South Africa

Afriski, Lesotho (July 4th 2017)

Last weekend we travelled to Afriski in Lesotho. It’s one of only 2 ski resorts in sub-saharan Africa. The other one — Tiffindell — was too far away.

Usually, it’s impossible to secure accommodation, but there was a last minute cancellation to a chalet.  Friends (Anna and Rex) booked it and we were off. Since it takes 8 hours driving and around an hour to get a visa at the land border we decided to stop off for a night in Clarens on the way.

Contrary to expectations, the journey to Clarens turned out to be the worst part of the journey.  Most of it our own fault. The previous weekend Anna and Rex had invited us over for dinner to discuss the trip. And more importantly to offer some advice. Unfortunately, we forgot the crucial part: to avoid the direct route to Clarens at all costs and divert through Harrismith and Golden Gate national park.

On the day, everything had been going according to plan, until we turned off the motorway and hit the back road to Clarens midway through. Of course, I had to be driving. It quickly became apparent that this pot-holed nightmare of a road was only used by people with little regard for anyone else. Several hundred metres in we encountered a pickup carrying a bed. Normally, I would have overtaken it, but the huge potholes made this an impossibility. We stayed behind. Suddenly, Cath let out a huge shriek. I looked up to see the bed sailing into the air towards us. I swerved violently and lost control of the car, which careered all over the road. Thankfully, there were no other cars around, and we avoided the bed. Disaster averted we continued along the road, carefully. Frankly, I was the only driver on the road bothering. Huge 4x4s were charging past at crazy speeds on the wrong side of the road. In the midst of this mayhem a nutter driving a combine harvester cruised into view. The blades covered three-quarters of the road, but the driver somehow thought he would be able to avoid hitting oncoming cars if he drove slightly off the road. I was forced to move off the road and drive straight over the churned-up edge. Somehow, I managed to avoid damaging the car.

After a further hour of the road from hell, we were in Clarens. Honestly, the place is beautiful, but I wasn’t in the mood to enjoy it. It used to be a hamlet, mainly populated by artists attracted to it’s amazing scenery. Now, it is a big tourist attraction. There were galleries everywhere.

After staying the night in a self-catering place just down from the town centre, we set off to the border and Lesotho. Beautiful scenery. Somehow it didn’t feel quite right though. Driving a 4×4 at speed through poor communities.

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The lowlands of Lesotho, beautiful. The tukul huts just blend into the landscape.

Soon we had left the lowlands of Lesotho and we were driving up through the Maluti mountains. The temperature dropped significantly and vegetation became sparse the higher we climbed. We had been warned about the climb– numerous potholes and sheer drops — but it turned out to go relatively smoothly. The reality is the route would be a deathtrap to drive up with snow/ ice, but the weather had been mild for the past week, so the route was completely free.

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Route up through the Maluti mountains.

 

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Mapholaneng pass at 3200 metres.

 

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Afriski in the distance.

 

At about just after midday we arrived at the resort. While it was a lot colder than the lowlands, it was still rather warm for a ski resort. All the snow they had had a few days ago had melted away. Apart from the artificial snow. The temperatures persisted for the rest of the week. To such an extent that it wasn’t cold enough to run the snow machines.

The other aspect was the debilitating effect of the altitude. At least on me. Our chalet situated at over 3000 metres was more than a kilometre higher than most high altitude ski resorts. If we had been still staying in Ethiopia it wouldn’t have mattered, but we weren’t. Putting on skis, doing any kind of physical activity proved to be exhausting. And the air was so dry, that everyone developed hacking coughs. Alex became unwell literally on arrival, so I was forced to avoid skiing and watch the cricket instead. Was a tough life. Everyone else did take to the slopes, however.

We all had a great time, but the resort needs to work on it’s ski instructors. On the first day, Lena got dumped in the baby class. Probably because she was 4 years old. No-one actually asked whether she had skiied before. After Cath complained, the following day she was put on a beginner slope with a group instructor. By the end, we were treated to the sight of Lena skiing down a baby slope (no instructor in sight) apparently having forgotten how to turn. We pulled her before her skiing regressed any further.

