Sunday 31 May 2015

Childhood: The privilege of a good primary school education

My knuckles hurt
I doubt my parents have ever recognised the value of the primary school education I had and how that seems to have contributed to the makeup of who I am and my personality.
I went to three primary schools starting with the Army Children’s School in Kaduna where I spent a year. There are three things I remember about that school, my first day when as soon as my mother and aunt appeared to take me home, I walked out of the class without the school having closed.
The Indian headmistress usually had a fingernail inspection and if we had any nails growing, she clipped the back of our fingers with the edge of a ruler. For a kid of just over 5 years of age, it is strange that we were expected to clip our nails, which should have been the responsibility of our parents.
Bussed around
I guess the idea was we were punished to the extent that we had to inform our parents of what they need to do, that was my introduction to the rottenness of corporal punishment. The last event was when my father arrived late to pick me up.
I got on the school bus and went to sit at the back. Just before the bus pulled away, my dad’s car pulled up, I made no move to get off and he basically followed the bus literally round town before he got attention of the driver and the permission to take me off the bus.
A better place
I am glad we left Kaduna because my second school, Corona Primary School, Shamrock House in Bukuru, Jos was a completely different place. I joined the school jumping a class to class 3 and had the amazing opportunity for a well-rounded education.
Our school was international and followed a more English curriculum as opposed to the rival Hillcrest School that had more of an American system. I remember we had reading, writing and spelling classes beyond the usual lessons. We had many excursions, notably one to the veterinary school at Vom.
We had scope to explore, to inquire, to question, to challenge, to debate and to dispute, all teachers were accessible, I never once saw the use of corporal punishment, yet the quality and standard of discipline was high. I think this environment gave me the boldness to have views and opinions with the ability to project those with conviction.
A full education
Whilst my parents have intimated that I have always been a conversationalist for as long as they could remember, I just knew I could engage anyone in conversation if they were interested enough to want a conversation. The number of difficult and tight spots just being able to speak my mind has gotten me out of are innumerable, I’ve been blessed.
Our library was stocked with books I ravenously devoured but I never really liked writing, especially writing letters that seemed to grow on me much later in life. One day, I found a French course book in one of the cupboards in our class and whilst I had no means of knowing the pronunciations, I began to teach myself French.
It is quite strange that one is still learning new things from events of over 40 years ago. The line of a song we practiced before a performance I never got to attend, I learnt today was from The Pirates of Penzance – A Policeman’s lot Is not a happy one – it is strange I never bothered to check all this while.

A greater sense of adventure
After three years in Jos, we returned to Kaduna where I was enrolled in the Sacred Heart Primary School for the sixth year. Though I missed 4 months of school attending common entrance examinations in South-West Nigeria, I was already quite independent minded and more or less able to travel alone and make the necessary enquiries to get anywhere I needed to get to.
Yet, in that year, I joined painting classes which just helped improve my sense of expression and for some reason I could not explain, I was cast as Pharaoh in our school’s Christmas production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
As Pharaoh of all Egypt in 1975

One interesting event in my school year was attending a Sharia Court session in Kaduna, we were pupils of a Catholic School with backgrounds too varied to count and yet that was a thing of great interest to us all.
More than eye-opening
What primary school education gave me was a great sense of adventure in learning, a demanding curiosity to understand things, a very inquisitive mind and sometimes I very liberal view of things. The environment in which I studied was quite multiracial, I had schoolmates from all around the world and that gave me a broad worldview of equality in our humanity.
They tried to beat that out of many of us with that kind of background in secondary school, but they failed, we were fearless, wily and sometimes too streetwise for our own liking. We were rarely the top of the class in those times, because we could never learn by rote, we had to understand what we were taught and answered questions as we understood what we had learnt.
Now, I am not a man of many letters, but nothing can better the quality of foundational and diverse primary school education I was privileged to have. That in my view can be the differentiator in many things and opportunities I have had in life.
When we toured the primary schools in that Cape Town suburb just over two weeks ago, it dawned on me again why a good primary school education sets the stage for an amazing life. Very little can compensate for the lack of this foundation, even if that person ends up being very successful in any walk of life.

