Old dogs are special

18 11 2022
Myself, Marianne and Themba (who photo-bombed the moment). Marianne’s wearing a cap and dark glasses because “my hair’s a mess and I haven’t got eye-shadow on”. I am wearing a cap to hide my bald spot.

On Tuesday Marianne asked me if I’d remembered it was my birthday today. I had totally forgotten about it. I won’t but that down to old age just yet but my memory isn’t great and I’ll explain that later.

I got to thinking last night that I was about to turn 63 which is 3 times 21 and what was I doing at 21 and 42? Oddly enough I have quite clear memories of my 21st.

I was in the car park at my university residence when and acquaintance by the nickname of Russian, who was actually of Polish descent, found out and asked me if I’d been kissed yet (he didn’t have to specify a woman). I made some non-committal reply whereupon his girlfriend, Colleen, stepped up and kissed me. It probably was my first kiss! Being a November baby meant that parties clashed with exams so my mother paid for a few of us to go out for dinner later in the year.

November is, of course, an historic month. Armistice Day marking the end of the First World War is on the 11th. This year I noticed a plethora of Facebook posts marking the occasion and reminding readers how we must no forget. I agree totally. Less well known in the wider world is that the Rhodesian government, led by one Ian Douglas Smith (who was a World War 2 fighter pilot in the RAF), made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from British rule on the 11th of November 1965 making Southern Rhodesia just Rhodesia which became Zimbabwe in 1980. International sanctions swiftly followed and we were on our own (with support from South Africa and Portugal) until 1980. Rhodesians were capable and highly industrious and for a while the country flourished.

Various Facebook sites on the 11th were swamped with ex-Rhodesians reminding me of this. They seem to have forgotten that by the end of the ensuing bush war in December 1979 we had long lost the support of Portugal and South Africa and came very close to a battle for the capital city, Salisbury (now Harare) which would have been a bloodbath. The following elections got us Robert Mugabe as a ruthless head-of-state and we all know how that eventually turned out. Thousands of people lost their lives in the bush war, my father included as an innocent civlilian, and I was partially paralysed in a military action. Really, did those who concocted the UDI not see the train wreck coming? What were they thinking? The UDI was arguably the worst decision in our history.

What was I doing 21 years ago? In 2001 the Mugabe regime was on the rampage, chasing white commercial farmers off their land, frequently destructively. Often farms were looted and abandoned of their agriculture, plunging the currency into a hyper-inflationary period that culminated in 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar notes and inflation in October 2008 estimated at 4.3 million percent. Those who could left the country, New Zealand was particularly quick to see the potential of qualified Zimbabweans and welcomed them en masse. I do know that in 2001 I had a lot more disposable cash than I do know and I did around that time have a party for friends in a local restaurant. It was great fun. Maybe we just didn’t care about the impending financial disaster or more likely we just chose to ignore it for the night. I certainly wasn’t concerned about getting to 63 – that was far away.

Now 63 is here and I’m not impressed. But before I go down the route of losses and gains I owe an explanation of my terrible short-term memory. In April this year I had a lower back operation to repair and stabilize various vertebrae that had deteriorated as a consequence of the bullet that tore through that region in April 1979 (detailed description in Reflections on the first half). The operation was successful and the surgeon said the spine was not as messy as he was expecting but the anaesthetic has had lasting consequences on my memory. It even has a name; Post Operative Cognitive Dysfunction (POCD). While its occurrence in people my age is uncommon I appear to have been unlucky – I’ve had more than a few general anaesthetics in my life and none have had this effect. Effects range from forgetting conversations I’ve just had to full-blown bouts where I cannot control my thought processes and I cannot perceive the world around me. The POCD may last in younger people up to 6 months but in older people there can be permanent effects. Recently I decided to do something about this and give my brain some work to do.

