17 May 2016

My Mother Ray 1922 - 2016

I knew her for 71 years.  After such a long acquaintance, I should remember a lot of things about her but I don’t remember nearly as much as I should.  To me, she was a loving, kind and gentle soul with never a bad word for anyone.  That she loved me most dearly, all of her life, is beyond doubt.  Yet she was never a demonstrative person, and never hugged me or let me hug her back in the way that my children hug me.  A “ma-ma” kiss on each cheek was the most she would tolerate.   There was a certain reserve about her that is hard to define but she had a lovely sense of humour.

Whatever she did, she did well.  She was a superb cook and knew many top chefs personally, mainly because my father and her frequented most of the top restaurants.  She even developed recipes for a canning company that appeared on the canned food labels as “Suggested Serving.”  She loved to entertain and have dinner parties, which were always done with true finesse.   Her dinner table, set with crystal, silver and bone china was a sight to behold. 

In her earlier years she was a very accomplished P.A.  Her typing word rate was so high that Hermes had to specially modify one of their electric typewriters for her use.  She worked alongside the chief executives of Sidney Clow & Co, the Chrysler concessionaires,  Warner Foundation Garments which later became Berkshire Hosiery, and Tollman Hotels, who built the Sandton Sun and Towers in SA., all of whom became life-long friends.

Ray was passionate about the orient, and had a particular fondness for the Japanese culture.  So much so that the house that my parents built in Craighall had an oriental roof line, with turned-up corners.  The house was named Hay Ling Chow.  Ray believed that she had been a Japanese lady in an earlier life.  Considering that a lot of the un-learned details of Japanese culture came naturally to her, I could believe her.  She travelled frequently to Hong Kong and Japan. 

Ray was fiercely loyal to her friends and she was totally devoted to my father through 71 years of marriage.  She was also devoted to her sister Pat, who was taken from us 30 years ago, and she was a devoted grandmother to my children, who all have rich and loving memories of her.  Most of all, she was my friend.    I will miss her.


London, May 13th 2016.

29 April 2016


The Giants Club?  Wassat?  Have you heard of it?  No?  Until I read a local newspaper today, I had never heard of it either.  Once I had read the article, I became increasingly excited by what I had learned.  At last, people, something positive and with a great chance of success, is being done to protect the remaining population of the African Elephant from total extinction at the hands of the poachers who feed the illegal ivory trade.

The Giants Club is an association of heads of state, governments, conservationists, business leaders and philanthropists who have one common cause - the destruction of the illegal ivory trade and the protection for posterity of the African Elephant and the habitat that they live in.  The “Club” is holding its first summit as I write, at the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club on the slopes of Mt Kenya in the central Kenyan town of Nanyuki from Thursday April 28 to Saturday April 30.  In attendance will be President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon,  President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya (who is hosting the event,) President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President Ian Khama of Botswana.  Also present will be senior delegations representing other African Heads of State, global power-brokers, and technical experts.  President Barack Obama will be represented by Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom, and William C Woody, Chief of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement.  Other leaders expected to attend are Ms Helen Clarke, former New Zealand Prime Minister and current administrator for the United Nations Development Programme and who has been nominated by her country to be the next UN Secretary-General to replace Ban Ki-Moon at the turn of the year.  The U.K.’s Richard Branson, Jody Allen and Evegny Lebedev, owner of the Evening Standard newspaper and patron of The Giants Club, will also be there.

Max Graham, founder and CEO of Space for Giants, the conservation charity that helped form The Giants Club, is quoted as saying:  “We can put in one place all the people who need to be together really to accelerate progress on elephant protection: Africa’s leaders, conservationists, philanthropists and investors, and people with the influence to bring others to our side.  “This is not another talking shop. This is an extraordinary opportunity for us to show the world that we know how to stop poaching, and for the world to stand alongside us and help us to make it happen. These are the very real outcomes we are expecting from the Summit. We are eager to get started.”

Now it would seem that we have the ammunition - let's hope that the calibre of the gun is big enough!  I wish the Giants Club every success and good fortune.  Bravo!

You can read more here:  http://spaceforgiants.org/giantsclub/


This from National Geographic:  At the meeting’s end, philanthropists in attendance offered around $5 million in funding and support, while Gabon pledged to double its national parks staff from 750 to 1,500, and Botswana said it will create a special intelligence unit for supporting rangers.

Is it enough?

GS 6th June 2016

29 January 2016

Cecil Rhodes' Statue - Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall - Why then should Cecil Rhodes fall?

You may be aware from reports in the news media recently that a group of student “activists” at The University of Oxford are demanding the removal of the bronze statue of Cecil John Rhodes from is place above the entrance to Oriel College.  Their reason given is that Cecil Rhodes was a racist and a land grabbing cheat.  Students at the University of Cape Town have already succeeded in having Rhodes’ statue removed from that campus, where it has been a landmark for eighty years and was erected in recognition of Rhodes’ donation of the land that the university is situated on.

