Experiencing the ANC government’s hopeless management, corruption and cadre deployment at first hand

For the second year running, we just used state-run PRASA’s Premier Classe train to travel with our car to/from Cape Town (to Johannesburg and then by road to the Kruger Park). Last year, it was a delightful trip, despite the train being a couple of hours late into Johannesburg and somewhat later on the return journey.

This year has been much less satisfactory, to the extent that we are unlikely to travel this way ever again.

The train itself was much the same as last year; old, well worn, but in the main, clean and serviceable. The crew, delightful. The catering is unnecessarily ambitious for such a restricted facility and would be better sticking to the basics.

The up train was almost half an hour late leaving Cape Town and got progressively later in an endless series of starts/stops until we reached Klerksdorp, where it stopped completely. Passengers with time sensitive travel connections in Johannesburg left the train to be ferried in a minibus, while we sat. And waited. After perhaps half an hour, the train manager told us that a cable theft had all but rendered our passage into Johannesburg impossible and that the train was being re-routed via the Vaal Triangle.

Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. I lost count of these momentary, minutes long or half hour delays, but 20 – 30 wouldn’t be a bad estimate. The Train Manager explained that there were signalling problems and each stop required an “authorisation” to move forward.

The train eventually arrived at Park Station some time after 21:00 – ten hours late.

We then waited another ninety minutes while the less than enthusiastic staff dragged themselves into slothful action and delivered our car.

During that time, we were required to cross with our luggage, from the arrival platform to the unloading bay, up a very long flight of 35 stairs and down a similar lengthy staircase. The escalators don’t work, nor do the lifts and apparently haven’t for at least two years. The waiting area is a collection of scruffy, broken chairs and benches in an almost pitch black area under a road bridge, adjacent to the unloading bay.

Di has a serious medical condition which affects her hearing and balance and is likely to have surgery shortly. She walks with a stick. Stairs are impossible. If it hadn’t been for the train crew’s assistance, we’d have been in serious trouble. And I have to ask, would you want to be hanging around Johannesburg station late at night in the dark, with absolutely no security, protection or supervision going on?

The return journey?

It’s hard to imagine worse, but it was, by a very long way.

We left Johannesburg 40 minutes late and made reasonable time until Leeudoringstad, where the diesel engine expired. It took seventeen hours for a replacement locomotive to arrive.

Leeudoringstad – the view for 17 hours

Then, the train still went stop, start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. We were also without water for the shower, washing hands, toilets or anything else for much of the trip. The WCs had no plugs in the sink, rarely had soap and were constantly without towels, paper or otherwise.

Then the train’s on-board electrical generator failed in Kimberley, leaving us sweltering with no air conditioning. Eventually, the crew managed to re-start the equipment, but only long after it was dark.

Between Paarden Eiland and Cape Town, one of the two replacement electric locos failed and we sat for another two hours until a diesel loco arrived to drag the train into the station – now 27 hours late.

Of course, there were any number of PRASA managers and PR people on hand to apologise and offer compensation.

Not.

After the Train Manager had scuttled off home – no doubt exhausted by making excuses for his employer and its complete inability to manage anything, there was no one from PRASA at all. The most senior people being the guys that unloaded the cars – that took another 40 minutes, because Transnet never seems to be in a hurry.

Meanwhile, international visitors had missed connections, car hire arrangements and hotel bookings. No apology from PRASA. To a man those visitors and their pounds/dollars won’t be back.

Us too. We stopped flying with SAA many years ago after we were left behind in Miami after Hurricane Andrew stranded us in Orlando with no connecting flight. Now, it’s PRASA/Transnet.

I’m asking for a refund. For the entire trip – all R20-odd thousand Rand’s worth. I doubt it will change much, but it will make me feel much, much better.

#livinginlondon5

Three geezers – Shoreditch

It seems that no sooner had I clicked on “post” for the last blog entry than I found myself at Heathrow waiting for a plane to Munchen and on to Singapore for our annual birthday frivolities.

Actually, I’d had two really interesting and pleasing e-mails overnight. One came from a fellow blogger in Australia, the other the wife of a long time business associate and friend in Johannesburg.

The first traversed my post and mentioned a fellowship as a psoriasis sufferer. Comparing notes helps, but does little to assuage the difficulties (for me) of dealing with the NHS. The other bought a fascinating life story of growing up in East London, hardship and changing times. Here’s a glimpse:

“I grew up whereby my grandmother knitted my shoes. That is woolly socks with rubber stuck as soles. We were poor, I worked in a pub and fish and chip shop from the age of 14! The deal when you grew up was you married the boy next door, lived in close proximity to your parents, bought a house two up two down… I nearly married a Jamaican, when his parents found out he was shipped back to the States!”

