Thursday, 8 October 2020

Little Brown Jobs

 

A while ago, long before Marcia abandoned the family leaving me to look after the children by myself (on Valentine’s Day last year if anyone is really that interested, a date notable only because it left me with a bunch of roses I suddenly had no use for), I paid for her to go to catering college.  Having passed the basic course with flying colours, Marcia then went on to specialize in patisserie, so I think you can all understand how extraordinarily pissed off we were when she left.  The children and I loved nothing more than a well-made sticky bun.

I like bread.  I know that bread isn’t exactly patisserie but it is made with yeast and generally comes out of an oven that has just scented a kitchen for at least an hour or so.  As a child in Baden-Baden I would happily walk down, and then necessarily back up, a mountain at six in the morning to collect the fresh Brötchens which constituted the main ingredient of our breakfast. I like bread so much that sandwiches, or at the very least if I have forgotten to load the fridge with lettuce, tomatoes and ham, a supermarket bun loaded with cheese and mayonnaise, forms part of my nightly routine, along with a good book.  These are habits ruinous to my waistline.  According to the BBC, if I catch Covid, I will probably die.  My survival, apparently, depends upon me giving up bad habits. I understand what the BBC are/is saying (correct me someone), but one has to ask oneself, denied inspiring literature, is life really worth living?

Marcia is so much younger than I so which person of reason could deny her the opportunity to step over the traces and gallop for a bit?  Patience is its own reward and in my case this bunch of bollocks actually seemed to work and a couple or so months ago it was with delight we welcomed her back for reasons, I hasten to add, far deeper than budget Bounties and light cream filled pastries. Now, it appears, she is a bread revolutianry.

For a while now I have had trouble sleeping.  I have no trouble actually going to sleep, I can do that in an armchair at eight in the evening.  But at no later than four in the morning, I am wide awake and worrying.  Just one, only one, of the things pressing my being to insomnia recently has been how to get 29 vehicles from Luanda to Menongue, with only half as many drivers as there were vehicles.  To achieve the seemingly impossible, a big hole was required and happily, today, I found one.  Not at all easy in the middle of a big city but there it was, the police shooting range upon which, years ago I trained.



 

Other matters pressing remain but it was with a much lighter heart I returned home this evening only to be confronted by Marcia.

I will be the first to admit to an occasional loss of patience with a tradesman, or baker as in Marcia’s case.  I will also confess the subsequent glorification of the ensuing confrontation to anyone not too bored to walk away, a desire to justify, but really an attempt to salve a growing realization of an inexcusable loss of composure. 

Marcia was foaming at the mouth.

‘Are you aware that a bread roll now weighs only 40 grammes?’

Tired and now struck dumb, I was saved by the twins.

‘Sabre tried to eat a baby bird!’ they chorused. 

‘Gosh,’ I said.

Sabre is an Alsatian.  I have trained him to kill, or at least seriously maul, anyone who comes onto the property with ill intent.  Sadly, only having a doggy brain driven by instinct, he has interpreted this somewhat liberally as an instruction to kill anything that moves except, and I am so grateful for this, children.  Our Brazilian neighbour, an adult lady, did not meet Sabre’s limited criteria so I had to cough the hospital bill for stitching her bottom back together.  There was a motion to have Sabre destroyed.  After some heated negotiation, I installed a door bell and disseminated instructions for its use.

Still, this latest transgression of his, the attempted murder of a baby bird, was far more serious than the weight of a bread roll, so I diverted my attention accordingly.

When I was a child, I felt an instinctive duty of care for anything less fortunate than myself, an emotion I carry to this day.  Chicks do fall out of their nests, and with the knowledge that left on the deck, unable to do more than flutter inches above the ground, they were destined to become extra rations for feral cats, I would always pick them up and carry them home.  Only to be told that I had, to all intents and purposes, killed them.  Merely touching them ensured their mothers abandoned them.  By moving them from where I had found them, I had condemned them to lonely starvation.  That is a lot of guilt for a five-year-old.

