Money, Monkeys and Serendipity

Serendipity is “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”.

This is something I experienced on a recent trip to the UK. And then again when I returned to my home. Both after some, shall we say, trying circumstances.

In a wintry December London, my daughter and I set off from our residence to visit two museums in the centre of the city. After walking 15 minutes to the underground train station daughter realised she didn’t have her travel card with her. While she was contemplating spending her last pounds on an expensive day ticket I popped into the WH Smith to buy a magazine and realised I didn’t have my wallet with me. Now we were in a quandary. Putting our loosely screwed heads together we debated what to do, when – serendipitously – my son-in-law arrived at the station on his way to work. After hearing our pathetic story he opened his very thin wallet, preparing to give us his meagre spare change, when – serendipitously – I happened to glance over at an ATM machine just two metres away from us. There, lying on the ledge of the machine was a ten pound note. Honestly. The previous customer must have accidentally dropped it after drawing money. And there it was. In our moment of need. But we hesitated. Well, daughter and I did. If we took it wouldn’t that be – er – stealing? Son-in-law had no such qualms. He gave us his change, picked up the ten pound note and went on his way. And we, happily, resumed our journey to the museums.

Fast forward a month or so and I was back in South Africa enjoying my mum’s matchless Christmas cake. This cake is made and given to me every year after many weeks of hard work and bottles of brandy. I love it. Unfortunately, so does my husband. I have begged and pleaded with mum to make us our own cake each but she refuses. And so, after 25 years of marriage I have devised a way of dealing fairly with this issue. I cut the cake exactly in half and each half goes into a separate tin, one half for each of us. Neither of us is allowed to touch the other’s cake after that. One afternoon I was working away in my home office when I heard a commotion. I ran through to the kitchen and there was a large monkey helping himself to (my husband’s) Christmas cake. Honestly. It opened the tin and then – when it saw me bearing down on it yelling and waving my arms – it took off with the cake and vanished through the back door. I couldn’t believe it. The precious Christmas cake was gone. I couldn’t possibly tell mum about it. Two minutes later husband arrives home and I start telling him how a monkey just stole his cake when I realise that – after our tense history – he must think I was lying. That I must have scoffed his cake and then pretended that a monkey stole it.

Obviously playing on my mind, a couple of hours later, eager to venerate myself, I went out the back door to check if, by any chance, the cake was anywhere. And there – serendipitously – lying on the roof was husband’s Christmas cake. The monkey was gone. I was so excited I leapt up on a plastic bin nearby, promptly putting my foot straight through the lid. Limping off with the lid stuck around my limb I found a ladder, climbed up sensibly and retrieved the – largely unharmed – cake. I gave it a quick dash under the tap and trimmed off all the sides and put it back in the tin. All was happily restored.

I’m not sure why the monkey dropped the cake. Perhaps it was too heavy to carry far. Or maybe the Vervet didn’t like brandy. Whatever, I know that with only teetotalling, lightweight monkeys around the only competition I have for the cake is inside the house.

Plane, Train and Automobile to Scotland

Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to Scotland we go, with our online check-in and hand luggage only, heigh ho, heigh ho, heigh ho, heigh ho”. This was the bravado and happiness my group of five felt as we exited our London accommodation at 6.15am on 27 December 2016. We were off to Edinburgh! Once up north we would pick up a pre-booked hire car and travel to countryside Comrie where we planned to spend a few days before returning to London. We would get to the airport with about 50 minutes to spare.

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The letters of Edinburgh airport. Photos: Brenda Daniels

The letters of Edinburgh airport. Photos: Brenda Daniels

The smiles we exchanged on the train to the airport turned quickly to nervous lip biting when we saw the security queue. The one we had to join was packed with shuffling customers while the “fast track security” avenue was invitingly empty. Cheerful airport attendants issued instructions to: put liquids in minute plastic bags; close those tiny bulging bags; donate items that didn’t fit in those tiny bulging bags to the bins provided; remove jackets, coats, hats, scarves, boots, belts, keys, laptops, mobile phones (basically unpack and undress) and lay these items next to each other in the too-small plastic trays for checking. I was the first of our group to make it through to the other side so snatched up my belongings and galloped through the terminal in search of boarding gate information. This was difficult. I hadn’t repacked and redressed properly so my trousers were falling down and my boots were tripping me up. Also, there was no boarding gate information. Mainly because the gate had already closed.

