Life in the Real Desert: A Typical Day

Rattlesnake on Dome Road, AZ
Yesterday in the “real” desert there was a thunderstorm that literally lasted most of the day and all night. While Skype messaging my daughter in the UK, (We had to IM versus talk as the signal is so sporadic that real conversations consist of, “Can you hear me? Are you there? You’re frozen. You’re frozen again. Am I frozen?”) I remarked that I meant to bike into town but looking at the ominous clouds and lightning it seemed a good idea to pass on the visit. Not long after, we ended the “call” and I went out to video the ominous looking clouds.

Doing my impression of a “storm chaser” on foot, I walked down the street outside the house filming sporadically. After a short period of “Oh there’s a great bit of lightning! Sh**, I missed it,” I gave up the roaming reporter rubbish and wandered back to my front garden and opted to just watch and occasionally film things that caught my eye.

Real storm chasers and those who document their exploits can rest easy in the knowledge that I am not a threat to their livelihood. My talents do not obviously lay in that area. Of course the storm threatened to break out all day and only really got interesting after dark. Once the sun went down all hell broke loose and rain came down in sheets of frenzied water that thrashed the trees almost as much as the gusts of wind.

The ferocity of the rain was such that the weather-proofing I had done weeks before was inadequate to keep the water from forcing its way into the trailer. Three leaks appeared but only after the pounding rain swept through on the third wave. The storm blew the rain in and out three times, at least that was what I counted before falling asleep waiting for the next onslaught of weather, and it was this last time that the leaks made themselves known.

Before making my nightly visit to the Land of Nod, I put out a pot for the worst leak and thankfully the other two watery intrusions were not enough to warrant pots or pans.

The sun came out upon a typical day of sun, sand and critters roaming throughout the neighborhood. Woodpeckers and some sort of yellow and black bird busily stealing the hummingbird’s nectar (with me busily chasing them off, call me cruel but they knock the feeder all over the place and get nectar everywhere) and lizards exercising along the surrounding property wall.

While the entertainment value of the pushup performing lizard does not match the heart pounding excitement of the rattlesnake encountered over the weekend or the sounds and the fury of last night’s storm, it is enough to keep me amused and content. All that remains is to see what tomorrow will bring.

5 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Stephen Hawking and Scientists to Study Doomsday List

Stephen Hawking and Scientists to Study Doomsday List

South Africa a Personal Journey: On the Road to Pretoria

IMG_0972

While in South Africa, I visited many neighbourhoods and townships around Johannesburg as well as outlying towns. After our visit to Soweto, we waited until the next day for Pretoria. My personal journey was all too quickly coming to an end. My excitement during the entire trip was tinged with disappointment that the stay would end so soon.

But it almost got extended by a pretty significant amount of time.

After finding out a wealth of information from the first interview that D and I conducted, I realised that this part of the world, besides being a fairly dangerous place to live if you didn’t know the rules, was fascinating enough to give me material for several news stories. I relayed that information to the paper and they agreed that perhaps I should stay longer. DiMarkco just needed to check a few things out.

He left the issue open and said that we would talk about it after my second interview, which was scheduled the next day.

The second interview, revealed even more things that were fascinating and opened up many other avenues of interest. After that day had finished, L and I rang the paper on Skype to report our findings.

Speaking to DiMarkco, our boss, he asked about the possibility of extending my stay. Did I have anything to stop me from staying longer, he asked. I replied that the only thing necessitating a return would be my heart medication. But first I needed to see if I could extend my ticket. After trying to do it over the internet, I gave up and finally called the airline.

The answer was a straight forward no. There was no room for negotiation, you flew back on the original day of booking or you bought another ticket. Buying another ticket was an option that DiMarkco had thrown out there so I checked prices and found that a one way flight from Johannesburg would cost more than the paper had paid to fly me out and back.

I relayed the information to the big guy and he asked if I could stay till the middle of the month. By that time we would have our money in from advertisers to fund the ticket back. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t bring enough heart medication with me and I couldn’t afford to go to a private doctor and purchase the replacements in South Africa. I would have to leave and then come back.

That meant that I had one more day to see everything I’d been sent to see. It also meant missing out on one of the biggest interviews that had been set up. But that was my fault as I’d incorrectly said I was leaving on Tuesday morning.  I was woefully out of practise in the world travelling department.

