Thursday 28 August 2014

Judas Scar by Amanda Jennings – Book review

I hate reading books that make me think. I like to switch off, usually preferring ‘chick lit’ and crime novels, where there is a conclusion, no matter how ridiculous. But this book made me think, it made me want to know more, it’s left me thinking about Will and Harmony’s future and can’t help but think it won’t be a happy one.

I read Sworn Secrets, Amanda’s 1st novel and you can read the review here.

Judas Scar revisits the past, raking up memories of boarding school that Will thought and hoped he had left firmly behind him. Combined with problems in his marriage, the apparent accidental, meeting with Luke, his old school friend, to his wife Harmony which appears to cause an irreparable rift in his marriage.

Will never dealt with his past, his child hood, his relationship with his Father, what he witnessed at boarding school and it has damaged his present and his future. Believing he can live a normal life without realizing how the past has shaped his present.

Cover ups, lies and deception weave through the plot with each character justifying the decisions they made, both in the past and in the present, leading to a death, an arrest, a cover up to prevent fraud coming to light and a reconciliation that left me wanting to know more, pondering how Will and Harmony’s marriage and future could possibly survive the decisions they have made.

Communicating the 'Old Fashioned Way' by letter

I question I get asked a lot when I'm out either drinking coffee or sitting on a bench in a mall is 'Excuse me, are you writing letters?' usually followed by a conversation about how they wished people would write more rather than email or face book and when I suggest maybe they should just write a letter and see what happens, it is usually answered with 'I don't have the time/I don't know what to write'

I'm always writing letters, sending post cards, even when we go on a day trip, but I write far more than I ever receive. There are 3 reasons for this.

1. The post is stolen or binned.
2. Some people seem to think that a 'like' on face book when tagged to say a letter is on the way is communication.
3. Something I hear when asked 'why don't you write back?' is 'I've nothing to say' Well say that then on a postcard, at least I know you've made an effort.
There's nothing more upsetting than having waited 2 weeks to visit the post box to discover it empty and I know I get THAT look from the staff when I check the box sometimes daily on the off chance someone has written me a letter.

I keep every letter written to me since we've been in South Africa, it's a diary of our time here and while not interesting for anyone else right now, maybe in a 100 years it will be. I also add a photo copy of every letter I write back.

I carry a selection of pens and note paper, post cards and stamps in my handbag, as I'm always 'in the middle' of writing a letter to someone.

My Mother writes and we phone weekly, we also chat on face book nearly every day. I send letters, postcards, small gifts back to the children in the UK, the 19yo always acknowledges, but then we chat daily, like I do with my Mother. I have 2 pen pals I met on twitter, One I met 4 years ago, just the once, the other I've yet to meet. We exchange letters with on a regular basis and we also chat on twitter and face book. Sometimes it is difficult to find something to write about that hasn't already been read in a blog post, so these letters are a bit more personal. There are other tweeters I write to and write back, unfortunately letters seem to go missing when leaving or arriving in South Africa and it has become a bit of a challenge to see what gets through and that's half the fun sometimes.

The next batch of letters are being sent back to the UK with they youngest child next week, every time anyone leaves South Africa they are given a pile of post to take with them.

Even before life as an expat, I wrote, sent cards, visited the older generation with a physical photo album.

Do you still write letters? Send birthday cards? Post cards? or do you prefer to use email? Social Media? Send E cards?

How do you communicate with people who don't use the internet, the older generation? Like Aunty Mary for instance?

Am I on my own here?

Wednesday 27 August 2014

‘Do you agree that teens should wait until they are at least 18 before drinking alcohol?

@SABreweries asked ‘Do you agree that teens should wait until they are at least 18 before drinking alcohol? Join the conversation #SAB18plus’

There are many opposing answers to this question, the law in South Africa says that No alcohol is to be drunk or purchased by under 18’s. In the UK this law differs and states that Children over the age of 5 may consume alcohol at a private venue.

We have never given permission for our children to drink alcohol at any age and even as adults we still advise on the amount they consume.

We have allowed our children to taste alcohol in the home; we often have a glass of wine with dinner, a beer and have parties where larger amounts of alcohol are drunk. But what we don’t do is give our children their own alcohol to drink. Once child 3 of 5, then aged 13, asked to taste some of hubbies wine, he took a small sip, spat it out over the carpet and sofa, he then shuddered and drunk copious amounts of water, it was Port. Child 2 of 5 used to tell us he had been offered alcohol by friend’s parents when he had visited, but had declined it, as he knew we would make contact with the adults, read the riot act and probably embarrass him in front of his friends.

On holiday this week, I ordered a cocktail, a Blue Lagoon, it contains vodka, curacao and lemonade, it was garnished with an umbrella, slice of pineapple and the rim of the glass was coated with a pink sugar. The teen, child 5 of 5, aged 15, without warning, took a large sip through the straw and declared ‘this is nice, is it mine?’ to which I replied ‘no it’s not, it’s alcohol’ he informed me it didn’t taste like alcohol, he’d tasted our wine and beer in the past and decided that it was disgusting’

There is no such thing as ‘soft alcohol’ an ‘introduction to alcohol’ as many of my friends have said about letting their children drink at home and at parties.

