Liz at Lancaster Pick of the Week: 21st Feb

Recently, Liz at Lancaster guests who were born and grew up in Johannesburg and were visiting from overseas for a big family  reunion, wanted to take their grand-nieces on the Red City Bus leaving from Gold Reef City. However

Main concourse of Park Station

Main concourse of Park Station

they were very hesitant about the drive there.  When I suggested taking the Gautrain to Park Station and catching the Red City Bus from there and then hopping  off at Gold Reef City, they looked a little hesitant and skeptical that this was a wise thing to do.  Having finally convinced them that it was a great idea and that it would be easy and seamless, off they went.  They returned not only safe and sound, but quite effusive about what a fabulous day they’d had:  apart from being so easy and hassle free, the kids loved the train, they were so interested in seeing Park Station having travelled by train when they grew up in Joburg, and the Red City Bus tour (with great commentary) was fascinating and a real eye-opener to all that was going in Joburg Central.


Michelangelo Hotel and Sandton City

Michelangelo Hotel and Sandton City

Their complete surprise at all that Joburg has to offer was reinforced by a recent excellent opinion piece that appeared in Tourism Update:  ‘Stop underselling downtown Joburg’. Here, James Delaney of Moja Heritage echoes exactly the feedback I have had from guests who have previously stayed in Sandton hotels.  He writes: ‘I’m often asked by Sandton-based trade what there is to do in Joburg! And I encounter tourists who’ve been told by their hotel reception not to venture out, and so all they experience of the city is room service’.  In my experience many international guests come with the perception that Sandton is the ‘city centre’ in the sense of a European city central node or square where ‘all the activity is’. I try to explain that Sandton is a business centre with fenced-off office parks, a huge mega shopping mall, little street life, and no after-hours attractions.

Recently, after some chats with me, Swiss guests equipped with a guide book and their rented car, took themselves off to Maboneng, to Constitution Hill and to the Orbit in Braamfontein amongst other places. They came back saying how energizing and fascinating it all was.  They felt a real sense of creativity, of history, of variety, of interaction with different social groupings, of a city in the process of reinventing itself  – edgy, cool and exciting.

Saturday community sidewalk sessions in Maboneng

Saturday community sidewalk music and art sessions in Maboneng

While the fabulous new publication Johannesburg In your Pocket (part of a series on international capital cities) has gone a long way to giving information on what downtown Joburg has to offer, there are many who still know little about their own home city and so cannot begin to sell it.  As a born and bred Joburger, as somebody interested in local art and culture and as a researcher who has written on many aspects of Joburg’s history and heritage, I so want Liz at Lancaster guests to have the option of experiencing Joburg in all its gritty richness.  So apart from having extensive tourism information on our website , posting on Facebook, tweeting (Twitter handle @Lizatlancaster),  and chatting to guests, we also have a noticeboard in our public lounge area with current info on what’s on including a Pick of the Week.  For example this week’s Pick of the week is another evening in the series Science and Cocktails at the Orbit Jazz Club. I’ve written about this before

This Tuesday (23rd) the talk is entitled ‘Eyes and their owners Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ being given by Marie Dacke, a sensory biologist from  Lund University, Sweden who will talk about adaptations for animals to

Pick of the Week on Liz at Lancaster's noticeboard

Pick of the Week on Liz at Lancaster’s noticeboard

navigate in the dark.  Music by the group Donkey will follow.  Donkey is a trio comprising Janus van der Merwe (saxophone), Justin Badenhorst (drums) and Roger Hobbs (bass) and apparently (I haven’t heard them) they have ‘a unique, grimy sound with influences ranging beyond jazz all the way to drum and bass and hip hop.’ So there you have it.

What can be so wrong with hearing a fascinating talk from a world-class academic while sipping exotic cocktails and then slipping into an evening of fusion jazz .

Entrance R20; for dinner book at the Orbit 011 339 66 45 or 081 53 42 867  For more see

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Liz’s Pick of the Week: 14th February

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

It’s hard to believe that the Market Theatre celebrates its 40th birthday this year, opening mid 1976 just 5 days after that most significant of dates – 16th June.  While its history as the ‘theatre of the struggle’, as a site of anti-apartheid resistance pre the mid 1990s, is well known,  it felt as though, post 1994, it took time to reposition itself and its productions. And recently it went through a rough time with minimal productions programmed for 2015.  Apparently door receipts do not traditionally cover more than some 30% of theatre productions (so outside sponsorship is a prerequisite) and the Market Foundation application of the National Lottery took a long time to be considered.  However thankfully it seems that things are back on track with lots of exciting plays coming up, not least of which is Tobacco and the harmful effects thereof.  This production (adapted by William Harding), uses as its starting point Anton Chekhov’s 1886 monologue On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco. This is apposite in this 40th birthday year of the Market, given that the theatre’s first production was Chekhov’s The Seagull directed by Barney Simon.  Tobacco and the harmful effects thereof performed to sell out seasons at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival in 2014 and at the Baxter Theatre, Cape Town in 2015 and it’s just returned from the Amsterdam Fringe Festival as part of the Best of the Fringe programme.

