Years ago I came across a book in a second-hand shop called How to Live like a Millionaire on an Ordinary Income; something I’d been doing for most of my adult life. Written by Steve West (who also wrote The Power and Pleasure of Sex, How to Live to Be 100 Years and What Happens after Death? You Don’t Have to Die to Find Out), replete with 1970s-style pictures of the playboy author, it bestowed on its readers such self-help tips as how to obtain university degrees without attending classes, get a full night’s rest in a few catnaps and amass vast amounts of credit without any surety for that yacht or skyscraper soon to be named after you. You needed little more than a cunningly cultivated, fashionably tasteless image of a profligate tycoon with money to burn.
The idea, which is partly true, is that the very rich often don’t pay for things, especially in the United States. Moving in the right circles, the thrifty millionaire is wined, dined and flown around the world by money so old it is senile or by the aspirant desperate for their patronage.
West’s plan was to manage your moderate income wisely and to manufacture free opportunities at every turn. Why pay massive amounts of interest and be left with high residuals on that sports car when you could get to drive it without buying it?
In Cape Town, evidently, where freeloaders abound, you can live as a millionaire on less than half the moderate income that would be required anywhere else in the world. I’m not referring to the free platters and rotgut wine at book launches and gallery and theatre openings, or the complimentary sushi at fashion shows, award ceremonies and charity balls, on which a particular Cape Town set lives.
No, as winter and the recession panic grips restaurants, many upmarket eateries have come within reach of the ordinary income.
You can indulge in six courses at Ginja and Myoga for just R150 or at the Round House for R180. For bachelors this is cheaper than grocery shopping at Woolies. At most establishments along Camps Bay’s beach strip, when you order two mains you get the cheaper one free. Down at the Five Flies they are flipping coins — if your heads or tails come up, you get 50% off. Not that real millionaires need to be early risers, but Arnold’s on Kloof Street is offering breakfasts before 7am for only R9.50.
There is another crafty way to dine cheaply, but it involves enlisting a member of Parliament. If you’re invited by your friendly MP to dine with him at one of Parliament’s three restaurants, you can have three courses, salad and coffee for R65. That’s the guest’s rate — the MP pays just R55. When it was increased in July this year from R40 there was an uproar.
I wangled an invite from my old activist in arms, the environmentalist MP Lance Greyling. Before he was The Honourable, we used to lunch together in the old canteen (now closed and outsourced) in the opposition-dominated Marks building. An echoey underground chamber where paintings from the former regime still hung on the walls and above one’s head, a foot below the ceiling, the ankles and shoes of pedestrians outside could be glimpsed through the iron bars of its arched windows. For R12,50 plates could be piled high with lamb knuckles and potatoes swimming in watery gravy. One day a week was devoted to offal and tripe.
Greyling, of course, now dines in the MPs’ restaurant. The modernised one in the National Assembly building has a spectacular postcard view of Table Mountain and overlooks the ornate and beautifully maintained gardens of Tuynhuys.
Many of the chefs and catering staff were originally moved to Parliament from the railways, where in the old days they worked during recess. The table service is informal and extremely friendly.
We ordered the pumpkin soup and were served a sort of barley porridge. “If anyone wants to know why so many of our MPs balloon in size …” muttered Greyling. For mains there was a choice of hake, chicken or chops with rice, new potatoes or chips. Greyling, the good green he is, lamented the absence of a vegetarian option. The vegetables themselves are bain-maried to hell. For dessert there was diced fruit and vanilla ice cream. It’s good old SAR fare and I don’t mean the Blue Train.
Once you’ve eaten here, you won’t begrudge our politicians — make that our newly minted millionaires — their subsidy.