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Stoney Steenkamp’s Dream Factory (#3)

IMG_2578“It’s simple, really.” Stoney finally caved in and agreed to share his secret – but only after Gertruida swore she’d never breathe a word.

“Look at what’s happening in the country. All day, every day, we are bombarded with bad news. Corruption. Bribery. Farm murders. ESCOM. Strikes. Social unrests and protests. Police brutality. Municipalities going bankrupt due to inefficiency. E-tolls. Petrol prices going through the roof because the Rand is worth peanuts. Education and nursing. It’s almost as if the fabric of our society has unravelled and we are a lost nation.”

Gertruida nods. “So….?”

“What do we do about it?” He waits a second before answering his own question. “Nothing. We do nothing. We belong to a section of society that has been rendered powerless by history. No matter what you or I say, it’ll be labelled as ‘racist’ or blamed on Apartheid. And what do we do? We accept it. Why? Because we’ve been conditioned into accepting the blame for other’s mistakes. We have accepted our fate as a lost generation, just like a springbok stops running once the lion has its neck in his jaws. It’s still alive, but it knows what’ll happen next.”

“Thanks for the psychoanalysis, Stoney, but how does this tie in with your dream factory?”

“Look, there are two major opposing emotions at play here. Fear…and ecstasy. Poles apart, the outer borders of being an intelligent being. Add to that the power of suggestion.”

0 (1)Gertruida knows a lot about suggestion. Subliminal suggestion is why we follow – mindlessly so – the adverts we are bombarded with in the media every day. We get sensitised to believe certain products, and we get desensitised about other aspects of life. The trick is, she knows, to convey a message confidently and repeatedly – eventually the individual will follow the lead of whoever expresses a certain view. Advertising agencies and governments take full advantage of this simple fact and lulls the populace into buying certain products or accepting certain policies. The more aggressive the proponent and the less questioning the audience…and the more the message will be driven home with devastating accuracy.

“So, every time before you went to sleep, we had a good chat about what you could expect. Suggestion. Your brain now gears itself to think along those lines and it helps you to dream specific stuff. But that’s only the add-on. The real stuff is in the chocolate.”

By now, Gertruida cannot contain herself any longer. “Ye-e-e-s…?”

“Look, I’ve had a lot of time to look after my sheep. If they graze near the river, the flock is restless at night. However, when they feed on the stunted bushes near the hill, they are as content as our president when the Speaker silences the opposition. Now, that set me thinking. There must be something they eat that controls their moods.”

“So you found new herbs?”

Stoney smiles wryly. “No, Gertruida. I tried everything. Twigs, leaves, roots, branches. Mashed them, chewed them, cooked them…and nothing. Got diarrhoea once or twice, but that’s all. There’s something that happens in the sheep that doesn’t happen in humans. And that’s when it struck me: whatever happens, happens inside the sheep’s digestive tract…that’s where the answer lies. And whatever happens there, gets absorbed, affecting the sheep’s mood. And….some of it would be present whenever the sheep gets rid of whatever is left in its tummy.”

“Oh. My. Word!”

“Ja, Gertruida. Chocolate-coated droppings. Marvellously simple, eh? I thought it out all by myself.”

He waits until Gertruida stops gagging before offering her a double peach brandy.

“From then on, it was easy. I had the two opposing emotions: happy and scared. It’s just a question of getting the mix right. The river…er…product produced horrible nightmares. Called it Devil Drops. The hillside stuff gave the ultimate happy dream – which turns out to be rather erotic quite often. Those are Happy Crappies. More of the one and less of the other gave me a spectrum of possibilities.” He goes ‘ping’ and imitates a little lightbulb above his head. “Genius, right?”

“But, for goodness sakes, you can’t go about selling sheep droppings to people? It’s unethical, to say the very least.”

“Of course I don’t. I grind it up in a paste, boil it to get rid of parasites, en then roll it into little balls before coating it with chocolate. It’s a wonderfully simple process.” Gertruida’s horrified face makes him pause. “What…?”

“Listen, Stoney, you’re on thin ice here. If the Medical Council finds out what you’re doing – or any other authority you can think of – they’ll slap you in jail for so long, you’ll never see a single sheep again for the rest of your life. If I were you, I’d approach a pharmaceutical company and let them do some proper research. That’s the only way…”

***

Gertruida often remarks about how we live in a strange society. We have laws prescribing what food and medicine we are allowed to ingest – and even more laws prohibiting other products. But, she says, we have no laws protecting us from the bulldust we have to hear and see in the media every day. It’s not okay to take sheep droppings coated with chocolate, but political offal is fed to us without even a sugar coating.

