Christiaan Barnard

On Saturday, I was a surgeon in South Africa, very little known. On Monday, I was world renowned.’ (Christiaan Barnard)

It is now more than two months since I was discharged from the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape town. I entered the hospital in an ambulance and left six days later in an Uber. I entered with a bloody head from a mugging, and left with my head, a knee, an ankle and my groin bandaged, and two pre-cautionary stents in an artery. I also left with a prescription for seven pharmaceuticals, four more that I had when I entered. During my stay, I had been patched up, injected for tetanus, x-rayed, scanned, MRI-ed, blood and urine tested, and for four days, I was hooked up to monitors in the cardiac intensive care unit (ICU). All in all, a most interesting experience, but one I could happily have done without.

But there were some positive outcomes resulting from my six-day stay.

Firstly, I did not have to get up to go to the bathroom, especially in the middle of the night; my nurse would bring me a bottle, tilt the bed, and return when I had finished.

Then there was the morning bed bath, followed by the changing of the sheets, with me still in the bed.  And of course, there was the food – breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a choice of five courses to each. I must say that when I started to eat after a couple of days, I found the food to be excellent, unlike any institutional food I had ever experienced. My only complaint was the lack of a wine choice!

And to cap it all, there was no load-shedding. While the rest of the country was struggling with two or three blackouts every day, the hospital had constant power.  If it had not been for the lack of wine, I would have been tempted to try and stay on for a few more days!

But my most outstanding impression was the quality of the nursing staff. In the ICU, there was a nurse for every two patients. They worked 12-hour shifts and were in constant attendance. There were patients like me, under observation, but there were many others who were obviously very seriously ill. I suspect that the nurses’ jobs were not easy, especially when there was an emergency with a patient.

I don’t have any recall of the doctor in emergency. I guess that I had concussion for at least the first day. After that I was visited every day by Dr Mothilal and Dr Levetan. They always left me feeling that I was in good hands. And it was Dr Levetan who later entered the theatre, singing the Irish Rugby national anthem, before he explored my artery via my groin, and eventually inserted the pre-cautionery stents.

The original Christiaan Barnard Memorial hospital was in the Cape Town city centre until 5 December 2016, when it moved to a brand-new location on the foreshore, adjacent to the Cape Town International Conference Centre. The new hospital has 245 beds and eleven theatres.

The view of the end of Table Mountain from the tenth floor ICU

Christiaan Barnard (1922-2001) was the South African surgeon who performed the world’s first human-to-human heart transplant operation. It was in late 1967 and at that time, I was living in Toronto. I remember the occasion very well, for news of the operation was sensational and daily reports were included in news broadcasts, world-wide.

The operation, led by Christiaan Barnard and his team of some 30 medical staff, took place in the Groote Schuur hospital, in Cape town. They transplanted the heart of Denise Darvall, an accident victim, into the chest of Louis Washkanshy, who had a terminal heart disease. He survived 18 days, before succumbing to pneumonia. Barnard’s second transplant patient, Philip Blaiberg, survived for 18 months in early 1968, and was able to return home. The possibility of heart transplants became a reality.

Christiaan Barnard in Florence in 1969 (photo from internet)

Christiaan Barnard retired in 1983, when rheumatoid arthritis ended his surgical career. He died in 2001 in Cyprus, following an asthma attack. His memory lives on in the hospital that carries his name.

Ulster Rugby

It was in 1960/1 that the South African Springboks undertook their fifth tour of the British Isles, Ireland, and France. Between 22 October 1960 and 18 February 1961, they played 34 games, drawing two and losing one, the latter to the Barbarians. In that era, rugby union was an amateur sport with rules that differed greatly from those of today. And what a difference to the modern-day international tours of just three or four weeks.

On Saturday, 28 January 1961, the Springboks played Ulster at the Ravenhill (now called Kingspan) ground in Belfast. I was but fourteen years old, there with a small contingent from my grammar school in Coleraine. Of the day, I can recall little, except that it was very cold, and we were in standing room only. The Springboks won 19-6. That was the first and only time so far that I have attended an Ulster game.

