Friday, December 31, 2010

"It's Snowing ! WooHoo !! It's Snowing!!!"

The Top Ten Albums of 2010

1) Medicine County – Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs. Sometimes downbeat and with off kilter and blackly humorous lyrics, Billy Childish’s protégée has created a wonderful country/Americana album.








2) Welder – Elizabeth Cook. This is as country as it gets, Cook sings songs of love, sex, drug addiction and loss in the most Southern drawl ever commited to record.

3) No Guts. No Glory – Airbourne. If you love AC/DC then you love Airbourne, their second album is another grand slice of no nonsense heavy rock and roll.

4) The Logic Of Chance – Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip. The wisest man in rap continues his mission to get us all to think and be nice, good and intelligent music.

5) Treats – Sleigh Bells. Fuzzed up back feeding guitars, avalanches of drum machines and wailing lyrics, it’s not quite rock, it’s definitely not pop, but it is bloody good.

6) Up From The Deep - Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts. The hottest new duo on the Brit folk scene showed that their stunning debut wasn’t a one off, more beautiful music and thoughtful lyrics.

7) Soul Eater – Ghostone. Strange prog metal from France, this album grew and grew on me through the year, I still don’t really get the story on this concept album, but the music is great.

8) Scream – Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy got a new guitarist and made his best album for ages.

9) Are You One Of Us ? – The Glitterati. Yorkshire rockers with a Wildhearts-esque debut, good stuff.

10) Curioser and Curioser – Alice Moving Under Skies. As goth as you like from another Yorkshire band, AMUS’ debut was like two bands in one as the two singers exchanged vocal duties



The Top Ten Books Of 2010

I have tried to choose a list of books for my favourites of 2010 that were either published (in hardback or paperback) in 2010, or were fairly recent, so although I have read some other stunning books, such as If This Is A Man by Primo Levi, those are not included on the list.

1) The Terror - Dan Simmons 10* : The crew of the HMS Terror are trapped in the Arctic ice, and on the ice, something terrible and primeval stalks them and brutally kills them.  Simmons combines history, horror and mythology in a gripping and exciting tale.

2) Kraken - China Meiville 10* : The impossible theft of a giant squid specimen from a London museum triggers a bizarre magical holy war, Kraken is his best novel since Iron Council and Meiville shows yet again that he is the best sci-fi / fantasy / Kafka-esque / Orwellian writer there is.

3) Matterhorn - Karl Marlantes 10* : A brutal, no pus filled wound spared account of a series of battles fought over the same few hills deep in the Vietnam war.

4) Orbus - Neal Asher 9* : Asher at the top of his game, huge spaceships, huge laser cannon wielding crab monsters, explosions, gore, chaos and fun.

5) Zoo City - Lauren Beukes 9* : In a twisted South Africa, criminals are burdened/gifted with animal partners who pass on semi-magical powers to their owners.  Beukes warped cyber-anima-sci-fi is as good as Burning Chrome.

6) Eunoia - Christian Bok 9* : Dazzling twisted word and letter play, it's not a novel, but it is playful and quite brilliant.

7) The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larson 9* : The last part of the Dragon Tattoo trilogy presents the reader with numerous twists as the leading characters seek redemption or revenge.

8) All My Friends Are Superheroes - Andrew Kaufman 8* : How terrible to be the only normal person in a world filled with augmented humans, not that all the powers described in Kaufman's world are exactly useful, a humorous and touching love story.

9) Under The Dome - Stephen King 8* : A brick of a book, and probably the best King novel for years.  A small American town becomes trapped under a force field, and within, society rapidly crumbles.

10) Swiftly - Adam Roberts 8* : The armies of England and France fight a bitter war, each side supported by the tiny or giant creatures from Gulliver's Travels.  Roberts' genre crossing novel is ingeneous, amusing and a great tale.

Also worth a read.....Khayelitsha - Steven Otter, The Underground Man - Mick Jackson, Penguins Stopped Play - Harry Thompson, Dark Shadows Falling - Joe Simpson.

From the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list I managed 26 novels this year of which the most enjoyable were A Kestrel For A Knave, Dracula, Cannery Row, Legend, 1984, Bridge Over The Drina, The Last Of The Mohicans, If This Is A Man and The Grapes Of Wrath. I also managed to read War And Peace, that's a long book, really it is.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Nation In Mourning

And another one in celebration, ha ha Australia, sucks to be you.

On the right is a map showing the various states of Australia, at this very moment grown men are weeping in all those places.

So The Ashes have been retained, Australia have been defeated twice by innings, the first time that has ever happened in a series played in Australia, England will be looking for a third victory in the final test in order to win the series outright.

What has been so marvellous is that this has been such a team effort.  Jimmy Anderson has led the attack for England ably supported by Broad, Swann, Tremlett and the inspired selection of a Yorkshireman for the fourth test in Tim Bresnan.  For the batters, the resurgent form of Alastair Cook, who now has 577 runs for the series, has led the way, all the batsman have made runs and only the normally indomitable Paul Collingwood will think he has had a poor series.

