A traitor´s heart by Rian Malan

10 Aug

This will be a very short review of the book that I came across in an article about growing up as a black person and the soap “Lifebuoy” which features in the lives of many blacks: Rian Malan has sex with a black lady who smells of this soap.

Rian Malan grew up in South Africa as a member of a branch of a famous Afrikaner family; he is related to DF Malan who institutionalised apartheid while he was prime minister 1948-1954. But Rian is not racist – in his own words, “he loved blacks”. But did they love him back? In a sense, that is what this book is about: will his love for blacks protect him against their rage and retribution? The answer is “no”, or possibly “maybe”. What is certain, is that some blacks (close friends) do love him. The book is very personal – and rightly so. Racism is nothing if not personal.

Rian leaves SA as the time approaches when he will be conscripted in the army, and returns some 8 years later in the late 80s in the dying days of apartheid. He then works as a journalist, and the book contains a number of stories from his journalist days – stories of dying, to a large extent, against the backdrop of the increasing terror of the apartheid regime, Steven Biko´s death, the ascent of ANC and eventual release of Mandela.

And yes, N´kosi sikelele Africa is such a beautiful song.

I saw Cry Freedom with friends – or acquaintances – in Manchester in about 1987, and walked out in the street completely dazed. The rest of the company were unfazed, and we went to a burger place.

The standout stories to me are the ones about the early settler days and the limitless violence and racism of the whites: and on the other side, the story of how the Zulus live and their own violence.

Rian makes it extremely clear how the issue of race permeated every corner of everyone´s lives – and no doubt it still does.

ANC, COSATU – in the summers they came to Norway for political training and had close ties with trade unions in Norway; some of the funding undoubtedly went towards weapons. I remember talking to a guy attending such a summer school on the street of Oslo ages ago. Before apartheid fell.

To Rian Malan, there seems to be a paradox in his relationship with blacks. I don´t really see one. In some contexts he will be white and white only, regardless of how good or bad a person he is. That is the way it is bound to be when you are looking back at centuries of white-on-black oppression and violence. He could get killed for his white skin when the black man rises, it´s a simple as that.

Read it.


Sicily in the summertime

2 Aug

So we went to Sicily, flying to Catania in early July to pick up our rented 9-seater and head down the Autostrada to Fontane Bianche, just south of Siracusa. It was hot the first two days, then settled around 30C, which is OK.

We weren´t the first tourists on the island. But a great many of the tourists were Italian.

But first – the food. “Marvellous” might be a good word to describe it, almost regardless of where you go. The high point was high in the hills at “Trattoria da Luciana” in San Piero Patti. Exciting road, but well worth it. Almost a religious experience for me – the food, I mean.

It turned out Siracusa was once an important city in the Greek empire. It is where Archimedes used to live, and there is a museum there in his honour. In one of the photos below you see the Ionic (or Doric, but certainly not Corinthian!) columns from about 500 BC incorporated into the Duomo of Siracusa.


The white car above is a Fiat 500 Giardiniera, which you can watch here on Youtube.

We also went to Taormina. When you enter the place from the North side, which is what you should do, make sure you park in the large multi-storey just below the city (Lumbi); going further only ensures nail-biting and waiting in narrow alleys, before you head back to the multi-storey car park…


(view from the Greek amphitheatre; Etna is hiding there somewhere)

The thing with Taormina is it deserves a bit of your time, even if it´s rather packed with tourists. It´s possible to climb to the top of the hills and find an old castle or monastery, and there is an intriguing cable car going down to the sea. Is it there to take people up or down? We never found out.

If you are on the South-East coast, you should make the effort to see Ragusa, though, situated in what seems a remote valley, it has a quiet charm that is worth trying out. Less convinced about Mudica, and its famed chocolate….

Sicily reminded me of Crete. What´s new is ugly, what´s old is beautiful. In Crete, the old is really ancient, just dusty piles of rubble from Minoan times; or Venetian and lovely. In Sicily, the old is either Greek ruins; or Baroque and lovely.

The driving style is maddening in both places, but you get used to it. Just shake your head in disbelief and be prepared for anything, and you´re fine. Apart from Palermo, which is rumoured to be beyond belief – we didn´t go there, though.

What about the Mafia? You never see any traces of it, but nor do you see beggars. There could be a connection there – and you keep asking yourself if the shop you´re in is paying the “pizzo”(protection). Not a nice feeling.

We never really got to see Etna. Or the Eolian (windy) islands. So maybe we should go back one day?

