Namibia – Africa For Beginners.

A proper African holiday complete with lions, elephants and all the other trappings of Africa – most of which were absent from Angola as they had all been killed during the civil war (Mostly by Generals shooting them with heavy machine guns from Helicopter Gun Ships – Ah big game hunting is such fun!).


Generally when we had holidays or breaks from our work at the Luanda International School, Lotty and I went and wandered around in Angola, since we wanted to come to grips with this fascinating and complex country while we had the chance.  But on one holiday, several of our colleagues asked us to join them on a holiday in the neighbouring country of Namibia.   A proper African holiday complete with lions, elephants and all the other trappings of Africa – most of which were absent from Angola as they had all been killed during the civil war (Mostly by Generals shooting them with heavy machine guns from Helicopter Gun Ships – Ah big game hunting is such fun!).

So in due time the great moment arrived, and we all boarded the plane to fly us from Luanda to Windhoek International Airport.

On arrival we were first somewhat stunned by the modernity and cleanliness of the terminal, and then even more stunned by the fact that the guys from the travel company we had arranged our hire vehicles with were actually there.

We were swept up by these good men, taken to remarkably modern and clean pick-up trucks and driven off to Windhoek.  This was also a serious form of culture shock for us Angolan refugees… The roads were perfect, the vehicles driving on them were all new, clean and driven sensibly.   No weird battered, rusty ancient wrecks creeping crablike down the pot-holed roads here…  Everything was modern, clean, well maintained and impeccable.  After the mess and chaos of Luanda this was an eye-opener for us all.

Then we got to Windhoek, which turned out to be a small and also totally neat, tidy and clean little city, full of well dressed and well fed looking people.  Not a cripple, street kid or dead body to be seen anywhere.

By this time we were all reeling somewhat from the totally different place we now found ourselves in.   In a matter of a couple of hours flying, we had gone from a war-torn, medieval city to a 20th century, well organised and normal place.

I was later told that the first thing the Namibian President ordered when they became independent of South Africa, was a huge clean up of the country.. It took them a year apparently, but the results were truly impressive…

We were taken to our hotel, and signed in and as one we all rushed straight out of the hotel to see for ourselves what it was like in the shops and cafes of this place.   Another shock, the Supermarket’s shelves were filled with all manner of food and other necessities, the cafes were clean and relaxed places serving delicious coffee in clean, uncracked cups – just like any normal western city in fact.   This was a very strange feeling for us, coming from a place where the Supermarkets frequently had almost completely empty shelves, cafes were rough and ready and the only drink you could rely on them having was beer.

Anyhow, we wandered around in a sort of daze for a few hours, then retired, confused and relaxed to our beds at the end of our very disconcerting first day in Namibia.

The next day, Lotty and I in one camping truck, and Jayne and Mathu in the other one set off northwards to go to a nature reserve way up on the Namibia/Angolan border.

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……………………… Sort of flat!

This entailed a drive of something like 1200 km over countryside that made Holland seem mountainous.    I have never seen such a flat landscape in my life…. Not even a pimple to be seen.   If it wasn’t for the occasional Elephant, or warthog wandering across the road and the regular police check points it would have been the most boring bit of driving I had ever done.  Occasionally one came to small remarkably neat little towns, all of which still showed very clearly that the Germans used to be the Colonial power in Namibia.. Sort of miniature German villages dropped in the middle of this vast African tundra.

When we finally reached the northern border of Namibia, which was demarcated by a wide, muddy and sluggish river, with Angola on the far side, we camped in an amazingly luxurious camp site and in the evening, we sat like good colonialists beside the river, with long cool drinks in our hands, listening to the frog chorus and gazing over the river at the darkness of Angola.  Not a light to be seen on the Angolan side of the river.. Just darkest Africa.   And then suddenly drums started up on the Angolan side… Very strange feeling, listening to that drumming in the pitch dark night.

Gazing over the river at Angola…….

The next day we headed off into the Caprivi strip, a curious narrow strip of Namibia that runs west-east between Zambia and Botswana, where there was a nature reserve we wanted to explore.

We duly arrived at the entrance to the park, to be told that no one else was currently visiting, but that we were very welcome to stay if we wished.  And directed to the camp site – with dire warnings about not getting out of our vehicles anywhere except in the camp site – Lions you know.  The remarkably solid and tall wall around the reception offices rather reinforced this warning.

