Friday, 23 January 2015

It’s not how you tell ‘em, it’s how you ask them.

Poor young França has been poorly these last couple of weeks.  The local sawbones hadn’t a clue what it might be and suggested that someone was upset with him and had ‘hexed’ him.  The only cure would be to weight him (the quack, not França) with silver.  Marcia took the boy to the private clinic in Luanda.  I know that such a course amounts to the same thing but at least they rob you in (slightly) more hygienic surroundings. 

They decided he had tuberculosis.  A remarkable diagnosis, I thought, considering they had arrived at such a conclusion armed only with a stethoscope.  Naturally, he was given a prescription for a week’s supply of anti-biotics. 
At school one of our classmates was diagnosed with TB .  He was sent to Torquay.  We all wanted TB as well; until we heard he’d died, then none of us wanted to go to Devon anymore.  What little I know of TB suggests that it is infectious, deadly if not treated correctly and requires a long course of the increasingly scarce anti-biotics to which the disease has not developed a resistance.  If França really did have TB, then once again African doctors were doing their bit for drug resistant bacteria.  Odd as it sounds, I actively discouraged Marcia from taking Alex to the doctor every time he sniffled.  I did this for the sake of his future health.  Loading him up with ABs every time he coughed or had a runny nose would degrade his own natural defences and here, natural defences are one’s best form of survival.  Alex was diagnosed as an asthmatic allergic.  I suggested that Marcia stopped burning mosquito coils in the house.

The doctors cited the lack of meat on França’s frame as evidence of the debilitating effect of chronic TB.  I know that when it comes to França, I have seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil, but he has always been painfully thin, even after a couple of years of feeding at my table.  I have never seen it but have it on good authority, he has to run around in the shower to get wet.  Some people are naturally this tall and thin and usually go on to become basketball players or successful cat burglars.  Still, even though I reckoned all he had was a chesty cough, I have heard of people living and wasting away for years with undiagnosed TB so it was better to have the possibility ruled out.  To do this, I knew, required chest x-rays, sputum and blood tests.
There are good arguments for just treating for the symptoms rather than waste time on a positive diagnosis but, in my humble opinion, they apply only when rapid death would result through want of treatment, cerebral malaria is a good example, but in the case of TB, a positive diagnosis would be awfully useful, especially for those who have been living in close proximity to the lad, so I was rather unsympathetic with an attitude of ‘Why bother, we know what it is so we’ll just treat him.’  And would that mean my family, and half the rest of the village also undergoing this treatment?  I wanted to know because if França did have TB, I was going to hit every alarm button and activate every medical emergency procedure I know.

‘Look, Marcia,’ I said, ‘if the lad has TB, he’d be hawking up bloody great docker’s oysters, França’s cough is dry.’
It was agreed, therefore, that we would pay for all x-rays and tests (why wouldn’t we?) but they were upset at the suggestion that since I was paying for the tests, the results would be mine to send to Europe for a second opinion.  I do not trust these fuckers, they would rather a patient died than they be proven wrong, or in this case, initiate a full scale TB panic in the Hippo household when all the boy had was a cough.

Well, he didn’t have TB.  But they couldn’t say what was causing the cough.  Fair enough, I am sure identifying every ailment presented to them is bloody hard even for the best GP.  Even professors, leaders in their field couldn’t identify the bug that dissolved my leg.
Having enjoyed the time off I reluctantly granted the slacker, França came back to work this morning.  Still skinny as ever but fit as a fiddle.  Last night I had made myself a proper stew.  A bloody great cast iron cauldron full.  I put everything into it, loads of meat of course, carrots, onions, celery, sweet potatoes, sweet peppers, habanero peppers, red wine, rich homemade meat stock, and let it simmer all evening right up ‘til bedtime.  Today I sat França at the table and ladled a huge bowl full of the stodge for him.

‘Get that down yer neck, son,’ I told him handing him a chunk of bread and a glass of milk.
‘So they never found out what it was then?’ I asked him.

‘No,’ he said.
‘Anyone else have this cough in your house?’ I was thinking of his siblings.

‘Yes, but not as bad,’ he said.
‘Do you still use the mosquito nets we gave you?’

‘No, they’re all torn’
‘So what do you do about the mosquitoes?’

‘Marcia gives us Dragões to burn.’

Dragão is Pork & Cheese for Dragon, the colloquial name for mosquito coils.
I should have used my diagnostic question technique earlier, I could have saved myself all the fees for x-rays and tests and just bought them new mosquito nets.

Put hairs on yer chest that will my lad

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Sitting Bull

Marcia, whose birthday it is today, has been wittering on not only about her advancing years but also her weight.  I will admit she has grown a little chunkier than when we first got together ten years ago, but then I am hardly as svelte as I used to be.

It was with weight, or rather the control of it in mind, that I decided to get myself a bicycle.

You may recall I hand carried a bike back from UK for Alex last June.  You can't buy decent bikes here.  The only ones you can get are made in China and are festooned with all the extras a kid doesn't need (Shimano look alike 21 speed gears that don't actually do anything?).  Of course everything that doesn't fall off these bikes doesn't work anyway and instead quietly corrode.  And for such small bikes, they weigh a tonne.  Kids here rarely get to learn to ride a bike but they are very good at rolling bits of them such as wheel rims down the road under the control of sticks.

Alex's bike was made in Birmingham (that's the large Muslim controlled city in England for our American readers, not Birmingham, Alabama) out of aluminium, so it was both strong and light.  It needs replacing not because it has broken through the very hard use it has suffered, but because Alex has outgrown it already.

My search for bikes, therefore, commenced not with trying to find a couple of decent bikes, they are quite common in civilised countries, but with working out how to get them here.  DHL UK quoted me over £600 per bike.  After a lengthy and entertaining exchange with Lufthansa, which served to prove that Germans do not read emails, just react to key words so having initially concluded I was trying to ship a live animal, then quoted over 600 euros per bike but then informed me that they could not ship non-commercial items so could I please confirm that the bicycles were not for personal use.

