Madiba, the Musical

Madiba, the Musical, programme cover

Madiba, the Musical, programme cover

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to see a new musical, ‘Madiba’, based on the life of Nelson Mandela. It was staged at the Comedy Theatre, not the obvious venue given the subject.

I well remember the release of Nelson Mandela, February 11th 1990. I’d gone to Chicago (my first trip to USA) and wasn’t following world news. But on that Sunday morning when I woke up intent on a full day’s sightseeing, the schedule had been replaced by live screening of Mandela’s release. I was just transfixed to see world history unrolling before my eyes so sightseeing was put on hold.

The musical follows Mandela’s life from his early career as a lawyer, his arrest in 1964 and conviction followed by life sentence, his release, his election as President in 1994, and the truth and reconciliation movement. It was a truly excellent and moving performance. Should you get the chance to see it, do so.

That said, what we saw in the musical followed western liberal thinking, but having made a few short trips to southern Africa I was reminded of the hypocrisy of some of this thinking.

We were reminded of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre – 69 protestors killed. But what about Mugabe’s Matabeleland massacres – 10,000+ killed – discussed in a piece on The Conversation website: “… The analysis also clearly proves that, even when in receipt of solid intelligence, the UK government’s response was to wilfully turn a “blind eye” to the victims of these gross abuses …“.

We were also reminded that Mrs Thatcher refused to implement sanctions against South Africa and was regularly lectured by other world leaders for her refusal to do so. One such leader was Kenneth Kaunda, President of Zambia. But what did I see on my short visits to Zambia in 1987-89? I was taken to a government-owned ‘hard currency shop’ (thus effectively open only to the elite and black marketeers). On sale, all sorts of luxury goods that you’d never have found in regular shops, sourced from South Africa. I was so exercised by this that on my return to UK I wrote to the Foreign Office asking for such two-facedness to be publicly exposed. Back came a letter who contents can be summarised as ‘We know. Please don’t tell anyone’. The Conversation’s piece explains all.

And having got international airlines to remove their South African services, Zambian Airways introduced a New York – Monrovia – Lusaka flight which just happened to provide a convenient connection with their Johannesburg flight – funny that!

All this serves as a reminder that real life is not as simple as we are sometimes told it is, and that we need to beware of news and political views shaped by an agenda.

The Blue Lake

David Sornig

David Sornig, author

Ten days ago I had the pleasure of attending the official launch of David Sornig’s new book, Blue Lake. The lake, also known less flatteringly as the West Melbourne Swamp, was situated just north of where I live in Melbourne’s Docklands. In pre-settlement times it was a meeting place and rich hunting ground for Aboriginals, but over time it became a dumping ground and a place to situate noxious trades, then between the wars it then became the home of the notorious Dudley Flats, a shanty town where the lowest of the the low lived. It’s now been taken over by the dockland and urban freeways.

David Sornig tells the story through three residents: Elsie Williams, a singer of Afro-Caribbean descent, once billed as “the Coloured Nightingale”; Lauder Rogge, a German-born sailor who, though a naturalised Australian, was interned during World War I; and Jack Peacock, a stunt rider, horse trader and scrap dealer who made a good living on Dudley Flats.

I’m currently about one third through the book and it’s proving an interesting read.

Arrested for spying again!

Extract from Harare tourist map

Extract from Harare tourist map

Harare, November 1997, a city laid out as a grid with many fine buildings and beautiful parks and gardens. On consulting my tourist map, publisher The Surveyor-General of Zimbabwe, I decided to go and see the Prime Minister’s residence, just as in past times tourists to London would go to see 10 Downing Street.

I wasn’t the first British tourist to do this. Alexander Chancellor records “In 1982, when I was in Zimbabwe, I took a stroll down Chancellor Avenue in Harare. I made a point of visiting this particular street because Chancellor Avenue was called that after my grandfather, Sir John Chancellor, the first British governor of Southern Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was once called). I was surprised that it still bore his name, because it was already two years since independence and the new government had been busy eliminating the last vestiges of colonial rule.^

So one bright morning I took the short walk from the Bronte Hotel to Chancellor Avenue and peered through the gates – from memory the residence was well screened so not much to see. In next no time a couple of young men (cadet soldiers?) came over and arrested me. Fortunately I hadn’t taken my camera – this was still the era of colour slides so pics were carefully rationed. I wasn’t carrying any ID either, which was less helpful. Progressively I was passed up the ranks to soldiers with more and more stripes, one of whom then drove me back to my hotel to confirm my ID.

