Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rumours of Mrs Pig's death may have been greatly exaggerated


Around the time of Mrs Blog's significant birthday, back in November, there was a very portly, very pregnant warthog who did a good job of keeping the grass down outside the Pretoriuskop fence.

Mrs Pig, as we named her, was eating for several - five including herself, as it turned out. Warthogs can be a bit fussy sometimes, getting down on their front knees to root about in the dirt for tubors (whatever a tubor is), but this was a pig on a mission. She hoovered up everthing in her path - grass, weeds, plants, small creatures, and even the mess left over after a particularly messy night on the drink at the Blog campsite. Enough said about that. (Note, though, Legion of Fans, that Mrs B and I do not deliberately feed any birds or animals in the Kruger Park).

With impressive timing Mrs P gave birth to a litter of four exceptionally cute hoglets just in time for the Australian invasion, in which 21 people arrived in Africa for Mrs B's birthday.

She (Mrs Pig, not Mrs Blog) was living in a drainage culvert just up the road from the camp, near the turn off to Skukuza, and was regularly spotted by our guests, proudly posing with her porky brood.

Imagine, then , LOF, the horror when Pat the national parks night drive guide let slip in front of the entire party of Australians that a leopard had been seen outside the Pig House and that Mrs Pig had not been seen for some time.

Consensus around the camp, for days after, was that Mrs Pig had gone to all that fattening effort solely to provide an early Christmas dinner for Mr Leopard.

However, on Christmas Day, 2007, as Mrs Blog and I strung our hammocks between trees at the Pretoriuskop swimming pool and popped open a celebratory beer or two a group of young African boys pointed to the fence and said "Look. A pig."

In fact, not just one warthog, but four. A portly mother pig, who looked remarkably familiar, and three little piglets who looked about a month old.

One piglet might not have made it - sad, but not unusual - or it could have been a completely different Mrs Pig.

The next day, this Mrs Pig and her little ones entered the camp via the revolving gate in the fence that separates the main part of the camp from a path leading to the staff village outside. The revolving gate was designed to keep animals out, but pigs, so I'm told, are clever animals.

A smartly-uniformed national parks desk wallah sidled up to me while I was taking a picture of the warthog and her babies, and said to me: "Be careful, these things are very dangerous. She may charge at any moment, to protect her piglets."

I knew that, technically, he was right, though Mrs Pig had never struck me as the aggressive, tourist-killing type.

She obviously knew we were talking about her, however, because she squared up, right then and there. She tossed her head imperiously and took three steps towards us. The office Johnny turned and took three back, before peeking over my shoulder.

What happened to "don't run", "don't turn your back", and "don't show fear" I wondered? I sincerely hoped we didn't come across Mr Leopard.

But then I took another look at those stubby tusks, that knobbly head, and what might just have been a killer gleam in her beady eye.

I was about to take a step back myself, but a green-uniformed field ranger armed with a catapult appeared on the scene, much to the relief of his pig-shy colleague. The ranger had been out deterring monkeys with his catapult and a bag of stones, but the warthog knew she had met her match.

She gathered her porkettes and the four of them trotted off down the fence line, tails raised like aerials, until she came to the revolving gate and barged her way through.

A pig that's smart enough to tell desk jockeys from bush rangers, and to teach her babies how to open an animal-proof gate is smart enough to save herself and three piglets from a leopard, I reckon.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

'Tis the season...


