November 22nd 2003
A few weeks ago I got the call that most of us with elderly relatives still living in South Africa are waiting to receive.
My Mother was dying and I needed to get there pronto.
So with a little juggling, I was able to get a flight finalized through Atlanta and on to Johannesburg at very short notice.
Perhaps I should take some time to praise the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs personnel at the Passport Office in Hamilton.
On the Wednesday I went to Hamilton and waited in line to get a new passport. Normally this takes 10 working days.
If you pay an extra $30 you can pick it up at the office within 5 working days. If you are nice to the person at the desk they will let you into a little secret as well! If it is a family emergency you can claim back the $30 if you get a form and mail it with a copy of your airline ticket to some address in Ottawa! Sometimes it pays to be both polite and cheerful.
Anyway the chap there informed me that it would take until Monday to finalise the passport because they had to do background checks on me and make sure I was who I said I was. Seemed reasonable to me.
On Friday morning there was a knock at the door and there was a special delivery via Canada Post of my passport!!
Because my “sponsors” had been contacted and had told me that they had been approached by the authorities, I realised that all of this took place on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.
This allowed me to contact a South African travel agent here in Oakville and arrange all my flights on short notice. Anne Tucker, by the way, being extremely helpful in this regard.
So on Tuesday night I toddled off to Pearson Airport here in Toronto and sat around with all the other sleeping bodies waiting for the gates to open at 04h30 so that I could catch the first Delta flight out to Atlanta.
The airport is a very quiet and lonely place so early in the morning. No hustle and bustle and definitely no activity. Unless you count the snores of those few passengers lucky enough to have managed to stretch out on the seats and catch some shut eye! Even the cleaners seemed to be asleep!
Come 0430 though and you can feel the change. It is as if someone opened a tap and there was a steady trickle of people coming in from all directions. Mostly looking wet.
There was a really thick and nasty fog outside. Visibility probably down to ten foot at the most.
Which of course meant that the gates opened later than usual.
Which sort of set the tone for the rest of the morning. This included American Customs and Passport control in the Airport as well. And just why does the US have a passport and customs control inside Pearson Airport???
Not to mention the fact that some idiot named Charles Clayton has apparently been running amuck in some American city such as Birmingham.
Have you ever been given “that look” by an American Customs Agent????
It isn't a very reassuring sight I can assure you!! I still am not entirely convinced that my answer pleased the Lady. In fact I have the feeling that she was pretty sure that I would confess all given the rubber glove and truncheon treatment!!
When the Captain announced that we were delayed the first thought that crossed my mind was that she was going to haul me off to prove that I wasn't in the States earlier!
Unfortunately that was merely a result of the fog and so we sat out on the runway waiting to take off. For over an hour!
Which meant that when we finally took off we would only make it to Atlanta with a few minutes to spare to catch the SAA connection!
Which was a pity because I rather liked the underground train that they have there to shuttle passengers between terminals. I wanted to explore it some more. Or at least find out what happens if you don't stand clear of the doors!!
By the way if you want to upgrade at the American airlines you ask and they put you in a queue. First come first served.
Try that at the SAA counter and you are given a lecture on how to pay for the privilege. And another dirty look!
I was starting a collection!
Here however we got back on track and the plane actually left on time. On a straight run through to Johannesburg. Which is a full fifteen hours aloft! And that is a long time to discover how much width there isn't on the seats!
Actually I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was plenty of legroom for a change, although a few inches in the width department wouldn't go amiss.
In fact SAA as a whole was much better than I remembered the last time I flew. Admittedly that was an internal flight and some years ago, but the crew on this plane were pleasant, polite and professional.
Even the food seemed to have improved. Except for the ricotta thing that looked like a beached whale dripping pus and tasted somewhat the same. So I stuck to the chicken, which was a perfect compliment to a bottle or two of a good South African wine!
Which is when I noticed an interesting 911 aftermath. All the cutlery was steel….except for the knife, which was plastic. Presumably no self-respecting terrorist would ever consider using a fork to commit mayhem? I suppose trying to hijack an aircraft with a spoon is also out of the question!
Perhaps it was the wine or maybe I was merely pondering on my muse, but something that struck me as I was attempting to make room for another bottle of wine was the thought that despite all the comments made, articles written and movies glorifying it, it seems damn impossible to use any economy class washroom to join the Mile High Club!!
Unless you are a midget that is.
Which is a really bizarre thought when you think about it!
So having pondered that as one of life's little mysteries I returned to my Cabernet and on board entertainment package. Which seemed designed to appeal to testosterone laden teenage girls more than anything else. Charlie's Angels, Laura Croft and Legally Blonde! OK maybe teenage boys creep into that equation as well.
Which is why I found myself staring out of the window and waiting for Africa to appear!
Twilight and land appearing at roughly the same time.
