Saturday, 12 April 2014

It Can't Be The Water, Maybe The Air's Bad?

The last time I was in hospital with malaria in Angola

We were all recently invited by the Nice Americans to a barbecue on Mussulo Island this weekend. Mussulo isn’t really an island although it might as well be.  It is a long bar, a sandbank only attached to the mainland some 50 kms south of the capital, Luanda.  The only realistic way to get there is by boat across Mussulo Bay.  When I first visited some twenty years ago, there were only a few old Portuguese built weekend chalets (some of which were rented and done up by oil companies), a few stick and palm frond fishermen’s huts, loads of palm trees and golden sand.  If you had a boat, it was a great place to camp out for a weekend and barbecue on the safe, bay side and the sheltered waters were usually glass smooth and ideal for my favourite pastime, water skiing.  With fingers missing from my left hand, I was never much good at slalom skiing.  I could really cut myself a slice on the left hand side of the boat but everything, including me, let go when I tried to haul myself through a turn on the right hand side.  What I was good at though, was speed skiing and, for a time, held a couple of unofficial records here for top speed and the shortest time taken to ski between Mussulo and the mainland.  A couple of years after I arrived, a restaurant and lodge had been built.  It was paradise.  Lounging there in a deckchair, an ice cold Cuba Libre to hand, Luanda across the bay looked almost civilized.
Along with the invitation also came a request for lobster.  No problems with the lobster but there were a couple of impediments to us attending the barbecue.  The first was that Marcia is frightened witless by water.  When I first met Marcia I lived in a shack on the Ilha de Luanda, also a long bar enclosing Luanda Bay but this one had a dual carriageway straight down the centre and was filled with bars and restaurants.  I only had to walk a hundred yards in either direction and I was in the bay (not really a good place to swim) or the sea.  On Sundays, I would lunch in one of the restaurants and then lie on a deckchair doing my best to free Cuba by drinking one rum and coke after another, cooling off between drinks with a dip in the sea.  Now that I was with Marcia, who looked damn fine in a bikini, I would take her along.  She would eat the meal, she would lounge on the beach.  There was no way I could entice her into the water.  Same with boats.  If I organize a river fishing trip or even just a family run up the river sightseeing, she’ll pack sandwiches and stuff the cool box with drinks for us but no way will she come along.  The second impediment was her condition.  Poor Marcia is having a rough time of this first trimester. 
In addition to nausea, she overheats regularly and must lie down for a rest in cool shade.  A day in hot sun would do her no good at all and the sight of someone clearly not enjoying themselves would be unfair to others.  Marcia said I should take Alex and go, the Nice Americans had suggested precisely that on hearing of Marcia’s reservations and for a while, I was up for it.  Alex would have had a whale of a time.  Sadly, last Sunday I came over all poorly.  Monday I felt better and then had a practice run at dying on Tuesday; you could have fried eggs on my forehead.  From there, I became steadily worse so one of the Nice Americans, Rae Ann, drove down yesterday to collect the lobster.  Knowing she was coming, I dragged myself out of bed and into some clean clothes and actually felt a little better, still rough as a badger but at least I was on my feet.  Rae Ann came and went, very kindly leaving us three batches of her exceedingly good scones mix.  There was no way I could make it to the barbecue so I asked Rae Ann to pass my best wishes on to Nancy and Don, the other two Nice Americans, whose birthdays would be celebrated at the barbecue.

I had not been up to watering the plants for a couple of days and I knew they were dying of thirst so I tottered into the garden and spent a couple of very uncomfortable hours watering all the beds, pleased to see that some plants, notably my carrots, watermelon (my watermelons have been entered into an international competition spanning both hemispheres, but more on that when I am feeling better), tomatoes, kohlrabi, aubergine, sage, Italian grape tomato, mango, avocado, fig and banana trees,  nasturtium and zinnia were doing rather well all things considered, before collapsing exhausted and feverish onto the sofa.  I emptied a one-and-a-half litre bottle of mineral water and three cans of Sumol, a fizzy orange drink and crawled off to bed.  This was day three without food and the quinine sulphate was making my head shriek and churning my stomach.  I had dragged my mattress and pillows out into the sun to dry off and replaced my sodden sheets but they were still damp.  A couple of hours later when Marcia came home, they were sodden again.  My teeth were chattering uncontrollably, I was freezing cold yet I was sweating like a Grand National runner.  Some bastard had upped my temperature control from ‘medium rare’ to ‘decidedly well done’.  Marcia tried me with some vegetable rice stir fry, something I usually love.  I took one forkful, swallowed with difficulty and was immediately ill.  Marcia suggested I went to hospital.  I suggested she laced my water bottle with a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon of sugar and the juice of a couple of lemons.

It was a bloody awful night.  It was stupid of me, just as I was starting to feel better, to lug countless 25 litre buckets of water under a boiling sun to the plants out of reach of my ridiculously short hose.  Just to ram the point home and to remind me He has a sense of humour, at four this morning, God made it rain.


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Cheaper By The Dozen


As you all probably recall, I took under my wing a young local lad of whom I had high hopes.  Aged fourteen, as tall as I am but I doubt he would tip the scales at a hundred pounds fully dressed and soaking wet.  We went through a dodgy patch together, I had to sack him a few times but, slowly through trial and error, we have found the tasks he likes doing and those better left to me.  For example, he hates weeding but will happily clear all the extracted weeds and dispose of them.  So I do the weeding and he does the clearing.  He has picked up my logical system for washing dishes and no longer sees it as a chore but keeps me on my toes by not placing anything back in the cupboard from which it came.  He keeps the fridge stocked with cans of fizzy drinks and milk, knows which are my favourite biscuits, ensures fresh bread is bought every day, sweeps the garden for litter and empties the bins.  He even knows when I am running out of cigarettes and, something I never thought I could train an Angolan employee to do, he knocks before he comes in. 

