Chasing Amy











Okay, so she wasn’t out door knocking.

Instead it was hosting a table for the Starlight Children’s Foundation, while wearing a glamorous floor-length grey halter-neck frock and a diamond bracelet, sipping bubbly, as the future King of the Old Dart stood by her side.

But Kate Middleton has actually done something for a charity for once in a while.

Meanwhile her sister has snapped up a Churchill.

Read all about it here. Full analysis to come later on.

Please check out my new blog at http://www.nofarmanimalsinlondon.wordpress.com

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{August 20, 2009}   Where’s Mr Darcy?!
     

Where is he?!

Where is he?!

 

 

When your younger unmarried sister’s run off with a man – threatening the whole family with social ruin – there’s nothing like a trip to the Peak District to get away from it all.

Jane Austen fans will recall that in Pride and Prejudice it was Derbyshire that Elizabeth Bennett’s aunt and uncle, the Gardeners, rushed Lizzie too after Lydia had apparently eloped with the nasty Wickham.

The novel’s heroine was amazed by its scenery – remember the scene with her standing on a huge boulder – and even more amazed when she saw a dripping-wet Colin Firth emerging from the lake near his grounds of Pemberley, seen in the 2005 film as Chatsworth House. (Well wouldn’t you, quite frankly).

Later on in the end of the book, after accepting Darcy’s proposal, Lizzie confesses to her sister Jane that she fell in love with her future husband once she saw “his beautiful grounds at Pemberley”.

East Midlands Tourism has been plugging the Peak District and Derbyshire a lot of late.

So after our exhausting Boat Race, we decided to set off for that precise location to see if we – two middle-class Australian girls – could spot a soaking Darcy ourselves.

Despite having our hopes dampened (so to speak) concerning Colin Firth, we did discover that the Peak District is a hidden gem of British tourism.



{August 20, 2009}   The Boat Race

 


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Despite both daughters growing up close to the beach in Australia, with a swimming pool in the backyard, and one previously tackling the Zambezi, our parents had a fit when we told them about The Boat Race (ie our attempts at kayaking 12km down the Thames, starting near Windsor).

“Wear a helmet. Don’t bang your head. Don’t drink the water – you’ll get swine flu. Just look around the castle instead. And if you feel unsafe at any time, get out and catch a cab straight away, and don’t worry about the money. Dad will pay for it.”

What on earth was there to bang one’s head on?? And where on earth was one supposed to get a cab???

Perhaps it had something to do with the mention of Slough or Staines – gems in the crown of British tourism – but the Thames seemed to conjure up the worst fear in antipodean parents. More fear, apparently, than grade four rapids in Africa.

But as our father put it, “It’s the thought of losing both of you, in one hit.” Thanks.

Despite their extreme concerns, we survived our paddling journey (although at times with all the snapping and papping went a bit crooked, as someone has pointed out after seeing our pics). Must have been all those scones, cucumber sandwiches and tea that we scoffed down at The Wolseley the previous day.

And who would have thought it – according to South African tour guide Dave (who in his hat reminded us of Crocodile Dundee) the Thames is “drinkable”. Considering that I had half of it in my boat at the end of the ‘race’, that was good to hear.

In fact we did so well that we apparently out paddled rugby players. Yes, according to Dave most rugby players can’t make the whole journey, and give up after lunch. (Although we suspect that there was a reason for him telling us this yarn, which came after lunch when we were tired and stuffed with food).

We must well and truly be on our way to the Henley Regatta and hopefully Michelle O style guns. Well, our arms certainly were sore the next day.



   


My favourite butterfly

 

Have just been to see The Butterfly Jungle at the Natural History Museum again and like last year really liked it.

It was steaming in the hot house, but would definitely recommend it.

Meanwhile in other news this week that other social butterfly (aka Miss Middleton) finally speaks.

But her uncle – who has dubbed himself the Duke of Slough – has been speaking to the wrong people, it would seem.



