My holiday in Spain got off to a fabulous start. It began when our pilot woke up late or had a fight with his boyfriend or couldn´t start the car and consequently delayed our flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg by half an hour.
Not a particularly great amount of time in terms of evolution and the universe and stuff like that, but just long enough for us to reach the Iberia check-in counter eight minutes after it had shut.
“No,” said a yellow-vested man with the face of a stupid person. “You can´t get on the plane.” Even though it’s only leaving in an hour? Even though. But we have already checked our luggage through from Cape Town to Madrid, we said. The stupid face assured us that because we had not checked in, our luggage would not have been put on the plane.
“Take it up with SAA,” he said.
So we joined a long line of other unhappy people at the SAA counter and were told that they could put us on the next flight to Madrid – in two days’ time. Brenda was outraged and began threatening people who didn’t even work for the airline.
All they could do, said the man with the “do I look like I care about your problem?” expression, was to put us up in a hotel. But apparently all the hotels in Joburg are full so we’re going to have to stay in Pretoria. The hotels in Joburg are not full. This is simply SAA corporate code for “our R50-a-night rat-infested hovel in Hillbrow is full”.
We were handed a voucher for a taxi to the “hotel” in Pretoria and went off to recover our luggage from the bowels of the airport. A man who looked like a second-hand duffel bag checked his computer and said that our luggage was on the Iberia flight.
The next day we woke up in Pretoria and our backpacks woke up in Madrid.
I will spare you the litany of horrors that were inflicted upon us during the twelve hours we spent at Oliver Tambo International, but after much begging, pleading, threatening and weeping, SAA grudgingly agreed to put us on a flight to London.
Anything was better than another night in Pretoria, even if it meant arriving in a completely different country to the one we had originally planned on visiting.
I began to understand why Qantas had the longest queues of all.
After decompressing in the airport smoker’s lounge, a cheerful place where you could fall down dead and nobody would care, we were herded into our pens at the back of the aircraft.
We landed at Heathrow at dawn, dressed for sunny Spain. The temperature outside was three degrees. So much for global warming. Brenda shivered and cursed and every time she turned on me I gently deflected her wrath back towards SAA, where it belonged.
We spent our first night in Paddington and wondered how our bags were enjoying Spain. Reeking like homeless people, we went to a Lebanese restaurant and had a terrible fight after Brenda accused me of being transfixed by the belly dancer.
“What belly dancer?” I said, taking another mouthful of empty fork and knocking my beer into my lap.
The next day, reunited with our backpacks which were looking relaxed and tanned, I told Brenda that I was taking her to the East End. To a place called Rotherhithe where I used to live in a squat because back then I couldn’t afford to pay even the smallest amount of rent.
Our cab driver, born in England, oddly enough, warned me that the area had changed since I was last there. “Most of us cockneys moved out when the Pakis moved in,” he said. “We’re out in the shires, now.”
The shires? Isn’t that where the hobbits live? I dared not ask for fear that he had something against hobbits, too.
Rotherhithe had certainly changed. The slums where I lived had been knocked down to make way for rows of yuppy flats made of ticky-tacky. Where were the punks? The skinheads? The drug dealers? The people who once made this such a fantastic to live?
And so it was that in the space of a few years I went from staying in a filthy squat to staying in the Rotherhithe Hilton. Funny thing, life.
The next day Brenda suggested we get the hell out of London but I had received certain information that the Camden Crawl was on the go. Billed as three days of anarchy, it seemed silly not to be there.
Brenda was a bit tense at first but it wasn’t long before she was so relaxed that she ran off down the middle of the road and got her nose pierced by a girl with purple hair.
I remember being awash in beer, loud music and police sirens. That’s it.
London was killing us. We had to get out. So we caught the train to Dover, a town like Muizenberg but with even less hope.
For the first time, we had to shoulder our backpacks. After about thirty metres I started feeling like a tortoise walking on its hind legs with a giant shell made from lead. I complained and moaned and bitched non-stop until Brenda hailed a taxi just to shut me up.
Later we walked up some stupid mountain to get to a castle where posters pretended that Dover was on the frontline in World War One. I could picture the troops hunkered down in the Horse & Hare as the first wave of bombers came over on their way to London.
“Woz that a plane, mate?”
“Nah, that´s the number 19 bus, that is.”
“Orl right, then. Your round.”
No wonder Britain lost the war.
We holed up in the White Horse pub, a crumbling edifice built in 1345. The walls of the bar were covered in graffiti from people foolish enough to have swum the English Channel. This made me uncomfortable so we went out the back where a very drunk man told us that Mandela was a terrorist and should never have been released. This made Brenda uncomfortable so we drank up and left quickly.
Later that night we trawled desperate Dover for a little action. The Funky Monkey looked promising, what with its sign banning “chunky rings and heavy jewellery” but it was closed.
The Louis Armstrong was open and for possibly the first time ever, we were the youngest people in the bar. The patrons were there to listen to Bill Barnacle’s Jazz Band, drink sherry and reminisce about the war.
My notes stop making sense at this point because around midnight, Ricardo with a bandaged hand joined us and, when I wasn’t looking, slipped something nasty into my beer. By the time the bar closed it was as if my bones had turned to jelly. Brenda poured me into a taxi and we went back to the hotel whereupon I deposited my supper in the bath.
And the holiday was only just beginning.