Category Archives: CHOCOLAT: MY CAT


English: Caravan approaching Timbuktu in 1853 ...

English: Caravan approaching Timbuktu in 1853 (from Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa by Prof. Dr. Heinrich Barth, vol. iv, London 1858) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently a friend asked why I’d chosen Despatches from Timbuktu as my blog title?

I explained that I’d dreamed up and discarded lists of prospective blog titles. Somehow The Foxed Page, Lexical Kedgeree, or From Vellum to Paperback  weren’t right. None of them blew my hair back. And then, from who knows where, in floated Despatches from Timbuktu. I liked it. It was unusual, without being twee or crazy. It reflected the fact that I’m writing from the African continent (let’s not get picky about the fact that Timbuktu is 6000  kilometres from Cape Town; I did say Africa  remember?)

For as long as I can remember the name Timbuktu has had the aura of a place very far distant, immeasurably far away, an exotic foreign destination. In fact, as a child, I thought Timbuktu was a mythical place name that denoted beyond the back of beyond, if not the ends of the earth itself. It wasn’t until much later in my life when I realised that Timbuktu  genuinely existed  – what would we do without National Geographic? Thanks to DSTV’s Travel channel I was able to see its spiky towers, low mud houses, the dusty palms, the white robed turbanned figures, the whole North African thing … but it was still distant and exotic. Tick that box.

The more I rolled the name around in my head, the better it felt.  I wanted to write  about travel, about the unknown, about books,  about life, about anything and everything. I liked the word ‘despatches’. It speaks of  bulletins from bands of explorers –  urgent communications from  brave warriors sending news home from the battlefront – carrier pigeons, Morse code, crackly radio messages, sand-scoured bottles containing tightly curled parchment, rolling up onto the beach to be read by incredulous beachcombers …people and events  strange and distant, mirages hovering on the edges of history and dreams.

Lately I’ve noticed in an upswing on hits to my blog, particularly from unusual places like Egypt, I suspect it’s all to do with the troubles in Mali, the Islamist insurgents roaring around that part of Africa. Sorry guys – nothing in this blog about historic/scholarly/religious topics. Just book reviews, travel pieces, opinion pieces, a sprinkling of short-short fiction, and (no doubt, baffling to earnest political types) the exploits of my four-legged companion, the inimitable Chocolat.

My blog name will remain as is, unless I have another flash of inspiration and choose to change it. Chocolat suggests we change the name to Cat’s Chronicles, or Paws for Thought, but I’m ignoring her. So the religious zealots, the political plotters, the poli-sci students, the bearded weirdos,  will all have to continue grinding their teeth in frustration as they troll through my blog, hunting for the elusive nugget of information they’d hoped to find. Perhaps, en route, they might even enjoy a little of what they’ve read in their searches. I hope so.

That takes care of the casual searchers.  And now to my Regular Readers: thank you for following my myriad posts, for slogging through my travels, enduring my rants, reading my stories, mulling over my reviews.  I hope to continue entertaining and amusing you for many years to come.

Viva, the 100th Blog Post!




Uganda Collared Sunbird (Hedydipna collaris)

Uganda Collared Sunbird (Hedydipna collaris) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

B A K ?  Back at Keyboard, of course. Do try  to keep up.

If I sound a little waspish it’s because my return to home, cat and keyboard has not been a restful transition. After a delightful fortnight in Kwa-Zulu Natal, surrounded by family and friends, enjoying lunches, a prawn braai, a visit to a game reserve, an evening at the theatre, splashing in the swimming pool  – in short, that rare event, a relaxing holiday, my return was angst ridden in the extreme.

My brand new laptop got mixed up with another laptop in the overhead compartment of the plane, and I landed up with a battered old IBM in an identical carrying case. There was no identification in the case and the laptop was password-locked. 48 fraught hours later the dilemma was solved, laptops were exchanged, and I will never ever travel with un-labelled luggage again.

