Friday, 25 July 2014


Hello everyone

Photo start. actually a photo finish because....

Crested eagles, per the bird books, sit on telegraph poles and this one kindly did as it is supposed to do.
Are the stars out tonight, I don't know if it's cloudy or bright, but they all disappear from view, cos I only have eyes for you  -name that tune.

Would we have got it through customs if we'd won? Real poster from a furniture shop window in Edendale  township. 

I am sitting in Joburg airport with time to kill and an unfinished final blog which as ever was started days ago. We have had the final parties and the hugs and kisses (and just managed to avoid the tears) and are now in limbo before arriving home. Both happy and sad to be leaving. As you have seen it has been a packed year both work wise ( no really it has) and travel wise.

 As the World Cup recently reached a climax the title seemed apt but not alas for the English this time. As Gary Lineker once said  - Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win." 

We have come to the end of a year that Manda and I agree has been 95% fantastic and 5% poor because of silly things like crap internet access, hot sweaty nights ( no not at our age, I know what you are thinking!!) and some very stupid, idiotic comments and actions that almost ended our journey early!! Nuff said.

I promise there will be more of Manda's photos coming up but first the difficult question. Have we made a difference?

The answer is we think yes in our own small way. Accountancy was never meant to be glamorous and my 'achievement' is to have sorted out the finances, put systems in place and most importantly recruited a local person to do the job. The fact that he is a Zulu is a big bonus for me because we needed to get the right person in and someone who can easily connect with the majority of the staff whose first language is Zulu. Out of many people who applied he was clearly the best man for the job and is proving so.

Manda, who came with no idea of how she could contribute, has ended up running a highly successful photographic course for the youth which FIFA were very happy to extend and has also been instrumental in getting the monitoring & evaluation software off the ground. For the geeks amongst you Manda has also instituted Observation, Teaching and Learning (OTL). For those of you that thought accountancy was not particularly interesting then OTL is right up there too to thrill you , but like me Manda is happy doing what she does.

Okay lets get some photos in before you fall asleep. Older son said less verbiage, more photos and who am I to argue? Don't answer that please.

Best done by reminding you what we still had to come after the last blog entry:

1. The move to the health academy in the township of Edendale and the hoped for return of many kids to the Health Academy with the new football pitch.

No that is not the new building behind!!! Converted containers for counselling and storage

Old building behind and new building on right. Great seeing the kids play on a perfect surface

Some of  the team. Yes we're happy, but sad to leave

3. A brief trip to Israel for niece Jordan's wedding.

Now sit down everyone. Manda DIDN'T take her camera to the wedding. So you should know that Jordan looked lovely, husband Ron is a lovely guy and my hearing is further depleted by the music which was very thumpy thumpy house or whatever!! Stuck in the 70s I'm afraid.Come back Slade all is forgiven

4. Paul and Barbara Berry coming for a brief trip in June to see us.

We had 5 great days and at the very last moment, with literally 30 minutes to spare before we dashed to the airport 2 lions arrived right on cue

Scuse me , is there a McDonalds round the corner? Me and my brother could murder a Big Mac

What do you mean I'm being watched? I'm standing on a stone. Aren't I?

5. The results of the elections and the result of the Oscar Pistorius case. ANC with big majority again and not guilty of murder are my two predictions.

Well the ANC got the big majority but the Pistorius case goes on and on and on!!! At least we know he isn't mad but is he a murderer? Ask most South Africans and they'll say yes but sometime in the next century we'll find out officially.

6. Maybe a long weekend in Cape Town and see the whales too

Yes we got there. The weather was awful in Cape Town. Cold and wet, but just a few miles outside it was nice and sunny. Very strange. So here are the whales and penguins:

You have to love them. Manda took this photo when a gale force wind was blowing. Scuse the pun but they are unflappable!!!
Not the greatest photo but  interestingly it was taken from the shore. 6 whales were frolicking very near to us

7. The Durban film festival in July which was the first event we attended last year so will be a nice way to end things

So far only one evening and that on the beach with an outdoor screen. A short film about a woman trying to get compensation after the death of her husband shot during a strike of aluminium workers in Joburg, a documentary on circumcision by Xhosas (500 deaths last year from botched ones) and finally a poor comedy film set in London about Nigerians and cultural differences.We left early.

NEWSFLASH Saw a very violent film including torture, rape and people being beaten up by police. Dalits in India who are treated as untouchables in the Hindu caste system. This is still going on but let's be controversial and note that you hear nothing of this or about other wars in the world but you get plenty on one certain current world incident. A hard film to watch- Papilio Buddha - banned in India. See it if you can.

