The Cactus Patch
Volume 7       May 2004      Number 5

A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

On 2nd April they celebrated Cultural Diversity Day at the University. We continue to see this in action. On 20th March we went to a concert with musicians from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The audience didn't seem to appreciate Malawian music as much as the others, but it made Polly and me homesick. The concert was great despite starting after 11 (with an advertised 7 start!)

On the 26th March our choir presented an "Italian Evening" at the Blue Tree Restaurant. The food was lousy, but the audience didn't seem to mind. I never knew there were so many Italians in Botswana. We also had President Mogae present.

The next evening, Capital Players had a dinner to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Their roots are even older as they hived off from the MADS (Mafeking Amateur Dramatic Society) when British administrators were transferred to Gaborone just before independence. The film club has been running a series of Swedish films. Again, our usually meager audience was swollen - this time by Swedes. Where do all these people hide in the daytime?

The Maitisong Festival began on 16th April with a show portraying the first woman to become Kgosi (chief) in Botswana last year. The next night our choir was one of many at a festival concert. Unfortunately we had to miss the rest of the shows, including the Ladysmith Black Mambazo, as we flew on to the islands of the Singing Dogs on the 18th. (We finally got our tickets on the 23rd of March.) See you in Bakersfield in May.

It is interesting how succulents pop up in unexpected literature. Recently I read "The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt" (William Nothdurft with Joshua Smith et al., 2003, Random House, N.Y.) and was fascinated by the last chapter which describes the environment of the Cretaceous dinosaur Paralition stromeri which they dug up in the Western Desert of Egypt. At the time of the dinosaur the area was a seashore with mangrove-like ferns providing food for the animals. Remarkably, the fern (Weichselia) was xerophytic (adapted to dry conditions). This was because salt water was not usable by the fern. The authors compare this to cacti in the everglades.

Another book with an interesting reference is "The Sleepers of Erin" (Jonathan Gash, 1994 in Lovejoy -- an Omnibus, Grange Books, London). The fictitious Lovejoy is a philandering antique expert of dubious morals. All of the Lovejoy books are delightful.

‘A copy.’

‘But laboratory tests show it to be an original eighteenth-century oil of a seafarer, Lovejoy….’

‘Oh, John Tradescant was a seafarer all right…. And it's old. But a famous building off Trafalgar Square'll be very cross if you go telling fibs, mate. They've got the original.’

‘John who?’ I was enjoying myself.

‘Tradescant only sailed about to nick seeds, bulbs, plants, anything that grew. His dad was as bad. He even raided the Mediterranean pirates to get a bush or two. Between them they introduced a load of stuff - apricots, Persian Lilac, Michaelmas daisies, the larch. They did Russia, the American colonies, North Africa. Tradescant's collection became the Ashmolean at Oxford.’ The old copyist had got Tradescant's wryly wicked smile just right, but the date of 1612 was a shade earlyish.

‘A copy?’

‘Don't knock copyists. Turner himself started out as one.’

It's a daft joke we play on ourselves, really. Find a genuine flower painting by Palice and it's not worth a fiftieth of the price of a Turner copy.'

Incidentally, for those who don't recognise the name Tradescant, look for a genus in the Commelinaceae.

A third book (of the many I've read while on "leave") is "Origins Reconsidered" (Richard Leakey & Roger Lewin, 1993, Abacus, London). Toward the end he describes a camp of Homo erectus on the bank of a stream next to Lake Turkana. (This is loosely based on archaeology of the site.)

Back at camp a couple of women and a man engage in idle chatter, keeping an eye on the young child who did not accompany the hunting or foraging group. Yesterday, while he was stealthily tracking a young antelope, the man has slipped down a slope and gashed his leg on a jagged piece of lava. The hunt temporarily interrupted, his brothers tendered first aid. One of them searched for a clump of sansevieria, a succulent plant that grows around the lake. From some broken fronds, he twisted the juices, letting them drip on the open wound. The brother knew that unless he applied this natural medicine, the wound would become very red and the young man might die. Another stripped some thorns from a nearby acacia and began arranging them across the wound, piercing both sides of the gash. Thin strips of bark looped on alternate sides of the thorns drew the flesh together. First aid completed, the brothers continued on their way. Today, although the wound is sore, it looks clean, with little redness. The sansevieria worked, of course, he indicates to the women.

We continue to have cool days with occasional rain. This is a bit unusual for Botswana and probably too late for crops, but at least the depleted reservoirs should be filling.

The picture shows Sansevieria aethiopica in fruit in the
Botswana Botanic Garden where it occurs naturally.

PREVIOUS LETTER               Bruce's Letters               NEXT LETTER