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Monday, 14 April 2014

No, your car will not be damaged….

Parking this morning at the shopping centre and being greeted by the ever present friendly attendants couldn't help but remind me of the contrast with the attendant in Soweto when he greeted us a few weeks back. Not that he was any less pleasant, on the contrary his manner was excellent. As I slowly exited the car in this very all black community, a young guy walked up. "Good morning sir, how are you?" I replied, as is customary, "Fine thanks. How are you?" He told me he was just great and that he'd a special offer for me today. I was intrigued! He remarked on what a lovely vehicle I had, how Bakkie's were so good, both on and off road and it was his ambition to own one. He then said, "When you return to your vehicle sir, I want to assure you that it will be just as you left it. None of the wheels will be missing, the windows and lights will all be unbroken and the bodywork will have no dents. Even the spare wheel and windscreen wipers will still be there, and your diesel tank will still be at the current level!" All this for just R10! (50p). How could I say no?

The tree outside the house front lost a huge branch a few weeks back, crashing down during the night. We could see it was hollow and had a bees nest in it, but we didn't know until today that the entire tree has been hollowed out by termites. Every large branch that the tree fellers cut through was another hollow one. When the guy who owns the house sent the 'tree fellers' it was actually three fellas! There was the boss who shouted and whistled the orders and the second in command who watched expectantly for the third guy to fall from the tree. This third guy, about 18, could climb a tree like a monkey, but holding a whirring petrol chainsaw in his spare hand. It explained to me in a flash why there are so many people with missing limbs at the lights begging money. Even though he came very close he didn't fall and even survived his own machete as he sliced through the thinner branches within inches of his feet.

Off to Cape Town this week, over 900 miles will see us back down to sea level to a South African winter, forecast around 25C this weekend with no rain. I'l try and blog when I can but the plan is to go from there around the coast and up to Durban, before heading uphill back to Johannesburg at 6,000 feet. With our altitude training since November we are going to feel like olympic athletes down in the Cape. We've practised with the new tent in the garden, tested the air-bed and lit the new stove, Beverley even boiling a kettle; being from Yorkshire, the tea's a priority. I'm told we don't need to worry about large carnivores, elephants or hippos as they're all in the National Parks, but to look out for snakes, spiders and scorpions!

Our saddest moment this week was when we said goodbye to Freedom. In a short time he had become part of our family and brightened up every day with his smile and laughter. We hope we'll see him again, who knows? He promised to bury me in Ireland before he left, a tall order for a Zimbabwean! I think he meant when I had died! I know that every time I look at the garden, something always reminds me of him, and I sink for a moment. 

Monday, 7 April 2014

My film: 'Juniper in the Cumbrian Fells'

If you are interested in 'Juniper' then you might like the training film I've just made for the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, 'Juniper in the Cumbrian Fells'. If you're not, then look and learn :-) The film was made as part of my final module for a BA hons degree in Wildlife & Media. I graduate this July if I'm in England, which is unlikely. The University of Cumbria have been very flexible, saying that I can graduate the next time I'm in England in the month of July. Now I've just landed my first little job filming. After a quickie 2 minute movie I made when I went air-boating recently, AirboatAfrika have asked me to go out with their wedding, corporate and birthday parties to do short movies, selling to the punters. Now there's excitement :-) 

Monday, 17 March 2014

Zimbabwe on full power

Interesting from Imara...

