Clem Sunter

The Shrink

2011-06-22 13:00

Clem Sunter

It's just over a four hour drive from Johannesburg through Nylstroom and Vaalwater to Ellisras (now Lephalale), site of the new Medupi power plant. I was there last weekend and I have never seen such big trucks as those parked on Nelson Mandela Drive. They carry part of the 120 000 tons of steel required to construct one of the largest coal-burning power stations the planet has ever seen.

However, the best part of the booming town is when you turn right at the first set of traffic lights into Machauka Lodge. It has a coffee-house called The Shrink which not only offers the yummiest cakes in town but also the liveliest clientele who can sit for two or three hours discussing each other's issues. Children mill around and have their own play corner, but it is the behaviour of the adults which intrigued me.

It is called the wisdom of crowds. Someone puts a question to the throng, they offer a variety of answers and in the interplay new understanding is achieved. In the process you learn more about yourself and the people around you. Moreover, if you watch Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? on the BBC entertainment channel, the audience almost always gets it right.

That is why the choice of name for this local meeting place is so brilliant. Why pay a professional shrink a huge sum of money to lie on a couch and explain the things that are bugging you, when you have this marvellous alternative of drinking coffee with your friends and obtaining a collective opinion? Perhaps a case can be made for the professional shrink when your problem is so private and complex that it has to remain within the four walls of a room with someone who is paid not to pass it on.

The coffee-house, or coffee-bar as it used to be called in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s, has forever been the place to seek amusement and inner peace. I remember the Teddy Boys putting sixpence into the juke box to listen to Elvis Presley’s latest hit and sing along - flicking their ducktails for the chicks. Then came live skiffle groups trying to imitate Lonnie Donegan belting out "Cumberland Gap".

But the best moment for me was in 1964 at a coffee-bar called The Hayloft in South Kensington. Next door was a record shop run by a Welshman named Harry Morgan. He also managed a friend of mine and myself as a two-some rock act and even helped us make a demonstration record. One morning he rang to say we should come and have coffee with a young woman hoping to break into the movie business. It turned out to be Jacqueline Bisset who went on to star in movies like The Deep.

Nothing like that happened in Lephalale where my wife and I were celebrating the addition of a new grandchild to our family. Nevertheless, I can look back on all the experiences and conversations I have had sipping a cappuccino and can vouch for the therapeutic value of the ambience and human interaction around me. Hats off to all the friendly staff at The Shrink who continued the therapy and reminded me of what life is about: family and friends.

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