Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Growing up in apartheid South Africa (book review)

The Persistence of MemoryThe Persistence of Memory by Tony Eprile

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Bildungsroman about growing up in apartheid South Africa — a white boy at school, then an army conscript, and afterwards.

I would like to be able to say that this book “tells it like it was” in the same way that Andre Brink‘s A Dry White Season does, but two things make me hesitate to say that. One is that I never served in the army, so I cannot say that the middle section, which deals with that, is accurate. Secondly, there are several inaccuracies about known things in the book, which cast doubt upon the accuracy of some of the other parts,

The inaccuracties bothered me. One of the most egregious errors is a reference to the Australian national rugby team as the All Blacks. Another was a reference to a Xhosa chief, Makhana, which goes on to say that Makhana wasn’t his real name, but a reference to his left-handedness. There is a footnote to the effect that his real name was Nxele. But it is Nxele, and not Makhana, which is a referwence to left-handedness.

At first sight these errors (and there are several more) are not about matters central to the plot, and one might attribute them to careless writing and editing. But on second thoughts, they relate to something that is central to the plot and is embodied in the very title of the book. The protagonist, we are told, has an excellent memory, and at one point, when he testifies before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the reliability of his memory is both demonstrated and brought into question.

If the protagonist’s memory is crucial to the plot, then perhaps these errors scattered through the book (told in the first persion) are intended as hints that the protagonist’s memory was not as good as he claimed it was, and therefore, far from “telling it like it is”, the book is a kind of bizarre fantasy, reminiscient of Jean Genet‘s The Balcony.

So though I wanted to give it four or five stars, in the end I gave it only three.

View all my reviews

The Walking Dead: Russia’s Immortal Regiment as Ancestor Veneration

Originally posted on Nina Kouprianova:

“You are but millions. We are hordes and hordes and hordes.” (“Scythians,” Alexander Blok, 1918)

On May 9, 2015, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, was on an official visit to Moscow in order to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe. Upon seeing countless people marching in the streets, he assumed that what he was witnessing was an anti-Putin protest. This kind of ‘misunderstanding’ was not a surprise. After all, European and North American mainstream media is fond of exaggerating anti-government protests—by a handful of affluent pro-Western ideological Liberals—that are limited to large urban centers. Yet that day, foreign journalists were forced to cover something unprecedented, though underestimating the numbers: half a million Muscovites marched through the city carrying mounted photographs of their family members, who participated in the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945).

But then I saw that, on the contrary, the…

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UK trip 20 May 2005: London, and going home

Continued from UK trip 19 May 2015: London | Notes from underground

We took a bus to Twickenham station, and got a fast train to Waterloo, which got there in 20 minutes, Just outside the station was a bust of Nelson Mandela. It didn’t look much like him though.

Bust of Nelson Mamndela near Waterloo station

Bust of Nelson Mamndela near Waterloo station

We walked across the Hungerford footbridge, which was new since I was last here, and gave views of the Thames downriver.

Hungerford footbridge

Hungerford footbridge

It seemed worth recording the London skyline, which had changed quite a bit over the last 40 years, and would probably have changed more if we ever came here again.

City of London skyline, from Hungerford footbriddge

City of London skyline, from Hungerford footbriddge

The bridge crossed the Embankment, which I had driven along many times in 1966, when I had worked for London Transport and driven the 109 bus both ways between the Embankment and Purley.

The Embankment from Hungerford Bridge.

The Embankment from Hungerford Bridge.

From ground level it looked much the same as it had in 1966, except for the London Eye in the background, and the push chairs in the foreground. In 1966 they would have been Victorian-style prams, with boat-shaped bodies and enormous wheels, with back wheels bigger than, and overlapping, the front ones. And they weren’t called prams back then either, they were called baby carriages, at least in the advertisements.

The Embankment from ground level, with push chairs rather than the "baby carriages" of the 1960s.

The Embankment from ground level, with push chairs rather than the “baby carriages” of the 1960s.

It began to rain, so we didn’t hang around there, but took the underground to Blackfriars, and took a couple of photos of St Paul’s Cathedral.

