Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Crake, the little bird that became a twitcher star

Is this it?
Dear Normal People,
          The bird world is all of a twitter. It’s far worse than if every Twitter fanatic tweeted all at once.
         For most twitchers it only happens once in a life time if they are very, very, lucky.
       They go crazy and migrate to the scene like army ants on the move.
         They have to be able to say they’ve seen it. It’s the epitome of every bird lover’s existence.
         And as nobody’s word is ever good enough, long lenses have to be poking out from behind every bush and clump of reeds to record the event; to provide conclusive proof that nobody can dispute.
No I think it's this one
         When I tell you it was a Crake  even your average enthusiasts might not know what I’m talking about?
         I didn’t know either until it landed not far from my house in a Cape Town marsh for the first time ever.
You are wrong. Here it is.
         Then all the experts fluttered around trying to work out which one of this species had stupidly landed in the wrong place at the wrong time of year. They tossed coins to decide whether it was the Striped, Spotted or Baillon’s variety, because let’s face it one Crake looks much like another.

         Everybody breathed a sigh of relief when one of the coins fell with the Little Crake side up. Porgana Parva to its intimate friends and it was female. But don't rub it in about the fairer sex having no sense of direction.

This is so rare that my South African bird book doesn’t even mention it. But then my edition dates back to Audubon’s time so perhaps I mustn’t be too critical.
         When word got out people flew from everywhere. Families had burnt dinners as mothers left everything and dashed to the vlei to see this rarity.
       It seems that if you are a Crake that wants to make a name for yourself and fool the twitchers into thinking you are something special all you have to do is fly in the wrong direction. It’s a simple as that. And they’ll love you for it. 
Some don't know their Crake from their Eagle
         It’s nothing special really. It’s a dirty brown colour and it skulks around among water weeds and grass trying its best to maintain its never-seen value.
         An Eastern European/Asian species it has just become a star by losing its Garmin and ending up at the bottom of Africa instead of back home after wintering in the North of the continent.
Yes, yes this is it. It's the one we saw the first
         Unfortunately it arrived in the Cape just in time for the beginning of our snowy, wet and windy season. I hope it’s got its woollies on.
         It’s got a bird brain alright. That’s one thing the top ornithologists have all agreed upon.
        Then there are some misguided people (I’m not one of them I must add) who say the same thing about that flock of humanity that came to see the Crake of their dreams only to find it was rarer than they expected, and had departed, possibly back to where it should have gone in the first place.
         I’m sorry I missed it too.
         Jon, a bird lover, who prefers watching them on the beach with his high powered binoculars, than up to his ears in a bog somewhere.

Buy my book ‘Where have all the children gone?’ on Amazon Kindle  It’s a thriller with an underlying love story that defied generations of prejudice.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dolce & Gabbana have no Bananas today

Is this one of your creations
Dear Domenico Dolce & Stefano Gabbana,
         Big companies are something else. When you start pulling their tails they have absolutely no sense of humour so don’t even try selling them the slightest smile even at a huge discount.
         There’s nothing they like more than using their impressive, financial muscle to bully the little man or woman into submission with the help of an army of expensive lawyers.
         And you guys, as the founders of the Milan fashion house of Dolce & Gabbana have done just that. You have shown how pathetic you are by being completely unable to laugh at yourselves or anything else it would seem.
The Brothers Grim with Kylie Minogue
         Is business absolutely everything to you? Is it too serious for you to have a giggle and laugh off an upstart of a woman trying to pull your legs at the other end of the world?
        Mind you I think you were right. You couldn’t possible have a tiny shop in the fishing village of Hout Bay in Cape Town monkeying you around by calling itself Dolce & Banana.
            But as you rightly said in the 300 page dossier you presented to the High Court in Cape Town, Mijou Beller’s jewellery and gifts made of sea shells and beads by poor Blacks was "diluting the name of your luxury brand."
         I hope you don’t mind me asking but is the name of your business that turns over something like $2-billion dollars a year that fragile? If it is then I completely understand why you were so determined to skin Beller alive, banana and all.
         In the court papers your board member Christiana Ruella expressed concern about Dolce & Banana’s connection to the Hout Bay Fashion Week. You had good reason to be worried.
Don’t’ think it only happens in Europe and America. 
The Hout Bay Fashion Week is huge. It makes the ones run by Mercedes Benz look like a little girl’s party.
It’s been going for years and all the big names (excluding yours of course) like Donna Koran, Armani, Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein etc have their stuff there.
Stop smiling Mijou, this is serious
But the star of the show has consistently been Mijou Beller with her bargain, beaded bags and other trinkets. 
         Actually you should be thankful that at least part of your name was featured at such a very important event in the fashion calendar.
Banana Split. Banana goes solo as exotic
as ever
         You certainly weren’t joking when you forced this poor woman to remove the name Dolce from her shop. Now you are hammering home your point by asking her to pay R100 000 towards your R250 000 legal costs. 
        You don’t by any chance need the money to help sort out that little matter of what you guys described as the thieving Italian tax authorities trying to nail you for $562-million in back taxes? Well if you do I’m sorry Mijou can't pay you.
Mail on Line Report

