Howzit my China, Philippines

Long, long ago there was consensus among humankind about which natural phenomena represented the cream of the crop on our small planet. The Seven Natural Wonders of the World – the Great Barrier Reef, the Victoria Falls, Rio de Janeiro Bay, Mount Everest, the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights), the Grand Canyon and the Parícutin Volcano – were the world’s finest examples of geographic excellence, and no one would ever dare to question the eminent status of the Super Seven. Right?
Wrong!

In 2007, a Swiss non-profit organisation, the New7Wonders Foundation, decided on behalf of all earth dwellers that the Seven Natural Wonders of the World had lost some of their wonder, and the organisation launched a global campaign to identify the “’New” Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

After four years of eliminating rounds, during which more than 100 million votes were cast in 220 countries, seven natural phenomena were once again elevated to the status of Mother Nature’s crown jewels. In addition to our own Table Mountain, the new list included the following six: the Amazon Rainforest, Halong Bay, Jeju Island, the Iguazu Falls, Komodo Island, and the Puerto Princesa Underground River.

It is the latter which is relevant to our story, because Puerto Princesa – the capital of Palawan – was next on our list of destinations. I did indeed look forward to coming face to face with one of the official New Seven Natural Wonders of the World, but where I come from, an underground river can only be accessed through a borehole, and I therefore struggled to understand how we were all going to fit through a hole in the ground to see this wondrous phenomenon.

The confusion was, however, cleared up rather quickly. This natural wonder is not literally an underground river. It is a 5 km long cave with a river at the bottom. And instead of crawling through a borehole, we could gain access to it in a rowboat that was rowed by a guide.

In our row boat we were taken from one giant hollow to the next. In each of these “halls” stalagmites and stalactites formed the decor, and our guide tried hard to convince us that these distorted mineral formations looked like all kinds of imaginary objects, including vegetables, a pulpit, a lascivious young lady, and even a litter of kittens. However, I neglected to swallow a hallucinogenic pill before embarking on this journey, and therefore I could not really see these objects.

Our visit to the Puerto Princesa Underground River was an entertaining trip, and I would not call it a waste of time. But it baffles my mind why this natural phenomenon is one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World, whereas the Grand Canyon, Mount Everest and the Great Barrier Reef are not. The Swiss are not at all notorious for this kind of thing, but I suspect that serious election fraud was committed in this case.


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Somewhere over the rainbow …

If there is one place on earth where all rainbows meet up, it will surely be in Keukenhof, the Netherlands. This former kitchen garden (hence the name) has since the 15th century developed into one of the foremost flower gardens in the world. With more than 7 million bulbs – of which just more than 800 tulip varietals form part – it is indeed the place where the world’s rainbows get their inspiration from.

This year’s exhibition stretches from 23 March until 21 May. We were lucky to have visited the garden on 19 April – the week widely considered to be the best to experience its full impact.

Now I have to mention that Keukenhof does not only offer tulips. There are also hundreds of thousands of hyacinths in colours that range from the well-known dark blue, light blue and white to salmon-coloured and even buttery varietals. Small grape hyacinths (muscari) colour the world (there is even a scene where a myriad of cobalt blue grape hyacinths imitate a river that runs through a forest). And of course there are the daffodils, narcissi and other bulbs that complete the picture, as well as hundreds of other bulbs that are allowed to grow wildly, including Fritillaria meleagris or chequered lily.

Keukenhof’s secret for the extended flowering time is at the same time impressive as it is simple and no engineering trick. The gardeners employ what they call a lasagne method to plant the bulbs. According to this method, the bulbs are planted in three layers – the top layer flowers first and provides the first colour explosion. As soon as these have flowered and the dead flower heads are removed, the second layer has already broken through and is ready to parade their colour spectacle to viewers. And as soon as the second layer has flowered, the third colour splash follows. In this way the garden can keep its gates open for two whole months to take away people’s breaths.

The Internet says that a person can differentiate between 7 million colours. Believe me – Keukenhof challenges this fact, as I am sure that my eyes were forced to include an additional 500 000 colours! Every tulip imaginable is represented in the Tulpomania section of the garden; even one as green as grass and tulips with such fringed petals that they look like warthogs – we promptly started calling these “rafeltulpe” (fimbriated tulips).

