Brewer's Droop #231
HAPPY NEW YEAR
If you’re reading this then you managed, yet again, to avoid being another statistic mangled up on one of our roads. Well done you.
Anyway, hope you all had a peaceful and restful New Year (I’m assuming here that you avoided Nigeria and France and any of our own national roads).
I was fortunate enough to spent much of the time with my sons and wife (the three wise people who know everything about everything), who spent most of their time telling me I was drinking too much, not being entertaining enough, not helping to clean up and selfishly annexing the lavatories for long periods.
We went to Cumbria you see – for a hale and hearty stroll through the dales (except me who quickly found that the “Golden Rule” – a rather quaint public house – was just a quick slide down the road – but an exhausting climb back up or, as I discovered later, a £3.50 taxi ride). They sold single malts and other fine brews. They also sold pickled eggs. Actually every single pub in the area sells them – those and the oh-so-delicious “Scotch Egg” – but, being basic peasants, they’ve never heard of “biltong”.
But if you prepare a local Haggis you’ll have a meal fit for a King (although perhaps its best not to mention the Windsors at the moment).
I will say one thing though – people from that area are extremely friendly. They can’t possibly be English. Everyone I met was charming.
Maybe it’s the eggs.
Cumbria just may be one of the prettiest and friendliest place I’ve ever visited.
EATING & DRINKING
Discovered a curious little Cab Sav which you might like to try when next you’re in the UK. It’s called “The Secretary Bird” and averages around £7 a bottle (about R120) – a price you soon get used to – until the phone call from the credit card company of course.
What fascinated me about this wine was (a) it wasn’t half bad for what I’d normally pay about R50 for and (b) the text on the wine label; ‘the Secretary Bird is a name deriving from the quill like feathers from the crest, it is a familiar sight in the open grasslands of the Western Cape and is one of South Africa’s most treasured national birds.”
I’m no great bird fancier but I’ve never seen one south of the Kruger so I reckon the copywriter had been sampling a little too much of the wine itself when he wrote that.
While I’m on the subject, really GOOD pub food will cost about £12 – £15 (R230) for a main course (which will normally be stunning). A large glass of wine (250ml – one-third of a bottle) about £5 (R90.00) so while it’s all top value it’s a bit rough with our pathetic exchange rate.
Outside London you can knock off about 10% to 20% the above prices.
All of which means, of course, that the majority of us are stuck here for our holidays for the immediate future. Europe and the USA are too expensive (although with the USA it’s mainly the airline cost). Australia well, who wants to go to Australia again?
There’s the Middle East like Thailand and Cambodia but that’s just really one big British holiday camp these days I’m afraid. The entire continent of Africa is too dangerous (except our bit) which leaves North Korea and Burma, neither of which holds much appeal. Anyway, don’t they still have cannibals in those parts?
WHERE ARE WE?
When we first arrived at Heathrow and found our driver we relaxed and he drove us to our sons’ flat. On the way I started to read a newspaper.
By page three I said to my wife, “what the hell are we doing here? Have you seen what’s going on? I want to go home!” It sounded like playing cricket on a minefield. Councils being taken over by religious fanatics, stabbings, shootings, corruption, a government that is so pathetic that, quite frankly, I think I prefer our lot – at least when our politicians threaten each other it’s normally followed by a punch. In Westminster it’s a cup of tea and a biscuit.
And just watch what happens in their General Election (07 May I think). UKIP (UK Independence Party) is the one to watch. They may very well be politically incorrect and dangerous but the ‘normal working class bloke’ is getting really fed up with all the chinless wonders in Government making things worse, and want someone in charge who will actually DO something.
It will be very interesting.
There are a lot of similarities between SA and the UK and one of them made me smile – it was this piece by Dom Joly (The Independent). It may sound extremely familiar.
‘I had arranged for British Telecom to install “super-fast” internet. I was very excited about this, as for the past 10 years, like most people in rural locations, I have been surviving on a pitiful speed. As someone who works a lot from home, this directly affects my ability to earn a living. Then someone told me that “fast” internet had arrived in our village. I rang BT in an excitable state.
