Sunday, 1 December 2013

Write, right and research Part 3 (final)



As if my trip to the US wasn’t miraculous enough, I could hardly believe it when even more unexpected pleasures came my way.
After that fascinating meeting with Ohio’s finest, I was given a tour of the state crime lab at BCI. I hadn’t expected it to look like a set for CSI and it didn’t. What was interesting, particularly for me as a mystery writer, was how passionate the people at BCI are about their work. From the forensic document examiners to the DNA lab technicians, everyone I met has a kind of enthusiasm that doesn’t bode well for anyone planning on a life of crime in Ohio. It was research that I hadn’t planned on doing but it fit perfectly with one aspect of my novel and I was able to get a lot of questions answered by the expects, saving me many hours of trawling through the internet.
Another thing I hadn’t planned on was a trip to Holmes county, OH, but my deputy sheriff friend had it on his agenda and it seemed rude not comply, especially since he’d gone out of his way to make this visit as productive as possible for me. Holmes county, as I understand it, is almost entirely Amish. (And I hadn’t known there were any Amish communities outside of Pennsylvania!) 
I spent a very enlightening morning learning about this community while browsing the many shops and buying a whole lot of beautifully crafted goods, which cost me excess on my luggage on the way home, but what the heck. Interesting fact: The Amish don’t believe in ‘self-adornment’ or decorating their homes but they seem to make a good living selling the most exquisitely hand-crafted home decor items.   

The owner of the buggy, pictured here, was intrigued to learn that I’d come ‘all the way from Africa’ and wanted to know if I spoke German. I don’t, but I explained that I do speak Afrikaans, a local language of Dutch origin. He wanted to hear it so I rattled off a few sentences and he was delighted, saying that he could hear the Dutch in it and it made him think of his grandfather who had come from Holland. He also added that meeting me had made his day. I could honestly return the compliment. There is something very special about Amish people and I’m glad they have the freedom to practice the lifestyle they chose. They make good apple pie, too.
Among the many experiences I had during that short visit to Ohio was that, not only did I get to attend a graduation party, I got to watch a real-deal American Memorial Day parade. Earlier that morning, I’d been invited to attend a Memorial Day service, held outside the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department. It was a touching tribute to those who had died in the line of duty and I appreciated the opportunity to be there.
But the parade that came later was lots of fun. It’s sort of like a waving fest. People in the parade, who are not marching, or looking terribly serious, wave at the people on the sidewalks who all wave back. A lot of flag-waving takes place too. A kind lady from the Wooster Emblem Club gave me a flag and, when she discovered that I was a visitor, gave me another one. (I cahn’t imagine whot gave me awaii.) Those flags now have a permanent place on my study wall.  


Perhaps the most ‘miraculous’ of all the experiences of my Ohio visit was the trip to Lake Erie. Erie features heavily in my story, specifically, being out on it in a sailboat during a bad storm. I needed to speak with people who know this stretch of water and what sailing on it entails. My deputy sheriff friend had tried to arrange something with a friend of his who has a boat, but that friend was away on vacation. Nevertheless, on the day before my return to South Africa, we made the 1 hour drive to Cleveland and found a marina.
Of course, the security guy wouldn’t let us in. No, sir! He didn’t care if my friend was law enforcement (wrong county) or that I was a visitor from South Africa… or the moon for that matter. Members only. That was that. We were standing there, wondering what to do, when a middle-aged man stepped forward. He’d been listening to our discussions with the security guy. “So you just want to have a look around, eh? Wanna see my boat?” Did we? Oh, yeah. He signed us in and off we went to look at his boat. It was a 36’ sailboat, a little smaller than the one featured in my story but he sure kept it in good nick. “Wanna go for a sail?”
Man! This just kept getting better and better. In no time at all we were out on the lake. I couldn’t have wished for a more knowledgeable sailor. Dave, he’d introduced himself at the gate, has been a sailor for many decades and sailed all of the great lakes, though Erie is his favorite. He was able to give me every last bit of info I needed – prevailing winds, direction of high and low pressure systems, wave patterns, water temperatures at various times of the year, storm conditions, rescue procedures and a whole lot more. The man is a walking encyclopedia of Great Lakes sailing and another example of that fantastic Ohioan generosity. Although there was hardly a cloud in the sky that day, I got a very good picture of what it would be like to be caught out on Lake Erie in a storm. It’s seriously bad. I hope that my writing of that scene has done justice to it.  
Now tell me, please, what are the odds of all of this happening? It’s as if the waters were parted for me, obstacles brushed aside, everything I needed just laid out in front of me. Happenstance just doesn’t cover it. See what I mean about the ‘m’ word?
The next day it was time to pack up and get ready to go to the airport. Lots of hugs and thanks and yes, some tears (mine). I said goodbye to all the very special people at the Salvation Army. Some of the women in the shelter even gave me little gifts, which touched me to the depths of my soul and which I shall keep forever. I had lunch with my deputy sheriff friend and his wonderful family before getting into that unmarked Crown Vic for the last time and heading back to Cleveland.
My flight, on Continental Airlines, left promptly at 8PM. As the plane gained altitude I had a last look at the Cuyahoga river, the one that caught fire, before we turned and headed east over Lake Erie. The plane kept a course along the lake and I watched the shoreline until it finally ended and the land was slowly cloaked in darkness. My heart filled with gratitude to the many people who turned a simple research expedition into smorgasbord of rich experiences that will fill much more than one book.
The novel is finished, but until now, the story behind the story had not been told. Thank you for letting me share it with you.  
                                                 
