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Sharing the Road

Oscar Foulkes August 27, 2017 Uncategorized 1 comment
We need to talk about bikes, specifically when they share the road with motor vehicles. I have to put it on the table, right up front, that not all riders are shining lights of responsible road use. I see far too many cyclists riding two or three abreast. For those same riders to then get aggressive with motorists that point out their transgression is beyond the pale.

It’s a subject that comes up on talk radio from time to time, which generally airs strong views at the extremes of the debate. In my view, it’s part of a much bigger issue, relating to the non-defensive and often negligent way in which many people operate their motor vehicles.

Road ‘accidents’ are rightly referred to as crashes by road management authorities. To call them accidents would be to absolve drivers of any responsibility for the actions that led to the incidents, when we know that error, negligence or outright criminality is the cause of the majority of crashes.

While cycling, I have twice been struck by cars. The first, on 16 March 2002, was a car driven by a young woman who had been out partying all night. She shouldn’t have been driving. I was hit from behind, and was extremely lucky to walk away from the scene. Ironically, I was on my way to ride on the mountain to get away from cars.

I avoided riding on the road since then. However, training for marathon mountain biking races does require time on the road as well, so Cape Epic training has lured me back onto the road.

The route for yesterday’s road ride necessitated getting through the Salt River-Woodstock precinct, for which there is a handy bike lane along Albert Road. As you can see from the picture alongside, the City has attempted to give it maximum visibility. However, it seems that the green paint is simply an invitation for the space to be invaded by cars, car guards and other parts of the Saturday morning ecosystem around The Biscuit Mill.

I dodged all sorts as I led through this section, riding as defensively and proactively as possible. However, I had no way of knowing that a car approaching from behind was about to turn left across the bike lane, wiping me out in the process. Once again, I was very lucky to get away from this with nothing more serious than roasties, bruises, and a scuffed saddle. Yes, there is a certain amount of irony to getting taken out in a bike lane.

The thing is that, over the course of three hours, we experienced several incidences of careless driving that could have caused us harm if we’d been in the wrong place at the right time (or is that the right place at the wrong time?). The final infraction resulted in my riding partner riding to catch up with the vehicle, so that he could express his feelings on the driver’s lack of road awareness (there was, admittedly, some shouting involved).

Bicycles don’t belong on all roads, but is it too much to ask motorists to take extra care when there is a clearly demarcated bike lane adjacent to the road?

My experience along the Atlantic seaboard stretch to Hout Bay is that motorists generally give the multitude of recreational riders a safe berth. On Chapman’s Peak, the tolerance is even greater, perhaps because it’s a sightseeing route, so drivers are more patient.

I’ll continue to cycle responsibly/defensively, and ask other cyclists to do the same.

To drivers, no matter how great your frustration, I ask you to bear in mind that every person on a bicycle is more vulnerable than you. If there is a rock-paper-scissors of road use, surely vulnerability trumps all other considerations?

The bike lane in Salt River (Pic: Abbas Harris)

The bike lane in Salt River (Pic: Abbas Harris)

Dress-up Fun

Oscar Foulkes June 20, 2017 Uncategorized No comments
“Do you like dressing up?”

I could have left out the quotation marks, which would have denoted me asking a question of my readers. However, on Saturday night, the question was directed at me, and it caused me to pause while I collected/collated a response.

In fairness, at the time this question was asked of me, I was wearing shiny gold tights, lace-up boots to a couple of inches above my ankles, a red t-shirt with a somewhat crazy print including more shiny stuff, and a cheetah print coat. I may also have been wearing over-sized oval sunglasses with sequins on the sides.

I wasn’t portraying any particular character, simply expressing the party’s theme: “vixen, foxy, quirky, tart or come as you are if you’re an old fart”. It wasn’t exactly the kind of get-up I’d be wearing to a business meeting, or even a casual Friday night visit to the neighbourhood burger joint.

I found it interesting that I found the need to pause before answering the question. Somehow, for a 50-year-old man, who lives (and dresses) a very conventional lifestyle, it felt like a question that was laden with all kinds of implications. Look at it this way – kids dress up all the time (see pic alongside of my brother and me, aged about four), but somehow it’s different for adults.

It’s a ‘thing’ to get into something crazy when you’re a spectator at a cricket test match, or for rugby sevens. One may dress as a recognisable character, whether it’s Elvis or a superhero. There is a ‘cover’ in these; they can be done without putting oneself too much on the line, as it were. Sometimes, dressing up is done with an exaggerated degree of silliness, which may also be part of the cover.

