Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Ah, Christmas Day and all the Trimmings!

Something we await eagerly the whole year.

I am not suggesting that Sir Owl of the Wood and I are in any way competitive, that would be unseemly, but we do like to exchange notes, discreetly of course.  Doesn’t do to discuss under what circumstances one could reasonably beat one’s servants or exactly how many lumps of coal the crawling infants of one’s tied servants can pick from the slag heap before being deemed excessively generous in public.  On the subject of beating staff, sorry to bang on about this but it is a good illustration of the tone of our correspondence; Sir Owl is dyed in the wool imperial, whereas I am metric.  So while he beats his staff to within an inch of their lives, I lash mine to within a centimeter.  As Sir Owl pointed out, this might prolong the entertainment but requires correspondingly longer before the individual becomes usefully productive again.  This is why, and it would be uncharacteristically churlish of me not to admit this, Sir Owl has made rather more of a success of his estate than I have mine.  He has his sport, but keeps an eye on the bottom line.

Sir Owl also knows how to throw a party.  His Christmas festivities were such a riot the now delightfully traumatised local children realize Santa died in a shower of surface-to-air missiles launched from the inverted cupola of Owl Towers (you could have tracked them on NORAD, apparently) and from now on, Christmas is but an excuse to work even harder down his pits.  I was very impressed with the seasonal touch of stapling antlers to the ears of the pit ponies and jingly bells to the children’s harnesses.  I also admire his Sang-Froid discovering his Grosser Mercedes in his pool and instead of displaying the hint of irritation I would have been unable to conceal, calmly instructing his stable boy to hitch up a team of drays and tow it out before the bodies soiled the upholstery.

Sir Owl, according to the latest village gossip, is currently a guest of Her Majesty and his undoubtedly not inconsiderable file is being passed to some chappies calling themselves the Crown Prosecution Service.

Nothing so grand at Fort Hippo I fear.

I had a relatively simple repast planned:  turtle soup served in its own shell, lobster, grilled sail fish, duck, bush buck etc. but the staff surprised me by telling me that the law, the law no less, meant that they were entitled to not one, but TWO days off for Christmas.  Not only did I have to go out and shoot or hook the menu myself, I had to gut and clean it as well.  I was hoping the builders would help me lug carcasses but I discovered that they had knocked off at lunchtime leaving a message with Marcia saying they would be back on the fifth of January.  They will most definitely be in for a metric thrashing when they get back.

According to Mrs. Beeton’s excellent ‘Guide to Household Management’ ( I was forced to consult it when all my staff absconded), “Mock Turtle soup is only fit to be served to the lying plebs guarding the entrance to Downing Street.  A Gentleman would only serve the real thing.” 
Her recipe went on to say, “First, fling one’s self into the sea, catch a turtle and kill it”. 
With you so far Mrs. Beeton.

Photo Dominic Gowans. All rights reserved

Naturally, come evening I was running late, my heart and lungs complaining about unaccustomed exercise (they are just as militant as my workforce).  I decided to switch the generator on.  The key span uselessly in the ignition.  I wasn’t so much over a barrel as screwed by a useless one.  Oh, tsk tsk I said as I kicked everything in sight to smithereens and howled at the moon, the sun long since having descended over the horizon towards Brazil.

‘Calm yourself, light of my life’ said Marcia, her voice oozing honey, ‘we have the portable generator at the site!’

The Daily Telegraph reported recently, real news obviously being a bit thin, that the average married couple has five arguments over Christmas, the first, statistically, being at 10.13 am on Christmas day.  I hadn’t even made it past Christmas Eve so thought that this was not the time to remind Marcia that the definition of portable was relative.  The damn thing weighs about a 150 kilos and couldn’t be more awkward to carry if the manufacturers had wrapped it in razor wire.  Still, unless I knew how to hot wire a generator without toasting its electricals (which I did not), this was our only salvation.  Marcia said she would call down to the village for some help.

‘Yes’ I said, ‘I need all the help I can get’.  Fortunately sarcasm is often lost in translation so I did not have a steak knife slipped between my ribs to add to my ever increasing misery.  Now very weary, I climbed into the truck with Dominic armed with a cold chisel and lump hammer.  Yes, the builders had been so keen to bunk off they had forgotten to leave me the keys to the site so I was going to have to smash the lock off.  Ding Dong Merrily on High!

Knowing that their absence would amount to more than a week, the builders had placed all their tools, including the generator inside the wooden hut they built out of my wood and use for sleeping accommodation.  They had then nailed the door shut with a million three foot long nails.  I realize it is distasteful but I have to confess that by the time I had dismantled the hut, I was perspiring.  Dominic, on the other hand was rather chilled, I suspect, to realize that beneath the normally placid and benignly pissed countenance of his father lurked an evil maniac all the more frightening because he was on the end of a lump hammer.

Large properties are all well and good until you find yourself with a need to drag something heavy and cumbersome across them.  Then suddenly, they are impossibly enormous.  In the mood I was in, I would happily have carved up my smooth bowling green had I owned one and had it been the shortest route to the main gate but I was faced with undulating sand and a few man made obstacles (in their unfinished state I could hardly call them houses) in the way.

All the adrenalin having leaked out of me when I took the urgent slash my ruptured kidneys demanded after half an hour’s strenuous demolition, I told Dominic that in my opinion, there was no way we were going to be able to drag the generator to the gate.

