SA’s bad press

Just look at the news stories involving South Africa which made it to the front page of the BBC News website (more than 800 million pages served each month) over the last week and you can see why some people claim that SA gets a bad press. We have good old African corruption, political crisis, more self-publicising Simon Grindrod nonsense about crime and a completely laughable story about Durban being named after… well… bulls bollocks. A bad press, yes, but that’s not to say that these stories are not true – sadly, they are (although Simon Grindrod is an idiot and has a vaguely amusing name). It’s perhaps just a little unfair that the country’s dirty laundry is out there for so many to see, while the neatly folded stuff in the cupboard remains… in the cupboard.

But that’s not the only “bad press” that I’m talking about. South Africa’s own news sites – such as News 24 and IOL – are pretty awful: laden with poor journalism, sensationalist rubbish and more adverts than actual stories. That’s why it’s sometimes very hard to actually get a handle on what is going on in this country.
After all, why would one trust any content from a front page that features a dark picture of a dodgy looking gent, claiming to be a 25-year old man “looking to date men and women between the ages of 18 and 100”?
Not the most specific of parameters, I think you’ll agree, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

At the end of the day, it all comes back to the fact that bad news sells newspapers, gets viewers and snaffles a nice big internet readership too. Those good news stories are kept for the final item: the “and finally…” to leave the viewer feeling all snuggly and warm and ready to come back again at the same time tomorrow; that despite the fact the world is filled with crime, disease, earthquakes, war and poverty – Snookie the labrador is looking after some orphaned piglets, so everything’s OK.

Sadly for SA, most people on the BBC News site will have read the headline SA’s Table Mountain ‘needs army’ and moved on, probably with the thought that they’ll leave Cape Town and BullsBalls off their summer itinerary this year, Snookie or not.

The transformation is complete

If, for some strange reason, I didn’t think that I was really a dad yet – and by this I mean in the full-on emotional sense, rather than the biological sense (something I accepted a LONG time ago) – then now, I do.
That’s the sort of realisation that a new shopping complex can bring to youThe new development in question is on the Breakwater Boulevard at the Waterfront. It consists of 3 units, the middle one of which is a bank. Don’t let that bother you. The bank plays no further part in this tale. Forget the bank. Don’t get Inspired, Motivated or Involved.
The other two units house a toy shop (grandly named “Toy Kingdom”) and a car dealership, respectively.
But it’s not just any car dealership – it’s the Cape Town Aston Martin dealership.
Big, fast, flashy sports cars.

And that’s where the problem arose. I was far more excited about the prospect of a new toy shop than I was about the sports cars. The idea of buying cool gifts for the little one was far more appealing than looking at some sleek, shiny DB9, Vanquish or Vantage as I pass by each day. It would seem that my Playboy days are well and truly at an end.
And, by even the most conservative estimates, I have at least another 15 years before I hit the midlife crisis zone and need to risk my toupee by purchasing a flashy, open-top sports car.
Truth be told, I’ve never really been into flashy, open-top sports cars anyway. What is it that they say?

The size of your engine is inversely proportional to the size of your you-know-what*

I guess that explains it then, because I have a 1.4 injection. It’s capable, it’s reliable and it gets the job done.
(My engine, however, is nothing to write home about.)

In other news, I’m sure many of you will be wondering why I haven’t yet written about the Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge incidents which are currently dominating the South African news at the moment. There are two very good reasons that I haven’t written about them:

  1. Because this isn’t a blog about politics, so political posts turn readers away in their droves
    and, more importantly:
  2. Because their names are so long, I actually can’t afford the bandwidth.

Just a quick personal note:
I have been reliably informed that certain people – well, certain person, anyway – in the UK has been reading this site and I’d like to just make it clear to her that you really don’t need a gun. A big water pistol, maybe – they’re always good for a laugh. But not a gun. You know who you are.

Sorry about the rather conservative language, but I can’t risk offending either of my regular readers.

What Sky News has missed

It’s strange how things happen. Only a couple of days ago, we were enjoying the story of simple country folk together, going about their er… “business” without a care in the world. And now, suddenly, the role of the British vet is seen in a whole different light (actually, thank goodness) as an outbreak of Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD) in Surrey, UK is investigated.

As a microbiologist, this case is particularly interesting to me. I’ve always had a bit of a personal interest in epidemiology (the study of the spread of disease) and the detective work that goes with it, since reading the story of the Broad Street pump. I guess I’m just a frustrated forensic scientist, deep down. With a love of bacteria. The FMD outbreak in 2001 was devastating for the British farming industry and cost the livelihoods of many hundreds of farmers. Over 7 million animals were culled and the total cost of the episode was in excess of £8bn. Behind those easily reported figures though, the true human cost remained largely hidden. It was a very a big effect for a very small virus (about 0.0000001mm in size). So I guess in a way it’s understandable that, so far, the rolling news stories have all been about the human side of the story.

That’s the way that British news has been heading for some time now – demonstrated admirably by the hopelessly overblown Madeleine McCann case. After all, there’s nothing that reels in the viewers like a distraught farmer, crying in front of the baying newsmen; the pride of his life – his thoroughbred bull who he describes as being “like a pet” – shot in front of him, along with the rest of his herd of 100 cattle.

