Driving and relaxing

I finished teaching in Konstanz on Friday 3rd November. Rowan arrived on the Wednesday before this. The cancellation of a train from Zurich Airport meant she got in sometime later than we hoped. As predicted by the family, she got the bedroom and I took over the sofa bed in the apartment’s lounge. This made sense since I get up frequently during the night. She had only two full days in the town and we went to Friedrichshafen and the Spa, both second visits for me, but no less enjoyable. She came to class on the Friday, my last session. All students produced blog posts, those who wanted, have them posted with this blog.

On Saturday 4th November we flew from Zurich to Amsterdam and stayed in an Ibis Budget hotel not far from the airport. The actual hotel was very basic but entirely fine, the rooms sleep three people with a bunk bed arrangement over the double bed. There should, perhaps, be a warning “Beware of falling children”.

It seemed a very remote spot and I was not confident of our ability to get into the city. The receptionist said confidently that there was a bus stop across the road, and the bus, a number 193, went punctually every 15 minutes. I expected a lonely pole on the banks of a drainage ditch, but instead it was a busy barn sized structure with numerous buses. All we had to do was cross four lanes of traffic. We went to Leidseplein near the centre of Amsterdam, found a decent restaurant, enjoyed a good meal, and got the bus back with no difficulty at all.

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Writer’s Block

I wish I knew a more productive way of writing than my current style. At the moment it seems that I allow deadlines to creep up on me, and then there is a period of frenetic activity before the article, blog, book or whatever is submitted. I never feel completely satisfied. This is hypocritical, given that the advice I give my students is: “done is good enough”. One thing that became clear over the last few weeks is that I do my best work with other people. I was very fortunate last month in that Gemma Oberth, whose Ph.D. I examined some years ago, and who now lives and works in Cape Town, asked if she could come and spend a period of time writing with me. She was visiting her parents in Toronto and so it was a simple matter for her to travel up to Waterloo. (Having said that though, travelling from Toronto to Waterloo is never a simple matter, the traffic can be horrendous.) This was absolutely great. We were able to settle down, plan out an article, do the research, and actually get close to a final draft. We then exchanged versions over email and submitted it to a journal within a week of her departure. It now goes out to peer review and I will be interested to see what the reviewers think of it. Personally I found this method of writing to be easier than most.

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Spring in Durban and Cape Town and Autumn in Norwich

Spring in Durban and Cape Town and Autumn in Norwich

This is the second posting to go up in a short time. The management of my website has moved to John Price. I want to say a big thank you to Shela McCullough and Linda Mtambo of HEARD for all that they did to keep my posts flowing! By early next year we will have looked at the design of the site and changed it. I hope to make it somewhat interactive.

I was in the UK and South Africa in late September and early October. The first part of the trip was covered in my last posting. This one is about Durban, Cape Town and Norwich. After 24 hours in Durban (a silly side trip because I was not paying attention to my travel plans), I flew to Cape Town for a Health Systems Symposium. These meetings are held every two years, this was the third, the first I had been to. As all my South African family lives in Cape Town and the environs I was able to see them. My visits to the South Africa will become less frequent in the years ahead, so this is important to me.

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The Final Post of the Year and ‘last post’ from Durban

This is the last posting to be written in my incarnation of Director of HEARD. It is a time of change, and the passing of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has really shaken the country and me. It is taking time for this to sink in, but I will try to write about it.

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July: America, Americans and wonderful Durban winter

July: America, Americans and wonderful Durban winter

I flew from the United Kingdom to Durban on Monday, 11 June. It was the long daylight flight from Amsterdam so as well as working I saw the film  Warhorse. After an overnight stay at the Intercontinental Hotel in Johannesburg and I flew to Durban on Tuesday. I went straight to the office and got a lift home at the end of the day. The next morning was an early start, I went back to Johannesburg, met up with colleagues from the British Department for International Development’s (DFID) office in Pretoria. We drove down to Swaziland where we spend 24 hours in meetings talking about a possible regional HIV and AIDS program. This included a dinner with members of Swazi civil society.

I had less than a week in Durban and then headed for Florence for a UNICEF meeting. On the Wednesday I flew out on the Air France A380, the biggest plane in the world (and it is quite fantastic), to Paris and changed for the flight to Italy. I was rather exhausted when I got in and so slept for part of the day before going out and wandering around the city. The weather was perfect, and it is without doubt one of the most spectacular cities I know. The two day meeting on child well-being was deeply interesting. We finished at about three o’clock on Saturday and I headed for the airport to get back to Paris, Johannesburg and Durban. The EUFA cup game between France and Italy was being broadcast in the lounge. I was the only one who cheered when Italy scored – and they won. I had one night in Durban and then flew to Cape Town to visit the Children’s Institute.

In Cape Town I managed to both deliver a birthday present to my niece in Hout Bay and meet up with my uncle, aunt, cousins and second cousins for dinner. Uncle Fred was one of those people who was an absolute role model for me. He and June live in a retirement home in Pinelands just outside Cape Town. They originally bought two units expecting to be allocated ones adjacent to each other so they could create a decent living space. The elderly lady who owned the one changed her mind about moving. They spent at least a year living in two separate apartments on two floors. When the lady died they were finally able to consolidate. I knew the whole story and happened to be visiting on the day that they got the news of the woman’s death. I am afraid that my reaction was:

“Oh good now you can settle in properly”, which is exactly what they have done.

The University of Cape Town put me up in a nearby guest house. After checking in and having a shower I went back to the reception and took a manager to my room to point out all the things that were wrong with it. These ranged from the steps into the room without a guard railing, actually quite dangerous; through to blankets on the bed – good establishments have duvets which can be washed between every guest, that doesn’t happen with blankets; a faulty shower and a number of other minor issues that were annoying. It was a rather twee establishment and they had a blackboard in the reception area with a quote on it, something like “happiness is a state of mind” and as I walked past it with the manager I pointed out that happiness only has only one ‘p’. Afterwards I thought ‘and so does pedantic’.

I then had less than two weeks in Durban before heading back to the United Kingdom and on to Washington for the international AIDS conference. It was very busy. The buzz in the office, as people prepare for the conference: writing papers, making posters, planning the stand, sending material  and generally getting ready, is exciting and rewarding. HEARD will have a significant contingent and it will be great to see how they do. Probably the best part of my job is seeing people grow and develop.

