Thursday, 28 November 2013

Nelson Mandela was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer in 1985….

28 years later at the age of 95 he's still clear; now there's hope for us all!

Went shopping today as we need EVERYTHING for our new home, a blank canvas waiting to be filled. Very exciting for us both as we've never started from scratch together, there's always been stuff from both our pasts. What did we get? Just scratched the surface today with a tin opener, some cutlery, a chopping board etc. but still in need of the big stuff, washing machine, fridge, beds, curtains, the next few weeks could be fun!

This afternoon, after a sunny start the sky started to darken and it only took an hour before it was nearly as black as night. Distant rumbles and then 'here we go again', continuos thunder and lightning for 2 hours and a deluge of rain, so heavy that no road markings were visible and the drains were exuding water. In the UK it would be deemed a 'red warning' by the met office but the locals shrug it off, nothing new to them. One lady in what was the car park now walked through the water which was covering her high heels and joked with me as I stood there in my wet t-shirt.

Our local Spar shop is not like the one's in the UK, it's huge, loads of very friendly staff and look, I'm not going to mention the prices again :-) All decked out for Christmas with carols playing, it was a strange feeling stepping out into the monsoon like rain, feeling warm and wet! 

My job today? Researching shop fitters and medical mobile units, what the hell would we do without the internet. 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

What will you regret most of all as you are dying?

I don't often steal an article from the internet but this is worth a read….

Nurse reveals the top 5 regrets people make on their deathbed

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.
People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.
When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

They will always remember how you made them feel...

You know that saying…"They won't remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel"? Isn't that so true? Some people are gifted with better memories than others, that's also true, but when you think of any individual you know, you get an immediate feeling, usually good, sometimes bad or maybe in between. That feeling is made up of many factors, such as how much respect they've shown you over time, how much they've listened to you instead of just talking over you, what they say to others about you, the kindness they show to complete strangers and the value they give to the opinion of others..…the list is endless, but you know what I mean. Well that explains how we felt when we left the National Apartheid Museum in Jozi today. It was vast in size as was the amount of information relayed in every form, but when we walked out of that place, Beverley and I felt emotionally stunned, like we'd been there in the early 90's and now had to come to terms with what we'd seen and experienced and then somehow over the coming weeks try and recover as we view the country and it's people through different eyes. Nelson Mandela? No words would ever be adequate.

Nice lunch after that, both had a pizza and brought home half of each for later. As we were eating, I took the opportunity to feed an unusual bird that kept flitting out and back under the table. Beverley said nothing, she usually bollocks me for giving my lunch away but she sat there smiling, turning to outright laughter when I realised 'the bird' was a paper bag!

Excitement in the house tonight as we prepare to catch up on Downton Abbey, we've found how to get it on the iplayer here and it was the only programme we ever really liked in England. We had a wee fix from England earlier when Beverley had to Skype the Co-op in Penrith because they kept leaving messages about some carpets. It was pure magic to hear an accent that I could understand so easily; and only after 2 weeks!

At last, captured on film in the back garden, the 'Grey Go Away Bird'. This is the guy that wakes us up at dawn with a shriek that conjures up a Pterodactyl in our dreams.
Grey Go Away Bird

Monday, 25 November 2013

Scottish Independence? Is the courage there?

Others fly out tomorrow on a mission to another neighbouring country, furthering the business, so Beverley and I are heading to the Apartheid Museum here in town. This will be a chance to catch up on the history that I remembered so well on the news only 20 years or so ago, but at the time didn't seem a reality. I didn't realise that most of the deaths during this time were caused by black African's on black African's, mainly during fights for territory and political positioning. Even so, it was a brutal time and one that formed what this great nation is today. 

I've found out why the traffic lights are often not working! People break into them and steal the copper wiring which fetches a very good price as scrap. I know we have a problem in the UK with copper being stolen near the railway lines. As the number of poor people grow, traffic lights and other public signs will become an easy and viable target in England.

It's 27C here today, a few clouds in the sky to provide occasional shade and the rumble of distant thunder heralding what may come later tonight. The Weaver Bird's 3rd nest is still standing, I've cracked open a cold beer early and the birds are singing….Mmmm.