How times have changed.

Foundry tools

Last week also saw us catching-up with South African friends who now live California. We see each other irregularly and is so often the case, within minutes, we’ve picked-up where we left off. This time, we met at a classic (and favourite French restaurant in Mayfair) called Le Boudin Blanc (The White Sausage). It’s been around too long to be a jape at Boris Johnson’s Johnson and his erratic womanising, so I have to assume it’s real.

The lunch was. Real that is. A classic Table d’hôte, three exquisite courses for very little. Great company, great food…

Earlier in the week, I’d travelled out to Beaconsfield, deep in the stockbroker belt, to meet with a small group of school pals. Our lives have diverged unimaginably since we left grammar school in the late 1960s. A couple have travelled, one worked in South East Asia, fought the demon booze and then returned to Good Old Blighty before it was too late.

My best mate is continuing to fight the good fight against the Big C, still playing in a folk band and despite everything, still funny, great company and a friend I’m happy to stand alongside.

Me? I’ve to admit my gauche, abrasive and often profane view of the world doesn’t seem to sit well amongst such otherwise genteel company. I was reminded twice that I spoke too loud and said fuck much (much) too often, especially given the sensitivities of the well bred local community that might have been within hearing distance.

It’s not just me it seems

I left smiling, but feeling more than a little introspective. On the I’m OK, you’re OK scale, I’ve always felt quite content; enough of this and not too much of that. Being told that I am loud or just too un-English took me by surprise.

Money. Live here and you’ll need lots of it. And, when you’ve got it, suddenly, you might not need it after all. Few folks around here carry cash. Most use contactless credit and debit cards, or a phone-based option like Apple Pay.

It’s facilitated massively by the zero charge a card transaction attracts.

Walk through the turnstile for a Tube, or Overland train? Tap your card on the reader. Buses too. Buy a round in the local, cashless. Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Tesco too. Almost no-one uses money any more.

Imagine! No cash. Less theft, less loss, less cost.

Trouble is, it’s hard to imagine FNB, ABSA or Standard Bank in South Africa writing off their card charges. After all, we’re a captive market and so, why shouldn’t we pay the excessive bonuses the managers of these usuries feel they deserve?

Offices, Hackney
Shopkeeper – Hoxton
Chatting – Shoreditch
After work – Shoreditch

Moving on.

Singapore. Just about our favourite place to visit. Many years ago, we promised each other that we’d come to South East Asia every year and so far, not broken our word. We know people ask what we do in such a city state, as surely, we’re past the shopping now?

We are and have been for years.

What bring us back is the easy lifestyle, a collection of restaurants we’ve tried and liked, food we can’t always find at home, honesty, safety and a chance to temporarily live among interesting people. In truth, we’d happily live here, but the smallest of apartments are beyond our pocket and the lifestyle we enjoy elsewhere carries a price tag that causes hilarity to even consider. So we visit, usually longer than many folk spend on their beachfront holidays.

#livinginlondon4

“Summer wevver innit. Know what I mean?”

I didn’t think I’d get a local quote this time around, but waiting for our dinner in the local curry house last week, our host delivered this as he and some other guests debated the unusually balmy climate.

The East London accent is viewed by the rest of the world as typical and essentially, cockney. It’s neither and can sometimes be difficult to disentangle. Being born in the sound of the Bow church bell(s) is the qualification for being a cockney. It’s a couple of kilometres down the road from here and the locals guard their heritage closely.

Meantime, the less affluent areas, already populated by the working class families of the past are being enlarged by immigrants of almost every stripe. If the government lets them in, you’ll find them here, often in tiny enclaves, just a few hundred souls strong.

The straight line between them all is the clipped, throwaway semi-nasal accent, used by just about everyone, regardless of their origin..

We’re currently cat sitting for Laura, Zach and Elliot just now. This is Sam. He’s a Scottish fold cat, very handsome, extremely hairy and in no way a lap sitter…

House guest, Sam.

London wasn’t always as stylish as it is today. Back in the early ‘60s when everything was drab, an occasional splash of colour, or some kind of artistic statement invariably made the news – those were tough times and there didn’t seem to be much to be happy about.

Enter the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Mary Quant, Biba, Pizza Express and a long list of other trend setters, now accepted as having fundamentally changed the way we lived. Clothes became colourful and occasionally absent, hair grew, attitudes changed and the pill made sex something more than a rapid condom-ed grope and weeks of praying for a null result.

That was then. Today, fashion feels like it has plateaued and everyone’s interest has risen above the hair line. I may be numerically off beam, but it seems to me that there is a barber on every street corner around here and often several in between.