I refer to twins.  They are not really twins at all.  Only one is the issue of my loins, my daughter Charlotte, Charlie.  The other is Cheyenne.  Cheyenne is Marcia’s niece, the daughter of Marcia’s sister.  Marcia’s sister died.  Sad enough in itself for young Cheyenne but then, after the funeral, her father returned Cheyenne to her mother’s family on the grounds that the family had provided him a defective woman. The child, therefore, was no longer his responsibility.  Regrettably young Alex, who I really do not want to grow up to be a man who resorts too quickly to anything more extreme than a verbal exchange of difference, witnessed what I think by now we have all agreed is a jolly rare and, yes, I suppose, unforgiveable, loss of self-control.  Once the dust settles, and Cheyenne’s father regains sufficient mobility to sign the necessary documentation, I will formally adopt the girl.  In the meantime, Cheyenne lives with us and, much to the confusion of the till girls at Shoprite, our supermarket of convenience where we three, the old bloke, Charlie and Cheyenne, are now well known, I refer to the two of them as my twin girls.  Biologically, I tell anyone I am intent on teasing, it is possible for the twin issue of a mixed race couple to exhibit individually the extreme characteristics of both parents.  ‘It’s all a question of eggs’, I lecture them as I pack my groceries into non bio degradable plastic bags.  It was hard enough convincing the Shoprite belles that I wasn’t the girls’ grandfather.  Now I am satisfied half of them believe they are witnessing one of nature’s miracles.  The twins don’t mind; they get free sweets.

 



Alex hunts.  He is eleven now but he has hunted since he was old enough to draw a bow.  I am pleased to note that he has adopted my mantra, if you are not going to eat it, don’t kill it.  Sabre is sometimes a bit ambitious but obeys pretty much the same rule.  I am sure that given the opportunity, and the time, he would have devoured my Brazilian neighbour, burying what he could not manage at his first sitting.  The twins, however, still with this blessed instinct to save life and oblivious to life depending on mortality, had rescued a baby bird from Sabre’s jaws of death, leaving me with a bit of a headache.

I have no idea what this baby bird eats.  I don’t even know what kind of bird it is.  I know Guinea Fowl, I shoot them regularly, and I know they can survive, until shot of course, on grain.  I tried Google and Wikipedia and discovered that the main font of ornithological expertise resides with ‘twitchers’, who suggest that this is an ‘LBJ’.  Something rare, undiscovered even?  No, it means ‘Little Brown Job’ betraying, I suspect, similar bewilderment.  Looks like a Sparrow to me but I am in Africa, do we have Sparrows here?  If this bird dies, the twins will hate me.


 

Back to where I came in and bumped into an effervescent Marcia.  Apparently the baker is now using extra yeast, and proving his bread for longer than the legally established period….

(The production of bread is regulated here?  Bugger me, I never knew that, but Marcia has done the course, don’t forget)

…so that a reduced amount of flour and other essential ingredients results in the same size bun, but with less weight.

 In essence, Marcia was aggrieved about paying for hot air. I agree with her 100%, long live the revolution.

Under the circumstances, I think my best course of action is to keep the bird alive, and find a new baker.

Monday, 5 October 2020

Never too old to set a goal...

 

 

Some old bloke and Her Britannic Majesty’s representative in Angola, Her Excellency, Jessica Hand, British Ambassador.

Angola, landmine free by 2025.  Now that is something worth working hard for before senescence leads me to the scrap heap.

Need to see my tailor regarding the length of my trousers...

 

 

Friday, 18 September 2020

A Surprisingly Inexpensive Taste of Paradise

 


 Marcia rang me.  She has the unerring ability to ring when I am at my busiest. 

‘Andy!’ she gasped, clearly excited.  For some reason she always refers to me by the diminutive of my second name, Andrew, rather than by the name under which I have dragged myself through life, Thomas.  Sometimes I refer to her by something other than her given name, but usually only when I am very annoyed, and definitely out of earshot.

‘Deskontão are selling chocolate at 1,200 Kwanzas!  Can I buy it?’