She reckons Stoney is onto something, though. Imagine a parliament full of Happy Crappies?

She really gets angry at this from time to time. That’s when she locks her front door to take one of her precious but dwindling supply of sleepy-chocolates (as she calls them). The Rolbossers know the signs – especially when she arrives at Boggel’s Place wearing a brilliant – if tired – smile the next day…

Trusting Liar (#10)

Liar's Meteorite

Liar’s Meteorite

Once the helicopter disappeared over the dunes, the group finally stops laughing.

“Oh, Liar, you are sooo convincing! Damn! I started believing you when you threw out that bit about the radioactive Boron. And then you…you…you added the bit about manhood! Shew! I almost burst out laughing right then.” Gertruida slaps Liar’s back as she starts giggling again.

Liar’s indignant response is immediate. “And what, Gertruida, do you think, do they use to accelerate electrons and bits of atoms in Switzerland? Or do you imagine that I’d be roving around here for my entire life, looking for lost diamonds?”

“Oh, stop it, Klasie! You’re killing us!” Vetfaan wipes the tears from his eyes as he succumbs to another bout of laughter.

Servaas gets serious all of a sudden. “You are looking for diamonds, aren’t you? Walter Kempf and the Wolf’s Tears? All that you told us? It’s true, isn’t it?”

Klasie Louw, known as Liar, scoops up a handful of sand and lefts it sift through his fingers. “There are many stories buried in the sands of the Kalahari, my friend. Legends and myths and tales that are more marvellous than anything you’ve ever heard. Here you’ll find the ghosts of the Dorsland-trekkers who tried to escape to an illusive Utopia. Amongst these dunes the history of the Bushmen, the Koranna and the lost civilisation of the gold-miners of Zimbabwe are whispered in the night breezes. Once this was an inland lake bearing boats filled with riches – then the climate changed and the earth moved…and now only the sand remains. This, Servaas, is a magical place. A place were everything is possible.”

“But that doesn’t answer the question, Klasie. I just want to know whether your story is true? We did pick up that diamond, didn’t we?” Getruida points to Liar’s pocket, remembering how he had snatched it away from her.

It is Liar’s turn to smirk. “Ah yes…the aeroplane wreck! Come, I’ll show you. It’s about an hour from here.”

***

lancaster_desert_500Sure enough, after tramping trough the loose sand in the valley between the two dunes, they arrive at a little plain – an open space with the dunes forming a natural amphitheatre around it. Off to one side, the wreckage is clearly visible.

“This was Walter’s plane. And this is the direction the flood washed his treasure away.” He points towards the south. “And over there,” pointing again, “is the rocky outcrop. I wouldn’t suggest you go near it.”

***

“I’m still not sure,” Servaas says. They’re gathered at the counter in Boggel’s Place, relieved to be back in Rolbos. “I mean, can we really believe everything he said?”

“Well, all I can tell you is that Boron is an extremely rare element in the universe. Scientists don’t believe it is natural to our planet, and that most of the Boron found on earth is due to cosmic dust and possibly meteorites. There is, indeed, radioactive Boron and it may very well be used in reactors – although the rarity of the substance makes its common use impossible. If that rocky outcrop of Liar’s is pure Boron, it could very well be the remains of an ancient meteorite and as such be a unique find.” Gertruida shrugs. “Who knows? Anyway, I made a few discreet enquiries: our friend Klasie Louw is a multi-multimillionaire. The story of the Reserve Bank taking notice of his activities may be true…”

“And the men? The helicopter and the search?”

“Oh, read the papers, Servaas! There are so many scandals in our country, it’s hard to pick the most likely one. But….I like my theory about somebody wanting to buy silence. Suppose you bribed South Africa into hosting the World Cup in 2010 and now people are starting to ask questions. You have the FBI, CIA, Fifa and even Morocco breathing down your neck. If the story is proved and evidence confirms the corruption, it won’t just impact on one single person. It’d mean that the government, the local organising committee and especially the governing party will be left with more egg on their faces than they can clean off. People will have to resign, and some will go to jail. It’d be a diplomatic catastrophe of massive proportions. International credibility – already at a low point – will fly out of the window.

“You see, Servaas, for some of the officials – from president down to the ticket-sellers – the outcome of an intensive investigation will mean the end of their careers. The money-barrel will run dry. The authorities involved with drugs, smuggling and money laundering will be forced to face the wrath of not only the local populace, but the international community as well. Can you imagine the fall-out?

