Sunday, 29 April 2012

Bugger my drivel... have to read this post over on Bambi Basher:

"...This did not please the missus, as she was relaxing in there at the time surrounded by floating petals and candles, although she did say that the sight of my ringpiece flashing like a brake light was impressive..."

Please, stop it, my sides hurt too much.

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...

Friday, 27 April 2012

A calm wife. Pretty bloody scary...

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.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Stats, boring stats...

Unashamedly proud to be British! Photo reproduced with the, er, anticipated kind permission of The San Pedro Scoop... Ooer, what if she gets mad?

I was never vain enough to bother looking at the stats of my blog (honest. C’mon, give a guy a break). I felt bad enough putting a counter on the side of the page (at least I stuck it at the bottom and not the top like some insecure bastards, you know, those that only get fifty million page views an hour) but it is nice to know that I am not merely casting words into the ether and that someone is reading this stuff even if, judging by the search terms used that landed the reader on my site were things like, ‘Plastic Garden Hippo’, or ‘Goat with slit throat’, ‘Snake found with human head’ along with a host of some quite frankly unrepeatable terms, meaning that their arrival in Hippo Land was wholly accidental and no doubt frustrating but, there you go, that’s Google for you. The other thing I like are the themed adverts, tailor made for me every time I use Google. Google has decided that I am rich enough to have disposable income, a portion of which I want to invest offshore and blow the rest on cookery courses, and that, as a 53 year old drop out, I am interested in further education. I wonder how accurate the background checks are on their own employees.

Today, though, I did take a good look at my stats. I did this because I noticed the visitor count for my blog had jumped from three since inception to over twenty thousand in 0.3 of a nano second during the night. Golly, I thought. The biggest and most consistent referrals to Hippo on the Lawn came from John Gray on Going Gently, Josh at Agrianista over the pond, SBW the Cockney plumber, and The Idiot Gardener (IG) who, given the relatively short time we have been reading each other’s blogs and I am using the ‘All Time’ stats, has made it into the top ten. I have not counted a few Google referral mechanisms listed because they aren’t human. Actually, reading some of your posts I am not entirely sure you all are human either but still, I do enjoy them. Chris, over at Grow Fish Eat makes it easily into the Top Ten if I use the monthly stats. Consistently in the Top Ten whether I use daily, weekly, monthly or all time stats are Jobsforsmartpeople, so they must be just as daft as Google and don’t, therefore, count. Still in first place after nearly three years polishing the same chair at the top of the class with his increasingly pert little bum is John Gray, the St Francis of Assisi in Wales, don of an allotment full of waifs and strays and living in a country home to Irishmen who could not swim and itinerant Northerners. So later in the post I will point him towards some, um, tips.

After only 48 hours, though, a very special mention must be made of San Pedro Scoop, the best blog I have found about life for an expat in Belize. Imagine, it is rather like starting a race three or so years after the starting gun and in only two days scoring your first driver’s championship points. Sixth place goes to the San Pedro Scoop and, just to remind you, these are All Time stats and, as I say, mine have gone through the roof, which, I will confess, is rather rewarding.

I have not bothered embedding all these links, by the way as all the sites I have mentioned are already listed down the right hand side of the page and I urge you to take a look at each others blogs and hope you like them as much as I do.

SBW would love to shoot wildfowl on Big Falls, an abandoned rice station and Chris over at Grow Fish Eat might realise what it is like to cacth a fish. Megan and the Barefoot Crofter could compare Mayan weaving and knitting and Ursula could freak people out in beach bars with her way off the wall conversation. IG as, we all know, loves banging on about all the exotic places he has visited (did he mention that he had been away?). If He has never been to Belize, he should seriously consider visiting. It is a beautiful country and offers such a diverse range of activities it more or less guarantees enjoyment for visitors of any age and I shall let the excellent photos on the San Pedro Scoop speak for themselves but, as IG is so very well travelled, I can’t think of a really compelling reason for him to go. For John Gray, however, I can think of one and direct his attention, therefore, to: The San Pedro Scoop is Being Read in Angola and: 70 British Troops Storm Pedro's Inn

A little cheeky of me, I know but, enjoy…

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

I guess it is a cultural thing

Having given away in a recent post that I am well into a fiction based on fact novel set in Belize, I think most of you are aware of the fondness I have for the place.

Several times I searched for any decent blogs from Belize but all I could turn up were the sort written by retirees living in log huts in Cayo district which, while I had the most enormous respect for authors with balls enough to try and make a go of it, were hardly reminiscent of the Belize I knew, an altogether rather more lively place. I only ever went up to Cayo to dig around in Mayan ruins to see if I could find any jade pieces and most times never made it even that far along the Western Highway, preferring to stop off at Big Falls, an abandoned rice station, with a five shot semi automatic Browning 12 bore to blow some wild fowl away. Apart from dropping ducks, I really enjoyed sport fishing and diving and for that I needed the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean, the beach bars and restaurants being a welcome diversion.

Finally I found one, the San Pedro Scoop. It is written by an ex Lehman’s employee (I know, ex Lehman’s and living la dolce vita in the Caribbean, but I am sure many of the rank and file were left with no other choice than accepting a sudden lifestyle change or a long walk out through a twentieth storey office window). Her blog is worth it for the photography alone. San Pedro is by no means the only beautiful place in Belize but it is right up there and the San Pedro Scoop really does give the reader a flavour of what it is all about, almost literally when you see some of the food on offer.

In a recent post, “Sailing on San Pedro’s Rum Punch II”, she described a trip on a classic wooden sailing boat, now run more for casual days out over the reef for keen snorkellers and epicureans than serious fishing. Naturally, there was plenty of fresh sea food and booze on board (otherwise, why would anyone want to pay for a bumpy ride through the surf in the first place?) and once again the narrative and photography were mouth watering. All I can say to her is that now I have found her site, she needs to do a quick deal with the Belizean tourist board and claim a percentage of revenue generated from Angolan tourists because the sudden spike now I am showing her site to everyone I know here will have all been down to her. If she is really switched on she needs to quickly set up a legal platform to assist these rather affluent individuals acquire similar chunks of paradise and park the revenue from oil and diamond deals into the safe haven that the Belizean banking system currently profess to offer.

The first comment she had for this lovely post was one complaining that because ten days before she posted someone had drowned for reasons unknown, she should not have written an article in which booze, boats and women were so closely connected. Crickey. People drown all the time. Of course it is sad. I only knew that someone had taken that final dive on my bit of the river and had washed up on the beach because the police came to me asking if my shop sold batteries for their camera. This was yesterday, I had just shot my dog and wasn’t thinking that well so I said no, but I had my own fully charged camera I could lend them. The camera is now evidence so, realistically, I will never see it again. Now this pisses me off more than the history of the body dragged off my beach especially when the police pathologist took one look at this sodden corpse and said, ‘Yeah, skunked and fell off his boat’.

