Boggel’s Substation

“All stories involve someone coming or somebody going.” Gertruida reverts to her lecture-voice. “That’s the way stories evolve, see? You get somebody to leave a comfortable environment to discover something elsewhere, or you tell about somebody arriving somewhere to change things. Oh, there are many variations, of course, but that’s the skeleton on which you can hang most stories.”

“Oh, blah…” Vetfaan is in a bad mood. His tractor broke down again; something to do with the battery. “That means Rolbos doesn’t have a story. We don’t go anywhere and nobody comes here. We’re a bunch of misfits, that’s all. And one of the misfits has a broken tractor. We’re a dull group of odd people.”

Now, we all know one mustn’t tempt fate like this. It’s like hanging your red towel to dry over your balcony while the bulls race down the streets of Pamplona. Or, a more local metaphor, like criticising the president and telling the world he is a dictator. Try it: see what happens. Ask Julius.

Kleinpiet has just signalled for another beer, when the thundering of a heavy vehicle rattles the loose window pane in Boggel’s window. The surprised group crowds the doorway to see the huge lorry sigh to a halt in front of the Place – and watch in awe as a burly man steps down from the cab.

“Is this Rolbos? I can’t seem to find it on the map, but some guy in Grootdrink pointed me this way.”

Kleinpiet assures the man that, yes indeed, this is Rolbos. “But what in heaven’s name are you doing here? We didn’t order anything.”

Boggel once said not all faces are wired the same way. Look at Oudoom, for instance, or Precilla, for that matter. Oudoom has this morose countenance, which is completely incapable of smiling. Precilla, on the other hand, can’t look sad. Expose these two to a good joke, and you get a bland reaction from the one, while the other explodes in gales of laughter.

It is obvious the lorry-driver was created on Oudoom’s assembly line.

“I don’t care. Here are the papers that say I must deliver the substation to this town. That’s what I’m doing. It says I must offload next to the pylons. I don’t see pylons.”

Gertruida walks over, takes the manifest, and scans it quickly. “He’s right, you guys. It seems as if we’re getting an electric substation. And that it is supposed to be plugged into the new Northern-Cape Escom Grid. It’s part of the Zero Utility Maintenance Agenda. Apparently the ZUMA-line is supposed to run from several power stations, completing the circle of supply to the country.” Reading through the document carefully, she tells them this is only a minor substation, more concerned with the power-balance in the grid, than with supplying Rolbos with electricity. However, as a by-product, Rolbos will now be part of the national electricity grid, an important component to stabilising electricity supply to the country. “And we’ll be able to stop relying on solar power. We’ll be able to get electrical stoves, geysers and fridges….” She hesitates a moment. “I don’t like that.”

“But where are the pylons? That is supposed to be a place where I can dump my load?” Pan-face tries, but fails, to look worried.

“The usual government thing. Cart before the horse. There is so much wheeling and dealing going on – I’m sure the pylons will arrive next year. Or the year after. You never know. You’ll just have to stay until they arrive.” Gertruida smiles at the man – the smile she uses when she knows she’s right. “I hope you’ve brought a tent or something.”

If Pan-face doesn’t like it, it’s hard to tell. He simply takes back the document, to stand staring at it. “I have to go back to Kimberley. Got to do another run tomorrow. Same stuff, to Prieska. I can’t just stay here – my boss will fire me.”

“Tell you what.” Kleinpiet sips the beer he still has in his hand, burps softly and wags a finger in the air. “You take this one to Prieska, and you’ll have a day off. It’s logic, you see. Nobody will know. By the time they get the pylons up, this thing would have rusted through, anyway. Then they’ll have to send a new substation, and by the time that arrives, the pylons would have been eaten by the termites. I hear the same thing is happening in Limpopo, with school books.”

“You think so?” Pan-face tries his best to twitch the corners of his lips. “Think it’ll work? What if the government finds out?”

“No, man. Impossible. It doesn’t work like that. By the time they co-ordinate the pylons and the substations, nobody will be able to afford electricity any more. And, because they insist on building coal-powered power stations, global warming would have forced them to buy substations with more modern cooling facilities. That’s when the merry-go-round gets spinning once again. And if ever they finally get that right, everybody will be on solar power. Then we won’t need your substation at all.” It’s Gertruida’s lecture-voice again.

*

“He’s not a happy chappy.” Kleinpiet draws a sad smiley on the counter top. “He should have left that substation here. Then, at least, Vetfaan could have stripped the thing for spares to fix his tractor.”

“You think that’s a real machine?” Boggel gets down the Cactus Jack. “Of course they know there’s no power line in the area. No grid. Nothing. I’ll bet you some heavy dude has a company that produces sham substations.”

“My tractor is still broken.” Vetfaan has an Oudoom-face.

“Hey, Vetfaan!” Pracilla walks in with a radiant smile. “Sammie says he found a new battery for your tractor. Brand new. You’ll be up and running as soon as you fit it. And, he says, it’s cheap. Good news all round.”

*

If you ever drive through Prieska, you’ll see the rusting substation next to the road. It’s quite useless, without the power lines to feed it, of course. The only working part – a rather impressive battery – was removed long ago.

And if you have time, drive through to Rolbos to stop at Boggel’s Place. Vetfaan is still convinced they don’t have stories – nobody goes there, and they don’t travel a lot. While you’re there, please compliment Boggel on the neat boma at the back. You’ll recognise it immediately – it’s built from unused pylons some ignoramus off-loaded outside town.

Oh, and tell them they don’t need a substation – not for electricity. They’re one for kindness and humor already.

We need more of those. After all, if we don’t laugh about the inefficiencies around us, we’ll all be on anti-depressants. Or Cactus…

Oops, we already are…

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