‘Au Contraire’, said Dominic.  Actually, he told me not to be a wussie and then proceeded to lay out a two lane highway of wooden planks across the sand.  While I was suffused with pride at my son’s initiative as well as relief at his failure to notice I wasn’t helping him, I choked down a much needed cigarette and had a swig from the old hip flask.  An hour later we had the generator on the road by the side of the truck.  Marcia rang.

‘Are you at the site yet?’


‘And have you managed to get in?’ 

What the f*** did she think we had been doing these last two hours the stupid air headed f****** b****!

‘Yes, darling’

‘Good, I’ll send the boys down now to help you move the generator, they have been drinking in the shop waiting for your call.  Really, Honey, you shouldn’t keep them waiting so long, after all they are doing us a favour’

Now there is a lot in those two simple sentences that would drive any sane man wild with indignation.  Where, when, how was I ever told that Marcia would rustle up villagers but I had to call when ready? I thought the posse would ride out behind me.  For goodness’ sake, all I had to do was knock a lock off.  Having done that and still no villagers in sight I figured Dominic and I were it.  Now I learn that all the time my testes were spurting down my trouser legs and I was having to sniff my own eyeballs back into their sockets as I struggled to lift a monolith, these bastards were drinking in the shop!  But what really annoyed me was the cloying 60’s American sitcom, ‘Honey’.  Where does she get that from?  I’ll give you effing Honey, I thought.

‘Dominic’, I called, ‘we are going to lift this bastard onto the truck!’

Now it was his turn to express doubt.  He attends a Portuguese language Angolan school but he is pretty fluent in English.

‘Fuck off, Dad, you couldn’t lift it six inches’.

‘Drop the side of the truck, Son,’ I ordered, ‘this is going to be a One Two Three GO!’

‘A 1 2 3 go?’

‘Yes.  A 1 2 3 Go’, I confirmed.

A ‘One Two Three Go’ is an all or nothing.  You summon every ounce of energy left and then dredge up the few more you never knew you had and go for it.  Having got the generator this far, there was no way I was going to hand the last ‘easy’ bit over to these oiks who would undoubtedly return to the shop for more free beer and commiserate with Marcia over her decrepit husband.   I explained this to Dominic.

‘We can do this Daddy!’ 

That’s the spirit.

It took two attempts, but we did it.  On the way home we passed the drunken volunteers.  I didn’t stop, I knew they would find their own way home and now I wanted no help other than my son’s to take the generator off the truck in front of Marcia.

And God said, ‘Let there be light!’  And there was.  And you could see for miles and bloody miles.  With power restored, I stuck into the Christmas spirit until Marcia told Dominic and me to clean ourselves up.  Actually, she had a point, we were disgustingly dirty.  But I could see she was impressed. 

The food was excellent and never ending.  Guests drifted in and out as they do here but all rather charitably loaded with presents, whisky for me, dangerous toys for the boys and girlie things for Marcia.

Ah, the Christmas spirit I thought in the early hours of the morning as I slowly slid sideways off my chair. 

Then the generator ran out of fuel.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Wow! I’m still alive!

Courtesy of and Matt
Like Y2K a bit over a decade ago, 11.11 GMT, 21 12 2012 was a bit of a damp squib. 

The roll over to the Year 2000 was supposed to be lethal because chips lacked digits.  I was more concerned because EU legislation left chips lacking lashings of salt and vinegar and us Brits were no longer allowed to wrap them, along with a generous portion of cod caught in our waters and battered in the greasy vats of an honest chippie, in the unread pages of Socialist Worker.

As we all know, Y2K was an exercise in screwing the gullible, fortunes were made by consultancy firms and all they truly succeeded in achieving was buggering up a lot of people’s Millennium celebration including mine.  Instead of partying like mad with my family in Cape Town, I spent my night alone in the server room of BHP Petroleum in Angola.  Fearing disaster, management had refused permission for my family, who were Angolan, to come back to Angola for Christmas and New Year as they ‘could not be responsible for them’. 

I did not make any special preparations for the end of the world this time.  I neither stocked up on supplies or dug a shelter in which to secure them. I didn’t mutter ancient Mayan incantations or sit in a group hug with my family. The only thing I did was to bring forward the inauguration of my pond.  I dug that months ago and have been stocking it ever since.  Some of the local fishermen have been kind enough (in exchange for the odd bottle of wine) to bring back live river fish and dump them in the pond.  They haven’t just survived, they have thrived.  All I did in response to imminent immolation was to go fishing.  After all, if the world was going to end, it would be a shame to waste all those fish and all the effort that had gone into creating their new home and putting them there.

I like sport fishing.  I like thundering out to sea, twenty miles or more at over twenty knots in a boat powered by 500 horse power, crashing over the waves hanging on for dear life until we get to the fishing grounds and then start trolling.  But it is hardly an activity that can include the whole family, especially if one has a phobia for boats (Marcia tells me not even to think about trying to get her in one) and a four year old non-swimmer who could hardly be expected to be strong enough to hold on tight enough to avoid being rattled among the Tuna tower stanchions like a fragile ball in a pin ball machine.  It is an exhilarating sport but it can be a bit rough and, occasionally dangerous.  Only last month a boat capsized making its way through the breakers that mark the mouth of the river spilling its unfortunate South African occupants into the sea.