“So…it is entirely possible that certain men and women will want to buy their way out of trouble – and that’s going to involve massive payments to the investigating forces. Just like FIFA bought Ireland’s silence and avoided legal action, so it may be possible to influence the reports of investigators. For that, not only would billions be required, but there cannot be any paper trail. No Banks, no transfers, no documentation. The answer: diamonds…”

“Ja,” Vetfaan signals for another beer, “desperate times. Desperate measures…”

Servaas shrugs. “Be that all as it may. I still don’t know whether I can believe Klasie Louw…”

l15 copy_edited-1“We’ll never know,” Getruida says as she puts down  her glass. “But he has a good story. Maybe we should trust Liar for a change…”

Below the counter, Vrede thumps his tail on the wooden floor. He sniffed around the wreck and the strange rock out there in the desert. He knows exactly what the facts are. But, even though he’d like to tell them about the weathered shoebox he found under the one Nara-bush, he’d rather keep the secret. It’s much more fun this way.

The End.

Trusting Liar (#9)

Robinson R66 small 1“Don’t get up,” Gertruida hisses. “Just sit where we are and let’s see what happens. If they land, I’ll handle it.”

Gertruida is one of those rare persons that relish awkward situations. During her time at National Intelligence, she was the one to bring calm to the negotiations in Dakar and London. Whenever a discussion threatened to get out of hand, she was the voice of reason, placating the flaring tempers by sheer logic. Now, she realises, she might be facing one of the most challenging scenarios of her life. She is sure Liar’s adversaries have some government connection – especially after Liar mentioned that they said something about  ‘Pretoria’. Who…? She’s mulling the thought in her mind when the helicopter approaches the group, hovers some distance off, and then lands.

“It’s a Robinson R66, five-seater, but only this one only carries the pilot and two passengers.” Vetfaans whisper sounds strained after the rotors stop turning. He remembers seeing one at  the recent agricultural show in Upington, where it was on exhibit as part of a game lodge’s display. He also remembers the R10-million price tag.

The two passengers alighting from the craft could not be more dissimilar. The one man striding purposefully to them seems to have been built out of circles: round body and face stuck on podgy legs. Number Two, panting a few yards behind, is tall, reedy and his face looks like it’s been flattened by a sudden stop against a solid object.

Roundface stops a few yards away, surveys the group and lets his gaze rest on Liar.

“You failed to keep your appointment, Mister Louw. I’m disappointed.”

Liar doesn’t bat an eyelid. “I lied,” he says quietly.

Gertruida wants to say something but Flatface shuts her up. “Nobody interrupts the Boss, understand?” He whips out a snub-nosed .38 to emphasise his point. Gertruida closes her mouth with an audible click of her teeth.

“Why, Mister Louw? Why force me to go to the expense of hiring this chopper and searching for you?  It is so childish to play games with us – in fact, it’s downright stupid!”

“Excuse me, sir, but who are you?” Boggel flinches as Flatface swivels to point the gun at him.

“Who I am, is of no consequence. Who I represent, is important.” Roundface ponders the question for a second before going on. “It doesn’t matter, anyway. As soon as Mister Louw has shown us the location of his mine, our problem is solved. So….Mister Louw…?”

Liar shrugs. “No mine, sorry. Not out here.”

“You have been sending diamonds worth millions to Antwerp, receiving the money from a bank in London.  We know that. And you’re the only one doing that from this region. We have contacts with the Reserve Bank, Mister Louw, you can’t fool us.”

“Ag! Diamonds? You think I dig for diamonds? Boy, are you guys confused! Who sends out diamonds in lead-lined boxes, huh?”  Liar’s honest and incredulous stare seems to upset Roundface. “In fact, I’ve got the manufacturer of those boxes right here. Ask him, his name is Servaas.”

“What…?” Roundface glares at Servaas.

Servaas has never worked with lead, let alone built boxes with the material. The old man now crosses his fingers as he nods. “Sure, been making those boxes for years now. And you know what, L…Klasie never pays me. Always promises, promises. Last time I told him it’s the last time. That’s why I’m here, to demand payment – he owes me ….let me see…just over two thousand rand. It’s a lot of money.”

“Lead boxes?”

“Yessir!” Liar is in his stride now, quite comfortable in the talent he’s developed over the years. “Radioactive Boron. Very rare. There’s an outcrop not far from where we are right now. Highly radioactive, a rare El-Ac material.”

“El-Ac…what the hell is that?”

