My first house - David Bellairs

David Bellairs is as synonymous to the Cape Argus Pick ’n Pay Cycle Tour as the south-easter is to Cape Town summers. He’s been part of the event’s organisation for the past 20 years. It all began when a friend took a bet with him that he couldn’t finish the race. Since then, he’s risen to the challenge no less than 15 times. He remembers training for those first few Cycle Tours by cycling up Mountain Road in ‘Upper’ Woodstock, where he bought his first house, number 53 – a little semi. ‘My impression was that the area was about to become trendy, since the neighbouring “lower” University Estate was at that time experiencing a yuppie invasion and upliftment,’ says David. The year was 1986, and he paid R28 000. ‘It was all I could afford at the time. I planned to renovate, then sell after three to four years and make a tidy little profit.’ The location was also extremely convenient, as David worked with his dad in the family textile business, located at 2 Mountain Road.

On the surface, the two-bedroom house was quaint and appeared to have potential. So, fired with the untainted enthusiasm of first-timers, David and his erstwhile wife, Jennifer, set out to revive all the original vintage details. ‘Scraping off paint to reveal the woodwork of the doors and window frames was okay, but when we lifted the carpets – well, that was the worst day of my life! The original wooden floors were vrot with dry rot which had probably been there for a hundred years, and it wasn’t going anywhere fast. The floorboards had actually fallen away in certain sections.’ David swore profusely and promised himself he’d never renovate again. ‘Clearly, I wasn’t the DIY person I’d believed myself to be – a fact reaffirmed when I tried to fix the old sash windows. They became my next worst nightmare – I’ll never buy a house with them again.

When the Bellairs sold the property in 1990, they made a miniscule R4 000. ‘The area did not take off as I’d hoped. I think largely because it was plagued by crime. We were burgled six times during our last year there, and a dead body was found shoved into a supermarket trolley in the alley, one road up from the house!’

But in spite of that, David says he misses the suburb. ‘It was full of interesting characters and families who’d lived there for years. On weekends, when all the local businesses were shut and there was no traffic, it was particularly pleasant. We’d walk down to the supermarket, and there was a lovely, warm, safe feeling. People would be out on their stoeps and kids were playing on the street. It was a mixed-race suburb, but no one had any issues. If you lived there, you were accepted as part of the community. Everyone looked out for each other; there was great camaraderie.’ David says he still drives past the area at least once a month. ‘I’m drawn to those qualities. I suppose that’s why I love the Cycle Tour. I crave that feeling at the start of the race, when you take off in a huge wave of human spirit.’

As an organiser, he hasn’t been able to ride for the last five years, since somebody has to stay behind and mind the whole shebang, so now he contents himself with the pleasure of seeing the jubilant faces of the riders at the finish line. He also loves the weird and wonderful costumes; favourites include the riding rhino, the fairies and the naked ladies: ‘There’s always someone wearing a massive pair of fake boobs. And the advertising campaigns are always fun – I remember the one year, Pick ’n Pay had carrots dangling.’

However, there was a year when he was grateful not to be riding, and that was 2009, when there were 120km/h winds on the Foreshore at the start of the race. ‘The start towers were threatening to fall on the people since the sponsors’ banners were acting as sails, and we had to cut them down,’ says David, adding that the Porta-Loos also blew over. ‘I remember some of the Jo’burg riders saying, “Only in Cape town do the loos come to you.”’ One unfortunate woman was using a Porta-Loo at the time, and she emerged covered in blue goo. ‘I just couldn’t believe that 30 000 people bothered to get on their bikes on a day like that,’ says David. But he adds that this indomitable spirit, and the fact that the money goes to charity, is what gives his job the feel-good factor. ‘As director of sponsorship and marketing, my job is to maximise the marketing benefits and the incoming funds so that more needy folk benefit. And that’s a wonderful position to be in.’
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