8. Leyton Orient being promoted from League One to the Championship after winning at Wembley in the play off final.

We blew it and I couldn't even watch as no internet.  I  promise not to go on about football even though my broken heart may soon be healed by an Italian multi millionaire  (the billionaires were all on holiday) who has just purchased my beloved Leyton Orient.

Some more thoughts. A year is a long time especially away from family and friends. If we go away again to volunteer then we would come home more often. Holiday venue suggestions for anyone wanting to visit us next time round would be welcome.There is of course the option to get paid work abroad. As they say 'the world is our lobster'.

By the time you read this we will be home. We have been amazed how many people have stuck with us through the year and kept reading the blog and to as many of you as possible we look forward to seeing you. To our South African friends it has been a wonderful year and we will really miss you.

You don't know what is around the corner. We won't be the richest people in the graveyard, that's for sure, but we hope to have lived a full life with no regrets and most of the time with a smile on our face (unless I don't take my pills and then  it's hello Mr Grouchy!!!)

Much love to all

Manda and Spencer

The happy couple walk off into the sunset. Yes it was staged. I'm usually walking about 50 feet behind Manda 

PS SA health and safety at its best:
Seat belts optional apparently
PPS The photos included in the blogs are a small sample of some of my favourites. If you like birds,animals , people or and /or scenery then ask Manda to see some more.

Friday, 9 May 2014


Hello to all of you

Still here and going strong you'll be pleased to hear

For those of you who did English Literature at school do not panic as the title is not the moment where you have an hour to write your essay and definitely do better than my F grade.

Actually the title of this post is true as hot ,sweaty ,humid Summer is nearly gone and for the first time last night it was actually a pleasure to put on thin jumpers. I know that sounds completely mad but until you have tried to concentrate at work or at home or sleep through the night in a sweaty humid Durban Summer you won't really understand the relief.

As ever what you all really want to see is some of Manda's photos so before you suffer my inane ramblings any further here we go:

First up - a trip to Lesotho, a mountainous Kingdom surrounded by South Africa

Lesotho version of the Apple i5

Public toilet - own paper to be supplied. You may want to find a bush instead!!!

Our 5 star accommodation - nothing but the best of course for the Simmons'

32 degrees centigrade but shepherds dress as though it is 32 degrees Fahrenheit (that is zero in the new fangled centigrade thingy) 

Public transport service

4x4s only on the infamous Sani Pass or you can walk it!! Manda and I turned down the latter option

We have also just come back from a road trip of 2,500 miles. South Africa ,which if I haven't mentioned it before I will now, is a big place so we decided to go South towards Cape Town and see where we got to before turning back. Pictures interspersed with a few thoughts coming up

Beach bums!!!

Closest we'll get this year to the white stuff

We travelled along the Wild Coast also known as the Transkei where the Blacks were literally dumped during the Apartheid era and where Nelson Mandela was born and is buried. It is remote, because the roads are limited, but beautiful.  Incredibly if you speak to a white person they will be horrified that you drive in the Transkei off the main road. On our way back we not only dared to drive off the main road but picked up people who needed a lift from one town to another. Were we mad? We don't think so. As we have said before South Africa has a very long way to go before true equality and mixing of the people and trust is one of the biggest issues, from all sides.

We then entered the Cape and what struck us was the change in the people and indeed the language spoken. We have heard little Afrikaans in Kwa Zulu Natal, just Zulu and English. Suddenly Afrikaans was the predominant language. Spoken not only by the White Afrikaners  but also by the 'Coloureds. I have to admit that the distinction between Blacks and Coloureds was one we assumed was made up by the regime during the apartheid era but there is no doubt that the people deemed Coloureds or Mixed Race to be politically correct are generally very different in appearance. The whole issue is massively controversial. One of the guys who works with us is from a Cape Coloured family (which he himself would say) but he is very dark and related a story to us of when he was a kid. He was put in a police prison cell for playing on a football pitch for Whites because the police thought he was black whereas his brother was not because he was deemed Coloured. The regime used the split to keep themselves in power and again the Coloureds were put in a separate area.

After the Cape we decided time was against us so spent 2 lovely days in the Winelands in Franschoek eating and drinking and then turned for home. The route we took was through the Karoo desert and on up to the Southern Drakensberg mountains  over the highest pass in South Africa and then home via a quick trip to the coast again. I could bore you silly, if I haven't already, with a lot more details of our trip but it was an experience we won't forget.
A prize if you can guess what this sign means

Of course we are here to work and the good news from my point of view is that we have appointed an accountant to do the job I am doing which of course was always the plan. We had a lot of interest and pleasingly we have appointed a local guy who lives a short distance from the Health Academy in Edendale. He is young but has good experience so I hope to have a lot more time soon to do more teaching. Manda will continue with her two projects so it looks like it will be back to normal ie Manda working all the hours and me relaxing and enjoying myself. Tee hee!!!

