The leaning tower of … where??

We have all heard of the Leaning Tower of Pisa – and no doubt have seen many of those so-called clever selfies positioned in such a way as it looks as if the subject is propping up the tower. OK, the first couple of hundred were funny but enough already!

But what about the Leaning Tower of Glenfinnan. Well the name is a bit of a give-away so you would be right if you said it was in Scotland. It is located in the mystical West country of Scotland nestled in amongst lochs and mountains.

Glenfinnan – red marks the spot

First of all before you even start looking for the leaning tower – just look at this countryside. It is magnificent. A close up of the map shows that Glenfinnan is located alongside a network of lochs – but look at the names.

Gualachulain … Altnafeadh ….. Giarlochy ….. my goodness me. Those are some mouthfulls to get out. Better be prepared with your own GDS system if you are driving because hell knows how you would be able to ask directions. Especially if you happened upon a small village or farm. It sometimes surprises people how strong the Scottish accent can be as visitors often expect the accent to have softened a bit taking into account the Scottish people have been exposed to those villainous England across the border. You will still hear the old phrases if you venture into the smaller places – a few delightful examples –

I’ll gie ye a skelpit lug! – I’ll give you a slap on the ear.

Mony a mickle maks a muckle! – Saving a small amount soon builds up to a large amount.

Yer bum’s oot the windae – You’re talking rubbish.

It’s a dreich day! – Said in reference to the weather, when it’s cold, damp and miserable.

But back to the tower – why is it leaning and what is it’s history? THE GLENFINNAN MONUMENT, NOW OVER 200 years old, honors the Scottish soldiers who fought and died in the Jacobite Rebellion of the 18th century. It represents the Raising of the Standard (flag) on August 19, 1745, when Bonnie Prince Charlie brought the clans together at Glenfinnan to fight the English for his right to the crown.

The tower was built in 1815 but due to a structural movement it has a little bit of a lean – about one foot from it’s original verticle position.

OK it’s not as dramatic as the tower in Pisa but the countryside more than makes up for that. And if you do make it to Glenfinnan village you can take in the leaning tower and do a lovely 15 minute walk out to the Viaduct – the tower’s most famous cousin –

which featured in the Harry Potter movies. Of course you knew that didn’t you – as soon as you saw the photo. No wonder it was chosen for this. You can still ride on what is popularly known as the Harry Potter train or the Hogwarts Express Line. Take some time in this area to explore as it is rich in history.

This was the area that Bonnie Prince Charlie hid away from the Duke of Cumberland’s men as detailed in this extract from historyextra.com –

Charles spent five months as a fugitive in the western Highlands and islands with Cumberland’s men in relentless pursuit. He eventually escaped to France, with the selfless assistance of the heroic Flora MacDonald, and died in Rome in 1788 by all accounts a drink-befuddled and bitter man. But his legendary alter ego, the ‘Highland laddie’, lived on. The whole story is brilliantly written and includes many facts you might not know about https://www.historyextra.com/period/georgian/10-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-bonnie-prince-charlie-and-the-jacobites/

If history is your thing and you also enjoy a drop of Scotland’s finest (a wee dram) make sure you add Scotland to your list of places to see. Having lived there in a couple of different places, Arbroath and Elgin (right up on the north coast) I remember thinking how funny the kids spoke when they were there. But I am told that we quickly picked up the Scottish accent as it is quite pervasive! So you might want to study up on a few modern Scottish phrases to tide you over while you are there –

  • Gonnae no’ dae that! – Going to not do that.
  • At dis ma nut in – That does my head in.
  • Pure dead brilliant – Exceptionally good.
  • Yer bum’s oot the windae – You’re talking rubbish.
  • Awa’ an bile yer heid – Away and boil your head.
  • Am pure done in – I’m feeling very tired.
  • Am a pure nick – I don’t look very presentable.
  • Ah umnae – I am not.
  • Ah let wan go – I broke wind.
  • Int it – Isn’t it.
  • Ma heid’s mince – My head’s a bit mixed up.
  • Ma heid’s loupin’ – My head is sore.
  • Yer oot yer face! – You’re very drunk.
  • Yer aff yer heid – You’re off your head – a little bit daft.

