Farewell Matthew Buckland

It came as quite a shock to hear this afternoon that Mathew Buckland had died.

I first met Matthew at the Digital Citizens Indaba (DCI) in Grahamstown in September 2006, where I was speaking on the Web 2.0 panel. Matthew was editor of the Mail & Guardian Online at the time. Mail & Guardian online was then the pick of the local online media, punching way above its weight, and much of this was due to Matthew’s leadership.

I remember him passionate as we explored the possibilities of new media, and friendly and generous with his time.


Matthew Buckland at the DCI in September 2006. Picture by Gregor Rohrig.

Thinking back to when the DCI took place, it was a dynamic time, full of possibility and new creations. Muti had come out in January 2006. Written by Neville Newey, apparently I inspired him to write it and offered some ideas, but in reality I had little to do with it. I think such was the vacuum in those early days that this was why I was invited to DCI! The Rat and Parrot, and many great conversations. My first encounter with the famous Mushy Peas on Toast. Blogging was revolutionary and everything was possible. In the weeks, months and years following the Digital Citizens Indaba, there was a burst of innovation. And Matthew was at the heart of much of it.

Amatomu, which Mathew co-founded, and Afrigator launched within days of each other. Thought Leader launched in 2007. Memeburn a few years later, and he was MC at the launch of Silicon Cape.

The word inspire can be defined as to fill others with animation, a quickening or exalting influence. Reading the outpouring of support since the announcement, it’s clear he touched many people’s lives, and left a legacy far more influential than he probably realised.

Go well Matthew.

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A Seasoned Travellers Guide to Jet Lag

As a seasoned traveller I’ve mastered the art of avoiding jet lag, and will share it in this blog post. The solution is simple – no need for sleeping pills. I will try and catch some sleep on the plane if it’s night time at my destination, but usually this is sporadic, and I arrive tired, so this isn’t necessary.

The real secret is just to push on until night time in the new time zone, no matter how tired I’m feeling, and, exhausted after the long day, get a good night’s sleep, waking up refreshed in the morning of the new time zone.

Travelling east is usually more difficult than travelling west, and so it was I began the long journey home from New York to Cape Town, via Brussels and Doha. Leaving the hotel in New York in the afternoon, an hour on the subway, the JFK Air Train, a meal at the airport, before catching the 7.30pm flight (0.30am Brussels time, 1.30am Cape Town time). I had an aisle seat, but usually don’t manage to sleep unless I have a window seat and free space next to me. I tried to nap on and off during the flight, rather unsuccessfully.

The plane arrived in Brussels 9am (10am Cape Town time), and I was already pretty tired. I had a long wait at the airport before the 3.40pm flight (4.40pm Cape Town) to Doha, barely functional, nodding off a few times in the airport.

A late flight should be the perfect time to sleep. Except it arrived at 11.55pm Doha time (10.55pm Cape Town), and the connecting flight was 1.45am (0.45am Cape Town), boarding at 0.45am (11.45pm Cape Town). With only 50 minutes between arrival and boarding, and the need at Doha airport to scan one’s luggage in-between, the changeover gets the adrenaline pumping, not ideal for sleeping the rest of the way.

Finally I’m boarded – exhausted, ready to sleep for most of the final leg – a 10 hour 20 minute flight to Cape Town.

Except, besides the Doha-airport induced adrenaline, I’m in the middle seat, squashed between two men, legs cramped up against the seat, and little prospect of sleep. A movie it will have to be, but since it’s the 8th flight in a month, I’m all airplane movied out.

I land in Cape Town 11h05, and get back to my house, about 37 hours after leaving New York. Right, all I need to do is push on till 20h00 or so and get a good 12 hours sleep…

No chance, I fall asleep at 2pm, waking up 9pm. Waking up refreshed at 9pm is not the recommended way to avoid jet lag. From then on, my body didn’t know what was happening.

Day 2: Sleep 2.30pm to 5.30pm. I needed to be somewhere by 6, so used the dreaded alarm.

