Floating zebra alert

Every so often, we go serious on 6000 miles… and we document something in the public interest.
This is one of those days.

Please, please be aware of the dangers of floating zebras. This young lady was fortunate that she was over water when she realised that she was soaring away attached to a floating zebra. Luckily, she was also wearing suitable attire for her escape from this terrifying ordeal.

Hopefully, she had a safe landing.

Recent research by the University of Birmingham suggested that each year, worldwide, up to 48 people are carried away by floating zebras.

These people are never seen again. Never.
And all because they foolishly chose to become involved with a drifting equid.


Photo credit

Hello Winter, my old friend

Winter has suddenly and viciously arrived in Cape Town. Just [does the maths] 72 hours after that sublime day out in Franschhoek, with its cloudless skies and 27 degrees, there are suddenly many inches of rain and a plethora of Beauforts. The pressure has dropped below 1000mb for the first time this year and the temperature is only just troubling the mid-teens.

Of course, this is actually no great surprise. Winter comes in May and this is May. It happened last year around this time and again the year before. Personally, I can see a pattern emerging, but that’s probably just down to my intensely-trained scientific mind, so don’t worry if you haven’t spotted it yet.
However, the moaning has started already. This is also no great surprise. Despite the fact that there are plenty of great things to do in this weather (hide under blankets, drink buckets of red wine, watch World Cup football), there are two activities that Capetonians are unable to do in the cold and rain: go to the beach and drive.

The beach thing is fairly obvious. One goes to the beach to enjoy the sun, the warm sea air and the chicks in their bikinis.
One does not go to the beach to get hypothermia. Not even the Brits do that. So, no. No beach in this weather, thank you very much.
The driving thing is more mysterious. It has been well documented that the phenomenon occurs, but no-one is really sure why. And there’s no one way in which Capetonian drivers get worse when it rains. It seems to be that they just do everything rather badly: no indicating, late braking, nipping through red lights, crossing solid white lines, complaining about how other people can’t drive etc.
It’s like everyone suddenly thinks they’re driving a BMW.

This appalling roadsmanship obviously has a profound effect on the traffic flow around the city. When it rains, my journey to work will take twice as long as usual or even increase by as much as 100%, time-wise. And I really don’t think I can be the only one who experiences this. I’ve done some rudimentary calculations and worked out that when it rains, businesses in and around Cape Town lose out by a really big number of Rands because their staff, supplies and deliveries are all caught up in the traffic.

It’s at this point in many blog posts that one might expect to find a few suggested solutions to this problem and who am I to disappoint. Having been daubed with the paintbrush of positivity after seeing what has been managed by local engineers in the form of the all new Hospital Bend and the magnificence that is the Cape Town World Cup Stadium, I now believe they can do anything.
Which is why they can build the huge sponge on the top of Table Mountain.
If I was better with Photoshop (OK, if I even had Photoshop), I’m sure I could show you just how that would look. As it is, you’ll just have to imagine Table Mountain with a sponge on top of it. A huge one. Probably in yellow.

Hopefully, this would absorb any rain that was due to fall on any of Cape Town’s roads and would thus prevent the entire city driving like tossers on wet days. The obviously massive costs of this huge project would be offset by the enormous financial benefits to the city of people actually being able to get to their offices and start work before ten o’clock.

Add a really big heat lamp and we could solve the beach thing too.

Money for research

As a scientist, I know just how difficult it is to secure funding for research projects. That’s why it annoys the hell out of me to see that someone (albeit not a scientist) has gone and got a lump of money to find out if television wildlife documentaries infringe on animals’ privacy.
And apparently, yes they do.

Footage of animals giving birth in their burrows or mating crosses an ethical line that film-makers should respect, according to Brett Mills, a lecturer in film studies at the University of East Anglia.
Mills compiled a report on animals’ rights to privacy after reviewing scenes from the BBC’s 2009 wildlife series “Nature’s Great Events”.

Perish the thought that some money should be spent on something important like finding a cure for HIV or addressing the growing scourge of XDR-TB.

No, let’s rather give Brett a big wad of cash to go into the woods with a video camera and see if he can make a badger blush.

The other Icelandic export

The spotlight this week has been firmly placed on Iceland. Iceland is of course, best known for giving the rest of the world two things: Volcanic ash & Björk. Its major import is money from investors across Europe, which it loses and doesn’t give back. With my psuedo-Viking heritage, it’s somewhere I have always wanted to visit. One day, I shall, and I will enjoy a meal or two of their other lesser known export: puffin.

Yes, these comical little seabirds are actually eaten over there. Living in South Africa, with its proud history of braai’ing anything and everything one can find, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about this.
And who can blame the locals for utilising anything as a food source when you look at the barren volcanic landscapes that surround them?
Needs must and all that.

Come now – it might look cute – OK, it does look cute – but it’s basically just a chicken with a funny beak. And you don’t have any issues with eating chicken, do you? So there’s no real difference between you visiting KFC or RFP (Reykjavik Fried Puffin), is there?

Of course, they don’t do anything quite so vulgar as rolling it in breadcrumbs and giving it to some gormless high school dropout to boil in dirty oil. No, there are traditional recipies that have been followed by the Icelandic people for many years:

4 puffins
50g smoked bacon
50g butter
300ml milk
300ml water
salt to taste

Puffins should be skinned or carefully plucked and singed. Remove the innards and discard. You can use the breasts alone, or cook the whole birds. Wash well in cold water and rub with salt, inside and out. If you are using whole birds, truss them. Draw strips of bacon through the breasts. Brown the birds on all sides, and stuff the birds tightly into a cooking pot. Heat the milk and water and pour over the puffins. Bring to the boil and cook on low for 1-2 hours (test the birds for softness). Turn the birds occasionally.

It sounds delicious – and it looks like this:

As flickr user wili_hybrid says:

We brought back ten smoked puffins from our trip to Iceland. My brother’s girlfriend Jenni combined some traditional puffin recipes and came up with a delicious variant where the puffins are boiled for hours in a mixture of milk, beer and bacon, and served with a variety of different jams and jellies. The meat was much more game-like than what I expected (the taste almost resembling that of a reindeer) as the puffins I’ve tried before have tasted rather fishy.

Sadly, there are no puffins in South Africa. However, they are fairly closely related to penguins and we have plenty of them – as my daughter happily points out.

I’m quite sure that I could slip one into a bag at Boulders and then into a pot at home…

Call off the World Cup!

…and evacuate the country!

Because, after much seismic activity around the globe this year, it seems that an expert has predicted the country is almost certain to be hit by a major natural disaster. 

And it could strike during this summer’s footie tournament!!!!!!

Yes, expert Dr Chris Hartnady thinks SA is about to be hit by an earthquake. And he has singled out Durban and Cape Town as the areas most likely to be hit.

As the Daily Star points out

That’s bad news for England’s stars, who are set to face Algeria in Cape Town June 18.

 And the 3 million people that live here as well, right? Right?

Dr Hartnady believes the tectonic plates of the Earth’s crust are active on a fault line that could pose a major threat to South Africa.
He said: “A major earthquake disaster in the region is inevitable because wide areas of southern Africa are affected by the slow, southward spread of the East African rift system.
It is not a question of if, but when. The consequences would be so expensive in terms of mortality and economic cost that the risk of being ill-prepared is unacceptably high.”

Personally, I think Dr Hartnady is talking out of the African rift system between his butt cheeks, but it is obviously a concern: an earthquake would cause untold damage to beautiful Cape Town.

Still, on the up side, it might tidy Durban up a bit.