Naturally, I was bloody annoyed and as a certifiable witness getting back to my very busy shop I was grilled by all the rubber neckers that the police no cross lines had diverted to my coolers filled with beer. The shop was packed.

‘You saw the body?’ was the general enquiry.

‘Yes I did. His throat was sliced through from ear to ear and he had two bullet wounds in his back’,

I paused for effect,

‘The police have decided it was suicide’ I finished.

I grabbed a cold one from the freezer and stalked out of the shop but not quick enough to avoid hearing Marcia say, ‘It is English humour, he doesn’t like seeing dead bodies’.

German humour, darling and no dear, what I don’t like is losing yet another bloody camera all because some besoffene Arschloch got smashed and fell off his boat and was then inconsiderate enough to wash up on my Strand. And I bet the rozzers are drinking for free. The thing that really pissed me off, though, was that the uniformed Criminal Investigation police all pulled on surgeon’s gloves but were then very reluctant to get their boots wet so finally I just waded in and dragged the bastard out, after all, if rats and cockroaches can close a restaurant down, imagine what a putrefying corpse would do for business.

I got back to my room and could not find the church key so had to bite the top off my cold bottle of Charlie and then I remembered another San Pedro Scoop Post, ‘Monday Night at Average Joe’s (AJ’s) Blues bar’. Never mind listening to Blues on a Caribbean beach which, at my age, is seriously better than sex, just check out the beer bottle opening rings, I posted a comment saying these were a must have but I never received a reply. Being ex Lehman’s and safe in paradise, I guess she isn’t going to get out of bed for a deal worth less than a million but I really would have liked a box full of those rings.

As I was trying to chew the top off a Carlsberg bottle I noticed that Nice Paul must have come by while I was wrangling the body out of the river because there was the latest edition of Ski-Boat from South Africa lying on my laptop keyboard.

I went for the boat adverts first and then scanned the mag for anything else that might be interesting. It has bugger all to do with water skiing and miles more to do with sport fishing in all the exotic places in Africa. It is brilliant. Then I saw the advert that ties all this shit in together, me finding the best blog about Belize, the comment beasting the lady author because she posted about a trip mixing booze and snorkelling and me dragging a dead drunk off my beach.

This is what Yamaha South Africa think about all that yoghurt knitting touchy feely stuff about Rum and Water not mixing and the exploitation of women as printed in the April 2012 edition of Ski-Boat:


Monday, 16 April 2012

Not a particularly good day

I shot my own dog

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find - it's your own affair, -
But ... you've given your heart to a dog to tear
Rudyard Kipling

Well that’s one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

I have only just replied to a comment by Chris in which I said that Dinge, after looking as though he was improving last night, had taken a drastic turn for the worse this morning but that I would have to wait until Marcia got back from town so that she could take Alex and the two other dogs for a walk while I took Dinge down to the pond and let him relax a bit.

Then I heard Dinge whining desperately. He was in agony and was trying to crawl up to my door. From both ends he was leaking an evil smelling slough. I dug out the pistol, loaded it and told the workers to distract Alex by taking him down to the river. I then carried Dinge down to the pond and sat with him for a bit, stroking him and telling him what a good boy he was and what fun we would have had hunting together. I thanked him for his wonderful company and told him how Dominic, who had saved his life, really loved him. I reminded him of all the feral pigs he had flushed and how sorry I was that he never got laid. Then I shot him.

I sat with him for a while and smoked a few cigarettes, all the while stroking him. It took a long time for his eyes to glaze over. Apart from the small hole in his head, he just looked as though he was having a kip in the grass.

Alex came back and found me in my room with tears streaming down my face. ‘Are you hurt?’ He asked. ‘O Dinge Morreu’ I told him. ‘Vamos jogar Football?’ he replied. Yes son, I thought, let’s have a good kick around.

Alex may be refreshingly innocent but I haven’t a clue what I will say to the boy who rescued Dinge from the jaws of death. ‘Where’s my dog, Daddy?’ ‘I had to shoot him, Dominic’

Now that I have calmed down a bit, I suppose I had better wrap him in my shirt and bury him. Poor little bugger.

One of the labourers said, derisively, that he had never seen a man cry over the death of a dog so I decked him and gave him a good kicking, playing football with his head while he was down.

All the Angolans marvelled at how well trained and loyal my dogs are, or in Dinge’s case, were. How they follow me everywhere, even to the extent of chasing my truck all the way to the main road and then when I accelerated away on the smooth black top, waiting there until I came back. Instead of tying them up or beating them all the time I loved them and they reciprocated. The guy I beat up said he was going to the police, as if I could give a shit. I heard one of his mates remonstrate with him saying how could he be so stupid to say what he did, didn’t he know that for white people, dogs are pets (animais de estimacão), part of the family?

Anyway, I think I have calmed down now so if you will all excuse me, I have to bury Dominic's dog. By the pond I think. That’ll be a good place. I like to go there to watch the birds come in of an evening and Dinge liked to go there to chase them, the little bugger.

A post script a couple of hours later.

This was his favourite place...

Alex was pretty subdued...

And Three tried to dig Dinge up again.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Fishing. It is all a question of faith.

Nice Paul with an armful of sushi. I think he is nice in a Manly sort of way but, c'mon girls, at 63 he is pretty cool

And the other two portions on the ground...

Never mind hating Mondays, I hate Sundays. Weekends, I mean. No bugger wants to work so once again I loafed about my building site kicking a half finished this and prodding an unstarted that. The Church wars are driving me nuts but they are good for business. Today we had pick up loads of sweaty Catholics turn up followed by luxury air conditioned coachloads of pilgrims of the Universal church. The Catholics set themselves up and started to sing. The Uni’s unloaded portable generators and speakers the size of Brinks Mat armoured cars and set them up on the beach. Pretty soon all we could hear for miles around was Angolan rap, a particularly distressing form of white noise the Americans have picked up upon as an aid to reducing hardened terror suspects to dribbling wrecks willing to sign any confession. Unlike the left footers, the Uni’s know that if you want adherents, bugger the gospel, spill the beers and play anything you want so long as it is loud and go for the All Nite Rave. I moved out of the city to get away from that kind of shit and now I had them on the nearest bit of beach that wasn’t mine so I could not nip over there and empty my pistol into their ardent faces.

God, who is Catholic by the way, (I have this on very good authority), works as we all know in mysterious ways and the first thing he did was to tell me to go and visit Nice Paul. Naturally it was not for me to question his Mightiness so I slopped over to Nice Paul’s. He, (Nice Paul, not God), told me he had been given a bottle of Snow Grouse. I had heard of jugged hare but I never realised you could buy bottled snow grouse. It looked and tasted just like whisky and I agree with the instructions on the label, it must be served cold. Single malt it wasn’t but free whisky has a quality and flavour all of its own.

