Guilt, Cabbages and Kings

I have just spent 2 weeks ‘overseas’. Back in the UK to be precise: 9 days in Cumbria and 6 days in Devon/Cornwall. I was on a self-induced guilt trip to see ‘the-grandchildren’. Those of you with grandchildren will know that feeling. Kids and grandkids do not do guilt. I think it’s only my generation – I neglected my parents … I neglected my grandparents.. I neglected my friends and err umm, sorry about that.. where was I? oh yes … that feeling: Me: guilt oh woe. Must beat my breast and wear sack cloth. Kids: Dad’s coming, must dust – and hide the gin. Grandkids: Mum’s hiding the gin. Squiggly mouthed, bearded granddad must be coming. Wonder if he’ll bring a present? It was seasonable weather. The temperature moved between minus 1C and plus 6C AND it snowed for the first 3 days. BUT we experienced what might have been the only day of Britain’s 2013 summer when, on the 19th of February, the temperature shot up to 8C and we had lunch alfresco- teeth chattering ‘isn’t this fantastic’ whilst trying to manage the fork-n-knife through 2 pairs of gloves and pushing the salad leaves in over the top of my muffler. Cumbria always reminds me of the Western Cape, the Overberg in particular. Cornwall reminds me of a flatter Cumbria with more language issues and an on-going desire to declare independence from England. The next English Civil War will be initiated by Cornwall. Officially they haven’t, in some places, stopped fighting the one they started in 1643. The truth though is that the Cornish can’t be bothered. And, if the Cornish only knew it, the English can’t be bothered either. They would gladly let Cornwall be independent, as long as the clotted cream wells and pasty mines were still owned and exploited by the English. I have heard that some of the mines have been taken over by Accelor Mittal and that a local man has become an oligarch – which I believe is a Cornish word meaning ‘pothole mender’. The more I work my way in to this flight of fancy I am beginning to see that Cornwall may indeed be an allegory for the Western Cape as a whole but slightly more hippy. The redundant China clay mines are also rumoured now to be renationalised by, yes you’ve guessed – China. There has to be a clue in the name? The comparisons are manifest – that sullen aggressive palpable silence when, as an English person, you walk into a bar in Wakkerstroom (only an example you understand) on a Sunday afternoon and, moving the revolvers to one side, you ask for a small glass of red wine. You can also feel the same stilling of the atmosphere in the public bar of the King Arthur’s Arms in Tintagel as you move the bows and arrows. The economy is based entirely on tourism and farming – sounds familiar? They do not have any power stations – nuclear or otherwise – but they do have windmills and a lot of houses with solar hot water and photovoltaic panels and piles of tyres everywhere growing potatoes and strawberries for the clotted cream and pasty by-product industries. Falmouth is modelled entirely on Kalk Bay – or vice versa. The Eden Project is a 21st Century Kirstenbosch – inside plastic bubble enclosures. There are no baboons but I did see sheep and goats, llamas and ostrich and more grey pony tails than you will ever see in Sea Point. (You know what they say about pony tails? – Send me your E-thingy address and I will forward the answer). Yes! That’s it: Just as Searle’s is the whole of Greyton in 1 location – without the informal housing element or an estate agent (ummm maybe I’m wrong there) – then Cornwall is the whole of South Africa without a Jo’burg to blame for late delivery of printer ink; or a desert or big mountains; but with pirates and clotted cream and… well maybe I’m carrying this a bit far and labouring the subject – even so you get my point? My intent had been to go to the UK, I mean England, as I only saw Scotland and Wales across tidal estuaries, and to stay for a month. I ran out of money on day 7. Petrol is R20 per litre and a medium sized Americano with a shortbread biscuit, at the quaintly named Costas Mall Fortune Coffee Bar, set me back R72. Of course you all know that oligarch doesn’t mean pothole mender – I sort of made that up. It’s very close though as the literal translation is ‘pocket filler’, that is ‘someone who has become very rich by owning a business that was formally owned by the State or should be owned by the state’. Usually these businesses are based on utilities, infrastructure and natural resources – oil, gas, water, minerals, transport, food (McDonalds, KFC?). Perhaps NOT food? Yes – forget the food bit. One last thing before I catch the ‘plane: Oligarchs usually buy up a football club with the spare pocket money. I wonder if Oli Ramaphosa or Archi Sexwale know about this? Oh how the fallen have risen. I stop here before I get into trouble. My quote of the month “It is often easier to fight for a principle than to live up to it.”

