Southern Comfort

When my dearest friend invited me to her home in the deepest south to help paint a desk, I was delighted to dig out my visa and accept. To be clear: I am not a location snob – after all I used to live in the East [the Near East though, in the middle of the shtetl, not one of those places for which you need a passport, like Springs or Boksburg.

When I lived in Cape Town – over 35 years ago – the Northen suburbs, Milnerton, Bellvile, Durbanville, were regarded with disdain by those living immediately south of the mountain.In Pretoria the west, Danville, Wespark, Proclamation Hill, is considered pretty much Beyond the Pale.

In Johannesburg it’s the south: and you can forget any talk of the south being the new north. The Nouveau Riche can build their Mcmansions on koppies in Bassonia, but they aren’t fooling anyone. A 3 bd, 2 bth [mn e-s] on a Houghton quarter acre is more of a des. res. than any three story Tuscan villa with all the trimmings south of Empire Road.

Now, I may live in the Republic of Rosebank but I have my fair share of frayed and faded frocks that no amount of darning or zhooshing up will return to their former glory. I also have some scruffed ballet flats which are now just flats.

Most of these have gone to the Tonteldoos dacha for wearing on the lands, but I have a couple of old dresses here for ‘rough work’. I am under strict instructions from my husband never to leave the flat in these frocks or to be seen wearing these rags by anyone other than immediate family.

But to go to the deep south with an old friend and crawl around on the floor painting a desk? Especially in a house with more dogs and cats than your average SPCA? Obviously a task best done either in old clothes, or completely naked.

I hope I am not rude. Obviously I dressed up the tatters with some gorgeous costume jewellery, lace in my hair, and my favourite lipstick. I have to admit though, despite the bling around neck, wrists and ears, my dress did not quite pass muster.

But that was fine: we were picking up my friend’s daughter, my Godchild, and going straight to her home. Right? Not right. Godchild was having a driving lesson so instead of sitting around waiting we went to The Eye of Africa to look around and have a cappuccino.

Eye of Africa is an expensive Golfing Estate with the usual facilities: conference centre, designer golf course, excellent restaurant, modern [so modern they aren’t even Tuscan style] mansions, club house, deli, etc etc etc. It is in Eikenhof south of Johannesburg and I can recommend it as a venue.

We went to The Greens – basically the 19th Hole – for a coffee. Look, the south is not as upmarket as the north, and you will look in vain for the Oppenheimers or Discovery’s Adrian Gore, or Andrew Bonamour [boss of TMG, who decided I was surplus to requirements] But Eye of Africa is basically only for the monied.

My friend was wearing a figure-hugging golf shirt, well fitting jeans, and incredibly stylish ankle boots, all in black: quality clothes but faded, obviously not new. My Cartier tank watch and Jade bracelets are obviously pricey for those who recognise them, but the tattered dress and cheap [although spectacular] costume jewellery marks me as decayed gentry – or so eccentric as to be deserving of a padded cell.

Swanning around the classiest of the nouveau riche venues of the ‘south is the new north’ estates was not quite what my husband meant by ‘don’t leave home in that dress’ but the waiters could not have been more pleasant or efficient if I was the Queen of England. Or Winnie Mandela.

It’s a different place, the south. For starters, I had no idea so many nonwhites played golf: We see black businessmen in corporate foursomes with their white counterparts up north, but I’ve never seen so many coloured and Indian golfers buzzing around in their carts or just hanging out in an amiable group on the 19th hole.

There were whites there too: an ocean of peroxide for the women, and I don’t think there was a single man without a tattoo – usually two armsfull of tattooes, complete sleeves which would have put David Beckham to shame.

When I commented, my friend said reasonably “you have to remember Aubs that this is the South”.

When we got to my friend’s house it turned out that my painting skills were not required after all. Far from crawling on the floor slapping pain on the keyhole of the desk, I was able to pull out my own work and make an absolute hash of trying to stencil my shoe tidy with fabric paint.

Roses painted free-hand in gold were far more effective in the end. And we quaffed mugs of tea and goblets of non-alcoholic wine while listening to ancient vinyl on a new retro turntable. We even reprised our greatest hit, singing along with Rodrigues’ Gomorrah’ while performing free dancing.

My God daughter fled, and I have to admit my voice can no longer hit the high notes the way it did in ’79. And those balletic moves don’t come so easily any more.

Still, a grand day.




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