THE GREEN DIARY :                                    Colombia 2023.     4

Cartagena – St. Barths – Miami : The Last Leg

The last Margarita in Colombia resplendent with black, spicy salt-laced rim, decorative daisy and whole, dried chilli for the best ever. What a drink!

Black resin sculpture outside our AirBnB on Bocagrande.

The way to St. Barths from Cartagena is an adventure in itself. One in which you pray that any of the dominoes will not fall; for if they do, you are up the proverbial creek with no paddle and knocking vainly on the doors of the travel insurance companies.

So, this is how it worked, and because there are no services of any kind to either the Dutch or the French Antilles, these were our dominoes. From Cartagena we flew to Miami; there we put up at an hotel for one night, more-or-less at the end of the runway. The following morning American Airlines flew us to the island of Sint Maarten where we spent another night in the Holland House Beach Hotel a hundred yards from the little ferry terminal for St. Barths whence we wheeled our katunda next day for the 45 minute transfer to Gustavia.

Our friend Laura has the most beautiful home on top of the hill above Colombier, at the north-west corner of the island,  with a 360° view. It is a paradise. For a whole, glorious week she introduced us to her special places, the beaches, the restaurants and bars, the shops, markets and even the little Anglican Church where on Tuesday evenings in candlelit quiet (busy nightlife outside notwithstanding), Taizé music takes place; and Friends Penny and Nick H. were there to share. They flew from Guadeloupe into the terrifying little airport at Gustavia – which confirmed us in our ferry decision as it is the ninth most dangerous and difficult airport on the planet!

Terrifying Gustavia Aerodrome. No jets allowed – they arrive at the wrong angle!

St Barths, a glance at google will tell you, is what they call a “high end” holiday destination. Absolutely everything on the island has to be shipped in – everything. There is no water here, only run-off, which is carefully collected, and a massive desalination plant, a by-product of the small power station; this makes being here an expensive option and the myriad yachts both of the sailing and motor variety confirm this. Just above the beach at Colombier is the haunted residence of one or other Rockefeller, reputedly deserted now  and housing upmarket squatters. The Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, had his yacht, Eclipse (is it called? He has three of them so I’m not sure which) parked here until recently when he hurriedly moved it as threats of impounding resonated.

The island is immaculate. Beautifully kept. Groomed with beautiful, clean beaches, white sand reflecting through clear, turquoise water. 

Our only sadness was the amount of traffic in such a small place but given that it is difficult to get about without transport, we couldn’t see how else to handle the issue. Hopefully there will be some sort of moratorium on the numbers of visitors and residents allowed there.

The walk from our suite at Plumbago up to the beautiful deck usually for more sharpeners and cuisine.
We spent an afternoon on the catamaran Wayayai pleasantly cruising to the bay at Ile Fourchue for snorkelling and then on to Colombier Beach, site of early morning swims – with Master Michelangelo.
Yes, you are right, they ARE rum punches! On the way to Colombier beach pictured below. The low lying building nestling on the headland is the Rockefeller property apparently peopled by rich squatters!

We felt extremely pampered and spoiled. What a privilege to share even for a moment such a place.

Solutions at Santa Fe

The little ferry, Big B appeared on the dot to whisk us back to Sint Maarten for another night at the Holland House Beach Hotel before flying back to Miami. The cluster of palms on the top left were our last view of Plumbago from the ferry as we bustled past the gigantic, dreaded cruiser, Riviera on our way back to Sint Maarten.

And here one of the dominoes has fallen. Thankfully at the end not the beginning of the line else the knock-on could have been disastrous. Our plane developed some mysterious, mechanical problem and after long delays American Airlines issued us with hotel and food vouchers, unloaded the luggage and taxied us to the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort at the end of the runway for the night. The offending plane was a Boeing 737 Max 8 seen here at the Princess Juliana International Airport.

We know it well! The airport I mean. It is a half completed, extremely noisy echo chamber reverberating with incomprehensible announcements by officials with no microphone technique whatsoever. It was a nightmare.

In all my years of travel this has never happened to me. I once spent an uncomfortable and cold night in a snowed in Geneva airport; there have been flights that were cancelled and we were immediately found alternatives  – but not this. Of course you read about these sort of things and I often wonder what they would do if there were no empty hotel rooms to accommodate such a large group of people on the spur of the moment.

Just look at all those Fords waiting to pick us up at Miami Airport. There is even an obliging American Airlines plane in back (as they say) but whether it is a Boeing 737 Max 8 I know not. William Shearer? Input? I have a feeling NOT as the AA livery is old and not like that any more.

30 hours late we finally took off into the night, a day wasted, champing at the bit in Immigration, luggage astray but not lost and the most terrifying experience yet, the Yellow Cab ride to Miami Beach conducted by an affable driver from Mumbai. The ancient Ford Crown Victoria (1992, V8, 4.1 litres) on soft, squeaky springs and shot shocks, vroomed us in bursts well over the speed limit, our driver hunched over the wheel frantically steering and peering past other speedsters while we clung for dear life to our broken straps in breathless expectation of imminent death. I was reminded of Bob Newhart’s Bus Driver Training skit:

That’s it…….accelerator, brake………accelerator, brake…… got it…!”

But we did finally get to our hotel, the Albion on the corner of James and Lincoln so the last domino did not fall though the gap narrowed and the stay shortened.

We have never been to Miami before; only passed through it several times on our way to other places; to the home of that mouse, with the grandchildren; to Key West; cruises leave from here of course; and along the panhandle through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana to New Orleans – but never Miami proper.

We thought it was fabulous. We stayed in Miami Beach which has the largest collection of Art-Deco buildings on earth, beautifully restored and saved from the wreckers who nearly swept the whole thing away for a Riviera of high rise hotels and apartment blocks. Much is pedestrianised and all of it pristine. There was a Miami Beach Walking Tour which Tony enjoyed. There are 109 listed Deco buildings in Miami Beach alone; many more than the impressive collections in Tel Aviv, Prague or Napier New Zealand. Interesting that originally they were put up in that style because it was cheap;  many were only three storeys high, needing no elevators, obviating extra expense. 

Gianni Versace’s home was just along the block from here.

Casa Casuarina once the home of Gianni Versace, a Mediterranean Revival building unlike any other on Ocean Drive where Deco dominates.

Built in 1930 by Ronin Wolf for the gay Standard Oil bachelor and heir, Alden Freeman, it is now known simply as Gianni’s and is an extremely expensive restaurant and luxury boutique hotel.

Strict dress code and entrance by appointment. Platinum credit cards only!

We were struck too, by Miami City, also immaculate.

First high rise building in Miami, the Freedom Tower built in 1925 as the Headquarters for The Miami News, with 17 storeys; based on the design of the Giralda tower of the Cathedral of Seville.

The 30 hour delay on Sint Maarten meant we were left with only two full days and a morning to “do” Miami. Far too short of course; also there were no concerts, ballets or operas on anywhere – wrong time of year, so we shall have to go back one day and investigate properly.

Because of time constraints we thought the good old Hop-on-Hop-off bus would serve us well which it proved to do, on its two hour circuit, giving us an excellent overview and orientation in a sometimes confusing city: starting from Bayside Market Place, running south-north up Miami Beach, turning west across Biscayne Bay to the Design District and Wynwood Walls, then south and east to Little Havana. 

The weather was perfect; a cooling breeze to offset the sunshine.

The Pèrez Art Museum was an excellent recommendation from Friend Helen B. who knows and loves the city, the building an artwork on its own, featuring two special exhibitions alongside the permanent collection of modern art, we found fascinating: Leandro Erlich’s Liminal and Yayoi Kusama’s Love is Calling.

From PAMM’s own schpiel is best :

Liminal has been conceived as a sequence of spaces that one might encounter in the course of an ordinary day: elevator, subway, classroom, hair salon, sidewalk, swimming pool, laundry room – even a window through which the neighbour’s windows can be seen. Each space is fabricated to serve as a precise simulation of the place it references so that the encounter with Erlich’s illusion tends to occur as a surprise on the viewer’s part that such an ordinary spot should conceal such extraordinary qualities.

 “Love is Calling is the largest and most immersive and kaleidoscopic of the artist’s Infinity Mirror Rooms. Representing the culmination of her artistic achievements, it exemplifies the breadth of her visual vocabulary – from the signature polka dots and soft sculptures to brilliant colours, the spoken word, and, most importantly, endless reflections and the illusion of space. The darkened, mirrored room is illuminated by inflatable, tentacle-like forms – covered in the artist’s characteristic polka dots- that extend from the floor to the ceiling, gradually changing colours. As visitors walk through the installation, a sound recording of Kusama reciting a love poem in Japanese plays continuously. Written by the artist, the poem’s title translates to Residing in the Castle of Shed Tears. Exploring enduring themes including life and death, the poem poignantly expresses Kusama’s hope to spread a universal message of love through her art.

Love is Calling – Yayoi Kusama – an immersive experience. 

The Hop-on-Hop-off Bus on The Red Loop.

Along the MacArthur Causeway looking towards the Cruise Terminal. It was from here that I left with my late brother David on our last trip together in 2019.

It is the largest cruise terminal in the world.

The glorious graffiti of The Wynwood Walls

There are lots of places to eat. We tried a few including near South Pointe Park Pier, on 1st Street, Joe’s Crab Shack, famous since 1920 when Hungarian-born Joseph and Jennie Weiss opened their first fish restaurant on the front porch of their home there. They’d moved from New York in 1913, cooked and waited tables at Smith’s Bathing Casino across the road from their home – still in the same location to this day though no longer in the Weiss family.

The list of the good, the bad and the ugly that dined there is endless and we were shown the table frequented by Al Capone who also had a home on one of Biscayne Bay’s millionaire islands, which we’d seen earlier from a boat trip we’d enjoyed as part of the Hop-on-Hop-off experience.

Great atmosphere and excellent eating. Crab claws are the signature dish. Nobody knew they were edible until Joe Weiss discovered them in 1913.

Interestingly (and shockingly too) the Weiss family were the first Jews to live in Miami. No Jews were allowed in Florida until 1797.  They had a torrid time of it. By 1915 there were only 55 Jews there. They were prohibited to live north of 5th Street in Miami beach, nor could anyone of colour, Hispanic or otherwise. Only in 1949 were these restrictive barriers removed though in reality many of the Art Deco buildings were designed, built and operated by Jews and it was a Jew who launched the campaign that established, restored and preserved the Art Deco District.

They just couldn’t live there.

Miami City from Miami Beach

Tony went on his walking tour on our last morning while I packed up, had a last swim in the hotel pool, a last bask in the warmth before returning to the hypothermic depths of Essex!

But I just have to have one little rant before I let you go to your homework: British Airways flew us home in one of their Airbus 380s taking slightly longer than usual because a rocket was being launched at NASA Cape Kennedy; a comfortable flight, a full complement of 469 crew & passengers (or customers as we are now called). We landed at Heathrow at 6.45am;  we whizzed off our double decker giant and zoomed through UK Border Control, the auto-

-mated ePassport Gates working perfectly for once.  We both said we thought this incredible efficiency couldn’t last – after all, we were back home in strike-torn, post-Covid, stagflated, understaffed, underpaid Britain!

And so it proved. In baggage reclaim, at carousel number 5 in Terminal 5 we waited for TWO HOURS for our bags to arrive. Not just us! All 469 of us including a few of the flight staff who’s baggage was in the hold.

I kid you not, dear Friends.


THE GREEN DIARY :                        Colombia 2023. 3

My friend Ross Devenish sent me this quote from  Travels with a Donkey in the Cèvennes :

“Why anyone should desire to go to Cheylard or to Luc is more than my inventing spirit can embrace. For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go; I travel for travel’s sake.    And to write about it afterwards, if only the public will be so condescending as to read. But the great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of life a little more nearly; to get down off this feather bed of civilisation, and to find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.”

Robert Louis  Stevenson

“I’m uncertain about leaving the ‘feather bed’ but the sense that you just want to go, rings a bell with me,” Ross added! 

I agree.

I’m not sure either about the ‘cutting flints’ though I did succeed in dropping and shattering very impressively, a bottle of Canada Dry Tonic Water in the supermercado yesterday and promptly created a bloodbath when glass got into my foot! 

With all the visits to museums and houses and burial grounds and tombs and the whole ritual of the tourist abroad, it was refreshing to find this wonderful tile outside one or other of the sites. It is almost an admonishment!

On the 13th December, 1825, in this house nothing happened and no-one important was born.

Mesitas del Colegio

Richard came to live and work in Colombia back in the late 1980s. He taught maths to the sons and daughters of wealthy Colombians, in English, at the Colegio Anglo Colombiano, considered one of the elite schools.

He was here during the era of the Muerte a Secuestradores or MAS, essentially a terrorist organisation set up by Pablo Escobar to corrupt the system with protection rackets and extortion. There were many murders, planes blown up and high profile kidnappings. Richard was teaching at the time of the invasion of the Palace of Justice in La Candelaria and urged to stay clear of the area. About nine justices were murdered, tanks invaded the building and cared not a jot for the deaths they caused among the many innocent present. The building was set alight. There was mayhem. Those extracted from the blaze were never seen or heard of again.

Richard met José Mosquera during these times. They became friends. José now has a beautiful home, to which he and his partner Hans-Peter Balle come every English winter and which is generously shared with friends and which is also home to sister Doris and brother Carlos and three beautiful dogs, Shakira, Zeuss and Max. It’s name is Finca Pradera. We were made very welcome.

Tarry Tours reaches Mesitas del Colegio

So, from Villa de Layve, Baudilio drove us down the Rio Bogotá valley through the traffic insanity of Bogotá itself, clogged with fumes and smells from the river, down the steep escarpment, dropping 5,400 feet to Mesitas del Colegio  (Cundinamarca) 2.5 hours south west of Bogotá where this little paradise is situated.

