The Martini Diaries – Episode 5

In a slightly extended episode I welcome the croquet season, despair at my increasing weight having returned to the gym, fail to follow or understand a briefing on what constitutes ‘fake news’, travel to Kenya for the first time, experience British Airways First Class, deliver some lectures on leadership in Kenya, experience my first safari, and enjoy the best sleep ever on an aircraft.

Friday June 14th 2019

Working from home today to catch up on a number of papers after all the recent time away traveling. After my successes in the gym whilst in Baltimore I decided to return to weight training, and not concern myself with the problem that my weight seems to increase when I exercise. I went to my Pure Gym over the lunch hour and thoroughly enjoyed 20 minutes running on the treadmill, followed by 30 minutes of various weights and stretching. All my good work may then have been then been wasted as Sue, Molly and I went to the sea front at Felixstowe for fish and chips at The Alex that evening! We sat outside on the patio and looked out over the North Sea and reflected how lucky we are to live in Suffolk. The Alex is also a favorite haunt as they produce real fish and chips that are gluten free for Sue.

Enjoying my fish and chips

Gluten free fish and chips

Molly looking for some scraps

Saturday June 15th 2019

Croquet season starts! This evening we BBQd with friends and started playing croquet. We play a somewhat unorthodox game, based on the hoops being set out rather like an obstacle course than a traditional rectangle, due to the constraints of the garden size and design. Great fun though, and a true sign summer has arrived.

Sunday June 16th 2019

Awoke this morning to the realization that although it is Sunday and I do not fly to Kenya until Wednesday, I need to pack today as it is the only spare few hours I have between now and then. A quick hour in the gym again and then the sorting and folding begins!

Monday June 17th 2019

My weight has ballooned up again, as predicted now I am back in the gym. However, my. Heart rate has dropped significantly (down to resting 56), and my blood pressure is normal. Perhaps I am over thinking the whole body weight issue?

I attended the Parliamentary Scientific Committee meeting tonight in the House of Commons, on the subject of ‘Fake News’. I attend most of these committee meetings which cover a wide range of scientific topics (even though I am not a scientist), but tonight was the first time I struggled to follow it. Talk of echo chambers, bots, endless statistical analysis left me bewildered as where the conversation was going. True to form, no real conclusions were reached, and I sensed several very senior members from the House of Lords left as confused as I did! Arrived home late at 10.30 pm.

Tuesday June 18th

Left home this morning with my suitcases, as I cannot reach Heathrow by 8 am for check-in tomorrow morning I am staying in my Cub in London overnight. A somewhat frantic day in the office making sure I completed everything needed as I will be absent for a week. Then, after dropping my bags off at the Club, I headed over to Tavistock Square for a reception at 6 pm being hosted by the Society for Applied Microbiology during which they presented the government’s Chief Medical Officer with an Honorary Fellowship. A couple of glasses of wine, chance to catch up with some CEO colleagues, and then back to the Club in time to watch the Conservative Party Leadership Debate on the BBC at 8 pm.

No one really distinguished themselves during the debate, and the BBC was an embarrassment for not vetting the audience properly, and for the presenter somehow believing it was all about her, as she kept speaking over Boris Johnson reminding him of comments he had made in the past (something she singularly failed to do with the other candidates).

Wednesday June 19th 2019

An early start this morning having been picked up by the car at 7 am from my Club for the drive out to Heathrow. A smooth journey and check-in found me in the BA First Lounge by 8 am. Bacon and eggs followed by a refreshing glass of champagne (I should mention I struggle to consider champagne to be ‘alcohol’) and a double espresso.

.

The flight was scheduled for a 10.20 am departure, but was delayed until 11 am. When we boarded it felt somewhat chaotic, it must be a full flight, and I had only just unpacked the necessities from my hand luggage and opened The Times to read when an air hostess appeared beside me and told me the flight was over booked and I had been upgraded to First Class to help make room. I re-packed very quickly!

So, into the small First Class cabin for the first time in my flying experience – only 7 passengers, and two attendants to look after us. My pod-like area was very spacious. The table for working and eating was very large, with a side shelf area as well to use. My welcoming champagne was a Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle, served in a flute. A small wardrobe beside me allows for the storage of my jacket, briefcase, book and magazines. The service was superb, the food and wine excellent.