...to stick beer cans up chickens' bums!
Ho ho ho. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all, Legion of Fans, and obscure googlers. Life is good here in the Kruger National Park during the festive season - unless you're a chicken, of course.
Long-term readers and that man who googled "braaing chicken with beer can" (site meter is such a good way to spy on you all) will recall that while I am not the inventer of the Beer Can Chicken recipe, I am one of its strongest advocates.
So it was with utter glee that I found on a recent shopping trip to my most favourite shop in the world, Outdoor Warehouse, a magnificent new South African invention called the Beer Bird.
The Beer Bird takes all the hassle out of beer can chicken cooking. Not that i's actually a very stress-free way to roast a chook. The recipe is simple: take one chicken, take one can of beer, take two big sips out of can, insert can in chicken's orifice, stand on braai (barbie) grill, cover with cardboard box lined with tin foil (and punch four holes in the box top); wait one hour and eat perfect roast chicken.
Only two things can go wrong with beer can chicken, LOF - and both happened to me during the early trials.
Firstly, the cardboard box can catch fire. This occurs if there is insufficient tinfoil covering the exposed bits. Not good, LOF, not good.
The Beer Bird can't stop that happening, but it does eliniminate, completely, the other risk associated with cooking a chicken this way - the bird falling over. It's not easy to balance on a hot grill for an hour with a can stuck up your bum (try it some time... you'll see what I mean).
The beer bird is a welded metal contraption designed to hold the can of beer upright. The chicken is wedged down securely on the tin and can't go anywhere. Handy carrying handles allow the bird to be positioned and removed with the greatest of ease.
My picture doesn't do the gadget justice, so you may wish to visit the official Beer Bird Website for more information.
The Beer Bird also comes with a recipe book and way too many fowl jokes. Like this one:
Q: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
A: Neither. The rooster did.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Book without end

(Warning: This post contains a long, boring book review, almost as long as the book being reviewed. Does, however, contain coarse language, sexual references and Lesbian scenes.)

"What do you read?" is one of the questions I always get asked when I'm being interviewed about my books.

I always plug my very good friends Peter Watt and David A. Rollins, because I do read their books and enjoy them very much, and because they're published by my very, very good friends Pan Macmillan. If I was a chick, I would say that I read books by my other very good friend (and one of a select, tiny group of people who can drink Mrs Blog under the table) Di Blacklock.

When it comes to international authors I always list Nelson De Mille (who may very well be the best thriller writer in the world), Bernard Cornwell (he of the Sharpe books), and Ken Follett.

Ken Follett also happens to be published by Macmillan and so it was with much fanfare that my Grace Kelly (when-alive and young) lookalike publisher, C, presented Mrs B and I with a signed copy of Kenny's new book, World Without End, for Mrs B's recent birthday.

I was stoked, Legion of Fans (mine, not Ken's in case any of you have found your way here. Ken has enough fans - millions of you, in fact - while I have only four, but I cherish you all, dearly). I have read every book Ken Follett has ever written - even the old ones that were re-published after he became famous.

World Without End - for those of you who have just been born or are suffering from alzheimers - is the long-awaited sequel to Pillars of the Earth.

Pillars of the Earth was an internatioanl besteller and I, along with millions of other people, read it. I loved it. I remember being engrossed in it, unable to put it down for the days and days it took me to read. It was a huge book and I am a slow reader, but that just made it more fun. It seemed like it would never end, and I didn't want it to.

But I can't remember a word of it.

I'm not saying this in a bad way. Sure, I know it was about this bunch of geezers who built a church, but that's it. That's all I can recall of it. It didn't change my life or force me to reconsider my values or beliefs, and it didn't move me to tears (few things do - not like, say, "Flaming Star", the only Elvis Pesley movie in which the King dies).

Now, there could be a few reasons why this is so. Perhaps I'm suffering alcohol-related brain damage or the early onset of old-timer's disease. Perhaps it doesn't matter that I can remember little of a book I read 10 or maybe 15 years ago - I can't remember.

What I did recall, something I think I'd forgotten, but which came back to me while reading Word Without End over the last week or so, was that Ken Follett is The Man.

It's writers like him that made me want to write. So blame him. What a gift it is to be able to create a whole world out of thin air. To breathe life into people who have never and will never exist, and have a reader - a real person - so engrossed in their day-to-day lives that they forget their own. I want to be able to write like that when I grown up.

I've hardly said a word to Mrs Blog this past week, and the experience of reading World Without End has left me feeling mildly depressed (oh, no... warning - this has finally become one of those self absorbed, wallowing-in-self-pity blogs!).

Why am I depressed? Firstly, because it's over.

To tell you the truth, apart from the onset of the Bubonic Plague, not a lot happens to the good citizens of Kingsbride, who make up the cast of this book. They're the descendents of the original characters in Pillars of the Earth. This tale is partly about the building of a bridge, as opposed to a cathedral, but, of course, the real guts of it are the daily lives, loves and struggles of the characters.