Cocktails and drinks with fruits in them don’t always taste of alcohol and the drinker is unaware of how much they are consuming. As an adult I find that I drink these types of drinks, quicker and more often as I cannot taste the alcohol content, as an adult if I am misled by the amount of alcohol I am consuming then I don’t think under 18’s can be aware, especially if their parents say it is OK to do so, what happens when their parents aren’t there?

6 reasons why you must visit St Lucia, KZN. South Africa

We travel a lot as a family, being expats and hubby with his work, but what we haven’t done for a very long time is just travel to one place as a family for a relaxing holiday. Holidays over the past 4 years have been visiting family in the UK and car trips for long weekends in Durban, the train to Cape Town and last year was from Joburg to Durban, the coast to Port Elizabeth, The Garden Route, Cape Town and home via the Karoo by car.

With the 15yo visiting from the UK for his summer vacation and it being winter in South Africa we decided to explore further north and booked 7 nights in St Lucia, taking the dog, Bob with us.

So here are my top 6 reasons as to why you must visit St Lucia.

Self catering accommodation with 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, enclosed gardens, a pool, air con and dog friendly. Dawn couldn’t have been any friendlier and more welcoming and was very knowledgeable about the area. The cost of staying there included a maid, DSTV and wi fi.

Bob had the most amazing time at St Lucia, he was able to run freely on the beaches, we could take him into cafes and restaurants and was welcomed by everyone, everywhere.  He had the freedom of the garden and we could leave him at the accommodation if we wanted to go out at night or visit a local attraction. We walked through woods, by the lake, through the town. Our only concern was when stopped by a driver who said ‘you should be alright with the dog on a lead as there have been Leopard sightings in the area last week’ hubby replied ‘anymore good news you have for us?'                                               

Although it did require plenty of baths as he rolled in hippo poo on more than one occasion.

Security Issues.
Living in Gauteng, we are very conscious about personal security, we live in a residential estate with finger print access and 24 hour armed guards. There is no public transport available, apart from the Gautrain and less than 2 weeks ago the car was broken into and a case including passports stolen, from a secure car park. Having visited Durban and Cape Town a fortnight ago where there was no security at the hotels, we used buses, taxis and walked to sight see, it was nice to discover another area of South Africa where there is no security needed. However don’t switch off, there are no fences between the town, the lake, beach and the wild life. There are plenty of warning signs and information on keeping safe from hippos and crocodiles.

Hippo and crocodiles
We saw plenty while walking alongside the lake and shops displayed photos of hippos visiting the town at night. We visited a crocodile sanctuary and took a river trip to ‘get up, close and personal’ with the hippos and the crocodiles, seeing a monitor lizard, kingfishers, African Fish Eagle and a Blue Crane, the national bird of South Africa.

Whale Watching  
We booked a tour with Advantage at the cost of R950 each. Twice the boat trip was cancelled, before I realized it was because it was a beach launch and not from a harbor. We were offered the chance to go from Richard’s Bay, 40km away and the tour company would take us there to the boat, but fortunately the seas calmed enough for us to go out on the Thursday.
It was a fast trip out over the waves and we immediately spotted 2 Hump Back Whales in the distance and they had a young calf with them, we followed them along with the dolphins for 2 miles up the coast towards Mozambique and we even spotted a shark.
The boat approached the beach at 75km per hour, I braced for impact, but the boat just glided up the sand, it was so exhilarating that I asked if we could do it again.

Sea food and restaurants

We were spoilt for choice when it came to eating it, even though St Lucia is a small town, apart from a Braai and the odd breakfast at the accommodation and making up the odd picnic we ate out as and when we fancied. The fish and sea food was amazing, couldn’t get more fresh unless we caught it, gutted it and cooked it on the beach ourselves.

Monday 25 August 2014

#MySundayPhoto - Charity

Due to illness, visitors, holidays and my car being off the road, I really haven't done much in regards to my volunteering and charity work.

However as hubby pointed out last week, I've actually done rather a lot. It's just been internet based rather than physically visiting facilities.

The large picture shows the current state of our garage. It is filled with donated items for the Santa Shoebox Project. Friends and volunteers have been round, wrapping boxes and sorting donations.

I also act as a drop off point for friends for 2nd hand items they no longer require, I sort and donate to the appropriate facilities.

  • Top right. Donations for Kungwini Welfare Organisation, it includes magazines for the residents to read and books collected rom friends, clothing, cushion inserts, lamp shades and other items for the work shop.
  • Middle. Clothes for under 2s, bedding and towels and dummies for the Grace Foundation, who are in turn providing me with toys for children with Special Needs.
  • Bottom 3 photos (L-R) A friend was offered 80 boxes of porridge, short date, did I know of anyone that could use it all? Half the boxes to Kungwini Welfare Organisation. The rest split between The Viva Foundation and 2 feeding schemes. In exchange for 20 of the boxes I received 100 pairs of various sized canvas shoes and the company who manufacture the boxes saw a tweet and have offered pre decorated boxes for the ShoeBox appeal.
So all in all I've done rather a lot. I don't enjoy this side of it as much as I do the the actual hands on volunteering but every little helps.

