Tag Archives: new year

The Fable of a Perfect Life

IMG_0419There once was created a Perfect Life. It was shiny, new and the envy of all the other Lives.

“Look at that!” Jealousy was angry. “That’s not fair. Why must I be dull and uninteresting? This is discrimination at its worst.”

“Oh, shut your trap!” Anger flashed a furious look at Jealousy. “All you do all day long, is to complain when you’re not the center of attention. Complain, complain, complain! I hate it!”

“I can’t take it any more.” This time Depression joined the group. Rarely seen in public, Depression usually hides in the shadows – but today is different. Perfect Life has brought on the worst in it. “Look at that: a Perfect life! I’ve always wanted to be like that, now it only serves to remind me how horrible I am.”

Perfect Life – being perfect – tried to calm things down. “You all could be like me, you know? It’s simple, really. All you have to do is to let go of your pasts. Of course, you need Hope. What have you done with Hope?”

“Oh that one? Huh! Let me tell you.”  Faith stood a little way off, blinking away tears. “Hope was my best friend. But then these Lives stopped believing and they lost me. In fact, they chased me away, saying I’m not welcome anymore. I left…and Hope followed me. Somewhere along the way, Hope got lost. It must still be out there, somewhere.” Faith swept a hand out to the desert, where the endless dunes stretched to the horizon.

“But why, Faith? Why would they chase you away?” Perfect Life – although perfect – could not understand such madness.

“It started when Love died. It was so sad. You see, Anger and Jealousy got everybody together and told them about Love. They said Love was the reason why there is so much Pain.” This time, Faith pointed at the pitiful figure of Pain, curled up in the sand. It was writhing in agony. “In fact, what you see here, is just one, single Pain. There are many more of them living amongst the Lives. Some are, indeed, the result of Love, but there are many other causes. Love just got blamed for most of them.”

“And so…?” Perfect Life still didn’t understand.

“The three of us left. Love, Hope and me.Hope got lost. Love died. And, without my two friends, I am left to struggle along alone.”

“But I believe in you. And Love. And Hope… Can’t we team up against the rest, and make the world a better place?”

“Oh, Perfect Life, you are such an idealist! I’d love it if we tried…but it won’t work. Anger and Jealousy are formidable enemies by themselves, but look who are supporting them.”

And Perfect Life looked, and saw Gossip and Greed and Hate and Ego and Deceit standing behind Anger and Jealousy. And Perfect Life knew – without having to ask – the Truth had been the first to leave, because the Lives could not stand being honest with themselves any longer.

Perfect Life – being perfect – realised it would never survive amongst the Lives,  It took Faith by the hand and walked away, choosing to believe there was a better Life in the desert than amongst the Lives.

Since then, the only way to find Perfect Life, is to follow Faith.

And we know, don’t we? If we choose to live amongst the unhappy Lives, we’ll never find Perfect Life. That’s why the start of a new year is so daunting: we’ve lost too many important bits of our Lives. Now we accept Mediocrity as the only Perfect Life available to us.

If only we had Faith. Or Hope. Or Love… But those are reserved for Perfect Lives, aren’t they? For those more fortunate than us? So settle back, stop trying, and wait for the Other Lives to complete their work.

Or not.

It’s your choice on the first day of January. No, it’s not a resolution. It’s not a threat, either. Just as you cannot will yourself to stop breathing, this is something you simply have to do. You’re at a crossroad and you have to decide which way you’re going in 2014.

Your Life depends on it…

For 2014: Let us be Fenesteria

668Sometimes – rarely – in the hours between darkness and light, a bank of mist forms to roll across the desert, and to hide the sad ravages of the drought. The drought is always there; the mist, rarely. It’s the way of the Kalahari. It’s the way of life over here. But the mist helps when it’s there – it hides the pain.

***

As the clock works its way – laboriously, slowly, like time does – towards the new year, Boggel tries to keep the spirits up in Boggel’s Place by pouring doubles. Triples. Sometimes more. For there is a sadness about the passing of a year. And an uncertainty about the arrival of a new phase – even if it has a higher number. Bigger numbers do not necessarily imply improvement. The longer ladder falls over with greater ease, after all.

