Tag Archives: humour

Faultlines, quakes and the future

57110ec5c46188f6018b45f2.jpg“What will you do?”  Gertruida sits back with a wicked smile. “An earthquake is a distinct possibility, you know?”

Talk in Boggel’s Place has been slow recently. Discussing the government’s total lack of respect for the needs of ordinary citizens had become boring and the almost-daily political scandals have finally dulled the senses to such an extent that talking about them seemed superfluous and unnecessary. Vetfaan reckons that experiment with the frog in the luke-warm water now includes America, England, Europe, most of Africa and the Middle East. “People have become desensitised,” he said, “by being overloaded with crises and misery. We just don’t care anymore.”

That’s why Gertruida tried to get the conversation going again by broaching a new subject. So far, she’s not having much success.

“So,” Servaas takes up the bait, “you’re saying the Milnerton Fault runs through Cape Town, the Cape Flats and approaches Koeberg Nuclear Plant?”

“Yep. Koeberg is only 8 km from the fault. And that fault was the cause of the major quake in ’69 and a lesser one in 2004.  So, my question stands: what do you do when such a catastrophe hits Koeberg? It’d be similar to  Japan’s Fukushima disaster.”

“There won’t be much one could do, Gertruida. If there were a quake, there’d be  a probability of a tsunami and the potential for a radiation leak – even a melr down. Koeberg was built to withstand a Richter Scale 7 quake – but what about a 7.2 or more? They can’t predict these things, you know?”

“You’re right, Boggel.” Servaas holds out his glass for a refill. “I simply cannot understand why they built Koeberg where they did. Right next to the city and a densely populated area. And, to top it all, slap bang on a faultline.”

“There is some good news, though.” Vetfaan holds up his hand for silence. “The government and the Russians have agreed – in principle – that we need more nuclear power stations. For all we know, they’ve already concluded the most important part of the negotiations: which palms would be greased  and how are they going to fool the public into believing the deal is corruption-free.”

“I fail to see how that is good news, Vetfaan. Nuclear energy is going to cost the taxpayers trillions of dollars. Why can’t we go with renewable, cheap energy? We have a coastline with constant wind and the Karoo and Kalahari must rank as the most sunny spots on the globe. Why build nuclear stations?”

“They can’t.” Vetfaan’s smile almost reaches his ears. “There simply aren’t enough fault lines in South Africa – and those that do exist, aren’t near sufficient water supplies to feed the turbines and cool the core down.”

“You’re not making any sense, Vetfaan.” Gertruida shakes her head. The man has a tendency to go off on a completely skew angle.

“But nothing does, Gertruida. Why even plan a nuclear facility? Who benefits from that? Why the negative approach to renewable energy?” He leans closer to whisper: “I’ll tell you: because the private sector won the race for renewable energy. The government had been caught napping – again. So now, Escom tries to ignore these wind farms and solar installations, so they can  justify the building of nuclear stations. It’s a short-sighted, stupid approach.

“But…if they follow Koeberg’s example, they have to build these stations on geological fault lines. That’s why we’re establishing a new pressure group here, today.”

“Wha…?”

“Yes, my friends. Faultline Underneath New Nuclear Installations will petition the minister to remind him to build the new facilities near big cities, masses of water and on a major fault line. Once the movement has gained momentum, they’ll have no option but to pass the idea on to dear Mr Mugabe, who’ll be happy to build the station next to Kariba. There. Problem solved.”

People often think that the talk in Boggel’s Place is superficial and of no consequence. They’re wrong. While many of their arguments might rest on logical faultlines which often wreck what they considered to be brilliant debating points, some of their debates – often quite surprisingly – actually contain real solutions to very real problems.

Unfortunately, they react to the country’s problems much like you and I do. They scoff, try to joke their way out of worry, and then revert to the safe subjects, like the drought, the quota system in rugby or the SABC hearings. These, they agree, are serious matters and should not be joked about.

But if you want to see them laugh out loud, you may want to mention the famous leader who said the ruling party once had a membership of 100.2 million. That is quite an achievement for a country with a total population of approximately 55 million. That’s when Boggel will make his now-famous remark: you cannot build a successful political party on the faultline of stupidity. He says he doesn’t want to offend anybody and that the remark is neither racist nor Van Riebeeck’s fault – it’s just that he can’t wait for the results of the next election. He also says that, if that election goes wrong, it’d be worse than Koeberg melting down.

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Free Giveaway: A troupe of Bumbledragons.

Whist_marker.jpg“You know, in these days of such racial sensitivity, gender questions and religious turmoil, one has to be careful whenever one opens one’s mouth. Calling somebody a donkey or an ape will force you to see a magistrate, and if ever – oh my! – you compared somebody’s intellect with that of some insect, you’ll end up in jail, I’m sure.”  Gertruida slaps down an ace on the pile of cards and collects the packet. “But really, Servaas, that was a stupid move. You cannot expect to win the trick with a king if you know the ace is still out there somewhere.”

Ever since the group at the bar became disenchanted with their endless discussions of current politics, whist has come to their rescue. This age-old card game is not as simple as it seems, and involves bit of concentration – something often lacking in most people when they consider the state of corruption in the country.

“Yes, but I thought…”

“Ag Servaas, you are the original Bumblepuppy.” Gertruida simply has to show off, knowing that the others will be puzzled by the ‘new’ word. Actually, it is not new, but has its origins way back in the 17th century.

“A what?” Vetfaan smiles – he knows he has taken the bait, but curiosity got the better of him.

“You don’t know?” With arched brows and a mocking smile, Gertruida puts down her cards. “Okay then, let me enlighten you.”

Bumblepuppy.jpgOriginally, Bumblepuppy was a game played on a slanting, flattish surface with nine holes at one end. Round pebbles  – or stones – were rolled from  the player’s end, to finish up in one of the nine numbered holes. Then the scores were tallied up and a winner declared.