Slowly I am teaching him English.  Already he is fluent in profanity and is easily getting to grips with simple instructions such as, ‘put it on the table,’ ‘give water to the dogs,’ ‘go to the corner and buy me phone credit,’ and ‘Bugger off, I’m busy.’  I even caught him sitting on the sofa watching cricket, a knowledge and enjoyment of which being pre-requisites of civilised human beings.  That is why Americans, no matter how affable and pleasant, can never call themselves truly civilised yet Pakistanis, who spend all their time blowing each other up can.  But life is full of such conundrums.  Finally, he has accepted my advice and now comes here after school to do his homework sitting on the veranda.

Frank has a brother and two sisters ranging in age from six to twelve.  With ever increasing frequency they are coming here to be fed.  Márcia always gives Frank essentials such as cooking oil, rice, pulses, fish and meat to take home to guarantee the kids get something to eat but I can understand why they prefer to come here and get the full meat and two veg while watching TV.  They don’t even have electricity in the bordão one room shack they call home.

The other day Márcia asked me if she could buy batas.  Batas are the little white lab coats that state school children must wear.

‘I thought you had bought school uniforms for Alex?’ I replied.  I knew damn well she had because I took a photograph of him dressed up for school.  I did not realise he needed batas as well.

‘Not for him,’ she said, ‘for França’s siblings.’

‘Oh.’ I said, ‘of course.’  I could see that this wasn’t all.

‘The kids aren’t allowed to go to school.’ She finally admitted.

‘Why can’t they go to school?’  I was quite perplexed.  After all, we are only talking about some tiny little village school up at the comuna about three or four clicks distant.

‘They have no batas..’

‘So buy them batas!  I’ve already said yes,’ I interrupted. 

‘…and the teachers say they are dirty,’ she finished.

‘Dirty?  Dirty by African standards?  Blimey!’ I said.

‘They have no one to look after them, to wash them, feed them, clean their clothes.  They are orphans!’

With a dead mother and a father like that they’d be better off if they were orphans I thought but Márcia was right.  França was doing his best but he has more than enough on his plate for a fourteen year old.  Fuck I was angry.  This bastard village.  They all knew the deceased mother, they grew up with her.  Now there isn’t a single friendly neighbour to pop in and see to the kids.  So much for the great extended family Africans keep banging on about.  And, instead of helping the kids, their bloody teachers deny them an education because they do not have uniforms and stink.  But they’ll all go to church and listen to sermons about suffering the children to come to Him.  Fuckwits.  That’s why I fucking hate religion.  All that blasted time, which would have been better spent helping those less fortunate, wasted listening to some pompous self important git telling fairy tales.  I had a Jewish mate in the Army.  He really wanted to go to a Catholic midnight mass.  We were in Germany, the best place to see the opulence of the Catholic church short of the Vatican.  Before we went in, I insisted we got tanked and while we were doing that, he asked me what it was like to be a Catholic.  ‘Fucking expensive,’ I said downing another large Asbach, ‘you have to pay to get in, pay to stay in, and pay to get out.’  When we got to the church, we discovered that the midnight service had been held at ten so we camped out on the steps and played gin rummy until the early morning mass.  I have always said that God hates me, he let the bloody Jew clean me out of a month’s pay.

‘I can pay a neighbour to look after them,’ Marcia continued, ‘it’ll only be a hundred dollars.’

‘Fuck the neighbours,’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t piss down their throats if their lungs were on fire much less pay them to do what they should have been doing all along. Scumbags’ 

It’s just so bloody typical,  They won’t do anything unless there’s something in it for them.  Think back to when I offered to dig a well for them.  The administrator insisted I dug it on his land so, as I learnt just in time, he could charge his villagers for water.  Now I have installed a tap by the entrance to the shop so they can help themselves for free.

‘Right,’ I said, ‘tell França that every day he must bring the kid’s dirty clothes with him in  the morning.  I’ll wash them and if they need more clothes, go and buy them.  Before they go to school, they can come here with França and have breakfast.  They can eat here in the evenings when they want as usual.  They can sit at the table with França and do their homework while he does his.  It would be good for Alex too, he can sit down with them and do his homework as well and I can keep an eye on them.’

Márcia could see I was seething.  ‘I’ll go and tell França,’ she said.

By the time she got back, all of five minutes later, I’d had a better idea,

Dominginho (França’s younger brother) is Alex’s best friend from the village.  The kid is like França was.  When I first met França, I thought he was a retard.  Then I thought he was deaf.  Then I realised the kid just didn’t know how to interact.  Anonymity was his protection.  If he did not acknowledge the existence of an outside world, it could not hurt him.  He was safe in a private little world of his own creation.  França laughs a lot now, especially if I accidentally hit myself with a hammer or fall off a ladder.  He laughs even more if I get mad at his obvious delight in my discomfort.  I have never seen Dominginho smile.  It is almost futile asking him anything.

‘Are you hungry?’

‘Hungry?’

‘Yes, do you want something to eat?’

‘Something to eat?’

‘Food, boy, do you want food?’

‘Food?’

‘For fuck’s sake França!  Find out if your brother wants anything to eat!’

What these kids needed was to get out of the village.

‘Marcia, why can’t we send them to the same school as Alex?’  I hurried on so as not to give her time to object. ‘They can all go together with Alex, come home together and do their homework together.  We can feed them, clean them and keep an eye on them.’

