Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Travel Report Anguilla

If you are like me you will love this place. What is like me? You might get a lot of answers to that depending on who you ask but I think I like the following:
a) I enjoy my luxuries which include air conditioning, a comfortable bed and food/drink when I want it.
b) I like accommodation which is safe and hassle free which is no longer that easy in the Caribbean.
c) People are important to me. I like them genuine and friendly rather than snooty or brash.
d) I am not overly active but enjoy sea sports and scenic comfortable beaches.
e) I enjoy my food but hate overly formal, pretentious and expensive restaurants.
f) Fun bars where you can relax and dance if you want is a bonus.

It is incredibly rare to get all these things in one place but Anguilla provided them all and more. It really is an exceptional island and I am amazed (but secretly relieved) that more people do not know about it. You ask most people in Britain about Anguilla and they will think you have pronounced Angola in central Africa badly! But there it is: this beautiful friendly island that is merely a 30 minute connection from the main British Caribbean holiday hub of Antigua.

We arrived from Antigua on 28th November 2011. The connection was great as you can avoid the chaos of arrival immigration as long as you remember to book checked bags through to Anguilla at UK check-in. If so you simply transfer across to the departure area on the right as you face immigration.

On arrival at the tiny airport in Anguilla you will obviously need to clear immigration. Remember two things, first, be sure you have got hold of and completed an arrivals card and secondly be carefully to write clearly. Very often LIAT Airways forget to give out these forms in advance so ask for them. Also immigration copy almost every last bit on the form into their computer so, if you have not written clearly, it takes ages. Trust me on this!

Once through immigration and customs you will probably need a taxi and there is a taxi controller right in front of you on the left. Taxis can be quite expensive due to their ‘sectional’ charging tariffs where, if you cross over a number of these geographic sections the price jumps. We decided not to pick up a car at the airport as even though it is a small island signs aren’t great and you could struggle first time in the dark. We hired a car which they delivered to the resort and left it at the airport when we departed. Driving is like the UK (on the left) but so are the steering wheels on the hire car!

We stayed at Meads Bay Villas which is within 20 minute drive (most places are) from the airport and we loved it. There are four villas in a zigzag line back from the beach itself. They are located between two small boutique hotels which, although unobtrusive provides added security to the location. We really did think twice about renting a villa in the Caribbean since hearing about a number of high profile incidents over recent times but I can say we felt completely safe here.

You can never rule out crime whether you are at home or on holiday. Nowhere is safe when you have people of any type around. All you can do is be sensible and part of that is to look closely at where you are planning to go. We found that the people in Anguilla all seem to know each other and understand how much they depend on tourism for their future. They want to keep their island safe so people keep coming and also there are not that many non Anguillans living there. From what I see most incidents on other islands are related to issues and people not currently active in Anguilla.

So what about these villas? Well they are well run and looked after by some exceptionally nice and helpful people. You only have to look up some of the reviews and they always recognise these folks. This matters as you really have to depend on them if something goes wrong. For example I was certain our bedroom aircon was faulty as there was a terrible buzzing coming from the wall.

Chris, the boss spent ages on his hands and knees, followed by heads down holes and walls but still no cure. No problem he assured me and called in an expert from across the islands. Still no solution until suddenly he asked me if there was anything in my suitcase leaning against the wall. We opened it and found my razor had switched itself on. I could have died but there were laughs all round and a total refusal to accept any payment for wasted time. Just a small example but I think an important one.

We settled in and spent 3 nights in villa 3. Two big bedrooms, two en-suite bathrooms, outside shower, fully equipped kitchen (better than home) and a comfortable lounge area with plasma cable TV. If we needed anything we asked and it was quickly delivered even if they had to go out and buy it. By the way they will do your initial food shopping for you so it is waiting when you arrive. As a result we were able to sip our own cold drinks and make an omelette soon after we arrived.

They also tidy your villa every day which includes loading the dishwasher, making the beds and putting out fresh beach and bathroom towels. The pool and pool deck were similarly maintained and they will do your washing and ironing at a fair price per load. Just like a hotel but with the added benefits of villa life. By the way the voltage is 110, the plugs are US two pin, robes are provided, as is a safe.

After 3 nights we moved to villa 2. All the villas are identical but we moved to be that bit closer to the see. On reflection a waste of time and the slightly higher rental as they are all so close that we only reduced less than 30 seconds walking time! They are clever the way they have landscaped and positioned these villas to ensure privacy and soundproofing from each other. The move was seamless as you go to lunch and when you get back everything has transferred to the self same location in the new villa.

We tended to spend most days at our villa and beach except for the occasional outings to other beaches and locations. The beach at Meads Bay is terrific with a large expanse of powder white sand and small breaking waves. The island is blessed with superb beaches and the other favourite one of ours was Rendezvous Bay where the Cuisinart Hotel is located. Meads Bay villas provide plenty of shades and sun loungers on their stretch of the beach.

There is not a huge amount to see on Anguilla apart from great beaches and views. If you want an action packed holiday or if you have active children you might have a problem. For example jet skis are banned which adds to the peace but may annoy a few. Most other water sports are there and they have one pretty good golf course although it is overpriced in my opinion.

Another amazing thing about Anguilla is the dining choice available. The quality is enormously high and you can get almost anything you like. It will not cost a fortune either and I am staggered that a place as remote and small as Anguilla can attract such culinary skills. The local lobster is delicious and we even found one small new restaurant (On Da Rocks) where you could buy them for $5 each!

We could split our favourite restaurants into two types. The ones you went to purely to eat and the others where you spend the whole evening drinking and dancing. Our favourite eatery was ‘Sand Bar’ which is located in the area called Sandy Ground where most of the other restaurants are. We also enjoyed ‘Straw Hat’ which was located right next to Meads Bay Villas, in fact a 4 minute walk on a moonlit beach.

For fun we went most nights to ‘Ripples’ at Sandy Ground. It is a bar restaurant and it does the best steak and mash as well as fish and chips I have tasted anywhere. The bar section gets pretty lively sometimes but all very good fun. The British Navy goes in there when visiting port and the bar is full of great memorabilia. It really is a place you can go in alone and come out with new friends.

If you want lots of good local music and food there is ‘The Pump House’ at night and ‘Johno’s’ for Sunday afternoon Jazz. Both are at Sandy Ground. These are my personal favourites but, as I said earlier, there are many more that are equally popular including the more expensive which we did not go to like ‘Jacala’ and ‘Blanchards’, both at Meads Bay.

Our two weeks rushed by and the day of departure loomed. Again it was totally relaxed and hassle free. Somebody was going to move into our villa after we left but we were invited to take our time as the staff were willing to fit their preparation around us. The car hire man popped around for the first and last time, swiped my card and suggested I took the car to the airport and left it there. Give the keys to anyone working there he said grinning. We ended up hugging and kissing the great Meads Bay villa staff with genuine warmth and headed home.

Our particular connection at Antigua was not too good. In fact it was going to be a 6 hour wait at the airport which frankly I thought was going to be a nightmare. In my view Antigua airport is a disgrace. Considering the high density of flights passing through it at certain times the facilities are at best primitive.

To help those that have to endure an Antigua transfer I have a couple of suggestions. You will need a fully completed landing card even if you are transferring. You should have told the check in staff in Anguilla that you are connecting and although they will not check your bags through they will mark them with a transit label. This helps the other end.

When you arrive in Antigua you will usually be faced with an enormous queue of hot tired people waiting at immigration. Instead of joining them go over to the left (as you face them) of the desks and there should be a much less busy one for transferring passengers. When through there you have arrived at customs. Again, if you look on the right you should see a smaller queue for transfers.

Now at this point we did something a bit different. We could not face 6 hours at the not so tender mercy of Antigua airport so we used a fantastic, reasonably new service called ‘Outbound Lounge’www.outboundlounge.com. This is a special facility located the other side of the airport that has its own excellent facility. It is a large single story building that has a luxury lounge, sleeping room, showers, outside tables with sun loungers and everything else you could possibly wish for.

A fabulous place to pass time but it does cost and you currently have to be a British Airways passenger (any class) to use it. While you are in the lounge they check you in, sort out your baggage and bring immigration and security over to you. They then drive you directly across the runway to the aircraft steps. A grand way to finish a holiday! I cannot recommend them enough.

Friday, 23 December 2011

A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE

To all my readers: Yes I know you are out there because I read the stats!

No, you are not the best at giving me feedback so please have a go in 2012 as I really miss what you have to say and it keeps me writing.

Christmas Wishes: Oh American Airlines will you please grow up and
stop being so self destructive.

Can members of the travel supply chain think of better
and possibly easier ways of making bigger profits than over the
bleeding bodies of their partners and customers.

Finally? Have a great Christmas and New Year and I look forward
To trying to keep you interested and amused next year.

One last ‘story? I flew to New York last weekend and found myself in Club Class and directly facing one of the most attractive woman I have ever seen. We got talking and I asked her what she was doing.

She explained that she was going to speak at a very large womens society the next day about the sexes and planned to debunk a number of fallacies that people had about certain nationalities. “Give me some examples” I asked and she did.

It is not true that French men make the best lovers. It is the Greeks.
The most well endowed men are not African Americans they are native Indian Americans.
Finally the men most likely to talk women into sleeping with them are not Italian they are the Irish.

“Fascinating” I said. “What is your name” she asked.

“Tonto Papadopolous” I replied. “But my friends call me Paddy”

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Memories of a less disapointing Rugby World Cup

Some of you may remember a little true story I wrote about when I was fortunate enough to go to Australia and watch the 2003 Rugby World Cup Semi Final between England and France. This was the year we ended up beating Australia in the final.

I watched the latest World Cup Final today and, in the closing minutes my phone rang. Good grief it is not my Aussie friend again I thought as I snatched the reciever out of my startled wife's hand. Why did I do that? Here is a reprise of that 'little true story' that happened 8 years ago:



My relationship with my wife has been tested sorely twice in my years of being corporately entertained. It could have so easily gone the wrong way twice but thankfully Judith and I are still together. The occasions were even worse than the time I murmured “Oh yes Valerie” in my sleep. A terrible thing to happen, especially as I do not know anyone called Valerie.

