Cape Weaver

I first noticed the Cape Weaver when I stopped on the bridge that crosses the channel that connects two of the lakes in Green Point Park, in the ocean suburb of Cape Town.  The little yellow-breasted bird was busily constructing a nest, tying together some stout reeds, about a meter above the water’s edge, using strips of grass.  By the next day, the nest appeared to be almost complete and he had started on a second.  As the days passed he continued to build more and more nests.  In the end there were at least ten that I could see.  But where were the females?

And then one day two females appeared while I was watching.  The little male predictably became hyper-excited: flapping, wiggling, screeching.  But to no avail.  The females checked out his attempts at building nests, turned their backs on him and flew off.  My little male disappeared into each nest that they had rejected, to see what it was that they did not like.  He was like a randy real-estate agent who had tried to seduce his prospective female tenants and pathetically failed.

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My dejected little Weaver bird

A passing local lady explained to me that the little male was fortunate: normally females which do not like a nest can rip it apart, before heading off to find a better suitor.  She told me that the entrance to the nest is on the underside and if the female accepts the male, he will construct a tunnel, while she lines the nest, and then they mate.

And then came a storm, with strong winds, and the nests were rather greatly shaken, some of the reeds being bent down almost to water level.  Perhaps the females knew what they were doing in refusing my little male.

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Some time later, I noticed weaver nests at the other end of the pond. And there was a little yellow breasted weaver, and a female disappearing into and emerging out of a nest.  Was it my little male bird?  I like to think that it was.

But he can’t control his urge to build more nests and attract more females.

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A weaver nest ‘work in progress’

In the meantime, I look forward to watching the next weaver generation emerge…

 

 

 

 

 

Cape Town Drought

After some eighteen months of commuting between Europe and South Africa with 90-day tourist visas, I arrived in Cape Town in mid-January of this year with a 4-year residency permit.  It had involved several months of meeting many bureaucratic requirements (Applying for South African Residency), but finally I could stay, at least for four years, with the possibility of extending.

But no sooner had I landed, when my driver made me aware of the seriousness of the Cape drought situation.  At the end of the seasonal rains in 2014, the dams were almost full, but three years of below normal rainfall had left them in a precarious situation; the dam levels were at just over 20% capacity.  Little capacity remained, as the last 10% cannot easily be accessed.

Shortly after, the local government reduced the legal consumption from 87 litres per person per day to 50 litres.  Now I had no idea of what normal water consumption per day would be, but I was told that in Sweden 200 litres per day was normal and in the US 300.  So how to get down to 50 L per day?

Copious advice was available.  Obviously filling swimming pools, watering gardens and washing cars were out of the question.  We were advised that a 30 second shower used about 18 litres, a full flush of a toilet, 9 litres, and a quick flush, 5 litres.  And a washing machine and a dish washer about 25-35 litres each, depending on the make and model.  So, 50 litres per day per person was not a lot of water, at least not by western standards.

In the bars and restaurants, clients were urged not to flush toilets, unless absolutely necessary – ‘If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if brown, flush it down’.  And in the Radisson Hotel, near the Waterfront, there was and still is, an exhibit to educate guests on the water situation and the impact of having a bath or a 90-second shower.

Dam Levels 2007-2017

Water usuage

But how did Cape Town get in this precarious situation, that attracted the international press naming of Cape Town as the first major city at risk of running out of water?

Obviously, the failure of the annual winter rainfall was a major contributor to the crisis.  But I suspect that there has been no recent increase in the capacity to store water in the ‘wet’ years.  The existing dam walls need to be radically raised where feasible, to avoid the overflows in the wet years spilling to the sea.

Of course, the population of Cape Town is not static; according to Premier Helen Zille, between the census of 1996 and that of 2011, the population increased by 45% to 3.8 million.  I often wonder how they count the hordes of homeless and vagrants that one encounters in the relatively prosperous area in which we live, never mind in the ‘no-go’ townships, which sane people avoid.

