Archive for April, 2010

Dozing Dassies, Sunbathing Seals and the Green Dolphin!
April 30, 2010

Hallo/Mola, from the land of biltong (salted, spicy, dried meat which the Afrikaners can’t chew enough of), bredies (spicy South African stews) and boerewors! Now, I thought the Boer War was a scrap we engaged in with the Dutch, to take control of  South Africa’s  natural resources and bring it under colonial rule, but no it’s a type of farmers’ sausage! 

It was another cracking, blue sky, Autumn morning today so I took the revolving (360 degree experience!) cable car to the top of Table Mountain. I spent three hours up there and it was an awesome experience. The views over Cape Town and along the coast were  really stunning.

I also encountered the dassie! This indigenous species is best described  as a large ‘guinea pig’. As far as I can make out they exist on scraps fed to them by the tourists then spend their time  sprawled out on rocky outcrops and dozing in the sun!

This afternoon, after I had descended, the micro climatic phenomenon known as the ‘Cape Town Doctor’  got to work and drew a blanket of low cloud, ‘the table cloth’ across the mountain, whilst everywhere else  remained clear as a bell!

I was able to observe this from out on the water, as I took a short boat trip around the harbour. En route we passed numerous harbour seals, stretched out on the jetties,  getting into some serious sunbathing  ( I hope they use factor 30+).

I’d noticed an ostentatiously flash looking yacht, the ‘Rising Sun’,  moored  and taking up half the Victoria & Alfred waterfront, well according to our ‘skipper’  it should be flying a Chelsea flag because it belongs to Roman Abramovich. He must be bagging his berth before the World Cup starts! Talking of which I can see the new Cape Town Stadium from my window.  It has a stunning location but is still ‘under wraps’ and they seem to be working around the clock – only 41 days to kick off!

Finally, the ‘Green Dolphin’ proved a brilliant venue last night. A very good 3 course meal with a bottle of local wine and 3 hours of live jazz  cost 300 R, approx 28 pounds! To top it all the local brew, I tried at Mitchells’ Brewery, was called ‘Foresters’ – I’m hoping there is a good omen there somewhere!

I’m afraid it’s an early night tonight, with a 5.00 am taxi booked for the airport and a 7 o’clock flight to Jo’burg,  followed by a connection to Zambia and the Livingstone based Book Bus, which is what this trip really all about.

I’ll keep you posted!        


Sawubona from the Rainbow Nation!
April 29, 2010

Greetings from South Africa, the Rainbow Nation! 

I touched down in Cape Town at 9.28 a.m,  6000 miles from home, having survived the 11 hour flight in relative comfort. Luckily I’d been allocated an aisle seat, with two spares next to me, and was able to sleep for much of the journey.

I was greeted by clear blue skies and 17 degrees, and the temperature has continued to rise steadily,  peaking at about  23 . A very pleasant surprise, given it’s Autumn here !

I’ve spent most of this afternoon wandering around the re-generated Water Front taking in the beautifully clear views out across the bay,  towards Robben Island, and back round to Table Mountain. There was certainly no sign of, what the locals call the table-cloth, the layer of cloud which often  hovers around its summit.

There are plenty of nice looking bars and restaurants to choose from.  Tonight, I think I’ll  start with a pint in Mitchells’ Waterfront Brewery, one of the few privately run micro breweries,  where they produce a beer called Raven.

Thereafter I’m hoping to visit, the Green Dolphin, a locally renowned live jazz venue. It’s only a short walk from my hotel, the Commodore, where they are  kindly providing  free but frustratingly  slow internet access!

That being the case I’m going to sign off for tonight, in Xhosa,  Hama Kahle!

Got to fly…
April 28, 2010

In 40 minutes time I’ll be leaving for Cheltenham coach station  on the first leg of my journey to meet up with another bus – this time in Zambia!

There is just time to thank all those who, over the last few days, have provided useful tips on packing (what is capsule packing by the way?) and  have wished me ‘bon voyage’ .

