No Such Thing as An Innocent Ant …

By Susan Roberts

So here I am sitting in my cottage, surrounded by debris, and packing all my possessions into boxes once more. I haven’t done this in eleven years; not since January 2002, when I moved in here with forty boxes. Boxes filled mainly with books.

Why am I packing, you ask? Thereon hangs my tale of woe. If I hadn’t offered to lend a friend one of my books, I would never have flipped through those big coffee-table volumes in the bottom shelf of one of my eight bookcases. I would never have lifted out that particular book and had it fall apart in my hands, leaving only the plastic cover, and thus I would never have discovered the prosperous satellite colony of termites that had taken up residence in my oldest bookcase.

To cut a very long and sad story short – especially for a fanatical bibliophile such as myself – I traced the little chompers through 24 of my once glorious and glossy books, now reduced to dust, grit and horrible little crooked tunnels made out of ant spit and termite-poo. Needless to say, these were 24 of my favourite books, many dating back to the days when I lived in beautiful, arty Cape Town, with its abundance of galleries and unusual bookshops. Back then, I was usually broke but, rather than spend my last farthing… Okay, not that long ago! Rather than spend my last fifty bucks on food or petrol, I would splurge on yet another coffee table book about the glories of Greta Garbo, All Time Movie Greats, Industrial Light and Magic’s first ten years, Anna Pavlova, and so on.

Gone, gone, all gone. Picture

Well, actually not the one on Anna Pavlova. The termites had nibbled a bit of her cover but I sprayed the hell out of it and re-covered it with clear plastic. I have been watching it closely for the last few days. Under observation, as they call it in hospitals. She seems to be recovering from her re-covering.

So what are these horrid, hungry little felons that can make a booklover’s life such a misery? According to Google, they are all part of the ant family. Yes, even Durban’s notorious wood-borer. I’ve never minded seeing a line of ants going about their business, or a little pile of dark soil in a corner near a skirting board. At least it’s not the lighter, pale pellets that prove the presence of borer, I’ve thought. What can a few innocent ants do? Unfortunately, like humans, ants can be branded by their seedier relatives, but where humans might have the odd skeleton hanging in the closet, ants have whole tribes of white ants – or termites – gnawing away at the very closet in which they are hiding. These pale relatives, though lighter in colour, have a darker purpose.

I shall never trust them again. It seems that there is no such thing as an innocent ant.

My cottage is built in a convenient little hollow, rather like a hobbit hole, and had been invaded by subterranean termites (thank you again, Google!), which burrow in through water sources and make themselves comfy in wood and paper that they find anywhere near the skirting or the cracks that they travel through. Evidently, my bookcase against the wall had provided the ideal residence.

I like my cottage, and I am pleased when others like it too. I don’t mind sharing it with my cats and even the odd creepy crawly, but surely it goes against the grain of common courtesy when the visitors who squat without paying rent start to eat the main tenant’s personal belongings? I once had a boyfriend who thought that the moths and butterflies that had taken up residence in his flat were beautiful – until he discovered the holes in his clothing…

Anyway, having pulled out all the books, rescued what I could, and sprayed the bookcase, my next task was to assess the further damage to the rest of my house. Sadly, I found evidence that this termite colony had been munching on more than one piece of furniture. This invasion wasn’t something that a few cans of bug-spray could sort out; it was time to call in the big guns. I phoned my landlord.

A builder by trade, he likes nothing more than to potter with ripping things out and rebuilding them another way, and if he can rip out two rooms instead of one, that’s considered a bonus. A whole cottage? Wow!

He had been casting his Builder’s Eyes in the direction of my cottage for a good four years, since the last colony of borer had found a tasty little feast behind the paintwork of the tongue-in-groove ceilings in the kitchen, dining room and bedroom. My house had been tented and the borer wiped out, but the damaged woodwork was still there. Now he had the perfect excuse to rip it all out, pump in some poison to wipe out the termites and any leftover borer, and then rebuild the missing bits.

In short, this wasn’t going to be a single-weekend project. I needed to move out – lock, stock and all forty barrels – for several months until the job was done. So where would I go while my landlord gutted my cottage?

