I have one of the few houses in this still developing neighbourhood with both a generator and an unlocked gate. I also keep my satellite TV subscription up to date. The Seven O’clock outage is coincident with two things, one dear to my heart and the other a severe test of my patience. I cannot comment on Crossroads, East Enders, Coronation Street, Dallas, Dynasty or any of the truly awful programmes that led to generations of ‘soap opera orphans’, feral children depending for their sustenance on whatever their malnourished statures allowed them to root out of fridge or pantry because, I can honestly say, I have never watched a single episode.
My artificial Gotterdammerung coincides with me starting to prepare dinner for the family, an agreeable duty, and the evening soap on TPA, the very cash strapped Angola Popular Television channel, which I detest.
We were only recently connected to town power and until last month, supplies were erratic. Clearly, the state distribution company has finally figured out that in the evening, the city wide load soars and they cannot possibly produce and distribute enough energy to go round, and that by cutting some neighbourhoods off, can maintain the Haut Metropolis. We are not in the main city but at least the outage is now predictable and, therefore, manageable. During the day, I can check oil and water, fill up the tank and make sure the generator is good to go. Unfortunately, the brief experience of the evening electricity that fired up their new TV’s gave my neighbours a taste for soaps surpassed only by the evidently abject sense of loss the 7 pm curfew brings.
I did not mind at first; it is quite nice to have the house suddenly full of unexpected visitors, they are our neighbours after all and, seeing the kids tired and hungry after a day in school, I could easily stretch the food to cover a few more plates while their mothers gorged themselves on kitsch and there were always enough ripe Papayas on the tree to give them a healthy dessert. It would be grossly unfair to describe the situation in which I now find myself as an opened Pandora’s Box or can of worms but there is no doubt that I have latched onto the thin edge of a very thick wedge. Every evening, as regular as the power cut, I have the house full. Still, it is all good practice for when the restaurant opens.
Tonight’s episode, and I am ashamed to be sufficiently well informed to be able to relate the plot but with an open plan lounge, kitchen and dining room, it’s unavoidable, seems to revolve around a young lady who was impregnated and then dumped by a cruel and arrogant rich bloke and so, to exact a very peculiar and to me bewildering form of revenge, she has decided to name the fruit of their illicit liaison after him. Naturally, her husband is less than keen on the idea. Surprisingly, he seemed more concerned over his wife’s choice of name for the child rather than the fact she’d clearly been shagging his nemesis, but then again, that’s probably good for another ten episodes. Given that this soap was originally filmed in Spanish and crudely dubbed into Portuguese, it can only add to the excruciating torture I must endure every evening when night descends over the borough.
It is the adverts, however, that provide me the light entertainment I feel I deserve while flipping countless burgers to satisfy those fleeing darkness in favour of Latin histrionics and a good feed. Risqué they are not, sadly, just jaw droopingly cheesy. I shan’t bore you with the details, save to say they all concern products which, once in possession of, guarantee unbridled sex if you are a Man, or accolades from the Women’s Institute for being the ‘Perfect Wife’ if you are female.
It may not be the latest (in Darkest Africa we are often a touch behind the curve), but the Mercedes advert is worthy of mention. I only picked it up halfway through but Dominic tells me it concerns a lone motorist who suddenly realises he has a passenger and that this passenger is Death incarnate. Death looks across at the understandably shocked driver and, given his gruesome duty quite affably says, ‘Sorry’. The driver, having been so distracted now looks to the road ahead and sees an overturned articulated lorry and its discarded load of logs into which he is about to crash and give the soul collector his due. Its brakes slammed on, the car in an impossibly short distance, comes to a controlled halt and it is now the driver’s turn to apologise to a frustrated Death.
God, Death, the Devil and the promise of an Afterlife. All abstract notions for so many of us nowadays but as a betting man, with no chance of collecting if I was right after all, I tend to think twice before openly wagering against the existence of a higher force, and I am not talking about the superior retardation offered by the latest in ceramic brake discs.
Pride is a deadly sin and I think Mercedes have it as finely tuned as their motors. Would you climb into, let alone buy a car the manufacturer of which has just slapped Death in the face and said, ‘I Dare You’? And that begs an interesting philosophical question. If you believe in God, you might be concerned at antagonising the Black Angel. But then again, you wouldn’t care as the afterlife is so much better. If you think all religion is humbug then you could also care less so perhaps we can conclude that Mercedes’ target market in this case are Atheists, or those stoic Christians keen to join their maker as fast and as stylishly as possible… if only those damn brakes didn’t work so well. An interesting test of faith: if you Believe, don’t in extremis stamp on the middle pedal and scream into a rapidly inflating airbag like us normal folk would.
I should end there but given I am being driven round a bend of my own making, the guests still not fully sated (there are so many of them here there is no room left for me at my own dining table, hopefully I’ll get to gnaw on a leftover chicken leg later), I shall relate to you the true story of the Mercedes that spilled off a curve on a notorious stretch of road in Cape Town. Having tumbled down a mountainside the occupants all survived and Mercedes turned that thankful and well reported outcome into an advert trumpeting the effectiveness of their passenger safety cells. Their main rivals, until the South African Advertising Standards Authority reined both parties in thereby ending what promised to be an entertaining exchange, coolly responded with:
‘BMW… Drives round the Benz’