"Why don't the Scottish want their independence?" I was asked today. I explained that many do but the majority had been subjugated for so long that they don't have their own will anymore. The English wealthy media owners help those weaker people to believe that they are better off shackled to London and so it'll never happen. Smaller countries than Scotland have become Independent and thrived as a result, but it took the passion that the Ancestors of the Scots once had and is sadly missing today.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Well done to the Republic of Ireland...

After being 22-7 ahead, Ireland lose 22-24 to the All Blacks. Very well done Ireland, proud of you as always.

Makro is BIG out here...

We've just come back, didn't buy much but wanted to have a good look around and price a few things up. Think of the biggest shop you've ever been to in the UK, then treble it to get an idea of how big this building is. They sell everything, from 5 gallon containers of vinegar to workshop lathes, gym equipment to the latest german vacuum cleaners; you name it, they've got it! There was a vast amount of space dedicated to tinned pilchards, so I'm guessing that must be as popular as Heinz beans in the UK. 

When you get to the checkout, and there's 26 of them, you come from a single queue; so it may seem long but it's always moving. You don't have to look at the contents of other customer's trolleys at every till, then look at how fast the operator is and how much they talk before you take a chance, only to find that their till roll's ran out. You're just directed from the queue to the next vacant till. Staff everywhere and you don't have to find them, if you stand just for half a minute and look puzzled, a helpful voice will always be there with, "Can I help you?" If you took all the stock from all the shops in Carlisle, added quality, and customer service, halved the prices and trebled the staffing, you still wouldn't come close to Makro in Johannesburg, and they are dotted round all over the city. On the down side, Beverley did get hit by a car, a Chinese man who jumped out to say sorry, bowing his head and making prayer like gestures with his hands. I think his wing mirror came of worse than her bruised hand but he missed her toes by a whisker.

Sunday lunch on now, a piece of roast beef as big as your cat for £7, really looking forward to that later. Food that you recognise is lovely as a treat sometimes. Funny how I saw some 'Deep Heat' cream on the shelf and wanted to buy it just because it seemed like a 'best friend'. At lunch yesterday I was going to order the hake in batter but I noticed 'kingklip' on the menu. Well worth the gamble, a lovely fish like cod but a bit more chunky and a distinct flavour. It's good to experiment out here, though my stomach must be wondering what the hell is coming down the hatch next!

Had a Skype from Chantal this week, nice to see her and Q so cheerful and chatty. Don't forget to ask Tom to give Alex a shout. Also Chantal can you teach Paul how to connect on Skype cos he's not come on line yet and it would be good to catch up. Sunday is always a good day for me as Sundays are probably going to be a 'stay at home days'.  

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Bought a 'Bakkie' today...

Otherwise known as a Mazda 2.5 double cab, a fair beast capable of off road and with very heavy protection with internal roll bar and same under the body. Funny thing was that we were out looking for a smaller car and Allan & Julie were looking for a Bakkie to replace their's that had been nicked. After trying several places we pulled into this showroom where two brothers had just traded two in; identical vehicles. Half an hour later we'd all signed up to matching beasts! We pick them up on Monday but we're having trackers fitted to them this time, we can't afford to buy a 4th one.

I've now discovered, thanks to Terry Herbert, why the Weaver bird's nest keeps getting destroyed. The male builds the nest, whilst the female supervises and criticises, seemingly berating the male for every mistake. When the nest is finally complete, if it's not to the females specification, she tears it apart in a frenzied attack lasting seconds, then the male has to start again! The male in our garden is now on his 3rd nest, poor bugger!

We now have a house (photos later), just went to see it yesterday, stunning little place on Peach Drive, a long tree lined avenue at the back of Northcliffe. 3 bedrooms, utility room, living room, dining room, big hall, and patio area with built in BBQ. The rooms are big! The garden is about half an acre and wait for it; the swimming pool is the size of half a tennis court. There's a little 'servants cottage', though I feel very uncomfortable with that word. However it's a common thing here to have live in servants in separate accommodation on your property. From what I gather, if you provide this and their food, you can pay them as little as £5 a day and it's pot luck for these poor people who they end up with and their treatment varies accordingly. I didn't expect this! I thought that after apartheid, black and whites were deemed to be equal; but it's different on the ground. The wealthy blacks and whites are equal, but that's where it ends. The more down the wealth ladder you go, the less you'll find blacks on the rungs. You rarely see a white person begging or selling stuff at the robots (traffic lights). It all seems to work but I would hope that true equality would reign one day. 

