Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Under Attack

Well, I know that I've been a touch elusive but 42 comments looked too good to be true. And I was right. Them spammers have attacked. So I'll be adding one of those nasty little steps to the comment process where you enter a code word that makes no sense. A real test of commitment.
So where have we been? Well, the freight arrived. Finally. So I have been trying to get the house really set up. Our telephone line went dead the day we arrived. It took a week for me to persuade Telkom that the line really was dead and then, in desperation I found a technician up a ladder near my house and persuaded him to take a look. What do you know, the line was corroded and the whole thing took about fifteen minutes (and a few sparks) to sort out.

Now I am entering the quagmire that is ADSL. Why oh why does this have to take upwards of a week?? Not sure - something to do with paperwork which is still sitting with the clearing agents even though everything has been cleared and delivered. But even then they will need to do an assessment of the signal at our property, invoice us and receive payment before they will install. Oh joy!

So just to remind us why we came here, we took off for a weekend to Lake Nakuru. Bliss. Millions of flamingoes, hundreds of buffalo, gazelles, impala and seven lions outisde the park and worryingly close to our (tented) camp. Bambi was impressed.

In fact, Bambi is having a blast. She is turning nut brown and blonder by the day. She has her own vegetable garden - things grow so fast here that the process can even hold the attention of a three year old and her Swahili is getting quite impressive - I have been overtaken. And she gets to do cool stuff like feed giraffes. Observe:

She also seems to like our new house but then her garden has gone from a Scottish postage stamp to this:

I'll write again soon - in about a week.... when the ADSL gets installed.... hopefully...

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Signed and sealed

Huzzah! We have signed the lease. On Monday we will be moving into a beautiful home - 4 bedrooms, wooden floors throughout, gorgeous shady porch overlooking a gorgeous shady garden with a banana grove and two avocado trees... the cynic in me suspects that the plumbing and electrics must be shocking, so good is the place.

The whole process has been lengthy and tedious. There is a tendency in Africa towards the bureaucratic, which can be solved by palm greasing. But, good people that we are, this is not an option for us. So many things cost more and take longer. Anyway, we're there now.

Up next is the process of furnishing the place. This is exciting. In Kenya, custom made furniture is cheap - it's the store bought stuff that costs a packet. Of course 'custom made' doesn't mean 'artisan quality'. The process involves carefully examining a wide range of items usually on the side of a surburban road, dodging potholes and the odd goat, to find a carpenter whose work meets with your approval and then negotiating hard over design, delivery date and, of course, price. We should have our first delivery on Monday - can't wait.

Our freight has made it to Mombasa so far which is heartening. Alas, there is a botteleneck at the port and we will still have to wait a few weeks for delivery. But we're getting there...

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

A Broad Abroad

Time for a name change.

This blog is no longer Scottish and the vistas I have more recently been admiring are not of snow capped peaks across wind swept lochs. Although the visual banner may have to wait until I get more organised - wouldn't want to shock you with too much change all at once!

I asked for suggestions for a new name and the definite winner was Stay at Home Dad who came up with two gems:
Ken ya Kenya - which is so clever that I fear those without Scottish (or, interestingly, South African) connections may not get it; and
A Broad Abroad, which it is to be as, being a title which packs well, means I will never have to worry about renaming again.

Asante sana, SAHD!

Life here is going well. Our temporary landlady has taken it upon herself to show me around Nairobi. Yesterday was spent visiting an Indian vegetable market (so brilliant I cannot begin to explain), a roadside furniture market where you can get a full six seater mahogany dining room table and chairs for under $300 (negotiable - everything is negotiable) and a Pakistani butcher (UK Health and Safety would have had a field day there!).

We also may have found a house. But until the lease is signed I will not say more for fear of jinxing it. Suffice to say, if all goes well, I will be a very happy, good woman. With a guest room. And no furniture...

Thank so much for all the comments on my last post. I really look forward to a broadband connection so that I can catch up on your news too soon.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Safe as houses

We're here! And its been quite a ride. In the past month I have walked the ancient ruins of Scara Brae in Orkney, shopped in the souks of Abu Dhabi and Dubai and hand fed a Rothschilds Giraffe. As has Bambi. If she ever tells me her life is dull, I'll just remind her of August 2007.

Now begins the next stage - finding a home and getting settled. Fortunately, we've landed on our feet and found a lovely two bedroomed cottage on a lake as an interim let. It means that we're not in a big hurry to find something right away and can wait to find something right for us. So far, most houses I've looked at have been monumental - full of glass, marble and fake gold or really quite frightening with bathrooms that would leave me uncertain as to my ability to actually get clean in them.

In general, my first impressions of Nairobi are really good - it is beautiful, lush and the locals seem very friendly and helpful. Driving is, um, creative - especially on the routes through the city so we are scouring maps to find backroad routes. But Nairobi seems to have an oversupply of rivers and an undersupply of bridges - nowhere is to be reached as the crow flies.

Shopping here is a doddle compared to Lusaka - everything is available and very reasonable too. I'm hoping to slip in a trip to the Indian market later this week - I hear the fruit and veg are amazing.

We've found a lovely Montessori school for Bambi, which we're trying for a week to see how she goes. Judging by this morning, she'll have no trouble - anything to get out of traipsing around more houses with me!

And I've found an internet cafe - which should allow for the odd, irregular posting until our freight arrives...

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

We have a problem. Please be patient.

Dear Reader

I haven't mentioned this before, largely I think, because I'm in denial.

Tomorrow the packers come. They will wrap up our worldly possessions - including my trusty desktop - load them into a container, ship the container to Nairobi via Mombasa. Once in Nairobi our container will be opened and our goods will pass through a customs process which seems to be a bit, um, fluid. We will be leaving Scotland in early September. And then we'll all be happily reconciled at the other end. At least that's the plan.

It is possible that we will emerge from this process a little lighter in wallet and, indeed, in load. But that we will survive. The far greater question is how I will survive the next +- 6 weeks without Skype, email or (sob!) Blogger?

So dear online friends, I apologise for not being able to visit your blogs or publish posts of our final adventures in Scotland over the next several weeks. I will miss this part of my day more than you know.

See you in October.

The Good Woman

PS Any suggestions as to a new name for this blog are welcome!

Monday, 6 August 2007


Bambi: For my birthday I want Iggle Piggle, a Dora computer, a house, my Grannies, a cake, candles, a party, a bicycle. And a swimming pool.

Me [clearly not engaging brain]: That's funny Sweetie. Last week you just wanted a pony.

Bambi: Well, okay...I'll have a pony then...

And you wonder why we're moving!

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Award from A Broad - 5 August 2007

In the past week I have:

  • Cleaned a house. Properly. Furniture has been moved. Dado rails sparkle. The oven even looks rather impressive - on the inside.
  • Delivered a full, large car load of clothes, toys and books to Salvation Army.
  • Delivered another full, large car load of junk to the recycling centre.
  • Cut back my garden and thanked the good Lord that some neighbours had hired a skip that day which they were struggling to fill. Good neighbour that I am, I was able to help.
  • Collected boxes from our removal company which is in a Clydebank industrial estate - a drive which took around 45 minutes each way.
  • Got Bambi's glasses fixed (again).
  • Gone to the Richard Long exhibition in Edinburgh. (Stunning in its simplicity and beauty. Why couldn't I have thought of creating giant mud murals first!?)
  • Gone back to Edinburgh for the first day of the festival. Bambi particularly enjoyed the street performers and the Warhol exhibition.
  • Written a piece about the Warhol exhibition for Topblogmag (out on Monday).