         I know big business doesn’t worry about these things, but if you put her under three poor, Black women with a lot of other equally poor people depending on them, will be penniless as well.  But as they are not likely to be able to buy any of your designer gear, who cares. That’s business.
         It’s ridiculous how seriously you took this woman’s just for a lark business name as well as the Fashion Week that was a figment of her imagination that she put on her blog as a joke.
A Hout Bay house party
         Whose idea was it to put this laughable gem in the court papers that showed just how your lack of self confidence was showing? "There is every probability that the use of Dolce & Banana in relation to jewellery and T-shirts, as well as their involvement with fashion weeks, would cause deception or confusion."
         If you had done a survey in Hout Bay you would have been lucky to have found a handful of people who had ever heard of Dolce & Banana, Dolce & Pineapple or even, what’s that name you call your fashion house? Oh yes, Dolce & B..... sorry I keep forgetting its Gabbana.
         So Mijou and her little shop have actually done you a great service. Now everybody knows you in Hout Bay and in a lot of other places as well.
         Publicity like that would have cost you millions and you got it for a measly quarter of a million. Just claim it off tax; leave Mijou and her Black assistants to get on with the shop that is their livelihood and try for once in your lives to see the funny side.
         A lot of people were very amused by this mickey taking exercise that was made even more hilarious by your blustering, intimidating approach. People always love a David and Goliath encounter and heaven forbid if Goliath comes out on top, it still does nothing to enhanced his reputation.
         Unfashionably yours,
         Jon, David’s Big Brother.
P.S. Sorry guys I tried to stop little Jonnie from expressing his opinion, but I was too late.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

ESPN should cover Zoo Hunting

Dear American Nature Lovers,
Did you know that hunting will soon be allowed in all your zoos?
It’s being done as a last ditch effort to satisfy that lust for shooting and killing that is endemic in your culture that is supposed to be the most civilised in the world.
The authorities are hoping that this will finally eradicate gunmen rampaging through schools and the like firing at anything that moves just for the fun of it.
But don’t get too upset. When you think about it, this is not very different from what has been going on for years.
Is sitting in a tree-house in a wood until an unsuspecting, defenceless deer wanders within a few feet of you, so that you can effortless get it into the cross hairs of your high powered rifle, any different from walking up to it when it is caged in a zoo?
Either way the animal has no chance.
Some people call this sport. But if only one competitor has a chance of winning what satisfaction is there in that.
ESPN, that Worldwide Leader in Sports, has no compunction about showing us all just how sporting you Yanks are when you have a gun in your hand.
Hunters are camouflaged like front line troops; they put out life like decoys of every description and have a variety of aids to mimic the mating calls of every animal or bird imaginable.
That ensures that they cannot miss.
Our brave little rich boy hunters are on the right grinning away
Not content with mowing down your own wild life they are making names for themselves in Africa.
But they are never brave enough to go walking into the bush by themselves to bag a lion; an elephant or any of the other BIG FIVE.
Oh! No. They’ve always got an army of bodyguards led by an experienced, crackshot White hunter. It would be disastrous for the lucrative safari business if a rich client was eaten or trampled to death while in their care.
Those kitties look so peaceful don't they
So they continue the slaughter that they have perfected so well at home in the US of A, all in the name of Sport.
Watching ESPN on TV the other day I was appalled to see Tony Makris, that intrepid host of Under Wild Skies being driven to the bank of a large river. There he lay down, steadied his rifle on a bank and fired at a bull hippo weighing something like 3 tonnes that was wallowing in the muddy water hardly a 100 yards away.
He and his White hunter minder were so irresponsible that when the animal disappeared into the murky depths of the river they had no way of knowing if it had only been wounded or killed.
Their irresponsibility went even further because the White hunter then sent his two Black trackers into the crocodile infested water clutching rubber inner tubes to look for an animal that kills more people in Africa than any other species.
Inexplicably our experienced White chaperon didn’t know that most Africans can’t swim, so the drama soon took another dangerous turn. The White hunter then had to dive in to rescue his men while brave Tony stood guard safely on the river bank.
Still uncertain as to whether the beast had died or had swum off to lick its wounds the party waited several hours before being relieved to see the massive carcass float to the surface.
Perfect for the mantelpiece
You have to have a huge wall to mount a hippo head on it or a lounge the size of a football field to have the entire stuffed animal standing in the middle.
As if this was not a bad enough example of Americans on safari in Africa, Donald Trump’s two sons Donald jr and Eric have hit the headlines.
Old man Trump, now 65 is the billionaire businessman who is the kingpin of the reality show The Apprentice. So as you would expect his sons had no problem in going on a money-is-no-object African killing spree.
You need a bazooka for this one
Judging by their trophy list which has been splashed all over the internet they shot just about everything they could see including an elephant, a leopard and a buffalo.
Even a little spotted civet cat was on the list. That’s a pussy. Shooting one of these is the equivalent of a little boy with a pellet gun taking out the pet tom belonging to the old lady nextdoor. It is equally mindless.
         Comedian Nik Rabinowitz let us into the secret of what the brothers shout out at every kill: Bang, you're fired.
We can only hope that the worldwide, bad publicity the boys attracted will trump any more of their African slaughter-for-fun expeditions. But there doesn’t seem to be much chance of that when a defiant Donald jr said, I’m a hunter and I won’t cower from that because of some losers.
Presumably if you haven’t got a filthy rich dad you are a Loser.
See you at the zoo with your rifle,
Jon, who has to confess that he once shot four mice, two rats and killed ten grasshoppers in Africa at the age of five.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Big,Bad,Bad First National Bank