The first occasion was when I was invited by British Airways to fly to Australia to see the rugby world cup semi final match between France and England. A fabulous opportunity which I could not turn down even though we would only be there for less than four days.

Anyway, we went to the fantastic Telstra stadium which makes our Twickenham ground look like a public toilet and sat just above the half way line in some of the best seats in the place. Marvellous, and to complete our joy England won, thanks mainly to the boot of Johnny Wilkinson. After the game we went into one of the ground’s hospitality suites and imbibed in copious quantities of the amber nectar (Australian for beer).

The need to make more room for the next pint(s) became irresistible so I went back into the main stand to find the lavatories. In the nick of time I found one and as I did what comes naturally at such times the loudest, drunkest and rudest Australian jubilantly staggered into the convenience. “Is that all you have got” he crowed as he relieved himself in the middle of the room. We are going to thrash you bastards in the final next week. I disagreed and we had a little undignified pushing and wrestling.

The argument was settled by me during a pause in grappling. “Look” I said. Why don’t we swap phone numbers and agree that whoever loses next week phones the other to apologies”. He agreed and parted and I frankly thought nothing further about it.

The following week I sat down back home with my wife and watched the final and, thanks to the boot of Johnny Wilkinson, we won. I went ballistic and jumped all over the room screaming “YES, YES” rather like that famous scene in the film ‘When Harry Met Sally’. I did not here the phone ring but Judith did.

The first thing I noticed was the shocked look on her face. She asked me if there was something I needed to tell her about my sexuality. The question rather shook me so I asked why she should enquire. “Well” she said “I have just spoken to a drunken Australian. He was crying. He said he met you in a toilet in Sydney and that you had been rough with each other. He says he feels sad and ill but wants to say sorry. Hard to explain convincingly, I am sure you will agree.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Entertaining Foreign Dignitaries – Part 4

OK, where was I? Oh yes, that night in the Scottish pub when I rediscovered that some of the locals still maintain that ‘mutual rivalry’ and ‘friendly respect’ between our two great nations. I also learned that, in times of duress you get loyal support from the most unexpected quarters!

The next morning dawned and we were all up early for a tour around the Trossachs and a visit to a stately home. What is a Trosach one guest asked over his full Scottish breakfast? Is it a rodent like the haggis another asked? Is a stately home a home that is in a state asked a third? All will be revealed I said cryptically as I was still feeling the effect of the previous night’s whiskies and could not face a long discussion on Scottish wildlife and ancestral homes.

I was just leaving the room when Mr High (the nickname of one of my Nigerians) stopped me and asked for a bigger room. ‘Why’ I asked? ‘For my wives who arrive today’ he smirked. ‘WIVES’, I gasped. ‘Yes’ he replied. ‘Mine are coming too’ chipped in Mt Mighty (the other one). ‘How many’ I sighed? ‘Three’ said the first. ‘Four’, replied the other ‘and the baby’. Life should not be so cruel, I thought.

This time we really did have to pile into a single coach but thankfully a truce between the nationalities had broken out since their alliance of the previous night when protecting my racial rights. They even behaved (well slept actually) the whole morning as we drove around the soggy Trossach hills and valleys as the tour guide talked to himself. They were even most patient when I stopped the coach so I could be sick behind a bolder to get rid of the previous night’s excesses.

At lunchtime we arrived at the stately home (Prestonfield House). It was incredibly packed and we could not get into the car park as it turned out they were hosting the ‘World Haggis Hurling Contest’ that very day. This involved contestants standing on top of a whiskey barrel and throwing haggis as far as they possibly could and it was being taken very seriously. My gang decided that they were all going to have a go so they could become champions of their own countries in something.

There is an art to hurling a haggis. It involves being able to turn one’s body around to maximum torque before twisting back and catapulting said bladder of offal in a forward direction. All this while balanced on top of a wobbly barrel end. Not as easy as it seems we witnessed as various muscular Scots tried and mainly failed. Finally the organisers ran out of excuses and they allowed my guests to have a go.

First up was the dapper Ghanaian who was still wearing his pin stripe suit and spats. ‘I got the idea from seeing the British boxer Chris Eubank‘ he confided ‘and thought that was what all fashionable English sportsmen wear’. Anyway, he vaulted onto the barrel and got handed his haggis which he held gingerly in his yellow driving gloves to avoid contamination. He crouched, yelled and hurled. The haggis went straight up in the air before arcing down straight onto his head causing him to fall of the barrel and twist his ankle.

My Liberian was next. He was still wearing his full Royal Stuart tartan and looked very grand indeed. ‘Mt Mike, I think I know how they do this’ he muttered,’ it is all in the spin’. Up he got and he started spinning round to get maximum speed of throw. His kilt flew higher and it was then that everyone saw his ‘crown jewels’. Apparently he had read that Scots in kilts did not wear pants so neither did he. His jewels were both enormous and in flight and everyone was mesmerised by the sight. Eventually he got dizzy and fell off with his haggis landing about two feet away.

My turn now my enormous Mr Mighty said. Now he must have weighed at least 160 kilos and there was no way he was going to get on that barrel without help however the team rallied around and tried to lift him. I ended up with my face between his vast bottom cheeks as the Gambians made a joint assault on his thighs but eventually he was up although wobbling dangerously. Someone give him a haggis quickly before the barrel implodes I shouted.

I will remember what happens next for a very long time. The looks on people’s faces, particularly the judges and serious competitors were an absolute picture. Our man just stood there, didn’t twist, didn’t hurl, he just put his hand behind him and threw. The haggis hurtled off as though it was rocket propelled, flew past everyone’s markers and won the competition. He had won that year’s world haggis hurling competition with his first attempt.

We tried to carry him shoulder high but it could not be achieved. He was given his trophy and then the organisers suggested we might like to leave now. Back in the coach we got and sang all their African national anthems all the way to the hotel. I did not even mind when we found the foyer half full of wives, girlfriends and suspect ladies. After a day like that they could do what they wanted.

I ended up really enjoying these trips and practically all I have written is true. I made great friends and was never bored and it has been a joy sharing my memories of them within this blog.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Entertaining Foreign Dignitaries – Part 3

I had a lonely breakfast in my room. My charges were to have a day ‘free for shopping’ and I simply could not go down to face them in the foyer. I could see it in my mind though; wrecked breakfast buffet, beleaguered concierges trying to explain the Edinburgh road system and cab drivers rubbing their hands with glee thinking about what ‘rip off’ level they could reach.

I stayed in hiding for half the morning and sneaked down when it was safe. It was not. There in the lobby was my Liberian absentee from the previous day wrestling with a multi fold large scale map of Scotland. It was spread over two tables and a stool and he was asking folk how to get to Edinburgh. “Your there mate” came a less than helpful remark from the waiter who was pointing at Aberdeen.

‘Ah, Mr Mike’ he beamed, ‘I have been waiting for you, shall we go now’? I could barely muffle my groan. Gone was the opportunity of a leisurely visit to the spa and instead the prospect of a shop from hell loomed. ‘First we buy a kilt, yes’? ‘Where is Marks and Spencer’?’ Do you have some Scottish money’? The questions came thick and fast as we left, dodging the eager taxi drivers.

The rest of the morning was a busy blur of shops, shops and more shops. I was loaded up with bags like a mule, following my guest up and down Princes Street until we finally got to a kilt shop. At least I will never moan about shopping with my wife ever again I thought as I brooded outside the changing cubicle. And then he emerged. He looked fantastic in his Royal Stuart tartan and spent a great deal of time preening in front of the mirror. ‘OK, I will take three’ he beamed. ‘Mr Mike, do you have a credit card’? He never took it off for the rest of the trip, sporran and all.

We all teamed up again in the evening and we looked a strange bunch what with our Ghanaian in tweeds and spats, my Liberian dressed like Bonny Prince Charlie and the rest in formal dining robes which were exactly the same as the clothes they arrived in.
Our meal was in a ‘traditional’ Scottish themed banqueting hall across town and we all piled into the eager taxis which had lurked around for this moment all day.

The evening was interesting. In came the haggis on a plate carried by a chef surrounded by pipes and drums, and the address to it began. ‘What is this’ one guest demanded in a loud voice. ‘Why is he stabbing it, is it alive’ shouted another? ‘Why does he not speak English’, demanded a third? Snore, grunt went another as he had dropped off.

Then they found out what was in it.’ I think it is against our religion to eat this’ moaned one. ‘You people are not civilized’ groaned another. So they drank the whiskey it came with instead on empty stomachs. They were all near to drunk when the main course of roast beef arrived. ‘More whiskey’ came the shout. Then the dessert arrived. ‘More whiskey’ they called again. By the end of the meal they, and I, were plastered.

‘Now we go to a traditional pub for a whiskey’ somebody said as we left a very relieved dining hall. ‘Let us walk until we find one’ another agreed as we moved deeper and deeper into the less salubrious part of the city. And then we found one. It was next to some very run down tenement flats and the outside walls and windows were covered in years of grime.

‘Hello friends’ my very bulky Nigerian shouted as he walked into a stunned public bar. I saw one person actually drop their drink. ‘Who would like to drink with us’ the other bulky Nigerian chipped in? There was a stunned silence, and suddenly the whole pub rushed to the bar to have a drink with their new found friends. Strangely they all seemed to be on double scotch although they had beer mugs in their hands.

It turned out to be more fun than I expected. We got some strange looks but the locals soon integrated with my group especially while my guys were paying. There were songs from Scotland, Africa and everywhere in between. The bar soon filled as people heard there were free drinks.

