Wednesday, 23 January 2013

A Close Shave


Two precocious little children


What does one do with a recently orphaned child, the responsibility for whom has just landed at one's door, a child who cannot sleep at night? Little Marta is fine during the day, She does what any child of her age does, she plays with other kids, wolfs down her meals and once the mossies come out, she is one of a line of kids sitting on the sofa watching TV or playing a game together.

Alex is usually the first to flake so we lift his comatose body into the bed. Mauro, Marcia's nephew who is with us temporarily is the next to run out of steam. Our current accommodation being ever so humble, requires him to sleep in a tent in the jango. Believe me, it isn't as bad as it sounds this being a tropical climate, certainly not as potentially uncomfortable as Big Don 'Mad Kev' Alviti's decision to camp in the snow. While Number One Son Dominic was here over Christmas and New Year, the pair of us slept in the tent by choice armed with comestible goodies nicked from the shop and a fine selection of DVDs to play on the laptop.

Marcia is the next to go. Of all of us she works the hardest and puts in some long hours buying stock for the shop and running around the various government departments that interfere with honest commercial activity (while turning a blind eye to the blatant corruption endemic here) to keep our licences up to date or apply for new ones. I have offered to help on numerous occasions but she wants me nowhere near her suppliers or Government officials as she, being Angolan, can avoid paying the extra 'White Man's Tax' my appearance would inevitably raise. These last few days she has been busy clearing the first of the kit to arrive we have imported for the shop and restaurant. As I write, she is back in town again (which is a 100 mile round trip) to clear the next lot.

The first of our imported kit arrives.
Scars of months at sea evident, it will clean up.
Our eyewateringly expensive Mr Whippy machine,
99 with a flake, anyone?


With Marcia and the boys fast asleep that leaves just Marta and I.

Marta sleeps on the sofa, right next to the bed in which I sleep together with Marcia and Alex. I can usually stick it out until eleven at night but by then it is a bit of a struggle for me to keep my eyes open. Marta lies there on the sofa with her eyes glued to the TV. When I warn her that I have to pull the plug on the generator she rolls over, buries her head in the pillow and pretends to go to sleep while I arrange the mosquito net around her. 'Would you like a torch, Marta?' I ask her. I have gone through a lot of torch batteries since she arrived.

I may be an old soak but if I hear a noise at night, bearing in mind that with the gennie off and being so far off the beaten track, there is total silence, not even the hum of a refrigerator, I awake instantly if I hear something. If it rains, I wake up for it is under cover of the noise of raindrops pattering on wriggly tin roofs that the bandits come to steal, If the dogs bark, I am out there to see who or what they are barking at; me,a fat old white bloke standing there in the yard looking foolish clutching a sword in all his naked splendor.

So if a six year old starts to whimper into her pillow at two in the morning, I hear it. First time I climbed out of bed and tried to give her a hug, But I am a complete stranger. That wasn't what she wanted, she wanted her Mum and I will never be that. It can't be good for her but I crank the gennie up again and leave her in front of the TV, she watching mindless cartoons and me unable to go back to sleep instead polluting her lungs with second hand cigarette smoke, which is even worse for her.

Clearly some drastic action was needed. She is not ready to be hugged yet; on her first day here I couldn't even pick her up, she would just wriggle away so nothing could be rushed.

She is very inquisitive, a good indication of a functioning brain, and gets into everything. I turned my back for a moment and then found her stabbing the send button on my Outlook so if any of you receive unusual emails from my account, you now know why. She loves my camera and much to Alex's disgust, I let her use it the resultant voluble indication of his displeasure and the equanimity such a concession demands leaving my stomach churning every time I see my four year old stamping through the bush with a difficult to replace camera, one I am rather fond of, dangling off its strap somewhere around his knees.

This, however, is all fun and games and does nothing to engender the caring intimacy normal between children and their carers.  I was pretty stumped for ideas until I saw little Marta busy unpacking my barber’s kit.  I didn’t say anything but out of the corner of my eye, I could see her trying to figure out the electric clippers.  She had already laid out all the different clipper attachments in order of size, the scissors and the hair clips (not that I need them) and was now trying to work out how to switch the clippers on.  It was like watching ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire’, willing the guy in the chair to choose answer B only to see him repeatedly mull over answers A, C or D, burning up all his lifelines asking a friend, the audience, eliminating two wrong answers and still getting it wrong.  It was agony.  Finally she figured it out and the clippers burst into life with an angry buzz.