“I’m not quite sure what to expect of the new year.” Servaas echoes the sentiment in the bar. “Maybe our president will have to go. Petrol prices are rising. The Rand is slipping. We have problems in the world out there: Syria, Congo, Zimbabwe.  Oscar Pistorius and a host of politicians will appear in court. Life as we know it, my friends, is changing…for the worse.”

“Ja,” Boggel agrees, “and good old-time values are disappearing fast. What, I ask you, has happened to Love? Or compassion. Or kindness? Now it’s a free-for-all, with everybody chasing egos that should never be as big as they are, anyway.”

“Come on, you guys. It’s a new year. New Hope. A new beginning. Surely we should celebrate that?”

“Yes, Vetfaan, we could do that. Or we can stop telling ourselves how good life is. We could – if we tried – acknowledge the fact that we’re not living the dream we dreamt of.” Servaas stares morosely at his empty glass. “…It isn’t even half empty…”

“I don’t agree, Servaas.” Vetfaan swirls down the last of his beer. “Life is what you make of it. If you face the realities, dreams become possibilities.”

Even Gertruida is amazed.

***

That’s why the early morning mist is so important – especially on the 1st of January, like today. It covers the hurt of the past. It obscures the withered dreams of a year that might be best forgotten. And it feeds the few succulents that survive on the moisture in the air.

The vensterplantjie (window plant) (Fenestraria species) that allows sunlight in through its little window, and conserves its water jealously with a little wax layer, is an excellent example. And it sucks in the miniscule amounts of water the mist brings. That’s why it can grow where nothing else survives.

Gertruida compares the little plant with the human endeavour to seek love and acceptance. And we do that all the time, don’t we? We need so little, yet seek so much more. That’s why we all crave a bit of early-morning Kalahari mist.

Just to hide the incredible likeness of being.

Boggel’s Choice

Credit: kindredhq.com

Credit: kindredhq.com

“Life,” Gertruida says because she knows everything, “is a choice. Nothing more, nothing less.” She sits back with a superior smile, having imparted one of her great truths.

Of course, a statement like this can lead to a protracted discussion on whether everything that happens are due to individual decisions – or it may be the final say in the matter. On this new years eve, her statement is met with a stony silence.

Vetfaan isn’t in the mood for philosophy. He wants to see out the old year with a bang. Literally.

“Ja, Gertruida. Okay. So you’re clever. But let’s talk about how we’re going to announce the new year. We can’t just sit here and drink. And…we still have that stick of dynamite.”

Everybody knows about the dynamite Kleinpiet used to blast holes for the toilets on his farm. That was a long time ago, but Vetfaan probably saved a lot of lives when he insisted that the remaining stick of dynamite be handed to him for safekeeping. Kleinpiet had, after all, proven beyond doubt that he was not the world’s most experienced explosive expert.

“You. Are. Out. Of. Your. Mind.” Gertruida cannot believe what she’s just heard. “Old dynamite leaks nitroglycerine, and that is so unstable, it may explode at any time. No, Vetfaan, you should tell Sersant Dreyer to arrange for some experts to dispose of it.”

“It won’t explode without a detonator, Gertruida. I was thinking of just attaching a fuse…”

“Stop it! Don’t even talk about it any more. I won’t be part of such madness!”

***

Boggel doesn’t participate in the discussion. He’s on his cushion below the counter where Vrede snuggled up next to him. The two of them share a piece of biltong while the rest of Rolbos talk about decisions, explosions and other unimportant things.

It’s been a hard year for Boggel. The episode with Lucinda drained him; and the hope that he and Mary Mitchell would hook up once again evaporated into the thin air of reality. Oh, the townsfolk looked after him well and supported him through the troubled times, but on this, the last day of 2013, Boggel feels alone, isolated and even…abandoned. He simply cannot work up the enthusiasm to join the revelry in Boggel’s Place.