Saturday 30 May 2015

South Africa: My last full day

Far away in the same place
When I left Johannesburg just two weeks ago, I had an 11-hour stopover in Cape Town. This being my first trip back to Africa in 25 years I thought of breaking down my return leg by visiting at least one other city besides Johannesburg, I chose between Cape Town and Nairobi.
The distance from Johannesburg to Cape Town is just about 1,280 kilometres by air, if we did that in Europe we probably would have flown over two countries or more, we never really grasp how vast Africa is.
It was a two-hour flight to Cape Town and I arrived just after 11:00AM, stepping out into the Arrivals area I saw the Cape Town Tourism stand where I thought I could get some information about where to visit and what to see.
Quite a let-down, I say
I cannot say they were very helpful and they were most unhelpful when it transpired that they did not have a chip/PIN payment system but had to take an imprint of my credit card. In this day and age, one has to be suspicious of such payment methods, the smallest stores I visited in South Africa had electronic means of payment, and a tourism desk in an international airport not having this facility is unacceptably beyond the pale.
To add insult to injury, they refused cash and then proceeded at attempting to blackmail me into adopting their payment system or having to join long queues to go to the top of Table Mountain.
I did not relent, I asked for my card and the imprint they had taken and left to make my own plans.
A short tour of Cape Town
Thankfully, a colleague resident of Cape Town had checked that the weather around the Table Mountain was not particularly fair, he suggested I take an UberBlack taxi cab to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront from where I could board a tour bus.
Victoria & Alfred, the monarch and her second son, should not be confused with Victoria and Albert, the monarch and her consort. Prince Albert laid the foundation stones of the harbour in 1860, hence that name.
From the airport to the waterfront, you could see that South Africans have many things to be proud of, the UberBlack cab driver gave me Cape Town in a nutshell, pointing out landmarks and historic places before telling me of the hospital where Christiaan Barnard conducted the first heart transplant in 1967.
Of Cape Town and the people
From the waterfront, I boarded the CitySightseeing Bus that had an electronic payment system having excluded going to the top of the Table Mountain apart from the long stop at the landing point of the cableway car that goes to the top.
I doubt if we ventured to any place apart from the richest and most salubrious parts of Cape Town before we returned to the waterfront where I was picked up by my colleague.
The journey to his place had us go through a very English-looking suburb and a tour of public schools of the English kind where rivalries were very much like Eton versus Harrow, there is privilege and opportunity that comes with many things like race and ability. You must never pooh-pooh the privilege of a good early education.
At his home, over the sampling of some fine South African wines we had a braai, a South African barbecue. Having run out of fire-lighters, my host drenched the middle of kitchen towel paper with cooking oil and then lit the dry ends over which he placed the wood. The slow burn of the kitchen paper was enough to set the wood alight, and soon we had a barbecue fire.
As dusk fell, I got another UberBlack cab to the airport and prepared to board my 11:30-hour flight back to Amsterdam. That was the end of my 13-night working visit to South Africa.

Thursday 28 May 2015

Thought Picnic: Feuds amongst kith

The wondering
He guessed there were times when his siblings have probably asked themselves whether they all were scions of the same parentage, reared under the same roof and sired by the same people.
With all their different personalities and walks of life, he does see a spectrum with a seam of similarity between them whilst attitudes might well be different.
There is every possibility that with all the opportunities they all had, they might well not have turned out as well as was expected of them, but this was not for the want of trying. All gratitude must still go to their parents for their love and their sacrifices, the siblings all are glad they are both still about, healthy and well, and that is a wonderful story.
The entreating
Yet, a recent encounter and exchange between them revealed a flaw, a division between the respectable and the uncouth visited upon the unsuspecting that it was both shocking and deplorable.
A request that amends be made was grudgingly done before the deployment of religious blackmail to prove a point that would have still not excused the contemptible behaviour.
However, just as many lines were crossed, the order was breached that the forebears might have to be intimated of some new information. The order in which they thought they had their wards is probably not someone in the lower order thinks is the case.
The unyielding
What brings on such haughtiness is surprising, probably an inability to subject oneself to scrutiny, a questioning of authority at every opportunity, a lack of breeding – perish the thought, those before have the most impeccable manners, rebelliousness? Well, that one has always had a rebellious streak, quite more so than the first.
A breakdown has ensued and it is going to get worse before it gets better, if it does get better. The silence of the elders must not be misconstrued as blindness, ignorance, indifference or weakness.
They can choose to ignore just because it is unnecessary to engage, people keep their cool to achieve many ends and choose their words carefully to send a strong message.
The puzzling
At this point for all that have decided to scratch their noses in puzzlement, one has chosen to scratch their nose with the gaping fangs of a viper, and as the reasonable degenerates into the utterly unreasonable, bystanders will shake their heads in wonder, was this not so entirely avoidable?
Yes, the question returns to haunt the present – were they reared under the same roof? Doubts remain, but the truth is there, some allowed instruction and others refused it.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

