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A place where they torch cars in the street

Last week, someone torched a Landcruiser in the suburb where I live. It seems that the resident, known only as “Stephen”, awoke in the middle of the night to discover his car, which was parked in the street, on fire. Someone — for reasons presumably unknown — had decided to torch it.

I found this all terribly disappointing. A Landcruiser being torched would definitely make the news even in the Rosebank Killarney Gazette or the Sandton Chronicle. Hell, if you’re going to move from Jo’burg, you might as well move to the kind of place that offers peace and tranquillity and freedom from arsonists, right?

That’s the challenge of moving to a new city where you’re under pressure to sign up for a year-long lease. I had a week to find somewhere to live when I arrived at the beginning of the month — and since I started working immediately, there wasn’t much opportunity to go flat-hunting. Because a couple of prospective colleagues had mentioned Mosman when I came out for my interview, my husband and I thought we’d catch a ferry to take a look.

Oh, there were a few too many Porsches; a few too many bored housewife types. But the scenery, with its forests and brilliant white yachts rocking gently in hidden inlets, was beautiful, and the high street reminded me of Plett. Not being a city person, I wanted some distance from the CBD. And when I saw the view from the apartment the estate agent showed us — well, I was sold.

It was a leetle too expensive. I’d been hoping to find a place for around half of what this landlord was going to charge me, but the rental market is tight, especially for furnished accommodation, and you take what you can get. So I maxed all of my credit cards to pay the deposit and the bond and here I am.

So far, I’m glad I made the decision to live somewhere I don’t find profoundly depressing. It does at least mitigate the effects of culture shock, and there can be few places in the world that offer beautiful coastal walks, great boutiques and patisseries, excellent weather (with the exception of this week), all within a pleasant 20-minute ferry ride of the CBD. This weekend, I strolled along to Cremorne Point, pausing to admire the Arts and Crafts Federation Homes and a public garden started in the 1950s by a civic-minded couple and beautifully kept to this day. Sitting on a bench among the clivias and the aloes, listening to the screeches of the rainbow lorikeets and watching the yachts in the bay below, it was hard not to feel relieved that I had chosen Mosman rather than bohemian Kings Cross (notorious for prostitutes and pubescent drug dealers) or dockland-chic Pyrmont.

So I was a little surprised by the Toyota-torching incident (as were colleagues to whom I happened to mention it, which, I suppose, is a relief). Also by the fact that on weekends, I frequently hear drunken shouting and the smashing of bottles in the street. And that morons still speed along the main road, despite tough speeding laws. And how, last week, I was woken at 3am by the sound of one my neighbours screeching eff this and eff that for reasons God alone knows.

You’d think that, moving from Jo’burg, I’d have low standards, that I’d be grateful for not being stabbed for my cellphone every time I stepped out the door. After all, I still have to remind myself not to brace instinctively for the sound of gunshots when I am woken by a noise in the night. But if I’m going to relocate to the other side of the planet, I want perfection. Unreasonable as it is, I want everything that’s wrong in South Africa to be right here. And I’m a little miffed that it isn’t.


  • Sarah Britten

    During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.