Day 3: Sleep 3.15am to 2.30pm. A long, much-needed sleep, and it looks like the times are improving, right?

Day 4: Sleep 7.45am to sometime late afternoon. Considering drugs right now.

Day 5: Sleep 3am to 10am. Woohoo! Back to normal. 5 days of hell, but all worth it.

Day 6: Sleep 11pm to 2.30am. Awake till 7am, sleep till 2.30pm. Hmm, maybe not…

Day 7: Sleep 8.40am till 3.40pm. Aaargh!! I have a party in the evening, but don’t feel up to it, so head to bed early.

Day 8: And fall asleep 1.30am, waking up 6.30am. Have I cracked it yet?

Day 9: Sleep 11.30pm to 6am.

Six and a half hours is not usually enough, and I was nodding off in the day. As I write this it’s 11.35pm, and I feel alarmingly awake. Time to finish this off and find a boring book…

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Images from Wikimedia Commons 1 2

Written in the Stars

When meeting someone through online dating for the first time, things can go a number of ways. You can decide to meet them again, or not to meet them again. You can have a fun time together, or not such a fun time together.

I thought it time to expand on the possible outcomes.

I check Google Maps – damn, it’s a little further than I thought, but I should just about make it on time. Last minute review to see I don’t have toilet paper on my shoe or yoghurt on my nose, and hop into the car.

The driveway gate doesn’t open. I’ve had to try once or twice recently – probably the battery – but it usually opens eventually.

Not this time.

After about 100 presses, including walking right up and shoving the remote into the sensor, I’m not getting anywhere. I’m going to be late. I message her explaining I’m stuck in my house, and not yet sure whether I’ll actually make it out, but will keep her posted.

It occurs to me that as first impressions go “I’m stuck in my house” is not a particularly good one, but what can I do.

I go back inside to look for a spare battery. Multiple hidden cupboards and draws see light for the first time in years, but no spare battery makes an appearance. I open the remote and jiggle the battery around, and step outside to try again.

It doesn’t budge. Back inside, mostly walking around aimlessly hoping a battery will manifest on the floor. It doesn’t.

Back outside again for more aimless pressing. No response to my message yet, she should be there by now.

I press again. This time the gate lurches into motion, violins play as the battery opens the gate for the last time in its existence.

I’m now outside the house. I suppose I should close the gate. No go. I disassemble the remote, perform CPR on the battery, whispering sweet nothings to it while visualising lightning storms. Reassemble for a final go. Miraculously, the battery coughs up its last sliver of life, and the gate closes. I’m on my way, sending a quick message about being there in 20 minutes.

Which is also about 20 minutes too late.

At some point I decide I should call to make sure she’s got the message. There’s been no response, and she may not have data. I see my message about being there in 20 minutes has not gone through. In fact I seem to be out of data. I try call, the call gets dropped and I’m told I can dial emergency numbers only.

This shouldn’t theoretically be possible, but it’s almost full moon, every second person seems to be pre-menstrual, and my phone has decided to join the party.

I reboot the phone, hankering for an ancient Nokia where switching it on and off again was almost instantaneous. The phone crawls through its reboot process. Happy days – just the interminable animation from the manufacturer to go.

I could almost have been there already!

The phone is back, and I have voice and data again. I dial. The phone goes straight to voicemail. Great. Has she left her phone behind? Or is she calling a friend to complain about her idiot Tinder date who’s kept her waiting for 20m.

The reboot and animation has overtaxed my phone, and, taking inspiration from the remote, the battery is about to die. I scramble around for the car charger, and remember it sitting in the draw at home where the spare remote battery should have been. I think the Singularity is close and the batteries are communicating with each other, messing with the humans.

There’s enough life to send an old-fashioned SMS. If she’s got her phone, she’ll get the SMS. – no data needed. Finally I’m driving again. I picture her, pre-menstrual, and me arriving 25 minutes late, slightly flustered. This is going to be an entertaining evening.

I drive past the place we’re meeting, adding another minute or two to the delay.

