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January 15, 2013

An open apology to the Parlotones from a four-legged Capetonian

Cape Town's wonder guide dog, Bijou, stole the spotlight from The Parlotones at their farewell performance at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Photo courtesy of Elana Theunissen

Like most Parlotones fans, I was horrified at the prospect of my favourite band relocating to LA. We will no longer see them at festivals or shows, and are losing a special talent to the US.

Thus, when I saw Parlotones featured in the Old Mutual Summer Sunset Concerts line-up at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden for Sunday 13 January, 2013, I jumped at the opportunity to book tickets!

Such a fitting way to bid a fond adieu to Kahn and the guys on their very last public appearance (on the eve of their departure), at the foot of our beloved Table Mountain, enjoying fantastic weather, a glorious sunset and the rich, lush calmness you find only at Kirstenbosch. Even more so the chance to enjoy The Parlotones in the company of good friends and great wine.

So …

I invited two of my best friends and avid Parlotones fans for a picnic with the band. Little did I know the magic was to come from a four-legged companion in our group … You see, my friend Jeanie is a third-year Matie student, visually impaired, and she shares her life with Bijou, a golden retriever that is her dutiful eyes and tour guide.

Our little group arrived early in the afternoon, as we wanted to make the most of the weather and atmosphere and enjoy a walkabout the gardens prior to the concert. The Kirstenbosch staff was, as always, very professional and helpful. A special thank-you goes to Gary at the reception desk, who offered to keep our picnic bags until later so that we could wander around without restrictions in hand. 

Although this was not my first visit to Kirstenbosch, I rediscovered the magic of the gardens, this time through the eyes of Jeanie and Bijou. I learned that once you go beyond the obvious visual surroundings, one can feel the gardens and breathe in the dampness and aromas of the different plants. We did have a few close shaves when Bijou crossed paths with a family of guinea fowl, but I am happy to report that all managed to escape from the ordeal unharmed.

At a water fountain, Bijou stopped for a lap of fresh cold water and was soon surrounded by a group of fans. “Look Peter, a special doggie. He helps the lady to walk. What a clever dog!” became the theme for the day. Being a true star, Bijou gracefully accepted the attention, waited patiently through all the pats and ear-scratches, and eventually ventured on, leading the way to …

The concert!

The warning signs came early when a restroom break before the concert turned into a hostage situation. A 3-year-old toddler dressed in pink grabbed hold of Bijou’s harness and refused to let go. She insisted the clever and nice doggie had a much better future with her family, and started fierce negotiations with a very apologetic mom.

Crisis averted, we found a great spot, up the slope, towards the top. Bijou and Jeanie had a great advantage: they didn’t require full view of the super rockers to enjoy their music, hence we did not have to wrestle concert-goers for prime spots closer to the stage. All settled in for snacks and wine; Bijou, content on the blanket, dozed off.

And then it started …

Our neighbour first took notice – a romantically involved couple faced break-up as the guy had more eyes for Bijou than his girlfriend, and found every excuse to lean over for a pat or ear-scratch. This was met with angry stares from his beloved, and a few aggressive side jabs to get him to focus on her.

Things were not made any easier when Bijou, impressed with attention from such a handsome young bloke, fluttered her lashes and rested her head on their blanket. We managed to avoid a romantic disaster by luring her back with doggie treats.  The poor man still has to explain the many photos he took of the lovely Bijou.

A few moments later Bijou was joined by a twentysomething hippie-ish girl in a flowery outfit. She came over to say “hi” and ended up staying a while (four songs, at least). At one stage Bijou was spread out on her back, getting the most amazing tummy scratch. I had to keep myself from laughing out loud when, upon finding out Bijou was a guide dog, the sunflower-girl cupped Jeanie’s face and exclaimed: “Wow!  You look great for a blind person!” Her companions had to lure her back to her own blanket with some red wine and snacks.

Then came the kids … with Bijou enjoying all their clumsy attention and pats …  followed by the many photographs. In true celebrity style, she struck various poses for paparazzi types on neighbouring blankets.

We left the concert nearly an hour after the last notes were heard. Jeanie had to answer questions about the ever-popular Bijou and even more pictures were taken – a glimpse into the meaning of celebrity status.

I shamefully must admit that Kahn, Neil, Glen and Paul had to share the limelight with a girl named Bijou on Sunday, and in our corner it was a close race as to who the stars of the moment were. My sincerest apologies to my favourite band for not giving them all the attention they deserve. The Parlotones really is a class act, and hearing my favourite songs in such a picturesque setting truly is a one-of-a-kind experience. I said my farewells in style.

As for Bijou, thank you to lovely the people of Cape Town and the staff at Kirstenbosch for allowing Jeanie and Bijou to be part of the moment, and also give them space to enjoy that which we all so often take for granted. The true magic of the concert was in witnessing Capetonians open their hearts …

“You are all beautiful, and you are all magical. Deserve to be adored …”  – Beautiful, by the Parlotones

I think I found my mission for 2013 – assisting Bijou (and Jeanie, of course) to experience more of Cape Town's iconic attractions, events and treasures in months to come.

Elana Theunissen is a proud inhabitant of the Mother City, and a passionate Parlotones fan. For handicapable activities in Cape Town, click here

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