Sunday, May 31, 2009

Just my luck!

So today, as my last official day in the field (until August/Septembers bumper 3-month session) was the day to tie up all the loose ends. I went off to the rocks to take some measurements, and was completely weirded out by having my laptop on the rocks... I went to one that's really close and I was super-careful, but it was still a strange feeling to have the sun beating down on me while I typed in calibration coefficients and other things that I really don't understand!

After that I headed off to release my second-last batch of lizards, taking my camera along to get some photos of them. I needed a couple of samples from females for some lab work when I get back, so I took some traps along with me. I also figured I'd do some trapping for the masters student who was visiting not so long ago. Shes very new to the whole trapping thing and not wildly successful, and while she was here I helped as much as possible, but I was essentially chasing a different species and as it happened they weren't overlapping too much at the time.

So I caught a few females for me, and a few of her males, when the wind picked up and I decided to let my lizards go (they'd been safely kept in a bucket under a tree, because otherwise you end up re-trapping them which is super-stressful for all concerned) and so I went to pick up traps.

One of the traps I had wedged under the back of a rock, between smaller rocks and a clump of really thick grass. It's a small access point, but I lost a lot of potential data to it so i usually shove a trap under there just in case. I pushed the grass back to grab it, and thought:

what a weird looking lizard!
That's not a lizard is it?
Holy crap it's a snake!
Oh no, it's a snake's TAIL which means the HEAD with the pointy scary bits is free under the rock and if I reach in and grab the trap it could swing around and attack me!

I would like to mention here, that I have no problem with snakes. In the right setting, I think they're awesome. I had a snake living behind a cupboard in the house here for months (ok, I did freak out a bit when I saw that one). Once, when we had an exhibition at university and there was a snake on display and he was cold I walked around campus with him around my neck all day (really does wonders for getting through crowds). I just have a slight problem when I have no idea what the snake might be, and I'm a good hours drive from the nearest hospital.

So I did what any self-respecting zoologist would do. I got a stick. No, not to hurt the poor little guy! I tried to drag the trap out from under the rock with said stick. The snake swung around and managed to get his chin stuck on the trap. And he hissed and I may have got a bit of a fright and jumped back slightly.

And then I was stuck. Basically, when trapping lizards, you put out long lines of traps, and if there's even a tiny gap under or between traps, the lizards skip over or under or through the gaps and don't get caught. Turns out I'm pretty good at getting them flat, because this one was wedged. I needed a stick with an opposable thumb. Of course, by now the snake was beginning to freak out at not being able to move, and probably the crazy human waving sticks around, and he started hissing and opening his mouth very very wide for me to see his little fangs (which, in hindsight were pretty cute). I was scared to pick the trap up by hand because I had no idea how stuck he was and if he was to freak and jerk free...

So I got a second stick and somehow managed to manoeuvre the trap out and on top of the rock. And then I realised that I had no idea how to proceed. No freaking clue. So I did what any self-respecting young scientist would do. I got a longer stick. Somehow I managed to use it to work his head and front part of his body free.

Well that was brainy.

He carried on gaping at me, and I tried to free the rest of him, which resulted in him swinging around to attack the stick, and getting his head stuck again.

So I got another stick, and managed to get the end into a sort of fork, and pinned his head over the rock away from the trap. He didn't like it, and then I was stuck again because the hand holding the stick holding his head meant that there was no hand to hold a stick to hold the trap down while I freed the rest of him.

So I had to work the stick between him and the trap, holding his head away from it, while I used the point to hold the trap down, and the other hand to move a different stick to get him off. It took a while.

Around then I heard a car nearby. Nearby being the road, which is about a fifteen minute walk from where I was, but close enough for me to start worrying that I was going to get unexpected visitors at the house - with the long hours trapping and measuring and being a bit sick, the house is a huge mess at the moment, and I started freaking that they might go there and I hadn't washed the dishes...

Anyway, I finally got him off the trap, much to my relief, and then realised that I was faced with a sticky snake (no pun intended). He wasn't too bad, but I couldn't just leave him! For my lizards I use cooking oil which dissolves the glue if you rub it on them, but there was no way I was going to manage that the conventional way. I keep two small bottled of oil in a pocket for when I'm trapping, so at least I was well stocked! I held the snake away from me with on stick, and hurled the contents of a bottle onto him. He was not impressed 9to say the least) and then I poured the other bottle in front of him and chased him over the resulting puddle.

He seemed to get away well enough, although that section of rock is going to be hazardous for a while! And he went into grass, so I'm hoping the worst of the oil-glue solution will rub off on that.

The moral of the story: if you want to do something nice for someone, trapping reptiles for them is probably not the best plan!

Oh, and I didn't have visitors after all.
And I looked the snake up, and it was venemous, although not one of the really bad ones. I feel a bit justified in keeping it as far away from me as possible!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Civilisation - where you have to tie your shoelaces so that people don't give you funny looks

So, I figured I might as well mention, that as of tomorrow evening I will be finished here! For now anyway. And so, on Monday, after I release the last few lizards, make sure the house is as clean as it's going to get and pile all my stuff in the car, I will be heading back to Joburg!

And of course, as it's the thing that's been driving me for the last week or two, I'm beginning to reach the phase where I don't really want to go home. Its much like the way I don't really want to come here - I moan and gripe and fuss and delay, and then as soon as I get here it feels like I've come home and I slip right back into my old routine - life in the big city seems like a weird memory! When I get home, being here is kind of like a weird memory. Like a dream or something.

So I try to focus on what I've missed - people (the only conversation I've had in the last two weeks has been with a sympathetic pharmacist when I was sick), being able to buy something when I want it, and not wait for my bimonthly shopping trip, a hot bath (that's number one on my list of priorities for when get home!), not being sunburned and covered in dirt and scratches all the time. There's also the gym - I like having a treadmill to run on because it's nice and flat, the hills here are way too much for me! Decent coffee is also right up there, although I admit I'm not really missing it as much as usual. Not having my life ruled by the weather. Wearing clean clothes every day (I wear my field clothes for at least three days before I wash them, it's disgusting, but considering that I'm filthy within minutes of getting out there, it seems a waste to destroy clean clothes, plus I get to limit the number of outfits I rip or stain or just plain wear out).

At the same time I love the simplicity of fieldwork. To have a single goal (collect x data points) and everything you do revolves around it this time has been amazing because i haven't had any major catastrophes. All of the fieldwork i've been on has had disasters - mole-rats when we couldn't catch enough, Luke's baboon research where we could't find baboons, the other mole-rat trip where they kept dying and f course my fieldwork which began with a rainy season like never before where we wowuld lose weeks at a time to rain. And then of course my two field sessions last year where the drought was so bad that the lizards were either dead or in hiding and I had to drive for up to an hour every day to find sites(including one covered in broken glass and toilet paper on a citrus farm) where I would eke out a few individuals and then trek back home. This time (touch wood)I got my best-case scenario numbers, within my best-case scenario time-frame without lasting injury, besides a certain low-level nausea which I've figured out comes from watching DVDs and playng Spider-solitaire at the same time (gives me motion-sickness, as I discovered last night!).

