Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Driven to Distraction

There is something exquisite about playing a cold shower of water over mosquito bitten ankles. Relief from the incessant irritation is fleeting, but welcome nonetheless. Sadly, there is no salve for the regular-as-clockwork power outage at precisely 7pm each weekday evening and its unwelcome consequence.

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’

Don’t tempt Fate, drive a BMW

Monday, 8 November 2010

In days of old, When knights were bold, and paper had not yet been invented...

Amongst the small, but I like to think very select group of bloggers to which I belong, there is a tendency to compile what seem to be called Saturday Blog Rodeos. Started, correct me if I am wrong by Albert Rasch, they are collections of various blogs stumbled across in the ether and worthy of mention. Not only do the recommended blogs generally provide excellent reading, they save a hell of a lot of surfing.

But today is Sunday and, besides, I hate being accused of a lack of imagination so I shall call mine the ‘Sunday Afternoon and I Have Washed All the Lunch Dishes and I Still Have Time To Kill Before the Brazilian Grand Prix Starts Blog Round Up’. Catchy.

I am, I have to confess, very keen on Formula One. As enthusiastic as any portly, middle aged bloke who in his youth just knew he could have thrashed anyone around Monaco and now blows regularly hot and cold about the diminutive multi-billionaire ex-used-car-salesman who has turned the sport into the money spinning business it is, and how dull it has all become.

OK, Tom, you stuffed it off a perfectly decent bit of road and into a ditch. So what's your excuse?

Over the last few years, I admit, it has become a bit tedious. Out of a starting field that usually numbers no more than a shade over twenty cars, seven of the drivers are German, a nationality that stunned us all into stupor with over a decade of dominance, and not one has been caught with his hand up a promo girl’s skirt. It would, however, be unfair to single out the Germans. Apart from a few tantrums, no driver seems to have more character than a windows laptop and if they crash, have as many excuses as Bill Gates.

I had hopes for Mark Webber. Chiselled jaw, uncompromising attitude and a knowledge that this might be his last season. His spat during practice in Brazil held out a promise that he might have told the marketing and image boys to stuff off and snotted someone, Vettel for instance. Webber’s a real bloke. After all, there’s no poofters in Oz, except maybe those two woosie coppers that nicked Hamilton for not only being an Abo at the wheel of a Mercedes (internationally recognised valid grounds for a stop and search) but proving he could handle the car as well, but no, Webber has let us all down. Instead of a haymaker, the only thing he swings is the corporate line. Bet he drinks Fosters.

It was a damn sight more interesting in the old days. Graham Hill, Stirling Moss et al, gentleman sportsmen one and all. They weren’t worried about taking the strain off a young blonde during a post race party by lending a hand to support her bared 36 C cup in front of the press. Boys and girls, they were all good eggs up for a jolly good laugh in those days.

When motor racing drivers were Real Men

(pic from Jeremy Walton's book "Only Here for the Beer - Gerry Marshall." Buy it.)

If you have not been following the series this year, however, you have missed a treat and the closer we get to the last race, the more exciting it becomes. I am not talking about the fact that there are still five drivers technically in the running for World Champion, it is the delicious scandal.

Team mates have alternately vowed, and tried, to kill each other rather than cede position in accordance with team orders that of course, don’t exist, or professed undying loyalty, even when tipping their colleagues into the kitty litter. Alonso may win this year’s championship because Massa infamously let him through at Hockenheim, the poor Brazilian lad now threatened with a jail sentence in his home country if he does the same again today. No-one should be surprised, therefore, that Massa, having to choose between the vindictiveness of Ferrari or a death sentence, failed to make the cut for the last qualifying session and will start from a relatively safe eleventh on the grid and suddenly there’s another Deutscher with bum fluff on his jowls in pole position. Nico Hulkenberg, who is he? Williams, strapped for cash will be delighted, as I am too but will he be yet another Top Gear Stig Robot? He is young; at least once he should be caught halfway down the Chinese Ambassador’s flag pole having scrawled ‘Free Tibet!’ across the flag.

The Prize. There can be only one… The First Ladies of Motor-sport. Inhuman automatons programmed to ruthlessly annihilate their competitors. Actually, that was Microsoft but equally valid in this context.

