Green Point Lighthouse

Cape Town

28 October 2018

For the past two weeks the weather in Cape Town has been unseasonably hot, the temperature hitting more than 30 C every day.  The average high for October is 22 C and the record high 32 C (in 1997), yet last Monday my dentist recorded the temperature on her thermometer at 38 C.  Considering that October is equivalent to May in the northern hemisphere, summer seems to have arrived very early.  So, knowing that it was going to be another hot day, last Wednesday I decided to leave earlier than normal, at nine o’clock, for my habitual long daily walk.

When I set out from our ‘eyrie’ on the hill about Green Point, I could see a huge fog bank approaching the shore below.  By the time I reached the Promenade along Beach Road, some 25 minutes later, the fog was approaching and the temperature had dropped from hot to cool, only the closest buildings were visible, and the little of the ocean that one could see was eerie calm.  And the fog horn was regularly booming.

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With the usually calm water, the kelp forests can be clearly seen

Now I grew up on the north coast of Ireland, where sea fog was not unusual, and in those days waking to the fog horn moaning during the night, was nothing unusual.  But it never occurred to me to find out out what made that noise.  I assumed that it came from something at the coastguard station on Ramore Head.  So now was my opportunity to find the source.

I assumed that it came from the Green Point lighthouse, about a kilometer away, but as I got closer, it was obviously not from the lighthouse, but from something by the water.

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Green Point lighthouse on a clearer day

And there it was, an insignificant object on a pole, rusting and badly needing a repaint job.  I must have passed it a hundred or more times and never noticed it.

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The fog horn

Just above the fog horn is a car park, and I saw a car arrive close to the horn.  Just as an elderly woman got out of her car and stumbled down the slope to the promenade, the horn boomed and the poor dear nearly fell over.

There have reputedly been more that 450 shipwrecks along the shores of Table Bay, most resulting from inclement weather, from the gales that lash the shore in winter.  In the case of De Visch in 4 May 1740, it was the result of a navigational error.  During the night, mistaking the light at Three Anchor Bay beside the current lighthouse for that of Robben Island, the ship was driven onto the rocks.  Thanks to a cable from ship to shore, all but two of the crew were saved.

One of the witnesses was Jürgen Leeuwenberg who later painted the scene of the disaster.  The painting hangs in the National Library of South Africa.

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No two days are the same along the Green Point promenade…

 

The Great Storm of 1865

I well remember Saturday 16 September 1961, when hurricane Debbie hit the north coast of Ireland.  I was 14 at the time.  The previous day there were warnings on the radio of a major storm approaching, and as a precaution my father and Bertie Law filled bags with sand, placing them of the roof of our house, and roping them together.  The next afternoon the storm struck.

A peak gust of 183 km/h was recorded at nearby Malin Head.  Seven boats were sunk in local harbours, several caravans were blown over the coastal cliffs, and I saw two of my father’s hen houses rolling down the hill from the top field, complete with their occupants.  No storm in living memory came close in ferocity.

And then the torrential rain started to fall; and it fell for hours on end.  The road from Portrush to Coleraine was cut in several places with knee-deep flooding and the main drain under the railway embankment to the sea in Portrush was blocked with debris, causing deep flooding in the adjacent low-lying area.

It was a never-to-be-forgotten experience for those of us who witnessed it.

The storm that hit Cape Town on Wednesday 07 June 2017 was also well anticipated.  The previous day I had an appointment with my immigration consultant, and she told me that the office would close the next day, in advance of the storm.  And what a storm it was, as witnessed in the accompanying two videos,  recorded nearby at Three Anchors Bay.

 

 

The next day I walked along the promenade and there was grey sand, broken kelp and small rocks and shells everywhere.  The concrete coping on much of the newly built promenade wall was either loosened or was completely torn off and tossed into the park, as witness to the power of the waves that had struck it.

But the Great Storm that hit Cape Town on May 16 1865 was in another category.  For eighteen hours the storm raged and 17 ocean-going vessels, 30 cutters and uncounted small boats were either wrecked or stranded, with the loss of 60 lives.

The last to go was the Royal Mail Ship, Athens, which was swept onto the rocks near the lighthouse.  Although those on shore could hear the cries of the men, there was nothing that they could do to help them.  The crew of 29 perished.