“But later the word found its way into whist. You see, because they used uneven river stones to roll down that flat surface, they never could be quite sure where the stone would end up. You could score a 1 as easily as a 9 – so it really was a game of chance. In some ways, you can compare Bumblepuppy with today’s slot machines: the only thing you can be sure of, is that you have a chance to win. The odds, however, are stacked against you

whist_history.jpg“So, a Bumblepuppy is a gambler with money to burn – a careless  player about to lose. That’s why whist players took over the term a century later. When you play like Servaas, putting down your best card with the full knowledge that somebody else would trump it, you are a Bumblepuppy. Servaas could have taken the next hand if he played his 2. But no! He hasn’t been concentrating on the table, so he shot himself in the foot. His best card is now gone and he is doomed to lose this hand.”

Boggel gets up to fetch a new round. “So it’s just like recent developments in politics, then? Trump wins in America, Zuma bamboozles the public, Escoms’s people are resigning, Abraham’s got egg on his face and our ministers get manicures from rhino poachers?”

“Much the same, Boggel. Only they aren’t playing a game,  even though they are gambling.”

.Servaas slugs down some beer and  – quite uncharacteristically – burps loudly. “Bumblepuppy? Those guys? No way! They’re Bumbledragons and you can have them free.” Without apologising, he goes on. “Come on, Gertruida, deal the next hand. Give me some good cards for a change. I need them.”

“Yeah. You and a whole parliament of others. And you know what? A Bumblepuppy can never win. It takes time, but it cleans out your wallet, guaranteed. And once that happens, you have to leave the table – those are the rules.”

“So there’s hope for us? For the country, I mean?” Boggel’s hand is a good one – he’s going to win this one for sure.

“Give a Bumbler enough rope, Boggel, and he’ll lose his money…and his footing.”

Survival of the Fittest?

images (11)“That was most unpleasant.” Gertruida goes harrumph and finishes her beer. “Imagine that? We’re being investigated for being honest.”

“What did you expect, Gertruida. Those poor men have to investigate somebody – and if not the criminals, why not us? We’re exactly the type of people that disrupt the peace and quiet in the country. The baddies sneak around and do their thing in silence, and at night. We, however, tend to get rather rowdy within minutes of Boggel unlocking the front door.” Servaas goes tsk-tsk and orders another beer. “We certainly have a lot to learn.”

The watch the black BMW drive off, not quite managing to miss the big pothole. The crunch of the chassis on the road causes the patrons in the bar to relax  a little, The visit by the three men had been as unexpected as unpleasant. Dressed in black suits and sporting Raybans, Gertruida immediately recognised the secret service attitude. However, after the two-hour grilling, she still isn’t sure whether they are from the police or some other government agency. True to the nature of these things, the men didn’t bother to introduce themselves properly.

The list of questions seemed endless. Who are they? Who funds them? Why are they constantly criticising the government in general and the president in particular? What are their plans? Do they have a stockpile of weapons? What’s this about them planning to declare their own republic? Did they not respect the high office of the president and other parliamentarians?

Oh, the men were friendly and never threatened the group at the bar in any way, except to discuss amongst themselves the expense of hiring a lawyer and how difficult it’d be for these backward people to meet such accounts. They also talked about the overcrowded jails, the gangs that are more powerful than the Minister of Correctional Services, and how popular a few white faces in the cells would be.

In the end they left, asking – nay, ordering – them to be more careful in their denunciation of the government that tries so hard to rule fairly over the obedient masses in the country.

“Well,” Boggel slides a cold one across to Servaas, “at least we never said anything about the president showering, the way he’s losing weight, or how one of his wives tried to poison him. If we start telling the truth, we’d be in deep trouble.”

“Stop moaning like that, Servaas. Lets concentrate on saying nice things about the way the country is governed. There has to be something….”

Silence.

“O-o-okay.” Kleinpiet scratches at his five o’clock shadow, staring at the ceiling. “Let me see. We can consider awarding prizes for the top performers in the higher echelons. Mmmm. Not a bad idea.”

Vetfaan catches on immediately. “Like the Order of the Hammer and Sickle for somebody who’s getting the Russians to build nuclear reactors here, and the plans to dump the waste somewhere in the Kalahari?”

“Oh. My. Word! Talk like that will see you sent to Siberia, Vetfaan! How can you make such statements? Those men will make a sharp u-turn in Grootdrink if they heard this.” Precilla is clearly upset. “It’s like proposing the De Klerk Medal of Courage to anybody who speaks out against the quota system in sport.”

“No, I’d like to see somebody brave enough to accept the Jan van Riebeeck Award for Responsible Thinking. You know? Somebody who can point out the cause of all the strikes, land reforms and Marikana.” Boggel smiles smugly at this brilliant suggestion. “And while they’re at it, they can have the ceremony to convey the Order of the Iron Bar – First Class,  to the architect who now has to bear the blame for the swimming pool at Nkandla.”

After this they consider the Weighless Award for the politician who loses the most weight, the Shower Award for the cleanest parliamentarian, and the Cirque du Soleil Medal for the best clown in the House. Surprisingly, they all go to the same person.

The group at the bar gets so deeply involved in the discussion that they fail to see the black BMW stop in front of the veranda again.

“These people are mad,” the man in the back says as he removes the earpiece.

“You are right, comrade.” The driver sets the air-conditioner to ‘Freeze‘.  “It is a common malady that occurs in such isolated places. These men and women have too much time to think, then they come up with these crazy ideas. Politicians try do it, too – but their ideas are harmless: they just talk. We’ll have to report this to headquarters.”

The man in the passenger seat remains quiet. He actually likes the drift of the conversation in the bar. Having a bit of fun amidst the chaos in the country shouldn’t be halted by the law. In fact, he’d want to see them encouraged; especially after the silly idea of establishing a university here. These Rolbossers, he reckons, could have had marvellous careers in Escom or Sanral. But, sadly, these people lack the drive and ambition needed to aim for such illustrious careers.