Hans-Peter has several coffee bushes in the garden and collected enough beans to begin the process towards at least three or four cups of coffee. Jorgé is supervised by José.
The open air salon

For five wonderful days we were royally treated. José is a superb cook and introduced us to many traditional dishes and others besides. The garden is rich in every conceivable fruit you can imagine and the Jugos flowed. This climate in these latitudes, on this soil just produces an endless variety of flowers, fruits, tubers, maize and beans. Chickens peck about and there are fresh eggs every day. It is genuinely a little Garden of Eden.

The kitchen

There is a pool too, who could ask for more, and we were shown around the plateau, taken into Mesitas and across the valley to La Mesa. Baudilio came from Bogotá a day early to fetch us and especially to drive us all on a massive circuit to Anapoima and La Mesa, swooping down the valley and up the other side on the return to Finca Pradera.

Thank you friends for making us so welcome in your beautiful home. We especially hope that Shakira’s injured leg has by now healed and we look forward to seeing you in Cartagena – and London too.

Baudilio drove us to Bogotá on our last day, for our flight to Cartagena where we picked up our rental for the next stage:

Santa cruz de Mompós (or the disease-sounding Mompox as it is called!)

The Rio Magdelena is many miles wide as it approaches the sea, a wild wetland.

The road to Mompox from Cartagena started with promise but soon reminded us of the San Agustín to Popayán odyssey. To be fair, this time the distance was 329 kms though we cheated slightly by stopping the night at Turbaco, itself only a 25 km drive from the airport where we had picked up our rental, a Renault Duster into which we managed, just, to squeeze us and all our luggage. From Turbaco the next morning it took us nearly six hours to this enigmatic, magical town in the middle of the vast marshlands through which the Rio Magdalena, now miles wide, presses. It is hot and humid. 35°C on average but feeling like 40°C. Barely a breeze.

We last saw the river from San Agustín and visited a point down in the gorge where it was only a few feet wide. Way downstream from here, at Girardot, the Rio Bogotá joins the Rio Magdalena swelling it mightily but very dirtily.
When we were driving from Villa de Leyva to Mesitas we picked up the Rio Bogotá when it was a crystal clear stream cascading down the valley. When it reaches the city everything is thrown into it and it becomes disgusting despite all the efforts of a corrupt political class to clean it up.

You can jump across The Rio Magdalena up in San Agustín!

The convergence of the filthy Rio Bogotá with the clear waters of the Rio Magdelena at Girardot

So, I shudder to think what is flowing past us here in Santa Cruz de Mompós though all the locals swim in it, all the fish we are eating comes out of it, all the thousands of Brahman cattle graze in, on and around it, all the local produce, the yuca, maize, plantains and the rest comes out of it;  it teams with iguana, howler monkeys, electric eels – apparently lethal – and the most fantastic bird life of every size and colour. Further upstream  Pablo Escobar’s Hippopotami are thriving after their release from his private zoo though we’ve not glimpsed them! 

The first thing that crossed my mind was how on earth did those Conquistadores manage to navigate up this vast river with its myriads of channels in their 16th Century ships, the current against them, barely a favouring breeze and then establish a foothold on the banks where there is nothing except excruciating humidity, flat as far as  you can see, and mud, mud glorious mud. They had armour can you believe and were dressed in Spanish clothing of the day; they’d come a long way; two-thirds were wiped out by diseases and yet here is the proof of their persistence – Mompox, this little gem of a town built of brick in the Spanish Colonial Baroque style, whitewashed walls, terracotta roof tiles, wrought iron grills over glassless windows for it is far too hot to close anything here. The slightest breeze is a gift.

Simón Bolívar started the independence process in Mompox with 400 men. Here are the leaders of the revolution signing the Act of Independence of the 6th August, 1810 in the Casa Germán de Ribón, now the fascinating Casa de la Cultura. But look at their clothes! No concession whatsoever to the humid heat! We stood in this very room wearing shorts and slipslops!

What drove these people? El Dorado? The greed for gold? Loyalty to a faraway King and Queen? Discipline? Fear? Faith? Or were things so awful at home that anything offered abroad would be a happier option?

I suspect a little of all these but nothing detracts from the wonder that they bothered.

The Plaza Santa Barbára next to our hotel, not much changed and here is Simón Bolívar looking a little like David Suchet

“Does the clock stand at ten—to-three?
And is there air-conditioning for tea?”

“Sorry, air-conditioning’s off dear!”

And it was! There was a power cut and our rooms at the San Rafael Hotel were like ovens. Thank heavens at 5pm everything whirred into action though it took several hours before caliente became frio.

Outside the San Rafael Hotel on the Albarrada. Best walks are early in the morning when it is cooler. A small ferry for a few cents can take you across the river where the farms and small holdings hint at a simpler life. Tony is with Sara Wheeler.

Early morning football on the dusty riverside field. The best time to play!

Our hotel is right on the river front in a beautiful line of old palaces, homes and warehouses that were part of this entrepôt all those years ago. Now making up a collection of boutique hotels, bars and restaurants, the rebuilding and rapid renovation is reviving the fortunes of this faded town. 

Yesterday we embarked a flat bottomed river boat belonging to Freddie who guided us for several hours through the waterways and smaller channels that criss cross this vast ecosystem. How Freddie knew where we were and often in alarmingly shallow water, I’ll never know. He pointed out many things, birdlife, iguanas, monkeys and small communities living simply on the impenetrable banks scraping existences from farming, fishing and market gardening. Freddie assured us that we were safe and that he trusted his Johnson Outboard motor to bring us through.

No Evinrudes, Yamahas or suchlike for him he declared in Spanish rather enigmatically.

On the river with Freddie

We returned to the hotel as the sun set over the river in that fast way it always does in the tropics.

The Cemeterio Municipal and the Casa de la Cultura, an original building.

Our friend, Travel Writer Sara Wheeler is here and we have enjoyed her company very much. Her book Travels in a Thin Country  all about Chile, is one of my favourites. She recommended Wade Davis’ Magdalena: River of Dreams which we found and downloaded to our Kindles. It looks fascinating and now joins a queue. She and Tony visited the extraordinary forgotten theatre of Mompox, the once grand Teatro Colonial, built in 1942 and abandoned more than twenty years ago, its roof partially collapsed and its faded grandeur now home to several, squatting local families. It’s a totally bizarre, crazy looking place, with home comforts lodged in between the old balconies.

The forgotten theatre of Mompox, the Teatro Colonial, mainly it seems, used once as a cinema.

Mompox Silver was interesting: blending Spanish, indigenous and Arab techniques there is a long tradition of silver craftsmanship here and along the Calle Real del Medio there are many workshops showing these techniques and offering some beautiful pieces for sale.

Lent has come round again in the Catholic Calendar and every town has its Carnival – not least Mompox where the local rhythms pumped out over excited crowds all dressed in impossible costumes and spraying foam over everyone from long cylindrical cans.

It’s that time of year again!

We spent almost an entire week here. At first we thought that too long but in fact once we had been lulled into the slow pace induced by – and got a little more used to – the heat and humidity it turned out to be a good choice. We loved it here.

Time to pack up the car and drive back to Cartagena de Indias for our last week here.

I have been thinking so much about my dear, late brother David. He and I stopped off here on our way through the Panama Canal, on the Celebrity Infinity out of Miami, fetching up in San Diego, just three years ago. With his compromised health he was unable to disembark in Cartagena and decided to conserve all his strength for the main event – the Canal. I have been reading my diary. I went ashore on my own:

Cartagena is a beautiful city, at least the tiny part I saw. Of course you are given very few hours to explore these ports we visit; but enough in this case to encourage another, longer visit at some other time. The city was of vital importance to the Spanish political and economic control of its colonies here. It is one of the oldest. It is dominated by an impressive fortress, San Felipe Barajas, and the Old Town is surrounded by a ten kilometre wall. The natural harbour is beautiful. It is made up of a maze of islands and large bays and inlets. Beyond the Old Town is the New which is reminiscent of Miami. There are wonderful beaches and it is a tourist paradise! Well, I only had time really for a good wander through the Old Town and the Barrios, after the obligatory visit to the Fort. No time even for the Convent occupying the highest point over the city; a look in at the creepy Inquisition Museum on what is now S. Bolivár Square – a sort of early Lubyanka you might say, except it was religious commissars who undertook the purgings. Time too for some churches and the impressive Monesterio de Pedro Claver, redeemer of slaves and now a saint. Before long we had to return to the ship in a torrential tropical downpour. It was hot and humid and the air conditioning was a welcome relief; but I definitely want to come back here.

I’ve never stayed in a skyscraper before.

And I am back here, with Tony this time, for nearly a week. Tarry Tours have put up on the Bocagrande in an AirBnB at Palmetto Beach. One of a forest of shimmering white skyscrapers, we occupy a three bedroom apartment on the 15th floor with spectacular views towards the Centro Histórico; the beach is across the road and there is a swimming pool on the rooftop, floor 38.

The view from the Convent towards Bocagrande and the Old Town . You can glimpse the cruise terminal where there is a liner docked, in the same place David and I arrived at. It is not all glimmering perfection. There are favelas and much poverty here too. The traffic is terrible, long queues and an inadequate infrastructure. We are glad of the cooling, off-shore breeze to blow the fumes away.

We have been keeping up with various museums of course, and also re-visited (for me) the Museo Histórico once the Palacio de la Inquisition and the Santuario de San Pedro Claver whose actions partially off-set the appalling policies of the Catholic Church and its main instrument of terror here, The Inquisition. Don’t get me started.

There is a lot to soak up; a great atmosphere; people are more off-hand here than in the other towns we have visited. It’s a busy tourist entrêpot and for the first time we have encountered the dreaded hawkers who, thankfully, are not as oppressively insistent as their counterparts in other parts of the world, notably Araby and India. It is so difficult to explain that I already have a hat, a T-shirt, fridge magnets – yadda yadda. Endless, cheaply made tchochkes usually in the worst taste and which Christoph calls Schnick-Schnack‘s . Far rather you pointed me in the direction of a good Margherita or Mojitos or a vacant taxi, my good man!

How poncey is that?!

And what about this: my paternal grandmother was Cecily Cartwright née Drake. She claimed descent from one of the many Drake Brothers of whom Francis was the oldest. There were twelve of them. Poor Mrs. Drake had a torrid time of it. This would make Francis Drake a distant uncle but I am not sure how proud to be of this dubious fact bearing in mind the mayhem he caused in the Spanish colonies. He was basically a legalised pirate, slaver and plunderer of note. Forbes puts his wealth in today’s terms at $144,000,000 most of which came from his dubious deeds. He famously sacked and occupied Cartagena in 1586 in The Battle of Cartagena de Indias all in the name of Queen Elizabeth I who was at war with Philip II of Spain. I won’t mention what Drake did in Ireland else I’ll have no friends left.

José and Hans-Peter have flown down from Mesitas for a few days. They took us last night into the throbbing heart of the narrow streets of Getsemani, once murder alley but now far less edgier, where things are very lively, full of young people, and foodstalls, bars, clubs and street performers. Gentrification is on its way – a pressing issue for the district’s remaining citizens.

To-day, 25th February, we fly out of Colombia on the next stage of our journey, to visit our dear friend, Laura T in her island paradise at St. Barthélemy : usually just called St. Barts. Quite difficult to get to from here and entails a flight to Miami, a one night layover, a flight to the Dutch island of St. Maarten – or half of it at any rate – another layover, and finally the ferry to Gustavia. Laura thinks we are nuts but it should be intriguing.

More news from there, dear Friends All, and once again thank you for all your responses. Some of you have done very, very well in the multiple choice exams and seem to have at least enjoyed the pictures!


THE GREEN DIARY :                        Colombia 2023. 2


The old monastery cloisters of what is now the Hotel Dann Monasterio. You can see the attached Iglesia de San Francisco adjoining.

The road to Popayán from San Agustín is an adventure on its own: a gruelling 126 kilometres of mainly dirt road over the mountains, through the impenetrable Parque Nacional Natural Puracé, it took us nearly eight hours to negotiate, with Adrian Cordobá’s brother Carlos at the wheel. Mudslides are endemic here and an already poor road network, hopelessly inadequate for the country’s transport needs, means that often roads can be closed altogether and are in a terrible condition.

There were many lorries inching over the piste passes. This is a major trans-Andean Link.

Long, one way stops where repair works are being undertaken can mean extending the journey by many hours and it is certainly true that we were able to read books and things at these long waits! The road through the Parque itself is the worst section and the impenetrability of the bush on either side mean that you cannot really see down the vertiginous sides. A good thing perhaps, though we were able to espy the active, Puracé Volcano, after which the park is named, in the distance.

All was peace and quiet in the piazza until a demonstration by a local Teachers’ Union burst upon us with loud, cheerful Salsa and speeches familiar to us : Pay and Poor Services.

Eventually we arrived in Popayán, founded in 1537 and called the White City for fairly obvious reasons; it has been devastated by several earthquakes, the latest being in 1983 which destroyed most of the historic old centre, now beautifully restored. It seemed dominated by government offices, small businesses and the many faculties of the Universidad del Cauca. It is the regional capital of Cauca and a great place to wander around though we did of course look into several museums celebrating the town’s colonial history.

Looming large over the town’s history is the Valencia family whose patriarch

Botero’s iconic painting of the 1983 Popayán earthquake.

was Guillermo León Valencia. He’s everywhere. Even the airport is named after him and his sons and grandsons all had an influence on the town’s business, political and social history.

Not as ubiquitous as Simón Bolívar who seems to manage being just about everywhere in Latin America!

Popayán has produced no fewer than

15 Presidents of various versions of Colombia, and poets and politicians of note. Valencia himself was a poet-politician while the influential Mosquera family headed by José María Mosquera contributed very much to the political, social and financial life of the city in a salon society of the colonial and early independence era.

