Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Great Escape

OK, Alex, it's safe to come out now...

Only a few days left before we have to be out of the house. We are really looking forward to the move and what will be a radical change in lifestyle. I am itching to get stuck into a project again. Since the heart attack I suppose I needed to lay off for a while but I have been altogether far to indolent as evidenced by my waistline. When my rather delicious ex secretarial staff came to see me to ask if they could come and work for me again they soured the interview with their opening remark which was, 'My God, Sr. Tom, you’re FAT!’

The crew are working hard down at the Barra de Kwanza but even with the best will in the world, they will never have even just one of the six cottages we are building ready in time. So we will be moving into the restaurant kitchen for the time being. Where we once had 340 square metres of house space and a 1200 square metre garden we will soon have 24 square metres of living space and a 20,000 square metre garden (building site, rubbish tip). Still, at least we will have a river to wash in, the sea to swim in, and a pot to… I think you get the picture. A rustic life awaits.

The truck is finally back on the road after that lunatic effing driver of Marcia’s, ‘Uncle’ bastard Jorge trashed it last year. It cost me a lot to repair but now everything that could wear out or be broken has been replaced with all new parts. We fitted brand new tyres all round today and Marcia went off to the Lebanese warehouses to start buying stock for her shop which will reopen as soon as we get down there. Although the cost of the repair was a bit of a kick in the teeth financially, I console myself that since it was the catalyst that finally made Marcia recognise that bastard shit twat slimy cheating scumbag lying wazzock git Jorge for what he was and allow me to sack him, it was a price worth paying. In addition, I have effectively a brand new truck and, as has just been confirmed, another really brand new truck which the dealer has finally managed to licence two infuriating weeks behind schedule is ready so I can pick up in the morning. I will need both of them if I am to move out that quick. Tonight is my last normal night in this house as tomorrow we start moving the furniture.

Naturally in the World of Hippo, not everything has gone smoothly. I had a brand new 45Kva generator for which I also ordered a year’s worth of maintenance spares imported from Dubai and then had delivered down to the Barro de Kwanza so that the building crew could hook it up and we would all have power. I took the team down there to get them started and, shock, bastard horror, some thieving fuck has knicked it. The guard Marcia paid to stay on site and keep an eye on things has disappeared and is not answering his mobile so let’s wait and see what the incredibly resourceful and dedicated Angolan Criminal Investigation Services make of that. No doubt they will conclude, in a well reasoned and articulated half page report that it was swept out to sea by the tide as Mermaids, now that they have been immortalised on children’s channels and in films like Pirates of the Caribbean, need power for their TV sets. Criminal Investigation have an enviable case clear up rate but all their reports start with ‘Era uma vez’, which translates as ‘Once upon a time’…

So if there is anyone out there who wants a year’s worth of spares for their Cummins Genset, give me a call as I am going to have to go Chinese rather than have the very best diesel power in the world (and you have no idea how hard it is for me to admit that the Americans are world leaders at least in one respect).

I have had at least one person comment on my blog (anonymously) that in their opinion, I am not a particularly nice person. At first I though it was a very rare communication from my Mother but then I thought perhaps it may be due to the bizarre order I record the misfortunes that occasionally afflict the Hippo household. I can assure you that the order in which I relate the events of my life has no bearing whatsoever on their relative import.

I say this because the casual reader may wonder why I bleat about a stolen generator before I mention, probably too casually for some, that Marcia was hit by a speeding motorcycle in the street yesterday and was carted unconscious off to hospital. In this particular instance, therefore, it is important for the reader to understand that the loss of the generator had strained my temper somewhat, and especially the relationship I enjoy with the thieving bastards with whom, as a guest, I share a country. I offer an open and friendly household, a friendliness reciprocated by those enjoying my largesse but I can't help wondering which of them are merely exploiting the opportunity to scope anything worth nicking. After all, the two burglaries that cleared out my house were both executed by neighbours. Now before I even get to the Barra de Kwanza, my soon to be new neighbours are up to the same tricks. It is a sleepy fishing village with only one way in and out. Noone could convince me that it was possible to infiltrate and pass all the way through the village with heavy lifting equipment, load up my generator and exfiltrate themselves without some bastard noticing.