They’re just too honest to be employed, unfortunately.  And, since the survival of the fittest (or the most creative at factual gymnastics) is a law of nature and politics, these people won’t be a factor to consider in the near future.

He sits back to allow his compatriots to discuss – at length – their report. Let them talk, he thinks, and let them write that report. In the end nobody’s going to read it, anyway. The officials concerned have bigger fish to fry: like whose turn it is to pop out for KFC.

Hennie Kirstein’s Well

Credit: radionz.co.nz

Credit: radionz.co.nz

They still talk about Hennie Kirstein. About him and the girl and the way he disappeared.

Not often, though – simply because the story has so many endings and nobody is quite sure what had happened after the honeymoon. Some (like old Servaas) are convinced that leaving Hennie’s farm caused a fast exit in the Vertical Elevator; but others (like Precilla) believe differently. The ensuing argument usually ends in an icy silence in Boggel’s Place, something that the patrons prefer to avoid. Still, that doesn’t mean they don’t think about the handsome young man they used to envy.

Hennie, you see, had the midas touch, although it came to him by accident. He started with his small flock of sheep on the farm nobody wanted, It was haunted, they said, after Oom Ferreira fell down the well he was digging. He drowned in the middle of the driest, most desolate and isolated part of the Kalahari. Hard to believe? Maybe. But that’s what happened.

At the auction afterwards, only Hennie rocked up and bought the farm for a pittance. He had just enough money left to buy a few sheep and settled down to wait for the next lambing season. The farmers in the area predicted failure, but there must have been something in that water of the well that affected his sheep. No ewe had a single lamb. After the first season Hennie went to Upington to change the farm’s name from Alles Verloren to Tweeling. 

At the end of his second year on the farm, Hennie imported a  ram and a couple of ewes – prime stock everybody said would break him financially. Not so. Within the next two years he was able to host auctions that made his neighbours swallow their words. Hennie was on his way to becoming the richest farmer in the Northern Cape.

Everybody agrees that Hennie should have stuck to farming: then the outcome might have been a happy one. However, Hennie noticed a strange phenomenon, long before it became the subject of so much speculation. He naturally considered the fact that his prize ram – now valued at many times the original cost – would eventually cease to be the magnificent fertile animal it used to be. (This is true for humans, as well). At the age of four, the ram had it’s full set of teeth (four pairs of incisors, neatly stacked close to each other) and Hennie expected the decline to become evident as soon as the teeth started chipping and falling out – which should have happened in the next four years or so. That, he decided, would be the time to sell the ram.

But it didn’t happen. His ram – affectionately called Pumper – not only kept his teeth, but he also continued with unabated enthusiasm to do what he did best. The ewes of the flock seemed to adore the ram, bleating sadly around the sturdy pen Hennie had built to protect Pumper from being overwhelmed by the anxious mothers-to-be. At the age of 11, when even the strongest rams pack up to depart to the pasture-in-the-sky, Pumper was still fathering twins in most of his amorous relationships. (Which Hennie applauded as a work of art. He often boasted that his ram was a master seducer, even to the point of baa-ing softly to his conquests after the act – like a real gentleman should.)

Hennie wondered about his ram a lot. His virility, his fertility, his refusal to grow weary and old…and then he thought about old Oom Ferreira’s well. And then it dawned on him…

It happened when he attended the yearly auction in the eighth year of his farm. Not given to frequent visits to Rolbos or Upington, Hennie lived quietly on Tweeling and rarely saw the other farmers of the district. That year, as he stood listening to the auctioneer’s rattle driving the prices sky high, he looked at the other farmers. Stared intently. And went inside to look at the mirror above the washbasin. And gasped.

The other farmers were getting older, with wrinkles and bald heads and liver spots. He, on the other hand, looked like he had just come out of school. His beard was still fuzzy, his skin as smooth as the day he fantasized about the pigtailed girl in Standard 8, and his stomach as flat as it was when he played wing for the first team. In short – he wasn’t showing the signs of aging the other farmers endured so stoically.

It had to be the water from the well. What else? By the twelfth year his observations were more acute than ever. Pumper was in his prime. And yes, he, Hennie, was still as handsome and as young as ever. His neighbours, sadly, were getting about with replaced hips, used canes to lean on and had servants bring chairs to the auctions. His well – where Oom Ferreira drowned – was the source of….everlasting youth? Could it be?

But, since the well only provided enough water for him and the sheep, Hennie kept quiet and watched his bank balance grow,

This, as every handsome and wealthy bachelor knows, is a very bad thing. There is no stronger aphrodisiac to a would-be spinster than the number of zeroes on the little piece of paper the bank sends out every month to such rare gentlemen. Hennie later considered Pumper to be lucky to be kept safe in his sturdy pen – he, Hennie, didn’t have  that privilege. The buxom ladies came a-calling in droves and he had to be rude at times to get rid of them.

Until Bessie Cronje rocked up. She was different. Shy, demure, pretty, only slightly curvy and the greenest eyes you ever saw. What tipped the scales in her favour? Who knows? Gertruida reckons it was because Bessie wasn’t interested in money – she had inherited the Cronje millions; money made by printing T-shirts for the various political parties in South Africa. (No self-respecting political gathering is complete without T-shirt handouts and free food) Anyway, Bessie arrived in her Bentley, dressed in jeans and a high-necked blouse, and told him she wanted to settle down, make her husband happy and generally be a pleasure to have around.

So, her approach was unpretentious, honest and very, very effective. Hennie fell for her faster than Oom Ferreira descended down his well. The two of them were married by Oudoom in a very private ceremony on the farm, attended by Gertruida and Precilla as bridesmaids and witnesses. Gertruida, who never lies, says that Hennie looked more handsome than ever on that day.

