Sunday, April 18, 2010

54 minutes 56 seconds...

...is how long it took me to cover the 10 km of the Phakalane Gaborone Marathon 10 km run. I am amazed! Obviously it helps to start smoking - adds the speed...Almost exactly two years ago I did the Vienna Half Marathon (on the day that the dreadful Fritzl story broke) I took 2 hours 2 minutes, or about 5.46 minutes per km; today it was 5.27 minutes. I suspect the official statistics may show a different figure; the starting time was counted from well before we in the rear guard crossed the starting line, and I am not sure how accurately the end statistics were recorded. Statistics, eh? But I had set my stopwatch precisely on the moment of crossing each line.

It helped me that there was a big field of 2000 (two weeks after the Vienna marathon I ran in a 10k race in Vilnius and gave up - the field was small and I was last the minute I stepped over the starting line I was last). Took the first half kilometre to get past the walkers and the slower ones, and after that it was ok - there were other people around but we were not tripping over each other. Some children were running barefoot...

I felt sorry for the 120 (full) marathon runners, though. That is not a big number....Watched the first 15 or so come in; the winner in a far from worldbeating time - but if a guy is running on his own it is boring, and there is no challenge other than himself. And a few minutes later the second, and so on. We waited for a long time for the first woman to arrive; again, whenever she did, it was not a record-beating time; we left because we were getting hungry. On the way home the remaining field, of about 100 people was spread out over a distance of maybe 15 km, with a gruelling 10 km of straight road to follow near the end. That must have been very very lonely!

My two friends did very well; one had never run the distance before and was worried about it, the other thought he would take 1.5 hours... in fact both came in shortly after me, within the hour (according to our timing rather than the organizers' timing). And the whole hash team finished the route very nicely.

Where is the next run?


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Gaborone - the filthiest city? I don't think so

It says here that Gaborone must be 'among the few most unkept (sic) capital cities of the world'. Suspect the author has not travelled very far. I can think of many cities that are far more unkempt than Gaborone.

He quotes a South African teenager as saying 'but it looks so rural'. That's not really surprising given that the large South African cities have populations well more than the whole population of huge Botswana (1.8 million). And it does look rural - there are very few apartment blocks, most houses sit in their own, fairly large, plot, and the population is only around 250,000. Even the slums (Old Naledi?) are fairly spaced out - and I don't mean it in a hashish sense. In any case, 'rural' is not exactly synonymous with 'filthy'.

There are many ways of describing Gaborone - well spread out, lacking a city centre with a heart, short on historic buildings, very car-dependent, with people congregating in shopping centres or churches, but filthy? I have seen much worse - in most parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia (Dushanbe in Tajikistan is also fairly rural, though its older city buildings are double the age of those in Gaborone), and indeed Western Europe (has the author ever been to London?), in other parts of Africa....

I wonder what spaces the author is talking about. Most businesses seem to employ more than enough cleaners to pick up every cigarette stub, or for one to wash the floor of the supermarket while her colleague stands beside her flapping a piece of cardboard to make it dry quicker. There does seem to be a problem with rubbish collection at the moment - I noticed the piles of rubbish bags near our office; but they are neatly placed in some large rubbish bag holders, for the moment. Apparently the city council has not collected rubbish since the end of last year due to a problem with machinery. Can't say I have noticed particularly - this place is not Naples...



As Vicky Pollard would say: yes, but, no but, yes but, no but...'

Problem is I was performing in the EU BIFM concert at Maitisong, Gaborone. I could lose all my friends - on the other hand, it was better than I expected!

A packed house, a very packed programme, with lots and lots of singing by three different choirs (Gaborone Musical Society, Sedibeng and KTM) and about 8 soloists. Plus lots of very funny introductions to the music by David Slater, maestro extraordinaire. No really. I am not just saying it because he is the conductor of the GMS I sing in - he is a really fine conductor. Perhaps it tells that he may have conducted many school orchestras in the past; he was able to manage all our motley crew, from teenage to old age. He takes everyone by the hand and guides them through the piece they are performing, but he is precise, he does not miss out any entries and he is funny - and seems to be enjoying himself. (We were told he is a 'physical mathematician' by trade - which could be taken to mean many things - but he would not be the first musical mathematician).

