Thursday, December 26, 2013

Carols, snoozes and fans everywhere!

Greetings, and a very Merry Christmas to one and all!

It has been some time since my last post - a Conference and then the build-up to Christmas have meant that I have been a busy fellow, and not able to spare the half hour-plus needed to get a blog together. Apologies, and hopefully things will calm down enough for me to write a little more regularly

So - yesterday was Christmas. Our last at La Rochelle and what an extraordinary Christmas we had!

Those of you familiar with the hotel will know that I normally cater for 120+ on Christmas Day, and we usually serve lunch out by the pool. But this year, with the uncertainty as to how many staff we would have left, I decided to just cater for the in-house guests. The Lunch itself was unremarkable, with Haddock Pate, Tomato Soup with Gin, Baked Ham in Sherry/mustard Glaze or Stuffed Chicken, followed by Malt/Caramel/Chocolate Ice-cream or Brandied Fruit Pudding with Coffee and Mince Pies to end. Pretty standard stuff.

What was remarkable, extraordinary, and quite frankly very special, was the Carol Service we had on Christmas morning after breakfast. The hotel had been booked by a family, and they decided that they would like to have a carol service, instead of driving 17km into Mutare to Church. We also had staying with us an extremely talented pianist...... but no piano in the hotel.

So - what to do?

Quite simple really - after breakfast all the Guests wandered down to the school, where there is a piano. This photo is of the walk home, but you get the general idea: guests and family all over the show:

At the start of the service our pianist checked the instrument. The school was a little hot, but no-one seemed to mind, and we had seven carols and seven readings. Having watched the 'Kings Carol Service' (from Cambridge) on television the previous day, I can safely state that while we may not have matched their performance, we certainly didn't fall far short of it! Indeed, our participants far outshone their erstwhile counterparts in England for grace and decorum. Here is photographic evidence of the La Rochelle Christmas Service of 2013:

Not the most traditional of Christmas decorations - but colourful all the same. And painted palms on the walls instead of the usual pine tree....

For such a small gathering, (and here I am being a little modest), our singing was excellent! 'Hark the herald angels', 'Away in a manger', and 'Once in Royal David's city' rang out through the mountains with much enthusiasm

'Thank you' to our guests for an amazing and special memory!

After the service, Christmas lunch was served in the hotel lounge, and while I cooked for that, my family went into Mutare and had a Christmas lunch with my wife's cousin's family...

With my work done in a hot kitchen on a hot day, and with the family having fun in Mutare, there was just one course of action to be taken that afternoon. Two good friends and I climbed onto my daughters bed - which has the best breeze through the windows in the whole house, I changed into a dry shirt, and we put our heads down:

And thus was Christmas Day at la Rochelle 2013.

So what was the highlight of  the day? Well, my vote goes to the 'opening of the presents ceremony' because, quite by coincidence, two of our daughters asked for exactly the same thing. So we bought them each what they had asked for.

The burning question is this.... which of my daughters do you think has been extra good this year, and which has been really rather naughty. See if you can tell:


Have a special holiday, and Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Odd things that have happened.

Some really odd happenings. Today I have a melange of strange occurrences - and all quite interesting.

To begin with I have a copy of a report by Cynthia Hind - who was the top Ufologist in Zimbabwe before her death a couple of years ago. This report was brought to my attention by a previous guest - Patrice. As Della and I are shortly to leave La Rochelle, I thought it prudent to publish this article so that someone may remember it in the future. Whether you believe or not - it is indeed interesting!

Those of you who have been to La Rochelle may have heard me tell the story of the UFO landing which took place at the property in 1981. It was, and remains, the second-best-documented UFO 'incident' in Zimbabwe - the best-documented being the landing at a school in Ruwa. Della and I, I am convinced, actually saw that craft.... but we were not in Ruwa - we were in Victoria Falls. We were sitting at the outside bar at the Elephant Hills Hotel when we saw something very strange in the night sky the day before the kids at the school reported their encounter. But that is another story.

