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Ian Martin

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Frikkie And Plug Go With The Tide

Frikkie and Plug had made a lot of money. So much so, they hardly knew what to do with it. That’s why they didn’t think twice when it was suggested they park a hundred million in a Venture Capital account, with the idea of backing a smart idea when they spotted one.

“We will encourage inventive entrepreneurs to give us a good return on our investment,” was how Plug phrased their mission statement.

“Do you remember George?” Frikkie asked. “From 29 Bantry Road? He was the one who worked for an NGO, and was into saving the planet. Well, we were in touch just the other day, and when I mentioned we were now venture capitalists, he told me about a genius who had devised a way to turn gravitational force into electricity. He said it was a brilliantly simple idea that used the tide to power a generator, and had huge potential to provide clean energy for next to nothing when compared to the hydro, wind and solar options.”

“Sounds interesting,” said Plug. “A genius, you say? From where?”

“Gansbaai. Ever been to Gansbaai?”

“Uh-uh.”

“Me neither. It’s the other side of Hermanus. Ever been to Hermanus?”

“Twice,” said Plug. “A lot of very rich people have houses there, and it’s a popular place to retire to and die. Also any number of tourists looking for whales and sharks.”

When Frikkie and Plug drove through Hermanus on their way to Gansbaai, they overtook two hearses, got stuck behind a convoy of three buses crammed with foreigners toting cameras and binoculars, and then nearly crashed into an octogenarian driving an electric cart at 5 kilometres an hour. When the town was behind them Frikkie put his foot down and got the Bentley back up to speed.

They cruised past Stanford, waved to a cop hiding under a bush taking photographs, and floated over lovely open countryside for the last 25 K’s that led to their destination.

The bell in the NGK steeple was striking 12 noon when they rode into the coastal dorp of Gansbaai, aka Big Two Town. They parked above the old harbour and Frikkie made a call.

“He’s the maintenance man at one of the abalone farms and can only get away during his lunch break. He will be here around one.”

They crossed the road to Oppie Dek, sat under an umbrella, drank beer and ate toasted sandwiches, and watched a trawler down in the harbour being loaded with ice.

“What did you say his name was?”

“Bleeker. Jerry Bleeker. This could be him.”

An elderly bakkie had rattled to a stop, and a man of about 50 got out.  He wore a blue boiler suit jacket, jeans and rubber boots, and, like his vehicle, he looked as if he had seen his fair share of hardship and strife. Frikkie went down to meet him while Plug settled the bill.

Jerry was not a big talker. They followed him past the cannery and along the coast for a kilometre to the new harbour, where the fishing trawlers were tied up.

“Appearances can be deceptive,” Plug said to Frikkie. “It’s hard to imagine there is a genius lurking beneath that rough exterior.”

“Many geniuses have lived in poverty and only been recognised after their death. He could be that kind of genius.”

Frikkie parked next to the bakkie and the venture capitalists trailed the inventor out towards the end of the wall where the boats were moored. After some 50 metre’s Bleeker stopped at a steel ladder leading down into the water five metres below. Next to the ladder and attached to the concrete wall was a cradle containing a large plastic box.

“Inside is one ton of ballast, my big, specially designed flywheel, and the generator,” Jerry explained. “It’s very basic.”

He climbed down and, standing on the contraption, began to work a lever back and forth, causing the box to settle lower in the water. Then he took hold of the flywheel crank handle and swung it, first slowly and with much effort, and then faster and faster until he disengaged and threw a switch. They heard the generator whine into life and he climbed back up.

“I’m just going to fetch a lead and a power tool,” he told them. “ To demonstrate.”

He was gone quite a while, and Frikkie and Plug were able to tune in to their surroundings. The cool sea air smelt of iodine and guano, the gulls were shouting about the scarcity of pilchards and sardines, and they could feel the energy coming from the ocean as it heaved and subsided on the other side of the wall.

When he returned, Jerry looked more relaxed and cheerful, and smelt of brandy. A few pulls from a bottle under the seat had put a different complexion on the day, and he had allowed his hopes to rise.

“Now I will prove to you that the tide is the answer to South Africa’s energy shortage,” he said, after having descended, plugged the electric cable into a power point on the box, and climbed back up to where they stood waiting.

