Visit to Nairobi (3)

October 21st, 2016 by Roger Darlington

For the first time in my three visits to Kenya to see the family, I spent sometime outside Nairobi when I took my granddaughter (soon to be six) Catrin to a place called Sanctuary Farm about two hours drive north-west of the capital (there is a wonderful view over the Rift Valley about half way there). It is the first time that Catrin and have been away together and it was a great success. She knows the place well, having visited on three previous occasions with parents and other grandparents, and she absolutely loves it.

Sanctuary Farm is located at the southern end of Lake Naivasha and covers some 400 acres.  The accommodation is just 14 units which are converted stables sitting around a courtyard. Food is served in a separate building and is delicious.  Also there is a small swimming pool which Catrin visited twice.

The wildlife wandering freely includes giraffes, zebras, buffaloes, waterbacks, wildebeests, impalas and monkeys. There are many varieties of birds too, including the brilliantly colourful glossy starlings and Egyptian geese. At night, hippos come up from the lake. A special feature of the place is the opportunity to go horse riding and and see the other animals close up and Catrin had two such sessions, one with me walking by her side and the other with her mummy who joined us with the rest of the family for our final afternoon of the two day visit.

While Catrin was on her second horse riding trip, I took the opportunity to have a one-hour boat ride on the lake.  The water was at its highest with the tops of trees sprouting up all along the shore. We saw lots of hippos and birds and our boatman brought along a fish which he used to demonstration the diving and catching skills of a fish eagle.

Catrin was great company: well-behaved, lots of fun, and chatting to everyone.  She pointed out a hippo to me outside the cook house and, only when we approached it, did I find – which she knew all along –   that it was a life-size model . One of her jokes was to warn me, when walking by wildebeest, “Don’t use the ‘r’ word!” When I asked what she meant, she replied “Don’t say ‘run’ or you’ll cause a stampede.” Another of her jokes was: “What do you call an alligator wearing a vest?” When I confessed that I had no idea, she responded: “An investigator”.

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Visit to Nairobi (2)

October 19th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Since my last posting, I’ve had three more very busy, but thoroughly enjoyable, days with my family in Nairobi.

On Sunday, Richard and Emily took baby Kara for a stroll in the Karura Forest, while I took Catrin to an amusement park next to the Muthaiga shopping plaza   She went on just about everything going: star jumps (trampoline in harness), inflated ball on water, quad bike ride, miniature train, horses roundabout, and bouncing castles. When Catrin and I teamed up with the others later, we all went to the Sarit Centre which has an outlet called Planet Yoghurt where you can fill a carton with your choice of flavours of frozen yoghurt.

On Monday, I took Catrin to the Westtgate shopping mall – the site of the terrorist attack in 2013 – where we saw two children’s films: “The Secret Life Of Pets” and “Storks”. Two differences from our cinema-going experience in London: the trailers come before the advertisements and there is a short animation before the main movie. In between the films, Catrin and I ate pizza. In the theatres, Catrin had ice cream.

On Tuesday, Emily drove Catrin, Kara and me to the Karen district of Nairobi to visit a place called Marula Mercantile. Here they recycle discarded flip-flops recovered from Kenyan beaches and turn them into animal features and other artefacts. Catrin helped out with the first stage, which is cleaning, but the later stages involve cutting, gluing, carving and sanding, so she just supervised these processes.

The weather has been a consistent 28C, but the high elevation of Nairobi (almost 6,000 feet) and some cloud has made for a very pleasant climate.

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Visit to Nairobi (1)

October 16th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Almost 14 months ago, my son Richard and his family relocated
to Nairobi when he obtained a job as Head of Strategic Communications for the consultancy arm of a media company called Well Told Story. I am now on my third visit to them and, as well as my granddaughter Catrin (now aged 5 and 3/4), I have a beautiful new grandadaughter called Kara (aged just 7 and 1/2 weeks).

I timed this visit – like the others – to coincide with Catrin’s half-term, so that I can spend the maximum time doing things with her. In fact, I flew out a day before she broke up because the last morning of the first half term (Friday) was designated Grandparents’ Day – a lovely idea which the Montessori Learning Centre has been running for 10 years now.

Catrin is always excited about my visits –  and the presents which I bring – so she likes to come to my bedroom as soon as she is awake. In fact, she had a bad dream and joined me in bed at 3 am.  I managed to get her back to sleep but she was awake for good at 6 am.

Grandparents Day was a delight. Each class sang a special song to us highlighting love of grandpas and grandmas, a group of teachers performed a dance, and one of the grandparents – a Sikh singing in Urdu – performed a song while playing a wind instrument called the harmonium.

In the afternoon, Catrin got to open her first and most expensive present: a large Lego set of a ladies hairdressing salon. She had built it all within a couple of hours.

Saturday was a very physical day spent with Richard and Catrin.

In the morning, we visited an indoor rock climbing place at Diamond Plaza.  Catrin has been there around five times before. She loves it and she is really good at it. She was keen for me to have my first experience of the sport at the advanced age of 68.  I did about half a dozen climbs but it was not easy and afterwards my arms ached.

In the afternoon, we went to the Jacaranda Hotel where, after some lunch, we made use of their swimming pool. For Nairobi, it was not too hot: 27C with some cloud. Catrin adores swimming which she has done since she was a few months old and Richard is a proficient swimmer. My main role was to throw Catrin in the air and catch her plus other inventive games.

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So how is Jeremy Corbyn really doing?

