Thursday, May 27, 2010

How To Return From Exile!

Sjoe. So much to do - and only 5 weeks of time left to do it in! Mind you, not that I'm complaining! The sooner we can get on that plane, the better. All that stands between me and Heathrow, Terminal 5, is an endless list of loose-ends to tie up. (Needless to say, this miles-long list is quite welcome in its sense of signalling 'the final chapter' after I made a rather radical decision to begin packing up six whole months ago - and the house has been this kind of topsy-turvy, semi-packed chaos ever since: something I do not recommend at all to those of you planning your own Groot Trek.)

1. The car. Our sweet little blue Fiat Panda needed an MOT (plus new tyre!) and a year's worth of tax, and don't even talk to me about the insurance: and all just a month before our EDA. Eish... what a monumental waste of 250 Big Ones.

2. Phoning all the utilities etc. to explain we're leaving the UK (forever! YAHOO!): i.e. water, electricity/gas, council tax, Virgin (broadband, tv), BT (phone)

3. At least we don't have an ounce of debt - so the banking side of things is easy-peasy. But Craig has had to organise that his post-dated salaries go into his brother's UK account who can then transfer it to us in SA.

4. Furniture: I have four incredibly precious pieces of furniture that I wish with ALL my heart I could send home, but the shipping costs (even for half a container) was just too expensive, so I am going to have to find loving homes for these beautiful things. (I've run out of time to eBay them - but I reckon I could've gotten some nice cash for 'em if I'd been a bit more on the ball!) On the plus side, Craig discovered a company that can ship four boxes home for us (door-to-door) for only 150 GBP (and I better order them tomorrow! *where are those Post-it notes when you them?!*) In these four boxes will go Craig's rather gargantuan collection of Stephen King books: an altar to his impassioned devotion to this writer of some really brilliant stories, and... some totally crap ones! That leaves me with three boxes into which will go my little antique cups/saucers, lovingly folded scraps of rich, raw silk, crochet hooks, an eclectic family of books, my journals, some of Layla's tiny newborn clothes I can hardly remember her being able to fit into...

5. Our landlord, a feisty fishing fanatic (owns two fishing/hunting shops and is currently adventuring in Cuba, hunting down bone-fish!) bought the house we live in the year Craig and I were born! And - he also had a pet rabbit, and - his bunny's favourite spot was also the cool stone tiles around the fireplace! Anyway, he is an utter darling - and because we haven't had any estate agents involved (as well as no officially documented lease!) we haven't had to worry about sorting all of that out.

6. Um... I can't really remember everything off the top of my head - but I feel pretty much on top of it all. A nice feeling, really. Oh yes! We'll be renting a gorgeous old Settlers Cottage with lustrously warm yellow-wood floors and an exciting little garden for Layla to explore - and then we've also found a perfect car: air-con (for Layla - but I'm hell of a grateful too!), CD player (WOOHOO!) and low mileage. I'll tell you what: this whole move has been so, so exciting - and such a pleasure to organise: but really, it's only thanks to the people we've gone out of their way to help us! Adele Barnard must be the world's most thoughtful and kind (and hard-working) estate agent; Stacey (my future boss and first new friend in G-town) who runs Kip McGrath in Grahamstown, and Trygve Roberts from Autolink!

(Someone once gave me a card in which they scrawled, "travel light, and travel far." And as long as I have Layla, I am home.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pimp My Ride! (guest blogger)

After my dad's 4x4 adventure in and around the Eastern Cape's Baviaanskloof, he wrote this epically hilarious piece I just had to share! Here it is *wink*. Enjoy!

I have been wanting to experience the Baviaanskloof for many years.Perhaps it was the hint of a sore throat two days before departure that promised all would not be nirvana. Much has been written about the Baviaanskloof so I will pass the superlatives by for this story and focus on the people in our group. To be honest, it was the weirdest collection of bodies and souls I have yet had the pleasure of observing.

Our final evening around the campfire is on schedule. The stage is set for some pleasant bonhomie including the inevitable “strafdop” procedure and the burning of an absurd amount of wood. That alone had me wondering – Why do we do that? The outdoor folk, the environmentalists, the protectors of nature, the carbon kids. Why do we build a braai fire so large that bacon and eggs can still be done 10 hours later without adding a single log? Maybe the same reason we drive a 4x4 that consumes fuel at a rate of four and a half kilometers for every one liter of fuel?