Working space

Work and canapés

Smoked ham hock terrine

Pan-fried halibut

Chocolate chilli fondant

Afternoon tea

Attention to detail is a hobby of mine, and taking infinite pains to ensure I maximize any experience brings me much pleasure, especially when traveling – it seems to enhance the experience. The cutlery provided is English, from Studio William Cutlery. The beautiful crockery is from William Edwards Ltd, also English, from Stoke-on-Trent, and made exclusively for British Airways First. Finally, the glassware is crystal, from Dartington Crystal.

The added bonus is being able to eat on demand. I choose to eat immediately (it was now nearly mid day after further delays in taking off) as I needed to work and was looking forward to 5 or 6 hours of uninterrupted peace and quiet.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the food: bread with extra virgin olive oil Vubia from Castillo Monte Vibiano. This was followed by 3 stunning canapés (Shropshire Blue cheese with spiced apple jelly and candied pecan, crab quenelle, and Cumbrian air-dried salami). Next came smoked ham hock terrine with quail egg, and then the pan fried halibut. I finished with chocolate chilli fondant and enjoyed chocolates by Lauden with my coffee. The wine – Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume 2015 – was a perfect accompaniment. I completed the meal with a glass of Warre’s 2009 Colheita Tawny Port.

Later, with about 2 hours until landing, I indulged in Afternoon Tea – a somewhat surreal experience to be served sandwiches, patisserie, scones and jam and cream, all on a cake stand. Tea was in a tea pot! At 35,000 feet – I wondered if this how flying used to be in the 1950s/1960s in the height of the luxury flying (before mass air travel took over)?

We landed in Nairobi at 10.15 pm local time (and I had cleared more work on the flight than ever before – 1st Class is clearly expensive, but if it enables such a high level of productivity and arriving at the destination fresh one can begin to understand) and moved swiftly through immigration (I had purchased my Visa electronically two months ago). My driver met me outside and we drove the 15 km to the accommodation. My spacious apartment was on the 7th floor of the main building at Daystar University Nairobi campus. It was now 11.30 pm, and I was feeling very tired. However, the note on the table in my apartment advised me I would need to be ready to go at 6.30 am, as the day’s events would be taking place at the main campus, which is a one hour drive away. Breakfast would be served there at 7.30 am. I finally got to bed at 12.30 am, having had spend some time chasing down a hostile lone mosquito intent on attacking me. I sprayed my bed (and upper body) with repellent and endured an uncomfortable hot 5 hours before my alarm went off at 5.30 am.

My spartan apartment

Thursday 20th June 2019 Nairobi

My shower had only two settings – scalding hot or cold – which was challenging, and my mood was only improved by finding some instant coffee to make a cup to stir my energy. The ride to the campus was my first introduction to the ‘African Massage’ (a local expression for being thrown around in one’s seat), but was made somewhat surreal when at one point I looked out of the car window and saw 5 giraffes walking by!

The campus was stunning – set up on hill, with a distant view of Nairobi. Monkeys even roamed around outside.

The day was very productive, and I delivered two lectures to the senior leadership of the University. In the morning I discussed the theory of leadership and building high performance teams, and in the afternoon I presented on the need for ethical leadership. Interspersed with those were conversations with the faculty leaders, the inspiring Chancellor and the charismatic Vice-Chancellor. The day concluded at 5 pm.

We then drove for an hour around the edge of Nairobi (witnessing endless shanty style buildings, road side selling, goats, chickens, dogs nibbling away at scraps of rubbish in roadside ditches, dirt, dust, smoke from BBQs) to be hosted for supper by the Dean and her family (her husband, a charming man, is the Headmaster of a primary school who told me in his school there are 2,700 students with just 50 teachers. Some classes have 100 children in them). A delicious meal of goats meat, rice and vegetables followed by fresh fruit. The Kenyan tradition of the host having to give you permission to leave saw every member of the family involved (there were by now 15 of them in the room) saying a few words – we eventually left 9.15 pm, after nearly an hour of farewells!

Back in the apartment at 10.30 pm, with the potential luxury of a 6.30 am start.

Friday June 21st 2019 Nairobi

This morning started with a cold shower (no option this morning of the scalding hot) and then the 7.30 am breakfast was not delivered for some unknown reason to our dining room. I therefore ate two biscuits from my briefcase (handed to me by the air stewardess when I left the flight) in lieu of breakfast. Today’s conference was being held on the ground floor of the building of my apartment starting at 8 am. I arrived on time, but hungry from a lack of breakfast. Fortunately the conference was no where near ready to start – only 4 people had arrived – and a message reached me my breakfast had just been delivered upstairs. I quickly returned to my apartment/dining room and enjoyed my toast and fried eggs!