Saturday 16 August 2014

#MySundayPhoto-Whale Watching in the Indian Ocean

Whale Watching from a beach launch and a landing at 75km, an amazing day, we followed these 2 hump back whales and their baby for 2 miles up the coast towards Mozambique.

Thursday 7 August 2014

Life is all about change

We know there will be changes to our lives, marriages, births, new job, new home and we plan with excitement, it also stresses us out a little, the fear of the unknown and the what ifs.

Sometimes changes can be small, others can be huge, some are done willingly, and some are forced upon us.

Change isn’t always positive, there could be a death in the family, loss of a job, a divorce.

Change doesn’t have to be negative or huge to cause a major impact on someone’s life, it can be as simple as an unexpected car repair or replacement of a stolen item, or even hidden costs that can cause a family to re think their budget for a few months and what seems like a major issue to you can be viewed as a minor one to others.

We all know people who have been through changes, we’ve all been through changes, it’s what life if all about, survival of the fittest. Some people appear to handle changes like a duck on water, all serene on top while paddling furiously underneath and we wonder how they manage it. Others just shut down, have a break down, ask for help or ignore the situation until it is forced upon them, such as house repossession or a court order and sometimes there is the element of surprise when someone dies and there are no set rules, other than maybe a will and a funeral.

For those who live their lives as expats there is always change on the horizon, for some they venture into an expat life excited with promises of a new life in a foreign country, a house to make into a home, schools, work, new salary. Some expats go with their eyes wide open, some go on a fixed contract, knowing the exact date they will leave, some will even know in advance where there next move will be. Others like us moved without knowing anything, other than where the children would be schooled and where hubby would work. We had no idea of how long we’d be expats for, where and when we would go next and for the past year we’ve lived with facing a new change of which we’ve had little control or say over.

We heard in January, there might be a move, it also coincided with another huge change in our lives and that was the last child leaving home and having to deal with empty nest syndrome. But we knew about that change, that’s what happens in life, you have kids, they grow up, and they leave home. We have 5 children between us; the hardest change was moving the eldest into residential care aged 12. We thought that as we dealt with that (some days we still feel the guilt) that the rest of the children leaving home we could deal with. But we didn’t anticipate that after the 2 oldest boys left home, that we would then be packing our bags and moving 6000 miles away from them, we didn’t anticipate the youngest, then aged 14, returning to the UK for boarding school and we didn’t anticipate how we would feel when the last child left home and also moved back to the UK.

We visit, they visit, but it’s not how we imagined it to be, wanted it to be or how we see our future relationships with our children living on different continents.

We are now in the planning stages of more change, we are moving, it looks like we’ll be gone by January 11th 2015, almost 4 years to the day that we moved here, our visas expire and due to new changes in the law, hubbies visa renewal to work here may not be granted, which means we have to leave, it is an enforced move, one of which we have little or no control over.

When the kids left home, I threw myself into life here fully, I took up opportunities to travel and explore further a field, to really become hands on with my volunteer work, starting to look for funding for projects and carrying on with sourcing and distributing donations.

Now I’m in limbo, I don’t know where we are going, when we are going. I don’t know the timescale therefore I can’t do anything, there is a requirement for moving the animals, but where and when? Removal companies to quote, utilities to sort, notice on the rented house to give, contracts to end, a car to be sold, bank accounts to close. Can I work in our new country? Can I have my own bank account? Can I take out contracts such a phone in my own name?

I’ve moved many times, the move isn’t daunting me, it’s the fact it isn’t my choice and that I have no say over where and when.

Then there are the non-practical issues, the stuff no one can really help you with. The change of moving to a new country, without a job to go to, without children to settle, what will I do? How will I feel? How to make new friends? It’s not an easy job when you don’t have kids or work. Without friends how will I know where to go? Who to ask? How to do things? What about buying a car? Insurance? How do you know what’s the best thing to do in a new and unfamiliar country, with little or no support?

We moved within the UK, we moved within South Africa, once you know how things work, it’s relatively straight forward, but with a South African government, one never knows how things will work today compared to yesterday and with so many changes in the law that no one seems to know how the new laws will work, this is not a good change for me.

The only thing I do know is, is that I coped, I succeeded, I sorted, I battled without help and support, but I remember it was hard, it was frustrating, it took up whole days, weeks even. I didn’t like it, I didn’t do it willingly, I did it or it just wouldn’t have been done.

I’m daunted by the upcoming change, I’m frightened and I feel isolated and alone.

I’m not just dealing with a change in our lives again; I’m dealing with another change in my personal life, my identity and the unknown. I don’t know how I’ll cope, right now I don’t think I will cope.