So maybe my nostalgia is just being compounded by life being generally ok here? I don't know. All I know is that the appeal of having meals cooked for me, taking a hot bath, being able to pick out my shoes based on style, not toughness and grip, hanging out with my friends and sleeping in my own bed is not really weighing up particularly well against the bad parts: traffic, noise, pollution and being surrounded by people all the time.

That said, I should probably go and do laundry so that I don't have to pack dirty clothes next to clean clothes tomorrow!

Friday, May 29, 2009


So while I sit and set traps and all that fun stuff, I do a lot of thinking. Bear in mind that in the course of about 4 hours I may catch two or three lizards, and as I have the routine of retrieving it, taking a blood sample, making notes, putting lizard in a bag under a tree and resetting traps down to about 4 minutes, there's a lot of time inbetween for random thought. So today, instead of my usual diatribe about why thorn trees are out to get me (they are) and ticks have some mystical radar for me (they do) and the rocks only fall when I've been standing on them for 10 minutes and am starting to relax (they do), i thought I'd let you guys in on some of what I was thinking today. Today was a good day, with amazingl little soul-searching introspection or rehashing past conversations while mentally slapping myself for my stupidity, so I figured it's as good a time as any!

This is my first embed, I hope it works! Anyway I had this song stuck in my head today (it's a good song, despite the weirdness of the video!) and I got to thinking about Unicorns. The line stuck in my head was the "We're the Unicorns, we're more than horses!" and I started wondering about why exactly that is.

Almost every girl I know had posters of dolphins, horses, unicorns and (often) cats, right next to the Backstreet Boys or *N Sync (depending on which side you supported) on her wall. Bear in mind I was a teenager in the late 90's and it was cool then.

I have long since given up trying to understand the appeal of dolphins, they're ok, but really? Give me a likkewaan or a cuttlefish or a capybara anyday! But what the heck is the appeal of unicorns?

Horses I get. They kind of scare me, and as far as I know, besides the classic being dragged around by a trainer who is holding the ropes I don't think I've ever ridden a horse. But I love the idea of having the freedom to go just about anywhere without your legs getting tired, letting your transport feed itself and the general riding into the sunset thing. It's cool. The whole along a beach thing, not so much, but that's just me.

So you take a horse, which is useful, and has big eyes and therefore humans love them, and give it a horn and mystical powers? WTF? I mean really, who wants to hug a rhino?* I mean surely, taking something that's really amazing and useful and as close to man's best friend as his dog will allow, and putting something sharp and dangerous on it? And, if you take the magical powers out of the equation, all you've got is a kind of sheepish looking horse that looks like it's been the victim of a nasty prank.

On the other hand, there's always Charlie!

So do you guys like unicorns? Care to explain the point of the whole idea to me (no pun intended, really!)

*Not counting that baby rhino on the documentary who was wearing socks because his feet were cold and it was really incredibly adorable.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

in the spirit of sharing

After much discussion and planning and never actually getting around to it, Luke and a few others have FINALLY started a blog where we can compare the little gems that our kiddies give us to mark! We have boards and papers and emails and all kinds of records to draw on because some things just must be shared! You can find it here if you're in need of a chuckle!

in other news, i need one more lizard, and a cold front has set in, timed perfectly with a lovely stomach bug that has me being rather violently ill every 45 minutes (like clockwork). Did you know that for me to get form bed to the haunted bathroom, I have to turn on six different lights? I can get by with four though. I managed to get myself into town today and get to a pharmacy and now I'm doped up to the gills and hoping to feel better tomorrow. For what it's worth, I still went trapping!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The big 300!

So I just realised that I have over 300 posts on here! I think this is number 303! As I didn't catch any lizards today I figured I would write about my blog instead (rather than a diatribe on how awful it is when the lizards aren't cooperating and you have the "I'm too sexy for my shirt" song stuck in your head).

Oh and for the record, thanks to everyone who was nice to me when I felt awful yesterday, the headache is almost gone and I've been drinking lots of liquids - my water bottle, which I had thoughtfully filled with Game this morning to stave off the dizziness was totally attacked by ants and I drank most of it anyway! Proud?

So yes, it's been almost three years since I started this blog, I didn't really want to, but I as peer-pressured into it, and having had rather a lot of fun having comment-wars on other people's blogs I figured I might as well go for it. Oddly enough I think that out of all of us I'm the one who still blogs the most regularly, with the exception of Sarah, who started a new blog when she moved to Japan, which makes me giggle on an almost daily basis!

I have weird memories of blogging, from typing out an angry post on email on my phone while my friend and her new boyfriend mauled each other repeatedly in front of me, to one of the first posts, when I'd used out lab's psycho-tap to scrub tiles one Saturday and sprayed water down the front of my pants, on a day when the high-schoolers were touring, so I made a cup of tea and sat and drank it while holding a wad of paper-towel over my lap and writing about how awkward it was. There was the soul-searching (not really) moment when one of my mother's friends accused me of being a goth. there are many many posts on my fieldwork, with my favourite being about a day when everything went totally wrong, but I didn't let it get to me.

I don't ever really have "I should blog this!" moments, although sometimes I do, but generally forget about it until I'm in the middle of another post. I have a few dedicated and awesome readers, and a few who read my blog even though I've never met them! They've also gone in phases, three years ago we had a bunch of Americans living in Korea who we got to know pretty well, then there was the phase with the weird American who freaked out if we didn't comment every day...

There are people who I email regularly as a result of my blog, and people who have blogs that I love reading even though I have no idea who they are- for some reason they make a discussion on their choice of curtains fascinating!

So I guess I should say thanks! Thanks to the friends who forced me to start this. Thanks to the people who read and comment and make it feel like I'm doing more than talking to myself. thanks to the friends who make my life so weird that I have stuff to say! Thanks to the lizards who give me plenty of experiences that I feel the need to retell.

Happy 300 guys!

Monday, May 25, 2009


So today I went to the really nasty site and did lots of rock climbing. I was quite proud of myself, there were areas i've really battled with before that I was scampering around like a maniac! Unfortunately it was boiling hot and after a few hours I started having dizzy almost-fainting spells and had to come home (water and Sparkles didn't even work!), although by then it was cooling down for the day anyway.
So now I have a rather sore knee and I think a bit of sunstroke. So I'm going to take my headache to bed and I'll catch up with you guys tomorrow!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Not so good

I had a bad day today. It was hot, horribly humid and the lizards decided to take a weekend off or something because there were practically little lizard-shaped tumble-weeds rolling around. You know, when you see something and go "LIZARD! It's a liza- nope, sorry it was a leaf..." Gotta love pareidolia! However you spell that. Interestingly enough when I was in Kruger wth the Australian, she saw kangaroo-shaped rocks everywhere.

