Carpe Diem are two simple words that express so much and encourage us to ‘Seize the Day’, as written by the ancient Roman poet Horace, because as he rightly says, “the future is unforeseen”.
The horse-drawn taxi drivers of Cape Town had seized the moment, back in 1905, to head down to the docks for the arrival of the mail ship and its passengers. This was most fortuitous, because at the very same time Heerengracht (now Adderley Street) – where they normally plied their trade – quite simply blew up!
Heerengracht, when translated from Dutch means Lords’ Canals, is where Cape Town’s prosperous lived and the canals removed their waste. By 1850, they had been covered over and even the name of the road had been changed to honour British parliamentarian, Charles Adderley. Out of sight was out of mind and the grachts continued to carry storm water under the road. The exits and ventilation holes were sealed, but the furrows were never filled. Some years later, gaslight was introduced along Adderley Street, and slowly but surely, over many years, gas seeped into a great subterranean chamber carved out by the underground water.
At 10.33 am on Tuesday 13 June 1905, a worker was installing tram lines along this busy street and heating up metal until it was white-hot. A stray spark ignited gas leaking from the underground chamber and Adderley Street exploded with the most enormous bang! The ground was ripped open and blue flames burst out of the hissing cracks and fissures. People and horse-drawn carriages disappeared down the holes or were thrown like rag dolls across the street. If only those people who found themselves in Adderley Street that morning had lingered a little longer on their journey, or taken a different route, things would have been very different for them.
Ode 1.11 Horace 23-13BC (translated from Latin by Thomas Hawkins) ~ “Don’t ask (it’s forbidden to know) what final fate the gods have given to me and you, Leuconoe, and don’t consult Babylonian horoscopes. How much better it is to accept whatever shall be, whether Jupiter has given many more winters or whether this is the last one, which now breaks the force of the Tuscan sea against the facing cliffs. Be wise, strain the wine, and trim distant hope within short limits. While we’re talking, grudging time will already have fled: seize the day, trusting as little as possible in tomorrow.”