Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Benjamin Squirrel - funeral organiser from Hell

Dear Writers everywhere,
         I wouldn’t wish this on you or anybody.
Five of us in the Chapel, me crying. Listened to 4/5 songs and it was over. I filled the coffin with 6/7 bunches of flowers and a picture of us together. Ben did a crap job. No friends invited, no cards, no flowers – just mine, No respect.
What an appalling epitaph for any one and it is so much worse if you were closely related to the person who died and were unable to do anything about it.
Death gives no second chances.
That was the email I got three years ago from my son Simon and I have been agonizing over it ever since. It was bad enough that she had died in such tragic circumstances, but to hear that the man she had been living with for some 20 years had been as heartless in the end as to give her such a deplorable send off made my blood boil.
         A "crap job", was a huge understatement. She needed to be treated with dignity which didn’t feature anywhere in Ben’s idea of a funeral. It was deplorable. And this was especially so as he was not some uneducated bumpkin, but a London barrister at the top of the legal fraternity.
         Could a book I wrote have been an uncanny prediction of what was to happen to my daughter?
         At the time it had not even been published and she had no idea I had written it. As a journalist I don’t normally believe in the supernatural, but I can’t help wondering if she would still be alive today if it hadn’t been for that book.
         It was based on one of my cases when I was running my own private eye business, which I turned to after leaving newspapers. A young girl mysteriously fell to her death from the 15th floor of a block of flats in Johannesburg. 
Samantha when I last saw her
       To my horror my daughter Samantha did much the same thing. She had been a teacher at the Victor Seymour Infants School in the London borough of Carshalton and was living with her barrister partner, Benjamin Squirrel.
         Squirrel, a member of the Criminal Bar Association, has been involved in some of Britain’s most sensational trials. These included the happy slapping case in which a teenage girl made British legal history when she was prosecuted for using a mobile phone to film a man while he was being beaten to death by two young thugs.
         Another of Squirrel’s cases was that of Anton Gelonkin, who perpetrated one of the country’s largest identity frauds. The chairman of a Russian bank he disappeared during the 1995 collapse of the Moscow City Bank and later turned up in Britain where he used various aliases to commit the crimes.
         Simon, who lives in Jersey, told me his sister never wanted to have children. "She had Bosco to replace our Mum who died suddenly aged 68, he said.
       "Bosco was only seven weeks old" he went on, "when Samantha became very depressed. To try and cheer her up Ben and his mother Ingrid took her out for the day. And while they were sitting at a cafĂ© she got up, passed the baby to Ingrid and ran off.
        Ben phoned her and asked if he could come and fetch her but she shouted, ‘NO’."
       Soon afterwards she was dead. She had jumped off the seventh floor of the car park near the Sutton Council’s civic offices in London. She was 41.
         Simon and Samantha’s mother Julianne and I were divorced 37 years before my daughter’s death. At the time we were living in South Africa and she returned to her home town of Exeter with the two children.
         Unfortunately she poisoned them against me. Sadly Samantha would have nothing to do with me after she grew up, although I did have some contact with Simon.
Ben, who I only knew of after Samantha’s death, also refused to acknowledge me, so it looks as though I will never, ever be able to see my grandson.
             From the little that Simon told me about Samantha’s funeral, to which I was not invited, it was just as weird as the one for the girl in my book. In his email Simon described how Ben and his brother, and two of his mates, collected the body from the hospital and took it in his Jeep to be cremated.
          It was what happened then that upset Simon so much, not only because it was a final goodbye to his only sibling, but because of the indifferent way it was conducted.
What got into Ben I will never know? Why didn’t he give her a proper farewell? The staff at the school where she taught as well as parents of the children would surely have wanted to attend. They must have been shocked at his callous behaviour.
Most dogs get a better funeral than that.
        Have all those crime cases influenced him for the worst?
         Set in England and South Africa (1930 -1985) my book, which is a mixture of fact and fiction, ends with this: "Nobody who gets divorced should ever use their children as a means of getting their own back. And nobody ever wants to write a novel that has a real life ending like this."
        I hope Ben will remember that part about not using children to get your own back. As things stand it’s clear that he has no intention of ever letting me near Bosco and I’ll probably be dead by the time the boy is old enough to make up his own mind.
         Sadly yours,
         Jon, a father who like a lot of other people, wishes he could turn the clock back.