There is an opera house. The current Artistic Director was an enthusiastic guide who showed us into every nook and cranny of the theatre and told us of his company’s efforts to keep live arts going in such a small place.

Édgar Negret the Modernist artist, is a native of Popayán; his former home has been turned into a museum exhibiting his work from abstract prints to twisting, layered, painted sculptures. He is everywhere in Colombia, every city seems to have his work. Not entirely my cup of tea but the rest of Tarry Tours with higher brows enjoyed the museum and his work.

Onward dear Friends – to Villa de Leyva from the tiny airport, via Bogotá where you must always go to get anywhere and where the trusty and kind Baudilio was waiting to meet us with his equally trusty VW people carrier and drive us north to this showcase of colonial architecture with its whitewashed houses and cobbled streets.

On our long drive there Baudilio suggested we stopped off at Zipaquirá for ajiacco, a substantial tradtional dish, a sort of chicken soup served with arepas (flat corn bread) and plenty of patacones (fried, crisped up plantain) which he said would ready us for a visit to the eerie, impressive Salt Cathedral, in a mine that’s been in use since pre-Hispanic times.

I’m not entirely sure it’s quite on its own up there as I remember on a visit to Krakow I went to the 13th Century salt mine in Wieliczka which we were told was 327 metres deep with nearly 300 kilometres of subterranean galleries. But who is counting?

The Polish Cathedral at Wielicka.

Lots of funny little nipping bugs in this park that caused an unpleasant and painful reaction.

Confusion over our hotel when we finally arrived in “Vi de Le”! We had to be relocated and there was much humming and hawing with credit cards that wouldn’t work. Baudilio was supposed to drive the four hours back to Bogotá and return three days later to pick us up. He said he couldn’t be bothered and if we needed, he’d drive us to some other sites out of town if we were interested. Turned out to be an excellent idea. “Vi de Le” is beautiful but not very big – it is walked easily and we had plenty of time to see the amazing Museo del Fósil a few miles away where the star of the show is a 120-million-year-old Kronosaurus, a prehistoric marine reptile that has occupied what was once a huge flood plain revealed by the retreating sea. Here and very interestingly displayed, is the country’s largest repository of marine fossils.

Kronosaurus – 120-million years old. The museum was built over the actual fossil where it lay.

Baudilio next drove us on to Santo Ecce Homo Convent. Founded by the Dominicans in 1620 completely constructed from stone-and-adobe and indicating a dedication to their faith and shear perseverance in the face of every odd. Why didn’t they just go back to Iberia and give up their quest I’ll never understand. No gold for them just rewards in an imaginary heaven for reaping the souls of Amerindians. Extraordinary.

And then the most eccentric of all. The Casa Terracotta. A house made out of 400 tons of baked clay designed by architect Octavio Mendoza. Very Gaudi-esque. No straight lines, no right angles and built-in furniture to boot. Tiled floors. An impractical experiment in local raw matériels it took 15 years to make, each small section baked in situ with the architect and his family giving up on actually living in it due to the public interest and perpetual intrusions.

The Terracotta House near Villa de Leyva

And last but not least, Baudilio took us to the source of all terracotta at Raquira where colourful houses blended with endless artisanal terracotta works and bric-a-brac beyond your wildest imaginings!

Have you ever seen so many Tchotchkes in your life? All those terracotta mobiles and more besides.

Baudilio then transferred us via the Rio Bogotá valley to our next port of call : Mesitas.

But you will have to wait breathlessly with your pens and pencils poised for the next exciting episode in the Tarry Tour Itinerary 2023 which will soon be brought to you by the proud makers of Blog, Blog and Blog a unique company showing all potential travellers the way to fun and frolics.

THE GREEN DIARY :                        Colombia 2023. 1

Tarry Tours have come to Colombia:

Tarry Tours are Richard, Christoph, Tony and myself.

We have been successful travel partners since our first venture to Mexico in 2017.

Since then the four of us have visited Thailand, Laos and Cambodia – Ecuador and Peru – and Madeira – twice. 

Good wintering places.

Richard and I are childhood friends. I was 5 when I met him and he was 7. Our families were staying in an hotel in Kloof, Natal back in 1957; both families had moved there from Cape Town and Johannesburg and were waiting to move into new homes.

Our fathers worked in Durban.

We grew up in what is now KwaZulu-Natal and have remained friends ever since.

He is a Wallace-Tarry and that is why I call our group Tarry Tours. Richard has enabled much of our travel through the Home Exchange Programme, a wonderful way to live in foreign places for nothing and there have been some handy homes in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Oaxaca – both in Mexico, Chiang Mai in Thailand, Quito in Ecuador to name a few.

And now we have come to Colombia.

View over Candelaria from the teleferique to Cerro de Monserrate.

Richard lived and worked in Bogotá for several years back in the 80’s teaching maths in a private school there. He speaks excellent Spanish. Tony speaks a little Spanish too which has made our Latin American travels much easier. Christoph – from Berlin – and I are useless in the language. I am the most useless of all having nothing more than a smattering of Afrikaans!
Plaza de Bolívar

Christoff speaks lots of languages, in the European way, but not Spanish.

First stop Bogotá:

I had no idea it was so big. The metro area is almost the same as London containing 12 million inhabitants; it’s high too at 8,660 feet. After my second bout of Covid last year my lungs have never recovered and at this height the dreaded soroche (altitude sickness) has slowed things down a lot. 
Friends! Lots of you have said, “What on earth do you want to go there for anyway?” Certainly there is poverty, crime and gridlocked traffic; drab neighbourhoods, and the weather can be dreary – wet and rainy. None of these seem to have appeared on our radar from our base in  La Candelaria with it’s colonial architecture, numerous restaurants and music of all kinds blaring out.

The weather has been glorious: sunny, blue skies and cool nights.

View from our 13th Floor hotel room.

It’s a grubby city but a laid back and friendly one too. Besides if you visit this country there is no avoiding Bogotá. It is a hub.

We confined ourselves to La Candaleria  and only ventured forth to the northern suburbs where the rich and famous live in the  Zona Rosa, once.

The city backs onto the Cerro de Monserrate, a mountain ridge topped by a church which can be reached by funicular and cable car whence are afforded spectacular views all around.

Panorama from Cerro de Monserrate and Plaza de Bolívar dominated by the Cathedral and the new Palace of Justice which was wrecked in 1948 and again during the Narcos wars in 1985.

It is a great setting for this historic city.

La Candelaria centres on the Plaza de Bolívar dominated by the cathedral, the Palace of Justice, the National Capitol and the Palacio Liévano. Much history played out here, some of it bloody. ‘Chequered’ is a good word to describe Colombia’s history. Fraught with civil wars, revolutions, guerrilla movements, drug wars and the actions of Imperial Spain and its surrogate the Catholic Church, it is a complicated one to follow – like the histories of most of Latin America and, indeed, all the Americas north, central and south.

We Europeans certainly have a lot to answer for! 

So we headed for the museums to have a lot of what we think and feel, confirmed.

There is a plethora of museums and galleries and we visited several but were most impressed by the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) and the Museo Botero, a gallery dedicated to the works of Fernando Botero and his personal collection bequeathed to the nation.

The Gold Museum is a staggering collection of at least 55,000 gold, silver and platinum pieces, the world’s biggest collection of gold ornaments, charting the history of metallurgy in pre-Hispanic Colombia. It was this that urged the Spanish Conquistadores on in their greedy quest for El Dorado and its terrible consequences on the native Indian cultures that dominated here once long before Europeans arrived. The museum sadly does not chart these consequences and only records and displays the achievements prior to our arrival. For that you have to visit other historical and cultural museums which rather gloss over the sharp end, shall we say, of the imperial incursion.

There is a great deal of blood and horror. It is shameful. But the museum is brilliant.

The Museo Botero was the other exciting gem. Well, it’s more than just a gem! I had no idea how prolific this artist was nor that he possessed such an eclectic and finely balanced collection of major artists. Here are Cézanne, Courbet, Bacon and Auerbach. There are too, Pissarro, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Picasso. An enormous collection, this is turning into a list but, hey, I can’t

stop now: Miró, de Chirico, Delvaux, Braque, Chagall – nearly finished – Freud, Henry Moore, Klimt, Dégas and Matisse. Phew!

Paintings and sculptures. Many of his own works are homages to certain artists executed in his own particular style. 

The collection is housed in a colonial mansion three blocks up from Plaza Bolívar but there is a modern annexe at the back housing the Museo de Arte del Banco de la República where largely contemporary Colombian art is displayed, ranging, though, from 17th Century religious art through to modern canvases. Another gallery attached houses contemporary, temporary, largely installation art works. Very edgy. I never understand them but still, interesting.

This is one of the best museums I have ever seen and certainly along with gold, the other best choice for us here in Bogotá.

Leaving the very disappointing Bogotà Museum of Modern Art

There were other museums including the rather quaint Instituto Cultural León Tolstoi which seemed to be a hangout for aged Communists! Started in 1944 and heavily subsidised by the Soviet Government, it was meant to foster cooperation and cultural exchange but seemed keen to promote pre-revolutionary culture as much as Marxist dogma. We asked if there were still any Communists left in Colombia but received evasive answers. How it has survived the right wing era from 1948 through all the troubles, dictatorships, juntas and the powerful oligarchs is amazing.

Next, to San Agustín, a 90 minute flight to the tiny airport at  Pitalito, in a twin engined ATR 42-500 (please note Friend William S!), for a 45 minute taxi transfer to our EcoHotel Masaya at 5,404 feet. Spectacularly perched on the edge of the huge gorge gouged over millennia by the Magdalena River. 

Lower than Bogotá and breathing slightly easier.

At 1,528 kms the Rio Magdalena is Colombia’s longest and most important river; running south-north, it debouches into the Caribbean at Barranquilla. I had no idea this country was so big. Getting around it is not easy. Traffic is terrible and the road network entirely inadequate while the terrain is not easy either. Many of the roads are reminiscent of some of the worst we encountered in South Africa last year – potholed and prone to the mudslides endemic in this region. More of that later.

But – San Agustín:

It’s not much more than a large village founded round the Catholic Mission School in 1608. But long, long before this, in at least 1000 BC, there were a people living here about which we know absolutely nothing other than that over the centuries up to round 900 AD, they started making their tombs with large stone statues adorned with grinning mouths,

pointed fangs, birds eating snakes and huge round eyes. These are today contained within the Parque Arqueológico Nacional de San Agustín containing three definite  Mesitas,  A, B & C containing concentrations of tombs constructed across several millennia and about which we can only surmise. There are many theories and our lovely guide, José Adrian (I kid you not) Cordoba,

was happy to supply us with any number of these while admitting that it is a mystery as to how a largely hunter-gatherer community without access to sophisticated tools of any kind were able to lift the enormous stones, often weighing many tons, carry them up from the bottom of the Rio Magdalena gorge whence they originate, deposit them on the required sites, sculpt and shape them and place them on the levelled mesitas in specially created underground caverns – no decent digging implements, no blocks-and-tackle, no written language and no evidence of sedentary farming even, or any sort of economy to back up the endeavour. 

We have been to many archeological sites all over the world, in Peru, in Mexico and Egypt; to Angkor Wat, Petra and Ecuador, Stone Henge and others – menhirs and dolmens propped in peculiar places but never to a site where absolutely nothing is known of either the coming or going of a whole people.

On our last day Adrian, as we liked to call him, moved me much by saying that it was evident that whoever they were, material wealth appeared to mean nothing to them and that the spiritual intention of these sites and their emphasis on a natural balance in the world between nature and man, a knowledge of this balance, was the most important thing of all. Adrian was once part of the business world in Bogotà where he worked successfully for Microsoft but suffered an early crisis, giving up a lot of his material obsessions, returning to a simpler life at this time of environmental crisis. Perhaps, he said, we have something to learn from these tombs and the sculptures in them.

San Agustín. A special place. 

Next time, dear Friends, Popayan, Villa de Leyva and Mesitas. Plus THE ROADS!

No exams this time Friends. There will be three modules before the next tests.

THE GREEN DIARY: …………..and so to 2023

Happy New Year Friends-all!

I started the Pedro-on-the-Green blog in 2020 during the height of the pandemic primarily to keep in touch with you my Friends, all over the world.

It has been phenomenal. It means a great deal to me that so many of us remain in touch at a time when great distances and circumstances separate us all.

It would be useless to sweep global affairs under the carpet; to pretend that all is now well in the world, for it is not so. The troubles that confront many, many millions of us are mainly man-made: it is human stupidity and human choice that have the appalling results we experience today. You all know what they are and I won’t have a little rant here about them. It is bad for the blood pressure!

But this is why I persevere with Pedro-on-the-Green :  

To keep in touch. 

It also serves as a useful diary for myself. Are you finding, Friends, that as we move forward to the “sunny uplands” of age, that detail and memory fade a little? 

I get a little frantic when I can’t recall something and when I think of how many years have quicksilvered tantalisingly away – how many mixed metaphors is one allowed?. 

Before Christmas we managed to catch up with friends not seen for a long while and how refreshing and wonderful that has been. I want to mention some of you by name because it has been a special privilege to be back in touch. I hope you won’t mind? I’ll not mention any data – mainly because I have none! 

Joy and David Willers were in London from Wales: thank you for a great visit; and Cathie & Richard Griffin in fine fettle, also from Wales. Food glorious food, “Gin was mother’s milk to us all!” Thank you friends, thank you. Next time it’s our turn to head west which we long to do; to Dolwyddelan and Menai Bridge, with a look-in at Glaslyn, Llanwrthwyl and  Stretton Sugwas (you know who you are!).