It was the postcard that set the tongues wagging. Taken on the beach in Mauritius, it shows the honeymoon couple tanning happily, each with a tall glass festooned by a little umbrella. If you looked closely, you’d see a little worried smile on Bessies lips. And Hennie? Why is his brow furrowed so deeply, his hair suddenly tinged with grey?

“I tell you, that man needed his farm’s water. Stopping drinking it caused his body to age at a rapid rate. Mother Nature had been tricked for a while, but as soon as he stopped drinking from that well, the years took their revenge. I’m sure he never made it back – probably ended up in a geriatric institution somewhere.” Servaas runs a tired hand over his withered face. “You can’t fool Time, my friends.”

“Ag no, Servaas. I’m sure Bessie had twins and they settled somewhere peacefully. Why stay in the Kalahari if you can lounge around in luxury somewhere? Yep, settled down and lived happily ever after, that’s what happened.” Ever the romantic optimist, Precilla’s emphatic statement sounds a bit desperate even to herself.

Hennie’s farm is still out there, lost in the arid landscape of the vast Kalahari. The flock had been sold, except for the ram which disappeared mysteriously on the day before the sale. Kleinpiet says that, on some full moon nights, you can hear the bleating of a young ram near that well – and that usually makes his listeners laugh.

Not happy laughter, mind you – more like the impolite grunts people make upon hearing a bad joke. Just like we do when the president tells us that the ANC will rule until Jesus returns. One thing is sure, however: Uncle Zumzum would like to know about that well – he’s certainly aging too fast to still be around when that happens.

The Greatest Show on Earth…or not?

Zuma Satire

There’s a kind of hush in Boggel’s Place today as they wait patiently for the Honourable President to deliver his State of the Nation Address. It should be a stately affair to showcase the immaculate vision and excellent leadership we as South Africans are proud to present to the world at large. Servaas remembers the days when Oom Blackie Swart was the president and went about in his humble ways. Surely, he maintains, subsequent presidents will try to surpass the standard of honesty and quiet humility our first president set. After all, parliament is the example of the finest men and women in the country and we should be extremely proud of how they rule over us.

Gertruida reckons it’s all a dust storm in a tin mug, but Vetfaan can’t wait. He says some presidents might stumble, but it’s time for others to run…

Kleinpiet has been busy all day researching the perfect State of the Nation Address. He says it’s been invented a long time ago by a gentleman called David Davies, who used to broadcast on LM Radio, If our esteemed First Citizen could say something like this – after bidding us all a fond goodbye and final farewell – he’d be a happy man.

Gertruida’s Crystal Ball

Credit: kyknet.dstv.com

Credit: kyknet.dstv.com

It’d be just a joke, she said. A farce. Just a bit of fun. And it would have been, if it weren’t for the ants. And now, topping the make-shift scarecrow, it serves as a reminder of how wrong things turned out to be. Nothing in this world was perfect, Gertruida said. The seeds of evil lurk in all good things – like the ants – and there’s nothing one can do about it. Like in the New Year, it’d be in the unexpected that the true character of society will be revealed.

It did, however, seem like a good idea at the time.  Since New Year’s day fell on a Thursday, the group in Boggel’s Place couldn’t resist contemplating a long weekend of parties. Thursday would host the usual celebrations after New Year’s Eve. Traditionally, this was a low-key affair with lots of headache powders and the bowl of liver pills doing duty next to the cash register.

On Friday they were up to speed again, complete with the singing of Kaapse Klopse songs. They had a real minstrel parade down Voortrekker Weg, complete with costumes and lots of laugther. Servaas won the first prize for his rendition of Daar kom die Alibama , winning the bottle of premium peach brandy in the process.

Perhaps that was the reason for the Crystal Ball. Peach brandy (as we all know) increases the thinking capacity of the human brain and has always been a major factor in the Rolbossers tendency to  explore the unthinkable. (By the way – Boggel says that’s why parliament is such a useless institution. If they replaced the water carafes with real Orange River Peach Brandy, they’d surprise the country with their inventiveness). After Servaas shared his prize with the townsfolk, they naturally had to sit down to contemplate Saturday’s party. Usually, Rolbos used the 3rd of January as a day to allow the overladen livers to recover a bit, so Gertruida’s suggestion of a dance was met with universal approval. Some vigorous exercise, she said, would burn off the excess of calories they had ingested over the festive season.

Music? Gertruida’s collection of the Klipwerf Orkes. Servaas’s gramophone. No problem. Then…

mirrorball“We should have a crystal ball. You know, like they have in the Oasis Casino? Then we can call it our Crystal Ball – like in a dance, understand?”

“You mean a mirror ball, Vetfaan?”

“Whatever. But…a Crystal Ball sounds so much more sophisticated, don’t you agree, Gertruida?”

The manufacture of the mirror ball proved to be a problem until Boggel suggested they all go home to bring back any broken or cracked mirrors. The ball almost stumped them. With no soccer or beach balls around, it was Vetfaan who saved the day by remembering a rugby ball in the cupboard where he stored things he couldn’t throw away. Happy memories of the drop kick that won the game against Prieska, many years ago. His lucky ball, he said, but they could borrow it for a night. Kleinpiet convinced Sammie to open his shop so they can buy some glue.

The Crystal Ball was born on Boggel’s counter. No matter that it wasn’t perfect. The bits of mirror were stuck to the oblong ball with so much enthusiasm that the final result looked more like a crashed lunar module – but it was, they all agreed, the best mirror ball ever produced in Rolbos.

“Are we just going to hang it from a rafter? That simply won’t do. If it’s not turning, people will think we’re backward.” Who the ‘people’ were that Vetfaan referred to, didn’t matter. The point was taken up in a heated discussion. Yes, they agreed, a stationary ball wouldn’t be right. It had to turn.