Serenade to the Big Bird

10 Jul

By Bert Stiles, 1952

“It was summer and there was war all over the world. There was war in Normandy and Italy and plenty of war in Russia. The war was going on in the islands and in the sky over Japan. The only war I knew about personally was the air war from England.”

I had never heard of this book until it was mentioned in a discussion on Facebook about war books; the spur for the discussion was a mother, a friend of mine, despairing at her son’s wish to join the armed forces, and his fascination with war.

I have read many books about the air war in Europe (Clostermann ) – but I had never heard of Bert Stiles. He joined the air war in Europe in April of 1944 flying B17 Flying Fortresses in the day-time bombing of France, Holland and Germany, and completed his tour of duty on bombers. He then transferred to fighters and was killed in a P51 Mustang in the late autumn of 1944.

This book is a first-hand narrative and as such has similarities with many others. The intensity of battle, the loss of friends, the poetry of flying, the peacefulness of the English countryside on days off. The feeling of brotherhood with other airmen, also with those of the enemy. This book has very little, if any, machismo, and all the more sadness and wonderment at the utility and futility of it all. Women also have a prominent place – not as warriors, but as objects of love and lust, and the book has a very frank and clear-eyed chapter about wartime prostitution – “Piccadilly Commandoes”. Stiles also sketches his relationships with “dames” he has known, and devotes several short chapters to a “Doll  Named August”. One wonders if she ever read the memoir, which was published by his mother, by the way.

Bert Stiles is a very sensitive soul, and a writing soul. He brings his typewriter with him to England, that is clear from the inventory of the room he shares with his pilot Sam (“are you cold?” – “no, I’m Sam”). He never mentions the act of writing in his memoir , so we are left to work out for ourselves that he must have used his resting time to write, maybe after interrogations, after chow, before drinking and sleeping and “being woked” for the next show. From Wikipedia we can learn that before he became a co-pilot, he was already a writer. He writes very well, too!

Stiles devotes space to reflect on the people who will be killed by the bombs he drops, and it’s clear that his feelings are conflicted; his vision for the future is one in which all humans will come together in the one element that they have in common, their humanity.

“Maybe boundary lines have their uses, and tariffs and visas and all the other barriers built up by men on the ground, but the air flows smoothly over all of them and from 20,000 it is pretty hard to see them or any very good reasons for them”.

A final word – by the time Stiles joined the air war over Europe, the Luftwaffe was largely a spent force. His odds of survival were thus much higher than if he had joined in 1943. The fact he flew many sorties before spotting the first fighters underscores this point. Flak (anti-aircraft guns) were a great danger though, and was probably what killed him in the end.

Jens Munk by Thorkild Hansen

28 Dec

So I finally finished my copy of Jens Munk by Thorkild Hansen. It´s been sitting in our cabin for many years and I have been reading it on and off. It´s been taking its time not because it´s a bad book, on the contrary: it´s a great book. And that’s one reason why I wanted to write this little blog post. The book came out in 1965 and it also published in English – at least I think so!


Thorkild Hansen has written a gripping biography of Jens Munk. He uses the device of introducing a narrator in the book, “the chronicler”, who represents the author himself. This allows him to write sentences like “at this point the chronicler imagines.. since sources are missing” and so on; a nice literary touch. Hansen creates a dramatic tension which runs through the entire book – the conflict between the noble families in Denmark and Munk himself, with the King Christian IV on the sideline. The King is the arbiter of power, but his room for manoeuvring is limited by the constraints of the nobility. Jens Munk has inherited his father´s conflict with the latter group, and this keeps blocking him from achieving the status in society which his actions should have gained for him. He plays a central role in many significant military and commercial events of his time, and travels from “Bahia de todos los Santos” in Brazil (Salvador) to the White Sea and to Hudson bay.

The book itself is book-ended by the voyage to Hudson bay, starting with the scene in June 1620, Pentecost, when Jens writes his testament, finishing with the words “Hermed All verden god Nat og min Sjæl i Guds Haand” (with this good night to all the world and my soul in the hand of God). Of his crew of 64, 2 are left alive next to himself. Scurvy has killed the rest at their winter camp at the mouth of the Churchill river, in the southern part of Hudson bay. The three manage to float the smallest of the vessels, “Lamprenen”, and sail it to Bergen on the west coast of Norway, at that time part of the kingdom of Denmark-Norway. A feat reminiscent of Shackleton´s crossing of the South Atlantic from Elephant Island to the South Georgia Island (another great book  – “Endurance”).