Many writers and broadcasters have been continually saying how poor Australia are at the moment, and how many problems and divisions there are behind the scenes, but don't get distracted by that, this is an Australia side with players like Hussey, Ponting, Siddle, Watson and Hadding.  England have had to be the better side to retain the Ashes, and the better side they have been.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Album Review : Virgin Death - Crimson Chrysalis 7*

For Fans Of : Evanescence, Nightwish

The Virgin Death EP is a first release for the artist performing as Crimson Chrysalis, but not, so far as I can find out, her first foray into published music.  CC seems to be more or less a solo project for a South African artist called Rene who has previously performed acoustic rock sung in Afrikaans.  Crimson Chrysalis comes in at the light and very melodic end of the rock/metal spectrum.

I can't find any useful information on who performs on the EP, apart from one track Epilogue, features another South African musician, Ruan Xen.

The EP is a pretty good stab at making a European style melodic rock album, Rene, or CC, has a good voice, slightly breathy and huskily sexy in places, but with good range, strength and sustain for the rockier parts.  The music itself has touches of Evanescence minus the goth histrionics, the EP sits somewhere between mainstream AOR and operatic rock.

There are 6 songs on the EP, opener Fuck Off And Die has the attitude, but should have packed a bit more guitar punch.  Moth Around A Flame combines a string section nicely with the band and CC's voice is at it's most sultry, Epilogue has a soaring, end of epic movie the credits are rolling feel to it.  The title track Virgin Death has sweeping keyboards and some good guitar parts, but the middle section is a bit of a let down and sounds rather like a Disney musical piece. Soliloque and Dragon's Roar round off the EP, both decent and nicely composed tracks.

I felt that if Virgin Death had had just a little more punch it would have been a really good album, as it is this is a good effort, and for those who like like light rock and clear vocals it makes for pleasing listening.

Idiot, n

"A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot's activity is not confined to any special field or thought or action, but 'pervades and regulates the whole.'  He has the last word in everything, his decision is unnapealable, He sets the fashions of opinion and taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a deadline."

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Thanks For The Christmas Present

Melbourne Cricket Ground standsImage via Wikipedia
A big thanks to Chris Tremlett, Jimmy Anderson, Tim Bresnan, Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss and the boys for the stunning Christmas present this morning, a virtuoso display of cricket which has put England within touching distance of retaining the Ashes.

I got up soon after 6am and turned on the telly to see that the starting crowd at the MCG of 85,000 had evaporated as England tore though the Australian batting line up and then began to pile on the runs in England 1st innings. By the end of the day's play there seemed to be about 15,000 left inside the vast stadium, all of the English, all of the them deliriously happy with the day's events.

Alaistair Cook's name is going to be one that makes Australian cricket fans shudder after the end of this series.  In county cricket last summer he scratched around and could hardly buy a run, but against Australia he has been unstoppable, playing flowing and exciting cricket, piling on the runs he is now close to scoring 5,000 test runs.  Captain Strauss has not had such a sparkling series with the bat, but his unbeaten 64 in England's total of 157-0 takes him to over 6,000 runs in test cricket.

So, you're an Australian with an MCG ticket for Sunday, but do you go and see your team grinding their way towards defeat, or do you stay home so you can't hear the noise of twenty thousand jeering English men and women ?  Nice cricket trophy Australia, I think we'll keep it.
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Things That Naughty Uncle Mikey Must Not Do In Chruch Next Christmas

*Wave madly at the choir stalls in an attempt to get his nephew to wave back.  Three small children stuck their hands in the air and none were related to me.

*Give a heavy metal concert style "Oh Yeah!!!!" and throw the horns after the choir finishes Agnus Dei.

*Break out into "Happy Birthday to you" when the Canon announces the birth of Jesus.

*Grab hold of the offertory cup and attempt to "Down in one" with the Communion Wine.

*Say "Don't you have any chocolate ones ?" when given the Communion Wafer.

But at least I didn't have my Marilyn Manson shirt on view this year.

Gig Review : Ripon Cathedral Choir Christmas Service 10*

I suspect that giving anything except a 10 out of 10 rating to a cathedral choir on Christmas Day might involve some form of higher editing, or divine punishment, but nevertheless the Christmas Day service at Ripon Cathedral really was an absolute joy. 

The Cathedral itself is visually stunning, beautiful and awe inspiring, but despite all of the architectural grandeur, the service itself, led by Canons Keith Punshon and Paul Greenwell was very human and accessible.  Laughter bounced around the Cathedral as they spoke about the thurifer bursting into flame as they lit it, and they was a fair amount of muffled coughing as the smoky clouds of incense drifted into the congregation.

