Thursday, 30 July 2009

time for a break

You know you really, really need a holiday when:

1. You decide to get really organised and book your August holiday in April, carefully file the confirmation letter and don't notice until yesterday that somehow you'd booked for May. And the reservations people managed to be helpful without budging an inch, which meant that we had to pay for the Kruger Park days again. So now we are having three days in the park instead of four. The silver lining (because, somehow there always is one) is that two of the nights will be in a river view rondavel at Olifants camp... one of my favourites. the black lining (because there's always one of those too) is that there'll be a whole lot less money to spend on the holiday. And we definitely won't be doing that hot air balloon ride

2. You really struggle to get any work done because your mind is determined to enter "play" mode

3. You really wish people would stop phoning and wanting to talk about work

4. You are counting sleeps (and recounting in case another day went by without you noticing)

5. You stare daggers at anyone with a cold, that might develop into swine flu and mean that you spend your holiday in quarantine instead of Mpumalanga

6. You wonder if you should buy a black wig and pretend to be Asian so you can get away with wearing a face mask on the plane (see point 5)

7. The list of things to pack is longer than the list of things to do before you go (at last, yippee). But sadly, the list of things to do is not getting shorter (see point 2)

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

what's in a name?

How much thought do people put into the names they choose for their products, their businesses or their children?

Sometimes I wonder.

I got myself in a lot of trouble once by going on a rave about the Afrikaans habit giving children surnames as first names.

"How can they do that?" I asked. "Its just awful. I mean, can you imagine looking at your baby and saying 'I think I'll call this child Poggenpoel'!"

The man I was speaking to, a Mr Lingenvelder, glared as he replied:

"My son's name is Steggmann" (with the gg prounounced like the sound of a throat being cleared)

Well yes... my point exactly!

(and while I'm on a roll... why don't business design posters that fit their frames?)

Monday, 27 July 2009

ploeg dag

This weekend Greg and I went to a farm outside Malmesbury to see the antique tractor club ploughing a field. It was fun to see how efficiently they worked, as well as the contrast with the shiny new behemoths that have taken their place. The new ones have sound systems and air conditioning and sprung seats and headlights and windcreeen wipers....

but the old ones are much cooler.

I can say that because I don't actually have to spend my day in the sun having my bones jarred right out of my body!

and look, there's Table Mountain in the distance!

Monday, 20 July 2009

the power of dreams

When I was nine years old, I was at school at Loreto Convent in Hillcrest, Pretoria. Next door was the boy's school... Christian Brothers College. Some of the older girls managed a few snatched words through the fence, but for those of us in Std 2, it was a place to be avoided. Except, that is, for one glorious day in July or August 1969 when we headed off, single file, to the CBC hall to see the Apollo moon landing.

I can't remember whether we saw the landing on the actual day, but I do remember crowding round the tiny television - the first I had ever seen - and watching the grainy pictures of the moon landing. And, strangely, I remember the dusty smell of the hall, and the sunlight coming through the cracks in the black curtains, high up on the walls. And the wooden floors, scuffed by decades of boy feet.

It was a pivotal point in my life. I remember a few years before being taken outside by my father to see a satellite... one of the sputniks ... passing through the night sky, and being totally in awe that this tiny dot in the sky could contain a man.

And now, there were real, actual people who had landed on the moon.

For my nine year old self, it gave me the absolute assurance that anything was possible. The moon landing meant that dreams could come true, and there was nothing that people could not achieve.

I did not realise how privileged I was. In a country which had no television, very few (mostly white) people had the chance to share my epiphany.

For years I thought I would go to the moon too, but never did anything career-wise to achieve that dream. But in spite of that, the possibility remains. It may, somehow, still happen.

And for years, I have resisted any suggestions (especially by my son Simon who is usually right about such things) that it was all a big con and never actually happened. I still refuse to read any of the "proofs" or stories of flags waving on a wind free world.

This past week I have been reporting, appropriately, on IGARSS 09 the International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium which was held on the African continent for the first time. The focus was inward... these satellites are looking at the earth rather than outward to the stars.

But once again I was awed by the possibilities, and my inner nine year old was wandering around saying "oh wow!" as I learned about landmine detection, the discovery of new currents, how clouds could be analysed to predict floods and how disease tracking could save lives. And those were just the parts I could understand!

Importantly, IGARSS 09 was also about giving 300 high school children a chance to experience remote sensing for themselves.