So off we drove, into the park.  Which was beautiful, sort of tall elephant grass and groups of trees.  Lots of warthogs and various sorts of deer, and loads of monkeys leaping about the place.   Not a lion or elephant to be seen.


Warthogs with their ridiculous tails

We duly found the camp site – we recognised it as there was an outside lavatory block there – for the rest, nothing, no fence, electricity, water or even a place to dispose of our rubbish.  Obviously one of those places where if you brought it in you took it out when you left.  Reasonably enough, given the monkeys around the place.

The bit that worried me was that it was on the edge of a river, and had what was obviously the place where large creatures came out of the river right slap bang into the middle of the camp site.  Since these animals could only be crocodiles or hippopotamuses, both of which are highly dangerous, I wasn’t too happy about this.


The camp site with our campers

We could see no crocs, but we did see the noses and eyes of quite a few hippos in the river.  Unsettling feeling.

Anyhow, we settled down, set up our camp and relaxed.

As the evening drew in, two wonderful things occurred.  The first was the arrival of a huge family group of baboons, who settled noisily down for the night in the trees around our campers.  In spite of having the reputation of being a real pest, and even dangerous to campers, this family group ignored us totally, and simply got on with their own domestic affairs.  Loved watching them doing this.

Then the second joy of the African countryside started up.. namely the evening chorus of hundreds of different sorts of frogs and toads.. Each sort with its own song…. These different songs combined to produce the most wonderful and huge choral work, that went on for about an hour… totally entrancing to listen to.

During the night we could hear the Hippos snorting and coughing in the river nearby, so I was extremely glad to be sleeping on the roof tent of our camper, rather than in a tent on the ground..   Hippos are generally considered the second most dangerous animal in Africa – the first of course, being humans – but they stayed in the river and didn’t bother us in any way, I am happy to say.

I shall write the second half of this Namibian thing later……..

Roadkill – The Depressing Side Of Driving In Oz

One of the most distressing aspects of doing much driving in rural Australia – which includes Tasmania obviously- is the high rate of road kill here.  When driving outside cities or largish towns for every kilometer one drives, one will see probably two or three dead animals that have been hit by cars during the night.  

One of the most distressing aspects of doing much driving in rural Australia – which includes Tasmania obviously- is the high rate of road kill here.  When driving outside cities or largish towns for every kilometer one drives, one will see probably two or three dead animals that have been hit by cars during the night.


Every sort of wild creature that lives here is represented in this depressing parade of corpses – kangaroos, wombats, crows, ichidnas, wallabies and so on, literally every sort of wild animal will be seen sooner or later lying dead in the road or on the edge of the road.

As far as I can see, no one clears away their corpses, as one sees them in all states of decay.   From freshly killed to a bag of skin around a skeleton and all stages of putrefaction in between.

The crows are obviously very happy with this state of affairs, as it represents a continuous source of easy food for them to gobble up, and being crows they generally judge to a second how long they can stay eating as a car approaches, only leaping away at the last minute – or slowly stalking away in time for the car to pass harmlessly, before returning to their feast.

Even they miscalculate on occasion and end up as a sad bundle of disordered feathers lying next to their last meal – sad to see.

Last year we camped in parts of Tassie that are famous for the high numbers of Tasmanian Devils that live there, and hunt every night, so we had hoped both to see and hear them while we were there – but nope, the only one we came across was a very dead one on the road..  Another victim of the car.

It is not for nothing that someone years ago produced a book called ¨Flattened Fauna of Australia¨, made up of photos of all the different types of animals and birds this amazing country has, but all as corpses on the road.

So, as I said, seeing this mass of dead creatures when driving is deeply saddening, but a very typical aspect of this country – always has been and probably always will be.

Moravian Music – Deep Yearning

As ever, the music of Eastern Europe has the power to make one want to jump up and dance….

I have long known the music of various Eastern European countries, but the music of Moravia had somehow slipped past my attention.   So this morning while I was hunting for some music from Albania (as one does!) I noticed a piece of music that said it came from a Moravian film, and was based on the music of the cembalo,  So, as I was sitting peacefully, drinking my morning cup of coffee, I thought “why not check this out?”   So that is what I did, and discovered a whole new sort of music to enjoy and explore.