I hate trapping on weekends because a lot of the farms in the conservancy are owned by people who stay in town and have normal jobs and then pop down to the farm when they can - usually on a Saturday or Sunday. The farmers who actually live here are pretty nice and we have a mutual-ignoring policy where we just don't bother each other. So on weekends I try and trap as close to the farmhouse as I can to avoid weird strangers wearing way too much khaki (I'm in black at the moment, very emo-trapper...).

So today I went to a few sites and nothing was moving so I went to one of the ones that has been good before, but on this trip hasn't been great - last year I got something like 12 lizards in two days there, this year I got two. In two days (numbers 9-16 and 9-17 for what it's worth! 9-16 was hiding behind a bed of our equivalent of stinging nettles. Bugger). Usually when I get to a site I pull off the road and then walk to the rocks. This can be anything from a few metres away to a half-hour hike through thorn-bushes, in this case it was about 100 metres of thorns and then the outcrop itself stretches up the hill in clumps of rock for quite a way. This spot has nowhere to pull over so I generally just park in the middle of what can be very loosely described as road, and nobody ever goes down there so it's OK.

I had been there for about an hour when I heard someone coming. It sounded like a tractor that I see relatively often (about once every week/ten days) which usually takes a different fork in the road, so I didn't worry. Vehicles in the section of the conservancy that I'm in have to be kitted out with silencers and things so they don't disturb the other people there or the animals, which are super-skittish to begin with. Either way I stood to see what was happening - I had more than enough time to move the car if the giant tractor came my way, otherwise I could watch it pass and keep working.

Next thing I know, along comes a giant Land Rover, occupied by a giant farmer and his equally giant wife, all kitted out in safari-gear for their little game drive. I sighed and packed up my things, as they seemed to see right through me when I waved (the person dressed in black on very light-brown rocks, clearly visible from the road) and I figured I'd better move on anyway. The farmer got out, walked around my vehicle and looked through the windows, while his little wifey decided to be helpful by hooting. A lot. Because obviously having a car that sounds like a small fleet of fighter-jets isn't enough to disturb the wildlife.

Then he walked off the side of the road as if he was looking for a way around. There isn't one. If there was I would be parked on it. Moron. Then he started to climb the hill at the side of the road opposite to where I was, as if he was looking for the mysterious person who had left a bakkie in the road. I waved, but once again they didn't see me. By now I was making my way down the hill. There are a lot of loose rocks, and I was quite slow because my knee has been punishing me for all the work I've been making it do, and the last thing I want is to fall and hurt any other parts of me, and I heard him on the phone.

How he got signal out there is beyond me, I get it occasionally if the wind is blowing in the right direction, and I hum and spin in a circle and then climb a tree - and that's at the TOP of the hill! (It's a good tree, I sit in it often). And he started yelling into the phone. Because hooting and driving a caterpillar-truck disguised as a Landie doesn't upset the wildlife at all. I couldn't quite make out what he was saying, it was quite far from me and in angry Afrikaans. Basically it was to say that there was an abandoned vehicle on the road, he couldn't get past and something about smoke, or smell or something. My Afrikaans is pretty good (I go to the AGMs here and discuss fire-protection policy and wildlife-stocking versus organised hunting or culling regimes all in Afrikaans) but sometime it seems to pack up and go to Venezuela (why there? because the lizards are in Jamaica of course!).

By then I was almost at the road,and I picked up the pace - as much as I don't really like dealing with farmers, the last thing I wanted was for the shotgun to come out of the glove compartment to fire warning shots in the air or something. And then I heard the Juggernaut starting and clumsily reversing down the road a bit, turning around and driving off in the other direction. It's a one-way road - not because of oncoming traffic, but because very few cars (4x4 or not) could get up the hill, where I generally have to force myself to keep my eyes open when going DOWN for fear of the car doing a somersault.

So I counted: 4...3...2...1... and then I heard it "GRAAAAUNCH!" They'd got stuck on the first bump. Whoops. I drove off quickly, and turned up my music in an effort to avoid hearing the vehicle of death churning up an already vague road. If anyone asks, that wasn't me! I ran into the anti-poachers on the next outcrop, and they'd totally testify to it!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The weirdest ideas

So I had a pretty normal day, went trapping, caught lizards came home, took a nap, measured lizards... what on earth is there for me to blog about?

WAIT! I know! I went to this giant crevice network today, its usually good for a few lizards, but it's massive and you have to trap metres and metres of it to catch anything, so I usually plan a windy day (it;s quite sheltered) and then spend a morning there. So I went rushing off there today, saw a ton of lizards all running into the middle section and I went to set traps.

I decided to start from the left, so I scrambled up to the crevice, put the first trap in and then started thumping it around and adjusting it. The traps have to lie flat, otherwise the little buggers just crawl underneath, so there's always some scraping around to find the best spot. Then I saw something moving. "Hmm, that's odd!" I thought. "Maybe a skink is trying to hide but it's too small or something" so I looked closer.

Whatever it was came a bit closer too. Its tongue started flicking, and then it came even closer. Yip, there I was, messed-up knee, traps in hand, clinging rather precariously to a rather steep bunch of rocks, with my head halfway into a crevice having a staring match with a rather large snake. I felt like I levitated back about 5 metres, until I realised I'd just taken a step back, and so I rather quickly packed my things up and went somewhere else.

Something made a noise a bit later and I really did levitate - vertically!

In other news, my jackal friend is back! wow I should write children's books "Jackal said 'yip!yip!' Helen said 'Yay!'" I've missed having him around to watch or listen to in the evenings.

So anyway I was thinking today, while trapping, about whether or not the colour of nail-polish you have on your fingernails and toenails says anything about your personality. Toenails are covered more often than not by shoes, and so I would think that they might be a slightly more reliable reflection of a person's character, whereas fingernails are something of a statement.

Any thoughts?

Friday, May 22, 2009

The most awesomely awesome day EVER!

Awesome things that happened today:

  1. After two days of solid rain and miserableness, it was a beautiful day! It was sunny and warm but not boiling hot, with enough breeze to be comfortable. The sky was the most stunning blue and it was clear, the rain has cleaned out all the dust-haze from the mountains so I can see for miles!
  2. I can walk properly! I even went up steps one stair at a time, unlike the shuffle both feet on each step thing I was doing. It'll be a few days before I'm back to scrambling on the nastier rocks, but I was able to cope today, as long as I don't kneel on it, it seems fine, with a few painful twinges ever now and then to remind me to take it easy.
  3. I caught five lizards today! FIVE! And there were a few more so I'll have enough to keep me busy for a day or so, on one of the easier outcrops until I can cope with the climbing again. FIVE!!!!
  4. My equipment arrived from Joburg today so I can finally get finished with the lizards I've caught already. I've checked it and it seems to be working fine which is a huge relief!
  5. I discovered that although I've kind of gone off weet-bix (my cereal of choice for about a decade) it's absolutely delicious if you sprinkle some cinnamon on top!
  6. Because I had to go into town to get the equipment, I was able to stop and get petrol (a huge stress gone, I always worry about having to hike out of here, 4x4 uses a lot of fuel!) and creme soda!
  7. As I was filthy from trapping and had to go into town I was able to get to the showers before the anti-poaching guys could use up all the hot water again!
  8. My laundry is dry! And despite having a broken oil bottle in a pocket, as well as over a week of trapping dirt on all of it, it seems to have come out stain-free! Gotta love Vanish! Plus I saw the episode of green wing with the dead thing's box, and now whenever I think about laundry I have to yell "What? They haven't been WAH-SHED?" The kudu think I'm nuts.