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In praise of potholes – thank you Andrew

I’ve struggled this month to find something to say that could be entertaining. Austerity and recession and sustainability and depression and general scandal have made me take to my bed for most of January.

BUT then!  Andrew White (he of ‘so tall his hair goes frizzy when we have  cloud on Abdulskop – and- did you see that picture in last month’s Sentinel where everybody else was standing in a lei water ditch’… oh and that ‘uniform fetish!!’ ) sorry I digress.

Where was I? Ha… yes – Andrew planted the seed, at the Lodge on Burn’s Night (an excellent concert by Steve Newman and Ashish Roshi), when he commented on ‘the irony that – the people filling in the potholes were also the people building speed bumps’

Oh yes – the best speed retardant is a pothole – soooo – it must be cheaper to dig the opposite of speed bumps, that is – a sunk depression (that word again), holes (potholes) – slaggat – literally a sink hole – slow gate. So why are speed bumps called speed bumps when they are actually slow(ing) bumps?

We could save a shed load of backhanders if we paid a contractor to dig new potholes – preferably adjacent to stop-streets and then erected a sign, warning of the said mentioned item. A dip in the road causes just the same damage as rise in the road. Yeh that’s it.. (light bulb moment)  all we have to do is erect signs saying ‘beware potholes‘  adjacent to .. err potholes and accident black spots  and  traffic calming will be the immediate effect. Hang on a mo.’…  I’ve just realised that’s exactly what ‘they’ do and have done for as long as I can remember the slaggats are never mended once the Gevaar Slaggat sign goes up.

When I first came to SA the only Afrikaans words I knew were Slaggat and Slegs only (I often wondered what a sleg was and why traffic lanes were reserved for them). Yes in 1973 there were slaggats everywhere and there were signs for them too and now 40 years on, all ‘they’ seem to have done is replace the signs once they become so bullet riddled to be unreadable. There is a pothole – I mean slaggat, on the M7 near Durban that has been there so long it now has National Heritage status and its own visitor’s centre. They were also going to rename Potchefstroom to Potholechefstroom  before discovering that ‘potholeche’ is something very rude in Zulu. And… did you know that Mthata is the Xhosa word for ‘beware pothole’? AND KwaSlaggatNatal was a close second for Natal’s name in the new South Africa.

Enough of my ramblings – I’m going to cut it short this month and hope that the dawn of this year heralds an end to all the talk of doom and gloom. My New Year resolution is to never again to use the words ‘austerity measures’.  There’s still injustice and corruption and the abuse of power to have a rant about so I won’t be at a loss for conversation topics.

I leave you this month with a picture of the sun rise over the East Riviersonderend range on the morning of the 13th of January. Despite the uplifting nature of the photograph I still see slaggats in those cloud formations so I am going to travel slowly and calmly this year. I will roll with the blows, speak well of the good, debunk pomposity, avoid the bad and drive round slaggats. I Might even write a poem ‘Beware the slaggats of adversity ………’ might even attempt it in Afrikaans… ‘pasop vir die slaggate van benoudheid’

Thank you Andrew.

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A Good Person with bagpipes

A good person with bagpipes?

That’s it – Christmas and New Year and the End of the World (as we knew it) all gone.  What’s next?

Answer: My official retirement birthday and of course– Burns Night: The annual celebration of the birth and life of Robert Burns;  born January 25, 1759,in Alloway, Scotland; died 1796 at the age of only 37 – he had a weak heart caused by a ‘strenuous farmer’s life’. He was however the rock star poet of his day publishing his first book in 1786.When he died, Scotland went into mourning; ten thousand people attended his funeral and he was later named national poet and latterly the most famous Scot of all time. The Scots refer to him as The Bard; in Russia he’s the people’s poet; in Australia he is the nation’s role model.

Burns, naturally, exploited his fame and celebrity, (like rock stars of today?), fathering fourteen children by six different mothers. He was Mick Jagger (without the moves) and Keith Richards and the rest of the Rolling Stones rolled into one – except he only lived about half as long as Mick has. Robert was a letch, a hell raiser and a drunkard really. Come to think of it I seem to know quite a few poets.

