Friday, 29 November 2013

Fight or Flight? What would you do?

I wrote a blog post which was published on Monday about How safe is South Africa?

Today we were victims of a crime and all the advice we have been given about maintaining our safety in South Africa went out the window and I experienced 'fight or flight'

I always said I would I would run the opposite direction and I'd let a thief take what they wanted to, to protect myself, but until you're actually put in that situation you really don't know what you'd do.

I fought back, I chased a thief.

MIL arrived from the UK this morning. We sat and drank coffee while waiting for hubbies flight from Dubai, which landed an hour later. We walked down to the parking lot, paid for the ticket and as we opened the boot a guy insisted on helping us with our luggage. We told him no, but he grabbed the cases and put them in the car, then he started rearranging the cases. I told him no more and gave him R5 to go away.

We closed the boot and got into the car, but something stopped me, made me check the boot.

My first thought was he had marked the car and was going to phone ahead to hijackers, to intercept us on our way out of the airport.
Then I noticed hubbies hand luggage case was unzipped on the side. I asked hubby if he had his passport, he said it was in the side pocket of his hand luggage.

As I closed the boot and looked towards where the man had gone, I saw him start to run. I yelled at hubby, 'he's stolen your passport' and before he could get out of the car, I'd taken chase.

I ran up the escalator, looked left and right and saw him at the top of the next escalator, I ran after him, out the door, across the 2 roads, towards the long stay car park and the hotels.

For a split second I thought about running into the police station, but I really didn't want to lose him and go through the hassle of replacing a passport.

As I caught up with him I grabbed him on the shoulder and yelled 'Give me my f***ing passport back, NOW'

He removed it from his jacket pocket and said he'd found it on the floor. I snatched the passport and yelled 'you f***ing liar, you stole it' and turned and ran to the police station.

It was only as I entered the building that fear spread over me like a big wave. He could've had a gun, this is South Africa, Johannesburg.

I had no control over my behaviour. I fought, it was a natural instinct, one that I will have to learn to supress.

If the incident was captured on CCTV it'll look like I was the one who committed the crime. I was so bloody angry.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

International travel


Joburg to the UK

As an expat I make frequent long haul trips to the homeland. I can’t always plan these trips in advance to take advantage of special offers or travel outside of holiday times. I can’t plan when the next heart attack will be that I need to return home for. So as a result trips tends to be booked last minute. Usually with around a weeks notice. I compare prices, take into consideration the routes, the length of time for a stop over. I don’t fancy 9 hours in Dubai airport even with the use of the Emirates lounge.

I usually fly emirates, as I can fly into Birmingham where a friend will collect and return me, but the downside of this is I’m in transit for 24 hours.

My last trip I had about 3 days notice that I was going and the only flight available in economy was with Virgin Atlantic, direct to Heathrow.  I flew with virgin direct last year and to be honest the thought of catching a tube into London and a 3 hour train trip to Malvern after an 11 hour flight, plus passport and collecting luggage didn’t appeal to me again. But having little choice unless I wanted a 12 hour wait in Cairo, I flew with Virgin.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with Virgin but I do prefer travelling with Emirates. For example on my last trip I was able to change my flight 3 times for less than £20 a time. Even if I have to catch a train from Birmingham its around £15 instead of £40+ from Heathrow as like I said I don’t always know when I’m flying to book train tickets in advance.

Already planning next years trip. I’ve just booked a one way ticket for my 1 yo who leaves SA in January and the 14yo flight is a return from SA so he flies back to school on January 10th and returns end of July.  They're flying with BA for the first time.
Hubby and I are planning to spend Christmas 2014 in the UK, so all I have to do now is book my Easter trip to the UK, but you never know what may happen between now and then so I’ll guess I’ll just stick till the last minute as always.

Monday, 25 November 2013

How safe is South Africa?

Well it all depends on where you go and what you do.

We live in a security estate set around a 18 hole golf course, when I look out my window I see houses, when I walk down the street I see grass, lakes and a river.

When I drive out of the estate I see security fences, barbed wire, electric fences, armed guards and have to pass through finger print checking and CCTV to access the outside. I hear gun shots/cars backfiring, you never know and rarely hear about it on local news.

But I don't notice the security anymore, I just live with it. I don't feel unsafe and have never felt in danger, but I do feel scared sometimes, I worry about car jacking, shootings, mine and my families safety, but I don't live in fear, I don't let these feelings/thoughts control or restrict my life.

I tell you I live in South Africa. It shocks most people that we would chose to come here, where crime is rife, murder is high, to what a lot of people perceive as one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

I volunteer, I visit townships, I drive alone, I drive at night. My 18 year old drives, goes to parties, bars. We go on holiday, we food shop, we pay the bills, we do everything that we did before, just in South Africa.

