Visa woes

Between them, the UK Government, the Department of Home Affairs in South Africa and the British Consulate in Pretoria have conspired against me.
I’m not sure in what proportions the blame should be meted out, but I’m going to have a go. In more ways than one. 

First off, the UK Government. For once, I think they are pretty blameless in this one. All they have done is to extend the list of countries whose citizens need a visa to enter the UK. Unfortunately, South Africa is now on that list (along with 75% of the world’s countries). This is to help prevent terrorists and smugglers from entering the country, probably as part of their “Jobs for Brits” policy: after all, why import terrorists when you have a roaring trade going producing your own?

Secondly, the Department of Home Affairs. This Department has a terrible reputation, which is almost entirely justified. Of all the Government Departments, Home Affairs is the one which elicits the most laughter, anger and sheer disbelief as to how bad an organisation can be. And they must take their share of the blame in this sorry tale. Their security and systems areso bad that anyone can get a South African passport – hence the UK’s concern over who is getting a South African passport.
Of course – if you go the legal route to getting a South African passport, you end up buried under an avalanche of red tape from which it will take you a good few months to escape.
The UK, of course doesn’t have this issue: passports there are completely safe and secure. Right.

But, I’m putting 0.5% of the blame of the UK Government and about 2% on Home Affairs. Why? Because I’m saving it all for the real culprits.
The extra R3,000 that it’s going to cost to take my family across to the UK in July is solely down to the utterly useless ****s at the British Consulate in Pretoria.
Thanks to them losing our (original) documents when we applied for a passport for the boy, we can no longer proceed with that application, nor one for the girl. Getting replacement documents means going through the Department of Home Affairs – and you may have heard what a reputation they have in South Africa.
And thus, because we can’t get the documents which they lost from the Department of Home Affairs, we have had to apply for South African passports for the kids through – the Department of Home Affairs.

A brief pause while I bang my head against a brick wall. Ah – such sweet relief.

The worst bit is that despite the fact that the British Consulate have prevented us from obtaining passports for the kids by being useless, they are rewarded by us paying them some more money for the privilege of taking my (half-British) kids to Britain. And this despite the fact that they will have a combined age of just less than 4 when we go over. And very limited bomb-making expertise. Probably.
It’s insult to injury, it’s salt in the wound, it’s a kick in the balls. None of which are particularly pleasant.
One could draw some interesting parallels to the bunch of merchant bankers in the UK getting bonuses for being rubbish at the jobs.

How many nurses?

My plans to post an entry each day in February seem to have been somewhat derailed by a HTTP 500 INTERNAL SERVER ERROR, which is denying me access to 6000.co.za and also to the dashboard and inner workings of the site where the wonderful milky prose you come to lap up each day is created and stored. Serves me right for using that cheap deal with the servers in South Australia, I guess.
Thus, it’s back to basics and I’m writing this up using MS Notepad. Ah – the memories. None of them good.

And phew – whatever gremlin was playing about with the important stuff that makes the site work has now given up and gone to the pub, or been burned, or whatever. And I’m back. Although, I guess it was all pretty seamless for you, so I’ll just make the font look a bit funny so that you can be reminded of how I suffered to bring you this. There we go.

As I write, Jeff Randall is tearing into Barclays boss, Bob Diamond, on Sky News.
The main thrust of Randall’s argument seems to be somehow related to the £22 million which Mr Diamond received in bonuses last year. I can never decide whether Jeff is really on the side of the man on the street as he claims: “That’s about 1000 times what an average NHS nurse earns – do you think you’re worth 1000 NHS nurses?”.
It’s a typically unfair and unnecessarily emotive kind of question. Exactly what Sky News is paying him for.
Because of course, it seems likely that Jeff Randall also earns significantly more than the average NHS nurse (albeit not as much as Bob Diamond).

But how much?

Well, I don’t know, but his previous time at The Telegraph and the BBC surely means that he can’t have been cheap. It’s not unreasonable to imagine that he’s pocketing well into seven figures. So I wonder how many nurses Mr Randall thinks he is worth. Mr Diamond hasn’t actually asked him that, but he must be tempted. Or maybe he did and it was edited out*. After all, Jeff is supposed to be on our side and such hypocrisy wouldn’t look good.

Incidentally, I am worth at least 20 average NHS nurses. In addition, I don’t sleep with junior doctors, lose important specimens or give patients the wrong drugs.
I even wash my hands once in a while, which is more than any of them do.
If my boss is reading, please sort out some sort of remuneration package reflective of this. And backdate it.
Do this now.

 * A large chunk of today’s Jeff Randall Live was actually pre-recorded.

SA’s UK Drug Hell!

Or should that be UK’s SA Drug Hell?


