Fireside tales: Learning to trust a mate

I have great respect for women – think of the legendary Ginger Rogers' riposte to someone who praised her on-screen dancing partner Fred Astaire, saying she did everything Fred did but backwards and in high heels – but I take my hat off to those who can share a small tent with a man. I've had to do it on occasion … and the noise and smell was horrific. Many years ago, I was camping out on Namibia's Skeleton Coast with an American diplomat when a jackal approached our oversized bivvy. Mike swore it was because the scavenger smelled the...
I have great respect for women – think of the legendary Ginger Rogers' riposte to someone who praised her on-screen dancing partner Fred Astaire, saying she did everything Fred did but backwards and in high heels – but I take my hat off to those who can share a small tent with a man.

I've had to do it on occasion … and the noise and smell was horrific.

Many years ago, I was camping out on Namibia's Skeleton Coast with an American diplomat when a jackal approached our oversized bivvy.

Mike swore it was because the scavenger smelled the remnants of our dinner on the as-yet unwashed skillet but I'm convinced he thought something was dying of gangrene and that, if he hung around, he'd be in for a feast.

Anyway, he crept up to Mike (who, as an old soldier with several tours in Vietnam, slept very lightly) and sniffed. Mike opened his eyes, and yelled "Boo!". The jackal crapped itself and ran.

I was the one who nearly befouled myself in Botswana when, in the middle of the night, I had to go to the toilet. I slipped on my sandals, picked up a torch and headed for the nearby reed basha we'd built to preserve our modesty.

It was winter and very cold. Our toilet was what in army parlance is known as a go-kart; a plastic seat atop an aptly named "long drop" dug into the ground. The contents generate heat, heat rises and the plastic becomes pleasantly warm.

At least, that's what the fully grown lion that had curled itself around the go-kart … and upon which I damned nearly trod … thought, and who am I to argue? All I know is that I didn't have to go potty for the rest of that night.

Such are the stories real men tell around the fire when the braai is done, the brandy has come out and only the little flickering flames skitter in between the coals.

I say "real" men because this is when you are not afraid to tell the tales where you, as subject, come across as a total eejit: devoid of all the alpha-male nonsense they would contain if there were any women in company.

But men (being competitive numpties) cannot resist a bit of one-upmanship, especially as the level of the "truth-serum" drops, and they try harder and harder either to gross one another out or prove they are the biggest nitwits ever to have set foot in the bush.

My late father spent a night, naked and shivering, up a thorn tree during a solo hunting trip in the Eastern Cape because a herd of buffalo surrounded him.

The next morning he climbed down – his rifle was lying next to his sleeping bag – pulled on his vellies and went scouting. He found the spoor of a single bushbuck ram.

I choose my company (and my timing) when participating in such late-night revelations, mainly because I know my story is the one that will send everyone else to bed and leave me with what's left of the KWV 10-year-old.

It's not a fairy tale but it deserves a "once upon a time" start because, yes, it was long ago and far away …

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.

Once upon a time (I was still in my teens), I was called upon to do military selection in northern Namibia. This involved repeated crossings of the Kavango River, which led to some interesting encounters with wildlife such as crocodiles, hippos and buffalo.

I also became intimate with a little blood-sucking bastard called a leech, which latches onto you with its tiny teeth and drinks its fill before dropping off in its own sanguine time.

Unfortunately, it goes for spots – such as the armpit or groin – where the skin is thin and there are lots of surface blood vessels.

One night, after a heck of a day of river-crossings, I felt a lump between my legs on that terribly tender part called the perineum … otherwise known as that piece of skin between the nought and nads.

You know you can trust a comrade-in-arms when you bare your bum and ask them to burn off a parasite with the end of a lighted cigarette.

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