Márcia was silent

‘I know we can’t house them, they will have to go home to sleep but, you know…’ I petered out but then finished with a burst of emotion.  ‘I just hate the idea of paying a neighbour to look after them and the school on the hill, it’s shit!  A shit fucking school with shitty fucking teachers!’

‘The portable generator was too small to run the carpenter's tools,’ Márcia said suddenly.

‘Eh?’

‘It’s not powerful enough, we have to buy a new one, a bigger one.’

‘Are you saying we can’t afford the school fees?’

‘No Honey, if we have to buy a new one anyway, we could give the old one to them so they have electricity at home.  You would just have to remember to change the oil every week.’

That was fucking rich coming from her.  The only reason we bought this latest generator was because Márcia gave our emergency generator to the carpenters without telling me so the oil was never changed and it seized.  Further investigation of the sudden need for a generator down on the other site when they were already connected to power revealed that what they really needed wasn’t another generator closer to where they were working, but a longer extension cable.
 
I'll have three more sets of these, please...
 

Well, that’s decided then.  The kids will all go to Alex’s school.  He will be pleased.  There is, however, one teensy problem to be overcome.  It appears that the births of the children were never registered.  They do not have birth certificates.  Officially, they do not exist.  The administrators of their new school, unsurprisingly, do like to have sight of a cédula, a child’s registration document, before enrolling them.  The question is, can we sober the father up enough to remind him that these are his children and will he stay conscious long enough to make a statement to that effect in front of a registrar?  Fortunately, Márcia has said I had best not accompany them on that trip lest the registrar thought something fishy was going on; what’s an old white bloke doing here trying to register some Angolan kids?  Whatever the reason, I’m cool with that.  I wouldn’t want to ride in the same car as him, I’d tie him to the bloody roof first.

There is one thing that Márcia has not considered; if the kids have no cédula, they have never been inoculated.  The new school will also want to see up to date vaccination certificates.  I will break that one to her gently.  Just think, a bit of legwork followed by a stroke of a pen and Angola’s population will leap by four.

Speaking of having a hand in increasing the population, Márcia went for her first scan the other day.  On the one hand, Márcia consistently fails to acknowledge that I do have a lot of experience, I did come top of my entry at Shrivenham so am not completely thick, and I know quite a bit about quite a lot of things but then she surprises me by handing me an ultra sound image expecting me to understand it and explain.  I know a lot about the outside of female anatomy but have only ever had a limited feel of the inside.

‘Hmmn,’ I said, completely bewildered, ‘looks good to me.  Did they say if it was a boy or a girl?’

‘It’s too early to tell they said.  Do you see anything else?’


What’s there to see?  What was Márcia driving at?  What was I supposed to say?  I handed it back to her. 

‘They said everything was OK, though, didn’t they?’ I asked her, suddenly worried.

‘They think it might be twins…’
 
 
One final thing, sorry to bore the rest of you but Sol, a regular reader has been bleating on about a toe update.  I promised her next post so here it is:
 
For those of you concerned about the nail varnish, I agree, it is a little gaudy. 
Next time I'm in town, I shall pick up something a little more restrained.
 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Aye Aye! What's This?

This is a test post for Cro in order to find out if my 'I's are definitely lighter in appearance.  I will take it down again as soon as he has seen this.

These 'I's have been typed straight into the compose window of Blogger (interspersed with other letters for comparative purposes:

IIIiii I I I A B C D E F G H I J K L M IMFUIKLIDEIETKILM


And these ‘I’s have been typed first in Word and then cut & pasted:

IIIIiiii I I I ABCIDIEFGIHJIKLI A I B I K I L I M I I FEEL LIKE AN IDIOT DOING THIS But I must now dash as the cricket is starting.  I wonder who will win?  Do I root for SrI Lanka or the West Indies?  I think Sri Lankan women are beautiful so I think they deserve to win but I lived in the Caribbean for many years so I would like the West Indies to win as well.  Whatever happens, I think it will be an interesting match.

I have had enough of this!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

A First Class Funeral




For some reason I appear to have collected a lot of female followers.  I’m not complaining, after all I became used to such happy circumstances at an early age but am as bemused now as I was then.  After all, am I not a particularly unattractive misogynistic anti-social racist irreligious bigot?

Ah well, the state of affairs remains curious but I have to recognize it as fact.  Since most of my followers are female and many have complained when I write about manly things, such as engines, I thought I would start to devote the occasional post to that dear to all female hearts and the dizzy brains they keep supplied with over oxygenated blood, gossip.

Gossiping does not come as naturally to men as it does to women.  Gossiping is a skill, an art passed down from mother to daughter as early as in the womb.  It isn’t just in the genes, it is also in the hormones.  Too much exposure to testosterone in the womb will have sweet and adorable little Priscilla dismantling Daddy’s car with his tool kit rather than playing with dolls and disinclined, for the rest of her life, to gossip. 

Careful analysis has led me to conclude that a ‘good bit of gossip’ contains a few essential elements.  Firstly, it must be incredible in the true meaning of the word, unbelievable, beyond comprehension.  This allows the narrator to commence bosoms aheaving with a breathless, ‘You´re never going to believe this meduck but…’  A seasoned narrator will enhance the telling with posture.  Bobbing on tippy toes, rolling eyes and hands clasping cheeks either side of a slack jaw are all warning signs, especially if emulated by the listener, of a ‘good bit of gossip’.  Good Gossipers respond well to encouragement and Good Listeners know this so each time the gossiper pauses for yet another gulp of air, the listener will interject a strangled, ‘No!’ or ‘Never!’ or two.  Finally, however implausible, however outrageous or even physically or scientifically impossible, the story must be one the listener really, really wants to be true.