The Hudson bay voyage is Munk´s main legacy, but Thorkild Hansen manages to spin a vivid and colourful story all along Munk´s lifeline, in the process giving light and sound and smell to Denmark and the many other places Munk visited in this lifetime. Scathing irony is reserved for the King and the nobility; sympathy goes to the common man who lives, dreams, suffers and dies.

Looking back, it´s literally incredible what travel was possible in those days, though the cost in terms of human life was enormous. It´s also obvious that the limited equipment meant that sea travel almost exclusively took place in the summer half of the year.

Finally, the ship “Scoubynacht” figures in this book, and that gave birth to the name of this blog.

Why NPfIT failed

30 Oct

Good article

Woland's cat

(from Campion-Awwad, Hayton, Smith and Vuaran, 2014)

Below is my list of reasons why I think NPfIT failed. NPfIT was the NHS National Programme for IT in health, starting in 2002, with Richard Grainger appointed as NHS IT director. A timeline is published here. NPfIT is generally conceded to have spent £10.7bn by the government in 2013, when it was definitively shutdown. Claims have been made that slightly more than this was delivered in value. Realistic analyses such as the one linked to from the image at the top of this post show that the realised benefits are miniscule. Right now, the benefits for ‘Choose and Book’ can probably also be written off, as it is no longer generally used. I would guess the only benefits that those in the industry would agree were actually realised are N3, the secure NHS network and possibly NHS mail. The Spine supplies…

View original post 572 more words

Broen på Kolsås

7 Oct

I Heggelikroken på Kolsås, der turstien begynner, der gartneriet i sin tid stod, går en bro over bekken.


Vi ser den og undres over hva en slik vakker bro gjør akkurat her? Den leder fra en gruslagt plass inn på en velholdt plen i en privat hage, og er bygget med gamle jernbanesviller og et vakkert smijernsrekkverk. Broen er svært dekorativ, javel, men inviterer til en trafikk som det verken er grunnlag for eller ønske om! Den er en slags bro til ingensteds – har jeg tenkt.

I dag snakket jeg med broens opphavsmann. Da hans datter var liten, for mer enn 40 år siden, bygget han den første broen for at hun lettere skulle kunne være sammen med gartnerens hjertesyke datter. Den opprinnelige broen var noe enklere, men fylte sin rolle. Den hjertesyke jenta døde på operasjonsbordet da hun var omlag 12 år gammel.

En ny bro ble bygget noe senere; kanskje et flott smijernsrekkverk dukket opp hos en skraphandler og sådde frøet til nyskapningen.

For den som kjenner dens historie står den der som et minnesmerke over gammelt vennskap .

Trip to Stockholm with ABUK 2018

4 Oct

Potato holiday in Norway – off to Stockholm with ABUK, the “Asker and Bærum Youth Winds” – with the odd musician from Oslo, and even Italy. ABUK offers young adults aged 13-18 the possibility to play at a more advanced level than that afforded by the school bands that are their main affiliation. (cont below photos)


We travelled by train and stayed at the Zinkensdamm. This is a hostel of sorts located in a quiet part of Södermalm. No frills, no thrills, but well run and cheap. Perfect for us, and the nearest McFlurry was less than ten minutes away!

I really enjoyed Skansen and the ABBA museum, for similar reasons: nostalgia, and down to earth Swedishness. ABBA has been part of my life since I was about 8 or 9, when “Mamma Mia” came out. “Knowing me Knowing you” was the soundtrack to my visits to Tromsø and the Kroken downhill slope with its lift that was forever breaking down and its poorly maintained “pistes”. The interviews with Annifrid and Agneta stood out. One self-possessed and sure of herself, the other much less so. I went back and looked at the photos. You can see it all the way. “Arrival”, “The Album” – I bought them myself, and “Fernando” on 45rpm, played it to bits. Last night I hooked the Mac to my old hifi and turned up the volume on Knowing me – knowing you from Spotify. Listen to the bass line – and not just on this one.

Stockholm. Clean, tranquil, uncrowded, polite, cool, efficient, expensive. Imposing buildings, boulevards and squares. Not so cozy; not like Copenhagen, no, not at all. Here it made sense to hum “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty.

The kids. They´re musicians. They don´t have fancy handbags and fancy clothes. And they are probably not the coolest kids in school. But they act like most kids – except as a group they are incredibly easy to manage. And then they have an ace up their sleeve. They unpack their instruments, a particular, focused light comes on in their eyes, and they become an orchestra. Gets me every time.