Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Last leg of Road Trip

Tuesday 8 July Cape Town

Still raining! We drove right down to the Cape via all the small coastal towns. At Muizenberg, Les told me a story I’d never heard before. When his Dad was in the Royal Navy, he was in Cape Town; or rather he docked at Simon’s Town Naval Base. Les remembers a picture of him taken outside a café which was built in the shape of a huge dog! We went to the museum in Simon’s Town and the elderly lady there remembered it! It was called “The Spotted Dog” and is sadly no more. However, such was its fame that an almost same-size replica statue has been built on the site in commemoration. We retraced our steps for about 20k and sure enough, there it was! How amazing! The drive round the coast was wonderful but as we had already covered the road from Muizenberg to Simon’s Town, we opted for the Boyes Drive road the second time. Now we were high up above the coastal villages, mountain on one side, road clinging to the edge over a sheer drop with the ocean on the other side.
Next stop, Boulders, to see the penguins and there were loads of them, comical wee things!
We finally reached the Cape of Good Hope in torrential rain, so it was pointless going up the funicular to the lookout as there was absolutely nothing to see, not even the sea! Instead, we drove down the low road which took us under the lookout point to the actual Cape of Good Hope. The weather improved slightly and the wind dropped as it was a little more sheltered there. A drive back via Hout Bay had to be “renavigated” as the famous “Chapman’s Peak” drive was closed due to the dreadful weather. Anyway, I had already had quite enough of clinging to a mountainside for one day!

Wednesday 9 July. Paternoster
Woke to ….more rain, so we headed north towards the picturesque seaside hamlet of Paternoster. When we got there, the sun came out and we were able to walk for ages on the deserted shelly beach. The fishermen’ cottages and colourful boats were lovely. As soon as we could see Cape Town in the distance on our retun journey, the rain started again! Now it has cleared slightly so Les has gone for a walk while I write this and get the old blog posted!

Thursday 10 July Cape Town
Awoke to brilliant sunshine and we could clearly see the mountain from the bedroom window. A quick phonecall confirmed that the cable car was running and off we went. It was spectacular and not as scary as I imagined. At the top, the clouds were wispy and cleared enough for us to have some great views of the bays around Cape Town, most of which we have visited in rain! Then we found the Lion Battery on Signal Hill and were just in time to get there for the ritual firing of the noon day gun. The Naval officer in charge told us that there are now only three time guns in the world; that one, the noon gun in Hong Kong and of course our own Mons Meg one o’clock gun in Edinburgh. So now we have heard all three! A young boy, I think he was the officer’s son, was carrying the gunpowder bag. It was a really old leather thing and I was chatting to him when he reached out and handed me the primer from today’s firing! It’s a small brass shell case and Les is well chuffed about it. So am I for that matter! We spent the afternoon walking round the city cemtre and also visited the slave museum which was very well done. Sadly, we didn’t get out to Robben Island as the ferry was off until today due to the weather.Tonight we are going out to dinner with some friends of Janie and Peter who live over here and both work for the British High Commission. Tonight is one of their few free nights as they seem to attend a lot of Embassy “dos” Tomorrow we leave for Beaufort West which is the home town of Christian Barnard, the heart transplant pioneer, then on to Kimberley to see the Big Hole.

Friday 11 July Cape Town to Beaufort West
We had a great night with Bob and Sandra; drinks at their house then dinner at a nearby winery. Because their house is officially British soil and they are both Vice Consuls, they are required to have a portrait of the Queen on display in their house. Very Colonial!!
We had quite a long haul to Beaufort West through snow covered mountain passes then across part of the Karoo desert region. We arrived in time to have a walk in the one-street town and visit the Christian Barnard museum which was very interesting. The museum is housed in an old church which was the church where Barnard’s father was the minister. We also visited the birthplace, a small cottage “manse” next to the church. That is where Christian Barnard’s ashes are scattered and there is a plaque with the words “I came home” which I thought was a nice touch.

Saturday 12 July Beaufort West to Kimberley
Another long haul, this time through the Karoo which is semi arid desert with not much to look at; miles and miles of nothing, yet beautiful in its own way. It certainly gives a feeling of how vast this country is. As we approached Kimberley, we took a detour to visit Magersfontein, the site of a very bloody Boer War battle involving thousands of Scottish troops. The museum was excellent and we saw the memorials to all the Scottish regiments; Seaforth Highlanders, Highland Light Infantry, Black Watch, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. It was all very well researched, with the names and ranks of all the soldiers who were killed, including pipers and drummers. These were boys of around fifteen years old. What a dreadful experience for them. The battle was a disaster for the Scots; their general misinterpreted the position of the Boers and as a result the Scottish troops were massacred. The stretcher bearers couldn’t get across the fields to the injured, who then had to lie in the blistering African sun all day. The Boers were not, as expected, at the top of a hill; instead, they had dug trenches at the bottom and this was the first instance of trench warfare which of course was soon used again by both sides in the First World War.
The hotel in Kimberley was superb; brand new, with wonderful décor, huge chandeliers and magnificent fresh flower arrangements. It was right at the edge of the famous “Big Hole” and had a viewing deck where we could see right out over the hole. The hole is famous because it is the largest hand dug hole and was where Cecil Rhodes made his fortune, but in fact the diamond mine at Cullinan near where we live is actually much bigger.
We had planned on staying two nights in Kimberley but we faced a problem; the hotel had no water! This is not the first time we have encountered this, it happened at Bakubung when Martin visited. So we decided reluctantly to bail out and I am writing this in the car as we head for home. We had considered staying another night or two elsewhere, but to be honest we can’t really be bothered lugging the suitcases in and out of another hotel, so we are just going to head back to Benoni, even though it is again quite a long haul, about 500k. The route this morning is still through the last part of the Karoo and we have seen lots of wildlife. Firstly we passed a huge lake which was pink with flamingos, hundreds and hundreds of them, so that the water’s edge looked pink. Then we passed quite a few monkeys and some mongooses as well as a couple of ostriches. Some of the cows down here are huge and have enormous horns and very patterned hides. These are called Nguni castle.

End of the Road Trip
We finally reached home at 4.30pm on Sunday, having driven 5027 in just under three weeks. It has been a remarkable experience, we have seen so much of this country. Now it’s on with the laundry!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Great Road Trip Part 2

Wednesday 2 July 2008 Plettenberg Bay (See view from deck)
We woke feeling much better today, but the house reeked of woodsmoke from Les’ firemaking efforts. Today we bought coal! We drove to Knysna which is a posh coastal resort just 14 miles or so along the N2 Garden Route. Along the way we encountered some strange contrasts; on one side of the road, a new executive housing development with houses costing from £400,000 was under construction whilst on the other side was an informal settlement of ramshackle shacks. (See pic)How galling for these people to look out of their homes each morning and see what the (mainly) white rich people can afford to live in, whilst they are still waiting for the promised housing. Now some families were allocated housing, during the apartheid years, but this was often arbitrarily allocated, with some families being sent far from their homes to live in what was termed “Kaffirland” (a now illegal derogatory term, which I hope I am excused for using as it is an historically correct term as far as I am aware) or the tribal homelands whilst fathers stayed behind in cities to earn money to support the family. The informal settlements apparently only came about after the end of apartheid when people were free to move wherever they wanted and some chose to go “back home” but of course there were no houses there for them. It is a sorry reflection on the new era that people are still living in these shacks. They are all over South Africa, in every province; the race divide is still there, for whatever reason politicians or anyone else might like to give.
Just stopped writing to go out onto the deck to watch a huge school of dolphins, at least 20-30, swim and leap right past our window! It is 5.30p.m., just getting dark so the picture quality wasn’t great, but just to see them was fantastic!

