A Change is as Good as a Holiday (Part 5)
Sunday 19 December 2010: 4 years 3 months on …
(As I write this, the snow once again pours down onto Europe and disrupts traffic all over again!)
Saturday 4 December – Sunday 5 December 2010
Saying goodbye has never been my strong point. I usually choke up – and then don’t say the things that I intended to say or should have said. And, over the last four years, this has been even more so. I sometimes think that people must think that I am extremely rude because I don’t say goodbye properly!
The truth is that despite talking to myself beforehand and getting myself ‘strong’ for the occasion, I am still not able to control the waterworks! And then, I just rush off, and let the water flow out of sight …
This time was no different.
When the taxi arrived to fetch me at 11h00, just minutes after being booked, I said my brief goodbyes to Grace, Jake and Mike, almost as if I was just going down the road to do the morning shopping. But the tears started rolling, and did so almost all the way to the airport. The taxi driver chatted away, talking about everything from the FIFA World Cup to the 90 billion Euro bailout that Ireland had just received from the European Union and the IMF. All he got in return were curt one-word responses and the occasional muted sniff! Strange African fella, he must have thought!
At the airport, I asked to leave on an earlier flight – not because I wanted to get out of the place, but because missing my flight to Johannesburg at Heathrow would have complicated matters for me. Their was a brief window of opportunity for flights to leave Dublin – the snow had stopped, but it was forecast that the fog would roll in from the northwest and more snow was inevitable!
I spent my last Euro coins on a packet of chips, and then watched them spraying the ice off the wings and fuselage of the plane that would carry me back over the Irish Sea to London Heathrow – Flight EI 168 scheduled to take off at 14h10.
I saw the fog rolling in from the west. I was right in the front, seat 2A, at the window and by the time we started moving, the airport was shrouded in a blanket of fog. There had been so many stories of people getting on and off planes because of cancelled flights, that I became anxious that the plane should become airborne.
Luckily, the flight was only slightly delayed because, once again, we had been requested to delay our arrival at LHR in order to fit into their time slots. But, up we went, through the grey pea-soup fog, and then, as we banked and turned eastward, almost like Someone opening the curtains, there below me lay the Emerald Isle. As far as the eye could see, it looked like a giant quilt blanket – white squares of snow surrounded by dark leafless trees. It was the most awesome sight, and will remain with me as my parting gift after a most special week.
Slightly late, at half three, we landed at Heathrow. My bag had been checked through to Johannesburg, and Flight SA237 was only due for boarding at 20h05 and to leave at 21h05. So I used the time to explore the aged Terminal 1 (the original Heathrow, due for demolition and rebuilding over the next 10 years). SAA and Aer Lingus use terminal 1 and I was specifically booked like that in order to cut down on my moving around unnecessarily at Heathrow.
I found a free internet kiosk and proceeded to catch up on emails and Facebook. Then, a trip to the toilet almost ended in disaster. Travelling alone always means that such a trip entails having to carry all your belongings with you.
I put everything down on the floor, and picked it all up when I left. Or so I thought! After about fifteen minutes of browsing through WH Smith, I suddenly realised that my cell phone was missing. I rushed back to the toilet and there lay my Blackberry on the floor, just where I had left it! This was definitely not Africa! (As it was, all I lost in the two weeks was one of my gloves at Twickenham, so, despite my concerns, my mind had worked well for me over the fortnight.)
Seat 39G was on the aisle, and I had open seats next to me, which looked promising for a good night’s rest heading back over Africa. But during supper – chicken or beef yet again! – I got chatting to a young guy, Jared Golden, across the aisle. He is from Cape Town (went to school at Herzlia) and works as an analyst in the financial economic applications (FEA) team at Barrie and Hibbert in Edinburgh. He was headed home for the holidays.
“My broader FEA activities include quarterly real-world model calibrations, contributing to research and development regarding modelling and calibration and improving calibration tools. I provide support for various Barrie & Hibbert products (software and scenario sets, etc.) and services (reporting, consultancy, etc.), which includes providing financial modelling assistance to clients, advising on calibrations and providing assistance on economic interpretation of model output.”
Well, we chatted to such an extent that the woman in front of us complained that we were making too much noise, and so he came to sit next to me. We chatted almost until breakfast time at 05h00 (GMT – now 07h00 SAST), and so little sleep was had.
Landing at Oliver Tambo was ten minutes early, but because of that, they had not organised the gateway in time. (Welcome home!)
