Thursday, February 28, 2008

Black and white

Penguins preening, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Already on the way back to Amsterdam now, flying somewhere over northern Italy above Genoa, leaving Africa and the Mediterranean behind us. Not so much of the ten-and-a-half hour flight to go, most of which I have spent asleep, under my blanket. Woke up just in time for a KLM breakfast which was a lot more filling than our midnight snack of salad and soup, with which we started off. At least started off, after we had been delayed due to a technical fault which had to be repaired, this one causing us to be delayed only one-and-a-half hours rather than the three hour delay we had on the way out.

Still, the whole trip wet very well, once I finally made it out there and my colleagues seemed pretty happy with my visit, especially as I told them how impressed I was with their accounting and systems of internal controls and so on. It all took me back twenty-five years to when I started my career and things were done properly. Makes me realize how much we miss in the other countries, where we tend to have fewer and lesser highly qualified staff.

I didn’t really get to see too much of Johannesburg, as it was often a trip from hotel to office and back again with a stop off for dinner somewhere. Quite possibly because I was going against the traffic and starting and ending later than most, I did not have any of the problems of traffic jams which everyone seems to complain about, when they are not complaining about the electricity cut-offs, There has been a large growth in the population of Johannesburg and the economy has grown quicker than expected and the infrastructure appears not to be coping very well and, of course, it is the (mainly black) ANC government which gets the blame.

For instance, President Mbeki decided to close-down and mothball a nuclear power station which was being built, this in a time of lower oil prices and political (and environmnetal) opposition to nuclear power. Now, with the mainly coal-fired electricity generators operating for years at full capacity and as a result suffering from a lack of maintenance, starting suffer operating difficulties as a result, the country has no back-up, in the absence of a nuclear option. Hence the power cuts, which then goes on to hurt every part of the economy, particularly the mining and even our company, where secretaries and accounts people can do nothing for a few hours a day whilst the electricity is down.

The cuts for business and private consumers stopped in February, fortunately for me, but they are expected to return in March. One story has it that in February, the industrial users have been forced to take less power but will start again in March, leading to cuts for other users. The other story has it that there have been significant repairs and maintenance carried out in February and that everything will be fine in March. We (or they) will soon find out.

Otherwise, despite a booming economy, there are fears that things are heading the wrong way and the main cause of people’s fears seems to centre on Mr Zuma, the new President of the ANC, a populist politician who has an appeal to the masses but is seen by others as a potential new Mugabe. He is also under charge for rape and is suspected of violence and embezzlement. He is promoting his friends within the ANC and the old guard, the heirs of Mandela nd his era are losing out. Just yesterday, Zuma said he saw nothing wrong with the fact that white journalists were banned from an event at which he was giving a speech, this event having been organised by the Forum of Black Journalists… now had it been the other way around…

And then we come on to the whole business of Black Empowerment (BE) which is a process through which blacks are being helped to participate better in the economic process. Companies can be BE certified, if they meet a number of various goals regarding things like ownership, management, skills training, social development, procurement. You score more points to the extent black people are owners or managers or are being employed or are being trained in skills and so on. Procurement deals with where you buy your supplies. If you buy your supplies from BE certified companies you get more points. Therefore if you want to sell your goods or services you need to be BE certified yourself and to be that you have to meet a whole load of the other criteria.

It IS discrimination, but it has been well thought out and gives companies a choice in how to meet their required number of points. It certainly seems better than some of the alternatives (look no further than Zimbabwe). However, white people are appearing to suffer in the labour market, and many have left or are planning to leave, but also many are returning. Something had to be done to improve the levels of equality between white, black and coloured. Our company has gone through a few changes itself but has not quite been certified and, the BE empowerment thing does provide business opportunities in that once we are certified we can help other companies obtain their certification by buying their services from us…

The other main stories, apart from the budget on my first day, were the decision to start forced land purchases from white farmers to be distributed to black ones (not Zimbabwe-style), these black farmers having proper training and qualifications to manage large farms. The other was a decision to allow the culling/killing of elephants, a decision which will probably get more international press than any of the other things going on.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cricket and Christ

