Friday, 29 February 2008

One Small Step For Man....Or Woman

Today I came across a shocking example of how far behind South Africa is in the battle for racial equality. I'm not usually given to political posts, but this one disturbed me enough to comment.,,2-7-1442_2278008,00.html

In a nutshell, the article details the discovery of a video made by students at the University of Bloemfontein showing five black cleaners being initiated into what is traditionally an all white residence on campus. Footage is shown of the cleaners taking part in various activities such as a dance, a mock rugby practice, beer downing and finally, drinking a mixture which had secretly been urinated on by one of the residence students. The video opens with a student narrating: "Once upon a time the 'boere' lived peacefully here on Reitz Island, until one day when the less-advantaged discovered the word 'integration' in the dictionary." It ends with the cleaners trying to force down the vile mixture, and the closing voice-over: "That, at the end of the day, is what we think of integration."

This video was made in response to UFS' reformed policy on integration, which defines what percentage of white and black students will be allocated to each residence. In other words, it's railing against the residences being made multi-racial, as up until the end of last year, whites and blacks lived in seperate residences.

There's not all that much to say about this issue that doesn't already speak for itself, merely by the event taking place.

Of course, if it's going to happen anywhere, one would expect it from parts of the Free State, where right-wing opponents to the erosion of Apartheid still abound. But that doesn't make it any less shocking to read about. Although I'm not blind to the fragile truce between races in our country, and although I know that many people harbour similar resentments, even if they don't express them aloud, I am saddened by stories like these. It makes me embarrassed to be associated with these people, even if it's only by the fact that we all call ourselves South Africans.

On a lighter note, today is the day I should be proposing to Shoes, if I so desire. I'm very aware that if I miss this opportunity, and he doesn't get his act together soon, I may very well be almost 32 before this day rolls around again and allows me to buck tradition and take the bull by horns.

With this in mind, I decided to ask him to marry me as we were walking down the stairs on our way to work this morning. He got a bit coy, and then very agreeably said yes. And then we both had a giggle at the silliness of my proposal. I mean really, if I was seriously going to be the one doing the asking, I would have gone to a bit of trouble. But I'm not that girl.... I have the moment when he gets down on one knee etched firmly in my imagination. Luckily for him, he knows exactly what my answer will be, so it's really just a question of timing and saving his pounds to buy me a hugely expensive rock. Maybe next year.....

Thursday, 28 February 2008


Wow, I can't believe what a lucky escape we had.

We've been going back and forth for the last few days, trying to decide if this situation with the flat we want to rent is a) legitimate and b) worth the hassle.

While it's true that no-one should ever be asking you for cash before you've even viewed the premises, Jenny didn't ask us to send any money to her. She just asked that we prove we had enough for the deposit by transferring the money between our accounts and faxing her a copy of the receipt. We'd spoken about the possibility of a scam, and after going through all the options we figured there wouldn't be any way for her to get her hands on the money if we did it like that.

We checked with the post office about the rules for moneygrams, and basically if Eyes and I went in there together, he could transfer the money from his account to me while I was standing with him, and I could pick up the cash within 10 minutes. It seemed foolproof, and the post office explained the ways in which they ensure that the recipient of the money is the correct person.

So we thought we'd covered every angle.

Then this morning Scarf asked for the e-mail thread from Jenny so she could check it with an estate agent, just to make sure. She came back with links to a set of posts on, detailing a massive scam that has been going on for months in London!

