Emerald Resort: Animal World

Emerald Resort Animal World

The Emerald Resort & Casino is situated an hour’s drive south of Johannesburg and it has accommodation, an animal world, games drives, a casino, and a water park.  Bright and early on the morning that we were there, we took my god daughter Keira to the Animal World.

(Click on any of the images for enlargements)

Crocodile Hippo and Black-Necked Swan at Emerald Resort Animal World
Crocodile, Hippopotamus, Black-Necked Swan and Purple-Crested Loerie

We took a walk past the crocodiles and hippos and then into the bird aviary where they had all sorts of birds from all over the world living together.

Scarlet Ibis Snakes and Terrapins at Emerald Resort Animal World
Scarlet Ibis, snakes and terrapins

As always, I enjoyed the section with the reptiles and snakes because I am weird like that (deathly scared of the American house cockroach but enamoured with spiders and snakes).

Meerkats at Emerald Resort Animal World

Meerkat means lake or marsh cat in Afrikaans so strictly speaking, the plural would be meerkatte as opposed to meerkats.  Stephen and I had good fun watching the meerkats being fed and we made scores of witty jokes about Compare the Meerkat to the bemusement of those around us.  Of course, meerkats come from Southern Africa not Eastern Europe so the adverts are even more rubbish than they were to begin with.

African Crested Porcupines at Emerald Resort Animal World
African Crested Porcupines

African Crested Porcupines are famous for their black and white quills and most visitors to national parks will pick up a couple of the quills to take home with them.  Did you know that porcupines are rodents? 

Nile Crocodile Water Mongoose Black Lemur and Brown Lemur at Emerald Resort Animal World
Nile Crocodile, Water Mongoose, Black Lemur and Brown Lemur

The Nile Crocodile is found all the way down Africa to Zimbabwe but were first thought to only exist in the Nile Delta.  They are huge and vicious and I love the ridges on their tales.  The Water Mongoose is related to the Meerkats above (as they are a member of the mongoose family) and the Black and Brown Lemurs come from Madagascar.

Black Swan at Emerald Resort Animal World
Black Swan

The black swan was once used as a reference for an unobtainable goal as Europeans thought that they did not exist.  They were first sighted by Europeans in Australia in 1697.

Ruffed Lemur Steenbok Vervet Monkey and Baboon at Emerald Resort Animal World
Ruffed Lemur, Steenbok, Vervet Monkey and Baboon

Steenbok is another Afrikaans word which means stone buck so the plural would be steenbokke.  Unlike most African antelope, they are solitary creatures and do not run in herds.  I am absolutely besotted with all antelope, especially our African species. 

Just a note, if you ever encounter a vervet monkey in the wild, do not be taken by their rather cute and friendly faces.  They are really vicious little things (but still don’t deserve to be locked in a cage).

Lions at Emerald Resort Animal World

I have been mad about lions for as long as I can remember and my mum tells me it is because I held one as a toddler (I held a monkey too and have a similar fascination).  Lions are known for sleeping most of the day but they do like to roam at night and sadly, there was no room here to do so.

Hyaenas Lions Wild Dogs and Chilean Flamingos at Emerald Resort Animal World
Hyena, Lions, Wild Dogs and Chilean Flamingos

I love the look of hyenas and spent a long time trying to get a photo of the shy female above.  Wild dogs are not as pretty but they are one of the most endangered breeds of animals in South Africa, with only 3,000 to 5,000 left.  They remain in peril even after at least 15 years of targeted conservation efforts.

Pygmy Hippopotamus at Emerald Resort Animal World
Pygmy Hippopotamus

Pygmy hippopotami come from West African countries such as Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.  They are endangered too due to loss of habitat and, of course, war.

Weavers Orange Bishop Weavers Red River Hog and Common Squirrel Monkey at Emerald Resort Animal World
Weaver, Orange Bishop Weavers, Red River Hog and Common Squirrel Monkey

Weaver birds are so named because of the nests that they weave and I was thrilled to get a photo of one weaving. Usually, when we refer to “Weavers” we are referring to the yellow variety and all others are referred to by type, such as the Orange Bishop Weaver. The Orange Bishop Weavers were everywhere to be found in Emerald Palace Resort and are quite beautiful.

South Africa is known for its many national parks and conservation centres where animals are kept in areas as close to their natural habitats as possible. Unfortunately, Animal World is not one of those places and it is closer to a zoo than a safari experience.