Barring any last-minute hitches, I’ll be taking off from Heathrow at 21.00 hrs for an overnight, South African Airways,  flight to Cape Town. I’m due to arrive at 10.00 am local time (GMT +2 hrs) and hopefully by this time tomorrow  I should have checked into my hotel on the V&A Waterfront and be admiring wonderful views across to Table Mountain, cloud permitting!

I’ve allowed myself the luxuary of two nights in a rather nice hotel before taking an early morning flight, (07.00) on Saturday, to Livingstone via Jo’burg. I’m due to touch down at my final destination at 12.30 and to begin four weeks under canvas at Grubby’s campsite.

Only 2o minutes to my pick up now, so got to fly!  Hopefully the next time you hear from me I should have arrived safely in AFRICA!

Noose Flash – Cast your Votes!
April 27, 2010

Amazingly my postal voting paper has arrived, by first class post as promised, in time for me to complete and send it off before leaving the country tomorrow!

 It is  very much a two-horse race in West Worcestershire and as one jockey is wearing colours that I could never back, I’m left with a simple decision…………………

However I am disappointed to be missing  Thursday’s final televised debate, on the economy,  and polling day itself. I’ve never missed an election or failed to ‘turn out’ since I reached 18. My ‘first time’ was in the General Election of February 1974!  

Sadly, some would say, I’ve always enjoyed  the anticipation and excitement of sitting up on election night, into the wee small hours, watching Peter Snow’s  ‘swingometer’ edging one way or the other as the results come in.

Whilst I understand, and share many of the current concerns regarding politics in this country, in my view there is never any justification for failing to cast your vote.

If indeed we are to get, long over due, electoral reform  in the near future, hopefully a single transferable vote system, I would actually like to see voting made compulsory, perhaps with the right to cast some sort of  ‘anti vote’ as a way of demonstrating disaffection with all parties (a nice idea proposed by Gilbert Adair in today’s Guardian). I guess, though, that would be considered a move too far!

 A disheartening 38.6%, of those eligible, failed to get off the couch and vote in 2005 and yet in many third world countries we see incredibly humbling  pictures of people walking miles, standing in line for hours and often withstanding gross intimidation to cast their votes. 

Talking of which don’t be intimidated by tonight’s outrageous party political broadcast (or is it a noose flash ?) on the dangers of a hung parliament – if ever there was a sign of party running scared this is surely it.  They may well have put the noose around their own necks!

If the latest polls are an accurate indication, the extra spark of interest, created by the recent televised emergence of ‘Cleggy’, may lead to a bigger turn out this time around – I sincerely hope so.

Decisions, decisions…………..
April 26, 2010

It’s quite simple really. The suggested packing list in the Book Bus Handbook and the South African Airways (economy class) baggage allowance, of  20 kg, don’t match up!

The back bedroom is awash with an A-Z  of clothing, camping equipment,  toiletries, First Aid bits and pieces , and travel documents. There is just no way it’s all going to fit  and some tough decisions will have to be taken over the next 24 hours!

Given that my usual travel experiences revolve around  photography, reading, and listening to music (eating and drinking are given!) my luggage priorities are always camera equipment, books and my iPod.

I’ve had to restrict myself to two lenses, to accompany my Canon EOS 1000D camera, an 18-55 zoom for everyday shots and a longer, 75-300, in the hope of possibly ‘shooting’ some Zambian wildlife.

I had settled on curling up in my sleeping bag with Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and the final part of Stieg Larsson’s, excellent Millennium trilogy –‘The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’ , but sadly these are rather too hefty and will have to wait until I return home.  

Instead my torchlit reading will be Elleke Boehmer’s, more modest pocket-sized, ‘Nelson Mandela – A Very Short Introduction’ and the slimline, Teach Yourself  volume, ‘Fast-Track French’, in preparation for my VSO work in Rwanda later this year. According to the blurb, 35 minutes French revision each day, whilst I’m away, and I should be back up to Foundation Stage GCSE level by the time I get home – we’ll see!       

By the way, Monkey says he can help me with a  few French phrases such as :

“Avez vous  cuppa?”   

Whilst loading the accompanying French CDs on to my iPod, I took the time to do a bit of ‘house keeping’ with regard to my iTunes. I have an eclectic taste in music.