Johannesburg University Professor Harold Annegarn, chair of the conference (and whose badge bore the monicker "Big Cheese") saw the outreach programme as one of the highlights of a conference which attracted close to 1300 delegates from all over the world, many with a string of letters after their names.

“These were children who are already achieving in maths and science and who have now seen that people that they can relate to are really achieving great things in terms of world class science. Initiatives like these are so important. They bring hope... the children start believing that their dreams can become reality, and that they are not excluded from anything,” he said.

The power of dreams. It can take you anywhere.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

measuring impact

I'm at a conference on exciting things like radar and satellitetes and remote sensing, and its taking all my brainpower to understand what is going on!
You can read the daily newsletters we are producing here if you want to see the bits that I do understand (and some great pictures). A lot of what the satellites are showing is the incredible and sometimes devastating impact that humans have on our world.

So this guest post by the passionate, inspired, issues-driven Lalifufu from Eternal Ramblings of a Tangled Mind seems particularly relevant. Thanks Ms Fufu for making us think, and hopefully act too!

over to Lali...

I witnessed the most brutal and mindless animal abuse on CTV last night. It was a snippet from a documentary film called Earthlings (see the link below) and this part focused predominantly on medical and military research.

I strongly believe that everyone needs to see this.

The Earthlings project began in 1999 when writer, producer and director Shaun Monson started working on a series of PSAs about spaying and neutering pets. He was so appalled by what he saw and filmed in animal shelters in Los Angeles that he started shooting a documentary film about the suffering of animals for food, fashion, pets, entertainment, medical and military research. And so, Earthlings was born.

The film took six years to make, largely because of the difficulty in obtaining footage within these many profitable industries. Showing sensitive and graphic footage shot at animal shelters, pet stores, factory farms, leather and fur trades, sporting events, circuses, puppy mills, slaughterhouses and research labs, Earthlings is nicknamed “the vegan maker.”

Today, it is an award-winning documentary film narrated by Joaquin Phoenix and featuring music by Moby. Considered the most persuasive documentary ever made, Earthlings is a definitive animal rights film that everyone should see.

I am not advocating becoming a vegetarian. What I am trying to achieve is conscious and social awareness. Don't be an ignorant consumer. Be conscious of where your food products are coming from. Be conscious of what people are doing to animals - the suffering and psychological abuse they endure for our benefit is mindless, brutal and needless. I eat chicken and fish. But where I can and when I can afford it, I try to by free range chicken as opposed to battery chickens. I limit my intake. You can always argue that carrots, potatoes, cabbages and other vegetables, fruits and plants are also living - they also grow from seeds and "live" in the ground before we pluck them out, boil them and eat them. For all we know carrots also scream when they are pulled from the earth.

As difficult as it will be to watch most of the time, don’t cover your eyes or look away. Whether you want to believe it or not, this abuse is happening all around you, every day. This brutality needs to stop and the only way it will or can is through education and awareness. Do not be ignorant about what is happening around you, to your fellow earthlings. If this was a documentary about child abuse, would you switch off the TV, stop reading and say “It’s going to spoil my dinner”?

On a similar note, The Meatrix I is an animated documentary that has also won numerous international awards. It’s not as graphic, easier to watch and the film has been made in a funny and clever way. The link below talks about growth hormones, factory farms and the antibiotics we inject into our food produce thereby poisoning ourselves. Doesn't it seem illogical to you? This kind of inhumane farming MUST come to an end. We need to be humane and sustainable. We need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

I’ll leave you with the wise words of George Bernard Shaw: While we ourselves are the living graves of murdered beasts, how can we expect any ideal conditions on this earth?

It’s not all doom and gloom. Click on the links below to see how you can help and how you can be a part of the solution:

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

baking bread

In honour of my son Ben's safe return to the Seychelles after yet another trip through pirate-infested waters ... this time dropping some special-forces types off on a ship before it entered the Gulf ... I decided to share his really great bread recipe with you.

Ever since he taught me to make it a year or so ago, I haven't bought any bread at all. I allow myself one slice, hot out of the oven and covered in farm butter, but the rest of the loaf is for Greg. It lasts about a week (and miraculously stays fresh-ish).

So here it is... a bread so easy you can make it in the middle of the ocean!

600g white bread flour
2 packets of dry yeast
2 tsp salt
4 tsp sugar

mix all together in big bowl and add 600ml lukewarm water

Cover bowl with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or so.