Then something happened. My Gambians were shouting and pushing a group of youth and the dreadful word ‘racist’ was shouted. ‘Oh no’, I thought. Some bigot has made a racist comment to my guests. ‘We must go now’, my whole group demanded. ‘We will not stay to hear these insults’ they said and out they walked. I was on my way after them until the landlord called me back. Apparently nobody had paid for their drinks or those they bought the pub and the bill was astronomical.

We got back to the hotel and congregated in the bar for a whiskey. I told them how sorry I was. ‘It is inexcusable to make racist remarks to foreign visitors’ I murmured. ‘Oh no’ a Gambian assured me, ‘it was you they were being racist about. They said you English should crawl back over the border where you belong’!

‘What an evening’ I thought as I slid into bed trying to ignore my queasy stomach. A liquid feast, a huge raid on my expenses and finally an attack on my nationality which was defended by a group of loyal foreigners. It can only get better I thought. But it didn’t as my final instalment will tell.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Entertaining Foreign Dignitaries – Part 2

My second group of West Africans consisted of a totally mixed bag of folk coming from everywhere between the Cameroon and Sierra Leone. They ranged from 25 stone robed Nigerians to a little chap from Ghana who wore a pin stripe suit with spats and a red bow tie. He had diamonds embedded in two front teeth. Their personalities also varied hugely from quiet and courteous to downright obnoxious.

Again we made the foolish mistake of thinking they would all mix in well with each other and not mind sharing things like coaches and tours. ‘I am not going to sit with these Gambian riff raff’ a portly Nigerian yelled. ‘You Nigerians are all fat and greedy’ came the Gambian reply. There were then cat calls and sneers and it was hard to believe these were top industry executives.

‘We must do something’ my boss confided, which translated to ‘YOU must do something Platt’. It was clear that failure would not be a viable option and, as they were due to have dinner with our chairman I had to act fast. I had visions of a pitched battle ‘food fight’ with our man ducking to avoid chicken bones and cutlery. I even seriously considered changing the menu to only soft food!

I then remembered a man called Charles. He had spent half his life posted all over West Africa and I was sure he could give me some pointers. During his sojourn abroad he had unsurprisingly turned to drink and adopted strange habits like keeping chickens (live) in his company house and making crowing noises instead of laughing.
Anyway, I tracked him down to a pub in Crawley.

I bought him a pint of IPA bitter with a Glenmorangie chaser and explained my problem. ‘Show me the guest list dear boy’ he demanded. ‘Cock-a-doodle-doo’ he shrieked, ‘this is a recipe for a massacre; you cannot have this guy with them’. ‘And what about those chaps, they despise each other’. I felt sick, ‘Help me I begged.

After a large number of heavy drinks I had my best solution. Amidst robust cock crowing Charles had divided the party up into sub groups with hints on how to handle each one and who not to sit with whom. It was impressive. Henry Kissinger could not have done better I thought as I weaved back to the Copthorne Hotel where my new brood were sleeping, and possibly simmering.

As soon as they came together for breakfast I set out my new seating plan and the relief was palpable as they all seemed to talk quite amiably to each other. I scrapped the large coach they were due to be transferred by and replaced it with four mini vans and a taxi for the two giant Nigerians who seemed not to like anyone, not even each other.

We went back to the airport and checked them in for the flight to Scotland. The VIP bar got raided even though it was only 9.45 a.m. but thankfully this seemed to sedate them rather than excite. The flight was slightly delayed as we had to convert three seats into two for our Nigerian ‘High’ and ‘Mighty’ guests (these became their nicknames) but otherwise the flight was uneventful. Unlike our arrival in Edinburgh.

We lost one. Somewhere between the aircraft steps and the baggage belt we lost a Liberian. My group were unsympathetic. There were shouts of ‘leave him’ and other inflammatory remarks, with each group trying to out do the other. ‘We must find him, he could be ill’ I said and left them to wait in the VIP lounge.

. I found him but how he did it I do not know. Somehow, without going through immigration or security he had got into the International departures area. He was propped up against a bar with two huge bags of duty free including everything from whiskey to giant Toblerone bars. ‘Ah, Mr Mike’ he grinned, ‘can you pay for my drink please’. I plucked him out and got him back to his name calling friends.

We had a full welcome party waiting for us at the Caledonian hotel. They stood in a line in order to greet our guests one by one. This was not a good idea as all our guests wanted to be at the front of the line. As a result they pushed forward in an untidy V formation towards the startled hotel commercial director. The lady mayoress put out her hand to shake with our man from Douala but he placed his bag in it and told her to take it to his room.

At least I had got them there safely with few scares except a misplaced Liberian, a smothered commercial director and an indignant mayoress. Must be plain sailing now I thought, but no. I still shudder to think of it all in one go so I shall tell the rest of my sorry tale next time!

Friday, 26 August 2011

An Innocent in Brazil - Part 3

My second trip to Brazil was no less eventful than the first:

Sao Paulo hosts a lot of congresses. You name it, however obscure, and you can just about guarantee that a major congress on that very subject has taken place in Rio or Sao Paulo. From Chiropody to Chlamydia and Brain Surgery to Brassicas they have all been discussed by earnest groups of global specialists selflessly giving up their time to spend a week in Brazil.

When working for a Brazilian airline one of my jobs was to escort large groups of such boffins from the UK to Brazil and back to ensure that their travel arrangements went smoothly enough for them to appoint us for the next congress. This task usually was quite uneventful until my number finally came up when escorting a group of ‘agricultural economists’ to their congress in Sao Paulo. I was a bit worried because I did not know what agricultural economists were but I felt reassured when I discovered neither did they.

I met them at Heathrow airport and they were very easy to spot. They looked like a blend between country yokel farmers and the university lecturers they actually were. Most dressed like they had just mucked out their pigs and most wore baggy old tweed jackets and corduroy trousers which displayed interesting stains including bull semen apparently.

One thing blindingly obvious was that they were dressed for a severe British winter and heading for the hottest season in Brazil. I mentioned this to one guy whose heavily meshed string vest was poking out of his plaid shirt and, right in front of the check in desk, he stripped his top half bare, removed his vest, tied it by its arm loops to the handle of his suitcase and off it went down that black abyss known as the baggage chute. At least I was pretty sure no one in their right mind was going to ransack his bag with that grubby mass of string vest tied around the handle.

As there were quite a few of them we were using two desks for check-in. Suddenly a loud commotion came from the other one. I got there to find two legs sticking out of the baggage chute and the sound of a West Country accent saying ‘don’t worry love I’ve got the bugger’. It turned out that a member of my group had packed his passport in his suitcase and only remembered as it tipped out of sight. He pounced like a spring lamb after it and was dragged out from between the rubber curtains brandishing his cardboard suitcase by its home made string handle. It belonged to my granny he told me afterwards. What is your name I asked? Colin he replied.

It was a long flight to Sao Paulo or ‘Sayo Payolo’ as my companions pronounced it. Fortunately most of them attacked the free drinks so fast that they sank into sleepy oblivion whereas I sat up next to Colin who was putting the world to rights on subjects ranging from crop rotation to artificial insemination which explains how I knew what the stain on his trousers was and how he got it. Oh what laughs we had, especially as he would persist in pressing my chair recline button instead of his own all night. If I had only had the slightest inkling of what was to befall me the following night I would have turned down this assignment.

We arrived at the Sao Paulo Hilton reasonably easily apart from a short delay when our friend discovered his vest had been lost in transit and insisted on filling in a lost baggage claim there and then. I am sure that to this day the offending article is causing the main baggage belt at Heathrow to break down regularly as it jambs the works. But now we were here and we were unleashing forty British farmers in full winter gear into the maelstrom that is down town Sayo Payolo. Most of the group had not left their county let alone their country and here they were, at a hotel surrounded by the most extreme flesh pots of South America. Like a fussing sheepdog I herded them into the congress centre and left them in the hands of the organisers.

After such a tiring flight of bouncing back and forward in my seat like a yoyo, courtesy of Colin I fell into my bed and a deep dreamless sleep only to be woken, what seemed to be seconds later, by the telephone. It was one of my charges and he breathlessly informed me that a fellow agriculturist from Bogota had told him about a ‘hot’ nightspot called ‘The Orchid Club’ a few streets down and he, Colin and a bunch of others were setting off from the foyer right now. Wait for me I screeched as I could only imagine what might happen to them alone in such a place, so on went my clothes and off I rushed.

We arrived about ten p.m. on an intensely hot and humid evening. I was sweating in my thin shirt and these guys were still wearing the very same gear as when I first saw them at Heathrow. It must have been the first time that anyone sat in such a club with bull semen on their trousers but you never know in Brazil. The club was full of punters, very muscular fat bouncer types and a plethora of scantily clad multicoloured ladies. After a few caipirinhas one of my flock proposed marriage to a girl who I thought was a boy, but thankfully she looked him up and down and declined. I presumed someone had warned what Norfolk is like in winter.

‘Its show-time’ screamed a loud announcement and my flock grabbed chairs and sat down about five centimetres in front of the small stage. You do not get this in Grantham announced Sid whilst busily cleaning his glasses. Colin looked visibly uncomfortable even though he had grabbed the seat nearest the stage and nervously lit his pipe. A bit strange really what with the exotic location, heady atmosphere charged with anticipation and perfume now smothered out by Colin’s ‘Old Holborn Shag’ pipe tobacco.

First on stage was our man’s ‘fiancée’. ‘Great,’ he said, ‘I will get a chance to look at the merchandise before the wedding night’ and sat back arms folded with a smug death head grin on his face. It soon faded however as his hearts desire tamely twirled and gyrated a few times, grappled herself through her clothes and marched off with a bored expression.

This was an outrage and I was dispatched to the manager to find out what it was all about. The man told me that they were complying with local ‘decency’ law which stated that the ladies could only ‘express themselves fully’ after midnight. I relayed this to my horny new friends. Drinks were ordered and the wait commenced.

Colin was silent. He was drinking too much and puffing his pipe a great deal but he said nothing. Not even about his beloved bulls. As the acts went on he got redder and redder and I had my first nagging fear that something was going to go awfully wrong. It did. Midnight came and bedlam ensued.