Our singing was pretty good, all things considered - the moments in rehearsals when we thought we could not do it, like one piece in which we ended up flat at the end of the first chunk of singing every time. In the concert we did not, and it went really quite well. Could still do better on the dynamics, though. And tenor notes around 'd' (next to middle C) are far from my comfort zone, but then I am not really a tenor. Our Faure (the Cantique for Jean Racin, a slightly cheesy piece) went better than expected, and supported by the huge Sedibeng choir our Beethoven's Choral Fantasy was quite good, really. I do have a better recording of it, and I heard an outstanding version with the delightful Russian pianist Alexander Paley and the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra some years ago - he was having soooo much fun! Not sure that our pianist Olga was having fun, but she was doing a nice job, and her Eastern European training showed. There were some lovely contrasts between lyrical places and the more revolutionary stuff. And hey, it's Gaborone!

I missed the orchestra playing a Mozart symphony (the Paris one?) since it was just before our more challenging piece. Otherwise the band, the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra (which seems to have different members every year, I am told - much like the Vilnius Festival Orchestra, a mixed bunch of different players?) was not all that challenged, accompanying many bits of opera, for choirs and orchestra. I could have played that. I would have loved to play that, just for the sake of some playing.

The local singers had fine voices; one voice did not carry well over the orchestra; the soprano soloist, who seems to have a huge fan base, could do with having a more varied (and off-switchable) vibrato, but she is getting training somewhere in Europe - they can fix that. 'Don Giovanni' had a gorgeous voice - but I wondered if he (the character, not the singer - we are heavy on HIV here) would get laid with a velvety voice like that? Maybe he would - it might make the women feel safe and undress them all by itself; on the other hand I like my Don G to have a bit of steel, like a knife, or a sword (you get the idea....) to his voice; kind of a hint of menace. Women, I am told, find that sexy, too. Linking Don G and HIV, I am told he used a kind of leather arrangement for a condom.

So this has become a concert review after all....sorry for not mentioning more names, but I did not have a programme. (Hint to the organisers - the performers must get a programme. Individually!)


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Polish President killed in Plane Crash

Here it says that the Plish President, Lech Kaczynski, has been killed in a plane crash in Smolensk, Russia. Apparently he was going there for an event commemorating the Katyn Massacre, there was thick fog, the plane hit trees and went down. The pilot had been offered Moscow or Minsk airports but refused those. The plane was a (probably very old) Tupolev 154 - one of the type in which I have flown many times to Tajikistan.

Question of course is why was he flying in an old Russian plane? Not many of these are allowed in EU airspace. Was he trying to save money? Generally these planes feel very safe - they seem to be much less affected by turbulence than more modern planes, but does the Polish government not have its own planes? Why did he not fly with LOT? But of course thick fog is another thing; whether a LOT plane would have coped any better, who knows. Another question is whether the pilot would have insisted on Smolensk airport if he had not had a president on board.

Whatever we think of Mr Kaczynski and his brother's politics, I feel sorry for his twin brother.


Monday, April 05, 2010

Turning pages

The funniest video (thanks to Jessica) on page turning...


