In Durbs

Durban greeted me like a well worn sock: warm, grey, slightly moist and rather grubby.
There was also an overpowering smell of cheese. Possibly anyway.

I’m out here doing some training for staff at one of the local government hospitals. And I’ve decided that I quite like Durban.
The rolling hills and general unkempt state of the place remind me of South Yorkshire, while the stereotypical banana trees and fields of sugar cane are stereotypically stereotypical. Don’t you love it when that happens? Like a seeing a fat, topless Geordie bloke wandering drunk around Newcastle or a Mafia boss smoking a cigar on the streets of Palermo.
If I get some crippling humidity tomorrow, I win a small prize.
Oh, and the people here are friendly (although I haven’t met them all) (yet) and the birds are mental – splendid starlings everywhere – and the roads around the University are crazy steep like in Sheffield.
I even caught a glimpse of the Moses Mabhida Stadium, which was actually less awe-inspiring than I thought it would be but still inspired a certain amount of awe, albeit not as much as I had kept aside for the occasion. I now have some spare awe which I will hold onto for a sight or event that requires surplus awe.

But the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital has been the biggest surprise of my visit thus far. I’ve worked in and around a lot of government hospitals in my time, both in the UK and in SA. And I was blown away by the facilities, the labs, the cleanliness and the general upkeep of the place. It would rival any major hospital in the UK and puts the ones in Cape Town to shame.
And now I can’t quite understand why there isn’t a moderate level of decency across the country rather than apparent excellence over here and utter disgrace back home.

The only drawback of being here, aside from missing my wife and two small kidlets, is that I had to get up at stupid o’clock to be here. Although even that did make for a stunning flight over the snow-capped peaks of the Western Cape, the barren Karoo and the KZN mountains at sunrise. Thus, once I’ve been out for dinner at Chatsworth – which is most probably something like the stately home in north Derbyshire of the same name – there is no plan to stay up late this evening, especially with the requirement to detect and diagnose a shedload more TB tomorrow at that sparkly hospital.

Til then, dearhearts…

Booked

Things are coming together nicely for The Last Hurrah with the booking of the flights and the accommodation for the Oslo leg of the trip: the internet is a wonderful thing.

Budget flights from Gatwick were very easy to book, although I had to specify upfront that I wasn’t going to be bringing any diving equipment with me, which was a disappointment but did save some cash. Also, since it’s just an overnighter, I also chose “no hold baggage” – saving another €13, but leaving each of us each with an allowance of just 10kg of hand baggage and meaning that I’m going to be wearing a LOT of clothing on the flight. As you do when heading to Norway in December, I guess.

The hotel was more problematic. The location had to be good: handy for the much vaunted 210kph flytoget rail service – which unsurprisingly arrives and departs from the main railway station – but more so for the concert venue. Oh, and reasonably economical too. And that’s no easy thing to do when playing around with Scandinavian pricing.

I used Google maps extensively before plumping for the perfect place, booked it and all was done. Then I decided to have a look at Streetview. Ah. Is that the place we’re staying, just above the (ahem) “Red Windmill Bar”?
Yes, yes – I think it is.

Because while the cat is at home (with the kittens), the mouse will frequent hotels above dodgy pubs full of Scandinavian women.

Allegedly, anyway.

The Last Hurrah

With the World Cup over (feel eet, eet is gone), it’s time to move on to other things and I need a project to keep myself occupied now that there isn’t live football available 24/7 (at least, until the new football seasons start in a couple of weeks).

So I’m turning my attention to my little end of year jaunt to the Northern Hemisphere and I have decided that this one will be entitled The Last Hurrah: after a-ha’s final single and in keeping with the bittersweet purpose of the trip. There will be tears.
Given that there will be just 180 hours between my outbound flight touching down at T5 and my inbound flight leaving the same – and with approximately a million people to see in the UK plus 3 blokes in Norway – this will be no holiday and organisation will be key.

There are some obvious items that are set in stone and flights and hotels need to be booked for those (cough, Big Ant, cough), but the rest is all just in my head. The only issue is that in there, it finds itself competing for space with thoughts of lobsters, christmas trees and external hard drives (don’t ask) and thus requires documenting here in some sketchy form or other.

Cape Town | Sheffield | (Newcastle) | Sheffield | Gloucester | Oslo | London | Cape Town

Obviously, these are just the bare bones. You can’t fly directly from Cape Town to Sheffield (nor from Gloucester to Oslo) and there will be no overnight stop in Newcastle – but it will be visited.

The emphasis (indicated above by the use of italics) in the case of Newcastle is important because it will be my first trip back there since leaving University back in 1995. I’ve often promised myself that I would get back up to The Toon, but either money, time or (now) distance has prevented it. On this trip, I’m determined to make a day of it up there – if only to see what remains of my old haunts.
Sadly, as far as they go, I suspect there won’t be much left to see: 15 years is a long time when you’re considering cities in Northern England and the throes of rejuvenation.
I hope that green bridge is still there.

