Saturday, 28 April 2012

Stinky Fish and the need to slot Pigs

I live in a small breeze block shack with an unlined wriggly tin roof and it gets bloody hot during the day so I usually leave the door wide open when I am in there reading or typing. I was sort of getting myself psyched up for an hour or two of keyboard bashing by sucking on a cold Cuca and choking down a stump when the doorway was darkened by this bloke. Not at all unusual. When you run a trading post in Africa and there is no one in it, they will come knocking on your door, even if the lights are off and it is two in the morning. What was unusual was that this man was white, clearly not a vagabond and seemed a little uncertain, especially when the bloke that returned his gaze was also white and clearly an unshaven, shirtless vagrant.

‘Erm, I’m sorry’, he stammered, ‘I was told that there was a cantina here?’  Marcia hates her emporium being called a 'Cantina' but she'll have the African equivalent of Harrod's pretty soon.

‘You found it, buddy, what can I get you?’ There was something about this lad. He was around thirty but anyone young enough to be my son is still a kid. As soon as he opened his mouth I reckoned I knew him. I had no idea from where but his voice set something off in the sodden recesses of my mind. Then there was his build, the confident way he carried himself and the sharp, angular features of his face. What really got me though was his bemused, almost apologetic smile and the eyes which stared straight at me, not scurrying rat like from corner to corner of his eye sockets. It may have been a bit of a surprise for him to discover a white man in a shack literally at the end of the road but his demeanour betrayed none of it.

I realised I was grinning like an idiot as I hauled the shop keys off my desk and guided him along the path so I said, ‘Look, I am in a really good mood because my son has just been accepted into a decent school in England’. This was true. I had only just read the email confirmation. So this lad, well spoken and although casual, elegantly dressed looked at me, three day’s growth and dressed in raggedy shorts, no top, my bare feet kicking up the dust and clutching a smouldering stub in my fist and said, ‘That’s wonderful. Congratulations!’

I unlocked the shop, invited him in and asked him what he wanted as I instinctively made for the beer cooler.

‘No, I don’t want beer’ he said, ‘I just came for cigarettes’

Bugger. It was late Sunday afternoon and we get hammered at weekends. We had run out of pretty much everything and fags were on the list of don’t haves. A broken truck or a bank system that was down could mean a resupply could be days away so for that reason I jealously guard my stash of fags and whisky.

‘Come back to my room, I can help you out with a couple of packets’

He handed me four fifty kwanza notes and asked me if that was enough.

‘How long you been in Angola?’ I asked.

‘About three months, but I have been here before.  How about you?’

‘Knocking on nineteen years’

‘Bloody hell! Doing what?’

I handed him his fags. ‘Originally, humanitarian mine clearance, then I went into the security business.’


‘Yeah, during the war I earned beer tokens running cash into the Lunda’s and diamonds out for the traders. We used to call them 'Juice in, Smarties out' runs’

‘In that case, you’d know my Dad’

Last time I’d seen this kid he was fifteen and I was tooled up with a 9mm Llama in a hog leg under my jacket taking my turns as his bodyguard. How’s that for a bloody coincidence?’

Since he was now his own man, he fetched his mates from the roadside kill grilling shack on the main road and we polished off a few cold ones, all my whisky and cigarette stash and Marcia served us up filet in a mushroom cream sauce with chips.

The day after, I was fragile to say the least. Christ, I had to ask the maid what day it was when I finally stumbled out of my pit feeling every one of my fifty two years to make a cup of tea. I badly needed fresh air so I went fishing. And we caught a big one.

It is longer than I am tall but not as fat
I have no idea what kind of shark it is. I think it is a ragged tooth but I am not sure. The boys are kind of used to the idea that I will not kill what I am not going to eat. Or, now that I am a trader, kill what I will not carve up and sell in the shop so they asked me should they cut it loose and I said no, haul it aboard and kill it, I’m not keen on sharks. I feel the same way about crocs and, now that Dinge died a miserable death, about poisonous snakes. Fuck ‘em. I am top of the food chain and while I can do my bit, I don’t want my kids to be part of it.