South Africa: Where injustice parts for justice continued

Many tongues and places
There are some many quirky things about South Africa that make such interesting reading. This is a country of 11 official languages and 3 capitals.
The 3 capitals part was one that really surprised me, because all the while I thought Pretoria was the only capital of South Africa. As it transpires, the administration consisting of the President and the cabinet, mainly the executive sits in Pretoria, the legislature sits in Cape Town and the judiciary sits in Bloemfontein.
Yet, the Constitutional Court of South Africa is based in Johannesburg and this is where the Chief Justice of South Africa sits, whilst this court only is superior to the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa based in Bloemfontein, the Constitutional Court only adjudicates on constitutional matters, the highest court for non-constitutional matters is the Supreme Court.
On a plain of old pains
The Constitutional Court is located at Constitution Hill built with bricks of a demolished awaiting trial wing of a former prison on the grounds of the Old Fort Prison complex that included a women’s goal, a white’s only prison that once admitted Nelson Mandela to its hospital wing and Number Four.
What happened there is best read in the words of those were inmates of Number Four. An eerie calmness settles on you as you climb up to walk the perimeter dyke fence wall of the fort which gives you views of a dangerous inner-city neighbourhood of Braamfontein and Hillbrow that my hostess said whites will rarely venture into and further afield are the richer suburbs of Johannesburg.
Looking towards a new future
The façade of the court has the name of court in the 11 official languages in colourful type and this overlooks the Eternal Flame of Democracy, which was lit on the commemoration of 15 years of the South African constitution.
Having left the Apartheid Museum and stopped off at Constitution Hill, this place merged history, the present and the future in one single of narrative of where injustice dehumanised and justice began to humanise giving hope to a greater and thriving unity of the good of humanity.
South Africa has a long journey ahead, I can see some strong foundations being laid, and some other structures need to be jettisoned, but process will never been stopped in its tracks, the future is coming, the future is upon us.

Friday 22 May 2015

South Africa: Ever writing a better story of our own lives

Going Uber with boldness
As I grew in confidence to get around Johannesburg, I abandoned the overpriced taxi services offered by my hotel and took to the use of UberBlack which is the high-end luxury chauffeur service of Uber.
One of the inconveniences of hailing a taxi cab by Uber was that it always pointed to the address next-door and I had to edit that address every time before putting in my destination. I still feel the Android app for Uber is still in need of updating to give it a better and more intuitive user experience.
When my rides arrived, I still had to look out for the model of car, the number plate and then the identity and name of the driver. It would have been more helpful to include the colour of the vehicle too.
A memorable Uber ride
Of the many rides I had on Uber, there was one that remained quite memorable in my mind, I mostly sat in front with the driver and started off a conversation about how they were, how their day has been and then I told them I was visiting from the UK and we just talked.
On this occasion, it was a late night ride and as we began to converse, he talked of an event in his life when his fiancée left him and he thought it was the end of his life. He was sad, depressed and literally abandoned hope.
Then he came to, he thought about what might be in 10 years’ time if he did meet the lady who broke his heart again. Would she be glad that she left him? Would he be glad that she left him? Would they both be glad that they had moved on with their lives in a productive and positive manner?
That brought him to the conclusion that he had to do the best for himself and hope for another chance in love and happiness. And so he finished his studies, found a new lover, built a family and he is now as happy as he can ever be.
Ever writing a better story
What struck me about this was that without him knowing, he had already written a better story about his own life, as we all try to write our own versions of a fairy tale that has the final line of ‘they lived happily ever after.’
As I have written many times before, our lives are stories, we can decide how we want those stories written by the way we face the issues and life and hopefully find that strength to come through adversity to a better place.
Sadly, many never get to write a continuing story with a happier ending for all sorts of reasons and it does not make their story less a human story, but in sharing our own stories in our own voice, we might just be the voice and the encouragement that gives the other person, the faith, the hope and the support they need to see beyond the hills, see beyond the clouds and press on to a brighter day.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

South Africa: A land not at ease

Unease in the land
There are many things I have wanted to write about my recent trip to South Africa, many of which are quite unsettling because I did not see a country at ease with itself.
Rather, in all that on the surface would have looked like a thriving society, there was an underbelly of lack, penury, poverty and destitution.
To say the country is not in a state of constant civil unrest is to ignore the fact that there are so many strikes and protests with the sad reality that very little seems to be in place for arbitration or conciliation.
The protests seem to have a militant strain and in the two weeks that I was in South Africa, at least two protesters lost their lives to police gunshots, the police having been overwhelmed to the point that they could not retreat but attack the protesters.
Riot in the camps
The thought that civilians will die at the hands of the security forces in black majority rule South Africa in 2015 is sad, especially after the Marikana killings where 41 striking mineworkers also lost their lives at the hands of the police in 2012, leaving us to draw parallels with the Sharpeville massacre of 1960.
I felt dreadfully sorry for the fact that one can begin to draw these kind of comparisons along with the fact that the leadership seems to be rocked by scandals from all ends compromising the independence and impartiality of institutions necessary to protect the hard-earned democracy of South Africa.
I will hate to think things are coming apart at the seams, but with the recent xenophobia attacks, a lack of appreciation of history and the rise of reactionary politics used to distract the people from the failings of their leaders at the centre, we have another country with great potential that risks never being realised because it has no leaders to lead the country in mind and purpose to the “Promised Land”.
Failed on the streets
Those who live in shacks on land they risk being driven from by whim or capriciousness and those who live in well-secured compounds that boast signs of “Armed Response” as part of their security response arrangements speaks more beyond what meets the eye.
The yawning chasm between the haves and have-nots will not be bridged in a generation and probably not in many generations if South Africa is to endure the rent seeking leadership it currently has.
The African National Congress (ANC) has taken the people for granted for so long that they seemed to have lost purpose or direction. Without a doubt, it is time for the people to begin to consider alternatives, the alternatives with their interests in mind.
If change is to come to the people of South Africa and unite them in common purpose, they need greater men than these at the helm, people in the stature of Nelson Mandela or who like F. W. de Klerk realised change had to come and like Desmond Tutu who stands as a Colossus in humility and humanity. The men in charge do not have the least it takes to do the latches of the shoes of these mentioned great men of history.

