South Africa: My Personal Journey Schiphol and Beyond

KLM mock-up at Schiphol Amsterdam
KLM mock-up at Schiphol Amsterdam. Photo by author.

During my 11 hour lay-over in Schiphol,  thoughts of South Africa trudged through my mind like a tired Army marching resolutely towards the battle line. My personal journey was taking a very long time. While I was there, my boss contacted me on the intermittent “free” broadband via Skype and asked  me to take pictures. That was easy and you can see them on my previous post. I wandered the airport and attempted to sleep in-between pictures while I waited to go beyond the airport’s restraints and fly out to South Africa.

The Dutch are a very friendly nation, the airport’s employees in each of the shops and restaurants (that were open at that un-Godly hour) were helpful and easy to speak to. In the Netherlands English is taught from grade school and their versatility in the language still impresses me. When I lived in Holland, I would be asked if I spoke Dutch. My answer, in their language, was “Een klein beetje.” Which means, “a little bit.”

And I meant that literally.

If you asked them about speaking English, they would respond in kind. But their version of “a little bit” was vastly better than my poor efforts. The only difference being that they spoke the Queen’s English instead of the garbled “bastardised” version that we American’s usually speak. I could speak both versions of English having lived and worked in both the US and the UK. There is a difference between the two countries in the area of English language!

When it was time to board my flight to South Africa, I left almost reluctantly. I’d not been back to Holland since I left it in 1990 and I was reluctant to leave. I have many fond memories of the place and its people. I will go back one day and walk the streets of the places I lived and worked. And visit the hospital where my daughter was born.

On the last flight, I managed to find sleep at last. I fell into a fitful dozing state that eventually led me into a deeper sleep that lasted roughly an hour and a half. My mind would not stop long enough for more rest than that. I was excited to be travelling the world again after such a long break.

When I was much younger, my plan was to visit many countries and learn about the people who lived in each one. I got off to a good start, but getting married the second time made me sedentary. Having a wife and child makes the aspect of travel an unlikely option. Too many responsibilities and bills to pay.

After the plane had landed at the Johannesburg Airport and taxied up to our disembarkation area, I walked slowly towards the passport control area. I silently thanked whoever had put in the moving sidewalks, or paths, as I could stand there immobile; clutching my now overly heavy backpack that was full of laptop, iPad; various work tools and my heart medication.

Finally I joined the line of international and local passengers waiting to get permission to enter the country. Luckily, the staff that manned the control area, never trained in the UK or the USA. They were friendly, welcoming and ready to smile or joke with you. Perhaps the best advertisement for the country of South Africa “man” those passport control kiosks.

Life saving moving sidewalk
Life saving moving sidewalk at Johannesburg Airport. Photo by author.

After chatting with my passport chap, I made my way to the luggage collection point and was delighted to find my bag already going around the carousel. I grabbed it and went to find my local contacts. The paper’s local correspondent had said that her son would meet me at the airport. I started looking for signs with my name on.

As I moved around the throng of people waiting for loved ones to greet, or business contacts to pick-up, I heard my name called and as I glanced over I saw our correspondent.  I’d arrived at last.  Safe, exhausted and jet lagged, but so excited that I could hardly stand it.

My personal journey was about to begin, while I investigated and learned about a country that has fascinated me since learning of the Livingstone expedition as a boy in school.  My latest job had taken me to Schiphol, in Amsterdam, and beyond. I was now in South Africa, a country often depicted in films as dangerous and deadly.

I was there to learn what I could about a specific news event, but before my short four-day jaunt had finished, I learned much more and made a number of new friends and contacts.  I forgot all about Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and slogged through the world of investigative journalism.

I am now addicted to this world. My boss declared me an adventurer by nature and I have to admit being hooked on the adrenaline surge and I’m constantly looking for ways to replicate it. With all my senses cranked up to the uppermost level on the dials, I left the airport with two people who would become fast friends and comrades in our search for the truth.

To be continued…

Gold Mine Dump
Gold Mine Dump Johannesburg, ZA. Photo by author.

Name dropping, pt 2

Christopher Lee filming in Westminster for a f...

While I was stationed in Holland with the USAF I got to work quite a lot. Mostly I did adverts for the Armed Forces Network aka AFN guys downstairs. I have always done “voices” different accents and impressions. My then boss mentioned this to the AFN guys who ran upstairs and begged me to do some spots for them on the radio. It seems that they were all tired of hearing themselves on the airways and were desperate for some kind of change. So for a four year time period I did adverts and the occasional live show. It was fun and kept my diction sharp as well making me work on my stale impressions.

It was through the AFN guys that I got most of the work I did while stationed in The Netherlands. I had a friend from AFN come up and ask me, “Didn’t you act some?” I owned up quickly sensing this could mean work. “Well they’re making a film and they’re looking for American and English actors. Call this number.” So I did.

The film was called Murder Story, the Movie it was being produced by Elstree Film Studios. The folks who brought us Eastenders on the telly every week. The film was to feature the master Christopher Lee and an unknown  young actor Alexis Denisof. I was beside myself with excitement. The chance to work with Dracula himself! I had been a fan of Mr Lee’s since I was a boy and  watched the Saturday night Creature Features and seen him in so many Hammer Horror films.

To cut a long story short, I and a friend from AFN got parts in the film. We were to be security policemen from the Air Force base where Alexis’s dad worked. We had what seemed like huge parts. We had a little action some dialogue and, unfortunately, we were not going to be working with Christopher Lee.

On the day of our shooting we went to the railway station at Soest. There we got assigned our characters by what ever costume would fit us from wardrobe. Thus I became a Staff Sergeant and my mate became a private. We were introduced to the actor we would be working with Garrick Hagon, a real “jobbing actor” who was lovely to work with. We also met Alexis Denisof way before his Buffy and Angel days. A nice young man who was only there briefly to set up the shot for his stunt double to perform.

Alexis Denisof

Elstree Film Studios had just announced that their feature film section had gone bankrupt. They would still continue to produce Eastenders, but, that was all. Our big scene suddenly shrunk. No longer did we have dialogue or get out of our jeep to confront Garrick. Instead we pulled up to the crash site and just glowered at him from the jeep.

This small scene took more than three quarters of a day to film. The Director Eddie Arno asked if we would mind staying so that Garrick had someone to re-act to for his close ups. We said of course. Afterword Garrick came up to thank us profusely in a mixture of Dutch and English. As we had never spoken, he assumed we were Dutch! We all had a chuckle and our shooting day was finished. I had brought my ‘then wife’ to the shoot so she could see what actually happened on a film set. She was a bit disenchanted by the whole process. I told her as we drove home that the film would probably collect dust on a shelf somewhere as Elstree had gone bust. I was wrong.

It did release as just Murder Story, straight to video. After many years of searching I finally found a copy so I could see how Phil and I had looked on the day. It was then that I found out why it had been relegated to a straight to video release. It was a shame for Christopher Lee and Garrick and Alexis had performed extremely well. But the overall film lacked something.

Still I was happy. I had one more credit under my belt. Sure I did not get my name on the credits but I had met Tom Reeve a UK producer and of course the other folks mentioned above. I did not get to even see Christopher Lee. But at least, by gosh, I’d been in a film with him!