The choir were wonderful, both the adult and children's sections performed really well, their voices soaring and exhilarating.   There is a special quality to children's voices used in this way, the confidence and assured manner in which they sang was both physically calming yet motivating and stimulating to your Christian convictions.  I have managed to lose my service sheet so can't remember which piece of singing has the overlapping call and response style to it, Agnus Dei perhaps ? Anyway, that piece was particularly wonderful.

The other great thing to having a really good choir is that they sing loudly and clearly, and this means the other members of the congregation can hear far less of me. 

I would highly recommend a visit to the Cathedral to hear the choir sing, doesn't matter if you are religious or not, just pop along to Evensong for some really great, and free, music.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Christmas Everyone

A Danish Christmas tree illuminated with burni...Image via Wikipedia
Whatever your personal beliefs, I hope you have a good day day today, and as I have been lucky to have the last 9 Christmas Days with my family I'd like to say a big thanks to everyone who has to work today. All the chefs and bar staff and cleaners and waiting staff in the food trade, all the emergency service people who keep us safe and tend to us, and all the people who do vital but unglamorous jobs who might well be working today (I'm thinking we'd be in trouble if our power stations were abandoned today), best wishes to everyone.
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Friday, December 24, 2010

Book Review : Fables 14 Witches - Bill Willingham 9*

Long running comics with a constant story arc are not an easy thing to master, this is why so many of the marathon length series are written in turn by an ever changing line up of guest writers.  Solo authors always face the peril of running low on ideas whilst trying to keep the series going.  The comic greats like Moore, Gaiman and Carey get around this problem by defining a definite end for their creations before it gets tired and stale, Watchmen, Sandman and Lucifer all behaved like novels in that they they reached an end and allowed the readers to wonder at the the writer's brilliance, and the writers were allowed to move on to other projects.  Willingham gets around this problem by being constantly brilliant, here we are, 14 volumes into the ongoing Fables saga and he shows no sign of straying from the high standard he set back in 2002 when the first Fables arrived.

It might have been natural to end the Fables series after the defeat of the evil imperial overlord Gepetto, the whole thing could have been neatly wrapped up and Willingham's creations would have ended on a high note.  Instead, he chose to plant the seeds of a new adversary in the dying embers of the previous ones burning empire, as Gepetto's armies were slaughtered and his worlds rebelled against his iron, or rather wooden, rule, so something that Gepetto's mages had kept safe for ages was freed.

Mister Dark, as his name implies, is a much blacker and distubing evil than Gepetto was, indeed he seems to spring more from the pages of Hellblazer than Fables.  He kills fables with a thought, flenses their bodies, then consumes their teeth and re-creates them as unliving, animated slaves.

As well as creating great stories, Williingham has created a believable legal structure for the Fables which is rather more Old Testament than New, but still we see fables struggling with the implementation of their own laws and the consequences thereof.  Gepetto has been allowed to live, supposedly stripped of his powers, but he still proves capable of causing trouble, and Baba Yaga proves that even death and  imprisonment in the Witching Well cannot stop a witch of her power.

Some of the regular Fables characters take to the back benches in this volume and that allows some minor characters to step into the limelight.  Of particular joy is the transformation of the previously buffoonish Bufkin in autodidact style into the well educated bane of Baba Yaga.  Willingham ends this volume on a cliffhanger with Frau Totenkinder having left to research a magic to use against Mister Dark, and the usurper to her seat of power, Ozma, summoning a power who is sure to divide the Fables loyalties.

Fables continues to be the best long running series there is, whilst The Walking Dead and DMZ seem to have waylaid some of their early promise, Fables continues at a very high standard, massively enjoyable and showing no sings of stalling, long may Fables continue.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A VERY ZOMBIE HOLIDAY (Instructional video)

Old Men's Brains (A Zombie Christmas)

Snowman of DOOM

Ilkley In The Snow


This is the path by the River Wharfe, this beautiful winter's scene is a couple of hundred yards from my house, I don't ever forget that I am so fortunate to live in such a wonderful place.

And A Merry Hypocrisy To You

A Christmas card from 1870Image via Wikipedia
There are people who, if it comes up in general conversation that I'm a Christian and I do believe in God, feel it necessary to become quite aggressive and immediately tell me what a fool I am for having faith, or they express a (very tired, dull and glib) opinion that religion is at the root of all the world's evils.

I note that at the moment the very same people are running around putting up decorations, sending greetings cards, buying presents and food and preparing a feast to join in with the most widely celebrated event in the Christian calendar, the birth of Christ.

You know, if you truly are a independent, free thinking soul, beholden to no-one and nothing, free of religious taint, not held under the awful yoke of ritual myth, then surely you are are also able to free yourself from the mass hysteria and hype of Christmas itself, or is there no end to your hypocrisy ? Many anti-religion types seem to be quite happy to accept all the fun parts of religion, they would fight to keep the Christmas parties and bank holidays, whilst at the same time proclaiming the religion is evil. Well really people, make your minds up.