 



A woman cleans a vegetable can in Dharavi

With its breathtaking view of the ocean, city high rises and Malabar Hill, Mumbai’s most expensive neighborhood, it’s easy to see why Marine Drive, a three kilometre long boulevard fringed with palm trees, is also known as the Queen’s Necklace. At night with the city lights on, the strip, which forms an inverted ‘C’ shape, resembles a sparkling diamond jewel. It’s for this reason too that Marine Drive is commonly splashed across Indian tourist brochures.
But just a short drive from here – and a world away from icons such as the Taj Hotel and western tourist haunts like Leopold’s Café – there’s Dharavi. It’s usually referred to as ‘Asia’s biggest slum’.
Tour guide Krishna Poojari, who works for Reality Tours, a Mumbai based travel agency in the city’s touristy Colaba suburb, is taking myself and four other tourists there today. He insists we “should see” Dharavi to gain a true picture of Mumbai.
“Bombay attracts everyone, it’s the home of Bollywood,” he explains.
“But there’s a contrast here between people spending thousands on a hotel room and going to a bar for a drink, and people sleeping on the street.”
His words are all too true. While some Mumbaikars might enjoy sipping cocktails at The Dome, arguably the city’s trendiest bar, more than half – 55 per cent – live in slums.
Dharavi, located in central Mumbai near the Bandra-Kurla financial centre, has an unofficial population of up to one million.
It began as a fishing community. Then in the 19th and early 20th centuries, migrants from all over India flocked to Dharavi, officially recognised as a slum in 1976.
Today it consists of up to 100 neighbourhoods. It’s home to
Indians of many classes, religions, castes and languages. What many of them have in common is that they’ve come to Bombay seeking a better life.
Recently, the slum feature briefly in the Oscar winning movie, Slumdog Millionaire.
The initial landscape shots, where there are two water pipe lines and the slum is built around them, were filmed here. The scene with the kids running on the rooftops, and the incident where their mother is smacked by a stick in the open laundry was also shot in the slum.
When I arrive in Dharavi – just a week after seeing Slumdog Millionaire – parts of it are like I imagined. Others take me by surprise.
While the slum is home to the urban poor, a large proportion of the population is middle-class.
Some residents live in structures with tin walls and plastic sheeting. But there’s also brick and concrete homes. There’s house made from corrugated tin roofs
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) own most of the 223 hectares of Dharavi, with private landholders and the central government controlling the rest.
There’s a noticeable lack of sanitation in the slum – it was only during the 1980s that basic amenities such as water taps, toilets, drains and electricity were introduced.
It’s also very wet and Mary, one of the other tourists from San Francisco, remarks that she “wouldn’t like to be here during a monsoon”.
But as we jump across puddles and walk through narrow alleys in sweltering heat, past piles of rubbish, I’m struck by the sense of community and happiness of the residents.
The slum dwellers are unphased by us.
But then Reality Tours, who give 80 per cent of the profits after tax from the slum tours to local NGOs, were aware of accusations of voyeurism from the start.
The company, which has a no cameras policy inside Dharavi, spent one month carrying out trial tours to see how residents would react.
“We focus on the positive side of the slum, showing the enterprise of the people and the sense of community,” says Christopher Way, a British man who started the tours after doing volunteer work in Mumbai.
One woman, 55-year-old Vilaboi Ramchandra, is busily sorting through garbage for the slum’s huge recycling industry.
Other major industries include clay pots, embroidery, bakery, soap, leather products and papad (poppadoms). The annual turnover from these is an estimated US$665 million ($941 million AUD) per year.
For the past 37 years Vilaboi, who owns a home in Dharavi, has gone to work every day to rifle through rubbish. She loves her job, for which she earns 2,800 rupees ($78 AUD) a month. This is considered a good wage.
“Every morning when I get up I go for a jog around the slum,” Vilaboi tells me through a translator. “I like Dharavi very much.”
What she doesn’t like is the use of the word “dog” to describe a slum dweller.
“I like the movie (Slumdog Millionaire),” Vilaboi says.
“But the name isn’t good because it says that people that are living in the slums are dogs.”
Krishna is also sick of the “western myth that slum in general means dangerous”.
“Normally the image of the slum is that people are just poor, sitting around doing nothing, the children don’t go to school and are beggars,” he says.
“There’s a lot of other things going on in the slums.
“(But) this kind of stuff (poverty) sells in the west.”
There’s no doubt though that Slumdog Millionaire is sending tourists to Dharavi.
After a “quiet” December following the 26/11 terrorist attacks, Reality Tours are now taking up to 15 bookings every day from all over the globe, but particularly Australia, the US, UK and Europe, for Dharavi tours.
Chris says there’s no doubt that people are returning “because of the movie”.
“I (also) think this kind of tourism, seeing and understanding how people live, particularly when it’s alien to one’s own, is becoming more popular worldwide,” adds the 34-year-old, who plans to set up English and computer classes along with a balwadi (kindergarten) in Dharavi.
“Further than that, I’m not sure why people come here- it’s not something we ask.
“But the overwhelming response that we get after the tour is admiration for its inhabitants – that despite the conditions in which they live in, they still get on with their life in a dignified way and with humour.”

