A Look Back In Africa

 

I enjoyed our last winter in South Africa, of course it was summer there, 2009.

It coincided with a certain “sunset on ZA” for us as well, I still love the country though. Its just awfully badly managed, why for instance does each new leader after the wonderful Nelson Mandela appears to be a moron or a gangster?

When We first visited in 1996 the feeling I had for the country was that it’s feet were on the starting blocks ready to leap forward. Since that time it has gone no where, its like it reluctantly  stepped forward hauling its sorry arse behind its humpty back, dragging its knuckles on the ground. I blame its leaders and they are largely members of the ANC. It seems to me the focus of attention is not on the country as a whole but primarily on the ANC itself. This is the important part of their lives, running the country is more of a nuisance or a hobby, they appear as racist as any of the “white governments” of the past they’re just not honest about it.

My views are as an outside observer you understand, however I see the Western Cape being run quite well, the stinking hovels round the airport are reducing and being replaced with something far more sanitary. This area is not in ANC hands though. Instead of the ANC wanting to copy it they are more intent on manipulating the political scene to slow it down or kill it. What are they scared of? I guess they could be shown up eventually to be the incompetent administrators they have turned out to be. Like most governments they are more concerned with perception than reality, I can think of no governments that aren’t actually but it is all a matter of degree. Some like to try and mix a bit of reality with their spin. Not in ZA though.

There are some beautiful places to visit, some very remote and lovely places, that, if they were in the UK or the USA would be so popular they would buzz with visitors every weekend. What appears to happen in ZA is when a place is found that is interesting for tourists, and lonely. Scavengers are allowed to move in and mug them, they then become even lonelier, the tourists don’t use them anymore and the service industries round them then wither. Where is the sense in that?

For example two places spring to mind that I and my family have visited together. The first is the Royal National Park in the central Drakensberg mountains. In 1996 we stayed at the Royal National Park Hotel, it was not all that welcoming to be honest and well rooted in the past, it has plenty of history though and the step back in time was an experience in itself.

They even had a 1940s car of some description on display in the front of the hotel that some member of the Royal family had travelled in, as some kind of tribute to their majesty.

One morning about 5am I set off leaving Sue, Adam and Joe asleep in the place, for a walk upstream along the Tugela river , towards a place called Mont Aux Source ( of the river presumably) I walked for a couple of hours and it never stopped being fascinating, I got right up to the face of the amphitheater as the massive vertical cliff face is called, before returning. I met one other person en route so it was quite clearly lonely. I have always wanted to return and do it with my companion and fellow hiker Sue. Sadly I read recently the vagabonds have moved in to rob unsuspecting walkers, consequently the Hotel has closed. This could have been inevitable anyway the way it was run , nevertheless what a pity. No winners there then and little to no chance we will ever return. Unless of course accompanied by a couple of the SAS, which would make the whole thing pointless anyway.

The other is almost in the centre of CapeTown, It is a walk from the Kirstenbosch gardens, up a steep path on the  rear side of Table mountain. It is called Skeleton Gorge, the name itself smacks of piratical adventure. We left our car in the car park took a walk round the gardens then set off up the gorge.

In the brochure I had read it stated that the top would be reached in about an hour and a half, I thought blimey,  it must be a steep direct route then to the top of table mountain! Just before this I had managed to have one of those pointless family fallouts as one sometimes does for no reason anyone can ever remember, with Adam, which meant he had stormed off in a huff and commenced the climb before us. It was steep as well, part of the accent is assisted by a chain that you use to pull you up a waterfall , fortunately there was a drought so we didn’t get wet. eventually we bumped into Adam who was on his way back down and we were all friends again so he rejoined us as we continued up. Just over an hour after starting we got into daylight, the climb was all in forrest to this point, where we hit a beach! well a very sandy section anyway. We could see we were still a long way from the top and the wonderful cafe they have up there. There was a signpost to Mcleans Beacon. We thought we would go the other way, as we wanted the top and there was no sign for it but unfortunately for us we had a secret weapon , my instinct!

We were soon lost however and found ourselves at a reservoir. Nearby were some campers, with a car! how in Gods name had they driven a car up here? we were up a mountain for goodness sake!

We “knocked” on the tent , it turns out they were students doing some kind of Botanical work and they had found a rough track to drive up. They couldn’t directly help us, possibly because we had disturbed their card game but they did have a map we could look at. It appeared we had some back tracking to do towards Mcleans beacon and there was a flaming long walk ahead of us.

Having read the guide book we had bought with us enough water and provisions for 1 1/2 hours, fair enough! We planned to replenish at the restaurant.  If only I had the sense to realize the  time quoted was to the top( the sandy part) of Skeleton Gorge. Then we may not have had to deal with my “diabetic turn”. Adam dug me out of it by asking a fellow hiker we met for some refreshment and they gave us a bottle of coke. It was a very long hike over rough terrain up and down gullies and rocks in the rolling cloud that often envelopes table Mountain. It was interesting though and demanding, very enjoyable as well, not withstanding the hypoglycemic event.

We eventually made the restaurant, where we refueled and recovered whilst we watched the Hyrax’s rifle through the bins. They are quite a bit short of cute and if you are of a hebe jeebe nature could even be considered revolting, they are also very rat like in the way they look at you, nevertheless they are just about tolerable. It is hard to imagine they are connected to the Elephant family in someway but they are.