Zimbabwe plans a blackout-free future

Zimbabwe has a master-plan to ensure power supply constraints don’t put a brake on the country’s strategy for sustained economic growth, according to the latest investment report on Zimbabwean developments by the Pan-African Imara financial services group.
Imara provides regular updates on African markets to international clients represented in its suite of Africa-specific equity funds. The October Zimbabwean report provides key statistics from the Ministry of Economic Development showing that a programme of power station development and upgrades plus utilisation of biogas technology could create a power surplus by 2014.
If upgrades and expansion plans come on stream as anticipated, current capacity could be quadrupled by that date.
Power rationing is currently a fact of life in Zimbabwe. In neighbouring South Africa, the risk to economic growth posed by power supply constraints was highlighted two years ago when monopoly power supplier Eskom switched the country’s lights off because supply could not keep pace with demand.
Grant Flanagan, manager of Imara’s Zimbabwe Fund, noted: “International investors see power supply security as a key strategic factor when making long-term commitments to African markets. Plans to quadruple Zimbabwe’s current power capacity will therefore come as good news to investors.”
Official power statistics show that current power demand can be as high as 2000 megawatts (MW) while supply is 1500MW.
The Kariba and Hwange power plants each have capacity of 750MW. The Kariba plant is in good working condition and can work to full capacity, unlike Hwange that only produces between 350-550MW.
Zimbabwe has three smaller plants, two in Harare and one in Bulawayo.
The plan is to lease Harare and Bulawayo to private-sector operators, increase Kariba’s capacity by 300MW and upgrade Hwange, adding a further 600MW to capacity.
These initiatives would easily meet current demand of 2000MW, said Imara.
Additional plans call for a 2400MW power station at Sengwa with the first 500MW module to be commissioned by July 2014 with further modules being added thereafter. (a licence has already been issued).In addition, Government is in talks with another private sector company to build a further plant for 2000MW, again utilising Zimbabwe’s massive coal reserves.The Ministry has already issue a licence for the exploitation of waste in Harare for biogas purposes. This operation is expected to come on stream in 2013 and add a further 120MW to national capacity.
Flanagan added: “If all comes right, we would have capacity of at least 3000MW by the end of 2014, with a potential of 6000MW thereafter thereby removing power as a constraint on economic growth.”
The Botswana-registered Imara group has offices and partners in Blantyre, Dubai, Edinburgh, Gaborone, Harare, Johannesburg, Lagos, London, Luanda, Lusaka, Mauritius, Nairobi and Windhoek. Activities include asset management, financial planning, stockbroking and corporate advisory services.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Zimbabwe v South Africa

My contribution is nearer the bottom of the article...

Zimbabwe vs. South Africa: Could IT Make the Difference?

