This is George

3 08 2015
George the paragliding giraffe

George the paragliding giraffe

This is George; possibly the most well flown paragliding giraffe in the world. He’s been cold in the Owens Valley in California where he survived without oxygen at 4800m ASL and descended under a reserve parachute there too (without complaining or injury). He’s been hot in Porterville South Africa and didn’t need a drink even in +40ºC heat. He’s charmed his way through customs in the USA whilst I was failing to do so and got compliments in broken English on the takeoffs at Annecy, the paragliding Mecca, in France. The weekend of Africa Day he finally got his paragliding fix at World’s View, Nyanga, after a break of almost 2 years. It’s been a long time.

The state of paragliding in Zimbabwe strongly reflects the state of the economy. Flat in a word. There were all of 2 of us pilots on the takeoff that weekend up at World’s View. In the heyday of paragliding there would have been at least half a dozen and we’d think nothing of leaving early on a Saturday, flying hopefully that afternoon and then on Sunday and driving back on Sunday night. Wouldn’t do that now; the fuel is too expensive and the roads far too dangerous to drive at night. The main road going east from Harare to Mutare and the Mozambique border is actually not too bad. I’m talking of the surface not what drives on it. Most of last year it was being resurfaced by a South African company (I know that because the traffic control at the various detours was far too organised for a Zimbabwean company). How it was paid for I have no idea as the government was only slightly less broke then than it is now. There was talk in the papers last week of lots of civil servants being retrenched. Actually the headline said “Fired” which implies there will be no retrenchment package.

The road from Troutbeck Hotel up to World’s View was also being resurfaced when we were up there. No small deal that either as a LARGE and very new looking bulldozer was moving substantial quantities of boulders and earth and a grader was tidying up after it. Now I’ve been going up that road irregularly for the last 50 years that I can remember and it has never looked so grand! Almost 3 lanes in places. Again, who is paying for it? Nobody I’ve spoken to seems to know the answer which makes me a bit suspicious. This usually means a Fat Cat has told someone to get on with it as he (or she, but usually it’s a he) has designs on some property in the vicinity and wants easy access.

Africa Day, for the ill informed, celebrates the formation of the African Union as one of the children on the landing field informed us. Our esteemed president, Robert Mugabe, is the current chairman of the AU. I’m not really sure what the AU actually does. Once upon a time the late Colonel Gaddafi proposed forming a United States of Africa. As delusional as it is grand i.e. very. The week of Africa Day there was a summit in South Africa which the rather odious president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir attended. He is wanted to answer to charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. Amnesty International wasted no time in filing for his arrest. The South African judiciary deliberated and deliberated and by the time a ruling announcing that the said president of Sudan could be arrested he’d been flown out of the country. How convenient for all involved. The judiciary upheld South Africa’s law abiding image and the AU got to give the finger to the West.

I’ve had another trip to the Nyanga area a month ago. The top photo of George was taken at the edge of the Honde Valley where we once had a great takeoff. You might imagine that George is looking a bit glum as the takeoff behind him is submerged in over a meter of grass and is therefore not useable. This was where we used to be based for the annual Zimbabwe Paragliding Open competition. One year we had over 35 competitors. This year there were 3 of us.

We did fly the following day from World’s View which was convenient given that we’d rented a cottage 500m away. It was not great flying by World’s View standards (usually it’s relatively easy to get 500m above takeoff) as it was heavily inverted and so we were limited to about 150m above takeoff. But it was hard work and good practice and George enjoyed it as you can see by the gilt in his eye.

A happy giraffe!

A happy giraffe!

A tentative start

27 06 2015

It was not very well attended but Geoff, who is naturally optimistic, said “Yes, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen something like this and that is good news”.

I had to agree. It was not a big agricultural machinery show by any standards but it was most certainly a start.  The really big combines were privately owned and on loan for the show. There were some very high tech irrigation systems and all nature of sprayers including a Brazilian made battery powered knapsack sprayer that caught my fancy. But who has the money to afford these systems and where are the farms that need them? Mostly gone in the chaos that peaked in the early part of the century when government backed “war vets” evicted most of the white commercial farmers. And the country is very nearly broke.

