Cape Town II : Beaches, books and a big surprise
20.06.03

Waking to a freezing cold car park, I paid the phenomenal overnight fee and we crawled out into a bright but crisp Winter morning. I remembered snippets of how to get back to my cousin Paul's flat but that doesn't mean we got there by anything like the most direct route. My first mistake was remembering that Fish Hoek was indeed next to Kalk Bay but failing to recall that the flat is actually in St James. Unsurprisingly, I didn't recognise the back streets of Fish Hoek and I decided to give up and have a fish and chip lunch by the harbour in Kalk Bay. When I stopped, Pimane woke up and agreed. Suitably refreshed with a bellyful of grease, I ambled to the end of the harbour wall and peered out at the sea through a hangover and a pair of polaroid sunglasses. It struck me that I had forgotten quite how massive (in the technical sense of heavy) the movement of a bright green sea on a brisk morning is, and I stared into it for quite some time as it sucked up and spat out the barnacles on the concrete below me.

Kalk Bay is a great little place in False Bay, south of Cape Town, towards cape point (which is, disappointingly, neither the westernmost nor the southernmost point of even the Western Cape province, which leads one to wonder why it is the Cape at all) where artsy people who are so relaxed they make Brighton residents look hassled sit around drinking cappuccino and wearing hippy clothes. You can, of course, sit and watch the fishermen sail in and gut fish for the harbourside market if you really want, but there is only so much blood and guts I can take on a hangover so we wandered back to town. I kept recognising shops and bars from the last time I stayed in a guesthouse there but was buggered if I could find the flat. I managed to set myself straight on the St James issue, but was still unsure of the name of the road. Recalling dimly that one could approach it from a neighbouring street, we knocked on a few unfortunate peoples' doors and confused them totally by raving about "the cottage below you" while they looked at us as if we were some kind of avant garde street theatre. Which is possible in the Kalk Bay area. Running up and down the hillside like a lunatic, my day became a race - would I find the flat before having a coronary? Pimane looked interested in my odds and was fishing in his wallet when I suddenly spotted a sign that I recognised. He was unimpressed, given my excitement over "recognising" several other signs already, but this time I was sure. Halfway up the mountain, and just as he was about to win his bet, I flailed out with my arm and smacked him in the face.

"There it is! That's the place!"

Reeling slightly in his attempt not to tumble back down the precipitous street, a look of relief tried to struggle to Pimane's face despite being heavily hampered by leftover booze byproducts and nasal pain. Full of the joys of the hot shower in store, and already tingling with the anticipation of a proper bed for the night, I discovered nobody was in at the house above, thereby ruining my chances of getting a key. We stomped back to the car. At the Internet cafe, I banged off a few emails around the globe to anyone who might know where Paul was, or what his wife's phone number might be - two pieces of information with which one would think I had managed to furnish myself when I arranged to stay at the flat earlier that week but hadn't because of my firm belief in everything working out with only minimum effort.

We sat on the seafront and read the newspaper in the sun before I suddenly got a text message from my Aunt, on holiday in Portugal, with Isobel's number. Bailed out by technology again! I called her and discovered we'd been knocking on the wrong door. Unfortunately, ten minutes and another Herculean climb later, we discovered that the right door was unoccupied. I called Isobel again and got a cell number, but it was switched off. We cruised the shops and eventually got through an hour later, only to discover that we'd missed the tenants by turning up during their twenty-minute dog walk. D'oh! In my eagerness to fetch the keys, I forgot to take any luggage up the hill with me, and then in my eagerness to get clean clothes and shampoo up to the flat forgot about the access road up the side and humped my bag up the 150-odd step staircase instead.