It was also a mistake to leave the rest of my party. We all became separated into three groups. While charging through the airport each group thought the others had made it to the aeroplane and that they were the only ones left behind. Gnashing of teeth at the thought of being the only ones to miss out. Eventually, security personnel shepherded us all through the “return-to-the-other-side-because-you-missed-your-flight-and-start-all-over-again” channel. (You won’t miss it; it’s the one teeming with slumped-shouldered, dragging-feet people.)

Well, we did make it to Scotland. Eventually. (We drove). Needless to say we had learnt our lesson. For our return flight from Edinburgh airport we smugly arrived over two hours ahead of time. Naturally, the first thing we saw on the boarding gate info board was “flight delayed indefinitely”. Apparently there was freezing fog in Munich. More gnashing of teeth. The airline did ease our discomfort, though. By giving us each a refreshment voucher to purchase something yummy. The vouchers were worth GBP 3 each. Because of all the extra time on our hands we read up on passenger rules and rights. We discovered that you can claim from the airline if your flight is delayed by over three hours. We counted down the minutes once we were on the plane and were gleeful when we landed back in London three hours and ten minutes late. We are currently awaiting millions in compensation. (Once we figure out where on the website to claim.)

Comrie was lovely by the way.

Happy times at Crieff, near Comrie in Scotland. Photo: Roxanne Daniels

Happy times at Crieff, near Comrie in Scotland. Photo: Roxanne Daniels

 

Exploring England in the Footsteps of Beatrix Potter

England is an excellent tourist destination. As I was planning an upcoming trip to the UK I was reminded of this fact while leafing through photos of a 2010 holiday there. From accessible transport and places to visit, to consistently excellent food and tour guides – that trip to the UK was educational and enjoyable. The quality and availability of many of the historic places and parks/gardens I had visited was due in no small part to the National Trust. Founded in 1895 to permanently preserve valuable buildings or beautiful countryside, this charity organisation protects over 300 historic houses and gardens, 49 industrial monuments and mills, owns more than 623,000 acres of countryside and over 700 miles of coastline. This vast organisation has positively influenced residents’ attitudes towards their environment; call it ‘national pride’ if you will, but I detected in people a real appreciation for their country’s history and environment.

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The setting for the Beatrix Potter movie. Photo: Brenda Daniels

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The map I misread

The Lake District is a fine example of the National Trust’s presence. I had stayed there in a tiny village called Far Sawrey, near Lake Windermere. Just a kilometre along the winding country road from the Far Sawrey Hotel is ‘Hill Top’, the house owned by famous children’s author, Beatrix Potter. Beatrix bought this house with the proceeds of her first book, Peter Rabbit, and donated it to the National Trust when she died. This unassuming cottage is left almost exactly as it was when Beatrix worked and lived in it – a testimony, perhaps to her attitude to the Lake District area in general. Keen to preserve the look of this landscape, as well as the original farming methods, Beatrix involved herself closely with the National Trust. Wanting to experience the modern charming countryside as well as get a feel of history I decided to explore in ‘Beatrix Potter’s footsteps’. So, using a guide book I set off on one of 15 simple trails. The trail took me through farmland and up a hill to ‘Moss Eccles Tarn’, a little mountain lake also owned by Beatrix Potter. As I crested a hill overlooking Esthwaite Water I misunderstood the map and veered off in completely the wrong direction. I wandered through forest, tramped through bogs, startled two deer and alarmed the grazing Herdwick sheep before finding the right path again. I was heartened to learn later that when Beatrix visited the neighbouring village of Hawkshead in 1882 she ‘had a series of adventures. Inquired the way three times, lost continually, ….. (and) chased once by cows.’ Seems I was in good company!

Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk for more information on the National Trust.

This article first appeared in the Umhlanga Globe newspaper in 2010.