Of necessity, this is a long post – lots of words, that is. You have my apologies up front and can do a TL:DR and scroll down to the photographic content should you want.
As you will doubtless know Di and I live near Cape Town in South Africa.
The disastrous nine year presidency and leadership reign of corruption of Jacob Zuma has devastated much of South Africa’s infrastructure and economy. This article was published a couple of days ago and while there is nothing new here, details Zuma’s ascent, looting of the nation, legal difficulties and partial fall from grace in excellent detail. Take a few minutes to read and try to grasp the scope of the man’s greed and the mess the nation is grappling with to put matters to rights. Or not if some of the electoral polls are to be believed.
So, our Post Office is incapable of delivering letters and parcels within weeks rather than days. The rail system is shambolic, often dangerous, poorly managed and run and even the crack inter-city expresses are almost always hours late arriving.
Justice, police and the prisons are best left unmentioned. South African Airways and the SABC (state broadcaster) are both on the verge of bankruptcy and often heard whining that they require more government bail outs (read taxpayers’ money) or are going to be unable to pay salaries at month’s end.
The official unemployment figure is 27%, although most of us believe it might be as much as 5%-7% higher even than that.
An additional government sponsored, opposition backed land expropriation without compensation bill is before parliament, although the nation’s constitution already details specific remedies for such situations. We are assured that this will only impact state owned land, but these are politicians speaking…
Against this backdrop, ESCOM, the state electricity provider is the engine that should be driving the economy. Instead, ESCOM is currently some €30bn in debt, the network is only able to deliver around 70% of the required demand and then only sometimes. South Africa has been subjected to nationwide rolling electricity blackouts for several years, which recently, have been ramped-up; meaning two or three multi-hour outages a day. Our two new power stations – the world’s largest coal powered installations due to deliver 9600MW between them – are years late, billions over budget and largely useless because of dire levels of corruption, engineering and supervision. The electricity has been on and off more times than a bride’s nightie in recent days – and given the above, that’s hardly surprising.
The tiny Cape village we live in has suffered almost two dozen major lack-of-maintenance-related water leaks – requiring day-long periods of no water to facilitate repairs – since the beginning of December, with no end in sight.
Despite his recall a year ago by the ANC, the government is still held to ransom by the remnants of Zuma’s patronage network and current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, seems unable or incapable of even making a start on finding/arresting and jailing the culprits. This despite shipping containers full of incriminating evidence, several (highly respected) judge-led commissions of enquiry into state capture et al, yet not a single high level corrupt official has yet been arrested.
In desperation, the non-African sectors of the population are blamed by government for just about every ill the nation is suffering and the slide into racism, violence and civil war is becoming a constant threat, especially as our political hot heads seem ready to garner increased support in May’s upcoming general election.
Meantime, for our sanity and safety, we have rented a two bedroom flat in London and will be travelling back and forth for a while. At least until the situation is clarified a bit and settles, or much more likely, this extraordinary country that has been our home for more than 40 years, slides into a Zimbabwe-style meltdown. If that happens, we won’t be there to witness the crash and will both be long dead before it gets fixed, if ever.
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This last fortnight we’ve been a family living almost a normal life for the first time in more than a decade. Our adult children live in London, our daughter has a four month old granddaughter and now, we have a lease to move into a flat in London Fields (Hackney) in April, but as I write, we’re back in South Africa, tidying up loose ends.
The trip was originally planned to enable us to find somewhere to live, but we managed that some weeks ago between our Up Hele Aa sojourn in the Shetlands and returning to South Africa at the beginning of February. We didn’t want to forfeit these two tickets, so for the last fortnight, we’ve been spending the kids’ inheritance buying furniture at IKEA and used much of my now free time walking the streets of east London, taking photographs.
I have found some interesting things to photograph. And that makes me pleased and now I have a clue; when I leave Cape Town for London at the end of May, I’ll have somewhere to (re)start my photography. So, I’ve now got some nice ideas for my months-long stints in London and a way to bring them to fruition. I’ll share those with you soon.
Rather than publishing our new address details on a public forum, an e-mail will get our new address, phone and other contact details. Occasional blogging will continue.
Meanwhile, all the best from both of us.
more pictures below…
You may be aware that we’ve been besieged in the Kogelberg region, by huge veldt fires since New Years Eve. The area is a United Nations Biosphere – the biodiversity is believed to be greater than anywhere else on the planet; more than 1500 distinctly different forms of flora can be found in this narrow coastal strip, which stretches from Cape Town up South Africa’s south eastern coast towards Mossel Bay and Knysna.
New Year’s Eve saw one reveller* light a marine distress flare, which almost spent, fell into the tinder dry fynbos nearby.
The prevailing south easterly wind at this time of year quickly turned a few flames into a conflagration, which then raced towards neighbouring Pringle Bay and across the Kogelberg, from where on day ten, it was in sight of Gordon’s Bay, having burned its way many kilometres across the mountains.