A pond, however, is benign.  Unless you fall in, lake fishing presents little to concern the aquaphobic, especially if there are nice firm banks to stand on.  And, if I was forced to choose between sport fishing without the family and lake fishing with the family, guess which I would settle for?  It is certainly cheaper; one decent second hand sportfisher, $150K and then depreciation; one pond, $3K and appreciation.

Yesterday, doomsday, Rico’s wife Theresa came over with their two children Vincent and Salena with their rods and tackle box and, since I was doing everything a few days early, I brought out the new rods and reels I had bought as Christmas presents for my boys and I rigged them up for float fishing.  In comparison to the size hooks we use for sport fishing, the ones I was tying on now were miniscule.  In fact the eyes were so small I had to ask Dominic to thread the lines for me so that I could tie them on.  When beach casting, the weights are heavy enough to knock a man out if he were hit by one, these weights were no bigger than small pearls and just as light.  I had a Dourado in the freezer so I cut a chunk of that off to cut up for bait.

Waiting for the End
At 11.11 GMT (not the best time of day for fishing the pond I admit), there we were, the six of us, a cool box stuffed with cold drinks and a bagful of snacks, fishing the pond for the first and possibly last time.  You would never get Rico to fish a pond, he is so mad keen on sport fishing he now makes his comfortable living out of his fishing lodge and recently flew all the way to Guatemala to fish the Pacific.  Marcia preferred to go shopping but promised to give it a go assuming the Mayans were wrong and we were blessed with another opportunity.

A little boy, his first time fishing
I had only put a few yards of line onto Alex’s reel.  He is only four, has never handled a rod and reel before so this way he could ‘cast’ without ending up with a bird’s nest of a reel.  He was a little frustrated at first, ‘Daddy!  I want it out there!’ he exclaimed pointing to where everyone else was casting.  What he did not realize, of course, was that he had a secret weapon.  Me.  While I let everyone else get on with it, only intervening when lines were tangled or hooks needed rebaiting, I stuck to little Alex and, just as I saw his float dip, nudged the rod up ever so slightly.

‘Alex!  I think you have caught a fish!’

And he had.  It’s a magnificent specimen, isn’t it? (study the photo carefully and you might spot it)  Just look at the grin on his face, his delight.  Alex at four years old had caught his very first fish, the very first fish ever to come out of his pond. 

Look closely now...
One of those New Age types trying to get up some well patrolled French mountain to witness the apocalypse was quoted in the Telegraph describing the coming ‘passing’ as being akin to a ‘thousand orgasms’.  ‘Bring it on’ said a witty passing skeptic.  Well I think little Alex has had his own passing of sorts and he is all over me this morning yelling, ‘Daddy, let’s go fish!’. 

I think he is hooked.

PS.  I have to thank George who, through his blog The Flee & Float, inspired me to dig the lake in the first place.  George, I will tidy up the banks, plant lots of nice plants and smooth out the surrounding terrain.  It will be nice.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Another Beastie Quiz

Could you get tired of this?  I am.
Marcia climbed out of bed this morning at an hour even owls are considered insomniacs if they are still hooting.  I don’t know what it is about women, they can even make a noise applying lipstick.  And I was knackered.

On the first water trip I made, I delivered around sixty 20 litre containers, all of which I had to fill at road level and then heave up onto the truck.  Yesterday I delivered one hundred and nine 20 litre containers.  For those whose attention it may have escaped, a litre of water weighs one kilogram (about 2,2 pounds).  Confining twenty of them together in a container makes a noticeably heavy load.  Ask a heavy smoker in his mid-fifties with two myocardial infarctions behind him to fill and lift a hundred and nine of these bastard things onto the bed of a truck, unload them for their recipients and then get out of bed early the following morning and make his wife breakfast before she goes to town is a bit much.

Clearly deeply unsympathetic, she ensured both I and Alex were wide awake before she left.  Sure, we could have tried to go back to sleep but Alex is four so his bladder is the size of a peanut and my kidneys are over half a century old and tired of processing the shit I pour down my neck meaning both of us were faced with the choice of getting up or swamping the bed in stereo.

So what are a knackered old soak and his four year old son expected to do at sun up?  I know!  Let’s go snake hunting!  I know a thing or two about reptiles.  I married and divorced a couple and have even worked for a few.  They may not actually be heartless, although I did wonder, but they are definitely cold blooded.  Marcia is not a reptile.  Like this morning, she can be bloody cold blooded but clearly she doesn’t need a warming dose of the sun to reanimate her at first light and once, about four years and nine months ago, she was surprisingly warm and affectionate leading to the birth of my youngest son and now fellow snake hunter.

Alex was up for this.  ‘Vamos apanhar uma cobra e eu vou matar!’ he said with an enthusiasm that warmed my hunter’s heart and got my blood circulating.  A four year old eager to rush out at dawn, hunt down a snake and kill it.  OK, I wasn’t too keen on the last bit, unless it was deadly but, you have to admit, it's a hell of a way to start the day.  The nights can get pretty chilly here so reptiles in the morning are generally quite lethargic (perhaps I am a reptile?) so it is the best time to go looking for them.  They need sun to get going just as much as I need a strong cup of tea and a decent dump.  Reptiles hunting me could do worse than hide behind my tea caddy at six in the morning, or if they were after awful revenge, under the toilet seat about ten minutes later.