Will I be anti-social now?

It is something I ask myself during this lock down. Will I become anti-social? Will I lose the ability to engage in “small talk”. What got me thinking about this is that a good friend who lives in Paris was comparing the North American attitude to small talk vs the French. She said that in North America just in a line up or standing at the bus stop we all engage in small talk.

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In no less than ten minutes you can end up knowing more about a complete stranger than you maybe know about some of your own family. Maybe there is safety in the fact that you chat with a stranger and then you will never see them again so you can say what the hell you like. There is someting beautiful about that. Kind of like going to see a counsellor but for free.

In Paris it is apparently a different story. The only time anyone will speak to you is if, for example, you drop something on the floor. But engaging in small talk. Non monsieur! That’s not going to happen.

Now being social is a skill and it comes into its own at those business social meetings. You know what I mean. You go to a conference and it is cocktail hour so you slide into this HUGE room which is all echoey and you realise very quickly that in order to be heard you have to shout. So you scan the crowd checking it out. Little groups of shouting people clutching glasses of wine. Hmmm – don’t know them and don’t like those others. Then you spot your safe place. A small crowd of people that you know quite well and even like. Thank God, you think to yourself as you elbow your way through the crowd making your way to this haven of safety.

But alas….. you didn’t move fast enough. You get hauled into a crowd of people who don’t really know very well. OK – here we go – shoulders back, smile on – hugs ready. “HEY!!!! HOW ARE YOU?” you shout.

I don’t know if I am going to be able to do that again. I am out of practice. Months of working remotely, weeks of lockdown, no family visits, smiling through masks.

Maybe I will start practising now. Every morning when I get up I will talk to myself in the mirror.

“Hey – long time no see! How are things going?”

“Oh you know – keeping busy. Took up yoga and tried out a new youtube exercise routine.”

Hmmm, I don’t think I like small talk. Maybe it would be better if I got more social by gossiping.

“OMG – did you see what she was wearing at the mall? And the way she speaks to her kids? Vera told me that she gave the teacher a real telling off about the amount of homework and then Alice told me that in fact that is because she does all the kids’ homework anyway and all they do is lie around and eat pizza and watch tv. That’s why my kids always like to go to their house but I won’t let them. I have to keep making excuses. Last time I was caught out because I told her that they had nits. My kids were so mad with me because it got out to the other moms and they were totally shunned by all their friends. You would think Betty would have realised that my kids would never get nits so I don’t know why she passed on that information to Sarah and Rachel.”

Hmm – nope. I don’t like gossip so that won’t work.

I am sure by the time this is all over everyone will be brushing up on their social skills and small talk. At the next conference or get together there will be a lot of people feeling very strange being in a public place without a mask on. Almost like being naked in public. Now THAT should put paid to ANY small talk at all!

Too many photos

With this period of non-travel and lock down I thought it would be a great idea to organise my photos and maybe scan them and keep digital copies. Well talk about how to lose hours of your day into a black hole. If you are going to scan photos you should put a caption on them or at least put them in a group or a folder, right? Well what if you can’t remember where they were taken?

Yes I must say that I am spoilt enough to have travelled to so many places that sometimes they become a blur and then I find myself saying to my husband “Where was this?” He usually has the answer. In fact I am doubly spoilt by the fact that my husband does all the crappy stuff when we are travelling – like handling the currency and doing the tipping. I am usually too busy staring at the people around me and eaves dropping on conversations. We will sit down at a pavement cafe in, I dunno, Split Croatia and the first thing I do is check out the people around me. I am always interested in the locals but very often you won’t find that many of them in a touristy spot. Then I turn my attention to my fellow tourists and if they happen to speak English, well I just can’t help follow their conversation. I will then turn to my husband and say to him in Afrikaans (our secret language) “Oh my god, you can’t believe what this woman is ordering.” or “This guy has just crapped on the waiter for not having any grilled cheese sandwiches on the menu.”

