An Interest in Dentistry

February 11th, 2015 by dad

Dorje has started to show an interest in dentistry.

But first, a game we play. My lounge is a big open area where I can practise tai chi, dance and run around with Dorje when we’re too lazy to head to the field across the road.

We were playing a game where the aim is to get the ball to a target behind the other player (a couch, or part of the wall). The game has been made lounge-proof over the years. We use a soft ball. There’s not too many things left to break in the lounge.

In the midst of an epic game, 16-15, Dorje started to show his interest in dentistry. He did this by rearranging my mouth with his bat as we both scrambled for the ball.

Here’s what I look like now:
Toothless wonder

Well, except for the youthful skin that is.

I’m not going to get a chance to go the dentist until at least next week, though I’m due for another visit anyhow. It’s amazing how fast the decade has passed.

So I’ll have lots of time to decide if I like the new look.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

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Dorje and the Hostile Mobs

January 27th, 2015 by dad

Anique took Dorje to school by train today. Arriving at Pinelands station, they were met by a huge crowd of people trying to get on to the train. The crowd forced themselves through the door, pushing those trying to get off back onto the train.

Anique managed to get off, but without Dorje, who was being bashed too and fro by those pushing to get on.

With visions of the train leaving with Dorje stuck on it, she did an Ian (I’ll take that as a compliment this time). Fortunately Dorje couldn’t hear above the crowd what she was shouting, and in the end Dorje, slightly shaken, managed to get off.

And promptly tripped, hitting his head on Anique’s laptop.

Luckily no major damage done, but Dorje’s journal is full of capital letters and exclamation marks, and finished off with a giant “HOSTILE MOBS” taking up an entire page. Just this once, I decided not to correct “mobs” to “mob”.

Let’s hope he doesn’t encounter any real hostile mobs, whether singular or plural, anytime soon.

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New Years in Pofadder?

January 1st, 2015 by dad

Dorje, Anique and I spent a few days at the Augrabies Falls, the largest waterfall in South Africa. My body had just got used to Rovaniemi in the Arctic, where the December average temperature is -7, before being thrust into the heat of Augrabies, where the December average is 41.

So, most of the time was spent inside the air-conditioned cottagers (I shudder to think what those camping must have experienced) trying to get through the two boxes of boardgames I packed.

Board games

When we did venture out during the day (the main point was to see the falls, after all), it didn’t take long before we were on hands and knees crawling back to shelter, being eyed out by the birds of prey.

The park is far more than just the falls though, and we ventured out on a cool evening (probably a mere 34 degrees or so) to go on a game ride. The park includes leopard, giraffe, kudu, eland, and the highest concentration of lizards imaginable.

Game ride

Coming back from Augrabies on the 31st, it was tempting to give Dorje the experience of a lifetime – New Years in Pofadder (the local equivalent of the English Timbuktu or America’s Kalamazoo). But I was overruled by Dorje and Anique’s fears that New Year’s supper would be another toasted cheese consisting of stale white bread, margarine and non-melted grated cheese (our stopover in Springbok on the way up will be forever remembered for its remarkable cuisine), and we drove on, making do with a photo instead.


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Pokemon birthday

November 18th, 2014 by dad

Sunday saw the long-awaited Pokemon tournament hosted at my house by Dorje for a few of his school friends.

Forget Cities, bigger than Nationals, more exciting even than the World Championships – this was Dorje’s Pokemon party. He had the idea for his birthday, and it finally happened this weekend.


Since my house is normally quiet and monastic, and I’m usually an exhausted wreck after Dorje alone comes to stay for the weekend, people asked me, repeatedly, (before, during and after!), how I was coping with seven children running riot in my slightly more ragged and dusty version of a zen monastery. In preparation, I’d channelled Dorje’s excitement into cleaning, and parts of tables and floors which hadn’t seen daylight in months, if not years, were cleared to make space, and the house was, if not sparkling, at least less dusty than usual now that I could actually get to some of the corners.

To prepare me, one of the moms showed me pictures of a relative’s child rolling in the corn flour causing total havoc after mere minutes unattended in the kitchen. Although she assured me hers were trained, when the tournament began her children were coincidentally seated at the furthest table from the kitchen.

It turned out everyone was well-trained, and I didn’t have to use as much zen training as expected. Perhaps just earplugs next time.

Even more exciting, since there were 7 children in total, I got to enter my first tournament as contestant eight to make sure no-one had to sit out a round.

Pokemon, for those who don’t know, is a game of some luck, a lot of skill, but also requires a good deck of cards to be competitive (which is how Nintendo make a lot of money from Pokemon). There were three people with good decks; Dorje, Reilly and Nadir, and Reilly arrived with 25 of his 60 cards missing, so his tournament deck after a quick borrow-round to fill in the gaps wasn’t quite as fine-tuned as it could have been.

