Tuesday 30 July 2013

As my Drill Sergeant said, if you make a mistake, stand still


This blogging lark actually has something going for it. 

I have an intense dislike for social media sites and soon-to-be ex-friends with whom I have entrusted my email who then give it to I-am-a-Twit, Your-face-looks-like-it-has-been-hit-by-a-telephone-directory-book et al, leaving my Outlook in-box swamped with reminders; ‘Reminder, you still haven’t replied to so and so’s invitation to become a mindless social outcast’ drive me to the most intense state of irritation.  These morons know how to get hold of me, they have my email address.  All they want is to have more ‘friends’ and be ‘liked’ by loads of people.  I also hate internet trolls but I do feel these sites should have a ‘hate’ button.  That way, if I receive an unsolicited request, I can swing over and click it.  Perhaps that would cause people to think twice before divulging my email address to a venal conglomerate.  Far more satisfying than going through all the clicks necessary to just politely decline an invitation. 

If someone, an old friend, an acquaintance long since off the radar wants to get hold of me, they’re going to have to put in a little effort.  They can ask around I suppose, but most resort to a search engine.  Googling my name produces a plethora of Tom Gowans’ (I never realized the name was so common) so you have to be determined enough to wade through a few pages before references to me turn up.  I wonder how many people Google their own names for a laugh, by the way?  I have just Googled mine and came up with a comment on a blog I was wholly unaware of which stated:

If you're in Luanda, look up the endlessly entertaining Tom Gowans http://hippo-on-the-lawn.blogspot.com/

Now that was nice, wasn’t it?  Clearly I have another friend.  If I live long enough I might make a handful.

A few entries later, the links to Hippo on the Lawn start appearing.

I was delighted this morning to receive an email from a brief acquaintance of eighteen years ago. He obtained the address by discovering my blog.  Naturally, he could not be sure he had found the ‘right’ Tom Gowans and introduced his email thus:

“Hi! I am looking for the Tom Gowans who got pissed on by a lion in Zimbabwe.  If you are not that Tom Gowans, I apologize for the unsolicited email”
Terribly polite young man, don't you think?

Back in 1995, I needed to be stitched together again in a local Angolan hospital so took a post-operative holiday in Zimbabwe and stayed on a game ranch.  The game warden was English and had an affinity to the amber nectar as healthy (?) as mine and since the rates were all-inclusive, I could help myself to as much of it as I could swallow.  Naturally, having become friendly with this guy, we sat together on the stoep of my cottage in the evenings staring at a wonderful sky and drank the lodge dry.

The lodge ran sundowner trips to the top of the local mountain, ensconcing their clients in massive 4x4’s and driving them through the bush, onwards and upwards, so they could snap as many photos of wild animals, including lions, as they had film in their camera before enjoying boozy snacks on the hill.

‘Aren’t you coming with us?’ I asked my new friend as I was about to climb into the vehicle on my first night there.

‘No, I run up the kopje to keep fit’

Kopje is Afrikaans for ‘Little Head’, in this context, a small hill in a generally flat area.

‘Hang on a ‘sec,’ I said, ‘I can see a bloody great big pile of granite, what I would call a mountain. Where’s this kopje you’re talking about?’

He did a few seconds of running on the spot, clad in his singlet, shorts and running shoes.

‘No, that’s it,’ he confirmed, ‘you just relax in the car,’ he said, a touch too condescendingly for my liking, ‘I’ll meet you at the top’

I think I must have been born stupid.  90% of my frequent visits to Accident & Emergency were as a direct result of ‘Go on, I dare you!’  I had anticipated a relaxing holiday so had not thought to pack running shoes.  Besides, the stitches were only just out and my employer funded holiday was intended to allow me to recuperate.  I was in standard safari rig which included sturdy boots, the only footwear available to me.

‘I’ll race you’ I said, climbing back out of the vehicle.

So off we set.  I was 36 years old, he was in his early twenties.  I could tell he was taking it easy in case he had to deal with an old man’s coronary in the middle of the bush.  I already knew that the vehicles, taking their circuitous route, would get to the top in about an hour.  We, I could see, were following a more direct route.  After about fifteen minutes, I got my second wind and cracked the pace up a bit.  I started to feel really good as the endorphins kicked in.  There is virtually no industry in Zimbabwe so the air is clean, clean.  The forest smelt so fresh.  It was exhilarating.  It was evening so every bird and animal was giving voice to the end of another day, presumably celebrating their survival.  I could see why this kid preferred to run up the hill rather than ride.  It was his daily chance to get away and hide in his own mind in these fabulous surroundings and get his head straight ready for the next day.  I was breathing easy, inhaling over two paces and exhaling over two paces.  I could feel my muscles warm and powerful.  I felt as if I could run forever.  I’m going to give this lad a run for his money, I thought, then I’m going to ride back down in the truck with a gutful of gin and tonics.

‘What the fuck was that!’ I yelped having just about leapt out of my skin.

‘Stand still!’ he called, ‘It’s a lion!’

For the last ten minutes or so I had heard them roaring but had assumed they were all in cages or something.

‘I thought as a ranger, you were supposed to be armed?’ I asked him.

‘Yeah well, technically I am supposed to be when out in the bush with a client but you took me by surprise.  Here he comes, be quiet now and just face him off and, whatever you do, don’t run’  He was commendably calm but then it was me the lion appeared to be keen to chew the fat with.