Not far, he assured me. Just across the garden to the upstairs flat above the main house. Fortunately this happened at a lucky time – the upstairs flat is vacant and my landlord and I have agreed that we should take advantage of this. There’s another bonus – it has three bedrooms, so I will have more space to go through all my junk while I’m there, and get rid of the things that I don’t mind losing. I would rather voluntarily lose things to the SPCA and Hospice for a good cause than have them nibbled away by termites and borer.

But perhaps the real incentive is that there are some things that I just don’t want to have to pack twice…

In Pursuit of Higher Learning


By Michelle Dennison/ Julianne AlcottIt was my task a few months ago to pay a visit to a place of higher learning.

*names have been changed to avoid lawsuits

The institution in question has stopped allowing people to telephone them. They encourage email correspondence instead. I emailed them in November last year and I’m still waiting for a reply.

I chose instead to go the personal route, with a face-to-face visit at the student advisor counter. The
lady barely looked at my paperwork, and told me not very much more politely to go away. I held my ground and asked her what the next step was for me to take. Grudgingly, she told me to go to another department in Durban where I could find my answer.

After driving around what used to be the Victoria Embankment several times, I finally found it, hoping to receive better service than the last place. Well I didn’t even get past the lobby of the building. I was stopped and told to go away. More politely this time, and the lady very helpfully got me a phone number where I could obtain my answers.

All I needed to know was if I could do an extra qualification using my existing degree. Not rocket science, ut it took 22 emails to various people, and numerous phone calls spaced over the next month to finally get the answer.

Now, registration is imminent, and I don’t want to be caught missing some little piece of paper, so I
ventured forth to the unmentioned institution once again.

The bathrooms are interesting… if you can actually find them. They are hidden behind unmarked  doors down mysterious passages. Once found, they reveal that they have neither toilet paper nor soap. The back of the toilet doors is not a repository for every bad word in the English language, but an advertising board. Hastily scrawled notes by people looking for study groups, and the prices of books they have for sale.

I stood in the enquiries queue, as I thought that would be a good place to make an enquiry. The lady directed me to 3B2, a door further down the corridor. It was locked, and two large signs sprawled across it proclaimed that my particular course information could be found at room 2B1.

I sat outside room 2B1 for half an hour.

Finally, I went back to room 3B2 and asked the lady where I was supposed to go, because there was no one in 2B1.

Yes, she said. It’s because  they aren’t there.

I had to bite my tongue, lest it let fly all the sarcastic comments my head was thinking.

She offered to help me, and in her I discovered a rare breed… A student advisor who actually wanted to advise students! She even discovered that I had an extra credit for English that I didn’t know I had.

So here I am, about to be higherly educated… hopefully.

The Land of Oz

by Penny M

Have you ever felt like you’ve been dropped into a postcard? I have. I followed the family out of Perth International airport at one o’clock (Perth time) where I found a bench to sit down (yes again!). I’m not sure if my ears were still at forty thousand feet, but all activity seemed feathered. I distinctly remembered having chewed and popped all the way down. I wondered if I’d gone deaf. There wasn’t a rainbow national in sight. Even passing vehicles moved so slowly that they would have left the dust on the pavements if there’d been any; which there wasn’t. Not a speck of litter anywhere. Picture

Perhaps I was suffering from culture shock. The courtesy with which we’d been greeted and assisted was so … well … foreign. I had the urge to rush back and hug the officials at Immigration and Passport control. It was comforting to think that these smileys on legs actually wanted us to be there. How refreshing to feel that you were not just a Passport number so-and-so, to be scrutinized, processed and ‘next’.

Three zombies and a baby touched down at Brisbane airport after a ten hour sleepless-over at Perth
domestic airport (don’t ask) and a four hour and something minute flight. We were now ahead of Perth by two hours and SA by nine. Please note that means we were out of our zone.

My alien sensation clung on. Being a single, independent person, staying twenty-four-seven in a home full of people of all sizes was an interesting change to my routine. It took a while to adjust, but what a joy to hear the intermittent patter of little feet and voices and to spend quality time with my five month old granddaughter.

