HARRY’S HAVEN – A M Smith ©


I am sick and tired of discussing Covid, worrying about Covid, listening to news about Covid, and you probably are too. So I’ve dug up an old story to celebrate the beginning of our South African summer, and briefly take our minds off you-know-what.

“I really don’t understand you,” grumbled Yvonne, “first I can’t get you to wear your new Hawaiian shirt, then I can’t get you to wear anything else, and now – now! Heaven knows why? – you’ve gone and bought another identical shirt!  What’s going on, Harry?  Are you losing your mind – you’ve got one perfectly good orange , white and blue Hawaiian shirt, why buy a second one ? and in the same colours too – if you must have another Hawaiian shirt why not buy a different colour?  I’m beginning to think you must be losing it. Harry? Harry!! Are you listening? I suppose not, you never do, you and that bloody newspaper!”

“Mmm,” murmured  Harry, fractionally lowering the newspaper, and gazing  mildly at his agitated wife. “Wassat? “

“I knew it! You never heard a word, you never pay any attention, I don’t know why I bother!” Yvonne viciously swooped onto the breakfast dishes and marched off to the dishwasher. Harry shrugged, and began smoothing out the newspaper prior to folding it neatly into a rectangle. He always did this. The small, meaningless ritual soothed him amidst the domestic hurricanes.

“I’m off for my morning  walk – see you later,” he said, rising speedily and bolting  out of the kitchen.

“And that’s another thing : why this sudden passion for walking? “ yelled Yvonne. “For years I begged you to join Walk for Life, but would you? No: of course not!  But now you’re retired, you go and walk for hours. I give up!” The only reply was the throaty growl of Harry’s precious diesel  bakkie/truck reversing out of the driveway.  He drove sedately to the nearby Builders’ Warehouse, parked neatly in his favourite spot, and walked purposefully into the store.

“Morning”, said the Security Guard,  echoed by the ladies at the Information Counter, and two  nearby cashiers .

 “Morning all,” beamed Harry, making a beeline for his haven. He arrived in the Outdoor Living section and fondly surveyed his two most favourite objects in the universe: a pair of striped beach loungers placed invitingly under a gaily striped umbrella, in front of the display of braai/barbecue equipment.

 He paused a moment  to decide: which would it be today? The yellow, orange and white stripes? Or should he use the blue, white and yellow striped lounger?  Both had  padded seat and back-rest cushions, and a perfectly angled downward sloping leg and foot rest. Whoever designed the chair deserved a medal. Either way, his shirt toned in with both of them, so it didn’t really matter. He opted for the orange chair. He needed bright cheerful colours after his stormy morning. 

Harry settled himself in the orange lounger, nudged the back rest cushion up  a fraction – aaahh! That was just right. He wriggled his bum into the maximum comfort position, lightly clasped his hands over his boep/bulging tummy, and breathed out a deep sigh of relief. This was more like it. This was how a man’s retirement should be . A bit of relaxation.  Peace and quiet. He didn’t mind the muzak the store played, he quite liked it, he wasn’t a fussy man.  His eyelids drooped.

A little later he drowsily opened them, and focused on Mr Venter, the Floor Manager, who tenderly enquired if he could send the cleaning lady with a cup of coffee for Oom/Uncle, respectful generic title?  “Baie dankie,” said Harry, “that would be nice.” Man, this was the life!

Funny to think how it all clicked into place two weeks ago when he’d come into the store for six rawl plugs. He‘d felt horribly conspicuous in his ridiculous new, bright blue and orange floral Hawaiian shirt.  Khaki was just fine, so far as Harry was concerned. Maybe blue, at a pinch, and a white shirt for Sundays. That was okay. But of course he’d given in under Yvonne’s attack: “You’re retired now Harry, I’ve bought you a new shirt

“Harry, no need to wear your old khaki shirts – put this on. “

Harry slunk into Builders’ Warehouse, and slunk down the aisle, pausing to linger by the Braai Section, like he always did. His eye was drawn to the two brightly striped loungers under their gay umbrella. The orange colour brought a fleeting memory of the bright orange lolly ices his Ouma/Granny would buy him as a Saturday treat.  The chairs looked very comfortable.  What if he? no – he was in here to buy rawl plugs, not to mess around with beach loungers.