Choking down an SL, Angola’s equivalent to Woodbines, I set off with Alex into the scrub.  We were sensibly dressed.  Alex in flip flops and shorts, me barefoot with a towel wrapped around my waist.  Now when hunting soporific snakes, it doesn’t do to make a lot of noise which, with a hangover like the one I was sporting, suited me fine.  The trick is to be patient and observant.  The snakes will crawl out from under the wood pile, out from the grass, wherever they call home to catch a few rays but they still have enough reserves left to bolt or bite if they are disturbed.  It is movement that gives them away to a keen eye but we don’t want them to notice us first.  Picture it, the sight of an old duffer puffing on a tab dressed in a towel accompanied by a four year old, both of them playing statues in the early morning sea mist.

My eyes are so shot, lenses like the ones my glasses sport were last seen in the Hubble telescope so it was hardly surprising that Alex spotted the first snake.

‘There! There Daddy!’ he screamed jumping up and down.  The snaked pissed off sharpish before I managed to get radar lock so I will have to take his word for it.

‘If you see another snake, Son,’ I said, ‘You do this’.  I then made a fist and pumped the air as if I was a train driver pulling his whistle before extending my arm and pointing.  I saw John Wayne do that in a movie  once, just before he got shot up in an ambush but I don't think the snakes have guns here so as a means of communication between two hunters silently stalking their prey it would probably have been OK.  ‘There’s another one!’ Alex screamed before stamping after it.  Ah well, let's just do it his way.  All this without a cup of tea and no pockets in my towel for fags.

But we caught one.  I told Alex to get the plastic container of crispy snacks he had emptied the night before and, holding the snake by the tail, I fed it into the container and bunged the lid on.  I dumped the container back in the jango and went to make a cup of tea. 

Parents just know when their kid has been up to something.  At four, as in this case, they haven’t mastered the mask required to conceal deceit.  For that, they have to be old enough to marry.  'Was the food nice?', 'Does my bum look big in this?', 'Do you like it?', the sole response being, 'Lovely'.  A chap hardly need distract himself in the pursuit of marital harmony.  It is a skill that children lack.

I came out of the kitchen clutching the tea tray, took one look at Alex and asked him ‘What’s up Son?’ before placing the tray on the table.  ‘Come and get your tea, Son!’.  He didn’t move.  ‘Alex, come and have some tea!’ I ordered.  Still he did not move.  Then I noticed he was holding the lid of the snake container in his hand.  Of the container and snake there were no immediate signs.

 ‘Where’s the snake, Son?’ 

‘It took the tampa (lid) off, Daddy’, he said in a desperately forlorn voice. 

I did not believe for a second a snake could unscrew the lid of a container and escape leaving it in my son’s hand.  I took in the whole scene.  My son was standing rigid clutching the red plastic top of his snack jar.  At his feet was the empty jar.  Coiled on top of it, the front third of its body raised, its beady little eyes demonstrating an alarming awareness of its immediate environment, of which Alex figured prominently, was the snake.  He’d let the bloody thing out.  With the curiosity of a child he had unscrewed the lid and the snake had, like any snake trapped in a biscuit jar, gone for it.

Damn.  I have never seen a snake like this one.  I really wanted to photograph it well and try and identify it.  As far as snakes went, this one was beautiful.  Now it was wide awake and would be impossible to catch again without risking hurting it.

‘Keep very still, Son, I am going to get the camera’. 

I hurried off cursing myself I hadn’t put cold water into the container first to chill the beast down making it even more lethargic, a trick TV snake hunters use before handling snakes in front of the camera.  Actually, they use pre chilled cool boxes but, like policemen, there’s never one around when you need one.

For the first time in his short life, Alex did exactly as he was told and I managed to get these snaps.  I really wanted a photo of him holding it but once the snake was busy avoiding me Alex was a vapour trail out of there.  I even managed to catch it again but he refused to come to me and take the camera.  My fault really, I never thought to lay the camera on the ground and retreat twenty yards. 

House snakes are brown.  I can’t imagine a grass snake with such iridescent colours.  Any ideas?
I´m outta here...
The tiles are 50cms across which makes our subject over a metre long

Beautiful.  Alex was standing on the dining room table as I took this

Here's a snake I killed earlier.  Bugger ecology, you don't muck about with these which is why I invested in some serious rocks from the temple vendors rather than just a bag or two of pebbles for the Saturday Afternoon Stoning.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Water Wars

Flushed with the success of my well digging exercise, I had flowed it for several days, drunk the water myself without any ill effect, allowed some of the neighbors to collect water there, so yesterday I thought it was about time I restarted the water runs I used to run from the river that had stopped as a result of the land wars which started when those venal fucking bastard Co-coordinators suddenly denied me access to the river.

I loaded my 1000 litre water container onto the back of the truck, drove to the house/shop site and filled my tank.  I had Jamie with me.  He runs a shop in the Comuna.  The Comuna is a village about five or so kms away on top of the escarpment overlooking the Barro de Kwanza.  He is a nice bloke and we help each other out as need arises.  Yesterday, I needed diesel for my truck.  Angola may be a country floating on oil but it can’t keep its gas stations supplied so I was out of diesel.  Jamie brought me ten litres.  He needed wood (I have loads of that recovered from the cottages smashed by the floods earlier this year) and water of which I now have plenty.  In fact it is the only supply of pure water for miles.

