Home's where the heart is

St Francis Bay freelance journalist Beth Cooper-Howell takes a look at the other side of life in Woman on Top, her weekly lifestyle column for The Herald.

If you had told a 10-year-old Helen Walne that she would one day spend R1-million on a house, she would have cocked an eyebrow at you. “That’s crazy,” is what she would have said. “A million is a lot. Only Gary Player and Americans have a million.” But living in Cape Town – or living anywhere with limited means hitched to one side of your dreams, and a desire to own your own space on the other – is expensive. That’s what Helen thought, until she pitched perspective against property. The award-winning columnist and writer owns a house, but she wants a bigger, better one. “We are tired of living here,” she writes in the Cape Argus. “We want a view of the sea. And a lounge that isn’t the size of a gym locker. “And a garden, with grass and bushes and trees… [and] more than one bathroom – preferably not off the lounge. “So house guests don’t have to sing loudly on the toilet.” But the new house can’t cost more than R2-million. Which, in Cape Town (but really, pretty much anywhere, if you’re looking for your perfect three-bedroomed pad-with-greenspace) is a “big, fat, hilarious joke”. But Helen keeps looking. She looks at “various hovels” and a facebrick structure “that was more burglar guard than house for R1.8-million. “Numerous apartments suitable for three sugar ants and a very small cabbage were on sale for R1.6-million.” There were erfs for R2-million, with a sea view, and questionable, gutted Victorian cottages. So she gives up, “despondent and murderous”, and lies on the couch, which smells of cat vomit. And then she smacks her readers upside the head, in a thrilling about-turn which probably won her those writing awards from the get-go. Helen remembers Headman, who came to the door last week. Homeless, robbed of his blanket, clothes and ID book. He is crying uncontrollably. “Just because I am homeless does not mean I am an animal,” he tells Helen. She fetches him clothes and food, but he won’t come into the house for a shower. “He asks for a bucket of warm water and washes outside. “When he was done, dressed in the too-big clothes I had found for him, he returned the empty bucket, the empty plate and the empty mug. “He hitched a stick across his shoulders, one of our blankets draped over him like a makeshift tent, and shuffled towards nowhere. “I watched him disappear, and closed the gate behind me.” And with that, Helen leaves you dangling, consumed with your own consumerist thoughts.