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Since graduating Jon Ardeman’s geological career has been in many guises; in exploration, mining, consultancy, conservation and research. He has worked as a National Park guide, a nature warden looking after tadpoles and orchids, as a researcher digging up cow shed floors looking for Ordovician brachiopods and preparing dinosaur bones for a museum display. Enthused by these experiences, Jon sought further adventures, and headed to Africa where he worked as a geologist on various mines for more than a decade.
He returned to university and after a few years of academic research and consultancy, Jon went back to mining and precious metal exploration. His travels have taken him from the Arctic to the Equator, from North America and Siberia, to Europe, Australia, Asia and back to Africa.
During this time, Jon wrote several “mystery and imagination” short stories for magazines and competitions, but his inspiration for a first novel ‘Miner Indiscretions’ came from get-togethers with fellow prospectors and miners; with the story embellished by imagination, cold beer, a hint of the supernatural and – of course – dreams of African gold! The author is married with several children and now resides in Hertfordshire, England.
A hilarious, action-packed story following Timothy, who starts his career as a junior geologist on a modern deep gold mine in South Africa. Unexpectedly and ignominiously dismissed from this post; he manages to get a new job exploring for gold on the dilapidated Yellow Snake Mine in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
All is not as it seems and faced with closure of the rundown old mine, he joins with the eccentric locals in a series of desperate scams and highly illegal schemes to try to reprieve the mine. Timothy struggles through encounters with African wildlife, consultants, riots, ghosts, floods, government officials, explosions and a very frustrating sex life in an attempt to find some actual gold in time to save the unique tight-knit community.
Whilst Timothy was driving back to the Yellow Snake Mine through the open spaces of the Eastern Transvaal with hope in his heart, Piet Papenfuss had an entirely different outlook. He was underground in the Yellow Snake Mine, staring down the barrel of a loaded shotgun. He was a worried man.
“Are you sure this is going to work?”
Jackson Swart, the chief assayer looked at the mining manger.
“Don’t point the damn thing into your face, you idiot!” Jackson then remembered that the mining manager was the second most senior person on the mine and so out of habitual respect he added, “Meneer.”
Oom Boet, the sampler stifled a laugh as he looked at the red-faced mine manager and the almost luminescent form of the albino assayer framed by the light of his cap lamp. This was the gang of three given the responsibility to temporarily up-grade the mine’s ore reserve. Oom Boet pointed to the area of rock in front of them.
“Look, this is where the gold-bearing fault is. Unfortunately, although we can see the arsenic and pyrite, there’s hardly any gold on this particular face. That’s why we originally stopped mining here.”
“But last week, you said we should take a few more blasts in this end!” said Piet.
Oom Boet sighed. It was going to be a long day. “Yes, because if you leave the rock to get exposed to the air and moisture, the minerals rust and cover everything with yellow and brown staining. It looks old after just a few months. If we then said that we’d discovered higher gold grades here, the consultants would want to know why we hadn’t taken it out years ago when we first mined this area!”
Oom Boet looked across at Jackson in exasperation. Both he and Jackson had seen and learnt a lot over the years on the mines. Piet Papenfauss on the other hand, had merely seen a lot during the same period.
“Anyway,” Oom Boet continued, “the idea is that you and I will bring the consultants to see several ends like this one and sample the rock for gold. Once, of course, we have added this very special ingredient in here.” He took a box of doctored shotgun cartridges from his knapsack.
“What’s the special ingredient?”
“Gold, Mr. Papenfuss. Gold and gunpowder.”
Jackson decided to interrupt before Oom Boet decided to waste two precious cartridges by opening fire with both barrels on the mining manager.
“I’ve charged the cartridges with some very finely ground gold, almost dust actually. When fired, the gold will fly out and smack into the rock face. As gold is soft and malleable, it will splatter on the rock and into the little cracks and stick onto the rough surface. Then, when we sample it later with the consultants watching, it will appear to be a rich deposit of gold. If the consultants decide to take their own samples and send them to an independent laboratory, it will give them similar results. They’ll be encouraged to believe we actually have some gold values worth mining here.”
Oom Boet stepped back from the face and fired the shotgun.
Piet went up to inspect the face. “I can’t see any gold.” he said in disappointment.
“You’re not supposed to!”
“You mean we don’t see any actual gold?”
“Hardly ever! We’re trying to persuade the consultants that the grade on the mine is about two thirds of an ounce, that’s about 20 grams of gold per ton of rock!”
Piet looked at Oom Boet blankly.
“That’s the same as looking for a blue-eyed Zulu in a crowd of fifty thousand at a distance of a hundred yards! If I’d wanted them to see any actual gold, I would have got a Kruger Rand and my wedding ring and stuck them on with superglue! But I think that that might aroused their suspicions though, don’t you?”
Piet Papenfuss removed his earplugs. He had managed to hear some of the words, but the bitter sarcastic tone had been absorbed by the sponge.
“I saw a blue-eyed Zulu once,” he said, cheerfully. “It was when I was a kid in Durban in the 1980’s. He played the part of Man Friday in a Robinson Crusoe pantomime.”
“Really?” said Oom Boet.
“Yes, he said things like, ‘Oh Lordy, Massa Crusoe!’ and he sang the Banana Boat song.”
Oom Boet and the ghostly-looking assayer exchanged smiles. In those years it was a pretty safe bet that no Zulu, blue-eyed or otherwise, was going to be allowed as an actor at a theatre for a ‘whites-only’ children audience. It must have been a white actor ‘blacked up’ to play the part.
If Oom Boet had ever had any thoughts about the craziness of putting more gold back into a gold mine, then it was certainly no stranger than some of the craziness of South Africa’s past.
“Let’s carry on to the next prospect,” was all he trusted himself to say.
“Can I shoot the gun next time?” Piet asked.
Reproduced with permission of Jon Ardeman. For other information on Jon Ardeman’s books, geology and odd observations: https://www.facebook.com/jon.t.ardeman