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