And slept. And eaten. And swum 5 kms. And stuff.

But the blogging is definitely suffering in the build up to the move. I have been visiting many of my favourites but can't seem to actually structure anything to post here. I'm sorry.

In direct contrast to my 'frequent to irregular' posting habits, is this weeks awardee, Sparx, writer of Notes from Inside my Head who has recently gone from being a 'once a week' blogger to one of the 'almost every day' variety. I thought she should know how grateful I am for her Spud-inspired missives as I plough through two years' worth of cleaning and sorting.

Sparx writes predominantly about her son, Charlie, also affectionately known as 'the Spud'. In fact, motherhood is all she writes about. I have not seen her digress into politics, social development or environmental issues - except insofar as they effect the Spud. This is a focused woman. She does work, but as this has never been given more attention than an executive diary entry, I can only assume that her job allows her to spend time in an office somewhere thinking of her boy.

I am a mom and, having got through two and a half years of nappies, occasional sleep deprivation, illnesses, crawling, toddler travel, weaning and so on, I am astounded at how much I enjoy reliving it. But then it is retold in quite the most consistently entertaining manner by Sparx. Thank you so much for keeping me in laughter.

I just can't wait for toilet training...

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Raining awards...

...which makes a nice change!

What a fantastic and fruitful morning of blog visits! Lots of good reading and....drumroll... TWO awards!

People like me! They really like me! I think. Well, at least they've started giving me stuff to put in my sidebar. I'll take that!

Firstly, I picked up this little beaut from Lady MacLeod:

I'm a little concerned that she interpreted my Award from A Broad as schmoozing....wait...okay, it was a bit schmoozy. So that's okay then!

And then I got this one from Kaycie:

for 'generous bloggers who think of others'. Which, given the amount of incredibly useful information I've got from other bloggers makes me feel like a bit of a fraud.

Truly, thank you both so much. I've been a bit erratic at posting lately - move stuff - which makes for some great ideas for posts but leaves little time to actually write the suckers. So to be getting this recognition makes me feel really inspired to try harder.

These are awards for passing on so for blogger schmooze (which is actually a blogging community award) I nominate:

Elsie Button and

Who all keep me in laughter and comments. Which gets to the heart of what I look for in my community!

For the Thoughtful Blogger award, I have been very lucky to have received very real assistance from a few fellow bloggers - very generous indeed so:

Reluctant Memsahib - thank you for the information about Nairobi.

Debio - thank you for the tips on Dubai.

Jenny - thank you for showing me how to make jam!

Now polish them nicely and put them on your sidebar....

Monday, 30 July 2007

Award from A Broad - 29 July 2007

Well hello! I've been fighting a losing battle with my broadband. Yesterday it won - hence the late award. Today, I return - unscathed but determined. I will prevail!
Enough dramatics.

The logo has been chosen - offically through the vote, but also by Lady M, who last week successfully guessed the outcome and posted it on her blog. Had the chosen logo differed from her choice I would have asked her to change it (which may, or more likely, may not have worked). But as she got it right, we'll chalk it up to female intuition.

So the logo is:Although I may mess around with fonts and layout in weeks to come. It's all this time I have....

But on to this week's award. Yesterday, among other things, was also my mother's birthday. Happy Birthday Granny!

Which meant that I specifically wanted to find a blog that she would enjoy. The criteria were - funny, warm, posts not too long (my mum is a busy working granny) and clever. And I thought she might enjoy one of my favourites - Drunk Mummy. Please understand that this is no reflection of my mother's drinking habits - her initials are PMW, with the 'M' being for 'Moderation'. Although there was that incident when she discovered vodka and Red Bull at a function in Jo'burg....

But we digress. Drunk Mummy writes a fantastic blog with lots of warmth, humour and advice. The advice portion is strictly about wine. But, fortunately, in the world of Drunk Mummy, there is a bottle for all occasions - house cleaning, camping, swimming in Welsh waters all warrant a glass.

Her style is laid back and light. It's a bit like having a chat with a really good mate. I always leave with a smile on my face. And if you don't, well, you could always drown your sorrows in her recommended tipple.

Mom, you might not be able to actually get your hands on any of the wine suggestions (my mum lives in Cape Town) but I'm sure you can find some suitable substitutes (I repeat, she's in Cape Town).
PS What with the dodgy broadband, this post has taken me four and a half hours to put together. Let it never be said that I am not a dedicated blogger!

Saturday, 28 July 2007

The Eulogy

A year ago tomorrow my father died. I've been thinking all week what to write about him and have realised that I am not ready to say anything new. So here's what I said at his funeral:

Thank you for being here today to share in this celebration of the life of a man who was straightforward, honest, fair, intelligent, loyal, funny, dedicated to his community and on occasion, even a little cranky and eccentric. A man on whose feet I learnt to dance and whose arms could hug away almost all of my childhood troubles – my Dad Joe.

I think everyone who knew him will remember his sense of humour. Dad never knew what to do when people were sad or upset. Whenever my Mom was unhappy, my brother and I would joke that Dad could be found up a ladder – a place where she wouldn’t follow. His other solution was to crack a joke. So, I thought I should share an example of Dad’s sense of humour.

Dad enjoyed his food and wine and developed a girth to suit his appetite. One day my brother, who was about seven at the time, asked him what was inside his tummy. Well, an illness in Dad’s youth had required surgery and left him with two scars on his abdomen – one long and one small. So father solemnly explained to son that a rugby ball had been inserted into his stomach via the long incision and the small one was for its annual service where it would be re inflated using a bicycle pump. The joke backfired on him a little when his son – who, of course, believed everything his father told him, documented this scientific marvel in a school essay which was later displayed at his school open day.

Dad was really a very practical person. He showed gratitude by repairing plumbing, love through building furniture and social commitment through electrical planning for countless Rotary projects. He was an engineer and in his case I do believe it was a calling – all of the hobbies that he had over the years - yachting, flying model aeroplanes came back to engineering. It was his job but also his greatest pleasure. He did not, however, require that things look beautiful – a recurring bone of contention between my parents - only that they function smoothly and efficiently. I am sure we will be pulling prestik off walls and unwinding recycled wire hangers he converted to many uses for many years to come.

Any tribute to my father would be incomplete without a mention of his life as a Rotarian. He joined Rotary the same year that he married my mother – in 1968 and since then has been committed to serving his community through this organization. He has volunteered his time, skills, energy and even his wife and children on occasion. But I think he always appreciated what he got in return – a deep sense of satisfaction and his very best friends.

A side of Dad that many of you may not be familiar with was his romantic side. The flowers on his coffin are a reminder of the first flowers he ever gave my Mom – Compactas which he called "Hermanus red roses". He was actually quite determined in his pursuit of my mother. He planned the courtship on a calendar – when each family member would be introduced – where he was going to take her and when. And with a great big star on the day he planned to propose. Considering that it was only four weeks from first date to proposal, such organization was required. Six weeks later they were married.

As a teenager with the hormonally charged notion that I would set eyes on some boy at the Bishops disco and have found my life partner – I remember asking him how he knew so quickly that Mom was the woman for him. He told me that he loved her because of her faults. Now, I will agree that on the face of it this doesn’t sound like much of a compliment, but his theory was that one should look for a partner whose failings we could live with which in turn makes their positive attributes so much sweeter. I still think he must have been a remarkable judge of character to have figured that out so quickly. My brother and his wife were together for 6 years before they got married and my husband and I were together for around 3 years before tying the knot so the skill appears to have been lost with him!

