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Monday, January 29, 2007

David Rattray died 26 January 2007

One of South Africa’s greatest sons was murdered on the 26th of January age 49. David Rattray of Fugitive’s Drift Kwazulu Natal was shot 3 times and killed at his own house at 6 in the evening as he prepared for a cycle ride. David was a brilliant teller of the story of the Anglo-Zulu wars in particular the battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. His account of the battle of Isandlwana, which I’ve heard him perform 3 times over the last 10 years, is told as the great Zulu victory. Di and I had the great privilege of having him to ourselves for 2 days some 10 years ago, sat on the battlefield in ‘Sotho blankets riveted by his stories and the cadence of his voice. We’ve also seen him move a packed Royal Geographic Society through tears and laughter .
We only knew him briefly but he’s had a lasting memory on the both of us. His death is unsettling and possibly one of those personal life changing moments.
It’s a mystery still why he died. The impact on his immediate community and South Africa is yet to be felt. I don’t think I’m overstating things, but like the release of Nelson Mandela, I’m sure that the shooting of David Rattray will be yet another turning point for the new South Africa.
His wife Nicky said “South Africa had lost a man who spoke to an international audience about, not only the history of his beloved South Africa, but also about the miracle that he saw us living through today"….."How tragic that a man who gave his life to preserving the Zulu culture lost his life at the hands of the Zulus”
Hamba Kahle – Go Well
PS: The battle of Isandlwana was on 22nd January 1879. There was a commemorative ceremony just 4 days before David’s death. I wonder what will happen next year.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Park for Park's Sake

The offices of Copeland Borough Council in Whitehaven sport a rather good piece of public sculpture that almost works very well and then manages to pull disaster from the jaws of victory . . . Three ornate sheets of steel and one of glass stand in line, a few yards apart. The glass is engraved with a curious design of dark lines, the steel at the other end is adorned with an obvious key-hole, inviting the viewer to bend down and peep. I did so, and was delighted to find the steel and glass line up beautifully into a map of Copeland with its ward boundaries etched into the glass. Then it all went horribly wrong. Also directly lined up through the glass in the middle distance was the council carpark, plumb in the middle a ticket machine and a large sign saying Pay Here with an arrow pointing directly to Whitehaven on the glass map.

Cumbrians Abroad –and the collarless shirt

In recent years, for some reason, I have taken to wearing a collarless shirt – the grand-dad/Nehru shirt that was popular back in the 60s. I have noticed that the collarless shirt is now very popular with men of a certain age (mine) and of the Cumbrian persuasion. On the recent trip to the Western Cape, travelling from the airport we stopped at Thandi for some breakfast. It's one of those places sort of not far enough from Capetown and too near our house for us to usually stop, but, breakfast on the flight had been non-existent and I/we needed scrambled eggs, beans and fried tomatoes. Thandi is a Black Empowerment Project (BEP) with a Fair Trade vineyard and we'd seen and bought the Thandi brand from the Co-op in Aspatria. We'd often passed it but have only ever stopped there once. We had been impressed with the look of the place and the attention to detail and service and thought that it was worth a second visit. Breakfast was good and the staff attentive and happy. We have seen a few of the BE projects over the years and they tend to be badly organized, untidy and unhappy. I was also strangely interested in the pronunciation of the word 'butter' by the waitress. I commented to Ren-Woman (t'wife) that I thought she may be just mimicking my Cumbrian accent.

As I was doing that finger licking thing I do with the baked beans juice the white guy appeared. There's usually a white person or two involved in these projects – volunteers and advisors and not necessarily a good thing. In this case it was a good thing. The white guy was the eccentric and affable Alan Clowes. What was initially eccentric was the fact that he was wearing exactly the same collarless shirt as me. 'Where did you get the shirt?' I sez. 'Marks & Spencer – Carlisle – where did you get yours? ' he sez. 'Marks & Spencer – Carlisle' I sez. Bizarre!!