In the end it was my brother in Germany who came to the rescue suggesting I just stuck them in the post.  I can see those of you familiar with Angola smiling derisively and my reaction to his suggestion was indeed somewhat deprecating.

'But DHL is Deutsche Post,' he said, skin as thick as rhino hide 'and you can track your parcel all the way.'

Well, it was worth investigating. 

German websites are notoriously difficult to use.  The Germans maintain they are logical in layout.  So are Qwerty keyboards but using one for the first time is still bloody frustrating.  Sure enough, about three hundred clicks later, I found a page on which it was stated with Teutonic confidence that Deutsche Paket Dienst parcels could be tracked from the point at which they entered their system to the hands of the recipient.  The package size limits were generous, as were the weight allowances and, considering that they claimed a delivery time to Angola of a week, meaning the parcels must come by air, they were ludicrously cheap.  So I decided to give them a go.

Sitting in my brother's study was a 60x60x60 cm box weighing fifteen kilos containing ABS wet cast swimming pool coping stone moulds.  They came from a company in Bristol called Airforme and, as far as I can tell, Airforme is the only company in the world who make wet cast moulds for traditional pool coping stones.  The moulds weren't cheap at £325 and they were no good to me in Germany, but I had yet to find a way of getting them to me in Angola for less than the usual Monkey (£500).  The UK courier had charged Airforme, who passed the cost on to me, £165 just to get the box from Bristol to Stuttgart.  DHL Paket International wanted £80 to send the same box all the way to Angola.  For eighty quid they'd get it here in a week and I could track it all the way.  Too good to be true?

I thought so after I logged onto their tracking service and saw the package was in Kuba, and that DHL were having difficulty delivering it to a Maria Pirez.  Considering that the package had only been handed in to DHL Paket in Germany that afternoon, this was bloody good going, even if in completely the wrong direction. 

Micky complained to DHL and was told to send them the invoice for the contents and they would refund the value under the terms of their guarantee.  Damn decent but I decided to wait and see.  Sure enough, the next morning tracking confirmed that the package had 'been incorrectly addressed' and it instantly reappeared in Germany.  Six days later Marcia, to whom the package had been addressed, received a text message from the Central (and only) Post Office in Luanda telling her a package had arrived from Germany.  Brilliant.  The thing is, given the time frame and the fact it was tracked through Frankfurt, it must have come in on a Lufthansa flight!

The system tested to my satisfaction, time to find the bikes.  I would have liked to buy the bikes from the same company from which I bought Alex's bike but since DHL UK, or any other UK courier, for that matter, cannot offer anything even approaching the service from DHL Paket in Germany clearly it made sense to buy from a German bike dealer.  German kid's bikes are hopeless.  They are so safe, they are no fun at all.  For a start, winding the pedals backwards applies a rear brake which, if you are not used to it, launches the rider over the handlebars and makes any kind of trick riding impossible.  And, let's face it, give a boy a bike and he is quickly going to work out the most dangerous unintended way of riding it he can.  That's the whole point of having a bike.  Then there are all the chain guards, padding and goodness knows what else, which make the thing look like a kindergarten toy, which is I guess, what it is supposed to be.  Even in UK it is quite hard to find a 'real' mountain bike with 20 inch wheels and a frame to match.  Dawes, the Birmingham company make them but the vast majority of manufacturers seem to think that 'for Kids' means 'Cheap and Nasty'.

After spending an evening fruitlessly surfing German suppliers and having made my mind up to buy a Dawes for Alex and have it delivered to a mate in UK for it to await the next visit to England of Micky, I trawled around the Deutsche web looking for a bike for me. In seconds I found one.  It was the right size, the right price and the right weight.  It was a tadge more than I intended to spend but the extra cost for exotic alloy meant less kilos and a saving on postage.  I realise that this argument justifying a cooler bike had been somewhat eroded by the efficiency and cost effectiveness of Deutsche DHL Paket Dienst, but what the hell, I am spoiling myself in a good cause.  But then the German website dropped a bombshell.  You could get Daddy's bike in exactly the same specification, with the same Gucci chain set and gears, the same light alloy frame, the same colour scheme, in every way identical but the size,  They would do Alex a bike like mine, but with 20 inch wheels and a frame to suit!

'Marcia!' I called, 'you are whining about being fat, do you want a bike as well?'

'Nem pensar!' she said.  OK, I won't think about it I thought as I wrote to the supplier to ask for an invoice.

This is Daddy's bike.  It is big and made by Bull. 
I shall call myself 'Big Bull'
This is Alex's bike.  It is small and also made by Bull. 
I shall call him 'Little Bull'
Mummy didn't want a bike. 
We shall call her 'Sitting Bull'

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Tap's fucked? You need a Parrot mate!

There’s something very satisfying about a new tool.  It’s a very Man thing, I know but a new tool elicits an urge to be constructive, to do useful things occasioning the adulation of wives, girlfriends and others hopelessly inept when it comes to fixing things. 
If ever you are stuck for a gift idea for a man (or a woman who wears sensible shoes), nip down to Halfords and buy a tool, any tool, so long as it is heavy and can be fondled.  If it has ‘Chrome Vanadium’ embossed along its length, so much the better, Chrome Vanadium is to men as Agarwood massage oil is to women.  No man could resist owning a 10" Chrome Vanadium adjustable King Dick, and a lot of women are impressed with what a man can do with one.
The shop boy tapped on the door the night before last (finally, he has learnt to fear the consequences of just walking in) and explained that the locals were upset because they had no water.  

‘Tough’, I said and parked the door sharply back in its frame.

Marcia had been incensed to learn the locals had bust yet another tap, meaning we had to cut the power to the pump and, in so doing, cut our own water supply in order to avoid a flood.  I had been all for fixing it immediately.
‘Marcia, it’s not their fault,’ I said unexpectedly diseased with a very rare form of compassion, ‘the taps are made in China so are designed to be opened once in their lifetime and only closed again at the end of it.  The tap the locals use must have been opened and closed hundreds of times a day, no wonder it failed!’  And off I went to fix it.

