The curse of good health

13 08 2015

My uncle turns 93 or maybe it’s 92 this year. Mentally he’s very sharp but physically he’s frail. Last year he decided he’d had enough of life and decided to end it on his terms. He failed and now he’s condemned to a old age home in rural England, waiting to serve his time amongst the old, frail and demented.

I went to visit him the week before last whilst on an infrequent trip to a family gathering and the wedding of a young friend. We don’t get together much; my brother lives in the UK, my sister in north-western USA and I’m in Zimbabwe. It was my brother’s 60th birthday last weekend and I’d said to my sister-in-law that I’d come over for it if he promised to have a party.

wedding cake

Lucy and Will’s big day

It was pure luck that Lucy was getting married the weekend before and well, I probably won’t see Ant again.

The UK is unlike Zimbabwe in many ways;
Good roads
Horrendously heavy traffic but a noticeable absence of bad drivers (ok so it wasn’t a dangerous breach but it’s still a red light!)
Green (Zim is very dry right now
In short – First World!

So whilst in London we did the tourist thing, the Science Museum to get my dose of science.

tower bridge

Tower Bridge on the Thames

Dining hall 2

Dining hall at the old Naval Academy.

Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark

A Thames river cruise to the Cutty Sark and checked out the amazing dining hall at the old Naval Academy. Zimbabwe does not have recorded history going  back that far and we don’t have a navy either. We do however have better weather than the UK though on this trip it wasn’t bad, choosing to rain just when I chose to do some serious photography.

Getting back to Harare we encountered some decidedly Third World air service with all the luggage being left in Johannesburg because there was no Jet A1 fuel in Harare. Well, that was the official story. It is certainly symptomatic of the state of the economy here and meant that we had to go back to the airport the next day to collect our luggage (don’t they deliver it elsewhere?). So my Saturday visit to the Gallery Delta had to wait a week.

The current exhibition there is From Line to Form where Wallen Mapondera’s string picture Everyone is a Vendor neatly caught the dire state of the economy; we just don’t produce much anymore.

Everyone is a vendor

Everyone is a vendor

Not at all like the market we visited in the curiously named Bury St Edmond where it was very hip to buy local produce. Not sure if these tomatoes were local but they are certainly better quality than the ones we get here!

Good quality produce

Good quality produce

When I left Ant I shook his hand. His grip was firm by any standard. He just laughed when I mentioned it. Handshake strength is one of the criteria used to asses old people’s health. I winced inwardly at the irony of it.

Lest we forget

5 08 2014

As I write this it’s the 100th anniversary of the start of World War 1. I have a very tenuous link to it; my paternal grandfather was killed at the Somme in 1917.  Of course I never knew Lionel Roberts and neither did my father. In fact my father was born in 1925 some 8 years after Lionel’s death and his real father’s name does not appear on his birth certificate. My sister noticed this and asked my mother about it but she clammed up; some things were just not discussed. Us siblings were intrigued – a SCANDAL in the family, now that was something to boast about! However, my mother died with her secret and now there is no-one else alive who knows the answer. One day I plan to visit Lionel’s grave and pay my respects to him – the “grandson” he never knew who also payed a high price for being a soldier.

In August 1987 I knew none of this and was cycling through northern France on a 20 pound bicycle purchased off a hostel warden in Whitechapel, London. Northern France is littered with cemeteries of all nationalities. Most are pretty nondescript but the American cemetery at Verdun is an exception. I lost the photo but I can still recall the softly rustling oak trees, the brilliant green grass in the morning sunshine and the sad lines of white crosses stretching off in all directions. It was terribly peaceful. The Americans do cemeteries well and this was one of them.

I don’t recall the poppies in the wheat fields on that trip but in 2010 I was back in France trying to salvage a failing relationship (I failed) and we stopped near a field of poppies bobbing peacefully in the wind. The photos still exist on a hard drive somewhere but were not that good.

poppy2This morning in the nursery there was this poppy growing near the ponds of tobacco seedlings. I have no idea how it got there – maybe a seed crop from last year but I cannot recall seeing poppies there. It had a flower on it last week but today was another fresh one, coincidentally recalling a terrible war long ago and far away. In London tonight lights will be extinguished throughout the capital and replaced with candles in remembrance of the 888,246 British fatalities.

There is an irony in this short tale. The war dead from the Rhodesian bush war, in which I was involved, are not officially remembered within the country. That is the dead whom were fighting on the side of the Rhodesian forces. A number of memorials exist outside the country but within the country they are not welcome. However, next Monday, 11th August, is a national holiday. This is Heroes Day to celebrate those that died fighting for Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo – fighting against the Rhodesians. Such is the price one pays for losing a war – the winners get to rewrite the history. One day maybe we’ll get the right to officially remember our dead but in the meantime turn off your lights, light a candle and remember those who paid the ultimate price in the “war to end all wars” that started 100 years ago.

Out to play

12 10 2012

I haven’t been lazy in posting to this blog – I have been out to play! Three weeks away in the real world in Europe where the cops are not on the take, the public transport is on time and the trash is picked up – mostly. Getting off the Eurostar at Gare du Nord in Paris the cigarette butts on the railway tracks were very obvious despite the announcements that it was “absolument inderdit” (definitely prohibited) to smoke in the station or on the platforms. Very French to thumb your nose at the authority a bit – like the girl with her dog on the scooter outside the Moulin Rouge where the dancers wore more makeup than clothes. It was a LOT of makeup and yes, not a lot of clothes.

It was good to get back to Annecy where I’d flown in 2004 though this time I did not have my paraglider with me so went off to the flying festival at St Hilaire to check out the trade show, flying displays and of course the masquerade though it was difficult to get close to the latter due to the crowds. Around 80,000 people attend of the 4 days that it runs – mostly day trippers from Grenoble. An amazing atmosphere.

Back in Paris it was time for the Eiffel Tower where there were no queues as it was well out of tourist season and I even saw a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog being walked there. The parisiennes really do have good taste!

Then over to London for some brief shopping (why walk when it can all be done on the internet and delivered?) and a day at the Natural History Museum. The Brits do some things very well and this is one of them. A day did not even begin to cover what was on display. And there were free talks by scientists on their area of speciality in the evening.

I have a brother in Shropshire so went up there for a week and met up with cousins and went on a day trip to nearby Chester in England (part of it is in Wales). An example of how tourism can be done well. Take a few lessons Zimbabwe!

Now I am back in the heat and the dust and the uncollected rubbish in Zimbabwe. The South African truck drivers on whom we are dependent for just about everything are on strike so it’s time to do some serious shopping. Kharma is delighted that I am back. It’s home.