Meanwhile, back at the home front, on return from the cattery, Chocolat was being sociable and affectionate, and sharing quantities of little red ticks she’d picked up on her outdoor excursions. Three tick bites later (have you any idea how itchy tick bites can be?) much brushing and combing of cats, purchase of one tick & flea collar which did no good at all, purchase of more Frontline which is anti-tick monthly muti, the ticks seem to have abated. Now I’m waiting to see if I come down with tick-bite fever. I sincerely hope not. It’s unpleasant. Other family members have been bitten during trips to the bush, and laid very low thereafter.

In between these excitements, Chocolat caught a large dove, which she carted inside and proceeded to harass. Luckily I arrived while the bird was still alive, and confiscated it. Miraculously it flew when I released it into the garden, but then I spent a long time picking up dozens – maybe even hundreds – of tiny feathers inside the house. Ho hum.  And two days later Madam marched in and laid her latest trophy at my feet: one small scarlet-collared sunbird, claws pathetically still locked around the branch where it had perched. No problem to Chocolat, who brought the whole lot indoors, bird, branch, the whole jolly lot. At the moment I’m off my cat, in a big way.

My latest read has followed this trend: the Swedish bestseller Silenced  by  Kristina Ohlsson – the grim tale of a family murder. Suffice it to say the reader realises by the end of the book that it is very unwise to upset one’s siblings, lest they take revenge. Be especially nice to your siblings, lest they be harbouring old grudges, and are plotting, right now, how best to achieve your downfall – if not total extinction. You have been warned.

Yup: I’m B.A.K. But not with a happy smile on my dial.


Filed under CHOCOLAT: MY CAT, HUMOUR, Uncategorized

My cuddly little carnivore

Chocolat the Literary Critic

Chocolat the Literary Critic


It must be the time of year – early summer – or the arrival of the South-Easter, or the phase of the moon – whatever it is, my cat Chocolat is filled with bloodlust and comes home almost daily, bringing me PRESENTS.  Those of you who work as Staff for Cats will know what I mean.

She comes trotting through the door and instead of her usual loud greeting, all I hear is a suspiciously muffled call. It’s muffled because she has a mouthful of bird, or small creature, usually alive, if not actively kicking.  Oh dear.  Not again. I leap up, but she’s a lot nippier than I am, and always dives under the bed with her latest prey.  If the little body is limp, I leave her to it, and close the bedroom door until she’s finished.  Urrggghh.

But if the creature is alive, kicking and bent on escape we then have a three-ringed circus: cat v.s. human and prey; prey v.s. human and cat; human v.s. cat.  I have recently caught small birds desperately trying to fly away and stunning themselves on the glass. It just depends who gets to them first – me or Chocolat.  Rescued birds don’t do well, I think it’s the shock that kills them. Mice are a better bet.  I rescued a charming yellow-striped Cape mouse last week, managed to catch him with my famous braai-tongs, and release him over the neighbour’s garden wall, with Chocolat watching angrily from the locked bedroom.

Those braai-tongs are wonderful: not only do they enable me to pick up small objects at floor level, they make an excellent rescue tool too.  Because they have a long handle I’m able to reach under tables, cupboards and into corners.  I even managed to rescue a lizard, lying on my bedside mat – lizards are the devil to catch, not only are they very quick but they shed their tails as a get-out-of-jail card, and usually all you’re left with is the discarded twitching tail while the lizard has hidden in an even more inaccessible corner.

Big grasshoppers are the worst, and Chocolat loves them – they’re so lively, and interesting and provide hours of fun. Major fun! For her, but not for me! By now I must be well on my way to Bodhisattva status due to my rescue work.

What fascinates me, is that Chocolat dines lavishly on high quality cat kibble, so she’s not hungry. She just enjoys the sport. Proof of which are the shrews.  She hauls them inside, leaves them under the bed and walks away; apparently cats won’t eat them because have a bitter taste. I ask myself : then why bother in the first place?  But I know the answer to the rhetorical question : cats are hardwired to hunt.

But what really gets my goat, is her attitude to proffered tasty titbits on a saucer, after my meals.  She will approach the saucer with more caution than a Bomb Squad Disposal member approaching suspect terrorist unexploded ordnance. Having established that the saucer and titbit might be edible, she then carefully sniffs and examines the food like a nervous guest at a Borgia banquet ….  and then has a cautious nibble. She might then condescend to eat the titbit. CATS!!!!  Sigh.