It works like this:

Scammers post ads on various websites advertising properties for rental. When you contact them, you get a reply (in bad English - the scammers are obviously all foreigners) detailing how they have been messed around by people not pitching up for viewings or arriving but not having money for the deposit. They then request that you prove you have the money by doing a moneygram. Some of the e-mails request that you transfer the money to their (the scammer's) account. Unbelievably, at least half the people posting replies on Gumtree actually fell for this. Other e-mails, such as Jenny's, request that you make the transfer to a friend you trust, or even to yourself. This of course leads you to believe that there is no room for scamming - your friend / you will go pick up the cash. But in the interim, they ask that you fax them the receipt of transfer. What it didn't say in our e-mail, but what is evident from all the other posts, is that the scammer requests the receipt to be sent while the money is still sitting at the post office, not after you have picked it up. This is where they get the information from to go and pick up the money, pretending to be you. So our plan, to be right there to pick up the cash as it came through, would in this instance have prevented Jenny from stealing our money. But everyone who got caught faxed through the receipt BEFORE picking up the money, thereby handed over the info the scammers needed to steal it. Also, in many instances, people faxed through copies of their passports and/or bank statements to prove who they were and that they were 'serious' about the flat, giving the scammers absolutely everything they needed for the theft. These poor people have now found e-mails and ads on the web in their names - obviously once the scammers have used a particular identity once, they change it to avoid a trail.

So although nothing would have happened to our money had we done it like we planned, I'm relieved that we didn't get entangled in this mess.

It just goes to show, be wary of trusting a private lessor in London. Of course, when agency fees can rocket to £500 just for finding you a flat, it's easy to see why going the private route is so attractive.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Shake, Rattle and Roll Out Of Bed

There was an earthquake in London last night. A frikkin earthquake!!! It originated from up north near Manchester, around 205km from London itself, but the shock waves were still felt here. We live south east and didn't feel anything, but people in the south west (including many of our friends) reported being woken up by beds shaking and ceilings creaking, and one woman at Scarf's office even fell out of bed! Me thinks she may have been on the sauce the night before though, or maybe she just has a very small bed, because that's a bit extreme. It measured 4.7 on the Richter scale, and is the biggest earthquake to hit Britain in 5/10 years, depending on what website you read. While there are no casualties, 50 houses close to the epicentre sustained structural damage.

Apparently between 200 and 300 quakes occur in Britain each year, but only about 10% are strong enough to be felt. How about that? And here I thought I was safe from all natural disasters except flooding, which is a fairly common occurrence up north (you'd think so with all the damn rain).

My housemates and I are currently in the middle of a rather bizarre situation. We've been planning to move from the dive in the south east that we call home for a while now, and just before our holiday we pinpointed April/May as the time to do it. So we haven't been actively looking for places yet, but every now and then one of us will have a quick skim through some websites to see what is around. We need something with 2 bedrooms & 2 bathrooms, and they are usually quite difficult to find as only the modern complexes are built like that. Trying to find affordable modern complexes in London is like looking for the sun in England's winter months.... usually a fruitless and frustrating experience. Anyway, Eyes came across a place the other day that looks quite amazing, and is also situation in Westminster, which is Zone 1. For those who don't know, London is divided into 6 Zones, and the further out you live, the more you pay to travel. We currently live in Zone 4. Zone 1 is widely believed to be very expensive to live in.

Eyes enquired after the flat and was told by the lessor - a lady who, from her awkward e-mails, is obviously not English - that the entire flat will cost £800 a month. That is £150 less than we're paying now, and it's in Zone 1. Of course, we all thought it was a typo, or that there was a catch of some sort, but three more e-mails proved to have the same outcome - she genuinely appears to be offering the flat for £800. So we got very excited, and tried to arrange a viewing. We got a rather long, confusing e-mail back explaining how she has been messed around by people expressing interest and then not pitching up, and people coming to view the place and then turning out not to have funds for the deposit. So she requires proof that we are a) serious and b) have the money before she will allow us to come and see it. She says she has spoken to her lawyers, and they have agreed that the only way to prove this is through a moneygram. Basically, we have to go to a post office and arrange a moneygram - a money transfer - from one of our account to the other, and then bring her the receipt. Despite our objections on the grounds that this is not only a mission for us but also just a little over the top as we haven't even seen the place yet, she will not be swayed. We have offered her payslips for all four of us, bank statements and a reference from our current landlord. We've explained how we can transfer money from one account to another through internet banking, and we've told her we will even bring her £800 in cash to see if she'd like. She is refusing everything but the receipt from the moneygram. Either this woman is a little dense, or she is ignorant to the point of being obtuse - and let's not even get started on her lawyers.