Reality Tours run slum, market, village, sightseeing and customized tours, plus more. See http://www.realitytoursandtravel.com



  


Chuck some more asparagus on the barbie!

 

A lot has happened in that time.

I recovered from the pudding, just in time, to ring in the New Year just like I had celebrated Christmas – at the World’s Greatest and a string of other publications, taking calls from The David Bowie Woman (a Fleet Street legend who I’ll write about later on) at two of them.

“Do you just move from paper to paper?” she asked me.

“I could say the same thing about you,” was what I really wanted to say, but I didn’t.

Australia Day was celebrated on the beach in Brighton with a ‘page three photo shoot’, wearing the Australian flag. Amy, 28, loves Prince Harry and hates yobs.

The next day it was off to my adopted homeland, Suid-Afrika, to ride a bike around Soweto, place some orders for some serious spells with a sangoma (witch doctor) and high tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel where we didn’t see Prince Harry or Chelsy (see below).

This was followed by more high tea in Sydney with the Bookclub Girls in my real homeland, along with a ‘makeup convention’ where I became Amy Fallonhouse and an exciting trip to Murbah with my family. Who said life in the colonies was dull, eh?

On the way back to the Old Dart I was supposed to have just three days in Mumbai. However after being plucked off a Colaba street as I was rushing back to a hotel where I’d been eaten by bed bugs with chronic diarrhea, a casting agent approached me and said, “Do you want to be in a Bollywood movie with Kylie Minogue?” The rest, as they say, is history.

When finally back in Blighty, I had the honour of going to the Cheltenham Races. I might be a girl who’s from The Tweed, but never have I seen so much of it in my entire life! Why did I ever knock my mother back on that lovely jacket???

In May, Lucas and I got a new flatmate Nick, after our Lovely Luna left us and went back to her family hood in Hackney: although for a good reason, to save up to go and live in Canada next year). After coming up with a very different Gumtree ad, in which we stated very clearly that the desired application ‘must wear Jimmy Choos’ we were swamped with people wanting to move in. (One person couldn’t actually move in, but phoned up to say that they liked our work, anyway). We said goodbye to Luna over a meal at the local Wapping Project, a very trendy restaurant featuring an art exhibition and asparagus (see left) in a disused power station in Wapping (rhymes with shopping), in east London.

I should point out here that I made the change to the east end just before Christmas after I could not stand living with Mussolini and his French sidekick in Willesden Green (although loved Kiwi Lisa). It’s a long story, but it began with moi leaving a pair of green wedge heals near the door after a night shift one night, and ended with the Kiwi and I screaming something like “You look out – we know people who know the All Blacks (coincidentally they were in town at the time)” . I won’t go into it as it’s a long story, but let’s just say that Lady Marcos isn’t the only one for whom shoes have caused major problems.

