Friday Fun: Vetfaan’s Flawed Folly

There aren’t many such claims. Go on, check it out: go visit the hushed and oak-panelled offices of United Insurance or U Claim, We Pay, Inc, and ask the disinterested Miss Cape Town (’65) behind the desk to draw some records. When at last she’s put down the article on Botox and got the hearing aid nicely positioned, she’ll shuffle to the cabinet marked T-Z to find the file with Wind Pump stencilled on the cover. She’ll come back, peer at you myopically, and shake her head. No, they have never paid out such a claim in the past. And they’re not going to start now, either.

Then again, Rolbos isn’t known for the usual. Starting with a hump-backed bartender right up to the-woman-who-knows-all, Rolbos remains a conglomerate of quirky characters who are all convinced of their normality.  Like the rest of us, they believe there’s nothing wrong with their sanity: they merely handle problems to the best of their abilities.  After all, did Oudoom not spend a whole weekend with a pole dancer; and what about the blow-up doll Boggel got for his birthday? Surely there was no other way to handle such issues?

It is then, no surprise to find the townsfolk discussing not only the end of the world at the bar, but also what they’re going to do afterwards. If the bigger places like Springbok and Pofadder ceased to be, they’d have a hard time selling sheep to the absent farmers, butchers and neighbours. Vetfaan suggested speeding up land reform, so that the new Zulu farmers can fill the void; but after Gertruida mentioned that the people in government will be the first to leave (they are the VIP’s, for goodness’ sakes!), the discussion dwindled towards more immediate problems.

“We’ll have to get some extra flea powder for Vrede. If the Co-op in Upington relocates to Mars, we’ll be covered with little red bite marks in no time.” Kleinpiet frowns at the idea: his sheep dog used to sleep on his bed before Precilla moved in. It turns out his new wife doesn’t accept itching as a normal part of being married. Well, not like that, anyway. “While we’re at it, we must get some of those chewy biscuits for him as well – the biltong flavoured ones. He doesn’t like the curried biscuits – I think they were delivered by mistake. Must have been meant for Durban, I think.”

“But listen, if a meteor goes crashing into the Sahara, or if there is a switch in the poles, Gertruida says it’ll trigger all kinds of natural disasters. We can’t do much about earthquakes, but I am worried about the winds. She says we might get some rain, even. And that’s the thing that worries me, the wind. When she spoke about the climate changes that’ll follow a natural disaster of apocalyptic proportions, she mentioned storms and cyclones and hurricanes. Now, I don’t know about you, but without a wind pump, my sheep won’t have water.” Vetfaan glances at the calendar behind the till. “And even if I order a diesel pump, it won’t be here before January. By that time my sheep will be biltong.”

When they see Servaas walking towards Boggel’s Place, they are relieved to see him dressed in khaki – without his black suit he can be pleasant company. The old man sits down with a sigh.

“When I woke up this morning, I quickly checked whether Bokkop was still where it used to be. When I saw it, I celebrated with a small Cactus.” Servaas, they can see, must have had more than one. “It’s always reassuring if you wake up and the world is still here.”

Vetfaan wants to tell him that he doesn’t make sense; what if he didn’t wake up and the world was gone?  Anything can happen in your sleep, but if you don’t wake up it doesn’t really matter, does it? Because he knows logic whispers and alcohol shouts, he doesn’t pursue the argument, however.

“Well, I’m afraid to wake up on the 22nd, to find my wind pump is gone.” Vetfaan is not going to be sidetracked by anything right now. “It’s one of those old Willem Windpomp put up a few years ago, the guy with the Climax agency , remember? He specialised in dry holes until that time Gertruida got hold of him.” This, of course, causes a few sniggers at the bar. Willem still drills holes all over the place, but with considerable more success than before. One farmer said it’s because he doesn’t stop until that Climax draws at least some moisture from the deep. That, and the fact his family has grown to the point where he simply can’t afford not delivering a serviceable hole. It is said his wife demands success, every time. “Anyway, he erected that Climax, but it tends to sway a bit when the wind picks up. And, as you know, I’m afraid of heights, so I’ve never done much about it.”

