Friday, August 29, 2014

A Peek at my Week.

Its been quite a strange week for me and the first time in a long time that I have had time on my hands. Living in two places means that I only facilitate half of the month and on previous stays here, I have always had work to bring here with me but I am up to date and so have had a lazy time - I am so not used to that!
Here is a summary of my week:-

Where I have been: To Butterflies for Africa where, for R24, I spent an hour or two fluttering around with colourful butterflies and a parrot or two. I stood still long enough for a pretty butterfly to land on my finger and for a yellow parrot to do what the bluebird of happiness is said to do ......on my jeans!
Also visited Karkloof Falls (pictured above) and saw a cycad growing at perfect right angles to a rock face.
Who I have met: A delightful young man called Tyler who was our waiter at a lovely restaurant in town and served us a delicious lunch. He  informed us, when I commented on his height,  that he is still growing at the age of 27 and way over 6ft - He was rather a dish himself, and I felt like bringing him home, keeping him as a pet, feeding him and watching him grow.
What I have bought: Shoes - What can I say! I made a vow last year not to slip or slide around in cardboard shoes from MrP or flop around in unflattering flats that strain my calves but its hard to find fashionable shoes with a small heel that don't look like orthopaedic appliances. So when I stumbled across a sale at a Green Cross outlet up here I 'just popped in'. I must say their shoes are comfy and stylish.
What I have seen: I used to go to the movies two or three times a month but in the last couple of years it seems that Hollywood has died and been replaced by animated cartoonists or comic book Superheroes! I jumped at the opportunity to see Helen Mirren in a film called Hundred Foot Journey which is a foodie film, set in France and the village resistance (they are always resisting something the French) to an Indian family opening a restaurant opposite a Michelin star establishment. It was like a French pancake - fluffy, delicate, sweet, pleasant and predictable with lots of ripe berries, French arrogance, Indian music, huge sad brown eyes and furious chopping and lashings of coriander! I came out of there starving and headed for the nearest sushi place.
I also caught a glimpse of the reclusive resident water monitor who popped his head out of hibernation on Sunday just long enough for me to snap at him.
What I have read: The rest of my time has been spent pottering about here at Ascot Bush Lodge and catching up on some reading. I finished Two Brothers by Elton John and flattened The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle in two days,,,,now on to The Universe versus Alex Woods!
I head back to PE on Sunday to pack again for our trip to Zambia - a belated honeymoon - another story - another adventure!

Friday, August 22, 2014

A happy ending......and I didn't have to bite anyone!




Thank you SanParks - I was refunded today! I mentioned in my previous blog that we arrived at Kruger Park to find that there was a mess up with the booking and we weren't booked in - whats more they were full so we had no option but to book into the Protea Kruger Gate (which is fantastic by the way). It was such an awful feeling to get to our much looked forward to destination and be turned away. Even though I had proof of payment - the dates we had booked for had not been altered  as I requested when we had to make changes due to work commitments, and I didn't have the new reference number with me. We decided that it wouldn't spoil our holiday and even though I felt like crying - I put my happy face on and made the most of the situation.
When we got back -- I grabbed my diary and thank goodness that I had noted there when I made the change the new reference and the persons name who I spoke to. Despite this when I emailed SanParks I was told that I couldn't get refunded as I had paid the balance of our booking with the old reference number. I sent more emails and was not given  much sympathy or hope so I put to use my hunting skills!!! I don't only like to hunt for a good photo - I like to track down the best person to speak to in an organisation - the ones who I think care and the ones that can think for themselves. Like I did when Pick and Pay gave me terrible service in PE - I stalked Raymond Ackerman and wrote to him personally in a letter to his home address with a stamp on it and YES! he wrote back because he does care about his reputation and he sorted my problem out.
So I checked the who's who in the Zoo ....or should I say the Parks and I found the name of Glenn Phillips - with the title of  Managing Executive Marketing and Tourism and emailed him and found out why he has that job and why he is successful. I had an immediate response,  he got personally involved, looked into the matter and within a few days managed to do what no one else could do - understand what I was telling him - and give me an apology and a refund. Well Done Mr Phillips - I wish you even greater success and truly wish there were more in your organisation like you!
So the moral of the story is to Keep Calm and find out the person in the organisation who cares, and to make notes when you are on the phone to people. A happy ending to what could have been a sad story!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

WILD

After 30 years of living here - I realised a dream last month - I visited the Kruger Park. Because of Tony's work commitments and the car industry shutdown, midyear holidays were few and far between and December is really not the time to go so far north when the temperatures soar.  So even though we had been to most of the Eastern Cape reserves, the Kruger - like a leopard - eluded us. It has been my goal for a long time to see a leopard in the wild - I have only ever seen one and it doesn't really count as it was in a fenced area on a reserve and it looked so depressed that I didn't even take a photograph of it!