Meanwhile, back in South Africa, I was setting off from Kistenbosch Botanical Gardens to Tulbagh, on the open road. The lands of The Cape are either flat or jaggedy mountains and the topography reminds me of nothing more than Tolkein’s maps of Middle Earth. Seeing as he was born around here, I often wondered whether he had been inspired by the landscape here, but seeing as he left as a very young boy, I somehow doubt it. The mountains rise almost vertically, like the mountains ringing the land of Mordor and you wonder sometimes whether you will be confronting ghastly goblins once you get to the other side.

The names of many of the places on the map remind one very much of southern England, with a choice of destinations such as Wellington, Worcester and Montagu, before you find yourself coming across Gouda or Paarl to remind one of the original visitors from Europe, the other side of the North Sea.

Wellington is quite a regional centre and has a fine main street with many Cape Dutch style buildings and I found myself stopping in front of the Dutch Reformed Church to take a photo before deciding to buy something to drink. I reached for my wallet and found a ten rand note, strange as I had taken out a thousand from the ATM machine the previous evening. Ah! But I had left that money in the trousers I was wearing, no problem, I would get some more money out, but... oh dear… the bank pass was also still left in my trousers. Hmmm.. I had thirteen rand, just over a euro, less than a pound, to last the rest of the day, so maybe I wasn’t going to have a wonderful lunch at a posh vineyard after all.

Eventually, a kind lady at the Spar suggested that maybe I buy something for a hundred rand with my credit card, which I DID have in my wallet, and then bring it back immediately for a cash refund, which is why I suddenly found myself buying a steam iron in a supermarket in downtown Wellington. And what is more, it cost me only 99.99 rand and I got back a whole 100! I bought a drink, some bananas and some crisps and set off for Bain’s Kloof where I half imagined myself to be having a picnic a half hour later.

A Kloof is like a gulley, a steep valley in the mountains, created by the running of a stream through the rocks. Bain was a renowned engineer and he built the road up to the summit and then along the side of the Kloof down the other side. He built more of these but gave his name to this Kloof, a Kloof moreover which I had visited, albeit coming from the other direction, seven years before. I had remembered that it was very narrow and that there were few parking spots along the way but also remembered that there was a bigger picnic area built off the side of the road, so I was hopeful of finding a spot and hopefully, there would be some trees nearby. More than anything, I was hoping there would be water in the river, as it was very very hot, so far inland and the wind from yesterday had died down.

Up to now I had been listening to gospel music all morning. It was Sunday and the black radio station which had played such fantastic music the day before was playing only gospel music today. All well and good and I do enjoy, especially South African gospel, but after over two hours, it was all getting a bit too much, so I ended up listening in to the cricket, where South Africa were batting in their last innings trying to reach a score of 205 to beat Bangladesh. They lost a wicket I the first over I switched on and were teetering at 144-5. It was getting exciting. Having spent many afternoons during summer school holidays listening to Test Match Special on Radio Three, I have an appreciation of cricket commentary on the radio and yet this was different. Different because they had included a woman to provide analysis, next to the man who was providing the commentary. It was very odd but she was every bit as incisive as any man would have been and did not spoil anything by making ‘girlie’-type comments. Good for her. So, it was to a background of a cricket match p;layed in the dimming light of the Indian sub-continent that I found myself driving up and around the jaggedy mountains to reach the peak, from which I would follow Bain’s Kloof.

Above the tree-line, the slopes were given over to some wonderful fijnbos, with a generous sprinkling of pink heather and red proteas, succulent green trees and hard prickly shrubs. Worth stopping for to take a few photos (however difficult it is to capture vegetation in a photograph). I think a few might make it onto Flickr. There were a few eateries and picnic spots just over the summit, which I passed over, having pigged myself on the paprika flavoured Doritos and in anticipation of finding a spot near to the stream. However, it was not to be. There might have been five spots in the 20 kilometers where one could have safely left a car and they were all taken and the picnic area had a bar across the entrance saying it was full. Hmmm, I thought, how could a picnic area be full, but as I drove past, it certainly looked busy, if not literally full… Oh well.. on to Tulbagh…

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A surfing seal at Sandy Bay

A surfing seal at Sandy Bay, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I ran up and down the beach to try to catch this chappie riding the waves. Hard to know if he was searching for food or just being playful, he certainly seemd to enjoy himself. He was the only seal and the beach was as good as empty. It was a wonderful moment.

