Heathrow, Terminal 3, Monday 28th December
17.35 and our ancient, overladen British Airways 747 begins to trundle down the runway.
Someone once told me that if you haven’t left the ground after forty seconds, you are in deep trouble.
You are, in fact, on the Stairway to Heaven.
So when this long-should-have-been-mothballed relic — built sometime between the end of the second World War and John Major’s premiership — finally limps into the air after an epic forty-five seconds, packed to the gunwales and battling to overcome the laws of physics, it is hardly a surprise that something goes wrong.
Lurching skywards — for lurching is the only motion I can describe the erratic apathy of the thing — we are aware of a clanking noise behind us, followed by the sound of something imploding into the cabin.
But in the seconds during which I prepare to say goodbye to life in general and Cameron — my son — in particular, and contemplate the inevitable plummet to earth, I became aware that what has gone wrong is not life-threatening: the toilet doors behind us had blown off.
And so it’s all hands to the pump (literally) once the overburdened crate has levelled out and the seatbelt signs are switched off, in an attempt to replace the things.
I get involved in the salvage of the starboard one — if only to consolidate my place as the first occupant — then observe as a member of the Barmy Army berates a somewhat irritated flight steward with rather pointless and unhelpful instructions as to how to fix the port side cubicle.
But I am happy to report that other than the fact that neither Cam nor I had an infotainment console that worked, the eleven hours between Heathrow and Cape Town, where we are headed for the Newlands Test, pass relatively uneventfully.
Other than, that is, me spilling a glass of water over him, soaking his trousers, waking him and ruining his iPod.
Would I recommend BA?
Categorically not. The leg room makes Ryanair look like a first-class outfit, and Biman Bangladesh — or even Dan Air, for that matter — have (or had) a newer fleet of planes.
But the food is acceptable, if not the space allocated to attempt the contortion act required to consume it, and there is a decent ratio of friendly and helpful staff to passengers.
After a sleepless night, we touch down from a cloudless sky at Cape Town, where, at 7am it is already 25 degrees and the tour can finally get started.
Once through passport control and customs, we await the bus to the hotel with around two hundred other Howzat Travel clients.
There’s an interesting counter which advertises firearms. I’m not sure whether they’re selling or where you collect them after your flight. Not seen one of those in Belfast.
We’re staying at the Commodore Hotel, slap-bang on the V&A Waterfront, which, on first impressions deserves its five-star rating.
After a leisurely afternoon by the pool, we attend the meet and greet in the hotel’s colonial courtyard, then have an excellent meal in Belthazar’s where Cam has a crocodile steak — I, of course ask the waiter to make it snappy — and I have ostrich, which is superb.
An excellent bottle of Pinotage appropriately named Writer’s Block, aids an eight-hour dreamless sleep and I awake at 7am on day two ready to tackle anything while Cam snores on.