I was invited to the United States Consulate General’s home, along with several hundred other people to mark the 4th July. He, sensibly, arranged parking at a primary school down the hill and had a shuttle bus taking people to the house. There was a significant police presence as the guests included the provincial premier, various members of his cabinet, the American ambassador, King Zwelithini and other dignitaries. I decided to walk back to my car. Two Metro Police driving past saw me strolling down the hill. They knew where I had been, and asked if I wanted a lift. I have not yet been in the back of a police car and did not feel this was an appropriate time to start so thanked them very much and walked on. I slightly regret this now.

I was planning to return to Norwich on Tuesday. Our university decided to migrate our e-mail system to Microsoft outlook over the weekend. On Monday and Tuesday there were to be teams going around our campus ensuring that the changeover went smoothly. It did not! My PA spent most of Monday at the walk-in center with my laptop trying to get it set up to work on the new system. On Tuesday I went down with her and we kidnapped one of the technical people and brought him back up to the offices to try and sort things out. It took nearly all day. The level of stress was considerable and I correctly made a call that it would be better to delay travel by a day and ensure that I had all the technology that I would need for the next month. It does seem to be working now.

Coming through Amsterdam I had a really pleasant surprise. I used the business class lounge shower, and emerged wearing nice fresh clothes and feeling clean to bump into Father Michael Kelly, a Jesuit priest from Lusaka. He was a really critical part of our AIDS and education work 12 years ago. Apart from being a fantastically nice and thoughtful person he is an individual who I admire and who has mentored me over the years. He is now 83 so these encounters are extremely valuable and need to be savored. We had about 45 minutes to talk before he went off to catch his plane. He is one of the unsung heroes of the fight against AIDS, a most compassionate sensible man.

 The next posting will be after the Washington conference. There will be a great deal of activity on the HEARD website though – www.heard.org.za so you can follow events there.

 Films and books

Warhorse. The story of a horse Joey, requisitioned at the beginning of the First World War from a farm in Devon. The son of the farm, Albert, joins up. Towards the end of the war Joey, after being captured and ‘serving’ the German forces, gets caught up in the wire in no-man’s land. He is released by a German and British soldier in moment of armistice. He is to be put down but is reunited with Albert. The children’s book is by Michael Morpurgo was first published in 1982. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg. It is a moving story and is beautifully made. It is also complex and sometimes there seemed too many subplots for me to entirely follow. The message is war is hell!

A Thousand Words.  This was billed as a comedy drama starring Eddy Murphy. It is a simple tale of an literary agent who is cursed by words. It was badly reviewed, and deservedly so. However on the 23.20 flight from Johannesburg it was watchable and I saw the last 30 minutes over breakfast so did not feel it was wasted time. There are other films on the KLM flights I am looking forward to seeing.

Random Violence by Jassy MacKenzie, Umuzi, Houghton, 2008 238 pages. This is a novel set in and around Johannesburg that has been on my selves for some time. I found it, initially, very difficult to get into. However I persisted and was pleased I did. I hope that she writes more. She has the potential to develop into another good South African crime writer. The end is a bit too much ‘and with one bound he was free’ but in general it was believable, well observed and well plotted. It is set in the period leading up to the World Cup and MacKenzie catches the nation’s mood very well. The heroine is a private detective named Jade de Jong, the daughter of murdered white senior policeman, who returns to SA after 10 years away and gets caught up in a complex plot involving property development and crime.

Relativity

Relativity

I think Durban is one of the nicest cities in the world. I have lived there for nearly 30 years. Ailsa and I bought our first house there and it is the place the children were born. The university has been, for me, a good work environment. At the beginning of my career I was well mentored and then given space and support to start my own unit. HEARD is going well with an amazingly good research output, high staff morale, adequate funding and a throughput of talented young researchers. All this is in our annual report, which will be on the website very soon.

In the middle of April I was in Nairobi, Kenya for a meeting on Efficiency, Effectiveness and Sustainability which the International AIDS Society organised. I am an elected Governing Council member and the Treasurer up to the International AIDS Conference in Washington in July (see www.iasociety.org.) It was a quick trip, flying up on Wednesday evening and returning to Durban on Saturday – I flew on the late flight from Nairobi to Johannesburg on Friday evening, slept at the City Lodge at OR Tambo airport and caught a flight down to Durban at a sensible time.  I used air miles to upgrade the ticket so it was relatively painless. I had a colleague travelling at the same time as me so we chatted and went to the airport together. He will remain nameless given the story I am about to tell.

A while ago I noticed that my Yellow Fever vaccination was about to expire and so went and was re-immunised. Just as well, my companion had forgotten the card. The check-in staff would not let him on the plane without one, and they were quite adamant about this. He had to go across the airport to the clinic and get the shot, paying above the odds for it. Of course it takes time to become effective but this is generally overlooked. Indeed we were not even asked for the certificates! However the South African authorities can be very fierce about this!

I had two nights in Durban and on Monday the HEARD team flew to Johannesburg for the biannual donor and board meetings held at the aforementioned City Lodge. These went very well, with an excellent turnout for both, only one board member was not able to make it. From there I flew, in economy class, to Cape Town, a long two hour flight on a packed plane. This was for a Council on Health Research for Development meeting on the theme of Beyond Aid… Research and Innovation as key drivers for Health, Equity and Development, all the details are the websites at www.forum2012.org and www.cohred.org. This was most interesting.

There is no doubt Cape Town is stunning. I think it is the most beautiful city in the world. Driving in from the airport at about 6 pm the evening light was an amazing rosy shade. Coming round the side of the mountain on de Waal drive and seeing the centre of the city, the harbour with the huge gantries like a row of storks silhouetted against the south Atlantic, and in the distance, Robben Island, was breathtaking. I feel I have a champagne lifestyle on a soda water salary. I get to travel, stay in great hotels, see new and interesting places and meet all sorts of people.

The conference started on the Tuesday, so unfortunately I missed the first day. I was staying at one of my favourite hotels, The Cullinan, they describe themselves as ‘stylishly grand and perfectly majestic’ and I think this is fair. It is just a few minutes’ walk from the international convention centre. The relative merits of Durban and Cape Town are very different. I must admit to being tempted by Cape Town, as one of my friends said it has “the mountain factor”. This must have been the magnet that has drawn my extended family there. Friday was a public holiday, Freedom Day, marking the end of apartheid and the new democratic government. I spent most of it visiting family.

