Thursday, 16 December 2010

CAPE TOWN Dec 16th
This is the last entry I will make, unless something out of the ordinary happens today, which, given the cloud, is unlikely. Phyllida and the children arrive tomorrow and then my sabbatical becomes a holiday. There will be lots of reflection time in due course but this African experience has convinced me, a) of the essential good nature of the vast majority of humanity b) of the amount I have to be grateful for in the way the cards have fallen in my life c) that I do quite like my wife and children, whatever their ambivalent reaction to me d) that English winters are rubbish and e) of the diminishing scale of the world. Those sentiments are in no particular order and represent the ones that are uppermost in my mind. There will be other deeper and longer term personal convictions, I am sure but I am still not 100% certain of what they will be.
The beaches on the west of the peninsula, which I recced on Tuesday, are superb. The teenagers favour ‘beach 1,2,3 or 4’. These are local abbreviations for Clifton, which has 4 smallish but extremely attractive sandy inlets at the foot of Table Mountain. It seems that is where it is good to be seen and where the happening people hang out. South of that, Camps Bay is also a lovely strip of sand but the one I liked most was Llandudno, the next one south before Hout Bay. It was sunny and warm. The sea is deep blue and inviting. And freezing. I had thought that as a hardened Brit I would find the cold refreshing but it was, in reality, downright painful in the tenderest places. This makes a wet suit a necessity if the waves are to be enjoyed and I didn’t have one. It was also windy enough on the beach for the sand to become quite irritating. It blew into every conceivable nook and cranny and made the lying in the sun quite painful at times. But I coped. Manfully.
Yesterday’s entertainment was at the races. Kenilworth racecourse is the sort of place that usually only ever features in the UK if all other meetings are off, including the all-weather. The whole affair seems to be conducted at two levels. On the one hand there is a convivial, bar-hugging, scotch and soda drinking collection of local well-dressed owners and trainers and on the other is the largely black, pretty scruffy, form-studying punter. The two do not interact but occupy much the same sort of space because there is no entry fee and no restriction on which parts of the course are accessible to whom. There is a seeming lack of desire to fleece the racegoer, which is apparent not just in the free entry but also in the regular prices for drinks and food and the nominal charge for a racecard. Yet despite this, when I arrived 20 minutes before the first race, I increased the attendance by 20%. It did fill up a bit but the crowd was never more than 300. It strikes me that there is a real opportunity for a Greebly Grabitall to do the same job that has been done to British racing where it is £20 entry, £4 for a bottled lager, £5 minimum for gristle pie and soggy chips and a racecard containing £3 of information that is available for much less in the Racing Post. Maybe that way people will be conned into thinking there is something worth going to and the gate will increase accordingly.  Anyhow, I wagered 10 Rand per race for 7 races and two winners ( one at 6-1 ) paid for the entire event.
I have enjoyed Africa in a quite different way to the USA. Over there it was about landscape and, wherever possible, meeting local people. Here, given that I have scrounged hospitality shamelessly wherever I have gone, it has been more about being a guest that does not blot his copybook, being deferential and nice to as many people as possible and generally oohing and aahing about how lucky everyone is to live where they do and to enjoy the lifestyles they enjoy. I have had much less choice in the people I have met and if I have a regret it is that I have not spent a bit more time with the less privileged. The most illuminating spell, by a distance, was in Watamu and the trips to local fishing villages. The most humbling was at the Starehe Boys and Girls Centres and the attitude of the students. The most jaw-dropping was the outlook from the Stoep at Malelane. The most relaxed is where I am now - and the view is only less jaw-dropping because it is one I knew about. Gilgil was also very relaxed and was the most useful in the Wellington context. Hopewell will probably be the most useful for improving my teaching. Nairobi featured the kindness of the Taylors. My memories will be of unstinting and generous hospitality, the very different landscapes, the constant richness and variety of colour, the flora and fauna, the noises and sounds, the smells, the taxis, the cyclists and the dust. Above all I am even more firmly convinced that places are all about people. The context may be defined by the physical geography but the essential feeling and spirit of any location is entirely a function of a combination of history and human geography. I have been extraordinarily lucky to be where I have been when I have been.

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