In the back seat

I was going to write some more about rugby and how the rugby authorities in SA are already well into their task of destroying the good work of the team on the pitch, but it’s getting rather monotonous now.
No. It’s not sour grapes. It’s not even a lack of interest or understanding. It’s simply the way that rugby has permeated everything in this country over the last two months. It’s even permeated this blog.
And I don’t even like rugby.
And while I can completely understand this obsession (although not from me), it’s actually becoming a little tiresome now. So, like Bok coach Jake White – let’s move on now. Although preferably not to Australia. There’s rugby and Australians there. Where’s the fun in that?

A couple of months back, I wrote about the negative stories about South Africa that ended up on the front page of the BBC News website. Last week there was another. But I’m not sure whether this one opens the country up to criticism so much as widespread ridicule.

Cattle rustlers in South Africa’s eastern KwaZulu-Natal province
have been trying to outwit police by transporting the animals in small cars.
Police say they seized two cows and two goats found squashed into the back of a tiny Fiat Uno.

Full story here. In actual fact, squashing several fat, dumb animals into the back of a small car isn’t a purely South African thing. Anyone who has seen the minicab rank in Newcastle’s Bigg Market on a Saturday night will happily back me up on that one. But they’re obviously experts at it in this country – who can forget this pic of 4 burly security guards being transported around in the back of – yes – a Fiat Uno?

Tight Fit
Bit of a squeeze.That photo, along with several others, is available via the my flickr link in the sidebar, by the way.

But it’s the reasoning behind these criminals’ behaviour that I want to understand. Picture the scene. A rural road somewhere in eastern KZN. Two policemen have stopped their car at the side of the road for a well-earned cup of coffee.

A car drives past. Nothing.
A small truck drives past. An eyelid is batted, but no more.
A Fiat Uno drives past, engine screaming, rear axle on the floor, sparks coming off the back bumper because of the 750kg of stolen livestock in the boot.

Cue the sirens.

Stuff and Nonsense

Every so often, when there’s nothing big to write about* – crime, politics, rugby, antelopes etc. – every blog has to have a bit of a catch-up post. This is mine.
I generally try to avoid catch-up posts if I can. I prefer my posts to be discrete – that is “separate and individual; not reliant on any other”, rather than discreet – “showing prudence and circumspection; modestly unobtrusive; unostentatious”. If this blog ever becomes discreet, please let me know. I’ll stop.

Anyway, before the stuff – the nonsense: Delboy‘s comment from my last post.

Come on 6K. Have you already forgotten what happened 4 years ago in London? Or, as we are STILL so often reminded, in 1966?… [some more guff about England in 2003]… [some stuff about sour grapes]… (And it DEFINITELY wasn’t a try. And even if it was, you still would have lost by at least 2 points.) Blah.

In writing this, Delboy has demonstrated a level of selective vision I have only seen previously in last night’s bent referee in our game against the brothel-owning Bulgarians**.
He’s also missed the point of this blog. Anyone can write a piece gushing over the SA rugby team’s achievements, describing the match that everyone here watched anyway and metaphorically fellating Schalk Burger through their passage (of words). And everyone has. I like to look for a different angle – because I’m not swept up in all this rugger madness.
And now things are settling down again – lookie here! – political interference in SA sport is the big news.
Me? Been there. Done that. Bought the t-shirt and sold it on eBay.
And no. It wasn’t a try. I said that too.
Delboy also revealed that his bun-in-the-oven is a little girl. Which is cool. Congrats, mate.

OK, I don’t know how I’ve managed to keep this in for a paragraph and a half already.
Muse are coming to South Africa. Let me repeat that, Seth Rotherham style. Muse are coming to South Africa. Probably one of just two bands that I have wanted to see for ages and haven’t yet managed to get to.
Tickets out tomorrow for the gig (just down the road from us) next March. The only worry about this is that Guns’n’Roses, the much-anticipated (although not by me) headline act for this year’s My Cokefest chickened out at the last minute, citing stair falling bass players and stuff. Surely no repeat though.
But what a refreshing change from the usual rubbish that we get to see down here. Did I mention that Gladys Knight is doing the rounds right now? Awesome.
And this (Muse, not Gladys) is only the first bit of good news. Yes – Ben Trovato has a new book out. Just in time for Christmas, coincidentally. Amazing how these things happen, isn’t it?
Ben and I share views on many things (I think he looks up to me as a father figure in many ways), most recently, the reaction to the RWC. Which wouldn’t please Delboy much.