 En route to the cash-till he paused again besides the loungers. Oh, what the hell, he decided and quietly sidled under the umbrella. He carefully sat on the orange chair. Very comfortable, he thought. “Oom must swing his legs up too,” instructed a patrolling saleslady ,“then Oom will really feel how comfy our loungers can be. That’s right,” she approved. “Now  lay back and close your eyes. See? Instant holiday, né? You test-drive it for a minute or two, and I guarantee you’ll walk out with two flatpacks under your arm!” and she bustled off.

Harry must have drifted off at this point, because when he opened his eyes, a small circle of onlookers surrounded the display, pointing at the dozing pensioner,  commenting on how his Hawaiian shirt perfectly matched the chairs. Wives were urging husbands to grab a flatpack quickly before they sold out, and the hubbub brought the Floor Manager at a rapid trot.

He opened his mouth to call Security to eject the cheeky old man from his display, but when he saw the rapidly dwindling pile of flatpacks, he changed his mind. “See,” he announced  to the growing circle of spectators, “our chairs are so comfy you just have to relax!  Ask Oom here – he’s proof!” and he gestured towards the bewildered pensioner. “No problem, Meneer/Sir, you’re welcome to relax on our loungers any time, you maar/justcarry on, no rush. Enjoy yourself.”

Harry couldn’t have left the store even if he’d wanted to. He was hemmed in by eager customers and trapped on the lounger. When the last flatpack had  been snatched up, the Floor Manager homed in on Harry, and suggested he return to the store on Monday, once they’d organized a re-supply of the loungers. “Please Meneer,“ he begged “ and be sure to wear your Hawaiian shirt, it’s perfect!”

 And thus Harry found a temporary harbour from the stormy seas of domestic life.

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WHY I AVOID EATING SNOEK


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Nina & I enjoyed a lovely sunny day out at a country market. The Bo Berg Market, Piketberg, to be precise.  The sun shone, the Spring flowers bloomed brightly, the breeze whispered, people milled around the small tables displaying fruit, veg, home bakes, jam, pickles, pot plants. I bought an unusual mini-rosette Malta  geranium to add to the collection on my patio, and an adventurous bunch of Rutabaga. Living dangerously, on top of the mountain. Which we were.

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But the real danger was yet to come. Entirely carried away by the plaas/farm, country  vibe and general festivity, I agreed to Nina’s suggestion to sample the local braaied/barbecued snoek.  Quite forgetting that I don’t like snoek. Why? Take a look at the photo below. More bones than you would ever imagine possible in one small serving of braaied fish.

Snoek is a Cape ‘thing’. I tried it for the first time at Port Nolloth, whilst on a bus tour of the famous Spring flowers,  during the mid 1980s,  and was totally disconcerted at the vast number of bones that had to be negotiated before I even got near a morsel of fish. Since then I have avoided snoek.

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To compound matters, snoek is braaied with a glaze of apricot jam – don’t ask me why, it just is. Like I said: braaied snoek is a Cape ‘thing’. The two  toothless Tannies, who were supervising their husbands braaing  the  snoek, warmly invited us to join them in an upcoming market, a Snoek en Patat Fees /Snoek and Potato Festival, held annually every  June, nearby. They guaranteed they’d be there, braaing more snoek!

We smiled, and said, “Ja Tannie, sekerlik/ Yes, Aunty, of course,” and wandered off with our lunch.

On this occasion I managed to eat about .05 grams of fish, and emerged hungry, covered in apricot jam, and reeking  of braaied snoek. Plus I had a raging thirst due to the salted fish, and my water bottle was long since emptied. Gah!  That’s it: never again!

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Notwithstanding this lunch disaster,  the sun shone, and the local band played on with diligence and volume. A typical Boland band, music for all occasions: a rousing mixture of Boeremusiek/traditional Afrikaans music, with rock songs.  Something for everyone.