At the hotel my passport details were noted. I was told that I was free to leave the hotel during the day but must be back by 6.00p.m. in case they needed to take things further. By now I was a bit worried: could I please phone the British Consulate, I asked. No, need I was told.

So after a pleasant day I returned to the hotel. Shortly after six the phone in my room rang. “Reception here, there’s two gentlemen who want to talk to you.” Now I knew I was in trouble! I walked across the garden in some trepidation. Two well dressed men greeted me. “We’re from the Prime Minister’s office. We’ve been told what happened to you this morning and have come to apologise. We hope it won’t spoil your visit.” In reply I thanked them, also pointing out that the residence was shown on a government-produced tourist map that was on sale in the city. “Not any more!”, came the reply!

And, yes, I did enjoy my stay. I was fortunate to be visiting just before Zimbabwe really spiralled downhill.

My first arrest for spying!

My first taste of Africa was a memorable one. My good friends John and Mary had gone out to Zambia to work with the church and I offered to go and visit them. I decided to record my visit on slides (remember them) so I could give an illustrated talk on my return – John had grown up in the church which I attended and where his parents were still members so a good few people would be interested.

So – this was April 1987 – we land at Lusaka. As I walked down the steps on to the tarmac I took a photo of the airport terminal, thinking it would a good intro picture for my talk. At the bottom of the steps I was promptly arrested and taken off to an interview room. As we went through the terminal one of my escorts pointed out the ‘no photography’ notice, a bit late for me! Thankfully I had the presence of mind to pull the film out of my camera and hand it over – otherwise I might have had my camera confiscated. With a check of my passport and a warning, I was free to go.

Years later at a UK church gathering I met the person who had been responsible for looking after those sent to work in southern Africa and recounted my tale. “Ah, so it’s you!” she said, “That story has gone right round the mission circuit,” everyone no doubt laughing at the innocent tourist who didn’t know that in Zambia photography of all public and government buildings was strictly off limits.

After that I went back to Zambia three more times, fortunately staying out of trouble!

I’d always wanted to go on a Boeing 707 …

I didn’t make my first independent overseas trip until I was 32, though since then I’ve made up for it by flying more than a million miles. For years it was a matter of regret that I’d left it too late to be a passenger on the icon of the jet age, the Boeing 707. And then ….

In November 1997 I made a short trip to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The flight from London to Harare used a 767, and I was expecting a 737 for the short hop from Harare to Bulawayo. But no, to my surprise and delight this flight would be on a Boeing 707.

Air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 707

Even better, in contrast to the usual African prohibition of taking photos at airports, the security officer was more than happy for me to take pictures of the plane (this is a scan of a slide, and so not the best quality).

The question I didn’t ask myself was “Why is Air Zimbabwe using a four-engine transcontinental jet for a flight with a duration of about 40 minutes?” – I was too excited at my wish coming true.

I found out later (assuming my informant was correct). The plane had failed its airworthiness checks so Air Zim couldn’t take it out the country! Apparently a couple of weeks later the pilots refused to fly it. But at the time it seemed fine to me, one air trips I will always remember.