Dear Michael Jordaan, Chief Executive of First National Bank,
         The scary thing is that if it has been allowed to go on for so long at one of your 700 odd branches could it also be this bad at some of the others?
         A cancer like this could eventually destroy your entire empire.
         Have you or any of your executives ever been to the Long Beach Mall branch in Cape Town and looked at the Give us your thoughts book in which clients give you feedback about the standard of your service?
         The one there now only goes back as far as August last year thank goodness because that’s more than shocking enough.
The majority of what’s there is a terrible indictment of FNB’s management.
But the worst part is that it has been allowed to fester away for years without anybody doing a thing about it.
         If I was you I would remove this record of the Worst Service I have ever experienced. All it’s doing is telling everybody who cares to look how FNB’s management has failed dismally.
         I hate to say I told you so, but I did more than two years ago. And I even wrote about it on my blog. If you remember yours was the Bad of Good and Bad Banks (December 2010).
         Here are some of the hair-raising extracts from this litany of how not to run a business of any kind.
         26/8/11 Once again no service. Only 2 tellers. It’s Friday. The worst service in FNB – Brian Mitchell.
         26/8/11 Easily the worst FNB branch in the country. This is my second complaint about service. Nobody cares – Brad Bell.
         2/9/11 This is the worst service I have ever experienced in a bank – Rob Dent.
         21/10/11 Have never had feedback re shocking service here – Lynn Jenkine.
         These are followed by other anonymous ones just as damaging.
         "Rather close the branch."
         "Who’s reading our comments and is not doing anything about them?  Definitely changing banks soon."
         "Goodbye. Hello Capitec (bank)."
         "Welcome to 3rd World Banking."
         "Where ever I am in this bank everybody around me is upset and angry – no service."
         Then there is the one that is perhaps the most telling of all. It was possibly written by somebody who works at the branch.
         "It’s not the teller’s fault. It’s all the supervisors and senior people’s fault. One supervisor ran away."
         Whoever wrote that can say that again. The senior people are entirely to blame.
         Heads should roll don’t you think Michael? The question is whose?
         Last week my wife Gayle went to the branch to pay money into our daughter’s account. She walked out on three days because the queues were so long and finally paid the money in after a half an hour wait. There was only one teller and it was Saturday morning!
         As you know when I told you about my wife’s experience you asked Barry de Witt your CEO of Branch Banking to investigate and contact me. All he did was to get the poor woman who was only appointed the branch manager two months ago to phone me.
         "Talk about running for cover in the face of the enemy and passing the buck," I then told you. "Evidently Barry didn't have the courage to contact me," my email went on. "Your manager is powerless to do anything about the situation if you and top management are not prepared to do anything.
         "In the same Mall there is Absa, Nedbank and Standard and I have been into all of them and I have never once had the same bad experience as my wife and I have had at the FNB branch."
         Soon afterwards Barry phoned to say he was looking into it. About time wouldn’t you say after three or perhaps more years of horrible service that everybody in your bank should have been aware of?
         He followed this with an email saying, "We have arranged to increase staff numbers." He didn’t say by how many so only time will tell whether things will improve or if the branch will remain as a monument to BAD, BAD Service.
         Jon, the Consumer Watchdog with dogged determination.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Big business turns on little man with 'brilliant concept.'

