Sunday, January 27, 2008

Tycoon Van Hoogstraten arrested in Zimbabwe

Good News From Zimbabwe!

It is rare to see a headline like this, but this is really good news. Okay – admittedly after you read the article about my dearest best friend (not), he won’t be spending much time in one of Mugabe’s jail, but still, it is nice to see the bastard squirm a bit.

This great news is being posted in most news web sites. I lifted this from the Observer. It makes great reading. It is also worth checking him out on wikipedia -

In 1968, at the age of 23, this piece of nasty work was reputed to be Britain’s youngest millionaire!

Mugabe apologist is accused of flouting currency exchange laws and possessing pornography

Jamie Doward
Sunday January 27, 2008

The Observer

The notorious property tycoon Nicholas van Hoogstraten has been arrested in Zimbabwe on charges of breaking the troubled country's currency exchange laws and possessing pornography.

The move is being seen in some quarters as part of a plan by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to seize his once close supporter's multi-million-pound business empire, which spans mining, tourism and property interests.

Police detained Van Hoogstraten after a raid on his home last Thursday, charging him with collecting rent on his properties in foreign currency. Zimbabwean law prohibits the payment of foreign currency for local goods and services.

The arrest represents an astonishing reversal in fortunes for the multi-millionaire father-of-five, who divides his time between Zimbabwe and Hamilton Place, his half-built, £40m mansion in Sussex, from where he runs the British end of his empire. Van Hoogstraten, 62, has made much of his money in Zimbabwe, thanks to his close relationship with Mugabe's Zanu-PF party. He owns about 200 residential and business properties in Zimbabwe, according to the police, has significant investments on the Zimbabwe stock exchange, and reportedly owns an estimated 600,000 hectares in the country.

However, crippling inflation has sent Zimbabwe into political and economic turmoil. The country's central bank chief, Gideon Gono, recently blamed the crisis on 'cash barons', whom he accuses of hoarding Zimbabwean dollars and exchanging them for foreign currency.

According to the police, when arrested Van Hoogstraten was in possession of US$37,586, 92,880 South African rand and £190, as well as 20bn Zimbabwe dollars, worth around US$3,333 on the black market.

In what seems to have been a carefully orchestrated media operation by the authorities, news bulletins showed police parading Van Hoogstraten before state television cameras holding wads of money. 'Van Hoogstraten is being charged under the exchange control regulations for charging a service and dealing in foreign currency,' said Zimbabwean police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena.

He added that the tycoon had demanded six months' rent in foreign currency from his tenants, one of whom had been an informant. 'The police informant had been asked to pay in the region of US$8,000,' Bvudzijena said, adding that the tycoon also faced charges linked to pornographic material found in his house. If found guilty, Van Hoogstraten will face a fine and be forced to hand over the foreign money, according to local media reports.

Until recently Van Hoogstraten was a firm supporter of Mugabe and has boasted of his close relationship with the President. He has said Mugabe was one of the first people to offer him congratulations on his release from prison after being jailed for manslaughter. He has also criticised newspaper reporting about the regime in Zimbabwe.

There was speculation last night that his arrest may have more to do with Zimbabwe's changing political landscape than his alleged currency violations. David Banks, a close observer of political developments in Zimbabwe, who has met Van Hoogstraten and advises MPs on the country's state of affairs, said it had always been a question of when, rather than whether, the tycoon fell out with Mugabe. 'This is a brutal dictator who murdered friends and colleagues when they threatened his grip on power, so why should he worry about what happens to Van Hoogstraten?' Banks asked.

With elections due in March, Van Hoogstraten's arrest was a political move designed to shore up Mugabe's position, Banks suggested. 'Mugabe is running out of patronage,' he said. 'There is a shortage of sweeteners he can offer to try to buy support. His arrest may signal Mugabe intends to start seizing Van Hoogstraten's assets.'