The conference, when it eventually started at 9 am, was very successful, addressing the diabetes crisis in Kenya. 50% of hospital beds are now filled with patients suffering from non communicative diseases (NCD), and 67% of unnatural deaths are from NCDs. The Worlds statistics show that, in 2017, NCDs accounted for 73% of all global deaths. So, Kenya are close to the most worrying global statistic.

At the end of the conference there was a 30 minute break (just enough time for a quick change of clothing and some packing ready for the morning) before driving out to the Mash Park Hotel for the Chancellor’s dinner. The drive there took us close to the edge of one of the major slum areas in Nairobi. Just when I think nothing in this World can any longer cause me to become upset you see this. I cannot comprehend what it must be like to live a life where every day, every hour even, is a struggle. A struggle to exist, to survive, to get by. When I hear UK politicians stating that millions of people in the UK live in poverty, they really have no idea what they are talking about. This, awful though it is, is gut-wrenchingly awful poverty.

An excellent meal (a wide ranging buffet), and good conversation with my table partner Professor Laban Ayiro, the charismatic Vice-Chancellor, who it transpires is a fellow football fan, especially the Women’s World Cup! We spent some fun time trashing the American women’s team and their lack of grace and sporting attitude!

I was humbled when the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor announced they were appointing me as a Goodwill Ambassador to the University (Daystar University).

Rather lengthy speeches followed for nearly two hours, and I arrived back at my apartment at 10.45 pm. Now to pack for the two day safari. Another early start needed as our transport leaves at 7 am (which if the last two days are the benchmark will mean 8 am!). As I settle into bed at midnight and set the alarm for 5.30 am it occurs to me I have only been in Kenya for 49 hours, and that I haven’t had a drink of alcohol the whole time (and not anywhere near enough sleep!)!

Saturday June 22nd 2019 Kenya

We loaded two vans from Jotto Safaris, 4 passengers in each and departed our accommodation in Nairobi at 0750 hrs (my timing estimate was not too far off, and clearly I am now adjusted to ‘Kenya Time’!). After one hour we stopped at a high point to look down into the Rift Valley – a stunning view of the valley. Just before 11 am we stopped again to de-flate the tires slightly at a a garage for the next part of the journey, which our driver told me would start to get bumpy – I had just been thrown around in the backseat for two hours, how worse could it be? We were in Masa’s biggest town, Narok.

Our transport

Ready for a safari

From there we drove on a new very smooth hard top road, but it ended after about 30 minutes as it was clear the next section had not been finished. We therefore drove on a packed dirt track, bumping around, literally bouncing out of our seats due to the speed.

Then, suddenly, new road again. We had driven past many small shantytown type areas, pretty much typical for this type of countryside in Africa so it seems. Then, a left turn in a small village, and we hit dirt track again. We are now at 4 hours on the road. Then the fun really started, dirt tracks, badly potted and rutted, took over. Some straight, some winding. The occasional zebra appeared beside the road, lots of sheep, goats and the occasional donkey. The sheep and goats were being herded by small boys, and the young men we passed were wearing brightly coloured blankets, mainly red.

We were in Maasai country now.

Twice we stopped by a simple barrier made from tree branches, and paid the young man manning it some cash – our guide told me the government road into the reserve is very bad (I cannot conceive how bad that must be if the road we are on is considered an improvement!), so the Masai allow transit through their lands, hence the small fee. We crossed small rivers by driving through them (thank heaven for this Toyota 4-wheel drive), drove up hills so steep I though we would roll over, and slid sideways at an impossible angle. It was like being in one of the films Landrover produce to show how much you could throw their cars around off-road.

After one and a half hours of this off-road driving we reached our destination. Sopa Lodge. Located high on the slopes of the Oloolaimutia Hills, Maasai Mara Sopa Lodge was one of the first safari lodges to be built in the Reserve. The buildings all follow the design of traditional African round houses, with conical roofs. We were now 250 km from Nairobi – some 6 hours. It was 2 pm. Check-in was predictably chaotic, we filled in arrival forms and were told to go to the dining room for luncheon, after which our rooms would hopefully be ready.

View from my room

My room

Our guide said we should not waste any time and would start our first safari at 4 pm. I was not sure my bounced around and stiff body could take much more, but we ate luncheon (a buffet of differing types of salads, curry, lots of rice, fruit, chicken, fish, cheese and pastries), unpacked in our rooms and headed out again.