I'm not a fan of animals in cages and I am also not a fan of animals so far from their natural habitat. Even though the Lion and Rhino Park north of Johannesburg had tigers and jaguars (from Asia and South America, respectively), they were involved in some serious rescue and conservation operations. 

My favourite place would have to be the Lion Park, also north of Johannesburg.  They breed and raise lion cubs there and are involved in efforts to rescue the endangered status of the white lion.  Your best bet if you are visiting South Africa is go to to one of the proper national parks such as Kruger National Park or Sabie Sabie.


Holiday: Johannesburg 2006
South Africa 2009: Lion and Rhino Park part 1
South Africa 2009: Lion and Rhino Park part 2

FA Cup Semi-Final: Man United vs. Man City at Wembley (16 April 2011)

This is a sort-of guest post by Stephen. The photos of the stadium are all his, as is the commentary. Stephen bought a season ticket to Manchester United this past season and has been going up nearly every second weekend for games.  The photos are all from before the match as he was had better things to do during the match than take photos!

Stephen before the game
Stephen looking super excited before the game

Yesterday was the FA Cup Semi-Final between Manchester United and Manchester City at Wembley.  As a United fan and season ticket holder, I had the chance to apply for tickets to the match and was lucky to get one. 

The first half was dominated by Manchester United and they should have scored two goals but Dimitar Berbatov missed both. He was thwarted once by a good save from Man City goal keeper Joe Hart and the second one was just a bad miss as he put it over the bar from point blank range.

Wembley Stadium - awesome seats! 
Great seats!

City weren't even in the game in the first half but during the break Roberto Mancini must have had something inspirational to his side for the first time ever because City came out the hungrier of the two teams in the second half.  City dominated the first fifteen minutes which culminated in Michael Carrick making a fatal error and losing the ball just outside the box. 

Wembley Stadium - manchester United vs Manchester City FA Cup semi-final
The stadium before the match

Yaya Touré finished clinically as he sent the ball past Edwin van der Sar.Then a harsh challenge by Paul Scoles got him a straight red card which effectively sealed the game for Man City.

I stood for the entire ninety minutes because United fans are known for standing which is quite irritating. Speaking as a United fan, I believe fans are arrogant and require to be brought down a couple of notches. One of the songs we sing is "We are Man United, We'll do what we want. We'll do what we want because we are Man United".

It was pretty shocking that they allowed the City and United fans to congregate after the match as it got quite tense and there were obviously skirmishes because a couple of guys walked by with bandages and blood on their heads.

Wembley Stadium - warming up and opening ceremony
The teams warming up and the opening ceremony

Toadstools, Brownies, Elves and Sprites


Do you believe in fairies? When I was growing up in England, I was a Brownie.  I was in the Leprechaun pack and I went to Brownies every Thursday evening for a night of legends, fun and tactical games.  I loved Brownies in England and it was one of the things I missed the most when I moved to South Africa.  We had Brownies in South Africa but it wasn’t fun at all.

What I loved the most about Brownies was the folklore about woodlands, forests, brown owls, toadstools, fairies, elves, sprites and pixies.  I wouldn’t be able to tell you if I knew they were just stories; then again, when I think about it now, that feeling of magic, wonder and intrigue returns so I am not sure I don’t believe in them now!

It is the same feeling I get when I read “The Stolen Child” by W. B. Yeats.  I can feel the glamour at the edge of my vision as the veil between fantasy and reality begins to lift.

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand

I still get more than a little giddy when I see fairy rings or even just plain old toadstools.  I took the photo above during our trip to Scotland last summer.

Over the past four years that I have spent in England, I have had the fortune to travel around Great Britain and learn more about the history of this land.  I’ve been hooked on modern fantasies such as Harry Potter, Robin Hood, Doctor Who and Merlin while learning more about legendary and historical figures such as Boudica, King Arthur and Robin of Sherwood.  This country has such a rich and fascinating history of folklore and storytelling and it spans back thousands of years.  My favourite part of all of that has to be the legends of the magical creatures of the woodlands and forests.

This little magical interlude was brought to you courtesy of The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa.  I interviewed Julie in February after reading her first novel The Iron King and I am trying to finish The Iron Daughter in order to review it by the release date on Friday.  The books are about the dark and sinister worlds of fey, fairies and the Seelie and Unseelie creatures and I’m enjoying this second novel much more than the first.

