Expat-ish

Expat-ish
On the Beach

Friday, 30 March 2012

Baby on Board and Road Rage

I would say that I am not easily riled, but that would be a complete lie. I'm actually pretty chilled out on the surface (or so I like to think, my family and friends may disagree) but underneath this calm veneer I am seething mass of rage. I'd love to say that this is mostly about gross injustices, breaches of human rights and the thought of animals losing their habitats. If I'm honest, it is sometimes about those things but mostly it's about petty things that really get to me and then I just have to rant. Have to.

Today's rant is about "Baby on Board" signs in the back of cars. Ever since I noticed them, the sight of one can drive me into an apoplectic rage en par with driving behind a randomly stopping Cape Town taxi. The late comedian George Carlin described "Baby on Board" as "the 3 most puke inducing words that man has ever come up with". I couldn't agree more.

My beef with them is that they really have no point whatsoever (apart from to infuriate me). Before I embarked on the this treatise against these signs, I did my research on these signs in case it turned out they saved lives, stopped rhinos being poached or something. Well, they don't.

They were invented in America in 1984 and were ubiquitous by 1985, apparently, to encourage safe driving. By 1986, they were in decline in the States although they are most definitely in use in the UK today (with "charming" variations such a "little princess on board"). And, now I have seen them in Cape Town. As if I wasn't having a bad enough day already.

Parents and new parents especially, are such a ripe market for exploitation- they will spend any amount of money on something that stops the crying or protects the child- I should know. So maybe people buy this thing because they think it will protect their child.

I can't for the life of me imagine how they could save lives.Psychopaths, people who suffer from road rage, boy racers, anyone who is likely to feel like ramming your car, Cape Town "build your own car from 16 cars (brakes optional)" drivers, and Cape Town taxi drivers are really most unlikely to have their their savage hearts melted when they see the kooky little cartoon baby swinging on a sign from the rear windscreen "Ah", they'll think, "a baby on board, how cute." and take their foot off accelerator, giving you more distance. Really?! Sure, then they'll just stop and breastfeed your child as well.

I did a bit more online searching and discovered that one company that makes these abominations (and many "crazy variations") is doing so to provide a "giggle on the road". Now, I've thought about this- do I really need a giggle on the road? Should we really be allowing things on the roads that make drivers collapse into giggles? You can see this won't be a problem for me, but you get my point.

So, because I am a person with far too much time on my hands, I have tried to consider reasons for buying these things:

1. You buy it yourself so people have low expectations of your car. The "Baby on Board" sign explains why your car looks like a baboon troop had a party in a tuck shop.

2. You buy it yourself to serve as a warning to others for your driving i.e. to explain away why you keep turning around, waving your free fist with a face like thunder (trying to stop 2 kids fighting), why you slow down and look like a contortionist from the back (trying to retrieve sacred toy from foot-well because child actingmpossessed without it) etc.

3. Someone else buys it for you to warn others that you are a bad driver but thinks you are not self-aware enough to buy it for yourself.

4. Or, most depressing of all, someone just buys it for themselves or as a present because it is something to buy.

In Western society, we are wired and geared towards buying because that's what makes the economy grow. And we all want the economy to grow to make sure we have more money.... so we can buy more stuff. And the powers that be are very good at making us buy things- look at the proliferation of present buying events- people now buy Easter presents, people have baby showers before the baby is born and then people buy gifts for the baby once it is born too. There are now engagement parties with "engagement lists", followed stag and hen parties overseas, followed by a wedding and a "wedding list". I'm not sure why people need so much stuff, but somehow society has been convinced into it and people who can ill afford it are spending buying presents which they believe they are expected to buy. And so with so many events to buy for, it's not surprising that we resort to buying meaningless, disposable rubbish because we have bought everything else already.

I think one of the things that makes these signs get to me is that idea that you can somehow stop traffic because YOU have a baby in the car. Like you are the centre of the world and somehow, this dangling monstrosity in your rearwindow will change irresponsible behavior.

Or maybe I am taking this all far too seriously and far too personally and I should take it all as a giggle..

