I thought I had already written about this picture, but today I found it in my drafts, so obviously I haven’t. Apologies to everyone who has heard this story, but here it is for posterity.
Ten years ago my husband fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams and took me to Africa. I know one shouldn’t just say “Africa” because the continent is huge and we only went to a little tiny part of it. But still huge. So – we actually went to South Africa, and while we were there we took a train from Victoria Falls – Zimbabwe, to Pretoria. Not just any old train, but the privately owned, luxury of luxuries, Rovos train. The Pride of Africa.
The train had about 10 carriages, was steam driven for a part of the journey (at the end), and took three days to get to its destination. At Victoria Falls there was a red carpet on the platform, champagne was served as our suitcases were loaded, and then we were led to our sleeping quarters. For some unfathomable reason we were upgraded to the Royal Suite. We had half a carriage all to ourselves, a double bed the width of the train, minus the corridor; a maid and her helper to attend to our every whim, rose petals on the pillows and sweets on the sideboard and champagne in the fridge. So far so good. A bit embarrassing even, but much better than the Great Western Railway, even in its heyday, I must admit.
We were going to spend three days on this train, so my biggest worry was the bathroom facilities. So to explore: we opened a door and there was this magnificent bathroom with w.c., shower, and the bath you can see in the picture. Perfect – apart from one thing: through the plughole you could see down onto the rails below. Through a very big plughole. An enormous plughole. My imagination went into overdrive: all I could think of was that we are in Africa – Africa is full of snakes – I don’t like snakes – they are bound to come up through that hole and into that bath and into our carriage and I will never wash or be able to go to the loo and we are here for three days and nights and what will I doooooo?
Luckily my husband usually knows how to cure me of rampant hysteria, (Champagne seems to do the trick), and after I had consumed some bubbles I decided that I would be safe , ish, while the train was moving. What I hadn’t bargained for, of course, was that the train moved very slowly through the luxuriant Zimbabwean countryside. Not necessarily so the passengers could indulge in the views, but because the railway tracks themselves were in very poor condition and needed mending several times en route. Also the signalling was quite erratic, which meant that sometimes we would stand in the middle of nowhere – incredibly beautiful nowhere, and no one knew why.
On one of these occasions I was already indulging in two of my favourite activities: bubbles in the bath, bubbles in my hand. And then the train stopped. Time stood still. Suppose there was a nest of snakes underneath my carriage? Suppose they pushed the plug up and – and – and? Tears (not of joy) began to roll into the bath water and the champagne glass and I was frozen with fear. I called for my brave and intrepid husband – who laughed. What could he do? He even took a very unflattering photo of me – he says to take my mind off things – I was very cross, and no, I shall not be publishing it here.
I got out of the bath. There were no snakes – but there could have been!