Health (it needs some money)…

Ah. The Department of Health. The government department that everyone loves to hate. Well, that and the Department of Home Affairs, of course. Actually, I daresay that there are a few others too. But recently, the DoH has been taking a fair old beating. And the majority of it is entirely justified. Dirty wards, staff shortages, poor pay for nurses, a lack of qualified doctors – the list is seemingly endless. Perhaps it’s at this point that I should point out that although I’m referring to the South African Department of Health, I could equally be describing the situation back in old Blighty. Having worked in both, I can say that in many respects the similarities are striking. The underfunding, lack of equipment and the shortages of staff are obvious and alarming in both countries, albeit on different scales. Here in SA, there has (rightfully) been outcry over the fact that newly born babies were placed in cardboard boxes. It sounds terrible – it is terrible and unacceptable. But reading Georgina Guedes’ column, one can see the good in the people that work in these conditions; a staff, under pressure, underfunded, underpaid, yet still doing their best to make patients – be they mothers or neonates – comfortable and safe, despite the lack of support they face. Making the best out of a very bad job.

I looked closely at those babies and I could see that they were clean, clothed and covered with warm blankets, and so I wasn’t too concerned about their wellbeing.

For me, it’s a reminder of my time in the NHS in the UK. Hospital workers doing their best for the patients in difficult conditions. Unpaid overtime, long hours, extra duties due to a lack of qualified staff; low wages, low morale, high staff turnover etc etc. But there was a willingness to serve the patients, wherever you looked – almost a Blitz spirit. But staff goodwill can only go so far. Eventually, the system passes breaking point, shortcuts are taken and mistakes happen. And patients die. 90 of them in this Clostridium difficle “superbug” outbreak in Kent. The interview with the son of one of the victims, Ranjit Gosal, describes the situation in the wards, and the difficulties he came up against when trying to get help for his dying mother. It’s tragic. And the NHS baby units are in no better state. We’re not down to cardboard boxes in the UK just yet, but the parallels are there for all to see. The answer? More money – but more better managed money. But it’s ok – I’m no fool. I have heard these calls in the UK for many years and nothing has been done to redress the balance of years of underfunding. The same goes for SA. And so, the respective Departments of Health stagger from one disaster to another, each time claiming that “lessons have been learned”. Sorry – I just don’t see the evidence of that.

Don’t you just hate it when this happens…

You know, you’re just wandering along one day, minding your own business, dressed (obviously) as a tomato, when suddenly, out of nowhere, a mayor runs up behind you and injures you (obviously) while trying to leapfrog over you.

leapfrogging mayor story
From BBC News website

Here’s the full story, which also has detailed footage of the incident. Sometimes even I am lost for words.
This is (obviously) one of those times.

How annoying

The most annoying thing about someone telling you about annoying things is that suddenly you realise that it’s now annoying you as well. I must warn you that I’m about to do this to you now. I’m not talking about The Gamehere. Although that is pretty annoying.
No, until just today, I have had the unenviable experience of having any spare moment in my mind instantly filled by the theme music from the Police Academy series of films.

This may have been the subconcious reasoning behind my desire not to relax in Madikwe. There’s nothing that compliments sighting endangered antelope, skittishly* drinking at the waterhole less than der-dum-te-der-der-der-der-derrrr, de-diddly-dum-de-de-der-dum-der-der-der running through your mind.
And, because annoying things are catching, you’re now humming along too. With or without your skittish antelope.

But that’s ok, because I have (or rather, I had) moved on. Police Academy has now been overwritten in my cerebrum by another police theme tune. Cagney and Lacey, no less. Remember the unfathomably fast solo sax intro, breaking into the happy 80’s cheese?

Of course you do.

And what’s more, now you can’t forget it either. Annoying, isn’t it?

Another annoying thing, more particular to South Africa, is the sudden rash of people who have seemingly moved on from their denial that the 2010 World Cup is coming to South Africa. In addiction terms, this is described as “hitting bottom”. It’s not kinky. Not at all. No, it’s a good thing. The World Cup is coming; they must get used to that idea now.
There is a more sinister side though. After all, every silver lining has a cloud. (Unless it’s the silver lining of The Ad Wizard’s super sexy jacket, obviously.)
But I digress.
The sinister side is that their reluctant acceptance has led to just one more line with which to put the country down. “If we can’t do it now, then what’s going to happen in 2010?”

(And various forms thereof).
The joy of this little line (for them) is that it can be applied to virtually anything. And they do apply it to anything: The trains, the roads, the hotels, the crime, the people, the housing crisis, the health department – even the stadium, god bless it. Forget the fact that the stadium isn’t scheduled to be completed for another 2 and a bit years. And that it’s over 2 months ahead of schedule. No.
[mildly hysterical voice]: “If the stadium isn’t ready now, what on earth will happen in 2010?”
Well, I think they’re going to carry on building between now and then, so that by 2010 we have a world-class facility ready for the competition. Don’t you?

