Friday, 31 May 2013

Free petrol mower

If anyone who is local would like our old mower, please post a comment with a contact number or email below. It's now fairly old and held together with self-tapping screws & glue, but still runs OK and cuts the grass. There's no silencer: the studs holding it in place having broken so this machine is NOT quiet, but at least everyone will know you're being good & keeping your grass down.

There may also be an even older Mountfield mower with broken handle that can go with it. This was my previous mower (!!!) and was a much better made machine, but for the broken handle, no grass box and a reluctance to start after the winter lay off.

Mower now taken.

Maybe meat hasn't always been so bad for us?

According to a recent study early meat eating human ancestors thrived while vegetarian hominin died out. I won't worry too much about the date, but I do wonder if there could be a link between pre & post flood diet changes - assuming you're a creationist like me, of course.

Genesis 9: Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

Text from, NIV UK version .

Or maybe meat was a better food source than veggies. Or maybe there was a difference in lifestyle between gatherer and hunter. Or maybe there were a thousand other reasons, and meat/survival were never linked and are purely co-incidental. We'll never know.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Yes, it's been quiet here.

Possibly because I've been somewhere noisy, and we were really tired when we got home.

So the big church day out came and went.

I've been tempted to write it up in witty fashion, but TBH that's not going to help anyone except me and my ego. The very best part of it was re-connecting with people who have either had weakened or severed connections with us, and I was very glad for that to happen. And it was good to spend time with other friends to, with whom relationships have not been difficult or complicated. If nothing else, that made the whole trip worthwhile and the music, hassle etc unimportant.

Other highlights:
Musically speaking Salvadore were great, combining rock and Latin music with a distinctly Santana-esque feel, though with more basic guitar work. They had a great feel, and although they were introduced as Spanish, they are actually from Austin, Texas. Ho hum.

I also enjoyed Newworldson for their musical diversity, and especially for the depth of flavour to their act. If they did a funk song, it was funky, blues was blue, rock rocked. This is unusual in a world of identikit bands that attempt to blend all flavours together, ending up with just a grey or brown goo. The one thing that didn't fit was trying to be a little prog and using a Kaoss pad or similar, which just sounded out of place.

Amy Grant appears to have been a universally admired and dominant figure in Christian music for the last 20+ years, except that I knew nothing about her but for one single (baby baby) that was in the UK charts in the early 90s. She had brought a big and experienced band with her, but was sweet and modest in the way she presented herself, and it made me warm to her. The songs were OK, doing best when kept simple and losing it when they became too busy and bass driven.

Another person I'd not seen before, though we sing a couple of his songs was Israel Houghton, and he injected a huge amount of energy into an act that sat between gig and worship. Like Amy Grant, his music worked best when it was kept simpler, and at one point where things became clever and jazzy Chris commented that it sounded like there were 2 bands playing separate things. Never the less, when he dominated it became a much more musical and involving experience, particularly when he was playing simple guitar lines that carried both tune and rhythm, and I was glad to have seen him.

We caught Rend Collective Experiment leading singing at a campfire late on Saturday night, and they seemed to be a church worship band who had simply recorded a few songs, rather than being a musical act that sang about God & stuff. Sadly we missed them on the main stage, but in a way I'm rather glad, because that might have spoiled my illusions. Musically they seem to be a mostly acoustic Irish folk group, but I don't hold that against them too much.

And finally Matt Redman, who everyone knows so well. Musically the band were very competent but took no risks, meaning that they were a pleasant and un-intrusive backing sound, but not exciting or with enormous depth of feeling. However he was, for me, the only act that pushed things into worship and seemed to interact with the crowd in that way. Certainly there was an expectation in the crowd that this would happen too, and that may have also played a big part, but there was clearly a difference in the way he interacted with everyone and seemed to connect with the Holy Spirit AND the people.

Food was expensive if one ate out (what we'd planned, rather than cook) and if we do go again then we'll definitely cook too. However the Thai style take away was both excellent and good value, and we enjoyed eating from there very much.

So there y'go - my summary based on the thumper principle.

We were grateful to Dr. Nicky for organising and coordinating everyone who went, for helping select the best spot to camp on the site and for showing us where the pool was in Steyning.

The grounds of Wiston house are extensive (and rather lovely) and on the other side of the mansion house from the meadows with the main stage & campsite was a large sheltered garden running down the hillside in tiers. At the bottom was a stage area and beside it a marquee with food and another stage.

On the outdoor stage we heard Dave Bilborough going through his back catalogue in a rather gentle Irish-folk kind of way. It was gentle nostalgia, but it also made me rather sad that songs which were once cutting edge worship material were being harmlessly re-presented. Dave Markee was playing bass for him, but TBH we couldn't hear much bass at all. What started out as "do you remember when we used to sing this" turned to sadness and frustration at the pleasant quaintness of it all, as though our earlier worship experience, when we were all so radical and on fire had just been reduced to a few simple, easy tunes played for our 'greater listening pleasure'.

In the marquee we heard The Kings Chamber Orchestra playing, and they were really very good on several levels. As much as anything, I appreciated them for their playing of worship that flowed in the Spirit, and wasn't simply restricted to 'joining the dots'. And they didn't take themselves too seriously either.

Friday, 24 May 2013

We're away this weekend, and I'm struggling.

Last year we missed the Big Church Day Out after my misunderstanding with a mountain bike but we've arranged to go this year.

Trouble is, I've been looking through the events, bands, set up etc on the main website, and the more I read, the more I really REALLY don't want to go: it looks like a weekend full of all the Christian culture that I want to run away from. Big and famous artists, fringy events, religious activities. Sure this is my problem, at least to a degree, but I can't get over the feeling that this is all 'not right', and I'm already wondering if we can cut & run Sunday afternoon or evening to get some time on our own.

Doing a little self-analysis, I think it's down to trust. I have a deep distrust of contemporary Christian culture, especially the music industry that *feels* as though it wears a worship badge to sell identikit records to punters who have been trained to continually demand the latest thing. Yes, there are exceptions, but that's what they seem to be. I'm probably just getting old, and the only noisy guitars I like now are the ones I play (not true, but never mind).

I'm sure that, like some of the other things we've done outside our comfort zone, this will be OK, but I'd much rather be having a relaxing weekend at home, maybe get a ride in, have a walk with Chris, possibly a BBQ.

