Wednesday, 2 June 2010

'Look no one likes coming over here so maybe just dont do quite as good a job checking these fire extinguishers and we'll hope for some luck.''
''Are you calling me a murderer?''

Where There's Pain, There's Juice

I quite like my ridiculous life, only I could have a disaster after visiting a post office to collect an envelope, I wish I could make this stuff up and just live off comedy sketches.

So I had to go to Basildon, about an hour from my house to pick up tickets to the Champions League Final in Madrid, which if I even make it to now through the volcanic ash terror and BA cabin crew strikes will be even more of a miracle than winning the tickets in the first place (I haive decided to just ignore the news or any flight information, met office dater or watching the movie ‘Volcano’ Staring James Bond in the hope it will just go away like the responsible man I am).

I don’t like Basildon, it’s a bit like Holland, in that it’s very flat which to be fair is where the similarities end unless Holland has bad dreams. Nothing seems to go anywhere and its just full of roads which go to London, idiots trying to find them and the electricity pylons and tractor factories coupled with petty assault, its awful. I noticed in the Daily Telegraph recently that a new ‘Hollywood-Style’ sign had been erected at a cost of £400,000 shouting BASILDON in eight foot tall letters to the lucky drivers on the A130, presumably to warn them to turn around and get the hell out of there (it was actually built on a roundabout to cater for this use).

Anyway, an hour before leaving work on such a vital mission to the liquidity of my company I had the option to charge either my phone or my ipod for the two hour or so journey. I am sure I might have been able to do both, but I only have one free socket under my desk, the others are taken up by mystery plugs and I dare not pull one out, ever since watching Michael Burke on 999 in the early 1990’s I’ve been terrified of the destructive power of wiring so I choose not to tamper. Also I have no idea what they power and knowing my luck it would be somehow linked to my paycheque . After no consideration at all I chose the ipod, despite heading off to a destination I’d never been before with only hand-drawn directions. It’s not that I am a particularly bad illustrator, my grandfather was a town planner you know, but it left a lot to be desired and I made the basic error of forgetting to include road names hoping that there was in fact only one left turning, my one, in the whole horrid town.

In the end I actually didn’t get that lost and also discovered that my sun visor turns my car slightly when I move it, which is a bit of a worry but a new feature non-the-less, and I eventually arrived at DHL (the parcel place) on one of Basildon’s many bleak industrial estates and despite looking quite abandoned, there was another man waiting at the desk talking to the attendant about needing to wrap something big but not knowing where to buy tape, wrapping or it seemed anything at all needed to accomplish his request. He left to get something from his car, brushing past me as he walked, so I seized my chance handed my fake ID (I was posing as my brother to pick the tickets up as it was his order) to the chap and he left backstage somewhere to process the information.

So right then the other guy comes bounding back up to the front door, which had swung shut with this enormous industrial juicer, it was like something out of a kitchen or bar and he looks so awkward trying to carry this thing, like bloody Kramer from Seinfeld or something! So he’s outside banging on the door panting away trying to get my attention while also attempting to keep hold of the juicer and I walk up and he asks if I can help, so I open the door and wedge it open with the rubber stopper and then without warning he just plonks this massive juicer into my arms and the bloody thing is still FULL OF JUICE!! He just shoves it toward me and It goes ALL over my shirt.

‘Have you got it? Don’t drop it! It’s very valuable!’

So we struggle over to the counter and now I’ve got juice going all over me and he’s bumping into things sloshing it all out more over me. We put it on these scales and he looks at me and like dusts me down like that’s going to make a big difference and says,

‘Well that’s no good’

And I look at him with my now Orange shirt and he is totally dry and cool as day he just says,

‘Thing’s supposed to be empty, hey can you still send this?’ Completely ignoring me!