This weekend I was once again blessed with innumerable visitors first of whom were the daughter of the Tanzanian Ambassador to Angola and her friends (delightful and attractive, no photos, sorry!) who wished a pleasant place to barbecue and mysteriously chose Fort Hippo and its grumpy resident.  Then there was the young lady who claimed to know me from the late Nineties.  Recognizing how detailed reminiscences of that period could damage the happy marital equilibrium I currently enjoy with Marcia, I feigned  amnesia occasioned by years of alcohol abuse and chose to water the vegetable beds.  I still have problems coping with thunderstorms.  Every time the lightning flashes, I leap out of bed shouting, ‘I’ll buy the negatives!’

Jako and his charming wife, Rianne pitched up, also to enjoy a barbecue.  They had brought with them some steaks which, once I had caught sight of them, left me convinced there couldn’t have been much left of the original owner once these had been sliced off.  Nevertheless, with more visitors than Jako had anticipated, I realized even these generous portions would not be enough so I hauled out more beef and set to making a beef curry.  With the prep done and the curry simmering gently on the stove, I rejoined the table just as the conversation turned to funerals.

‘I should be buried in a hole and forgotten about,’ said Jako, ‘with not even a gravestone.’

I agreed with him whole heartedly and said as much.

‘I keep telling Marcia she should pay a couple of fishermen to take me out beyond Angolan territorial waters and dump me overboard.’

Marcia was horrified.

‘How many people were there at my mother’s funeral?’ she demanded.

‘Half the city,’ I conceded.  I was still an alcoholic in those days and recall the horror I felt when the family, ignoring the fact I was clearly tanked up to the eyeballs, insisted I be a pall bearer.  I couldn’t walk in a straight line without falling over at the best of times, never mind over rough ground unable to see my feet with a bloody body on my shoulder.

‘It is our custom,’ she said, ‘it is our duty to give the deceased a good send off.  It says so in the Bible.’

‘Does it?’ Jako (deeply religious) and I echoed with a sudden intense interest.

‘Yes!’ Marcia insisted, ‘God says it is the duty of a wife to give her husband a respectful funeral which all his friends and family must attend.  The wife must cater for all of them, anything less is disrespectful.  What would everybody think of me?’

What would Alex feel watching his future being lowered into the ground?  I am not talking about the love, care and attention his father could no longer provide, I am talking about the equivalent of his school fees for the next several years.  OK, he's too young to understand school fees so ask him this; if he can't have his Dad back which would he prefer, a smart funeral for his Dad or that 50cc quad 'bike he was bugging him for?

Let me explain what is involved in a ‘respectful’ funeral.

First, I keel over and die.

Marcia makes several panic stricken phone calls before running through the village, tearing her clothes and every ten yards or so, rolling in the dirt all the while wailing louder than a bust turbine.

Thus alerted, everyone and anyone pitches up to my house and stays there.  And I really do mean, stays there.  I can see it now.  Every inch of floor space, inside the house, inside the shop, the verandas, the garden will all be covered with bodies every one of which will require feeding.  Military style field kitchens will be set up and our fridges and freezers emptied to sustain the five thousand.  Others will come to pay their respects and they will need to be fed and watered (alcoholed) as well.  The funeral will be delayed until relatives from abroad can make it to Angola.  Marcia will pay a fortune for the services of some venal undertaker so that I can rest in a lacquered box with glitzy handles and be transported in a real hearse rather than in a cardboard box in the back of my perfectly fit for purpose truck.  During the funeral, Marcia will need to be supported but at frequent intervals, even her slight frame will be too much for aides and she will be allowed to sink to the ground and roll in the dirt.  Under an unforgiving sun, countless oiks, most of whom I successfully avoided in life, will give never ending eulogies.  Tribal Elders (with an automatic right to speak) will relate incomprehensible parables of ants defeating elephants and living forever as impatient worms either side of my grave queue up to get in and turn me not to dust, but shit.  After the funeral, everyone who attended will repair to Fort Hippo for another feeding frenzy.  A week later is the ‘Missa’ when everyone again comes to stay for the night and get fed.

It’s all mindless shit, isn’t it?  Christ, they’ve even commercialized death.  What difference would it make to me if I were given a smart funeral or be fed into a wood chipper and spread as fertilizer across my land, other than the former option condemning the surviving members of my family to penury?  It would be cheaper me insisting my body was flown back to Germany for disposal.

To illustrate her point, Marcia came up with a bit of good gossip.

Just recently, a man called Avelino de Almeida died.  He knew he was popping his clogs and being a wealthy and influential citizen, used the time he had left to make his own, very exact, funeral arrangements.  About the time of his death, another man, also called Avelino de Almeida (it is a very common name in Lusophone countries) also gasped his last.  Both cadavers were consigned to the mortuary in Luanda.  Even though the rich Almeida’s death was hardly unexpected, his widow was much overcome and some of her duties, amongst which was the washing of the body, were taken up by others.  Being wealthy, the family could pay to have this done and, after a good lathering the body was dressed in the deceased’s very expensive clothes, deposited in his luxurious coffin and transported to the wake.  The son, apparently, suggested that the body before them was not that of his father.  The widow, however, insisted that it was and that the undertakers had merely made him up to look younger and healthier.  The widow’s confusion was later put down to the enormous shock the realization of suddenly being incredibly wealthy in her own right had occasioned.

The funeral was attended by all the great and powerful of Angolan society.  The passage of the cortege shut the city down.  Everyone waxed lyrical at the loss of such a giant among men as the gleaming coffin, hand made by craftsmen and imported at great cost, was lowered into the soil in the smartest corner of the cemetery. 

