Kids No Longer


SANAE 1999 overwintering team, Ryan Earle, bot. left.

Unbeknownst to me my son Ryan Earle had applied to join the 1999 South African overwintering team in Antarctica. The first I heard of it was when, in August, 1998, after copious tests, physical, practical and psychological, he was accepted as the Mechanical Engineer. I was stunned and immensely proud.






Sheila’s son, Nick Simkin, got engaged 4th September 1999. In October Sheila and I drove from Maun, Botswana to my ex-wife, Greet, and her husband, Dennis Driver’s farm in South Africa to collect the furniture that my parents had left for me when they emigrated to Australia. We arranged to meet up with Nick, who was on a police course in Pretoria. He came north with his cousin, Andy Maling, to join us at Greet and Dennis’ place, then Andy’s younger brother Neville Maling arrived, too. They all had cell phones and it was the first time we were able to see these amazing pieces of modern technology at work, arranging meeting places, giving directions, rescuing someone whose vehicle had broken down. We even had a word with Andy’s twin, Chris, in California. It happened that this was around the time that my daughter, Nicci Earle was visiting him there.

We even spoke to Ryan at the SANAE base camp in Antarctica – nice day, he said; -20 degrees with sunshine!

From the states, Nicci went on with her travels to Canada. By December 1999 she was in New Zealand.

Timothy Simkin was working for an engineering company in East London, South Africa. We caught up with him as the family gathered in chalets on the coast in the resort of Cinsa to attend Nick’s marriage to Tracy on 22nd April, 2000, in the Amalinda Baptist Church, E.L. It was a good bun-fight, but the highlight was catching up with family.

Ryan, finally back from the unforgettable experience of Antarctica, told me that he and his girlfriend, Elaine van Pitten had gotten engaged. The wedding was planned for Sept. 30th, 2000. He was now employed by the construction company, Murray & Roberts.

While in East London, both Sheila and I took the opportunity to apply for our new identity documents (called a Book of Life) at the department of Home Affairs. Two amazing coincidences were that we ran into old friend Joey Barichievy, and then Sheila was recognised by a black lady with whom she had been friends as children together, growing up on her parents’ farm outside the city. They reminisced for ages!

After their wedding, Nick & Tracy came back to Maun with us, bringing 3 German Shepherd puppies, smuggled through the border. The two bitches were to become the foundation for some furry companions that only died out in 2016.

To attend Ryan’s wedding in September, we based ourselves with Greet and Dennis Driver again, on their farm near Nylstroom, joining members of both their families as well as Sheila’s. Sherylyn Driver, Dennis’ elder daughter, now a stunningly beautiful woman whom I had last seen as a chubby child, was back home after some time overseas. She and I went shopping in Warmbaths, had lunch and several beers and became good friends as she told me of her sometimes harrowing adventures in Europe. I was honoured to be a confidant.

Giraffes3Nicci was also back from her travels abroad, having earned her way as a qualified physiotherapist. Greet’s brother, my old friend Nico Jaspers, was over from Australia. After the wedding, Nicci and Nico followed us back to Botswana for a lovely visit to a camp in the Okavango Delta.

The wedding itself was held at one of those specialist venues just outside the city of Pretoria, the home town of Elaine’s family. Sheila and I sat with our friends, Bert and June Sabatier, and our clan of Nicholas and his cousins. We had our own table in a corner where we could enjoy each other’s company, catch up, and party.

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An Elephant’s kiss

July was the month each year that a group of, usually, four bulls came through from Nxai Pan to the Okavango Delta, passing our river home. The visit was usually at night; tearing down foliage near the fence and depositing their visiting cards. But in the morning there would only be the vegetative wreckage and the fibrous steaming puddings to see. In September 1999 a small breeding herd passed by with calves, using the nearby pool as a mud bath.

Kiss for Sheila 1994

Sheila Earle

An unforgettable invitation to visit Doug and Sandi Groves in the Delta, and overnight there in our tent demands a tribute and another note of appreciation. These two incredible human beings have given their lives to the care of three elephants.