St Paul's Cathedral, London.

St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

When I had been here in 1966 the dome of St Paul’s had been covered with scaffolding, so I wanted a picture with the uncluttered dome.

By this time we were feeling hungry, and wandered down Ludgate Hill looking for somewhere to eat. We passed a Starbucks place, which I had heard of from conversations on mailng lists and newsgroups on the Internet. People mentioned Starbucks as if everyone knew what they were talking about, so I was tempted to try it just to experience it first hand. But the descriptions had also made me think that their coffee was similar to that of the Seattle Coffee Company back home in Pretoria — bitter and overroasted. The Seattle Coffee Company shops were always attached to the bookshops formerly known as Exclusive Books, now Exclus1ve Books. It was a good idea, as one could browse through books drinking coffee, except that the coffee was undrinkable. So we chickened out and instead had an enormous breakfast at Ossies Cafe on Ludgate Hill.

After breakfast we took the No 11 bus to Victoria station, and looked for book and record shops, but couldn’t find any.

Near Victoria Station

Near Victoria Station

We took the Victoria line tube train to Oxford Circus. The Victoria line had been under construction in the 1960s, so that was something else that was new. Val got me a Che Guevara shirt from a street vendor — one item from the sixties that remained current. We returned via the Embankment and Hungerford bridge again; the rain had stopped and so we crossed on the upstream side, and saw the view of the Westminster skyline.

Westminster skyline from Hungerford footbridge

Westminster skyline from Hungerford footbridge

Back to Waterloo Station, where the innovation since the sixties was the post-1984 Big Brother cameras, to remind us that we were living in a surveillance society.

Waterloo Station, with post-1984 Big Brother cameras.

Waterloo Station, with post-1984 Big Brother cameras.

We took the South West Trains train to Strawberry Hill, and I wrote a last minute postcard to our daughter Bridget who was in Greece, and posted it as we walked back to Frank Cranmer’s cottage.

Strawberry Hill station

Strawberry Hill station

Frank came home from work at 4:00, and took us to the airport, though we would have been quite happy to catch the train. He dropped us at the Terminal 1 building about 5:00 pm. Val bought a couple of books to read on the plane, which were being offered at 2 for £9, one a new Robert Goddard novel, Sight unseen. We checked in and boarded flight SA 235 for Johannesburg (well, actually Ekurhuleni, but they don’t tell travellers that) which left at 7:30. I remembered seeing England dropping away below when I left for Amsterdam after I finshed studying at St Chad’s 37 years before, and wondering if I would ever see it again, and now I felt the same, but this time I was sorrier to leave. Our time had been all too short, and it was good to meet old friends, and the relatives we met had all been nice ones.

On the plane I read The great Gilly Hopkins, which we had bought the day before, and when I finished it tried to watch a film, but the sound in my seat wasn’t working properly — not that it mattered much, as the films were the same as when we had come over, and I had watched all the ones I wanted to watch. So I replayed our trip in my head, trying to remember the places we had been and the people we had seen.

That’s it.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005

UK trip 19 May 2015: London

Continued from UK trip 18 May 2005: a day in Oxford | Notes from underground

We took the R73 bus to Richmond Station, and got the District Line train to Monument station, and then changed to the Docklands Light Railway, and rode to Lewisham. It seemed to be the best way to see some of the parts of London that had changed most since I had last been there in the 1960s.

Some of the changes in London -- the docklands had become a business distict

Some of the changes in London — the docklands had become a business distict

The railway had not been here for one thing, and as parts of it were on elevated track there were good views over the rebuilt docks area, with tall office blocks, which looked a bit like the financial district of Johannesburg or central Sandton. It was a lot cleaner and smarter, but also was a reminder that Britain was no longer a country whose products were exported all over the world. Manufacturing industry in Britain seemed to be dead. The streets were full of French, Italian and German cars, and even the Vauxhalls were simply rebadged Opels.

Lewisham was much changed from when I had last seen it too. Buildings seemed to have been demolished to make way for a bus station, and just about every route seemed to be run be a different bus company.

Leisham bus station.

Leisham bus station.