Well, so what, you may say.  Why then do we not remove the statue of Queen Victoria from in front of Buckingham Palace?  She was, after all, Rhodes’ sovereign and benefactor.  It was in her name that he orchestrated the subjugation of what was then Matabeleland to the British flag, re-naming it Rhodesia.  It was her government that approved Rhodes’ actions.  He advocated to the British Government that the African populations of Southern Africa be governed as a “subject race!”  This was not refuted or objected to by the British government in Whitehall.  Doesn’t that make them equally culpable?

Wikipedia tells us that:  His (Rhodes’) associate Charles Rudd, together with Francis Thompson and Rochfort Maguire, assured Lobengula that no more than ten white men would mine in Matabeleland. This limitation was left out of the document, known as the Rudd Concession, which Lobengula signed. Furthermore, it stated that the mining companies could do anything necessary to their operations. When Lobengula discovered later the true effects of the concession, he tried to renounce it, but the British Government ignored him.

Armed with the Rudd Concession, in 1889 Rhodes obtained a charter from the British Government for his British South Africa Company (BSAC) to rule, police, and make new treaties and concessions from the Limpopo River to the great lakes of Central Africa. He obtained further concessions and treaties north of the Zambezi, such as those in Barotseland (the Lochner Concession with King Lewanika in 1890, which was similar to the Rudd Concession); and in the Lake Mweru area (Alfred Sharpe's 1890 Kazembe concession). Rhodes also sent Sharpe to get a concession over mineral-rich Katanga, but met his match in ruthlessness: when Sharpe was rebuffed by its ruler Msiri, King Leopold II of Belgium obtained a concession over Msiri's dead body for his Congo Free State.

Rhodes also wanted Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana) incorporated in the BSAC charter. But three Tswana kings, including Khama III, travelled to Britain and won over British public opinion for it to remain governed by the British Colonial Office in London. Rhodes commented: "It is humiliating to be utterly beaten by these niggers."

Sure, Rhodes was a racist.  Sure he was a greedy, avaricious usurper of land and entire countries rightfully belonging to black indigenous peoples.  His business ethics were questionable to say the least and in my opinion, he was homosexual or “gay.”  Nevertheless and despite his shortcomings as a humanitarian and fair trader, he is written in stone as part of the history of Southern Africa, the British Empire and the industrial might of today’s Republic of South Africa.  He cannot be “erased” and he should be remembered for his deeds and actions good and bad, just like Ozymandias.

 In my view, these so called “activists” are not the un-educated juveniles that they are described as in the press.  One is the recipient of a Rhodes scholarship!  They are clever, cunning idealists who are doing everything that they can think of to gain attention and notoriety and favour amongst their peers and the ruling ANC party in South Africa.  In this way, on their return to their homeland (if they ever return) they may have some advantage in political circles and be rewarded for their dedication to the cause by fast tracked political appointments.

Oxford University has today announced that, after much debate and due consideration, it will not be removing the statue of Cecil Rhodes.  In my view, the governors of Oxford University should never have given the demand credence and should never have afforded the demands of the “activists” a debate or consideration in the first place.

A more apt response would have been something along the lines of that proposed by British columnist James Delingpole, in a scalding piece reproduced below with acknowledgement, titled “Mud Huts v Western Civilisation”…  

James Delingpole stated that Oriel College at Oxford University should have responded to these demands as follows:


“Dear students,

Cecil Rhodes’s generous bequest has contributed greatly to the comfort and wellbeing of many generations of Oxford students – a good many of them, dare we say it, better, brighter and more deserving than you.

This doesn’t necessarily mean we approve of everything Rhodes did in his lifetime – but then we don’t have to. Cecil Rhodes died over a century ago.

Oxford, let us remind you, is the world’s second oldest extant university. Scholars have been studying here since at least the 11th century. We’ve played a major part in the invention of Western civilisation, from the 12th century intellectual renaissance through the Enlightenment and beyond. Our alumni include William of Ockham, Roger Bacon, William Tyndale, John Donne, Sir Walter Raleigh, Erasmus, Sir Christopher Wren, William Penn, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), Samuel Johnson, Robert Hooke, William Morris, Oscar Wilde, Emily Davison, Cardinal Newman. We’re a big deal. And most of the people privileged to come and study here are conscious of what a big deal we are. Oxford is their alma mater – their dear mother – and they respect and revere her accordingly.

But let’s be brutally honest here. The contribution of the Bantu tribes to modern civilisation has been as near as damn it to zilch.

You’ll probably say that’s “racist”. But it’s what we here at Oxford prefer to call “true.” Perhaps the rules are different at other universities. In fact, we know things are different at other universities. We’ve watched with horror at what has been happening across the pond from the University of Missouri to the University of Virginia and even to reverend institutions like Harvard and Yale: the “safe spaces”; the #blacklivesmatter; the creeping cultural relativism; the stifling political correctness; what Allan Bloom rightly called “the closing of the American mind”. At Oxford however, we will always prefer facts and free, open debate to petty grievance-mongering, identity politics and empty sloganeering. The day we cease to do so is the day we lose the right to call ourselves the world’s greatest university.