When I first took over my business I quickly vowed to get rid of the pile of paper that accumulated on my desk at the end of each month and decided to write my own software package to deal with the administration side of the business. I duly went on a course to learn Visual Basic (VB) and got to work. It took several years but it does the job now. While these projects are never finished I more recently decided to write a wages package that my senior foreman could use and free me up from tedious and mistake ridden Excel spreadsheets. It works well but being written in an old version of VB has issues running on my relatively new laptop. So I rewrote it in a newer, and quite different version. On getting out of hospital I needed something to do whilst on bed rest so wrote a cash notes calculator for the old version. Being rather pleased with they way it worked I decided to write one in the new version, only to find to my complete amazement (and disquiet) that I’d already done it before going into hospital. I had zero recollection of writing the app or the code itself. So now I’m rewriting the original accounting software to give my brain exercise. It will be a long project.

My mobility has taken a considerable knock over the years. At university I used to cycle all around the campus and when I left I went on a cycle tour of France, Switzerland and Germany. At 42 I still cycled around the farm where I rented a cottage. This all came to an end, albeit slowly, when a South African surgeon did a less than stellar job of fixing the neck I’d fractured as a teen. Back in 2014, when I’d started tripping over my own feet, I winced mentally when the surgeon who finally fixed the mess said “Oh, that old man” when I told him who’d done the original surgery. Little did I know at the time there was a specialist orthopaedic spine unit which is part of the Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town. I have not been on a bicycle since. So the message to the reader is: if you really HAVE to go under the knife, DO YOUR HOMEWORK! When asking a local doctor for advice on who to see about the neck operation I accepted at face value what he told me. It was an expensive mistake.

So, in the last 21 years I have lost: hair (thanks to my mother’s genetics), mobility (already explained), hand and upper body strength also as part of the aforementioned, hearing (thanks to the military) for which I wear hearing aids – I love ’em and can enjoy music again and of course my eyesight is not what it used to be. I do wear bifocal glasses but only for flying a drone. I’ve had lifelong short sight for which I’ve variously worn glasses, then I had a flirtation with contact lenses and now I’m back to glasses which I take off for close work.

Gains: toys, rather a lot! Some years ago when it became apparent that paragliding was a dying sport in Zimbabwe I took up aero-modelling. It’s definitely second prize but at least I get to fly something. So now I have several drones (I took the photograph at the top of the page with one) and some fixed-wing models too. I particularly like electric gliders. For the real flight experience I have a paramotor (that’s a paraglider with a petrol driven motor) but I don’t get to fly that much as I need assistance with the setting up. Of course I’ve gained a marvelous wife which was something I never expected to happen at 21 or even 42. Nothing could have been further from my mind at 21 and well, at 42 I thought I’d be a batchelor for the rest of my days. Fortunately I was wrong.

As for the next 21 years, well, it’s best not to think about it too much. Maybe I won’t get there, after all, 84 will be getting on a bit. Perhaps the end will come like the proverbial “thief in the night”, but sadly few of us will be that lucky.

I won’t pretend the last 21 years have passed quickly but I don’t have a lot of memories to look back on. I guess that it’s time to make a few now so next May Marianne and I are going with a group of friends to a rock concert in Birmingham, U.K. It’s our first ever and hopefully it will be good. Mike & The Mechanics are by no means a current band but we still like their music.

On Tuesday after Marianne reminded me it was my birthday on the 17th she went shopping. She complained that she couldn’t find me a present; I really wasn’t concerned – I think presents should be bought when one sees them, not necessarily for an occasion. It did occur to me to get myself a present, perhaps a rescue dog from one of the over-flowing charities. But I wouldn’t have been able to choose just one and would like to have gone for an older dog. Old dogs are special so maybe I’ll sponsor one instead.

Double standards

15 11 2015

I usually only buy the newspaper when I need newsprint. It’s useful for mopping up excess oil after frying fish and Marianne had bought some calamari rings for Friday supper.

The Zimbabwe Independent is actually not a bad paper and insofar as I can tell gives a reasonably balanced opinion on the local political situation.


It’s no secret that the Zimbabwe Government is broke so I was more than a bit surprised to see that it had made a substantial bid for a majority shareholding in a local mobile phone company that was going to cost some US$40 million. A bit further down the page one can also read that a civil service audit report has recommended substantial reductions in the wage bill which gobbles some 80% of revenue.

