Yesterday was one of those days – and I know they happen far more often to me than I have any right to expect – when I was surprised and gratified by how lovely the people I meet on tour are. It was a free day, when I would have been at the Wanderers watching the cricket if England hadn’t won in three days, so I had no plans. When I’d been chatting to Joanne on day two, we’d discussed the sights of the Gautain region and she’d suggested that if the Centurion Test ended early, we could go to Pretoria Zoo. That was when the Johannesburg Test looked like it was going to go to four long innings. But now, why wait till then? So I jumped on the Gautrain (really plush, smooth and well-run – it makes travelling around between Johannesberg and Pretoria so easy) and met Joanne and her friend Lesley at Pretoria station, from where Joanne drove us to the zoo.
It seems to be a really good zoo, with most of the standard animals in unusually large enclosures for a city establishment, and a few rarer ones: koalas, white lions, and two Komodo dragons that were apparently a gift to Nelson Mandela from the president of Indonesia. Lesley’s highlight was seeing an okapi, which she has been hoping to do for years. I think my favourite part was getting up close to a leopard which came right up to the glass so that we could see its huge, velvety paws and distinctive, smooth spotted pelt in perfect detail. It was also lovely to spend the day with two friendly, interesting South Africans – it’s easy to get into a cocoon of other England fans when you’re on tour, but getting a local perspective is really great, and they were just fun to hang around with.
Joanne and Lesley showed me the Union buildings and Nelson Mandela statue before dropping me off at Hatfield station, from where I Gautrained back to Sandton. My airBnB was a bus or uber ride away from the station at that end, and I’d vaguely wondered about looking round Sandton or maybe meeting up with some of my acquaintances before heading home, if I could dig anyone out, since this was where most people were staying.
In the end, I had drinks with Kate, George and Rory Dollard at a bar on Nelson Mandela Square, where various other people I know to a greater or lesser degree came over to chat – it’s clearly the place to be seen on a Monday evening! I then let George drag me out to have dinner with some of his friends, who turned out to be Antoinette, Max and Max’s parents. I feel like I’ve repeatedly landed myself on them without prior notice this holiday, but they were very hospitable and insisted that I join them for the Bensons’ last dinner in Johannesburg before flying home. The restaurant was called The Butchers, which didn’t bode well for a vegetarian (George always seems to take me to places specialising in meat or alcohol – or both – I wonder if he’s trying to convert me?), but which is apparently one of the best restaurants in Johannesburg and did a fabulous platter of mixed vegetables – delicious, but far too much for me to finish!
After dinner, which we lingered over until the restaurant closed, we crossed the square to Hard Rock Café where we met up with Kate and some of her Barmy Army friends amongst others for a nightcap to close the evening off. It was about 1am by the time Kate and I took an uber (I’ve become a complete uber convert this trip- I’ll just have to be careful once I get back to London, where I suspect they aren’t nearly as cheap) to our apartments. It was only then that I remembered I had to pack, clean and clear the airBnB in preparation for leaving early the next morning for Kruger National Park. Oh well, who needs sleep, right?