His poems and lyric songs were generally written in Scottish dialect – although familiar to most Scots is incomprehensible to all other English speakers. We sing Auld Lang Syne at New Year oblivious to the words.  Scots dialect is still in common use by football team managers.  I have never been able to understand a single word that Sir Alex Ferguson utters: “Och the wee boy dun auld lang moosie begs and trenchen baw thru reekin goalies legs – the noo” (‘just noo?’(tr-South African?))

In my corporate – collared shirt and tie days – my company hosted an annual Burns supper for staff and clients. It was a cheap night – haggis, turnips and potatoes- offal and starch and nobody can take more than 3 cheap whiskys!

Burns Night – started in 1801. Burns Clubs now all over the world host annual Burns Suppers.  Look – you can get all of this from t’internet – so I will not copy and paste any more than is needed.

*’Burns Night procedure is highly structured. After the guests take their seats, the chairman asks them to stand and receive the haggis, The entrée of entrails — haggis is made by stuffing a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs along with oatmeal and spices into the stomach lining, so that it looks like an oddly distended football — arrives on a platter, with a bagpipe band following behind. Someone then gives a boisterous rendition of one of Burns’ poems, “Address to a Haggis.” When he recites the line about cutting the … thing (“An cut you up wi ready slight”) he stabs dramatically and holds the err thing aloft and concludes with the line, “Gie her a haggis!” Then everyone toasts the haggis, which is subsequently served and eaten with side dishes of neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). Men give a sarcastic, sexist toast “to the lassies” and the women (most dinners now allow women) reply with a sarcastic toast about how much they hate men. More poems are recited, songs are sung, and everyone drinks a lot of whisky.’ (*see Whiskipedia)

In the 20th year of my annual company Burns Supper, a staff member asked me if his dad Peter could pipe in the haggis. He, his dad, had taken up the bagpipes at retirement and was now, sixteen years on, fairly competent (according to his mother) to play in public. With a little trepidation I agreed – especially has he had his own kilt and he (his son) said his two tune repertoire was excellent.

On the night, our octogenarian piper arrived looking very much like Billy Connolly does now in that film about Queen Victoria. He was a wee bit tense and nervous as this was his first public appearance. (He wasn’t a Scot either and had also requested the vegetarian option).

The poetry lovers rose to their feet and, in the corridor off the hall, Peter pressed the starter on the pipes, or whatever they do to get the damn things squealing. However the extra effort, on top of his already elevated blood pressure, caused a nose bleed (which we, the poetry lovers, could not see). There was a scream and a dull thud or two as the waitress presenting the haggis fainted at the sight of the bloodied Peter and his pipes.

We had a break in proceedings whilst Peter and the haggis were cleaned up in the gents’ and a replacement trauma seasoned waitress was coerced. A barely recognisable  version of Obla Di Obla Da struck up and Peter entered resplendent with a blood-stained tissue stuffed up his right nostril.

Best Burns Supper I’ve ever been to. I just wish I’d had the presence of mind to film it.

PS: Recently I heard the most ridiculous argument. I heard  that the only defence against a bad person with bagpipes was a good person with bagpipes. In my opinion it is time we decommissioned all bagpipes (and accordions).

PPS:  vegetarian option haggis (Ingredients  for 10)

1  tablespoon vegetable oil 1 medium onion;  1 small carrot; 5 fresh mushrooms – ALL  finely chopped 250ml vegetable stock 5 tablespoons dried red lentils; 2 tablespoons canned kidney beans, mashed; 3 tablespoons finely ground peanuts; 2 tablespoons finely ground hazelnuts; 1 tablespoon soy sauce; 1 tablespoon lemon juice; 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme; 1 teaspoon dried rosemary; 1 pinch ground cayenne pepper 1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice;  1 egg, beaten

1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat and saute the onion 2. Mix in carrot and mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes. 3. Stir in the stock, lentils, kidney beans, peanuts, hazelnuts, soy sauce and lemon juice. Season with thyme, rosemary, cayenne pepper and mixed spice. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in oats, cover and simmer 20 minutes. 4. Preheat oven to 190C; Lightly grease a 23x13cm loaf tin. 5. Stir the egg in . Transfer the mixture to the prepared loaf tin. Bake 30 minutes until firm.

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AND – SO this is Christmas

And so this is Christmas – nearly.