I quote from other sources here:

The elephants at Grey Matters:
There are three trained elephants with Doug and Sandi at the moment; all are orphans from culling programmes:
Jabu is short for Jabulani, which means happiness; he was born in about 1986 and orphaned when two by a cull in the Kruger National Park, South Africa. He is described as a proud bull who enjoys leading this small herd – playful, dependable, and the most independent and confident member of the herd. He now stands about 2.9m tall at the shoulder.
Thembi, a smaller female, is about the same age as Jabu, and was also orphaned by a cull in the Kruger. She’s said to be smart and very social, and loves being the centre of attention. Originally a very insecure calf, she’s gradually becoming much more confident.
Morula came to Doug in 1994 as a maladjusted 17-year-old, lacking confidence and with a troubled background. Doug comments that she started off being exceedingly submissive to him and the other elephants, but then vented frustrations on trees. He adds that she’s gradually become more secure and relaxed here.

The Living with Elephants Foundation was launched in 1999. The charity is dedicated to creating harmonious relationships between people and elephants. Living with Elephants also works to secure the long term future of its elephant ambassadors. Elephants can live for 70 years so when Doug and Sandi adopted Jabu, Thembi and Morula, they knew they were making a life-long commitment to the trio – and that the trio would probably outlive the Groves by decades.

Doug's JumbosThe obvious bond between human and animals was jaw-dropping. Sheila and I were treated by Doug to walk with the trio as they browsed, explaining their diet, physiology and characters.

Doug 1994-Jabu

Jabu with Doug Groves

They are not beyond teasing their bipedal friends. I can’t remember who it was, now, but when they all went for a swim in a pool, one of them refused to follow the others out at Doug’s command, squirting trunkfuls of water and dodging to the far side of the pool to avoid Doug until she tired of the game, to Doug’s relief. It was time to return them to their boma and feed them mophane branches that had been cut and fetched from further afield for their evening meal. Their area was a bit denuded at the time.



To this day, walks with this trio can be arranged.

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Off the grid on the THAMALAKANE FAULT

By the end of 1997, the Power Tower was complete, the borehole dug by Water Africa’s jumper-drill rig, and the pump installed. It was driven by the solar panels on top of the water tanks on the Tower. I worked as site agent at Maun Senior Secondary School during the week, but at weekends, work on our house began. I set out the foundations and the position for the septic tank in July ’98.

River plot wall3The awareness that one is building on a seismic fault calls for some careful consideration. I designed the house, and later Sheila’s studio as well, on a series of separate columns. The roof rested on these on timber beams to allow for extreme flexibility in the event of movement. Walls were inserted with relevant doors and windows between the columns; unconnected to them to allow cracking in the corners if movement so wished. Two bedrooms, and a veranda overlooking the Thamalakane River, were built in the roof space, with big triangular cupboards in the eaves.

Mabinda are large mats woven from fan-palm leaves by folk that live up in the Okavango Panhandle. I ordered enough to nail to the roof timbers and cover the insulation as a ceiling; it looked great.

Maun flood - Redwood house island

Our island home, after the floods…

Half of downstairs was the lounge-dining room and open-plan kitchen, and staircase. The other half had the bathroom, a large open veranda, and a staircase leading down to the cellar. I was aware that the cellar would flood if the river rose, as it was almost certain to do when the drought of the mid-nineties relaxed its grip, and would filter the river water to form an indoor well. All goods stored there were placed up on high concrete shelves. (Lots of baked beans and Ecco corned beef for the End of the World.)

In August we cast the cellar floor.  The roofing began in April 1999. Tiling, painting, plumbing, and cupboards were complete by August. More solar panels were erected in locked steel frames on the upper north-facing wall of the Power Tower by December, and a small room built upstairs in the Tower to house the inverter and batteries.

Thereafter, I started to build Sheila’s art studio. The studio roof was completed by the end of March 2000, about the same time a surveyor was setting out the fence lines for the Oppenheimer Okavango Research Institute, cutting off the access road that we had been using. Of course we made a new track along the fence, but, at the time we moved in, our home was the only house within two kilometres, and the isolation was idyllic.