I’ve been playing on ‘shuffle’, whilst writing, and  the play list went something like this:  

Carole King, Oasis, Stereophonics, Simon & Garfunkel, Bueno Vista Social Club, Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Amy Winehouse,  Mozart,  David Bowie,  Florence  and the Machine, the Jacques Loussier Trio!   

The albums on your iPod, rather like the books on your shelf,  are said to reveal quite a lot about you. I’m  not sure what that selection says about me! 


Que sera ……. and all that!
April 25, 2010

The sparkling spring weather continues unabated and the promised barbecue weekend is upon us. Make the most of it – this could be summer. I’ve got to complete a pre Zambia  grass cutting and garden tidying exercise today – which will need to last until June, as I don’t think Chris will be wheeling out the mower whilst I’m away!

Yesterday was a last chance  to visit Dad, in Nottingham, and say my farewells before I jet off. It was also a final opportunity, this season,  to  call in at the City Ground. 

Will it be premiership football next year? Que sera and all that!  It looks like Blackpool or Leicester in the play off semis and to be honest I don’t fancy either!

But yesterday was all about celebrating in style, what has been a superb turn around by Billy Davies and the players, regardless of the outcome of the play offs. This time last year we still required  points to avoid relegation! I  do hope Billy doesn’t get tempted by the  reported overtures emanating from Celtic Park .

Plymouth, who themselves escaped the drop  last year, have indeed fallen through the trapdoor this time around and were well and truly roasted in the sizzling City Ground sunshine.  It was samba football all the way, with the mexican wave rolling around the ground, and what finished  3-o could have and should have been double that.                      

Meanwhile in the oval ball game, Gloucester,  who these days enjoy the firmer  grounds  and  sunshine on their backs, completed the Kingsholm  season with an impressive looking 34-20 win over a strong London Irish side. This has been, what is best described as,  a rebuilding season for the Cherry and Whites. However  the signs, of late, have been that things are beginning to come together  for Bryan Redpath’s team and  I’m sure there are better times ahead. 

James Simpson Daniel, an  absolute  Kingsholm legend and always a delight to watch, has sparkled in recent weeks and  deserves  to reappear on  Martin Johnson’s radar.  Gloucester’s  very own  ‘volcano’, Lesley Vainokola, has also been rumbling into form and crossing the whitewash with increasing  regularity.

So that’s my end of season summary but I will  be trying to keep up with  the final  games   from  some  Livingstone internet cafe  and  would   welcome any   updates by email!

Cambridge Blues
April 24, 2010

Aptly enough there were clear, light blue skies over Cambridge yesterday, when Francesco, Nicoletta and I stopped off en route to Stansted Airport. Being exam season, many of the colleges were  closed but I managed to smuggle them through the tradesman’s entrance and across the beautiful grounds of  St John’s for a photo stop  in front of the Bridge of Sighs!

Gemma, a graduate of Selwyn College,  will be pleased to hear they preferred Cambridge to Oxford!   

Cambridge and Oxford  rivalry is, of course, intense and no where more so than in the annual boat race, which Cambridge duly won this year despite being rank outsiders (in a two-horse/boat race!)  

Politics is another area of great Varsity rivalry. Amazingly (or perhaps not!) 40 out of 54 British Prime Ministers have been  Oxbridge educated (Oxford leading Cambridge 26-14 in the race for Number 10!)  

 After Thursday night’s, second televised political debate  between the three main party leaders, where ‘Cleggy’ again more than held his own, it seems we now very much have a three-horse  race on our hands.   

Brown (Edinburgh) , Cameron (Oxford), Clegg (Cambridge); I wonder if the ‘man with the golden tie’  (initially the rank outsider) can, like the light blue boat crew, finish the race in style?          











The Italian Job!
April 22, 2010

It has been a delight, sharing our home with Francesco and Nicoletta, this week. Despite the stressful circumstances surrounding their visit, they seem to have really enjoyed their time with us and the unexpected  opportunity to visit “your beautiful English countryside”.   