The turnout is that Mr. Clowes is a Cumbrian from Kendal and has been at Thandi working as a volunteer with Christine (his long suffering wife) for 2 years. They are there as a result of Friends of Thandi - based in Kendal. The Clowes bring donated bikes, guitars, banjos, plant and equipment and the Kendal Rugby Teams last years strip to Thandi and keep an eye on business and devote what seems to be endless energy to the well-being of the community. Alan has also had a bash at teaching English to the Thandi partners. Hence the 'butter' pronunciation and the cry from the kitchens of 'pass me them uniuns marra'.

Alan is currently looking for people to: teach plant & equipment care and maintenance; teach playing the banjo; teach English as foreign language; supervise a daytrip for 70 kids and parents to the seaside; donate some money; set up a Saturday farmers and craft market; and on and on …..

We've been back twice during the recent stay: once with the A-B and family. A-B (a Cumbrian of a certain age wearing a collarless shirt) may find himself volunteered for some blacksmithing teaching; the second time was for Sunday lunch (roast beef, Yorkshire pudding..) with the Scouse African and the Angel. Scouse African may find himself volunteered for something but has only succumbed to the collarless shirt once in recent weeks.

Buy the Wine. Visit the Web Sites. Get Involved. Volunteer for Something.

  1. To create more permanent jobs.
  2. To train older workers
  3. To train young people
  4. To plant more orchards
  5. To plant more vines
  6. To open a laundry
  7. To open a mechanical workshop
  8. To open a Computer training centre
  9. To enable the community to support itself
  10. To enable Thandi to support other projects

Contact Thandi


Saturday, January 20, 2007


Safari is the Swahili word for journey. We've been in Greyton South Africa for Christmas.

My mate The Artist-Blacksmith (A-B) with wife (Jude) and the two offspring (boy 11, girl 17!) came to Sarth Efrica for the first time. We decided to show them something of the place and one of the things is the obligatory game park experience. We opted for The Garden Route Game Lodge2 hours from our house. The main reason being it was just far enough to prevent 'the boy' being bored (having lost his ipod in a freak river/hire car incident the night before (maybe more on that later)) and it offered the BIG FIVE (still in small family numbers!). I must apologize for early overuse of parenthesis (it is a while since I blogged and am a little rusty). The BIG FIVE – actually the BIG TEN, as there were only 2 of everything (I think that's what still in small family numbers means) comprises (for those not in the know (sorry more bloody brackets (Nick help me here)): 2 elephant, 2 buffalo, 2 rhino, 2 lion (actually only saw the arse and tail of one) and 2 elusive mountain leopard. I would have suggested the substitution of 2 giraffe for the 2 leopard, but was not asked. Look - the experience was fine – bumpy rides on land-cruisers – meals in the boma – luxury thatched rondavel accommodation – attended to by 'the formally disadvantaged' ( Sarth Efrican for the coloured and black population) and topped the first day by sharing a land-cruiser with 'The Fokkers'. The Fokkers are just a bunch of people that you would not choose to be with in the normal way of things. Strangers thrown together by a lack of seats.

Now I tend to be a bit loud in company and I imagine sometimes crass and boorish (know thyself) but Father Fokker managed to shut me up completely – apart from my occasional mutter of 'forfucksakeshurup'.

Our guide had asked that we turn off our mobile, I mean cell (as they say in SA) 'phones. He should also have added and be as quiet as possible and only ask questions at suitable times. A-B and family were stunned into silence too; something we've been trying to do to Jude for years (joke?).

Father Fokker's wife and children were subdued. When I met her later on her own in the bar she volunteered that 'the one good thing about living with Dan was that she always knew from the noise where he was'. I think she'd read the expression on the back of my head whilst on the morning drive. Dan was a couple of hundred yards away at this point with two Americans (BIG SIXTH?)pinned against a wall saying 'The best route through Alaska is left on the R62….never wear blue with green…. Always carry a small knife… I'm an estate agent/travel agent/doctor .. you can trust my judgement.. would you like to buy a daughter off me?….