Making comparisons is a natural phenomenon of travel. Rounding up to ten rand for one dollar made window shopping easy for me. This wasn’t the only deterrent. Call me old-fashioned, but I have a snooty penchant for the home-grown. After trundling around three shopping centres, it became disappointingly obvious that China controls a major share of the market in Australia for everything other than fresh produce. Significant numbers of second world retail merchants mingle comfortably with first world purchasers and my guess is that they share equal power in the realm of private yachts and public mansions. Original Australian design (made in China) adorns the labels of everything from stuffed Koala bears to fly catchers. I was not about to spend my few dollars on something I could get in China Town, Durban, SA.

During my stay, I was fortunate enough to travel to Melbourne to visit my son who has settled there. It is said that Brisbane is like Durban and Melbourne is like London and I could quite see why.

If I remember the story correctly, Dorothy was swept away to the Land of Oz in a tornado. Judging from the weather whilst we were there, flash floods, blistering heat, cyclones, I wondered if L Frank Baum, the author of the famous children’s novel had anticipated the landing conditions before he wrote the book. That is, I wondered, until I discovered that the author of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a Theosophist. The book was intended to be allegorical. Dorothy’s journey was a ‘spiritual’ one.

Unlike Dorothy, we had set out to explore and experience Oz with the intent of maybe emigrating there in the future. I find it quite uncanny that I came upon these words when researching for this blog:

‘… Once she gets there, Dorothy realizes that she doesn’t belong there and that she has to find her way back home. In the end she comes to the realization that “you don’t need to travel over the rainbow to find your heart’s desire,” you can find it “in your own backyard”.’

I’m not into Theosophy, but maybe I don’t need to fly over the rainbow to follow the yellow brick road. Talk about food for thought. One thing’s for sure, I know how Dorothy felt when she  arrived in the Land of Oz.

Purdin, W. (2009, July 22). The Theosophical foundations of L Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. Retrieved March 13, 2013, from


By Sue Trollip

Once upon a time I was afraid of swimming alone.

Not because I feared drowning, though given my swimming expertise, it should have been. My fear stems from an intrepid dislike of what lurks in and around pools and this includes frogs and goggas (which are any small, buzzing and clingy insect).

I grew up in a proverbial one horse town. I say proverbial because there were, to be honest, a lot more horses than humans in the area but, my point is it was a tiny town with arctic winters and the few days of summer were spent splashing in the river. I’m excellent at that. Although there were swimming lessons at primary school and compulsory galas at high school somehow I never managed anything more than a well below par, arse-sinking, arms-flapping-manically backstroke. The good news is that I can float. Why I have no fears of drowning is incomprehensible to me, but that’s the
way brains work … or don’t.

Instead I shudder when contemplating the crawling, buzzing bugs and their amphibian friends. Damp frogs that leap like baby dinosaurs into the water, flapping tsetse fly like creatures that get
caught in my hair and those crunchy black beetles that like to cling to your bathing suit. Ooh noo!

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those wimpy girls that screams at the sight of a bug. I’m rather handy at sweeping frogs off the veranda, shooing things out of the house with a newspaper and even, sorry to my Zen friends, slapping my shoe over a lurking, creep-crawling potential hazard. The problem arises when I’m in the pool because then I’m defenceless, no broom, no shoe and no oomph for the high speed escape.

What the presence of another person at the poolside would accomplish, I’ve got no idea, but Gran always said a fear shared is a fear halved. Or was that a worry. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. It just  makes me feel better.
So, yes, I’m that weird woman that walks around the poolside several times checking the corners and the filters before getting into the water.

Then there was a breakthrough …

On a sweltering humid afternoon when glowing in drips (because nice girls don’t sweat) I dashed to the pool and leapt in before any melting could occur. One leap. So simple. As I swam up and down to rid myself of some chocolate overindulging guilt, I realised that I was maturing, maybe even becoming sophisticated. I clamoured out feeling proud of myself. This could be the year to conquer fears I thought settling down onto my towel and reaching for my book.

A movement in my peripheral vision made me whip my head towards the water. Something was shimmying across the pool. Perhaps the size of a pencil, with its head up as it wiggled through the water. I gaped then gasped then leapt to my feet, grabbed my towel and book and ran for the house as the little snake hoisted itself onto the top step of the pool.

This story, as you’ve probably realised, has no happily ever after because now instead of being afraid, I’m petrified of swimming alone.