Dear Small Business Owners,
        It all started with a newspaper advert offering a return of R2-million on a R100 000 investment in four years. Was it too good to be true or genuine I wondered.
         So I looked at the N-Tyre Solutions share offer on the internet and the glowing references from two very large, established companies were enough to convince anybody that Kevin Pearman’s tyre monitoring invention for trucks was a winner.
         The letters were from the South African arm of the Japanese owned Bridgestone, the world’s largest tyre and rubber corporation, and Imperial Flexifleet (now Eqstra Flexifleet), one of SA’s leading fleet management companies.
         Bridgestone believed the system would have huge long term benefits to transporters.

         The Imperial letter was even more impressive. It explained that the company operated more than 4 000 units with an annual tyre replacement budget of R151-million.
After referring to the possibility of obtaining a shareholding in N-Tyre having tested the unit, it went on, We have absolutely no hesitation, whatsoever to recommend the use of N-Tyre Solutions to any operator in the transport industry.
        But when I checked the authenticity of the letters these big companies changed their tune dramatically
         Rodney Selbst, Bridgestone’s SA company secretary, at first denied his firm had ever recommended N-Tyre. He soon had to eat his words when Kevin produced a letter written 10 years earlier by Marcus Haw, Bridgestone’s Fleet Manager – Technical Services.
         Haw had evidently put his foot in it by stating, The tyre saving potential of such a system is enormous.
Hardly what you want to hear if you are in the tyre business.
         No wonder Selbst did his best to discredit this letter when he told me that Haw was now an ex-employee and he had never been authorised to endorse N-Tyre’s system. He added that had they been asked they would not have given their consent to have their company’s name used in this promotion and he would be asking for the letter to be withdrawn.
          It became even more mystifying when I contacted John Loxton,  Managing Director of Eqstra Flexfleet. He accepted that his firm had written the letter that appeared on the web. And that they were impressed with the initial findings of the unit they had on one of their trucks, but it was so long ago he couldn’t remember when it was.
However they had some concerns about the viability of the product even though the concept is brilliant.
         What he said next gave the impression that his company wouldn’t touch the N-Tyre system with a barge pole. We have not endorsed the N-Tyre product and we have never invested one cent in it.  
         I may be a bit dense but isn’t what I quoted earlier from his firm’s letter about having absolutely no hesitation, whatsoever to recommend the use of N-Tyre Solutions etc, etc an endorsement?
         Loxton pooh-poohed the idea that R100 000 could be turned into R2-million in four years.
         Kevin countered by sending me a copy of an email he had received just two months earlier.
Inexplicably it was from Clinton Ferriera, Loxton’s Financial General Manager offering to buy all the shares in N-Tyre Solutions.
         Kevin expressed surprise that Loxton couldn’t remember when his unit had been on test because he claimed that Eqstra had it on a Clover Dairies truck for two years without any problems as recently as 2008. 
         And when I asked Loxton to clarify all the double speak he fell back on the old businessman’s crutch by saying, Speak to my lawyer. You would have thought we were involved in some kind of court case.
         Even Kevin was totally at a loss as to what could be going on behind the scenes.    

 In 2003 when his system was in the early stages of development it won design awards from Deloitte, the second largest professional services network in the world, as well as South Africa’s Bureau of Standards and the Age of Innovation & Sustainability accolade. Since then he has been perfecting and testing the unit and has recently produced the first 1 000.
         He claims that in the early stages it was seen as such a threat to a certain large manufacture that he was offered $10-million for the rights so that it could quash the whole idea. A secrecy agreement he signed prevents him naming this company.
       So I will leave you to guess who would want to eradicate a system that enables truckers to make huge tyre savings.
         Jon, a Champion of the Underdog.

P.S. When he won all those design awards a local paper tipped Kevin to become as rich as Mark Shuttelworth, the South African who became an overnight IT billionaire.
Buy my book 'Where have all the children gone?' on Amazon Kindle  It's a thriller with an underlying love story that defied generations of Afrikaner/English prejudice.