replied that my name was not on the list, and that the car is full. so now, THE DAY BEFORE I've had to shuffle plans and organise to take my car down, and then come back the day before I was planning on leaving so I won't have to leave my car in the middle of nowhere.

I'm not angry because they've excluded me once again. to be honest I expect it from them. I'm not angry that I have to make another plan, I rarely claim anything that I spend on my work, and I paid for my last conference myself because I didn't have the energy to do all the paperwork, so I WILL be claiming back fuel for this trip. It's not even that I'll miss out on a cool talk about tree frogs.

What really upsets me is that I had to find out from a complete stranger what the people downstairs from me are doing. They didn't even bother to ask me, or tell me or anything. If it wasn't for the organisers being really nice in scheduling my talk early so that I can leave, I would actually cancel my attendance right now. And now I get to look forward to driving somewhere completely new to arrive in the dark and to leave less than 24 hours later.

The bonus is that while I only have a skeleton of a talk right now, I don't feel nervous anymore. The people there are going to be the same cliquey 'family' as I always encounter (I know a few of them personally) and to be quite honest, I don't care what they think of me.

I just want this to be over.

What a wonderful world...

Yip, another day, another random song stuck in my head... And for some reason, lately it's been songs that I haven't heard in years! I wonder how it all works, how DO songs get stuck in your head? And how does your brain decide which song to torture you with?

I ended up erdoing all my analyses yesterday, not as efficiently as I would have iked, as after 5pm facebook becomes available here (it's blocked before that) and I ended up chatting to an old friend from high school. It was really cool to find out about what she's been up to, it turns out that I'm not the only girl out there who has refused to grow out of the tomboy/klutzy stage and who can actually change a tire! And she's doing really niteresting research, which makes me kind of jealous.

Anyway I'm starting to panic about this conference. I don't usually mind public speaking, becasue I learned how to get over the jitters: it's FUN to give talks if you can get so excited about your subject matter that you desperately want to tell people about it.

See my problem here?

And I still have to: organise how the heck I'm getting to the conference tomorrow, pack, organise diving equipment and deliver it to Luke (this includes buying one or two things and finding all the stuff all around my house), get my car cleaned (I always feel guilty leaving a dirty car at home), buy seasickness tablets and actually rpepare for the conference.

So I'm going to go and try to harness my panic into productiveness!

Man I need a holiday!

And a big bout of irresponsibility!

Monday, November 24, 2008

You are my sunshine...

No, this is not a post about the snookums in my life. Unfortunately I am more or less married to a PhD at the moment and therefore have very little time or inclination for any more of a personal life than the few friends who have stuck by me through all the cranky days, going away for months at a time and general depression that is usually associated with being stuck for 4 years in a degree that you hate.

I've just got the song stuck in my head, which is pounding by the way! I started a migraine on Friday and it hasn't gone away yet, so I'm on a strict regime of 7 or 8 Advil in the course of the morning, washed down with at least 5 cups of coffee. It seems to work, but it takes a few hours to kick in.

Anyway this is just a little post because I really have to get back to work...

On Friday our department had a year-end function. It was nice in that there was free food and drinks, and anyone who reads PHD comics will know that free food is the holy grail of post-grad students! I also sat with Luke and Terri, who is someone I know vaguely - we tend to book out the same vehicle at the same time and she's always really nice about letting me change her over to another vehicle, but other than that I don't think I've ever had a real conversation with her. She was nice though and I'm glad I got to know her a little bit.

But anyway, at one stage I went back to the lab to get another Advil, and when I got back to the party I was cornered by one of the staff members. To put it in perspective, she is kind of a friend of my family in that she goes to my church and she taught my admission to communion classes when I was 8 or so, so she has always taken a little bit more of an interest in my academic career than I would have liked. On top of it all, she's a very difficult person, violently disliked and incredibly difficult to work with or for, which is always a joy as she quite often requests me as a TA for her courses.

As she hasn't seen me in probably about 6 months she wanted to know all about everything and I answered her questions while backing away slowly until I came up against one of the huge metal doors in the building. She continued to invade my personal space a little bit (I'm still not used to having other people within shouting range, so I found it incredibly uncomfortable) and wanted to know all about my plans for when I'm finished.

Oh, an aside: questions that nobody may ask me under any circumstances:

  1. how is your project going?
  2. when do you intend to finish?
  3. How was fieldwork?
  4. Did you get the data you needed?
  5. What are you going to do when you graduate?

She worked her way down the list at an alarming pace and then asked me what I had planned for after I graduate. I replied: "Well, I'm hoping to finish mid 2010 and then get as far away from this university as possible. I don't know what I'm going to do, I'll figure that out closer to the time" She launched into another series of questions (or prompts) with:

"Well are you going to do a post-doc? Do you want to go overseas? Do you..." I interrupted her by saying yes, overseas could be fun and I've made a few contacts for postdocs in America and I could probably find one in Australia but I'm not sure that I want a career in academia so I'm going to have to see if there's anything else available when I finish.

She showed her incredible listening skills by telling me to take time off from academia. I answered that I don't WANT to be an academic, but it's a pretty big decision because, according to my supervisor if you take a year off you end up out-of-touch with the academic world, you lost track of developments in your field, you lose touch with contacts you've made and so on. She (who by the way is less qualified than me, but anyway) then went on a tirade about what nonsense that was and that I have to go and work somewhere so I can learn to have successful interpersonal relationships. I managed to bite back the giggles at the irony of the situation and pointed out that I've been working in the holidays since I was 15 and that I've maintained a steady weekend job for the last 6 years, so I know how to get along with a boss.

Fortunately someone wanted to open the door I was leaning on, and when I turned I saw a friend of mine who understood what I meant when I started mouthing "HELP! HELP!!!" at her, and I was able to extract myself from the situation.