Central to the plot is the on-again, off-again romance of Caris (a small but perfeclty formed spunk rat who morphs from merchant's daughter to merchant to nun in the book), and Merthin, an apprentice chippie who becomes the greatest architect in medieval England. Will they or won't they get together iin the end? I won't spoil the ending, but, hey, it's a Ken Follett book.

There's a beastly Nobleman (Follett is a well known lefty and there's always an element of evil aristocracy subverting poor but honest peasants in his books); a peasant girl who's besotted with a farm boy who loves someone else; and an assortment off greedy, self-serving Monks who are all try one-up and up-one another over the years the story takes place.

Ken Follett's greatest achievement in the world of literature has been the popularisation of the Lesbian scene and the threesome in mainstream fiction (ie the kind you can buy sans brown paper bag).

In the Key to Rebecca the plucky heroine turns the course of the war in North Africa by diverting a German spy (played, incidentally by David Soul of Starsky and Hutch fame in the minis series) by getting it on with him and his belly dancer girlfriend at the same time

Ken had quite a name for a while there, mid-career, as the king of naughty bits in fiction. The high point (or low point, depending on your point of view) was Lie Down With Lions, which was set in Afghanistan in the early 80s against the back drop of the Russian invasion. There was lots of inappropriate and graphic behaviour between the leading characters, but it was also such an in-depth, erudite, informative work on the history of Aghanistan and its people that it was still an incredibly popular book when I was serving in Afghanistan with the Australian Army in 2002. I can, in fact, recall my good friend Herr Doktor, telling me what an interesting read it was as he sauntered off to the Portaloo with a well-thumbed copy under his arm.

Mr F has, I'm afraid to say, either decided (or been told) to clean up his act as it were, and his more recent books have contained far less gratuitous and descriptive sex than his older ones. (Kenny, I can sympathise, mate. C is always telling me I have too many Lesbian scenes in my books, which is why none of them never make it to publication).

Having said that, there was a welcome return of the same-sex scene - chicks, of course - in 'Jackdaws', and I can reveal that World Without End does contain the odd Sister act in the nunnery.

However, not much happens to the characters, apart from the odd bit of rumpy pumpy and the loss of many of them to the plague, but it was just so pleasant being a part of their lives for the past week that I am now actually very sorry I had to leave.

Follett says of his own writing that he never wants a reader to have to read one of his sentences twice to understand it. I think that's quite lovely and it's why I like reading his books. He lays out the complicated nature of human life so simply and clearly - in his prose - that it's impossible not to understnd what's going on in these people's heads and to feel their pain and joy with them.

It's like a really good soap opera - if such a thing exists. Not a lot happens, but you still can't wait to find out what's going to happen next.

If I had to find a fault with World Without End it would be the length. Like this review, everything that needed to be said could have been said in about a third of the space it takes. At more than 1,100 pages it is about as long as three Tony Park books, which is probably why it took Ken so long to write it.

However, I don't really see it as a fault, as - and I know I'm repeating myself - I enjoyed getting lost it in. I'm goofing off (errr, I mean researching and writing) in Africa, so I have the time to laze about and reach more than a thousand pages of fiction, but I might not have been so enthralled if I was reading 10 pages a day on the 8.17am train from Chatswood to Sydney.

Caris and Merthin almost get together three or four times in the book. Ralph the wicked nobleman almost gets it in the neck three or four times, and the evil Monks almost get their comeuppance three or four times. The truth is, the book could have ended at pages 300 or 600 or 900 instead of 1100.

But, I didn't want it to.

But all good things, and even mediocre things, like this review, and the world, I suppose, must come to an end some time. And here we are.

Oh, and the second reason why I'm depressed?

I've still got about 100 pages of my current book to write and it's not easy - damn hard, at times, in fact - to invent a parrallel universe populated with characters who will so engage people that they can't live without them, and hope and wish they would go on for ever. Not easy at all.

Well done, Mr F.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ein Einsamer Tod...


(Warning: This post contains a good deal of shameless self promotion)

Ein Einsamer Tod (once more for the search engines) is, for those like me who can speak only one language, "A Loney Death" in German.

It's also the poignant new title for "African Sky", in the guise of its German translation. It's just been published and released in Germany by my new very good friends, Random House, Germany.

