Thursday, November 15, 2012

Notes on notes

Apologies for getting this up late.  Yesterday after a tough day in the Cape winelands, I spent the night at my nephew's house, with my granddaughter Maya.  Actually she is my late brother's grand daughter, so I picked up the position of Gramps.

Anyway, my nephew does not have internet, so I had to postpone the posting.

This morning I headed home at about 9 AM, expecting to be there in time for lunch.  But here I am at 7 PM just having arrived.  The problem?  Unrest in the old town of Swellendam, where locals were supporting the farm-worker strikes by closing down the N2 highway to my home of Knysna. 


Police at unrest
I decided to take an unpaved backroute via a small village called Malgas about half an hour away.  Malgas is known for a hand-pulled ferry across the Breede River, perhaps the last in South Africa.  Unfortunately, about fifty cars had got there ahead of me. I waited for half an hour or so, then counted the cars ahead of me, divided by the number of cars per hour the ferry was pulling across, and ended up realising I was going to spend at least four hours in line.  So back I went to the N2.  Of course, the road was still closed, but a helpful policeman told me that they would soon let through small cars, ie mine.

Another half hour or so passed until we moved.
Malgas hand-pulled ferry

At this point, I realised I would have to stop in Swellendam for fuel.  My tank was getting low because of the adventure to Malgas.  To my horror, all Swellendam petrol stations had been closed by the police for safety reasons.  I pulled into the last one with my empty light having just come on.  "It is closed until tomorrow," they told me.  The next town, Heidelberg was 55 kms away, more than the reserve on my car.

I begged, I bribed, but no one would succumb to giving me fuel.  I was stuck.

Then some Cape Town University students arrived at the closed garage for some cold drinks.  Being students, they had no problem in agreeing to me siphoning some petrol out of their tank.  In fact, they downed what remained of a 2-litre Coke bottle and a 2-litre Sprite bottle to provide containers for the transfer.  A local who was trying to help said that his father probably had a length of hosepipe we could  use to get the petrol out of the tank and into the bottles.  Off he went.  Eventually he re-appeared with said hose.  We threaded it deep into the tank.  I knelt and sucked and sucked, filling my mouth with petrol, swallowing some of it.  Yuck.  Now several hours later, every time I belch, I almost succomb to the petrol fumes.  I had better not try to blow out any candles tonight.

When I thought the hose was full, I put the end into the Coke bottle and waited eagerly for the petrol to start flowing.  Eight drops, then nothing.  I repeated the process.  Same mouthful, same result.  Eight drops.  Of course, the students thought I was a stupid old man and took over the sucking.  Same result.  Mouths full of petrol. Eight drops.

We decided what was happening was that there was a sieve or filter at the top of the fuel tank, thus preventing the hose from immersing itself in the fuel.  No way around that impediment.

Then the Dad who had supplied the hose came up with an excellent idea.  He grabbed the tyre inflator next to the closest fuel pump.  I stuck the end next to the hose down towards the fuel tank, covered the rest of the opening with my handkerchief, and he pumped air into the tank.  Well, it sort of worked.  This time twenty drops came out per air squirt.  Eventually, I said enough - we had about half a litre in the bottle.  "I'll head off to Heidelberg, anyway," I said.  What was the worst that could happen?  Run out of fuel en route.  And I remembered that my nephew was heading down the road later in the day, so if I was stranded, he could come to his uncle's rescue.  So off I went, taking the car out of gear on the down hills, lifting myself off the seat to reduce the weight on the car, and exhaling backwards to provide a little extra propulsion.

Well I made it.  Fortunately the last two kilometres is down hill and the garage is at the bottom.  I filled the tank.  It took half of a litre over its maximum capacity.

After that it was a quick lunch with Maya and her parents, who had now caught up.  Then the two and a half hour drive still left to Knysna.  And here I am at home, safe and sound!

Hmmm.  I am sitting here wondering why I have just written the drivel above.

Ah, yes.  I was explaining why my blog is late.  Fortunately, the blog was written last night, so I can press ENTER and off we go.

Thursday's blog:

I have always liked money. Surprise, surprise. But as much as I like money in the bank, I also like it in my hand, in the form of banknotes.

So this last week was particularly exciting in that regard, because South Africa issued a set of new banknotes honoring Nelson Mandela.  I have to admit I was not enthusiastic about the idea for two reasons: I have always been against honoring anyone who is still alive, and I really liked the old notes, which had the Big Five as their pictorial theme.

The Big Five, buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhinoceros, are so called because long ago hunters thought these were the most dangerous five to hunt.  Today, tourists all want to see the Big Five, although they are certainly not the most difficult to see, and are certainly not the most beautiful.

Here are the old banknotes.  Unlike greenbacks, they are all different colors and different sizes, which helps the sight-impaired. In think they are terrific.

Last week, to my trepidation, the new notes appeared.  I have to admit I like them.  I have persuaded myself to get over the anti-honouring-someone-alive position, but only in this one case because Mandela is my hero.  And my concern about losing the Big Five was unfounded because they are still appear on the notes.  Here they are.





In addition to each note having a different color and different size (all the same width, with different lengths), they also have a raised section to help sight-impaired even more. They have a variety of cunning security features in addition to the usual watermarks, such as numbers appearing when the note is held obliquely to the light. And the animal depicted showing up in miniature at a certain place on the note, but only when viewed with the light behind.

There are eleven official languages in South Africa.  The Reserve Bank was very cunning.  Rather than issuing each banknote in eleven languages, they spread the languages across the five notes.  English is on all,and two other languages appear on each note, giving eleven in all.  Of course, had they printed each denomination in eleven languages, they would have had to print so many more for collectors.  That would have been free money in the till, because they would never go into circulation. 

Banknotes offer a country a wonderful opportunity to sell itself, and I think the new notes will do this for South Africa.  So hats off to the designers - they've done a good job.

Stan - Thursday (late)


  1. Quite an adventure there, but all ended all. I enjoyed your "drivel." Your money is pretty, unlike our plain, confusing green bills.

  2. Ingenuity, ingenuity, ingenuity - - the human mind is an amazing thing, and you did solve your problem. I have to agree - - the bank notes illustrating the animals are the best. I enjoyed the long post, could just imagine all of you clustered around the hose.

  3. Forget about the new banknotes selling the magic of SA, I think your back story has created a new South African James Bond character, one who prefers his petrol aerated, not swallowed, and will do only (more) glorious things for the image of his native land.

  4. As an antidote to having drunk gasoline, I recommend one well-chilled bottle of good South African Chenin Blanc daily, taken half with lunch and half with dinner until the memory of tasting petrol is completely obliterated.

  5. Annamaria, thanks for your insightful prescription - however as I am quite large, I usually double up on what the doctor orders! Hic!