HMS Athens

Today all that of the Athens that survives is the engine block.  From the shore it is not clear what one is looking at, but with a better camera all is revealed.

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Capture

Despite the US government being in denial and withdrawing from the Paris climate change agreement, most scientists agree that our planet is going through a period of rapid warming, and that storms, such as those I mentioned above, will become much more common in future years.

I find that a sobering thought…

 

 

 

 

 

Cape Weaver

I first noticed the Cape Weaver when I stopped on the bridge that crosses the channel that connects two of the lakes in Green Point Park, in the ocean suburb of Cape Town.  The little yellow-breasted bird was busily constructing a nest, tying together some stout reeds, about a meter above the water’s edge, using strips of grass.  By the next day, the nest appeared to be almost complete and he had started on a second.  As the days passed he continued to build more and more nests.  In the end there were at least ten that I could see.  But where were the females?

And then one day two females appeared while I was watching.  The little male predictably became hyper-excited: flapping, wiggling, screeching.  But to no avail.  The females checked out his attempts at building nests, turned their backs on him and flew off.  My little male disappeared into each nest that they had rejected, to see what it was that they did not like.  He was like a randy real-estate agent who had tried to seduce his prospective female tenants and pathetically failed.

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My dejected little Weaver bird

A passing local lady explained to me that the little male was fortunate: normally females which do not like a nest can rip it apart, before heading off to find a better suitor.  She told me that the entrance to the nest is on the underside and if the female accepts the male, he will construct a tunnel, while she lines the nest, and then they mate.

And then came a storm, with strong winds, and the nests were rather greatly shaken, some of the reeds being bent down almost to water level.  Perhaps the females knew what they were doing in refusing my little male.

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Some time later, I noticed weaver nests at the other end of the pond. And there was a little yellow breasted weaver, and a female disappearing into and emerging out of a nest.  Was it my little male bird?  I like to think that it was.

But he can’t control his urge to build more nests and attract more females.

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A weaver nest ‘work in progress’

In the meantime, I look forward to watching the next weaver generation emerge…

 

 

 

 

 

Cape Town Drought

After some eighteen months of commuting between Europe and South Africa with 90-day tourist visas, I arrived in Cape Town in mid-January of this year with a 4-year residency permit.  It had involved several months of meeting many bureaucratic requirements (Applying for South African Residency), but finally I could stay, at least for four years, with the possibility of extending.

But no sooner had I landed, when my driver made me aware of the seriousness of the Cape drought situation.  At the end of the seasonal rains in 2014, the dams were almost full, but three years of below normal rainfall had left them in a precarious situation; the dam levels were at just over 20% capacity.  Little capacity remained, as the last 10% cannot easily be accessed.

Shortly after, the local government reduced the legal consumption from 87 litres per person per day to 50 litres.  Now I had no idea of what normal water consumption per day would be, but I was told that in Sweden 200 litres per day was normal and in the US 300.  So how to get down to 50 L per day?

Copious advice was available.  Obviously filling swimming pools, watering gardens and washing cars were out of the question.  We were advised that a 30 second shower used about 18 litres, a full flush of a toilet, 9 litres, and a quick flush, 5 litres.  And a washing machine and a dish washer about 25-35 litres each, depending on the make and model.  So, 50 litres per day per person was not a lot of water, at least not by western standards.

In the bars and restaurants, clients were urged not to flush toilets, unless absolutely necessary – ‘If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if brown, flush it down’.  And in the Radisson Hotel, near the Waterfront, there was and still is, an exhibit to educate guests on the water situation and the impact of having a bath or a 90-second shower.

Dam Levels 2007-2017

Water usuage

But how did Cape Town get in this precarious situation, that attracted the international press naming of Cape Town as the first major city at risk of running out of water?

Obviously, the failure of the annual winter rainfall was a major contributor to the crisis.  But I suspect that there has been no recent increase in the capacity to store water in the ‘wet’ years.  The existing dam walls need to be radically raised where feasible, to avoid the overflows in the wet years spilling to the sea.

Of course, the population of Cape Town is not static; according to Premier Helen Zille, between the census of 1996 and that of 2011, the population increased by 45% to 3.8 million.  I often wonder how they count the hordes of homeless and vagrants that one encounters in the relatively prosperous area in which we live, never mind in the ‘no-go’ townships, which sane people avoid.

