Monday, 8 October 2007

Waiting for Rupert

When is it okay not to turn up to an engagement you said you were going to turn up to?

When you’ve got typhoid.

Okay, just kidding, but really: here I sit, at 8pm, food drying out in the oven, expecting Rupert the mad artist to arrive ‘any time from 6.30pm onwards, for an early dinner’ – because although I do want to see him, and he’s been sending me sarcastic SMSs for the last fortnight about my inability to invite him around: I’m tired, it’s Monday, it’s cold, and what I really want to do is get into bed with a good book.

Yes, I should have been more specific. Telling a mad artist ‘any time’ gives him way too much licence. (There is an outside chance he’ll finally toodle in at midnight, I suppose.) But surely ‘early dinner’, unless you’re Italian and have slept all afternoon and habitually eat supper at midnight, says something?

While I’ve been waiting, doing the crossword and wishing ever more fervently that Rupert will do the ostensibly unforgivable and just not turn up at all, I’ve been thinking about another time my invited guests didn’t arrive. It was a birthday party – my 28th, I think – and I’d been typically Capetonian about the invitations.

Capetonians are notorious for saying ‘We must get together’ and never following through. When I first moved to Cape Town from Jozi over 20 years ago, this injured me. Don’t these people like me? I thought. Why say we’ll connect and then not do it?

But that’s just how Capetonians are. Which is probably why, after having lived in this province for over two decades, most of my friends aren’t born-and-bred Capetonians. They’re ex-Jozi, ex-Manchester, ex-Perth, ex-Mumbai, ex-Zim… except – tellingly – for Rupert.

Who’s illustrating, wonderfully, the Capetonian attitude to invitations and acceptance of same. So when I say I was ‘typically Capetonian’ about my birthday-party invitations all those years ago, what I did was call about 30 people and said, ‘Come round, if you feel like it, for dinner and stuff at my place on Friday, any time from 8-ish.’ And then was surprised when only three people actually arrived.

This would never happen in Jozi. Joburgers understand that when they’re invited somewhere, that’s where they’ll be. (Really, only typhoid will keep them away.) Capetonians, on the other hand, always have something else to do: get stoned, go surfing, take ecstasy and chill out on Lion’s Head, decide on a whim to go to Kathmandu.

For that birthday party, I cooked enough moussaka to feed the population of Hecallonica, cleared the living room of furniture and made five long-playing dance tapes (in the days when cassettes were king). Five invited Captonians phoned me from various callboxes (this time also pre-dated cellphones) on the TransKaroo railway line to tell me they’d decided on a whim to go the Rolling Stones concert in Jozi; another five phoned to say they were watching the sunset from Llandudno and – they were sure I understood – felt it would offend Mother Earth if they left.

God knows what happened to the rest, except for those few who actually did turn up, but who took one look at the almost-empty living room and, in time-honoured Capetonian tradition (social scaredy-cats, the lot of them), made their inadequate excuses before escaping what was clearly The Birthday Party From Hell.

Me, my friend Donald and two other hanger-on-ers (who, I must admit, I can’t even remember – I think they were neighbours I invited out of politeness) ate moussaka until we were fit to burst, danced to Kylie Minogue, and pretended we weren’t embarrassed at being the only people there. I still break out into a cold sweat every time I think about it.

Which puts me in mind (this is a loose connection, but you will forgive me, I am waiting for Rupert) of my first summer in Cape Town, when my sister from Jozi came down to visit for a holiday. One weekend morning, fiercely hungover, we took ourselves off to Long Beach (which is called Long Beach because it’s long – several kilometres long, in fact) for a bit of recuperating under the sun. We trudged several klicks down the sand until we were, quite literally, miles from anywhere, spread out our towels, lay down on them and fell asleep.

We were awakened some time later by a family of eight (Mom, Dad, Grandma, two loud prepubescent boys, an excitable dog, a portable sound system and a cooler box the size of a caravan) who had, and I am not exaggerating here, set up camp so close to us that we could quite literally touch them. Sitting up and rubbing our eyes, we looked around. The entire rest of Long Beach was empty, yet this family – who were without doubt from Jozi; their accents were unmistakable – had chosen to eschew at least a dozen kilometres of empty beach in favour of being precisely where we were. Astonishing.

And, if you don’t mind, I must tell another story about my Jozi sister (let’s call her Beatrice) and infringement on personal space. A few years ago Beatrice and I had spent about four weeks travelling around the UK and, tired and (inevitably) hungover, we were sitting at Heathrow, waiting to go home, in one of those airport restaurants that seem made entirely of melamine (the food too), discussing the more salacious points of our trip, when we became aware that a matronly-looking lady had settled in quite near to us. Almost on top of us, in fact. Given the choice of any seat in the entire restaurant, she’d chosen one that sited her practically between Beatrice and me.

And that wasn’t all. Matronly Lady made no bones of the fact that she was intensely interested in all we had to say, following our conversation as if she were watching a tennis match. It was most disconcerting.

We continued our gossipy chat, trying our best to pretend that a complete stranger weren’t blatantly eavesdropping, until Beatrice reached breaking point. Then, she said, ‘I must tell you, Muriel… and this,’ she whispered, ‘is strictly between you and me…’

Then she paused, stabbed a thumb at Matronly Lady, and added, ‘…Oh, and, of course, her.’

I can’t remember if Matronly Lady reacted to this, because I laughed so hard I blew Coke out my nose (now there’s a reverse for you), and was still laughing when I landed in South Africa 16 hours later.

Rupert has just arrived. It’s 10pm. I’m sure you’ll understand when I say I’m about to switch off all the lights and pretend I’ve gone to bed.

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meggie said...

Great post.
Hah, I am guilty of evesdropping but I do try to do it very discreetly, & not blatantly!

The family at the beach...I know it well. We call it the 'magnet principle'. If there is a whole empty shop, & we stop to look at an item- say a woolly scarf, in mid summer, next thing we know- whammo! there are 40 folk who just have to pant after the very scarf we were checking out.

tonypark said...


I've just emailed you about a migration of Dutch people in campervans, here in kruger. Despite the camp site being empty apart fromt us, they insisted on laagering-up around us.

As if we might protect them from the lions. Feed them to them, more like it, sandals and socks and all!

Walton said...

So true about Capetonians. They all know each other from school, and have never learned to socialise as adults. They tend to stay in the same cliques they were in at school, too.

You can be on the periphery of one of these cliques if you often hang out at the same place, in which case some one will say, "Check bru, I know you from around, hey, we must connect" but never do anything about it.

keryn said...

I was once reading a letter in a very boring College lecture, smiling quietly at the good bits, when the girl sitting next to me moved my thumb on the paper so that she could read a bit I wasn't up to yet. I was a trifle indignant to say the least!