On my wedding day my now husband hired a beautiful old car for the occasion. On the way to the church I waited for my Dad to give me one last bit of sage advice. The secret to a long, healthy marriage maybe. But he didn’t. Instead he grilled the owner of the car on all its glorious specifications. Everything from top speed to tyres was covered. But marital advice - none. I remember feeling a bit disappointed at the time. But now I think that he felt his job was done. He was giving me away and, I hope, believed in my ability to figure out the rest on my own.

And now, without the man we loved so much, and with God’s help, that is what we all must do.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Wedding bells

Expat postings can be compared to marriages.

At first there's the frisson of being in something new - finding your way around, forming early opinions, the desire to be open minded and to make it work.

Then there's the wedding - the day you find your new home, the furniture arrives and you celebrate having done it.

The honeymoon follows closely thereafter. The routine is new and, therefore, not boring. You relish the new things that are better than the old things that irked in your last posting. You begin to explore your new home. But it still feels like a long holiday.

The marriage begins when the new environment leaves the toilet seat up. The climate may start to challenge, or perhaps local customs leave you questioning your integrity. You offend without meaning to, or take offence where none is meant. For some, these are easily overcome - identified as unique and special, sometimes even embraced.

In other postings, the foibles become too much. It's time for a separation. And then, with the panic of an impending move, you fall back in love with your new home, as you squash all the outings an experiences you were hoping to get to but thought you would have time to do 'later', into a few short weeks. This is where I am now. Marveling at the beauty of Scotland's greenery, splashing in its puddles, in awe of its history. And packing...

We've been lucky so far, our separations have all been quite amicable. Along the lines of 'I think we should just be friends'... but heartfelt.

So Scotland, may I come back to visit one day? And please (please!) do you think you could let it be for a sunny fortnight?

Monday, 23 July 2007

Day off

Actually, I'm elbow deep in house cleaning (preparing for new tenants to see the house), sorting clothes, arranging travel vaccinations, etc., etc. So it's not really a day off.

But, if you're interested, here's a piece I wrote for Topblogmag. Still not a featured piece. Maybe one day....

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Award from A Broad - 22 July '07

Hurrah! We have logos. Yes, that's plural! Which, given that my budget for this project is, um, well, nothing, isn't half bad.

Trawling the options of free logos has been enlightening. I was really only interested in things that had some connection to the title 'Award from A Broad', which limited me to planes and buxom wenches. Sadly, the buxom wench department was either nearing x-ratedness (is that a word?) or frankly quite ugly.

So the short list is as follows:

Option One: Aeroplane tick
You get it right - a big tick from abroad...

Option Two: Buxom trophy

I find it vaguely disturbing that she appears to be kneeling. And that she appears to be fully clothed except for her chest area. But other than that...

Option Three: Heart globe
Because I luv ya!

Option Four: Daisy
Because that's what we broads do - we give each other flowers.

Option Five: Calendar girl
Because it had to be done.

So now you choose - the poll will be on the side bar.

And on to this weeks award.

I think that many of the readers of this blog are already familiar with this week's recipient but I feel her popularity is no excuse to omit her from my list of Uber-blogs.
Lady MacLeod is a Scottish/American globe traveller currently living in Morocco. She writes about her everyday experiences in Morocco, gives tantalising insights into her love life and potted history lessons. Her interest in current affairs is clear with many thought provoking posts tackling the meaty issues that many of us (or maybe its just me) shy away from while blogging.
She researches her topics but is always humble enough consider other points of view. I have been known to disagree with other bloggers and have become quite annoyed with how many delete comments that aren't in agreement with the post. Not so, with Lady M. Opinions are welcomed and the discussion made more stimulating for it.
Lady MacLeod, may this award be proof that I knew you before you were published.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Fun, no matter how you look at it

I am the first one to acknowledge that, when sitting inside looking in the rain, it is never a good idea to ponder what the family in Cape Town are up too. But this weekend it was irresistable. After all, they were off the coast of Gansbaai in a cage looking at 4m Great White sharks.

So, had I been in Cape Town this weekend, I can say with some confidence that I would have seen this.

I would have swum in that cage on the right.

That could even have been my arm.
But I wasn't in Cape Town. I was in Scotland.

So instead I went to the Linlithgow jousting tournament (as you do), and saw a knight in shining armour...

men wielding swords...

and men on horses wielding long pokey objects.

All great fun. And I didn't even get seasick!

As an aside, the duel re-enactment involved much hurling of period abuse. Bambi was clearly paying attention.

Mummy, what's a fornicator?

Monday, 16 July 2007

Scottish children

in their natural habitat...
The one on the left actually has a South African mother and an Irish father. But, you know what they say... If it walks, like a duck and talks like a duck....

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Award from A Broad

We have a winner! For the award, yes, but also for the title. I am proud and honoured that it was my suggestion that swung it. Although, it is possible that this may have been slanted a bit by excessive voting from,

But moving on swiftly... The next step is to develop an icon. I have a few doodles, but no matter how firmly I glue them to my monitor, I can't get them to stick to my blog. Alas, they also present me as being a little more buxom than a look in the mirror reveals to be the truth. Any suggestions? How does one 'invent' a button?

And now for the main event. The blogs I follow are pretty diverse. I tend to favour blogs written in interesting places or blogs that are particularly funny (and here a surprising number of Mom blogs feature), but there is also a sub-category of blogs that fulfil some purpose in my life - blogs that provide me with recipes (none of which I've actually tried) and those written by people so on the edge that, even in my darkest days, I emerge feeling certain of my sanity. These are known as Blogs with Jobs.

Todays recipient of the newly named Award from A Broad is one such blog. Mr Angry writes a blog called I am Livid. It is a rant blog. Each working day Mr Angry has a really good gripe about something - modern art, cobblers, the odd irreverent whinge about terrorists. I love getting up in the morning, going online and finding that someone has already had a good rant - makes me feel more inclined to be sweet for the rest of the day.

Be warned the language is floral. But as my dear Mum always says, 'rude is fine, as long as its funny.'

I doubt Mr Angry reads my blog and I'm too scared to tell him about this award lest I somehow incur his wrath. But, even when I don't agree with him, he makes me laugh and that's worth some sort of prize isn't it?

Besides if he doesn't know about the award he can't complain that it still doesn't have a button attached to it...

Friday, 13 July 2007

Eating out?

Mother at Large has tagged me on a food meme - the idea being that I share the details of five eateries in Glasgow that I would recommend. This is problematic for two reasons:

The cost of eating out here leaves me with heart palpitations. For what I would pay for a beautiful meal at a reputable restaurant with a sea view in Cape Town, I can get a deep fried pizza in Glasgow. Lucky me, this would probably arrive with chips.
Budget eating in Glasgow requires the bulk consumption of grease which, after the heart palpitations would probably just send me straight to the ER.

As you may have guessed we have not eaten out very often since we've been here.
This is not to say that Glasgow does not have some fine, grease-free establishments - just that I have not frequented them. That said, there are a few places we do go to occasionally that I will share:
1. Heart Buchanan on Byres Road - amazing deli, lovely (but painfully small) coffee shop and, if you're getting to the end of the month they will slice you very small pieces of cheese to suit your budget.
2. The Loft in Ashton Lane. Spacious, family-friendly restaurant with good pasta menu. I appreciate that they have no specific kids menu but do kids portions of anything on the menu. It kind of fits my ethos that children are people too. It's also right above the Grosvenor cinema which is handy. But beware of children racing around the wide aisles in Little Tikes red plastic cars. Newbies usually sport shin bruises for weeks.
3. Wagamama on West George Street. Okay, so this is a cheat - it's a chain, I know. But I love good Japanese noodles and they really are good here. Again, it's spacious - I like to breathe between mouthfuls of food and the service is fast but not pressured. The do have a kids menu, but its not the usual fish and chips fare. Bambi particularly loves their chicken noodles which come with a mandarin sauce and slices of apple. Yum.

and that covers my culinary experience of Glasgow. Other attempts in my budget do not bear repeating.
So, instead, I thought I would tell you about my favourite two establishments near Cape Town. Because I'm homesick. Again.