Oh well, remember the 'Best Marigold' quote.

Signed: Grumpy of Somerton.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Just a couple more.

Coming back from Africa made me realise what a truly lovely country we live in. The play of light across the valley, either early in the morning or late in the evening makes this landscape breathtakingly beautiful..... but one needs eyes to see it. Sadly most of the time I'm rushing one way or t'other past it all, driving to or from Upper Heyford, and don't stop to notice, let alone photograph it, however this last couple of weeks I've been trying to change that.

In the evenings there's a golden light that warms and colours everything, and I've tried to capture that a little here.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

So we went for a walk tonight.

We have seen many beautiful landscapes, but this area takes a very great deal of beating.

The view from St. James church yard over the Cherwell valley.

Now, why would you want DRM?

I've very mixed feelings about DRM and piracy, but the farce regarding acetrax closure makes me very glad not to have bought movies for download. I'm also grateful that I can play DVDs on my platform of choice, and aren't stuck having to used windows or OSX (or having to fork out a licence fee for the right to decode the movie).

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

You know how Christians love their lists?

Well, not this one, perhaps, but I did come across an interesting list (though I forget who linked to it):

  1. The test of small things. What do you do as a leader when you’re asked to fulfill a task that we are overqualified for? What do you do when faced with something that feels beneath you? The test of small things is critical in establishing integrity, meekness and authenticity. Jesus washed feet and bled on a cross. The higher the call to lead, the lower we must go to serve.
  2. The testing of our motives. The testing of our motives can come in a million different ways. Sometime through the offer of favor and blessing (like Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness) or through opposition and persecution. This text reveals whether we are true to ourselves and through it we gain integrity.
  3. The test of hiddenness. We need to be true to our calling before we are given a platform and given an opportunity for our calling to be expressed. We develop personal integrity in our calling by investing time and energy into the formation of our gifts before they are publicly seen and acknowledged.
  4. The test of possible promotion. Will we stay true to ourselves and our calling when a potential promotion or platform is on the horizon? Do the prospects of blessing and prominence deter us from our course? Can we be bought? Will we compromise when we are faced with gain? What if we are offered a promotion in an area that is contrary to the path that we are walking? Do we speak to leaders differently because we perceive they have the ability to promote us? Or do we trust the Lord to promote us and honor our leaders as brothers in the Lord?
  5. The test of showing up when the stakes are low. Will we be present and punctual when no one is looking? When the stakes are low, will we cultivate integrity and character in the grace of God living before an audience of One? One of the fastest ways to erode the unity and vibrancy of a team is when people on the team show up late or don’t show up at all. It maximizes the opportunities to bear offense towards brothers and sisters.
  6. The test of stewardship. Will we be wise and generous with what we have? How we use our resources when we have little is how we will use it when we have much. It is a delusion to think that we will be wise and generous when we have wealth. This doesn’t just apply to finances but every kind of resource. Some people are wise and stingy, and some people are generous and stupid. We want to be wise and generous.
  7. The Test of Injustice. When we are slandered, stolen from, lied to, gossiped about or betrayed, how do we respond? Do we respond in humility and mercy or in pride and anger? Do we believe in divine vindication? Or do we feel the need to defend ourselves? The test of injustice will come in the life of every leader. Most leaders I know would say that the test of injustice is THE test that makes or breaks leaders. Every fruitful leader has stories about injustices done against them. This test accomplishes more than we can possibly imagine.
  8. The Test of praise. When men speak well of us, we are tested as to whether our identity will be rooted in what they say or what God says. When we are perceived in a good light, will we “read our own press” and feed our spirits on what people say about us or about what God says about us? What people think and what God thinks are rarely every similar.

The original page is here.

In the original context it made the Christian life sound like one continual series of school examinations, which in one sense it could be, but seemed to miss the grace of God. But at the same time we are continually tested, just by walking in the world, and there's no avoiding the testing.

Monday, 20 May 2013

And in regard to the blogosphere:

I'm going to stay right here.

One of the things that has been disappointing with the development of social media is the way in which everything has become fragmented and dispersed. I have friends that post across combinations of Facebook, Google+, Twitter and several blogs. In addition, nobody is having conversations any more, other than about trivia, because, I suspect, no-one is focussing their energy and attention in one place, but instead are too busy either trying to read what other people write, or to produce writings for others to consume.

This whole thing of connecting across the internet seems to have pretty much broken now.

It isn't just the blogosphere either. Harmony Central was for years the largest music forum on the planet. They had problems scaling the v-bulleting software that they used to cope with the traffic, so made one aborted attempt to transfer the whole thing to another forum package, but it was so badly broken they had to revert. Eventually they couldn't keep the old software running and migrated to another new forum format that's functional, but really lousy *by comparison*. Suffice to say, HC is now a shadow of its former self in terms of posting and content. And this situation is not unique to them either.

Maybe it's part of evolution, but sometimes we're so busy trying to grab something better that we lose the good things we already had.

In other news, nostalgia ain't what it was. 

Normal UK posting

......shall now be resumed.

Starting with James Bond.

A few weeks back I bought a bunch of 'used' DVDs for a couple of quid each, including 'Licensed to kill' and 'Live and let die'. I'd not seen these on TV, and now I think I understand why. It also makes Mike Myers send up of Bond completely understandable - I've not been embarrassed at a JB film before, but these, especially licensed to kill, were just terrible. No wonder Timothy Dalton didn't retain the role.

I may have to clear some DVDs again soon.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

So which camera?

I've realised that there are just 2 pictures in the Africa series that were not taken with the Fuji HS30, and just 1 image taken using a camera with a larger sensor. To me, that image leaps off the page, even at 750 X 560, for smoothness and saturation compared to the others. Anyone care to guess which pic it was?

Final thoughts on Zimbabwe

I've been trying to understand what makes our good Zimbabwean friends so passionate about their country. I have no wish to be offensive, but want to be honest in trying to explore things and gain some insight. On arriving I said to our hosts that I wanted to observe and try to capture first impressions before everything became familiar, and I think they were a little surprised at what I 'saw' in those first days.

I have very mixed feelings about the countryside.