We went to have breakfast in a place called Maggie’s, which had an all-in breakfast of as much as one could eat for £4-50, which Val had, and I had a Spanish omelet and chips, which was a bit cheaper, though they refilled my tea cup three times, speedily and efficiently. At one point a bloke nicked my rucksack, then gave it back, saying I should be more careful.

Maggies Cafe in Lewisham, where we had breakfast.

Maggies Cafe in Lewisham, where we had breakfast.

Afterwards we wandered about a bit, and saw the church having a market. It seemed to be a fairly high church, advertising Mass.

Church in Lewisham

Church in Lewisham

We rode back to Bank on the Docklands Light Railway. The trains were driverless, and seemed to sway and shake a lot.

 

Docklands light railway, but no docks in sight.

Docklands light railway, but no docks in sight. Driver’s-eye view, but no driver in sight either.

We walked down to London Bridge past the monument to the great fire of London, and there was not a bowler hat in sight. In 1966 London Bridge had been a sea of bowler hats and umbrellas, crossing to the north bank at 9:00 am and back again at 6:00 pm, when I was driving the 133 bus. Back then they had seemed horribly old fashioned, like something out of the 1920s, and I thought that if such a tradition had persisted so long, it might have persisted longer, but it has not.

The Bank of England, the famed old lady of Threadneedle Street. n 1966 the streets in the vicinity used to be a sea of bowler hats, but in 2005 there wasn't one to be seen.

The Bank of England, the famed Old Lady of Threadneedle Street. In 1966 the streets in the vicinity used to be a sea of bowler hats, but 40 years later there wasn’t one to be seen.

We looked for a loo, but there hardly seemed to be any on London Bridge station at all, and those that there were were small prefab plastic structures sitting on the platforms and required 20p coins, and some of them needed pound coins. Another change, and a major one this time, as it seems to involve a genetic mutation. Brits no longer need to piss, or at least they must have evolved larger bladders so they only need to do it before they leave home in the morning and after they get home at night. When I was here in the 1960s you could buy a review of public loos called The Good Loo Guide, but it would be of purely historic interest now, as the loos are no longer there.

GillyHopWhile we were crossing London Bridge it began to rain, though not very hard, so we cut our sightseeing, and made our way to Foyles Bookshop on the Underground. We had at first decideed not to buy any books, lest we get overweight on the plane going home, but decided to chance it anyway, and stow them in pockets. Val got a book for our son Simon on his computer program XSI, and one for Jethro on Formula I racing. I found Katherine Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins, which I had never seen in South Africa, either in bookshops or libraries. I’d read another book by Katherine Paterson, called A bridge to Terabithia, and had quite liked it, except for the fact that it had a boy with a girl’s name and a girl with a boy’s name, so I kept confusing the characters when they were referenced by pronouns. Perhaps it was trying to make some weird feminist point. I looked for Charles Williams books, of which Frank Cranmer had a complete set, but did not see any.

We walked down to Leicester Square Underground station, and then to Waterloo to get the 15:57 train to Strawberry Hill via Teddington, and walked back to Frank Cranmer’s cottage through the drizzle.

The walk from Strawberry Hill station to Twickenham

The walk from Strawberry Hill station to Twickenham

Frank and Helen came about 7:30 pm, and we took them to supper at Arthur’s restaurant, across the green. The restaurant was a converted public loo, which Frank said had been closed because it was too expensive to run. Perhaps that explained what had happened to the other’s too. There was a noisy party next to us, and so after our meal we returned to Frank’s cottage for coffee.

Concluded at UK trip 20 May 2005: London, and going home | Notes from underground.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005

UK trip 18 May 2005: a day in Oxford

Continued from UK trip 17 May 2005 London: Newspapers and Books | Notes from underground

We took the train from Strawberry Hill to Waterloo again, and this time it took a more northerly route, which was a bit shorter. We took the Bakerloo line on the underground to Paddington station, and then a train to Oxford, which we had to pay for, as it was not on the visitors travel passes we had. The “cheap” day return was a little over £17 each, which was pretty expensive, I thought. The journey lasted a little over an hour, and the train stopped at Slough and Reading, and was going on to Great Malvern.