1. Le Petite Ferme, Franschoek winelands. Unbelievable food with incredible views. The Good Man and I have always gone here to celebrate our anniversary - well, when we're in the Cape that is. The form is to have a drink on the lawn in front of the restaurant while perusing the menu, then meander up to your table. Enjoy a glass of the house wine (from grapes grown on the estate) over a fantastic meal and then go for a quick lie down in the shade of a tree to contemplate your expanding girth as you consider the desert menu. Which is sufficiently tempting to draw you in for another round. There is no hurry here. Lunch is considered a three hour affair - only one sitting gets booked. Bliss.
2. The River Cafe, Constantia Uitsig. When the Good Man and I had to introduce our parents to each other in the week before our wedding, this was the estate that we trusted with the food. Of course, this auspicious occasion called for the auspicious big brother of the River Cafe, the award winning Constantia Uitsig Restaurant. But now, dust having settled, we prefer the more casual ambiance of the Cafe. It's strictly a breakfast and lunch affair. Tables are arranged on the terraces and the menu features food that is familiar but always with an interesting twist -perfectly prepared and presented. And the wine shop next door isn't half bad either...

I see much opportunity in this tag. I challenge ('cos lets face it that's what tags really are):


Katie, and


who may well be able to shine a more informed light on the Glasgow eaterie scene. And its about time I learned!

Reluctant Memsahib - although may I request your recommendations are for Nairobi eateries??? Cheeky, I know

Debio - 'cos I'm hoping to spend a wee bit of time in Dubai soon too.

On a completely different track, my big brother in South Africa is going shark cage diving tomorrow. Now how many of you can say that?!

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Eyes right->

As some of you may have noticed, democracy has arrived at this blog. After suggestions (mainly from Lady M) and opinions (where Omega Mum and Stay at Home Dad featured strongly), I have drawn up a shortlist for the title of the Sunday Award.

Please vote - it's completely anonymous. So even you lurkers out there who visit but never comment (you know who you are...) can make yourselves heard on this not very weighty issue.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

The Journey

I went down to Durham yesterday to fetch our new car - peace having once more been made with the British banking system.

I caught an early morning train down, via Newcastle, to Durham and then drove straight back. My ideal would have been to spend a bit of time exploring Hadrian's Wall, or maybe some of the nearby coastline but parenting commitments back in Glasgow did not permit.

That said I really enjoyed the journey. It reminded me of why I don't like flying - firstly because I am afraid the machine might plummet to the ground, but also because flying is too fast and too distant from the action to give a real sense of the journey. Driving a large vehicle along long stretches of highway reminded me of the trip I did with my mom and my dog from Cape Town to Zambia.

Over a distance of over 3000kms we left the pace of the city and moved in convoy with our truck to the sedate and dusty streets of Lusaka. We encountered heat, dust, goats, elephants, giraffes, unbelievable African bureaucracy and phenomenal scenery. Our route took us through Mafikeng, into Botswana, through Nata with its endless salt pan, over the border to Zambia on the Kazungula ferry and onto the Great North Road to Lusaka.

The ferry was undoubtedly the moment of greatest symbolic change- a 400m comma between what I knew in southern Africa and what I would come to know in Central Africa. It slowly carries a truck and a few cars at a time over the crocodile and hippo laden waters of the Zambezi. As you wait your turn there's little to do but ponder the islands and banks belonging to Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, and the animals who travel obliviously passport-free between them.

I hear that the new bridge at Shesheke is easing the pressure on the pontoon as many trucks now detour through Namibia. But it took us time to cross the Zambezi – queuing, waiting, chatting with others doing the same. And finally being carried over on the belching platform as it fought against the rivers flow. It was the best introduction possible to Central Africa – chaotic, beautiful, slow. It could not be forced and it all got done in its own way and in its own time. I'm sure it was frustrating at the time but now I long for journeys that speak so accurately and honestly of the destinations they reach.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

That award thingy

And you thought it was a one week wonder...

There were a good few comments last week that this weekly award thing I've started should have name. And an icon. But as I have no idea where to start with icon design and, as an icon should bear some relation to the name of the award, we'll start with the name.

Lady M had a few good suggestions, but none quite perfect. Observe:
The On the Move Award - but many of the blogs I really like are written by people who don't move. I achieve stability in my life by living vicariously through theirs.
The Expat's Acknowledgment Award - which would mean acknowledging that this is an expat blog. But it's also a Mom blog at times and a personal blog always.
The Hot Woman gives you a Nod Award. Lovely. But lies.
The I'll do anything to Warm Up a Bit and Reading Your Blog Helps Award. Very accurate but not very catchy. Not to mention that by the time you've typed the acronym TIDATWUABARYBHA, you may as well just write the whole thing.

I've been thinking along the lines of thumbs. You know - thumbs up! But also that Bambi is a thumb sucker and it brings her tremendous comfort and joy - which is what these awards are meant to do too. What about the Rear Digit Award (RDA), to guide in in how to spend your recommended daily allowance of blogging? Nah, too obtuse.

Oh well, any suggestions welcome.

So now for this week's announcement. This weeks still nameless award goes to Reluctant Memsahib.

Mem is a writer and mother. She has recently moved from a farm in the shade of Mount Kilimanjaro to another, which she calls 'the outpost'. I know it's in Tanzania and, I'm guessing, its remote. Tomorrow she leaves England, where she has been hunting school placements for her children, to return to her outpost.

Her blog transports me to a place and way of life I have seen, but never lived. Mem writes about the beauty, laughter and peculiar trials of life in East Africa with sensitivity, frustration and affection. Her writing is honest and her take on life often very funny. It is a wonderful blog to visit with a large cup of coffee - be transported.

As an aside, the Reluctant Memsahib also has ties to Kenya and has been a generous source of information to me offline regarding my impending move. I so hope that we can stay in touch and trade stories form our respective corners of Africa in the months to come.

Safe travels home, Mem. I hope the outpost is ready for you!

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Annoyed and confused

Yup, you're right. Another rant coming. If you're after sweetness and light, go away. Nothing for you here today.

It all started on Thursday when I bought a car on eBay. A four wheel drive which we plan to take to Kenya - cars being ridiculously expensive over there. I got an extremely good deal that would have had me quite worried were it not for the sobbing sounds emanating from the other end of the phone when I called to arrange payment. Anyway, this was not what annoyed me - although I suppose that reveals me as a heartless bitch who had the rest of the story coming to her...

Anyway, the seller would accept Paypal but would then slap an extra 4% on (which starts to negate the joy of a good deal) so we agreed that the Good Man and I would drive down to Durham today and pay him in cash. And then make a weekend of it somewhere pretty on the coast. So far, so good.

This morning I go to the bank to draw my cash over the counter (it was a good deal but still a sum over my daily ATM limit!) and... they're closed! No counter service on a Saturday. What?! I know for a fact that people shop in Scotland on Saturday. And what about people who work 9-5 jobs during the week. What are they meant to do? I'm now confused.