White people do not use the mini bus services that transport millions of people daily throughout the city. If you are asian, black or white, your maid or gardner will always be black. I don't think this is how Nelson Mandela thought it was going to work out; do you?

What do I miss about the UK after 2 weeks away? Maybe the radio, but not really, there's nothing I can think of right now! Certainly not the TV, it's a breath of new life not having one and you don't realise until you get here what a slave most people have become to that thing in the corner that demands everyone's attention and prevents or stunts communication between friends and family. Talk to most teenagers and even some adults in the UK and you can see how poor their social skills are, their vocabulary littered with grunts and blank expressions. 
We are learning to be far more careful now and certainly more streetwise, but I'm sure we will have other moments of adventure! 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Armed police came to the house...

Sad to see Alex, Rowan and Wendy leave for the airport just now, but on the bright side the toilet queue in the morning will be easier. How did they fit all those cases in that tiny hire car…Oh yes, our other vehicle was nicked right from outside the house yesterday! That wasn’t the worse of it; Alex’s passport was in the glove compartment, requiring two return trips to the UK High Commission in Pretoria to get a temporary one-day travel passport home. £95!! Yes, you don’t have to be in the UK to get screwed by our Government, they’ll do it for you at any embassy around the world. Security was tight, it needed to be because just last week they had the brass sign stolen from the main entrance! After handing in our phones and cameras, we were given passes and a key, then given directions. When we finally reached a locked door, we guessed this must be the reason for the key, which puzzled us all at the entrance when they gave it to us. Alex tried the key first, then I had a go; no luck! Then a voice behind said, "Can I help you?" We explained that we were given directions at the gate and handed this key. She explained that the key was for the locker that our phones had been secured in. Embarrassing wasn't the word!
Beverley & Alex exiting the British High Commission, Pretoria

Earlier that they, after the car had been nicked, armed police had come to the house, gathered all the details and then Alex and I had to go down to Brixton police station to get proof that he had reported his passport stolen. They were very nice to us and we shook hands before we left; always a good gesture to someone holding a firearm!

I know I go on about the prices over here but I can’t help it, it makes me mad! The local Co-op in Penrith is where I sometimes used to pick up a bottle of merlot and a sauvignon blanc for around £12.50. I have come to like a good mid range brand here called ‘Robertson’s’, which is easily better than anything I’ve tried back home. I bought 2 x 3 litre boxes yesterday, total £8.50! 6 litres for £8.50!

On the way out Beverley paid for the car park, about 20 pence an hour, but forgot to pull the ticket from the machine. When we got to the barrier, no ticket! Where was it? The queue started to build up, horns started to beep and a friendly onlooker suggested we drive out through the ‘idiot lane’, a diversion for stupid people like us, leading back into the car park. I had put my hazard warning lights on and as we parked up, Alex had run back to the machine and found the ticket on the floor. Off we went again, and this time the barrier worked. There was an accident at the junction, an extremely regular site, and it was one of those where you take it in turn on a first come basis. Of course unknowingly, I still had my hazard lights on so nobody could figure which direction I wanted to go in, and we were close to home before it clicked. By then, Wendy and Beverley in the back seat had drilled me with their beaks and with both of them in full flight, and the sat nav filling any spaces left, I got home dazed and confused.

When we got back, the Indian lady who had previously backed into our hire car last week, was now standing in the middle of the road shaking. After telling us to, “Be very careful, you’re not used to Johannesburg”, someone had overtaken her as she was turning right and ripped the front end of her car off. Within minutes the street was full of police again, 3rd incident in 10 days, very exciting. I’m guessing that if the BBC's ‘Crime Watch’ was brought over here, never mind once a month, they could reserve a whole channel, full time! Still, we haven't been mugged or shot at yet, but early days; I still love it here!