Unite the nation, my flabby white butt. It’ll take more than 15 green men to pull that off.
They carried the hopes of the country on their shoulders. That’s what the lying dogs in the media told us. That our dreams rested on a couple of white boys kicking a ball between two sticks.
Oh, good. No more lying, cheating, stealing, raping and pillaging. We are one big, happy family full of … HEY! Get away from my car! Put that down, you thieving bastard!

Great minds, hey?

*Or even when there is.
**Another story (obviously).

Back to life, back to reality…

It’s over. And South Africa won it. Which is great news for all concerned. Well, all concerned with South Africa, anyway. National pride is swelling, flags are being flown and… and… well look, that’s actually about it, but that’s just fine. Now – can we get back to normality, please?

It’s true. The last couple of weeks have just been odd. Everything else has taken second (or even third or fourth) place to rugby stories. It would have been a very good time to do a Jo Moore and hide your dirty laundry in the depths of the SABC bulletins.
In fact, thinking about it, maybe they have and we haven’t noticed yet.
I think that would be unlikely though. Even the spin doctors were probably more focused on events in France than lying about their respective parties political achievements.

But who needs spin doctors anyway with photos like this?

Up he goes
Thabo: Had a great game

For one such as myself, craving a return to reality – or what passes for reality in this country, anyway – it was almost a relief to see that the Springbok victory was being used for political purposes. It just wouldn’t be right otherwise. Check out that pic of Thabo – that’s mighty political currency right there.
Could you see Gordon Brown being hoisted aloft if England had won it? No. Despite the obvious weight issue, he’s Scottish anyway and no, he’s not “the President of England” as the local commentary here repeatedly described him. That almost suggests that he is some sort of despot who simply slipped into power without being elected, which is obviously incorr… well, never mind…
The SA Minister of Sport, Makhenkesi Stofile, has also not been backward in coming forward after the win in Paris. His argument?

If South Africa can win the RWC so easily with a largely white squad, perhaps they’ll struggle more if we pick the team based on colour rather than ability.
This will obviously be good for national morale.

OK, I’m paraphrasing him, but it looks like the quota system is rearing its ugly head once again. Politics and sport, hey? A heady mix. As The Telegraph’s Brendan Gallagher points out, it tarnishes the victory, the celebrations and – once again – the image of the country.
I’m not sure I ever bought the “unifying power of a shared positive experience” theory anyway. Yes, the people welcoming the team back this morning at OR Tambo were all happy, cheering and smiling, but they were probably going back to decent housing with water, electricity and an inside toilet or six.

¬†Anyone imagining that Percy Montgomery’s boot and a helpful (but apparently correct – just!) decision by the TMO on Saturday evening will solve all South Africa’s problems is living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Or “The Presidential Residence”, as it is locally known.

The expat on the experts…

It being the day after the weekend before and this being an English guy living in South Africa’s blog, it’s not like I can get away without mentioning the rugby. Yes, after a dramatic weekend, England will play South Africa in the RWC final next Saturday. It’s big news here. Really big. It’s also got me a bit confused after that quote from Jake White, SA coach last Monday:

frontsm
Cape Argus, Monday 8th October

I’m not sure England will agree to his demands. Really. Why should he get to choose anyway?
But in fact, most of South Africa thinks that they’ve already won the damn thing. And why not? After all, they comprehensively beat England in the group stages. Not that previous results apparently count for a lot, as France beat England twice just weeks before the tournament, but er… didn’t in the semi-final.In fact, if you listened to the pundits, England’s World Cup was over almost before it began.
After struggling past the USA and then losing to South Africa, you could have been forgiven for imagining that England were already out.
Finishing second in their group, claimed the experts – if they even managed to get past Samoa and Tonga – would only result in a quarter final defeat against Australia. It was a lost cause anyway.
To cut a long story short, England beat Samoa and Tonga, finished second in their group and then also beat Australia.
Oops. The back-tracking rugby gurus hastily re-revised their positions. England would instead crash out against the New Zealand All Blacks in the semi finals. All good – except of course that New Zealand didn’t even make the semis – France beat them to claim that spot.
But we must have misheard – because France would obviously beat England in the Saturday semi final – believe it, because it’s true – even Jake said so. It was in the Cape Argus. But – as history now shows – they didn’t.

In actual fact, I don’t claim to be an expert in rugby. It’s a silly game.
However, I’ve lost my shirt by incorrectly predicting football matches often enough – I now know better than to stick my rooinek out.
And although I will be cheering for England on Saturday, I have the best of both worlds: If England win, I’m delighted – home country and all that; and if the Boks win, I’m still pretty happy – home country and all that. And yes, I will join in the party.
I’m often amazed that I encounter a fair amount of hostility for supporting England while living here. It’s not like South Africans in London give up supporting the Boks just cos they live in the UK. And Putney’s got more Saffas than Durban.
No, there is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England – and it just so happens to be in my back garden in Cape Town. Right next to the birdbath.

My only hope is that it’s a decent game, despite all that’s at stake. And that relies on Jake White admitting that he was completely wrong in his “expert” prediction and not trying to stick to his guns and targeting French icon Sebastien Chabal for special treatment.
He’ll be watching the final at home with his girlfriend, Mimi. Or something.
The last thing they want is Schalk Burger mistakenly crashing through the kitchen door and knocking over the bowl of snails on the coffee table.

That’s the last thing anyone wants, right?

Health (it needs some money)…

Ah. The Department of Health. The government department that everyone loves to hate. Well, that and the Department of Home Affairs, of course. Actually, I daresay that there are a few others too. But recently, the DoH has been taking a fair old beating. And the majority of it is entirely justified. Dirty wards, staff shortages, poor pay for nurses, a lack of qualified doctors – the list is seemingly endless. Perhaps it’s at this point that I should point out that although I’m referring to the South African Department of Health, I could equally be describing the situation back in old Blighty. Having worked in both, I can say that in many respects the similarities are striking. The underfunding, lack of equipment and the shortages of staff are obvious and alarming in both countries, albeit on different scales. Here in SA, there has (rightfully) been outcry over the fact that newly born babies were placed in cardboard boxes. It sounds terrible – it is terrible and unacceptable. But reading Georgina Guedes’ column, one can see the good in the people that work in these conditions; a staff, under pressure, underfunded, underpaid, yet still doing their best to make patients – be they mothers or neonates – comfortable and safe, despite the lack of support they face. Making the best out of a very bad job.

I looked closely at those babies and I could see that they were clean, clothed and covered with warm blankets, and so I wasn’t too concerned about their wellbeing.

For me, it’s a reminder of my time in the NHS in the UK. Hospital workers doing their best for the patients in difficult conditions. Unpaid overtime, long hours, extra duties due to a lack of qualified staff; low wages, low morale, high staff turnover etc etc. But there was a willingness to serve the patients, wherever you looked – almost a Blitz spirit. But staff goodwill can only go so far. Eventually, the system passes breaking point, shortcuts are taken and mistakes happen. And patients die. 90 of them in this Clostridium difficle “superbug” outbreak in Kent. The interview with the son of one of the victims, Ranjit Gosal, describes the situation in the wards, and the difficulties he came up against when trying to get help for his dying mother. It’s tragic. And the NHS baby units are in no better state. We’re not down to cardboard boxes in the UK just yet, but the parallels are there for all to see. The answer? More money – but more better managed money. But it’s ok – I’m no fool. I have heard these calls in the UK for many years and nothing has been done to redress the balance of years of underfunding. The same goes for SA. And so, the respective Departments of Health stagger from one disaster to another, each time claiming that “lessons have been learned”. Sorry – I just don’t see the evidence of that.