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!!