It was the ‘fiancée’ that started it. On to the stage she came and her ‘act’ started naked and got ruder by the second. ‘Bloody Nora’ said Sid. ‘Last time I saw a pair of bosoomers like that it was on a Jersey cow’ said another whilst Colin went crimson and his pipe glowed like the flames of hell. Seeing this shy gnome-like apparition sitting in front row the girl decided to play up to him. Down she went into a limbo dance position and started edging forward. The atmosphere was electric and I heard someone dropping their glass. By the time the ‘lady’ was about twelve inches from Colin he exploded into action with great speed and accuracy he pounced on the lady yelling something like “now then my dear” and spitting his pipe which hit and burnt her nose. There was silence for a second followed by a scream and the sound of the doormen clambering over tables to get at us.

It all became a bit of a blur. Five of the boys, including Colin, and Sid were grabbed and I was physically picked up and pinned against the wall with my feet dangling below me. The police were called and the five of us spent a night in a Sao Paulo jail along with drunks, pimps and God knows what. How do I keep this quiet I thought as I was sure my boss would not understand why I had ‘coerced’ my charges into a den of vice? I could see my future life as a travel leper opening out before me.

After the most uncomfortable and dangerous night of my life they let us out and we went back to the Hilton. Lets have a drink said Sid, I am having a bath I said. Colin said nothing except ‘How can I get my pipe back’ as it had finally ricocheted off the startled young lady and bounced off the stage. I ignored him and said that from now on they could look after themselves.

When we flew back Colin looked very uncomfortable and studiously ignored me. I had heard that he had gone in search of his favourite pipe but no more. I heard nothing for two weeks until my boss called me into his office to discuss a letter that he received from the mother of a man called Colin. She complained that he had picked up a very nasty rash on his private parts and Colin said it was my fault. Tell her to ask where he left his pipe I suggested.

We never heard from either of them again.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

An Innocent in Brazil – Part 2



After an eventful first 24 hours in Rio things began to settle down, probably because I was confined to bed with an acute bout of diarrhoea which is pretty par for the course for foreign visitors. I am not sure if it is the water, food or whatever but if you ever need a complete cleansing of both your bowels and the rest of your digestive system then go to the hotel Gloria and order a burger and a local drink. There were things coming out that I never saw going in and at one stage I thought I spotted my tonsils.

It was awful and everybody on our course had it. Our German tutor suggested that he ought to station himself outside the toilets in order to have a better chance of teaching us. ‘I would put microphones and speakers in the cubicles if I could bear the noise coming back’ he said. We laboured on and I learned very little except where the toilets in head office were and exactly how long it took to run to each one. At one time the gripes were so bad we staggered hunched and sideways like an obscure type of mutant crab.

I woke up after the third night and suddenly it was all gone. I felt great and well rested and even my whimpering Dane neighbour had failed to keep me awake with her nocturnal activities. ‘I am cured’ I exalted and resolved to go out and celebrate that very night. I linked up with some colleagues and marched out of the foyer right into the arms of my taxi driving friend who was dropping people off from the airport. ‘You wanna go see Gloria’ he asked? ‘Sure, why not’ I replied and in we jumped.

There was me, the groaning Dane and two Dutchmen and we were up for a good time. My taxi pal was keen to advise us so he drove on a tour around all the clubs who paid him backhanders to deliver gullible tourists. The first was so vile that we immediately fled back to the taxi. The second was barely better and the third likewise. In the end we got through to him that we were not sadist, masochists or fans of bestiality but a group of young people out for a laugh and a few beers. He seemed deeply disappointed but visibly cheered up when he remembered another club on the edge of the slum quarter. ‘Maybe we find Gloria’ he confided as we sped through the night.

We arrived at the ‘Holiday’ club. It looked in imminent danger of falling down but the deep throb of base and the sound of female laughter drew us in. I am not sure what hit us first, the wall of sound, the smell of bodies or the bright red spotlights shining over the stage. I cannot tell you what was going on under those lights but it made the Paris Hilton sex tapes look like Sesame Street.

We eventually found a booth and ordered drinks. It was strange because every time we ordered beer they came with bottles of ‘champagne’ which we promptly sent back until the manager came over and told us in pigeon English that he insisted we drink champagne. The human gorilla behind him finally persuaded us to agree when he started cracking his knuckles while staring at us.

All of us agreed we were not safe here and decided to leave. Almost like a genie our taxi driver appeared at that very moment. ‘You cannot leave’ he cried, ‘I have brought Gloria and her friends’. Behind him were a bunch of the most beautiful young women I have ever seen before or since. ‘I am Gloria’ the prettiest one said. ‘Do you want pokey pokey with me’ she asked demurely.’ I don’t think so’ I muttered uncertainly while wondering if she was a mind reader, ‘but I would like to dance with you’

We squeezed onto the circular stage which now served as a dance floor and joined the other wildly gyrating couples. The smell of sweat, cigarettes and cheap perfume was heady and the red lights continued to blast down on my already sunburned head, I must have looked like the devil. I sure felt like him as I was flung forward into the arms of Gloria. She was a bit taller than me so I ended up with my head burrowed into her neck while our thighs were jammed together. Is this heaven I thought as we became entwined together? ‘I wonder if my mum will like her’ I mused.

Then the mood suddenly shattered. I am not sure which lump I noticed first. Was it the enormous ’Adam’s apple’ I was kissing or was it a lump further down that should not really have been there. It turned out that Gloria had what I can only crudely describe as a ‘hard on’. I catapulted back and crashed into our Danish lady who had at least found someone of the right gender. This caused a ripple across the whole dance floor with the person at the end falling off the stage.

I dragged Gloria back to our booth where we were greeted by our madly grinning driver. ‘You go pokey now? He enquired gently. NO!’ I yelled over the music. ‘Gloria is not a lady’ I shouted while thinking of all the lingering kisses I had given her. ‘I am Ramon’ Gloria advised me, ‘I am pleased to meet you’ he continued. ‘That is it’ I stormed and fled alone from the club and into the first taxi I could find. Back at the hotel I brushed my teeth until my gums bled and fell into an uneasy sleep.

The next morning I met my fellow adventurers. One had obviously been punched as it was him that had received the final bar bill which was astronomical. He wanted to discus it item by item but the manager’s assistant had resolved it with one blow of his fist. Our Danish nymphomaniac was apparently still upstairs with the ‘gentleman’ she had been dancing with and was probably the only person who had enjoyed the evening.

Never again I thought. But there is more to come!


Monday, 8 August 2011

An Innocent in Brazil – Part 1

Well I was pretty innocent when I first went there. I felt pretty mature and worldly in Twickenham UK but nothing really had prepared me for Rio and Sao Paulo. These places made Twickenham seem like a mother’s union headquarters in an old people’s home. A bit like what I thought my perfect woman would be at that time, beautiful, exciting and a little bit dirty.

I was only 20 when I first went. I had just started working for a Brazilian Airline and they were sending me on an induction course mixed with a familiarisation tour. I was packed off with dire warnings ringing in my ear. My boss at the time gave me sage cultural advice which was ‘drink little, trust nobody, particularly your local colleagues’ and finally, ‘don’t dip your wick out there as it may well end up falling off’. Silly man I thought, I can look after myself, and have a good time.

It did not start too well. The flight was full between Lisbon and Rio so my boss insisted I should travel in the ‘jump seat’ situated directly behind the pilot. This cockpit seat may sound exciting as you get the best view of the plane and its flight crew but the thrill fades when you have sat on what is really a thinly covered tiny wooden seat for nearly 12 hours. It also does not help when the senior captain resents your presence so much that he has instructed the whole crew not to speak to you in protest.

My final memory of that flight was when the co pilot panicked. The captain (Bligh I called him) demanded that his number two land the plane in Rio for the first time. It was dark, visibility was bad and Galleo airport is surrounded by mountains but Bligh assured him that even a useless pilot like him should be able to do it. The poor chap froze about three quarters of the way down. I just sat, frozen too as Bligh grabbed the controls. I expect that poor chap needed counselling and a new job afterwards. One day I might chronicle all the things I have seen or heard about in cockpits but you might not want to fly again!

We landed and my lift was not there. In this case the "Mañana", attitude really meant mañana as the guy reportedly turned up the following day and waited five hours whilst cursing me and all late and lazy English people. In the end I just got a taxi which was hard as the only Portuguese phrases I had learned in advance were ‘a cold beer please’ and ‘leave me alone’ which were not much good at that time but essential later.

It seemed the taxi driver understood a few more words of English than I his language.
You want ‘pokey pokey’ he asked giving me an exaggerated man-of-the-world wink.
‘’No I replied’ I want the Hotel Gloria’. ‘Ah, you want Gloria’ he nodded enthusiastically.’ I know this Gloria’ he said smugly, ‘she is my sister’s cousin’. ‘I do not want her bloody cousin you moron’ I raged. ‘I just want my bloody hotel! ‘Why you say you want poke pokey’ he asked clearly hurt?

The hotel Gloria sounds as good as it looks but it felt like Nirvana when I finally arrived. It was then a dark shabby place that was full of airline staff, cruising ‘ladies of the night, boys of the night and the occasional transvestite. It seemed ‘pokey pokey’ was a local pastime and the sound of groaning, yelping and ‘oh yessing’ from next door kept me awake all night.

My alarm went off about 6 a.m. as work seems to start and finish early in Brazil. It felt as though I had had no sleep and I was yawning repeatedly as I stood outside the hotel waiting for our minibus. The squealer from the next door room arrived and it was a very demure middle aged Danish lady. It annoyed me that she looked so relaxed especially as it was partly at my expense. We ended up next to each other again on the bus as we motored around Guanabara Bay to the local airport where the courses were run.I could not help staring at a very large bite on her neck which she had clearly not got from any mosquito.