 

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Cath and Anna at the top of the ski slope.

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All the kids on the last day.

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Anna and Rex at the bar.

The garden route

We recently took advantage of the May bank holiday to do a trip around the garden route.

Pringle Bay

The kids and I flew to Capetown and drove down to Pringle Bay — a friend of the family owned a house there.  Cath joined us a few days later from DC. The house was in an incredible location, overlooking the beach, and there were very few tourists.  Alex’s and Lena’s friends joined, so they had a great time.

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View from Pringle Bay.

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View from the balcony

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Dehoop nature reserve

After 4 days at Pringle Bay we drove to Dehoop hotel located in a nature reserve. About 6 hours drive west from Capetown.  The hotel was originally a farm. Established by the East India Company– apparently they just sailed up the river.  Just outside our little cottage were animals indigenous to the area: Bonteboch, Zebra.

One of the highlights was the marine walk with a guide. He explained about marine life and the kids were able to hold all manner of creatures– starfish, anemone, hermit crabs.

 

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Coastline at Dehoof. Kids fascinated by jellyfish washed on the shore.

 

Storm River Rest Camp, Kynsia

The last couple of days were spent in Storm river rest camp in a self-catering house overlooking the sea. I had my reservations, given it’s the national park authority, but it was so well run. We went on some amazing walks, including the world-famous otter trail. The otter trail is a 5-day trek along the coast line through stunning scenery. You have to carry all your own stuff. I am surprised Henry hasn’t done it already. By contrast, we only managed a small section of the walk to a waterfall before it got too difficult and we had to turn back.

It’s a sensational part of the world only marred by epic coach-loads of bratty Europeans who are not interested in the scenery, but in smashing rocks on the ground.

 

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View from the lookout point over the national park.

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On the otter trail

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Storm river– good for kayaking, allegedly.

 

Victoria falls

Last weekend the kids and I flew to Victoria falls, to meet Cath who was there with work. I was quite apprehensive about taking the kids out of South Africa on my own. Entering and leaving South Africa with kids is considerable hassle. Immigration require children’s original birth certificates along with passports. And if only one of the parents leaves the country with their kids they are required to provide additional significant documentation along with a signed affadavit stamped and dated by your local police station.

Fortunately, the trip went smoothly. By late afternoon we had arrived at the Avari hotel on the Zambia side. The hotel is in the middle of a national park, so zebra and impala often graze on the hotel grounds.

The first morning was spent taking in the falls, which were 5 minutes walk from the hotel. They are a truly magnificent sight. The sheer scale is incredible– more than twice the width and height of Niagara falls. It was a good time to visit. The rainy season had just finished so there was a lot of water. Mind, getting to the best viewpoint worryingly named ‘danger point’, meant navigating through the tremendous spray, which drenched everyone. Alex was not happy about getting soaked.

The vegetation around the falls is tropical because of the continual rainfall.

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Victoria falls in all its glory. 

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Double rainbow at the base of the falls, ‘boiling point’.

In the afternoon we took a trip on the Queen of Africa, a majestic, colonial river boat travelled on by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert over a century ago when they visited the country. Unfortunately, we lowered the tone somewhat, turning up late with screaming kids. Alex and Lena settled down once the boat had set off, leaving Cath and I to enjoy a few drinks as the boat lazily cruised up the river. It would have been perfect for a game of cards.

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Enjoying the sunset on the Queen of Africa.

On the penultimate day we went on a safari. We had had a number of magical safari experiences in South Africa, so I wasn’t that bothered. However, Cath was adamant this would be worth the experience. I think expectations collapsed after we realised we were the only people on the safari lumped with a lacklustre guide who had zero interest in wildlife. Then, shortly into the trip, the guide casually let slip the national park only had the big 3. In other words no lions or leopards.