I had a brand new replacement tap, my plumber’s tape and a positive mental attitude.  What I did not have was my 32mm open ended spanner.  Nor could I find my monkey wrench, or even my pipe pliers.  I trudged back to the house and asked Marcia if she knew where they might be.

‘I lent them to the plumber last time he was here to do a job on the cottages,’ she said and then, seeing my expression and confirming what I already suspected, ‘he hasn’t brought them back?’  I figured it was a rhetorical question.  Of course he hadn’t brought them back, he’d just been paid by Marcia to do a job and had then helped himself to a bonus worth several times as much in the form of my tools.
Well, bollocks, I thought, fuck the lot of you thieving bastards, you’re either thick, dishonest or generally both!  Fuck the locals and their bleeding water, fuck plumbers, fuck carpenters, fuck bricklayers.  I was still only thinking all this, you understand, I have given up reasoning with Marcia in this way, she just gets annoyed.

So that was why the water was still off when the shop boy came to pass on the disquiet of the locals and why I banged the door in his face.  I could have done something to ensure a supply at least to the cottage but I was buggered if I should do the ‘African’ thing of never maintaining, never fixing, just waiting until something breaks and then bodging it.  They nicked my tools or, in Marcia’s case, just gave them away so fuck 'em, let 'em go thirsty, and dirty.  I don’t mind washing out of a bucket hauled from the well and I can survive days on jammy Swiss rolls (no pots to wash up afterwards).  Besides, I dug the well, I put up the stand pipe, I replaced pumps as they burnt out and refitted countless new taps and not once has anyone lifted a finger to help. 

This morning França interrupted my morning tea to tell me some locals wanted to see me about the water.
‘If they want permission to haul water out of the well,’ I said, ‘tell ‘em to bugger off.’  Times like this I really wish I hadn’t trained Charlie not to bite.

‘No, they want to see you,’ he said.
‘About water?’

‘Yes. You should come, they want to give you a papagaio.’
‘They want to give me a parrot?’ I echoed.

While enjoying drafts of tea I had been splicing manila rope for Alex’s swing, an activity for which shirts are not de rigueur so I pulled a clean one on and followed the lad out to the shop.

An hour later I had the new tap fitted and once again, water flowed out of the desert.

My present from the locals.  They call it a 'parrot' here. 
I guess in this environment it is a little less politically incorrect than Monkey Wrench.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

What's that say, Daddy?

Well that's a bit bloody disconcerting.  There we were taking our afternoon stroll through the bush surrounding the cottage today when we come across this, not more than a couple of hundred yards from the old Home Sweet Home:

'It says, "Stand perfectly still" Son'
Yes it's all nicely marked with signs, mine tape and sticks with the top few inches painted red but the thing that niggles me just a tadge, is that these markers of the boundaries of horrific death only appeared recently, in an area through which we have been strolling for the last two years.  I built my cottage here.  So why parcel the land off and sell it, and only then decide to clear it of landmines?


Monday, 5 January 2015

Latest: Man does what he is paid to do, no one dies.

To his credit, David Williams at first appeared to avoid commenting to the press about his success in bringing an aircraft safely to earth despite dodgy undercarriage and then, pressed to say something, said that he was only doing his job.  Quite right too.  I would be bloody disconcerted at the thought that if anything untoward happened, requiring a pilot to actually fly his plane, it would be considered beyond the call of his duty and only a ‘hero’ could be expected to step up to the plate.  If that were the case, then commercial pilots should only receive a council bus driver’s salary supplemented as required with an entitlement to put in a claim if something unexpected cropped up.

Today, being Sunday (OK, I am a day late posting), it was gardening time.  I only intended to spend an hour or two pottering about but it was dark before I finished.  I like gardening.  I never did before but that was perhaps because I was always on the move.  Even the houses I owned were rented out.  It was only when I met Marcia that I started to throw down roots.  It would have been nice to have met her in Europe but I am here now so I might as well have a nice garden.

There is a place here that sells trees, there’s two or three actually but the one closest to us sells palm trees at $5,000 a pop.  That isn’t for a forty footer, that’s for something you could still transport in a pickup.  The big ones are expensive.  I have been growing my trees from seed.  Everywhere I go, if I see a tree I like and there are seed pods hanging off it, I will nick a handful of seeds.  I’ve even enrolled Dominic into my larceny.  He’s far more agile than I am so while I keep a look out, he’s the nimble one to hop over a fence, grab a handful and be back before the Rottweiler reaches him.

At first I would scour the web, especially YouTube, for hints and tips on germinating these seeds but after sealing seeds in plastic bags with moist tissues only to recover acrid sludge after weeks of patience, or painfully sandpapering hard seed pods only for them to decompose rather than sprout, I gave up and started to copy nature.  In most cases this was little more than half eating the fruit and then plopping it, along with a few others, into a plastic container and leaving it alone.  Half the time I didn’t even bother segregating the seeds by type.  In this way I have brought Papaya, Mango, avocado, tamarind, orange, lemon, acacia, baobab, Maboque (Monkey Orange Tree - Strychnos spinosa ), Moringa oleifera (Drum Stick Tree from India) and Royal Palms to shoot.  Only then do I scrape them into a tray filled with moist soil.  This method proved so fruitful that I realized I had some serious potting to do and, once I started, I kept going.  Not only did I have to pot the saplings the roots of which were becoming irrevocably tangled in their trays, a lot of the earlier ones were now root bound in their small pots and required rehousing.

‘Where are you going to plant that?’ asked Marcia as I struggled with a five foot tall baobab.

‘I’m not, I’m sticking it in a bigger pot’ I said, ‘It needs planting out, though, look at the tap root.’  She looked at the tap root which formed a rectangle, a perfect indicator of the limits of the twenty litre cooking oil container it grew up in.