So to start us off, here is the piece of music that I stumbled upon.   Apparently part of the sound track of a crime film (about which I know nothing), and has that typical sadness that so much music from this general area of eastern Europe seems to have.   Beautiful and sombre music I think you will agree..

Probably best to listen to this music with your back to your computer, so that the totally irrelevant images do not distract you from the lovely and moving music…   Just a suggestion.

So, there you go.   A good sound I hope you will agree.

However, to show that not all music from the eastern edges of Europe is sad and depressing, here is a rather more cheerful bunch of happy musicians singing their little hearts out apparently in the corner of a car park or someone’s garden…

All rather odd, but entertaining nonetheless I find.

But interesting to see how depressed all the people concerned seem to be… I wonder why?   Actually it is a very odd video, but I imagine that if you happen to speak Moravian it is all totally clear and understandable.   But from our point of view, it is the actual music that matters, and for me, it is both charming and curious.   Seems to wander around a lot.  But that choir of little girls… dear God,, what was that about?    Hmmm….

Anyhow, on to other matters now………………..

This is definitely the real thing, a totally Moravian bit of folk music… no small girls swaying about or serious unsmiling village elders here, but delightful music that makes one want to leap to ones feet and start dancing.. great stuff!!

Tomorrow I shall be back again, with some other equally pointless waffle about music, silly videos or who knows what?

Singapore – Colonial Memories

I had the curious experience of living in Singapore while it was still a British Colony… Here are some of my memories of that time

Back in the late 40’s and early 50’s of the last century, we lived in Singapore, which in those far off days , was of course, still a British Colony, which in the case of the Malayan peninsular (what is now called Malaysia) meant it was ruled to Britain’s advantage by lower middle class Brits, and in the case of Singapore (which was still part of Malaya), we Brits pretended to rule it, but it was in fact ruled, as now, by the Chinese.

It was a strange place to live in back then, an atmosphere of suffocating Petit Bourgeois attitudes, tremendous racialism – the poor old Indians being at the bottom of that particular heap, a very unpleasant guerilla war (more about that below), and annual racist riots in which the whites were the target of mass hatred and killed if possible by hordes of infuriated Muslim Malayans.

A scary Anniversary:

This last was the result of a sad story.   When the Japs invaded Singapore, the whites all left as hurriedly as possible, all was chaos obviously, and in this chaos, a small Dutch baby girl got left behind, but was found by a Malay family, who took her in and cared for her.   Obviously, being Malay they were Muslims, so naturally, the little girl was brought up as a Muslim.

All was well until the Japs were chased out of Singapore, and the little girl was discovered by the European authorities, and it was decided that she should be sent to Holland to be brought up as a Dutch girl (even though I believe her parents were never found).

So over the protestations of the Malay family who had looked after her during the war, this little girl was sent off to Holland, and put into a Catholic convent orphanage, and brought up further as a good little Catholic.

This infuriated the Malay community in Singapore and the rest of Malaya, so every year on the anniversary of the removal of this little girl, there were terrible riots in which gangs of angry Malayans rampaged around, smashing any European objects they came across, and killing any Europeans they could catch.  Scary times.  Not least since the cops there were almost all Malay, and thus sympathised with the rioters, and looked the other way.

A Guerilla War:

As I mentioned above,there was also a pretty serious guerilla war going on in the jungle of the Malay Peninsular at this time as well.

This was being reported as a “Communist Terrorist War”  (those were the bogey men of that period, same as the ISIS now).   In fact the origins of this particular war had nothing to do with Communism, but was caused by the duplicity of the then British government – sound familiar?

What had happened was that when the Japs were on the point of kicking the Brits out of Malaya, the Brits recruited a number of Chinese and armed them and asked them to stay behind in the jungle and make life difficult for the Jap occupiers, in return for which, the Brits promised that on their return to Malaya (how about that for arrogance?), they would pay the Chinese soldiers much fine money, give them land to farm and generally look after them.

So these faithful Chinese stayed in the jungle, and with great suffering did exactly as requested.