So basically I’m harbouring an efficient cold-blooded killer, dressed in a sleek brown fur coat, and disguising her true nature by playful winning ways.  Hmmmm.


Filed under CHOCOLAT: MY CAT

WHAT A RELIEF! – by Chocolat



Home sweet home

What a relief to be back home, relaxing on our bed as you can see from the pic above.

I cannot tell you how cold, wet and miserable That Place was,  and how pleased I was to be back in a warm house, with my staff in attendance, and the choice of three comfy beds to lie on, plus usual   access to my morning  sunbathing venue under the hedge and my afternoon basking venue easily available.  Just to be on the safe side I’ve been extra polite, and putting in extra purring sessions to make sure I don’t get sent back to That Place. It really was too terrible. Recalling my time there makes my whiskers curl and gives me the shivers.

Oh – and by the way, She is B.A.K. (back at keyboard).

Watch this space.






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AFK and a Postscript from Chocolat

I’m using a phrase coined by my favourite nerd, Dr Sheldon Cooper: A F K …. absent from keyboard. I’ll be taking a break for a couple of weeks, partly holiday time, and partly writing time – I have two competition entries languishing on my hard-drive, and they ain’t going anywhere, at the moment, and the deadline date looms.  So – see ya later!

a P.S. from Chocolat:

I must say I’m disgusted.

She’s sending me to the so-called Cats’ Holiday Camp.  Huh! Holiday Camp?  A place that offers no duvet?  no electric blanket? No comfy bed for sunbathing in the afternoons?  I rest my case.

Oh, and another thing, while we’re talking about my well-being and comfort. The under-cat-heating has not been up to standard this year. Every time I jump up and settle down for some under-cat-heating, She gets up and turfs me off. How am I supposed to keep warm? We’ve had an unusually cold winter this year, and although I’ve grown my winter coat, I have very short fur and I need  under-cat-heating. Humans! I’ll never understand them.

I’m so fed up I’m not even taking anything to read.  She suggested I might enjoy a book about my larger relatives, The Lions of Tsavo.  Now, I ask you, why would I want to read about lions bounding across the veldt whilst I’m locked up in a miserable cage? Be reasonable!

With an angry swish of the tail:







She can pretty it up as much as She likes, but we all know that Cats’ Holiday Camp  just means THE CATTERY.  Who does She think She’s  kidding?

I am not amused. I am not taking many books with me, but I think you will realize how I feel about this excursion once you read the titles:

Mein Kampf  by Adolf Hitler

Papillon by Henri Charrière

The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill

Bitterly yours.



Filed under CHOCOLAT: MY CAT

What my Cat is Reading

Chocolat the Literary Critic

Chocolat spends a lot of time studying A Field Guide to Smaller Mammals, Birds & Insects of the Cape Peninsula. Time and again it has provided useful tips and hints for her menus.  You can’t beat a really good recipe book. Every home should have one.

One of her favourite reads is Edward Lear’s famous poem The Owl and the Pussycat.  It combines most of her pleasures : romance and travel. She loves the way that romance develops as the Owl and the Pussycat sail along in their beautiful pea-green boat.  How could anyone resist being wooed with song accompanied by a small guitar?  She likes the fact that there is such inter-species co-operation – the pig willingly selling his ring for one shilling, while the turkey who lived on the hill conducted a brief, but moving wedding ceremony.  And then the wedding feast: mince for the Pussycat and slices of quince for the Owl followed by sedate dancing on the beach beneath the light of the moon. Altogether an enchanting poem.

The same cannot be said for the infantile poem The Cat in the Hat  by Dr Seuss. Chocolat does not know what sort of a Doctor Seuss might have been, but it certainly wasn’t anything to do with elegant verse or beautiful illustrations.  She finds the sledge-hammer rhyming pattern quite distressing and as for the grotesque cartoon illustrations! Well – the less said the better.

She fancies she may tackle the old Roman poet Catullus next. Poems with titles such as Tears for Lesbia’s Sparrow  and  The Death of  Lesbia’s Sparrow sound very promising.

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