P.S. At the time of my daughter's death you could find Squirrel's profile, complete with photo, on the Internet. Not any more. After that funeral he is rightly hiding his head in shame.
Note. He  has now reappeared & here he is

Men blowing up the World

Dear Men,
        What do you think you are doing to our planet?
        You are busy destroying it deep sigh, after deep sigh.
        Pleas from your wives and girl friends are totally ignored. You don’t seem to realise that by continuing with your selfish behaviour you could take us all down, you men included.
        So stop it now otherwise I’ll have to put my wife Gayle onto you – all 5ft of her. And you won’t like that one bit I can tell you.
        What the devil am I talking about you will no doubt be asking.
        Well the result of a very important study has just been released. But like so many of these scientific wonders it has neglected to mention what effect men, doing much the same thing, are having on our world right now.
        In a climate change finding researchers have calculated that the farting of dinosaurs could have put enough methane into the atmosphere to warm the planet during the Mesozoic period. Of course you all know when that was.
        In case you don’t it was just the other day between 250-million and 65-million years ago. It was also known as the Age of the Reptiles and ended with another spectacular extinction.      
        All has been revealed in the publication Current Biology, which is rather odd because there is nothing current about what was supposed to have happened millions of years ago.
        Researcher Dave Wilkinson of Liverpool’s John Moores University reckons they have established by a simple mathematical model that the microbes living in dinosaurs could have produced enough methane to have had an important effect on the climate in those days.
       Methane is a greenhouse gas that has huge global warming dangers so you would think that Wilkinson and his colleagues would be better employed doing simple mathematical calculations to work out what you men are doing to the world NOW.
        Alright I accept that you are by no means the size of dinosaurs which weighed something like 20 tons, but there are of a lot more of you.
        According to my rough calculations there could be three billion of you on this planet and as any woman will tell you that amounts to one hell of a methane cloud, which will soon make us as extinct as the dinosaurs if you don’t show a lot more control.
        So put a sock in it or something.
        Don’t try saying what about you, because as my wife will tell you I know myself better than anybody and I have never, ever contributed the slightest puff to that methane cloud that you guys are so proud of.
        But I can’t say the same about Toddy, the dog in our house.
        Yours happily
Jon, a Non Farter if there ever was one.

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

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Napoli Trattoria a la pornographic

Dear Diner’s everywhere,
If you want a really tasteless evening out, surprisingly not from the point of the food, try Napoli Trattoria owned I am told by Bernardo Napoli.
It is colourfully decorated inside with flags and other souvenirs around the place and it takes a bit of time to adjust to the dim lighting. So it was a while before we noticed the tasteless decoration hanging on the wall just above my wife Gayle’s head (see pic).
Does Cape Town’s restaurant licensing authority approved of pornographic eating houses, I wonder. Do children have to be accompanied by an adult if they eat at this trattoria?
It is described as an old fashioned Italian style restaurant and is in the Main Road of Fish Hoek, one of the Southern suburbs of Cape Town.
Bernardo evidently believes in telling his guests exactly what’s on his mind. And what was on his mind turned out in our case to be as tasteless as what was hanging on the wall.
When my wife and I decided to take two friends there we were embarrassed from the start as each table had a scruffy note in the middle saying the credit card machine was not working. But as that is the facility normally provided by just about every restaurant, that was how we had intended to pay.
So we started the evening off by having to worry as to whether we had enough cash on us to pay.
Bernardo unconvincingly assured us we could pay the following day if necessary, and when he complained about what the banks charged for a card service it got us wondering as to when he last took credit cards.
His disposition changed when I ordered a Hawaiian pizza from the menu. He berated me for having this American shit and not ordering something Italian like the rest of us. Are you an American? he asked as if that was some kind of affliction.
Cape Town's Table Mountain cableway
This was hardly the recommended recipe for how to treat diners in this tourist Mecca at the Southern tip of Africa.
The bill came to R415. The evening was supposed to be on us but all we could raise was R220 so our guests coughed up another R210, which we borrowed from them, to enable us to hand over R430 to mine host.
That’s when Bernardo exploded. At the top of his voice in this very small establishment this short, stocky man told us that we should give a tip of at least R40. He accused us of being very mean.
But the tasteless evening was not over yet.
After we had gone to our car my slim, diminutive, five foot tall wife returned by herself and told Bernardo that his behaviour had been unacceptable. She pointed out that the only reason that we couldn’t pay any more as far as the tip was concerned was because we couldn’t use our credit card and had to scrounge money from out guests.
He was not the least bit repentant and got into another slanging match with her saying among other things that he had seen that one of our guests had a lot of money in his wallet.
So if you want to risk Bernardo’s wrath, Napoli Trattoria is the place to eat. Just remember to bring enough money because you can’t use a credit card and he decides how much you must tip.  
And don’t bring the kids unless you are not concerned about giving them a porno experience.
Jon, the Consumer Watchdog, who does look at porn but not while he’s eating.  