The years rolled by, the rules changed quite radically, and in 1995, after the World Cup in South Africa, rugby union turned professional.

In 1999, the Welsh-Scottish league was formed and the next year it became the Celtic league, with the inclusion of the four Irish provinces. It became the Pro-12, when two Italian teams joined in 2011, and in 2017 was renamed the Pro-14 with the addition of two South African teams.

Many times, I have considered going over to Belfast to see an Ulster game, but the cost of the airfare, transportation, hotel, meals, ticket etc., has always put me off. I am very careful with my money. It is for good reason that I am known to many as ‘Uncle Scrooge’. So, I managed for many years to follow the fortunes of Ulster Rugby on my laptop, via free-to-view sports channels!

In 2020, Covid-19, travel restrictions, together with lack of funds, ended the involvement of the two existing South African teams.

But a British & Irish Lions tour was planned for mid-year 2021 and the enhancements to the Cape Town Stadium were already under way, to provide two hospitality areas, which were not included in the original development.

Construction of the hospitality enhancement, with the scaffolding reaching half-way up the stadium wall

At the same time, the Cape Town team, the Stormers, would move their base to the Stadium. Their old headquarters at Newlands had been sold to property developers.

Newlands as it used to be

And then came the news that four of the top South African teams – the Stormers (Cape Town), Sharks (Durban), Bulls (Pretoria), and the Lions Johannesburg), would join the Pro-12 European league of four Irish, four Welsh, two Scottish and two Italian teams.

The initial tournament was to be called The Rainbow Cup. There were to be two pools of eight teams, each with two Irish teams, two Welsh, two South African, one Scottish and one Italian team, with a final to be played between the pool winners. It was to be a prelude to a full league program in the autumn of 2021.

So finally, it seemed that I would be able to walk the short distance down the hill in Green Point to the stadium and witness my second Ulster game. I even considered buying a season ticket, when they become available.

Cape Town stadium, as can be seen from Signal Hill

But alas, it was not to be, at least not for now. Covid and UK travel rules have killed the possibility.

But I continue to live in hope…

Load Shedding

Do you know what load shedding is?

Before I came to South Africa, four years ago, I had never heard of the expression. If I had been asked its meaning, I would have probably guessed that it meant reducing the load on a truck that had become stuck, or removing cargo or passengers from a plane, in order that it could safely take-off.

In South Africa load shedding refers to the forced reduction of demand for electricity by means of rolling blackouts.

Why is this drastic measure necessary?

Due to equipment failures and essential maintenance, the supply of electricity is often not sufficient to meet the demand. New power generation is being constructed but is years behind schedule and way over budget.

To manage the power cuts, the entire country is divided up into areas, as in the map showing the areas of Cape Town. We live in Green Point, in area 7.

Once you know your area number, you need to find the load-shedding stage. There are eight stages defined, ranging from minimal impact load shedding stage 1, through to stage 8, which would entail an almost complete black-out. The highest we have experienced so far was stage 6, in mid-December of 2019. Each increase in the stage, implies an additional 1000 MW needs to be removed from the system, so in the following example of stage 4, 4,000 MW will not be available.

Part of the load shedding schedule for stage 4

In the example I have given, if it is the first or seventeenth day of the month, then in area 7, stage 4 will mean that there will be no electricity during the hours 04:00-06:30, 12:00-14:30 and 20:00-22:30. It is important to be aware of the approximate scheduled times; it would not be much fun to be stuck in the dark in an elevator for two and a half hours. And be warned; never get in an elevator in South Africa with a full bladder when load shedding is imminent!

Of course, load shedding has a serious negative impact on the economy. To function, many larger businesses have had to install emergency power generators, but that increases their operational costs. Most small businesses cannot afford the extra cost of generators, so their income can be severely impacted.

ESKOM, known as the Electricity Supply Commission (ESCOM) is the utility that provides about almost all South Africa’s electricity. In Afrikaans it is also known as Elektrisiteitsvoorsieningskommissie (EVKOM). It was founded in 1932 and is the largest producer of electricity in Africa. It is the largest of South Africa’s state-owned enterprises and at one time South Africa had ample power.