Nevermind, I consoled myself with the prospect of watching a herd of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plains. Or maybe a couple of elephants. Was it too much to expect? Afterall, it was a relatively small national park and creatures tend to be habitual. Unfortunately, the guide was struggling to drive the temperamental jeep let alone navigate around the park. After spectacularly failing to spot any animals of note, and increasingly desperate for a tip, the guide started stopping to point out anything of note–  moorhen, deer, ducks. Cath was becoming increasingly irritated at these pointless stops and finally ordered the guide to drive us back to the hotel. Despite being the worst safari I have ever been on, our early return did enable us to catch sundowners at the bar overlooking the river at the adjoining Royal Livingstone hotel.

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Having a few drinks at the Royal Livingstone’s river bar.

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Spray from Victoria falls visible at dusk.

Christmas 2016

We spent Christmas this year in Europe mainly skiing. We decided to return to Ubergurgl in Austria. It is relatively quiet compared to other ski resorts, such as Solden. There is a superb ski school and lots of beginner slopes (but fewer advanced slopes). Perfect for our kids and novices like me.

Enroute to Austria we briefly stopped by London. We managed to get a bit of sightseeing done, visiting our old house and Alex’s nursery. We even passed by Big Ben, which Alex had been keen to visit, since she had been born in St Thomas’s Hospital opposite it. Then, late afternoon we popped over to the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. The girls enjoyed the rides.

By the end of the day, Alex and Lena were exhausted. Cath and I took the opportunity to go to Chris’s 40th at Hakkasan. It was a highlight of the trip. Although I appeared to be the only person attempting to sample those dangerous cocktails in the bar at the end?

The following day, we flew to Austria. Despite the fog, we managed to get to Ubergurgl in time for dinner. This year we stayed at a different hotel– the Hochfirst. The location of the hotel was perfect: by the slopes next to the kids’ skischool. Anyone who has had to lug kids’ skis will know why that was such a boon.

It soon became apparent that the location was not the main reason why my father-in-law had been so keen to book the hotel. Dinners are his thing you see. And the hotel seemed to specialise in drawn-out, elaborate affairs with several courses. Coupled with an extensive wine list. But while the food was impressive, evenings were often lost on the kids who could barely stay awake beyond 7 pm. At first, we let them sleep at the table, so we could eat, but that idea was shot to pieces after Alex slid off her chair in front of startled guests.

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Julie, Michael and Cath at the hotel.

Nevertheless, Christmas eve at the hotel, was incredible. Once the low season had finished, most of the Brits disappeared and were replaced by a large contingent of Germans. For the Christmas eve dinner, guests (particularly the Germans) made a serious effort to dress up. Everyone looked sensational– black ties, evening dresses.The hotel was totally decked-up. The owners were there to shake everyone by the hand. No expense had been spared on the food and drink– particularly the albino caviar, which I doubt I will ever have the opportunity to try again. The dinner was a joyous celebration, reminiscent of a time when events weren’t always about maximising margins.

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Father Christmas giving presents to the girls.

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Christmas eve dinner. Enjoying the glorious photobomb from Tomas our waiter.

Skiing was a triumph for the girls. Alex progressed so quickly over the course of the 10 days that she was taken up the mountain. Lena struggled a little at the start but after some one-on-one with a teacher (Anna), she was soon turning effortlessly.

By contrast, the adults were all in bad shape. I had injured my neck, my father-in-law had damaged his knee and Julie – not wanting to be left out – managed to drop a printer on her leg. Unfortunately, after a rest day, everyone was out.

Given my inadequacies on the slope, I decided to take further lessons. My concern was I would be allocated the same instructor as I had had last year– his most redeeming feature had been his in-depth knowledge of the failings of the British Army in World War II. But rather than specifically ask not to have him, I requested a young instructor. What I had meant was someone under the age of 50, but the young woman doing the bookings presumed I,  like the myriad of Russians she had to deal with, was angling for a tall, fit, buxom, blonde female instructor. Unfortunately, I failed to heed the warning signals — questions about my personal preferences rather than my skiing needs. After enduring a confusing conversation, punctuated by sniggers from people waiting, I managed to get a (non-female) instructor. Things worked out better this time. Although I am way off going up a mountain.

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Taking a break from skiing to have lunch outside by the slopes.

Austria was great. Even there, the benefits of the EU for Brits was evident. There were a large number of young Brits working out there as ski instructors. Ten years back there wouldn’t have been any.