We very nearly decided to forget about it, but despite our continued skepticsm - it really does seem too good to be true - we've caved and have decided to go through with it. We can do the moneygram and draw the cash at the same time, so there's not chance of it going missing, which is the one thing we were afraid of.

If all goes well, we will arrange a viewing for tomorrow night.

All I can say is, this place better be worth the hassle!

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Country House

My sister-in-law to be (I'd just say sister-in-law because she is definitely family despite the lack of paperwork, but I don't want any breathless e-mails asking when Shoes and I got hitched) and her family are soon moving from the bustle of Jo'burg to the country life in Creighton, Pietermaritzburg. Creighton is about 2 hours outside of Durban, and is basically a farming community with acres and acres of space and not much else. The primary school that Flea will be attending is 30km away, and T will be taking a job effectively running the farm, leaving BlackVelvet to find something to do that keeps her busy and happy. She's suggested milking cows, but I have a feeling she'll require a little more stimulation. She is giving up her career in finance administration for what right now amounts to nothing career-wise.

Their reason for moving is two-fold. T's family all live in Creighton, so they can raise Flea close to her cousins and in what is perhaps the most idyllic setting for a kid to grow up in. Secondly, what T will be earning, including benefits such as a company car and house, is more than what their combined salaries were in Jozi.

Velvet admitted the decision wasn't easy, but in the end there were too many positives to turn down the chance. She feels this is the best thing for her family, and for herself as well. Of course, her work colleagues are flummoxed. They can't understand why she would turn down a city life in Jozi, with all its entertainment, opportunity and, let's be honest, material things, to live a quiet (read: boring) life in a backwater town.

Velvet listed the things about Jozi that she hates and will never miss, including the horrendous traffic jams, the continuous scrambling up the career ladder only to be overworked and underpaid, and the general shiteousness that is Jo'burg. Let's face it, it's not a pretty or idyllic city.

But on the other hand, she will be living in a small community made almost of entirely of family. She'll rarely see her friends, she won't have a sense of career-self, at least for the time being, and yes, she might end up getting a little bored.

It got me thinking about city vs country life. I guess if you've grown up knowing only city life, a move such as this would be like a death sentence. Perhaps a city person can't imagine how one can ever be satisfied with less. Less choice, less options of where to go and what to do, less drama and less stuff. Maybe being from Cape Town, Velvet appreciates it a bit more, as in CT you can have the best of both worlds, to a degree. The city life is there if you want it, but you can also get away from it all in the surrounding mountains and forests. Also, chilling is just not a Jozi passtime, while Durbanites and Capetonians basically live for it.

I personally think that Velvet has made a very brave decision, but a good one. I know she'll be happier for it, and it's the right move for her family.

The question is, could I do the same?

What would you do?

Monday, 25 February 2008

End Of The Road

The rest of our holiday passed in a blur of soaking up the sun on the Atlantic seaboard beaches, dining in Cape Town's finest restaurants and drinking in the beautiful sights of the Mother City like parched nomads at a desert oasis. I couldn't get enough of the spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and the towering mountains standing guard over it. Every time we drove through Hout Bay and over the top of Suikerbossie on our way into Camps Bay, my breath caught in my throat at the sight of the paradise spread out before me. Indeed, it begs the question 'Why London?' all over again, making my return here a bittersweet event. But for now, that image is stuck firmly in my mind, and brings me almost as much joy as if I was in my car, making that journey right now.

