Emmanuel

If I have internet access, my mornings are little different, whether I am in Cape Town, Montevideo, Chamonix, Uppsala or Timbuktu; I rise early and update my investment accounts, read the business news, answer emails and usually write a little.  And by no later than midday, I set off on a long walk.

In Cape Town that walk usually encompasses one or all of the Waterfront complex, the Stadium, Green Point Park or Ocean View Drive, along Signal Hill.  And all my walks inevitably pass along the ocean promenade for as far as I feel comfortable.  That is my routine and I love it.  On those walks I do most of my thinking.

In Green Point Park, I look for the massive pike in the lake, for the Egyptian Geese and their eight goslings and the coots with their six little chicks.  And the huge scruffy bird that I have not yet identified; he or she always looks so sad and lonely.

Along the promenade I watch out for dolphins and whales and am always thrilled when I am fortunate to see them.  And the raw power of the ocean when it sends its waves pounding against the sea wall and launches its spray over me, as I pass by, reminds me so much of my native coast in the north of Ireland.

At Sea Point park, I often stop to watch the paragliders land from Signal Hill.  I have often watched them in Chamonix, landing on a run, but these people drop like a stone and suddenly stop in mid-air, slowly drift down for the last few metres and step down, as if they were getting out of bed.  They make it look so very easy.

When I return on the promenade along Mouille Point, I often see a young guy sitting on the wall, making models of sharks, whales, birds, penguins etc. from wire.  He is an artist with wire.  He is there most days, almost regardless of the weather.  When the waves sweep over his corner of the promenade, he retreats to a bench beside adjacent Beach Road.  His name is Emmanuel Chitsinde and he is from Zimbabwe.  He has been in South Africa for a while now, first in Durban, then Port Elizabeth and now in Cape Town, which I think he prefers.  He has a wonderfully cheerful disposition.

Emmanuel Chitsinde
Emmanuel in his workshop, with Pingu

I don’t know what people in Zimbabwe are like, but the vast majority of those that I know of, or have heard of in Cape Town, are all hard working and reliable – staff in the bars and restaurants that we frequent, Uber drivers, the girls where Lotta gets her nails manicured.  Most save hard to send money home to aid their impoverished families.  It is depressing to hear of the deprived state to which the corrupt Zimbabwe government has reduced their country.

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Pingu the penguin

 

Like Emmanuel, I also once went away from my homeland, more than 50 years ago, when I was young.  Fortunately, I eventually prospered and could send money home every month to help my parents.  I did that for many years, until there for was no further need; until they were no longer.

I feel empathy for Emmanuel and his compatriots.  I wish them every good fortune in their struggle.

 

Peter Pedrette

Toronto, 1965

I had been in Canada for some ten days, I had very little money, I was only 18, but I did have a job starting the following Monday.  But where could I stay? (see https://lenblackwood.com/2017/05/28/80)

It was the result of a phone call to my dear friends, George and Eileen Darragh, that my dilemma was solved, at least temporarily.  They had just recently moved into a small one-bedroom apartment at the corner of Keele and Lawrence, had few financial resources themselves, and welcomed the pittance that I could offer, in return for my sleeping in the corner of their living room and an occasional evening meal.  And as it turned out, George worked only two blocks away from my new employer, so we travelled in each morning by bus to Yonge Street, and then by metro into the city, a journey of about an hour.  (see lenblackwood.com/2017/05/13/78).

The office of Helyar, Vermeulen, Rae & Maughan (HVR&M) was on the seventh floor of an old building at the corner of Bay & Richmond.  One could tell that the building was ancient by the elevator, with its sliding mesh doors and which could only be operated by an attendant, day or night.  Across Bay Street was the huge multi-storey Simpson’s department store with its multiple storeys, plus a basement and occupying an entire city block.