Her eyes lit up.  Waving the clippers dangerously close to my eyeballs she said, ‘Tio Tom, isso é para cortar o cabelo?’  ‘Yes, Marta,’ I said, ‘this is for cutting hair’.  And that is when I had what, in all modesty, I would call a jolly good idea.

‘Would you like to cut my hair, Marta?’

‘I don’t know how’ she said.

‘It’s easy, trust me’.

Look, it was in a good cause and hardly a sacrifice, my hair will grow back.  In the spirit of bonding, I had to persuade Alex to start (supposedly to demonstrate to Marta how it was done but really to encourage them to cooperate) and then let the pair of them finish me off.

I realize a haircut is stupid, insignificant, daft but while Marta was whizzing the clippers around my swede, she was in charge for a change.  Trust is reciprocated I figured, so by letting her run this noisy and potentially lethal machine round my head (she did draw blood but it was only an ear and to be fair on her, God overlooked barbers when he positioned ears) Marta would start to trust me. 

I awoke with a start.  Marta was shaking my shoulder.  ‘Can I have some tea, please?’ she asked holding up my shorts, evidently an indication I should climb into them.  I did and then, holding my hand she led me to the kitchen and I put the kettle on.  Blimey, I thought as I checked the time, my first decent night’s kip in ages.  It was 6.30 in the morning.  We had slept the whole night through.

After we had drunk our tea she announced that we had to brush our teeth, 

'Go ahead', I told her.

'No, Uncle, we must do it together,' she said and, taking me by the hand, led me to the bathroom, told me where to get the water from, showed me her toothbrush, inspected mine for quality and cleanliness, frowned at the toothpaste I had squeezed along the side of her brush instead of square on top of the bristles and then after we had brushed, told me to rinse twice because, she told me with the candid innocence of a child, my teeth were horrible.  While all this was going on, Alex woke up and came out to find us.  Trying to get him to brush his teeth is like trying to persuade a politician to tell the truth.  Seeing Marta and I, primed toothbrushes in hand, he dived for his.  Having already decided I was inept, Marta squeezed his toothpaste out for him.  Afterwards I brewed more tea and fried up a load of scrambled eggs all the while under Marta's critical gaze.  'Why are you putting milk into the eggs, Tio Tom? ', 'Why are you putting the bread into the oven, Tio Tom?', 'What are these, Tio Tom?  Mushrooms!  Do I like mushrooms, Tio Tom?'  'Can I have skinned tomatoes too? They are not spicy are they, Tio Tom,? I don't like spicy', 'Is that bacon?  You eat it for breakfast!'  'Beans!  I am not sure I like beans, Tio Tom, but I like soup.  And cake.  Can we have cake too Tio Tom?'

Quite the little chatterbox this morning.  Well worth a head of renewable hair.


Just a short back and sides, son, easy on the top... I get the feeling my parting is wider than usual...


OK, Marta, your turn... not the eyeball, please, the loss of it will ruin my snooker game..
How's it look at the back?  Does it look OK?
I've always fancied Hardy Krüger, can you do me a Hardy Krüger?
Absolutely bugger all to do with this essay but since he just popped into my head as I was writing, this is Hardy Krüger:

One can only admire a man hard enough to wear polo neck


OK, my hair is a bit darker but it is parted on the same side.  There is a bit of Hardy Krüger there, surely? 
I am the guy on the right, by the way.
It was frowned upon to wear polo necks in those days.  Something to do with a Queen's Shilling. 
Or maybe just Queens, I can't remember which.
The Colonel is kindly doing my button up before I go on stage.
Never mind a face that's launched a thousand ships, this is a face that's been kicked in a thousand bars. 
A consequence of being a Southpaw, fuck up and you collect all the damage to the right hand side.
Damn fine haircut though. 
Need to buy the girl a cut throat razor and a strop and I might look half human.
I am sure that UK social services would never allow a bloke like me me to adopt little Marta but, thankfully, they have bugger all to do with it.

