Thursday, 17 March 2016

Clown comes to Cape Town.

In a direct challenge to my tendency towards self pity I just had what amounted to a free holiday in Cape Town. For an actor at my level - Championship mid table, sometimes threaten the play offs - getting or not getting an advert can make a large difference to our year. Most of all, they offer us our best opportunity to earn a generous amount of cash for pulling a face. If we're lucky, they may even give us the chance to travel. In the past I've got close to jobs that filmed in Barcelona, Bucharest, Croatia, Buenos Aires and Dubai but foreign jaunts have always seemed to pass me by. My last advert was shot in Rickmansworth.

This time round, pulling a face for a Swiss insurance advert took me further than the end of the Metropolitan Line and all the way to South Africa. This was my first time in former Leeds defender Lucas Radebe's home country and, I'll tell you, I liked it. I had some idea that Cape Town might be pretty but wasn't quite prepared for the sheer beauty of it. Its stunning beaches and table reminiscent mountain put me in mind of a Rio De Janeiro without Christ The Redeemer looking down and reminding you that you were born a sinner the entire time.

Before going, any research I did spoke of two things - Cape Town's beauty and the near certainty of me being shot to death if not by one of South Africa's gun wielding drug dealers then in my bathroom by my amputee husband. The stock advice seemed to be - "Cape Town is incredible, but don't leave your hotel room or you will die". This put me a little on edge for the first few days. I'm a big fan of getting a sense of a city by walking around it but wandering alone after sunset or venturing beyond a select few designated areas during daylight didn't seem to be an option.

Despite these restrictions I'm happy to say I managed to do a lot. Staying in town for a few extra days at my own expense (and therefore spending much of my face pulling money) I went up Table Mountain in cable car, took a glorious train ride to see some African Penguins, toured some piss takingly beautiful vineyards and went to an international cricket match at one of the world's most visually pleasing sporting venues - Newlands Stadium.

I have a theory that is almost certainly wrong but this blog post needs to be more than a bragging session so I'm going to go for it. What little I saw of South Africa was spoilt for natural beauty. My home town, London, doesn't offer any real natural beauty* so it's been filled with beautiful things - museums, theatres, monuments, cathedrals, an Mi5 building that doesn't appear on maps. Sure, Hampstead Heath is nice but really it's just a hill that affords us a vantage point from which to view all the lovely things we've built. Cape Town had a lovely little National Gallery but when I went in it there were only about six other people who'd bothered to do the same. The rest were outside bathing themselves in sunshine and marvelling at the view. You don't need the Tate Modern when you've got Table Mountain.

It wasn't all great. I like to put at least one piece of depressing historical research into every one of my holidays and so took a trip to the place where Nelson Mandela and hundreds of other anti Apartheid campaigners were imprisoned - Robben Island. On the boat over I sat in the sun next to a black Namibian family. Whilst applying sun lotion I became jealous of the fact that they didn't have to worry about sun burn. Yes, they come from a race who've suffered centuries of oppression and exploitation but think of the money they save on sun block! It was only as we embarked at Robben Island, an iconic symbol of that oppression that I became embarrassed at my absurd line of thinking.

I only had two short conversations, both of them with black taxi drivers, about South African politics whilst I was there and both of them surprised me. The country, I was told, was in a terrible state and although apartheid had to come to an end its demise had actually made everything worse. The whites still hated the blacks, the blacks still hated the whites, everyone hated the foreigners who were coming in and taking all the jobs and Mandela was a terrorist. This perhaps says more about taxi drivers the world over than it does about South Africa. I'm not qualified to find the truths and bollocks within what they said - even if I have seen the movie Invictus. What it did serve to remind me is that a week as a tourist tells you absolutely nothing about what is really going on in a country.

* in order for this analogy to work I have ignored Richmond Park.

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