Monday, 28 January 2008


I've been gathering material for this post for the past 2 weeks but wanted to wait until I had some answers before I wrote so as not to jinx anything! I have been here 3 weeks today and I have a bank account, a car, a flat and a job! I'm pretty impressed with how easy it is to set up life from scratch!

I'm sitting here listening to Alex Zane on the XFM breakfast show over the internet, getting my fill of good indie music! The radio stations here are driving me mad! The music is mostly hip hip/RnB type stuff and there's only like 4 songs an hour they talk so damn much! Mostly complaining about power cuts (more later)! Can't wait for my CDs to arrive next week so I can start listening to decent music in the car! It is rather bizarre hearing english adverts and I can see myself getting confused about what products I can get where if I do this too much!!

Anyway, I have LOTS of news for you! I last wrote just before I went up to visit my Mom in Hillcrest near Durban (see map below - red dot to west of Durbs on the east coast...). It was her birthday on 14 January and it has been many years since I spent it with her so it was really nice to have the opportunity to spoil her! Well, I spoilt her as much as I could considering our priority for the week was to find me a car! In 30 degree heat and 100% humidity we traipsed around 2nd hand car dealerships until we found the perfect car for me - I was being particularly fussy and despite spending £2000 more than I intended, I got a pretty good deal on a white 2005 VW Polo (that probably means nothing to you public transport/bike users so I've taken a photo specially - haven't got around to taking one from the front yet as it's been covered in bug splat until recently!). I'm still waiting for my registration to come through so am driving around without number plates - it's great not having to worry about speed cameras!! He's a lovely little zippy car which I've called Jamie (no idea why but it seems to fit!) and I look forward to packing him up and taking him on trips around the country - hopefully some of you will be able to join me!!

Despite the admin of buying/paying for cars and insurance, I had a great few days with my Mom. We didn't do a huge amount but it was nice to relax and catch up... Durban has the largest Indian population outside India and consequently loads of wonderful spice shops! I stocked up on every kind of spice I could possibly need for less than £10! Was well impressed!
You may have heard on the news that SA is having problems with electricity supply and Eskom (our only power company) has started "load shedding" to reduce the burden on its aging infrastructure and there is a programme of rolling black outs across the country. I haven't experienced it much in Cape Town (other than when it went of 5 mins after my movie ended - lucky!) but in Durban it was going off every day for 2 hours at lunch or dinner time - very inconvenient! The basic problem is that not enough investment took place 10 years ago and now the system can't cope. They're recommissioning old dirty coal power stations and planning new ones but there's likely to be a shortage for 5-8 years!!! They're trying to get everyone to be more energy efficient to reduce black outs but I think they need to make the connection with being energy efficient and climate change too so that people don't run out and buy dirty diesel generators! Government has decided to ration electricity with different sectors having to make different percentage cuts and face fines if they use too much - again crying out for the climate change connection - trial for personal carbon allowances??! It'll be interesting to see how it all pans out...
The weather wasn't great while I was in Durban - humid to the point of walking through water and quite cloudy but it did result in a spectacular thunderstorm one night! I LOVE thunderstorms, in Johannesburg you get them a few times a week with amazing lightning displays and as a child I used to either stand there mesmerised or curl up under my duvet enjoying the sound of pounding rain on my window and cracking thunder! Cape Town gets wind storms rather than thunderstorms and this was rather unusual for Durban but it was great! I tried very hard to capture the lightning on camera (especially for Sarah!) but after about 300 photos this was all I managed to get...

Now that I had my car, we needed to get it to Cape Town! This involved a 2 day, 1700km (~1100mile) drive. Lesotho is in the way so the drive needs to go around it... The coastal road, whilst beautiful is bendy and slow with lots of taxis (notoriously bad drivers) so we decided to go through the middle of the country, through the Karoo which is just as beatiful in its open vastness (route marked in red).
I could have put the car on a train and flown back to Cape Town - or I could have bought it in Cape Town for that matter but I love driving and there is something incredibly relaxing about the dramatic scenery and open plains that you pass through in South Africa! My Mom and I drove on the main road from Durban to Jo'burg until Harrismith where we ducked onto side roads and went through Golden Gate National Park, along the Lesotho (known as the Mountain Kingdom for good reaon!) border before crossing the bread basket of the Free State passing the Gariep Dam (it's the biggest dam in SA) and surviving a Karoo thunderstorm before stopping for the night in Graaff-Reinet. 12 hours in the car, we were knackered! The B&B was fantastic and I would love to go back there for a few nights and explore the region some more - I've done bits over the years but I've forgotten most of it...

Day 2 (Saturday 19th) took us along a 160km (100m) almost dead straight road between Graaff-Reinet and Beaufort West where we were almost the only car on the road (1 car going our direction, 12 cars, 2 buses and 2 lorries in the opposite direction!!). It was incredible but very easy to get hypnotised by the nothingness around you! After 7 1/2 hours of almost continuous semi-desert we were greeted by Table Mountain and a gorgeous sunny Cape Town!

