There and back again …

Well, the South Africa trip is over. And I have to say that I enjoyed it enormously, helped by a fairly easy schedule.

Late Sunday afternoon I drove up to London, and by some staggering feat managed to avoid any other traffic to speak of. A steady 90mph up the motorway meant that I arrived at Heathrow at least an hour ahead of my expected schedule. Checking into the flight was the work of 5 minutes, since I was e-ticketed, and very early. The nice lady on the South African Airways desk moved my seat to one that she thought would give me an aisle/window seat to myself (and she was right, bless her).

I then spent 2 hours wandering around the departure terminal shops, wondering at the over-priced “stuff” that people must buy (otherwise why would they be selling it?).  Scarves for £100. Laptop bags for £200. It’s clear I’m not in whatever income group airport shops are catering for. I suspect, from my observations, that almost no-one else present that evening was in that income group either. The only place doing a brisk trade was the bar …

The SAA flight from London to Johannesburg is now running Airbus 340-600’s, which are nice aircraft. 2-4-2 configuration rather than the old Boeings 3-5-3, which means you stand much more chance of getting an aisle seat. In addition the plane was configured with plenty of legroom, and a nice in-flight entertainment system. In the end I caught an on-demand film, before firing up the laptop to work on my presentations. 3 hours later I’d done about all I could without an Internet connection (when are we going to get decent connectivity on a plane?), so I tried (and failed) to get some sleep. I struggle to sleep at the best of times, so sleeping on planes is a real challenge. As usual, I failed the challenge, and watched the hours tick by. 12 hours in a seat is a long time. Not fun. Note to self: anything over 8 hours needs to be business class travel … I’m getting too old for economy.

The landing was really good at Johannesburg, with barely a jolt from the undercarriage. After spending about an hour in a queue for passport control (shades of trying to get into the USA) I got a taxi to the hotel, and then after freshening up, another to the local office, where I got to catch up with the sales and marketing people, and use the corporate network to finish off my presentations. Also managed to make contact with some of the other presenters, and arranged to meet them for drinks and dinner. Ended up with an aged steak in Mandella Square, which was by far the best steak I’ve had outside of France. Yum!

Tuesday was spent in the office fine-tuning my presentation, and then at the conference actually giving it. 140 people turned up, which was pretty impressive. Pitch seemed to go well, though (as usual) I wasn’t very happy with it, and thought that I could have done better.  But ended up chatting to lots of people about the content afterwards, and managed to put some of them in contact with the right sales people, which is good.

Wednesday morning was spent doing email and background “stuff” before heading up to Pretoria for a 2 hour guest lecture at the University of Pretoria, which was great fun, even in the 35c heat. Then got dropped off at Johanesburg airport, where I picked up the flight to Cape Town, where I collected a car, and drove around in ever-decreasing circles until I eventually found my hotel … and met up with all the other presenters in the bar … and had a drink. And another. And another … etc.

Thursday I got a free day. And had a very leisurely breakfast (2+ hours!) with a couple of the other presenters, discussing life, the universe, and all sorts of interesting side debates around science and computing, and our industry. Probably sounds really boring, but was a really fun way to start the day. Then went for a wander around the waterfront area, and watched the tourist helicopters flying in and out over the bay (which was pretty). In the afternoon I drove over to Table Mountain and took the cable car up to the top of the mountain, where I spent a happy hour or so drinking in the views, and looking at the local fauna and flora (for those that don’t know, its a world heritage site, with an almost completely separate ecology from the surrounding area).  Then drove down the cape towards Cape Point until I ran out of time, and had to turn around and head back to Cape Town to meet up with the rest of the team for dinner.

Friday was the second presentation, and then another 12 hour overnight flight home in economy class. Enough said.

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