Ed is in EnglanD

A Change is as Good as a Holiday (Part 3)

Tuesday 14 December 2010: 4 years 3 months on …

Sunday 21 November 2010 – Sunday 28 November 2010

Arrival at London Heathrow’s Terminal 1 was just a few minutes behind schedule.  The usual rush along the seemingly endless passageways, the picking up of the luggage and the going through customs (and, as always, I get stopped and interrogated!), marked the beginning of the first week of my stay in England.

I spent time with friends, ex-colleagues, ex-pupils and old school friends of mine: Mark Stanborough and his wife Janet (who fetched me from and delivered me back to LHR and with whom I spent Thursday and Saturday nights), John and Sue Galloway (Sunday and Monday nights), Barry Vincent (Tuesday and Wednesday nights),Clive Case (Thursday), Hester Havenga (Friday night and Saturday) and Mark Sylvester (Monday evening).

For every friend I see in England, there must be at least another ten that I don’t manage to see this time round. It would be so great to be able to hire Buckingham Palace and have one huge reunion party!  

I become excited like a little boy when I take the map of the London Underground and Overground train systems and plan my trips on the various coloured lines. Thanks to my Britrail Pass I can get on and off and travel as near and as far in England as I wish.

The first and last things I did in London were the obligatory walk down the Thames Embankment from The Palace of Westminster and Big Ben across Westminster Bridge past the London Eye and up to Waterloo.

From London, I also travelled north to Northampton, Stratford-Upon-Avon (William Shakespeare’s hometown) and Harpendon, and south to the country just other side Gatwick airport.

We caught up and chatted and filled in the gaps. We flew radio-controlled helicopters and “flew” ourselves on a few evenings thanks to copious amounts of the good ales and lagers. We drank Christmas Fudge Lattes and ate fine British cuisine at home and in a number of restaurants.

The weather was fine in England – well, temperatures somewhere between 0 and 10 degrees Celsius, but no rain, no snow and no wind. I don’t feel the cold (thanks to my body’s non-functioning thermoregulatory system – this is common to CBD and other neurodegenerative disorders where the body’s autonomic system doesn’t work well) and I thrive in those conditions. No heat for me, thank you!

The UK is so well geared up for tourists and disabled people. I was managing so well, and the only delay was when the tube trains slowed down on Thursday when someone committed suicide by jumping in front of a train. It was my first experience of waiting on a platform and no train arriving!

It happened to me at Oxford Circus. I had come into town arriving at St Pancras International Station on the overland train. Then I took the blue Victoria Line to Oxford Circus in order to catch the red Central Line to Marble Arch.

Well. No red line trains arrived, and the crowd on the platform got bigger and bigger, as more and more trains arrived depositing their passengers, but with no redline trains collecting them. It becomes quite crowded and scary and claustrophobic.

I was in the front, right at the edge of the platform. No moving forward and no going backward!

Then, a train arrived. A surge came from behind. “Mind the gap!”

But, no room on that one! Or the next or the next!

Eventually, I managed to squeeze onto a train that took me to Marble Arch and to the venue of the Old Greys’ Union (Europe Branch) reunion dinner. Here, I meet up with a number of my ex-pupils and Grey school friends, Lindsay Brown, Anton Pakendorf, Clint Saacks, Chris van der Wath, Rory Stear, Mike Carswell, Mark Powell, …

Almost eighty Old Greys, from twenty to seventy years of age, gathered to reminisce about their school days in Port Elizabeth. They were joined by Neil Crawford, Rector of the High School and Lindsay Pearson, Headmaster of the Junior School.

Grace is said and toasts are proposed to their new homeland and the Queen of Great Britain, to the President and their land of birth, the Republic of South Africa. The School Song is sung:  We sing of a Home of Old Renown with its Front to the Southern Seas – 10 000 km away across the sea in Port Elizabeth!

It is a happy sense of occasion, but also, for me, a sad sense of occasion.  These eighty people are but a small minority of all the Old Greys and other South Africans living here in Britain and elsewhere.

 What a great pity that so many of South Africa’s brightest and best have to work and live abroad!

 Too soon, the evening came to an end, and, because the silver Jubilee Line wasn’t working yet, we hailed a black London taxi to get us to Waterloo Station and the trip home to Egham, in West London.

Each day of the week was a highlight, but if the Reunion dinner was icing over the cake, then the cherry on the top of the cake must surely be the visit to Twickenham on Saturday.

 I woke up on Saturday morning to the sounds of Afrikaans Bokke music blaring through the house. I was with Hester Havenga, an old Hottentots-Holland school friend of mine. Together with her husband, Hein, and their friends (all dentists who studied at Stellenbosch University and who have lived in England for some twenty years already), we drove by car to Twickenham, and parked in a reserved area in one of a number of car parks that surround the rugby ground.

We were all dressed in our Springbok Green and Gold outfits and South African coloured scarves, and were surrounded by English supporters dressed in their garb and with flags flying. The cars are parked and the boots opened to reveal the best of British food and wine. A festival of note starts as the first cars arrive, finishes just before the game starts at 14h30, and continues after the game ends at 16h00, until the last car is able to leave the car park!

Of course, it gets dark just after three pm and the temperature was hovering around freezing point. Snow was forecast for the second half of the game. But what was lacking in light and heat was more than made up for in terms of the gees and the atmosphere. Swing Low Sweet Chariot was interspersed with Bokke Bokke Bokke and Ole! Ole!

If the eighty South Africans at the dinner was a lot, then the thousands of them here at Twickenham was such an awesome sight. And the Bokke winning the game 21 -11 made it even more memorable – it looked like half of Twickenham was filled with their supporters as they all moved forward to applaud the Bokke after the game when they walked their lap of honour!

We continued the party in the car park after the game, and then I headed off to the Harlequins ground nearby which acts as a fan park for the many that can’t get tickets for the game and watch on the big screen. Thousands more of fans all resplendent in their green and gold!

It was like going home – and I walked in, straight into Dave and Brendan Horan, ex-pupils of mine who had flown in for the game from Bermuda and Johannesburg! Then, when Harlequins closed down at the height of the party (at 19h00 nogal!), we moved on to the Cabbage Patch, a pub near Twickenham station that was filled to capacity with people dressed in – you guessed it – more green and gold!

That Saturday evening finished off all too soon with dinner at Banks, a restaurant in Egham, a forgotten quiche in the oven that looked like a black brickett in the morning and filled the house with smoke and could have burnt it down (at least it advised us of a non-functioning smoke detector system!), and a very weary body that laid itself down to rest on my last night in England.

Sunday morning was packing up and heading off for Heathrow Airport at 10h30 to meet up with Mike and Grace Carswell, and our very short flight of 55 minutes over the Irish Sea to Dublin. But flights into Dublin were delayed (we would see why later!) and we only left LHR shortly after 15h00.

Another week lay ahead!