Of course, you are perfectly within your rights to squander your time at Oxford on silly, vexatious, single-issue political campaigns. (Though it does make us wonder how stringent the vetting procedure is these days for Rhodes scholarships and even more so, for Mandela Rhodes scholarships) We are well used to seeing undergraduates – or, in your case – postgraduates, making idiots of themselves. Just don’t expect us to indulge your idiocy, let alone genuflect before it. You may be black – “BME” as the grisly modern terminology has it – but we are colourblind. We have been educating gifted undergraduates from our former colonies, our Empire, our Commonwealth and beyond for many generations. We do not discriminate over sex, race, colour or creed. We do, however, discriminate according to intellect.

That means, inter alia, that when our undergrads or postgrads come up with fatuous ideas, we don’t pat them on the back, give them a red rosette and say: “Ooh, you’re black and you come from South Africa. What a clever chap you are!”2 No. We prefer to see the quality of those ideas tested in the crucible of public debate. That’s another key part of the Oxford intellectual tradition you see: you can argue any damn thing you like but you need to be able to justify it with facts and logic – otherwise your idea is worthless.

This ludicrous notion you have that a bronze statue of Cecil Rhodes should be removed from Oriel College, because it’s symbolic of “institutional racism” and “white slavery”. Well even if it is – which we dispute – so bloody what? Any undergraduate so feeble-minded that they can’t pass a bronze statue without having their “safe space” violated really doesn’t deserve to be here. And besides, if we were to remove Rhodes’s statue on the premise that his life wasn’t blemish-free, where would we stop? As one of our alumni Dan Hannan has pointed out, Oriel’s other benefactors include two kings so awful – Edward II and Charles I – that their subjects had them killed. The college opposite – Christ Church – was built by a murderous, thieving bully who bumped off two of his wives. Thomas Jefferson kept slaves: does that invalidate the US Constitution? Winston Churchill had unenlightened views about Muslims and India: was he then the wrong man to lead Britain in the war?”

Actually, we’ll go further than that. Your Rhodes Must Fall campaign is not merely fatuous but ugly, vandalistic and dangerous. We agree with Oxford historian RW Johnson that what you are trying to do here is no different from what ISIS and the Al-Qaeda have been doing to artefacts in places like Mali and Syria. You are murdering history.

And who are you, anyway, to be lecturing Oxford University on how it should order its affairs? Your #rhodesmustfall campaign, we understand, originates in South Africa and was initiated by a black activist who told one of his lecturers “whites have to be killed”. One of you – Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh – is the privileged son of a rich politician and a member of a party whose slogan is “Kill the Boer; Kill the Farmer”; another of you, Ntokozo Qwabe, who is only in Oxford as a beneficiary of a Rhodes scholarship, has boasted about the need for “socially conscious black students” to “dominate white universities, and do so ruthlessly and decisively!”

Great. That’s just what Oxford University needs. Some cultural enrichment from the land of Winnie Mandela, burning tyre necklaces, an AIDS epidemic almost entirely the result of government indifference and ignorance, one of the world’s highest per capita murder rates, institutionalised corruption, tribal politics, anti-white racism and a collapsing economy. Please name which of the above items you think will enhance the lives of the 22,000 students studying here at Oxford.

And then please explain what it is that makes your attention grabbing campaign to remove a listed statue from an Oxford college more urgent, more deserving than the desire of probably at least 20,000 of those 22,000 students to enjoy their time here unencumbered by the irritation of spoilt, ungrateful little tossers on scholarships they clearly don’t merit using racial politics and cheap guilt-tripping to ruin the life and fabric of our beloved university.

Understand us and understand this clearly: you have everything to learn from us; we have nothing to learn from you.


Oriel College, Oxford


I can only say “Hear hear!”

Graham Serretta

London, January 29th 2016

23 January 2016

Then & Now.......Again

Then and now again…..

I posted the following on NelsonPhotoForums in 2006.  I am repeating it here in the hope that it may be interesting to those readers who have not seen it there.  Being England, not much has changed in the last ten years, so these scenes look pretty much the same as they did in 2004.  I really must get out more and do more….of this.

Then and Now

My Best Beloved and I have had great fun seeking out the locations depicted in old photographs that were taken in Hertfordshire many years ago, and photographing the same scene as it is today.  The local library or town archive is usually a good source of old photographs, and is the first place that I look.  Locating the town or village where the photograph was taken is usually not a problem, and finding the same street or place in the old photograph is both interesting and satisfying.  Reproducing the same scene may sound simple to do, but determining the same perspective, angle of view and precise spot as used in the original photograph can be challenging, especially when the original was taken from spot that is now in the middle of a busy street - the traffic was far less intimidating in times past.  Modern motor cars are an intrusion that spoil many scenes today, and are difficult to avoid unless one has the time and dedication to return to the scene many times hoping for a better view.  