The Brits duly came back, and the Chinese came out of the jungle and asked to have their promised payment.  Reasonably one might think.  Sadly,the Brits kept putting them off.

So after a couple of years of prevarication on the part of the Brits, the annoyed Chinese said damn you, turned around, grabbed their guns and went back into the jungle and started shooting Europeans.

This is when the Chinese Communists stepped in and made the battle their own.  So the origins had nothing to do with communism, but with broken promises.  Also familiar?

An Unnerving Experience:

One small result of this war for me was finding myself in hospital in the bed next to a guerilla fighter who had been condemned to death by the Brits.

I was in hospital for a minor complaint, but it kept me in hospital for a couple of weeks in a public ward which gave me time to get to know this guy a bit (for complex reasons I could speak a fair amount of Cantonese so he and I could talk).   He had been captured by the British army, and then tried and condemned to be hanged, but owing to his years in the jungle, he was in very bad health, so the Brits felt he was too unhealthy to be hanged!!!  I know, sounds insane, but I promise you it is true.

So he was bunged into hospital to be fed and made healthy again – and once he was in good shape, they were planning to take him out and hang him.

So there he lay in his bed next to mine, with a heavily armed Sikh soldier guarding him 24 hours a day, being fed on vitamins, good meals and all manner of antibiotics to get him healthy enough to be hanged.

We became quite good friends before he was taken away to be killed finally.

Made one hell of an impression on me I can tell you – I was about 9 years old at the time.

Probably I shall write more about my various experiences living in the final days of the British Empire – it was interesting to say the least!

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If you experienced the British Empire in full swing, do share your experiences with us here.

Casey Curran – Curiously insect-like Sculptures

Casey Curran, maker of weird and strangely endearing kinetic art.

I stumbled upon the work of Casey Curran the other day, as a result of a friend ( a real one, not a Facebook one) posting one of his videos on their Facebook page, and was truly taken with his work.

As you will see in the following videos, his “machines” have a curious delicacy  about them, and on first glance seem to be alive, but very quickly that feeling fades away and one becomes aware that one is looking at an incredibly delicate machine, one that replicates in its own way the vastly speeded up life cycle of a plant.

This first video from his website shows very well what it is I mean as I think you will agree once you have seen it.

I am not sure if the music is simply a sound track for the video or if you actually hear music when the piece is being played in a gallery.  However that may be, I think this video demonstrates very well the work of this extraordinary artist.   The machinery that makes it happen is almost as much fun as the art work itself – though to be honest, I rather assume that it should be seen as a whole, and no separation between the moving, and the machinery that drives the movement.

As it is all made from bits of twisted metal wire, this obviously makes it move in a slightly jerky fashion, but I don’t find this any sort of a problem in fact, for me it merely strengthens the feeling that it is alive – though I expect this feeling is made stronger by seeing the work on a video rather than in the flesh as it were – lends it a sort of stuttery time exposure effect that we are used to seeing on TV documentaries.

That last one was worked by some sort of motor, but a lot of his works are simply provided with a hand crank, also made from relatively thin wire – not sure how that would bear up under over enthusiastic use – which gives the machine a very jerky movement, as you can see in the video below. Continue reading “Casey Curran – Curiously insect-like Sculptures”

The Death Of Creativity – Two Looks At This Idea

Almost all education systems in the world are basically aimed at destroying as much creativity in our kids as possible – and then work carries on this dreary effect.

Sadly for some reason, just about every system for educating (training) our kids seems to be aimed at killing off any creativity or curiosity and originality in them – And then our adult lives (or at least those of the great majority of us) work and society sets about killing any of those qualities that might have survived childhood and our schools.

Here are two looks at this depressing phenomena, one in a moderately serious talk by Sir Kenneth Robinson at TED, and the other takes a different route to give us the same message, this one being a wonderful animated film by  Daniel Martínez Lara & Rafa Cano Méndez.

Both of these differing approaches to the same problem show us both the problem but also give us hope that there might be a way to avoid it, in that they also indicate that it does not have to be like that, it is possible to educate our kids in such a way that they retain their curiosity.   And that it is possible for adults to force their lives onto a different and unexpected track.

But it remains depressing, this attitude so well summed up in the Jesuit saying “Give me your child before he is 7 and he is mine for life”.    It is this sad fact that allows for the continuing existence of religions, political divisions and all the other dreary and negative influences on our lives.