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V and I combined the trip with his birthday and a couple of days at Hippo Hollow in Hazyview and yes, the Hippos really did join us for dinner in the evening bobbing up and down in the Sabi River while we ate. As we were going into the Kruger we used the time at Hazyview to visit Gods Window and Pilgrims Rest. Gods Window was the most magnificent view point and although the drive to Pilgrims Rest was pretty the place itself was pretty awful and such a loss to tourism revenue. Such a historical mining site dating from 1837 when a gold strike drew many hundreds of hopefuls, could have been made far more interesting to visit. Instead its a street full of stalls - all selling sunglasses, caps and fake designer stuff and a couple of performing street kids and car guards - Why??

Back at Hazy View we enjoyed a lovely evening of African dancing, dining and drumming celebrating the birthday boy. The next morning after breakfast we headed off to the Kruger National Park to be told that we weren't booked in and there was no room at Skukuza for us! Long story...... I had booked the accommodation and paid for it months in advance and subsequently had to change the date - apparently this change wasn't actioned and our booking was cancelled!  We instead stayed at Kruger Gate Protea Hotel which is absolutely wonderful and I would go back any day! We dumped our stuff, grabbed our cameras and headed off into the park!

WOW - within thirty minutes we had come across lions feasting on a very recent kill - a buffalo and in fact we saw the carcass in various stages of being eaten over the next couple of days. Also on that drive we drove to Panic Lake and saw a pod of hippos lazing in and out of the water with crocodiles on the river bank, while a golden eagle soared above them - magic!
We were up early the following morning and in the park to see the sunrise - on this trip we saw wall to wall buck and zebra, giraffe, rhino, buffalo, elephant and some beautiful birds. Its good to go to the park in winter - although the temperature was in the mid 20s - because the vegetation is sparser which gives better game viewing. I noticed that the animals were alert and lively - V pointed out its because of the lions. If there are no predators in the game park then the animals get lazy as there is no threat. We drove past the lions again guarding their food and made for camp to eat ours!
We booked an evening drive that night with a group - you are not allowed in the Kruger on your own after curfew as that is when the animals hunt and there are strict times for you to be back in your camp so a supervised game drive is the only way to access the animals at night. We were with a group most of Swedish tourist who went ballistic before we got into the park because they saw an elephant at the gate. Hmmm! I thought what will they be like when they see the lions eating the buffalo?? 
When we got to the buffalo kill, the whole pride was there - perhaps 15 of them - and they were feasting
like I have never seen before. Noisily tearing the flesh off the bones and chomping with low growls of satisfaction - they ate with such energy and intent it was spellbinding. We drove on to see a pack of hyenas with their babies mewing like puppies, a cerval slinking in the long grass, more elephant and buffalo. It was almost like the park sprang into action at night.

We drove through again the next day on our way to Crocodile Bridge where we had booked for our last night in the National Park. Taking our time we drove off the tarred road at every opportunity and saw more lion on the banks of the river and many crocodiles - some huge! We saw a brightly coloured saddle billed stork - looking like an exotic prehistoric survivor and ground hornbills hopped everywhere. The buffalo carcass was now covered with vultures picking clean the bones - nothing wasted!
Our accommodation at Crocodile Bridge was a far cry from the luxurious Kruger Gate but it was clean and comfortable - a thatched rondaaval with an outside kitchen so I cooked bacon, eggs and beans by torchlight and we sat on the veranda to enjoy it - we were not alone. The torch light lit up two red eyes just metres away on the other side of the fence - a hyena - thank goodness for that fence!!


 The stars were magnificent - we turned off all the lights and in pitch dark whorls of them came into view - a falling star - another - it was as if the universe was putting on some illuminated show for us. We brought out a blanket to lie on and pillows for comfort and that was how we spent an hour just watching and enjoying the canopy of stars above us making us feel small and very insignificant in the grand scheme of things,

We packed  a flask and breakfast the next morning for our last drive though the park and ate it at a view point over the river watching the Kudu and waterbuck come down to drink while the crocs eyed them lazily. This part of the Kruger is well known for the lilac crested rollers and we spent the morning trying to get a good photo of one as they flitted through the bush.

Reluctantly we made out way to the gate to exit the Kruger and on cue a lone elephant came to see us off - his wise eyes listened knowingly as I silently swore that we would be back soon for our next visit.......and we will!
After all I am still hunting for that elusive leopard in the wild!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Online suprise!