Also we finally have a new football pitch and may even move to working full time in Edendale this month as the building is 'almost' finished but we await of course for the installation of the computer system and the internet. If you have ever moaned at home about internet speed and reliability then you should try working here. Reliance on the internet is now so ingrained in day to day work that you wonder how life carried on before it. Quite well actually, and as one who was taught Pounds , Shillings and Pence at school and grew up in a time when a machine called a calculator didn't exist I should know.


We are now well into our 10th month and we start to wonder what life will hold for us after July. We would both like to work abroad again but seem to have different ideas of when that might be. We have Monty's (step father) 90th birthday and Adrienne's (niece) wedding to look forward to but Manda who has always worked is worried she will be bored if she has to sit around for a number of months. As somebody who spent 5 years sitting around without any problem I can't see what the issue is.

If you are interested in where we might end up and whether there is a place you might like to visit to see us then look at the Accounting for International Development website.

But enough of this. To be sung -Que sera sera , whatever will be will be, the future's not ours to see.........

Another short lesson in how we now talk as adopted South Africans:

Eish!!! - an exclamation used for absolutely every situation. Example - Spencer it's your birthday next week (hint).You're how old? Eish". This blog took so long for me to do my birthday has long gone

Eibo!!!- See above

Is it!!!! - Not actually a question more like a statement -"You've got something green stuck in your teeth" Response - Is it!!

And an even shorter lesson in the Zulu we have learned:

Niyabonga - I thank you
Siyabonga - We thank you
Niyabona - Hello from me
Siyabona - Hello from us
Injani - How are you?
Nabila - I'm fine

Yes we know that this is pretty poor for 9 months of immersion in the Zulu culture but of course as all good Englishmen know (and expect) everyone else should speak to us in the Queen's English.

Which reminds me, if you haven't seen the film Zulu recently then it can be streamed on You Tube. A young Michael Caine keeps a stiff upper lip whilst repelling the Zulu army. Of course it took another 20 years to make a film of the Zulu victory over the complacent Brits 6 hours earlier at Islandhwana. Not such good box office in the UK. If you ever get a chance to visit Rorkes Drift and Islandwhana you will have a tear in your eye after the true story is related. A marvellous experience

We still have plenty of things to keep us going in the next few months:

1. The move to the health academy in the township of Edendale. Yes 5 days a week of travelling 50 miles each way to work but the charity will function much more smoothly with everyone together.

2. The hoped for return of many kids to the Health Academy with the new football pitch which has now been laid.and looks very impressive.

3. A brief trip to Israel for Jordan's wedding. She is Manda's sister's eldest daughter. A chance also to see Alex and Katya. Ben is well ensconced in Bogota , Colombia teaching English so it may be a while before we see him.

4. Paul and Barbara Berry coming for a brief trip in June to see us. We have been very lucky to  have had a number of visitors already - Naomi and Jon, Anne and Mike, Trevor, Petrina and the girls. It has been great to see them all and there is still time for you to book a trip. We would love to see you.

5. The results of the elections and the result of the Oscar Pistorius case. ANC with big majority again and not guilty of murder are my two predictions.

6. Maybe a long weekend in Cape Town and see the whales too

7. The Durban film festival in July which was the first event we attended last year so will be a nice way to end things

8. Leyton Orient being promoted from League One to the Championship after winning at Wembley in the play off final. Okay Manda couldn't care less but she'll have to put up with me either being totally depressed for a week or so if we lose or a grinning lunatic for many months if we win. And yes Manda and all the other halves who don't understand the obsession 'WE' includes me as part of the 'team'

FINALLY, you'll be pleased to hear if you've made it this far,a few more random pictures below to show a another bit of the countryside. Hard though to capture the landscape in pictures.

Love to all

Spencer and Manda

Friday, 7 February 2014


A happy and healthy New Year to everyone. Yes we know it's already February bit like South African builders things take time.To make up for our laxness we have put together a bumper edition of the blog so get your tea and biscuits, put your feet up, take a few minutes out of your hectic schedule and please read on.

Fanfare of trumpets. We have now been here for 6 MONTHS. Have you missed us? Spencer and Manda who?

STOP PRESS. NEWSFLASH - Manda has tick bite fever. See you in 5 minutes once you've googled it. Not nice eh and of course the bite which is a red blemish about an inch across with a black middle is right on Manda's backside. Too much information I hear you cry.She will survive.

