Sacrificial anode

It seems that I have been acting as a sacrificial anode. Of sorts.

If you don’t know what a sacrificial anode is, allow me to enlighten you:

A galvanic anode is the main component of a galvanic cathodic protection (CP) system used to protect buried or submerged metal structures from corrosion.
They are made from a metal alloy with a more “active” voltage (more negative electrochemical potential) than the metal of the structure. The difference in potential between the two metals means that the galvanic anode corrodes, so that the anode material is consumed in preference to the structure.
The loss (or sacrifice) of the anode material gives rise to the alternative name of sacrificial anode.

Basically, in layman’s terms, it’s a chunk of metal which is attached to another submerged piece of metal (like an oil rig leg) and rusts so that the other stuff doesn’t rust. It lays down its atoms so that the oil rig leg (or whatever) doesn’t have to.

And last night, I suddenly realised that that’s what I’ve been doing: sacrificing myself in order to protect my wife. Not by rusting, you understand, but by lying next to her in bed and being bitten by a succession of mosquitoes, which bite me in preference to biting her.
Of course, she claims that it’s purely chance that with a single mozzie in the room, I wake up looking like I’ve had an overnight attack of chicken pox, while her gently tanned skin remains smooth and soft and…wait… sorry – where was I again? Ah yes – she says it’s just chance, but I’ve done some rudimentary calculations and statistically, it seems that I have been imported solely the purposes of baby-making, lawn-mowing and to be a sacrificial anode. Of sorts.
Oh – and to prop up the previous ailing South African brewing industry, which I have now almost single-handedly turned into a global success story.
(It’s ok. No thanks necessary.)

Nothing good ever came out of being sacrificed. The chunk of metal only lasts a certain number of months or years before it is gone – eroded and corroded – and replaced. The sacrificial lamb is braai’ed, devoured and forgotten before you can say “Mint Sauce” and no-one ever remembers which actor played “Expendable Exploration Party Member 3” who was pushed into the flaming lava pit by the African tribesmen to appease their Gods in 1921’s The Adventures of Tarzan, now do they?

But with the baby-making completed and SAB-Miller back on an even keel, maybe I should be happy that the grass is still growing and the mozzies are still biting. The way my joints feel these days, maybe the corrosion metaphor is more than just a metaphor and I should be grateful that I still have a role in this place and that I’m not about to be replaced by a shiny new lump of zinc.

After all, although it is a fundamental element in making babies, zinc can’t mow the lawn and zinc can’t attract biting insects.
I think I’m safe for now…

7 Up

Not the sugary carbonated “lemon” drink. That would be a ridiculous subject for a blog post. Although, as I’ve always said: “When life throws you E128 and E204, make 7-Up”.

But no, today marks the day seven years ago that I arrived in South Africa and began my role as the country’s favourite import. It’s a bit of a weird one, but we have celebrated it each year since I’ve arrived.
People are never quite sure what to say when we tell them that it’s n years since I came over.  “Congratulations” is all very nice, but what are they really congratulating me on? “Well done on making a decision to move house”? Or perhaps “Amazingly, you’ve survived more than a few hours in this crime-ridden hellhole.”

Hellhole. Why would anyone come here? I mean really…

Whatever their reasoning, what is the correct response from me? “Thanks for having me”?

It’s been a busy few years: getting married, building houses, playing with TB and making children, but it’s been an amazing few years as well.
And no, I – we – have absolutely no plans to live anywhere else, so you may as well stop asking (or praying). With its vast array of entertaining politicians, days full of decent weather, friendly people and cheap beer, together with the flat mountain, the superb lifestyle and the huge range of public holidays: this is very definitely home now.

Why are you still here?

No, dear readers. This isn’t a question for you. 
We all know why you’re still here. It’s the almost ethereal, magical, magnetic attraction of the prose you read on these pages. It’s a completely understandable and excusable addiction.
No, this was a question I was asked by the Molton Brown Boys over a particularly tasty curry at Bihari last night. I guess it’s at this point that I should explain that the Molton Brown Boys are a group of friends that get together for a curry and a beer every so often and discuss everything from Borat through to cement statistics.
We were drawn together by our shared outlook on life and our penchant for fine soaps. Deal with it.

So – why are I still here?

The question was posed, I believe, in response to the current “bad news” vibe in South Africa and my ability, as a UK citizen, to up and run back to the safety of Blighty at any time. Why would I want to stay?