So we are sitting there, in the African style, intensely focused on the roaring flames as the river rustles softly by in the darkness behind us, with the croaking of frogs and the zapping of bumble-bee sized mosquitoes, helping the Whiskey soak quietly into the primordial, inner mind. A group of strangers who have travelled the glorious Baviaanskloof together for three days, yet we barely know each other names. The weather is kind for late April and the brandewyn and red wine have gone through round three, (or was if four?) as everyone starts to finally relax. We are eight vehicles. I need to explain the group dynamic to help you understand what is coming next. There are three Land Rover Defenders (Allan, Guillermo and Steven) ; one Land Rover Discovery3 (Pietman), one Pajero DiD SWB (Henry) ; One Nissan Patrol LWB bakkie (George) , one Nissan XTrail (Tony) and my solitary Toyota Land Cruiser 105 GX. Names have been changed to protect the victims of what will surely be construed as public slander by the end of this story. Let’s start with the Defenders. I have some questions. Why do the owners like to attach so many items to the outside of their vehicles? There were spades, axes, gas bottles, jerry cans for each type of fuel, more jerry cans for water, roof top tents, gas bottles, ladders, huge spot lamps, Hi-lift jacks, cables to protect the windscreen from flailing branches, a few extra spare wheels, tool boxes, ammo boxes and all manner of quasi-military type kit tied or clamped on in the most ingenious fashion. The latest Defender trend is to cover the HiLift jack, axe, spade and gas bottle with a stout canvas cover. I am puzzled. For vehicles already notoriously heavy on fuel, they reduce the existing brick like (with apologies to Corobrick) aerodynamics of a Defender to a level akin to a camel loaded for a Gobi desert crossing. Why? Then there is the issue of the CG (Centre of Gravity). One only has to look at a Defender from behind to see that this thing will roll easily. But now they add so much k*k on the roof that the CG careers right off the scale. Smart? Mmmmmm.....I think I will let you decide that. Then I figured it all out. There are two types of 4x4 owners. Minimalists and maximalists. The first group take everything that is necessary but pack it in such a way that their vehicles don’t look like they have just emerged from a Sumatran jungle covered with mud and Camel man stickers with a long haired, white bearded driver throwing mosquito nets at the locals. And the last part of that sentence more or less describes what the maximalists like to achieve. A deep seated need to advertise the fact that........ I AM A CAMEL MAN!!!!!!