I waved my arm to indicate the trees I had planted out a few months ago, all of them doing well and all of them requiring daily watering.

‘I have to plant the trees with a proper spacing, no point me planting them too close together only to have to start chopping them down in a couple of years, but my planting area is limited by the length of the garden hose.’

‘Shall I pick you up a long hose in town tomorrow?’ asked Marcia.

‘Would you, Darling?’

If I had stomped into the house and demanded she bought a new hose in the morning, she would have told me to get stuffed, it would mean her having to fight her way through traffic to the hardware store.  Allow her to solve a problem for her dithery husband, however...

All the trees I am cultivating provide sustenance one way or another save the Acacia and Royal Palms which are just bloomin’ bootiful.  I got the Drum Stick Tree seeds from the ones planted by the Indian workers on one of the sites I managed.  They used the young and still tender seed pods in their cooking.  Even the leaves are edible and highly nutritious.  The Monkey Orange Tree (Strychnos spinosa) is closely related to the deadly Strychnos nux-vomica, which contains strychnine.  I know mine are the right kind.  I found the trees growing in the bush and hadn’t a clue what they were but could see the monkeys had been feasting on them so I picked and ate the fruit.  It is delicious.  There is no delicate way to eat it; the hard shell is filled with seeds covered in a tart flesh.  All one can do is pop a seed in and suck the flesh off.  The Baobab produces a pendulous pod filled with seeds encased in what looks like chalk.  It is also very tart (the kids suck on it) but comes into its own when boiled (the liquid changes colour to orange) and used to make ice cream.  I have two baobabs, one in the ground already. 

Of course, the wise old locals came round to take the piss, telling Marcia what a fool her husband was, didn’t I know that baobabs suck all the water out of the countryside and their roots wreck house foundations?  Marcia agreed that they did only seem to grow in arid areas.  I bloody wonder, sometimes.  Are they suggesting that cacti sucked the deserts dry?  In the end, I asked a group of opinionated rubber neckers how many colonial buildings there were still standing in the city with baobabs growing right next to them.  Right, hundreds and they’ve been there a century.  I think I shall grow a Strychnos nux-vomica just for them.

Christmas and New Year is an absolute nuisance.  I am surrounded by unfinished jobs, not because I have run out of steam, but because I have run out of kit, and all the useful stores and suppliers are off until the 7th.  The hole for the swimming pool has been dug and the base graded ready to pour the floor but I can’t get the blocks, cement, rebar and gravel delivered until next week.  I have chopped the trees down that were in the way of the new workshop but I cannot clear them for the want of industrial gloves.  These palm trees are bloody thorny and I have ripped my hands to shreds trying.  I have built the frame for the swing but the rope I was given by a friendly fisherman is so old, it snapped when I tested it.  The kids don’t get their swing until the shops open and I can buy decent rope.  I have cleared the access drive from the end of the existing drive to the workshop but need to stabilise the sides with a retaining wall for which I need blocks and cement.  The only thing I have a lot of is sand, I have a mountain of sand.  I have been so frustrated I was pleased, not angry, when the water pump failed.  It gave me a happy hour in the sun stripping it down and replacing the burnt out parts with good I cannibalised from the old pump.

Not sure what I shall do with myself tomorrow, might do some baking and run up some pizza dough as well.  The Berliners I made the other day were a great success.  I made 49 in total (it was supposed to be 48, two batches of 24 each but Alex helped me cut and roll the dough so somehow we ended up with an odd number).  Anyway, six children devoured 49 Berliners in one evening…

Alex, Marta, Mauro and Nadia
Place pool here...

Easiest way to compact, wet the ground and let the kids play football...
Cottages nearly ready
Fig Tree has a little brother thanks to the Considerate American Lady
Growing Mangoes in the desert
(watering can courtesy of the Considerate American Lady)
40 trees on that potting table
Just add rope
Pathways in,  That's Basil and Celery in balcony boxes

Monkey Orange
One of my mixed seed trays in urgent need of thinning
Tons of Dill
Clearing a space for the joinery workshop

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Mud Pies

Alex's favourite bastard.  I like him too, he plays for Germany and Bayern München

The very nice American lady came to lunch the other day and brought me another fig tree to keep the first company.  She looks far too young to retire but she is going to retire anyway because she has a nice barn in Oregon.  Since she will shortly, and sadly, be on her way, she was kind enough to unload a bit of the clutter she knew I would like.  So along with flower pots, seeds and aphid killer, she brought a ton of potting soil.

'I'd leave it out in the sun for a while or whatever you do with it to kill off any white fly eggs' she advised.

I have been busy growing saplings from seed and have a load of them desperately in need of potting, so haven't time to allow nature to take its course.  It's not just aphids that can be a nuisance, ants are a real pain in the arse as well, and when I pulled one soil filled tub from its black plastic bin liner I was overwhelmed with the irate soldiers of a disturbed colony.  I am constantly on about keeping the kitchen clean and forever banging on about hygiene in the tropics so Marcia was a little bemused to see me mixing potting soil with water in the laundry bowl, and then transferring the moist sludge, a large family portion at a time, into a cooking pot before placing the pot in the oven on gas mark 3.  It is a good way to sterilise soil without roasting it.  Just wait until it starts steaming then switch the oven off and let it stew for a while.  Kills all known beasties.  If Marcia was bemused, her brother and his family (lunching with us today), renewed their respect for Noel Coward's perspicacity while seeking Marcia's assurance that lunch would be prepared on the barbecue.