I haven't changed how I feel about living here, I've changed the way I live. Every day outside the estate is like being on holiday, except I'm not. I stop the car at the lights or a 4 way stop. I'm like a learner driver on the day of their test. I check the mirrors, big obvious looks in the mirrors. I'm making sure no one is approaching my car. But when they do they're usually trying to sell you car chargers, sponge bob square pants and hello kitty stuff. I keep my handbag under my seat, my phone in my pocket. I park in security car parks, centrally, not alone on the top floor, or the unlit corner. I put my shopping in the boot. Left it once on the front seat when I popped into another shop and some guy tried smashing my window for milk and bread. I put the food shop in the boot and another guy opened the passenger door, took the sat nav and camera out the glove box. I don't leave anything of value in the car. I only take out what I need.

I carry a handbag, a nice leather one. I'll use my laptop in a cafe. I will walk from the Mall out of the security area to another Mall and back to my car. I've observed others, I've asked locals if things are safe for me to do. They understand my questioning.

I go places many locals have never been, they've grown up in a different world to me, many are scared to leave their houses, many have left the country after violent crimes to themselves, family or friends, many leave due to the fear of violent crime, many can't understand why we came here.

But to me living here is no different from living in the UK, we lived in a nice, low crime area, we drove many miles to football matches, to visit family and friends, for day to day activities, we've been caught up on 2 occasions in violence at football matches, I've driven alone at night with my job in areas around Birmingham where I've felt scared, intimidated, I've had my car broken into, my hand bag snatched, a knife pulled on me many years ago by a 14yo in a youth club. But I accepted that as the norm, for what I did for a living, that was my life. I did my best to minimise the risks and that's just what I do here and now.


Sunday, 24 November 2013

What would you put in Room 101?

I was tagged in a Meme by Mediocre_mum, so long ago I've no idea of the link, but I thought I'd go ahead and post it anyway.
The reason it took so long to post is because I couldn't decide on just 3 things to go into the room.

The first thing I'd put into Room 101 are Laws and rules that don't mean anything.

‘It is against the law to smoke in this hotel room, anyone found to be smoking with be charged xxxxxx for cleaning of the room’

No sorry that’s hotel policy surely. I thought if it was against the law then at some point the authorities should be informed or have I been misinformed?
And as for rules, your rules, rules that don't matter, about what you must hashtag something, use no words with your picture, only link up if I let you. Refusal to publish comments that don't make you look good and even remove other people's points of view, well you're heading for Room 101 along with the pointless laws.

The second thing I'd put in Room 101 is self proclaimed experts...yes you.

People who write blogs about how to do things the correct way. Now I like to post recipes and some of my crafts and yes I do give step by step guides on 'how to' but I don't claim to be an expert. I consider myself just sharing what I've learnt from trial and error and experience. I detest the blog posts from people who call themselves 'Social Media Experts' you get paid to do the job and I'll listen to your advice. You try telling me 'how to blog in exchange for a few freebies, followers or even worse 'how to make money off your blog' and I'm afraid you're going into Room 101.

The third and final thing I'd like to put in Room 101 for now are 'band wagon jumpers.'

Oh look a controversial tweet/face book comment/forum and they feel it's compulsory to write a blog post on the subject. You don't fool me, you're only doing it to try and raise your audience. Fair enough if it's a campaign, I've taken part in them, but seriously 'jumping on the band wagon because you see it's a popular discussion usually means it's run it's course anyway.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

How do you braai?

Another weekend and another opportunity to invite friends round and to have a Braai.

But how do South Africans Braai? Well some swear by wood, others by coals, all seem to have their favourite way of doing things and keen to share their hints and tips with you. But what about the protocols of holding or attending a braai?

Give me strength, there are no set rules. Well none I can find anyway.

In the UK if you invite someone round for a BBQ and they say 'can I bring anything' you usually reply...'No, its all organised' and you end up with left overs for a week. Your guest will usually turn up with a bottle of wine or maybe some flowers.

In South Africa things are different.

We've been invited to Braais where the host has added 'please bring your own meat/drinks'

We've been invited to Braais where the host has added 'please don't bring anything'

We've been invited to Braais and asked 'can we bring anything?' and the host has responded with 'bring meat/drinks/ice/swimsuit'

So how do we issue our Braai invite?

'Would you like to come for a Braai' 'Must I bring anything?' 'Yes, your own meat, we will supply the rest oh and maybe some ice'

I'm not sure if we're doing it right, but to date it seems to have worked ok.

We had a Braai in January with 20+ people. One woman turned up with a cooler box, her own chair, all her own food, including crockery, a bottle of gin, tonic water and a sharp knife to cut a lemon slice, she even brought an individual desert.


Friday, 22 November 2013

Help save the Rhinos.

#RhinoFriday What do you know about it and what use is a hashtag?

