A Giant Leap for Mankind

©2012 Edward C. Lunnon

Leap Year’s Day: Wednesday 29 February 2012: 5 years 5 months on … Deuce

Whether it’s called Leap Day or Leap Year’s Day, yesterday was that extra day we get every four years. It’s name may be in contention but the leap reminds me of that July day way back in 1969 when I was twelve years old and in standard five, and we listened to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon: “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind”.

 What we do with those extra 24 hours is up to us. This was my day:

Talking about things school, I had arranged to visit Michiel and Noelene Ackermann at five thirty. I was a half hour late, but that later!

Noelene was first known to me as “Miss” Theunissen. I met her in 1973 when I was in standard nine at Hottentots-Holland High School, Somerset West. She was the domestic science teacher – a room we often used to hang around, not only because there were girls there, but also because there were often left overs of the cooking “experiments” and odours that permeated that part of the school!

Noelene became Mrs Ackermann when she married Michiel Ackermann who had been my mathematics teacher in standard nine and ten. At that stage I thought they were “old” but I guess they were in their mid twenties – somewhere around the age that I sometimes think I am now, although my body tells me otherwise!

Michiel took over teaching me maths from David Harper, to whom I pay tribute for inculcating my love for mathematics and computer science. When I was in standard 8, “Mr Harper” would drive me through on Wednesday evenings to Cape Town Technikon to work on that magical machine called a mainframe computer. I learned to programme in FORTRAN and use punch cards and get the machine to do all kinds of exciting things like add and subtract and multiply and divide!

In later years “Mr Harper” – I never could get myself to call him David! – also moved to Port Elizabeth and taught at Victoria Park High in the city. I learned last night with sadness that he passed away last year.

Anyway, Michiel ”inherited” me in 1973 in standard nine and with his passion for mathematics and many extra hours and “old papers” enabled me to matriculate in 1974 with an A for maths. In those days A aggregates were as scarce as hens’ teeth – in our class only two of us matriculated with an average A and if I remember correctly only some fifty A’s in the whole of what was then the ‘old’ Cape Province! Nowadays, it’s not unusual for 50 A’s to be obtained by one matric class at one school – and they say that education standards in South Africa have not been watered down by the politicians! (Is that, sadly, not a backwards leap?)

No wonder Michiel moved to the Port Elizabeth Technikon and now the Nelson Mandela University to lecture mathematics, and I went on the teach computer science and mathematics at Grey. And no wonder we spoke about education standards (amongst many other things!) and the giant leap from the log books and the mainframe computers and first SHARP calculators of the seventies to the IPads and tablets of today.

And on my IPad I showed them the picture of the sketch of Michiel that I found hanging in the HHH museum that Sean and I visited recently when I was invited back to my Alma Mater by Mrs Fourie (the only one of my erstwhile teachers that is still there) when we visited the Western Cape three weeks ago.

It was a great evening of reminiscing and memories. It also reminded me again of the sadness that the disease that I have has ironically also robbed me of my mathematical abilities. It would be so wonderful to be able to teach mathematics in this age with the use of laptops, IPads, white boards, interactive tablets and the internet and World Wide Web! It also reminded me of the unhappiness that as a country we are so sadly lacking in our ability to produce scientists and mathematicians and to improve our educational standards and skills.

Well, why was I late for my appointment?

 It had just been one of those supposed “quiet” days that ran away with me!

Being Wednesday, it started off with my visit to the radio studio for the programme with ex-pupil Lance Du Plessis. Then came the announcement that we would be competing in the Vodacom Challenge (more later!), followed by coffee at Bluewaters café.

I also met there with consumer columnist Gillian McAinsch from the Herald to discuss my frustrations with trying to cancel an insurance policy. And my friend Kobus was there, and we didn’t have enough time to chat because I had to dash off to the new coffee Roasterie at the bottom of Brickmakers Kloof to meet owner Martin du Plessis (more later!)

Then it was home for quick lunch, and on to the pool in Newton Park for my daily hydrotherapy. And then off to the new Brewery under the Bridge at Brickmakers. It was supposed to be the grand opening, but the liquor licence hasn’t arrived yet, so the official opening has been delayed.

I was joined by ex-pupils Elfick and Barber, and the opening delay didn’t stop us from trying out some of the newly brewed product free-of-charge (no licence, no sales!). That made the product taste even better, and made me late for my visit to the Ackermanns!

But I can see that this leap of faith, this new business and its unique location under the Bridge, could be the source and venue of many a Leap in future.