By train to Oxford 18 May 2005

By train to Oxford 18 May 2005

We got a bus into the centre of Oxford, and took a walk round the town, up Cornmarket, where we looked at record shops as Val was trying to find a Mother Earth record that our son Simon had wanted for Christmas, but we weren’t successful in that.

Cornmarket, Oxford

Cornmarket, Oxford

We passed Balliol College, where Jan Hofmeyr had been, and Trinity, where Stephen Gawe had been, and looked in at the Bodleian Library.

Balliol College, Oxford

Balliol College, Oxford

We took some photos of the Radcliffe Camera, something that I associated with the essence of Oxford. There is a small round building behind the old Reserve Bank building in Church Square, Pretoria, that always reminded me of Oxford, because it looked like a miniature of the Radcliffe Camera.

Radcliffe Camera, Oxford.

Radcliffe Camera, Oxford.

We walked down the High to Magdalen Bridge, where there were punts and rowing boats, and took photos of Magdalen College where C.S. Lewis had taught, and where I had once been with Stephen Gawe to visit another South African student back in 1967, Harold Mogona.

Magdalen College, Oxford

Magdalen College, Oxford. C.S. Lewis's College.

Magdalen College, Oxford. C.S. Lewis’s College.

We walked round Merton around the edge of Christ Church meadow, and up past Christ Church, and then had lunch at a pub in the High, and wrote postcards to the children, and went to the post
office to post them. I had thought of visiting John Fenton, the former principal of St Chad’s College, and retired as a Canon of Christ Church, but he seemed to live further out of town, and we did not know how to get there.

Christ Church Meadow, Oxford

Christ Church Meadow, Oxford

We took a bus up to Banbury Road, where we had a look at the House of St Gregory and Macrina, at the corner of Canterbury Road, but though we rang the bell, no one answered. It was a kind of Orthodox Centre in Oxford, which I had visited in 1967, during a patristics conference, and met Dr Nicolas Zernov, who had written several books about the Orthodox Church, which I had read before becoming Orthodox.

Oxford, 18 May 2005

Oxford, 18 May 2005

We went back into town on the bus, and looked at a few more record shops, and then walked back to the station, and got the 4:33 pm train back to Paddington, and retraced our journey this morning,
down the Bakerloo line to Waterloo, and the South West Trains to Strawberry Hill, arriving back at Frank Cranmer’s Cottage at 7:00 pm.

Bakerloo line train in the London rush hour.

Bakerloo line train in the London rush hour.

There was a cricket match in progress on the green over the road, as there had been the previous day, though this time there were younger children playing. We went out looking for supper, and tried some of
the other pubs in the neighbourhood. The Sussex Arms did not do evening meals, and the other one around the corner only had a Thai Restaurant, so we went back to The Prince Blucher, and had pie with
mash and vegetables, and were served by a South African girl from the Free State.

To be continued.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005

UK trip 17 May 2005 London: Newspapers and Books

Continued from UK trip 16 May 2005: Brightlingsea to Twickenham | Notes from underground

We left the cottage at about 8:00, took the bus to Richmond underground station, and then the underground to Colindale, to visit the newspaper library, and spend several hours there looking at newspaper death announcements and obituaries, though the obituaries did not seem to begin in earnest until the early 20th century.

At Colindale Underground station on the Northern Line.

At Colindale Underground station on the Northern Line.

Then we went down to Tottenham Court Road, and walked down Charing Cross Road, where we looked at Foyle’s bookshop, but bought nothing, partly because of the overwhelming choice available, and partly because Val was worried about the extra weight if we tried to carry too much back on the plane.

No South African account ofn being a tourist in the UK would be complete without a picture of Travalgar Square, with South Africa House in the background, so here's the obligatory shot.

No South African account of being a tourist in the UK would be complete without a picture of Trafalgar Square, with South Africa House in the background, so here’s the obligatory shot.