It continues in a smaller way today. I was chatting to the owner of a smaller nursery near Karoi in the north west of the country. She and her husband rented a farm and co-existed with 7 small scale farmers. A year ago they were kicked off the farm and today there is only one small scale farmer left and very little evidence that it was ever a productive farm.

So will there be another farming equipment show next year? I cannot answer that but a lot of people are hoping there will be and it will be bigger.



Not a big show but a start.

local spuds

Local ingenuity – a potato lifter. Not high tech but it works.

high sprayer

Now that’s what I call a tall sprayer!


Field demonstrations

big combine

A combine harvester worthy of any first world farm. This one was on loan for the show.

diesel pump

A diesel powered pump. Useful when the power is unreliable

centre pivot

High tech irrigation system

big john deere

One careful owner.


Well, the advertising banner industry seems to be healthy!

Dissing the ZRP – part 2

27 06 2015

Today, on my way into Borrowdale, I was once again stopped by the police. It is a straight piece of road near my work so I couldn’t have done anything untoward.

“Good morning sir, how are you?”

“Cold” it IS winter.

“We are just checking two things this morning, your horn and your hand brake.”

I sound the horn. I pull on the hand  brake thinking he is going to try pushing the car.

“Please put your foot on the clutch. Ah, yes, that’s nice, you may go.”

What? This is a level piece of road!

“Don’t you want to push the car to test the handbrake ?” It’s a Land Cruiser, good luck mate.

“No, there is a slope here, you may go.”

OK, whatever, looks dead level to me!

For a contrasting encounter, please see the previous post.

Dissing the ZRP (Zimbabwe Republic Police)

24 06 2015

Driving out of town this morning I had to make a decision; gym or go home and try out my shoulder on the rowing machine. It has been giving trouble lately and I had a sneeky suspicion that it was due to the gym workout. I knew if I went to they gym I wouldn’t be able to resist doing more exercise than using the rowing machine there and I wanted to isolate the problem. So home it was. An unfortunate decision.

The police were at the Groombridge intersection on College Road waiting to catch those not stopping at the stop sign. I made a point of stopping and then they waved me over.

Bullshit! I thought.

“Did you see the stop sign?” the officer asked.

“Yes, and I stopped at it!”  I replied heatedly.

I realised that I was trapped. My word against his. I had no witnesses and he knew it. I couldn’t lose my temper, I couldn’t accuse him of lying. So I launched into full-blown psychological warfare.

“You know this means that I can never help any ZRP officer I see needing help?”

“You must not say that, you made a mistake” he countered.

“No I did not, I know when my vehicle is stopped now I insist you write me a ticket” I demanded.

“I need the money” he asked.

“You must find the change” (usually a problem) I replied and unfortunately pulled out a $50 note instead of a $100. Damn for making his life easier.

He duly found the change for the $20 fine and passed the form over for signing. I scrawled something that did not resemble my signature (like it was going to make a difference!).

“How can I respect the ZRP now?” I asked.

“But you must not say that” he replied looking genuinely hurt – or so I fancied.

I drove off resisting the temptation to spin the wheels.

The above exchange is heavily abridged. It went back and forth for about 10 minutes.

The ZRP attract much contempt for their complete lack of professionalism. They have been told to collect their own wages as the government is broke so the emphasis is on easy fine collection and real traffic policing, such as catching motorists driving dangerously, is neglected. How they will ever gain a measure of respect with the general public is difficult to see.

There are another 2 police who man a very informal road “block” on the road into town. I see them there most days. I am hoping they will pull me over as there have to be at least 3 police officers at any official road block so I can legally tell them to get lost. We’ll see!

Scruffs dog show (by VAWZ)

14 06 2015

Amidst all the chaos that is the Zimbabwean economy we have normal dog shows. Or in this case a dog show for non-show dogs. Scruffs. Well, that requirement was not enforced so everyone had a great time and lots of prizes were given out all as a fund raiser for Veterinarians for Animal Welfare in Zimbabwe (VAWZ) who do an amazing job of getting out into the rural areas, mainly, to keep an eye on animal welfare and educate people in how to look after their animals.