And what about the tourist trade?  In recent years, Cape Town has been the ‘in place´ to visit and be seen.  But tourists are predictably not enthused about restricted showering and toilet flushing and choose to spend their money elsewhere.  After the ‘negative news’ hit the international press, the hotels, restaurants and bars of the city reflected the paucity of business.  It has not been a great year for the tourism industry.

In February the government announced that ‘Day Zero’ would be in March, the day when the water supply would be switched off and that citizens would have to collect their reduced daily allowance of 20 liters per person day.  This would be distributed at some 200 stand-pipes located near supermarkets and other gathering spots and the distribution would be supervised by the military.  There was no information as to how the ration of water would be accounted for.

Predictably there was immediately a run on bottled water.  The supermarket shelves were stripped dry and there was not a drop to be seen anywhere.  When a new shipment arrived in the morning, it soon evaporated.  The supermarkets limited the purchase per client, but the shelves remained empty.

Then ‘Day Zero’ was suddenly postponed and then postponed again.  There was still no rain, but the conservation efforts of the population and eliminating water to the farms, resulted in a 60% reduction of water consumption.  At least that was the official reason for the postponements.

And in early May it started to rain, not heavily, but persistently, and the dams started to fill.  Day by day the levels grew, from 20.9% on 7 May, through 30% on 5 June, 40% on 20 June, and 50% on 3 July.  As of today, the level is at 56.5%.

Is the drought over?  Probably it is for the next twelve months, but one must remember that the farms are still not receiving any water and they are suffering.  Until the stored water level gets to 70% of capacity, the emergency should not be declared as over for this year.Capture

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To contribute to available water supplies in the future, the local government has set the objective of obtaining at least 10% from alternative supplies:

  • Desalination plants are being constructed
  • Wells are being drilled
  • A blitz on leaking pipes
  • Treating of effluent water

I recall my old friend in Toronto, Peter Pedrette, relating of when he was a junior quantity surveyor in London, he was being shown around a water treatment plan, and in a break was offered a glass of water from a tap.  After he drank it, he was told that the water had been through at least six people.

For cities, such as Cape Town, in the future reliance on natural rainfall may not be sufficient to satisfy local requirements.  Water, no matter the source, will have to be viewed as a valuable resource, to be cleansed, treated and returned to general consumption.

No longer can we take for granted that water will flow when we turn on the tap.

Analemmatic Sundial

Since I moved to Cape Town over two years ago, I have walked through Green Point Park almost every day.  Many of the regular park staff greet me with a smile and a welcome comment; I always feel very much at home in the park.  And it is with keen interest that I observe the daily progress of the bird-life, the building of their nests and the hatching of their young, and the flowering of the plethora of Cape plants.  I am blessed with the time to witness the annual progress of nature.

In the middle of one of the open grass areas of the park, there is a semi-circle of small pillars.  I had sometimes wondered what they represented, but my curiosity was not great enough to deviate me from my path: until recently.

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I found that there were 14 small pillars in a semi-circle, numbered from 6 to 19, and at right angles, two elliptical shapes marked with the months of the year.

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I was still none the wiser until I read the explanation on the sign, and then all was revealed.

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It was a normal Cape sunny day and I decided to test the sundial.  Following the instructions, I stood on the mark at July, stretched up my arms, noted the time, made the necessary adjustment as per the instructions and compared it to the time in my phone.  The latter was one minute slow!

Isn’t nature wonderful?…  🙂

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull

Cape Town, Saturday 5 May, 2018

Most Saturdays, after a long walk through Green Point park and along the promenade, we stop off at the Radisson Hotel (https://www.radissonblu.com/en/hotel-capetown) for a thirst-quenching beer.  We have become so well-known by the staff that we rarely have to order: they well know our preferences.  And even when busy, the regular staff drop by our table to quickly say hello.  We always feel most welcome there.

Unless all the tables are occupied, we normally sit close by the pool.  It is comical to watch the seagulls washing and drinking, when there are no bathers.  If somebody passes by, they reluctantly scatter, only to return seconds later.