Actually it’s been Christmas in the malls since July – both here in SA and in the UK. It’s also been Trick or Treat – Halloween – Diwali – Guy Fawkes – Bonfire Night for ever. In the UK if I see one more flaming pumpkin or someone wearing a Zuma mask saying trick or back-hander, I will put the lantern where it will be impossible to light. BUT I digress…

To avoid the excesses of a premature festive season we took a road trip- over the pretty mountains to Johannesburg. It meant an increase in our Carbon Bakkie tyre print only to discover that Jo-burg also has Christmas trees – I am told that the Christmas tree forest in Gauteng can be seen from the moon. I recently saw a cartoon showing how we Western Cape residents perceive South Africa. I share it here:         

 It reminds me of a survey of Londoners and their perception of Britain and the world.

Again I share that here:      

My supervisor and I like a ‘road trip’ it gives us a chance to share a confined space for 8 days or so and catch up on quality time. It also gives us an opportunity to experience hospitality and culture which is not within the Greyton … err Brigadoon bubble.  

We over nighted in Beauford South (I have changed the name to protect the innocent). The website for the guest house establishment implied 3 Stars. But what passes for 3 star in Beauford..err…North, would barely get a pencilled-in coronet commendation in Greyton. The website also mentioned internet access and a swimming pool. The internet access was for the benefit of the owners only and the swimming pool was a water filled hole in the space of a parking bay inside the secure razor wired fence and compound to the rear of the lodge on Donkin Straat. The pool was unusable due to the bakkies parked either side. Compound? Yes – compound. This place reminded me of the Green Zone in Baghdad – I knew it looked strangely familiar. I’m sure I saw Kate Adie in reception. The sheets were clean though and the TV, neatly chained and bolted to the wall, presented all 3 channels. The bedside table lamps were glued to the bedside tables but were bulb-free as there were no sockets available – a nice touch I thought.  

We left Baghdad West early to avoid the Full Karoo Truckers Breakfast (includes a lamb chop) and a night in the Bloemfontein General ICU.

The N1 across the Central Karoo is our favourite road trip – marred only by road-works and the wonderfully named Slabbert Burger haulage trucks. Truck and berg spotting and general appreciation of the landscape continued until the One-Stop near Colesberg. We ordered Slabbert Burgers and extra crispy chips – they were fresh out. We made do with vegetarian chicken and salad. Dave Jackson told me once that the chicken had been designated a vegetable in some parts of the Karoo.

The Christmas tree in the foyer was being craftily dressed with lanterns fashioned from the top bits of recycled plastic coke bottles. The restrooms were also tastefully decorated with the bottom bit of the 2 litre coke bottles arranged with roses from the truck park. Slabbert has over 400 vehicles – delivering Burgers to the nation? – we must have passed all of them at least twice in our time on the road. Europe boasts 2 heavy weights of road haulage, both with equally eccentric names: Eddie Stobart and Norbert Dentressangle. Names to conjure with? (Eddie has 2,800 trucks; Norbert 6,500). I have no idea what they deliver as I haven’t a clue what a Dentressangle or a Stobart could be.

Johannesburg: Despite our collective paranoia – I have to say Joey is bouncing and has a good feel. We stayed with friends in Norwood where the security gates to the streets have never been closed and are now a trellis for bindweed and wild flowers. I like Jo-burg, but could never live there again. The openness, freedom and beauty of Greyton and the Overberg spoil all of us.

We swung back via the lower Drakensberg, Dullstroom and then across the coal and power station belt back to Bloemfontein and overnighted this time in Colesberg – of which I have nothing to say other than- all you need to get a commendation star is a cokey (koki?) pen and a handy wall.

Colesberg did restore my faith in human nature. By mistake I left R100 in the Pick and Pay in-store ATM. An hour later, after my supervisor had made me account for my spending and go through my pockets a number of times, I returned to the shop to be greeted by a lady, wearing a Santa hat, and waving the R100 at me in a little plastic cash bag – with a note attached describing the person (me) and time and date: ‘Elderly white guy with novelty Christmas bok beard; 17 Nov; 8.12 am- appeared to be distracted by succulent Karoo lamb pies’. Ho, bloody, Ho.

 

We won’t be sending cards this year –part of austerity measures and the Sentinel’s opportune moment. Wee wish you all a merry festive season: stay well – walk like an Egyptian (why?) – talk quietly – drive lightly – believe only the best

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Towards Sustainability

I can save you money – trust me I’m a car salesman

Out here on the farm our single greatest expense (apart from red wine!) is fuel. I continually challenge myself to find a way of reducing costs.  We could I suppose cut back on the alcohol and spend more on travel? But just supposing I chose to try and get the fuel costs down – how do I go about this.

