Thursday, 9 December 2010

I am writing this from the stoep of John and Jessica Knight’s house in Claremont, a suburb in the south of Cape Town.  Ahead of me the lawn slopes gently from left to right. Below the lawn is the tennis court, complete with floodlights, and swimming pool. It is mid-morning and already the air is warm and the sun is strong. A large oak tree provides the shade that African residents crave and those like me, for whom any sun is good sun, avoid. The single dominant presence, however, is Table Mountain.  The green lower slopes of Kirstenbosch contrast with the grey crags of vertical rock leading up to the summit plateau.  In the evening, the setting sun creates a rich pink hue on the exposed rock surfaces. It is magnificent and something not even hardened Capetonians, like John and Jessica, take for granted or cease to appreciate.
Having the use of the car that Hannah, aged 18 and their eldest, is using to learn to drive, enabled me to go into the centre of the city yesterday. There were a couple of things I needed to do and so my first road trip was to the busy and very cosmopolitan centre of Cape Town. It is quite different from Port Elizabeth. There, the shops are clearly catering for a less wealthy market and the effect is to make it look like the seedier end of Reading’s CBD. Here, there are major international brands and the architecture is much prouder and more 21st century. The driving experience was mostly straightforward but I did find the constant sounding of horns a little off-putting. I am always convinced that the sound of a car-horn is directed at me but when there are 2-3 going at the same time it is like being attacked from all sides. The most frequent cause of the hooting is the fact that the car in front is not moving forward. It seems not to matter that in front of that car is a red light or a queue of buses.
I drove back to Claremont via the coast road, above Clifton and Camps Bay which then swings inland and around Table Mountain above the city. What a stunning drive it is. It is a little like what I imagine the Grand Corniche in Monte Carlo to be like. Mountains inland and settlements dropping away to the sea, each with ridiculously beautiful sandy beaches separated by rocky outcrops.
It is, by some distance, the most picturesque city I have ever visited and I would be interested where it would come in a poll to determine the most beautiful city in the world. I am already wishing I had made up my mind to return here in February, as a supporter of the Wellington College cricket team, during their tour in half-term.
John teaches at Bishop’s and had arranged a tour of the school for me in the morning. Melvyn Wallis- Brown, who is 70 and taught at the school for 42 years, was my guide. He is totally sold out to the place and nowhere in South Africa has better facilities, better staff, better results ( sporting and academic ), better cultural achievements or better old boys. According to him. I was impressed, even so. The place looks lovely ( colonial Cape Gothic? ), with brilliant white buildings and perfectly manicured grass areas. I was there at the equivalent time of year to our end of Summer Term, which meant that things were definitely winding down. All activities and no lessons with lots of paper aeroplanes and planks and ropes and shark-infested custard.
I am going to do as little as possible for the next week. No point in having been in Africa for a month if the family are not envious of my sun tan when they arrive.

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