While there are some spectacular bits, like Vic falls and Lake Kariba (and the 'great Zimbabwe' area, plus Mana pools that we did not visit) most of the land I saw seemed flatish and scrubby with short trees, and was frequently described as being too poor to farm intensively. If you put me down there without telling me where I was then it could have been somewhere in Greece, India or Australia – there's nothing unique to say THIS IS AFRICA.

The countryside is very lightly populated, which is nice, but rubbish abounds by the roadside and exploring away from settlements etc. seems too difficult/dangerous. Yet at the same time, when we stayed at Lokuthula with the open woodland directly in front of us (and all kinds of warnings about not walking into it) there were times when it was quite lovely in the rays of the setting sun. Maybe the countryside did not seem so special because we only drove past it, and were never able to actually venture in? Perhaps if I'd grown up running freely through the bush I'd have a love for it too, but to do that we'd probably have to go on a safari, and that seems something that wealthy foreign tourists do that doesn't sit well with me. Yet in the end, if we ever were to get a feel for the place, it's probably what we'd have to do.

Despite some joking over here I'm not sure the 'endless summer' weather is really such an attraction either, since the words brutal and incredible were used to describe summer heat. Tales were told of getting up through the night for cold showers, returning to bed wet in order to try to cool down enough to sleep. Cue heat rash for Chris.

Houses for those with money are positively palatial compared to typical small British homes, but all have a highish wall, frequently topped with an electric fence or razor wire to keep out would-be thieves. This does create a bit of a sensation of being under siege, but the people we met were almost universally friendly and welcoming, from both sides of the wire: so at odds with the fortifications. While writing this up as we were travelling I instinctively left out the names of most people we met, not because I didn't want to recognise them, but because it felt like there could be repercussions from the trip and their interaction with us. Crazy, no? But despite never being seriously threatened, there was still something in the background that made me cautious, and there were a couple of occasions when our hosts were also cautious when dealing with people.

Most of the white guys we met were strong, directive alpha-male types, used to being in control and successful at what they did, and in discussion with them I think I started to understand the attraction.

Zimbabwe seemed to be a country of opportunity, and a place that someone could really make a difference. It has its troubles: apart from the immediate issue of political instability and corruption, there is the severe difficulty of obtaining finance for business since the credit structure has broken down, and that has the obvious knock-on effect. In addition there is no guarantee that at some stage everything you've worked for might not be taken away by some greedy or jealous individual. Yet these people are resourceful and determined to make a difference personally, and it's that side that seemed to me the strongest factor. It really felt like a place where I, personally, could move and make a real difference, rather than my tiny bit of work being buried in among the millions of others, all doing the same.

Now, Chris tells me that I think too much about places, jump to conclusions and try to understand people with insufficient information. That's probably all true, but I'm pretty sure this is why Zimbabwe/Rhodesia (and it is still appropriate to call it by that name, since much of the good there IS Rhodesian, and not Zimbabwean) calls to it's children so strongly. And there is a different atmosphere there, spiritually too, where, despite all the bad things that have happened, people are still feely able to express their Christian faith. There has been amazing restraint and forgiveness practiced, and it's hard to take part in that kind of thing without being deeply affected by the power of God. There was also a healthy understanding of suffering and hardship, of discipline and perseverance, that would shame many in the UK with our attitudes of self-comfort, pleasure and protection.

Could I live there?

Possibly. The hardest part is the fortress approach to living and the apparent separation between black and white. These, I think, are not really divided along lines of colour, but of wealth, since the majority of black people are not wealthy. It is likely also that re-possessing farms and other assets in the name of equality will not alter this divide, but will instead deepen the divide, if the practice of scrabbling to acquire and retain wealth does not change to one of investment and employment of ordinary people en masse. Judging by the number of new, big and shiny cars we saw, there is no lack of money in Zimbabwe for a small number, and I noticed few white faces driving these new cars.

We understood many English that move out have no difficulty adapting to the lifestyle, particularly the idea of employing locals as servants, but it was something we both struggled with, even knowing each one employed was providing income to feed and house a family. It is easy to come in with a western first world attitude of 'freedom at any cost', both wishing to set everyone 'free' and to display indignation, but that simply wouldn't be appropriate because both cultural and synergistic reasons have helped create this situation.

There's still so much I don't know and haven't seen either.

I'd certainly go back, and there's still stuff to see that we didn't visit, but if I did I'd like to try to become a bit more immersed in the culture if my nerves could take it, because that's hard work – on both sides - in order to understand more and extrapolate less. Despite my determination not to 'bring stuff back' we have a small bottle containing a few ounces of African soil upstairs now, and I wonder if that's also symbolic of anything?

And I know we'd love to see M&M again on their home turf.

This may get re-visited/corrected, since the visit was over only 2 weeks ago, and we are still processing much of what we experienced.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

The ultimate day?

If yesterday was the penultimate.

And so..... all good things must come to an end.

Back to Harare, a visit to some more of M&M's family (good to meet them) then to lunch, a flea market at Arundel centre, drive through the centre of Harare to catch a feel for the place (it's like the rest of Zimbabwe, only busier) back to Dandaro for a pre-travel rest, then to the airport, where I'm writing these last few lines.


It's been really good, we're ready to finish travelling now and be home.

The journey home was uneventful, although the plane was just as crowded as on the way out, and with some of the same people we'd travelled with on that journey (I recognised an Italian group). It finally left Harare at 9.30pm, did a 45min hop to Lusaka where it sat 90min, then 9 ½ hours to Amsterdam, arriving around 9.20am. Caught the 12.20 back to Birmingham, through immigration & baggage claim by about 1.10 and home by 2.30pm.

Bushed, but glad to be back. 

Ben has kept the house well - best I can remember coming home to, and even the washing up was done, though that may have been the influence of a certain young lady.

Obviously this is all retrospective, and we've now had a couple of weeks to process our experiences, but that will be another post (and lots of conversations to have as well). I'm glad we went, because we do have at least a bit more insight and understanding of the experiences and culture of our friends. And who knows where this may eventually lead?

Friday, 17 May 2013

The penultimate day.

Was spent relaxing again.