Random memories of living in Mexico City

Not many people know that I spent two years living in Mexico City, 1957-59. I was three when I went and five when I returned so my memories of this period are very vague. Looking back I now wish I’d pumped my parents for information but it’s now too late. Here’s a summary of the little that that I do know and remember:

  • We went to Mexico because my dad was posted to the British Embassy as Labour Attache, one of six diplomats working under Sir Andrew Noble, Ambassador.
  • We went as a family (dad, mum, my younger sister and me) on the Cunard RMS Media, sailing from Liverpool to New York, then getting the train from NYC to Mexico. The Media (not that I remember it) was an interesting ship, the first built for Cunard after WWII. She entered service in 1947 and was a combination 250-passenger/cargo ship.
  • My dad was not a total stranger to diplomatic life as he’d worked in the British Embassy in Venezula in the late 1940s (he and my mum met through a penpal club – the immediate postwar version of internet dating!), but for my mum, coming from a working class background, it was an enormous challenge, but one she rose to. Not only was she expected to accompany my dad to diplomatic functions, but was expected to host them too.
  • Our home in Mexico City

    Our home in Mexico City

    We lived in two embassy-provided houses. I don’t remember the first, but would instantly recognise the second if taken there – looking from the road, at the right hand size there was a steeply dropping drive down to a double garage. To the left of this was the house, entered from the street by walking across a ‘bridge’ – the principal entertaining rooms were at first floor level. At the bottom of the garden, over the fence, was some sort of stream or small river.

  • We also had an embassy car (a Ford Consul or Zephyr Mk.1) and driver, Augustus. It was in Mexico that  my mum learned to drive.
  • My sister and me with our maids

    My sister and me with our maids

    We were assigned two Mexican maids, Dolores and Mercedes. Apparently I quickly became a fluent Spanish speaker but lost this just as quickly on returning to UK.

  • I went to an English-speaking nursery school run by one Mrs Bone. I remember nothing of it unfortunately.
  • Our best friends were the Wade family: David Wade was a Shell executive so presumably met my dad via the embassy. We and their two (at the time) children were good friends and maintained contact for years after we returned to Twickenham and Sidcup respectively.
  • Dad was awarded an MBE in the 1957 birthday honours list. He was presented with it when Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent visited Mexico in 1959.
  • We returned to UK in 1959. To get my dad back to work in London asap, they put him on a plane (then the more expensive option), leaving my mum to cope with two small children on the long train journey back to NYC, then the transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary – not half as enjoyable as it might have been for her with two small children to look after and no spouse to share the load.

Postcript

  • Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

    Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

    In July 2010 after visiting Dallas for a software conference I took a stopover in LA so I could finally achieve one of my great ambitions, revisiting the Queen Mary. I booked a three night stay and in special requests put ‘returning passenger’. When I checked in, I was given a room upgrade! See Two Queens and me

In hospital – some random thoughts

The theme of my 60th birthday speech a few years back was ‘Life’s not fair’. I noted that I had enjoyed far more of life’s good things than most people, including good health and the extraordinary ‘achievement’ of having reached 60 without a single night in hospital (before you ask, I wasn’t born in one). But I’ve made up for this since, starting with a stay in the public Royal Melbourne Hospital in 2014.

Last month I spent two weeks in hospital, a week in Melbourne Private Hospital, then a week in rehab at Epworth Camberwell. How did this compare to my limited experience (as a visitor only) of English hospitals?

Firstly the UK and Australia have different attitudes to private health insurance. In UK private health insurance is generally offered as a perk by employers; few individuals buy it. Around 10% of the population are covered according to the Telegraph web site. Premiums are subject to 12% insurance premium tax and if your employer pays the premium, this is taxable as a fringe benefit .

Here in Australia it’s the opposite – roughly half the population have private health insurance^ even though they’re covered by our NHS-like Medicare. The private system is seen as taking load off the public system so if you don’t have private health insurance you may have to pay additional income tax (Medicare Levy Surcharge 1-1.5%). In addition the government pays part (33% in my case) of your premium as a rebate. Interestingly insurance companies are not allowed to cherry pick – e.g. All 63 year olds taking out the same policy with a particular insurer must be charged the same premium regardless of their medical history.

Bed space at Epworth Camberwell

Bed space at Epworth Camberwell

So staying in a private hospital is nothing exceptional in Australia. My rooms in each hospital, twin occupancy, weren’t that special, though TV and wifi were free. I could not fault the treatment I received. Without exception, the staff were excellent. As in UK hospitals, a good few of them were from overseas, working on contract.

But, unlike UK hospitals which in my limited experience are overheated during the winter, my rooms were cold and I had to ask for an extra blanket!

