Along Asia’s Tracks

3 Jun

Premier Magazine, June 2016

Premier Magazine, June 2016

The Eastern & Oriental Express journey from Singapore to Bangkok is one of the most romantic, comfortable yet sad rail journeys of our time. Read about our experience on board in the June issue of Premier Magazine.

Visiting Singapore

2 Jun

Refined Magazine, June 2016

Refined Magazine, June 2016

We loved our stay in Singapore for many reasons not least of which was our location at the exceptional Mandarin Oriental on Marina Bay. Read about our experience there in the current issue of Refined Magazine.

Benchmarking PR fees

21 May

Brian-BerkmanAnswering how long a piece of string is seems simpler than knowing the average hourly rate for public relations by a consultancy.
Many PR professionals bill a time-based fee which reflects how long a job should take to complete. Rightly, in my opinion, the more skilled and connected the professional, the faster it should take in practice. The difference between the actual time and the billed time is the reward.
Some bill based on achieved coverage, either as a percentage of the dreaded Advertising Value Equivalent or per piece of coverage based on top, second or third tier media placement. Others follow a menu of outputs combined with inputs billing more if the CEO makes the call that generates the coverage than if a junior staffer does.

Most will ask for a retainer – a set monthly or yearly fee that will cover a shopping list of agreed upon services. Not only does the method allow for fairly accurate budgeting but it also means that the PR professional can plan a calendar of events not available to those working on an ad hoc basis.

Although I have recently been asked to quote on a tender-style
job where I’m sure the contract will go to the lowest price, more than 20 years industry experience tells me that PR professionals are rarely appointed without first being short-listed, recommended by one’s peer group or, in most cases, I suspect, being a friend of a friend. Relationship is the currency.
In these cases I think fees matter far less than the PR industry thinks. If you’re at a braai and hear the host being jostled about not being able to open a magazine without his ugly mug appearing in it, then you’ll want the same publicist, irrespective of cost.
Like all purchases, deciding with whom to partner on the PR front is an emotional decision and not a financial one. It is essential to find someone you can trust. After all, deciding who you will let manage your reputation and steer you away from dangerous controversy must be based on more than a tip from someone you meet at a kid’s school outing.
So, now that we agree that PR support is not as price sensitive as once imagined it raises the question how someone smart selects their communications professional?

Selecting from award winners is a good place to start as long as you know there are many, myself included, who have never entered awards and others who, with the financial backing of international agency groups, enter many awards in many different categories. So with the number of awards not the indication of excellence previously thought what happens next?
Although anyone with a brain knows public relations is much more than media liaison, only the brainless will suggest that media liaison is not an essential part of the communications mix. If I were to appoint a PR professional I would ask media for a recommendation. It is they, after all, who receive the PR output firsthand. Ask media in your target market who they recommend as a professional who sends print-ready and accurate information. Ask who submits suitable images that are correctly captioned and ask, most knowingly, who responds to queries quickly and understands the nature of deadlines.
I was recently asked to benchmark my fees by a client and found the exercise challenging as reference points are not widely available. To change this I’ve decided to dedicate a PR-Net, a peer network for the communications industry that I run, meeting to this very topic.

Details about the Cape Town meeting on Thursday, May 26 at 11am are at www.pr-net.co.za.

 

Our stay at Mandarin Oriental Bangkok

18 May

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 8.12.51 AMThe highlight of our recent South-East Asia visit was a stay at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok – quite possibly the best hotel I have ever stayed at.

Read about our experience here:

Hike Leopard’s Kloof

20 Mar

There are so few opportunities to be in unspoilt nature within the safety of a pristinely kept Botanical Garden such as the Leopard’s Kloof Hike at Harold Porter Gardens, Betty’s Bay affords and there is absolutely no reason why you can’t enjoy  it, too.

Give yourself an hour each way. While some of the steps onto rocks and around gnarled roots of trees can be tricky, it isn’t difficult to do. In fact, if you approach all the ladders on all fours you will not only clamber up and down with ease but you will be taking greater care than those foolhardy types who walk rather than climb down the ladders.

Here is a three-minute video I made of our hike this morning. I hope it shows you how easily it can be done and how extraordinarily beautiful it is.

 

Banting Snacking

17 Mar

Kale Crisps by Earthshine.