Nice Paul had some clients but not nearly as many as he expected so the barbecue was still groaning with lobster tails and chicken drumsticks so Nice Paul and a guy called Mike tipped Alex the wink and he got stuck in, polishing off a hundred and fifty bucks at Angolan restaurant prices and feeding another three hundred or so to the dogs, except poor old Dinge, who had followed us and were lurking under the decking. I am way too overweight to risk things like grilled lobster and chicken preferring instead marbled beef in a mushroom cream sauce with spaetzle, kidney braised in cognac and more cream with a cucumber dill cream salad, and red cabbage braised with bacon, plum preserve, apples, sugar and vinegar followed by half pears, lots of them, steeped in port wine and brown sugar lathered with fresh cream and all washed down with a passable Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, so for health reasons I continued to race Nice Paul to the bottom of the bottled game bird.

In the background we could hear the heathens prostrating themselves in front of their noisy idols so God, who is a Catholic by the way, told Nice Paul to take me out fishing. Naturally, Nice Paul immediately offered and I, really not wishing to piss the Great Architect off, immediately accepted.

It really does pay to listen to the Really Big Boss because less than an hour later we were rewarded with these three tiddlers. Jack Trevally’s Nice Paul said but I can’t be sure as the snow goose, I mean grouse, had been sucked dry by then. And before anyone gets all upset at the thought of me taking a three year old out on a boat while under the influence, calm down. I left Alex playing in the swimming pool after giving him a strict safety brief to stay out of the deep end.

When we got back, the Uni’s were still giving it hammer and tongs with their massive speakers on the beach when all of a sudden the wind kicked up. Any African rain storm is always preceded by a wild shit storm of wind so we knew what would happen in about ten minute’s time. I just managed to get home before God, being a Catholic, pissed all over the Uni’s party.

Alexander is lying alongside his mother fast asleep in bed with a gutful of lobster. I have three monster fish in the freezer.

Instead of lying awake with the noise of rappers from hell, I shall fall asleep to the sound of rain from heaven bashing on my wriggly tin roof.

Of Bibles and Snakes

The Sermon on the Beach

The Universal Church is evidently causing the Catholic Church here some angst. The UC is very big in Angola. Whereas a typical Catholic Church will be a breeze block construction with a wriggly tin roof, UC’s are massive, spacious arenas with vaulted ceilings capable of accommodating congregations numbering in their thousands. The UC is so wealthy it has bought a sizeable acreage of the beach up the road from me and with a no doubt considerable investment, judging by all the hardcore they trucked in and all the heavy plant needed to push it around, the poor pastors have their version of paradise on earth complete with air conditioned condos so that they can ‘retreat’ in comfort between sermons. All paid for by their genuinely poor parishioners.

Rather than wait for Catholic brethren to come to church, the Catholic Church is now coming to them. I received my visit yesterday. Now I am not talking about a couple of breathlessly earnest geeks clutching Watchtower drivel and jamming their feet in the door as you repeatedly slam if harder and harder in their faces, I am talking about a whole crowd of devotees including a priest who pitch up and conduct the full Catholic multi course meal. Now I let myself in for this. The weekend before last, some of the devoted, having spent the day treating other sinners to the salve of God’s love in human form pitched by my shop to sink some beer and whisky so, being the sort of sociable bloke I am when I am looking at some big and unexpected turnover I joined them rather than just serving them. They were all dressed the same and apart from the priest (who unlike the Irish Catholic Priests I remember from my youth, preferred Gin to Whiskey), were all women. Some of them were really good looking, definitely in the extremely hot category and with bras clearly not part of official attire and nipples tracing circles on thin, sweat moistened T shirts, already I was damning myself with very impure thoughts. Please don’t be appalled, I have always fancied shagging a nun but I guess cuckolding God would be a bad idea which is probably why Catholic priests go for altar boys instead.

It just popped out and then kept coming. I am not religious. In fact I can be very irreligious but even I could not believe I could do such a thing. I admitted that I was Catholic. Not only that, I buried myself further by telling them I had been an altar boy. Unable to stop digging I told them of how peaceful I felt hearing the church bells pealing across a Black Forest valley summoning the faithful to Sunday morning service and how the Church used to be the focus of the real communities that now, sadly no longer exist. As I started to tell them that it bothered me a bit because I had not been to confession in nearly twenty years, Marcia started frantically studying the labels of the whisky bottles in case she had inadvertently bought in counterfeit hooch made from industrial methyl alcohol.

Joking aside, I have seen, and heard them on their rounds. They don’t amble around as an unholy rabble, they process with candles and all and they sing, boy can they sing. It is truly spine tingling, lump in the throat stuff. I have never heard anything so wonderful as the harmonised choruses they pour out like warm honey. You can’t beat live music but when you hear this kind of passion and simple devotion captured in every nuance of their vocals, you are talking top of the charts stuff. Don’t ask me how the date was picked, except to say that perhaps it would be nice for such an occasion and the inevitable party to coincide with his birthday, but Alex will be christened in the local Catholic Church in September and these people, this wonderful choir will sing at the service. In keeping with the biblical significance of such an event, I will slaughter some animals and roast them up. Since relying on some hippie to turn water into wine might be a long shot, I will truck loads in.

A week later, then, I received my own personal mass on the banks of the river. I honestly thought that they were going to strip me and dunk me in it but no, they were really quite restrained. The amazing thing was that even though they were speaking Portuguese, I knew where I was during the service and could remember it all in German. So while they gently intoned in what is quite a musical language, I laid on with a thick layer of guttural discordance. Still, they were all terribly pleased with me and I felt quite unaccountably chuffed. It really is nice to have a bit of a community get together and since the Catholic Faith is the best of all in that you can do what the hell you like and with a few Hail Mary’s, or maybe working through a whole Rosary if you have been really naughty, a simple confession grants you absolution. Maybe I’ll get to shag a nun yet.

I am very pleased to read that after a long and sometimes frustrating search, Josh over at Agrarianista has finally found himself a lovely looking dog. She looks gorgeous and sounds just the ticket. I really hope that Josh details her training. I am pretty pathetic at training dogs and count it a success if they come back when they are called anything more than half the time.

Sadly Dinge, who you may recall was ripped from his mother’s teat and flung into a cage with a Python as the snake’s supper, has had a pretty bad run in with a snake again. I was typing at my desk with the door open as usual and I could see the dogs beating about some scrub clearly worrying some beastie. They do this all the time and usually it is a lizard or a mouse they are after. I paid them little attention until suddenly I heard Dinge yelping furiously, running around in circles clearly very distressed. Just catching him was a hell of a job and when I did, other than the fact he was clearly panic stricken and seemed to be really bothered about an area on his flank, I could see nothing wrong. There were no broken bones, no blood, so bemused I let him go again.

Still he kept worrying at that area on his flank, jumping around like a puppy chasing its tail. I noticed that his back was starting to arch and that he was tottering on tip toe, his back legs stiffening. Several times he all but toppled over. His eyes were wide and frantic and he was panting desperately. Then he really started to whimper, a keening series of quick yips followed by longer yowls. I grabbed him again and tried to take a really good look but he wouldn’t keep still. His muscles were all strung as tight as steel hawsers and saliva was pouring from his mouth. Every time and every where I touched him he flinched and shivered and yipped and yowled. I tried to brush back the stiff fur on his side to see if I could see anything but I could only see a millimetre of his flesh with each sweep and as it was clearly causing him enormous discomfort, I gave up.

