It’s dementia (of course)

”Bleedin’ dog. Bloody thing barks all the time. It’s got dementia. I’m gonna ‘ave it put down.”

”Bleedin’ dog. Bloody thing barks all the time. It’s got dementia. I’m gonna ‘ave it put down.”

 

”Bleedin’ dog. Bloody thing barks all the time. It’s got dementia. I’m gonna ‘ave it put down.”

 

“He’s a nice vet. Says ‘e put down a dog what was 29 last week. Musta been old.”

 

“And ‘ad bloody dementia just like ‘ers. ‘at’s why I’m ‘avin’ it put down. I spoke to our Shelley, I said ’It’s so old it barks all the bloody time so it must ‘ave got bloody dementia. Can’t remember a fing.’ I said ‘I’m ‘avin’ it put to sleep.’”

 

Two pensioners have plonked themselves heavily down (uninvited) on the other side of the rickety bench/table we’re sitting at, outside a pub in Hunstanton. Locally, it’s supposedly called “Sunny Hunny”, but not today – the weather is definitely full UK summer; chilly, overcast and threatening rain. Soon, our uninvited guests run out out of energy, interest and conversation and go in search of a “nice cu tee.”

 

Not before jumping-up deceptively quickly, almost catapulting me and my drink over on my arse, like mischievous kids on a see-saw. They stump off, leaving us a once again a clear view of a morose coastline and knots of people wandering aimlessly in the grey daylight.

 

We stopped here for lunch, but gave up when I discovered that the bearded beauty behind the bar didn’t know what Angostura bitters (for Mrs P’s tonic water) was, didn’t have any anyway and worse, had no halfway decent cider available. The lunch menu had proved similarly uninspiring and so we were almost ready to bolt for the car to try elsewhere, when an elderly Nigel Mansell whirred by on his mobility scooter.

 

Spotting a gap between the parked cars, Nige went for the grass beyond, crashing and bumping the front wheels over the low kerb at a surprising speed, only to ground the running board on the self-same kerb stone. There he sat, revving the electric motor, wheels spinning, going nowhere, waiting for the marshals to come and push him.

 

Rather than ignore the noise, a passing local obliged and Nige finished mounting the kerb and took off over the grass, frightening greedy seagulls and yet more pensioners out of his way with demented abandon.

 

It must be something in the water.

 

Whitby harbour

Whitby harbour

 

We’d been in Norfolk since last weekend and I’d finished part two of this tale yesterday, before this little pageant played itself out. Today, we’ve driven several hundred kilometres further north, to arrive mid-afternoon in Filey.

 

It’s now raining on Yorkshire’s east coast, although the weather wonks say it will clear, I’m not holding my breath:

High summer, Yorkshire

High summer, Yorkshire

 

Monday. Yorkshire’s been and gone although we have promised ourselves a longer visit next time. On this visit, we managed to get to York to see the city, try and shop a bit (fruitless) and see the National Railway Museum. The city is busy at this time of year and the Museum interesting, but sterile – I mean, how could you imagine anything to do with railways that is clean? It’s also a bit anodyne for us die-hard gricers.

 

Boisson, York

Boisson, York

 

Anyway, essentials attended to, we headed for Whitby, stopping at Grosmont so I could watch grown ups playing with real steam trains.

 

Whitby! Home of the Magpie Café, winner of the World’s best fish and chip restaurant award and awash with holidaymaking Brits. I’d been fantasising about a plate of skate, some crispy chips and a big spoonful of mushy peas for some time and ended up sad. Apparently, there’d been no skate landed that morning, so I chose cod and was rewarded with a brilliant white fleshed fish, beautifully battered and fried, lots of chips, all on better than neighbour terms with some bright green pea mush. Brilliant, but still not skate.

 

Who wouldn't love this?

Who wouldn’t love this?

 

We’re staying in an AirB&B spot in Filey. It’s a beautifully renovated garage, with a downstairs kitchen and a full-on bedroom and bathroom upstairs. No wi-fi, which is unusual.

 

Mainly though, there’s nowhere to put anything. We don’t carry much around with us, but like to have suitcases open to reach in and grab clothes and stuff as needed. Not possible.

 

Also not possible was a table for my laptop and phone/charger/backup disk. Hmmm.