We wandered down to Trafalgar Square, and then got a bus to Aldwych, and another to Waterloo, where we discovered that our visitors travel passes were also valid on Southwest Trains, part of the old southern region of British Rail, now privatised. The trains were modern, and came in a variety of bright livery, in contrast to the dull green of the Southern Region of British Rail in the 1960s, though the one we rode on to Strawberry Hill had graffiti scratched on the windows. We picked up several abandoned newspapers on the train, so we didn’t have to buy one.

On a London bus.

On a London bus.

We got off at Strawberry Hill station and were back at the cottage about 8:00 pm, and walked up to a neighbourhood pub, the Prince Blucher. On the way we passed the green, where a neighbourhood cricket game was in progress. Such scenes always call to mind the song by The Who:

I want to play cricket on the green
Ride my bike across the stream
Cut myself and see my blood
I want to come home all covered in mud
I’m a boy, I’m a boy
But my Ma won’t admit it.

We had bangers and mash for supper at the pub, which was very good, though it cost twice what a similar meal would have cost in South Africa — about 6 pounds, equivalent to about R70.00. I had a pint of bitter and Val had a lager shandy, which she has been drinking ever since the day we arrived, when Richard Wood had one.

Cricket on the green at Twickenham. 17 May 2005

Cricket on the green at Twickenham. 17 May 2005

We walked round the block, down Second Cross Road, and there were three pubs in that block alone. It makes a difference in the way one lives, that one can go walking to a local pub in an evening. In South Africa there is no real equivalent, though possibly the Dros chain of restaurants perform the same function, but one cannot afford them for family meals, and would only go for special occasions, and not just for a drink. But one cannot just walk down the road to them, it means getting in the car and making a special outing. In the townships there are shebeens within walking distance for many, but they are for serious drinkers, and don’t usually serve food.

Continued at UK trip 18 May 2005: a day in Oxford | Notes from underground.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005

 

UK trip 16 May 2005: Brightlingsea to Twickenham

Continued from UK trip 15 May 2005: Monastery and Essex Girls | Khanya

We had breakfast at at Ye Olde Swan hotel at 7:30, and left Brightlingsea at about 8:30, driving to London.

Dining room at Ye Olde Swan, Brightlingsea, Essex

Dining room at Ye Olde Swan, Brightlingsea, Essex

We stopped for petrol on the way and took a photo of the Fiat Punto that had taken us round Britain for the last two weeks, as we would be handing it back today.

The Fiat Punto that took use round Britian, somewhere in Essex.  16 May 2005

The Fiat Punto that took use round Britian, somewhere in Essex. 16 May 2005

We headed for the Thames crossing at Dartford, where I expected to go through the Dartford Tunnel, but there was another change — southbound traffic went over a bridge instead of through the tunnel.

Crossing the Thames at Dartfod, no longer a tunnel, but a bridge.

Crossing the Thames at Dartford, no longer a tunnel, but a bridge. There’s a white van on the right, the kind of vehicle that usually appears in detecive stories as the preferred vehicle for abduction. Could there be an abductee inside?

We went to see Laureen Morrow, whom we had known from Namibia. and found the place she was staying, Ralph Perring Court in Beckenham, with some difficulty, as it was not well marked on the street.

It turned out to be a home for clergy widows, and Bromley College, the place where her husband Ed had been chaplain, was likewise a home for clergy widows. We talked about some of the people we had known in Namibia, and Laureen said that she was the only one who was still active in the church, which I found rather sad. Her husband Ed had died a couple of years earlier.

Val Hayes and Lauremn Morrow in Beckenham, Kent. 16 May 2005

Val Hayes and Lauremn Morrow in Beckenham, Kent. 16 May 2005

We drove around south London, and up through Streatham, where I showed Val the house where I had lived when I worked for London Transport at Brixton Garage nearly 40 years ago. The house had now been painted yellow. All the trees looked bigger than they had 40 years ago, which is probably only to be expected, but I thought that the London trees were so well established that they would have reached their full height long before. Streatham High Street seemed a lot narrower than I remembered it.