Well – this month you get a mathematics lesson – or as the Americans say ‘Math Class’. (why singular?)

If you don’t have a car or you already walk to work or school, you have no need to read further.

Let’s say I stick with my 25 year old Mercedes – which cost me R35,000;  4 years back. It’s big and steady on dirt roads and has aircon and the ‘full works’ and reasonably reliable. I haven’t had to borrow any money to buy it but I have to replace something on it once a year. Because of living where we do and the need to get people to work we do 1,000 km a month . The car does 30km to 5 litres – let’s call it R12/litre. Do the math(s): 1,000 divided by 30, times 5 and again times 12 = R2,000 per month.  I don’t have to worry about the ‘carbon tyreprint’ of buying new ‘cos – in the words of the sage – it’s already been spent. The repair and maintenance cost is maybe another R2,400 per annum : a total (doing the math(s)) of R2,200 per month. Ok I’ll add on a bit for contingency for things going wrong and I get to R2,500 a month (80% fuel; road tax and insurance are extra but they would be for a new car in any case)

So – I decide to buy a new environmentally friendly car. I’m told that the Toyota Prius (other marques are available) should easily give 50km to 5 litres. Again do the math(s) and fuel will cost .. divided by .. times  =  R1,200 a month – also say rep/maint is a bit cheaper ‘cos it’s new – I will save R800 a month on fuel and maybe R200 on other costs. I’m saving R1,000 a month. Yippee more red wine? Maybe I can be super good at driving and get better mileage (should that be kilometerage?), I doubt it

BUT – shelling out R300,000 for a new efficient car isn’t an option – as I don’t have the spare cash. Googling on t’internet finds me a second hand Prius somewhere in KZN for R150,000 cash or R2,870 monthly for 54 months (4.5 years!) and 10% deposit.

Assuming I can flog the old Merc for the deposit – I am thus, do the math(s) R1,870 per month worse off until I reach the age of 70. In short it’s impossible to buy your way out of the fuel conundrum. Once you are in you are in. Sorry.

Obviously though if you have R150k spare and only earning you 3% then you would be better off investing in the second hand Prius . Depreciation on the vehicle though makes the idea of investment in a vehicle, nonsense.  The only way to retain the value of your money is not to spend it and even then – hey I’m an Engineer not an economist.

In Popular Mechanics last month there was a short article on how we can improve our existing kms per litre. The PM article was a re-issue of something from another mag combined with a Myth Busters TV programme. I have added a couple of my own tips and a bit more explanation. In the spirit of greenness I recycle the PM knowledge thus:

  • Do less driving
    • Walk to the shops, school or work – use your car less
      • If you live out of town
        • Park on the outskirts (near to the first shop but on your side of town) and then walk.
        • Cut down on your visits to town – make a list -shop once a week instead of everyday (other than a social need of course)
        • Shop for a neighbour – I mean don’t look for a new neighbour … you know what I mean?
        • How much cheaper does your food shop have to be to justify spending R500 in fuel going to Somerset West and back?
        • Never fill up
          • Never make a special journey to refuel – always refuel when passing a fuel station and only a fuel station on your left (more later)
          • Only half fill the tank – most tanks hold 60 litres (60kgs). So if you work between just above empty and half rather than half and full – you don’t have to carry round 25kg of additional load.
          • Carry less weight – personally and in the boot – be brutal – lose weight and throw out those old tools that were a bargain but you never ever use.
          • Manage the air-conditioning
            • Open windows and switch off AC at slow speeds
            • Close windows and switch on AC at high speeds. – The air turbulence and high speed with open windows reduces fuel efficiency
            • Drive carefully – pretend there’s an egg between your foot and the accelerator pedal
            • Don’t  stop at robots (traffic lights)
              • I don’t mean- break the law – I mean try not to stop at traffic lights. Do this by looking ahead and adjusting your speed so that the lights are nearly always at green. The stopping and pulling away again is the biggest user of fuel. If you are stopped for any length of time then switch off altogether. Some modern cars do this automatically and instantly start when you depress the accelerator pedal.
              • Plan your journey turning left.
                • Not quite as daft as it sounds but not that easy either. Again this means trying not to stop for any length of time in the middle of a junction waiting to turn right. The South African 4 way stop actually helps to minimise the amount of time we are stopped. 4 way stops are a good thing.
                • Make sure that the tyres are correctly inflated. Most fuel stations in SA are manned so take advantage – get the tyres checked.
                • Have the car serviced regularly – if it feels lumpy or you have some extra noise – don’t just turn up the sound system- do something about it.