Many old photographs were taken with medium or large format plate cameras and the angle of view and image magnification factor can be difficult to reproduce using modern 35mm equipment.  I guess that the ultimate challenge would be to reproduce the same scene today using the same format and equipment as was used to photograph the original, if this can be determined without an original negative or that information being available. From a print, one can only make deductions.  

Nevertheless, we do our best to show the scene as it is today.  We use Olympus OM1n and OM2n 35mm bodies with whichever prime Zuiko lens seems appropriate, from 28mm to 100mm.  The film is Fuji Superia 200 color negative, scanned on a Minolta Dimage 5400 film scanner and converted to monochrome in Photoshop using the channel mixer.  Because the original photographs were sometimes taken on orthochromatic film, the channel mixer gives the easiest method of reproducing similar tones, rather than just converting to grayscale.

Here are some of the shots that we have done so far.  Many of the original photographs date from the 1920s & 1950s - I wish that they had been taken earlier.  The older the original, the more interesting the comparison.

16 January 2016


I captured this image at the Raptor Conservation Society in Bedfordshire.  If I remember correctly, the lady's name was laura and there was a very strong bond between her and the bird.

The image was shot on film, Fuji Superia 200 in a Canon Eos 30e through a Canon 28-105mm
f3.5-4.5 USM lens.

Direct sunlight with a soft white reflector in the form of the page of a brochure held open at camera right.  The frame is cropped about 80%.  No other post processing.

13 December 2015

Kariba Dam

It was hot!  Really hot!  So hot, you could fry an egg on the fender of a truck.  The Zambesi Valley at Gwebe, where the Kariba dam was being constructed in May of 1959,  was no place for sissies.   I was a gangly youth of 15 and my passion was , well, I didn't know what my passion was apart from the fact that I was happiest when I had a camera in my hand.  

A typicam African thunderstorm
My father, Denis, was a motion picture documentary and news cameraman working for Killarney Film Studios in Johannesburg.  Killarney had been commissioned by the then Federal Power Board of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi today) to produce a documentary film of the construction of the Kariba hydro-electric dam on the Zambezi river.  Denis therefore travelled by road from Johannesburg to Kariba every month, and spent a week there.  I accompanied him in December 1959 as I was on school holidays.   It was the one and only time he allowed me to accompany him to Kariba.  Nevertheless, it was an experience that I shall never forget.

On this occasion, it was necessary to take along a big load of film gear and we therefore travelled in Killarney's beaten up Ford F300 one and a half ton truck.  It had a straight six three litre engine that was prone to overheating and a gearbox that made double-de-clutching mandatory.  The paintwork had once been a nice burgundy but was now a sun-bleached tomato sauce red.
The Kariba airstrip being flooded 

We spent the first night at a motel in Louis Trichardt and arose before dawn to make it to the Rhodesian border when the gates opened at 6 am.  The border officials didn't even glance at the truck and I never left my seat.  We travelled at 60 mph.  Any faster, and the temperature gauge would start to climb into the red.   There was plenty of road kill on the tarmac, and this attracted the vultures, one of which became road kill itself when it didn't gain enough altitude before being hit by the front of our truck.  

The dam wall nearing completion
We travelled via Salisbury (now Harare), where we stayed overnight at the Meikles Hotel.   North of Salisbury many of the roads were strip roads- two strips of tarmac with the centre and the verges heavily eroded away, leaving the tarmac strips high above the surrounding surface.  This could damage the sides of one's tyres as one had to pull off to allow oncoming traffic to pass.   We arrived at Kariba village at sunset on the third day.  Kariba Village was a township on a hilltop overlooking the dam construction site,  built to house the construction workers, most of whom came from Italy as the main contractor was an Italian company, Impresit S.p.A (now Impreglio) who imported most of their workers from Europe.   My father and I were allocated rooms in the "guest lodge" which offered the choice of sleeping either inside the room or outside on a verandah enclosed with fly-screening.  I chose the outside option as the ambient was around 30C.   A mistake, but more of that later.
The generator hall under construction

I was woken at dawn the following morning, and we drove to the staff canteen building for breakfast, which was served on stainless steel trays with cavities for the various portions, prison style.  I remember that there was a large container of electrolyte tablets at the door, from which every person was expected to take two and down them with a small paper cup of water, witnessed by a member of the medical staff.  This was to reduce the effect of de-hydration.  Outside the canteen, our truck was parked.  I had noticed that everyone carried a pair of rigger's gloves which were protection against burnt hands when handling metal tools which had been heated in the sun.  To demonstrate, Denis obtained an egg from the canteen kitchen and filmed it being fried on the fender of the truck.  This was at 9 o'clock in the morning!

The main electrical hall under construction
That day we hauled all of the film gear down into the cavernous underground turbine chambers and water tunnels.  It was very hot and humid down there, but I was rewarded by being allowed to get some very good stills shots of the construction in progress, once Denis had set his lighting up for the film work.   The chambers were like being in a cathedral, so vast were they.   I was using a Rolleiflex 6x6cm camera and an Exakta VX IIA 35mm camera fitted with Zeiss Jena lenses and an old Sachtler tripod.   The film I used was Kodak Tri-X roll film rated at 400 ASA or Kodak Double X 35mm motion picture stock rated at 320 ASA(ISO).   The results speak for themselves.

