Sunday, April 11, 2021

Living Next Door to Carvers (Part 1)

We moved into Aldara Park on Saturday 31st May 2003, and immediately Carvers Restaurant became part of our lives: on the day we moved in, my father-in-law celebrated his 60th birthday at the restaurant. In those days, it was a classy restaurant with a Belgian chef and an all-you-want-to-eat buffet carvery. Even the pub had some imported beers and Belgian items on the menu. I celebrated my 50th birthday there in 2011. My 60th is coming up, and I can't fathom why the new owners, who have obviously invested a lot of money in the place, think they can behave in the arrogant, irresponsible and inconsiderate way that they have. It's not a good way to gain or keep patrons. Surely, a restaurant owner would know this? Evidently not.

Aleit Street Park

Our flat looks out over the Aleit Street park (shown by the white lines in the Google Earth image above) onto the restaurant building. Sadly, the park has been allowed to run down by the incompetence and mismanagement of Joburg City Parks and the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) who are supposed to enforce the Public Open Spaces Bylaws. City Parks is supposed to mow the lawn in the park (a basic minimum) and empty the rubbish bins regularly. They are supposed to remove dead trees and maintain the facilities in the park. I guess they couldn't be bothered. The gardener for our block of flats has mowed the lawn on the side of the park closest to the flats, between the fence and the stream. As far as I know, he has done this for as long as the flats have been there, and certainly for the last 18 years.
The JMPD has a special "Bylaw Management Unit" (BMU) to enforce the municipal bylaws. They did no such thing, despite the public sign saying "Transgressors will be prosecuted". The vagrants figured that out long before the ratepayers did. The BMU "managed" the bylaws by turning a blind eye and using every trick in the book to not respond to complaints of bylaw violations in the park:
  • Not being able to "find the park" at the address given;
  • Not being able or willing to provide a reference number when you phoned them;
  • Arriving hours or even days later;
  • Simply not showing up;
  • Not taking the names or photographs of the vagrants who violate the bylaws.
Of course, prosecuting anyone for violating the bylaws is simply out of the question. When I challenged the head of the BMU on this issue, he stated quite categorically that it was his prerogative as to how or whether the bylaws would be enforced, if at all. ANC Cadre deployment at its finest.
A few years ago things started to change. In 2016 the DA took over management of the Joburg City Council for a while. And I managed to find the contact numbers to the new Acting Head of the JMPD BMU. So now I could send WhatsApp messages and photos. I was also able to send messages directly to Sergeant Borias of the JMPD, starting in June 2018. That helped a great deal.
His team eventually persuaded the rubbish pickers and vagrants that it wasn't OK to live in the park or bring their rubbish there. Mostly.
The previous owners of Carvers (or maybe the ones before that) used to mow the park lawn if it got really bad. They also used to send someone to empty the rubbish bins in the park from time to time because the City of Joburg certainly didn't.
When the suburb organised a park clean up, they were happy to supply some trolley bins and volunteers to help with the clean up. So generally, their attitude to the suburb was helpful and friendly. As a result, many people in the suburb came to the restaurant and pub.
At some point we started noticing fewer cars in the parking lot, and the restaurant started closing at 7pm instead of 10pm because there just weren't enough patrons. We have our own theories as to why this happened, but we simply don't know for sure. Their best pub waiter, Patrick, left after many years of working there, and eventually Carvers was sold, either at the end of 2019 or early 2020. TripAdvisor had them rated as #148 out of #156 of restaurants in Randburg. It deserves to be better than that.

Taking Back the Park

Some suburb residents decided to intervene in the park, and an APRA member sent Morgan to mow the lawn every few weeks. It made a huge difference because City Parks hadn't shown up to mow the lawn since the start of the lockdown in March 2020.
Morgan was the most energetic and tireless gardener I have ever known. He just seemed unstoppable.

Some Renovations

There was cautious optimism in 2020 when we noticed renovations under way at Carvers. A new sign was put up outside, and other improvements were observed. The entire suburb was relieved to see our favourite local restaurant showing signs of life once more, even though there were piles of builders rubble left lying in the park's parking lot. Then the Coronavirus lockdown happened, and the rubbish stayed there. For nearly 4 months.
This was early in the lockdown. The rubbish pile became a favourite spot for the vagrants to congregate and sleep. I guess the new owners are unaware of the vagrant problem in our suburb.
We tried to remove some litter, such as glass bottles, cardboard boxes, plastic, and empty cement bags, but the bigger stuff such as broken toilets, pieces of concrete, mattresses, and piles of broken bricks, we just couldn't manage.
Eventually, after over 3 months, a truck arrived to remove the bulk of the stuff, as the lockdown restrictions were eased. We were still too optimistic and naive to realise they really didn't care about the park or their neighbours in the suburb.