Van Hoogstraten's arrest is the latest in a long line of clashes with the law. In the Sixties Van Hoogstraten - who has referred to his tenants as 'scum' - was jailed for four years for arranging for a hand grenade to be thrown through the window of someone who owed him money. In 2002 he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in jail after a business associate, Mohammed Raja, was shot and killed by two hired hitmen. He appealed against the conviction, which was overturned in 2003. In 2005 a civil court ordered that Van Hoogstraten pay the murdered man's family £6m in damages.,,2247693,00.html

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Mad Genius is Dead

Okay… Bobby lost his marbles a long time ago, but man oh man, could he play chess or what?

I rushed this together – a small tribute to someone who gave me so much excitement in 1972 when I was a kid playing chess.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Time Out!

Just an amazing quickie…

I have been watching on TV and reading on-line with great interest the run-up to the American Presidential elections. I came across an article which did some mud slinging about Bill Clinton’s old days and his habit of wanting to stuff as many voters (female) as possible with his own brand of political zeal. By following some of the sleaze, I blundered upon this YouTube. For the life of me, I cannot fathom the point of it!

My conclusion…Americans are seriously scary people! This film is a boxing contest between a woman who was prodded by Bill’s middle leg and a woman who tried to break a leg of her closest rival. This is so bizarre!

Tonya Harding vs Paula Jones

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jumbos, then and now.

Sitting in the delayed plane at Heathrow, as I peered through dense fog outside the window, noting the shivering deported asylum seekers strapped to the wings, my thoughts wandered to the early ‘70s when I first flew in one of these monsters of the skys…

I was a small kid going to see Mummy in the UK. In those days it took ages to book, pay and get a ticket. I think my Father had to book almost a year in advance. There would be all sorts of paper work involving foreign currency allowances etc, but one day the tickets would be there to be picked up. They were really impressive. A thin little book, full of flimsy sheets of paper, all with red carbon on the back.

Then the day would come and the whole family traipsed to Salisbury airport to see me off. Checking in was a breeze. No security scans, no daft questions, no men with lollipops checking your genitals. In fact, time and mad Arabs have reversed everything. Now you can book online in seconds but need hours to actually get on the plane. In the early ‘70s it was all so romantic. After checking in the luggage the family would go up to the ‘observation’ balcony. There we could gaze down on the brand new Boeing 747 of South African Airways and smell the fumes of avgas whilst I sipped a rare glass of coke and my parents drank tea. Then the flight would be announced and I would pass swiftly through customs and immigration, walk across the tarmac and board the monster.

I remember that first trip on the Jumbo very well because I was the kid from hell! Using my natural charm (whinging, moaning and wailing), I was allowed to check out the cockpit, wander around First Class, including a visit ‘up-stairs’ and after much yowling, was escorted through the duty-free at Jan Smuts airport (the plane first went back to SA), to purchase huge amounts of chocolate. Back on board, I was forced to part reluctantly with £1 for a pair of earphones to listen to the on-board entertainment. This was a real con. The music was piped. The ear phones were nothing more than hollow plastic tubes you stuck in the armrest and the other end in your ears. You were also supposed to give them back! No chance of that. In fact I managed to thieve three more pairs which I flogged for 50 pence each to my fellow inmates on the return trip.

There was plenty to keep me entertained. Between wolfing down copious amounts of chocolate, I made frequent visits to the toilets. Inside were loads of plastic bottles of fancy stuff like Ode-To-The Toilet, Channel 69 stinky stuff, little bars of soap with the cool SAA springbok logo, hand creams, face creams, all beautifully embossed. I thieved the lot! My hand luggage under the seat was bulging. If I had had more space I would have taken the cool looking life jacket as well.

The service was excellent. Every few minutes I would push one of the buttons on the armrest and a white servant would appear to take yet another order for a tin of coke. I poured the stuff down my neck as fast as they could be delivered. Dinner was superb. A lovely huge chunk of steak, but things went slightly wrong in the middle of the mid-flight film. I even recall what it was. 40 Carats It was about some old hag messing about with some young dago, when suddenly, without warning - I vomited. Buckets of the stuff! Coke, steak and chocolate streamed out, all over the seat in front and all over me. I had a huge stinking puddle of the muck filling my lap, with partly digested lumps of steak bobbing around like fishing corks. I landed up moaning in pain, stretched out on the floor by an emergency exit. The servants flatly refused to wash my trousers and I had to try and clean them up in the tiny sink, where much to my disgust, I discovered some bastard had stolen all the soap!

