“Nothing much ever happens here.” Vetfaan toys with his empty beer glass as he stares out of the window. “We’re a pathetic bunch.”
“Oh, come on, Vetfaan, that isn’t true! We’ve had Halloween, the elves livened things up for a while and you got to be Santa Claus for a night. You can’t call that boring, can you?” Servaas knows Vetfaan – if he starts complaining, something is brewing in his head.
“I think we should do something. Something different for a change.” Vetfaan ignores the interjection. “Like following the American election. Those guys have a roaring time – jetting from one city to the other, telling people stuff they like to hear. If we had a TV, we’d be able to watch those guys as they try to bluff the people over there. It’ll be quite funny.”
“Well, if we had a dish and a receiver, that would have been a nice start. And of course, a decoder and a TV set. We do have electricity, and that helps. So what, exactly, do you propose?” Boggel is sarcastic, of course.
‘Listen, don’t think I’m stupid. I’ll have you know that I ordered a TV. There was an advert in the Farmer’s Weekly last month, offering a special discount on everything you need to receive a TV signal even in the remotest places. Now that Kleinpiet is married, I have to get something to keep me busy. Precilla keeps him occupied on the farm; I hear he’s painting the house now.”
Boggel has been worried about that. The two men used to meet for a few beers every day. Now Kleinpiet spends his time getting his place into shape, Vetfaan seems lonely and even depressed.
“Great idea, Vetfaan,” he soothes, “I’ll share the costs with you and we can put it up here. Then you can still enjoy a beer while you watch those Americans do what they do best.”
Vetfaan is in Boggel’s Place as soon as the doors open the next day, watching the road to Grootdrink for the tell-tale streak of dust of the lorry from Kalahari Vervoer.
“We’ll put it up against the wall over there. Then we can watch the street and the TV at the same time. I read last night about National Geographic that has its own channel – Gertruida will be pleased.” Boggel watches Vetfaan while he talks; the big man seems excited at the prospect.
When at last the lorry grinds to a halt in front of the bar, Vetfaan helps the driver unload the big box. It is quite heavy, causing the men to grunt and groan under the load. Standing Back, Vetfaan rubs his hands together. “Now we’re in business,” he announces as he signals for another beer.
Once they get the box open, the two men stand back in awe. Cables, plugs, a huge TV set, decoder , remotes and the huge satellite dish take up all the spare space in the bar.
“There’s no instruction booklet.”Boggel turns the box over to make sure. “Do you know how to do this?”
“Look – how difficult can it be? The electric plug goes onto the electric wire. I can do that. Then the dish gets attached to the aerial wire, which goes to the decoder, which goes to the set. It’s child’s play, Boggel.”
It takes two beers for the men to sort out how to work with the aerial cable, but they have the basic assembly right before lunch time. With the TV set on a table against the wall, they drag the dish outside to lean it against the wall.
“Okay, Boggel. Switch it on.” Vetfaan sits down so he can see the screen properly.
Boggel flips the switch, and the wait for the set to warm up. The screen crackles, fizzes and settles on a snow-pattern.
“Where’s the picture? Shouldn’t there be a picture?”
“I think you have to tune the set, like you do with a radio. It sorts out the channels.” Boggel tries to sound confident. “Maybe that’s why they have the two remotes: look, the one is for the decoder, the other belongs to the set. And it says here: MENU. Lets try.”
Two hours later the two of them are still at it, watched by the townsfolk who have trickled in. (Curiosity and thirst are compelling masters in Rolbos.) The wavy, snowy pattern on the screen has caused a number of remarks that would have upset Oudoom, if he had been there.
“It’s the dish,” Gertruida says, because she knows everything, “you have to point it at a satellite. If you don’t, you can’t catch up the signal.” The men listen carefully as she explains how it works. “That’s why you get TV and Radio stations with the decoder. We’ll be able to listen to BBC and many other radio stations around the world. You’ll see: this thing will bring us into the 21st Century.”
Vetfaan staggers about with the dish for the next hour or so, pointing it in every direction possible, while Boggel watches the wavy pattern that seems to be a permanent fixture on the screen. Just when they’re about to give up, something that sounds like a voice can be heard amidst the static.
“Whoa! Hold it there, Vetfaan. Just there. Don’t move! We’ve got something.”
The voice is almost inaudible because of the crackling and sizzling – but with Gertruida directing Vetfaan’s stance, they eventually have something to listen to.
“Listen son (crackle, fizz, whistle), are you going into town tomorrow? Over.”
(Tweep, grrr, zzzzzz) “Yes dad. Will be there early. Do you need something? Over”
(brrrr, twiptwiptwip) “Yes, thank you. Get some of those big torch batteries, mine are finished.Over”
“(inaudible) … will do so. Over and out.”
The group stares at the set. “That was Ben Bitterbrak. He was talking to his son on CB radio.” Gertruida speaks with a certain amount of awe in her voice. “This must be a very powerful set – they must be sixty kilometers away!”
For a week this marvel of modern technology gets dragged all over Rolbos to try and pick up a signal. Vetfaan eventually phoned The Farmer’s Weekly to complain, and after three weeks a pickup with “Augrabies TV Services” emblazoned on its side, arrives at Boggels Place. A dapper young man hops out. Gertruida immediately recognises the flair with which he takes his toolbox from the van.
“This young man knows what he’s doing. We’ll have TV soon.”
“Eish, I was sent to fix you problem. In fact, they tell me you don’t get a signal?” He walks up to the dish and emits a long, drawn-out whistle. “You did this all by yourselves? Hau, I cannot believe it. No, it’s not possible.”
Vetfaan steps out of the crowd with a proud smile. “Yes, we did. It was very difficult, but we got so far.”
The TV man stares at him in the way a mamba would, before striking. Then he gathers himself visibly, shakes his head, and gets on with his job. The first thing he does is to get the dish on top of the roof, where he fixes it to the chimney. Then he dismantles all the aerial connections to redo them again.
Exactly thirty minutes later, Rolbos stands in total silence as the young man switches on the set. Two seconds later, Richard Quest tells them about the impact of global warming on the community of Eskimos living in Alaska.
“This is an old set,” the young man says with a grin. “You need to get a digital one now. This set is so outdated, nobody buys them any more. They practically give them away these days. Here’s my card – phone me when you’re ready to replace this junk.”
For the next few days, the Rolbossers flip through the channels, watching world news. Gertruida thinks it’s unfair that they can receive neither History Channel, nor National Geographic – it’s not part of the package Vetfaan bought.
“I’m going to have my beer outside in the future,” Servaas announces when CNN tells the world about the cyclone in India. “I just can’t watch this any more. We don’t talk – and we’re constantly being fed a diet of bad news and crime. You stay if you like. I’m outside. “
Not surprisingly, the rest follow Servaas to the stoep.
“Being part of the 21st Century isn’t fun,” Vetfaan complains. “We used to be better off in the old days. At least we shared good news back then.”
Boggel has two choices: either he moves the counter outside, or the set has to go.
Nowadays the only ones to benefit from the Great TV-Debacle (as it became known), are the chickens on Vetfaan’s farm. The big satellite dish provides them with a wonderful feeding-trough.