Liar rolls his eyes at the stupidity of the round man. “Electron-Accelerator material. sir.” Seeing the big man still gaping at him, he continues. “When an El-Ac substance is brought into contact with one of the halogen gasses, like Chlorine for instance, it speeds up the electrons. It’s just one of those strange phenomenons of Nature. Now – and this is important – there are scientists that are very interested in doing such things…speeding up electrons…in Switzerland somewhere….”

Higgs at CERN

Higgs at CERN

“The place is CERN, where they’re trying to find the Higgs-boson.” Gertruida interrupts. By now their two visitors are clearly off balance. “That’s the particle that holds the key to how energy is turned into mass.”

“But there is a problem,” Liar continues, eyeing the men carefully. “The radioactive Boron has certain….effects on the male physiology. Bad effects. If you come into contact with it, it’ll…er…change you.”

Roundface has lost his threatening demeanour.  All he had to do was to find the source of some diamonds, and now…? “Change? Change? What change?”

“Um…you know?”Liar shoots an apologetic glance towards Gertruida. “Er…let me put it this way. Here I am, working all alone. Never been interested in a woman all my life. Isn’t that strange?”

“”It takes away your…manhood?”

Liar nods cheerfully. “Never missed it. Just as if it never existed, you know? It’s a wonderful freedom.”

Roundface turns to his companion and an urgent, whispered conversation follows.

“I think we’ve been misinformed,” he says at last. “The reports mentioned diamonds…”

“Oh, please! Sending over legit diamonds with a trusted courier doesn’t raise eyebrows. But…have you ever tried to mark such a parcel as “Radioactive Material”? Nobody would touch it.” Liar’s contempt at their ignorance drips from the words.

Gertruida tries again. “So, who sent you, anyway?”

A thoroughly deflated Roundface sits down heavily. “I can’t tell you that. All I can say is that a very important man is interested in acquiring a lot of money, and get it quickly. We work for him. He needs the money urgently.”

“Why? Because of some recent developments?” A glimmer of understanding appears in Gertruida’s eyes.

“Yes. Some men need to be paid off. To keep quiet. There’s nothing money can’t buy, see? So our boss…well, he has a friend in the Reserve Bank, Asked him about individuals who receive large amounts of money from overseas, especially if such individuals seemed to be working alone and if they  might be persuaded to share their income. He – the Boss – doesn’t want to send out money from South Africa; the exchange regulations are just too strict for the large amounts needed in these transactions. Diamonds are easy to transport and can be exchanged for currency anywhere in the world – it’ll solve a lot of problems.  Mister Louw came up trumps – diamonds, no family, working alone…understand? But diamonds…yes! This radioactive stuff? No!”

“That’s a hare-brained scheme, Sir.”  Gertruida goes tut-tut.This man, your boss, wouldn’t be associated with some sport, would he? Like soccer, for instance?”

Roundface doesn’t answer. He gets up slowly to plod back to the helicopter, motioning his companion to follow.

The group on the ground waits for the helicopter to lift off before collapsing in laughter.

(To be continued…)

Trusting Liar (#7)

lancaster_desert_500Klasie (liar) Louw remembers the fights, the blows, and the screams all too vividly. Herman would return from yet another trip into the Kalahari in the most foul of moods, empty-handed. He blamed Nikolaas. He blamed Mattie. He scolded young Klasie, often adding a hiding for good measure. He liked to shout at them, telling them they ruined his life.

***

“Then, just after my eleventh birthday, it happened again. Mom stood her ground for a while, but Herman wouldn’t let up. He called her names…horrible names. Then he felled her with a vicious uppercut, straight to the chin, She fell backwards, hitting her head on the sorting table. I knew then that he had killed her.”

Liar is sobbing now, reliving the most horrible moments of his life.

“I was hiding under the bed at the time. Walter’s pistol – the one he had used to kill the snake – was under Mom’s pillow. I don’t remember much of what happened. When I came to my senses, Herman was down, flat on the ground, bleeding from his chest. In his last breath he cursed me, saying I’m a bastard and a low-life scum.”

***

The boy didn’t know what to do. His mother was dead and he had just killed his stepfather. He was still sitting there when a trader stopped by, like he did once a month. The trader – Harry Isaacs – took one look at the scene and rushed off to Upington to report the incident to the police. 

A constable was dispatched to investigate. His report:

I, Constable Abel Malherbe, arrived at the claim of Herman Louw at 3 pm on the 3rd of August 1954. On my arrival I found a boy – Nikolaas Louw (called Klasie) sitting on a camp bed in the hut on the premises. He wasn’t able to speak and I assume he was born deaf and dumb. I also found the bodies of Mr and Mrs Louw. Mrs Louw appears to have died from a blow to her head, although she had multiple other bruises. Mr Louw had a gunshot wound to his chest. A pistol was on the floor between the two bodies.

