I opened my gift and was delighted with the rusty generator and played with it all day, ignoring the other carefully chosen gifts
Since I was a small boy I have been interested in mechanical things. Our farm, like most farms, I suppose, had a junkyard where all the broken farm machinery ended up.
This was an Aladdin’s cave to me. I loved crawling about among the rusty pieces of old tractors and ploughs and pumps, and finding stuff I could dismantle to see what was inside.
One Christmas, my father thought he’d play a trick on me and instead of presenting me with a toy as a gift, he wrapped an old rusty car generator in Christmas paper and waited to see my reaction when I opened it.
He expected to see disappointment, then he would present me with my “real” gift.
Unfortunately, his prank went awry.
I opened my gift and was delighted with the rusty generator and played with it all day, ignoring the other carefully chosen gifts.
Much later, when I was at school, I spent many happy hours in the holidays sitting on the counter of Mr Nicholas’ bicycle shop in Middelburg and being told how bicycles and Primus stoves and air guns worked. It was far more exciting that learning history or geography or algebra.
Inevitably I grew up and had to earn a living, so I started trying to be a farmer on a piece of bushveld in what is now Mpumalanga.
The first thing to do was to build a house, so I bought a magical machine that made bricks.
A Shangaan man who lived in the bushveld came to help me and together we produced 13000 bricks, one by one, and I built my house.
There was no electricity out there in the bush, so I drew on my childhood experiences and found an old car generator in a scrapyard and hitched it up to a water pump and a lorry battery and before long the lights came on in my new little house.
They were dim lights, it’s true, but better than candles and they came on at the flick of a switch.
Nobody could have been prouder than me.
I married a university friend and the first thing I showed her when I introduced her to her new home was the electric light system.
Those dim 12-volt lights gave us endless pleasure as we read Gerald Durrell’s books to each other each evening after supper.
Today there’s electricity all around me, but I hardly notice it.
We are so used to everything electrical that we take it all for granted.
Lights come on, fridges hum, hot water comes out of taps and the stove heats my dinner.
Occasionally, though, I look at all the modern wonders around me and feel just a little smug.
“This is just shop-bought stuff, and it’s all very well, but I remember the days when we made our own.”
I suppose I’m rather like a chef looking at a shop-bought pie.
“Yes, it looks like a pie, and it tastes okay, but it doesn’t have the soul of a handmade pie.”
Two small boys were bragging about their rich parents.
“My dad is so rich he had a special telephone installed in my mom’s car.”
“Wow! That’s cool,” said the other.
“Not really. Every time her phone rings, she has to run out to the garage to answer it.”