And I’m standing there just stunned, I think he thought maybe id not noticed as I didn’t say anything, just looked on, outraged, so he just leaves and says he has to get some more parts and would be back in ten minutes, just walks straight out! I had to go home and change, my good white shirt, ruined. Fortunately though I have another one so on returning to work several hours later I managed to avoid being asked ‘why have you changed’ so they don’t have to hear another embarrassing Richard life story which I’m sure are slowly and secretly effecting my career prospects!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

''There's little doubt, I probably killed him''

Bees Means Hide!

I hate flying stinging things, i understand that they pollenate our flowers and plants and without them, there would probably be no Richard writing this right now, but we just dont get on and whenever they come near me i am just certain that this particular insect has some sort of vendetta against me. So when i came to be camping undernieth a whole hive of bees in the middle of Africa, it was only going to end one way, badly.

I was camped in the bush in eastern Zambia in a region called South Luangwa National Park. The story in itself is fairly obvious and quite short, but because of factors I have to set the scene a little bit as the consequences of our actions come back to haunt us a little.

We (me and chris, he is my mailman but coincidently also my friend since before I can remember) were staying on a stretch of land owned by a lodge; the lodge had a bar, a pool, several chalet type huts, some basic showers and that was about it, there are many photos in my face book albums. We were actually 2 of only 3 guests, the other being Bob, a photojournalist from Holland, writing an article for a wildlife magazine and being given free lodging by the owner, who was an old friend. We were told on arrival that we could pitch out 2 tents wherever we wanted, so we found a collection of 3 trees where vines and low branches had created a ‘cave’ of twisted wood, so we putched the 2 tents in front of this cave and put our large packs and things in the cave. It was a wonderful spot by the Luangwa river. The river was low so you could sit on the banks with your legs hanging 20 ft above the water, watching the Nile Crocodiles and Hippos below (I actually ventured down onto the riverbed on one occasion with some difficulty, the river was low and several islands had risen though once down there the humidity was so high and the ground boggy with Tsetse flies everywhere and I also did not notice a crocodile approach me from behind, getting within 100ft I took off as I would not dare get any closer, those guys are quicker than any dog). So we had our spot, under shady trees in the middle of the African bush. So naturally that night we ate and we ate well (the food at this place was the best I have ever eaten, anywhere in the world) and also watered it down with a few local Mosi beers.

Shortly after dinner, while taking with Kirsten (the owner) Hans (manager and Nat Geo photographer) and bob, one of the porters informed us to be careful as elephants were on the camp. Now I though that this ment in the river, or on the other bank far away. No, on the camp meant that on the sand marked by our footprints along the path from our tent to the bar, not 50 ft away were elephants, an entire herd. I have never been so awestruck, we had briefly seen an elephant on the way into the camp, far away on the dry riverbank, now there were twenty and if you ran north your would hit one in about 4 seconds!

I wont go into how amazing this was as it does not really need to be said in relation to this story, but this was some sight.

Later that night we went back to the tent, thinking the huge creatures had departed, we were wrong, they actually had no intention of leaving and rather enjoyed the taste of the leaves, directly above our tents! Now when I say our tents were under the trees, I don’t mean that the branches were far from the trunk, like a willow, I mean that these were not huge trees, and if I stood outside my tent, my head would be in the branches! So now we had ten or twelve elephants surrounding our tents, minding their own business pulling branches from the trees and having a midnight feast. I assumed we would be told to sleep with the owner or one of the porters. No, we were simply told to run, as fast as we could when the animals backs were to the tents, get in and whatever we did, did not leave the tents!

When someone says something that ridiculous, something must tell you that its so crazy it must be fine, so you just do it, before I knew it id been to the toilet and was running head on into a heard of African Elephants!

My most vivid memory of that night is chewing, and swallowing. That’s all I could hear, you cannot hear an elephant move, they are too mechanical and precise in their movements, all I could hear was snapping and cracking, leaves and branches landing on my tent and constant crunch crunch crunch as they ate their way through our tree. I can tell you an elephant swallowing sounds a lot like a human but less refined, like the parts of its anatomy are of a previous generation, bigger, less refined. I am not sure how I got to sleep.