Back in 1980 many believed that Zimbabwe was in better position than South Africa to succeed. Today, although they’re still geographic neighbours, and have many similar ‘sub-Saharan’ problems, they could not be further apart. Yet years of a repressive regime has not stopped Zimbabwean education from being the best in Africa… and maybe IT finally offers the democratic solution people need?  
Zimbabwe has had a chequered history.  Robert Mugabe’s latest election triumph was dogged with the customary controversy.  Many believe “Zimbabwe's economy [is] still stuck in a rut.” Whilst Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa’s predictions of 6.4% economic growth in 2014 (up from 3.4%) are certainly not shared by everyone.
By contrast, the GDP of South Africa is $7,508 per capital, (World Bank 2009 – 13) ten times that of Zimbabwe ($714 per capita) and it has the largest economy on the continent. Yet the Rand itself is also going through difficulties. And earlier this week interest rates were hiked in a move which Gill Marcus, South Africa’s Reserve Bank Governor described to the BBC as the global financial crisis entering  a "new phase" and "creating new challenges for emerging market economies".
Perhaps the very fact that Zimbabwe has been behind for so long could be a benefit? “We went through ten years where nothing was taking place,” Burayayi Brian Mukudzavhu Director and Co-Founder of Axis Solutions tells IDG Connect. “But now we’re coming from zero, so the opportunities are immense. That is what makes Zimbabwe unique.”
Zimbabwe vs. South Africa
“It’s not easy to compare Zimbabwe with South Africa,” explains Adrian Schofield, Manager of Applied Research at Joburg Centre for Software Engineering at Wits University. “In some respects, we are the same; [there is] disparity between rich and poor, urban and rural. [But] South Africa has better communications infrastructure overall (broadband network, mobile coverage, links to submarine cable systems), both have access and affordability issues.”  
“[However] Zimbabwe has a quarter of South Africa’s population and a fraction of its GDP – and a very different political/government style,” he continues.
This could not be more true:  Zimbabwe has Mugabe, a man vilified by all. South Africa on the other hand had global legend, Mandela. A man so loved in his own country and beyond that his death caused protracted mourning, the world over.
South Africa and Zimbabwe are next door to each other though. They both get a slice of the Limpopo River (made so famous by Rudyard Kipling). And even their two very different leaders have had their parallels: “both were born in an era when white power prevailed throughout Africa, Mandela in 1918, Mugabe in 1924,” wrote Martin Meredith who has written a biography of each.
“Both were products of the Christian mission school system, Mandela of the Methodist variety, Mugabe of the Catholic. Both attended the same university, Fort Hare in South Africa,” he continued in the Guardian. “Both emerged as members of the small African professional elite, Mandela a lawyer, Mugabe a teacher. Both were drawn into the struggle against white minority rule, Mandela in South Africa, Mugabe in neighboring Rhodesia. Both advocated violence to bring down white-run regimes. Both endured long terms of imprisonment, Mandela, 27 years, Mugabe, 11 years."
There is no denying that two radically different leadership styles - albeit born out of similar circumstances - have shaped two very different nations. Yet this only shows how quickly things can change over time. As Greg Myre summarised for NPR: “[If you were] gazing into the future from the vantage point of 1980, it would have been reasonable to predict that Zimbabwe had better prospects than South Africa.”
Today, of course, Zimbabwe is most definitely subsumed under its bigger neighbour. “Larger [IT] projects are out of South Africa, small projects are the ones that are done by Zimbabwean companies,” explains Mukudzavhu. “The majority in terms of volume are done by Zimbabwean companies, but in terms of revenue they are done out of South Africa.”
“[But] I believe Zimbabwe is going to get more self-sufficient. The IT market in Zimbabwe is growing and one of the major drivers for that is connectivity and mobile. The other thing is a pretty youthful population. [And] the sea cable has also boosted connectivity quite a lot here.”
Simple Technology & Farming 
 Image credit: Ullisan vai Flickr
Like so much of the developing world, technology is the obvious solution for many local problems. Take the new insurance plan launched for farmers last year, for example.  Backed by a “highly innovative weather monitoring network,” Strive Masiyiwa, Founder of parent company, Econet Wireless told Business Day, the whole thing was made possible through an alliance with local seed producer, SeedCo.
In this agreement SeedCo produces a small plastic container of seeds, along with a printed number which the farmer must SMS back to the network to activate the account. Once the number is received, the farmer’s location is noted Masiyiwa explained: “The Econet base station in the farmer’s area monitors weather patterns including rainfall, temperature and humidity. This information is used by weather experts to tell if there has been a drought in the area.”
With an insurance policy in place, small farmers, which make up the backbone of Zimbabwe’s agriculture, should find it easier to cope with inconsistent weather conditions in future. This is crucial because as on top of various high profile government failures, these individuals lead an extremely tough hand-to-mouth existence. Silas D. Hungwe, President, Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union penned a paper (PDF) recently, in which he explained in detail the world from the African smallholder farmer’s perspective.
In fact the need for small scale agriculture is so widespread that The City of Harare carried a Letter to the Editor on 31st December 3013 from from L. Gwindi, ‘Harare City Corporate Communications Manager’, which highlighted the prevalence of this even in towns. “[This is] practiced in all high density suburbs [where] people grow crops such as vegetables, maize and fruit trees.”
This overreaching trend has an impact on the tech landscape on the ground Schofield tells us. “[Some technology is not suited to the Zimbabwe environment, for example, 80% of farms are now smallholdings, so machinery suited to large scale farming is not of any value.” Yet like the majority of sub-Saharan Africa, small-scale innovations made possible through mobility could well be the key to development.
ICT & the Government
Zimbabwe’s latest telecom statistics show mobile penetration is at 103.5%. Much of this comes via Econet Wireless, the company behind EcoFarmer and the company with greatest presence on the Zimbabwe stock market.  This is the organisation responsible for EcoCash, the local mobile payment system - not dissimilar to Kenya’s flagship M-Pesa system.
Last year Econet Wireless was selected as the number one local company in the ICT Ministry Award 2013. The second company was Axis Solutions which labels itself as leader in Enterprise Mobility in Zimababwe. Mukudzavhu, Director and Co-Founder, is very hopeful about the future for the country and strongly feels mobility will be the key:
“Our belief is that mobile is the way to go. What we want is [to enable] everything you can do in the office from your mobile.  We also see a lot of data sitting in organisations. We are the local go-to for Zimbabwe. We want to arrange and organise all of that data into meaningful information that people can use. We want to transform the way people make payments.”
“One of the innovations that we’ve come up with ourselves allows for accounting revenue on a mobile. We’re the only ones [in Zimbabwe] who are doing that,” he continues.
The government has been pretty active in the IT space which only serves to aid development. There is a Minister of ICT with a national ICT policy 2010 -2014 strategic plan (PDF) – this online document covers the usual bases – and various on-going initiatives.  Yet the Ministry of ICT has also come under criticism. The ICT awards last December, for example, received a scathing attack from nominee, Dereck Goto, Founder and Lead Web Developer at Web Entangled in a piece entitled: “Zimbabwe’s ICT Achievers Awards – what an insult!”
He quantified in the piece: “For fear of being accused of being a sore loser, I will provide visual evidence and links to projects developed by Sadomba-Mahari, the best ICT Web Developer for 2013 (and 2012!). I will leave it to the reader to make their own conclusion as to the authenticity and sincerity of the awards.” He also said: “I would like to challenge the event organisers to reveal the criterion they used in coming up with the category winner for the public to see and learn.”
We contacted both Mr Goto and the Ministry for ICT and neither responded for comment. 
Technology, Education & a Young Population
 Image credit: Derek N Winterburn via Flickr
Interestingly, an article we published back in June about the reasons for all the South African rural tech failures resonated strongly with our readers. One individual who was in the process of rolling out a new eLearning tech initiative in schools across the continent told us he was surprised in the disparity between the South African and Zimbabwe government reactions to his proposals.
We contacted Daniel Sencier, who has recently moved out to Johannesburg from the UK, for this piece and he provides more information:  “When our team went to Zimbabwe, we were welcomed with enthusiasm by members of the cabinet. After several days of presentations in relation to our solar powered, satellite internet provision for rural schools, they agreed to go ahead and trial our offering. They seemed genuinely concerned about the education in their country and were very determined to bring a brighter future to their children.
“In South Africa, a similar trial was approved back in June 2013 by the Technology Minister, Derek Hanekom. Since then, every meeting has resulted in another meeting, and even though the approved 20 school trial would cost less than 0.05% of the total education budget, nothing yet has been set in motion. We visited a state school in KwaZulu-Natal last week and they need help very badly. With South Africa having a surplus on its education budget last year, we have identified countless areas where this money could have been spent.”
None of this may come as a surprise, of course, when you consider the emphasis Zimbabwe places on to its excellent education system. Despite recent problems (which include the request for British funds to educate a million children) the Telegraph explained:
“Mr Mugabe, a teacher himself by training, inherited one of Africa's best education systems and, in the 15 years after independence, improved it further, expanding the number of schools, improving teacher training and boosting resources. As a result, Zimbabwe continues to boast one of the highest literacy rates in Sub-Saharan Africa.” 
In fact the African Economist rates Zimbabwe as number one in Africa for literacy (at 90.7%) this compares to South Africa at number three (at 86.4%) with Equatorial Guinea sandwiched in the middle of the two (with 87%). To provide some context, at the other end of the scale Burkino Faso has a miserable, 21.8% literacy rate.
Perhaps this extremely young, educated population, situated next door to the biggest economy in Africa, finally has a chance to control its own future using tech? “I do think a lot of young people see IT as the biggest opportunity. We have a young population with one of the highest literacy rates on the continent,” says Mukudzavhu.
“IT is very democratic, “he continues. “A lot of innovations are taking place in Zimbabwe but the only thing is people don’t have funding. If they could get funding to start exporting these innovations outside Zimbabwe there is potential. The youth will be playing a major role in this space.”
Few people could make any serious comparison between South Africa and Zimbabwe. Despite being neighbours they are worlds apart and Zimbabwe’s social problems are glaringly obvious. Yet technology is opening up unprecedented new opportunities.... and history only goes to show how quickly things can change.

Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Good news in PCa detection...

Not talked about Prostate Cancer for a while, but here's a 'good news' article from the Daily Mail this week. I'm sure my brother Andre will be slightly relieved.

A cheap, easy and accurate test for prostate cancer could be in surgeries within months.
Studies show the new urine test to be twice as reliable as the existing blood test for detecting the disease – the most common cancer among British men. 
It also tells doctors how serious the cancer is.
This means it should not only save lives but also spare men painful, embarrassing and unnecessary tests and treatments. 
The new test – described as potentially the biggest breakthrough in prostate cancer diagnosis in 25 years – does not involve a rectal examination.
It is likely to cost as little as £10 a patient, and the price tag, combined with its accuracy and simplicity, could even lead to all older men being screened for the disease, as women are for breast cancer.
The test’s Surrey University creators have struck a deal with two companies and it is hoped it will be in doctors’ surgeries later this year. Private patients will be the first to benefit but NHS use could follow.
Inventor Hardev Pandha, a professor of medical oncology, said: ‘This new test could lead to faster detection that could save hundreds of lives and also offers the potential for huge cost savings.’
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in British men, killing nearly 11,000 people a year, and doctors do not have a 100 per cent accurate way of spotting it.
The blood test routinely used measures levels of a protein called prostate specific antigen, or PSA, but it is wrong more often than it is right. This means many men are subjected to the pain, worry and embarrassment of unnecessary biopsies. In other cases, fledgling cancers are missed until they have spread elsewhere in the body and are harder to treat.
The new test uses a urine sample, dispensing with the need for needles. It searches the urine for a protein called EN2, which is not made by healthy people but is pumped out by tumours.
In trials, it detected about 70 per cent of prostate cancers, making it twice as accurate as the PSA test.

See full article…


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Out of breath...