Following Austria we travelled direct to Upton village (Cambridge) to see my mum and sister’s side of the family including my nephew, Tobias who is 2. Tobias and Alex and Lena got on really well and it was good to catch up. My sister had also planned everything out for our arrival. Even down to borrowing car seats for the girls. The food was also excellent home cooking, which both Cath and I had been craving.

Everyone had a great time. Cath particularly loved the trip to Upton. Especially walking around Cambridge. Although the weather was a bit chilly for my liking.

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All of us on the bridge in Cambridge.

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The girls having a great time playing in Cambridge.

Happy New Year everyone.

A long weekend at Umngazi

A couple of weekends ago we went to Umngazi bungalows. It’s a beach resort south of Pretoria (3 hours from Durban). Faced with a ten hour drive from Pretoria, we flew to Mthatha airport and took a taxi to Umngazi.

It was fascinating to drive through a non-touristy part of the country– from what I could ascertain the only sign that Nelson Mandela had lived there was a solitary hospital named after him.  However, if you do go, allow plenty of time. The scenery was magnificent, but large parts of the road were being expanded, which meant navigating past huge trucks on decrepit, single lane roads. Cath’s nerves weren’t helped by the driver’s persistent use of his mobile.

Towards the end of the journey we turned off the main road, and followed the river down to the sea. Umngazi bungalows is located on the river mouth, separated from the beach by the river. The resort is a collection of traditional wooden bungalows (with thatched roofs).

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View of the resort from across the river.

 

Usually it is impossible to book  Umngazi less than 6 months in advance. The resort is one of those well-kept secrets– great location, food (particularly seafood) and a place to unwind.

I hadn’t bothered to read up on the resort, so was in for a bit of a culture shock. It’s an exclusive resort for well-to-do, young South African parents. Nearly everyone seemed to know each other. Apart from us. And most of the parents were in their late 20s. It was quite bemusing to see all these model-esque people parading around the pool in the morning.

The place was perfect for those with young kids. There were regular activities throughout the day for them. An army of nannies on standby. Available at any hour. Separate dining for the children. To be honest, it would have been quite easy to avoid seeing your kids atall. Understandably, lots of young parents were going for it. While they could. Despite struggling to manage a few beers before feeling shattered, I somehow managed to delude myself I was above all this unnecessary partying. Being a nightlife veteran and all that!?

The kids had a great time. From capture the flag to the daily movie nights. Although they both had a sick bug at one point.  The weather was also perfect for us– it felt like Wales in the summer. Without all that unnecessary rain.

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Relaxing by the water’s edge.

The highlight for me was the wild, sub-tropical coast. Getting there, required wading across the river mouth at low tide or taking a boat ride across. We spent most of the days talking walks in the surrounding hills or trudging along the coast looking for seashells. Not a soul to be seen.

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The wild coast.

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Looking for seashells. 

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Summer 2016

We spent our summer holiday in France. Somehow we managed to get an upgrade with Air France. Perhaps because our flight was delayed twice. Unfortunately, Cath and the kids caught a nasty virus, so I didn’t get much chance to enjoy it.

The first few days in Paris were a bit of a blur, with everyone unwell. However, we did manage to have lunch in Bellota, which is worth visiting for their incredible pata negra. Lena was exhausted though and slept through the whole meal.

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Lena fast asleep at Bellota.

 

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Lounging on the beach near Argeles.

Barcelona

Shortly after getting to Perpignan we headed to Barcelona for a few days with Julie and Chris (who flew over). It was the first trip away from the kids for 2 years. Predictably, at that point I caught the mystery illness, although Cath was convinced it was a ploy to avoid going shopping.

The food in Barcelona was amazing, and of course we caught up with Chris. The highlight of the trip for all of us was probably eating at Cinquecenta. A Catalan restaurant promising fine dining. From the outside, the restaurant looked pretty unremarkable, but it turned out to be the best food I have heard all year. The night was finished off, by a trip to the cocktail bar on Ramblas. They do fantastic vodka martinis.

 

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At a rooftop bar.