There is also a certain amount of cover if the outfit, from head to toe, has been rented. In the case of my party gear, the coat was given to the women in the house by our ex-neighbour (a fashion designer), I own the t-shirt, and actively went out and bought the shiny gold tights (admittedly for AfrikaBurn). The ‘out’ of renting doesn’t apply in this case.

There is so much of dressing up that can cause a raised eyebrow, a giggle, or outright judgement, from cosplay to cross-dressing. Perhaps it’s all about the degree of seriousness with which it’s approached. It’s ‘ok’ if it’s all a big laugh, but if something personal is being expressed then the terrain becomes a bit more complicated.

But it doesn’t have to be about expressing deep-seated psychology. For some, it’s just being creative – or even a bit crazy – seasoned with a sprinkling of exhibitionism. Technically, this may fall into the realm of having a particularly individual style, because it’s how these peeps go out on any average day, even though it may come across as ‘dress-up’.

Dressing up is more fairly the subject of an entire book, not just a few hundred words of my ramblings, so I’m going to keep this focused around the initial question.

My admittedly safe answer was something along the lines of me feeling comfortable doing it when circumstances require (or is that, when the opportunity arises?), which is not the same as saying “Yes!”

On one of the days of AfrikaBurn this year, I wore pretty much the same get-up, with the exception of the t-shirt, in that I was bare-chested under the cheetah print coat. My body is not buff, and I don’t have the skin type that takes on any tan, so this was a big step for me. It felt liberating to cross a line of vulnerability by exposing my upper body to this extent.

Somehow, it’s different to being shirtless by the pool. So, dressing up can also be about facing one’s vulnerabilities – which can take many forms.

During the party, someone asked if I ‘was’ Mick Jagger or David Bowie. Her mindset is clearly that dress-up is an attempt to represent a known character, which wasn’t a consideration for me. She wasn’t entirely wrong – in a sense I was shedding conventionality by taking on a rocker’s look, of sorts. And I had fun doing it.

Play is good for adults, too. So, yes, I enjoyed dressing up on Saturday.

A little dress-up fun as little boys – my brother on left, me on the right.

A little dress-up fun as little boys – my brother on left, me on the right.

Open Letter to Vee Moodley

Oscar Foulkes September 25, 2016 Uncategorized No comments
Vee Moodley
Betting Executive
Phumelela

Dear Vee

I don’t officially have a surname, so I hope you don’t mind me using your first name. Yes, in my version of my name there are two parts – Grape Vine – but I’m not a Mr Vine kind of guy (and just imagine answering to the first name, Grape!).

I’m in bit of a situation. Well, if I’m not already in a situation I will be at some point, and I may need your help.

First, a little background. I started my career in Cape Town, where I will admit to being somewhat directionless. However, it all got a lot better when I moved to Port Elizabeth. I won’t say that I found religion, but something certainly shifted.

First time out in PE I ran a close fourth, and it didn’t take long for me to win two on the trot (if you’ll excuse the expression). In total, my PE career has comprised 14 starts. Other than the two wins, I also had five places, and four fourths. There have also been two fifths, which means that only in one start did I not earn money (the less said about the way my jockey rode me that day, the better).

On six occasions I’ve been beaten a length or less.

What I’m getting at, is that this record makes a true servant of the Tote*. I’m sure that your databases could tell you a lot about the role I’ve played as punters’ choice in exotic bets. Consistent chaps like myself, I’m sure, are good for your business. More about that later.

On a scale of unplaced maiden, to Frankel, I am extremely average. I don’t have any delusions of grandeur. However, I would say that my model of consistency makes me anything but average. If you totted up my earnings in PE you’d see that I’ve more-or-less paid my way. In all my averageness I’m a rare racehorse.

The handicapper must look at my PE form and feel rather pleased with himself. My suggestion to the handicapper is to not get too smug. I make him look good, with my always-trying attitude. In return for my honesty I’m stuck with a merit rating* that all but ensures I’ll never win again. What do they say about no good deed going unpunished?

Anyway, my pain is your gain. I’m good for your business.