This time last year I embarked on an interesting adventure - I tried online dating - this is what I wrote at the time!

I have had an interesting 2 weeks. I have been winked at from all over the world from Iceland to Cape Town and Milton Keys to Morocco. My iPhone has been pinging and my laptop has been in overdrive. Encouraged by friends as a way as a potential way of meeting someone and as research for my attempts at story writing, I have been online dating! Well sort of! I think at this stage I need to reassure all of you who know me and particularly my family, that I am now off line - permanently and have deleted all traces of me on the virtual love boat!
 I decided that I would see what is was all about and aided and abetted by a friend, I 'put myself out there'. I tried a local and an international site which seem to operate on the same basis. For those of you who are curious this is how it works.
  • You create a profile and a user name and password.
  • You pay some money - I subscribed for a month but could not tolerate another 2 weeks.
  • Your profile is put onto the site with details that you chose to disclose.
  • You upload a photograph (most people use one at least one 10 years old)
  • You are then offered a selection of hopefuls who match your criteria and the games commence.
People who want to make contact with you then send you a 'wink' if you like them you can 'wink' back at them. This then gives the go ahead for them to start a conversation with you. I had a great many 'winks' after the first 24 hours and went through their profiles trying to keep a straight face and bearing in mind that these could be vulnerable, desperately lonely or just desperate people who were brave enough to open themselves up to strangers. I am a kind, compassionate person with bags of empathy  but I am not proud to admit that I often found myself laughing out loud and not in a kind way!
The first guy who decided to send me a message looked very much like Abu Qatada, the Muslim cleric who was recently been deported from the UK. It could have been him as I am sure that they are allowed Internet access these days from inside! Needless to say I pressed 'delete' as I did with many others.
I then received a message for a man who decided to 'play open cards with me'. He confessed that he was married but he hated his wife who did nothing but shop at Woolworths. I thanked him for his honesty and told him that I had more in common with his wife than I did with him as I loved to shop, loved Woolworths and perhaps he could send me her number so she and I could go shopping together. I added that if I was married to a man like him that I would also spend my days in shops and what's more every time I saw him on his computer I would spend more! I then pressed 'delete' with real enthusiasm!
I did however have several conversations with an Icelandic chap living in Cape Town as I was intrigued. He is there on work assignment, he told me. He asked me to 'cuze is inglish' and send short messages that I had to decode into understandable language. I laughed so much at some of these that I am surprised the neighbours did not send for the men in white coats! He asked for my email address and phone number so I asked him if he had a facebook profile so perhaps I could check him out. "no sorry I must had to remove as my ex wife is foorias and sends me bad stories" I couldn't help it - a vision of Eskimo Nel came to mind with furred hood, and leathery cheeks, fish in one hand and harpoon in the other! I called my friend and partner in crime and warned her that if I was found in an alley somewhere with a harpoon arrow in my back and a vrott fish stuffed in my mouth, then she would be to blame!  Funny as all this was I continually reminded myself that there are real and genuine people out there looking for love and I have heard of some success stories - but I think these really are they tip of the iceberg -for everyone of these there must be thousands of dating disasters!
So the fun continued until this weekend when a Sky News Report caught my eye and I delved a little more into what really happens online. Read the report by clicking here........Scary stats - "A poll finds that 18% have lied about their age, 28% exaggerated their financial status, while 10% lied about where they lived." I then watched a documentary by the UK Panorama team that explains how these sites con people and it is really scary and cruel - Read the next instalment of this experience later in the week!
PS. My online dating days are over so don't even think of looking for me in cyberspace LOL!