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Country markets: you can’t beat ’em. P.S. I’m relieved to report that we never made it to the Snoek en Patat Fees. Not a chance. Now or ever.

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FLASH FICTION


The following short-short is a piece of Flash Fiction I wrote some years ago. I’m re-cycling it. My pandemic boggled brain isn’t very productive at the moment and because my readership has also re-cycled itself over the years, the piece may be new to most of my current readers. Fingers crossed.

I’m currently in love with the short-short format: stories that come in at 500 words, or less.  So, to make a change from my book themed ramblings, I thought I’d introduce a dash of fiction once a month. I hope you enjoy this first short-short story. It comes in at 438 words. I’m keen to know what you think of the idea. I hope you like it, because I’ve got more, tucked away in my hard-drive.

I should add that this story was prompted by my recent viewing of the movie The Bourne Supremacy. Even if you haven’t seen the movie the plot is not that hard to follow.  Enjoy!

JASON BOURNE DRIVES A WHEELIE BIN 

Vroom- vroom- eee – skreeee – ka-dooom – vroom – graunch – skreeee: he’s wrenching the wheel left, the crappy old Lada taxi shudders with the strain, ricochets off a silver Volvo, slides on an icy patch, lumbers into an intersection, misses a garbage truck by a whisker, gathers speed on the downhill gradient – his foot flattens the accelerator pedal – sweat stings his eyes, his hands cramp on the wheel, he’s welded to the wheel. His eyes flick up to the rear-view mirror.  He’s lost the black Jeep, by some miracle he’s lost the Jeep!  Moscow’s snowy streets careen past.  He needs to get off this motorway, hide, lose himself, ditch this bright yellow Lada, fade in amongst the muffled walkers on the pavements, bury his hands in his pocket, tuck his chin down into his scarf, become another Tovarich.  He’s Jason Bourne.  He’s on the run.  He’s in Moscow.  Someone – he doesn’t know who – is chasing him  – could be CIA, could be Russian police, could be Russian Mafia doing the dirty work for his own side, could be … could be … possibilities swirl round his head.  His knees ache from colliding with the dashboard, his leg burns after the badly judged jump onto the garbage scow, a molten  glass needle stabs his right shoulder every time he turns the wheel, but he’s okay, he’s done it – he’s Jason Bourne and ….

“Jason!  Dammit – are you deaf? JASON !!”  roars his mother. “How many times do I have to – oh never mind – Jason! Focus!  its Wednesday night: the wheelie bin – you haven’t taken out the wheelie bin ! It’s the only thing I ask you to do, and every week it’s the same, nag-nag-nag, why do I have to nag you all the time? “

Jason Brown’s eyes slowly focus on the flushed face, take in the angry arms-on-hips-pose, vaguely register the pitched tone, the raspy breathing.

“Okay, okay – I’m doing it” he mutters, sliding off his bed with all the speed and grace of an exhausted  sloth. I bet Jason Bourne never had to push stupid wheelie bins around, I bet he never had a mother who yelled at him all the time, I bet ….

A red-hot pain at the back of his knees registers. He jerks round. His Mother is advancing on him, raised arm drawing back, ready to lash the sjambok against his calves again. There’s a look of cold fury that’s drawn her lips against her bared teeth, whitened her face, made the veins on her neck stand out like cables: Jason Brown runs like hell, runs for his life.

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MICROWAVE DEFEAT


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For years I’ve been loudly proclaiming the virtues of microwave cooking, and informing all who will listen, that I cook 75% of my food in the microwave. Soup and porridge are the exceptions, but other than these, watch me press that button, watch that turntable spin!
But today I experienced a disaster of note. I planned to make a baked milk pudding, incorporating angel hair fine pasta, and sago. I thought I’d be clever and cut down on oven baking time, by pre-cooking the pasta and the sago, before constructing the dish. The pasta worked like a dream. I’ve been cooking pasta in the microwave for years.
Now for the sago. I put the soaked sago into a microwave cooking pot, gave it 3 minutes at 100% power. All I wanted was a pre-cook. When I opened the pot ….. Eeeeekkk – what was this? A translucent, rubbery, faintly bluish mass met my startled eyes. I prodded it gingerly with a spoon, to which it adhered instantly in a rubbery, quivering coating. Ummmm ….. The general effect was of a strange jellyfish from deepest, uncharted  ocean depths.

