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A Cape Life – Growing up in Cape Town
Sara Towe -
this once shy reclusive person began to blossom

I arrived in Cape Town in South Africa in 1969; I was 14 years old and had no idea how much my life was about to change. Coming from England and being very naive about the world and its workings, S.A was like going to the moon for me. We had taken a boat to S.A that took three weeks in getting there, not so bad, save for one thing, they had left our luggage behind in the U.K., so we were in winter clothing going into mid summer temperatures.

What a different world it was. I was pale in a city where everyone had a deep brown tan, young and totally bewildered. Then there were the Clifton beach bunnies, girls who hung around to just meet guys, not unlike here at Kitsilano or South Beach, Florida. The guys were bronzed and all seemed to have blonde hair. I was in a twilight zone and totally out of my element. However, it did not take me to long to catch on, and this once shy reclusive person began to blossom out in to a rather adventuress young lady.

The Cape is a very beautiful place, with golden clean beaches with icy water on one side and warm ocean on the other. The Mountain dominates the city and there are two distinct lifestyles on either side of it. Everyone lives an outdoor life and I had to quickly get used to braiis (B.B.Q.). You ate and partied outside; all your activities where outside. So for a person that had virtually lived indoors all her life, and this was quite a change. Captonian people are very friendly, and even at that age I was always at someone’s house or they at yours. One thing I had a problem with was adjusting to the accent. Their accent is so strong that I at first thought that they all were speaking Afrikaans. However eventually I discovered I was popular with my English accent and ways. I could and did reinvent myself to something closer to what I wanted to be. This can get you into trouble of course, as you had to keep it up.

My mother, dog and myself adapted to this way of life quite easily, Kandy the dog loved the sunny days and lovely walks on the beaches. My mother, who was a widow, also reinvented herself, and seemed to ‘forget’ a number of years off her age. S.A agreed with her, she came alive. The sun has a way of making you loose your inhibitions and helps you feel alive. I would not have been caught dead in a bikini in England even if it did get warm enough for one, but in S.A you lived in one. Bikinis, sundresses, colourful clothes that you felt free and comfortable in, no tailored suites and age-old casual pearls and tweeds. My mother had been a pearls and tweeds lady, but one day I saw her coming home wearing a long wig and on the back of a motor cycle, believe me I did a triple take.

Sara with Kandy in the Cape

For the 11 years that I was in S.A I never owned a T.V. (It didn’t start there until 1976). Instead, I went to the films, theatre, ballets and everyone entertained one another at their homes or out.
The other thing I loved about it was that you were expected to dress up which I, who loves clothes, loved to do. It was expected that you dressed up to go out, it was the respectful thing to do. I am not talking restricted evening attire, but beautiful colourful long flowing dresses that made you feel very much the woman. Colour was abundant and so was your sensuality.

When I finished school I did some modelling for a while, but the pay was bad and inconsistent (what has changed?). I worked in the theatre and loved it and also worked for the wineries where I bought good but cheap wines, at 50c a bottle for a good Shiraz so I bought by the case. I was not a good student at school, but I was a fast learner of life. I worked wherever the work was in the artistic realm, and I survived. My rent in those days was only $40 a month; to fill my car took a dollar a week. Food was so inexpensive; a lobster dinner was only $4. This was 30 years ago, how times have changed. The other thing was I only got $100-00 a month back then, and I still survived. The population of SA has more than tripled since that time and although everyone is politically free, it is much more of a struggle to survive there now for everyone.

Living there I found out that I was two distinct people. One, conservative even slightly prudish. The other, a wild cat who loved to party and enjoy the moment. This did create it’s problems, as I was often confused by the lifestyle and who it was I was trying to be. My upbringing that had been so
protected and very sheltered I was naturally reserved (I thought). The wild side was this new girl who had discovered a life that was beyond her imagination. The sun, the waves, the liveliness of each day and the friendliness of all the people of every colour carried you along without a care.
In England I had been a very bland eater, never trying something new. In S.A I ate foods that I did not know existed, and I found I had taste buds for the first time. Things like apple crêpes with cheese, prawns in garlic sauce, monkey gland steak that I assure is has nothing to do with monkey glands; it is a sweet and spicy sauce over a juicy steak. I ate fresh delicious seafood like
lobsters, huge prawns and lobster bisque soup. I ate steaks that were so tender you could cut them with a butter knife. Mussel and garlic soup that you ate like a meal, a tall pot with this thick garlicky and mussel soup could feed four people well and all for only $11-00 total. Dinning out was a way of life, and as it was all so inexpensive not a bad way of life. Socialising over a good bottle of wine while eating succulent ribs and a tender juicy steak Roquefort salad followed by a creamy cream caramel, well who could ask for anything more.

Not long after living there I was introduced to disco. My brother and I started a mobile disco and we played at parties and events. Have I got some stories for you…. But I think that I will leave that for next time. If any of you can remember the disco era you know that there are stories to tell. So for now I wish you all a very positive month of September, and I will continue the story
in October.

© Sara Towe September 2002 Vancouver. B.C

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