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.





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




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

Unwelcome guests

“Oh shitting, sodding bollocks.”


The big tip-up door into the workshop has been open all night. I can’t bear to think what’s gone walkabout.


Full of angst, I enter, setting off the alarm as I do.


Bike? Still there.


Mrs P’s Audi? Still there.


Electric screwdriver? Still there.


Tools, saws, other goodies? Still there.


Well. That wasn’t so bad after all. The door is closed, Mrs P re-sets the alarm and life calms down a bit.


Several hours later, we’re eating a late lunch in the kitchen.


From next door, we both hear the door handle rattle, the usually locked door open and quickly slam shut again.




I get up, imagining an intrusion by not nice people and come face to face with a large male baboon*, which is at least as surprised as I am. Unlike me, he has both hands in our vegetable basket, planning to grab something to eat before he rushes out – which he can’t do because the wind closed the door behind him.


I speak to him – telling him that stealing our food isn’t a good idea.


Jeannie, our aged scottie is loving the opportunity to get so up and close and personal to something she dreams of chasing with her every breath. She is barking at earsplitting volume, only inches from our visitor – not very friendly, really.


He of course, looks quite panicked and trouble is, he is between me and the door, so I can’t get past to let him out.


He tries to help by jumping up onto the bench where we feed the cat – luckily he isn’t here – and then on to the top of the fridge(s) – all without knocking off the stash of beer I keep up there. I’m impressed.


Meantimes, Mrs P has left the kitchen, through the garage and out to the front of the house and with some help from our now keen to leave visitor, has opened the kitchen door from the outside.


Door open, he scuttles out chased by a geriatric scottie, already out of breath.


Quite a day really. A workshop open all night and still there when we discover the error. And, our house, invaded by a 70Kg simian, with theft on his mind.


That’s quite enough fun for one day.


* The chacma baboon is a native of the region and the only baboon which is known to forage on the shoreline – most others content themselves with seeds, nuts and berries. They are unintrusive, but inquisitive by nature and generally share the environment with us humans pretty well. Until the locals and tourists feed them. Then the trouble starts and when the visitors have gone, home invasions for food become a real problem, especially if 10 or 15 excitable monkeys get into your home and can’t get out. Then the mess in the fridge and pantry becomes nothing in comparison to torn curtains, shredded furniture and baboon excrement smeared everywhere.

Bar, Golden Gai

Tokyo wind-up



Welsh onions

“Welsh onions” – Shinjuku


Not that you’ve necessarily been gagging to hear, but Tokyo was fantastic – easily one of the most interesting and worth visiting cities we’ve seen to date. If it wasn’t so far, we’d have booked a return visit already, perhaps supplanting our long-time favourite, Singapore.


The delay in writing has been the result of flu. Both of us were poleaxed by it last weekend, 36 hours before heading for home. Individually, Di succumbed first, with me about 18 hours behind her.


Between bouts of sleeping, we sat in our hermetically sealed, air conditioned hotel room and did nothing other than mope and yet more sleep. By Sunday morning, it was clear that the walk back to the bus terminus at Shinjuku station that we’d done on arrival, was now way beyond our abilities and a taxi ordered to get us to the bus stop, bus and airport.


Fortunately, the next hurdle; the bus to Narita went off like silicone. Made all the better by getting a sizeable pensioners’ discount. Check in, immigration and the security formalities came next, the pair of us like zombies, just wanting to get on the plane and sleep (more).


Twelve hours to Dubai, three hours wait for our Cape Town connection – sounds like a drug deal – not – and another nine hours in the air, saw us arriving on time with just the baggage, customs and drive home left to endure.


Asakusa shrine

Asakusa shrine


That was Monday. I’m writing this eleven days later, both of us are finally past the worst – still largely incapable of any kind of enthusiasm, exercise or appetite. Independently, we’ve both been out during the intervening week and a half, both arrived home exhausted, ready for little more than to sit and stare at the ocean outside.


On Monday, we both agreed that if we didn’t go out and get some shopping, we’d starve. So, we did a big pre-Xmas shop, the fridge is full to bursting and all we need (apart from our kids to show up and surprise us) is the energy to eat and drink it all.


Morning, Shinjuku

Morning, Shinjuku




I’m not sure if we’d ever have gone to Tokyo if Emirates hadn’t written to me a couple of months ago, offering a whole e-mail full of bargain-priced flights to just about everywhere. Having recently returned from Laura’s wedding, we weren’t much interested, that was until I followed the link in the e-mail and found yet more budget city flights.


“How would you like to go to Tokyo as a kind of joint Christmas present?”


Moments later, the booking was made, hotel reservation done and the anticipation started.