I saw this update on my face book this morning by Africa, this is why I live here. One of my biggest pet hates is posts that say 'like this if you care' I don't see how they do anything, I know it raises awareness and gets people talking, but we need to get people doing things not just discussing how terrible it all is.

So at the suggestion of 'Africa, this is why I live here' and less than 2 weeks ago we went to Pilanesberg for a day safari and were stopped by Rangers for a spot search of our vehicle to ensure we weren't carrying a rifle. We discovered only 4 days later 2 Rhinos were mindlessly killed for their horns which have no medicinal properties what so ever, that's 848 this year so far.

I emailed Albi Modise – Chief Director: Communications/Spokesperson at National Department of Environmental Affairs
requesting the department consider making Rhinos a protected species to save them from extinction.
Feel free to cut and paste into your own email. It takes a few minutes and could stop this mindless and pointless murder of such a wonderful animal.

'It is clear that Rhino's need to be made a protected species. With 848 poached in South Africa to date, with figures doubling year on year, the time has come to step up and outlaw this poaching. Education is needed so people understand there are no medicinal properties in Rhino horn and their senseless slaughter is barbaric.

A zero tolerance policy must be enforced and those caught poaching along with those issuing the orders must be named and shamed for the world to see'

I'll leave you with a selection of Rhino's I have photographed in Kruger, Pilanesburg and Reitvlei.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

How do you deal with a child when they lose a loved one?

For most children their first experience of death is usually a family pet. I assume that the death of a pet is a life lesson for them; why else would we buy hamsters? They only live for 2-3 years so it’s inevitable that they will experience this by the time they are 5 years of age.

Children today are also exposed to the fictional deaths of soap characters and of famous people when their death is announced on the TV, radio and in newspapers. As parents though it is our responsibility to restrict and monitor what they are exposed to.

I don’t recall the effect of the death of any family pets, we always had cats, I do remember my Mother spending hours looking for them when they went missing but I was never exposed to the reality of it. My Mother used to tell me that the cattle and sheep in the Lorries on the motorways were on their way on holiday or off to market and I admit I told my children the same rather than deal with the truth.

My exposure to death until I was 24 was my friend’s parents dying, kids from my school in tragic car accidents and people that I had cared for when I worked for SCOPE. My Mothers Mum died aged 93, she had been ill for a long time, I did not have a close relationship with her, but I was very upset of the effect it had on my Mother. Over the following years until I was 34, I dealt with the deaths of many pets with the children. I was upset for the kids; I was also devastated by my lack of ability to console them over it. My youngest child was so upset when his hamster died; he stood by the grave under an umbrella in the rain for around 3 hours until he cried himself to sleep.

As with most things in life you cannot appreciate the effect of something until you experience it and in 2005 my Dad’s Mother, died. My Grandmother was admitted to hospital on the day of her 92nd birthday with a minor heart attack and she died 4 weeks later of lung cancer.

I took the children to visit her in the hospital, she was still walking around, and looking after the other old dears for the first 2 weeks and the hospital staff advised I should bring the children in to visit while my Gran was still as she would want to be remembered.

I couldn’t deal with looking after my youngest then aged 6, so it was agreed he wouldn’t come to the funeral. Two weeks later though he was having nightmares and said Grandma was visiting him in his room at night and he wanted to say goodbye so she could go to heaven with his hamster.

We took him to the Crematorium and walked him through the funeral service and into the garden of remembrance, so he could see for himself where Grandma had gone. The following year the children’s grandfather, on their dad’s side, died. It took place at a crematorium also and the youngest child was able to grieve and say a proper good bye.


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

How do I get SSE to sort this out for me?

After the tenants

Sorting out the gas and electric

As the tenants were in debt with the utilities they were put on a meter to recover costs at £6.00 per week. I didn’t ask for this, nor was I notified, but to change it back and to be able to get the electric and gas back on I had to prove I owned the house by providing a copy of the deeds. I had to get my mum and dad to drive from Monmouth to Malvern with a copy and then spend £20.00 on the mobile phone and walk round the shop twice, once to clear their debt then the second time to load credit onto the account. By the time I’d completed this task and begged the local shop to let me pay by card as I’d withdrawn my cash allowance for the day to pay the locksmith, was 4 hours later.

To put the gas and electric back onto the meter I have to pay £52.00 and have a credit check run on me. Erm bit difficult that as I haven’t lived in the UK for nearly 3 years and I don’t see why I should have to pay for something I didn’t request to MY property. So when my new tenants move in and wish to have constant power supplied to the house without topping up I’ll have to refund the costs to them, which TBH, just isn’t fair.

In the meantime I’m back in South Africa and we are trying to rent the property out. As you know it’s rather cold in the UK right now and the rental agents need to put the boiler on frost setting and the last viewing was done by torch light.