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Eating out at another restaurant.

 

 

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Cath and Julie at Cinquecenta–

 

Perpignan

Later in Perpignan, Nick, Emilie, Valsa and Ben joined us on holiday with their kids. The weather was crazily hot, so we spent most of it in the pool. Good times, although not sure about “jaded aid” Valsa.

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At zazas having a laugh.

Disneyland Paris

Towards the end of the holiday, we had a few days left in Paris, so decided to take the kids to Disneyland Paris. The weather was unseasonably hot the whole week.  I was worried about the crowds and incessant queues. You can’t turn up before 1000– from 0800 to 1000 is exclusive to guests of the hotels on the site.

Cath however came prepared. Maps had been printed out. A plan had been formed. She had an app showing queue times for each ride. Despite queue times of around 45 minutes a ride we managed to do most of the key rides for the girls– Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Snow White, etc. Alex loved it, but Lena was a little overwhelmed and scared. It was a good day out for the kids, but I was a little surprised to see so many young adults (without kids) coming to go on the baby rides.

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Disneyland Paris

 

 

 

 

 

Sun City resort/ Pilanesberg National park

Around end-July we went to Sun City resort in South Africa, with Julie — a friend of Cath’s family.

Sun City is a luxury resort located just north west of Pretoria. Built during the apartheid era as a get away for the wealthy.  It is a huge, self-enclosed park, located in breath-taking scenery.  For most South Africans, it remains the place to go to. An institution.

Perhaps the best way to describe it is Africa’s version of Disneyland. Amazing scenery and lots of action activities without the Disney rides and characters. Most of the year, the place is absolutely packed. Reservations have to be made a couple of months in advance. But we stayed in the low season (winter), which meant it was relatively quiet.

The resort can divide opinion. It’s the most opulent of its kind. Most marvel at its sheer scale and detail throughout. Even the countryside has been massively sculpted to provide visitors with the perfect fairytale environment.One family remarked it felt like they were walking through a lost civilisation. However, some find the level of opulence a bit unsettling, given the the resort is in one of the more deprived areas of the country. The Palace of the Lost City hotel was probably the most over the top. Huge minarets atop a enormous castle, expensive marble flooring, massive chandeliers. You get the point.

Of course these important issues were lost on me. You see the resort had a casino. One of the biggest in the country. I spent most of the time there scheming to sneak away and play cards. However, Lena — ever the difficult traveller– was kicking off most of the weekend. So I never got to play poker. It’s been so long….

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The view from outside our rooms.

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Gateway to the palace of the lost kings.

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The exclusive Lost City golf course.

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On the final day we travelled to Pilanesberg National Park, which borders the resort, to look at wildlife. Was pretty incredible to see elephants, rhinos and zebras so close to the car. Unfortunately, this was all lost on Lena who dropped off for most of the drive round.

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The girls having lunch inside the park.

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The aftermath of BREXIT.

Gove and Johnson looking shell-shocked, post-BREXIT.

It’s been a long week. Johnson and Cameron concluded their contest. It wasn’t meant to be serious. Cameron was supposed to win and silence his backbenchers, while Johnson built up his credentials in preparation for an expected leadership contest. I doubt that Gove or Johnson would have fronted this campaign had Cameron not stupidly let slip in a documentary he was not going to run for a third term.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out like that. After the vote to exit, the UK has had a bit of a meltdown. No-one has a plan post-BREXIT. Both main parties are having leadership crises. The country seems divided and angry. Without intervention, Scotland and Northern Ireland may break away.

It’s not clear where we go from here? How things may proceed/ possible options? Here are some thoughts. More for me than anything else. The BREXIT options appear reasonably straightforward. The Norway option (leaving EU, but access to the single market), the Swiss option (leaving completely) or staying in the EU (i.e. ignoring the referendum). None of these would tackle immigration or allow the UK to escape EU regulations.