Well, 36 years later, here I was in another giant vomit bucket, but I wasn’t feeling sick – this time I was shitting myself with fear and people could smell it. Heathrow is stuck bang in the middle of west London. If the plane runs out of runway, it ploughs into enough houses to make way for the new Olympic stadium. Not like the runway in Salisbury all those years ago. Did you know, that at that time Salisbury airport was the longest in the world? The story goes that SAA phoned the airport and told them that if they wanted the new Jumbo to land there, they would have to extend the runway. The bloke on the phone in Salisbury said it would not be a problem, but after hanging up realised that he had forgotten to ask exactly how long it should be.

Too embarrassed to phone back, he hazarded a guess and reckoned a couple miles should do it. In fact, when they finally ran out of tar to lay, at an amazing 15502 feet (2.9 miles!) it went into the Guinness Book of Records as the longest civil runway in the world that no one had any use for. I also recall that in the same edition, Rhodesia also had the world record for the largest farm, somewhere in the lowfeld, where every cow had about 200 acres to get lost in.

Anyway, Dec 2007, back in the giant sardine can, the plane just went on and on and on. The engines were screaming, I was farting and after what seemed an eternity, the thing finally lumbered up, grazing half a dozen chimneys in the process….

The headphones were free this time but not worth stealing. The movie selection was impressive but sadly blew up in the middle of watching Casino Royale…

To be continued

Here is the next YouTube from Nambia.

Finally, to end today’s posting, I have been asked to tell you about my mate Robert Fowler and his ambition to change the world whilst based in his newly purchased lodge in Victoria Falls. He wants to revolutionise tourism by making it eco-friendly. This he has decided to do via Facebook. So if you use Facebook, search for Ben Gula's Eco-Brigade

Quite a few people have joined. There is a rather disturbing video about ‘canned’ hunting.

Next thing is to try and arrange some free lodgings at his pad. It looks quite cool.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

What an end and start from one year to another! It seems to have been some time since I last wrote anything. One reason was writer’s fatigue, combined with a dash of blockage and wrapped up in a classical Bavarian diagnosis of the dreaded Nullbock-a-rissmuss disease. For those unacquainted with the dialect of the southern Germans, it means, Cant-be-arsed.

But now I return from scribblers’ paralysis to plague your brain cells with wonders of witless words, guaranteed to shift all that undigested Xmas puddings that are still putrefying in your lower gut. Hopefully you all had a wonderful festive season, drowning your sorrows with credit card subsidised alcohol, I had no such luck. Will 2008 be a better year? Better than what? I suppose you could think of your worst year of your life ever, and then say, ‘Well, I do hope that despite the forthcoming divorce, the house repossession, the courts appearance for tax evasion and the ever increasing unlikeness that the national health service will supply me with a liver transplant within the next 300 days; 2008 will surely be better than 1967 - as that was the year I ran over my pet rat with my bicycle.’

Look at the mystery picture below. Who is that man and what is his name? That bit is easy, because that is little me! But, where am I? Aah, welcome to the magical mystery tour. From the mental wasters of Northern Wales to the Desert wastes of Namibia, Southern Africa, I have been on adventures galore and even saw some pussies. Lions, that is, and best of all – I got pictures of places where even flies don’t bother going on holiday to.

To get there and back, I had to use planes, trains and automobiles. Just like the hilarious classic of that name, with Steve Martin and John Candy, my trip was plagued with misadventures and the occasional NBF. Just like in the movie, I attract New Best Friends (NBF) like starving Dafurian children attract flies to their dripping nostrils in every footage we see coming out of the place. (Jeez, let’s kick start the year with some serious anti-pc). I can’t help it! Every boring, lonesome loser homes on to me like I’m the best thing since the Salvation Army gave out tokens for the off-licence instead of pisshead’s soup. You know the type. As soon as you mistakenly make eye contact they pounce and inundate you with questions and have body language reminiscent to Michael Jackson watching a Johnson’s Baby Oil advert.