Finally I pull up, race inside. The owners are standing around. They tell me the place is closed, but describe my date and ask if I’m meeting her?

Yes, she’s here! It’s destiny, a classic romantic tale of overcoming obstacles before the happy ending.

Actually no, she’s just left.

Her phone had been stolen, so there was no way for her to get hold of me, and she wouldn’t have got any of my messages.

I decide to go walk on the beach, on the off-chance I may randomly bump into her. Every second person looks like it could be her, but most have screaming kids, affectionate partners, friends (and they’re not talking about being stood up by some idiot on Tinder).

I’m getting a few glances as I stare at everyone, listen in on their conversations. I really should be paying more attention to where I’m walking, and discover that not all owners clean up their dog’s shit.

Enough asynchronicity for one day, time to head home.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

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Birthday parties

Rumour has it I turned 57 today. Last night, I had a combined birthday party with someone turning 44, and according to their calculations during the cake speech, our combined age was 101. Since most of the people at the party didn’t know me, and no one pointed out the mistake at the time, I got to enjoy a few minutes of “wow, you don’t look more than 50” style compliments, and sharing my health tips – eating midnight slabs of cheese and slumping all day in front of the computer – before my real age emerged.

It was the best birthday party of my life.

OK, so it was only my second birthday party as an adult, but still.

I’ve rarely been inspired to organise a birthday party. As a child, birthdays involved some last-minute studying for the next days mid-year exams. The most memorable one was me crying on the bed, I don’t remember why, but thinking “it’s supposed to be my birthday!”

As an adult, I organised one – a sedate dinner at home, and my memory of that is people sitting around the table arguing, and me finding it all pointless and wishing I could just go to bed.

I’ve always preferred meeting people one one one, or in very small groups, so the idea of putting lots of people I know together and then not getting to spend much time with them each wasn’t too exciting.

But still, I usually enjoy other’s parties, and it’s about time I had one. After agreeing to pitch up if someone else organised it, three friends got together to form an organising committee.

Thinking my part was done, and I could just make a brief appearance at the actual event, was wishful thinking. I soon had to intervene to untangle some organisational gridlock. The committee had creative differences, and ideas for a vodka slushie machine, magic mushrooms, a night in the mountains, dancing in town and dinner at home weren’t fitting together well.

Dancing took priority, and even if the party had turned into a disaster, putting together the playlists, including a 90’s trance hour, reliving 90’s anthems like Sandstorm, Madagascar, For an Angel, made it all worth it.

90’s trance hour lasted for 4 and a half hours. I’m surprised I can walk today.

So while others (re)forged connections, had intense talks about flat earth(s) and the like, tried to throw Buddha statues in the pond, struggled to get the playlist they had spent ages on working, and whatever else went on behind the trees, I mostly just danced.

Even if it was more like the first minute of the video below, rather than the last:

Thanks to all who helped organise and to all who came, even if I never got to meet you, or spend much time with you. Here’s to another 47 years of dancing.

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Have you been inside a wild animal?

I arrive in Shenzhen, China, about 26 hours after leaving my house at 5am. I’m a little worse for wear, and have a mild headache.

Unfortunately, I’ve made a serious mistake, and besides taking a headache tablet, I’ve refused to accept any of the delightful airline food offerings I was presented with. Highly suspicious.

“Passenger in seat M15 please report to immigration staff on landing” Nervous looks from fellow passengers, and some check their bags to see I haven’t snuck any drugs into their unsecured hand luggage.

My first thought was that I’m getting a red carpet welcome and a limo to my hotel. It’s soon clear that the airline staff has reported my dubious culinary behaviour and I’ve been fingered for having the plague.

There are lots of questions. I answer yes to the headache question, but no to whether I have symptoms of vomiting, nausea, diarrhea.

Then they go up a level. Have I butchered an animal, or been around an animal being butchered in the last 10 days? Happily, no I haven’t.