My brother Derek Whiteside was away on business and so I took Lynn, my sister-in-law and my three nieces Emily, Sarah and Katie out for lunch in Hout Bay – to a restaurant called Dunes. It is a stunning setting looking out over the bay with a band of ultra blue water just beyond the breaking waves. In the last while the euphonious dunes have blown away and now the view is straight on to the beach. We were at the restaurant joined by distant cousin Neil Hodgson and his daughter Lisa. He is a captain with South African Airways. As I am silly about aircraft and flying it is always great to talk to him and I (a minority perhaps) find discussing airline routes and types of planes to be deeply interesting. From there I went to visit my Uncle Fred and Aunt June (also Hodgsons) who live in a retirement home in Pinelands. This is on the way to the airport which makes dropping on them very easy. We were joined by my cousin Linda and her daughter Hayley (who has nearly completed her PhD at the University of Cape Town) and her sister, my cousin Sandra who was visiting from Uitenhage. The most family I have seen in a very long time.

Perhaps this posting is not just about relativity but also about reflection. Fred was very senior in de Beers Diamond Company and I have always looked up to him as a role model. Nearly 20 years ago he had a hip replacement operation that went wrong. As a result now finds it difficult to get around. He has a mobility scooter for inside the flat and a more robust one for going out. I still see him as a role model because of his attitude and stoicism.

They moved into the home two years ago expecting to get a large apartment. That arrangement fell through and they ended up with two apartments on different floors. They lived a schizoid life until the space next to theirs became available. Now they have been able to consolidate and expand at the same time, and actually have a very nice warm set of rooms.

Part of the conference ‘package’ was an evening out at Groot Constania, the original wine estate in South Africa, the vines being planted by the first governor of the Dutch settlement of Cape Simon van der Stel. We were taken there by bus, the scenic winding route round the coast, which left me feeling quite ill! However I soon recovered. The food and wine were fantastic and the entertainment was provided by South African diva Yvonne Chaka Chaka. This is what I mean by a champagne lifestyle. Of course one of the questions is who pays, because at the end of the day someone has to. We were told that it was the World Bank, and yet they were hardly represented which was a great pity. Fortunately, after the copious quantities of alcohol and excellent food, we went back on the short straight route.

I learnt, at the meeting, that health is underfunded, but more worryingly the health people do not understand how to advocate for more funding. They think that the fact that their cause is noble, it’s sufficient and this, sadly, is not the case! We know from our work that ‘crowding-out’ is a real issue. If foreign money is given to health then governments will tend to reallocate domestic resources. This is good, basic and responsible public administration. It is not what donors intend! I shall have to reflect on the meeting and write up some notes, since I was there in an official capacity as a person from the Department for International Development, although I would not presume to speak for the organisation. What was interesting was to meet people from a different circle from the one I normally operate in.

Reviews

Music

There has been a lot of music in Durban recently. I went to the University Jazz Centre to listen to a folky duo from Cape Town Andrew James and the Steady Tiger, I was so impressed that I went to hear them again at St Clements, a cafe on Musgrave Road. Their style is great; both are excellent guitarists with mellow voices. I thought they spent far too much time tuning the instruments though and exchanged emails with them about this. Some of their music is on their website. On the Friday evening The Collective, a new venue in Durban, hosted The South Jersey Pom-Poms, which is lead by a colleague from the University.

Books

The suburb of Manor Gardens, which was beautifully and evocatively written about by Barbara Trapido in her book Frankie and Stankie (Bloomsbury 2003), is where we bought our second house. It was let to chaotic tenants for about four years and they left a month ago. When I first went to look at it my heart absolutely sank. There has been work going on and I went to check on progress on Saturday and then went to lunch at a new cafe in the neighbourhood. Exhibit owned by Eunice van der Vloet is a house with an art gallery, table chairs and a limited menu. It is an encouraging addition to the neighbourhood and I hope it prospers. Sadly the estate agents tell me Manor Gardens is a leafy green quirky suburb, and that is not what people want.

I have finally finished reading Catherine Hakim’s Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital, (Allen Lane 2011, 384 pages). I found it a thought provoking book. The two key points were: What is erotic capital and the idea of a male sexual deficit. It makes a number of rather challenging statements, but will certainly be of use in understanding behaviours and responding to AIDS.

My Australian Experience: October 2010

I have been invited to speak at the Australasian AIDS conference on a number of occasions. This year, the invitation came early, there were no clashes in my diary, and I was able to plan a trip. As a way of reflecting on and sharing the experience, I have written this ‘blog’, the formal trip report is extremely tedious. I’ve tried to capture some of the highlights. This posting cannot hope to capture all that went on, but let me give it a try. There are three broad themes: people, places, and miscellaneous snippets.

Australia is a long way from anywhere. I decided if I were going such a great distance, then I’d at least plan a week in Melbourne so that I could take in more than just the conference venue in Sydney. The jet lag was appalling (both ways). I did the right thing by spending the Monday after I arrived just walking around the city: across the Darling Harbour Bridge; to the Sydney Opera House; through the magnificent Botanic Gardens to Kings Cross (the red light area according the novels I have read, in particular those of Jon Cleary who died in July this year; and back to the hotel. I could feel blisters starting to develop, so I took the monorail for the last couple of kilometres: bitter experience is this is not a good way to start a trip. People are right when they say that Sydney is beautiful. This was definitely one of the times when I regretted not carrying a camera! It is a spectacular, clean, liveable city. Interestingly, the tap water in both cities was incredibly tasty and lacked the chlorine that we get in most of Africa.

I packed as though I was going to a Durban climate, so found myself unprepared for the cool weather. In Melbourne, it was downright chilly in the evening! The lightweight African shirt had only one outing, as I was determined to wear it for my keynote speech. I was generally surprised by the number of men wearing ties and suits, even at the conference. There seems to be an innate conservatism in Australian businessmen and professionals, although my evidence is not up to ‘Randomised Control Trial’ standard.

Everyone living in Australia will inevitably face the distance issue. This challenge is related to not only the physical demands of getting anywhere, but also to the major time difference for overseas family and colleagues. People in Europe, South Africa and the USA are asleep when you want to talk to them! When I was contemplating a position in Melbourne, one of the people on the interview panel gave me some sound advice: “If you come here, you need to commit to Australia.” I also heard the professional scene described not as ‘big fish in a small pond’ but as ‘minnows in a tear’-a delightful metaphor. One Australianism which amused me was ‘fair suck of the saveloy.’ Saveloy is a type of sausage and the phrase itself meaning equity or possibly redistribution.

I stayed in three hotels and no less than five rooms over the two weeks. The conference hotel in Sydney was at Darling Harbour, a touristy part of the city with restaurants and gift shops. Think Victoria and Albert Waterfront in Cape Town and you will have the picture. I ate there a number of times and the meals varied from outstanding to quite ghastly. The hotel was a reasonable Novotel, but, and this was my experience across the country, the window did not open. What is it with modern hotels and their objection to fresh air?

