A couple of years ago, I went to South Africa to follow the Lions Tour. It has been a long held desire to 'do' all three Lions Tours as part of my Bucket List, and this was the second visit of three. I went on my own, not really finding anyone to go with me. In hindsight, I quite liked being on my own. It allowed me to do everything I wanted, without having to do stuff I didn't, wait around for people to get up, waste time etc. Why spend your time in hotels, bars and pavement cafes when you can be soaking in the sights, and culture of somewhere you may never visit again?
When I got to Heathrow, a rather tall, good looking guy sat down next to me. He saw my Lions bag and asked me if I was going to SA. We had a lovely chat, both of us were going on our own - his girlfriend hadn't wanted to come, but like me, the pull of the Bucket List was stronger. He was a Tigers supporter from the Midlands, a Brummie by birth. He was an engineer who regularly used flights to maintain and repair a fleet of aircraft all around the world. When the call for our flight came, he said to me, 'You don't need to move yet Karen, your seat is booked and long haul has plenty of space in the lockers, let the lemmings go first'.
I got on the plane towards the end - very unusual for me as I am usually one who tries to get on quickly, to get my bag in the overhead locker. (I stress in queues anyway, when I really do become Victor Meldrew. Queues means inefficiency in my mind). I settled down to a long flight, watching Marley and Me (pointless detail, but anyone who has ever owned a dog should watch the film). Being an overnight flight I wanted to sleep, but had to put up with three excitable 20 something Lions fans, who were discussing their sex lives. Sad that your girlfriend doesn't give you sex on demand - perhaps you're not working at it hard enough........
Anyway, back to the story. It turns out that my Heathrow friend, lets call him M from now on, was in my Hotel, 2 hours south of Durban. being a resort type hotel, we could only drink in the hotel bars, and so we all agreed to meet up in the bar to meet our fellow tourists. M bought a round of drinks followed by another elderly couple, followed by M again. I offered but the gentlemen wouldn't let me, as one drink didn't make a difference. Tired by the flight, and knowing that I had to get up at 5 the next morning to visit Rouke's Drift and Ishelwanda, I went to my room about 9.30.
The next morning M was also on the trip. Won't go into the details of it as that may become the subject of another blog, but we returned to the Hotel about 9.30 that night. I had one drink, which M bought, and then I went to bed, as travelling for what felt like two days solid had exhausted me.
Our coaches left the hotel for the Lions match the next day at 10am. M was on the other coach, being part of a different party. (the hotels you chose on such tours dictate your 'tour' number.) M appeared at 9.30 with a slab of beer (24 cans). Beer at the Hotel was surprisingly cheap - just over £1 a bottle.At the Durban ground, an area outside had been taken over by what was called a Lions Den. This was part of the tour package - around 5000 red shirted Lions Fans were in here listening to local bands, watching rugby games, and as part of admission, drinking free beer, and eating the best food ever to be served in a polystyrene tray, without a doubt. (I'll post pictures when I learn how to do it).
After the match - again not discussed in detail, but the Lions were robbed by a series of dubious scrum penalties, we spent an hour in the Lions Den before returning to the coaches. I briefly saw M again at the coach, getting on with another slab of beer.
Our coach had a loo, so we bombed on back, passing M's coach, which was parked up at the side with the Lions fans in a row examining the hard shoulder (they had no loo). We got back about an hour before them, and knowing that I had to get up at 5am the next morning, I retired to bed. M's coach tour was leaving for the airport at 3am in the morning.
At 5.30am I was outside the hotel waiting to get on the bus, when a very dishevelled M rushed out with the same clothes on as the day before. 'I've overslept and missed the bus', he said, 'I was only going to lay down for an hour when I got back from the bar. Looks like Mr. Mastercard is going to have to buy me a flight to Cape Town'. It turns out that his bar bill at the hotel was £150. Not bad considering how little time we had actually had in the hotel over the course of the two days we were there. He had a lift to the airport on our bus, looking a little green around the gills. When he got to the airport and tried to get on our flight, he found out, by fluke, that the tour company had mis-booked him and he was on our flight anyway. At this point, and at 9.30 in the morning, he retired to the bar for a 'livener' with a couple of guys from our bar (one of whom was Irish, lets call him P).