But after ten years of government under the corrupt presidency of Jacob Zuma and his cronies – 2009-2017, ESKOM has become a financial and operational basket case. It has been saddled with excessive debt that it may never be able to repay. It is grossly overstaffed, yet the unions and the governing ANC refuse to allow sensible re-organization. The generating plant is constantly failing, mainly due to historic lack of maintenance, which is worrying, when one considers that ESKOM has Africa’s only nuclear power station, just along the coast from Cape Town. It could be a disaster waiting to happen.

Apart from about 5% of electricity being supplied by nuclear energy, South Africa’s energy needs depend on coal fired power stations. Despite being rich in sunshine and coastal wind, the ANC government has made no effort to allow the introduction of renewable energy. No doubt the coal mining unions will continue to resist any change to the status quo and coal fired power stations will continue to pollute the South African atmosphere.

Despite the long lull during most of last year, load shedding has again returned, with many power station failures. In addition, Covid-19 has been blamed, with many maintenance workers having been infected and repair work being impacted

So, with a continuing curfew from 21:00-06:00, a renewed ban on the purchase of alcohol for the third time, the closing of schools, no access to beaches or the sea etc., and now more load shedding, public fatigue and rejection of the imposed regulations is almost inevitable.

And with no sign of mass vaccination on the horizon, this year threatens to be a repeat of 2020.

Four Weeks

22 May 2020

There was nothing about that day four weeks ago that would have foreseen what was going to happen that night. It had just been another frustrating Cape Town total lockdown day.

I went to bed at my normal time and fell asleep almost immediately, as is normal with me. I woke in the middle of the night, lay for a time thinking, then got up for a sip of water and a visit to the bathroom. Again, nothing strange about that; for as long as I can remember, even as a child that has been my routine almost every night. But that night, four weeks ago, was different; instead of returning to bed, I found myself on the bathroom floor, half-propped up against the cupboard, with Lotta shouting at me to raise my arms and to tell her my name.

It appears that I had aroused her when I got up and a few minutes later she heard a thump and some moaning. She went to the bathroom and found me lying on the floor, jammed between the toilet and the wall, with a lot of blood on the toilet bowl, sprayed across the wall and a pool of it under my head.

She dragged me out and propped me up against the cupboard. She said that my eyes were white and rolled up in my head and she immediately thought that I was dead. But I regained consciousness and eventually responded positively to her stroke tests.

The two toilet accessories left nasty bruises on my side

With some difficulty, she managed to pull me to my feet and half-carried me to the bed. There she took my blood pressure, which surprisingly was not any immediate cause for alarm. I had a nasty gash on my forehead, which she patched up with some surgical tape, and cleaned up my face, which was apparently quite bloody.

By this time, I felt somewhat recovered, so she decided not to call an ambulance, and instead, to contact our doctor first thing in the morning. At that date, Cape Town was under curfew and with the virus circulating, she wanted to avoid the hospital if at all possible. But she was concerned that I might be concussed, so for the remainder of the night she would not let me sleep; if I started to doze off, she would ask me questions to test my awareness.

Our doctor was able to see me at 09:00, so leaving ample time to descend the 600 meters down the hill, we arrived rather early at the surgery and were seen immediately.

Lotta explained what had happened. The doctor took my blood pressure and spent what seemed like a long time listening to my heart. He wired me up to an electrocardiograph and then called the pharmacy to get details of my prescription.

He said that my heart was very irregular and he decided to replace one of my four pills with a beta-blocker. He said that the pain in my ribs would take four weeks to clear up and as to my concern about my leg being numb, he said that it was not connected to my fall; it would be connected to my lower back.

He then cleaned up my head wound, stapled it and sent us off with instructions for me to have complete rest for two days and return in ten days to have the staple removed. He also complemented Lotta on her nursing skills!

And four weeks later, with no scar on my forehead, on the 29th night since my fall, I finally managed to lie on my injured side for the first time and with no discomfort.

We think that our Dr Waynik is magic. We have had nothing but excellent experiences with him and if we were to leave Cape Town, he would be a very hard act to follow.

