And so it begins!
Our epic journey across the world from Cape Town in South Africa to Yorkshire in the UK, a normally relatively uneventful trip but in this topsy turvy world of covid related shenanigans, we all know that this adventure is going to be anything from uneventful.
Day 1 - Saturday 1st May - 07:00 - 11 Hours Until Departure
I woke up early to the sound of groaning and the smell of stale smoke and alcohol. It was Mrs H!
(just kidding, my little swamp duck!). Our dog / house sitters had arrived on Friday night, some old friends of ours who were fortunately moving out of their rental so there was a win win for them to save a couple of months rent looking after our place until we get back. Wine was quickly opened and predictably a heavy drinking session ensued.
I luckily had the foresight to see where it was going and knowing that we were going to have a helluva trip ahead of us the next day, I strategically announced at 8:30pm that I had just popped a sleeping pill and that there was now no turning back from an early night. Shortly after, Winston and I retired to our chambers leaving the hardcore to party the night away.
Needless to say, Mrs H (the aforementioned hardcore) wasn't in her best state at 8am and neither were her accomplices. I had things to organise so I was up and out.
First stop was the hospital to get my bloodwork done, I've agreed with my nephrologist (kidney specialist) that I could miss my appointment with him but that I still have to get my bloods done so he can let me know if there is anything I need to do whilst in the UK. A quick bit of needle action and a vial or four out of the arm and I was back on the road. Next stop was pre-flight Covid-tests which I'd managed to book online with Dis-Chem. Because we were transiting through Germany, the test has to be less than 48 hours old before you land so the only option is a rapid antigen test as you get the results in 15 minutes. There is some risk to this as it's the pauper-class of covid tests and there's some question marks on its accuracy. It was still only 8:30am and I figured Mrs H and our guests would still be nursing hangovers so getting my wife out of the house for our appointment before 10am was going to be a challenge. The solution?
A full English breakfast.
A quick pit stop at Pick & Pay and I was on my way home with Pork Sausage, Bacon, Eggs, Mushroom, Baked Beans, mushrooms, tinned tomatoes, bread and butter for a full fry-up to ease the aching heads.
After some hangover-cleansing, the zombies came back to life and by 10am, Mrs H and I were on our way to the test centre at the local shopping mall. Well, I say it was in the shopping mall, it was actually in the basement car park of the shopping mall, let's not even get into the cleanliness and risk factor of doing Covid testing in a car park but beggars can't be choosers and I need that test result.
This was my second Covid test so I was kinda ready for what was coming but Mrs H seemed to be less thankful for her oversized breakfast when the nurse shoved the pipe cleaner so far up her nose it went down her throat and triggered her gag reflex, she handled it like a champ though and by 10 am were both proudly wielding a piece of paper to say we'd had a test. 2 hurdles down, a whole bunch to go.
We went out and picked up the essential supplies one needs before being locked up for 12 days in a hotel room, alcohol, and lots of it! Mrs H was muling cartons of cigarettes for her (I am unable to mention the amount in fear I may incriminate her but let's just say there was an adequate amount. ) This is fortunate as a carton of cigarettes in the UK tends to cost around R2,000 and a carton in South Africa costs closer to R400 so I could see the grocery budget for May going for a toss before I'd even eaten anything! As a recently converted non-smoker (2 years clean) I can sympathise for what it is going to be like for Mrs H in a non-smoking room with me for 12 days so I also suggested she bought herself a vape e-cigarette thingamajig to help manage the cravings. Add another R800.
I picked up a couple of bottles of rum and a 3 litre box of sauvignon blanc (I'm a classy guy) and we headed home to pack.
Having wrapped my contraband up in boxer shorts and T-shirts to fend off the luggage luggers at the airport and their total disregard for placing things instead of chucking them, I had an epiphany. I've been working pretty hard the last few months and having lost 10kg in the last few weeks alone with a plan to lose more on my return, I decided to pack super-light and fill my empty case with some fancy new couture whilst we're in the UK. I threw in 2 pairs of shorts, 2 T-shirts and a pair of flops, a random pile of underwear and a pair of flip-flops for good luck. I then remembered I had managed to arrange a couple of days face to face consulting during the trip so thew in a pair of long pants and a shirt, I'll buy shoes for that event en route. This left half my case empty and a quarter filled with things I wouldn't be bringing back, perfect.
Our house guests had been out moving some of their worldly possessions into storage but planned to be back by 3pm to drive us to the airport, I'd lent them my people carrier to make life easier than fifteen trips in their Hyundai i10 so when I had to run out to get some SA only items for my oldest friend in the UK Matt, Winston and I had to squeeze into Mrs H's little two seater sporty number which reminded my why I was losing weight. Winston didn't mind though, he just loves trips out in the car with his old pops.