This allowed me to see what appeared at first to be one gigantic dustbowl. I realise Southern Africa has just gone through winter but this was ridiculous! Dull dirty insipid brown is all that I saw. Crossed here and there by long, unrelenting, straight dirt roads. Which I might add only had a kink in them to go to what appeared to be a settlement of sorts. About the only way to tell rivers and roads apart was the numerous bends in the rivers. The colour was very similar.
About the only time I noticed a difference was what I took to be the Zambezi, which was a dark blue-black colour.
I took it to be the Zambezi because that was when the obligatory Spanspek was served up as part of the breakfast, which meant we were about 2 hours outside Johannesburg. What is it with South Africans that Spanspek MUST be part of every damn breakfast fruit bowl????
Shortly after that I noticed that farms began to appear. Orderly fields that appeared ploughed and green. That was when I realised we were over South Africa and coming in to land.
Of interest here is that the whole Witwatersrand, when seen from above, shows quite clearly that a meteor landed there at some time. I have noticed this before but this time it was very pronounced as we flew in over the Hartebeespoort area, and landed a good thirty minutes early.
Which actually made no difference to those waiting for us!
Africa! The total hysteria and chaos of a million people trying to get through passport control, collect their baggage, lie to Customs and squeeze through the only available exit all at the same time!
Johannesburg International. Where it appears that Taxi pimps outnumber any normal traveler by a ratio of at least 5 to 1! Where public announcements exhort you “look after your belongings”. Where slapping on oil appears to be the only way to slip through the crowds.
It all looked the same. It all smelt the same. It all sounded the same.
But very different!
And that was only the beginning!
November 18th 2003
It is Halloween today. That time of the year when pint sized highwaymen don disguises and hold the local neighbourhood to ransom for such mundane loot as half the worlds supply of sugar disguised as sweets!
And when every pressure group known to man finds it necessary to add their two cents worth in ever increasing media “advice” that seems to be necessary at this time.
We even had a long-winded comment the other day about how Halloween “wasn't” a Canadian event and was slowly falling away. The only people who apparently go all out to celebrate Halloween being the Americans.
As this was in the “Nasty Americans” mould I was a bit wary of the content. Even more so when it hinged on a supposed study that found that fewer shops in Canada had Halloween goods than in the States!!
Which shops not being determined!
Anyway judging by the floor to ceiling boxes of “tamper proof” sweets inhibiting all the local grocery stores then every Canadian who does celebrate Halloween lives in and around my area!
And at least one lives in my house!
My children being teenagers when we moved here the whole walking around with loot bags and demanding payola was frowned upon by the locals due to their age! Although they did the first year when it was borderline really! And I was totally astonished at the loot they returned with. Pillowcases full of sweets, crisps and the odd “healthy” item. Which was relegated to the “pass on to parent” pile!
Since then the boys have mainly gone to local parties and my Daughter has decided that scaring the hell out of snotty brats who expect to be given everything for free, is more fun.
As an accomplished artist some of her attempts at pumpkin decoration certainly have a gory element to them. As this photo of one of last years efforts can attest!
She then coupled this with the need to tell little Johnny that he, or she, lets not discriminate in this liberal society of ours where little Johnny could be a she as well, needs to do a trick before their pillowcase has more tooth rotting stuff tipped in. The whole essence of Halloween being the “trick” or treat part!!
Despite the little horrors belief that you merely ladle copious quantities into the proffered receptacle you can ask them to do a trick before you pass out the cavities! Which given that this doesn't seem to happen all that often normally has the little buggers really confused. Much scratching of various body parts and embarrassment taking place while they try to work out what trick they should do!!
You would think that given the fact that this is a possibility, that some of the little twits would have actually worked out that they may be asked to deliver a trick and so have something up their sleeve. Apparently not!
Most tricks seemingly being of the “look stupid and say boo” variety. Which is not impressive and should allow the miscreant to be the recipient of a box of raisins. Sadly even I am not that cruel! Besides I have a problem with the health nuts dictating what method we use to rot the teeth of the kids.
For some reason we have less of the little pirates coming around than before.
Which is not too bad this time as I am the only one at home and I really don't feel like indulging the little blighters. Besides this year has not been a good year for money and I can't buy masses of sweets to shell out willy-nilly anyway.
Not to mention being told that my Frankenstein impression was pretty good, as one of the neighbours merrily pointed out when I growled at a doorbell ringer earlier.
Well the little runt should play the game properly. If there are no decorations and lights on then you don't knock…simple as that!
In fact I am of the same mind as my Daughter come to think of it.
Many companies allow their employees to dress up for Halloween. And quite a few people get into the spirit of things!! Devils, witches and one soul who went as a cow. Although why a cow I am still mystified!
Anyway my Daughter went to work with a Bow over her shoulder, my one sons sword and a sign around her neck that said: “ Get oot of my country”!
Apparently she was “Xenophobia Warrior Princess”!!