P.S. The Film and Publications Board, which controls these things, is currently trying to make the difficult decision as to whether or not what’s on the wall at this trattoria is in fact pornographic under the Act before it can determine a course of action. Being a Government department this might take some time.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dropping her skirt in public

Dear Mushroom Fans,
        Here she is in all her glory. I say she because she showed all the characteristics of the female of the species.
        First she appeared over night in our Cape Town garden dressed in white just like a bride.
        A day later – well I won’t tell you just yet what she did then. Suffice to say it was not very ladylike.
       Being Mushroom lovers you’ll know who I am talking about. She is Coprinus Comatus, the choicest of her ink cap group with the not too complimentary common names of Shaggy Mane (not Shagging Dame) or Lawyer’s Wig.
       As high as 15 cm they grow in lawns and especially in recently turned soil.
       Trying to identify the lady I contacted a mushroom farm where I was told, I wouldn’t eat it if I was you.
They could not have been more wrong.
        It is described in all the reference books as perfectly edible, in fact delicious.
        But watch out for her cousin Coprinus Atramentarius. She is a real smoothy, but not nearly as beautiful as Comatus and she has a particularly wicked streak.
Her pet hate is alcoholism, in fact anybody who even touches the stuff.
        Although she is perfectly edible, don’t try taking something as mild as a glass of wine when she is on the menu. You’ll know all about the evils of drink if she catches up with your tipple.
        The mixture induces alarming symptoms like vomiting, palpitations and you’ll go red in the face. You’ll think you have eaten a poisonous toadstool and are about to meet your maker.
        But it’s not as bad as you might think. It’s just that because she doesn’t like boozers she has made her own antidote, but it’s not lethal.  It is similar to Antabuse, a drug used to treat alcoholism.
           Could they be the answer to South Africa' s drunk driving problem? The Government could feed them to the Nation for free.
       To get back to the lifestyle of that beauty I started with.
On the second night, without batting an eyelid, she dropped her skirt and ended up with an immaculate bob hairstyle. What was left of the skirt appeared as a black ring round her ankles.
        The next night rain turned her hair into what most women look like after they have been in the shower.
        In the next day or two she aged rapidly and withered away as she spread her spores all over the place to produce the next generation of delicious, edible mushrooms that look too deadly for most people to try.
        Your food lover,
        Jon, who is busy heating up the frying pan ready for the babies.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Noseweek exposes Dearjon Letter

Dear Ray Hartley Editor of the Sunday Times,
         As you probably know by now Noseweek, South Africa’s only investigative magazine, has published a slightly shortened version of this letter in its May edition. But I thought you would like to read the original. So here it is.
*   *   *   *
        It’s deplorable the way your paper has been promoting crooks for years. This is especially so as the Sunday Times likes to brag that its team of investigative reporters are there to do just the opposite.
         Do you know what I’m talking about? Well you should if you watched Carte Blanche’s expose` on TV the other night.
        It was about the activities of two wide boys Kevin Cholwich and Francois Buys. They were said to have defrauded a host of people out of a total of more than R100-million over the last few years with a variety of scams.

