15 August 2010

A benchmark for benches

Small villages, wherever they are in the world, are perpetually embroiled in some or other controversy. Schoenmakerskop, on the shores of the Indian Ocean in South Africa, is not different. For a while benches were an issue. About 100 of us live in the pretty hamlet with cliffs that overlook the sea and people like to come here to look at the sunsets, whales or just laze in the sun. When someone who used to love coming here dies, their next of kin invariably think it would be wonderful to erect a bench in his or her memory.

That is all very nice but is becoming impractical as the village is, as far as I can remember, only one nautical mile in length. In a length of 150 feet of cliff near my house there are already 4 benches. If people carry on procreating and dying at the rate they do we would eventually become the bench capital of Africa and people would come here to see the benches. Also all benches are not created equal and there are ugly, big and impractical benches that have sprung up over the years. With wooden benches there is also the question of maintenance and the harshness of the African sun means that the wood has to be treated at least once a year. In some cases this happens, in others not. The old concrete benches crack and fall apart.

In any case it has become an irritation and a problem. I don’t know who it was but a decision was taken that all benches and their location had to be approved by an official of the local Parks and Recreation Department. Even better is that a standard bench was decided on and no-one is allowed to deviate from the basic bench. What is great is that the bench is made of recycled plastic and is supposed to last for at least 75 years. Initially I was sceptical but they have worn gracefully and are fading nicely in the sun – they are also not as nauseatingly green as they were when they were initially installed.

The next step is to allow people to attach a plaque in someone’s memory to an existing bench for a donation and to use that donation for other necessary tasks in the village like the maintenance of the paths down to the sea and the eradication of alien vegetation.

The only question I still have to check on is the provenance of the plastic. I no longer believe it when people tell me a car was only driven to church on a Sunday by a little old lady and I hope the plastic is recycled locally from empty cool drink bottles and the like. I have used an image of a plastic fantastic bench in a calendar and it looks great – both the picture and the bench - and it is great to see how the recycling has fitted seamlessly back into the environment.

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