Thursday, January 31, 2013

10 reasons to say fuck the weather in Cape Town

So the other day, in the midst of an extended course of near gale force Cape southeaster, I went onto Google to find out if anyone else thinks that Cape Town has possibly the shittest weather on the planet, and definitely the shittest weather on the planet for any city that invests so much time in commending itself for being incredibly, staggeringly awesome.

I didn't come across any Cape Town weather hate clubs. The marketers have done too good a job on this one. What I did find was this which I was at first tempted to think was the finest example of satire I had seen in my life, before it gradually dawned on me that the author meant every damned word of it.

Allow me to respond to some of the questions and ideas she pitches at the reader in that article (which you will probably need to read to make sense of my responses):

1. Winter, what's that?
What's that? Allow me to direct your attention to the season that spans the brief seven month period between the time the first cold fronts roll into town in April and roll out of town in October. You know it's there because you are cold. All the time. You know it's there because you are suddenly spending more money on running the heaters in your house than you are on paying back your car.

Winter in Cape Town is not just cold, it's clammy. A deep insiduous clammy that reaches down into your bones and makes you so cold that simple remedies like hot water bottles and heaters cease to be effective. This is a cold that functions like spider venom, digesting you from the inside out, so that once you are cold you can take a hot shower or lie under ten layers of blankets and still be cold.

Winter is being too scared to make the trip from your bed to the shower each morning unless you first spend a hundred bucks on electricity to warm your room sufficiently for you to survive the trip. Winter is endless turbulent cold fronts sweeping across the peninsula, driven in from the Atlantic, so that for months at a time there's just cold, grey and wet.

And because Capetonians have somehow managed to ignore the weather, they don't do central heating. It's entirely possible for your house to be as cold as it is outside, and chances are, unless you're a millionaire, it will be.

Think about it, seven months of this. And just for the glorious fuck of it, you'll get rogue cold fronts blowing over the peninsula into early December, just to remind you what's coming to get you in four months time.

2. The Cape Doctor
Oh, the Cape Doctor! How quaint! Think Dr Josef Mengele, think Dr Kevorkian. This thing may blow away the smog, but it blows everything else away too. It blows away any hope of spending time outdoors unless you're an avid, and possibly immortal, kite or windsurfer. It blows away trees, it blows away sand - turning a beach walk into an encounter with a sandblaster.

It just blows and blows and blows, often for weeks on end. You have to nail your doors and windows shut - or pad them with clothing (as I am forced to do) - or your entire home will rattle constantly. The wind howls and howls like a banshee on crystal meth, fucking up your braai, your kiddies party, your wedding, your entire fucking life, for three to four months straight.

And just as a big 'fuck you', it does it during summer, just when you thought it was safe to go outside. The article says you'll have a good view of Cape Town from Table Mountain when the SE is blowing. I assume that's on the off chance that the cable car is actually running, and that the enjoying the view part will happen in the few seconds you have before you're buffeted right off the mountain by the wind or run for cover.

And just out of interest, every year this demonic wind kills people. It blows doors into them as they walk down the street, it blows gates into them, it rips the doors off cars or dents them into other cars. It'll blow you off your scooter, and shunt your car into oncoming traffic. These things really happen.

The 'Cape Doctor' is an entire peninsula being possessed by a howling demon for three months. Now you know.

3. Ideal Conditions for Extreme Sports
No really, extreme sport number one being Survival. I mean how many people do extreme sports anyway? Is that really an attraction? I guess if it is then Cape Town is great, because walking down the street or driving to the corner store become extreme sports, so it's a cheap option for enthusiasts.

One thing is for sure, you can't surf, because the wind blows out the surf for weeks on end. The False Bay side is perpetually onshore, and looks like dishwashing liquid being struck by a hurricane, while the Atlantic Coast has all its warm water blown out to sea, so if you get in the water you need to wear two wetsuits or give up any hope of having children.

Yes kitesurfers like it, although I suspect the kitesurfers who didn't like it are unable to share their opinion on the matter by virtue of the fact that they are now living on Tristan de Cunha after being  blown off course, or have been eaten by sharks 300km out to sea (oh yeah, and Cape Town doesn't bother itself with shark nets, which is why it has the only popular public beaches in South Africa where people routinely get eaten by sharks cruising around looking for a tasty meat popsicle).

