Until we reached the Orange River the trip was less holiday and more learning. Learning how to set up camp quickly and usually in the dark, learning how to master my camera under less than ideal conditions, learning how to pee as my ancestors had. Sadly, some skills did take longer than others.
Arriving at the Oewerbos on the Orange River changed all that. The hosts were in the tourist trade for a reason – they were good at it. The welcome was warm if a little unconventional – be prepared to answer a lot of direct questions but somehow that made it feel like a catch-up with an old mate. The pizza was fantastic – not sure if it topped my long life cooking skills though. The dogs were friendly, the campsite had a fridge, there was a pool, the river was croc free. Kingfishers fished, robins sang and I drank.
Over the gourmet pizza we chatted to some geologists who were determining the best site for a dam wall. Although they seemed nice enough my gut feel about the wall was negative. Perhaps it was because the place was near perfect that the very idea of change was appaling. Now dams can be fun; they can look nice, you can swim in them, they can provide hydroelectric power and clean water but could they provide the same view?
That might be slightly petulant but it upset me enough to want to go to The Last Shop (aka Manny’s) to get comfort food. I was an odd mix of grumpy and cheerful. Damn walls and beer mixed I guess. We arrived to quite a sight. Payday. Manny’s shop looked as if it were the last shop open on Christmas eve. People were hustling for loaves of bread and bottles of milk. I stood in the sort of queue nervously. Many of Manny’s customers had been drinking and were in no mood to wait their turn. I stared intently at the trinkets for sale behind the counter. A woman started shouting at me for queue jumping (I swear I had not) and I stared even harder. If I was Matilda the boxes of matches would have been whizzing round that shop at the speed of light.
She pushed me.
Not hard enough my friend. I stood my ground… I’ve lived in England, my mother is English – there is no institution more important to me than The Queue. It is simply the thing that defines humanity more than anything else. Queuing should be to us what biting is to sharks or humping your leg is dogs, especially when you’re meeting the new in-laws. We know chimps beat us in Maths tests, crows outsmart our kids until age 7 (when they can read and everything), sperm whales have relatively much larger empathy centres than our own, heck even mold can build maps of Tokyo faster than we can. But do any of them queue? No. I defy you to find any action more human than queueing. Suffice to say a small push was not going to take away the very essence of my humanity.
I let an elderly man who had been waiting longer than me go ahead of me, which only served to inflame the situation all the more. She said some derogatory things about my mother. I continued to stare. It was my own passive aggressive Mexican stand off. The more aggressive she got the more those match boxes burned. Under normal circumstances I’d have given her a talking to about the virtues of queueing, but I’d been drinking beer and I think she’d been smoking crack. I was scared. I’d once almost an hour hiding behind a security guard after a similar incident, in the interim the woman in question amassed a small army and the security guard nonchalantly tried to rid himself of me by running away. Match box stare down it was. And no, giving in was not an option.
None of this was necessary, I was buying a chocolate which was hardly a necessity, I wasn’t in any hurry so I could have waited and once the shop assistant told her to get to the back of the queue my triumph was, well, not a triumph at all. I was just the slightly tipsy woman who stared at match boxes in a manner that might have you question my mental state, eyesight or understanding of fire lighters. I left the shop feeling like a bit of an idiot. Seeking solace in my chocolate I fell asleep to the soothing sounds of a large Doberman snoring and occasionally farting next to me. The next morning however it was all forgotten. I woke excitedly; I’d stashed some pizza in the fridge for breakfast and we were heading to three national parks in one day! Life doesn’t get much better than this.