Now bear in mind that I was in the middle of calculating the cost to the company in extra port and container detention fees occasioned by the negligence of the shipping company who, for reasons known only to themselves, unloaded our shipping containers into the wrong terminal.  I wasn’t dealing with a mere 1,200 kwanzas (about US$1.50), I was trying to recover a 100,000 times that much, $150,000. 

Now that for the first time in over a decade, the crust I earn is paid in good old GBP, my salary is pretty much inflation and Kwanza devaluation proof so, although I could see nothing remarkable in 1,200 kwanzas for a bar of chocolate which, only a year or so ago probably cost around 200 kwanzas, much less why Marcia was ringing me to ask for permission to buy one, it is still only very small change.  I think a 100 gramme bar of Milka, my favourite, is about that in Shoprite.  Clearly, the bar of chocolate offered by Deskontão had something more to offer.

‘Yes, go ahead, Marcia, buy it.’

‘Can I buy two?’

‘Sure, Marcia, fill yer boots…’ I hung up, only briefly contemplating the enormous cultural divide, and its sometimes bizarre consequences, between an African girl from the Angolan province of Uige, and a German bred Englishman.  It doesn’t, I have found, do to dwell on these differences too often as, sadly, it can easily lead to conflict arising from misunderstanding.  Best just to accept we think differently and do things in (very) different ways.  I went back to my calculations.

I had been home less than an hour when Charlie came in clutching a Bounty bar. 

I have been away from UK TV and its adverts for more than thirty years but I still remember the for then, pretty racy adverts for Bounty chocolate bars; bronzed bikini clad young things slinking out of an azure tropical sea to munch on Bounty bars under the shade of a palm tree, all executed in a manner calculated to disquiet any adolescent with red blood in their veins.  Notice that the foregoing sentences were gender neutral?  We must all make a conscious effort to be inclusive and avoid offending, so I will content myself with saying that as a young male looking at the only male in the advert being fed Bounty bars by young ladies, with a promise of further paradise to come, I couldn’t help feeling he was such a lucky bastard. The adverts certainly did for me and I am sure are responsible, at least in part, for my gipsy feet.

‘Marcia!’ I exclaimed, ‘Bounty bars!  Are these the chocolates you bought at Deskontão?  Why did you buy only two?  You should have bought loads!’  I realize that Bounty chocolates contain two bars per packet, so two packets would suffice to give the three children and Marcia each a taste of paradise, but what about me?  I am sure a little sniffle of self-pity escaped me.

‘I honestly think two is enough,’ said Marcia, very sternly, even for a girl from Uige, ‘otherwise the children will get fat.  But, if you are sure you want more, I can nip back and get some, I have to buy cream for the cake anyway.’  So cake lathered with cream doesn’t make us fat, eh? ‘Please, Marcia, buy a few more!’

She returned from shopping and dumped two boxes of Bounty bars on the table, each box containing 24 double bars of Bounty.  I did a quick mental calculation, 48 x 1,200 divided by the official exchange rate.

‘Marcia, you just lashed out over 70 quid on Bounty bars?’

It’s this cultural divide thing again, I could see she was bewildered by my simple arithmetic.

‘That’s kicking the arse out of it,’ I continued, ‘I thought you were worried about the children getting fat?’

‘Well, you were the one who told me to buy more,’ she snapped, clearly irritated.

She had obviously been very pleased with herself, and for us let’s face it, for discovering such a delicacy, and it really seemed churlish of me to pick fault, so I picked up the boxes and took them to the pantry.  Where I discovered two more boxes of Bounty bars, each containing 24 Bounties.  We now had 96 bars of Bounty, less the two already consumed.  The shopping receipt was still on the kitchen table so I had a quick squint.  Marcia had paid 1,200 kwanzas for a box of Bounties.  Bounties at five-pence ha’penny apiece? Wow!

Sorry is so hard to say, especially with a gob full of Bounty bar, but I will get around to it…

 

 

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Older, perhaps wiser

 ...or should I say: 'Proof of Life'...

