Helen Walne finds that looking for a house in Cape Town that doesn’t cost more than R2m is a big, fat, hilarious joke.
Cape Town - If you had told 10-year-old me that one day I would spend R1 million on a house, I would have looked at you in disbelief. “That’s crazy,” I would have said. “A million is a lot. Only Gary Player and Americans have a million.”
I would have shaken my head and gone into our family home, which back then was a tiny rented house with chameleons hanging on branches in the windows.
If you had told 18-year-old me one day I would live in the same house for 10 years, I would have taken a drag of my Chesterfield and narrowed my eyes.
“Like, lame man. What happened to trekking through the Amazon and living on a barge with a stoat and a telescope?”
And I would have sauntered off into the student commune to prepare a bean-based meal or poke a few books.
This is the longest I have lived anywhere, and our house has witnessed many things: the switch from modem to ADSL; the life and death of a dog; invasive surgery to the kitchen, bathroom and loft; a courtyard landscaped by an expensive hippie; old people falling and bleeding; young people crawling on the floors; laughing; shouting; crying; singing.
We are tired of living here. We want a view of the sea. And a lounge that isn’t the size of a gym locker. And a garden, with grass and bushes and trees. And nearby cafes that aren’t plastered in swallow motifs. And bars! And surf shops! And baboon visitors! And more than one bathroom - preferably not off the lounge, so house guests don’t have to sing loudly on the toilet.
And the new house can’t cost more than R2m - which in Cape Town turns out to be a big, fat, hilarious joke.
While scanning the weekend property pages, I saw a house that looked as though it was made from the insides of toilet rolls, with a bit of glass thrown in and some wooden cladding. The asking price was R39m.
Another property had baronial pillars and a sweeping driveway that did a circle at the front door. It cost R70m. I’d only take it if it came with a complimentary pair of jodhpurs.
Despondent and murderous, I was forced to turn to the back pages, where the various hovels suitable for us ordinary people flog themselves in tiny black-and-white adverts. I saw a facebrick structure that was more burglar guard than house for R1.8m. Numerous apartments suitable for three sugar ants and a very small cabbage were on sale for R1.6m. There was an erf for R2m, with a view of the ocean, and I suggested we could start with a one-room shack and build on to it over time. There were Victorian cottages that had been so ripped apart by hipsters that their only attraction was the possibility of meeting the seller and tripping him up on the exposed concrete floor right under a freshly loosened chandelier made from 100 filament bulbs.
I gave up after 20 minutes and laid on the couch, which still smelt of cat vomit. I cursed myself for not becoming an actuary. Then I remembered I had failed maths. I chastised myself for spending so much money on takeaway cappuccinos and shopping trips to New York and on silly cocktails with silly friends. Then I remembered that was the plot of Sex And The City.
Then I thought about Headman. And how he had arrived at our door last week, sobbing uncontrollably as he described how someone had stolen his blanket and clothes and had taken his ID book.
“Just because I am homeless does not mean I am an animal,” he said, holding his head in his hands and crying so hard his toothless mouth became a howling O. Yes, he needed clothes, he nodded, and a bath and socks and food and tea.
“And these,” he said, showing the top of ragged, blue underpants,”I am so dirty. I am not stupid.”
He wouldn’t come in the house for a shower and instead asked for a bucket of warm water. When he was done, dressed in the too-big clothes I had found for him, he returned the empty bucket, the empty plate and the empty mug. He hitched a stick across his shoulders, one of our blankets draped over him like a makeshift tent, and shuffled off towards nowhere. I watched him disappear, and closed the gate behind me.
* Helen Walne is an award-winning columnist and writer based in Cape Town.