Outbound, we flew to Dubai and then on to Tokyo’s Narita. It was smooth, easy and on arrival, we opted for the Airport Limousine (a bus), which dropped us at Shinjuku Station – about 800m from our hotel.


Street scene, Tsukiji Market

Street scene, Tsukiji Market


Checked-in, baggage dumped in our room and in seconds, we were out on the streets of Shinjuku to explore and find something to eat. We found the latter in a yakitori – chicken grilled on tiny skewers over a charcoal fire – bar (izakaya) about 250m up the street from the hotel, pretty much the first place we tried.


Fed and watered, I paid, expecting a massive bill – this is Tokyo after all – and was very pleasantly surprised. For lots of yakitori, a couple of side dishes and beer/wine, I got a bill for a bit less than R300.


That set the pace for the rest of the trip.


Autumn trees, Yoyogi Park

Autumn trees, Yoyogi Park


Our travel days easily fall into a new city routine; I wake early and go out to photograph, Mrs P sleeps. I’m usually back around 07:30, we deal with the daily ablutions and head for a good breakfast.


The Best Western we were staying in fitted that need perfectly, with both European and Japanese buffets. Grilled mackerel, deep fried chicken and rice porridge for breakfast was a novel experience and begged to be tried. Other days, toast, marmalade or a couple of boiled eggs held a bit more appeal.


Usually, by around 10:30 we’re ready to depart, having agreed a destination for the day. Shinjuku is huge and it’s only a matter of minutes into Yoyogi, Harajuku (the Carnaby Street of Tokyo) and various nearby suburbs. Other days, we braved the Metro for Shibuya and it’s famous scramble crossing, Ueno, Ginza and the Imperial Palace.


Grown up fishing, Shinjuku

Grown up fishing, Shinjuku





Fortunately, we’d finished our must-see list as the flu struck. We still missed returning to a couple of places that just cried out for more time and exploration. For every one of the twelve days we spent in the city, we ate in bars, restaurants, izakaya, markets and street stalls. What we ate was often a bit of a mystery – most Tokyo-ites will attempt English, but ordering food can be a lottery. We ate what we got irrespective. In the main it was fantastic.


Tsukiji Market

Tsukiji Market


Tsukiji Market

Tsukiji Market


I bought some kitchen knives in the the Fish Market at Tsukijki – there are hundreds of stalls selling sea food of a bewildering variety and shoehorned between their stalls, a vast variety of cutlers, offering knives for just about every occasion. That was after a street stall don lunch – a bowl (don) half filled with rice, topped with a variety of raw sea foods (mainly tuna), gari (pickled ginger) wasabi and soy sauce. It might have been chilly sitting out on the pavement, but the food was fab.


Getting around the city is pretty straightforward. That said, the Metro map was a complete mystery, until unravelling it to get to the Imperial Palace became a motivation. In sum; the station you are in lies at the centre of the map and the place your wish to get to (when you finally find it amongst the coloured lines) is shown with a number on it.


That is the fare in ¥ (yen), usually between 170 and 330, depending on distance.


Use the ticket machine, press the English button (you’ll only need to do this once as the process is actually, very simple), select two people and the fare, chosen from the map above. Ticket machines accept anything up to ¥10000 (R1000) notes and give change in notes where appropriate, instead of a million small coins. Along with your change, two tickets pop out of he slot. You’re now good to go.


The Tokyo Metro goes just about everywhere and the odd station it doesn’t serve, is accessible on the JR Yamanote line, a Japanese version of London Underground’s Circle Line.


Shinjuku skyline

Shinjuku skyline


And, that’s about it. Tokyo is a fanastic, exciting city and now, we’ve recovered somewhat are already planning a return to see Spring in the city in 2016.


One final note; our pre-departure research told us that the Japanese are not great credit card users and so, I drew a not particularly large sum of Yen to tide us over on arrival. It was planned to cover the first few days travel, sightseeing and meals until we figured out how to draw more cash. As it turned out, ATMs are readily available in the many 7/11 stores around the city, so we needn’t have been so concerned.


Better still, instead of lasting a day or so in what we expected to be a frighteningly expensive city, our cash lasted almost ten days – providing you don’t plan to eat and drink in top-end of restaurants and bars, Tokyo is no more expensive than Cape Town.


That was a surprise.


Tokyo night

Tokyo night




Set-top box bollocks

In around six months, South Africa’s commitment to the international broadcast community to move from terrestrial to digital (satellite) based TV broadcasting will fall due. Despite many years to solve and implement the technology and an endless stream of assurances of compliance, this deadline is now almost certain to be missed.


The official line is disagreement over standards, design, manufacture and digital rights – should the boxes be encoded and supply their content only to registered (and one imagines, licensed) viewers?


