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…


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!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Has 2014 started yet???

It certainly had at Gilroy's Irish bar last Sunday afternoon! Here's Beverley with the man himself giving a traditional 'Gilroy message', which is often followed by a heart felt, "Up yours!" Sincerity by the bucket!

I couldn't handle Gilroy's more than once a month, there's nothing like it anywhere I know. About 300 diners/drinkers all there for the same reason, to have a bloody good time before it closes at 5pm. Gilroy moved over here from Liverpool as a young man and just never went back. I can't count the times I've heard that now! The music is mainly 60's  and Gilroy joins in himself, what a voice, they love him. He teases, insults, degrades, lifts, jokes and sleazes his way through the afternoon, and if you're easily offended, stay at home.

We sat by a party of 'Hells Angels' from Pretoria, and this very BIG guy, George explained that his son had bought him this shirt in Dublin last year. He said he'd love to go to Dublin one day, but I assured him that the better party was here, and now.
There were mainly family parties and bunches of friends like ours, and with good home cooking and 'Gilroys' own beer from the onsite brewery, you couldn't go far wrong. You are warned at about 4pm that you will be breathalysed on the way out, and  if you're not over the limit, you will be sent back to the bar!

A more sobering visit was to Constitution Hill in the city centre, the site of the old prison until as late as 1984. You could get picked up by the police for just being 'dressed smart' or for 'speaking out of turn'. You'd be taken to this place and banged up for whatever they decided, then deprived of your dignity for years. 95% of the folk were black and less than 5% white, asian and other colours, but both men and women who were brutalised in the most unimaginable way. The worrying thing for me is that the guards who worked there are now living as older people in the community, and after the shocking way they treated other human beings, I wonder how they are handling life now? Can they just forget?  

Tim has come over from Bridlington to stay with us for 3 weeks, and so far he's loving it. This photo of him with Julie and Allan was taken at a garden centre where we found a really eccentric women called Sue. Again, she had moved over here when very young and was to never return. She made our drinks with freshly squeezed fruit and herbs and then some home cooked food with salad picked from her garden. The best bit for me was when she came around with a fist full of other herbs and squeezed them while chopping with a scissors, so the juices ran through her rough fingers and drizzled onto our food.

It was on that day I bought Buddha! I've always wanted one. My Dad kept several when we were kids and it's a happy memory. I try to live my life in line with the teachings of Buddha, but I fail miserably. 

"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment". That's how I try and walk my path but it's not easy. Buddha enjoyed the trip home and now sits comfortably in our dining room between two candles.

Nelson Mandela, still very much in the thoughts of people here, but for how long? We had lunch at the 'Nelson Mandela Shopping Centre' last week and there's Tim beside the great man. I met an artist called Ian and yes, he had come over here for 6 weeks in his early twenties and never returned. He knows Tselani Tambo, daughter of the ex-president, she is big in the arts and museums so hoping to make some more contacts. It was the pigeons under our lunchtime table that stick in my mind that day. When I tried to waft one away with a piece of paper, it just didn't move. I then reluctantly, but gently kicked it, to which it just pecked my shoe and stared me out. I guess you have to be a slightly tougher pigeon to live in a hard city like Johannesburg.

I had the opportunity to photograph an entire art exhibition last Saturday, and here's me with Tim and the local artist, Benn Nsusha at Museum Africa. We had a few obstacles to overcome before we started, like there were no power points, but we managed all 137 exhibits in a full day and very pleased with the results. I've never seen art like it, so different, so much colour and use of unexpected materials. Here's one of my many favourites, what do you think?

Since buying the new vehicle we feel much safer driving in town, though I had to build a car port as we had to use the garage to store all the ammunition.
On the down side it does 3 miles to the gallon, but the saving on tyres more than makes up for that.