Thursday 3 July 2008. Plettenberg Bay
Some days, you just can’t win!
The day started with some basic chores; dishwasher and laundry both needed doing. Firstly, Les put a dark sock in with the white washing. Bad start. Then we went shopping and as I was finished first, I decided, since we are after all on holiday and meant to be relaxing, to wait for him at a pavement coffee shop in the sun. When he arrived, he declined a coffee and as soon as I had taken my first few sips, said, “I’ll get the bill, then.” When reminded about this being the relaxing part of the road trip, i.e. no rush to get anywhere, he said, “Well we have a lot to get through today!” !!! So I swallowed down the cappuccino and we headed off to find a Khoisan cultural village listed in my guide book. We drove hither and thon. Nothing. (It’s not the first time “The Rough Guide to South Africa has let us down…it’s a VERY rough guide!!) He said, “We are just driving about.” Not now bothered about the village, I said, “That’s right, we are on holiday, we can just go down that road or along this one. It doesn’t matter. Do you want me to drive?” After a curt refusal, I said, “I’m quite enjoying this, the scenery is lovely” We were in the Tsitsikamma Mountain National Park. He said, “Well, I’m not. I can’t look at the scenery, I’m driving.” !!! Then we stopped for lunch. I suggested we get a sandwich and a cake and have half of each; we often do that when savoury and sweet are both fancied, but the appetite is not able for a whole portion of each. He agreed, so I ordered the sandwich and he went off to look at the cakes. When it all arrived, I remarked on how difficult it would be to cut the sandwich as it was a Portuguese prego steak roll, which includes a fried egg. ( I know, you’re thinking, yesterday she was vomiting seven kinds of diced veg and today she’s eating a steak and egg roll? But wait, it gets worse!). He said, “I don’t really want a bit of that anyway. I’d like to eat all of this apple cake” I was so annoyed, I wolfed the whole lot, egg and all, without pausing, resulting in chronic indigestion and when belatedly offered a bit of apple cake (which looked a bit dry anyway) I declined… and then proceeded to eat the chips which I had already decided I didn’t need and didn’t even want in the first place. But we is still pals, especially when he removed the Biggest Spider in the World (official) from the hallway leading to the bathroom. This thing was a genetic mutant on steroids. It was at least five or six inches across, head the size of, say an olive, body the size of, oh, a small tomato and it was an orangey-brown colour.

Friday 4 July Plett and Knysna
We decided to try again for the Khoisan village. We found the general area and spoke to the lady in the tourist office. The place no longer exists! Instead, we visited the site of the world’s highest bungee jump from the Bloukrans Bridge. (See pic)We just looked, mind you! Then we went back to Knysna to catch a bit of their famous annual oyster festival (I know, I know, not a good lunch choice after three days driving from loo to loo! We didn’t eat any!). We spent a pleasant afternoon pottering around the shops and harbour and home for our last night in Plett.

Saturday 5 July Plett to Agulhas
Off and away by 9.30. We drove more or less without stopping to Cape Agulhas; 7 hours! Once we had left the main highway and headed out over the peninsula, there was nothing on the road. The scenery was like the Yorkshire Moors, except we saw baboons and mongoose (mongeese? mongooses?) by the roadside. The point where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet (see pic)is the most southerly point on the African continent, next stop Antarctica. As a result it is common to see penguins and whales around the coast here. We didn’t strike lucky regarding the penguins, but a huge whale was “fluking” (It means putting it’s tail up out of the water, it is not a typo) just off shore which was pretty spectacular. The guest house was very comfortable and there was a nice wee pub cum restaurant about 100 metres away. Although we are used to most of the population speaking Afrikaans, it was a bit of a shock to meet people who couldn’t take our booking or explain the menu in English!

Sunday 6 July. Agulhas to Cape Town
We set off to drive to the mother city, Cape Town but as we were in no hurry, we took the scenic route right round the coast past some really stunning scenery and a field full of blue cranes; the bird kind, not for construction! A long stretch had the blue ocean on one side and bushes of beautiful pink king protea flowers on the other. The weather deteriorated as we approached Cape Town and it was a misty drizzle by the time we reached the hotel. The table most certainly had its table cloth on! The hotel where we are based for five nights is big and quite modern. The room, bath, bed, breakfast, etc are all excellent. On the first night, we went down for the included dinner. When we asked for the wine list, we were politely told, “Sorry, Sir, we don’t serve alcohol here, this is a halaal restaurant.” Well, Les was off out of the chair like a whippet on Race Day! But all was not lost; they had another restaurant elsewhere! Whew!

Monday 7 July Cape Town; the Wine Routes
Superb breakfast and off in pouring rain to “do” the wine routes around Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. I did the tasting at La Motte which was exceptional. Les was driving! We spent the evening at the V&AWaterfront, which is 5 minutes from the hotel with the complimentary shuttle bus. It is a redeveloped dock area which is now home to several hundred up-market shops and a wonderful choice of restaurants.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Great Road Trip

Well, here we are in The Mother City as Cape Town is known. There is internet in the hotel room so here goes with the first part of the Great Road Trip

Thursday 26 June 2008. Gauteng to Free State

We left Benoni around 9.00am and travelled down the highway towards the Free State, stopping after 3 hours for an early lunch. Just after the stop, we saw the first sign for Cape Town…only 1174k to go to our halfway point! We reached River Destiny lodge around 4.30. It was 3.5k down a red dirt road. (See pic of car!).We passed a herd of small bok and a large ostrich en route. The lodge was situated right on the banks of the Orange River and in summer would be an idyllic spot, but this was the middle of an African winter, so it was just above freezing by 7.00pm. The room was clean but spartan and had no heating! We spoke to the young man at reception who told us, “No we have no heaters, but you’ll be warm enough in bed with the blankets pulled up tight.” Africa is not for sissies, eh! The dinner menu was predictable but delicious nevertheless and also enormous! We had lamb chops with chicken kebabs (called sosaties). We resorted to type as true Scots and saved a kebab each to take away for Friday’s lunch! Having utilised all the spare blankets and pillows from the two spare single beds, we slept well enough and awoke to a severe ground frost. The river was shrouded in mist.

Friday 27 June. Free State to Eastern Cape
Breakfast was enormous and then we were on the road again by 9.00a.m.
We stopped for lunch at one of the many beautiful picnic spots along the road and enjoyed the “free” lunch! The flowers and wildlife were amazing! (See pic)We stopped to let a meerkat cross in front of us and he then reared up on his hind legs to watch us go off down the road. Soon a small monkey crossed and as we were remarking on that, we saw a herd of wild ostriches by the roadside. Just a shot while later, we stopped again to watch a huge bok looking at us from the verge. This was a leisurely journey, not all on motorway, with sunshine all the way. We reached Port Elizabeth around 3.00pm and just as we entered, via the not so pretty industrial area, the rain began. We drove right down to the main beachfront area but the rain and a decidedly winter feel made it seem slightly seedy to our eyes. We didn’t linger long and within an hour we were in St Francis. Our next port of call was the Port View Place B&B, in Port St Francis and it was absolutely stunning. We were met by the caretaker who showed us into the most spectacular lounge and kitchen then up to our fabulous room. (See pics of lounge and view from balcony).She then told us that we would have the whole house to ourselves! The Eastern Cape is reputedly the poorest province in South Africa but a tour round the fabulous houses here would belie that! The main village of St Francis is built around a series of canals or inlets on the Kromme river estuary and most of the houses had access to the water from their garden. The roads were connected by a series of pretty bridges. Our location, in next door Port St Francis, had a decidedly Mediterranean feel, with stunning houses and apartments built around a working harbour which has expanded to include a marina and a good selection of pubs and restaurants, all easily reachable on foot via a series of alleys and covered boardwalks. A wonderful seafood dinner and a stroll home ended a long day.

Saturday 28 June. St Francis
Breakfast was specially cooked and served for us by two people and afterwards we set off to the small shopping area in St Francis. It really was a bit of a backwater…they were still selling Friday’s newspaper! After a browse round some very upmarket shops, we drove to a nearby beach at Seal Point and spent a couple of hours walking along a beautiful shell beach. There was no one else in sight and the beach was covered in the most beautiful shells, all whole, so not many people ever walk there. Next we headed for Cape St Francis, to visit the lighthouse and penguin sanctuary. Back at Port St Francis, we watched some chokka boats at anchor and then booked for dinner. This restaurant was also wonderful. Chokka means squid or calamari and having watched some fishermen preparing the calamari fillets on the harbour side, we had to sample this local delicacy. They are prepared without the use of any implements. In the natural state, they are reddish coloured and altogether about 10 inches long. About half the length comprises head, stomach and tentacles, which are all pulled off in one tug, leaving the “tube”. The red membrane is peeled back then the whole tube is turned outside in revealing a long thin transparent bone just like a piece of strong clear plastic. The resultant tube is rinsed and soon enough finds it way to the table, either served as steaks or cut into rings. The taste and texture are nothing like I have tasted back home; they are soft, with just a little give and very sweet. It was an excellent dinner, especially as it was accompanied by grilled kingclip, our favourite fish

Sunday 29 June. St Francis
After our personally prepared breakfast, we took a look at the private beach. A tame cat latched on to us with little encouragement and when we went onto the sand, he came too. I’ve never seen a cat on a beach before! Next we drove to Jeffreys Bay, the premier surfing spot on the Eastern Cape. It was a little too “Blackpool” for our liking but we did find a very nice art gallery and bought a painting before heading back to stock up on deli items so we could eat in, to watch the UEFA cup final. We had a lovely spread of pate, olives, mussels, cheese and fresh bread. Mmm….