Pretty much around the time grave diggers were patting the soil down over this Avelino de Almeida, the family of the other Avelino de Almeida were at the mortuary to collect their dear departed so they could wash his body and prep him for his funeral.  Being impoverished, they had an old suit in which to dress him.  Resigned to their loss, they were not as overwrought as the rich Sra. Almeida so had no hesitation in pointing out to mortuary staff that the unfortunate soul presented to them was not their Avelino de Almeida.  Poor they may have been but they still wanted their corpse, not someone else’s.

Faced with no choice, the relevant authority informed both families of this most unfortunate cock up.  The rich widow was disinclined to denude her purse further by restaging a massive funeral and agreed it was, under these extraordinary circumstances, perfectly reasonable for poor Sr. Almeida to continue to rest peacefully in his smart digs, which would henceforth belong to his family and not hers.  Instead of a wake and a funeral, poor Sr. Almeida’s family settled for a service around his opulent grave content in the knowledge he was resting in a fine spot dressed in a thousand dollar suit.  Since there was an open grave and an old but clean suit going spare, rich Sr. Almeida was quietly interred there.

‘Don’t you see?’ asked Marcia, ‘the rich man was buried in a cheap suit in a pauper's grave and the poor man got a rich man’s burial!’

Marcia was missing the point, of course.  Neither of the two Sr. Almeidas could care less.  Realizing that there had been a monumental fuck up but that honour had nevertheless been satisfied, rich Sra. Almeida didn’t really give a flying toss about how her husband was actually buried.  The whole expensive charade had been just for show.

‘It’s true!’ insisted Marcia mistaking my cynicism for scepticism, ‘I heard a woman talking about it in the taxi; she heard it on the radio!’  Ah well, it must be true then.

Still, it was a good bit of local gossip.  Both Jako and I enjoyed the story and we really, really wanted it to be true.

 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Of Unreliable Machines and Pregnant Women

Angolans are quite naturally very proud of their country.  They consider themselves the very best Africans, miles more intelligent and hard working than any other.  They laughed at Gaddafi's self proclaimed status as the King of Africa and mock South Africa's attempts to be seen as the real player in African geo-politics.  They point out the admittedly serious development that has ensued the end of the civil war, thousands of kilometres of new roads, the railways, hospitals, schools, hotels and other infrastructure, all completed in less time than it takes to resurface a mile or two of potholed road in UK.

If they are so bloody good, why then, every time it rains, the power fails in town, mobile signals die, satellite TV decoders lose their signals (not normally a source of angst for me but the Twenty20 is on) and, with uncommon irony, there is no utility water for the city dwellers?  Why then, unless you stand over them, will bricklayers try and lay bricks as haphazardly as possible on top of non existent foundations, plumbers will bodge joints, mechanics will misdiagnose problems and fuck up machinery of any kind while stealing all your tools and electricians are evidently secret pyromaniacs?

These last couple of weeks have proved a little trying for me.  First, the generator suddenly stopped.  My generator is designed to be run by idiots.  The manufacturer does not say that of course, it describes its product as 'Africanised'.  The touchy-feely types assume this means it is built rugged to cope with a harsher environment.  Bollocks.  The environment is a damn sight harsher in Maine where a generator has to work in minus 50 C to plus 50 rather than a fairly constant and agreeable 25 C.  Same goes for mobile phone services.  If the system went down every time it rained, UK would have been out of touch with the rest of the world since last summer, except for maybe God's Kingdom of Yorkshire, which has enjoyed fairly benign weather but that would have made no difference as Yorkshiremen are too tight to waste money on mobile phones. 

My generator is fitted with all sorts of sensors and a panel of warning lights.  If the temperature rises, for example or the oil level falls, with an inbuilt instinct for self preservation, it will shut itself down, emit a warning tone and the relevant warning lamp will light up.  Brilliant for fault diagnosis but utterly useless if some oik hurries to the generator and without looking, switches it off with the ignition key (cancelling all warnings) and tries to start it again.  Having an ignition key that cannot be removed when the generator is running is an oversight in the manufacturer's Africanisation of the machine.  Oh! I hear the Health and Safety types cry out, what happens in an emergency?  How does one switch the machine off?  Well, look at it from my point of view.  By 'emergency', I presume the HSE elves mean some threat to life whereas a machine related emergency to me is some threat to the machine.  If the machine detects a problem, a potential threat to its well being, it will shut itself down.  Being forced to leave the keys in the machine means that any goon can over ride these sensible safety measures and break an expensive and hard to replace machine.  If, on the other hand, a machine rips off the hand of an overly inquisitive African sticking his appendage into it without permission, so what?  He shouldn't have been doing it anyway and replacements for him are cheap and plentiful.  Besides, the machine has an emergency stop button, a bloody great red thing on the side but I have only shown Alex and Marcia how to use that lest the oiks in my employ start playing with it.

So there I was with a generator that had shut itself down and alarmed.  Presumably finding the shrill noise of the alarm annoying, the oik had switched the machine off meaning I lost the essential tool to a quick fault diagnosis, the lights on the alarm panel.  So did I risk starting it again?  No, of course not.  Not straight away anyway.  It was obviously very hot, much hotter than normal so I presumed the problem was overheating.  That, however, may only have been a symptom of some other, more serious fault.  Far better to let the machine cool right down so I could get my head in there and give it a good going over.

I can understand Marcia becoming anxious when there is no power.  We have quite a lot invested in frozen produce. 

'It's OK, Marcia, I'll hook up the portable generator, that will run the freezers at least.'

'I lent it to the builders,' she told me.

'No problems,' I told Marcia, 'I will nip up to the other site and get it.'

'It's broken,' she said.

'Broken?  How? It was brand new?'

'Fique gripado,' she told me.

'Seized?'  I was shocked.  'They have not been changing the oil, have they?'