I was a bit distressed to learn that an old mate of mine who had recently been in the 'Lundas' in NE Angola sorting out a hydro project, and had fled back to UK with a severe bout of malaria, was discovered by his sister dead in his rooms.  I did not have the heart to ask if he still had his boots on, but knowing him, I bet he did.

I have passed by the barber's since this was taken last week.  Doesn't do to cut my hair too often, or wash for that matter, confuses the dog...

In my humble opinon... Just wonderful

 


Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Men That Don't Fit In

There's a race of men that don't fit in,

A race that can't stay still;

So they break the hearts of kith and kin,

And they roam the world at will.

They range the field and they rove the flood,

And they climb the mountain's crest;

Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,

And they don't know how to rest.



If they just went straight they might go far;

They are strong and brave and true;

But they're always tired of the things that are,

And they want the strange and new.

They say: "Could I find my proper groove,

What a deep mark I would make!"

So they chop and change, and each fresh move

Is only a fresh mistake.



And each forgets, as he strips and runs

With a brilliant, fitful pace,

It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones

Who win in the lifelong race.

And each forgets that his youth has fled,

Forgets that his prime is past,

Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,

In the glare of the truth at last.



He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;

He has just done things by half.

Life's been a jolly good joke on him,

And now is the time to laugh.

Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;

He was never meant to win;

He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;

He's a man who won't fit in.

Robert W. Service

Born     January 16, 1874
Preston, Lancashire, England
Died     September 11, 1958 (aged 84)
Lancieux, Côtes-d'Armor, France

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Double Gosh and a Jolly Good Dollop of Golly!



Dear Mr Gowans,

Thank you for your email.

Although we ship worldwide we only currently offer shipping to selected countries. Unfortunately Angola is a country that we are unable to ship to at present.

Kind regards,

John Pugh

Internet Sales Coordinator
Cheaney Shoes Ltd

Having survived twenty years in Africa I wasn’t about to allow simple idleness to prevent me slipping my feet into a well-made pair of boots.  Having been told to march off at the high port by Cheaney’s, I wasn’t about to waste any more time trying to buy a pair of their boots either, thus ending our thirty seven year relationship. 

As all young officers soon learn, if anyone tells you something is impossible, check with the Regimental Sergeant Major, only on his say so is it really impossible.  Appropriately, I found that the boots I wanted were also made by a man called Alfred Sargent.  He can’t spell his own surname but he does make very good boots.

Given the lethargy of UK suppliers, I was a little dismayed to discover that Alfred Sargent Zug Grain Veldt Boots are about as rare as hen’s teeth.  If Cheaney’s was an attitude endemic among Northamptonshire boot makers, the chances of me finding a supplier sympathetic to the logistic problems of getting a pair to me in Angola were slim.  I wasn’t holding my breath then, when I wrote to Tredders of Castle Ashby, Suppliers of Fine Footwear.  Once again I explained that I lived in Angola and was in urgent need of a pair of decent boots. 

I didn't think it possible to receive a reply shorter even than that of Mr. Pugh at Cheaneys but I did:

No problem Tom,

It is my pleasure.

Will you be paying by credit/debit card? 

Kind Regards

Glen Bogle
Tredders Quality Footwear
Tel: 0845 121 4012

Tredders ofCastle Ashby have their own regular shipping agent with whom they and their clients are very satisfied but Mr. Bogle was nevertheless pleased to obtain a shipping quote from my preferred shipper, DHL Express, and was shocked, he wrote to me, at the price they quoted.  I wasn’t, I had provided him the link to DHL and knew they wanted £172.95.  But, the man who was beginning to test my heterosexuality (I was overcome with an inexplicable urge to have his babies) went on to say he had approached his regular shipper and had asked him to try and get a better quote from DHL, he’d get back to me.  Gosh!  Eight minutes later another email from the soon to be canonized Mr. Bogle popped into my in box.  Express shipping with DHL would be £95.  Double gosh and a jolly good dollop of Golly!