Despite not having found a successful cleaning lady yet, our new place is going well and we are getting along. I am loving the area because it’s so handy to work, and one night during a Sunday Times shift (coincidentally Murdoch’s empire is right down the road from my digs) even unearthed the fact that the area has some amazing historical links to Australian, New Zealand and South African history. Besides Captain Cook living in the area, there is also a watering hole, The Town of Ramsgate, where the convicts were taken before being transported to the new colonies. I have seen discovered a fantastic local historian who grew up in Stepney Green and conducts tours of Captain Cook’s area, and also been to the wonderful Museum of Docklands. As if this isn’t enough, we have some very famous neighbours – Helen Mirren and Graham Norton, to name just two! Although still haven’t sighted either of them.

The other reason that I love living in the east is that it is within walking distance of my beloved Shoreditch (or ‘the ditch’ as some have labelled it) with all its trendy clubs, bars and pubs. (There’s now even a bar where they serve cocktails in teapots). I am continuing to be thankful that my new hairdresser, John, has come into my life. Everytime I leave the salon I’m thrilled. (Unfortunately, I’m also pissed. Which could be his magic secret).

My credit card is seriously paying for all of this though, and having just seen Confessions of a Shopaholic with the very talented antipodean lass Isla Fischer, I’m considering freezing it. Literally. And maybe stashing just enough money for an icepick under my bed.

Speaking of a meltdown… in June I went to my first Arctic country, Iceland, for five days with Lisa. Although this was not before I had decided to embark upon a new career as a TESOL teacher (in addition to hack and Bollywood star). What was I thinking – phonetics, twelve tenses, five mixed conditionals, compound nouns, horseshoe seating arrangements. I’d rather be eaten by a crocodile (that’s a phrasal verb – I think). One of the highlights of the ‘Mickey Mouse school of English’ (as I call it) besides completely and utterly confusing new arrivals into Britain, was some of the people that I met, including lovely Rachel, who is also an east Londoner, loves drumming in her spare time and has been to Gambia.

I knew my teaching career was sealed for good when we were out a few weeks ago with a student and I asked him “how his weekend had been”. He couldn’t answer me. I have now decided that should I ever teach English to the Masai in Ngorongoro that I’ll just teach them whatever I want. I’m quite sure that they’ll have other things on their minds (ie daily survival) besides whether a tense is future continuous or future continuous perfect, anyway.

Although not having passed the grammar side of things (two days to learn phonetics? Yeah right, Teeline shorthand took a whole year!) I still went to Iceland. Well, I hadn’t been on a trip for a few weeks, after all. What a brilliant time – having a ‘Kate Winslet moment’ as I got up close and personal with massive icebergs on a boat, horseriding through lava fields a la Zara Phillips, looking at geysers and craters, drinking at Damon’s (that’s Damon from Blur) bar, taking Wombat on the road… and then having a much-needed mud mask at the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport to get over it all. Total Ice Ice Baby. Stories and pix soon.

Once back in the capital it was time for… a music festival. Yes don’t fall down when you read this. Don’t worry though, it wasn’t the Isle of Wight or Glasto, where one must tramp through more mud than Dunkirk wearing obligatory Jimmy Choo wellies (or Primark) to get to stinky portaloos with shit all over the seats (or so I’m told) while desperately trying to resemble Kate or Peaches. Just The Killers in Hyde Park. But after complaining about the facilities there I was immediately advised “You won’t survive the others, then”.

Work suddenly became busy with Jacko now pushing up the daisies. To think we’d spent all that time doing Thatcher deathwatch. It was the biggest thing since Jade Goody (don’t get me started), even bigger. So when I went abroad again (after all, had only been back from Viking land for a week), this time to Berlin, one of the first places I went to was Hotel Adlon, scene of the infamous Baby Blanket dangling incident, to see if they were paying tributes. They weren’t – instead they were too busy trying to make a scone (requested by yours truly). Turns out that although Madam owns one tenth of the building, they aren’t too good on them. Can’t say ‘can’t complain about the service, there is none’ though – in the end I got not only a free coffee, but also ten scones. Now that’s an efficient country.

