OUT TO LUNCH
This has been a lean period for motoring journalists. Normally there would be a series of lavish overseas launches of new models but this all came to an abrupt end when COVID made an appearance.
Obviously motor manufacturers select only the best places to showcase their new models so launches take place in exotic locations such as Nice, Tuscany, Valencia or Leipzig and never in Sudan. I was even flown all the way to Fuji in Japan to test drive the Toyota Auris.
Since the trip was a long distance haul we stopped off in Hong Kong for a night and loaded up with electrical goods at the Van Der Merwe shop and then stopped off in Taiwan on the way back for no reason other than we could.
Apart from the international car launches there were also the overseas trips to motor shows in places as far flung as Detroit. Then, on top of all that, there were the ringside seats for F1 in Melbourne. Is it any wonder that motoring journos were so loathed by their less fortunate newsroom colleagues?
At the Sunday Times you were supposed to get the editor’s permission before you accepted an overseas trip. Since I was the only person on the paper writing about cars I ignored this absurdly mean spirited rule on the very sound reasoning that if I didn’t write about a new car model then the Sunday Times wouldn’t receive the enormous amount of motor industry advertising as a result.
Obviously, the trip would be all expenses paid and the accommodation would be five star. On one car launch I was given a suite to stay in which was so large I needed a sat-nav device to find the bathroom. But best of all were the travel arrangements. For the first time in my life I was turning left on entering an aircraft and spending a ten hour flight in a large comfortable seat that turned into a bed at the touch of a button.
When I ceased being a motoring journalist after seven glorious years of freebies I found that I couldn’t bring myself to book economy class ever again. I checked flight prices and found that Emirates offered a very competitive business class fare via Dubai to London. So I booked a ticket and it was marvelous. Then, a few years later I thought I ought to try Emirates First Class before I died since I have no children to leave my modest fortune to. I booked seat 1A all the way to Gatwick and it was worth every cent.
Sadly those days are gone, possibly forever. No more the smiling cabin attendant forcing another glass of Dom Perignon 2009 onto me before take off. No more the luxury of choosing from an extensive food menu and wine list and ordering when it suits you rather than having to eat when the food trolley comes around. No more the shower at 30000 feet prior to landing followed by a glass of chilled Sauternes. No more the gleaming chauffeur driven Mercedes to drive me on arrival to my final destination.
Normally at this time of year I would be planning a trip to the UK to visit family. Last year I could accept that we were living in strange times but I never imagined that we would be living in the same strange times one year hence. I haven’t been on an aircraft for 16 months now and any hopes of an international flight to visit family seem depressingly remote.
In the not too distant future nobody is going to be able to go anywhere unless they have a vaccine passport. When this idea was first mooted Boris Johnson’s government vigorously denied that they had any such plans. However the reality is that if a couple of countries in Europe or a couple of airlines insist on proof of a COVID vaccine before they let you in or on board then you either have the choice to join the party or remain isolated.
John of Gaunt’s speech in Richard II where he refers to England as “this fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war” doesn’t hold quite as true in the 21st century as it did in the 14th century. The UK are even talking about the need to have a vaccine certificate before you visit a pub or go to the theatre. As for those cheap EasyJet flights to sunny Spain or the Greek islands - well who knows?
None of this bodes well for South Africans wishing to travel internationally or for our potential to attract foreign tourists. Our leisurely roll-out of the vaccine thus far means that we will effectively become captives in our own country for years to come. South Africa is already on the UK’s ‘red list’ of unwelcome points of embarkation.
This means that if you have flown from South Africa, even by a circuitous route, you will be flatly denied entry into the UK and quite possibly arrested. If you are a British citizen you will be reluctantly accepted but will have to spend ten days in a government selected quarantine hotel at your own expense.
With much of Europe in the grip of a third wave and major lockdowns being re-introduced in France, Germany and Italy we can kiss any hopes of an international tourist led boom goodbye. Even if COVID were magically to disappear the combination of the fear of a fresh breakout and the extra travel bureaucracy are likely to spook potential tourists for years to come.
Of course, we are not alone in this. Most of Europe’s traditional tourist destinations are also experiencing a dearth of tourists and London looks like remaining pretty empty again this year. Cruise liners which were once doing a roaring trade with the well heeled over sixties now lie scattered around the globe, empty apart from essential crew.
On the upside though, there can be few better places to be held captive during a COVID pandemic than South Africa. Providing you avoid the non functioning areas with unpronounceable names then the money you might have blown on an overseas trip can be better spent on a local holiday.
I have been watching a programme on YouTube called “Just to see how far it is” in which local motoring journo Marius Roberts embarks on a trip in his highly modified Isuzu 4X4 bakkie to discover some of the lesser-known parts of this country with his three dogs. As an advert for undiscovered South Africa it’s a winner.
The camerawork is breathtaking and shows remote parts of South Africa that few of us have ever seen. I’m not sure I will be rushing out to buy a 4X4 vehicle to follow in Marius’s tracks but it’s nice to know it’s out there just in case. And who needs to see the Mona Lisa anyway when you can Google it?
I was thrilled to read that the City of Johannesburg (CofJ) are in the final stages of renaming William Nicol Drive. It was suggested back in September that this lengthy thoroughfare deserved an appropriately long name and should be called Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Drive. These things take time and apparently the CofJ, having given up on the idea of repairing the many potholes, have decided to devote their attention to renaming a road and deciding whose brother gets the lucrative road sign contract.
Many South Africans don’t feel that politicians deserve to be honoured in this way but I’m not sure it’s much of an honour. What tends to happen is that a place is named after a struggle stalwart and immediately begins its decline into chaos.
Take the Eastern Cape where most of the worst disaster areas are named after past ANC heroes: Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality for example.
One would have hoped that the ANC would have had more respect for the man who dragged SA into the brave new world of democracy than to name one of the country’s worst run and most corrupt economic disaster zones after him. Poor old Joe Slovo didn’t fare much better and he is now an infamous informal settlement.
But my heart really goes out to the family of the late Prof Jakes Gerwel. In grateful thanks for his efforts in the struggle and his post democratic contribution to the country he has been rewarded by becoming an off-ramp. Long after everyone forgets who he really was he will forever be remembered as the reason that traffic backs up on the way in to Cape Town every morning. I suppose that’s one way of keeping your name in the news.