My conclusion merely states the obvious. Mr Louw is a known felon with multiple convictions, including assault. It appears that he was attacking Mrs Louw when she fired the pistol in self-defence. There was nothing on the scene to suggest any other explanation. 

The boy is clearly incapable of comprehensible speech and unable to assist any further investigation. He’ll need to be taken to a foster home. My superior officer suggested the facility in Worcester.

Signed:

A. Malherbe.

***

School for the deaf, Worcester.

School for the deaf, Worcester.

“And so I was sent to the School for the Deaf in Worcester. For a while it suited me just fine. For the first time in my life, I had a warm bed, clean linen and three proper meals a day. I didn’t have to dig up the banks of the Orange River and I wasn’t afraid that Herman would rock up and beat me. All I had to do, was act deaf and dumb. 

“That’s where my lying really took off. I had them all fooled for three long years – the best years of my life. Then, one day, I overheard the teachers discussing me. They were concerned, they said, that I might have more hearing than I gave out to have. That I might be pretending because I was an orphan. That they’d get a special doctor to come and test me, just to make sure…

louw“That night I ran away. I returned to the only place I know: my stepfather’s claim. I was only fourteen, but big and strong. I managed to convince the local magistrate that I was the legal heir to Herman’s claim and that he had been a known prospector in the Kalahari. He checked the records, found Constable Malherbe’s report, and took pity on me. How he did it, I’m not sure – but in the end he handed me a piece of paper that gave me the right to ‘investigate and prospect mineral possibilities in the region’. He even paid the fee…”

“But didn’t he ask you where you had been all that time?”

“He did, Servaas. I told him I had been taken care of by an aunt in Cape Town, but that she had passed away. Without the licence, I said, I would have no income and no means to support myself. He asked about inheritance, and for once I told the truth: my ‘aunt’ had left me nothing.” A wry smile lightened his features for a second. “The rest were – just like you’ve become accustomed to me – pure lies.”

Servaas scratches his head, overawed by the tale of woe. “So you’ve been looking for the wreck all these years – almost six decades of searching?”

“Oh, I found the wreck, all right. It’s not far from here.” He points up the valley between the two large dunes. “But there was a flood in 1956. One of those rare thunderstorms that turned this valley into a mass of swirling water. It washed over the wreck and almost buried it. It took me some time, but eventually I uncovered enough to examine the wreckage. The boxes were gone. For a while I thought my stepfather had found it, but then I discovered a diamond some distance off. Then another.

“What happened was that the flood washed away the boxes, scattering the stones down the ‘river’ it had formed.” He sighs. “And that’s why I’ve been busy here all my life – searching, searching, searching for the lost treasure of Walter Kempf amongst these dunes…”

“And finding diamonds here and there?”

“Yes. I’ve found two hundred and thirty-six stones so far. It’d fill one small box. There must be much more still…”

“But who are the people in the plane and the chopper?” Vetfaan lets his eyes roam the empty skies. “Why…?”

“It’s some government men. Bad ones. Once they know where to look, they’ll probably kill me.”

“But…how did they know?”

“SARS…the revenue people. They got onto my trail after the last packet I sent to London. When I went to the bank in Upington to check on the payment, they were waiting for me outside the bank. They said they wanted to make me an offer I can’t refuse.”

“And….?

“I refused.”

(to be continued)

Trusting Liar (#6)

Farmhouse, Breekyster

Farmhouse, Breekyster

Gertruida gasps. “You’re…you’re Walter Kempf’s son?”

Liar, still staring at the endless horizon, nods. “The one and only.”

“But your surname is Louw – where did that come from?”

***

Mattie was devastated. With Walter dead, her hopes for the future had turned to ashes. Oom Nikolaas initially did what all fathers do when confronted with his daughter’s pregnancy: he exploded. A heated argument followed. He accused her of being too forward, while she blamed their poverty on Nikolaas’s inability to farm properly. She even told him her mother’s death was due to the old man’s negligence. The wordy skirmish didn’t last long – they both ended up in tears, apologising for hurting each other so much.

Oom Nikolaas considered the problem of his daughter’s pregnancy very carefully. He was getting on in years and would not be able to assist Mattie in bringing up the child. A man had to be found, but how? Who? And why would a man marry a woman pregnant with another man’s baby? Then he had a brilliant idea.

