Words and Photographs by Chris Marais
The perfect small South African town? At the outset, let me say, you and I are looking for something that doesn’t exist. There is no perfect town anywhere in the world. In this instance, we have to settle for ‘as good as possible’ and leave it at that.
My wife Jules and I had been searching for our rural El Dorado for nigh on 15 years.
We found enough out there to convince us to leave our Wendywood, Johannesburg, home 12 years ago and settle in the little river town of Cradock in the Eastern Cape Karoo.
“Why Cradock?” we always get asked.
“It’s complicated,” we reply these days. Like anywhere else, there’s stuff to whinge about here. But when we’ve been working in, say, Cape Town for a week or so we begin to hunger for the wide, friendly streets of Cradock and the open skies of the Karoo Heartland. Did you know that you can make a U-turn with a 16-ox wagon in Cradock’s Frere Street? Just try that little trick in Kalk Bay.
Let me share some insights about small town living that might help you decide to put up that For Sale sign on your suburban life.
What’s the attraction?
Well, where we live the broadband connectivity is good. But we do have a power failure back-up plan which involves (in winter) a roaring fire, a lustily played Spanish guitar, lots of blazing candles, cheese, crackers and bottles of red wine.
This plan is often put into action, and when the lights come on we simply switch them off again and carry on warbling. But generally we can talk to the world and our clients via the Internet, which makes it possible for us to live here.
Rentals are lower, local hire doesn’t put your overheads through the roof and, in general, the cost of living drops radically – along with your insurance rates.
But just remember: the freshest vegetables are always sold in the cities. That weird truth is right up there with why the braai smoke always follows you around at a party.
With the right job in the right country town, you can call the shots – and the hours. Want to wake up at 4am and be productive? Sure. Want to take the day off and ponder? Why not? After all those years of 9 to 5, you’re in charge. It’s a heady feeling. But don’t chill out too much, or the cheques will dry up.
Casual Friday comes every day. In winter, most of us in Cradock hang out in Michelin Man jackets and tracksuits. Summers are all about shorts and T-shirts.
Nature and the great outdoors are minutes away from home. On weekends, children are packed into the family car and taken off on adventures. And when the snows come, everyone’s out there building Frosty. In summer, kids come floating by the sports fields in massive tractor tyre tubes on the Great Fish River, chortling as they pass.
But the question still persists: So where’s the perfect town?
The answer, as I said in the beginning, is nowhere. But now I have to add:
“Come out here and help make it perfect.”