Saturday, February 28, 2009
In contravention of many a copyright law I give you... The Flight of the Wild Geese, by Ms Joan Armatrading, and the opening credits of the all-time classic Africa mercenary movie, The Wild Geese. Here goes... click away:
I'm very grateful to Muriel for reminding me in the comments section of my last post what a sensational movie the Wild Geese is. Listening to the delightful Ms Armatrading sing the theme song still sends a little shiver down my spine.
I knew the movie was made in apartheid-era South Africa but what I didn't know (which Muriel pointed out in her comment) was that the directors insisted, and obtained permission for all of the actors, black and white, to live together on-set.
It's a fantastic movie, with some great moments and many of these, I learned today, are captured on Youtube. There's roguish Roger Moore as the roguish womanising Sean Flynn, Richard Burton as the hard drinking commander, and, of coure, legendary actor and Mother Blog heartthrob Richard Harris as the excellently named Rafer Janders. (Mother Blog and Richard Harris once had their photo taken together in the beer garden of an English country pub comparing their legs. It's a long and embarrassing story - I know, as I was there).
John Kani (who was a South African screen legend even before Charlize Theron was born) stars as the young Jessie, who needs to take on mercenary work in order to afford a haircut. "I have this lady barber," he tells Burton, "and she charges by the inch."
Also, I'm a huge fan of Hollywood's favourite German, Hardy Kruger, who plays a South African in the Wild Geese. The crowning moment for Hardy (and one of the best in the film) is where he stops using the "K" word and calls the African guy he is supposed to be protecting a "bloke". Noice.
Incidentally, Hardy also starred in the John Wayne African epic, HATARI. Why has no one nominated Hatari as their favourite Africa pic? Don't scoff, LOF, I own a copy. It's worth buying just to see Elsa Martinelli dancing.
I still want to hear your favourite movies set in or about Africa, so post your comment here and you'll be in the running to win a copy of the SILENT PREDATOR audio book. Competition closes Wednesday, March 4, 6pm Australian east coast time.
"Come on, Rafer, come onnnnnnnnnnnn."
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
To purchase tickets, call 08 9455 6073 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
There will also be some 80s blokes playing and the rest of the line up is Kids in the Kitchen, The Models and Uncanny X Men.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
One of the things I (seriously) like about this whole blog/website caper is hearing from those people who are intelligent, educated, and cool enough to buy my books.
The matter of crime/thriller novels set in southern Africa, particularly in the African bush, is the subject of today's post.
It is with not a little joy and pride that I serve up today's dose of shameless self promotion.
A friend of mine in South Africa informed me yesterday that the absolutely lovely Ms Jenny Crwys-Williams who presents a weekly book show on South Africa's radio 702 AM had given me another mention on her program. Jenny's is THE definitive radio program to be on if you are in the writing game. I was over the moon to be on her program last September.
This week, Jenny was talking about the lack of crime/thriller novels set in the South African bush. There is a lack, but for me this is a very good thing as it means less competition.
I was doubly thrilled to listen to a podcast of Jenny's show because she not only replayed some excerpts from my interview, but also started her program with an interview with South African crime writer, Deon Meyer. I am a huge fan of Deon's books and his latest, Blood Safari, is set in the South African lowveld - ie the bush.
You can hear the full podcast by clicking here and scrolling down to the Jenny Crwys-Williams section and the book program. You can listen to the podcast straight off the web by cliciking "download" or if you have an ipod (like me) you can click on the iTunes icon and download it onto your computer and then onto your ipod so that you can listen to me over and over again (as I will be doing on the bus home this evening, with a contented smile on my face).
My stuff comes in about halfway during the program, but I order you all to listen to Deon's interview - not only because he says something nice about me, but also because he is a very good writer.
Also, for those of you in and around Joburg, as Jenny rightly says I'll be speaking at a dinner hosted by her sometime soon after I get back to South Africa later this year, probably in late September. Stay tuned for details.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
I have considered it, but haven't come to a decision. What do you think? Should I or shouldn't I?
I'm interested in your opinions - particularly those of you who live (or have lived) in South Africa.
Do you want to read about crime in Jozi in a novel, or is it too close to the bone?
Part of me thinks there is so much "material" (if I can put it that way) about this subject that I should write about it, but the other part of me thinks... well that's why I'm asking you.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Good news, I hope, this week from Zimbabwe with the swearing in of Morgan Tsvangirai as Prime Minister as part of the much-delayed power sharing agreement with President Robert Mugabe.