Jordan had only learnt how to play two days before, and borrowed a spare deck from Dorje, as did I.

And so, the mayhem began with with lots of shouted advice as everyone kept on eye on everyone else’s games, especially as their games finished. My round one clash with Jordan, the last to finish, saw 7 children sitting on the other side screaming for Jordan, but I managed to defend against the onslaught, while Thaakir managed to impressively take one of three games from his older brother and Dhamier got an upset win against Reilly and his makeshift deck.

Round two, saw me pitted against Dorje. I couldn’t even claim the draw was rigged, since I did it, and duly lined up for the slaughter. While trying at the same time to help Jordan against Noah before Jordan’s beginner credits ran out and Noah, finally having enough of being ganged up on, told me to stop.

Round three, the final round, saw Dorje versus Nadir on the top table, a hotly contested match finally won by Dorje, although I was too busy trying to deflect Reilly’s slippery Blastoise-EX to pay much attention to anything else.

Dorje managed to nullify my egalitarian instincts, which would have seen the best prizes go to those finishing on the least points (since those coming at the bottom obviously need the most improvements to their decks), although thanks to Father Christmas going a bit crazy with the credit card in the Pokemon shop, there were lots of prizes for everyone. And I managed to use the prizes as an excuse to photograph Noah, who’d ducked out of the group photo.

Since Wikipedia would probably have unjustly rejected the article for this monumental event, I’ve added the scores here instead…

The final positions, in tiebreak order:

Position Player Points
1 Dorje 3
2 Nadir 2
3 Dhamier 2
4 Reilly 1.5
5 Ian 1.5
6 Thaakir 1
7 Jordan 1
8 Noah 0

Noah 8th Jordan 7th Thaakir 6th

Round 1:

Dorje vs Noah 2-0
Reilly vs Dhamier 0-2
Nadir vs Thaakir 2-1
Ian vs Jordan 2-0

Reilly 4th Dhamier 3rd

Round 2:

Dorje vs Ian 2-0
Nadir vs Dhamier 2-0
Reilly vs Thaakir 2-0
Noah vs Jordan 0-1

Nadir 2nd Dorje 1st
Round 3:

Dorje vs Nadir 2-0
Reilly vs Ian 1-1
Dhamier vs Jordan 2-0
Noah vs Thaakir 0-2

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A bit of a flutter

July 27th, 2014 by dad

Dorje phoned his mom.

“We’re on our way home now, from Grand West. Dad left me in the creche while he went gambling… Yes! He left me in the creche, while he lost R6200… I don’t know how long he left me there, but it seemed like a long time.”

A bit of a flutter

Getting back, a very stern looking mom wasn’t keen to let me drive off and wanted to know what was going on.

She phoned her mother, Dorje’s grandmother, the next day, to tell her the story. She was apparently ready to drive out, feeling I needed an intervention.

It appears Dorje’s acting ability is coming along well, as he managed to string the story along for quite a while. The real story, that we went to Grand West to the movies and the ice rink, is nowhere near as exciting to read about but, happily, was both much more fun to be involved in, and much less expensive. It also doesn’t require “an intervention”, which sounds like something I really don’t want to be involved in!

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July 16th, 2014 by dad

Dorje started playing Pokemon in about September last year thanks to a friend at school and has since then been, putting it mildly, Pokemon crazy.

I’d never played Pokemon before. The closest I came was when some servers at a place I worked at were named “Wartortle” and “Bulbasaur” after Pokemon characters. Pokemon is a franchise owned by Nintendo, and consists of video games, movies, books, and much else, but it’s the trading card game that has captured Dorje’s attention. He goes to a local club once a week and plays in all the tournaments he can. I happened to be in Jhb around the time of the Pokemon nationals (yes, Pokemon has nationals, and even a world championship), so took Dorje with me to play in this year’s event.

Dorje at the 2014 Pokemon nationals in Jhb

In the game, players build a deck of 60 cards (from the thousands available) and battle against an opponent, the winner being the first to gain six prize cards, earned by knocking out opponent’s Pokemon.

The game is far more interesting than I’d imagined, with lots of complexity. There are three elements to playing well:

* Building a good deck. This is the most important element, as, even the best player wouldn’t be able to overcome playing with a weak deck. You can buy a starter deck (new ones are released regularly), but this would be a very weak deck in tournament play, and to make the deck competitive, you need to obtain other cards. This is where Nintendo make their money, as with so many cards, booster packs, new releases, the game can be as expensive as you want it to be, and many players get the cards they need to build a good deck by spending lots of money. Dorje spends all his pocket money on Pokemon, but you can also borrow and trade cards. The club he plays at is very beginner-friendly, loaning competitive decks to new players, especially juniors. Dorje enjoys collecting the cards too, so some of his trades haven’t been very good for his gameplay, with him swayed by the full-art version of a card he already has.