Monday 30 June. St Francis to Plettenberg Bay via Dehli (belly)
At 4.00a.m., I saw the whole deli spread again… and at 6.00am… and at 8.00.a.m...
I skipped breakfast and soon after, Les reappeared to hog the bathroom as our deli spread wreaked havoc on his insides. We took it in turns before finally having to hit the road by 10.00.a.m. in order to reach our next destination, hopefully in time to catch the owners who were to hand over keys. After a shaky journey, we reached Plettenberg Bay just after noon and were met by the maid. We were too poorly even to unload the car so we just sat in the sun on the deck, looking over the Indian Ocean. What an amazing location! The house has access right onto the beach in the bay, bordered by the Tsitsikamma Mountains on one arm and Robberg nature reserve on the other. An idyllic spot indeed. The house is homely and comfortable, with a “Chamomile Lawn” feel to it, very much a family home and not often rented out to others, I would guess. It was built in 1952 by my friend’s grandfather and is used mainly by family and close friends, so we are quite privileged to get to use it. You know the kind of people you are mixing with when the first entry in the visitors’ book is Cynthia Bagshawe-Smith .
We ate and drank nothing and were in bed by 8.30p.m.

Tuesday 1 July. Plettenberg Bay
We woke feeling a little better and I felt even better still when Les shouted, “There’s a whale in the bay!” And there it was, right outside the window! Close enough for us to identify as a Southern Right whale, so called because they were the “right” kind to hunt, yielding the best crop of oil for lamps and bones for Victorian corsets. After a quick trip to the shops and a very light breakfast, we were well enough for a long walk on the beautiful beach right outside our door. The sun was shining and although there were a few people on the beach, even a couple in swimming, it was almost deserted. The sand was soft and golden, absolutely perfect. There were a few more unusual shells to add to my collection, as well as some lovely pieces of driftwood, but they were left behind as I don’t know about the import regulations on things like driftwood! We watched as a “whale tour” boat passed by, everyone standing up to get a picture of “our” whale. We just hope they didn’t scare it away, or worse encourage it inshore as it already looked to us to be near enough to paddle out to! In the afternoon we felt well enough to venture into the small town which had loads of fancy interior stores and a very good bookshop. The sun was out and it was warm enough on the “sunny side” of the street, but pretty chilly on the shady side. We bought some fire logs and Les collected some kindling from the shore so he could make a nice fire in the lounge. Now, after a light chicken dinner, this is a scene of tranquillity as I type this and Les reads by the roaring log fire. There is a television, but so far as we can make out, it has picture only, no sound comes out no matter what Les does to the remote or box front dials. I am quite glad of that as he would watch any old rubbish! At the last place, as well as football, we were entertained to a darts match.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

This will be the last time

Not the last blog, not quite yet! But here’s a list of all my “last times”….Last Tuesday was my last time helping at the school. Thursday was my last time at my philosophy class. Monday is my last day at water aerobics. Tuesday coming will be my last day at the library. Now you may be thinking, “But she isn’t due home for another month!” Well, it’s because we are about to embark on the longest holiday ever (unless you count my last 8 months, of course!). On Thursday 26th June we set off to drive down to see the southern part of the country, staying one night en route at a riverside lodge before arriving at a seaside town called St Francis where we will stay for three nights B&B. Then we drive to Plettenberg Bay where we will have a week self catering in a beachfront house. Next stop, a B&B at Cape Agulhas, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Then it’s on to a hotel in Cape Town for five nights before heading inland to Beaufort West. Then up to Kimberley for three nights in another hotel before calling in for one night on the Vaal river. We arrive back here on Wednesay 16th July. Then the fun begins, NOT. After I have dealt with all the laundry, I will spend Thursday cooking for our Scottish dinner party on the Friday. Cullen Skink, Haggis neeps and tatties, oatcakes and cheese and cranachan will feature. I need to get ahead on the Thursday, because on Friday, the packers arrive at 8.00am to pack up all our things, including my African drum, for shipping back to Scotland. Saturday we will be out for a farewell lunch with Les’ work colleagues, then on Sunday we leave the house and move to a hotel where we are meeting friends for a farewell dinner. Monday I need to return to the house to ensure the furniture is safely removed and on the Tuesday we fly home, arriving back in Scotland on Wednesday 23 July! I’ll probably need a holiday to recover!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Six weeks to go

I have again had no internet connection, so therefore no blogging! This is a real nuisance; imagine if someone was trying to run a business from home!
Yes, folks, six weeks from now we will be back on Scotia's shores! We are trying hard to fit in a load of social engagements before our departure; the total stands at two lunches and three dinners so far. Plus we are hoping to arrange a Scottish night here in our house to let some of our friends taste haggis (tinned, unfortunately, due to import regulations on fresh ones) and maybe even try a wee jig (we have a Jimmy Shand CD!!!) Then we are also in the throes of arranging accommodation for our road trip. The distances between the places we want to see are immense, so it will take careful planning. You don’t want to be caught in the middle of nowhere at night without accommodation booked over here, believe me! When we tour in the USA, we usually just find a hotel en route. Things are very different here.
My last session at the school will be next Tuesday as they stop for three weeks holiday on Friday 20th. I think my group has improved but it may be that they just feel more comfortable about reading aloud now. Whatever, they seem to enjoy reading and I have taught them some simple songs. We are reading a book about farms and so now they know “dingle dangle scarecrow” and “five little ducks”. Mind you, the book talks about the crop of corn, so I have to improvise, as they know it as mealie! Still, they coped with most of it, even to the extent they tell me they have a shop in their township where you can indeed buy five eggs, just like the number in the picture! Then one girl told me, “Ma’am, we don’t buy eggs, we have chickens”. I’ll miss them! They are happy with so little, their eyes lit up when I took in leftover fruit and they were ecstatic to receive a new pencil each. They gathered them all up and gave them back to me, not realising they were a gift. I’ll miss the aqua class too, even if it is wet! Mind you, it was a bit like North Berwick this week as the generator to the gym tripped out on Sunday, giving us freezing cold water.
Martin has taken a job in Oz selling maths books, I think it’s to schools, not sure really, it may be like those guys who pitch up in the staff room during break and everyone ignores them!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Oor Hoose

Living/dining, through to kitchen

The kitchen sink, lovely but useless!

Fancy basin in bathroom 1

Fancy basin in bathroom 2

I promised ages ago to upload some pics of Oor Hoose, so here they are. I have had no internet connection for over a week, hence lack of blogs.

Martin has gone back to Oz and is currently job hunting. Les has returned from his travels to US and UK and so things are settling back into the customary pattern here. You have probably read or watched TV news about the xenophobic violence here in the Johannesburg area. We are not affected; it is a problem between different ethnicities of black Africans. Basically many black South Africans still live in shacks in townships or informal settlements. Fourteen years ago after the democratic elections they were promised houses. They have been very patient, I think. Our province is still 55,000 houses short of the target. Now they see black people from other countries such as Mozambique and Zimbabwe fleeing violence and poverty and they are perceived as getting better treatment as refugees than the indigenous black people. One newspaper letter writer said, “We already have nothing; now we are being asked to share that nothing with people from elsewhere. I don’t condone the attacks but I understand them”
Gloria, my black friend who lives in an informal settlement near the township of Tembisa says that she hears screaming and shooting nightly although she has not been affected as there are “none of these people (foreigners) at my place”
Other than that, we have been planning our final “road trip” as we are taking three weeks to see the Cape area before we come back to Scotland. We also have a load of dinner invitations to return, so we will need to get started on that before we get to the stage of eating strange leftovers lurking in the freezer. Talking of strange, on Saturday we were invited out to dinner and the starter was home made game terrine, made from game birds actually shot by our host! Not for the veggie minded, eh?
Car problems…again… We now have a silver Audi, the black BMW has a puncture. So to date we have had…Grey BMW, silver BMW, grey Audi, white Mercedes, black BMW and now silver Audi. Honestly, a Micra will never do now!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What I do in my spare time

Here are some pics of the pupils of Bonaero Park School, taken at the Library Homework Club on a Thursday and during class visits to the library on a Tuesday.(Sorry about the duplicate; haven't quite got the hang of this yet!)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Animals in South Africa

OK, now I know how to do this, there's no stopping me! Here are some animals I've been in close contact with over here. More photos will follow if this post is successful!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

In glorious technicolour, direct from Africa...