Hmmm. I, like many of my friends in Zimbabwe, have mixed feelings about this event. Sure, it's great that Mr T is getting some recognition of the fact that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) actually won the election fair and square, but let us never underestimate the cunning, deviousness and evil intentions of Comrade R.G. Mugabe.
It's a funny thing, but talking to many people in Zim on our recent trip there was almost a reluctance for things to get better. The feeling was, and probably still is, that if things improve in the country, even marginally, and the pressure weakens on Mugabe to go for good then he will continue running the country into the ground and ripping as much money out of the country as he can.
When Cde President lifted the ban on NGOs and allowed food aid into the country, and medical assistance to treat the cholera epidemic, it was like turning a pressure valve. For a week or two the criticism and the focus on Cde Prez dropped off.
No one wants people to starve, or to die of cholera, but sometimes even the best of inentions are little off the target. There are people starving in Zimbabwe, yet we also heard tales of ordinary Zimbabweans who do have jobs and food strolling down to the local USAID or Red Cross truck to collect their quota of mealie meal, cooking oil and other donated goodies.
One of our friends told us her maid arrived for work at the house toting food and cooking oil (the maid gets paid cash and in food by our friend). "Gosh, where did you get that oil?" our friend asked her maid. She was flabbergasted as oil has been one of the many things that are hard to get in Zimbabwe.
"From the Red Cross, madam."
"Well can you pop back and get me some?" she asked, only half in jest. I suspect it's easier to get aid into the towns and urban areas of Zimbabwe than way out in the sticks where it's probably more needed.
The President's other two recent moves - to allow businesses to officially trade in foreign currency (instead of the worthless local currency), and to finally agree to the power sharing deal may also not be as altruistic as they seem.
The Government of Zimbabwe is bankrupt - morally as well as economically. Teachers, soldiers, police, nurses, doctors etc have all been on strike or threatened to strike over not being paid (you can't count the equivalent of $1 a month as a wage). So, as well as allowing businesses to trade in US dollars, the Government has decided it will pay its civil servants in vouchers which are each equivalent to a US dollar, but redeemable only in shops in Grimbabwe.
I don't know anything about economics but isn't printing bits of paper and calling them US dollars one of the key ingredients in a recipe for more financial disaster? What's to stop the Government paying a senior policeman, for example, half a million US dollar "vouchers" and allowing him to buy up the entire contents of a supermarket?
Re the power sharing - I'm sure Cde Mugabe will find many ways to hamper his new PM, but the mere fact he has allowed the deal to go ahead will take him out of the world's headlines for a while and allow him and his wife to keep shopping with what's left of his country's wealth behind the scenes.
But I digress... it's the cows you want to hear about.
Shortly after disposing of Miranda, the dead cow I fed to the lions, Mrs Blog and I joined our friend E as she went to market, to market, to sell some fat cows. She wasn't exactly crazy about the prospect of selling some of her dexters (they're cows, by the way, not fat American boys with glasses), but the family needed a new generator.
Power cuts (although you can't really call them that when there really is no power) are a fact of life in Zimbabwe - just one more tangible example of how the President has brought about instituionalised ruination of his country. Our friends needed a big generator, at a cost of about $6000 (second hand).
I've never been to a cattle sale and I must say that one will probably do me for life. Particularly this one. Our friend's plump cows (or are they bulls - I never know) were the stand-out herd. You didn't have to be Dozycow to see that virtually all of the other animals up for auction were in an appalling state.
There were more ribcages on show than on a catwalk as they poor, frightened creatures were run past an audience of "New Farmers" who looked far better fed than anything else in the saleyards. One poor creature had hooves that were splayed almost a foot apart.
Prices were down, I was told, with our friend's babies fetching top dollar at around US$1.70 a kilogram. The average was around 70 cents.
We met a butcher elsewhere on our travels in Zimbabwe who told us we could buy beef fillet in his shop for US$8 per kilogram. This is cheap by world standards, but expensive for Zimbabwe.
So, as I was now an expert on all matters beef and cattle, it was with no small amount of shock that Mrs Blog and I stopped in a cafe in Harare and found that a hamburger was going to cost us US$10.
An unfortunate by-product of the President's carefully planned destruction of this once thriving economy is that greed has now become the order of the day for many people and businesses in Zimbabwe. Under the guise of shortages, inflation and other woe many Zimbabweans have taken to ripping each other off.