Jamie and I are men.  This means, to the frustration of our women, we are generally a bit dizzy and often bloody disorganized.  I had run out of whisky, serious for me, I understand there could be medical implications resulting in me hiding under the bed burbling about green beasties intent on eating me.  I also needed petrol for the generators.  The pumps on the main road may not have had diesel, but they had petrol so the plan, now that I had Jamie’s diesel, was to load the truck with wood, stop off at the well and fill Jamie’s containers and my big container, continue to the pumps to get petrol, run up to the comuna, drop off the wood and Jamie’s water, buy whisky and return.

We got to Jamie’s place and naturally had to have a few beers.  My pump at the well is not strong enough to pump up from out of the well, all the way up to the road, and then into the top of a container sat high upon the back of a truck.  So what we had to do was fill Jamie’s 20 litre containers at road level, then lift the containers up onto the truck and then lift them again so we could tip them into my container.  We did this 50 times and then another six times to leave his containers full.  Having between us just hoiked over a tonne to head height twice, once from ground level to the truck and then from truck bed to the top of my container meaning a tonne each, we felt we deserved a few beers after such a jolly good work out under a hot African sun.  And please don’t forget we started the day loading the truck full of wood and had just unloaded it all into his yard.

As we left the Comuna and hit the main road two guys flagged us down.  Their car had broken down and they needed a lift to the Gas station.  ‘Hop on’, I said.  I dropped them off.  ‘Aren’t you going back?’ they asked.  ‘Nope’, I replied.

I had just turned off the tarmac onto the potholed piece of shit called the road to my place when Jamie said, ‘I forgot to take the water off’.  I looked at him.  ‘Forget it’, he said, ‘I’ll find a way to collect it in the morning.  ‘Bollocks to that, Jamie, let’s turn round’.

We picked up the guys we had just dropped off on the way and headed back to the Comuna, dropped the water off and set out for home again.  By now I was dreaming about a tumbler full of amber nectar.  Whisky!  I forgot the bloody whisky!

See?  If a woman had been in charge of what, let’s face it, was a simple operation in logistics, she may have been a tadge authoritarian, definitely cynical, but she would not have burned up ten litres of precious diesel on three laps of a cross country circuit.

As we were driving back for the third time, Jamie was waxing lyrical about my water.  Water supply, that is, not MY water; we are mates but not THAT close.  I always wanted to give clean water to the citizens of my village.  I had finally found a source but unless I bought a more powerful pump, there were still delivery problems.  I explained this to Jamie.

Genius is not necessarily coming up with some world beating vacuum cleaner or hyper efficient fuel.  Sometimes it is merely being able to see the bleeding obvious.  Jamie had just filled his 20 litre containers at road level.  The same type of containers all the population used to transport water.  So why did I need a special pump?  Like I said, bleeding obvious.

Well that saved me a thousand bucks so I was feeling pretty bloody chuffed, magnanimous even.  We decided that on the way back, we would stop at the main population centres and tell them to get their water containers out on the road side ready for collection.  I would drop Jamie off at my place so that he could collect his car and then I would do the water run.  An excellent plan.

The village is actually two villages separated by about a kilometer.  One is called the Voz do Barro de Kwanza, the Mouth of the River Kwanza (where I live somewhere near the tonsils), and the other is called Mundo Verde, Green World.  The only things that are green there are the empty cans of Heineken littering the roadside.  And a few trees, I suppose.

I made the first stop, no water cans in sight.  I bipped the horn.  A woman came out and walked slowly to the truck.

‘Didn’t I just pass by asking you to dump your water containers by the road so I could fill them for you?’ I asked her.

Jamie speaks better Portuguese than I but I understood what he was saying when we made our stops.  Clearly no one had believed in such a thing as free water, delivered as well.  I am sure a lot of locals think that White Men, especially oil company executives, have lost the use of their legs as they are only seen being chauffeured around in air-conditioned Landcruisers.  Here was a white man covered in road dust driving a truck offering free water.  There must be a catch, surely?  No, there’s no catch.  Does he want our virgin daughters?  Only if they are over eighteen and Marcia never finds out.  Is he trying to poison us?  Only the two Coordinators if God gives me the chance.

‘Just give me your cans,’ I said, ‘I will bip my horn on the way back’.

Then came something I didn’t understand but, I think, reflects the mentality of people who are so poor, even the cost of a water container cannot be taken lightly.  All the water containers used here are empty 20 Litre cooking oil containers made of yellow plastic.  They are all identical in every respect.  I thought I would sweep up the road collecting water containers at each designated stop, note how many containers I picked up at each stop and then once filled, drop the requisite number off on the way back.  Simple?  Not a hope in hell.  At every stop, they wanted an assurance they would get THEIR containers back.  How the heck could I guarantee that?  For Pity’s sake, a container is a container, isn’t it?  You give me five empty containers, I give you five full ones.  Who CARES if it isn’t the exact same container you gave me?  Well, obviously THEY cared.

What should have been a ten minute dash down the road hoiking containers onto the truck as I went, turned into an hour long stop, wait and start again as every single person giving me a container had to mark it as theirs by tying something around the handle.    When I reached Mundo Verde I had to tell them that they could not use palm fronds as the Catholic Church had used the same method to ID their containers (quite appropriately I thought).  Funnily enough, I appeared to be picking up almost as many kids as I was containers.  For them, this was an ADVENTURE!!!