Anyway, it is the season of good will to all men, so I hope everyone everyone has a really great Christmas, and that includes the faithful, the non-believers, and especially Richard Dawkins.  I wonder what he does for Christmas Day ?
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Corinthian's Wife

A Sex Shop ? Way Out Here ?


The story goes that Ronnie was going to turn a delapidated barn into a farm stall and drinks stop, his friends added the word "sex" to the original sign for a joke, but the joke stuck and his mates persuaded Ronnie to open a pub as well as the shop.

Ronnies Sex Shop is out on Route 62, the road that runs from Cape Town to Oudtshorn through majestic mountains and the rolling hills and broad plains of the Karoo.  It is a beautiful drive, but everywhere on it seems a long way from everywhere else.

Waves at Mossel Bay


I liked it here, the red colour of the rocks stood out well against they sky, and there was some quite impressive waves smashing over the shore.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Snow Fun

We had the park to ourselves this afternoon, then a couple of pints and a very reasonably priced lunch at The Riverside Hotel.  We fed the horde of ducks (Dad thought to bring some bread), threw snowballs at each other and span Shirley on the round-a-bout until she was dizzy.  Joe and Ellie on the rope frame.

Airport Chief Says He Feels Sorry For UK

Controller of Reykjavik Airport, Bjarni Bergsson, says he feels sorry for the tens of thousands of people trapped at British airports.

"I had no idea that literacy rates were so appalling in the UK," he said yesterday. "Although it clearly stated on every website, television programme and newspaper that under no account should anyone travel to Heathrow, thousand of Brits were unable to read the warnings and still ended up stuck at the airport.  The British government should put more money into educating their people so that they can read and understand basic warnings."

Bergsson went on to say that Reykjavik was operating normally, as it always does, and the only flight delays were caused by inbound flights from the UK.

"I'm glad we don't get snow here like they do in the UK," he joked. "Otherwise we could be in real trouble."

Fight !


This scene might look loving and peaceful, but the two rhino were engaged in a prolonged horn and head butting match, the female, presumably the object of their battle, was stood a hundred yards away, happily grazing and awaiting the winner of the struggle.

Tactical Nuclear Penguin

Beer

Isn't beer fantastic, and it is something that us Brits do better than anyone else in the world.. Indeed, visitors from overseas reading my blog may even think that their nation brews beer and that they have enjoyed a few pints, but it probably doesn't and you havn't.  What you drink in other countries you may call beer, but it is really lager, factory produced, too cold and too fizzy. Now that's not to say to say that you can't get nice lagers, but beer's the thing.

Drawn from a hand pull pump from a barrel, not gas assisted, cellar cool not artificially chilled, naturally gassed rather than cola fizzy, proper beer, ale, bitter, mild, stout or porter, beer is wonderful.  You can get bottled and keg beer, but why bother when there's a barrel tapped and a pint of cool foaming ale available.

Having no customers of my own yesterday, I wandered up into Ilkley to my favourite watering hole Bar T'at , there is always a great selection of beer, and with the snow lying on the ground and the temperature not even getting close to thawing, a big winter beer seemed in order.  Abbeydale Black Mass, brewed black and to an abv of 6.66%, was my choice.

The Abbeydale website make these claims about it... "Very dark ruby ale with a rich creamy head. Aromas of dark chocolate, coffee and burnt toast. Full bodied and warming with strong flavours of bitter chocolate, fruitcake, raisins and hints of cherries. A lingering bitter finish." Very pleasant it was too, so much so that further sampling was required, followed by fish and chips eaten outside and then a mid afternoon nap.

The UK is having a real brewing renaissance at the moment, with micro breweries springing up all over, the Ilkley Brewing Company produces a fine range of ales from their just out of the town centre brewery.  I have sampled Mary Jane, a nice pale beer, plus Ilkley Gold, Pale and Best, their beers are normally on sale at Bar T'at and a range of pubs from Leeds/ Bradford through Wharfedale.

The Gusset claimed last week that Ilkley Brewery and Brewdog, the Scots mentalists responsible for the 32% abv Tactical Nuclear Penguin and the almost unbelievable 41% abv Sink The Bismark, have signed a contract to bring their beers to each other's regions.  Who fancies nipping out out for a really strong pint then ? Oh and bring a full wallet, they are about £40 a bottle.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Photo taken at the student demo, from The Real Art Of Protest on Facebook.

7000 Tons Of Metal

Johan Hegg from Amon Amarth at Metalmania Fest...Image via Wikipedia
Do you fancy being stuck on a boat with Amon Amarth, Death Angel, Voivod and Witchburner ?

Well now you can.

Yes folks, it's a heavy metal festival on a cruise ship, which all sounds fine until some beery soul falls into the ocean.
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Saturday, December 18, 2010

The insurance side of sex.