We ate out every night bar two, and went out for lunch at least two thirds of the time. I ate more sushi in 3 weeks than I will see in the next two years - Shoes is not a fan, and it's also ridiculously expensive in London. Among my favourite eateries are the following:

Wasabi - an Asian-Fusion restaurant in Constantia which serves arguably the best sushi in Cape Town. Out of all the sushi I've eaten, this comes out top everytime.

Terroir on Kleine Zalze - a nouveau-cuisine restaurant on the Klein Zalze wine farm in Stellenbosch. Smallish and expensive portions, as is typical of the fare, but incredible flavours in an absolutely picturesque setting. Gets my vote for lunch spot of the trip.

Brass Bell - an old Kalk Bay favourite created in the style of a wrecked ship. Complete with scavenging seagulls and waves crashing at your feet as you eat lunch. Excellent seafood, even better views.

Saigon - Vietnamese restaurant in Kloof Street. A little cluttered in terms of space, but the food is consistently fantastic. The best option is to eat starters all night.... they have a wide variety to suit everybody, and they're so tasty you can easily be persuaded to leave the mains and pick on finger food.

Primi Piatti, Camps Bay - an old faithful. We're sucked in everytime by the enormous cocktails, the delicious carpaccio and the views of the sun setting over the ocean as you eat your meal. Simple, but effective, despite the eyesore orange jumpsuits worn by the waiters. Also good for stumbling into after you've given yourself sunstroke on the beach... you can sit there in a bikini top and guzzle down ice cold beers to cool off.

Blowfish - a seafood/sushi restaurant in Dolphin Beach, Table View, with one of the best views of Table Mountain you'll find. Excellent menu, and you can watch the kite surfers do their thing while you eat.

One of our weekends was actually spent a ways out of Cape Town, at a trance party near Breede River. We're shameless trance party addicts.... the phat bass, dancing from sunrise to sunset and camping with all your best mates is possibly our favourite way to spend a weekend. In Europe, you have to travel to the outdoor parties... London is obviously not a favourite for an event that requires great weather to be successful. Our first trip to an international trance party was last year's Freedom Festival in Portugal. It was one for the books, with memories and experiences unlike any we've had before. But Cape Town outdoors remain our first love, and nothing in the world can beat them. This year I introduced Mini-Me and her boyfriend G to the delights of our stomping ground. They were hooked instantly, and I forsee us all traversing across the country when we finally return home, seeking out the best parties of the season. The only downer this time was the badly botched sleeping arrangements. We'd borrowed my parents' bakkie (pick-up truck), and initially Shoes and I were going to sleep on a mattress in the back while Mini-Me and G shared an inflatable mattress in the tent. Since they ended up going to bed before us, I magnanimously offered them the car, assuming that Shoes and I would sleep less and therefore could handle the aerospace. Due to compounding circumstances involving a blown fuse in the bakkie's car charger (which was the only way to blow up the mattress) and the theft by some of my 'friends' of our sleeping bags, Shoes and I ended up riding out the toughest night's sleep ever, on the hard ground in the tent with only sheets and towels for cover. We were cold, tired and miserable for the few hours sleep we did get. It gave us good reason to get up early, though, and we had that much more time on the dancefloor the next day. Who cares, we'll sleep when we're dead, right?

It seems strange that Cape Town is already an almost distant memory now. Of course, we still bear the faint bronze glow from our hours spent on the beach (although it's amazing how fast a tan fades on this side of the equator... it's like it sees the English sun and goes: Not a chance bru, I'm outta here!) and we still have our wine and longed for food items (Tinkies, Southern Fried and Koffiehuis) that we brought back with us. But it's time to move on from what was, and start looking forward to what will be, namely Spain in the summer and perhaps for the first time ever, a spot of skiing in winter. In a London winter, you get through the dark days by planning your next holiday. It also means you have that much more time to anticipate the next exotic trip. I suppose this is evidence more than anything else why I'm not ready to come home just yet. :-)