So, now I can't pay cash, I revert back to the Paypal idea. Except they set a limit on the amount you can pay through their system unless you register your bank account - which takes three days. ARRRGHHHH!

I phoned my bank and try to arrange a CHAPS transfer which should have the money in his account on Monday and asked them to email him a confirmation. They do the transfer but say they can only email me 'for security reasons'. Ah, what? How would emailing someone a letter, containing only their bank account details and confirmation that money is being paid into it be a security risk? I don't understand. So they email it to me but via their website and in a format that cannot be forwarded and has no letterhead or mention of the bank name. So it does not prove I've made the payment. Fortunately the seller (who by this stage is utterly sick of hearing from me every five minutes on a Saturday morning) agrees to just let it go.

But the whole experience got me thinking about other things here I don't understand.

Like 'health and safety'. Everything is more difficult because of health and safety. Public pools can sell goggles, costumes and diving hoops for children. But no floats. Health and safety. So it's okay to send them to the bottom of the pool to retrieve a hoop, but God forbid a child should float! Risky that! Children are, however, allowed to bring their own floats to the pool. Somehow having bought them elsewhere renders them 'safe'. Makes you wonder what the staff keep under the till...

We've also been told by various accommodation providers that they are unable to provide travel cots due to 'Health and Safety'. It's much safer for young children to fall out of standard beds?

And gas and electricity bills that reward you the more energy you consume. Now that's confusing! They charge on a sliding scale! You pay less per unit OVER a set threshold. And then you're told how serious energy conservation is. Surely making the first bit cheap and then charging everyone through the nose for using excessive kilowatts or - dammit, I don't know what a unit of gas is - would incentivise people to use less. Bizarre!

Anyway, the upshot is that I'm NOT in Durham. I do NOT have my new car as the seller wants the payment to clear first (fair enough - this does actually make some sense). I'm annoyed, confused and once again convinced that there is a set of rules here that I am simply not meant to understand and that are kept secret from foreigners.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Smeaton in Poetry

Got this on email today - have no idea who wrote it. Someone Scottish I would imagine.

Twas doon by the inch o' Abbots
Oor Johnny walked one day
When he saw a sicht that troubled him
Far more that he could say

A fanatic muslim bastard
Wiz doin what he'd planned
And intae Glesca's departure hall
A Cherokee he'd rammed.

A big Glaswegian polis
Came forward tae assist
He thocht "a wumman driver"
Or at least someone half-pissed

But to his shock nae drunken Jock
Emerged to grasp his hand
But a flamin Arab loony
Frae Al Qaeda's band

The mad Islamist nut-case
Had set hissel' on fire
And swung oot at the polis
GBH his clear desire

Now that's no richt wur Johnny cried
And sallied tae the fray
A left hook and a heid butt
Required tae save the day.

Now listen up Bin Laden
Yir sort's nae wanted here
For imported English radicals
Us Scoatsman huv nae fear

Okay, so it's not quite Rabbie Burns...

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Local Heroes

The Scottish press today is full of stories of heroism.

At the top of my list is Alan Johnston. Released after a four month ordeal following his capture in Gaza, he handled the media surrounding his release with grace and appreciation. He has a point. The support from the media in campaigning for his release was phenomenal. He was able to hear about their support on a radio he had from two weeks into his captivity, which he makes clear was a powerful 'psychological boost'. He could barely have shunned them in the hours following his release.

But just imagine spending four months in solitary confinement - the last three without exposure to daylight and then, quite suddenly, being thrown into a media circus. Most of us would have been stunned, meek, timid. Instead he was articulate and grateful, highlighting the plights of other hostages and apologising to his family for the stress he had caused.

He even had light moments, getting a quick haircut in an effort to lose what he referred to as 'that just-kidnapped look'. And promising to stay out of trouble. 'I couldn't bear to ask you all to do all that twice, just imagine the embarrassment.'
Being captured and incarcerated doesn't make a hero. But this is a man who lived in Gaza for three years before this incident, reporting for the BBC as sensitively and factually as any journalist I have seen. That's brave.

Now, he is handling his release with such dignity that I have confidence he will make some good come from what must have been a nightmarish ordeal. But it may be in the background. He is quoted as saying, 'You are about to see a rapid decline in my profile. I'm sure that if you hear from me again it will be in the most work-a-day, normal, BBC, journalistic context. The Johnston family is about to go back to the obscurity in which it was extremely happy for about 45 years. '

Mr Johnston, I do hope to hear your voice on the BBC World Service in Kenya.

And then there is a local hero of an altogether different mould. John Smeaton, the baggage handler who brought down the terrorist in Glasgow airport may claim to be no hero but 1000 pints at the Holiday Inn say otherwise. He says he was only doing what anyone else would have done in similar circumstances. Um, am I the only one who fears they may not have tackled a potential suicide bomber if given the opportunity.

You're one brave Weegie, Mr Smeaton.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

The secret life of Bambi

'Mummy... ,' said Bambi as I was putting her to bed, 'I'm not going to cry and I'm not going to call you back.'

Well, that's a relief, I thought. I'm not very good at guilt before bedtime.

'Lovely, honey, now go to sleep.'

'And I'm not going to hide behind my curtains. And I'm not going to look in my cupboard. And I'm not going to play I spy with Teddy.'

Hey ho! What! Get out of bed? After I've turned the light out? Clearly there has been a little nocturnal action I didn't know about.

We used to listen to Bambi as she fell asleep through the baby monitor. She would begin with conversation and word experimentation. Teddy would be instructed in the ways of the toddler - she'd cover eating with a spoon, drinking through a straw and list her favourite menus - with a strong, but not entirely accurate, focus on chocolate. And then she would sing, which would send her to sleep.

Being a bit concerned about the bedtime conversation I turned on the monitor again for the first time in a long while. There was a bit of muffled conversation and a clear rendition of Twinkle Twinkle before the silence of sleep.

But it was telling that her soft animals were lined up in a row on the floor this morning, carefully covered by a blanket.

'Do you think they slept well Bambi?'

'Yes Mummy. I sang them a lubyebye...'

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Drumroll please

As promised I am now starting my weekly Great Blog award. Over time I will think of a snappy title and no doubt figure out some fancy graphics too. But right now its just a homespun affair.

Now, before the big announcement (yes, I can see you perched on the edge of your computer chair), the rules. Actually, there are no rules. It's my award based purely on my own opinions and taste in what constitutes a good blog. But there are a few notes, namely:

  1. The award will be presented in random order. Although I am deeply fond of today's winner, it is being named first due to a random process - picture me with a hat and little itty bitty pieces of paper and you'll get the idea. Wait, there's no picture of me on this site so you can't picture me. Okay, so just picture an arbitary brunette with a hat... you get the idea...
  2. This is a no strings attached affair. Winners are not required to nominate other bloggers (although, clearly, sharing the love if you so desire is fine), read my blog in return or even thank me if they do not wish to do so.
Right. That about covers it.

So the winner for today is.................

Stay at Home Dad

He lives in London, raises his daughter and writes about his experience of being a parent. What I love about this blog is the style in which it is written. SAHD provides his readers with accutely observed glimpses into his life with his daughter. He marvels in the minutia that so often slip me by. Everytime I visit his blog I am reminded of something that I fear I may have forgotten were it not for this voice drawing it to my attention. Bliss.

And the London housewives are giving him a spot of bother at the minute. Cheer up Stay at Home Dad. I think you're terrific.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

Safe as houses

Before I came to Glasgow, I anticipated that our time here would feel safe. By European standards, Glasgow doesn't have the best reputation for crime, but by the standards of most places I've lived it's really secure.