Turns out I wasn’t the only Aussie in town. Our very own PM had decided Ruddy bin ein Berliner. Gosh first Bucharest, now Berlin, he follows me everywhere! Sadly though, I did not get a glimpse of Kevin’s chin hanging over the Kevin 07th floor of the hotel (as a friend had suggested). Although I did see plenty of jelly donuts.

Other highlights of Germany include a trip to the zoo to see Knut, who was looking pretty pleased with himself following the news that he’s a Berliner for good, and a trip to the Wannsee conference resort, where Hitler and his elite men came up with the Final Solution. I would also recommend to anyone going to Berlin to visit the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.

It was used as not only a Nazi concentration camp, but also a camp run by the Soviets. Amazing history.

Back in the Old Dart, a lot of people and things have arrived. Mel, one of the original members of the Sydney Bookclub Girls, has moved over from the Merde. The Butterfly Jungle’s back at The Natural History Museum, and some kangaroos have been sighted on the south bank. (One of them’s even ‘designed’ by our own Elle ‘The Body’ Macpherson and if you spot a certain number of them, you can win a trip to Adelaide. Ripper!) Summer’s also here – yes really, this year. In fact the surf was up at Embankment a few weeks ago (nice try, chaps, but I had more sand in my backyard sandpit when I was growing up).

The temperature soaring above 20 degrees in the capital has caused much drama, with instructions to ‘carry water with you at all times’ on the Tube, where temperatures have even reportedly reached as high as 46 degrees and there have been apparent faintings. Oh the drama of it all. Meanwhile if you take a stroll through any of the city’s parks you can of course see more semi-nakedness than a Victoria’s Secret fashion show. It seems that while a lot of things have changed in Londinium, many others, like Kate Middleton’s employment status, haven’t. (Speaking of Waity Katy and Wills, there is some good news regarding them and a set of ceramic swans

Of course the other notable tourists in London at the moment are Ricky Ponting and the team, which has aroused much excitement in HRH The Boss. Latest Facebook status: “thought it was the Convicts who were supposed to get out of jail: outrageous, but funny!!!” And another one: “appreciated all the birthday greetings: now let’s concentrate on The Ashes, winning it AND making some money out of it”. And one from just one of The Chief’s many mates: “Happy birthday your Lordship! May your birthday be followed by a Convict humiliation!!” We are due to have one ‘last supper’ next week, before I Toss The Boss (ie suspend the friendship entirely).

And on that note, having ‘done and dusted’ (as The B would say) a complete update on the past ten months in the Old Dart, it’s ‘over and out’ (as he’d also say). More past and present adventures to come soon.



  


High tea at the Pink Lady with Bids

 

South Africa’s most famous hotel, The Mount Nelson, or Nellie as it’s affectionately called, has a colourful history – in more ways than one.

When opened in March 1899, months before the outbreak of the South African (or Boer) War, the icon, situated on the lower slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town, was cream with green shutters.

It stayed this way until the end of the conflict in 1902 and right up until the end of more fighting, World War One, in November 1918.

But the end of the Great War brought so much jubilation that a new colour scheme was in order. The Mount Nelson was steeped in a “cheerful” rose pink to mark the celebrations, and became known as The Pink Lady.

“The trend towards pink hotels was popular throughout Europe for the next few decades, and so it was that Mount Nelson Hotel retained her pink blush,” explains the hotel’s Benita Kursan, as I sit down for afternoon tea at the famous landmark.

Today, as I gaze out into the garden while consuming possibly the best egg sandwiches I’ve ever had, everything is still pink – from the towels being taken to the guests having a dip in the hotel pool, to the blooming hibiscus in the garden.

The tea list, designed only after consulting South African tea experts Mingwei Tsai and Joel Singer, even boasts among more than 30 aromatic tea blends, the Mount Nelson Hotel Special Blend. It’s described as a “combination of six locally and internationally sourced and blended black teas, flavoured with buds and petals from the hotel’s signature pink roses”.

This will, of course, be taken without even the slightest etiquette faux pas, as last July Nellie became South Africa’s first luxury hotel to banish teabags, opting for a range of top quality leaves instead.