Here then, the La Rochelle incident. A contemporary report:

Location. La Rochelle near Mutare, Zimbabwe
Date: August 12 1981
Time: 1800

Twenty laborers returning from work in the fields at six o’clock, saw a fireball rolling across the grounds of La Rochelle, a Forestry Commission station some nine kilometers from Mutare in eastern Zimbabwe. In charge of the group was Clifford Muchena and he was as stunned as the others; they watched the one and a half meter diameter fireball move from one side of the lawns to the other, and then roll up the sloping lawn to an observation tower attached to the main house. “It walked up the wall of the tower” said Clifford “and entered the top window---then it burst into flame.”
Clifford rushed to ring the warning bell at the side of the house, to call one of the Game Wardens to come quickly. As he was ringing the bell, the fire ‘gathered into a ball again, came down the tower wall’ past Clifford, and then burst into flames again when it reached the Fantasy, an outbuilding which used to house the ex-owner’s orchids. Clifford ran to try and douse the flames, when he saw three men standing there with their backs to him. He was sure one of them was Andrew Connolley, a Game Warden and his Supervisor. He called out ‘Mr. Connolley, Mr. Connolley’ and slowly the men turned around, whereupon Clifford fell to the ground.
“I couldn’t see their faces because there was so much light shining from them that I had to put my hands up to protect my eyes. They were wearing shiny overalls…”
The power from the light forced Clifford to his knees and he remained there until the light went out. When he looked again, both the fireball and the men were gone.
“All the time I was very frightened” he said. Indeed the women in the compound, witnesses to the sighting, had run off into the bush with their children and were not easily persuaded to return. All the witnesses, including Naison Sampindi, Clifford Muchena, Eunice Kachiti, were convinced that what they had seen were ghosts, the spirits of their ancestors. Probably a shave, a lost spirit who has not found his way home because his descendants have not done their duty by him.

HC addition # 372
Source: Cynthia Hind, UFO Afrinews # 2

So - you be the judge!

On now to some photographs. Firstly, this astonishing image - can you guess what on earth is going on here?

Of course it was our end-of-term play put on by the children of the Penhalonga Correspondence Centre, located in the grounds of La Rochelle. This year was 'Goldilocks' - and here are the three bears...

Then the following attention-grabbing headline, and not, as you may surmise, from the Manica Post, but from Zimbabwe's 'premier' daily newspaper. It tells the tale of the dastardly plot by the United Kingdom to invade Zimbabwe!

And in case you are thinking I am joking - the details were confirmed by no less a person than the former President of Namibia, Sam Nujoma.

Why on earth the United Kingdom would want to 'invade' Zimbabwe is never adequately explained.

And in case you do not believe this is a Zimbabwean paper - the story on the left is about a woman attacked by a 'jumbo' - an elephant. If anyone wants me to sort out a subscription to this fine example of journalistic integrity - let me know!

Then this very strange sight which greeted me a several days ago, leading me to think the Berbers of North Africa had found their way to Zimbabwe:

But nothing quite so exotic - just Jim and Sue. Some of you may remember Jim from the post of 4th February 2103 titled 'You snooze, you don't necessarily lose!', when he fell asleep watching Superbowl, after waking me up at 01.30am to come and watch it.

Jim and Sue are good friends who undertake missionary work in Zimbabwe, and they stayed a few nights with me a couple of weeks ago. While they were here, we had an unexpected 'cold snap'. Being totally unprepared for cold weather and without warm clothing of any kind, they went to their rooms, grabbed their bath towels, wrapped themselves up snugly, and returned to the hotel lounge to sort out their emails!

This is such 'odd but practical behaviour' that I confer upon Jim & Sue the title of 'Honorary Zimbabweans'!

They even look like us:

Well... sort of! But how nice to have guests behaving oddly.

Have a great day!

Monday, December 9, 2013

And the 'Book of the Year' for 2013 is...

This past week has been a hectic one, with end-of-term plays, dinners, kid collections and carols. And in the middle of it all, we hosted a Book Club Dinner at La Rochelle.