After a leisurely breakfast we visited the caves at chinhoyi. The first consists of a tunnel through a hillside in which the local Shona people used to shelter when attacked by other tribes. This tunnel ran for about 100m before opening out into a wide chimney and the sleeping pool: a curiously blue lake at the bottom that is apparently at least 350 feet deep (and >4000 feet above sea level). The lake is sometimes used for diver training, and there was a diving party submerged when we arrived. The water level was also lower than usual, which surprised our hosts since the usual activities that might draw lots of water (i.e. farming) weren't happening.

We went back up the steps that led through the main cave, then along another path to The Dark Cave, which in contradiction of it's name, was lit by electric lamps. It was a typical cave with interesting nooks & crannies, dark and hidden bits, stalactites and various walkways: not hugely extensive, but not just a small hole in the rocks either. One tunnel also led out to a section that looked directly down on the sleeping pool from the rear of that cave.

We headed back to Chinhoyi centre, where we bought a few groceries plus pizza for lunch, then relaxed around in the house & garden and I wrote up most of the activities from the last few days. In relief from the vast amounts of meat that had been eaten while at Kariba, we had baked potatoes, tuna and cheese for tea. Nice.

One gets the most curious emails sometimes.

Would anybody like to buy the following:

•     Konig bun and roll line (1998)
•     Fritch / Sotoriva scone line (to 2010)
•     Turkington / Asser Oakes ten and seven lane pancake line (Qty 2)
•     Part bread lines 25sk and 27sk
•     Yeast and flour plants
•     Autarky / Crusader industrial basket and tray washing machines
•     Kortlever cheese sprinkling system (2010)
•     Metal detectors, over wrappers, de-nesters, dough mixers, weigh systems, scanners etc

In the words of REM, Colin's a baker.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Day 4 started with a bump.


I was awoken by a loud and jarring thump that sounded as though the boat had been hit hard by something large, and produced the immediate thought that somehow the boat was being attacked by hippos. There came a gentle rocking sensation, and a few seconds later there followed a series of smaller, then larger thumps and bangs.

We had moored in a bay that, the previous night, looked not only idyllic, but was also dead-calm and seemed sheltered. So much for appearances!

Presumably because of the calm, the boat had been moored loose, and although the crew tightened the lines a little later in the evening, they were still fairly slack. When the wind and the water picked up a little later in the night, voila, the boat moved around with them and repeatedly bumped the rocky shore, waking almost everyone. We'd planned an early start anyway, so this was a little bit of nature's alarm clock.

Cold showers also help one wake up.

Our final trip back to port showed the lake wasn't always dead calm, and as alluded to earlier, the pontoon design floats like a cork, rather than cutting through the water like a hull. If I ever owned a boat like this I think it should be named 'Bob'. There came one moment when we made a valiant rescue as the table tried to take leave of the upper deck, along with breakfast, but no-one was seasick and we made it back in one piece. However the day after, even as I write this I have retained one final legacy of Kariba, and when ever I lean on something solid I have the sensation of a boat swaying under me.

Back home to Chinhoyi, unload, shower for those who didn't want a cold one, catch up emails, sort and compare photos, relax. Sleep.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Lake Kariba, day 3

I managed to get offered a pre-breakfast fishing invite again. This time the best fish was a large cichlid with a rose coloured belly weighing about 750g, caught by Ty who also had the tiger on the previous day. I managed a couple of palm-sized 'bream' and was much happier, having added a bit more weight to take the kinks out of line that was designed to cope with Tigerfish rather than bream.

After breakfast we motored out, re/discharged various tanks, then found some more game, plus a couple of crocs sunning themselves on a small cluster of islands. Elephants had been spotted on the opposite side of the bay where we were moored, and so we went over to view and photograph them in the launch. While the second sortie was out, hippos were seen nearby and they gradually moved into the bay just behind hippo basher. When the launch came back it serendipitously came in from one side and at speed, neatly missing the hippos – this could have been nasty, since there were 5 or 6 in a pod, and mostly hidden under water less than 50 meters away – a direct line would have taken the launch straight through the group.

When we drove across to see the elephants we were careful not to get too close or disturb them. There was a single animal on it's own, a mother and baby and a small group of them further down the shore. At one point a couple of them seemed to be deep in conversation with a group of egrets that were also close by. Their skins seemed noticeably less thick and dry than those we have seen elsewhere, possibly because they could bathe and remain moist in the lake water, or maybe because they are a slightly different breed. They were certainly fascinating creatures – I can't say that I was moved by any sense of beauty, power, grace or any of the other superlatives that get applied, but that might be because the only form of contact possible is from a distance with a long lens or binoculars. Glad to have seen them though.

After the elephants we headed off to sampa karuma – a cluster of islands just a couple of hours motoring away from Kariba docks – where we were to moor for our last night. We had a brief explore of the tiny spit of land to which we were moored, dry wood was found and as the sun set a fire was built to produce hot coals for cooking. 

Some crayfish had been caught in the lake that morning, using hard sadsa (pronounced sudsa - mealy meal porridge eaten as a staple locally – not nice to my taste buds) in the trap, and they were prepared with garlic and lemon juice as a starter. Steak, boerewors (farmer's sausage) and more sadsa were the main course, and we retired full, content, sweaty and smoky from the fires.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Another day in paradise.

Well, kinda.

Tuesday morning we awoke before sunrise for yet another perfect day – clear skies above, cloud formations on the horizon (where they belong). On one side the sky turned to molten gold fading into blue, while on the other salmon pink faded into indigo. As the light levels increased we discovered a troop of monkeys ensconced in a tree directly opposite, getting up to all kinds of monkey business. ;-) Cameras came out, spectators leaned on rails and we greeted the sun along with the locals. 


I managed to get an invite to go fishing with the younger guys after sun-up but before breakfast. Fish of interest were the bream (not like bream in the UK, but some kind of large cichlid) and the tigerfish, which looks a little like a bass, but with outrageous teeth. That first morning the guys managed mostly small stuff, but with a couple of decent bream and one tigerfish, though I blanked. The larger bream and tigerfish were retained to eat later.

After breakfast we motored out to the middle to refill the water tanks and flush waste (:p). The water for showers had run out, and the water supply used was.... lake water. Don't think about where the waste tanks had just been emptied! Fortunately there were very few other boats around, and so one can trust in a mixture of dilution and rapid bio-degradation to sort things out.

