One of the attractions of moving to Cape Town is that, wherever you live, really, you are no more than 15 minutes or so drive from the beach. As someone moving from northern Europe, the prospect of "beach on demand" is very alluring.
But life is never that simple and, as with everything, there is a learning curve and the Cape Town Beach learning curve appears to be an especially steep one- I have been unable to master the "which beach and when problem" for over 2 years. At first, I assumed that maybe I was just a complete cretin with an inability to absorb and process information, but the other day, I spoke to an ex-pat who appears to be in what I will call Phase I of Beach Education in Cape Town. I have now realised that mastering the beach experience is actually more of a Rite of Passage for Expats; a test, if you like.
So, for those coming to live in Cape Town and for those visiting, I thought I would provide you with a list of phases that you will go through. Perhaps my step-by-step explanation will help you navigate them quicker than I am.
This is the phase where you have just arrived and are SO excited about having the beach on your doorstep that, as soon as you see the sun (which is most days), you head to the beach. Your ignore the howling wind that batters your car on your way down to the beach, you disregard the huge waves that you can see in the distance as you descend Wynberg Hill. Because, after all it is sunny and therefore it MUST be a beach day,
Arriving at the beach, you congratulate yourself on living in a city where you can get parked so easily at the beach- there's no one else in the car park! Hurray! With a sense of adventurous triumphalism, you open the door of the car and note- just by the by- that opening the car door is more difficult than normal. Never mind. Eager to get on the beach, your hair swirling around your head you open the kids' car doors (using more force than should be strictly necessary but your enthusiasm cannot be dampened!)
It is only at the point where your kids start crying as if needles are being stuck in their arms, shrieking: "Close the door!!" that you realise something is amiss. You are the only people in the car park, the wind and the sea are so loud that you cannot hear yourself think and your children are crying whilst being exfoliated.
A little put out, you head back, feeling slightly cheated and also embarrassed. But you'll do it again, maybe even twice more. I know for a fact that we are not the only family to have done this.
You've made some South African friends, they've been polite enough not to laugh at your beach greenness but they have given some wind advice. You're told that if the wind blows in a certain direction, you are to avoid that beach. You feel very pleased with yourself and your new information and you use it, or you think you do.
You see, the wind changes throughout the day (direction and strength) so a cursory glance at the wind website is not enough. It requires some analysis- something that you (in Phase II at least) fail to realise.
So, there you are, pleased as punch, arriving on the beach just as everybody else is leaving. You get out of the car and, whilst you are not experiencing the sandpaper effect like last time, it's clear this is not going to fly with the kids.
You get back in the car- sheepish again- feeling your children's disappointment and contempt from the back of the car.
OK, great. You've checked the wind forecast, you've broken it down into hourly segments and you're all set to go!
Setting up on the beach, right time, right beach, gentle breeze, you feel so proud of yourself you could burst. The kids are playing. Or for about half an hour and the whining starts.
"Why? Why? WHY?", you crying, glancing bitterly at the other families happily enjoying their time on the beach, frolicking around. And then you realise: you didn't bring shade. Dammit, what a northern European, sun-happy fool you are! This is Africa, not Brighton!
You leave the beach, disappointed but at least you made it to the beach and had (brief) enjoyment from it.
What could POSSIBLY go wrong now? 2 years in and things have been going for well for a while. The beach umbrella, the wind forecast: although you're getting sloppy with that, everyone KNOWS in summer it's a south-easter.
So, confident as can be, you take your overseas visitors to a beach in January.
20 minutes later, you and your brother's girlfriend and wrestling with an umbrella that's blown inside out and threatening to inflict mortal injury on some poor soul.
I looked around and saw that others had those shade tents that you peg into the ground. They sat there smug, unperturbed, reading, not wrestling and bloody well in the shade.
When I got home, I found out that on that day when everyone knows it's supposed to be a south-easter, it was- unusually- a westerly. And when there's a westerly, apparently, you DO NOT go to Lllandudno.
I'm guessing this phase will involve a pegged in tent shade and more frequent wind checks. Just a hunch..
Will it be the final phase in my beach education- I really hope so.