One long weekend down, two to go. Judging from the reaction of the restaurants, bars, coffee shops and guest houses, you could be forgiven for thinking we had won the lottery. But if you happen to be a gallery or retail store owner, maybe not so much. The point is that spending is selective in these stringent economic times: Fill the tank with gas, fill the tummy with steak and craft beer and lay your tousled head upon a rented bed – and all is well with the world, apart from an upcoming election of course. But whether or not you were on the receiving end of tourist largesse, it has to be said that Clarens at Easter was simply gorgeous: The trees are somewhere between butter and brown and the sunsets are an extreme exercise in sky theatre. And if the Easter Bunny forgot about you, go buy your own little slice of chocolate heaven at your nearest village grocer; they need some business too!
In the lull between a four-day weekend and a three day affair (no, I’m not talking about our unmarried guests) we have had a breath-taking insight into the Affairs of State. Well, local actually; in fact, the Municipal Budget presentation. Before you yawn yourself into a coma, pause to consider that our friends in Dihlabeng don’t do this for any old Eastern Free State town; it’s just us actually, and we get a pat on the back for our engaging criticism and friendly advice. Ho ho. After half-an-hour of comic relief in the Marty Lotz Hall, we moved into the Coffee Shop there, in order to actually hear the presentation, given the intervention of an eighty-five decibel hail storm on an old tin roof. Point is that we run at an immense annual deficit (about R85 million) in spite of our weighty rates and taxes, not least because of the Municipality’s salary and wage bill, and there is no prospect of change any time soon. The MEC for Finance, a very jovial chap, responded patiently to an hour of gripes about the ‘inability’ of some of our esteemed Councillors to pay their rates. Given that he sighed and noted that this was always our main priority, it would seem that our annual bitching doesn’t penetrate the Council Chamber down the road. So what to do?
Slashing Councillor’s salaries and allowances is clearly not an option two weeks before an election, so perhaps it’s time for Clarens to think it’s way out of this civic cul-de-sac. Perhaps it is time for some creativity and lateral thinking: After all, we are actually sitting on a tourist gold mine in idyllic surroundings, and about the most progressive idea in currency is to build a retirement home on the Golf Estate! We have to do better than that if we are going to protect our business futures and operate in a municipal environment free from bankruptcy hearings.
So, let’s make a start: First, who fancies a cable car to the top of Mount Horeb? Just think, bright young things taking your money in 11 official languages while you sweep skywards in a rainbow-coloured car to scones and coffee on the peak of our most dominant mountain? Don’t laugh. Think for a moment about half of Johannesburg and one-third of Pretoria queuing to give their hard-earned away to the Clarens Mountain Railroad and Scone Company. Move over Cape Town, here we come. Second, anyone remember that we are sitting on one of the country’s biggest aquifers, snug beneath the Clarens Golf Course? Of course you do; why else would your little white ball swerve erratically away from the 12th hole every time you play? Point is that we could go down as well as up. Think for a moment about National Geographic running a deep-diving mini submarine to a wine and oyster bar on the bed of our biggest natural water reservoir. Admittedly, you would have to hold your breath a while and it would be a bit of a mission clutching your oysters in the dark, but I’m betting that Free Staters would kill for the experience.
But third, and without doubt the clincher, how about the biggest adventure ice-skating rink in the country, smack in the Clarens Square? Just imagine, Victorian balustrades encircling an immense stretch of ice, with ramps and slopes sculpted around towering Voortrekker ice-wagons; first-aid stations interspersed with ice-skate sellers and 44-gallon drums of Schnapps to keep your cheeks warm. And that’s only in summer. If it catches on, we could do a ski-jump down Main Street, landing on the Golf Course, and – you guessed it – catching a ride down to the Wine and Oyster Bar. Oh, the money that will roll in………………..
So come on Clarens. Time to brain-storm our way out of this Municipal delinquency and make our village the centre of the known universe. Why spend trillions on space exploration with the prospect of a breathless hot and sticky planet to live on, when you can stretch your legs and minds in this splendid part of the planet, 1867metres above the predicted high-tide mark for 2019.
Oh bugger. I forgot the birds again. Sorry.