Having fully recovered we decided to walk down using the route known as the  Pletenklip gorge. In the general run of the mill view of table mountain it is invisible, if however the view is taken more to the left, what you see is a large cleft in the face like an axe was driven down into it this will be the Pletenklip. The remaining rock to the left of it is the  Mcleans Beacon. This would bring us out on the regular side of the mountain the view everyone is familiar with, right next to the bottom of the cable way. We could have gone down in the gondola of course but after chatting to one of the young operatives who told us it was about a half hour walk , we  decided to make another innocent error. If only we could have a look at hind sight before we experienced it , what a gift that would be. Although life would be a bit less interesting I suppose. It took us 1/2 an hour just to find the start of the route ( I am thinking this was the 1/2 hour he was talking about). Unfazed we pressed on down, it wasn’t long though before fatigue started to come upon Sue and me, the boys however were still fighting fit.

There is a point on this route around half way where you walk across the face of the mountain , the pathway and I use the term loosely , is at the conjunction of the sheer cliff and the sloping less steep part of the mountains face, here the path goes horizontal for about a mile, until it reaches the cableway and then there is a rapid decent in its shadow.

Because the rolling cloud and its cold blanket had driven away the crowds around the lower cable way, which is usually teaming with tourists, busses and a thousand cars parked along the road, it was deserted, except for two taxis.  With about 500 feet to go I sent my 2 scouts on ahead to bag a taxi,  “don’t let him go, I don’t care what you have to do”. If we hadn’t gotten that taxi I hate to think what we would have done. It was still a 3 mile hike into Cape town from there and our car was on the other side of the mountain anyway. Alls well that ends well though and we made it, completely exhausted. A good day can be marked in the mental diary.

Now I read real pirates have been allowed to move in to the top of skeleton gorge, there are warnings on the internet and in tourist information leaflets. I cant help but wonder, Do these morons ever think “blimey its gone quiet up here, what happened? business is very slow, there is no one to rob any more”.

The South African government allow Highwaymen on the roads as well but they are called policemen with speed  cameras. They even dress in camouflage gear and hide! Can you imagine that in the UK? Even their static cameras are painted olive green! This all gives the impression that the ANC actively hate people with money, where other governments only envy them a bit.

Cape Town has to be my favorite city in the world, I like the way you can play golf almost in the centre of town , the palm trees, the history, the facilities , the weather, mainly though I think it is the stunning back drop of table mountain. We like the fact we can almost afford it as well. Even the tourist restaurants don’t hurt too much and the Cricket at Newlands is an affordable joy, £20 for two seats at an ODI! Not the £120 each as in the UK!

Having made that statement is causing me to run through my city list. Rome, Naples (what a pit), Venice, London, Prague, Paris, New York, Washington, Durban, Johannesburg, New Orleans, Memphis, Las Vegas, Sorrento and many more, I still think Cape Town would be the best choice. I haven’t even mentioned my favorite restaurant there, The Tea Room at the outrageous Rhodes memorial, what a view!

We have been all over South Africa and it has lots to offer, They have the best by a million miles game park, Kruger, if you want to see animals in the wild don’t waste your time anywhere else. We have done walking safaris, game drives, self drives, camping safaris, I say camping but it was not at all like the scouts. We had a flushing porcelain toilet and a hot shower, both out doors but very private. What a pleasure to sit there in the dark and hear a lion roar. You would need to be on illegal stimulants to experience anything like it.

There are of course the two Drakensburg mountain ranges, one I have already mentioned the other in the Transvaal. There are the Cango caves in the little karroo, I will never go potholing , no chance, never! We did there though, not quite the proper scary nasty stuff but definitely potholing with enough “edge” to keep your attention. Ostrich farms are also educational and good fun, and there are many round the karroo. South Africa is a massive country, with superb roads.

Which reminds me of the minister of transport I saw on TV, what a clown.When he was given the job, it will certainly not because of his expertise, more likely as a favor for services rendered, he must have thought “ look at this budget? it must all be mine ! Ill spend some of it on a really regal costume in hideous colors, maybe even a bit on the gay side. No one will dare comment because I am the king”.

When he came on the telly he had a very serious demeanor, some toady must have told him he had considerable gravitas even when dressed as Elton John. then he proceeded to warn us all, about drunken driving over Christmas. They have huge crack downs at this time of year and road blocks breathalyzing all and sundry. Still though, they have loads of drunk and or drugged drivers about. It is difficult to imagine being arrested for drunk driving in South Africa you would be lobbed in jail overnight almost certainly, with a bunch of the most desperate creatures on Gods earth, and promptly buggered up the back! If you weren’t an AIDS victim when you went in, you most certainly would be when you came out.

We have climbed Table mountain over the years, many many times my 2 younger boys have raced up it in 1 hr, 20 minutes. It is a great test of fitness and stamina. We have watched people climb it with ropes and stuff, its quite funny to see them chuck a mountaineers leg over the wall and enter the restaurant with their ropes looped round their body. People have died attempting it, you can often find a little memorial plaque nailed to a rock hither and yon, by a grieving relative.

Always , always you read warnings “do not attempt the climb without taking the appropriate bad weather clothing, no matter how hard the sun is beating down”. Ignore this advice at your peril. We did!