So, wilkommen German googlers, if you're out there.


I met an interesting pair of Germans in Zimbabwe a few years ago - a couple who had cycled all the way from Cape Town, via Namibia, to Zim. When they arrived in Hwange National Park they were told they couldn't go game viewing on their bicycles (meals on wheels and all that). Disappointed, they sat at the entry gate to the park, trying to hitch hike on to a game drive. I stopped and offered to take them, but warned them it would be very uncomfortable for them to sit in the back of the Land Rover on the bare wheel arches. "We have cycled from Capte Town," said the guy; "we have very tough backsides".

So far my books have been published in Holland, Italy, Latvia (note to Latvian publisher: still waiting for that limited edition Latvian copy of Zambezi), the UK, and, now, Germany. There is a Czech Republic deal in the wind as well, which I believe I have already mentioned on the blog. They're also distributed in New Zealand and, of course, in South Africa, where African Sky recently rocketed to nunber 2 (OK, only in once bookshop, but I'm still chuffed).

Interestingly, African Sky, which mentions The War (the big one - WWII), has had the most take-up overseas.

I've been told by my charming, witty, Grace Kelly-lookalike (when Grance was alive, that is, in her Hollywood heyday) publisher, C, that I should get out more and promote myself, so expect to see me in a library, bibliotek, or bookstore, or on a street corner wearing a sanwich board near you in 2008.

My early New Year's resolution is to become rich enough to only ever fly business class (for the leg room, as well as the food); to stay in Tinga (there's that name again) Private Game Lodge whenever the mood takes me; and to get Tonka's engine reconditioned.

So, do me and my long legs and my old Land Rover a favour, Legion of Fans. Tell a friend, or, better yet, buy a friend a copy of Safari, or 'Ein Einsamer Tod', or Zambezi, or African Sky, or Il Respiro Della Savanna, or Far Horizon for Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Chalk one up to the good guys...

And just to prove to you that truth is actually more interesting (and gritty) than even Tony Park fiction, here's an extract from a South African National Parks media release about a fire fight that happened not far from us, yesterday:



Kruger National Park (KNP) rangers and operators from South African National Parks (SANParks) Corporate Investigation Services (CIS) shot and killed a poacher during a skirmish in the early hours of this morning (Friday December 14, 2007).

The incident happened shortly after midnight when a group of poachers walked into a KNP ranger patrol in the Stolsnek Section of the KNP.

In the resulting fire-fight, one of the poachers was killed and follow up operations are being conducted in the area in concert with the South African Police Service (SAPS) in an attempt to find the rest of the group.

Rangers from Stolsnek Ranger Post and the CIS special operations team have been extensively patrolling the area after two rhino carcasses were found in the area two weeks ago.

Various weapons, including a highly modified hunting rifle and a home-made shotgun, spotlights and camouflaged uniforms have been confiscated.

The shooting incident is being investigated further by the SAPS.

Stolsnek Ranger Section is in the South Western area of the park between Pretoriuskop and Berg-en-Dal rest camps.



(We're staying in Pretoriuskop Camp)

Hooah.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Off-road etiquette



Someone once said that the definintion of good taste is someone who knows how to play the piano accordian, but chooses not to.

In the African context, it would be owning a pair of sandals and a pair of socks, but choosing not to wear them together, or having the right to drive off-road in a national park, but choosing not to do so at every opportunity.

And so, Legion of Fans, we segwe ever so slowly towards yet another plug for Tinga Luxury Safari Lodge, located in the Kruger National Park on the banks of the Sabie River.

The definition of stupidiy, LOF, is the blogger who frantically reaches for his spare digital camera flash card, mid-way through shooting pictures of a pride of lions, and finds that he has forgotten to download the pictures off the spare card!

However, it's an ill wind that blows no good and when I got around to downloading the old photos I found they were from our recent stay at Tinga, which was, up until that moment, fading to a dim memory in my old man's mind.

But back to good taste and responsible driving in the national park. On the day the pictures in this post were taken a pack of Painted Hunting Dogs (aka wild dogs) had chased a young leopard up a tree, near the access road to Tinga Narina Lodge (there are two Tinga Lodges, Narina and Legends). The leopard would have been about 100 metres off the road, I guess, surrounded by 17 dogs, who were yapping, playing and generally having an excellent time chasing each other and harrassing said leopard.