The room was stuffy and very hot. I had grabbed a window seat before realising my mistake. Out there you avoid windows as that is where the blazing sun shines through. I quickly learned that seats further in the room are stuffy but window seats are both stuffy and excruciatingly hot. My lack of sleep started to show and when combined with the soporific atmosphere and direct heat caused me to fall into a deep sleep.

It was here that I got the nickname ‘sleeping beauty’. Apparently I drew attention to myself when starting to snore. I heard the course leader tried valiantly to wake me by roaring in my face and squeezing my nose to no effect. Then they decided to have a little fun with me. They went to the medical room and got a blanket and pillow and wrapped me up like a baby with my head resting on the desk. They then managed to get my thumb in my mouth. Somebody wrote ‘sleeping beauty’ across my forehead in lipstick and then the cameras came out.

I woke and was deeply embarrassed, but even more so when I saw all the Polaroid shots of me on display in the staff canteen, company notice boards and, most humiliatingly, behind the hotel swimming pool bar. ‘Ah, meester sleepy’ the barman greeted me drolly. There was no escape. ‘Things cannot get worse’ I exclaimed. But they did.

That night I had my first brush with the local drink of choice, Caiprinha. It is lovely stuff made from the local cane based fire-water called Cachaca, ice and lime juice. The Gloria pool bar had justly earned great renown for its heady blending of these ingredients and any Caiprinhas I have tasted since are pale imitations of these ‘stingers’. I sat there in the heat of the night talking to my new found friends and drinking a stream of these drinks. I remember saying that I must have an early night to avoid further public humiliation in the morning.

I have often wondered about the expression ‘legless’ when it comes to drinking too much. Unfortunately I and this expression became well acquainted that night. You see those drinks were so cool, fresh and tasty that you really do feel better the more you have. The danger is that you honestly feel stone cold sober. My mind was clear and I thought I was talking lucidly and sharply. Others argued differently later.

All was well until I tried to stand up. You see my head was sober but my legs were not. I honestly could not stand up. Below the waste I was like jelly. I was ‘legless’ and the staff left me there until I got over it. Again I nodded off but this time on a cane seat flopped across the table. I had to bash on the glass doors until the night porter came and grudgingly let me in on the agreement I would not be sick in his hotel.

So that was my first 24 hours in Rio. Want more? Want to know how I survived further scrapes? Want to know how I met Gloria or Ramon as ‘she’ turned out to be?
Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of ‘An Innocent in Brazil’!


Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Entertaining Foreign Dignitaries - Part 1

At one stage a major part of my job was to meet and greet VIPs from abroad and escort them on special tours around the UK. These journeys were usually linked to the launch of a major new air service to their particular country and designed to ‘build relationships’ with those that could smooth our way.

Naturally these guests were very senior, very demanding and sometimes totally out of order in the things they did whilst staying as our guests. The people I was responsible for were mainly from West Africa. They were very wealthy in their own right, used to getting what they wanted and usually Muslim which meant that you had to be very careful about what food or drink they were offered.

These visits were often great fun and I made some strong friendships during that time. Needless to say there were other occasions where I, they or both combined caused such havoc that it could have resulted in some major international incidents. After all, the combination of differing races, religions, cultures and nationalities in a confined area is always going to make for a volatile mix. This blend can result in both offence and hilarity as my recollections will show.

I remember standing nervously at Gatwick’s arrivals area waiting for the first Nigerian group to arrive. They were very easy to recognise in that they were all enormous and wearing large flowing, mainly grey/white robes. I could see by their body language that they were not comfortable or used to travelling in groups or passing through the public areas of airports. The second thing I noticed was they had barely any baggage which I found strange until all was revealed later on.

I walked boldly up to the first guest and introduced myself as his host and escort. I held out my hand to shake his but instead he dropped his big black attaché case in it. Where is my car he demanded as I stood squirming trying to explain to them all that we had laid on a coach for all transfers. They looked aghast. No cars? One said he had not been in a coach in his life and another said he would lose face if he travelled in one.

Having finally got across to them that it was coach or nothing we took them to the parking area where our rather aged non air conditioned 52-seater coach was waiting to take them to their London hotel. It was the hottest day of the year so far but probably not as humid as downtown Lagos.

The real fun started when we tried to board them. You see each one had their own vision of where they featured in the tour’s ‘pecking’ order and, rather like cows at milking time, they would not get on out of sequence. The leader would insist on the front seat with the other less worthy individuals sat in their own chosen order behind. The jostling by these supposedly mature and wise men was something to behold. One particularly fat gentleman wearing what looked like a huge tent sat down in the front seat and refused to move despite shouted protestations of others.

Somehow we finally got them seated and off we went. The whole lot of them fell deeply asleep and we drove up to the hotel to the constant drone of snoring with the odd staccato fart in accompaniment. The air inside the coach was ‘steamy’ to say the least by the time we rolled up at the Cavendish hotel. On arrival I had to wake them up which earned me many reprimands and one slap in the face from a guest who thought for a moment that I was his wife….or one of them.

They were with us for only three days and we gave them all the free time they needed aside from official dinners, a trip to the theatre and a guided tour which was mandatory. I tried to tell them this at the hotel briefing but, by the time I had finished most were already on their way to the shops. It was soon after that I got my first complaint from the hotel management.

The mystery of the non existent baggage on arrival was solved. Why bring stuff from Lagos where there were shortages when you are flying to London and get anything. In the case of my group this included hi-fis, refrigerators, half of Selfridges, a touch of Harrods and the equivalent of a whole Marks and Spencer lingerie department. The hotel foyer was soon completely filled with boxes and even crates on wooden pallets. They had to turn (at a price) a whole conference room into a temporary store.

The trip to the theatre was a disaster. We went to see Phantom of the Opera and had seats at the front of the dress circle. Firstly the seats were too small and secondly they would not keep still or quiet. The first rumblings of snoring started shortly after the first song and it began to put the actors and their audience off. I started creeping around poking the perpetrators or sometimes squeezing their noses to try and stop them. Finally our giant in grey broke wind so powerfully that everybody thought it was a gunshot. Then the smell started.

The next day was set aside for the coach tour of London and I was dreading it. I had only just come off the phone from negotiating compensation with the theatre and now I had to escort these shopping-mad sleepyheads around the sights. I lost four entirely but managed to shuffle the rest on the coach. The running feud as to who sat where continued. The only undisputed seat was in the front row where our grey-clad giant sat as the group’s undisputed ‘top dog’.

We had a really enthusiastic guide who bragged to me that he always managed to keep peoples attention with his knowledge and humour. You have never met my boys I thought o myself. It started badly and ended worse as he spent the whole time talking while they slept noisily. They woke up briefly for lunch and then virtually passed out when back in the coach.

When we arrived back at the hotel and they were still comatose. I found myself hemmed in at the front by the guide and his driver who gave me a right earful. ‘These people are rude’ the guide said. ‘Yeah, no manners’, the driver pitched in. ‘I am warning you now’ the guide snarled. ‘If you ever again have a group of Nigerians like this do not under any circumstances expect me to guide them’!

He had started to shout and our guests were waking up. Having seen we were back they started to disembark in order to do a bit more shopping. When one guy demanded that the coach take him to Austin Reid in Regent Street I thought things might get violent.

As they left our grey giant grabbed each one as he went past and muttered to them for some money. He was the last to leave and by that time he had a fist full of cash. He added another fist full from his own wallet and dumped the lot into the hands of the driver and guide. He gave me a conspiritorial smile as he left which made me wonder if he had been asleep at all.

My two companions gazed at the notes and started counting. There was just short of seven hundred pounds and this was around thirty years ago. It was a fortune and it immediately created a different mindset. The guide said ‘maybe I was too hasty so if you have any such groups in future do not hesitate to ring me. Here is my direct number, I am always available’.

The next day I had to commission a removal van plus our coach to take their baggage to Gatwick Airport. The guests themselves got their way and went by individual taxi. They would not share with each other and the big guy had to be in the first one to leave! Me? I was shattered and fell asleep. I probably snored!

Friday, 8 July 2011

A Blogger in Paradise – Majorca Part 4

The main thing for me about this holiday was that it was in a villa not a hotel. I have done it on short stays twice but never a fortnight and I wondered whether the novelty would wear off… and it did. Yes, the novelty of it went but got replaced with far better feelings of relaxation and peaceful familiarity than I have ever felt in a hotel where I usually start climbing the walls by day ten.

To understand why I am now a villa convert one needs to know why me, and possibly others often feel let down when staying in hotels. To me the best word to explain my disappointment is freedom, or lack of it. In a hotel I feel too regulated. You end up eating what they want, when they want at a frequently unacceptable and unjustifiable price. Once you are there you operate under their rules alongside their guests using their dress code.

You cannot really get up when you want, have a light snack of your own choosing and pick your own environment to spend the day. For example you could go to the pool and not find a quiet, comfortable, shaded spot. The pool menu will serve portions big enough (and costly enough) for three. So you go back to the room and find housekeeping there. Some people even smuggle out food from breakfast purely because it gives them the kind of things they want to eat at lunch.

Later you decide to have a relaxed meal but can your wife really go down without washing, drying and straightening her hair? And what about the other guests who seem to think the whole thing is a fashion contest. Can you really face another full set meal of something you would never bother with at home? Can you do this at breakfast, lunch and dinner for 14 days and nights? We all seem to but I reckon the first hotel to come up with the alternatives people want will make a killing.

Right, that’s now off my chest. After all those years of holidays where I thought that if I ate another lunchtime shared club sandwich I would kill myself or the waiter…or both. I found a well planned villa holiday can save me this grief albeit at a cost. The cost? Well you better be sure it is the right villa for you or you have had it for the duration.

You have to buy your own food but the consolation is that you can eat what you want, when you want it and in the right portions. OK, you have to pay for the staples like pepper, salt, oils etc but it is all far cheaper than hotel dining and you can stock up on drinks, crisps, and nibbles etc at a fraction of the price. When you don’t want to cook? Well you go out!