In East London, many are owned and run by members of the Turkish community, who will happily use a burning taper to singe recently cut hair to ensure the smartest of finishes. They’ll give you a shave, trim your nose and ear sproutings and in some cases encourage a visit to their hamam – for what many would refer to as a Turkish Bath. It’s a growing business, I tell you.

Barbers – Dalston
Barbers – Homerton, Sunday morning

So, the style du jour is the fade, which starts bald at the nape of the neck, growing thicker until just above the ears, where hair of almost any length may be found. The man bun has largely disappeared and neatly coiffed, gelled hair has become the norm, brushed back, sweeping from temples and crown, to the rear. Aside from a little more care in cutting and we could be back in the ‘40s.

And, it stands to reason then that keeping this look requires regular maintenance; a trip to the hairdresser every ten days to keep that fade just so. Better if the hair garage is just at the corner.

Barbers – Homerton, Sunday morning

Just along Mare Street (the main thoroughfare through this part of Hackney) is the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History, a fine hostelry and collection of oddities. The Web site describes it thus: “…first all encompassing museum to open in London since the Horniman in 1901. The Museum will present an incoherent vision of the world displayed through wonder enclosed within a tiny space, no attempt is made at classification and comprehensiveness, instead the museum focuses on the pre-enlightenment origins of the museum as Wunderkabinett – a mirror to a world so suffused with miracles and beauty that any attempt at categorisation is bound to fail.

The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities
Dismembered head – Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities

If you want a quiet pint in strange surroundings and are comfortable sitting within reaching distance of a sample of Amy Winehouse’s poo, this is definitely the place for you.

Aside from cutting hair, the Turkish community has another significant presence around here and the Anatolia restaurant just along Mare Street – fortunately, the opposite direction from Amy’s demi-coprolite – is about as good as it gets.

A summer Sunday afternoon dealing decisively with a plate of charcoal grilled lamb ribs, salad, chips and flat bread, washed down by some ice-cold Heineken is almost as good as a family braai at home. Not quite, but it isn’t expensive and avoids the washing-up. It’ll definitely do for now.

There’s an item in the Guardian this morning about whether we should abolish public schools. It appears on the same page as several deeply critical articles about Boris Johnson’s plans to force BREXIT to a conclusion at the end of October. Draw a line from one to the other and we’re back in the usual debate about education, the silver spoon and leadership.

From where I sit, it’s all a bit unnecessary. Every nation needs leaders. If the public school system churns them out, chinless, guffawing and willing to do their duty, so be it. Perhaps our attentions ought to be more focussed on controlling and managing what they do when they get to warm the government’s benches with their genteel high class bot-bots.

Theresa May failed to deliver BREXIT for lots of reasons, but as I see it, the most egregious reason was doubtless the haw-hawing party elite who just couldn’t see any way her middle class background could (or should) empower her to such triumph.

Cranes at Stratford
Graffiti
How the Tube used to be – St John’s Wood
Greyhound Road, Fulham
Cladding abstract – Broadgate
Hitler’s revenge, lying in wait – Hackney

So, if the Borises, Jacobs and Davids want to run things. Let’s not break the chain – let them. But before we do, we really need to re-visit the rules and ensure their parliamentary high jinks are under control before the starting gun (inevitably, a 12-bore?) goes off.

Our twenty-something year old democracy in South Africa is somewhat different. So many of our leaders would have you believe that to a (wo)man they are benign and well intentioned, just wanting to do their jobs. Recent history would give lie to that of course and despite the Red Fascist’s pratings, our fantastic constitution ought to impose those controls for us. Mind you, someone has to ensure those rules are followed.

That won’t happen and while Tito’s discussion document on the economy continues to draw praise from the commercial sector and brickbats from the unions. We need to understand that it was largely the ANC’s post 1994 government, peopled by many leather elbow-patched former university professors turned cadre, who dragged us to where we are. I posited this to a good friend, journalist and broadcaster this morning. His response wasn’t long in arriving:

“It’s the ANC’s complete failure to actually execute any kind of plan which is the root of the problem.

Do we not have the National Development Plan – put together by Trevor Manual and a host of experts and economists? What happened to that?

And to GEAR? And the RDP? 

All of this traces back to the unholy alliance between the ANC, SACP and COSATU. Implementing any kind of plan involves things like taking Eskom’s workforce from 46,000 to around 30,000. The unions refuse to countenance any kind of job reductions anywhere, let along things like productivity increases. And don’t start me on SADTU and its absolute refusal to have any kind of supervision of teachers in schools. The current figures say that on any one day, one in five teachers is absent – and that’s assuming they’re qualified, willing and able, and sober enough to teach.