We arrived on the scene with our guide, Mr Q, who is, in fact, the head guide at Tinga. Two other Tinga vehciles were already there, watching the leopard and the dogs interact, from the road.

Tinga occupies a private concession insie the boundary of Kruger, and unlike what goes on in the the rest of the park, the guides are allowed to drive their vehicles off road within the concession lands, in order to get a better view of a game sighting - ie: they can't just bundu (bush) bash on spec, hoping to stumble on (or not run over) something.

Mr Q (that's not him in the picture at the top of the post) decided to take us a little way in off the road - about 50 metres or so - just close enough so that trees and bushes weren't obscuring our view of the leopard in the tree. If he'd driven too close the dogs might have run off. This would have allowed the leopard to escape, possibly, but that wasn't our call, as humans, to make.

Once we'd taken our fill of flash cards we backed out and the next Tinga vehicle moved in to take our place. It was all done in a thorougly orderly and well-managed way.

Mrs B and I have been lucky enough to stay at a couple of other private game reserves, in South Africa and Zambia, and I wish I could report that all of the drivers are as responible. In one, we followed a clearly stressed leopard for some distance through the bush (I think the guide just thought we were being polite when we said; "no, really, that's enough, let's go back to the road"). In another, the driver not only went off road, but parked underneath a leopard in a tree, no more than five foot below it. It was thrilling, of course - possibly dangerous - but the thing that got me afterwards was that it really was an invasion of this animal's personal space.

How much do you hate it when someone bends into your face, blowing booze, spittle and garlic all over you at a Christmas party? Know what I mean?

I hate those pictures you see from time to time of the Masai Mara and the Serengeti - some poor old lion or cheetah encircled by zebra-striped Kombis, or their indelible wheel ruts.

In the case of the Painted Dogs, we didn't have to follow them any distance, as they came to us, like the curious puppies they are.

The other interesting thing we saw on a drive with Mr Q was the Umfeleni Pride of lions (Unfeleni means water in Shangaan), so named because they live along the banks of the Sabie River. Sabie means fear, and there are plenty of scary things in and around the river - not to metnion the lions themselves.

We saw them a few times during our stay at Tinga, but the most memorable moment was when this HUGE flatdog (crocodile) approached through the water, close to the shore. The pride had been reclining on a grassy river bank, but the boss lioness (there are four adult lionesses and four juviles in the pride, from memory) was on her paws in flash as soon as she spotted the croc. Her siblings and children and neices and nephews all joined her on the shoreline to watch as the prehistoric-looking reptile motored by.

You don't have to go to a luxury private game lodge to see fascinating things in Africa, but sometimes being that little bit closer helps. But like piano accordian music, less is usually best.

This morning's drive in Kruger...




Sometimes only a giraffe will do

Saturday, December 08, 2007

We have a winner - TWO in fact!

Ladies and Gentleman, boys and girls, raise your glasses to Herr Doktor (a distinguished veteran of several military excursions and one of the few people who can drink me under the table), and Crookedpaw, fellow blogger and book reviewer, who both leapt on the buy-some-books-and-help-lock-up-a-poacher offer.

I was only going to sell off one set of four books to help raise money for the SAVE the Rhino's Imire game reserve appeal, but, big softy that I am, I will now be donating $160 - the proceeds of the sale of two sets of my books to Crookedpaw and the good Doktor.

Thanks, guys for your quick reply, and to Ali G and Bubu who I have also learned made a significant donation to the appeal.

For the latecomers, SAVE is helping raise reward money, which will be used to try and catch a gang of poachers who killed three black rhino at Imire Game Reserve recently.

Herr Doktor and Crookedpaw, the remaining rhinos of Africa thank you, as do I.

Herr Dok, I will email you. Crookedpaw, can you please email me at: mail @ tonypark.net (with no spaces) and I'll give you details on how to pay.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Help give a rhino poacher a bad Christmas...

Due my technical inability, the post I wanted to post today about my special cheap-books-for-Christmas offer - which will raise money for a reward fund to catch some rhino poachers - has appeared two posts down, under a December 5 dateline (the date I drafted it).

