Sunday, December 10, 2017

Made of negative ion

I took a clapped-out Southern Line train, with its ripped up seats, deeply scratched perspex windows and the monotonous graffiti found worldwide, to Kalkbay. I didn't - even for a single minute - allow the clackety-clack of the steel-on-steel to dull my senses during the 50-minute peak-hour train ride: I was alert to my possessions, to my pockets, to the zips and pouches of my backpack.

But , I only headed southwards after scrutinising the tide times, choosing, too, to get there before the December tourist hordes would begin (quite understandably) to clog and choke the southern peninsula, not noticing the fresh-minted menus now gleaming with inflated seasonal prices.

My destination was the Brass Bell restaurant; it's a jumble of an old-school place (starting out in 1939 as a city council 'tea-room'), almost indecipherable, that with eight different dining locations, protrudes haphazardly into the ocean. It's quiet there mid-week, especially in that magical, hazy  space between late afternoon and early evening now that the days linger for so long.

I checked the timing of the tides because I have a favourite seat at a favourite table where, at high tide, the surf has been known to furiously smash against - and batter - the windows. While you stare, blink, eat, jerk your head back, stare again. Because this was in the week of a blue moon, the tides were more passionate, more rage-filled than during a normal full moon.

I wanted to be as close to the ocean as possible, to gulp in deep its tangy salt air, it’s ozone and the negative ions, which Nature creates in heady abundance when water, sunlight, air and our Earth's inherent radiation meet. Negatively charged ions are good, very good. So are the places they're found in: they are most prevalent in natural places and particularly around moving water or after a thunderstorm. It's that taste in the air.

I've always been drawn to the ocean; it's where I charge my batteries and seek intimacy with my Creator. In Cape Town, there are two oceans: the Indian and Atlantic. Thinking of oceans, I'm currently reading British writer Amy Liptrot's autobiographical The Outrun, which is intricately entwined with the ocean; she grew up on the Scottish Orkney islands and returns to them, to both heal and to find herself, after she's left battered and broken by life in London.

She writes about the interconnectivity and borderlessness of the ocean:

"By swimming in the sea, I cross the normal boundaries. I'm no longer on land but part of the body of water making up all the oceans of the world, which moves, ebbing and flowing under and around me. Naked on the beach, I am a selkie slipped from its skin."

As for the Brass Bell, I know that the day must come, most likely soon, when a gleaming-eyed consortium of developers makes the right offer on the property. Then, before you know it, it'll be all open plan with lines smoothed out, all chrome and plushness, all expensive but perfect for the in-crowd. 

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Skyline of my content

Summer's here, and with its arrival please welcome The Wind.

Just like The Mountain is huge and begs disbelief, as is the ferocity and rage of the south-easter, hereafter known as The Wind.

When it batters and bashes like this I'm less inclined to venture outdoors, choosing to remain within the vortex of my flat, deeply cocooned. I have a dread of leaving. Even though as human beings we quickly adapt to conditions, on every level. Sometimes I only leave here to forage, for food and wine and anonymous conversationless company. Like to Jamaica Me Crazy, or to Cafe Ganesh in Obs. 

Even now, as I sit at my desk by the window, which is one large sliding door, it's pummelled and pushed and resented.

It's 15 days away from the summer solstice, on 22 December. This was the Woodstock skyline at 20h00 last night. Looks can be deceiving: it might have looked like a fabulous summer's evening, but it wasn't. The south-easter raged against Cape Town for the entire day and late into the early hours of this morning. 

At the end of a jumbled day internally, I craved people. People that I didn't know. I walked from work, in Lower Gardens, to my local, Jamaica Me Crazy in Roodebloem Street. The views of the harbour bathed in the golden early evening sunshine, and, in the far distance, of the Hottentot's Holland mountains - from the high-level road through University Estate lifted my spirits. 

I took the pic through the bathroom window; you'd be excused for thinking there wasn't a breath.

Chilled white wine, a chicken schnitzel, a second glass, a chocolate brownie and ice cream: I splashed out. 

I spoke to no-one but the waiters, but nevertheless enjoyed the smoky company of the gregarious crowd; JMC remains a special, cosy place to me because there's not a pretentious bone to the place, nor to the people who frequent it.