You would well remember Britain in the 1970s, when the unions had Labour government after Labour government and then Ted Heath’s effort over a barrel. We’re in the same place. Except there is no Margaret Thatcher round the corner to take the units on.”

‘nuff said.

Sunday morning near St Paul’s
Sunday morning near St Paul’s
Sunday morning near St Paul’s
Bloomberg – Bank
Hackney life
City abstract

I recently met up with a British train enthusiast and photographer I’d met some years ago on a trip to Zimbabwe. We had lunch and a couple of beers – it’s good to catch up. En route into town, I was pondering a list of essentials that might help anyone find a suburb, village, town or city to comfortably live.

Admittedly, it was a simple mental checklist, unresearched, based largely on our own recent experiences, but what was immediately clear was that Hackney ticked just about every box, from facilities, availability of housing, public transport and pubs, bars and restaurants, theatre, cinemas and so on. So, what’s not to like?

For me, that would be the availability of medical care. To get an appointment with one’s GP can result in a fortnight-long wait. Specialist care much longer – my dermatologist referral as booked on 17 July, for an appointment on 22 October – is a good example. That’s three months. Twelve weeks.

I have no doubt that were I seriously ill and not just beset with psoriasis, a gap would have been found in the schedule for me. Still, private healthcare remains an essential if costly, option.

Hackney life
Hackney life

Summer sidles away. The mornings now have a chill, distinct and damp edge and daytime temperatures live in the high teens and low 20s at best. Soon it will be time to put our clocks back and winter will arrive; cold, dark and seemingly endless. At least until April, when we get our lost hour back and we can hope for better weather.

Meantime, we’re off to Cape Town via our annual Singapore sojourn, tomorrow. We’re both looking forward to a couple of weeks in the heat and humidity, doing little but supping ice cold Tiger beer and eating street food that is the envy of the rest of the world.

After that, it’s home to Rooi Els mid-October, the Kruger Park in November and back to Hackney for Xmas, early in December.

More soon.

#livinginlondon3

“Half of Hackney talks to itself.”

I’m waiting for a bus at the stop outside our local Lidl. This is the considered opinion of the lady next to me in the bus shelter. We’ve both been watching the antics of a man and a woman, also waiting for a bus, but passing the time by looking for something only they can see. All the while, they are both and separately talking to whoever it is that’s responsible for nothing at all.

I’m forced to agree; “It takes all sorts,” I reply hoping not to cause offence and spark an outburst of my own.

“It’s the drugs,” she says.

Fortunately, the 388 bus arrives before I am able to talk myself into a real corner.

The halfway house I mentioned in my last post must have some kind of resident churn, because I hadn’t seen these two before. I also hadn’t encountered the couple who were having a full-on marital outside yesterday afternoon. I think the male partner must have Tourette’s Syndrome – it’s possibly the same guy who sits across the road in the morning sun and has intense conversations with someone known only to himself.

His Tourette’s is very focussed, encouraging him to say little more than fuck, accompanied by an occasional word that isn’t. What with hearing only half of it and all, it’s a hard conversation to follow;

“You fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking wanker, fuck you, fucking West Ham, fucking, fucking fucking, fuck you. Yeah, fuck you too”.

And so on.

Meanwhile, the marital dispute downstairs has entered the name calling stage, the narrative seemingly borrowed from our friend across the road. The in-between words have changed though – always a reasonable clue.

If it wasn’t so distressingly close and loud, I’d be able to look on it as a kind of alcohol-fuelled, late afternoon cabaret.

So, waiting for a bus can be a pleasant interlude, watching the traffic go by. Or a harrowing experience, especially if it is tipping down with rain and you need to share the shelter with a small mob of drunk, gesticulating, sweary buggers. Many have more than a faint whiff of eau de pee about them and will at the merest glance in their direction, or the slightest sign of interest in their problems, try to start a conversation with you.

I especially didn’t want to strike up a chat with the man standing outside the flats yesterday, with his trousers at half mast. I really, really didn’t want to see what he was up to either. I just know I shall at some point give thanks that he wasn’t queueing to get on the bus, too.

Summer is oozing by. Recently, the mercury hit 39C in London. This week it’s not very warm and has been raining on and off for the last few days. Either way, the flat gets the full force of whatever late afternoon sun there is and while that will be most welcome in the winter, right now, it’s a serious PITA.

And of course, it’s holiday time here.

They got the shapely bodies according to just about every food, travel, holiday and social media it’s possible to find. All are extolling us to eat slim, be healthy, lose weight and in the main, squeeze ourselves into clothes made for (and by) six year old Laotians.