Yesterday, once again, I ran my heart out from a bad draw (what is it about me and wide draws). The best I could do was fifth. The worst is that it was a dead heat for fifth. Apparently there were some ripe comments from one of my owners about sharing a measly R1500 in prize money. Even though my form yesterday was worse than previous form against Naval Intelligence, I can’t see my merit rating getting cut. That’s just not how the handicappers roll.

Vee, something has to give. I get the feeling my owners are getting frustrated by this thing of seeing the handicapper stand between me and the winner’s box.

It’s time for me to get to the point. Considering what I do for your business, in the event that their frustration gets a bit too much, would you consider a contribution to my training fees?

Kind regards
Grape Vine

*Tote: The principle of Tote betting is that all bets are pooled. After the government taxes and operator’s share have been deducted, the nett pool is shared amongst the winning tickets. The tote is a more effective funder of the sport than bets struck with bookmakers.
*Merit ratings: Most races run in South Africa are handicaps, which aim to equalise horses’ chances of winning. Better horses carry more weight. Merit ratings are the method for assigning weights to horses. Higher merit ratings indicate better horses. At the basis of handicapping is the measurable drag effect of weight (over 1600m, one length of a horse equates to 2 lbs in weight carried).

Grape Vine winning in Cape Town

Grape Vine winning in Cape Town

Wax On, Wax Off

Oscar Foulkes May 24, 2016 Uncategorized No comments
Karate Kid was one of the great movie successes of the 80s. Its dose of feel-good was so strong that when I think of the movie today I still have the feeling, more than 30 years later. For me, it’s impossible to think of the movie without remembering Mr Miyagi’s “Wax on, wax off.”

His teenaged student, Daniel, didn’t understand how the cleaning of a car could have anything to do with the learning of a martial art, but in time it all fell into place.

My own ‘wax on, wax off’ experience started in 1982 (two years before the release of Karate Kid) when my parents took me, aged 15, to the offices of Form Organisation, with the request that Charles Faull and his team teach me something about horse racing and breeding. It was an escape from boarding school that I dove straight into, using all kinds of excuses to leave the school grounds for a few hours. These ranged from runs around Rondebosch Common to shopping trips for essential items.

One of the main pieces of work I did was to transcribe onto special stationery (from the Stud Book) the names of all foals by a stallion, separated into colts and fillies. Then, using the Racing Calendar, I had to look up the racing performances of these horses, recording number of races won, as well as their top performances.

I learnt a huge amount from a time consuming and apparently tedious exercise. Apart from exposure to the performances of great horses and their sires, the most valuable learning may have been seeing the rarity of top racehorses. Rarer still, are stallions that sire a high percentage of top horses.

The breeding and racing of horses are pursuits that involve a low level of predictability, if not a huge amount of chance, but there is room for knowledge to be used to improve the probabilities.

Bayes’ theorem improves our understanding of probability, because it incorporates the concept of base rate. Through all those hours that I sat doing this research I was brought face-to-face with base rate, which in the case of top-class racehorses is alarmingly low.

An important race, awaited with great anticipation, is a focal high point, releasing a rush of excitement. Underlying it all is an endlessly fascinating intellectual pursuit of trying to beat the odds. If you’re a breeder you are matching stallions and mares in the hope that the resulting DNA will produce an athlete. Owners (and their advisers) scour auction sales looking for the unraced youngster that will grow up to be an athlete. Punters study form with the hope of gleaning an insight that will give them an edge at the betting windows.

From start to finish, it’s a great intellectual pursuit.

The focus of all this attention is the Thoroughbred, an athlete so magnificent that we are eventually forced to put aside all intellectualising, and just feel.

I would have loved it anyway, but the ‘wax on, wax off’ has added valuable dimensions to the experience.

Epic Shit #4: Burn that shit

Oscar Foulkes May 9, 2016 Uncategorized No comments
Here’s an insight that came to me during AfrikaBurn, which I attended for the third time this year. Apart from the visual spectacle, and otherworld experience, I find it to be a deeply emotional space. Each year is different.

This time, because of lingering pain, as well as generally depleted energy levels, I took it easy, not venturing out to the burns until the last night. I have written before about the apparent lunacy of spending weeks building magnificent, artistic structures. And then burning them.

Those nighttime burns, especially the silent ones, are an awe-inspiring spectacle. It’s easy to enter a contemplative as you stand around a massive burn with thousands of other people.

My contemplation during the last night’s silent burn is that we carry a lot of shit around with us. Experiences become memories, which have emotions attached to them. Some of these are happy ones, but we are often just as likely to carry around feelings that either taint our relationships, or limit what we achieve.