The access tunnel

That night, after a tiring and sweaty day on the construction site, and after a braai (BBQ) around a campfire and a spectacular sunset, we retired to bed in our guest accommodation.  I was lying reading on the bed out on the verandah.   The thing about fly-screen mesh, with which the verandah was enclosed, is that one can't see out when it is illuminated from the inside.   Whether it was Rupert winding me up or a real Baboon, I will never know, but all of a sudden there was the impression of two clawed paws  dragging down the outside of the fly-screen accompanied by the bark of a male baboon.  I levitated six feet straight up in the air and beat a hasty retreat into the bedroom, locking the glass doors behind me, where I stayed until dawn.   When I related my experience at breakfast, I was told that the baboons habitually raided the cabins for food and that they could probably smell the oranges that I had left on the table.  I wonder.....
The dam wall near completion

The construction of the dam wall in the Gwebe gorge of the Zambezi river flooded the Zambezi valley for 220 km upstream and flooded an area of 5,400 km2.  50,000 local Batonga people lost their ancestral lands and were moved elsewhere.  The dam claimed the lives of 87 workers during construction, including 18 who fell into the concrete and 4 who are still sealed within the dam wall.  Was it worth it?  
The Kariba Dam now supplies 1,319 MW of electricity to parts of both Zambia (the Copperbelt) and Zimbabwe and generates 6,400 GW·h (23 PJ) per annum.  Each country has its own power station on the north and south bank of the dam respectively. The south station belonging to Zimbabwe has been in operation since 1960 and has six generators of 125 MW capacity each for a total of 750 MW, and it was in the underground chambers being prepared for this installation that I was allowed to capture the images shown here.   (The north bank power station would not be completed until 1976 by the Zambian government.)    

Two rescued waterbuck

Perhaps one day Zimbabwe will be governed by a deserving, democratically elected  government and the people there will be able to prosper and benefit from the past efforts of people like Rupert Fothergill and his colleagues, before it is too late.  One day........

Click on any image to see it full size.

Graham Serretta

London December 2015

12 December 2015

Low angle photography

Photos taken from a low viewpoint can be dramatic and can grab the attention of the viewer simply because we don’t normally see the world from low down.  "Low angle" or “low level” is usually taken to mean "low to the ground” and can include images taken with the camera at ground level giving a viewpoint along the ground, or it can include photos taken with the camera at a low level, pointing upwards. 

In the case of photos taken with a viewpoint along the ground, the use of a small aperture (big f-number) to create maximum depth of field is usually most effective, resulting in sharp detail from immediately in front of the camera to the far distance.  If the subject or scene will result in a very good photograph, I am inclined to sacrifice some loss of image quality to lens refraction effects and use the smallest aperture possible under the circumstances.  My photo above, taken at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, is a case in point.  I set the camera mode to "A" for "Aperture Priority", the ISO to 200, the aperture to f/22 and, using manual focus, I set the focus on the bollards which were about one-third of the distance into the scene before the most distant point at which I wanted sharp detail which was the distant buildings.  Resting the camera on my shoulder bag, I lay full length to be able to see through the viewfinder, to the amusement of the gendarmerie standing nearby.  Yes, an articulated LCD screen can be very useful indeed but my Pentax K10D didn't have one and I didn't have my right angle finder. (I think this was the occasion that resulted in my best beloved giving me one for Christmas.)  I did thank Pentax for the auto levelling feature though.

I have cropped a very small amount from the foreground, and removed some of the sky before resizing for the web and applying a touch of unsharp mask and saving the image that you see here as a Jpg.

For the monochrome image above of an alleyway in Cape Town's District Six, taken in 1968, I have taken advantage of the steep slope of the hill and positioned myself half way down some steps, so that my viewpoint was almost at ground level.  I have set the focus so that the bollards in the foreground are just out of focus, otherwise they would over-power the scene.  This image was taken with a Nikon F with a Nikkor H 50mm f2 lens on Agfa 400 ASA film rated at ASA (ISO) 1600 and processed in Acufine developer.  Exposure was 1/1000th at f/16 with a Y2 (yellow) filter. 

This image was made by my wife using a Nikon D3100 with the standard VR 18-55mm kit lens set at 18mm.  ISO 400, f16,  1/4sec.  She focussed on the little green leaf in the centre foreground (if you can find it) while lying on her tummy and resting the camera on her camera bag.

I took this shot “from the hip” of a lion, mother and daughter sharing the same vantage point to watch the activity in Trafalgar Square.  I didn’t use the viewfinder, so composition was a little off but I have cropped the image to correct this.  Camera was a Nikon D7000 with a 17-85mm f3,5/4.5 VR zoom set to 28mm.

