On a filthy night we set off for Portsmouth to meet a long lost cousin on a flying visit to England, en route from their home near Washington DC to Bologna, Italy. As is customary for visitors to these parts they probably looked at the dots on the map that represent the British Isles and expected everything to be a stone’s throw apart: “Where are you? We’ll meet you anywhere close to London, Stansted, Canterbury, Kent or Portsmouth!”
But they were in luck, as we live just 25 minutes from Portsmouth. It’s pointless talking miles or kilometers, as traffic densities around here will set a trap for the uninitiated visitor, especially those used to the vast open spaces of South Africa. When we lived in Pretoria we often jumped in the car on the spur of the moment to have Sunday lunch with my parents in Gelukspan, about 300 km away, and came back that same afternoon, hardly breaking a sweat. Nineteen years ago during our first trip to England we crisscrossed the length and breadth of the island with that same carefree abandon. But I suppose the endless hours hemmed in on jam packed motorways have instilled a degree of realism. (Having said that: Mrs Gidi still occasionally sets out on day trips to view properties in far flung Welsh villages, a journey of 4 or 5 hours each way, to the mild amazement of her English friends.)
So there we were, aquaplaning along the A27, with the oncoming headlights creating eerie light sabers in the driving rain, and the crosswinds pummeling the little Fiat.
We met our visitors in their hotel lobby, and walked into Gunwharf Quays to find a meal. As luck would have it we found our usual haunts jam packed with Saturday night revelers and one helpful waiter pointed out that we might find a table nearer to the harbour front, where horisontal rain would scare off most of the early evening punters. And so we sat down to a scrumptious meal of Korai Lamb, Bhuna chicken, Madras, Roti, Peshwari Naan, and Cobra lager. All in all we were seven people around that table, including our two boys and their 9 year old girl. Total strangers we were to start with, but we needn’t have worried, as the company was delightful, and we experienced a real warmth in the conversation.
The wind died down a little, and as we wandered along the harbour front the kids were already monkeying around like old friends, climbing onto the railings and grinning from ear to ear. The adults followed at a more leisurely pace, taking in the magical atmosphere that is Portsmouth by night. All around us the fairy lights glittered, the gentle throbbing of the night clubs spilled out onto the cobbled walkway, and the silvery blue glow of the Spinnaker Tower guarded the skyline.
What’s distance anyway, between friends?