Somewhere, out in the desert, an aeroplane wreck contained two shoeboxes full of diamonds. Surely that would be enough to entice some gentleman to search for it, find it, and become fabulously rich? Such a man might – with a bit of luck – be willing to marry his daughter in exchange for information leading to the treasure hidden in the dunes? Oom Nikolaas would have preferred to search for the wreck himself, but at his age it would have been suicide. No, he’ll find someone…

But…such a man had to be somebody with enough knowledge of the desert, know something about diamonds, and be able to dispose of his find in a legal way. That, oom Nikolaas decided, narrowed the possibilities down to the few prospectors next to the Orange River. Those men, he knew, barely made a living with the few diamonds they found, so surely they would jump at the chance of acquiring the treasure in the wreck? Although these prospectors had a reputation for hard living and sometimes unscrupulous behavior, oom Nikolaas felt sure he’d be able to find the best of them all. Desperate times called for desperate measures…

Mattie didn’t like the idea. She had fallen in love with Walter and just couldn’t imagine being with another man. Another argument followed. What, oom Nikolaas asked, would happen to Mattie and the infant once he (Nikolaas) died? How would she – an unmarried mother with an illegitimate child –  survive? Surely the infant should have a better chance in life than the two of them had? No, he said, Mattie had no choice. A man had to be found, and quickly. If his plan worked out, they could still be married in church and the baby would be accepted as her new husband’s. She would have a home, a caring man to look after her, and a child with a future. No more arguments, case closed. 

Orange River mouth - rich source of diamonds

Orange River mouth – rich source of diamonds

Despite his failing health, oom Nikolaas set out to find a husband for his daughter. He trekked along the banks of the Orange River, looking for the prospectors he had heard about. What he found, disappointed him. Most of the men were unschooled. They all drank too much. Some were too old. Some, too young. And there weren’t nearly as many as he had hoped to find – the war had seen to that. When he eventually shuffled towards a shabby hut next to a digging at the water’s edge, oom Nikolaas had all but given up hope.

***

“And so oom Nikolaas bought a husband for my mother. Marriage in exchange for information about a lost treasure. Herman Jacobus Louw jumped at the chance. He was…more or less…presentable. What oom Nikolaas didn’t know, was that this same H.J. Louw was a fugitive from the law. He had a string of convictions, ranging from theft to assault. He could be as charming as a prince and change to a ball of fury at the drop of a hat. When oom Nikolaas met him, my future stepfather was in his charming mode. He seemed the nicest guy on earth. But that….changed…afterwards.

“Anyway, the deal was struck. Mattie got a husband in exchange for a vague description of where the plane went down. The very modest wedding ceremony followed within a week.

“Mattie told me it wasn’t so bad in the beginning. Herman left the morning after the marriage to start looking for the plane. He came back a month later in the worst possible mood and got into a heated argument with Nikolaas. Said the old man had tricked him. Blows followed. Nikolaas died a week later – and was buried on the farm. Nobody could prove that the fight had anything to do with his death, but to this day I’m convinced it did. Mattie told me how bruised and battered her father had been after the assault…

“Well, Herman didn’t give up. He moved Mattie to his claim and left her there to do the digging while he went on trip after trip to look for Walter’s diamonds. I was born there; Mattie somehow managed the delivery herself while Herman was on one of his expeditions.”

“What,” Gertruida asks, “happened? With Herman, I mean? Did he find the aircraft?'”

Liar wipes away a tear before answering. “He never found it. I killed him…when I was eleven…”

Half-mens vs Willow

Amos van der Merwe:

Being busy with a time-consuming biography, I reblog this old story to keep Boggel busy behind his counter…

Originally posted on Rolbos ©:

The arid wasteland of the Kalahari contains many surprises. Fountains of clear water occur in the most unlikely places, although most of them are hidden below the sand. It requires a thorough knowledge of nature to know where to look for the life-saving little reservoir, which often will supply a mouthful of two before the water disappears at the bottom of the little well you dug. The area is home to the graceful oryx, the gentle tortoise and thousands of elegant springbuck. Here too, the spoor of last night’s lion will circle your campfire (when you discover a jackal made off with your biltong) in the morning.

Vetfaan knows all about these things, of course. He left his supplies safely locked up in his bakkie before turning in. Now, with the dawn edging out the night, he emerges from his tent to add a few sticks to the still-glowing embers…

View original 1,103 more words

Je Suis Charlie

je-suis-charlie-facebook-592x375 copy

Rolbos is about satire. It’s a fun blog that takes swipes at those in authority and pokes fun at serious matters. As such, Rolbos relies on freedom of speech to convey its message.