Book Clubs may be an alien concept to those of you in the States and Europe who read this blog - never mind the rest of the world (amazingly we have regular readers from Ukraine, Russia, China and Norway! How do you think that happens? In fact, tells me that in my 'audience' statistics, after USA, UK, Zimbabwe, SA etc, positions 8 and 9 of most frequent page-views are 8 - Russia and 9 - Latvia. Latvia?? I can't even point that out on a map! If you are Latvian, and love this Blog - please email me at and tell who you are), so here is how a book club works....

A group of ladies (and here I use the word in the loosest possible sense) form a club - to swap books. Each member contributes new books on a regular basis, and every month they get together and return the books they have read, and take new ones. Because there are not that many bookshops in Zim, and certainly a very small offering in Mutare, this is a great way for the girls to get books, and it also provides for a 'social' once a month. Every December they have a Christmas dinner, and we have had the privilege of hosting this at La Rochelle for the past few years. Obviously with our forthcoming closure, this will be the last one we host. Sadly.

So here is evidence of this year's dinner. The one regular feature of the evening is that the ladies all wear the most beautiful eyelashes. And when they fall off, because they are occasionally a little heavy, they are replaced immediately...

So it was that we had some very well-made-up ladies gracing our hotel:

The meal was decent enough, starting with a pate from Oak-smoked Haddock with Herb Mayonnaise, followed by Tomato Soup with Gin, then a Baked Ham with Sherry glaze or Roast Rolled Chicken with Herb Stuffing served with Hollandaise, then Christmas Pudding or Belgian Chocolate Ice-cream, all rounded off with Mince Pies and Coffee. Here is the pate about to leave the kitchen...

The highlight of the evening (apart from the jokes about the wooden 'thingy' given as a gift in the Chinese Auction) was the selection of the 'Book Club Book of the Year', and for the first time ever, the vote was unanimous. Last year, in a very divided ballot, the winner was 'Fifty Shades of Grey', and this year it was...

Then I asked them to tell me who was the author of the book they all loved so much, and everyone knew the answer to that one....

What a Book Club of distinction this is!!!!

If you haven't read this fantastic book yet, please go to, look for the print version of 'Sorry for that!', and order your copy now!

Have a great day!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Can YOU spot the mistake?

Welcome to the longest Blog posting.....evah!

Simply because there are 10 photos this week - and this is because the blog is about a really busy weekend that my family had, hence a lot of photos.

The question is this - who do you think had the busiest weekend?

My middle daughter had to travel to Harare, where she attended a music lesson. This meant about 3 hours in all on a bus, a couple of hours waiting for her lesson, and then time being taught. Quite a busy weekend for her, then...

So did she have the busiest weekend?

My eldest daughter was invited to the Peterhouse Leavers' Dance. Any lady who has prepared for an evening like this knows that the couple of hours before you actually go to the dance are a busy time indeed. But the results are worth it....

Here is another pic of my daughter ready to go to the dance - and the party went on until somewhat after midnight. Closer to dawn actually. Her dress had small sparkles on it, and I think she looked pretty snappy!

The morning after the dance, the same daughter took part in a Charity Bed Race, representing Peterhouse Girls School - raising money in support of cancer. In teams of 5, they had to push a hospital bed through the streets of Harare, with one of the team as a 'patient' lying on the bed. Here is one of the competing teams....

Unfortunately the Peterhouse Girls' team was sabotaged by the state of the roads in Harare, and they badly buckled one of their wheels in one of the many potholes which abound. They had to finish the race, complete with bed, on the back of a pick-up...

So, a dance on Saturday, and a bed race on Sunday - quite a busy weekend for her.

But was it the busiest?

My youngest daughter spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday competing in a swimming gala (what the Americans call a 'swim meet') in Harare. Perhaps she was the busiest person over the weekend? Here she is - in Lane 2, wearing a blue swimming costume ('bathing suit' for you 'Mericans) and pink cap, adjusting her goggles. She is about to swim the 50m Freestyle, in which she made Finals...

