I recently told a couple of friends that I was off to Melville to babysit my grandcat while her parents were away for a few days. The uniform reaction was, “Will you be safe?” Melville’s rep is obviously not that good, but truth to tell, I feel almost safer there than I do in my home town.
It’s such a pleasure to me to wander round the streets here. There’s an urban vibe quite different from the seaside village where I live. Youngsters gather on the corners in sexy outfits – would that I were that age again. Some greet me, some don’t, but they’re all very busy with whatever is going on in their lives. “How are you” echoes as I go, and I stop and chat every so often, just to pass the time and get to know folk I would not normally meet. I walk down 7th Avenue, but don’t get further than the second-hand bookstore that I visit each time I come here. Generally it’s for a book as a gift – but oh my word, I can’t carry home what I’d give anything to have.
Back along Second Street, looking at the different styles of architecture, when the peep of a car hooter makes me jump. A tinted window opens and a big, round, smiling face peers out. “Hello,” says the owner of the smile, “how are you?” "Fine thanks,” I reply, keeping a polite-but-safe distance from the car, just in case. “You look as though you don’t know where you’re going?”
“No, I’m fine, thank you, just browsing around the neighbourhood.” “Okay,” he says. “If you want anything, just ask me.” Turns out he is the cousin of the security man who sits on the corner of the block, keeping watch. My family has alerted the security man that I will be there and that I like to walk, and the word has spread. Various friends and relatives covering my likely routes are now watching out for me.
The face of Melville is changing, and I don’t think it’s for the good. Older houses are revamped to within an inch of their lives. High walls, huge windows, bling with mosaic pillars guarding entrances. The charm of stoeps open to the street is vanishing. I understand the reason for security, but those walls, those three-storey mansions with views to the Magaliesberg – no thanks!
I walk down towards the Koppies, and I’m so tempted to start the climb up. But here it is in fact very quiet and I feel too isolated, so take the coward’s way out and retrace my steps.
I wander down to the shops across the main road, and here’s where I encounter the only danger of my stay. Someone crossing this road, with a flashing green man giving the ok, is considered a challenge to passing traffic and should be mown down if at all possible. Especially by drivers with their cellphones clamped to their ears. I jump for my life and take the long way round on the return trip.
Up Second Avenue I come across a tree whose trunk and branches have been covered with coloured crocheted oblongs. I don’t know if this was for the soccer world cup, but added to the decoration are strings of bunting draped from branch to branch and from branch to house, which appears to be the home of an Orlando Pirates fan. This is just wonderful.
I’m walking back home and I hear loud and aggressive barking. I look through various gates and see nothing, but the barking continues. I glance up, and on the roof of the garage next to the path is a very large, very loud German Shepherd, head up in Lion King stance, guarding his territory.
Only in Melville …