“You know, Vrede, Life may be about choices and Gertruida may be right – as usual. But what about the choices other people make? Lucinda chose Giovanni – and that left me stranded. It wasn’t my choice, was it?” Vrede watches as Boggel slices off another piece of biltong. “It’s like this bit of meat, Vrede. I can choose to give it to you, or not. You don’t get to make that decision, but my choice has a direct influence of your happiness.”

Vrede lets out a soft groan, wagging his tail slowly. His eyes are pleading. When Boggel feeds him the titbit, the tail picks up speed.

***

“You’re just like that piece of dynamite, Vetfaan.” Gertruida still can’t believe Vetfaan is so stupid. “The older you get, the more unstable you are. Anyway, have you discussed this with Fanny? What did she say?”

“No.” Vetfaan blushes slightly. “I know what she would have said…”

“Exactly! Now, as soon as she returns from the farm, the three of us will have a nice little talk about disposing that stick. You can’t have it stashed away on the farm. The twins will start walking all over the show one of these good days, and who knows what’ll happen if they find the dynamite? Come on, Vetfaan, don’t be so irresponsible!”

“Okay, the two of you!” Servaas is in a rare good mood and doesn’t want to listen to an argument all evening. “Call it quits. Vetfaan was joking…or at least I hope he was. And you’re right – as usual – Gertruida. End of discussion. Anyway, where’s Boggel? I need a refill.”

***

But Boggel isn’t serving anybody tonight. The talk about unstable dynamite made him think how dangerous some choices are – for the individual as well as for those around him – or her. It is true, he realises, that all choices have consequences. Some are predictable, some are not; but the very essence of a choice is that one has to prefer one option over other possibilities. Something seems more attractive than the rest, that’s why it gets preference.

That, he thinks, is where the danger of explosion lurks. How many choices does one make in a year’s time. Hundreds? Thousands? More…? And each one has a ripple effect on those around you. Then again: nobody can claim a 100% positive record when it comes to choices. No matter how hard you try or how good the intentions are – there will be bad decisions and the inevitable fall-out of remorse. The road to hell is paved with bad decisions taken in good faith…

***

“Hey, Boggel! Come on, man! We’re running dry up here!” Vetfaan thumps a fist on the counter. “I have to buy Gertruida a drink, otherwise she’ll never stop telling me how stupid I am.”

Boggel finally relents and serves another round.

“You’re worse than Servaas tonight, Boggel. What’s bugging you?”

“Choices, Vetfaan, choices. Look at you now: you chose to have an idea. Gertruida chose to  shoot it down. You chose to listen to her.” Boggel gets on his crate and leans his elbows on the counter. “It is an endless circle – one choice follows another in a never-ending chain of events. Every action, every thought, every word spoken or written down – they’re all choices. Some contain the danger of unstable dynamite without us even realising it. Some are of immense benefit to all. That’s what’s bugging me.”

“You’re right, Boggel. But reality is that we cannot escape the fact that we have to make choices. We cannot survive without them. In short: we live because we make choices. We choose who we love. We choose a way of life. We also choose to allow certain opinions to influence us – and then we choose how we react to that.”

Boggel is quiet for a long time, choosing to digest this before he speaks.

“Wouldn’t it be great,” he eventually says, “if people realised how important it is to choose with kindness? I mean – if everything we do and think and say is governed by the choice of kindness?”

“Ag, Boggel, wake up. We live in a small town where we are sensitive to the needs of others. You think that happens everywhere? It doesn’t. Look at politicians, governments, the media – where’s the kindness? Where’s the good news? Society has killed kindness in the choice to pursue money and power and scandal.”

“That may be true, Vetfaan. But I’ll tell you what I’m going to do in 2014. My choice is to stop taking all those negatives so seriously. In fact, I’ll stop taking myself so seriously. I’m choosing to close the door on those things that doesn’t contribute to my well-being. I choose to love those that accept me for what I am. And for the rest…I’ll be kind enough to cut them loose to find somebody else to influence.”

***

You might find the talk in Boggel’s Place somber for a day like this. In bigger places like Pofadder and Prieska you’ll find people doing silly things, drinking and telling bawdy jokes while the clock ticks its way to the new year. And maybe that is one way of looking back at 2013 and being thankful to have survived another year. Some people choose to say goodbye to the old year like that.