Bad things:

  1. I accidentally got the lavender no-rinse fabric softener (the washing machine here is a great luxury, but a bad rinser) and so now I smell like an old lady.
  2. I told my mother about the leopard. The panic in her voice... not so good. Whoops.
  3. The anti-poachers are still here. As much as I guess it's good to have two guys in tents with rifles around in case anything scary happens, well... there are two men with rifles sleeping in tents in my garden!

So bad:3 good:8

What a great day!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Scary stuff!

So last night it poured with rain, which is quite weird for winter here, but the weather has been a bit strange on this trip. I was sitting at my laptop at around midnight (don't judge me! I get distracted and then I realise that it's 2am and I haven't slept...) when amidst the noise of rain hitting the roof, i her a weird thudding noise, like something was crawling around on top of the house.

I was very brave and took the supa-awesome spotlight that my folks got me for my birthday and went looking. I didn't see anything, but it was really dark and I didn't get much further than the verandah - the steps down were wet and my knee was really sore and swollen from falling earlier- couldn't bend it at all - so I didn't want to get hurt.

A little bit later I heard it next to the house - the sort of almost-grunting/snoring/rasping noise. Yip, I was visited by the leopard last night! I know there are rumours of a few in the conservancy where I'm living at the moment, and a few people ave seen them. I hear them quite often and I've found kills up trees before, but this was the first time one has come near the house. I think he may have been trying to snack on the vervets and monkeys that shelter near the house when it gets rainy.

This afternoon I heard it again, really near the house, but just beyond the tree-line so I couldn't see it, but I think one of my kudu might have had a nasty shock. If he's been around the house it explains why there has been a distinct lack of game in the area for the last two weeks!

On the plus side it was freezing and cloudy today so I couldn't go lizard-hunting, and think my body decided that it was time to force e to get some sleep so I could recover from my fall. I got up ridiculously late, pottered around for a few hours, went back to lie down for an hour and woke up at 5! It seems to have worked, considering that I've taken a grand total of 4 disprin over the last 24 hours, I can bend my knee again, and as long as I don't push myself I can sort of walk around! The bruise isn't as impressive as i would have hoped, there's something about pain being reflected on the surface that's very satisfying (don't I sound emo? It's not like there's anyone here to sympathise!), but if the weather report is correct, and the fact that I can see a few stars is anything to go by I should be back on the lizard-hunt first thing tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

good and bad

So I finally got my camera to talk to my laptop! So here are the promised photos. Im not going to write much today except that, after 10 days of relatively incident-free scrambling around on dangerous rocks, today ti was cold and i dodn't go traping, but rather tripped over my own feet and now I can't bend my left knee at all. What are the chances? On the plus side I have an addiction to frozen peas (I'll happily eat entire bowls of them) which as everyone knows are the world's best ice-packs so I'm well looked after!

In other news I was so bored by not being able to walk, I decided to pull out my makeup bag and do something that'll scare the nice little nelspruiters next time I go through there. A friend I told about it didn't believe me, so I took a photo, the only problem is that it really doesn't look like me! I think it's the angle or something, but to not recognise yourself in a photo that you took of yourself... it's weird!

The photos are in no particular order, I'm afraid my connection's not great, so I don't want to fiddle too much. Captions are underneath!

The view from a trapping site. Bear in mind that everythng green in this picture is a thorn tree. The little white spot in the centre is my vehicle. I have to get from the rocks to the vehicle, carrying two heavy buckets and a cooler bag. the house is about two hills behind the vehicle, it's only about 3km to the house, but there's now way I could manage it with buckets and everything after a hard day's trapping.

One of the easier sites to trap. For scale, the boulders at the back are probably up to my shoulders.

Yes people, this is basicallymy back garden! It's the view from the verandah where I sit every evening and watch the bats and the jackal and the kudu and the birds...
This is the kind of site that I fall on, repeatedly. They're generally surrounded by huge thick vines covered in thorns with the diameter of your average pencil. This particular location is on the farm next door, the farmers have a history that would make any soap jealous, and this particular family scares me, so I don't trap there. They farm macadamia nuts, just for the record!
I think Kath inspired me: every time I drove out here I pass this hideous monument and wonder about it. This time I decided to solve the mystery and check it out! It's basically (from what I could understand in the flowery Afrikaans on a very worn plaque) to commemorate the very fine Afrikaans men who died fighting the very not fine English people. I could be wrong. It's just strange to have this huge monument in a field in the mddle of nowhere!
Although this is the view from it, and if I was a patriotic young Afrikaner, I'd probably like to be buried here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I think I should just drop this and become a mllionaire and retire to my private island

So I got lizard number 17 today, which is the absolute minimum I could get away with catching, I'm thinking of maybe staying here another week and then heading home. It's started getting really cold and activity is way down, basically I saw one lizard today, and I caught him - it's impossible to get them if you can't find them! On the plus side one of the outcrops I go to (the one next to the one I have to crawl through the fence for) is bigger than I thought! I went exploring this morning while nothing was moving and it extends for quite a way along the ridge!
I'm enjoying being on my own again, as much as the visiting people were all really nice. I feel the urge to call them 'nice kids' because I've taught two of them, but that would be weird because as it happened I was the youngest of the group by at least two years!
Anyway I was hoping to go homme for a night to pick up some equipment, but I spoke to my supervisor today and he said he'd rather courier it so it looks like I'll be stuck here until the end! Which I guess is a good thing because it's getting colder and I can't waste any potential decent weather, and I'm almost done anyway. I'm kind of annoyed that he was angry with me for my leaving the equipment behind, when I did that because it didn't seem to be working and I didn't want to drag it all the way down here, get him to send me the missing piece and then find out that it's broken! I guess I could have anyway and then got him to send me the other one if that happened, but I was upset and not thinking too logically at the time. Either way I think that it's MY job to be angry, particularly since, as it turns out, he didn't even take any of the stuff with him, he had it AT HIS HOUSE!
I got bitten by a spider or something on my ankle and it's swollen up to pretty epic proportions. The bite looks particularly impressive, its huge bright red, swollen and conveniently situated next to a tick-bite, which was bothering me so I think I scratched it to the point of bruising. All in all it looks very scary!
And that is life. I have to do laundry, my field clothes have passed the 'stylishly dirty/distressed' phase and are looking rather awful. And the weather report says it'll rain tomorrow, so I'm tempted to go into town and get some groceries, but at the same time I don't need much and I'm scared to shop ahead if I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to be here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Not a lot to say...