To that end I have some suggestions which would make me, and other parents laugh. Things that you only know if you're a parent: " 2 babies on board. Can't believe I didn't learn after the first one". Or: "3 babies on board: what the hell was I thinking?".

I've suddenly remembered the maternity T-shirts with "Baby on board" emblazoned on them.

I think I need to go and lie down.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

I (don't) want to ride my bicycle.

Today is Argus Day in Cape Town, the one day of the year when 40,000 cyclists from all over the world come to do a 110km circuit of Cape Town. The route starts and finishes in the city, goes around Table Mountain, down the M3, down one side of the peninsula, over the mountains and up the other side if the peninsula past the famous Twelve Apostles, Camps Bay and into the finish line at Seapoint.

The race itself causes minor controversy in Cape Town and Capetonians tend to fall into 3 categories when it comes to the Argus: those doing it, those not doing it but who love the day anyway and the grinches that cannot bear it.

Those doing it who are not professional cyclists I must, sadly, put into the mentally ill category. Anyone who chooses to spend their recreational time cycling for up to 7 hours in temperatures which are up to 34C today, cheek by jowl with tens of thousands of other fools must be a sandwich short of a picnic. But, given that these sports enthusiasts (which which Cape Town is replete) seem to get a sense out of achievement out of what they do and the fact that a lot of them raise huge amounts of much needed money for good causes, I'll spare the sectioning this once.

These zealots have been increasingly visible on the streets the last few weeks as they ramp up their training and annoy drivers, all in one fell swoop. They've also been hogging the spinning bikes at the gym, which given that I have a total OCD about those bikes, has been very distressing for me. Hopefully, they'll be jelly-legged for long enough for me to have a good go on them.

Then there are those who just love the event. The city really does come together for the Argus. Today, we went to support a friend who is doing it for the first time, to wave him on. We walked up to the M3 along with hundreds of other Capetonians to join the Capetonians already there, lounging under gazebos and trees, encouraging the cyclists- cheering and clapping and calling out to their hot looking friends on bikes. Music  pumped out of speakers and much needed juice and water was handed out by the ever-cheerful attendants at the water stations. Last year, a car had pulled onto the central reservation of the M3, opened his doors and was blasting out "Africa" by Toto (which, btw, must be one of the best songs of all time) and everyone swayed and sang along, clapping and cheering intermittently. I imagine this support is fabulous for the cyclists and it's great to feel part of it.

Then the are the grinches and grouches who get crosser and crosser as the event approaches and the amount of cyclists on the roads increases. You can see them glowering at traffic lights as they cyclists pull off before then and they grumble and grouse about the road closures on the day (which are many and for long times in parts of the City). The inconvenience of not being able to use exactly the road they want at the exact time they want is just too much to bear. It's their prerogative.

And me? Well, I personally can imagine few things I would rather do less than cycle with a throbbing mass of people in blistering heat for up to 7 hours. Add to that the amount of hours (days!) of training and, no thanks, it's not for me. I can think of infinitely preferable ways to fill my time. And I'm simply not motivated by the achievement of cycling 110km. It just doesn't thrill me or excite me. I'll cycle happily (I often do for exercise) as long as I want where I want, without the population of a small town virtually hugging me all the way.

Having shown myself to be lazy and generally unmotivated, I must confess that I find it to be a fabulous event, it really is a time where people come together and it is hard not to be choked when seeing scores and scores of people in different colours, shapes and sizes, bearing different flags, some dressed as smurfs, some in outlandish headgear all moving together (at varying speeds) up Wynberg Hill against the stunning backdrop of the back of Table Mountain.

For those not living in Cape Town or who haven't visited, the Argus coverage is worth watching on TV just to  get a sense of the city, the surrounds and why Cape Town really is such a big deal. Seeing (the faster) cyclists sail from City, to beach to mountain, to beach and to City again will give you some inkling why it is that so many many people fall in love with Cape Town and the peninsula. I am madly in love with it and if you watch it, you might begin to see why. One reason I might consider doing it is to cycle all around the magnificent Cape Peninsula in one fell swoop, smelling the air and being part of the scenery which you simply cannot do in the car.