In Melbourne I stayed in the north of the city and opposite the Royal Melbourne Children’s hospital, just up the road from the Women’s and General Hospitals. This was a really bad hotel. The design was Soviet-a soul-less block of a building with purple patterned carpet. I stayed in three rooms during my six nights there. The first had a faint odour of talcum powder and faeces, but the window opened a bit so I thought it would be ok. The next morning I had to tell the staff that it was too noisy. It overlooked a major road which had a tram track down the middle! The combination of the rattle of trams, numerous ambulances (hardly surprising given the location), and boy racers in souped up cars and motorbikes made it impossible to sleep. They moved me to a room facing the inside of the gulag. I gave up my bath in exchange for a shower that produced a trickle of water, which changed temperature whenever anyone flushed a toilet in the building – or perhaps even in the neighbourhood.

The talcum powder smell persisted and indeed seemed to permeate the pillows. I understood the reason for this on the Monday when, I saw for the first time, the coach. This hotel was the destination for coach tours for elderly people, and of course women predominate in the cohort. They tottered along the corridors and down the stairs in clouds of powder. Each day a different group, but the same odours, halos of permed hair, and frailty.

I was ok with the hotel, it was convenient for most of the meetings I was attending and just ten minutes away from a nice little gym in a vibrant neighbourhood. I managed to train a good few times, and really enjoyed the jog to the gym. The houses were typical for Melbourne, row or terraced houses with wonderful wrought iron on the porches; very similar to parts of Pietermaritzburg, which makes sense since it was the same era. What is different though, from the colonial periods, is the scale. Durban is just one city; Melbourne and Sydney were many municipalities, each with its own town hall, post office and centre. There is far more variety.

It was great to know so many people in another otherwise foreign city. On the Saturday evening Kate Taylor and her fiancé, Rod, took me out for a Thai dinner and then to a jazz club. Sadly we ended before the music did. They also invited me to dinner in their house (with her mother and father), so I got to see the inside of a typical central Melbourne house. It does smack of South African colonial architecture. The space (and probably building material) allowed them to build single story brick terraced homes, but the need to get to work restricted the sprawl and meant that the old suburbs radiate out along the tram tracks. The new suburbs are typical of any city in the (warm) western world, they sprawl for kilometres along the freeways and lack charm, although the good rains made it verdantly green.

On my last day I got back to the hotel to discover they had, unilaterally, without telling me, changed my room. I was furious because I had unpacked everything, and my sweaty gym kit had been festering on the floor for the previous two days. This had been put, with all my clean clothes, into my case, which was then zipped shut and left in the room. Of course, it meant everything smelt faintly of ammonia. Fortunately the hotel had a do-it-yourself washing machine. The receptionist on duty did not like confrontation so we had to escalate up to the duty manager. I pointed out that they had seen me every day and that I was willing to move, but would have wanted to pack my suitcase myself. The proposed new room was facing the road and the trams, so we negotiated yet another one, even smaller, and still no bath, but the shower actually worked really well! In the end they did not charge for one night’s accommodation, which is why I have not named them (but if you read this you know who you are).

I went to Sydney on Friday to avoid a really early start on Saturday. This stay was in an ‘apartment’ hotel, which meant no food. They sold ‘breakfast packs,’ two chocolate biscuits, cartons of long life milk, cereal, and fruit salad. However to get a bite to eat I had to walk up to a little row of shops. The area was Bantry Bay municipality and it was clearly a working class area. There were food outlets: pizza, Chinese and Thai take-aways and kebab shops.

The worst meal I had was so-called Lebanese, but it owed more to grease than any other national cuisine. This was when Zahed and Shamim Cachalia, who had been a year below me at Waterford School in Swaziland and I arranged to meet for a drink and then decided on the spur of the moment to get supper. Zahed works for ABC TV, for which I had a four minute and thirty two second spot (on ABC news 24). Looking at it again I find myself asking am I really that fat? But the powder really made me look good; yes powder has its place! I also did a radio show with other guests for Late Night Live with an amazing presenter called Phillip Adams-he really had done his homework and asked a series of very sensible questions. I also mentioned I like the sea and surfing and had to clarify in the discussion that I did not mean ‘standing-up-on-a-board’ surfing but ‘lying-on-a-body-board’ surfing.

A week later in Melbourne, I encountered another old friend, Alan Herman, from Swaziland days. He was a paramedic for many years, and now runs his own business and is a pastor. It was really good (and astonishing) to catch up with people I said goodbye to 35 years ago. Would I have recognised them? Probably, and we certainly did not run short of conversation.

It was clear that Waterford was a defining moment in our lives. I was sent there because it was our local school. The Herman family fled Cape Town and washed up in Mbabane where the dad was taken on to teach music, while the mum worked as a cook at the school. They were political exiles without papers. Shamim had been sent to Waterford by her Moslem parents as one of the very few girls to be admitted. She was hundreds of miles from home.

There are so many stories that need to be told about the circumstances under which students attended at Waterford. I was not really aware of the backgrounds of many of the kids and their parents. Mind you it emerged as we talked this lack of awareness was not unique to me. With few exceptions, most of us were insulated and isolated as students. All of it rings as drastically different from today’s world of instant communications.

Overall, the travel was quite exhausting, but I was in business class – using airmiles! I would hate to have to do it in economy. I voyeuristically walked to the back of the plane and there were quite a few empty seats. It would really annoy me if I had paid for a premium economy seat and then discovered that in the back I could lie across three seats. On the flight back to Johannesburg there was a fair amount of turbulence on the way out of Sydney and the purser made a unique announcement:
“Would all passengers please make sure their seatbelts are on, and their children are safely stowed”… [a pause and an embarrassed giggle], “I mean secured.”

The trip was, from my point of view, very successful. I gave five talks and took part in a number of other events, including a really fun debate at the main conference. The debate centered on whether testing and treating was a viable option for ‘our region’. I went first for our team, which meant defining some of the positions. I think we won with a convincing swing because we had actually talked it through and prepared our presentations. I visited four universities in the two cities and walked mile and miles.

Would I, could I live in Australia? It is a hugely attractive country and it works. The informality grates a bit. I was surprised to have the hotel receptionist to glance at my booking and say: “Hello Alan, how are you doing?” I will be thinking about it for some time to come. The next posting will try to capture some more of my processed thought about the country. Because I was spending so much time travelling I have quite a number of books and films to review as I have done below.

