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.

Bergvliet’s NIMBYs are a disgrace

People all over the city are trying to help out (see DC’s blog) with the refugee crisis that has hit Cape Town since the xenophobic violence. However, it would seem that these fine examples of humanity and selflessness only go so far:

The Methodist Church has accused some Bergvliet parents of “an exquisite form of genteel xenophobia” for forcing refugees and migrants displaced in xenophobic violence to move from a church in the upmarket suburb.
The Methodist Church has expressed its disappointment at having to move 57 displaced foreigners from the Bergvliet Methodist Church to venues elsewhere, because of “safety and health” concerns of parents of children at the preschool on the property.

Yes, when it comes to actually having displaced people living in a church hall near your house and using the same toilets as your children, then suddenly your viewpoint changes. Dropping a couple of cans of beans or an old coat in at a collection station is great, because then you don’t actually have to see the problem. Someone else can do the hard miles and you can sit back in your comfy chair in front of your fire knowing that some poor black person is happier now – as long as he has a tin opener, anyway.

But actually finding that your local church has made its safe, dry and warm church hall available to temporarily house immigrants fleeing from violence.
Hang on a minute! Little Verity goes to creche there – whatever is the church thinking, providing shelter and food for these stinking, robbing, drug-taking foreigners?!?

I disagree with Tim Attwell’s “genteel xenophobia” comment. It’s an oxymoron.
Yes, he’s comparing it to the horrific violence in the informal settlements – but in many ways, moving these people on in this way is equally prejudiced, equally unnecessary, equally heartless, equally ugly. It’s xenophobia – hatred of those who are different to you – there’s nothing genteel about it.

Four parents wrote to the church and 12 signed a petition, giving the church an ultimatum to remove the displaced families, or they would remove their children or stop paying fees.

The refuge seekers were moved to Trinity Methodist Church in Heathfield, Aldersgate Methodist Church in Steenberg, and Lotus River and Grassy Park Methodist Churches at the weekend.
Members of the Bergvliet congregation are still taking food to the people every day.

That 16 misinformed, prejudiced hypocrites can have such an impact on the lives of these people, especially in their time of need, is a great shame. I know some of those “members of the Bergvliet congregation” who are continuing their good work in helping the refugees. They now have to drive further into less reputable areas and at their own cost – many of them are pensioners who struggle to afford petrol as it is. It’s sad that their humanitarian efforts have been associated with this negative story.

I hereby invite any of those parents who complained to the church to get in touch and give their side of the story. Because, as it stands right now, you are as much a disgrace to this country as those beating and burning their neighbours in the townships.

Bergvliet Methodist Church: (021) 715-3045

NIMBY – “Not In My Back Yard”

Get the balance right

Actually, there’s more to this post than just quoting Depeche Mode songs, but…

Don’t take this way, don’t take that way
Straight down the middle until next Thursday
Push to the left, back to the right
Twist and turn til you’ve got it right.

Being the editor of a hugely popular international website brand isn’t all fun and games, you know. Aside from the hard work, trolls and begging letters (yes, I’m still writing them), there’s the constant heavy weight of responsibility resting upon my shoulders.
See, what I’ve found is that there are an awful lot of gullible people out there. I haven’t calculated exact numbers, but I’m guessing that we’re probably looking at about 95% of people who have access to the internet. All of which means that you can basically write what you want and people will actually believe it.

Incoming from Katie at brand42 last night, an email inviting me to “preview” (subtext: “please blog about”) their “exciting new site”, mysouthafrica.tv, which launches next Monday and  invites people to send in their images, videos and thoughts on SA – and which CHOWS bandwidth, so is completely rubbish for er… South African users. The small print indicates that this is a SA Tourism initiative. How patriotic of them to use a UK-based web design company. Hmm.

But I don’t mind SA Tourism promoting SA. In fact, I’d be rather annoyed and somewhat bewildered if they didn’t. After all, it is their job.
What I don’t like are sites which are blindly positive or negative about SA. I’ve always tried to strike a bit of a balance on 6000 miles…I’m not completely objective, because this is a personal blog and yes – I like here and I like living here. If I didn’t, I’d pack my son, a few kilos of biltong and a crate of Castle Milk Stout into a rucksack and head for the airport. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t see the bad things that happen here. Or that I ignore them. One only has to look at the coverage that I gave the recent xenophobic violence to see that.

Compare and contrast my attitude with homecomingrevolution.co.za or sagoodnews.co.za. Read them and you’d wonder how such a perfect Utopian society had previously gone unnoticed by the world. Which it hasn’t, because SA is far from Utopia. And which is why I don’t read them, because being blindly positive is misleading and ignoring the challenges which SA faces doesn’t help overcome those challenges. So really – what’s the point? You still go out of your front door and see the real SA every day.

But then compare that with the doom and gloom merchants like Daxk and his sort on [forum name censored]. They can turn any thread on there into a rant about how miserable life in SA is in about 2 minutes, despite the fact they don’t actually live in SA.
e.g.

Tourist sights in Cape Town
Hi, I’m coming to a conference in Cape Town and I have a spare morning for sightseeing. What should I see in my spare 4 hours?

1st Reply: If the weather’s good, you should try and get up Table Mountain – it’s a wonderful experience and the views are fantastic.
2nd Reply: Be careful with your bag in Cape Town. The armed robbers look for foreign targets with bags.
3rd Reply: I would think twice about attending the conference if I were you. There was a murder on a farm near Brakpan (fake photos attached) and all the black people in SA have AIDS and rape tourists. 
4th Reply: My mother’s old next-door neighbour’s sister’s boss was hijacked in Jo’burg last year.

And so on.
And that’s why I don’t go on there any more either. Because they are racist idiots.

So it really is a bit of a balancing act on here. Mainly because I think that as soon as a site gets so very subjective one way or the other, the value of the message it is trying to convey is lost. Mysouthafrica.tv could rapidly join the list if (as I suspect) the user generated content on there is heavily edited to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.

Seriously, you’re better off sticking here at 6000 miles… with me. Unbiased, reasoned social comment on South Africa and everything else besides, all for the cost of free. Consider yourself informed.