Dispatches: Sun, sea and city slickers

Life's always a beach at St Michael's-on-Sea on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast with the fishermen on the rocks and the children in the lagoon. (Rogan Ward, M&G)

Life's always a beach at St Michael's-on-Sea on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast with the fishermen on the rocks and the children in the lagoon. (Rogan Ward, M&G)

It is 9am and on the rocks, the windblown fishermen have been in position for hours, their bakkies forming a row behind them in the car park, spare fishing rods tied to their roofs. A barefoot boy, aged about 10, in spray-splattered blue shorts and T-shirt, leans up against a low wall concentrating hard as he gets a lesson from his grandfather on how to bait up his line.

At the bottom of the steps to the beach, the sand-sculpture man is at work on his creations – Jesus on a cross and a long-haired babe on a Harley. A plastic container stands next to a sign written in pebbles that reads: "Donations please".

As music blares from under a branded gazebo, young children in their floppy hats stare at the DJ spinning radio-friendly happy music and old favourites everyone knows the words to.

We find a spot to spread our towels next to one of the lifeguards' flags. We slap sunscreen on to the children before they get covered in sand and watch them as they join the multicoloured dots of humanity clustered in the water under the watchful eyes of the lifeguards. Every now and then the whistle will blow and a bather who has strayed from the designated area will be waved back into the herd.

Lekker biltong
Anxious city parents stand at the water's edge keeping an eye on their children as they splash and shriek. Some are shouting to get their offspring's attention and the children beg for just five more minutes.

A group of teenagers arrive wearing skins and carrying a drum and they dance in front of us, hoping for money, but they block my view of my children and I move away irritably. An old man tries to sell us "lekker biltong", a woman offers us samoosas and yet another woman has colourful beach bags for sale.

We are the tourists from the big smoke and these people have been awaiting our arrival much like they look forward to the annual sardine run in the hope that we will spend some of the money we have earned by being cooped up in offices back home.

And here we are, the cash cows, our pale bodies glistening in the sunlight, our boeps, flab and varicose veins exposed in swimming costumes designed to be worn by people with more perfect bodies.

But our children do not mind and neither do we because it feels so good to peel off the layers of clothes and stretch out for a week under the warm subtropical sun.


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