“A fallen Climax won’t pump much else than air, Vetfaan.” Kleinpiet is a master at stating toe obvious.  “Best to keep it erect, I think. Unless, of course, you need to inflate a few tyres, then you can work with it in t’s collapsed state.”

“Well, if somebody can climb up there with a few ropes, I can tether the structure down.” Vetfaan takes a long, reflective look at Kleinpiet. “What are you doing this afternoon?”

***

Ons may propose that the claim started there. Or an hour later, with Kleinpiet climbing up the narrow ladder to the little platform behind the swirling blades of the windmill-like pump.

Initially, everything seems to follow the plan: Kleinpiet ties the strong ropes to the corners of the little platform before throwing down the lines one by one, every time waiting for a anchor rope to be secured to a tree or one of the old ploughs that lie scattered on Vetfaan’s werf. The first three, at least, are safely tied when he throws down the last line.

Now, there’s a law governing these things. If the momentum of the outward movement of an object is less than the power of the inward wind, the object will be blown back to the initial point of departure. This will later be called Kleinpiet’s Corollary, but at the time it happens, it is still unnamed, although sailors with swill-buckets discovered this law long ago.

The rope flies out at an angle, the wind pushes it back, and now the rope is tangled with the erect structure of the Climax.

Okay, so Precilla should not have volunteered. We all know that now.

Telling the love of her life that she’ll climb those steps halfway up the Climax to free the rope, Precilla proceeds smartly up the structure. When she reaches the entangled rope, Kleinpiet pulls at it to get it back up – only to realise it snagged right below the little platform, as well.

“No problem, Kleinpiet, I’m on my way,” she assuress him as she progresses further up towards the platform. Here she finds it easy to lift the rope out of a tight corner and Kleinpiet retrieves the wayward rope.

Now: being newly married does have a few advantages. Also, a few draw-backs. Later know as Precilla Principle, it states: when two newly-married love-birds occupy a confined space, the outcome – or upshot – is predictable, if premature. This, in stark contrast to the Contrary Law of Servaas which says: when,  after the Silver Jubilee, an older couple finds themselves in a confined space, one – or both –partner(s) will blame the odour on invisible animals. But, with the wedding bells still echoing sweetly in the minds of Precilla and her newly-acquired spouse, she naturally takes the next step to join Kleinpiet on the little platform.

Kleinpiet suddenly finds himself with one hand on the rope and one hand reaching about in the area behind him; where, coincidentally and purely unintentionally, Precilla is invading his personal space in a rather passionate way. The rope-hand completely forgets what it is doing up there when the grope-hand finds the very welcome presence of the object of his desire.

That brings us to the Climax Bylaw on the Loss of Shyness, which states: on honeymoon, when the moment is there, the audience doesn’t matter.  With a happy giggle, Kleinpiet drops the rope. He’ll say later it was an effort to regain his balance, and that may be quite true. When weights shift on such a small foothold, one may be excused to lean back a little. Only, it unfortunately brings us to the next natural law:  man who desires heavenly object, may soon plummet to earth. It’s something Confucius said a long time ago; a thought that gave rise to the Icarus legend.

When Kleinpiet leans back against the soft and inviting body of Precilla, she teeters backwards, stepping and stepping to keep balance. With the little platform acting like a pirate’s plank, they both walk backwards – into open space.

***

The claim, of course, isn’t for medical expenses.  Despite the rather long fall, Precilla lands on top of Kleinpiet. The rope snagged her ankle just in time, and although it bruised her leg to a remarkable blue, she escapes without further damage. Kleinpiet, however, landed squarely on Vetfaan’s prize ewe, which happened to be browsing around for the bits of green grass next to the wind pump.

While Vetfaan tries to get Miss Cape Town(’65) to understand the claim is for the difference between the raffle for the meat and the cost of the sheep – it brings us to the fine print on Vetfaan’s insurance contract:  As it is in the nature of all erected structures to fail eventually, the insurer shall not be held responsible for the loss of any Climax or part of it, similar eventualities, and/ or any actions leading up to said collapse.

Vetfaan doesn’t worry about the wind so much any more. He has started digging a bunker for his sheep. He says when the moment comes, it’s better to go down: there is less chance of being hit by somebody if your Climax collapses. He says you can still do something for a thirsty sheep; but he he’ll assure you: a flat ewe is an anticlimax.

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