I have been taken to task by my brother who, finding himself with a little free time, decided to take a look at my blog and my web site. He points out that there is no mention at to be found that I even have a brother.
So here's a mention. I have a brother.
He's considered by some to be a rather odd chap, not because of any defects of personality, intelligence and appearance – he's perfectly normal in all three – but rather because of his hobby. His hobby is, in a word, spiders. In a recent phone conversation he said, "I have only two bedrooms, we sleep in one and four hundred tarantulas sleep in the other.
He takes his hobby seriously, being deeply involved with the British Tarantula Society, for whom he organises the annual show where you can see all sorts of tarantulas and buy all the paraphernalia that you need to take the hobby up for yourself.
Since the conversation where he pointed out that I haven't spoken of him I've been thinking of critters. Not just spiders but all sorts of critters. Small critters, medium critters, big critters. Friendly critters, unfriendly critters and downright hostile critters. Beautiful, plain and ugly critters. Harmless, harmful and deadly.
Having spent so much time travelling around the world – and so much of that time sleeping in tents or out under the stars – I have seen a fair few animals. Two of my trips, mere holidays really stand out as having been especially notable for the wildlife: a trip that took in
I'll talk about Madagascar on another occasion but the former of these was "big critter" country. Elephant. Zebra. Hippo. That sort of thing, the usual grab bag of African trips. Some of the signage in the national parks can get quite entertaining. For example at the gate of the Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve is a large sign that says "Remember Elephants Have Right of Way!" while at the ferry crossing into Liwonde another reads "Please Respect The Crocodiles".
At the South Luangwa Park in Zambia we went for a game drive and, sitting on the roof, we bounced around the tracks and managed to tick off most of the animals in our spotters' guides including, at a distance, a couple of lions. The park is huge and criss-crossed with rivers. The roads pass over them on a mixture of wooden and concrete bridges that vary from quaint to rather ugly. As we crossed one of the concrete ones, high above a dried out riverbed, two hundred yards away stomping daintily (if such a thing is possible) across the hardened mud, were a family of elephant. We watched as they scrambled up the bank and into the trees.
Half a mile further on the driver suddenly swung off the road and shot at high speed between the trees. We struggled to see what he had seen. It was an animal about the size of a dog, with striped hindquarters. And it was moving very fast as he tried to keep up with it. For a moment it hesitated, turned to face us and with a blinding turn of speed raced under our Land Rover and away into the distance. Apart from the rounded ears its face had been very feline.
"That," explained the driver, "Was a civet. You don't often see them in the day. They are supposed to be completely nocturnal."
Our next encounter was a touch more dramatic and without any time to even point cameras let alone take pictures. We had been on a track skirting around another of the dry river beds heading for an area where we hoped to find lion. It wound down through a densely treed area before emerging into a clearing. Off on the far side, near an isolated stand of trees was a single elephant, a single, very large, full-grown, male elephant. He trumpeted a warning and began a mock charge to scare us away. We stopped. He stopped. Then he turned as if to leave us alone. Then, with no warning, he wheeled and charged again, this time in earnest. Ears flat, trunk down he thundered towards us. The driver slammed the Land Rover into reverse and shot away at a speed I hadn't known could be achieved going backwards. It's a mystery to this day how we stayed on the roof but we did and as we raced away the elephant, satisfied that he had scared us enough, aborted his attack and followed us no further.
Our campsite was a little way outside the park and we headed out of the gate happy with what we had seen and consoling ourselves for the absence of giraffes with the thought that we had three more days to search for them. Although it was by now quite dark and we were driving down the main road, most of us remained on the roof. After about half a kilometre we turned onto the rutted track that led down from the road to the river and our tents. The track wandered unevenly between the trees that brushed the sides of the vehicles and threatened to knock us off should we be too careless.
