Gertruida has just finished her rather exhaustive lecture about the Olympic Games and is thanking Boggel for the complimentary Cactus, when Vetfaan yawns and says it’s no big thing.
“When I was in Upington yesterday, I saw some guys rowing a boat. The commentator said it was a skull, but it sure looked like a rather simple dinghy to me. Anyway, I’m not quite sure why they call that sport – it’s too easy. No scrums and not even a ball. Just two men hanging onto oars; and for that they get a medal. You ask me, and I’ll tell you we can do better.”
Gertruida rolls her eyes. To try and explain there is a difference between a scull and a skull will be a waste of time. She switches to sarcasm.
“So you are going to show those athletes how to do it? Vetfaan, South Africa’s first Olympic rower with a medal – harrumph – I’d like to see that! I suppose the Americans and the Brits won’t have a chance. If they knew you were entering, they’d most probably withdraw their teams.”
It’s Vetfaan’s turn to look exasperated. “Sometimes, Gertruida, I think you lose the plot. Look at me? Anybody with an inkling of common sense can see I won’t fit into those flimsy boats! No man! You need some smaller guys to do the rowing.” He glances around. “Like Boggel, for instance. He’s small enough and,” he pauses for a dramatic second before dropping his voice, “he has the right back for the job. You must see how those overseas rowers have to move their bums this way and that to get those oars moving. Boggel won’t even need one of those fancy seats in the boat. He can just row – his back is bent forwards enough already.”
Vetfaan can be very convincing if he puts his mind to it. A few Cactus Jacks later, he has Boggel on the counter with an empty bottle serving as a make-believe oar. It’s hard to say if the rest of the townsfolk are serious about the prospect of sending Boggel to London, or whether they are simply having some fun.
“The Kalahari Rowing Team?”Precilla has a Cactus-blush and is enjoying the show. “I saw a movie about some Jamaicans who won a medal by skating down a hill. They had great fun, too – and it never snows in Jamaica.”
“It was a bobsleigh, Precilla, and they didn’t win a medal.” Gertruida does her hippo-snort again.
“It’s the principle that counts Gertruida. They never have snow – we don’t have water. And they participated, which is more than we can say.”
It’s not always easy to follow the warped logic that is unique to Rolbos. Suffice to say that a few Cactusses later the townsfolk are gathered in Voortrekker Weg, watching how Boggel balances himself on the half-drum they usually use to braai in. Kleinpiet found two poles, which jut out to both sides as oars. Vetfaan’s tractor is attached by a long chain, ready to do the towing.
“Now, I want you to watch carefully. When the tractor starts moving forwards, Boggel will only have to rock to and fro, and the oars will come into action. I’ll do one run up the street, one run down, and then you can tell me what you think. I’m absolutely convinced you’ll all agree that Boggel is cut out for the job.” Vetfaan has already explained that they’d get a rowing boat real cheap in Upington, but agreed to postpone the purchase until – like Kleinpiet put it – they have had a dry run.
Boggel, with the constructor’ helmet (courtesy of Sammie’s Shop), does a few rowing movements before nodding to Vetfaan – he’s ready to go.
Momentum is a funny thing. Once you start moving in a certain direction and a specified speed, you will continue doing so until the speed has dropped. Gertruida could have explained it to the group. It would have saved a lot of trouble.
With the tractor bellowing smoke, the chain takes up the slack and Boggel starts rowing. The half-drum starts moving. The little crowd cheers. Vetfaan takes this as a signal to pick up speed, and that is exactly what he does. Boggel – to his credit – swings the oars with convincing gusto to and fro as they progress down Voortrekker Weg.
If momentum adheres to certain laws of nature, then Vetfaan should have stuck to the most important Rule of the Road. A driver shall, under all circumstances, concentrate on the road ahead. Of course he doesn’t do it. With one hand on the steering wheel, he is watching his rowing protégé behind him.
When the cheers turn to shouts of alarm, Vetfaan faces the front at last, just in time to see the lorry from Kalahari Vervoer entering the town. He does what a good river should do, and swerves to avoid the collision. That’s where the bit about momentum comes in: Boggel’s boat follows the tractor in an ever-increasing arc, until the still-speeding boat is parallel to the slowing down tractor.
Most of the onlookers agree that this is the point where Boggel finally decided it is time to abandon ship. Getruida says it wasn’t a decision – it was momentum. Be that as it may, Boggel and the half-drum parted ways as the little man tumbled form the vessel in a tussled heap, fortunately landing in the soft sand next to the road.
By now, Lucinda has stopped the lorry, flung open the door and stormed towards Boggel. The stream of Italian words directed at Vetfaan doesn’t need translation. Not at all.
“I told you he’s the best man for the job,” Vetfaan says an hour later. “Look at the way he tumbled from that drum. He simply curled up, and rolled until he stopped. He’s a remarkable athlete.”
Boggel, who only has a few scratches and a single bruise to remind him of his Olympic effort, looks up in alarm.
“So now I must be a gymnast?”
The pretty Lucinda will go down in Rolbos history as the only woman who delivered a perfectly timed uppercut in Boggel’s Place. After his visit to the dentist, Vetfaan wonders whether they have women boxing at the Games, but by now he’s learnt enough about momentum to keep his mouth shut. Maybe they should concentrate on an easier sport, he thinks. Running comes to mind. He’ll need it to stay away from the dentist for a while…