Tag Archives: Cape Town

Touristing at Home: Greenmarket Square

In June, I spent a good amount of time sitting in ancient Sicilian squares watching people and staring, awe-struck by the age of the enormous, intricately carved buildings surrounding the squares, the hot Mediterranean air swirling with stories from a thousand years ago and yesterday. I’m a lucky fish.

Last Saturday I sat doing the same thing, but this time on Greenmarket Square in central Cape Town, down on the tip of Africa, and I felt just as lucky. It was completely different … loud and busy … echoing African drum beats swirling and bouncing off the not-quite-as-old buildings around the square and the jangling of the dancer’s leg bracelets from street performers. A cacophony of sound as different performers sang at opposite corners, combining into the heart-swelling beat of home.

We were supposed to have gone to Canal Walk to do admin-type stuff, the stuff that fills Saturday mornings and makes everybody slightly grumpy at having to spend weekend time traipsing through the soulless passages of shopping malls where nobody sees anybody, a mass of faceless people. It was a beautiful Spring day, though, so we trashed the mall idea (it doesn’t take much for us to do that!) and headed into town instead, watched by a grinning Table Mountain putting on a Spring flower show bar none.

Parking off Greenmarket Square, we ambled down to the Golden Acre (with its Louvre-like roof, above) to do the Absolutely Necessary admin (the non-essential having been left on my desk at home, fluttering restlessly to no audience). I love Golden Acre, with its tangled chaos of humanity, all of us Getting Stuff Done, but with slightly less of an edge than on weekdays. It’s Saturday, after all, and the kids are here too and Spring is upon us and a vanilla cone is R4.50 at The Hungry Lion.

It’s GM’s niece’s 12th birthday and her only desire is a watch with a white strap. At Under The Clock we find the white strap, and meet the owner bringing parcels of slap tjips in for his staff, their vinegary scent filling the tiny shop and making mouths water. It’s Saturday after all. He’s second generation watchmaker and turns 70 next year and stops to chat. He sees his staff, he sees us.

Down in the bowels of this modern glass and steel shopping centre the history of the city sits quietly behind glass. You can see it from above, the Wagenaar’s Reservoir display … part of the brick tunnel built in 1663 to carry fresh water from the reservoir to the harbour. 1663. Ancient bricks clustered together watching shoppers file in and out of PEP stores.

Admin done, we trundle back along St George’s Mall, the trees showing off their new leaves, unfurling them slowly, thousands of tiny green ballerinas pirouetting (sorry, Spring gets me all poetical). Hawkers from all the way up Africa sell their wares, some carefully handcrafted, others imported and plasticky, but everyone is talking to each other, exchanging greetings, discussing what happened last night, humanity.

And that’s just it. It’s alive with humanity and it is home.

Wheelchair Accessibility

Golden Acre shopping centre is completely accessible (and chaotic), as is St George’s Mall (mostly), which runs up from Riebeek Street in the Foreshore to Wale Street, near the entrance to the Companys Garden. St George’s Mall is probably the most accessible route through the CBD.

Cape Town’s CBD is tricky, with some streets ramped, others not. Even crossing Adderley Street to get into the Golden Acre one side is ramped, the other side not. With a little planning and strength (or if one step isn’t an issue), it’s doable.

Greenmarket Square is tricky, with small, difficult-to-manouevre cobbles. A number of cafes around its perimeter are, however, accessible.


Saving Li’l Turtles

I went to a Travel Massive event at the Two Oceans Aquarium on Tuesday. It’s a pretty spectacular place at night. In fact, it’s a pretty spectacular place always, but somehow being there after hours and having it all to ourselves added a certain thrill.

I’m always enthralled by how leggy all those marine creatures are. Enormous, eight-legged crabs, luminescent jelly fish trailing multiple tentacles and frills, shrimps with legs and feelers and stalky eyes. They’re like animals from a Dr Seuss story. The silvery schools, the hugging starfishes, the Sea Horses! Too lovely.

But this blog isn’t about all the leggy creatures, this is about something I learnt last night that every person living on, or visiting, the Cape coast should know. Jenni Leibbrandt, of the aquarium, watched over by the gorgeous turtle in the enormous tank behind her (it was almost as if she was checking that it was all factual) explained about tiny turtles washed up on the shores around the Cape.

You see I had, mistakenly I now realise, thought that if I was ever lucky enough to find a baby turtle (who, I think, should be called turtlets) washed up on the shore, I should leave the li’l thing alone, or help it back into the sea.


Those little critters are cold. Cape Town’s waters don’t suit their sunny temperaments and they’ve only landed up there because they got swept all the way from KwaZulu Natal by the wrong current. So, no, this is one occasion where ‘leave nature alone’ doesn’t apply.

Here, Jenni explained, one needs to help the little guy by putting him in a dry box and taking him straight to the aquarium (or calling them) and they’ll take it from there, as part of their turtle rehab programme.

Tell your friends, tell your children, and tell them to tell their friends. Those little turtles don’t deserve to have chattering lips (beaks?) and cold flippers.