Until the Conservative party’s leadership contest in autumn, nothing much is going to happen. Uncertainty will continue, investment will be delayed, markets will suffer. The time could be spent by the Government to swing public opinion away from BREXIT. Heseltine has suggested sending Johnson, Farage and Gove off to Brussels to negotiate and on the basis of discussions report back on the proposed BREXIT option and its ramifications. While a fruitless exercise (Merkel and others have said the EU won’t negotiate until the Government is installed and Article 50 invoked) it would help illuminate the falsehoods of the BREXIT campaign and expose Johnson. But sadly, it’s not going to happen. Cameron appears to have given up.

Once the leadership election is held in September, it’s reasonable to expect a referendum or general election shortly after. The Government implementing BREXIT would have to unravel our legislation from EU law. Given the volume, it would have to side-step parliament, which would be passing laws to define its new relationship with the EU. While not essential, it probably requires the Government to seek a mandate from the public. Either in the form of a referendum or a general election.

Whether the new Government would prefer to settle this issue with a general election or referendum is not clear. Tory leadership candidates such as Jeremy Hunt are already proposing a second referendum. However, it is unlikely a second referendum would be used to annul/ confirm the first, but to decide what form BREXIT should take, since Cameron has already ruled out a second referendum while he is in power. Personally, I can’t see a second referendum being implemented, given the experience from the first. At the minimum it’s essential that Britain avoids the Swiss option. A second referendum may not prevent that. Imagine asking the people who just voted the UK out to choose between the these two options.

Rather, I think we are going to have a general election straight after the Conservative leadership election. Probably around December. This is not a terrible development for those of us who want to stay in the EU and ignore the referendum. However, I think options for that to happen are remote. The Conservative party are expected to campaign for the Norway option no matter who the leader is.

Meanwhile, the Labour party is in disarray. Corbyn is unelectable, but will probably survive the leadership contest due to his grassroots support. He’s been a disappointment on Europe and can’t be trusted. Continuing to bang on about austerity while a crisis is unfolding shows a limited appreciation of the situation we find ourselves in. Some things transcend political affiliation. And to suggest invoking article 50 on the day of results, with no-one to steer the ship, shows appalling judgement. I can’t see him fighting to remain in the EU in an election. Not after his unenthusiastic efforts in the referendum. Instead, he will prefer to hide behind the referendum result– he has already stated he accepts the decision of the people. If somehow he or one of the other uninspiring alternatives (Eagle, Watson) did manage to defy odds and win the general election, they would plump for the Norway option. The best chance for the party to win the election and fight for remaining in the EU would be with someone like David Miliband at the helm. But while it’s possible he could take Jo Cox’s seat and contest the leadership election, I think he will stay away. Better to wait for Corbyn to fall at the election.

The Liberal Democrats are the only light of hope. They have always been pro-Europe and see it as their chance for redemption. Since the referendum, they have made it clear they would campaign to remain in the EU. If the party could garner enough seats, they might be in a position to prevent an exit. It’s frankly improbable though. They are getting very little traction in the media. The only way we would avoid an EU exit is if pro- EU voters undertook a mass campaign to mobilise support for the Lib Dems. Only then would they secure a significant amount of seats at the next election to influence the final decision.

In short, it’s probable that the UK Government, which were to come into power after a general election would be negotiating the Norway model. My guess is the UK would ideally prefer to invoke article 50 in late-2017 once French and German elections have passed. But it may have to be earlier if the EU presses hard.

Securing the Norway model won’t be easy. Every EU member would have to agree the deal. Which would probably mean offering lots of concessions to EU members to receive their support. With the threat of the Swiss option hanging over their heads, the UK would agree to pretty much everything. There would certainly not be talk of restrictions on movement of labour. By the end of it, voters would have realised they have been royally screwed by members of the Conservative party and Nigel Farage. Particularly in Wales and other deprived areas, which rely on EU investments, since these would come to an end under the Norway model.

I hope I am wrong on all of this, MPs get some courage, unite and end the threat of leaving the EU. The EU is littered with countries ignoring or re-running referendums. The problem is that so many lies have been told by the BREXIT campaign that they are unable to backtrack.

 

 

Views on the EU referendum

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The UK is getting ready to vote on whether to remain in Europe. The arguments for staying in are clear enough, but its future in the EU looks ominous. Polls are moving in the wrong direction; odds of a BREXIT are continuing to narrow.