The highest peak in England is Scafell Pike at 3,209 feet above sea level. What's that to do with us being out of breath in Johannesburg? Well I've just discovered that walking around the streets here, we are 5,750 above sea level. No wonder the hill climbing is difficult!  

Every day just now it's torrential rain, still above 22C most days and still in t-shirts, but when it rains here, it goes on and on. Not much thunder and lightening, like in the summer, just constant heavy rain. All the water here comes from bore holes and is reckoned to be the cleanest in the world. The swimming pool, usually in need of a top up, is now nearly to the top! Looks like we are heading into South African Autumn! 

This is how it goes... 

Autumn comes in late February and stays till April in Johannesburg. During this season, rain does not fall regularly. Although the period remains warm, it is not too hot. Moreover, it turns into colder as the season progresses.
Winter comes for May to July in Johannesburg. The climate generally remains warm and dry. Temperatures in daytime may reach as high as 25°C. Moreover, the scenario changes rapidly during the evening. It can feel quite chilly and it is not unusual to experience freezing temperatures at night.  
In Johannesburg, spring arrives in August and continues till October.  The springtime weather is quite pleasant, calm and steady with little wind. People forget the grey winter as thousands of small, otherwise insignificant plants cover the plains in an iridescent carpet of flowers. 
In Johannesburg, summer begins in October and lasts till March. Warm and sunny days with unexpected downpours in this time. Although shower appears sudden, it does not stay for long. Average daytime temperatures remain at 28°C and evening temperatures stand pleasingly balmy. The weather officials often characterize summer in Johannesburg as hot, sunny weather - often with afternoon thunderstorms that clear swiftly, leaving a temperate and exclusively African smell in the air.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Rocky Horror, Scottish Independence and excersise...

'Fun Seekers Johannesburg' has been our best discovery to date. There are 2,470 members and 120 organised events in the coming few months. Yesterday we went on a walking tour of Kensington, one of the old suburbs, with about 30 others, and last weekend it was a 9k hike with a similar size group with lunch after.

What a great way to meet people and to stretch your legs safely. If we hadn't found this group we'd have had to invent it. A walk in the countryside here just isn't safe for two, or even four. In England, it might seem crazy going for a walk with 50 others, but here it's a bloody good idea and one of the only ways you'll ever meet new people.

I miss the '6 Nations', what a game yesterday between England and Ireland. Now with the top 4 all on 4 points, we can look forward to the final two games without a clue who will top the table.

In two weeks time we have…

Ireland    v  Italy
Scotland v  France
England  v  Wales

A sure win for Ireland and France, but will the Welsh topple the English?

A week later…

Italy    v England
Wales v Scotland
France v Ireland

Wins for England and Wales you would think, but if the Irish can win in Paris, the title is theirs! I think this will go the the very last game.

Went to see the Rocky Horror show for the very first time a couple of weeks ago, not really knowing what to expect. On our left sat a lovely couple, Oliver and Chantel, and on our right, a couple who didn't want to be there. Well I was blown away by the whole thing and to cap it all, the star of the show came out front to meet the audience on the way out. Frank N Furter, thank you! This is a must before you die, and if you die during it, believe me the show will go on!

For the past 3 weeks I've been editing my film on Final Cut Pro, which has to be handed in before 24th May so that I can graduate in July. Imagine watching a film once, and then having to watch every frame, backwards and forwards dozens of times, using video and audio filters, chopping bits,
adding effects, an endless list of manoeuvrings until you get 'your final baby', that you are proud of, but hate! Almost complete, I've submitted a copy to the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, who have suggested minor changes, but overall are delighted to commend it. Another 2 weeks now should see the paperwork complete, then I'll sit back and wonder what I used to do before I started that!

Things have really picked up on the business side down here, after meetings last week. All I can say is, it involves a royal family, a company based in Switzerland and a member of the ANC. In South Africa, you have to be prepared to change horses by the hour and don't ever think you know what's coming the other way. My Dad once said, "When your life becomes predictable, change it". Well he actually said, "end it", but I'm a little more optimistic than he was. Thanks Dad, nothing predictable going on here!

Speaking as an Irish Republican :-) The English continue to do an amazing media job, guaranteeing they will never have to share Scotland's oil reserves with the Scottish. While people in Ukraine look to have finally grasped control of their own destiny, the Scottish poodle continues to cry for bones at the backdoor of Downing Street. Sad to see the people singing their hearts out at Murrayfield…"Oh flower of Scotland, when will we see yer likes again…" The answer of course being, 'Never!' Until you're brave enough, "To be a nation again" you'll remain like Essex, a county of England.

Friday, 7 February 2014

How long is looooooooooong??

