Thursday, 8 October 2015

A visit to Yorkshire

Last month I visited the UK for a couple of days on my own before hubby flew over to join me for child 4 of 5 passing out parade with the British Army. I flew into Birmingham and drove to Manchester for the first night to visit relatives then the following day I drove to Yorkshire.

I lived in York from the age of 5 - 11, child 3 of 5 has lived in Leeds for the past 2 years and child 4 of 5 has spent the last 6 months in Catterick. In the past 2 years I've visited child 3 a couple of times in Leeds when I've been in the UK and on a couple of other trips he's come down to my parents in South Wales.

Hotels in Leeds are very expensive and then there is an additional charge for parking. As my son was working long hours, I decided to stay in a B&B on Model Farm just outside Bradford and after checking in, I drove to nearby Saltaire for a walk around the village which is a World Heritage Site and visited the converted Mills.

As I was travelling solo I didn't update my whereabouts until I had moved onto my next destination, I missed out on a few coffee invites, but the most important thing was that I stayed safe while travelling solo.

My son was fed up with Leeds city centre so after collecting him from his new apartment with fantastic views of the Leeds-Liverpool canal we set off to York for the day.

We walked York's city walls, did a spot of shopping and had lunch by the River Ouse. He caught the train back to Leeds and I drove into Thirsk where hubby and I were spending the night.

I had to collect hubby from the train station at 10pm and arrived at Kirkgate House Hotel around 6pm. It was a shame Thirsk was closed as it was a lovely town and I walked around the church, the park, the town and round in a big loop.

After the passing out parade we drove back over to Manchester for the night to visit hubbies family and the area he grew up in. We arrived in South Wales on the Saturday and spent the rest of our holiday in the South West.

The weather had been wonderful for the few days I was in Yorkshire, it was lovely to see so much greenery and flowers after being in the desert.

For the past 5 years most of our time away from the house has been spent indoors. In South Africa, apart from safaris and dog walks, we were in malls due to safety issues. In Dubai we are indoors when out of the house due to the relentless heat.

I really appreciated being able to walk around the villages, towns and cities and can certainly see now why so many tourists visit the UK from abroad every year.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The reality of living in South Africa

I'm off to South Africa in just under two weeks to volunteer with Santa Shoebox, collecting and distributing 10,000 Christmas gifts to vulnerable and disadvantaged children in Pretoria and surrounding areas and to support The Viva Foundation and to visit my friends that I made in the 4 years we lived there.

When I’ve been on holiday in tourist spots in South Africa where you’re likely to meet other foreigners, I rarely struck a conversation with anyone else because all they want to do is tell me how dangerous the country was, what they thought of it and ask my opinion on Oscar Pistorius and Nelson Mandela when I told them I actually lived there. The same applied when I went home to the UK.

When I was going about my daily business in Centurion, Pretoria paying a bill with my South African bank card, doing the weekly food shop or in the post office trying to retrieve my post that South Africans would say ‘what? you live here? you’re English? Followed by how much they want to go and live in the UK and why they think I’m mad to want to live there.

I was asked all the time to compare the two countries and every time I'd answer without fail, that South Africa is by far the nicer country and when asked why, I tell them there is more space, people are friendly, it’s more relaxed and the quality of life here is better than the UK. Of course there is limited access to education, housing and free health care is very basic and not available everywhere and of course gun crimes and the risk of hijacking are high.

Their response is ‘but England is a better place to live, you earn more, cars are cheaper.’ But people don’t realise just how high the cost of living is in the UK compared to here. We are paid in Rand, so don’t benefit from the current exchange rate with the UK, in fact we struggled as we had to send money back for our son’s education and for our house over there.

The perceptions of the opposite country are the same.

To give you an idea of the major differences between the UK and South Africa consider this.

If I drove East from Kent for 6 hours, I'd pass through 4 countries to Germany. If I drove East from Centurion I'd just about reach the coast and Durban.

A 5 hour drive North of Centurion I reach the bottom left hand corner of Kruger National Park that is the same size as Wales. A 5 hour drive north of Malvern where we lived in the UK, I'd probably run out of land to drive on.

If I flew south for 2 hours I'd reach Cape Town. If I flew south for 2 hours from the UK, I’d be in Spain.

There are 52 million people living in South Africa.
There are 62 million people living in the UK.

We’d been victims of crime in South Africa, we’d been victims of crime in the UK.

We’d driven 1000’s of kilometers in South Africa and were stopped many times in routine roadblocks, We were never asked for money from the police.