Concert Review: Does It Offend You, Yeah?–Heaven, April 4, 2011

On Monday evening, we headed down to Heaven in the Arches under Charing Cross Station.  There isn’t much that would get me to a dive of a club on a Monday evening but seeing Does It Offend You, Yeah? perform live would.  Once inside, we got a spot right near the front and prepared ourselves for an evening of mayhem as DIOYY are known for their chaotic live gigs.

Tripwires (supporting DIOYY at Heaven)

Tripwires were the first support band.  The club had taken quite a while to fill up and I correctly predicted that they would start the support bands late.  Tripwires sounded a bit like Suede and the Britpop bands of the mid-nineties with endless reverberating guitars and the deepest possible basslines. 

Tripwires (supporting DIOYY Heaven)

I really wanted to like them but their guitars drowned out their vocals. It sounded like the sound levels were all wrong and the instruments were competing for prominence but the free track on their website sounds the same.

Hounds (supporting DIOYY at Heaven)

Hounds were up next. This four-piece from Essex were really energetic and ripped up the stage.  They have a pretty heavy sound and like DIOYY, they make use of samples and mac-effects in amongst thrashing drums and guitars.  They reminded me a lot of The Prodigy at their loudest.

Hounds (supporting DIOYY Heaven)

Hounds were really entertaining too. In the middle of their set, the vocalist explained that they’d been supporting DIOYY across their many gigs in the UK and they knew who it was the crowd wanted to see.  Just once, he said, he wanted to hear the crowd go wild just for them and so he whipped up the crowd into a frenzy as we cheered on their next track. 

DIOYY at Heaven

Canned frenzy or not, it is clear that everyone was there to see the main act, Does It Offend You, Yeah?  The last time I saw them was at Exit Festival in 2010 and I was looking forward to hearing some of the brand new tracks from their new album Don't Say We Didn't Warn You.

The moment finally arrived and the band burst onto stage.  They launched straight into “Wrestler” which is one of my favourite tracks on their new album and followed up with “With A Heavy Heart (I Regret To Inform You)”.  Lead singer James Rushent asked which fans had been around since the beginning (which elicited a big whoop from me) and they played their first ever recording “Battle Royale” featuring the sublime guitar solo from Matty Derham. 

DIOYY at Heaven 4 April

The next three tracks are amongst my favourite DIOYY tracks and the crowd went crazy.  First up was “We Are The Dead”, the first download released from their new album plus my old favourites “Attack Of The 60ft Lesbian Octopus” and “Weird Science”. 

Trip performing with DIOYY at Heaven

The band were then joined on stage by rapper Trip to perform on their track “Wondering”.  It was a great opportunity to see him perform with the band and he gave a great performance.

Smiles all round - DIOYY and Trip

I love the photo above.  If you click on it for an enlargement, you can see all of the bands members, including Trip, grinning away.  It is possible that this was taken when James Rushent was grilling the crowd on whether they had illegally downloaded the new album.  Not many people admitted to doing so which is strange when you consider how many users were commenting about it on Last.fm after it leaked. 

Next up was “Survival of the Thickest” the iTunes-exclusive bonus track from their new album.  It is a great track that reminds me of the classic Space Invaders game.  It was around this time that the band were informed that they needed to get off stage shortly.  James Rushent put the blame on the previous bands not being ready on time but we all knew they were due to appear on Radio 1 at 10pm anyway.  They seemed to rush through the next three tracks which were old favourites from their first album, “Let’s Make Out”, “Dawn of the Dead” and “We Are Rockstars”.

The band then disappeared off stage, reappearing for the obligatory encore after the crowd bayed for more.  They played a raucous version of “The Monkeys Are Coming” and then, just like that, they were gone.

I really enjoyed the show and I loved every single track that they played.  I know they couldn’t have played for too much longer as curfew was at 10.30pm but I was hoping to hear far more tracks from their new album.  I guess that settles it then: I’m going to have to see them in concert again, and soon!

The Shard: A Year in Photos

When construction first began on The Shard back in 2009, it seemed like 2012 was a long, long way away.  It has been just over a year since The Shard first began peeking out over rooftops in the London Bridge area and a full year since I started taking photos.  So, without further ado, I present you a year of photos of The Shard.  Click on any of the photos for an enlargement.