Anyway, the whole thing made me angry. I know that I'm unhappy in research and I'll probably end up in a completely different career. I know that I have to get through this, even if it's in a head-down-and-sprint way. And I don't need the unsolicited advice of someone who has never been in my situation in order to figure out what I want to do with my life.

The weekend was a lot better after that. I managed to get some tricky work done, saw Lara for the first time in months which was awesome! I missed the girly giggling fits! And had a picnic at the zoo where I was bundled up in a blanket and pushed down a hill.

And now I'm back to work to get ready for the conference. Fun times!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Who wrote that cheese?

I have spent the majority of my academic career (i.e. as a student, I don't claim to ahve entered the lofty world of academia just yet) leaving what most people consider the most important part of anything I've written to the end. I'm talking about... The Title.

A title should be catchy, memorable and make people want to read your work. It should be short enough, but not too short to avoid giving some kind of description of your study, while maintaining a professional, but accessible tone. I suck at making up titles.

Biologists, particularly in the more up-and-coming fields of Zoology, are the worst. Behavioural studies, which I am involved in, are often labelled as "sexy science" because laymen like reading about what the panda did or didn't do, and they generally can get a foot into the door of popular science stuff, which, unfortunately attracts stuff that is mildly necessary, like interest in your work, or funding. I find the whole situation quite tiresome.

Don't get me wrong, some people are great at coming up with titles. There are papers that I read over half a decade ago (showing my age a bit) that I remember clearly from the title. But unfortunately, as anyone who has ever spent an afternoon hearing the terrible puns that seem to emanate from zoologists, most titles these days are either completely dull and dry and boring (including most of mine) or else so pathetically cheesy that I battle to take their work seriously.

I am trying to get ready for a conference at the moment, and when I sent in my abstract (that's like a summary of what I'm going to be talking about), I found myself stuck in the mental quicksand that is writing a title. Fortunately I have a very creative brother who works in marketing and I sent him an email begging for help. I asked him to try and use puns, and that the cheesier it is, the better. He repleid pretty quickly with six or seven options, having taken full opportunity to poke fun of me by making the AWFUL in their cheesiness.

Adn you know what the worst part was? Most of them were fantastic, and I picked one, adjusted it slightly, and sent it to the conference organisers!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Reintegrating into society

So, after 3 months of being pretty much completely isolated from the rest of the world, I'm back in Johannesburg, one of the biggest cities in Southern Africa. Actually, according to a quick google-search I just did, it is THE biggest city in Southern Africa. I love Joburg, I've lived here all my life. It has a buzz and a 'vibe' (inverted commas to stop me sounding like a yuppie) and a friendly atmosphere and it's beautiful in its own way. At the same time it's crowded and polluted and noisy and rushed. So rushed. Every time I go away I need a few days to learn to slow down, because here everyone is in a hurry. I'm not sure if all the rushing makes us efficient, or we just like to create the illusion that we are, but everyone is stressed out and hurrying from one task to the next. I like to sit back and watch the mayhem, but I'm afraid I'm as guilty as the next Jo-burger in wishing that we could cram another 6 or 7 hours into every day.

So getting home is one of the things that I hold on to when fieldwork gets difficult. I have friends here who I miss like crazy and I hope that they miss me while I'm away. I have my family and my animals and the bedroom that I've slept in since I was 10 and the zoo and my lab...At the same time, for the last few days of fieldwork I dread the idea of coming home. I always realise that the place I'm staying as actually beautiful, if you ignore the scorching heat, the falling down cliffs and the tangles of thorny plants that seem to conspire to grow between me and wherever I'm going.

I would sit outside on the veranda on a super-comfy green vinyl sunbed-type chair (it's hideous, but I could sleep in it if there weren't so many insects bashing against the windows right behind it) in the evenings and look at the sky where the stars are so bright that I could take a walk around the farm at midnight without a torch and still be able to see where I was going. The sky isn't black at all, but a beautiful indigo colour. And I would sit and listen to the night-jars and the spotted-eagle owls and the frogs, and the insects would buzz around me (particularly the dung-beetles and moths the size of my hand) and every now and then bats would swoop down and grab insects just millimetres from my head.

Sometimes I would see antelope in the garden, trying to be quiet while crashing through the bushes, sometimes at night I would see a jackal, sitting under a banana-palm, just waiting, and looking a lot like one of my dogs back home. As much as I'm almost completely bird-impaired, I find it easy to learn frog-calls, so after a day or two listening to the frog-call CD on my ipod (yes, I have frog calls on my ipod, so what?) I would sit outside at night and identify who was sitting in the little catchment behind the house, yelling their little amphibian lungs out. I have a definite soft-spot for tree frogs, and I often heard a close relative of my favourite frog in the whole world. On a few occasions I went looking for them and once I spotted the little guys being SO cute! Unfortunately I never got close enough to catch him, so I couldn't take a picture, but I felt that even a sighting made the stumbling around in the mud completely worth it!

Contrary to popular belief, life in the middle of nowhere is far from silent. When the reed frogs going it sounds like a million car alarms going off at the same time, but I never found it intrusive at all. All the birds and animals and insects (OK, the insects got annoying, there were a bunch of crickets that got into the house, and they were LOUD!). The water is from a borehole (and I know all the dangers f drinking borehole water) and tasted fantastic, I got to make campfires if I felt like it, wear clothes that had been ripped to shreds and stitched up with cotton that didn't match. For 3 months I didn't have to think about blow-drying my hair, wearing make-up, if there were fights between friends I was far enough away to avoid being caught int he crossfire.

I'm not saying that fieldwork is all fun and games, it's hard, hard work, with long hours, no weekends, and the exhausting feeling of powerlessness where your life is controlled by the weather. At the same time though, it's simpler. You can judge a day as a success or failure by how many animals you caught, if all the measurements are taken. If something goes wrong there is nobody else around so you learn how to fix it. It's a wonderful simplicity.