This is another of my wife’s shots.  She calls it “Silver Boardwalk”.  The camera was resting on the lower foot rail below the handrail.  Taken with a Minolta Dynax 5 film camera with a Sigma 28-85mm f3.5/4.5 lens set at 28mm.  200 iso Fuji colour negative film, f11 at 1/60th.

I took this shot in Southend-on-Sea while walking down the high street.  I placed the camera on the ground, set the lens to 18mm, aperture to f16.  iso was 200.  Shutter speed was on auto, about 1/125th.  It was a dull, grey day, I couldn’t see through the viewfinder but the result turned out just fine.

You can obtain equally arresting pictures from a simple point & shoot camera.  If it has selectable modes, try the landscape mode in bright sunlight.  Focus on something about five or six meters away.   This should give you sufficient depth of focus to get the background reasonably sharp.  If you wish to emphasise a particular subject in the foreground, and have the background out of focus or blurred, try the “portrait” mode.  (Don’t try this technique with flash unless your subject is a child or a pet.  Landscapes and street scenes don’t work with flash, and don’t confuse “portrait” mode with “P” if your camera also has P A S M modes.  In this case “P” means “Program” mode.  “Portrait” mode is normally indicated by a little symbol representing a human head.)

Now it's your turn - go out there, get that camera down on the ground and  Have Fun!

11 December 2015


Rip-off: to overcharge (v) or to swindle (n); 
Synonyms: cheat, do, fleece, dupe, deceive.

My dictionary further defines overcharge as: to charge too much, to overprice or to take advantage of, and swindle as: to cheat, con, dupe, trick, fiddle, double cross, deceive, defraud or Rip-off. And so we come full circle.  Rip-off Britain.  I have been hearing and reading these words ever since arriving here, without taking much notice apart from agreeing with the pundits who use the term in association with the motor trade.  Now I am beginning to realise the full implications of the term by stepping out of the trees and looking at the forest.

Combine the talents of the Indian street trader with the cunning of the souk Arab and the greed of the moneylending Jew and you have a rough description of the average British businessman or politician.  The secret of their success in getting away with ripping each other, and anyone else off, over the years is the straight face of the one party and stiff upper lip of the other!   

They have only themselves to blame for nurturing a culture in which it is simply not done to react or complain.  If you are fortunate enough to realise you are getting a bad deal, you simply walk away, politely!  You don’t tell anyone! Dear me no, that would be so embarrassing!  So no one else ever knows, the thing is never publicised, and your neighbour or friend is fair game to the same con, because you would never lose face by warning them and thus admitting that you were stupid enough to consider the same deal!  

The British gain a great deal of advantage by being masters of the English language.  They are able to construct and phrase contracts and agreements in ways that enable cunning and advantageous interpretation when desired.  I am sure that it was after dealing with and losing to the British that Europe adopted Roman-Dutch Law, based on fact, not implication.  And no wonder the British legal system is so ponderous.  

Consider that every nation that was ever visited by the British eventually lost everything and was swallowed up into the British Empire.  A fortunate few became aware of the great rip-off and fought, like the U.S.A. and threw the British out.  And without the Brits ripping them off, the USA became the greatest nation on earth!  There’s a lesson there somewhere.

No wonder the British are suspicious by nature.  They just don’t show it, but they take no-one at face value.  They cannot do otherwise, but live a sad life as a result.  Then again, they made their own bed, and must sleep in it.  Perhaps some of my friends may be offended by my opinions, but they should also know that culpability only exists where a victim allows it to, and to their credit rip-offs of a grand scale are being recognised and protested.  Self criticism is a very civilised thing.

London 1999

The foregoing is an excerpt from an article that I wrote in 1999,  when I was still in a state of culture shock after re-locating from a society where a man's word was his bond and to deliberately cheat in business was a no-no!  A great deal has changed since, both for the better and for worse, both here in the UK and there in SA.  

The blatant greed of the banking industry eventually led to the collapse of the financial  service industry both in the UK and in many other countries.  That resulted in a global  economic meltdown from which some countries have still not recovered.  Heads have rolled, but what gets me going is the sheer size of the golden handshakes  received by some of the most culpable banking executives on their departure out the back door.  Most took home millions.  Ineptitude and greed rewarded!  Lessons have been learned, but the trouble with lessons is that, unless they are turned into legislation, they are forgotten by later generations.  History has a bad habit of repeating itself.

Hundreds of thousands of honest, hard working people lost their jobs and their homes.   In the UK, the government bailed out the failing banks by taking share options, some of which have now been redeemed.  But the people who lost their livelihoods are mostly still queueing for the few jobs that are becoming available when they are not queueing for food hasndouts.  Many employers used the financial crisis as an excuse to divest themselves of highly paid staff as well as to reduce their payroll costs.  Most have never re-employed staff, as they have now learned to do without them.