Films 

Greenburg.
I decided to watch this on the way to Sydney because I rather like Ben Stiller. It is the story of a carpenter who moves into his brother’s home on the west coast of the USA to look after the house while the family are on holiday. I think it is set in Los Angeles. Stiller’s character has had a mental breakdown and this story is about him falling in love. I watched it most of the way through and was not impressed. So as with books, I skipped to the end and still did not find it appealing.

Kick-ass.

I chose this film because it had Nicholas Cage as one of the leads. It is the story of a teenager who decides to become a super hero but with no special powers. It was a great action comedy and I really enjoyed it. Good escapism.

Books

Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees, Penguin, 2002, Harmondsworth, 302 pages. 

The story is set in a Southern state in 1964 at the time of the beginning of the civil rights movement. It tells of a young girl who runs away from her father with her African American nanny. They find the women who took in her mother a generation previously. The household comprises August the matriarch, and her sisters, June and May. May is somewhat disturbed, and commits suicide in the course of the story. The title of the book is based on the women’s jobs as bee keepers and honey makers. The theme of bees and how they operate carries throughout. It is a wonderfully observed book about powerful women and is well worth reading. I was quite surprised to discover that the book was first published in 2002, as it only really hit airport bookshops recently, and I became aware of it. I bought it from a second-hand bookshop.

Dave Warner, Exxxpresso, Picador, 2000, Sydney 376 pages. 

In the same a second-hand bookshop I asked for any good Australian crime writing and this was recommended to me by the owner. It is the story of a man who is released from prison and decides to go in to the cafe business, making and selling coffee. The storyline is extremely complicated but it is a rollicking good book. It is set in western Australia between Perth and Kalgoorie; the characters spend a considerable amount of time driving the highway between the two cities. A good read and I shall look for other books by the same author.

T. C. Boyle, The Women, Penguin, New York, 2009, 451 pages. 

Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the best architects of the 20th century. Many years ago I was brought to look at some of the buildings he designed in Chicago and was very taken with them. Of course, as with many people of his time, he designed more than buildings. This is a work of fiction but is based on facts surrounding the three main women who shared his life and were his muses. He seems to have lived a completely chaotic life with rocky finances and a series of lovers, one of whom was quite clearly deranged. The book purports to be written by one of his Japanese pupils/apprentices who observes the scene. The only minor failing of the novel is that it does not take us into Lloyd Wright’s head as well as it portrays the women’s perceptions. It is quite hard to read, but well worth persisting.

Gill Schierhout, The Shape of Him, Vintage Books, London, 2009, 210 pages.
As is often the case with reading a book written by someone you know, it was a pleasure to read Gill’s work. It was not however what I expected. The story is of a middle-aged woman, Sarah, who is making a living in South Africa by managing a boarding house. She spends most of her time reflecting on the past including her love affair with a diamond digger. He has what seems like Huntington’s disease, a progressive genetic neurological disorder, and is hospitalised during the book. It seems as though he has a daughter and that this child is sent to Sarah who proceeds to look after her. A twist in the tale is when Sarah has an affair with an Indian textile factory manager called Hafferjee. The book is set in Cape Town, some of the small mining towns of the Transvaal, and the diamond diggings. It is beautifully observed both from the point of view of scenery and characters, and was quite thought provoking.

Imran Coovadia, High Low In-between, Umuzi, Roggebaai, 2009, 268 pages. 

There are a small number of Durban novels that I consider to be excellent for capturing the nuances of the city. There are others which don’t – I found it impossible to read Sally Anne Clarkes ‘Small Moving Parts’ even though it is set in Umbilo, a neighbourhood I know well. I have really enjoyed Barbara Trapido’s books – Frankie and Stankie and Sex and Stravinsky. Coovadia tells the story from the point of view of an Indian photographer who has lived outside the country for many years. He returns for his father’s funeral. It is initially believed that his father committed suicide but transpires that he was murdered by a colleague. Set against the Indian background and in the medical school and hospital of Durban, this is partly based on the real events of kidneys being sold and transplanted in the city (from poor Brazilians to rich Israelis). It is gripping. Most characters are believable and his writing about AIDS and race relations in South Africa is accurate and perceptive. I savoured the last few chapters, and did not want it to end.

Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational, Harper Perennial, New York, 2010, 349 pages. 

This book is of a similar genre to those of Malcolm Gladwell and Nicolas Taleb. It is thought provoking but easily readable. The author has two Ph.Ds-one in cognitive psychology and the other in business administration. In this book he looks at how and why we make decisions which so often seem irrational. Examples of chapters include: ‘The cost of social norms: why we are happy to do things but not when we are paid to do them’; ‘The cycle of distrust: why we don’t believe what marketers tell us’, and ‘The effect of expectations: why the mind gets what it expects’. It is worth reading, probably best with a pen in one’s hand to pick up the key points.

Back In Durban January – February 2010

A quick look at my Website tells me that I haven’t posting anything for nearly two months. So let me bring you up to date with what I’ve been doing. Christmas and New Year were spent with the family in Norwich. It was cold but a lot of fun and generally enjoyed by all. My sister came up from London for the Christmas period but we were on our own for New Year.

Douglas and I spent a great deal of time working on various essays, reviews and other pieces of course work for his GCSE exams. This was productive and, I hope, bonding.

“Read it aloud, and if you have take a breath, it needs a comma or a full stop”, I kept repeating as we went through essays. I am afraid that the HEARD staff are getting the same treatment as I review their work.

Douglas and I also went to the gym together, and although he is not yet 16, we went to the exercise room instead of just the pool, sauna and steam room as we have done in the past. It was deeply interesting to sit beside him on the rowing machine and look in the mirror and see the similarities and differences. Would that I were his weight.

I returned to South Africa on 11th January. I actually delaying my journey by 24 hours as there was heavy snow and major disruptions on the Saturday and I thought it was not worth risking traveling by rail, (services are always disrupted on a Sunday anyway), and getting frustrated. The journey was quite straightforward, I got to Heathrow Airport at 5.15pm and asked the check-in staff if they could get me on the earlier flight, at 6.00 p.m. rather than at 8.30pm.

The lady asked me, “can you run”.

“Yes” I said.

I made it plane with plenty time although I didn’t stop to buy anything to read which was a bit of a pity.

It was good to get back to Durban, especially since winter has been unrelenting in the UK. My flat was spick and span courtesy of Madeline who acts as my personal PA and Angel the domestic worker; the office was set for me. I spent about week in the Durban before going to Cape Town for a Council for Foreign Relations meeting on “Rolling out treatment across South Africa”.

