Sunday, 29 April 2007

The Rich Twist

We have a few rules in our good home. One of the more sacred is that Mum Does Not Do Mornings. For six days of the week, the Good Man gets up at 7am and takes the wee 'un downstairs for her breakfast. Unfair, you say? Well, we've calculated that it is exactly six times harder for me to get out of bed so, actually, it's a mathematical solution.

However, on Sundays, the rules are reversed and I do the morning run. The wee 'un and I have our own traditions. We eat our oats and then throw on our coats for a bracing stroll to the corner shop for the Sunday Times. We both love this newspaper. It's the only one with enough colourful inserts to allow the wee 'un her own pile of paper to 'read'. She spends her morning creating fabulous stories from the pictures in the magazines, and I mainline coffee until the articles in the main section start to come into focus.

Today's edition included an insert on the Rich List - the 1000 wealthiest people in Britain and Ireland. To make the grade you have to hold a fortune of at least £70 million. It is also sorted into subcategories - young stinking wealthy Brits, loaded lasses, Scottish, Irish, Welsh etc. But my favourite sub-category is the 'Billion pound giveaway', because, as any child of Africa will tell you, no one needs £70 million pounds. And there are some really generous kazillionaires out there donating large chunks of their amassed wealth to a variety of causes throughout the world.

Then the good man emerged from his Sunday snooze. His approach to this insert was different. He handed it directly to the wee 'un with the instruction to look for inspiration. Or a husband.

As long as she shares I will not complain.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

The sun is shining, the weather's not hot

After months of hibernation, the sun shone today. So we did what the rest of Glasgow did and went for a picnic in Calderglen park. As we shook out the blanket and unpacked our al fresco fare, the wind started to come up. Things went a little pear-shaped from there.

Picnics in the wind are a bit like sex on a beach - a lovely idea but more than just a little uncomfortable. Especially as Scotland has a year-round wind chill factor capable of turning even the slightest breeze into an arctic gale. In addition, and this you must have noticed, wind only ever blows the things you need away from you, while blowing things you don't want straight up your nose. Never have I found a breeze that could slide over the sandwiches, pass the pineapple or nudge over the noodles. Rather they send us charging after packets, cartons and children's toys, requiring us to lift rear from blanket. The blanket then takes off like a kite primed to strike you in the face as you turn back to face your point of departure.

So there I was, trying to persuade the wee 'un to scoff down her sandwiches so that we could go to see the chameleons in the indoor tropical garden (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) when it struck me. I was the only one there still wrapped up in my winter coat. Far from noticing the bracing breeze, the Scots were slapping on the sunscreen and removing layers of clothing.

I have a theory. As soon as Scottish children are old enough to walk they are marched to the nearest loch wearing only wellies and a t-shirt and, armed with a bucket and spade, instructed to find the monster. In the process they slowly turn blue and develop a case of lifelong low level hypothermia making any temperature over 4 degrees celsius feel positively balmy. I think they have actually lost the capacity to feel temperature, so they only have the visuals to go on. It looks sunny. It's hot.

But it's not. I promise!

Friday, 27 April 2007


Today is South African Freedom Day. God Bless Africa indeed! It marks the start of a long weekend for most South Africans who will return to work on Wednesday, after Worker's Day. But isn't that how all weekends work? - starting with a promise of freedom and ending with a certainty of work...

Anyway, happy Freedom Day. Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika!

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Potted Scottish Politics

Next week Scotland goes to the polls and I have a sad confession to make. I have not registered to vote. I know, I know. I come from a country where, in my lifetime, blood was spilt for this most basic right. I have always criticised voter apathy in first world countries and yet, here I am... well... apathetic.

I think it has something to do with not having a particularly clear view on how I would vote if I had registered. The major political issue in this election seems to be around Scottish independence, which requires a bit of a history lesson.

Many years ago Scotland was independent. In 1707, the Act of the Union formally brought Scotland into union with England but was not popular with the vast majority of Scots, who had been painting their faces blue and fighting like heck to prevent this from happening for quite some time. The Act was largely pushed through by wealthy landowners who needed to ensure their businesses were propped up by exports to England.