Another amazing display of lightning last night, but this time in the early hours. We opened the curtain and just enjoyed it; there was as much chance of going to sleep at a Wildhearts concert in full swing. Just check them out here at and you'll understand!
Ceej on one of his favourite guitars  

My son-in-law Ceej is part of this mental band who still fill concerts around the world. 
On the business front there is loads going on but still nothing I can bring into the open yet, but if you’d like to visit you’ll learn what it’s all about. Allan, Julie and Beverley are all working extremely hard towards multiple goals right now, groundbreaking stuff with massive interest. Me? Right now I’m doing anything to help where I can. Press/Media relations officer, photographer, videographer, tea-man, shop fitter, researcher, blogger, taxi driver; I’m having a lot of fun. :-) 

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Millions of children will now benefit...

Yesterday we were walking around an area where some 3.9 million years ago, the first humans came into being, and I have this feeling they weren’t called Adam and Eve! ‘The Cradle of Humanity’, about 40 miles into very parch countryside northwest of Johannesburg is the area where the earliest remains of man have been discovered, and from where he eventually travelled to occupy most areas of the planet. Being there was what I suspect a ‘religious experience’ would be like, if I’d ever had one!

We went down into a giant cave system where the fossilised remains of  ‘Little Foot’ were discovered, one of the earliest humans. There are larger caverns in the world but none with such meaning and certainly none that I’ve been to. I tried to photograph down there but couldn’t capture the sheer size, the smell, the coolness and the sounds, but I won’t forget them.

An exhibition on the way out with some amazing messages brought home to Beverley the reasons she went into teaching in the first place.  I saw her eyes well up, the  depth of feeling was obvious. She always felt so honoured and humbled to be a Primary Head Teacher looking after a top graded school in a Cumbrian village, often advising local professionals and always willing to help others. She spent several hard years qualifying as a Head Teacher, an achievement that she was so proud of and wished her Mother Pauline could have seen. The parents and children loved her and she was so sad to leave them behind, but now she was to head up e-learning for a large percentage of the children in Sub Saharan Africa! Millions upon millions of children will now benefit from her gift as the project moves from country to country. Better still, she now has the support of like-minded people who have the children as their key priority.  

I'm extremely proud of her and we both feel so lucky to have been given this amazing chance to fulfil a dream that most people can only fantasise on. Follow our story here and I'll keep you updated. Sometimes I can't go into the fine detail until each project is up and running, but I'll do my best to give you a good taste of what's going on.

House hunting is now on the agenda and down here you can get a 4 bedroom house with reception area, dining room, living room, laundry room, 2 toilets, a large garden, double garage and swimming pool, for £600 a month, so we won't be rushing back to the UK for a while!   

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Have you ever heard of the Violin Spider?...

Turns out the bites on my ankle were not from a mozza, but from a spider, with the 'Violin Spider' top suspect.

They are common in most gardens and that's why in South Africa you should never wear open footwear in long grass. (Nobody told me!)

It was when I went back to see the pharmacist Dave, that I discovered this. He said, "If you don't go to a doctor, I'll march you there myself." As luck would have it the doctor's surgery was next door, like a mini hospital with dentist, nurses and an x-ray department. No appointment required, you sit in the waiting room and everyone is seen in turn. The Doc told me that if I'd waited another few days I would haver been in hospital, and by the end of the week if I wasn't dead I would have lost both feet! A lovely guy, we talked about all sorts and he wanted to know all the comparisons to the UK. I left with 3 prescriptions, strong course of antibiotics, a cream to aid recovery and antihistamine to stop itching. £24 was the doctors fee and the drugs total came to around £12; not bad I thought. The pharmacist called all his colleagues around the other side of the counter, they hadn't known anyone stupid enough to get bitten by a spider in recent years so I was a real training opportunity. I also met a lovely woman in the waiting room who gave me the complete idiots guide to living in this beautiful country.

Armed police accompanied by soldiers with heavy weapons greeted me outside the supermarket yesterday morning. I enquired at the check out as to what was going on, and apparently they'd had a tip off that they'd had word of a planned bank robbery. I would have changed my mind too!  