 

Still it’s beautiful, clean and white. Everywhere. Which made us both feel a bit awkward, lest we spill our morning coffee, or drop toast crumbs. Then I went to the loo and when finished, pressed the large chrome flush button and immediately reached for a tissue to wipe my fingerprint away – that was it! It was all too perfect and just not comfortable. Shame really.

 

Filey to Edinburgh followed on Sunday. Four days in Scotland’s best city shooting images for a planned InSight: Edinburgh (see images below) and then on to Glasgow, where this post nears completion.

 

Lone drinker, The Abbotsford, Edinburgh

Lone drinker, The Abbotsford, Edinburgh

The Colonies, Edinburgh

The Colonies, Edinburgh

Stockbridge hairdresser

Stockbridge hairdresser

Door, sandstone and bell

Door, sandstone and bell

 

We’ve hardly seen the sun for a fortnight and Edinburgh has been unremittingly chilly to boot. That said, as we contemplate packing and the drive west to Glasgow, the sun emerges and the entire city takes on a different feel.

 

I’d pre-booked a tour of Central Station before leaving home. It’s touted as a walk through the catacombs of Glasgow’s main railway hub and didn’t disappoint. Not that there’s so much to see, but our guide; historian Paul Lyons, more than compensated.

 

Paul Lyons; raconteur extraordinaire

Paul Lyons; raconteur extraordinaire

 

He showed us little nooks and crannies where coal and corn had been stored, goods handled, passages and tunnels led to the banks of the Clyde and in a broad Glaswgow accent wove a tale of ghostly presence and floored us all with details of how heartlessly the dead were returned to the city and their relatives during the Great War. There was hardly a dry eye when he’d finished his tale.

 

Continues below.

 

Blue sky - a rarity in Glasgow this summer

Blue sky – a rarity in Glasgow this summer

 

Glasgow railings

Glasgow railings

 

Central Station

Central Station

 

If you are ever in Glasgow and have an hour to spare, this is a must-do, especially if Paul is on duty.

 

Next stop; Grantown-on-Spey for our now annual meet-up with a crowd of friends from long-gone Johannesburg days, salmon fishing and that bloody fishing rod.

Meandering

Plans are a foot

Plans are a foot

 

”’Ees gonna fucking kill yer.”

 

“Nah ee ain’t.”

 

“You said you was gonna rape ‘er – all me neighbours ‘eard you. ‘ats his girlfriend and ‘es an ABA. Ees gonna fuckin kill yer.”

 

“Bollocks.”

 

It’s 07:09. We forgot to buy milk for our morning coffee and I’ve wandered into the only open establishment in Hoxton Street at this time of the morning; a caff (café) to buy a couple of take-aways. Three gents – best described as geezers (real ones, not the types the Americans think of as Londoners) are having this morning intercourse amongst the otherwise empty tables.

 

“Morning gents,” I greet them.

 

A chorus of polite return greetings follow, after which the wrangling continues;

 

“Nah, fuck off yer wasn’t there.”

 

The proprietor smiles at me (and them from behind the relative safety of the espresso machine), his day off to a seemingly familiar post-pissed customer start.

 

Hoxton, Dalston, Shoreditch, Hackney, all places I would have been very leery of when I still lived in London. Today, they’re where everyone is queueing-up to live – including our own kids. Walking the now trendy streets, it’s easy to see why; crime appears to have been largely banished, late night buses ensure the revellers get home safely and there’s a coffee/clothes, or other kind of gentrification-acceptable shop on just about every corner. In the spaces between, clubs and restaurants proliferate.

 

For someone as dedicated to living out of town as me, it’s a fascinating place to be.

 

We arrived on Friday – me after a demented Garmin satnav sort-of guided me via odd parts of the nation between Skye, an overnight in southern Scotland, one in Wales and finally, London. On Friday, Mrs P arrived on an A380 from Dubai. We’re staying in a delightful two storey faux religious-themed shoebox (see picture) in Hoxton, courtesy of AirBnB. Our daughter and her husband live in the next street, our son a little further away in Hackney. Just about everything we could want is close by, except the shopping excesses of the West End. But at ZAR19.50:£1, that’s not really much of a loss.

 

Teensy, tiny accommodation

Teensy, tiny accommodation

 

The changes in London’s East End are shocking, new money elbowing aside established business and multi-multi-tenant letting. Cook’s, one of the city’s few remaining pie, eel and mash shops remains in Hoxton, but just about everything else is new. Here, hirsute hipsters hold sway.

