Letter from South Africa 1: Day 1 – Family Matters
…The Angry Birds did not attack on the flight!
Safe, sound, gone to ground. Cape Town grins under a gentlemanly sun while the Mountain sits above like a giant ogre’s brow, seemingly protecting this sprawl of a city. A vast curve of bay, skyscrapers and ships. And perched between Mountain and city, the gurning University of Cape Town in sandstone raiment confers Rhodes’s now resented blessing on the peasants below.
This city of crossed paths. Living happily here for centuries were the Khoi and the San, and then, in 1652 the Dutch arrived under Jan van Riebeek. This tall-hatted Hollander was tasked with establishing a colony in order to protect and provision the ships of the VOC, the Dutch corporate raiders and traders making the huge voyage from the East back to Holland with spices, porcelain, silk and cotton from India. So the Khoi and the San had to grudgingly move north. Then further north, and eventually end up “Bushmen” in the Kalahari desert.
Then came the British, claiming the place and pushing the Dutch north where they became the “Boers” and in their turn pushing black tribes off their ancestral lands and so on to the ugly excrescences of Apartheid…vast oversimplification of a complex history. But I needed a shortcut to get you here, to Cape Town in this post-Apartheid era, to this garden where, with two obese and passive Basset Hounds I await the arrival of my grandchild Gaia.(if you want the rest of the history, dammit you can use Google better than I can)
I feel as if I should have some trepidation here, because I haven’t seen her for about seven years. When I last visited this city she was a precocious, annoying if cute kid who wanted to climb a mountain ahead of me and shouted, terrifyingly from the top, “Come and get me” which almost cost me my equilibrium, my balance and my sanity.
Then we began an intermittent correspondence once I returned to Britain, birthday greetings and so on. Until when she was twelve she sent me a link to her novel – a tortuous and tortured revenge fantasy in which a badly used woman gets serial revenge on all men for being men. Very graphic. Cuttingly, brilliantly written. Completely amazing for a girl of her age.
And since then, when I sent constructive ideas and thoughts, trying to hide the unease I felt at her being able to describe thoughts feelings and actions way above her age, our correspondence reverted to the occasional. And lately, to the little or nothing. It seems she now is attached, in many ways, to a 19 year old man. She is 14.
She was due to arrive at 1 and it’s now 1.25.
My instructions were: lock yourself in here, and here. This key is for the padlock on the front door gate. It’s rather fiddly. And this key is for the garden gate. It takes a bit of a shake and a wibble but you’ll get the hang of it. Right!” Said son James, “I’m off to work! Let her in when she bangs on the garden gate!”
When it was 1 I either heard banging or thought I did. The alarming manual gymnastics required to open the padlock on the front door gate almost defeated me but eventually I did it. Then I proceeded to the garden gate which entirely resisted every effort whatsoever to get key and lock to agree on a common purpose. It is impossible to see through this gate so I have no idea as to whether there was a girl on the other side. For security reasons, climbing up or over it is not an option.
So here I am at 1.30, convinced I have failed in my first intelligence test and have signally let down the family in what is a task they no doubt, regard as foolishly simple.
She arrived shortly after I wrote the last paragraph and once the keys had been thrown over the wall, G and I had an incredible afternoon – what an articulate, intelligent, humorous daft granddaughter she is…sorry, my determination to conform to NO stereotypes whatsoever has just been utterly destroyed. Well, does YOUR granddaughter refuse to be embarrassed when granddad puts on a cod German accent to interrogate the people in the local museum? And then joins in with a French accent, pretending to understand little if any of either German or English? To the extent that the poor little people in the perfectly worthy museum became thoroughly confused as to their own nationality and the meaning of life in general?
Well, that nearly happened.
And what a dad she has, too! When sonny J heard about our adventures, instead of berating me for misleading his daughter down the road of learning to be a confidence trickster, he made every attempt to appear delighted.
Do doubt my punishment comes later, when daughter is asleep…