The interrogator doesn’t speak English, but has a handy flipchart of badly-translated English questions. I get to shake my head vigorously to each question while she glares at me suspiciously. Shenzhen is grey – I’m not sure if it’s rain or smog. Well, it is rain, but there may be some smog involved too. I desperately hope I don’t start sneezing.

Smog or rain
Rain or smog?

Next question. Have you been inside a wild animal in the last 30 days? I’m tempted to answer yes, but immigration officials don’t always have a sense of humour, especially when protecting their country from African plague-bearers, so I shake vigorously again. I’m fairly sure that in China nodding and shaking have the same meaning as in English. But if not, that could explain some of the later treatment.

The flipchart wasn’t enough. She dials a number and gets me to answer more questions from a voice prompt. I try to put on my strongest South African accent, but the voice recognition is surprisingly good and get’s it right each time. Nothing about wild animals though. But a lot of questions about which countries in Africa I’ve visited recently, and which part of South Africa I come from.

I’ve only answered yes to the mild headache, and happily have no other symptoms. Luckily I landed quite early, about 10h50, but I would like to finish up soon. She puts on some rubber gloves. This is not looking good. She grabs what looks like a needle and leans over to me. She has quite a stretch as I seem to have lurched backwards when I saw the gloves.

It’s a thermometer, and she gets to see whether she can add fever to the list. I wonder how accurate a temperature reading is going to be when you’re groping at someone with rubber gloves, but can only wait and see.

After lots of what I hope is only smalltalk between her and a colleague, and not a back and forth about which quarantine committee to call, she removes the thermometer.

I have no idea what the reading indicated, but she grabs a needle. A real one with a point this time. Now I’m protesting, and she calls in a colleague who can speak some English.

“We have to take some of your blood”. I know how these things go. Don’t co-operate and I’ll spend the week in quarantine, or end up being grilled in another little room, so I reluctantly agree. I’m happy my temperature has already been taken as it’s just gone up a notch.

I presume passing out when I see the needle start filling with blood will only further arouse their suspicion, so I look as far away as possible.

Next, my blood pressure is taken. I’m sure it’s high.

Finally they let me go, and escort me to passport control. Everyone else has long gone, and the lone official has to get out of his chair to open the lane. He has seen me being escorted out of the immigration room, and has a glint in his eye. Today’s the day his training gets put to good use.

He flips through the pages, looking at each one carefully. And back again. He rubs his fingers over the visa and passport picture page, and then rubs them both with another piece of paper, presumably seeing if the forgery would rub off. He looks disappointed. Then he takes out a magnifying glass. By this time another plane has arrived, and a queue is forming. He’s still the lone official on duty. He examines each character through the magnifying glass. Then he flips through the passport some more. He calls a supervisor. The supervisor doesn’t entertain his wild theories about how I’ve undoubtedly forged the passport, and quickly goes back to snoozing on his own chair.

The crowd behind me is grumbling. I’m leaning against the counter rolling my eyes, wondering if the metro will still be open by the time I get out of there.

He takes out the magnifying glass again. My sense of humour is failing, but I manage to resist the temptation to make a break for it.

He finishes re-examining every character. He folds and prods the pages. He tries to slide something under the passport photo to see if it can be lifted. What was a fairly new passport is starting to look like it’s been in the wash.

Aha! He’s found something! “When you arrive America?” I tell him April. As is stamped in the passport… “When you leave America?!” April again.

Now he’s got me. “IS THIS WHEN YOU LEAVE AMERICA?” He shows me a stamp from yesterday, 11 November. No, that was yesterday, when I left South Africa. He looks confused. He calls the supervisor again.

This time the supervisor snaps at him, with one eye on the now large queue behind me, and the official sadly concedes defeat, stamps my passport and let’s me go.

I’m not sure whether to break into hallelujahs, but I fear they’ll think it’s a symptom of the plague, and haul me back again. I think I spent less time driving across Luxembourg than I did stuck in Shenzhen airport. I try to look like I haven’t been inside any wild animals as I prance out of the airport.