Then to Scotland on the Caledonian Sleeper to visit Jo & Alistair Michie on the coldest of winter days, icy roads and rail strikes notwithstanding, picking up a rental in Edinburgh to meet them at their harbour-side home in Pittenweem in Fife.How lovely to make contact after so many years – it’s the pandemic you know, that’s what did it! Thank you for the walks, the talks, the food, the drink and the under-floor heating in your guest cottage! Wow, it was cold – but sunny: blue, blue skies and limitless horizons.

  • Balcarres House, birthplace of Lady Anne Barnard (née Lindsay) Scottish travel writer, artist and socialite. Famous in Cape Town circa 1800 after which the romantic “bath” in Kirstenbosch Gardens is named though there are doubts she ever availed herself of it cool waters!

Train strikes meant that we had to hang onto the rental instead of returning it at Waverley Station. We drove straight through to Durham Cathedral to meet our guide and comforter, Cathy W. 

Terrible driving conditions. Clear blue skies; icy roads; the sun in the south and dazzling windscreen reflections; gritty slush splashed across glass and, suddenly no wash in the windscreen reservoir; smudged mess and no vision – just as we approached the Queensferry bridge.

Queensferry Bridge on a clear day. What a beautiful, elegant construction. Rather reminiscent of the bridge at Millau though not nearly as big

Frightening. Couldn’t see a thing. Towering container lorries gushing muck.

We managed to get off the road and find a service station where we discovered the Kia rental had a reservoir about the size of a thimble!  This needed topping up all the way via Durham, Thirsk and York, to London over two whole days while wretched headlights and glaring instrumentation meant night vision was almost nil. In the end we had to put a jumper over the dashboard so that we could see the way! Very poor design. 

I do not exaggerate this when I say it was one of the worst road journeys we have ever had –  and I can assure you we have travelled some!

But we got to Durham, to Cathy who guided us round this beautiful, and rare example of a pure, Norman Cathedral. In fact we were there at the beginning of 2022 but with no guide so this was special.

Cathy guides at the York Minster too so we tailed her to Thirsk for the night and then drove the next day down to York for a very different architectural experience.

To London. In the dark. With poor headlights and muffled instrumentation, handing the car back at Sixt under St. Pancras Station. We think we saw the flash of a speed camera in the icy fog on the Firth of Fourth. Will there be a fine eventually?

Pre-Christmas lunch at Fortnum’s. We’ve never been to 45 Jermyn St. before. It used to be a tea room years ago connected to the main building. Adam Faith used to hold office there. Now you go in off Jermyn Street. Laura and Tony had truffles. Real truffles. What a wonderful bouquet as the waitron (correct usage?) lifted the silver lid and gently shaved the food of the gods onto their risotto! I made do with Aynhoe Park Venison and Woodland Mushroom Ragout.

A few steps to the Royal Academy for William Kentridge – just in time as it closed the next day. The largest exhibition of his work here to date. billed as “an experimental voyage through the last 40 years of his extraordinary career.” And so it proved. We saw his Thick Time at the Whitechapel Gallery six years ago, an altogether smaller though fascinating exhibition. If I had any criticism of the Royal Academy presentation it is that there was too much! We were overpowered by the film clips, the drawings, paintings, sculptures and installations displayed through twelve rooms and spilling out into public spaces. Eclectic. Overwhelming – but ultimately fascinating, clever and energetic. We took a grandson and his girlfriend to see it and they were impressed. (Nice to see them too. Tyger is at Imperial and Zoë at Bristol. Physics and Medicine.)

Family – in the guise of a son and grandsons – talked us into going to Derren Brown’s show at the Shaftesbury Apollo in the run up to Christmas. 

What a surprise! We’ve never seen him live and only glimpsed his TV shows dismissing it all as a load of hocus-pocus. Well, we spent two and half hours utterly transfixed by his clever illusions and, even, moved by the personal aspects of his presentation. Tony and I must have been the oldest people in the theatre: it is definitely for thirty-somethings this show! In his choice of participants he cleverly excludes anyone over fifty. We think it’s because we are tired old sceptics! But the fact is, we were utterly mesmerised – and moved – by his whole show. How he achieves the things he does beats me.

The grandchildren all went on about how he distracts you, and guides your thinking, yatta-yatta-yatta. That all may be so but in the end we had a truly wonderful evening in the theatre and came away with light hearts and good feelings. A nice pre-Christmas state of affairs in crisis raddled Britain.

The same effect too at the revival of Matthew Bourne’s classic Sleeping Beauty at Sadler’s Wells the next day. A wonderful re-imagining of an age-old nursery story; and who cannot get on with that brilliant music? How many times have we seen it? Countless – and it is always as fresh as ever.

A plethora of dinners and lunches towards Christmas & New Year:

Thanks Gina & Andreas – great lunch at Hereford Road,

And Sue, Dave and Sarah at The Chelsea Arts Club,

Jo & Sacha at No. 12 The Green,

Jenny and Richard at Lawford House ,

Joy, Jorgè and Kate at The Sun in Dedham,

Kathy & Trevor – well met at No. 11 The Green,

The Finks at The Stable by Lawford Hall – the most amazing Bastila, my favourite– and for the movies too!

How wonderful to see you all in this post pandemic year,

Thank you, thank you all.

To all of you, dear Friends, all over the world, I wish you only the best for this New Year 2023. Thank you for keeping in touch. I wish I could embrace you all.


There will be multiple-choice questions only in the exams to follow and you will be able to complete all the tests on line! No black pens or pencils required! No discursive essays, parsings  or provings. You will not even have to drop a perpendicular or use your geometry set. There will be no Algorithms!

THE GREEN DIARY :     from a Funeral to a Wedding

David died two months ago. 

What can be said?  

Loss is immeasurable. Grief inexplicable. It works in many ways for all of us. The image I still carry in my mind is of that frozen face asleep in a cheap coffin, traces of the mortician’s art mocking my memories.

And look at this: the fate of the ship we would have been on had David lived:

It is certain he would not have survived that.

“God works in mysterious ways….” someone said. 

“It is written, then?” asks Auda Abu Tayi in Lawrence of Arabia.

But to the living!

One of our Godsons is Friend Lois’ son, Guy Bentley and he has just got married to Jaclyn Boudreau at Great Marsh Estate, Bealeton, Virginia. Tony flew first to Canada to be with family there. I was to have flown to Washington from Auckland but that was not to be and instead met Tony at Dulles, he from Ottawa, me from Mistley, where we picked up a car and drove through stupendous autumn colours to Baltimore to be with friends Judith & Douglas who always make us feel welcome in their lovely home in, yes, Homeland!


Then the drive to Culpeper where an hotel had been requisitioned for everyone, the day before the wedding – it was a very American event! Fully rehearsed; camera angles sorted; bridesmaids and groomsmen paired off on either side of the stage overlooking the lawns and woods; those with speaking roles were positioned. The house itself looks Georgian but was built in the 1980s as an event venue. It looked beautiful in the sunshine and the autumnal colours.

After the rehearsals the bride’s family hosted cocktails & finger food at Grass Rootes, a restaurant in the old, quaint part of town – itself about forty minutes away from Bealeton where the Great Marsh Estate actually is.

Mother Loïs & Aunt Diana in Culpeper diagonally opposite Grass Rootes. A folksy Virginian country town.

On the day, the 4th November, all the important players went into hair and make-up first and at 4pm sharp the show kicked off; we processed out of the house to take our places overlooking the dais and the woods and fields; bride and groom entered separately at the end, Jacquie coming in last and looking gorgeous.

There were touching moments but for me their promises to each other were very moving – neither of them had any inkling what each would be saying to the other.

There were tears. It was lovely. 

And so to the Reception in the Barn

The Bridal Party Enters Centre Stage
And Mama gets to dance with her boy!


On the 5th November the day after the wedding, we returned the rental to the Baltimore agency, lunched at Gertrude’s in the Baltimore Museum of Art with Friends Judith & Douglas who dropped us off at the station for the Acela to New York where we spent a week.

How nice to be back in New York. It’s been a while: four years for me and ten for Tony.

Both happy to visit the safe old haunts, so rather a cozy visit really, nothing unfamiliar except the fantastic new Whitney Museum of American Art at the end of The High Line showing all of Edward Hopper’s New York works, a massive collection, beautifully hung in what has now to be one of my favourite galleries with its vast space, overlooking the Hudson River to the west and the old meat packing district to the east through enormous windows letting in plenty of light even on grey days.

We walked north along The High Line through a canyon of new high rises, the trees and shrubs having grown up in a managed wilding, all new since our last visit, and came off at the astonishing Shed where Ralph Fiennes is appearing in the London transfer of Straight Line Crazy, onto Hudson Yards where stands The Vessel a $200 million art project by the British designer Thomas Heatherwick, 16 stories, 2,500 steps and 80 landings high, closed to the public after several suicides but spectacular to look at.

The High Line and the Vessel

The Shed and The High Line Garden

Tony had read a review in the TLC of the Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum (almost opposite The Met on Columbus) of “the uncannily original work of a self-taught painter saved from snobbish neglect”. Hirshfield was a Jewish immigrant from a shtetl in Russian-ruled Poland. Escaping the pogroms he came to New York where to cut a long story short he made a fortune in the garment industry using his tailoring and cutting skills to invent boudoir slippers which established his E-Z Walk Manufacturing Co.; but all he ever wanted to do was paint and at 65, after his slipper company went bust, he turned to painting., having never picked up a brush in his life. His auto-didactic talents were looked down on by the contemporary art establishment and he only achieved fame in the last nine years of his life after he was discovered by the wealthy Jewish collector, dealer and curator, Sidney Janis. 

It is a striking collection and a fascinating life. Entrance to the museum, unusually, is free.

The weather in New York was unseasonably warm while we were there. In fact hot. We set off across Central Park to visit all our favourite Klimts and Klees at the Berner Museum only to find it shut and prepping for a new exhibition opening, you’ve got it, the next day!

Unseasonable sunshine in Central Park

Our other favourite is of course the Frick, also undergoing a facelift and shut. So we walked down to Grand Central instead and rewarded ourselves rather egregiously and greedily with platters of oysters. 

Speaking of eating we ventured to old faithful’s like Joe Allen, twice, Café Fiorello, for The Met, Marseille on 9th, trad. French brasserie and Café un Deux Trois on 44th West, also trad. French. All excellent though the weak pound did not serve us well and New York generally was expensive.

Serafina, a franchise, was good value too. On Long Island – we visited friend Ira in Bellport – the seafood at Varney’s was great as was Eataly’s on Madison Park under the Flatiron.

We saw three shows:

Don Carlo at The Met, production by David McVicar, Carlo Rizzi conducting the immaculate Orchestra; the standard was as high as ever for this long and difficult opera but we were shocked at how poorly it was attended; there couldn’t have been more than two hundred people in that vast auditorium, the affects of inflation and the pandemic though a Monday night performance may have made its contribution too!

The Piano Lesson at the Barrymore was better attended, a rather clunky revival of one of August Wilson’s The Pittsburgh Cycle plays with Samuel L Jackson playing Doaker. We were a little disappointed. It had its moments but there was a whiff of am-dram we thought. Jackson gave a film performance and could hardly be heard betraying what should have been an enormous stage presence. I didn’t understand a lot of it though there were some good moments. We preferred Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom which we saw at The National a few years ago.

At The Barrymore

And then the revival of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man at the Winter Garden, a vast hanger of a place, packed to the ceiling with enthusiastic fans of Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster playing Harold Hill and Marion Paroo. It was a Broadway production at its best, immaculately staged, choreographed and sung; one of those shows you come away from with your heart strings twanging!

At The Winter Garden

So it was back to chilly damp London, and Mistley on the  12th November where we have been on and off ever since – with a broken boiler here…..and a broken boiler there: Yes! Both addresses have broken boilers.

Last weekend we camped on ice for various dates – seeing friends and visiting some theatres. Can you bear a full report. Read on if you can!

What can be said of John Gabriel Borkman at The Bridge Theatre? “Interesting” is damning with faint praise, isn’t it? But it was indeed interesting.

I’m not sure Ibsen can be modernised. We saw Patrick Marber’s version of Hedda Gabler directed by Ivo van Hove a few years ago and thought it risible. We had similar doubts about Zinnie Harris’ A Doll’s House with Gillian Anderson playing Nora, directed by Kfir Yefet at the Donmar back in 2009.

Ibsen’s Naturalism and heightened use of language, for me, just doesn’t bend into a believable reality today. Here Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation directed by Nicholas Hytner was not only radically redacted, adapted and vulgarised, it’s long four acts were certainly evident but we were out of the theatre in just over ninety minutes!

This had the effect of undercutting any attempt by Simon Russell Beale as Borkman, to reach epic, Lear-like grandeur and envisioning a global future for trade and industry, power and wealth. He came across

as a self-pitying, unredeemed speculator who frankly elicited not one jot of sympathy from me. 

Certainly the themes had modern parallels. Speculation, corruption, state-capture not to mention misogyny, are all familiar to us these days. Trump, Johnson, Putin, Zuma, Bolsonaro to mention but a few – narcissism, greed, megalomania et al run through the veins of the global body politic – and we learn nothing new. Even Borkman’s dreams are old fashioned and decidedly “unwoke and politically incorrect”. Imagine Borkman pitching up at Sharm el-Sheikh for COP 27! He’d be taken down in seconds. So it was an uneven evening. We felt entertained by it. It is after all a tragi-comedy. Simon Russell-Beale deployed his usual vocal mannerisms and gave a familiar performance; the production design was of the usual high standard: Anna Fleischle gave us Brutalist  instead of Trad-scand architecture; Clare Higgins and Lia Williams were great; but leave

Ibsen in the 19th Century where Norwegian Calvinism, prejudices and suppressed emotions work much better. Tony saw Richardson playing it in the 70s and I saw Scofield play JGB in 1996 at the National. Both productions were left in the 19th Century. Both performances achieved an epic quality absent from this one.