If you want to see more photos of the wonderful scenery, have a look at my web album at:

Right, I hope you haven't fallen asleep after that long drive as most of the news hasn't even begun yet! Take a break, make a cup of tea before settling into the happenings of last week... I've just recharged my batteries by spending the past 3 hours lying on the balcony in the sun reading Russell Brand's autobiography - very pleasant!

Once back in Cape Town with transport, my next priority was to find somewhere to live... Estate Agents are infuriating in this country - I'm seriously thinking of starting a Foxton's style agency over here - it would be an over night success and would revolutionise the industry! Agents tend to be middle aged women and it is really difficult to get anyone to show you any properties! If you ever manage to speak to an agent they would email you a long list of properties and ask you to find the suitable ones, you would then invariably have to contact the tenant to view rather than go to the agency - there's no chance of them looking through their books and telling you what they think you'll like and you have to chase them every day! There were 2 other major obstacles in my search... 1) Students are snapping up most of the cheaper places and 2) the vast majority come unfurnished and unfurnished means no fridge/freezer, washing machine and sometimes oven/stove!! That said, after all the hovels that I viewed, I've gone with the first place I saw which is a lovely 2 bed flat in a secure complex perched on the side of Devil's Peak with garage, pool and braai (BBQ) area. It's fully furnished with really nice furniture (unusual!) and has the most incredible view!! I'll wait until I've moved in and can take day and night pictures before I post any - just know that I'm prepared to brave the wind for this place and the wind can be VERY STRONG!!! All things going well I move in on Friday 8th and the stuff I shipped from the UK should arrive at about the same time which is very convenient!! Only 9 more sleeps on the sofa with the cat waking me up at the crack of dawn!

Whilst all this was going on, I was not busing getting a job! I contacted loads of people and circulated my CV whilst I was still in London to try and arrange a job before I got here but it proved too difficult given distance and lack of funding (particularly from Government)... So I was happily surprised when I got a call from ERM (Environmental Resources Management) a consultancy firm saying that they had identified a project which they would like me to do on a 4/6 month contract. This project is for their core Climate Change Team in the UK and involves writing case studies and think pieces pulling together knowledge on various topics from their offices around the world to identify "what ERM knows" so that this can be used in future projects more easily and efficiently. The idea was that when this work ends after 4 months, I would be brought into the SA Climate Change team and would get involved in discussions with industry and potentially Government doing work on a variety of issues here.

All I've done is go for an initial chat with my contact last week and a meeting with the MD yesterday and they want me so badly that they've gone past the 6 month contract and offered me a permanemnt post! (they're aware that I'll be going back to Defra in 2 years). It's funny, I always knew that my knowledge was valuable to others but didn't realise that it would be pounced on quite so quickly! At least it took the stress out of trying to find work! They're paying pretty well too which is good since the view from my flat doesn't come cheaply!!

Although I'm slightly apprehensive about moving from government to a consultancy as the way of working is totally different. I'm keen to experience new challenges and I know I'll be able to adapt to this new way of working. It would also would teach me a lot of new skills which would stand me in good stead in my future Defra career... I still want to work with Government here but am concerned about their ability to pay me which is why I'm keen to take up this position. I'm going to maintain contact with them and if they want me to do work for them and they find funding they they can do it through ERM... At least I know I'll be able to pay my rent!

From what I can gather, ERM is one of the leading climate change consultancies in SA and the dialogue on CC is just beginning here. I think that this is going to be a very interesting time to be working in this field and will be interested to see it from an outside Government perspective. I
t all starts with a week in the UK in late February! There was talk of 2-4 weeks but I was like "hang about, I've just left there, I don't want to go back for that long, I'll miss the summer!!" I've also enrolled in the University of Cape Town (UCT) Summer School programme for a course entitled "Climate Change and Impacts: Transforming Society". It's five lectures in the evenings by leading people in the field (e.g. Harald Winkler one of the SA negotiators and Tasneem Essop Minister for Environment in the Western Cape). I intend to use this opportunity to network and hopefully get them interested in working with me when they find money as I will miss policy work!

Anyway, it's bed time now - it's taken almost all day to write this (well except for the bit where I was lazing in the sun and at summer school!). I'll try not to leave it so long next time so it's less of a marathon read! Hope you've enjoyed it, please let me know what you are up to...

Take care

Lisa xx

P.S. My sister's flat is in Newlands near a reservoir where fire fighting helicopters come to fetch water - it's been hot and windy and there were lots of fires at the weekend so lots of helicopters with buckets flying about - they're pretty cool!

Also, where in England you would get pigeons in the garden of this block, here there are Guinea Fowl, Hadedas, Egyptian Geese, Herons and other big birds - makes a nice change! There are 10 Guinea Fowl adults which spend the day pecking and running about and looking after their 10 Guinea Fowl babies, they're very cute!!

Friday, 11 January 2008

First Impressions

I'm here! Safe and sound and enjoying myself immensely!