And if that is not enough, the Willem Alexander Hall offers a collection of tulips that are quite extraordinary. This is where I saw the tulips any Rembrandt fan would recognise – those of his still lifes and which had lead to the great tulip crash of the 17th century.

Keukenhof is one of the places one simply has to see. There are a few hints that the prospective visitor has to take note of:
* Buy your ticket online. Then you can choose from three days and skip the line to enter. Keep an eye on the weather forecasts and then decide which day will suit you best.
* Go early. The earlier you go, the more tulips you can photograph without thousands of models posing around every corner and ruining your composition.
* Take your own food and drinks. There are many camera (and the food and drinks available are quite expensive).
* Wear comfortable shoes. You will walk for miles on end, even if you don’t want to (your eyes will force you!).
* Take along an umbrella – even on sunny days, the Dutch weather may surprise you with a quick shower.
* Remember your camera, cell phone and anything that can take pictures.

There are still a few days left to visit Keukenhof. If you are in the area, go there.


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The De Hoge Veluwe National Park and the Kröller-Müller Museum

About an hour’s drive from Amsterdam you get to one of the largest continuous nature reserves in the Netherlands. The De Hoge Veluwe National Park lies between the towns of Apeldoorn, Ede and Arnhem in the province of Gelderland.

Geologists and geographers will keep you busy for hours on end about the geological history of De Hoge Veluwe. It once (somewhere at the end of the last Ice Age) marked the end of an enormous glacier that created and formed this beautiful piece of land. I won’t go into too much detail – rather read the Wikipedia article online. Because, although nature’s beauty is here at its best (certain parts reminded me of the Highveld and even the Karoo), we visited this park of about 55 km2 for a completely different reason: Between the woods, grass and veld, the second largest Van Gogh collection in the world is nestled away in the Kröller-Müller Museum.

You can reach the museum in one of two ways: Either you pay the additional amount for your car and then drive through the park on your way there, or you can climb onto one of the world-renowned (and free!) white bicycles and discover the park on your way to the museum. Well, in the Netherlands you do as the Dutch do, so there we were: each with his/her own white bicycle, ready to pedal.

But the weather decided differently and the clouds opened up over us. So, a bit embarrassed, we went back to the gate to fetch the car and continue the journey warm and dry (we parked a healthy 10 km from the museum, just in case someone thinks we were simply too lazy to cycle!).

The museum is breath taking, to say the least. Of the 90 Van Gogh paintings and 180 sketches, at least 40 are exhibited at any given time (the collection rotates). The whole Van Gogh Wing was built for this purpose. Highlights included Sorrowing Old Man (“At Eternity’s Gate”), Four Sun Flowers Gone to Seed, The Potato Eaters, Terrace of a Café at Night and, obviously, Country Road in Provence by Night.

Astronomers found that the positions of the stars in Terrace of a Café at Night are exactly those of the stars over Arles, France in the middle of September 1888. And of course there was a number of self-portraits, as well as well-known portraits the likes of Madame Ginoux and Joseph Roulin. Another highlight for me was Vilmos Huszár’s painting Vincent, which depicts a sunflower and he dedicated to Van Gogh.

Drunk from all the Van Gogh colours, we then explored the museum’s sculpture garden: More than 160 sculptures of all different styles, media and sizes. You can also philosophise about the level of artiness of some of these creations, but then again – to each his own. Two great favourites still are the white duckling floating around aimlessly on its little pond, as well as the range of busts (in copper!) depicting humans with animal ears, horns and antlers (like a fairy tale!).

Unfortunately, the weather once again interrupted and we couldn’t criss-cross the whole sculpture garden. But next time, definitely!

Handy hints:
* Buy a Museum Card if you plan on taking a cultural tour through the Netherlands – it saves you a lot of money and is valid for 31 days from the date of purchase. This card gives you free access to the Kröller-Müller Museum (although you still have to pay to access the reserve).
* If you like peaceful days at museums, try visiting the museum on Fridays.
* You may take pictures in the museum, as long as your camera’s flash is turned off.
* Take a raincoat if you plan on criss-crossing the park on a bicycle (and the weather doesn’t want to play along!).


