It has been a source of great amusement to me for the past three decades or so how the appearance and behaviour of Capetonians can unsettle even the most phlegmatic of what people down here used to call “Vaalies”. Even their use of common words left anyone from the other side of the Du Toitskloof Mountains scratching their heads: “bru” and “shu (as in truly-fully-heyshu-wow?!) have vastly different meanings from their Afrikaans equivalents, broer and sjoe!.Visitors from KwaZulu-Natal and even Gqeberha can comprehend us to greater or lesser extent but people from up north? Nooit, bru.
I recently ventured into what Capetonians know as the “Deep South” or, as we who live outside of the metropole refer to it, “Behind the Lentil Curtain”. I was drinking beer at McNally’s, the biker-beach bar that doubles as a theatrical costumehire emporium, when I finally appreciated the magnitude of the locals’ foreign-ness to residents of Gauteng.
A woman my age (which qualifies her as elderly) walked past, to all intents and appearances the neighbourhood bag
lady. Before I could comment to my drinking partner, “Davy who’s still in the Navy” in deference to his senior rank, she was helped into a new model Land Cruiser Prado by an equally ill-preserved fellow wearing a sheer kaftan (in hot pink) over his tasseled 80s-style baggies.
In the north of England is a saying: “There’s nowt so queer as folk”. A Yorkshireman would feel right at home in Cape Town’s Deep South. I took my beer outside and took a good look at the row of businesses that line what is known as “the strip” in Glencairn. It’s changed a lot since I moved away but remains exceedingly eclectic: the rundown Glencairn Hotel has given way to an upmarket restaurant run by the Tintswalo Group, the dodgy tobacconist below it is a wine shop and deli, and the antique and hardware shops are now a combination yoga studio, surf shop and health café.
Even the men’s toilets in McNally’s have been converted from a single cement and corrugated iron piss-trough into individual urinals, albeit some of them have been plastered with Harley-Davidson decals. I doubt also – I was a Hillbrow boykie in a previous incarnation – you would find a similarly heterogeneous group of drinkers under one roof in Gauteng … excluding the Radium in the Grove. Bikers and chicks, navy personnel (including a former chaplain), private military contractors, surfer dudes and assorted dope heads, the odd policeman, a couple of mechanics and a gun tiffy regularly sit alongside one another, generally practicing social distancing, and chill.
Despite the diversity of the clientele, there’s less booze-fueled kak at McNally’s than any other drinking hole for kilometers around. This is not necessarily because most of the patrons are beyond the first flower of youth. Yeah, the Deep South is strange: not just another country strange but different galaxy weird. Nonetheless, even if you don’t understand the natives, it’s a fascinating, uniquely endearing and welcoming part of Cape Town.
It’s also one of the least mercenary (excluding some restaurants during peak season). As most people know, Simonstown has had a long association with the British and South African navies and history as well as the quirkiness of the populace is (sorry) never far from the surface. I was tickled a particularly hot pink by the renaming of a landmark superette that now specializes in preparing filled baguettes, Sub-Marina, and its advertising slogan “best subs in town”. The shutters were up, particularly apt if you know our recent naval history… As is the case with our small flotilla, much of the time there’s not a hell of a lot going on.
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