Deep into October and I’ve yet to write a word. Shame on me.

It’s hard to write when you’re also having fun – which we have been. We both have birthdays in October and in recent years, have chosen to spend them in Singapore. That’s two weeks – more than most visitors spend there in a lifetime. Even the locals give us very odd looks when we say how long we’re in town for.

It works for us.

Bar blur – Singapore
Red bike – Singapore

Last year, we came to the realisation that age, stamina and the heat weren’t as do-able as they used to be, restricting ourselves to one major outing/activity a day. That worked very well, and we left for Cape Town and home, aware that even so, there had been a couple of things we usually do that had been missed this time around.

A good reason to return. As though we needed one.

This year has been different. Having been recently diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma, Di’s poor balance, fatigue, inability to walk properly and hearing loss now seem to have a genesis, which is being dealt with by the NHS. In practical terms, she wears hearing aids, but there has been no solution for her mobility issues and so, this year in Singapore has been marked by longer rest periods in the hotel, shorter walks and lots of planning in terms of access, staircases, escalators and lifts.

That said, our time in the city state was as much fun as usual, to the extent that we actually managed to see and do everything we wanted, albeit at a more leisurely pace.

Aside; it’s been a while since we discovered the hotel transfer service offered from Changi airport. Then it was S$9 per person. Today, probably six or seven years later? Still S$9 and just as efficient.

Commuter – Singapore

And so with most things. Prices rarely change and there’s a VAT hike looming (from 7%) which has the locals in an uproar. They should try living in SA, where the cost of pretty much anything seems to be based on a whim and there’s little justification offered when 15% or more is suddenly hiked to the price of anything. Before leaving for London in May and in the space of a few weeks, I watched the price of beef mince increase from a usual R44/half kilo pack to around R55. Five months later, the price has now inched up to R58. It’s the same 15% saline injected meat and I wonder how the resellers (in this case, Woolworths) justify it.

We’re in the middle of a drought, with beef stocks being run down – mainly by increased slaughtering – as a result. Yet meat prices increase by more than 30%. How does that work?

With our part relocation to London earlier in the year, a planned family trip to Mexico in the New Year and a host of other things, our travel plans and ticketing has been something of a Gordian knot, resulting in our recent outbound leg from London to Singapore being handled by Lufthansa. This required a hop from Heathrow to Munich and then the long haul section, again with the German carrier.

I’m glad my flying for work days are done – see photograph below, shot between London and Munich  – I can’t imagine being subjected to this on a regular basis. The long haul flight was markedly better, but the food as awful as one’s imagination can conjure.

Cramped – Lufthansa style

If you can that is. Let me help; chicken or beef? The main chicken offering was a thick mess of cooked to death flesh that was more soggy collagen than meat. That’ll set you up nicely.

We returned to Cape Town with Emirates. A crazy way to fly, but inbound from South Africa, the Singapore Airlines flight arrives at 05:50 and the return flight to Cape Town leaves at 01:55. In short, the super early landing means an extra half day added to your hotel bill if you want a shower and nap on arrival. It’s that, or hang around until 14:00 when they’ll let you into your room as usual.

More importantly, it also avoids the Singapore Airlines landing, two hour wait for the baggage handlers to have a leisurely luggage search and theft session in Jozi – the plane lands both ways; in and out of South Africa.

Similarly, when flying back, one must bear in mind that a take off thirteen hours after you’ve been required to vacate your room usually means the extra cost of yet another full day in the hotel, even if you’re not there to enjoy it all.

So, Emirates it was. We left for Changi at a sensible 17:30, changed planes in Dubai at an inescapable but pretty do-able 03:00 (time difference taken into account) and arrived in Cape Town after a lengthy sleep at 11:30 in the morning. Good call.

Back in Rooi Els just after midday, we discovered that ESCOM was once again load shedding and had to wait a couple of hours to do anything that required electricity. Fortunately, we have a solar water heater and a gas stove, so a shower and food wasn’t such a problem.

14:30 and the scheduled switch on time came, but the electricity didn’t. As so often happens with the nation’s poorly managed and maintained electrical infrastructure, the restoration of power broke something else and we were left without power until after 19:00, by which time, the jet lag had caught up with us and we were almost comatose and beyond caring much.

I should have known better, because the second round of load shedding started barely minutes after the power was finally restored from the morning session. No problem there – we were asleep by then, but when the power was finally switched back on some time around 22:30, our alarm system went into hyper mode, because the batteries hadn’t been charged for almost twelve hours.

