Uncle Percy in South Africa tells me that his compatriots have got the hump about the way the foreign press is portraying their wonderful country during the World Cup. Apparently we all expect to be charged by a rhino, preferably bearing a machete with menaces, on every street corner in Johannesburg.
Now, come on, ladies and gentlemen of the press, you know this simply isn’t true. Indeed, I remember a number of young men explaining most emphatically on the beach front in Durban 35 years ago that rhino were not to be found in “whites-only” areas. They thought it was a very good joke. After I laughed a bit, they left me in peace to eat my Kentucky Fried Chicken. Fortunately, some things in South Africa have changed more than the sense of humour.
I sympathise with Percy: surely even Sky News must have got the point by now: no rhino in its right mind would risk going out after dark in Durban, let alone Johannesburg.
Funnily enough, Uncle Percy, Mrs M and I had quite a close encounter with a rhino in South Africa, but it wasn’t in Johannesburg. It’s not the sort of thing you can prepare for, except by memorising prayers for a) deliverance and b) thanksgiving. Otherwise, my top travel tips are:
- Wear a seat belt, however much the natives laugh at you.
- Wrap your cafetière in your spare clothes: there is nothing worse than celebrating your survival, with a cup of broken glass and coffee grounds.
All this set me thinking about our preparations for the 2012 Austerity Games in Marple Bridge. I bumped into (so to speak) my fellow freelancer, Sir David of Cestria. He specialises in that hardy British perennial, health-and-safety. I asked Dave to suggest how we should alert travellers arriving in Marple Bridge, so we can put it on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office web-site (which is excellent for every country except the UK).
- Drivers should take care near 20 MPH signs when travelling through the Bridge. Certain village elders, typically driving a red Honda Jazz, observe these limits, without any consideration for others.
By contrast Hummers driven by sensible toddlers do not normally pose any major threat to visitors, provided they are also in a Hummer.
- Loitering around our primary schools can result in expense, embarrassment or prosecution at almost any time of year. Visitors should resist offers from ladies and even young children of cheaply photocopied tickets to dubious entertainments. On no account, accept an offer of a “strip” for £5. These offers should be treated as highly suspect, particularly when accompanied by the terms “nativity play”, "raffle ticket" or “picnic hamper”.
- Improvised Litigious Devices (ILDs) are common throughout the North West, and are increasingly sophisticated. The paved drinking area around the Royal Scot is known to be frequented by celebrities, as well as bankers, solicitors and philosophy lecturers, many with connections in Liverpool. At all times of day, there is a severe risk of criminal and civil litigation in relation to libel, fraud, trips, match-fixing, driving under the influence and metaphysics.
- Ethnologists visiting the St Thomas’s church should not be surprised to find the door open. There is no need to call the police. Old Anglican churches are frequently left open, in the hope that Roman Catholics will take them back again and fix the roof. It has been reported that some Anglican minds are open too, but this is not confirmed.
- Sponge-cake rolling trials may take place without warning in any location with a gradient greater than 1 in 10, during the preparation for the Games. One of the few places safe from rolling sponges is therefore the Royal Scot, op cit.
- Despite warning signs, there are no traffic cameras in Marple Bridge. Visitors wishing to be photographed are encouraged to wear burqas, flowing robes and/or heavy beards. This may persuade the Anti-Terrorist branch to fund real cameras, so we can take action shots of the bob-sleigh course through Moor End, just like at Alton Towers.
- Visitors may photograph the Iron Bridge, the Roman Bridge (again), the Regent Cinema and other landmarks. However, care should be taken before snapping natives, particularly staff of the Royal Mail: they are quite within their rights to bite you or your pet in retaliation.
- Do not approach camels or donkeys travelling up Church Lane in the season of Advent. They may contain nuts.
- Orange peel is an eyesore. Visitors are strongly warned against displaying it. Exposure is regrettably wide-spread during sunny intervals, and whenever Boots has fake tan on special offer. Orange peel displays are presented by the members of the species homo so-called sapiens sapiens of all ages, genders and persuasions. A Posterior Double Outspan was exposed outside the Royal Oak by a visiting football enthusiast after England’s unfortunate game with Mexico. Visitors are advised that PC Potter and his Peelers will not tolerate excessive exposure, and may well tear a strip off offenders.
- It rains a lot in Marple Bridge. It is entirely likely that you will find a flood on Town Street. As rhinos are rare, a collapsible canoe is indispensable.
Please let me know of any additions or amendments to this list, before we submit it to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for inclusion in its helpful website.