Yes, it’s different here

“Proper Christmas” just doesn’t work in South Africa. I tried to point this fact out in the article I wrote for the December issue of Emigrate2 magazine. There are plenty of reasons for this, but here’s the biggie: it’s the middle of bloody summer.

So: no chance of snow, it’s hot, it’s light, it’s bright and therefore it’s about as festive as genital herpes. (Obviously, I didn’t put that analogy in the emigrate2 thing: it’s a classy publication, not like this dross.)

Chicken. Safe and traditional.   Pwawns in garlic butter - adventurous

Hence, at Christmas in SA, you get to take pictures of regular readers of 6000 miles… (both of you) slaving over hot braais. Christmas parties take place around swimming pools rather than around roaring log fires; mulled wine is entirely inappropriate and replaced by cold beers (in evidence in both those pics above – you can tell those guys are experts) and you head for the beach instead of watching the James Bond film* on Boxing Day morning.

 Pool party   Building

All well and good, but not ever so atmospheric. Not in a “Proper Christmassy” way, anyway. So if you want to enjoy Christmas here, it’s very much a case of adapting to local conditions and not trying to make it like a Christmas back home. Embrace the change, enjoy the differences. It’s taken me a while, but this has been by far my best Christmas over here, simply because I’ve finally given up trying to fight the system**.

I have a friend who moved over here 2 months ago and who came for breakfast at Chez 6000 on Christmas Day. Seeing her looking so homesick brought back a lot of memories for me. Moving countries is a brave thing to do at any time, but I think that this time of year is definitely the toughest if you’ve done a UK to SA move. I know a lot of expats read this blog and if you’re finding it difficult, my advice to you is just to hang in there. It does get easier. And while you might be desperate for a cold and dark Christmas, try sms’ing your friends and family back in the UK from the beach. Mention the soft white sand and the gentle rolling waves. Hint at the soft, warm breeze that’s blowing and the sun beating down on your bikini-clad body***. Then ask them where they’d rather be right now.

Be prepared for some coarse language when they reply though.

(More Christmas pics are available for fans and family on the 6000 flickr page.)

* “Never say we’ve never seen this one before”.
**  OK, watching 0.6 open his presents probably helped a bit too.
*** Probably best to leave this bit out if you’re a bloke.

 

Glued to their blooming PlayStations

Look, there’s a serious point in all of this, namely that the “nanny-state”, a lack of decent funding and the constant threat of petty litigation have forced local councils to prevent Britain’s children from… well… “being children” anymore.

But fewer, smaller, safer, more expensive playgrounds mean more obese kids and a sorry decline in “those fascinating crusty objects” – scabs – as Boris Johnson laments, brilliantly describing the consequences of growing up in a scabophobic society.

First the outer edges would harden, leaving a raw red patch still faintly weeping in the middle. Then the whole thing dries into a miraculous integument, as firm and knobbly as the edges of a bit of cheese on toast.

You could tap it. You could stealthily probe its edges, with the connoisseurship of the man from Del Monte, to see if it was ready. Then one day it would all be gone, and we saw the skin underneath, pink and new and whole.

The scab experience was a brilliant lesson in biology, and it is in some ways sad that our children these days seem so scab-free. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not calling for more of them to have accidents.

I am not positively advocating that we encourage our children to fall out of trees or get whanged off roundabouts moving at 200 rpm. But the scabophobic measures we have taken to protect our children have had consequences we could not have intended.

While Boris is trying to score political points (and why not? – after all, that is his job) he’s certainly correct that we (we being parents, society) mollycoddle our children far too much these days – and the fact that that behaviour is having disastrous effects on them and therefore, by inference, on us.

I’m right behind him on this one.

And while political upheaval is upheaving all around me here in South Africa, it’s so refreshing to read his very entertaining (yet actually quite serious) analysis which somehow accurately ties the lack of damaged kneecaps in young children with the decline in basic common sense and the decay in the moral fibre of society my homeland.

New dawn for SA?

As the morning mist cleared over the city of Cape Town this morning, slowly giving way to the African heat, I was driving into work, listening to soundbites of Jacob Zuma’s inaugural address as ANC President yesterday and thinking that the whole mist thing would make a really cheesy start to this “new dawn” post.

Suddenly, it seems that now the public have heard JZ speak about his thoughts and plans for the ANC party (and therefore theoretically for the country), rather than the media’s somewhat one-sided interpretations of the man, they actually quite like him. Certainly, that was the impression of many (mainly white) callers who got in touch with the radio station this morning, expressing their shock that he had some good ideas, some supportable policies and wasn’t intending to kill off all the white people by 2010*.

There were some on the BBC website (as there always are), however, that continued with my favourite “We’re going to be another Zimbabwe theme”. Specifically logicman from Stevenage:

It all depends on what the people of South Africa want? If Jacob Zuma gets into power the country will go the same way that Zimbabwe has. Do they want that? If he takes control then he will probably jail, or murder, all those who oppose him.

Yes. Jail or murder. Probably.

Of course, Stevenage isn’t in South Africa, so logicman fortunately doesn’t get a say in things. He’s still wondering where the World Cup 2010 is going to be, since he knows that the whities won’t allow “that dark sport” into their beloved South Africa.

There is of course, one spanner in the works. The corruption charges against JZ which seem set to lead to a court case sometime in 2008. While all the evidence (as helpfully provided by that balanced media I mentioned earlier) points to his absolute guilt, JZ still protests his innocence and welcomes the opportunity to have his day in court to prove it.

All in all, despite the doom and gloom merchants continuing to be doomy and gloomy – mostly from lands far, far away from here – there are others who this week have seen a new side to Zuma and are cautiously optimistic about moving on from an Mbeki-led ANC to a ruling party run by a charismatic, “people’s person” with radically different ideas on big issues like crime and HIV.

Only time will tell of course, but is this a new dawn for SA? Well, the mood seems generally positive. The booming economy and those who run it are happy that JZ seems to have adopted a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach; the whities are very glad that he used the words “crime” and “zero tolerance” in the same breath, while those at the other end of the scale are encouraged with his plans for land redistribution, poverty alleviation and aggressive approach towards the HIV/AIDS problem.

So – new dawn out of the way and I think it’s time for breakfast. Thabo on toast, anyone?

* Well, he didn’t say he would, anyway…

Sticky: Let me explain.

I’ve eluded to the fact that last month I had issues with my hosting company and that, with a great deal of help and support from The Guru*, I moved 6000 miles over onto WordPress for “a while”. Well, I’ve decided to stay.

Writing my own pages in straightforward html was fun. I enjoyed the challenge and I enjoyed having a site design that no-one else had, or could ever have. I don’t know how many readers know (or knew), but the ballacorkish.net/6000 site was coded entirely by me and each post was coded and written using MS Notepad. Sometimes it showed, but mostly, I’m proud to say, it didn’t. 

Moving to WP will allow me to concentrate more on what I’m writing and less on getting it published. A new dawn for 6000 miles. The challenge of coding and tweaking will still be there – just with php, not html – and not as desperately as before.

Please bear with me. It’ll almost certainly be worth it**.

* I already owe him several beers.
** Terms and conditions apply.