My husband is always bewildered by this. He just cannot understand how I can pick up on a conversation going on behind my back. It’s not noseyness, I promise, it is just curiosity.

So you can see why I get distracted by people and therefore often remember a place not from its castles, churches or boulevards – but by the people I met there.

I have no idea which temple this was in, or even which city but I do know it was India (that’s something at least). But I sure remember this guy. What a hoot. He was smoking something here which was making him very mellow. I am not sure if he could speak English because he just kept smiling and laughing every time I spoke to him. He probably went home at the end of the day and said to his wife “OMG what a day at the temple today. Had this crazy English lady who kept talking to me and you know how I hate talking to strangers so I just kept puffing on my shisha and pretended I was stoned out of my brain.”

Now I do remember exactly where this was – the Sahara Desert in Morocco! This cute camel guide took us for a walk in the desert. He could speak very little English and was better in French. Of course my French is terrible but it didn’t matter. He was so cute with big dimples and I could imagine that as soon as he got home he got rid of the keffiyeh (head scarf) and djellaba (long loose kaftan) and donned his Drake t-shirt before heading out on the town. I bet his mom was shouting after him not to spend all the money he got in a tip from us!

Oh yes I remember these. Istanbul! The lovely lady on the left had gone to one of the food trucks and had purchased this HUGE baked potato with all the trimmings. I wonder how she could stay so slim and gorgeous looking. Then the next day we came across a whole crowd of kids dressed up like they were going for their first communion. The parents were happy for me to have a picture with him but this kid did not look happy at all – even though he was all dressed up. It was only afterwards I found out that this gathering was a circumcision ceremony – no wonder the poor lad looked upset.

The market in Malta. You know – I just can’t pass a good market by and I needed a new shirt. So I hid behind the hanging clothes while I tried on this top. The old lady running the place was getting impatient. She kept saying “Gud, very gud. You buy. Very gud”. I wasn’t sure – as you can see by my face. As you can see by her face she had had enough. The way she is looking at me tells me that she didn’t think the shirt was very good either. Look at the direction of her eyes. Was she looking at my stomach? Maybe, but I was too far gone by then. Had to buy it. I don’t think I would have escaped alive. Maybe you have seen this shirt in Value Village in Calgary ‘cos that’s where it ended up.

So you see – these pictures of people who I have met along the way bring me right back to the moment and I know exactly where I am – even if I don’t know the currency in use and I have no idea how much that cost in Euros or Dollars. That’s my husband’s part of the ship – thanks Honey!

Go on – have a good cry!

Really I mean it. Nothing like a good old cry – the sort of cry that leaves you with your eyes swollen and your nosy runny! Apparently it is really good for you. So good in fact that there are even special tours in Japan that teach you rui-katsu which literally means tear-seeking. This is a new kind of wellness trend that might prove to be a bit uncomfortable for some people. But once you see everyone else around you crying then you might feel a bit more at ease in joining in. Mental health experts say it is very beneficial for people so forget about that stiff upper lip and just let it all go.

Now when I read this I had to stifle a giggle because I thought of all my travel agent friends who have been to hell and back over the last 9 months. All that time they spent being hopeful and optimistic. It seems that they would have been so much better if they had completely broken down and had a good sob right there and then at their desk (or at their kitchen table if they were working from home like most)!

But we don’t do that! We travel people are way too tough for that. Here’s an alternative – they say that a good belly laugh is excellent therapy. No really it’s true – this is what the Mayo Clinic says –

“A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:

  • Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  • Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  • Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.”