But in Rolbos, the talk in the bar is about 2014. No, they’re not making new resolutions everybody knows won’t happen – they’re talking about how to go about their choices in the new year.

Boggel’s choice focuses on Kindness.  He says that is the solution to everything: embrace those you love. Or you walk away from those who aren’t worth it in that fashion – you won’t feel alone, either.

Maybe that’s the only sensible choice we have…

How much pain has cracked your soul?
How much love would make you whole?’

Expect No Surprises in Retrospect

images (58)“2013 was a terrible year,” Servaas says as he sips his peach brandy. “We had the Valentine’s Day Murder, Nkandla, Madiba’s funeral…” Dressed in black, the old man’s expression says it all. “I don’t suppose there’ll be any good news in 2014 either.”

For once, Gertruida doesn’t scold him for being so negative. Instead, she smiles and rubs his bony shoulders.

“I know, Servaas. It was one bad headline followed by another. They had shootings in America, explosions in Kenya and now England is being flooded. It’s a world-wide thing.”

He seems slightly surprised at her support as he gives her a wintry smile.

“I think the end of the world is near. We’ve just about trashed the place, anyway.”

“The only end that’s near, is the last day of 2013.” Boggel serves another round. “Look, you guys, at the end of every given year, you can look back in despair. It’s natural. People die. Love fizzles out. Promises were broken. Life is, in those immortal words, the drink in your shot glass. You never quite know what to expect.” Smiling mischievously, he adds a dash of mampoer to each glass. “But then again, you can either go and have a sip of tap water…or accept and enjoy the mix you got served with.”

“A  goody-two-shoes optimist! I hereby declare my life complete.” Servaas rolls his eyes, snorting loudly.

“No, Boggel is right. Look at us: we’ve had such a lot of fun with our president this year. He’s given us much joy. Especially when his sign-language interpreter told the world: Watch my lips. I never, ever, used taxpayer’s money to build my swimming pool. He was much more convincing than Clinton, don’t you think?” Vetfaan reaches down to make sure his fly is closed properly.

“Ja, and he almost convinced me he had nothing to do with the Gupta debacle, either. He’s really good, that man. I’m sure he’ll be even better in the new year.” Holding out his glass for a refill, Kleinpiet burps softly. “I mean, what’s the use of having a president if you can’t believe him? So, with a little practice, I’m sure he’ll get to the point where we won’t question him any more.”

“I’ve got some bad news for you, Kleinpiet. They’re going to replace the poor man – and then we’ll have to endure the promises of a better future all over again. It’ll take months – maybe years – for the new president to become such a smooth hand with words. Political gymnastics isn’t an art you get born with, remember? It takes time…

“At least we’ve got an election coming up in 2014. Auntie Zille and Missus Ramphele are going to ruffle a few feathers, if you asked me. It’ll be an interesting year.”

“Forget it, Vetfaan. Maybe as much as 50% of our adult population rely on social grants. In 1998, only 2,5 million citizens received such grants. In 2012 the official figure grew to 16 million. I can imagine the figure is even higher now. And remember: we only have 13 million individual taxpayers. Now, no matter how unhappy the productive part of our population is, they can never hope to outvote the ANC. The math is simple: we won’t see much of a change in 2014.”

“You’re right, Gertruida.” Servaas finishes his drink. “Add to that the increasing tendency to strike for unrealistic wages, the inability to spend government’s budgets wisely and the rampant corruption, and you end up with a state in a downhill tumble.”

“I’m just popping out to get my black suit,” Vetfaan says.”If you can’t fight them, join them…:

“I’ve only got a little black number,” Precilla blushes as she sits down. “And Kleinpiet says I can only wear in in the house…with high heels, of course.”

“Yep. It’s the black number that’ll do it, every time. It’s very powerful.”

Gertruida will tell you – because she knows everything – that 2014 will see many changes in many aspects of many lives;but at the end of it, we’ll look back in the same despair. Some people will die. Some loves will fizzle out. Even more promises will be broken. And, true to the deceiving nature of human beings, we’ll then try to convince ourselves that 2015 will be better.

