Friday, 7 March 2014

What’s England really like – to a hybrid South African? Part-1.

Hybrid South African? That’s me. Born in the UK, lived so much of my life in South Africa that by emotional osmosis I became a South African. But when the country of my children’s birth made their future too uncertain to bear, I moved back to the land of my nativity so that they hopefully can enjoy a more promising life.

My true citizenship has been further diluted by my parents. My mother is from Australia, born in Sydney of pure Australian farming stock. Her father was a cavalry office at Gallipoli in the Great War. She’s a true, blue Aussie if ever there was one. And my dear Dad is from Napier New Zealand, with origins that can be traced unbroken to the Burghers of Calais. My great (X27) grandfather was immortalized by Auguste Rodin on the banks of the Thames in 1889. ( So I’m a bit mixed up.

So, back to the subject at hand. How is England? I have to stand back to get perspective. I was very lucky. When I was 12 my Dad took be bush bashing through the Kalahari, and my love of the bush stayed so firmly in place, it directed the course of the rest of my life.

So apart from missing the nearness of the bush, how has England been treating me?

England works. Take the NHS. Erin (my daughter) had an appendicitis. To the hospital, ambulance, bed, operations, convalesce and back home in four days. Cost £nil.00.  The food in the shops. Excellent quality, better than I’m used to, about the same price. What do I miss most? The Checker’s bakery. Lovely crisp rolls. I have not found a good baker yet. Cheap petrol. I didn’t think I had it, but topping a tank is very expensive – about R23.00 a liter when converted. Regular use of trains are new to me. They are clean, fast and mostly on time. In SA, public transport was not a viable option for us, but now it is. But expensive. One-way from my home in Lincolnshire (Eastern middle bit of England) to the western middle bit near Birmingham costs £50.00 That’s R900 in play money. I can fly return Cape Town to Gauteng for close to that. Return to London costs £34 off-peak weekday. People here spend a high portion of their salaries getting to and from work. More than they do on their bonds or rent.

Power blackouts. Yes, we have them to. But there is a difference. We had one a few months back. Twenty minutes later the phone rang. It was the power company. A near-sighted farmer had backed his hay bailer onto a power line and cut off the village. The company promised we would have power within an hour. It took 20 minutes.  My power bill is less than a quarter of what it was in SA – and people here complain it’s expensive. They threatened a price hike and there was furor in the commons. Democracy works quite well here it seems.

Schooling is free. But is it any good? Free is good. When Erin was interviewed for school their reaction was a surprise. Having seen her body of film work they suggested that going back to high school would be a waste of time. They enrolled her into a college to do media and arts.  She will end up with better diplomas, faster and have contact with professionals in the media business by the time she would have completed matric. It amazed us on how the system works for the good of the children’s wellbeing. In South Africa, Erin was forced to repeat a year because, even though she got a 65% average, her Afrikaans was 38%. She was forced to waste a year and the Cape Province Ed department was totally to blame. What a breath of fresh air.

Life is comfortable. Maybe a bit too comfortable. There are no local political agendas that needs worrying over. Russia is far more worrying. But I still have a deep concern that Zuma gets to stay another five years to continue his rampage of destruction. And while I am far away and safe, I still feel for what is happening in the country that I still think of as home.

More next week.

The pretty town of Stamford on a frosty winter morning

The Burghers of Calais in London

Friday, 28 February 2014

A gloomy time in South Africa’s 4x4 accessory industry is coming to an end – so it seems.

2013 was a turbulent time for the 4x4 accessory industry. Lionel and Annalie Lewis lost the sole agency to import TJM products into SA. I imagine it was a shocker for LA Sport, but I am sure they will survive. The new agents for TJM and XJS suspension is called TJM-Africa, and their headquarters is the former LA Sport store in Menlyn.

4x4-MegaWorld hasn’t been in the news much– and that alone is probably good news. Their stores are broadening their appeal as they stock more and more camping equipment to supplement their well-known brands like ARB and OME. The drop in the rand value has no doubt put their foundation products, which are imported, under huge pressure as prices have been forced to rise.

Ezi-Awn have launched several new products including a range of roof-racks. And their roof tents and awnings are as popular as ever.

Alu-Cab is as busy as always. It must surely be one of the busiest workshops in the country. And while they turn out canopies and vehicles like a Pezz-dispenser, they still manage to create some new products – like their new awning. I have not seen it up close yet.