Each loose-leaf tea is now presented in a delicate glass infuser.

Guests are “encouraged to admire the aesthetics of the tea leaves and breathe in the refreshing aroma”.

The infuser is then put inside its matching glass teapot and left to steep, with individual egg timers put beside each one to ensure that the “correct infusion time” is maintained.

While I wait, there/s a mind-boggling buffet on the Windsor Table. (traditional tiered tea stands can also be made upon request).

This includes everything from mini-quiches to elaborate towers of scones, homemade coconut ice (again the pink theme) and even a number of tea-inspired treats such as Forest Berry Tea, infused Turkish Delight and Green Tea Cake. Well, one is here for tea isn’t one?

I’ve done high tea in a number of great locations around the world – The Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe, The Ritz Hotel, The Dorchester Hotel, Harrods and Kensington Palace in London; The Empress Hotel in Hong Kong and The Victoria Rooms and The Observatory Hotel in Sydney. So I feel I’m qualified to say it – the Mount Nelson takes the cake, so to speak.

But then the hotel has always strived to be the best.

It was the dream of shipping magnate Sir Donald Currie, who opened The Mount Nelson, that it would rival London’s sophisticated landmarks and attract the creme da le creme of society. That it has certainly done.

The hotel was named in honour of the revered British admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, who is said to have visited Cape Town twice.

Today, a black and white image of Lord Nelson is emblazoned on the back of the chairs in the Planet champagne and cocktail bar, which you can move onto for a glass of Bellini after afternoon tea.

Many other world famous dignitaries feature in the hotel’s history.

As the South African War began, British Field Marshal Lord Kitchener was dispatched to Nellie.

Winston Churchill also called The Mount Nelson home while he was a young war correspondent.

In fact the future leader of Britain became a big fan of The Pink Lady’s “elegance and charm”.

In Winston’s Footsteps: Retracing Churchill’s South African Escape, a journal by David Druckman, Churchill describes it as a “most excellent and well-appointed establishment, which may be thoroughly appreciated after a sea voyage”.

He makes particular mention of the “serviettes placed on your lap” and “waiters who are there when you need them but invisible otherwise”.

Plenty of royalty have also played at The Mount Nelson. The Prince of Wales visited in 1925. The driveway leading up to the hotel, today fringed with palm trees, was built a year before to honour his visit.

The most famous African, former president Nelson Mandela, is a big fan, as are his fellow countrymen and women – Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Oscar-winning actor Charlize Theron.

Others who have been spotted there recently include Paris Hilton, Hilary Swank, Oprah Winfrey, Robbie Williams, The Black Eyed Peas, Tiger Woods and Kate Moss, among others.

At the moment, Benita tells me, “a lot of high profile guests are staying here” although her lips are strictly sealed as to who.

And more may be on their way for next year’s World Cup.

“We have been approached by a number of companies who are interested in buying out the hotel for the World Cup – nothing has been finalised as yet though,” Benita says.

IF YOU GO
Afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel is served daily in the Hotel Lounge from 2.30pm to 5.30pm and includes Standard Loose Leaf Tea, coffee or hot chocolate ZAR150 ($A24) per person/ ZAR85 ($A14) per child under 12

Visit: http://www.mountnelson.co.za



 


On my bike in the world’s most famous township

 