 
No thanks! With difficulty I scraped the trembling, gluey mass out of the pot and into the bin. Let me tell you, the sago didn’t give up without a brave fight. It clung grimly to the spoon, and the plastic pot, despite prolonged soaking.
I can authoritatively state: You cannot, and should not, cook sago in a microwave oven.
You have been warned!

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YAY! COLOUR! [ZEITZ MOCAA CAPE TOWN]


 

I enjoy colour. Bright and bold or pastel and delicate.

So you will understand my lukewarm response to the Zeitz MOCAA’s super modern colour scheme of black, grey and neturals inside the building. The coffee shop on the 6th floor offers a superb view of the harbour and a slice of the city, but the table ware and china were yet again in that stylish palette. As you can see below.

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Anyhoo: having enjoyed my tea break I popped into the Ladies’ Loo directly thereafter and OH JOY! Look what met my startled gaze: COLOUR. And plenty of it. Whoever designed the interiors of the ZM cloakrooms  had a nice sense of humour. Don’t you think?

 

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My fave is the red. I was blown away by the vivid colours – now I want a tomato red throne in my own bathroom at home!

 

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THE SILO DISTRICT AT THE V&A WATERFRONT


This is by way of a CATCH-UP POST.  Sometimes I write posts and for whatever reason they languish on my hard-drive. Here’s one that I hauled out from the beginning of 2019.

I recall struggling interminably with the size of the photos, and never succeeding; as you will see below. In the end I gave it up as a bad job. All the pics are mine, taken with my cellphone.

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A view of Table Mountain, from the Silo Precinct.

 

Although I enjoy the V & A Waterfront, our Numero Uno Tourist destination, I don’t visit very often. Last Sunday I pulled myself together and went to explore the recently completed Silo District area of the V&A . I’d read articles about the uber modern buildings and newly opened Zeitz MOCCA art gallery.

 

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As you can see from the pics  above   it really is bang up to the minute with trendy brand name shops (Bang & Olufsen, anyone?) plus upmarket hotels.

To my intense astonishment, I found a R15-00 cup of coffee at Si outdoor cafe; granted it was on Special Offer, but even so: usually the Waterfront is not noted for its bargain prices!

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And this is Africa folks – we could be in any major world city! Modern sculpture  (below) in the precinct.

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In distance tiny vignettes of old historic Cape Town  – Georgian buildings.

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So why is the precinct named the Silo District? The pic below explains:

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The British architectural firm, Thomas Heatherwick, turned the old grain silos in the dock area into the new Art Gallery.

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A view of our iconic mountain from the dockside

There’s labyrinthian underground parking – very confusing –  I lost my car.  On  arrival I saw many security  guards on bikes, fluorescent vest gleaming in the gloom –  but not one in sight when I went to retrieve my  car –  I had visions of my dessicated bag ‘o bones being discovered years later in a dusty corner. The design of the parking space is a crazy circular loop; no wonder I lost my car! I was never so glad to finally stumble upon my trusty little white Yaris! Purely by accident, I have to say.

Watch this space. In another post I’ll be adding more pics of the interior, and my favourite splash of colour at Zeitz Mocca.
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COOKING  CURRY


The Virus/Lockdown Combo   induced a sort of writers’ lethargy in me, dropping a thick blanket of torpor upon me, smothering my energy. I never knew what day of the week it was, and found it hard to concentrate. I noticed other bloggers  complaining about  the same deadening effect. With the slow reduction of our lock-down, a beam of sanity is creeping in. I plan on re-cycling a few older posts. My readership has changed enormously over the years, so most of you will not have read  this food/TV  post, dating back to 2015. Enjoy!