For someone who had, at one time, travelled quite frequently; I made a few errors. One was reading my return flight information incorrectly. I had decided in my infinite wisdom that I would be departing Johannesburg  on the Tuesday, but, I was departing Monday night and arriving back in the UK on Tuesday.  Then I misread the ticket again, and decided I was leaving in the morning and not at night!

There were two incidents that gave all  those around me (and me especially) abject heart failure. The lovely people who put up with me for the four days I was in South Africa, C and L, had planned a couple of special events for my stay. A South African barbecue one evening and a traditional stew the next. I wound up missing both due to the long days D and I were putting in. I did get to sample some “left overs” from the barbecue and it was delicious, even after being warmed up in the microwave!

One of the heart attack inducing moments took place in these lovely people’s home. I decided to get all my things organised so that when I packed up, I didn’t inadvertently leave anything behind. As I gathered medication and toiletries, I decided to clear out my wallet except for some Euro’s that I’d purchased in Amsterdam.

My room during my stay.
My room during my stay.

As I went through my wallet, I noticed that my credit card was missing. I stopped and immediately started searching my luggage. It wasn’t in my suitcase or my toiletry bag. I checked my wallet, trouser pockets, shirt pockets and even sifted through my dirty laundry pile. I then remembered that C had offered to wash my travel clothes.

Eureka! I just knew that the card would be in those two items.

Wrong. They were not. L was getting very concerned, he told me if I’d dropped it anywhere whilst we had been travelling around, I needed to get it cancelled immediately, if it was not already too late.  My anxiety level cranked up another notch or two and I began another close scrutiny of all my clothing once again. It was when I bent down that I remembered one place I had not checked.

I have a place where I keep all my important things when I travel. Passports, driving license’s and credit cards. I checked and sure enough, that was where I’d put the card. it had been so long since I’d travelled that I forgot to look there when I couldn’t find it in my wallet. Calling myself many very uncomplimentary names, I went out to inform C and L that the daft old bugger had found his card.

The relief I felt was shared by all.

The second thing I messed up, as I mentioned above, was the departure day of my return flight and then the times that I needed to be at the airport. All in all, I think I impressed everyone with my overwhelming ability to be an idiot!

Luckily, my newly discovered idiocy did not extend to my work and that was done reasonably well. I went to all the places I was meant to and took well over 1,600 pictures. Some, I have used on my blog posts, and many more are being lumped into places and shared with the writing team.

On the last day of my personal and professional journey to South Africa, I packed my bags, said goodbye to one of my hosts, C as L had gone to work already. I then took myself and my bags out to the vehicle and we started on our way to  Pretoria.

To be continued…

View of Pretoria from the Union Building.
View of Pretoria from the Union Building.

Door to Door Spam

no spam!
no spam! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the days that I am not ‘returning to work’ I usually write or research articles (mainly Wikipedia) or read other blogs. This is on top of performing the many mundane tasks which face a single man who lives with his daughter. The list of mundane tasks include the daily maintenance required to keep your house and home from resembling a rubbish tip. It also includes the necessary task of preparing food so that the two members of this household don’t wind up resembling survivors from a death march.

Of course some of these tasks don’t fall into the daily category. They come under the heading of ‘weekly chores’ that must be done for the outside areas of the house. Cutting the grass, trimming the edges of the lawn and the hedges. Picking up the rubbish that has been deposited by the many urchins who play around the neighbourhood.

One of the things I do that is not particularly part of any task list or category is removing the ‘built up’ spam from my blog. Askimet does a lovely job of rounding up all the spam contributions to my posts and then puts them in one spot for me to eliminate with extreme prejudice. I do like to stop and read the spam ‘comments.’ They are always worth a chuckle or two. Written with the use of a universal translator or by a preoccupied six year old, the mangled metaphors and garbled English never fail to amuse.

The other thing I do is  eliminate the built up spam from in front of my door. Every day a multitude of physical spam comes through my letter box. Leaflets, sales notifications, menus from new restaurants, local newspapers, political news, offers to sell my (rented) home, and job offers to deliver all the aforementioned items.

