Only in Maritzburg

2009-03-13 00:00

SO there my family and I were at the Last Night of the Proms a fortnight ago. It was a pretty weird evening, really, when you come to think of it. The city hall was so crammed it was a fight to the death to get to our seats; and when we got to them we had to just about sit in the lotus position. It was so hot that we could have floated a dreadnought with our combined sweat.

But physical misery or not, we were all as happy as larks — and sang like them when the orchestra got through all the chocolate-box classics and at last got around to what we were all really there for — Rule Britannia and Jerusalem and, best of all, Land of Hope and Glory. How we warbled!

And I thought what I often think: “Only in Maritzburg”. I mean, where else in the world would the citizens of a Third-World city both get the irony of such an evening, and yet choose to ignore it?

We choose to ignore a lot of things in this town.

Take Church Street, for example.

I, for one, have chosen to ignore what’s happened to it. And I’ll continue to ignore it until I have to brave it again to get my passport renewed —which, thank goodness, is still three years away.

And then there are our new street names. We’re foggily aware that Longmarket Street is now called something or other unspellable. And Chapel Street, the corners of our consciousnesses have vaguely registered, boasts a name with all sorts of “r”s in it where they shouldn’t be. But no matter!

Let’s keep the PC brigade happy. We know what our streets are really called. It may be a bit of a bore for visitors from out of town when we’re trying to give them directions, but everyone has their problems after all, and we know full well we’ll proudly go to our graves never having bothered to learn these interloper names.

As I said before: “Only in Maritzburg.”

My mother had an absolutely classic “only in Maritzburg” experience the other day.

I will not say she’s elderly. I’ll just say that anyone under 70 is “just a youngster” to her. Hello Mommy! Love you lots.

Anyway, she emerged, very overladen, from a supermarket only to find the parking lot bristling with men of a paramilitary ilk, semi-automatics cocked and ready for action. Clearly there’d been some sort of “incident” on the go while she was doing her weekly shop.

Of course, being a South African, this didn’t faze her at all. What did faze her — a bit — was when she was unloading her groceries into her boot and a tray of mangoes suddenly wanted to be free like Madiba and scattered themselves all over the tarmac.

She scrabbled around and retrieved all except one. Where on Earth could it have got to? So she did what any Maritzburger would do in such circumstances. “Coo-ee!” she cried to the nearest gun-toting guard.

You know how embarrassing it is when one’s mother cries “Coo-ee!” even if one is 44. Well, luckily I wasn’t there, so I was spared any relapse-to-adolescence blushes.

“Coo-ee!” she said. “I’ve lost a mango. Would you mind terribly helping me find it?”

Well, apparently the guard gave her a double-take look of megamagnitude. I presume his thoughts were running something along the lines of: “Lady, there is an armed gang on the loose in this carpark!”

But then his higher duties — in this case being kind to grey-haired people — got the better of him. He laid down his weapon, went down on hands and knees and tracked down the missing mango.

Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “Only in Maritzburg.”

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