'You could be OK,' he hissed, 'It's a big male, not a female'

As if I bloody cared?  Bugger me, sexism in the bush!  I made a mental note to write this one down in my diary if I ever made it back to the lodge.  Besides, what did he mean, I could be OK?  Of course, while the king of beasts and I were engaged in a one way exchange of DNA, the lad would earn back the money he paid for his running shoes.

Normally, I hate it when spotty faced adolescents tell me what to do but considering that I had never faced a lion down before, if a four year old convinced me he knew the secret, I’d have done exactly as I was told.  So I shut up and watched a big male lion coming towards me in ten yard dashes.  Ten yards, a roar, then lie down as if ready to pounce.  Another few yards, lie down again. 

You read in adventure novels when the hero’s mouth goes dry?  It’s a natural reaction to mortal danger.  My tongue and lips were suddenly so dry they were gluing themselves together faster than superglue and rubber.  If the body can do that to your mouth, why can’t it do the same for your bladder?  What was God thinking about?  Would the loss of a few fluid ounces of piss help me run faster, out run a lion?

‘Keep still’ whispered the boy responsible for the safety of the lodge’s clients, ‘he’s checking your scent so keep quiet’ he added.

I fucking hope he likes German aftershave, I thought, but kept still anyway as my boots filled up.

After about three million years, the lion stood up and walked slowly to within a couple of yards of me.  If I had tried to break the ‘keep quiet’ rule and attempted to say anything, only dogs would have heard me, I’d have been squeaking that high.

The big old lion looked me up and down.  The golden fur of his face was marked with the black scars of innumerable scraps.  I would like to say that I could smell the beast’s foetid breath but he was a good two yards from me.  I could see his teeth, however, so my imagination filled in the gaps.

Have you seen a male take a piss?  Men are lucky if they can hit the bowl.  Dogs lift a leg and can squirt halfway up a tree.  Male lions, I can tell you from experience, can piss backwards.  Evidently deciding that I wasn’t worth the effort, he turned his back on me and inundated me with a high pressure spray of the stinkiest, most acrid solution my eyes and olfactory organs had ever dealt with.  The only favour the big old bastard did me was disguise my own little negligent discharge.  I was soaked from head to foot.

With all that extra adrenalin, it was a cracking pace the two of us cut to the top of the mountain.  You try running uphill over rocks with your eyes sticking out the back of your head. I needed a very stiff drink, a ride back down, a long shower and then a change of everything.

I tried to be social, introduce myself to my fellow guests.  They were strangely disinterested, each one moving quickly away when I approached.  Ok, I was forced to sit alone on a downwind rock but at least I did not have to queue at the improvised bar.  I was generally, by mutual consent, served immediately.

When it came time to leave I could see that the lodge manager was a trifle embarrassed.  She had a quiet head to head with the young game warden.

He strolled over to me.  ‘Um,’ he started, ‘I am to stay here and keep you company.  They will take everyone else back to the lodge and then send a vehicle for you’.  He produced a bottle of scotch and a plateful of delicacies.  Well, it was a five star joint, after all.

‘That bad?’ I asked.

‘Man, you stink!’ he said.

‘Any cigarettes?’


'OK.  Five star lions but only a four star joint,' I said, 'you pour.'


  1. Sure you're not a cat with nine lives?

    1. I might have had nine lives but I am not sure how many are left now!

  2. You can't make this stuff up, can you. I could not have imagined the boss lion.

  3. You should gather all these adventures together and put them in a book!

  4. Would that make you as weak, I mean as strong as cat's piss? What reminded you of that event? Was it you imagining how it could have gone with the three little piggies the other night?

    1. It was the email from the game warden, the very amusing way he tried to confirm that I was the guy he was after.

  5. Whilst I can imagine a lion pissing on you (probably some sort of ritual to welcome you into the family) the thought of you being face to face with one THAT close makes my heart beat faster, and vaguely nauseous. I am amazed you didn't die of a heart attack there and then. Also proves that we should rewrite that rule of fight or flight and include "freeze".

    As to the ease or difficulty tracking down people from the past: Try finding a female friend who got married, changed her maiden name and moved to cloud nine. Still, as we now all know: There is nowhere to hide.


    1. You won't be surprised to learn that I have been pissed on many times, U. That time was the scariest, though.

  6. Bloody hell. And I thought having our Tabby spray me was bad enough! The cat family must have some very complicated interior workings.

    1. I think I experienced a mixture of surprise and relief!

  7. "I never realized the name was so common" - oh yes, Tom Gowans is very common indeed! Facing off a lion? That's nothing - last week on one of my country walks I had to face off a dachshund though I must admit he didn't piss on me...Another good laugh sir - you should do stand up in your restaurant!

    1. You want to watch those Dachshunds, they're basically just a very big set of teeth lined jaws on short legs.

      Stand up, eh? Must be the way I tell 'em, now where did I leave my fez...

  8. I have seen this, Tom, in the Dallas Zoo, many years ago. Cold day in Feb. and almost deserted. A woman ahead of me was taking a photo of a black leopard, when he turned and doused her, would have put out a campfire in one shot. I could see the cloud, and just caught the edge of it (thankfully) she ran off screaming...

    1. I did not run away screaming, of course. Well, maybe just for a few hundred yards.

  9. An amazing story again! Your life does seem to be written like one of those "adventures for boys" books I used to have as a kid!
    I had a terrier piss in my tool box once on a gypsy site but somehow that story doesn't seem so good anymore...

    1. A Terrier pissing in my tool box would really piss me off!


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