What they didn’t understand (and why should they?) was that this was less altruism than sheer bloody mindedness on my part.  Those bastard Coordinators had tried to stop me giving free water by closing me off from the river.  They are running scared.  During their long and lucrative tenure, they have done nothing for the population the interests of whom they supposedly represent.  Now along comes a bloke who, out of his not terribly deep pockets, starts doing their job for them.  Of course they fucking hate me.  They also hate the fact that I tell anyone and everyone I meet that the only impediments to the development of this village are these two venal bastards.  Look, THEY started it, they threw the first punch.  When I boxed I took plenty of standing counts but was never knocked to the canvas and I never lost a fight.  I may be boxing out of my class now but if I go down, I’ll make ‘em bleed first.

Now you look at the following pictures and tell me it isn’t worth the aggro.
Afternoon Physical Training.  Physical Torture more like.  I had to lift every single one of these up onto the truck and, guess what? I was too dim (being a man) to drop the side of the truck.  Doh!
Yeah, yeah.  Laugh at stupid old bloke trying to hoik full water containers over side of truck he forgot to lower thereby making work much harder.
Please, please stupid old bloke!  Take my picture!  But this is MY container and I'll sit on it if I want to.  Note unlowered side of truck behind her.

Oi stupid old bloke who smokes too much and coughs his lungs out every tenth container!  You took her picture, now in the interests of proletarian egalitarianism, you have to take mine!  And yes, this is MY container. 
Gosh, she can't be more than ten and yet so lucid.  Says a lot for a socialist education system.  I never knew, for example, that the war in the Pacific ended when the workers of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics drove the Japanese out of Manchuria.

Right you stinky little swabs!  Get yer filthy bodies under the shower! 
Will there EVER be a photo taken of me without a fag jammed into my ugly face?

Zebedee says, 'Time for bed!'
'Bugger Zebedee you little bandits!  This truck isn't going to move an INCH unless you are all inside it,  I want none of you little urchins surfing off the back!'
Bloody 'ell, kids are a full time job.

Water.  They say that one day wars will be fought over it.  Oh, I am already fighting a war over it.  Perhaps Santa will send me a water pistol for Christmas.  I have plenty of ammunition now.

Monday, 10 December 2012

My Iron

In my last post I discussed how God could grace the unworthy and show them how to find water.  John Gray, that rather charming gay raconteur from Wales took time off from feeding his menagerie and left a comment saying:

“catching up with you tom is like reading about someone's life from the last century!”

Good Lord.  I never thought of it like that.

OK, I will admit that where I live there is no electricity, no water, not even a decent road.  No school, no clinic and the only shop is mine.  At night, once the generator is off, it gets bloody dark and you can hear all of God’s wonderful beasties screeching in the jungle not fifty yards from my door.  This morning I found a land crab hiding round the back of the bog which can only be flushed with a bucket of water by the way (the bog, not the land crab) and my dog was killed by a snake a couple of months ago.

Imagine, hours of darkness.  No washing machine. No hot water out of the shower.  No shower for that matter.  Do people really, in this day and age, wash out of a bucket?

How on earth do we survive?

I present to you the Hang Suei 2000.  The latest in green Chinese technology.

The Hang Suei 2000.  $1.29 from Amazon.
This piece of equipment is issued to all Chinese officer’s batmen to ensure uniforms are crisply pressed on every parade.  After its anticipated 300 year working life, it requires no special handling during recycling.  Not only does it use a renewable energy source, it is cordless.

It is so simple and convenient to use, it doesn’t even come with instructions.  All the user has to do is place a few hot charcoals into the specially designed combustion chamber and iron away!
Simply press on the tastefully cast brass cock (cockerel) to open
Insert glowing charcoal in the computer aided designed combustion chamber, snap the lid closed and iron away.  Well, not you of course, dear reader, this is what maids are for.

Smooth ironing surface, perfect for linen suits
Even a user friendly temperature control device
This was one of the best Christmas presents I ever bought for my wife.  She is so happy with her Hang Suei 2000 she’s even ironing my underpants.
One day soon I might persuade her to let me take them off first.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

God Knows How to Dig a Well

Absolutely bugger all to do with this story but, yes, we do have crocs on the beach and, no, Doggy, I really wouldn't try to nip this one in the bum.

I know I am all but surrounded by water but there isn’t a drop to drink.  The river is tidal here so outside the very short rainy season (I went to bed early last night so may have missed it) it is too saline to drink.  Even the water in the pond I dug, although quite clear, is still just too salty.

This means I have to bring water in by tanker.  15,000 litres of it costs me $200 and it still isn’t safe to drink, it must be boiled first.  Either that, or drop chlorine into it every time which leaves it tasting like the water in a public swimming pool.
For the restaurant, I will be importing a reverse osmosis system which could, if I ran it 24/7, provide me with twelve tonnes of pure drinking water per day; just half that would be enough for the whole village.  For that, though, I need access to the river.  The new shop and house are over a kilometer away, too far to run a pipe and a bloody nuisance if I have to cart water to it from the restaurant.  The irony of it is that although I can order from the city a tanker full of water for $200 delivered here, to hire an empty tanker to fill up with clean water from the RO plant and deliver it just over a kilometer down the road would cost me $400 a time.
I enquired about drilling a bore hole.  I was told they could not give me a drilling estimate unless I paid for a geological survey.  Answering my obvious question they said that they couldn’t be sure of the cost of the survey until they knew exactly where I was.
‘You have heard of the Barro de Kwanza, the bloody great river running into the Atlantic 70 kms south of Luanda?’ I asked them, unable to expunge every hint of sarcasm.  They admitted they had and that a survey would likely cost anywhere between a grand and five grand depending on the area to be surveyed.