Then we drove over to Twickenham, where we found Frank Cranmer’s cottage in First Cross Road, down a narrow passage between two other houses. Frank had been another fellow student at St Chad’s College, Durham, and had said we could use their cottage while we were staying in London. We took our things inside, and then drove to central London to return our car at Bryanston Street in Marble Arch. That incurred a “congestion charge”, and we thought that the car hire company could have been more considerate and sited their garage outside the congestion charge area.We no longer needed the car, as it is a useless encumbrance in London. It had taken almost the whole day to drive across London from north-east to south-west, and London has a good public transport system, though it is very expensive. I was rather sorry to see that London Transport seemed to have been privatised into a number of different firms, though they still had vacancies for bus drivers.

We went to Westminster on the tube and met Frank Cranmer at the central lobby of the House of Commons, where I had met my mother’s cousin Willie Hannan several times before in the 1960s, when he was MP for Maryhill in Glasgoe. But there were now elaborate security precautions to screen people going in, with all bags being X-rayed in a tent on the lawn outside, instead of a single friendly policeman standing at the door. We went for a drink at the strangers bar, again, little changed from before, and then went across to Church House, where Frank’s partner of 21 years, Helen, worked as a kind of parliamentary lobbyist.

Helen & Frank Cranmer. Twickenham, 16 May 2005

Helen & Frank Cranmer. Twickenham, 16 May 2005

We drove with them back to Twickenham, and Frank made supper, for which we were joined by Alex Griffiths, also a former St Chad’s student, who had, however, left before I arrived there. Helen wanted to know my history, which I told over supper, with many digressions and diversions. Frank looked little changed from St Chad’s days, greyer and sporting a beard, but, unlike Chris Gwilliam, he was quite recognisable. He said he had become a Quaker as a result of visiting Chris and Nina Gwilliam and attending a Quaker meeting with them, in some trepidation, not knowing if he could take an hour of total silence.

Alec Griffiths, Twickenham. 16 May 2005

Alec Griffiths, Twickenham. 16 May 2005

Alec Griffiths was an Anglican priest and magistrate, but was retiring because of ill health.

Continued at UK trip 17 May 2005 London: Newspapers and Books | Notes from underground.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005

What makes a smart political tactician?

Veteran journalist Allister Sparks seems to have sparked a furure by including Hendrik Verwoerd in a list of smart politicians he had known: Sparks fly over Verwoerd comment – Politics | IOL News:

In the course of (this), I’ve encountered some really smart politicians – Harry Lawrence… Margaret Ballinger, Helen Suzman, Zach de Beer, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, Marais Steyn, Japie Basson, and, yes, Hendrik Verwoerd. But, after all those years, I have to say, objectively viewed (and) setting aside my personal friendship, I rate Helen Zille as the smartest political tactician of all.

I won’t speculate on what Allister Sparks may or may not have meant by saying that.

Dr Hendrick F. Verwoerd

Dr Hendrik F. Verwoerd

I would say that Hendrik Verwoerd was not merely a smart political tactician, but an intelligent man as well. Mad, yes. Evil, yes. But smart too.

I am reminded of an old joke.

A man was driving past a lunatic asylum and his car had a puncture. He got out to change the wheel, and being sensible, he carefully put the wheel nuts in the upturned hub cap so he wouldn’t lose them.

Then a car came roaring past and ran over the hubcap, scattering the nuts in all directions. Not only did he have a squashed hub cap, but all the nuts were lost in the long grass on the other side of the road. He sat down in despair, not knowing what to do.

One of the inmates of the asylum was watching this from over the wall, and ventured a suggestion:

“Why don’t you take one nut from each of the other three wheels, and use it to hold on the fourth wheel? At least you’ll get to a garage.”

The motorist jumped up, and enthusiastically followed this advice.

“What’s a smart fellow like you doing in a lunatic asylum?” he asked the inmate.

“I may be mad, but I’m not stupid,” came the reply.

But I would say Jacob Zuma is just smart a political tactician as Verwoerd.

Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma

Consider his career, which lay in tatters after Thabo Mbeki sacked him as deputy president. At that time lots of people (including me) thought that Thabo Mbeki was a smarter political tactician than Jacob Zuma. But Zuma turned the tables and got the better of Mbeki. He outmanoeuvred Mbeki, and got Mbeki fired as president.