The night before last, the day it happened, I let him crawl into our room. He always liked sneaking into my bedroom at the old place and now that we are cramped into what is destined to be a kitchen he quickly learnt that the Old Man has no peripheral vision so he could easily sneak in while I was typing and kip under the bed. Usually I would toss him out if I caught him but this time I let him in, put a bowl of fresh water and some food down and left him to it. All night long he whimpered like a baby, occasionally suffering a fit that had him thrashing around with such force I could easily feel it through the mattress. Marcia wasn’t best pleased.

In the morning, he looked terrible. It seemed as if he was half paralysed with some sort of rigor from the waist down. His back was arched and his rear legs were little more than stiff stilts. His eyes were ruby they were so bloodshot. Then I saw the swelling, the weal on his flank. The hair had fallen away leaving a dark inflamed stain of suppurating flesh, two closely connected mounds, rather like a figure of eight with the two circles overlapping. In the centre of each was a puncture mark, like oozing burst boils. Bugger me, I thought, you poor sod Dinge, you really have some bad luck with snakes.

Sadly, apart from trying to make him comfortable, there is little that can be done for him. He will either recover or he will die. Since making venom is a serious investment for a snake, often they do not inject, or if they do it is only a tiny amount, anything they do not see as prey. Their strikes may come without warning but they are just that, a warning. I am not an expert by any means but judging from the spacing of the puncture marks, this was no worm sized snake so a full dose would have killed a dog the size of Dinge, if not in minutes then certainly in less than an hour. The fact that he has survived into his second day, albeit looking like a wild eyed skeleton, is hopeful. Naturally I am worried that his internal organs, frantically trying to clean the venom out, may have suffered irreparable damage but only time will tell.

This morning he still looked awful, his ribs standing out in stark contrast to the sleekness of only a couple of days ago but he seems to be moving around better. He is still a bit stiff, a little unsteady on his pins but his back isn’t so arched and he has stopped whimpering. He is spending less time lying in my room and a bit more lying alongside Dog and Three although he doesn’t even try to keep up with them when they decide to chase a shop customer that they for some reason known only to themselves do not like, what used to be the trio’s favourite sport. This could either mean he is slowly recovering or that he is slowly dying.

It would be a terrible irony if the dog that Dominic saved from being snake food would finally be killed by one. And please believe me without any cynicism when I say I am praying hard for the little sod. Don’t forget, if he doesn’t get better, if he slowly wastes away half paralysed and in obvious pain, the vet having told me there is nothing he can do for him it being a case of wait and see, I am going to have to shoot my own dog. I would rather do it that way than make the poor bastard suffer the awful trip to town to unfamiliar surroundings and have a stranger stick a needle in him. If he is to go, then he will do so the same way he was introduced to life in my family, sleeping next to my pit on a bed of the clothes I had been wearing that day and I will do it myself so I know it is done right. It is the least of very little I can do for him.

Viper venom. Leaves a pretty mean rotting hole in yer side and just generally buggers you up.

Marcia asked me, ‘What if it had been little Alex?’

Quite. Maybe I should stop wrangling snakes in front of Alex, carrying them out into the field to release them, and just kill them on the spot instead, instilling a fear of beasties into the little boy that might just, one day, save his life.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

How to make a Million and lose it all again within two years...

A few of you might be aware that one of my favourite countries is Belize, formerly British Honduras and about the size of Wales with a population no more than an average provincial town in UK. It was my first posting after Sandhurst and the Army had to drag me kicking and screaming onto the VC-10 bound for UK at the end of my tour. I begged them, I pleaded with them. I even offered to remain a Lieutenant for the rest of my military service if only they would let me see it out there.

No chance, sadly, and all too soon I was faced with life in cold, wet and oh so bloody miserable Colchester Garrison. Instead of Vodka Pimms on the beach it was now a phone call at four in the morning and yet another suspicious package for me to deal with in freezing cold horizontal bloody rain. Still, after all the money expended training me I suppose it was only fair HRH got a return on investment and there aren’t that many companies who would allow an employee to party in paradise for two whole years before taking up his appointment.

I shan’t even bother trying to explain the inestimable delights of ‘Raul’s Rose Garden Whore House (Double Green Stamps on Saturdays)’, I still have the T-shirt. Or the quality of the Rum and Cokes at Roger Dinger’s Bellevue Hotel (blimey, I have just realised I named a dog after him!) and then there was the fishing off the various Cayes and the shooting at Big Falls, the diving on the second largest barrier reef in the world and the sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, water skiing and a pay cheque at the end of every month. OK, the pay cheques were severely denuded by mess bills but at least we knew we hadn’t wasted the Queen’s shilling.

Then there were the people I met. The French Consul, an ex Austrian Nazi who took up the ‘offer you could not refuse’ from the French immediately after the war, joined the Foreign Legion and after fifteen years of very distinguished service was granted French Nationality and finally ended up with an official posting to Belize. Even at his age he had lost none of his Joie de Vivre and the blast of a bugle from his balcony in the early hours of the morning announced his frequent insomnia and the imminent start of yet another party. It was he who taught me an old trick, using his own comatose teenage son as a guinea pig, the lad having passed out after one too many rums and now sleeping comfortably on the floor, whereby laying the victim’s hand in a bowl of warm water would cause him to involuntarily wet himself. It worked within minutes and I was impressed.

His son, who woke up seconds later (Levi 501’s really do show up such accidents, don’t they?), was rather less so as he stormed off to his room. Still, we all thought it was funny. To get an invite, though, you definitely had to be part of his eclectic circle of friends and if you were young and potentially hot blooded, he would pay you a lot of attention, make you feel very welcome, take you aside and chat to you, allow you to tell him a little about yourself all the while steering you through his spacious house, the kitchen where he would collect a can of something, anything, could be beans, skinned tomatoes, it didn’t matter and then you found yourself on his upper floor balcony, alone with him, your elegant host, someone you have heard so much about and are absolutely thrilled to meet and delighted in the interest he takes in a mere mortal. Then he handed me the can and told me to throw it as far as I could off the balcony.

One of the advantages of just having passed out of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst was that I was still able to obey an order without question, especially one issued by someone who, for all I knew was probably an ex SS Obergruppenfuher so I hurled it up and as far as I could. I was then deafened by the report of a pistol he had pulled out from under his jacket and was stunned to see the can explode in mid air. Then he took me downstairs again and introduced me to the most breathtakingly attractive and sensual girl I had ever laid eyes on. This, he said, is my daughter.

We all got the subliminal message. No wonder we all stopped off at Raul’s on the way back. You know what they say, the difference between Light and Hard is that you CAN go to sleep with a light on.