Villa concerns for me were mostly not problematic. You have to have a car. You need to seriously consider security especially in some places. You need good easy means of contact with the owner or their agent in case of problems and you have to take location and the proximity of neighbours into account. I cannot imagine what it would be like to move into a place with screamers and loud music lovers over the fence. We did our research and we were fine…thankfully!

OK, there can be some niggles. For example there is a growing habit in Majorca of owners putting the air conditioning on a timer so you can only use it at night. They conveniently assume that everyone will either keep the doors and windows open all day or go out. So the sales pitch says air conditioning when it should say ‘part’ air conditioning. I think if you are paying for aircon you should get aircon when YOU want it rather than reduce the owner’s electricity bill. Others may be more eco minded than me. I found a little visit to the fuse box controlled solved my problem!

So, the headquarters of my Majorcan ‘paradise’ was the Villa Son Rotger in the hills 5kms from Pollensa. Our days panned out like this: Get up at around 9.30 a.m. , open the shutters and pad downstairs to pick up cereal, fresh fruit and tea and bring up to the balcony overlooking the sea. Then agonise over whether to have yet another fry up or salad. Then morning swim, sunbathe and read Kindle under the sun umbrella. Lunch is large or little depending on the fry-up decision. Afternoon? Repeat morning or possibly tour the area.

The evenings were great, particularly as they were warm and starry. A barbecue? A swim? An evening in front of the T.V watching UK programmes? Mostly we went out. The only unwelcome nocturnal noise was the neighbour’s dog who partook in bouts of barking. We solved this by bribing him with cat treats we had brought in from the UK in case there were local moggies!

As I said earlier there were not many neighbours. We had orchards and a farmhouse on one side. We always smiled and waived at the owners as they picked fruit from trees next to our driveway. I am not sure what they thought of us after we got caught ‘sampling’ their plums. It was made worse when I strode naked onto our balcony doing a mighty stretch only to lock eyes with grandma sitting on her tractor holding plums in her hands. She just looked, shrugged, muttered and drove away. Ah well.

So the end of the holiday came and unfortunately we had to vacate the villa by 10 a.m. which is pretty normal but a pain when your flight leaves in the evening. I had booked a day room at the Hilton near Palma airport. It is a lovely hotel but we ended up being reminded why we had chosen a villa. I simply could not have imagined staying there a fortnight.

The hotel was great, its staff were mainly great, but its guests were not. The pool was crowded, noisy and full of people tucking in tummies, running fingers through hair and indulging badly behaved kids. They had the usual snack menu that was only available through certain times and starred ‘club sandwich’. Yuk! The room was a snip at £160 (excluding food/drink) for six hours!

Finally we got to the airport. The car return was very efficient and we went to check in only to be asked for the £100 excess baggage for the extra case. I told them I was not charged on the way out so they said I had to pay them now for both! To be fair the check in was manned by Iberia Airlines staff and they called in the Thomson representative who agreed to ‘let us off this time’. A reason she gave was I had been polite when most people yell at her. Worth remembering as airline staff are the last people you should yell at, especially when they have you by the ba**s.

The flight this time was on a modern Thomson aircraft which was clean, comfortable and on time. The crew were courteous and by then I was used to paying for everything on board. The family we saw on the way out were just in front again and clearly. Dad, with the tattoos, looked like he was missing his ‘Forever Karen’ and mum and daughter looked like they wished he had stayed with her. ‘Did you have a nice time’ I asked the girl. Daddy says I can’t talk to you’ she replied morosely.

So there you have it. The villa life was paradise to us. Thomson was far better than expected and Majorca was everything we wanted it to be. And spoilt little me? I learned that first class travel and 5 star hotels is not necessary for holiday ‘paradise’
I hope you have been both informed and entertained by this 4 part report

Thursday, 7 July 2011

READERS FORUM

I would really like to hear more from you!

Reason being that I want to know if what I write is worth reading.
I am not actively seeking compliments (although they would be nice) but also comment/criticism too.

So if you are pleased, annoyed or anything in between please use the comment facility on this or any of the relevant blogs

I would also welcome statements an particularly questions and suggestions on any topic. Is there anything you want me to write about?

Also I have kind of slowed down my industry blogs but I am thinking of starting again out of frustration that nobody seems to be resolving the main issues. What do you think?
Be watching out for you and you are welcome to remain anonymous if you wish
Take Care and thanks for reading.
MIKE

Love it - a couple of great stories in there - I think the Haggis throwing championship is a great read; I can just picture your giant Nigerian standing on the barrel and throwing the Haggis with one hand. Sounds like a fun day was had by all. Cheers
Posted by Peter

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

A Blogger in Paradise–Majorca Part 3

So we finally arrived at the villa which was to be our home for two weeks. “Don’t think I am going to be chained to the cooker all the time” said Judith as I tried to turn our small car into a smaller driveway before the electric gates closed. ‘No darling’ I replied thinking about 14 days of fried food, barbecues and cosy home suppers.

Now we get to the ‘paradise’ bit of title. The villa was beautiful and I would recommend it to anyone. We have used Villa Select before and they have never let us down so far. It had three bedrooms, three bathrooms and a bright and spacious living area.

The design was modern and the facilities were all there from the large infinity pool to the sunny barbecue area to the large balconies with views over the bay of Alcudia. There was a modern halogen hob, new looking cooker and washing machine and an excellent fridge freezer. You will be able to make great meals here I said to Judith as she gave me an icy stare. ‘No, let’s go out instead’ she snapped.

That first night we drove the short distance to Alcudia where we promptly got lost. ‘Left here’ she shouted after we passed the turning for the second time that day. We eventually ended up in the old town where we seemed to be the only tourists and came face to face with an eighteen inch penis. It was attached to an eight foot statue of a naked violinist that was ‘mounted’ in the forecourt of a small bar. Naturally we could not resist dining there.

We sat adjacent to the statue but we could not escape from its member as the setting sun threw its shadow right across our table. Rather unnerving when you are eating a ham baguette I can assure you. I placed the pepper and salt at one end and it looked quite lifelike! After being stared at by the locals, drinking beer and watching the sunset we drove home. Apparently our naked stone friend was called Javier San Pedro but I am not sure if the scale used was lifelike or wistful thinking.

We went out touring in the car a few of the days and found some really nice places that make mockery of the concept that Majorca is all crowded beaches, nightclubs and tourist dominated. There are such places for those that want them but they are mainly in the south, except for perhaps Port de Alcudia.

A great place to go is Port de Solier on the west coast. The drive is quite hair raising over mountains and around many tight bends but it is worth it for the views. We ended up behind a very nervous driver who panicked and nearly stopped at every bend and then shot off afterwards to stop you overtaking. He met his match when he met a bus driving psychopath on a particularly bad loop. They ended up bonnet to bonnet with neither able nor willing to give way. We nipped past whilst they screamed at each other.

We then ended up behind another bus which was aptly named ‘no frills bus tours’. An inspiring name and the people aboard looked wretched. By the look of it no frills meant no air conditioning, no shock absorbers and no windows that opened. It was dull rust red in colour (no paint) and the driver was wearing a vest (no shirt). Even Michael O’Leary would think that this bus had less frills than his Ryanair planes.

We went to a lot of the usual places like Formentor where you can climb down from little car parks to gorgeous little beaches and Cala San Vicente which is a very pretty little resort in a small bay that has some very nice cafes.

When we ate out we either drove in to Pollensa old town or Port de Pollensa depending on what mood we were in. If we wanted pretty and quaint it was the former where you could sit in the main square, eat good food and watch people who were probably watching you. Everybody eyes each other up on holiday; it is part of the ‘fun’. I think they particularly appreciated it when I got drunk with a Brazilian waiter who demonstrated (repeatedly) how to make an authentic caiprinha.

Port de Pollensa is at the seaside and full of cafes lined along the front. This place is great fun on any evening and you would be amazed by some of the sights that walk past. In June the local people are out in force too so it is quite a scramble of tourists and residents of all sizes, ages and dress sense as well as the local dogs which get taken walkies in the evenings. The latter provided great entertainment by escaping, tangling leads, fighting and occasionally defecating while you are trying to eat your paella.

Picking up dog litter seems an alien concept to the Majorcans. Very often they do not notice what their dogs are doing as one lady with a chihuahua demonstrated. It was on one of those extending leads so it got ahead of its owner and squatted down by a palm tree in an orderly manner. Sadly for him and everyone else his owner failed to notice and the next minute Fido was projected through the air when the lead tightened. It continued to ‘go’ as it flew dropping bombs like something out of the dam busters film.

What can you do? You cannot pick it up and you cannot tell ever passerby about it. So we decided to wait and watch while vast numbers of people came from either side all converging on these brown bombs. We felt so helpless but it was compelling viewing.Eventually there was a bulls-eye by a local on a bike followed by a glancing blow from a lady in heels. We really did feel guilty!

Food at both these locations is of a reasonably high standard taking all into account although it is not particularly cheap. Wine costs far less than the UK and Majorcan grapes are quite acceptable. Food in the supermarkets is pretty extensive and you will find many international brands. The bigger the supermarket the bigger the range and the cheaper the price but that is the same the world over. You can use credit cards at most places but only if you can show ID like a passport or driving license.

More about villa life and the homeward journey in my final blog on this subject out later this week.

Monday, 4 July 2011

A Blogger in Paradise –Majorca Part 2

Ok, where was I? Oh yes, we were airborne and flying serenely to our holiday isle. We were getting slightly sizzled on champagne and considerably nauseous over the chocolate. My chunky neighbour had an itch and the guy behind seemed to be suffering from cramp judging by the number of times his leg jerked into my seat back.

I tried to focus on the entertainment system but the overhead screens were poor and the programme poorer. I watched in silence as you could only buy (not rent) headsets and nobody said before the flight you could bring your own. Funny that! At least I had the little girl in front to ‘amuse’ me as she lolled over her seat back and pulled faces. Are you a monster she asked? I am not sure I replied. Yes you are she said as the faces continued.

