|Posted by Cindy-Lou Dale on October 2, 2011 at 12:45 PM||comments (0)|
‘Anger becomes like old leather,’ he said, ‘the longer you carry it around with you, the more comfortable it becomes, eventually you don’t know any other feeling.’
Lushly scenic hills sprinkled with white sheep, lazily merged with towering mountains. Ancient forts, which had been frowning over the valleys for centuries, punctuated the hills and stood guard over much of the regions history. I was driving through Bosnia-Herzegovina - one of Europe’s truly astounding landscapes.
The twisting road and plump mountain-side was splashed with every sharp shade that nature could bequeath, where every tree became individual – a patchwork in hues of olive green, jade and sage; and little farm houses sent smoke signals into the blue sky.
In the two-hour drive from Sarajevo, its capital, to Mostar, my car squeezed through a dizzying canyon and clung to the edge of the mountain passing beneath snowy summits reflecting the midday sun. This astounding landscape was perfectly replicated in the turquoise waters of the Neretva River.
It was one of those splendid days, the world full of crisp spring excellence, and the heavens so fresh and sparkling that you felt as if you could extend your arm and ping it with a finger, as you would a polished champagne glass.
This serene backdrop was far removed from the portrayal of refugees tramping alongside growling tanks – an image broadcast around the world, some twelve years ago. My preconceived notion of the country as a devastated land quickly diminished.
My arrival at Mostar was immediately followed by a cursory grooming, after which I wandered into the Old Town in search of a cold beer and diversion. The Old Town centre was crowded with people sitting at umbrellad trestle tables, laughing and chatting and sipping Turkish-style coffee.
Nearby I watched workmen pouring runny concrete into the gaps between the recently laid cobbles of the newly restored Old Bridge. The Old Bridge once drew millions of visitors and was an icon of harmony in a peaceful country shared by Muslims, Serbs and Croats. But in 1993 a Croatian tank destroyed it during the war which brought Bosnia-Herzegovina to her knees. Subsequently the Old Bridge was rebuilt.
I seated myself on the terrace of one of the cafés stacked up against the steep riverbank. Together with the delicious smells permeating from the kitchens wood-burning stove, I drew great comfort when watching a couple of friends greet one other with two-cheeked kisses, who then proceeded to wreath themselves in blue cigarette smoke. Seal’s ‘Kiss of a Rose’ was softly playing somewhere
My eye was drawn to an adjacent building’s shattered balcony and above that, mortar damage. A patron from across the terrace followed my gaze then limped across to join me. He was a giant of a man with leathery complexion and wild beard. He exuded a certain toughness, bundled into some type of heavy barn jacket which gave him a handsome peasant look.
‘We experienced some of the worst combat during the war,’ a voice announced from within his beard.
‘Some of the worst,’ he repeated for emphasis.
He thrust a meaty hand at me and introduced himself as a historian from the local University. His gray hair was close-clipped and sat above a furrowed brow. His dark eyes were hooded and sad, which drooped with the weight of countless sleepless nights. He shot a cloud of pipe smoke across the table.
‘Street-life and shops are now busy,’ said the Professor. ‘Our ancient archaic muddle is once again pleasing.’
‘But,’ he continued, ‘There is much work to be done in areas that are beyond the tourist zones.
Then added as an afterthought, ‘…a shroud of ruin still taints Mostar.’
He told of how, over the past four centuries, mosques, synagogues, Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches had stood alongside one another. People of many cultures, who prayed to different gods lived and worked together, and respected one another’s ethnic diversities - it all worked out, despite the historical rulers. Until recently, that is.
The humidity stuck like glue. It was so hot and airless that even the flies lay down on their backs and just quietly gasped. The waitress brought us another round of cold beers.
The Professor spoke at length about the recent war. Clearly no family was left untouched. He recounted, with difficulty, his own losses, occasionally averting his moist eyes. He took a moment to recompose himself and used that time to re-stoke his pipe, then gazed at the far horizon.
With a slow manly sniff, he said ‘We were fearless fools and certain we were indestructible. I lost most of my friends, and many members of my family.’
The Professor thrust his beer glass deep into his beard. Evidently it found his mouth. He took a long pull on his pint then grew momentarily thoughtful.
I asked if he was still angry, immediately regretting the naivety of the question. He looked at me with a touch of wonder then erupted with a loose phlegmy laugh which turned into the lung-shaking cough of a hardened smoker.