Perhaps the government thinks spending $40 million that it doesn’t have is going to earn enough to avoid laying off large numbers of its supporters. This is unlikely given the appalling record of the government to do anything well except line the pockets of the faithful.

The 11th November came and went with little fanfare in the papers about remembering Armistice Day. In this part of the world it is also known as the anniversary of Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) that broke Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was known) away from British colonial rule. Most years it passes with little if any comment but this year was the 50th anniversary. I must admit I’d forgotten about this until I saw it in the social media.

The state controlled press in the form of The Herald newspaper wasted no time in reporting that “unrepentant Rhodies” in other parts of the world had been celebrating this anniversary (Rhodie is a derogatory term for ex-Rhodesians). One ZANU-PF (ruling party) spokesman, Cde Simon Khaya Moyo (Cde is the abbreviation for “comrade” that only the party faithful and state press use) went so far as to reiterate that “Zimbabwe will never be a colony again”. He was apparently referring to social media posts in Australia advertising celebrations for the 50th UDI anniversary. Quite why he felt threatened by people having a party half the world away is not made clear.

Why anyone would want to celebrate the UDI is beyond me too. I was nearly 6 at the time and almost certainly looking forward to what my parents promised to be my last birthday party in 6 days time. The UDI culminated in a bush war that took my father’s life and very nearly took mine. I most certainly don’t look back on Ian Smith with any fondness even if he was right that the Mugabe regime would ruin the country. He was most certainly wrong to declare UDI but I don’t lose any sleep over it; I have more important things to consider like my birthday in 2 days time and just making ends meet.

30 years and not a lot to show

16 04 2010

It took me a moment to realize why a jet should be flying low over my work this morning. It, yes only one, was practising for the Independence Day Celebrations on Monday. I suppose I should look up my notes for a year ago but really I couldn’t be bothered – I think there may have been 3 jets then. Whatever, 30 years down the line we are broke, importing just about everything from South Africa or China and the fat cats are stealing the place blind as fast as ever despite continuous “calls for sanctions to be removed”. I really don’t believe they even believe it themselves!

Nobody has been around begging for donations for the celebrations – yet. They will get short shrift from me. No doubt the masses will be coerced and forced onto busses to go and hear Comrade Bob spout the usual and the government media will fawn and exaggerate the numbers and the rest of us will take the day off. Maybe the Chinese will listen; after all he did go and celebrate his birthday this year at the Chinese Embassy!

Reflections on the first half

3 11 2009

Please see the link to the page on the right side of the blog.

Updated 6th November

History and mindless optimism

29 01 2007

Irene is what I call a mindless optimist.
Zimbabwe is going to come right.
Why Irene?
Because it has to!
Right, we are not tossing a coin here, it does not HAVE to do anything. We are dealing with human greed and by definition it does not “Just get better”!

I’m all for optimism where it’s warranted; e.g. “The rugby team is playing well, I really think we can win the match on Saturday” but the mindless king really irks me. Maybe if Irene had read Peter Godwin’s new book, “When a crocodile eats the sun” she would be a bit more cautious with her scattering of optimism. But anyway, that was Saturday night and I hadn’t even read the book! It’s not often that I can get through a book in a day but that’s what I did yesterday and it is an excellent though often very sad read. Godwin chronicles the destruction of Zimbabwe over the last 4 years of his father’s life and he does it very well. It is a memoir not a history book so don’t expect all the details but if you get a chance – read it. It is as a result of this book that I have decided to record (a bit late) my brush with the authorities during and immediately after the election in 2000.

I was approached by someone representing the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change – the newly formed opposition) requesting the use of a vehicle to provide backup to the local election monitors. I had no misgivings, I was pleased to take part in what of course was going to be the trouncing of the ruling ZANU-PF party and the removal of Mugabe from power. I did have some misgivings when I heard that it had gone to Muzarabani in the Zambezi Valley, a known government stronghold not far from Centenary. Well there was nothing I could do about it so I got on with the election process and duly recorded my vote for the opposition.