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Saturday, 12 October 2013

Write, right and research. Part 2

 A warning to all middle-aged women traveling on a South African passport: When arriving at Hopkins International Airport (Cleveland, OH) don’t, whatever you do, smile or look happy to have reached your destination, even if it has taken you 31 hours to get there. Smiling and looking happy will arouse an instant suspicion and will get you hauled out of the line, frisked and have every last piece of your luggage searched while you’re photographed, fingerprinted and asked a gazillion questions. Don’t ask me how I know this.

Shortly before leaving Johannesburg I received an email from my deputy sheriff friend to say that he’d been given permission from the sheriff to take me anywhere in Ohio that I needed to go. This was beyond awesome. Knowing that I’d be frazzled from many hours in cramped economy seating (not to mention the tedium of the transit lounge in London’s Heathrow) I’d booked into a hotel in Cleveland so I could get a good night’s sleep before meeting all the people I’d been corresponding with. That turned out to be a wise decision.
Promptly, at 10AM the next morning my deputy sheriff arrived to pick me up and I got my first look at a Crown Victoria, in the metal, so to speak. I’d seen them on American TV shows, of course, but never up close since they’re not used in SA. Wow. If you’ve never been in one let me tell you, they’re amazingly comfortable and though I couldn’t tell how many horses are under the hood, the smooth power of that engine is positively sensuous. As we set off I tried to maintain some sense of sophistication but what a ride.
We stopped for lunch and I had my first introduction to American food (apart from the Poptarts I’d enticed out a vending machine at the hotel) and my goodness, the portions were big enough to feed a small army! How on earth do restaurants in the US make a profit? I couldn’t eat more than a quarter of it. But it was good and I soon learned that taking leftovers back to my apartment meant that the fridge was always well stocked. My Ohioan friends, it turned out, are generous to a fault and nobody would let me pay for a meal even though, thanks to the free accommodation, I could well afford to do so and wanted to. Just another reason why I think Ohio is awesome. (Sorry Haggis.)
My first drive down the main street of the City of Wooster felt oddly familiar. Not surprising really, the large map on my study wall covered with photographs I’d printed off the internet had given me a better idea of the place than I’d imagined. It was wonderful, though, to see the actual buildings and landmarks that I’d already incorporated in my manuscript, particularly the courthouse where a big part of my story takes place. I couldn’t wait to get inside.
Wayne County Courthouse
The next few days were amazing. I was taken to the sheriff’s department and introduced to everyone and I’m willing to bet that Wayne County must be one of the safest places in the US, if their professionalism and enthusiasm for the job of law enforcement is anything to go by. I should confess something here. Before arriving in Wayne County, I never knew the difference between a Police Department and a Sheriff’s Department. Just as well I made the trip or my manuscript would have been full of jurisdictional errors. Another reason why thorough research is vital.
I got my tour of the courthouse, courtesy of Deputy Travis Hutchinson whose knowledge of the building and its history is truly encyclopaedic. From the holding cells in the basement to the clock tower, I saw it all and even had time to sit in the courtroom in which much of my story’s drama takes place. ‘Hutch’, who is now the Sheriff of Wayne County, (congrats on being elected, by the way) thank you so much for a truly memorable morning. And for the real, bona fide American hotdog. I loved it!