Marcia salts and dries all the fish I catch which she sells in the shop. She reckons that she will make $500 in total with the shark so it didn’t really die in vain. I had fun catching it, I’ll make money out of it and it will feed a lot of people. It did get the last laugh, though. I gashed my hand on its teeth while I was cutting its jaws out. Still, they’ll look good nailed over the bar. Unfortunately, Marcia dries the fish by laying it out in salted strips over the pile of wood salvage not five yards from our room. Drying fish, especially that quantity has, shall we say, a rather distinct odour. I am sure this is Marcia’s way of saying, get off yer fat arse and build me a drying rack… So little to do and all the time in the world in which to do it, I guess I will just have to get used to the smell.

Then there’s the Iberian pigs. I have finally secured permission to shoot them and by keeping the dogs under control, they are once again coming out of the forest and foraging across my land so I could drop them easy as heck. A mate of mine has just arrived from UK with two bloody great rolls of muslin so in eight months time or so I will have perfect air dried ham made from the most pure line of Iberian swine.

Well within range...
Getting permission to shoot them was surprisingly easy in the end. The Police had told me flat out that this was a reserve and all forms of hunting were illegal. Bugger, I thought, that puts the mockers on that. And there it would have rested had I not been having a few beers with the village coordinator and I saw the pigs come out of the forest and told him how badly I wanted to hunt them and turn them into hams and bacon. Just shoot them, was his opinion. To be honest, under normal circumstances, that is exactly what I would do but my circumstances weren’t normal. The police, (and don’t forget, the Esquadra is based at the bridge over the Kwanza just a kilometre distant) had specifically warned me in a friendly way not to even think of shooting in the forest or even on my own land. Friendly, but still a warning if you see what I mean. Also, I am a foreigner. Get convicted of anything and then see what chance your visa stands for renewal. Finally, all the police come for breakfast and then visit throughout the day, every day. Even assuming they didn’t hear the shot, I would have to butcher the animal in the bush, pack the meat into Tesco shopping bags and pretend I had just returned from the supermarket. The sight of a pig carcass bleeding out next to the Jango would be a bit of a give away.

‘Bota’, I said, ‘no one owns these pigs, right?’

He agreed, and he also agreed that this was probably why they were classed as wild animals, even though they were really just feral, and that is why they came under the protection of the wildlife laws.

‘But if they belonged to someone,’ I continued, I could shoot them?’

‘I guess so’

‘So why can’t you do me a favour and say they belong to you?’

I didn’t give him time to think about that and pressed on. The idea, I explained, would be to convince the police that these were the coordinator’s pigs, that they kept escaping and he could not catch them again; that I wanted to make hams and bacon so wanted to buy the pigs but I would also not be able to catch them, but I could shoot them and then pay Bota for ‘his’ pig.

The 2i/c of the police detachment looked at me quietly for a few seconds after I had finished explaining this to him on his next visit. No flicker of emotion, not even a hard stare, just a sort of cool appraisal. He turned to Bota.

‘So these are your pigs?’


‘I didn’t know you kept pigs’

‘I did until they escaped’

‘But there have been pigs in the forest ever since I can remember?’

‘My Father kept pigs as well’

‘And they all escaped too?’

We must have appeared about as plausible as a politician claiming he was honest.

‘Bacon, you say?’

‘And presunto,’ I pointed out. The police were our biggest customer for bacon and ham. They have a lot of mouths to feed at the Esquadra. ‘Real bacon, real presunto, not the fatty salty slime that comes in plastic shrinkwrap’ I added, although I am sure Marcia wouldn’t feel too comfortable having her most lucrative sellers described in such a way.

‘Real bacon’ he repeated.

‘Home made’ I finished.