On Friday morning, the wind swept around to a gale force north westerly, which blew the whole fire front back to where it had started, creating even more destruction. Almost 20,000ha of pristine fynbos has been lost.
The supreme efforts of the fire fighting teams and helicopter water bombers managed to control the situation with the help of some blessed rain and by Saturday morning, the worst was over. At least for the fire fighters. For the many that had lost their homes, the heartache has just started.
I went out yesterday (Saturday) to try and capture the essence of the devastation. These photographs show just a tiny glimpse of the fire damage. More than 30 homes have been lost and at least one death is attributed to smoke inhalation. I see no reason to venture into people’s sorrow and difficulties, so my focus here has been purely on the flora.
All of these photographs have been shot with the Fuji X-H1 and either the 90mm f2, or SBH (16-55 f2.8 zoom).
On a final note, fynbos requires fire in order for its seeds to germinate and much effort is expended year-round to keep invasive species to a minimum. In addition to their ability to overrun the fynbos while using precious water, these plants, bushes and trees also burn at considerably higher temperatures than our native fynbos and in so doing, destroy the seeds which would ensure survivability of this extraordinary gift from Mother Nature.
So, will the fynbos survive? Some rain in the next couple of weeks ought to start the seed germination cycle and hopefully, soon we’ll then see some hopeful green shoots pushing their way out of the sand and ash.
- Our reveller is currently languishing in jail and unlikely to see his home and family for some considerable time.
It wasn’t meant to be like that. The plan was a birthday party, high in the Swiss Alps with lots of food, booze and good company.
What eventuated was lots of food, booze and good company, plus the unplannable (even by the super efficient Susanne) – extraordinary good humour, dancing, singing, joke telling and several savage attacks by the Beer Dog. The #hardschool shouldn’t surprise you.
We’d flown from Cape Town and thought we’d travelled far. Nope, the Floisands had come from San Jose and the Penningtons from Auckland in New Zealand. Dave’s that kind of bloke.
I’ll leave you with the photographs from Saturday evening’s post braai/roast dinner partying, with most of us bobbing around in a lake of Achim von Arnim’s Haute Cabriere quiet champagne.
Yes, I know this is out of sequence, but I’d initially decided not to write this blog entry at all. Then I changed my mind.
goeuro.com says it’s 517km from Warsaw to Berlin. And for the ridiculously low rail fare of €29.90, it’s a bargain, much better than a ride to the airport, check-in, security, waiting for the flight, an hour aloft and a back-to-front repeat of the process on arrival.
This is our first experience and already, it’s clear that Europe’s rail system is fantastic. Six hours, minimal border checks, no luggage restrictions, almost zero security, 220V electricity, free wi-fi and a (reasonably) comfortable seat with a fold down table. What’s not to like?
The landscape passing the window is flat with almost no relief. I find myself imagining Hitler’s Panzergruppen rampaging across these flat expanses, with little or no regard for anything save reaching Poland and the grab of as much lebensraum as fast as possible. There is certainly no natural barrier that could have slowed their advance.
Berlin is no warmer than Warsaw and the couple of hundred metres from the Hauptbahnhof to our hotel is fast, easy and means that we arrive damp from the falling sleet, but otherwise ready for city two.
We’ve been here before, the city leaving us both indelibly marked with it’s history and the willingness of its population to air their transgressions, largely in (we assume) an ongoing attempt to cleanse both their stadt and themselves of the ignominy.
FYI; Berlin has a huge public transport system, but until arriving, neither of us had realised that the tram system really only serves the eastern part of the city.
Doh! Guess why?
There are any number of ways to get anywhere though; bus tram, U-Bahn (underground), S-Bahn (overground) and of course, taxi, Uber and so on. Curiously, the public systems never seemed to reach exactly where it was that we wanted to go. For example, a bus seemed to be the best method of reaching the German Museum of Technology, but alighting at the designated stop, we were left with a 700m/800m walk to the museum.
It’s an excellent museum, BTW.
A visit to the Brandenburg Gate? The tiny two car, two stop U-Bahn service from the Hauptbahnhof to Brandenburger Tor is fast and deposits the traveller within 500m of the Gate. Half a kilometre doesn’t sound far, except when it’s -2C and sleeting.
Likewise, the newly opened DDR Museum. Bus, walk – surprisingly far.
I’d wanted to see what had been the Communist controlled part of the city, the ugly concrete architecture and photograph what it might have been like. But, like the damage wrought in WW2, the brutal cement has gone, plastered over, or simply demolished, replaced with more modern homes and commercial buildings, bright colours and double glazing. Like Warsaw, the older parts of the city are mended with an eye to the city’s pre-Hitler history and similarly ersatz; appropriate, correct and all too facsimile-like.
