I have been in Angola for nearly twenty years. By now you would have thought I had got the hang of local culture and had eased my way down through the gears so that the overdrive of the first chunk of my life remained a distant memory as I changed down a few gears and cruised through the rest of it but, as regular readers know, I still bloody lose it sometimes.
This all came in to focus this afternoon when I drew out the various plans and designs I need to keep the municipal licensing authority aware of what we are up to. They can see the mountain of timber slowly being chewed into sawdust by a bunch of craftsmen. Marcia had quite reasonably pointed out that me having it all in my head hardly made it a project easy for an outsider, basically anyone else, to visualise and appreciate so I thought, fair enough, I’ll painstakingly draw and print the whole bastard thing out on sheets of A4 paper and stick them all together and put it up on the spare wall in the cubicle that will be our kitchen but we are currently using as a bedroom, so they can all come in to the ‘project office’ and rubber neck it.
I don’t know if any of you have tried to do this using a laptop with a processing power barely able to send and receive an email coupled to an HP printer that insists on throwing up a ‘Wizard’ to help you but all it succeeds in doing is screw up your scale. Give me Macintosh every time. Sadly, my MacBook Pro is in Doc in Germany and my big Epson printer died ages ago so I slogged on with Marcia’s handbag laptop and the HP (half pissed) printer.
As the sheets crawled with glacial velocity out of the high speed HP printer it occurred to me, how would I stick them all together on the wall? Sellotape wouldn’t work; we are talking dusty bare cement render here. I needed something else. I nipped down to the shop. Wood glue? Hardly. Superglue? That wouldn’t work either, I’d end up gluing myself to the wall, have to tear myself off and spend the rest of my days with half an unfinished kitchen clinging to my fingertips. Chewing gum? I would vomit before I had masticated enough of that shit and my cement laden fingers would leave sticky prints all over the designs. And then my eyes lit upon the perfect product. Colgate Toothpaste. Viscous enough to stick to cement but not moist enough to leak through and cause the ink on the designs to run and giving, I suppose, a fresh smell for anyone enamoured enough with my artwork to want to kiss it.
Flushed with my ring of confidence, I started trimming the prints, carefully aligning them and pasting the wall and had all but finished when Marcia came in. She was impressed. Even she had only seen bits of what was in my head, never the whole lot (not very much, really) laid out so neatly. She ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ as she stared at my vision of our future in 1:250 scale. I was so chuffed I decided to get technical, explaining to her that you could take a ruler to the design and with simple mathematics calculate the size of and distance between any building. You could calculate the size of the swimming pool, the width of the roads, the lengths of pathways, the amount of perimeter fencing required.
Now, as an adhesive, toothpaste has its drawbacks. For one, it takes its time drying. In the Army, it worked fine when, for a prank, we would squeeze half a tube into the door lock of a colleague absent on leave knowing that when he dragged himself back to the mess some two or three weeks later and with only minutes to go after an all night drive to rejoin his unit before morning parade, he discovered a cemented key hole on a door the other side of which he knew was his smartly pressed uniform.
As a single officer I always thought that if any manufacturing company really wanted to test a product of theirs to destruction in as short a time as possible, then they should give it to a serviceman, of any rank. Years later, as a father, I realised the record of Her Majesty’s finest was easily smashed by the average three year old. Then I came to Angola.
My big generator is stuffed because the trucking company that brought it here, to replace the one that had been stolen, managed to drop it off the side of a truck knackering the engine mounts so I am running on a small petrol generator. These things, especially when loaded right to the limit, do use a bit of oil so it is always wise to check the levels every morning and I explained all this to one of my employees every day for a week, letting him watch me as I went through the pre start checks. This morning I caught him with the small generator on its side pouring oil into it down the oil filler hole.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Every two or three days I have to top it up with oil so I am really going to fill it this time and turning it this way up means it doesn’t keep running out of the filler plug’. Oil dribbling out of the filler hole of a normally orientated generator, or engine of any kind, is an indication to a normal, sane human being that the sump is full.
‘How much have you put in so far?’
‘Nearly four litres but I think I now know why it uses so much oil’
‘Oh?’ I said reaching for the nearest lethal weapon.
‘It keeps running out of here’, he pointed to the carburettor, the evidently oil soaked air filter and the big pool of oil on my otherwise pristine concrete pathway.
This was brand new 3.9 Kva Honda generator number two in only six weeks but, mindful of Marcia’s advice against murdering more than one employee a week, I told him to put the bloody thing back on its feet and clean the mess up. Unless anyone else ballses up seriously, his horrible death will give me something to look forward to next week.
I had spent the whole day on this patchwork technical drawing and I was chuffed that Marcia obviously appreciated it. I was pleased when I saw her eyes light up, finally able to see a big, comprehensible map of the new site. Then she stuck her finger on the top right hand corner, leant on it and drew it down to the bottom left and started to say, ‘so this covers two hectares?’ but then stopped as 20 odd sheets of painstakingly trimmed and toothpasted A4 sheets curled up under her hand and crumpled off the wall into minty fresh bog roll.
‘For Christ’s sake Marcia,’ I exclaimed, ‘when will you bloody Angolans learn to stop looking with your bastard fingers all the time?’
She gave me a cool, but dark look. I guess it was a dark look, it’s hard to tell. She is as black as the ace of spades, after all.
‘No Darling,’ she replied, and far too flaming calm for my liking, ‘not bloody Angolans… bloody Marcia’.
Oops. Guess that’s me told then. I’ll nip off and feed the dogs. I might be some time.