Dan felt the need to inform and assist. His questions weren't questions. They were statements of how much he knew. Even when he got things wrong, or was told something he hadn't said …. after such moments he would say 'of course - I knew that'.

His mother, Grandmother Fokker, had the skin and the laugh of a hyena (one of the BIG SEVENTH?). She obviously thought that her son was a born comedian and threw in the hyena cry at every opportunity. It was at least twice the decibels of any mobile/ cell phone, and probably the reason why the game kept well away. For a woman in her sixties born and raised in Sarth Efrica she was surprisingly ignorant of the local wildlife.

Two Blue Crane flew over. The Blue Crane is Sarth Efrica's national bird.

"Heh Heh Ha - Look at those ostrich – they are my favourite' brayed GM Fokker.

"They are actually Blue Crane – and ostrich don't fly" I inadvertently intervened.

"I knew that" said the son.

I pulled down my hat and did that scowl thing with the back of my neck

After dinner we were sat in front of the fire trying not to catch their eye and trying not to be animated or say anything that might need enlightenment. D F mistook our sullenness for boredom.

"Hey guys would you like to play charades?"

A puzzled look from A-B.

D F: 'It's a game? You choose a film, a book, a tv programme and mime it and then we guess what it is"

"We knew that" we chorused and went to bed.



Why I Hate London

Long residence in Cumbria had made me forget the charms of South London. Sunday afternoon, after 4 days of intensive flat renovation, we load up the car and I drive to the tip, a trip that involves going round the Daytona-Speedway-on-bad-acid that is the Wandsworth Roundabout. Total length of journey: slightly less than 1 mile. Total elapsed time for the round trip, including unloading, on a Sunday afternoon in the 'quiet' period just after New Year: 50 minutes. As has no doubt been pointed out elsewhere, the average speed of traffic in the nation's capital is now slower than was achieved using wooden rollers propelled by a troup of hairy-arsed Battersea boys in designer rhinoceros furs during the Upper Palaeolithic. But that's progress for you.

The Flat-Pack Self-Assembly Church Of God

You know, life is like a set of surprisingly affordable Scandinavian designed walnut-veneer free-standing storage units. We're all looking for the (Allan) key.

Sunday morning at the Wandsworth Homebase church of the medium-density fibreboard redeemer is a peculiarly dispiriting experience - a huge warehouse full of aimlessly circulating young urban professionals searching for the perfect ceramic hob. Presumably the group of identical professionals aimlessly circulating around B&Q on the other side of the Wandsworth Roundabout are to be regarded as deluded heretics who have fallen from the true path of home improvement. I paid up and got out fast.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bay Village Rollers

I spent a part of this morning down by the beach - it was a spring tide on a stormy day, and the view from above the promenade as the breakers marched in across the Irish Sea was profoundly exhilarating. Their continual crashing into the concrete of the prom had lifted a fair amount of the pebbled beach onto the walkway itself, and spray and spume were flying far across the greensward behind. While I watched, the tide heaved a great green contraption, possibly a septic tank, off the beach and onto the promenade itself, where it proceeded to make a shuffling progress along the concrete each time the waves returned. It must have been five feet high and eight in diameter, which gives some idea of the sheer strength of wave power when tide, coast and weather contrive violence. Not wanting to become the top story on News & Lookaround, I stayed well up the steps that descend to the promenade and watched the waves as they came in from the far horizon. Out on the main there seemed surprisingly little swell - what my father The Ancient Mariner would have described as 'nothing new', but he was a man for whom 80-foot waves in the winter North Atlantic were just another day at the office. I was left with a new respect for him in the face of this mayhem.
All of which heralds a return to blogging after an unusually prolonged silence - I've been down in London for most of 2007 renovating my flat, the tenants having left it in need of quite a lot of elements of refurbishment. My adventures in the world of interior decoration, South London stylee, will be appearing shortly in this very blog . . .