So anyway – there they are – the best laid plans of me.
And surely the only things that can ruin them are a BA strike or an errant Icelandic volcano.

Seen it all before

One of the biggest eye-openers you can have is seeing a story in the press of which you have personal knowledge.
When you read the article, you can marvel at just how inaccurate and mis-representative the reporter or journalist is being.
Applying this new-found enlightenment to other stories in the media can lead to chronic cynicism when reading newspapers or perusing internet news sites. You may suddenly find that you want to take the content with an appropriately sized pinch of salt. Builder’s Warehouse sell 25kg bags of salt for exactly this purpose. Buy a couple – they’ll will last you a week.

Of course, it could be that you just got unlucky and that all the other stories out there are 100% bang on, deadly accurate.
But that seems rather unlikely, doesn’t it?

And it was with a heavy and cynical heart that I read the latest attack on Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup in the Guardian.

And so to 2014. Three years ago, when Brazil was unveiled as the host of the next World Cup, the country’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, promised a tournament so well organised that even his country’s greatest rivals – the Argentinians – would be unable to criticise it. Now, however, even Brazilians are starting to speak out against the lack of progress in stadium construction and infrastructure projects, amid concern over corruption and bad planning and calls for the number of host cities to be cut from 12 to 10.

It’s exactly what they were saying about South Africa 4 years ago. And that’s got me on the phone to my local salt mine.

Because the issues over crime and security were unfounded. The allegations that the stadiums would not be ready or would not be up to standard were nonsense. Our transport system upgrades were completed and well utilised. And when the media realised this, they moved on to more trivial, more foolish stories of snakes, race wars and the like.

I know you’re as thankful as I am that SA stayed free of significant seismological activity during the tournament.

The Guardian article describes Brazil’s 2014 bid as being “ambitious”. Well, good. What were they expecting? Brazil to submit their bid documents detailing six 50-year-old stadiums and hope that visitors will find their way around on foot, noting that it might be a long walk from Rio to some of the stadiums in the north of the country?

And then the dig at the transport infrastructure:

Even in the country’s affluent south-east, motorways are often crater-ridden dual carriageways; in the poorer north-east and mid-west their standard is frequently life-threateningly bad.

Has Tom Phillips actually relied on anything other than hearsay and his own creative licence before reporting that? Because it does sound like much of the stuff I was hearing about South Africa in the (elongated) run-up to the 2010 World Cup. And I know that a lot of that wasn’t actually true – or was at the very least blown out of all proportion. Who could forget Louise Taylor’s nonsense in the… er… Guardian (and which I dealt with ever so briefly at the bottom of this)?

Marcotti wrote of some long, unpleasant drives in the dark after covering matches. Commenting on the lack of dual carriageways and lit highways in certain areas, he described negotiating one road heading towards Jo’burg as “like snorkelling in a sewer filled with squid ink”. Shortly afterwards came the sad news that a German journalist had been killed in a car accident while driving to a Confederations Cup match.

Personally I’d have preferred the 2010 World Cup to have gone to Egypt. Yes, it would have been very hot (although it’s a dry heat) and it would, in places, have been dirty and ultra-chaotic, but it would also have been friendly and welcoming. And, in terms of crime, Egypt is extremely safe. Eyebrows would doubtless have been raised at the potential for organisational mayhem, the nightmarish Cairo traffic and the downtown air pollution, but surely if the Egyptians could build the pyramids they could host a World Cup.

Of course, the Egyptians did host the World Cup back in 4010 BC and it was a highly lauded tournament – but with their abilities as pyramid builders, it was always going to be a success. And this even though many of their roads were very poorly lit.
And South Africa’s success some 6000 years later was achieved despite it going dark at night. Amazing.

But I digress.

Maybe Brazil are behind schedule. Maybe the transport infrastructure is poor. Maybe there is political interference at every level (perish the though that this would occur anywhere else in the world).
But I don’t believe all I read in the newspapers. And I’ve seen what can be achieved in four years and thus I refuse to write them off already. Looking at many of the comments below Phillips’ piece, I can see that a lot of others are losing faith with these stories too.

Of course, when Brazil isn’t ready and the 2014 tournament is in disarray, Phillips will be able to look back and tell us that he told us so. But where is Louise Taylor’s admission that she got it so very hopelessly wrong about South Africa in 2010?

Força, Brasil!

BBC says goodbye to World Cup 2010

The BBC comes in for a lot of criticism – some justified, some not.
One thing they do better than anyone else I know is their coverage of football.

This District 9 themed highlights/credits package for the 2010 World Cup is simply outstanding.

So many amazing moments, cleverly and brilliantly presented.

Thanks Arcainus