 

Photographically, this is street photography central. There are no landscape-like views to speak of, just people and the everyday. For me that means shooting with my Fuji X100 and occasionally the Sony NEX-7 and a Leica 50mm. Depending on whose opinion you read, 90+% of street shooting happens between these two focal lengths (the APS-C sensored Fuji’s 23mm equating to a more conventional 35mm), with the tiny balance preferring a 28mm option.

 

Lunch time six pack! They're all on their phones

Lunch time six pack! They’re all on their phones

 

The Eagle - London's oldest and (still the) best gastropub

The Eagle – London’s oldest and (still the) best gastropub

 

But, this a family-oriented visit, so my usual day-long photographic explorations get a lower priority. That said, an early morning walk to the nearby Arnold Circus is a must-do.

 

One of London’s very first attempts at social housing – Boundary Estate to give it it’s proper name – was opened in 1900, replacing a variety of slums that at that time housed somewhere around 6000 Londoners. Built around the aforementioned bandstand-adorned Arnold Circus, the blocks of flats radiate outwards – offering views into neighbouring streets, trees and a rarity in London; a skyscape. More recently, as gentrification has swept in, this tiny time capsule has been sold off flat (apartment) by flat and is rapidly becoming one of the city’s des-res.

 

Wash day, Boundary Estate

Wash day, Boundary Estate

 

Boundary Estate

Boundary Estate

 

Aside from its visual history, visitors (in this case, read photographers) to the Estate might want to visit Lilla’s Café, just off the Circus. It’s a local favourite for breakfast with a simple menu; eggs fried in glorious artery-clogging butter, served hot in the pan, with slices of Spanish serrano ham and toasted sourdough bread.

 

Breakfast at Lilla's

Breakfast at Lilla’s

 

Failing that, the nearby Dishoom (at the end of Boundary Street) is building a solid reputation for it’s Raj-styled Indian food, especially breakfast. Imagine if you can a freshly baked naan, cradling bacon, egg(s) and a mild tomato-curry sauce – that’s street photographer’s food.

 

Dogs are now a fashion accessory

Dogs are now a fashion accessory

 

Dogs are now a fashion accessory

Dogs are now a fashion accessory

 

Dogs are now a fashion accessory

Dogs are now a fashion accessory

 

For buyers of InSight: London, look out for a planned (free) upgrade, which will include the Estate as well as the Columbia Road Flower Market.

 

Sandwich bar smiles

Sandwich bar smiles

 

So, our few days in the capital done, a major birthday celebrated and a few images captured. Now it’s time to move on to Cambridge and the east coast.

 

We’re en route (back) to Scotland, stopping in various county and country towns en route.

 

Norwich. Claim to fame, mustard and a football team with TV chef Delia Smith and quizmaster/author/actor Stephen Fry as a part of its management team.

 

Not much else. We arrived from Cambridge in the late afternoon, our tiny, hired Citroen DS3 loaded with four adults (us, daughter and son-in-law), lots of luggage and a 15’ salmon fishing rod. More about that later.

 

Accommodation found and the car unloaded, we bolted for the station to collect yet another body – no.1 son’s girlfriend, abandoned by her beau, who was work-committed elsewhere. Just as well as there wasn’t room for him as well. Anyway, she saved the day and discovered Norwich’s gem; the Lanes – part market, part tiny shops, part diminutive houses, where we wandered for a good couple of hours, our impression of this otherwise underwhelming city improving by the moment.

 

Previously, Cambridge had showed us its university heritage and some fine weather. The traffic was a challenge – but then when isn’t it in England? Our riverside digs (another AirB&B booking), bright, newly renovated and handy for access to the town centre, colleges, riverside and all manner of food and drink.

 

Edge trimming, Cambridge

Edge trimming, Cambridge

 

Cambridge c1800?

Cambridge c1800?

 

Graduation day BFFs

Graduation day BFFs

 

'40s style at the station - Cambridge

’40s style at the station – Cambridge

 

Punting

Punting

 

Gown, check. Phone, check. Ice cream, check. Oh, mommy too.

Gown, check. Phone, check. Ice cream, check. Oh, mommy too.

