Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Outdoing Bawa

Geoffrey Bawa was undoubtedly a genius and it is only to be expected that he will have many followers. Unfortunately it seems to me that some of his ideas are becoming rather overused.

I have just seen some pictures of the former Villa Mohotti and they have left me rather uneasy. The Villa had been redone and it was perfect, needing nothing more than a little maintenance. I believe it was a ruin that was restored by Bawa himself.

However the new owners have gone and added new buildings and crammed the place with furniture, leaving it looking rather overcrowded.

None of the buildings can be described as ugly but I think it is important to retain a certain amount of empty space-both within and without a building.

The same mistake is evident in the other property recently renovated by the same owners - Tintagel on Rosmead Place. The building looks very nice from the outside, but step inside and one finds the place chock-a-block with ultra modern furniture that simply does not go with the main building. Step outside into the terrace (it used to be a lawn) and one meets another concrete jungle of paving stones and concrete tables under umbrellas with scarcely any space to move.

I have once visited Tintagel in its previous state and rather liked the lawn and the blue cement floors, both of which have now gone. I think the lawn at the back was sacrificed for part of the swimming pool, which I think was unnecessary.

Fitting in the maximum number of tables in a given space might sound sensible from a business point of view but it takes away from atmosphere of the place, which is what true boutique hotels are all about.

Presumably the new owners are awaiting a huge tourism boom and have added enough capacity to make the most of it but they may have inadvertently ended up taking their properties downmarket, rather than upmarket.

I don't see myself visiting either of the places.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Questions, questions.

The Christmas season has been surprisingly busy and despite my having done very little real work, find myself quite run down. The season had been a series of large noisy gatherings with very little meaningful conversation until I met a friend for dinner yesterday. We were discussing a few questions and I thought I would share these.

1. For those familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, where does sex fit in? I thought it would not be static but vary with age. My friend suggested its relative position would be in inverse proportion to the likelihood of it occurring.

2. Women and grooming. What is it that really drives a woman to look after their general appearance (dress, accessories, makeup etc). We were rather distressed by the way in which some very good looking women were ruining there appearance by overly heavy makeup.

I thought it was driven by insecurity, which would increase with age .I knew of a classic case of a really good looking woman in her mid 30's making a hideous mess of her face. My friend, on the other hand, knew someone who made the same mistake as a young university undergraduate and he put a different perspective on it.

He suggested that women groom themselves not to impress men but to impress other women. Thus it is not a case of the peacock displaying a beautiful tail to impress the opposite sex but rather a case of establishing a position within the social hierarchy of a tribe.

I do know that men who work out are always checking out the physiques of other men in a gym and there is always a subtle level of competition that goes on with the amount of weight being lifted.

3. Why is it that a few television serials tend to be evergreen, endlessly reinventing themselves while others fade out after a few programmes? The classic is Dr Who which is still seemingly evergreen after many decades and after a succession of doctors.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ordering books

Thanks to the internet people need not confine themselves to the selection of books available at the local shops. True, there is the added cost of shipping plus the possibility of theft but quite a few people do order books online.

There is however, a new hazard. Big Brother is Watching.

A friend of mine related an incident that happened last week to someone he knew rather well. This chap had ordered some books, perfectly harmless books, a Terry Pratchett children's book, another on diet and a few others. The books arrived and he went over to the post office to collect them.

The people at the post office opened all the parcels and started reading through the books. When asked why, they replied that they were looking to see if there was any anti-government material being brought in.

He was so taken aback that he did not have the presence of mind to inquire as to the penalty for such a crime, which would presumably, be suitably hideous.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday musing

Woke up this morning almost shivering with cold. Spent a good part of the morning sneezing and sniffling, not something that would bother me much normally, but given the exotic types of influenza going around, dosed myself with piriton to stop the sneezing. It eased the problem but did not stop it. Took another late in the afternoon and followed it up with two panadols for good measure, but it seems to have helped only a little, which means something slightly more serious is creeping around my system.

So, falling back on an old remedy - eat like a pig to give the body the energy to fight back. No chocolate is available but there is a blancmange, which I'm eating as type, in between the odd sneeze or sniffle. My overall mood is thus, slightly grumpy, which may explain what follows.

