Vignettes of spring and summer 2014

My Skype picture is of a swallow. I think it is appropriate because I too flit between the northern and the southern hemispheres. Of course I put much less effort into this traveling than the birds do. Having said that, all my recent trips have been in economy class on KLM. Admittedly premium economy, but still economy! I won’t dwell on this other than to say the flights I took recently were packed, a combination of the holiday season and KLM doing really well.

I hope to put up a guest posting on my website as my daughter, Rowan has spent a month in Southern Africa, mostly Durban. We shared a road trip. I have invited her to contribute and we will have to see when this happens. No pressure Rowan. She is embarking on the MA in creative writing at UEA this academic year. It is one of the best MAs in the world, with an illustrious list of alumni.

I met her off the KLM flight in Johannesburg at 10pm and we spend the night at the City Lodge at the airport. The next morning we picked up a car and drove in a mainly leisurely manner to Mbabane in Swaziland. I got stopped for speeding just before the border and, looking back, think that I was asked for a bribe.

The traffic cop asked for my licence and I got out of the car to talk to him. After a bit of banter I said, “I suppose you are going to give me a ticket.”

“What suggestions do you have”, he asked.

“None”, I replied, “Give me the ticket”.

He then looked uncomfortable and told us to go! I thought about it and must admit to having been really offended by this.

Across the border we stopped at Ngwenya Glass Factory. This turned out to be an amazing little glass and craft factory employing over 80 people and producing some of the highest quality glassware and glass art I have ever seen. We walked in and bumped into Mark Ward, the manager of the hotel where I normally stay, the Mountain Inn.

“What are you doing here”, he asked, “you are not on the reservation lists for tonight”. I was a little alarmed that my movements are so well monitored.

I said, “We are just on our way to check in, and since this time it is my money, I hope you will give us a good rate”.

Mark phoned ahead and got us a couple of rooms at an extremely good rate. We were able to go to Waterford and have a look at the new dining hall that we (and here I speak as a member of the Governing Council) are in the process of constructing. It is going to be amazing and has views right down the Ezulwini Valley and across the mountains. I was fortunate to be able to see both the head and the person who has just been appointed as the incoming Deputy. As I had been up for a GC meeting the previous month, it was a short but worthwhile visit.

From Mbabane we drove through Swaziland, on a very grey and overcast day, to St Lucia, an estuary and national park on the KwaZulu-Natal coast. There is a game park on the swazi border that one has to drive through and we were fortunate to see giraffes. St Lucia is extremely touristy, but that is okay every so often. We went on a boat cruise the next morning and saw hippos and crocodiles. As, in my 31 years in South Africa, I had never done that, I really enjoyed it. I am not sure though that this would be a place to go back to.

The final stage of the journey was to Durban via the airport when we dropped off the hire car and picked up my ancient Toyota Conquest. I spent a few more days in Durban and then headed to Norwich on the way to Canada. Rowan occupied the flat and has pointed out the considerable inadequacies in my kitchen equipment and stove. Only two of the rings work, I am not sure which they are, and the oven temperature has to be set by a combination of guess work and intuition so she has a point. I personally have not found it a constraint and there is always the microwave for quick meals.

Back in Norwich I spent a day doing what is called ‘yard work’ in Canada. This involves cutting down, cutting up, and clearing. The hedges need trimming twice a year. Our petrol driven hedge-
cutter is heavy and unwieldy, so that’s one of the tasks that is allocated to me. I unwittingly upset a neighbour by burning some of the garden waste on a bonfire. The first firing went by uneventfully but when, the next morning, I lit the fire and stoked it with some rather green cuttings I was shocked to hear loud and crude words of complaint from the next door garden. There is a hedge between us and so the exchange was conducted without either of us setting eyes on the other. I wonder what the dynamics would have been if we had been able to make eye contact.

I checked the rules on bonfires, as I wondered if I had done something illegal. The local district council says that one is allowed to burn garden waste. It advises consideration and warns that if it is done too often with too much smoke then it may constitute a ‘Statutory Nuisance’. Douglas suggested that I could add the acronym SN to my name.

The weather in Norwich was pleasant so we decided to head for the beach. Having gone down to North Beach in Durban and actually ventured into the water a week before, I was sorry that I forgot to take my swimming costume with me. It would have been fun to write about the North beach and the North Sea. The Norfolk water is about the same temperature as the Durban at this time of year; the air temperature is a couple of degrees lower.

A good time was had by all, including the dog, who ran her heart out. The Beach Café at Mundsley, is a favourite. It is only open during the summer, serves excellent reasonably priced food, allows well behaved dogs in, and has a friendly staff. I could not help but overhear the conversation at the table behind us which can be summarized as ‘how to drown in hotel swimming pools, what happens if the parents take their eyes off their children’.

These are halcyon days. Now in Canada I am going to have to buckle down and complete my course outlines. I have two overdue books and numerous articles that need writing. Having said that I am really looking forward to this next stage. To anyone who has read this far, swallows travel from the Northern to Southern Hemisphere. Can someone give me an equivalent migrant that the Atlantic? This is going to be my route and I need to change my picture.

Salmon and eels spring to mind but I would prefer a flying creature. This provides a neat segue onto the most interesting television program I have seen recently. This was the debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond on the Scottish referendum which takes place in mid-September. It will answer, for a while anyway, the question on whether Scotland should become independent. If the yes vote wins it is gone for ever. I personally think it would be a great shame Scotland were to take this option, but have been so impressed with the level of engagement over the question, and delighted by the fact that 16-year-olds have been given the vote for this referendum. It is after all their future. Interestingly the rest of the country does not get to say if they want Scotland to stay.


Jonathan Dee, A Thousand Pardons, Corsair, London 2013, 274 pages. This novel is a gem. Every so often I read a new author and think; I want to read more of him or her. Jonathan Dee falls into that category. The book is the story of a family that falls apart and then, after a fashion, comes together. There is no dramatic ending, but rather a realisation that life is imperfect and, if it works, that is OK. Perfection is the enemy of the complete. It is well written and the end is something of a surprise. The main characters are the husband who has a breakdown, his long –suffering wife, their daughter (adopted from China), and a film star who grew up with the wife. I was least certain about the characterisation of the daughter, but then I don’t expect to understand what goes on in the heads of 14 year old girls. It was interesting that having a child adopted from a different country was presented as quite normal. If the things that happened in this story were to occur in the UK then various section of the social services would be involved. This is definitely an author to look out for.

Belinda Bauer, Rubbernecker, Transworld Publishers, London, 2013, 313 page. An anatomy student with Asperger’s syndrome discovers the corpse he is dissecting was murdered. This book was intricately plotted. Patrick, the student’s Asperger’s is totally believable and very well observed. The story is full of twists and turns. It is about the murder of a motor vehicle accident victim, Samuel Galen, who is in a coma for the entire story – except of course after he is killed. It is difficult to review a book like this without giving some of the plot away. I found all the characters to be believable. While I was uncertain about the book at the beginning I was soon totally hooked. There are some rather interesting plot lines that don’t get developed. There are also a couple of themes that get revisited, the example being motor accidents.