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Thinking of visiting Dubai

Worldwide visited Dubai from 15 to 20 May this year with other South Africans as well as with some of South Africa’s best artists the likes of Arno Jordaan, Dewald Wasserfall, Leah, Snotkop, Willem Botha and the Weiveld team. It was an absolute privilege to have been able to share this visit.

Day 1
We flew to Dubai from the O.R. Tambo International Airport, with a stop-over in Cairo.

We were welcomed at the airport by an English- as well as Afrikaans-speaking tour guide who was very friendly and helpful. Our accommodation for the week was in the Citymax Hotel Al Barsha. This hotel offers modern accommodation, is conveniently central, right across from the Mall of Emirates, one of the world’s largest shopping malls.

Day 2
Our tour bus waited for us outside our hotel. While getting onto the bus, we were greeted with Afrikaans music playing … Imagine listening to Groen Mamba in Dubai! As we drive along, it came to my attention that renewing is visible all around is.

New buildings rise up literally everywhere. The streets are very neat and no garbage anywhere. The green lawns all along the roads are wonderful surprises between the shiny, high buildings and I understand why Dubai is known for its ultramodern architecture.

We got an opportunity to take pictures of the Burj Al Arab Hotel from the beach. This hotel is currently the only 7 star hotel in the world – and also one of the most expensive.

We also visited the awe-inspiring Atlantis Hotel – a luxury hotel on the man-made Palm Jumeirah archipelago, based completely on the Atlantis theme. We were also taken to this archipelago later via an underwater tunnel.

The second archipelago, the Palm Jebel Ali, is already under construction and will be three times larger than the original. There are also plans for a third one, which will be five times larger than the Palm Jebel Ali. Everything is bigger in Dubai!
The temperature rose to 40 °C!

That evening, we visited the Dubai Mall. It is the largest shopping Mall in the world, and sports air-conditioning, very fast WiFi, luxury brands and restaurants.

Outside again, we were treated to Dubai’s water fountains. The Dubai Fountain shoots water into the air for as high as 500 feet (or 152,4 m) – as high as a 50-storey building! It was designed by the creators of the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas and can be seen from anywhere on the Promenade, as well many close-laying structures.

Performances are at 13:00 and at 13:30, as well as every 30 minutes from 18:00 until 22:00 on weekdays, and from 18:00 to 23:00 on weekends (the weekend here starts on Thursday over Friday and Saturday). This was the first time that I have seen the Dubai Fountains and the water dance performance surprised me.

The selection of music is in itself unbelievable. Words and pictures cannot do justice to this wonder. I encourage anyone who visits Dubai to go and see these fountains.

One of the highlights of our tour was the visit to the world-famous Burj Khalifa. At 829,8 m high with 163 storeys it is currently the world’s highest man-made structure – three times as high as the Eiffel Tower in Paris! It didn’t matter how far I stood: I simply could not fit the Burj Khalifa in one picture.

Day 3
Gold and herb souk
We visited the gold and herb souk today, a covered gold and herb markets in the centre of Dubai. A handy tip when visiting these stalls is to negotiate a good price. If they tell you it’s 100 dirham, then you say 70 dirham – and then stand your ground!

If you have excellent negotiation skills, you can walk away with quite a number of bargains. However, the stall owners can be very intimidating and overwhelming and do not take no for an answer!

Desert safari
At 15:00 we were picked up at the hotel by the Toyota Land Cruisers of Dessert Adventures. We were going on a desert safari about 70 km from Dubai – and this is definitely not for those who get carsick easily! As we drove up and down the dunes, you could hear the screams from the women in the cabin!

At sunset we arrived at the top of one of the highest dunes, where we could take pictures of the sand dunes against the orange-yellow backdrop of the sky. The nerve-racking go-cart ride is surely worth all the screams if you are honoured to take in this breath-taking scenery. Everyone ran up and down the dunes like children..

Just before it got dark, we stopped at a Bedouin camp in the heart of the desert. Everyone took their seats on cushion chairs next to rows of knee-high tables. A delicious feast awaited us: roasted chicken, mutton and fish with a treasure trove of side dishes.

