The dinner is an eve-of-Test bash; the one-day Test, that is. Real cricket, as any England supporter out here will tell you, can last anything up to three days. On these occasions I always remember Brian Johnston speaking at a cricket dinner which took place in a tent. Halfway through his speech the heavens opened and it started to pour, the raindrops drumming on the canvas like a herd of stampeding cattle. "Goodness," said Johnners, "is that rain or are the West Indies pissing on us already?"
After the Test I dream of sharing my hotel room with a South African umpire. In the dream a friend phones and the umpire says I'm out. My friend tells me later that he looked at the action replay and I was in my room by at least two feet. Still, as Ray lllingworth says, you lose some, you lose some.
My hotel is in Constantia, an exclusive suburb dotted with official residences and private mansions owned by private millionaires. The warning signs outside each one are a reminder of Old South Africa: "Chubb First Force: 24-Hour Armed Response". In the local phone directory there are seven pages of car hire firms and 18 advertising "security services".
Absent-mindedly winding my way down the mountain into town, I realise I'm in the wrong lane and edge into the correct one at some traffic lights. As I do so a car arrives behind me, fast and braking late, stopping aggressively close to my back right bumper. "Pushy," I think. I see it is a shiny blue Mercedes estate coming from Constantia. "Rich," I think. A glance in my mirror reveals it has a British number plate. "Ex-pat," I think. I am just telling myself off for forming an opinion of an arrogant tax exile just from appearances, when the car overtakes and I see the driver. It is Mark Thatcher.
"New South Africa" is a mantra you hear all the time here, with the same frequency and desperate optimism as "New Labour". Everywhere are images of black and white together. Presenting programmes, posing for front covers, grinning from advertising hoardings. Encouraging as all the changes are, there is still something vaguely unconvincing about the rush to forget everything that went before. It's almost as if white South Africa is turning round to black South Africa and saying: "Hey, you know the past 40 years? Only joking ... "
One thing that does not change is the English abroad. Two ageing bastions - MCC types - overheard at breakfast: "This do tonight. Is it town tie or country tie?" "Town. I think." Pause. "Oh dear. I've only brought the country one." Another pause. "Well, you're in a bit of trouble then, aren't you, old boy."
Radio advertising here is somehow less sophisticated than the hard-bitten public back home have come to expect. Besides the clumsier examples such as "SA Paints. The name that puts the word Trust back into shopping", South African punters are wooed with such charming catchlines as: "She was smoking Gauloise Blonds. It was the first thing that attracted me to her" or "The Pavarotti Pizza and Pasta Bar. Our name's a mouthful, but then, so is our pasta!"
Pavarotti himself is in town, giving a concert in a huge stadium at Stellenbosch. In fact, everything seems to be happening here at the moment. The Cape to Rio yacht race got under way at the weekend, Table Bay a mass of bright colours billowing in the sunlight as the competitors showed off their huge spinnakers. It was either that or the maestro's shirts hanging out to dry.Reuse content