All was forgiven after a proper dousing and a refreshing drink on the balcony, however, and Pimane got into some fruitless whale-spotting with the binoculars. It was now about two in the afternoon, and I was a trifle concerned that I hadn't had a call from the client for whom I was supposed to be working. He, it seemed, was out of his office and out of cellphone range. Unfased, we went into town for a refreshing coffee and a bite to eat with some of Pimane's old schoolmates who are now at the University of Cape Town (UCT but, amusingly enough, also Universiteit van Kaapstadt, or UK on the motorway lanes). We played pool and did the usual boys-on-the-town rigmarole until fairly late but the others were keen to get back, despite it being the weekend - they had exams on, which made sense given that some of my mates in the UK were also sitting finals that week. Pimane and I retired to St James and partook of a mandatory drink before bed at the Brass Bell, the famous seafront bar that waves actually break underneath.

To tell you the truth, I'm not entirely sure what we did on Saturday but I'm pretty sure we went to see a film, with Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson in - a strange pairing until you see the title, "Anger Management", which makes a lot more sense. I found it a trifle disappointing, sadly, given how strong Sandler's films have been in the past, but entertaining enough at the time. When we went to bed it was depressingly clear that I would either have to leave in the morning or put Pimane on a bus and hang on for the work. When it came to it, I simply couldn't afford not to make any money so I went for the bus option. Sunday was grey and it rained in the afternoon, curtailing a walk on the mountain and cancelling a trip to cape point, but did give me the opportunity to relax in a couple of seafront cafes and marvel at the differences since my last visit. The most notable was the cute Railway Cafe, a little spaza booth near the Brass Bell, which had spawned an awning enclosure allowing business to continue when it rained and a little Jamaican banana tree tea garden. I tried to rekindle my enthusiasm for Irish Coffee but under new management they just didn't have the zing they used to. I tried to track down an English couple whom I had met but they had moved house, so I swung by town and saw Bowling for Columbine, about which you've heard more than enough already.

It did occur to me, when Paul called and brought it up, that as a young man with a sexy seaside pad at my disposal I should really be "jolling hard" and "working the chicks at the Waterfront" but frankly I didn't feel like I needed to. The thought crossed my brain that perhaps I was just making excuses because I was too scared to talk to strange women, so I took advantage of the short queue for the movie and convinced the pretty girl behind the counter to go for a drink with me when the cinema closed. It was nice to talk to somebody, I admit, but as I browsed CDs I just lost any conviction that I was going to be good company and didn't show up, which was a shitty thing to do but I didn't see the point of showing up just to cancel. As I reached this decision my eyes settled on a DVD of Madness, live in Finsbury Park in 1998 and with a rush of emotion remembered that I took my then 8 year-old sister to that very concert. The DVD was 250 rand and I simply couldn't afford it. I determined to come back as soon as I got paid and send it to her.

On Monday morning I finally got hold of my potential client, who brushed me off. I couldn't believe it and tried to remonstrate in the most guileful way I knew how, but the sad fact was that the project for which he was pitching had been cancelled so there was no need for the presentation after all. What could I do? Back at the flat I chatted briefly with Paul who asked me to stay another day to let insurance assesors in to look at the leaky geyser. I popped out for, and fitted, a new light bulb in the bathroom, walked to Muizenburg to do my laundry and cooked myself some dinner by way of economising. Reading back, it sounds like I had had a perfectly terrible time thus far, but I really hadn't. It's such a pleasure to be by the sea and to have a comfortable base to which to return after a long hike for a shower that vast, empty, contemplative days are just the ticket.

Tuesday I spent with a friend of Pimane's, who took me to the van Riebeek memorial to show me a book he and a friend had written, called, SEXual MANual: the layman's guide to getting LAID!! which was one of the funniest things I've read in a long time. An excerpt:

While the phrase, "out of your league," is not in our dictionary, for heaven's sake do yourself a favour, china, and be reasonable. Remember Newton's theory of gravitation, which states that attraction exists between any two bodies in the universe, and that the strength of attraction is proportional to the combined mass and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. You can correctly surmise from this that it is easiest to bang a fat chick who lives next door.