And Grieg was in all of them!

And The Sex Party at The Menier Chocolate Factory? Oh dear, wake me when it’s over! At least, wake me only at the interval because this so-called comedy elicited not one laugh and we sat in embarrassed silence watching a crescendo of  sexual innuendos, clichéd romp-com situations and double entendres, wondering what on earth we were doing there. That is, as I said, until after the interval with the arrival of Lucy, a transitioning male with breasts and a penis who it transpires is shortly to complete surgery and her gender-reassignment. 

At this point the play became extremely interesting and I am glad that we resisted the impulse to leave the theatre at the interval. The tension between the different opinions and prejudices pushed the piece into didacticism of the kind I love, and it is brave of Terry Johnson to take on this subject – or should I say, these subjects since there was a lot flung at us on an uneven trajectory!

Pooya Mohseni, an Iranian actress of great elegance and beauty was excellent in the role of Lucy. Whether or not in real life, she has transitioned I do not know nor, of course, should it matter. She was brilliant and brought intelligence to a controversial subject. I read in her biography that she is a transgender advocate and a voice for immigrants’ and women’s issues from New York where she now lives. 

The Guardian review refers to her as “the grenade lobbed into the play”; and so it was. Thank goodness else it would have been a waste of time. The production is slick, the set excellent, the acting good – but I fear this will not head into the Westend.

From the Menier we zipped straight across to the Noël Coward Theatre for Best of Enemies.

At The Noël Coward

Oh Wow, what a contrast. I said I love didactic theatre and here you have it in spades in a brilliant rendering of the famous ABC TV debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley during the 1968 Republican and Democratic Conventions in Miami and Chicago . Playwright James Graham has added another title to his oeuvre well worth visiting and the two contenders,  Zachary Quinto and David Harewood as Vidal and Buckley Jr. were riveting.

The real McCoy!

Afterwards we visited Sheekey’s, where we have not been in years! Excellent fish and the juiciest oysters; we were amazed to get in at a moment’s notice as London is jumping at the moment; in fact I’ve not see it this busy for years. Everyone wining and dining and looking at the lights and visiting the theatres and clubs; very festive; quite like old times and certainly despite the prevailing terrifying global circumstances of war, famine, inflation and disease.

We couldn’t resist The Nutcracker at Covent Garden with the Royal Ballet. How very many times have we seen this ballet? When I was growing up in Durban the local ballet company put it on at Christmas as Cassa Noisette. I loved it then and I love it now. A pop-up book of perfection; a magical, jewelled music box; a confection of sweet sentiment and all to the timeless tunes Tchaikovsky gave us where to this day the glorious   Sugar Plum pas de deux makes me cry. 

Have a look at this clip with Nuñez and Muntgirov at Covent Garden being exquisite.

Just beautiful, Friends. Beautiful.




THE GREEN DIARY : My Brother David

Last week on Thursday the 22nd September I was to have met my brother, David, in London. We were to fly to Los Angeles to connect with a Princess cruise across the Pacific to New Zealand to visit our other brother, Michael and his family, not seen for seven years.

This was a journey I would have shared with you, dear Friends, as I always do. It was long in the planning and much anticipated by us both.

But last week on that same day, Brother David died and a new and very sad journey has been undertaken to KwaZulu-Natal instead. He was 65.

Tony and I flew out to Durban last Sunday the 25th coinciding with the arrival of Brother Michael and Janine after a gruelling 38 hour flight from Auckland.

It has been a great shock to us all.

You think that in life you know someone well, especially a brother, but in death you find out how little you really do.

David was a private man; he was a bachelor who, though he wanted so badly to share his life, never found anyone to do so. He was lonely and to a certain extent a recluse and our family shared in wishing him happiness and fulfilment but were saddened that this never happened.

During this horrible week dealing with the bureaucracy of illness and death, we have uncovered some of the life of our brother we never knew. He seemed to have few friends; we agonised over what to do to celebrate his life? Would we have a wake? If so, who would come? His Will indicated the simplest of funerals, no services, no church and no medical prolongations that would lend indignity and pain to what turned out to be a horrible end, gasping for air after a long struggle with emphysema.

He chose cremation and the Funeral Company, Doves, performed this rite, slotting in a “viewing” at 12.30pm last Tuesday the 27th., in the absence of a chapel service.

It was ghastly.

Greyville, Durban.

Even accessing the Doves facility on the east side of the Greyville race- and golf-course had a grotesque, Kafkaesque quality. Everything in South Africa is behind bars, electric fences, coded entry pads; nailed down against theft, vandalism, corruption and death. We drew up outside the facility before an iron gate barring entrance to the dedicated car park on the roof. It took a phone-call and a visit to the front desk to get this opened remotely before would could park – the only two cars on site. The gate slid shut, effectively imprisoning us. It was impossible to gain entry to the premises through the small, revolving gate without biometric recognition, a thumb print, and eventually a phone call had to be placed to central office in Johannesburg who in turn alerted the front desk in Durban as to our predicament.

Someone came and let us in to what I can only describe as a broken down, empty factory, reminiscent of SingSing. We were eventually ushered into the “viewing” room, a small, bare, unadorned, scruffy space in corporation colours where David was perched on a plinth in a cheap, deal coffin.

I have never witnessed an open coffin before and I never want to again. I do not know why we agreed this awful procedure. He was ice-cold, not defrosted, the coffin still perspiring. Sister Sally said that at least he looked more peaceful than when she had last seen him struggling for air, ashen faced, thin, exhausted, pipes protruding, and had whispered in her ear, “Please put my shoes on and take me home”.

We were ushered out and returned through the complicated security to our cars and let out through the sliding gate to the humid heat of a dirty Durban street.

Then an extraordinary coincidence occurred. My niece, Caitlin, messaged Michael from New  Zealand. A friend had texted her from Durban to say that she had seen in an Instagram that Tina’s Hotel were arranging a farewell get-together for David that very evening. We knew nothing of this at all and this underlined the disconnect between the various parts in David’s life.

Tina’s is a small hotel in Kloof where David or ‘Doc’ as we have always known him, always came for drinks. It was his watering place. We’d known he went there but had no idea how often, for how many years or how many friends he had there.

We went along to what turned out to be a most moving and revelatory wake. About thirty people, none of whom we knew, attended; the manager of the bar, Rachel, was a sweet person who knew Doc well. She gave a spontaneous eulogy. She explained that for years David would attend at Tina’s, he had a reserved stool at the bar, his own beer mug and shot glass kept behind the bar, a heater specially installed on the wall behind, for he felt the cold; he would sit there quietly on his own, pen in hand, with the newspaper, the crossword or sudoku on the go. Windhoek was his tipple and he always ended the visit with a shot of Zambucco. Everyone liked him. She described him as a gentle man and a gentleman, with a sense of humour and a kindliness. Everyone there agreed with these sentiments. They agreed he was a private, sensitive man who had let on that he had been much bullied by life, that he had loathed boarding school where his physical disability had been much mocked, that he had extraordinary knowledge about many things.

We knew none of this. The evident respect and affection in which he was held was very moving indeed. That he had loathed his time at Michaelhouse was news to us though we knew that his disability had always figured largely in his life, forming much of his personality.

His disability precluded much of the obligatory sporting activities at school but he was an enthusiastic member of the Michaelhouse Venture Club which arranged weekend expeditions to the Drakensberg and other places in the Natal Midlands and was run and often led by his Housemaster, whom he liked very much, Hugo Leggatt. Longer more complex expeditions were mounted during school holidays and Doc very much enjoyed these too. He grew to love the Midlands and the Midland Meander was one of his favourite routes when his breathing difficulties forced him to rely on his car. When we started clearing his home we discovered that his new BMW bought exactly two years ago had clocked up 93,000 kilometres during the pandemic – many of these on solo trips visiting and revisiting the wilder, higher places in KwaZuluNatal.

He loved travel. Cruising worked well for him because of his health issues. He visited, usually alone, many places in Europe, often along rivers, and seemed happy with his own company although I joined him enthusiastically on a successful cruise round the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal – which excited and impressed us both very much – up the west coast of Mexico, Baja and San Diego. We very much enjoyed each other’s company and loved the whole experience; it was good to be so close.

It was a similar plan we hatched together now, though this time to New Zealand, to visit family, which was aborted the day before he died.

Doc caught polio from his Godfather at his Christening six weeks after his birth. He had a pronounced limp and a weakened left side, had always had balance issues and could fall easily. This lead to many scrapes. Mum was a physiotherapist and worked on Doc during his childhood so that at least he never had to wear callipers. But the scars from this disease had a lasting effect.

Doc’s first Passport issued in 1965 where incredibly at ”Special peculiarities” is written LIMPS.

The staff at Tina’s all came up to speak with us and all his friends too. Here at least was a genuine wake filled with affection which by sheer luck and a message from New Zealand we stumbled across and found a side to our brother we hardly knew and could celebrate.

We decided that there would be no further service and that we’d scatter his ashes when they were “ready for collection” at a site to be chosen.

In the meantime it has been a week of packing up a life, rationalising belongings, visiting lawyers, making claims to insurance companies. Uncovering little projects Doc was working on, discovering other characters in the great drama that is Life. We have laughed too and reminisced well. There have been many tears for this was a life cut short and Doc was very much loved by us all.

Today we scattered his ashes. 

When our family moved to Natal from Cape Town in 1957 and Doc was only four months old, my father found a beautiful house in Kloof on the edge of the escarpment with views to the south east towards Durban. Our parents made a garden out of the large tropical grounds and outside the wall planted six London Plane trees, saplings, carefully transferred from the nursery to the garden in the little Fiat Topolino they owned, with its canvas roof down.

These beautiful trees have flourished and grown tall in the sixty five years since then and it was along this shaded line that we sprinkled Doc’s ashes today. He loved our home there where he felt happiest and safest – at 53 Peace Road, Kloof. 

Dear Friends this has been our latest journey then. So unexpected and unwanted. Many of you did not know Doc but many did and I thank you for you all for your kind thoughts and condolences at this sad time. 

This is a new era. The Queen has died, a madman is running Russia and in England we have a nutty Prime Minister with idiotic policies presiding over a broken down Britain. The seas are rising and everywhere there is anger and protest, cruelty and greed.

And My Brother David has died. I am glad on two counts, that he did not die on our cruise and that he does not need to see any more of the mess that the world is in.

Tony and I are returning to Blighty this week on separate days.

Thank you all for listening.

Dearest Brother Doc, Rest In Peace. With love from your boeties Peed & Miggy and Sister Sal.

The Times, Tuesday 27th September, 2022.


Cornerstone Cottage, Briantspuddle

We have taken a house in Briantspuddle near Dorchester for a week for a family reunion. The house on The Green in Mistley is too small for ten of us so for all of us to be together this arrangement was thought best. And so it has proved. It’s the first time the Canadian and the English families have been together for a long time and how delightful it is to have them all round us in this beautiful part of the world.

Tony and I came down last week (14 July) the night before we were all due to converge here at Cornerstone Cottage, so that we could do a gigantic shop and get into the house to set things up the following day. This entailed an unexpected visit to of all places, Poundbury, Prince Charles’ venture into town planning just outside Dorchester; a somewhat Disneyesque sort of Georgian theme park,

where we put up at the Duchess of Cornwall Hotel. Neither of us are quite sure what to make of it. The project is not complete nor has there been time for any sort of patina of age or character yet to develop but Legoland did spring to mind. It was comfortable and served its purpose as across the square was a Waitrose (of course) where we filled a few trolleys with supplies in the morning.

The “heat dome” is upon us. Soaring temperatures that may not impress friends in South Africa, Australia or North America but in the low 40Cs are exceptional here. Fortunately we are a short distance from the pebbly and sandy beaches of the Jurassic Coast at Swanage and Lulworth, where a lot of time has been spent in the cool water.

I haven’t been here since 1986 when I came down to do a few scenes in the BBC’s TV movie THE HAPPY VALLEY, for Ross Devenish who was directing. The budget did not include exotic Kenyan locations and Swanage was used for the Kenyan coast.

The stay there afforded a visit to Corfe Castle which we introduced to the grandchildren yesterday; impressive place and the village is beautiful. We went to Worth Matravers for pasties and cider at The Square & Compass, a 17th century pub famed for its music nights and a jump off point for the walk to Dancing Ledge which we set out for after lunch.

I’m afraid I never made it in the heat though it

was only half an hour away, and Tony and I turned back and waited in the shade for the young to discover the ledge and clamber down to the water. Oh dear……age thou art shamed!

Durdle Door is another beautiful part of this coast just along from Lulworth Cove; another fairly steep haul down from the carpark but with the prize of Man o’ War Beach and its clear cool waters making it worth the climb. By now temperatures have dropped and a cool sea mist billowing in has changed the recent scorching weather.

One of the grandchildren, Jabe, is not with us. He’s driven to Portugal with his team and set up in a villa in Foz do Arelho about an hour north of Lisbon, for a month, and we are driving there to join him for a week via the Portsmouth and Bilbao ferry.

21st July:

Today we say goodbye to our Canadians. They’re off to a wedding in a field near Exeter and we are driving via Allum Green in the New Forest for lunch with friend Jane B and then on to Portsmouth for our sailing to Bilbao.

But first of all a quick visit to Clouds Hill the isolated brick and tile cottage once the peaceful retreat of T. E. Lawrence.

Goodbye Canadians!

That was then; this is now, today, Friday the 5th August and we are in San Sebastian on our way north from Portugal and home via The Netherlands.

The Brittany Ferries Salamanca brought us to Bilbao. Hull No. W0269, built in the China Merchants Jinling Shipyard (Weihai) Co. Ltd., and launched in 2021. Do they make everything, I wonder?