I would have been grateful just to find a supplier willing to sell me the boots and let DHL come and collect them.  Instead I had Saint Glen of Castle Ashby performing miracles for me.  If he bent any further backwards, he’d be picking gravel out of his ears.  Not only was I going to cheat the Chancellor of his twenty pieces of silver, DHL were not going to charge me the leg I needed to usefully employ the pair of boots they were sending me.

Tredders of Castle Ashby’s commitment to customer service is evident, even in their choice of location.  They’re on the Castle Ashby estate no doubt, so that the Marquess of Northampton’s footman doesn’t have too far to walk to collect his master’s new boots, as well as providing an appropriate environment in which other clients can road test their quality footwear. 


My new Alfred Sargent Zug Grain Veldt Boots and a blade appropriate to the boot style
You may have noticed I haven’t yet mentioned the boots now in my possession, instead using up my store of superlatives on Tredders of Castle Ashby.  The thing is, I am not the first expatriate whose desire for old country quality has been thwarted by individuals unwilling to lift even a finger to execute an order in any way unusual, so the discovery of a supplier not only traditional in the quality of its products but also, despite the laziness displayed by other on line outlets, still providing a traditional customer service is something worth banging a drum for.

The lovely Angie, one of three young followers of St Glen of Castle Ashby 
all eager to help you slip into something comfortable.
I have it on good authority they are black belts in Sokushindo

I asked for and paid their invoice and, six days later, I am wearing the boots I wanted, the boots they had much pleasure selling me and I had great pleasure in buying.  There’s no question of Alfred Sargent’s boots not being worth the money.  Like their shoes, they are hand made in Northampton using quality leather to a very high standard.  My boots are constructed using the Veldtschoen method, which is traditional for English country and hiking boots being sturdy, comfortable and waterproof.  The last pair of Veldtschoens I had lasted over thirty years and these Alfred Sargents should do the same.  The boots they replaced I had bought in a hurry and they were the best I could get at the time.  They were cheap (?!) at £145.00 and guaranteed for life. 

Yes, the manufacturer, Doc Martens, guaranteed that if the boots failed in my lifetime they would repair or replace them.  Three years into the rest of my life the sole separated from the uppers.  But the boots giving up the ghost was only the end of a sorry saga.  I quickly found while walking through the bush that every thorny bit of vegetation I stepped on would pierce through the air cushioned sole effectively nailing the branch to my foot.  After a couple months the boots looked shabby and no amount of polish improved the situation. 
 
A false economy
 
No amount of polish could stop them leaking either.  After a year or so the what can only be described as cardboard insole perished and the soles were so perforated and flat that instead of the air cushioned ride I was promised, stepping on ants bruised my feet.  They were a complete waste of money and one of the reasons I never bothered to test their guarantee.  I will never wear a pair of Doc Martens again.  The other reason, of course, was that it would cost me more to send the boots back than they were worth.  My Alfred Sargents, on the other hand, will only have to last me six years and they will work out cheaper than the Doc Martens.

I have been wearing my Alfie Esses all day and even though they are new, they are very comfortable.  They do make a bit of a clumping noise as I walk across the wood floors of the cottage.  This annoys Marcia but to me is quite reassuring; they are obviously sturdy enough to be snake proof but with the seismic they create, any snake in the vicinity will have buggered off long before I get to squash it into the ground.   As for the Goodyear welted sole, it’ll be nice to take a walk in the bush without worrying about my feet being pinned to the countryside.

Marcia has found all this fuss over a pair of boots quite amusing but, being a girl, it is as hard for her to understand how important a single pair of good boots is to a man as it is for a man to understand why a woman needs more shoes than there are days in a year.  She had the last word as I sat down to type this.

‘I suppose we shall be burying you in your new boots then?’

No you bloody won’t, I thought, these will be passed down to Alex.
 
Alex road testing my boots waving another sword appropriate to his shirt
 

Solar eclipse to disrupt German power system



"Power operators in Germany are bracing for potential disruption from the solar eclipse expected on Friday, which will knock out almost all solar-generated electricity in an "unprecedented" test for the network."

Makes me wonder how they manage when it unexpectedly gets dark every night...