Look at that! Amazing. Maybe you could combine laughter and tears on one of those tours. I don’t think that would go down very well though, would it? Might get you expelled from the tour.

But laughter does something even more important, according to the Mayo Clinic – Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.

Wow – so having a good laugh every day could protect us against COVID by strengthening our immune system. Sort of the same way as the vitamin D and zinc that we are all taking. Did you know you could go to classes for this? There is even a thing called Laughter Yoga – mind you anybody seeing me trying to get into one of the more difficult positions will have no problem here.

So I can totally see how laughter yoga could be good for you. Maybe this should be a new thing for my office when everyone is allowed to come back. I will get them all lined up in the morning for a session of laughter yoga. Just imagine how healthy they will be. I don’t anticipate any kick back from any of my staff about this. I am sure they will be very eager to try it out.

Now don’t you feel better?

My check list

When I refer to my check list I am not talking about a list like Santa’s – Naughty or Nice – mind you that might not be a bad thing to have these days. After all these months of COVID and now the lockdown I bet there are some real beauts on this list. People seem to go from being so kind that you are blown away and then the complete opposite where you just want to scream in frustration.

No – this is not about that kind of check list. Rather it is about my check lists for different things in my life. Like when you travel – passport, ticket, credit card etc. etc. Nobody ever forgets their passport right? Or their ticket? Well you would be surprised how often that happens. On one particular trip I put my backpack on the floor in the garage waiting for my husband to open the back door and of course we drove off without it. In the backpack was my airline ticket and in those days there was no such thing as an e-ticket. Of course he got the blame and continues to live with that despite his protestations.

We had a customer who flew all the way from Calgary to Johannesburg on her husband’s passport. I am not kidding. It was only spotted by Immigration in Johannesburg. Can you even believe how that happened when you think how many times you go through an ID check at an airport?

Just even going out the door I have a kind of a check list – phone, glasses, keys … you would think I could just pick up my bag and walk out but there is no guarantee that those things will be in my bag. (I have one of those handy giant size bags which is both useful and irritating). Running through the checklist reminds me of my dad who had a similar routine and that was probably due to the fact that he was in the Royal Navy and was responsible for running through the checks on the aircraft carrier. His regular personal check list was accompanied by patting the relevant pocket as he ran through –

“Fags, matches, handkerchief, keys, money”

What’s really handy are the acronyms – a great way to check through all the important things you need before you leave the house. Pilots use these a lot and I found a couple online that amused me –

GOOSE A CAT
Gas gauge
Oil temperature
Oil pressure
Seat belts
ELT transmitter
Altimeter
Compass
Airspeed indicator
Tachometer

A FAST MOOSE
Airspeed indicator
Fuel gauges
Altimeter
Seat belt/shoulder harness
Tachometer
Magnetic compass
Oil pressure guage
Oil temp.guage
Safety gear
ELT

So I should maybe have my own acronym for travelling to make sure that I always take my phone, passport, ticket (I do like to have a written confirmation – old fashioned I know!), money and medications. Problem is there are no vowels there – pptmm – can’t do anything with that.

Pretend – Phone
My – medications
Pet – passport
Tickles – ticket
Me – money

Not brilliant but it might work. By the time I have memorised that phrase I will have forgotten what it stands for and will have confused myself so much that I probably will leave something behind. Nah, I think I will just stick to the old fashioned way.



A new kind of Christmas

Well if you had told me in March that we would still be going through this madness over Christmas time I would have thought you were “a bit touched in the head” as we would say in England. Oh my goodness, so here we are with a new kind of Christmas (if we even get to have a Christmas that is).

But in a way it has been good for me because over the years I have become tired of the way Christmas has become so commercialised. Past Christmas celebrations seemed to have been focussed on overspending on gifts, eating and drinking too much and a nonstop stream of functions and cocktail parties where everyone talks about business and it’s almost as if the whole meaning of Christmas has disappeared.

