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.

SA’s HIV policies revisited

Since Thabo Mbeki’s resignation and the big cabinet clearout in honour of my birthday in September (who can even guess what the ANC may get me next year?), we have been blessed with a new Minister of Heath, Barbara Hogan. Babs (as she may or may not be known to her friends) has paradoxically inherited one of the easiest and most difficult jobs on the planet.  
Easiest because there’s absolutely no way she could do a worse job that her predecessor. Like managing England after Steve McClaren; becoming PM after Gordon Brown; presenting You’ve Been Framed after Lisa Riley.
Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was just rotten – perhaps almost as bad as Riley. Indeed, it has since been suggested that her (Manto, not Riley) and Mbeki’s outrageous denial of the link between HIV and AIDS and their subsequent (lack of) policies were responsible for the deaths of 330,000 people between 2000 and 2005. Barbara is going to have to be pretty ropey to even come close to matching that unfortunate legacy.

But on a (far) more serious note, South Africa is facing a massive crisis regarding HIV, exacerbated by those delays in implementing ARV drug rollout and adequate prevention policies since 1999. Hogan must now turn that around. Tomorrow – World AIDS Day – is her first big day and her plans have already been given the boost of £15million from the UK, something that was unthinkable under Mbeki and Manto:

On Monday, World Aids Day, she is to announce a return to the National Aids plan, dropped under Mr Mbeki’s rule, at a stadium event designed to mobilise the nation in the fight against the epidemic. The high-profile media campaign to raise awareness is planned, including persuading famous people to have themselves tested for HIV.

UK International Development minister Ivan Lewis said it was vital that Ms Hogan succeed in overturning myths about HIV/Aids. He said: “For too long, South Africa has been fighting Aids with its hands tied behind its back. Those ties have now been removed and the country has a fantastic opportunity to finally turn the tide in its struggle against this epidemic. Barbara Hogan has set a bold and exciting vision on HIV and Aids and that is why the UK is fully committed to working with her as she embarks on this new approach.”

Further good news in the fight against HIV is the Violari et al paper [PDF] mentioned in that BBC article, suggesting that early HIV diagnosis and implementation of antiretroviral therapy in neonates reduced early infant mortality by 76% and HIV progression by 75%. Startling.
One of the first tests of Hogan’s intentions and ability will be how quickly and effectively she is able to implement these sort of findings in her policies in order to start saving lives and redressing the appalling recent record of the SA Government on HIV.

Everyone is this country is affected in some way – directly or indirectly – by the scourge of HIV and AIDS. I think that because of that, together with the hope of a new dawn of availability of ARV drugs, HIV prevention, better education and care under Hogan, tomorrow will be probably the most marked and most optimistic recognition of World AIDS Day here in South Africa for many years.

Amanda’s China Challenge 2009

A friend who has had a tough last couple of years, fighting and winning her battle with breast cancer, is doing something positive to help others fight and win their battles with the condition. And now you can help her:

If you’re in Cape Town next week: please take time out to support the China Challenge Auction and Raffle evening in Noordhoek – see below.
If you’re a blogger – especially in South Africa: please publicise this post on your blog to get as many people as possible to support the evening and the cause.
Otherwise: Send cash! Hard currency goes a long way in South Africa right now. Rands are also accepted; Zim dollars possibly not, due to space constraints. Speak to your rich friends and email amanda@nanoson.com for banking details.

As you know we will be taking part in the China Challenge in April 2009, hiking along the Great Wall of China for 6 days. The aim of our hike is to raise awareness for girls like me (within South Africa) as well as raising donations for our chosen charity, St Luke’s Hospice, & medical research worldwide.

We have managed to secure some fabulous prizes, currently valued in excess of R90,000 – & that’s just to date!

Venue: Café Roux, Noordhoek Farm Village
Date & Time: Friday, 5th December 2008 at 19h00


RSVP: 
amanda@nanoson.com
by Tuesday, 2nd December 2008

Raffle tickets will be priced at R100/ticket and will be on sale during the course of the evening.

Richard & I will be providing snack platters; Café Roux offer a full & extensive cash bar.

If you are unable to attend the evening, but would still like to stand in line to win one of our fantastic prizes please contact Amanda via email. Raffle tickets can be secured for you.

We would like to say a very special thank you to all of you for being involved in making our China Challenge 2009 dream become a reality – I, along with many other girls affected by breast cancer, will truly benefit from this awareness campaign.

PLEASE EXTEND THIS INVITATION TO ANY FAMILY OR FRIENDS WHOM YOU FEEL MAY BE INTERESTED IN SUPPORTING THIS SPECIAL EVENING AND OUR FUNDRAISING CAUSE.

With love, 

Amanda & Richard

I’ve seen the list of auction items and raffle prizes. It is pretty spectacular. Weekend getaways in top class hotels, golf sticks, wine galore, food, watches, designer sunglasses, a night with the Ad Wizard* etc etc.

Yes, you can help, so do help. Thanks.

 * Not yet apparently, but I’m sure she’s working on it.

The 2010 story no one tells

I was delighted to read Luke Alfred’s inspired and inspiring piece on the South African media’s view of the 2010 World Cup in yesterday’s Sunday Times, not least because it neatly sums up a lot of stuff that I’ve been moaning about for ages.