‘Anger becomes like old leather,’ he said, ‘the longer you carry it around with you, the more comfortable it becomes, eventually you don’t know any other feeling.’
From a nearby mosque, a Muezzin warbled from a pencil-sharp minaret across the rooftops, to his flock, calling them to prayers; simultaneously bells pealed from a nearby Church spire, generating an astounding disharmony as ethnicities tussled for dominance.
Whilst self-imposed separatism is largely practised amongst the different ethnic groups of Bosnia-Herzegovina, its people are unified in the belief that theirs is the most beautiful country in the world.
‘Beyond the war legacy, there is a Bosnia few people know,’ the professor explained.
‘We are big-hearted people, irrevocably committed to a better future,’ he added sagely.
He made a sweeping gesture across a setting of incomparable splendour, asking that I see what lay before me, which was a landscape so timeless and rooted to an ancient past.
‘And then,’ the Professor observed, ‘there is all of this.’
Clearly it brought the Professor much joy to speak of his country and her future. I could not bring myself to tell him that I needed no convincing. Instead we exchanged smiles and toasted the future of Mostar, her people and the infinite possibilities which lay before her.
|Posted by Cindy-Lou Dale on July 17, 2011 at 11:30 AM||comments (0)|
I just found this article I wrote in 2009 but never got around to publishing it...
In 1996 the then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair said, ‘Losing control of public finance is not ridicule, it’s reckless, and we will not do it.’ He went on to introduce Gordon Brown, as the Iron Chancellor (of the Exchequer), who’s catchword famously became ‘prudence’.
But the public spending figures suggested his prudence wasn’t going to last long. In 1998 public spending was £331-b, in 2008 it was £618-b. The Treasury said last year that it expected a rise in public spending in 2009 to £647-b and £680 -b in 2010. And that was before they had to bail out the banks.
Some Government departments seem to have plenty of money to spend; in particular the National Health Service. In 1997 the government spent £34-b on the NHS. In 2008 that figure rose to £111-b. The single biggest project of the NHS is it’s so called super computer - the world’s most complex information technology programme. The biggest civilian computer system in history would put all the country’s patient records on line – making them available wherever and whenever a Brit falls ill. It’s a hugely ambitious project at the cutting edge of computer technology and Tony Blair was one of its strongest advocates, who no one dared challenged or questioned its benefits. Some of the biggest technology companies were brought in to design the complex project. The cost was announced as £2.3-b over the first 3 years which has now climbed to £12.7-b. The total cost is still unclear but it’s predicted to hit nearly £20-billion (enough to pay some 70,000 nurses for the next 10 years). The project is running four years behind schedule, worst still, there is little to show for it.
When it comes to government projects that go way over budget, the ministry of defence must surely come way out on top. Soldiers complain that they don’t have men or vital equipment in Afghanistan or Iraq yet huge sums of the £33-b defence budget is squandered elsewhere. The latest debacle concerns the scrapping of a £132-m project to build a new generation of troop carrier. Another conspicuous waste was a new radio system designed for use in armoured Land Rovers. It turned out that the £2.4-b creation is much heavier than expected and unusable, now the project is abandoned. What about the 8 Chinooks that should have cost us £260-m, and that still aren’t up in the air but thus far have cost us £422-m. Costs on the multi-national Euro Fighter Jet have been projected to sour to nearly £20-billion. Then there’s the cash spent by the MOD in an attempt to find psychics who may help our troops cope with the enemy and spent £18,000 before stopping their search. But the men from the MOD don’t shirk when it comes to spending money on themselves as we are currently paying over £2-b, over the next 30 years, on refurbishing and running their HQ. They spent £3-m just on oak doors; they bought 30 big plasma television screens; 3,000 of the best office chairs in the world; and spent £250,000 on eight paintings. Yet armed service families are inadequate housed in near squalor. The National Audit Office concluded that last year alone the MOD overspent by £200-m of its 20 biggest projects and is behind schedule by a total of 40 years. Despite all this MOD chiefs have been awarded £50-m bonuses in the last year alone.
The Tax Payer’s Alliance (and organisation who campaigns for lowering taxes) have been trying to find how the government is squandering our billions. They conclude that the British government waste £101-b a year, which could bail out banks every year, forever ; plus fund 25 Iraq wars.