And then came COVID.

And stayed.

Suddenly we find ourselves wondering if Christmas will even happen. Will I be able to see my kids? My grandkids? Who knows? So suddenly the person (me) who was saying “Bah Humbug” suddenly felt the need to get my Christmas tree up on 1 December. And not just one Christmas tree but two! Strangely it seemed as if all the false hype about Christmas had fallen away and the lights on the tree were comforting and brought back memories of Christmas Past. It was made even more significant by the fact that the sight of the Christmas tree and all those old familiar decorations made me feel really good.

Is it just me or are people nicer at the moment? There is carol singing in the neighbourhood, people are being so generous with fundraisers even though the economy is decimated at the moment and there is just a general all round feeling of kindness. Maybe it’s because we realise that this Christmas will be very different for so many people. During the Second World War Christmas in Britain was also very different as is described in this very interesting article about a World War Two Christmas

“Today it is hard to imagine, with the conspicuous consumption and commercialisation of a modern Christmas, how families coped during World War Two. However despite all these challenges, many families managed to put together a very successful festive celebration.

Presents were often homemade and as wrapping paper was scarce, gifts were wrapped in brown paper, newspaper or even small pieces of cloth. Scarves, hats and gloves might be hand knitted using wool unravelled from old jumpers that had been outgrown by members of the household. War bonds were bought and given as gifts, thereby also helping the war effort. Homemade chutneys and jams made welcome presents. Practical gifts were also popular, particularly those associated with gardening, for example homemade wooden dibbers for planting. Apparently the most popular Christmas present in 1940 was soap!
(Read the whole article at https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Christmas-in-World-War-Two/)

So although we don’t have to huddle together in the underground while our city is bombed to pieces on Christmas Eve we have a different enemy to deal with – one that doesn’t like us to huddle. It will mean a smaller Christmas, a smaller turkey and zoom calls to family who live just a short drive away. If we are really lucky and Mother Nature co-operates with a chinook over that time we could even see ourselves having a driveway Christmas – just to exchange stockings and gifts – but not hugs or kisses.

Maybe once in a while we need to have a Christmas like that – so that we can really appreciate what we have. But please COVID – go away now – you are not invited next year!

Brave eaters

Are you one of these? A brave eater? Maybe a better description would be the opposite of a fussy eater. I bet there are lots of moms out there who have (or had) fussy eaters. But a brave eater? In my mind this is the sort of person who wins challenges during Survivor when they have to eat something that would make most people want to throw up just thinking about it. But really, what they were asking these brave eaters to do was to eat something that other cultures think is a real treat. Like drinking cows blood mixed with milk. This is a staple for the Maasai Mara of Kenya and Tanzania. I couldn’t – I just couldn’t.

But you know there are things in my culture that makes that statement laughable. Like the fact that I love black pudding. Growing up in England where it was a staple I thought nothing of it. I never thought to ask my mom how it was made or what it was made of. It was a treat and that was that. It was only when I was older I realised that it is in fact blood sausauge. Ugh – mom – how could you have?

So if you are a traveller how do you cope? Are you a brave eater or are you a coward (like me!).

Probably the most difficult eating place I went to was Japan. I do like sushi and tepanyaki but it seemed that being part of a tour group we were taken to places where they wanted to “showcase” their foods and so several times we got served these very elaborate, very traditional bento boxes. What I would call real touristy food. There would usually be meat, raw fish and honestly some items I was not really sure about. Obviously I wanted to be senstive and appreciative of the meal that had been so beautifully prepared and served so I puckered up and did my best. I honestly had no idea of the identity of most of what I was nibbling on. Some of it was surprisingly good and some surprisingly bad! Some of it I had absolutely no idea what I was eating. I must add that when we were not being officially entertained we wandered the alleyways of Kyoto and found some of the best tepanyaki places ever! We had peered through the small slatted door to check it out only to be waved inside by an Australian couple who said “It’s OK – come in – the food’s great and the wine is cold!”