During the Skype chat I mentioned in my last post, the one during which my brother Micky and I tried to leave the kids to it, the boys either end of the ether compared toys to see whose father was best.  I lost.  Afterwards, and never one to succumb to sibling rivalry,  I told Alex he could choose some things on line.  Without hesitation he said he wanted a Bastian Schweinsteiger shirt (he said Bastard Shans-Tiger but I knew who he meant).  I was amazed.  I know during the World Cup he followed his Daddy's example and rooted for Germany (except when Brazil were playing, which taught him a valuable lesson), but I never realised he not only followed the games closely, he had his favourite player.  I couldn't find any bastard shirts on Amazon (technically little Alex is one as he supported Brazil in favour of Germany and I still haven't got round to marrying his mother) so I bought a generic Deutsche Fuβball Bund home kit for him instead, from the boots all the way up to the team baseball cap (the Adidas four star edition, Michael).  I have to admit, I admire Alex for recognising that Brazil is no team to support, and choosing to play in DFB kit when all around him are in Benfica, Porto or Brazilian rig.  Some of the shop regulars are Brazilian and no doubt had a hand in the lad's treacherous behaviour during the competition; I shall enjoy their reaction, especially if I can train Alex to volley about groin high.

Speaking of Benfica, in England we delicately refer to a lady as having her 'time of the month' (unless you wear shell suits and trainers, in which case you probably say,' She's on the rag').  Her time of the month is licence for a woman to have the time of her life, a three week period every 28 days during which all forms of anti-social behaviour short of homicide (unless the victim is her husband) are excused by law.  Here they say the lady is 'with the colours of Benfica'.  Well, Marcia hasn't played for Benfica for a few months and it looks as though she'll be on the bench until the bairn is born and off the teat.  Given that I am faced with making yet more sacrifices for the issue of my loins, just how nutritious for me do you think mud pies would be?

Thursday, 1 January 2015

2014? Fuck that for a game of soldiers...

I had just settled down in front of the TV to watch an episode of Endeavour.  I like Endeavour.  That doesn't say as much about Endeavour as it does about the shit Marcia watches all the time but I think even in a civilised country, Endeavour would be a good way to lose an hour or so.  It's only on once a week, is not repeated at various times on other days and the series is only a few episodes in all so it being on seems to be a signal for the rest of the family to take up new, highly inventive ways to distract me.  Background noise no longer bothers me.  If I can't turn the volume up enough, it doesn't matter, I have learnt to lip read. 

Anyway, there I was in front of the old flimmerkasten, coffee table shoved up to the TV table and my chair dragged close in so as to prevent people walking between me and the box, when Marcia decided to ring my brother in Germany.  Well, it's New Year's Eve, isn't it?  And of course he says, why doesn't she Skype him to save her credit?  He was being polite.  There he was with his family about to tuck into their Sylvester fare and now he had to Skype.  There I was watching Endeavour but now I had to set the laptop up and log on.  She'd buggered both our evenings.

Since he was there being polite and I was there being polite, we thought we might as well make the best of a rum deal and stick the kids on.  I got another ten minutes or so of young Detective Constable Morse before I was called to the video link to translate something Alex had been trying to explain.

'He's saying his cat was killed by a stray dog the night before last,' I said.

Micky in Germany squirmed a bit, rolled his eyes expressively and pointed furtively at his boy.  Well, it wasn't expressive enough, either that or I was being thick, because I missed his point entirely so carried on with some more detail that Alex hadn't yet got around to sharing.

'Yeah, the kids accidently locked the cat out.  I heard it screaming about two in the morning but by the time I got out the dog had bitten its head off,'

'There was loads of blood!' Alex added, clearly pleased to see how excited Michael found the story, 'so Daddy said he was going to poison the dog…' 'Oh God' squeaked Micky, '…with rat poison' continued Alex delivering the coup de grace.

I have to confess, I was pretty bloody annoyed with this dog.  It was one of Charlie's bitches, the small harem he has worked up for himself.  Around here, dogs are treated pretty miserably.  As soon as a kid can totter, it learns to throw stones at dogs.  Not surprisingly, the strays, and there are many, are bloody vicious.  I placed a blanket ban on throwing stones at any dog that happened to stray into my garden so in the case of the Cat Killing Bitch, I had probably been hoisted by my own petard.  The others of Charlie's flock were really nice, very timid and bereft of evil intent.  This white bitch, though, was mean and worse still, streetwise.  this dog put the capital 'C' in Cun… ning.  Every time I planted a sapling, it would dig it up.  I laid new pathways, it shits right in the middle of them.  Alex leaves a toy out on the veranda, it chews it.  If I put food out, it tears into the others and wolfs the lot.  And it always stays exactly one pace further away than the maximum effective range of whatever weapon I might have to hand.  So when it mauled the cat to death, I did decide to poison it.  Its own greediness would ensure I poisoned only it, none of the other dogs would get a look in.

'It's an awful way to go,' Marcia pointed out to me.

'About as bad as having your head torn off,' I agreed.

As it happened, I did have second thoughts.  Not because I came over all squeamish at the thought of the dog bleeding out of its eye sockets as its guts turned to slush, I had actually calculated the dose needed to incapacitate it enough so that it would still be alive but unable to escape me so that I could have the pleasure of running it through with my sword before burying it under one of my saplings.  No. I had second thoughts because in my initial anger, I had let slip in front of Alex my intention to poison the dog.  If I am to be a responsible parent, I suppose I ought not to set an example which suggests it's perfectly OK to kill anything that annoys me, although, after the annus horribilis I have just endured, I would have difficulty arguing against such a precept with any discernible sincerity.

So the dog continued to dig holes in the garden and chew Alex's toys not realising how close to awful death it had been while I quietly fumed and waited for the dust to settle before digging out the best recipe from the Weird Sister's Cook Book.

This evening, being a holiday, would not have been complete without a visit from the two starving local Police Commanders.  So confident was I that they would not let me down, I had their places set and waiting for them.  The horrible demise of the cat has clearly left an enduring impression on little Alex for he jumped at the opportunity to perform his civic duty and inform the Police.

'Charlie killed the cat?' said Chief Inspector Denis eyeing a comatose Charlie sprawled contentedly in the corner.

'Not our dog,' I said, 'a stray dog, one of Charlie's girlfriends.'

'Oh,' said Denis, 'can I have some more beef?'

