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.

Scorchio!

Cape Town seems a bit knackered after this weekend. And who can blame it?
The hottest weekend of the year sapped the energy and forced people across the city onto beaches and into swimming pools. And they were still too hot. Some of us (me) were additionally “forced” into the pub on Saturday night and onto the cricket field on Sunday morning.

The pub was an interesting experience. Suddenly, from a quick draught Windhoek and a chat about holiday plans, I found myself surrounded by a quorum* of good-looking women who were discussing boobs, underwear and girls kissing other girls. Staying quiet, not wanting to give the game away in case I had somehow become invisible; pinching myself occasionally to ensure that I wasn’t actually dreaming, I listened. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?
I’m a man of simple pleasures – the beer and the holiday chat were enough to make it a pleasant evening, so the additional er… let’s say “enlightening”… entertainment came as something of a bonus.


WPCC: If the match is dull, there’s always the view 

Determined not to wake up with a hangover, I woke up with a hangover and headed out to Western Province Cricket Club to take part in the annual Rondebosch Old Boys versus Bishops Old Boys cricket match. Since I wasn’t even educated in South Africa**, let alone at either of those fine halls of learning, you can see that the rules governing who was eligible to take part weren’t ever so tight. And with me not having even touched a cricket bat or ball for seven years, it was evident that there was something of a paucity of potential talent available for the Rondebosch side. Given the obvious gravitas of the match between these two old foes, together with the soaring temperatures and a banging head, I was slightly apprehensive about the whole experience.

I needn’t have been. Good humour and good sportsmanship prevailed and despite my hardly troubling the scorers with my batting, I was at least able to contribute a little with the ball towards a thumping win for our side in the blistering heat. Heat so hot, in fact, that hardly anyone stayed around for the post-match braai and beers.

I stopped around for one (just to celebrate, you understand) and then headed gratefully home to our pool and merciful relief from the sun. Today, I’m wondering when the train hit me. Every last muscle aches, even the ones I use regularly for football and drinking. Head to toe, literally. I’m all broken.

Never again. Until next year, perhaps.

* no idea of the correct collective noun, sorry.
** well, I was a bit on Saturday night, believe me…

Anthrax – the bug that keeps on giving

So, in addition to all the other problems that Zimbabwe faces, which are too many, too varied and far too well-documented to even think about listing here, and following hot on the heels of the recent cholera outbreaks, anthrax has now reared its ugly head.

Anthrax can kill when infected meat is touched, or eaten or when infected spores are inhaled. A quarantine zone has been declared in the affected areas of Matebeleland North, but because of the desperate hunger in the region some families are still eating infected meat. Traders have also been seen taking potentially infected carcasses out of the restricted zones to trade in Victoria Falls, which risks the disease spreading across Zimbabwe and even over the border into neighbouring Zambia. 

An emergency assessment by the Save the Children and the Ministry of Health found 32 cases of human anthrax in Binga district. Anthrax infections have also killed 160 livestock, as well as two elephants, 70 hippo and 50 buffalo. But with symptoms lying dormant for up to 21 days or more and no communications in the region, the death toll could already be higher.

In all likelihood, this outbreak is due to the breakdown in veterinary services and the routine vaccination of livestock – a similar effect was seen with diphtheria in the independent states formed when the Soviet Union fell apart in the early 1990’s. And while the lack of vaccination is probably the main reason behind this new threat to Zim and its people, it is ably assisted by a general lack of medical resources including antibiotics, a shortage of food and no decent communication network throughout the country.

This isn’t Zimbabwe’s first anthrax outbreak. In fact, the country holds the dubious record of the largest ever human anthrax outbreak, which occurred during the civil war in 1979/80, with close on 11,000 human cases and 182 deaths. The spores of Bacillus anthracis from that episode almost 30 years ago are the little buggers responsible for this new outbreak. What I didn’t know until recently was that there is evidence, albeit nothing concrete, that the 79/80 outbreak was probably caused by deliberate release (i.e. biowarfare) as part of the bitter conflict which was taking place at that time.
Much like landmines once the war is over, the spores don’t just disappear once the epidemic has passed. Vaccination of livestock has kept the disease at bay since independence, but the spores have just been hanging around, waiting for their moment in the spotlight.
Thanks to Mr Mugabe, it’s now turned into a talent contest for bugs. Pop Die-dol. Strictly Come Dying. Whatever. I’m not sure Zimbabwe can take any more. Microbiologically, it’s pretty interesting though.

UPDATE: Nice piece by Rowan Philp in the Sunday Times on what life is actually like in Zim right now.