Wednesday, 18 January 2012
What’s not to like?
Apropos of nothing at all Ricky walked up to me on the Navimag ferry as we sailed the Chilean fjords and asked; ‘this year away of yours, have you ever not enjoyed it and wanted to go home’? ‘Good question Ricky’ I replied, ‘no, not really, but there were definitely times when I felt a bit down, and looked forward to returning to certain things back at home’. Satisfied with the answer he wandered off just as enigmatically as he’d appeared, with a nod and a smile. The smile was enthusiastically returned by me for Ricky was a charming and inquisitive American gent, someone we’d had the good fortune to get chatting with during the four days sailing through the often narrow channels of the fjords in Chilean Patagonia. He was also immaculately polite, an admirable trait often found in gents from the southern half of the US, and I was charmed by the way he used ‘ma’am?’ or ‘sir?’ in place of ‘what?’, ‘pardon?’ or ‘excuse me?’
This post isn’t about Ricky though. It is however linked to the question he asked. We have just a week left to go on our one year odyssey so I thought I’d mark this juncture by noting down the top three things I’m most looking forward to becoming re-acquainted with on our return home. Let us first take family and friends as a given, an automatic chart topper in the ‘Things To Look Forward To’ rundown. The mental video of a joyous reunion that has been running through our minds like a syrupy, lump-in-the-throat Richard Curtis movie is far too sentimental for this cynical blog, so let me focus instead on the more esoteric delights that await us, starting with number one…
(1) You put it where?! Disposal Dilemmas
I’ve got used to it, sure I have. You really have no option. It’s just the way it’s done in these parts.
But seriously, if I peer into one more waste bin that is sat next to a toilet and get a glimpse of someone else’s poo-y toilet paper I’m gonna scream. And then run out of the toilet with my pants around my ankles, clumps of poo-y paper in my fists, foaming at the mouth , and screaming ‘I’m not an animal, I’m a man’ before collapsing into a bereft heap and falling into a twitchy sleep in my new homemade nest.
Allow me to explain… In many parts of the world the sewer system is simply not built to deal with the flushing of toilet paper. The solution to this issue is to place a small waste bin next to the toilet in which patrons deposit their tarnished poo rags. The beasts. The bin is often accompanied by a notice that politely reminds silly gringos not to flush their waste paper down the loo, the funniest of which read: if you flush paper down the toilet we’ll all drown in poo, and you’ll be to blame. Can you live with that on your conscience?
So, in summary, the first thing I’m looking forward to on my return home is going for a poo and then flushing the soiled paper down the pan, and not putting it in the waste paper bin. Sister in law – you have been warned.
(2) That’s right punk, I’m in your blind spot! A taxi tantrum.
I’m looking forward to my first taxi ride when I return to the UK; the pleasant ‘hello’, the inconsequential chat, the cheery goodbye and the driver’s closing instruction to have a good evening/flight/attempt to get your key in the lock. This is because taxi drivers in the UK are, with some exceedingly rare exceptions, an honest bunch. The same cannot be said of everywhere in the world, in particular South America. The near total absence of taxi meters means that the price you pay for a ride depends entirely on how (a) naïve, (b) stupid looking, and (c) willing to negotiate you are. My default position for these three is most often (a) very, (b) even more, and (c) meh.
So I overpay for taxis and over the year we have been away it has, ever so gradually, begun to seriously piss me off. ‘What’s that you say? You actually want double what we agreed when we got in? That’s strange, but OK then, there you go, keep the change. Oh, and you can keep the piss I just did on your back seat too. Muchos gracias! Have a good evening, adios!’
Over-charging is, however, the least of your concerns when taking a taxi in certain South American countries. Stories abound about evil taxi drivers, or just thieves who have borrowed a taxi, who pick up gringos, drive them to a dodgy area and relieve them of all their possessions. I say that ‘stories abound’ about this which basically means that Lonely Planet mentions it. It has never happened to anyone I’ve met, or anyone they’ve met, and it certainly hasn’t happened to me. But that doesn’t stop me from carefully scrutinising the driver before I get in to assess what the odds are – ‘yeh, I could have him’ – and then sitting directly behind his seat, in his blind spot, like a bulky shadow. I sit there for the duration of the trip thinking ‘is this one of those taxi drivers’? In return I hope that he’s sitting there thinking ‘I could rob this guy, but am I absolutely certain that he can’t break my neck or strangle me with my own seat belt from where he’s sitting’? By the way, the answer to this latter question is maybe, if you’re a taxi driver. To everyone else it’s probably not.
So, I’m looking forward to not having to go through this nonsense any more. I might still sit in the blind spot though, just to be sure.
(3) I’ve got the power! Putting a plug in it.
Something undeniably trifling that I’m looking forward to doing on my return is hearing the sturdy ‘thunk’ and feeling the reassuring click as a British plug fits smoothly and securely into its three-pronged home. When I’m King Of The World all power outlets and plugs will be required, with immediate effect, to be converted to the British three pin design. This is not mere nationalistic jingoism, oh no. Having spent the last year conducting extensive field tests I can comfortably conclude that the design is the sturdiest and safest of the lot, followed in a close second by the South African model (which, frankly, is a cheeky rip-off of the British design anyway). Right at the bottom of the table is the North American plug, with its two small pathetic little bars, that meekly request of the outlet ‘I’m terribly sorry to bother you Mr Electricity, but could I please trouble you for a little charge, I’ll fall out halfway through the night I promise, leaving my owner with a dead mobile phone battery’.
So, to summarise: Me = King Of The World (and owner of all electricity). Plug = British design. Sewer systems = sturdy. Taxi meters = obligatory. Me = King Of The World.