There no value in hoarding shit. It’s bad for us.

Fire can be an important part of renewal; take all those limiting attitudes/beliefs/emotions and burn that shit.

epic_shitI was given this notebook by a friend, at the conclusion of a six-week course of radiotherapy to my throat. Radiotherapy is targeted at specific areas, so it’s theoretically an easier experience than chemotherapy. However, my throat became extremely painful, which affected eating and drinking, speech and more. I’m a better ‘writer’ on keyboard than with pen in hand, so here goes with a selection of things I would have written in the notebook if I could.

Epic Shit #3: Shit is easier to manage if it is expected

Oscar Foulkes March 30, 2016 Uncategorized 2 comments
I was comprehensively briefed in advance of the start of my course of radiotherapy. I knew what to expect, especially when side effects kicked in. There was a structure to the treatment, with a designated number of weekday visits to the hospital, weekly consultations with a doctor, and a clear sense of a beginning and an end. I had various medications for pain, spearheaded by morphine.

The side effects were horrible, but after each treatment I crossed off another day on my chart. I also had control over my pain medication.

It is now a little over three weeks since the end of my treatment. I can unequivocally say that the last two months represent probably the physically roughest period of my life, and in a way, the post-treatment period has been the worst. Yes, pain has abated to the point where I no longer need the morphine, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not experiencing a range of unpleasant side effects.

It’s one thing to sit out a process when you have the timeline in advance. The problem with post-treatment is that there is no schedule, no daily structure. No end date, nothing to cross off a list. I know I must be getting better, but oddly, it seems harder to manage than when I was getting worse.

epic_shitI was given this notebook by a friend, at the conclusion of a six-week course of radiotherapy to my throat. Radiotherapy is targeted at specific areas, so it’s theoretically an easier experience than chemotherapy. However, my throat became extremely painful, which affected eating and drinking, speech and more. I’m a better ‘writer’ on keyboard than with pen in hand, so here goes with a selection of things I would have written in the notebook if I could.

Epic Shit #2: There is worse shit

Oscar Foulkes March 22, 2016 Uncategorized No comments
It was relatively easy for me to be gung ho in the early stages of treatment. This type of cancer has a tiny probability of killing me, and to start with I wasn’t feeling any side effects.

After five weeks of daily radiation I was feeling much less chipper.

I got chatting to someone who is in a work-related WhatsApp group with me. As a result of cancer treatments, he was fed by nose tube for nine months. Two years later, all his nutrition is sipped through a straw. His permanent discomfort is considerable.

The insight is that shit can be worse. If we’re able to shift our perspective to see that, then we can find things for which we can be grateful.

Gratitude is an excellent antidote to suffering.

epic_shitI was given this notebook by a friend, at the conclusion of a six-week course of radiotherapy to my throat. Radiotherapy is targeted at specific areas, so it’s theoretically an easier experience than chemotherapy. However, my throat became extremely painful, which affected eating and drinking, speech and more. I’m a better ‘writer’ on keyboard than with pen in hand, so here goes with a selection of things I would have written in the notebook if I could.

Epic Shit #1: Imagined shit is worse than real shit

Oscar Foulkes March 21, 2016 Uncategorized No comments
This insight came to me as I was kneeling at the toilet bowl. A few days before, my wife had spent a night fighting an attack of gastro. I was quaking at the thought of finding myself in the same situation. Think about it – I could barely swallow sips of water. How horrible would it be to have a reversed flow of acid-laced stomach contents rushing up through my raw throat?

Well, here I was, without any control over the situation; having to endure whatever came my way. I won’t deny that it was horrible (I certainly shed a retch-induced tear), but the unpleasant situation was a lot more bearable than I thought it would be.

We get apprehensive about things in advance of them happening, probably rightly so, but it’s amazing how well we cope with situations, relative to how we imagined we would, when there just isn’t any option.

There’s a lot to be said for ‘stiff upper lip’.

epic_shitI was given this notebook by a friend, at the conclusion of a six-week course of radiotherapy to my throat. Radiotherapy is targeted at specific areas, so it’s theoretically an easier experience than chemotherapy. However, my throat became extremely painful, which affected eating and drinking, speech and more. I’m a better ‘writer’ on keyboard than with pen in hand, so here goes with a selection of things I would have written in the notebook if I could.