Perhaps the most valuable thing to come out of that visit to the courthouse was that I got to meet so many people who were more than willing to help me with my manuscript, the county prosecutor, a public defender and no less than two Common Pleas Court judges, to mention a few. Considering the huge volume of emails that went backwards and forwards between us after my visit, any errors in the legal aspects of my manuscript would be mine alone.
Throughout my visit to Ohio there were two questions that everybody asked me: Why Ohio? Why Wayne county? And because everyone was genuinely interested it would not have been polite to reply with something flippant like, “Because it’s there” or “Well, I had to set it somewhere.” So they got the whole explanation and while it may have got a little tiresome to repeat, I was humbled by the incredible kindness, concern and willingness to help that these people gave me.
What’s that you say? Where’s the funny? Coming right up.
A week into my visit I was taken to London, OH where I was invited to sit in on a meeting of the joint heads of Ohio’s various law enforcement departments. I dressed quite formally for it – navy blue skirt and jacket and navy court heels, so I felt as though I sort of fitted in.
London is about a two hour drive from Wooster. We left early and I got a good look at the countryside while balancing an incredibly hot cup of coffee on my lap for most of the trip. (Thanks to the suspension on the Crown Vic, I didn’t spill any.) Since one of the characters in my novel would be making this trip, the traveling was good research.
The meeting was held in a large room attached to the offices of the Ohio Attorney General and the BCI. My deputy sheriff friend was seated at the main table, so I found myself a chair among the other members of Ohio’s finest seated around the perimeter of the room. At the commencement everybody stood for the Pledge of Allegiance. For a split second I wondered what I was supposed to do, being something of a fish out of water here. So, along with everyone else, I stood and faced the flag, which I thought was respectful but I did not put my hand on my heart and I did not say the words. It wouldn’t have been appropriate, would it?  
Halfway through I felt eyes boring into my head and turned to my right. A woman was looking at me with what I can only describe as a death-stare. I swear, if she’d been armed she’d have shot me there and then. A mixture of pure fury, disgust and horror in that gaze. It couldn’t have been worse if I’d been wearing a burka with an AK47 slung over my shoulder and there was nothing I could do about it except smile at her and turn my eyes back to the flag.
She kept up the stare after we’d sat down and I must tell you, I was feeling quite uncomfortable, particularly in light of the way some of my pre-visit phone calls had been received. But relief came with the round-robin of introductions that followed. When my turn came I stood, introduced myself stating that I was from Johannesburg, South Africa (Americans always want to know what city you’re from) and that I was a guest of the Wayne County Sheriff’s department. Immediately I looked at the woman but she was looking away. She never made eye contact with me again but to this day I wonder what thoughts went through her mind when she spotted me not pledging my allegiance to the American flag. 
However, I do pledge to update this blog more frequently. :)

Friday, 2 August 2013

Write, Right and Research. Part 1



A question for all my writer friends: Do you remember when you first decided to write a book?