Another thing that is almost as annoying as having a NBF, is to suffer from LSQ syndrome. I have all my life and it is incurable. Long Short Queue syndrome afflicts the tiny percent of the population who will sweat buckets scanning and struggling through masses of people (like at Heathrow Airport) looking for the shortest queue to check-in , grin triumphantly around at having found it, and one hour later go into cardiac arrest as you realise your flight has been called and the queue you are standing in is being served by the winner of this years Rip Wan Winkle award for sleeping on the job whilst pretending to look busy. This is whilst your NBF behind you is trying to impress you with his knowledge of Wales by explaining that he was stationed once, in the early ‘70s, in Portmadog with the navy. This is highly unlikely as the place is barely big enough for a train station and the only navy I have seen in the place was on the side of a bottle of rum in the pub.

Well, actually, the bloke behind me in the queue at Munich airport on the 22nd December was actually a rather witty individual. (The really bad NBF comes later.) An American, married to an Italian, flying to Milan for Xmas and flight delayed. Me? My flight back to London, after visiting the kids, had been cancelled. The Krauts pushed the blame onto the Tommies. ‘Zee having zee bad fock in Hit-row’, said the nice blonde, blue eyed supreme being, who reminded me of an Ayron poster pin-up for the Deutsche version of Brokeback Mountain , at Lufthansa passenger service desk. This was after almost two hours of queuing. Of course, what he meant was, ‘They have bad fog in Heathrow’, which could be, but what the hell has that to do with you bastards only operating one service desk? I kid you not, the efficient Germans are no more. By the time I was told to catch a ride (if I am lucky) with British Airways, the amount of people wanting to be serviced had grown to a weary line at least 60 metres long.

Things can only get worse. They did! Starving and dying of thirst, I was eventually tossed like the old rag that I am, on to some British Airways flight, that having been delayed more times than a Zimbabwean economic revival, had a pilot dead-bent on a suicide mission and attempted to land a plane crammed with petrified passengers on a runway covered in a mantle of fog thick enough to spread on a BA dried out bread bun. Anticipating this I cleverly emptied my innards prior to landing, thus, should the worse come to worse, the plane crashes, I wouldn’t be fried in my own shit encrusted pants.

Now safely landed, it should have been much ado about nothing until I realised I had no baggage. Well I did but that had disappeared, which, to put it mildly, was a bit of a pisser. Since I was flying the next day to Africa, this was a tad inconvenient, not to mention downright serious bad news! For the one and only time in my life I had separated my body from my file-o-fax. In it was every access code for everything. Nice one! Also my beloved Swiss Army knife. Any man knows, you don’t go anywhere without one of them. If you neglect to take one, sure enough, a horse will turn-up with a pebble stuck in its hoof and you are left embarrassingly explaining to its frantic rider, that as a former Boy Scout, you have failed miserably due to heavy fog.

There was also another small problem. The camera was also inside the missing suitcase, complete with the brand new 2GB chip. Just bought for this trip! Actually, this came as a blessing in disguise because it meant being forced to buy another one, and that’s when I did a clever thing. After checking out the various mini-digi toys at the Vat free shop in the departure lounge and concluding a modern 35mm beast was - a) too bulky and b) taking the piss on the price, a Sony Cyber shot was purchased. The latest. It is unquestionably the stupidest designed camera on the market. There are buttons in the way of thumbs and knobs that twirl around just by breathing on them. BUT it has one amazing advantage. This little mini SLR looker, has the most genius of Carl Zeiss lens, that zooms an incredible 38-380mm! Okay, the f stops aren’t exactly very clever, but considering its size and speed of reload, it is a babe!

With a 2GB card and set to 5 mill pixs plus, it is perfect for the very serious amateur.

So, I will tell you more of my adventures over the next few days, but to kick start the whole malarkey off, here is a 3 minute YouTube of the first part. I tried to dub in some Namibian Folk Music, but sadly the PC wasn’t having it.

Till Part Two. Stay tuned, there are more great pictures to come, including the amazing sand dunes of the SouSouVlei and more hilarious observations…