We chose to live in a nice southside suburb where people may twitch their curtains, but would never look inside your unlocked car. The residents of this wee corner of the world sometimes complain that nothing ever happens here but after years of electric fences and endless petty theft that suits me just fine.

I have felt safe here. I walk back from the station after dark on my own sometimes and we have even been known to leave our back door unintentionally unlocked from time to time (please don't tell my landlord), without incident.

And then, this afternoon, two people drove a vehicle into the check in area of Glasgow airport. It ignited, they were arrested and, although significant damage was done to the building, nobody was hurt. Actually that's not quite true. The two people in the car were taken to hospital with burns - I'm finding it difficult to feel too much pity for them right now.

The police now suspect that this is an act of terror linked to the discovery of two car bombs in London yesterday. And the UK is on full security alert.

I think it is human to feel a little less safe when terror breathes down our necks like this. But is it right? A terrible thing happened today. But will I be in any greater danger tomorrow than I was yesterday, when I felt no fear at all? Perhaps, but probably not.

Sadly, the success of terrorism depends on that 'perhaps' - the human response to an unpredictable event. In absolute terms, far fewer people will be directly effected by terror attacks than will have their lives effected by the fear these incidents generate. And then terror wins.

I passed through Heathrow on my way back from South Africa in August last year. It was the last time this country was on high alert and the launch of the liquid-in-hand-luggage restrictions. What struck me was how everyone just got on with it. The queues were unreal and the rumours very frightening. But the great British public know about queuing and developed a quiet camaraderie in the face of it all. There was no panic.

So, no. I am not going to bed afraid tonight. It's something I learnt while living in Scotland.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Look what I got!

Annie over at Blooming Marvelous liked me enough to give me a gift. An Award! My first!

I'd like to thank.... well, I'd like to thank Annie I suppose.

It's not an award that involves voting or monetary gain but is, rather, a simple thumbs up from a fellow blogger. I think 'form' dictates that I pass the award on to other bloggers who I really enjoy, which is easier than nominating fellow bloggers for tags - in doing that I always worry that they'll just get cheesed off and stop visiting.

But here's the thing. Annie's post (and, by extention this award) came on a day I was feeling pretty low - a bit worried about the move, a touch self-critical about my time in Scotland, the beginnings of the sense of loss associated with any move beginning to creep in. It arrived on a day I needed approval. And let's face it we all have those days.

So I've decided not to give any awards today. (Stick with me here). Rather, I'm going to nominate a Rocking Blogger each weekend (cunningly allowing myself research time for when I've run through those I already know and love). You never know, I might make a few people's days along the way...

And thanks again Annie!

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Summer holidays

Okay, I know this is well travelled territory for me, but what the hell is up with the weather in Scotland? Where sunshine is involved, this is the country of false hope.

Through all my misery and whinging about the arctic winter conditions I was comforted by Scottish friends who reassured me that summer here was wonderful thing - warm, sunny days in beautiful landscapes. They regaled me with tales of swimming in lochs, long walks in forests and up mountains. In short, dear readers, they lied.

I doubt this was intentional. You see, the Scots had all booked their tickets to Majorca - a tradition they follow every year, and, therefore, have no clue what a Scottish summer looks like. They are Scottish. Their memories of summer are sunny. Somehow, these facts are mixed together and voila! Sun in Scotland? Lies, I tell you!

Intuitively, the combination of the warmth and good humour of the Scottish nation and it's truly appalling weather are at odds. Most countries with truly lousy climates and long periods of darkness each year have reputations for high suicide rates and depression. With all the scientific backing (cough!) of two years of living here I have developed the following theories as to how the Scots survive:

Theory One: Scots photosynthesise more efficiently than other races. They have the ability to absorb sunshine rapidly and live off it's glow for longer periods of time. They simply don't need more than two days of sunshine a year.

Theory Two: Hope and happiness are closely intertwined. All Scots need is the promise of good weather, not the actual thing. To ensure mental health in Scotland, the met office has introduced the 'catch all' icon. It depicts a sun peeking out from behind a cloud from which rain is pouring down. Anywhere else this would be called 'hedging your bets'. Here it's the daily forecast. It will rain. But the sun may peek out too. Hope.

Theory Three: Scotch whisky.

You would have thought that, by now I would have learnt to follow local wisdom when it comes to holiday planning. But no. While all sensible Scots are beginning the annual exodus to Majorca, I have just booked our summer holiday to Orkney.

If summer hasn't arrived by then.... well, we're leaving in September anyway.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Traveling light

When the Good Man and I first moved in together he packed his worldly possessions into a BMW, fetched me from my parent's house with a suitcase and that was it. We stopped at a liquidation centre on the way through to the house we'd just bought and got them to deliver a bed, table and chairs and borrowed linen from family.

We now also own a few sofas and sundry other items which live in our house in Cape Town. But the tone of our life together was set with this first move. We travel light.

Our approach to moving is a little different from most. We set ourselves a target volume and then shed things until we can pack to that limit. For this move, our upper limit is eight cubic metres. We'd like to come in at around six if we can. Given that I usually get blank looks when I 'speak metric', we're targeting less than a quarter of a container. This is not a lot.

The only item of furniture we'll be taking is my mother's oak cheval mirror so that she can keep an eye on us through our travels. A large chunk of the balance will be taken up by art (paintings and sculpture), clothes, kitchen equipment and toys. Pre-Bambi we we would have targeted four cubic metres. She compensates by taking up less space in the car.

Anyway, I have now begun the process of ditching the things we will leave behind. I tend to be quite unsentimental through this process. If I haven't actually looked at something, worn it or used it in six months, it's out.

According to some, this makes me quite a hard person. But it's not that I feel no emotion, rather that I don't link my emotions to items. I like to remember things - they often look better in my memories than they do in reality.

Anyway, I thought I would throw a question out to Blog world:

If you had to pack you and your family's life into eight cubic metres, what would you take? And, perhaps more interestingly, what would you leave behind?

Friday, 22 June 2007

Cheap wine and a three day growth

It all started when Bambi had just turned one. Our wee gazelle was an early talker and had several multi-syllabic words under her belt by her first birthday. She could also sing sentences. Yes, sing. She couldn't talk in sentences but could sing full song verses. Strange, but true.

So there we were driving somewhere (I know not where) when our little cherub piped up with,

Cheap wine and a three day growth, oh yeah!

A long look was shared between good man and good woman and Cold Chisel was summarily ejected from the CD player.

All of a sudden we were faced with the not insignificant challenge of finding music for the car that would not result in a visit from Child Services. And that we could bear to listen to as well. Bambi favoured her Rhythm Time CDs. These were sweet to start but got increasingly annoying with each turn of the wheels on the car.

I discovered Dan Zanes (very bearable) and Laurie Berkner (sometimes catchy, sometimes not so much). All seemed on track until my daughter got a lift in a friend's car and came home demanding the 'Doo doop' song. At first I thought she'd been listening to the Andrews Sisters, which seemed odd but innocent enough. It then transpired that my dear friend Janet had been playing the Fratellis for my daughter's listening pleasure. And the 'doo -doop' in question was the opening refrain to Chelsea Dagger.

To be fair I rather enjoy the Fratellis. They're a Glasgow outfit with an upbeat indie sound that now forms the soundtrack to my time in Scotland. That said, their lyrics can get a wee bit hinky. For example I may get concerned if Bambi starts a rousing chorus of She gets naked for a living, she aint afraid of giving, ah huh... in the aisles of Tesco. Or lets rip with He's been out for days, in a deep malaise in her nursery school.