Her dad was a shaven head brute of a man in an athletic vest. He was covered in tattoos. He had ‘True’ and ‘Love’ across his knuckles, wrestling dragons, anchors and mermaids around his neck and back. All along one arm he had ‘Karen Forever’ which was rather strange as we later found out his wife next to him was called Dawn. He leaned over his seat and glared at me as though I was a pervert and said ‘Hanna (again not Karen), don’t talk to that man. Happy days I thought.

The plane touched down without further incident and I had to reflect on how painless it was. I had avoided DVT and sipped champagne which is a good combination. There was no queue to speak of at immigration and our bags popped up last as usual. Some kind soul in the baggage area had snipped my BA Executive Club labels in half but that was the only damage.

So all we had to do now was collect our car and drive to our villa in the northern part of the island near Pollensa and 55 minutes away. We used a company called 'Centauro' and I would recommend them. I found it best not to book the company that Thomson recommends as everybody else does it and the queue at their desk was horrendous.

They are located on the airport perimeter road and you get to them by their transfer bus. It should have been very easy except their printed directions to the bus stop had been written by someone facing customs not coming out of it; hence we wandered off in the opposite direction. Once this got sorted we found the lane we had to stand by but no ‘Centauro’ sign as there wasn’t one. I found waving and leaping in front of their vehicle had the desired effect

We got to their facility and were issued with the necessary contract and guides very quickly. Within less than 10 minutes we were sitting in our ‘violent blue’ Fiesta that groaned under the weight of three large suitcases and us. Why three large cases? Because I am a packaholic. All those years of travel and I still over-pack. Once I wrapped a large beach umbrella in bin liners and took it to Mauritius in case there was not enough shade for our young daughter!

This time I was slightly better and only packed double clothes, half a chemist shop, cling film, Marmite and a pair of swimming trunks for each day. I had however forgotten all my underpants and charging units for Ipod, camera (which went flat) and Kindle. Judith’s eyes rolled as she saw all the silly stuff falling out at the other end.

So we hit the road. Actually it nearly hit us as I judged my first roundabout rather inaccurately. Judith had the map and I had my short driving temper. Turn left she shrieked about twenty yards after the correct turn-off. Relations were strained but eventually we found the right road. By the way they have changed the motorway speed limit to 110 kph. I remind you as the Centauro maps are rather ancient (as are others) and still tell you it is 120 kph. Also be aware that most Majorcan coach drivers are suicidal psychopaths.

The motorways and roads in general are smooth and very well maintained. I am glad that Spain uses our huge EC subsidies to ensure we can glide to our destinations. The signage is also pretty good. Parking can be tricky especially in the busy months and around the old towns but places are very clearly marked. I would recommend driving to even the nervous except for the westerly coast road which is a bit of a switchback and sometimes inhabited by those bus driving psychopaths I mentioned.

The main part of our drive to the villa was uneventful. Having got on the main motorway to the north we simply cruised for 45 minutes until it became a two lane highway. The directions were spot on until this point but then we arrived at the road/track where our villa was located. Things then became confused as we drove in the fading light down a single lane track with dead ends, dodgy signage and blind corners. Having narrowly missed two chickens, a pig and the neighbours Daschund we arrived at the Villa Son Rotger.

How we got on with the villa, the shops, the resorts, cafes and restaurants will be in my next spellbinding blog.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

A Blogger in Paradise –Majorca Part 1

I must admit I have never thought the words paradise and Majorca went together and maybe they don’t entirely. However I was surprised how close they got when I spent two weeks there very recently.

I am a self confessed travel snob who has been spoilt silly by first class travel and holiday destinations like The Maldives, Mustique, Mauritius and suchlike. But this time we wanted somewhere closer to home, cheaper and less hassle and we came up with Majorca which is just two hours flight away and sunny. So off I went online and booked Thompson flights, local car hire and a villa through Villa Select.

I was filled with a sense of foreboding as I found out more about the place. You have to get there by low cost airlines or holiday charters (what no special desks and premium cabins?). Then somebody in the pub told me about Palma Nova and Magaluf with their rowdy pubs, English cafes, nightclubs, big plasma sports screens and everything else I have not enjoyed since I was in my twenties. What have I done I thought as our departure date got nearer.

Finally the day came and off we went to Gatwick. We arrived at North Terminal and walked past our usual un-crowded BA Executive Club check in desk and into the people maelstrom called the Thomson check in area. It looked like pandemonium with milling crowds of young party people, families and old gits like me and there were hundreds of them. Not only that but they were checking in all flights at the same row of desks and my heart sank.

Using my vast travel experience I concluded this simply could not work…but it did. In no time we were herded by a team of Thomson staff into a huge ‘conga’ line of a queue that zigzagged at least eight times backwards and forwards across the whole width of the departure area. This will take years I snarled to Judith as we fitted in behind a group of young school leaver party girls and in front of a couple juggling 3 children, two bottles of water and an array of buggies. It took only 20 minutes. After much shuffling, bumping and tight turning we were at the front where we got politely manhandled by a couple of shouting marshals who pointed to one of the desks

. Check-in was seamless apart from one big but. I wanted extra baggage above our one 20kg case each allowance so I prepaid for an extra bag online by adding an extra £30 to our bill. I soon found out that yes, you can have an extra case but no, you could not have any extra weight. What is all that about? What is the point in paying for two bags if you can only carry stuff for one in them? Weird! Anyway they tried to charge me £100 in excess baggage and it took all my selling skills to talk them out of it.

We walked past our usual empty priority security channel and joined the rear of the busy general entrance and, to my surprise we were through in no time. OK I had to dress again having taken off my shoes, belt, jacket, watch etc but that would have happened anyway these days. It was unfortunate my trousers dropped to my knees as I walked through the metal detector but at least they could see I had no obvious secret weapon. I hope I have decent underwear I thought as I bent down to pick them up.

The thought of hanging around the main departures area was too much for my spoilt sensibilities so I had prepaid for the use of the No.1. Lounge when I was booking our Gatwick North Terminal valet parking. It cost £40 for the two of us and it was bright, airy and not overcrowded. For the £20 a head we could have lunch, watch a film, and drink what we wanted for up to 3 hours. When you think that on the aircraft the meal alone costs £12 each it is a cost effective way of lunching and drinking beforehand in comfort whilst getting away from the crowds.

Flight time loomed so off we went to the gate. The only trouble was that the advertised gate was incorrect. In fact I do not think it existed. This resulted in much milling around where the passengers reckoned it should be. Eventually a member of Thomson staff beckoned from a nearby desk (which said ‘closed’ above it) and off we strode.

Why we all do it I do not know but as soon as a flight is called for boarding it is something like the ‘charge of the light brigade’. The plane won’t go without us but we all make that undignified dash. Some people start queuing at the gate an hour beforehand. I can only think it is because everyone wants to be sure there is still room to stow their bags before others from surrounding seats chuck their stuff in first.

Finally we were on board this rather old looking Airbus with rather old looking and very small tight-packed seats. I had paid (£25) for extra leg room and got it in the emergency exit row. Unfortunately a rather enormous person had the same idea and squeezed in next to us. What would have happened in an emergency is anyone’s guess but folk would have had to scale the man mountain first to get out.

To my surprise the flight was really good. I had to get used to paying for everything but I could not fault it. If I had been anywhere in the rest of the plane I might have got claustrophobia but my little row was great even with the big guy alongside. Again I had pre-ordered champagne and chocolates (for £25) and a full size bottle arrived with no fuss. This is not at all bad I thought and certainly rivalled many a short-haul schedule flight I have been on in the past.

So we sat back, relaxed and waited for our arrival in Palma, What would the airport, car and villa be like? Would the island be one big hen party/stag tour? Would I live on a diet of egg and chips washed down with “tea like mum makes it”. If you can bear the tension stay tuned for the next thrilling episode on a screen near you soon!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Dining Out on Business Travel – Part 6

Politics and dinner can be an indigestible combination, especially in some African countries. Even more so if there is a virtual state of emergency in place. It was like this during my last year in Zambia caused by poverty, disappointment and insurgency in that order. Rightly or wrongly many of the people felt let down by what they received after’ Independence’ and there were rumours of insurrection in some quarters.

Me and my colleagues, whilst cautious, were not overly concerned as if one kept ones head down and were careful we felt there was little to fear. A friend (an expat doctor) forgot this rule and parked directly outside a public building. He was seen as a possible terrorist and spent a month in jail trying to explain that he was only calling in to pick up a permit.

I would never make such a mistake I thought and went about my business without drawing unwanted attention to myself. Then the dinner invitation came. It was from the top man in a major global conglomerate and it was an unexpected honour. We had never been invited to his house before as this was reserved mainly for close friends and business leaders not a lowly airline sales manager like me.

The day before the meal he actually rang me personally to check we were still going and to tell me that there would be just us, him, his wife and another husband and wife guest. He then rather embarrassingly told me the other guest was black and a senior Zambian government minister and would I still come as others had declined. That is why you asked me I mused as I put the phone down, nobody else would go because his main guest was black! I was appalled and even more determined to go.

We arrived and were warmly greeted by our host. His other two guests had already arrived as I saw his government car with two giant bodyguards leaning on the bonnet parked at the end of the driveway in case of emergency. We started to get a little edgy but it turned out to be one of the best informal dinners I have ever enjoyed then or since. The government minister was amusingly clever, his wife was even smarter and our hostess spent the whole evening teasing her doting husband.

Afterwards we sat outside listening to the night sounds and watching the constellations. We relaxed drinking the best of his brandy while shooting stars darted across the heavens and the moon rose full. We talked about how the world in general and Zambia in particular could be made a better place and collectively agreed it had been an evening we would all remember. After what, on reflection, must have looked to an observer as a group hug we parted our own ways into the early dawn.