We had to fly back to Jo'burg to get another flight back down to Cape Town, such was the pressure on flights. M and P got on the flight last, and after take off, fetched the Trolley Dolly down for an order of beer. At Jo'burg Airport, they found the bar again. I bought John Carlin's book Playing the Enemy - (from which the Invictus film was based,) and settled down to read it whilst waiting for the next flight. Of course, being on my own I went into lemming mode and got on the flight early. In front of me, two South African men and a very glamourous woman, who had obviously been at the game the day before, sat in the row in front. The two men sat on one side of the aisle, with the aisle seat vacant, and the woman sat the other side of the aisle.
Last on the flight was M and P. P was sat next to me, and M in the vacant aisle seat. He'd obviously clocked the woman. She was the height of sophistication, a natural blonde, with immaculate make-up, elegant designer clothes and dripping in gold, but not a false Barbie like character. In best Terry Thomas voice, M said, 'Helloooooo, You are lovely, what's your name?' She tols him and apologised as she was a bit nervous of flying. Bad thing to say, as we took off, M screamed down the plane: 'We're going to crash', we're going to crash, its not getting off the ground'. The rest of the plane found theis highly amusing, but unfortunately she looked petrified. M decided to use his best chat up lines:
'You are beautiful'
Come for a drink at the airport with me'
'I can't, I've got another flight to catch'
'Are you Married'
'Yes, for 20 years'
'You must have been a child bride'
'Who are you married to?'
Pointing at the guy sat the other side of M, she said 'Him'
M very quickly said to the amused guy to the left of him: 'I bet you hate me now don't you?'
The back of the plane was in fits of laughter. Tired from all the travelling, it really lifted the spirits.
P told me that he had been drinking with M all weekend, and they'd only had about 4 hours sleep in two nights - top tour sleeping!!! P's eyes were already looking bloodshot.
At the hotel, M went straight to the bar to continue to drink, still in Saturday's clothes. A couple from Stafford checked him onto his room, put his bag in it and went down to the bar to watch. At 12 midnight, they opened the doot to his room, pushed him on the bed and closed the door.
I saw him the next morning waiting for a taxi into Cape Town. He had eaten his first solids in three days when he had breakfast. With differing agendas and hotels etc., I next caught up with M and P in the Pirates Rugby Club in Jo'burg, after we'd won the third game. M and P had had some adventures in the meantime. M told me that he no longer needed a belt to hold his trousers up, due to the weight put on by drinking, P, however, needed a belt as he could not do up his trousers anymore. Top tourists. Their coach had broken down between the Kruger Game Park and Jo'burg, and they had to wait 6 hours at a service station for a replacement. This involved 6 of them drinking 14 bottles of wine in a game of FizzBuzz. Their hotel, different from ours, had a series of powercuts, with no candles. One of these 6 guys, had a stomach upset and didn't quite make the bathroom, as he couldn't find it in the dark. New underpants were required.
Pirates Rugby Club was a great night - it was full of Lions Fans and the Botswana Rugby Team. (hence losing my Lions fleece for a Botswana rugby top.) Not the cleverest thing I've ever done as the top was thin cotton and I'd lost one of the few warm items of clothing I had, in the coldest winter in South Africa for 19 years. One of the greatest ever flankers to play for England and the Lions played at Pirates: Peter Winterbottom, and we got an excellent welcome. The highlight apart from celebrating the win and restoring wounded pride (get it - on a Lions Tour? - pun - oh suit yourselves) was listening to the whole bar sing Wonderwall - the hairs were standing up on my neck.
Wonderwall (Oasis) was the Tour song of the previous successful Lions Tour to South Africa in 1997. The film of which is possibly one of the best Behind the Scenes documentaries ever to be filmed about sport.