Saturday, March 31, 2018

Paint Table Saturday: Back from Africa

I had hoped to have finished my Carthaginian war elephant crew by now but, unfortunately I had to work abroad for two weeks earlier this month and when I got back I had picked up a very nasty bug which has left me with a headache, sore throat and cough.  I have had it for over ten days now and it is very tiring.  Nothing to do, therefore but catch up on all the TV I recorded while I was away, including one of my favourites, Repair Shop, which the Old Bat declares is literally watching paint dry.  She claims I would be better off going upstairs to watch the paint dry on the bedroom walls as at least I would then get some exercise too.  I love Repair Shop, of course, because I have no ability to do anything with my hands but these people can do anything. 

Anyway, yesterday and this morning I have got the flesh tones down on my elephant crew, having assembled the figures yesterday.  I have even done the shading on the mahouts, or whatever Carthaginians called them.  The Punic language did survive the fall of Carthage and may have even hung on until the time of the Muslim conquest of North Africa but being a Semitic language, as well, it was likely absorbed at this time.  I am also working on the skin tones of a half dozen Perry Afghan tribesmen (as they share a similar palate) which I picked up at last year's Salute, This week I took delivery of a dozen mounted Afghans, which I will need for my force for The Men Who Would be Kings.  I need another eight, so will get three packs at Salute in two weeks time, hopefully.

There was a flurry of emails between myself and Gaborone earlier in the month. We had just won a tender to do some government training in Botswana and the government there had fixed the dates without telling us.  'We'll have a briefing meeting here on Sunday' said our local man.  What?  This was Tuesday!  We tried to get them to delay a week but they couldn't.  Barely time to sort out my washing and ironing, get my Malaria tablets (you probably don't need them at this time of year but I wasn't risking it!) and finish my slides.  Off to the airport on Saturday afternoon.  Shockingly, on the last couple of BA flights I have taken, there have been lots of attractive young ladies working as cabin crew.  Where were all the camp men in dodgy short sleeved shirts?  Where were all the fifty something old boilers who appeared to have escaped from doctor's surgery reception?  'You want a drink, why?'  No, just lightly fragrant young women with amazingly complex hairstyles (do British Airways have new hair design clinics?) enhancing the whole flight.  Lovely.

Travelling is, of course, a series of stress points for me, which means as soon as I pass one the next one is looming. Will I remember everything for my packing ? (no, I forgot my shirt collar stiffeners and my USB plug).  I have a list to ensure I don't forget things but I can't remember where I put it). Will I get to the airport on time? Hope there are no problems on the M25. Will I get on the plane early enough to get my bag stowed in the overhead locker? This is an increasing problem. The number of young women who have a drag-a-bag, a back pack and a vast handbag is starting to annoy me (Me? Annoyed? Surely not).  That's three bags, bitches. One bag.  You are supposed to have one, unless you put the others under the seat in front, which they never do. No, they put them in the overhead locker, next to each other, rather than on top of each other, so they can constantly get at their hand lotion, lip balm, hair brush, eye drops etc. etc. during the flight.  Then. of course, in the morning (it's an eleven hour overnight flight) they all take bags of toiletries into the washrooms.  People are desperate for the loo, women, they can't wait for you to pretty yourself up for landing.  Get a bloomin' move on!  Grr!  At least there were no screaming babies in the cabin (they should have to go in the hold, like dogs). When we land it is a race to passport control to avoid queuing, as I try and count off people I pass.  Will they accept my passport?  It's in a bad state now, at the end of its life and often attracts negative comments from bored immigration staff.  Annoyingly, I have to replace it this year, so will just miss a new blue one, with all its inherent promise of sending a gunboat if Johnny Foreigner kicks up.  At least mine won't be made by the French, I suppose.

The late departing flight kept me stressed the whole way, as it gradually became clear that we were going to miss our connecting flight. Lovely blonde stewardess, with tiny braids set around the back of her head, told me to ask the ladies as we got off the plane and thankfully a South African lady was waiting with my replacement boarding pass for a flight three hours later.  At least I could recover in the nice lounge for a few hours.  SA Express had much better cabin service than Air Botswana, which we were supposed to have flown on. They managed to served lots of drinks and proper snacks on the fifty minute flight.  Efficient! We missed our Sunday afternoon briefing meeting, though, which meant leaving the hotel at 7.00 am the next morning.  Actually, we had to leave the hotel at 7.00 every morning, which was no joke when Botswana is two hours ahead of Britain.  It took 21 hours door to door but I was glad I was back in the Avani hotel.  The course we were giving was in another (very nice) hotel but ours had gardens and a pool and the Pool Bar which we use as our office.   The temperature varied from 25 C to 32 C over the two weeks which helped my mood too. 