Coiling_Gizmo_Review3And so Kleinpiet fashioned a crank with an old coat hanger. When he climbed on to a chair – which the townsfolk had placed on a table – he found a very handy hole in the rafter above the counter. This was, they said sagely, a sign that they were on the right path. The wire went through the hole, the ball attached to the bottom, and the cranky bit begged for attention above the rafter.

Gertruida’s Crystal Ball was set to be a huge success.

When they assembled in their Sunday best on Saturday night, they all stood staring at their magnificent mirror ball, which hung patiently below the rafter, waiting to be turned around and around.

“We’ll draw straws. The men will take turns in turning the crank – our dresses won’t allow us up there.” Gertruida had seen the way Servaas eyed Precilla’s miniskirt and decided to defuse the situation there and then. “A stint up there will last ten minutes or two rounds of drinks, depending on which finishes first.”

Servaas drew the first short straw and had to be helped to the perch on to of the rafter. Then, turning the crank ever so slowly, the townsfolk gasped as the bits of mirror threw rays of light all over the bar. It was surely the most beautiful thing they had ever seen. With the sun setting on the horizon, the room was filled with orange and red and yellow streaks of light, creating a magnificent display.

Kleinpiet, too, did an admirable job up there. Then it was Vetfaan’s turn…

We all know Vetfaan.

He’s a huge man.

A bulky man.

Large.

He had just climbed up to the rafter and was reaching for the crank, when the rafter gave a monstrous groan, sagged…and snapped…

***

It’s not a good idea to fall from that height into a makeshift mirror ball. A careful inspection of the rafter would have revealed the many tunnels the termites had made there over the years, but that they only realised when they removed the heavy piece of wood from Vetfaan’s groaning bulk.

The damage to the ball was surprisingly minimal. Sammie was rather proud of this, saying he only sells the best quality products in his shop. The same could not be said for Vetfaan. Precilla had to fetch her first-aid kit to patch him up with all the Band-aids she had.

This minor hiccup didn’t derail the Crystal Ball, however. As soon as Vetfaan’s comments were sufficiently civilised again, they asked Oudoom to fetch his hunting torch. The ball was placed on the table in the middle of the room and then everybody took turns to walk around it slowly while aiming the beam at their wonderful mirror ball.

***

On Sunday, after Oudoom’s stirring sermon on pride and ambition (a fitting New Year’s message about keeping your feet on the ground and your eyes on Heaven), the townsfolk retired to Boggel’s Place for a post mortem on the Crystal Ball. Vetfaan didn’t want his ball back, saying he had no fond memories of it any more. Kleinpiet had brought an old fence post to reinforce the broken rafter. (It’s surprising how much the man can do with a piece of wood and a sturdy length of wire – just like he did with the crank). Gertruida stacked her Klipwerf records in a neat pile and Servaas packed up his gramophone. Business was almost back to normal.

The fate of the ball caused a debate. No, they agreed, it’d be better if they didn’t use it again. Vetfaan assured them he’d boycott such an event, anyway. Then Kleinpiet suggested that he could use it as a head for the scarecrow in his vegetable patch.

Gertruida says that scarecrow is the most effective scarecrow in the world. The way the effigy sways in the wind – and with the movement of the sun – the head is constantly causing a display of reflected light rays that dance across the cabbages and pumpkins. Not a single rabbit or bird seems to be brave enough to approach this phenomenon during daytime. At night, Kleinpiet often hangs a lantern nearby, providing  around-the-clock protection for his garden.

Gertruida suggested they patent the design, but Vetfaan is set against it. Mirror-headed scarecrows? Nah…not enough Band-aids in the whole of the Northern Cape…

The Rolbos Guide to 2015

d6Sweat the small stuff. Pay attention to detail, and the Big Stuff never becomes a problem. And never lose the wonder of even the smallest creatures around you.

d2Mother Nature has been around far longer than you have. Respect her, and by doing so, respect the world your children will live in. Never take anything for granted – even rocks decay with time.

d4There is beauty in everything – even in the harshest environment. Seek beauty, and Life will reward you in kind.

IMG_3851Take time off. Rest. Think. Reflect. And make sure you get enough me-time. Crowds and lots of friends may well have a place in your life; but that alone is insufficient to become who you should be. Nurture your uniqueness and avoid wishing you were somebody (or somewhere) else. And yes…you are good enough.

IMG_1189

Make sure you have at least one soft toy, and that it has a name. They are more loyal –  and give more solace and joy – than most people you know.

188_8855Be kind to older people. Visit them. Talk to them. Loneliness is the worst affliction of old age and more debilitating than any disease. Surprisingly, you’ll find that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

IMG_2629Study other cultures and history. You are a mere link in the very long chain of humanity. Losing sight of this simple fact. inflates the ego and kills humility.

IMG_2765Travel. See places you’ve never been to. There is no more sad a person than one who thinks the world ends at the city limits.

IMG_2801Birds fill your life with song. Learn the names of at least ten this year. And then study how they live. There are great lessons in this.

IMG_2876Learn to do things yourself. Depending on others inevitably leads to disappointment at some or other stage. It is the strong and independent mind  that survives the hardships we have to face every day.

IMG_3254Never cease to be amazed by the magic of  fire. Nor by the way light gets rid of darkness.

IMG_3349Never lose the ability to play. It’s the best way to stop taking yourself so seriously. Be loyal to those you love and they’ll join your fun.

IMG_3408If your mother is alive – then show her your love. If she has already passed on, never forget her legacy.

april 2009, amakhala 058 mod

Love your family – even the ones with bad manners. They are part of who you are. Rejecting them is to reject your own identity.

S

Enjoy wine in moderation. It’s the best social lubricant ever invented.