I have to say my Old boiler in a pair of hot pants and a skimpy vest still blows my socks off even at 50 odd. I on the other hand, turn myself out much more professionally, in a pair of tailored shorts with ironed creases down the front and a short sleeved shirt. So off we set in blazing sun from the lower cableway. At about halfway after an hour or so the “table cloth” started to roll in, we were sweating up a bit of heat though so we never noticed the cold till we got to the top. We refueled in the Restaurant and warmed up a bit. then set off, still in cloud down the same route we came up. Ooh we were cold and we got colder, by the time we reached the bottom we were definitely hypothermic, our knee caps were jumping up and down thats how bad we were. We reached the car and drove immediately to our guest house, which incidentally was the place Christian Barnard was living in when he did the worlds first heart transplant. We both got in the shower, the room didn’t have a bath and stayed there for simply ages, well until the hot water ran out anyway. That shower was one of life’s highlights and I’ve had a few. We will never go up that mountain again without a rucksack full of “ appropriate clothing” and spare food and water. Although we humans learn best by experience, there is no need to suffer for your knowledge, unless you really want to.

We gave Kwazulu Natal a good duffing over, on one of our trips, visiting all the Zulu historic stuff. We stayed at a place called Fugitives Drift Lodge it was a top of the range establishment run by probably the best Zulu tour guide the world will ever see,( Carling don’t do one) David Rattray and I say that with total conviction. Anyone who has grown up in the 60s and watched the film Zulu, or have subsequently been touched by it would have been rapt with the stories this chap and his staff have to tell, the passion and accuracy are indisputable.

From the garden of the Lodge the mountain of Isandlwana was visible in the distance, this is the venue of the biggest defeat a British army had ever suffered at the hands of “ a bunch of savages armed with sticks” as the critics of the prime minster of the time, phrased it, in the British parliament in 1879. At Rattrays one can also take time out to pay ones respects to two of the many heros of this event who are buried in the lodge grounds, during a visit to the bottom of the valley of the buffalo river. This is where the fleeing survivors crossed into Natal and comparative safety at this “Fugitives Drift”. It isn’t much of a drift actually, its more a raging torrent. However I think it wouldn’t look so daunting with a few thousand Zulus up your pipe.

After our early morning visit to “isandula” as Disraeli mispronounced it. We went on an evening visit to Rorkes Drift where the tales and nuances of the battle were relaid by the gifted raconteur that was David Rattray. The times of day chosen for these tours is the same time as the battles took place, just to add a bit more of the flavor of the events. I don’t care how much it cost it was worth every coin. I don’t think Joe, who was around seven at the time was that bothered but he was no trouble either and quietly respectful. I spoke of David in the past tense as he was murdered by a gang who entered his house inJanuary 2007 intending to rob him. So respected was he and loved by his Zulu neighbours the gang was soon given up to the police and they are all serving life sentences.

David had a leaders style about him I thought and certainly a unique talent. He performed his Zulu talks to sell out audiences at the Royal Geographical Society on Kensington Gore in London, three evenings on the bounce every year for 12 years. He was the rock star of tour guides. His voice and passion can still be experienced by listening to his recordings of “Day of the Dead Moon” on CD, I recommend them, enjoy them as I continue to do!

Another of our more odd experiences was spending the night in a “genuine” Zulu village. It was next to a river in the bottom of a valley that was reached via horseback. It was a memorable experience, we were given our own rondaval, it had a porcelain toilet and a queer sort of bath that was filled by Zulu servant girls who had heated the water over an open fire in an old oil drum, as a feature for westerners. So not quite utterly authentic, thank goodness. It got well authentic after dark though, it was pitch black , you couldn’t see your proverbial hand in front of your face. They gave us softies a flashlight. There are no windows in a rondeval, so it was even darker indoors if that was at all possible. We ate in the grandmother hut and were entertained with some brilliant Zulu music, well just wild, enthusiastic drumming really and dancing, with all the stomping and carrying on.

We learned plenty about Zulu life traditional and modern from our guide and it all felt very honest and genuine. It was a “not easy” pleasure at the end of the stay, yet so very rewarding in a wholesome way. I am glad we experienced it. There is another Zulu experience called “Shaka Land” we did that  as well but it is designed for the easy pleasure of the tourist as opposed to the previous one, it is also allot cheaper to do as well!

Sue and I have spent many months over the last five years in a house on a modern development in a country village called Tulbagh  in the Western Cape during the African spring and early summer. Its a lovely place, Tuscan in design, a U shaped building round a shaded courtyard with its own swimming pool. It has a 5 foot high walled garden and neighbours but still manages to be quite private. Well private enough not to need a bathing costume anyway. The neighbours dogs are the worst thing about it, many of them bark and the worst of them yap. Why does anyone want a yapper? they have dogs because I think they are paranoid about being snook upon by some of the dregs of Africa, that live in a squatter camp that is less than half a mile away over some fields.

The ANC have to bear responsibility for the place I believe. it is part of their Gerrymandering they knew in 1994 they were in danger of not winning in this area. It was well run , conservative, mainly white and “coloured” apart from some of the farm workers. So they bussed in a few hundred  scrap black folk to “balance” it up a bit. They just didn’t bother with giving them anywhere decent to live. The ANC were interested only in their votes not their gratitude. Hence this hell hole was erected so they could register to vote. It is a stinking dump! Toilets have been erected and water piped in mainly by volunteers from the village. The inhabitants still prefer an alfresco shit in the field though and who can blame them. It is worse than awful and these people mostly have no job no education and live hand to mouth on sweet FA reduced to begging or the lucky ones to odd jobs like gardening.