Sunday, 15 March 2015

You Know You Want It


Have you ever caught a glimpse of something and for no logical reason, really wanted it?  I have. 

This weekend was a bit of a wash out.  It wasn’t convenient for me to collect Dominic this weekend which was a huge disappointment.  Still, I was still looking forward to golf with Alex followed by lunch at the Mangais restaurant.  The first F1 race of the season was kicking off in Australia so, with them being hours ahead of us, it looked as though today would be an early start, Formula One over breakfast, golf and then a leisurely lunch.  Not a bad way to spend a day.

It started raining last night and it chucked it down all through the night.  Alex woke up half way through the race so I made him breakfast while we sat with faces glum as the rain thumped the roof and Hamilton drove 58 times round Adelaide.  With one Ferrari out, Alex was only half interested so spent his time running in and out of the cottage to prove to me that he wasn’t getting that wet.  He really wanted to play golf and I think he has the right temperament to be good at it; only a madman would want to go out in a torrential downpour and knock a ball around.

For his sake, I was praying it would stop raining but had given myself a deadline of nine-thirty; if it hadn’t stopped by then, I’d call the instructor and confirm what he already probably presumed, we weren’t coming.  We got ourselves dressed and at the appointed time, the rain stopped.  We hadn’t even made it to the main road when, with an almighty clap of thunder, the heavens opened again with a real vengeance and suddenly we weren’t riding bikes, we were navigating a river.  Alex rode into a pothole and was stuck. I tried to turn round, caught my front wheel in a submerged rut and went over the handlebars grazing ankle, knee, shoulder and head.

‘Oh dear,’ I said.

I wasn’t going to quit first, though.  I remember once really wanting to do something with my father, we had tickets to the Motor Show at Earls Court but the weather was so bad, so atrocious, that he had second thoughts.  The forecast was for freezing fog, black ice, downed power lines, jack-knifed lorries and closed roads.  I think they were even thinking of calling the Army out.  When my dad cancelled, I thought he was a wimp.

Alex and I made it onto the dirt road on the Golf course before he bogged in again.  I was finding it hard going but not even in the lowest of his eighteen gears could Alex make any headway at all. We couldn’t even walk in the stuff, two steps and the morass had sucked our shoes off.  Even though he looked miserable as hell with the conditions, he still left it to me to suggest we knocked it on the head and went home.

Alex went straight in and I rinsed the mud off the bikes under the deluge cascading off the roof.  Marcia came out onto the veranda, obviously having made none of the preparations women usually subject themselves to if they know they will be seen in public.

‘Are we still going for lunch?’ she asked.

‘Of course, darling, I’ll just get changed’

Somehow, the thought of sitting in an air-conditioned restaurant in the middle of a thunderstorm didn’t really appeal to me, half the fun was being able to sit on the deck over the river and enjoy the scenery but if they really wanted to go, we would.

By the time Alex and I were showered and dressed again, Marcia had changed her mind (come to her senses, more like).  This suited me fine, now Alex was blaming her instead of me.  I rustled up as nice a lunch as I could and afterwards listlessly read a book.  Even though I had selected a Frederick Forsyth, staple fare for anyone bored out of their skull, I couldn’t get into it, instead becoming increasingly annoyed with every technical error: ‘A shaped charge only blasts forward…’, bollocks, try standing behind a High Explosive Anti-Tank shaped charge when it goes off, it’ll do a bit more than ruffle your hair.  It’s like Hollywood when the hero fires a recoilless weapon from inside a car. Jesus, they’d only do it once in real life.

So I started to scroll through past auction results and realized I had just missed Maximilian Schell’s old car.  Maximilian Schell was a fantastic stage and screen actor, one of a bunch of post war German speaking actors who starred opposite American and British counterparts in every classic war movie as either snarling Nazis or, usually in Schell’s case, reasonable Wehrmacht or Luftwaffe officers coming to terms with what was turning out to be a bit of a losing streak.  When, in ‘A Bridge Too Far,’  the characters of Hardy Kruger and Maximilian Schell were discussing where and why all these British paratroopers were landing and the possibility they were after the General, Hardy Kruger said, in German, ‘Perhaps they’ve already landed in the General’s soup’ to which, with an impeccable delivery Schell replied, ‘Yes, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?’  Brilliant.