‘Do yourself a favour,’ he said as he planted his beret back on his head before standing up to leave, ‘let me know when you want to go out shooting, otherwise you’ll have a battalion of intervention police all over you’

Cool. Now I know that some of that bacon and presunto will end up on his men’s breakfast table but hey, I’ll just have to shoot more pigs!

What I really need is a decent reflex bow (my arms are like sparrow’s legs) and broadheads. You can see from the photo I was definitely within range before it looked up and spooked. But how to get a bow and arrows into the country? Perhaps I could have one completely dismantled and then hand carried in bit by bit, each piece having some innocuous description attached to it for customs purposes.

Arrival (being checked by Customs): ‘This, Officer? Oh this is my Access Remote Server Extension so I can receive emails in the field’.

Customs Officer (laughing): ‘You do realise that spells ARSE!’

Arrival (laughing too): ‘Gosh! It does, doesn’t it! It never occurred to me, how clever of you to notice! I can go now? Thank you. Yes, you have a nice day too!’

You see? I’m scheming again…

My kind of bacon slicer...


  1. During a period of my life where I often came into contact with smug posh boys who would tell me about their deer stalking in scotland I often fantasised about hunting pigs with a bow, so I could asked them if they didn't feel a bit un-manly using a rifle. Then i found out how the Kiwi's do it. Yep butch Kiwi's in one pile, mouthy plumbers in the other.


  2. its a case of PORK OILING THE COGS!
    another great glimpse into a life a million miles away from mine

  3. Its a Bull Shark -

  4. Bull Shark, eh? Is that dodgy then?

  5. paying in pork bellies...sounds political to me, although a little grease or lard can keep the wheels turning quite well.

  6. "... The bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, also known as the Zambezi shark (UK: Zambesi Shark) or unofficially Zambi in Africa and Nicaragua shark in Nicaragua, is a shark common worldwide in warm, shallow waters along coasts and in rivers. The bull shark is revered for its agressive nature, predilection for warm shallow water, and presence in brackish and freshwater systems including estuaries and rivers. ..."

    One took a navy diver in Sydney Harbour a couple of years back, near killed him and left him a double amputee.

    I had a guy attacked while wading waist deep in mangroves. They had to drag him and the attached shark ashore and pump some half dozen .303 rounds into the shark before they could kill it and detach it. Shredded ALL the flesh of his leg from the knee down - de-gloved the leg.

  7. Ugh, school in England. Your comment brought back all sorts of unpleasant memories, however a good education is important and a good school for your son is wonderful - I'm just glad that is all behind me.
    I'm looking forward to seeing how the pig saga unfolds.

  8. Yeah, looks like a bull shark Tom.

    Problem with these sharks is that they account for more attacks on humans than most. They have the ability to swim great distances up river into fresh water too. They're known to loiter around the mouths of river estuaries after heavy rain to feed off the fish washed down from up stream. I thought you would have known about them Tom. Glad you do now though...

    You could probably ship a recurve bow in bit by bit and get away with it but it'll take more strength to draw than a compund bow that's for sure. The arrows may be a bit of a giveaway, lol.

  9. JohnD, Chris, that sounds like our boy then. I am on a river estuary by the sea with the warm, shallow waters I was hoping to market to tourists. Now I see a remake of Jaws on the horizon. Shit. If it isn't the sea stuffing me, now I realise that every day I stand bollock deep shaving in a river filled with maneaters.

    Helen, thanks for your comment. My experience of school was just as miserable but it does seem that being buggered, bullied and beaten as an adolescent is a prerequisite for a job in the city.

    I tried to follow the link to Churn Dash to see if you had a blog but my browser always bails out as 'unable to open page'.

    My first wife was called Helen and did not particularly enjoy her time at the convent school her parents sent her to so if you are her, I am still desperately fond of you, I genuinely regret it did not work out, and I am still skint.