I get so much spam through my letterbox, that if I left it untouched for just one day, it would resemble a paper and cardboard model of the Himalayas. I have been in my kitchen or the downstairs smallest reading room and heard the muffled march of  footsteps treading past the front of my house. These footsteps pause for the smallest of pauses and deposit more spam through my letterbox before marching on to the next house.

I envision a row of spam depositors queuing up outside my house in an orderly and patient fashion. Each waiting to deposit their messages of sales, food and employment through my door’s letterbox.    I also envision the same ‘spammers’ fighting each other over each street of houses as to who will be the first to drop off their paper mountains of spam.

I can imagine scores of people from all walks of life patrolling the neighbourhood with their little pull-along trolleys full of leaflets. Criss-crossing one another and exchanging pleasantries as they pass. Pausing to apply more sunscreen in the summer months and stomping their feet and blowing on frozen fingers in the winter ones.

I have noticed that out of all the ‘spam’ that I collect from the front of my hallway, one particular leaflet appears regularly. It is an employment opportunity that pays pretty well for a part-time job.

300 to 400 pounds per month for delivering leaflets door to door. If I ever get lonely I’ll have to give it a go. After all there certainly seems to be a lot of them out there.

Relationships on line…The New Blind Date?

Come Dine with Me
Come Dine with Me (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While  eating our tea and watching Come Dine With Me, a particular vice that we’ve grown accustomed to in our house (Don’t judge!), an advert for an ‘on-line’ dating service came on the telly. It was a very good one, they’d picked pleasant looking actors to play the parts of the singletons want to become a couple.

It prompted a short discussion, it had to be short after all we were on a commercial break.  My daughter mentioned that several people she knew had all met via the internet and were now in relationships. I found this very interesting, especially since most of the people that she was referring to were in their early twenties.

I suddenly realised that these young people would have had the same access to the internet that my daughter had. They were  probably about the same age when they started getting access to computers. It made me pause for thought.

Fourteen years ago, we got our first computer and we received a modem (dial up) for our initial ‘browsing’ on the web. In those days ‘chat rooms‘ were king. Every where you went had a chat room. Not only that but apart from the public chat rooms you could carry on a more in-depth conversation in a private version of the public room.

Chat rooms are still here, of course, but they are ‘supposedly’ monitored better.

Chat Room (film)
Chat Room (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Horror stories abounded. A thirteen year old girl was groomed by a thirty year old sailor. A twelve year old boy found that ‘his mate’ on-line was a fifty-four year old paedophile. Parents were understandably concerned and not a little paranoid.

We were lucky, my daughter was not a stupid child and the one time she felt alarms firing off in her head, she logged off immediately.

We had friends who were even luckier. Their daughter went and actually met the faceless person she had been interacting with via the net. I say luckier because the guy she met turned out to be who he said he was, another teenage boy her age and not Hannibal Lecter.

Other parents and their children were not so lucky.

Some of the children still haven’t been found.

Police and community groups scattered literature all over the place warning of the danger that the internet posed and that chat rooms were the devil’s playground.

Now just a short time later, everyone it seems who is single is using the internet to meet other singles. I don’t know but I should imagine that this whole dating over the net thing is worth millions if not billions of dollars/pounds/euros or currency of your choice or country.

I had a sudden thought. Are internet dating sites the new blind date for the single folks searching for love, companionship, or a quick fumble in the dark? It certainly looks like it. And it appears to be safer than its predecessor the ‘real blind date.’ But I don’t trust it.

Why? Well I remember the horror stories too well. Hell, I related them to my wide-eyed daughter repeatedly. I didn’t want her to wind up a statistic in a ditch somewhere. Yes, I know we have Skype and windows messenger, yadda, yadda. But the couples I know who initiated their relationship through the computer never used any of the chat vehicles where you can actually see who you are talking to.

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Is it all luck? Are the ‘dating Gods’ giving the single folks a break or are we becoming more truthful. Have the predators of the web moved on to easier targets? Or are they still out there and interested only in the very young fish they want to catch. It still scares me a little. The idea of meeting a stranger who you’ve only ‘spoken’ to on-line.

I’m not old-fashioned enough that I don’t like computers or the world-wide-web, I love ’em. I am computer literate enough to get my self in trouble.

No I just don’t like anything that just a few short years ago was considered dangerous. Despite the hazards that we all face when getting to know someone new, I would still rather do it the old -fashioned way.

Face to face and in person.