A man walked up the stage in the middle, wearing a wide-hooped dress. He started turning while the dress turned with him: higher and higher until it reached his neck! Then, to our surprise, he suddenly switched on the dress’s lights!

Day 4
At the Dubai Marina a myriad of skyscrapers towered above us. We sailed with other South Africans who live in Dubai all along the lake in a luxurious boat. It was wonderful to have been able to speak to everyone there and to find out more about their lives in Dubai. Dubai overflows with possibilities and opportunities for South Africans.

Less than 15% of Dubai residents are citizens of the UAE; the rest are foreigners. South Africans comprise the sixth largest group of foreigners. Most South Africans live in the outskirts of Dubai – the farther you live, the less expensive it becomes. School education here is also very expensive – the average school fees here amounts to more or less R200 000.

Day 5
Dubai weekends stretch over Fridays and Saturdays. On Friday morning (South Africa’s Sunday) I therefore attended a church service of the Afrikaanse Gemeentes VAE (Afrikaans Congregations UAE) by. It was so wonderful to pray, sing and read the Bible in Dubai in my mother tongue!

The Kuier in Dubai #5 concert was held in the Zinc Night Club at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Leah, Willem Botha, Dewald Wasserfall, Arno Jordaan and Snotkop entertained more than 450 South Africans in Dubai. After the four days’ tour with these artists I have almost forgotten about their talents as they were just part of our tour group.

The artists had the audience on their feet! Although they sang their own hits, they also included song that made you long for home. Many South Africans sokkie’ed on the dance floor. Even the very stern security officials could not stand still when Snotkop hit the stage!

Dubai does not disappoint when the energetic night-life starts. Sometimes you even forget that you are in the desert. I met many South Africans at the concert – actually temporary emigrants as Dubai does not offer citizenship, only excellent work opportunities. Dubai is surely a city where many cultures get along well, being more tolerant towards other religions and lifestyles.

This was my first visit to Dubai, but surely not my last. Dubai is an unforgettable, safe city that offers numerous attractions, shopping malls and hotels to choose from.
Sue-Ann de Wet is the Project Coordinator for South African Diaspora at AfriForum, and manages AfriForum’s Worldwide initiative.


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Celebrating the life of Diana, Princess of Wales

I visited Kensington Palace on 25 May 2017 to view the new dress exhibition “Diana: Her Fashion Story – The definitive dress exhibition”. I recognised all the dresses and it reaffirmed what an impact Princess Diana made even on me – living in South Africa at that time.

It was wonderful to see these dresses up close, but it was Diana wearing them that made each item special.

An excerpt from the exhibitor’s description: “Trace the evolution of the Princess’s style, from the demure, romantic outfits of her first public appearances, to the glamour, elegance and confidence of her later life.

Don’t miss an extraordinary collection of garments, including Victor Edelstein’s iconic velvet gown, famously worn at the White House when the Princess danced with John Travolta.”

“I don’t go by the rule book… I lead from the heart, not the head.” – Diana, Princess of Wales


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What is the first thing that springs to mind when you think of China?

What is the first thing that springs to mind when you think of China?
Mega cities? Skyscrapers? Factories? Pollution? Human ant heaps?

The abovementioned definitely count among the side effects that accompany the fastest industrial revolution in the history of mankind, and therefore China is to most people probably synonymous with this undesirable by-products of development and progress.

It is also true that nearly all consumer goods are nowadays produced (and imitated!) in China, which involves air, water and sound pollution as some of the biggest headaches with which city fathers in this region are faced with. But in a classic example of a yin-yang balance, this huge country also houses many of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders, of which the Zhangiiajie National Park in the Hunan Province is one of the jewels in this crown.

The authorities recently spoiled us with a long weekend, which offered us with the ideal opportunity to pay a visit to that part of this fascinating country. Between Zhangiiajie and the nearby Tianzi Mountain we came across the following:
Gangways with glass bottoms that will instantly heal anyone with a case of acrophobia. Permanently. Because he will die of a heart attack.

Dozens of aerial railways, of which one is the longest in the world. Mine is still longer than yours!

The rock jungle where the film Avatar was filmed.

A lift that is able to lift you 330 m high along the side of a cliff within seconds.
Jaw dropping scenic beauty.