Sex with your wife - Legal & General

Sex with your future wife - Mutual Consent

Sex with your secretary - Employers Liability

Sex with a prostitute - Commercial Union

Sex with your biographer - Quote Me Happy

Sex with your boyfriend - Standard Life

Sex with a transvestite - Confused.com

Sex with someone different - Compare The Market

Snow

Weather MapImage by Crowcombe Al via Flickr
The freezers are already full of meat we didn't use because of the cancellations the snow caused when we were on holiday, the Met Office site said yesterday that Ilkley was due for a foggy Saturday and a bright and cold Sunday, but on opening up this morning there is around 4" of snow on the ground.  This bodes badly for the functions we have booked tonight and tomorrow.
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Friday, December 17, 2010

Wave Action at Mossel Bay

ConDem Politics - Less Jobs = More Jobs

David Cameron and Nick CleggImage by The Prime Minister's Office via Flickr
I must admit that I am still struggling to understand the how of Cleggeron's new employment policy direction, that is, that jobs shed in the public sector will be taken up by gains in the private sector.

It seems to me as an employer in the private sector that the spending cuts end ensuing job losses will affect my part of the private sector very badly.

We are caterers at a golf club who depend largely on visitors to provide our turnover and profit.  We have many visiting groups who are golf societies from the Police, FSA, Highways and other publicly funded bodies, as well as social club and pub societies whose members number a fair percentage of council employees.

In the near future then there will be less police, hygiene inspectors, road workers and other council employees, if these people have no jobs I would think that luxuries like playing golf and having dinner at golf clubs may have to be sacrificed in favour of feeding their kids and paying the mortgage.  This in turn will mean I have fewer customers, lower turnover and reduced profits, how do I turn this into creating more jobs in the private sector ?

Golf provides more employment than any other sport in the UK, your local rugby, football or cricket club would be in a fortunate position if they have a couple of employees (bar staff or a pro coach perhaps) but every golf club has a range of full time employees, Golf Professionals, chefs, bar staff, waiting staff, cleaners, office staff, green keepers, and we all depend on a well functioning economy with high levels of employment.

I think as well, that like tens or hundreds of thousands of people who voted Liberal at the last General Election, I can't see what difference, if any at all, the LibDems are making to government policy at the moment.  Come the next election I think I will be withdrawing my vote from the LibDems and going back to writing "None of the above are fit to govern me" across my ballot paper.
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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rhino


On our first day in the Kruger Park we had seen a pair of Rhino off in the distance, then on our penultimate day we saw this one peacefully grazing on a riverbank.  On the map I had purchased there was a small hide indicated on this road which we visited, but I didn't feel at all safe in the hide.  I thought it would have been designed to keep larger animals out, but the viewing gaps were easily big enough for a lion or leopard to get through and so after a very brief stop we went back to the car.

Was I being over cautious ? Perhaps, but this memorial back at the camp had me a little worried...

When You Want The Job Doing Well...


I do hope these enterprising young people at the student demo were charging for their signs, then they could have used the profits to offset their loans.

Obama Is Not Hitler


From the Rally To Restore Sanity

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Giraffe and Zebra

Hippo And Tree


This was in the dam next to Berg-en-Dal camp, that hippo was less than a hundred yards from our room.

Elephants





I think the elephants were my favourite, they are obviously hugely powerful, as we could see when they stripped bark with their tusks and knocked trees over to make the leaves easier to get at, but at the same time they appeared calm and composed and moved with a grace that defied their bulk.

The four elephants in the last picture were enjoying a cool bath in one of the waterholes, spraying water over their backs and even vanishing bebeath water's surface.

A Country Of Epic Landscapes


South Africa is a land where the view is usually dominated by a mountain, they're everywhere, vast striding mountain ranges that sweep up from the plains in the manner of a child's drawing, no gently rolling fothills as I'm accustomed to at home, just broad plains and soaring slopes.

This picture was taken on the road over the Houw Hoek Pass, Meg wasn't so taken with the deep gorges and cliffs that the road crept around, but the views, as we were to see all over South Africa, were stunning.

I was hoping to a bit of hiking around Cape Town, perhaps to get up a couple of the smaller peaks that abound in the area, this plan though was foiled by the fynbos. Fynbos is the predominant plant type on the hills, made up of dozens of similar plant species, to look at it isn't so much different from our own heather, except that it can grow up to six feet tall and forms a dense and pretty much impenetrable barrier over much of the hills.
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On The Beach, On The Road


This was on our last day in South Africa, driving along the main road across False Bay, it was blowing a gale, sandstorms grating against the car and rattling the shacks in nearby Khayelitsha.  You could do two things at once though, driving on the beach, on the road.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What I Did On My Holidays - Read Books

The Resurrectionist - James Bradley 7*
The Architecture Of Desire - Mary Gentle 5*
The Underground Man - Mick Jackson 8*
Alamein - Iain Gale 4*
Zoo City - Lauren Beukes 9*
Silas Marner - Geroge Elliot 7* (1001)
Lady Chattersley's Lover - D H Lawrence 7* (1001)
Kraken - China Meiville 10*
In Search Of Mihailo - Dolores Pala 7*
The Cruel Sea - Nicholas Monserrat 7*
The Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka 5*
Dracula - Bram Stoker 9* (1001)
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark 6* (1001)
The Burglar In The Bin Bag - Arthur Goldstuck 7*
Khayelitsha - Steven Otter 8*

(76 books read from the 1001 list)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

On The Way Home

Sorry for the lack of posting whilst away, internet coverage in South Africa is patchy and can be rather pricy, and the cottage we rented did not have wi-fi despite the advertising saying that it did.