Kale Crisps by Earthshine.

When people hear about my weight-loss success following the #LCHF or #Banting diet they always ask about my missing carbs. The truth is I don’t miss them.

What I miss is the freedom of just eating what I want to eat without thinking carefully about what’s in it.

Recreational eating is where I struggle the most: there are times when, against my better judgement, I just want something to nosh. Not out of hunger but simply because that’s what I feel like at the time.

Caesar's Salad with chicken at Tasha's.

Caesar’s Salad with chicken at Tasha’s.

My go-to snack of choice are roasted, salted nuts. I manage to avoid peanuts which means that not only is it a costly collection of almonds, walnuts, cashews, Brazilians etc but I’m never satisfied with just a few at a time. When the nut hunger arrives it is usually only placated after eating far, far too many of them.

My friend Natalie Reid started a raw food business some years ago and was in touch about her Earthshine Kale Crisps. Kale, I’m sure you know, is a superfood and I use it as the basis for my green smoothie – kale, celery, broccoli, avocado and ginger which gets me going in more ways than one. A 35g bag of Kale Crisps has, according to Natalie, 250g kale which has been dehydrated. She’s added vegan flavouring to give it a cheesy taste which tastes just the way I remember Sour Cream and Chives Pringle chips tasting.

Although most restaurants nowadays offer low-carb items we frequently head to Tasha’s for the best, imho, Caesar Salad. I add chicken and leave the croutons and always ask for my poached egg to be soft.

Pulp is another regular spot and I love their pesto chicken salad – I leave the carrots and tomatoes out and drench it in the supplied olive oil. On days when the psychological hunger needs to be fed, I order the HUGE Village Table Salad from Ocean Basket. This is one dish that takes me 30-minutes of active eating to finish and then I’m truly stuffed on the collection of olives, feta, cucumber, onions and tomatoes. At R70 it is brilliant value, in my opinion.

I was also thrilled to find Beluga still offering half-priced sushi – even the rice-free kind!

Rice-free sushi at Beluga

Rice-free sushi at Beluga

Me and Banting in the media.

19 Dec

Here are links to recent coverage about #Banting and #LCHF diet and my success with it.

Click here to read the article in The Cape Argus or here to read the feature in The Premier Magazine, December 2015 issue.  As ever, the health writer I follow most closely is Marika Sboros. While all her writing about Banting is exemplary this piece tells my story too.

The December 2015 issue of Premier Magazine is about Banting.

The December 2015 issue of Premier Magazine is about Banting.

Marika Sboros on Banting

Marika Sboros on Banting

Banting made the front page lead of The Cape Argus

Banting made the front page lead of The Cape Argus

PR-Net Trade #Luxury Edition

29 Oct

I am in partnership with Publicity SA’s Andrea Desfarges in PR-Net Trade where we connect brands with media in a high-level networking exhibition. Our most recent one with brands in the luxury industry was held at The President Hotel in Bantry Bay.

Veteran hotelier Nick Seewer, currently at The Pepper Club Hotel and Spa and former managing director of Orient-Express (now Belmond) shared his insights on what defines luxury.

Andrew Brown of Camera Ready took these images:

 

Taking to the rails for a journey to the heart

2 Oct

First published in Juice Magazine, October 2015 issue.

Rovos Rail story Oct 2015 Cover

Ardmore Ceramics’ exotic Noahide style is nowhere more evident than in their Natal Midlands home, near Howick. where animals leap from or cling to the most beautiful of stages. There, among the animal, people and plant creations available for purchase, is the Bonnie Ntshalintshali museum, dedicated to the memory and early work of Ardmore founder, Fée Halsted’s friend and co-artist.

The story of how Fée and Bonnie went on to create a thriving business – an important community-based art producer now showcased in collections and art museums around the world, is retold on one of the Rovos Rail, Pretoria to Durban three-day safaris. Providing access to the creative process and an insider’s view in a way not available to walk-ins, is what makes this and other Rovos-arranged outings, such special experiences.

Steam haul

Preparing to leave Rovos Rail Station in Pretoria on a Friday at 10am for a three day journey into Durban, our group of strangers seem awkward together. The steam enthusiasts – a key component of each Rovos Rail passenger list, are outside quizzing the steam locomotive driver Willem Ras. As one of only five remaining steam drivers, his face is as deeply lined as the rail network when viewed from the sky.