To come home is hard. For one thing my friends are used to me popping in and out of their lives, so I'm not really greeted with much surprise. I'm always happy to see them and they seem happy to see me, but it usually feels like I never left. I battle with insomnia from the noise and the light of the city. I have a constant headache from the noise and the pollution. I'm exhausted from all the human interaction but I can't sleep and recover.

And the worst part: after all that, I have to go back to the lab and learn to think all over again. I have a nice new pile of data to organise and analyse and interpret. And it's hard. My concentration-span (already pretty pitiful) has shrunk down to less than 5 minutes. I literally look at a set of numbers, do one thing to them and then need a break. I'm up against a pretty important deadline and I'm over 2 weeks behind schedule because no matter how hard I try I Just. Can't. Concentrate. Cue the reawakening of my fear of public humiliation!

Monday, November 17, 2008

more illegible candlelight musings

Due to a complete lack of popular demand for the rest of the random notes I wrote in the dark, I decided to post them anyway in order to procrastinate actually writing something now! I'm battling to focus on my work, which ios a major problem as I'm bashing my head against a deadline, so I must avoid any procrastination fodder!



There is one more, but it's pretty short, and it scanned upside down so I must still flip it and stuff...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Candlelight musings

So one night there was a big storm and I ended up measuring lizards by candlelight. I decided that as I didn't want to waste my laptop abttery in case the power stayed off for a few days (which happens) that rather than posting, I would write out some thoughts and scan them in when the power came on. Unfortunately my connection ni the middle of nowhere isn't great, so I couldn't upload the pictures, so I had to wait until I got home.

Yes, I came home two days ago! And now am working on a pretty nasty deadline, so rather than going into detail about life and everything, I am going to post some of the random stuff that seemed to make sense in the dark, in the middle of nowhere.
My apologies if you can't read my writing! It was dark!


Friday, October 31, 2008

Serenity

On Sunday night I was happily sitting at my laptop measuring a HUGE pile of lizards when my phone rang. i looked at the caller ID and saw that it was the head of our department. I wondered why on earth he'd be calling me on a sunday night (at around 8pm), but I figured as a worst-case scenario my mother was concerned and had spoken to him or something and he was checking up on me. so I answered. He basically said:
"Hi Helen, we're about 30ms from Nelspruit, so we're going to stop for dinner and drive through. Is the gate code still XXXX?"

BAM! new worst-case scenario!

So I had to decide: do I finish measuring lizards, or clean up the houe? I decided to measure lizards, which gave me just enough time to hide my dirty laundry under my bed (it was in bags waiting for me to get around to running a load of washing), wash the dishes and call Luke in a flat panic and figure out why nobody had warned me.

Basically everyone thought that everyone else ad warned me, so I ended up sharing the house with 4 botanists for 5 days. Firstly, they ahd a caterer. So actually 3 botanists needed someone to cook and clean for them. She was very sweet and quite mediterranean, and fed me non-stop, which was nce as I'd been super-busy and not looking after myself very well. I was pretty sick for the first day or so, it deems that my body had got used to a diet of ceral and fresh fruit and proper, cooked meals were more than I could handle.

As for the botanists, there was the head of school, who is a... difficult persoon at the best of times, who has a disturbing tendency to walk around in nothing but tiny tiny shorts. And two honours students who were doing a 5-day practical exam. The students were nice, one of them is about a year oler than me and he's the kind of guy who has huge long legs and arms and tons of exuberant energy that makes me smile. The other was a woman I'd never met before who looked about my age, maybe slightly older until I found out that she's been married for almost 20 years and has 3 kids, one of whom is almost finished high-school.

They filled the houe up will all kinds of plant stuff, and then proceeded to fill the house up wth plants. On the plus sie, the caterer scrubbed the house from top to bottom, which made me feel a bit guilty seeing that I'd let it get dirty, but means that when I go home soon I won't have to spend an entire day scrubbing floors like I did last year.

In my defence, the house wasn't that bad. i always make sure that the kitchen and the bathroom and the room where my lizards stay is spotless, but the house is big and there are a lot of areas I don't use, so I let the dust accumulate because I see no point in keeping rooms clean if I never use them. I'd had a tough week, so the kitchen floor was a bit dirty and my stuff had cluttered the main living area a bit, but otherwise most people wouldn't have seen the need to scrub for a solid day.

I checked my messages a bit later and found that people had been calling and leaving messages but I didn't get any notifications. One message was the standard bi-montly mesage from my supervisor asking if I was still alive. I called him on the Monday to update him, assure hm that all my limbs were attached and complain about the invasion of botanists when he dropped the bombshell. There is a conference at the end of November and I WILL attend. I've known about the conference for a while, but I hadn't sent in an abstract and I'd assumed I might not be back rom fieldwork in time, but then I caught 40 lzards in 2 weeks and everything changed. In the meantime Luke and another friend have been qualifying as scuba divers and they'd invited me to go with them for their first ever sea-dives!

The idea of leaving here in a few weeks and going to the beach with friends I have missed to have a real breaak after working 7-days a week for 3 months was all that was keeping e going! In fact, that lead to the kind farmer's wife helping me catch lizards by trying to chase them with a leafblower (I will explain that later I hope) after she gave me a cold glass of coke and I broke down into "I just want to go HOME!" So the idea of leaving 3 months of wall-to-wall lizard work to go to a place I don't like very much to discuss lizards for another week really didn't fill me with joy.

Anyway, afer many exciting plans for how to get out of the conference (and a very accomodating Duncan, ThankS :)) I managed to agree to the conference on the understanding that I would leave early, and Jen would fetch me on the way to the coast so I could go diving anyway. my supervisor isn't happy, but as far as I'm concerned he can... you get the picture.

so today the botanists packed up, loaded their plants into their vehicle and left. And the peace and quiet return. And a rainstorm, which is why I'm not outside lstening to the frogs. There is totally a tree frog that I've been hearing and I chased him for about an hour last night but didn't manage to find him.