And you can see his shadow, very vaguely...

This was one of my last moments during my Cape weekend, as I returned to the beach at the end of the day, where a sea breeze and the odd cloud kept the temperature down, which was badly needed after I burnt myself a little bit the day before.

I had decided to spend Sunday in the wine country, after the Saturday traipsing around The Cape, and I wanted to get back to Tulbagh which I had visited seven years ago in 2001. It was a long drive, which was fine, as I was going to drive on open roads through fantastic scenerey and I had not driven a car since last June, when Fred and I spent that weekend in Oirland together.

First stop, though, was Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on the eastern side of Tabel Mountain where teher is a most magnificent collection of natrive fijnbos plants, fijnbos being one of the seven plant kingdoms in the world, and being limited in its range to The Cape. Shrubs, heathers, ericas and proteas are typicak fijnbos plants. The gardens are laid out on a gentle slope at the foot of Table Mountain, which provides a wonderful backdrop. It was only 9 in the morning and the sun was scorching as I hid under my hat, pulling my south african socks almost up to my knees, to cover my pinks calves, up to the bottom of my shorts. However, the sun seemed to be strong enough to burn its way through my dark polo and torment me. I spent most of my time looking for the nearest shadow.

From there, it was a two hour drive up to Tulbagh... to be continued later...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The view back to The Lion's Head

You can't exactly see this, but it was a very very windy day today on the Cape, so windy you could hardly stand up straighht and both my hat and T-shirt went for swims.

I also went for a (naked) swim down at the almost deserted white sandy beach of Sandy Bay. There si something very delightful in swimming in the sea, HOWEVER COLD in February... However, my sun cream application was none too good and I have some funny shaped pink patches over my skin... the doctor will not be happy with me.

Anyway, it was another lovely day on the Cape and tomorrow I think I will head for the Winelands.

Friday, February 22, 2008

What I had for dinner last night...

Gemsbok steak.... delicious! Washed down with Porcupine Ridge Merlot. The dinner for two at a posh restaurant in Sandton (The Bull Run), with some big steaks and plenty of wine cost less than € 50, including tip...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Knocking off and going for a drink

Peroni girl, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

It is past knocking off time here and I am waiting in the office for my colleague to take me out for dinner. There is a table booked at 7 and we will be eating best South African steak washed down by delicious red wine… looking forward to it. Lunch today was at Lord Prawn (est. 1975) where we were disappointed not to have an avocado and shrimp salad, avocados not being in season apparently… yet again I manage to choose the one thing on the menu which they did not have… something which I am very good at no matter where in the world I am…

It has been a quietish day in the office, in meetings and looking at figures and reports and meeting a few more of the staff, including a young chappie who is on his way to Cape Town for a week’s holiday. As he was leaving, the ladies in the office urged him to have a good time and ‘to get drunk and stay drunk’…. I thought he was just going for a wedding but he is going for a whole week…. Drink plays a big part in South African folk culture (where not?). There is even a bar in the boardroom, with fridges stuffed with cans of beer and mixers for the heavy stuff in bottles in a locked cabinet. I helped myself to a lemonade, rather than a beer, which I had last night, which left me rather bloated.

The beer here is Castle Beer, invented by a man called Charles Glass, who shares the name with a journalist chap who wrote a book about the Middle East which I have in my hotel room as reading material. Anyway, it seems that Castle Beer grew and grew to become SAB Miller which is now the largest brewer in the world (bigger than Interbrau of Belgium, apparently). One of the big names they took over fairly recently was Peroni, of Italy. Peroni is being pushed all over Jo’burg, showing black and white photos of manly pretty Italian girls, some with hats, recalling the days of Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida. All very appealing and undeniably Italian, which is very exotic and chic to people in this part of the world… And, of course, beer, like bottled water, is a marketing phenomenon. The beer all tastes much the same, and it is the marketing which creates the demand. SAB Miller seem to be world beaters at it.