But, for now, enough of me is relieved for the respite from Baa Baa Black Sheep. She can have her doo doop CD. I'll just hum along loudly.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Question Tag

Lady MacLeod tagged me with these questions forever ago and I have neglected them. Apologies Lady M.

What were you doing ten years ago?

Let's see. I was chasing a corporate marketing career for a large financial services institution in Cape Town. And I was newly married to my good man. We had bought the cottage you see on the right side of the screen - our home, even now while we travel.

What were you doing one year ago?
I was about to leave Glasgow to spend a month in Cape Town helping my Mom care for my Dad. The month turned to six weeks as it became apparent that the lung cancer he had fought for over a year was to take him. Bambi came with me but the Good Man had to stay behind for much of that time. It wasn't great.

One of the many things I learnt through this time was the importance of all family members in times of crisis - the toddler who gives reasons to smile just by being there and the support of a husband shown from afar. The roles we are to play aren't always obvious, but they are always important.

Five snacks you enjoy
Cheese - all types
Cashew nuts
Chocolate (heck, I'm a girl after all!)

Five songs to which you know all the lyrics
Twinkle Twinkle little star
Baa Baa Black Sheep
The Wheels on the bus
Chelsea Dagger

I would like to stress that this question required the songs I know the lyrics for - not the songs I listen to after bed time. And that Bambi has a deep affection for the Fratellis, requiring knowledge of the lyrics so that humming can be inserted over inappropriate stanzas.

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire
In which currency? I was a millionaire in Zambian Kwacha. I bought groceries and paid my bills.
But if I were a pound millionaire I would:
Go for a facial
Renovate my house in South Africa
Take my Mom to Vietnam
Have a shot at persuading the Good Man to consult from home.
Split the difference between Habitat for Humanity and the Starfish Foundation.
I'm actually quite happy with my lot and fear that a truck load of money would quite spoil that.

Five bad habits
I absolutely cannot keep my opinions to myself.
Blogging - which isn't actually bad - but the amount of time I dedicate to it could be considered unhealthy.
I can't say no or exercise restraint when confronted with good food or good wine.
I am loud. Volume is a habit.
I brag about my daughter a lot. She's brilliant and I simply feel the world should know...

Five things you like doing
Reading good blogs - ones that make me laugh and ones that make me cry.
Swimming - I do about 2kms a few times a week
Cooking - especially when I don't have to clean up afterwards.
Painting. This is not to say I'm any good but I enjoy it nonetheless.
Going to the African bush. Wild places heighten the senses and simply make me feel more alive.

Five things you would never wear again
Stilettos - how can they possibly be worth it?
A boobtube. Too much has gone south.
A bikini. Bambi was a big baby. She now has a big mother. I don't feel the need to reveal too much more of this...
My wedding dress - served its purpose.
White lipstick and blue mascara - what was I thinking when I was fourteen!?!

Five favorite toys
Non-misting swimming goggles (although what they allow you to see can be frightening)
The Good Man

I tag:

Reluctant Memsahib
Gwen (with her walking boots)
Annie (whose Blooming Marvelous)

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Daisy chains 101

Granny has now gone back to Cape Town. But I've decided not to blog about that - it was the first of many goodbyes to come over the coming months. I will not dwell. I will not!

Instead I thought you may enjoy a short lesson on daisy chain making:

Step One: You'll need some daisies. Scotland is a good place to find them right now. This one's from Skye...

Step Two: Make small incisions in the stems and thread them together. This is tricky, especially if you're two and may require that you stick your tongue out...

Step Three: TADA! Oh dear, it fell off before Mom could take the photo. Quality control is only covered in the next module, Superior Daisy Chain Making!

Sunday, 17 June 2007

The problem with Skye

To reach Skye, one drives through Dornie. It is not a big place and, were it not for the flight of fancy of a wealthy family in the early 1900s it may have little claim to fame at all. As it is, the MacRae-Gilstrap family bought a wee island there in 1911. On this island stood the ruins of a castle. And for twenty years they painstakingly restored this ruin, turning it into the glorious incarnation of Eilean Donan Castle we know today.

It is hailed by many as the most romantic castle in Scotland and may well be the most photographed. Here's one I took:

Not far beyond this sentinel one suddenly reaches the far more modern outline of Skye Bridge. And beyond that bridge the problem begins.

You see, Skye is magnificent. And breathtaking. It's breathtakingly magnificent. Each corner reveals a vista more glorious than the last. The view from the front is as good as the view from the back. And therein lies the frustration.

It cannot be captured on film. I tried. I took this photo.

Then this one...

And this... (where Lady MacLeod left her tables).

But none come close to the pictures I see when I close my eyes, imagine the warmth on my shoulders and the breeze across my face. None capture the freedom I felt and the deep sense of well being that stayed with me throughout our visit.
The photos have nothing on my memories.
I think I'll get out my paints.

Friday, 15 June 2007

A room with a view

We spent last weekend in Plockton, a beautiful village on Loch Carron. It is also a mere hop to the Isle of Skye.

It is impossible to spend any amount of time in Scotland and not be instructed to go to this island. It does, however, come with caveats and warnings. My Scottish friends, all advised the taking of appropriate rain gear and bulk purchases of midge repellant. For the uninitiated the midge is a little blood sucking insect that leaves nasty bites and is the bane of the Scottish hiker. It is also the national bird of Skye.

So armed with fleeces, macs, wellies and enough midge repellant to annihilate the entire species, we went on our merry way. Of course, there is nothing predictable about Scottish weather and generalisations are always dangerous. This time we were quite happy that the locals were proved wrong. The sun came out and it was warm. Really warm. Even I wore t-shirts! All weekend! And there was a light breeze for most of our stay. Not strong enough to make you cold - but just enough to disperse the midges.

There were a few clues that we were rather lucky. Firstly, the postcards all showed beautiful views topped with angry, dark clouds, leading me to suspect that a good day on Skye is high cloud. The other was that sunscreen was incredibly difficult to come by. It clearly isn't in high demand in this neck of the woods.

We were booked to stay on a farm just outside Plockton. The decor could best be described as 'cow and collie'. Particular attention was paid to the display of the photographs of the bulls over the years, one of which watched over the toilet. Inspirational!

Our hosts were real characters. We were treated to their tales of farming, courting in the highlands, gossip from the village and their deep suspicion of anyone from 'the south'. And the breakfasts were fantastic.

But the best part was the view from our room...

That's Skye in the distance. Tomorrow, more of our explorations on the island...

Thursday, 14 June 2007

It's Nairobi!

That's right! In September we'll be moving to Nairobi, Kenya.

I've told a few friends offline and the responses have been varied. There are those whose eyes gleam in anticipation of safari trips. And there are those whose voices rise a notch and who ask tentatively how I feel about the move. The number in the latter camp has increased dramatically since the bomb blast in downtown Nairobi on Tuesday.

So how do I feel about the impending move back to Africa (but not the part I know)? On the whole, I am really happy about it. I have always wanted to explore East Africa and now I'll have my chance. Nairobi is home to good schools, game parks and an outdoor lifestyle in which, I am sure, Bambi will thrive. The weather will undoubtedly be better. And I can hang up my toilet brush - we'll have staff.

On the other hand, I am realising just how cushioned from risk I have been over the past two years. The UK is a far more controlled society than any I have encountered in Africa. This can be frustrating but does make it a relatively safe place to live.