Thousands of Chinese nature lovers.

It stays a distinctive challenge to travel in the Chinese heartland, seeing as the English of most people over there is limited to “hello”, “okay” and “David Beckham”. But on the positive side, my charades skills are now once again razor-sharp. One word, two syllables, first syllable sounds like…

During our visit we didn’t break, misplace, miss or lose anything. And nothing ridiculous, saddening or fashionable happened.


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Three medieval German treasures

When one tackles Europe, there are definitely three types of attractions on your list: art museums, cathedrals and maybe a castle or two. Art museums are normally limited to the most well-known, such as the Louvre in Paris or the Rijksmuseum on Amsterdam. Neuschwanstein, Versailles and Chambord are without a doubt at the top of the list of castles and palaces (and maybe even the grey, unimaginative Buckingham Palace). The Notre Dame in Paris, Westminster Abbey in London and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona are kings among other cathedrals.

And yet – sometimes one wants to escape these tourist traps and experience something of the bygone days of Europe. We encountered three such medieval treasures in Germany.

Monschau in the Eifel region close to Aix-le-Chapelle (Aachen in German and Aken in Afrikaans)
This sweet little town appeared in written documents in 1198. Driving along a lazy mountain pass through hills and valleys, you first see a few houses to your left.

Then follows a large hotel and an enormous parking area where you can leave your car (the little streets further on are very cramped up, although two or three competent Germans actually navigated their huge Mercedes Benzes skilfully through these narrow alleys!).

Then you start walking (take along hiking shoes, as the cobbled streets do not guarantee an effortless stroll!) – and suddenly, around the next bend, pretty timber-framed houses (photo 1) greet you, each one older than your family’s secret pancake recipe! The cutest antique shops, eateries and even toy shops invite you to spend your last euros as quickly as possible.

Somewhere along the way, a river (a favourite spot among trout fishers) finds its way between the houses, and all along the river the gorgeous architecture repeats itself (photos 2 and 3). And quite unexpectedly, the town also boasts a little protestant church!

Relax on the town square under warm woollen blankets (if it is winter) and sample the local beer. The traditional food compels you to lick your fingers long after it has been devoured.

Although a rainy day greeted us, we enjoyed every moment. It is said that the town is even better on sunny days. Next time, we will visit over Christmas, as the town’s Christmas Market is known far and wide. Adieu until December, Monschau!
Bachanach on the banks of the Rhine.

A few kilometres upstream from the Lorelei (on the banks of the Rhine, therefore) is nestled the gorgeous little hamlet of Bachanach, one of the lucky towns that escaped the Second World War’s bombardments. What makes this town quite interesting is the various gateways through which one approaches it. At one of these gates every single flood since the times of Noah are recorded. It is actually a miracle that the town has never been swept away completely!

Just like Monschau, Bachanach boasts many true and real medieval timbre-framed houses (photos 4 and 5). Some buildings are so skew that you don’t even want to walk next to it!

Two things reminded of the Jewish Holocaust. The first is an impressive ruin: The Werner Chapel (photo 6) commemorates a very sad event of the 13th century when a German boy, Werner, was apparently killed by Jews. This murder resulted in a pogrom during which at least 40 Jews were killed. It is actually fitting that the chapel, which was to have been built into a cathedral, was never completed and today resembles a skeleton.

The second little piece of memorial is much smaller, inconspicuous and, to me, more tragic. In one of the side alleys, two cobbles in front of a picturesque house were removed and replaced with two copper cobbles (photo 7). These bear the names of two people from Bachanach who lived in that house but lost their lives in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp during the Holocaust.

May these two reminders remind us for ever that no live is worth more or less than another, and that no race is superior to another.

Burg Eltz
What is a trip along the Rhine without a visit to a Rhineland castle? Already in South Africa we have decided to visit this off-the-beaten-track castle. The 33rd generation of Eltzes live there – the first generation had built the castle in the 12th century already. And very interesting: this is one of only three castle to the left of the Rhine in the Rhineland Palatinate that were not destroyed.