Then there was the Paymaster. As servicemen, soldiers and officers alike, our pay would hit our UK accounts so we needed access to local funds, Belize Dollars, if in our free time we were to be able to hand the majority of it over to Raul and Roger. To simplify things for the Pay Corps, there was a Fixed Forces Exchange Rate that was established for every theatre of operations in which our gallant lads served. As it was only revised every few months or so, often there was a huge disparity between FFER and the commercial rate. Sometimes it was in our favour, other times not but none of us had the nouse to notice until one day I went into the pay office to cash a UK cheque for a few beer tokens and the paymaster, a Warrant Officer of Indian extraction muttered something to me. I hadn’t a clue what he said and in a loud voice I told him. Leaning over the counter he tried again, this time half covering his mouth. Ah, I thought, this is clandestine so I leant forward as well and whispered, ‘What?’

‘Sign as big a cheque as you can that won’t bounce’ he rasped.

Like I said, I was only after a few bob, beer tokens, but like I also said, I was fresh out of the Academy and still in awe of Warrant Officers so I wrote out a big one.

He stamped a few forms and then handed me over a brick of local currency and looked at me with that sort of, ‘Go on you dickhead, piss off quick’ expression on his face. I stood there with that sort of , ‘I’m just really, I mean REALLY stupid’ look on my face. He then executed what I now realise was the perfect cover move by suddenly yelling out, ‘Will someone please stop that bloody aircon squealing’ and while everyone else was distracted poking around a perfectly serviceable unit he pushed his face up close to mine and told me to go down to Barclay’s in Belize City and change it all back again into pounds sterling.

'Should I change into civvies first?' I hissed.

'You can go fucking naked for all I care, Sir, just piss off quick!'

Fucking Punka Wallahs, I thought. Everything is so bloody complicated with them. Shit, all I wanted was enough to have a blast on the town that weekend and now I have my life’s savings bulging out of my map pockets.

I wanted to go into town anyway as I had arranged to meet this really nice coloured girl from New Orleans I had met in Roger’s place a couple of night’s ago so I hopped a taxi and cut a slice to the city. I walked out of the bank and stared at the slip. Somehow or other I was eight hundred quid up on the cheque I had written that morning. Now for me, then, that was a month’s pay. Tax free. I looked at my watch. If the taxi driver really hauled ass I could be back before the pay office closed. With a bit of encouragement he hauled it alright and as I walked back into the pay office the paymaster smiled at me with a sort of beneficence and said, ‘Sterling into local currency, is it Sir?

‘If you wouldn’t mind, Chief’, I replied.

I had completely forgotten about the girl. And I kept forgetting about her all the rest of the week until over a Rum and coke in Raul’s, the paymaster told me that was it. Unless I could prove a substantial private income, I was way over my lieutenant’s pay and my name would leap off the page at any auditor if I pushed it. In fact, he went on to say, I had best buy something big and tangible so that if they did come sniffing around, I could say that was why I was signing big cheques, why I needed that amount of money in country. Now this was a guy that had helped me haul in nearly half a year’s pay in a week and had not asked me for a thing so naturally I felt I owed him, but I was scared to be so crass as to offer him a share of my windfall. I had realised after the second transaction that I had committed a court martial offence, only six months after being commissioned but I figured that if he ratted on me he would go down too so I consoled myself with that. If he was part of an elaborate sting operation, I was fucked but that really wasn’t, and still isn’t, the English style. Anyway, it was a one off, it was good while it lasted and now was the time to stack and leave the table. But I still wanted to sort him for the favour and I said so.

We drank some more Rum and cokes and watched the girls with their already too short skirts hauled up over their hips dancing in the pit, the lower dance floor area beyond the bar. By then we were chatting about his retirement plans. He had bought himself a big chunk of land along the Western Highway and was going to retire in Belize as a trader. What else for an Indian, I thought. Then he ordered himself a straight coke and another Rum and coke for me.

‘You’ve got a pilot’s licence’ he said. It was more a statement than a question.

‘It’s only a PPL, not commercial’ I said taking another swig and fending off a real tall girl I had been eying with a view to taking her round the back but she had pulled alongside a fraction too early now that conversation had resumed. The bad timing wasn’t her fault, it was all mine so I didn’t blame her when she skirted back into the crowd muttering in that strident way that we were a couple of poufs.

‘But you can fly a light aircraft, can’t you?’

‘Yes Chief, I can fly a plane.’

‘How are you going to keep your licence up in Belize? You need to do your annual hours, don’t you?’

That, Chief, I thought, is the big fucking problem. I need airtime but there were no aircraft in Belize insured for any pilot less than a CPL. Shit, I was carving 105mm cartridge cases that I had nicked from the stores into ashtrays in the REME workshops in order to bribe RAF support helicopter pilots to give me left hand seats in Pumas but none of that could count in my logbook. I needed PIC in a CAA registered light aircraft.

I have a friend, he said.

And that was the start of a beautiful relationship.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Just another day...

Paul from next door was just with me and we sank a few beers together. Right about now is high tide and as you will have seen from my last post, his place is taking a bit of a pounding. I have a link to his place on my blog (just scroll down the left hand side). I may not like Rico but there is no denying, if you are in Luanda and want to see a bit of the nicer side of Angola, then his place is the one to go to. The Kwanza Lodge is part of a group called Eco Tur and they make a big thing about ecologically friendly tourism. Obviously sport fishing is part of the menu on offer and they hate local fishermen (who use nets to catch the fish they need to feed their families thereby spoiling the Eco Sport Fishing). They even had a go at me when I said I wanted to plant some Eucalyptus trees on my land saying they weren’t indigenous (I was just going to buy the saplings up the road). They are the true champions of the environment then and I bet their clients feel all warm and fuzzy.

I have the window open to let in the evening breeze but will have to close it soon before the mosquitoes invite themselves in. In the meantime I can hear the surf bashing away.

I am mad as hell, incandescent with rage. I am sure that Nice Paul has nothing to do with it but Rico, the little shit, must know what is going on. I was so fucking angry I dug the local government coordinator out of his afternoon slumber and dragged him along with me to take a look. Obviously, being an official, he has lost the use of his legs and is only used to driving in his Landcruiser so he was in for a rude shock when I took him on a several kilometre slog through the ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ that is both his manor and his responsibility. He is a lot younger than me and is probably a damn sight fitter so maybe, knowing my previous as he does and seeing that I had frothed myself up with outrageous indignation and was now moving faster and harder than he had ever seen me move before, he was more concerned with the prospect of carting my corpse home and explaining to Marcia why I had died running through a swamp. I did have a reason, a very good one and since my companion was Bota, the guy I had only recently risked the same coronary he was now worried about when I hauled his arse out of the sea, he owed me.