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The Radisson pool and the seagulls, with the kelp forest beyond,  and the ships in the far distance

Today, watching the ever-present seagulls, I had a flash-back, to about 1973, in Australia.  With some friends, I had gone to a little cinema down George Street or nearby, not so far from Circular Quay, in Sydney.  Neil Diamond was all the rage at the time and a new film had been released, a relatively short film, with incredible scenery, a beautiful sound track, and the voice of Neil Diamond.  I remember sitting, thoroughly entranced with the story of a seagull, constantly challenging it’s boundaries and it’s capabilities.

For a short time after, I was that seagull.  I wanted to be proficient in Spanish, I craved the opportunity to explore and live in South and Central America, I wanted to spread my wings and reach heights that I had never before envisaged reaching.

That feeling never left me, and over the next few years, I progressed with my modest ambitions. It’s a work still in progress.

And today I was reminded of that era.

Are my ambitions now satiated?

Not a chance.  There are many more yet to come… 🙂

 

Netcare911

4 March 2018

Cape Town

On Friday evening, there was something of a drama in our apartment building.  First an ambulance and then a doctor’s car outside the entrance, blocking the lane that leads down to High Level Road.  There are six apartments in our building and it was in our apartment that the event was taking place.  But let me start at the beginning…

While I worked at my pc, I had started to peck at the remains of a taco with spicy pulled pork, left over from one of Lotta’s working lunches..  After a couple of mouthfuls, I started to experience a nauseating sensation in my lower throat.  I stopped eating, but the sensation remained.  I went to the bathroom, but could not vomit.  I tried to drink some water, but my throat felt as if it was blocked and I could swallow nothing.

Lotta tried to intercede, but I told her to leave me alone; I would be fine.  In the few times that I have been ill, I have always wanted to be left alone.  I hate being mothered.  I have always been like a sick animal that crawls into the bushes and does not emerge until recovered.

But the discomfort became more acute.  I started to have hiccoughs, but soon they became quite extreme; my whole diaphragm shook with each occurrence.  Up to then I had stood in the bathroom, but my bad leg was quite uncomfortable with standing in one position.  I went out and returned with the chair from my desk and sat by the toilet.

Eventually the hiccoughs stopped, but I started to have spasms in my throat, followed my painful spasms lower down. I started to sweat and suddenly felt cold.  I started to shiver and I was struggling to breathe normally.  By this time Lotta had had enough of my  ‘I’ll be fine, leave me alone’ and was convinced that perhaps I was having a heart attack.  She offered to call for medical help and I reluctantly agreed.

She called her doctor’s out-of-hours telephone and was given the number of an ambulance service.  She gave all the details requested and a few minutes later she received an SMS to say that an ambulance had been dispatched and would arrive in ten minutes.

In the meantime, I was struggling with the increasingly strong spasms and trying hard to breathe.  Lotta said that when the ambulance arrived, I was shaking like a leaf and my face was completely drained of colour.

The ambulance was followed a few minutes later by a cardiologist.  When the doorbell rang, Lotta would not let him into the building, thinking him to be a local tramp trying to gain entrance in the confusion.  It was not until the ambulancemen assured her that it was their colleague, that she pressed the door release.

I really don’t remember accurately all that happened in the bathroom.  I was asked lots of questions, a device was clipped on my finger, presumably to monitor my heart beat, my blood pressure was taken and I was hooked up to a angiogram.  With all the equipment, Lotta said that the bathroom looked like a hospital emergency room.

It turned out that my heart was fine, which was a big relief and slowly I started to feel better.  The spasms stopped, my breathing eased and I was able to sip and swallow water for the first time in three hours.  The doctor said that it was possible that something had got stuck in my throat or perhaps I had had a reaction to a spice.  They offered to take me to a hospital for further tests, but I declined, as I was already feeling much better.

Lotta escorted the three medical staff back to their vehicles, apologizing profusely to the doctor for having mistaken him for a passing opportunist tramp.  I just wish that I had noted their names, for they deserve acknowledgement.  They came from Netcare911.