Then came the Cell Phone Phenomenon, a TV dish, and eventually, a neighbour…

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Gunfire and Lightning

BandSheila&AmandaIn mid December, 1999, Sheila Earle & Amanda Raw, musicians both, set off for Windhoek, Namibia, on a mission to have Amanda’s cello repaired. Herr von Zagen (Mr Once Again) had been a WWII POW held in, then, South-West Africa. After the war, he stayed on in Windhoek and played violin in the local orchestra, but decided that he wanted to learn how to build the instruments, whereupon he went to England to be trained before returning to South-West. Just the man to repair cellos…

Hohner accordion(His friend, Herr Maschke, remembered by the girls as Mr Mouse-catcher, was an ex-WWII Luftwaffe fighter pilot, and had trained and worked at the world renowned Hohner musical instrument factory. When Sheila and I returned to visit Windhoek on our way to Swakopmund for a holiday more than a year later, it was Herr Maschke who beautifully repaired Sheila’s 80-base Fontenelli piano accordion, although he naturally maintained that of course it was not in the same league as a Hohner!)

On their return, Sheila and Amanda overnighted in their tent at a resort near Rundu, a town on the Kavango River, as the Okavango is known there, which forms the border to Angola. They were awakened by sounds of thunder at dawn, with camp staff hurrying around anxiously, trying to assure the guests that it was not gunfire or the crump of mortars. And not a cloud in the sky.

savimbi-old-photoAt the time, Namibia was aiding the Angolan government’s skirmish with Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA who were still making the odd futile attempt at a come-back.

Despite their apprehension, the girls made it safely back to Botswana, and Maun, almost exactly coinciding with the news that our friends, Robin Grimes and Helen Doyle, holidaying in Namibia’s Etosha National Park, had been hit by lightening!

They had just settled into camp, sitting at the provided concrete-topped tables. Cracking their first beers, they watched the lightning flashing on the horizon as a thunder storm approached. Without warning, a lightning bolt came through the overhead trees and struck the concrete table top.

The table top literally exploded.

Robin was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down, burned across one leg, his groin and down the other leg where it cut his sandal strap. Helen was knocked unconscious; her elbow bone was chipped off, her arm embedded with flying concrete chips.

Fortunately, there were medical students and a doctor in the camp at the time. The couple were taken to the hospital in Outjo where they spent two days before returning to Maun. A few days later they came to visit us, asking Sheila to remove some of Helen’s stitches.

What a weird, horrid experience. How life changing was this for Robin and Helen, I’d love to know. Blessings, wherever you are now.

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Scattering the Ashes

Our friend Sheilagh Riggs had passed away 21 Sept. 1998, as previously mentioned.

On a Sunday early in July 1999, I was working upstairs on the floorboards of our new home when, unexpectedly, Bernadette Lindstrom, friend to both us and, especially, to Sheilagh, arrived with Sheilagh’s boyfriend and soulmate, Derek Wilson.

Delta from airBesides to see us, their purpose was to invite Sheila and me to go along with them on a flight over the Okavango Delta to scatter Sheilagh’s ashes.

An absolute honour!

At 09h00, on the following Tuesday, the four of us took off in a Cessna 206. Mathew, the pilot, headed out beyond the Buffalo Fence between the Kiri and the Boro Rivers where Derek tossed out the ashes. Some  flakes flew back in the window and embraced us farewell…

Delta map.jpg

Okavango Delta, Botswana.

Although it was a sad occasion, Sheilagh, such an irrepressible character, would not have wanted us to mope for too long. Sheilagh’s great friend Gail Selby joined us to reminisce about Ouija board sessions, camping and hilarious events. We spent the rest of the day lunching and quaffing at Le Bistrot Restaurant, and The Tailspin Bar when the former closed.

RIP, Sheilagh. Cheers!

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Kate Nicholls_0001.jpg

Kate Nicholls

Kate Nicholls, a very beautiful British actress with a brood of young children, came to Maun, Botswana in the mid-90s to work for Women Against Rape. She duly arrived at my second-hand shop REDWOOD HOLDINGS (Pty) Ltd. to furnish her cottage home, buying odds and ends like cupboards, a fridge and so on. It was the start of a friendship that lasts until today. Hers became a fairy tale life of living in the Okavango Delta with her new boyfriend, lion researcher Dr. Pieter Kat, home-schooling her kids there and involved in the study of the decline in the immune systems of the big cats. (Feline HIV.)