But probably the best news of all is that one of the foundation companies in this industry, 4x4 African Outback – Big Country, has reopened its doors. They closed shop after a strike that threatened the business, and everyone, including the owners, lost their jobs. This was no doubt thanks to the unions, who care much more about personal power than people. It was this kind of thinking that destroyed so many industries in the UK through the ‘70s and ‘80s. But they are back! Their ‘under-construction’ website has their details.

As for 2014, the industry is talking positive, and that it’s looking good. A welcome upturn is under way. And South African companies are getting better and better at getting their products overseas. For example, Front Runner, National Luna and Ezi-Awn are well represented at the Outdoor Expos in the UK.

There was a new SA 4x4 TV show, called That 4x4 Show. I heard little about it, and that’s good. Because if people really hate something, they generally talk about it. It sounds like it was a success.  And I've always believed, competition is good. I am back with a full TV series in 2014, broadcasts beginning in late October. It will be shot in South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland, Scotland, UK and Arizona USA.

I'll be in the country from shooting most of April and part of May, and then again in June and July. If you have a 4x4 product that you would like to feature on my show - don't be shy. I'm interested!

Best as always


Photos show my cruiser on display at TJM's new headquarters in Menlyn, Pretoria East.  I am seriously looking forward to a warm sun on my back - and hearing my Cruiser rumble again.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Minds narrowed by brand loyalty, or FMAS.

My You Tube channel has become my largest audience, now eclipsing my web site visits, TV show viewers and book readers combined. (Over 2,5 million views) And the great thing about YouTube is that I get feedback. Some feedback is positive and some negative.

To read the rest of this article, go to:

I have needed to moved my regular blog into my own website, to drive more traffic to it.


Sunday, 22 September 2013

I've found the 4x4 I want to buy. However . . .

It's been an uncomfortable, unfamiliar feeling, having had a 4x4, and sometimes two at my disposal, without interruption for 31 years, and now nothing. My Cruiser still sits on display in a showroom in Johannesburg, while I'm in England. I have some plans to shoot some new shows, so I need a 4x4 for that, and to keep from dropping into a deep, dark depression and feeling of abandonment, and . . .

I've been toying with a number of vehicle choices. My conclusions are:

Land Rover Defender. An exciting thought, but my budget doesn't reach to a new one. And used Defenders hold there value quite well. And as my main use for the vehicle is overland expeditions, I'm not convinced the Defender is the best option. If I was going pure off-roading, then it would be at or near the top of the list. And rust is a problem. Land Rover owners who reckon that they don't rust need to come to England. The body may survive a little longer but the chassis, floor pan and firewall are prone to rust in a big way. I looked over a five year old Defender last week and was shocked.

Toyota Land Cruiser-80. They are all old, and to find a good one, with mileage under 100K, is a real challenge. And rust is a huge issue. Unless the owner has had a love affair with the vehicle and maintained it exceptionally well, it will likely have serious rust. And if I miss rust in a vital place, it being covered up by the seller, I could easily have myself a very bad purchase, only good for scrap. But if I get a good one - they are cheap.

Toyota Land Cruiser-100. The Td 4,2 VX, called the Amazon, are here in large numbers and prices are very keen. The most expensive would be a 2007 model (the last year they made them), with all the luxury stuff, with 60 000 miles (100 000 kms) would sell for around R370 000, about R100 000 less than in SA. The trouble is, they are heavy, not particularly good off road, although not bad by any standards, and are tricky to modify for overland use. The air suspension has to be removed, and replaced with coils. This is expensive, and the lift cannot be more that about 40mm without risking CV joint damage. But I have travelled with these on expeditions and they have always been absolutely trouble free. And of all on my list, they are by far the most luxurious, and better in so many ways than the 200 series. But England is crowded and such a large vehicle as my everyday transport is not idea.

The Nissan Patrol is another thought. As an overlander, it is brilliant in so many ways. But the standard ride is horrible, the petrol engines are too thirsty and the diesel engines too sluggish. I've never been a big fan of Nissans, and so I have not taken this option too seriously.

Mercedes G-wagen. There are quite a few available here, and they hold their value exceptionally well. There are a few G500s, about ten years old, and the price is in the ballpark, but a G500 would be useless for expedition use. Most others are too old, and while the G is one of the most rust-resistant vehicles on the planet, they do rust. So while I can buy older than a Defender or Land Cruiser, they are expensive, and anything pre-2000 or with a manual gearbox, I would not consider it.

But the good news is, I've found what I would like to buy! I'm not saying what it is right now, because I may not get it as I must sell the cruiser to pay for it. All I am saying is, it's ten years old, only has 25 000 miles on the odo, is in exceptional condition and it's dark grey. So forgive me if I ask you to share this link:

My best as always