The weather improved a bit towards the end of our stay, but despite the approaching Spring, copious cups of hot chocolate were consumed to stay the chill.
Berlin – Munich on the train, another six(ish) hour journey. More interesting than Warsaw – Berlin because there are towns, cities and lots of landscape to see. Deutsche Bahn is as efficient as you’d expect and despite a delayed departure, 600km later, the train pulled into München on time to the minute.
Once again, we’re staying close to the station. It’s deliberate of course, once off the train, we’ve only a couple of hundred metres to walk with our bags.
The weather is much as we’ve encountered elsewhere, although Spring is palpably on the way.
Like many other German cities, Munich has repaired the ravages of the war, developed and grown into the bright, modern capital of Bavaria, home of beer and BMW. We don’t have a sightseeing agenda and choose to walk the Altstadt, Viktualienmarkt, Rindermarkt, parts of the inner city, past the Art House (museum) and to our utter amazement, spot a surfers’ paradise next door on the Eisbach River.
The Eisbachwelle is fed by what I imagine is snow melt, the river is throttled, it’s pressure allowed to build, then released to create a more than passable wave, at least sufficient for the crew of neoprene-clad board riders on the icy wave, entertaining the watching crowds.
A visit to Munich is never complete without a visit to the Hofbrauhaus, home of the Oktoberfest. At 11:00 on a stone cold Saturday morning, it would be hard to expect much beery high-jinks underway as you make your way for what you expect to be a quiet pint. Nope. It’s not quite NO’s Bourbon Street on a busy evening, but the place is rammed nonetheless, the oompah band in full swing and the signs of alcohol-fuelled misbehaviour everywhere. From the colours and enthusiasm on display, I’m guessing there’s a big footie match on today (I discover later that Bayern Munich beat Dortmund 6-0). The city’s pedestrian precincts are heaving with shoppers and a few tourists. The bars and restaurants are cashing-in for all they’re worth. We leave.
It’s doubtless a great city and a good place to live and work. A bit soulless though.
An SNCF TGV carries us to Paris in what we now expect to be comfort, speed and efficiency. Our chosen Hotel Ibis opposite the Gare de l’Est is but a few steps and within minutes we are settled, awaiting the arrival of friends (Steve and Martina) who are en route from West Wales to join us for the week.
The absolute pleasure of old good friends can’t be overstated. We’ve known each other for more than two decades and are entirely relaxed in each other’s company. We travelled the Orkneys with Steve and Martina last year and established an easy routine, which we resume within minutes of our first sip of Parisian wine together.
We walk the north central suburbs together and then south to lunch at the truly spectacular Le Train Bleu upstairs in the Gare de Lyon, avoiding the rail strikers, locked out of the restaurant’s revolving doors by a quick thinking maître d’.
Another day sees us meander over the Seine and lunch in a centuries old stable, converted into a roast chicken destination eatery.
On our penultimate day and feeling the pressure to be real tourists, Steve, Martina and Di take an Uber to visit Versailles, leaving me to aimlessly wander the 10th arrondissement, Quai de Jemmapes and south west to the Porte St Denis, a splendid hamburger lunch at PNY (Paris/New York) and a couple of hours with my feet up before they return, cultured-out and ready for yet more food and wine.
Like so many European cities, the area around Gare de l’Est and the next-door Gare du Nord is awash with what appears to be semi-vagrant immigrants, mostly of Franco- and Italian-African origin. There is an air of impermanence and one is left to imagine theft, pickpocket and exchange rate scams are legion. Walking the streets is uncomfortable and I am glad that when buying, I specify my outerwear with pockets large enough to conceal a camera of some kind.
Fortunately, we don’t fall prey to the street hasslers, but it’s best to be aware and take precautions nonetheless. I wonder what Europe’s governments will eventually do with/about these largely unwelcome visitors?
We are awash with plans of places to go and things to see, but settle for our own pace, happy enough to leave some things for next time.
All too soon, Steve and Martina leave on a bus for Charles de Gaulle and we walk the 500m or so to Gare du Nord. We’re all irritated at our hotel; the lift had been out of service for three days and every enquiry as to its restoration was met with the expected (IDGAF) Gallic shrug, guaranteed to inflame even the calmest of visitor.
I complained to Hotel IBIS via Twitter, but got much the same response, albeit a more corporate shoulder hike. A pity, we’ve spent many, many nights in these otherwise excellent hotels – only to have the experience spoiled by what really amounts to little more than piss-poor management.
Eurostar sped us to St Pancras. A couple of minutes to cross to platform 11 and six minutes later, we exited, 30m from our hotel, looming over the International Station at Stratford. Laura and Zach live on the other side of the Olympic Park, some 20 minutes walk away. Julian a little further. The craft brewery downstairs is as good a meeting place as any and within a couple of hours of arriving, we’re a family once more.
We’d travel across Europe any time to do that.