I have no doubt that Thabo Mbeki is a more intelligent man than Jacob Zuma, and I’m pretty sure that he is a more intelligent man than Verwoerd. But a smart political tactician he was not.

When Thabo Mbeki was our president I used to think how fortunate we were. Yes, I think he made mistakes, and had some bad policies (his Aids and Zimbabwe policies spring to mind), but when one looked at the leaders of other countries at the time — George Bush, Tony Blair, Bob Mugabe and others — Thabo Mbeki was streets ahead when it came to vision, and applying his intellect to trying to solve national problems.

Bob Mugabe -- probably the smartest political tactician of all

Bob Mugabe — probably the smartest political tactician of all

And Bob Mugabe is probably the smartest political tactician of all. He may have bankrupted his country, but he outmanoeuvred all his political rivals, and that is the essential mark of a smart political tactician.

As for Helen Zille, she’s a bit disingenuous.

One of the reports about this “smart politician” story quotes her as saying Verwoerd comment overshadows Zille’s last dance | News24: “We grew from 338 000 votes in 1994 to over four million last year. In the process the DA has become the most non-racial party that the country ever had.”

Who is the “we” who got 380 000 votes in 1994?

Not the DA, because the DA did not exist in 1994.

A smart political tactician doesn’t have to be a good person or have good policies, and doesn’t even have to be intelligent. All that is necessary is to have the low cunning to outmanoeuvre their political rivals.

 

UK trip 10 May 2005: Whitehaven to Girvan

Continued from UK trip 9 May 2005: Gobowen to Whitehaven | Hayes & Greene family history

We woke up to a beautiful view over the sea, with the village of Lowca in the foreground, and St Bees Head in the distance.

Lowca, Cumbria, with Whitehaven harbour and St Bees Head in the distance. 10 May 2005

Lowca, Cumbria, with Whitehaven harbour and St Bees Head in the distance. 10 May 2005

After breakfast we drove back through Whitehaven to Wasdale Head, where Val’s grandmother, Mattie Pearson, had told her was the highest mountain, the deepest lake, the smallest church, and the biggest liar, but he’s dead.

M4034S-4211

Wastwater, Cumbria, 10 May 2005

The highest mountain in England is Scafell Pike, and and Wastwater is the deepest Lake. We went to see the smallest church, St Olaf’s, but we could not see a tombstone for the biggest liar.

St Olaf's Church at Wasdale Head -- said to be the smallest church in England 10 May 2005

St Olaf’s Church at Wasdale Head — said to be the smallest church in England 10 May 2005

We returned to Whitehaven, passing the nuclear power station at Sellafield, which looked rather ominous, like the one in Wales we had seen, which had been two concrete cubes. We drove through St Bees, and took photos of a statue of St Bega.

St Bega.

St Bega.

According to legend, St Bega was the daughter of an Irish king, living some time between AD 600 and 900. She refused to marry the man of her father’s choice and fled in a small boat. She landed at the place now named St Bees after her, and lived as a hermit, caring for the local people. When she moved on, she left behind her arm ring. A few centuries later a male monastery was built there, and the monks kept her arm ring as a relic, which was lost when English monasteries were closed at the order of King Henry VIII.

St Bees, Cumbria

St Bees, Cumbria

After the closing of the monastery the story became more garbled, and more details were added, including the story that when she landed she approached the Lord of Egremont, asking for land to build a monastery. He promised her as much land as was covered by snow the next day. The next day was midsummer, but it snowed.

Whitehaven, from St Bees Head

Whitehaven, from St Bees Head

We stopped above Whitehaven and took photos over the town and the harbour, which had once been the third port of England, but now no longer even runs ferries to the Isle of Man, which could be seen on the western horizon. We went to Michael Moon’s book shop, and bought a Whitehaven guide and directory for 1901, which was quite expensive, but also had quite a lot of information in it. Val sent an SMS on her cell phone to Jethro to wish him happy birthday. We took photos of Scotch and Irish streets, where the Ellwood and Pearson families had lived at various times.