The inital thinking was that the Scottish would be made English but the descendants of William Wallace were not going to relinquish the right to wear tartan skirts , play bagpipes and consume haggis without a fight. This made more sense to me before I lived here and discovered the following:

  • Scottish men only wear kilts on special occassions, like at ceremonies. At these functions they often sit on stages with their legs spread in international manly posture, thereby destroying the mystery of what lies under the sporran. It's scary, very scary.
  • Well played bagpipes are an uplifting and wonderful thing. Most bagpipes, however, are played badly and make a long, high-pitched farting sound at the end of each musical attempt.
  • Haggis tastes, well, like haggis, which is to say like a bunch of innards mixed with oats.
Anyway, Scottish tradition and pride is a powerful thing and in 1997 a poll in Scotland revealed that 63% of voters still believed themselves to be either totally Scottish or more Scottish than British. 290 years was clearly not sufficient water through the lochs to convince the Scots that they couldn't do it all better themselves. So, in that same year they voted overwhelmingly in favour of devolution.

This was a smart move. The terms were fantastic. They would have their own parliament, which would determine policy on a wide range of issues and have a vote in English matters through representation in the English parliament. Of course, the English would have no representation in the Scottish parliament and would subsidise Scottish services to boot. So Scotland became overrepresented and overfunded. Sweet!

But here begins the problem for me as an outside observer with the potential to vote. I really like Scotland and the Scots and honestly think they're onto a good wicket with things as they are. But to keep the status quo for Scotland one would have to vote for Labour who have recently taken to supporting the American policy of world politics by force. This has not been popular with many Brits and, throughout the UK, Labour's popularity has dropped. So what are the alternatives?

Well, leading in the polls is the Scottish National Party (SNP) whose big manifesto target is Scottish independence. So that would be a vote for normal representaion and underfunding.

Then there's the Liberal Democrats who are for 'safer streets, local healthcare and the environment'. Frankly, I have no beef with my streets or my healthcare but I do have an environmental issue - the amount of glossy junk mail I've received from the Lib Dem's. At least the Green's print on recycled paper.

And show me an English speaking white middle class South African who went to UCT in the 90s who could put a cross next to the words 'Conservative Party'.

Then, dangling at the bottom of the party political food chain, come the plethora of other alternatives, all making big promises based on little experience and no backing.

So, thanks for giving me a vote, but no thanks. I'll stay home on the 3rd of May and hope that this little corner of Scotland stays just the way it is.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

A Good bet

I heard a news article this morning which I just loved. Ten years ago this ninety year old man, Alec someoneorother, placed a £10 bet with William Hill that he would live to be 100. They gave him odds of 250:1 and sent him on his way. Well, today is is 100th birthday and William Hill owe him £2500. Nice wee birthday pressie, isn't it?

The story is just fantastic on so many levels. Can you imagine being a fly on the wall ten years ago when they decided the odds. 'Well, Alec. The actuaries all agree, you're in all likelihood going to pop your clogs long before 2007 so we'll give you 250:1'. Or did Alec actually try to push the odds up, coughing and spluttering through the exchange knowing full well that he'd only eat low-fat, sugar-free food and walk around the block every day for the next ten years.

The genius of the bet however is in the win-win for Alec. What would he have cared if he'd lost!?

Monday, 23 April 2007

Things to do in Glasgow when it rains

It's raining again. It started on Friday and hasn't really stopped since. With every mizzy little drop I curse the weather gods who have (and this is truly painful) chosen just this moment to shine on Cape Town.

'We've got the most gorgeous sunshine here at the moment' exclaimed the Good Grandmother on Saturday. The Good Brother informs me that his family spent the weekend playing action golf and braaiing at Silvermine. Well fantastic! Jolly happy for you I am!

We stayed in, mainly, with a brief escape to the local deli for lunch and a spirited excursion to a soft play area to give the wee 'un a run around. And watched the London Marathon on TV on Sunday. Which was in London. Where the sun was bloody shining.

