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Sunday, 22 June 2014

Newsletter from over the Pond

I have now been settled in our tiny apartment for seven weeks. Liz has made a wonderful job of furnishing it on a shoestring. She found me a Lazyboy recliner - 2nd-hand but very functional and extremely comfortable. A couple of weeks ago we went to a barn just outside Lancaster - a barn full of every conceivable kind of bric-a-brac from saddles and harness, books, vinyls, tools and countless household items. We picked up a rocking chair and footrest (also rocking) for Liz, a practically new Black and Decker cordless drill/driver, and a new turntable/tuner (which we will need once my vinyls arrive) each for just $20.

We were very fortunate to get this apartment, although it is far too small for my liking and the stairs to the upper floor are too steep. We are going to know it when our 105 boxes arrive from Cape Town in 4 or 5 weeks time. We do, however, have a small patch of garden in which I have planted potatoes, onions and scarlet runners, and which already has a mass of strawberries growing - we shared the first one yesterday. Although the smallest of the 4 apartments here, we have the largest wooden deck - 12' x 45' and facing South, so it gets the sun all afternoon until it dips below the tree tops, which rise some 300' immediately to the West.

We are visited each morning by a chipmunk, that runs across the deck from one end to the other, returning with its cheeks swollen with birdseed. It has stolen them from the adjacent apartment deck, where a black bear knocked down the bird feeder a couple of nights ago. Yesterday it actually came in through our open front door, looked around and then left again. We were also visited yesterday by a friendly squirrel, which sat on the deck,s balustrade eating peanuts (left there by Liz accidentally on purpose). There are also bats in the attic, and we have seen a marmont and white tailed deer close by.

Julie has gone down to Maine with the kids - Gracie, who won 5 medals at the State Gymnastics Championships, is attending a Gym Camp there for the week. We will look after their animals while they are away, and Julie will get a well earned break, to be joined mid-week by Jake.

As I compose this I am sitting on the deck, surrounded by the forests and green meadows of the North Country. In the far distance I can see Mounts Washington, Lafayette, Lincoln and Osceola.We are taking a coffee break. A robin is perched on a tree trunk, staring at me. At this time of year the weather is almost identical to the UK, so I will be well acclimatized when I fly to see my sister in a few weeks time. I guess that's why this region is called New England. It will be different when winter arrives. During this past one the temperature remained well below freezing, night and day, for three months. Even the Ammonoosuc, a usually swift flowing river, was frozen over.

I recently spent a little over $640 on a new laptop to replace the one lost by Emirates during my journey over here. I have had to send it back to Dell as the operating system was not seeing the camera - an essential piece of equipment in this day and age. It was delivered in Texas overnight, so I'm hoping it will not be long before it gets back to me. In the meantime I will continue using Liz's machine,

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Hello America

I have been to this side of the Pond once before – back in 2005, when, during my 3 week stay, I was lucky enough to have witnessed the forests of the White Mountains turn from their summer green to the that autumn mass of color. That was just a short visit – this time I am here to stay (subject, of course, to USCIS). Thanks to the world economic downturn it has taken something like 4 or 5 years to eventually sell the farm, and in the end I practically gave it away. But at least it is now out of my hands. I heard just today that our 104 cartons of possessions are at last about to be loaded into a container and sent on their way. I guess they’ll take another couple of months to get here, and we’ll have to hire storage space until we get a larger place to live.

On my first night on American soil we stayed at the Salem Inn in Salem, Massachusetts. Liz has a passion for witches and Wicca, and I am a Free Thinker, so it was in all aspects an appropriate place to stay. And anyway I needed to replace a ring that I had lost somewhere on the farm, a ring with a particularly sentimental value. That first night was somewhat marred by circumstances. We had planned to go out for dinner, but with 40 sleepless hours behind me along with the loss of my laptop in Dubai – well, I’m afraid that the evening turned out to be an expensive damp squib. I did notice one thing though – having heard that everything in America was BIG, I noted that even the loo paper at our hotel was at least 10% larger than what I have been used to elsewhere.

But seriously – I have now been here for one month. Yesterday we sent the I-130 off to USCIS to start the ball rolling for my permanent residence. I will be flying to the UK in late July for a couple of weeks to keep legal, and will have the pleasure of staying with my sister and her husband Peter, and of seeing her three kids (?) and grandchildren for the first time in 15 years. My 5 weeks on this side of the Pond have been wonderful – eye opening, to say the least. It is particularly wonderful to witness efficiency, clean streets and highways (a story here), unbiased radio stations, the very latest technology and a wide variety of culture – available for all.

