Saturday 31 July 2021

Outeniqua Power Van ride

I tend to favour doing 'experiential' outings with my mom for her birthday. This year, I had a treat in mind. The train track from George, through the Outeniqua mountains, is very much in our minds as I cross it almost daily on the trails that I most frequently access. It runs past the Botanical Gardens where my mom meets her Run/Walk For Life group. We've seen the little power van - a small diesel-engine train that runs on the tracks -  a few times and my mom has mentioned in the past how nice it would be to take a trip.

A few weeks ahead of her birthday, I made our booking and only told my mom that we would be doing something. She began fishing for clues closer to the time, thinking that we would be going paddling or hiking or riding ostriches in Oudtshoorn. She breathed a sigh of relief the night before when she knew that she would instead enjoy a motorised-transport experience.

The Outeniqua Power Van trip starts from the Transport Museum in George. We were to meet at the museum at 11h30 for the 12h00 trip (there is also a 9am trip) and so we had 30 minutes to walk around the museum. It is spectacular. We only saw part of it and look forward to returning to see more. It is clean, tidy, neatly presented and there is so much variety on display - from trains and carriages to classic vehicles.

Leaving the train yard.

The trip accommodates 20 people - to allow for social distancing. There is the engine part with seating and a smaller carriage. Both have big, clean windows so that you can see in every direction.

We cross the railway line just up ahead regularly - walking or driving past the Botanical Gardens.

The trip heads out from George on the meandering track, which climbs up the Outeniqua Mountains. The views of the town and the mountains are spectacular, and seeing the historic Montagu and newer Outeniqua Passes from the railway line is really neat. 

Snow on Craddock Peak

Outeniqua Pass visible across the valley.

Our tour guide was superb. She gave such interesting information on the track, the passes, the mountains, history and plants. The train stops at its highest point where it crosses the Montagu Pass and then it heads down. Halfway back, the train stops at their picnic site. We were told in advance to bring our own picnic basket and refreshments. I had prepared a bunch of treats for us to enjoy for lunch.

We had about 40 minutes for a picnic stop. That's the Power Van waiting for us.

We were blessed with unbelievably clear air and skies so mom got to see the sea. I often see it from the trails but rarely have I seen it as blue or clearly visible.

That's the sea in the background. George is a 'coastal' town but it isn't on the sea as there is a steep drop to the rocky (no beach) shore. The main part of town is a few kilometres inland. There are nice beaches at the nearby towns of Wilderness, Glentana, Herold's Bay and Groot Brak.

I can highly recommend this trip when you visit this area. They are currently only running on Saturdays (two trips) but they would schedule more trips on week days during the holiday periods. 

My mom celebrates a milestone birthday next year. I wonder whether ostrich riding may be in order? hahaha (don't worry mom, I'll take this one off your to do list)

Happy birthday mom xxx

Wednesday 21 July 2021

Embracing the grey

Yesterday, I went to do my car licence renewal here in George. Yes, I'm shedding my FS plates and going CAW. 

 While standing in the queue, a lady came from behind me and asked how old I was. Curious I replied, "Why do you want to know?" and, as the words came out of my mouth, the penny dropped. This sweet lady, who worked there, was asking because she was tasked with directing older folks (like over 60) ahead of the queue! With a laugh, I professed to being 45 but with a lot of grey hair. 

Of course, seeing me from behind and then wearing a mask, she wouldn't have been able to see my not-60 face. 

 Typically, Europeans start to go grey in their 30s by which time most women (and men) should see some grey hairs. By the time they reach 50, they should have at least 50% grey. When you go grey is genetically determined so there is nothing that you can do about it. 

I got the grey genes from my dad's side of the family and started going grey in my early 20s. At 21, I saw a few grey hairs. By 28, I had a fair amount - so much so that I dyed my hair for a few years. As I have a pet-hate for showing roots and my hair grows fast, I surrendered to Mother Nature in my mid-30s and made peace that grey was my new hair colour. Sure, I had liked my golden-brown, original natural colour, but not being tied to a dye bottle was worth the trade-off. I was liberated and freed. This is something that I hear often from other women who stop colouring their hair.

