YOU go on holiday to get away from it all.
I’ve just spent two weeks in South Africa and couldn’t get away from Yorkshire.
I suppose I wasn’t so much annoyed as surprised.
You fly halfway across the world and you don’t really expect there to be many reminders of home.
Particularly at the southernmost tip of Africa.
There I was at a farm up a mountain outside Franschhoek preparing to go on a wine tasting horse riding trip (well I’d got bored of doing it on foot).
The lush vineyards bordered by towering mountains make this one of the prettiest places in the winelands of the Western Cape.
We were waiting for our guide to return from a morning horse riding tour and we would take two of the Arabian horses on our equine vine trip for the afternoon.
“That’s your horse,” said Yolanda, our guide, as the tourist who had taken the horse out that morning dismounted.
I did a double take.
I recognised him.
Not from South Africa, but from the Flying Pizza restaurant in Leeds.
“You’re from Leeds aren’t you?” I said and we introduced ourselves to each other.
Ian Barnett used to be involved in the textile business and now has interests in telecoms and property.
He’s got a hairstyle similar to Sir Philip Green, but fortunately absolutely none of his business ethics.
It turns out we have a mutual friend in Michael Michaelson, an entrepreneur and dealmaker who is always great company – as long as you don’t get him onto the subject of Leeds United.
I was still shaking my head at the coincidence of bumping into someone from home when we returned to our room overlooking a vineyard.
There was only one other room on the property and the couple staying there were sitting on the veranda sipping white wine.
It turns out they run a guest house in York and take an extended break to South Africa every winter.
By the time we returned to Cape Town, I’d decided that nothing would surprise me any more.
Until we went for a drink at our hotel bar and I got chatting to a lady who works for Microsoft in London and said she grew up in Richmond, North Yorkshire.
“Do you know Claire Barclay at Microsoft?” I asked.
“Yes, she’s my boss,” she replied.
And, now on a name dropping roll, I added: “If you’re from North Yorkshire, I’m sure you’ve heard of Sir Gary Verity of Welcome to Yorkshire.”
“I do. My grandparents sold their farm to him.”
It turns out she knows everyone in the Big V’s village and local pub a lot better than I do.
I decided to give up name dropping as I’m really only an amateur when compared to a professional like my friend Jonny Hick.
Has he told you his Chris Rea story?
Only after he’s told you his Giorgio Armani story.
UP until this month I’d never been an Uber user.
It stems from an experience I had with a friend who ordered an Uber outside the Queens Hotel in Leeds and after quite a long wait the driver rang and asked where the Queens Hotel was.
“It’s next to Leeds train station,” my friend told the driver.
I figured that if you are a taxi driver and you can’t find the main station in one of Britain’s major cities then that isn’t a sign of a good service.
But then I downloaded the Uber app and used a lot of taxis in and around Cape Town all of which were on time and driven by polite, friendly and helpful drivers.
Some wanted to chat, including the driver who asked us where we were from.
On being told we were from the UK, he simply said: “What about Brexit and Boris Johnson?”
Then there was a driver who came to pick us up from our accommodation in a vineyard, took a wrong turn and ended up driving through the middle of the vines and got stuck on a sandy track before he reached us.
Me and a gardener from the vineyard took a spade and helped dig him out.
When he dropped me off at my destination he smiled and asked if I’d give him a five star rating as well.
With my clothes covered in dust and sand like a latter day Lawrence of Arabia I agreed.
And gave him a tip.
One driver told us that he had several customers who request him personally to drive them.
Including one couple from Dubai who had him as their driver during a holiday in South Africa.
When they returned the following year after they got engaged he did the same.
And later this year they are getting married in Cape Town and have hired a limousine for him to drive them to their nuptials.
He’ll also be giving a speech at the wedding.
I wonder if guests will be able to rate his speech on their Uber app?
But I don’t buy the Brexit excuse trotted out by the low cost carrier when it collapsed into administration last weekend with the cancellation of all flights, leaving travellers stranded and customers with no chance of a refund.
I’d wondered what the airline was playing at the week before when I’d received a notification from them that they would not pay the compensation I was due under EU law because one of their flights I was travelling on last year was delayed by more than three hours.
Flybmi claimed it was delayed because of adverse weather conditions.
Given it was a perfectly fine day when we were travelling and they never mentioned the weather at the time, I thought something smelled fishy.
The airline’s lame Brexit excuse was not so much fishy as rotten to the core.
Simple mathematics better explains the cause of Flybmi’s demise.
Last year it carried 522,000 passengers on 29,000 flights – that’s an average of 18 people of each of its planes.
Brexit is currently the cause of much uncertainty for businesses, but it shouldn’t be an excuse for a badly run and poorly performing company.
TOWARDS the end of our trip to Cape Town, friends who live there invited us to join them at a cabaret evening.
They apologised profusely that they could only get tickets for the evening of Valentine’s Day.
That suited me as it saved on the cost of a romantic meal out.
Well Nandos, even in South Africa, isn’t that cheap any more.
The cabaret show was at a club in the centre of Cape Town called Gate 69 where we were greeted by glamorous towering drag queens.
The venue is a cross between a burlesque theatre and an airline lounge which perhaps explains why the main host was called Cathy Specific. (Think about it.)
Cathy Specific and her Trolley Dollies are planning to perform their show, Mile High, in London next year.
I suggested they visit Leeds too.
Well I’ve always fancied myself as an impresario.
Our hosts asked me if I’d ever been to a drag show before.
I said I went to one at a former Leeds night spot called the Birdcage which was good fun and, over 20 years ago, when I worked in Cardiff there was a bar called Minskys which many journalists frequented where a very talented and funny drag artist called Ceri Dupree used to perform.
Then the lights went down and a voice said: “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Gate 69. Please welcome our special guest star, direct from the UK, Miss Ceri Dupree…”
It was like deja vu, all over again.
Ceri Dupree gave a brilliant show, performing as a host of characters including Joan Collins, The Queen, Camilla Parker-Bowles, Peggy Lee, Cher and Dame Edna Everage.
When Ceri appeared singing Hello Dolly she explained that she was doing it as a tribute to the great Broadway performer Carol Channing who died last month at the age of 97.
Given I always associate the title role in Hello Dolly with Barbra Streisand, I was surprised to learn from Ceri that it was played on Broadway by a host of great actresses including Dorothy Lamour and Ethel Merman and here in the UK by the likes of Dora Bryan and Noelle Gordon, probably best known as Meg on Crossroads.
Ceri explained that drag performers date back to Shakespeare’s time when men played women on stage and drag refers to them dragging their gowns behind them.
Who says you don’t learn anything from reading this blog?
There was even a little bit of political satire in Ceri’s act.
Appearing as Joan Collins and interviewed by a journalist she was asked the question:
“Trump, Putin and Kim Jong-un all jump off a cliff at the same time. Who survives?”
She looked at the interviewer and replied deadpan: “Us.”
When Ceri returned as Dame Edna Everage she brilliantly and hilariously engaged with unsuspecting members of the audience.
Pointing out a woman on the front row, she said they both had something in common.
“We’ve both tried to make our own clothes, haven’t we dear? Yes, I failed too.”
Have a great weekend.