Now perhaps I should have him to take a look at my numb leg.


‘Wake up, Len, my laptop is gone’.


‘And my phone is gone too’.

‘Nah, you are dreaming’.

‘I’m not dreaming, they are gone and your phone too’.

‘But my new laptop is still there on the desk. Are you sure?’

‘I’m sure and your backpack is also gone’.

I quickly dressed, while Lotta sought help from our downstairs neighbours. While they phoned the police (we had no phones left) and put an urgent message on the in-house Whatsapp group, we found that the small amount of cash and my local bankcard was also gone from beside my notebook, together with Lotta’s good camera from her bedside table and her expensive sunglasses were also missing. Fortunately, the thief had not taken Lotta’s handbag or its contents. Our passports were safely stowed in a cupboard.

Two policemen soon arrived and they concurred with my suspicion; that the reason that the thief had not taken my notebook nor the contents of Lotta’s handbag was that one of us had probably started to stir and the thief had fled, not knowing whether or not I had a gun under my pillow, as is not unusual in South Africa. If one of us had woken up and unarmed, tried to confront the thief, the outcome could have been very different. My first and lasting reaction to the discovery was relief that nobody got hurt.

But how had the thief entered a second floor apartment in the first place, when there was an electric fence to overcome? Electric fences protecting property in South Africa don’t give a mild shock like cattle fences in Europe; in South Africa they deliver a massive punch. It turned out that the fence was either not turned on or had somehow been remotely turned off. Perhaps we shall never know how it happened.

The thief must have climbed this wall to the second floor and around the column to the balcony
Similar signs are displayed all around the fence

Two days later, two forensic police spent a couple of hours interviewing me and taking fingerprints from any part of the apartment that the thief may have touched. I found it very interesting to witness how they operate. Unfortunately there was a heavy rain storm not long after the robbery and any external fingerprints would have been smudged. And if the thief had worn gloves, no fingerprints would have been left in any case.

So most of the week was spent in buying a new notebook and two new phones and making them all operational, never a simple process. Affidavits had to be obtained from the local police station and the old telephone numbers ported to our new phones.

As we can no longer have faith in the infallibility of the electric fence, we have fully shuttered our balcony. Now our apartment is as secure as a South African Fort Knox. And we have welcome shade from the fierce summer afternoon sun.

And there has been an important outcome from this whole experience; our experience with the local police has been a very positive one. The four officers who handled our case were, without exception, professional, compassionate and extremely helpful and supportive. The local police have the reputation of being lazy, corrupt and unresponsive. I saw none of that. I just saw good people doing a great job. They may be poorly paid, understaffed, and over worked, but on the whole, they are doing the best they can.

I salute them.

Twelve plus Twelve

It was twenty-four years ago, on 24 June 1995, that the little private primary school of Lyndhurst, in Camberley, celebrated its centenary. The school is close to the centre of the town, about 40 kilometers south-west of London. On that day, I already had two sons enrolled in the school, a third son about to start in September and a fourth son who would have to wait to join his brothers; he was only twenty days old.

Lyndhurst primary school

The school was managed by the headmaster, Robert Cunliffe, and his wife, Jenny. Until very recently, I never knew the their actual first names; I had always assumed that they were Mister and Missus!

The couple´s ambition for the school was to create a family atmosphere for the children and impart a grounding in a wide range of subjects and skills. In my opinion, they far exceeded their goal.

For the centenary celebrations, they had organized marquees, booths, demonstrations of skills by the children, competitions etc. But when the headmaster had selected the date for the celebration, he was possibly not aware that on that very afternoon was scheduled the World Rugby Cup final between New Zealand and South Africa, the latter being the host country and their first participation in the World Cup since the abolition of apartheid. For a rugby fan, such as I, it was a not-to-be missed event.

