Something we await eagerly the whole year.
I am not suggesting that Sir Owl of the Wood and I are in any way competitive, that would be unseemly, but we do like to exchange notes, discreetly of course. Doesn’t do to discuss under what circumstances one could reasonably beat one’s servants or exactly how many lumps of coal the crawling infants of one’s tied servants can pick from the slag heap before being deemed excessively generous in public. On the subject of beating staff, sorry to bang on about this but it is a good illustration of the tone of our correspondence; Sir Owl is dyed in the wool imperial, whereas I am metric. So while he beats his staff to within an inch of their lives, I lash mine to within a centimeter. As Sir Owl pointed out, this might prolong the entertainment but requires correspondingly longer before the individual becomes usefully productive again. This is why, and it would be uncharacteristically churlish of me not to admit this, Sir Owl has made rather more of a success of his estate than I have mine. He has his sport, but keeps an eye on the bottom line.
Sir Owl also knows how to throw a party. His Christmas festivities were such a riot the now delightfully traumatised local children realize Santa died in a shower of surface-to-air missiles launched from the inverted cupola of Owl Towers (you could have tracked them on NORAD, apparently) and from now on, Christmas is but an excuse to work even harder down his pits. I was very impressed with the seasonal touch of stapling antlers to the ears of the pit ponies and jingly bells to the children’s harnesses. I also admire his Sang-Froid discovering his Grosser Mercedes in his pool and instead of displaying the hint of irritation I would have been unable to conceal, calmly instructing his stable boy to hitch up a team of drays and tow it out before the bodies soiled the upholstery.
Sir Owl, according to the latest village gossip, is currently a guest of Her Majesty and his undoubtedly not inconsiderable file is being passed to some chappies calling themselves the Crown Prosecution Service.
Nothing so grand at Fort Hippo I fear.
I had a relatively simple repast planned: turtle soup served in its own shell, lobster, grilled sail fish, duck, bush buck etc. but the staff surprised me by telling me that the law, the law no less, meant that they were entitled to not one, but TWO days off for Christmas. Not only did I have to go out and shoot or hook the menu myself, I had to gut and clean it as well. I was hoping the builders would help me lug carcasses but I discovered that they had knocked off at lunchtime leaving a message with Marcia saying they would be back on the fifth of January. They will most definitely be in for a metric thrashing when they get back.
Naturally, come evening I was running late, my heart and lungs complaining about unaccustomed exercise (they are just as militant as my workforce). I decided to switch the generator on. The key span uselessly in the ignition. I wasn’t so much over a barrel as screwed by a useless one. Oh, tsk tsk I said as I kicked everything in sight to smithereens and howled at the moon, the sun long since having descended over the horizon towards Brazil.
‘Calm yourself, light of my life’ said Marcia, her voice oozing honey, ‘we have the portable generator at the site!’
The Daily Telegraph reported recently, real news obviously being a bit thin, that the average married couple has five arguments over Christmas, the first, statistically, being at 10.13 am on Christmas day. I hadn’t even made it past Christmas Eve so thought that this was not the time to remind Marcia that the definition of portable was relative. The damn thing weighs about a 150 kilos and couldn’t be more awkward to carry if the manufacturers had wrapped it in razor wire. Still, unless I knew how to hot wire a generator without toasting its electricals (which I did not), this was our only salvation. Marcia said she would call down to the village for some help.
‘Yes’ I said, ‘I need all the help I can get’. Fortunately sarcasm is often lost in translation so I did not have a steak knife slipped between my ribs to add to my ever increasing misery. Now very weary, I climbed into the truck with Dominic armed with a cold chisel and lump hammer. Yes, the builders had been so keen to bunk off they had forgotten to leave me the keys to the site so I was going to have to smash the lock off. Ding Dong Merrily on High!