Before getting to the boat we had been repeatedly warned that Kariba was full of crocodiles, and that they were known to actively swim across the lake, so that even swimming in deep water in the middle of the lake was not safe. This was clearly intended as 'for information only' since as soon as we were a mile or so out, everyone under the age of 30 plus this 51 year old donned swimming costumes and leapt off the upper deck into the water, in most cases repeatedly and sometimes with back-flips. Crazy. The water was pleasantly cool, less murky than the sea off the south coast of England (probably cleaner too) and smacked good & hard when leapt on from a height of about 10 feet. Darn, I'm getting old these days.

After our dip we motored around to another bay, where we found hippo, elephant, various birds. Games were played, food eaten (organised with military precision by Marleen and cooked by Lovemore) drinks drunk, games of cards and pictionary played. The sun repeated the previous night's trick of melting across the sky while turning clouds on the opposite side pink in sympathy.

Would you give Apple your passport or bank statements?

Because if not, they might not sell you an iDevice.

Just occasionally some large firms do things that make me think that the conspiracy theorists are actually correct.

Monday, 13 May 2013

5am starts don't agree with me

I was awake from before 2am. :p

The drive to lake Kariba was lovely and much shorter than to Vic falls, at around 350km, and we arrived around 8.15am. Loading the boat was a little manic but getting the engines started was a much more leisurely affair – at least for those of us watching. However the efforts of the crew and especially the young guys with us did eventually get them running, and we left by about 12.15pm.

Hippo Basher is a pontoon houseboat, built on 2 parallel steel floatation hulls (so effectively a catamaran) which housed the engines, with an enclosed lower deck (inc kitchen and cabins) and open upper deck, all above the waterline. As we were to discover later, this construction makes the vessel float like a cork, rather than sail like a ship – cheap and easy to build, highly effective in terms of buoyancy, but lacking the natural ability to cut through the water like a conventional hull. Internal construction resembled something like a 1970s caravan and reminded us constantly of one we used to own, but that had been modified and added to over the last 40 years. Everything worked, but in true African style things had been fixed so they could work, but would require some knowledge or insight not obvious to the novice. Like the engines. The ability to fix and re-use stuff that most others would throw away and replace is a point of pride in Africa, at least among some people, although certainly bourne out of need too. Hippo Basher was a proudly 'living' example of the art of non-consumerism.

M&M and ourselves, as the 2 oldest couples on the boat, had been generously given the cabins to share, each with a double bed. The remaining 2 young couples and 2 single guys were sleeping upstairs on the covered but open upper deck. Not necessarily bad if you're a little out-doorsy, slightly scary if you're a town mouse. Mike described it as being like camping on a boat, and that's pretty much spot on. We were being crewed by a couple of guys local to Kariba – Macdonald (pilot) and Lovemore (cook).

Through our cabin window:

We motored across the lake over about 5 hours; beautiful scenery on the edges of a vast blue expanse.

One couple had borrowed a tender boat, towed behind us while motoring, and as we drew near the shore of Sanyati West a few of us embarked and were taken across to see the new terrain and some wildlife.

Darkness was falling fast as we drew near the shore, and we saw distant elephants and closer hippos in the twilight. Hippos are very dangerous, being territorial and large creatures with a powerful bite, inclined to come up unseen below an unwelcome boat, tipping the occupants into the water and either attacking them directly or leaving them prey to crocodiles. We carefully observed but kept our distance, our driver keeping a sharp eye out for signs of hippo activity in our path.

Elephant in the sunset

The sun dipped below the horizon, and with the light fading in glorious colours, we looked around for hippo basher – to no avail! 

I'd checked to see where it was heading after we drew near to the shore, and it appeared to be heading into one end of the bay in which we were now motoring, but there was no sign: just one other houseboat moored about a mile away. So we motored around the bay with increasing speed (it was becoming dark and cold too) but of the boat could see no sign. Eventually we met a launch returning to the other houseboat, and they told us they'd seen it heading into a smaller bay that was off the main bay area. By this time we'd becoming a little nervous, and so hammered off to finally find it, tucked round a corner and completely out of site of the lake. 

There was considerable relief!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Toni online

I'm a little hesitant about this, partly for reasons of ego, partly because of reluctance to deal with criticism, but for the time being I'm going to try putting some of my messages up on t'interweb thingy.

First one (from 4 weeks back) available here:

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The heart of the young people.

Chris and I are still discussing and processing a lot of what we saw, heard and felt in Zimbabwe, and how those we've known have been affected by different things.

One of the striking contrasts for her was the difference between the young people of Zimbabwe and those of Bosnia Herzegovina that she visited a couple of years back to help with Novimost and their youth work. It seemed the main ambition of a Bosnian youngster was to get a good education so that they could leave the country and get a good job & have a typical wealthy western-style career. Entirely understandable when you see the kind of expectations that are presented through TV etc.

Contrast that with those we've known in England from Zimbabwe, most have either expressed a desire to return or already done so.

Now the outlook and circumstances ARE slightly different: those going back to Zim have already had an excellent education, and have an expectation of a reasonable lifestyle, or at least one they will enjoy due to experience and expectation.

But there's more than that. It's a whole different world view: the Zimbabwians have an expectation to succeed, even in spite of racial discimination and some of the other, darker things that have happened. I don't think this has come from being the children of the 'ex-ruling class' as some might see them, but instead from their strong Christian faith, and an expectation that God will be at work in their lives, giving them a sense of calling and success.

There was also a conversation I wasn't party to about patriotism, but which Chris has mentioned a couple of times, and that's generally a sign it was significant. Someone said that they were not patriotic, but from what we've seen it seems Zimbabwians are more intensely patriotic than pretty much any other race I've known, even if the country they are patriotic towards mostly exists in memory at the moment. I've certainly been turning different aspects of this over in my head a fair bit since returning, but haven't yet firmed up conclusions.

You know how people ask questions on Ebay?

Saved here for posterity, because in a few weeks this series of gems will have gone (note - order from ebay reversed to make them read chronologically top to bottom).

  1. Q:  HI there,what the least you will take ? 02-May-13
    A:  The least I will take is the auction starting price, which is one penny. I might be persuaded to go lower, perhaps to one of those Mojo liquorice sweets that used to be four for a penny, though I suspect that inflation has now made them more expensive than they once were. I am sorry I set the starting price beyond what you are prepared to pay, but eBay would not let me go any lower. Tell you what, if you bid and win then I will put a Mojo in the box with it as a discount-in-kind (assuming they still sell them. Similar nutrition-free calories may be substituted. Errors and omissions excluded.)