Proposing a referendum on the EU was a huge mistake. At the time, Cameron somehow felt he was taking the right course of action. Under pressure by UKIP and his own MPs it seemed an easy way out: settle the argument and restore rule. At the back of his mind may have been the effect of Major’s refusal to accommodate eurosceptics and the subsequent paralysis of the party. Sadly, it’s only served to exacerbate divisions within the party and weaken Cameron’s premiership. Of late, it has felt like open warfare: the cabinet is split down the middle and key allies have broken rank to challenge/ discredit the leadership.

A lot rides on the UK voting to remain. However, the vote remains on a knife edge. Which is no surprise. For decades, the public have been fed anti-EU propaganda. Either used as a scapegoat by our politicians, or by the media to advance their agenda– Rupert Murdoch.

If we are being honest, the benefits of EU membership are too complicated for most. Expecting people to understand how the EU benefits them on intangibles such as trade is futile. Especially when there is a simpler, misleading narrative. That the UK is transferring huge sums to an undemocratic foreign institution, which makes our laws while allowing millions of immigrants to settle in the UK. Still, these issues would normally be a low priority in a general election. But the EU seems so far removed that voters feel they are able to register a protest vote at the status quo and get rid of immigrants for good.

Matters have been complicated further by the campaigns. This campaign was expected to be a slam dunk for Cameron, but no-one bothered to learn from Scotland. The credibility of BREMAIN’s campaign has been affected by ridiculous scaremongering. Of course, there will be costs if we leave, but not close to the figures quoted by BREMAIN. Meanwhile, BREXIT’s campaign on the costs of the EU and immigration have resonated with voters, despite their implausibility. BREXIT’s rhetoric on immigration is particularly ridiculous. Afterall, the only way the UK would be able to stop immigration is if it followed North Korea’s example and closed itself off from the rest of the world. Switzerland and Turkey have both had to take immigrants for free trade with the EU. Even though they are not EU members. Turkey has had even less latitude. Recently agreeing to take a large number of Syrian refugees for the EU.

At present, the vote to remain crucially depends on Labour voters —  Conservative voters leaning towards remaining in the EU are in the minority. Unfortunately, many Labour supporters appear disillusioned with the party. Labour’s message is too centric and doesn’t address peoples’ local concerns. The leadership has also been notably absent. While a joint platform may have been deemed too toxic for Corbyn after Scotland, his lack of presence means most Labour voters are clueless about their party’s stance on this issue.

There are some positives to hold on to. Despite BREXIT being ahead in some polls, Cameron has made some wise choices. The scheduling of the vote during Euro 2016 remains a stroke of genius. Assuming England qualify out of their group (which is looking very likely) there should be an upsurge of positivity towards the EU at the time of voting. People also are more likely to keep with the status quo at the ballet box compared to current polling figures.

If the UK did decide to leave some difficult choices would need to be made. At that point, financial markets would be in turmoil and Cameron would be forced to step down. The first thing the new PM (Johnson) would have to do is convince the markets of a clear strategy for the UK leaving. Otherwise, there would be a crisis.

Johnson in theory would have two options at his disposal: leave the EU and single market (Switzerland, Turkey); or, leave the EU and retain access to the single market, but be subject to most regulations and pay for the privilege (Norway).

Most BREXITERs would probably want the UK to leave the EU and single market. Get rid of those pesky EU regulations and stop paying contributions to the EU. Unfortunately, the UK would only have 2 years to renegotiate trade deals and legislation affected (any extension would be impossible since any EU member would be able to veto this). That’s ridiculously tight. Parliament would be overwhelmed by legislation. And with the majority of UK MPs (around 450) being pro-EU there would be outright rebellion. In such an environment, I doubt much UK legislation would be passed. The risks for any PM choosing this option would be too great. A vote of no confidence would be a considerable threat, with a paralysed parliament and uncertainty weighing on financial markets.

It’s therefore highly probably that the PM would seek to avoid a full UK exit. With the majority of MPs in favour, it would be relatively straightforward for the UK to pass a bill to leave the EU, but remain in the single market and be subject to EU regulations (including immigration).

