Christmas Day

Cape Peninsula

Table Mountain

The Plot

I spent the Christmas 2000 holiday in Fish Hoek, South Africa, with my family—all seven of us. Fish Hoek is a town on the False Bay side of the Cape, about half an hour from Cape Town.

I say "all seven of us" because only five were expected to be there. It was one of the few complete surprises that I've managed to pull off—and certainly the most expensive...

It came about like this: Mom and Dad had already planned on being in Fish Hoek for Christmas with my sister Chrissie, who lives with them in Zambia when she's not at boarding school in Kenya, and my brother Ted, who was flying out from Canada to spend several months with them.

Naturally I wished I could be with them, but was still paying off my round the world trip so figured I couldn't afford it. Then my sister Shirley-Anne (living in Japan) had to spoil everything and announce that she was also planning on being in Fish Hoek for Christmas. And of course she couldn't afford it any more than I could so there went my excuse and the plotting began...

My co-conspirators and brothers-in-arms were, er, my brothers, Nigel and Ted. (Sorry about the bad pun. It's genetic.) It would hardly have been decent to have Nigel all by himself in Canada while the rest of us enjoyed the African sunshine, so after checking my air miles, some late night phone calls, much arm twisting, a meeting with my bank and a low interest loan, Nigel was on board too.

We knew the guest house where our parents were staying so after some discreet emails were exchanged we, as luck would have it, coincidentally arranged bookings at the same time that my parents would be there.

With all of the plans in place, all we needed to was wait—and stall. I truthfully told family and friends that I looked forward to seeing them in Toronto during the Christmas holiday, but left out the fact that I'd be going via Cape Town. Thanks to Grandma and Grandpa for keeping the secret safe! (They knew because I had my air miles ticket mailed to them.) More than once Mom and Dad said "Sorry you can't be with us." ;)

Finally the day arrived and I flew to Cape Town via London while Nigel and Ted went via Atlanta. We met in the Cape Town airport at noon on Friday, Dec. 22. We then took a taxi to Simon's Town, just down the road from Fish Hoek where we checked into a convent turned youth hostel. Between showering off the grime of the long trip, sleeping off our jet lag and enjoying oven-baked-right-before-your-hungry-eyes pizza at a local restaurant, we plotted our end game...

The next morning we took the train to Fish Hoek and found our way to Wellwood. We knew the rest of the family was coming down by bus from Johannesburg and expected at Wellwood at around noon so we hurriedly dropped off our luggage, reminding the staff that our presence was supposed to be secret. We then walked to the town center and made reservations for a late lunch. Ted walked back to the hotel to wait for the rest of the family, but discovered that they had arrived only minutes after we left. Close call!

While Ted was enjoying his reunion with the rest of the family, Nigel and I were on the train to Muizenberg (which has some great surf, by the way) to get disguises, but arrived at the party supplies shop five minutes after it closed. Running out of time we quickly made our way back to Fish Hoek and bought a hat, a pair of sunglasses and a dreadlock wig. Not a very convincing wig though—a blind man could have spotted it from a hundred yards away with his eyes closed and his back turned—but it did the job.

After donning our disguises Nigel and I, as surreptitiously as possible under the circumstances, hurried over to the designated restaurant and peeked inside. Unfortunately the rest of the family was already there so out went our original plan of being there before them and lying in wait. (They were a bit surprised that Ted insisted so strongly on keeping to his reserved time as the restaurant was half empty by the time they got there.) We decided to walk slowly past the restaurant to see if they would recognize us. Once, twice, three times... Nothing doing. We even switched disguises after the first pass since Nigel was extremely skeptical about my thespian abilities. He took the hat and sunglasses while I put on the wig.

They had obviously seen us (Mom said later that she wondered who those two "queer", in both senses of the word, fellows were) so there was nothing for it but to go right into the restaurant. Incredibly, although we went right past their table, they still didn't recognize us. Fortunately my face was completely covered by the dreadlock wig or they would have seen me cruelly laughing at Nigel's limping leg. Once inside the restaurant we were quickly given a table at the other end of the restaurant by the waitress whom we had earlier taken into our confidence, and decided to wait for them to finish their meal.

Ted of course saw everything and made the most of it, pointing out the two weird fellows in the corner. Nigel had his back turned to them but I could see them clearly through my dreadlocks and throughout the meal could see Mom, Dad, Chrissie and Shirley-Anne all laughing in our direction.

Of course we had to give ourselves up at some point, and I had a sudden brainwave: we'd pay for their meal! The look on Mom's face when the waitress told her we had offered to pay was priceless: momentary shock quickly followed by concern as to how she could sincerely pull off thanking the two ruffians she and the family had been laughing at the whole meal. Eventually she and Shirley-Anne worked up the courage to come over and thank us with the others following at a safe distance. Finally recognition dawned and pandemonium ensued...

Historical Re-enactment (Based on a true story!)

Naturally we didn't have cameras with us at the time, but these pictures were taken later for posterity. Among our many other talents, you can see that we are all born actors.

You can see how subtly we faded into the background.

Shirley-Anne approaches hesitantly to thank us for paying for the meal.

The jig is up.