Look at June go:

Love In The Time of Woolworths


Over the holidays I went to Woollies in the city to pay some bills. A sweet, romantic scene played out in front of me that made everybody in the queue smile, and then not. I’ll just copy/paste the letter I posted on their Facebook wall, to give you the details:

Dear Woolworths,

We went to the pay point next to the shoe section (closest to the St George’s Mall entrance) and stood in the queue.

As we waited, a handsome young man entered from the ‘out’ end of the queue and presented one of the lovely young ladies working at the tills with a big bunch of roses. I think her name is Andisa.

Those of us in the queue all smiled. What a joy to be witness to such a sweet, romantic gesture. Unfortunately, the smiling young lady was refusing – extremely politely and very professionally – to accept his gift.

All of us were urging her to accept the flowers, until we were told by the supervisor that the staff are not allowed to accept any gifts from customers. She was just obeying the rules, in the most gracious way.

We had, in the meantime, reached the front of the queue (all the ladies working were very efficiently continuing ringing up people’s purchases throughout) and the young gentleman – still trying to hand over the flowers – had run out of time.

Handing them to me, he smiled charmingly and asked that I make sure she get them, turning and leaving me holding the beautiful flowers.

The supervisor by this stage had called the manager and they were trying to decide what to do and going to check that the flowers had been paid for and such. We, too, had by then paid and needed to catch a train, so had to leave before the manager got back. I assumed the beepy door thing would go off if the flowers weren’t paid for and informed the (also lovely) security guard that we weren’t sure. We left without incident and tried to make our own plan to ensure that the flowers were received by their rightful owner.

While I understand the need for rules and regulations regarding staff accepting gifts, should you not allow there to be a teeny tiny loophole that allows a stranger to hand over a bunch of flowers to someone he admires, in full view of an appreciative audience? The world that we live in can be a pretty hard place, we need more giving of flowers and gestures of love!

Please note that this is not a complaint against any of the staff yesterday, all of whom acted professionally and within your rules. This is a complaint against those rules.

Please, Woollies, let the love through.

Thank you, and here’s to a 2016 filled with more loving gestures,

My mail on Facebook was met with the generic ‘Please inbox us your details so we can “escalate” this query’, showing a complete disregard for what I’d said, and making me wonder if they’d even read it. I duly sent my e-mail address and a couple of days later received this:

Thank you for your feedback regarding Andisa and the flowers.

Although it was a beautiful gesture of gratitude, Woolworths employees are however not permitted to accept any gifts from customers, monetary or otherwise. The practice of accepting gifts can lead to other activities that has a negative impact on our business, staff and customers.

We do have an instore recognition progamme, the CARE (Create A Rare Experience) awards, which celebrates our staff for going the extra mile. Be assured that Andisa’scommitment to her customers and the Woolworths brand has not gone unnoticed and she too has been nominated to receive a CARE award.

Thank you for your valued feedback, feedback from our customers are what fuels us on our good business journey.

Blergh. Jargon, jargon, corporate schmaltz.

To say my heart sank is an understatement. What’s happened to the world, that sweet gestures like these, in full view of both customers and supervisors, have to met with rejection? In their place we are offered ‘recognition programmes’ with twee acronyms. It’s just bloody sad. And extremely foolish of Woolworths, who could so easily have turned this interaction into an amazing, feel-good, free marketing exercise.

The world needs more flowers, more admiration, more love, more kindness. I’ll be spending 2016 aiming for those, and spending less and less time (and money) in the company of big corporates who have lost their hearts.

Magical Music In A Church


The Central Methodist Mission Church has watched over Greenmarket Square since 1878. It’s seen much and housed many, many congregations as well as a good few political meetings and social gatherings in its time. On Tuesday night it was filled with a different congregation, mainly consisting of hipsters, for Best of the Buskers, a performance by three singer-songwriters.

Fresh from Rocking The Daisies, three enchanting singers and various surprise collaborators filled the beautiful church with even more beautiful music. There’s something magical about the stillness of the air in a church. The acoustics are breathtaking, the pews worn, and the setting gorgeous, made even more so by Studio 7’s arrangement of standing lamps amidst the band set-up, dwarfed by the vast organ pipes above the altar.

Dressed in white, Paige Mac opens her mouth and makes it easy to believe in angels. She sings a song that “reminds you to believe in yourself”, filling the church with a sound that really does inspire you.

Majozi joins her and the air again changes shape as they strum their guitars. The ghosts in the eaves shuffle and then fall silent, transfixed, as he sings. When she joins him, even the gargoyles decorating the walls of the church draw in their breath.

Peter Bibby and his guitar are up next. He’s an ambler, a rambler, and an Australian, Dylan-esque storyteller. Announcing that he wanted to tell a crass story but won’t because it’s a church, he launches into his repertoire of straightforward, funny, lyrical, naughty, booze-lovin’, medication-gnawin’ ditties. He oozes honesty and realism and, in his orange socks, he wraps the audience around his grubby fingers. His voice is mesmerising.