Well done to all Argus cyclists today, especially my friends Shaun and Helen (and her son), you have endurance and willpower beyond most of us mere humans and I commend you for that as well as the amazing amount of money you have raised for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and  U-Turn Homeless Ministries.

Have they inspired me to do it next year? Me?? Are you serious?! No way! But I'll be there to wave them on if they choose to do it again.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

How can you spot an expat in Cape Town?

How do you tell an expat in Cape Town? Well, lots of ways.

For a start they'll be standing outside Tekkie Town looking mystified ("That's one helluva of a typo of 'tacky'".) They will also be having a heart attack about the price of imported goods (HOW MUCH for a GAP T-shirt? It's almost as expensive as the Italian Gnocchi and the Worcestershire sauce whose prices made us faint in Pick n'Pay!"). If you want to spot posh English expats, just go down to Vida Cafe in Constantia in the morning. It's like one of the 2 Saturdays in the English summer where you can sit outside on Kensington High Street. If you're a bit sleepy in the morning in Constantia, all that braying can make you a little disorientated- where am I?!

Most expats- or at least relatively new arrivals- can be seen weather appropriate clothing. Capetonians are noticeable by the fact that, come April, they wear fur-lined boots and dress their children in woolly hats (the temperature dipping below 20 for even a second invokes the use of wool, knits, fleece and fur).

On the road, an expat can be spotted by the fact that they use their indicators, stop at red lights and don't stop randomly in the road. We seek each other out, eyes meeting across chaotic junctions (both thinking: if that bus hadn't gone across on red, I'd probably be at home having dinner by now). We know who we are. And expats get pedestrian lights and road markings. It's like Capetonians have a different highway code (or, perhaps, none). I am totally beyond road rage now, my brain exploded a while ago and I drive in a state of in-car lobotomy (which probably makes me like most Capetonian road users- one more step to fitting in).

But aside from all that, there is another way in which you can spot an expat: by their shoes.

I can hear what you're thinking: that we Europeans can be set apart by our expensive shoes, our designer shoes whereas those poor Africans are so poorly shod. Now, before you start packing your aid box full of shoes, WAIT.

Expats are obvious by the fact that they wear shoes at all.

And no, I'm not just talking about the people who live in townships. Go to any shopping mall in Cape Town, even an upmarket one and you will see teens dressed in Abercrombie and Fitch, Canterbury- whatever- their bare feet gliding across the marble floor. Grown men, middle class men pop into the supermarket to pick up beers and a boerewors shoe-less. Some of the primary school teachers at my daughter's school don't wear shoes. The children are encouraged to go barefoot at a young age as it's better for their development, apparently- children are able to walk along tarred roads in bare feet in the heat of summer without flinching. You see a crowd of kids walking home from school, in uniform with a rucksack but without shoes. I absolutely love the smartness and formality of the uniform and then a pair of filthy shoes-less feet to finish it off.

My daughters have completely embraced shoe-less living, although my oldest one took a while to come around to the idea. Like a good English girl, she wore her socks and shoes at all times for a good few months, wouldn't be coaxed otherwise. The day I picked her up from school, her feet filthy and bare, I knew she was becoming a South African.  Now, however, both of them abandon shoes as soon as they can. They drop them, kick them off them in other people houses, anywhere on our property, in the car, at school and I swear that 30% of my waking day is spent trying to find shoes that we may or may not need require later in the day. When their friends come over, there's a kiddie shoe-pile at the front door- that's if they were wearing them in the first place.

It's a very cheap way to live- have you seen the price of kids' shoes?!

My mum and dad said that shortly I moved to Jo'burg as a child, I wouldn't hear of wearing shoes and I have always preferred to be barefoot, it's true- even after we left (a;though I had to adapt for the Norwegian winter somewhat).  I must really be getting into the CT way of  life, as today I rushed out to collect my daughter from school- and forgot my shoes.

I don't imagine too many South Africans gave a grown woman walking across the school park in bare feet a second thought.