It all started 5 weeks ago, just as we were wrapping up a family holiday on KwaZulua-Natal’s South Coast… My phone rang, displaying a Cape Town number I didn’t recognise. Usually it’s a bank trying to sell me products I have no interest in, but I was in a relaxed mood and took the call.
“Hello, I’m calling from the digital agency behind The Glenlivet Guardians Challenge competition that ran on The Glenlivet SA’s Facebook page. Do you remember entering the competition? You do? Great. I wanted to let you know that you were selected as one of our winners. We really liked your entry. I’m pleased to inform you that you’ve won an all-expenses paid trip to The Glenlivet distillery in Scotland.”
“I’ve Won What?!?! You’re kidding me!” was my stunned reply. This is the stuff dreams are made of, and while I have been fairly lucky with competitions in the past, this just seemed too good to be true.
“No, I’m not kidding. Congratulations! I’ll email through the details, but you’ll be flying out on 9th June, accompanied by the Brand Manager in SA, Mandla Holomisa. And the prize is for you and a partner.”
I rang off the call, sitting there fairly stunned and still a bit dubious that I could be so lucky. Then a gnawing feeling started in my belly… I would have to renew my SA passport and only had three weeks to do it in order to leave time to apply for a UK visa. It was going to be cutting it close.
A quick 700km return trip and the very next morning – a Saturday – saw us queued up outside the Department of Home Affairs to get our passports renewed. I had been dreading visiting the place for years, but it turns out that they’ve jacked things up quite a bit! I’m happy to report that it took only 8 work days to have them issued – quite impressive I think. Well done Department of Home Affairs, please take a bow!
But, there was a complication. A big, fat, nasty, you’re-not-going-anywhere complication… The same night that we submitted our applications I hopped onto the web to find out more about applying for a UK visa and was utterly dismayed to learn that as a (long-expired) UK passport holder, I was not eligible to apply for a UK visa! I would have to renew my Brit passport. Processing time? At least 5 weeks!
A mad scramble ensued to get all the info needed together and I fired off my UK passport renewal application, hoping that by some miracle it would be ready in time. I can’t begin to tell you how stressful the past 4 weeks have been, with no apparent progress, other than them deducting the processing fee 10 days after it was couriered to the British High Commission in Pretoria. The UK passport call centre agents I spoke to several times, while professional, seemed rather cold. It was like talking to an automated voice system.
With 10 days to go until the flight I reached out in desperation to the British High Commission in South Africa’s official Twitter account, pleading for help. The next day someone made contact! Gary Benham, in his last week of his 4 year long South African post, reached out across cyberspace and gave me a very human face to talk to instead of an imposing bureaucracy. A series of emails went to and fro wherein I outlined my plight and then I received the reply I didn’t want. My renewal application would not be completed in time, but I could apply for an Emergency Travel Document. With 5 days to go, I rushed through to Pretoria and submitted the application and rushed back a day later to be greeted by the most glorious sight…
A wave of relief washed over me. I could feel the intense stress leaving my body. The knots in my stomach, the ache in my head, the pain in my shoulders all began to slip away. I lost 6kgs in the last 5 weeks, all due to the fact that like an idiot I let not one, but two(!!), passports lapse. Admittedly, my pants are fitting a lot better now but there are better ways to shed weight!
But that’s all a distant memory now… In just under 48 hours I’ll be boarding a plane, headed to the Speyside Region in Scotland to explore whisky country! I think I may have worn a hole in my mouse mat with all the Google Maps searches I’ve done in the last 3 days, piecing together an itinerary for the extra days that we’ve added onto The Glenlivet trip. And I must say, the plans are looking really good! More will be revealed once I’m actually in Speyside, but I think it’s going to be a fantastic journey of discovery.
I would like to just reiterate my heartfelt thanks to The Glenlivet SA / The Glenlivet / Chivas Brothers Ltd / Pernod Ricard for this most awesome of prizes. As filled with passion for whisky as I am, I didn’t see myself being able to get across to Scotland for at least a few more years. You’ve taken this man’s dream and turned it into a reality that’s still giving me goosebumps. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Now let me get back to packing – time is running out. Expect plenty of tweets, photos, posts and over-excited messages from this South African in Speyside in the days that follow.