There is a lot more grey out there than is generally realised because hair dying has been the primary course of action, especially for women. It was only much older women - those over 70 perhaps - who were ever seen with grey-white hair. This probably explains why grey hair has had the connotation of being an affliction of the elderly. In reality, women in their 40s without grey hair would be unusual, not the norm, in a dye-free world. As my friend Tracey so rightly says, "And I'm surprised that 18 months into the pandemic anyone still thinks that silver/grey/platinum is purely age-related".

Fortunately, grey hair in women is a lot more trendy and, dare I say 'acceptable' - now than it was even a few years ago. Young models grace the catwalk sporting dyed grey locks, celebs are going grey and, more importantly, our friends and women around us are going grey. Having more grey-haired women around is confidence-building for those trying to transition. Critical mass is required. 

Best of all, many women actually look better with their grey hair than too-dark dyed hair. The lighter shades of grey brighten the face. Also, a whole new palette of clothing colours opens up to you, especially cool tones (green-blue-grey) as well as vibrant hues like reds and berry colours. Sapphire, pinks, denium, black and metallics also work.

I am not adverse to hair colouring. There are a number of hair-colouring Instagram pages that have me transfixed. Skills, design, colours and incredible work. Not that I do it myself, but hair colouing can be fun and playful and all the colours of the rainbow, not just something to hide the grey. 

COVID lockdown went a long way to liberating women from the dye cycle - and they are grateful for it. Being able to work from home, while undergoing the transition to grey, without the pressure of conforming to appearance expectations in the workplace, has been the blessing.

Like the browns, blondes, and reds, the greys, platinums, whites and silvers are hair colours and they're making a bold appearance.

Wednesday 14 July 2021

Forgotten Formula 1 passion remembered

 I used to be a seriously passionate and committed Formula 1 fan. I'd forgotten about this. I'm watching the 'Formula 1: Drive to Survive' series on Netflix, which focus on 2018 in the first season of the show. I'm not only enjoying it, but it has reminded me of how absolutely Formula 1 crazy I was.

My uncle has always been a Formula 1 guy. If family gatherings were on a Grand Prix Sunday, he would duck off to watch. One Sunday afternoon in 1992, I sat down with him to properly watch a race. While he has always been a Mclaren supporter, I favoured rooting for a driver instead of a team. I remember asking him which driver would be a good one for me to support. "Damon Hill," was his reply.

During the race, I tried to get into Hill-supporter mode but something about Hill just didn't sit well with me. I found my driver when he stood on the podium for the very first time, in 3rd place, and in only his second season in Formula 1: Michael Schumacher. What won me over was his exuberance and joy. That 3rd place may as well have been 1st place. 

I watched most of the races that season and saw my driver climb on to the top step of the podium a few months later. This young Schumacher was driving among the grizzly, experienced drivers of the likes of Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost... names I'd heard my uncle speak of for years already by that stage.

From my uncle, I started learning more about F1 - teams, drivers and some of the technical aspects. I lapped up every bit of commentary; these were the days of Murray Walker. I learned about refueling, tyre changes, pit-stop strategy and, of course, the race tracks. 

Schummie was driving for Benetton and I knew stuff like that they had a Ford V-Tec engine and then the next year a Renault engine (and somehow I remember this stuff almost 30 years later but I can't remember a phone conversation I had yesterday!). 

I first got onto the internet (redimentary as it was at the time) at university towards the end of 1994. There I found Formula 1 newsgroups (remember those!) and I absorbed discussions. In time there were F1 and news websites too. I'd browse Formula 1 content in magazines at my local CNA. I entered a competition on SABC Sport and won a black golf tee with embroidered racing logos (I can't remember which). I wore it the day I did my driver's licence (the examiner was also a F1 fan).