I need to put the electric and gas back on a meter. It’s ridiculous the efforts I’ve gone to, to sort this out. I’ve just tried calling them and after a few minutes I realised it’ll cost me much more than the £20 that I spent sorting it out the first time.

*As of todays date December 4th, I can now confirm that the Electric and Gas have been transferred from PAYG back to a meter, in time for our new tenants who move into the property in 2 days.
Thank you SSE for responding to my blog and tweets when the usual channels failed to respond.

South Africans say Sorry.... a lot.


I wish the rest of the world could learn by this. OK that maybe a big leap but we could start closer to home with family and friends.

Sorry isn’t an admission of guilt, it’s a word people can use to express an emotion, that they are feel for the person, acknowledgement they’ve caused a disruption, a confusion, an inconvenience, hurt both physical and emotional.

Sorry is NOT an admission of guilt. If it were then we’d be suing our own kids having forced them to say sorry for doing something then making them feel guilty about it till the next misdemeanour.

Every day someone says sorry to me.

I trip, bump into a door, drop something, sneeze even and there is always someone around to say ‘sorry’ at first it annoyed me as a Brit, ‘what are you saying sorry for?’ you didn’t do anything, then I realised that South Africans mean they are sorry that happened to you.

It’s called compassion.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Apart from a bit of driving across Europe and a road trip on the west coast of America I’ve only ever driven on the left hand side of the road. On arrival in South Africa it was one of those things that I never gave any consideration to and was pleasantly surprised to discover they drove the same side as us in the UK. Make sure if you have a foreign licence it's translated into English.

The speed limit in SA is 120km and there are fixed and portable cameras everywhere. We’ve all had speeding fines now, caught on camera and the advice is ‘don’t pay it’ well we ignore the advice and have paid all 3. There’s a  50% reduction if you pay within 32 days but it usually takes 2-3 months before you receive your notification and we just pay the 50%.

I’d strongly advise that if you get stopped by police with a mobile camera you accept the fine and follow the instructions for payment. Apparently you can just bribe a police man and he’ll make it go away, I’d strongly advise you don’t do this. Everyone who tells you that, when pushed further, will admit they’ve never offered a bribe, but a friend of the friend’s cat told them about it.

The rules of the road are similar, keep left, and pass right, the use of mobile phones whilst driving is illegal. These are ignored by most, people weave frequently in the traffic and I’m afraid to say I also do this, usually to avoid crashing into the back of a stationary vehicle in the outside lane.

There are no official rules about vehicle maintenance and the only time a car is required to have one is at point of sale. There are too many vehicles on the roads without working lights, wipers, indicators and bald tyres. Accidents are frequent and can involve numerous deaths in double figures.
Sights like this are common and it’s usually the sheer volume of people in the back that prevent them falling out.

Navigation is via GPS, people often give out GPS coordinates which rarely reflect their actual physical address and can take you through townships and off road rather than around, so always check the route before you travel. The first journey I made with the GPS it yelled ‘warning’ and displayed a picture of skull and crossbones at the junction. At areas of hijacking risks, police will sit in their cars with lights flashing as a deterrent. Police also drive with their blue light on which I still find confusing. Driving past townships in the day light is safer although best to avoid 1st thing in the morning and late afternoon, this is because of the number of taxi’s (mini buses) probably the most unsafe vehicle on the roads ,due to as I mentioned before, no road vehicle checks.

People here navigate by road names not a letter and number apart from the national Roads, N1, N2, N3 etc. The Municipality roads are known by their names and have recently under gone a name change in Pretoria, making it a constant adjustment for me, when people give me directions.

There’s no public transport in Gauteng apart from the Gautrain and the local buses that service the station, the first time I went to use it I discovered I had to have a card and have it pre loaded, similar to an oyster card, no cash is taken on the journey, you just scan in and out. It was very expensive and took me far longer to get to the airport than the car would’ve, plus valet parking at the airport is exceptional value.

One of my favourite things about driving here are the storms and the power outages. This often means the robots aren’t working. Robots are traffic lights and work slightly differently to what I’m used to. They change from red straight to green, missing out the amber light. When there is a power outage and the lights fail as they do often, the roads turn into 4 way stops, please note most people treat roundabouts and traffic circles as a 4 way stop and at busy times of the day OUTsurance manage the flow of traffic.

It’s always best to do your windows up at the lights and 4 way stops, not so much to do with safety but to stop endless people selling you useless items and begging for money and food. I like to put my sun glasses on and remain aloof. Try not to fall for the classic trick when someone points at the front of your car and you open your window to hear what they’re saying, before you know it a Hello kitty sunshade will be thrust upon you.

I drive at night, but it’s not something I’d recommend you doing unless you know the area well and stick to the main roads, even if it does take slightly longer. You must stop at a red light at night, if you feel unsafe and have checked the road is clear, and then proceed but you will need to prove you felt unsafe if you get a ticket. People told me after 11pm I can ignore the red lights and drive straight through, but again they got this info from a friend of their cat.