Alan, Beverley, Julie & Wendy at Jozi Airport
The house is far nosier now the woman are all back in the country. Last night we had a celebration of their successful business trip, a lovely meal at Poppies where we seem to eat so often they treat us like dignitaries. 

I managed a Skype with Chantal and Sasha today which was just great to see their wee smily faces, along with Quincey. Hard to believe they are nearly 6,000 miles away, but as it's developing we seem to have more contact than when I lived in the country.

The two lads Alex and Rowan go back to the UK on Thursday, I'll miss their company, we've had some laughs. I think they are both planning to come back when the work starts in peak summer, mid January!!

Alex & Rowan take the 'Lemon Meringue Challenge'

Looks like I may have found a temporary niche roll in that we are opening a shop in Melville to sell solar powered sytems. £400 a month for the let of the shop (wake up UK) and smell the business! Marketing is marketing and I've plenty of experience in setting up new pubs, the same skill sets apply, don't you think? So what do we call the shop??

Friday, 15 November 2013

They do 'Theme Parks' very well down here...

Got a few little mozzer bites on the legs yesterday, didn’t think much of it, woke up with ankles like a crippled rhino. The chemist says that antihistamine might do it and he’s given me a strong dose, but he warned me to see a doctor if no improvement by tomorrow. He said both legs are badly infected and without antibiotics I could lose my feet! Not the reassuring thought I was looking for. You don't need an appointment to see a doc here, you just show up and pay a small fee.

So it was the theme park that took our fancy today and what fun we had. If you’ve ever been on the Irn-Bru ‘Revolution’ at Blackpool then this is similar, but bigger, nosier and faster. We first went on before our lunch and then decided to try it again after. As we suspected it was easier with an empty stomach. You accelerate from what feels like 0 to 60 in about 3 seconds before you’re fired around a giant but very tight loop, coming to a halt on a dead end vertical rail! 

You then drop down backwards around the same loop, wiz through the start point and up another dead end vertical rail, before plunging back to the start. Breath-taking! The park was massive with 35 different rides and not much of a wait  on any. Cost the equivalent of £10 each for a full day of rides and as with everywhere in this country, staff were abundant to help at all times. Rowan and Alex went on the ‘Anaconda’, which is the one I gave a miss, but we got around as many as we could and had a great time.

I might look happy there but I could have thrown up 5 minutes later!
Very strange but yes, all 5 are live people!

Rowan & Alex, arms in the air!

Things appear to be going well on the mission for Beverley, Julie, Alan and Wendy, very positive news coming back daily and looks like we will have to fly to a big meeting of African states in Switzerland in a couple of weeks. Why not somewhere a little more central I thought, I want to stay in the Sun, please!! I'm told that November is a lovely month, rarely going above 30c, but wait until mid summer in January!

Going out for some dinner shortly, hoping my feet don’t drop off before I can walk home. Could be my imagination but they seem slightly more comfortable after the drug 2 hours ago. Paul, I waited on Skype for 2 hours for you!! Try and catch you another time :-)

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Thunder and lightening, very very frightening...

We made it to the bar just in time last night, looking at the sky we knew something dramatic was about to happen. The clouds were very dark, moving fast, and the light breeze suddenly picked up as the first flashes of lightening were followed by a deep distant rumble. I’ve never seen the likes of what followed, but the locals say that the ‘rainy season’ is on for the next few months. It doesn’t mean it rains every day, just maybe once a week and nearly always in the evening; the rest of the time the skies are clear. The rain that fell in three hours last night was equivalent to a week’s heavy rain in the UK. The lightening was constant just flickering like a bunch of press photographers up close, and the thunder was shuddering; it made your body tremble! No words can describe it, the giant crack followed by the sound of a stampeding buffalo heard, amplified a thousand times! Rain turned the main street into a river and soon turned to large hail stones. The pub had an outside toilet and you just had to go sooner or later, everyone returning wet but laughing at the excitement. Unfortunately we stayed in the pub far longer than we should and brought drink home with us, so today we are all mildly (no 'very') ill and feel like not doing too much.

I’ve been out in the garden with the 300m lens, you can sit there and an array of colourful birds will pop in from time to time. 

