Did you hear the big bang? Did you duck, jump or run like I used to do? Well, instead of wetting your pants on the way to lunch, use some local knowledge to look cool and fit right in.

For over 200 years, Cape Town’s “Noon Gun” have been used to mark the time in the city. Originally used by the British during the invasion of 1795, the Lion Battery now fire one of the two loaded cannon every day (except Sundays and public holidays) at exactly midday.

Back in 1806, the two 18-pounder, smoothbore, muzzle-loading cannon were used as a time signal. Tradition says it was to allow ships in port to check the accuracy of their longitude equipment aboard.
For most of the last two hundred years the daily explosion has been dead accurate. Only once in that time has it not gone off – in 2005 when both the main gun and back up failed to fire. And in June 1895 a spider caused a premature bang at 10:30.

Of course firing cannon on a daily basis does not come without risk, as the story of the forgotten rammer reminds us. Back in Cape Town’s early days, when the streets were busy with horse-drawn carriages, there was an accident. The rammer used to pack the gun with its usual 1.5kg of gunpowder was accidentally left in the canon. When the gun fired at midday, the rammer flew down into the city and killed a horse.

There haven’t been any reported deaths since then and Signal Hill is a beautiful spot looking over the city and sea.  So why not capitalize on the free entry and go check out the Noon Gun? And the next time you hear that lunch time explosion, just do what the locals do – glance at your watch and smile, knowing the oldest guns in daily use are still performing accurately.

Contributor: Mark Barr