For Christmas my father and step-mother gave me a rather unusual present. I’d go so far as to say it was one of the most unusual presents I have ever got. I am a very hard person to buy for ( so they say), and venturing anywhere near the territory of ‘things for the home’ is dangerous stuff…unless you don’t mind your present being recycled via my present drawer, going to oxfam, or the annual school fair where children buy alarming gifts for their parents, drawn from a pile that other parents have sent in… you get the picture. So this was a brave present. It is large, it is noisy, and it hangs on the wall! It is a giant clock, in walnut, that hour after hour, ‘chimes’ (this might qualify as a euphemism) with the sound of a different South African bird! On the face of the clock, next to each hour, there is picture of the South African bird that is going to squawk in the study, on that given hour. There’s a Fish Eagle, Guinea Fowl, and a Burchell’s Coucal. What can I say? I love it.

On the basis that the best presents reflect how well you really know the person for whom they are intended, this, along with ‘most unusual’, qualifies as amongst the best I have ever got. Firstly it surmounts all sorts of challenges – for example, it does not, most emphatically not, go with my ‘style’ (if you can call it that) of decorating. And I am picky about such things… Most people would not dream of buying me a big clock for the wall. My gardener bought me an outside clock once. There’s no hiding from the gardener that you haven’t hung the outside wall clock … Someone else who worked for me ( no longer – there may be a lesson in this) bought me a clock for my bedroom with pink creatures made of shells, covered in varnish, with small shell red eyes. No. Generally speaking, it is best to avoid wall clocks. But my dad knows me better than to be put off by such superficial things. He knows my heels are dangling longingly in the sea, that I’m permanently sick for home, that every time the black collared barbet calls i am going to be transported to my granny’s garden, to paw-paw on the bird-tray and wings in the sun…

There is, however, a small technical hitch. It’s called Longitude. South Africa is two hours ahead of us here in London. So, as I look at the Hornbill at 2, I hear the night jar, when I hear the coucal’s hollowed wood call, I look up to see the kingfisher. Ah well… It makes me laugh, every hour, on the hour. And my favourite? – You know of course. It’s at 7 o’clock, when, I get two of my favourites all in one – I see the bokmakirie, I hear the piet-my-vrou.


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