Vuvuzelas, weißbier and villains
On a day like this, it might seem the best job in the world. Lindi stands 150 metres above the sweeping sands of Kalk Bay, near Muizenberg on the Cape Peninsula. Her view is identical to that of the photo above. Stationed in a shelter just off the road, as it winds towards Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town, her responsibility is to keep eyes firmly trained on the sea beneath – knowing that, the moment an ominously familiar black mass can be seen coursing through the sparkling blue, a radio call to a colleague far below, followed by the sounding of a siren, will see the beach evacuated of revellers within minutes. “We’ve had to do that two or three times on my watch,” she tells us. “Not long ago, a Great White killed a guy over in Fish Hoek Bay, and he wasn’t even in deep water. You can’t say I’m standing here for no reason.”
That’s a tragedy that nothing the World Cup produces would come anywhere near. But the watchfulness for looming danger is certainly something shared by any number of the fans we’ve met here in Cape Town – some lucky souls examining the foes that might lie in wait in the last sixteen, as the tournament’s narrative becomes a little clearer by the day; others, notably England supporters, acquainting themselves with the possibility of not even getting that far. Looking across the groups, it’s great for everybody that dead rubbers look pretty thin on the ground in the final set of group games. I remember attending Costa Rica v Poland in 2006, in Hannover, after both sides had been knocked out. While the Polish fans still made the afternoon pretty memorable, the football stank. This time around, Cameroon v Holland comes pretty close (don’t go there…) and it’s difficult to work out which protagonist in South Africa v France needs the greater miracle – but it’s quite fun that, if Honduras are knocked out tomorrow, only two teams will be completely out of the running for the following four days’ games. Backhandedly, it’s also a positive offshoot from the number of early draws.
I’m not going to attempt any more substantive football analysis just now. Plenty of time for that in the next three weeks and it’s been an exhausting, intense 36 hours. My current location is the middle-class Claremont suburb of Cape Town, staying with some good friends from back home in Ipswich – Tom, Nigel, Joe and Josh Pickover. The owner of this place is a friend of theirs and, naturally, proprietor of a diamond mine in Namibia. This is his Cape Town bolt hole, and it shows. The cupboard opposite me is temptingly full of Amarula and a veritable who’s who of world-class liquors.
Not that this is the time for that. Upon pitching up here at lunchtime on Saturday (a seat upgrade on the flight was surely a good omen for this entire trip), it was straight into action. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a quaint, colonial melding of bars, shops and other entertainments, standing – much like the rest of the city – in thrall to Table Mountain. For the summer, it’s been turned into something of a World Cup theme park – big screens, beer tents, questionable local a capella-style acts, several hundred Netherlands supporters gathering for their match against Japan. Everything lively and genial; people of all nationalities proving both interested and interesting.
Fast forward 15 hours and we’re still going. Two hours’ sleep on BA055 had been consigned to history. Ghana v Australia had been viewed in a seafood restaurant in the company of a couple from Manchester who’d left the kids with the grandparents and travelled out here for four short days. Via a damaging weißbier-centred stint in the Paulaner tent, this had been followed by Cameroon v Denmark – screened in the MTN tent, which is the nearest you’ll get to a World Cup nightclub. By now we’re down to Tom, Josh and I – but from hereon we were joined by James, another friend from home and now Cape Town native, and a number of locals from his social circle, as well as a boisterous pocket of Danes. Cameroon’s exit from the tournament was hugely damaging to this writer’s Indomitable Lion-loving morale, and to our anticipation of their match with the Dutch, but as the lagers go down and the conversations flows it doesn’t seem to matter all that much. Via a bar and a club on Long Street, we pitch up at James’ wonderfully-located Camps Bay residence at around 2am.
The moment the door is opened, something’s clearly not right. You know how you can sometimes sense that a place has very recently been occupied, even if there no evidence that smacks you in the face? James’ walk towards the living room turns into a dash; we follow. He flings the door open, looking across the room towards the patio, where another door should be. It’s there, but it’s been skilfully lifted from its hinges and dumped on the floor outside. To the left, there’s a huge space where you’d expect the television to be. Little else has been disturbed. James runs out of the house towards the security guard, apparently a new guy in the complex, who’d seen and heard nothing. It’s hard to believe because in the distance, just to the right, two shadows have been made out leaping over a bush. We’d virtually caught them in the act. The police arrive within minutes, armed, but do little except promise to send a forensic team the next day. James, shaken but probably angry above all, packs up a box of personal effects and travels to Claremont with us, staying with his girlfriend. At 4.30am, we arrive at the apartment and crash out.
Hangovers dictated an after-midday start today. The views on the aforementioned Cape Peninsula drive cleared away any cobwebs, as did the sumptuous weather. I’m too tired to serve it adequately with words – but we wound up in Simon’s Town, eating wonderful seafood as we faced the kind of bay no artist would be able to do justice to. Catching the end of Paraguay v Slovakia on the restaurant’s screen, we then headed out on a boat – with four others – to Seal Island. Once more, the words just aren’t there tonight. Seal Island is five miles offshore and measures around a kilometre by half a kilometre. It’s home to 74,000 seals and is surrounded by preying Great Whites, although we saw none today. The island looks extraordinary – it is crammed, to the point of overspilling, with seals either slumbering or interacting. You can’t help but imagine landing on this otherwise desolate, barren slab of rock and seaweed, wandering through this teeming world of animals whose community is so compact, so isolated and self-sufficient, but so utterly incomprehensible. The emotional reaction it induces is strange, a little incomplete, but satisfying.
Via the end of Italy v New Zealand in the same restaurant (what a result…and well done Ipswich’s Tommy Smith), it was back to base in time for what was a strange and ultimately spiteful Brazil v Ivory Coast match. Tomorrow sees my debut at South Africa 2010, for North Korea v Portugal. I’ve come by a VIP kinda ticket, it turns out, and should have an impeccable vantage point for this. It will be fascinating to see the Koreans in the flesh and, once I’ve done so, there’ll be a proper football post here as well as some relevant pics. The morning will be used to catch up on a few recent themes that have only had my cursory attention since getting here, such as the indefensible circus that is the France squad and the not-quite-tacit power struggles within the England setup. Til then, if you’ll excuse me, a little sleep is more than overdue.