Being back in Clarens is a serious reality check. For starters, life moves so quickly here that it is almost impossible to distinguish one day from another. I accept that Saturdays stand out by virtue of the thousands of tourists who gorge themselves at our tables, buy our quaint offerings and drink the Brewery dry, but apart from that, one day sort of blends into another.
I was reminded of this truism by my reading of George Bernard Shaw, the distinguished twentieth-century Irish dramatist and occasional economist. He once remarked that ‘the secret of being miserable is to have the leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not’. Well. Looking about me, I have to say that for a village at the centre of universe, there are a lot of quite depressed-looking people about. No criticism of course; I have it on good authority that my own lips point southwards more often than seems reasonable. But the question that arises is why we are not permanently wreathed in smiles?
The birds all look quite happy, indeed they are mating like rabbits as we speak. Even Bigfoot, or Kaalvoet as he is locally known, appears content with his solitary ramblings in the Clarens mountains; if you doubt this, have another look at the Creature Wall in the Clarens Brewery and observe his bemused grin. Okay, Clarenites might not have Biblical knowledge of one another quite as often as our feathered friends (or as they might like), and might not have the balls and bearing of Kaalvoet, but is it really necessary to go about looking as though we are in the grip of a locust-plague?
The short answer is no. We are lucky enough to enjoy our leisure time in a very special spot, assuming you can afford the golf fees, and even the weather is comparatively benign. If you doubt this, turn on your radio of a morning, lie back and peel an apple while listening to traffic reports of trucks pirouetting on the N3 and bumper-to-bumper cars from Brakpan to Pretoria. Although our architecture will win few prizes, at least you can see the bloody houses without having to stand on a two-metre ladder. And so on. The point is that there is no good reason to be miserable, unless you forgot about Ubuntu Monday or missed your tee-off time at the Golf Club.
Perhaps the problem is the social strait-jacket we all seem to wear. Considering the size of our village, I am constantly stunned to meet complete strangers who have apparently lived here for 20 years. I vividly remember the late-lamented Ken Stewart of Bibliophile responding to my question about what had brought he and Debra to Clarens: ‘It is’ he said ‘a refugee centre for eccentrics’. Well, to appropriate George Bernard Shaw yet again, ‘We want a few mad people now. See where the sane ones have landed us!’ Put differently, what we need is a friendly smile from everyone, a wave and even – dare I say it – an exchange of greetings; perhaps even a booking with someone you don’t really know at one of our many great restaurants in Clarens next week.
I have it on good authority that this is not a dress-rehearsal. We are on a finite leash and owe it to ourselves and those we share this space with to enjoy every waking moment. So, go on and invite someone you suspect might be half-way human to dinner, or even a mountain hike, if they don’t look too much like an axe-killer. Whatever else you do, smile at someone new today, and hope that you are not locked up for impropriety.