Give it a try – get your mileage down and your efficiency up.

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Copy of our BWI Cerification

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Secret Agents

There’s at least one secret assassin living quietly and anonymously amongst us in Greyton. Also – an unassuming retired couple who used to be special agents. They say that they used to manage a shop in Northern Britain. Let’s call them Mr and Mrs Smith. How do I know all this? Mr S can be garrulous.

Recently their sleepy retirement was disturbed. They were pulled out of the Saturday market and volunteer work to deal with a ‘situation’ in Cape Town.

In these days of austerity, even within secret services, Mr and Mrs S were risk-assessed and found to be the cheapest. Their mission: to stake out and neutralise a target operating in Long Street.

Tuesday they set off. It was going to be Monday but, Monday is a bit too near the weekend.

Mrs assumes the driving role.

“I’ll drive.” She adjusts the mirror.  “You navigate – set the SatNav for Long Street, Cape Town.”

 “SATNAV?  We know where Long Street is.” Mr is already at exasperation L2.

 “They may have moved it since last month or, renamed it Zuma Straat.”

 “Good point.” He acquiesces. “Now swing by Osman’s I need Ducktape, cable ties and a mini hack-saw.”

“Have you been reading that book? “

“Noooo.”  Mr responds, a wee bit too quickly for Mrs; but hoping for a distraction adds “We may need to immobilise the target before neutralising, and I have to fix that gutter.”

“OK. Hey did you leave water for the dog?”

“No. But I left a note for Doreen –to feed him, give him a run and there’s a fair bit of ironing too.”

Mr disappears into Osman’s. Mrs keeps the motor running, checking for potential ‘situations’ from the four and a half way stop traffic of cars, horses, cows, carts and men of a certain age carrying baskets.

Mr pulls himself into the double cab.

“Abdul says good luck with the mission – just filled him in – he says park near the baths.”

Mrs moves off and then slide parks in the dirt outside the pharmacy.

“I need a bottle of water and some Grandpas.”

“Maybe a quick breakfast?” says Mr heading for Vias.

It’s another two hours before they are back on schedule with Mrs suddenly aware that progress is slow.

“Right. Now” she says with agent firmness. “Focus!”  But then, with Greyton retired unfocussedness, adds.  “Must stop at Dassies – we need pomegranate juice?”

“Pomegranate juice?  More prostrate cures?  AAARGH!”

Forty minutes; a litre of Pom J; an enamelled sign; an Australian peeler: a new pair of Crocs and a pie for the journey, later – Mr says:

“SatNav says go via Stellenbosch.”

“Nah – I need some shades – I left mine, so, must stop at Somerset West robots.”

“I’m sure I set it for fastest- avoiding Stellenbosch.”

“I need some shades. “

“Fancy an early lunch at Houw Hoek?”

“Focus -we are on a mission; and shades.”

“Peregrine for a pie?”

“No – Shades Somerset West.”

Eighty minutes later, most of it in silence, Mrs says:

“Did we really need the wire and bead licence holder and the shades? The beaded mini-hacksaw is rather nice though.

“umph  .. it won’t stick to the windscreen – we need fuel –I forgot to fill up yesterday.”

“You forgot? And where were you for over forty minutes?”

“Well there was a queue – sooo I went in the shop for some cash; then I bumped in to Andre. Literally. I didn’t see him in magazines it’s the horizontal stripe – it sort of blends in.  He gave me a couple of good tips on covert ops. Derek wanted to know if we were free Friday and Charlene spotted me in the pie section. I just forgot”

“Ok we’ll fill up at the Ultra City – and practice our getaway – it’s been ten years – how does it go?  Seat belt; engage; handbrake; mirror; signal; manoeuvre; floor the accelerator.”

“Seatbelt? Seatbelt?  We are licensed, temporarily until Wednesday, to” <voice rises> “Neutralise. And we have to wear seatbelts?”  Exasperation now at L3.

Mrs ignores her falsetto husband.