Driving north on Interstate 93 the other day we witnessed a State trooper meticulously going through a trash bag that someone had dumped on the side of the highway. He was searching each piece of trash for some clue that would trace it back to the culprit. Wow! Efficiency!

Of course the best thing about being on this side of the Pond is that I have been reunited with my family. With my wife and soul mate Liz, and with Julie, Jake and my three grandchildren Grace, Owen and Luke. We have an apartment just three miles from Julie, three miles along the Ammonoosuc River, and are surrounded by the forests and mountains of the North Country. From our deck we have views of Mounts Washington, Lafayette, Lincoln and Osceola as well as a number of the smaller mountains of the region.

Last week we drove down to Portsmouth to watch Grace compete in the State Gymnastics Championships – she came away with 5 medals and a very proud grandfather. My theatrical background kicked in during the Awards Ceremony in the school auditorium, where I counted more than 50 floodlights above the stage as well as numerous spots and follow spots. There must be numerous small theaters that would give anything for that lighting set up, and this just in a local high school. Liz and I drove back along the banks of Lake Winnipesaukee, stopping briefly at Weirs Beach so that Liz could get her feet in the sand – the waters of the lake were still just a few degrees above freezing, and far too cold to get her feet wet.  

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Goodbye South Africa

I write this post objectively, and would like to assure my many friends and few relations remaining in South Africa that I mean no offense.

It has been more than a month since I wrote my previous post, but a month in which my life has completely changed – for the better. At last I am free from the servitude and nepotism of South Africa, and am able to look at the country and its people with a clear and fresh mind. I have now spent a month in a real First World country, and can say quite categorically, and this is for all South Africans who think otherwise, that South Africa is a true Third World country – nothing better.

In many ways I rue the decision that I made 42 years ago to relocate to southern Africa, but had I not made that decision, I would not have the wonderful family and friends that I have today. Everyone makes mistakes, and I am the first to admit that I have made many, but the decisions we make, whether good or bad, shape our future life. My 42 years in Africa have been colorful, enlightening and edifying, and I left the country last month wiser and more erudite than I could possibly have been had I remained in the United Kingdom all those years ago. During my time in Rhodesia I spent more than 130 nights “treading the boards”, and many more in rehearsal, often in the company of professional and internationally known actors and actresses. I have met and shaken hands with politicians from either side of the aisle, including the recently passed Nelson Mandela and Ian Smith. Above all I have had the pleasure of living in a beautiful part of the world, have come face to face with Nature, and can truthfully boast, in the words of Karen Blixen, that “I had a farm in Africa”.

When my wife, Liz, came out to South Africa in 2002, one of the first things that I told her was to watch out for the direction that education and healthcare were going. These were the first visible signs of the impending rot in what had become Zimbabwe, and from which I had fled with my family in 1981. We all know what has become of that country. South Africa is fast going the same way. The deterioration in education and healthcare started several years ago, and were instrumental in our decision to relocate. Today South Africa is a cradle of mismanagement, nepotism and neo-apartheid. If you happen to have a white skin, forget about applying for a job. There are few ways that you will guarantee a future - by starting your own business, by ‘knowing someone’ or by joining the ANC.

I could write a whole new blog post on South African banks. I have traveled to every continent, and can safely and categorically state that, in my opinion, South African banks are probably the worst on the entire planet. I have yet to come across another country where one has to pay a fee for depositing cash into one’s bank account. Not only that, there is a fee for every single transaction. I know for a fact that, for an individual such as myself, a checking account in the USA and the UK will actually pay you interest on a monthly basis when you have a credit balance. The powers that be in banks such as I am speaking of (if there are exceptions I am not aware of them) will try to justify these charges with a lot of balderdash and twaddle – probably because they themselves have been brainwashed and programed to do so. South African banks suck!

I will say no more, other than “Goodbye Africa!”. Now that I have experienced just a few short weeks in a First World country for the first time in many years, I have absolutely no desire at all to return to any part of that continent. I will spend my remaining days (may there be many of them) enjoying clean streets and highways, unbiased radio and television stations, the latest technology, a wide variety of culture, efficient government departments (it is still quicker in South Africa to send a letter with a runner and cleft stick than to rely on the post office) and a country free from the mismanagement and corruption that is so prevalent in South Africa, its businesses and its government. Goodbye