Now I wouldn’t pay a premium to own a car just because a famous bum had nestled in its upholstery but I would be interested in a one owner, molly-coddled example of an R107 Mercedes SL.  The car had been bought for Herr Schell new by the MFG film studio in 1977 and he had kept it ever since.  He took it for its last outing aged 82 when he married his long-time girlfriend who was 35 years his junior.  At the time this induced a bit of friendly speculation as to which was older, the car or his bride.  Clearly he loved both.  The thing that made his SL special for me was the trim, gorgeous blue coachwork over a saddle tan leather interior.  I would have enjoyed Maximilian Schell’s car knowing that he and I had the same taste.

The exquisite taste of the late Maximilian Schell, a Magnetitblau-metallic V8 Mercedes SL
with saddle tan leather upholstery and an opera singer.

The auction house which handled the sale of this car also does fine art.  I know nothing about fine art except that I can’t afford it.  Still, it’s nice to look at so I thought I would scan the lots in their forthcoming Easter sale.  They give you the choice of either downloading their pdf catalogue or just scanning an excel style list with thumbnail images.  I chose the latter, hardly the best way to appreciate what I was looking at but I pay per Mb here so I am tight. 

The sale is in Salzburg so there were the expected religious paintings, mountainous landscapes and figures in lederhosen and I was scrolling faster and faster when my eye was caught by a quite unremarkable painting.  It appeared to be a group of five figures standing somewhere forlorn but it was the way the subjects were arranged, almost in two distinct groups that attracted me so I clicked on the link to go to the more detailed page.  With a much higher resolution I could see that there was definitely something going on there.  This was a depiction of two groups, together in space and time but separated by some strong emotion.  I could see in posture and expression, the bleakness and lack of detail in the landscape, the pile of discarded garments the strength of feeling between the participants.  There was a story here, raw and savage.  Then I looked at the title of the painting, ‘Duel on the Beach.’ 

I have no idea who Alfeo Argentieri was.  He may be considered a painter of daubs, a waster of good canvas and paint but in my opinion here he has caught men at their most intimate, when they are about to try and kill each other.

It isn’t a large painting, only 40 x 60 cms, and he has been a bit mean with the paint in places.  It is described as ‘Krakelee, Reinigungsbedürftig’, which means it is dirty and the paint is cracked but I like it.  I like it so much I’m going to have a punt on it.  I may be buying what the knowledgeable would be too polite to describe as a heap of shit, I don’t care.  And I suppose that’s what art is all about.  It isn’t to brighten a room up or cover an unsightly patch in the plaster, it isn’t to fit in with the décor, it is something far more personal.  Even as a 200 pixel wide thumbnail, it caught my eye and I have been staring at the high resolution image of it I downloaded all afternoon.  I know that if I am lucky enough to own this painting, it will give me pleasure every time I look at it. 

I know exactly where it is going to go, right above my desk.

One of these gentlemen has seen his last sunrise.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Trudging Through Treacle


 
It has been raining a lot here recently.  This is good, we haven’t had decent downpours in years.  As well as knocking out all communications and the satellite TV, rain clears the air, brings out the flowers which in turn bring out the butterflies and humming birds.  Sadly, it also brings out these:


I killed three today.  Charlie is a bloody useless ratter.  He’ll catch them but not kill them, he’ll just stand there like a dope with the thing shrieking in his jaws and then, just as I get to him, he’ll drop the bugger.  If I arm myself with a club so that I at least stand a sporting chance of being able to twat the bastard thing as it scurries off, he drops them all the sooner.  I have never beaten Charlie but clearly the sight of me approaching him swinging a 3 wood has made him decide against taking any chances.  Rocky seems keen to have a go but I can’t blame him for backing away from a cornered rat, especially rats this size.

Rocky has settled in well and is beginning to obey simple orders such as ‘Drop that shoe NOW you little shit!’ and when it comes to food, he is a walking swill bin.  Do you remember this photo taken soon after I had found, scrubbed and fed him?