But having told my sons that I would be at their school celebrations, with heavy heart I made my way to Lyndhurst. But when I got there, I found two South African members of the staff, adamant that they were going to see the game, and setting up a little television in one of the classrooms. So for the next two hours I perched on a child’s chair and watched an incredible game, won 15-12 in extra time by South Africa, with a drop goal. And who could ever forget the scene of a jubilant Nelson Mandela in a South African shirt, presenting the trophy to Francois Pinaar and dancing for the cameras. It is a magic memory.

Nelson Mandela

Twelve years later, on 20 October 2007, the final was between South Africa and England. I was in Sweden, where rugby has little or no interest for the vast majority of Swedes. It was not covered on public television but I managed to see the Irish pool games by subscribing $9.99 per game. I failed to get access to the final which South Africa won 15-6.

At that time I did not realize that a further twelve years later I would be living in South Africa and witness the South Africans once again winning the World Cup, beating England 32-12, confounding the ‘experts’, who had England as the odds-on favourites. Having thoroughly beaten New Zealand, the tournament favorites , in the semi-final, it seemed as if the English thought that South Africa would be a ‘walk in the park’. They must have forgotten that unlike English parks, South African parks are populated with dangerous animals…

After the game, Prince Harry went to the Springboks dressing room to congratulate the team

When the final whistle ended the game, South Africa erupted and has been celebrating ever since.

A building in central Cape Town decorated with the flag

It took a few days to get the complete team and staff back to Johannesburg and then they set off on a four day tour of the major cities, arriving yesterday in Cape town. I will leave the photos to speak for themselves…

In front of the Mandela statue
Everywhere they went, there were crowds

In each city, it was not just to the well-off parts they went, but they also toured many of the poor and deprived townships, from which many of the team originated, including the captain, Siya Kolesi.

In Siya’s own words ‘ Look at how we are all different. Different races, different backgrounds, and we can prove that South Africa can be united. We came together for South Africa and made it happen.’

There is hope and Nelson Mandela would very much approve. His spirit lives on…

An update on the Cape Town Drought

It was on May 7 last year that the combined Cape Town dams held only 20.9% of their maximum capacity. The city was restricted to a daily allowance of 55 liters per person, the supermarket shelves more often than not were devoid of drinking water, and we were only days from the mains supply being switched off and an emergency situation declared.

And emergency supplies meant 20 liters per person to be collected in your own containers from stand-pipes somewhere in the neighborhood. But nobody seemed to know where the stand-pipes would be located and how we would identify ourselves. It threatened to be chaotic. In a modern society, such as is that of much of Cape Town, can you imagine trying to cope with cooking, washing, flushing toilets etc. with so little water?

But nature relented and the rains started to fall, and month by month the dam levels rose, until they peaked on October 8, at 76.2% capacity. The immediate emergency was over, but not quite; the rainfall was most welcome, but it was still below average. Personal consumption was increased to 105 liters per person.

In our apartment building, we have recently had installed individual water meters. Once a week, first thing Saturday morning, I note our consumption, and it is constantly 110-130 liters per day, well within the guidelines. Since the emergency, we have been very conscious of not using more water than is absolutely necessary. I suspect that we will now always treat access to potable water as a valuable privilege, wherever we are.

Cape Town is very much a tourist destination and it was very much hurt by the negative international publicity regarding the drought. I find it encouraging to know that one of the local hotels, Radisson Water Front, has eliminated its dependency on local water supply, and has constructed a desalination plant to supply its own needs. Perhaps others will follow their example.

As part of the water augmentation plans, the Western Cape government has commissioned three desalination plants along the coast, but with little success. They take water directly from the ocean, but have been hit by the natural occurrence of algal bloom in False Bay and recent contractual disputes. It seems that we will continue to depend on natural rainfall.

Today is May 18 and the dam water levels stand at 45.6% of capacity. And light showers are forecast for tomorrow.

As an Irishman, I never thought that I would ever say ‘May it rain… ‘.

The Deepsea Stavanger

Our balcony in Cape Town faces due west, and in the summer months, from early to late afternoon, it is just too hot and much too bright to sit out there.  But once the sun nears setting, it is almost idyllic to sit and watch the buildings, the trees and Signal Hill slowly transform from detail to silhouette.  And then, one by one, the stars appear.