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A Netcare911 doctor’s car, with ambulances

So all’s well that ends well.  And we had another first hand experience of the quality of the South African medical profession and the speed of reaction of their emergency services.  Most impressive.

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And when I went to bed, I found these still stuck to my chest

As for spicy pulled pork, I will give it a miss in future.

 

 

 

Applying for South African Residency

It was on the morning of Saturday, 31 October 2015, that my erratic journey through life took yet another unexpected direction.  The previous evening, I had booked and paid for tickets back to Montevideo, to escape from the northern winter to the southern sun for the third year, but this time with a difference; once there, I intended to apply for permanent residency.  Now that should not surprise anyone who knew me well, for ever since I lived in Venezuela, Miami and Peru in 1978-1985, I have longed to return to South America and spend extended time there.

But when Lotta put down the phone that morning, it was ‘all change’.

‘Cape Town want to know if I would be prepared to take on a permanent role in their operations, at least for as long as I am willing.  What do you think?’

She had already completed two short assignments there, liked the environment and the people.  As for me, the challenge of a new country was too tempting to pass over.  Besides, South America would still be there.

It took me less that a millisecond to reply:

‘Go for it’.

It was not until we returned to Sweden the following May that she received a 90-day training visa, followed by four frustrating months of managing the operation by Skype and email from Uppsala.  Finally, in November 2016, she received a 4-year inter-company transfer visa.

For me, the only option was to travel back and forth from Europe on 90-day tourist visas.  After three such trips, I had enough of long-haul flights and decided to apply for a residency visa, permanent or temporary.

When it comes to dealing with government bureaucracy, I am not a ‘do-it-yourself’ person; if I want to get it right first time, I believe in getting professional advice.

I found several companies advertising their capabilities on the internet, two of which stood out from all the others, at least in my opinion.  But the first company wanted too much personal information before they would contact me, so late that evening, I submitted a basic query to the second, Intergate Immigration Services.

The next morning, at 06:28, I received a personal mail from Jaime Catala.  I was impressed with his prompt out-of-hours response, and after a couple of clarification meetings, I signed an agreement to have Intergate manage my temporary residence application.  Subsequently, I was assigned to a dedicated administrator, Leandra Bantom, with whom I liaised for the duration of the application process.

So, once armed with a long list of documents that I would be required to submit, I started obtaining them, one by one.  I started with the medical, in case there was a problem, in which case my application would probably be refused.  There was no issue, and at the same medical centre, a nurse gave me a yellow fever vaccination.  At the impressive new Christian Barnard hospital, I obtained an all-clear chest x-ray.

Then I started on the police reports.  I was required to obtain a police certification from every country in which I had lived for more than a year.  Although I would claim to have ‘lived’ in eleven countries, two of them were for less than one year, and with a generous helping of ‘poetic licence’, I ended up with four that I could not deny – Canada, Australia, US and England.

Canada, Australia and England were no problem; all three submissions were on-line, albeit with widely varying requirements.  I obtained approval from Canada the same evening, from Australia overnight and from England within one week.  The certifications followed in surface mail.

But the US was a ‘pain in the ass’.  I had to print off two forms and fill them in by hand, using a black ink pen.  The forms looked like they had been badly designed by a primary school pupil and included irrelevant details such as hair and eye colour, height, weight etc.  Then I had to have a printer produce a finger print card on the correct specification card stock, otherwise the US internet site said that it could be rejected.  Finally, a trip to a police station to have my finger prints recorded.  To be sure of having a receipt, I couriered the forms and finger prints to an address in the US.  Then I had to settle down for a long wait, as their website stated that their (lack of) service delivery was 10-12 weeks.

One would have thought that a simple query on the FBI databases would have shown that there was no record of a Leonard Douglas Blackwood, British/Irish citizen, of birth date of 05 November 1946, having ever committed a crime.  Or perhaps the US is gathering details of every one that crosses its path, in the event they might one day commit a crime.

In the meantime, I obtained a copy of my birth certificate and, together with my divorce certificate, had them apostilled, a certification process that only applies to official UK documents.