March 2010


The Shard London Bridge March 2010

In March 2010, the building was about 18 levels high.  All that we could see was the central core and while there was a framework around the bottom 7 levels or so, there was not much to see down there yet.

The Shard London Bridge March 2010 (4)


April 2010


The Shard London Bridge April 2010

By April 2010, The Shard began to dominate the sky as you walked out of London Bridge Station forecourt.  In just one month, they had made incredible progress and the framework for the lower levels and lobby seemed to be complete, as was the framework for the first three concrete floors.  The core had reached about 20 levels (it is difficult to see how much more has been built under the Mace banner).

The Shard London Bridge April 2010 (4)


May 2010


The Shard London Bridge May 2010

In just three weeks from April 30 to May 20, 2010, the core had shot up 7 levels to 27 levels.  Work on the concrete floors (which I increasingly began to view as either a ‘skirt’ or cake layers) continued to five floors.

The Shard London Bridge May 2010 (4)


August 2010


The Shard London Bridge August 2010

For a period of time, there didn’t appear to be any discernible difference in the progress of The Shard, but over the summer of 2010, the core rose to 37 levels and the outer layers really did begin to look like the skirt of a flamenco dress with all of that red and black.  If you look at the photo below-right, you will also see that the building began to extend slightly to the east.

The Shard London Bridge August 2010 (4)

The glass work began to be visible above the tops of buildings later in the year and the bottom levels were lit up to look like a Christmas tree.  I wish I had taken a photo of that but was far too cold and miserable to be taking out my camera!


January 2011


The Shard London Bridge January 2011

By January 2011, The Shard had begun to dominate the London skyline.  The core had reached its highest level at level 72 and the concrete floors had reached to about level 44.  The glass cladding had reached about level 35.

The Shard London Bridge January 2011 (4)


February 2011


The Shard London Bridge February 2011

The concrete floors reached level 46 by the end of February and the glass cladding continued to be completed around the building.  Attention was given to the extended blocks to the east of the building.


March 2011


The Shard London Bridge March 2011

By the end of March 2011, the concrete floors had reached level 50 and the cladding was complete to level 38.  The work on the extended blocks was mostly completed and I imagine it will simply be onwards and upwards now until the building is completed.

I certainly cannot wait until the observation deck is complete and look forward to one final year of Shard watching.  The Shard is currently the tallest building in London and the United Kingdom and exceeded One Canada Square in late November 2010.

Concert Review: Editors - Royal Albert Hall, London, March 26, 2011

Each day in the United Kingdom, six teenagers find out that they have cancer.  Cancer often spreads rapidly in teenagers on account of their growth spurts and it is the leading cause of non-accidental death in the UK.  Teenage cancer patients are often put in wards with small children or the elderly where they are not amongst their peers and not necessarily treated by experts in teenage cancer. 

Royal Albert Hall Interior

Teenage Cancer Trust provide ten specialist units in NHS hospitals across the United Kingdom.  With bright and colourful surroundings, the units are designed to be comfortable for both patients and their families.  They can interact with their peers, play computer games, watch TV while being treated by specialists in the field of teenage cancer.  The Teenager Cancer Trust aims to build enough units by 2012 so that every teenager in the UK will have access to the specialist care that they provide.

Editors Teenager Cancer Trust Royal Albert Hall

Each year since 2000, Teenage Cancer Trust has held a series of fundraisers at the Royal Albert Hall in London.  Roger Daltrey of The Who explains that music is everything to teenagers and the whole music business is built on the backs of teenagers.  But your life drastically changes when you are diagnosed with cancer.  Teenager Cancer Trust exists so that the lives of young people with cancer are not defined or limited by their cancer.

The 2011 Teenager Cancer Trust gigs at the Royal Albert Hall ran from Monday 21 to Sunday 27 March and included acts such as Biffy Clyro, Roger Daltrey, Tinie Tempah and Beady Eye.  We went along on the evening of March 26 to catch Editors supported by I Am Arrows and Wolf Gang. 

I Am Arrows

I Am Arrows Royal Albert Hall (Editors Teenage Cancer Trust)

I was initially pleased to see a band I recognised in the supporting line up as I had seen I Am Arrows performing at Wembley.  Unfortunately, they gave a lukewarm performance which was worsened by frontman Andy Burrows (formerly of Razorlight) grumbling at the crowd and condescending that no one there knew their music.  Obviously Andy Burrows doesn’t realise that many music fans go to live events to discover new bands and three of my greatest music obsessions of all time started with me discovering them at live concerts (PJ Harvey, The Parlotones and Kawasaki 3P). 