Before we get a bit serious some oooh aaah pictures taken by Manda. As we were at the other end of the world we looked for somewhere near and lo and behold Madagascar is just across the water (well 3 1/2 hours flying)

A few Lemurs later plus car,train, canoeing and hiking and we had a great holiday

Mum. Look at those strange creatures walking on the ground ( Ring tailed Lemur)

Look into my eyes. You feel sleepy

Edward Milnes Sifaka - picture taken whilst perched on a very steep hill hanging on for dear life to a tree
A resting Boa Constrictor - very warm and cuddly

Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Chameleon you come and go, you come and go oh oh oh 

Just one of Manda's  many portrait shots. I love them ,hope you do too

We are sitting here dripping as today it was 30C and very humid. We now have 2 months of this. Of course I expect absolutely zero sympathy from anyone reading this as I assume most of you are suffering cold wet and miserable weather. So no shorts and T shirt then!!!

So far I have shied away from the extremes of life where our work is. But this week a few things brought it into sharp relief.

 At the health academy where we are based we have counsellors who see the youth with HIV. This is a tough job and they do all they can to alleviate difficult situations including children being made homeless and and at risk of domestic violence.

Firstly one of the counsellors has started coaching 3 Whizzkids boys football teams under 13,15 and 17. To sum up a very long story the under 17 team entered a tournament and scraped some donations together including from us staff and managed to get to Johannesburg by train (12 hours) after the coach driver was too drunk to drive and were docked 3 points for turning up late for the first match. They barely had money for accommodation and ran out of food. Despite this they got through 3 more games , and may well have won the whole tournament but with no food it became impossible so they sadly had to come back.

The second situation though was scary. Two of the counsellors went out to do a home visit in which they check the status of the youth in their living accommodation. They found the two children and took them in the car to the house they were supposed to be staying. They were told to wait whilst the guardian finished playing cards!! Suddenly 2 people were coming towards them with pans of boiling water at which point they ran for their lives and despite one spraining his ankle they escaped. It could have been very nasty as one of the people was clearly high on drugs.Older men take advantage of young women and girls hence the horrendous incidence of HIV - 47% of women in the area are HIV positive.

This is the reality of life in a township. It will take many years to change not just the inequalities in this wealthy country but also people's attitudes. For many men drinking in the shebeens (bars) is their only outlet and women have to put up with daily abuse.

So what are we doing? Well the charity runs the Health Academy in the grounds of Edendale hospital and specializes in treating HIV youth as well as couselling them.  Our aim is to attract youth by providing outlets for their energies eg homework club,choir, art club etc plus our biggest draw - a football pitch that is now being rebuilt together with the FIFA Football for Hope centre of which more later. We also run life skills classes at schools using football as an analogy. We will start running our mixed gender leagues when our new pitch appears. It is all about respect mainly the boys and men having respect for the girls and ladies.

A very brief science lesson that we have learned. South Africa provides free anti retro viral drugs (ARVs) which these days if adhered to can prolong life considerably . It is the adherence which is the problem with the youth. Adherence classes are given and something as simple as a watch so drugs can be taken on time can help enormously.

I will be doing some maths and accountancy tutoring but my main job is keeping the finances in order. We work with some big organisations like FIFA,Oxfam, GIZ ( a German government initiative) and the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project all who have different reporting periods and all with different reporting requirements. The big job though is to take on someone local to do the job and mentor them till we leave.

Manda is running a project funded by Sony and FIFA and works with about ten youth. The aim is to help them document their lives,improve their English,ICT skills and to use a camera. I hope to show you some of the pictures depicting their surroundings and the life they lead when they are ready.

She is also responsible for the new database being developed that will really help with monitoring and evaluation. If we can't measure our effectiveness we won't get funding and of course we need to know that what we are doing works.

We will soon be involved as facilitators for groups on a Saturday morning to meet to discuss their problems together. Currently Africa is also it appears going backwards with regards to gay rights ,see the latest news on Nigeria and Uganda.  A local group for LGBT youth is being formed to help that community and we will be working with the team to support the group.

Our admin is still in Durban but of course we should now be permanently based at Edendale which would make life so much better being at the heart of things. In October we were supposed to move in to our squeaky new building funded by Sepp Blatter and those wonderful people at FIFA as part of the legacy from the 2010 World Cup but March is now a more realistic date. Yes I know it has been 4 years but (through gritted teeth) this is FIFA , sorry this is South Africa, and we will now almost certainly be the last of 20 FFH centres to be built. Basically FIFA were happy to get SA to spend millions on pointless new football stadiums and then got the cheapest builders to build their little legacy projects. Ah that feels good finally getting it off my chest.

Basically the workers work infrequently assuming they get paid and are not on strike, and then once they get paid they get drunk and don't work. The health and safety is non existent. Safety helmets are used to carry water in. The roof which is finally on is not as originally planned . It is a flat roof not pitched. The manufacturer decided to use a plan from a totally different building and was surprised when the architect advised that the building would collapse if they tried to fit it!!! Unbelievable.