It didn’t feel new and it was chokka with screaming children on the first day of holidays after a pandemically long break. Interestingly the 7pm sailing from Portsmouth takes two nights to Bilbao so the effect was a rather noisy, mini-cruise. Unlike the afternoon sailings from Plymouth or Portsmouth which take eighteen hours over one night.

Pictures from Dover made us feel lucky until we realised that it is only the idiocy of Brexit that causes the queues, insisting on the perusal and stamping, by our Foreign Office, of every single passport, and in Spain exactly the same procedures delayed us in Bilbao where once upon a lovely time we were waved through. 

Don’t start me going. I feel Rantz-in-my-Pantz itching! And soon we will be Trussed up by more idiocy in the form of Lizzy and her Looney-Toon plans.

But Bilbao thank heavens was a far cry from all that undignified clowning as we finally set off through the glorious Picos up to the searing heat of the Spanish plateau heading down past Burgos, Valladolid, Salamanca, across the border into Portugal for our first stop in Viseu where we put up in a rather grand Pousada, converted from an 18th century hospital, now an hotel.

Pousada’s are the Portuguese equivalent of the Spanish Paradores which we have always found excellent in every respect. The difference between the two is that the Spanish Government are the ultimate owners of the Paradores while in Portugal the Pestana Group own the 44 historic conversions across the country along with their other, modern hotels.

It was 41°C there.

So, straight into the swimming pool we went, then lying exhausted in the shade, finally retreating to the air-conditioned sanctuary of our room.

Friends, they are not exaggerating. The heat is terrible and as we have driven across Portugal we have seen the tragic evidence of vast swathes of countryside reduced to cinders.

Be that as it may the drive down to join the family in Foz do Arelho was beautiful as we descended  from the plateau down to the coast where temperatures plunged to a manageable 24°C and some cloud cover.

The Lagoon mouth at Foz do Arehlo

What a lovely week. Grandson Jabe has taken a villa – very modern and wheel chair friendly – for a month. There are plenty of rooms with views across the lagoon, a large garden and a pool. He’s fitted friends and family into weekly slots, meticulously worked out and very welcoming.

From here apart from relaxing we have explored the surroundings with visits to the market in Caldas da Rainha, where there was an excellent little museum in the Parque Dom Carlos I, the Museu Jose Malhoa, containing a fascinating mix of sculptures and paintings in a beautiful building on the lake.

Another excursion took us down to Cascais also a beautiful place though our main purpose there was to visit the Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, purpose built to house part of her oeuvre and works by Eduardo Souto de Moura.

Much argument ensued among grandchildren about the paintings – too childish, primitive; nursery school daubs and the room dedicated to her protest against the cruelty of female genital mutilation appalled them. I don’t think they were hanging her best works, more probably her most controversial ones. Personally I prefer her more painterly, accessible pieces. 

We managed, some of us, to get onto one of the small, coved beaches but the water here is no less cold than anywhere else along this Atlantic coast, the searing heat offsetting the shock entry!

Casa das Histórias Paula Rego

Back via Sintra to Foz do Arelho where the lagoon is calmer and warmer, a sand bar at the entrance protecting it from the crashing, dark blue coldness of the Atlantic.

Zac & Tyger approaching the freeze at São Martinho do Porto!

São Martinho do Porto is another nearby attraction. Here there is an almost completely closed, large bay edged with sand dunes. It is all thoughtfully laid out with board walks extending almost the whole way round.

Óbidos was nearby too. A fine example of a walled town dating from the 13th Century though occupancy there dates back to the Romans and beyond. It’s one of the best sites in the Lisbon area to visit. From the high towers there are spectacular views all around.

Time to leave and head north.

Next stop Porto – after a night in the Pousada da Ria Aviero on the way. Built in the 60’s on stilts above the water on the Torreira Peninsula facing east across the lagoon, we couldn’t get closer if we tried. Sitting enjoying preprandial G’s & T’s, we watched for nearly an hour as shoals of Whitebait jumped in and out of the water – presumable evading other, bigger fish in the pond. 

There is a small car ferry that connects the peninsula with the town of Aviero across the mouth of the lagoon. We decided to lunch there on our way north to Porto and were delighted by this Portuguese Venice with its canals, colourful houses and boats.

Now – Porto.

Three nights there at the eccentrically pretentious, over-designed and aptly named Torel Avantgarde Hotel on the  Rua da Restauração. Facing south across the Douro with spectacular views and well situated for the old town, this hotel amused us with its contrasting pretensions but excellent service. We felt rather out of place – mutton dressed as lamb almost – as beautiful, rich, thirty-somethings, robe et bagages à la mode, filled the pool deck and the bar areas. No-one there had a Sainsbury’s shopping bag filled with Cotton-trader T-shirts and shorts!The entire hotel was painted in Farrow and Ball Vardo. A beautiful colour but in our completely under-lit room, rendering us blind, unable easily to read our books and requiring us to feel our way to the loo and using iPhone torches to find things – especially in the mini-safe – not practical in any way.

View from the deck of the Torel Avantgarde Hotel. But we loved it. It was so very over-the-top!

Porto is beautiful.

The obligatory (at our creakier age) Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour oriented us well neither having been here before. Though why I can’t imagine. It satisfies in every way. I mean the city not the hop-on-hop-off, though both did well.

Livraria Lello – The Most Beautiful Bookstore in the World

The Douro and its steep sided banks dominates the town. Spectacular bridges span the canyon, for trams, pedestrians, cars and all. Funicular railways and cable cars help keep heart failure at bay. These days we make sure we always start at the top of everything, moving ever downward in our quest to ease over-heated, arthritic and, in my case, over-weight bodies. This strategy is vital in Porto, largely pedestrianised and very steep: like Madeira, Lisbon, San Francisco or, even Tamboerskloof!

There is so much here. Where to start? The food? Never a failed meal the entire time in Portugal. Lots of fish and seafood; probably our best evening was O Fado a restaurant serving traditional dishes with the added cachet of Fado performed beautifully by three musicians and two singers. The Portuguese guitar is one of my favourite instruments and always succeeds in making my hair stand up and a tear gather in the eye. Never understand a single word but it sounds so glorious!

Then there is the architecture, the river, the history; the brilliant Palácio da Bolsa, the old Chamber of Commerce Building and Stock Exchange built over 60 years completed only in 1910 though it functioned from 1850. The decorative detail is astonishing particularly in the so called Arab Room.

< View from the Palácio da Bolsa

The Arab Room

The Stock Exchange floor

It took a while to get in so we sat outside the old Mercado Ferreira Borges with some beer and toasties. The city we were told is bursting at the seams. That we managed to get a room is a miracle; queues everywhere; reserve to eat out or stay with kerbside kitchens.

“My dear………the people!“ 

Mercado Ferreira Borges

Rather quaintly there are still two of the originally old tramlines running, numbers 1 and 18, which we used a few times as part of our heart attack strategy though it was nice to see that they are not only tourist attractions and used by locals too.

Below the Palácio da Bolsa is the old Gothic church of Saint Francis with baroque interiors, saved when the attached monastery was burned down in one or other civil war.

Douro River Valley

We  decided before we set out to return to Mistley across Spain, through France and up to The Netherlands, to Otterloo, for the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Park De Hoge Veluwe and thence to Hoek for the ferry. Quite a drive, starting with the Douro River Valley to Zamora, a beautiful landscape despite the dry heat, the river edged with steep vineyards and quaint towns. We’ve toyed with cruising this but think that the road trip is better and a fraction of the price! Besides which you can get further up the river by car than by boat.

Palacio de los Condes de Alba y Aliste now a Parador

Zamora is on the Douro just inside the Spanish border. We are back to scorching heat, discouraging much exploration, while the pool in the garden of the Parador De Zamora beckoned – once the Palacio de los Condes de Alba y Aliste built  in the 15th century on the site of an old Roman citadel.

Northward the next day to San Sebastian for two nights at the perfectly placed Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra, slap bang on La Concha and a few hundred metres from the Old Town. When we were here last year for Tony’s 70th birthday and the Festival screening of Terence Davies’ Benediction, we so loved this city that we wanted to come back.

Friend Helen B was here in May and alerted us to the fabulous San Telmo Museum which we somehow missed last year. The permanent collection there is housed in the cloisters and church and emphasise Basque history. But it is the monumental Eleven Scenes of San Telmo in the Sert Canvases that grab most of the attention. Simply astonishing and very moving, they rather drowned out the special exhibition of the sculptures of Jorge Oteiza and Eduardo Chillida placed in the modern annexe of this wonderful place.

The San Telmo Museum

Ever northward. Cap Ferret next.

Thank you friends Laura T. and Sherri & David S-Mc for the heads up here! Two nights among the Pines that cover the dunes of this peninsula best explored by bike.

It’s very flat so we thought this a good place to revisit long lost skills, neither of us having straddled the seat of a bicycle since we visited Key West 30 years ago!

Similar terrain so we thought it a safe bet. So ashamed at our total ineptitude that we clumsily mounted the bikes out of sight of the hotel to wobble our way to La Maison du

Bassin where we were able to book a table for dinner  – our dearest wish being to sample the famous huîtres, oysters or hooters of Arcachon Bay – before wobbling to the Plage de l’Horizon, Tony falling off at one point, nearly breaking a toe. The peninsula closes Arcachon off from the Atlantic and it is here in this bay that the famous oysters are found. We had a lot of them: all different, all sizes and all delicious.

Plage de l’Horizon

And we discovered, just round the corner from La Maison du Bassin, right on the beach, Chai Bertrand whose purpose is only to feed you oysters and shellfish. 

‘Hooter’ heaven!

Tours next.

Just for a night. A good thing too since our room at Le Grand Hôtel de Tours, next to the handsome railway station, was on the fifth floor, a garret, albeit well appointed but so hot as to be virtually uninhabitable as the management had neglected to switch on the aircon. We retreated forthwith and let the machine do its best, only returning at the end of the evening by which time things had improved. 

Tours is another lovely town. I love the bombast of 19th century French architecture. So extravagant. We explored the old town, G’s & T’s in the Place Plumereau, a superb dinner at the Restaurant La Deuvalière on the, under the circumstances, aptly named Rue de la Monnaie and experienced shock at the level of the Loire which to all intents and purposes seemed to have ceased flowing. 

The Town Hall & Railway Station in Tours

Ever northward the next morning via the dreaded Paris Périphérique where we almost succeeded in getting ourselves wiped out when we got stuck on a traffic island, to Ghent. Why is that everything has to go through Paris? The SatNav makes out that this will always be the fastest route yet it never is. The traffic was terrible and the slip road onto the A1 was closed without warning. The Peripherique lived up to its name as we went round in circles in increasing danger of a coronary!

But we finally arrived in Ghent, another beautiful city reminiscent of Bruges, with its canals, stopping at the Monasterium PoortAckere a few hundred metres from the historic centre: “Unfussy rooms in a humble hotel set in a former 13th-century monastery with meeting space”. Very peaceful.


A short two hour drive to our next, and penultimate stop, before the ferry at Hoek was in Otterloo where we met friend Maudje B-B for the express purpose of visiting the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Park De Hoge Veluwe.

Kröller-Müller Museum

This is without doubt one of the finest museums we have seen. It contains among many other things, the second largest collection of van Goch’s works in the world. It is set in this extensive national park and, horror-of-horrors, you are encouraged to traverse the park by bike, the museum itself being in the centre, hidden among the trees. 

Maudje came from Amsterdam to stay the night and meet us for this event. Our hotel was literally a few hundred metres from the entrance where after we’d checked out, we parked up and ventured forth to the free bicycle park. They are traditional Dutch bikes, no gears and back pedal brakes. This time it was me who crashed, twice, despite the absence of other traffic of any kind. Grazed, bloody knees and feeling like a complete moron, I did manage to finish the circuit, visit the hunting lodge and finally arrive at the actual museum in vaguely one piece!

Met Maud!

It was worth it. What a treat. We recommend it, friends, bikes and all. Put it on your list.

Just a ninety minute drive to Hoek from Otterloo.

For the night ferry to Harwich.

And home to Mistley in the morning.

30 days and 2,950 miles (4,747 kilometres sounds better!)

To-day is the 19th August and we have been home exactly a week. 

Thanks friends all.


At no extra cost here are some added extras:

THE GREEN DIARY :                Entering the 8th Decade!

Who needs Netflix these days with such a wide range of entertainment available,  at home and abroad, on the news platforms of the world. Every taste is catered for: farce, tragedy, comedy, tragicomedy and sheer absurdity. And all for free! No subscription necessary. The Westminster bubble has burst and out has plopped The Clown and His Shudder leaving chaos and laughter in his wake. That and a lot of other awfulness that makes my feet itchy and the sand seem a good place to keep my older, balding head!

But Wow!  June has been quite a month. Last week I turned 70 and entered my 8th Decade, dear Friends. Some of you have got there already; some of you have entered  your 9th Decade and I bet you all can’t believe it? I certainly cannot and still view the world as if through the eyes of a sixteen year old. That has been quite exciting enough without the lunacies of the world to amaze and depress!

I suppose June started really at the end of May with a short visit to The Hay Festival to see Damon Galgut being interviewed and talking with Elizabeth Day, one of the best I’ve seen him give. His winning book, The Promise has been an enormous success and he has been much in demand for interviews and promotional book launches, but he never seems to repeat himself.

We were with friends Geoffrey and Francisco, staying in Hereford for the weekend, back to a pre-pandemic tradition when attending the Festival but also went to listen to husband & wife duo Maki Sekiya and Ilya Chetverikov playing works for two pianos  by Debussy, Stravinsky and Rachmaninov at St. Mary’s church in a lunchtime concert there. 

So. June. Yes. Two highlights. Turin and Glasgow at the beginning and the end.