One of the top tips was to make, and fail to turn up for, a first date so that you can have the opportunity to make up on the second date, which will provide an instant emotional connection (as long as the excuse is good enough) and I immediately started feeling like a double bastard for my cinema stunt. Apparently the book currently sells best (R35 on UCT campus; ask for Hops) to second-year girls (unsurprisingly, given the warning, "keep out of the reach of women," on the cover) and is all set for a big street sale at the Grahamstown festival. Best of luck, lads! Anyone wanting a copy can get one through me - but you'd probably do well to wait for the revised and expanded version which they are going to try and sell to a publisher when it's finished. It's looking good so far, I must say. My laughter echoed around the stone lions overlooking Cape Town and we chatted through sundown about publishing, advertising and the world's problems. It was a real moment of connection and I was glad I wasn't too busy following the advice of the book to enjoy it.

I spent the rest of the evening at Cool Runnings, a West Indies-themed bar in Observatory with a sandy artifical beach outside, a 24 hour Internet cafe upstairs and a bartender downstairs wearing a t-shirt that sported the slogan, "welcome to the stoned age," and a dinosaur toking on a sizeable joint. Erm, on the shirt, not in the bar. Although I imagine that after a few Durban Poison bongs you might believe there was a dinosaur in the corner toking on a sizeable joint, I hadn't, so I didn't, and there wasn't. I chatted with him for a while and it turns out, ironically enough, that the police are cracking down on dope at the moment and the place had been raided only the night before, which explained the lack of customers. It was good that I got the only pint of Guinness left in the cask, because I really couldn't afford a big session or a night in the Observatory backpackers (or, indeed, the internet cafe) and I made my way back to Kalk Bay, where I wrote the last diary entry but one on my laptop before retiring.

The insurance assessors never called, and on Wednesday I'd had enough and drove back to Johannesburg. The journey back was both swifter and less interesting than the trip down; I have discovered that I have an attention span for driving at 100km/h that is limited only by physical exhaustion. Every once in a while I'd do the old cover-the-mirror-and-guess-what's-behind trick and never once got it wrong.

I stopped just outside Cape Town to take the photo of misty mountains and traffic lights that's in the photo album and otherwise made short work of the 950 odd miles back to Joeys, stopping only for fuel (both for car and self) and those infernal single-lane roadworks. This time I did time them and they added a full hour to the driving time, so be warned. I had plenty of time to think during the drive and realised that I wasn't too bothered by the abject failure of the trip to earn me any money; okay, so it would have been nice to have my travel expenses paid but it was no heart attack as I was expecting a fat cheque from a client in Swaziland in the not-too-distant and I'd had a lovely holiday by the sea.

Back in Johannesburg I discovered that the Merc was ready! Of course, Freddy wasn't available on Thursday so I went to see the Rowan Atkinson attempt at a 90-minute Barclaycard advert, Johnny English - another disappointment, I'm sorry to say - and called him on Friday. As it turned out, he still wasn't around so I climbed into the Golf and took off for Mbabane; I had to be back for a meeting. That evening I had a drink with, amongst others, Marlin, who'd moved out of Pine Valley in my absence and onto the building site in eZulwini, and Jenny. Eventually they left and I stayed on with Zoe, of Swazi Diary fame, and two friends of hers who'd come down for dinner. Given what I wrote earlier this month, you'd think I had a great night, being all civilised and middle-aged but actually I didn't, really. I still hang on to the bizarre, childish idea that adults always talk about interesting, high-minded matters and that one day I'll be let in on it, but actually what I've discovered that the few worthwhile conversations I do get aren't a tantalising glimpse but in reality pretty much all there is on offer. Blackadder, who's having an affair, I-got-drunk-and-fell-in-a-flowerbed.. twice! stories.. I could have been back at school. Or rather I would rather have been; at least I could have talked about Viz and why the nurses in the clinic are fit or even told the I-bunked-the-first-night-of-the-sixth-form-for-a-mate's-birthday story, which would have been far funnier, more egocentric and hence excusably inconsequential. Ah, well.