We went to the post office today, it's always an experience but a classic example of how, 'nothing is ever rushed in Africa!' There's a poster at the counter saying, 'How did we do today?' You wouldn't dare tell them! Another poster gives you a detailed list on how to complain if the service doesn't meet your expectations; but of course, it always meets your expectations!

There's about 12 service points but never more than 3 opened. The queue is usually out the door, but you can be lucky as we were today. We just wanted to post a birthday card to James, Beverley's eldest son. I explained at the counter that I wanted to post this letter, first class airmail to England. The teller explained that there was a postal strike on, so not to bother posting it. I told him that it wouldn't arrive in time anyway, so we wouldn't mind if it was delayed. He said it would be a loooong strike. I'd heard this before. When African's say 'long', it is a relatively short time compared to 'loooong', and if it's 'loooooooooooong', then that's very, very long. I said we'd post it anyway and at least it would get there one day! He laughed and said, "No, it will never get there, you are wasting your money" and refused to take the letter, nodding to the next person to step forward. As I left, the South African guy who I'd been talking to earlier in the queue explained in more detail. 

Apparently at the end of a loooooooong postal strike, they simply incinerate the backlog as it would take too long to catch up!! I'd hate to think the hospitals might strike one day!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Armed robbery next door, then the bees attacked...

An eventful few days! 
We came home to find 4 police cars and security guards swarming all over next door. Found out later that an armed gang had blocked their car in the drive, then frog marched them into the house. They then tied them up and proceeded to strip anything of value they could find. One of the gang had a police radio so they could hear that the police weren't aware, and the couple hadn't had the chance to press the panic button. They've lived there for 30 years and it's the first time like that anything has happened to them. It certainly made us revise our security plans!

This morning, Beverley called me, I was still in bed! On entering the kitchen I could see through the window that a massive branch had dropped from a huge tree in the garden, completely blocking the drive. I borrowed a saw and with the help of a neighbour, all three of us set about chopping it into bite size chunks. We realised early on that there was a bees nest in the hollow of the branch, but they weren't bothering us much. That was until we finally turned the main branch to lever the broken end of the tree over. Within seconds, the bees swarmed and headed straight for Beverley like a massive black dart. I shouted "Run!" The neighbour shouted "Stand still, they'll go away!" I would have taken my advise and luckily she did, but more out of instinct! 

She ran like I've never seen her run, down the drive, hurdling the step and straight into the house followed by the angry cloud. The bees simply ignored me and the neighbour, as if we were invisible! 
Two of the bees managed to sting her, on the wrist and on the chest, a miracle that no others hit the target. The rest turned back at the door, maybe the smell of the insect repellent sprayed earlier.

A few days ago, the swimming pool turned green overnight. Algae, the culprit, as we hadn't been keeping the chemical balance right. 

If anyone tells you that having a swimming pool is easy, they are lying, it's easier looking after a newborn child. Well, after 3 days of shocking, flocking, skimming, vacuuming, filtering, circulating, back washing and rinsing, it's clear as a bell. This huge cricket obviously took a jump too far and he was dead when we found him, but the ants had a party!

Monday, 27 January 2014

10 things I DON'T miss about England...

This is easier…

1.   The Royal Family…in the news every bloody day, and for what? We don't care, we are struggling in a recession, we don't want to hear or see you.

2.   TV…Although there are a few exceptions, in the main it's just utter shite in England! It's as bad here though :-)

3.   Teenagers…gobbing on the path in front of me, it just doesn't happen here, maybe they're more dehydrated!

4.   The crap service... wherever you go, shops, pubs, unless they're Italian! Not the staff's fault, they're demoralised because there are always too few of them.

5.   The severe weather warnings…Don't leave home unless you have to, an amber alert means you may get wet from water falling from the sky!

6.   Supermarkets…You are being robbed in England. Service, price, quality, even Waitrose is crap compared to over here!

7.   Petrol prices…No not just petrol, EVERYTHING is less than half price here. Wine is a third of the price, as are liver transplants.

8.   Corruption…It's hidden in England, here it's up front and you can benefit from it.  

9.   The crap on the BBC news, it's trivial trash made for a brain dead audience.

10. Health and Safety...The signage…This hot water may be hot, this bag of nuts may contain nuts, do not pour liquids into this television set, when motor is running the blade is turning, do not use hair dryer in shower, do not spray this deodorant in eyes, do not dry pets in this microwave, do not hold chainsaw by the chain…Oh it's endless. There's no health and safety here, YOU are responsible for yourself. Imagine that!

My favourite? Has to be number 10. We've lost the plot on this in England and even the Germans are laughing at us.

