Author Archive

All the way from Syria, please welcome Bobby Darin!

August 3, 2011 13 comments

I am in England at the moment, having attended a family wedding.

During my ongoing and rather listless research of my family tree, I sometimes come across some interesting little vignettes. One of them concerns the story of an artifact that once belonged to ancestors of mine.  The “Luck of Edenhall” is a glass beaker that is thought to have been made in Syria in the 13th century, elegantly decorated in blue, green, red and white enamel with gilding.

“If this cup should break or fall
Farewell the Luck of Edenhall!” The vessel was donated to the V&A Museum in the 1920s. As I was going to be in London, I thought it might be interesting to go and have a look.

Having tracked down and gazed upon the rather beautiful, heirless heirloom, described as being one of the most important exhibits in the V&A, I went on a wander around the museum. Eventually, I stumbled across a gallery that displayed some of the collections of Horace Walpole from his home at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham. His name had come up in conversation, a few days ago, in relation to a quiz or crossword or some such. I think the reference was to his Gothic novel, Castle of Otranto. (Walpole is thought to have coined the word, ‘serendipity’.) Anyway, I confess that I did not know much about Horace Walpole, so when I got home I googled him. Inevitably, perhaps, that took me to his father Robert Walpole.

Earlier in my visit, I had been staying with my sister and had discovered in  my room a copy of John Gay’s ‘The Beggar’s Opera’. Of course I had heard of Gay and his satirical work and I even knew that he invented the character Macheath, about whom Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill wrote the song,  “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer”. What I did not know was that the highwayman Macheath was based upon Robert Walpole. Had he been alive today, John Gay would surely have been writing for Private Eye.

Anyway, here is Bobby Darrin singing about Britain’s first and longest serving Prime Minister.

Isla de Mozambique – Part 2

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Anyway, we arrived at the house to be met by the three guests already there. Jamie is a sort of “Monarch of the Glen” in that he has just inherited an estate with a “bijou” castle, which he hopes to restore to its former glory. Unlike Archie of the TV series, I suspect he is a lot brighter and probably wealthier though perhaps not as aesthetically pleasing to the feminine eye. With him was his brother Rob, who does up houses in Sri Lanka and who speaks Portuguese, having lived in Brazil for a while. The third chap was Peter, a friend of Jamie and also from Scotland, who used to work for the UN in various situations. He presented some interesting insights into the moral irresponsibility and ineptitude of that august body. Peter had also spent a few years working in Zimbabwe for the Camp Fire (game conservation) project in Guruve in the mid-nineties. He remembered discussing dhow safaris with my brother a few years back. All three were thoroughly nice blokes and good company. Read more…

Categories: Memoirs, Travel Tags:

Isla de Mozambique – Part 1

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment

In May 2004 I was visiting Zimbabwe. This is an edited version of a journal I wrote at the time for the ‘benefit’ of friends and relatives, who purported to have an interest in my activities.

On Saturday, I was having elevenses with, Hugo and Molly in Harare. While I was there, Molly got a call from Tomas a mutual friend who had various properties and businesses around Southern Africa, including a villa on Isla de Mozambique to which he was inviting them to visit. Molly told Tomas that Hugo would not be able to take the time off as he had too much work to do, and added rather unconvincingly, nor could she. However, after a nanosecond, she decided that perhaps she could and suggested that Igo instead of Hugo.(Geddit?) I leaped at the opportunity and so it was agreed that they would pick me up the next morning, Sunday, and we would drive to Charles Prince Airport, where Tomas would meet us.

Charles Prince is the second airport serving Harare and is mostly used by private and small commercial craft. Following the arrival at Harare International airport of a plane full of suspected mercenaries in March, the government has become decidedly paranoid about the prospects of a coup attempt in this country. Consequently it has arranged for the Army to position an armoured car and an anti-aircraft gun at each end of the runway. You can imagine that this is slightly disconcerting for inexperienced pilots who probably give more thought than most to the possibility of an aborted take off. How is the gunner likely to react if he sees an aircraft speeding straight towards him when it should be heading into the sky? With a nervous trigger finger, I suspect. But such considerations on the part of the government would be thinking too far ahead. Read more…

Categories: General, Memoirs, Travel Tags: ,

Susannah and me – Part 3

January 20, 2011 4 comments

With Christmas over, the problem remained as to what I was to do until my course started at the end of June. I thought that I could work for a few months and earn enough to pay for a skiing holiday in April. So in early January I went to the local cab company, which happened to be a street away from my sister’s house, and asked for a job as a driver. The owner agreed, but as I did not have a car, he would rent one to me. On top of that I had to pay a flat fee for the use of the radio and the services of the controller. This was how the company made most of its money. Any fares I collected were mine to keep, but I would have to earn a fair chunk of change before I could even think of making a profit for myself. Still, it seemed like an interesting proposition. Read more…