Just like this year.

Yeah, right.

It’s so good – The song all politicians sing before an election…

C’est si bon
Lovers say that in France
When they thrill to romance
It means that it’s so good
C’est si bon
So I say to you
Like the French people do
Because it’s oh so good
Every word, every sigh, every kiss, dear,
Leads to only one thought
And the thought is this, dear!
C’est si bon
Nothing else can replace
Just your slyest embrace
And if you only would be my own for the rest my days
I will whisper this phrase
My darling, my darling…
C’est si bon!

2013 – Love it!

Dawn, Okavango

Dawn, Okavango

2013.

It sounds strange, doesn’t it? In a week or two we’ll al be used to writing the correct date on cheques and invoices. Then, suddenly, the dates of 2012 seem so distant and far away. The old year is dead. Long live the New Year…

So what’s up for Rolbos in 2013?

They’ll all stay the way they are. Oudoom will sweat over his sermons and Mevrou will keep him on the straight and narrow. Precilla and Kleinpiet will examine the intricacies of being married. Vetfaan will amble on in his lonely way and Gertruida will read one National Geographic after the other. Sammie may expand his shop to accommodate his growing clientele and Boggel must get a few more chairs.

The compiling of the Rolbos Omnibus is progressing, and Servaas will appear in a book that’ll ruffle a few conservative feathers (if everything works out according to plan). This may mean that Rolbos won’t be updated daily any more, but hopefully the books (hold thumbs) will compensate for that. There are a number of stories in the pipeline with Vrouekeur, Leisure Wheels, Merise, as well as a book Eve Hemming is producing. Griffel Media has two manuscripts they promised to publish – but there is no indication when this will happen. Another manuscript is finished, but I’ll need to find a publisher for it.

So in 2013 a lot of things will remain the same, and a lot will change. That’s what makes a new year such a wonderful event. By tearing out the last page of 2012, the calendar tells you it’s 2013 now. And like every year, every month, every day – every dawn heralds a day filled with promise. Life presents a constant challenge and it doesn’t really matter what date was printed on top of the page. What matters is whether we embrace every opportunity that comes by. It matters that we care. It matters that we treat each other kindly and with love. And every dawn must remain a reminder that we need faith to make it through the day.

May 2013 be a blessing to each of you, and may Love be a constant companion.

Look for the Real World in 2013

Oudoom looks on with an unusual degree of grave concern at the activity around the lorry from Kalahari Vervoer in front of Boggel’s Place. They’ve already downloaded fourteen cases of beer and are still carrying cases of brandy, Coke and even vodka into the storeroom at the back. It is obvious that Boggel expected a considerable crowd for New Year’s and that means Rolbos will have one huge party to see the New Year in.

The problem is that Oudoom has post-Christmas blues. Not only did the Nativity play end up with him, the Shepherd of the Flock, waking up in a barn (and the cow at the church), but he also completely forgot to take up an offering during the Christmas service.

Sure, the mere fact that he actually conducted a service may be viewed as a modern-day miracle in itself, but the Christmas offering is important. Every year the money collected on Christmas day gets donated to the little orphanage in Grootdrink – a NGO-run home for homeless AIDS children. Without the support of such donations, the facility cannot survive. And he, Oudoom, the Heavenly Ambassador of Grace and Goodwill, neglected to announce the offering on Christmas day. The people of Rolbos must have giggled in their proverbial sleeves as they walked out – they now had extra money in their pockets.

Worse: it doesn’t take particular prophetic ability to predict how they are going to spend New Year’s Eve; the offloading of the lorry makes guessing unnecessary. And this, while he was hoping to announce the first midnight service in the history of Rolbos! Taking up an offering then seemed the way to salvage the loss of income on Christmas day…

Boggel on the other hand, is ecstatic. He has promised Rolbos, Grootdrink and the district a bash they’ll never forget. The Desert Rats are going to provide music like only they can; which will result in lots of very energetic dancing – which will ensure a thirsty crowd.