Whitehaven

Whitehaven

We went on our way, driving through winding country lanes to Keswick, where we had lunch at an Indian restaurant, the Royal Bengal, which was the closest one to the car park. They did a good lamb breyani, and had a chatty waiter from Goa.

From Keswick we headed north again, past Lake Bassenthwaite, though we only caught glimpses of it through the trees, and went through Mealsgate, where another of Val’s ancestors, Isabella Carr, had been born, and then drove through Carlisle, where we got a bit lost as the signposting was bad, and we kept getting in the wrong traffic lanes. We drove past Wigtown Bay, and up to Girvan, with its astonishing Ailsa Craig, a round mound over 1000 feet high sticking out of the sea, which I did not remember from my previous visit in 1967. If anything deserved to be called a “mump”, that did.

Ailsa Craig, off the coast of Ayrshire, Scotland, near Girvan. 10 May 2005

Ailsa Craig, off the coast of Ayrshire, Scotland, near Girvan. 10 May 2005

We looked for a place to stay, and found one a little way out of town on the way we had come
in, a bed and breakfast in a farmhouse, which was rather more expensive than some of the others we had been in, at £30 per person per night. It also turned out to offer less, as there was no tea and coffee making equipment. And, like most of the bead and breakfast places we had stayed at, there was no table where one could write, or put a laptop computer.

We went back down to the town and looked at the cemetery near the beach, where I found the graves of Thomas and Stanley Hannan without difficulty, and took photos of them with the digital camera. The inscriptions were a little more difficult to read than they had been on my last visit 38 years ago, when Willie Hannan had brought us down from Glasgow. We looked at some of the other graves, and found one more recent one of McCartneys, then went to the harbour, and took photos of the town from the jetty.

Girvan harbour, Ayrshire, Scotland

Girvan harbour, Ayrshire, Scotland

At the harbour we also watched a swan swimming in the sea, and gradually paddling into the harbour entrance.

Swan swimming from the open sea into Girvan harbour 10 May 2005

Swan swimming from the open sea into Girvan harbour 10 May 2005

We drove round the town and found Duff Street, where the Hannans had lived, but the house they had lived in had been demolished and turned into a builders yard or something similar. We then looked for something to eat, most most of the places were closed, and it was deceptively light, with summer time, and the sun setting only at about 9:00 pm, so it felt much earlier than it actually was. But there was a kebab and pizza place, so we got kebabs, and took them back to the guesthouse and ate them in the bedroom.

Continued at UK trip 11 May 2005: Girvan to Edinburgh | Hayes & Greene family history.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005

This river awakens: puberty in a messed-up world

This River AwakensThis River Awakens by Steven Erikson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Until about halfway through this book, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it or not. It’s about a bunch of kids aged about 12 or 13 living in an in-between place somewhere between the city and farmlands. I lived in such a place when I was that age, so to that extent it felt familiar, but I wasn’t aware of the existence of such a bunch of messed-up people. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t there in the place where I grew up, just that I wasn’t aware of them. And I wouldn’t have dared to talk to my teachers the way those kids did.

The protagonist is one of the kids, Owen Brand, who has just moved to the area and so has to make friends from scratch, and one of the things that is rather confusing is that his viewpoint is in the first person, while the others are in the third person, but when he is just with one other person, and the viewpoint switches, one somtimes loses track of who is talking.

The messed-up people are just about everyone, friends, neighbours, teachers, family members. Part of the interest of the story is how Owen learns to cope with this, and how he and his family help to improve things for his girlfiend, who has an abusive father and an abused mother, and has learned to cope with adults by keeping them at arm’s length.

So there are good things to balance out the bad things, and nothing’s perfect, but that’s true to life too. In some ways Owen seems to represent the idea of coinherence of Charles Williams, with people taking on the burdens of others. Williams appeared to think that people could or would do this consciously and deliberately, but Owen does it almost unconsciously. And the kids are faced with things like sex, drugs and death, to the consternation of teachers, doctors and social workers, who are often just as messed up as everyone else.

In the end I liked the book, and liked it a lot. Perhaps I’ll read it again, because it’s the kind of book where there are lots of things you don’t see on the first reading, and perhaps not on the second or the third either.

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