We're in Cape Town airport now waiting to fly across to Johannesburg, then from there to Amsterdam, and finally from Holland back to Leeds, hopefully our luggage will come with us on the return journey.

We have had a great time and have seen some really wonderful sights, South African hospitality has been warm and welcoming, the food and wine is great, weather has been boiling hot (and yes I did get sunburned), and lastly, I bought a new hat, Meg hates it...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Hippos, or Hippi ?


Thery look slightly comical, but these chubby beasts are very dangerous, very territorial and with hair trigger tempers, they kill a lot of people, more than big cats or crocodiles do.  From our safe vantage point on the road above this dam though they seem like gentle, placid animals.  This was a group of about 8 hippo, wallowing in the water and grazing behind the dam.

Hippo


This was out first sighting of a hippo, on the rather aptly named Crocodile River, I wouldn't fancy going for a dip here.  The hippo demonstrated something we would see over and over again in the next few days, that animals just refuse to pose nicely for photographs, often heading away from you instead of giving you a more appealing front view.

If you want to become an expert on South African game, then you also need to specialise in identifying animals by their arses.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Giraffe

Vervet Monkey

Male Impala

Words From Mrs YS.

Hello, just a few words from Mrs YS:-


The last couple of days here in Kruger National Park have been brilliant!

I was not expecting the landscape to be as it is, hills and mountains, trees and it is very green. Probably too many wildlife programs on the telly with arid plains, scrubland and desert.

Have seen loads of animals too, so far we have spotted loads of Elephants (right next to the car and having a dip in a watering hole), Rhino, Zebra, Giraffe, Water Buffalo, Hippo, Wart Hogs and lots of antelope, oh and a quick glimpse of a leopard up a tree.

It is really hot and humid here too, today it touched 40 deg, but it’s been around 36 deg generally. Tonight there is a massive lightening storm, it’s fantastic, nearly as good as the animals, it is just lighting up the whole sky, and has been for at least 40 mins.

So the holiday so far is great, but could be even better if we had our stuff! – The cases got left behind at Amsterdam on Thursday, it’s now Sunday night and they have not arrived. KLM have been promising us for the last two days that “they will be there tomorrow” but they tell porky’s!! So we have had to go shopping for clothes and toiletries etc. But now they are running out, so I hope they really do arrive tomorrow, as our phones are nearly out of juice (chargers in the case) and I am missing little luxuries like perfume, hair dryer, my shoes!!

Oh well still having a good time apart from when I am yelling at KLM on the phone.

Hopefully YS is going to post some pics when the cases get here, as the camera leads are in there too! XXXX

Monday

Africa has a sweet tooth. Yogurt at breakfast is sweet, kudu stew at dinner is fruity and sweet, bottles of fruit juice from the supermarket are cloyingly sugary and almost undrinkable. A little tartness would be appreciated.


We saw a pride of lions feasting on a giraffe carcass today, that and the sight of elephants bathing have the high points of our safari. It is really exciting though seeing these magnificent beasts in the wild, we were both like children when we saw our first elephants, awestruck and happy as the great animals dined and walked around the car. Today we made a chance sighting of a single rhino after taking a detour, and we spent some time manoeuvring along a thickly wooded riverbank to get a better view of it.

I have walked the ‘Rhino Trail’ a couple of times, this being a path that runs inside the camp wire, with clear signs that you walk at it your own risk and never at night, you wouldn’t want to run into a pack of baboons (who have learned to outwit the electrified fence) in the darkness. 40 yards from our hut’s back door a large hippo (the most prolific killer of people in Africa) grunts and vents in the lake behind the dam, a hundred yards away a pair of rhino graze, and in the near distance something big coughs and growls, we’re truly in the heart of the wild.

Sunday

Up early again, 5am ish. Although you could look out of the house door here and perhaps fool yourself visually that you were home in Yorkshire, some of the grassland and scrub has an almost home hill feel to it, the noise tells you instantly, and all the time, that are somewhere quite different.


Every kind of insect and bird here in the veld seems to bellow its existence at anything else within earshot. At some point of the day, every flying and crawling thing takes a few minutes to just stand around and yell “Here I aaaaam, its meeeeee, listen to meeeeee.” In particular there is an insect, of a size and shape I have yet to discern, that makes a constant shrieking noise not dissimilar to a car alarm. I would imagine that there is a good financial reward awaiting the man who can put an end to this aural menace.