Friday, 22 February 2008

Egoli - Place of Mould

The first 4 days of our holiday were spent in Jozi with Shoes' family. Before I met him, Shoes lived with them for 7 months before deciding he had to return to Cape Town or cut out his own eyes with a blunt steak knife. I have family up there too, on my mom's side, and I distinctly remember the pit of despair I regularly tumbled into whenever it was announced that we were driving up to visit them (those were the days before Kulula, when plane tickets for a family of four cost more than Dad's monthly salary). Suffice it to say, both of us detest Jo'burg. No offence to those who live there... I quite understand why many Capetonians choose that path. If you have any ambition whatsoever and actually want to make more than survival money, 9 times out of 10 it is a very necessary move. After all, as everyone knows, people in CT are so relaxed they're practically horizontal, and this is not conducive to money-making. As for those people who own houses in Llandudno and Camps Bay... you know they didn't make their money in CT! However, empathy aside, Shoes and I long ago decided that if we can't live in Cape Town, we won't bother coming home. Hardcore stance, I know, but we're hardcore Kaapies, and besides, we've got the mooouuntain bru. Apologies, but since the rest of SA likes to act like we're all a bit batty about our mountain, I felt I should oblige.

So, anytime we have to make the trip up north (or down south in this case) to visit his family, we're filled with mixed feelings. We've overjoyed at the prospect of seeing them, of course - luckily for me, they all love me and I feel as at home with them as I do with my own. But we're also miffed by the idea of wasting time in Jozi when we could be on the beach (or the mountain) in CT.

This time was no exception. Jozi to me really defines the Third Worldness of SA. I know I may have many detractors here, but while CT looks for the most part like a tropical paradise, Jozi is all crumbling, pot-holed roads, powerless traffic lights and filth lining the streets. And let's not even mention the traffic light beggars dragging their blind (or pretending to be) compatriots in the path of your car, forcing you to screech to a death-defying halt, and then expecting you to hand out some hard-earned cash. How is it that they think your sympathies are likely to be heightened when you just about have to kill your passengers in order to miss them? No ja, ek se.

After being in London for nearly a year and a half, we were a bit shocked driving back from OR Tambo to Sandton, where the Shoes live. It's not that we've forgotten that we're only squatting in the First World, but things do change and in this case, it was evidently for the worse. Luckily, the Shoes live in a place called Linbro Park, which is sort of like a gated community with lots of horse stables. It looks more like a big green farm with houses and trees than a suburb in the middle of Jozi. Shoes' sister BlackVelvet and her boyfriend T both ride dirt bikes, and have recently bought their little girl, Flea, a mini one. On our first day there, Shoes and T had great fun racing up and down the streets, and we had even more fun laughing at them as they came screaming around corners, T on his adult sized scrambler and Shoes on Flea's miniature pink one, his knees up around his ears.

We spent a lot of time just hanging out at the house and braaing - something which we just couldn't get enough of the whole holiday. Although we do braai regularly in London in summer, it's not the same because a) we have to braai on our balcony, rather than in a yard, b) our braai is gas-powered, and the meat just doesn't taste as good and c) we often end up braaing in the rain as summer declines to make an appearance.

On Sunday we went to Sun City; for Shoes and I it was our first time ever. I thought we'd have to wait until CT before we could lie on the beach and catch a tan, so imagine my delight when we arrived at a fully kitted out fake beach, complete with sand, palm trees and a massive wave pool known as the Valley of the Waves. Now ever since Shoes and I became obsessed with Barry Hilton, a South African comedian, some years ago, we've wanted to visit the Valley of the Waves. In one of his gigs, Barry does a whole bit on what it's like to swim in this wave pool. We've parodied him ever since, and it was like some sort of Mecca, finally visiting the site of our numerous jokes. We were therefore a little disappointed to find that it seemed Barry had been exaggerating. Rather than demi-tidal waves, we watched as the pool coughed up a couple a ripples, looking for all the world like the Valley of the Swells. We all went in, and stood around waiting for the action. BlackVelvet and I, dragging a rather timid Flea deeper and deeper, ignored the child's pleas to remain in the shallows.... what harm could these swells do, we told her. Apparently a lot if you were caught unawares. Within minutes of us entering the pool, the wave machine flexed its muscle and showed us why it was so named. After the first one had knocked all three of us off our feet, we finally heeded Flea's pleas and took her back into the shallows, coughing up water as we went.