We have friends who have been hijacked, robbed and held at gun point in South Africa, that is the only part of South Africa, that scared us and we were vigilant every day, everywhere we went.

£10 is equivialnt to R210 with the current exchange rate. R100 goes further in SA than £10 does in the UK.

R100 would buy me lunch, a coffee and a packet of cigarettes.

It costs more to buy a car in SA, because people don’t change them for new plates and labour is cheaper so it’s cheaper to keep an older car going than it is to replace one. Road tax costs R250 a year. In the UK it costs £400 for the same car, a Jeep. Fuel costs were the same, but remember how much further your Rand goes in SA than the £ back in the UK.

When I visited the UK I avoided eating out, as it was so expensive compared to SA, but I could use public transport, there just isn’t any available in SA.

South Africa was my home. I no longer converted the money for our benefit, just for our visitors and the people I bump into when I’m going about my daily business. We discussed the political differences, they were shocked when I told them that in the UK people are sent to jail for not sending their children to school, when they’re crying out for education in SA.

We left SA in December 2014 as new changes to the laws in regards to foreigners were informed. We now live in Dubai and then we'll move back to the UK in a few years. I have blue skies in Dubai, but I won’t have the space that I crave when I’m not in SA.

I can't even begin to compare Dubai to South Africa, I can't tell you where I prefer to live or why. I left a little part of my heart in South Africa that I will never leave behind in Dubai. We fell in love with SA over time and it was a shock to move as quickly as we did, although we had more of an idea over a longer period that we were leaving SA than we did moving there in the first place.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

A day at an English Farm

All our kids have left home but that doesn't stop us having fun when we visit the UK in the form of our 4 year old niece, who we were lucky enough to borrow for 24 hours from my sister and BIL. We had a meeting at our sons boarding school in Gloucestershire and took O with us for the day, followed by a picnic in the pub in the evening with friends and their 3 year old boy.

Pull Court, Tewkesbury

The old stable block converted into the boarding house

The day we visited the farm was the wettest day we've had in ages, since we are currently living in Dubai, hence why the picnic was moved from lunchtime, which we had in Morrison's, to the pub in the evening.

Despite the rain and unsuitable footwear we saw geese, turkeys and chickens close up and cows, sheep and miniature ponies in the fields.

Our favourites were the pigs and as O called them 'proper, real, pink piggies with curly tails and big noses'

We had a small problem with folding the pushchair, you can see how much use I was in the pouring rain while hubby struggled with it for ages, almost abandoning it in the car park. You'll also notice that we forgot to put O in the car while we fought with the pushchair in the pouring rain. It's been a long time since we've parented anyone that small.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Don't just blog it, go and do it...Volunteer to make a difference.

I keep seeing what can only be described as 'jumping on the bandwagon' posts, tweets and Facebook updates.

It seems the whole world cares these days about every single issue.

A celebrity posts a photo of a hunter in Africa and the world jumps on board.

A newspaper publishes a photo of a boy, dead, washed up on the beach and everyone is writing about it and raising money by providing a link to a donation page to support the migrants who made it safely across the water.

A child goes missing or is murdered and the world stands still and asks how it could happen.

There's a Tsunami, a landslide, a bombing, 100's of people crushed. Everyday there is a news story about the plight of someone, a nation etc every single day.

Some stories become global, some are covered up, some never see the light of day.

But does 'jumping on the band wagon' when a story go global, actually help in anyway to change opinions, views, activities of individuals, groups, religion, countries or does it just raise awareness for a day, a few thousand pounds for a charity or just a case of having a clear out and donated unwanted items to a charity?

But what then? It simply becomes yesterday's news, tomorrow's chip papers and we all move back to our safe lives and await the next disaster.

I'm sure a lot of people feel better for it having reposted, made a donation or written a blog post with a donation link, but is it actually helping? changing lives long term or changing the way world behaves?

There have been many issues over the past few years that have touched my heart, made me think there for the grace of god go I. I did the ice bucket challenge and donated, I wrote a blog post. I had plenty of shares, comments and views but did my R200 actually make a difference to anyone's life? I have no idea, as I never went back to the organisation I donated to, to ask.

I've baked cakes for the Macmillan coffee morning, I've sponsored friends children to raise funds for their school/Children in Need but I've never asked, how my small donation added up with everyone else's, what the money was spent on? services or equipment? I have no idea.

