The Perfect Storm?

It’s Spring Day tomorrow in South Africa. The unofficial start of the good weather that will last through until next July, allowing us to enjoy braais, beers by the pool and some dreadful home performances by the nation’s cricket team. But winter had one last throw of the dice and scored a lucky 7 with a particularly evil cold front which came through on Saturday afternoon. It was pretty nasty, as the SA Weather Service warned us:

Gale force westerly winds (35kt/65km/h) are expected in places over the Western Cape on Saturday. Strong-gale to storm strength winds (in excess of 80km/h) are expected along the Western Cape Coast. Very rough seas with destructive waves in excess of 7m, coinciding with spring high tides, are expected along the Western Cape coast. Heavy falls of rain are expected in places over the western parts of the Western Cape on Saturday. Very cold, wet and windy conditions are expected to set in over the western parts of the Western and Northern Cape Saturday evening. Snowfalls are expected over the western high ground of the Western Cape as well as the south-western high ground of the Northern Cape from Saturday evening into Sunday morning.

Lovely. Thanks for that.
I did pop out on Saturday afternoon, but after almost dying on a tree-lined stretch of road near our house when large chunks of the trees started lining the stretch of road around my car, I declined to go out again.
Until this morning, when a promise of decreasing wind, together with a hint of sunshine and a morbid curiosity to see what was left of Cape Town tempted us down to Mouille Point and Three Anchor Bay.

        

        
Stormy scenes at Mouille Point: see more at flickr (and videos too!)

The worrying thing was that these pictures were taken about 4 hours before high tide – and a spring tide at that. I’m due back in Sea Point on Tuesday and I will be very interested to see if it’s actually still there.

Want more pics? Click here.

 

Plans for the Koeberg Interchange

One of my more popular posts is the one where I describe the roadworks taking place on two of the major routes around Cape Town. I don’t know what this says about how interesting this blog is, or indeed how interesting its readers are. All in all, it’s pretty disappointing.

Anyway, at the time that I wrote that piece, details weren’t readily available of the planned improvements to the frankly horrifying junction of the N1 and the M5. But, as any traveller who has recently experienced the joys of Koeberg Interchange – or as the locals call it “F*****g Koeberg Interchange” – will have noted, some grass has been dug up and some mud has been created: construction has begun and we must all be patient.


It’s a virtue…

But what exactly are they constructing? Well, some helpful civil engineer found MS Paint on his PC and had a bit of a play with a picture of Cape Town taken in 1983. And here’s what he came up with:


Koeberg: Soaring bridges

It truly is a thing of beauty, isn’t it? Much like the construction at Hospital Bend, they seem to have taken everything into account and just flung heaps of money at it. Which is no bad thing. My one concern is that “Phase 1” bit in the top corner. Could it be that this junction will never be finished, destined for continual upgrades and improvements? It already seems like they’ve been going for ages and all they’ve done is sunk two holes for bridge supports and cut some bushes down – interestingly, I note – nowhere near anything on that picture above.

There’s more detail to be had on the CapeTalk site, including some rather natty artists impressions of the finished article. It looks like it actually might work. Problem is, we’ve still got another 2½ years before we get to find out…

Brian and his failing neighbourhood

One of the few sites I unfailingly enjoy reading is Brian Micklethwait’s eponymous blog. It has a unique combination of a blend of subjects and topics that generally interest me, together with an endearing, informal, almost narrative writing style. It’s easy, interesting, pleasurable reading.

However, even by his usual high standards, I felt that Brian excelled himself earlier this week. And I would have written about this earlier had it not been for a combination of sick offspring, football matches in filthy weather and a rather garlicky farewell to Jonny Harvard. But since these things all contrived to delay me, I’m writing about it now.

I think that the main reason that I enjoyed Brian’s post about enjoying living in a failing neighbourhood so much was because I have been wanting to write about the same issues from a South African perspective for some time. I’m not sure that I live in a failing neighbourhood – I don’t think the same rules apply here as in the UK. But I can certainly agree that ignoring local electronic noises (burglar alarms) is a full-time occupation here. 

In failing neighbourhoods, nobody does anything about electronic noises except regret them, on their blogs if they have blogs, otherwise silently.  In “successful” neighbourhoods, the damn neighbours are all over you at the slightest excuse, borrowing sugar, wanting you to have their keys when they are away on holiday and feed their pets, telling you what their names are and what they do.
Now you may be asking: if I hate people in general so much, why do I live in a big city?  But that’s the whole point of big cities.  In big cities you can avoid getting to know nearly everybody, and still have lots of excellent friends, in the form of the 0.000001% or whatever it is of people who live there who make really nice friends for you. 

Much like Brian, I could never live in a rural location. I was born and brought up in a city, I studied and worked in a couple of cities and then I moved to Cape Town, which is a really big city. I love to hear the rumble of urban white noise: silence scares me. But equally, I find that living in an urban environment allows me to blend in, to be lazy and not make an effort to meet new people, but not to feel guilty about it. In fact, it’s even easier in South Africa – a country where we all hide behind big physical walls as well as the metaphorical ones we share with other nations.