Saturday 16 May 2015

South Africa: On leaving and the goodbyes I sadly didn't get to make

As much and much else
Much as there is still much to write about my just under 2-week visit to South Africa and much as there is a lot of making up to do when I get back home, I have commenced my return leg back home.
The return journey will be from Johannesburg to Cape Town to The Netherlands and then to England, to be completed in just about 30 hours.
Much as I accomplished much of what I came here to do and much as I hardly had a social life for the duration of my stay apart from a moments I caught with friends that I was unable to make happen again. I regret not being able to make time for more engagement, it was just lots of hectic days that at the end of the day your returned and crashed out.
Face up
On checking out at the hotel, I still had credit left that was given to me as change, the clerk at the desk had such as glum disposition that appeared to add insult to injury after all that I had endured in the first week of my stay, I was not disposed to rewarding such sullenness with any generosity and she probably deprived her other colleagues of something too.
The hospitality business is one where being able to man a desk is the first of many qualifications and the unquantifiable parts are a welcoming, smiling, appearing to be helpful, considerate and engaging personality. Get those wrong and having lost the opportunity to make a good first impression, any other impression will be graded on the scale of the failed first attempt that only the extraordinary can attempt at redemption.
I will be visiting this hotel where I stayed for 13 nights on Trip Advisor, I know I will not return to this hotel or any under this chain, nor will I recommend it to anyone visiting Johannesburg, it was my lesson in tolerable endurance.
Thank you
To get to the airport, I had one of three choices, to allow the hotel book one of their exorbitantly priced taxis, get the shuttle to the Gautrain station where I could board the high-speed train to O R Tambo International Airport or hail UberBlack on my phone and have that service get me to the airport. After very little consideration, I went for the third option and had a pleasant ride to the airport.
As I bid Johannesburg farewell and consequently South Africa and Africa at large, this was an experience I was not particularly looking forward to, but when I leant in, it was one I will always remember. Some of the people I met will become great friends, people who made time and space for me welcoming me as guest with honour and respect, I owe much gratitude I cannot fully pay.
I might return to South Africa, I do not know, but my hope and wish for South Africa is and remains with all that I saw - 'Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika'.

Thursday 14 May 2015

South Africa: The terrible history lessons we must know of Apartheid

Not on for a role reversal
I do try when I visit places even for work to get a feel of the place, the people, the culture, the architecture and the history.
However, on this sometimes hectic business visit, I have not been opportuned to do much, however, I got out on Saturday and then on Sunday where I did get to see some interesting parts of Johannesburg and what made this city,
The initial plan included a visit to Lion Park, where you can see lions roam free. It probably would have been interesting, but pictures of people in caged trucks thrilled at watching nature was a role-reversal I would better watch on National Geographic than participate in – I declined the offer of doing that.
Now, wildlife conservation is more than commendable, it is necessary and essential to ensuring that the footprints we leave in the sands of time are one of the record that we left this earth a better place than we found it. There is no doubt that parks like Lion Park need custom and will trade on our fascination to continue doing the exemplary work they do.
A differentiator on colour
My history and somewhat cultural lesson came from a ride with my hostess on the Johannesburg Red City Tour bus, between history, story, anecdote, fact and legend, a city built on the discovery of gold and diamonds could have dazzled with the glimmer and glitter of gemstones blinding us to a deeper reality that still defines a lot of what South Africa still is.
There was no better place to scratch beneath the gleam than at the Apartheid Museum where to give an idea of the colour bar in the Apartheid times I was given a ‘random’ classification of “Nie-Blankes” or “Non-Whites” and was by that designation supposed to enter the museum complex through the gate meant for non-Whites.
At the non-Whites entrance of the Apartheid Museum.
The absurdity of this whole arrangement became evident when you realise that whilst I am non-White, I am definitely European. To think there were times in Africa where people not historically indigenous to Africa treated Africans as sub-human on African soil, just cuts to heart with great pain.
Chameleons of discalm
The fact that this Apartheid regime was put in place by seemingly enlightened, educated and intelligent people just goes to show that certain elements of basic human instinct are defined by the utterly irrational to the point of risible ridiculousness. Yet, fellow human-beings were subjugated, denigrated, oppressed and dehumanised in ways too unimaginable to countenance.
At the stroke of a pen, within the Apartheid framework, you could be racially reclassified for purposes of convenience except the extreme of white becoming black or black becoming white. People who changed race in this many were known as chameleons.
The Star of the 21st of March 1986 published a piece that now appears with on a poster in the museum – the news piece started thus: 1985 had at least 1000 “chameleons”. More than 1000 people officially changed colour last year. [Google]