Thanks to Martin I finally figured out how to add pictures to my blog! So here is one of Martin by the safari truck taken on Saturday 10 May.
He has had some interesting gastronomic opportunities during his stay so far; one of Les’ workers sent him half a sheep’s head, boiled and smoked. He ate a little but couldn’t face it all. He also bought a whole 6 ft. sugar cane and we had an interesting time trying to get into the soft sweet fibre through the tough outer skin, which looked a bit like bamboo. Les is away in the US so Martin and I have to make our own entertainment for the next couple of weeks. He came to the library and to the school again this week and had his own group of readers this time. On Monday, we are planning a trip to Soweto to include lunch at a traditional Shebeen. I have met a tour guide who does small personalised tours so we can have one tailor made to suit us. The weather has turned warm again, so at the moment Martin is in the garden taking in a few rays. I must be getting acclimatised to the weather out here as I actually find it a bit chilly and I am wearing a jumper today whilst he has shorts on!
We had some Czech visitors for dinner last night, they were colleagues of Les who came home from work with him, we all had dinner then I took them all to the airport, Les for Philadelphia via London, they were going to Prague via Madrid.
Next week the removal company are coming to make the preliminary arrangements for our return to Scotland; I can’t believe it’s that time already! We will be back sometime in July but we want to take some holidays before that and travel down to the Cape area.
But all of that is in the future; for now I am just enjoying having Martin here (even though he eats like a horse!!!)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

"We all went on a game hunt!"

Another great weekend at the game reserve. We saw hippos, elephants, giraffes, lions, rhinos, wildbeeste, springbok, waterbuck, kudo, steenbok, monkeys, warthogs, zebra and loads of different birds. Wonderful! Martin enjoyed the whole experience, which turned out to be quite challenging as the lodge was without water for 36 hours due to a burst mains. However, it all just added to the “bush” spirit and as Martin remarked, we’d never washed in bottled sparkling water before! As always the food was excellent and Les and Martin enjoyed the wines.
An episode with the monkeys was hilarious this morning. Two vervet monkeys got into an upstairs room through the open balcony door via an overhanging tree. Firstly, they drank all the milk, expertly peeling off the foil lids and holding the containers like tiny cups. So elegant! Until they chucked the empty ones over the side, that is! Next, they grabbed all the sugar and coffee packets and made off up into the tree where we could clearly see them tearing open the packets and scoffing the lot. After the feast, they seemed very “high”, probably a caffeine and sugar rush! They played and fought on the grass outside our rooms for a while then simply ran out of steam and flopped on the grass! The warthog family who live in the marsh by the waterhole just a few metres from the door are thriving. The four babies we saw in January and again in February are growing fast, but still stay close to the mother. They have developed tiny tusks already. It is amazing to see them “kneel” on their front legs to root about in the grass for fresh shoots.
Next week Martin and I hope to visit Soweto and also the apartheid museum. He is coming to the school with me and quite enjoying helping with the reading programme. We will also need to do a big grocery shopping; I’d forgotten how big his appetite is!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Martin has arrived

Well, after many trials and tribulations, Martin has finally arrived from Australia. We picked him up at 7.00am this morning (Friday) after a 23 hour journey via Hong Kong. He therefore visited three continents in 24 hours! He was pretty knackered so is currently having a well earned nap. Faither is also having a nap; I can hear him snoring on the sofa in the next room! We have a few plans for Martin’s visit. Tomorrow, we are going to the company's box at the rugby in Pretoria to watch "our" team, the Bloue Bulls, playing the Waratahs from Sydney- guess Martin’s loyalties might be with the Aussie team! On Sunday we are going out to lunch with two couples from the philosophy school, Martin is worried he might have forgotten all his degree stuff by now! Next weekend we are going to a game lodge and will take the early morning safari drive on Saturday. He’d hoped he might get a gun, but we explained he can only shoot film, not animals!! Tonight we will fire up the big braai and let him try South African fare. We will be having chops, mealies, wors, pap and chakalaka with melktert for afters. And no doubt copious quantities of the product of SA,s vineyards too. He has not had a great welcome weatherwise, it is raining and 11 degrees today, but should get better over the rest of the weekend.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!

On Friday, we flew to Durban and spent a wonderful long weekend in Umhlanga Rocks, a seaside town about 20k north of Durban.The weather was beautiful and we had a room with a sea view.The vegetation was thick and lush; banana, date and coconut palms, giant tropical bushes, colourful flowering trees. The crop in that area is mainly sugar cane, rolling up and down hills, right to the coast.
We hired a car and drove along the “Dolphin coast” (no sightings) then inland to see the grave of the Zulu King Shaka who was stabbed by his brother in 1828. There was a very good museum there and we had a personal viewing of the AV presentation. We also watched an Indian wedding at the Town Hall in Dukaza. The wedding outfits were exquisite; the groom had a white suit, white shirt and red cummerbund and tie, with a huge long silk scarf that reached right down to the ground. The bride was in red and gold, full makeup and mendhi on her hands. There were a number of tiny children there, all beautifully dressed in traditional Indian dress. In Durban city centre,we went to an indoor meat and fish market which was gross! Sheep’s heads, pigs trotters, gizzards, lungs, it was like a mortuary! Yuck! It was a bit like the markets we saw in Hong Kong, although at least in Durban the fish were dead before the stallholders chopped them up! A breath of fresh air was needed, so we headed for the beach to watch a surfing competition with live commentary broadcast by a local radio station.
This is a strange week. Monday was a holiday and this coming Thursday and Friday are also holidays, so many people are taking Tuesday and Wednesday as annual leave, getting 10 days off for just 2 days leave .Les has closed the factory for the week as so few people would have been in. Today I was at the school again and in the afternoon we went shopping. Tomorrow (Wednesday) we are going to Pretoria to visit the big museum there (after the gym, of course). On Thursday, we will need to do some housework as we may have a guest coming on Friday….all the way from Oz, that philosopher extraordinaire, Mr Martin Barnes has cashed in his savings to purchase a ticket to sunny SA. But his efforts to get here have been fraught with difficulties, such as public holidays in Oz, computer problems at the travel agent and RBS refusing to release him his money, thinking he has been robbed in Australia! So we wait and I won’t actually believe it until I see him coming through the arrivals gate!

Busy busy busy

We have had a busy time!
Last week, I spent Tuesday morning with a reading group in a local primary school. They are in our equivalent of Primary Two, but most can’t read or write. Because they start school at age 7, they are 8 or 9 years old and really struggling with a series called Kathy and Mark much like the old Peter and Susan books,(or Janet and John if you’re a Terry Wogan fan!).
On Wednesday, I was invited to a literary competition for the brightest kids from the local municipality. From the ridiculous to the sublime! These kids were aged between 12 and 18 and were divided into groups according to age and language (the competition was offered in 4 languages). The children had read a number of prescribed books and had to answer questions in a series of elimination rounds before the grand finale, where a prize of R2,000 was on offer in each age group and in each language. What a day! There was a gospel choir, a local TV celebrity, various speeches and an excellent hot lunch. But most amazing of all was the serious nature of all of the competitors, including a huge number of boys! Would it work in Grangemooth? If only!
On Thursdays, I seem to have talked myself into running a homework club at the public library. These kids are all so eager to learn, asking for help to spell and pronounce words correctly in English. They are all black children who are bussed in from a local township. They live in shacks and definitely value education, seeing it as their ticket to a better life. I spoke to a number of senior boys and girls, aged 16-18, who were all really keen to get the best mark at school. Most wanted to be accountants but they still find time to read, both for information and for pleasure! What a pleasure it was!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why I don't like cats!