Friday, October 17, 2008

aaaah!

I'm sorry, I've been meaning to post for a long time and I just get sidetracked... everything has been superexciting too, besides the already promised story of the bathtub guy with the baby bushpig, I also have a story of wrongful accusation by the husband of the lady with the leafblower, the incredible kindness of said leafblower lady as well as my latest brush with death on the cliff of Doom.

Stay tuned and I promise I'll post them soon!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Update

I'm afraid I've become a really awful poster on this trip - usually I get lonely and write a lot more, but between the heat and the arrival of the masters student I've been pretty busy. I have some exciting things to write about (like ouotdoor-bathtub guy with the pet baby bushpig, and the incresible hotel/motel), so I'll try to do that as soon as I can!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Panic stations!

So I've been fluctuationg between enthusiasic and productive, and sitting in a heap wanting to cry. It rained all weekend, so I used the opportunity to sit in a heap and not do much, and then had a great trapping day yesterday. today was brutally hot, I saw about 7 or 8 lizards and proceeded to spend all day in the hot hot sun not catching any of them. I got myself a pretty impressive case of sunstroke, and a talking-to from a friend back home becasue apparently I shouldn't have taken aspirin for the headache that came with the package. Seriously, it's like tickbite-fever bad but without the glamour of the fever and the nausea... actually I think I prefer sunstroke!

Anyway, I am one of very few people in this world who has a custom-built lizard treadmill. It's of vital importance for my work, nd was built by a combination of an engineering student friend (who, back in the day, beat up another kid for pulling the tail out of my My Little Pony) and a friend from my class at university. It's had it's issues, as it was designed and built with very little by way of specifications (I gave them a size and a speed required) by two people who have never worked with lizards.

I spend a lot of time ever few weeks fixing up little gaps with duct tape (a lizard can squeeze through a microscopic gap! and adjusting it and so on. This trip it's been working perfectly though, until tonight! I was running a set of lizards when one of them managed to get his tail between the belt and the rod thingie that it wraps around. It happens occasionally, and usually you just stop the treadmill and extricate the lizard. This guy had really got himself stuck though so i had to dismantle part of it, remove lizard and then put it back together.

Then it started acting p. Nothing major, just the belt slipping to one side, or it went too slowly, and I had to play with the tension a bit. Finally, it all looked like it was going to work properly when it ut stopped. There was an aweful noie from the motor and nothing moved.

So I'm going to be spending tomorrow in town trying to hunt down an engineer (fortunately there is a university with an engineering department nearby) to fix it, and if I can't fid anyone here I will have no option but to put it in the car and go home for a day or two to get it fixed by the engineer who made it.

To tell the truth, today was a really unpleasant day, and I would like nothing more than a day or two at home to 'recharge' a bit, but at the same time the weather is good for lizards, and I never know when I'm going to lose time to rain, so going home seems like a waste. At least the masters student is rriving tomorrow so I'll have someone here to feed lizards if I have to go.

So anyone at home: watch this space, you might be running into me in the near future!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

So...

Remember that song on the mission impossible soundtrack called "So..."? It's stuck in my head right now. Nothing too exciting to say about it. Except that I am not a Mission Impossible nut, just that I was about 10 at the time and the soundtrack was my first ever CD. I didn't even have a CD player yet, but after my brother and I had run in to the CNA (a newsagent) for the gazillionth time and listened to the theme song on the dodgy "try out your CD first!" headphones, my mother ether let me buy it or bought it for me. I can safely say that I think I knew every note and every word and everything on that CD by the time I was 12 or so, as well as developing a slightly weird addiction to Songs by Skunk Anansie (however you spell that. I was 10!). Weird because I was a pretty quiet kid who's only other CD was by Shampoo. Yes, I'm cringing now!

Anyway, it's been a rough week. I was going to post about how miserable I was yesterday, but I only finished all the work I had to do by about 10pm and I didn't have the energy - considering that it's been so hot I have to get up at about sunrise to get any decent trapping done before it gets to molten-lava level of hot.

I was enjoying the quiet of a KIDS-es free house, when we got hit by a mega heatwave. It's supposedly spring, but I've been here in midsummer and it was never this hot and humid before. I HATE hats with a passion, but it got so hot that I had to wear one, which meant that I was running around with hat-hair and a hat-induced headache. Since as long as I can remember I've hated having things on my head or on my hands. In cold weather I will give in and wear gloves, but I really, really hate hats.

Back on the topic - I caught a single lizard in two whole days of trapping! And I wasn't being lazy either, the lizards were there, and I was working darned hard to get them and they were all evading me. There is a series of huge boulders where a bunch of them live - I've caught a bunch their before by putting a circle of traps around it and in the little spaces in between rocks. this time though I'm not sure what happened, maybe one of the storms, or a tree falling over, but there was sand EVERYwhere and I couldn't trap a bunch of the usual spots. And the lizards ran past giggling occasionally.

Just to make things better, I decided that having cereal for dinner wasn't a good thing after about 3 days and so I made some very nice pasta-sauce type stuff with the vegetables I got last time I went into town. I didn't feel like the whole schlep of making pasta, so I thought I'd make myself a baked potato.

The bonus of living here is that we have an awesome microwave with a bunch of AUTO settings. So for a potato, you put a potato in, press POTATO and when it finishes you turn said potato over and press POTATO again. Voila, a perfectly baked potato! So, I got a potato, cut the eyes off and so on, put it in and pressed POTATO. After a minute or two it was done, so I turned the potato over and pressed POTATO. I have done this many many times and never had a problem. I realised a little while later that the potato had been in there for a rather long time. I dismissed the thought and went back to what I was doing. Then I heard a strange noise and I went to investigate.