But last night was different.  Suddenly, in late afternoon, a huge deep sea drilling rig appeared just off-shore.  It was the Deepsea Stavanger, a Norwegian rig.

The Deepsea Stavanger was built in 2010.  It has a tonnage of 43,708, with an area of 119 m by 97 m, and a draught of 17 m.  Recently it has been drilling at a depth of more than 1400 m off Mossel Bay, about halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

In 2014 a similar drilling attempt had to be abandoned; the rig that had been contracted was not capable of withstanding the severe storms and strong currents, conditions in which the Deepsea Stravanger is built to excel.


When we looked later in the evening, a fog was rolling in and the rig was hidden from view.  The fog made Capetown Stadium look as if it was on fire.


Today we walked along the seafront and the Deepsea Stavanger looked really enormous.


Then in late afternoon, the lights on the rig were switched on, and it started to slowly move westwards.  And from my desk, some hours later, it is a small receding light on the north-western horizon.


Oil experts are confident that South Africa will soon be able to announce the discovery of a major new energy field.

Let’s hope that they are right…


Just one of those days

22 January 2019

Last year, the news that Cape Town was on the verge of running out of water was global.  The tourism and the farming sectors were badly impacted.  When the winter rains eventually arrived on May 5, the reservoirs were down to 20.9% of their capacity, anything under 10% being largely inaccessible.  Fortunately, the winter rains were generous, particularly in the early months, and the reservoirs peaked at 76.2% of their capacity on October 8.  For this year the threat of drought has receded.

But for how long has the problem gone away?  Cape Town is using about 0.2% of its reservoir capacity every day or 6% every month.  The reservoirs are currently at 61.7% of capacity, so without fresh rain, there is a little over eight months of available water.  If there is not normal rainfall this winter, the emergency could be back on next year

From reports I have seen, the average American uses more than 300 liters of water per day.  During the peak Cape Town drought last summer, we had to limit ourselves to 50 liters per day, increased to 70 liters when the winter rains arrived, and recently increased again to 105 liters.

Our small building in Cape Town has only six apartments; two on each of three floors, with a secure parking garage in the basement.  Our apartment is on the top floor.

Now we know how much water we were consuming as a building, but we had no idea if our individual apartment conservation efforts were adequate.  So the building committee decided to install individual water meters in each apartment, and a plumbing company was contracted to carry out the work.

And on a beautiful Cape Town morning on 15 January at 09:00, a plumber and his mate started work.  Shortly after, they found that they did not have the right meters, and off they went to plumbing suppliers to source the correct ones.

When they returned, they started work on the first apartment, only to find that the pipe inserts that they had were not the right size.  So back to the suppliers they went once more, but this time with no luck.  They could not find the required size.

So rather than abandon the task for the day, they decided to at least install the meters, and come back another day, when they had located the correct inserts.  At 13:00, they arrived in our apartment, the second of the six apartments to be converted.

By 13:40, the initial work was completed, and I offered to knock on our neighbour’s door, the next on the plumber’s list.  When she opened her door, there was a tremendous whoosh of air and a resounding bang, as our door slammed shut behind us, trapping in a horizontal position, an apron, that had been hanging on the wall beside the door.

And nothing we did would open the door.  Nothing would move it, not even Tony’s shoulder charge.  As unlikely as it appeared, it looked as if the force of the slamming had caused the door to lock, and my keys were inside the apartment.

So, for a while we considered climbing up from the apartment below, but we did not have a suitable ladder.  In the end, our neighbour contacted Lotta at her office in the city, and drove off to get her keys.

In the meantime, Tony offered me a glass of delicious white wine in his apartment,  while we waited.

Locked out and looking quite concerned…

But when the keys arrived, it was soon obvious that the door was not locked, just jammed, due to the apron.  So everyone had a go at pulling it out, and after several attempts, the plumber succeeded in wrenching it free.

And the door sweetly opened, with no effort.