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Lastly – you will face giants in the next year. That is inevitable, for Life has a way of challenging the best out of you. Sit back, smile humbly, be patient and at peace. No situation is permanent – and often the threat to your existence is as uncertain as you are. Wait…it’ll pass. Every day is a gift – be grateful.x51

The Ghosts of Halcyon Days

Sand-in-Hourglass“I sometimes wish I could go back in time and start all over again.” Kleinpiet has been complaining about his tax return ever since this morning. It turns out he owes the Revenue Service the tidy sum of R752.78, which – he says – could have bought a week’s peach brandy for all of them. Vetfaan scoffed at this, telling him he must take into account that the Rand has been steadily spiralling towards the Zimbabwean Dollar’s worth. This didn’t improve Kleinpiet’s mood.

“I should have included my travelling expenses. I mean, if I don’t drive into town to visit Boggel’s Place every day, I wouldn’t know what you guys say about the drought. As a farmer, such information is vital – and should be tax-deductible. Then the taxman would have owed me, not the other way round.”

“It’s always so easy to have 20/20 vision in retrospect, Kleinpiet.” Gertruida lays a comforting hand on his shoulder. “But we live life on a straight time-line. Going back isn’t an option – unless you happen to be a politician. Those guys are taking us back to the Bronze Age at a tremendous speed.”

“Well, if I could have started over, I’d have changed my surname to Mahlangu, bought a sunbed and claimed the Northern Cape as ancestral ground.” Boggel says the most absurd things every now and then. “Imagine suing the diamond companies for all the diamonds they stole from my land over the years. And now they plan on stealing my gas and oil as well.” He scowls angrily at the thought. “Boy! I’d be a rich man!”

“Ag, come on, Boggel! You know that’s impossible. You’d have to prove your grandfather lived here.” Vetfaan doesn’t want to remind Boggel about him being an orphan, but the point has to be made. “You’d be better off if Boggel Mahlangu got involved in a BEE deal. Then you’d be able to sit back and watch the money roll in. It’s far easier than a land claim, anyway. ”

“Nah. If Boggel could start over, I think he should become a politician. Come to think of it: all barmen are politicians – they always agree with everything said to them.  And then they do what they want, anyway. And we all know how they line their pockets.” Realising what he just said, he quickly adds: “I’m talking about politicians, not honest barmen.” Servaas smiles as he gets a friendly nod from Boggel. No offence taken.

“There’s something even better, Vetfaan.” As usual, Gertruida simply has to have the final word. “You should have become a building contractor. Especially in Natal. The chaps involved with Nkandla cleaned out the Reserve Bank, that’s for sure.”

To her surprise, Servaas trumps her. “A negotiator in the Arms Deal. That’s what he should have done. We’d have had a bar in Rolbos that had a fountain of beer and a cellar full of peach brandy.”

Yes, they all agree, anything to do with government would have made Boggel a rich man, but that wouldn’t have helped Kleinpiet at all. The Revenue Service is arguably the only department in the government that deserves the ‘Service’ tag. They’re responsible that the hardworking few in the country can support the masses of unemployed, the sick, the aged and the many single-parent teenagers.

“But,” Boggel holds up a hand for silence, “one must consider what has happened in the past ten years or so, before wishing you had known what would have happened. If somebody told me back then…” And here he ticks down an outstretched finger with every point. “…that we’d have a failing economy, rampant crime, unprecedented number of murders, an AIDS epidemic, a president with multiple wives, Satanism accepted as a religion and a national icon in jail for murder while the president is suspected of massive fraud…”

“Yes, Boggel? What would you have done?”

“I’d find a quiet little place, far from the maddening crowd. I’d look for a community where I can laugh and be happy. I’d consider opening a small bar, where I can listen to people swapping stories all day. And I’ll tell Kleinpiet to remember to add his travelling expenses when he does his income tax return…”

Kleinpiet manages a lopsided grin. “Ja, Boggel, in your dreams, my friend…in your dreams…”

Old News

bad-news2-300x225Despite the many advantages of living in Rolbos, there are a few realities the inhabitants have to face. With no TV and a rather patchy radio reception, they live in a no-news bubble – which perhaps is to their benefit, when you come to think of it. The daily cascade of disasters, the political back-stabbing, the tragedy of major court cases – these things get viewed in retrospect, when they read about last week’s news in the Upington Post which arrives with the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer.

Gertruida once said the world is in the state it’s in because the news is so immediate, making people part of the events by demanding they push personal matters aside to be up to date with who-did-what-where-and-why. She maintained that our brains are like Windows: the more programs you run, the slower the computer. This caused Servaas to draw the curtains in an effort to pay attention to what she was saying.

Despite their remoteness, some news does filter through, though. Kleinpiet whistles as he reads the article at the bottom of page 3 in the previous week’s Post.

“It says here somebody won the Powerball. Millions! 58 of them. Somebody from Brakpan. That’s obscene.” He doesn’t specify whether it’s the money or the town that upsets him.

“Shew! Imagine standing behind that person in the queue in the bank. E-one, e-two, e-three…. It’ll take forever to count out the money.”

“Get a life, Servaas. These days everything is done electronically. They push a button in Pretoria and suddenly your bank account has a lot of zeroes in it. They had to develop the technology, simply because nobody – nobody – can walk around anywhere in the country with a suitcase full of money any more. They call it redistribution of wealth. Or affirmative balancing.  Apparently it is accepted practice.”

Credit: Land Rover

Credit: Land Rover

While they chat about the problems of having so much money, a brand new Land Rover purrs down the street. Of course this caused a stir, but it’s the driver that brings about a breathless hush in the bar. The blonde, middle-twenties girl at the wheel is – and they all agree on this – absolutely gorgeous. Long-haired, wide smile, perfect skin, pert nose, full lips…the list goes on. And when she gets out in a smooth, almost feline movement, the hush turns into an admiring silence…

“It’s not possible,” Vetfaan breathes, eyeing the long legs. Can so little cover so  much?