At dawn and dusk the volume gets tweaked all the way to 11, the birth and death of daylight is greeted with a truly frenetic cacophony, a multi layered chirping, twittering, hooting orchestral tune up when the light changes.

Africa here is vibrantly alive, the rain falls, the land is verdant and lush providing bountiful food for the numerous creatures that depend it. What has really surprised me about the animal life here is the sheer quantity of it, Africa is fecund, febrile, life sustaining. Herds of impala can be seen constantly, kudu, giraffe and other grazers roam in large herds, there does not seem to be a single stretch of river or large pool without its resident hippo and crocodiles. Elephants roam everywhere, we have seen herds forty and fifty strong, mothers and older daughters shepherding babies of all sizes.

Following the herds of plant eaters, but more secretive, are the predators. We chanced upon a pride of lions eating a giraffe, and a secretive leopard slid down from its tree perch as we approached. Jackals and hyena patrol the road, and in the skies great eagles wheel on the thermals and vultures display a black sense of humour by roosting only in the branches of dead trees.

By late afternoon the luggage had still not arrived, KLM had left a message at reception saying it will definitely arrive tomorrow. I am beginning to believe that I may never see my favourite Megadeth t-shirt ever again.

The food at camp is interesting, and every camp has exactly the same menu. There is a choice of a carvery, in which the meat is alright but the vegetables were put on to cook yesterday, or an a la carte selection with just 3 items, steak (of what ? I’m unsure, kudu perhaps), breaded chicken, venison with a sauce (kudu again, monkey gland sauce anyone ?). Limited yes, but also very cheap, £25 for a two course carvery with a couple of drinks each for both of us.

We discovered on arriving back in camp today that one of the three inch long, hard as nails thorns that grow on the trees here had penetrated one of the car’s tyres. They tell you not to drive through the piles of shit you see everywhere on the roads because elephants can apparently ingest these evil looking spikes and pass them out again. The temperature mid afternoon was 40 c, I lay in the sand beside the car twisting the jack with rivulets of sweat pouring from me, ten minutes work and I was soaking, my t-shirt glued to me, and my deodorant stick ? Amsterdam, Johannesburg or Mars, but not here at Berg-En-Dal.

After going to bed early, we are awakened by a truly incredible thunderstorm, I grab the Biblical Apocalypse Meter and the needle is hitting 9.9 on the scale. The lightning flashes constantly, sometimes small bolts connect to earth, sometimes large forks arc across the clouded sky. The thunder booms and crashes, coming from all directions, in between rolling salvos the local birds scream their panic into the strobe lit night. Then, with a blaze of light that fills the sky and an accompanying drum roll that shakes the windows and can be felt right inside you, the lights in the house die, and the air conditioning grinds slowly to a halt.

I feel almost as if God has decided we should experience this show of nature’s force without distraction or impediment, in moments the storm has cranked up to full aural and visual effect again and for almost two hours the barrage continues overhead. It is almost beyond description, humbling in its intensity, inspiring in its terrible majesty.

Saturday

A thunderstorm rolled over the hills last night, I took a quick measurement on the Biblical Apocalypse Meter and it came up with a reading of 7.6, very impressive.


We got up early and set off on our big game hunt. Meg has eagle eyes and spotted roughly 374 different species, I saw a lot of Rhino dung, and an eagle.

Our list for today...

Kudu

Impala

Warthog

Lion (one big male panting under a tree)

Rhino (a pair at distance, then later a single one closer up)

Hippo

Crocodile

Water Buffalo

Wildebeast

Giraffe

And joy of joys, Elephants beyond counting, big ones, mums with babies, family groups, elephants asleep standing up, elephants tearing up grass, elephants knocking down trees, elephants crossing the road, elephants everywhere.

Back at camp, after numerous expensive phone calls to find the whereabouts of our luggage which KLM promised faithfully would arrive today, well, they now say it will most definitely arrive with us tomorrow. At Africa speed I presume

Friday

KLM have said we can have 100euro a day each as compensation for our missing luggage, so over breakfast we set to work and compiled a list of essentials that we could purchase at J’burg airport, toothbrush and paste, soap, deoderant, underwear, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, some basic clothes perhaps.


Ortambo domestic airport is not Heathrow, it’s not even Leeds/Bradford. The shops available to us are a bookshop, a curio and gift shop, and something I thought had died out in the early 1980’s, a branch of Wimpy. From our entire shopping list we manage a Nelson Mandela t-shirt for me, and a pair of South African flag patterned socks each. Also, my watch has stopped working.

We had originally planned to make haste to Berg-En-Dal camp in order to see some big game righty away, but the lack of shopping at the airport means we have to detour in to Malalane in order to get some stuff. On a Friday lunchtime, Malalane mall is as busy as Leeds city centre the week before Christmas, except...everything here runs at what I’m already thinking of as ‘African Speed.’

It is said that the Irish have over a dozen words for the Spanish concept of Manyana, although none of them convey quite the same sense of urgency. In South Africa it seems to be a universal belief that things are going to happen anyway, so why make them happen any faster.