It runs in the family sadly!
I did however point out to her that carrying a real sword was not a bright idea! What with all the kiddies around.
Her heartfelt reply is one I endorse heartily:
“*^&$@ the Kiddies! They are meant to be frightened!”
And off she marched into the mall scattering peasants left right and centre!
Bought a tear to my eye it did.
The bloody one I left on the windowsill!
November 4th 2003
The sheer hysteria that was unleashed this week when it was announced that the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative Parties were negotiating a new party on the Right to challenge the Liberals must mean that this was a good move!
The Liberal Media attack dogs went, pardon the expression, apeshit!
The sheer volume of ranting about the two parties sitting down to discuss the merger built to a crescendo when it became apparent that they had actually reached an agreement at last and would probably stand as a unified force once the elections next year are held.
Lets put aside any feelings or political convictions that anyone has at the moment. The need for a strong opposition in Canada is paramount at this moment.
The Liberal Party has been in power for so long that they are starting to live up to the “absolute power corrupts absolutely” credo!
I am still astonished at the way the Canadian populace has voted these clowns into power three times and seem oblivious to the way they are being ripped off!
From my perspective it isn't the way the Government is lying and cheating and ignoring the very people that voted them in, but that they do it with a patronizing condescending attitude that speaks volumes to the feelings that they display to ward the ignorant fools who gave them the opportunity to wallow in the trough!
Anyway the major problem, aside from a tired, jaded and ignorant voter base is that there has been no strong opposition to the Liberal party for the last ten years or so. That was when Jolly Jean replaced Canada's first Woman Prime Minister.
And the Tory party was decimated in the process!
Which in Canadian terms generally means that the party in question turns on itself and self-combusts rather than regrouping and facing a common enemy. The Tories even going so far as to split into different groups.
Which of course spent more time fighting each other over who was the true inheritor of the Right Wing mantle than trying to find common ground as an opposition.
This of course allowed the Liberals to cruise to power. Getting bigger majorities each time. And getting more blasé, complacent and arrogant as well!
There was an attempt to “Unite the Right” at some stage which bought forth the Canadian Alliance.
The Canadian Alliance promptly deciding that internal fighting was more important than going head to head with the Government. They only stopped long enough to have a ding-dong battle with the Tories. Which of course meant that the Right was in disarray when the last election was called and the vote on the Right Wing was split. Which of course allowed jolly Jean and his band of pirates to sail through the gap left! Winning more seats with fewer voters than before.
This should have been a pretty strong lesson to the parties involved, but seems to have been lost on them totally.
Which is why once again there was a changing of the guard and new leaders emerged. This time they seem to have actually stopped long enough to smell the stuff scattered around the roses inside Parliament.
Harper of the Canadian Alliance and McKay of the Progressive Conservatives sat down, with a team of course, and came up with a plan to unite the Right. At last!!
Well! Sort of!
In the true spirit of the internecine warfare that has been practiced between the parties involved there were “interested” parties who immediately started screaming blue murder about the merger!
Leaving aside the Left Wing, who of course are not interested in a United Right, the most vocal in their condemnation were the Old Guard in the Tory party! Led by Joe Clark (he of the “Joe Who?” jibe when he became Prime Minister for nine months in the late seventies!) and a Western politician named David Orchard who helped McKay to capture the Tory leadership recently.
Orchard apparently giving his support to McKay on the promise, or was that premise, that McKay would never get into bed with the Canadian Alliance.
Which is a stupid promise to make at the best of time never mind when the right wing parties are acutely aware that it is this stupid attitude that has allowed the Liberals to remain at the pork barrel!!
So we have a whole bunch or right wing people trying to help the left wing bring down the only chance the right wing has at providing a successful opposition!
I say opposition because for the time being it does look as if the Liberals will retain power when Paul Martin takes over from Chretien.
Once Chretien is forced kicking and screaming from office that is!
And it is a given that if the Right Wing doesn't gets its act into gear not only is this a given but there is a very good chance that both parties will be decimated!
Which is something that should give all those old idiots in the Tory party pause for thought. I do say “old” and not respectfully at all, because looking at the TV coverage of the people waving banners and generally deriding McKay as he goes around Canada trying to sell the idea to the party faithful, I noticed that they were all old people!!
Obviously far removed from being taught new tricks!!
And definitely aiding and abetting the hysterical campaign that the left wing news media has raised of late.
Which gives me at least some hope that there are people left in Canada who will find this total vitriol being expanded on a possible merger of the Right as being indicative of the fear that the Liberals actually have of that happening!
After all a strong opposition is good for any Democracy.
Canada is in danger of becoming, if it isn't already a de facto, dictatorship!
So I am hoping that the Right Wing gets its act together and provides a strong opposition for the time being and a fledgling Government in the future.
Where the Liberals can learn a bit of humility for a change!