The driver rang me. I have been in Portuguese speaking countries twenty years now but, let me remind you, it is kids that pick up languages in the crèche with the ease they do transmissible diseases, not old bastards like me so my Portuguese is, as they say, vulgar (both in its Latin and in its street sense). So when I get a phone call from a very panicky driver, first day on the job, babbling on to me in Bairro patois at the speed of a runaway machine gun, inevitably, I will only pick up a few key words. In this case: Marcia, Presidential Guard, Motorcycle, Hit. It was the last word that made all the difference to my comprehension of, and the conclusion I drew from this garbled message.

My new driver said, ‘Pancar’ which means to hit or bash, rather than ‘Atropelada’, which means ‘to be run over’.

Further reinforcing the perception among some that I am more concerned about material things than perhaps the well being of my wife, naturally I assumed that this message read, ‘Marcia and I hit a motorcycle in your newly repaired truck and she is being held by the Presidential Guard Military Police’. By implication, my truck had also been seized and now I was liable for an outrageous compensation claim.

I tried to ring Marcia but her phone was switched off. Of course, the police always nick all your kit when they arrest you so obviously she was not going to be able to pick up my call. Bastards.

I dived into my secret drawer and realised that I needed to find a new hiding place as Marcia had evidently already been there but there was still enough left to at least stave off Marcia’s instant transport to some horrible location and provide an incentive instead to open reasonable negotiations. I just hoped that the motorcyclist was still alive otherwise things could get really expensive. Erm, as well as hoping that the fellow human being who had irresponsibly driven his vehicle under the wheels of my truck would be able to return, relatively unscathed to the bosom of his family and continue to attend church every Sunday.

I dumped Alex off with a neighbour (I may be insensitive but I know enough that it could be a little traumatic for a three year old to see his mother shackled to the bars of her cell), and sprinted down the road towards the gates of the Presidential Guard Barracks where not only did I recognise one of the guards on duty, thankfully he recognised me.

‘Where’s Marcia?’ I said.

‘They’ve taken her away already’

‘You’re fucking joking! You cock sucking fucking bastards! How could you take her away ALREADY?’

The Guard Commander came over and there was a hurried interrogation of the guard.

‘We had to take Donna Marcia…’

You fucking shite bastards’, I interrupted, ‘I’ll tell you this, when I get back I will personally cut your fucking balls off’

I needed to get hold of Colonel Henriques, Commander of the Presidential Guard real quick but as I stabbed at the phone I got the ‘Tough shit you impecunious bastard, you have no credit left’ message from the telephone company so I sprinted down the road to the Muslim shop. They are always open and sell Unitel credit. As a heavy smoker, I am no longer used to sprinting so by now I was shuffling sort of quickly while hawking up the most enormous docker’s oysters and spitting them into the sand. I burst in and dived to the front of the queue shouting ‘Bon Jour’ (they are from Mali) and demanded Unitel credit, like now. Malians are very gentle, polite people so, shocked as he was by my behaviour, with enormous sangue froid (the English may have adopted such a manner but the French invented it and evidently exported it), he apologised to his other customers while serving me first. I did not even leave the shop instead leaning on one of the chest freezers to scrape a recharge card. I was just entering the number when I realised that Jaime, the new driver, was standing next to me.

‘What the fuck are you doing here!’

‘I saw you coming into the shop’

‘No, you dozy shit, I mean, what are you doing here?’

I honestly, absolutely hate it when people, having been asked a perfectly simple question, twice in this case, just stare at me stupidly.

The Malian and his customers were looking at me nervously so I dragged Jaime outside. Let’s do this slowly and diplomatically, I thought.

‘Ok you little shit, first day on the job you run a motorcyclist over and now you are wandering about free while my wife is in jail? Where’s the fucking truck?’

‘It’s parked up over there’

‘Right, let’s take a look at it’

I stormed off and he followed me.

Now a lot of you will once again be worried about my priorities but, if I was to successfully bust Marcia out of jail, I needed to get the story right. If half the motorcyclist’s brains were embedded in the middle of the radiator, I could hardly claim no collision occurred. If, on the other hand, there wasn’t a mark on the vehicle then it would be a case of ‘He said’, ‘She said’ and at the right moment I could take the investigating officer aside, remind him that the Africa Cup of Nations was on (and Angola were playing that evening), dash a couple of hundred dollars and we could all go home and watch football.