And what about the tourist trade?  In recent years, Cape Town has been the ‘in place´ to visit and be seen.  But tourists are predictably not enthused about restricted showering and toilet flushing and choose to spend their money elsewhere.  After the ‘negative news’ hit the international press, the hotels, restaurants and bars of the city reflected the paucity of business.  It has not been a great year for the tourism industry.

In February the government announced that ‘Day Zero’ would be in March, the day when the water supply would be switched off and that citizens would have to collect their reduced daily allowance of 20 liters per person day.  This would be distributed at some 200 stand-pipes located near supermarkets and other gathering spots and the distribution would be supervised by the military.  There was no information as to how the ration of water would be accounted for.

Predictably there was immediately a run on bottled water.  The supermarket shelves were stripped dry and there was not a drop to be seen anywhere.  When a new shipment arrived in the morning, it soon evaporated.  The supermarkets limited the purchase per client, but the shelves remained empty.

Then ‘Day Zero’ was suddenly postponed and then postponed again.  There was still no rain, but the conservation efforts of the population and eliminating water to the farms, resulted in a 60% reduction of water consumption.  At least that was the official reason for the postponements.

And in early May it started to rain, not heavily, but persistently, and the dams started to fill.  Day by day the levels grew, from 20.9% on 7 May, through 30% on 5 June, 40% on 20 June, and 50% on 3 July.  As of today, the level is at 56.5%.

Is the drought over?  Probably it is for the next twelve months, but one must remember that the farms are still not receiving any water and they are suffering.  Until the stored water level gets to 70% of capacity, the emergency should not be declared as over for this year.Capture

10-year

To contribute to available water supplies in the future, the local government has set the objective of obtaining at least 10% from alternative supplies:

  • Desalination plants are being constructed
  • Wells are being drilled
  • A blitz on leaking pipes
  • Treating of effluent water

I recall my old friend in Toronto, Peter Pedrette, relating of when he was a junior quantity surveyor in London, he was being shown around a water treatment plan, and in a break was offered a glass of water from a tap.  After he drank it, he was told that the water had been through at least six people.

For cities, such as Cape Town, in the future reliance on natural rainfall may not be sufficient to satisfy local requirements.  Water, no matter the source, will have to be viewed as a valuable resource, to be cleansed, treated and returned to general consumption.

No longer can we take for granted that water will flow when we turn on the tap.

Analemmatic Sundial

Since I moved to Cape Town over two years ago, I have walked through Green Point Park almost every day.  Many of the regular park staff greet me with a smile and a welcome comment; I always feel very much at home in the park.  And it is with keen interest that I observe the daily progress of the bird-life, the building of their nests and the hatching of their young, and the flowering of the plethora of Cape plants.  I am blessed with the time to witness the annual progress of nature.

In the middle of one of the open grass areas of the park, there is a semi-circle of small pillars.  I had sometimes wondered what they represented, but my curiosity was not great enough to deviate me from my path: until recently.

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I found that there were 14 small pillars in a semi-circle, numbered from 6 to 19, and at right angles, two elliptical shapes marked with the months of the year.

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I was still none the wiser until I read the explanation on the sign, and then all was revealed.

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It was a normal Cape sunny day and I decided to test the sundial.  Following the instructions, I stood on the mark at July, stretched up my arms, noted the time, made the necessary adjustment as per the instructions and compared it to the time in my phone.  The latter was one minute slow!

Isn’t nature wonderful?…  🙂

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull

Cape Town, Saturday 5 May, 2018

Most Saturdays, after a long walk through Green Point park and along the promenade, we stop off at the Radisson Hotel (https://www.radissonblu.com/en/hotel-capetown) for a thirst-quenching beer.  We have become so well-known by the staff that we rarely have to order: they well know our preferences.  And even when busy, the regular staff drop by our table to quickly say hello.  We always feel most welcome there.

Unless all the tables are occupied, we normally sit close by the pool.  It is comical to watch the seagulls washing and drinking, when there are no bathers.  If somebody passes by, they reluctantly scatter, only to return seconds later.