What makes this castle so different? It was built by ordinary people who could not afford to each built their own castle. These conglomerates of castles therefore housed more than one family, and in the case of Burg Eltz three families (more than 100 people) over many generations simultaneously resided in the castle (photo 8). The inner courtyard (photo 9) offers an interesting perspective on this cohabitation with many a door leading to different parts of the castle – and be careful not to go via your mother-in-law’s sitting room to your own!

It boasts wonderful examples of Renaissance art and furniture, as well as two almost running lavatories! The restaurant on the outside serves the most delicious local beers that I have ever tasted in the Palatinate!


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A weekend on an island

We spent the weekend on the Isle of Wight for Anton’s birthday. We booked two nights at the most beautiful Dunnose Magna Bed & Breakfast – a chocolate box pretty house with the most wonderful owners, Bill and Jayne Nigh, and their pets Hovis, Bella and Mishka Pavlova.

It was a privilege to experience the great island’s hospitality, the charm of an end-of-the-lane property with gorgeous gardens, even a tea garden and lots of birds and other wildlife. We were lucky enough to have seen a red squirrel, a fox and many hares at night. I would love to have stayed forever!

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” C.S. Lewis


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Camping adventures in Canada

We live in Prince George in British-Columbia, Canada. We have lived in Frobisher in Saskatchewan, Canada (45 km from Estevan and 20 km from the USA border of North Dakota) for six years after having moved to Canada at the end of February 2007.

We like to camp if the opportunity presents itself and I’d like to share a few photo’s of the provincial parks where we have camped before.

The provincial parks of British-Columbia are all under provincial management and mostly offer no facilities except maybe flush toilets and central ablution facilities. There are no water and electricity connections for campers that other resorts offer. You have to bring your own water and gas to braai and cook – and you may only use a generator for two hours in the mornings and another two in the afternoon.

Your camping site should always be bear-friendly, as these creatures are always in the vicinity – although we have only seen one on the road to a camp about three weeks ago. You have to take care that all your food is packed away, that your rubbish has been dumped in special containers, and many more other such measures.

Paarens Beach
At Paarens Beach you can literally stand at the water’s edge!
Situated on the southwestern shores of the Stuart Lake in British-Columbia, this lovely little provincial park seems to be unknown to anyone but the few people within its vicinity. The peaceful camping site, outstretched shores and boat slipway present the ideal basis from which you can explore the rich history and enjoy the legion of recreational opportunities around the Stuart Lake and the close-by Fort St. James community.

Whiskers Point Provincial Park
These photos were taken at Whiskers Point (130 km north of Prince George) on the McLeod Lake in British-Columbia.

The park offers a welcome stay-over to families who are on extended holidays. You can camp right on the water’s edge in this quiet, lush park on a peninsula in the historic lake. There is ample seclusion and a southern exposure – one of the reasons why campers are absolutely crazy about the breath-taking sunsets there.

This was our second visit to the camp site. And obviously you have a completely different experience with little Xander, our grandson, who are always on the go either on his own two legs or his scooter!


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On TUBE-OLOGY 101

The London underground (or the tube, as we plebs like to call it): Indispensable, yet detrimental to the soul. A parallel universe where only one rule applies: There are no rules.

As a veteran of an estimated 7 000 journeys on this necessary evil, I have seen absolutely everything – and have gathered enough knowledge to provide the less experienced commuter with an insightful guide. So – here we go… Or, as we’d say in tube lingua: “This train is ready to depart. Please stand clear of the closing doors.”

The tube is a breeding ground for all sorts of diseases. The common cold, ‘flu, herpes, Aids… the list goes on. If your health remains a priority, then only use your knuckles to press the buttons on the card machines and at the tube’s doors.
If you carry a handbag, ensure that you have your ticket ready before approaching the entrance gates. Do not wait until you come to a complete standstill at the yellow ticket reader before launching a frantic search operation through slimy tissues, bunches of keys and lost Tic Tacs. Your time-wasting will at best incur a dirty look and at worst a head-butt between the shoulder blades.

Be on a wide lookout for the tube scoundrel – that excuse of a human being who arrives after you on the platform, yet cuts you off with sly proficiency to take up the last open seat in the carriage. Do not stand for this. Stand your man. Hit him, kick him, tackle and trip him – whatever it takes. Just don’t let him get away with his devious mission.