    Chris, I know nothing about bows. Maybe the one I am after is the compound? There is one which is apparently easier to draw (or has a constant draw) and has lots of pulleys and things. That may be the one for me. Anything that can be stripped right down.

  10. Hippo

    have you considered a crossbow? I only ask as there are certain advantages over a compound bow, so much so that a lot of archers regard them as 'cheating' [read effective]. They can shoot MUCH heavier bolts as the arrows are known which would certainly be an advantage when shooting pigs, also when tramping through the thick stuff you're already at full-draw which i'd imagine is a help. Basic models come up for sale at reasonable prices quite often, and perhaps most importantly they are a hellofalot easier to reassemble than a compound bow

  11. That bow, brought in piece by piece, would also need a bow press.

    I vote you find a man who can make you a bow, or get a couple more podengos (or Rhodesian ridgebacks), an American Staffordshire Terrier and a machete.

    Remember, all that matters is that you can: A) hit a plate-sized target; and B) have arrowheads that are too sharp to even look at without shuddering. The former takes practice; the latter you can make out of old circular saw or crosscut saw blades and a grinder (I'm sure you've got those laying around, considering you work with teak).

  12. Dear Mr SBW,

    I submitted your proposed solution to our problem to the board of directors.

    The requirement was for a device that would effectively kill pigs silently and could be stripped down to its component parts to allow for simple importation.

    We have received a number of proposals, each with advantages and disadvantages, the majority of the latter concerning the difficulties associated with retensioning after fully disassembling the device.

    The board have agreed that your solution merits further consideration, especially given a UK based source, and we would be grateful for your submission for a strip down pork slicer, its components to be shipped seperately in inoccuous pieces to Angola. Payment would be made using anonymous Western Union or Moneygram cash transfers although the cost of fur felt fedoras, dark sunglasses and raincoats with collars that can be turned up to disguise the wearer will be considered an expense to the supplier.

  13. Dear Mr SBW,

    Addendum to the above:

    We recognise that that by entering this supply agreement you are aware you will be in breach of various United Nations embargos but after careful study of your blog we have categorised you amongst the 'I could not a give a shit' sort of bloke.

  14. Josh, a post from you explaining how to make broad blade arrows out of old disk saws would be wildly more interesting than ones about boiling nettles...

    Regarding 'A', anything within arm's reach I can hit pretty bloody effectively. 200 paces and beyond, with my old 30-06, I can get them even if they are running. It's the distance in the middle I want to cover now.

  15. Hippo, I've even got a powerpoint presentation on it somewhere. But really, it's way easier than boiling nettles; I'll summarize here:

    -Find old circular saw blade;
    -Find rotary tool or (more difficult) bench grinder or (very hard) hacksaw;
    -Draw an arrowhead on the saw blade with something that'll draw on metal (I use a sharpie);
    -Cut along the lines with tool;
    -Sharpen with grinder, then file, then whet stone.

    TIP: Actually, more than a tip: the only thing to worry about: don't get the blade red-hot for more than a second or so, and pour or dip it in water.

    Also, wear eye protection (disclaimer).

  16. Josh,

    And how do you fix the head to the shaft? How do you make a shaft? THAT'S the interesting bit!

    Yes, I promise to wear eye protection and absolve you of any and all responsibilty for following your instructions.

    Bloody litigious Yanks.


    If I make an arrow according to your instructions and it flies like a boomerang and sticks me in my left eye, could I sue you?

    I only ask 'cos I am usually pissed as a rat when I try something like this the first time.

  17. 'Pissed as a Rat'. I am sorry. That is not an American legal term. What I meant was, 'Drunk as a Skunk'.

  18. If you did stick yourself you'd just apologize to me about it, Brit.

    I'm glad you explained, "pissed as a rat". Now I could sue you for negligence and subsequent slander.

    Watch out, too: here in the U.S. "ai su yu" is also known as a filipino martial art, and I just read that you have a Pinoy carpenter.


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.