This morning was great. Yes the high tides and unruly seas and winds are wreaking havoc but the fishing is fantastic and it was the fishing and the beauty of the area that attracted me here in the first place. I feel sorry for Paul who has been told this is his last three month stint before he is laid off. I even feel sorry for shithead Rico and I am certainly not gloating. It’ll be me next and I have worked out that I need to build a barrier that is made out of solid, reinforced concrete weighing not less than 4,000 tonnes. Don’t ask me how I arrived at that figure (notice I did not say ‘calculated’ that figure), I am not a real engineer but I know that if you are up against the sea then what you need is a bloody solid mass fronted with a load of rough heavy rocks to disperse the energy. So I kind of imagined how thick and how tall such a barrier should be and then calculated the volume (note, this time I said calculate, volumes I can do) and knowing how much a cubic metre of reinforced concrete weighs, I arrived at 4,000 tonnes, slightly more than the German Wehrmacht poured to defend the French coastline against invasion. Now that's a few bags of cement at US$10 a shot. I asked Marcia how much big rocks were and she said $350 per 12 cubic metres so I stopped calculating and went fishing instead.

There are two kinds of experts. You’ll run into the kind who are self effacing, careful and when you try and pin them down they will say something like, ‘well, I can’t be entirely sure but in principle, it could work’. Now I know they can be annoying, after all, what the hell are they being paid for but at least they get everyone thinking the problem through again. Then you get the type who superciliously inform you that they are absolutely sure and brook no discussion. Well the owners of the White Star Line were convinced the Titanic was unsinkable so give me the shy retiring expert every time. Thankfully, I do not have to deal with experts on a day to day basis anymore but having just tried to get my generator running again after the auto throttle failed, I can tell you there are still plenty of them about in all social strata. Working under barrage of conflicting advice it was with enormous satisfaction that I switched it on and light returned.

"There was nothing and God said, let there be light and there was still nothing, you could just see more of it". Humour was wasted on these bastards. That was when I went fishing. Just as I was leaving, they asked me what I was going to catch (snickering like school girls). Peche Prata, I said. Tarpon.

That was when they really fell about. No chance, said the experts. The season is over. Fine, I said, drink yer beer before it gets warm and off I went. Sometimes there is such a thing as deep joy. For me it was getting back and seeing the ‘experts’ still hanging around my shop, drinking the beer that they had paid me for and tossing down this tiddler...

My driver Jamie was also there. I'd asked him to come and collect the truck to go and get the A Frame that Julian has fabricated so that I can hoist the engine and replace the mounts on my big generator. An urgent job now that the little generator is running only because I bodged the broken part. Before you go, I said, I need to talk to you. He told me that he would only be a minute as he was going to dump the rubbish. This is one of the draw backs of running a shop in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, there is a lot of rubbish generated. As the truck always leaves here empty, it is part of Jamie’s duty to pile all the rubbish in (I have positioned decapitated oil drums around the place and trained the locals to use them) and take it to the official city dump.

‘Hang on a sec’, I said, ‘What do you mean, you will be back in a minute?’

‘I am going to dump the rubbish were Rico dumps all his rubbish here in the Bairro’

So this is how I ended my day stamping through a wetland that would qualify as a UN Heritage site with Bota, the village coordinator in tow. I had to see where Rico, boss of the Kwanza Eco Lodge and darling of the yoghurt knitting tree hugger sects of the world, dumped his rubbish.

The following pictures speak for themselves. While Eco Tur paint themselves green, this is how they get rid of the waste from Kwanza Lodge. I walked for kilometres through otherwise pristine nature and all I saw were heaps of rotting and rusting waste. I even found piles of used generator filters so clearly they are not bothered about polluting a wetland with waste oil. And they lectured me on planting some Eucalyptus trees.

‘What are you going to do about this, Bota?’

‘What can I do? I went to them and complained’

‘Bota. Watch my fucking tracer’.

Finally, and another reason I am so glad to be out of town and by the sea next to a river instead, the rains here bring the usual havoc on the roads.

And the NCAP rating for Toyota Starlets? 0 out of 10

My rubbish, by the way, was carried to the city dump in my truck driven by a driver nursing his thick ear.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Easter Bunnies

The full moon tides of the last few days wreaked their havoc as usual but all I suffered was a bit of gentle flooding across the lower lying portion of the land. My neighbour, Rico, has really been hit bad. I know there is no love lost between Rico and I but still, I hate to see anyone lose their livelihood in this remorseless and inexorable way. Rico is away and the guy in charge is a quiet South African called Paul. Paul is, I have decided, a really nice guy and when we discovered we shared a common past as motorcycle racers well, there you had it, instant friendship. He was very embarrassed at the way Rico refused my offer of cooperation and with the damage done to my land by his trenches. He had come to see me so we were sitting in my office. During the conversation and with a high degree of tact he asked me whether I would consider selling my land to Rico. Since this was Nice Paul and not Nasty Rico, I similarly tactfully told him no. As I pointed out to him land such as this was hard to come by and as I had now dropped out, I would have nothing else to do. He smiled ruefully at that and I could see he understood completely. I told him that I would go round to Rico’s place and see if, perhaps by just getting on with it while Rico was away, together we might save what was left of Rico’s place.

Since Rico never made me feel welcome, I haven’t been to his place for years so was really shocked at what I saw, or rather what I didn’t see. Most of his land and the huts that were on it have disappeared. The remaining cottages, built as they were on stilts, had water flowing underneath them. What once was the car park was feet deep in mud and sand, littered with the twisted detritus of the missing cottages. His land which had once been hundreds of yards wide measured no more than fifty yards over which the waves poured. His once beautiful tropical gardens were smashed and bedraggled. If I was heartbroken to see such destruction, imagine how Rico must feel. The poor bastard.

Marcia’s nieces, Christina, Sofia and Caró, had come to spend Easter with us so I nipped back to my place, collected them and Alex and went back to Rico’s so they could splash about in the swimming pool. It’s a cruel thought but it was best they took this opportunity as no one can be sure how long it will be before the facility slips into the sea. While they played (and took endless photographs of themselves in increasingly provocative poses), Paul fed me ice cold rum and cokes. Both of us agreed, it was too late to do anything so we just sat there, watching the girls and supping our drinks while the waves washed underneath the deck on which we were sitting. The irony of it is that the last structure to fail under the onslaught of the sea will most likely be the swimming pool, built as it is above ground of heavy reinforced concrete. Imagine the sight of a swimming pool sitting in isolation in the sea?

Apart from a few die-hards, there were no clients and certainly none that were willing to stay the night. The restaurant was closed, the power was off because the salt water was causing short circuits and most of the staff had already been laid off. The few remaining sat disconsolately on the pier watching their jobs being eroded away. It was all very triste. Recalling that Paul’s original mission had been to sound me out about the possibility of me selling up, I could not resist saying to him, ‘Look mate, before this lot ends up in the sea, why don’t you sell me your kitchen and dining room equipment and furniture?’

‘Why pay for it?’ he replied, ‘pretty soon you can just salvage it as it floats by your place.’

Encouraged I asked him about the sportfishers.

‘Don’t waste your money, they’re knackered. About the only thing they can do now is float’

Like I said, he is a nice guy with an excellent sense of humour. Apart from being honest, he is also human.

‘Those are your nieces, are they?’ he asked.

