Stories and Traveltips

ID #1261

The Day Cabbage lost his Temper, Graeme College, Grahamstown, Eastern Cape.

“Cabbage” Terre-Blanche was a science teacher at Graeme College in the mid-60’s. A deeply religious man, he was one of the few who did not resort to violence to compensate for inadequate teaching skills and, as a result, was loved by the boys. I only remember him losing his temper once – and not for want of trying on my part.

The science lecture theatre was above the tuck-shop in the old Graeme that has since become part of VG.  The lectern was on a raised platform from which he could peer down on the students from above.

I remember him earnestly lecturing on the dangers of carbon monoxide, noting that it combines with haemoglobin in the blood, causing the unfortunate victim to suffocate. I stuck up my hand, noting that: “One must be a bloody clot to breathe carbon monoxide” to which Cabbage resignedly replied: “Jaaaaa McIver”.

On another occasion he was explaining the periodic table. I stuck up my hand, asking him whether the properties of the various elements are a function of the number of protons and the atomic number – little realizing that such an observation lies at the heart of many important discoveries during the 20th Century. Not wanting to stray from the subject, he once again replied: “Jaaaaa McIver”.

On a third occasion he was demonstrating the electrolysis of water. One places two electrodes, one platinum and the other graphite, into a bath of dilute sulphuric acid and passes a current through the electrodes, which are at the base of two burettes, allowing one to measure the volume of hydrogen and oxygen generated. While dangerous because mixtures of hydrogen and oxygen are explosive, the experiment illustrates some important scientific fundamentals so Cabbage had spent hours setting up the equipment.

On the fateful day, alive with anticipation, he switched on the current and, after a few seconds, hydrogen and oxygen bubbles formed on the cathode and anode respectively. He beamed with pleasure at his success in revealing the mysteries of science to the assembled philistines when, all of a sudden, there was an explosion. The room was filled with flying glass and sulphuric acid. A dark cloud caused by disintegration of the graphite electrode hung about for a few minutes.

It happened so quickly he did not have time to move. All I could see was Cabbage, in his now-grey lab coat and safety glasses, peering at us through the pall of dust. There was a stunned silence. Then I made a fatal mistake – I laughed. Needless to say, Cabbage did not say “Jaaaaa McIver” on this occasion.

Grahamstown is on the N2 west of East London, which is at the intersection of the N2 with the N6. Alan McIver. NFThe

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Last update: 2014-03-28 08:03
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.4

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