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  • No Lady
  • Bumbling Round Bergen

    Bliss

    Dragon

    In late 2015, after a moment of bliss, I decided to write down some of the peak moments, those little appearances of bliss, that I’ve experienced in my life. They’re in no particular order, just what came to mind at the time.

    1) In my parent’s garden, doing chi kung at midnight, a clear sky, channeling moonlight to the earth.

    2) A hike in the Hout Bay mountains, 3 close friends, a howling gale and I lean out over the edge, held up by the wind, buffeted, supported.

    3) In a car, driving home from the Boland Trail. Day 2 was cut short by an intense hailstorm, fingers numb, we stumbled and slipped down, sat by a fire having a hot chocolate, drove home in bliss in a warm car, listening to the Waterboys, conversation.

    4) Late night at “the mad-hatters tea party”. The moon is purple, smiling, a figure dancing in circles under the moonlight. Is it one or two figures? The world glows with beauty.

    5) Making love under a skylight, beauty, my body liquid, soft.

    6) On a mountain, a sandy overhang, 3 close friends, candles, sharing stories, connection.

    7) In a forest alone, near Knysna, night falls, fireflies come out, it becomes a magical fairy forest

    8) Dancing in a village in Madagascar, a new years party, a head taller than everyone, the music strange. The ecstasy of surprise, music and connection, after arriving on New Years Eve, no plans, after the dullness of Christmas alone in a forest eating a litchi for dinner.

    9) Floating on my back in Silvermine dam, ears underwater, silence, the mountains a bowl around me.

    10) Arriving at Rustlers Valley after an exhausting 3-day/2-night hitch. Collapse on the welcoming grass. Feel a deep sense of being home.

    11) Dancing at Rustlers Valley, no sense of anyone else. Feeling unwanted in my tent, I go to the dancefloor in the early hours, ecstatic frenzy.

    What’s noticeable about the list is that all eleven are moments felt in the body, mostly outdoors. There have been highs thinking, writing, doing something mental, but none of them have the same intensity as those moments felt in the body. Of the eleven, about half I was alone in some sense, and the other half were shared with others.

    And the other thing noticeable is that none of them are particularly recent. Most are from the 90’s, early 2000s. Only one, perhaps two, are from this decade. Time to change that!

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    Image from Wikimedia Commons

    No Lady

    I haven’t learned my lesson and I’ve chosen the cheapest hotel I can find in Manhattan, in the Chinatown district.

    I get to my room on the 2nd floor. A gloomy corridor leads to a tiny window, facing a wall, and there are countless doors dotted on either side of the passage, with about a doors-width of wall between each door.

    I enter the room. It has a tiny single bed, too short for me to lie without resting my feet on the wall. The entire room is smaller than a double bed. I can sit up with my back against the one wall, resting my feet on the far wall. I won’t have been the first person to do this, as three of the walls are covered in streaks from weary feet/shoes. There are no windows, but the streaks on one wall are broken by a carefully positioned plastic artwork.

    The view
    Floral masterpiece

    The bathroom is smelly. A friendly cockroach comes out of a drainage hole in the middle of the floor to greet me.

    The rooms have a chicken wire roof, so the area is more like a dorm with tiny walls between them, with every sound from the neighbouring guests broadcast across the floor. “No lady” said the sign outside, and I’m not sure whether they’re more concerned about disturbing the other guests or about the wellbeing of the lady as she contorts to fit on the bed along with the guest. Or perhaps it’s the walls they’re worried about – they don’t look like they could withstand much activity.

    The roof
    It may be New York, but the roof aims for that Alcatraz style

    The wifi is not working.

    I meet a Serbian artist. “Terrible, terrible place. I will never come back here, never!”

    “You hear everything, and the man next door, he’s an ex-convict, he tell me to switch my light off. ‘I’m reading’ I say. He threaten to kill me, say he stab someone to go to jail and if I don’t switch my light off, he kill me. Terrible, terrible.”

    “I snore, he shout at me to keep quiet. But he snore like steam train!”