There’s a contract out on Massa but it was Jenson Button, on his way back to the Hilton Hotel (Hilton? I thought these guys were millionaires and could afford to stay somewhere decent) who was nearly taken out by half a dozen Brazilian machine-gun toting bandits, afterwards having the decency to praise the skill of his driver who, bashing six or seven other cars out of the way, got his ‘principal’ out of the firing line. By the way, all praise to the McLaren boss who insisted his team members should travel in armoured vehicles but, having been accommodated in such a shitty hotel, surely a disgusted young Button could have treated us all to a widely publicised photo of him leaving the hotel in his underpants via a sixth floor balcony and into the swimming pool below without getting a drop of chlorinated water into the open bottle of champagne and two glasses he happened to be holding?

Before the conspiracy theorists fire themselves up, nobbling Button was largely pointless and although Alonso attracts a lot of hatred in the non Latino world, a small portion of it unjustified, no self respecting Brazilian mobster would do anything to help him. After all, Ferrari team orders deprived a fellow countryman of a win, and besides, soon after, the Sauber team were rumbled as well and lost all their laptops. Clearly they didn’t subscribe to the same risk management company as Martin Whitmarsh but this isn’t Ferrari software dropping into McLaren’s hands, this is Sauber’s. Who would want it? All you can say is that this is nothing more than ‘Welcome to Sao Paulo, hi-jack and kidnap capital of the world’, but it still makes delicious reading and a good omen for an exciting race.

Monday, 8th November

Clearly, I was more interested in the race than my Sunday Blog Rodeo and, having rambled on a bit without even getting as far as reviewing a single blog before the warm up lap started, gave it up in favour of the sofa and the TV.

Those of us that are interested will know the outcome and that the five have now become four. A tabloid journalist today described the race as prosaic but he writes for the Daily Mail so his views are largely irrelevant. Perhaps I am being unkind. After washing dishes, anything would be interesting.

Red Bull won their first Manufacturer’s Championship and, mathematically, either of their drivers could beat Alonso to the Driver’s Championship. Hamilton, who could be heard complaining on the team radio throughout the race, is the fourth and final contender. The very ambitious Vettel is now in a perfect position to help his team mate Webber in Abu Dhabi but, during the post race interview in Interlagos, ducked a direct question posed to him about whether he would, or not, by revealing that his parents had always teased him by sometimes failing to answer his direct questions (presumably about where babies come from) so now it was his turn to tease the press. The little tyke.

I have no problems with orders designed to help a team win a manufacturer’s championship, it means big bucks for the team and the drivers are, after all, employees. Any enterprise would take a dim view of an individual who, in his attempt to become Employee of the Year cost his company a big contract. Will Red Bull just let their drivers race or, given that Webber says he is going to retire, is Dietrich Mateschitz as I write, promising Vettel the earth to do ‘the right thing’ and come in second behind his team mate thereby relegating Alonso to third and a title chance lost to Webber? By next Sunday afternoon, we may have an answer.

Whatever happens, for the first time in years, it is all down to the last race and it is bound to be exciting.

There are only a few blogs out there about Angola most of which, I find rather dull. My interpretation of them could of course be coloured by my familiarity with the place so comments by the authors on how awkward things can be here (when they cannot find their favourite and to us obscure staple in Belas shopping), or how awful is ‘funge’ the local staple, I will likely find soporific. I am with the denizens of any country who, faced with visitors with nothing positive to say will invite them to go home and if they take the piss as well, give them a good kicking.

Jeremy Johnson, author of ‘Globe Trotting Geologist’, subtitles his blog with a quote from Mark Twain:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

A kindred spirit then.

Rather than denigrate a country and the people who live there; with a wry, self deprecating humour he describes the pitfalls and difficulties all of us face with a perceptiveness unusual in such a recent arrival.

His latest post, ‘Mother, Your Son is a Filthy Crim’, opens with:

‘A sinking feeling struck me as our car hurtled south on the dual carriage highway out of Luanda. Without hesitation I started rifling through my bag, as my stomach began to turn at the embarrassing prospect of what I had to say. “I’ve forgotten my documents…” ’

Classic! And it is a sinking feeling. No matter how many checkpoints you have managed to negotiate for weeks and months not having to show your documents, the one time without them, you will be stopped, and by the Angolan immigration official equivalent to the head of the Gestapo for whom the sight of pain and suffering is more rewarding than frantic offers of paper portraits of Benjamin Franklin.

I am frequently without legal documents (well, once a year at least) when, having over run my visa yet again, I have to hide while a solution to an issue created by a lethargic immigration visa renewal department is negotiated. I am now very familiar with the cross country route from my house to the golf course so that during such times I can avoid the main road and its checkpoints and get a round in.

Jeremy is a Geologist, not a Geophysicist, by the way. I was never sure of the difference either until I first worked in the oil industry but suffice to say, it can be summed up by this old joke:

The daughter of a staunch Irish Catholic geologist walks into her father's study and announces her intention to marry a Protestant Geophysicist. ‘A GEOPHYSICIST!’ he thunders.