Of course, the austerity measures have resulted in our present Chancellor of the Exchequer demanding massive spending cuts by NGOs and government departments.  These across-the-board demands take no cognisance of the fact that some departments and institutions have been underfunded for years (such as the NHS) and that further budget cuts will only reduce their very ability to do their job, such as the police.  At a time when terrorism is our biggest threat, to remove some 1,500 police officers from service is sheer lunacy!  To reduce the funding of the NHS when most primary care trusts and hospitals run at a budget deficit and do not have sufficient nursing staff is sheer insanity!  To force very dedicated and qualified nurses from the Philippines, who were recruited on fixed term contracts, to return home at the end of their tenure when we are giving thousands of “asylum seekers” leave to remain here, is totally mad.

In this atmosphere of austerity and unemployment, another malodorous financial industry has blossomed;  the payday loan moneylenders.   These cheats actually advertise their dubious services on national television, offering loans at eye watering interest rates.  Until the advertising standards authority made it compulsory to state the interest rate in the ad as “fine print”, they didn’t even inform their victims of their rates up-front.  How about 1,560% per annum compounded daily?  Only in Britain….

The importation and sale of counterfeit, or fake goods is now widespread.  From cigarettes and liquor to medicines and chain saws, trainers and golf clubs, if you but at the lowest price, chances are you are buying a fake.  The only merchandise that has not yet been faked are mobile ‘phones and digital cameras.  The components are simply not available to the fakers.

In 1012 there was a great uproar when a Trading Standards Authority discovered horsemeat in samples of pre-packaged meat products on supermarket shelves.  From burgers to steak & kidney pies, if you bought it, it was probably horsemeat.  Now horsemeat is normal produce in some european countries. That’s fine and it’s labelled as such.  But to find that the steak mince that I bought to make spaghetti Bolognese with was actually 50% horsemeat means that I am the victim of cheating of the most insidious kind.

So, while things have improved on the legislative front, there is still a long way for the British to go to be seen as “honest traders.”

London 2015

10 December 2015

I am Tikki the Meerkat

am Tikki,  the Meerkat.  No-one really knows how I got to be called a meerkat.  It is obviously an Afrikaans or Dutch word because "Meer" means "Lake" and "Kat" means "Cat" in both languages.  But I don't like water and I don't live where there are lakes, even if, on a foggy day I might be mistaken for a cat.  I am native to southern Africa although I was born here in England.  I would prefer to live in the Kalahari desert where it is hot and dry but I don't mind living here because the food is good and I don't have to hunt for it.  My Mom and Pops peoples spoil me rotten!

If I were living in the desert, I would have to hunt for termites, beetles, scorpions and centipedes.  I would also dig for roots and bulbs.  Bird's eggs would be a real treat and if I were really hungry, I would even eat a baby bird.  But I don't live in the desert, so I enjoy eating chopped up vegetables and fruit such as peppers, marrow, peas, berries, grapes and broccoli.  I also love potato slices and doggy kibbles.  For protein I eat meal worms and Mario worms and occasionally I get a raw prawn or two or a raw chicken wingtip and even the yolk of a chicken egg.  Quail eggs are a real treat.  I don't mind grass-hoppers but I don't like crickets.  And I drink a little milk every day and sometimes I share my Pop's yoghurt or oatmeal.  

I love the sunshine.  I have a very sparse coat on my tummy and I use the black skin on my tummy as a solar panel.  I sit with my tummy towards the sun to get warm.   Here where I live there is very little sunshine in winter so my Pops has given me a little sun on a stick.  Lucky me.  My coat has two layers, a soft under-layer next to my skin and a long haired outer layer.   In summer I lose the under-layer but in winter I need it to keep warm.

My teeth are very sharp and I have to be careful when I play with people.  I try to be gentle so that I don't hurt them,  and I love to have my tummy tickled.  I also love to play hide and seek and I like to wrestle.  I have four toes on each foot and my front feet have long, strong nails that I use to dig with when I'm looking for insects.  I also use them to dig up my Mom's carpets because that's fun.  My Mom shouts at me when I do that but I just give her a big smile and all is forgiven.   I don't like to have strangers point their finger at me or try to touch me and I will bite them if they do just so they know I can defend myself.  

My family has three subspecies:
Suricata suricatta siricata
Suricata suricatta majoriae
Suricata suricatta Iona

The first  are also called Slender Tailed Meerkats because their tails are long and thin.  They live in the Kalahari desert.  I am a Suricata Suricatta Majoriae because my tail is thick and shorter and my coat is light grey.  My kin live in Namibia.   Then there are the Iona crowd who live in Angola.  I also have relatives who live in the southern Cape and who have ginger coats and white heads but they are not yet proven to be a subspecies.

If I lived in Namibia I would live with my extended family all together in a an underground den.  We would dig our den under the desert with our long front claws which are very good for digging.  We could also sleep in an abandoned aardvark hole.  We could even have more than one hole to use as a den and we would use the one closest to the best food.  I don't like getting wet but I can swim if I have to.  There isn't much water in the desert and therefore I get most of my moisture from my food so I don't need to drink a lot. 