The rest of the day passed in a blur of waterslides (used either with or without giant blow-up tubes), cocktails and lying in direct sunlight before 3pm without sunscreen.... without fail we do it at the beginning of every holiday, and without fail we burn to a crisp and spend the next week peeling like lemons. When you've been in the UK this long, you start to get genuinely afraid that your skin has lost the ability to tan, and you tend to go to stupid lengths to prove your theory wrong.

All in all, the four days we spent in Jozi with the Shoes were among the best of our holiday (people-wise, not place). The only negative was the guilt we felt in leaving them.... we simply don't have enough time to spend with them and we're accutely aware of this fact. Little Flea was in floods of tears at the airport, causing us both to check in on our Kulula flight with tear-streaked faces of our own. If nothing else, it's the strongest incentive to return to SA within the next few years.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

When The Lights Go Out

Scarf's 21st birthday was one the highlights of my trip, and I felt very lucky to be there after the near misses with my passport. As well as being my housemate, she is one of my two very best friends, and I would have regretted not sharing her coming of age with her, despite the fact that it made feel seriously over the hill.

Her birthday was on the Wednesday we arrived in CT from Jozi, and the official party was on the Friday night at Kelvin Grove. Kelvin is a rather posh private club which rents out its facilities to its members as well as to organisations like schools for their Matric Dances. The theme was Formal Wear, Funky Hair, and everyone went all out. The guys sported full suits; the girls were decked out in cocktail or evening dresses, and everyone bar none had a spectacular coiffe of some sort. Some of the best included Eyes and Scarf in their matching pink wigs - his an afro and hers a beehive to rival Marge Simpson's, Mini-Me in a super curly blonde number - think Marilyn Monroe struck by lightning - and Scarf's brother in neon green judge's ringlets.

All was going splendidly by about 8:30pm. Guests had been greeted and photographed, champagne was flowing and the speeches were about to begin. After a short introduction from the MC, Scarf's nearest and dearest got up to congratulate her on becoming an adult, show embarrassing pictures and tell the stories she'd been trying to keep from her parents for years (including her elder sister dishing about how she started going to one of Cape Town's most notorious rave clubs at age 14 - the parentals just loved that one). Just as it was announced that supper would be served, the lights went out. In the first moments of darkness, everyone gave the Third World the benefit of the doubt, and thought that perhaps something had tripped the power. But no, of course not - that moment of naivete was fleeting. It was a power cut. Load shedding, obviously...or so we thought. Everyone lined up for the lasgane buffet, and while we sat in candle light eating our dinner, it emerged through calls and texts to family members that it was not regular load shedding that had disrupted our night. Rather, it was a full scale power failure across the entire southern suburbs of Cape Town - more than half the city was plunged into darkness. We spent some time trying to work out whether this was better or worse than load shedding. Better because at least we didn't feel like we were specifically targeted, but seriously.... going from intermittent power cuts to one ginormous outage affecting half the city? You think the US has problems.... we're regressing to caveman times here.

In the most touching moment of the evening, Scarf's 80 year old granny got up to play the piano as background music while everyone ate dinner. At one point Scarf came over and said to me, so how long do you think this is going to last? Not long, I reassured her, crossing my fingers behind my back. I told her I was sure they'd fix it soon - after all, they couldn't leave the whole of Cape Town powerless all night, could they? Knowing all the while that they not only could, but their general incompetence would ensure they almost definitely would.