So, here is the Robinson talk to start the ball rolling:-

And now, to see the same problem from a different perspective, here is the superb short film by the two Spanish animators “Alike”.

Well, I hope that one or both of these films got to you and gave you food for thought.

Any thoughts that either of them may have prodded you into thinking, please do share with us here.  Always interesting to hear what people think about things……

The Joys Of Owning A Paintball Centre – Ker-Splat!

Our last endeavour in France was a Paintball Centre…. Great fun, hard work and not at all violent – to my surprise

Some years ago we purchased about 20 hectares of French hillside in the western Vosges…. Heavily forested and rough.  The intention was to start a sort of School Field Centre, but for various reasons that didn’t happen, so we were left with all that land and no idea what on earth to do with it.

Then one fine day, a friend was wandering around in our forest with me and he casually remarked that it would make an amazing Paintball field.   Well I had never heard of Paintball, so I asked him what he meant.  He explained in a few succinct words what Paintball actually was.

Paintball is not Rambo!

To begin with we were far from interested, as the idea of a bunch of wannabee Rambos rushing around our land, shooting at each other didn’t really appeal one bit.   But he insisted that it was actually in no real way a sort of glorification of machismo  or of violence, but was actually great fun, and not at all aggressive – nor did it glorify war, killing and other totally nasty and unacceptable ideas.


So we looked into it, and discovered that apparently he was quite correct.  All the stuff on the Internet about paintball seemed to emphasis fun, laughter and a sort of return to childhood playing of cowboys and Indians… “Bang bang, your dead, count to 100 and carry on” seemed to be the essence of the game.

There is a sort of version of Paintball called Airsoft, which uses replica firearms and shoot small plastic pellets instead of the rather large marble-like Paintballs.  This is a militaristic and to my way of thinking rather unpleasant “sport”.  People get dressed up in military uniforms and rush around with their replica AK47’s, M16’s and so on… Not for me.

So we looked into the sort of investment that would be needed to make it happen, and found that actually it was not an impossible amount of money, given that we already owned the most expensive part of setting up such a centre – the land itself.


Anyway, to make a long story short, we decided to give it a go, raised the money we needed to get it started, with thanks to the several people who lent us the money we needed (Buying shares in the company we set up to run the Paintball field, which we named Aigle Paintball, which is French for Eagle Paintball), and set about creating the necessary battlefields in our land for people to play the game in.

This entailed a good local friend of mine called Jean Pierre and myself, armed with a variety of large chainsaws, cutting down any trees that were in the way to create enough clear forest for people to be able to see and shoot at each other, then using the bits of the trees we had felled to make a whole range of bunkers, walls to hide behind and other fun constructions all over the place.


This was bloody hard work, as some of those trees were huge, and took a lot of cutting to reduce to a manageable collection of logs to build our bunkers with.  And we were of course, left with mountains of smaller branches and other tree type rubbish to dispose of.   But we had fun the two of us doing all of this.

Pondering how best to make a road for people to stalk each other along, and set ambushes and all the other jolly things that Paintball entails.

We created three large fields, each with a very different character, and between the three of them, we probably had about 5 or so hectares (about 12 acres) for the games. One was a large area of relatively gentle slopes and loads of trees, another was on the rather steep side of a hill, not so many trees, but enough to give cover, and the third was in a flat area of scrawny thin trees where we built two villages, and lots of tracks with street names and so forth, and my old Volvo station wagon as part of the scenery.




During all  of this work, I became what is known as a Gas Master…  Sounds good eh? What it meant was that I knew all about filling the Paintball gun’s gas bottles with CO2 without causing explosions or freezing my hands to the bottles (CO2 when the pressure is released is extremely cold,) so as I filled the bottles they became covered in a thick layer of ice….   We also looked at a whole range of Paintball guns to find a type that were tough enough for rental work, as we supplied about 95% of the people who came and played on our fields with the equipment they needed – Face masks, breast plates (for women players), overalls, gloves ammo belts and of course, the Paintball guns themselves.

In passing, as parts of our Paintball fields were more or less beside either a road or a public forest path, we had to string up a 4 meter high net all along those sections of our Fields, so that no one walking on the public roads could get accidentally shot.   Wouldn’t have made for good relations with the community if we made a habit of splatting casual passers-by now would it?