Don’t stop to pick anyone up or to help anyone who has broken down, this can be tricks used in hijacking. A few weeks ago a guy tried to flag me down, I swerved and drove past. I drove straight into a high jacking and shooting that had gone wrong, the police turned me round fairly quickly.
Don't forget to stay in your car at the fuel pump. They fill your car for you as apparently it's not safe to do it yourself.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Is a joint bank account actually joint?


I ask this because when we moved to South Africa I informed Lloyds TSB by calling into the branch of a change of correspondence address. I was informed to complete a form online which I did and sent off to the appropriate address. A while later my husband received a letter from them informing him that I had done this and did he give his permission (or words to that affect) he was then required to complete a form online also.

The reason I’m thinking about this now is that for 2 years we’ve been trying to change the correspondence address for joint HSBC account also.

The offshore banking part is still sent to the old address. Bank statements are online and a policy in my name only is sent to the new address, but on a recent trip to the UK we both visited HSBC to sort this out once and for all. The Premier Manager changed the correspondence address for my investment account, she also tried to update the joint account details and said she would need to manually enter the details, but when she went into hubbies investment account it automatically changed all the joint account details we have with them to the new correspondence address.

We queried why this had happened with hubbies details and not with mine and were informed he was first named on the accounts therefore it only altered when they amended his details.

It has left me wondering is this purely an alphabetical thing as his name begins with P and mine with S? or is it plain and simple he’s the man, it’s in his name and even in the 21st Century that I as a woman still need his permission?

In South Africa this is definitely the case I had to have his permission to open an account with Nedbank as joint account aren’t available and he has to sign for all utility bills, insurances, rental agreements etc.


Sunday, 17 November 2013

Are you posh, a snob or a misfit?

I'm too posh for burger king, but not posh or old enough for M&S

At any and every function I go to I either spill food down my top or I've eaten the nibbles in one mouthful just as someone comes up to introduce themselves or even worse I have greasy hands from eating the crisps as they offer theirs to shake.

I cant get this air kissing right, is it 1, 2 or 3 is it on the check or in the air? does the man lead? What happens if its a woman greeting you or you them?

Holidays have always been a nightmare, take Turkey for example 4 kids plus me and Peter meant we had to have 2 apartments, which in turn meant that it wasn’t in the best part of the resort due to the price and what we could afford, I should have known what we were in for when we flew from Gatwick and the men and sons were in matching football tops with matching beer bellies and the women were giant pink velour 10pm agadoo blared out the stereos and ‘the first person back with granny's bra gets a free drink’ how I long for the hotel on the beach, sophisticated and relaxed, but id probably be bored and would have nothing to moan about.

Every time I stay in a hotel there's either a 2am fire alarm going off, or drunken yobs on a hen/stag do or the constant ringing of next doors telephone. I enter a hotel looking like a bag lady, always take or buy too much stuff, clutter up reception, discover my booking form is in my suitcase and have to unpack it all to get it out. The handles will break on my Primark/Pound store carrier bag and the contents spill out


Is there an etiquette book? Should I write one?

You know the one with instructions on how to handle your self on a first meeting, how to travel realistically and sophisticated...not the guides in the glossy mags on how to travel light with one LBD and accessories to change from beach to evening wear in one go...they're not realistic I shall always pack too many shoes and clothes even for an overnight stay.

Why isn’t it a good look to go into Prada with my Primark bag, I know, they know I cant afford anything but do they have to look so snotty nosed at me...'Guess what love? you’re working in the shop, you cant afford it either, even with your staff discount.'


Saturday, 16 November 2013

When I grow up I want to be like you

As a young mum with 3 kids, working a variety of jobs as a youth worker, care assistant, bar maid and in a chip shop doing anything and everything to pay the mortgage, working around my ex husbands shifts, going without holidays and trying to keep an ancient car on the road, no sky TV or game consoles, scrimping on the shopping and as for nights out, they were a no go.

I used to look at couples in their 40s with kids at Uni or that had left home and never thought for one minute that it may have been difficult for them. I hadn’t seen them working their way up the ladder, I just saw them as lucky and assumed that they had always been in that position.

I asked  a friends mum one day if kids really cost that much and was it because they had now left home that they had foreign holidays, wore designer clothes, owned a car each and their house was decorated beautifully.

She replied that she saw herself in me, she was reminded of the leaner years, the financial difficulties faced with raising a young family, when they ate jam sarnies and took the kids camping in a borrowed tent.

I asked her what her secret was and she replied…just sheer hard work, a joint effort, not worrying about how other people lived, not trying to compete with others therefore not getting into debt. Never turning down an opportunity and of course after 25 years the mortgage was paid off, she’d been able to study and develop a career as the last of her children went to school, how her husband had worked up through the company and how they'd supported each other.