The ‘Weaver Bird’ has just started a nest and I got a few good shots of her, then a pair of ‘Grey Go Away Birds’ did exactly that before I could point the camera, but I’ll get them yet.

The battery in the jeep was flat this morning as we’d left the inside light on. It was also in the garage on a slope, so we had to brick the back wheels then as Alex released the handbrake, Freedom and I took the strain! We just managed to get it up the slope, out the garage and onto the road, which fortunately was a  hill. Alex flew down the hill, weaving from left to right then lifted the clutch allowing 2nd gear to crunch in and pump a huge black cloud out before the engine burst into life.

Breakfast was at 1pm, no tin opener so I had to stab the beans open, which went nicely with bacon, eggs, toast, mushrooms and a cuppa. Rowan wasn't quiet ready for food yet and the suggestion that he might like an egg sandwich seemed to hasten his progress to the toilet! We’ve almost finished the basket of fruit and it may be healthy but my system is just not used to it. It’s given my poo a sticky clay like consistency that has to be helped with the toilet brush at every visit.

Freedom is sorting out the BBQ, it needs a very large grill and he knows someone who can make us one for £10, would you believe! We can test that out at Sunday lunch along with the new garden furniture, when the others get back. I heard from Beverley today, all seems to be going well and they haven’t stopped for much rest, being shuffled about from government offices to schools and hospitals at a frantic pace. Only 2 sleeps before I see her sunshine smile again, can't wait.

Tomorrow we head out to the theme park where I’ll let the lads go mad on the rides and maybe try a few of the less extreme ones myself.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Nelson Mandela Shopping Centre...

I bought a basket of fruit today, 10 peaches, 10 nectarines, 8 oranges, a pineapple and a watermelon… £3 total. Petrol here has now soared to nearly 80pence a litre. The more I see it the more it’s hard to believe.

We went to the Nelson Mandela Shopping Centre, I’d say it's roughly 5 times the size of the metro centre but I can’t be sure. I know we walked endlessly for hours never really knowing where we were. We parked in 'Blue L' but there were six other colours and A to Z in each!

 It wasn’t full of crappy shops though, it was at least as good if not better than the shopping malls in Las Vegas, but everything was reasonably priced and great quality. People were there to help you pack your bags, carry your shopping to the car if needed and best of all, if you needed to ask an assistant something, there seemed to be one wherever you looked. You know when you walk around in Marks and Spencer’s back in England, and you just can’t find anyone, and even when you spot them, they’ve seen you first and start sprinting away; and that's our best shop!

People have such lovely imaginative names out here. Our gardener is called ‘Freedom’; another guy I met called ‘Peacemaker’. A girl in the shop this morning her name badge read ‘Sincerity’, and another ‘Salvation’. Colourful people with colourful names and so far, such lovely people.

As you drive around the city, the underlying poverty is obvious. At every set of lights there are men selling anything from newspapers to sunglasses, women with babies begging and some severely handicapped people doing the same. They sell fruit, veg, eggs, offer to clean your windscreen and nothing seems to surprise me now. As you park in the supermarket or at the side of the road, a man will offer to look after your car, whether you want him to or not. I was parked in an almost empty car park this morning, and as I got into my car, I could see the guy behind me waiting to direct me out. As I reversed I was more concerned about hitting him than the nearest car about 20 metres away. I gave him 5 rand, about 30 pence, I’m told that’s double over what I should have given!

Had to try a Big Mac today, I stopped eating them in the UK some time back after reading how they prepare the meat. (meat? I joke!) Well the news is they are just the same over here, and with the mind-blowing selection of other places to go, give them a miss in South Africa. Went to Makro on the way home, we don’t have aircraft hangers that big! Felt a bit daft on buying the sat nav when I asked the assistant if it had South Africa maps on it! She gave me a puzzled look and said, “Of course sir!” Rowan tried to buy a Dongle but they point blank refused to serve him unless he could prove his address (It’s the law). He had his passport but that’s just not good enough. We discussed whether to offer the girl a bribe, and she may have accepted, but then we thought she might call the police and we’d have to pay them a bigger bribe!

Alex bought us the best ice cream ever! I mean it! Creamy, smooth, yummy stuff which we ate as we wandered across the square in front of the giant statue of Nelson himself; Mandela, of course! Clear blue sky, around 26 C and a light warm breeze; we were in heaven.