A bicycle might sound like a practical way of seeing Soweto, South Africa’s most famous township.
That’s until you spot a hundred local school children marching down the road, and they spot you – loaded down with Smarties and a camera hanging around your neck.
Suddenly I’m being mobbed for “sweeties” and photos.
“Shoot me, shoot me!” they cry, trying to grab my Cannon from around my neck. Smarties fly everywhere.
I’m now down off my bike, just five minutes into the tour, which began in Soweto’s Orlando West area.
I realise there’s a great chance that I will spend the rest of my trip around the township, which stretches out over more than 130 square kilometres southwest of Johannesburg, lagging behind the other tourists.
That’s the problem with trying to bike around Soweto – there’s just too much to see and do, and the locals are just too hospitable and chatty, to keep you riding continuously.
“I love the atmosphere and nature of Soweto,” says my 20-year-old guide Tshepo Matsile, who was born and raised in the township. (Soweto is actually a collection of townships, with its name an abbreviation of SOuth-WEsternTOwnships).
“It’s a place that everybody should see.”
“It’s (the tour) a good experience and a good adventure for the tourists, rather than a bus tour where you’re just taking photos and the locals feel like animals.
During the trips – half day and full day tours can be arranged – globetrotters can get a feel for Soweto by stopping at a shebeen (informal drinking house) in Mzimthlope Hostel to have a drop of umqo’mboti.
It’s a strong, fiery home made brew – the pronunciation involves an impossible clicking noise – drunk from a large bucket.
Visitors can also try a kota, a local sandwich consisting of bread, chips and cheese.
Soweto is also the place to visit if tourists really want to learn about South Africa’s black community’s fight against apartheid.
It’s impossible to speak about the segregation without mentioning the world’s most famous township, created in the 1930s to house mainly black labourers, who worked in mines and other industries in the city, away from Johannesburg.
The township’s Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world to ever call home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu once both lived there.
The former freedom fighter resided at his house, on the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane Streets, from 1946 to 1962. In 1997 the small house became the Mandela Family Museum.
The tour also includes the notorious spot in Orlando West where hundreds of thousands of students gathered on June 16, 1976, to protest against the introduction of Afrikaans as the official educational language – otherwise known as the Soweto Uprising.
The South African government put the official number of deaths from this violence at 23, but hundreds were believed to be killed. Some sources say this is even higher.
Student Hector Pieterson, just 12-years-old, was fatally shot by police that day, on the corner of Moema and Vilakazi streets. A memorial and museum dedicated to Hector, featuring the poignant photograph of the dying boy being carried by 17-year-old Mbuyisa Makhubu, was built on Khumalo Street in 2002.
The parents of Lebohang Malepa, who runs the bike tours from his hostel, Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, were both students involved in the 1976 violence.
Lebo, who lived with his parents as a young child while they were in exile in Botswana following the clashes, says Soweto played a “very important role” in the fight against apartheid, “especially being an urban township”.
“People in Soweto felt the pressure of apartheid more than anybody else in this country,” he says.
“There was a lot of resistance coming out of the township.”
It was out of his desire to have tourists learn about the significance of Soweto that he began running the township’s first hostel in 2003. Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers is also South Africa’s first black-owned hostel. The ‘formal matchbox’ house belongs to Lebo’s grandfather. It has seven rooms and can fit 24 beds.
After a “very slow” start, Lebo has accommodated thousands of tourists from all over the world, and Lonely Planet has even jumped on the bandwagon, listing the hostel in its guide books.
The bike tours, introduced in 2005, offer tourists who aren’t staying with Lebo, and those who are, the chance to explore Soweto, which has an unofficial population of about two million.
In the start, Lebo bought just three mountain bikes for the trips.
But they have become such a hit he now owns 20 bikes, which he supplies for the adventures.
Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers is also in the process of developing a campsite to accommodate extra visitors to next June’s World Cup.
“The World Cup is an opportunity for us as a country to showcase what we have so more tourists will come over (to South Africa),” Lebo says.
There’s even plans for an open air-library, a “beautifully painted shack at the park”, where kids can borrow books after school and be taught to read by overseas volunteers.
Lebo says he hopes that these developments will inspire more people to visit Soweto.
He hopes to show backpackers that despite the township’s turbulent history and the challenges it faces – HIV/AIDS, unemployment and teenage pregnancies are all “major concerns” – that it is not the crime hotspot people perceive it to be.
“I have seen apartheid,” Lebo says.
“I was able to see the resistance and now I live in the post-apartheid era.
“When people say Soweto is dangerous, we have to educate them about what went on.”