 

Originally, I’d planned a week of town/village meandering, staying in different B&B every night. On closer inspection, it became apparent that everywhere was (almost) next door to everywhere else. So, we opted to set up in Norwich and drive to and from every day – rarely travelling more that 50/60km to see what we had planned.

 

AirB&B found us a huge, modern flat in Norwich and we’ve spent our days exploring Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, the Norfolk Broads, the preserved North Norfolk Railway and unexpectedly catching up with an old friend from Johannesburg. Being a regular reader of this blog, she had noticed we were heading for Norwich, her new home, having re-married recently and settled here with new hubby.

 

We also discovered the Workshop – 50m along the road and offering the best of North Africa in a bar-style eatery. We’ve feasted on broad beans, hommous, watermelon salad, grilled chicken wings and all manner of other middle eastern goodness. If you’re planning a visit here be sure to put it on your list.

 

Dinner at the Workshop

Dinner at the Workshop

 

AirB&B flat owner's eclectic display - Norwich

AirB&B flat owner’s eclectic display – Norwich

 

Norfolk is magnificent at this time of year, but as flat as the Free State. Our plan to stay in one place meant not having to haul luggage into/out of the car every day and had another knock-on; we didn’t stay in either of the two resort towns (Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft) on the coast. Unlike when I visited here with my aunt as a seven year old, they are now economically depressed, run down and really very sad.

 

How times change.

 

Tomorrow, we leave for Yorkshire, more coastal fun and yet more steam trains.

The Skye bit

Sunset over Cuillin seen from Elgol

Sunset over Cuillin seen from Elgol

 

Lunch was sublime, Cape Town’s best; fresh tuna carpaccio followed by spaghetti vongole for Mrs P and swordfish pasta for me. Washed down with a couple of glasses of more than acceptable local rosé and then, a quick trip to the airport.

 

If you think this looks good, you should have tasted it.

If you think this looks good, you should have tasted it.

Clam fallout

Clam fallout

 

Lunch? I’d promised Mrs P as she only leaves for the UK (to join me there) next week.

 

So, airport, book in, customs, security, immigration all dealt with in moments and now I’m lolling dozily in the airline’s lounge.

 

Here we all are; me with a complimentary scotch, the uncomfortable German businessman, thick fingers jabbing his phone’s tiny keys. He will become an enemy before I leave, but more of that later.

 

A loud American that can’t access the wi-fi (nothing new there, this is South Africa after all).

 

An English woman, cell-phone-bellowing at endless friends and members of her family. The phone is redundant; her blare is loud enough without, her endless sentence-end laughs intrusive and wildly excessive.

 

Hoodie-clad Ms Two Tennis racquets stares vacantly, seeking who-knows-what.

 

Golf on a TV that no-one is watching. African talking heads on the other, also unwatched. Load shedding Stage 2. No-one cares any more – our venal and mendacious government has poked the economy in the eye and doesn’t have the first clue how to remedy a tumbling growth rate and 37% unemployment.

 

A raddled housewife, weary looking husband and two excited kids; coming or going? “I’m eating all this now so I won’t get hungry later on the aerwoplane” says male junior. Mum resorts to her phone to force hubby to attend to his brood. No chance. He’s got chips and a big fat drink.

 

Daddy, how long?” they squawk endlessly.

 

Gwmph.” Translation; “Fuck. I don’t know and care even less. Leave me alone for two minutes.

 

Daddy, I also need to go to the bathroom.” Daddy sighs, stands up, his phone falling from his lap where he was discretely checking e-mails. Everywhere, there’s a distinct air of resignation and we’re not on board yet.

 

There’s two seats” says a clearly retired hubby, already weary of air travel. “There’s no table. There’s no table. There’s no table” replies clockwork wife, used to getting her own way. Hubby stands owlishly… seconds staring at her retreating back. I imagine (as I think he does), plunging a knife into her and putting an end to her anger-making, syllable emphasising hand flapping, as she complains. Stab! Now STFU!

 

They’re all on the plane and I am glad of (for once) a couple of decent movies and an early night. It’s that or people who insist on carrying on high decibel conversations, screeching children, or the whining passengers for whom nothing is ever right.

 

Skye

Skye

 

In nine hours or so, the plane will land in Dubai and scratchy-eyed, we will deplane, to sit and wait for connecting flights to all corners of the globe. It’s a great hub and spoke system if you can deal with it.