    The artist leaves to go to his exhibition, where he will put on a helmet in order to control a giant robot arm that will wave him in the air, apparently controlled by his brainwaves.

    I like this place already.

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    A Visit to Home Affairs

    My passport expires soon, so it was time to brave the horrors of Home Affairs again. But wait, could things have improved? Since I last had the pleasure of experiencing their welcome, Home Affairs in Wynberg has moved to Maynard Mall, and this post gave a glowing review.

    Arrive at 11-ish? 8 people in the queue, smoothly in and out? Glowing comments corroborating the experience? What alternative universe have I arrived in!?

    I arrive at Home Affairs about 11h30. There’s a queue snaking right out the door to Capitec Bank. Heh, those poor suckers are probably applying for an ID. I go to the front. Am stopped from going in and told to get a number for the passport queue at the back. No problem, I can already see the envious looks as I’m called in to the passport queue, leaping ahead of the poor saps who’ve probably been waiting since dawn.

    The guard at the back is in deep conversation with someone else. Tells him he needs photos. What? Already a spanner in the works, what happened to the new biometric application system, digital photos taken right there? No problem, I don’t mind getting photos, we’re well situated in a mall, should be easy to get.

    Eventually there’s a small queue by the guard, playing gatekeeper at the back of the large queue. He turns to me. “I’d like to apply for a passport” I smile. He starts laughing.

    “What, hahah, no, we’re full. You must come back tomorrow!”.

    “Er, OK, what time tomorrow” (I’d done well getting there by 11h30 I thought).

    “Before 7am”.

    “BEFORE 7am!?!?”

    “Yes”. He’s already done with me, moves on the next person.

    Before 7am? Not only am I no longer in the utopian universe of 8 people in the queue, I have moved into another universe where the laws of physics do not apply. I can conceive of being there before 7am as easily as I can swim faster than the speed of light.

    I’ll never leave the country again…

    There’s a mouse in mi kitchen, what am I gonna do?

    mouse

    It’s useful to have some backup skills if you ever want a career change. Mine is mouse catcher. In the last month, I’ve caught 5 mice. And I mean caught. No poison, no traps. I channel my inner cat, sneak up on then, and catch them in a bucket (usually by herding them inside).

    Don’t try this is the middle of the night. I’ve avoided sleeping in the lounge next to the fireplace for a while, as I hear them in the kitchen, can’t sleep, eventually furiously barge into the kitchen at about 4am, channeling not my inner cat, but my inner buffalo. The mice escape, I try to go back to bed. Repeat. And the next day I’m a sleep-deprived wreck.

    No, you need to stalk them fresh and alert, usually first thing in the morning, or late evening.

    I release them in a field. Not the field across the road, as I first did. Apparently mice can find their way back for more than a kilometre. So I take them for a little drive.

    Mouse number five proved challenging. After catching it as easily as the others, I had it in a bucket with a book on top. I heard it desperately leaping up, as the others had done, but left it alone as I wasn’t quite ready for the drive.

    I returned to find the mouse gone. The tiniest of mice had leaped many times it height, and squeezed out the tiniest of holes I’d left for air. And mice learn fast. Back the next night, now it proved much tougher to catch. The slightest breath as I stalked it and it was gone. Once or twice I had it cornered but it knew to avoid the bucket at all costs.

    I heard it again. After catching four mice I thought I had them all and had scrubbed the shelves. The next day they looked like a student’s party pad again. Although I’ve never met a student that shits everywhere. And gnaws holes in the hemp. Mice love hemp. If there’s no hemp seeds, they go for the hemp powder. If there’s no hemp powder they’ll go for the chia meal. Then the chia seeds. Then they start getting desperate and go for the lucuma. The only thing that’s safe is the cacao. They will even eat cardboard rather than cacao.