Despite the wind, which had not even slightly abated, I opted to walk home: I was right, there wasn't a soul on the moody, wind-swept streets; it was a pleasure to walk, it's downhill all the way home anyway. But, I won't do it again in the dark.

Monday, December 04, 2017


Wake, yesterday, at dawn / first light to hear birdsong, a rare sound to discern in Woodstock, and one of my great regrets of living here; then the feint sound, almost soundless like the blood pulsing through your ears, of lightly falling rain.


Lie still with eyes closed listening to it rainfall, in this moment, now, it is wet and nothing else is of concern.

Every now and then a car will squelch across tarmac down below on Albert Road. 

So grateful it's a Sunday, that I can relax / immerse myself into this. Thank you God. I take a picture from my bedroom window towards the harbour, impossible to see it's giraffe cranes, nor Robben Island. Nor The Mountain. 

The drops falls harder now... I don't want this moment to end. Especially since we are at the start of what headlines have described as a long, hot summer. We're a winter rainfall region experiencing the harshest drought ever. 

Rain. I soak up the moisture, the calm, the quiet.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Last Friday

Friday afternoon saw me take a central line train back from the Pentech station - on the outskirts of our Bellville campus - to Cape Town.

I prefer, under normal conditions, a train over all other modes of transport.

But there was not a window left intact on my carriage; I sat, nervously, with my daypack still on, tight between me and the seat.

I'd also put my mobile phone on silent, then stuffed it in between my stomach skin and pants belt. I'd also made sure that I'd left my laptop at work.

Even though I was acting out of instinct, only yesterday did I read a piece highlighting what I already knew, that Cape Town’s rail commuter service is troubled, crime-ridden and appears to be fighting a losing battle.

But I didn't know that the line I was on is the most fraught one on Cape Town's failing rail infrastructure. It's what Metrorail has "described as Cape Town’s most dangerous line - the lines that service Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain. It runs all the way through to Bonteheuwel and Langa."

Even before reading the piece yesterday, I'd decided before I got back to Cape Town on Friday that unless absolutely necessary, I'd never take a chance on that line again. Many of our students don't have that option, nor does the majority of the people serviced by that line, by Metrorail.

Watching the bleakness, the ugliness of the landscape through the empty window frame, exaggerated because of the drought, I remembered some of Italo Calvino's words in Invisible Cities:

'The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.' 

Calvino conveys the notion that while some cities are dream cities and other cities are nightmare cities, they are but ultimately all the same city. Cities run on only two feelings he argues, namely fear and desire.

My Friday afternoon underscored this sharply to me: Cape Town is undoubtedly the epitome of both a dream and a nightmare city. 

Except that here, for me, the fear and the desire often stick through its thin and brittle skin, in my face, because it's so close to the surface, not unlike the jagged bones of a broken corpse.

All of this, I believe, is especially obvious to someone who's continually on foot in this city and unprotected by the safe bubble of a car. 

Someone like me. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Friday before last

We had rain this week, on Wednesday and Thursday. Not much, but enough to increase my heartbeat.

Today, as I type these words, Woodstock is bathed in rich, bright sunshine and The Mountain is stark, huge before me in the sky. The south-easter is rushing over the top of Table Mountain and storms, batters the few trees and tall palms in this suburb that's sparse of nature, vegetation.

My orphan orchid is alive with three large beautifully speckled flowers; another orchid, also taken home with me for care from somewhere that I forget, is bursting with unopened buds; even now as I look up at the plant I'm expecting it to reveal itself while I blink. It'll be the first time since I took it in that this one will flower.

In between work and marking I've put on a machine wash, guiltily, because of the drought, even though I've got my washing down to a once every two weeks event. The news about the lack of water in the city as the so-called rainy season draws to an end has not been good, although I'm not sure how much of the negativity is a result of politicking. Irrespective, it's not looking good and water is being rationed.

Also, there are still hundreds of metres of razor wire around my university's campuses and heavily armed private security at its entrances. Even so, today, there was an arson attack in the Engineering building.

My plants are thriving in the warmer spring weather.

Tonight I'll get myself off to an art movie at the Labia. I'll take a cup of steaming and aromatic gluhwein and heavily salted popcorn into the cinema with me; it's a Friday night ritual.

Last Friday. I wrote this the Friday before last but forgot to post it.