After a short break, Alice Phoebe Lou comes on: she’s just as petite and ethereal as expected, and her feet are grey-stockinged and shoe-less. She looks like a tiny 17-year-old (she’s not), but her voice sounds like it’s lived a thousand years, and tells the tales of an old soul. At times, she reminds me of Feist.

She brings friends on stage to sing, dance and mix music, while she tells the stories behind her songs – her father selling their childhood home and the impending feeling of loss; that she “never writes love songs, but sometimes you run out of subject matter, and you have to”. It’d break your heart, that love song. Her songs are raw and real.

And that’s where this concert brought down the house – three incredibly real, raw, honest and achingly beautiful acts in a venue filled with the secrets and whispers of the thousands of people who have crossed its threshold over the past hundred years. Pure magic.

This review was done for What’s On In Cape Town 

Infecting The City


Infecting the City is the epitome of public art. Accessible, edgy, varied and free, it uses the city itself – its pavements, malls and buildings – as its stages and galleries on which to bring dance, music, poetry and art to the throbbing humanity of the metropolis.

What better way to spend a late summer evening, than to amble through the city as it winds down and enjoy a vast array of performances? We saw two 6m slinky springs fall in love on Church Square before watching Madness, a multi-media work, in the Groote Kerk. Choral singing washed through Adderley Street above the hooting of taxis. Even the city pigeons stopped looking for crumbs on the pavement to listen.

In the main hall of the Golden Acre shopping centre, the commerce-crazed rush of the mall was momentarily stilled as people stopped to watch dancers leap about while Charlotte Hug’s music twisted between the columns and crept down the shop corridors.

But the Infecting the City festival is not just pretty pictures and mind-boggling movement: these performers ask valuable questions and tackle big issues. In Longmarket Street, as darkness descends,Uneducated uses transparencies and shadows on a white city wall to ask “Can our education system free us as Africans?”, while the brilliant Ellipsis questions our sense of identity and belonging.

Herded by very helpful Infecting the City ushers with boards and lights to the Castle, we find food trucks waiting to fill hungry tummies before the next set of performances. The back courtyard of the Castle is scattered with warm blankets on which to sit while watching the ever-wonderful Handspring puppets and then Brent Meistre’s ode to the drive-in, Analogue Eye.

Moving back to the front courtyard for the final performance – New Moon Collective’s Prayer To The New Moon – the evening ends on a very high note. With drums and trumpets and incredibly tall, stilted half-human half-animal creatures and a shining bright floating moon from which an acrobat hangs… It’s slickly performed and all incredibly beautiful.

Divided into five programmes from Monday to Saturday, afternoons and evenings, the festival moves through the city streets encompassing an extraordinary number of mini ‘events’. From recycled sculptures on the Concourse to dance performances, this is the stuff that stills the incessant hum of the city. Some have specific performance times, others are ‘pop-up’. You want to be in the city for this!

This piece appears on What’s On In Cape Town.


It was a pretty average Monday afternoon, at 5pm, broad daylight still, on that road, you know the one? That one that snakes off the mountain and flows into the city, past that big shopping centre on the left, it curtsies to The Grand Old Lady before bending to the right. You know that bend? The one with the old cinema that shows art movies, the one named after the princess with the rude name. The cinema next to the gracious old government building, or is it naval?

It’s the one that watches over that intersection, the one with the robots (traffic lights to you foreigners), the robots that lead up the little side street that connects to the other big road that goes all the way up to the mountain and falls down the other side, into the bay. That little side street is the same one with that music shop, you know, that one. The one with the guy who found Rodriguez.

I’m moving too far from where I saw him, though, let’s back up a bit, back to the gracious (naval?) building, the one next to the rude princess’ cinema. It has stairs leading up to it, open onto the street, walled to about chest height at the street level, the walls filled in with grass, I think. It doesn’t matter. It was the stairs that mattered. Well, not the stairs really, more the boy on the stairs, his back pack messily placed next to him, various things scattered about him.

He looked like an average twenty-something year old, almost a hipster, but not quite. I first just saw the tip of his hatted head above the walls of the stairs as we came around the bend after curtseying to The Grand Old Lady. The robots were red, so we stopped. I had a chance to look at him properly, to take in his rucksack, to get a glimpse of his face, a good-looking face, I think, I couldn’t see properly because it was bent slightly, a tight elastic band or string clenched between his teeth that led to the top of his arm where it snaked around just below his pushed-up sleeve.

He was concentrating very hard on inserting the needle of the syringe into his vein.

We went around the block, and passed him again, fleetingly this time, as the robots were green. The syringe was gone, but the tourniquet was still there. I wondered if we should stop and release it for him.

It was a strange coincidence because it happened the day after I read American Junkie. I’d never before seen a junkie shoot up on a public street in broad daylight and it made me sad. We continued on our way, though, down that side street, past that music shop, you know the one, and on to dinner with old friends. My sadness hovered near the door though, as I hoped he’d find somewhere safe and dry to sleep, even if it was just there, in the doorway of the arthouse cinema with the rude princess’ name. Rain was forecast.