‘It measures 55 metres by 55,’ I said, ‘but I know exactly where to drill’

Don’t you just fucking hate it when some git on the end of the phone starts sneering?  You can hear it in the tone of voice, can’t you?

‘The survey will establish if there is any water there and where we should drill’

Sweet Jesus.  And this company advertises itself as the leading drilling company in the country.

I went through the whole routine.  How about we just bin the survey and I pay them to drill a hole in the ground where I want it.  No, they don’t do that, it would be unprofessional.  What are their average drilling costs per metre through sandstone?  Depends on what they are drilling through.  Sandstone I repeated.  Am I a geologist?  No, I am not a geologist but I know sandstone when I see it and I have a geological map for the area.  OK, they couldn’t give me an indication of cost per metre drilled, how about deployment costs?  The cost to move and erect the rig on site and take it away again once they had finished?  Depends how far away I was.  Barra de Kwanza (I was getting tired of having to repeat myself).  They weren’t sure, the survey would determine that.  I don’t want a survey, I just want you to drill an effing hole!

You know, the more retarded, the more willfully stupid a person, the huffier they get when someone tells them to take a flying fucking hike.

I met someone over at Rico’s place who turned out to be a retired bona fide bore hole driller.  He has drilled wells all over Africa.  We were both pissed as rats at the time he drew me a complicated looking diagram of an artisan drilling rig and the following morning, severely hung over, I couldn’t make head nor tail of it so ignoring my protesting liver, I swung by Rico’s again and asked him to explain it.    He did.  I will admit, it is a damn sight simpler than the offshore drilling rigs of my experience but considering I was going to have to cobble it together out of scrap metal and timber in my yard, it was still bloody complicated.  When he got to the bit about jamming steel pipe down the casing to pump water down the hole to remove the drill cuttings I told him to stop.  Where was all this water going to come from?  The reason I want to drill a hole is because I do not have water. 

Reminds me of the saying that when you are up to your arse in Alligators, it is difficult to remember that the original intention was just to drain the swamp.
Daddy!  Have you found some water yet?
(Note to Self:  How come I have so many children suddenly?)

The land on which I am building the new shop and our house looks, to all intents and purposes, semi-arid.  Oil Palm trees set in loose dry sand.  I know there is a compacted amalgam about a metre down because we ran into it when digging the foundation poles for the buildings.  I also know that the water table can’t be more than another metre down and that this amalgam is the perfect filter for ground water.  So what is the easiest way to dig a well in sand?  For a decent well would be the answer to all my problems.
Regular readers of this poor effort at a Blog will know I am pretty irreligious most of the time so I was very surprised that God would take time out from his busy schedule and let me, of all people, see the light.  I was on the road to Damascus, I mean the road between the new shop/house site and the restaurant when I passed the building site that will be the new retreat for the pastors of some lunatic religious cult that has decided to settle here.  I drive past this place every day so why now, in my hour of need, did He suddenly decide to blind me to all but the sight of a row of concrete drainage pipe sections lined up patiently waiting to be laid in the trench a load of Chinese laborers were digging?  Each section is over a metre long and over a metre in diameter and weighs a tonne.  They are solid, reinforced concrete tubes designed so that each section slots neatly into the other.

I jumped out of the truck and asked the Chinese foreman where he got the tubes from.

‘HANG SOK CHONG YANG TCHA PI FOY!’  he shouted, or something like that.  Later I learnt that this was Chinese for ‘Fuck off, fat Round Eye with small willie that disappoints wife, can’t you see I am busy?’ further reinforcing my opinion that Mandarin is one of the most economic, yet expressive languages in the world.

But now I was on a mission from God.  He helps those who help themselves so I persisted and found the Angolan site guard.

‘How many do you need?’ he asked.

‘Three?’ I ventured.

‘$300 a piece plus delivery’, he said.

‘$600 total including delivery’ I countered.

‘$800 all in’


‘Can we use your truck?’  So no delivery included after all but I would get the labour.

‘What time?’


This perfectly legitimate and God inspired transaction having been concluded, I went home once again able to see my wonderful surroundings.

Now I know what you are all thinking.  I thought the same but one has to be pragmatic.  Eight hundred bucks is a bit rich for three sections of hot drainage pipe but these things don’t fall off the backs of lorries by themselves, even if the lorry belongs to you, and especially not conveniently into one’s back garden.  As an ardent socialist, I believe in spreading it around a bit.  I suppose that must also mean I believe the end justifies the means.