Here is another photo of my daughter racing - just after the 'off'. I include it because I don't often manage to capture the perfect 'motion' photo - but I think this comes close...

So - three days of swimming - perhaps she was the busiest person that weekend?

Actually, the answer is... none of the above! The person who was harried and harassed the entire weekend, pretty much from start to finish, was the poor fellow manning the gates leading to the pool area. Here he is in all his glory, and the scowl on his face was there almost from dawn to dusk...

The problem was this: he had been given very strict instructions to keep the area in front of the gate clear so that ambulances and other emergency vehicles could gain access if required. However, much to his chagrin, everyone seemed to insist on parking right in front of his gate. There were several furious exchanges with drivers as he made them move their vehicles; fists were waved, insults were hurled, and his life was generally miserable. And very, very busy.

Here, then, is the gate to the Les Brown Aquatic Complex - leading from the car park area to the pool area, which he had responsibility for....

So why was the poor fellow being bothered by so many cars parking in front of his gate? Well the reason was simple - he forgot to close the one side of it, and this was the unambiguous instruction that greeted motorists as they made their way into the car park....

I didn't have the heart to tell him why he was having such a busy weekend!

Have a great day!

Monday, December 2, 2013

A hat for a kiss . . . and a kiss for a hat!

I'm back!

Apologies for the three week break in transmission, but I have been very busy 
a) taking one of my daughters to South Africa for medical examination,
b) trying (unsuccessfully) to give away all my worldly belongings to my staff, and
c) attending a rather special birthday party

And it is with the latter that we deal today.

Granny's 80th!

This was hosted in Johannesburg, and so we travelled down with one of my daughters who needed to see medical specialists in Johannesburg. Quite aside from the professionalism, we were blessed to meet some truly remarkable people, and hopefully she is on the road to recovery.

So - the birthday. As I said above - this was hosted in Johannesburg at the house of Les -  my wife's sister. We travelled down by car, and had just two occasions of any interest on the journey - the one being the longest 'nose-pick' I have ever had the misfortune to witness - in this instance performed by an Immigration Officer of the South African Border Staff (a lady one at that!), and the second being the effect of floods on the fields near Birchenough Bridge. The flooding occurred on our return journey, and the previous night we had taken taken two and a half hours to travel 80km from Beitbridge to the Lion and Elephant Hotel - so heavy was the rain. In fact, for much of that trip I would have been able, in my youth, to run faster than the car, so slow we were forced to travel by the torrential downpours that night. Here then the flooded fields the next morning (and fortunately I didn't have my camera at the ready for the nose-pick thing, which lasted well over a minute - much to my daughter's horror!)

The heavy rains and flooding of the fields were a disaster for the farmers, but some of the local kids who chanced on me taking the photos were not overly concerned about the loss of this year's crop in the background, and insisted that I capture them too. Indeed - the sight of a camera will often be greeted with demands for the photographer to 'take my card' (as photographs are called in Zim). So - here are some nameless children who go to school in the Birchenough Bridge area of Zimbabwe... just because!

To celebrate Granny's birthday, we had a family dinner, and the table, meal, wine and company were all of the very highest order...

In the morning we had tea and cake, and what a fine cake we had! This was confectionary of distinction, quite befitting of an eightieth birthday celebration , and filled with fruit, nuts, peels, carrots, honey, yoghurt and goodness knows what else....

One of the biggest hits in the 'birthday gift' department was..... a hat. It had been hand-made for Granny by Preacher (whom those of you familiar with my book will recall from the goblin stories!) and Granny was delighted with it. A personal gift is always so special....