I get it, but unless you plan to live on air, rainwater and traffic fumes, it’s nigh on impossible to find something to eat that doesn’t have bread making up at least ninety percent of its content.

As you know, I walk a lot and while strolling the streets it’s not unusual around midday for me to want to feed the beast. So, the hunt is on.

Hamburgers are everywhere. On buns. That’s bread and I know it’s possible to order without, but wandering Whitechapel, or Soho leaving a trail of cooked meat, tomato, onion, pickle and/or mayonnaise down one’s clothes and on to the pavement is hardly desirable.

A wrap? Take the bread away and see above times ten.

Doner kebab/schwarma? See above too, but even worse.

Bao buns?

Hot dog?

DIm sum? 

Sandwich?

Pizza?

And there’s the rub. No matter what you try, if you want to slide into that slim-fit outfit for your summer hols, you’d better be living on something with a powerful emetic in it, ‘cos you’re not going to get any help from the food sector.

It’s awful. In desperation, I usually try and choose the least bready (like a burger) and then eat only as much bun as is necessary to keep body and soul together.

Oscar Wilde said “I can resist anything except temptation.” He was a Brit, clearly talking about his lunch and I’m not surprised.

On the subject of food. Whatever you do, don’t let these little bastards into your home. Why? Well, when the jar is suddenly empty and you’re feeling vaguely guilty at your piggery, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The braai fire is at the ideal temperature and mine host (aided by me) is flipping burgers for the guests. A brace of teenagers are waiting, the host offers a burger to the young lady; “Ladies first.”

Seems OK to me.

“That’s a very sexist thing to say,” pipes-up male teenager.

My punching reflex almost catches me out at this extraordinary rudeness, but I manage to defer to our host, who calmly tells this young chap that’s how things ought to be.

Alas, not any more.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the face of London is changing. I discovered today that there is a massive hole in the ground where the Earl’s Court used to be. Home to inter alia both Motor and Boat Shows and many, many others over the years, Earl’s Court used to be an exhibition hall, a suburb and a short-term home for tens of thousands of Aussies, arriving annually in London to find fame and fortune.

Now, the redevelopment scheme will deliver trendy tree-lined malls, hundreds of homes, most likely to push the cost of even a one bedroom flat through the £1m barrier.

The old Earl’s Court was an eyesore, vaguely dangerous late at night, probably shockingly expensive to maintain, but an anchor of both pre- and post-war London. Trendy new living units don’t feel like they’re going to be fair replacement value for anyone but the investors. Still, all those people have got to live somewhere, I suppose.

The 388 bus I mentioned at the top of this post takes me to Stratford and a meeting with the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the 4709 Night Owl group, a steam locomotive (re)building project I’ve signed-up with to assist with their marketing.

Only nine Night Owls were ever built – they were developed in late Georgian times, to haul heavy food trains into London from the Midlands, the West and South West. In railway terms they were giants and though I’ve only been joined-up with the group for a short time, I am looking forward to help move this project forward and meeting their self-imposed deadline to see this monster produce its first steam sometime in 2024.

This is what one looked like in the daylight:

I mentioned the noise made by emergency vehicles and ambulances in the last post. From our lift lobby, here’s another reason:

Dickhead driving the Mini has ignored the lane lines and arrows and despite wanting to continue straight, has stopped in the RH lane which has a filter light. The filter allows traffic to turn, while the LH lane is held. Alerted to his stupidity by the sound of a million angry horn blasts from behind, DH now inches left so he can continue straight on, towards downtown Hackney. But not far enough to let the right turning traffic pass. The noise from the queue of angry motorists waiting to turn gets louder…

The photographs in this month’s post have mainly been shot from my mobile studio. Here it is:

It weighs 11kg and takes up so little space that it lives in our flat with us. Unfolded? See here.

And finally, I managed to get tickets to see the James Taylor Quartet at Ronnie Scott’s last night. It was never going to be to Di’s taste, but Julian bravely agreed to come along and keep me company, fearing several hours of meandering, hard to like jazz.

How wrong he was. The JTQ put on two hours of the best Hammond organ-led funk/jazz we’d both ever heard. The club was rammed and there were people stomping, dancing and cheering everywhere. A great night out and if you can beg, or borrow a ticket, I can’t recommend it highly enough. BTW, the picture does it no justice – photography is banned in the club and I grabbed this one shot on the way out.

Photo buddies

I’d planned to (re)post an article from DearSusan, the photo blog I contribute to, but when I opened the photographs, they were murky and not at all nice.

So, if you amble over, you can see this collection in all its glory(?)

If you’re missing the words, there’s more of those on the way, too. Soon.