Yet I still didn’t see how that could all happen to me, when the time would come that I would be in a similar position with other people assuming I don’t know what it’s like to struggle or to go without, unable to provide the little luxuries.
I'm no longer in touch with this woman, but I think about her words often, I'd love to just pop back to the UK and find her to say 'thank you' and that I wish I'd just chilled out more about it all.
If you want it, you can have it, you can aim high, it doesn’t matter if you fall short of your goal, if you don’t aim high you’ll never get anywhere.

I aimed high, my kids aim high, sometimes we fail and I see others taking delight, I see others with that look of ‘been there, done that’  on their face.

My ‘high’ isn’t the same as yours, or anyone else's, I don’t look down on you, that’s your perception, I want more from life and I sure as hell going to make sure I get it.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Don’t feel you fit in, well look around you at all the other misfits.


So many blog posts and tweets about not fitting in, my heart could break. Most of these to do with the school gates.

Why do you want to look like the ‘perfect mum’ slim, designer clothing, ballerina daughter and football playing son?

Do you think their life is perfect? Do you think they’re honest with the others? Do you consider their marriage may be unhappy, that everything they own is on credit and every month they worry about getting the house repossessed? Do you assume they own their own house and the cars? They may rent and lease.

Do you not think that they may envy you, your confidence to arrive at school without your make up on and wearing casual clothes while they go to work in a job they hate, are under pressure with, just to keep afloat because they don’t want to appear to be a failure.

You know they way they look at you and you assume their looking down their nose at you, thinking ‘what a failure’ I don’t want to be like that, have you considered they may be thinking. ‘why can’t I be more like that?’ natural, real and just myself.

And while you’re going home after the school run thinking you don’t fit in, did you stop and take in how many other people there were in the playground, like you stood on their own, maybe thinking the same thing, but about you, not the ones you’re aspiring to be like.

I’ve spent years in the school playgrounds, joining the PTA, even running it for 2 years, my school playground has involved 5 primary school playgrounds, 2 at private schools and 1 of those in a different country. Village, town and City schools and do you know what? I never fitted in anywhere. I tried. I failed. And as time went on I actually didn’t care. There may have been some that looked up at me and thought ‘why can’t I be like that, there may have been some that looked at me and thought ‘what a mess’ but do you know what. None of it matters, because your kids leave school, they make their own friends.

Good friends are made through common interests and I’m afraid the fact they you all have children just isn’t enough of a shared interest.



Thursday, 14 November 2013

The true costs of bad tenants

So here goes, 4 hours later and I've complied all the costs and evidence for my solicitor to attempt to claim damages and costs from the tenants, guarantor and rental agent.

The guarantor is only responsible for costs to the date the tenants left the property, in terms of outstanding rent. The tenants cannot be located and professionals have been hired to track them down. I cannot go into detail too much re the rental agents as I'm pursuing this matter either through my solicitor and/or the small claims court other than to highlight where I feel they've mismanaged the property.

Rent was not collected from November 2012 till I noticed in February 2013 having checked the UK bank accounts. It was then I realised that all payments had been made 2-3 weeks late and not once had the agents enforced the contract by charging an additional 10% for late payments, they however continues to take their 10% management fees on time up to and including after the eviction notice was served. They also gave the tenants 3 months notice instead of the 2 requested. When the tenants finally left after a costly trip to the UK to carry out the eviction procedure myself, I was informed by the neighburs and not the agent, who on entering the property called me to say 'the house was inhabitable and would require fumigating' yet his last inspection report in February 2013 stated 'light cleaning required' only. I was also informed by the agent that the house could not be re marketed while the tenants were in situ due to 'unwillingness of the tenants and the state of the house' yet the last inspection report in February 2013 stated the house required 'light cleaning only'

You can check out the other blog posts here, herehere, here and here with photos showing the extent of the damage and the efforts I went to, to evict the tenants.

Now it can be said we received money for 2 years, which we did, but we had a mortgage to pay, whilst renting a property in South Africa and UK tax to pay. We spent nearly 2000.00 GBP getting the house ready for the rental market and maintained the property during the rental period.

Our actual out of pocket costs are just under 2000.00 GBP, but if you see the list below you'll realise what it whole experience has actually cost and don't forget we carried out all the work, from cleaning to repainting and fixing holes in walls.

My costs to date are as follows:

Outstanding rent       1,900.00 GBP    June and July
                                      245.16 GBP    Aug 1- 8
Rent time house           704.84 GBP     Aug 9 -31
empty due to work        823.33 GBP    Sept 1-26
being done for re renting

Professional cleaning and repairs 
                                       943.15 GBP
Cleaning materials and DIY
                                        380.88 GBP
Personal costs inc phone, transport, postage
                                         433.93 GBP
Replacement to damaged and stolen items
                                          537.42 GBP

Return flights from the UK to evict tenants and carry out work
                                          19635.00 ZAR approx 1309.00 GBP

Total costs                         7277.71
minus deposit                      755.00

Outstanding                       6522.71

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Viva Foundation Christmas Party and Santa Shoebox

Please help the Viva Foundation celebrate Christmas with the children at Pretoria Zoo on
November 30th from 9qm - 3pm.