Melbourne Private Hospital chicken salad

Melbourne Private Hospital chicken salad

The food was good too (not a comment often heard from UK hospital patients), excellent at MPH, though surprisingly I struggled to find low-fat options on the menu. Useful hint for anyone under orders to lie flat on their back (for 48 hours in my case): pick toast for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch and dinner – you can eat them lying down without help!

But of course the best thing that happens in hospital is being told that you’re now ready to be discharged. In my case this was on my birthday, a great birthday present!

The final journey – by rail

hearse car

Restored hearse car

Today I went on our Railway History Society‘s June 2018 outing, taking in the Craigieburn and Upfield lines. After a good lunch we finished up at Fawkner Cemetery where a restored hearse car is on display.

From the early 1890s new cemeteries were needed in Melbourne. A Northern Suburbs Cemetery Conference, held in 1902, suggested a 284 acre site which included Fawkner Railway Station, and this was adopted. The first funeral, that of four year old Dorothy Knapp, was held on 10th December 1906.

Hearse car information

Hearse car information

From the outset the new cemetery was linked to the city by a dedicated rail service. One service per day ran from Flinders Street Station platform 10 east, the mortuary platform, and this ran as an ordinary passenger service with additional hearse cars attached. Each hearse car could take twenty coffins.

The regular funeral train service was discontinued in 1939 though occasional trains would be run until 1952. The hearse cars were sold for scrap and assumed to be lost,  before three were found on a farm in 1990. After restoration this one is now on display next to Fawkner station.

FAWKNER MEMORIAL PARK Conservation Management Plan

 

A bus trip to Yea

Habitat Yea 31 May 2018

Habitat for Humanity Yea 31 May 2018

As many of you know, I’ve been a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity for eight years and have spent the last six years working on our Yea (125km/75mi NE of Melbourne) project, putting in a day or two most weeks.

Following surgery last month I’m temporarily not allowed to drive or build. I did though take the chance today to ride the V/Line bus from Southern Cross to Yea and back, which gave me a couple of hours to see what’s happened in my absence (lots) and catch up with my building friends.

The bus ride: About 2:15 each way (driving takes 90 minutes). Until its closure in 1978 Yea was a key stop on the Tallarook – Mansfield branch line. Lance Adams’ history of the line is well worth a read.

New Idea – No idea?

At the outset I must state that I don’t read women’s magazines but you can’t help seeing their front covers in the supermarket or library. Quite the most outrageous is New Idea. I thought I’d snap a couple of covers to see how accurate their inside knowledge was.

Jan 2018

New Idea Jan 8th 2018

New Idea Jan 8th 2018

It’s identical twin girls’ the front cover tells us, as confirmed by the New Idea website.

‘It’s official! Prince William and Duchess Kate are expecting twins – and it’s a boy and a girl!

It’s been confirmed that Kensington Palace is alive with double joy celebrations, as the UK royal family prepare to welcome their first twins in more than 700 years.

‘The duke and duchess are absolutely having twins,’ says a trusted high-ranking palace aide. ‘The duchess is having regular ultrasounds due to her chronic morning sickness, and it’s been confirmed that they’re set to welcome two babies.

Feb 2018

New Idea Feb 26th 2018

New Idea Feb 26th 2018

One of the twins is no more though no one seems very upset. Thanks again to the website

It’s a girl! That’s the word from Buckingham Palace as Prince William and Duchess Kate prepare for the arrival of their new baby princess ‘any day now.’

Royal sources confirm that Kate is ‘much further along than anyone thought’, with some believing that she could even go into labour this week….

‘Wills and Kate’s little girl could be here any day now, that’s the absolute reality,’ a palace source tells New Idea. …

‘Many believed she was due in April, but it seems Kate and Wills have managed to sneak under the radar a little and, in fact, her due date is a lot sooner – she’s a lot further along than anyone thought.

April 2018

New Idea May 7th 2018

New Idea May 7th 2018

Prince Louis (Louis, not Louise) is born on April 23rd. Looking at the cover, perhaps New Idea had it made up before the birth as they’ve given up reporting on the baby’s sex.


Fake news? Definitely!