Vinnovation

Oscar Foulkes September 19, 2015 Uncategorized No comments
When I joined Cloof late in 2002 it was an operation that almost exclusively sold bulk wine. I should add that this was transacted at a price that could not cover the costs of running the business. Providing a return on the capital invested was out of the question. The other notable feature of Cloof at that time was that Pinotage was the most planted grape variety on the farm.

If I had known how hard it would be to sell Pinotage I may well have decided against taking the job. Not since my days of attempting to shed bachelorhood have I been rejected as often as I was in those days. Despite the constant refrain that my ‘package’ (i.e. wine) was not up to scratch, I was very positive about blending Pinotage with Shiraz and Cinsaut.

For the 2005 vintage I worked with winemaker Christopher van Dieren in putting together just such a blend. A portion of the blend had been aged in barriques, with the result that the wine was a notch above what normally retailed at its price point. That vintage earned four stars from the Platter Guide, which was quite an accolade for a ‘cheapie’. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Especially when tasted from tank soon after the vintage, Cloof’s Pinotage has a colour so deep that I often called it “inky”. It wasn’t long before my brain populated itself with an entire brand concept, with “inky” as the starting point. Inkspot became the brand name, because Cloof is the spot where inky wines are made.

I further elaborated on the concept by calling the blend “Vin Noir”, thereby creating the world’s first black wine, to join vin rouge and vin blanc. When I briefed Nic Jooste for the label design, I told him that I wanted to use the printing process that creates a raised, glossy effect for the type, as if the ink is still wet. And, I said, I wanted to explore the possibility of creating an nibbed ink pen effect. Well, Nic knocked it out of the park, complete with ink splotches.

Inkspot became a vehicle for selling vast quantities of Pinotage, and has remained that since my departure from Cloof at the end of 2009.

I was delighted to discover earlier today that my creation was selected as a finalist in the 2015 ABSA Cape Blends competition, alongside nine other wines that sell for a LOT more money. Well done to the Cloof team!
Inkspot_Zoom
(The video alongside was filmed during Rocking the Daisies, which celebrates its 10th birthday this year. I can still remember the moment when I received a mass email from the organisers, and my immediate response to Brian Little: “Yes, we’d love to host the event!” The rest, as they say, is history.)

Stranded by Standard

Oscar Foulkes September 14, 2015 Uncategorized No comments
Judging by the number of people calling in to CapeTalk about Standard Bank freezing their accounts as a result of FICA issues (South Africa’s version of ‘know your customer’), the bank has some serious admin problems.

My experience with Standard Bank’s admin comes as a result of dealing with my brother’s deceased estate. According to PSG Trust, the joint-executors of his estate, they sent originals of all relevant documentation to Standard Bank soon after being appointed (that was more than three months ago). Standard responded by couriering back the very documents that had been sent to them.

Yes, I know, it seems impossible, but they did.

Of course, PSG Trust sent them back, but Standard appeared to do nothing with them. Documents were then emailed, but still no action.

All the while, the money is sitting in an account that does not bear interest. In addition, there are monthly charges for holding the account. Fortunately, my sister-in-law and nephew are not in immediate need, but imagine the pickle they would have been in if they were relying on this money for their living expenses.

In frustration, last week I tweeted Standard Bank with a request to escalate the issue. In a series of direct messages I shared my brother’s ID number as well as my cell number. I was assured that I would be given assistance.

My follow-up messages were met with a stony silence.

I contacted them via direct message again this morning, to which they responded by asking if I had contacted the deceased estates department. Duh! I began the process by requesting that the matter get escalated. Why would I contact the very people who thus far have demonstrated no interest in getting the matter resolved?

It is inconceivable that it can take this long for Standard Bank to hand the credit balance over to the estate, not to mention monumentally frustrating that the bank is devoid of both a sense of urgency, or anyone willing to take responsibility. And, on top of that, to utterly disregard a concerned person’s plea for assistance when the regular channels have failed.

I have no doubt that this will eventually be resolved. What are the chances that Standard Bank will offer to compensate the interest that has been lost?

By all means, bank with Standard. Just make sure your money is elsewhere when you die. The admin problems could drive your heirs mad.

Millstock Cars is the most impressive team I’ve dealt with following my brother’s death. They’re a slick, professional outfit. Everything they’ve said they would do, they’ve done. And the admin has been brilliant!