When it comes to travelling most people like to stick to “safe” options. But that is not always a good idea. Anthony Bourdain was fond of saying that with street food you get the best options – but check out the stalls first and see who has the biggest line up of locals. That’s the one to go to because as Bourdain explains, there is no way that this street food vendor is going to sell food that will make his regular customers sick. Makes sense really. Bourdain was also fond of saying that you should never “eat like a tourist”. Go where the locals go.

So I do try, now and then, to be a brave eater. While visiting Brisbane I actually ordered Moreton Bay Bugs from the menu as it is a classic from that area. Now I love crayfish and this looked to be a bit like crayfish. I was still hesitant and the sweet and patient girl serving me actually brought a raw one to the table so I could see that it was indeed quite like the crayfish I was used to eating in South Africa.

Moreton Bay Bug

Well it does look a bit suspect here I must admit. But once it is cooked and served it looks a lot like a crayfish tail or giant prawns and with butter and garlic sauce – YUM.

And have you ever managed to eat a wee bit o’ haggis? My goodness, I don’t even want to know what is inside it but I do love a good haggis. You see, ignorance is bliss.

Maybe the trick is to just try a nibble – but don’t ask what it is you are eating. Let your taste buds decide if this is something you like. Not your culture or your preconceived ideas. You might be surprised!

Vasco da Gama – another business trip!

“Vasco! Why is your suitcase out? Where the hell do you think you are going now?” Vasco trudged into the bedroom. He should really have thought about speaking to Catarina first before he decided to go on another long exploration.

“Look, honey ….” he said. “Don’t you “honey” me!” shouted Catarina. “Off you go again leaving me alone for months. You never told me you would have to travel this often for business when you proposed to me.”

“Well darling, I have to earn a living you know” he sighed. He could not wait to get out of the house – 5 kids already and another on the way. The quiet of the ocean was undeniably attractive. Vasco stood and gazed out of the window thinking about the comforting movement of his ship and the sound of the wind in the sails. He was pulled out of his revery by the sound of his wife who continued to rant.

“I don’t know how you can consider going away right now in the middle of this pandemic!” she shouted. “What if you bring it back to me and the kids? What if you go out there and get stuck somewhere because you are sick?”

“Don’t worry, darling. I took out travel insurance and it specifically includes cover for The Black Death and The Plague. You know I am always careful about those things – especially when I am travelling on business.” Vasco carried on with his packing, determined to get out of the house as quickly as possible.

His wife peered over his shoulder to see what he was packing. He always managed to leave something behind. OMG she thought to herself. He always takes that hideous hat.

And he thinks he looks cool in it. I wish he would take a few tips from some of his fellow captains…….

Now THAT’s what I call a Captain.

Before she knew it she heard the front door slam, the suitcase was gone as was Vasco. Hmm, she thought. I bet he didn’t even check if he had his passport or his visa. Well it’s up to him now. But perhaps I should just send a carrier pigeon to his travel agent to check that they have his special requests on file
– no feather pillow in the Captain’s stateroom, he is allergic
– gluten free meals
– plenty of lemons to fight the scurvy

There – my job is done. If anything goes wrong now it will be her fault!

Hotel misadventures

OK, last week I got you with my imaginary worst hotel ever. I must admit I did get a bit convinced by this myself – it almost became real as I was writing it and yes I was inspired somewhat by Fawlty Towers. But the sad thing is that I was also inspired by real experiences and we all have memories of THAT hotel – especially when you are feeling a bit out of your depth in a foreign country, far from home and late at night. Our bedrooms are our safe places and perhaps something tries to convince us that we are the only people who have used this room. We know that doesn’t make any sense logically but I think this is why it freaks us out if we come across evidence of someone else’s stay.