There wasn’t a mark on the vehicle.

‘So what happened?’ I asked.

‘Well this motorcycle came out of nowhere…’

‘Don’t give me that shit, you were driving too fast’

‘No Sr Thomas, I wasn’t driving’

‘You let Donna Marcia drive the truck, are you fucking mad? What the hell do you think I am paying you for you cock sucking bastard?’

Jaime is a big bloke so I hunted around for something heavy and potentially painful to give me an advantage.

‘She was standing over there’, he said and pointed to the other side of the road.


‘I was getting the new tyres fitted there,’ he indicated the street side African equivalent of ‘Tyres are Us’, which I acknowledged and then he went on, pointing a little further down the road, ‘and Marcia was standing there when the motorcycle hit her,’

I can’t describe all the emotion I felt at that moment and I was obviously taking a bit of time dealing with it so Jaime carried on.

‘I rang you then I tried to find you at your house but you were gone so I decided that I would go back to the hospital but then I saw you here in the street’

‘Is she OK?’

Jaime looked down at the ground so I pushed his head up and looked straight into his face. ‘Is she OK?’

‘Sr. Thomas, she was desmiada (unconscious), they loaded her on the back of a pick up and took her to hospital. I have been looking for you.’

I had just gone from violently aggressive to a desire to vomit. I would be the first to admit that Marcia can be an absolute pain in the arse but I love her as much as I do my sons. I have seen plenty of people dragged off the roadside, their blood and guts mixed with roadside dirt and thrown in to the back of a pick up and, since the good Samaritans can hardly be expected to stump up the cash the private clinics here demand before taking in a patient (no such thing as a Hippocratic oath here), they will take them to the nearest state hospital, places that import live bodies and export dead ones.

‘Where is she?’

‘They took her to the Military Hospital’

The Military Hospital is the best. And the nearest. But normally you have to be dressed in a uniform to get in there.

As Jaime drove me there it all became clear.

Having been to the bank, Marcia had bought the first load of kit she needed to restock the shop and on the way back they had stopped off at Tyres are Us to reboot the truck. Marcia was standing by the side of the road when a member of the Presidential Guard, on the sandy strips that are our roads, lost control of his motorcycle and knocked Marcia down. Since this had occurred only two hundred metres from the gates of the barracks, the military machine took over and whipped Marcia straight into their well equipped hospital.

The Guard Commander I had just threatened to emasculate waved us straight through the gates.

At the hospital I met the doctor. I think he was Russian. He said that the young lady had regained consciousness, had no broken bones but was obviously concussed as she couldn’t even remember her own name and that she had ripped out her drip. That’s my wife, I said.

I used to box and often, the morning after a bout I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, ‘Christ, why do I do this?’ Marcia looked like she’d gone the whole fifteen rounds with Mike Tyson.

She could not remember a thing about the accident, not even her own name but she sure as hell recognised me.

‘What took you so long? Where is Alex? I want to go home. NOW’

It looked as though half a football was exploding out the side if her head.

She needs a cat scan. She should be under observation in intensive care. The doctor suggested I should take her home.

So Jaime and I took her home. As we went through the camp gates I didn’t see the guard commander but the poor lad I had dumped all over was there and stopped us before opening the barrier.

‘Is your wife OK?’ he asked. I looked at this boy, his skinny bony frame supporting a uniform at least two sizes too large, impossibly big doe like eyes in his shaven head exhibiting no offence, just concern.

‘She’ll be OK and, thanks’.

Jaime parked the truck in the yard. Instead of going straight into the house and lying down, Marcia told us to empty the truck into the dispensa (pantry). So we unloaded $2,500 worth of booze and fizzy drinks out of the truck and into the pantry while Marcia, swollen face, headache and all, stalked off to the neighbour to get Alex.

The neighbours all poured round, concerned as hell. In no time, it was all pretty convivial, Marcia’s memory returning with each retelling of her ordeal. Until someone said, ‘Where’s Alex?’

‘He’s in the pantry’, said Joao, a regular.

I turned the burners under the pans in which I was rustling up supper down to minimum and opened the door to the pantry. The floor was covered with what looked like coffee.