Then there were the party games we played. However, because it was an 80th birthday, instead of hide and seek and blind man's bluff, we played a rather interesting game called 'a kiss for a hat'

The game was simple, and based on Granny's birthday hat. What happened was that one of the family would put the hat on, and another family member could claim it - by giving a kiss to the one wearing it. Obviously because of the huge diversity in ages, some members of the family didn't want to receive kisses from others, and some of the facial expressions were priceless. Here is my niece, Ali, attempting to claim the hat by planting a kiss firmly on the face of 'B' - one of the more sensible members of the family. And, 'B' was, to put it mildly, not so sure that he wanted a kiss from Ali.....

What a fine birthday we had!

Have a great day!!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Bats, bangs and Peter's house.

Today's blog is bouncing all over the place - a real mixed bag!

I had a response to last week's post of the animal kingdom invading La Rochelle, and I was asked by a Blog Reader whether or not we had bats flying in as well as kingfishers? Well they are here in numbers, and I simply never mentioned them because they are a constant, and not as a result of changing weather or freak hailstorms. Beneath the tower of the hotel is a crawl-space, and here lives a healthy colony of.......bats. Lots of them. They fly into the veranda of the hotel every evening seeking out the bugs attracted by the lights. So silent - you never even notice them until you look for them, as they are like fleeting shadows.

The following picture has been posted on the blog before - about a year or so ago, but it is a stunning photograph, and well worth repeating - just to prove to the White Horse Inn that.... yup, we got bats!

But there have been other visitors into the hotel. Yesterday morning a group of Americans were making their way to the car when they spotted this little fellow in the courtyard of La Rochelle. He is a centipede-eater (though I wrongly identified him to them as a slug-eater. I just got my bugs mixed up!) and he is extremely rare - only being found in this little patch of Zimbabwe, though he is found in other parts of Africa in different guises. In fact, the first time I found one, I thought it was a baby Spitting Cobra; only folk from these parts would know what he is. But a pretty snake all the same:

This past week we travelled to Peterhouse - the school that my daughters attend, for Speech Day. The night before the junior school, called Springvale House, always puts on a fireworks display - this being about the time of year that Guy Fawkes tried to blow his government up. (What an astute fellow he must have been!!). I am not a photographer, and my poor old camera has been through many wars, but I must say that though I took many pictures of dark and starless skies - I managed to get one 'bang' almost perfectly....

Before the ceremonies the following morning, tea and snacks were served under the shade of a large tree which dates back to my own time at Peterhouse. What an old tree it is! To the side and presiding serenely over the day-to-day life of the school, is the Chapel, where Prize-giving was to be held.

The Speech Day and Prize-giving Ceremonies took place in the Chapel - this is from the front looking back at the entrance

For folk from abroad, the concept of stained glass windows in Africa seems a strange one. This is a closer view of the stained glass window, which was commissioned especially for the Peterhouse Chapel, and which incorporates many of the symbols of the school - first and foremost being a strong Christian tradition:

The massed Senior Choir, comprising both boys and girls in spite of the fact that it was the Girls' School Speech Day, sung 'Awaken the music', and then there were speeches and prize-giving. This is the Mixed Senior Choir performing in the chapel, with the organ pipes forming a perfect frame:

One of the highlights, if not the highlight, of the day, was the announcement of next year's Head Girl - replacing this year's Head Girl - Kudzai Zinyengere, who has carried out her duties exceptionally well under difficult circumstances. Next year the Head Girl of Peterhouse Girls will be Heidi Christen - an extremely popular choice if the reaction of the school is anything to go by, and I am sure she will prove very level-headed in the job. Here she is in a hut in Nyanga with my daughter Cara...

Here's wishing Heidi all the very best for 2014!

Have a great day!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

All of God's little creatures paying me a visit!

I mentioned the damage done to the local school in my blog last week - and in this I was referring to Hillcrest School - not the little school on the property. The damage is substantial, and there is a large drive on to raise funds to effectively re-roof the entire school.

La Rochelle was at the peripheral of the hailstorm - but the school was pretty much at the centre of it all. The hailstones smashed through the asbestos roof sheets, and the kids had to hide beneath their desks to avoid the falling ice and roofing...