“Did you print out the licence? NO? Doesn’t mention seatbelts does it? Just the k k neutralising bit? Hey? No mention that we are licensed NOT to wear seat belts – Oh No?  Hah Huh? But hang on here we are – Long Street – we have arrived at our destination… parking fairy where are you?  Nice lighting shop ..sunglasses … cell….”

Wiping the spittle from the TomTom screen Mr yells:

“Stop … Park there… here at Adult World. There’s always a space outside Adult Wor… , ..so I have been told .. or maybe overheard .. yes … maybe…….”

“Adult World? AND what do they do in Adult World MISTER Smith?”

“Tool and Plant Hire darling – an ideal front for our surveillance.  Hah there’s a car guard person.”

Ten minutes later Mr returns. Mrs, adjusting her shoulder holster, says:

“Did you get a receipt? HQ won’t reimburse without a receipt. And where are the mission instructions, photos, stuff?”

“The printout is in the glove box.” Mr responds with a look of smugness.

Mrs, tears open the envelope marked ‘Mission Monday/Tuesday’ and speed reads:

“Doreen.. the usual plus… dust top of doors..feed dog …  ironing…   Huhh?  Hey this is your note to err Doreen. And who’s that in the next car … wearing MY shades. DOREEN? AND isn’t that our dog in the passenger seat?”

“Goeiemôre Mevrou Missis. Target neutralised. Clean-up in progress – my sister came with? Now I must get back to Greyton … there’s a berg of ironing.”

Thursday morning:  Mr and Mrs are at Abbey Rose. Mr is thumbing his Blackberry.

“London is very pleased with our sub-contractor – but they would like a receipted invoice.”

“Could we charge the beaded hacksaw?”

“They’d like to use CodeNameDusted again. Her rates are attractive and her clean-up was exceptional”

“It will have to be Wednesdays”

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Dear Uncle Jackson

Late in July our good friend Dave Jackson died. My letters in the Sentinel were always written to Dave and usually (as now) addressed to ‘Uncle Jackson’. The main reason for this – although I was older than him, by a month, I always felt that he was like my kindly older Uncle Jackson Armstrong.
I’ll miss his crafted surreal correspondence, his wit and conversation. He was very capable of satirical comment but never cruel or exaggerated. Surreal – as I said – and so erudite that I had often to ‘Google’ a reference to be able to follow his argument or train of thought. His love of Afrikaans the language and the culture was matched equally by his love of English – language, literature and history. He introduced me to the writing of Charles Herman Bosman and Louis Leipold . Our English book collections were similar but the breadth of his reading was much wider, and the reason why I’ve had to ‘look things up’ more often since knowing him.
Music was the main reason for knowing Dave. I met him when he first came to the village – we were introduced as fellow musicians – but I will never be half the guitarist he was. I’m stuck in my own younger nephew style but Dave could play in any style and was more than competent playing classical, flamenco, jazz, blues, pop rock, reggae, punk, heavy metal. Again – his breadth and depth of knowledge for all things musical was apparent if you ever had the chance to rifle through his record collection – I’ve lost days! He would know who played bass on Dylan’s latest or Joan Armatrading’s earliest and what key they were in – he would also know where Beethoven died or Charlie Mingus bought his shoes.
We spent many hours performing and recording with him. Di and I must finish that tricky second album sometime –– adding another harmony or doing the ending again and again and again after a glass too many of the Hanky Bannister won’t be the same without the maestro at the recording desk. Whiskey only improves the singing voice of the person not drinking. He and I would get one of those withering looks from ‘our wife’ (as he referred to Di) as we opened the second bottle. What I will miss most though is that small smile of approval part way through a song. Then I knew that we were on the right track.
About eighteen months before he died, and a year before we realised he was ill, he suddenly gave me a present – his banjo. It was part of his simplifying his life and preparations for his death – we didn’t know it at the time. I insisted on paying him and, after weeks of bartering we settled on 2 bottles of Jameson. Parting with his banjo wasn’t difficult, he said, as’ the definition of a gentleman was someone who can play a banjo but chooses not to’.
When I get a chance I’m going to restring the weapon of musical destruction – get a litre of Jameson from the drankwinkel – go to a sound proof room and play Cripple Creek and Cumberland Gap and Louisville and Room at the Top until the bottle is dry.
Keep on strumming Dave.
Better never than late?
Your sensible nephew
John-Brian
PS My supervisor sends her love to you and the dogs that tolerate you (wherever they are)

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