You know what I mean. That stray hair in the shower, the chocolate wrapper under the bed, the lipstick mark on the coffee cup. Eewwww. You mean someone else has used this room in this mega hotel in the heart of downtown. I can’t sleep in a stranger’s bed.

That’s why the anonymity of a hotel room is so important. I once checked into a hotel for a conference. After a couple of flights to get there I wasn’t in any hurry to unpack so I arrived and immediately threw myself on the bed, switched on the tv, made a couple of phone calls. Eventually I thought I should at least unpack. Imagine my face when I opened the drawer and found it packed full of someone else’s undies! How the hell did someone leave behind their underwear. But … the other drawers were full of clothing as well. Then I went to the bathroom to check and yes – toothbrush, moisturizer – the works. I felt so uncomfortable. Called down to reception and found out that they had given me the wrong room by mistake and yes there was someone booked into that room.

So yes we have all had those nightmare hotels and thank you for sharing your experiences. Here are a few real nightmare hotel stays – some personal and some collected through the years from clients.

MIAMI – we were new to North America and did not know the hotel chains or areas. Ended up in a dodgy hotel in a dodgy area – what stuck out in my mind was that the remote control was CHAINED to the bedside table. That kinda gave me a clue that maybe this wasn’t the best choice.

LOS ANGELES – a family going down to Disneyland had a problem in their hotel room. It was an army of ants. There was a little hole along the skirting board and this was their free entry to swarm over anything that looked interesting – and you know when you travel with kids how they seem to scatter crumbs wherever they go – a bit like Hansel and Gretel. They did complain to reception who kept going up to the room and doing a clean but the ants kept coming back. The hotel was full so no chance of another room. They were quite proud when they told me that they had put paid to the ants’ excursions by plugging up the hole with toothpaste.

FIJI – now bugs can be something that freak you out – or not. And if they do freak you out then maybe tropical areas like Fiji should be avoided. I had a couple staying at a hotel in Fiji who said that they were being terrorised by bugs (not sure what type). Of course I contacted the hotel directly who told me that they had been in communication with the guest but that the bugs were just the natural bugs of the area such as lizards, beetles and mosquitoes. This was one query I picked up in Trip Advisor –

“Would anyone be willing to provide their thoughts on the bug/insect/reptile/etc. situation in Fiji, particularly in nicer resorts as mentioned above (if there is a difference). I don’t see a lot of discussion about this topic, but here and there I read reviews of people waking up with huge scary bugs in their room, or worse yet, on them. Is this the norm? A reality of life that might happen? A rarity? We are from NYC and don’t really know what to expect or how we’d react. We are both absolutely terrified of snakes. We don’t expect a pristine environment devoid of nature and life. But neither are we sure we are suited to deal with sharing our bure with bugs crawling around at night (or day).”

I totally understand the fear of insects – it’s a real thing. The hotel was very understanding too – but nature is nature.

UMNGAZI RIVER BUNGALOWS, SOUTH AFRICA – as a relative newcomer to South Africa I too was not used to the more exotic creepy crawlies. Coming from England I had no problem with spiders, frogs, slugs and snails (or even puppy dog tails – get it?). What I wasn’t prepared for were geckoes. These little lizard type creatures are very common in warmer climates like Natal in South Africa and they do a great job of cleaning up insects like mozzies and midges – but I was terrified of them and spent my first night lying in bed with the torch shining on them in case …. what? I don’t know. I just didn’t want them running all over me with their horrible little feet. Believe me – they didn’t want that either and stayed well away from me. But I understand the fear.

CAPE TOWN BED AND BREAKFAST – I am not a big bed and breakfast fan – probably because I just prefer being in a hotel and not feeling like somebody’s personal guest but I do understand how sometimes a B&B can be cute and original. And yes I have stayed in “cute and original” in a room with the toilet perched up on top of a flight of stairs. I kid you not. The room had a bathroom en suite but when you entered the bathroom you had the bath on one side and then a steep flight of stairs on top of which was perched the toilet. Gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “on the throne”.