The Chameleons of South Africa at the Apartheid Museum.
The example of people
Prominent within the museum were exhibitions of people who transcended this vile aberration of humanity, whose lives we must study as examples of the graciousness and accommodating qualities of the human spirit. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu – there are few people who can stand in stature and meaning close to these men in humility, reasonableness and compassion.
We must be careful never to lose the reality of history and the lessons thereof for the easy talk and ignorance of dismissing the significance of history to our present and future. I still see the scars left by Apartheid in contemporary South African society and I am afraid, I see no men in leadership doing much to lift the majority from the mental enslavement that remains the in the wake of the Apartheid rule that was abolished 21 years ago.

South Africa: Getting under some rich Johannesburg skin

Having been emboldened to go out on my own, I caught a hotel taxi ride to the Sandton Convention Centre where I had been told I could go to Nelson Mandela Square and Sandton City shopping centre. Sandton is a contraction derived from the names of the suburbs of Sandown and Bryanston.
The concept of a convention centre, I fully understood, but I failed to grasp the essence of the square, because rather than see an open square as one would have expected of square, plaza, place or piazza in Europe, I saw a building. I was not daring enough to ascertain if within the walls of this place a square might indeed exist, I have since found out, one does.
I then circumnavigated the area only to find a stark contrast between the affluent wide roads in the front to the quite different gathering areas at the back. I eventually made it round to the entrance of the Sandton Gautrain Station where I decided to travel down to Rosebank Gautrain Station instead.
This station had stretches of shopping malls adjacent to the train station, it was easy to walk around this Rosebank area and find your way using the touchscreen information boards, the shops had brands I was familiar with, from Nando’s to Dr Martens.
The shop attendants were helpful, constantly smiling and even when technology failed them in the Dr Martens shop, they did not allow their seeming frustrations to dampen their customer service. I was quite impressed with the Dr Martens staff wearing sexy Dr Martens boots and shoes, that itself had its attractive quality.
One other snippet of trivia I have just learnt as I do when writing my blogs is that Nando’s is really a South-Africa export that started in Johannesburg in 1987. Who’ll have thought that?
In general, I have found South Africans quite friendly, from the people at my hotel where one of the ladies appears to view me quite suspiciously through to my colleagues, many of whom I have interacted with for over a year by email and telephone conversation until we finally met here.
Despite the earlier difficulties, people deep down are affable, wonderful and good. The conversations on UberBlack rides are just as amazing as with anyone who through driving meets with people with all walks of life.
From ordinary people to extraordinary people, our humanity on this global village can bring out the best in us.

Monday 11 May 2015

South Africa: Johannesburg and the exclusive Gautrain society

Getting out
Until Friday, I got around Johannesburg courtesy of people attached to their cars and using taxis ordered by the hotel which had drivers I could not have suggested were scrupulous.
On Friday, we met at my hotel, had breakfast and then drove out to Sandton Gautrain Station, now, I thought the station was near the hotel, like round the corner, I was not close. First, I discovered an error on their website that showed the station was 100km away, the reality was 2.4km.
The Gautrain society
The Gautrain with the controversy that surrounds the investment that went into this project is one of those beacons of the great divisions that still define this society 21 years after the end of Apartheid rule. I am just an observer.
The trains are somewhat unaffordable for anyone below the middle-classes, the stations apart from the airport are in the most preferred real estate and affluent areas of the Gauteng region. The car parks have guards ready to challenge and harass. The comfortable are never discomfited by the uncomfortable.
The shuttles are like cages from the wild life of a deprived majority that people can so easily pass through corridors of chaos in the calm of cars, coaches and carriages so willingly oblivious of the squalor and deprivation that sometimes jump out like a jack box into our pathways.
A sore underbelly
To say the people of South Africa have been failed by the system and leaders who have blatantly and sometimes corruptly enriched themselves without consequence or sanction would be to subscribe to the criminality of a gross understatement. The burdens are heavy on the rich and the poor.
As a tourist, I am also schooled into the fear that sometimes grips the privileged as they attempt to be distant from the seriously and visibly underprivileged. This society is sick in its heart and the yawning chasm between the haves and the have-nots widens to immeasurable interstellar voids over which no man can traverse without coming to great harm.
Yet, it does not just affect the blacks, even the whites who tend to earn more from the entrenched history of entitlement and privilege have some of their own in poverty and penury – it is evident that the system is not working and hence the different levels of unrest from industrial to civil that makes the news quite regularly.
There is still a state of being apart socially, economically, mentally and much else in this Rainbow nation in everything but that dreaded word.
Yet, again
I travelled comfortably on the Gautrain all the way to Pretoria and returned from the Hatfield terminus, I could not help but notice the very stylish benches on the train platforms that were literally impractical to sit on, I saw more people sit on the floor than on those caricatures of design malfunction.
From the station, I conveniently used the UberBlack the luxury Uber taxi service which appears to be cheaper than the shuttle service provided by my hotel. By far, besides the fact that the hotel drivers never seem to have change that you end up parting with a lot more than if you paid and offered a tip – it is both underhand and deliberately dishonest.
Johannesburg however, is a big place, the Johannesburg Red City Tour bus was an open top bus that went around some historic sites, strangely, they do not venture open-top buses into Soweto, you are comfortably ensconced in a hermetically seal van, presumably for your safety.