These nets were a high maintenance factor for us, as the very large wild boar and deer who shared the forests with us simply walked into them and dragged them down to the ground as they wandered around at night.

We also set up a firing range at the entrance to the main field, so that people could try out their guns before heading into the first game, seemed essential as the great majority of our customers had never seen a Paintball gun, let alone fired one before.


The games themselves tended to last about 10 minutes each, and a session at our centre was generally about 2 to 3 hours play.  Playing a number of games in each of the three fields.

The games all had some sort of scenario – capturing the enemies flag, getting an important personage from point A to point B without him (or her) getting shot en route, Capturing the enemies fortress or village, simple attrition (“kill” all your opponents) and so on.  We were constantly thinking up new games, and ended up with several hundred distinct games to be offered to our customers.

Unlike most Paintball centres, we felt that as the people had paid good money to play on our fields, being shot shouldn’t be the end of that particular game for them, so basically we made a rule that when hit, you had to retreat about 50 metres, wait a few minutes, and then join in again.  This had two advantages, they got more play time, and this in turn meant they used more Paintballs, which is were we really made our money.  In the entry fee we included a couple of hundred Paintballs, which were generally used up within the first 30 minutes ( a lot of people simply sprayed Paintballs like they were shooting machine guns.  You could actually shoot off about 7 Paintballs per second with the semi-automatic weapons we rented them).  So my Marshals who walked around controlling the games also carried thousands of spare Paintballs with them, that they sold to people as they needed them… Not unusual for us to get through up to 30 000 Paintballs in a day.


Women, soldiers and firemen play seriously, men like testosterone flooded idiots

During these games I observed some intriguing behavour patterns.   When we got groups of women with no men, they listened carefully as the rules of the various games were explained, gave thought within their teams as how best to achieve the set gaols, and then systematically went about it, following their agreed strategies.   Very careful and economic players by and large.  However, when it was a mixed group (men and women) the women tended to take a back seat and leave it up to the men to make all the decisions, and didn’t really use their brains at all.  Groups of men only, tended to be extremely macho, shoot like mad things, almost invariably fail to achieve the aims of the games as they were too busy being “men” to think very clearly – we loved them as they got through enormous numbers of Paintballs.  Occasionally we had groups of Firemen, Policemen or soldiers.  They mostly went about it all rather as the women-only groups did, carefully considering the aims of the game and doing their best to achieve them..

From our point of view, groups of professional infantrymen were the worst customers, as they hardly shot any Paintballs at all… Not surprisingly I suppose.


The Game Marshals I used were all local young people, who turned out to be superb at this work.   They could control the players, ensure a very high level of safety (Paintballs go fast and if you got one in your eye or ear could cause serious injury) and ensured that the atmosphere was light and fun.  I had a pool of about 10 or so of these young people to draw upon, and was constantly amazed at how well they went about their work for us.

Great bunch of kids they were.

As I mentioned above, Paintball is essentially a childish game, and it was great to see the groups who came and played.  Most of them really hadn’t a clue what they were letting themselves in for, and were reasonably enough, very apprehensive about it all.  But invariably after the first game had been played, and the players gathered together to catch their breath and relax before the next game, they were all unwound, laughing at each other and totally at peace with themselves.  It turned out that Paintball is a very cathartic game, about the best way of relaxing a bunch of uptight and nervous adults I have ever seen.

However, I rapidly discovered that almost no one in that part of France had even heard of Paintball, so we had a very uphill battle on our hands to get people to become aware of us, and to come and try it out.


We made slow but steady progress with this, but after some 3 years we were still only breaking even, and we had effectively run out of money, just as our collection of Paintball guns were ready to be replaced by new ones – This we simply couldn’t afford to do, sadly.  So we decided that we would have to do something radical to get our financial feet under us again.   What this turned out to be was Lotty getting a job in an international school in Luanda – the capital of Angola – and us heading off to Africa to make our fortunes there.

So, as one of the Dutch people in the village was looking for a place to set up a large scale bar and restaurant, we swapped our land and all upon it for three houses that he and his wife owned between them, and headed off to our next adventure, Angola.

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