So, scroll down for the offer of the year and help in the fight against rhino poaching!

Hurry - this offer won't last.

Raise a glass of Windhoek to... Windhoek

In honour of my loyal, if somewhat neglected Namibian fans, (that's you, anonymous) if you click here you can read a story I wrote for the London Daily Telegraph about Namibia's charming capital and excellent beer, both named Windhoek.

Cheers (or is that, prost?)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I've got camping to do...


(Warning:'s this post contains toilet humour)

Some unkind people (lots, in fact) occasionally (OK, often) ask me: "What exactly DOES Mrs Blog do all day in Africa while you're writing your next Number 2 (in Exclusive Books, O.R. Tambo International Airport) bestseller, Mr Blog?"

Hmmm.

Good question. She does not, despite the impression the above picture may give, spend all day snoozing in her hammock. No, Legion of Fans, that's Mrs B passed out, overcome with exhaustion, after a hard day's camping.

Camping is not all toasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories around the fire, LOF (in fact, I've never toasted marshmallows or told a ghost story in my life). It's hard work. Damn hard work.

OK... I may be exaggerating slightly, but the simple fact is that the simple act of living takes twice as long (or more) when you're living under canvas (or polypropylene, as we do).

As I type this, the industrious Mrs B is opening the door of the tent. In a house, one turns a knob and the door opens. Right now, the small but perfectly formed Mrs B is working her little biceps out big-time, trying to roll up the front flap of the tent. Next, she's standing on tippy toes trying to secure it. This whole action has taken two minutes and 23 seconds. That is, in fact, two minutes and 22 seconds longer than the equivalent action would have taken in a house or flat.

She is (bless her giraffe pattern socks) now serving me breakfast - a toasted sandwich from the Pretoriuskop Takeaway shop. Back in the wide brown land (Australia) she would pop two pieces of bread in the toaster and push down the thingy. Hey presto, toast in a matter of seconds. Here, she had to walk through the rain to the shop, some 300 metres away, queue, repeat herself twice so the African lady behind the cash register could understand her Australian accent (or, as I'm not there, perhaps talk in her posh faux Zimbabwean madam accent that I constantly chide her about) and wait for the slow but perfectly formed sandwich to be produced. She must then trudge back through the herd of impalas and their babies, fight off rampaging vervet monkies, sidestep the pack of dwarf mongoose that currently infests the campsite, talk to the neighbours about the weather and animals we have spotted on our respective game drives, and, finally, unzip the flyscreen.

Phew! I'm tired just thinking about it, and all I've done is sit here blogging (while pretending to write my new Number 2 besteller).

And don't even think about the romantic notion of toasting bread on the camp fire. If your camping experience is limited to one wet Easter weekend on the New South Wales south coast per year, then standing around a smoky fire in soggy clothes drying out a wet slice of Tip Top Low GI-Plus might be fun, but try doing it every day and the novelty will soon wear off.

I've even given up barbequeing (braaiing for the RSA residents among us) with wood. It takes an hour to burn a pile of wood down to useable coals and here in southern Africa you are either deforesting the country of native hardwood or (worse) having to use store-bought "Alien Invader" firewood (wattle and other non-indigenous species of tree which are quite rightly being eradicated, but have the cooking longevity and intensity of burning wet cardboard).

Lest you all think I am a lazy slob who is waited upon hand and foot, I can assure you that I, too, have a list of camping chores as long as a guy rope to complete every day. Dig that rain trench; fill that Land Rover gearbox with oil; lift that charcoal; tote that bail; get a little drunk and land in jail - yes, LOF, it's hard work living the life of the grey-templed nomad.

But what, I hear you ask, of the toilet humour? (And we take a break to welcome you random googlers - shame on you). Like I said, everything, even the most basic of human functions, takes longer when camping. There is the long walk to the ablution block for a shower, and the even longer walk back when you realise you've forgotten your soap or towel or shirt; or some Kiwi backpacker has stolen the toilet paper and you need to go to the loo.

There is the queue for the shower when the three young siblings from one family take over all the cubicles and insist on singing and throwing wet underpants at each other over the walls or, worse, when the overland truck of dishevelled dreadlocked backpackers arrives from Mali and the occupants get their first taste of hot water in three months (or, as famously happened to Mrs Blog one day, two female backpackers decide to take a LONG shower TOGETHER!).