New Years Resolution #1 - be better at emailing people! I've decided that the easiest way to keep in touch with you all is to start a blog for you to dip in and out of and to allow personal emails to be short and chatty, thereby making it much more likely that I will actually send them... I'm meeting up with friends with whom I've had no contact for 2 years and whilst it's like I've never been away in terms of the friendship, it would have been better if I wasn't so totally crap at keeping in touch!

After getting no sleep on the plane due to the fantastic Virgin movie A-Z, my sister (Mary Anne) fetched me from the airport on Tuesday morning.
We got back to her flat and standing on the balcony in glorious sunshine (~30degC) looking out over the mountain I wondered how I had managed to live in London for as long as I did!!

I've spent the past few days pottering around catching up with people, going to the beach (got a way to go on the tan before I'm level with the locals but we'll get there!), shopping and observing a load of little things that I'd either forgotten or are totally different from the way things work in England!

It's very strange being back... In some ways things haven't changed - same TV presenters and radio DJs, main shopping centres, the mountain and the sea but in others, everything is different... The parking lot at the Waterfront is now more shops and a multi-story parkade, the 3 separate shopping centres in Claremont have turned into one enormous Cavandish complex and our beloved Cloudbreak backpackers appears to have closed/moved... I think part of it is that I'm not on holiday and trying to pack it all in in a week but I'm also not living here yet so don't feel settled in any way... I reckon I'm just going to have to go around for the next few weeks going "this is so weird" as I did as I was leaving London!

I'm settling well though - most of my friends work in the theatre and are free during the day so I've been keeping myself busy catching up with them... Went to the beach yesterday and am going again tomorrow - working on the tan slowly but surely!! I've got comps to tomorrow's opening night performance of Merchant of Venice (open air theatre) which has a couple of friends in so that will be good...

I'm off to Durban on Sunday to see my Mom - it's her birthday on Monday so it will be nice to spend it with her for the first time in about 10 years! We'll be on a mission to buy me a car so that we can drive back to Cape Town (taking about 24 hours!) at the end of the week. I'll then be on a mission to find somewhere to live and a job - I received an email from one of my contacts saying they may have some contract work for me which is great! I've also been offered the job of sound operator on a musical for the next 8 weeks by my friend Louis who is the musical director and desperate for someone with experience! Doesn't pay much but would be fun to get back into the theatre thing!

I must remember to take a holiday in amongst all the organising! I won't get the opportunity to take this much time off for a while so should make the most of it! Reckon I might try get a job and then say I'll start 3-4 weeks later to give me freedom without the thought of the stress to come... First things first - I need a car - having to take my sister to and from work curbs my freedom!; I also need somewhere to live! My sister and I haven't killed each other yet, and I'm enjoying living with her insane cat Spike, but I'm on the sofa with my stuff spread about the living room and I just want my own space - it's easier to deal with when you're on holiday but I just want to get settled and sorted... The sooner I have a place to call home the sooner I can really begin to feel like I live here...

A few things I've noticed...

  1. The stars are amazing!! I went outside at about 10pm last night and the sight of them took my breath away - you forget when you see the few sparkles in the orange London night sky that it's not like that everywhere!

  2. Table Mountain is the spiritual heart of this city and it feels so good to be back! It is so huge and solid and beautiful! (The photo above is of Devils Peak and with the eastern end of TM on the left)

  3. The weather has been amazing - rather windy at times but that's to be expected and the good old "Cape Doctor" will hopefully reduce the number of colds I have this year! The rest of the country has been pretty miserable all week so I count myself lucky!

  4. There are bugs and ants all over the place! Not annoying ones like in the UK but ones that share our living space - the ants are tiny and carry huge bits of food, they're so cute!

  5. The men (and probably the women too) in this city are just gorgeous!!

  6. There's a club advertising a "rand a brand" on shooters which makes me laugh given the binge drinking problems in the UK (R1 = 7.5p)

  7. Radio stations play a much broader range of music than in the UK (particularly than XFM which I listened to the whole time I was there) and they're about 3 months behind - Hey There Delilah and Young Folks (the whistling song by Peter Bjorn and John) are pretty big, as is kwaito, a uniquely South African music style difficult to describe (have a read of the article at the link below and listen to Nkalakhata by Mandoza if you're interested:

  8. I've been researching bank accounts and was shocked to learn how expensive they are! They charge for everything! To have one, to use internet banking, to deposit, transfer, withdraw (double if at bank or non-bank specific cash machine), you name it you pay for it! But the perversity of it all is that in order to attract customers, one bank is offering R2000 (~£150) worth of funeral insurance!! Funeral insurance is advertised quite a lot over here which is quite sad...

  9. In contrast to the number of South Africans using Facebook, not many use the internet and it's not easy to buy things or research products, venues, directions, businesses etc as most aren't well represented in google searches if they in fact have websites! I'm finding it really frustrating so hopefully things will change as broadband is becoming cheaper...

  10. The cheddar cheese is rubbish and tastes like plastic

  11. The wine is fantastic!

Right, I think that's quite enough given I've only been here 4 days! Hope everyone is well and those in the UK aren't too depressed with the weather!

Take care

Lisa xx