 

With your body clock at single digit a.m. hours, you need to have managed to keep a bit of the hooligan about you as you aged – not being afraid of pre-breakfast alcohol and social interaction at the bar are essential. If you can’t, then sleep is the only option in an uncomfortable seat miles from your gate (it’s usually the only one available), the thousand yard, broken sleep stare and just about every language, food aroma and offensive personal habit imaginable. Just try to blast through the porridge that is where your brain used to be, long enough before you doze off to remember to set the alarm on your phone – otherwise, you’ll slumber on serenely and miss the bloody plane.

 

Oh joy.

 

My connecting flight leaves at sometime after 05:00, arriving in Glasgow at half past midday, after several hours flying time and an additional three hours of time difference. Then it’s find the car hire desk, get the (already booked) car and drive to Mallaig, in order to catch the last ferry of the day to Skye. Mr Google says it’ll take three and a half hours, I hope he’s right, or I’ll have wasted a ferry ticket and will have to drive an additional hundred miles to reach my hotel and catch up with Bob, my photographic companion for the next few days.

 

The German businessman? Minutes before leaving for the gate, I use “the facilities”, returning to find the last decent gulp of my most enjoyable drink is now awash with the detritus that collects on any lounge table; sweetie wrappers, a torn up voucher and a couple of tea spoons.

 

“Oh. Sorry. I thought you had left.”

 

“Sure you did, that’s why my luggage is still here and my computer is still on the table.”

 

What a bell end.

 

Neist Point and lighthouse

Neist Point and lighthouse

 

Later…

 

Tired. Simple word, complicated outcome. My photo buddy Bob and I have driven, walked, scrambled and clambered much of Skye this last few days. At six and a bit decades, I’ve done well, but am now done in and planning a celebratory early night It’s almost half past nine after all(!) – and still light outside.

 

It’s also driech – overcast, moody and drizzing. Typical Scotland but not great for stunning sunrises and sunsets. Still, we’ve had a chance to catch up, grumble about our various Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) afflictions and on occasion, head to out harm some otherwise defenceless pixels.

 

Looking towards Ramasaig

Looking towards Ramasaig

 

Last evening (Sunday) saw us scrambling over the boulders at Elgol, to catch a spectacular sunset scene over the Cuilin mountains. It was well below 10C and way past ten before the sun obliged and set behind the mountain and much later still before we gave up for the night.

 

Then on the drive back to the hotel I managed to spot an interesting roadside scene, making us another half hour later arriving back at the hotel and a warming nippie sweetie (or two).

 

Reeds in deep dusk

Reeds in deep dusk

 

It’s been great. I now know my way around Skye a bit better thanks to Bob and also have a new avatar – my back again, I’m afraid.

 

Tomorrow, I leave for the beautifully named St John’s Town of Dalry and an overnight with Messrs Leeming and Patterson, photographers of the parish. Then it’s ever south- (and west-) wards to Pembrokeshire and a night with great mate, Steve at his home – Treffynnon – nestled in the hills high above Newport.

 

Thursday, it’s on to London and at sparrow’s on Friday morning, Heathrow to collect Mrs P.

 

Meanwhile, I decide to sit in the hotel lounge where the Internet reception is marginally better than the messenger with a forked stick I’ve had in my room. I’m sharing this quiet space with four Americans who, like me are waiting for the office to open to pay our bills, then grab some breakfast. My car is packed; I’m due at the Armadale ferry terminal at about 09:30 and en route, I’m planning to stop at a spot I noticed yesterday and phot for a few minutes.

 

Misty morning reeds

Misty morning reeds

 

A few minutes peace and quiet to close off a wonderful few days…

 

Grey haired Mrs American no.1 has other ideas and decides it would be a good time to fire up her iPad to listen to some voice mail from a clearly demented friend, or CNN (I don’t know, nor care which) at earsplitting volume.

 

In fact, it’s so loud that when I said “Could you please turn that down?” she couldn’t hear me and had to be elbowed in the ribs by her partner/husband. He’s obviously used to dealing with such blithe and arrogant rudeness.

 

Misty morning reeds

Misty morning reeds

Typical Northern Cape landscape

It’s much further than I thought

I know it now and have done for a few weeks; Selebi Phikwe (SP) is a lot further than 2000km from where I live near Cape Town. And, truth to tell, if I hadn’t paid the deposit before I bothered to work that out, I wouldn’t be doing this.