At the cattle sales there was a very nice lady selling very warm, small cans of coke for US$2 each. In my travels I saw cokes variously priced from 50 cents (in supermarkets) to $1 in restaurants, but $2??? What excuse was there for that?
Ditto the $10 hamburger. I came across plenty more examples of goods priced way above any reasonable mark-up, even if they had been smuggled in across the border from South Africa.
The cafe selling the overpriced burger (and another I went to, with equally ludicrous prices) was virtually empty. It occurred to me that the owners were probably inflating their prices because business was down, on the assumption that there would be a few rich people willing or desperate enough for a lump of mince on bread to pay the asking price.
I'm no more an entrepeneur than I am an economist, but when times are tough, business is slow, and beef is (relatively) cheap, wouldn't it be better to cut your prices and try and drum up some more trade? It's the same with Zimbabwe's national parks. Virtually no one goes there anymore, so the parks authorities have increased their prices out of sight. Zim's parks used to be some of the best value in the region, but now they're among the most expensive. Shouldn't they be offering cut-price specials to lure visitors back?
The day after the cattle sale our cow-herding friend E was run over by one of her dexters (now that would be funny if they really were little fat American boys with glasses, but it was no laughng matter). We drove her, battered and bruised, to a doctor's surgery in Harare.
After E had been checked out and administered painkillers she suggested a bit of retail therapy was in order, so we ducked across the road to one of the quasi-secretive "dollar shops" that had sprung up around Harare (this was before widespread trading in foreign currency had been legalised).
The Dollar Shop was inside a suburban house which looked like any other in the street, with the exception of the security on the gate and the customers' 4x4s parked all over the lawn.
Inside, some enterprising young ladies were selling a small but carefully selected choice of goods that they had imported from South Africa. There were toiletries, cereals, cooking oil, spices, condiments and other boring stuff, but of more interest to me was the reasonable selection of beers in the second bedroom.
A case of Miller Genuine Draft caught my eye, but at the asking price of US$20 I thought it was a bit much. One of the shop ladies wandered into the beer room and said; "I can sell you that for $18." Using my phone I calculated that that made the beer 75 cents a bottle. More expensive than South Africa, where it would have cost abut 60 cents (though a lot cheaper than Australia, I must add), but still very reasonable, I thought.
One of the problems in dealing in someone else's currency is the lack of coinage, so change was a big problem in Zimbabwe when we were there. E bought some stuff and didn't have the correct money, but one of the shop girls gave her a chocolate bar as change (the chocolate was, I reckoned, worth more than the changes should have been). A nice touch, and I was pleased to see that the dollar shop ladies were willing to discount to encourage business.
We stopped at another store, an upmarket supermarket, on the way back to the farm, and I found the same brand of beer, Miller Genuine Draft, on sale for US$1.10 a bottle - 35 cents more than the dollar shop. What a joke.
I love Zimbabwe - it's probably the most beautiful country I've ever been to and its people are the friendliest in Africa. Perhaps if the President stops stealing from his people, his people will stop robbing each other blind, but it's a little like the difference between the dollar shop and the rip-off supermarket down the road.
You can either say "I'll charge what I want and make as much money out of you while I can because I know (Mr Blog) you need your burgers and your beer," or you can be like the lovely ladies in the dollar store and hand out chocolate bars as change, saying "Please comeback again."
I want to come back to a Zimbabwe that is free, fair, honest and happy once again, but I can't see that happening until the stealing stops for good - from the top to the bottom.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Why do I digress from Africa to Afghanistan? Had me a bit of a flashback moment when I was trying to think of something vaguely sensible to write about Mombasa, that's why. I wrote this blog, about the merits of Mombasa as a holiday destination, vs the slightly better-publicised Zanzibar, for Getaway Magazine's website a while ago and it's just been uploaded.
Right now I'm coming to you live from O.R. Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, (the airport formerly known as Jan Smuts). I had good intentions to blog the next instalment of my recent bovine adventures in Zimbabwe, but a quick bit of googling revealed that my Mombasa v Zanzibar post on Getaway is now there for all to read.
This is a good thing as it's a nice (reasonably) sensible post (despite the typos) and it saves me having to write something creative from the British Airways lounge (where I am now reposing), which in turn allows me to consume more free beer and nibblies.
I'm on my way 'home' to Australia, so it's probably just as well I'm not up to date with my Africa travels on here as I will be able to spin them out over the next few months until I return.
So, off you go, if you will, LOF and read about all the big issues - the war, lobsters, litter, and ladies in Burquas.