Modernist Singapore

The shrieking siren eventually roused me enough to realise something bad was afoot, but it took considerably longer for my addled, sleep deprived mind to work out exactly what was going on. After several minutes of panic and wonder, a visit to the control unit in the garage and frantic button pushing quieted the damn thing sufficiently for me to stumble back to my bed and several more hours of blessed jet lag relieving sleep.

Welcome to South Africa.

Just about anyone you might talk to has an opinion about and a remedy for our failing electricity supplier. They’re all much the same and most employ language as a club, rather than a tool. I’ve been away for four months and am already angry all over again.

Load shedding day two was much the same as day one, including the failure of restoration after the promised 20:30 switch on. The bedside light we’d switched on to use as a signal when the power came back on woke me at about 02:30, not that I cared over much by then.

“Stop bitching. It is what it is. You could be freezing your cobs off in London, but you chose to come here instead.”

I did. I’ll make the best of it. Promise.

Everyone has some kind of tale to tell of Britain’s NHS. Most not very complimentary. We’re doing our best, with Di succeeding significantly better than me at this stage.

To try and avoid more frustration with the NHS, I decided to use our still in place South African medical aid and made appointments with our GP, hygienist, dentist and optician while we are here. In addition to all that, I’ve also had my annual blood tests done and three visits to a physio to sort out a post-airline seat stiff neck. It was a hell of a busy week, but all in, a one worth spending time on. I have new glasses, Di has had root canal and a new crown made and so, we’re both now in pretty good shape.

Barriers – Singapore

Tuesday 29th and we are due at Cape Town station by 08:00 to put the car on the Shosholoza Meyl train to Johannesburg – the first leg of our now annual trip to the Kruger Park. I decided to try the train last year, in preference to driving almost 2000km each way. It proved cost effective, got us to Johannesburg (and back to Cape Town) in reasonable time and reduced the amount of wear and tear (and stress) on both the car and us.

This year, has not been such a happy time. The morning traffic into Cape Town’s CBD is nightmarish and so bad, that despite allowing two hours for a journey that usually only takes half that, we almost missed the train. Once there – within seconds of the deadline – we got a great welcome and boarded ready for our 09:05 departure. The train remains solid, comfortable and offers AC access for charging computers, phones and the like. The food is unimaginatively edible, a percentage point or two above boarding school fare. The bar makes a fair G&T.

Regrettably, the service itself has deteriorated. Last year, we were two and a half hours late into Johannesburg and almost four hours delayed on our return into Cape Town. This year, rail operator PRASA, has excelled themselves.

As I write, we are crawling across the Vaal Triangle, some 50km south of our destination, already five hours and change late. Since leaving Cape Town we’ve experienced a constant stream of start/stops, signal delays and we are told, as recently as this morning, cable theft from the signalling system near Carletonville which has caused the closure of the line. So, we’re on a detour and experiencing yet more delay. We are expecting to arrive somewhere around 19:00 and I am still hoping to get the car this evening. But if everyone has got bored and gone home, who knows what will happen?

As it turned out, the train arrived ten hours late. We then waited another hour and a half for our car to be de-trained. Fortunately, I’d warned the hotel of our likely lateness and we had to postpone our planned dinner date with friends. In fact, we missed dinner completely.

After four decades of living here, we’re pretty used to this kind of thing. I feel sorry for the tourists who are enchanted into buying these services by glossy brochures. They don’t know how to plan around the inevitable missed flights and connections. There is little or no help for them, in fact, most of the time finding anyone to ask is fruitless, as the respondent is all too often sullen, ill-educated and has been innoculated against the stresses of being helpful.

Welcome to South Africa.

In stark contrast, I’ve watched the latter stages of South Africa’s progress into the RWC Final at our local, as our satellite TV service DStv went into the bin a while back. Against Japan, a small but rowdy crowd cheered our lads on. Playing Wales last Saturday and I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear the ruckus was heard in far off Tokyo.

There we all were, blacks, whites, pinks and greys full of gees* and giving it large. I’ve watched South African sport on our travels around the world over and there are few populations who can generate so much national pride and fervour. I cannot for the life of me work out why our government doesn’t share the vision. Maybe they are all too busy stealing, hoping we’re so busy being patriotic that we won’t notice?

* gees: Afrikaans for national pride and much much more. Oppas mense. Suid Afrika kom vir jou.

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