For me, the idea of writing a novel struck with a sudden and stunning ferocity, a road-to-Damascus-type epiphany that had me wondering if I’d lost my mind somewhere along the safe and orderly pathways of my everyday life. I mean, there I was, one moment engrossed in an Elizabeth George novel, lost in a passage of her typically eloquent descriptive narrative and the next, jerked out of the story and nearly blinded by the thought - ‘I can do this.’  
By this, I don’t mean that I could write with anything like the genius of Ms. George, but that I could tell a story, hopefully, in such a way as to engage a reader pleasantly enough to get him or her to the last page. That was the idea and it wouldn’t leave me alone. By morning, I had the arc of story all mapped out in my mind and by 9AM I was at the bookstore, buying every ‘how-to-write-a-successful-novel’ tome I could lay my hands on. I learned quite a lot from those books, not the least of which is that, unless you’re writing complete fantasy (and possibly, even then), getting your facts in order requires some research. As Elizabeth George states in her book, Write Away: “It’s tough to make a place come to life unless you’ve been there and allowed your five senses to experience it.” Logical.
Except that I live in South Africa and I’d set my novel in the United States. Ohio, to be exact. Okay, I can just see my friend Haggis rolling his eyes and making gagging noises but I needed a state with the death penalty and yes, I could have simply thrown a dart at a map of the U.S. but it would have landed on Ohio anyway. (I tend to slice my golf swing, too.)
Research? That’s what the internet’s for, isn’t it? And besides, I’ve watched almost every episode of Law and Order. How hard could it be?
Ha!
Three paragraphs into chapter 1 and I hit the first of many stumbling blocks. For example, the internet has plenty pictures of the Wayne County courthouse but no amount of Google searches could tell me what type of trees are planted in the pavements surrounding it. What the internet could deliver was a fair number of email addresses of people in that county, so I launched an email fact-finding mission. I got zero replies. Not surprising, really. What would you think if you got an email from someone in Africa, asking for your help in writing a book? Exactly. Thanks for nothing, Nigeria.
The next step, I figured, was to try the personal touch. Telephone numbers are also quite easy to find, so I tried calling people who I though might be willing to help once I’d explained what I needed the information for. Ha, again. “You’re calling from where? South Africa? I don’t think so.” – clunk. All I got was a telephone bill set to exceed my mortgage. I tried one last call – to the sheriff’s department.
The receptionist answered and after a moment or two of silence, heavily laced with skepticism, (I could tell), she put me through to the Deputy Sheriff. I could hardly believe it. Not only was he friendly and understanding, but totally willing to help me in any way he could. Wow! We exchanged email addresses and I was back in the writing business. For a while, at least.
In no time at all I was getting an education in police procedures but deputy sheriffs are busy people, being second in command and all that, so there was a limit, I felt, on just how many questions one could pester him with. Despite large maps and pictures pasted all over my study walls, I still wasn’t getting a ‘feel’ for the place and my writing was flat and unconvincing. Either I was going to have give it up or go see the place for myself. The latter was a pipe dream. My rainy-day savings account didn’t hold enough for a foggy morning, let alone a round trip across the Atlantic. Then, a series of events changed everything.
I hate to use the word ‘miraculous’, it’s somewhat clich├ęd and wholly subjective but as an adjective, it comes pretty close to describing what happened.  
It began with an email from my insurance company advising me that a small retirement annuity had matured and asking me whether I wanted to cash it out or reinvest. The amount was surprising, even after tax. Enough, it appeared, to get me round-trip air ticket, economy class of course, and a stay in the cheapest flea-bag motel available but no money for food or car rentals. My hubby didn’t quite take to the idea of my sleeping on a park bench, no matter how romantic I made it sound. And though he offered to make up the difference, this was something I had to do myself. If it bombed, and there was no saleable manuscript at the end, I didn’t want anyone else to have thrown good money after bad.
One evening, while sitting out on the patio, trying to let go the idea of ‘reality research’ a thought almost literally slapped me over the head. A quick search of the internet revealed that yes, there was a Salvation Army branch in Wayne county. I dashed off an email, explaining who I was etc. and asking if they knew of a family who had a spare room available and maybe needed some extra cash. Twelve hours later I had a reply: “We have a two-bedroom apartment in our complex that you may use free of charge.” Okay. I take it back. If that’s not miraculous then I don’t know what is. God bless you, Major West! 

One last hurdle to go. Most American folk probably don’t know that it’s notoriously difficult to get a visa for the US and I was warned by several friends not to get my hopes up too far. But I did anyway. Having filled in the forms online, and received an appointment, I duly presented myself for the interview at the US Consulate here in Johannesburg. The attractive young lady who interviewed me took all my paperwork and checked boxes on the form in front of her. Then she asked me where I’d be staying. I told her and handed over yet more paperwork. “Oh,” she said, “Wooster. I graduated from the College of Wooster. What will you be doing there?” I explained about my research and her face lit up. “You’ll love it there. It’s a really great city.” And just like that, I had my visa. Now, I ask you, what are the odds that of all the people in the US Consulate that could have interviewed me that day, I get the one person who’s been to college in the very county of Ohio that I plan to visit? A small college, a big planet, and I meet that lady! I’m sure it didn’t hurt that I don’t have a criminal record or unpaid taxes – but still, that m-word haunts me.
And that was just the beginning of a truly incredible adventure. I was on my way to America, more excited than I can begin to describe. 
                                                     ***
So, my writer friends, that moment when you first decided to write a book. Do you recall it? Are you willing to share it? Please leave a comment, I'd love to hear from you. 