Knowing that their absence would amount to more than a week, the builders had placed all their tools, including the generator inside the wooden hut they built out of my wood and use for sleeping accommodation. They had then nailed the door shut with a million three foot long nails. I realize it is distasteful but I have to confess that by the time I had dismantled the hut, I was perspiring. Dominic, on the other hand was rather chilled, I suspect, to realize that beneath the normally placid and benignly pissed countenance of his father lurked an evil maniac all the more frightening because he was on the end of a lump hammer.
Large properties are all well and good until you find yourself with a need to drag something heavy and cumbersome across them. Then suddenly, they are impossibly enormous. In the mood I was in, I would happily have carved up my smooth bowling green had I owned one and had it been the shortest route to the main gate but I was faced with undulating sand and a few man made obstacles (in their unfinished state I could hardly call them houses) in the way.
All the adrenalin having leaked out of me when I took the urgent slash my ruptured kidneys demanded after half an hour’s strenuous demolition, I told Dominic that in my opinion, there was no way we were going to be able to drag the generator to the gate.
‘Au Contraire’, said Dominic. Actually, he told me not to be a wussie and then proceeded to lay out a two lane highway of wooden planks across the sand. While I was suffused with pride at my son’s initiative as well as relief at his failure to notice I wasn’t helping him, I choked down a much needed cigarette and had a swig from the old hip flask. An hour later we had the generator on the road by the side of the truck. Marcia rang.
‘Are you at the site yet?’
‘And have you managed to get in?’
What the f*** did she think we had been doing these last two hours the stupid air headed f****** b****!
‘Good, I’ll send the boys down now to help you move the generator, they have been drinking in the shop waiting for your call. Really, Honey, you shouldn’t keep them waiting so long, after all they are doing us a favour’
Now there is a lot in those two simple sentences that would drive any sane man wild with indignation. Where, when, how was I ever told that Marcia would rustle up villagers but I had to call when ready? I thought the posse would ride out behind me. For goodness’ sake, all I had to do was knock a lock off. Having done that and still no villagers in sight I figured Dominic and I were it. Now I learn that all the time my testes were spurting down my trouser legs and I was having to sniff my own eyeballs back into their sockets as I struggled to lift a monolith, these bastards were drinking in the shop! But what really annoyed me was the cloying 60’s American sitcom, ‘Honey’. Where does she get that from? I’ll give you effing Honey, I thought.
‘Dominic’, I called, ‘we are going to lift this bastard onto the truck!’
Now it was his turn to express doubt. He attends a Portuguese language Angolan school but he is pretty fluent in English.
‘Fuck off, Dad, you couldn’t lift it six inches’.
‘Drop the side of the truck, Son,’ I ordered, ‘this is going to be a One Two Three GO!’
‘A 1 2 3 go?’
‘Yes. A 1 2 3 Go’, I confirmed.
A ‘One Two Three Go’ is an all or nothing. You summon every ounce of energy left and then dredge up the few more you never knew you had and go for it. Having got the generator this far, there was no way I was going to hand the last ‘easy’ bit over to these oiks who would undoubtedly return to the shop for more free beer and commiserate with Marcia over her decrepit husband. I explained this to Dominic.
‘We can do this Daddy!’
That’s the spirit.
It took two attempts, but we did it. On the way home we passed the drunken volunteers. I didn’t stop, I knew they would find their own way home and now I wanted no help other than my son’s to take the generator off the truck in front of Marcia.
And God said, ‘Let there be light!’ And there was. And you could see for miles and bloody miles. With power restored, I stuck into the Christmas spirit until Marcia told Dominic and me to clean ourselves up. Actually, she had a point, we were disgustingly dirty. But I could see she was impressed.
The food was excellent and never ending. Guests drifted in and out as they do here but all rather charitably loaded with presents, whisky for me, dangerous toys for the boys and girlie things for Marcia.
Ah, the Christmas spirit I thought in the early hours of the morning as I slowly slid sideways off my chair.
Then the generator ran out of fuel.