'I don't know,' admitted Marcia.

Well, that was it then, wasn't it?  The builders live on site so the only person who would have bought them the oil they needed was Marcia.  If she had bought them oil, she would have known the oil changes had been made.  I didn't check because I did not know she had lent them the generator in the first place.  I just can't get through to anyone around here that these portable gennies are for emergency use only and, since they don't have an oil filter, must have the oil changed after every twenty hours of running.  These buggers had been running heavy wood working tools off it for nearly a month, no wonder the bloody thing had seized. 

'Well, you'll just have to wait until the big generator has cooled down enough for me to look round it,' I said.  I was irritated and in dire need of a cooling off period as well.  Marcia is, as the Germans say, in anderen umständen, in other circumstances, a very coy way of saying she is pregnant.  In anderen umständen I'd have ripped into her for once again lending out my tools and equipment without telling me but I went back to my gardening instead.

In the meantime, and unbeknown to me, Marcia's favourite Portuguese mechanic passed by the shop and noticed there was no power.  This is the same guy who stripped the original 25Kva generator I brought down here from the old house, which only needed a bit of wiring sorted out, a new alternator and starter and the exhaust welding, and is still lying there stripped.  This is the guy who the day before Marcia and I were due to attend the smart wedding we had been invited to last year, convinced Marcia it was OK to fix the leaking Jeep radiator, against my humble advice, with some form of putty, a repair that lasted long enough for us to get into the darkest, most hostile suburb of Luanda before the radiator exploded.  Don't overlook the fact that the reason the Angolans behave the way they do: crappy workmanship, lousy work ethic, mindless bureaucracy and corruption at every level, is because they were colonised for so long by the Pork and Cheese.  Marcia invited him to take a look at the generator.

The keys for the generator were safely stowed in my pocket so Marcia had to come to me to get them.

'It's OK,' she told me all smug like, 'the Portuguese has looked the generator over and the only thing wrong was that it was low on oil.'

'So he's put oil in it, has he?' I asked.  I had dipped the oil, it was one of the first things I had done, and although it was low, the level was still within limits so it would not have shut down because of low oil and just being a little down on oil would not cause the machine to overheat.

'Yes,' she said.

'How much?'

'About half a litre.'

I strolled over to the generator and dipped the oil.  It was now over full.  It is just as bad running an engine with too much oil as too little, you can blow all the oil seals if it is over filled.  With the engine cool, I had a good root around.  It is hard to get in there and see because of all the safety guards but by jamming your head inside the soundproof canopy and wriggling a bit, you can get a squint at the fan belt.  Or you would be able to if it was there.  I rooted around some more and found what was left of it wrapped around the crankshaft pulley.  I teased it out, placed it to one side and went looking for Sr. God's Gift to Mechanics.

'It's fixed then, is it?' I asked him in Portuguese.  Marcia was just serving him a cold beer.

'Esta bem, tudo bem,' he said, 'podes ligar!' he assured me.  I suppose in one sense he was correct, the machine was OK and it was safe to start, but I knew it would not run for long.

'OK then, let's go and start it,' I suggested.

As we walked back to the generator I reminded him that it had overheated.  Because of low oil, he told me, exuding the sort of arrogant confidence only a Portuguese could.

'But you agree, it did overheat?' I asked him.  He agreed.

'So when it stopped, it would have shown an overheat warning light?'  And a low oil level light, he said, reminding me of his superiority.

I started the generator.  It ran for about ten seconds and then shut down emitting a familiar shriek of protest.

'It shows a charging fault,' I told him, 'look for yourself.'  He looked.

'So if we agreed when it first stopped it must have alarmed on over temperature and presumably a charging fault as well, what do you think could cause that?'

He hadn't a clue and started banging on about needing to pull the head off.  I told him that it had just been done.  He suggested that Andy's team hadn't torqued the head down enough and the head gasket had blown again.  If I hadn't been there, Marcia would have let him do exactly that, strip a perfectly serviceable engine down.  God knows what else he would have found that needed replacing and how much he would have charged.

I picked up the shredded belt and handed it to Marcia.

'It needs a new fanbelt,' I said, 'I have a spare one, it'll only take about half an hour to fit.'

Two days later, the airconditoning compressor pulley bearing failed on the Jeep.  Marcia, who was in town, asked me if it was safe to drive the car home.  Now that is a bugger of a question to answer.  Without being able to see the problem, how could I make a decision on which the safety of my wife and child might depend?  After all, I did not know it was a pulley bearing.  All Marcia was telling me was that the engine was making a horrible noise.  I asked some sensible questions.  What kind of noise?  Does the engine stop and start?  Good.  Was the oil pressure normal?  It's zero, what, even if you rev the engine?  Yes darling, start the engine and tell me what the oil gauge reads.  That's normal.  Leave the engine running and look under the bonnet, where is the noise coming from?  The big thing with the pipes coming off it. 

I don't know if you have ever looked under a bonnet at an American V8 but it is big and there are lots of pipes coming off it.  Without being there, this was a very hard game of twenty questions and I could tell Marcia was becoming irritated.  Women can detect even a fraction of a rise in octave so I had to keep my voice even and oozing honey.  Can you describe the big thing with pipes coming off it for me, honey?  You don't know the name of it in English?  Well what is it called in Portuguese?  Compressor de arcondicionado?  I know what that is, darling, just switch the engine off.  Is the engine off?  Good.  Just grab the pulley, the round thing the fan belt goes around on the front of the compressor and try and waggle it, does it move?  Yes.  Ok, darling, how far are you away from the auto parts stores in Benfica?  Not far, good.  You need to go to one that sells fan belts, call me when you get there and buy me some phone credit, I have run out, I can't even send messages any more.