How does the British government manage its day to day spend? Is it as careful with its money as we are with ours? Benefit fraud costs us £830-million a year, then there’s the comparatively small yet astonishing loss of £4-m paid in income support, to prisoners! And the tax credit system that’s set out to help low income families – the government overpaid by £2.2-b in the first year, little of which has been recouped. In 2008 the government spend £188-m on snazzy television commercials, up by 25% over the past four years. On the A40 road-works went from £500-m to £950-m. The N1 went from £300-m to £600-m. The Department of Transport also has a botched computer system which spews out messages in German and was supposed to save us £57-m but instead cost us £81-m.
But don’t let us forget the world’s biggest public compensation scandal which was designed to help sick miners and was supposed to cost us £614-m but ended up costing £4.1-b, with an extra £2.3-b in admin costs.
The government supports schemes which promotes art and heritage, but never seems to learn from history. The magnificent monument to the incompetent and deluded arrogance of the ruling elite – the Millennium Dome - cost us £780-million, which we ended up giving away, for nothing. In 2000 the National Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield opened at a cost of £17-million but closed within a year. And then there’s the eco fun park in Doncaster which closed in 2004 at a cost of £60-million.
Then there’s the massive bill we need to pay because the government got its sums wrong - another controversial scheme is pressing ahead despite warnings that it could add billions more to the national debt. England is in the middle of one of its biggest school building programmes in its history. The government wants every one of its 3,500 secondary schools to be either demolished or modernised by 2020. The governments complicated way of financing its huge schools build is through the Private Finance Initiative, where investors borrow cash to build new schools then lease them back to the tax payer, and charge us for running them. Since 1997 the government has signed us up to +600 PFI’s on projects worth over £63-billion. After paying back interest and management charges (over the next 40 years) this will cost British tax payers £240-b.
In 2008 Gordon Brown claimed to have been ‘prudent’ and saved £26-b of tax payers’ money, yet only a quarter of this could be reliably verified by the National Audit Office. Where’s the rest of it?
These aren’t debt our generation could never pay back, nor our children’s children. How did we let this happen?
Karl Marx must be laughing in his grave.
|Posted by Cindy-Lou Dale on June 12, 2011 at 11:41 AM||comments (1)|
Like most of us, I like to travel. But current financial trends have made spur of the moment shopping trips to France, be they via Eurotunnel or ferry, far too costly. The alternative, a girlfriend helpfully suggested, was to fly. After I stopped laughing, it got me thinking – I could have Jonathan, my husband, fly me there!
A call to Bill Vidal at Lydd Aero Club revealed that a number of trial lessons are on offer. They range in cost from £74 for a half-hour flight (for one person plus an instructor), to £289 for a return flight to Le Touquet in France (for up to three people plus an instructor).
Jonathan’s first lesson took place on one of those sharp, sun-shiny crisp winter mornings only found in England. His instructor, John Tindall, a former British Airways pilot, gave him a briefing in his offices. Using a wooden aircraft replica he explaining the pitch, yaw and roll actions and how these were attained. Soon he moved onto the aircraft itself and further explained the functions of the air speed indicator, the altitude indicator, the altimeter, vertical speed indicator, direction indicator, the turn co-ordinator, and numerous other dials on the control panel. After what seemed like an interminable amount of checking, cross-checking and general faffing we got airborne and flew across the English Channel, towards France, 30-minutes away.
All Lydd Aero Club planes have dual controls so it’s hands-on from the outset. Sitting in the pilot seat, positively radiant with ignorance, Jonathan took the controls. Tindall looked at me darkly when I enquired after a barrel roll: ‘Perhaps not in the first lesson.’
Suitably chastised I gazed out the window, contemplating the dark horizon we were flying towards. ‘Isn’t that where we’re going?’ I enquired, ‘dead ahead where the black clouds are.’
Tindall considered rerouting to Calais then decided against it following communications with the Le Touquet tower who confirmed landing conditions were satisfactory. But when he put his nose to the glass it became evident that landing conditions were far from agreeable. Jonathan glanced at me and we shared a single telepathic thought – we were all going to die!
With a curious lack of urgency Tindall again communicated with the Le Touquet tower and in a typically haughty BA-pilot accent, enquired after visibility; the tower confirmed the cloud was thin.
At this stage Tindall had taken over the controls and had us flying along in a seemingly straight line, continuously descending. We were a short distance above the ground with still nothing to be seen and then bang (I use this word advisedly), there it was, the runway rushing towards us at a ridiculously accelerated speed. Tindall deftly tilted the plane, landing lightly, muttering something uncharitable about having a word with the chap in the tower.