When you eventually find your seat, be wary of the imaginary division between seats. Position your elbows firmly inside your own armrests to prevent any potential conflict situation. However, if you find yourself on the receiving end of someone who suffers from a lack of spatial sensitivity, feel free to give him a soft nudge with your elbow to draw his attention to his inconsiderate behaviour. Always follow it up with a “Sorry, mate!” and pretend that it was an innocent little mistake on your part. He’ll get the hint.

If, like me, you like a bit of air between the legs, you will find it very difficult to fight the urge to sit with your legs wide open. Remember, your knees pressing against those of your neighbour may give the impression that you are a subtle flirt, which may very well explode in your face. If you are part of the fairer sex, rather keep your legs closed – for very obvious reasons.

Be warned: Some women see the tube carriage as an extension of their bathrooms. The train hardly leaves the station and out comes the vanity bag. Try not to stare. Rather think of how much her eye ball on a mascara stick will resemble an olive on a toothpick should the train jerk to a sudden stop. And be thankful that “ma’am” at least cut her toenails at home!

Sometimes while on the tube you may get the feeling that someone is reading your newspaper from over your shoulder. This is mostly the case. However, don’t pretend to be haughty and turn your newspaper away from the person. Rather ask the over-the-shoulder reader to hold the other side of your paper so you can both become engrossed in the lead story. The interest in your reading matter will not survive for long, as anyone who starts a conversation with a stranger on the tube will be viewed as mentally disturbed.

No pet of whatever description pays to take a ride on the tube. If the last seat in the carriage is therefore taken up by Rex, Rover of Socks, walk towards the pooch with purpose, stand in front of it and firmly catch the owner’s eyes. Most pets in London have better manners than their owners and will immediately vacate their seat to prevent a situation.

The seat closest to the doors is a “priority seat” reserved for old people, woman, children and the sick. You are welcome to keep one of these seats warm, but vacate the seat as soon as a woman with a “Baby on Board” badge appears. Immediately and without asking any questions. And if – while being pinned between Mr Cornflake Man (the one with the dandruff) and Mr Death Breath – you notice that the seat thief’s tummy is way too flat for someone who should be pregnant, do not think that you have been tricked. In London, honesty is the magic word and no one would be impolite enough to fake a pregnancy simply to get a priority seat (insert coughing noise here).

If the commuter next to you unearths a lunchbox with last night’s left-over curry, do not make a fool of yourself by trying to get rid of the stench with animated hand movements in front of your nose. Rather enquire with great curiosity as to the ingredients that he has used. Tell him about your own curry passion and that you treasure a solidarity with all and any curry lover. Your curry-eating friend will surely change seats at the next station. In fact, he would disembark completely – and your odour pollution problem would be something of the past. Voila!

You will sooner or later encounter the iPod commuter and be irritated beyond yourself with the tin-like tss-n-tss-n-tss emanating from his earphones. It is not worthwhile fretting about it. It is the one without the earphones from whose cell phone erupts rap and hip-hop tunes for everyone to hear whom you will have to confront. Quietly find a place right next to this guy and start singing a very loud version of O Sole Mio in your best operatic voice. And should he protest, apologise and argue that you thought the two of you were involved in a mutual music appreciation excercise.

To gossip in Afrikaans, especially on the District Line between South(Africa)fields and Wimbledon, may degenerate into a very dangerous and risky enterprise. Never think that your embarrassments in the Slug And Lettuce is destined exclusively for your travelling companion’s ears simply because you relayed it to him in Die Taal. Before you know it, everyone will be reading in Rapport of the carousing of London Afrikaners and how we behave ourselves like lascivious drunkards – with your name in the headline!

The closer you get to your destination, the carriage you find yourself in will empty itself. And just like that Murphy guy postulated, eventually it will only be you and the guy right next to you who remain in the carriage – a social situation that can turn into something awkward. Do not hesitate to take to your heels and find another seat. You are not there to take other people’s feelings into account and will in fact inspire respect from your co-commuters if you behave like an unpolished scoundrel that cares for no one’s needs but your own.

So, there you go. Now you have more than enough knowledge to turn every tube ride into a pleasurable journey. Go forth and deal severely with the London Underground. This train terminates here.


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