The Viva Foundation of South Africa Family Day (OVC & HIV/AIDS Programme) is another charity I support in South Africa. I cannot begin to explain to you the work they do in the community, I would not do them justice, so please click here to their website for more information.

Last years Celebration day was one of the best experiences I've had to date in South Africa, followed by an amazing weekend camping at The Alaska Informal Settlement in Mamelodi with The Viva Arts Foundation.

If you're not able to attend on the day, maybe you would like to sponsor a child for the day. Contact Meleney for further info.

Volunteer Info Zoo Trip

The Viva Christmas Family Day for Orphans and Vulnerable Children will take place at the Pretoria Zoo this year, on the 30th of November 2013. We want to take 100 children and 50 youths and care-givers to the Zoo and need volunteers to assist.


9:00 Volunteers arrive at the Zoo (own transport and entrance fee R 66 per person)

Setting up and preparations for arrival of children

Handing out snack packs, caps and forming small groups with 1 volunteer each

Volunteers take the children on a zoo walk, answer their questions, take care of them

12:30 Volunteers bring children back to the communal area for lunch & serve them

13:00 Santa’s Shoebox Gift Hand-out

15:00 Volunteers assist in bringing the children back to the bus/taxis

For Directions click here










Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Help support babies in Mamelodi

After a dispute with management a women is alleged to have mixed poison into baby food at a facility in Pretoria. The babies were rushed to hospital with sickness, runny toilet and were crying. The facility has now closed down and the babies removed and taken to The SOS Children’s Villages Mamelodi which is one of the facilities that we support at Santa Shoebox.
They received 20 babies yesterday from the Department of Welfare. The SOS Children's Villages do not normally have babies and are therefore in desperate need of supplies.

PLEASE ASSIST THEM! They are in need of: • Bottles • Formula • Porridge • Toiletries (Baby soap, Baby oil; Vaseline, bum creams; bath soap; shampoo, lotions) • Wet wipes, Nappies • Medicines (Panado; Calpol; pediatric probiflora ) • Baby Clothes • Any other items that may be useful to care for babies.

Sadly events like this are becoming more common, or maybe they're just being reported more often.

For donations directly into the SOS Children’s Village Mamelodi Bank Account the account details are as follows:
Account Name: SOS Mamelodi Village
Bank Name:       Nedbank
Branch Name:   Randburg Branch          
Branch code:      198 405
Account No:       1984 323 555
Name of Donor:
Reference:         Baby
If you who have contact with potential corporate or retail supporters who would be able to assist us to provide products to care for these babies, please connect them.
Contact Leigh: +27 (0)11 234 8708 / or Lizo: +27 (0)12 801 1737 /

What happens when a celebration day goes wrong?

With a car full of decorations and cakes I headed off one of the santa shoebox celebrations.
A few things happened today that I'm thankful for.
Due to a change of staff and one of our volunteers being overseas they were unaware I was coming today, so the children were not disappointed when I discovered the cartons had not been delivered.

A slight panic and thought that 108 shoe boxes had been stolen but turns out they'd been delivered to another facility some 100km north.

The facility received the boxes last Wednesday, they only have 54 children and were surprised when the boxes turned up they just handed them out to everyone. Their application to receive had not been successful, do I guess all their Christmas happened at once.

It happened because the wrong address was taken off the data base, accidents happen, but what about my 108 children now without a Christmas gift?

Well as it happens a local school had been collecting all year and happen to have 130 care boxes that we can just add clothes too, rearrange the celebration day so the school can come and see where their boxes went and the volunteer who's facility it is will be back in the country and attend the celebration.

Just what do I do with 100+ cakes? 

Monday, 11 November 2013

Day Safari to Pilanesburg

Heading North on the N1 from Pretoria, armed with binoculars, food, drink, maps and animal/bird identifying books we drove for 2 hours to Pilanesberg National Park. Since our last visit in February, a fuel stop has opened on the N4 after the first toll and apart from a fuel stop and small complex of shops at Sun City, a few miles from Pilanesberg, there are no other stops on route. All that lies in between are mines to the right and the view of the Magaliesberg Mountains to the left.

Our first stop is at the Manyane Gate for breakfast and toilets. There is a camp site here which we'll explore one day, a small under stocked gift shop, another reminder to take everything you need with you. You can also book night drives from here should you stay over. There are several other sites offering accommodation in and around the park.