There is a little secret, however, known only to long-term campers. I feel guilty even mentioning it, but those of you who have spent more than one night in the bush will know what I mean if incline my head slightly, raise an eyebrow, and then nod towards....

The bucket.

The rule about the bucket is as simple as it is inflexible. You use it - you clean it. So, those minutes saved in the middle of the night will be stripped back from you tenfold the next day and you will pay, dearly LOF, for those few brief moments of blissful relief.

Why not use a tree, I hear Ali G ask? Acceptable, in moderation (you don't want to use the same tree for 28 days in a row, believe me), but the moment you find that darkly shadowed spot, away from the tent, will be the precise moment the six-year-olds from next door's caravan decide it's time to go spotlighting for wild animals along the camp fence. No, far too much explaining to do and potential for criminal conviction if one goes down the tree root (pun intended).

Our young-ish friend Jane, aged 23-and-a-bit, was exposed to the rigours of camping at the tail end of the recent Mrs Blog Birthday Festival. She stayed with us for three nights - the longest time she'd spent out in the woods ever, and the first since a Year 9 School excursion (which she was still young enough to remember) during which there was, apparently, some marshmallow toasting.

She found, as we know, that it's hard work, but rewarding, in a masochistic sort of way. She learned to make a fire with charcoal (and ended up looking like Beyonce); posed with a hammer in her hand poised over a tent peg for a photo opportunity; discovered to her immense relief that there was a power point for her hair dryer in the ladies' ablution block; and fell asleep outdoors, on the grass, in the rain, during a party in the camp ground (so overcome was she with the serious work of camping).

In fact, she coined a lovely phrase that I intend to use lots in the years to come. When phoning her family back home in Australia to recount her cooking/tent pegging/hair drying escapades she signed off the call, with a degree of earnest urgency, as follows: "Gotta go, I've got camping to do".

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

SPECIAL OFFER! Help nail some poachers and get cheap (signed) books for Christmas

Step right up, Legion of Fans, for the win-win of the festive season.

Here's your chance to knock over a sizeable chunk of your Christmas shopping and help catch a gang of rhino poachers in the process,

Attentive readers will recall that I am speaking at the SAVE (NSW branch) fundraising dinner dance on February 9 at the Hunters Hill Sailing Club and that tickets are AUD$80 per head.

The organisers have said I don't have to pay, but I think that I should kick in 80 bucks of my own, don't you?

SAVE is currently helping to raise reward money which will be used to try and track down the gang of poachers who killed three adult black rhinos at Imire Game Reserve in Zimbabwe recently. Imire is run by friends of friends of ours and they've done great work in the past breeding these endangered creatures. There's a full report on what happend at Imire, and details of how to contribute direct to the reward fund here.

And now for my Christmas anti-poaching deal...

I'm offering one full set of all four of my books, signed, for AUD$80, posted anywhere in the world (at my expense). That's right, LOF, four books - Far Horizon, Zambezi, African Sky, and Safari, for 80 aussie dollars, nothing more to pay. (It'll be the small paperback versions of the first three and the big paperback of SAFARI, but it's still a cheap deal, believe me!).

I'll then give that $80 straight to the SAVE people for the Imire reward money fund - every red cent of it.

This offer is not open to relatives by blood or marriage. Why? Because I said so, that's why.

First person to post a comment, claiming the offer, gets the complete set of books for $80. You can pay me via paypal through my website or cash in small denomination unmarked bills.

Whatever happens, (even if none of you cheapskates take up this generous offer) I'll still kick in the $80, so why not join the hunt for the bastards who killed the Imire rhinos (and get a stack of books for all those relatives you don't really like, but have to buy presents for).

Let's help give these tsotsis a Christmas they'll never forget.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Big head

I have a big head, Legion of Fans. Size 58, in fact.

It's so big that I have trouble finding hats to fit me. As a young soldier, my army-issue kevlar helmet was so big that it looked like Darth Vader's headdress. When I parachuted, I never worried that my 'chute wouldn't open, as the wind resistance from my helmet would have slowed me enough.