Getaway has now made it much easier to post comments so I encourage you all to do so, so that the web editor at Getaway thinks I really do have a legion of fans. If you do I will send you a free gift.
I am not joking this time - this is out and out bribery. I intend to get some stubbie coolers (beer coolers) made to promote the release of my next book and I hereby give notice that anyone who posts a comment on the Getaway Blog will be entitled to a free one.
So, if you missed any of the previous dozen or so links, please click here to read my latest post on the Getaway website.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Perhaps I need guidance with my fashion sense, LOF, but I am willing (and able) to lead you into the wilds of Africa and the perils of travelling in places where people whear plastic clogs.
A few of you have commented or emailed saying you have had difficulty in joining my (slowly) growing band of followers, whose attractive, wise vasages you will see on the left of this blog.
I never thought I'd be showing anyone how to do something on a computer, but I just signed up Mrs Blog, so now I can show you how it's done.
Simply click here and you will be invited to creat a Google account, which is (unless you have your own blog) the quickest and easiest to creat a simple profile and become a follower. After that, follow the prompts, as we say in internet-land.
To log in and become a follower, click on 'follow this blog' at the top left of the blog.
Thanks to those of you who pointed out the men dressed as ladies on the safarisuit.com website. I must admit I was focussing more on the fashion than the five o'clock shadow so don't read too much into my endorsement of this website.
To one of the anonymouses who posted a link to safarisuits.biz I thank you very much. This is a well-thought-out site and gains extra points for having two bright orange short wheelbase Series III Land Rovers in its fetching masthead. However, I must say that at first glance my Kenyan-made safari suit is, I believe, of superior quality. Also, taking note of the prices quoted on safarisuits.biz I may be calling my personal tailor, Boniface, in Mombasa with a view to setting up a little business of our own.
Fear not, LOF, that I will soon be enthralling and rewarding you with more tales of cows, dead and alive, as well as an update on beer and burger prices in strife-torn Zimbabwe.
First, though, I have to finish the edits on my forthcoming collaborative non-fiction book. Stay tuned for details...
Also, I think it's about time I posted some more animal pictures.
Or, better still, why don't the 13 of you (Mrs Blog doesn't actually pay much attention to this blog) tell me what you want to see here?
Friday, February 06, 2009
Mr Blog is very busy, Legion of Fans (LOF) frantically trying to finish the first draft of Book Number 7 (catchy title, eh?) so no time to blog too much today. I don't wish to incur the wrath of my extremely attractive, brainy and (living) Grace Kelly-lookalike publisher by not delivering on time.
So, I will offer you two pleasant diversions that I found in between working very hard. 1. Safarisuit.com , and 2. I Hate Crocs.com . Astute followers will know that I am a Safari Suit Ambassador and that I will do anything in my power to dissuade people from the urge to wear colourful plastic clogs.
Dozycow, please accept my apologies. I should have prefaced the previous post with a preface that said: "Warning, the following post contains images of deceased bovines".
Do you own a pair of Crocs, LOF? If you don't, then tell me what you think of them. If you do, and you are a Follower of this blog then I salute your right to choose your own footwear. If I am brave enough to wear a Safari Suit in public then I must also congratulate you, too, on your courage.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
Poor Miranda was found lying in the grass beside her well-chewed copy of ZAMBEZI, with her tongue lolling out and four hooves in the air.
A gumboot-shod Branch President Chief-Justice Makonde (whose parents subscribed to the fine Zimbabwean tradition of giving their children aspirational names) led me to Miranda’s paddock soon after my arrival in this strife torn country.
“Ah, but she was a lovely cow,” Makonde told me, “and we had high hopes that she would one day have a role in the film version of one of your books. Spray painted black she could easily pass for a Cape Buffalo.”
I nodded, and observed a quiet few seconds of respectful silence. I, too, could picture Miranda lowing gently in the background as Charlize Theron and a platform-shoed Daniel Craig alternately pouted and frowned at the camera in their soon-to-be confirmed roles as Insp Sannie van Rensburg and Det Sgt Tom Furey in the film version of SILENT PREDATOR.
I can’t help but think that Miranda, named after one of the main characters in her favourite novel, ZAMBEZI, would have approved of her method of dispatch to cow heaven.
Like the fictional Miranda, Mashonaland East’s bovine mascot was fed to the lions.
Yes, it’s true what they say, LOF, truth is stranger than fiction, especially in Zimbabwe. Soon after arriving in Zim one of my first chores on the farm I was staying on was to drive a dead cow to a nearby lion park.