4. Spring Flower Festivals
Once a year, the fynbos - a remarkably unremarkable indigenous knee-high brush that blankets the Cape - experiments briefly with the concept of colour. This lasts anywhere between one and two weeks before the wind kills every single one of those pretty little flowers and the countryside goes back to being a dull green/brown and windswept. But hey, go ahead, don't let this picture stop you from living in a cold, wind-demon haunted African version of Patagonia year-round so that you can watch some pretty wildflowers being murdered by the climate once a year.

5. The autumn colours in the winelands
This one confused me, because strictly speaking Cape Town has two seasons, winter and summer, occasionally in the same day. There's some sort of transition phase in there, but there are not four separate seasons. It's fucking hot and windy, and then it goes to being fucking cold and windy and wet. The autumn colours in the winelands are the results of leaves dying, and in a way I agree that these scenes are remarkable, if only because it's astonishing that the trees in Cape Town are able to retain any of their leaves in the face of the southeaster.

6. Photogenic Cape Town
I'll give her this one, Cape Town is photogenic, and mostly because the wind is invisible to cameras - although if you're paying attention you might realise that trees growing sideways is not entirely normal. Also, that blue Camps Bay ocean looks very different on a photograph compared to when you're actually in it and have just inadvertently put your testicles into cryogenic storage. So my advice is enjoy photogenic Cape Town by looking at photographs of it taken by people with their backs turned to the Cape Flats (a sprawling, garbage strewn, portion of the city where over a million of its inhabitants live in poverty).

7. The Table Cloth
Sometimes Table Mountain is covered in clouds and it looks pretty. I can't fault this one. It's even known to happen when you can stand outdoors without having to hold onto something, and can take your time to admire it.

8. Hiking and Cycling in Cape Town
Possibly two of the most dangerous activities to attempt in Cape Town after trying to befriend a local. The choice is really between getting mugged and getting run over. There used to be some good hiking available on Table Mountain, at least until gangs of muggers set up shop on the flanks of the mountain and started routinely mugging and stabbing people. If you don't believe me search for 'Mugging' and 'Table Mountain' on Google News (here's the IOL celebrating the fact that mountain muggings have been cut down to just over 1 a month in 2012).

So that leaves cycling. To its credit Cape Town has built some cycle lanes on the West Coast, which means you're safe from being hit by cars if you stick to these. Unfortunately these lanes lie at a 90 degree angle to - and in the direct path of - the 'wind tunnel' mentioned in the article, which gives kite-surfers their lift on Blouberg Beach. If you instead choose to ride in the road then you leave yourself at the mercy of Cape Town drivers, who comprise a topic all of their own and are beyond the scope of this article.

9. Life's a beach
I agree, life is much like a Capetonian beach. It's full of shit, plastic bits you don't want or need, and occasional moments of beauty and calm. While the city councils make an effort, most Cape Town beaches are essentially sandboxes where people take their dogs to take a dump, people who can't figure out how to use an ashtray put out their cigarettes, and Chinese seamen working on passing container vessels send small plastic fragments and the occasional shoe to die. Noordhoek's not bad, once you get past the dumping zone, if you don't mind driving 40 minutes to get to a decent beach in a place that is surrounded by beaches.

The article claims that Cape Town summer days rarely get hotter than 30 degrees, which is untrue even before you take into consideration the fact that many parts of Cape Town spend weeks at a time in flames thanks to the charming local habit of throwing cigarette butts into the tinderbox fynbos at the height of the windiest part of summer.

10. Never bad weather in Cape Town
Hitler called this kind of statement the 'big lie' - a suggestion so preposterous that it's easier to believe it than to believe that anyone could possibly be dishonest or insane enough to tell such a monumental untruth. If you don't call endless months of clammy cold and damp 'bad', if you don't call the strongest prevailing wind in the country 'bad', if you don't call entire mountain ranges burning to cinders because of the combination of extreme heat and extreme wind 'bad', you're telling a Big Lie right there. Unless. Unless the author meant to say that the weather in Cape Town is not bad, because the word 'bad' simply isn't up to the job of describing how utterly fucking, hideously awful it is.

I know this article will upset those who think Cape Town is the bees knees because you can order seven different kinds of latte while working on refining your Narcissistic Personality Disorder in some overpriced doucherie in Kloof Street, but if you're not from Cape Town, take heed. There are some great things about living in Cape Town, but the weather isn't one of them - they called it the Cape of Storms for a reason.


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"To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm. The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson in humility, which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society—a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals." Friedrich Hayek