So I stopped and I focused on supporting vulnerable children in South Africa. Yes I've asked for money for donations for a pushchair so a mother could take her disabled child with her to work so she didn't lose money. I've asked for money to buy sweets for children in informal settlements for Easter, money to bake cakes for a birthday or Christmas. I spent 4 years promoting a charity that collects and distributes over 100,000 gifts to disadvantaged children in South Africa, built and equipped a school a 2 hour drive west of Kruger National Park, helped locals in a search and rescue to find 3 boys swept away by floods. I've provided blankets for the needy in winter, helped women get into employment, trained teachers, painted shacks in local communities. I've supported an organisation with providing rape counselling.

Despite now living in Dubai, I've still supported these charities this year, making scarves and bags to sell to raise funds, blog posts and running social media accounts. I've raised funds from family and friends, but it just isn't enough.

Companies are ignoring me, charities won't work with me, jeez I can't even get a couple of online groups to RT me and promote the charity work I do. Why not? Because I don't tell individual's stories of their suffering, I don't post pictures of the vulnerable children or dare I say it I'm just NOT popular or influential for people to bother with me.

I'm not in it to look good, I'm not in it for the number of shares, likes and RT's on social media. I'm in it because this is what I do, support vulnerable children, raise funds (spend my own money) give my time, go back year on year to volunteer, support and just be there to help out in anyway I can.

I have a Go Fund Me page, I tried Just Giving, I've asked directly for donations and every penny and every item I've been given has gone directly to a child in need. Not one penny has been taken out for any kind of expense. I provide every receipt, I show you what was purchased and tell you where it was taken. Where I am allowed I will take a photo of the child/organisation to show you them with your donation, but they look happy in the pictures, because they are happy with the gift, they want to smile for the cameras and despite what you see in the media, poverty does not always mean upset.

I just know what else I can do, to make a bigger difference to the children and organisations I support other than just keep on giving them my time, which makes more of a difference to people's lives than it does 'jumping on the bandwagon' then moving onto the next 'popular' news item.

If anyone wants to know more about the projects I'm working on in South Africa in October and November please get in touch. In the meantime just give me shout out to my Go Fund Me page to see what I'm fundraising for and watch out for social media updates while I'm in South Africa to see how time given can actually change lives far more than just blogging about it.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Week 40 - My Sunday Photo and 1000th Blog Post

Today marks my 1000th blog post, which I started in October 2009, my first post was all about 'My week as a Dalek' and has gone on to describe family life as expats living in Africa and Asia and travel to Northern America and Europe.

I wanted something special to photograph today, something that sums up my blog and my life, something that describes my life 6 years on. My week is just as busy but with no kids at home or a job to go to. In many ways not much has changed, I still do daft things as my husband will vouch for.

This week I've been trying to book my flight to South Africa, I have very flexible dates and no preference of which airline I travel with. I have enough Avios with British Airways for the trip, but as BA don't fly directly from Dubai to Johannesburg, I have to fly via Heathrow making it a journey of 19 hours.

The whole purpose of my trip is to work with a couple of charities I was involved with in the 4 years I lived there and of course to catch up with some very dear friends. I've been trying to raise funds to support my charity work, but not my actual personal expenses. I have money saved up to spend in addition to my flight, accommodation, car hire and food, for various equipment and gifts for the places I will be visiting so the cheaper I can get my flight, the more spare cash I will have.

I'm struggling to understand how Emirates can charge me £587 If fly from Heathrow to Johannesburg and back again with the plane stopping over in Dubai. But if I travel from Dubai, getting on the same plane that has come in from Heathrow my flight would cost me £718. 

With other airlines I would have to fly the following return journey.

 Dubai - Seychelles - Johannesburg - Johannesburg - Abu Dhabi - Mumbai - Dubai

It's only 90 minutes by road from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, I would not be able to get off the plane in Abu Dhabi and my case wouldn't be returned to me, due to air regulations for travel.

I gave up trying to book my flight and tackled the house work instead, which took me most of the morning after the cat and dog ran through an open door straight over my still wet mopped lounge, hall, corridor and dining room.....grrrrrrrr.

Suffering with cabin fever and the air con drying out my skin and being extremely noisy, I walked to our local Starbucks and received a very interesting telephone call, which I'll tell you about later this week and one email with a request for more paid writing work.

I like My Sunday Photo to reflect the week I've had or the week ahead, but this today has caused me some confusion, the flights and the phone call. The flights I can work out the phone call will require a lot of thought, starting with do I stay with what I know, where I've finally become comfortable? do I take the plunge into something new? or do I return to what I do best?

Summing up my confusion. Nope, it's not an Ostrich.