Oh my word this posting is late! When I began writing and posting this blog, years ago, I promised subscribers that they would not get more than one notification a month. I made an exception to this during the first year of Covid-19. Things were so confused that I tried to make sense of the news and share my understanding. I posted regular blogs on Covid, the science, public health and its causes and consequences. It was amazing to see how rapidly the readership increased. Thank you to everyone who responded and supported this. It was nice to know it was appreciated. I stopped the Covid blogs as the public information improved, but in addition the situation increased in complexity, and I knew I no longer had a comparative advantage.
It is nearly the end of January 2023 and I have not written and posted for over six weeks. I did write an annual roundup, which was posted with my 2022 Christmas cards, in envelopes, with stamps! So here goes, the first blog of 2023, and it covers the events of the last part of my South African trip in 2022, and brings me up to date!
I was in Durban up to the 8th of December 2022 and then went to Cape Town. I spent a few nights at a hotel near the Waterfront. For the second part of the visit I went to stay with Derek, my brother, at their family home in Hout Bay on the peninsula. Unfortunately, Lynn, his wife, was in the UK visiting her parents, but two of the three daughters, Kate and Sarah were there. It was good to have a chance to connect with them as they have busy lives in the UK.
It was also an opportunity to hook up with old friends from school days. Derek generously hosted a braai for David Crush and the Figov brothers. I had seen David Crush a few times over the last year, most recently in London at the memorial service for Adrian Bowen. This was also attended by Harry. He (Harry) and his brother Sean attended Waterford school in Swaziland. Harry was a year below me and Sean about three years. Their journey was from Northern Zambia, a considerable distance for two unaccompanied young boys. I had not seen Sean since 1975, nearly 50 years. It is striking how easy it is to pick up with people one knew as children or teenagers, and the shared Waterford experience makes it even easier. The brothers were in Cape Town for the melancholy process of sorting out their late father’s apartment.
Derek was good enough to do a few touristy things with me. We went to Boulders Beach, the home of a colony of African penguins. What I did not know is that the birds only established the colony in 1982. It is the only place the birds nest on the mainland. The two pairs have grown to about 2000. It is noisy and smelly, but I much appreciated the chance to visit again. Unfortunately, I’d left my ID book behind so I had to pay international rates to get in! We had intended to lunch in the village of Scarborough and stopped at a restaurant, unfortunately the serving staff were completely unconvincing: disorganised and uninterested. The food at the nearby Imhoff Farm was excellent.
On my last afternoon Derek, Kate and I went to one of the outstanding Constantia wine estates, a short drive away. There we sampled a variety of wines and had absolutely excellent cheese to go with it. It was interesting to see how quickly the tourist industry is rebounding, and also who the tourists are. In the little mall in Hout Bay the majority seemed to be older, leathery (post-retirement) Germans. I was waiting for Kate in the mobile phone shop and every customer was a bewildered German, trying to either get their phone to work, or to understand what contract they had bought.
At the wine estate there were people of every nationality, but with a significant number of South Africans. The range of nationalities is good, but there was little racial diversity, the serving staff are black or coloured, the tourists white. I was able to ask a number of the staff, here and elsewhere, what their pandemic experiences had been. Some in the service industry were fortunate in that their employers tried to pay, at the minimum, survival wages. The driver who picked me up from the airport had, pre-Covid, a thriving shuttle business with four vehicles. She had to sell three of them to survive and was trying to rebuild her operations. There are encouraging signs that this is happening.
I flew back to Norwich after a week in Cape Town. The route is second nature, KLM to Amsterdam and then the short hop to Norwich. Although the flight left on the 14th, it was only just as it took off at 00h40. KLM is unique in that they make good use of their fleet. They don’t fly to South Africa then have the planes spend hours on the tarmac, so all the journeys to Europe (from Joburg and Cape Town) are overnight. I managed to negotiate for a middle seat with the one next to me blocked!
Back in England the first part of January was mild, but that changed on the 17th when we woke to a hard frost. The weather forecast for the week ahead is very cold, the temperature not rising above 3 or 4°C. One of my Christmas presents was a minimum and maximum thermometer. The coldest it has been, so far this year, was -4.2°C on the night of the 16th January. The house has two wood/coal burning stoves and one of my duties is to build the fire and then clean out the ashes. It is certainly being used in this cold spell. We had a chimney sweep come for the necessary maintenance today.
One of the ways I decide what to read is by reading reviews. I read a review of the book ‘Waiting for the Last Bus: Reflections on Life and Death’ by Richard Holloway (Canongate, 2019). He was Bishop of Edinburgh from 1986 to 2000 and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church from 1992 to 2000. It looked very interesting and so I ordered it through the interlibrary loan system. What a curious book, Holloway makes a very good case for there being no God and not much place for faith. It was certainly not what I expected. I can strongly recommend it as a thoughtful reflection. It made me think, and suggests my opinions are not completely nuts.
On the other hand, what is reported in the news is insane. It has been nearly a year since the Russians invaded Ukraine. Twelve months ago, we were listening to reports of increasing tension. I am shocked to look back and think that I did not consider it remotely possible that Putin would unleash his forces. How wrong I and many others were. What is troubling though is that I don’t know how it will end. In the UK the current Tory government is completely tone deaf and the levels of poverty and desperation are ever increasing. However they have a significant majority and have no need to go to the country until 2024. If, at that election, there is not a considerable change I will despair.
In this context, and by contrast, a Sunday paper carried a story about a seal in a fishing lake in Essex. Apparently, it found its way there from a local river and, so far, shows no sign of wanting to return to the sea. ‘The British Divers Marine Life Rescue said the seal needed to be caught for its own welfare but was happily eating the fish in the lake.’ The reporter wrote ‘A seal trapped in a fishing lake has “found himself in a branch of Waitrose” and has no incentive to escape’. Well, I thought, what do you expect! But this tunnel vision is reflected in other ways. According to the UK giving report, ‘Animal welfare continued to be the most popular with 27% of donors giving to this cause in the past four weeks’.
I am deeply immersed in writing a ‘memoir’. I feel I have had both an interesting and incredibly fortunate life and want to try to make sense of it. So far, I have written about 20,000 words, covering my life up to the age of 12. I hope it is not self-indulgent claptrap. I have little expectation of publishing it commercially, but I have really enjoyed going through memories and, with the help of the internet, being able to research some fascinating events. Who would have thought my father was involved in a military action against Faqir of Ipi on the North West Frontier of India in the 1940s! I may start posting chapters along with the monthly blogs.