‘Well, I suppose they are now that I am with Marcia but they’re her nieces really’.

He is 63 years old but clearly his juices were still flowing. ‘I perhaps shouldn’t say this, Tom, but I would bang all three of them.’

‘Tell me about it’ I said and shuddered at the thought of what Marcia would do to me.

So there we were, two dirty old men drinking Cuba Libres watching nature undo ten year’s labour of love.

Now how sad is that?

Christina. She has only just turned fifteen...

Friday, 6 April 2012

Presunto Flordita

After yesterday’s excitement and too large a scotch late at night I am feeling a little fragile this morning. Still, it’s nothing several cups of tea can’t cure.

So I decided there would be no heavy lifting today, for me that is, but with all this wood lying around salvaged from the old huts, I had to do something.

The Jango is, as I think I have already mentioned, the perfect place for air curing hams. The thick thatch keeps it surprisingly cool inside and the sea breeze is fairly constant. The sight of all those hams hanging in the rafters would also look quite nice, lending a rustic air to the place and then there would be the anticipation. It takes months to cure so it will be a lesson in patience for me.

Stage one, then, was to make my salt boxes. Wine cases would be ideal but I can’t get them here but I have plenty of African teak. Now I don’t know whether any of you have tried sawing through a plank of African Teak but I can tell you that it isn’t easy. A cross cut saw seems to glide over the wood hardly making an impression. The wood heats up the blade and seems to pinch it. Even a hefty circular saw makes heavy weather of it, the blade red hot in seconds and great clouds of smoke issuing from the cut. What was supposed to be a bit of gentle and therapeutic relaxation was turning into a real labour of love. So I called the boys over and told them to get on with it. I love work, I can watch it all day. There was only one bit of confusion. The lads just could not understand why the lid had to be fractionally smaller than the inside of the box. The lid will just fall inside the box, they pointed out. Exactly, I said. I then went on to explain in detail the uncomplicated process of curing a ham, the meat surrounded by salt in the box and the lid, with a weight on it, applying pressure. They were astonished that Presunto, as it is called here, was so easy to make yet so expensive. Well that’s because it takes such a long time, months before you can get your money back with the finished product I continued. They seemed so genuinely interested that as soon as I find a source of muslin, I am going to show them how to do it.

Dead easy. Cut the bits to size and nail em together

Might need to planee the lid a bit just so it slides in and out easy

I am also going to try making Bresaola. That cures in a marinade before air drying rather than salt and is ready after only a couple of weeks. I must have eaten it sometime during my life but I honestly cannot recall when, but it certainly looks appetizing in Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall’s The River Cottage Meat Book. In the same book, HFW also states that the very best air dried ham is called Pata Negra, is fiendishly expensive and is made from small semi wild Iberian pigs. Well those are exactly the sort of pigs I have running around the forest here. Originally, the pigs here will have been introduced by the Portuguese and these must be their descendants. They look exactly like Cerdos Ibericus and, since they live wild, I am hoping the flavour of the cured ham will be exceptional. Since I am not allowed to hunt them, catching them will be a bit of a bugger but I’ll think of something. With the three dogs I have finding them will be easy. These dogs have hunting in their genes and when we go for walks you can see them working together as a team and they always manage to flush something out of the undergrowth. Still, they are not as good as the dog Julian told me about which is on a farm near to his timber concession. There you can buy chickens. Usually, catching a chicken involves a lot of swift legwork as they are very free range. On this farm however, you point out the chicken you want and then the farmer shouts, ‘Dog! That chicken!’ and his dog hurtles after the chicken and pins it to the ground in seconds. That must be pretty cool to see.

With everything on the cards suggesting I could have a world class product within my grasp I suppose I had best think of a name. I can’t call it any of the established names, nor would I want to. If this stuff turns out to be really good then it will stand with its own identity.

Here piggy piggy...Mine look just like these

So, I have my heavy teak boxes, salt, spices and herbs and the main ingredient is only an illegal shot away. All I need is the muslin and then in about eight or ten months, I will have Presunto Flordita. Made from the wild descendants (and probably purer line) of Iberian pigs, cured in natural sea salt and locally grown herbs in African Teak boxes and air dried in a cool Atlantic breeze. It’d be a no brainer for the marketing department. With all that going for the product, only I could fuck it up so I would have no one else to blame. Still, I am really looking forward to giving it a go. I might send one to HFW packed in straw in a beautifully hand crafted teak box. After all, his excellent River Cottage series played no small part in my decision to drop out of the mainstream and go and live on a beach next to a river.

Well, it started out as a good day...

It was supposed to be a wonderful end to a wonderful day. Three other guys and I had moved tonnes of wood, we had enjoyed a chicken curry for lunch, we had caught loads of crabs and were looking forward to them for supper and then we got that feeling, the one that says something isn’t quite right.

We stopped work, we were only really tidying up anyway, and drifted down to the shop where Joaquim had been in charge all day, Marcia being on a supply run. It was packed and there were more arriving every second.

‘What the hell is going on Kimmie?’

‘Bota’s boat is overdue’

‘Shit, Kimmie, he’s just shacked up with one of is girlfriends up river, he’ll be back and he better bring me the bottle of Maruva he keeps promising me’

‘No, Sr Tomas, he went out to sea’

Shit. I mean real shit. I served him breakfast at about ten. He left soon after. High tide would have been about three in the afternoon so he would have thrown his nets before that and been due back about four pm. It was now eight at night. Who but a maniac would risk these seas? Yes, the fishing is great with these high tides but with the storms, the rain and an onshore wind driving you into the cliffs? It just isn’t worth it. Well, perhaps not to me but clearly Bota thought it was. I spent the day stacking wood while Bota got himself into all sorts of shit.

Everything happened pretty fast after that. Bota’s mother pitched up, my place has turned into a bit of a community centre, and she was followed by all the other female members of the family who, clearly convinced that Bota was now fish food, rolled themselves in the dirt shrieking and wailing while his brothers argued about who had title to his Landcruiser still parked, ever so lonely, on my beach.

‘Kimmie, I guarantee his engine has stuffed and he is drifting up to Luanda, let’s get the boats out’

I turned over the petrol store I kept for the generator and all the torches and batteries I had in the shop before diving next door to beg the only boat in the neighbourhood that had a powerful searchlight and twin engines off the South Africans only to be fucked off. I told them that I would pay full sticker for a day’s charter but I needed the boat. They said no. I said there were three blokes out there and if we moved quickly we just might find them. They said no. I pointed out the maritime code, the sort of marine Hippocratic oath to save any seaman in distress. They said no. I told them they were Boer bastard racist shits. They told me to fuck off.

I doubled back and helped launch the local boats feeling like a right cunt. They all thought that white on white I would get the big boat. What could I say?