Thought Picnic: We pursue everything, but the joy of happiness

A time for reflection
The piece below has variously been misattributed and quite more to George Carlin with a believable story that could make its provenance almost indisputable. Being one to always trust, but verify, I took a line from that quote and did a search where, the debunker of note on the Internet cleared the air about who really wrote these words. []
Dr Bob Moorhead in his book, Words Aptly Spoken (1995), gave this treatise as The Paradox of Our Age. Nothing more can be added to this piece than the acknowledgement of the author, the attribution to the same and courtesy of the GoodReads website.
It calls for meditative reading and reflection.

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less.
We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.
We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.
We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbour. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things.
We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less.
We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships.
These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill.
It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete...
Remember, to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.
Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn't cost a cent.
Remember, to say, "I love you" to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.
Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person might not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.
Bob Moorhead

Sunday 10 May 2015

South Africa: Catching up on things

A catch-up
After the seeming ordeals of the first few days here, we have turned an interesting corner in the need for people to meet such that opinions and prejudices are not informed by other non-human interaction.
After one single communication exchange where it was important that we do no draw it out much as the grievance was real, a friendship has evolved.
That consequence was the right result and it defined in terms how we could interact and socialise. Much can be done over lunch, the conversation goes far and I got to learn much more about people, persuasions, issues and Johannesburg in the process.
Then I brought my social media connections to life, from Twitter and Facebook, we met for drinks, and for the first time I had nothing to complain about from the hotel restaurant.
A fine night of meeting with friends and making friends, I am warming up to South Africa.

Thursday 7 May 2015

South Africa: Breaking a few eggs

From bruising to cruising
I do not like the dark, so I learnt to curse the darkness whilst doing all I can to light a candle and bring some light into my world.
This is the principle that informs my not being a vexatious customer, but one with a requirement that I expect to be met.
The method to this madness as one friend opined was that any action taken brutal and bruising as it might seem has the sole purpose of changing an unacceptable, an inconvenient or an untenable situation into what I want the situation to be.
Moderating behaviour by intervention
It informed my scolding of the parents of an implacably howling child to becalm our train carriage. Despite their ranting and cursing at me, 5 minutes after my scold, the child was quiet and we were all at peace.
At my hotel, I refused to accept there was no Earl Grey tea, I insisted on having it served the next day but making the demand at the reception, much as it might have been imposing, my request was granted.
Then again, I have written emails to people, not so much to have them intervene, but to have an outcome crafted to my intent and purpose, communication does a wonderful job of persuasion and reasonableness to compel people to act favourably.
Break a few eggs
The managed introduction of chaos to create a new order, the breaking of bones to reset a badly healed fracture, the need to go to war for the purpose of a new peace –sometimes, this is what is needed to effect change, to effect new ground rules or to earn the respect you’ve had to demand for.
The hotel service is beginning to look like what I want it to be and a fraught relationship appears to be maturing into a developing and useful friendship. You have to break a few eggs to make omelettes.