So yes, I go running with giraffe, spend my days running around after reptiles and live in a haunted farmhouse in the middle of nowhere for months at a time while doing it (my record is 13 weeks I think). So it's safe to say that I lead a slightly different life. And that's awesome sometimes.

Unfortunately, as with most things, people are amazingly resilient and the weirdest stuff becomes routine. I do the same stuff every day as much as someone in a cubicle. And so there's very little to say.

I took my Ipod out on the rocks with me today. It wasn't my best move- it never is. I tend to trap better without music, but some days I just need a bit of a morale boost and then I find humming along helps. Heaven only knows what the wildlife thinks, but I figured I'm giving them a free education.

So while I was trapping (I got two lizards today before it got boiling hot, there was a freak windstorm and my traps all miraculously stopped being sticky at the same time) I listened to my "Top Rated" play-list. This is basically where all the songs that I really like or listen to a lot until I play them to death, at which time they are removed and I forget about them. so I decided, as so many of my friends are blogging about music lately, that it was my turn!

Anyway I realised that I can remember why I picked each song. For example I have some Pearl Jam, Muse, Nightwish, Rob Zombie, Billy Talent and Breaking Benjamin on it because I find them easy to run or cycle to (on days when I'm tired and need something loud and energetic while still angry). These songs get skipped over when I'm driving because I already have a few minor road rage issues and they don't help.

On days that I'm exercising but I'm in a good mood and full of energy I have the Kill Bil soundtrack (amazingly upbeat!), the Unicorns, the Islands, the Fiery Furnaces, the Killers and so on.

On days when I'm depressed or tired or just want something soothing I have Watershed (there are memories attached there so I can't just remove it), Ben Lee, Neko Case, Feist, goldfish, Midnight Oil, Architecture in Helsinki, Wild Light, Lifehouse, The Boy Least Likely to and that sort of thing.

The trouble is that it takes me months to actually remove a song once I've started skipping it regularly. Like now, I'll decide to skip a song for the millionth time and think of taking it off, but then I'll remember why I liked it, what I was doing when I first heard it and when I do enjoy it and so it stays.

The play-list I used to have that I have since lost or deleted or maybe it was all on my top rated list and ebbed away over time, was a play-list of those songs that you can't help dancing to. I tried to make it again the other day and failed miserably. so far I have:

the Killers - All these things that I've done
Camera Obscura - if looks could kill
The Unicorns- I was born (a unicorn)
Fiery Furnaces- Tropical Iceland
Prodigy - Voodoo people

And now I'm stuck. Does anyone have any suggestions? And what's on your play-lists at the moment?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I found it!

There a site that I can always see from one of the outcrops, but I’ve never been able to find it. Tonight, I went in search of firewood and I decided that as it was almost dark, it was an ideal time to go in search of the elusive rocks that I know to be hidden away, nestled between the thorn bushes.

And, for some reason, today was the day that I found it! I’m so excited, and I will be trapping there first thing tomorrow. If course there were some unhappy altercations with thorny plants along the way, and I saw some rather familiar looking rocks, which I seem to remember standing on to get a better look when I went in search of the outcrop before. For the record, the outcrop is about 10 metres from said rocks… but a year ago the trees were impassable and I went back disappointed.

I made a fire for the visitors to cook on and they made me dinner (again). I feel bad eating other people’s food, but they’re very persistent, so I won’t complain! I also got three lizards today, so I’m four away from my minimum goal! It’s also equal to what I got last year, although last year it took me three weeks, this time it took me six days!

The visiting student and her small army of assistants is leaving tomorrow. I’m glad for the solitude, but sad to see them leave. It’s always nice to have a little bit of company, particularly if they bring new DVDs along with them! One of them brought a show called Green Wing, which is so funny! It’s really random humour which suits me perfectly!

Let’s hope tomorrow gives me four lizards and I can sleep better at night! Please all think happy and lizard-friendly thoughts!

Friday, May 15, 2009

I won! I won!

So Sarah and Luke both gave me an awe-summ award! It basically means that I have to list 7 things about myself that are awesome. Thanks guys!

It's good timing I think, in trying to figure out who I really am under all the self-defence tactics that make up what is referred to as my personality, as well as having time on the rocks to think about it, and now having visitors so I've had a chance to observe my interactions with people, and I've decided to try and stop being all cynical and self-deprecating. Lets hope!

At the same time it's harder than it looks to write this, so I'm going to go right on ahead and pretend that nobody will read it so that I can toot my own horn as much as I want to!

  1. I think I'm becoming a good photographer * A few years ago I had a photography assignment that was one of the worst moments in my undergrad career, and it still makes me upset to think about it. now I feel like I can hold my own with a camera and, to make things better, I LOVE taking photos and I have the most awesome camera ever!
  2. I can find humour in just about anything. As much as my sense of humour can get me in trouble, I find pretty much any situation amusing, and thus I rarely get bored!
  3. I can handle being alone for long periods of time. My love of solitude confuses a lot of people but I love the quiet and the calm as long as I have enough going on to stop me getting bored. Think of all the uses for having this kind of personality: I could succeed as an explorer, an astronaut, the list should be endless but I can't think of anything else.
  4. I just lost horribly in a game of Scrabble and that's OK. Who knew that Scrabble was a strategy game? Anyway anyone who knows my runaway competitive tendencies would understand that not caring about being better than everyone else is a very big step!
  5. I can bake awesome fudge and brownies.
  6. I can talk at a speed understood only by animals and close friends. While this may seem like a drawback, it means I can watch movies at double speed and understand what's going on!
  7. I can read insanely fast.

Now I tag: Kath, Suvvygirl, Po, EEbEE, Taz, Tamara and Jeff!


* Yes, I know, I know, I know! i will post photos as soon as my laptop agrees to recognise my camera and my connection allows photo uploads...


So this morning the weather was a bit iffy, but it cleared mid-morning
and I decided to make the most of the weather and tackle the largest
outcrop on the farm.

This outcrop is huge, slippery, steep-sided and either fantastic for
lizards or utterly appalling. Today was somewhere inbetween...

There WERE lizards, but they were few and far between, and i had a
fantastic time trotting from trap to trap, checking for lizards.

After three hours I began to plan quitting this to move to Jamaica,
and then I caught one! It was very exciting except that all my
planning lead me to imagining my lizards taunting me with Jamaican
accents. I blame sun exposure. And having a horrible song either by
Texas or roxette in my head.

While the remaining lizards teased me and outsmarted me over and over
again, I went hunting to use the traps freed up by my catching number
5, and I spotted the most beautiful lizard ever!

He was right at the bottom of a steep and slippery slope, and so i
went down very carefully- trying to avoid falling without losing sight
of a lizard is hard! And I set the traps and started climbing.

I had just reached the safe part, above the slippery area, when I
heard a noise- I'd caught him! And he was trying really hard to
escape. So, in terror, I did what any self-respecting zoologist would

with total regard for personal safety, I dropped everything and
launched myself down the slope, landing very gracefully in a pile of
leaf litter and a branch and grabbed him.