Entrance to the National Park is R20 per car and R65 per person, concessions for pensioners and children is R20 each and you certainly get more than your monies worth. You'll be asked to if you are carrying any weapons and I never tire of adding 'why? do I need one?'

The guide book is priced at R30 and as well as a map, it contains information on the animals and birds you'll see there as well as the history of the park. Pilanesberg is an extinct volcano, one of only 3 alkaline ones in the world and at its original height of 7000 meters it was a rival for Kilimanjaro. There is evidence of the Middle Stone Age, the Iron Age and more recently a court house after it's town and people were relocated in the 1980's and 6000 animals (22 species) were released into the newly formed park.

Pilanesberg is the nearest National Park to Pretoria where you can guarantee to spot the Big 5. Elephant, Rhino, Leopard, Cape Buffalo and Lion. I've yet to see them all though in one trip.

The speed limit for the Park is 40km but to view the best game a speed of 20km is recommended, so don't expect to cover the whole park in one visit.

Having made our way from the easy gate we head towards the Zebra Crossing, a recently refurbished rest stop, with restaurant, shop and souvenir stalls and toilets. We meander on the tarmac roads and off road routes, plotting our drive from one watering hole to the other. We drive a 4x4 but see people in small cars, but I'd not recommend leaving the Tarmac without a 4x4. In my opinion October/November is the best time of year for viewing game. The rains haven't really started yet and you can see so much further without the dense green grass, bushes and trees, however spotting lion and antelopes with their camouflage is a tricky job. At this time of year with water being so scarce, the animals are more likely to locate nearer the watering holes and this time of year they have their young.

At all the hides there is running water and flushing toilets and these facilities are also offered at numerous picnic sites in the park.

We picnic at Fish Eye which is elevated offering spectacular views of the park. The concrete benches and braai areas are nestled under the trees, providing shade and drinking water from stand pipes is on offer.

We then slowly make our way to the south gate, making sure we arrive back before the park closes. I did get locked in once and had to wait an hour to get out.

Every time we visit we see something new. This visit was a check point to search vehicles for signs of rhino poaching. 

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Has the Santa Shoebox ended yet?

It's been over a month since I last blogged and guess what it was about? Santa Shoebox that's what.

Since I returned from the UK late September all I've done is Santa Shoebox, it's been a full time job and I've loved every minute of it.

The 3 drop off days passed in a blur as we ran between 2 centres managing over 8000 boxes donated from the public. Each and every boxed was checked to ensure all liquids were zip locked and a PEP carrier bag was added. I lost count of the number of times I said 'Don't forget to include a PEP bag, they are our main sponsors'

Every box was then scanned and packed into cartons according to facility delivery dates and then collected by Laser Logistics and stored in a Warehouse in Johannesburg until delivery.

My house has been full of boxes and supplies for the past month. We received endless second hand donations on top of all the boxes and fillers, which have all found a new home. The extra sweets, biscuits and chips donated will be used for Celebration days and any additional items will be stored for next year.

This is my third year with Santa Shoebox. Click here to find out more about them. In total the whole of South Africa received 117020 but you'll see from the website that 119163 boxes were pledged. A shortfall of 2143 boxes.

In Pretoria we made an additional 250 boxes to ensure a whole facility didn't miss out, then we volunteered to help a drop off in Jo'burg with another 250 boxes. A donation from Monte Casino started us off and a plea on the SSB face book page yielded the rest of the donations. A team of volunteers have been working from my garage, packing stationery, sweets, toys and I've been receiving donations at the house for over a week now and tonight we pack and wrap the missing boxes, which then have to be allocated to the individual facilities. A mammoth job when you consider that Gauteng collected over 51,000 boxes over a week which are all stored in a warehouse.

The celebration days start soon. I'm afraid they're won't be many photo's due to safety issues protecting the many vulnerable children, but if you like the Santa shoebox face book page and Kungwini Welfare Organisation on twitter and face book where I update, you'll be able to see some of the children receiving their boxes this year.

The Santa shoebox Pretoria team gathers at mine in a few weeks with partners and kids for a braai, a few drinks and a chance to catch up on our success this year. We take a break in December and January before starting the whole process again in February, when the whole Santa Shoebox process starts again. Confirming/finding a venue for drop off days. Visiting facilities, finding new facilities, vetting that they qualify to receive. collating names and age lists, managing the process

1st comes gathering all of last years left over donations and shopping for boxes for family and friends in the UK.

Two weeks before drop off donors are sought, boxes are wrapped and we try to get the pledges. Keeping faith that that 2000 donors will come forward and pledge a box.

Training to volunteers is delivered and drop off starts.

But it doesn't stop there, there is all this to clean up, store, make 'magic boxes' for additional children that turn up, plus all the boxes not pledged and no shows to pack.

This is my 3rd year with SSB and I've loved every minute of it. Keep popping back here to see some Celebration photos.