Now, you have to know The Desert Rats to understand about the music. Actually, they are the Vermaaks, a small family-colony that ‘farms’ way out in the Kalahari. Farming is their word for stoking a vile and potent brand of peach brandy from the little orchard their grand-grandfather established around one of those mysterious waterholes one finds in the desert. This activity is, for most of the year, not very labour intensive and allows for many hours waiting for the peach trees to blossom and grow the fruit that made the family famous. Gertruida says the story that these peaches are responsible for the many babies born in the colony, is nonsense. It is a simple fact (according to her) that the family has nothing else to do for extended periods of time. She says that, when they’re not making babies (women get fed up too, you know?) the men play their various musical instruments. Pa Vermaak has mastered the saw, which he strokes with a bow fashioned from an old copper pipe. This creates an eerie, hollow sound reminiscent of the howling of an injured jackal. The brothers add a drum (old paint tin), a trumpet made from a disused spout from the still, a flute fashioned from a broken smoking pipe and a mouth organ played by the clever son that made it through primary school. Given enough of their brew, they get into a surprisingly hypnotic rhythm that encourages what they call ‘circle-dancing’. Men and women will fall into a line, form a circle, and stamp their feet in tempo with the screeching, drumming, whistling and clapping. Gertruida says that the family got the idea from Bushman trance-dancing – and in all probability, she is right (as usual).

The Desert Rats rarely perform to the public. To get them to play at Boggel’s Place is as exceptional as a South African politician admitting to corruption.

The 31st of December in Rolbos started with a bang. A real one. The Vermaak tractor with its trailer full of family laboured into town, approached Boggel’s – and promptly blew a gasket. Black smoke and steam spewed from the sawn-off exhaust (Frikkie Vermaak made a type of didgeridoo with it) and the long-suffering John Deere died next to the rusted sign proclaiming the existence of Voortrekker Weg. Platnees immediately realised that this meant an extended stay of the Vermaaks, went home and made sure all the doors were locked. Oudoom retired to his study to read up on what St John said about the End of Days.

But now it is mid-afternoon and Boggel’s guests arrive from far and wide. Dusty men and women get out of over-heated bakkies to file into Boggel’s Place. On the wide veranda Boggel employed the Platnees family to serve the almost-dehydrated newcomers with a Vermaak Special – made from the last, overripe fruits of that memorable good year of 2005. Something strange happened that season: it actually rained. The peach brandy from that season has a strangely pleasant, sweet taste, lingering just long enough on the taste buds to want to taste it again. Like the Vermaak music, it has a subliminal way of worming its way into your mind until you actually convince yourself that you really, really like it.

The evening’s entertainment started of with a Rolf Harris Tie me Kangaroo down, sport sound-alike. (Read: sound-alike to Vermaak ears.) Frikkie did the didgeridoo part of course, while Papa Vermaak wobbled a piece of sheet metal to make the whoopity-whoop sounds. While the tune was almost recognisable, the family substituted ‘kangaroo’ for ‘springbokkie’; much to the delight of Kleinpiet, who never could never understand the song before. He had always assumed kangaroo was another word for mother-in-law. What he thought about platypus duck, Bill, is not known.

Warming up to the atmosphere in Boggel’s Place, the Vermaaks start with their favourite medley of old Afrikaner songs, stitching Sarie Marais, Een aand op die trein na Pretoria, and Beautiful in Beaufort West together with peeps, hoots, the false harmonica and plenty of drumming. Frikkie gives random accompaniment with the John Deere exhaust, sometimes confusing the rhythm to such an extent that Mamma Vermaak’s screeching singing has to start the verse over again. The crowd (at this early stage) shows that they are seasoned lovers of all things musical and applauds with gusto.