I now have more relatives in Cape Town as Derek my brother his wife Lynn and their three children, Emily, Sarah and Katie have emigrated to South Africa and are living in Hout Bay. I spent two nights in central Cape Town, went and had lunch with my uncle and aunt and then spent the Friday night with Derek. He is currently negotiating having teenage children who want to go to nightclubs in central Cape Town. I do not envy him. The family has a magnificent house in the valley in Hout Bay with a beautiful view of the mountains.

The main task in HEARD has been to get our new strategy document ready. This along with a business plan, budget and logframe (I really hate logframes and am glad we have an expert to prepare it) will form the basis of our request for funding for the next few years. We have had positive indications so I am confident that HEARD will continue at until 2014, and given the HIV prevalence rates in this part of world, it certainly should. Beyond that I would like to see more emphasis on health issues and not just HIV.

In the third week of January it was back to the UK, leaving Durban on a Friday and returning to it on the following Wednesday. The purpose of this meeting was to review five special papers from the aids2031 Project that are being prepared for publication in The Lancet. The meeting was organized by The Imperial College Group. It was extremely interesting and I was privileged to be part of a small high-powered group. My task was to look at the “drivers of the epidemic” paper written by a colleague, Justin Pathurst, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I liked reviewing it as I was able to have some fun with it.

I spent the weekend in Norwich with the family and, apart from being rather tired, enjoyed it greatly. I went to London on the Monday back to Norwich on the Tuesday and flew to South Africa on the Wednesday.

One irritation was that on the way over I had watched a film “Secondhand Lions” with Michael Caine and Robert Duval. It was made in 2003 and is described as a ‘coming of age’ movie. The story is set in the mid-West and tells of a boy who is sent to live with his uncles by his rather scatty mother. These old men have led amazing lives the film is about their developing relationship. It is well worth watching and I thought I was going to enjoy it. However an hour and nine minutes into the film the picture and sound went out of synchronization. It was impossible to watch. Having had a sufficiency of wine I decided quite simply to go to sleep as it seemed pointless despite numerous attempts at resetting the seat to watch it.

I was delighted, on the return trip, to see that the in-flight entertainment system was showing the same films and looked forward to now watching this movie through to the end. I got a glass of wine, fast-forwarded the video and at the appropriate time pressed play. You can imagine my dismay when the same thing happened.

I think I was on the same aeroplane. This makes sense, it would have taken me over on the Friday, returned to South Africa on Saturday, to England on the Sunday, to South Africa on the Monday, to London on the Tuesday and then been there on the Wednesday to bring me back. I watched another film, a mindless thriller called “The Whole Nine Yards”. On Saturday I went to the local DVD store and got a copy of the video took it home and watched the last half hour.

Since getting back to Durban I have been extremely busy with HEARD management. This is the third weekend in a row that I have worked. Being here lends itself to physical activity and I have been engaged in squash and going to the gym. My gym is curious place because it is mainly inhabited by serious fitness people who do not look at each other, other than to correct posture or weight lifting. We collectively feel this is a place to get fit not to pose. Their website is http://www.fitnesscompany.co.za/FC_home.php I have had a trainer at the gym, (yes a personal trainer), for some years now and when I work in a sustained manner with him I do see the weight and inches falling off. His name is Wade and being weighed by Wade is always an interesting process. He is only allowed to train out of hours or at lunch time. He does train me on a Sunday afternoon with permission from the owners. The gym is officially open from 4.30 to 6.30pm but we meet at 3.15 and I have the entire place to myself. I realized the other day that this is pretty cool, and I can choose the music. I think I am going to a Dolly Parton CD in to train to!

It is the height of summer in Durban and the temperature has been 30 degrees and more during the day. The flat is on the top floor and as a result it tends to be rather warmer than the ones below. Fortunately it has air-conditioning units in the lounge and bedroom. We recently had a power failure. This was a real pain as it meant that I was unable work or run the air-conditioner. I also discovered I did not have any matches to light my candles. I had to go to one of few smokers in the block to get a light.

Summer also means that the sun rises at about 5.00am. One morning I woke at 4.30 and despite trying to go back to sleep could not. I got up at 5.00 put on my running shorts and shoes and ran for 40 minutes. I go straight up the hill along and then down and then gradually back. I know I am not running fit because the route that normally takes me 35 minutes took me 38 this morning. I had to walk up the steepest hill at the end which was a blow to my pride.

Film, Books and Blogs: December 2009

This will be the last posting for 2009. I will begin by wishing everyone a happy end of 2009 and a good 2010. This is not going to be a reflective post; that will be the first one of the New Year, when I have had a chance to get my head around the events of 2009. In this I will mainly reflect on the films I have seen and the books read over the past few months. I travelled from Durban to Vancouver and then back to the UK in mid-November which meant I saw quite a number of films.

The reflection to end the year is that I can fly but landing is still beyond me. I have had two lessons in the last week and have to say this landing business is more difficult than I thought it would be. After going round a few times and managing to touch down and have one ‘go-around’ which is when one aborts the landing without touching the tarmac, I was really battling. David, the instructor, took over and showed how easy it is for him while I was left feeling really frustrated. I can manage most of the landing – the turning, lining up and approach; it is the last 50 feet that I am finding really tough. The idea is that a point you fly above the runway taking off the power and holding the nose up until the plane gently touches down, and I am just not able to judge it. David says that everyone finds this and then it will suddenly come right. I hope this is true.

Perhaps the only thing I want to put in is that I am in the UK for Christmas and New Year. On 11th January I get back to Durban which is where I will be staying for the next few months. There is a great deal of management that needs to be done, and I also have the political economy of Swaziland which needs to be completed. I have finally returned to this and am enjoying getting my head around Swaziland and what a unique little nation it is. There will have to be some time spent up there doing fieldwork as well.

Films

“Departures”. This Japanese film, made in 2008, is the winner of a number of prizes including the Academy Award as Best Foreign Language film. It is the story of a cellist, whose orchestra closes. He and his wife move to a house that his mother left him and he begins looking for work. He sees an advertisement to work with ‘departures’, and thinking it is something to do with travel agent, applies and get the job. He discovers he is to be a “nokanshi” or professional who prepares bodies for burial and ‘encoffins’ them. The nokanshi carries rituals in front of the family: kneeling on one side, with the family is on the other; they carefully wash and prepare the body for burial or cremation.

The story is moving. It is about the relation between the hero, his somewhat irascible boss, and the deceased. I felt, were someone to have to do these rituals for me, then he is the sort of sensitive person one wants. The characters are deep and the music excellent.