In other news, I have a masters student visiting to catch lizards and
she's brought some friends so I have some company for the weekend. Her
cousin's fiancee just staggered through the room in his boxers and
asked me why the world is moving. Which is why you don't drink a
wineglass of vodka. And repeating that with various other things is
also a bad idea.

The anti-poaching guys are back too, but I'll have to talk about that
tomorrow, as the drunk cousin's fiancee in boxers just tried
swallowing two effervescent aspirin and is now not happy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Well this sucks!

So I woke up all raring to go this morning, to realsie that it was freezing cold and cloudy. So I made a cup of tea and poured milk on my cereal and went back to bed. When I got up again (lets not mention how many hours passed in between) I put my tea in the microwave, ate my cereal (hours of soaking makes for wesome Squillos!) and stared at te sky going why WHY? oh WHY?!?!? (in my head of course. I'm isolated. Not crazy).

A few hours later it began to clear and so I eagerly set out in search of some lizards. Three sites later I still hadn't so much as seen one of mine and the sun was setting so I came home and went for a run out of sheer frustration, and ended up even more frustrated. Turns out running up and down gravelly hills is slightly harder than the treadmill that I know and love.

And so I measured the lizards from yesterday and took a nap, only to wake up absolutely freezing about half an hour later.

On the plus side, nothing makes running worth it like rounding a corner and seeing four giraffe staring at you with totally bemused expressions before galloping off! And I did run further than I would have expected, although the hills still absolutely kill me. I have a slightly kinder route planned for tomorrow (except for the 2km climb to get to the start of it).

And, despite everything, I'm feeling pretty good! it's amazing when I think back to the depressed and tense person I was for the last few weeks! Looks like all I needed was to get out of the city and climbing some rocks!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's May, I'm sunburned, wtf?

Yesterday was kind of frustrating with it being so cold and then kind of clearing up enough that I ended up catching a single lizard and then crawling through a dassie-sized hole (dassie!dassie!) under a fence (through mud, might I add) to get to another outcrop, where nothing so much as moved. It was awesome though, I've been wanting to explore the rocks there for ages, and I got to feel like an adventurer too, skulking around on what I presume to be Christo's farm (neighbour, he's nice) waiting for the appearance of the shotgun along with the barking boerboels and the "WAT MAAK JY?"
today has been awesome on several fronts:
1. I figured out which rusty metal thing to poke with a stick tube thing and therefore made the dodgy toilet flush! I had no idea that an influx of water would cause that stench though, so the safe bathroom is still temporarily shut and off limits with all the windows open. If all goes well I will attack it with Domestos in the morning.
2. I caught 3 lizards today which puts me at about 10% of the way there! 10 more good days and a week of measurements after that and I can go home!
3. It was a beautiful day! The birds were singing, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, I didn't run into any snakes, and the zebras were easy to chase off my study site (I have no problem with the giraffe herds, but zebra make me nervous).
4. Gym has paid off, usually the first few days involve lots of sweating, gulping down water and legs burning as I sprint from site to site. Today was remarkably easy - not as much as it usually is at the end of a three-month stint of this, but definitely better than the usual first week that I need to get back into the swing of spending around 8 hours running around on rocks every day.
5. I just had leftovers for dinner. I LOVE leftovers! And it's from the dinner I made last night which came out really well despite my nerves being rather frayed by the possibility of the gas stove exploding at any second!
6. Despite the gas being turned off, somehow the kitchen has hot water, which is weird because it's usually heated by a gas-powered geyser. I'm not complaining at all! No boiling the kettle to wash dishes is always a pro!
On the negative side:
1. Someone is coming here to do some work on Thursday, and the solitude I love so much will be interrupted.
2. I didn't realise how much I was burning today until I got home and took a nap and woke up itching. My face is OK, albeit a bit more freckly than before, but my arms are a rather fascinating shade of maroon. And I totally wore sunblock!
3. I realised this morning that the jackhammers in my head were not the result of the people at the Spar sneaking alcohol into my milk or anything else that I was frantically thinking of to explain my headache. It's the fact that back at the lab I have at least two cups of strong filter coffee a day, added to at least one at home and possible another one or two if I see friends. Can you say caffeine withdrawal? I drifted towards the coffee in the cupboard, but was saved by the fact that there was no power this morning so it wouldn't have done much anyway unless I was really desperate and ate the powder with a spoon. When the power came on a bit later I was able to talk myself out of it by explaining clearly that its mild blend so barely worthy of being called coffee, and that needing the bathroom while out trapping is really not fun. the grass is long, there are ticks everywhere, and the minute peeing behind a bush is called into question i become really girly and throw a drama-queen tantrum (they say you get used to it. I've been camping for most a decade, trust me, men have a much better time and it always sucks). i had some tea and a handful of aspirin and the headache went away.
4. The part of fieldwork I always forget: the itchiness! The shoes I'm not used to hurt my feet for the first few days and a combination of tick-bites (pepper-ticks are out in full force, so watch this space for the great tick-bite fever (again) saga!) despite all of my wily tricks to avoid them, scratches from the thorn bushes and grass stems as well as the usual dirt and grime from lizard-catching mean that I itch like crazy until i shower. and the sunburn means that I can't have a nice hot shower, and it's cold so I cant have a cold shower, which meas I'm stuck with lukewarm which is the least satisfying shower of all. In summer I actually prefer taking cold showers while I'm here, but right now it's not an option unless I intend to be found in a few weeks time, blue and frozen to the floor of the bathroom.
On the plus side (again) I didn't get trail shoes because, while almost worn out, my old ones have a few weeks left in them and I don't ant to get new ones now and then have them wear out on me halfway through my big summer session (a set lasts me about 2 months on average. Merrel's were my favourite but only made 6 weeks before the tread was gone). so I figured I'd dig out my old hiking boots and see how they do. and they're amazing! The ankle support is great, I tripped over a bunch of rocks and my sightly-weak ankle was fine, didn't turn at all! The grip is also really good. the only problem is that I'm not used to shoes rubbing at my ankles and that's a bit sore now, and the fact that they're heavy and so I feel like I'm clumping rather than sneaking up on lizards. Otherwise they're amazing!
My camera not connecting is driving me nuts! when I go home next week I'll reinstall the drivers and see if that helps. I took an awesome (or so it looks of the LCD display) shot of the moonrise last night, although it looks a bit blurry, even with the tripod. I think the moon moves a lot more than we give it credit for!

Monday, May 11, 2009

If anything happens to me...

