Safety in Johannesburg

Further to some comments that I made yesterday about walking the streets of San Francisco……..

Another place I spend some time walking the streets alone is Johannesburg. People have warned me that this is unwise – that to wander about in groups of less than 4 or 5 people was to compromise one’s own safety.

I have always taken (and expressed) the view that muggers only pick on those they perceive as vulnerable and if one walks about the place looking like one who owns it and is, themselves, a potential physical threat, then one will be left alone (this is not advise I give to women, mind you).

Recent events suggest that I might have to review my approach.

When the Australian Rugby Union team we’re visiting Johannesburg recently and returning from dinner in a small group one of them was singled out from the rest and his new phone was stolen. He initially took off in pursuit, but his friends held him back, taking the (very sensible) view that a phone was not worth a knife or a bullet.

The man who lost the phone was Taniela Tupou. That’s a picture of him above. He is 23 years old. He is a professional rugby player and therefore unusually strong, fast and fit. He weighs 130 kilos (that’s 300lbs). He is referred to as ‘The Tongan Thor’.

So …. I may have to change my approach. If these guys are willing to take on Taniela (with half his teammates standing within 30 ft) I don’t think they’ll hesitate too much about Brutus.

The only advantage that I may have over Taniela is that, most of the time, I look like I’ve already been mugged.

More of the Tongan Thor here.

An ethical dilemma. Advice please.

If one wanders through the streets of San Francisco (as I do … aimlessly … with some regularity) it is not uncommon to hear people shouting. It is difficult, most times, to be sure of what they are shouting about or at whom the vitriol is directed. Everything and everybody, in most cases, I think. The language, even by my own colourful standards can be very blue. The sorts of words that one might expect to hear from a sailor who has just dropped a brick on his big toe.

But it’s nice that people can feel sufficiently comfortable, I suppose, to express their feelings so openly in an open forum. Heavy drugs and mental health issues probably help.

But it was different the other day. There were two people shouting and they were shouting at each other. They were both on bicycles. They were stopped at a set of lights and there was a black guy shouting at a white woman whose bike was about 6 feet in front of his. She was facing away from him but turning her head such that she could hurl abuse at him with the added benefit of ugly facial expressions.

In terms of a verbal contest I would judge it as having been fairly even. The dude probably had the upper hand with regard to volume and arm waving, but that was balanced out by the superior vocabulary deployment of his opponent.

But then she turned her bike and rode back towards him so that she could get her face about 2 inches from his. She started to prod him with a finger. Then she grabbed him by the shirt. The dude pushed her back but she was clearly gaining ascendency. He looked frightened. Things seemed like they might escalate rapidly.

I don’t know who these people were. They might have been lovers – although they looked like an unlikely couple. I don’t even know what the argument was about (who ever does once an argument really gets going?) and I’m fairly sure that I didn’t care.

What was clear to me though was that, if this thing was to become violent, then the black dude was going to be outclassed. She had a definite weight advantage. She was some years younger than him. He was in for a beating. So should I have intervened?

My intervention skills are limited. Things have gone badly wrong before.

(On one memorable occasion Mrs Richmond had me stick my nose into a domestic dispute. Some lunatic was beating the crap out of his wife. There were punches and tears and ripped clothing and blood all over the place. I managed to hold him still for long enough such that she could make an escape. And then I was king-hit from behind. By the assailant’s mother – a woman of about 60 with a savage right hook. A week later the happy couple were back together, but I was still recovering from a mild concussion.)

Nevertheless, I am no stranger to physical confrontation. And it’s not like one more broken nose is going to make me any less good looking at this stage in life. But should I have intervened? Should I have stepped in to defend the underdog? Can you imagine how it might have looked? When a policeman walked around the corner as I was wrestling a young white woman to the ground as an older black guy looked on screaming obscenities?

By the time the decision process had gone through all its twists and turns I was upon them. They had both stepped off their bikes by now and she was pushing him backwards into a brick wall where, I assume, she would be better positioned to get a decent swing at him.

I did the only sensible thing.

“Good afternoon,” I said to them both.

And then I kept walking.

It’s only love

Goodness. I seem to have gone brain dead (or brain deader) and can’t think of much to say. Nothing of value, anyway. I just returned from Alaska and maybe I indulged in too much visual and sensual stimulation (there can be no question that I indulged in a few other things to excess, too) and it has sucked any remaining vestiges of creativity out of me.

I just thought that I should post something to indicate signs of life.

And I have been a bit nostalgic.

I am a bit nostalgic quite a lot, to be honest.

So I entitled this post ‘It’s only love’ because, right now, I think everything is about love (certainly every story or silly poem I have ever written is about love in one way or another) but it really doesn’t have to mean that much …. you know? It’s only love. Get over it.

And the picture above is of my old pals Mike and Bill (Bill left the planet a few years ago, alas) but they did once produce a little tune with the same title as my post.

You can listen to it here if you wish.

And they did another song called ‘Disco Dilemma’ which I understood so well …. but if you weren’t a male in the 70’s it would mean nothing to you. But the last few lines echoed a teenage experience for me ….

She can’t hear what you’re saying

Another record is playing

So you don’t get to say


As you push through the crowd

The music’s playing so loud

No one hears you’ve got tears

In your eye


As I say …. I’m feeling a little nostalgic and melancholy.

But this is just me saying hello, really.


The Wedding Speech

As some of you may recall – I am in Alaska at present for the purposes of attending a wedding which will occur in a matter of hours from now.

I have been sitting this morning with the groom and best man attempting to come up with a suitable speech. The majority of attendees, we are assuming, will be Alaskans but there will be a strong contingent of Australians as well. The event is, after all, to some extent at least, to mark a union between the two cultures. The trick will be to come up with something that is sensitive to both but remains unashamedly Australian.

We have conducted extensive brainstorming and research. Most of the jokes have been, reluctantly, discarded.

In the end we have based something vaguely around the following (admittedly a 21st birthday speech and admittedly by a New Zealander).

What do you think?

Alaska Update

Bear survival techniques have thus far proven successful. Speaking to them (politely but firmly) seems to do the trick.

Killer Whales (Orcas) seem, on the other hand, to be completely disinterested in idle chit chat. We spent a few hours this morning thinking that we were chasing them but we were, in reality, just keeping out of their way.

Majestic creatures.

More of the same. Still no bear attacks.

OK. So ….. people have let me know that this bear threat is very real. So I have been doing some research via the signs that I am seeing more and more of on the paths that I tread. Apparently it is important to let the bear know that I am human. Bears take issue, it would seem, with visitors from other galaxies. Fair enough. Me too.

Apparently I should talk ‘normally’ to the bear. That is not a problem to me, of course. These are American bears that I am dealing with, and they are comfortable with English. But I saw some Japanese people earlier this morning and I am very worried that their lack of conversational expertise with bears may be, potentially, life threatening.

Anyway ….. I climbed Mt Roberts today. It was an act of utter insanity. I may be crippled for life, as a result

But, up the top, the view was special.

Haines (Alaska) and Bears

A made a visit to Haines today, folks. I’m really not much of a photographer … but I do like going for a walk now and again. And I took a couple of snaps. Please let me know if they bore you.

During my walk I came across a few warnings about bears – ‘you are in bear country’, one of them said. Since becoming aware of this advice Mrs Richmond has been checking behind every tree.

I am aware that visitors to Australia assume that they will be eaten by crocodiles, snakes, spiders, sharks and kangaroos the minute they step out of the city. Which is laughable, of course. Should I be laughing now? Is there an Alaskan out there who can give me some perspective in terms of the actual bear threat?