 

If. Perhaps. Wouldn’t. Sigh. I’m in De Aar, 780 km from home after a lengthy day on the road. On my way to north east Botswana to join a group of steam railway enthusiasts, to photograph some of the region’s last few working steam locomotives before they meet their now scheduled end.

 

A whisper of steam the way it was

A whisper of steam the way it was

 

The locos are operated by Bamangwato Concessions Limited (BCL) at their Selebi Phikwe copper mine, having been purchased from South African and Zimbabwe Railways when they reached the end of their careers – probably some time in the late ‘70s. The tour I’m joining for four days will experience this last steam activity on the 3’6” gauge rails that dominate the region. Afterwards, I will head home and the group is scheduled to move on to the second part of their trip – into Zimbabwe for a similarly soon-to-end steamy experience.

 

I joined a group in Jozi in 2010 and enjoyed the entire journey, including Zimbabwe. This time, I really didn’t want to do the whole trip again – Botswana seemed just fine.

 

That is if I’d bothered to look at a map. Instead, I’d relied on my increasingly faulty memory and reckoned it wasn’t much further than Johannesburg – 1400km each way. A 12-14 hour journey I have made by road on many occasions. With a bitingly early start it’s possible to make an acceptable evening arrival in Jozi.

 

Well, no. I was the best part of a thousand kilometres out. So, I needed to make a different plan and this time, decided to use my extended travelling to see and photograph on the way. I booked two overnight stops; one in De Aar the other in Vryburg. Once over the border, the scenery in Bostwana’s eastern areas isn’t as attractive, so I’ll tackle the final 650km from the border to Selebi Phikwe as a single journey. Allowing three days for the journey seemed plenty.

 

I planned my departure from home to be extra early, to get me to a favourite sunrise spot about 80km away amidst the Overberg mountains. Mother nature did her thing and I left half an hour later with some beautiful pre-sunrise landscapes, shot looking directly east and over a gathering mist in the valleys. As the sun peeked over the distant hills, it suddenly became highlight blowout time and a good reason to get on with the next 700km.

 

Sunrise over the Overberg - what better reason for getting up early?

Sunrise over the Overberg – what better reason for getting up early?

 

And aside from brief stops along the way, my drive was (thankfully*) uneventful. I arrived in De Aar before 16:00, located my digs and went to explore the massive railway complex that is the town’s raison d’être. Sited almost mid way between the industrial/mining/financial hubs of the Highveld and the markets and harbour of the Cape, De Aar was formerly a watering and refuelling place of the SAR’s huge fleet of steam traction. Now, it’s function is much less important as diesel and electric powered locomotives require significantly less succour and are well able to make the long haul across the semi-desert Karoo with little reason to stop and replenish coal and water reserves.

 

Today, De Aar is a marshalling yard, maintenance stop and lots of abandoned steam era buildings. Many of the latter having been ransacked by the impoverished dwellers from the nearby township for their window and door frames and other useful building materials.

 

Disused freight shed at De Aar

Disused freight shed at De Aar

 

It’s Sunday and the town itself is a complete throwback to the South Africa I discovered when I first arrived here in the mid-70s; closed.

 

And if it’s Sunday; religion and reflection prohibit anything which might be construed as enjoyment. That includes restaurants and bars. My evening meal came from the sole garage-attached shop that dared to remain open – a cheese and tomato toasted sandwich. It was surprisingly good, but as I write the notes for this post the following morning, it left me feeling distinctly ready for my full English this morning.

 

Today, I’ll drive to Vryburg. A hopefully relaxed 540km, so I’m not in a hurry to leave and can make good on my plan to explore along the way.

 

And so I did. The far northern section of the Cape is almost unremittingly flat – hills on the periphery of every view, like a monk’s tonsure and horizon-to-horizon blue sky the only distinguishing marks. So much so that I arrived in Vryburg with nothing to show for my journey but a relief to have got here. I expect tomorrow to be similar and hope to arrive at Selebi Phikwe late in the afternoon, in time to check in before the rest of the group arrives on their coach from Jozi.