As many government ministers as years have gone by while these critical issues remain unresolved. And, the cynical amongst us inevitably opine that it is much more likely to be squabbling about who will get the (financial) benefits from the multi-billion Rand manufacture and supply contracts that is holding up a decision.


Meanwhile the nation’s sore tarnished international image, gets a little more grubby.


Here’s an alternative suggestion; the rate of change of technology is such that in recent years, we have seen the demise of many household processes and big names. Pre-conceived ideas and plans have disappeared as the Internet makes its presence felt in every facet of our lives. Here’s a reminder or two;


Nokia used to make the 6210 and 6310 – the best cell phones ever. That was until Apple came along. Today, Nokia is a Microsoft subsidiary. ‘nuff said.


Retail music stores have all but disappeared.


In many countries, book shops have disappeared as we buy from Amazon, the iTunes store and read on Kindles and iPads. Meanwhile, many international bookselling giants have shut their doors. In SA, we’re a bit behind this one, but it won’t be long…


In a similar vein, how long will retail pharmacies like Clicks and co. remain? As soon as someone troubles themselves to work out how to same-day deliver orders placed over the Interwebs, these chaps with their huge staffs, stock and retail spaces are doomed.


So, what has this to do with the set-top box?


If you’re as pissed-off with DStv as most subscribers seem to be, you will already have explored the world of VPN connections and streaming TV content and movies – IP television as it’s sometimes called. Making it work is a little convoluted and costs a few dollars a month, but it works and around a fifth the cost of DStv.


It would work even better if we had just a bit more bandwidth at a competitive rate.


So much so that a limited-option domestic 3G (or better) router easily could deliver everything the set top box would offer with much, much less hassle and far superior management control.


Most of the country is already covered with the cellular network, much of it 3G and some already 4G and better. And, as 3G technology is upgraded in urban areas, that kit could be moved into the rural areas and provide plenty of bandwidth for the foreseeable future.


With government sponsored (free) bandwidth in return for paying a TV licence, a simple home router could be devised to connect to the network, log in to a ID and licence-based connection to the TV resource, to allow the viewer to select feeds from SABC and/or eTV as free viewing, or alternatively DStv, and/or other selected services as paid, proprietary content, programme by programme.


Away go all the arguments about locked systems and what’s free-to-air as now if you can pay for it, it’s available. No cables, no uplinks, easy licensing and payment, simple.


Job done. All with existing technology and end-to-end protection of rights. No satellite costs, so set top boxes to enrich the decision makers and a choice of TV programming that can be delivered from anywhere and anyone with a feed and a server.


What are we waiting for?

Zuma – something else to be concerned about

Late last week, the Mail and Guardian published a piece about a plan from several provincial heads to extend Zuma’s tenure as president of the ANC, perhaps by as much as two years.


It is claimed that their plan would assist the ANC’s stability, but predictably, the M&G’s exposé differed radically from their view; the M&G says that it would be easy to think Messrs Magashule et al were wanting to protect their patron at the head of the ANC.


And, who can blame them? It seems that it is the venal Zuma who has given them almost limitless power to play fast and loose with both provincial processes and the public coffers, such that self enrichment and aggrandisement may be the result. Usually no-one even bothers even breaking a sweat as this way, wealth can be acquired with little more than the stroke of a pen, or an outstretched hand.


As if that weren’t enough, the non-accountability that comes with these appointments also means that when caught, the sanction for such criminal acts range from none, to reward by promotion – sometimes as high up the ladder as the country’s cabinet.


In return, the patronage will ratchet up several notches. It’s possible to imagine Zuma saying; “Thank you for your support Mr Provincial Head (substitute a name of your choosing here). You know, with the long-term now secure, I think we will be able to build one of those new nuclear stations in your region.”


What a bonanza that will be for the tender-riggers.


So, a move to extend the stay of our hated and feared leader until 2019, probably around the time for our next general elections, should hardly be seen as good news.


But, what is this really all about?


I’ve been suggesting for the last couple of years that sooner or later, we will see a proclamation, making Zuma president for life. Can Magashule and co’s move be a precursor to that?


“Nah. Constitutionally, that’s impossible,” I hear you say.




But, you forget that we are dealing with a man (and a large number of his ANC patronage-puppets) who have shown less and less respect for the constitution as the days have ticked by. They’ve shown no liking for, or obeisance to the rules that govern our actions to date, what’s going to change in the future?


So, when Zuma declares himself High Chief Muckety-Muck-For-Ever, he and his money-grabbing followers will once again do what they’ve done so many times already; simply take no notice. With the justice system and the police in his pocket, it’s hard to see who can or will take action to stop him.