Egg and steak tonight,  Undoubtedly Marta will be on hand to tell me how to do it.


45 comments:

  1. ... maybe next time just ask her to braid and bead your hair instead!

    p.s. - great plan, seriously. Slowly, slowly ...

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    1. I have taught her to make the most excellent Martinis and she gets the mix between Gin, Tonic and a dash of bitters spot on.

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  2. Nice haircut, Uncle Tom. Nice job all around.

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    1. Nice haircut? She damn near took my ear off! Caught her trying to shave the dog this morning...

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  3. I'm also sure UK social services would never consider you as someone to adopt Marta, and i suspect Marta never saw herself trusting an older white man to take care of her. Bt, how can she now think otherwise, when you trusted her with those buzzing clippers?

    Oh, and i put toothpaste on top of the bristles, too, rather than the side. Just sayin'

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    1. Uk social services. Child up for adoption? Black six year old female. Applicant? Crusty old white reclusive alcoholic with a tendency to punch blokes who annoy him and would vote UKIP if he were still in UK, currently unemployed.

      Hmm. See what you mean...

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  4. I have a feeling your 'double-zero' will now be permanent. You may even find a hairdresser's shop opening up behind the generator shed!

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    1. A sweet and very human post Tom
      You big soft puddin...
      X

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    2. I hope she is permanent, M. Cro. Hairdressing is an honourable and occasionally quite lucrative trade so if she has found her vocation at such an early age, I can save on school fees...

      Saint John, I bet you wouldn't have turned her away either!

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  5. You look awful. Remind me to never to book an appointment with Marta. Will warn the Angel whose blond locks are half way down his back not to woo her. Samson and Delilah and all that. It won't do.

    Other than that I am with The Owl Wood. I remember my youngest uncle (I lived with my grandparents) coming home totally knackered from a hard day's graft and I'd lovingly comb and plait his hair finishing it off with little red ribbons. He loved it and looked beautiful.

    Still, better to get Marta used to your arsenal early. I truly hope that this little girl's future will pan out into what sounds almost like a fairy tale ending.

    U

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    1. Ursula, long hair, short hair or no hair, I still look pretty beaten up. Don't worry, Goldilocks is currently going through his 'In praise of older women' phase.

      I bloody hope it is a fairy tale ending.

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  6. A bit more training and she'll have a high-end salon running in no time.

    Good job on the trust-building exercise!

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    1. She also has an artisitc streak. She has drawn all over the original maps in the sleeve of my first edition copy of Crown Prince Wilhelms book about his memories of the First World War. My fault, naturally, according to Marcia as I foolishly left it lying on my desk.

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  7. All I can say is Marta seems to have entered your life in the nick of time. What with Marcia having to take care of everyone while she carves out her own solid business (apart from yours), you and Alex obviously needed an additional civilizing female influence! And Marta is stepping up to the plate: personal grooming, getting Alex to brush his teeth, engendering protective instincts and adding a new dynamic to the family. Looks like there's a new line in town - and you boys better toe it. LOL

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    1. Oh you would love her Kris, she is precocious, demanding, domineering... Just like a girl, in fact.

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  8. I love this post. I have read it 3 times!

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    1. Barbee,

      They say my voice is a cross between Richard Burton's and David Bowie's. Many years ago, a guy who worked for the BBC suggested I did voice overs but, as usual, I was too stupid to take him up. If you like, I will read it out loud for you and send you the recording.

      Now that you have me thinking about it, does anyone know how to upload a recording to blogger? I know how to upload a video or a picture, but a recording?

      I am just cooking them all pasta with a nice carbonara sauce. It is hot as hell in the kitchen so I had a cold beer open in the room. Just came in and saw the table cloth all wet and no sign of the beer. 'Where's my beer?' I asked Marta. 'I'm terribly sorry' she said 'but I knocked it over, would you like me to fetch you another?'

      How could you possibly be annoyed?