Anyway, it was basically eleven days straight working, including a flight up to Francistown, Botswana's second city (population 43,000).  We did there and back in a day on another too small aircraft.  I wouldn't have minded staying there for the weekend, actually, as the training was in a nice hotel where all the accommodation was in individual, thatched lodges and the weather was like a perfect Mediterranean climate.  Indeed, we gave our course in a thatched building too, which was a first.  The locals wondered why I was taking close ups of the outside and the inside of the thatch which was, of course, to do with my recently purchased bunch of Grand Manner African huts.

The River Tati

We also stopped to have a quick look at the River Tati.  Like most rivers in Botswana it is just sand for most of the year but after a lot of rain recently (they really needed it - the first time I went in 2016 they hadn't had proper rain for three years) it actually had some water in it.   A tributary of the River Shashe,which empties into the Limpopo you can't get much more Darkest Africa than that.  Well not with easy access to a nice outdoor terrace which serves Martinis, anyway.

Francistown proudly declares itself an international airport but it became apparent, on the way back to Gaborone that evening, that, in fact, they only have two flights a day leaving from there.  Bustling it is not.  They actually have six gates there, so they were obviously planning ahead for the day when it becomes a bustling tourist and business hub.  Or perhaps the Chinese sold them an airport far bigger than they actually needed.  Surely not?

I tried to be good about not eating too much, as a buffet for every meal had the potential to be a disaster.  I did try local delicacy Mopane worms, which were served in some sort of sauce.  These aren't worms, of course, but the caterpillars of the Emperor Moth.  They had no taste at all and were rather like eating a stick with dry rot.  Very high in protein, I was told and they can form 70% of the diet or people in rural Botswana and Zimbabwe.  Personally, I much preferred the goat curry and Kudu steaks.  I also had some excellent (really, really excellent) ribs at the Bull and Bush Irish pub on St Patrick's day.  

The best meal was at an Italian restaurant owned by the Foreign Minister where I had a quite superb fillet steak.  Botswana beef is rightly famous and is exported all over the world (Norway buys a lot, apparently).  I taught the lovely (goodness me there are some lovely women in Botswana) local waitress that as she was in an Italian restaurant she should learn to say 'al sangue' not 'bleu' for correctly cooked steak.  The restaurant even had Santa Cristina chianti, which I used to drink with my particular friend Principessa I in Rome thirty years ago.  Nostalgic!

Speaking of wine, at the weekend I got invited to a South African wine tasting at another big hotel.  A large tent with about two dozen producers serving wine to a predominantly female clientele, largely dressed to the nines and tottering about (increasingly tottering as the afternoon went on) on their ridiculous high heels.  

There was a huge local derby at the football stadium, hence the dearth of men.  'Not watching the football?' increasingly relaxed ladies asked me.  'Don't like football.  Prefer wine and ladies,' I answered, truthfully.  Each group, usually three or four of them, then wanted me to try their favourite wines, as I admired their shoes, to their delight.  I have had worse afternoons.  Well, evening as well, actually, as one posse attached themselves to me for the rest of the day and compared stories of friends having been to freezing England.  Fortunately, I missed the second big freeze while I was away.

On the final night our local contact took us to the tallest building in Botswana (28 floors) which has the highest bar, the relentlessly trendy `Room50Two.  It was a wet and stormy night and the views over the city were impressive. The hills around the capital are oddly wargames like, in that they seem to spring straight up from an otherwise flat landscape.