“Breathe, Vetfaan.” Boggel shakes the big farmers shoulders. “Relax and take deep breaths.”

The skirt may well be described as miniscule. The T-shirt defies description in conventional terms. And then there is the particular way her clothing (or lack thereof) displays the person underneath the scant material.

The young lady hesitates on the sidewalk for a second, staring first up and then down Voortrekker Weg. Apparently making up her mind, she shrugs and walks over to Boggel’s Place.

“Um…I’m lost,” she says after pushing open the door to the bar. She’s met with adoring stares.

“Oh.” Boggel, as a seasoned barman, is the first to say something.

“I wonder if you gentlemen can help me?” Even her voice makes Kleinpiet drool. “You see, I’ve never travelled much before, but my circumstances suddenly allows me to see a bit of the country.” Realising the men at the bar doesn’t understand, she tries again. “I started last week, see? Drove to the Drakensberg, then had a look at Bloemfontein and that big hole in Kimberley. Now I’m on my way to the Augrabies Falls, but I don’t think I’m on the right road.” She shoots a worried glance through the window. “There isn’t a river nearby, is there?”

Vetfaan points vaguely in the direction of Upington, Servaas wishes he had his glasses here and Kleinpiet fishes a handkerchief from his pocket to clean his chin. Realising that the same hanky was used when he checked the oil in his pickup last night, he quickly returns it to his pocket.

Boggel invites the newcomer to sit down at the bar so that he can draw a map with directions. She seems oblivious of the effect her sitting down on the high chair has on the rest of the patrons. The men at the counter simply can’t avoid staring at the smooth, athletic movements. Cat-like, they’ll agree afterwards.

“Oh, thank you,” she breathes when Boggel hands her the map, smiling at him. “You mean I go back to Grootdrink and turn right there? It seems easy.” She laughs coyly. “You know, us girls from Brakpan don’t travel much. But after what happened, I decided: no more miss Smalltown for me! I’m going to see the world – maybe even go as far as Cape Town. I hear there’s a nice mountain there, somewhere. And the beach! I’d love to see the sea. It’s amazing what money can do, isn’t it?”

“Um,” Servaas manages, nodding vigorously – which is more than Kleinpiet manages as he tries to close his mouth.

“Well, I’ll be off then. Toodles!” Hopping from the chair, she waves a playful finger at Boggel when she reaches the door. “Don’t give up, guys. Dreams do come true!”

They watch the Land Rover do a three-point u-turn, the driver eventually managing to point the vehicle back to Grootdrink successfully. Then, with the purr of the powerful engine, the girl from Brakpan disappears in a cloud of dust.

“What…what did she mean…dreams do come true?”  Now that she’s gone, Kleinpiet deems it safe to wipe his chin.

“She’s the winner, dummy! I tell you: that woman won the money.”  Vetfaan finds his voice again. It’s slightly hoarse, but still… “Think about it. Brakpan, new car, money…it fits.”

***

That’s the nice thing about Rolbos. For an entire week they discussed the wonderful time when a multi-millionaire blonde beauty was there, in the bar, chatting to the mere mortals in Rolbos. Although the men were gentlemanly enough not to voice their less-than-gentlemanly thoughts, the age-old flame to overwhelm and conquer burnt brightly just below the surface.

Gertruida was disgusted, of course. Men can be so shallow and inconsiderate! Look, she asked, why on earth would a bunch of older men slobber about a beautiful girl just because she dressed in a certain way, had a new car and lots of money. Isn’t that completely absurd?

This caused a momentary lapse in the conversation  – but just long enough for Boggel to serve another round.

It was only the following week, after the Upington Post arrived, that the discussion finally died down. The article on the front page did that. Catwoman strikes again. Under the heading and an identikit picture, the article tells the readers of the daring heist.

‘This is Catwoman’s third success. This time she managed to sneak into the bank after hours, open the safe, and get away with an undisclosed amount of money, Reliable sources informed this journalist that the pretty burglar took off with a brand new Land Rover the bank repossessed that very day.  The vehicle was stored in a secure parking bay behind the building, but that didn’t deter the intrepid thief. 

How does she do it? Police are following up a few leads, but this journalist has heard a rumour. Catwoman uses her charm and beauty to seduce bank officials into telling her things they shouldn’t. She plays the role of a coy, dumb blonde to perfection. Apparently her abundant charms are irresistible to especially older men, who are only too willing to fall for her act.

Be that as it may – the burglar the press dubbed ‘Catwoman’, is a dangerous and uncouth individual. During a previous robbery, she was  surprised by a security guard. This man is still recovering after she disarmed him and shot him in the leg. Police have asked the public not to approach any suspicious young female individuals resembling the identikit picture, but to report such persons to their nearest police station

***

That’s the problem with fresh news. It takes the mystery out of life by confronting the public with too many facts. There’s simply nothing to talk about once the clever presenters on CNN or BBC have discussed, debated, argued and dissected current events. In the old days society relied on opinions and speculations – things that made us talk to each other. Then, as news slowly filtered through, people had the opportunity to adapt opinions, talk some more, and formulate new insights. Nowadays, however, we are fed on a diet of digested facts, leaving the viewers with nothing to add.

Gertruida tried to convince Bogel to get one of those satellite dishes and a TV set for the bar. This was immediately vetoed by the men.

“It’s far better to drool over a girl for a week than to report a criminal to Sersant Dreyer immediately.” Coming from the ever-so-pious Servaas, the statement made Gertruida look up in shock. “Ag come on, Gertruida! If we have to choose between News and Imagination…only a fool would go for the former. No, Gertruida: News makes you feel bad, Imagination makes you smile. It’d so much more fun if we kept the Real News on the other side of the Orange River.”

For once, Gertruida had no answer.

The fish of the Kalahari return…to stay.

Credit: thefreedictionary.com

Credit: thefreedictionary.com

“No thanks.” Vetfaan waves the bowl of biltong away with a dismissive hand. “I’ve become vegetarian.”