I am not kidding when I say that the potato in the microwave had full-on burst into flames! The smell was awful, there was black smoke seeping from around the door and the potato was flaming away, rotating slowly inside the microwave that was STILL COOKING IT! I had the presence of mind to hit the off switch and leave it closed in the microwave to stop it getting any more oxygen and rushed around opening doors and windows before removing the charred potato.

Bearing in mind that I'd had a horrible day, been in full sun for several hours and not had much success, I wanted to cry. Instead, I decided to make some pasta and eat my dinner. So I lit the gas-stove and made pasta. The pot has handles that get really hot, so, as usual, I used a cloth to take it off the stove and pour the pasta into a colander. Once I'd done that I looked down and realised that the cloth was on fire - it had obviously dipped into the flame.

For the record, the pasta itself was fine, the dinner was delicious, and i had leftovers to sustain me for two days.

Today was cloudy and cold this morning so I got to sleep in until 7! The sun came out mid-morning so I dashed off to the most dangerous outcrop on the farm and managed to catch 4 lizards! I was really happy - this particular outcrop is really steep and slippery, and can either be fantastic for finding lizards or absolutely abysmal, but it takes so long to get there that if it doesn't go too well you've effectively lost a day. I guess after everything being so difficult, I thought about life a lot and came to a lot of conclusions. I won't share them here just yet, because they're a bit whiny and I have a headache from wearing a stupid hat. Plus it's past dinner-time so I should go and burn some stuff now. But the bottom-line is: I'm feeling better about everything, and I hope I can hang on to my inner-optimist for a while!

Friday, September 19, 2008

KIDSes

The anti-poaching guys finally left! I was so happy about it! Then, as I was enjoying my newfound slitude, I got a message .

Last year we had the same thing, which was totally disastrous as over 20 kids arrived, got completely trashed and were all over the house, in my equipment, throwing up in the bushes, screaming at me...

This time there are only 6 of them, they've been really polite so far - I know them pretty well from teaching them over the years. Unfortunately they also know me from trips where I'm not doing my own research, so they're a little bit too relaxed... I would like them to be in a state of mild terror, afraid of touching anything of mine... instead they've already set up a sound system the size of a small power plant and are moving between cooking dinner, rolling joints and smoking outside, while the musi thumps through my house...

I'm glad of th company, but I really really wish this didn't make me feel so old...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Machete-ing is an art form!

So yesterday I went back to one of the new sites, caught 3 lizards pretty easily and went after a fourth - the problem was that the fourth was under a thin flake of rock, halfway up a very sleep slope, so I couldn't do anything from above...

I tried to give up and go across to the other new site, but after I got stuck in my millionth thorn bush I gave up. Let me just add, that I HATE thorn bushes! I understand that the plants don't want to be eaten and so on, but can't they do it in a way that doesn't hurt me? Like tannins, or growing taller or something... my arms and legs and hands are covered in scratches and I don't like it, because I'm always just sunburned enough to make it sting a little bit more than I can ignore...

So I went back and tried to get the last lizard. The problem was that although I could just about reach the area where it was, the whole base of the slope was covered in thorn bushes, trees and dead branches from thorn trees that made a kind of thorny mesh that was completely impenetrable. I managed to get through and break off enough of the dead branches to make it almost accessible, and then climbed up a few feet to set traps. About half an hour later when I hadn't had any luck, I went back and adjusted them. I climbed a few feet higher to be able to work more effectively, ,and then, a few minutes alter, realized that the foothold I was using was not only smooth granite, but smooth granite with lichen and twigs on it. I might have done it myself from disturbing so many trees, but either way, my foot slipped and I tumbled off the rocks and into the thorn mesh...

I scrambled furiously at the rock, but wasn't able to stop myself, and succeeded in scarping down an adjacent rock with a very sharp edge. In the chaos, with me falling, bits of rock falling, traps falling... the lizard finally made an appearance and hid under a rock the as completely covered in thorn bushes. I gave up and gathered my things, to feel something cold on my leg. I looked down and realised that I'd cut my leg open -a long gash along the inside of my calf, from my knee to my ankle, and it was bleeding quite impressively.

The worst part is, besides losing the lizard, i went to the other site today, armed with a machete for the thorny bits, an found that it's actually incredibly unsuitable. It's all big boulders, which are fun to climb, but almost impossible to trap, and the lizards that live on boulders are invariably more intelligent than the ones on flat outcrops.

For the record though, swinging a machete is both incredibly therapeutic and incredibly ineffective! But from the way my arms are feeling, it's also a good workout!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

An action-packed adventure saga!

I just finished another exciting evening of playing with numbers and scary formulae... and decided that rather than having the world see me as a total and utter loser (I had a breakthrough and got very excited) I would talk about the last few days.

Firstly, I haven't blogged in absolute ages. we had a heatwave - on a cool day (I think it was Wednesday) when I enjoyed myself because I wasn't dying of heat, I measured that it was 28 degrees in the house, 31 in the shade outside and 34 in partial shade. I was too scared to find out what full sun was, as I'd just finished a morning sitting out in the sun and didn't want to know. In Fahrenheit, for you non-metric people (I will save up the rant about Fahrenheit for a day when I have a few cool points (no pun intended) saved up), that's 82 inside (I love old houses for their ability to be cool on a hot day and warm on cold day), 88 in the shade outside and 93 in partial shade).

I know that the weather will only get hotter, and I managed 10 weeks of proper summer (I'm here almost a month earlier this year than last year), but I'm not used to this yet, and I think I got a bit of heatstroke and felt really sick after drinking about 4 litres of water in a few hours - I was desperately thirsty but couldn't drink anymore!

So anyway a few days ago it went cold, and I relished the opportunity to spend a morning in bed (I had a fever and therefore insisted on a morning off) and go into town to get a few groceries. It's almost an hour drive to the nearest shop, and it's quite a pest because when the weather is good I hate having to take an afternoon to go shopping or go to get petrol for the bakkie, so I've learned by experience to use the bad days as much as possible for things like laundry, shopping, writing up results and the all-important sleep.