By this time Oudoom has given up on the thought of a midnight service and, as the keeper of the town’s morals, decides to join in the festivities. During his many years’ worth of Rolbos-experience, he had come to realise that it is useless to piece together scandals after they had happened. The only way to deal with the resulting gossip of such events, is to have first-hand knowledge of what really happened. He therefore saw it as his responsibility – nay, his duty – to put Revelations aside and go and observe what the congregation is up to. When he walks into Boggel’s, the Vermaaks are busy with their own composition of Wat soek jou vinger in my p-o-e-e-e-ding bak. He hardly notices the glass Platnees thrusts in his hand; but because it is so warm and the words were so suggestive, he swallows the contents without thinking. When, five minutes later, he gets his breath back the Desert Rats are busy with Jy is my matras (en ek is so bly…). As he turns to leave this modern-day version of Sodom, Platnees hands him a fresh glass of Special. Still upset and still not thinking straight, he finishes that as well.

Gertruida says Frikkie was bitten by a puff adder once. The Vermaaks have only one cure for colds, flu, malaria and snake-bite: a glass of Pappa’s Special. Frikkie recovered of course; the snake was found dead the next day.

It is no wonder then, that Oudoom then marches up to the Rats and asks them to play something more religious. They comply – and fall in with a slow and pious version of Ver in die Ou Kalahari, daar soen die boere so….

After this, the party really catches on. In Rolbos it is important to have Oudoom’s blessing; and now, with him dancing along, there is no reason to hold back.

Alcohol, it is said, is the ultimate social lubricant. It oils the gears that make society tick (even when they belong to different model engines), it smoothes the uncomfortable edges of misunderstandings and distributes the spark of laughter to people who suffer with frozen sense of humour.

There is, sadly, another side to the effect of partaking fluids with a significant alcoholic content. For no particular reason, it may change the happy face of Doctor Jeckyll into the grumbling and ominous countenance of Mister Hyde. Boggel has often seen this happen over the years, and puts it down to the fact that the ingestion of liquor allows sunken grievances to float to the surface again. Gertruida (who knows everything) says good manners are heavier than alcohol, that’s why it sinks to the bottom. Whatever the reason may be, it happens occasionally – and is often followed by periods of intense remorse. Like life in Rolbos, it isn’t always easy or logical to try to explain why grown men would want to ridicule and belittle their best friends the one moment – and then cry on their shoulders the next.

While Oudoom does his version of the Dutch Reformed Shuffle on the makeshift dance floor (very reserved, no touching, no talking and a whispered blessing at the end), Vetfaan and Kleinpiet are trying to outdo each other in their comments on the reverend’s lack of coordination.

“It is a miracle! How that man reaches the lectern on the pulpit is a mystery. Look at the way his left hand doesn’t know what the right foot is doing.”

“Ja, man, it just shows you. You are now looking at the real Oudoom. Strip the veneer of being a preacher, and you get the lecherous old man dancing with Gertruida over there. Look at the way he watches Precilla’s bum over Gertruida’s shoulder. I tell you – his head is filled with thoughts of that lady in the bath during King David’s voyeur phase.”

The Vermaaks take a break to fill up with some of their product, allowing the dancers an opportunity to do the same. Oudoom wipes the sweat from his brow, walks over to the counter and squeezes in between Vetfaan and Kleinpiet.

“Dominee is really hot tonight, hey? Showing us how to do it and all. Maybe you should take up a collection for your effort?”

And that sparks the tears. All of a sudden Oudoom remembers the midnight service he had planned to make up for his lack of concentration on Christmas. Wave of remorse follows wave of regret as he slumps forward on the counter, more or less in the direction of the glass of Special strategically placed there by Boggel. As if touched by a Higher Wisdom, he suddenly realises how significant his oversight has been while the sad tears of repentance and sorrow drips on the glass rings on the counter. For no particular reason he remembers his efforts to build up his small congregation, the failed bazaars, the off-tune organ and the tower clock that never tells the right time.

“I’m just like the clock,” he announces between the sobs, “always a bit out.”

Vetfaan starts laughing at this, but something in the older man’s voice – and Kleinpiet’s morose look – stops him.