Let’s look at the bad news: electricity shortages, crime*, bloody awful customer service. Sure, they’re huge issues – especially those first two. If you’re samzn0, then you’ve obviously had a particularly bad couple of weeks in January and the third one is a big problem too.
But if you want to complain about something else, then you actually have to dig a bit. You could moan about the Government, but some would argue that in many respects, they’re doing a pretty decent job – it’s politics and no-one ever agrees about politics.
You could moan about the inflation and interest rates, and it is a real drain on one’s finances each month, but these growing pains come with a developing economy and frustratingly high oil prices.
You could moan about Bafana Bafana’s exit from the Afcon tournament, but they got drawn in the Group of Death – Senegal are out too. Who’d have thunk it?  

No, life isn’t always easy here, but then is it always easy elsewhere? You see, I believe that wherever you run to, you’ll still find problems and drawbacks. Maybe not as acute and as pressing as those here, but irritating and frustrating, nevertheless.
Examples? Is Gordon Brown everyone’s cup of tea? How much is a litre of petrol in London? And what are England’s footballers doing this summer?

There’s always the plus side. The bit that some people in South Africa (and virtually everyone on that appalling internet forum) try to bury under all the bad stuff. And yes, there are also plus sides wherever else you go in the world as well.
I’m not stupid. I keep an eye on the news and what I see and hear “on the street”. I’m aware of the challenges SA faces now and in the future.
But perhaps part of the lure of SA is the rollercoaster ride between the bad news (which is often pretty bad) and the good bits, which are actually exceptionally good.

There’s the weather, the lifestyle, the food, the scenery, the braais.
There’s the people, the smiles, the optimism, the hope, the World Cup(s). 

It’s hard to define the experience of living in South Africa right now. If one were only to review the newspapers and the news websites (like the people on that forum do), then one would get a horribly skewed version of the country. Actually living here, it’s not like that at all. I’m typing this in a brightly lit room on a PC which is working absolutely fine. I haven’t been murdered today.
Note that I’m not making any claims about customer service though.

One must take the rough with the smooth. And the smooth in South Africa more than makes up for the rough.
I’m staying put, thank you very much.

* Interestingly, the moaning about crime has dropped significantly since the recent round power cuts began. Evidently, even your highly-trained, seasoned moaner can run out of negativity.

Yes, it’s different here

“Proper Christmas” just doesn’t work in South Africa. I tried to point this fact out in the article I wrote for the December issue of Emigrate2 magazine. There are plenty of reasons for this, but here’s the biggie: it’s the middle of bloody summer.

So: no chance of snow, it’s hot, it’s light, it’s bright and therefore it’s about as festive as genital herpes. (Obviously, I didn’t put that analogy in the emigrate2 thing: it’s a classy publication, not like this dross.)

Chicken. Safe and traditional.   Pwawns in garlic butter - adventurous

Hence, at Christmas in SA, you get to take pictures of regular readers of 6000 miles… (both of you) slaving over hot braais. Christmas parties take place around swimming pools rather than around roaring log fires; mulled wine is entirely inappropriate and replaced by cold beers (in evidence in both those pics above – you can tell those guys are experts) and you head for the beach instead of watching the James Bond film* on Boxing Day morning.

 Pool party   Building

All well and good, but not ever so atmospheric. Not in a “Proper Christmassy” way, anyway. So if you want to enjoy Christmas here, it’s very much a case of adapting to local conditions and not trying to make it like a Christmas back home. Embrace the change, enjoy the differences. It’s taken me a while, but this has been by far my best Christmas over here, simply because I’ve finally given up trying to fight the system**.

I have a friend who moved over here 2 months ago and who came for breakfast at Chez 6000 on Christmas Day. Seeing her looking so homesick brought back a lot of memories for me. Moving countries is a brave thing to do at any time, but I think that this time of year is definitely the toughest if you’ve done a UK to SA move. I know a lot of expats read this blog and if you’re finding it difficult, my advice to you is just to hang in there. It does get easier. And while you might be desperate for a cold and dark Christmas, try sms’ing your friends and family back in the UK from the beach. Mention the soft white sand and the gentle rolling waves. Hint at the soft, warm breeze that’s blowing and the sun beating down on your bikini-clad body***. Then ask them where they’d rather be right now.

Be prepared for some coarse language when they reply though.

(More Christmas pics are available for fans and family on the 6000 flickr page.)

* “Never say we’ve never seen this one before”.
**  OK, watching 0.6 open his presents probably helped a bit too.
*** Probably best to leave this bit out if you’re a bloke.