10 things I miss about England...

I might struggle with this, but it's a bit of fun…

1.   Broadband speed…We can only use one device at a time in the house, if   Beverley wants to Skype, the football streaming starts to judder and you can never rely on the service to always be there. 

2.   Fish and Chips…What I'd give to have lunch at the 'Fryery' in Carlisle! Though I certainly don't miss Carlisle!

3.   Walking in the hills…You can't do that here, and the danger isn't wild animals, it's people!

4.   Snow…I love snow and although it's been seen in winter here, not in the quantities that I like it!

5.   No biting insects…Everything bites here and the spiders jump to get you. I have to spray myself every morning!

6.   Friends…yes, friends.

7.   Family…but to be fair, we talk more now on Skype than we ever did face to face in the England.

8.   The freedom... of living without electric fences, razor wire, alarm systems and armed response; though I find that a little exciting too!

9.   Guinness….you can get it here but it's not as you know it :-) even at £1.50 a pint, it must suffer during the boat trip from Dublin.

10. The water pressure…It piddles out of the shower and if someone flushes the toilet or fills the kettle, it's gone!

No certain order, but if I had to put one top, it would have to be the 'Fryery special', with tea and mushy peas'.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Primary School in KwaZulu-Natal

Some moments in life you hold in your heart and mind forever, and this would apply to our visit to the remote primary school in KwaZulu-Natal earlier this week. We were fortunate to have Foy with us, and although white, he was brought up amongst Zulu children and spoke the language fluently; and this school was on the edge of his land. I'll tell you more about him on the next blog when we visit the local battlefields where thousands of Zulu warriors and British soldiers died 135 years ago.

As we approached the school I noticed a high wire fence and thought this must be to protect the children. Far from it, I soon realised it was to keep the cattle, goats and chickens in that lived within the school compound. Although confusing to us it seemed to work, the children and these farm animals were so familiar they hardly noticed each other.
We met the head teacher who was also a teacher and were first introduced to her class. The kids thought it an amazing novelty, two white people had come to visit them, and looking back I wish we had brought sweets.

Primary kids are the same the world over, so accepting and friendly, they haven't developed the bad stuff in their heads that was obvious from the older kids we often passed when driving through the villages. 

Beverley addressed the class in her magical way and soon had them all chatting and laughing, she was a pop star to them!

All the basics were there, desks, chairs, pencils, books and educational charts on the walls. The children were amazingly smart, the parents, though extremely poor were proud enough to want their children to look good for school. Everything inside the building was in a poor state of repair, from the brushes to the blackboards, the desks to the chairs, it would have all been thrown out in a UK school.

The teachers were doing the best with what they had, and I suppose if they have never known different, they wouldn't realise how bad things were. I knew there were thousands of schools worse off than this one, we had passed many.

I guess the parents were just delighted that their children could go to school free, as nothing else free ever seemed to come their way. It was obvious from the surrounding community that all these children were local. Earlier that week we had witnessed groups of children heading home from school on foot, sometimes in the blazing sunshine and other times soaking wet from a passing storm. We had often passed the school miles back and couldn't imagine where they all lived!

These are some of the family homes seen the other side of the school fence, typical Zulu in design and although very basic, full of very happy people. We could learn something from this!

The South African Government have a massive education budget, the largest in Africa, and last year had a huge surplus. Given the repair of this school I can only imagine that they don't really have a system for getting these warehouses full of money to the schools dotted around the nation.   The governing bodies in Zulu schools appear to be a collective between teachers, parents and religious belief, and  it keeps order. 

Classroom 3 was unfortunately hit by a tornado last year and they haven't been able to use it since. The head teacher said she had reported it but seemed to have little hope of a repair soon. Can you imagine a school like this anywhere in Europe? The second window along belongs to Class 2 who were in there having lessons as I took this photo.

This is the nursery class, under 5's who were frightened to death of me or the camera, not sure which. Beverley first asked them what their favourite song was, and the teacher asked them to sing it. It was in Zulu so I had no idea what they were singing about, but it sounded wonderful. Then, in true Beverley style, she sung her favourite song to them, which they thought hilarious, but also sounded beautiful.

I don't know what can be done to help these schools but I'm sure the South African Government have the answers, they just need the will. I'll never forget the few hours that I had there, I just hope I get the chance to make a difference.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

This is how I remember school in the 60's. What went wrong?

How long ago did we stop telling our kids the truth? It must be at least 40 years ago, because those same kids our now running our education system in the UK. When you understand that, you realise everything.

This is the Head Teacher's message for 2014 to the children of our local primary school. It's inspirational, mainly because it's the truth…..