Suddenly we stopped. Our headlights had picked out something blocking the road – a giraffe. People fumbled with the settings on their cameras to compensate for the poor light. The giraffe glanced at us and then stepped into the trees and vanished without a single picture being taken. There were disappointed mumblings. Then, with a wonderful unexpectedness a miracle happened. A head bowed down from the trees no more than a couple of feet away from us. Then another appeared and another and their owners stepped out onto the road. In moments we were surrounded by no fewer than seventeen giraffes all gazing at us curiously as if they had been out all day searching for a group of human beings and had only now, on their way home, encountered one.
We took pictures of them knowing that we couldn't use flashes and without flashes the pictures would almost certainly be useless. We took them anyway. The giraffes for their part just watched the curious spectacle. After ten minutes of our looking at them and their looking at us they got bored and wandered back into the trees and we went on home to supper in a very contented frame of mind.
And why not finish off with a critters poem, of sorts anyway. I wrote this a long time ago. I'll leave the original introduction attached to it to give a bit of background.
Don’t you just hate new parents. Other poems I have written have mentioned how annoying it is to be constantly hearing about their hideous offspring but there is another small problem. Normal rational human beings turn all twee and sentimental. A workmate who had a new baby felt obliged to regale us with a poem from a children’s book that was quite nauseatingly cute. It was all about a penguin and it went
Peter the Penguin likes to fish
With net and bucket he fills his dish
His little wings can no longer fly
But he uses the water like the sky
He swoops and dives and sometimes floats
And pops up under the fishing boats
He really is a smart fellow
With suit of black and bill of yellow
If you and he should ever meet
Remember what Peter likes to eat
I wrote this and distributed it as a sort of antidote.
Peter The PenguinPeter the penguin lived on the ice
Leading a life of squalor and vice
He frolicked with the fish, and buggered the bears
With cosmopolitan preference exceedingly rare
Peter's morals were plain and simple to render
He never worried at all about species or gender
Or about size or age or inclination
It was more than just lust it was Peter's vocation
His ambition, oft stated though far from achieved
Was to try every vice that could e'er be conceived
Boris the Polar Bear didn't like Pete
He growled and he roared if they chanced to meet
The reason was plain as the sixth months of the day
Boris was straight and Peter was gay
Boris thought Pete was a dirty young pouf
But Peter thought Boris was macho and tough,
Which in itself wouldn't matter at all
But Peter found Boris both handsome and tall
And followed him here and followed him there
Peter the Penguin was hunting for bear.
Sammy the Sea Lion couldn't care less
If Peter the Penguin liked wearing a dress
He might think it unusual, peculiar and odd
But he could ignore the bent little sod
And anyway Sammy couldn't cast the first stone
For he had a secret vice of his own
He'd hang around bird's nests wearing his coat
Shuffling his feet and clearing his throat
As Sea Lions go, Sammy was dregs
He exposed himself regularly to newly laid eggs
Inspector Sid Seagull of the Antarctic yard
Found keeping the crime rate down very hard
While out nicking Sammy for 'indecent display'
On the far side of the Pole Boris was 'causing affray'
The trouble began when, encountering Pete
He buried a claw right in his beak
And emphasised further the point he was making
By trying to tear of a leg and a wing
But Sid and the (V)ice squad arrived double quick
And carted the lot of them off to the nick.
Willy the Walrus, a Judge of Renown
Cut and impressive figure in his cap and his gown
The defendants were led before him in chains
While the clerk of the court read out their names.
When the trial was concluded and the evidence heard
The Judge pounded his gavel and loudly declared
"Hard labour for Boris and six months for Sam,
But it's been clear to me since this trial began
That the innocent party is poor little Pete
Who I personally find remarkably sweet"
Sid in disgust at the verdict resigned
After giving jury and judge a piece of his mind
"This court is a farce, and if I may say
A hotbed of deplorable moral decay.
You don't understand ", he said with some gravity
"The depths of this penguin's sordid depravity"
Behind his moustache the Walrus just smiled.
By Peter's demeanor completely beguiled.
So much so in fact that he stepped from the stand
And he and young Peter left the court hand in hand*.
(*Or flipper in wing if you want to be anatomical about it.)
(Note - I am aware that I'm mixing animals from both poles here. Just assume some of them were on holiday and you'll be OK.)