  2. Q:  Hi, I'm fed up with cheapest cheapest cheapest could I get it cheaper if it was made in some far eastern sweatshop... What's the *most* you'd take for it? 02-May-13
    A:  That is a more nuanced question, and nonlinear algebra starts to make an appearance. This is a bit like the interaction between the strong and the weak nuclear forces. On the one side there is my common human decency, knowing that the parts are worth no more than £15 of anyone's money, and I would feel guilty if the auction went any higher, and would quite possibly feel obliged to offer refund back to that level to anyone who bid higher. But then on the other side is common human greed and avarice. My guilt (referenced above) is well trained by a Catholic upbringing, but every man has his price. There is no doubt that were the price to be much over a million pounds that I would take the money and assuage my guilt with expensive Shiraz, fast bikes and slow women (I can't catch the fast ones). Between these limits, even I don't know which way I would swing. So, putative bidders are left with a gamble, do you bid high hoping I will refund, or bid low to deny me the life of guilt-immersed leisure I deserve?
    Q:  Hi. All this talk of money is making me wonder if you would accept other gifts. Such as naming a first child after you? Or (more practical given my age), perhaps name a pet after you. These must be much more valuable than 1p. So I was wondering what other non financial rewards you might consider with a value in the region of 1p. This should help out the poor souls who can't raise this kind of cash. Thanks. Peter (Ixie lurker). 02-May-13
    A:  I am nothing if not adaptable, but eBay may have difficulty assigning a ranking to non-monetary bids. Taking your examples, as an example. (It would be hard to take them as anything else). My personal ranking would be that _not_ naming your child after me would rank higher than naming a child after me, as i wouldn't want a child to go through life in my shadow. (or, for that matter, with such an odd name). However, if eBay were to have a different interpretation on the order of precedence, it might be awkward to sort out. Naming a pet might work, but I think naming a goldfish after me as a bid would lose to naming an ocelot after me.
    Q:  I'm desperate to lose weight. Is that desperate enough to buy this heap of tatty R1 bits, or do you require a more specific desperation? Also - what's the daftest question yet asked? 02-May-13
    A:  I can only guess at what level of desperation you would need to have to believe that an R1 front fairing would help you in that area. You must be very far indeed. I will promise not to send you any Mojos or other tempting calories, should you win the auction. I will also make a point of using UPS so that the package ends up at a depot at least 50 miles away from your house, to give you some much-needed excercise.
    Q:  I notice that you consider an ocelot to be of more value than a goldfish when it comes to animal based bidding (equally I note that no matter how many times I try to enter 'naming a horse' as my bid eBay doesn't let me complete, but that may be because I'm using a Mac.) Would it be fair to presume that you are basing your relative animal values on mass alone? Or is there a more complex algorithm at work. Only I pass a horse on my drive home each evening which probably doesn't have a name and would happily consider bidding naming that after you if I could work out how to input it. In the interests of disclosure I am considering starting my bidding with the naming of a pigeon, there is a distinctive one outside the office with a club foot and slight stutter. Any tips on inputting barter options would be appreciated incidentally. 02-May-13
    A:  I think that it probably is because you are using a Mac, and I suggest that you sulk about it on an online forum somewhere. It would, indeed, be fair to assume that I base my mental scale of animal values purely on mass. However it would also be incorrect. The scale of values is based on an ill-defined level of how much I like each animal. And I like ocelots lots. I like axalotls too. So it may be that the acme of bidding would have to be something from South America with "lot" in it's name. Just for the avoidance of doubt, axalotls are not a higher bid than ocelots. It is possible that eBay is blocking your horse-based bid pending verification of the nominative status of the horse in question.
    Q:  While ocelots, axolotls, and indeed any South American fauna are notable by their absence from my household, and would probably not be anonymous if they were present, you did intimate that there could be a potential for confectionary-based transactions. Have you any sort of scale in mind - for example, would my half a packet of Rolos have a value of 50% of the RRP, or wuld there be some other scaling factor involved? 03-May-13
    A:  Rolos would be a very complicated choice, as they appear to have logarithmic worth, with the last one being orders of magnitude more valuable than the penultimate. How would I know if you were offering the first half of the pack, or the last half? In fact, do they entangle like photons? if you sent me half of a pack, and I ate my half and you didn't, then you would have the last Rolo. But if your ability to resist were less than mine then at some point I would own the last one. And how fast does this last-ness propagate?
    Q:  The half packet of Rolos is all that remains, the other half having become (through the services of internal biology and Severn-Trent's sewage disposal system) an Atlantic Ocean-sized homepathic dose of Rolo. I am not sure what a homeopathic dose of Rolo would supposedly cure (but due to the fact that chocolate appears to be an anti-depressant, it may be that its intent would be to cure happiness) nor whether any form of quantum entanglement would operate between the remaining half packet and the Atlantic Ocean, so I think that any judgement of its value would have to be based entirely on the intrinsic value of the Rolos in question. I could eat all but the last one, of course, and that would presumably increase its value, although if you were so minded you could take a number of Rolos and distribute one to each of a number of people, telling each one that that was your last Rolo and hence increasing the value of each Rolo to last Rolo value. 06-May-13
    A:  Claiming last-ness of multiple Rollos would surely be fraudulent, and against eBay policies. I am not sure where they would stand on eating half the last Rolo, does the value-progression continue? Would Zeno's Rollo be infinitely valuable.
 The original auction is here:

Another piccie

These guys were making lunch, and within a couple of minutes had a nice fire going to cook on between them, sat in the shade of the tree.

Friday, 10 May 2013

I'll probably continue

to post the Africa story next week.

However, here's another pic from the walk mentioned below. This shows the hills that run around Chinhoyi, and in the foreground some maize that forms the staple for so many people. This seemed just a small area that had been planted, rather than a serious attempt at food production and farming commercially.

I have a mild dilemma

Do I go back to doing something I've felt obliged to do but don't really want to, or do I make the most of the break our holiday brought and make a clean break?