I waited and I waited.  In the meantime I looked up the length of an aircon pulley bypass belt.  All I can say is thank God for chatty Americans.  They love their forums.  There's forums dedicated to anything and everything out there.  The Jeep forum is brilliant.  All Marcia had to do was go to the relevant parts store, by a shorter belt the exact specification for which I now had and the car would run safely with the aircon compressor out of the system.

I waited some more.  No message from Marcia with my phone credit so I could not phone her to find out what was going on, whether she was Ok.  Had I made a misdiagnosis and allowed her to drive that short distance and now something had gone seriously wrong?  I was frantic with worry.  The boy wasn't around so I walked down to the main road to buy phone credit, they did not have any and neither did every citizen I asked to allow me to make a quick call on their phones, bastards.

Hours later, Marcia arrived home. 

'I rang the Portuguese and he said it was safe to drive the car home slowly,' she told me.

'Did he?' I muttered, absolutely furious.

'I stopped off at his place on the way back, that is why I am late, and he says we have to change the pump for a new one.  He is coming early in the morning to take it off and then he will go into town and find a new one.'

For a start, you can replace the clutch and bearing for the compressor without having to remove the pump from the system and losing all the refrigerant in the process.  It comes in a kit and costs around a hundred bucks.  I know enough people in the States who could stick a kit in the DHL for me.  Secondly, on this guy's previous form, the car would be off the road for weeks during which time all the expensive components of the air conditioning system would corrode.  The sensible solution would be to spend sixty bucks on a bypass belt and run the car until the pulley kit arrived.  That job takes less than an hour.  I convinced her of this but it still meant a long taxi ride to the parts store she had been so close to only the day before to buy the belt.

A week ago, she rang me to say the car was making a horrible noise again and was it safe to drive home?  This time I divined that it only made a noise when it was moving and that it was coming from underneath the front.  I was convinced it was a drive shaft bearing but told her to go to a garage and get a mechanic to look at it.  She did as she was told this time and I was able to speak to the mechanic.  It was a front diff bearing so as long as she took it easy, she could drive home.  Yes, he had a replacement kit in stock.  'Buy it,' I told Marcia.

When Marcia got home I asked to see the kit.

'He was a crook,' she told me, 'he insisted on selling me bearings for both sides for $350 but I only need one.'  She had brought the Portuguese guy with her which hadn't done much for my already dangerously high blood pressure and then exacerbated it further by continuing, 'he'll strip the bearing and go into town tomorrow to find another one, he says he has a friend with an identical Jeep.'

If it is an identical Jeep the owner of which is selling out for parts, that means it must already be knackered.  Swapping out a bearing for a used one is like fitting second hand brake pads or changing engine oil without changing the filter, or washing your hands and then drying them with used toilet paper.  Besides, you always swap out bearings in pairs, what's the point of fitting new bearings on one side and ignoring the other?  How long would it be before the bearings on that side failed?  I was speechless.  Marcia was, as I have already mentioned, a little fragile so really no point in me venting my spleen.

'By all means strip out the bearings, on BOTH sides,' I told the Portuguese, 'I'll nip into town tomorrow and buy the kit.'

As it happened, Marcia saved me the trip by giving the money to the driver of the bus that serves the village from the city.  The garage was on his route and he kindly stopped off and picked the kit up for us.

Internet access was by now non existent.  That did not bother me too much, unless something else broke and I needed information.  Then the mobile network started to falter.  Again, the only person it really affected was Marcia, she seems to spend most of her time with the phone glued to her head like a Sony Walkman.  When the satellite TV signal started to fail, I was really irritated.  Normally, I only have the news playing while I go about my business but I really enjoy watching international cricket, not test matches but Twenty20.  It wasn't going to happen, I'm afraid, so I hauled my laptop and speakers out to the veranda, set them up to play my favourite tunes and set to work in the garden.  Laying bricks to make beds, sawing wood to make window boxes, carting soil in wheelbarrows, all these chores were a delightful diversion as Santana and other old classics played in the background.

Marcia is having a rough time of her pregnancy.  If it's going to be anything like her first time, she is in for another couple of months of hell.  She spends most of her time either in bed or lying on the sofa.  I can see she is faint and weak and know that her irritability is only a symptom of a greater malaise so must be patient.  I do all the cooking and washing and try to make life as easy as possible for her.  Alex seems to be doing all he can to get on her tits so he is keeping me on my toes.  He was sick as well last week.  We thought it might be malaria but it turned out to be a tummy bug, we think something he ate at school, but he gave me a few sleepless nights shuffling a washing bowl backwards and forwards between one vomiting patient and another.  I hate it when women and children are suffering, especially when there isn't much I can do about it. 

The other day I made a beef fricassee and, as I always do, added cream to it.  Just the smell of the cream made Marcia ill so now I have to cook within the tiny window of opportunity her transient culinary fancy allows.  This really tests my logistics skills.  Over the weekend she suddenly decided she wanted something called Miengele.

'He's dead,' I told Marcia having misheard.  Besides, he would have been the last doctor I would have sought an appointment with.

Miengele are the spinach like leaves of the Butternut Squash.  Thankfully, a quick phone call to Jamie up at the Comuna turned up a basket load.  Boiled they are delicious and must be rich in the folic acid and iron Marcia evidently needs.  She is eating a lot of bread and also has an evidently insatiable appetite for Funge, a wall paper paste like goo made from manioc flour.  Last night she wanted Bacalhão, dried salted cod.  This afternoon it was smoked ham rolls, egg custard tarts and white grapes. 

As I was typing this, she came up to me, bared her breasts for inspection and said,

'They hurt, and don't you think they are getting bigger?' 