WANT TO GO?
Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers
Bookings can be made through http://www.sowetobackpackers.com
Or + 27 (0) 11 936 3444

Dorms are R95 per person, single room R150 and double room R250 – or pitch your tent in the garden for R65.
The hostel can arrange pick-ups from Johannesburg’s Tambo International Airport. They can also arrange bike, walking and car tours of the township and Johannesburg, community projects, safaris and more.



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It was at about one past midnight that Jane realised that it would take two hours to steam the Christmas pudding. “Do we still want it?” she asked Fiona and I, fellow antipodean orphans. Since the three of us were busy on Christmas Day (them working at the Mail, and me working a double at The World’s Greatest) and Fi had plans, we had been invited over to her and Crawshaw’s Clapham abode for Christmas Eve festivities. “Why not,” Fiona, always up for anything, including break dancing at dinner parties, replied. After all, we’d already put away a plate of veggies and chicken, a few glasses of Moet and Fosters (although yours truly had no part in that) and had nearly devoured all the Mint Slices and Tim Tams. Of course it didn’t matter to Fiona, who lived miles away in West Hampstead in north London, and me who now lived even more miles away in Wapping, that Christmas Eve transport had virtually been limited to an ambulance, as Crawshaw put it. “I mean if you were in Wagga Wagga you could see it,” he said. “But we’re in central London.” Which actually brings me back to the Christmas pudding, which had been purchased at the Clapham Common ASDA super store. Jane and Crawshaw bought everything there, mainly because, as Crawshaw had put it, “we can see the car park from our backyard, so we know when’s the best time to go”. His other half had gone to a lot of trouble to get the pudding – even to the point where she’d had painful plastic bags digging into her wrist, cutting off her circulation, while having trollies rammed up her ass for an hour at the checkout at the same time. But now, just an hour into the two-hour steaming session, it seemed that her mammoth efforts would be wasted on at least one of our party, Fiona, who was allergic to nuts (along with fish, chicken, milk bread, meat, air etc), a key ingredient in the ASDA pudding. “Fi! That’s your solution to transport!” Crawshaw suddenly cried, having a brainwave. “What?” she replied, still adamant that she couldn’t eat it. “Fake an allergic reaction and then you and Amy can get an ambulance.” I wasn’t quite sure whether the paramedics would take me also via Express Towers, but he did have a point. In the end, though, it wasn’t the nuts that you had to watch out for in the supermarket chain pudding. It was the alcohol (brandy) content, which must have been at least 70 per cent alcohol. Having knocked back a few glasses of the fizz, I was sure that it was just me. But the new threat facing Broken Britain – forget knife crime, single families sand binge drinking – was brought home to me when Crawshaw, whose BAC had also apparently just skyrocketed with one mouthful, exclaimed, “Bloody hell, it’s a bit strong! “The folks would love this!” I agreed – in fact from that moment on it was placed on my 2009 Christmas list. (Although not for Nana, of course). “Do you think it’s been steamed in some parts and not in others?” Jane asked, before acknowledging, “It is from ASDA, after all.” I had no idea. But I did think that David Cameron had a new challenge on his hands.




Kate Middleton

KATE UPDATE

Another day goes by (well a few, anyway) and there is no appearance of Miss Middleton – not even on the Daily Mail website.

Well at least not since this appeared four days before Christmas, anyway:

Is she busy out on the roller skating rink practicing her moves?

Is she busy out driving illegally on the roads near Bedfordshire or wherever she’s from?

Is she busy doing some work for an animal charity, as has been mooted by Her Majesty, or even just hard at work on the party planning website?

Is she hard at it at Boujis, Mahikis or up and down the Kings Road?

Or is she just at home, having gone into hiding, after sustaining some serious stubble rash from Wills’ new beard?

And, most importantly, was she at Sandringham this year, greeting Royal gazers, clad in Issa, while Zara Phillips was strutting about with a spaceship on top of her head (ie her propellor hat) and Princess Bea was stumbling about in heels she couldn’t stand up in???

These are not retorical questions.

The answer, quite simply is: no. Because Kate Middleton is on the outer. Again.

She needs to do some serious New Year’s resolutions – as far as her other half is concerned – and quick.



et cetera