Finding myself being locked out of our apartment in Cape Town, reminded me of an incident that occurred to me, many years ago in the early 1990s, when I used to spend a lot of time in Brussels on business.  I had a contract at attractive rates with the Hotel Euroflat on Boulevard Charlemagne, and on the very rare occasion when they were fully booked, they used to find me a room at an up-market hotel across the street.  It was on such an occasion that I am recalling.

I had just got back to my room from training in the Parc du Cinquantaire – I was still a keen runner in those days, and I was rather late for a dinner appointment.  I stripped off my running gear and went straight to the bathroom to shower.  I threw open what I thought was the bathroom door, only to find myself  standing naked in the hotel corridor.  Now hotel entrance doors tend to have a strong spring to avoid them being left open, and it was something of a miracle that I managed to realize my predicament, and grab the door behind me, before it slammed shut.  I was microseconds from having to descend in the elevator, stride naked across to reception and request another room key.

But how could I have made such a mistake?

For this particular room, the layout was different to a standard hotel room.  If one stands with back to the window, normally the bathroom is next to the bed and at the end of a short corridor there is the entrance door.  But in this case, the entrance door was next to the bed and the bathroom was at the end of the corridor, where the entrance door would normally be.  An easy mistake to make; a possibly embarrassing outcome.

I wonder how many others have got caught like me?

But the curtain had not yet come down on the ‘water meter’ drama.  Late afternoon yesterday, there was a message on our Whatsapp group to say that the recently installed piping in the apartment next door had come loose, and the geyser had ejected 400 liters of water.  It was all hands to the pump.

Luckily there were several of us in the building at the time and we collectively sourced buckets, towels, mops, sponges etc. and within the hour, all was almost spick-and-span once more.

And while we waited for the plumber and his mate to return to re-do his handiwork, Tony produced two more cold bottles of the same delicious white wine, that had so successfully consoled me a few days previously.


As Shakespeare said, ‘All’s well that ends well‘.


Groot Constancia

20 November 2018

I would never consider myself as an expert on wine, despite my life-long exposure to grape juice.  I have never quite felt comfortable when I have been requested to approve a wine by a usually supercilious waiter, and I will never forget the day when I tasted and ‘approved’ a wine at a lunch in Paris, only to have my colleagues spit it out, declaring it to be ‘corked’.  It had tasted fine to me.  I hope that Liliana Frigerio cannot recall that occasion!

When my sons arrived here in Cape Town last November, one of our suggestions of ‘Things to do in Cape Town‘ was a visit to the oldest wine farm in South Africa, followed by lunch.  So one day we set off in two ‘Ubers‘ for the 30-minute drive to Groot Constancia.

Now why they are called ‘wine farms‘ and not ‘vineyards‘ I am yet to understand.  I assume that something got lost in the translation to English from Afrikaans or Xhosa.

It was Simon van der Stel, then Governor of the Cape, that established Constancia in 1685, believing it to be best suitable for vineyards.  And it was Hendrick Cloete who bought land in Constancia in 1778 and planted thousands of vines.  In time, according to the local marketing material, the resulting wine of Groot Constancia became a favourite drink of many European kings and emperors, including Frederick the Great of Prussia, King Louis Philippe of France and Napoleon Bonaparte.

And how did it come about that Napoleon was able to drink wine made at Groot Constancia, while exiled on the island of Saint Helena in the Southern Atlantic, from 1815 to his death in 1821?

It so happens that the English East India Company, based in Cape Town at the time, was commissioned by the British authorities to provision the garrison and the regiments stationed on the island, as well as the ships of the Royal Navy patrolling the waters around Saint Helena.


While the rest of our party went on a tour of the facility and a presentation on the wine-making process, I wandered around the well-preserved buildings and the vineyards.  It was so tranquil and I found it difficult to believe that I was in Africa.  It felt more like Spain.

One of the original building on the estate

When we convened, after a delicious lunch in the restaurant, we had the opportunity to sample some of the local wines.  They proved to be delicious, and I couldn’t resist buying a  case of their white.

wine tasting
My four sons synchronizing their tasting of a red

And two other examples of the local wine that we purchased…


img-9467b89edae964b2c88e868572ce7fdf-v_resized (002)

For more information on the interesting history of Groot Constancia, click here