The building itself will not be complete as FIFA have reached their spending limit. This is most obvious as half the building is a room two storeys high - for no good reason. One day I guess we will raise funds for a mezzanine floor. Until then we will need a very long pole to open the windows built at  the top.

Latest news is that we may now not get in till May. Will we get to see it finished ?

As for life outside work give us a few days and we will find some game to view. On our last trip we almost literally bumped into an elephant who then gave us a lovely show with a mud bath.

We then stopped for a drink which we would normally have had outside but the guide wanted to show us a small hide next to a water hole. In we trooped and 30 seconds later a male lion suddenly walked past, about 20 feet away. "LION" I shouted and the guide had the presence of mind to check we were all actually inside.
Certainly gets the adrenalin flowing. We then rushed out to the jeep and followed him till he flopped down to rest and called for a female

CUE FOR GRATUITOUS ANIMAL PICTURE - but not an elephant or lion.

Hey look I can walk on two feet too!!!!

Manda has now been to the beach to take photos of surfers but in 6 months I haven't dipped my toe in the Indian Ocean

We have just been away with Naomi and Jon who arrived from Blighty. A whistle stop tour of KZN (where I did finally swim in the ocean) with the weather not being very kind to us but we had a great time and it was lovely to see them. Next up Trevor and Petrina and hot on their tails Anne and Mike.

We hope a few more of you can come and see us. If not then its the Skype guided tour of the cottage, East and West wings.

In Durban we try to go the theatre when possible. Recently I did a review of cultural life in Durban for the Wanstead Players so here it is for those who may be interested. If not then we wish you all well and promise to blog again in this Century.

Durban isn’t Cape Town or Johannesburg. Stating the obvious admittedly but whilst the others have a vibrant arts scene Durbanites are seen as lazy and one spot of rain and they stay in.You have to dig for nuggets and avoid the supper shows that they seem to enjoy for some strange reason.
So far we have been to a few interesting events:
The last night of the Proms Durban style. Not a play but at the Durban Playhouse which houses 3 different theatres from large to 100 seat studio. I did get some strange looks draped in my Leyton Orient England flag belting out Land of Hope and Glory and bouncing up and down
A play about modern life in South Africa through music and short sketches by  the Playhouse youth group. Sadly only 8 people in the audience and it seemed really good except it was all in Zulu so we didn’t understand a word. Whoops
A play about one of the first female Asian doctors in South Africa. We were the only non Asian faces in the audience. We were surprised to find them serving a whole buffet of samosas and other goodies. Of course we had just had dinner at home. The play was very interesting and well acted by an amateur group.
A comedian doing a one man show. Very funny if you know a bit about Durban and South Africa which we now do. I laughed out loud especially at the tour operator sketch for oldies which promises a guaranteed mugging experience right outside the steps of the hotel and an ambulance in 15 minutes.
If you have read the blog you will have seen about our night at the KZN Youth Choir carol concert.
This week though is Musho, a  festival for one and two handed plays including a man who balances stones (apparently an Edinburgh festival hit!!). The website has photos and reviews.
Too wet to stand outside and watch stone balancing so first night we saw a very funny two hander , one woman playing 3 parts as parents of a playgroup organise  a nativity play and the other is pregnant and sings songs using nursery rhyme tunes but with some funny and sometimes rude lyrics. Highly entertaining hour
Second night and 2 plays. The first about a family going camping at the seaside - poor Afrikaaners The son sets up the camp and then it is revealed his family are all dead. Long story so won’t boer you (couldn’t resist the pun!!) It proves that you need someone to take a critical look at a script and edit it down and that comedy is I believe the hardest thing to do well. Also you need to be hard when directing to stop the actor gabbling and not projecting. Okay you get the message, it was poor.
The second play, a one hander about a south African girl of Greek origin and her travails in dealing with her mother and getting a boyfriend was much better. A tad long , so again a bit of judicious editing would have helped, but the actress played many parts and I have no idea what her real accent is, she was that good. A real tour de force.
Finally Saturday night and two more plays. The first called The Shoe Man about a man growing up in a township and not being able to afford school fees so trying to get enough money by shoe shining. It is amazing that in SA the poorest have to pay a fee to go to school. Even though some of it was in Zulu it didn’t matter. A one man show of warmth and energy and an audience that whooped and hollered. You don’t get that at the KMT!
The second event , not really a play was supposedly about God but we all wondered what was going on. Basically a mime performance that was physical and acrobatic and very clever using a back screen , spotlight, large ring and a white sheet. You had to be there as they say.
The cost was £3 per play. Excellent value. As a post script I was told the boy in the seaside play got stage fright as it was his debut so he spent much time shooing imaginary seagulls off a Christmas tree whilst the prompt gave him his lines. That explained the performance.
Only one amateur group in Durban and too far away so as Arnie used to say “I’ll be back”