Following some paperwork at Le Touquet’s airport we had a quick shot of vending machine coffee then headed back to the plane. Another series of checks followed, then Tindall requested permission for takeoff, which was delayed because of inbound traffic, then by visibility and finally by a helicopter pilot training at the end of the runway.Eventually we were airborne and heading home.
Planning future shopping trips I enquired after how many lessons it would take before Jonathan got his wings.
‘You need a minimum of 45-hours flight training, then pass several written exams and a flight test before you are awarded a Private Pilot Licence,’ Tindall explained. ‘The average lesson initially involves one hour flying time, but this will become ninety minutes when you start to navigate and even two hours when you start landing at other airports. Such a licence allows you to fly abroad and allows you to fly at night. You could do the cheaper National Pilots Licence which, in theory is cheaper, but then you can only fly in the UK and only during the day.’
‘What does the test involve,’ I enquired.
‘You’ll need to do a Skills Test, where you’ll demonstrate what you’ve learnt to a CAA Examiner. The test lasts approximately ninety minutes and will include general handling, emergencies and navigation.’
Contemplating my husband’s grey designer stubble I enquired after age restrictions.
‘People seeking flying lessons in their 50s are common. Occasionally we get folk in their 60s who usually claim it to be something they’ve always wanted to do and now that they have the time and means, feel they should. We also have active pilots with current licences and medical certificates (a requirement for all pilots) in their 80s.’
‘To commence Private Pilot Licence training,’ Tindall continued, ‘you must be 14 years old. To fly solo you need to be 16 and 17 before you can hold a licence. We had one 14 year old who started taking lessons but we advise such people to slow down and not waste their money by trying to move too fast - the Private Pilot License requires a minimum of ten-hours solo flight and you cannot go solo until you are 16.’
After the initial ‘taster’ lesson, prices increase. One lesson, including airport landing fees and tax averages around £150 and after forty-five of those the government charges a one-off Private Pilot Licence issue fee of £180. In each subsequent two-year period you’ll need to fly twelve-hours (absurdly, all in the second year), including one hour with an instructor. If you fail to do this you may still revalidate your licence by having a ‘mini-test’ with a CAA examiner. Currently licences are valid for five-years, but UK CAA licences are being replaced by EASA (European) licences which will have no expiration dates.‘
If you’ve done your training with us and hold the relevant qualification you could hire a plane from Lydd Aero Club. If you qualified elsewhere you could still hire a plane from us but you’ll need to do a ‘check ride’ with one of our instructors to make sure you are current and competent. If it’s a foreigner I’ll urge them to familiarise themselves with the Civil Aviation Authority website and have knowledge of England’s air laws as the air space is tight and infringement fines are dear.’
‘What are the hiring fees?’ I asked.
‘Dry hire is inexpensive at £77.50 an hour for a two-seater and £84.50 for a four-seater. It’s when you add fuel at £38.74 an hour and tax at £23.25 that it starts sounding different (for a four-seater, fuel costs £53.64 an hour and tax £27.63).’
I contemplated Tindall’s statement and did a few rudimentary calculations, planning family holidays and shopping trips and came to the conclusion that it should be me learning to fly. My girlfriends would agree that not doing so would be a direct violation of my basic human right to shop.
|Posted by Cindy-Lou Dale on May 18, 2011 at 9:00 AM||comments (0)|
It was my last night in San Francisco and it was too hot to sleep so I took myself for a drive. In the mist smudged darkness of first light I headed towards one of the hills overlooking San Francisco Bay. On route I stopped at a steamy diner for coffee where huddled clusters of night workers were bundled into the booths. I sat at the counter beside a lone man under a cowboy hat, lost in daydreams with a cup of coffee and an unlit Camel cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. The waitress approached to take my order, first lifting a passed-out patrons head up by his hair to give the counter a wipe with a damp cloth.
Cup of rocket fuel in hand, I leaned up against the nose of my Mustand SVT and looked at the spread of fairyland golden lights before me; they unrolled up into the hills and around the expansive bay. The chill in the air brought with it mist which was settling cosily over the city, like a white shawl around one’s shoulders.
