Sunday, March 22, 2015


Yesterday, just before the noon-day gun and despite my claustrophobia, I took a walk around the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock. At most it's 200 metres from where I live.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


'Gentrinaaiers': Graffiti that I first noticed had been appearing on buildings and walls around the Old Biscuit Mill from earlier in the year. I walk this route daily from the bus stop, or after taking a minibus taxi. I keep looking later to see whether they're disappeared in time for the cash cow visitors flocking into the area for their weekly safari, who are definitely not here to notice nor give a damn about how the other side lives.
A 'direct' translation, I guess, of gentrinaaiers would be 'gentri-fuckers', which is both a clever and powerful play on gentrifiers
It fascinates me that the graffiti (above) is in the official logo colours of World Design Capital Cape Town 2014. This makes a statement about who exactly did benefit from the millions of rands pumped into WDCC2014. 
Then, the cockroach. And the barbed wire. In the stencilled graffiti.
I had no doubt that the graffiti was by the anonymous tokolos-stencils, which I first read about in the Mail & Guardian's Tokolos Stencil Collective: 'Crap' art designed to unsettle article from last year November. Then I found their Tumblr blog, which features photos of their graffiti at Salt River Circle and at the Old Biscuit Mill in Lower Main road, Woodstock. There I found explanations: 
"Aluta Continua... The Struggle did not end in 1994. The fight against gentrification is but one aspect of the struggle for a different world."
"On Tuesday evening, some TOKOLOSNAAIERS took a trip around the back-alleys of the Woodstock Improvement District. They discovered a community that was no longer a community as its residents of decades have been displaced by the winds of change. In its place, are the well-to-do who go to and from their work, spend money at overpriced restaurants but do not know their neighbours as they, unlike their predecessors, are too afraid to sit on the stoop. This landed gentry have been aided and abetted by what can only be described as gentrinaaiers - property developers, real estate agents, restaurant entrepreneurs, hipster creatives, and of course, the Old Biscuit Mill.The GENTRINAAIERS of Woodstock is an unstoppable tsunami of urban renewal destroying any semblance of vibrancy and authenticity in its path - unstoppable that is unless the community fights back." - From a February 12, 2015 post on their website. 
It's also possible to download many of their stencils.
[He knows that the very fact he’s got a birds eye view of lower Woodstock means he’s part of the gentrification process. That because he’s been without a car - by choice - for 13 months now and is wonderfully on foot, he’s come to largely empathise with the folk living these streets, for decades now, who really have nowhere else to go as they are increasingly pressured out.]
[On foot: the blood, the piss, the shit, the whores and drugs on the streets. Also the beauty, kindness and compassion of strangers, many of whose tooth-gapped smiles brighten his day and melt his heart.]
Empathy = the ability to put oneself in others’ shoes. If they have shoes.

Bromwell street, which runs behind the Old Biscuit Mill.

On another note, not completely unrelated, yesterday I began reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life. In the introduction, she wrote about her father, also a writer, and about an article he wrote before he died of brain cancer:

"Then a strange thing happened. My father wrote an article for a magazine, called "A Lousy Place to Raise Kids," and it was about Marin County and specifically the community where we lived, which is as beautiful a place as one can imagine. Yet the people on our peninsula were second only to the Native Americans in the slums of Oakland in the rate of alcoholism, and the drug abuse among teenagers was, as my father wrote, soul chilling, and there was rampant divorce and mental breakdown and wayward sexual behavior. My father wrote disparagingly about the men in the community, their values and materialistic frenzy, and about their wives, "these estimable women, the wives of doctors, architects, and lawyers, in tennis dresses and cotton frocks, tanned and well preserved, wandering the aisles of our supermarkets with glints of madness in their eyes." No one in our town came off looking great. "This is the great tragedy of California," he wrote in the last paragraph, "for a life oriented to leisure is in the end a life oriented to death—the greatest leisure of all."

Glints of madness: Inside of the very high walls surrounding, not unlike a prison, the Old Biscuit Mill this morning.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Safari time

Peace and calm in my apartment as the coffee percolates and my orchid exuberantly flowers as if it’s spring; down below in Woodstock the streets are rowdy as the seagulls squawk. Tomorrow I'll watch as the gentrifiers flock from early to the Old Biscuit Mill and environs to spend their rands, dollars, euros in a frenzy not unlike the seagulls' feeding frenzy. This will take place while the mostly down-at-heel locals look on in 'wonder' and 'awe' at these colonising strangers from seemingly much more glamorous parts of the city. Life is changing for many down below. As for me, I'm sitting uncomfortably on a spiky fence, but tending to fall over and in with the locals. In the meantime I need to read more about gentrification in other parts of the world. 