I speak meerkat and Charlie the Bichon understood me perfectly.  I am still teaching my Mom and Pops my language.  I understand their language, and know what some words mean:   "Here" means "here's food,"  "come" means "come here" or "come with me", "kitchen" means "go to the kitchen" "Come up" means "get up here,"  "Worms" means what it says, yummy,   "milk" is the white stuff that I like to drink  and "Tikki" is my name.  "People" means that there are people walking outside, with "dogs" and "birds" fly in the sky and "cats" run under the bushes, as well as "thunderbirds" that make a big noise.  I also know what "No!" means but I don't let on that I do.  I also know how to ask to be picked up and I love being cuddled.  Boredom is something that I cannot deal with and I have to be active most of the day.  If I were locked away on my own I would go mad.  

I sleep with Dog - no, not Charlie.  My friend Dog is a big cuddly dog bigger than me and warm and soft.  I also have a warm bed where Dog and I sleep.  I go to bed when the sun sets.  I'm going to bed now, so goodnight to you all, see you tomorrow.  


My wife and I are blessed,  as we live with a meerkat whose name is Tikki.   Many people object to us owning a meerkat as a "pet".  To clarify our reasons for allowing him to share our home, here are the facts:

We adopted Tikki when he was only three months old.  He had been separated from his family clan to be the dominant female in a new breeding group of meerkats at an educational facility in another county.  He was incorrectly identified as a female when he is, in fact, a male.  Once a meerkat pup is separated from its clan for any length of time, it cannot be re-introduced to the clan without a high risk of injury or even death, as it would be seen as an intruder.  Introducing a strange meerkat to any meerkat clan is fraught with risk.  On being made aware of his plight, we volunteered to adopt him.  So, Tikki moved in with us as an alternative to being confined alone to a cage.

Initially, his best friend and companion was Charlie, our bichon-frise, although he "adopted" us as his close family.  He lives freely in the house and has access to the garden patio and has his own "scratch-patch" enclosure complete with hollow tree trunk.  He is now thoroughly "humanised" but still wary of strangers, whom he will nip to demonstrate his dominance.  He loves our children and grandchildren and recognises them as part of his clan, even though they don't live with us and only visit occasionally.

When he was a year old, we had him neutered (and inoculated against bovine TB and canine distemper) as his scent marking was very pungent.  As a result, he is odour free and a pleasure to live with.  The downside is that he has a "tummy" which is exacerbated by obesity, the scourge of captive meerkats who have limited exercise.  In the wild, meerkats

may run up to five miles per day in search of food and are extremely active.  In captivity, this is simply not possible.

His diet is 90% fat free.  He eats a lot of calcicum in the form of red and yellow pepper, he likes green peas in-the-pod, courgette, broccoli and carrot.  If anything has been sprayed with insecticide he will refuse it.  His daily protein intake is a raw chicken wing-tip or a raw prawn.  A portion of raw egg yolk is a monthly treat.   Contrary to the norm, he does not like hard boiled egg.  He is nuts about cheese and we have to be careful to only let him have a very small amount as a treat.  He also likes skimmed milk and drinks about 10ml a day, which supplements his calcium intake.

He breakfasts on six Mario worms and the occasional live grasshopper.

He is extremely clean and only defecates in one particular place, next to our toilet!  He gets a monthly bath, which he loves, and has an enclosed, heated hutch for his "burrow."  He enjoys being brushed and groomed and has to have his toe nails trimmed regularly as, in the wild, they would be worn down by constant digging.  Tikki recognises many words and phrases, responds to instruction or requests and vocalises his feelings and desires, which we have learned to understand.

He is taken on long walks using a ferret harness and lead and knows his way around our local neighbourhood and to the local forest, where he has his favorite places to dig.  The harness and lead are only necessary so that we are able to retrieve him to safety from dogs,  otherwise he would stay with us and not run away.   He hates inclement weather and winter is purgatory to him.

Tikki has his own facebook page www.facebook.com/tikkiserretta  where he has over 3,650 followers and over 420 friends who engage with him.   He brings a lot of pleasure to a lot of people all over the world.
Meerkats do not make good house pets!  Tikki demands constant care and attention, just as he would if he were living with his clan in the wild.  He cannot be cared for by strangers and to cage him, even for a limited time, would stress him to death.  Unfortunately, meerkats are being featured on television in advertising productions resulting in a demand for them as pets by children.  Equally unfortunately, no permit or license is required in the UK to keep a meerkat with the result that excess population are being bred and interbred and sold indiscriminately by not only private individuals but by zoos and educational institutions.   The people who purchase these poor animals have no business owning a meerkat and more often than not, the meerkat ends up confined to a rabbit cage or hutch for the rest of it's life.  In the USA the licence requirements for the keeping of meerkats in captivity are most stringent, dictating not only enclosure and housing regulations, but climate requirements as well.  Meerkats are totally banned in Australia and a permit is required in South Africa.  Every time we see a comment on Tikki's Facebook page saying "I want one!"  we despair.

You can read more about meerkats here:

K.M.P. on Facebook    and here:  K.M.P.

Tikki's story, as told by Tikki himself, is a separate post.