The first twinges of apprehension started when I heard on the news that a vehicle belonging to the opposition had been trashed and burnt at Muzarabani. Not good. It was an old pickup truck that had belonged to my mother and I was NOT ready to write it off! I made enquiries but no-one seemed to know very much and my name had not been “mentioned”. I contacted the person who’d picked up the truck. He didn’t know either. Then he did. It had been impounded at the Centenary police station but he advised me not to do anything just yet – let the dust settle a bit. So I waited for a couple of weeks, half expecting to be “interviewed” by the police. But nobody came. Then I was told that if I wanted to get the truck back I should go and see Jonathan Samukange, a black lawyer with a lot of contacts who was dealing with other people involved in the same incident. I was assured that someone else would pay the bill (and indeed I never saw any requests for payment).

I arrive at Jonathan S’s office in the CBD of Harare, feeling hot and more than a bit nervous. Where exactly is this all going to end? A largish, super confident man, Jonathan assures me that there will be no problem (“I know the police at Bindura”). I have to bring my passport though and maybe a $10000 which is an awful lot of money. The idea of the police having my passport at this potentially volatile time is unappealing. We will be going next week sometime, I should call him on Monday. His office is adorned with thank you letters from grateful clients; “Thank you so much for keeping our son out of jail…” goes one. I guess there is hope.

So I call him on Monday but he is out. His secretary suggests I call again the next day. He is in and assures me that all will be well and I just need to bring the money, the passport will not be necessary. However, we are only going Wednesday next week.

I call the guy who approached me and he puts me onto another person in the same predicament. I phone him up and he is reassuring. He has just been down to the Bindura police station to give a statement and get his vehicle back. He tells me just to tell the truth; the policeman who inteviewed him commented that it made a change to come across someone who wasn’t lying for once.

The next day I leave for Bindura, an unattractive mining town an hour and a half to the north of Harare. I am fatalistic – I don’t really believe that they will lock me up as I was not even with the vehicle. The police are only vaguely interested in my case but they still waste my time for 3 hours and take a statement.

Was I in the vehicle?
Was I aware that an unlicenced radio was being used in the vehicle?
No (I am lying but very grateful I did not volunteer my paraglidng radios).
Do I support the government?
Why not?
Because I don’t like their policies.

This is all duly noted down in longhand on two pieces of lined paper and the whole exercise takes and hour and a half. I sign my name at the end. They have my full name, address, ID number. So be it.

There is still time to try and get to Centenary and try and get the truck so collecting the letter of authority I head off along the back roads with Fabion, my newly trained driver who is also a foreman at my work. We get to the police station at 12h15 and of course it is lunch time so there is nothing we can do until the Member in Charge gets back from lunch. We survey the damage to the pickup which has been sitting in the car park for 6 weeks now with a broken windscreen, gouges on the bonnet where a rock has been thrown and a flat tyre. In the back are a couple of dozen loaves of bread, or what was bread 6 weeks ago. They stink. I am reluctant to change the tyre in case we cannot take the truck and anyway, I’ll have to use the one on my pickup as the spare on the old pickup is flat too.

The Member in Charge duly makes an appearance around 2 p.m. and after a lot of vacillating agrees to see me. I plead my case and he allows a junior to fill in the appropriate forms. Now we have to get the truck started. I’ve brought a tow rope for the purpose but any amount of towing fails and I’m envisaging a long slow tow back to Harare. We persist with jumper leads and eventually are rewarded.

A full spray paint and a new windscreen put paid to most of the damage on the pickup and it is still going today, though the engine is tired. It really is not worth the expense of rebuilding the engine – I would never recover the money. It just gets used on business around Harare as I don’t trust it to go any further. Anyway, Fabion seems to think it’s his, he certainly keeps it much cleaner than I do mine! It was some days after the retrieval of the truck that we discovered the offending two way radio under the seat, with the aerial. I still have it as no-one bothered to claim it. Occasionally it is used for paragliding trips, but those are a rarity these days. No-one has come looking for me attracted by my tenuous ties to the opposition and I doubt they ever will, but my opposition is on record, somewhere.