I have no doubt that on a sunny, windless day Oudekraal beach, on Cape Town’s Atlantic seaboard, is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Huge, wave-rounded granite rocks rise out of the almost perfectly blue sea. The view is back towards Camps Bay, with the Twelve Apostles looming to the right of the picturesque scene. The sun sets over the horizon to the left. It’s a great venue for events. If you get the weather right.
Cape Town has a few pockets that are sheltered from the south-easter, and Oudekraal is not one of them. When it’s blowing – a regular occurrence throughout the Cape summer – this has to be the closest thing to hell on earth. It’s certainly not a place where you’d want to be cooking. The wind comes racing down the mountainside, directly at the beach. There is no temporary structure immune to the force of this gale, and certainly not the free-form, open-sided Bedouin-style tents that event planners like to use here.
After the first time, when we struggled in the dark to get hot, grit-free food onto guests’ plates, after which all our equipment had to be carried back up the hundred-and-plenty steps at 1.00am, I swore that I would never – ever – again set foot on Oudekraal if the wind was blowing.
Just enough time had passed when Andrea was asked by a client to cater for his weekend-long birthday extravaganza. Guests had been flown in from the UK, and were being accommodated at various swish hotels. Friday night was to take place on Oudekraal, with a succession of gorgeous nibbles coming off the fire. After several days of unceasing wind I was in the process of slowly going mad. As Friday approached there was no chance of the wind letting up. Even after a site meeting at lunch time on Friday, where the tent-man said that putting up the tent would physically endanger his staff, the client insisted on going ahead. I was getting more and more grumpy, not aided by the failure of said client to pay the necessary 50% deposit.
“If we’re going to end up paying for an expensive party, let’s at least do it in nice weather”, I moaned to Andrea.
I wandered around the venue, trying to find a relatively sheltered spot. Eventually I gave up, and picked a spot on the sand (the last thing I needed was to start a fire that would rage across Table Mountain for days). I amused myself with visions of the guests trying to snort cocaine in a howling south-easter. It helped. What helped even more was that the host had assembled a whole crowd of very beautiful people. As long-legged babes with short dresses wandered by I found myself praying for that strategic gust of wind that would console me for being consigned to misery by my wife.
No matter where I stood, I had smoke in my eyes. I seemed to have sand in every orifice. I couldn’t see what I was doing. And then Andrea had the cheek to arrive from the dinner she’d been doing (indoors) elsewhere, and be cheerful! How dare she? All this when the host, in Gatsby-esque white suit (who hadn’t come up with any dosh yet) was drifting around in a narcotic haze.
Mood-enhanced guests crowded around the fires to keep warm. They grabbed food straight off the grill before it was ready to be sent out. They dropped forks into the sand, never to be found again. They dropped their cigarette butts onto the coals I was using for cooking. The host was starting to get hyperactive; not only, I suspected because the transport was arriving soon and dessert still needed to go out.
Oh yes, the dessert – pistachio baklava phyllo springrolls cooked over coals. In broad daylight, for a dozen people, I happily take on this highly skilled and technical bit of barbecuing. Doing it in pitch darkness, with sand flying everywhere, for 70 people, has a substantial difficulty level.
Feeling very sorry for myself I thought that my just reward would be to get sent home with one of the faux models I’d been admiring. But no, what goes down has to come back up. Headachy with fatigue I then joined the rest of the crew in carrying equipment back up to the car park. My entire body was aching, and still the wind was blowing. All I could think of was getting into the shower.
My face was black – I truly could barely recognise the frizzy-haired apparition that looked blearily back at me from the mirror. I was too tired for thought; I cursed the circumstances that had put me out on Oudekraal on a night like this.
The difference between Andrea and I is that she was at it again the following night. Client Gatsby hadn’t yet decided what he wanted to be serving his guests for dinner. Somewhere around midday on Saturday he finally made up his mind, leaving Andrea to dash around Cape Town finding crayfish tails, duck and assorted other delicacies, for which she had to shell out her own money (no deposit yet). She also had to shop for crockery and cutlery on his behalf. I truly do not know where she finds the patience.
Dinner itself was relatively straightforward, except for Andrea’s usual angst about having enough food. First she thought she’d be OK, because the guests all seemed to be powdering their noses upstairs (up the stairway “to heaven”, as she puts it). Then she smelt someone smoking a joint and feared them all getting the munchies. Taking a break outside the kitchen she then discovered two women having very noisy sex. I really do pick my moments to take the night off! (I was on my way to Hong Kong on a night they catered for an up-market swingers’ party.)
Calls and emails to client in the weeks that followed were dodged or ignored. All the suppliers on the job were chasing Andrea for payment. Finally she managed to get a morning appointment with him. He was making himself an espresso when she arrived at his house. He sloshed some J&B into the cup and lit up a joint, “May as well put all that leftover booze to good use.” (One of the queries on his account was that the bar service had left him with more than a case of unwanted whisky).
Without ever resorting to confrontation or threat, the way that most of us would have, she did finally get paid in full.