    With the precious hemp safely squeezed into the fridge, and the cacao of no interest, the mouse was in the shelf with my drill, screws, light bulbs. Chewing the cardboard box around the drill. I had the bucket ready, sneaked up, blocked the exits. Threw open the door. And the mouse was gone in a flash, hidden before I could see where it went. I started unpacking furiously, bucket ready for a sudden escape. Light bulbs, extension cords, screws, screwdrivers. No sign of the mouse. It could only be in place. I peeked into the drill box. And there it was. I had to move fast – the box wasn’t that secure, with all the chewing the mouse had been up to.

    Mouse shit everywhere. Pasta packets strewn open. The temptation to switch the drill on didn’t even cross my mind…

    If driving while texting, or having sex, is dangerous, it doesn’t come close to driving while trying to keep in a mouse in a drill box with many holes. The thought of it chewing through the car didn’t appeal, so the mouse was not escaping again. Luckily it was late at night, and the slightly wobbly driving didn’t cause any accidents. The mouse raced off into the field, hopefully to meet up with the rest of the little hooligans.

    It’s been two days. I may even sleep in the lounge tonight. The cupboards are half scrubbed, though I doubt I’d pass any kitchen health inspections. Hopefully that’s the end of them…

    Picture from Wikimedia Commons

    Bumbling round Bergen

    Norway is not a welcoming country. Not when the bottled water is on sale for R60, or the quotes for the taxi from Oslo airport to the city centre start at R2400. I can also splurge on a fancy limo for R14000. Maybe choosing the cheap flight and arriving in Oslo after midnight wasn’t such a good idea after all.

    I finally make it to my accommodation. Having failed to find a couchsurfer (another reason not to arrive after midnight), I look away as I hand over my credit card. Punch in my pin and hope my transaction doesn’t send the rand into freefall again. With impeccable timing, the finance minister has been charged with fraud, sending the currency plummeting 3.5% the day before. With the Euro, I can neatly pretend R1 equals 1 Euro (it’s actually 15 to 1), and everything looks a bargain. In Norway, that trick doesn’t work, as it’s about 2 to 1, and prices still seem outrageous even without doubling.

    The person at the counter asks me if I want bedding. “Er, bedding?” I ask. Yes, the hotel room comes without bedding. OK, the place is a bit of a dive, but it doesn’t include bedding? “Er, yes, I suppose…” That’s a further R92, thanks to the infernal machine showing me the price in rands.

    There was a review saying the place looked like a mental asylum. Online reviews, eh, always exaggerating.

    The place looks like a mental asylum. The lift doesn’t work, and I find myself staggering up I forget how many flights of stairs, and in a long corridor, white walls, no windows, with poky doors. I expect to see bars on them, but am too tired to look. I find my room, am too tired to even put on the duvet cover, and collapse down to sleep.

    A good lesson in why “order by price, lowest first” isn’t always a good idea when choosing accommodation.

    What I looked like after arriving in Oslo
    I wish I looked as good as this after arriving in Oslo

    I plan to stay in Oslo one or two days, and then catch the train to Bergen. I even have a couchsurfer from later in the evening after he gets back from work. Which means I get to check out, and wander around the city hauling my bags around. I came to Europe for work, and politely made sure I had a clean pair of underpants for every day, but now I’m tempted to burn the lot so that I can travel light.

    I wander through the botanical gardens. It’s autumn, and everything looks like I did the night before. I carry on to the train station. There are lots of beggars. I wonder about the viability of setting up a proxy beggar, and sending the daily earnings back home. Probably eradicate poverty in Cape Town.

    Looking online before, there are regular trains from Oslo to Bergen. I come across the train station, and decide to buy a ticket there. It turns out there’s a train strike, with limited trains and most of them full. The only option in my timeframe is the very next one, leaving in about an hour. I quickly message my couchsurfer, book accommodation for Bergen (again, I have a couchsurfer, but not for the next two nights) and settle down to enjoy the ride.

    Each time I travel, I fantasise about meeting some gorgeous stranger. It doesn’t help that a friend did just this on a flight to Cape Town, ended up showing her around the whole week, and is now married to her.