This morning, it was a lovely sunny day so I opened the patio doors whilst I was doing some housework. What a shock I got to come into the kitchen to be confronted by a big black and white cat! Sitting there as though he owned the place! How long had it been there? What had it been doing? And I had just finished cleaning in there, so now I need to do all the surfaces again as he might have walked on them. Now I don’t much like dogs, either, but a dog wouldn’t be roaming about in the first place and wouldn’t come uninvited into your home. But even if he did, he’d most likely make some noise, either a “woof” or those clip clop toenail sounds. So you’d know he was there. But this creepy thing had come in unannounced and uninvited and had been creeping around for God knows how long, doing who knows what! What a cheek!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Foreign Language

There are 11 official languages in South Africa. These are: Afrikaans, English, Zulu, isiXhosa, Sepedi, isiNdebele Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga. I have learned a few Afrikaans words but not much else. In particular, Xhosa is quite a difficult language, as there are many “clicks” rather than what we would recognise as letters! Zulu seems to use a lot of soft “sch” sounds, a cross between “loch” in Scottish and “Schloss” in German. Many towns and cities are now being renamed from English to an African language, so Pretoria becomes Tshwane, Johannesburg is Egoli and so on. But even English can be confusing! For example, “I’ll do it just now”... Now I would think that means, “I’ll do it right away”. But it doesn’t. It means, “I’ll do it soon”, or in a short while. If you want to say what we mean by “Do it just now”, you must say “Do it now- now.”
Also, like our southern European cousins, there is a “Manyana” tendency! It can be quite frustrating. I have made contact with several schools who seem eager for me to visit, but so far only two have actually delivered! First it was, “Wait for the new term” (that was in January). Then it was, “Soon it will be Easter”, then they had three weeks Easter holidays! So hopefully I will get a few more visits underway in the next couple of weeks! The reading programme starts this week and so do the school visits to the library where I volunteer.
This manyana tendency has extended to the car. As you may remember, we had a few difficulties with the BMW. It was to be fixed “just now”. However, it proved more difficult than the hire company expected, so they gave us an Audi which was very nice. Then on Friday, when we were setting off to Mpumalanga, the BMW was still not ready, so they exchanged the Audi for a Mercedes! Not than I’m complaining! I will find it difficult to go back to an ordinary run around when we get back to Scotland!
We enjoyed our weekend stay in Sabie, which is a bit like Aberfoyle. The whole area is commercial forestry, so although it was very green, it had those huge blighted areas common in the Trossachs , where the trees have been cut but new trees are not yet big enough to make the area pretty. There were some lovely villages with lots of craft shops, forestry and mining museums and so on. Further up the Escarpment (no sign of Tarzan) the scenery was very dramatic. At some point we were above the clouds and could see mist and cloud like ribbons along the mountain sides across the valleys. We visited a famous viewpoint called God’s Window but unfortunately he had his curtains closed! The mist was so thick we couldn’t see a thing, even the roadsides were obscured and that is not a good thing when you are 4300metres up a mountain with a sheer drop on one side, believe me! We spent a lot of time following, then overtaking huge logging lorries, some with a trailer behind making them double length. Every time we stopped to look at a view or a battle site from the Anglo Boer War, the damned things would get past us and we’d have to wait for a straight stretch to overtake again! The hotel had wonderful entertainment on Saturday evening. All the kitchen staff sang, danced and played local instruments including a huge drum. I loved the drum, in fact I bought one on Sunday, much to Les’ dismay. It will make a nice side table when I get fed up of beating it, or more likely when Les gets fed up of hearing it! The area is famous for trout fishing and although Les didn’t get to try his luck, we bought some pate and smoked trout from a farm shop for dinner on Sunday night. The trout were originally destined for somewhere else. The man who brought them in the early 1900s had trout eggs on ice but the ice began to melt before he reached his planned destination so he released them into the lakes and rivers of Mpumalanga. Duh! Ice melts in the African Heat!!! But it has turned the area into a huge holiday resort, for which the locals are no doubt very grateful, not to mention the tourists like us!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wednesday 9 April already!

Wow! How time flies! Forgive me, readers, for I have procrastinated; it’s been ten days since my last blog.
To be honest, nothing much has happened during the last ten days, just the usual; sitting in the sun, going to the gym, sitting in the sun, out for dinner, sitting on the sun etc. The schools are on holiday for three weeks, so I haven’t been doing my volunteer stint. We are going away this weekend, to the area around Sabie in Mpumalanga. (Just say it as it looks!). Two different people had suggested it and a quick look on the internet brought up some reasonable accommodation, so off we go on Friday afternoon until Sunday night.
Last weekend we went to the cinema to see Vantage Point which was very good. It is about an assassination attempt on the US president The same scene replays several times from different characters’ perspectives, which may sound boring but wasn’t at all. It uses the same premise as the cult Japanese film Roshomon. (Impressed? Well actually I wouldn’t know it from Winnie the Pooh; I read it in the papers and thought I’d put it in here!) However good it was, it was a “man’s fillum”. I long for a chick flick, but the two people over here I’d be most likely to go with tend to go on a Thursday morning and I am at the philosophy school then. I am just thinking of the Hagen-Daz and Chocolate nights I’ll have with my pal when I get back to Scotia’s shores, as 27 dresses and PS I love you will be out on DVD by then!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Our Big Days Out

Saturday was the monthly craft fair at a local park, we go along whenever we can. It is a great source of home baking, arty-farty things and plants, etc. I always buy a load of second hand books, too, as they are in good condition and it’s for charity. This time round I bought a Douglas Kennedy and a Paulo Coelho for R10 each. The third was a US detective thing, can’t remember the title. The exchange rate is currently about R16 to the £, so it is never an expensive afternoon!

On Sunday we had a grand day out. We went to the Rand Show, which is a bit like Ideal Home without the house sets or Highland Show with nae coos. So you get the picture. We got there at 11.30am and it was hot and sunny, so we went along sans sleeves. However, at 2.00pm, the heavens opened in a spectacularly South African way and we were invited to take shelter under a hot-dog awning.! Then we went into the “Tourism and Culture” hall and what a laugh we had! They had people from each of the South African provinces dressed in national costume and performing a traditional dance. Then they asked for volunteers from the audience to go up and learn the dances, then perform until a winner was selected. And no, before you ask, I didn’t volunteer! Anyway, it was a hoot! I might have said before that a big backside here is a sign of wealth and is thought sexy. The dances show this off, lots of gigantic erses waggling to whoops and “ululation” (high pitched “lululu” screeching sounds). We visited all the stalls and picked up the usual brochures and also a nice bag, two sun visor caps and a tee shirt! We got some good ideas for future day and weekend trips.
The main event of the day was a concert by the Soweto Gospel Choir, home for a rest after a European Tour. It was absolutely fantastic to hear them on their home ground. (The Soweto Highway runs just above the showground. Dave and Jen, you’ll know where I mean if I tell you it is between Gold Reef City and that big Bagarawanth hospital on the outskirts of Soweto). They had a huge following of family and friends there to see them, all singing along, absolutely everyone (except us) knew the words to all their songs. What an experience! We stayed until almost 7.00pm Mind you, we were freezing by the time we got into the car. I think that’s the first time we’ve driven it with the AC off and the heater on

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Easter in Clarens

Car in full working order, we arrived in Clarens mid afternoon. What a lovely spot! A small village, complete with village green, set in the middle of the mountains. It was also a very safe place and we were able to leave the car at the guest house and walk everywhere which was a pleasant surprise. Clarens is named for the town in Switzerland where former President Paul Kruger spent his final days in exile and there was indeed a Swiss feel to the place. It was quite cold, especially at night and in the early morning because of the altitude but the days were warm and sunny. On Sunday we ventured into the neighbouring Kingdom of Lesotho which was a different experience. Most of the Lesothans are cattle farmers with a cattle herder looking after six or so cattle. There are no fences in Lesotho so I guess they need the herders to keep track of “whose coos is whose”, as it were. They seemed to have almost a uniform, comprising woolly hat, white gum boots, big stick and red blanket wrapped round like a toga. Unlike the neighbouring Zulus we visited last week, the Sotho live in square mud huts, thatched and with walls decorated with traditional designs. Again, it seemed a bit rude to stop and take pictures but we found out at dinner that it would have been welcomed, especially for a few rand. They have their own currency, the Maloti, interchangeable with the rand in Lesotho but worthless elsewhere. I kept a few as a souvenir and we got a couple of new passport stamps! We met up with a very nice couple from Pretoria and had dinner with them one night, exchanging phone numbers with a promise to meet up before we go back to Scotland. We left Clarens early on Monday morning to come back for lunch with my friend from the gym and her husband, which was lovely.
I have been invited to a storytelling workshop with a traditional African storyteller and hope to get some ideas for my volunteer work at the library, as well as to bring home to Scotland. Mind you, I think I will draw the line at the traditional costume!
I think our next trip will be to the coast, we are flying to Durban at the end of April so between now and then I will once more be regaling you with tales of the mundane matters to be attended to here in Benoni!