 

Typical Northern Cape landscape

Typical Northern Cape landscape

 

Meanwhile, I’ve decided that while my plan to take two days to drive back next week is perfectly do-able, it’s not smart, especially as dusk arrives around 18:00 and our unlit country roads can often hide a browsing (and easy to startle) donkey, cow or worse, pedestrian. So I’m going to reprise my stopover here in Vryburg – there are few other places to stay and all require significant detours from my planned route. I’ll then spend a second night in Beaufort West, leaving me with just 450km to home. I suspect that I’ll be more than glad to see it by then.

 

And, if it’s Tuesday, it must be Selebi Phikwe. I arrived on the dot of 16:00, pretty much as the assertive female voice inside Ms Garmin predicted. How does it do that over a distance of almost 800km? Especially as there were the usual border formalities to transact – they alone could have added hours, but the Garmin resolutely said 16:09. And so it was.

 

It wasn’t all roses, however. There was no room booked for me at the hotel, nor a whiff of the payment I’d made – I eventually logic won the day and the staff let me into my room. But, here I am again with zero pictures for the second day in a row. Don’t worry, I’ll soon make it up.

 

The next morning – day 1 of the tour – and it was clear that the coach bringing the tourers up from Jozi had only arrived mid-evening – due to a major traffic snarl-up leaving the big city. I’d eaten, washed my supper down with a glass of Scottish Communion Wine I’d bought from home and retired by then.

 

Late arrival notwithstanding, everyone was chirpy and our 07:30 departure for BCL’s mine meant getting entry passes for us and our kit was well under way as the morning shift started.

 

Essential instructions

Essential instructions

 

BCL (Bamangwato Concessionaires Limited) is a copper mine, part open cast, part underground. The rock-bearing ore is bought to the crushing/smelter facility by road from the pit and rail from the shafts, which are spread around the mine’s lease area – generally 5-10km from the production complex. It is on these lines that the former SAR and ZR Class 19D locomotives toil.

 

And toil they do. The mine has six class 19D locomotives; two currently in service, one having a boiler wash out and expected back in service in a few days. Of the other three, one is awaiting a boiler inspection and re-certification, another in the midst of a general (and unhurried) overhaul and the sixth, unlikely to run again as dieselisation approaches.

 

Shed cats - I can haz cheeseburger?

Shed cats – I can haz cheeseburger?

 

Waiting for the next duty turn

Waiting for the next duty turn

 

As a result of their former working lives in Africa’s semi-deserts, the 19Ds are all equipped with so-called torpedo water tenders, permitting a huge quantity of water to be carried and as a result, significantly less stopping for replenishment. They are quite a sight – longer than the locomotive itself.

 

Hooked-up to 20-odd rock wagons and fully loaded, the trains easily pass the 1000 tonne mark, resulting in huge plumes of smoke, lots of noise and spectacular wheel slipping as these steam monsters try and get their loads under way.

 

Our four days on the mine pass with regular trips to the loco shed (inside the main mine complex) and load-out station, where the newly mined rock is dumped on to a conveyor, on which it is taken to a crusher to be reduced to a fine powder. From there, the mine really starts work on its new asset, using a variety of chemicals and finally, smelting to extract impurities, leaving pure copper for pouring into ingots, cooling and eventually, sale. The mine is very proprietary about its technologies and we were not allowed to see any of the process.

 

Scrap

Scrap

 

When not at the shed area, we chased the several trains a day to and from the two main shafts, our bus quickly overhauling the train as it left the yard. Arriving at a suitable spot – usually a road crossing, the group of photographers and their kit piling out usually only seconds before the warning whistle heralded the train’s approach.

 

Passed, we climbed back on the bus and as fast as the poor roads would allow, headed for the next photo vantage spot.

 

We even managed an evening shoot. The mine uses a considerable amount of coal in its production process and an early evening task for one of the 19Ds is to collect a lengthy rake of empty coal wagons and haul them to the interchange yard, used by both the mine and Botswana Railways. The empties are shunted into an empty siding and a train of full wagons collected and hauled back to the mine, to ensure production is not halted for lack of raw materials. BW delivers a train of full wagons overnight and hauls away the empties.

 

Loco headlamp shadows

Loco headlamp shadows

 

Glint shot; coal hopper empties at the BCL/Botswana Railways interchange yard

Glint shot; coal hopper empties at the BCL/Botswana Railways interchange yard

 

So far, so good. Once back at the mine, the loco shunted its wagons into a siding where several wagons left over from the previous day’s consist waited, still loaded with coal. Coupled together, the new load was simply too much for the locomotive, which strained, whistled, spun it’s wheels and generally put on a spectacular show in the gathering gloom of the Botswana night. Whatever it did, it was clearly going nowhere.