As we try to park the car hordes of people wander aimlessly around the parking lot, calling to friends stuck in the winding bank and post office queues, stopping to eat a bite of cake, chatting animatedly or languidly, or just sat on the ground in the shade of the nearest tree, wall or parked car.

We manage to park without running anyone over, and then, as a lad brought in the Yorkshire Dales, I suffer a slight public visibility crisis. There are thousands of people gently milling around, and as far as I can see, Meg and myself are the only white people in sight. I’ve got to admit that as we leave the car and set off towards a ladies clothing shop I feel a little exposed and vulnerable, a little out of place, just a fraction off balance.

I have been to other countries before where I have been the only white person in sight, wandering around lost in the food markets of Hong Kong though I was able to tower over the vast majority of the locals and size always brings a feeling of security with it. It takes a few moments to realise that nobody here appears to care less about less, nobody is staring, and more importantly, and this despite some rather hysterical recent reporting in the British media, nobody here seems about to mug and murder a pair of slightly lost looking British tourists.

In the shops, people are really friendly, and a minor joy, in clothes shops the assistants don’t hassle or hurry you as they do at home, instead of a company policy dictated greeting with a distinct undercurrent of “buy something quickly and piss off” the girls here offer a laid back and carefree welcome. In fact, as there appear to be no corporate uniforms, they might not be shop girls at all, just friendly folk saying hello.

African speed continues in the supermarket where meandering lines of trolley pushing women pause to chat in the aisles, patiently queue at the butcher’s counter and generally get the shopping done, but not with anything that approaches alacrity. Food essentials and some toiletries bought, we finally head off for the game reserve.

Only yards inside the Kruger gate we see a family of warthogs, proud parents with a rough and tumble mob of hairy piglets. Warthogs seem quite cute when young, but as adults they trot around with an air of cocky belligerence that defies their size. Soon after the pigs, we see antelope, Impala, grazing right next to the road. Impala are so numerous and so unafraid of vehicles that after a couple of hours you become so blasé about them that they’d have to be doing something really exceptional, getting eaten by a lion for example, to make them noteworthy.

“What you looking at ?”

“Impala”

“What’s it doing ?”

“Ice skating”

“With triple-salco ?”

“Nah”

“Not looking then.”

At base camp we unpack our meagre belongings and remember something else, all our leads and chargers for the laptop, camera and phones are in the suitcases, so if we use things, then they are going to run down with no way to recharge them.

Dinner is interesting, our steaks arrive, chef has opted to serve them on the raw side of blue, and some time after we begin, our starters also arrive. I question the waitress, a large motherly lady, about this turn of events. She waves a hand in a sort of ‘well what can you do’ gesture and says that although she clearly pointed out to the chef which were the starters and which were the main courses, he chose to ignore her. Going with the flow of the thing, I pile my chilli chicken livers (which are at least cooked) on top of my steak and eat the lot.

Mosquitos like me. Travelling in Italy in shorts they liked me so much that my lower legs resembled nothing so much as two chunks of roughly cured bacon. The Kruger is a malaria zone, so on top of taking anti-malarial tablets I am dosing myself with Tabard insect repellent. I have no deodorant or aftershave (for such a supposedly hardy bloke I have rather delicate skin, almost all types of aerosol and roll on underarm stuff brings me out in itchy swellings) and the smell of Tabard is somewhere between rugby player’s jockstrap and Deep Heat. Combined with my giftshop range of clothing, it’s a good thing I’m not single and on the pull.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

First Sight Of South Africa, It's Dark

Burchell's Zebra, Kruger National ParkImage by Kleinz1 via Flickr
Well the two of us have arrived safely in Johannesburg, but we've had a falling out with the luggage, and the cases have decided to stay behind in Holland, hopefully to join us in a couple of days time.

It isn't a disaster, but it is of course a major inconvenience, the cases have all our clothes, as well as all the leads and chargers for the phones and cameras so I can't download any pictures yet.  Plus our expensive mosquito repellent is in the cases, all out toiletries, and the supplies of tea/coffee/sugar/washing up liquid for use in the Kruger camp, and all those other useful items you pack to bring on holiday.

KLM have said we can have have an allowance of 100euro a day each towards clothes and essentials, so we're currently making a list of what we need to buy at the airport tomorrow morning before catching our flight to Nelspruit.  We'll be in the Kruger Park tomorrow afternoon, and, fingers crossed, KLM will deliver the luggage to us on Saturday.  At least they seem to know where the cases are and they are not lost in the system.

My little friend Natalie has told me in no uncertain terms that I am not allowed to eat Zebra whilst I'm over here, but if it appears on the menu somewhere I'm going to give it a go, after all, the French eat horses dn't they ?

It has been a very long day travelling today, so we've just had a quick drink in the hotel bar, Castle Lager is crap by the way, bedtime now, off to see the animals in the morning.
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