Today is my designated shopping day so I get a break from the patients at the military base to catch up on some daily admin and Christmas shopping.
First stop is the traffic department and what a depressing experience. I stand in the wrong queue until a surly youth points me in the direction of the right one. There are twelve of us in the queue, all males, and none of us is talking to each other or looking happy. One man, it turns out, is quite content but the men around me are not. The content man has gleaming white running shoes, a white golf shirt and powerful calves shown off to good effect by his khaki shorts. He looks healthy and happy to be getting out of the traffic department.
Soon there are about five people behind me, one of whom stands so close to me that his shoe bumps the back of mine. He lets out a depressed-sounding sigh and his breath ruffles the back of my hair. I feel quite irritated by this and I wonder what it would be like to turn around and punch him in the stomach. Alternatively I could just ask him to back off a little but instead I stand my ground and resolutely try and ignore him. I think about not making a scene and how we’re all a bit frustrated about standing around in the heat and how maybe he doesn’t realise that he’s standing too close. When I eventually get to the front of the queue (miracle, the front!) I see that he looks a bit on edge. I also notice a turban and try to avoid eye-contact altogether. I definitely do not want to be picking a fight with a skinny, on-edge, turban-wearing man in Cape Town (or anywhere else).
When it is my turn at the teller, we quickly fall into a pattern of her looking disinterested and bored and my feeling frustrated in return. When she hands me my licence, I wait after thanking her for any sign of recognition and, detecting a faint nod of the head, make my exit.
Next stop is the hairdresser. Lately I’ve been erring on the cheap end of the hairdressing spectrum and the quality of the service tends to match the decor. Today my semi-regular hair-stylist is away so I have a grumpy-looking anonymous person instead. She asks for my name, directs me to a basin and turns back to whatever she was doing before. I quickly get the impression that she has better things to do than to make any kind of conversation, which naturally makes me wonder about the wisdom of coming back here in the future. At one point I am mentally writing a letter of complaint to the salon telling them why I will not be returning. But then I think better of it. Maybe the woman washing my hair doesn’t like to be told that the water is too hot. Perhaps the way I looked at the hair-stylist when I was waiting for her to leave the counter where she was engrossed by a travelling toy-dog salesperson irritated her.
After my trim, I ask if I can have a rinse, which she says is fine. Hair-washer at this point is having a sulk and so the hair-stylist has to do the job herself, which appears to irritate her a little more. Somewhat surprisingly in the light of her apparent indifference, she decides to massage my head while she is rinsing my hair. Whilst not exactly unpleasant, this is rather odd. Perhaps it would be nice if she asked me first but she doesn’t and so it isn’t. But I thank her and I pay and she asks for my surname so she can enter the transaction on the computer. I am tempted to tell her not to bother but am worried that this might be churlish and so I just give my name and leave. I still wonder what was going on with the head massage though. Maybe it’s part of the routine.
Thinking about poor service levels in Cape Town generally, I wonder about self-fulfilling prophecies. How we often get what we expect. Perhaps my whole attitude was wrong the moment I stood in the queue at the traffic department. Or maybe I’m just having a bad hair day. There’s definitely something irritable in the air. It may be the the combination of the heat and a dry South-Easter wind. That and Christmas, which is also not the best time of year around here. Or maybe it’s that I don’t generally have great memories of Christmas.
On a positive note, I’m enjoying a few books including a Dorothy Sayers (Gaudy Night), the Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders and I’m about to start The Orchard by Drusilla Modjeska. I’m also making a couple of Mix CDs. If anyone would like to try one of Pete’s Couchtrip Mix CDs, then leave your comment and I’ll post it off to wherever you live. First person wins. Maybe that will restore a bit of Christmas cheer. Next time I’ll post something on a reading wrap-up for the year. Happy reading.