Learning the hard way

“Ooh!” “Ha ha!” “ROOOOOOOOOAR!”

It’s been a “fun” morning.
You know – “fun”? Like going to a local shopping mall with hopelessly inadequate parking 12 days before christmas. “Fun”. 
Yet, desperate to get into the festive spirit, despite the temperature outside being in excess of 30°C, we had headed out in search of a christmas tree. We chose to go artificial this year. Not ideal, but when you consider the utterly appalling range of twigs and mangled branches which claim to be the genuine article, together with their propensity to shed razor sharp needles all over the floor after being in one’s house for more than an hour, not really a tough decision.
Better then to go with the neatly boxed plastic version with integral fairy lights and needle-free-carpet guarantee.

“Ooh!” “Ha ha!” “ROOOOOOOOOAR!”

Game at the Kenilworth Centre was suitably over-priced, under-stocked and chock full of clueless employees being unhelpful and impolite customers binging their 0.5% interest rate reduction away. Thanks for that, Tito
While the season and the weather here may be rather different from back home, it’s nice to recognise some of the christmas traditions have made it safely over. We went for the 6′ (180cm) version – anything else just looks foolishly small – threw it in the trolley with a bit of tinsel and some baby food and set off on the 3 mile trek back to the car, which was parked 3 miles away.

 “Ooh!” “Ha ha!” “ROOOOOOOOOAR!”

Feeling slightly weak after the ordeal of fighting our way through a billion (apparently blind) shoppers and inhaling lungfulls of car fumes during the return expedition through the parking lot, the wife suggested a stop at the McDonald’s across the road for suitable sustenance. Namely a chocolate milkshake for her, a really unhealthy burger for me, a Happy Meal for the boy and absolutely bugger all for the baby (we’re still trying to wean her off chicken mcnuggets).
And here, after all those other hard-learnt lessons about fir trees, Kenilworth Centre’s parking problems, foolish times of the year to go shopping and so on, is where I learnt the hardest lesson of all.  
“Ooh!” “Ha ha!” “ROOOOOOOOOAR!”  “Ooh!” “Ha ha!” “ROOOOOOOOOAR!”

McDonald’s Happy Meal toys now make noises. Did they ever do that before?
Sure, some of them moved and stuff, but Alex the Lion from Madagascar 2 – Escape to Africa (I tried it, it’s not too bad, but avoid Jo’burg) goes  “Ooh!” “Ha ha!” “ROOOOOOOOOAR!” every time you shake go within 10 feet of him. My little Alex is delighted that, although his chesseburger wasn’t up to much, his small leonine namesake makes a noise. Repeatedly. An  “Ooh!” “Ha ha!” “ROOOOOOOOOAR!” noise. 

Alex the Boy has gone for his midday nap now. Alex the Lion is still “Ooh!” “Ha ha!” “ROOOOOOOOOAR!”ing despite currently residing at the bottom of the swimming pool. 
Yep, you can say what you like about the Chinese, but when it comes to making annoyingly resilient cheap plastic crap, there’s no-one that comes close.

EDIT: And in reponse to this, these (with more at flickr):

        

Sorry – my mistake

Readers visiting this blog last week may have been alarmed by my reporting of the situation in Zimbabwe – especially that relating to the outbreak of deadly infectious diseases there and the potentially disastrous consequences for that country. However, after hearing the news today, it seems that those remarks were hastily made and ill-informed.

President Robert Mugabe has said Zimbabwe has contained cholera.
In a nationally televised speech, he said: “I am happy to say our doctors are being assisted by others and the WHO [World Health Organization] have now arrested cholera.”
He went on to denounce former colonial power Britain, as well as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US President George W Bush, who both called earlier this week for the 84-year-old to resign: “Because of cholera, Mr Brown, Mr Sarkozy and Mr Bush want military intervention,” Mr Mugabe said.
He added: “Let’s tell them that the cholera cause doesn’t exist any more.” 

I would like to unconditionally apologise for any undue concern that was caused by people reading my blog and believing that our neighbours to the north were in any kind of trouble. I’m left asking myself how I could have got it so very wrong?
As Mr Mugabe has clearly stated, things are obviously completely under control up there and it all seems to have been a bit of a storm in a teacup.
I must add that they really have done a tremendous job in sorting it all out so very quickly and eradicating a disease which threatened literally tens of thousands of vulnerable people, all of whom must be celebrating this evening.
That must be some party.

Well done Mr Mugabe and a hearty pat on the back for you and your wonderful team.  And again – sorry.

A different pace of life

Some better informed or more observant readers will know that I have links with the Isle of Man – the small and extremely beautiful lump of rock in the middle of the Irish Sea. In fact, that little red and white thing in your address bar just up there [points] is not just the symbol of 6000 miles… website, but also the symbol of the island: the three legs of Man.

