July 2019 and for the first time since the mid-70s, we’re not living in South Africa. Di got to London early in May and I arrived – dragging 40+kg of luggage – a month later.
We’ve rented a flat in Hackney, an area I wouldn’t have even dreamed of visiting in the ‘70s without an armed escort. Today, the place is populated by hirsute hipsters and slight, studious, often serious looking women, many pushing some kind of wheeled uber padded device containing their (no doubt) soon-to-also-be-hirsute and precious offspring(s). Oh yes, there are lots of snowflakes too, but Mrs P has warned me against even mentioning them. So there you have it.
It’s supposed to be summer and still chilly in the mornings. Meantime, my South African cell phone continues to bing and bong with WhatsApps from the Rooi Els village group and block watch. It’s enough to make me homesick.
The fact that everything here works as expected is a bit of a shock. The postal system delivers overnight – unlike Mark Barnes’ Post Office back home. Yesterday, I got a very polite e-mail, detailing a speeding offence. In the text it said; “As you may be aware, the South African Post Office is currently experiencing a massive backlog in delivering post. We have been made to believe that 80 million pieces of mail are currently being delayed”.
That’s been going on since this time last year and there’s still no resolution?
London’s buses, long the butt of everyone’s frustration, now work really well, with annunciators at most stops advising how long the next bus will take to arrive and generally doing just that and within seconds of the estimated time. From the several stops adjacent to where we are living, it is seemingly possible to reach almost anywhere of importance in and around the city and many other places besides. It’s really difficult to say this isn’t pole position.
Prior to arrival, we both applied for a Freedom Pass, issued by the local council. It permits free travel on bus, trains and pretty much any form of public transport across the entire city. They were delivered by post – yet another surprise for us colonials. In South Africa something of this value would have merited a courier delivery.
We’ve registered with a medical practice, just a couple of minutes walk around the corner. There’s no one doctor to tend to one’s ills, as personalised care no longer exists in the state system. One can be certain that non-serious medical issues (colds, flu etc.) will be triaged by the system, to be dealt with by an almost doctor, paramedic or the carrier of one end of your stretcher. Still, it makes sense when budgetary and manpower resources are as precious as they are here.
Signing-up triggers all manner of ancillary activities, including a poo-by-post bowel cancer screening. Unthinkable? Nope. A plastic phial containing a matchstick thin probe is provided, with which you are to apply/smear one’s bodger before popping it back into the container and thence the post box. The brightly illustrated instructions are a bit light on how to catch said bodger and how to apply enough, sufficient to test, but little enough to not overcome the lab staff. I wanted to stick a merry Post-It on mine; “Give it five when you open it,” but Mrs P advised me against such levity. Getting their own back and a false declaration of bowel cancer might be the least of their responses.
Downsides? None that I would raise as a major issue. The local council has a hostel/halfway house a couple of doors along from our own block. It’s home to many of life’s less fortunate, who inhabit the nearby pavements and bus shelters around the clock. They drink almost continuously, opting for either either lager, or cider. As the day wears on, there’s often quite a ruckus going on as things in their world(s) don’t quite work out as expected. Noisy, drunk or both, they do all seem to be perfectly harmless – a relief after the hassling one expects on South Africa’s streets under similar circumstances.
The Dolphin (pub) across the street has a night club which functions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Late night, it’s surprisingly quiet, but by chucking-out time – sometime after 03:00 – can get very noisy, especially if fisticuffs are involved. Last Sunday morning, there was an altercation at about 03:45 and by the time I’d prised my eyelids open, there was a body on the pavement and several blokes piling into a VW that had stopped in the middle of the street. As the downed reveller revived, casting about for the last of his beer and pizza, the Plod arrived, blues and twos howling and with them an ambulance. A return to sleep was now impossible, so I watched fascinated as the loser in the punch-up lurched back to life and staggered off to the still open chicken shop, doubtless wanting chicken wings and chips to wash down everything else.
Amazing stuff, alcohol.
Ambulances. That’s an issue. Our sixth floor flat is on a very busy road junction, midway between several nearby hospitals. The ambulances that carry patients to and fro invariably find the traffic lights controlling the junction at red, or blocked with turning traffic and resort to their sirens to warn and move traffic out of their way. The first one usually seems to wail its way past around 04:30. After that rarely an hour goes by until well after midnight that at least one doesn’t make its noisy contribution to the day. Late afternoon and early evenings are the worst with anything up to a dozen raucous patient carriers wah-wahing past every hour. The double glazed windows reduce the noise a lot, but who wants windows closed in a steamy London’s mid-summer?
Hard on the heels of my arrival, I fulfilled an ambition to become involved in the railway preservation movement and signed up with a group busy re-creating a giant steam freight locomotive, last seen in the early ‘60s. My physiology is as you’d expect at my age, ruled out grovelling around in inspection pits, wielding spanners and welding torches. So, I’ve volunteered to assist in marketing, media relations and fundraising. Doubtless, there’ll be more about this as the project moves forward.
Also occupying me, a three day sojourn in Paris amongst my fellow-DearSusan bloggers. The city is wonderful and one of my favourites. I suspect this is the first of many similar trips on the horizon – certainly the talk between us suggested as much.
I also spent two days in Bristol, attending a school reunion. Imagine! It’s fifty years since we left Shene Grammar School and went our separate ways, most of us not having seen sight nor sound of each other in all that time. Within minutes, the years were gone and fuelled by a plentiful supply of alcohol, the conversations picked-up, seemingly where we’d stopped half a century ago.
There’s talk of annual reunions here too. As long as someone is prepared to mastermind and organise. Given the collective enthusiasm, I’m sure it’ll happen…
And, the Cricket World Cup grinds on. There’s nothing for a South African to be excited about, save a thorough house cleaning when the team drags itself home after the (almost) inevitable drubbing at the hands of the Aussies this coming weekend.
Final edit – we won – handily beating the Aussies. Why we couldn’t have done that earlier in the competition remains a mystery. That said, I still have no wisdom to offer as to the side’s almost complete lack of performance, but find myself wincing at the thought of the looming Rugby World Cup.
No. Our cricket (and quite probably our rugby too) seems to have fallen victim to the same malaise as the rest of the country; complete stasis. The people who are supposed to make things work are either still asleep at the wheel, drawing fat salaries for no work, or sitting on their hands, waiting for something to happen. Politically, we all thought a win at the polls for Ramaphosa would spell the start of a renewal.
I’ve been holding that particular breath for a while. Letting it out and disappointment rushing in seemed unthinkable just a few short weeks ago.