Flat tyre

After our wet weekend in the Drakensberg, we barely had time to unpack and repack because come Good Friday we were off to Clarens, a lovely small town in the Free State, about 3 hours drive from here. However, we had an amusing escapade on Thursday before we got away. I took the car to be washed at the local “drop and shop” and was in the supermarket with 30 mins to wait when Les phoned to say he was finishing early, could I pick him up at 4.15. But the car wasn’t ready and because the place was so busy, I didn’t get it back till 4.30. Off I went, directly from the carwash, and arrived at the factory only to discover I’d left the “clicker” (electronic gate opener) in the house, having emptied the car of all valuables for the wash. So I called Les on my mobile, but he could only open it from the office and by the time he’d done that and locked up and set the alarm, the gate would be closed again. Nothing else for it but for me to drive home to pick up the “clicker”. On the way home, the car began to make a funny “ding” tone, indicating it needed petrol. Did that. Then it began to make another funny “ding” tone so I pulled over, got out the manual and discovered it was the flat tyre warning. Off to the service station where they pumped up the tyres but confirmed one had been low. Still the annoying “ding” didn’t go away, despite me following all the instructions in the manual (which is the size of “War and Peace”). I tried to phone Les to let him know of the delay….phone out of money. I queued for ages in the service station to get a top up and having been reassured by the manual that I could drive on these “runflat” tyres, I picked up Les. Meantime, he had phoned the care hire man, who suggested we check the tyre pressure. We did. No improvement. Finally we drove to the hire place, just as he was closing up for the holiday weekend. He called someone, between them they reset the onboard computer system and everything was OK. We finally got home at 6.50. So much for his early finish! No clicker, no petrol, no money on my phone…the motto is, be prepared! As for the fancy car with it’s on board computer, Les’ Dad used to say, when shown something new-fangled with many knobs and buttons, “Hmph! All the more to go wrong!” How right he was!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Safety, Power, Reading

I don’t think I’ve mentioned much about safety and security here, but it is a huge issue. We live in a gated complex with electric wire fencing on top of 6ft high walls and we have a 24/7 security patrol. Public transport is strictly “no-go”, as is walking anywhere except the local shops. Although we have not personally felt in any danger, I have heard a few stories recently that make me stop and think. Firstly, let me explain that to call someone “black” here is neither racist nor derogatory, it is a statement of fact and quite acceptable. I spoke to Gloria, a black worker at the library where I have been volunteering; she had been off work for a few days and I asked how she was doing. Her daughter had gone missing without a trace and no one seemed very interested in finding her. Gloria now has to look after her two grandchildren, so she had moved into their home. Home is a tin shack. On the third night, having arranged other care for them, she went home to her own house (also a tin shack) where she lives alone. She woke in the middle of the night to realise that her home was in the process of being stolen…not burgled, stolen…lifted right up and moved whilst she was asleep inside! She was dropped back down when she screamed; obviously the perpetrators knew of her situation and assumed she was still at her daughter’s house.
Then Les came home to tell me that one of his workers had not turned up for work. Repeated calls to his mobile were eventually answered by the police who were investigating his murder. He had been shot right through the arm, sideways through the chest and out the other side by someone walking close beside him. Nothing had been stolen. Police think he knew his killer and assume it is a family or tribal row.
Among our white and Indian friends though, no one has been attacked or anything. I call it the “Head and Shoulders” no dandruff scenario…”Have you ever been robbed?” “No, but that’s because I have a good security system” However the newspapers are full of tales of shootings, hold ups at gunpoint, knife attacks, etc. These tend to be in Johannesburg, not out in our neck of hicksville. Mind you, the bank at a shopping centre I often use, about ten minutes drive from here, was held up at gunpoint at lunchtime one day. I am now writing this on battery power as we have another power cut. They tend to last for about 2 hours, so we should have power again by 5.30pm. But then everyone will want to cook dinner, so there will be a surge of use, the grid will be under threat and it may well go off again! Eskom, the national electricity suppliers, are unable to provide enough power because they underestimated future use in the 1990s and decommissioned a number of power stations. It is a huge problem, not just an inconvenience; I heard in the news today that shares in gold and diamond mining have fallen to a new low as investors move to other options due to uncertainty about profit since mining stops when the power goes off. A local baker is suing Eskom because he lost a days production at his bread factory and had to throw away the whole lot!

Power back on, dinner successfully cooked and eaten! Now on the evening news, I see that there was a huge tribal incident in the Drakensberg at the weekend. 47 arrests were made, rival tribes fighting over land ownership. So that explains the lads with spears, then! It seems a hotel very near where we were staying has cancelled all Easter weekend bookings due to the potential danger to tourists. To think we drove for miles along these very roads and didn’t have a clue about the “potential danger to tourists”
We are going away for the Easter weekend, but to a different area, this time to a small town in the Free State. Nearby is Bloemfontein, which has an unusual and to me very surprising claim to fame… JRR Tolkien was born there! I didn’t know he was born in South Africa. Imagine that! However, he left when he was three.
I forgot to say that the Eoin Colfer lunch was great, he is a very funny guy…must read some of his books now and see why the kids think he is so good! I got a couple of signed copies of his latest book, one for GHS and one for the library where I do my volunteer work. They were much cheaper than in the UK.
The volunteering goes well, I helped with class visits from a local primary school and with a nursery school visit. They sang “The wheels on the bus” so not much different there (except most of them had no shoes…) After Easter, I will be going along to the school two mornings a week to help with the “poor readers”.
As far as my own reading goes, I have been trying to buy books by South African writers, both fiction and non fiction.Currently, I am reading "After the dance" a travelogue about attitudes in various parts of the country after the end of apartheid. Fiction wise, I am reading "Blood sisters" which is actually set in 1960's Kenya after the end of British rule, but is very similar to what is happening here right now. It is a good old story but strangely written; it's authors are two sisters, one living in Kenya, the other in France. I seem to remember seeing them interviewed on TV in Scotland a couple of years ago.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Weekend in KZN: Sunday

On Sunday the weather lifted a little and the rain stopped so we headed into the mountains proper. The scenery was unbelievably beautiful. The area is very fertile and is home to both Afrikaans and Zulu farmers.The Afrikaans farms are large and have mechanical aids, growing great swathes of mealies, sunflowers, etc. Dairy and beef herds were also in evidence.However, I beleive they find the going tough nowadays, like farmers everywhere.The Zulu crofters, who live in thatched round huts called rondavels, grow a few mealies and have chickens, a cow or two and goats. The children herd the animals with long pieces of reed-like grass. Their way of life probably hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years, except for the fact that many people had cell phones! Everywhere we drove we passed crowds of locals walking…from nowhere to nowhere, it seemed. Great crowds of barefoot school age kids, bunched up in groups of twenty or more, were walking along these endless tracks. Mothers and grannies, babies tied to their backs with towels, huge cooking pots balanced on their heads. Where were they all going? Some were easier to work out; teenage girls carrying laundry or a few dishes in a plastic basin were heading to wash things in waterfalls at the road side. We had to stop when a group of some 12 or so young men, carrying sharp spears, were stopped by a police landrover and bundled inside, the spears taken from them and put in the front. Puts a new slant on carrying an offensive weapon, doesn’t it! We passed several schools which were like tiny huts, no bigger than a single car garage. Most had broken windows and some had open doors. There was little evidence of furniture inside. In these country schools, children often sit on tree stumps or beer crates for lessons. They routinely walk 5-10k to get to lessons. We found out that many young men and women leave the "homelands" to work in the cities or in hotels and resorts on the coast and return home at weekends. That would account for the number of people we saw lugging those checked bags you often see at airports! Though I doubt if many of the people we saw have ever flown.
We found out a bit about the San or Bush rock art paintings.These are stick-like representations of ancient farming and spiritual rituals painted on cave walls using sticks and vegetable based dyes.They have survived for thousands of years! Stark but quite beautiful.