Quite aside from the freak hailstorm, there are other indications that the weather is not quite right, and the most obvious signs are all the animals that have flown, crawled or hopped into the hotel over the past week or so since the storm. Right now we have a plague of sausage beetles, but look what else has paid us an unexpected visit:

First was a kingfisher who flew into the hotel a couple of nights ago - about three hours after sundown. Most unusual.. I managed to catch and release him before Shupa the cat ate him for supper. I only took one photo of him as he was getting pretty stressed. Note the photo in the background between the umbrella and the snooker cue - that is Sir Stephen Courtauld, the original owner of La Rochelle.

Then there are the 'bugs' - as our American friends call them. Again, the camera let me down a little, but this fellow was found wandering around in the bar four mornings ago. Commonly called a 'baboon spider' - they are also called 'rain spiders' because this time of year - at the onset of our summer rains, is when they first appear...

I took him outside so that I could get a better photo:

Then we had a visit from a rather determined little fellow a couple of nights ago. He was first spotted climbing the steps into the hotel from the garden....

He was a brown house snake, and despite the fact that he is a constrictor and not a poisoner, David the waiter was taking no chances whatsoever when he made his way to the Reception Desk...

I took him outside and released him - much to everyone's consternation!

Of course the other consequence of all the weird weather is that plants are growing like mad. Again I am not sure if this is a consequence of the hailstorm, but the daisies in the garden have grown extremely large this year.

In fact, my daughter was lucky not to injure herself when she fell off one last week....

Have a great day one and all!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

All hail the king!

Today we have loads of pictures because yesterday was an extraordinary day.

Quite remarkable.

Yesterday was hot in Zimbabwe, and at La Rochelle in particular. Windows were open, the dogs collapsed, and not too much happened for most of the afternoon. Then, as dusk began to fall, clouds gathered, the wind picked up, and rain was imminent.

As the sun started to sink below the horizon, great big fat drops of rain began to fall; blood-warm, they spat up little puffs of dust everywhere they landed. And then the hail started - small hailstones at first - bouncing and dancing over the grass...

This is about the closest I have ever come to seeing snow - so pretty cool (pardon the pun) to see.

We don't normally have hail more than a couple of times a year, so I figured I should photograph some of the larger ones for the blog..

Then larger hailstones started falling and I managed to collect a few. These were not 'round', but all different shapes. And I thought these were huge, as we don't normally get hailstones this big...


After about 15 minutes, even larger hailstones started falling, until they were landing on our roof and the concrete path with a resounding 'crack', and shattering into many particles. The ones that landed on the grass stayed in one piece.

But they sure were getting bigger...

We didn't have many large hailstones - but just imagine one of these (and they are the largest I managed to collect) hitting you on the head from a distance of 3km up in the sky. They were about the size of a baseball, I reckon...

They were, I promise, solid lumps of ice - and somehow they felt colder than normal ice. Don't ask me how, but that is the way they seemed.

And in case you might think that the hailstones were 'about the size of golf balls'... here is a golf ball for comparison:

The damage done was substantial. The local school had their asbestos roofs badly broken, and we have lost several sheets of roofing in our own Staff Quarters. In fact, I was told that the largest hailstone to land was only slightly smaller than the size of an adult human head - but unfortunately no pictures were taken of it. It was apparently made up of several dozen 'smaller' ones all melded together into one solid lump.

One Guest who is staying in the hotel, though, had quite enough trouble with hailstones of the size I have pictured above...

My Night Security Guard is called Takawira... and regular readers will remember him from the time that he was clobbered over the head by robbers (see the post of 26th November 2012) though not that many folk will have read that particular post because there were only 21 page-views as the Blog was still new.

Yesterday Takawira was on his way to work - and he got caught in the middle of the hailstorm. Fortunately for him, he managed to hide under the bridge which crosses over the Imbeza River, and so escaped relatively unscathed. However, I spotted him coming to work this evening - and he is obviously taking no chances that a second hailstorm will catch him unawares....

Don't you just love an African solution to an African problem?

Have a great day!