Returned from the SOSL Christmas concert slightly disappointed despite a good performance by the orchestra. The issue was in the programme, not the performance. The second half of the concert was supposed to be Christmas Carols, some with audience participation. The carols that were played were all in jazz arrangements which I found unappealing.

The Grammy Award winning re-arrangement of the Handel's Hallelujah chorus was particularly distasteful. The programme note claims it to be a "gospel style reinterpretation", to me it was strongly reminiscent of the saccharine stuff that passes for music in the modern evangelical movement. Fortunately, Handel, being dead for 250 years, was in no position to object.

Shall take another does of panadols and piriton in another half hour and hope for the best, good night all and have a good week.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Chinese aid not working?

I have been wondering why the many infrastructure projects have seemingly had so little impact on the lives of the population. Despite all the money being spent incomes and employment don't seem to have improved.

I assumed that since most of the projects were outstation the impact must have been felt in the regions. A report in today's Sunday Times offers another explanation - that there is in fact very little impact.

The problem is that most of the material and labour are imported from China. Typically infrastructure projects generate a lot of employment and use some local resources such as transport, even if the bulk of the material is imported. According to the Sunday Times even the labour is imported.

I was discussing this with another friend of mine who worked for many years in Botswana. He had seen similar things in Africa, with Chinese projects running almost entirely on imported labour, down to the cooks and cleaners. Difficulties in communicating with local labour is one reason why Chinese contractors use their own labour but it is also apparently a method by which the Chinese government creates employment for their people.

This means that all the recipient country is left with is the physical infrastructure (roads, ports or whatever else was built). Infrastructure is necessary and will deliver benefits provided it is properly planned. Bridges to nowhere, most notoriously built in Japan, and gold plated infrastructure of the type seen in Nigeria will bring little or no benefit to the population. They are however enormously profitable to the contractors and the people involved arranging the deal.

Had the projects been done on concessionary terms, the benefits would be much greater (in terms of costs against benefits) but it appears that the projects are being done on commercial terms and at many times the actual cost due to various fingers being stuck in the pie.

The criticism being leveled at 'Western NGO's' and the development agencies is that there is too little local component in the projects being offered. In the case of Chinese aid the situation appears to be even worse, especially given that the donor agencies offer loans at lower interest terms while much of the Government financed or Chinese financed infrastructure is on commercial terms.

Why not simply use the development agencies or the NGO's to finance projects instead? The problem is that these projects come with a lot of strings - read oversight, which makes it a bit more difficult to cream something off. Commercial borrowings are free of strings, but they must be repaid at commercial rates, by taxpayers.

Friday, December 04, 2009

NGO's responsible for high rate of accidents

This news item brought a smile to my face this morning.

Not only are they corrupt, ineffective and responsible for undermining the sovereignty of the country they are also causing accidents.

And here I was, blaming the speeding VIP convoys for many accidents. It is only now that we learn the truth.

I have been told that one of the causes for accidents are the lousy brakes on the Land Rovers. Land Rovers, being typical British cars, have a reputation for mechanical problems and on top of that the brakes are supposed to be pretty bad which makes for a lethal combination.

Why these vehicles are so popular is a bit of a mystery but they are reputed to be good performers-chiefly due to the light aluminium body which gives and excellent weight/power ratio. Indeed the rugged body is one of the main strengths of the vehicle.

The rest is largely due its reputation which is bolstered by the cinema. As for me, give me the Toyota Landcruiser or Nissan Patrol anyday.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Julie Andrews to sing again

Julie Andrews lost her voice in a botched operation in 1997 to remove some non malignant nodules from her vocal chords.

She will sing again in May, although we have been forewarned that her voice will only remain a shadow of its former self.

It is hard to imagine a more untimely blow of fate. To an average person losing their singing voice is to say the least a very unhappy experience. For someone who had such a gorgeous voice and reveled in what she did, it must have been catastrophic. The only other personal disaster that I can think of this magnitude is Jonah Lomu's kidney disease which reduced one of the most devastating players on the rugger field to a cripple.

The only consolation is that the accident happened to Julie Andrews towards the end of her career although Lomu was not so fortunate.

Go for it Julie, we are all with you.

Listen to the 12 year old Julie Andrews sing God Save the King here.