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The corner of Simpson’s where I first met Sandy

When I joined HVR&M, there were only three employees – an Australian receptionist (Janice), an English bookkeeper (I can’t remember her name), and an English quantity surveyor, Peter Pedrette.  Soon after, we were joined by another Englishman –  Jack Brown, and a rather shy little Jamaican – Leroy, who rarely ever spoke.

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The typical desktop of a quantity surveyor

Peter was 36 when I first knew him and he had only recently arrived in Canada, with his wife, Barbara.  He had spent some years working in Kuwait and it was there that he met Barbara, a school teacher.  They were both devout Catholics and not long married.  Their first child was due later that year.  They were devoted to each other and they always addressed each other as ‘Darling’.  They were well-educated a well-spoken.  Apart from my father and his parents, Peter and Barbara were the first English people that I had ever met.  I developed a great respect for them.

It was Peter who fuelled my nascent interest in equity investment by talking of shares he was considering buying.  One lunch hour we went to the Toronto Stock Exchange and I was fascinated to see how the trading worked in the cacophony of noise, with traders shouting their offers and communicating with their team by hand signals.  And the tickertape of deals, moving relentlessly across the screens.  I was well and truly hooked and I spent many evenings in the city library, around the corner from the office, reading investment books, and forming my own approach to equities.  It has turned out to be a lifetime interest, and my methods today are little changed from my initial approach more than 50 years ago.

I suspect that Peter was quite well off, at least by my standards. One day he asked me if I would help him to carry some gold from the bank where he was going to buy it, to his deposit box in another bank further up the street.  I carried one of the bars for him, while he carried the other.  They were small but extremely heavy.  It was my first exposure to gold and those two bars would today be worth more than a million dollars.

Across the street from the office and a floor higher in Simpson’s, we could see girls in white uniforms working at the windows.  We used to wave to them.  Jack’s fiancée was a buyer in Simpson’s and one day he reported back that the windows were part of the Elizabeth Arden beauty salon.  One afternoon, Jack suggested that we take a large sheet of architects drawing paper and write ‘Telephone number?’  on it, and hold it up at our window, when the girls were looking out.  This we did, and a blonde girl signalled back their number.  But what to do next?  Peter was married, Jack was engaged and Leroy was too shy, so it was left to me to make the call.  Well one thing led to another and before long the girl – Sandy, and I became constant companions, a situation that lasted for the next eight years and through many countries.  And her friend Valerie, who was also at the windows, ended up married to my friend Howard, and thanks to internet, I am still in periodic contact with both of them.

Peter and Barbara lived in a small cottage on Algonquin Island, one of a chain of islands just south of the Toronto mainland.  There were no cars on the island and Peter commuted to work by ferry.  It was an idyllic setting.  Sandy and I visited them many times, sometimes for a meal, once to babysit their little son – Anthony, and another time to help with raking up the knee-deep layer of autumn leaves.  Eventually they bought a large old house with wood panelling, near High Park.  I helped them with the move.

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Toronto Islands, with Algonquin Island on the far left
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And could well have been their little cottage

Inevitably time moves on, we eventually left Toronto on our long journey across Canada to Vancouver and San Francisco and island hopping to Australia.  And I lost touch with Peter.  Apart from a brief business visit in 2001, I have never been back to Toronto.

A few years ago, I tried to trace Peter and Barbara through internet sites, but to no avail; I could not find their footprints.  It was only recently that I stumbled on them.  It turned out that Barbara died of cancer in 2004, Peter in 2005 and his oldest son five months later.

And Peter died the same month as I had my own near-death experience in Stockholm, the day before George died in Coleraine.

Of the three of us, I was the lucky survivor.

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Procrastination

Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future.

Seneca – 4 BC (Córdoba) – 65 AD (Rome)

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That line comes from Seneca’s essay – ‘De Brevitate Vitae’ (The Shortness of Life), written in 49 AD.

And as Wayne Gretsky, the former Canadian ice hockey star, once said – ‘Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.  You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’.