Park Cleanup

A few days into the lockdown my wife decided to start cleaning up the park. We needed the exercise as all the gyms were closed, along with most shops, restaurants and pretty much everything else. So, every day we went to the park and spent half an hour to an hour emptying the rubbish bins, and picking up litter. Some of it had been there for years. The vagrants had cleverly stashed stuff in trees, under bushes, along the river bank, and so on. We removed about 8 trolley bins of bottles, cans, electronics, metal junk, ceramics, plastic, syringes, utensils, cooking pots, and so on.
Morgan helped us remove all the stinkblaar bushes (an invasive species) along the banks of the stream. He also cut up and removed a tree branch that had fallen across the stream. That took several days of hard work. After 5 months, the park was looking a lot better, and people had started to visit it again.
We put up signs at each rubbish bin that all rubbish placed in the bins would be removed. Sounds obvious, but the vagrants had been using the bins to stash stuff that they would come back and collect later. One enterprising vagrant also used the bins as drop-off and collection points for the drugs he was selling. We put a stop to this practice by keeping the bins clean.
Even now, over a year later, we go to the park almost every day to empty the bins and pick up the litter that people leave lying around on the pavement or in the park, including cigarette butts, matchboxes, sweet wrappers, Stilpane, beer bottles, etc. It's amazing how many litterbugs there are who visit our suburb and leave bottles, food wrappings and plastic on the pavement and grass.

The Parking Lot

We started becoming annoyed with the builders and other workmen who worked on the Carvers renovations because of the amount of mess they made in the parking lot. Not just building rubble, but ordinary rubbish too. Carvers has its own internal parking lot. It has space for roughly 15 vehicles, and is a tarred surface. It is surrounded by a low wall and an a metal fence above the wall. If they wanted to conceal their builders' rubble from the eyes of the public, their own parking lot would be perfect.
But outside their property, between their buildings and the park, is another much bigger parking lot, visible to everyone driving or walking past. It has a shady willow tree in the middle. Papamani security vehicles often park near or under the tree. That is where Carvers decided to dump all their builders' rubble, even after the restaurant reopened and their patrons parked in this parking area as "overflow" parking.
There is also a water leak, either under the parking lot, or from water flowing into the park from Carvers' drains or run-off. The northern end of the parking lot is basically a swamp. On the night of 22 July 2020 one of the Papamani security vehicles got stuck in the mud, and it took them several attempts to get it out. Much revving of the engine didn't help, and eventually it was towed out. I sent this picture to Arnold (one of the owners) so he could report it to Joburg Water and get it fixed.
On 26 March 2021 I took this photo of the track marks where another vehicle (presumably a patron) got stuck in the swamp. So either Joburg Water hasn't arrived yet, or they were never called.

The Grand Reopening Rebuff

By October 2020 it was clear that the restaurant was nearly ready to open. I made enquiries from Arnold when their opening day was, so I could let the suburb know. He didn't reply. Weird for someone in the hospitality industry. A day or two later they had a big function with lots of people. It was either the Grand Reopening or a trial run, we will never know. No one from the suburb was invited. Despite the obvious snub, we decided to go the following evening to see what it was like.
The waiters were friendly and professional, and they explained they were running on a minimal menu for now. The sushi bar and the carvery were still being set up, but the pizza oven was working. We sat outside in the garden and enjoyed a very good Quattro Stagioni pizza to share and a glass of wine each. The prices were reasonable and we enthusiastically shared our photos on the suburb's APRA Community WhatsApp Group.

The Bright Lights

You may notice all the bright lights around the trees in our photo of the garden area. There was also a spotlight shining out over the Darrenwood Dam, and another shining into the park. One of the neighbours complained they were too bright, and were scaring away the owls and other birdlife. The dam is a nature reserve and heritage site. The one shining in the park is great for security, but it is positioned so badly that it also shines into the windows of 15 out of 21 flats that are over 100m away, plus the gardens of several neighbours.
The Aldara Park Residents Association (APRA) made contact with Arnold, who promised that something would be done to fix the lights. As with all of Arnold's other promises to APRA, nothing has changed. So much for hospitality.
This is the view from my bedroom window. If it wasn't for special curtain lining, my bedroom would be lit up at night. Other flat residents have also complained.