Building a good deck takes real skill. With new cards being released all the time, and old cards being retired, the definition of a good deck is never static. It’s also relative to your opponent’s decks, since cards have weaknesses and strengths against each other. Fire pokemon are strong against nature pokemon, but weak against water pokemon, for example, so stacking a deck with fire pokemon may be great against an opponent with mostly nature pokemon, or in a tournament where most players are playing nature pokemon, but could backfire against a heavily water-stacked deck. And there’re many more matchups than just fire-water-nature.

* Next, is the actual gameplay. It’s possible to have a great deck, but not play it very well. This is where most of the complexity comes in, as to play well, you need to know your own deck backwards, as well have knowledge of other cards you could come up against.

I used to think it was mostly down to the deck, and I play with Dorje by printing cards to give him some opposition. At one point, he was beating me continuously with his strong fairy deck. Convinced it was the deck, we swopped decks, but Dorje continued to beat me convincingly. There’s a high degree of skill in the game, and it’s a prerequisite to know all the cards well.

* The final element is luck. The sixty cards are drawn in random order, so it’s possible for a great deck to struggle simply because the right cards aren’t coming up at the right time. There’s far less luck than it seems at first glance, as good deckbuilding should take this into account, and in tournaments matches are usually best of three, which mitigates a one-off result due to bad luck.

The junior section (up to ten years old) is very small, with most tournaments having less than ten entrants. To date, all the tournaments have either been by Kade, who’s also the national champion, and wins most events, or by Dorje, who’s won one or two as well, including the latest Cities.

Dorje vs Kade, the junior national champion

I wish they’d had Pokemon when I was ten. Tempting as it is, I’m resisting getting more involved for now!

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Ziplining across the waterfalls

January 13th, 2014 by dad

After the Storms River Forest Canopy Tour, the adrenaline junkies in us were awoken and we headed off for another ziplining experience a few days later, this time across the waterfalls.

It was as different as two ziplining experiences can be. The forest was dark and close, the waterfalls were wide open to the sky.

Although both tours handle similar volumes, the forest tour is much slower and we were in a group of eight with the next group right behind us. The waterfalls went much quicker, and was just us and the guides. The forest tour brake consisted of a wet glove, the waterfalls saw a proper brake with good control and consequently nice smooth landings.

The slides were also much longer, the longest being 211 metres against the 91m of the forest tour. And, this time there was a only a mild drizzle, no lightning and thunder.

For the safety conscious, the forest tour had us clipped twice onto a line capable of holding 10 tonnes, and clipped once more onto a secondary line capable of holding 7 tonnes. The waterfall tour saw us clipped just once onto the main line.

But, we weren’t worried. Here’s Anique, with nerves of steel after conquering the forest, heading off on the first line:

And here she is hurtling into the river below after the cable snapped:

Well, no, luckily not. But the guide behind jumped onto the cable while Anique was still going across, causing the line to gyrate wildly, and making her feel like the line had snapped. A bit of extra adrenaline rush thrown in for free.

The scenery was beautiful, and on another day the pools below would have made for ideal swimming:

Overall, a fun way to spend our last morning in Storms River.

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Atop the trees in a lightning storm

January 12th, 2014 by dad

Dorje, his mom and I went on holiday to Storms River. One of the main attractions was the Forest Canopy tour, and I looked forward to whizzing across the forest canopy between giant yellowoods.

Dorje’s mom needed some convincing, and looked ready for a heart attack when I found out there’d been a late cancellation and we could go straight away. But, we got kitted out and headed off.

To add to the fun (and probably the reason for the cancellation), it was pouring with rain, with loud thunder and lightning. The guide, who’d been there many years, said that it was only the third time he’d been out in weather like that, and the assistant guide, who’d only been there three months, was a nervous wreck, wincing everytime the lightning flashed and the thunder rolled, almost jumping off the first platform.

The braking system consists of holding on to the line with your glove. In the downpour, however, the combination was like an oil slick, and you may as well have been playing the flute. The array of gloves scattered on the trees below wasn’t a good sign, and I kept looking in the trees below for the hands they were once attached to.

Dorje managed just fine though.

Putting us all to shame was the youngest on the tour, a five-year old who’d been paragliding the day before.

Perhaps a bit too brave though, as, with everyone huddled atop the yellowwood as we prepared for the next slide, she kept hitting me on the bum telling me to “move forward” which would have put me twenty metres down on the tree below.