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I well remember a Qantas commercial from the early 1970s when I lived in Australia.  It started out with a young man saying that when he finished school he was going to travel.  Then it was after he completed his studies.  One saw the young man looking a little older, saying that when his children grew up, he was going to see the world.  Then the man looking much older, salt-and-peppered and conservative, saying that when he retired he was going to travel and see the world.  Finally, there appeared a very old grey bearded wrinkly saying – ‘One of these days…’.

For me, decisions involving my own money – buying a house, shares, a car, a phone, a computer etc. are relatively easy.  I know what I want, I have a reasonable idea of the cost, and when I find it, I buy it.  I really don’t care if I later find that I could have bought it for less somewhere else, or by waiting I could have had a better deal. The deal is done and I move on.  For me the old saying, that ‘time is money’ very much applies.  I very much believe that it is important to know what your time is worth and not to waste it in trying to make relatively insignificant savings.

In a similar manner decisions involving where I live and/or work have also been relatively easy for me and have always been because of what I wanted to do next in life. We have no choice of parents or of where we are born and raised, but we certainly can decide where we want to live.  Consequently, I have left a trail of cities behind me – Toronto, Sydney, Los Angeles, London, Lagos, Caracas, Miami, Panama, Lima, Camberley, Neuchâtel, Paris, Uppsala, Chamonix, Montevideo and now Cape Town.  One of these days I may settle down… 🙂

At work the major decisions are usually much more complex and involve many variables.  Making 5 out of 5 profitable decisions hardly seems possible.  With 4 out of 5, promotion is just a matter of time.  With 3 out of 5, one may remain employed.  Anything less usually results in ‘adios’.  And procrastination on a difficult decision rarely wins respect.

Where I have often struggled is with the negative decisions involving people, for example in terminating a relationship or someone’s employment.  With some, I would certainly never win a popularity contest.  And yet, once the decision is made and communicated, I have usually felt an overwhelming sense of relief.  As is written in the bible, and frequently misquoted, ‘the truth sets you free’.

Life is too short to waste on regretting what could have been…

In the words of Edith Piaf – ´Non, Je ne regrette rien’.

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Edith Piaf – Non, je ne regrette rien – (original)

South Africa Residency

I love Cape Town – the ocean, the mountains, the climate and the super-friendly people of all colours, both well-off and poor.  I feel so totally at home here, that after a year and three visits, I have started the process of obtaining a temporary 4-year residence, to be immediately followed by an application for […]

I love Cape Town – the ocean, the mountains, the climate and the super-friendly people of all colours, both well-off and poor.  I feel so totally at home here, that after a year and three visits, I have started the process of obtaining a temporary 4-year residence, to be immediately followed by an application for permanent residence.

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In most parts, it is not a demanding process.  I must provide apostilled (that was a new word for me) copies of my birth and divorce certificates.  Then there is a basic medical examination and chest x-rays.  I also must demonstrate that I have at least a net annual income of Rand 444,000 (c£26,000 or c$34,000).  But the painful part is providing police clearance from every country in which I have lived since I was 18.

Now for most countries, the process is not very demanding – basic identification data plus a fee.  But the US requires a set of fingerprints on ‘card stock’ plus a plethora of personal data, such as height, weight, colour of eyes, hair etc.  And their northern poodle requires electronic fingerprints, which are not readily accessible outside of Canada.  And neither of their embassies and consulates provide any assistance whatsoever.  To complicate the process, the US has a minimum of a 10-week service level, before the end of which my application could be rejected – I just hope that I did not give my height and weight in metric, leaving me to start all over again… 😦

Once I get all the required documentation, I must book an interview at an RSA embassy, in my case London – there is currently a one month wait.  And if my documentation is accepted, there is a further 33 working day delay until the permit is issued or rejected, during which time my passport is retained by the embassy.  As I also have an Irish passport, the latter is no handicap.

So, if everything I goes according to plan, I hope to be a South Africa resident by the end of this year.

Wish me luck… 🙂