Nothing happened for a few weeks until I heard that my host had been taken to the police station for questioning. What about I thought? I found out when I had a visit later that evening. The secret police (SITET) had come to pay me a visit. They did not want to have dinner but they sure wanted to talk about one. Both officers were white and both had spent most of their careers in the British Special Branch. I was told later that nobody would trust a local to do such a ‘sensitive’ job so they brought in foreigners instead.

The conversation started by them telling me I was a ‘bloody idiot’. ‘Why’ I asked?
One looked at the other in a resigned way muttering ‘he still doesn’t get it’. They then explained I was a bloody idiot for sitting up half the night eating, drinking and cuddling senior politicians in a volatile country where the president is almost paranoid about the possibility of a coup. I was stunned as I realised why everybody else had declined the date. It was not skin colour, it was the risk of being seen in such potentially dangerous company.

‘I hardly knew the man’ I pleaded until they showed me a clear photograph of him and me embracing at the evening’s end. Where had the photographer hidden I thought as I realised we had been under surveillance all the time. ‘A lot of people wouldn’t believe that’, one replied in the full knowledge he was scaring me big time.

I told them everything, even some of the jokes which they seemed to like. It was clear that there had been no subversive discussion however they said that just by saying that Zambia could be a better place could be seen as such. After playing around with me a bit they finally relented. ‘Look’, they concluded ‘it is clear that the dinner was innocent but for heavens sake watch out who you eat with in future’. They left as quietly as they arrived and I never saw them again. ‘No harm done’ I thought.

Three weeks later I read in the Zambian Nation newspaper that my fellow dinner guest was under house arrest. I never heard about him again. It can sometimes be a terrible cruel world I thought. But who knows what the truth is and what is not? Rather like eating food slightly over its ‘sell by’ date. It tastes OK but will you have cause to regret it afterwards?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Dining Out on Business Travel – Part 5

Over the years I have come to a conclusion that there is a definite link between food and sex. OK, the alcohol served along with the food makes a major contribution but the ambiance brought about by close proximity, relaxation, liberated discussion and sharing taste sensations with each other aids in the dropping of inhibitions.

Maybe sharing a hot curry and lots of lager is an exception but the act of say feeding each other oysters and champagne is clearly a good illustration of this phenomena. All those who have seen that old ‘bawdy romp’ of a film Tom Jones can bear witness to the old oysters and booze syndrome. However, don’t try the same effect with Guinness as it plays havoc on the stomach at the most inopportune moments which is a real passion killer.

So what has this to do with business travel dinners? A great deal in my experience. Despite being relatively naïve with regard to what goes on around me at dinners and banquets I have seen and experienced much that could turn me into a successful blackmailer if I had carried a camera and tape recorder with me. Maybe I could hire a small person with a camcorder to sit under the tables of the high and mighty and record the goings on under tablecloth.

Under table groping is rife at many major business dinners which may explain why most banquet table fronts have a cloth that extends to the floor. The omission of such ‘modesty cloth’ can provide much hilarity as I discovered one night in an Italian restaurant in Edinburgh. We had taken over the whole place and the tables were laid out in a large square. Our then very high profile leader was sat in the place of honour and beside him, by chance I am sure, was our most eligible and eager lady sales representative.

It all kicked off by the middle of the antipasto. Unfortunately they were not aware that everybody the other end of the square could see every move. It started with warm patting of knees that progressed to thighs and I leave the rest to your imagination. By then my end of the table was spellbound. What was fascinating was that their faces and upper bodies showed no sign of the wild activity below, except that they were eating one handed.

The show ended when they noticed me grabbing a passing colleague and saying ‘hey look at that’ whilst pointing an indiscrete finger. Well I was young at the time and had yet to learn about discretion. After an icy stare in my direction that would have frozen hell all ‘down below’ activity ceased. The big chief left for his room soon after and, strangely, the whole experience must have brought on a headache in our young lady as she left soon after. In the same direction!

I have been on the receiving end of such overtures twice both directly and indirectly and neither was enjoyable in the least. Once in a banqueting suite in a Dubai hotel when a dinner guest’s wife started grappling me under the cloth. I think she was doing it more for fun (like a cat playing with a mouse) than intent but when you are sitting next to a husband that has no idea what is going on and is in the middle of discussing his business travel needs it isn’t easy. Also you could end up in jail for less in Dubai.
Fortunately she stopped before being discovered although she did give me a broad laughing wink as she departed hand-in-hand with her clearly doting husband.

My indirect experience was even more unpleasant in that it involved my then partner not me. My boss decided to take all his sales team to dinner as thanks for a great result that year. It was Christmas and everyone was looking forward to a big celebration made more enjoyable as spouses and partners were invited too. It was a Chinese feast where everybody could share dishes although I did not realise that my boss considered my partner to be ‘dishy’. He cut a strange figure. He arrived dressed in a Caftan (it was not fancy dress) and with a newly trimmed goatee beard. All this topped with a paper hat three sizes too small and a leer that would make a maiden scream.

He plonked himself down between the two of us and entered what he thought was a subtle and suave conversation about ‘sharing’ experience other than food. Alarm bells rang in my head but, he was my boss, I liked my job and hey, he was only joking, wasn’t he? The answer to that question was almost immediate when he shrieked and leaped backwards, made his excuses and left.

‘What the hell happened’ I asked of my partner. He squeezed and pinched me under the table she demurred. ‘Oh no’ I replied ‘but why did he yell’? ‘’ I pinched him back’ she explained, ‘very, very, hard and he will have great difficult explaining that bruise to his wife’. Not a woman to be crossed I mused as my eyes started to water at the thought. Not a man to continue going out with she must have been thinking as she dumped me soon after.

More to follow on this subject in part 6 so stay tuned!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Dining Out on Business Travel – Part 4

We were posted to Northern Zambia when I was about 30 years old. I felt I was pretty mature in those days but after reminding myself of a few business dinners I went to I have changed my mind. I must have been damn naïve as this little tale of drugs, politics and lust will tell.

It was a strange kind of job. I was District Sales Manager for a UK airline and my job was to persuade the mainly expatriate international population to fly to and from Europe on my airline rather than Zambia Airways. Not a difficult task in those days so I spent most of my time sponsoring events and entertaining. This made me very popular and there was not a local club or establishment where I was not an honorary member. The dinner invitations flooded in.

The first client dinner of note was at a nearby ‘ranch’. ‘You are not going there are you’ a staff member said,’ it has one hell of a reputation?’ I smugly told her I was more than capable of looking after myself. She rolled her eyes in a way that said ‘they won’t be told’ and returned to her counter. The host was supposedly a bit of an eccentric who people said had spent too long living in the bush but that just added spice to my interest.

We had not been there long and knew we were meeting a lot of new faces so Judith got dressed to kill and I dragged out my very best suit (UK winter thickness) and off we went. We followed the directions we had been given and ended up in the middle of nowhere driving down a pot holed track that threw Judith around the car like a ping pong ball ruining her hairstyle and creasing her cocktail dress in the process.

The ‘ranch’ was in a clearing. From a distance it looked like a shack. Close up it looked like a big shack. Outside was our host waiting to greet us. I started getting concerned when I saw he was wearing beads, a string vest and some very ancient dirty shorts. Should I have worn my pin stripe I thought? Should I kill Michael now or later’ thought Judith as she climbed out in her heels?

After we all had a jolly good laugh at our expense we were led behind the large house/shack to a wild area laughingly called their garden where we were introduced as ‘The British Ambassador and his lady’ to the giggling guests who were all wearing what seemed to be gardening clothes. Where is you feathered hat one wag called out. Must read dress codes on invitations I thought to myself as I am sure this one must have said ‘dress like a tramp and then roll in mud’.

The party was a wild one. A huge fire was lit in the middle of the garden and the drink flowed freely. We borrowed clothes from our host, started to relax and I felt great. We sat around the embers of the fire and watched the ‘ethnic’ food being fried and flame grilled on big racks and in huge frying pans. The food and air was filled with exotic herbs that were thrown on the fire and I did not even mind when I found some animal’s ear on my plate. Judith was munching through the kind of gristle that would normally make her sick.

Towards the end of the meal we all took a break to enable the last special dish to be prepared. Well actually I thought the host said ‘caught’ and prepared but assumed I heard wrong. A vast bucket full of beer floating in ice arrived and I was in seventh heaven as I languished on my back at peace with the world. I had even found my tie and tied it like a bandana around my forehead as a statement on how ‘cool’ I felt.

Then the ‘Zambian Peanuts’ arrived to be fried. Apparently they were only available for a few weeks every year and were seen as a great delicacy. They looked just like dry roasted peanuts as the frying pans were filled and more scented herbs were added to the blaze. They sizzled and jumped in the pan and the most delightful aroma of groundnuts permeated the already sweet smell of wood smoke.

They were incredibly tasty with a hard nutty tasting exterior with a surprising soft and liquid centre. Even when I spotted a few insect wings in mine it did not bother me. Down it all went with the beer and I felt that all my birthdays had come at once. We left at dawn and I do not know to this day how we got home. I was missing a shoe and Judith’s handbag was minus all her expensive UK make-up but hey we had a fantastic time.

The next morning (actually afternoon) when I staggered into the office I noticed my ticket agent was sniggering to herself. ‘Did you have a good time?’ she asked. “Brilliant” I replied. “You like drugs do you” she asked sweetly? I looked blankly at her until she explained why I had been feeling so very wonderful. The ‘herbs’ was Dagga which is a local name for marijuana and they had been chucking bales of it on the fire all night. It grows like weeds all over Zambia. I had been stoned out of my mind without knowing it for the first and last time in my life.

She went on to explain the ‘peanuts’. They were a special kind of giant flying ant that only sprouts wing for a few days each year. The host had two bright lights which these things flew into and stunned themselves on. They were quickly picked up, had there wings torn off, the body dusted in ground nut powder then chucked probably still alive in the frying pan. The soft centres were parts of the inside that had not been full cooked.

My stomach turned. I will never be so naïve again I thought, until the next time. My next blogs will be about those two ‘next times’ when politics and someone’s lust have a bearing on my stupidity!