I admitted that her nipples were certainly prouder than I had seen them in a while but thought better of telling her that on a diet like hers, her arse would get a lot bigger as well.

Naturally, Alex never fancies anything that Marcia wants, which forces me to cook separately for him.  Alex and I are eating a lot of pasta... 

It is a quarter after four and Marcia has only just finished her ham sarnies and now wants fried fish and rice pudding.  It will be a girl, she has told me.  She knows this because of what the baby is making her eat.  Obvious, really, only a female would make someone eat all that then force them to spend half the night and most of the following morning throwing it all up again.

There now follow a load of pics to show what I have been up to in my spare time...

A few weeks ago I acquired a bit of banana tree that had been crudely hacked off.
I placed it in a bucket of water and after a few days, a root appeared.
A week or so later, there was a profusion of roots...
So I planted it and protected it with a few building blocks to prevent the goose nibbling
the new leaves or some local trampling on it.
The local chapter of the Barra de Kwanza Pregnant Wives Hair Braiding Association.
Like the Women's Institute only scarier.
Andy Mallett visiting to inspect progress on the cottages
(and bring me a slab of Stilton!!!)
Andy checking the wooden sliding doors
(did I mention he brought me a slab of Stilton?)

Detail of the steps
(Stilton on lightly toasted fresh bread is divine)
I didn't mention the broken tap, did I?
Well, the post was getting too long and Marcia needed feeding again.
Note the handy 'shelf' for my tools.  It is a baby chair designed to hook onto a table.
I was going to throw it out a few weeks ago thinking it wouldn't be needed again...
The offending tap, good Chinese quality casting.  It just fell apart when I tried to open it.
Naturally, on a pressurised system, unless I sealed the pipe, the pump would run forever.
So I dug around in my 'odds and ends' box and came up with a union, the seal from an electrical box
and a one Kwanza coin.
Stacked together like this, they made a perfect seal to screw into the end of the water pipe.
Yes, I know the photo is incorrectly orientated but I have been Bloggered again, whatever I
do this photo appears on its side and I cannot be arsed anymore.  Blogger has been doing all sorts
of strange things recently.  I appear to have lost a whole post while I have been away. 
Not that it matters, it was a rubbish post anyway.
Rusty speakers and a grimy laptop.  Can be pretty dusty around here but that's still no excuse.
Must get round to cleaning it. 
At least you can see which keys I commonly use!
The fig tree doing ever so well.  The top of the stem died off as two new stems at the bottom flourished.
Next to the fig tree, a few Italian Grape Tomato seedlings.
A tray of aubergine seedlings in the foreground.  Next a tray of coriander and behind them a mango sapling.
Outside the veranda rail, one of my new balcony boxes in which are growing sage and dill.
More mango saplings, a bowl with banana seeds growing, more pots with sage and a nice flower.
More pots and containers with Royal Palms, Avocado, Yellow Blooming Silk Acacia
and another box with Cardamon plants.
No prizes for bricklaying I know but soon it will be obscured with flowers.
In there I have pineapple, Nasturtium and Zinnia, the last two courtesy of the
considerate American and already sprouting.
Note how well the banana tree is doing just beyond the wheelbarrow.

The finished Stalag Luft III just waiting for the arrival of the first batch of prisoners,
Guinea Fowl from Lubango, about 1,300 kms away by road,
nothing more than a quick dash in a country this size.
The raised beds to the rear of the shop, all of them dug over with goat droppings mixed in and all planted.
Top left with Yellow blooming African Tulip Trees and Jacaranda trees.
Middle, I forget, foreground carrots and Swiss chard.  The goose will have those.
The beds closest to the back of the shop.  Water melon, Kohlrabi (Celeriac?), aubergine,
Tomatoes, sweet granadilla, giant granadilla, hot peppers.
Goosie follows me everywhere in the garden.
These next four photos are for some American reader of mine who wanted a better idea of the layout of my property.  I explained to him that I have several properties, the two main ones being the cottage and shop location, and the restaurant lodge location.  I can't understand such an interest in detail.  Perhaps he works for the NSA and they want to make sure that if I ever take the piss out of America or its inhabitants again, when they order a drone strike it will get me and not the Chinese Embassy.

View of the back of the shop (left) and the cottage (right).  Stalag Luft III
is out of shot to the right.  This is the part of the garden I am working on now.
In front of the trees laid out  irrigation pipe can be seen.  I must dig these in.
The area to the right of the previous shot.  Still a lot of cleaning to do in this part of the garden.
View from the side of the shop to the cottage.  This area is clean and smooth how I like it.
As soon as I have all the irrigation dug in, I will start on the lawn.
View of the front of the shop with the little footbridge from the road.
My overworked, battle scarred little truck.  The manufacturer says that its load capacity is 1,800 kgs.
That's four tonnes, good enough for me.  Note the bashed and warped bumper, smashed indicators and the missing
off side rear view mirror, it's been Africanised as well...
I did not mention this in the main post either, it was beginning to turn into a litany of disaster but, I also had to deal with an electrical fire in the shop.  Not exactly the sort of thing anyone would welcome but damn scary in a wooden building.  Interestingly, the board did not trip and I had to cut the power by hand.  The electrics for the shop were installed by a contractor I sacked so I guess I am going to have to go through the whole shop electrical system.  In fact, I am so concerned, I may bite the bullet and have the whole place rewired.  This is galling as all the wiring has been concealed between double skinned walls.  To rewire it I would either have to rip the inner walls out or surface lay the cables.  I think the latter but it is still bloody annoying. 

'Darling, I think a light bulb has blown...'
Definitely toast.
Right, I have to water the beds.  Rice pudding anyone?  There's plenty left...