Seeing as I was up and about I decided to make the most of the day and persuaded my companion to take in a few other places in the area. A cup of tea at the Noon Gun tea room was in order because I hadn’t been there for years and wanted to check it out. Sadly, after many years as a well-known institution, the Noon Gun Tearoom closed a few months ago. The owners still live in the house above where the restaurant was and they told me they’re now too old to run a restaurant. It’s a pity because it could be an integral part of a visit to Bo-Kaap and a walk to the two cannons that make up what we know as the ‘noon gun’ itself but I suspect they also don’t have the urge to market the tea-shop properly, as could be seen by the fact that nothing has been modernised in many years.
Bo-Kaap has become very popular with tourists – there are always camera laden visitors taking photos of the houses, and a couple of restaurants offer authentic Cape food but the prohibition of alcohol might deter some. The museum, cemeteries and kramats are worth visiting but there is a somewhat unkempt air about many of the streets, and the city views, although fabulous, require walking or just standing in areas above the quarry that are dangerous as they are not fenced in. Of course, attending to all of this would destroy much of the authenticity of the area. It irritates me to know that people are simply driving in to take a few bog-standard photos and dashing off again without spending any money!
So, what is the noon gun after which a restaurant was named? It’s located on Signal Hill which has always served as a perfect vantage point to watch out for approaching ships and to send signals to the harbour. For almost 200 years the gun has been a time-setter, always precise and fired every day at exactly noon. The only exception is Sundays and public holidays when it is not fired. It is also used on special occasions to mark a 21-gun salute. There are in fact two cannons, one being a stand-by in case the other doesn’t work. They are the oldest cannons in daily use in the world!
Know this, though: the noon gun is also a measure of determining who’s a local and who isn’t. When the boom is heard at exactly noon every day locals check and set their watches and carry on what they were doing, visitors look around, startled, wondering why no-one is panicking!