Part 2 


During the second week of my experience I took a ‘Graham Norton’ approach and gave anyone who wanted to contact me an opportunity to delight me in 50 words! I sat with my finger on the delete button and was only delighted on one occasion. A contact delighted me by sending a lovely photograph of his Labrador - a really cute chocolate lab. I declined his invitation to chat but asked if I could take his dog for a walk from time to time. I actually think I could run a photographic service for would be online daters as the photos they use are positively weird. I mean why would you put a picture of you and your late wife, Thelma, on line, or you posing with your four children? Then there are the ones taken with a webcam – glassy eyes staring at the screen often with the light bouncing off their specs! Shirtless when you clearly should not ever take your shirt off, ruddy faced with a large glass of beer in your hand, wearing Roy Orbison sunglasses or one guy who caught my attention because he was standing on his head! These profiles could not possibly be fake but many, many of them are.
Online dating websites say they are taking all steps possible to try to stop scammers and fraudsters from misusing their services. However many, many of the fake profiles that are set up are done so by the Dating Site themselves.  The Panorama team interviewed people who had actually worked for one such international online dating site whose job it was to set up profiles, source information and images for these profiles. When you join ‘for free’ and upload your details, within hours you are bombarded with requests to chat, sent winks and messages but to reply to any of these you have to subscribe. All this is bait! As soon as you subscribe and they have your money, the activity comes to a standstill. When your subscription is coming to an end and you request to terminate it – all the activity starts up again, tempting you to stay online. The documentary showed all this happening.
One online dater wrote “They are not scammers, the profiles are created by the companies running the sites. I was a victim of Match.com. When I cancelled my subscription I changed my profile, deleted all information about me on it. Just left the info that I was 99 years old, 4ft tall, and 18 stone. Guess what? They still sent me emails telling me that there were 6 women a day meeting the same criteria who wanted to meet me? Easy way to tell their fake profiles, the name on the profile has "_1234" after the name, with a random number. These wouldn't all be set up by scammers with the same format, they are auto-generated to match the profiles of the gullible victims who thought that they were dealing with a reputable company. I tried other dating sites, and they all do it. Global Personals run multiple sites had me too (read the small print to see who is behind the site). I found them out when a profile with a picture of someone I knew personally appeared. I contacted them and they told me that they had never been on the site, and that it wasn't their profile at all.
I eventually saw the light, got off all dating sites, and decided that I would rather be single for the rest of my life than be a victim of this abuse of trust.”
Then there are the profiles of real people who are not quite what they seem. Mary Turner met her husband William online, and had two children with him. It later emerged that he was a bigamist, who had fathered 13 children with six different women.  Ms Turner was left £198,000 in debt, and decided to write a book about her experiences. Dominic Blackburn, spokesman for 192.com which carried out the survey, said: "It's very easy to present yourself in a very different way on online dating sites and social networking sites - it's far easier to do it on that than on a face to face basis."
In my own experience – I copied the method used by the Panorama team and searched the photographs posted by a few of ‘gentlemen’ who contacted me. I found myself having conversations with Finlay who claimed he was from Stellenbosch and yet when I googled  his image, I was taken to a Facebook profile picture of a man who lives in Texas and among his other photographs was the second photo that was posted to ‘Finlay’s profile.  The same happened with a person who claimed to live in Bloubergstrand who called himself Richard. His photo was that of an image attached to a LinkedIn profile of a man called Alan Bailey from Atlanta. In both these cases I was asked for my email details to make it easier for us to contact one another. Needless to say I declined and informed them of my findings and asked who has stolen whose profile. I haven’t heard from Finlay since and Richard wants to meet me for coffee so I can see for myself it’s him. Not a chance Richard – I have a feeling that you are a Nigerian drug dealer or perhaps a human trafficker and I may find myself living in a basement in Oklahoma!
The online dating industry generates around 2.5 billion pound per year. If they are serious about protecting its users they need to spend a lot of that reviewing their security and their systems to protect its genuine users.


 I have asked the site to remove my profile 3 times - Last night I logged in as a guy using a different email address and there I am still smiling online and waiting to be winked at ;- (


Part 3

There really wasn’t going to be a part 3 to this but I went online to see if the dating site had taken my profile down – and there I sit looking pretty after numerous emails to ask the site to remove me. I wondered if perhaps I was only be visible to me so I thought of a way to get to see the dating site through the eyes of a guy and created a brief male profile.
Lord forgive me! I logged in using Tony’s email address and created a free account. I didn’t go so far as to load up a photograph – just his name, age and area. Ironically the first face I saw when I did a search for matches was ……me!  So I am definitely still up there despite being reassured that morning that my profile had been removed.   I checked again later in the day after receiving an email telling me my profile had been removed and ‘Tony’ had four messages – All he had to do was subscribe to begin chatting with these ‘lovely’ ladies. One of which was me – sending him winks.  I reported this to my son who pointed out that I was now winking at myself online. I resisted temptation and decided not to have any conversations with the four women who are now eyeing my late husband - this is getting bazaar! I am becoming quite the detective and think I may have missed my vocation!
Anyway by now - back in my own profile I had a mailbox full of messages which I really was tempted to look at. I deleted most of them including one from a 19 year old who had added me to his favourites - hilarious! But I replied to three after checking them out using Google Images - none came up with a police record attached to them. The first chappie lives up country on a bush camp and everything he has told me about his whereabouts checks out. He wanted my phone number to chat as he wasn't the greatest typist - I refused and he said this really confirmed that I was the woman for him - a 'lady' - as if I had passed some big test - I was delighted! He did give me his number though - which I immediately googled. It took me to an advertisement for a person selling goats! In my next missive I asked if he was in fact a person who sold goats on occasions and I have not heard from his since. I think he has deleted me!
Number two and I were having conversations about animals and photography - he directed me to his Face Book page and sure enough there were some awesome bird photos - I told him I wasn't very skilled with bird photography but had some really good animal shots - well that is what I thought I had told him but when I reread the message the next day what I had written was 'I have some really good anal shots' Oh no! I was doing this on my phone without my glasses on  - I was in hysterics and had no idea how to put this right! Had I blown my big chance?  I need not have worried - also on his FB page was his information telling the world he is 'in a relationship.' So I asked him and he confirmed that yes he is and gave me a sorry story - he didn't even ask for my 'anal' shots - Delete - Delete!
The third guy is French - here on contract and widowed - his wife 'is dead on a motor bike'. He is quite attractive and seems sincere - I haven't found anything to doubt in the  information that he has communicated to me and we are still chatting but he lives in Cape Town and is currently staying in Johannesburg for work. I think he is lonely and he just enjoys telling me about his day - he has given me his number but I won’t be dialling it anytime soon.