I grew up In Cape Town in the 70s and 80s. During that time we had numerous bomb scares, incidents of politically motivated violence and high crime rates. Being cautious and sensible was simply a way of life and we got on with it. I anticipate this is how we'll be in Kenya.

And, once again, we will be faced with the stark contrast between the comfortable expat lifestyle we will lead and the desperate poverty in Africa. It has become too easy to push these issues to the back of my mind while living in such a wealthy society. I hope to be able to actually do something while we are there.

So there you have it.

PS. I will write about our amazing trip to Skye soon. With pictures. Sorry for the delay - I've been a bit distracted!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

A final clue

So far we've had only one real taker on the 'where am I going?' game.

In an effort to ensure webwide success on this question, I offer this picture.

I rank the beastie in the foreground as a pretty big clue....

Alas, this city has also been in the news of late.

Tomorrow, I tell all.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Weekend away

We're taking Granny to the Highlands this weekend. Hopefully, by the time we get back on Wednesday, I'll be able to reveal all about the move.

As a taster though, the picture shows the skyline of the city we will more than likely be moving to. Guesses anyone?

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Globe toddler

Bambi was born in Cape Town. At six weeks we took her to Zambia and at ten months we moved her to Scotland. For the first year and a bit of her life, those first six weeks represented the longest period of time during which she hadn't flown somewhere. She flew to the bush. She visited South Africa a few times. She's also been to Victoria Falls. The more I think about it, the more I realise that I have tended to treat my daughter a bit like a laptop.

Perhaps it's because of this early start, but she travels really well. Of particular entertainment value is her early interest in languages. You see, Bambi may have only walked at 15 months, but she's been talking since 11 months. She's just never been worried about giving words a go. So when the hotel concierge in Paris said, 'Bonjour!' to my wee 14 month old princess as she crawled behind the reception desk, she shot back a 'Bonjour!' all of her own. And we got the best service imaginable for the rest of our stay.

In South Africa she leaves most homes with a breezy 'Totsiens!' and greets anyone with a tan with 'Molo!'. As there are actually 11 official languages in South Africa she's not always on the money, but her efforts raise a smile anyway.

I do sometimes question our decision to live a nomadic life and, in the rundown to a move, I do worry about the effect this could have on Bambi. It was, after all, our choice, not hers. She has friends here - in fact she definitely has a best friend here. One whose absence will be noticed and whose presence will be missed. I keep in touch with my friends and I hope to teach her to do the same but it is a difficult one to explain to one so young.

I just hope that her budding interest in different cultures and languages makes it as worthwhile for her as it is for her parents. I hope that she doesn't hate us one day for not having given her a geographic base from an early age. On the whole she seems pretty happy with her lot in life. But teenagers can be decidedly odd - you just don't know what to expect. I fear the hormones, and the ammunition I may have given them!

For those who read between lines, yes, our big news is that we will be moving in the next few months. The details of the destination have yet to be ironed out. But here's a clue. We're probably going somewhere we've never lived before, but I anticipate living there as much as if I were going home...

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Scary things

The night before Easter, my normally confident little Bambi announced that she was 'a bit scared' of the Easter Bunny. It transpired that she had seen two people in bunny outfits handing out eggs and (do give a child credit here) thought something was amiss. As tempted as I was by the thought of a sugar-free Easter, I felt that some Easter eggs should make it into the fray (not the least for me!) and began negotiations.

She was not buying the story about the human sized bunnies being fake - this was clearly what differentiated the Easter Bunny from normal bunnies. Extra height and reticulated thumbs are quite obviously what gives him his supercharged chocolate producing powers. Eventually we promised to not let him into our house. But, if it rained, he was allowed to leave any offerings inside the storm door. One should always take care not to let one's chocolate offerings get soggy, you understand.

Then, several weeks later, she announced that she was scared of Barney. This made more sense. A large, purple dinosaur would freak me out too if I hadn't made the whole person inside connection. Don't let those catchy tunes fool ya!

But then, when I asked her what she thought Barney was going to do to her if she met him, she told me that he would tickle her. Exuberant tickling by a large purple dinosaur....hmmmm. Okay, fair enough. Again we decided that, should Barney ever visit our street we would simply not let him into our house and take cover in the pantry.

Today I took Bambi and Granny to see The Wiggles - Live in Concert at the Royal Concert Hall. Her first foray into live theatre was in the form of four loudly dressed Australian men. I'm still not too sure how I feel about this. I had imagined something more highbrow. Carmen for Kids, or The Nutcracker perhaps. At least Dan Zanes. But then he didn't make it to Glasgow.
Anyway, before spending a fair whack on tickets I asked her if she was scared of The Wiggles.
'No Mummy. They're men. Like Daddy.'
Just wait till the Good Man hears that he's a hip-wiggling, primary colour-wearing, Aussie accented singer of itty ditties. At least in the eyes of his daughter.

Monday, 4 June 2007

What nonsense!

I know that there are plenty of newspapers and magazines that make their bread and butter from sensational headlines. For many, that the headline may be misleading is incidental at best, if it is able to generate sales en route to the recycling bin.

Before yesterday, I would have put The Times into the other category - those who report more responsibly with usually thoughtful commentary on politics and opinion.

Front page of the Sunday Times (Scotland) carried the headline: Scots NHS and 462,000 'avoidable deaths'. The article, by Mark Macaskill, states: The deaths have been blamed on a series of failings, including GPs not recognising symptoms early enough, unacceptable delays for hospital treatment, poor access to drugs and botched operations.

The term used for 'botched operations', incidentally, is 'misadventures during surgery' which does conjure up images of the cast of Grey's Anatomy in pith helmets. But moving on...

Shock! Horror! Nearly half a million people dying for going to the doctor! However, the rest of the article actually reveals the following:
The figure represents a period of 30 years during which time millions upon millions of people would have been treated. In fact, the avoidable death rate for men is 176 for every 100,000 which translates to just 0.17%. For women it's lower, at 123 per 100,000 (0.12%). Figures are shown to be lower in Austria (129 per 100,000) and Italy (100per 100,000) but given the minute figures we're talking about when we get away from that ridiculous headline, I wonder the extent to which they're even statistically significant.

The author of the report, Dr Colin Fischbacher, is also quoted as saying, better treatment could have saved the lives of almost all the patients who died. Considering that many died of cancers and heart disease, both of which can be unpredictable, I find this quite a sweeping statement.

Then, on page 13 is a further diatribe. In an article titled 'The Killing Wards' and illustrated by a picture of a ward with each bed playing host to a coffin (nothing overly dramatic here!), Mr Macaskill reveals that, while undoubtedly the figures for Scotland are higher than other European countries, they have improved significantly over the last 20 years. Of course, this is couched in several column inches of doom and gloom so you really have to look for it. That will happen with good news.

The chief executive of the Patient's Association is quoted as saying:

It's getting to the stage where people are going to be scared of going to hospital. The NHS is supposed to be a wonderful thing but this study makes a mockery of that.

Really? The NHS is a wonderful thing. I reckon a 0.17% chance of something going wrong when you go to hospital is pretty good odds. And, that these figures are improving is impressive to me. Ultimately healthcare professionals are human and human error is always going to be a factor.

Don't get me wrong, if one of my loved ones was the victim of a 'misadventure' I would sue the suckers for all I could - and still be completely gutted. But we are not talking about a crisis here. We are talking about a very small chance of things going wrong when people require medical treatment. I'm actually surprised it's as low as it is.

Even Dr House, with the benefit of a squad of scriptwriters and Hollywood advisers gets it wrong occasionally. Probably somewhere around 0.17% of the time.

Rant over!