Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Idler, Thursday, April 12, 2018

The great rustling raid

IT WAS South Africa's biggest, most audacious stock theft ever – more than 600 sheep stolen from a hi-tech ranch in the Underberg district.

But who could have been responsible for something on this scale? The traditional rustlers from across the Lesotho border? Unlikely.

Internal operators using pantechnikons, dropping their tailboard over the fence so the sheep could be herded on board?

Perhaps. That would explain why not a single fence had been cut.

But the police stock theft units were stumped. So were other branches of the police. The army and the air force became involved. Plaster casts were being made of vehicle tracks on the dirt roads.

Every abattoir in the country was under police observation. But nobody had a clue.

The ranch had been set up 10 years earlier by a Pinetown businessman buying up a whole lot of traditional southern districts farms, re-organising and computerising them. Every sheep on the ranch was recorded on the computer mainframe in Pinetown.

In the end, the mystery was solved. It was a computer glitch. Every animal had, from birth, a micro-chip tag put in its ear. When it was sold, or if it died, that micro-chip's details were fed into the computer in Pinetown.

The thing was solved only when the senior stockman returned from a holiday in Namibia, astonished to find the place swarming with police. He then nearly collapsed with laughter when told the reason and produced a well-thumbed little black book.

When sheep are struck by lightning or devoured by jackals, then vultures, there's seldom any micro-chip left to feed into the computer in Pinetown. This stockman recorded all such cases in his little black book. They totted up to about 600 over the 10 years the ranch had been operating – a perfectly acceptable attrition rate of about 1%.

The computer that needs a well-thumbed little black book to get it right. I like it, I like it.

This is just one of 25 short stories put together by Underberg vet Tod Collins under the title The Black Sheep (Reach Publishers). This is his third such anthology, on top of a novel. (Do these vets have time on their hands?)

It's a delightful read, capturing the humour (and angst) of life in the southern districts. (With excursions to London and to Kenya).


Advice by phone

AS IT HAPPENS, I met up with Tod in Underberg the other night and we had a bite at the club.

We got to discussing the sudden and sad recent death of Stooks Wilton, a dear fellow who farmed at Swartberg, in East Griqualand – my schoolmate, Tod's client.

Much of a country vet's work concerns animals' birthing problems – protruded uterus, that kind of thing. Stooks phoned with that very problem in one of his animals.

Tod was too busy locally to travel to EG. He gave Stooks a quick rundown by phone on how to push the uterus back, administer antiseptic and put in stitches if necessary. "A piece of cake," he said.

Next, Stooks was on the phone again. He couldn't even get her down on the ground, he said.

"Put her on the back seat of your car and bring her in," said Tod.

"How do I get a cow on the back seat of my car?"

Yes, Tod had been talking about a ewe, Stooks about a cow. In Underberg these short stories seem to just write themselves.


PRESIDENT Donald Trump has ordered National Guard troops from the Mexican border to Manhattan, to protect the offices of his accountant, according to the New Yorker.

This follows an FBI raid on the offices of his personal attorney.

"The troops will secure the corridors and elevator banks in the vicinity of the accounting firm that prepares Trump's taxes."

The mission is designated "Operation Safe Returns".

"Trump's unilateral decision to invade Manhattan drew a muted response in diplomatic circles around the world, with many allies taking a cautious 'wait and see' attitude."

Yes, this is satirist Andy Borowitz again. He's a busy man.


SHAKESPEARE walks into a bar and asks for a beer.

Barman: "I can't serve you. You're bard."

Last word

The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they're okay, then it's you.

Rita Mae Brown


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