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I watched a BBC cooking show, a series called Rick Stein’s India which gave us all the colour, dust, crowds, gaudy festivals, temples, gorgeous saris, elephants, and palaces you could ever wish for. An absolute feast for the eye. My favourite street scene shows an elephant slowly ambling along a road bordering a street market, and at each stall the vendor steps forward and offers one item – mostly fruits – from his stall, which the elephant gracefully scoops up with a curled trunk, while the vendor makes a Namaste and a slight head bow.

In amongst this, the pink and perspiring Mr Rick Stein, notebook in hand, camera-man at his shoulder, valiantly researched South Indian cuisine, Rajasthani delights, on and on he went, through humble home kitchens, hole-in-the-wall kitchens in cities,  no bigger than a broom cupboard, tucked down side-streets, manned by sweating cooks turning out their speciality – just the one dish, there literally being no room to produce more than one. He ate street food (and there were never any references to the dreaded Delhi Belly, he must have a very strong stomach!). He ate in a restaurant run by a Maharajah, who personally cooked ‘Jungly Mas’ for him – a simple dish consisting of goat, water, salty, ghee and chillies. He ate at the Indian school equivalent to Eton. He ate at the Golden Temple, in  Amritsar, where thousands are fed daily – food is cooked in vast vats over open wood fires, by bare-chested, lunghi-clad old men.

No matter where he ate, the theme seldom varied: curry. Sometimes it was vegetarian curry, sometimes fish, but often it was goat curry, masquerading as lamb, called lamb, and never referred to as goat. I gathered that sheep didn’t do well in India. Imagine those thick woolly fleeces in that terrific heat!

He conducted an earnest enquiry during his travels, as to whether Indians use the ubiquitous word ‘curry’ and if so, what they meant by the term?  Apparently in Britain, the word curry covers practically any hot and spicy main dish, produced by immigrant families in takeaways, in the local High Street; accompanied by naan bread  and lots of lager.

It transpired that most Indians were quite happy to use the word curry, although – strictly speaking – the work means ‘gravy’. But it seems that ‘curry’ has entered the many languages of India, and is widely use, to cover main dishes ranging from the most subtly fragrant to the most inflammatory chilli. One Indian gentleman, a famous cook in India, discoursed eloquently and scornfully on the horrors of “Indian Curry Powder”, the boxed variety brought home from colonial service, to dear old Blighty, by the British. His condemnation of commercial curry powder was a joy to listen to! Indian cooks, of course, buy and grind their spices daily, at home, depending on the dish they’re making. I have to agree, that boxed curry powder (Rajah Curry here in South Africa) while quick and easy is always too hot. I don’t like blow-your-sox off fiery curries, I prefer spicy, deep flavoured curries.

So: inspired by Mr Stein, I hauled out my cookery books and made a tasty cauliflower curry for lunch yesterday. It’s quite a fiddly process, what with the chopping up of the veg, the discovery that I do not have fenugreek, or ground clove in my spice drawer, the garlic is finished, and so on – back to the shops yet again. But the results were worth it, and I have a nice stash of curry dinners tucked away in my freezer.

I can’t resist a bargain, especially in the cash-strapped month of January, so I bought vast quantities of tomatoes which suddenly appeared at Food Lovers’ Market at literally give-away prices, and I’ve found a recipe for tomato and hardboiled egg curry.   Hardboiled eggs, oddly enough, go well in a curry sauce. Sounds good to me!

 

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Filed under FOOD, TRAVEL, TV SHOWS

UNEXPECTED LOCKDOWN DILEMMAS


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A caller to our local radio station, Cape Talk, phoned for help.
She reported that her tin opener had broken, just as she was about to open a tin of beans. What to do? She’d stocked up on tinned goods. The family were waiting impatiently for supper.

 
So she rushed to her nearby supermarket to buy a new tin opener but discovered the kitchen gadget section was red taped off. She argued valiantly with the floor manager that a replacement tin opener was an Essential Item, and therefore permissible. But he wasn’t having it, and chased her away.

 
She returned home, frustrated. Now what? Aha! Cape Talk listeners always provided the answer to everything. So she phoned in. Sure enough, within seconds of having her plight broadcast, a brisk lady was telling her to use her Swiss Army knife. Not quite adding: pull yourself together woman! But her tone said it all.