RovosRailPg1Willem seems nonplussed with the questions about this leaver or that valve and eyes his Tupperware with sarmies and the Pall Mall cigarettes in his breast pocket as an imminent reward following our departure. For many reasons – the fire risk and environmental cost chief among them – a steam haul much beyond Rovos Rail’s Pretoria station is not practical. Rovos Rail has recently refurbished another diesel loco and these are preferred. As Rovos Rail elects to use the original rail network rather than the busy, newer commercial lines used by rail commuters and for freight, the experience on board chugging along at little more than 60 Km is frequently free from passing traffic.

After a welcome, typically by founder Rohan Vos himself, passengers are called to meet with their hosts to board the The Pride of Africa, a beautifully restored vintage train that has elevated train travel to the luxury of yesteryear where time and care were things we valued.

Stateroom interiors are panelled in warm timber hues, while emerald green carpets with gold woven diamonds cushion your feet even when not wearing the slippers and generous robe provided in your wardrobe.  Accent lights with elegant Edwardian blown glass shades remind you that the journey you’re about to take it one that reaches back in time. To help create this mood, use of technology is not only discouraged but restricted in public places. The only way to curdle cream on board is to take a mobile phone call while in the dining car!

Dressing for dinner

Although formality in dress is encouraged and a jacket and tie is a requirement for dinner, the Rovos Rail experience is unexpectedly relaxed (and, of course, relaxing). Interactions with staff, many young but all superbly trained, and preemptive in their desire to serve, are as comfortable as they’d be with your staff at home.

As a fully inclusive offering you’d expect staff to discourage yet another tot of premium whisky or bottle of Meerlust Rubicon yet they do exactly the opposite. You will get the feeling from the moment you arrive until the moment that you leave that staff believe you are under nourished and require constant feeding and watering. Despite them catering to the most exacting dietary requirements, the vastness and delicious quality of the offering will, I’m afraid, mean that you will depart with additional kilos in among your photos and happy memories. Rather than try to avoid this, it is best to wear your best, slinkiest outfit on your first night as by day three it will be too tight. I speak from experience.

During the almost two thousand meter climb from the Witwatersrand to Heidelberg and onwards as the Drakensberg comes into view conversation, so awkward and stilted at the start, flows as easily as the tea and coffee being poured in the comfortably elegant lounge car. People sitting on the benches in the open-backed observation car are clinking gins and tonic  brimming crystalware, the bright yellow lemon melding into the setting sun.RovosRailPag2

With a multi-course lunch, beautifully paired with fine South African wines and a traditional afternoon tea (cucumber sandwiches, scones and cakes) under our belts, it is time to dress for dinner.

Because your stateroom (even a single-bedded Pullman) is larger than any equivalent you might find on rails and as you have a private bathroom with toilet, basin and a shower cubicle, some suites have baths too) as well as plenty wardrobe space, dressing for dinner is a pleasure. No more so if your finery as been freshly pressed as part of the fully inclusive laundry service.

If the lavish dinner and cocktails don’t ensure a good night’s sleep, the fact the train stops for some hours at historic Elandslaagte station will. An indication of the high level of care and consideration is that ear plugs are included in amenities offered in your room, along with a protective plastic eye mask  in the event you’d like to look outside your window into oncoming traffic.

Early morning safari

There’s a 6am wake-up call with coffee brought to your suite if you’d prefer not to make your own (a kettle and fully-stocked mini bar are in your suite) in preparation for a morning game drive on the 20, 000 hectare Malaria free Nambiti Reserve, a big five retreat.

The Sundays River flows through the Nambiti and the biodiversity is unusually rich offering savanna, grasslands, thorn veld and tall Acacia trees. Because of this, great animal and bird sightings are practically guaranteed. Remember to wear layers as early mornings can be freezing while temperatures can shoot up by the time you return to the train.

Like everything Rovos Rail does, excursions are exceptionally luxurious with red-carpet welcomes and silver trays with  a champagne cocktail or sherry at the ready once you’ve returned your offered warm or chilled towel.