They are, of course,  no strangers to beauty themselves, living in the little known Italian region and well-kept secret (as far as most Brits are concerned ) of  Le Marche. It is the complete package: mountains, rolling countryside (to match Tuscany), charming medieval towns and beautiful stretches of coastline!

Francesco and Nicoletta live in the walled town of Jessi, where traditional Italian values and life skills are passed from generation to generation. The extended family, extended lunchtime, and also extended rolling pins are their prime consideration!

Yesterday Francesco insisted on repaying  our ‘hospitality’ by preparing the evening meal. It took him three hours to make the fresh tagliatelle, each strand lovingly shaped and cut by hand! He had learned the technique from his 83-year-old grandmother who, after his sixth attempt, proclaimed that he was good enough to make pasta that matched her own high standards!  The final dish, an Italian classic, tagliatelle ai fungi porcini, would have made her proud.  

It struck me  that this type of relationship between young and old and the passing on of traditions and skills is  now, sadly, largely   missing  from our own  society. It would not generally be considered ‘cool’ for a 20 something to spend time with and take cookery lessons from an 80 something, nor I fear, would many of our youngsters  have the required patience and perseverance to spend 3 hours making pasta – they’d rather buy a ready meal from Tesco!      

The Cotswold Way……
April 22, 2010

Francesco and Nicoletta are mightily relieved to have finally secured a Ryanair flight to Italy on Friday evening. It will take them  to Pisa, despite their original booking being to Ancona, and will mean a late night, four-hour drive at the other end.  All being well they will arrive home a week later than originally planned – and are looking forward to being reunited with their families and getting back to university!  

In the mean time, yesterday we made the most of this gorgeous spring weather, driving through the Cotswolds, taking in: Stow, the Slaughters and Broadway. They were also introduced to the delights of the English cream tea in the ‘olde’  St Edward’s Cafe in Stow. 

We enjoyed the extensive views from Broadway Tower and Nicoletta took a particular liking to the ‘Cotswold lions!’

It is on occasions like this that the joys of retirement really do begin to hit home . There is a new-found spontaneity to my life coupled with the added benefit of being able to avoid the crowds by visiting places on weekdays and outside the school holidays. 

I was astonished to find parking spaces in both the market square at Stow and on the main street in Broadway (little things that brighten up a GOM’s day!)

Elmer the Elephant packs his trunk!
April 21, 2010

Yesterday, in order to make the most of their delayed return to Italia, I drove Francesco and Nicoletta to Oxford. It was an enchanting sight , bathed in the warm glow of the  early spring sunshine.

Whilst they spent their time tracking down Harry Potter in Christchurch College and buying the obligatory Oxford University sweatshirts, I spent a couple of hours browsing in my favourite book shop, Blackwell’s.

Much of this time was spent in the children’s section, choosing  picture books for  Zambia. These will form the  basis of my reading sessions and then be donated to the Book Bus library.  

We have been told to expect a very wide ability range in the children’s grasp of English. Their only previous experience of books is likely to have been old-fashioned, black and white school texts.

Normal class sizes, anything from 40 to 100 children, cater for a range of ages. As volunteers we will be working, with small groups of up to 8 children, for a series of four x 1 hour sessions per day.  Our role, as volunteers, is “to bridge the gap between an inanimate book and a living, breathing, leaping story”. 

Regardless of their ages, the children will have no preconceptions and therefore the  older teenagers are just as likely to be captivated and enthralled, by colourful picture books and fairy stories, as the younger children.

With that in mind I have chosen to introduce them to two modern-day children’s classics: Elmer, and the Gruffalo.

Elmer seemed an obvious choice as I guess the children will be familiar with elephants, although maybe not the patchwork variety! I have also managed to get an Elmer (soft toy) to keep Monkey company, and he is packing his trunk as we speak!  Elmer also provides plenty of scope for follow-up art and craft activities.  

The Gruffalo, in his  forest setting, will hopefully appeal as well, and the story lends itself to role play!   

If all else fails  I’ve also stocked up on a range of football magazines, with loads of pictures, which the children can cut out to make their own information book, about the game.