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The Last Contrarian
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South Africa’s Chemical Alis

28 November 2012, 08:00

Living next to a snake-infested field would cause most mothers to let out the occasional shriek from the garden, but my mother’s screams usually accompanied her mortifying discovery of yet another destroyed or disfigured yard ornament.

One particular incident leaps from memory. It involved my mother’s precious porcelain frog (exactly, who puts that sort of thing in a yard prowled by mischievous children?), which took a pellet to its face courtesy of my brother. There was a near-imperceptible hole in the front of the frog, but its backside was completely blown apart. I speculate that this was another ‘modified’ pellet that my brother had constructed. We were never quite satisfied with the damage that could be done with ‘stock’ ammunition, after all.

While every one of these incident had its roots in youthful recklessness and sustained boredom, the truth of each is now buried under lies and cover stories so dense even I can no longer get to the truth of these matters. I will, however, recount a few stories that I had partaken in. These stories are accurate and, hopefully, entertaining.

Otherwise, the story of my youth is tragically nerdy and devoid of much entertainment for any would-be listener. However, my stupidity coupled with my desire to know more and experiment for myself dramatically increased my capacity for mischief. My hobby of choice was the fine art of bomb making!

I'd like to add that explosives are an exceptionally accurate intelligence test for humans. The extent of the injuries suffered by the operator is directly proportional to their mental acuity. This side effect also provides a fabulous opportunity for society to not only weed out those who fall below the average mark, but also to mark for easy identification those who are barely on the mark! (A few missing fingers or patches of charred skin on your face are excellent hints for the rest of us.)

So next time a doctor tells you that your third child will be a genius like its preceding siblings, just gather your offspring in the backyard when each of them is at least seven years old and distribute a variety of fireworks to them. I assure you, you will see which one is the genius… if any.

My parents noticed early on that my brother and I were not the dumb kids who stood around waving the sparkler nervously, nor were we the scared kid who shrieked as they bounced off the pavement in shock from the clap of a harmless thom-thum (those little red & green firecrackers that come wrapped looking like a red brick). Mind you, each such thom-thum brick contains enough gunpowder to build a firecracker four times more potent than a big widow-maker, and at a quarter of the price (labour expenses not included, of course). But for us this was a labour of love.

Both my brother and I can convert a harmless string of thom-thums and sparklers into the mother of all cherry bombs in a matter of hours! The key was not a progressive detonation, but a collective one. An idiot would just throw the string of thom-thums in the fire, but we knew better. Diligence and hard work were always rewarded, spectacularly, in the end! As the hours progressed, the detonations would get louder.

The eventual holler from our parents, “What the hell are you kids doing?” was always the cue for us to take our testing into the field behind our house, for we had reached sufficient yield per charge to cause catastrophic damage to various yard decorations.

To this day, I find it magical and captivating to see a useless garden ornament fly apart in a cataclysmic explosion. These moments of joy, sprinkled throughout my youth, made my childhood worth enduring.

My brother and I spectacularly blew our parents’ ornamental rock pond off using augmented widow-makers that had screws turned into their ends and duct tape wrapped around the core to strengthen it and direct the blast through the screw. These things basically worked like a single-pulse jackhammer. I had underestimated the yield from these charges, as it took only a few of them to fracture the 1-inch thick rock and drop the structure to the bottom of the pool. That was a day to remember. Never before or since has two hours felt so long. It felt like being on death row as my brother and I waited for my dad to return home from work and discover what we had done.

But no hiding could reform the terrorist within, for it is a calling, and we always found a new way to supersede our previous destructive achievements. Our black market supplier was Kit Kat – not the chocolate; the chinese fireworks shop near Weskoppies! Come to think of it, I don’t know how we always got our parents to take us there and then how we convinced them to buy us fireworks, but somehow we did. Maybe that is why we never got any pocket money growing up. Reflecting on the devastation we caused, I can only assume that our bill has yet to be settled, fully.

But the fireworks was only one aspect of our operations. As hinted to at the start of this article, we also had pellet guns, knives, fishing rod mountings, etc. and we use them all in some destructive manner.

Every palm tree in sight was peppered with pellets. I think this constant infusion of lead into the garden flora was the main reason my father abandoned the yard to its fate. There was always a dead patch somewhere on the lawn or a fern missing half its leaves. Nothing remained unscathed with us around. No sooner had a flower bloomed than did we chop it off, and when I was not out challenging the shrubs to a light saber duel, my brother was embroiled in an epic battle with the Malicious Monster (it’s a plant). I can only speculate as to what horrible creature he imagined it to be, for it to have been mutilated to the extent that it was, but that plant took some serious abuse! Everyone always complains about animal cruelty, but my brother and I should have been tried for plant cruelty.

The only plant that did not suffer attack from us was an alien-looking thing that was hung from a spike near the front door of our house. I have no idea what this plant is called, and I only recall that it supposedly never needed watering or pruning, which can only mean it was not alive. Nonetheless, last I saw it, it was shriveled up and brown (dead). Perhaps my brother got to it with some new poison he was testing; I do not know.

The yard was a dangerous place even for its owners. My mother while out in the yard and talking with a plumber took a homemade arrow discharged from my brother’s homemade bow into her forearm. That day and the hiding my brother got are in the treasure chest of my memory; I assure you!

Another destructive passion of mine was and remains fire. I still scamper about looking for something to cast into the plasma whenever I encounter it, and I’ve burnt everything you can imagine. As a kid I used to make fires so intense in my aunt’s backyard that they could endure an entire night of rain, only to be relit the next morning with a bit of huffing and puffing on the still glowing embers.

As our toddler years turned into our teenage years, my brother excelled at advanced weapons construction, while I applied my abilities to finding ways to make them more silent. One day he converted a 2x4, a pellet gun, a few nail gun charges, copper piping, and some ball bearings into a lethal hunting rifle. We tested it out on an empty milo can… the ball bearing went straight through. A few more cans behind it, and the ball bearing still went through. This thing was lethal! I added my genius by constructing a silencer made from a car’s muffler. It worked!

Sadly, this rifle was confiscated by airport security when my brother and his friend went to go ‘hunting’ in the airport grounds—another gem for the memory treasure chest. The guards wanted to inform the police, but my dad convinced the airport security that my brother would not be able to sit on his backside for weeks, and so, they remanded my brother into my dad’s custody.

While there are many more thrilling tales of chlorine bombs, the mother of all stink bombs, and general neighborhood mischief, I’ll let those rest for another day.

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