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A hindering helping hand

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The soldier asked about the functions of the different buttons, and the driver, who had seen a few Ian Flemming movies, wove an elaborate lie

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When you’re a child you are somewhat naive and adults can have a field day pulling the wool over your eyes.

It happened to me on countless occasions that I’d sit with gaping jaw listening to adults relating stories that seemed beyond belief, only to find out decades later that their tales were, in fact, fabricated.

One such story was set during the 1980s when South Africa’s national roads were dotted with those blue and white signs, where military servicemen, also referred to as ‘troepies’, would stand and hike hoping to get a ride back home to their loved-ones.

Now, according to the tale I heard, a rich man in his shiny, silver German sedan was travelling in what was formerly called the Transvaal, when he saw a young troepie leaning against the sign looking rather despondent late one afternoon. It was almost dusk and the man could not bear the thought of leaving the young serviceman to stand there through the night, so he picked up the grateful passenger.

The troepie turned out to be a simple country boy, unaccustomed to the refinement and luxuries that city dwellers consider necessary, and he was in awe of the rich man’s car.

Seeing the buttons, switches and knobs set in the polished walnut trim all over the cockpit of the car, the boy could not contain his enthusiasm and curiosity, and the older man decided to have some fun with him. The soldier asked about the functions of the different buttons, and the driver, who had seen a few Ian Flemming movies, wove an elaborate lie.

“That knob will cause the headlights to flop down and then I press this button to fire the missiles through the headlights,” he said. “And that switch opens the roof above you and when I press the button on the gearknob your seat will eject you through the roof.

“Oh, and this dial over here changes the colour of the car it’s a pity that it’s dark, otherwise I would have shown you,” he added, and the young man listened with a racing pulse and ever-widening eyes.

“And Oom,” the young man asked after a while, “What is that thing there in front for?”

He pointed at the car’s badge. Back then – before vandals decided that it’s a good idea to tear emblems off other people’s cars – the Mercedes badge stood up proudly on the very front of the bonnet.

The old man smiled to himself.

“That is my crosshairs,” he said. “When I see a cyclist, I use those crosshairs to aim so that I can hit him dead-centre. In fact, you see there up ahead, there’s a cyclist, let me show you.”

He bore down on the cyclist, with no intention of harming the stranger but hoping to unnerve the youngster, then, at the last moment, he swerved away.

He was horrified to hear a loud bang, and to see, in his rearview mirror, the cyclist cartwheeling into the veld.

“Hell Oom,” the young man said. “You must have your crosshairs checked. If I didn’t open my door we would have missed that one!”

My concern is that as much as the older man’s joke backfired on him in this story, so too will the ‘joke’ that our society is playing on our youth backfire one day.

This newspaper’s front-page headline yesterday screamed about the shocking academic results achieved by pupils because there are no teachers for certain grades and subjects at one city school.

It’s alarming to imagine what could happen if this type of neglect is not addressed very, very soon.

I always look at the young people and find myself thinking about who will take up the reins of power when the current workforce becomes too frail to hold on.

Also, and of equal importance, we have to realise that because the world is changing, our youth have to learn HOW to think, and not WHAT to think, otherwise we could look back one day and see everything we’ve built up cartwheeling into oblivion.