He is still very fond of what was supposed to be his temporary basket and sheet and when I make up a larger bed for him and take the basket away, I can hear his little nails rattling to and fro across the floor all night as he searches for somewhere he wants to lie down.   Between circuits he will stop, scratch on the bedroom door and whine piteously.  I always crack, return his basket and give him a bowl of milk to shut him up.  His diet of beef, chicken, liver, heart and milk seems to be working for him, look at him now just three weeks later:


A few posts ago I came in for some real ribbing.  Some of you suggested I looked a bit of a state so I decided to do something about it and get a haircut.  Unless you were transfixed by the rat above, you may even have noticed.

Two Germans and a Boy

Harald Klein came for lunch.  Alex really likes Klein.  He thinks Klein is such a nice man who always lavishes plenty of attention on him.  Klein also always brings Alex a big bag of chocolates which I am sure have nothing whatsoever to do with Alex’s affection for the man.  Klein is a German, born in Angola soon after Diogo Cão discovered the place, who owns a few thousand hectares in Kwanza Sul, most of them covered in the Silky Oak trees I am going to chop down and stuff through my workshop.  For a long time during the civil war, Klein did what most of the white farmers who hadn’t been killed and buried on their own land did and retreated to Luanda which was where I met him.  At the time I had access to vehicles and men armed to the teeth so we decided we would take a peek at his farm and try and find out what happened to his neighbours, also German.  Sadly, both had been trashed, only the mute remains of derelict buildings and a small mound of stones beneath which lay his neighbours.

Now that title to his land has been restored to him, he is trying very hard to make a go of what was once a coffee plantation (hence all those Silky Oak trees which were imported to provide shade to the coffee plants).  It is the same old story, though.  Farms do not spring to life overnight, they require years of effort and tons of investment.  Klein has neither time left nor cash and he knows, with no descendants to whom he can pass the farm, the locals already encroaching his land are just waiting for him to die. 

Another neighbour of his owns the sawmill local to his plantation.  We saw that too as we made our incursion deep into UNITA territory all those years ago.  The rebels had destroyed everything they could not steal, it was bloody heart breaking.  Amazingly, after hostilities ceased in 2002, he returned there and got the mill going again but without the proper investment, all he could do was enough to stop himself starving.  Klein tells me he wants to throw in the towel, get what he can and bugger off back to Europe. 

Klein has the trees so owning a mill as well seems a good idea on paper.  Klein went to the bank to see if he could raise the capital needed to buy his neighbour out.  This would require a lot less capital and provide a far quicker return than buying everything he needed to get the land tilled and replanted with coffee plants, and then wait years for the crop to build up.  Interest rates are a lot higher in Angola than they are in Europe but it wasn’t this that put him off.  I am quite surprised he wasn’t aware of this but then again, if he has never approached a bank here for a loan before, there is no reason he should. 

I think that’s why he came to lunch. He needed someone to listen to him vent his spleen who wouldn’t immediately report him to the racism police.  Whatever amount you borrow from the bank, a percentage of it goes into the pocket of the bank official who authorized the loan.  If you aren’t willing to pay, you don’t get the loan.  So the only people who are willing to take out a loan are those who don’t mind being stung because they have absolutely no intention of repaying it.  The bank officials don’t care, it isn’t their money they’re losing and they are on a roll. 

I’d have been bloody angry in his position too; they demanded 20% so obviously considered him desperate.  If you tell them to get stuffed and then negotiate hard, you can get them down to 5%. 

Two Germans and a Puppy sitting to table

The Euro has taken quite a bashing recently but I think parity with the dollar is about as far as it will go so wanted to get some dollars out and into a Euro account in Germany.  The bank told me that I could send money out for personal reasons, say to support a relative, but the limit was $2,000.  If I wanted to send it to a commercial account, I could send as much as I had in my account but it had to be against a commercial invoice for which I had obtained, and paid the tax on, an import licence.

Doing business here is like trudging through treacle.