It had been an exhausting twelve days, so I deserved a Vodka Martini (or two) and they were largely medicinal, anyway.  Later on, after our Italian dinner, I decided I needed a nightcap and to get away from my colleague, whose conversation consists entirely of reading the BBC News political headlines from his phone and then ranting about each story.  I told him that I wasn't interested in politics, didn't know the names of any of the people he was talking about and how would he like it if I read him all the headlines from The Miniatures Page every twenty minutes. Anyway, I went to the Pool Bar at our hotel. 'Hello' purrs a lovely local lady, setting her beer on my table, resting her forearms on the surface and presenting her chest assertively. 'Perhaps you would like a manicure or a pedicure?'  Well, never had that offered before.  I glanced at my fingernails, anxiously.  'Or maybe a massage?' she suggested, hopefully. I instantly realised that she had suggested a manicure or pedicure as the thought of giving me a massage was a step too far, even for cash.  She was lovely, though, as had been the one in the skintight trousers the night before.  Walking death sentences though, both of them,  Unless she really was a friendly beauty therapist.  Not in that blouse, I suspect. 'Haven't seen these types of girls in here before,' I observed to my waiter.  "Ah, it is because there are lots of Chinese staying here at the moment," he observes. I don't look very Chinese, I think. Maybe I do just have bad nails.

The next day we didn't have to leave the hotel until 3.00 pm so I spent it in the Pool Bar, writing my report and enjoying the outrageously shaped ladies by the pool who were there to organise a jazz festival at the hotel for later in the year.  Everywhere they went they were accompanied by promotional balloons, oddly.  Debbie was particularly nice and we happily shared lunch and, companionably, a plug socket for our laptops.  Safe sex, anyway, even if my fingernails remained tatty.  I had dinner in the lounge at Johannesburg so I didn't have to eat on the plane and could try to sleep from early on.  Fortunately, the two people inside me settled down for the night and didn't move for eight hours.  The man had those horrible thick, blonde hairy forearms I usually associate with Australian men but he was South African.  Wifey was rather fine, however. Across the aisle I had whining fat vegetarian woman, who complained loudly when there was no vegetarian option left when the food trolley reached us (we were in the very last row). "Did you order a special vegetarian meal?' asked yet another lovely stewardess, patiently.  Of course fat vegetarian hadn't (boy, she must eat a lot of nut cutlets.  Most vegetarians I know are thin).  She moaned about everything else too (they had run out of pretzels by the time they reached her, before this, which started her off).  She was wearing a weird looking orange puffy jacket with vertical ribs; like a lilo.  When she fell asleep she looked like a collapsed pumpkin that had been left on the front step a week after Halloween. In front of me I had Mr Elephant Man hair, whose strange wavy (and badly dyed) hair seemed to have been glued to his head in three strange asymmetrical clumps like three giant walnut whips. He was one of those people who has to open his locker every twenty minutes.  Maybe he was looking for his moisturiser.  Opposite him was Miss Nice Leggings who kept making little videos of the inside of the plane.  When she started filming the emergency exit the stewardess got anxious and asked her what she was doing.  She claimed she worked for a company that made interior sets of aircraft for films.  Hmm.   She was up and down to the locker, too, rooting around in her three bags but I didn't mind her, as she had a top that was just a bit too short when she stretched up to the locker. Anyway, back home now and, hopefully, no more overseas trips for a bit and more figure painting.

Today's rather sumptuous wallpaper is by the Polish painter Wojciech Gerson (1831-1901).  Born in Warsaw he worked and studied there most of his life, except for a two year period of study in St Petersburg.  Well known in Poland today for his landscapes and patriotic paintings, many of his works were stolen by the Germans in World War 2 and have disappeared, so often only black and white photographs remain.

Today I am listening to the annual four day Classic FM Hall of Fame, which isn't a Hall of Fame at all, of course, but a top 300.  They are up to number 164 now and I have got more than ninety of these on my iTunes; the missing ones being largely choral works as I am not a big fan of those. I usually hear one or two things during it which makes me want to add them to my collection and so far it has been Strauss' Four Last Songs and Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy.  My mother used to love Bruch's violin concerto but I find it one of those pieces that I have just got sick of over the years.  I am the same with Beethoven's fifth and sixth symphonies, Mozart's clarinet concerto, Tchaikovsky's piano concerto and some others.  Some of the first classical pieces I got on record, when I was eight, and inherited some of my aunt's collection when she got married, like Dvorak's New World and Beethoven's 3rd I never tire of, though, so I can't work out whey some have grown stale.


  1. Sounds like a good trip. I've been to Chichester with work...thats exotic enough for me!

    1. I like Chichester! If I had gone there I could have visited the Repair Shop at the Weald and Downland museum!

  2. Bugs for lunch...sounds like Starship Troopers! Welcome back to Blighty.

  3. I do enjoy reading of your travels, but your report of the pre-flight checks reminded me why I rarely fly - I'm not sure I would be that patient anymore.

    1. I really don't enjoy the process...and as for the actual flying!