Saturday morning I drove back, picked up the Merc and dropped the Golf off with the mechanic as it was having a spot of gearbox trouble. The mate who drove the car back from Freddy's remarked that one of the Merc's brakes wasn't letting go; he could smell burning. I ignored it and saw "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" which I was looking forward to until the - exceptionally camp - cafe owner next door told me it was the only film playing that people were complaining about. I sagged momentarily but actually ended up enjoying it, so ner. You'll have to imagine me sticking my tongue out at the cafe bloke, as I was far to scared to do it at the time.

On Monday I got up stupidly early and, with no small amount of trepidation about the Merc's roadworthiness, set off for Swaziland. About halfway, and in fog so dense I had to look out of the open door window, the heater coughed acrid smoke at me and died. "Hey," I thought. "At least I know what the burning smell was." I pulled over in the freezing fog (tentatively as I couldn't really see the nearside of the car from the offside window), opened the boot, (noting that the nearside tail-light had also suddenly gone) donned all my clothes and carried on, cursing the electrician who had "fixed" the car for me when I got it. I crossed the border swiftly and had a bit of a funny moment as I realised how short the journey to Swazi now seemed. I made my appointment in Matsapha and worked all day, mostly printing off reams of proof copies of the manuals I'd typeset before going to Cape Town. The more I work with computers, the more I realise what a joke the paperless office has become. Before I left the guy in charge of the project sat me down and offered me a permanent position in the publishing department, which was an ego boost but I told him I'd think about it; I'm not keen on signing away my weekdays again.

After work I took Marlin for a plate of chips and a beer in eZulwini and gave him a go in the Merc. He was hugely enthusiastic and responded well to my exhortations to, "boot it," letting out a short giggle of exhileration at the raw power under his foot before recomposing himself and missing his turnoff. Eventually I got home to my dogs, only to discover the electricity had been turned off. I tried to console myself with a slice of toast and then suddenly remembered that the reason it wasn't heating up was probably linked to the reason I couldn't see and had cut slices too thick for the toaster. I couldn't hack any more so I just turned in.

In the morning I went straight to SEB to ask about the electricity and they told me I hadn't paid my bill in six months. "But," I argued, "I can't pay if you don't send me a bill." They asked if I thought it a little unusual not to receive a bill for so long and I had to say yes, so they asked me if it was unreasonable to expect me to turn up and enquire about it, at which point I broke down and asked them just to TELL ME HOW MUCH I OWED and let me go home. The man at the desk tapped in his computer and told me it was about four thousand Emalangeni. I was shocked but, still cowed by his earlier logic, I went to the billing department to find out the minimum I had to pay to be reconnected and the woman there told me he'd been joking and it was actually E433.50, which is astoundingly reasonable, considering.

I treated myself to a curry on the way home, and even splashed out on a E38 bottle of vodka for Andy and Des, which I delivered later that evening.

And that, ladies and gennlemen, brings you up-to-date. You won't be complaining for more in a hurry, I can tell you. Oh, and if you're thinking the first paragraph of this Cape Town saga was a little random, consider the following:

THE PLAN:

Go to Cape Town, do work, have fun, come home without spending much. Pick up Merc if ready. Return for meeting on Friday night.

THE REALITY (CONDENSED VERSION, FOR THE PUB):

I went to Cape Town for a job that I found out had been cancelled, but only after I got there. I saw a few movies, most of them crap, and failed to get laid although I did meet a couple of really cool, if over-sexed, author/student blokes and then stayed on for some insurance assessors who never turned up. I got the Merc back, in a bit of a state but nothing serious, which was delayed so I had to drive an extra 700km for a meeting, and when it was all over my electricity got cut off because I owed about thirty quid. But at least I got a decent holiday and was offered a permanent job, which is always nice. I must go back to those shores again. What shores? Ooh, thanks, since you're offering. Pint of Guinness. No, I missed the match, how did it go? etc

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