As for my neighbourhood, its a pleasant enough place: mature, leafy, decent, quiet. Perhaps too quiet. 
I do know my neighbours’ names. I do smile and say hello. I do look after their house while they’re away. Why? Because they are nice people and it’s no trouble really. But equally, deep down, maybe because of the scare stories you hear and read all the time, perhaps you feel that you never know when you might need a friend. Thus, if I hear their alarm sounding during the night, I will call the next morning to check everything is alright. OK, it might be a bit late to help out if there was an incident, but then this is SA, where a friendly bloke with a gun hurries to your doorstep to chase away the bad guys if your alarm sounds anyway.

But one problem with living in such a quiet area is that there is always an alarm going off somewhere and because it is a such a quiet area, you can always hear it. Sometimes just a single woowoo, but more often for hours at a time, punctuated every three minutes or so by a gap just long enough to make you think it’s stopped, before it dives back in to your ears, invading your headspace again. And you know that it’s a false alarm and that there’s no-one home, and that the friendly bloke with the gun can only ring the bell at the gate and shrug and walk away when there’s no response.

If the idea of this noise is to alert me to something wicked going on (or having gone on when the noise began) to the point of me actually doing something about it, it is failing.  When it stops, I will forget about it.  Until it stops, all I will do is sit here wanting it to.

Interestingly, most of these alarms seem to sound on sunny weekend afternoons in the summer, when all one wants to do is braai and crack open a cold beer or nine by the pool. Or maybe that’s just when I hear and hate them the most.

All in all, I think city life gives me the best of both worlds. I can hide away just enough to make life bearable without inconveniencing myself. I can happily play my part in the symbiotic relationship with the people next door. I can smile at passers-by while I wash my car in the driveway, safe in the knowledge that it will go no further than a good morning. And the annoying electronic noises are no intrusion when compared to living under the microscope in a rural environment where you get concerned villagers enquiring about your bowel habits if you hit a spot of mild constipation.

To borrow and adapt a phrase I recently read: Non-Capetonians often complain that most people in Cape Town are unfriendly.  That’s pretty much the point of the place.  That’s exactly what’s so great about it.
(That and the mountain.)

Not like this…

Sorry for the lack of action on 6000 miles… recently. I’ve had a very sick child, a very pregnant wife and a very lot of rain falling through our kitchen to deal with. You’ve got to love this “life” thing.
Talking of the weather, I’m getting a little fed up of people coming up to me and saying, “You must be used to this rain, coming from the UK!”.

Er… no. I have never seen rain like this. Never so much, so prolonged, so heavy, so sustained. So damn WET!
It’s unbelievable. And it’s cold too. That damp cold that cuts through you like a damp, cold knife.

Wet  Wet  Wet
Wet Wet Wet (but without Marty Pellow)

Apparently they’re forecasting something called “sunshine” for the weekend. I’ll believe it when I see it. (And when I have looked in a dictionary to see what it means).

More soon. Promise.

Not in Kansas anymore

UPDATE: Looking for pictures of the 30-31st August 2008 storm? Try here!

As I stared, bleary-eyed, out of the bedroom window into the cold and dark of the Cape Town morning, I was once again blown away by the sight of the lights of Muizenberg glittering on the ocean. What a view. Despite the atrocious weather of the past 24 hours, I am very fortunate to live here.
It was only a few minutes later, standing under a very welcome steaming shower, that I realised that we live about 10km up the road from Muizenberg. Something wasn’t right.

It turns out that rain over the past 24 hours had turned my back garden into something akin to the ocean. As the gloomy, grey morning struggled to be slightly less gloomy and grey, I caught sight of an aging hippy in a wetsuit with his longboard next to my braai, anxiously looking across the lawn for any sign of sharks before he paddled out towards the birdbath to wait for the next big breaker.

It’s true that it has been a pretty torrid couple of days weather-wise for the residents of Cape Town. One of those times that you are glad that you aren’t living in a shack in a township or a tent in a temporary refugee camp (sorry – “displaced foreign nationals site”). Glancing at the SA Weather Service website, I see that Kirstenbosch – home of the famous botanical gardens and just around the corner from us – had 135mm of rain dropped on it in the last 24 hours. That’s 5½ inches for you oldies out there.

S'wet
Kirstenbosch: Rather damp

Still, this is winter in Cape Town so we really should be expecting the wet and the cold. Interestingly, in exactly 2 years time, the entire world will have descended upon the Mother City for the 2010 World Cup. I’m already buying up Pak-a-Mac’s by the lorryload which I will sell at a vastly inflated mark-up to ill-prepared Europeans who think it’s hot and sunny here all year round.

The profits will be used to install some sort of drainage system into my garden before high tide floods my living room.