In my view the average African wants a job, when he gets it loves it and wants to keep it , he’s proud of it and wants to be the best at it. Almost like an American but without the advantage of a formal education.

I read somewhere about a South American politician speaking to a South African one. The one was saying that they educate prisoners in their country, to increase there chances of improving themselves. “Do you do the same”? “you have to be kidding” says the South African “if we did that the crime rate would rocket, they would commit crimes just to get the education”.

The African’s know the way out of poverty is through education and they seem to want it so bad! When you see African kids going to school they are immaculately turned out, in uniform, happy and proud. Quite a contrast to your average British school kid who is proud to be a hobbledehoy.

In 2009 our last visit to the country coincided with the South African Open Championship at a golf course adjacent to the nearby town of Paarl. Entrance for spectators was by ticket and they were free! how good is that? We did have to pay R10 to park the car then climb on the free bus that took us into the bowels of the course, about a mile away. We had never done a pro golf tournament before but thought it was so welcoming and so well organised, we liked it immediately.

There was beer, refreshments and food all very well done and beautifully presented even on a mass scale such as this. It was boiling hot, so round and about they had pipes of water threaded hither and yon blowing jets of water vapour at people who were fortunate enough to pass by, or sat at the tables drinking a beer, receiving double refreshment as a result, what a good idea! We had to buy the beer and food but never felt reamed, thats South Africa for you. This was on the Thursday the first day of the championship, we didn’t know any of the players but we thought we would go to the first Tee watch a few groups Tee off then pick one to follow round the course. “Not this bunch” said Sue, “he picks his nose” pointing at a chap from Paraguay. So we chose the next group one was a South African Amateur another a Zimbabwean who looked a little down at heel with the appearance of a journeyman in desperate need of a break along with his devoted caddy. Another was a South African who wore a long sleeved shirt, odd, but very wise, for even with black skin, the sun , of which there was plenty to go round  could vent its spleen on you.

At the first “long sleeve” put his ball in a garden, the other two were on the fairway. LS when he reached his ball decided to attempt to go through a bush, he should have taken his punishment on the chin and chipped out but no, he wanted to try the “bushwhack” before he eventually chipped out, ouch!

We followed them for 9 holes witnessing their ups and downs, Dylan Frittelli for that was the amateurs name was having a golden day, the Zim boy Ryan Cairns had a real bad hole 3 strokes to escape some rough poor sod I really felt for him, LS played beautifully out of a bunker, he even had back spin!

We took a lunch break whilst our trio continued. Pro golf is not for softies you need bags of stamina, even when its near 40 degrees there is no resting and little enough shade, I guess its one of the reasons they use the term “grind it out”. There were some very desirable houses dotted round the course many with a swimming pool which must have looked very appealing to the players at times.

Golf is not exactly a death defying sport, its not even a sport if you give it the Ernest Hemingway definition, it is merely a game. It has a certain physicality to and it can play havoc with the brain. Chuck into the mix a bit of fatigue and dehydration and you can fragment.

Ernest said there were very few sports, Bull Fighting is one, Mountaineering, Motor Racing, Boxing, Down hill skiing and bizarrely enough Big Game Hunting, was on his approved list. The connection is obvious, risk of death or injury to the protagonist. On the whole I tend to agree, anything else IS just a game!

Why in the name of all thats holy do players of risk free games get paid so much? it makes no kind of sense!

We had a lovely day though so back to the house we went. Spending Friday and Saturday reading, sunbathing and flopping about in the pool. Some times it was so hot the sun was actually painful. I made a cooling device using the swimming pool so I could still read alfresco. I got the big table umbrella, fastened it to a plastic garden chair using cable ties and string, then sunk the assembly in the pool down as far as the lowest step, I say sunk but the whole thing wanted to float it wasn’t stable until I was sitting on it, proving it a tricky ensemble, and there was a book to keep dry to boot . Once settled in though it was close to perfect, in the shade, head above the surface, for the breathing you understand, specs on, holding the book in the right hand and water cooling every where else. Eventually the sun moved round and put my book supporting fingers in its sight, ouch it hurt! it was a pity I had no gloves!

We returned to the golf championship for the final day, it was not as relaxing as the Thursday, the crowed had swelled ten fold. The man Cairns had not made the cut, poor sod, give him a break for goodness sake! neither had long sleeves. Dylan was having the game of his life though until this day where he finished with a 2 over par putting him pretty well down the back somewhere.

We watched a few other parings, we stood next to the T box when Fredrick Andersonhead was about to Tee off over a big stretch of water. I couldn’t contemplate hitting it so far. He settled over the ball and was about to commence his back swing when the lid of a beer sellers cooler slammed down. He stepped from the address and walked away, I’d like to use the word calmly here but you could see he was cross. The perpetrator was totally oblivious though.  Freddy is a tall elegant striking fellow, with the clean Scandanavian look about him, radiating success, he is more a journeyman though. Iv’e been keeping an eye out for him since and he won the Italian Open in 2011 but he seems unable to attract the TV camera. I know what that’s like.