The worst hotel ever

I honestly can say this was the worst hotel I have ever stayed at. I could not believe it. I had read reports on TripAdvisor – real horror show reports about gungy hotels and bad service but this took the cake. I could not believe how I, with 25 years of travel experience, could end up in a dump like this. How did this happen?

I should have known when we had to drive up the twisty drive way which was full of leaves – nobody had bothered to sweep them. When the hotel itself came into sight – well that was a disappointment with a capital D. The website had described it as “cozy”. I should have known right away – a ephemism for old and decrepit. And yes it was.

Who in their right minds today still has shag carpet? In the reception area? It was tacky and grubby and looked like someone had taken a shag on it – ‘scuse my French. I should have turned on my heel right then but it was late. Behind the reception desk stood a tall man with glasses who was busy punching numbers into an adding machine – one of those old ones with the paper roll sticking out the end. We stood there patiently while he ignored us. Finally I coughed politely to get his attention.

His head whipped up. “Oh” he said with a sneer “You have a cough. Well maybe you shouldn’t be out in public. Are you sure you don’t have COVID?”

“I don’t have COVID or anything else” I said, annoyed. “Just trying to get some service here if it is not too much trouble”.

“Oh I beg your pardon madam” he said, his voice rich with sarcasm. He pushed away all the books and the adding machine and stood there with a false smile on his face. “What can I do to help?” It went downhill from there. I told him we had a booking for the night and he took 15 minutes to search down a list of names in his book. Where the hell was the computer? Finally he found our names and with a flourish checked them off the list and then passed over the key to the room – a massive heavy old fashioned key attached to a miniature bucket and spade adorned with the words “I love Bogstown by the Sea”. It was so large and cumbersome I could not even fit it into my purse. He sniggered. “You would be surprised how many people go home with the key by mistake and it costs us a fortune to get the locksmith in.”

I was committed now – for better or worse. And how much more worse could it get. Oh Lesley – don’t tempt the fates.

The bedroom was awful! Who uses candlewick bedspreads any more? And where was the bathroom? What the hell? A shared bathroom down the hall. Bloody hell. This was just getting worse and worse. We had to have something to eat as it was too far to get back into town and we were starving. Silly fools.

We made our way to the dining room and found that there was only one other couple having dinner and they must have been 110 in the shade. And lo and behold the waiter was the same man who checked us in. By all accounts he was a Jack of All Trades (and master of none). He passed us a menu and then proceeded to tell us that they were out of everything on the menu with the exception of Tripe and Onions. Seriously? Who eats tripe and onions these days? Yuck. So we settled for the soup of the day which was a strangely coloured slightly lumpy liquid with an indistinguishable taste. I couldn’t do it anymore. Just needed to go to bed and get out of this dump as soon as possible in the morning.

Good luck sleeping in this bed I thought as I sat on the side of the bed and then instantly fell into the sagging hole in the middle of the very old mattress. “Oh I don’t think I can do this” I said. But it was too late to go anywhere else. So I lay down in the hollow and then started to look at the ceiling. In each corner there was a cobweb filled with the spider’s dinner. A motley array of little creepy crawlies. There were also odd shaped coloured blobs on the ceiling which seemed to indicate a leak of some sort from the room above. The mind boggles.

Then I noticed the mice …. cheeky little buggers running around the room, darting out from under the dresser. I hate mice. What kind of place was this? But it got worse … because then I spotted the cockroaches and that was it! I absolutely could not stay here. I started to panic and I could feel the scream climbing up my throat. I couldn’t contain it any more and just opened my mouth and let out a blood curdling yell while ripping off the disgusting bedspread at the same time. I just had to get away.

I sat up and looked around the room. I was at home, in my bed. It was all just a dream. A horrible COVID dream. A horrible COVID nightmare that is. You see – this pandemic is driving me round the bend!