My plan, for now by His Grace I had one, was to drop one of the concrete tubes on the ground right where I knew there would be water, climb inside it and start to dig.  As I extracted the sand, the weight of the tube would drive it down into the ground shoring up the sides of the shaft at the same time.  Once that tube was sunk to ground level, I would roll another tube on top of the first and keep digging. 
Very crunchy sandy stuff, I am sure Geologists have a name for it.  I know about weapons though.  To the left the XT2000 Ray Gun, the very latest in personal security.  I don't like it as it causes an awful bulge in one's Dinner Jacket but M, code name for Marcia, insists it is superior to my old CZ 83.
Worked like a charm.  Until I hit the sand conglomerate.  Then it was very slow going working in a very hot, confined space and having to haul the spoil up out of the shaft in a bucket on the end of a piece of rope.    So I paid two Filipinos a couple of hundred bucks apiece and told them to get on with it.  By the time the top of the second tube had reached ground level, we struck water.  We rolled the third tube on top and, like pearl divers, the Filipinos carried on until, quite frankly, it was ridiculous to continue.  They were mid-thigh deep in water and you try swinging a Great Escape type pick axe under water.  What we needed now was a submersible pump.  No problem if you live in the UK or the States but here?  My mate Julian found one.  $360 and rated for a six metre head (that’s good head in anyone’s book).  This being Angola, of course, the shop supplied it with ¾” hose when the pump outlet is 1”.  Irritating but not an insurmountable problem, I went to Rico’s place and nicked 30 metres of black irrigation hose.  He’ll only notice once his plants start to die off.

That's the third one going in.  If the Filipinos can hold their breath long enough, I'll have buried all the evidence.

My plan (I still had one, in fact ideas were coming thick and fast) was to pump the water out of the well faster than it was coming in allowing the guys to dig down another metre.

We pumped.

And we pumped.

And we pumped.

The generator ran out of fuel so we filled it and started to pump again.

And pumped some more.

And kept on pumping until we were bored (very soon after I had emptied my hip flask).

The level of the water did not budge.  As fast as we pumped water out, the well filled again.  All I was doing was ‘flowing the well’.  At first the water was brown, stained with sand.  After an hour or two of pumping, it started to run clean.  I tasted it, sweet, not a hint of salt.  It was so clean that the crew showered under the outlet hose.  I decided to drink a glassful and see what happened.  This morning?  Nothing, no squirts, no upset tummy, nada.  I ran the truck over to the site with a 1000 litre water container on the bed and filled it.  Marcia, after washing in it, declared the water wonderful.  And it is mine, all mine.

He should be working but I forgive him the desire to experience washing in the desert
Well, not exactly.  The land wars have held up the restaurant site.  Once the restaurant was earning, I wanted to put in the water filtration system and supply clean water to the village.  With the river so salty they walk, WALK, several kilometres to a well dug in colonial times.  The water tastes foul, is salty and stinks.  Kids as young as eight carry twenty litre water containers on their heads and women struggle over sandy, potholed roads with five of these containers in worn out wheelbarrows.  That is a 100 kg load (220 lbs).  As if they didn’t have enough to do already just to survive, they spend half their waking hours lugging water.  And crap water at that.

There was no shop here when I arrived.  The staple diet was fish, when they had any, and rice.  Marcia put her shop in and we charged the same prices as the city.  At the bridge three kilometres away they charge 150 kwanzas for a packet of fags, we charge 100 (sorry I relate the retail price index to cigarettes but it is a good benchmark).  I was not going to gouge these people.  By buying in bulk I could easily cover the transport costs while providing city produce at city prices.  I should have called it KwikSave.

Sr Manuel is the Coordinator for the village of the Barro de Kwanza.  He is a venal shit and I fucking hate him.  The feeling is mutual.  While he runs around in big 4x4s, the people he is responsible for walk to get water, walk many miles to get medical attention.  He is determined to fuck me over as well as he has his charges.  He is behind the land wars.  We have clashed on more than one occasion and each time, when I faced him down, he did not have the guts to take a swing at me.  I am secretly glad about that because he would kill me.  But I would at least have his eye out before he kicked me unconscious.

He stopped me installing a water purification plant at the restaurant site by denying me access to the river.  A water purification plant, after all, needs water.  So fuck him.  I have dug a well on my other piece of land and it is flowing at a rate I could only have imagined in my dreams.  I am going to cap it properly, install a permanent pump and a pipe to the street.  I can’t afford the time nor money for a proper analysis so I glugged a load down and if a lily livered white boy with fragile intestines can stomach it, then the water must be OK.  It is certainly miles better than anything else within a day’s walk of here.  It is clean, clean water.

So I stole to get what I needed.  I encouraged larceny and deceit.  I lied and cheated.  But I only stole from the rich and the gluttonous, principally the Igreja Universal, the Universal Church who steal from the poor to enrich themselves.  By dashing the guard who will have spread some of his windfall around (no way he could load three of these tubes onto the back of my truck by himself), I am, as a good Socialist ensuring an equable distribution of wealth.  And the kids get free water.

Now to me, that was a good week’s work and today, being Sunday, means I can pray for forgiveness.  Since I am a Catholic and I stole from the Universals, I reckon absolution for that sin will cost me no more than a couple of Hail Mary’s and a paternal pat on the back from the Priest.

Not sure what God will think about me being ever so pleased that by providing free water I have put one in the eye of that bastard Manuel.  A question of motive, see?  I am sure gloating is a sin as well (I checked the Catechism and found no specific reference to ‘Gloating’), but God, I can’t wait to see his face.  Can you please make him very angry and forgive me when I snot him with a bit of angle iron?  Yes I know I have the angle iron ready so that makes it premeditated.  For goodness sake, God, why did you invent the Catholic Church?  It’s just Guilt, Guilt, Guilt.

Oi! Can someone bless this water please?
Evidently tonnes of clean water down there.  I am going to call the well 'Quality Street'.  Made for sharing.