Wednesday 6 May 2015

South Africa: I will not beg for respect

This is not fun
My hotel life in Johannesburg is rapidly turning in a drama of a soap opera bordering on a tragi-comedy of laughable silliness.
In fact, that life centres around my experiences in the restaurant, because it is becoming clear from what I have heard from my other colleagues is that my hotel is so out of the way and literally in the sticks, away from the liveliness that other visitors from the UK experience when they come to South Africa.
I did not make this choice of hotel, my hostess did and I am yet to meet my hostess who is conveniently on holiday until tomorrow, whilst I savour the stillness of this exclusive area livened up by my restaurant theatre every night.
Tea for the weak
There is a likelihood that this South African visit if it continues in this way, it will have made such an indelible mark on my psyche that it is unlikely the situation will be redeemed to afford me another visit to this country.
Breakfast this morning started with an interesting exchange between the waiter and myself.
Waiter: Good morning sir, would you like tea or coffee?Me: I will like Earl Grey tea, please.Waiter: We do not have that, we have rooibos tea.Me: Yes, you do have Earl Grey tea, it was ordered for me yesterday.Waiter: I will go and check.Me: Thank you.
Soon, Earl Grey tea was served, one teabag in the pot. Little lessons of service sadly lost in the main. It is a tea bag to a tea cup, but at least two to the teapot. I guess I will have to be particular next time, clear instructions are needed where initiative is not a present commodity.
Muddled ways and places
Then I hitched my taxi ride to the office where the interminably long road had GoogleMaps in a tizzy, sending us the wrong way down the road when we should have been going the other way.
Republic Road has many names on the stretch of road, it interchangeably uses Republic Road, Republic Street and Republic Weg, without any section of road clearly defined by any of those names. In fact, because I tend to notice such discrepancies, there was one junction where Republic Road and Republic Street were road signs literally, one on top of the other. I was not impressed.
Then I tried to call my colleagues on as many phones they had with my exasperated self posting voicemail messages. Eventually, the driver followed his gut instinct after asking directions from at least 4 people and soon, I sighted where we were going, just before I would have advised him to return me to the hotel.
I’ve just about had it
At the reception, I was at the end of my tether when I exclaimed that I could not believe that I had been brought over 7,500 miles to a situation like this. At that point, someone came to comfort me just as my colleague called to announce he would soon arrive at work.
To say I was displeased would be an understatement, I feel I am being messed around a bit more than I like to be. I can endure this for some more time or decide to return home without necessarily waiting to take any more of this nonsense.
I should not dread doing anything like going to the restaurant and for the second time, my hostess has cancelled on me, I appreciate she has commitments and I know I came here for business, but I was persuaded with the promise of good hospitality. If this is what passes for the much-vaunted South African hospitality, I have no time for people who cannot treat me with respect.

Tuesday 5 May 2015

South Africa: This humble customer is not a diva

Drop the stars and give me service
Why? I lamented, do I end up in places where I have to demand they raise standards? This is not my calling. When an expectation is set, I expect it to be exceeded, especially if a hospitality establishment dares to boast a 5-star rating.
It is important we understand what hotel ratings are and I am afraid, this hotel fails to breach the mark it has been assigned.
Earl Grey, yes, Earl Grey
This morning, I arrived for breakfast and the standard should be once I am seated, I should be asked if I want tea or coffee. I was not asked until I had to go up to the waiters and ask for a pot of tea. I wanted Earl Grey tea. That is standard fare in any self-respecting place.
The waitress said, there was no Earl Grey tea and then asked if she could offer me another flavour of tea. No, you do not ask to change the desired taste of a customer except when you have something better to offer. I refused and insisted on being served Earl Grey tea, failing that, it should be available tomorrow morning.
She flipped back at me that there is no Earl Grey tea. At which point, there was no point wasting my time conversing with her as I made for the reception and put in a formal request to be served Earl Grey tea tomorrow morning. Soon, one of the managers came to me and promised that my request will be fulfilled.
I’m not signing what I shouldn’t
Then, this evening, again I paid a deposit at the reception and was asked to sign the slip when the receipt slip clearly stated “No customer signature is required.” Much as the Chef de Réception insisted my signature was for accounting purposes, I refused to offer a signature where it was not needed.
In fact, one of the two lifts has been out of commission since this morning and did I mention they seem to have allowed their television channel subscriptions to lapse since yesterday.
Not like the menu says
Then for the third time of being a masochist, I returned to the restaurant for dinner. I received the menu, scanned the options and asked for smoked salmon roulade for my starter and spaghetti Bolognese for my plat principal.
The waitress returned apologising that the salmon roulade was not available, to which I suggested they take it off the menu, because this was my third night of asking and it was not available. I then asked was the ‘Soup of the Day’ was, she responded, 'mushroom soup'. Well, I had that yesterday, so I offered another suggestion that they rename the menu item, ‘Soup of the Week’, we both laughed, but I was serious.
I ended up with a carpaccio of beef, it just about passed the muster, before my main course arrived. I put my fork in it, twisted and rolled the pasta and to my buccal cavity it went before I motioned to the waitress to bring me the menu to confirm what I ordered.
I checked and it said, spaghetti Bolognese cooked al dente. I was missing the al dente part, now if I were in a papier-mâché art class, the pasta would have been gooey enough to use as binder for paper. I was having none of it, so I first told her, what I was served was not what I had ordered and suggested she return it to the chef because the spaghetti was not al dente.
Amends made
A few minutes later, the chef came out to apologise and said he will make amends, then another chef came to chat to me, apologising again and promising I will get me spaghetti, the way it is supposed to be made. Suffice it to say, pasta should be the simplest of meals to make, but it is also one that betrays a lack of attention to detail of the very basic cuisine.
Ten minutes later, my meal arrived and yes, there was a bite in the spaghetti, it was al dente and I more or less cleared my plate. If I have been poisoned for my insistence on quality, I will have suffered nobly for the sake of what is right.
I decided there was no point ordering a dessert lest they come up short of what was needed. When the bill came, the chef said my meal was on the house. To be honest, like I have said many times before, I pay because I expect the service, I am not waiting to be compensated for what should have been there in the first place. I signed the bill and offered a gratuity too.
I fear, my situation makes it appear as if I am a diva, but nothing could be further from the truth. I am not a vexatious customer, I am a humble customer with simple requirements that I appear to expect to be met. Surely, there is nothing wrong with that or with the expectation that a 5-star hotel should aspire to be what it says it is.