Wednesday, 8 May 2013

And so came the first weekend.

Well we did a couple of days of doing 'nothing' Friday and Saturday. I did manage a bit of a walk around Chinhoyi, and attracted a little attention as a white male out walking alone – this was the one occasion I actually 'made it' into the countryside. There's relatively little game close to towns, so in theory I should have been safe from wildlife. Of more concern was the feeling that passing vehicles were slowing as they got close to me, though no-one actually did or said anything that might give firm grounds for nervousness. People I passed frequently greeted or returned a greeting, what ever they may have thought.

The image below is from that walk.

Sunday we went to church with M and M. A few names we'd heard in passing, and we met many people we'd not known of at all before. The time of praise was good, in that it was focussed on God, rather than being a polished performance, which is inherently not helpful. (*edit* - that sounds all wrong - the time of praise was GOOD, and we were very much lifted by it). It once again reminded me of some changes in what I feel I'm called to do within the church, and I could hear and see places that I might have contributed to what was happening. People were warm and friendly, and we had a great welcome. I was also really glad to see both black and white in the same congregation, although the decoration of the church was very 'white charismatic' in flavour, with lots of scripted banners. It felt as though we could have fitted right in, and it's obvious that the same Spirit is at work in Africa as England.

Sunday afternoon and evening were given over to social activities, with the same friends from England we'd seen at Vic falls coming over with more of their family, plus a local we'd not met before. Bed came early as we were planning a 5am start again.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Thursday - on the road again

Mark and Dixie – I have repeatedly thought of you today, with your marathon 'weekend break' roadtrips. This one started at 5.15am.

Today we drove just under 900Km back from Victoria falls via Bulawayo. There is a road between Chihoyi and Vic falls, but it's 'rough' if you drive a landrover, and although it's about 200km less, the car we were in could not have made it. Mike and I took turns driving, he in particular having not slept well the previous night, and I was glad to help out. It was the exact same journey that we'd done in 2 stages before, just reversed, and going back made the countryside more interesting with the topology easier to see. When we were heading out from Harare the countryside more or less dropped away, with the ridge of hills called The Dyke providing a small bump before dropping again to the high veldt, then again after Bulawayo to the low veldt. Going back showed us that there were hills to be seen instead of the country appearing mostly flat plains with minor undulations.

There had been some changes in the vegetation too – we had been told that autumn is short and fast here – and both trees and grass seemed much more yellowed as we drove away from Vic falls. Further on the clouds appeared, temperatures dropped (21'C at the start, 19'C by the time we stopped 8 hours later for lunch in Kadoma. 

Eventually the sun did come back out, and when we arrived back about 4.15pm it was quite warm again.

I have mentioned the condition of the roads already, but not the police and army. Roadblocks were a frequent occurrence, especially near to towns where the speed limit was dropped to 80km/h (national speed limit was 120km/h) and radar speed traps caught a lot of drivers. At first sight, to a foreigner unused to this kind of police presence, the roadblocks were unsettling: one would have to approach a group of police standing in the road and giving you 'the eye' slowly, not knowing what they wanted. Usually we were waved through – a group of 4 white people in an older Mercedes was not of interest – though on one occasion we were stopped and the boot searched for 'anything dangerous'. Mostly they were pulling commercial vehicles and buses, plus shiny new cars with black drivers.

It was observed that around the 25th day of the month the number of roadblocks would increase, since that was typically payday. Drivers would likely have money, and police wages were not high. General advice was always obtain a receipt for any fines, and if in doubt then request the fining officer accompany you to the police station to pay the fine.

Tonight we sleep in 'our' bed again. Tomorrow is another day – I hope we CAN sleep, as there's a loud party in the house next door right now.

Monday, 6 May 2013

It's Wednesday, so it must be Victoria Falls - our story continues.

To visit the falls requires one to walk through an area described as 'rainforest', but it's neither a forest, nor is the precipitation that soaks the walker rain. We visited at the time of peak water levels, and the falls were immense, producing so much spray that, at times, it seemed someone had turned a hosepipe on us and the sun was completely hidden. We had been advised to wear waterproof jackets, which we brought (though Chris's patently was not waterproof!) and our friends had umbrellas, but we were soaked to the skin by the time we'd even made it half way along. If we ever do this again I shall wear cycling shorts or long trunks and a long sleeved technical top that will all dry rapidly. I'd also be very inclined to find waterproof housings for any cameras, because they all got very wet too, and Chris's stopped working. Or maybe just come in 'low' season in November.

But enough grumbling.

On entering the falls park we went straight to the statue of David Livingstone. Such is the respect of local people for him that, when all the colonial statues were dismantled at Zimbabwe's independence, they wished to retain this one out of respect and love for what he did. So we stopped there in the sunshine, took pictures and anticipated what was to come. By this time we had clearly seen the plume of spray and could hear the thunder of the nearby falls, and so were quite keen to press on.

A short walk to the left took us to the first viewpoint for the Devil's cataract, which is the section of the falls closest to the pathway – the falls themselves are partially in Zambia, although the viewpoints are almost all in Zimbabwe – and arguably the most spectacular waterfall of all. This cataract is separated from the main section of falls, and is formed from a deep cleft in the rock down which a vast torrent of water flows. The other fall sections appear to be relatively wide and un-channelled, but here the Zambezi rushes into a channel instead of simply shooting out into space, and the power and speed seem more focussed. This was also where we felt the first hints of spray, with just a fine mist falling if the wind carried spray from the invisible depths in our direction.

We walked back past the statue of Livingstone and along the path that led parallel to the main section of falls. As we progressed, so the amount of spray increased, and at the first lookout point we came across some young German tourists dressed in singlets and shorts, soaked through from the water that was falling. There were moments when the wind blew elsewhere and the clouds of spray disappeared to reveal the torrent of water falling over the edge, only to return shortly, both obscuring the view and making me wish to retreat rapidly – this water was not warm!

And this was pretty much the same, with varying intensity, all the way along. There came a point where the sun no longer shone and the sky was as grey as any February day, with cold water falling heavily. Yet further down the trail the sun was back out again, warming chilly fingers while we dripped along.