 

Eventually, the driver split the train, marshalled half of the wagons in a reception siding, then went back for the other half and added them to the others. His job done, he headed back to the shed and us photographers climbed back on to the bus, heading for a (by now) late supper.

 

Newly filled ore hopper train leaves for the process plant

Newly filled ore hopper train leaves for the process plant

 

Visit done, an early start got me on the road back to Cape Town, my first overnight stop back in Vryburg, the second as planned in Beaufort West. Three days, 2400 and some change kilometres and a couple of hundred litres of diesel fuel later, I pulled into the garage at home.

 

It’s been great fun and the photography exactly as anticipated. After another three days on the road, it’s good to be home, sleep in my own bed edit my work at leisure.

 

For the technically minded, all of the photographs were shot with my Nikon D800e using Nikon 24-70, 80-200 zooms or 50mm f1.4 (non AI) lenses.

 

1000+ tonnes on the move

1000+ tonnes on the move

 

* Africa doesn’t fritter much money on fences and the locals allow their cattle to roam wherever they please – even the main highways into and out of our major cities. Dealing with wandering cows, sheep and/or goats in daylight is one thing, in the dark, it’s a nightmare. A collision with a foolish guinea fowl can do serious damage to a car, collecting a donkey will probably kill the beast and driver at the same time. So, if you’re planning on driving in the rural areas at night, you’re best advised to forget the idea unless it is a matter of life and/or death. Which it could easily be.

 

Empty ore hopper train en route to Selebi shaft to collect freshly mined rock

Empty ore hopper train en route to Selebi shaft to collect freshly mined rock

 

1000 tonne ore train en route to BCL's process plant

1000 tonne ore train en route to BCL’s process plant

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

 

Autumn has arrived in the Cape and our warm(ish), wet winter can’t be far behind.

 

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

 

Nestled deep in the Overberg, about thirty kilometres south of Franshhoek and within walking distance of Villiersdorp, Theewaterskloof Dam supplies a large percentage of Cape Town’s water and predictably at the end of a long dry summer, the water level is very low.

 

So low in fact that I’d spotted the trunks of the trees which were covered when the dam was constructed, when driving past recently. Now was the time to go and photograph these eerie remains, before the coming rain and watershed covered them once again.

 

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

 

04:30 – the alarm on my phone started barking at me to wake up – Theewaterskloof isn’t just around the corner, it’s at least a 90 minute drive – and despite packing my cameras and tripod the night before, the morning got off to a slow start despite large quantities of espresso.

 

I just made it – found the access road and set up just in time. Another five minutes and I’d have missed those critical tones in the landscape as day starts to elbow the night aside once more. The weather forecast has suggested some cloud cover, which failed to materialise, although a photographer’s dream mist more than made up for it. The temperature hovered around 9C, not cold by northern hemisphere standards, but for us Africans, distinctly chilly.

 

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

 

Mother Nature’s sculpting of these trees was exquisite when they were alive and providing shade. Dead and submerged for decades, they remain a visual treat on the few occasions what is left of their trunks and branches appear above the water.

 

My stricture about only using a DSLR when the car carries it for me was in full force and I shot with three of my favourite pre-AI Nikkors on the D800e; 28 f2.8, 50 f1.4 and the 105 f2.5. They enabled me to frame specific shots and as usual, delivered brilliant images, that needed little more than a bit of CA adjustment.

 

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

 

The African sun rises quickly – the light strengthens and photography is usually abandoned soon after sunrise, as the contrast between light and shadow all too soon swamps the camera’s dynamic range. This morning, as the sun rose, the mist thickened and a different type of soft contrast was on offer. Not for long, however.

 

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

 

No matter how much I love shooting with prime lenses, if I was to grab as much of this wonderful misty light as I hoped, a zoom would be vital. So, with a split between the 24-70 f2.8 and my ancient 80-200 f2.8, I spent a wonderful and unplanned final hour capturing gentle sunny colours, blue haze and a mist that obligingly made my early wake-up and 200km round trip all worthwhile.

 

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

 

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

 

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

 

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam

Misty sunrise at Theewaterskloof Dam