Turin for two reasons. We’ve neither of us been before and the chance to see and hear Jonathan Coe performing at the annual Jazz Festival there made a visit irresistible. Music he wrote, though he says he neither reads nor writes it, was taken up by the arranger and conductor of the Artchipel Orchestra, Ferdinando Farao who leads this Italian big band, popular in Italy. 

We also attended an event at the Fondazione Circolo dei Lettori where, through a brilliant interpreter, Jonathan revealed his two passions for literature and music, explaining along the way to Italian author Giuseppe Culicchia interviewing him, how it was that he had landed up playing a version of his own music with a Jazz Band in Turin in the first place!

Aprè Concert pizzas in the Piazza Carlo Alberto next to the Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano

What a beautiful city. Bearing in mind the utter chaos prevailing on some of our airlines and in our airports we decided to go by train which turned out to be a wise and restful decision. With an easy change in Paris we were whisked across a sun drenched France, through the Vanoise National Park to Turin. Even a delay outside Lyon seemed painless when in such comfortable seats and with a view of such green fields, well fed cows and snow-dusted mountains. Bucolic is a good word and if the view got boring the excellent on-board WiFi and/or a good book easily passed the time.

Now that dotage stares us in the face, we have started to avail ourselves of the Hop-On-Hop-Off buses that are endemic wherever tourists round the world gather. We used to disdain these as Disneyesque rides designed for cheap packaged holidays and visitors who do not have the time or energy to explore alone and on foot, by far the best way, of course, to discover a city.  Well we have finally caved in on this front and found that actually you do get to experience a useful overview of a place without having a heart attack, and a sense of direction which enables further exploration.

That’s the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II . Remember the Mini-Minors scuttling about in The Italian Job?

So off we set.

It was very hot so perhaps the top deck was not the best place from which to see this elegant city in its lovely setting along the Po and under the western Alpine Arch. But it served its purpose and we got back onto our pegs and stumbled into a wealth of culture, excellent cuisine, handsome architecture – largely in the city centre – from our base at the Victoria Hotel which boasted among other things, a wonderful, cool underground spa: a blessing at the end of a hot day, I can tell you. 

The surprising Museo Egizio came highly recommended. I say surprising because it seemed an unlikely place to find such an enormous and beautifully displayed, easily accessible collection of Egyptian antiquities – until the explanation of their presence there was made plain: all in English. In fact all the museums were dual medium except, understandably, the Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano where I wished I spoke Italian so as to follow the fascinating story of the reorganisation not just of Italy but really the whole of post-revolutionary Europe.

Turin is of course the car manufacturing capital of Italy. The Centro Storico Fiat, itself a magnificent Art Nouveau construction, houses the whole history of FIAT but, rats, was closed  – a victim of the pandemic, hopefully only temporarily because I could have spent days in there! 

Centro Storico Fiat, Via Gabriele Chiabrera.

Not to be thwarted though, I set off to walk the four miles along the river, through parks and past fountains, to the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile which turned out to be a spectacular collection of every kind of mode of transport from beyond the Romans, housed in an equally spectacular post-modern building.

Post Modernism? Friend Richard G will know!

I was like a child in a toy shop and was carried back to my childhood when I stumbled on a Fiat Topolino, first produced in 1937, one of which my mother drove, albeit a 1954 model, back in Durban when we had recently settled there from Cape Town in 1957. It had a tiny 500cc engine and I vividly remember that in order to breast the steep hill out of our hotel, my brother and I and particularly Betty, our nanny, who was a large lady, had to clamber out and walk to the top else the Topolino would simply have stalled or, worse, stripped its clutch!

And here before my eyes was the exact model.

The National Museum of Cinema is housed in the Mole Antonelliana believed to be the tallest unreinforced brick building in the world (built without a steel girder skeleton). It is certainly the tallest museum!

The Mole Antonelliana

Originally intended as a Synagogue when it was built in 1889, financed by the Jewish community, it was never used as such and housed various civic projects until its current use began in 2000.

Tony hates heights so we avoided this contraption giving rides to the top of the dome – also the long line of hopefuls – at €12.50c a pop!

It’s a staggering place. Brilliantly designed. I could easily have spent far longer in it. I love looking at every detail but there is simply never enough time. 

They were running a special exhibition of the works and times of the Director Dario Argento, “Master of the Thrill” and the “Master of Horror”, which took an entire floor of this extensive museum.

Dario Argento.

On with the motley!

Three days in Turin and not a wasted second. Time for convivial lunches and dinners with friends and plenty of “fizzy makes me dizzy”. The food there is excellent – and the company too!

Conviviality & Company. I’m glad I bought shares!


What to do?

And so to the end of June – the 30th to be precise.

Google lists 295 important events having occurred on this day in history. I like to think there are 296 though, as of course it is my birthday.

I’m in excellent company:

The Night of the Long Knives in 1934. The failed coup attempt by cocaine growers in Bolivia in 1984 and the birthdays of such illuminati as Lena Horne and Walter Ulbricht to name but a few.

At 10 I served a dozen Hubbly-Bubblys and a square, richly iced & decorated birthday sponge with twelve selected friends at boarding school in Pietermaritzburg; at 20 I drank far too many gins and tonics at The Pig & Whistle while at University in Cape Town; at 30 I was at the Connaught Theatre in Worthing playing John Wesley in A Touch of Spring; at 40 I was about to undergo surgery in The London Clinic; at 50 I was playing in Regent’s Park; at 60 I was taken to St. Petersburg. So – obviously at 70 it had to be Capriccio at the Staatsoper in Vienna, overnighting at the Sacher?

No such luck. Couldn’t get in there. Couldn’t get a ticket either so we went to Glasgow instead – with friend Helen – to visit the newly refurbed Burrell Collection, look in at the Huntarian Museum, seat of much Mackintosh, and naturally, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. Not to mention the Riverside Transport Museum and, over at a sadly de-industrialised Govan, the Fairfield Heritage, celebrating the astonishing history of the great shipyards of the Clyde.

All fascinating, especially the magnificent Burrell Collection in its purpose-built home in Pollock Country Park. Years ago I filmed in that building. I was making a commercial for the about–to-be-privatised Scottish Electricity Board who I think may have been early sponsors. So I spent two days in there. It is so light; there is so much glass and it looks out into the woods and parkland which you feel you could almost touch; I saw my first red squirrel there and peering deeper into the trees, there were deer too.

With slim, chic friend H, well into my third trimester carrying quads!

Three great days with these visits interspersed with excellent dining at Unalome, Graeme Cheevers’ wonderful restaurant, now with one Michelin Star; a great evening at The Ubiquitous Chip with friends Rose & Rob and some good Italian nosh at  Sarti’s before jumping on the Caledonian Sleeper to return to London.

Graeme Cheevers outside his Unalome.

A few more pictures to help you all with the new Pedrordle Game I am launching. Fairly straight forward multiple choice questions – this time available online and with no time limit. Remember: black ballpoints only.

Of course a lot of other things happened in June but many of them will induce a rant so I’ll pass over them. Some excellent theatre, notably David Hare’s offering this year, Straight Line Crazy at the Bridge Theatre. We thought Ralph Fiennes as the Town Planning-Expressway-Building Robert Moses, took a while to warm up with a rather wobbly American accent but later became powerful and rather moving.

I thought if he’d had gesticulated a degree less and explored two or three degrees of stillness more he’d have been even more powerful. Danny Webb was brilliant as Governor Al Smith – an award-winning performance.

We’ve enjoyed Operation Mincemeat , I’m Your Man and The Outfit but not in the cinema. I don’t know why this is. We’ve been slow to get out of Covidly habits I suppose, and tear ourselves away from the TV screen. These things are so readily available there now and at a fraction of the price. The new BorgenThe Lincoln Lawyer and The Holiday have amused us too – among others. 


Other jubilations? Her Majesty’s 70th was celebrated around the nation. Whatever one may think of Royalty, Queen Elizabeth II certainly shows up the current tawdriness at Westminster – Hats off to her I say. I think even Republicans say it too. I often wonder what she must really think of some of her ministers and the state of her nation generally.

Jubilee Tea on The Green

If I were her I’d be weeping.

Well, perhaps she is.

Stay safe dear friends!


THE GREEN DIARY :               T A B : That’s Africa, Baby!

Our arrival in Cape Town was spoiled by the non-arrival of Tony’s luggage, which BA neglected to load at Heathrow where there was chaos. About a hundred other passengers were similarly affected – so, chaos in Cape Town too with bewilderment at the lost luggage office; nobody knowing what BA’s intentions were.

It took two full days to catch up with us with Tony in borrowed clothes. We were getting ready for a retail therapy session on Easter Monday at the V & A Waterfront but in the end two dusty bags were delivered to the house first at 2.00am when no-one heard the doorbell and then on Easter Sunday afternoon.

 All my luggage was intact, popping onto the carousel in a neat group. It has always been a cause of wonderment to us that though we check our baggage together, in all our travels over nearly forty years, it has never once popped up together. Go figure!

Lovely to see friends again here after so long and sadness that we have not seen everyone.

We have been royally treated at Kirstenbosch – thank you Conradies; and with a wonderful lunch out at Marina da Gama – thank you Ross and Charles; and Jane F. and Jenny R. and Sarah C. and Chris and Liz W. So sorry Jane A. could not make it.

We loved Muratie and Delheim on the wine route, which unaccountably we’d never before visited, and such a fine day too – thank you Jane F, again, we’ll not forget Sneaky in a hurry.

Jane. F with Tony and ‘Sneaky’ our Sommelier and guide at Muratie

And thank you Damon, Riaz and Tabassum for sharing your home with us in Greenpoint, for the cooking lessons and immaculate and tasty currys. I have taken you advice and bought a Wusthof knife!

In complete contrast to the awful news of floods in Durban, the weather here has been warm and sunny with barely any wind, almost too hot for April in the Cape though we are certainly not complaining.

I was born in Cape Town, in Rondebosch, and went to University here.

I started my acting career here. 

I left for London on a one way ticket forty-two years ago to escape Apartheid and its conscript army which obliged me and many others to parallel a civilian life with a military one, posted twice to the Angola border, to D-Formations and riot control in Durban, to monthly shooting parades, guard duties at obsolete vehicle depots and oil storage installations.

Somewhere on the Border!

I hated it and emigrated with relief.

But I have always come back. Friendships and Family are precious. 

The landscape works on your soul. 

Die Aarde.

On the many visits I have always felt a connection here, an attachment; gone out of the way to explore old ground, familiar landscapes; felt comforted by the familiarity, the memories, the sense of being home. The hard thing about this visit for both of usis that we no longer feel any sense of immediate connection, which has coloured everything.

This time there is a detachment, there is no curiosity, no desire to revisit old haunts that we no longer care and with these feelings an intense sadness, which has underlined our time in what is perplexingly the most beautiful country.

In Cape Town, surely one of the most lovely of cities, lying under that iconic mountain, we found evidence of the tragic path this Kleptocracy is treading. The hours of load shedding, the tent cities of homeless, the squalor of the city, the burnt out parliament cocking a thumb at democracy, open talk by many of failed states, of decaying infrastructures, of corruption and outright robbery and a people utterly failed by their greedy leaders.  

The rail network has collapsed; in November 200 kilometres, yes 200 kilometres, of track and about as much overhead wiring was ripped up and stolen. The railways cannot function, cannot repair the network fast enough and those called in to investigate are usually the perpetrators. All the public services are failing and the money for their maintenance gone into the pockets of corrupt politicians. Where will it end?

The obsession with security, the endless barbed wire, electric fencing and big bunches of keys to lock and unlock almost everything it seemed, the fear of violence which can come and go in seconds, randomly, and leave a wake of irreparable physical and emotional damage.

On our last day in Cape Town we picked up a car and with dire warnings from many friends about potholes and fake road blocks, we set off for Arniston driving the coast road through Gordon’s Bay, Rooi-Els, Hangklip to Onrus for a wonderful lunch with Tessa and Ben.

Thank you so much both. How lovely to see you and what a beautiful, panoramic drive it was, the blue of False Bay on our right hand and the rearing mountains on our left, the Hottentots Holland, the Overberg and that rolling stretch of farmland across to Bredasdorp down to Arniston on the Cape Agulhas with always the Langeberg to the north. A landscape of fynbos and farms, the cold green of the Agulhas current, the crash of white surf on bleached beaches, the high blue heavens and vast multi-patterned cloud formations grip the soul and choke the heart.

The Beacon

From Arniston the drive is easy, the traffic light and not a pothole in sight! 

The roads are perfect – past Swellendam, through Riversdale, by-passing Mossel Bay, The Garden Route opening before us and now the Indian Ocean on our right showing a warmer blue, to Wilderness for the warm embrace of Hugo and Helen in their lovely home right on the lagoon. Thank you friends. Lots of stories and never enough time.

In Okavango three years ago on an afternoon drive searching for game, Tony lost his Panama, blown somewhere into the savannah, never to be seen again except perhaps, hopefully, on the head of a prancing baboon. Now in Wilderness we have heard of Patti Zway who, can you believe, is an importer of genuine Panama hats.

We find her and her collection and Tony now has a new one for our onward journey to Knysna and a brief brunch with friend Caro down at the Heads, the sun shining and the lagoon still, reflecting the hills and forests around. 

Still no potholes, the N2, modern and smooth, runs eastward, swinging by Plettenbergbay, Gqeberha – aka Port Elizabeth or, even, PE – to Port Alfred on the Kowie River where we de-camp for three generous nights with Judge Kathy S. and friend Carol, aka Mrs Hayman, who has joined us from East London. Much discussion ensued; the environs were toured and remembered, for this is 1820 Settler country; the beaches visited, a sunny day spent in the Judge’s motorboat on the Kowie river, lined by rocky kloofs covered in Euphorbia. High blue skies and tall, billowy white clouds lent a deceptive peace to a troubled land.