“Taking Woodstock”. This is as told by Elliot Teichberg. As a young man he was working at his parent’s motel in Bethel, New York, involved in the local Chamber of Commerce, and had organized a number of cultural events. He was in charge of issuing public events’ permits and when he discovered that the organizers of the Woodstock Festival had been denied authority to hold the event in the village of Walkill, he issued them a permit. The Festival was held on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm, the rest is history.

It was a touching film, gentle in its approach to the event and, while probably not historically accurate, it was good fun. The film did not have any of the music, just covering events in the run-up to the Festival. Teichberg’s parents appear as two failing Jewish business people, out of place and time. All characters are parodied including the ‘earth-life’ acting troupe.

South African Airways shows South African films, and I have seen two.

“My Secret Sky” was made by Madoda Ncayiyana with Julie Fredrickse (co-producer and writer). I’ve known about this film for some time as Julie came to talk to me as she was developing it. I hope I was helpful in giving her background and thoughts. It is the story is of two children, 10-year old Thembe and her 8-year old brother, Kwezi. They are orphaned in a rural area outside Durban when their mother dies (implicitly of AIDS). The family gathers to bury the mother and the children are left in the care of an aunt who sells all their possessions and is portrayed as a drunken, grasping woman.

The children take a woven mat that their mother has made, (she was hoping to enter it in a competition), and set off for the city of Durban. Here they become involved with street children, in particular one called ‘Chili-bite’ who tries to sell the girl to a taxi-driver involved with pedophilia. There are gaps in the story line which I forgive because it is set in Durban. We see the steam train that, on a Sunday takes tourists from Pinetown to the Valley of a Thousand Hills; look at Warwick Junction with its hustle and bustle; see the Durban city streets the Embankment, a fantastic view across the bay and the sleazy underpass where the children live; finally there is the Musgrave road Anglican church.

The film tells of children being left on their own and facing great adversity. It is, for me, best a film that portrays areas and people I know as well as the real issues faced by growing numbers of children as a result of HIV/AIDS. It is an accurate picture of a thriving port city and how people, especially youngsters may fall through the cracks in this setting. I will certainly look for it on DVD.

“White Wedding”. This is fun. It tells of the journey of Elvis, by Greyhound bus from Johannesburg to Durban, to meet up with his best friend Tumi. Together they travel on to Cape Town for his wedding. Tumi is to be his best man and Elvis is to marry Ayanda in the Cape at a fancy hotel at Camps Bay.

The story is set in various locations. Ayanda is in Cape Town, the city and a township; we see Tumi and Elvis in Durban and the Eastern Cape. Their journey involves borrowing a car after Tumi’s girl friend wrecks his BMW. As they travel through the Eastern Cape they pick up a young English doctor who is hitchhiking (very unwisely all the South Africans would think). They wreck the car and end up in a rightwing, white stronghold in the Cape. Through charm and good manners they get a ride to Cape Town from one of the real Afrikaners.

This is “appealing feel good movie about love, commitment, intimacy and friendships and the host of maddening obstacles that can get in the way of a happy ending”. The writer/director is Jaan Turner, the daughter of Rick Turner who was assassinated in Durban. The executive producer is Ken Follet the author. They have done an excellent job in making this film, picking up on South Africa and what goes on there and making a thoroughly enjoyable film. The beauty of the landscape is well portrayed but I sincerely hope that no one tries hitchhiking through South Africa as the young doctor does.

I am not going to review it but want to say I really enjoyed the latest Coen brothers’ offering ‘Serious Man’. It has not been out very long and I found it very dark. There is humour in it, and I would say it does for small town Jewish communities what ‘District Nine’ did for apartheid South Africa and the bureaucracy.

Books 

Over the past nine months or so I have read the new series of the Millennium Trilogy written by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. There are three books in the series “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl Who Played With Fire”, and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest”. These are a publishing sensation, numbers 3, 8 and 12 on the Amazon best seller list (my “HIV/AIDS Very Short Introduction” has been as low as 15000 and currently is 135 000). The English version is by published by Maclehose Press. The key characters in the books are Lisbet Salanader and Mikael Blomkvist. Salander is a faintly autistic young woman, excellent with computers in the first book as a hacker she finds her way into a range of databases and saves the skin of the main character; in the last she is charged with attempted murder. There are other characters who are well developed. The Swedish detective, the editor of Millennium Magazine and in the final book Blomkvist’s sister. These three books are a monumental achievement and have been extremely well translated. Sadly the author Steve Larsson died after delivering them to the publisher and before they were published which means he never saw the outcome of his work. They are recommended as good holiday reading.

In the weekly Mail and Guardian of a few weeks ago there was a very interesting article about South African crime writing. The one author described well was Margie Orford who’s first book was called “Like Clockwork”. The book is published by Jonathon Ball Publishers and is set in Cape Town particularly around Green Point and Sea Point. It is the story of a serial killer who’s also involved in the trafficking of women. Orford describes Cape Town evocatively. Her main character is a psychologist/documentary filmmaker called Clare Hart but there are a range of other characters from the new South Africa who are well described in this book. The second in the series is “Blood Rose” and is set in Namibia in Walvis Bay. These are edgy books and they reflect the society well including AIDS and its consequences. The shady characters, especially the street children are particularly well described.

Terrified in the Treetops

It has been quite a couple of weeks what with one thing and another. Rowan, our daughter and Ben, her boyfriend, came over to South Africa for a three week adventure. This began with them going to Cape Town, to stay with my brother and family. They arrived very late on Tuesday evening off the daylight flight from Amsterdam. Derek and Lynn and the girls looked after them magnificently, and they had a wonderful time.

On the Saturday they flew up to Durban which is where they were to be based for the next two weeks. I was at work at the University and at about two o’clock I became aware that there was a southerly gale blowing. This meant the plane might be early and so I headed for the airport at high speed. Their aircraft was indeed 20 minutes ahead of schedule, but fortunately I was there in time. The beasts had organized their social life well in advance. After having supper with me they headed for a party with one of Rowan’s old school friends. I decided that I would therefore go to the cinema as I didn’t want to be sitting at home, (apparently) waiting for their return. I went and saw the chic-flic movie ‘It’s Complicated’ which I rather enjoyed.

Rowan and Ben stayed in Durban for the Sunday and Monday and on Tuesday drove up to the game reserves in the Hluhulwe area staying at a place the family love: Bonamanzi Game farm. Rowan first went there aged nine months. They reported seeing a lot of game; having an opportunity to visit the cheetah farm (cheetah’s purr); and getting drenched in a huge storm which left their treehouse without power or water. They got back on Friday and we went to a ‘standard’ Durban Manor Gardens Easter party on the Sunday. It no longer involves hunting for Easter eggs, most of the children are now way too old for this. It did involve sitting and talking and catching up with our neighborhood.