    On the 12-hour overnight flight to Amsterdam, I was seated next to a gorgeous stranger. Who promptly went to sleep. She woke up about 2am, just as I was hoping to fall asleep myself. She started rummaging around for her iphone. This went on the whole night, and it didn’t help that she got up about 6 or 7 times too (I was in the middle seat, she by the window). After a miserable sleepless night, she finally accused me of stealing her iphone and demanded to search my bags. I let her search my bag (all the while hoping it hadn’t slipped into my shoe or something). She didn’t find it. She wanted me to ask the equally grumpy, sleepless passenger next to me whether he’d taken it. I decided to rather ask him to get up, so that we could both get out of her way and she could search for her iphone properly. The stewards came to see what was happening.

    “Is this yours?” the passenger behind helpfully asked, showing her the iphone that had slipped to the seat behind.

    Happily she got her iphone back. Unhappily I was more of a wreck than usual on arrival. No, we’re not getting married.

    The train from Bergen to Olso is apparently one of the most beautiful train trips in the world. I sit down next to a gorgeous stranger. But she has the window seat and is blocking my view. Soon the seat in front is free, and I move there to look at the view. Just as we start ascending, and I start to see snow on the hills, the gloom descends, and I can’t see anything. Thanks to the late departure, most of the trip will be overnight, and I’ll miss the views. I move back to the gorgeous stranger. She likes the pictures of Cape Town. She gets off at the next stop.

    I arrive in Bergen. It’s late again. At least the place I’m staying at is walkable from the station.

    It’s a self-service checkin. Enter your booking code. Enter your credit card. Aargh, not again, can’t the machines here stop showing me the price in Rands! I punch in the pin. The machine spits out my keycard, and flashes out a whole bunch of information. I’m tired, I want to go sleep. Wait, my room number?! Was it 420? 402? I enter the keycard in the main doors. Red light. A note pasted to the door says “you may have to enter your card a few times before getting a green light). I enter it again. Red light. And again. About 15 times later I’m starting to get a wild look in my eyes and am wondering how strong the door is. Luckily I’m saved from a night in Bergen prison by someone else coming in, telling me I need to remove the card quickly, rather than wait for the light.

    At least the lift works, and room 402 turns out to be correct. But disaster, what’s the wifi password!? Perhaps that was also on the bunch of info I didn’t read. I really must stop arriving late at night as a zombie. I go downstairs to find someone. Except I can’t get downstairs because I can’t find the lift. I remember coming through a door into a passage, but which door? There are lots, and they all look the same! At least everything is not all white this time. I try a few, all locked. Eventually I find the stairs, find someone who can give me the wifi password, and, concentrating carefully to remember my room number, the wifi password and where I came in, make it back, and settle in for the night.

    I can’t sleep, with the infernal racket the fridge is making. I get up to switch it off.

    The next morning I awaken, looking up at the hills surrounding this beautiful town. A deep, contented breath as I feel relaxed at last. And step into a huge puddle formed from the fridge defrosting onto the floor. Shortly after I get a reminder about the work I promised to finish up after Amsterdam, and haven’t got around to yet. The hills call to me as the day passes, distractedly punching the keyboard.

    My couchsurfer cancels. I get to extend my stay, and hand over my credit card again. I start to get worried about my cards getting blocked before I’ve even bought my return ticket to Amsterdam. I look at flight tickets. I find the cheapest ticket, one I’d briefly researched before. Click book. Wait! There’s an 11-hour stopover somewhere. I may as well walk. What about direct flights? Oh god, no. I feel like crawling into a ball and whimpering when I see the price.

    It rains 240 days a year in Bergen, and once set an impressive record of 85 days of rain in a row. My kind of town.

    And then there’s the fjords. I sit down to write some landscape love poetry.


    Ah, the fjords

    A good start, a little rusty, but I can feel this coming back to me.

    The beautiful fjords, bellisimo, belle

    Or is it bellisima and beau? What gender is a fjord anyway? Hmm, this isn’t really poetry, is it. I’ll skip the poetry.

    Anyway, Slartibartfast deserves his award for the fjords. If you get a chance, go see some!