I loved watching Saturday's qualifying rounds and I rarely missed a Sunday Grand Prix over the next eight-odd years. In 1994 and into 1995 I had a part-time waitressing job. I would work from about 10am on a Sunday and finish the lunch shift at 2pm. I would run home to make it in time for the start. I'd hang over the arm of the couch, barely blinking for the duration of the race and then get back to the restaurant for the 5pm shift start. My boss knew the extent of my F1 addiction and so he was always lenient if a race had gone overtime and I rocked up a few minutes late - having run back to the restaurant. 

I've bumped into my old boss a bunch of times over the years - last time was a few years ago. He always comments that the moment he sees me he thinks of Formula 1 and Michael Schumacher.

I could recognise the drivers from their eyes, from their helmets and from their cars - even in those distance shots. I could predict Schummie's pit-stop strategy and pit-stop duration (related to refueling amounts), which were often different to most other drivers and were always a point of speculation for Murray Walker in the commentary box. I loved rainy races because there was the excitement of when to pull the driver in for rain tyres and if it dried out, when to get him in for slicks again.

Every year there were new rules, technological changes and technological advances.

It goes without saying that my choice race combination was Schumacher, in Monaco, in the rain. Schumacher in the rain anywhere were my favourite races.

When I applied to university, my three degree choices were BSc, medicine and aeronautical engineering. I fancied being an engineer on an F1 team - designing those wings and working in wind tunnels.

I also fancied being a F1 commentator. I do love David Coulthard and Martin Brundle as F1 commentators. I remember when they would sometimes partner with Murray Walker or they would step in to cover for Murray. I learned so many more interesting tidbits about racing, driving, strategy and the cars from them.

In 1996 Schummie moved to Ferrari. They were not top dogs at that time. I remember listening to interviews with and about Schummie that spoke of the amount of time he spent working with the crews, in the garages to get the car tweaked, practicing pit stops and improving everything. He'd done well at Benetton and then put that focus and ambition into building the Ferrari team. He spent 11 years with Ferrari - that's the longest stretch than any F1 driver has been with a team. He also put a lot of work into physical training - gym, running and the like. More than drivers had done before - something that is commonplace now.

"Ferrari and Schumacher wasn’t just a meeting of a top driver and a top team. This was a turnaround story that revived Ferrari—in results, reputation and spirit—and Schumacher was the beating heart of that renaissance. Over 11 seasons, Ferrari went from being a bumbling midfield team to a slick front-running outfit." - quote from this article.

At the end of 2006, Schummie retired from F1 for about three years. Schummie out of F1 took away a lot of the appeal for me. 

It was around then too that Formula 1 went off SABC television. They had the live broadcasts and then they went to recorded screenings late on a Sunday night (I liked the live screenings because it was no fun watching later if you already knew the result). Then, Formula 1 went off SABC completely when SuperSport got the contract. In these years there seems to have been a lot of changes and comings-and-goings of drivers. I quickly lost touch with who was who and didn't have much of a connection with any of them.

That was me out of Formula 1. I stopped watching and I mostly stopped following, except to listen out for the results. Schummie returned in 2010 - driving for Mercedes - but I wasn't following too closely. I'm not big on comebacks (Nigel Mansell's comeback was memorable for not being memorable). Midfield Schummie is not 'my' Schummie. 

He retired permanently from F1 in 2012 and sadly had a skiing accident in 2013 that landed him in a coma for six months, hospital for a long time and now full-time care at home. 

In his career, Schummie won seven World Championships, had 91 Grand Prix victories, stood on the podium 155 times and he started on the front of the grid in pole position 68 times.

Other drivers that I liked included David Coulthard, Mikka Hakkinen, and later Mark Webber. I was more of a Prost fan than Senna; Mansell was never it for me. I also never took a shine to Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, or Lewis Hamilton. (I can't believe that Fernando Alonso is still racing; he was never my favourite but he has stood the test of time).

I catch the odd sports news items and the names of winning drivers, but I really haven't paid the sport much attention for a decade.

This Netflix series... well, my interest is sparked. The only thing - maybe showing my age - is that it seems to me that these young whippersnappers are quite spoilt and entitled. Looks to me too that the whole 'team' aspect of F1 is absent. Sure, there would have always been rivalries within teams for the number 1 driver seat, but I can remember where teammates sometimes worked together - there was strategy - to get a win or highest placing for the team, not self. Along the lines of how a cycling team gets their main contender to the front. Boom - that's all gone now. 