'Help yourself,' I said as I watched him helping himself.

'Why don't you shoot it?' he asked going for the vegetables.

'If I had a gun, I would,'  I said.  I could hardly admit to having a gun, non resident foreigners are not allowed to own firearms and with neighbours like mine, if I used it to shoot a dog, the police would soon know all about it.

'Why don't you shoot it for me on your way out?'  I suggested.  Both policemen were armed, the black gleam and cross check of their pistol butts visible in their holsters.  Everyone laughed, Marcia especially, giving me that pitying look wives reserve for use on their husbands in public.

With all the dishes and platters clean and the last of the stock of alcohol free beer that I had been saving for midnight tossed down their necks, the two bobbies decided they had to get back to keeping the place safe for people like us.  I accompanied them down the path towards the shop and the way off my property.

'There it is!' I exclaimed.  The bloody bastard was digging a fucking great hole under my potting table. 

Denis pulled his Makarov, cocked it and slotted the dog.  Charlie, who until a nano-second earlier had been loping alongside with his tongue hanging out and a big stupid happy grin all over his face fucked off sharpish, the sand flying out from under paws scrabbling frantically for traction.  From the direction of the shop veranda came the sound of chairs falling over and a noisy, but quickly receding, slapping of flip flops as all Marcia's customers did their best to catch up with Charlie.

I can't tell you how pleased I was.  I was delighted.  Surprised but delighted.  I can't expect the police to hand their weapons over at the door so have to put up with them carrying their weapons in my house.  The fact that Denis had to cock his pistol before firing, though, meant that at least they were making their weapons safe before sitting to table and that is a consideration for me that warmed my heart.

I agreed with Micky that perhaps I had unintentionally crossed a line of sensibility so neatly drawn in European health and safety approved sand, and that details of the cat's death were inappropriate in front of children.  This spoilt the fun for me somewhat.  Knowing that he had not yet eaten, I was itching to discuss with Michael the best way to clean congealed brain, skull fragments and tufts of fur off a concrete pathway.

Happy New Year everyone, normal service will resume shortly.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Well, I'm glad you're out- er... back

All this talk about me coming home and having a car waiting for me put me in mind of this clip from a classic British film...


Obviously young Charlie Croker got off lightly; he only went down for two years, not twenty.

Marcia rang me out of the blue this afternoon and told me that Dr. Abel and his (charming) daughter Maya were coming to stay.  I wasn't quite sure what to say.  The last time I saw Dr. Abel, he was slashing my leg with a scalpel and then he and a beefy nurse tried to strangle it.  As one operation followed another in UK Marcia apparently told Dr. Abel that in the opinion of his esteemed professional colleagues in London, he was a butcher.  Now it is entirely possible that after my bloody encounter with him I may, as I limped away from his clinic, have suggested something along those lines but I never expected Marcia to attribute those sentiments to Doctors in UK and inform Dr. Abel on my behalf.

'Well that explains why he hasn't rung since I returned to find out how I am,' I muttered bitterly when Marcia told me what she had said to him soon after I got back. I never expected to see him again and was wondering just which doctor I could see now in an emergency. Dr. Abel was literally the family doctor, he's Marcia's cousin.

I dug out a couple of bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon and uncorked them to breathe before hauling out the ingredients for Lasagne.  Not knowing exactly when they would arrive, I thought an oven finished supper safest.  Pressed into military service, Dr. Abel had honed his craft during the civil war so I knew he could take a joke.  No doubt he would if not laugh off such a slight, at least just shrug it off.  He was coming to stay so that was a good sign.

I shook his hand as he walked in. 

'No need for me to ask how you are,' he said, 'since you have been treated by the finest Doctors in Europe.' 

Irony so dense it caused ripples in the Earth's magnetic field.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

I Think, Therefore I Am. At least I think so...

Cottages are shaping up, just need glass and varnish

I have just been asked by a sensibly cautious man in West Sussex to prove I exist.  I could tell from the careful wording of Charles’s email to me that he was ever so slightly uncomfortable with having to ask but, believe me, with the time I have spent in Africa, I can well understand why he wasn’t going to risk exchanging any kind of information, however seemingly innocuous with a potential scammer (as he delicately put it).

Doing business here is murder (it really is sometimes).  If you live in UK or any other civilized country, send an enquiry to a supplier and they will fall over themselves trying to sell you something.  If they read an email enquiry and realize it has come from West Africa, they will call in an IT expert to have their laptop scanned for viruses.  I can send out a dozen enquiries and receive only one response which, paradoxically, makes me nervous about the respondee.  There is no point me lying and trying to pretend I am in UK for that in itself is a deception easy to uncover and then impossible to explain.  I tend to say I am ‘on contract’ in Angola rather than admit to living here.  It isn’t really a lie for every time I need to replenish the beer tokens, I take a contract.  In the meantime, I am building my restaurant but you try explaining why any sane and honest man would want to make his way here in this shithole?  You could not do that in a single short paragraph which is all you would have before the recipient was hitting the delete key and changing all his passwords.

I know how they feel, though.  I made two transfers recently, one to Germany and one to China.  I wasn't worried about the one to Germany, that was to my brother and I know he exists.  That transfer has arrived.  The one to China is for commercial kitchen equipment and 400 metres of panel fencing.  It was for a not inconsiderable amount of money, enough to really make my eyes water if it disappeared.  That transfer has not arrived.  Before I made it, I checked out the recipient.  Unless you pay a professional due diligence company to do this for you, it isn’t easy to prove that the company with the impressive web site or the very nice man speaking reasonable English on the other end of the phone actually exist.  I did all the usual internet checks and had someone in China verify that the factory existed at the address given, that all the phone numbers listed also existed and were answered by real people who admitted involvement in the production of commercial kitchen equipment and even turned up a file in the New York legal archives listing a case where the same company had been unsuccessfully sued in a New York court.  Normally, finding evidence that a potential supplier had been sued would cause a carillon of alarm bells but in my case I was reassured.  You can’t sue a non-entity and besides, the case was thrown out the company having been deemed by the presiding judge to have complied with the terms of the contract to supply equipment and was not liable for the plaintiff’s inability to clear the goods through customs.