October 11th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Clearly the guy is very popular with party members: he has just been re-elected leader by an increased margin, record numbers of new members are flocking to join the Labour Party, his meetings are packed out, and they are even organising a series of concerts in his support. What do members see in Corbyn? Somebody who is authentic and says what they want to hear about our unjust society.

And yet the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party think that he is not up to the job. He suffered a massive vote of no confidence by Labour MPs, most of his front bench spokespersons resigned their posts, and the recent reshuffle of the Shadow Cabinet has only stirred up further worries. What do MPs see in Corbyn? Someone who does not listen to the PLP, who cannot chair his Shadow Cabinet, is weak in his Parliamentary performances, and has failed to bring forward new policies that are detailed and convincing.

So who is right: the members or the Members of Parliament?

Ultimately politics is about changing society; to do that requires being in government; to achieve that means winning an election. So what do voters think of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn? The latest Guardian/ICM opinion poll gives the Conservatives a 17-point lead at the end of the party conference season. The survey places Theresa May’s party on 43% while Labour slips to 26%, with UKIP on 11% and the Lib Dems on 8%.

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U.S. presidential election (33): the second debate

October 11th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

I spent this evening watching a recording of every minute of the one and half hour second presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It was an ugly business which probably had minimal impact on voting intentions because both candidates will have been seen to have done well by their supporters.

For me, Clinton kept her cool. She was assured, fluent and statesman-like. Trump was sickening in his charges against Bill Clinton and his wish to see Hillary Clinton in jail. He was glowering and strutting like a modern-day Mussolini.

It looks as if Clinton is pulling ahead again in the polls as more and more Republican politicians withdraw support from Trump but, around the world, people are holding their breath in case the polls are wrong as they have been on some big political votes recently in a variety of countries.


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A review of the new movie “Deepwater Horizon”

October 9th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

This weekend, I saw the new disaster movie “Deepwater Horizon” which tells the true story of a blow-out on an oil rig that we all know caused the biggest environmental catastrophe in US history but we forget killed and maimed so many workers.

Many films do not lose too much by being seen at home on a television set. But this is not one of them. See it on the largest screen you can find locally. You can read my review here.

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Was the pound’s flash crash caused by an algo?

October 8th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

The financial markets are a world unto themselves that ordinary people simply cannot understand – but we are all affected by movements in currencies and shares whether buying foreign currency for a holiday abroad or trying to maintain the value of our savings or pensions. So this week’s experience of the value of the pound on foreign exchanges should interest us all – even if we can’t understand it.

As explained in this “Guardian” article, in just 8 minutes, the value of the pound against the dollar plunged by more than 8% from $1.26 to $1,1491. What happened? There will be an inquiry but we may never know for sure.

The most likely explanation seems to be the operation of an algorithm or ‘algo’ which is a computer program designed to sell the pound when there is negative economic news including speculation about Brexit. The algos operate in micro-seconds with no human intervention. And they can feed off each other.

Another possible explanation is what is called a ‘fat finger’ trade where a dealer types an incorrect figure into their terminal  – but this seems unlikely. Yet another possibility is some kind of technical factor such as ‘stop-loss’ arrangements where investors have pre-arranged orders to sell currencies that fall below a certain level.

In the everyday world of decision-making, the use of algorithms may seem weird or even scary, but there are many good reasons why clever algorithms are very, very useful, not least for giving you relevant feedback when you do a search on the web.

In fact, algorithms are used in all sorts of situations, as I have explained in this short article. I concluded the piece as follows:

“There are no easy answers but, for starters, citizens and consumers need the right to view and correct personal data, organisations need to be able to explain the basics of their algorithms and decision-making systems, and there should be effective appeal mechanisms involving humans against decisions based on algorithms.

We all need to have some understanding of what is going on with big data and of the power of algorithmic authority. Because, if you are not at the table, then you are on the menu.”

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A review of the Italian novel “Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay”

October 6th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

My summer reading project – which has extended into the Autumn – is to read the four works that make up the ‘Neapolitan Novels’, an acclaimed series by the Italian author Elena Ferrante.

This is a saga of the 60-year friendship between two girls from a poor neighbourhood of Naples after the Second World War: the narrator Elena Greco, known as Lenu, whose father is a porter and Raffaella Cerullo, known as Lila, whose father is a shoemaker.

The first novel in the series is called “My Brilliant Friend” and I reviewed it here. The second novel is titled “The Story Of A New Name” and you can read my review here. I’m just concluded the third novel: “Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay”. You’ll find my review here.

These are marvellous works and I’ve gone straight on to the fourth and final novel in the sage: “The Story Of The Lost Child”.

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20,000 days of the Darlington diaries

October 5th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Like many men, I enjoy counting things. So I know that today is the 20,000th day of my diaries.

And why have I kept a diary so long and so consistently? I’ve tried to explain here.

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Cost of consumer detriment is £30 billion a year

October 3rd, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Citizens Advice has recently published a consumer report entitled  ‘Consumer Detriment – counting the cost of consumer problems’.

In summary, the researchers found that consumer problems cost UK consumers £22.9 billion in 2015 – on average £446 per UK adult. Consumers experienced 123 million problems and wasted 1.2 billion hours resolving these problems.

More than half of consumers did not seek a refund or compensation for their problem, often because they felt complaining would be too difficult or time consuming.

The goods and services costing consumers the most were television, phone and internet services, followed by professional services, construction, home maintenance, property services, and pension and investment services.

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