Wolf Gang

Wolf Gang Royal Albert Hall (Editors Teenage Cancer Trust)

Whereas I Am Arrows had been dull and boring, Wolf Gang were energetic and upbeat.  They had a great attitude too and played their hearts out.  Unfortunately, they weren’t very good at it.  Fronted by Max McElligott, Wolf Gang are meant to sound like David Bowie or Talking Heads but just sound like a really bad, early-eighties tribute band with a dodgy sense of style.  Top points for trying though and at least they smiled and seemed happy to be there.

After two such disappointing opening acts, we were more than ready to get on with the evening’s programme.  First though, we watched a touching and informative video presentation on teenage cancer and the noble work that Teenage Cancer Trust does.  One of the young adults featured in the video came up on stage to tell us about his experiences.  He explained that thanks to Teenage Cancer Trust, he did not lose a year of his life when he was in hospital and he would not change his cancer experience as it made him a better person.  A very brave young man indeed.


Finally, the moment we had all waited for arrived and Editors were on stage.  They opened with “Camera” and “Bullets” from their first album The Back Room and in mere seconds I realised why the Royal Albert Hall is famed for its excellent acoustics.  The band sounded incredible and Tom Smith’s baritone voice carried perfectly in the hall.  “Bones” was next, followed by “An End Has A Start”, one of Editors’ best known songs, and the crowd really got going. 

Editors at Royal Albert Hall

We were then treated to “Two Hearted Spider” which is one of Editors’ new tracks.  It was absolutely incredible and on this basis alone I will rush out and buy their new album when it is released.  Thankfully there is quite a decent video of the performance up on YouTube and I’ve been able to savour the moment again.

I was quite unprepared for the showmanship and performance by Editors on the evening.  Tom Smith is electrifying and commanded the whole stage, which he would need to as he both sings, and plays keyboard and the piano too.  Chris Urbanowicz and the band are incredibly talented too.  We were only a couple of rows from the front and the setting felt intimate, almost as if we were on a personal journey with Tom Smith and the band, as if we could touch the emotions in each of their tracks. 

Editors at Royal Albert Hall 2

Next up was “You Don’t Know Love” from In This Light And On This Evening, my favourite of their three albums.  I recognised the song from the opening note and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Tom Smith played the piano and then the stage was set for the next track, “The Racing Rats”.

“No Sound But The Wind” and “Lights” followed and then “The Big Exit” and “Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool” from the latest album which I really enjoyed. The latter featured great visuals on the screens and was quite menacing.  We were again treated to a new track as “The Sting” was up next and is another solid track. 

Editors at Royal Albert Hall 3

“Munich” followed and then the rest of the band exited the stage to leave Tom to perform a short acoustic set.  He opened with a cover of Spacemen 3’s “Walking With Jesus” and then played “Weight of the World” from their second album An End Has A Start.

The band then came back for just two songs: “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors”, another one of their massive hits, and “Bricks and Mortar”.  They walked off the stage but somehow I knew that they would return as I simply hadn’t heard the track I had been waiting for.  The crowd at the Royal Albert Hall did not disappoint that evening and cries of ‘encore!’ erupted until the band returned to the stage (oh, who am I kidding, all bands come back for an encore these days).

Editors at Royal Albert Hall 4

Editors played a solid four-track encore, beginning with “In This Light And On This Evening” which is my favourite track on that album and the track I had been waiting for.  The rest of the crowd were evidently waiting for “Papillon” which was up next and the crowd went crazy.  The band then rewarded true fans by playing “You Are Fading”, which has previously only been available on a special edition 2-disc version of The Back Room, before closing with “Fingers in the Factories”.

All of a sudden, it was over and we began to file out of the Royal Albert Hall.  I waited a day before writing my review because my initial judgement was that it was the best concert I have ever been to and I wanted to be sure. My friend mentioned that Tom Smith lost his words during “The Racing Rats” and he noted a couple of other mistakes but neither of us really cared.  It was a fabulous concert for a great cause and after a day’s wait I can confirm that it is indeed one of the best concerts I have ever been to.

Editors at Royal Albert Hall 5

Article first published as Concert Review: Editors - Royal Albert Hall, London, March 26, 2011 on Blogcritics.