This joke can be modified to reflect any strong prejudice, the stronger the better in fact but if you have read some of my posts, I can hardly be called politically correct so have no wish to add yet more coals to an already raging furnace. At my age I have heard them all anyway and am now quite fond of the notion, ‘a quiet life’, so think it best to avoid provoking a Jihad.

It seems that Jeremy is also acutely aware of just how easy it is to inadvertently commit a faux pas in a foreign country. In another post he states:

‘It seemed fitting to inflate the bagpipes once more, leading to an impromptu attempt at a philistinic highland dance exhibition by myself and two French friends. The inaccurate flailing of arms was soon cut short however when we learnt from an irate elder that a funeral procession had just passed and the village was in mourning…’

A seismic survey in progress. Note simultaneous deployment of the sophisticated 'Clouseau' apparatus (a world famous French Detector) in close proximity to the Shockwave Generator. High Tech and environmentally friendly...except to dogs and beneficiaries of deceased estates who fear the dead may wake.

I rather suspect, with acute powers of deduction, that young Jeremy hails from somewhere north of Hadrian’s Wall so, given that 90% of Scotsmen live abroad having been encouraged to do so by venal English landlords, perhaps he should modify Twain’s quote thus: ‘Explore. Dream. Discover. Survive…’

Before any ginger haired bearded Celt clad in tartan trews ('cos the English banned men in skirts) and wielding an effing great Claymore, or at least adept at the art of Glasgow Snogging takes offence, I really am trying to be as PC as I can. My name is Scottish too and if you are familiar with all the verses of Auld Land Syne, specifically the third, you would know that my name translates as ‘Tom Daisy’, a fact I discovered in obligatory music classes as a young lad. No wonder I ended up on the school boxing team. Those were the good old days of healthy competition, of tormenting the weak, a solid grounding for life; teachers enjoyed thrashing us and we were allowed to bash each other, whether in a ring, on a rugby field or, round the back of the chemistry lab in which case punishment was only meted out if you failed to satisfactorily answer the House Master’s apparently oh so casual enquiry as to who won. Fighting a boy in your own house outside a boxing ring was definitely not done but a lot of scores were settled with flailing studs in a ruck.

Jeremy’s blog is well worth a read and a link to it is under my ‘Interesting Blogs’ list.

I wonder if he does weddings? That'll piss the neighbours off.

My second and for now final review (Marcia is getting irritated with me interpreting as she does, time behind a keyboard on any activity that offers no financial return as a peculiar sort of European indolence) is a truly excellent source of information on the restaurants and other nightlife attractions available to the roving Gastronaut in Luanda.

Naturally, the authors are French. What other nationality would come to Angola and rather than write about piles of rubbish, impossible bureaucracy and poverty (endemic so hardly newsworthy) would, with Gallic shrugs of indifference, instead concentrate on the positive and entirely selfish side of a cosmopolitan society?

They do not pull any punches either and based on the restaurants that I am familiar with and they have reviewed, give a very fair assessment of what the diner can expect.

Perhaps the Globe Trotting Geologist would be intrigued to note that the Shanghai Baia Restaurant on the Ilha serves a somewhat amibigous "deep fride garlic Hong Kong Abderdeen style". That solves the mystery of the missing geophysicists then.

The Portofino Restaurant, owned by the President's wife and described by Luanda Nightlife as, '...completely empty. It is brand new, very neat and very chic...'
I told you they pull no punches. Personally, I prefer a quiet restuarant, the service is usually marginally quicker so I will try it.

I doff my beret to the Luanda Nightlife team. I have been here sixteen years yet still discovered reviews for places I had never heard of, opening to me a whole new vista of entertainment. To distant observers, this place might seem exciting but, believe me, it is all too easy to suffer from a routine induced boredom so this site will do much to reduce the numbers of expatriates returning home with pencils up their noses and their underpants on their heads having successfully convinced a human resources department that a transfer might be in order.

I imagine the Nightlife team use that last point as an excuse to justify their no doubt extraordinary expense claims to an outraged finance manager. Let’s hope their epicurean activities are not curtailed before my own restaurant opens.

Anyway, well worth a look whether you live here or not. They have completed 116 reviews so far not counting the nightclubs. I shall be sending them a separate correspondence explaining my understanding of ‘Quid pro Quo’. They are clearly knowledgeable in matters bacchanalian, so I would rather prefer it if they could be gentle with me in their first review of Floridita.