Together with the other members of the local branch, Emeritus-Professor Nkomo, Civil-Engineer Makoni, and Brain-Surgeon Ngwenya we loaded Miranda on to the back of a bakkie for her journey to the great beyond. Even the rather effete branch treasurer Flight-Attendant Mugabe (no relation) leant a hand, before breaking down in tears.
Like a Viking princess travelling to the spirit world in a fire boat Miranda left the farm and her fellow branch members in a smoking Nissan, with Mrs Blog and I at the helm.
(We had to wind the windows up as Miranda was becoming quite bloated by this stage.)
I couldn’t help but wonder, LOF, what would happen on my return to Australia, when I had to submit to the inevitable grilling from one of our diligent customs and quarantine officers at Sydney Airport.
Officer: “Where have you spent most of your time abroad?”
Mr Blog: “Africa. Zimbabwe, lately.”
Officer (with eyebrows raised): “Have you been on a farm?”
Mr Blog: “Um, yes.”
Officer (narrowing eyes): “Have you come into contact with any livestock.”
Mr Blog: “Err… yes, but only dead ones. A cow, in fact.”
Officer (reaching for red panic button): “What did it die of?”
Mr Blog: “Well, we’re not too sure. Flight-Attendant thought it might have eaten a poison frog, but I did notices quite a bit of mucous around her mouth.”
Officer (looking confused): “There was a flight attendant on your flight with mucous on her mouth?”
Mr Blog: “No, the cow’s.”
Officer: (Taking a step back). “Have you had any close contact with any other animals?”
Mr Blog (scratching head): “Well, there was the bushbaby…”
Officer: “The what?”
Mr Blog: “Greater bushbaby – also known as a pookie or a night ape. It’s like a cross between a monkey and a possum. Our friends on the farm keep it as a pet and it liked to wee all over me.”
Officer (pushing button): “Code Red, Code Red! Hands up.”
The low growl of a black-maned lion woke me from my daydreams. As we entered the gates of the nearby lion park Kalahari (one of the resident lions), was on his feet and rushing to the fence of his enclosure as soon as he caught sight and scent of the unfortunate Miranda.
I parked the bakkie and a team of keepers looped a rope around Miranda’s hind legs. When I drove off Miranda moved an unceremonious thud closer towards oblivion.
I knew the lions, leopard, hyena, caracal and jackals who lived at the park (who, like everyone else in Zimbabwe except its politicians and senior bureaucrats looked like they could use a good feed) would benefit greatly from poor Miranda’s demise.
In fact, as I was to learn the next day, when I attended a cattle auction in Harare (which I will blog about in a coming instalment) those predators at the lion park got a far better deal than most of the butchers out there buying beef cattle.
Miranda had lived her long, full life on a farm run by our (white) farming friends so she was better fed (except for the poison frog) and better cared for than the average Zimbabwean bovine is today.
Nothing goes to waste in this troubled country (there is zero garbage on the roadside as someone finds a use for everything), not even a poisoned cow.
I was sad as I drove away from the park (not wanting to see a re-enactment of Mr W. Smith’s book, When the Lion Feeds), but the words of that great people’s poet Elton John suddenly came to mind and gave me some small measure of consolation as I headed back to the farm.
“She wears electric boots, and mohair suits…”
No, hang on a sec, that wasn’t it. It was the other one: “…it’s the circle, the circle of life”.
If I'm not mistaken, the money raised on the night went towards purchasing a new vehicle for a researcher based in Namibia.
The Painted Dog people have organised another function, at which the researcher in question will be speaking. I hope his jokes are better than mine. Sadly, I won't be there, but if you would like to support a very good cause, and eat a very good steak, and drink some very good South African and Namibian beer... here are the details:
Dinner to be held at Zebra's African Steakhouse, 1 Point Walter Rd, Bicton, Friday 20th February 2009. 7pm start. Price is $60 pp, which includes a 3 course dinner (plus tea and coffee), an auction of African artefacts and talk by guest speaker, Robin Lines, who is Manager of the Wild Dog Project in Namibia.
To RSVP, email John and Ange at email@example.com
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
I have many tales to tell of dead cows, live cows, and rampaging cows, and of the big political issues, such as the price of beer and hamburgers.
Stay tuned, and keep an eye out over at the other blog.
I see that in my absence our ranks have swelled to 12. I love you all and appreciate the fact that all six of you have taken the time to make up alternate personalities online.