Cool, clear water

2014-05-29 00:00

WATER is the favourite tipple of non-human animals. Pure, unadulterated H2O, squeezed from the clouds and filtered through bedrock, sandstone and wetlands. The fresher the better. No laboratory inspired additives — sweeteners, stimulants, happy-makers — nothing.

We often get this wrong when we manage our animals. How many farm animals are expected to drink from troughs or dams crusted with algae or other contaminants? Most. Not only are these a source of diseases such as liver-fluke, algal toxicity and E. coli septicaemia, and the drain-offs of potentially toxic chemicals, but mostly it just tastes lousy. Fortunately for us, KwaZulu-Natal is a relatively water-rich province and the quality of our water is generally great. My dad, may God bless his soul, loved the taste of our bon aqua with a passion, a fact that he repeated regularly, with the innocence of the aged, to all who would listen. Long may our water quality last. Susan Shabangu, our former Minister of Mineral Affairs, has, however, granted permits for the exploration for shale gas in the form of “fracking” in the Drakensberg foothills, among other locations, which, if found to be financially viable, will result in the contamination of our aquifers. The days of cool, clear water may be numbered. But that story is for another day.

Our pets often come off second best as well. Come on, own up. How many farmers’ dogs enjoy a saucer of sweetened tea with their masters at the break of day? How many bird cages have the water refreshed daily, and how many households ensure fresh water for their dogs and cats? Not too many, I guess. Lots of dogs drink out of the pool or bird bath. Or toilet.

The human animal is a different creature. We do not usually enjoy drinking water on its own. We add all sorts of things to it to disguise its original taste. Watch reality TV. Check out how many chubby American children are sucking constantly on a Coke or Pepsi. Ask them what their favourite drink is. Very few will say water.

Russia (not his real name ) will argue that water is very low on his list of priorities. His favourite tipple is Famous Grouse, itself comprising a significant quantity of water, but dominated by the fermentation of grain mash. Not following the recommendations of the purists, he mixes it with Sprite, a soft drink containing some water, but overshadowed by liberal quantities of sugar, taste enhancers and preservatives, and carbonated with carbon dioxide. So, during a boys-only fishing trip a while ago, he retired to the lodge to enjoy his favourite mix after a long, hard day slaughtering those beautiful Mozambican rock fish. Grog (also not his real name, but it is occasionally quite descriptive), the host of this particular fishing party, decided to test the taste buds of his friend and surreptitiously substituted the contents of the whiskey bottle with cold tea. The rest of the party were in on the secret and were consequently amused when Russia announced that the first drink tasted like mother’s milk, so he helped himself to a second. A couple of hours later and he was halfway through his bottle. His fishing mates were getting progressively rowdy while he, to his astonishment, was as sober as a judge fish.

It was about that time, when the party had reached its climax, that Grog seized the half-empty bottle of Famous Grouse and announced to his attentive audience (as well as a nonplussed Russia) that he had a constitution like Arnie Schwarzenegger, Shauwn Mpisane and Shabby Sheik combined, and to prove it he would drink this half bottle of very fine whisky clasped close to his chest, in one smooth swallow. And with that he held the bottle to his lips and with one fluid movement, and a couple of loud gulps for effect, he downed the lot. Russia’s eyes were on stalks. Not only was his holiday stock of whisky well and truly depleted, but Grog did not appear to suffer any immediate consequences of this action. In actual fact, he appeared to regain a bit more composure and sensibility.

I am not sure of the details of the rest of the holiday. I did hear that Grog was reluctant to divulge the secret for fear of violent reprisal, and elected, instead, to share the substituted contents of the bottle with his mates.

And Russia was seen making off towards the local shebeen sometime the next day.

My advice to Russia — two things, in actual fact: watch your fishing mates very carefully in future and drink water.

• The Village Vet is a practising


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