Guarding, Botswana style

I suspect that the guarding industry in Botswana is one of the industries with the highest number of employees. Guards are everywhere - many houses have guards, there are guards outside our office, in shopping centres, some town centre supermarkets (Spar) have guards who prevent me from taking my backpack in (not sure if I have seen any at the larger Spar in Riverwalk), and stamp each receipt, checking your purchases when you leave the shop - that's apart from those loitering in the aisles....It must make people feel really trusted. Given that the central Gaborone Spar is rather a grotty place with vegetables you really would not want to take home (who wants to buy mouldy courgettes?), floors who do not seem to see a cleaner from one day to the next, and often overcrowded, I am not sure what they expect people to steal. The doctor's surgery, used by many expatriates and I am sure quite a good earner, opposite my bedroom, is guarded during the day, all day - the guard sits under a tree underneath my window, from about 6 am till when? I don't know. No shelter, if the surgery is closed no toilet.... how do they treat these humans? I don't know if the guard sits there all night as well - that would seem to be a more logical time to guard the place, given the quietness of the street, with more opportunities to steal. The place in which I live is always guarded, with a second guard with a big fierce dog joining him at night. Luckily the guards don't seem to be armed most of the time, unlike in the Kenya shopping centre where I spotted four guys in fatigues, each sporting a machine gun.

Yesterday I was part of the team setting the route for the hash - leaving home at 7.15 am. We tootled round, past some ponds, and round and through some derelict greenhouses and wended our way back to the meeting point. At 10 am the hash, in full battle cry, set off. We reached the ponds - only to be almost barred by four female guards who were most sniffy about us passing. Luckily a hasher speaks Setswana and we got through. Around the derelict greenhouses another team of guards had turned up, who were ready to call the police - I mean, what's possible to steal there (though I had clocked some nice plant trays and toyed with the idea to rescue some of them for my balcony).

Finally when we got back to our meeting place, the police did turn up. Only to tell us that there were many thieves about and that we should be careful. We told them that a hasher had remained behind to watch the cars. (The chap in question has a gammy leg and walks with a crutch....).

So if you want to steal anything in Botswana, just pick a time when the guards are sleeping - there is much of that time....


My fly and I

...I am talking of the winged kind...

So it is Easter, four days at home, much of it in front of the computer. (Yes, I could have gone to see the wild animals up north, but am a bit busy here.)

For the last four days a little fly has been swarming around me while I am sitting at the computer. It sits on the computer, my coffee cup, my body - but can I ever catch the little bugger? I am prepared to catch him and put him out - but no luck. I don't like swatting a fly, especially not on my laptop - blood could get into all sorts of places, or I could smash the screen. What's the life expectancy of a fly? I hope it's only a few days...

He is driving me crazy!


Saturday, April 03, 2010

Tidy desks?

Interesting blogs here about tidy desks - which to the author suggest 'an empty mind', or that the person has nothing to do.

My desk is never tidy; yes, I would like it to be tidy, but I am always working on different pieces of work, and need to see them to be reminded to do them - that saves me using valuable brain space better used for thinking! Also, much as described in the paper, I do find things on my desk, or in my shelves, when I need them. Maybe those of us who use untidy desks have a different way of remembering things than those whose desks are tidy? There could be lots of psychological theories explaining memory and ways of constructing memories or where something is and what I should be working on. I do use a crib sheet (to do list) to make sure I don't forget important, or sometimes unimportant things - what may be important to me, on a high level, can be different to what is important to the organisation or its suppliers (writing contracts, dealing with payments, money allocations, organising keys for consultants and so on).

I remember working in an office which had a 'clean desk' policy - to allow the cleaners to clean the desks (mainly), though there were also issues with client confidentiality, where the clients' files were lying on the desks (some of those cleaners might also be clients). Not sure that I actually ever saw a totally clean desk....

So if you have an untidy desk, go ahead - if you produce the work you are required to produce then it's just your style of working. We are all different!


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Double standards?

Here it says that Haiti is getting 9.5 million USD from the international community for rebuilding itself. Congratulations!

However, when Georgia had its war in 2008, it received 4.5 billion USD for the same purpose. In Haiti 200,000 people were killed, and a million homeless. In Georgia a few hundred people were killed, about 160,000 homeless, so per head of affected Haiti is getting much less than Georgia.

Political reasons, or effect of the economic crisis?