But for me, what makes this whole sorry scene even worse is that this outbreak appears to have begun at a research laboratory site nearby to the (so far) two affected farms. That it seems to be down to poor laboratory practice makes me even more angry for the poor farmers and even more incredulous that the news teams in the area appear to have missed what I think is the bigger story here. The virus that causes FMD is one of the picornaviridae, called Aphthovirus. Because of the lack of any cure for the disease, the lightning quick transmission and the low numbers of viral particles needed to cause infection, aphthoviruses are classified as a Containment Level 4 pathogens by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Just to put you in the picture – and I could list the others, but I think that one will do – essentially that’s the same classification as the Ebola virus.
Step forward Dustin Hoffman in a spacesuit. Or something.

Now, I’m not suggesting for a minute that the research facilities at Pirbright have Ebola on site. That would be silly. But there is something utterly terrifying about a pathogen “escaping” from a CL4 facility. That simply cannot be allowed to happen. It’s the stuff of hideously paranoid paperbacks, of low budget films, of conspiracy theorists wildest dreams.

And now – in all probability – it’s reality.

Why have Sky News missed this so far? As I said – this is the stuff of movies – surely right up their street?

I think that maybe they just haven’t realised the “Ebola link” yet. So once again they wheel out Prof Hugh Pennington (he and I have history – grr) and his eyebrows and he says… well… nothing of interest. No big surprise there. Literally.

So, Sky et al, if you’re reading this:

Here is the news.
A virus as dangerous as Ebola has escaped from a laboratory just outside London.
Stop interviewing crying farmers and get on with some real journalism.
Much obliged.

Vets – they’re all at it

Just thought I’d slip a quick one in while my wife is watching some god-awful British drama about an incestuous veterinary practice in North Yorkshire. I’ve only watched it for about 5 minutes (I really couldn’t take any more), but even I’ve worked out that the receptionist’s hubby (a vet) is bonking his assistant, the practice manager’s husband (who is also a vet) has bonked his wife’s best mate and his sister-in-law is having it away with her ex-boyfriend (not a vet).
In fact, the only one not getting any seems to be the gay bloke that cleans out the kennels.
It’s all tremendously complicated. And poorly acted.

I suppose that if there is a lesson one can learn from this though it’s “don’t marry a vet”. They obviously struggle to keep Simon Sausage in Terry Trousers.
To be honest I’d be sorely tempted to stray if I were married to that lass that used to be in Coronation Street though. (Apparently, her name is Gaynor Faye). Maybe it was those horsey teeth that attracted the vet in the first place.
You can just see him trying to impress her in the pub: “Open up wide, love – and I’ll tell you ‘ow old you are!”

Enough.
It was a surprisingly bright weekend in Cape Town. Sunday was even warm too. An opportunity to take stock of the damage caused by the recent heavy rain, thoroughly dry one’s goats out and allow one’s son to get absolutely filthy in the garden. However, any thoughts that we may have seen the last of the winter were firmly dashed by the lashings of rain and filthy weather we endured today. And don’t get me started on Cape Town drivers when it rains. Grrrrr.

OK – I said that this would be quick one. I wouldn’t lie to you, dear reader.
More soon. Possibly.

Update: OK, it seems that the bloke that cleans out the kennels ISN’T gay!
That dachshund was definitely female…

More on our ARS

The sun has shone upon Cape Town this week. And about time too. the four cold fronts which swept through last week gave us floods, gales, thunder and hail. Miserable.
I await the figures for the number of caprine casualties with a heavy heart. Regular readers of this site will be all too aware that these gentle creatures are more susceptible to inclement weather than other more hardy livestock and I know of a herd of cattle lost in the floods and at least two donkeys which were blown away in the high winds.

The weather even halted work on the new stadium for the 2010 World Cup. That in itself is pretty unusual as they have been working from dawn til dusk (and beyond) in order to keep ahead of schedule. Here’s a magnificent picture of how they were getting along before rain stopped play. I think you can see from this aerial shot why the Metropolitan golf course now has a par of just 17 rather than 70. Look on the bright side, guys – at least you can get back to the clubhouse bar more quickly now!


Looking the other way (we call it “east”), towards the city centre, you can see the proximity of the stadium to the Waterfront (which is next to the marina) and Cape Town CBD. Other points to note are the nearest shop selling alcohol (red roof, right-hand side) and the nearest MacDonalds (green roof, dead centre, between building site and roundabout)*. It’s comforting to think that they consider the workers’ needs when they site this sort of massive project.

There are, in fact, still a few legal challenges – mainly from the “mean green” environmental lobby – to be overcome before stadium gets official planning permission.
Now, I know what you’re thinking and yes, you’re right – they’ve actually done a teeny-weeny bit of work already. Hell, even I can remember when all this was fields – it was only 4 months ago! It’s ok, they were given special permission to start. It seems unlikely that work will be halted at the eleventh hour (well, actually, looking at those pictures, it’s more like the fourteenth hour now, isn’t it?) but this being South Africa, one can never rule it out.

All in all, it’s an amazing sight and there’s already a great deal of interest from various corporate sponsors as to who will run the stadium post 2010. Whoever does so is going to have control of one of the most remarkable structures in one of the most beautiful locations in the world.
All they’ve really done so far is dug the foundations and yet already it’s been described as the southern hemisphere’s Wembley.


Let’s just hope that doesn’t mean that is going to take 7 years to build…

*My place of work is also on this picture. I work in a big yellow castle (Yes, seriously I do) (No, it’s not an inflatable bouncy castle) – I’ll give a prize to whoever can find it first.