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    2. Thank you for the reply: Thanks, but no thanks. I have no idea. Sweet story continues. You deserve this one.(Smiles) Thank you.

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  9. Keep on, Hippo, and people might start to think you are a good man. Hopefully that haircut can buy you some time.

    I'd love to bring the kids out your way some time. One day, perhaps.

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    1. Josh! You are alive! When are you going to start posting again?

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    2. I've entertained the notion, but my self-esteem took a beating when I realized that the only people reading my stuff was some Angolan bloke and, occasionally, my father.

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    3. Josh, that's nonsense, there were loads of people reading your blog so where is this good ol' American frontiersman spirit, the kind of spirit that opened the wild west? Men who did what they did because they wanted to do it and didn't give a tinker's cuss whether they were thanked for their effort or not.

      So get a grip, man, and stop making excuses like a whinging Englishman.

      Seriously, for over two years I had hardly any visits to my blog. I didn't care, the blog for me is a therapeutic exercise. They say that writing holds off dementia and keeps the brain sharp, whatever. All I know is that I have gone from maybe a hundred hits a month to nearly ten thousand over the last year. Just plug at it, yours was an interesting blog.

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  10. Just devised most divine linguine (spaghetti will do). If you are hot on table manners eat either on your own or, if in company, in the dark. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Anthony Bourdain have nothing on me. Best eaten whilst in the bath - like a dripping mango.

    I do not wish to be crude, but I do get off on voice alone. Richard Burton - is it? By golly. Yes, Under The Milkwood. GG (Gay Guy), ambitious and challenged by my penchant for the male voice sent me Tennyson's "Lady of Shallot" (a woman's place is in three - one of them the kitchen) rendered in GG's own beautiful voice (he is an anchor at a TV station not for nothing). Yes. Dreamily drifting off. So, it can be done. How? I don't know. You'll find out. Can't wait.

    U

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  11. I am sorry. You posted this comment hours ago, Ursula, and I really have been trying hard to respond without being trite. I acknowledge my abject failure.

    If I read Dylan Thomas to you, will you allow me to watch you eating a dripping mango while in a bath?

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    1. 'would' you allow me (the Conditional, dammit), not 'will' you allow me. I know how pedantic Germans are with tenses.

      See? The image of you naked in a bath with golden beads of mango juice dribbling from luscious lips, cascading onto your breasts and tracing their way across your torso has me all in a tizzy... I think I shall go for a walk in the hot sun. A long one.

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  12. I've read it several times too. Then I forwarded it to someone else to read. I'm beginning to think crusty ol' you has a soft spot a mile wide when it comes to kids. ;)

    I have a dog that needs a shave down. Too bad Marta is on another continent because I don't want to do it. The nice thing about dogs is you can truly give them the worst haircut in the world and they don't care as long as their dog food show up on time.

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    1. I am sure that's the only reason the dogs like me. I never see them unless they see me get dressed to go hunting or at meal times. Mind you, the kids are the same.

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  13. What a lovely account of a monumental moment in this little girl's life. I hope you continue with your progress with little Marta, sounds like you will enrich eachother's lives.
    Cheers

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    1. Enrich? Looks like I am going to have to buy/build another house in Benfica where there is an international school and use that as boarding accommodation during the week so the kids can go to school safely and then they spend their weekends down at the Barra de Kwanza. I can't have them doing a hundred mile round trip every day. I'll work it out.

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  14. I don't know you from Adam, obviously, but you are amazingly patient. I suppose that comes from having children of your own, so you are somewhat equipped to deal with a newby. Lovely tale. Ghastly haircut.

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    1. Patient:

      From Latin patiens, present participle of pati (“to suffer, endure”); akin to Greek πάσχειν (paskhein, “to suffer”) I know a lot about that!

      Modern usage:

      1.content to wait if necessary; not losing one's temper while waiting; not bothered with having to wait; not unwilling to wait

      Not normally an adjective subscribed to me!

      Yes, the haircut is awful leaving far too much of my face exposed but it was worth the little sacrifice. Apparently Sir Alec Guiness shaved his head to play a part requiring baldness and his hair never recovered. At my age I would be surprised if mine bothered to grow back at all!