While I am Sheffield born and bred, I spent a lot of my childhood on the Isle of Man, I have a lot of family there and even more family history. Thus, it’s always good to keep up with what’s happening on “my island”.
Before I continue, perhaps I should explain that while the IoM is now a technologically-progressive, global financial hub, there remains a far slower pace of life over there. If you’ve ever watched Father Ted – think of it as a slightly larger Craggy Island: same wild beauty, same fierce national pride, same bizarre local traditions and characters. After all, this is the place where in February 1990 (yes, nineteen-NINETY!), locals queued up to stare in wonder at the “moving stairs” at the new Strand Shopping Centre in Douglas: the first public escalator on the island. Thus, the IoM is often mocked as being a bit backward – caught in the past – by many in the UK. Well, vive le difference, I say (when I’m in that sort of mood).

Catching up on the the latest goings-on via the BBC website, I was distressed and distraught to learn that the Isle of Man seems to have lost out to Southern Lebanon in possessing the world’s heaviest potato.

The 3.5kg (7lb 13oz) potato was bought by Greens restaurant owner Nigel Kermode in Douglas after it became the official world record holder more than 10 years ago. But on Monday, it emerged that a farmer in southern Lebanon had grown a potato weighing in at 11.3kg (24.9lbs).

Lebanese farmer Khalil Semhat hopes the monster spud from his farm near Tyre, 85km (50 miles) south of Beirut, will take the crown. But according to the Guinness Book of Records, the current record is till held by the Manx potato.

And Mr Kermode said there was still a local interest in the original, more than a decade after it was found: “It’s not on display at the moment. We’ve had it out periodically because, to be honest, it doesn’t look very nice,” he said. “It’s gone all sort of grey and brown and it doesn’t look very appetising.”

Yes. That’s what passses for news on the Isle of Man. A big, 10-year-old, mouldy root vegetable.

I’m heading back there next year for a few weeks of relaxation and I can’t wait. Because life is different there: the rat-race doesn’t exist, the outside world doesn’t matter and no-one really cares how big your potato is.
I’ll leave the closing remarks to Nigel Kermode – because he sums it up so well:

We’re still a world champion – we’ll call it the second biggest potato in the world.

Perfect.

More great publicity for SA

There’s no such thing as bad publicity? Really?

From the front page of the BBC News website: some more negative stories about South Africa.


Negative perceptions

I’m not saying they’re not true stories. Just that I’m fed up of having to dig deeper for the good news, while the bad stuff is repeatedly thrust into my face.

Crossing borders: South Africa hit by Zimbabwe’s cholera crisis 
HIV drug high: South African teenagers smoking anti-retrovirals

Oudtshoorn flashback

Oudtshoorn (roughly pronounced Oats-Horn) is a small town in the Western Cape which claims to be the ostrich capital of the world. And that might not sound like much of a pull, but if you want to do anything to do with ostriches, visit ostrich-related attractions and buy ostrich-related merchandise, Oudtshoorn is your number one destination of choice. It’s a couple of years since I was last there, but I don’t think it will have changed much, based on the fact that when I was there it didn’t appear to have changed much since colonial times.
I got into a spot of bother with my traveling companions on that particular visit, due to a comment I left in the guest book at the excellent Jemima’s restaurant. Having enjoyed all that Oudtshoorn had to offer during the day, I felt compelled to sample the speciality dish – ostrich – for my dinner. Then, perhaps buoyed by a sense of a day completed in fine style, together with some (or more) decent Cabernet Sauvignon, I reached for the visitor’s book on the way out and wrote:

Saw one.
Fed one.
Rode one.
Ate one.

Which, despite being absolutely true, was considered – in stark contrast to dinner – to be in rather poor taste and invoked the spirit of the Derbyshire butcher specialising in game meats who had the display of rabbits hung outside his shop next to the sign:

Watership Down.
You’ve read the book.
You’ve seen the film.
Now eat the cast.

All of which meandering brings me to EatBabe.co.uk and its startlingly similar tagline:

Choose pig.
Name pig.
Visit pig.
Eat pig.

Personally, I think they lose it slightly with the extra syllable on the third line, but it’s still a good effort. And yes, you adopt a piglet, they lovingly care for it, nurture it and feed it; and then slaughter it, chop it all up and deliver it (vacuum packed, nogal) to your door.

A whole pig weighs in at about 40-50kg of meat. This usually works out between £280 and £350, though never more than £380. For this price you get all of the meat back from your pig, butchered, vacuum packed, weighed, labelled and priced ~ just how you would like to find it. In terms of cost, you are paying about £100 more than in a supermarket, the same as in a good butchers, and £160 less than London prices. Any offal you choose to have from your pig is free of charge.

The advantages of this system? You know exactly where your pig came from, where it has been and what it has been eating: “From field to fork, from pasture to plate – tracking your food every step of the way”.

I can already imagine the Oudtshoorn farmers planning the South African equivalent. If only there was some tear-jerking family film about a talking baby ostrich which they could use the name from. 

Perhaps that’s all that’s holding them back.