As we reach the end of yet another successful year at Northcliff Primary, I would like to share a bit of wisdom that is often attributed to the famous Bill gates, but seems to come from Charles Sykes in the form of “Rules for Life for Graduates.” I have added my own take on this contemporary wisdom! Enjoy!
Excerpt from Charles Sykes
On the rules of life for graduates.
Some have said this was from Bill Gates talk to high school graduates
but probably he did not say this unless he quoted Sykes.


Life is not fair; get used to it.
We have seen our pupils tackle illness, misfortune, loss and other challenges that are really not fair – and see them grow and develop as a result. They have inspired others in big and small ways and left us with a legacy of courage and humour.


The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you
to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
We are proud of the many achievements of our pupils. Each prize giving celebrates success. But we have seen even greater things in their personal growth: things more eternal than the awards that fade with time. I want every person here to think about how much they have achieved this year – whether it was overcoming a bad habit, learning to swim or mastering a difficult concept in Maths. Look back and feel proud of your accomplishments.


You will NOT make 40 thousand dollars a year right out of high school OR
college. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone, until you earn
Grade 7, you are starting at the bottom of the pile again, as you will time and time again through life. Arrogance is not a pretty sight and will not get you anywhere. It will prevent you from seeing opportunity and make you think that you are something that you are not. Being humble endears you to people and opens doors for growth and new possibilities.
Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.

If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss. He
doesn't have tenure.
In less than five years from now, our Grade 7’s will have written their final matric exams. They will be making choices that will profoundly affect the course of their lives, whether it is to smoke or not, who to love and why, to work or to study. They will by law be adults at 18 years old. Parents and teachers have to prepare them for this overwhelming responsibility. Teachers are your “bosses” for the moment and school your “workplace”. You will not always like your boss. Your boss will not always like you. While we can’t (at this stage anyway!) fire you for not doing your job, your boss in the real world can. It is at school that our young people learn how to cope with authority and develop a work ethic. Treat school as your job and success will be yours!


Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a
different word for burger flipping; they called it opportunity.
The unemployment rate in South Africa at the beginning of November this year was 25,5%. Youth unemployment has increased by 9.9 and is now standing at a staggering 42 percent. Yet many parents and children sitting in front of me here do not have realistic expectations for their children’s futures, seeing only a university degree as the way ahead. Think out of the box, be inventive, get real and work hard. That way, you will see the opportunity and make the most of it.


If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your
mistakes, learn from them.
Let me add to that – it’s not your teacher’s fault either. Nor is it your friend, or where you live, or any other excuse you can dream up. Take responsibility for your own life. Be brave enough to make mistakes and smart enough to learn from them.


Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now.
They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and
listening to you talk about how cool you are. So before you save the
rain forest from the parasites of your parents' generation, try
"delousing" the closet in your own room.
What this is really saying is linked to Rule 6. It means that you take responsibility for your life, including the small stuff, like your room, remembering your PE clothes and doing your homework on time. It also means that you need to think about the sacrifices your parents have made. Thank them for it. And don’t expect them to get you out your trouble.


Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has
not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades; they'll give
you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear
the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
There are pupils some sitting here who have not passed and will be progressed to the next grade. Your friends might not know, but you know. There are even people sitting here that think that the world owes them something. You are in for a rude awakening.
However, there are a great many more who know that they have done their best, that value hard work. They know that even if they did not get a prize, they are a success. The world will work it out too, and you will find that there is a place for you to live, to earn and to be happy. Winning is seldom about getting the top mark. It is about having a winning attitude.


Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very
few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on
your own time.

Being a success means working when you are tired, meeting deadlines, coming home to do more work or chores. It means giving of your best and enjoying the rewards to come with that.

RULE 10.

Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave
the coffee shop and go to jobs.
This is a real tough one for young people. You all want to be the next pop or sports star. In the movies houses are always clean and cars don’t break down. The good guy always wins and families live happily ever after. This is not reality. There are no stunt men when you fall. But you have the ability to pick yourself up and go again. You can think on your feet and find solutions to problems. You can learn about real love, as opposed to romance. You can enjoy the satisfaction of getting your first pay check and making somebody else’s life better.

RULE 11.

Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.
Actually, you need to be nice to everyone. Emails, sms’s and BBM’s get forwarded on – the nice ones and the ones you wish you had never written. People remember how you treated them long after they remember what you did. You don’t know where life is going to take you, or who you are going to work with or for. But you do know that you will grow up to do these things. 

My final words this morning are from Bob Marley: Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you're living?
 If not, it is not too late to change it!