Quite often though, the rain will last for up to 4 or 5 days, and then you sit and go crazy because you were super-efficient on the first rainy day (or just don't feel like working). Last year my 6-week trip became a 10-week trip because of the weather, although I must admit, I have developed an incredible talent for predicting the weather from looking at the sky in the evenings. One day I will write a list of all the extra things Ive learned on fieldwork and that will be on it.

Back to the point - the day after that (yesterday)it rained, so I couldn't even go for a walk or anything. Fortunately, although it had been cold, it was dry the day before and I'd taken a long walk in the early evening so I was able to sit in the house without going nuts. I predicted that it would be rainy this morning but clear up in the afternoon, and I was wrong - it was partly-cloudy and cool, warming up in the afternoon. I spent the morning driving around exploring new tracks around the conservancy with mt traps and everything ready in case it cleared up. After about an hour I gave up and sat at the house pretending to work, but actually listening to music for an hour or two. Then I realised that the weather was perfect to take a hike to where I thought there might be some nice lizard habitat, which I thought might be near to or connected to a big outcrop just up the road from the house. It was quite a walk to get there, there are a lot of tiny thorn bushes that can scratch through your clothes in quite a painful way. Then, while you try and untangle yourself you invariably walk past a couple of thorn trees. I got away with a few minor scratches today, and no big thorns to the scalp - unlike Tuesday's getting stuck in a thicket saga (ouch!).

It was very exciting, the outcrop I've seen tiny bits of turned out to be quite ice and big, and as I got there the sun came out from behind the clouds and a beautiful lizard ran out and looked at me. I half expected to hear a chorus of "oooooh!" from the clouds at the same time. It was also quite a nice vantage point for a couple of hills that I've never really considered trapping on before, and I could see another outcrop nearby that's not as nice, but definitely is worth trapping at for a day or two!

I decided that I didn't want to go back through the thorn bushes today and I knew that I was relatively close to a huge outcrop that overlooks the house. we call it the Sundowner rock because on most undergrad field-trips we take the KIDSes up there for sun-downers one evening. I didn't realise (possibly because I'm usually on TOP of said sundowner rock)that it's surrounded by a thick tangle of thorn bushes. By the time I realised that an intelligent person would have turned back about 20 minutes before, I was kind of in a get-hurt-either-way situation so I kept going. It was amazing, after the huge thorny hedges (for lack of a better word) I ended up in what felt like coastal forest, with a relatively clear floor and huge vines. A lot of the branches belong to a weird tree that only has leaves for a few weeks a year or something, but the branches are covered in giant thorns. I don't know what it's called but we use a branch to teach the undergrads about thorn structure at the beginning of their plant-identification course. I had never expected to be stuck in a maze of them though!

Part of me was really sad that I never came here as a little kid, there were all kinds of awesome places that I would have loved to play in when I was little! I remember spending hours under the hedge in our driveway... using the petals from the flowers as currency, yellow was highest if I remember correctly. But, I digress, back to the adventures: so I managed to climb over and under and around the thorns without too much damage to myself. A lot of the branches were dead or rotting and I managed to clear a bit of a path. Then I finally reached the base of the sundowner rock (rock sounds small, it's probably nearly a square kilometer, and made up of a bunch of little outcrops connected by a ridge of grass along the very top). and realised that I was facing a 50-100 metre sheer granite wall. I realised that I hadn't been thinking too clearly - this is the East-facing side that I've never trapped on because it's too steep for me to climb down without someone else there to call the ambulance if something goes wrong (drama-queen? me? NEVER!. Fortunately it was dry, even after all the rain - climbing on wet granite is to beg for a Darwin Award - and I clambered up a big boulder to where I could see a deep fissure running up the length of the slope - looked like the best spot to hold on! On top of the boulder was a smaller, but still considerably large and stable looking rock, so I climbed up, to feel it rocking gently underneath me. I froze and climbed back onto the bigger rock very carefully and then tried a few other routes up. Nothing felt safe enough for me to try. I'm not a stranger to falling, and I usually don't mind pushing my limits somewhat, but the idea of falling that far down onto a tangle of the massive thorns... not so much.

I looked around and decided that my best option was to get off the rock and walk along the base of the cliff (for lack of a better word) to where I could see there was a bit more of an incline and a few handholds and things. there was a big tree at the base of the rock, so I leaned my foot against it so I could shuffle down and jump off. Well, to cut a long story short, the tree was hollow and rotten and fell over. I got the fright of my life and did some spider-man-style backpedalling and then jumped off the side of the rock.

After all of that the climb was pretty uneventful, the incline was slopey enough for me to climb and my shoes were fantastic. I got new shoes a little while ago because my old field-shoes were all but worn out. I had to try a different brand and I haven't liked them too much so far, but today they definitely did the job!

to jump topic completely (it will make sense shortly) one of my favourite memories is of a school trip when I was 15 or 16. The staff at my school stated calling me the "happy camper" because that was the week where I came out of my shell and actually poke to people and participated. I had always been super-shy but for some reason that trip I wasn't and I think it was very much the turning point for me where I stopped being quiet and well-behaved and became... me. Anyway the trip was a week of kayaking, raft-building, archery, obstacle courses, hiking and... rock climbing and abseiling. I was near-phobic of heights, to the point where I could hardly stand on a chair without getting shaky, and that week i started my long journey of getting over it. I think if I could show my 15-year-old self the places I climb now, I would never have believed it! I managed to climb the 20 metre rock face, which was a huge step for me! Of course, most people did it in five to ten minutes, and I took almost an hour, stopping only to swear loudly at a sometimes friend of mine (I think I was the most-quoted person on the trip as nobody had ever heard me swear before either). i felt quite bad about it later as she had been trying to shout encouragement, while I had been trying to focus, but she claimed to be proud to be the person who finally got me to yell obscenities. For the record I didn't manage the abseiling, going into hysterics and climbing back up after a few metres, but I can still remember the cheering when I made it to the top!