News Flash 13/05/2012: BUYS commited suicide last week by hanging himself.
          But where the Sunday Times comes in was that two of their companies that were mentioned were Whoopee and Geo Connect.
         So what, you might ask? What’s that got to do with a paper that is believed by over 3-million readers a week?
The answer is that you have been carrying Whoopee and Geo Connect advertisements and various other suspect ones that promote get-rich-quick schemes.
And all my efforts to get you to stop have come to nothing.
         "We can’t be expected to check every ad that appears in the paper," you could argue. "That’s why we specifically warn investors to be careful where they put their money."
         Sorry that won’t wash in this case. I have been campaigning for more than three years to get your paper to stop these ads because they could harm a lot of people, particularly pensioners and those who can least afford to lose their savings.  
         I first complained to Thabo Leshilo in 2009 shortly after he had been appointed the Public Editor for the Avusa Group (Sunday Times, The Times, Sowetan etc). This Harvard educated, former editor of several Avusa papers, was billed as the Group Ombudsman.
         He apparently agreed with me judging by the story he wrote in the Sunday Times headed Taking a stand on unsavoury adverts. The report mentioned my name and implied that something was going to be done to ensure this kind of advertising no longer appeared.
As he put it ads, "like the rest of the paper had to be believable."
        Tragically it didn’t take long for your paper to revert back to its old ways. So I complained to the Press Council that it had not kept its word, but Thabo claimed to have no knowledge of the article. Unfortunately I had not kept a copy and it was nowhere to be found on the internet, so my complaint was dismissed.
         At one stage I accused him of being a window dressing appointment who had not been given the power to deal with complaints effectively.  He replied that he had been "agonising over this." Soon afterwards he disappeared without a trace and even Google still says he has the same job.
         The ads carried on appearing and I continued to complain.
         Thabo was succeeded, as you know, by veteran newsman Joe Latakgomo, who has an equally impressive pedigree. In the early days of his tenure he got upset with me because he felt I had accused him of being another lame ombudsman.
         But his subsequent reports in the Sunday Times and The Times have given little indication that he is anything other than a run of the mill columnist. I have only seen one that dealt with a specific complaint and that was mine. And even then he made no definite finding.
         In September last year he wrote an article headed Beware of dubious advertising claims.  And once again it looked as though your paper was finally going to stop aiding crooks.
         Joe told us that these come-ons "eroded the public’s trust in newspapers" and that "false advertising, or advertising that makes claims which are patently exaggerated, impacts on consumer confidence."
       Then he gave us this assurance: "We will continue as journalists to expose those who cheat and lie to our readers."
       Not only were these two scamsters not exposed in your paper, even though their dubious history of some 10 years or more was there for all to see on the internet, but the dicey ads continued.
         Now Carte Blanche has revealed that both Whoopee and Geo Connect were some of the many creations of the Cholwich-Buys team and people who invested in them lost the lot. So much for their money back guarantees given in your paper.
         One investor was Veronica Diedricks, a 47 year old former Telkom project manager who lives in Krugersdorp. This mother of two teenage boys put her entire pension payment of R250 000 that she had accumulated after 10 years of hard graft into Whoopee.
         She left Telkom because of white and black racial issues which meant the whites had little prospect of promotion and is now a contract worker for Nokia Siemens where she is "very happy." Her husband was retrenched and as neither of them gets a pension they were relying on the Whoopee investment to improve their lives. 
         Like many others she is not shouting whoopee, I can tell you. "Now money in my house is very scarce," she told me.
This was supposed to be a website linked to a call centre to enable people to advertise their businesses at a monthly fee. The men then took huge amounts for the privilege of becoming a licence holder in the scheme.  
Diedricks was promised R60 000 a month after 15 months, but all she got were a few payments of R28 and then last March a letter arrived saying the business had run out of money and was closing.
It had raked in R8-million.
Buys appeared on the TV show in tears as the duped partner who admitted very little. Cholwich was invited to give his side, but never did.
         Both men are unrehabilitated insolvents, who get people to front for them as directors of the companies. They have been going from one failed business to the next. Other names they have used include The Bare Essence, Phone Petrol, Prepaid Online, Duo Dial, Free Talk, Money Call, Dynamic Life and Xtreme Telecoms (its ads also appeared in the Sunday Times).
         A disgruntled former director has created a website for the sole purpose of warning people against the business practices of the two men.
         It claims that the motto they live by is "Fake it till you make it", and they certainly seem to have done that.
         The site, that includes pictures of theses smooth talkers, invites people to join its Justice 101 campaign to try and ensure that these con-men get what they deserve in a criminal court.
        I hope that you and your paper are proud of having helped them to fleece so many people, because without the huge exposure that the Sunday Times gave them, I doubt whether they would have left such a long trail of desperate, poverty stricken pensioners and bread winners in their wake.
         Your disgusted reader,
         Jon, the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman, who can’t say, "I told you", often enough.
         P.S. It’s not too late to give these two gentlemen the usual treatment that you meet out to corrupt Government officials and other individuals. The question is: "Are you man enough to do it?"                                     *   *   *   *
      When I told Bokkie Gerber, Editor of Rapport, South Africa's Afrikaans national Sunday paper to look a this post as it applied equally to his paper he replied: "Thanks. These kind of ads are a big concern. I have asked our ads department to take extra care to screen ads and not accept those with dodgy promises."
        His approach was totally different to that of the Sunday Times where no Editor ever admitted to me that there was anything wrong during my three year campaign to get the paper to stop taking these ads.