He gathered himself returned to the ball and smacked a corker into position A1. Demonstrating another difference between the pro and the hacker, we would have thought sod the cooler and hit it anyway probably into the middle of the lake.

The pro though will only strike on his terms, when he is good and ready, its probably the reason they are taking 5 or 6 hours for a round.

We stayed until the end and watched the play off between Shiv Kapur and Richie Ramsey, this took place on the 18th. The 18th is over 600 yards and these 3rd division pros, for really that is what they are, the next step for them being the European  Tour, expect to reach the green in 2! Poor Shiv hit his first into some rough sandy scrub so he was done for and Richie was down the hole in 4. Richie is doing the occasional “well” in the European scene now though, Freddy finished 5th this time.

We returned to Tulbagh, after visiting a restaurant then the video rental shop, (South African TV is even worse than American) for our evenings entertainment. We were well and truly relaxed, happy with our day we came into the house Sue chucked her massive handbag onto the kitchen table, we opened the doors to let the cool air through and settled down to watch our movie. The telly was a right big old, fat old steam driven thing but it was connected up to a ripsnorter of a DVD player and surround sound system, what a great effect. Sometimes the speaker near the corridor that connected to the kitchen made it sound as though the noise was real and coming from there. We didn’t last long with the movie we were tired, so we locked up and went to bed, we would finish it tomorrow.

It wasn’t till about halfway through the morning Sue asked me if I’d seen her handbag? Everything was in it about £1000 in cash the credit cards and our passports. Oops! it turned out we had been robed, A passing vagabond must have took a chance, leaped the five foot wall, entered the open kitchen door saw his chance and grasped the bag. The phones that were on charge were left alone. Was that noise the speaker system?  Was there a noise at all? while we were movie watching, we will never know. We were certainly in a pickle now though.

We reported it to the local cop shop, they weren’t all that keen to be honest, and said stuff like if we catch the perp we would have to go to court as witnesses, no problem we said. We persisted and they took us to a room to take our statement. I was a bit lighthearted about the whole thing to be honest, I didn’t mind too much, the people who had taken our stuff have less than nothing. We must look how Lear jet and Monegasque yacht owners look to us.

The thing I was most concerned about were the passports,  we were due to leave in 3 weeks time and the Christmas holidays were only 2 days away. Civil servants do not have a reputation for speed and efficiency. They do have a reputation for holidays though. Without passports our exit would be impossible.

Around this “statement room” were photographs of some of the ugliest battered faces I have ever seen, I asked the detective if they were pictures of his work mates? “no”, he replied “they are some of the guys I will be speaking to about this business” . It was a long and detailed report he wrote including the details of what was taken, mentioning rather embarrassingly Sue’s Cliff Richard purse. It will certainly be the only one in Tulbagh probably the only one in all South Africa. If any one is seen using it, bang to rights they would be. I will say he left us with an impression that much work would be done on our behalf. I asked him if I should search the route between our house and the hovels? they are not called that actually a more politically correct word  “Informal Housing” is used. He said only if I wanted to, they would search it anyway. He introduced us to the bloke who would be in charge of our investigation, a more fat, unfit human being you could not wish to meet, I asked our first detective if he chases many people? with s straight face he replied “no, I do the chasing for him”. He told us we would be text with our case number and the fat detectives name for reference, it all sounded very efficient. So we left the cop shop as optimistic as a pair of cynics could be.

The next job was to get new passports. A phone call to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Cape Town found us a helpful sympathetic officer called Angie, I was so surprised, Angie indeed, not Angela or Lady Angela Fortiscue-Smythe as one might expect. She loaded me up with information and procedure, although she couldn’t physically help with the passports as they were done in the FCO in Pretoria 1000miles north. We downloaded and filled in forms using the internet cafe in the village, had our photos taken, the next hurdle was getting the photos signed by some professional person who knew us, the only people we knew were away on Christmas holiday. We managed to get the local bank teller to do it he had a photocopy of Sues passport and knew us , a bit, we had been trying to open a bank account for a couple of weeks, even that is not so easy in South Africa. Again Angie reassured us to not worry about it , she was very reassuring. We managed to get everything together ready to post the day before Christmas eve, all we needed was a cheque for about R 3000 to cover the FCO fees. Luckily Sue had some cash secreted in a secret place so we took it to our friends at the bank to get a bank cheque to post. They wouldn’t give us one! Even in exchange for cash! the reason? We didn’t have a bank account with them, “but we have been trying to open one with you for weeks” we said, “you keep moving the goal posts and putting up hurdles for us to jump”. Sue had been so patient with them and they had in turn done all they could, it is not easy to circumvent the rules in a village bank. Every hurdle that was erected Sue managed with no small difficulty to jump it. One was, we needed 2 utility bills to confirm our address, I ask you when did you last take a gas bill on holiday?

Anyway another call to Angie and she told us the bank below her office, in a big black sky scraper would do it no problem.

Right! off we went 100 miles to Cape Town and the bank did it no problem it took about 20 minutes of the tellers time, we handed over the cash and they never charged a fee, how good is that? Then we had to find the main Post Office in CT to get it all sent fast and special, again not as straight forward as it should have been but it gave us  a look round a part of town one wouldn’t normally bother with, how nice everyone is we find. With the exception of our robbers of course.