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    2. I'm not exactly a "hair today, gone tomorrow" fellow. It has substantially gone long before yesterday. I think yours will grow back rather well. And then there's a good hairdresser you know...

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  15. A good hair cut, although I'd be tempted to maybe grow a beard? Camping in the snow is easy compared to children waking you at every moment. I'm a light sleeper as well and most nights I end up gazing out into the darkness from the bedroom window, normally because a sheep farted three fields away or a squirrel stubbed his toe.

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  16. A beard? Good idea. Then I could stuff some burning spliffs in it, wave my sabre around and everyone could call me Captain Grey Beard!

    The only good night's kip I have enjoyed have been lying on my back out in the bush. Mind you, thinking about it, I've had a few good night's sleep indoors as well but those were spent lying face down in the bush.

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    1. Face down in the bush! Good times...

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  17. Mate, Marta is sweet and you are a star!

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    1. I woke up after the three day drunk and asked marcia, 'Who the hell is that kid hanging around here and what the f*** happened to my hair?'

      I need to buy an air rifle and teach her to shoot. I taught Dominic to ride a motorcycle when he was only four, he could drive my car aged nine as well as handle a .22 safely and now at thirteen, he can drive my truck. Alex who has just turned four can swim and ride a bicycle but until I open I cannot afford to buy him a motorcycle. Marta's priority is to learn to swim.

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  18. Nice story.

    Play your recording it in the background while you video something stationary in the quiet. (might want to send the kids outside for a few minutes) If you have any video software you could drop it on top some other video's soundtrack and get creative. Your voice while the surf rolls, dog sleeps, etc

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  19. If that doesn't work, you can upload it and put blogger a link to it and it should launch Windows Media to play the MP3 or Wav or whatever suffix it has.

    Do you have some software that plays it locally?

    I've put recordings into Flash, also just used FTP to put them on the website and then used a link to launch some other player.

    Failing that, just send it to the recipient, attaching to an email.

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    1. I am going to have to play around a bit. I know what I want. I want a button on each post that says, 'Would you like Hippo to read this to you?' so it is the reader's choice. The important thing is that clicking this button does not cause you to navigate away from the page, the page stays there so one can read along and see the pictures on the blog post and hear the commentary at the same time.

      Possible?

      I would certainly opt to hear the voices of my favourite bloggers.

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  20. What a great post. Is chamomile available to you? it makes a good tea and helps one to sleep. Also, a small doll or similar soft toy can lend security to even the most anxiety prone individual and is totally safe for criancas. Mint tea for upset stomach and breathing difficulty.
    Thanks and good luck,

    Dave

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    1. Welcome to my sometimes irreverent blog and thank you for your sound advice. My German grandmother ensured I learnt the beneficial effects of Camillen Tee and a variety of other herbal teas as well (she had one for every ailment!) so happily, I have a supply in stock. I usually drizzle a bit of natural honey in to make them more palatable. Honey is also a natural antibiotic (very effective for treating tropical ulcers, by the way).

      I have looked after a number of waifs and strays in my time and I alway s give them a hand made very soft and frilly doll (none of this plastic rubbish). The other day I ran into the first little girl I looked after for many years (she is now a grown woman and mother) and she still has her doll! I gave it to her the first time I met het her which was also coincidentally her fourth birthday so that makes the doll twenty years old and it is now doing service comforting another child. Since the doll only cost me $150, I'd say that was outstanding value for money.

      Thanks for stopping by and once again, thankyou for the advice.

      Do you have a blog?

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  21. You are a star! A bit more training and she'll have a high-end salon running in no time.

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  22. You're one helluva gallant fellow, Hip; soft spot for the young'un's is a definite sign of a strong man, no matter his age. On that note, don't forget: "old age and treachery overcomes youth and vigor...."

    - From the Rasch chronicles

    Cheers,
    -Mike

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  23. You're one helluva gallant fellow, Hip; soft spot for the young'un's is a definite sign of a strong man, no matter his age. On that note, don't forget: "old age and treachery overcomes youth and vigor...."

    - From the Rasch chronicles

    Cheers,
    -Mike

    ReplyDelete

Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.