Monday, October 6, 2014

Paper Nautilus shells

Mrs Kaartman and I try to walk the dogs every morning on Muizenberg beach. Normally it is the most delightful place for an early-morning walk. It’s wide and flat with good solid sand – none of your desert trudging – with beautiful, opalescent early morning light across the bay, distant mountains dark against the dawn sky. The air is often like chilled champagne, too, and there are all sorts of interesting things to see. We’ve had a dead whale, zillions of washed up blue-bottles, live and dead seals, trek-fishermen heading out in their brave little boats and then heaving their groaning nets out of the water, once a body (sad!) and even once a small shipwreck ... every day is different. 

A few months ago we arrived at the beach down our usual little track through the dunes, to see that most of False Bay was covered in mist. As we stepped onto the beach, far away there appeared out of the mist a ghostly galleon, a fully-rigged sailing ship! It was rather a wonderful if spooky experience, until we remembered that the Chilean Navy had a training ship visiting Simon’s Town.
And in the right season we occasionally find paper nautilus shells.

Then of course there are the dogs, walking their masters and mistresses. Old Man used to be known as Grumpy Old Man, but we shortened his name to be polite. He specialises in very hairy German Shepherds, and they can’t even raise a paw without him shouting at them in a most grumpy manner, up and down the beach. 
Man in Hat is walked by an indifferent Jack Russell. He was extraordinarily unfriendly for many a year, refusing to return our greetings as he strolled manfully past with his Jack R. trotting ahead, but, after six or seven years of careful evaluation he’s decided we’re OK after all, because now he actually sort of semi-tips his hat. We discovered recently that he’s Scots, which might explain a lot. 
On Friday mornings we have to be careful to avoid the Chattering Ladies. Some time ago they appeared without warning on our Friday morning beach, a vast mob of women all towing without exception either a Yorkie in a pink bow or one of those ancient, overweight black Labradors with a grey muzzle and a bad smell. They all talk at the tops of their voices, none listening to any other, a shattering experience. Fortunately the number of Chattering Ladies has rapidly whittled away and now there are only four or five of them who brave the sands. However, they still make as much noise as they did when there were 25 of them, and their black labbies still smell.

Then there’s Ramrod, a most straight-backed lady who has become quite friendly. Her mutt is extraordinary – extremely shaggy fur, the pile of which lies forwards in the front half and backwards aft. This gives it the general air of a dog stitched together from two halves of different dogs, so we call it Double Dog. This resulted in “Ramrod and Double Dog”, a phrase so poetically perfect that we wish we could use it for the title of a book.
The Mighty Finn jogs actively up and down the beach with a very large indeterminate mutt in tow, prior to her leaping into the pounding surf no matter what the weather. She’s quite friendly and she is so called because during the school holidays she appears accompanied by a small tribe of grandchildren who, in the best Scandinavian tradition, remove all their clothing the instant they arrive on the beach, and then disport themselves pinkly in the freezing waves, with blithe disregard for the hoards of Great White sharks that are frolicking in the water behind them. Final proof of their nationality was provided by the appearance one day of their mother, walked by one of those awful dogs with luminescent blue eyes and the shape of a Siberian wolf. From Finland, I am certain. It gazed icily and hungrily at our pounder, and Kaartman Dog #1 clearly thought so too as she leapt into our arms.

And then there’s Mr and Mrs Underinova. Unlike Man in Hat the Underinovas have still not, after seven or eight years, acknowledged that we even exist, even though we pass them almost every day. Resolutely staring ahead to the distant misty cliffs of Strandfontein, they stride past with nary a flicker of their collective eyeballs. So named because come rain, ice or snow he’s always underdressed in shorts, barefoot in open short-sleeved shirt; come baking sun and searing berg winds she’s always overdressed in scarves and shawls and woolly jackets. Woolly long-johns too, for all we know. But that’s not the main thing about the Underinovas.
We compete with them to find paper nautilus shells.

We only discovered this earlier this year, during the nautilus shell season, which the books all tell you is in March – untrue! untrue! We spotted Mrs U walking ahead of us, weaving along the tide line. She stooped several times to pick something up. Near the main beach parking lot she went up into the low dunes and pushed something under the low vegetation. She wandered off up the beach and we sneaked a look. Three rare nautilus shells.
We were tempted to pinch them, weren’t we? But then we spotted the holes. They all had holes. Nautilus shells on the tide-wrack line always have holes, because the sea-gulls peck ’em. That’s why we have a collection of absolutely perfect shells. Because we only pick them up when they are left, wet and shiny, by a receding wave. Before the gulls get there.

We’ve never shared this important info with the Underinovas, and I guess we never will. Not at least until they say ‘Good Morning’. Or even a blink, hey, just a blink would be great!
I wonder what names all these happy walkers have for us.

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