Last year I came out here a week further into winter and proceeded to get sunstroke. This ear I had to sleep in three layers of clothing and my sub-zero sleeping bag and right now I'm sitting in my field clothes plus jersey, waiting to see if it'll warm up enough to go out lizard-hunting. So I figured Id use the opportunity for a quick update that doesn't involve me crying or having a bad day...
For the record, if you ever stay in a secluded farmhouse that's hidden away in the back corner of a conservancy, then maybe it's a good idea to clean up before you leave. The last people, bless their demented little hearts, decided to leave some fruit, for the next person. I do that too with one difference: I leave TINNED fruit! I arrived last night to find the fruit bowl stacked with pears in various states of deflation. I threw them off the balcony and they literally exploded when they hit the ground! They also let a dirty T-shirt that is literally growing things under the arm regions...
The main toilet in the house is also not working, from the looks of it there's something in the mechanism between the handle and whatever all those things are in the cistern that's disconnected. Whoever stayed here before (long enough ago that their pears could start their own civilisation) didn't do the polite thing and pour a few buckets of water to clear it out. I lifted the lid and got the fright of my life!
So instead of using that bathroom I have to either go outside to the big ablution blocks, or i have to go through the house to the bathroom at the far end. A lot of people seem to think that it's haunted down their, and I know there were some very weird things going on at the old caretaker's house before it was demolished, so it's pretty reasonable to assume that whatever it is has moved into the main house (reasonable at 11pm when it's dark at least...). The worst pat is that to get there you have to open an inter-leading door, but as none of the floors are level, the door tends to slam itself shut behind you. It's metal too so the crash is rather surprising until you get used to it!
The geysers and the stove/oven in the kitchen are gas-powered, so when I arrived I turned the gas on and checked everything and it all seemed fine. My mom had gone ballistic at the bakery before I left, so I had croissants for dinner (they were also an awesome breakfast and lunch...) so I didn't really go into the kitchen much. Then, later, on my way to make myself some ginger rooibos tea (so good!) I smelled gas. I didn't know what to do, so I opened the windows and looked around a bit, but I couldn't find where it was coming from so I left it.
I admit by the time I went to bed I'd kind of forgotten, so when I was woken up this morning by a resounding BANG! I thought Oh no! The house just blew up! I rushed off to the gas canister, which is intact, checked around the kitchen, where everything looks fine and decided to turn the gas off until I need it. I still don't know what the explosion was!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Technology 1: Helen 0

So after much moping around and eating chocolate on Thursday, followed by almost killing myself at the gym and basking in the endorphin rush (mmm... treadmill...) and then having to take muscle relaxants in order to stop the cramping so i could sleep (treadmill? not so mmm...) I woke up on Friday morning in a fantastic mood and ready to take on the world!

We had donut day and I started organising things for when i had to leave, and then, once Luke headed off to teach my first-years I started moving stuff from the lab upstairs to the lab downstairs because that way I could be near my laptop and tick things off my packing list as well as being easier to carry things out to the vehicle from the ground floor.

On my last trip down I realised that something was missing. I went back to the lab and looked: nothing. I went downstairs and looked through all the boxes and bags: nothing. I went upstairs and scratched through my supervisor's gigantic pile of stuff from clearing out his office: some interesting things that I will have to ask about otherwise... nothing. i might have ripped a couple of posters in a temporary rage as I realised that my supervisor had confused the kits and gone off with a piece of equipment that is kind of fundamental to my work (it makes the machine turn on. Mildly important you know?). I went to the undergrad lab to see if Luke had any bright ideas, and my kiddies all looked happy to see me, but I wasn't very nice to them. I should send chocolate...

So I went downstairs and kind of stomped around a bit until the IT guy came to say hi and i pretty much burst into tears. He ind of looked awkward and patted me on the arm while I tried to make excuses t turn my back so I could wipe my eyes and low my nose discreetly and then he said "you're not having the best week, are you?" and i said "It's all sort of adding up and..." cue the sniffs and shaky breaths as the floodgates threatened to open a bit more.

He was awesome pointing out the fact that I'd said just the day before that I never cry, which WAS true, it had been years! And I had to find it quite amusing that while I was quite incapable of crying over a guy, I can cry over a piece of electronic equipment! He took me to a workshop where he and another guy tried very hard to adapt something else to do the job, but it didn't work although they tried EVERYTHING, and finally I decided to give up, as I can delay that phase for a few days and drive back home for a night to pick it up when he gets back. Lets just hope he doesn't extend his trip... As is I was waiting for other equipment, so rather than having it couriered I can just go and collect.

So I drove home so that I could get dropped back at university to take the field vehicle home and on the way some moron cut me off at a traffic circle. I lost it. Who knows what happened but I was screaming and crying and swearing and banging the hooter repeatedly - the guy covered his son's eyes and drove on. I had to drive around the block a few times before I cold stop crying and then I went home, washed my face, went back to university and ended up having junk food and a very long drinks session with the IT guy before i went home at about 11pm.

I must say, I think it's good that I'm finally figuring out what's going on in my head, in part because i think I'm starting to re-prioritise life slightly and in part because I've suddenly catapulted into a really awesome friendship with the IT guy, and he makes me examine my thoughts and actions in depth. I think I'm going to need the quiet time just to figure out what on earth I thin about everything, but I guess it's a good thing!

Oh, and for the record, I am currently in the middle of nowhere and it's FREEZING! The title of today's post refers to the post I was planning on for today, but for some reason my laptop won't read my camera, and this one needs pictures!

Thursday, May 07, 2009


This is kind of how I'm feeling right now. I can't explain it, but at least now I know I took this photo for a reason!
So a few days ago I was chatting to someone who has become a pretty close friend over the space of about two days (I'm not even kidding, starting a friendship with an hour-and-a-half heart-to-heart is NOT who I am!) and we ended up discussing depression. When I was a teenager I was diagnosed with it and given the requisite little white pills. I took one. I think it may have been half of one, but I don't really remember. All I now is that I never took one again, I refused to live my life feeling like the world around me wasn't really real.

Anyway he said that when you're depressed the colours around you fade and the world seems dull and ugly. I didn't really think too much about it, except to remember a specific sunset that was beautiful, that didn't move me in any way emotionally although my intellectual side could admire it.

So this week, with the crazy hotbed-of-emotions that is the meat-market lab (can't really call it the primate lab now that it's being cohabited by a primatologist, mammalogist and me) coming to a rather unpleasant and yet necessary end last night, when I woke up this morning the world seemed a little bit duller. I did a very girly thing - put my head under my pillow and refused to face the day for a few more hours, and not because of exhaustion (although that helped).

And I've been gripey all day. The people around me have been so amazing, I have been patted on the back, sympathised with, bought chocolate, treated gently... and I just don't want to talk about it! I was amazed by the depth of response in some people, people who I never expected to get that angry on my behalf and yet who did. People who seemed to notice that something was up and treated me gently even though they had no idea why. People who pulled me aside and gave me sympathy without making a big scene (which I was dreading at one point).

I guess part of me wants to cry because I feel so much like I belong here, and I have a little family of colleagues who are so totally amazing. It makes me feel like I am worth more than that, I am worth waiting for, I am worth someone putting in the effort and making me feel special. And that makes the colours a little bit brighter and tomorrow morning I may just leave the safety and warmth of my bed a little bit earlier.

And going away on Saturday (if it happens - it seems like the vehicle I was taking has been hijacked by the maintenance guy who won't give it back...) well I'm looking forward to it. I'm an analytical person, I don't bury my emotions, I just generally don't feel things very strongly, which is why this whole situation hit me so hard - I was all crazy and quivery like a teenager and I had no idea how to react to the fact that I was feeling the proverbial butterflies - and I can't wait for some solitude to think everything through and sort it out in my own head.