Later during the trip, there were a few muddy puddles by the roadside. I watched in my rear-view mirror and sure enough, all the vehicles studiously avoided driving through the mud, except for the three Defender drivers. Why? Because I want to to be a Camel Man. Bwaaahhhhaaah. I had one of the Defender drivers chat to me on the second day into the trip. He asked me how we managed to get by on so little. Where was my roof rack? And my spare fuel? And my water? And my hi-lift jack? And my spade? ....... “It’s all there”, I reassured him.” If I can’t get it into the Cruiser, it stays at home.” I remove the back seat and am left with a very large self contained packing space. I have no sliding packing systems. Everything I could possibly need fits comfortably inside the Cruiser and there is still enough space left to take almost twice the volume of kit, should I need to. Why take empty jerry cans or even full ones, with you on a trip where one has more than sufficient fuel to last easily for the entire trip? Suddenly this 4x4 owner was confronted with some very basic common sense. He didn’t answer but resorted to some very puzzled frowning and head scratching. The Land Rover Discovery3 as well as the Pajero owner, had (like me) nothing attached to the outside of their 4x4’s. No roof carrier and no roof top tent. That got me onto the second part of my theory which is that not all Land Rover owners are maximalists. It appears to be a Defender thing. Chatting to Pietman (Discovery3) I was astonished to listen to the pretzel logic of his product defence. "The reason the Land Rovers break half shafts so easily is a built in form of self protection so you don't damage the diff" He went on to say: "I have a light in my roof which goes on if I hit a bump too fast. It is the early Land Rover warning system to slow down" I am convinced he was serious. Then there is this brand new, black, Nissan X Trail. The ground clearance when loaded up is about 100mm. On the back window there are stickers of international flags – lots of them – about 60 in total, including the new SA flag, covering about half the rear window. Why? I ended up asking lots of those ‘why?’ questions during the trip. I can’t help it. The owner is 62 and sports a spectacularly low slung pot belly on an otherwise ordinary frame. He is a pleasant, nice person who chain smokes. He has decided, on initial sighting, that I am targeted as his new best friend. Now let me tell you, anyone that knows me understands my abhorrence of cigarette smoke. I was to be subjected to endless tales of self importance for the entire trip at each stop surrounded by clouds of recycled smoke. And then there's that first thing in the morning 'climb out the tent, light a fag, stretch, fart, good morning' routine which makes me want to run for the hills. We will get back to Tony later in this story. He has two kids inside the black X Trail – they are his grand children. He proudly informs me (he is one of those smokers who has acquired the ability to talk, smoke and breathe all at the same time hands free without removing the cigarette from his lips) that he has invented a wonderful device so as to avoid pollution and prevent forest fires. He explains further: “You see – you take an old beer or Coke tin and fill one quarter with water. Then you tie this onto the air vent on the dashboard with a cable tie. Then you can extinguish your stompies safely and without polluting the environment (which he pronounced enviament). “That is very clever” my wife said to him, coupled with a quick glance to me which said “Don’t you dare!” At that point I was about to ask him about his grand children having to endure passive smoking, but I rephrased it as a silent WHY? OK. Where was I? Oh yes, the campfire. Defender #2 driver, Giuseppe, at this point decides he would like to know what occupation each person does. So we go round the group like a bunch of drug rehab patients saying: “My name is Robby. I’m a car dealer” and so on. Each of these profession confessions is in turn interjected by some very witty remarks from Giuseppe. There are 16 of us sitting around the campfire. So we dealer, fashion designer, tour guide, meteorologist, vintner, bicycle mechanic, bicycle shop owner (which is bicycle mechanic’s wife), wine distributor, marketer, restaurant owner and finally the moment of truth for the XTrail owner. “And what do you do Tony?” asks Giuseppe. “Are you retired?” Laughter... “I am a pimp” “Ja, ja....come on. No seriously, what do you do?” “Seriously. I am a pimp. I own a brothel in the city.” Guiseppe: “Can my wife get a job with you. She is 40” Tony: “Sorry. Seriously. She’s too old” No more laughter. You could have heard a pin drop as the sounds of the fire burning seemed abnormally loud. He went on to explain further.... “I make good money. My new car is paid for in cash. My grand kids go to a private school. “ It was time for a topic change and probably just as well that everyone was inebriated at that stage. Did I forget to mention he was wearing a T shirt made from the old South African flag? There was more but not for telling here......So maybe I will buy a new carbon bicycle from Guiseppe and I might well sample the pasta at Guillermo’s restaurant, but I think the massage parlour will have to be deleted from my contact list. I’ll be buggered if I am going to fund the paint repairs on that black X Trail. The Baviaanskloof? Why? Because it is magnificent and I will be returning on my own or with a few friends. It was dry with a few wettish river crossings but absolutely nothing that could not have been done in a bakkie. We camped at Herons Cliff on the final night – a sort of B grade campsite with fairly basic facilities. Nearby there is an obstacle course which most of us went to play on later on the final day. The Camel men made a big hooh-hah about how effective their traction control systems were as they all successfully, amidst multi attempts, clouds of dust and stones, managed the fairly steep ascent with two nice axle twisters thrown in. I waited till last, then showed them just how capable the Cruiser is as I idled up the obstacle without a single wheel spin. They were subdued after that, but I did get a strafdop later, for being cocky. Defenders indeed. The weather was great. 25 to 31C during the day and -1 to 8 degrees at night. Having a sore throat and head cold made for grumpy nights sleep with SWAMBO wanting to “put me out of my snoring, gasping misery” by smothering me with a pillow. She later confessed that the only thing that kept her from executing (excuse the pun) her plan was the knowledge that I had not yet signed the new will. Now I know why! People are fascinating......