Of course, there’s always the possibility that the EU could scupper this deal and force the UK to go for the former option, but the threat of financial turmoil and precedence suggests it would have to adopt a lenient approach with the UK. The reality would be that the UK would emulate Norway, albeit being severely punished by the EU. In return for access to the single market the UK would be required to pay significantly increased EU contributions and have to accept some tough renegotiations—for instance Norway had to allow Ireland access to its waters for fishing. In the UK’s case it would be more severe to discourage other countries following suit in future. My guess is it would probably mean additional regulations/ taxes on the UK’s financial sector to move some of the business to EU countries. And allowing EU vessels to continue to fish in UK waters.

So if we did vote to leave the reality is we would all be worse off. Still subject to most EU regulations, paying increased contributions to the EU, a smaller financial sector, and with no voice in the EU to influence legislation. Nevertheless, it would be easy to fudge the issue with the UK public. Increased contributions would be dressed up as member contributions for national security, foreign policy. And while the UK would get a worse deal Johnson would be a given opt outs on some EU areas (like Norway) to trumpet to the UK public.

But I don’t think it will come to that. The UK will narrowly vote to remain, Cameron will probably have to step down and Johnson will get his grubby hands on power. Nothing more would be said on the EU, thereafter.

A long weekend in the Drakkensberg (somewhere nearby)

The Drakkensberg is a mountain range in South Africa.  It also happens to be conveniently located — just 4 hours drive from Pretoria. Friends located a hotel there so we all drove up for a long weekend. Late April.

It was a comfortable drive down– roads are great here. So mid-way we decided to stop for lunch at at a Nandos near Harrismith. There was a long queue, but I assumed it was temporary, since it’s a fast food place. Wrong. Ninety minutes after ordering we still hadn’t got our food. I went to the kitchen to complain. The place was a mess. The manager had lost control and plates of cold food were piled up on the table.  I wisely grabbed a couple of plates and settled.

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On the road. Drakkensberg mountain range far into the distance.

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Driving through countryside.

Most of the Drakkensberg is a national park.. You can apparently go skiing there in the winter. It also contains the kingdom of Lesotho. An oddity since it’s the only country in the world surrounded on all sides by the same country. Chris Bryant and Nick will remember that discussion well.

As it turned out the hotel wasn’t exactly in the Drakkensberg. Rather the other side of the valley. Nevertheless, there were still plenty of  stunning walks in the area. Alex was soon playing with the  other kids, but Lena needed a bit more time in the new environment.

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Everyone had a great time, though I found the hotel a bit of a mare. I am allergic to dust (mites), so wasn’t too pleased when i realised there were layers of dust in our bedroom. To try to remedy this, I opened the windows, which only served to circulate the dust further. I had a raging cold all week.

Despite this minor annoyance, the weather was surprisingly good. In fact, the first few days were sweltering. This got a bit too much for the manager who kept muttering on about the unseasonality of conditions. Climate change. By the penultimate day, he had come full circle and was warning about snow. Despite being 22C outside. Something about red sky in the morning, shepherds warning. We had had enough of it and decided to ignore his warnings, taking a cliff walk aptly named Razor’s edge. In retrospect it wasn’t the best decision given we were on a mountain. A mile into the walk the wind changed and storm clouds (from below) rushed over the edge. We managed to get back before the clouds encircled us. Shortly after, the rain started lashing down and visibility dropped to a few feet.

On the last day we went for a long walk called dragonspine, or demonspine as the kids called it. Turned out to be quite prophetic. The manager had been adamant it could be done in 2 and a half hours with young children. My guess it was payback. It took us 4 and a half hours, navigating / climbing around narrow cliff faces, trudging through dense scrubland and scrambling over huge boulders. Was fantastic, but with young kids incredibly stressful. More Henry’s kind of walk than mine.

Overall, was a great trip. Hopefully, our next trip will be to the Drakkensberg.

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Lena enjoying the views.

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Everyone relaxed just before the walk took a turn for the worse.