Thursday, 14 November 2013


Hello everyone

Spring is almost behind us so a quick photo and a big Arr!!  Forget the Big 5 this lot are the cutest

Spring has sprung - Very proud mum
Sorry I  can't resist. More extreme cuteness

"Mum - when I grow up I want a horn just like yours"

Well here we are again and back by popular demand. Okay a small exaggeration.  One person liked the blog and actually wants some pictures of us. So for those of you with a nervous disposition look away now. These are for you Apeksha at Accounting for International Development (a fine institution)

The old folk celebrate Christmas early - Turkey and Tinsel (ask my mum and she will explain!!!)

The very happy winner of the Xmas raffle 

Please don't laugh. Yes I know it is still 7 weeks to Christmas so how were we supposed to know when invited to a concert of the KZN Youth Choir that it would be a Christmas concert and be performed in a Church hall!!! We haven't sung Carols since we were in Primary school but there's nothing like a good old singalong to get everyone going. It really was a lovely evening and of course the icing on the cake (yes there was Christmas cake too) was us winning the first prize in the raffle - a Xmas hamper stuffed with goodies. And there was I telling someone that we always get the last prize ie the one you want to donate back immediately at the next function you attend. Not this time - tee hee!!

I'll leave the giraffe poo to the end but I suppose you could skip the rest of my ravings and go straight there if you want. It may save a minute or so of your life. Dear reader tis your choice.

A quick weather update. Somebody forgot to tell us that there is a rainy season which lasts 9 months. Basically, with a few exceptions, each day the temperature soars into the 30s followed by scary thunder and lightning and then heavy rain. Apparently it gets incredibly muggy in Jan/Feb and you sit in the office with a pond on your head. Can't wait.

Anyway if you are still with me I should briefly mention our local monkeys. As I walked out of our little cottage last week I was met by a monkey coming out of the house with a sliced loaf of bread. Yes they are extremely clever but NO he hadn't sliced it himself but he had carefully lifted the top off the china bread bin and placed it on the side before making off with his ill gotten gains. He proceeded to climb on the verandah roof and was joined by the rest of the troop whilst I watched on. I took some film and photos as they tucked in and then popped inside. As I walked out again they had gone and from behind me the empty plastic bag drifted over my head with crumbs falling from it. A surreal moment as the monkeys gave their equivalent of two fingers stuck up.
It's okay you just sit and enjoy it.  I'll just get you some butter and jam too or would sir prefer marmalade!!!

Life continues to be interesting (4 months nearly.Wow) and I am still amazingly happily ensconced in my office merrily playing with my two computers (one has the accounting software. We can't afford multi user. 'Ah shame' I hear you say) and of course reading the latest edition of  'Bookkeeping for Dummies'. The CEO actually thinks I know what I'm doing. If you are reading this Marcus. 'Fooled ya!!!!'

BORING ALERT. For those of you with an accounting bent can I just say that in South Africa there are no rules for the layout of Charity Accounts, you can claim back VAT on nearly everything, you can claim back VAT for years before you register (true) and the South African Revenue Service ( SARS as we fondly call them) are actually quite efficient . The same cannot be said for Standard Bank who continue to amaze me with their labyrinthine rules and awful administration. This blog was so nearly called 'Please stay on the line your call is important to us'. 90 minutes the current record.

Sorry. Bet that made you leap to the end. If there is anyone left reading then Manda is also working hard, definitely harder then me, as she has to commute 2-3 times a week to The Health Academy where she is deeply involved  in the set up of the new Monitoring and Evaluation database ( for those of you from the BBBC the words -'like a pig in s**t' might spring to mind). She is also as mentioned previously doing the FIFA /Sony project and the kids are now using the cameras in their own neighbourhoods and recording their  lives.

After 5 days of work we do feel the need for a bit of R and R at weekends. How many times do I have to tell you to stop laughing. 8-4 and lunch at the desk. Proper W.O.R.K

I'll carry on regardless.Durban certainly isn't London so you have to dig for gems. Recently we became flag waving British patriots for the night as the Durban British Society had its own Last Night of the Proms. They played all the favourites and of course culminating in Land of Hope and Glory with me wildly waving my England/Leyton Orient flag as Manda desperately tried to disassociate herself with the lunatic on her left.