Weekend in Kwa Zulu Natal: Friday and Saturday

The weekend in the Drakensberg Mountains was excellent…apart from the weather! We arrived in the tiny village of Winterton on Friday evening and went for a quick walk…well, there was only one street, really, so it didn’t take long. We saw a woman by the side of the road and her shopping consisted of a bag of meal and… a live chicken, feet tied together with string, looking quite unhappy! We had just settled with a drink on the stoep (porch) of the hotel when the rain started. The rooms were thatched cottages, so we had the soft sound of rainfall on thatch all night, not at all unpleasant.
On Saturday morning, we set off in torrential rain for Ladysmith, home to Ladysmith Black Mambaza. Quite disappointing; the cultural centre, which houses the township musical history, is only open Mon – Fri, 10.00 – 4.00pm. So instead we visited the siege museum which was very good. Then it was on to Rorke’s Drift, scene of a horrific battle in the Zulu war . (Remember “Zulu”?) Well, Michael Caine had it easy, let me tell you! The route was a dirt track, or shall we say a mud track, full of rain filled potholes and it went for miles and miles in the middle of nowhere! Eventually we arrived at Rorke’s Drift. It was very atmospheric. The museum was excellent and we visited both the Zulu and British cemeteries. It looked only a little way on the map but it took three hours! The Garmin lady gave up, at one point she showed us driving through fields (we almost were, actually!) and was busy “recalculating” so we turned her off and relied on the printed map instead! Several more miles of dirt track took us back onto a “proper” road and back to the hotel for an excellent dinner. We came back through Glencoe and Dundee! The piped muzak in the dining room was awful ancient schmalz on a loop, “Lady in Red” and “Its only just begun” over and over again, interspersed with woeful stuff about dead babies and love lorn useless war veterans and cowboys, you know the kind of thing! The clientele was of the white farmer type, mostly Afrikaans speaking. I asked the black waitress if she could put on any local music and she said, “No, Ma’am, they have chased it all away”.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What’s in a name?

There are some really funny names here: For females: Happy-girl, Dorcas, Precious, Mummy, Mammee. For males: Goodwill, Doctor, Bongo and one unfortunate waiter who said, “My name is Fanny; they call me Fanny-Boy”. Mmm. I bet they do, sunshine! The traditional African names are difficult to pronounce as they seem to have a series of consonants at the start, like “Mphleko. I feel like saying, “Vowel please, Carol” and working them out as anagrams!
Then there are the Afrikaans names, where “a” is pronounced “aw” so you get Fanie and Sanie. Also, terms of address are quite formal. I am usually called Ma’am but some younger women and many children call me “Auntie” or Tannie” in Afrikaans. Les is addressed as “Sir”, “Boss” or “Captain”. Oh, and once by a waiter as “The old man”. Not to mention some of his workforce wanting to call him “Uncle Les”, this from the Afrikaans form of respectful address of “Oom” for uncle, used to address older men.
When I visited a school, the librarian called the class to attention and introduced me. All the boys immediately stood and chorused, “Morning, Ma’am”. Wow!
And as for school uniforms, I have never seen so many! There are loads of schools in our area, some private, some government, some religious, some Afrikaans. All have strict uniform codes adhered to by everyone. When I think that some people earn less than £40 a week and there are no clothing grants, it must take some effort to turn out these immaculate children every morning. When visiting Soweto, even the poorest shacks had a line of washing, invariably including some white school shirts. Each child has only one; it is removed and washed immediately on returning home, to be clean for the next day. The uniforms are quite traditional and old fashioned; knee length socks for boys and girls, shorts for boys and skirts for girls. Blazers are proudly worn, with some wearing loudly striped ones, like London stockbrokers. These are for “colours” earned for sports. Not just tacking on some braid here! Many boys wear caps and in the posh schools in Joburg they wear boaters! A common accessory, for both boys and girls, is a big umbrella in the school colours, used as a parasol as well as to keep the rain off. Mind you, behaviour is much the same, in the streets on the way home from school and indeed in the schools! One school I visited was a posh boys school and they run in the corridors, slap each other and horse around just like back home. The private girls school was a little more refined, the girls posing around the central courtyard fountain, smoothing their hair and preening, gossiping in small groups, just like schoolgirls everywhere. They too, were very polite when my colleague asked the way to the conference room, all standing up when we approached and one leading us personally to our location.
Later this month, I have been invited to visit some township schools where I understand the emphasis is more on attending, eating a basic breakfast after what is often a 5k walk and dealing with basic literacy and numeracy. I have also been invited to a storytelling workshop and next Wednesday to meet childrens author Eoin Colfer, so hopefully I will get some ideas for working with the children. Oh, I have also been asked to help at a volunteer literacy group for youngsters in a near by public library. Looks like I will have little time for housework, what a shame!

Autumn approaches

Well, they tell us autumn is on its way, but yesterday it was 28.5 all day! Today is still hot and sunny. We went to that rugby match, it was just like watching Scotland after all… the Bloue (Correct spelling…Afrikaans!) Bulls, “our” team, lost to a New Zealand team, the Canterbury Crusaders. The score was …54 – 19. Still it was quite an experience, the crowds waving big blue flags, lots of loud music, floodlights, etc. We also had a buffet dinner in the box so it was a great night.
My talk to the librarians seems to have been well received; I’ve had quite a few emails and offers of school visits as a result. Only one problem, the powerpoint failed to open!!! It was working fine here in the morning and it is still working fine here, but just would not open at the school! The school’s IT guy came down and pressed a lot of keys, all the while shaking his head and saying, “It’s not looking good; let me just try this; Ah, I think it might be…” Just like our own dear I.Mac at GHS. And still the b****y thing didn’t work! So they just had to listen to me for an hour. I had even added photographs and animated text, remembering how to from an in-service a couple of years ago! Anyway, I still have it on my memory stick so maybe one day I will subject another audience to it!
We have been busy booking up short breaks now that all our visitors have gone. On March 15 we are going to the Drakensberg Mountains and in April we are flying to Durban and having a few days at Umhlanga Rocks. We are also looking at options for a trip to Cape Town and the wineries but nothing fixed yet.
Martin is hoping to come here for a couple of weeks in May. He is currently working in Broome having driven from Perth. When he gets to Melbourne, he hopes to fly here then return there for the rest of his gap year.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The blog is back

Yes, dear readers, the blog returns at last. We have had such a wonderful time with all our visitors that I have not had time to contribute. But, as they say, it is a return to “auld claes an’ parritch” and on with the show here on blogspot!
David and Jen were here from 20 Jan until 3 Feb and we did a lot of sightseeing.We took them to the Pilansberg Game reserve and spent two nights at a 5 star game lodge (a belated Christmas present to them). It was a wonderful experience and although we had been on a similar drive at Christmas, this one was quite different. We saw lions right by the truck and a crocodile coming out of the lake right beside the walkway to a bird hide. We also saw baboons, monkeys, zebras, rhinos, hippos, a jackal and loads of birds. Quite an experience! However, that makes still only 3 of the legendary Big Five of Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant, Leopard, Lion. You may think I am losing my touch as a librarian, since the list is not in alphabetical order, but the observant among you will recognise it as my mnemonic aid for the list: BRELL (OK BRILL would have been better, but whoever saw an iliphant?) . David was proud to note (vegetarians look away now) that he had eaten a fair number of the antelope species and also warthog. Soweto was an interesting tour. I chickened out of driving there after a nail biting effort to take us to Gold Reef City which was only marginally less scary than some of the rides there! The Soweto tour included Nelson Mandela’s home and a visit to a shack house in the poorest area. That was a bit embarrassing actually, looking into someone’s living room like a Victorian on a Grand Tour visiting slums somewhere. However, they really didn’t seem to mind and as usual with the locals here, were pleasant and smiling. The children made a great fuss of D&J, touching Jen’s blonde hair, not to mention having a look under her top at her bra! David’s hairy forearms and muscles came in for a good inspection too. They largely ignored me except for the bright pink key ring I had as a bag charm (thanks to Kathy W). I hung grimly onto it despite the best efforts of a charming 3 year old who repeated “bag! bag!” and I am glad to say it survived intact, if now a little grubby. Well a lot grubby, actually.
One of the highlights for me was our “girls night out”, when Jen and I went with a friend and her daughter to see “The Lion King” live in Joburg. It was absolutely spectacular and where better to see it than here in Africa, where the story is set!
On the day they left, my sister and her husband arrived and we spent the day together. Janie and Peter arrived at 9.30 am and D&J didn’t go until 11.30pm, so it was a wonderful day. We sat in the sun, looked at the wedding album and then had a braai before we took the young ones to the airport and let the old ones get a much needed early night!
We went back to the game lodge with J&P and once again the game drive was amazing. We followed a pair of young male lions for ages, listening to their vocal challenge to another pair from a rival pride that we’d spotted earlier. We also had the privilege of watching at very close range a lioness and four cubs. Giraffe were also very close to the truck this time but we saw fewer antelope species and no elephants! Rhino, hippo and zebra were abundant.
After a week with us, J&P flew to Cape Town to visit friends and then came back for a couple of days RandR before flying home on Monday 19th.
Next fixture on my calendar is on Wednesday 27th. when I have been invited to give a talk to a group of Johannesburg School Librarians.
Martin is now well on the road in Oz and we enjoy his colourful travel diary on “bebo”. The language is not for the faint of heart but the scenery in his photographs is stunning. He and a friend have bought a camper van and are driving up the west coast from Perth to Darwin.
My philosophy class is well into the second term and we have been considering Plato,Marsilio Ficino and Hermes Trismagestus as well as some Sanskrit writing (in English!)
At the weekend, we are going to a rugby match. We have been invited to join a group of customers and work colleagues of Les' in a box, dinner etc as well. I haven't watched rugby (other than to see how much Scotland lost by) since Martin played in the under 18's! I'll need to dig up how the scoring works, I remember it's not as easy as "one each"!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