The simple fact is that even if the World Cup were to arrive tomorrow, SA would probably manage just fine – although the matches in a few places would be on huge building sites, with cranes for goals.
Here in Cape Town, we’ve been told that it will be like a usual month in the tourist season, and because it falls in winter down here, it’ll be like a bonus month for the city. Oh, and look, we managed just fine last January and I daresay we’ll manage nicely this January too, so I’m not too worried, no matter what our Doubting Thomas friends see through their half-empty glasses.

* From skittish – every game ranger’s favourite antelope adjective.

It doesn’t happen often…

…so perhaps you should mark this post in some special way so that you can come back here and marvel at this most unusual of occurrences.
Yes, I may have been “a bit wrong” in my last post. See, actually while I was writing my previous post about this place, one of the local lions was successfully hunting one of the local wildebeest.

Seeing the outcome of that little mismatch has changed my whole outlook on the game reserve/safari concept. I have to admit, I didn’t get it. Even having seen the lions up close, having watched the elephants at the water hole and seen a billion different antelopes*, it really wasn’t any different from a zoo. Except that there were no guarantees of seeing anything.

But getting up close to Mrs Lion, her two nephews and her three cubs as they tucked into 200kg of unfortunate wildebeest somehow made something click. At least they were doing something, and not just lying around in some really thick bushes, confusing my camera. And I couldn’t wait to get out the next morning to see the latest developments – which, essentially, were that lions eat a lot. And quickly.
You can see our lion pictures by clicking here and other snaps from Madikwe (including Caroline and David’s wedding pics, if that’s what you’re here for) by clicking here. I do, however, maintain my theory about camera envy. The lenses just kept getting bigger and bigger as the days went by. Some achievement considering that we were miles from anywhere in the middle of the African bush, the nearest specialist camera shop perhaps a 2 hour drive away. Assuming there is a camera shop in Zeerust. All we saw (and used) was their amazing drive-thru bottle store.

We’ve been back in Cape Town for a couple of days now, but I know that some of the main protagonists (can you have more than one protagonist?) were staying on – god only knows how long they’re exposing for now…Back to reality – but it’s good reality. I’m just off to purchase the all new Parlotones CD which was released today: A World Next Door To Yours has been described as “a suitably excellent progression from their previous work” by the Cape Times and as “a CD I’m about to go and buy” by me.  

In our next post, 6000 miles will be looking into the reasons behind the apparent issue of an arrest warrant for the Commissioner of Police in South Africa. We’ll also be asking when any sort of decent weather plans to arrive in Cape Town and not commenting (at all) on Madeleine McCann.

Vive la difference!

*This may be a slight exaggeration.

I must be Mad-ikwe

We’re in Madikwe Game Reserve up on the Botswana border in the north of SA for a wedding of a friend. It was a hell of a trip up here yesterday. Leaving Alex at home in the safe hands of Granny and Poliswa, we set out at 5:30am for the flight to Jo’burg and then on again for a further four and a half hours driving through places I’d only ever seen on the weather map, through the flat, barren Gauteng and North West landscape.

It struck me as we flew from the lush, green corner of SA that is Cape Town and home, up across the Karoo and into Jo’burg that there is a hell of a lot of South Africa and that most it is very empty and very brown. Also that the houses and cars in the Free State are really small. (Although that could have something to do with the fact that they were 35,000 feet below me).

It’s my first visit to a proper game reserve and though it’s a new experience, I’m not overwhelmed. Sure – it’s another thing to tick off on the list, but that’s actually all it comes down to – list ticking. Who’s seen what (everyone’s seen everything), which ranger is the best (they’re all great) and the all important question – the real competition: who’s got the biggest camera lens (mine’s tiny, but it extends and it’s very powerful).

Mealtime conversations are dominated – as of course they should be – with stories regaled of visits to other reserves and close encounters with The Big Five, discussions of auto focus techniques and has anyone seen anything interesting from their chalet. I’m sat on the deck outside ours right now watching a small herd of Tsessebe drinking from the water hole about 10 metres away. I’d never even heard of a Tsessebe before this morning. There’s a sole Impala with them. I’m going to call him Vlad the Impala.

Yes – I’m enjoying the experience, but the whole safari thing is not wowing me in the same way that it is many others here. Thus, I find myself sat with the wife’s laptop, a cold beer and my rattly iPod, occasionally glancing at Vlad et al, but enjoying the music more than the view. Does this make me a true city boy? Incapable of relaxing, needing constant stimulation, bright lights, the hum of the city; enjoying seeing my venison medium rare rather than endangered?

So be it. Each to their own. Life could be worse. The sun is shining and the stunning sunbirds are singing over the quiet bit in the REM song that’s on right now – which is actually improving it. I may even drop Michael Stipe an email and suggest a remix. I’ll be back in civilisation (well, Cape Town) in a couple of days, when I’ll also pop in some photos – in the meantime, I’m going to try and upload this.

If you’re reading this – it worked. If you’re not, you smell.