Monday 4 May 2015

South Africa: Enter the soapbox European

We expect and intend
One thing that fills me with pride as a European is the embracing sense of humanity that we tend to have that tends to seek to treat others with respect and dignity. Sometimes, in our rush to help situations we might miss out on essential elements of custom, tradition, beliefs, setting or understanding that could make our intrusiveness and interventions in the quest for the greater good unwelcome. We mean well, even if we are naïve.
I have a tendency to carry around my European world-view wherever I go and where I do observe situations I find somewhat intolerable, you will find me doing something about it.
I returned to my hotel to meet a sense of unhelpfulness that I tolerated until we were hit with load shedding that led to a power outage of almost two hours. I am sure, I read somewhere in the hotel about banishing the inconvenience of load shedding which has been a problem in South Africa recently.
Serving the lights out
When the generators were switched on, only single lights in the apartments were powered, the sockets were dead and well, the emergency lightings and lifts were still operational.
This meant my laptop ran until it conked out, there was no television to watch, but the complimentary wireless Internet service was still operational. Going down to the restaurant, the tables had candlelight, this was not going to be a romantic dinner for one.
The waiter had torches and the kitchen had no hot food to offer. Not a situation I liked at all. I returned to my room to have biscuits when the reception were not as helpful as would have expected in helping me order a takeaway meal.
I was ready to go to bed on an empty stomach when the lights were restored, it gave me time to fix my South African phone and contemplate a second visit to the restaurant. After sitting for about 10 minutes, I got to remonstrate with the waiters to attend to me promptly before I got the service I went there for.
Trying for a pass
The starter I wanted yesterday was again not available today, but the mushroom soup starter and ostrich fillet main course appeared to make up for the unfortunate showing yesterday. By my rating, this is NOT a 5-star hotel, it does not even aspire to be anywhere near a good 4-star hotel either.
Yet, it might appear that I am blinkered by my First World problems mind-set, but knowing what comfort and convenience along with good customer service is, verdict comes in at below par, they are trying, but this leaves many of us in a quite trying situation, whether this redeemable, we’ll just have to see.
The day at work was ordinary and hectic, signing in myself, my computers and other extraneous activities and protocols that tested my patience almost to the point of exasperation. The indignities people suffer in these climes will not be attempted in Europe.
This is not us
However, it was visiting a venue where we engage a number of technical personnel down a convoluted contract chain that left me utterly appalled.
The room had no natural light, the air-conditioning was barely functions, and the air reeked of ozone emissions from an overcrowded computer building facility where the owners or the building had pasted signs prohibiting any kind of recording equipment for recording videos or photographs.
We were watched intently from each corner by cameras in what was essentially a sweatshop by generous assessment. It might have lacked sewing machines, but with my European eyes, I did not believe anyone should be working in those conditions.
More pertinently, I do not believe anyone engaged by my company to deliver the kind of critical infrastructure they deliver for us should be working in those conditions.
Use your leverage for good not for cost alone
It behoves my organisation it impress on the contractual chain to either move this activity to other premises, or make it more habitable. In the first 5 minutes, I was beginning to feel claustrophobic.
Yet, much as the people working there might not have the clout or say in determining the conditions in which they work, we should be ashamed of ourselves that some of my colleagues from the UK had seen these premises have never had the gumption to make this a matter of decency and dignity above the issue of cost.
This is why I hate politics in all its ramifications, from the government to the office, people are pandering and genuflecting, in personal quests for position and authority no matter whose ox is gored, forgetting their humanity and sense of empathy and compassion. It ought not be so, and I will be make representations to my line management to facilitate necessary change with the leverage we have got to make things good for those who are our partners, even if by an arm’s length, to making a success of what we do.
We owe them that much and much more, we lift people up not tread on them like grass, because whatever comes at the end of that, no matter how successful is done on the backs of others without and sense of nobility or honour. That is why, I am proud to be a European and I am proud of the values that has imparted to me and my world view.