Lessons Learned the Hard Way – No. 24

17 07 2008


Never offer to buy beer on a sleeper train.


We boarded in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in the early evening bound for Victoria Falls. After grabbing bunks in the hot and cramped 6-berth compartments, someone offered to buy beer and asked for a volunteer. My arm spasmed into involuntary compliance, and we found ourselves deluged with orders from up and down the corridor. The orders mounted. Word spread further. More heads appeared in the doorway. The final count was 40 tins.


We set off down the swaying train, learning from a porter that our carriage was at the very back and the bar car was inevitably at the very front. As we continued our journey, the carriages became busier and more congested and we were surveyed with curiosity and amusement as we squeezed through. Finally reaching the bar car, we joined the queue for liquid sustenance.


“40 tins of beer, please.”


He stared us incredulously, so we politely repeated our order and took a wad of crumpled notes and loose change from our pockets. Taken aback, he turned and gathered the tins. That done, he began to tally the bill. Instead of a cash register or even a simple calculator, the bartender set to work on a menacing adding machine that may well have been designed by Charles Babbage in the 19th century.


Unfortunately, it lacked a multiplication button.


“One plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one…” he pounded our purchase on his machine.


The hot queue behind us grew impatient and increasingly thirsty. We became afraid to turn around.


“….plus one plus one plus one plus one plus….oh dear. Have to start again.”


There was a massive sigh and disgruntled murmuring.


“One plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one…”


The cold sweat of fear trickled down my neck. Several days earlier I had learned in Matusadona National Park never to come between a hippo and deep water. Early in my childhood I had learned never to come between a thirsty man and a cold beer. I was now standing between several dozen such men and a dwindling supply of suds.


“…plus one plus one plus one…”


We shifted nervously. The discontent grew.


“…plus one plus one….equals….”


We hurriedly paid, gathered up our vast hoards of beer and slipped away from the bar car as quickly as possible, fearful of a massive roar as the others discovered that there was no beer left. We raced back through the packed carriages, over stretched legs and stacked bags, past thirsty eyes and crying babies, guarding our precious libation with our lives. It was only when we arrived back in our own compartment that we dared relax…and cracked open a well-deserved beverage.


“Did you get my Coke?” a voice called from the corridor.


Post by: Simon Vaughan  © 2008




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