But enough moaning. If there's one thing the Scots know how to do its keep themselves entertained while its raining. Observation leads me to believe that some of the more popular activities include getting completely po-eyed at one of the (very) many pubs, playing bingo and spending vast amounts in shopping malls (which often contain bingo halls and pubs). But here are three of my favourite things to do in Glasgow when it rains:

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum Recently renovated and absolutely magnificent. The collections and displays are really impressive but its the building itself that gets me going. I just feel so small every time I visit. And the wee 'un loves it. Not just for the dinosaurs, elephant and giraffe. No, not even for the interactive shoe museum where she can gleefully try on shoes for hours on end. But mainly for the grand flight of stairs where she can descend like a princess, wave to her adoring fans and talk to the imaginary friends floating above her head.

House for an Art Lover Before moving here I never realised the depth of art and design heritage in Glasgow. I always thought of Glasgow as Edinburgh's less glamorous dockyard mate who swore a lot and wore loud clothes. Yes, I had probably watched a bit too much Billy Connelly but we digress. Presiding over Glaswegian design history is the figure of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. He did a bit of everything - architecture, furniture design, interior design and at House for an Art Lover it all comes together. It was built in the early 1990s, over 60 years after his death and is based on his entry to a German design competition. This is its brilliance. It feels no constraints of tight budgets and planning regulations. It is what it was designed to be - a house for an art lover.

Glasgow Science Centre I'm a sucker for a good interactive science spot - a fact I've discovered since visiting silverfish shaped dome on the banks of the Clyde. Even the wee 'un got to enjoy the echo tunnel and wind tunnel, the illusions in the Alice through the Looking Glass display (now closed) and the magnetic experiments. She didn't have a clue what it was all about mind you but who can resist a ping pong ball that floats on air?

Of course, the sad thing is that I'm thinking about these things now. On Monday.

Friday, 20 April 2007

The Good Man Returns

Well, the good man has just returned from a week away on business. This happens quite often (his being away on business, which, by extention, means his return as well, but, oh hell, you know what I mean!). As he really is a good man, this involves gifts.

The wee 'un was quite clear. She wanted something red for her tummy. This arrived in the form of a red box of teddy shaped chocolates. She is delighted and so she should be. They're a swanky Belgian make to which she is fast becoming quite accustomed.

For me things get a bit more complicated. A lot of his travel is pretty boring and involves little more than shuttling between hotel room and office. For those trips I'm not to fazed if all I get is a peck on the cheek. On the whole I'd choose chasing a two year old around town over the hotel grind. What can I say? I like home cooking! But when he goes somewhere really interesting I expect big rewards for staying behind to toddler wrangle.

This week he was in Beirut. Yes, that Beirut. After checking his life insurance, I went online to reassure myself that he was not destined to come home in a box. What a surprise! It looks fascinating. Rich in history, fantastic architecture, fabulous location and apparently quite safe again. What an amazing rejuvenation. So the Clarins counter at duty free did quite well out of him.

Frustratingly, this kind of rejuvenation does not seem to happen in Africa. I really can't think of one African example of post conflict rapid recovery. Zimbabwe was often sited as a success story. During the mid eighties and early nineties, following years of bush war, it was really on the up - strong growth and one of the few African countries developing a strong middle class. Recent history has put paid to that.

I suppose Lebanon had a strong base to work from - a history of success in banking and tourism and strong trading ties to wealthy middle eastern countries willing to pay richly for the skills Lebanon could provide. In Africa skills are still largely imported, often on a short term basis. And, quite often, they're exported too. I shudder to think how many of my school friends left after receiving a top draw tertiary education, albeit one they paid for.

It really is a conundrum. Salaries in Africa are frighteningly low across the board. Unskilled labour is paid pennies and skilled labour is paid a fraction of their counterparts in developed countries. What would you do if you had the means to earn so much more elsewhere? So simply providing education isn't enough. Anyone out there got any answers?

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Extreme-ly beautiful Scotland

I've just reread my previous posts and noticed that they both seem a bit whiney and pitiful. Actually, I'm not sad at all. Insecure, uncertain, a bit stressed. But not sad. It would be nice to know where I'll be living in 6 months time. But not essential. Glasgow's not so bad.

