"Get your kit together lads, we're out of here at first light..."
The first of the furniture has been loaded onto the truck and is on its way to the Barra De Kwanza.
It is amazing how big the sitting room appears with only a sofa and my desk (the last thing I shall dismantle as once I do, I shall be offline for a while) cowering in the corner of what now seems a vast expanse of wooden floor.
Christina, Marcia’s niece, pitched up last night to help and has spent the whole day washing and packing all the glasses, crockery, pots and pans that are now without cupboards to store them in.
I have not seen Dominic since before Christmas so I rang him and we made a cunning plan to sneak him away from his mother’s house but were rumbled when, by appalling coincidence, she arrived home just as he was climbing into the truck but Dominic stuck to his guns and he has now just joined us, terribly excited that we are finally, at long last, moving from the shit of the city to the peace of the seaside which, let’s face it, is paradise for a growing boy. As I write, he is ignoring my instruction to salvage his kit from the wreckage strewing rooms denuded of furniture and is instead threading line onto his fishing rod and reel. As a 12 year old, he could not give a shit about sleeping on a rug on the floor so long as he can wet a line in dawn’s early morning light.
I am just pleased that he is with us to share the Great Escape.
I built this house and have lived in it for five, six years. I was amazed at the amount of crud I had, most of which I had lugged around with me for decades. I hadn’t seen some of this stuff for years. Natwest bank statements going back to 1978. What the hell do I need them for? They went straight into the middle of the sitting room floor, now designated as the dump for everything superfluous to our continued existence.
I even came across my old school reports from the sixties and early seventies.
Had I really carted all this shit around with me across three continents and for a similar number of decades?
‘Into the pile with them’ as well, I thought, knowing that for my parents all those years ago they must have made sombre reading.
Dominic has a safe in his room, a place where he can keep everything that is dear to him, which he has just emptied. In it he had collected my medals, skiing and shooting awards and some bits of kit of mine. One of them was my regimental stable belt which has not been adjusted since the day I left the Army 22 years ago.
‘Put it on!’ said Dominic.
I could not believe I had been that skinny. There was a good six inches of exposed belly between either extreme of the buckle ends and to get them to successfully unite would require a full seven inches of extra slack. I did a quick mental calculation. If I was a 32 waist in the Army, that makes me knocking on a 40 now. Blimey, dare I invest in a set of scales?
But what would be the point? When I get down to the Barra de kwanza I am going to have to get off my sorry (fat) arse and do some, gulp, physical work. For so long, the furthest I have walked is the distance I could cover in the twenty minutes it takes for a round trip to the Third Street Canteen and the heaviest weight I have lifted (apart from my body out of its bed) has been the carrier bag containing the whisky and fags I collected at the canteen.
I don’t suppose I will be allowed to interfere too much with Julian’s building crew, except perhaps at the level of intellectual appraisal but there is so much else to be done before we can open so I am sure that I shall be spending my waking hours on my feet rather than slumped behind a desk.
For a start, I want to build some raised beds with supports for a shade netting cover so that I can plant all the herbs I will need for the restaurant kitchen. Then I have about an acre of ground to weed and try to landscape which will form the garden in front of the cottages and get some saplings planted (Eucalyptus, Papaya etc.) and the quicker I get this done the better, as the rainy season approaches and the extra water will give them the start they need to get through the subsequent dry season. The easiest, and quickest way, to do this would be to hire a bulldozer to level and scrape the land clean but there are two reasons I shan’t do this and shall do it the hard way instead. Firstly, there are some nice palm saplings which, with proper care and extra water from the river would soon grow to impressive size and secondly, the real reason, I can’t afford to lash out on heavy plant equipment (a bulldozer is $1,000 per day plus transport to and from site). Better I invest in half a dozen wheelbarrows, a dozen spades and an equal number of local villagers and do it the African way, the original Black and Decker power tools. I am not taking the piss, they hand built the pyramids after all so I am sure they can redistribute a few tonnes of soil leaving less of a carbon footprint than a D6 burning a couple of drums of diesel a day and avoid damage to the young palm trees in the process. Oh alright, AND its cheaper. Seriously, though, I would rather put the money into the local economy than stuff the pockets of a contractor from the city. I am just going to have to overlook the fact that amongst them will be at least one bastard who knows who nicked my generator.
Speaking of generators, thinking that I had a brand new one at my disposal, I was going to leave the 25Kva gennie I have at home to the new owners of the house. Now I need it and am grateful I never mentioned this bit of altruism to the purchaser so tomorrow morning, I will have it craned out and taken down to the Barra. The poor thing. After a five year campaign it must have thought it was due at least a bit of leave if not retirement but now, having fought bravely on this front; wounded, weakened and exhausted, this dear old veteran of the front line has received its orders to redeploy and shore up another front. As its local commanding officer, I need to mention it in dispatches to General Cummins Power back in the States recommending it for the Purple Heart and the Congressional Medal of Honour. Five years ago there was no town power here so it ran more or less constantly, only sleeping when we did. The town power arrived and the guys connecting us to the grid did something daft and all the electrics of the gennie caught fire. It had fallen bravely on the field but clung on to life. Crudely rewired, it ran again but now without the control units and sensors which would automatically shut it down if the blood pressure that was its circulating oil fell to dangerous levels or if it overheated. Inevitably, its fan belt failed yet it struggled gamely on all night until I came to switch it off and found it shrouded in acrid smoke. I could only see it through the mist because its block was glowing. It was so hot I had to use a stick to push the fuel valve closed to stop it. That’s it, I thought, now it is dead.
The next day I gave it the once over. Obviously, there was no water in it whatsoever, it had boiled itself dry. The oil was like treacle. I was convinced it would be seized solid. So before rushing out to buy a new fanbelt, I gave it a touch on the starter. It not only turned over, it started! I changed the oil and filters, fitted a new fanbelt, filled it with water and it reported for duty again. Since then, the fanbelt failed on two further occasions, it burst a bottom hose and once, all its oil mysteriously disappeared and on each occasion it ran for hours without these fluids essential to life. I reckon this machine has done over 20,000 abusive hours and the most I have ever done is change oil and filters and the odd fanbelt. In the same period my neighbour, Colonel Henriques, has burned through the same number of generators as mine has fanbelts. Cummins diesel engines are the very best in the world. Win your spurs in Africa and you have something to relate to the grandchildren. Dodgy filters, low grade oil and diesel contaminated with water and sand and yet they still run. Cummins diesel engines are like Navy Seals. You can tear their arms off and they will still try to do their duty.
Anyway, this particular poor bastard, with its collapsed engine mounts, broken exhaust and fallen off canopy doors will get an oil and filter change and go straight back into action rather than enjoy the lengthy refurbishment it was due and has earned. It will be doing its duty in support of Operation Flordita. In a way that is rather fitting because its General Officer Commanding also has knackered pipework; a dodgy heart and furred up arteries and his engine mounts collapsed ages ago. So together, we will soldier on hopefully to campaign success and an honourable retirement.
I am pleased to report that my Second-in-Command, Marcia, who only the day before yesterday was cruelly crushed under the wheels of rapidly advancing enemy mechanised infantry, has waived her right to sick leave and reported back for duty.
This is our last night holding Fort Gowans and we will be withdrawing in contact tomorrow to take up new defensive positions on the River Kwanza.
Once we have dug in, we will re-establish communications.
A luta continua, vitória é certa!!!