Pappa Vermaak has taken his seat again and his saw starts squawking out For Auld Lang Syne. Frikkie joins with the exhaust while Mamma Vermaak picks up the rhythm by striking the prongs of the garden fork with a hammer. When they reach And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet…everybody storm the bar for a refill. The Vermaaks stop in midstride (midnote?), initially confused by the sudden disappearance of their audience. When they realise what is happening, they start again from the beginning. Gertruida holds up a hand, silences the lot and solemnly delivers a lecture on the poem by Robert Burns, emphasising the fact that Burns ‘stole’ the first verse from James Watson who published it in 1711. “It is traditionally sung on Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year, but it also features in Zimbabwe as a funeral song. The Boy Scouts use it at their Jamborees and Shirley Temple sang it in a film in 1937.” Even the Desert Rats are impressed. “Now, the final verse says: and there’s a hand my trusty friend, and give us a hand o’ thine, and we’ll take a right goodwill draught, for auld lang syne. And you know what? This song is about real friendships, about loyalty and caring and about deep respect.” Everybody nods. “Now, I suggest we were very disrespectful to Oudoom last Sunday. When he forgot to take up the offering, we all sat there grinning. We calculated how much more we could spend on tonight’s Special. I think we are disgusting.”

You can hear a pin drop. Even the Desert Rats – the entire Vermaak family who belongs to no known church – looks guilty. Frikkie gets up, takes off his floppy hat, and starts a slow march through the crowd while wiping the occasional tear away with a dirty cuff. Hands find their ways to pockets as the hat slowly fills up. Then Pappa Vermaak starts making a round with the empty paint tin that served as a drum. You don’t say no to Pappa Vermaak. Not only will that be the end of your evening (and possibly a trip to Upington’s hospital), but far worse: he may just take the rest of the Special and disappear with his family into the Kalahari night.

Rolbos tears, Gertruida says, are different to those of other places: not only is it saltier, but also it causes an almost unquenchable thirst. When the drum and the hat are deposited at Oudoom’s feet, it was pretty Precilla who bends down, empties the contents on the floor, and starts counting the money. It is a lot. A huge amount. Oudoom mutters something about the bread and the fish at the Sermon on the Mount, shaking his head in wonder.

No wonder then, that everybody shows their appreciation for this miracle by toasting each other (repeatedly) with the Vermaak Special.

Sometimes we think of Rolbos as a backward place filled with simple people. It is not an unreasonable opinion, come to think of it. They can be quite stupid, callous, bigoted, opinionated, short-sighted, selfish and even cruel at times. If you attend any one of Oudoom’s sermons, you’ll hear him talk (at length) about it.

But not on this, New Year’s Day, 2013. For once Oudoom has a happy sermon about the Goodness Hidden in Mankind. For once his congregation is glued to his lips as he talks about caring and love and respect. And for the first time they sing Auld Lang Syne in church, accompanied by a rag-tag family with a strange musical taste and even stranger instruments.

Gertruida says this is the way church services should be: a beacon of goodwill in an evil world. Vetfaan agrees, but still prefers the out-of-tune organ to the John Deere didgeridoo.

Some readers may think this is just a story and that Rolbos is a virtual place in cyberspace. However, you don’t even have to stretch your imagination to understand life in Rolbos. Wherever you are in the wide, wide world, you’ll find a bit of Rolbos with you, around you and in you.

As we approach 2013, it’ll be great if we can all laugh at our little idiosyncrasies, giggle about our own stupidity and – most importantly – stop taking ourselves so very seriously.

In Gertruida’s immortal words: “May your new year be filled with old values, fresh dreams and some of the best wine you’ve ever tasted.” Boggel agrees, adding that world peace means nothing if you keep on fighting with yourself.

But it is Oudoom who has the last word. When he hands over the handsome sum of money to the orphanage in Grootdrink, he tells everybody that the Lord works in mysterious ways. Changing water into wine is certainly a feat, but to use the Vermaak Special to feed the children is maybe the biggest miracle of modern times.

So, from the upstanding and honestly crazy people of Rolbos: may you have a great 2013. Treat yourself today: close your eyes for a moment to forget all the artificial good wishes and synthetic text messages. Sit down for a second at the dusty bar in the Kalahari to smile at the little hunchbacked man serving your cold beer. And then, in that magical instant, experience what it means to be part of the real world.