On the day we visited the police I took a walk through the field leading up to the “informal settlement”, trying as much as I could to look with a robbers perspective who was pumped full of adrenaline and excitement. I was looking mainly for the passports which would be of little use to him so maybe he had cast them aside during his run home. All I could find was tissue paper, had Sue got tissue paper in her bag ? that was before noticed the dollops of desiccated shit here and there, ah! it came to me then, this was bottom wipent or rather the remains of alfresco shitting parties. I closed right up to the settlement within a couple of yards of the earth bank that corralled it. “Got in himmel” it was smelly and making me heave. The ANC have a lot to answer for. How in the name of all that is holly do the municipal administration stand for it? It is run by the ANC is the answer to that.

Once the Christmas holidays were out of the way we started to chase our passport applications. There is a UK government telephone number for it, after you have been on the phone for a few minutes communing with a computer it asks you for your credit card number! can you believe it? They want £3 to try and help you, with no guarantee they can? How in heavens name can that be considered moral? If a private individual did the same         “yeah gimme £3 and Ill have a go at that job for you, if I can be arsed”. It would soon be closed down by the office of fair trading.

We had no credit cards so I phoned  darling Angie and she got the info for us not only that, gave us a contact number and name of the person in Pretoria that was dealing with it, what a gal. A few days after the holidays things were getting a bit tight time wise. So over our final week end, (we were to leave the following Friday) we decided to drive to Pretoria to collect them. We  set of very early Sunday morning and “went for it”. In the middle of the afternoon the heavens opened and the rains came , proper tropical stuff as well, it became so heavy one of the wipers slipped off its spline and they got tangled up so I had to switch them off. We continued driving almost blind after a few miles Sue said “ didn’t you ought to stop and fix the wipers”? I pointed out quite calmly that it was pissing down and I had no tools, I will however pull in at the next garage we see, we were, I need not point out, in the middle of nowhere.

A garage did appear eventually, a nice place as well with a restaurant and all that stuff. “That stuff” consisted of a workshop with a bloke in it, he was sat at a desk looking like a miserable sod, I asked if I could borrow a 13mm spanner, he acquiesced, no deposit was asked for and I just wondered back to the car with it, how magic is that? Imagine that happening in the UK, you can’t. It was an easy fix, a bit of realignment and bolt tightening and we were good to go. I returned the spanner and thanked the man, I was still smiling.

When we first pulled in we parked under a tree for a little shelter, there was an young boy rubbing his belly with his other hand held out in the perennial African manner, we chose to ignore him, we had our own problems. Once we were repaired, Sue went in the shop bought some sweets found the kid and gave them to him. I couldn’t help thinking a cornish pasty might have been better but it was at least something. These sad African kids break my heart. They often get me. There was one girl in Durban a pretty thing she was, selling biscuits and cakes to passers by in the street, she accosted us I enquired about the price and told her that they seemed rather expensive, “it is the price of the ingredients that does it” she replied in perfect English, “here take me money you’ve melted my heart”. Then she skipped off as happy as a little girl should be. Another nobbled me in the car park in Tulbagh one day when I was shopping. An Indian girl “ do you like curry”? “well I have made the finest spice mixture for R20” I was bold over again, it was a great mix though. I do admire traders and encourage them as a result. I love the idea they want something for something even if it is only a cretin who will look after your car whilst its parked in the street. At least it is not the forlorn begging business. We bought some very rough unfired clay model animals of some snot nosed kids once in Zululand it was utter crap but it was a trade. What I would really like to do is sweep them up and take them home like Madonna does. One of the biggest shocks I experienced with a beggar was in a famous town called Lady Smith in Zululand, he was white! I was double shocked actually I was shocked that a white man would be in that situation, and shocked at my thought process, if you see what I mean.

We overnighted on our Pretoria journey at the city of Bloemfontein ( Flower fountain, what a lovely name) in on of the “ surprising finds” that are so common in South Africa, it was a B&B near a hospital, so secure so clean so reasonably priced. They can be initially off putting some of these places, its the security hurdles that do it, they seem so unwelcoming at first but if you take the plunge a surprise and great hospitality await you. This was in complete contrast to our evening meal, in desperation we chose a KFC, on a more positive note it was our last KFC ever! It is now part of Horton company policy, “ no more KFC, got it?”

The following day we set off early to reach the Pretoria FCO before 2 pm at which time the hoipoloi are excluded from the building, we wazed through Johannesburg and on to Pretoria where we got a bit lost, we were so close to the place but with traffic and one way streets things got sticky. Sue phoned her friend Jane in the passport department , she had struck up a good rapport with this Scottish lass, she was very reassuring and said not to worry if we were late “just tell security you have come to see me and they will let you in”.

We were 5 minutes late as it happened, there was big deal security around this strongly fenced rather unattractive property. You approached the security office through a  full hight turnstile, you were then held effectively  captive until you were released through another turnstile controlled by the guard. She was a South African and a bitch! she said we were too late we would have to come back tomorrow.

Surprisingly I didn’t get cross I explained that “Jane had arranged our appointment we have just driven all the way from Cape Town and when we told you that, you would let us in”. “I don’t know any one called Jane” was her rejoinder , “come back tomorrow”. the words Job and sworth sprang to mind and still I didn’t pull out my 6 shooter and blow her brains out. Instead I pulled out my phone and got hold of the “mythical Jane” and passed it to “Shaka”, who listened then handed it back and opened the gate.