The fact remains, the funds have not arrived, I am sick as a dog and really pissed off with a bank whose only response to my concern is, ‘you have to ask the recipient to ask their bank to start a trace from their end’. 

Even the transfer to Germany wasn’t painless.  Micky received a call from his bank demanding to know why someone was trying to send him money from abroad.  Their concern was something to do with money laundering legislation and the source of the money being a country on the ‘watch list’.  Money laundering, it’s all a load of bollocks.  It has bugger all to do with money laundering by criminals and terrorist organizations and everything to do with taxation.  Governments can’t stand the thought of citizens getting away with not paying the ludicrously high taxes imposed to fund fantastic levels of debt created by self-serving politicians who have forgotten that the big flaw with Socialism is that you soon run out of other people’s money.  In an attempt to control the movement of money around the system, so it can be taxed, they have come up with these draconian laws justified, once again, on an overstated threat.  It took an age for Micky to convince his bankers that the money was from me to buy a reverse osmosis water treatment plant and a rowing machine.

Just finding a supplier for the water treatment plant was an exercise in itself.  No one was interested.  Sure, there were large multi nationals who would send in a team and build me a water treatment factory by the sea capable of supplying clean water to a city, but finding someone who would sell me a small plant capable of supplying just 12 tonnes of potable water per day to a small tourist complex was a bit harder.  Nervous enough of me being an individual in Africa and not the flush representative of a corrupt regime, as soon as I asked them for their bank details so I could make the transfer, they stopped replying to their emails and took their phones off the hook.

Micky has a day job which keeps him busy enough as it is but in the evenings, he occasionally has to act as my European broker disbursing the funds I send him to suppliers on my behalf.  I can’t use my UK bank to do this as, since the unfortunate incident when they allowed some Nigerian scammers not only to empty it but gave them an unsecured loan as well, I am reluctant to trust them.  Read about it here and you will understand why.  I wish Mr. Charles had been my banker.

I did speak to my bank, by the way.  Actually, I spoke to someone in Liverpool which is where my call ended up.  My bank is in Ashby where I finished school.  He told me that in accordance with EU regulations any transfer coming in that exceeded 10,000 euros would be reported.  Beating me to the drop he went on to confirm that a series of deposits of 9,999 euros would also be reported.  I suppose he thought he was being helpful when he pointed out that if I had continued to have all my pay deposited in my UK account I would have all my money in UK and not Africa.  Unless you give it all away, I thought.

So, what is my interest in Charles, the undoubtedly decent man from West Sussex and what do I want of him?

I rather fancy his Stag.

After my recent spell in a London hospital and the brief run ashore I enjoyed in England and Wales recently, I am determined to come back.  Marcia is up for it which pleases me enormously.  I will finish off Fat Hippo’s, get it running and then get a foothold in UK again.  I still have to overcome the slight problem of how to explain where all the money came from to buy a house in UK.  In touch with estate agents as I have been, I now know that they cannot take a cash payment.  I also know that if I transfer the money to my UK account, the account will be frozen and it will take a lawyer and a very expensive accounting firm to thaw it out again.  It is harder, apparently, because I am a British Citizen.  If I was an Angolan, it would be easier.  Marcia’s friend has just bought a house in London for which she paid by transferring the whole amount in one go to the selling agent the explanation for her wealth being that her dear departed husband left her a sack of diamonds that he, along with other ordinary Angolans blessed with the riches their country has to offer in abundance, had dug up out of the ground.  Russian oligarchs and Libyans can pay cash for houses in UK, Angolans with husbands very much alive can buy houses in UK, an honest Englishman can’t.  So Marcia will be buying the house in her name.  I just hope I do not have to die to convince the HMRC man she acquired the money legally although I suspect he would demand nothing less.

Seven years ago when I first wrote about Triumph Stags I said that I could not think of a new car that would excite me enough to buy it.  I still can’t.  If I am going to be visiting UK with ever increasing frequency I will need transport.  Hire cars are all well and good but they are rather like renting a house, you get the convenience but are effectively burning money.  When it comes to a long term hire, a month or so, you might as well buy a runabout and stick it through an auction on departure. Or leave it with all the others in a Heathrow multi storey.  I am all in favour of public transport.  If I lived in London, I wouldn’t bother with a car.  But I do not want to live in London.  I want to live in a semi-rural environment close to a good school.  If I want to go house hunting in the sticks, I need my own transport so why not buy a nice car, one that would be accepted in any environment, one that is attractive and enjoyable to drive and one that, if looked after, would not depreciate as fast as a new car?  House hunting can be pretty soul destroying so at least the travelling should be a pleasure.  I am fifty five years old with a dicky heart and a gammy leg, I don’t want a hot snot sports car and neither do I want a cramped soulless Eurobox.  I need the ‘something for the weekend, Sir?’ type of car and I think the Stag, often cruelly described as a hairdresser’s car fits the bill nicely.  Besides, if I am hard enough to get away with wearing pink trousers, I can carry it off in a Stag.  With it, I would be just as comfortable stopping at a greasy spoon for a Full English as I would be parking it in the Kurhaus Tiefgarage in Baden-Baden after a leisurely lope through France.