Here's me and my big head (so big, in fact, Mrs Blog couldn't get it all in the frame) at my new most favourite bookshop, Exclusive Books in O.R. Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, where, as you can see, the small paperback version of African Sky was number three in their top 10, when I passed through the terminal on my way to Mozambique recently.

As if my head wasn't big enough already, my charming, well-read, witty, glamorous, single publisher, C, who had joined us in Africa for Mrs Blog's birthday, reported the other day that when she passed through the airport African Sky had climbed to number two.

So, watch your back, John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell, the good people of South Africa and several overseas tourists (and, probably, a few of my relatives), are voting with their wallets.

To Tish, the lady on the plane from Mozambique who had also bought African Sky, and everyone else who has bought one or more of my books, I'd just like to say a very big (headed) thank you.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Ola!


Which is to say, g'day (or howzit) in Portuguese.

Mrs Blog and I have just returned to home base in Pretoriuskop Camp, Kruger National Park, after a four-day sojourn to Mozambique in search of inspiration (for book 6), sun, prawns and different brands of beer. I can report we were successful on all fronts. I'm inspired, sun-burned, stuffed to the gunwales with seafood and several kilos heavier thanks to 500ml cans of various local brews (a very sensible quantity for any beverage in Africa and much better than South Africa, where a paltry 340ml is the norm).

We decided to fly from Johannesburg to Vilanculos, the closest airport to the Bazaruto Archipelago, rather than drive Tonka there because... well, becaused we couldn't be arsed driving 1000km. Better, we reasoned, to spend more of our remaining time in Africa chilling in Kruger and watching animals than driving vast distances on bad roads at 75kph.

It was quite the international-leisure-set thing to do, flying into Mozambique, although our well-heeled, well-dressed fellow passengers all seemed to be jumping on transfers out to luxury resorts on the beautiful islands of the archipelago once we arrived at the grandiosley-named Vilankulo International Airport (in reality a bumpy strip with a WWII-style air traffic control bunker), unlike us, who stayed in a B&B in Vilanculos.

Actually, Pameiros Lodge, where we stayed, was much nicer than it looked on the internet. Nice gardens, spotlessly clean, and well-run by some Zimabwean expats, it was situated just across the dirt track from the beach.

Vilanculos copped a pasting from cyclone Fabio earlier this year and the whole town is looking a bit the worse for wear. Palmeiros lodge is ship shape again, though its eponymous palms all look like they've had a lop-sided haircut.

The town - like most of Mozambique -is a mix of tumble-down thatched huts and gutted concrete hulks of old Portuguese colonial beach villas and hotels. An interesting place to hang out and research a novel, but you wouldn't want to spend much longer on the mainland than the four days we did.

Far nicer, Legion of Fans, are the islands that make up the Bazaruto Marine National Park, so we took a dhow trip out for the day to the nearest, Magaruque.



Now we were talking, LOF... azure waters, squeaky white sandy beaches, reefs teeming with those stripey fish we used to have in the fish tank when I was a kid, jovial crewmen working their rippling ebony muscles (with apoligies to Mr W Smith) hoisting the stiched and tattered sail, cold Dois M beers in the sun. You get the picture.



Noice.

We snorkelled along the rocky reef, or rather caught passing glimpses of fish as the fierce current whisked us past the shore.

Ye olde dhow was pretty cool, too - especially the sand-filled wooden box in the middle, reinforced with rusting corrugated iron, in which the crew made a fire to brew tea and cook fish steaks for lunch!



The next day it rained - all day - which was, actually, quite nice, as Mrs B and I did nothing but sleep and read. It was, dare I say it, like being on holiday.

Over the four days we spent a fiar bit of time in an atmospherically-stark bar called Smugglers, which was full of rum characters and piratical old salts. Without giving away too much about book six, this was also a very handy spot for research. Expect to see the seafood platter, with a lobster the size of a small dugong, feature in the book.

Other than going out to one or more of the islands, there wasn't a lot to do in Vilanculos. Mrs B and I are pretty much over the whole backpacker thing, so I couldn't see much point in visiting the local market (African markets are all pretty much alike - tomatoes, sunlight soap and over-sized bras).

It was much nicer, in fact, to do nothing at all for a few days.