That time I proposed (and she didn’t say yes)
Cities built around mountains have an undeniable drama and romance.
Just look at Sugarloaf in Rio or Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. Even Montmartre sneaks in.
For me, however, Table Mountain in Cape Town takes the vertiginous cake.
Three reasons: my mum grew up in its shadow, at just over a kilometre high it accrues a fetching layer of white cloud affectionately known as 'the tablecloth' and it was where I proposed to my beloved of 20 years.
Here's what happened. I'd been in South Africa for three months researching what would become the memoir/travelogue Are We There Yet (available in print and e-reader now!) and decided a request to marry would provide a neat end point. Looking back and looking forward and all that.
So far, so practical right? However, (as you might have guessed from the fact that you're reading this), I'm an inveterate oversharer. Can't keep a secret fo shizzle - as Snoop might say.
Which is how pretty much everyone I'd spoken to in the preceding month - friends, family, colleagues, waitstaff - knew I was going pop the q on Table Mountain. I bought a ring, returned it, redesigned it and fitfully carried with me at all time in a country where thieves have been known to double tap you for your sunnies.
Jennie arrived in The Mother City to a string of sapphire winter skies.
Problem was a severe case of wind. The flat summit can be reached one of two ways. The first is hiking. Considering that until I climbed Kilimanjaro, I thought high camp involved Donna Summer and glitter, this was not really our go.
The second option is a cable car, which ascends 765 metres in a stately four to five minutes. Conditions, however, have to be perfect. I was doing enough shaking without gusts tossing us about like the contents of your Nanna's bag as she fossicks for the last Fisherman's Friend.
Every day, assorted relos would none-too-subtly ask whether we'd been up the mountain yet. So much so that Jennie started to wonder if a mild strain of OCD ran through the limbs of my family tree. "They do bang on about the bloody mountain a bit," she eventually confided after a particularly good bottle of Zonnebloem Cab Sav that translated to just over $10.
Eventually, the zephyrs subsided and the cable car was declared open. Trying not appear as if I was about to ask a question that would change the rest of my life, we spirited to the base station significantly faster than strictly necessary. Jennie too was enthusiastic. Not least for the fact that she would finally have an answer for my probing family and friends who seemed to have but one topic of conversation.
We were clearly not the only people waiting for the weather to improve. The area was rammed. Who wouldn't want to watch the sun set over the confluence of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans?
Battling to find a spare patch and glaring at intruders like Pauline Hanson trying out the government's Covid safety app, we eventually found ourselves alone (ish). It was time for stammered yet rehearsed declarations. It was time for one knee. It was time to say I'd already cleared this with her dad.
Somehow, I got through the speech and posed the vital question to … nothing.
Had I totally misread the stage we were at? Did she hate the ring? Was I about the endure the world's most dramatic friend-zoning?
Turns out, after an agonising pause - in reality probably just ten seconds - she replied with, "Oh. My. God."
Surely a three letter affirmative was going to follow this succession of other one-syllables. Guess again, those playing at home.
"You're doing it," she gasped.
Now where would you put the emphasis on hearing this sentence? "It" perhaps? "Doing" for the verb fans? Nuh-uh. She was all about the 'you're'. Emphatic in fact.
Turns out that momentarily before I dropped and declared, she thought, "If I had the guts, I'd ask him to marry me right now". So yes I was doing it. Which turned into a dusk-licked yes and a candlelit dinner by the beach in Camps Bay.
Waiting until it was late/early enough to call family and friends at home in Sydney, we shared the news as overhearing strangers sent us celebratory bottles.
So, you can keep your Sugarloafs, Victoria Peaks and Montmartres. You'll find me in spirit and memory at the Table. Gorging on memories.
Originally published as I proposed (and she didn't say yes)