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!).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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……..

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Pink Floyd – Quadraphonics.

Also while I was the Production Manager at the Roundhouse Theatre in London we had a press “showing” of the quadraphonic version of The Dark Side Of The Moon.   For some reason Wikipedia states that this happened at the Rainbow Theatre.   Not true.  I worked both at the Roundhouse and was very much […]

Also while I was the Production Manager at the Roundhouse Theatre in London we had a press “showing” of the quadraphonic version of The Dark Side Of The Moon.   For some reason Wikipedia states that this happened at the Rainbow Theatre.   Not true.  I worked both at the Roundhouse and was very much involved in the creation of The Rainbow as a Rock venue as well.  And whilst all manner of amazing concerts took place in the Rainbow, this one didn’t.

What happened is that the Pink Floyd decided to have a sort of private press show of the quadraphonic version of that amazing album, and they chose to do it in the Roundhouse because of the physical structure of the building.  As it was originally an engine roundhouse, it had a circular gallery running all the way around the central circle, so they could place speakers all around the full 360 degrees of the centre, and place the press corps in the middle, where they would get the full (literally surround sound) of the quadraphonics.

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At that period of my life I worked on a number of Pink Floyd concerts, and one thing that really stood out with this band was the totally professional way they went about preparing and performing their concerts, and this presentation of The Dark Side of the Moon was no exception to this rule.

Most bands tended to turn up as near to performance time as possible, leaving the sound checks, instrument tuning and so on to their various roadies – for the great majority of rock bands it was really only a matter of Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll, as the saying had it in those days – and being professional about how it all took place was not really a major issue for most bands.   But not with Pink Floyd. Continue reading “Pink Floyd – Quadraphonics.”

Wavy Gravy, Stoneground, Hog Farmers and dope galore

Stoneground – Amazing band who lived outside the Roundhouse

During my time at the Roundhouse in the early 1970’s, we held large rock concerts every Sunday, which over the years featured just about all the bands, musicians and others who were busy with Rock and Roll in that period.   Generally these guys turned up in time to perform their sets, and then went away again, and that was that.   However, one group actually moved in and set up home in the car park at the back of the Roundhouse and became our House Band for some months.

This was a large group of musicians and their hangers-on (wives, children and lovers) called Stoneground, who were part of what was known as the Hog Farmers.   This was a sort of ad hoc commune based in California on a real hog farm owned and run by a most unlikely clown called Wavy Gravy, who deserves an entire book all about who he was and what he did and still does.

In passing I should mention that it was Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farmers who set up and ran the Woodstock Festivals, so if you happen to see the film of the first Woodstock festival, you will have seen Wavy Gravy in action, as he introduced most of the groups there.

Anyhow, for some reason Warner Brothers had taken up Stoneground and decided in their wisdom to fly them all to London and then set up a tour around the UK and Europe.    They may have looked like Hippies, and lived together in a sort of commune, but most of them were rather older than the average Hippy, and not at all given to standing around with flowers in their hair damply saying “Peace..Peace and love”   They were much more likely to hit you over the head and stomp you, as many of them were Vietnam veterans and suffered from Post Traumatic Stress in a big way.

Stoneground en masse

Though in one way they were very much of the Hippy persuasion, and that was in their use of dope.   They chain smoked the stuff.

Continue reading “Wavy Gravy, Stoneground, Hog Farmers and dope galore”

A very unlikely Hells Angels Chapter

As I said ages ago, this blog consists of random memories as they occur to me, so here is another such relatively pointless memory from my Roundhouse days – All about the most unlikely chapter of Hells Angels you could possibly imagine.

As I said ages ago, this blog consists of random memories as they occur to me, so here is another such relatively pointless memory from my Roundhouse Production Manager days – All about the most unlikely chapter of Hell’s Angels you could possibly imagine.

There was a small group of rather weedy young men who hung around the Roundhouse in those days, trying to get work from us as security for our Rock concerts (which we never gave them by the way) who felt that they were the epitome of what the Hell’s Angels stood for.
They wished to set up a proper London Chapter of the Angels for themselves.   But as they possessed only a small moped and a Mini Moke ( a sort of jeep version of the famous Mini car) we all felt that this was an unlikely dream.
They used to film themselves on that moped pobling along the road with a small video camera on the back of the Moke and obviously were living in a total fantasy world.
However, one day they astounded us all by coming into the Roundhouse full of excitement, as apparently the head Chapter of the Angels were sending someone over from California to make them into members of the club.
This bloke duly turned up one day, with an enormous heavily chopped bike (it only had half a petrol tank, so he could see the engine as he rode along on it).  And he was enormous as well.  A most impressive and rather intimidating creature to say the least.
He on his huge bike, and they on their moped and the Moke rode all over the place together for a couple of weeks, filming themselves of course and then he returned to the States, but had to our amazement actually enrolled them into the Hells Angels….
After which they wore their Angels jackets with great pride.  I wonder what became of them when the more normal Angels London Chapter was started.