The first item was easy; "Flippin' Lekka" spice rub, Matt loves it and as you can tell by the name, definitely not available inthe UK. They sell the full range in my local Spar so that was an instant tick. The second item not so much. Matt loves the camphor based hand cream Zam-Buk. He says his grandparents used to have it , which is probably true because ironically Zam-Buk was actually produced originally in Leeds, UK. Goodness knows how it became a South African staple but it seems camphor was made illegal in skin creams and lip balms in the UK because it's actually poisonous in large quantities. This is a good simile for South Africa versus the UK in that I can promise you hand on heart that South Africa has a lot more to worry about than the effect of camphor in skin cream! That's why I prefer South Africa to the UK in many aspects. Anyway, let's get off the cultural history and science lesson and back to the task in hand. I need to get Matt a lot of Zam-Buk, like a lot a lot. But after hitting 3 clicks and a Dis-chem, I had only managed to gather around 34 small tins and a couple of big ones. Another drought due to covid I dare say, damn virus. Did you know, you can't get HP sauce in South Africa right now for love nor money? Bloody covid.
I got home just in time to throw the cases in the bus and do a last couple of laps of the house wondering what I'd forgotten. Mrs H and our friends sheepishly inform me that in their removal process, they had put a light scratch on my people carrier but would fix it in time for my return. I was too distracted with other things and said "no worries, don't stress" and gave up my search and started taking the bags out to the car.
The small scratch turned out to be a gouge down the entire drivers side of my pride and joy. I swallowed hard and prayed that on my return it would all be a distant memory, we piled all the kit in the car, Winston jumped in the back and we were off to the airport. I drove as it would be the last time I would drive for two weeks which is always something I miss massively when we holiday or the car is in for repairs, it's weird. From the moment I get my driving licence I love the freedom of just being able to jump in the car and go, even if it's rare that I do these days. If I don't have the choice to do that, it's like losing a limb for me.
We arrived at Cape Town airport and said goodbye to our friends and then spent an embarrassingly long amount of time saying goodbye to Winston who had been sensing something was happening since I learned of my dads death and has been practically attached to me since. I'll really miss him this trip.
The airport was busier than I expected and we queued a bit to check in which reminded me that I'm not in the corporate world anymore where I could rock up and walk straight to the desk in the first class line flashing my executive club gold card and getting a nicer smile than everyone in the economy line. It felt good actually, I liked being stood there with my wife, having no job and being able to drop everything to just go to the UK for 6 weeks without any diary to manage or out of office to set, my first taste of real freedom. I like it.
Check in was uncomplicated and apart from checking our covid test forms, no different from any other trip. We went through security and then hit our first unexpected step in the process. A random covid form we had to fill in for the government for god knows what and for god knows why, we're leaving, why would you care until we come back! Mrs H had come well armed with pens though so it was a minor bump in the road and after a couple of minutes of furious scribbling, we were through passport control and were now airside.
Next face-slap was that the airport lounge that our bank kindly funds for us was closed so we sat in the only open restaurant in Cape Town airport and had a coffee and waited for our flight. Despite having travelled all over the place during my career, I had never flown with Lufthansa before but assumed it would be just like most other airlines and it largely was. I had booked us extra legroom seats for every step of the trip because at 190cm / 6 foot 3" with a build like a barn house door and an arthritic spinal condition, plane seats and I are not good bedfellows.
The next blunder was my fault. On entering the plane I was greeted by a rather scary German lady with blonde hair, we'll call her Helga for the purposes of the posts in which she may pop again. Helga asked assertively to see my boarding pass, I obeyed her quickly as the safest course of action and she instructed me to go to to the first row and pointed at my seat, Mrs H and I bundled ourselves onto the plane and I began playing overhead locker tetris trying to fit my one carry on bag and Mrs H's carry on bag, hand bag and laptop bag (ahem) into the luggage compartment.
Finally flopping into my seat I unpacked all of my crap from my pockets into the seat pockets, wrestled to get the belt on and then disposed of all the useless accoutrements that airlines give you these days like a little tiny pillow and a prison style scratchy blanket. I finally managed to breathe and prepared myself mentally to relax into the next 12 hours of uncomfort.
It didn't last long.
A pretty lady from the seat across the aisle leaned over and quietly whispered something in German to me. I apologised to her that I only spoke English (I've never really known why I feel the need to apologise for being English but I do it often, it seems kind of expected of us these days for a whole plethora of reasons that do deserve apologies but yet have nothing to do with me specifically). She then very politely asked if I'd booked the seat, to which I answered "yes, seat C & E" and gestured towards the seat number thingy with total confidence. A very confusing conversation then went on for about 3 minutes that I didn't fully understand but after a while I surmised that the lady had booked more than one seat for herself and that she felt I was sitting in her spare seat. I said to her a number of times that I'd booked seat 16C and started ferreting around looking for my boarding pass. She said that she had also booked 10C and it was then that the penny dropped, she must be on the wrong row. I confidently (and in hindsight in a somewhat patronising manner) said to her, "I see the problem here, 10C you say? This is 16C, you're in the wrong seat, your seat must be down there somewhere" (gesturing down the plane).
It was then that Mrs H tried to stop me speaking and my hatred for Helga was born.
I was sitting in 10C, Helga had shown me to the wrong seat.
Needless to say, the next 3 minutes involved some humble apologising and trying to explain it was Helga's fault while reversing all of my offloading and scurrying away to the correct seat calling Helga names under my breath.
Finally though we ended up in the right seats on the right plane, pointing in the right direction and we took off on time. We're on our way back to Blighty to see my the family. I donned my earphones, picked a comedy movie and tried to get as comfortable as possible.
Quarantine day minus one complete. we're in the air on our way to Frankfurt Germany.
12 days of quarantine to go.