Mummy, am I a Polar Bear?
Of course you are, darling, look at your fluffy white fur, just like me and Daddy!
But are you sure I am a Polar Bear?
I keep telling you, of course you are. Just look at your little black nose and sharp claws in your paws. Why do you keep asking?
Well, Mum, if I’m a Polar bear, why am I so fucking cold?
Most might imagine tropical Africa as a place with no seasons; cooling rain showers washing into fertile earth providing regular relief from a baking sun. Lightweight safari suits the norm for those in business, the rest happy with shorts and T-Shirts. Sundowners on the verandah every evening.
Maybe I have been here too long and my blood, now well diluted by alcohol and malaria is too thin to perform as successfully as it did in Europe: efficiently cooling or centrally heating my system according to need, albeit aided by a seasonal wardrobe and Pimm’s or Glühwein as required.
Here in Angola, we are in the middle of what they call the ‘Tempo de Frio’, or ‘Caximbo’, the literal translation of the latter being ‘pipe’ (the one you stuff tobacco in and smoke, not the fluid or gas type). Either way, the Cold Season.
Before I came to this continent, I had heard of dry and rainy seasons but never imagined a cold one. Indeed, during my first few years here I never noticed and was one of those startlingly pale individuals (obviously foreign and hailing from genuinely colder climes) that splashed about in the sea enjoying empty beaches while all the locals were huddled around charcoal braziers and wrapped in shawls. The kids used to chant ‘Russo, Russo’ at me, so rare the sight of anyone in Speedos at that time of year and a reflection of just how many Russian advisors, also presumably clad in Speedos and whiter than the sand they lay on, there were in Angola back then.
I was born in Berlin, where winter brought an arctic wind hurling itself westwards across the Steppes from the foothills of the Urals sawing everything in its path in half and summer, parched forests that would spontaneously combust, village ponds evaporating before one’s eyes. Only in spring and autumn would we feel we weren’t in an all out war with Nature.
I am still a little surprised, therefore, having once been accustomed to the extremes of a continental climate, I should now suffer under such a relatively insignificant seasonal temperature variation. I do not have a thermometer to hand but at four o’clock in the morning I can assure you, the pool is not covered in ice and there is no frost killing the garden plants, yet I wake up with teeth chattering in spite of all the blankets.
The onset of the cold season is heralded by a warning evening chill which encourages one to dig out the old pullover brought over from Europe ten year’s ago, the state of which when found brings the awful realisation that while we were lying on the beach, mice have been nesting in the wardrobe all summer. And then there is the thought that having buried myself in every duvet and blanket I can find, Marcia will get up during the night to heat Alexander’s milk and then defrost her feet on me.
When I designed my house, I had a particular feature in mind. The lounge and open plan kitchen (they call them ‘American' kitchens here, no doubt because the only exposure they get to the inside of an American home is a TV soap opera studio) were laid out so that this feature would be the focal point of a cosy family bolthole. Marcia back then thought I was mad and since I was away in Uganda at the time the house went up, told the builders not to bother.
I rather suspect she regrets that decision.
I have had to wait three years but I am going to install, where it should have been in the first place, a bloody great open fireplace.
I am too old to be motivated by the prospect of frolics in front of blazing logs so will be quite happy to lie on the preserved fur of some dead animal by myself, glass of scotch gently warmed by radiated heat and Caravanserai playing on the stereo but, I bet I won’t be alone for long.
Which reminds me, I must buy flea powder for the dogs.