Believe it or not we haven't been for a day at the beach yet. I know a few of you would kill for the golden sands and warm Indian Ocean especially at this time of year. I'm sure we will do it at some point

It is outside Durban where we get most of our kicks. We counted up and have been to about 10 different game and nature reserves ranging from a small nature reserve in walking distance to full blown 'Big 5' reserves. That doesn't include the monthly bird walk round the DCC golf courses at 6.00 in the morning.

A Turaco -  designed by a colour blind committee

A Red Bishop -  Wonderful colour - 6.30 am - Wakes you up seeing that!!

You can never get bored especially having recently been extremely close in a Jeep to a Lioness and daughter  and then standing about 60 feet from a male Lion. When he stood up and turned and looked at us I was pleased that the pelvic floor exercises I had to do post op a few years ago seemed to have done a job. Thankfully he loped off for  bit of peace and quiet.
Lion disturbed. We are standing a bit too close for comfort

Huge sigh  of relief. He decides to go

In a Jeep about 10 feet away. I offered my nail clippers but she declined

 We also had a scary moment when a lone male elephant decided we were inside his comfort zone and charged us several times. Luckily the guide can drive in reverse faster than I drive forward. Mr O'Shea and Mr Berry go to the back of the class for sniggering. Oh, and more accurately than I drive a golf cart. Anyone can mistake the accelerator for the brake. That is why they put a wooden sign there. To stop you

I have a very shaky piece of film of the elephant chasing us which I will spare you. I was more concerned with hanging on for dear life

So then the finale and our moment/s of madness (as if this whole year isn't a bit off the wall).

We went to a great game reserve called Thula Thula. Please please read 'The Elephant Whisperer' by Laurence Anthony who was the owner but who tragically died about 2 years ago. A fascinating story and his other books are excellent too.

You have the option of doing a walk in the bush, not necessarily for the faint hearted but they do walk away from where the Elephants are and there are no Big Cats. But I digress. Having seen lots of birds and plants and the really fascinating Dung beetles.(I could watch them all day as they pat their balls of dung into shape and then roll them to a burial spot) we headed towards a 'tower' of Giraffes.

Forget Pooh sticks. 2 Dung beetles racing is much more fun

The guide stopped and drew two lines in the sand about 10 feet apart. He then bent down picked up a pellet of Giraffe poo, popped it in his mouth rolled it around a bit and spat it over the second line. Amazingly and I am still wondering what we were doing we all followed suit. Manda got further with her spit than I did. She still goes on about the time she beat me at Crazy Golf about 30 years ago but I was spared the celebrations and taunting this time. The guide explained it was safe because Giraffes are herbivores. We are still alive and feeling fine for the moment

Dessert was a termite on the tongue, apparently mint flavoured. Manda had a go at this but I was full so declined. Manda and I will be auditioning for 'I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here' as soon as we get home.

Would you do the Giraffe poo challenge?

We would love to hear from you by e-mail, Skype, Facebook or you can comment on this blog

We promise to focus a bit more on the work of the Charity and life in the township next time

Very best regards to all

Spencer and Manda - your Southern Africa correspondents

 PS I cannot believe I haven't mentioned the Orient. I have a permanent grin on my face. Even Manda is impressed so they must be good.

Amazulu v Bloemfontein Celtic at the wonderful  World Cup stadium in Durban. The 'crowd' is on the left if you look carefully. West Ham you can have the Olympic stadium with pleasure. Mr Hearn save your money.

Saturday, 14 September 2013


Oh no!! we started with such good intentions and here we are with 7 weeks gone and only our 3rd post. Of course we are working so hard that there is little time for anything else (which of course you would expect ) Okay just a small white lie but we do work 5 days a week 8-4 and sometimes have an hour each way commute.

Okay so here we go. Firstly a warm hello to our friends across the world.(I say this with confidence because you can see from where in the world people have looked at the blog and so far it's about 12 countries). We hope you are all well and Shana Tovah and well over the fast to those who will be.

 The only exception to my greeting is the Chinese person who tried unsuccessfully to hack my Gmail Account. He or she must indeed lead a dull life. And if anyone wants to earn money from a lady in Jordan or some soldiers in Afghanistan who want help with exporting funds I would be happy to pass on your details!!!

 It has been a while since we touched down in Durban and we are both getting into the groove and I know this will be a shock to you all but I (Spencer) am quite enjoying working. There is much for us both to do. 180 kids playing in Mixed teams playing a World Cup football tournament last Friday meant a busy end to the week. France won and as ever England lost on penalties (I kid you not!!).

But enough of work for this edition of the blog. We thought you might be interested in our life away from work.If not look away now. As mentioned in the last blog for those interested in my work please go to the SARS (South African Revenue Service) website for a thrilling insight into SA VAT and PAYE and I can highly recommend a 4 hour seminar on VAT I attended

As with the Americans it appears that we are sometimes separated by a common language so here are a few fundamental SA terms:

In the supermarket -"Do you want packet?" - Translation - Would you like bags or do you have your own?