So - my profile is still there - I am still getting winked at daily by fictitious characters and messaged by pseudo profiles and perhaps the odd real person. I am strangely comforted by the fact that computer matched me with my perfect match - Perhaps there is a message in that!


Part 4

Its now 6 months later! I never did call the guy from Cape Town but in a strange turn of events – I continued to chat to the Bush Lodge guy who once upon a time advertised goats for sale. We racked up hours of whatsapp texts and then phone calls. He lives in Natal and I am in the Eastern Cape and we agreed to meet half way in September last year. I booked 2 rooms at a B&B and told them he was my brother so if he touched me inappropriately then they would think he was a perverted weirdo!  We got along from the first minute together and we had dinner out – went for beach walks and enjoyed each others company, so we decided to continue our conversations and meet the following month – this time in Cape Town. This time it was a little harder for me to say goodbye to him. I went overseas for a holiday and he kept in touch and we met up again on my return – this time I flew to him and saw his bush lodge and we stayed on the Natal coast.  I sensed that this was getting serious as I missed him so much when I go t home and he said he felt the same. In December he stayed with me for a week and I really sensed that we were falling for one another. Christmas was really lonely without him even though I had my family and good friends around me.  In late December we could not be apart any longer and I spent New Year in Natal and since then we have hardly been apart. The distance has been a little difficult to manage but we are making it work by dividing our time between Natal and the Eastern Cape and we are planning a shared future. My sons and their families really like him  – he fits in so well with my friends. We deliberated at first on what to say when people ask how we met- Do we tell them we were kidnapped by aliens on the same day and shared a space ship? Well we did meet in cyber space!! Do we say we met through business? Do we make up imaginary mutual friends? In the end we decided to tell the truth! 

We make each other laugh – I love having him around and we have shared some great road trips already. He is enjoying photography and I am learning to drive a tractor – we have been to dancing lessons.
I never thought online dating would work but as I type this – he is sitting opposite me and I am so so happy to have him in my life.

Finale!! We were married on June 21st and meeting the challenges of our two worlds colliding in real space - not cyber space. 


Sunday, August 3, 2014

My thoughts as I enter a new week....

We have just returned from a lovely holiday in the Kruger Park and its back to reality and some hard work to pay for the next trip!
One cant be on holiday all the time and I realise that I need to find ways of getting that holiday feeling when at home. A holiday is not just about being away from your own bed and kitchen - its a different mindset too and a carefree feeling. How to capture that everyday I wonder?  Here's my thinking as I try to create a happy space to be in.
  • Declutter - Stop hanging on to things (and people) that add no value or purpose to my life.
  • Make shrines to the things I love - Don't save the best of everything you own for later. Use my pretty teacups today! 
  • Show appreciation to those that make my journey here meaningful and make my days special. 
  • Play tourist in my own city - I will walk at the beachfront, drive the scenic route to work and savour all that is brilliant about living in PE
  • Under react to mishaps - mistakes are merely lessons to teach me how to do something better. 
  • Dig deep and speak nicely! I won't react to those who forget their manners or forget to show their appreciation of mine.
  • Stimulate my senses - warm baths, scented candles, breathe deeply, hot chocolate and soft sheets at night. 
  • Do more with my family and friends - Looking forward to laughing with Craig and Jessica and enjoying the company of my loved ones.
  • Set aside time each day to read, write or just enjoy a quiet moment of solitude.
  • Be spontaneous - Live in the moment!
I have just remembered that I have a whole pampering session that was a pre-wedding gift from special friends - I will be using that next week too!! Looking forward already to my holiday at home!