It was Tafel beer which Jannie in Namibia was so keen on.. so keen that he would start drinking at 10.30 in the morning, with a whole day’s drive ahead of him. I am told that the South Africans would normally wait until mid-day. In the meantime, talking about traveling up the Mozambican coast, a colleague told me that he (and his mates) would drink some gin for breakfast as a way to keep the mozzies away, mozzies not being too partial to the quinine in the gin, apparently.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Back in Africa

Listening to history at Robben Island

OK, so here we are in Africa, and yet it feels so much like America.

Let me explain... wide streets, freeways, motorways, drive-in hotels, motels, shopping centres, gated communities, drive-in restaurants, shopping malls, big cars, black people doing manual jobs, large advertising hordings everywhere, gates and walls and so on.

But it isn't America, which means I could start my day off with tropical fruit for breakfast - a bowl of passion fruit, melon, water melon, mango, banana and papaya, whilst sitting by the pool in the shade of a a palm tree and having coffe served by a very sweet young lady...

But, truth be told, I am staying in an expensive American-style hotel, with a room big enough to house a township family and a shower spurting out more water than Victoria Falls... and yet we are just a couple of kilometers away from the township of Alexandra, one of the most notorious townships in South Africa. It s a strange world...

After sleeping most of teh time on the plane and sleeping all night as well, following what was an early night in bed on Monday night, I was a little bit disoriente when I woke up this morning... but thankfully we have an Elizabeth in the office who is a 'tea lady' who serves the most delicious coffee and it was she who kept me awake most of the day while I tried to acqaint myself with the business we have here in South Africa... but more of that tomorrow.

Just to say that after a delicious, and none-too-expensive dinner, I ended back at the hotel this evening and ordered myself a glass of delicious red wine which I darnk with my legs dipped in the pool, looking up at the full moon in the sky and finding the Southern Cross.

I had been disoriented all day, imagining the sun to be in the south, forgetting that in the Southern Hemisphere, the sun is to be seen in the north. Not like me, but now I know, I should have a better sense of direction tomorrow.

Good night.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Am I EVER going to make it back to Africa?

I tried yesterday for the second time but I missed my flight.... I will try again today and let you know if I make it...

Monday, February 18, 2008

De Botshol

De Botshol, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We cycled here yesterday.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Brother and sisters on the streets of Aleppo

Another in the 'Faces of Today' series...

Friday, February 15, 2008

We don't want Kosovarian independence

Albanian fan VII, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I have often talked about recognition of Somaliland's de facto independence, which is still as far away as it seemed three years ago.

And yet now, we are looking at a region of Serbia which has been a part of Serbia since time immemorial and which has very great autonomy within Serbia, which looks as if it is going to declare itself independence this weekend. And, from the newspaper repirts, it looks as if it can rely on instant recognition from the US, the uK and Germany amongst other countries. Not The Netherlands, it seems, thank goodness.

From what I understand, any self-declararation of independence by Kosovo is contrary to international law, which internation law would seem to favour recognition of Somaliland, but which in that instance is not being taken any notice of.

I am not sure why the western countries really want to recognise Kosovo, maybe guilty feelings towards Muslims and maybe because a simple majority of the people in that country favour independence. However, its tsill breaks international conventions and we all know what happens when we do that - look at Iraq. Recognition will upset Serbia, which is on its way to joining its neighbours in the European Union and may stir ethnic tensions in nearby Bosnia and Macedonia and Croatia and so on.

It is a bad thing and, I am sure, it will be something these countries will live to regret.