Once the door opened, I got through customs quickly – no stopping of anyone! – and headed off to terminal B to meet Graeme and Belinda for breakfast. A short catch-up and chat and then it was off to Port Elizabeth, flight SA417 due for departure at 13h05. Before then, welcome home yet again: at the last moment, we were moved from the advertised boarding gate to another, and then, when I checked in, I was asked to stand to one side before boarding. No reason was given, and I muttered whilst everyone else boarded.
Right at the end, I was told that I had been upgraded to First Class (from 15D to 2C!) and so, I arrived home in style (even had lunch served in china plates with proper cutlery – but still chicken or beef!), and was the first passenger off the plane in Port Elizabeth.
[Lesson #5 , for me, is ‘DON’T MUTTER WHEN THINGS APPEAR TO GO WRONG – YOU MAY JUST END UP IN A BETTER SITUATION THAN YOU ORGINALLY ANTICIPATED! THE CLASSIC LESSON: EVERY DARK CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING!]
So, two weeks after leaving Port Elizabeth Airport, on Sunday 5 December, Boeing 737 Flight SAA 417 from Johannesburg touched down at that same airfield, right on time at 14h45. The wind was howling at 60kph and the temperature was 24 degrees.
I bounded across the concourse, no tears, no limp, mind clear and holding my heavy duty Levi jacket in my right hand and my travel bag in my weaker left hand!
Pera and Phillip had come to fetch me. As I waited for my suitcase to come off the carousel, I pondered about the two weeks and the wonderful privilege that I had just experienced.
My sincerest thanks and appreciation go to all those people who I have mentioned in these blogs “A CHANGE IS AS GOOD AS A HOLIDAY” for having made this memorable trip possible.
To Grace Carswell, I shall remember our all too brief conversations in your beautiful new kitchen and home, with great fondness. Your Irish food was magnificent, and your hospitality was superb. I wish you and Mike Godspeed as you continue on your life’s trip with your wonderful young family of Jake and Chloe.
To Mike, a mere ‘thank you’ seems so insufficient. Who would have thought, when we first met in 1984 at Grey High School, me the teacher and hostel master, you the pupil, the Head of House, the Senior Student Officer and the 1st Team rugby player that, twenty six years later, we would meet up in Dublin, Ireland, thanks to your friendship and generosity?
You have given this (not so old) man two very special weeks in his life and the most wonderful memories.
I hope that, one day, you will put up a picture of me with all those famous people that grace your practice walls! At least then, a part of me will remain in Ireland.
Another lesson I have learnt this fortnight from the Greatest Teacher of all, is that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” ST Francis of Assisi said “For it is in giving that we receive”. As Christmas 2010 approaches rapidly this week, may we all learn this great lesson of Life.
Upon arrival in Dublin, the customs officer had asked me what my purpose was in Ireland. I responded “holiday”. We all have a purpose upon our arrival on this planet Earth but I don’t think it’s a holiday! At this Christmas time, I pray that we each may find our purpose, and achieve that purpose, in the time that we are given to spend here and to explore our planet and temporary home.
“And if there’s going to be a Life hereafter, and, somehow, I know, there’s bound to be
I will ask my God to let me have my Heaven in that Isle of Green across the Irish Sea… “
As the daylight fades, the twilight approaches and the shadows grow longer. But the shadows have not yet overtaken me. My body grows wearier, my mind begins to falter and my ability to do the little, normal everyday tasks becomes increasingly affected. I am becoming increasingly frustrated.
Gloaming is defined in the dictionary as that time after sunset and before dark. It is that time when the shadows get longer and longer and then disappear completely. It’s not completely dark yet, but there are no more shadows. Gloaming separates day from night and from the new Dawn.
Please forgive me for the times when I ask that my gloaming period should be short.
Forgive me when I ask my God to allow me to leave this earth on an earlier flight, not because I want to leave this beautiful place that offers so much, but because I look forward to that day in Paradise when I will, once again, be able to do those everyday tasks and be free of the weariness and discomfort.
It is often at the end of a busy day, in the twilight and gloaming period, that one experiences the most peaceful and beautiful and memorable times, and sees the most majestic, almost-painted, sunsets and seas and skies. (Just go and sit at Sunset Rocks at Cape St Francis at sunset.)
My trip to England and Ireland has been just that!
I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who made this Twilight Trip possible.