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The Radisson pool and the seagulls, with the kelp forest beyond,  and the ships in the far distance

Today, watching the ever-present seagulls, I had a flash-back, to about 1973, in Australia.  With some friends, I had gone to a little cinema down George Street or nearby, not so far from Circular Quay, in Sydney.  Neil Diamond was all the rage at the time and a new film had been released, a relatively short film, with incredible scenery, a beautiful sound track, and the voice of Neil Diamond.  I remember sitting, thoroughly entranced with the story of a seagull, constantly challenging it’s boundaries and it’s capabilities.

For a short time after, I was that seagull.  I wanted to be proficient in Spanish, I craved the opportunity to explore and live in South and Central America, I wanted to spread my wings and reach heights that I had never before envisaged reaching.

That feeling never left me, and over the next few years, I progressed with my modest ambitions. It’s a work still in progress.

And today I was reminded of that era.

Are my ambitions now satiated?

Not a chance.  There are many more yet to come… 🙂

 

Netcare911

4 March 2018

Cape Town

On Friday evening, there was something of a drama in our apartment building.  First an ambulance and then a doctor’s car outside the entrance, blocking the lane that leads down to High Level Road.  There are six apartments in our building and it was in our apartment that the event was taking place.  But let me start at the beginning…

While I worked at my pc, I had started to peck at the remains of a taco with spicy pulled pork, left over from one of Lotta’s working lunches..  After a couple of mouthfuls, I started to experience a nauseating sensation in my lower throat.  I stopped eating, but the sensation remained.  I went to the bathroom, but could not vomit.  I tried to drink some water, but my throat felt as if it was blocked and I could swallow nothing.

Lotta tried to intercede, but I told her to leave me alone; I would be fine.  In the few times that I have been ill, I have always wanted to be left alone.  I hate being mothered.  I have always been like a sick animal that crawls into the bushes and does not emerge until recovered.

But the discomfort became more acute.  I started to have hiccoughs, but soon they became quite extreme; my whole diaphragm shook with each occurrence.  Up to then I had stood in the bathroom, but my bad leg was quite uncomfortable with standing in one position.  I went out and returned with the chair from my desk and sat by the toilet.

Eventually the hiccoughs stopped, but I started to have spasms in my throat, followed my painful spasms lower down. I started to sweat and suddenly felt cold.  I started to shiver and I was struggling to breathe normally.  By this time Lotta had had enough of my  ‘I’ll be fine, leave me alone’ and was convinced that perhaps I was having a heart attack.  She offered to call for medical help and I reluctantly agreed.

She called her doctor’s out-of-hours telephone and was given the number of an ambulance service.  She gave all the details requested and a few minutes later she received an SMS to say that an ambulance had been dispatched and would arrive in ten minutes.

In the meantime, I was struggling with the increasingly strong spasms and trying hard to breathe.  Lotta said that when the ambulance arrived, I was shaking like a leaf and my face was completely drained of colour.

The ambulance was followed a few minutes later by a cardiologist.  When the doorbell rang, Lotta would not let him into the building, thinking him to be a local tramp trying to gain entrance in the confusion.  It was not until the ambulancemen assured her that it was their colleague, that she pressed the door release.

I really don’t remember accurately all that happened in the bathroom.  I was asked lots of questions, a device was clipped on my finger, presumably to monitor my heart beat, my blood pressure was taken and I was hooked up to a angiogram.  With all the equipment, Lotta said that the bathroom looked like a hospital emergency room.

It turned out that my heart was fine, which was a big relief and slowly I started to feel better.  The spasms stopped, my breathing eased and I was able to sip and swallow water for the first time in three hours.  The doctor said that it was possible that something had got stuck in my throat or perhaps I had had a reaction to a spice.  They offered to take me to a hospital for further tests, but I declined, as I was already feeling much better.

Lotta escorted the three medical staff back to their vehicles, apologizing profusely to the doctor for having mistaken him for a passing opportunist tramp.  I just wish that I had noted their names, for they deserve acknowledgement.  They came from Netcare911.

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A Netcare911 doctor’s car, with ambulances

So all’s well that ends well.  And we had another first hand experience of the quality of the South African medical profession and the speed of reaction of their emergency services.  Most impressive.

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And when I went to bed, I found these still stuck to my chest

As for spicy pulled pork, I will give it a miss in future.