We entered Maasai Mara Game Reserve in about 10 minutes of rough terrain driving, passing through the local Maasai village – shockingly filthy with rubbish tipping everywhere. The Maasai are the ancestral inhabitants of the area. There is a $70 per person per day entry fee into the Reserve. To enter was a somewhat surreal experience. In many respects it was just like being in the open countryside, I’m not sure what I had expected. Certainly anyone entering this environment thinking they are going to find cafés, gift shops, restaurants etc. are in for surprise. This is pure nature. There are no outer perimeter fences to keep the animals in. Just a massive 580 square miles of roaming opportunities for the animals – their natural habitat.

We raised the roof of our Toyota vehicle, then one can stand up (and hold on!) and obtain a wonderful 360 degree view. We quickly saw Wildebeest, Zebra, a massive Water Buffalo and a Giraffe. Then, in much of the pattern of the next two days, our driver/guide heard on his radio that a Cheetah had been spotted. We raced off, along with many other vehicles to the sighting. I kept thinking of that 1960s cartoon Wacky Races!

Sure enough, strolling across the plains came two Cheetahs. Completely oblivious to the 10 or so vehicles parked up to view them, not threatened or worried. They sat down, observing their surroundings. Our guide explained the three rarest animals to see are the Cheetah, Leopard and Rhinoceros. Within 30 minutes of arrival we felt very privileged.

Dark clouds began to appear and a storm threatened. We drove around some more and found four Lions asleep on top of a raised area, and a herd of Elephants. In addition, there were small herds of Zebra and Gazelles all around.

Then, the heavens opened and torrential rain descended. Quickly the tracks turned to mud flows, lightening flashed all around and thunder roared. It took some time to return to the Lodge, with some tracks already impassable.

We returned by 7.30 pm, freshened up, and dined at 8.30 pm (I made it to the bar early and enjoyed a whiskey and soda – I felt, after nearly 3 dry days I deserved it!). Dinner was another buffet (the theme of every meal), supplemented by an outdoor BBQ. The rain continued to pour down. After dinner we retired to the bar (a chance for a Cognac!) and eventually to bed by 10 pm.

Sunday June 23rd 2019

A luxury of almost 7 hours sleep. Bed at 10 pm, read for a while and then asleep at 10.30 pm. Awake at 6 am and into breakfast at 6.30 am. Eggs cooked to order (scrambled), delicious coffee and a glass of mango juice. This was going to be a long day. Our guide recommended a 7 am start, and a day spent going deep into the Reserve to the border with Tanzania. We initially reached the same area of the Reserve we had finished at the evening before quite quickly, and, at 7.30 am, we were able to observe two Lionesses eating their ‘breakfast’ – a Zebra. Not a sight for those who are squeamish!

Then, in a wonderful moment further away, we observed two Lions strolling, and laying their scent on their territory. Simply the most majestic thing I have ever seen – the Kings. Totally relaxed, totally in control. They came right past our vehicle, again completely unconcerned by its presence. Our guide explained how the Lion is at the top of the food chain – nothing is a threat to it.

We drove on past a group of Lionesses enjoying a sleep and another breakfast (this time an Ostrich) and then spotted our first group of Giraffe. Such a wonderful animal.

We eventually reached the plains. They stretched as far as the eye could see, and everywhere you looked were herds of Wildebeests grazing. Extraordinary sight. The sheer vastness, the unspoiled aspects, are impossible to capture with a camera. You simply have to stand and look, and take it in. Our guide explained the Great Migration – around July of each year one of the World’s great natural events takes place. 1,300,000 Wildebeest, 500,000 Gazelles, 200,000 Zebra move from the Serengeti plains to Maasai looking for fresh pasture. They stay until October. Simply fabulous. More sightings of Lions, Elephants, Zebra, Hyena, Warthogs, and eventually we reached the border with Tanzania.

From there we headed to the Mara River, where we parked up and were taken by a Park Ranger (armed with a 1939 Lee Enfield 303 rifle!) who took us on foot down the river’s edge to observe over 20 Hippopotami and some huge crocodiles (the rifle was to defend against the Crocodiles). We crossed the river on a bridge built by the British Army in 1936 – and still fully functioning today.

