All that glisters
Ted: Joe Cools is my favourite watering hole - the ideal venue for unwinding en route to home. From time to time I bump into Maxine, a woman who claims to hail from Mars.
We often chew the fat on matters of the day. She has a maddening habit of not understanding the basic concepts you and I take for granted - this sometimes gets me riled but it can get me to thinking ...
Ted: ( overjoyed, ringing the bell) Mr. Barman, a free round of drinks for all the patrons, please. Today I made a killing on the JSE goldboard!
Maxine: Hi Ted. Please elaborate. The source of your pleasure?
Ted: You know Max, even for a Martian, you have a terribly turgid turn of phrase. To put it in a nutshell, today I've just bought and sold a spread of good goldmining shares and come out way ahead.
Maxine: Why did you buy them if you only wanted to sell them?
Ted: Just to make few bucks.
Maxine: (quietly to herself, frowning) Bucks?
(then to Ted)
Anyway, what's a goldmine?
Ted: Not that line again! Now I suppose you're going to tell me that there are no mines on Mars and that you have never heard of a precious metal.
Maxine: Uh? .. No.
Ted: (sighing) OK, here we go again.
(pausing for thought)
There are these chaps, see, who drill a hole in the ground, then, at huge expense, send thousands of miners underground who blast away the rock and send it to the surface. Then it goes through a complicated process of refining to extract the gold, which they melt and cast into small bars about as big as this
(he shows her)
that, incidentally, you can hardly pick up.
Maxine: Why can't you pick it up - is it still hot?
Ted: No, my dear ignoramus! Because gold is about the heaviest thing you can get. It's so heavy you have to be a weightlifter to pick up one of these tiny bars? Anyway forget about that. The mining houses then sell the gold for about $600 per oz. - that makes it quite a valuable commodity.
Maxine: With people taking so much trouble over it, and needing weightlifters to pick it up and all, I suppose if gold is valuable it must be pretty useful.
Ted: (laughing) I wouldn't exactly describe gold as useful. No, banks buy most of it and they just put it into underground vaults like Fort Knox.
(Maxine twiddles her swizzle stick and starts to screw up her eyes)
Ted: You see, it's important to back the country's currency with a stable commodity, and gold fits the bill. It keeps for centuries and doesn't rust away like steel would. Strictly speaking, if you had no faith in banknotes, the bank would have to swop your paper for real gold.
(Maxine studies a banknote)
Maxine: Would they do that?
Ted: Well, I know they certainly used to in the old days. I can remember, my grandfather telling me that the Reserve bank used to say right there on the banknote (points) that they promised to swop the note for real gold. But then we went off the gold standard so they promised to pay you out "1 dollar" in exchange for a 1 dollar note.
Maxine: But surely that would just have been giving a new piece of paper for an old one.
Ted: Anyway, ( thinking) that probably didn't really make sense; but things have got a lot more sophisticated with computers and all, so now I suppose they don't say anything on the banknotes.
Maxine: (studying the note more carefully) No, I can't see anything about that here. But anyway it's probably not important, if all you can do with the gold is to put it in some fort or other? At least this paper stuff will buy us a drink.
Ted: Don't you worry, Maxine, gold does have a number of very good uses, some of which are particularly attractive to you women. Manufactured jewelry, for instance - that currently consumes as much gold as the miners are able to pull out of the ground each day. How about that!
Maxine: What's jewelry?
Ted: ( keeping his cool) Aw come on. It's the stuff that many women (and some men) wear to make themselves look more beautiful.
Maxine: How does that work? Can you turn the gold into some sort of skin cream or moisturising compound?
Ted: Don't be silly! No, wearing gold jewelry sets off certain clothing very well and this makes one more attractive to the opposite sex.
(Ted unbuttons his shirt and pulls out a medallion)
Look at this for instance - isn't that a beauty?
Maxine: (battling a bit) Well, I suppose some people would be attracted to you if they saw that medallion, but sorry, it doesn't turn me on.
Ted: Well it takes all kinds..
Maxine: But anyway, you're wearing it under your shirt - how can that help?
Ted: We won't go into that. Just take my word for it. There are skilled craftsmen all over the world who take the raw gold and turn it into the most intricate and finely wrought pieces you could ever wish for. Some people even wear gold in their teeth.
Maxine: Does that help them chew better?
Ted: Of course not! ( thinking) I dunno really. I suppose gold makes a good long-lasting filling.
Maxine: But surely, if it's a different colour from the rest of your teeth, doesn't it look a bit awful? Aren't there better things you could use?
Ted: Let's not go there. (changing tack) Gold can often be a way for people to profess their love for each other.
Ted: For example when two people marry they often wear gold rings on their fingers to signify to all and sundry that they are together for the long haul.
Maxine: It must be very uncomfortable to wear a piece of metal on your finger all the time, but I suppose you Earth people must get used to it. Why do they make the rings out of gold?
Ted: For the simple reason that it will last forever. I told you about the refining process - it's difficult and expensive because gold is very inert.
Maxine: But aren't there other inert materials that would last forever? On Mars if we want things to last forever we just go outside and find a stone - that can be fashioned into things and seems to last. The bonus is that our stones are plentiful - they don't cost much.
Ted: But you don't see the point. Stone is ugly, gold is beautiful.
( Maxine murmurs something to herself, then suddenly brightens)
Maxine: Do you wear a gold ring?
Ted: No, but if you look at the girl on your left you'll see a good example of what I'm getting at. She's wearing a diamond engagement ring and that signifies that she is engaged, that is 'booked' , by a specific man, pending the day of the nuptials.
Maxine: (frowning) The only thing I see on her finger is a stone. You said stones are not attractive - would that be her subtle way of looking ugly to prospective suitors?