The sea is misbehaving itself again. Apparently it is something to do with an Equinox but with all the shortages evidenced by the largely empty shop shelves we endure here I am not really surprised that I have not heard of the latest Chrysler MPV or personal hygiene product, especially as I do not drive anymore and wash in a river. My neighbour, who being a white South African has absolutely no comprehension of irony tried to correct my vision of the cause. ‘It’ll get worse over the next few days with the tide peaking at an unusual two metres over mean on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and that means 40 cms over the top!’ he said with inexcusable earnestness. What we’ve had so far then were just the free aperitifs poured out by cost conscious diplomats at the Embassy Cocktail party but now we were in for the full three day pub crawl hosted with the largesse only the biggest multi-national of all, World Oceans Inc., could throw.
But I have jumped ahead a bit so let’s wind back time say, ooh, ten minutes?
I was sitting in the Jango reading my book. A lot of people read books to take their minds off the reality that is theirs which, according to my father were generally desperate but then he was a soldier all his life and read a lot of Kipling and retired from the Army just in time for Heath’s government, the four day working week, power cuts, rocketing petrol prices and a job with the gas board. In Business they say timing is everything. By that standard my father was a lousy businessman but, with the impeccable timing that had eluded him throughout his life, he had the decency to die in his garage six months before retirement so my Mother cashed in the full military, company death in service and widow’s pensions. Inland Revenue call that unearned income, so have most of that away but still, when he keeled over, it was the thought that counted.
I was reading because I hadn’t anything else to do and, apart from my fractious relationship with Marcia, hadn’t a care in the world. Even the fact that the sea was swilling around my ankles didn’t bother me. Sand, under an African sun gets bloody hot so a cool saline footbath was very welcome especially since I have only just been able to start breathing properly and can once again carry a full a pot of tea in my right hand.
The Soba and his crew splashed by on their way to their fishing boat and the Soba called out, ‘What are those guys doing?’ and pointed behind me.
I looked over my shoulder and saw what looked like a chain gang working along my fence. I hadn’t a clue what they were doing. I could only see the top halves of them anyway but they were clearly doing something and putting a lot of energy into it. And then a front loader with back hoe arrived.
In UK, or anywhere else civilised for that matter, interaction between neighbours is generally quite formal and brief. A nod and a wave over a communal boundary fence, a bit of jealousy over the new Mercedes or instructing lawyers about a particularly horrible extension. In Angola, it can all get terribly interesting so if you do decide to get nosey, be prepared for the long haul. So I pocketed my fags, a spare lighter (these Chinese made ones always fuck up when you are a mile away from a replacement and amongst a group of non smokers); into my back pocket went what in America they call a ‘Fifth’ of whisky and what I call a ‘nip’, and into my hand went a cold beer out of the fridge as I was faced with an indecently long walk of over two hundred yards to get to those now industriously engaged on my boundary.
I think I mentioned that the Atlantic Ocean is busy trying to eat that bit of Africa I bought until it can unite with the Indian Ocean and that I had decided it was pointless fighting nature so if it wanted to swamp over my land creating a lake and a river, so what? I would let the flowing water decide on the route back to the river it was most comfortable with and then construct a garden with a free water feature around it. You can’t buy one of those in B&Q and the modern version of Inigo Jones is well out of my reach.
Evidently, my neighbour was less sanguine. A fully equipped basic Cabana runs to about $60,000 US here and he had lost 15 of them (I only lost one and five halves, the five half built ones and the nearly complete one with the thatch that was to be our new home). Me? OK, I crapped myself when it happened and scared the life out of my brother in Germany when I stood there up to my arse in the relentless onslaught of Atlantic waves and phoned him saying I and everything I owned was going under, literally. You buy a beachside plot in a place like Angola, or anywhere really, and you are playing baccarat at a high table where Nature has the shoe and she can load the cards in any order. What did I drop? About a hundred grand? My neighbour dropped nearly a million and that is not including lost revenue (apart from scoring three fishing rods and reels from my clients on Saturday, I have had no revenue). Now that’s a serious kick in the nuts for anyone who can’t spread the misery across a load of shareholders and Lloyd’s names and still claim his bonus. The thing is, though, the sea is relentless so I could understand my neighbour’s agitation when I strolled up barefoot and shirtlless clutching an ice cold tinny.
I have never seen Rico do anything that might cause him to break out in a sweat so I was mildly interested when I realised that under a hot sun he was supervising a load of guys swinging enschadas and digging a ditch round his property leading straight onto mine. Naturally, the sea was keen to exploit such industriousness and the resultant weakness to soil structure and I realised why I had enjoyed both a cup of tea and a foot bath at the same time. Some people who know me, or think they do, always assume I am a pessimist and stop there in their analysis. They are the ones who are shallow. Of course I get upset occasionally. Of course I rail at the Gods of Misfortune that have plagued me all my life. Other people think I tend to violence too easily, a proclivity to throwing punches rather than resorting to reasoned discourse. If something goes badly wrong, it is human nature to be disappointed and if the man responsible happens to be in front of you then a quick smack on the jaw can be a tremendously rewarding, if only fleeting thrill but grounds for further grief. If one faces a disaster, then thoughts of murder, suicide and getting smashed out of one’s head pervade. It is either that, or suffer on in silence and take it.
‘Rico’, I said, ‘are you flooding my property?’
‘Oh, It’s you’ he said. ‘I have to do something. I’m losing everything.’
Now this situation was a real disaster for both of us but only relatively speaking. If I lose a 100k he would have to lose a million to hurt as much I guess but we were united and on common, if now unstable ground in that both of us faced ruin. Even though I had tried hard to like the guy and he had rejected every such consideration, right now I felt was a good time to bury the hatchet and co-operate.
‘Rico, we can engineer our way out of this. I am happy to lose a bit of my land and using your back hoe we can dig drainage that would take the stress off your land and release it through mine. I would end up with a lake but that would be a stable hydraulic sump to absorb the stresses between sea and river. All we have to do is get through the next few days and then we can do the civils to stabilise the drainage infrastructure afterwards’
‘You are not using my digger. I will just end the drain here’, he indicated the boundary to my property, ‘and what you do after that is your problem’.
Like I said, a hard to like guy.
The lads who were digging muttered about digging drains onto a neighbour’s property being illegal. A lot of them were local and bought beer and groceries in my shop. I could see they were uncomfortable and having seen me break my hand on an official’s nose I guess they were wondering what I would do to a white man.
‘Ah well,’ I said, ‘Just don’t bust my fence’
If someone nicks your wallet, spends all the cash and has sold the credit cards you have already cancelled and you catch him later, that’s the guy you punch. If someone trashes your car and you know he is never going to be able to compensate you so you have to swallow the hit, that’s the guy you punch. If you have some Angolan official who is so low down the pecking order and is crude enough to try and sting you in front of witnesses, that is the guy you punch. On the other hand, a guy that breaks the law in front of witnesses very sympathetic to you the results of which will cause some very obvious damage to your property, that is the guy you do not punch. That is the guy you are real nice to while searching for the before photos on the laptop and taking the after photos which will be duly presented to the relevant authorities deciding the level of compensation.
Marcia was all for rabble rousing, the village turning up with burning brands but I hope she has seen it my way now.
There are times when swift action is appropriate. There are others, usually when it is a real disaster, that merit calm contemplation.
I poured myself a scotch and went back to my book.
By the way, it is called No Angel by Tom Bower, the secret life of Bernie Ecclestone.
A very good read. Especially if you need any hints about fucking someone over.