Saturday, 11 May 2013

Fact, Fiction and Dead Crocodiles.

'Fact', the old cliche says, 'is stranger than fiction', and while it's doubtful that I'll ever write my memoirs, there are some experiences I've had along the way that should be shared, if for no other reason than that you get to understand why I'll be laughing all the way into my dotage.

In the mid 1970's, my (first, now late) husband was offered a lucrative job in Swaziland. We packed all our worldly possessions into a removals truck, which began its three-day road trip, and with daughters then aged 3 years, 18 months and 6 weeks, respectively, boarded an SA Airways Hawker Siddeley. No prizes for guessing why it was nicknamed the 'vomit comet'.

The town of Big Bend is about a half-mile upriver from this spot.
Upon arrival on the bumpy stretch of tarmac and huddle of hangars known as Matsapa airport we were met by the company's general manager (who 20 years later became my brother-in-law - but that's another story), we were bundled into a big Mercedes and driven off to our new home. Big Bend. So named as it nestles in a large curve of the Usutu River in the steamy-hot south-east of Swaziland.

Teeming metropolis it was not.
One post office, one police station, one petrol station and one general store, was about it. 

The company, Ubombo Ranches, (nothing to do with cattle, everything to do with sugar) pretty much owned most of it, including the village that housed about about a hundred (mostly white) employees, the sugar mill and vast stretches of sugar cane plantations. The black workers were housed in a compound some distance away. Ha! And I thought I'd left apartheid behind!

"Welcome to Big Bend," the exec said. What he should have said was, 'Welcome to the last outpost of the British Empire' or, more precisely, 'Welcome to the last bastion of British colonialism'.

With the exception of us 'Saffers' and a few 'When-wees' (Rhodesians, now Zimbabweans - God help them) the rest of the inhabitants were British expatriates (mostly artisans) who, judging by their descriptions of what they'd left 'back home', would have you wondering whether they'd had trouble finding a tenant for Buckingham Palace. To say that characters living in Big Bend were eccentric, would be putting it very mildly indeed.

As I'm sure you know, small, isolated communities tend to develop a culture all of their own. Big Bend was no exception. The salaries were inflated and labor was cheap, so everyone had at least two servants, usually three. Most of the wives didn't work and had far too much time on their hands. Salacious Gossip, Wild Innuendo and Company Politics were games everybody played - all of the time. The clubhouse, or more specifically the pub in the clubhouse, was the hub around which the social life in Big Bend revolved. The vast amounts of alcohol consumed there sure oiled the wheels of rumor, dissension and a lot of adultery, but also created some truly memorable incidents. One such event involves Murphy and the crocodile.

Now, on the off-chance that some of those Big Benders are possessed of a liver more robust than any medical examiner could give credence to and are thus still around, I'll refrain from using their real names. So 'Murphy' it will be.

Murphy was a small, somewhat rotund Irishman with a florid complexion and a mouth like a sewer when he'd had a few. He also had a pathological fear of crocodiles. Many a time I'd be in the pub after a round of golf, nursing a gin and tonic and catching an earful of whatever piece of gossip was the story du jour, only to hear Murphy sounding off about something or other. The more he drank, the louder he got, until someone would yell at him, "Watch it, Murphy, the crocs are going to get you." This usually produced a burst of profanity from Murphy, but he'd finish his drink and stagger off home.

I'd been in Big Bend a couple of months when reports came in of a particularly aggressive crocodile that was attacking the women of a nearby Swazi village as they did their washing in the river. Ubombo Ranches was requested to please deal with it. I think half the male population grabbed their rifles and went croc hunting.

The following day was a Saturday. We'd finished a four-ball better-ball golf tournament, which was no mean feat given as it was a mashee course with a clubhouse in the middle, roads running through it and numerous ball-eating flamboyant trees lining very narrow fairways. The pub was full that evening as we toasted our wins or drowned sorrows. Murphy, who'd been at the Guinness since before lunch, was as loquacious as ever.