And lastly, with the assistance of the consultants, I submitted copious evidence of my capital investments in the UK and US and obtained an accountant’s certificate declaring that I had sufficient capital to provide me with a monthly income after tax of at least ZAR 34k per month.

The US police certificate finally arrived after more than three months wait, I obtained an appointment for an interview at the South Africa visa centre in London and on 29 November I submitted my application.  I was informed that the visa, if approved would tentatively be available by January 10.

Following is a summary of the expenses I incurred in the application process:Residency

Having settled down to another long wait, I was delighted to learn that the visa was issued on 15 December and, after a short delay in arranging for receipt of the courier, was available to me on Christmas Eve.  It was a most welcome Christmas present.

Of course, without the need to obtain US police certification, the whole process could have taken 3-4 months less time.

Was the cost of using an immigration consultant justified?

In my case, it certainly was, especially when it involved proving capital and income requirements.

Would I recommend Intergate Immigration Services for a similar assignment?

Definitely.

McArthur

It was after I finished the Belfast marathon in May 1986, that I learned of the McArthur Dervock marathon, to be held two months later.  I had never heard of McArthur and I had never been to Dervock, despite having grown up within 15 km.  As my recently widowed father still lived on the family farm outside Portrush, returning in July would give me another opportunity to visit him.

Since early 1985, I was based in England, with a job involving an increasing amount of travel, and the job had to take precedence over my running.  But I still loved participating in races, and ‘collecting’ them became an absorbing hobby; Dervock would be a new addition to my ‘collection’.

Dervock is a small village in North Antrim.  In the 2011 census it had 302 households, with a population of 714.  In that census, 99% of the inhabitants were recorded as being protestants, with only 1% catholic.  In a province with a significant catholic population, the Dervock census underlines the fact that there still exists a marked divide between the two cultures.

There used to be a railway station in Dervock, on the narrow-gauge branch line connecting Ballymoney to Ballycastle, 25 km to the north-east.  The line was opened in 1880 and eventually closed in 1950.

Dervock is the ancestral home of the US president, William McKinley. assassinated in 1901.  His ancestry can be traced back to David McKinley, born in Dervock and who migrated to western Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century.  It was also the home of Kenneth Kane McArthur.

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William McKinley (1843-1901)

Ken McArthur was born in 1881 and at the age of 20, migrated to South Africa, where he joined the Johannesburg police force.  In Dervock he had worked as the local postman and was known to often race against the train, when on his rounds.  But it was not until he was in South Africa that he started to run competitively.  He was an unlikely talent as a runner, for he was a tall man at 1.88 m and weighing over 77 k.

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Ken McArthur (photo from internet)

He ran his first marathon in 1908, beating the existing Olympic silver medallist, Charles Hefferon.  In 1912 he was selected by South Africa, his adopted country, to compete in the Stockholm Olympic marathon.  The race took place in sweltering heat and McArthur won the gold medal in the time of 2 hours 36 minutes and 54 seconds.  During the race, one athlete died of heat exhaustion.

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The Stockholm Olympic Marathon (photos from internet)

McArthur returned to South Africa, but never competed again, having injured a foot in an accident.  He settled in Potchefstroom, just outside Johannesburg and died there in 1960.  McArthur ran in six marathons and was never beaten.  The Potchefstroom stadium is named after him.

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The Kenneth McArthur Athletics Stadium in Potchefstroom (photo from internet)

I ran the Dervock marathon twice, in 1986 and the following year, with times of 2:54:06 and 2:5142.  It was not until I was researching this article that I realized that McArthur’s best time, that of Stockholm, was 2:36:54, only 33 seconds better than my own best time of 2:37:27, run in Miami in 1981.

So, not only were our best marathon times almost equal, we were both raised on a North Antrim farms and we both migrated at an early age, in my case at 18 to Canada. And whereas McArthur often used to race a train leaving Dervock station, I often used to race a bus when I was dropped off at the stop near our farm.

And here I am today, after more than six months, still patiently waiting for my South African residency visa.

I feel quite sure that McArthur did not have to wait so long for his.