We eventually found ourselves in what appeared to be a room from the architectural school of 1960s labour exchange, with stainless steel seating.

Here we had to wait for a further half hour whilst our new documents were having their final check or for the ink to dry I’m not sure which. Everyone we met in that building was pleasant smiling, friendly and British in complete contrast to “bitcho” on the gate, this was in spite of the awful waiting room they had to look out on, I was very surprised by the FCO staff in general, they scored 9/10, a jolly good score from a card carrying cynic and our thanks!

The only thing I could find that curled my lip was in the back of the new , expensive replacement Passports, a short statement. “ replaces passport No —— dated—– declared stollen” It was the word “declared” that did me. As if “well, they said they were stollen, I don’t really believe them to be honest, they are probably lying and they sold them or swapped them for a bag of coke you know what these kind of people are like”.

We decided to return via the Town of Kimberley, this would give us the chance to have a look at the biggest man made hole on the world, simply titled “ The Big Hole” it started out life as a hill or Koppje as they are called in the Boer tongue. In the middle of the 19th century diamonds were discovered on it and all manner of adventurer set to with spade and pick axe until it turned into a disorganised dangerous deep honeycombed pit with daily deaths from collapsing walls. It must have been exciting times. Things started to shape up with the arrival of Cecil Rhodes who gradually took over or bought the discombobulated claims, seeding the massive DeBeers company that still controls world diamond production to this day.

The Museum that is the “Big Hole” of the present, is a fascinating story, very well done and well worth a visit if you are ever in the area, it is not only educational but a bit of a thrill as well, there is even a well constructed movie that tells the tale better than anything else could.

We got back to our house midday Wednesday after an overnight in a bit of a dump, we don’t always strike lucky with our surprise stops but it was cheap. All right? it was nasty as well!

Sue had coped well with the invasion of our house, I know women can get a bit dramatic about this sort of thing, not a bit of it from her. She applied herself manfully ( no pun intended) to living with the robust attitude one needs in this part of the world. The thing which left the taste of bile in her view of Africa was a couple of other unconnected incidents but piled closely on top of the robbery proved too much.

Surprisingly it had nothing to do with creepy crawlies as on might expect, she is very tolerant of them, even though she has a tendency to suffer what can only be described as close to anafelaccio ( I know that isn’t the correct word but you know what i mean) if bitten. Her attitude is one of “forgive me I am invading your space and I apologize”. I discovered one day on the garage door a huge Baboon spider I killed it with a snooker blow with the broom handle I also killed a baby one close by, I feel terrible to this day for doing it, I didn’t know what else to do. Had it bitten Sue it would have done for her I was sure. They are lovely spiders and can live for 25 years if they don’t meet an idiot with a broom handle.

Another creature that came across our path was a snake, it was about 2 feet long ,it was hard to tell as it was all curled round and sunbathing clinging to the garden wall it was only about 10mm in diameter so not too scary. I went round to my new best friend and Neighbour , Bertie a lovely couple him and his wife, I describe them as typical South Africans, independent and can turn their hand to anything. I knew he had been bitten by a puff adder in the past so I thought he would know a bit about snakes. From my description he said it sounded like a such and such, they are difficult to catch though they’re really fast! I thought he was having me on, a fast snake? yeah very likely?  He came round to help, he approached using the pool net and I had a bucket with a lid. He went for it and it moved like greased lightening. I resolved never to doubt Bertie again. We did catch it eventually and escorted it into the veldt.

The only other thing I am wary of and I have never seen one yet, is the “violin” spider, they look like a regular house spider but have a design on the back shaped like a Stradivarius. If they bite, your skin dies, it doesn’t sound nice.

Mosquitos? I see more in the UK, we have never, since the first visit to South Africa taken any malaria tablets they are so hideously expensive in the UK its like there is a conspiracy to get you to contract the disease. If I felt they were ever required I would buy them from an African chemist.

Sue’s nemesis started to emerge after she had obtained another credit card from somewhere and was down at the banks hole in the wall in the village. She felt there was an unsavory character watching her, so she pulled out the card and requested my help. I did identify the blighter as a regular dodgy geezer who was an unemployed loafer who regularly hung around this area or lounged on the steps of the post office usually with a female dosser, that I suspected was his mother, he appeared to have inherited the same “arseholes eyes”.  So I stood round with the “bolt on tough guy look” that I carry with me for emergencies such as these, while she completed the cash extraction. That was 2 strikes now! She again put it behind her.

A couple of days after this, again putting her shoulders back, refusing to be intimidated went into the village supermarket about 1 mile away by car. She consciously adopted an “I will not be intimidated attitude” and as a test, went by herself. She was dressed in a very attractive short summer dress, that showed off her knockout gorgeous legs to great effect. She had no handbag of course and had started to use a delightful pink rucksack to keep her remaining personals in.  She looked a treat.

She was back at the house in about 15 minutes flat, upset, shaken and verging on tears. Telling me when she had left the supermarket she had been followed very closely by an African stalker, not a covert one as one would expect but with his head almost in her rucksack and he had followed her right up to the car that was parked in the street, it was broad daylight as well. She was so frightened she jumped into the driving seat slammed the door almost chopping his nose off, he shoved his face hard against her window while she fired it up, then drove off completing an unsighted U turn without even removing the rucksack. 3 strikes! She was done with the African then. I tried to make as light of it as I could saying I would have stalked her as well dressed like that, Phowaarr! She wasn’t mollified though and was glad we were due home.