I don't know how they did it - but they managed to drag a full-grown, 15-foot, Nile crocodile weighing nearly a ton, into the corner of the L-shaped pub without any of us seeing it. They'd propped its mouth open with a stick. I can' remember who the barman was that night, but he leaned over and gave Murphy the usual warning. 'Shut up or the crocs will get you." Murphy responded with his customary string of expletives. The barman pointed to the floor behind Murphy. Murphy turned and looked. What happened next has become Big Bend legend.

Murphy let out a scream, the likes of which I'd never heard before or since. He seemed to levitate upwards from his bar stool, arms and legs pumping the air before he caught hold of a brass support pole and took off running along the top of the bar, stepping on drinks, ashtrays, hands, heads and anything else that lay in his path, all the while bellowing like a banshee. Reaching the end of the counter, he literally launched himself off it, hit the ground, rolled, got to his feet and flew out of the door. He was still screaming as he disappeared into the darkness outside. People who then noticed the crocodile and thought it was still alive, took off in all directions. It was complete mayhem for a few minutes, until everyone caught on and calmed down. They were still laughing about it when I left Big Bend five years later.

It was six months before Murphy returned to the pub. He was still as rude as ever, but whenever someone told him to shut up or the crocs would get him, he'd look over his shoulder and give a nervous giggle.

Africa. You've just got to love it.

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/arnolouise/2600765440/">Arno Meintjes Wildlife</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/panr/2364898062/">pandrcutts</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">cc</a>



Thursday, 24 January 2013

Night critters!

I've lived in Africa all my life, from cool and blustery Cape Town to the steaming lowlands of Swaziland. Venomous snakes, flesh-burrowing flies and spiders the size of dinner plates are all things that I've learned to take in my stride. While I may never be a fan of creatures with more than four legs, or worse, no legs at all, I do believe in the 'live and let live' philosophy. Okay, I shot a spider once but, in my own defense, it was the middle of the night, and I was alone in the sub-tropics with three small children, and the thing was huge. Leaving it in the bathroom, where it was, was not an option. Some time during the night, I just knew it would enter my bedroom and walk all over my sang-froid. Getting up close and personal with it was out of the question, though I should warn you, nine millimeter rounds make a real mess of ceramic tiles. And the later discovery that it was harmless, is not a mitigating factor in its favor. But I did get used to them. The spiders, that is. My children even gave them names.

Moving to Johannesburg, with its higher altitude and moderate climate, I thought that I would be leaving behind all things that slither, scurry, scamper up the walls or lie in wait in the laundry basket. Ha! I know, there's just no end to my naivete. This bucolic neighborhood, with its jacaranda-lined streets and wide, grassed sidewalks holds a horror that, even now, I shudder to think about. It's known around here as the Parktown Prawn, or 'affectionately' by some misguided individuals, as Parkies.

And no, they're nothing to do with seafood. They're king crickets, Libanasidus Orthoptera, if I may quote Wikipedia. But call them what you will, they're absolutely hideous! They come out at night, which is God's little joke because you can't see them until you switch the light on and the darn thing leaps at you. Yes, they jump. Erratically. To waist height. And if you scare a Parkie it will, mid-leap, deposit foul-smelling, black liquid feces, which no amount of cleaning will quite remove from your favorite rug. Stepping on one results in the same mess. I don't care that they're harmless. Just the sound of those scratchy little legs skittering around on the parquet flooring is enough to elicit what has become known as my 'Parkie Scream'. My well-fed and pampered Siamese is no help either. One look at a Parkie and it's game on, which of course, makes the Parkie jump around even more and sets off a chain reaction of leaping, shrieking and yelling to my husband to "Get the damn thing out of here!"

I'm not the only one. Most women here feel the same way. In fact, I have a friend who keeps a cupboard well stocked with hairspray. A long burst of spray, ignited by a cigarette lighter, makes a perfect flame thrower with which to crisp a Parkie. I didn't believe her until I saw the scorch marks on her living room carpet. I'd rather call my husband. I don't care if it's 2 A.M. Parkie eviction is an integral part of his marital obligations.

There are all sorts of rumors about the origins of the Parktown Prawn. The most common is that they escaped from a laboratory in the Parktown campus of the University of the Witwatersrand. Whatever. As far as I'm concerned, they could have been dropped on us by a bunch of misogynistic extraterrestrials. I don't care. One more of these hideous, hopping, hissing horrors and I'm getting the gun out. I'm territorial that way.