It is thus with great sadness that Rolbos extends its sincerest condolences to the families and friends of Stéphane Charbonnier and the fine cartoonists who worked at Charlie Hebdo.

Rolbos may only be a small blog by an author of little repute, but the principle endures: satire is a way to call people to pay attention to the world they live in. Yes, we laugh at the mistakes and blunderings of politicians and others who aspire to fame, but the underlying serious nature of these actions may never be ignored.

My prayers are with those left behind. May you find the strength to forgive the terrorists who will never understand that – to live in the small world we inhabit – we have to stop taking ourselves so seriously.

And for God’s sake, stop using Him as an excuse for killing people.

The Miracle of Silent Night (#5)

The memorial chapel in Oberndorf

The Mohr memorial chapel in Oberndorf

Gertruida tells them their journey with the history of Silent Night is nearing its end. The work of Gruber and Mohr had been published under Authors Unknown by Anton Friese and although the melody was not the exact original score by Franzl Gruber, at least the words were preserved.

Other publications started featuring Silent Night as well and in 1844 and 1848 it was included in Finck’s and Dr. Gebhardt’s collections of Tyrolean songs.

But, much more important than the printed version was the way the song spread from home to home, from town to city and from country to country. There was an irresistible charm to the simplicity, the harmony and the beauty of the lyrics and its melody. It was a song for commoners and royalty alike; poor people sang it around their meagre collection of hand-made presents; congregations loved its harmony and kings joined in when the smartly dressed choirs sang it at Christmas time.

More and more people started wondering about the origin of Silent Night. Over time it was ascribed to Beethoven, Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn and his younger brother Michael – but uncertainty remained.

fade03Today the ski-resort of Wagrain in the Arlberg is the vibrant playground of the rich and the fortunate. Way back in  the1800’s it was a poor village with a simple chapel. When Joseph Mohr was appointed as vicar of the parish, it was a lateral promotion into obscurity. For twenty years he laboured as much-loved priest and friend and when the song was finally published in 1848 in Berlin, he had already died a poor and penniless man. It is said that his only pleasure was the rare evenings he spent with the farmers in the local Bierstube, where the songs of Tyrol were given new life by his fine tenor voice. His funeral was as unpresumptuous as his life –with no funds of his own, the community interned his body in a simple grave.

According to a later statement by Gruber, Joseph Mohr wrote many a poem and song in his life – but not one remains for us to celebrate the life of this humble priest. His only work, his only contribution, still alive today, is the lullaby he wrote in his loneliness.

images (3)We have no picture of Mohr – no sketch, no painting, nothing.  He had lived humbly for 55 years, donating most of his small salary to the aged and promoting education amongst the children of his congregation. Having his features immortalised on canvas just didn’t fit in with his character. When at last, in 1912 he was credited for writing the famous song, it was decided to exhume his remains, to examine his skull and pay an artist to reconstruct an image of his appearance. There was a problem, though: in the neglected pauper’s graveyard the gravestones had become eroded, some had fallen over and some graves were unmarked. In the end the oldest people of the parish had to point out where the grave was and work could start on the grizzly task at hand. The memorial plaque he created was destined for the small memorial chapel in honour of Silent Night.

gruberLife was less harsh on Franz Xaver Gruber. When he was appointed as choirmaster and organist in the church in Hallein (a bustling town not far from Salzburg), he could finally immerse himself in music for the rest of his life. When he died at the age of 75, he left behind 90 compositions, mostly of a religious nature. He had sired 12 children and lived a comfortable and happy life. His children inherited some of his musical talent and one may assume that many an evening was filled with music and song in the Gruber home. It is not known whether he ever saw Joseph Mohr again. Because of his stature in society, he had a painting done in his middle age and some photographs of him in his later years were preserved.

Both these men must have known that the song was sung in various places under the tag of Authors Unknown. What Mohr’s reasons were for not claiming authorship, one can only guess. Gruber later stated that the transcript by Anton Friese didn’t contain the exact music he had written. Friese’s version, remember, was jotted down in shorthand and later transcribed, which explains the discrepancy. However, Gruber and Mohr didn’t think about claiming ownership – it just wasn’t important to them. What was important was that people embraced their song. In contrast to the rejection of Father Nostler, it was through the voices of so many simple folk that Gruber and Mohr found their reward.

salzburg___stift_sankt_peter_by_pingallery-d48eqddSo, how do we know that these two gentlemen actually were responsible for Silent Night? There are different versions of this part of the story, but Gertruida tells her audience, she simply loves the legend involving choir director Herr P. Ambrosius Prennsteiner of the Benedictine Monastery of St. Peter in Salzburg. This, she reminds them, represents perhaps the biggest miracle of Silent Night…

In 1854 the Abbot wrote Prennsteiner a letter, conveying the request by the Kapellmeister of he King’s Orchestra in Berlin for a copy of the score for Silent Night, presumably by Michael Haydn. The reason for this approach was that the younger Haydn had been Kapellmeister there for 43 years before his death in 1806; and it was presumed that the score would be in the extensive library amongst the other 350 compositions he had written during his tenure there.