The Golden State, I thought, has always done things differently. Here you can be whatever you want, however and whenever you choose. After all, it only required Charlize Theron to have a tantrum in a bank (who refused to cash a South African cheque) for her to catch the eye of an agent.
|Posted by Cindy-Lou Dale on May 2, 2011 at 5:44 AM||comments (0)|
When the shadows lengthened and the light softened Foster, my ranger, and I made our way to a waterhole. The sun caught itself on a tree on the far bank and bled red and gold across the water, Foster presented me with a biscuit tin containing Grandma's Buttermilk Rusk's, these were an accompaniment to the Rooibos tea he offered. I cupped my hands in the African manner to receive then, having sufficiently softened a chunk of the cheerless rocklike scone in the steaming liquid I took in a mouthful of softened Rusk and a sip of tea, mixing the two together in my mouth. My mother called this concrete mixing and, as a child, I was not allowed to do this. I relayed this memory to Foster, thus beginning a dialogue about our parents.
He blew across the rim of his mug to cool his bush tea; a small wisp of steam caught in a beam of fading sunlight then disappeared. He puckered his lips when he sipped, like a bushbuck from the water, then waved at the flies around him.'There flies, they are everywhere,' he said.
'I would like to find a land without flies. Is there such a country, do you think? I have not heard of such a place. I think that only in very cold places there are no flies.'
He contemplated this statement for a moment then thoughtfully added, 'In very big towns, there are no cattle to bring the flies - perhaps in such places, like in London. I do not think there are cattle in London. But there is a big green part of the town - I have seen a photograph. This part, this piece of bush, it is in the middle. Perhaps this is where the Queen keeps her cattle.'
I curled my hands around my mug and brought it to my lips, smiling at my tea.
I found Foster to be intelligent without being educated beyond school, sophisticated without ever having left Botswana, sharp without malice. He had a way about him, a gentleness which I'd almost forgotten could exist in a man, yet he was bulletproof and stood as if he owned the ground beneath his feet.
Later we were parked on a downward slope looking out across another lagoon which had the merest hint of translucent white mist still resting on it. Whilst the engine ticked itself cool a chorus of frogs called out in alarm as a flock of black egret's tented their wings over their heads, aiding their foraging. Foster and I were slumped to our haunches, leaning up against the 4x4's front tyre, resting elbows on knees. Foster spoke of Africa; his voice rising and falling like wind coming from a distance.
'Why do you wear a hat?' Foster suddenly enquired.
'You are fighting nature and you cannot win.'
True, my freckles had merged with sun-spots and had now become one, which had made me brown all over, like a pale biscuit put into the oven.
'You are slowly becoming African.'
I considered this statement for a moment then helpfully added that one day I may wake to find that I was from the Tswana tribe, and be the same colour as he was.
Foster nodded solemnly, acknowledging that this may indeed come about. We sat slouched, in a comfortable silence observing the landscape.
Foster raised a clenched fist in a black power salute, commanding instant attention and silence. With the other hand he pointed towards tall grass moving slowly in the wind. I stared intently then saw it too; the grass in one particular place moved in a different direction. Then a leopard cautiously peered through the grass; he looked in either direction - left then right then left again, as if he was making his way across a busy road. He gingerly padded to the water's edge then silently started lapping. I lifted my camera, which had a 600mm zoom lens stuck on the front. My wide-angle lens was lying safely on the passenger seat! I cursed under my breath as this was going to be far too a close crop. The whir-click sound as I depressed the camera's trigger startled the leopard who quickly retreated to the bush. Simultaneously I quietly opened the 4x4's door and swapped cameras.
Too late, I thought, berating myself. I squatted back down beside the front tyre, disappointed at losing a great photo opportunity.
As if reading my mind Foster again pointed to the opposite bank. The leopard had climbed up onto an ant hill and was scouting the landscape, trying to source the sound that had alarmed him. I lifted my camera and found the shot.
Satisfied I turned to smile at Foster who had brought a clenched fist to his mouth. Tears were unashamedly coursing down his cheeks. Slowly he wiped his face with the flattened palm of his hand; a gesture of a man not accustomed to the convenience of a napkin. We sat in silence for a while longer, sharing a moment Africa had given us. I felt honoured to be in the presence of a man who stood for kindness and generosity, a man who understood the land which he was part of; who stood for Africa and the love and creatures it contained.
I reached out a hand and held it in such a way that he could take it if he wished. It was my way of reaffirming an old bond that had always held Africans together. There was no simpler or more effective way of expressing respect.