Bedouin family

Bedouin family, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I had my hair cut this afternoon by a young Kurdish man who was born in Aleppo, which had me looking at the photos we took in Syria. Again, many were in small format so have been relaced by larger format photos for a better view. Here are some photos from a bedouin tent we came across by the side of the road near Qalaat al-Shamannis.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Premier League in Somalia

Futebol brasileino - six, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

How strange... I have just posted a photo of some footballers in Somliland and then I read an article on the BBC webiste about the Premier League plans to play a set of game abroad once a year (seems like a good idea to me).

Anyway, a certain Mr Hammam of the Asian Football Confederation does not seem to like it at all and said

"I should say that I respect very much the Premier League. I like to watch the Premier League. But they are interfering with the domestic and local competitions in different national associations if they think this idea can be realised. I appreciate, for example, if the Premier League want to play in Darfur, Somalia or East Timor, they can act as peace makers."

So, someone is noticing what is going on in Somlia, even if it is just Mr Hammam...

Stephen Spielburg, The Olympics and Darfur

World Cup 2010?, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Yes,Stephen Spielburg says he will boycott the Olympic Games in Beijing in his capacity as artistic adviser as a protest against China's lack of stance against Sudan in respect of Darfur.

Big news, all over the BBC website and the evening papers here.

However, there have been many reports recently that the humanitarian situation is much worse in Somalia than it is in Darfur. Yet, Darfur gets all the attention. For the last five years they have been saying that 2 million people have been displaced and 200,000 have lost their lives... and these figures never change. I wonder how accurate they are.

Anyway, however complicated the situationj in Darfur is, it is quite easy for people in the West to look to China to put pressure on their friends in the Sudanese government. China is an easy scapegoat, as we look on with envy at how China is 'neo-colonising' Africa.

Not such an easy business to look at the repsonsibility of the US and the EU for what is going on in Somalia, since their own sponsored TFG government took power with help of America's best friend in the region Ethiopia... so the West just conveniently forgets about this part of the world.

I think it is about time Stephen Spielburg made a film about the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, showing us how the US encouraged one country to go to war against another, showing the use of lies and propaganda and mis-information to justify itself...


Charles on donkey, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I was chatting about donkeys the other day, so decided to make a set of them on flickr. Here is me back on a donkey on the way up Jabal Haroun in Petra. I was taken up there by my friend, the recently married, Nasr, while Fred stayed at the hotel trying to avoid our other 'friend' Ibrahim...

Saturday, February 09, 2008

What a difference a year makes...

Reflections, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A year ago, we were having cold winds and snow showers from the north. Today we had sunshine the whole day, a maximum temperature of over 12 degrees and a mild clear evening with fantstic views iup towards the slithery moon and the mighty Orion.

A song thrush was singing in the garden as dusk fell, casting a red glow over the city and a group of about eight long-tailed tits came over.

I spent the day in a friend's garden, digging over the grass, as the whole garden must be dug over beore 1st April, according to the 'rules'. Meanwhile the garden here continues to be tidied up and we even took a saw to the grapevine to stop it growing up the the neighbours balcony and so that we can bind it to the wall.

Had a look for a garden bench to replace teh on e which was removed by the rubbish men last week, but just as I wwas too late last year, in June to buy one, I find that now, in February I am too early to buy one. Bought some pot of muscari which I'll be putting the pots on the front balcont tomorrow.

What a kick one gets from weather like this and quite often one gets a weekend like this sometime in February, as a short break from winter and as a promise for the spring ahead. Wonderful!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Well done, Thomas!

Thomas being cheeky, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Congratulations, Thomas, for being invited to attend your new school after half-term. I hope it turns out to be a good school and that you have some memorable and happy times there... Lots of love, Uncle Fred and Uncle Charles

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Happy Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Kung hei fat choi!

The year of the Rat... Fred's year. This is a photo from six years ago in Singapore, when we were starting on the year of the Horse, I think.

This was chosen by the chap running the Singapore site to illustrate an article on Chinese New Year on this link:

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Turkish headscarf vote...

In and around Eminonu, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The Turkish Parliament is going to vote to probably allow women to wear headscarves at university, and in doing so they will be smashing down one of the main pillars of secularism, whioch is teh basis of the modern state of Turkey.