The Kapellmeister knew that such a search would take ages. However, he had several students under his care and by one of those inexplicable twists of fate, he chose young Felix Gruber to assist in the quest. Young Felix, amazingly, just had to be the youngest son of…(wait for it and enjoy the moment)…Franzl Gruber! When told to look for the score of Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!, the young Gruber exclaimed that this song did not originate by Michael Haydn’s hand at all, but was written by his father, Franzl. Although the Kapellmeister must have been sceptical, he did write to Herr Gruber.

Not long afterwards the Director of the King’s Orchestra in Berlin received a letter containing, amongst others, a sheet of music titled Weihnachtslied. The letter contained a short and very modest description of the events leading up to that mass on the evening of the 24th December.

Skip ahead to 1867 when Durlichter published a handbook on Pongau, the area in Austria stretching from St Johann to Wagrain. Of the little village of Wagrain not much could be said, except that it had been the parish of one Joseph Mohr, who, along with Franz Gruber of Hallein, wrote Silent Night. It was the first ‘official’ acknowledgement of their combined efforts in 1818. By this time, however, both of them were dead.

***

With the story told, Gertruida sighs happily. This is the graphic part of the story, where her listeners must close their eyes and take an imaginary trip to a village far, far away.

“Such then, is the story of the most famous of Christmas songs. But come now, on the eve of Christmas, and let us join the people in the village of Oberndorf, where the choir and people with less musical voices will join in the singing of Silent Night. Look for the gathering of crowds on the exact spot where the song was born. Bring along some warm mittens – preferably of the calfskin variety that made the Stassers famous. Watch as Franzl Gruber’s original guitar is carefully unpacked from its case and the guitar player turns the screws on the handle to make sure the notes are exactly right. Maybe, as a sign of blessing, a sprinkling of snow will float down on the crowd – divine applause for  the two men whose friendship and determination sought to undo the damage the mouse had done to an ancient organ in 1818.

“And then, with the plaintive notes of the guitar as guide, soar with the voices of the Rainers, the Stassers, the peasants and kings, to sing the song that causes the lump in your throat. Hear again the loneliness of Mohr and the brilliance of Gruber as tears streak down your cheek to freeze on your collar. And when the last sounds drift away into the mighty peaks of the white Alps, there will be an awed silence, an emotional quiet, when not a single member of the gathering dares to say anything.

“It is in the quiet peace and acceptance of Life following the song that the true power of Silent Night becomes evident. It is a lullaby for us all: there to comfort our worries, to support hope, to spread love and goodwill and to reassure us that Jesus der Retter ist Da… We may, indeed, rest in heavenly peace.

“One last act is necessary before we leave the town of Oberndorf. Join me at the local Bierstube for a glass of glühwein. Let us lift our glasses high and toast the memory of two remarkable men – men who sought not glory or fame, but who were content to leave us the music and words of a humble song. In their small way, they changed the world for the better; may it continue doing so for all generations to come.

“Franzl Gruber and Joseph Mohr: we salute you! Kings and Presidents will come and go. Most of them will be forgotten. But your song, your Silent Night, will be with us forever.”

Gertruida says a good ending can never be rushed, and it is so with this story. She refuses to say ‘The End’ when the story is told. It has no end, she says. We shall sing the song with our loved ones and our children. In years to come, they will do so with theirs. And so the echoes of Silent Night will pass from generation to generation, reminding us that we are never alone. In the silence of the night – any night – Joseph Mohr ‘s words will comfort us in the year ahead. Inevitably, because that’s what Life is like, we’ll face hardships, disappointments and a few goodbyes. We’ll maybe also reach a few goals and have a couple of laughs. There’ll be tears of joy…and sadness. Every single one of us will feel the pain of an abandoned child at times – just like the humble Rev Mohr did. And then, in those quiet moments, Joseph Mohr is there to remind us: der Retter ist da…the Saviour is there, as well…

Gertruida has a bit of advice to every parent telling this story to a sleepy-eyed child on the eve of Christmas. She says the final sentence should be: “It started with a mouse….and it has no end…”