Anyway, the guy who was running the climbing section became a good friend of mine on the trip. he was a huge Afrikaans guy with dreds, called Isaak and we used to chat about life in general most evening. He was the type who would go crazy staying in one place for more than a few months and had backpacked around Botswana a month or two before, and I asked so many questions about his travels that it amazes me that he didn't smack me on the head and tell me to shut up.

so, to the point of the story, while I was climbing today I kept hearing his voice in my head saying "the trick to rock climbing is to stay as close to the rock as possible. Don't lean back, lean forward. Plan your route up and then hug the rock. Stay as close to the rock as you can." It was kind of weird. I haven't thought about that trip for ages! For the record, a friend of mine went to work at the camp a few years later and the staff there remembered our group. Might have to do with an unfortunate injury I inflicted on the boss during a game of pool volleyball/rugby (word of advice: if I have the ball do NOT grab on to my foot from behind. I will kick. Hard). Isaak has, of course, moved on by now and nobody hs a clue about where he is.

So after all that I sat at the top and admired the view of the farm. The rain has cleared the dust haze and I could see forever! Plus it gave me a chance to recover from the adrenaline-shakes. And I walked across the outcrop and down the path to the main road. The other day when I missed the path and got stuck in some thorn bushes I smelled something odd and thought I'd stepped in some baboon dung. The smell was worse today, and pretty unmistakable. An animal has died, near the path. How on earth people do jobs with decomposing bodies, I have no idea, I ended up running back to the house to escape the stench. Which was fun - not the stench, the run. Last year I went running nearly every day but I haven't yet on this trip.

And then I sat and fought with formulae and numbers and finally finished a section of what I've been working on for the last 6 weeks. So all in all it's been a good day! And now that I've finished my evening cup of Rooibos and evening biscuit I'm going to head off to bed so I can get up early and machete an easier path to the new sites before I have to start trapping.

Either way, I think I've more than made up for the recent lack of posting by the length of this! I didn't realise how long it was getting...

Sunday, September 07, 2008

I am such a nerd

I've been batlting with a particular dataset for about a month now, and I just got it to work. And I did a happy-dance around my living area. I think the anti-poaching guys think I'm nuts...

For the record, I'm really not making massive strides, but little steps make me happy...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A random day

I'm writing this while itching with sunburn - yes, it warmed up today, no, it's still windy as anthing and the lizards aren't cooperating.

I should have known that it wasn't going to be a normal day, when i slept through my alarm this morning, and then woke up and dashed off to the field site, to find baboons and giraffe all over it! I've got to know the giraffes relatively well, there are usually 3 of them and they stay in a pretty small area. It's so dry at the moment that I'm seeing a lot more of the big mammals than usual, I think they're battling to find food. There was a fourth girafe today, which was quite exiting! I used to get stuck behind a single giraffe on the road all the time, I wonder if that's him, if he's made a few friends... I hope so.

I should have gone to a different site straight away, the lizards are very wary when it's cool, and something like giraffe trampling around means that they might not coe out of hiding for at least several hours, but it was still windy, and this site is one of the more sheltered ones, so I stayed. Bad move.

Firstly, my back and arms got fried today! I'm usuall realy good about sunscreen, but with the wind blowing it didn't feel too hot, so I forgot about it.

Secondly I decided to bite the bullet and trap one of my least favourite sites on the outcrop. It's very sheltered and away from the worst of the giraffe-baboon invasion and I can usually bank on getting quite a few lizards there. Basically it's a long, smooth slope at about 45 degrees, kind of convex, with big boulders at one end, a long crevice at another, and a long convex rock in-between. the rock has been named "the bitch" because it's about 5 metres long, and every single lizard in that area runs under it at some stage during the day. this means that it's incredibly important to set traps under it properly, and incredibly difficult to do so. Generally it involved a lot of me setting three or four and then falling to the bottom, swearing as I do it!

Unfortunately it's been a while since the last burn (and with this dry wind it will be a while until the next one) so the bottom of the outcrop is surrounded by thorn bushes, shrubs, fallen branches from the windstorms and a lot of dead leaves - all in all not the sliding and thumping own on my feet onto earth that I'm used to. So I went aong the bottom, wading through the leaves, and traping the long crevices as I went. When I got to the bottom of the big rock, I started laying traps along the edge, and then climbed a bit up and set some more. this was all carrying a large, purple bucket full of traps! When I couldn't reach anymore I mnaged to somehow get the bucket wedged at the top of the rock, only raining a few raps down onto my head, and started to climb. I was only a few metres off the ground when I realised that I was completely and utterly stuck. I couldn't turn around to slide down because I had switched feet on the one and only foothold in my direct vicinity and there was no way of switching back. the nearest hndholds were out of reach, and the closest little nubs of rock weren't enough (with my female-typical upperbody strength) to pull myself up. My other foot was splayed across the rock face onto an almost-foothold, but more to stop the cramps in my other foot than for any actual purpose. I've climbed a lot of rocks here, and I understand that almost foothold + almost handhold = a bad idea.

I couldn't go back down, I couldn't jump down without risking a pretty bad injury, and I ouldn't go up at all. My left leg, which had been supporting me for about 20 minutes on a pretty sharp piece of rock was cramping and I didn't know what to do. I used to be really afraid of heights, and it was like I was 8 years old on the high-dive board all over again. I coulnd't move, I was terrified, I started shaking.

Then something weird happened. I leaned across and put my right foot back onto the slightly rough patch of rock that might almost be a foothold and then I watched as my arms seemed to move by themselves, onto the almost-handholds and pulled me up. I could feel my arm muscles straining and my leg pushing as my left foot finally left the uncomfortable spot and my knee came to rest of a slightly rough seam of rock. I came to my senses enough to pull muself up to the top of the big rock (it's a thin, long rock, so its kind of a sharp top, but stable enough for the moment) and I sat down and pulled myself together before setting the rest of the traps.

