I was invited to go sketching last month with friends at Gallagher Estate, a business conference centre which, I was told, has gardens which are Midrand's best kept secret. I almost refused, as the next day I had to go into hospital, but instead of staying home getting more and more nervous, I decided to go along.
Behind the imposing gates, and past the huge exhibition centres and parking garages, we met up in a green, woodsy tearoom area, with the peaceful sound of trickling water taking us far away from the 'suits' discussing important stuff inside. After coffee, we wandered down through stone pathways and over pretty bridges, arriving eventually at a tree-lined pond, scattered about with bright orange clivia blooms, and two magnificent swans floating serenely over the surface, gently rippling the reflections....Not!! As soon as we sat down and started taking out our sketchpads, the huge birds began rushing at us, glaring out of beady eyes hidden in their black masks, swishing up waves in front of their chests, and very obviously telling us to back off, get lost, and get the hell out of there! We gingerly retreated to slightly higher ground, behind some rocks and trees and sat at the chairs and tables, which seemed to appease them slightly, though they carried on swimming away, then whooshing up to remind us to keep our distance. They must have had eggs or chicks - cygnets (thanks Bridget ;-) somewhere to be so aggressive. We at last settled down to lose our fright in trying to capture the dark reflections and the deceptively pure white grace of the scary swans.
But one brave - or daffy - sketcher persisted in getting closer and was eventually attacked - she fended them off with her bag and sketchbook but was bashed hard on the leg with a muscular wing. The swans were then so irritated that when two unsuspecting business execs came out of their meeting for some fresh air and sat on a bench nearby, one drew itself up into full battle mode - I grabbed a brushload of dark paint off my palette and sploshed down the alarming form - with neck doubled up on itself, chest thrust forward, wings akimbo and back arched and fluffed even larger. It slapped its great feet down like claps of thunder beating towards them. I think I thought it would back off so I didn't warn them, but they noticed it just in time to leap behind their bench to safety. Whew - we all behaved after that and finished our sketches at a respectful distance, all thoughts of scalpels and anaesthetics successfully banished from my mind!