I tell you this as its important to think that our tree was the elephants favourite food, they came most days and some nights to our home and it sounds crazy but I almost got used to them. Until one day,

It must have happened in the night, and if it did then we were lucky to be alive. We had spent the morning at the bar with cereal and hot toast, a bottle of sprite as well, chilled to perfection was a treat. We returned to the tents and I put my camera down to fill a bottle of water from a larger bottle we had filled from the local village well, when we both noticed that something was different, our cave looked wrong, its shape was disturbed and the tree looked wrong. Suddenly we noticed. One of the three trees had been snapped in half, falling right on top of the cave. We just had chance to thank our luck it had not fallen a few feet to the left when we first realised another problem, it sounded a little like a helicopter or plane were in trouble above us but in a way it was worse. We had heard the beehive on the first day, it was high at the top of the tree and we paid little attention to it, only now it wasn’t high in a tree, it was on the floor about three feet from out tents! I blame chris for it all, he wanted to take a picture of it, while I was happy just closing our water bottle and leaving them to their own ways. Chris must have disturbed them as all of a sudden the noise got a lot louder and I could see dots in the air around me. Then one got in my hair and I panicked and swatted it. Big mistake, the bee must have released a pheromone into the air as before I knew it my hair and face were just full of bees, and they were stinging! OW!!! I shouted, a real comedy OW!, BEES!! OW!! BAD BEES!!! I shouted, then I fell to the ground and more and more came. African bees do not have barbed stingers, so they can keep stinging, and indeed they did!! I was running like a madman and chris was just laughing! I finally made it to the toilets and ran inside and threw the door open, there stood another man, im not even sure he was really there as I nevr saw him again or before, BEES!!?? I pleaded, but he just gave me a peculiar look and walked off! So I jumped under the shower fully clothed and washed as many bees away as I could before chris came in. He had not been stung once, I must have had 20-30 and the dots of the stings were all over my ears and neck.

Now, as we had had previous bother with Baboons (another fun tale) we decided that we should never leave anything of value in the tents, and nothing at all outside them. I suddenly realised that my $2,000 camera was just on the floor, outside the tents! Now im sure it would have been fine, but I couldn’t risk it. Need I continue! The bees seemed to know we were coming. I just got the camera and the barrage started again! Stupidly I had the same reaction which was to swat them!! Im such a fool, I got destroyed. Chris too, we were jumping and rolling around yelling and shouting, running, sprinting this way and that away from insect no bigger than a dime!! Then the funny thing was, Bob, being a cool calm Dutchman (probably just had a massive joint) just walked through the mayhem like he was wailing in the store! He just looked at us rolling and screaming and sort of shrugged his shoulders, like it was some weird English thing!!

Well we got back to the showers. In the end I got about 100 stings and was feeling distinctly ill ( I did get malaria the day after which may have had something to do with this!!) chris got 2 and as there was blood he was claiming he got it worse! Fortunately they had some anti histamine pills and allergy spray so I patched myself up with a beer and began to talk revenge.
Under the cover of darkness we managed to get sympathy from three local men who agreed to smoke out the bees in return for the hive to make honey from, we saw this as a great trade, so that night the men lit a large fire inside out little cave, beneath the hive and in just an hour, the bees were gone! We had done it!! (pictures of this are on face book!) That night we feasted on the spoils of war, eating honey till we burst indeed thinking we had had the last laugh

We were mistaken for I now know what elephants true favourite food is, and its no plant

There must have been some honey melted on the tree and floor, for that night, no kidding 50 elephants were all over our tents trunking, smelling, tasting, licking the honey from RIGHT next to us, and they were not so silent and dignified this time! They were mad for it, there were several loud trumpets and pushing and shoving, and there is me cowering in the tent hugging my knees to make myself as small a target for being stepped on and needing both toilet functions and I also fate would have it got a nose bleed and felt sick from all the honey and I was stuck here!! And all i could think about was that I would have traded that for more bee stings in a second!