Andrew Buckland as Ivan

Andrew Buckland as Ivan

Ivan (Andrew Buckland) is told by his wife (Toni Morkel) to lecture on the harmful effects of tobacco … What follows is not so much a lecture, as an ‘unfolding of the often hilarious and poignant journey of a man trying to be heard for the first time’.  This re-imagining of Chekov’s monologue is shot through with Kafka, Edward Lear and Andre Breton to produce a surreal journey directed by Sylvaine Strike. Both Anthony Buckland and Toni Morkel are consummate performers so as Sassen says ‘you know you are in safe hands’. (Robyn Sassen is an insightful and rigorous arts and entertainment critic.)  Sassen writes:  ‘Buckland and Morkel together articulate a level of clowning sophistication which makes you remember what perfect theatre is all about. With authoritative focus, they make you laugh at something tragic, and cry at something ridiculous: armed only with their bodies and their skill they invest poignancy into clumsiness and incredible poetry into a hen-pecked middle-aged man in his underpants with a necktie around his sweaty head.’ Sassen concludes her review with: ‘ If you choose to have one theatre experience in your whole life, make it this one.’ Now that’s a high praise indeed.

Tickets are R180 with a special of R140 Wednesday and Thursdays. Book through Computicket or email You have until the 6th March to see this extraordinary production.

From Liz at Lancaster's noticeboard

From Liz at Lancaster’s noticeboard

Make the most of the evening and have a light pre-theatre supper at The Potato Shed, the sister restaurant to Grand Café Life in Hyde Park, is located, as its name suggests, on the site of the old potato sheds of the original market next to the Market Theatre.  There’s lots of parking – another plus.  Phone 010 590 6133 to book.

Although shops will be closed prior to evening performances – you can always do some window shopping in the adjacent Work Shop, a shopping emporium housing stores with hip funky brands like Black Coffee, Love Jozi and Makhoza knitwear amongst others.


Support local productions, explore new additions to Newtown, marvel at the value-for-money of our theatre, and most importantly, enjoy a great evening.

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Whatever you are, be a good one

The recent ‘#FeesMustFall’ campaign got me thinking yet again about the role of University education, entrepreneurial career paths, the importance of artisanal skills and trades, and practical preparation for the world of work.  I have a post-graduate degree myself and taught at tertiary level for nearly 23 years before leaving to grow my guesthouse business.  So, apart from the obvious training and content-specific knowledge needed  for professional degrees such as medicine, engineering, law, accounting, teaching,  etc.,  I am only too aware of the huge advantages that a University education brings to bear in terms of critical thinking and the discipline and rigor of the academic pursuit.   One cannot measure this training – it is invaluable.

However, again, having taught in a University context for so many years, I am also of the opinion that just as there are many capable and prepared students who should be going to University but cannot afford to (and this is where the FeesMustFall campaign applies), there are also students at University who are so ill-prepared for the demands of a University degree because of a completely inadequate foundation in the school education system, that they are simply not able to ‘catch up’ over the relatively short time of an undergraduate degree and are set up for failure.  And, just as bad, there are many who get their degrees but find that they are ill-equipped for the world of work and are often unemployable.   Many of these students end up working in positions which do not require graduate training. In other instances there is an oversupply of graduates and the employment market cannot absorb them all. Again graduates leaving University find they cannot get jobs.

As somebody who is now an entrepreneur and small business owner and who works with other entrepreneurs, the recent events have highlighted for me yet again:

  • the false thinking behind the merging of Technikons with Universities back in the early 2000s
  • the problem of the refrain from Government that University education is a right for all
  • the prioritizing of a university education over technical training.

Given Apartheid’s  ideological evil of denying black people the opportunities to be educated beyond the level of manual labourers, the stigma associated with the trade professions in South Africa is completely understandable. However I think there is a lot that Government could do to shift values and negative connotations attached to anything to do with technical skills and practical training. For a start these artisanal skills should be reframed as being  the foundation towards becoming  a business owner and entrepreneur and should be taught along with everyday basic business life-skills like computer literacy, maths literacy, email conventions, business planning, budgeting, cash flow management, legislation requirements, tax submission procedures, etc.  (These are all skills needed in one’s personal life as well.)

As an entrepreneur myself, I look at the various people that I work with and I see the huge advantages of independent small business ownership combined with training in a sought-after skill.

  • None of the small business owners that Liz at Lancaster uses for service and maintenance issues has a University degree
  • some are white, some are Indian, most are black (if we are going to base the job opportunity debate in the context of race)
  • all are chosen as preferred suppliers because they are competent and reliable
  • most, admittedly, are men so I need to write another post on career opportunities for women outside of degreed professions
  • all are successfully earning livings and building businesses based on practical skills and experience
  • some are training others in apprenticeships
  • some are putting family through private schools
  • some have afforded their own children a University education
  • some employ a team of people.

All share an ethos of pride in their work – from E&C Curtains, to Master Plumbing, to a carpenter trained by a German master carpenter who is in turn training his son, to Black Fix who services and fixes all our white goods, to the carpet cleaning business, the upholsterers, the uniform supplier, the tree feller, the electrical contractor, the pool maintenance business, the paving business, the thatchers, the maker and supplier of bathroom amenities, the list goes on and on.  

And irony of ironies, for many years as a small business owner I used the most amazing handyman who was a trained electrician and plumber.  Over a decade ago he emigrated to Australia where he and his family are doing very well as his trade skills are so sought after in Australia.  Not that we want our youth to enter technical training for this reason.  But it does rather add weight to the argument that trade careers are often more portable than careers requiring University degrees.   So my plea to Government would be to

  • work towards removing the stigma around not having a University education
  • re-open technical colleges
  • apply the free education policy to students attending these Technikons
  • ensure high standards of training emphasizing both quality of workmanship and a pride in one’s profession – ‘Whatever you are, be a good one’
  • focus on the job creation opportunities created by the small business sector
  • remove red tape facing small business owners
  • promote the financial advantages of entrepreneurship.

And of course start investing  in education from early childhood … but that is another area of discussion. For now: focus on developing the much needed skills required in the market place and the excellent career opportunities which do not require a University degree.

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