You may have noticed that when it comes to the 2010 Soccer World Cup there is an endlessly circulating merry-go-round of stories, each with its own shape and unique place in the system.
There is the tryingly familiar “stadium budget” story with quotes by ex-deputy minister of finance Jabu Moleketi; there is the “Sepp Blatter mildly reprimands the organising committee” story, and the grotesquely amusing “plan B” story with its many denials.

Interestingly, I note that we are not the only ones to suffer with these stories. The plans for Euro 2012 tournament, to be jointly hosted by Poland and Ukraine are plagued with the same issues; who could forget that construction for the Athens 2004 Olympics was miles behind schedule (which we’re not) and they still managed to stage a thoroughly successful event? But it’s one of the duties of the world’s press to find the worst in everything and to sensationalise minor events in order to make mountains out of molehills and sell newspapers. And it’s something that the South African press are especially good at.


Soccer City, Soweto

With sport to some extent replacing nationalism (or being one of the ways in which the nation expresses itself in these post-nationalistic times) the stadiums for the World Cup will express the best of what South Africa has to offer as the century progresses.

They’ll become monuments by which the world recognises this country and by which we define ourselves.
In this sense, debates about what they will cost and how they will be used are profoundly beside the point. Despite the threadbare narratives of the present, stories of striking workers and an underachieving national side, the World Cup will be a pivotal event in the history of post-apartheid South Africa, a time that future generations will look back on with justifiable pride.

So besotted are we with the present that we can’t see it now, but over the long arc of time our children will look back on 2010 and tell their children “I was there”.

Alfred makes a good point, but no-one’s listening. There’s more to life than the present, no matter how tough times may be for many in SA right now. One of the major benefits of 2010, aside from the immediately obvious tourism and sponsorship revenue and its spin-offs is a shared national experience which will generate pride in the country. Our kids have yet to be tainted with the negativity running deep in the veins of the South African media and its followers. And it’s the children’s reaction as they view things with that objective innocence which will be the true marker of the success of the 2010 tournament.

It’s my intention to expose my son to as much of the atmosphere and spectacle as I possibly can.
He’ll be 4 years old and just beginning to form his first “proper” memories and I can think of no better time, place or event for him to remember. It’s going to be an amazing experience. Looking back to my own football-dominated childhood, I can only dream about having experienced a World Cup on my doorstep. (Yes, I was born well after 1966, thank you very much!)

Down the line, my son and I will watch rugby, football, concerts and gladiatorial events possibly involving tigers and pointy sticks at the Green Point Stadium. And while each event will be special in some way, the memories of 2010 that they trigger may never be matched.  

Live webcam feeds of Cape Town stadium site

 

Real Life is pink

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve written on here. And the reason for that is pretty simple: that annoying thing called Real Life has gone and got in the way again. With about 6 weeks left until child number two enters the world, it was decreed that my study was finally to be given up and painted pink. Which is why I am currently sat here in the midst of what appears to be a furniture stacking convention and what smells like… well… paint.

I have always known that when CN2 was on its way I would be forced to give up my last bastion of tranquility and sanity and head downstairs into the pseudo-spare room with Harold and Edith. Basically, the baby either got this room or slept in a tent in the back garden. To be honest, I was all for the tent idea – we’ve got thick curtains, which would probably allow for consistently undisturbed nights for her parents – especially if we pitched the tent right in the far corner of the garden in the patch of thorn bushes. However, after a brief discussion (well, it was more of a monologue, really) the missus made it abundantly clear that if anyone was going to sleep outside it was going to be me. 
Consequently, this will be my last post from this room. Of course, you won’t really notice a difference, save maybe for a greater hint of melancholy in my writing or the occasional extra letter here or there when my son gets hold of the keyboard.

I didn’t surrender without a fight, though. Oh no! Sure, overall the paint was a joint decision, but I got the final say. Hence, my wife looked at all those irritating little colour cards that I’d gone out in the rain and picked up from the paint shop and whittled them down to a shortlist of one. Then I got to choose the paint, go out in the rain and buy it and then apply it to the walls. Ha – I think you’ll agree that it’s clear exactly who is the boss in this household!
Anyway, the paint is “Sweet Sundae 5” as Dulux describe it (or “Pink” as most normal people would say). The tin, which confusingly, is actually made of plastic, advertises the product as being “Low Odour”. Ja right! Currently surrounded, as I am, by a plethora of airborne organic polymers, several pixies and a friendly dragon named Steve, I would beg to differ. Presumably the idea is that these errant molecules will have dissipated somewhat by the time any child attempts to sleep in here.

So farewell, my study. We’ve had some good times together. You’ve got the best view in the house (Table Mountain, Devil’s Peak, the sunloungers next to the pool when the wife is in her bikini and I’m supposed to be working). Your acoustics are second to none for listening to Morten Harket, Jared Leto and Jamie Cullum. You are beautifully cool in summer and satisfyingly cosy in winter.
But now you are pink and you smell. And thus, it is time to move on to bigger and better smaller and worse things. Still, I shall remember our time together with a certain wistful fondness and when CN2 is of a suitable age (say, 6 weeks) I shall explain to her just what sacrifices were made in her name.
I know she’ll understand.