A harmless act, maybe, but this is quite possibly just the start and teh question is then raised about what happens when these women graduate and will they be allowed to retain their scarves as they go out to work as teachers, doctors, civil servants and so on.

As regular eraders of this blog will know, I am fairly against public shows of religion, which I believe shoudld be a personal thing and kept away from public life. I also think that Ataturk did his country a great service when sweeping away outward shows of religion and set his country on course to be the secular democracy which it now is, ready perhaps for accession to the EU within twenty years.

One only has to look at failed states like Iran and Israel to see what too much religion in public life can do...

Monday, February 04, 2008

The face of today - a handsome young man from Sana'a in Yemen

Man about Sana'a - handsome, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Yemen - Pink - ice cream seller

Having a look at the Yemen photos on flickr. They were never very popular and I noticed that they were all uploaded on small format and didn't look very good.. so I have been replacing them with the full size photos. Amazing to think we only went there as an afterthought as a way to get from Jordan to Eritrea. Quick thinking had us stopping over for five days and arranging things quickly we spent three of those days touring and walking along the mountains. A fascinating experience and one I hope we can repeat.

Another cold and windy but sunny day here. I have just about finished tidying up the garden, after the builders have gone and have cut up all the dead honeysuckle which we had to clear away. Also, dug in some of the nice black compost we have nade from our household waste, into the dark sandy soil of the garden. Very rewarding.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Trying to get a new passport

Cinqueterre - three years ago, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here is a photo of me three years ago at the end of a walk from Manorolo to Riomaggiore, two of the villages of Cinque Terre on the Ligurian Coast of Italy. The sun shone all day, there was almost no wind and it felt warm, especially with the sun's rays reflecting off the Medietrranean Sea in the west.

I could be there next weekend as well, havoing got as far as Grenoble for my work, but Fred fancies a(nother) weekend at home next weekend, so I'll probably be coming back on Friday through Paris.

A fgood thing we have the Schengen agreement which allows us to travel through countries like Belgium, France and Italy witout a passport, as I will be without a passport in the coming two weeks, until they issue me with new one. After my experience in South Africa two weeks ago, it was time to replace my current passport, with its colourful visas from Eritrea, Syria, Yemen, Somaliland and so on....

I had heard that one can get a passport in one day in London, at less than it would cost to get a new one in Amsterdam, but because my passport was issued in Amsterdam, they would not issue a new one on London... so it was off to the Consulate near the Vondelpark yesterday. A reasonably long cycle ride made more difficult by the strong wind, to get there and be told that as from that day (1st February) they had changed the opening times, such that it was already closed at 12.30... nothing to be found about this on the website which I had looked at earlier in the morning. So it was a cycle back home, with a flat tyre and I will try again on Monday. Oh well...

Back here, it has been a nice sunny day, much less windy than the past couple of days and spring is definiely on its way, despite us only having had a few days of winter just before Christmas. This evening we go to a birthday party.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Horse mating

January 2008 seems to have been the fifth most popular month for this blog, with 7,911 visits, according to my ShinyStat counter. The other most popular months were November and December 2006 and May and June 2007. I have no idea really who reads this blog anymore, apart from a few friends and family members.. but I can see how some people find the blog and it seems it has a lot to do with horse mating or mating horses.

ShinyStat tells me that the blog received 355 visits from people searching (presumably through google, which has 99% of the traffic to this site) for 'horse mating' and another 111 for 'mating horses' in January. These are up from December when it was 225 and 83 respectively.

Other popular search words are '50th birthday', 'robbie williams', 'footballers' and 'roman gladiators'. 'Sophia Loren', 'ladyboys' and 'Marija Serifovic' have also led people to this site.

I haven't really got so much to say about horse mating, just that a couple of photos I took in Sardegna of a spontaneous horse mating session, whereby a man brought along his saddled and bridled stallion and encouraged him to mount a mare with a foal in tow, have provoked some concerned comments from people on flickr.

Modesty prevents me from placing these photos on the blog but they can be found here and here.

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