The Noisy Neighbours

I fully understand that restaurants have functions that involve live music, public address systems, and so on. In November and December they had a "band" playing in the pub every Friday for 4 weeks in a row (13 Nov to 4 Dec 2020). See the yellow circle on the very first picture: it's a 100m diameter according to Google Earth. At 100m away from the source of the noise, with all the doors and windows closed, I could hear every word that the band "sung". All their songs were cover songs, and they started in the late afternoon and carried on until after 10pm at night. They managed to play the songs so badly that they were barely recognisable.
They also decided that it was okay to sing rude songs in the early evening when children were still around. They had a disgusting pub version of Smokey's "Living Next Door To Alice" which included the line "Who the f*** is Alice?" and mentioned wanting to "get into her pants". I never liked the original song, because the guy in the song was a bit of a loser, but this new version was just pathetic. They included it in their repertoire each week.
I decided to call the band T.K.O.: Tourette's (because of the bad language) Karaoke (because of the bad singing) Overdose (because they didn't stop at a reasonable time). After the APRA committee met with Carvers management, they agreed to lower the volume and cut the bad language. But the terrible singing still remains, and the volume is only marginally softer, probably because the pub windows are closed because of the cooler weather. They need to get a band that can actually sing.

The Helicopters

Darrenwood Dam viewed from Carvers Aug 2018
Just after we had recovered from the noisy pub music, a small group of patrons arrived by helicopter and landed in Stonemill Office Park. The small party then walked from the office park to Carvers through the gate in the fence. They did not have permission to land in the office park, but apparently got permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to fly there. I guess the CAA wasn't aware of how closely they landed to people sitting out in the open, or that they landed within 100 feet of a park or people in the open. CAA rules are they should be no closer than 2000 feet from any obstacle.
This picture was taken from the park, looking through the park fence to the nature reserve and office park. I didn't get close enough to read the registration of the helicopter. Why the CAA would permit joy rides over a residential area is not clear to me or anyone else in the suburb.
But never fear, they repeated the same stunt in January. ZS-HXV is a Bell Textron 206B helicopter, and is apparently owned by Professional Liquid Waterproofing (Pty) Ltd, of 57 Kalkheuwel St, Broederstroom, Brits, Gauteng. This is according to public records. I have been able to confirm with the manager of Stonemill Office Park that the landings were done without the knowledge or permission of the office park. They do not have permission to return. Hopefully, they will keep their dangerous and noisy aircraft away. We have enough problems with noisy helicopters flying overhead at 1000 feet tracking stolen vehicles.

Rowdy Patrons

If noisy helicopters and loud music wasn't enough, some patrons decided to have a VERY LOUD fight at 10pm on Friday 26th February. Lots of yelling and drunken noise. There was also another disturbance the night before. This particular incident managed to upset several neighbours closest to the restaurant. It is notable that while the old restaurant had signs inside their parking lot asking patrons to be considerate of the neighbours, these were removed during the revamp, reflecting the new attitude of the owners to their neighbours. They are tone deaf, if not completely deaf.
On the Saturday morning one of the neighbours and his wife went to speak to the manager at Carvers. The wife spoke first, and by some accounts the manager swore at her. This did not sit well with her husband, who drove all the way to the JMPD Head Office and spoke to both the director and superintendent. He was not the only one who had enough. Another neighbour has three children aged 15, 9 and 4. They don't go out on Friday and Saturday nights because of the rowdy behaviour from the pub.

Whose Parking Lot Is It Anyway?

Another "stunt" we noticed from Carvers was the way they treat the outside parking lot as their own back garden. It isn't. It's part of the park. So when I noticed their empty rubbish bins lying around in the park I sent a WhatsApp message to their public number 082 572 2611 with the photo asking them if they noticed anything wrong.
The answer was as illuminating as it was off-track. The manager thought I was referring to the spelling of Tulbach as in "Tulbach Pub".
"That's our name. Not the town Tulbagh"
Seriously? I'm beginning to wonder whether he has ever actually noticed the park at all. When I pointed out the rubbish bins in the photo I got no further reply. It's weird: City Parks can't spell Aleit (The one sign says Alet and the other Alett) and now the pub can't spell Tulbagh. Not even on their website.
For reasons known only to the City Power "loadshedding" timetable, Aldara Park is known as ANDARA park. The word "Aldara" is made from the combination of Aleit, Danie and Rachel, which are street names in the suburb, named after the people who created the suburb.

Part 2 to follow

I have left out the story of the jumping castle, the WhatsApp groups, and many other anecdotes. In a future episode I will tell of Werner's threats of a lawyer's letter (it must be still in the mail), some visits by JMPD and Linden SAPS, some special wine bottles, and of course more rubbish dumped in the parking lot. And they have a special menu in latin with prices in US$.