I've been in the city for far too long, and as much as I will miss the lab like crazy, I think it's time for me to get back to the field.

This has been (by far) the most emotional I've ever been on here. I'm sorry, don't freak out! Here are some pictures I've been looking at to try and relax and breathe a little bit.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The little things that make me happy

So a few nights ago we ended up sitting on the roof of the building next to ours, drinking rather awful wine and starting at the Joburg skyline and it made me realise just how special everything is. So I figured I'd make a list of things that make me happy. It might help me to stop this weird urge I'm having to hug people lately... our lab is totally emotional at the moment, we're discussing feelings and stuff!

1. the lab: I know I don't really belong in the lab where I'm sitting, as I have a desk upstairs in the other lab, where I lived for almost four years, but at the moment I'm really enjoying the company and random academic discussions (and the coffee machine).

I got this sign from my supervisor who is leaving and clearing out his office. I think its so cool! I'm also starting to make my spot in the lab feel like my own, but putting up things like the sign and some old old floppy disks as well as infiltrating the primate toy collection with wire lizards...

This was my desk back in honours, which is the last time I had a pin-board (until now!). I loved that board so much! note the collection of travel-mugs so that I never had to be without my coffee (or tea in those days).

2. Random humour in everyday life. My dad took me out for dinner on my birthday and this was on the menu. know it's immature but I had a good chuckle when I saw that "Uncle Nev's T-bone" was available (sorry for picture quality, dim light, cellphone camera...).

3. The crazy zoo people (who I don't see often enough!). Last time I spent a significant amount of time there they let me in with some baby jackals. They were SO cute! Almost like puppies but with small feet and ears instead of big floppy ones like dogs have.

4. My job (well the official one anyway). I can never get over just how lucky I am to work somewhere where they don't fire me for going away so much! I generally enjoy interacting with the people, playing with the animals and trying to get the credit card machine to work. This is the awful swipey thing for manual transactions. I hate it! But it works so I should stop complaining!

5. The gym (and the crazy people there). I'm still loving the whole exercise thing and for some reason I'm running more often than cycling these days. the sign in the change room is... adjustable... this is the handiwork of a friend of mine...

6. My menagerie at home. This is Max being cute. It's hard to believe he's almost 7!

And of course number seven: in a few days time I get to go away from the awful awful traffic and noise and pollution to have a distinct purpose in life on a day-to-day basis and get back to the real hands-on fieldwork. Which as much as I'm dreading it this time, I also just can't wait! And of course the fact that I hate to go away is because I'm so lucky to have so much here to come back to!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

It's freezing!!!

So on Friday Oliver came over to give the lizard treadmill a bit of a service - I was planning on boarding up a few of the holes that the lizards can escape through (I have done a stunning job with cardboard, paper and duct tape, even a few band-aids and some sellotape in one corner, and checking that everything is connected where it's supposed to be so I won't have any more nasty surprises.
What I didn't bank on was the fact that Oliver is... well... Oliver! He's one of those people who likes to make things and fix things and think up new ways of making and fixing things. He's one of those people who takes pride in (and I think enjoys) doing a job well. I trust his ability when it comes to making and fixing things, and as the guy whol built the treadmill is at a new job and I don't want to bother him unneccessarily, I have no qualms about him taking it apart and checking up on the mechanism (one of the components broke last year and I had him on the phone for about an hour talking me through it all, so that when I found a friendly engineer I was able to explain what was happening).
So anyway, after about five hours the treadmill and housing were dismantles, we'd made some progress but it was shaping up to be a bigger job that we'd realised. To tell the truth, although I was exhausted and kept yewning, I had a lot of fun. I learned that you get something called a 'junior hacksaw' which is basically a tiny hacksaw which is totally adorable and makes me wonder if there is a junior lumberjack club out there, where you get a magazine and a mini-tool every month. It was awesome to spend some time with him too, we used to study together and so I'd see him every day, and when he moved to a different campus to do masters we kind of kept in touch but hardly at all, and it was great to sit and chat and generally catch up.
Once it started getting cold and dark he went off on his way and I went off to see a movie. Wolverine was sold out which sucked so we saw a spy-thriller conspiracy movie which isn't my usual fare, but the ending was very clever and I enjoyed the evening. I was quite sad that we couldn't go to a later showing of Wolverine (although knowing me and X-men, I would be dyeing my hair weird colours as a result - again) but I had work in the morning and on pay-day weekend I have to be awake and alert and so on at the vet.
It wasn't the busiest shift I've ever worked, and the credit card was working (mostly), but the people never stopped coming and on top of it all it was Brian's first shift and he was trying to figure out the credit card machine and the computer system and it was insanely busy! He did really well, but occasionally I had to kick him off the computer and take over when it got really bad, and fortunately I had taken over when the credit card machine stopped working so I was able to sort it out and do a manual thing without him feeling too bad. It also meant there was always someone free to answer the phone (which never stops) and he had to handle the two worst customers, so I figure that as a baptism of fire goes, it was pretty intense and he coped amazingly well.
From there it was off to visit Jo for about ten minutes (there was some gossip and girl-talk required and she'd phoned earlier and I hung up on her mid-sentence...) and then off to Oliver's house for treadmill-round-two. Turns out his dad (who has all the tools and the workshop and stuff) was going out, so there was nothing for us to do, so he made me an amazing lunch and we basically hung out and watched TV and chatted until I went off to guitar-hero and pizza evening.
The evening kind of didn't end... I ended up crashing in the spare bedroom and waking up feeling like I'd swallowed cottonwool, really needed a shower and had pulled a muscle in my stomach from giggling. 
And now I'm off to make lunch for an early mothers day as I'm probably away for the real thing. And then I'll probably end up visiting La at work so that we can discusss everything that happened last night and giggle over it all again!

Friday, May 01, 2009

The guilt!

So last night I was tasked with finishing our ADSL cap - this happens every month, we have a 1-gig cap and my family is so paranoid about running out that they never use it and I generally get told to use up half of it in an hour flat.
And so I started lookung up cruelty-free products. I have had a sneaking suspicion about my facewash for a while, so I changed over when I ran out to one that had "NOT TESTED ON ANIMALS" emblazoned all over it, and to be honest I like it better than my old one anyway. I always figured that testing on animals is so not cool when it ocmes to things like cosmetics and shampoo. I eman really, I'm sure you can find a opoor student and pay them to review your products? It would cost more but you'd get more feedback than from say, a rabbit!
So I found a few websites listing the culprits.
I know a few of the big names, Maybelline, L'Oreal and so on, but I had no idea how many of the other smaller brands fit into the bigger companies! And how hard it it to find some things here - I had never though of checking up on my contact lens solution for example! I know that shampoo is a biggie and I hate to admit this, but I switched brands a little while ago and never thought to check.
I think I'm safe on that one, but I'm going to go look at the bottle now...
I feel like a bad person!