‘I live on a farm with outbuildings and the Cotswold stone walls are thick, so I have two broadband routers, one for the office and one for the house. This seemed to confuse BT. They simply could not understand the situation, and the nice English lady on the phone told me that they would only be able to sort out one for the moment. I gave up trying to understand why and asked for the “fast” broadband in the house to be installed as the Minecraft needs of my son come before any work I need to do. I was told to wait in on a Saturday and an engineer would come and set it all up.
‘Nobody showed on the Saturday. I rang BT and another nice English lady told me that I was mistaken, I didn’t have an appointment and there was no need to wait in as the engineer would turn up on Monday and turn it on from outside. I realised that I must have been hallucinating about the appointment and apologised.
‘Monday came, and I got an email telling me that “superfast” broadband was now enabled. I did a line test – the speeds were even slower. When you ring BT to complain you get a very polite person in India who apologises over and over but does nothing. Someone online gave me the BT boss’s email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
‘I sent him an email. I got one back from Tracy, his PA. She explained that, “Gavin is away and only has limited access to his email.” I suggested to Tracy that this might give Gavin a unique insight into the plight of a BT “fast” broadband user. Soon I was in the hands of the “executive level complaints team”. An engineer was sent to my house. He rang on the day to tell me he was “coming to fix your broken line”. Since he was ringing me on said line I pointed out that it clearly wasn’t broken. When he arrived it turned out that he was only booked to turn on the “fast” broadband in my office building. He was not allowed to deal with anything in the house (10 yards away). That would require another visit that I needed to organise separately. I started to weep quietly.
‘The fast internet was turned on in the office. I checked the speed – it was very fast (about 38 megabits/second). I signed a form saying I was happy (I wasn’t really). By evening the speed had fallen to 3 megabits/second.
Consider this a suicide note. I’m mailing this column in.’
By the way, I forgot to mention the experience I had at the diabolical Terminal 5 at Heathrow.
I think they gave a three year old a piece of paper and a crayon and said “design us an airport”. It’s insanely inefficient.
I will say one thing about British Airways. Your staff are excellent. They’re the only reason anyone would be crazy enough to pay your prices and get “processed” through Terminal 5 before being squeezed into a sardine can. Everything else about BA is rubbish (I suspect a few ex SAA people have found senior jobs there).
Anyway, getting ready to go through security, my wife dutifully held up all her liquids in a bag while I grumpily refused.
The chap at the X Ray machine asked “liquids?” and I said “I always use the free toothbrush and paste onboard” which wasn’t exactly a lie but wasn’t strictly truthful either. He said “me too” and waived me through with wishes for a good flight. So I went and sat on a bench watching my wife going through the other queue.
Even though she’d been completely honest and carried a big see-through bag, they asked he to step aside while they emptied the entire contents of her carry-on luggage and examined everything. They even sent her face powder for special analysis. I was almost choking with laughter.
You couldn’t find someone who looks LESS like a suicide bomber than her.
But, pssst, listen chaps, I’m going to get some boxes made up which say “JOCK ITCH CREAM” and start carrying those through airports. Mind you, I doubt anyone in Security would see the funny side.
Once inside the main building I couldn’t believe how absolutely awful the place is. I’ve been there before but always went into the lounge – at Terminal 5 the ONLY card that will grant you access to the lounge is the BA one. So if you’re flying economy that’s that. Tough.
So you’re stuck in this bloody awful place which is hot and smelly and busy – queuing to get into a “Wagamama” restaurant or a “Wetherspoon” pub – where you wait for about half an hour before getting seats or benches squeezed in between incredibly fat people and pay a fortune for the privilege.
Eventually you board and, using various contortions, you get into your seat , buckle up and takeoff – which is the signal for the person next to you to need the lavatory.
But at least BA flies direct to Cape Town and their staff are extremely professional. Personally, I still think Turkish Airlines is the best one – but it’s a long journey to Europe via Istanbul.
WHERE AM I?
When we landed at Cape Town International I had another senior moment. Who the fuck is going around changing all the street names?
I don’t take to change very easily I’m afraid – which is why I still call the airport in Johannesburg “Jan Smuts”.
Why not just wait until there’s a new road, building or public lavatory which actually does need a name and then go down the list until you find one?
As for towns – leave them alone! I mean, is Pietersburg now called Polokwane? If so, why? And do I still live in South Africa or am I in Azania?
Anyway, I don’t care, there are still lots of pubs around the world called the “Brewer’s Arms” so there!
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