The Stag, beautiful as Michelotti penned it, did have its problems which was why, even though it was designed with the North American market in mind (in right hand drive the weight of the petrol tank, the driver and the heavy battery are all on the same side so it is impossible to balance the corner weights) it only lasted a couple or three years before collapsing sales figures and warranty claims persuaded Triumph USA to can it.  Its Achilles heel was the fragility of its V8 engine which, distressingly for owners of Stags, tended to self-destruct.  Nowadays, the engine can be sorted with a few modifications and proper, though not onerous maintenance.  Bugger all, though, could cure its sometimes wayward handling principal of which was the notorious ‘Stag Twitch’ which has propelled many a bewildered Stag pilot sideways through the pearly gates.  Nothing, that is, until a very clever bloke in true English ‘Garagista’ form noted that a 3 series BMW rear suspension set up could with only the tiniest modification bolt straight up to a Stag rear end.  This not only cured the handling issues and gave you an unburstable differential, it also endowed the car with the novelty of efficient brakes, disks all round.  I have driven a Stag all the way to up to the restaurant on the side of Gossglockner, the highest peak in Austria and the superb Alpine cuisine and fantastic view off the restaurant balcony perched high above the Paterze Glacier was only marred by the thought of driving back down the Hochalpenstrasse with the ever attendant risk of Stag Twitch twitching me off it and thousands of feet down to an icy death on the glacier below, or boiling brakes effecting the same.  It took me ages to wipe the seat clean after I got home.

Bringing the fish home.
It's alright for him, he's on a bike, I have to push the barrow.

Charles’s Stag has not only been restored, it has been fitted with these highly desirable modifications and I am very keen to learn more about them.  I know that they aren’t cheap.  Bigger BMW brake calipers mean bigger wheels with an unusual offset to ensure the wheels are central in the arches.  Image is a company in UK that sells these wheels and they are £1200 a set not including the rubber with which to clothe them.  Charles’s Stag has been painted a rather, shall we say, breathtaking though not unattractive blue.  There is another very pretty fully restored Stag available in a more subdued hue for four grand less, a difference that would go a long way toward funding the desired modifications.  It all boils down to us talking together, something we aren’t doing yet because I have yet to prove that I am me and not some black hearted Langa in wrap round sunglasses, pointy shoes and trousers too short to conceal white nylon socks.

Some people who are in no doubt whatsoever I am what I am are the family.  After a long spell of to them culinary indifference, I am back in the kitchen again.  Last night I made Chelsea buns.  Any fool can whip up something passing for a sponge cake and that’s all you can get here.  Birthday cakes are big sponge cakes covered in a tooth decaying sticky sweet concoction that crumble to staleness as soon as they are sliced and differ from equally disappointing wedding cakes only in that they lack a plastic bride and groom on the top but they are covered with an A4 sized piece of rice paper bearing the dissolving bright green image of Ben 10 or other popular cartoon character printed, no doubt, on a desk top printer using normal highly toxic ink jet cartridges.

Baking with yeast is a wonderfully satisfying experience.  It requires patience but this is rewarded with the smell and the evidence of a risen dough.  Alex had delightfully moist Chelsea buns for breakfast this morning accompanied by hot chocolate.  I have had no joy finding strong flour to make bread so if anyone reading this in Angola has any ideas, please let me know, I struck out at Shoprite which was the only place I could think of that might stock it.

Doggie was run over and killed the other day (no messages of commiseration please, she was so wild and ill-disciplined she would only have needed to bite one more child and I’d have shot her) so now Charlie gets the undivided attention of his master.  I have no reason to doubt Marcia when she says the dogs were simply not eating while I was away and not being starved through lack of care as I first assumed.  Thinking about it, Alex was a bit scrawny as well, apparently he had been off his food too so I got to it and started rattling the pans again.  Local cuisine is all well and good but you can’t beat the old meat and two veg so it was regular roasts, meat pies, rich stews, sizzling steaks, full English breakfasts the bacon having been sliced off a whole side.  Now Marcia is worried that Alex is getting fat.  I'm worried that she is getting fat but am too scared to say anything.

So that Charlie bulks up quickly, I arranged a treat for him, pork ribs.  I can buy a ten kilo box for ten dollars, that’s five quid in real money and the box fits nicely on the bottom shelf of the fridge.  All I have to do is throw a bunch of them onto a baking tray and roast them in the oven.  At that price the dog, I thought, can have as much as he wants in addition to his normal food.  Except that it isn’t the dog that gets to tuck in, it is the family, and any visitors because they all have opposing thumbs and can open the oven door to nick the ribs, the dog hasn’t so he can’t.  Spare ribs, honestly, they are the secret to familial bliss. 

Oh God, I have just realized the gentleman with whom I am so keen to discuss the Stag has the same name I have given my dog.  I hope he understands it really is just a coincidence.  Perhaps it will serve to reassure him that I really am who I say I am, after all, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

"Just one tray of spare ribs today, ladies?"

Back to the ribs.  With something as inexpensive and evidently popular as a box of spare ribs, it would be selfish in the extreme not to share them.  The arrival of a new consignment of spare ribs cannot be concealed from the local youngsters all of whom lug free drinking water from my well twice a day as it is, so the ever patient Charlie has to watch me dole out a few plastic bags full of his treats all the time slavering like a Nile crocodile.  The odd thing is, I can’t stand spare ribs, which is probably why they weren’t on the menu before; I only bought them to feed the dog.
There you have it.  One restored Stag with the desirable modifications.
Yours for £13,500  (Verifiable I.D. required for purchase).
This one is four grand cheaper but without the desirable modifications
A Stag or a second hand Eurobox for the same money?  Let me think...
Charles may have come to a conclusion about me but I have come to some about him and his car.  He clearly is not desperate enough to throw his natural caution to the wind which leads me to suspect that he is not in a hurry to sell the car.  This means that it will be harder for me to knock his price down, something all buyers are duty bound to try on.  It also could mean that the car is every bit as good as he describes and that the photographs really don't do it justice.
At one point today, I was looking for excuses to fly back to UK and arrange an appointment to see the car myself but then I remembered that my visa has less than a month to run so if I leave the country now, I will have to stay out of the country until my visa is renewed and that could take three months.  Besides, the return flight would cost me a third of the price of the car.
Charles was worried he might have upset me.  He hasn't, of course.  He has just reminded me of how bloody difficult everything is here and reinforced my resolve to get back to UK, lousy weather, unbearable taxation and all.