On the Beach

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Cape Town's going on a summer holiday....

It's a funny thing, moving from a city that never sleeps, never shuts down like London, to a city that values and insists on downtime, chilling and leisure: Cape Town.

For those that don't know, Cape Town basically shuts down from December 16 (yesterday) to January 15 every year for the holidays. The reason for this, as I understand it, is that in times past, workers used to work far away from home so they almost always stayed where they worked for 11 months and then went home for a month- hence why everything shut down.  It became to traditional to send workers on their way with a "13th pay cheque"- a bonus effectively.

Whilst for most people things have changed and they no longer work hundreds and hundreds of miles from home, some still do and others simply have embraced the tradition for a month off. The 13th pay cheque? Well, that depends on your employer these days.

As a result the the beginning of December is a very funny time in Cape Town. The city and its people are not certain whether they want to speed up and get things done by December 15th or whether the year has just made them tired and, frankly, they want to avoid doing work until December 15th (and therefore actually, January 15th).  So, depending on who you deal with you'll either be enveloped by a flurry of frightening efficiency or be tearing your hair out in rage as despair as you realise that the unreturned calls and wall of silence mean that you will have no doors on your kitchen cupboards until people get into the groove in January. Let's just hope the Christmas guests will think it's a style statement.

Please don't assume that it is just manual workers that have this attitude. During a conversation with an eminent and highly professional attorney last week, it became abundantly clear that nothing was going to happen until he came back "early" on January 9th. Wow, man, don't push yourself too hard.

Apart from retailers, no one does any business in Cape Town after December 15th. And, what the strangest thing for me is, no one WANTS to or expects to.The "Bottom Line" is set aside for a month and people just enjoy relaxing.  Between Christmas and New Year, the vast majority of offices are simply closed and for the rest of "holidays" there is skeleton staff. As someone whose (sort of) career was mostly set in the City of London, this is frankly weird. Relax for a month? Even a week? Are you serious?

Why the date of the 16th? Well, why ever not?! OK, seriously it's because the 16th is a public holiday (It's Reconciliation Day- bringing together a date that is of significance to both Afrikaaners and the liberation struggle) and it is generally a week or so after the schools break up ie the kids have time to get over the tiredness that the final school term has inflicted on them and get excited about going away.

And so it was yesterday, December 16th, that the holidays began. It had been a nerve-wracking time for the weather obsessed Capetonians as we had had a day and a half of solid rain earlier this week.

 That rain was also a source of deep personal embarrassment to my husband I, having raved on to his parents about the weather and poo-poo'd their bringing out waterproofs. It's their first time here and for a few days it was reminiscent of an English summer. Cringe.Bad marketing, Cape Town, bad marketing.

For the moment, summer seems back on track and yesterday we hit road, along with the rest of Cape Town.  Heading out of town on the N2, there was a spirit of communal holiday, a sense of throwing caution to the wind as (terribly driven) cars, with roof racks, bike racks and trailers full to the brim of all the things that make a holiday, queued up in petrol stations.

On our day trip to Hermanus we passed cars with canoes on their roofs,cars trailing huge boats, fishing rods poking up and glistening in the sunshine as dogs stuck their heads out the windows (why do they DO that?).

Coming back, gliding down over Sir Lowry's pass in the late afternoon sun, False Bay gleamed golden and the mountains, slightly misty looked pleasantly exhausted from their first day of the holidays.

I would say that I'm really looking forward to a month off, but as a mother of 2 small kids, I think to say that would be a laughable statement, frankly bordering on fantasy.

Still, there are many worse ways to spend your time than beach hopping for a month- here's to the holidays!

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