Giving directions - "Turn left at the robot" - Translation -Turn left at the traffic lights and try to avoid the trees in the middle of the road that for some strange reason they forgot to remove when building the road.

Feeling under the weather - "I have Bronchitis" - Translation - Men = I have Manflu and am close to death, Ladies = I have a small but rather irritating tickle in my throat.

Eating - "Yebo we should have an Avo starter before the Braai" - Translation - Yes it would be nice to have an Avocado starter before burning the meat to a cinder on the barbeque.
If handbrake is dodgy then use tree in road to stop car

So for those of you who we haven't done a skype show n tell of our living accommodation here goes. We are the proud residents of a one bed, one bath cottage. Yes had to mention it again. WE HAVE  A BATH. Next door in the main house are the other volunteers. England, Germany, USA, Denmark and China have all been represented recently and of course there's Tabasco the cat as well as 2 kitchen geckos.
Thrilling video of the view over Durban from our home

We share the use of an elderly Fiat with the others and this works well, as walking in Durban is like trying to walk around a giant roller coaster. Apparently Hillary and Tenzing practised here before climbing Everest.

We are used to the local foxes at home but here we are woken every couple of weeks by the local troop of monkeys on their circuit of the neighbourhood clambering across the roof and then playing in the garden. A time to close windows or the house can be wrecked as they search for food.
Monkey business in the garden - 7.30am
The birdlife is very different too. The botanical gardens are a short walk away steeply downhill and a rope climb back up. The weavers building their nests are fascinating, no really they are. Stop laughing at the back.
Danger - Weaver at work - Beware of falling grass
 Once a month the local golf course (one of the top courses in SA by chance) has a bird walk round the course. iIf you can avoid the little white balls whizzing around at 6.30 in the morning it is a great experience which is more than can be said for my experience so far in getting up at 5.30 to play with one of the little white balls. I am not an early morning person as most of you will know. In fact as Jon Stoll once said  to me, I am at my peak between 11.30 and 12.30 and that is it. How right you are Jon.
Closest I'll get to a birdie and Manda gets to a golf course (It's a bee eater by the way)
The weather has been great until this week. 2 days of rain in 7 weeks and non stop sunshine in  the 70s ( and for you youngsters I mean about 20-22 in the new fangled Centigrade). Not bad for winter but Spring has sprung and it feels like Autumn grey and miserable. Weird. Apparently in a month's time it will start to get very hot and humid and the local cockroaches and mosquitos will be out in force. Can't wait. At least Gordon our resident gecko will be in his element

Is there anything we miss about not being in London apart from of course family and friends? We miss being able to go out with friends especially as there are some really nice restaurants and cafes here. I miss the entertainment in London, and yes I can safely say at this point  included in the word entertainment is watching the Orient. Bafana Bafana v Botswana just isn't quite the same although the atmosphere is great despite the Vuvuzuelas.  Trying to find plays here is difficult but we have been to the theatre once so far and it was  a good evening. Manda ( the clothes horse) says she misses the range of shops ( er I don't think she means clothes shops). No amateur dramatics groups so far but we may get some cheap bikes if we can work out a route that has a downhill followed by a downhill (copyright M. Harris 2007)

But really this an outdoor place and we have been up the coast to two game reserves, one inland and one on the coast. At one point you can see whales breaching in the ocean and looking the other way hippos in the lake. We also go to bird watching sites and Manda has been able to indulge in her photography to her hearts content. You can join Dropbox if you want to see more pics. E-mail Manda for details.

Sad to say but as the food shopper and cook in the family one of the most exciting places in Durban is the local Spar. "What!!" I hear you say, have they finally lost their marbles completely. Probably is the answer,but this Spar has 6 ladies beavering away in a large kitchen producing all sorts of dishes from filled rolls to curries to a fantastic array of cakes (sorry Nurse Debby if you are reading this!!) . The mince curry and apple crumble being two particular favourites.

On that bombshell ( Copyright J Clarkson) it's time to go.

As ever we are Skypeable for those of you missing our sultry tones and faded looks

Till the next time

Love to all

Spencer and Manda

PS YOU REALLY CAN'T TRUST THE MONKEYS TO KEEP TO TIME. As I was finishing off this blog at about 4.30 in the afternoon I thought someone was behind me. Looking back over the sofa I saw a monkey in the house heading for the fruit bowl. Not sure who was more surprised. I chased her out (she had baby in tow outside). She then decided to try and get in through the bedroom window so I ran back in and chased her out again. Marcus our CEO who was watching from the main house thought it hilarious. Wish I'd had my camera handy.