After dinner I gave my speech, at the end of which I asked everybody to stand and raise their glasses in a sarky toast to Eishcom and the power of the third world. At least this gave everyone the opportunity to all jeer and sneer in unison - it was a grand moment: the little people against the baboons. Thereafter, we all milled around chatting and waiting for the power to come back on - but it never did.

Scarf's 21st was one of the most memorable I've been to, but not just for the power failure. Because there was no music and therefore no dancing (a couple of people attempted a waltz to the piano music, but it never took off), everyone turned instead to the only other option available for entertainment - conversation. As there was no crazy, alcohol-fulled gyrating, people drank at a slower pace and spent time floating from group to group, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. Nobody even thought about leaving. In short, it was the most social birthday party we'd ever been to, and was actually declared by everyone all the more successful for it.

So thanks Eishcom... you tried your damnedest to fuck things up, but you know what? The joke was on you this time. Eish.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Bloody Bag

I'm back! I have returned from the land of sunshine, biltong and load-shedding to the land of endless winter and central heating (what on earth would be happening in SA right now if we had winters like in Europe?). I had the most incredible, relaxing, rejuvenating holiday ever and am surprisingly happy to be back in London and getting into the swing of my daily routine.

I have spent many hours (ok, maybe minutes) pondering on how to best tell you about my trip. Since I didn't blog at all, there is a fair amount of information backed up in my head and I want to share my experiences without boring you to death with three week's worth of anecdotes in one post. So I have decided over the next few days I will relate the highlights of my trip as and when I think of them. These will be more like the kind of stories you tell at dinner parties than a blow by blow account of events in chronological order.

But first and foremost, we need a proper conclusion to my previous agonizing posts of passport hell. How exactly did I get into SA without a passport, and back out with a brand new one in less than three weeks? How did I get back into the UK with no visa? Let me explain.....

We arrived in Jozi on Saturday morning, and I had to wait until the Monday to go to Edenvale Home Affairs to apply for a new passport. As you can imagine, the whole procedure was fraught with tension - knowing my exceedingly bad luck when it comes to travelling, I had no real reason to expect that things might go my way for once. We arrived at HA and were immediately set upon by touts, who offered us everything from cheap passport photos to actually processing your application for you - at least, I think that's what they meant. Being in the precarious position that I was, I knew that cutting even one corner in an attempt to make things easier could spell the end of my chances of getting a fast tracked passport. So Shoes and I stood in a queue, which to our pleasant surprise was not actually that long. But oh, how we counted those chickens. We soon realised why the queue was not long... it took an average of 20 minutes to process one person's application. If there were 12 people in front of us... well, you do the maths. One of our brothers, obviously having arrived wanting some form of ID but having not the slightest clue about anything except that he wanted it, spent an hour and 15 minutes at one window, leaving just one other window open to the queue. Many many hours after we had arrived, during which time we amused ourselves by watching security chase out the persistant touts as they followed targets into the office, our turn arrived. I then applied for my passport with relative ease - you see, all it takes is a bit of homework, having your documents ready and voila! - you can be in and out in 10 minutes! If only everybody was as prepared as me.

That, however, was the easy part. What followed was daily communication with the HA Head Office, which is the place you apply to when you need a passport expedited due to an emergency situation. I had to fax through documents supporting my proposal that I should qualify for an expedited passport, and then constantly check up on those dealing with it to make sure it was in fact being processed. To be fair, they actually did an amazing job, once we got over the first hiccup. That hiccup came in the form of a woman named Lucia, who was the first to open my case. She subsequently attached my documents to someone else's application and then, upon opening my now documentless case 2 days later, assumed it had been dealt with and promptly closed it. It was only due to the enormous efforts (and furious bellowing) of my mother that the situation was not only sorted out, but was passed on to the very top sooner than it otherwise would have happened, and thereby dealt with as fast as HA can deal with things (which is actually very fast when you speak to the right people).

