JOHANNESBURG Nov 28th
We didn’t do much on Friday other than observe the free wildlife show from Dave’s veranda, or stoep as it is known here. This included a visit from a rhino and two local crocs finishing off a waterbuck that had probably been washed down river by Wednesday’s rain. I cooked quite a decent curry in the evening but all three of us were tired enough to retire not much after 9.00. Maybe the local leopard will put in an appearance when the family are there in January.
Dave dropped me at the airport on his way home. I am staying at the same guest house we will all use in January and it is a real find. It is bed and breakfast but the proprietor has the view that he is personally responsible for the client’s welfare and could not be kinder or more attentive. There is good wi-fi, the rooms are immaculate and all that it lacks is the main satellite sports channel. It is also very handy for the airport, unlike most of the hotels which are either right next door or 20 km away in the city centre.
There is, in addition, a bar/pub a few hundred metres away, in which I spent most of yesterday afternoon watching England being physically battered by the Springboks. That was bad enough but the bar was full of large Afrikaaners and their wives, which made it worse. I am amazed at the total involvement in the game of the women. They know it well and are much more raucous in their support than the blokes. They are also very doll-like in appearance. All make-up, blouse and hairdo. Maybe that is how their men like them but is all a bit artificial, if you ask me. I would like to say that I got talking interestingly to some locals but the truth is that it is very tricky. Of all the English speaking people of the world ( even if it is their second language ) the Afrikaaner is the one I find most trouble with. There is such limited common ground and where it does occur, i.e. in sport, the unshakeable view is that South Africa is the best at everything, even when the statistics don’t support it. Sentences are short. Adjectives are few. Development of opinion is limited. Opinions are strongly held. Conversation does not flow. The ‘beeah’ or ‘rrrum and coke’ does. And everyone, male and female, seems to chain smoke. It is allowed in bars and most people who go there include fags in their list of personal items. I smelt appalling when I got back and it reminded me of how it was pre 2007 in the UK.
I took the advice of Ronnie, the proprietor, and went to the Sandton Shopping Mall today, via the Gautrain. This is a rapid transit rail link from the airport to the centre and very efficient and inexpensive it is too. There is a 40ft bronze statue of Nelson Mandela at the entrance and the mall itself is bigger than anything I have ever experienced. I was surprised that much of the merchandise is more costly than in the UK. A child’s replica football shirt is £80, for instance, as opposed to £35-40. Another surprise was the quality of service I received from smiling, intelligent and thoughtful black Africans when looking into the options for buying a cheap mobile phone. It paints the average store operative in the UK in a most unfavourable comparative light. I am very taken with the natural mixing of racial types, although the wealth does not appear, as yet, to have been evenly divided.
Having said all that, I would not want to live here at all. Walls and security gates surround every home. Big, hairy, salivating dogs bark from behind them. Nobody walks anywhere and yet, the Gautrain apart, there is no public transport to speak of that is safe for the tourist to use. It is humid at this time of year and can be uncomfortably so. I’m glad to be away tomorrow.