This – quite naturally – causes a shocked silence. Vetfaan, burly sheep farmer and true Afrikaner, refusing biltong? And, even more astounding, becoming a vegetarian? He of the huge apetite, who’d consume several T-bones in a single sitting, now wants to live on cabbage and potatoes? No, that can’t be.

“You not feeling well? Any mosquitoes bitten you lately? Been to West Africa or something?” Kleinpiet just can’t wrap his head around this one.

413928_121026123658_DSC_0129“No, Kleinpiet. I just think it’s wrong to consume animals. I mean, what did they do to us? And yet we go about killing them so that we can have dinner. I read up about it, you know? There are millions of people all over the world who live to ripe old age with a plant-based diet.” To emphasise his point, he grabs a handful of peanuts from the old Voortrekker Monument bowl on the counter. “Live in harmony, I say. Live and let live.”

Gertruida goes harrumph! and orders another beer. “No animal products, Vetfaan? None at all?”

“None. My sheep and my chickens are safe.”

“Let me tell you about the Kalahari, then you think again.” The light in her eyes should have warned Vetfaan. There’ll be a lecture…and a lesson.

***

Ages ago, the Kalahari used to be a large lake – fed by the Chobe, Zambezi and Okavango rivers.

“This was where cichlids evolved – you know the ancestors of today’s Tilapia? Incidentally, the Scottish Zoologist Andrew Smith latinised the Tswana word for ‘fish’ – thlape – to name the genus Tilapia in 1840

Tilapia“Well, to cut a long story short, the earth’s crust moved and the lake drained. Rivers altered their flow, causing – amongst many other things – the Victoria Falls.The fishes of that great lake now started spreading to other parts of Africa. In later years, Lake Victoria held a large population of the species.

UGANDA-NILE-PERCH-WORLD-ENVIRONMENTAL-DAY“Then, along came the British, who introduced Nile Perch to the lake in the middle of the last century. The large fish was to become a major source of protein and income for the fishermen and local population – but they also posed a great threat to the Tilapia. The poor little fish had survived movements in the earths crust, millions of year of hardship, and now face near-extinction due to man’s manipulation of its environment.

“But let’s get back to the Nile Perch, which is the point of the story.”

The Lake Victoria perch is known for it’s huge fish bladder, also called a fish maw. Initially this organ was simply thrown away when the fish was gutted, but later developed a market (where else?) in the East as a delicacy.

“Then people realised how effective these bladders were in the clarification process while making beer and wine. It’s an important component in the fining process, where impurities are removed and wine and beer is allowed to ‘settle’ – which is why you can see me through your glass. They didn’t say they were using fish bladders, of course – they called it isinglass. However, the fact remains – many beers and wines you drink, are made using the once thrown-away humble fish organ of years gone by.

“So you can call yourself a vegetarian if you like, Vetfaan, but you’ll have to give up beer and wine…they contain the residue of those poor fishes.”

***

This is so typical of Gertruida. She’ll take something that started in the Kalahari many aeons ago, weave it into the present, and leave you thinking. And she’s clever about it too, for she allows you to draw your own conclusions. In this instance, she didn’t tell Vetfaan that the ‘bladder’ under discussion, was and air bladder, used to control the depth of swimming. That would have spoilt the effect. Nor did she say that the isinglass was removed when bottling the beverage. No, she sat there, telling her story and watching Vetfaan go green about the gills with the nonchalance of somebody explaining the use of corn in flour.

Gertruida then sat back, considering the mental odds of Vetfaan finishing his beer. It was an interesting study in the psychology of survival. Once colour had returned to the farmer’s face, he pushed his beer aside with a determined look. Then Servaas arrived, hot and sweaty after driving from Upington with Boggel’s beer supply for the week.

***

“Hey Boggel! Gimme a beer man. A cold one. It’s scorching out there.” Servaas sits down with a sigh, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. When Boggel slides the bottle over the counter, he takes a long, lingering sip before smacking his lips.

“Vetfaan?” He stares in horror at the glass of water in front of the new vegetarian. “Bumped your head? You know how unhealthy that stuff is? Your body excretes the stuff, man! It makes things rust. If you inhale it, you die. And it causes more burns to the skin than petrol does, especially in its gaseous form. It carries parasites, chemicals and bacteria that can kill you. It causes short-circuits in electrical systems.  It’s the most polluted substance in the world. And…” here he holds up a triumphant finger, “…they use aluminium salts when purifying water. That, my friend has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Gertruida nods. With Servaas’s point adequately made, she doesn’t elaborate on the dangers of fluoride or the leaking of Bisphenol A, or BPA, from plastic into bottled water.  

“You mean…water is bad for me?”

“Of course! Beer contains minerals and vitamins. That’s good. It is an antioxidant, increases bone density, and enhances creativity. Water can’t do that.” Gertruida winks at Servaas, who is enjoying Vetfaan’s discomfort with a huge smile.

“And you know what the French say about wine and heart disease…” Kleinpiet chips in with his two cents worth.

“And I believe beer makes you more virile. After a few, I even think Gertruida is sexy.” Servaas earns a friendly slap for the woman who knows he’s only joking.

Poor Vetfaan. No beer? No meat? No wine? And…no water? Sometimes the choices we face simply defy logical thought…

***

Today you won’t find Talapia in the Kalahari. But maybe a little bit of fish can be found in Boggel’s Place, in the glasses and bottles in front of the group in Boggel’s Place. Vetfaan is no longer a complete vegetarian – water is out and drinking beer, he found, is impossible without chewing a piece of biltong. He maintains he believes he started a new form of vegetarianism, Vegetable Enhanced Local Cow Residue Offcuts. He hopes it sticks. As far as he’s concerned, the biltong in the bowl started off as grass, and that’s good enough.