Take this last weekend for example. We went to the Trossachs. Beautiful lochs, lovely hills, gorgeous forests. The wee 'un had a fine time splashing about in her wellies and crawling over ruins, safe since the 1200s. And the previous weekend we were in Pitlochry in Perthshire. It reminded me a bit of Victoria Falls - except there were no falls (and least none on THAT scale). And it was considerably colder. And all the people were white. Okay, so not so very like Vic Falls after all. But it does have a few adventure centres where you can go white water rafting, abseiling and a few other 'extreme' activities. - which you get at Vic falls too.

I'm not too sure how this 'extreme' trade works here. In southern Africa things can be pretty gung-ho. When I went rafting the Batoka Gorges we were given a briefing, a short how-to intro and then pretty much told not to drown as we threw ourselves out of the raft on the first rapid. I managed to get myself pinned under the raft (very scary). 'Oh! I forgot to mention. Just let the raft slide over you and grab the rope on the side as it goes past.' added the guide as I regurgitated a few litres of the Zambezi. Yes. Helpful.

When we paddled down the Orange River we were allocated canoes and told to go down river feet first if we fell out. Advice on the Breede River included the gem, 'If you see a snake in the water don't try to touch it or hit it with anything.' No problem there.

But here everything is governed by health and safety. So how does that work. Are extreme sports subject to rigorous checks and balances. Not very extreme. I suppose its a bit like rollercoasters. A bit of a thrill but really quite safe. Except for one other thing I've noticed since being here. Not all that many people can swim.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Planet Glasgow

You would think that, having grown up in Cape Town - a developed city (although not without its social issues) - Glasgow would be an easier transition than Lusaka. But that really hasn't been the case. It all looks vaguely 'right'. The roads are generally well surfaced and the shops are well stocked (not to be taken for granted after Zambia) but there seems to be a social code that I don't quite understand. Glaswegians are friendly right enough. And the sense of humour is fantastic (Billy Connolly is only unique in that he is famous!). But people don't just drop by. And families don't mingle with other families on the weekend. And the children all know how to play indoors...

Then there's the languge barrier. Catherine Tate did a great skit with David Tennant for Comic Relief where she questioned his authority as an English teacher given that he 'spoke Scottish'. Now there's nothing wrong with Mr Tennant's Scottish. His is of the genteel, clear, don't-we-all-wish-Dr-Who-was-Scottish type of Scottish. But there is another type that comes at you like rapid fire and leaves you taking cover as you wonder whether your mother has just been insulted or whether you're simply in the wrong queue. At these moments I am certain the tardis has landed on Planet Glasgow.

But the thing I find the most unsettling is that people don't say what they mean. There's a niceness that flies in the face of honesty. People seem to avoid confrontation with zeal! But they'll complain vigorously amongst themselves. So I never quite know where I stand. Are people really being nice to me or are they just afraid I'll fight back if they tell me I'm breaking the social laws. I suspect this may have something to do with the soft focus pocket of southside Glasgow where we live. If the newspapers are anything to go by, brutal honesty can be found elsewhere in this city.

Here we go again

Well, we left home (Cape Town) in 2002. I drove to Zambia with our dog who was ill at the time. Somehow driving 3000kms through Africa made more sense than putting her on an aeroplane with a heart condition.

We spent three fantastic years there. Travelling to the bush, living the expat dream. Okay, so there were moments of challenge - heat, dust, putse flies, malaria. But our daughter was born there so, all in all, a good time.

And then we moved to Glasgow. Since we've been here my father has passed away, my father-in-law has had a heart attack and we've been cold. Very cold.

And now, as the sun emerges and the weather begins to warm, with promises of lochs to be swum; as islands with romantic names like Skye and Iona beg to be explored, we are preparing to move on again. Such is the life of the nomad.

I'm not sure how long we'll still be in Scotland - could be three months or six. But it's unlikely we'll have another summer here. Please share this one with me.