January mutterings

The weather has been quite strange; forecast tells us sunny, it turns out grey. Forecast tells us grey and dull, it turns out scorching! But in general it is pretty good I must say and I am sure it is better than in Scotland at present! I have been preparing for our visitors; David and Jen arrive on Sunday 20th, it will be great to see them both again. Then on Sunday 3rd Feb, Janie and Peter arrive! So I might not be blogging for a while as I try out my tourist guide skills!
We haven’t been out and about much since Les went back to work. I bought some things for the gym; what a waste of money! I went to a recommended shop for the yoga mat as mine is still in Scotland. Then I spotted one for less than half the price three days later! But worse still I bought “aquasocks” for the water aerobics and I was a slippin and a slidin all over the place in them. I thought it might improve when I got in the water, but it was worse! I ended up in my bare feet. I was so mad to have spent the money on such a pile of rubbish! But I am enjoying the classes so much! I now go three times a week to water aerobics and have met some really nice ladies there, we went for coffee today and are planning to “do lunch” on Thursday. There are about fourteen ladies “of a certain age” in the class; three of them are Scottish and two are English, isn’t that amazing? One of them has a sister who lives near my sister in law’s holiday home in Dunoon. What a small world.
I had a great meeting last week with another librarian, so hopefully we will get some links up and running between our schools once her term gets under way.
We have a satellite TV system much like Sky, called DSTV. I can even get Extreme Makeover Home Edition much to Les disappointment. We keep up to date with the UK news on Sky News and often watch BBC Prime which shows things like “New Tricks” and “Prime Suspect” The local stations are OK but some broadcast in Afrikaans and some in Xhosa or Zulu so we need to pick and choose. The new hot favourite here is a comedy series called “The Coconuts”. It’s about a white family with a black domestic worker who have a spell cast on them so that they turn black and she turns white… Not very politically correct for UK but perfectly acceptable and getting rave reviews here! We also watched part of a drama all about a village girl who gets into trouble with her family because she wants to marry a man who is not a member of the same church as her family. It lasted three hours. We were brain dead after the first thirty minutes so sad to say I cannot tell you the outcome. But if it is ever repeated…There is also a lot of American TV such as CSI, Nip Tuck, Desperate Housewives and so on.
Tomorrow the painters are coming to repaint the entertainment area as the owner is putting furniture in there for us for our visitors. She doesn’t think the current colour will go with the furniture so it is to be redone. The furniture is scheduled to arrive on Friday but that could mean Saturday or even Sunday, the day D&J get here! She has bought a three piece suite (so we will have three suites in total!!) and an 8 seater table and chairs (so we can seat 16 plus 6 outside). She also replaced the garden fountain today. One of the pots had been leaking and Les had a great time emptying it, patching the crack, painting it and filing it. Honestly, it kept him busy for about five days at the New Year, it was great. But she wasn’t happy that we had had the hassle and took it all back to the suppliers. She has ordered a new one but said as we were having guests she needed another immediately, so they have lent her a huge bowl with a nude lady pouring water from a jug. Hmm. The original was quite tasteful, a series of square pots with pipes dribbling water down into a low pebble pond. Hopefully the new permanent one will resemble that rather than something from a Tuscan villa! Now I need to find something else for Les to potter with to keep him out of my way at evenings and weekends!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Guid New Year tae yin an’ A’ and mony may ye see!

So, another year begins! We did not make it to “the bells”, we had been out for dinner and sat out on the patio waiting for midnight… I got to 11.05 and had to call it a night, or a year, in fact. Les was not far behind me, so we woke to a sun filled 2008. Instead of New Year Resolutions, which I seldom keep to, I’ve decided instead to take stock by thinking about things I never thought I’d say/hear/do. So here goes:
I never thought I’d say, “It’s only a moth!” as I picked a big, hairy, bug-eyed monster out of a bowl of pasta on Christmas Eve to the grateful and astonished relief of a Russian man in front of me at the buffet.
I never thought we’d need to stop the car to allow a troupe of baboons to cross the road and this was not in a game reserve, just on a rural road north west of here.
I never thought I’d join a gym, go three times a week and actually enjoy it! I also go to yoga there once a week, but I did that in Scotland so that doesn’t count.
I never thought I’d feel at ease driving a BMW 320i automatic on a motorway where cars “undertake” as well as overtake.
I never thought I’d spend Christmas morning looking at elephants so close I could have touched them, seeing zebras outside the hotel room patio, watching as wildebeest and kudo roamed the bush at the roadside, rhinos posed for the camera and hippos wallowed, down in the hollow, in glorious mud!
I never thought I’d sit in the dark on a hotel patio and hear various animals grunting and monkeys chattering just in the gloom in front of me!
I never thought I’d wake up in the night to spectacular thunder, lightning and torrential rain then get up a few hours later to brilliant sunshine and no trace of bad weather!
Yes, it really is an experience living here and after 8 weeks I am still enjoying it all very much. As you will have read above, our holiday at the game lodge was fantastic and we both enjoyed it. I even went in the pool a couple of times, which as you know I usually hate (it’s sooo wet!!!). Hogmanay, as I already said, didn’t happen! We both fell asleep. On New Year’s Day we were invited to afternoon tea at my friends’ Anne and Raymond’s house. There were 10 of us and it was a lovely afternoon, sitting in their garden round the swimming pool. On the second, we went out to dinner with Ria and Ray from Les’s work, which was a great laugh. The rest of the holiday we spent variously sitting in our garden and seeing a bit more of Joburg while it had less traffic due to the holidays. We also went to see “American Gangster” which was a bit violent but a good film nonetheless. So tomorrow Les goes back to work and I will continue my gym routine, which will now include water aerobics, starting on Wednesday, (more wetness!), yoga on a Friday and a general workout on a Sunday and Tuesday when I walk on the treadmill, increasing the gradient and the speed each session, go on the bike then “trudge” on a cross trainer thing which is a bit like cross country skiing (not that I’ve ever tried that!) Sad to say I am not yet any thinner; I may soon resemble a Russian shot putter, though! The schools go back on Wednesday 9th so I will try to crank up a gear, put on my professional hat (and a skirt, for goodness sake!) and get in touch with all my contacts to set up some links for GHS. We are now on the countdown for the arrival of our Very Important Visitors, Dave and Jen arrive on the 20th and on the day they leave, Janie and Peter get here. We will have the day all together as J&P arrive morning and D&J depart night time. That will be great fun and we are looking forward to “showing off” our adopted country to them, sights, sounds and all. Our friend Ray always says, “Africa is NOT for cissies” and by and large I agree with him!