And I definitely do not remember as many stupid crashes. These young guns trash cars in qualifying and racing through too risky and quite stupid manoeuvres. This takes them out of the race and stuffs up things for their team with constructor points. Sure, push hard and drive on the edge, but when you're DNF-ing, you blow it for everyone that works so hard to get them on the start line. There seems to be a lot of team hopping too - drivers after the next best offer. 

Suffice to say, I run a bit of my own parallel commentary while watching the show... I am enjoying meeting the drivers and I'm looking for candidates to be 'my' driver. 

Even if you have never watched a day of Formula 1 in your life and you don't get how people can watch cars going around and around and around a race track, watch this show. Of course, it has a bit of a reality-tv spin, but other insights - cars, drivers, teams, technology, money - are really quite interesting. 

There is a race this weekend. I'll be checking out the line-up. 

Saturday 10 July 2021

Paddling the Groot Brak River

 I needed an outing and this morning I decided to explore the Groot Brak River. Located about 30km from George, the river passes through the little town of Groot Brak. It is a pretty, mostly retirement-and-holiday location.

The river mouth is one of those mostly-closed estuaries. The opening of the mouth to the sea is humanly managed, especially after the Wolwedans Dam was built a short way upstream in the 90s. 

From what I've seen online, the building of the dam has been something of an environmental bugger-up because too little fresh water now reaches the mouth. That's not to only blame the dam. Other human-influenced activities that suck water from the river upstream of the estuary, like agriculture, alien vegetation on the banks and small farm dams, have contributed to the estuary's current problems. This, and the mouth being closed for too long, which results in higher levels of water in the estuary, which is not good for the fauna and flora that live there (and odd sewerage intrusions).

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed paddling there today and I was delighted by the abundance of birdlife.

I set off from the river mouth. There is a large and convenient parking area.

I didn't take many photos on the route upstream as I was paddling into the sun.

At almost 5km upstream, you get to this low-level bridge. 

The water here and in the estuary was crystal clear. What you see here is not reflections but the plants under the water.

The end of the 'road'. This was as far up as I could paddle.

I like close channels so I enjoyed this short section of river. Calm, peaceful and I had the company of a half-collared kingfisher.

A burst of colour from aloes in flower.

Lots of yellow-billed African ducks.

Grey herons (I saw many of them) and some cormorants.

Cormorants sitting on the old metal supports from a previous bridge. The other bridge in the photo is the one for the railway line. To the right, out of shot, is a road bridge and the highway bridges.

The home stretch and nine flamingoes! The house with the blue roof was spotted by Mark on my FB page - turns out that this is his aunt's house. Fancy that!

My bird tally included of grey herons (they seemed to be playing with me - flying up and down), Cape cormorants, darters, yellow-billed ducks, a pied kingfisher and a white egret-something. A real gem was a half-collared kingfisher who stuck with me for a while. I watched him dive and catch a fish too. Spotting two black-crowned night herons was a treat and then nine greater flamingos on the home stretch. A grey-headed gull and a few curious kelp gulls had a good gawk at me.

More than this, I'm super impressed that I only had to look up the grey-headed gull and the half-collared kingfisher in my bird book!

I'll do this paddle again. Soon.

Thursday 1 July 2021

Employee maternity benefits

As a slight update to my post below, while I do not yet know what specifically happened in the US yesterday (nothing in news articles?), I have learned about a supreme court ruling from last year that allows employers with religious or moral objections to limit women's access to birth control through ACA ('Obamacare'). WTF? It still ties in with my opinion that birth control should not being under the... er... control... or responsibility of an employer and equally an employer should not have to right to tell your medical insurance what it can or cannot provide to its employees - especially where anything outside of health (like religious views and moral convictions) is concerned.

Dare I say that an employer with religious or moral objections that would limit a female employee's access to birth control is probably an employer that offers six weeks of unpaid maternity leave.