Kowie River

Then onward to East London via Bathurst where we found the Toposcope, site of the scattering of Tony’s Father’s ashes many years ago – such a long way from home – as were all those settlers in times gone by.

Still no potholes, Friends! We by-passed a dusty, chaotic and unattractive East London, crossing the Buffalo, Nahoon and Gonubie rivers through a lush landscape, to find Carol H. in her lovely new home tucked under the dunes, 300 metres from the beach at Sunrise-on-Sea, part of the East London Coast Nature Reserve and the southern most end of The Wild Coast which we walked back in 2007.


Northward, staying on the N2, still no potholes, crossing the Kei river, we arrive at the first set of traffic lights, late-morning in Mthatha, once the capital of the erstwhile Transkei, that infamous invention of Dr Verwoerd and his madcap band – and here everything went pear-shaped!

The SatNav showed that there was some kind of traffic upset jamming the exit, on the other side of the town onto the road to Port St. Johns where we are headed for one night.

Tony is driving.

The hundreds of taxis, all obeying different rules have produced a dusty, milling chaos and we are inching towards a set of lights.

Tony sees in the rear-view mirror an official looking man carrying a walkie-talkie and a cell phone coming along the line of vehicles. He is bending to talk to the drivers.

He reaches Tony and asks where we are going.

“Port St. Johns.”

“There is a bad traffic jam and you have to detour through a special road to get through. This is a private toll road and you need a card like this one.” He briefly brandishes a card with a bar code on it. “It costs R70.”

We are uncertain about this.

“Can you sell us one of these cards?”

“No – you must go to a special place to get it and you must follow that car, they will show you the way.”

How stupid could we be? Here is the anatomy of a scam.

But the uniform looks genuine.

The SatNav shows that there is indeed a jam of some sort on the other side of town.

£70 seems a small sum of money.

We do not obey.

We inch up to the lights. There is chaos. 

Two men in a white car have swung round to the left, blocking the traffic, indicating they want to turn across us and go left.

There is much shouting.

We think they want us to yield and let them through.

We indicate for them to pass in front of us but they keep waving, gesticulating and shouting. The mini buses are hooting.

There is dust. Chaos.

It dawns on us that they want us to follow them.

We don’t. Tony pulls ahead and drives straight on as indicated by the SatNav.

We inch forward to the next set of lights.

The official with the walkie-talkie catches up with us and tells us that we need one of these cards.

We ignore him and follow the traffic round through various lights, through crowds of people, markets and mess.

Eventually we reach a corner where we must turn left. On our right there is a petrol station and a SparShop. It is on the corner of Madeira and Victoria Streets. We are boxed in by traffic and our officials have once more found us and caught up with us. 

“You will be fined if you do not get this card and you will not reach the Port St.Johns road. You can park here and come and buy a ticket here.”

It seems that is what we must do.

The SatNav is burbling away; there are swarms of people; we are conscious of being the only whites in the whole place: two older men, one wearing a conspicuous pink shirt and driving what is clearly a rental.

It is frightening. The scenarios are playing in our minds.

Tony gets out of the car, goes with the man round the corner onto the petrol station forecourt and the entrance to the SparShop.

I cannot see him.

A minute later he reappears.

“They don’t take cash. Have you got a card handy?”

We are by now very uncertain of our situation.

But in these Covidly days and in high crime areas cash is often not accepted.

I hand Tony my EasyFX Card, which is one of those cards you load with money when travelling, to get better exchange rates in any currency and pay no charges.

He knows the PIN.

He is gone quite a few minutes.

Suddenly there is an impatient knocking at the passenger window.

“Your friend does not know how this card is working. You must come.”

I get out of the car and follow this new man round the corner where things have suddenly got stressful and there is arguing. The temperature is rising.

“The card is stuck in this ATM and won’t come out…….”

“You must push that button with ‘International’ on it,” the man is now right on top of us and there is loud explaining going on, “it is an International card. Tell your friend to push the international button, put the PIN in and the card will come out.”

We do this and it doesn’t.

Only now are we certain this is a scam. What to do? We need the card back.

We are shouting at each other. I demand to know what has happened to our card.

“Have you another card?”

And here is the stupidest thing of all!

“Yes I do.”

“You must put that in, put in the PIN and then cancel the transaction and both the cards will come out.” He snatches my second and only other card out of my hand, shoves it into the machine and shouts for me to put the PIN in. He is leaning over us both. I try to conceal the PIN but to my horror it does not come up as four **** but shows the actual numbers.

The card does not come out after we press the cancel button.

I go ballistic. Tony goes ballistic.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing here…….you fucking scammers… are scammers. I am phoning the police…….and our bank…….”

“Do not worry. You will get your cards back. We are not scammers.”

A small crowd has gathered in the background.

“Come with us and we need to talk to the supervisor. He will get your cards out of the machine……..”

“No, we will not budge from here. Tell the supervisor he must come here now.”

I call up the emergency number for our Lloyds Joint Mastercard.

The connection is poor. The SatNav on the phone is still telling us to turn right. There is yelling, dust, traffic and suddenly we are frightened and alone and white. It is in just such situations, often, that here is when the guns/knives/machetes get taken out and you are dead.

I finally get through to Lloyds. In the melee and panic I cannot remember all the many security questions or their answers and “No, I can’t remember Aunt Barbara’s birthdate…..please can you just block the card……”

“I’m afraid you must go through all the security questions before…….”

“Please take the next turning to the right……” The SatNav chips in.

“For goodness sake we are in a mugging situation here…..just take the number please…..”

“No it is not…….”

“Take the next turning to the right…….”

Tony meanwhile has succeeded in getting one of the cards out of the machine, which is almost snatched out of his hand but there is no sign of the other card which we think came out first and was somehow palmed.

“Tone, please speak to this man in England he is not being helpful…….”

“Please turn right at the next exit……….” Why does the SatNav not shut up?

Music is now playing somewhere. The stress and noise is overwhelming.

“Hello…..hello are you there….I’m Tony Peake the lead name on this joint account……..”

Suddenly two men come round the corner shouting, “Here is your card, you see, we said you can get them back…….”

“Please turn right at the next exit…..” The SatNav again!

“Hello….hello…..yes, Tony Peake…..they have given our card back….we think it has been cloned….just block everything……hello…….”

“Has he gone?”

“The call’s dropped, we’ve been cut off.”

We are alone now and the event is over.

An old man shuffled by, “That is a very bad machine. Do not use that machine. It never gives you money.”

We are both in shock. 

And feel very foolish. 

And it dawns on us that this whole horrible moment could easily have been far, far worse. We could easily be dead.

They say bad things happen in threes. We have two more to go.

Round the corner we get back into the car, which in the haste of the moment I’d left unlocked, the windows open. Thank god, no-one had noticed else there’d have been more tears.

We slowly made our way through the weekend traffic jam to the Port St. Johns road which we discover is new and has no potholes but there is another jam. There is a motorcyclist in FedEx uniform lying dead in the road; he has just been clipped by a speeding car; his motorcycle is a wreck. A few people mill around but there seems to be no feeling of tragic urgency. Just indifference. Lethargy.

We inch by, the road clears and I pick up speed, it’s my turn to drive. A mile or so further along there is what looks like a brown rock in the road, which I have just enough time to steer over.

It’s not a rock, it’s a dead dog and I have miscalculated. There is a sickening wrenching sound and something tears away the underside of the car. In the rear-view mirror I see the dog rolling out from under the car and immediately there is a vibrating, clattering sound.

On inspection part of the exhaust casing has been torn off but the car works and we decide to carry on to Port St. Johns, to some WiFi, to a phone connection, to EasyFX and Lloyds and, now, to Avis as well.

On arrival in Port St.Johns we both wondered why we bothered to put this stop into our itinerary. Perhaps it was because neither of us had ever been there or perhaps it’s because its part of the spectacular Wild Coast, its lovely river and the enormous kloofs it flows through to the sea; but otherwise it is a dump. 

I have already had a text from EasyFX telling me that two attempts at withdrawing 49,999.00 Rands (about £2,700.00) have been made and blocked; but the scammer’s tried several lower amounts which have succeeded and the whole account cleared – about £350.

Attempts at phoning them fail. It is the weekend, the connection is bad and I could only email them.

Tony had better luck with Lloyds and he re-established contact with them to block the account from which they had succeeded in withdrawing round £7,000.00. Lloyds have said this will eventually be restored.

Our Data and Cell phone usage soars. Later we discover these calls and attendant access to websites on G4 have cost round £300!

With Avis we had little luck. The nearest office was in Mthatha, which was closed as it was a weekend. They want to know where we are going next. To Pietermaritzburg I say, a six hour drive away via Lusikisiki, Flagstaff and Kokstad along roads so indescribably badly maintained that we feared the car would literally be shaken to pieces and the tyres shredded. 

The next day was a Sunday and the Avis office in Pietermaritzburg is at Oribi Airport, open only between 1.00 and 8.00pm.

We clattered our way there the next day across the Transkei and got to the airport at 2.00pm to find the Avis desk unattended.

Potholes. So far only between Lusikisiki and Kokstad, from there to Pietermaritzburg a few but not too bad. It seems the main routes are being cared for. The Hertz man told us the Avis man didn’t bother pitching up if there were no scheduled drop-offs or pick-ups.

I phoned the central office in Johannesburg who has arranged a car swop, which at the time of writing, can only be three days hence.

It has not been a pleasant weekend and we have both been shaken by the experience and the realisation that things could have been far, far worse.

With huge relief we collapse into the arms of friends in Pietermaritzburg for the next venture!

Next with friends Bobbi, Kippie, Vonnie and Mike; Lorenza and Michael C. not to mention Sarah vd M., we venture to Lotheni in the Drakensberg, along appalling roads, to Symes Cottage for three nights in a new landscape no less inspiring and peaceful than any before: clear blue heavens and unpolluted starlight; grassland and streams; baboons, monkeys, eland, jackal are around. Gaslight and oil lamps; candles and matches – why are they so difficult to strike? LPG fridges and freezers, the lingering smell of paraffin, good food and wine and such wonderful company: thank you dear friends.

Then it’s time to replace the broken Toyota with a Suzuki ‘Desire’, and head for the family in Durban. A great reunion; it’s been several years since we have embraced and we are set for two more adventures to replace the cancelled repositioning cruise that was to have returned us to Europe via Suez, a sudden and unexplained end to the grand idea of three weeks at sea. MSC cite only “operational difficulties” and return our money.

But another Jane, Jane B., has in the meantime flown out to discover her roots and was to have joined us as part of a group of nine returnees who in the past months have dropped out one by one, usually because of Covid, so that we are now a party of three. 

Plans are hatched. First the Suzuki ‘Desire’, an under powered little thing, needed to be replaced by something higher off the ground, more powerful and robust. To Avis we go for our third vehicle in a month while  Bro-in-Law Alan invokes his membership of the Bateleur Club and manages to get us all into the Phinda Mountain Lodge (  ) for three days of  game drives, luxurious comfort in a setting beyond dreams.

Good eating and drinking, great companionship and above all some of the best game viewing ever. We’d stayed once before in the Phinda Forest Lodge and had been spellbound by that, but did not see as many animals then. Now we were wowed by leopard, lion, elephant, rhino., cheetah, warthog, hippo., crocs., baboons, monkeys, every antelope you can imagine, birds of every kind in “seven distinct habitats, a magnificent tapestry of woodland, grassland, wetland and forest, interspersed with mountain ranges, rivers, marshes and pans. Home to 1 000 hectares (2471 acres) of Africa’s remaining rare dry sand forest, the reserve is situated in close proximity to the unspoiled beaches and spectacular coral reefs of the Indian Ocean, offering an unmatched combination of bush and beach adventures…….” 

Game drive with Jane B. & Alan Bro-in-Law

You get the drift?

We didn’t want to leave but of course there are endings to all things and now Jane B., nursing a terrible cold but bravely missing nothing for this her 80th birthday treat, we set off together on our last adventure, back to the Drakensberg, this time to Champagne Castle, for the last four nights of our stay.

View around Cathkin and east towards the hotel and the Midlands. With friends Charné & Johann Prangley

Champagne Castle Hotel was where as children we were often taken, usually in the middle of winter, in the July school holidays, dry and sunny but cold too then with sometimes snow on the mountains. There are a lot of memories here, most of them good. The last time we were here was in 2006 when we brought my mother for a week. It was Tony’s first visit and we never saw the mountains at all nor did we walk. It was February and it rained the whole week, with clouds covering the mountain. Mother fell and cracked her skull and we played endless games of Scrabble with an Afrikaans language set that had no ‘c’s but lots of ‘y’s and plenty of ‘k’s!

This time it was glorious and a cure for Jane B.’s nasty cold which, thank heavens, was never Covid.

Down from the Underberg through Winterton, Loskop and Estcourt to the N3 toll road, no potholes but terrifying drivers, down onto the Midland Meander past Mooi River and Nottingham Road to Rawdons for tea, then a short visit to my old school Michaelhouse in Balgowan, onto the dusty Curry’s Post Road to Howick stopping for lunch at Halliwell’s.

On to Hilton for last farewells with friends there; down Town Hill by-passing Pietermaritzburg, crushed almost by vast undisciplined container lorries and more scary traffic, slowed by jams in an early dusk and the heart-stopping drive through Camperdown, Inchanga, up under Botha’s Hill to Kloof in time for showers, gins and out to Lupa for the Last Supper with family, Jane B. feeling much better.

The Last Supper.

We three flew out from Durban with Emirates via Dubai, to Gatwick and courtesy cars to take us home.

It’s been fantastic. Much in South Africa shocked and saddened us but much else was beautiful and friendships endure. We are sad we did not see everyone, did not get to Johannesburg but it’s not possible to do everything – und vee vill be beck!

A day after we returned Durban was struck again by more floods and massive rain storms.