Around these parts it was no surprise that the vegetation was lush and enthusiastic in its growth. Both Mike and I stopped to take pictures of the undergrowth – the dappled lighting and shiny wetness of the plants would have made a great backdrop for a chocolate bar or anti-perspirant advert (tongue firmly in cheek). There were places where water ran across the paved trail, certainly not deep, but enough to encourage gentle squelching as we progressed alongside the falls.  

Things eased off as we came near the end of the trail, and here we found a lookout point where we could see the iron Victoria Falls bridge. This had been cast and formed in England, then shipped across and assembled on site in the early 1800s, and is still in use as the main crossing into Zambia over the canyon carrying the outflow from the falls. From where we watched, those with a shortage of adrenaline and an excess of cash could be seen bungy-jumping into the canyon. There was also the option to swing part way across, but that was also expensive for a couple of minutes thrill-seeking (and getting an exclusive view).

Since the trail did not loop around, we squelched (literally in my case) back to the car park, dropped off our damp outer clothes at the car, then walked down the road to cross the bridge. In order to cross, first it was necessary to obtain passes, stamped by the immigration authority, to allow us onto the bridge and enter Zambian territory which starts half way across. The view from the bridge was good in a quite different way, with a double rainbow formed in the spray below the bridge. The actual main falls are obscured by a bend in the river and the clouds of spray, but it still looked spectacular.

Outside the park there was a continual stream of people trying to sell tourist artefacts to us and being with a local made it easier to walk on by, although Chris did buy a copper bracelet. About half way we were gently accosted by a couple of Zambian guys (Patrick and Glorious if I recall correctly) who also had stuff to sell, but we chatted a little. In the end I gave Patrick $5 without taking goods (possibly wrongly, but I felt for the guy and really didn't want to bring stuff back) and Chris also gave some money to the chap talking to her. (edit from Chris: as far as far as I was concerned I paid him for being an entertaining & informative guide. When I said good bye I asked his name, & he told me it was Tomato!) The hawking was less intense than in India and the hawkers more polite, yet I'm sure their need was just as real, if not more so.

We reached the Zambian side and stopped for a coke in the cafe there, since the day was actually quite hot at around 32'C. Butterflies were flitting around, and it was good to be in the shade for a few min. The walk back was on the other side of the bridge past the bungy-jump station, and we got less hassle this way.

Back on the Zim side we tried to go through the gate, only to be sent back to the customs house for more passes stamped by immigration. The atmosphere was one of ambivalence – just follow procedures and all will be well. This kind of thing was visible in many places where we had brushes with authority as part of everyday life – it was clear that implementing western-style computerised systems would make things much more efficient, but would likely put a lot of people out of jobs too, and would therefore not be helpful. If one can be patient, doing things the 'handraulic' way can work fine, though it's also fraught with the potential for loopholes, error and all sorts of other things. At least it provides employment for many people.

In the late afternoon we visited the Victoria Falls Hotel for 'high tea'. This is a grand colonial pile set in carefully manicured grounds and preserved for tourists (and possibly wealthy locals) who wish to pretend the days of empire were still present. Service from 'Stanley' was exactly what one would expect in such an environment, and the selection of cakes and sandwiches elegant (possibly a little more so even than those we had seen in Liberty cafe in London) in presentation. We drank our tea, nibbled morsels of food and enjoyed the ambience and scenery, with views right down the the bridge more than a mile away that we'd walked across earlier.

That evening some more Zimbabwean friends that we knew from England dropped by for 'sundowners', and we sat talking until well after dark. Bed came early so that we could be rested for another stupid o'clock start.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The start of travelling in Africa - Harare to Victoria Falls

And so breakfast at a cafe (nice – where in the UK would you get kidneys on toast?) and then off.

The previous night's impression of the roads was pretty much spot on, with a very mixed quality of surface from as good as the best in Europe to ready for spelunking.

Come on, come on, enough small talk - what's this amazing African countryside like? Must be incredible, right?

I'm writing this sitting in the lodge we're sharing at Victoria Falls. The back of the lodge is open and the evening sun is just starting to shine in, while the leaves on the trees are going translucent in the golden light and the air is hazy with woodsmoke from cooking fires and braais (barbecues) everywhere. Earlier in the afternoon we had a family of warthogs and some baboons wander past. I've seen lizards and a couple of enormous grasshoppers. It's as lovely as any other wild bit of countryside we've seen, and the landscape constantly reminded us of places we've known in other countries. We've driven over 1000km at this point, and passed through at least 5 clearly distinct types of vegetation that were all good, yet not strikingly different from other places. If this land were mine and I'd fought for it then I might well be deeply passionate and in love with it, but for a traveller it needs to be enjoyed for itself and not compared to elsewhere.

But we've not yet seen Vic Falls, as it's known.

Monday we did a long drive from Chinoyi to visit another friend at a catholic mission station not too far from Bulawayo. We'd not seen her for even longer than our friends that we were travelling with, and it was really good to be able to 'drop in' on her, miles from anywhere. She made us very welcome in her house, and it was really great to catch up, eat together and spend time around an open fire as night fell. As the sun was going down she took us out for a walk around the settlement and it was clear that she was appreciated by the local people, shown by the constant stream of greetings and smiles. After our meal a guitar was brought out, and we spent an hour or so worshipping and singing the songs we didn't always quite know together. It was not like a 'church meeting' but instead a spontaneous time that was also relaxed and informal, flowing naturally instead of being organised and carefully arranged.

The drive on Tuesday morning to Victoria falls was uneventful, and we arrived around lunchtime. 

Our lodge at Lokuthula (Lokuthula means peaceful sleep) that had been rented was circular, divided in half to make 2 separate dwellings, and in a African style with thatched roof, lower ground floor with kitchen and livingroom, upper ground floor with bathroom & 1 bedroom, then mezzanine with a second bedroom. Construction encouraged a flow of air through the building, keeping it fresh and cool while it was very hot outside. The interior had painted brick walls, exposed beams and timbers and metal lampshades in the shape of guineafowl as well as 'African' artefacts on the walls. It felt cool, slightly dark and exciting. We spent time shopping, relaxing, eating and talking that first day, and it was good to just sit & talk without pressure in great company, enjoying beautiful scenery. There was a kind of curry prepared and we sat outside long after night fell using oil lamps provided with the lodge. We came to Africa because of our friends, and anything else we might have seen was a bonus.