‘Alex?’ I called out. I couldn’t see him. I went through to the laundry and checked the back door. It was locked from the inside which meant he wasn’t outside. He is only three year’s old but he is already an escapologist.

Back in the pantry I discovered my filleting knife on top of a leaking stack of canned drinks.

He may have the qualities recorded and admired in the film, ‘The Great Escape’ but clearly he was hopelessly inaccurate with a knife. I guessed that the lure of all that fizzy pop was too much for him to resist. Even I have difficulty sometimes tearing off the shrink wrap packaging enclosing many bulk products, clearly designed as they are to frustrate and destroy both patience and finger nails so Alex, realising he had no chance with his bare hands, but knowing where my chef’s knives were, had clearly made and executed a cunning plan. Even more cunning because he recognised that all the Stalag Luft III guards and top brass were distracted.

Armed with my knife, he took a stab at the plastic, and the can behind it erupted. He must have given it a few more equally unsuccessful goes before deciding that it was time to get the hell out. Perhaps he heard the person who inadvertently rumbled him by calling out, ‘Where’s Alex?’ Anyway, my first cursory inspection of the pantry and laundry had not turned him up so I turned my attention to extracting the leaking cans and clearing up the mess. Marcia, when she saw her profit bleeding across the floor went nuts and declared her intention to beat the little sod. I busied myself with mopping and hoped that where ever the ‘little sod’ had hidden himself, it was goon proof.

Predictably, Marcia calmed down. It was only half a dozen or so cans out of many hundreds and I had managed to salvage a lot into a jug so we all had something to drink with the supper I served. With everyone tucking in, Joao and I snuck off to find Alex’s priest hole.

When I designed this house I made a few fundamental mistakes. One of them was that with the front loading washing machine positioned where it was intended, the back door would impact it. So we had to move the washing machine six inches further along the wall. It was in this impossibly small gap that Alex had concealed himself. I have never laid a hand on either of my sons but Alex has spent enough time round the neighbour’s houses to know what could happen to his peers if they stepped out of line so he was taking no chances. I do not like him sucking sickly sweet lollipops or drinking crap out of a can but faced with a room stacked high with everything banned to him, I cannot blame his subterfuge.

‘Come on, son’, I said, ‘go and eat your supper, you have about a gallon of coca cola to drink as well’.

‘I’m sowwy Daddy’

‘Son, I am pleased to hear that. Saying Sorry is bloody hard and tomorrow yer Daddy will be doing a lot of it’.


  1. I hope after all that, that the rest of the move will go smoothly!


  2. We are thinking good thoughts for Marcia and you. Take care, and God bless.

  3. Let's be brutally honest here; Marcia will heal, but that generator isn't going to come walking back into your life with a hangover and a gambling debt, only to apologise for killing the guard.

    No, my friend, the missus might have amnesia, a limp and flashbacks that cause her to scream out in terror in the night, but I am sad to report that your generator, he dead!

  4. Finally, a pragmatist who looks at it the same way I do.

    I mean,I cooked her dinner last night and got one of the neighbours round this morning to help her start loading the furniture into the truck (with a damaged arm I knew she would never get the larger furniture into the back of the truck by herself).

  5. Josh! You are alive, Gracias a Deus.

    C'mon, start posting again.

    Megan, in Africa, if it can go wrong, it will.

    After a good kip, Marcia is out and about, thank goodness, she just can't resist being in charge.

    Thanks for your kind regards.

    Don't forget that thanks to the courage you lot, however inadvertently gave me, I have sold up and will go green in the bush. SBW, Josh, The Bumbling Bushman, Rasch et al will be wiping moist tears of emotion from their cheeks.

  6. bloody hell!

    you know Tom... I just LOVE yOUR BLOG X

  7. You know John, that's jolly decent of you to say so and you know I am quite fond of yours too.

    Just wait until I get back on line down at the Barra de Kwanza. I am sure I shall have lots to curse about...

  8. Best wishes to Marcia - sounds like she'll be right as rain.

    The generator is a tricky one: your new neighbours know who has it, if you do nothing you'll be robbed again, if you hire guards and beat it out of them you'll be seen as the bad guy by some commentators on your blog, but you'll have your generator back.

    Better to be seen as a nice guy who does bad things at the behest of his angry wife, than a nice guy who is an endless source of free stuff.

    Good luck


Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.