He connected an angle grinder to the lead, grasped the tool in both hands, and pressed the trigger. The motor screamed into life and he ground some rust off the ladder, sending sparks and bits of flaking metal flying.

“There you are,” he said, laying down the power tool. “The energy comes from the rising tide, and it’s free, and it never fails.”

“What happens when the tide begins to ebb?” asked Plug. “Does that mean six hours without power?”

“Hell, no,” said Jerry, and he laughed at such a foolish suggestion. “At high tide the force on the drive train is reversed, and the one ton weight keeps up the tension as it falls two metres to the low tide point. Then up it comes again. Up down, up down. The tide is a slow pump that will raise and lower one ton, or a thousand tons, or a million tons, all depending on what you choose to float on the open sea to capture the power of the moon’s gravitational influence.”

“Well, I’m fucking amazed,” said Frikkie. “You could say I’m suitably impressed. Why haven’t you already sold your invention? You’re sitting on a gold mine, man”

Jerry Bleeker’s shoulders slumped and there were tears in his eyes.

“I told George about it, and he said I should patent the design first, otherwise they would just steal my idea and I would get nothing for it. But those patent and copyright lawyers charge so much it would be impossible. I only earn twelve thousand a month, and I don’t have any fixed property to raise a loan with, my wife is a diabetic and confined to a wheelchair, my son is a retard, and my daughter steals from us to fund her drug habit.”

“Shit, that sounds heavy,” said Frikkie. “Look, Jerry. You go back to work now, and me and my partner will work something out, and then we’ll give you a call. Okay?”

Jerry went off and Frikkie and Plug drove to the Gateway Shopping Centre and sat outside at the Wimpy and ordered waffles and cream with their coffee. Plug took out his cigarette box and pen.

“It would be irresponsible to give this guy a whole lot of cash,” he said. “It would probably ruin his life. Look what happened when you won the Lotto. You squandered the millions in no time, and you nearly murdered that Eva woman in the process.”

“Don’t remind me,” said Frikkie. “I’ve come a long way since then.”

“We can give him 5 million to clear his debts, get himself a new bakkie, buy a house and furniture and stuff, and take a holiday. In addition, we can set up an administered trust that will guarantee him a good monthly income.” Plug made some calculations and then continued. “To give him 50,000 a month, he would need 600,000 a year. If the investment earns 10% interest, he would require 6 million. Then there’s inflation to bear in mind. Another two million? That would bring it to 8 million.”

“Make it ten,” said Frikkie, and he ordered another waffle.

“Right, ten it is,” agreed Plug. “That should set him up very nicely. Five in cash, and ten in trust. I think 15 million is a pretty generous offer, don’t you?”

“More than generous,” said Frikkie. “When we tell him, I expect him to jump in the air and do a somersault, and then run in circles screaming like a madman.”

And that’s exactly what Jerry Bleeker did.

As soon as he signed on the dotted line, the lucky genius got his money. Six months later the patent was registered and they made contact with a heavyweight at Eskom. A deputation arrived in Gansbaai to view a 10-ton prototype of the Bleeker Tidal Generator, and half of the delegates gasped in horror, while the other half farted in alarm.

“It is a brilliant invention,” said the main honcho, “but it is ahead of its time. This has the potential to scupper the nuclear deal just as the President and his cronies are about to sign contracts and receive their kickbacks.”

“If you’re not interested, we’ll try the fucking Americans,” said Frikkie, and he spat on the harbour wall next to some fresh Cormorant shit.

“And the Chinese,” added Plug, taking out his phone and getting Google to speak some Mandarin.

The Eskom honcho buckled at the knees and had to be propped up against a dolos.

“It has worked out even better than we expected,” Plug told Frikkie a week later. They were in the business lounge waiting for their flight to Europe. Plug was headed for his villa in the Swiss Alps, and Frikkie was going on a private cruise in the Aegean. Plug had just checked emails. “They have agreed to 250 million for us to hold back for a year and let the deals go through. Then we’ll be free to go to the open market and power up the world. But knowing how long it takes the politicians to get their act together, I stipulated they pay us a further 500 million if it drags on another year.”

“Beautiful,” said Frikkie. “Now we can enjoy a break without having to worry about any more hassling with those Eskom boneheads. And let’s hope Jerry is having a great time, too. He’s gone to the Kruger Park for two weeks, hasn’t he?”

 

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