We had a bit more passport grief at the airport. As one leaves a country there is always a passport inspection, I suppose it is something to do with crossing you off the list, ticking you out after being ticked in, I don’t know. This guy was completely baffled, we explained what had transpired, told him to look in the back of the document at the “statement” that had peed me off so. In the hope that would explain it in an official manner. He continued with his confused look, he didn’t actually do the Stan Laurel thing with his fingers in his hair but I could tell he wanted to. He then resolved to write everything down on a bit of scrap paper! There he was, sat in front of a computer and he used scrap paper, I ask you? What a twonka!

He eventually lost interest and waved us through, with a helpful “ be more careful next time” . Oh what a pity they take such exception to being punched, these immigration nob heads, I really, really wanted to.

I miss the village and the massed ranks of jacaranda that line Van Der Stell Street in the spring, I miss the swimming pool and sunshine even more. When Adam and Joe visited us we had some good fun with it. they invented a game of pool volley ball that kept us well exercised. After they left I made a right professional job of the net using some stuff I found in the garage and put a hook in the wall to hang it from, I was well proud of my work, they never visited again so I miss using that as well.

I miss the golf, some of it was in blistering heat, on a course that sometimes had Baboon shit on the greens, not something one experiences in England. Then there are those lovely restaurants, often gems that are like a step back in time for their genteelness. Many that would suit any critic, some with a “too posh for us” air about them, where nothing could be further from the truth and they are so welcoming once over the threshold.

I have experienced food poisoning a couple of times, actually three come to think of it. Once at a restaurant often frequented by Ginger Baker the famous , if you are of a certain age, drummer of the group “Cream” et al. I wonder if he was ever laid out for 3 days with, “all hole ejaculation”? it would probably finish him off! he’s ancient. He runs a Polo pony farm near the village. Occasionally putting on Polo matches in the late afternoons followed by an evening jazz session. He was once introduced as the “Worlds Greatest Drummer” where did that title come from I wondered. The other times it was  Cape Town places that set the old tummy twirling.

I liked our Tulbagh neighbours who own one of the many vineyards in the area and there are a great  many of them. His drive is 6 KM long, we walked it once when we visited them and back again afterwards. Nice people. A sunny walk.

Another walk we liked was one up the mountains that surround the village, the view from up there is quite something. we got startled once by a wild peacock, not wild in the cross sense , in the freedom sense, he was scrabbling about in the undergrowth hidden somewhat by the tall grass, they do look big when you arrive unexpectedly. Another was to a waterfall a natural place where you could be all by your self and plunge into the cool water beneath.

I managed to spoil another walk we did, by getting too competitive. We went on a “see the sunset over Table Mountain and the new moon rise from the top of another mountain” near Stellenbosch organized by the owners of a vineyard at the foot of it.

I say organized, I use the term with a certain wild abandon as I asked them what I should  bring on the walk, their reply was a flippant “yourself a flash light and the R10 entry fee”. So we turned up in our boots shorts and shirts as is our regular attire for such a gig, they could have said a sweater and some long trousers as it gets a bit chilly, but no.

We set off taking the longer of two routes in the late afternoon sun, this took us through the vineyard, passed several different grape varieties, before our thrust up the mountain. Ahead of us were some people 2 or 3 decades younger and we were catching them. They were laughing and joking enjoying life and such, I decided though, I would race them to the top. We passed them and I kept imperceptibly, I thought,  increasing the pace. After about an hour Sue started to stumble over the rocks and scree asking if we could slow down a bit? shiiiit I thought doesn’t she realise they could retake us? They were a long way back but were inching closer, I could tell as we zig zagged our way up the steep slope.

There were hundreds of people on the walk but these were the group I had chosen to beat. I slowed a bit then tried again to pick it up. She was stumbling more often and accompanying it with a little steam and bad language,  the opposition were edging closer all the time. Come on! come on! I was urging her inside my head. Although jumping up and down and grinning through my teeth like Basil Fawlty externally. She simply did not understand that it is better to die than to be beaten! What can she be thinking? what kind of a person is she?

They came passed in the end and one said “English eh? fancy letting your self be overtaken by a Boer” Somehow the bastard knew. Of course it was all too late now I had lost the race and Sue was irredeemably pissed off. We arrived at the top where it was very cool, most folk had their heavier clothes out of their bags and were enjoying refreshment, some wine and the sunset. We did see it but were none too comfortable in the chill evening air so we cleared the mountain before the moon rose. We were about halfway down when it came up and boy did it look massive. I would never believe it could look so big, we had warmed up by now, were friends again and ended up enjoying it in the end. I am, still a moron though! The flashlights carried down the mountain in the dark by our fellow hikers had a pleasing effect, like  fireworks.

I miss not one bit, the disappointingly poor quality municipal administration and the hopeless cretinary that are thrust upon the good burgers of the village.I do however keep abreast of the goings on via Tulbagh e news.

I still have on my bucket list a game of golf to be had on “the lost city” course in Sun City near Pretoria, I need to drive a golf ball, or chip it I’m not fussed, over a water hazard containing crocodiles. I love Sun City, they have the best water park in the world, where I could give “the plummet of death”, one last go.  The palace hotel is another knock your block off place as well. I do hope we go back again one day.

 

 

 

 

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