Pour into bread pan (it's gloopy... not stiff like normal bread dough) and bake in the hottest possible oven (mine's 230 C) for about 40 mins.

that's it. Easy peasy.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

sunday sunshine

It should be the middle of winter, but our trees still have all their leaves (the oak is still mostly green)and the spring flowers are beginning to come out in our veggie garden where I scattered handfuls of seeds last spring.

Is this the effect of global warming?

Saturday, 4 July 2009

of resolution

Making resolutions is one of my specialities. I'm good at knowing exactly what I want to do, and when and how I want to do it.
Sadly, breaking resolutions is one of the other things I excel at.

Last night, I planned to surprise Greg by getting up early and suggesting a bike ride up to Piekenierskloof to see the sunrise. It was a great idea, except for two things:
1. the sun rises on the other side of the mountain so we wouldn't be able to see it
2. when Greg woke me up at 7am I told him it was far too early to be human and suggested (not very politely) that he should go back to sleep.

And, of course... yesterday saw another resolution broken. After an impressive record of two blogs in two days, I missed Friday. Not because I had nothing to say, which would have been a very good reason. But because I had absolutely no inclination to turn on my computer.

The beautiful Rosie with her groom and one of the children who she is working with

Yesterday was a good day. We spent the morning with an old friend who we see far too rarely. She and I had time to chat while Greg took her horse for a very sedate ride through the gum trees. And I had a chance to watch her working.

Mari's company, Horseworx, provides exercise and muscle therapy to disabled or injured children using ponies which have been rescued by the SPCA or the Carthorse Association.

Yesterday I watched as she worked with a three year old boy who has had multiple operations for the congenital disease he suffers from. Yesterday was his first visit back to Horseworx after a long hospital stay.

It was amazing to see the joy on his face as he sat on the broad back of Rosie, a snow white little pony with a gentle temperament. It was hard to believe that this calm and placid pony had been abused by her previous owners or that she was so thin that she had to be slowly nursed back to health and confidence by Mari and her grooms.

As the little boy was led around the field, stopping every now and then to throw a hoop onto a peg, or to throw a ball; riding facing backwards, forwards or sidesaddle, he was exercising his tiny, wasted muscles without even realising it.

I really admire Mari for her courage and her patience. I don't think I would have the fortitude to work with disabled children, but somehow she manages it, without hardening her heart or losing her compassion.

Leave a comment here if you want to know more about Mari's work, or know someone in Cape Town who would benefit from her therapy.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, 1 July 2009


I feel the need to explain...
In yesterday's post I mentioned a smokey room in the Royal Hotel.
The smoke was from the fire. Not from us. No heated conversations. No cigars or even cigarettes.

It seems such a short time ago that smoking cigarettes was the thing to do. Now, I imagine that many smokers feel like pariahs.

And it's not getting any easier. The latest anti-smoking legislation in South Africa bans smoking in a car with children under 12 years of age. And, thankfully, also bans smoking outside public buildings. No more hacking through clouds of smoke before you get to the reception desk!

I wonder how many other things that we see as totally acceptable today will soon be looked at with the same level of disapproval? The results of the green movement are obvious, but there must surely be other things that we are going to blushingly tell our grandchildren that we enjoyed in the "good old days".

Any ideas what they could be?

Something else that's "smokin!" Greg's new-ish bike...and probably also on the list of "things to tell the grandchildren" if I ever get any!

finding a voice

June was a really productive month. I wrote hundreds (well, it felt like it) of articles, met and interviewed a host of interesting people, found new clients and got rid of one particularly dreadful one...
But in the flurry of it all, I seem to have lost my own voice.
Perhaps it is because I have spent a fair amount of time "ghost-blogging" for a couple of my clients? I've been crafting my words into their voices, hearing their tones and inflections and passions and speaking for them.
My mind is so filled with these other characters, that I am finding it difficult to speak for myself.

We did find some time for some fun things though... a highlight was breakfast at the Royal Hotel in Riebeeck Kasteel, which claims to have the longest stoep in Africa, or something. Here it is. A great spot. We went back for dinner... waterblommetjie breedie (stew made with water lilies) and because we were the only guests (we were early) sat in the smoking room in front of the huge fireplace. As the evening wore on and we got more mellow (I was drinking Allesveloren port) the room got more and more smokey, until the waiter and manager rushed in, all concerned, and opened all the doors and windows.

I've set myself the challenge of a post a day for July, and already I'm feeling a little daunted. Let's see how it goes...