SAA: powered by weed (allegedly)

As fifteen flight and cabin crew from the daily SAA Jo’burg to Heathrow flight were arrested after 50kg of cannabis was found on board, South African rugby player Matt Stevens, now living and “working” in Bath, UK, failed a drugs test and looks set to be banned from the sport for two years.  

Stevens has admitted to taking “a substance” “while out with friends” and admits he has a drug problem, although he insists that they were not performance enhancing drugs. Anyone who has been watching his recent performances won’t be surprised by that assertion.
Obviously, they were recreational drugs, and probably imported from Jo’burg.

Which brings us neatly onto the SAA arrests, and I’m pretty sure they’ve got the wrong people. Anyone who has ever flown SAA will testify that they never send baggage to the right place. I’m pretty sure that 50kg of weed was meant to go to Miami or Sydney or Athens.
Perhaps the police in those cities should be looking at the incoming SAA flight crews and see which ones are nervously searching in the galley cupboards and looking confused. There’s your suspects.

Heathrow alternatives – the Runwet

On a day when the big news in the UK was the Government’s long overdue approval for a third runway at Heathrow airport, a pilot in New York went out of his way (literally) to show how Gordon Brown et al could have saved £9 billion by simply utilising the River Thames as an alternative landing area.


Greenpeace: Nearly right. But… not. Now, go and have a wash.

I guess a few of the bridges may get in the way, but one must consider the advantages of a centrally-located landing area, ease of access to public transport (especially water taxis) and the picturesque views of London landmarks for passengers as they come in to land.  

Ladies and Gentlemen, on the starboard side of the aircraft, the Houses of Parliament and on the port side, County Hall and the London Eye.
Thank you for flying British Airways.
Lifejackets are located under your seats. Brace for impact.

This water-based option also provides the opportunity to open aquatic runways – or “runwets” as I like to call them – in smaller cities and towns*. Beautiful Cambridge might have to shift some of the punts off the tourist-laden Cam, but it would save that horrible cross country road trip to Luton and provide direct access to college for overseas students.

Further north, the planes could land on the crunchy crust of pollution that sits proudly atop the waters of the Mersey in Liverpool. It could be called the Paul McCartney Mersey Runwet, to go with the John Lennon Airport, situated so inconveniently out of town.

    
Cambridge and Liverpool – diverse runwets in the UK

If you think about it, runwets would be self-perpetuating. As more planes are able to take off and land from runwets worldwide, CO2 emissions will increase, global warming will accelerate, ocean levels will rise and there will be more space for more runwets. Pretty soon, the whole planet will be one big runwet and Kevin Costner will make a hugely expensive flop of a film about it.

Just remember – you read it here first. As usual.

* There will be no option to land at a runwet in Bloemfontein, as there is no water anywhere in the Free State. Fact.

Wakefield’s Shameful Legacy

A new study, ironically published in The Lancet, raises serious doubts that the goal of elimination of measles in Europe by 2010 can be attained. The reason for this re-emergence of a disease which was completely under control 15 years ago is the “shoddy, litigation- and profit-driven pseudoscience” of Andrew Wakefield, whose now discredited study published in The Lancet in 1998, linked the MMR vaccine with autism in children.


Measles virus: small, but nasty

It later emerged that Wakefield was paid up to £55,000 by solicitors acting on behalf of the families of some autistic children to prove a link between the vaccine and the condition. This was something that he somehow forgot to mention to his fellow authors, medical authorities or The Lancet.

Simon Murch, one of the leading doctors involved with Wakefield’s research at the Royal Free, said that news of the £55,000 legal funding was “a very unpleasant surprise”.
“We never knew anything about the £55,000 — he had his own separate research fund,” said Murch. “All of us were surprised… We are pretty angry.”

10 years on and Wakefield’s scaremongering has resulted in a 13-year high in the number of measles cases in the UK: an “embarrassing problem” according to the WHO report’s authors. Vaccination levels have improved somewhat over the past 2 years, with concerted “catch-up” campigns for those who missed vaccination, but even cases of measles in South America, which was all but free of the disease, have been traced back to Europe.

Between 2007-8 in Europe, there were over 12,000 cases of measles, which should have been erradicated from the continent by next year. Over 1,000 of them were in the UK:

1,049 is the highest number of measles cases recorded in England and Wales since the current method of monitoring the disease was introduced in 1995.
This rise is due to relatively low MMR vaccine uptake over the past decade and there are now a large number of children who are not fully vaccinated with MMR. This means that measles is spreading easily among unvaccinated children.

As a microbiologist and a parent, I strongly urge all parents to do the decent thing and vaccinate their children. These are not called “preventable diseases” for nothing. Apart from the benefits for you and your kids, there should be a collective sense of social responsibility to help reduce the reservoir of these illnesses in society.
The results of a decade of misinformation, poor science and hysterical reporting are becoming evident now: disease, disability and even death for hundreds of children, all of which could and should have been avoided.

Don’t let it happen to your kids.