Such a premium experience comes at a premium price but when considered as a total package (especially if you typically fly business class and stay at five-star hotels), it represents outstanding value for money. People on board weren’t only silver-haired, well-heeled international travellers. An incentive group from Tupperware South Africa were on board, at least two of the couples we spoke to had been gifted the trip by their children while others, friends travelling Africa together from the UK, elected to stay at B&B’s elsewhere so that they could use their travel budget to enjoy The Rovos Rail experience.

Churchill, Gandhi and Majuba Hill

There is a second opportunity for a game safari at the Spionkop Reserve but I recommend rather listening to historian and raconteur Raymond Heron talk about the battle for Ladysmith while overlooking Majuba Hill. I was amazed to hear that Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi met on that hill while Churchill was a war correspondent and Gandhi worked for the Red Cross during the South African War.

The visit to Ardmore Ceramics is another highlight as the journey draws to a close. Pulling into Durban’s station late afternoon the group of strangers we curtly nodded to on arrival now leave with hugs and exchanged contact details as friends. One embarks Rovos Rail expecting a luxury journey from one place to another. The journey of the heart is the happiest byproduct.

www.Rovos.com

Tru-Cape plants clone of the oldest pear tree in The Company’s Garden.

17 Sep

Councillor David Bryant with Tru-Cape's Henk Griessel, Alderman Belinda Walker and Tru-Cape's MD, Roelf Pienaar planting the Winter Saffron pear in the VOC Vegetable Garden at The Company's Garden, Cape Town.

Councillor David Bryant with Tru-Cape’s Henk Griessel, Alderman Belinda Walker and Tru-Cape’s MD, Roelf Pienaar planting the Winter Saffron pear in the VOC Vegetable Garden at The Company’s Garden, Cape Town.

The oldest cultivated tree in South Africa still lives in the Company’s Garden enclosed by a cast-iron railing and supported by poles and braces due to its extreme age for a tree of its species.

The Pyrus communis or Saffron Pear tree is approximately 363 years old this year, and was planted during the time of Jan van Riebeeck.

The City of Cape Town’s Parks Department, together with Tru-Cape, ensured the next generation of the Saffron Pear when a new cloned sapling was planted next to the parent tree.

‘About two years ago, Buks Nel and Henk Griessel from Tru-Cape came to The Company’s Garden looking for historical information about fruit trees as they were researching the history of the fruit industry in the Western Cape. At this time, the management of the garden was considering the vegetative propagation and preservation of this very historic tree as its longevity had taken a toll and it needed support from poles and braces,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Special Projects, Alderman Belinda Walker.

‘The visit was opportune as they requested cuttings of bud material from the tree in order to make grafts to preserve this original species of pear. We agreed that when these grafts had matured to sapling trees, some would be returned to be re-planted. This would preserve this historic specimen for years to come. The practice of propagation by grafting preserves the genetic purity of the mother-plant and, as such, is a “clone” of the parent plant,’ said the Manager of the Company’s Garden, Rory Phelan.

Another of the saplings will be planted in the VOC vegetable garden’s orchard section and it is hoped that both trees will grow for another 360 years.

‘We need to preserve what we have so that future generations will know the history of the fruit tree industry in the Western Cape which was started years ago by dedicated gardeners who cultivated the first fruits at the Cape of Good Hope,’ said Alderman Walker.

Roelf Pienaar, Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing’s Managing Director, says Tru-Cape has a responsibility to preserve genetic history for future generations.

‘Sharing a Saffron Pear with the Company’s Garden is one step closer to ensuring future generations will know it too,’ he said.
The Saffron Pear tree standing to this day is all that is left of a circle of Saffron Pear trees planted in the middle of the Company’s Garden hundreds of years ago.

On 19 April 1665 , Van Riebeeck wrote in a letter: ‘The weather was not so good for vegetable crops last year but the wine was successful. Thirty apples were picked from six trees and two pears’.

The trees were described by a visiting pastor, Valetijn, who visited the garden in 1685 and 1714. In 1853, the trees were again described to be about 150 years old from a description of a Russian visitor to the Cape who said he saw a circle of huge pear trees growing in the middle of the Company’s Garden.

It is reported that in 1910, a large pear tree with Wisteria growing onto it fell down, and the Wisteria was subsequently trained onto a pergola. Near to this was a remaining pear tree which once probably formed part of the circle of pear trees described earlier. This is the tree which grows in the garden to this day and the Wisteriastill grows on the adjacent pergola.