On the Monday I went to Swaziland to spend a couple of days doing research, but also to give them an opportunity to enjoy Durban by themselves. I returned on the Wednesday and took Friday off as they wanted go on the Karkloof Canopy Tours. According to the blurb “the canopy tour involves traversing from one platform to another along a steel cable suspended up to 30 meters about the forest floor. The tour comprises seven platforms and eight slides that zigzag down a pristine forested valley. The scenery and bird life are spectacular and the professional guides providing interesting facts about the forest ecology during the tour”.

That is the experience that most people may have; for me it was moments of amazement in a sustained period of sheer terror. The mountain is located about an hour and a half drive away from Durban. At the foot is a beautiful little set of cottages where visitors get their safety harness and a briefing. We then climbed into a Landrover and were driven to the top of the mountain. There were four of us doing the tour and there were three guides to make sure we were OK. Effectively one is clipped onto a steel cable, with a second cable as a safety device. There are two links to the main cable and one to the safety cable so it is very safe

The first slide is short, only 40 meters and is quite easy. Doing this one learns how to brake with the large leather glove on your hand. The second slide comprises of two ropes that disappear into the mist for 100 meters, taking you to the waterfall. Jumping off a platform and sliding down for this distance is not something that comes naturally. For the first three slides I went last. On the fourth slide I was told I was to go first (‘last in first out’ in trade union terms). It was hugely embarrassing because I slid down from one platform for 175 meters; arrived at the next platform; and gently bounced back five meters away from it. We had been told what to do if this happened: monkey climb; put your hands on the cable and haul yourself into the platform.

What we had not been told is what to do if, as I was, you were too terrified to even let go of the harness as you gently swung above the gorge. I tried monkey climbing, but I was shaking too much and so had to say to the guide: “please come and rescue me”. One of them shinned down the rope and hauled me back up catching my hand between two harnesses as he did. I sat on the platform shaking, sweating, pallid, and appalled at what I was doing. The other three arrived and looked at me and made helpful comments like:

“Oh shame”; “You are doing very well dad”, and “Not much more to go”.

Fortunately at this point we were given a small chocolate and a drink, the energy was absolutely necessary. There were three slides to go and I have to admit that I went in tandem with one of the guides who took responsibility for controlling the speed as we flew down those aerial rope-ways. What an experience. Rowan and Ben think it was one of the best things they had every done. I think I was insane. I hate heights at the best of times and this was clearly way way out of my comfort zone. They told me that the views were spectacular. I can’t comment, my eyes were closed for parts of the journey. At the end of the tour we were given a free drink and toasted sandwich, (they laughingly call this a delicious Midlands meal in their brochure). I am still processing the event!

From there it was back to Durban for Rowan’s final evening and we took the Brauninger family (who are old friends and had seen a great deal of Rowan and Ben) out for dinner. I had thought it would be possible to get a table for eight people at one of my favorite restaurants. This was completely not the case on a Friday evening. We ended up at a restaurant on Davenport Road.

The evening had the potential to be a complete disaster. Rowan, Ben and I walked down from my flat to the restaurant to get just there after 7.15pm. We informed the manager that we had a booking for 7.30pm. He denied it. Brigitta who had made the booking arrived shortly after, and the manager admitted that they had taken the booking but someone else had commandeered the table. We were put in the lounge area, sitting on leather cowhide seats. These were untanned and hairy which didn’t work for those people wearing shirts or shorts as the back of one’s’ legs were prickled and tickled.

It took nearly 40 minutes before we got a table and in the meantime the waitress came and got one drinks order at a time and brought us one drink at a time. The wine was red and hot an attribute one does not want. The day did not improve, the manager informed us that it was better to be inside under the fans than outside in the breeze, it would be cooler he said, members of the party wanted to smoke and went outside and report that this was definitely not the case. However when they were outside they had overheard the manager speaking about our party, being quite uncomplimentary about us, a complete lack of professionalism.

Eventually, an hour after we got to the re, we given a table, seated and orders taken. By this stage everyone was bad tempered and hungry. The food came and those of us who had order side dishes found we got meager portions. Rowan had a meal which had pesto on it which she detests. She said if she wanted pesto she would have ordered it.

Just as the food started coming from the kitchen, the switch on the distributor board on the pole outside the restaurant tripped, and we were plunged into darkness. Because the kitchen cooks with gas they were able to bring our means but it meant that their extractor fans ceased working and the inside of the restaurant gradually filled up with greasy smoke. Rowan, a vegetarian, went to the rest room and came back feeling quite nauseated. “Dad I walked through a cloud of meat”.

It was the only restaurant on the street affected in this way and was badly handled no apology just blame for the city council. Patrons were expected to simply carry on as though nothing had happened. Although that wasn’t quite the case because the waitress came over and said “Our computers are going to go down, please would you mind paying your bill now?’

We were paying cash so this was irrelevant. She carried on pushing until she had the money in her hand. By this time everyone was extremely irritated. I went to the manager and asked, “How much will you charge me for a tub of ice cream”.

“Why? Won’t you stay here”, he said.

So I told him why we would not in clear terms. All’s well that ends well though, we went to the flat and had ice-cream and several more bottles of wine. On the Saturday Rowan, Ben and I went over for breakfast to Mitchell Park; the weather had changed, it was grey, overcast, cold and a strong wind was blowing from the South. I dropped them at the airport at about 12.30. They flew to Johannesburg and then had to wait for 10 hours in before getting on the plane to Amsterdam and then connecting on the flight to Norwich. I got news, on Sunday that they had arrived back safely after an adventurous and I think very much fun time in South Africa. It was quite strange having company for this amount of time and probably rather good. They got in a decent amount of beach time which I think they very much appreciated.

Of course while all this holiday fun was going on here in South Africa we have had three major events. The first the murder of Eugene Terre´Blanche, a right-wing Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging leader. He had spent some years in prison in the 1990s and I can’t say his passing was greatly mourned by anyone. The second issue has been Julius Malema who has been severely reprimanded by President Zuma over his inflammatory behaviour. All this against a backdrop of us moving closer and closer to the World Cup. This stadia are complete, South Africa is ready but sadly it seems as though many fewer tourists than expected will be arriving for this event. I fear that Fifa has oversold and under delivered on the World Cup.