So we went out in our 7 metre chatas with our forty horsepowers on the back, waving our torches and criss-crossing the area we knew Bota was likely to lay his nets with me pushing further north which is where he would drift if his engine went tits up suddenly. Then we saw the big boat come out but it came no further than the break, sauntering up and down the river mouth uselessly and blinding us with the searchlight we really needed out at sea. Everyone in the village who had a mobile phone had handed them out. I had mine but Marcia’s was on the boat behind me. In the rush no-one had explained what numbers to ring so it was a while before the message got through to me that Bota had been picked up. One by one, we all headed in and joined a real beach party. One of the South Africans joined us.

‘Why didn’t you cross the break?’ I asked.

‘It’s Rico’s boat’ he said.

I wanted to ask him what on earth was the point of launching the big boat and burning all that gas just to run up and down the river mouth but then I would have made the fundamental error of assuming that just because a man is white, he is somehow superior in intelligence.

Don’t get me wrong, they generally are, blessed with better education and opportunity but clearly Boers are an inbred exception to the rule.

‘Fuck you, you bastard’ was all I said.

I had a great day and then a real scare. It is midnight and I am soaking wet having spent the evening bouncing about the Atlantic so you might excuse me for being a little crusty. I’ve got eyes like salt encrusted saucers, an adrenalin fuelled nervousness which has already taken me way beyond bedtime. You try standing up in the bow of a boat swallowing all the ocean can throw at you while frantically searching for a mate.

And do you know what the little shit did when we got him ashore? I told him I was only worried about him because he had an unpaid account at my shop. So he helped himself to a bottle of Champagne from my cooler and pissed off home.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

The six P's

Anyone who has worked in Logistics and all those time and motion experts we endured will tell you that double handling is bad. The logisticians will be pragmatic and tell you how pissed off they get when some dickhead can’t make his mind up and the poor sods at the sharp end have to dismantle the mountain they sweated to create and re erect it somewhere else. The time and motion people with an air of utter superciliousness will irritate everyone by pointing out just how stupid everyone was.

Well I have just double handled 75 cubic metres of wood.

What these time and motion geeks fail to understand when they consider each problem in isolation and logisticians understand instinctively, is that there are a whole load of other factors that must be taken into consideration when devising the most appropriate course of action in any given situation.

The dominant factor in my case was that the hour rate for an idle truck vastly exceeds the weekly rate for casual labour.

When the truck arrived it was imperative to get it unloaded as fast as possible which meant the wood it contained was extracted and arranged in big stacks, one plank lying on top of another. Now this is not good for the wood. It starts to sweat. The stacks heat up in the middle. A black fungus permeates the wood ruining bits of it. Funny things happen to the wood. Exposed bits dry while other bits swell and what was once a reasonably straight bit of rough cut ready to go through the planer thicknesser twists like Rotini pasta, the planer blades ripping the moist bits and burning the dry bits. There was nothing else for it. I had to restack the lot and separate each layer with wood battens. The three lads working with me were really chuffed at the prospect. Even Marcia gave me a hard, time asking why I hadn’t done it immediately.

Well, I am sorry Marcia, but I had no idea what a forty foot container full of sawn timber looked like spread out and it was six weeks overdue anyway so by the time it arrived in the very early hours of a windy morning, and bereft of a cup of tea, I wasn’t thinking as clearly as perhaps I might have been. As far as the lads were concerned, or as far as I was concerned about what concerned the crew, if they wanted paying before Easter (2013, I have a cash flow problem), they could just do as they were bloody well told and shift the piles again.

The problem was I needed battens. With each stack twenty planks high and each layer requiring five battens, I needed a hundred six foot battens per stack, so six hundred battens in all, nearly a mile of 2”x2” all sawn to the correct length. That’s a lot of wood and I would hate to waste it by chopping it into lengths of limited use in construction. No wonder I was unable to appreciate all this in the early hours of a morning and just had the lot dumped into the Jango.

Now, however, I had a plan. You see when God decided I did not need my thatched cottages, the ones He sent His mighty waves to destroy last month, He also obviously had a plan. Naturally at the time I was a bit upset. I cursed and said all sorts of nasty things and being the sort of retard who would, in any bar, throw a punch at the Louisiana State Penitentiary Heavy Weight Boxing Champion (an institution coincidentally also named Angola) I was dead keen to take Him on as well but since He never showed up for the fight, I got on with salvaging the thatch and also the Bordão, the trimmed and dried central stalk of very long palm fronds endemic to this area and used in indigenous construction and the material I had used for the walls of the huts He had decided I did not need. I am not going to talk about God anymore, too many bloody capital letters.

It (bordão, not God) makes for ideal battens. Not only that, a decent cross cut saw rips through it in seconds.

In one day four of us have restacked and separated on battens all that wood. My back tells me that was three thousand four hundred tonnes and a million saw strokes. At least, ‘cos I wasn’t counting.

You've got to admit, that's a neat bit of stacking...

My view of the sea from my desk is now obscured but this could be a good thing. For the next few days the tide forecasts are ‘very high’ and just to drive the point home, the graphic is painted red. On the positive side (I did mention that in the face of adversity it is better to laugh and be optimistic), the fishing is predicted to be great. The point is that with no negative waves to pollute my psyche, I know that the Atlantic waves can now only pollute the bottom few layers of the stacks because separated on battens as they are, they are twice as high. And they will dry out many times as quick.

Our day’s worth of effort did reveal, however, a surprising harvest. Fresh crabs. There were loads of them concealed in the nooks and crannies of carelessly stacked wood so little Alex hung around under our feet ready to pounce on every crab the hiding place of which was suddenly revealed as we hauled yet another plank to its new position. In no time he had a wash basin full so it looks like a crab supper tonight!

As an aside, and this is a Man thing, the builders scuttled away faster than the crabs every time they turned one up so I accused them of being Volkswagens. In the local patois, this means poufter, i.e. engine in the back. Never mind. So I grabbed a big one by the claw and was quite impressed by the nip it gave me with its free claw but I got it into the basin all the while pretending it didn’t hurt. So Alex had to have a go but I insisted he at least pulled on a pair of industrial gloves. After that there was no stopping him. So the lads, not to be outdone, started grabbing the crabs as well and then the game got really stupid, like how far can you walk with a crab clamped onto your finger before you bottle out and start squealing like a little girl?

I can hardly type, my fingers are like bastard sausages but all the wood is restacked, we have all had one of the best days ever and now we are going to enjoy a crab supper.
I'm sorry, was that a bit hot? It's the new boiler, we still haven't got the hang of the thermostat yet...

Crabs weren't the only things we unearthed. How about this four foot Iguana sunning himself after this morning's rain?
That's an eight inch wide plank he's sitting on...

You see, the Dudes'll be sucking on their spliffs having banged their surf boards upright into the sand and say that this place is unreal. Well, it is real, I mean really real. You should hear the monkeys in the morning and every night when the sun goes down you get the full orchestra, birds and cicadas and all. You should hear the rain bang down on the tin roof at night and the noise the surf makes as it bashes the shore. We found a snake too but even Alex knew it was just an African House Snake so it was a friend and nothing to be stamped on.

I could have planned the wood move and reception better but in a place as cool as this, who gives a shit?