In mid-May 1999 Sheila and I were invited to join a couple of other friends, Andrena Teed, Cathy Zerbe and Dave Bodington, to spend the weekend with Pieter and Kate and her children at their camp home on the Gomoti River where they were surveying the Santawani lion pride.

Pieter had not yet made it back from a shopping trip to Maun when we arrived, so it was 15 year-old Travers McNeice who took us on a game drive for an unsuccessful look for the pride, despite the use of the radio-collar tracking device. He, brother Angus (13), sister Maisie (11) and little brother Oakley (5) were being home-schooled by Kate.

Lion Children_0002.jpgSo well were they schooled, with such a huge well of intelligence and curiosity from which to draw, it was small wonder that the elder three were able to each contribute to a wonderful book aptly called The Lion Children, published in 2001 by Orion Books Ltd. My ex, Greet Driver, and our daughter, Nicci Earle, visited us in Maun soon afterwards, during which time we went to enjoy a delightful night stay-over at their camp with Kate and Pieter in the wilds.

The idyllic life of Kate and Pieter in Botswana was eventually to end in a nightmare where Kate was assaulted and Pieter badly hurt in a traffic accident; but these stories are not mine to tell.

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Life in Maun, Botswana, on the edge of the Okavango Swamps was certainly conducive to Off-the-Grid living, due to its isolation rather than any conviction that global warming, earth polar reversal, or planet alignment, might spell the End of Days.

However –

Columbian EQ2On 26th January 1999,an earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Richter Scale shook western Columbia. The collapsing buildings killed hundreds, the deathtoll rising to over 940. The looting that broke out was finally curbed by the military.

Early February was savage, too, when an avalanche in Chamonix, France, wiped out two villages, Cyclone Rona hit Queensland, and Afghanistan suffered another severe quake. The worst snow blizzards swept Hungary, taking more than 15 lives. More avalanches in the Alps buried 50 people.

In South America, and even in Africa, the odd volcano started spitting. At the end of March a Himalayan 6.8 earthquake killed more than 60. In early May, tornadoes were ripping Oklahoma and Kansas up with 45 dead, hundreds injured and thousands homeless. A 6.8 quake hit the town of Peubla, near Mexico City.

Turkey izmit quake 1999

Izmet, Turkey.

August kicked off with Typhoon Olga flooding the Phillipines, Taiwan and Korea with winds up to 130km per hour, while a heatwave in the USA killed 200. Then the shaking began. A 5.0 shook Crete. A 6.7 whacked Turkey with 4000 casualties and 30,000 unaccounted for. There was a 5.0 in the USA, a 6.7 hit Costa Rica, a 5.5 wobbled Japan. Typhoon Sam took out a plane landing at the new airport in Singapore; 50 dead, 200 wounded.

September followed up with Mt Etna popping its top in Sicily, but no casualties. Then Athens was shaken by a 5.9, killing 79 people. A 7.8 whacked Taiwan followed by aftershocks of up to 6.8 and a deathtoll of more than 1700. A 7.5 in northern Mexico headed south, but swerved to bypass Mexico City, avoiding a huge loss of life. However, huge downpours caused mudslides in central Mexico, burying buildings and more than 50 people.

The last three months of the year were a little quieter, except for a 5.4 in Turkey off the coast of Marmara which killed 10, and several big quakes on the North Anatolian Fault line where the deathtoll climbed to over 400. A typhoon hit Orissa, India, where eventually 4500 died, with disease and hunger killing more. More than 400 died in Vietnam as a result of flooding.

So, why this litany of disaster, you may ask?

Well, it certainly gave the Preppers the ammo to persuade the Skeptics that the End of Times prophesied for the millennium, or Y2K, was imminent. That the world as we know it was really teetering on the brink of extinction.

When it didn’t happen, the Skeptics gave a shaky laugh. The Preppers shrugged and started hoarding for 2012.

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