Susannah and me – Part 2

January 19, 2011 1 comment

I arrived in Zurich late in the evening. I could not stretch to paying for another hotel so it was a case of sitting out the night at the station. Zimbabwe is not the best place to shop for Alpine winter clothing, so it was somewhat inevitable that I would be inadequately dressed to endure the city’s temperatures with any degree of comfort. But I made it through the night without freezing to death or being mugged. I am not sure if they have muggers in Switzerland. I rather imagine that they have been banned. Read more…

Susannah and me – Part 1

January 19, 2011 2 comments

I was saddened to read of the recent death of Susannah York. She was, in my view, one of the most beautiful actresses of her generation. With stunning blue eyes, blonde hair and a beatific smile she epitomised the idea of the classic English Rose. I lusted after her in such films such as Tom Jones, The Killing of Sister George, The Battle of Britain, They Shoot Horses Don’t They, and Gold. Once, many years ago, I was fortunate to come into brief contact with her. The story goes like this. Read more…

Becoming a criminal

December 30, 2010 6 comments

I was struck by the last sentence in this article.

“Watching TV without a valid licence is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £1,000.”

Given the invasive nature of TV licence inspectors and the ruthlessness with which they pursue their objectives, I imagine that quite a few, otherwise harmless citizens, find themselves with criminal records. In the event, albeit unlikely, that I were to be successfully prosecuted for not owning a television licence and thus categorized as a criminal, I think that I would be more, rather than less, inclined to commit further crimes. There is an old saying, ‘one may as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb’ and I think this is a perfect example of how the pettiness of self-serving law-makers  has the unintended but predictable result of creating more law-breakers. Having a criminal record creates all sorts of difficulties in a person’s life including inhibiting one’s ability to travel,  denying one job opportunities, prohibiting one from becoming a company director and so forth. I do not want a criminal record, but were I to have one, it would no longer serve as a deterrent. Tax evasion, amongst a host of other crimes, would suddenly become a real consideration. By branding me a criminal, you turn me into one. That is of course if one assumes I have no moral inhibitions.

Categories: General, Politics Tags: , ,

Downton Abbey

December 19, 2010 19 comments

Last week I was lent the complete first series of Downton Abbey on DVD. It has not been shown here in South Africa, nor do I expect it to be, but I was aware that it had caused a bit of a stir in Britain when it was broadcast there earlier this year and so I was delighted when I was given the opportunity to watch it. I have to say that I enjoyed it immensely and eagerly anticipate the second series. Read more…


December 17, 2010 Leave a comment

The South African Government has recently awarded a R4.28 bn (about £400m) contract to a number of pharmaceutical companies for the supply of HIV ARVs. My interest in this lies purely with the mechanics involved in  the fulfilment of the tender process. A local company, Adcock Ingram has expressed surprise and disappointment that it was allocated a very small portion of the contract, only 4%. The company manufactures its products locally. Its chairman has written to the government minister involved, asking for details of how the decisions were made. Adcock has been around for 120 years and is well established and respected. According to the rules of the tender, bidders were awarded points in three categories. Up to 90 points were for price, eight for local manufacturing, and two for BEE (Black Economic Empowerment). When the Treasury named the winners, it provided the total number of points awarded to each successful bidder for each product, but did not give a breakdown by category or explain how points were determined. I think most people would applaud the low level given to BEE, 2%, and would respect efforts by the government to reduce spending by giving such weighting towards price . However,  I think I would have preferred to see more points awarded for the local manufacturing element. After all it would mean that South African money stays in South Africa and presumably taxes paid by local companies would offset some or all of any price differential. Adcock had hoped to win a the contract to supply  Efavirenz which it manufactures under licence from Merck. It failed. Read more…

Categories: Politics Tags: ,

Holy Knight

December 15, 2010 Leave a comment

It was Boxing Day, yet the chairman, along with a skeleton staff, had come to the office to work on the press release that he would issue early next month. On the screen in front of him was displayed the company’s latest sales report. It made depressing, if unsurprising, reading. Things were not looking good at all, though at least a small profit was forecast, which was more than was likely to be the case for his rivals. As welcome as this was, it was not going to prevent the huge number of redundancies that would be forthcoming in the New Year; redundancies which came on top of several store closures and associated job losses that he and his board had been forced to impose 6 months earlier. Read more…