Had a catch up with Beverley today, all seems to be going well so far and I look forward to an update tonight. Can’t really tell more, it’s a bit hush hush!

With 158 hits on the blog yesterday I'm reaching a lot of you from Johannesburg, and thanks for looking in, it's a great way to keep family and friends up to date, and especially others that I know can't help checking in every so often :-) Welcome!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Stopped by the Police...

The end of my 4th day here sees Beverley, Julie, Alan and Wendy flying out this morning to a nearby country for talks with the Vice President and other ministers. They will be also visiting schools and clinics to assess their needs before hopefully getting the go-ahead to start the work. There will be a celebration this Saturday when they all come back, I hope!  
We had our first taste of ‘real’ Jozi today when we were stopped at a random police roadblock. Six armed police, just doing their job. What could go wrong? Everything really! Firstly they asked Alex for his driving licence! No, he had left it at home. That cost a 750 Rand fine! Second they asked for any form of ID! No, no other form available, another 500 Rand fine! They also showed him a chart, which said they could now not only fine him, but also arrest him! Rowan and I were pleading his case but, as he was the driver, they were only interested in him. Further panic set in when Alex started fumbling with the Sat Nav in the driver’s door, which is where we keep it as it won’t stick to the window. They now thought he was going for a gun!! They yelled “Have you got a gun!” With a look of disbelief he said “No, of course not”. The officer said, “What language are you speaking?” “English” Alex replied, but they were very suspicious, I don’t think they’d heard a cockney accent before! They told him to get out of the car but before he could get out they shouted for him to get back in again. They explained, “You are in a very bad situation but we can help you, if you can help us”. They looked at us all with a knowing look so that we could have time to realise that this translated as, “Bribe us please”. So very discreetly Alex handed over 1000 Rands (£60)  with no paperwork involved. They thanked us for our understanding, we thanked them, then  we were told we could go! Phew!
The rest of the day was marked by a massive and spectacular thunderstorm with lightning bouncing like ping-pongs from cloud to ground and cloud to cloud. I was lucky, I had just bought a mop bucket and wore this on my head as we ran for shelter, wondering if there was some byelaw that could see me bribing my second officer of the day. It’s summer and very warm but also the ‘rainy season’. You don’t see much of it but when it comes you know, and then it’s gone within a few hours and back to clear blue skies.

Missing Beverley tonight, she’s lovely to have around, always with a big smile and so much fun. Having said that, with the 3 girls out of the house it’s blissfully quiet and we are just enjoying the silence, it’s deafening. (I’ll get trouble for that!)
I need to look around for a car, nothing too big or too posh, they get ‘carjacked’! Also we need to rent a house before long, hopefully in Melville. Julie and Alan have been great but it’s not fair on them either as we all need our own space.
I’m hoping my brothers or one of my girls might Sype this week. Between 3 and 4 UK time is good because that’s 5 to 6pm here and I’m usually back from being out for the day and ready to eat out. I’m usually back in after dinner at 8pm UK time, 10pm here, so that’s also good. We never eat in; it’s just not economical :-)

Monday, 11 November 2013

South Africa, yes, we are here...

And it's stunning in Melville, Johannesburg. Read this article Click here written by John Simpson for the Daily Telegraph; he sums it up far better than I could.

I've just managed to get on line so will get some photos up later this week, but just now I've come to realise what a broken country England is. We are screwed with taxes on everything, everywhere. Steak and chips here will set you back £5, and that's a big steak! Large beer, half the UK price, as is fuel. A TV license £12, electrical goods half price. You can watch all the English premiership games in the pub, and almost everything costs less than half the UK price. I took my bag of washing to the laundry today, I pick it up at 5pm, washed, dried, ironed and folded for £4. I could go on forever…Oh yes, there's a Polish deli at the market!

I will go back to the UK occasionally, for the NHS if it's still there, or just to remind me of how bad our once great nation has become. But unless something very strange happens, Jozi is where you'll find me for a long while to come. 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Air France A380

The biggest passenger plane in the world, taking us down to South Africa tomorrow….