“And in about 500 yards the road should take a slight bend to the left,” my father informed us, one cigar-stained finger tracing our route along the map as we topped yet another breathtaking mountain pass.
Regardless of where we were going and whether or not I might know the route blindfolded, Dad’s eyes rarely strayed from the A-Z as he took pains to keep us informed of what we might expect around the next corner. Then again, it could well have been his method of self-preservation as he is not used to being chauffeured by his youngest daughter. My mother, sitting in the passenger seat, may have developed a certain tension across the shoulders as Dad resisted her every attempt to persuade him to enjoy the view, but I was also aware of her right foot shooting out occasionally to the imaginary brake pedal in her footwell.
I had been nervous about my parents coming out to Cape Town as it was perhaps going to be one of the toughest tests of whether this city was going to live up to all my claims. There were just four characters in the balancing act – 1) a mother who, never having been to Africa before, was keen to explore but couldn’t quite hide a fear of cannibals behind a resolutely cheerful smile; 2) a father recently recovered from a broken hip whose daily needs include whisky, cigars and a good afternoon kip and who also happened to have ‘done’ Cape Town ten years previously; 3) a husband who really really likes his own space and 4) a seven and a half month pregnant daughter/wife who’d moved her ‘office’ out of the second bedroom into the living room of the tiny house they must all share… every day for two and a half weeks. Big Brother eat your heart out.
But Cape Town, good old Cape Town, did us proud. How could it not? We drove along the cable car road and up to Signal Hill to see the city bowl spread at our feet. We took trips to Hout Bay and Noordhoek and Simon’s Town. We wandered through Company’s Gardens and did whistle stop tours of the National Museum and the old Town House. We had lunch in pubs, bistros and restaurants, in squares, gardens and on cliff-sides. We explored Kirstenbosch Gardens (at their peak in October), and the centre of town. We went to a grown-up dinner party and a laid-back family braai. We saw penguins, sunbirds, baboons and whales. We drank cocktails while we watched the sun set from a bar in Camps Bay. We tasted wine in Constantia and did a historical tour of Franschhoek. Only once did we actually go away for the night and that was to Hermanus, a two hour drive along a stunning road with an excellent farm stall at the half way point. As Mum climbed out of the car at the Hermanus seafront, she asked the car park attendant where the whales were. Without a hint of irony, the man pointed out into the bay. “There,” he said, and sure enough a Southern Right launched itself out of the water right on cue.
That afternoon we visited the deliciously extravagant Birkenhead House where we had our socks charmed off by the wonderful staff – more about that in another letter. We had to drag Dad away as he asked for “perhaps a nip of vodka” in his iced tea, and whisked him off to the spacious rural luxury of the Blue Gum Country Estate in Stanford where the house info includes such advice as “occasionally you may see our sons pedalling their bicycles around the estate, usually dressed as Spiderman. Do not be afraid if they approach – they are not dangerous”. Heaven.
Yes, I think Cape Town passed the test with flying colours. And I saw my smirk of satisfaction mirrored in Mum’s face as, passing over Silvermine mountain on the last day of the holiday we heard Dad exclaim, “Good God, have you seen that view?”