Why I’m staying put

David Bullard writes on why he won't be hopping over to England this year


I had planned to fly over to England this year to see the family but the weakness of the Rand has completely put me off the idea. I last renewed my British passport in January of 2020 and, thanks to COVID, it still remains in the safe in its pristine, unstamped condition and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

When I checked the price of flights earlier this year they were already twice what I had paid back in 2019. I’ve rather got used to the idea of turning left when I board an aircraft and Emirates has been my airline of choice since 2014. So I checked out the prices of other airlines flying to the UK and they were all ludicrously expensive.

Not expensive in the sense of unaffordable but expensive in the sense of ‘I could find something better to do with the same amount of money’ and there is a difference. If you can’t afford something then that’s the end of the argument (or should be). You don’t buy it and you certainly don’t get into debt to buy it. If you can afford it but you know you are going to be left with the nagging feeling that you have been royally ripped off for months to come then, in the interest of a calm state of mind, you should resist the temptation. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Well meaning friends have tried to convince me that this is sheer madness on my part. They remind me that I’m not going to live forever, that I can’t take it with me, that my family would love to see me and that the cost of the trip would soon be forgotten, eclipsed by the joy it would bring me. I’m not buying it.

A biz class return trip to London costs around R70 000 and that is double what it cost in 2019. First class is now R125 000 up from R65 000 in 2019. I always used to rationalise flying business or first by convincing myself that not only would I be more comfortable and be able to get a good night’s sleep but I would have the opportunity (nay, the challenge) of drinking the difference in price between economy class and business class on both legs of the trip. So, for example, when the delightful cabin crew welcome you to your seat on Emirates and ask whether a glass of Dom Perignon 2009 is acceptable the pressure is on to down at least three glasses before take-off.

Down the sharp end you don’t get the disapproving looks you get in economy. Plus the choice of wine is better and they keep some pretty decent whisky on board too.

Then there’s the stopover in Dubai to consider. If you’ve got a couple of hours between connections what better way to spend it than a sumptuous meal, even though it is 2am in the morning South African time. I once ordered a mixed platter of sushi and asked my waiter whether they were able to serve wine at this hour.

He looked at me as if I were a child with learning difficulties and said certainly they could serve wine. So I asked him for a white wine to go with the sushi and he bought a bottle of ‘Y’ which is a Semillon which comes from the top Bordeaux estate Ch D’Yquem, best known for its splendid, world famous Sauternes.

Having never tasted ‘Y’ I gave him an enthusiastic nod and he uncorked it and poured me a glass. Delicious. I was expecting him to take the bottle away but he left it on the table and went off to find a wine cooler. Since the sushi was yet to arrive I Googled the price of the ‘Y’ and found that the average online price was $385 a bottle. The rand/dollar exchange rate in those currency becalmed days was R15 to the $ so I was drinking a R5 775 bottle of wine; something I don’t do very often. Naturally I managed to finish it before heading to the gate for my London connection and the inevitable question; would you like a glass of Dom Perignon 2009?

One of the interesting add-ons in the Dubai lounge is the man who comes around and asks if he can take your shoes away for a polish. If this were to happen at Olly Tambo you’d definitely decline because you know you’d never see your shoes again but in Dubai it works and you are given some slippers to wear before your shining footwear is returned to you.

All these wonderful memories, including the shower at 35 000 feet prior to landing at Gatwick could easily tempt me to do it all again but not at twice the price I paid before. I suppose I could travel in economy and take a sleeping pill but what if somebody saw me? My reputation as a sybarite would be ruined.

But even if I did bite the bullet and stump up the price of the fare further misery awaits in the UK. Last week the electronic passport gates failed at all UK airports leading to two-to-three-hour queues over a holiday weekend. Just what you don’t need after a 17-hour flight.

Then there’s the strikes. You may as well give up on the rail system because it seems that the train drivers are perpetually on strike and, even if they’re not today, they will be when you want to travel. That’s just how it works. So maybe get a taxi to your central London hotel? Except that you’ll be stuck behind idiots walking very slowly in the middle of the road objecting to the use of fossil fuels.

Assuming you eventually arrive at your destination you would probably want to visit one of the museums or art galleries for which London is so famous.

These days you’ll either be constantly reminded of an exhibit’s link with colonialism and slavery which is not quite why you went to the exhibition or some cretin will have glued their hand to an art exhibit or thrown orange powder all over it. Not even the Chelsea flower show was safe.

You may wish to visit the university towns of Oxford or Cambridge while you’re in the UK. Don’t bother. They’ve become shadows of their former selves. I rented a house in Cambridge back in 2016 and went there for a week with family and friends.

We had a magnificent holiday exploring the Fitzwilliam Museum, eating well, punting on the River Cam and attending evensong in Kings College chapel with full choir. These days you would be lucky to make it through Cambridge (or Oxford) without encountering crowds of strangely dressed, shouty people who are convinced that they have been born in the wrong body and that women can have penises. No thank you.

The starkest reminder of why you shouldn’t even think of flying to the UK though is the bang for the buck. Last week I had a look at the bill of fare at a favourite haunt of mine in Covent Garden. Admittedly an upmarket joint but not ludicrously expensive by London standards.

I chose the cheapest starter (soup), the cheapest main course (steak and kidney pie…veggies extra) and the cheapest dessert (sticky toffee pudding) as well as the cheapest bottle of wine. At an exchange rate of R24.50 to the £ that came to R2 100. A tankard of draught Guinness will cost you R240 at this establishment. This makes the R1 400 La Colombe charge you for the ‘reduced menu’ lunch over the weekend suddenly look like a comparative bargain.

So, as you have probably gathered by now, I’m staying put and blowing my ill-gotten gains locally. This week we have the Hermanus FynArts festival and then in August we are off to Riebeek Kasteel for their art weekend.

Accommodation in a very comfortable guest house is costing me all of R1 800 a night and I doubt if I will need to spend more than R500 a head on a decent meal. And, hopefully, nobody will be throwing soup at the paintings or gluing themselves to the road. What’s not to like?


I have yet to see the new bank notes that the Reserve Bank has introduced. They apparently come with increased security measures and now feature the various animals as family groups rather than in solitary poses. They must rank amongst the most beautiful banknotes in the world. Which is why it might be a good idea to collect all five and keep them somewhere safe because they are likely to become collector’s items.

At the speed the country is collapsing the next issue of banknotes is likely to follow Zimbabwe’s example. Assuming we haven’t moved to a new AU common currency or been forced to transact in the US dollar the note denominations are more likely to be R1 000, R2 000, R5 000, R10 000 and R20 000 with R1 000 buying you a cup of coffee.

What I cannot understand though is why we have new 10c, 20c and 50c coins. What use is this copper shrapnel apart from as change on these absurdly priced supermarket items at R19.95 (who are you fooling?) All the copper coins, and increasingly the R1, R2 and R5 coins have absolutely no practical use whatsoever apart from paying for parking in shopping malls.

I have a wardrobe shelf full of these useless coins and I’m too embarrassed to take them to a charity. So, instead I put them into a plastic bag and bury them on Strand Beach so that the guys with the metal detectors won’t feel that their morning has been entirely wasted.