Just a small selection of photos I took. Fancy dress, nicest eyes, waggiest tail etc…

The bees are back

10 05 2015

Actually the bees have never left. They have been around almost continuously ever since my first post “Rats, bees & barn owls” some 9 years ago. We have pretty much tolerated each other since then but I had to do something when, a couple of months ago, they attacked the gardener and harassed the dogs and I one afternoon. Mike the bee man was called in and after two attempts the swarm in the chimney was killed. Alas it was not long before another swarm was scouting the chimney, attracted by the smell of the defunct hive. They took refuge in a nearby tree whilst making a decision. I called Mike again and he arrived with his bee handler.

The swarm -  medium sized

The swarm – medium sized


Swarming bees are not aggressive; they have nothing to protect and that’s important as stinging for them is fatal. The ultimate sacrifice. African bees have a fearsome reputation for defending their hives when they have brood or honey. In extreme cases the whole swarm will go into a stinging frenzy and can kill humans and livestock.

Preparing for action

Preparing for action

Somewhere I have a photo of my father as a young man holding a swarm of bees on a branch and not wearing any protective gear at all. Mike’s bee handler was not taking any chances though I noticed he was not as heavily kitted out as he would have been during the day when working with and established hive (I used to keep bees in a small way.

Smoking the bees to calm them

Smoking the bees to calm them

A few puffs of smoke and the bees were bumped into an open cardboard box and brought down to the ground. Mike and I (we were both unprotected) watched from a respectful distance. The bees buzzed a bit in the box and Mike said they would soon calm down when the queen released her pheromones. No point in wasting good workers! They soon did and the box was picked up and they were on their way.

In the box and ready to go

In the box and ready to go

The next day there was a small cluster of bees on the ground nearby so I collected a catchbox (a small hive prepared with attractive prop0lis) and they duly moved in. A few days later there were MORE bees around the chimney and as I was about to go on holiday thought it would be a good idea to get another two catch boxes to try and attract them away. They day before I left the swarm moved into one of the boxes.

For the moment all is peaceful on the bee front and Mike will come and take the swarms away and put them to work in his commercial bee keeping practice. The next swarming season is in August and I will have to be prepared again.

About the units

9 05 2015

Zimbabwe (Rhodesia as it was then) went metric in 1970. We were using the old imperial system up to then; acres, pounds, ounces, miles, feet and inches etc. The property my mother owned in Penhalonga was measured in morgen. The metric system is far easier to use. Like I mentioned to my sister in the USA it’s all in base 10 and length and mass are related. Want to convert metres to kilometres? Move the decimal point! Despite all this, 45 years later, relics of the old system remain.

Yesterday in the industrial sites of Harare I was shopping for hardware essential in our annual maintenance programme. I blithely asked for 25kg of 6 inch nails! I could have asked for 150mm nails and everyone would have known what I was asking for but try saying “150mm” and then “6 inch”. Much easier to say 6 inch! Relics exist elsewhere too, nowhere more bizarrely than in plumbing. Old style copper and steel piping is measured in inches and refers to the internal diameter. PVC piping is measured in mm and refers to the outside diameter. It is a blatant conversion of the old system; 50mm is 2 inches, 32mm is 1¼ inches etc. Speed and distance are all firmly metric as is temperature and mass. ºF is utterly meaningless to me though I can grasp pounds weight and speed if I think about it. That the weight of the recent UK royal baby was measured in pounds didn’t mean much except that I think it was in the normal range.

One day the world will actually share the same system of units and we will look back at the old system with puzzlement and wonder why we put up with it for so long. That it costs the USA (and presumably Liberia and Burma) vast amounts of money to not metricate is beyond doubt. The only disputed fact is how much.

For a fascinating and entertaining read on the invention of the metric system (amongst other things) read Chet Raymo’s “Walking Zero”


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