It’s a beautiful day. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015


There, in the dove-grey nothingness is where you would normally find a handsome flank of Devil's Peak.

Sometimes, in the summer, but not that often, The Mountain disappears from view. Those are, mostly, my favourite days. It's not that I exist in a space of nothing but adoration for Table Mountain, but if I can't see it from my writing table, it most likely means that it's a moody, moisture-filled day, which the Cape winter is famous for. On those days I thrive. 

The Cape winter is no longer that far away. For that, I'm enormously grateful: Among other things I've stocked up on a pile of new and secondhand books, and some hearty soups, and I've recycled a laptop that is going to make it much easier for me to get enormous amounts of work, and studying, done at home. That will be while dramatic swathes of the winter storms march across my large-screen and in-my-face view over Woodstock, with Cape Town's city bowl not too far away to my right.

I woke to a post by a favourite blogger of mine: Marie Viljoen of 66 Square Feet (Plus) New York: One Woman, One Terrace, Twelve Seasons fame. Marie's a Capetonian living in New York with her husband, whom she calls The Frenchman. The post was about flying over Africa and into Cape Town, posted on Tuesday. Not that I'm going to meet her or anything (that'll come I sincerely hope), but I'm very excited that she's here on the peninsula, that she's close-by. Her blog inspires me daily, I've also learnt an enormous amount about blogging from her; among other things, her writing style and photography do it for me.

I've often used her and her blog as an example in the online journalism classes I teach at the university, the most recent example was her alternative take - the message in the flames - on the terrible fires that ravaged the Cape peninsula earlier this month. It impressed me that she blogged the fires from thousands of miles away, in New York, while incorporating quotes from brilliant sources as well as obtaining great photos. It was an eye-opener. Marie was also the main inspiration for me to begin and incorporate a food and culinary journalism module into the feature and review writing course that I teach the second years. 

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Last Saturday afternoon

Great, inspiring and peaceful places to read a book publicly in Cape Town: The Company Gardens - originating from the when the first Dutch colonisers arrived here in 1652 - is most likely my favourite; it's probably one of the most democratic spaces in the city, where class, racial and especially ecomonic differences are mostly, in my mind, swept beneath the compost heap.

Or, perhaps, it's an illusion that I like to buy into, especially in a city where the chasm between the have-nots and the haves seems as great as the silent void between earth and Mars. Here no-one, suprisingly, chases the beggars off the scores of wooden benches where they slumber beneath the trees and The Mountain: I've never seen a single person harassed here, nor made unwelcome.

I'm often drawn to this cool and nourishing heart of Cape Town. Especially because there is so little greenery and so few trees in Woodstock. To sit in the shade, or to sprawl on the lawn in front of the national art gallery, or the SA national museum, reading, while between-the-pages watching the world leisurely going by.   

That's even when the table cloth gets laid upon Table Mountain, like it was last Saturday afternoon. It's a sure sign that it’s southeaster time…the infamous 'Cape doctor' has been known on countless occasions to rape and plunder the city for days on end. It was exactly this gale that fanned into destruction the terrible fires that have destroyed enormous swathes of the peninsula since the weekend. 

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Close to the heart of God

I've picked up another faded and very 80s-looking copy of Richard Foster's 'Celebration of Discipline: The path to spiritual growth', which intermittently throughout the last12 years has helped me enormously, has given me respite.

Though published in 1978 and reprinted many more times in the 80s, I find it just as relevant, if not more so, in the much crazier 'now'. And nothing smells nicer than the pages of an old book... 

Foster writes, and I've quoted the following here before, but again I've needed to read it, today:

"In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in 'muchness' and 'manyness,' he will be satisfied. Psychiatrist C G Jung once remarked, 'Hurry is not of the Devil; it is the Devil.'

"If we hope to move beyond the superficialities of our culture--including our religious culture--we must be willing to go down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation. In their writings, all of the masters of meditation strive to awaken us to the fact that the universe is much larger than we know, that there are vast unexplored inner regions that are just as real as the physical world we know so well. They tell us of exciting possibilities for new life and freedom. They call us to adventure, to be pioneers in this frontier of the Spirit. Though this might sound strange to modern ears, we should without shame enroll as apprentices in the school of contemplative prayer."

As for me, personally, I want to be called to adventure. I want to be close to the heart of God.

[The photo is of one of a series of stained glass windows that light up the dark and sometimes foreboding but short Mill street - where the street lights never seem to be working. Mill street runs down the side of the Old Biscuit Mill and from it I turn left into Bromwell str. to get to my building, Here I always feel that I'm being welcomed home, especially on cold and wet and blustery Cape winter evenings.]