No-one got hit by lightning (Dorje luckily not living up to his name and channeling heavenly light to the earth), and no-one plummeted to their deaths below, and it was a fun afternoon out, well-worth doing for anyone in the area.

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Goodbye Granny G

September 17th, 2013 by dad

Dorje’s grandmother, and my mother, died early on Monday morning.

Dorje was the apple of her eye, and she would always greet me at the door while looking behind me to see if I’d brought Dorje. Dorje used to enjoy hiding, and then pleasantly surprising her that it was not only me when he appeared.

Dorje used to go to her at least once a week from very early on. In true grandmother fashion, there he could eat fizzers to his heart’s (not stomach’s) content. When he was younger, she would get her exercise running after him as he bounded around the garden and into the street. There was only a small window before he was faster than her, and she contemplated tying a leash to him. I picture the equivalent of a St Bernard pulling a 6-year around, so doubt the idea gained much traction.

Dorje’s gran’s 80th birthday, with mom, grandpa and dad

She played endless games with him, which he’d somehow always win, and was great at pretending my healthy eating contributions were supplemented by “just one or two” items which I tried not to be too horrified about, knowing I’d survived a childhood of eating similar things.

From early this year she became much weaker, and couldn’t participate very actively, but it was still her favourite time of the week. Near the end, calling off Dorje’s time alone with her must have been one of the hardest things for her to do.

He still used to visit often, and one of my favourite memories of the three of us together was playing games like 30 Seconds. My father was in hospital and I was staying at their house. She’d begun to lose her speech by then, and had difficulty in verbalising what she wanted to say in normal conversation, but still played a mean game of 30 Seconds, and the rare timeless evenings with just the three of us were precious.

Her birthday was on the 2nd of September. She turned 82, and by then she was completely bedridden and unable to speak. Dorje’s last card to her was a hand-drawn card with the words “I hope this is not your last birthday”.

She had been very poor in the weeks and days before her birthday, but on the day she was attentive and aware of her visitors, and of course beaming at Dorje.

She died peacefully in her own home and her own bed early in the morning of September 16th, and leaves us all with many wonderful memories.

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The fire god and the hail man

June 2nd, 2013 by dad

Dorje went on his second Wild Ways adventure this morning, and the theme, appropriately for a wintry day, was fire. They got to build a fire, and practice doing this with sticks for those moments when matches are not available, as well as smoke themselves out of the teepee.

Again, he had lots of fun, and is keen for the next one.

Afterwards, we went to Kirstenbosch where we got to witness an otherworldly experience.

While we were having a meal at the tearoom, it started to rain. And then, not just rain, but pour. Think having a shower at full blast, where hearing each other shriek was out of the question.

Dorje soon realised it was hailing, and recovered the biggest clump of hailstones I’ve ever seen in Cape Town. Before being clobbered on the head by the next batch and running back to shelter.

Hail in hand

Soon the landscape turned into the kind of scene I’d only expected to see on my trip to Finland later this year.

Hail in hand

Hail in hand

Hail in hand

Both of us just wandered around giggling, with me snapping lots of pictures. Dorje soon realised hail is cold, but that didn’t stop him sticking his fingers into ever pile we came across,
Hail in hand

leaving a trail of snow temples behind.
Hail in hand

I began to be worried about frostbite. This was not the Cape Town I grew up in.

The rivers were raging, and wooden paths became treacherously slippery in the mushy ice.
Hail in hand

We came across a duck squawking madly, shaking furiously, every now and then dislodging a piece of hail from its feathers. This was about 20 minutes after the storm.

The hail wasn’t getting any thinner, and finally, near Moyo, we came across the biggest pile yet. Dorje couldn’t resist.

Hail in hand

After this, it began raining heavily again, and we went inside for the second hot chocolate of the afternoon, and some general thawing.

I began to imagine carnage outside. Cape Town can’t drive in the rain, so if the ice hit any of the roads I can only imagine what happened. I was grateful it was only my car outside, and not the loan car I’d been using the past few days.

The hail was still thick about 45 minutes after the hailstorm

We stopped to visit Dorje’s grandfather in hospital. When someone is already bored of the library and the heart museum it’s definitely been too long in hospital. He was sleeping, but on the nurses repeated insistence, we woke him up, but I suspect he may just think it was a dream when he remembers the unexpected change of scene, Dorje in Ice. Dorje agreed with my father though that his fairy looked more like a skeleton.

Hail in hand

After making ice temples and hail men, Dorje’s Wild Ways task was to build a fire with a maximum of two matches, or, as he put it, summon the fire god. He didn’t want to use newspaper either, but the green leaves as kindling weren’t helping, and we went through closer to two boxes before Dorje’s fire was raging, and we could get down to some Tintin and to bed next to the fire.

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