The weird thing was that a while later I was at the bottom again, checking and fixing up traps, and I found myself wating to climb the rock again. I thought that I ahd done it, so it was possible, so why not? Then the logical part of m brain told me to shut up, and I went bak up the easy way.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Dreams

I don't have much to say except that today wasn't particularly fun. It was cold, and the lizards were barel active. I have a game-plan for tomorrow though, so I'm not feeling too bad. I had turned off the geyser for one of the bathrooms (there are two outside bathrooms with shower-stalls and toilet cubicles and stuff, as well as the two indoor ones) yesterday and I discovered when I came back from the ield, complete with oil and dust covering and oil in hair, that I'd actualy turned both of them off. I figured that i was tough enough for a cold shower - I've been on enough cmping trips and so on to know wht they're like. In summer here, when it gets super-hot I take them by choice! Plus when my girlie side makes me wash conditioner out of my hair with cold water (akes our hair shiier and doesn't fade your colour as much) I've had enough cold showers to be pretty ok with the concept.

Wat I didn't thin about was that it wasn't a very warm day, and I'd been in the sun all day watching out for lizards, so I was nie and warm. I also didn't think about the fact that we have a borehole, so the temperature of the cold water fluctuates pretty wildly depending on the weather (it's pumped into an above-ground reservoir).

The excruciating nature of the shower cannot be descibed. All I know is that it was the fastest shower I have ever taken, and I was almost blue afterwards, when I came inside and put on 3 layers of clothing and shivered for the rest of the day.

I took a nap a bit later, although I didn't sleep well, it got really cold. Anyone who has ever been camping with me will tell you that I don't sleep when it's cold. I drift around the campsite clutching a cup of tea, until I hit exhaustion and sleep the next afternoon, which leads to me sitting up all of the next night with my cup of tea...

I had some really bizarre dreams too! I can't reember them, but I woke up freaked out and disoriented. I turned on my laptop to liten to music while I made dinner to find that the first song that came up was "dream a little dream of me." Weird.

I find lately that I have weird dreams after I watch weird TV shows. Prison Break, anything random and scifi-ish, the new wizard of oz miniseries... and redaing Hrry Potter books - which is why I still haven't read the last book.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

cloud shapes in the wind

So I drove down to the field yesterday, and halfway down I started worrying about the car. I had to aim about 45 degrees left all the way and I was convined that I would have to stop along tehe way and get the wheel alignment sorted out. When I stopped at Machadodorp for lunch and got out the car, I relised that it had nothing to do with the car, but rather the gale-force winds! I had to stagger in to the bathroom and then fight the wind behind me all the waay back. I had been frying in the car, as the sun was pretty hot, but it was even worse outside as the wind was also very warm. I managed to get the last paddle-pop in the star shop (seriously, people have to start stocking more purple and yellow paddle-pops!) and went on my way.

I was running seriously late, after going out with Lara and crew the night before and only really paking in the morning. Typically I can pack for a trip in about 2 minutes, but as I'm in it for the long haul (at least 2 months) I took a bit longer, partly because I as trying to find extra bags for al the little things that I kept adding in. Here's some advice for anyone going on fieldwork; take a few things that will keep you sane, even if they are totally impractical. I have a white jersey, among other things, because when I get back from a day in the field, hot, dusty, usually bruised and bleeding and often with glue in my hair - the idea that I could (if I wanted to) get showered and change into something clean and pristinely white - it really makes a difference. The chances of my wearing it on this trip are practically nil, but at least I know that it's there, and as such it plays much more of a role than many of the things that I use relatively often.

I got to the shopping centre at around 3:30 and took my time doing the first big grocery shop. the sense of deja-vu-but-not wasn't as strong as before, possibly because I was expecting it, but probably because I was tired and hot. I got to the house before it got dark, unpacked and collapsed into bed by about 7 or so, where I picked up the book I was reading last time and tried to figure out where I left off. It didn't grab my attention enough for me to start all over again. The kudu were in the garden again, like a milk-moustached welcoming committee that ran away as soon as I walked anywhere near them. I wonder how the baby is doing, I'm sure he was there but he's grown too much for me to ecognise him!

thi morning was windy gain, although not as bad as yesterday, so I headed off to an outcrop that I know to have a few sheltered areas. I caught two lizards before I packed up - the lizards werent super-active and the wind was picking up so that the traps were starting to strain at their press-stick a bit. The coolest part was when I sat watching some of the traps and a female stuck her head out of a crevice right next to my. She freaked and ran back in, but then stuk her head out again, watching me. I didn't move and she kept going in and out, until she ran out, probably only 5cm from my knee, rushed about 2m to where was traps were, grabbed a mantid and then ranced back nto the crevice. I felt very Attenboroughesque being right next to the action like that!

Once I got back the wind was really picking up, and I rushed inside with all my equipment to spin my blood samples down. An hour later I coouldn't see even the nearest trees from the window. There was so much dust from the wnd that it looked foggy. the house, despite not having a single level patch of floor, is really solid, and I felt safe, while I watched tree branches floating past the windows. At one stage wen it calmed a bit I walked around outside, where I felt the same kind of exhilaration that I usually get from walking in the rin, except that instead of having to towel off when I came inside, I had to put in eyedrops and brush the sand and twigs out of my hair.

And house after that I sat inside trying to figure out what the shapes flying past the window were. It was kind of like pictures in the clouds, except that there were actual possibilities that I was right! At one stage I could have sworn I saw a branch go past wth a surprised vervet monkey attached, another time I thought I saw the purple-crested lourie that I see on our roof sometimes.

Other than that I took a nap, did some work and have been fighting the internet ever since. It's good to be back!