We left the river in our vehicle and parked up under a tree to enjoy a picnic lunch (it was now past 1 pm). After lunch we spotted a Leopard asleep in a tree – again simply a majestic creature. Then, we needed to drop off two of our group at Keekorok Airstrip – the dirt airstrip used by small aircraft from Nairobi for passengers who do not wish to make the 6 hour drive! Here we found ourselves at 5570 feet, with wonderful views of the plains.

On the border with Tanzania

The best picnic location – ever!

A 45 minute cross country drive then saw us finish for the day in the Reserve, but our guide had arranged for us to meet the local Maasai tribe. We were met by the Chief’s eldest son and entertained by one of the tradition dances. I participated and was presented with my ‘Honorary Maasai’ blanket. I then accepted an invitation to enter the home (simply a mud hut, made by the wife over two months, of sticks, mud and cow dung) of one of the tribe. We sat inside his very dark, very small hut, with his calf, children and a smoky fire. He told me of his traditional life, and how every 9 years or so he has demolish his hut because of termite damage and his wife has to rebuild it. I told him how my house was built in 1850, and he simply would not believe me!

We watched a fire making process – which I think did not quite go to plan, as eventually 4 of the tribe had to help start it! But, impressive nonetheless.

We returned to the Lodge at 6 pm, exhausted. A lovely shower followed, and then into the bar for another whiskey and soda – which I never knew could taste so good! Another buffet dinner, and then it was time to pack for the homeward journey in the morning to Nairobi.

Monday 24th June 2019

Up at 6 am, breakfast at 6.30 am and on the road by 7 am. The roads (tracks) were terrible, mud and water everywhere. It was touch and go on a couple of occasions whether we even get out of the area! Eventually calmer conditions appeared and we bumped, shook and thrashed our way 6 hours back to Nairobi, arriving about 2 pm.

It was an unpack and re-pack situation as I merged my safari bag back into my main luggage and then showered and changed ready to be taken by the driver to the airport. My flight was not until 11.30 pm, but the driver insisted we left the apartment at 6.30 pm for the only 15 km drive. He was correct – it took one and a half hours of the most terrifying drive of my life to reach the airport (and I have experienced many nerve racking taxi rides before – the Ayrton Senna highway in Sau Paulo Brazil being still clear in my mind!).

On the perimeter of the airfield passengers have to get out of their vehicles and walk through a screen security (similar to usual airport security), and the driver takes the vehicle through a barrier where it is scanned. I rejoined the vehicle on the other side and my driver told me proudly this ‘advanced’ security meant I would not have to be screened again. If there had been anything in my luggage or on my person this screening will have picked it up. Although I had become used to being escorted everywhere in the past few days by armed guards, and security was ever present, I doubted his optimism that one remote screening could be that effective.

He was very wrong. After being dropped off outside the departure Terminal I had to put my suitcase and hand luggage through another screening, as well as my person. I then checked in, and was thrilled to find I had been upgraded to First Class again. After a wait of one and a half hours in the delightfully peaceful Turkish Airlines Lounge (used by British Airways) I was intrigued to know why, with 90 minutes still to go until take-off we were called to board. I walked to the Gate, and found I had to unpack my hand luggage again, and place my laptop, iPad and briefcase in three different plastic trays, remove my shoes and belt and jacket into a fourth tray and then somehow carry all of them through to another security screening.

Once through that, I turned the corner and had to repeat the process again – a complete duplication. This whole process took nearly 45 minutes – so my driver was horribly wrong. Myself, and my hand luggage had now been screened 4 times! Thorough? Or just inefficient?

Into the holding area, and then onto the aircraft 30 minutes before take-off. The glorious peace and quiet of First Class was so very welcome. Natasha, my air hostess, was faultless in her service. I decided to eat a dinner, even though it was midnight (I had barely eaten since breakfast) and again a fabulous meal. On Natasha’s recommendation I decided to forgo my Chablis and tried the Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc 2018 from New Zealand – superb choice.

After dinner I was issued with my British Airways cotton pajamas and slippers and went to the washroom to change. When I returned to my seat I found it had been converted into a flat bed, and my sheets and duvet folded back ready – attention to detail. I settled down, and then slept soundly for 5 hours. The best sleep ever on a flight. It was all so comfortable with the soft eye mask and ear plugs, and the width of the bed. I awoke 45 minutes before landing London, enjoyed a fresh brewed coffee, changed back into my clothes, and left the flight at Heathrow at 6 am, ready to face the busy day ahead in London!

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