 
Of course! Everybody has a Swiss Army knife, or a rip-off version, in their house – don’t they?

 
In case of desperate times, makes sure you have a Swiss Army Knife available. It has more gadgets concealed in its chunky metallic innards than you ever dreamed of. Plus, and this is the really good one, it has a thingy which extracts stones from horses’ hooves. What more you could possibly want?

 
The moral of the story is: always hide a back-up tin-opener and a box of matches in the back of the kitchen drawer. Would you believe I once worked for the Boy Scouts of South Africa? Always be Prepared was the old motto. Not a bad idea.

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WOMAN v.s BLACK PLASTIC RUBBISH BAG


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I am overwhelmed by the pandemic, I just need a little light relief. So that’s why I’m posting this piece today, written earlier in the year. Trivia, and inconsequential in the greater scheme of things, but … we all need a break.

These damn bags defeat me every time.
Despite the fact that I have opposable thumbs, a 1400 gram brain sitting inside my skull, and belong to the species that has travelled to outer space, removing a fresh black, plastic bag from the roll of new bags, and unfolding it to put into the kitchen rubbish bin always turns into ten minutes of sweaty frustration and bad language.

 
For openers, tearing the bag off the continuous roll is a challenge. Yes: there are perforations which – theoretically – tear along the dotted line and liberate one black bag. Except the perforations often don’t cooperate, causing me to hunt for scissors, snip it off, and (usually) succeed in creating an unwanted hole in a brand new bag. Sigh. Let’s try again. Maybe Bag #2 will permit me to remove it from its parent roll.
Okay. So now I have one creased new black bag in my hand. But now to unfold it. Umm. Where do I start? The folding pattern would baffle an Origami Master. The folding mechanism in the plastic bag factory must have been designed by goblins or aliens. Take your pick. Finally I persuade the folds to unfold, and voila, a new bag ready for the bin.

 
Except there’s one final test. You’ve all been baffled by this one, I’m sure. How to persuade the bag to open? Pull, tug, shake, rub, do what you will, you cannot get the two layers of plastic to part. But there’s a secret. And I will share it: lick your thumb and forefinger, and now rub the top join, where the bag should open. It just might! Success, at last!

 
Another precious ten minutes sliced away by time, into the garbage bin of my life, which I begrudge. I could have been occupied with something pleasant like reading a book, or something useful, like sorting out my latest credit card bill, but no: ten minutes wasted in Round # 493 in the uneven contest of Woman v.s. Garbage Bags. And don’t ask who won. Grrrhhh!!

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A SURPRISE BONUS DURING LOAD SHEDDING *


We’re currently undergoing two and a half hour periods of load-shedding, up to three times a day, which makes life difficult, as you can imagine. One of the difficulties is that the traffic lights don’t work when the power is off. Theoretically, the robot intersection should then operate as a four way stop.
Theoretically. Because there’s always some oke – usually in a huge 4×4 who’s in such a hurry, or so important, that he just barges across the intersection, out of turn. So crossing a busy intersection, or heaven forbid, executing a right-hand turn, is motorized Russian roulette. I hate driving when the lights are out.
Today I had no choice but to start my journey homeward during load-shedding. Horrors! Then inspiration struck. My homeward route passes the local beachfront, so why not detour to the beach, park, and wait until the appointed hour when the power should return? Brilliant idea.

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For once, there was no wind, the sun shone, the seagulls swooped and shouted and sunbathed from post perches.

 

The mountain loomed in blue majesty over the bay. Not so much as a baby cloudlet over Lions’ Head, a sign that clear, sunny dry weather will continue.

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A taxidriver and his gaartjie sat on the fence and relaxed. Given the state of his battered taxi in the parking lot, this was a good idea, prior to his attacking the peak hour afternoon traffic

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A perfect late summer afternoon in Cape Town. And when I tackled the roads again. the robots were working. What a relief!

*Our South African euphemism for rolling power blackouts.

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