Suffice it to say that my passport was delivered to Edenvale Home Affairs in 1 week to the day that it had arrived at The Top.

This is no mean feat, and I am eternally grateful to both the efficient Home Affairs staffers (Lucia, this does not include you - you might want to think about resigning and finding something a little less challenging) and to my mother, who, like a lioness determined to protect her young at all costs, stormed the barriers and cut a no-mercy path to The Top to make sure things got done when we needed them to. She got unlisted phone numbers and names of officials whom the general public usually has no hope of contacting, and she gently but firmly insisted to all she spoke to that my case get dealt with that very minute. I have learnt a great deal from her over the past few weeks, but still selfishly hope that she will be around next time something like this happens (and you know there's going to be a next time) so I don't have to do it all by myself. Thanks Mom, you are a legend.

So despite having to buy a brand new one-way ticket to London (due to the restrictions on my return ticket which made it impossible to change the date of my flight), I was on top of the world. I got to stay in Cape Town a few more days than all my friends (and Shoes too, which was a bit of a bummer) and I could finally rest in peace that I had a passport and could get back into the UK.

But of course, this story would not be complete without the dramz, so here it is. Firstly, when I tried to check in on my Virgin flight at CT International, they didn't want to let me through as I didn't have a valid visa in my passport. I thought about lying and saying that I was just visiting London, but decided that so far the truth had got me home - it was damn well going to get me back too! I explained the situation, and they reluctantly allowed me through - due in part, I think, to the official's delight at my knee length, pom-pom adorned fluffy boots (more on those in a future post). When I landed at Heathrow, I actually got through Immigration without any problems. They barely glanced at the paperwork I presented to prove I do have a visa, and waved me through. Nearly home free. I knew I had to ensure I did not get stopped by customs officials. Although I didn't have 3kg of biltong in my bag as per my last holiday to SA, I did have a wide selection of dried fruit, nuts and other delicacies which I was planning to make into little hampers for both Shoes and my work colleagues to sample. I made the cardinal error, though, of walking through with my earphones stuck in my ears. It was simply because I was bored while waiting for my luggage to appear, but I should have known that officials see that as a method of avoidance, and are obviously going to pounce. I got pulled over and questioned by a pretty nice guy - I assume he was just making sure my earphones weren't supposed to be a deterrent and were simply a by-product of travelling alone and having no-one to talk to. Luckily he didn't search my bag. So I cruised through - ok, maybe cruise is the wrong word... I was slightly shaky at the thought of the £1000+ fine they could have imposed had they searched my bag - and I thought I could finally leave the Curse behind me and make my way home in peace. Oh, when will I ever learn. Half way to the Underground (let me just mention here that it is a good 10 minute walk from the terminal to the trains at an ordinary pace), the wheel on my bag siezed. I turned it over and tried to wiggle it free, but to no avail. It was broken. So I continued on my way to the Underground, dragging nearly 30kg of deadweight bag behind me. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. After I got to the Underground and was informed that there were no tubes to Central London, and I would have to turn around and retrace my steps (ordinarily another 5 minute walk) to the Heathrow Express, I nearly did cry. I had to stop every few minutes to rest and prevent my arms being pulled out of their shoulder sockets by the weight of the bag. What usually takes 5 minutes took me almost 15. Things continued in this vein for the next 2 and half hours as I very slowly made my across London to our house. Even though I caught a cab from our nearest station, by that time the damage was done and as of yesterday I have been unable to move my arms except in small instances, such as to type or make tea.

I keep telling myself it could have worse. My luggage could have been lost altogether, I could have incurred that fine or I could have been deported and never even had the chance to drag my bag across London. Then I tell myself, yes, fine, but seriously, find me that person who has a worse story than mine - someone you actually know, and not an urban legend, and honestly, I'll eat that entire bastard of a bag.

TGI Over!