|The last sunset|
Photo Dominic Gowans (aged 13). All rights reserved
Living in Africa at the end of the road to the Voz de Barra de Kwanza, I am used to surprises although one could quite reasonably wonder where all these surprises come from in such a relatively isolated and apparently benign location. I was blessed with an enormous tonnage of surplus scrap wood when God, in the first month of the 2012th year since his only son’s rather gruesome death, decided to start that year off with a tidal wave to sweep away all the thatched cottages of mine that clearly did not comply with his strict planning regulations. After only six day’s hard labour, He was knackered and needed a day off but, anyone with experience of building contractors seeing what God achieved in less than a week would agree He deserved it so one can hardly argue with Him if he dislikes sub-standard work and wipes the slate clean.
Naturally, I tried to file a claim for damages and loss of revenue since it has taken me a very painful income free year to recover (which meant no taxes; God moves in mysterious ways) and although I was amused by some of the Holy See’s lawyer’s suggestions as to exactly where I should file my claim, I failed to see how explicitly following my Roman Catholic advocate’s advice would provide the sort of relief I was seeking. Frankly, I thought all they were offering was just more of the same and with piles the size of well-nourished Burgundy grapes the last thing I wanted was another eye-watering shafting, especially a self-inflicted one. But that’s Catholics for you.
I have to make the distinction between ‘surprise’ and ‘shock’. A shock is something a householder experiences in UK when reading his energy bill (or placing his fingers across terminals to ensure said outrageously expensive energy is still being fed to his house). A surprise on the other hand is just as unexpected but rather more delightful.
2012 was a shitty year. I made the mistake of paying the contractor up front and a year later I am still living with my family in a kitchen. Having all your cottages washed away and realizing you have lashed out all your readies to a git is enough to upset anyone. I am sure a decent lawyer would get me down to a manslaughter charge if (when) I go berserk with an AK and shoot the contractor three million times. Three million times? Listen, I wake at four in the morning and can’t get back to sleep again worrying about all this so I have had ample time to work out just how many rounds of 7.62 mm short I can carry on my truck. I can do three million easy. Trust me. By five O’clock in my mind I have him dangling by his ankles over a charcoal brazier but these are just pleasant dreams.
So what’s the reality? Well, despite the flood, despite the fact my brand new generator was nicked two days before I moved in, despite the fact some bastards attached a car and chain to the security grills of the shop and tore them out of the walls so they could nick everything down to the last plug socket and light fitting, despite the fact more bastards invaded my land and denied me access to the river, despite having to shoot my own dog, strangle a maniac trying to kill his wife, cop a ricochet just under the knee cap (damn painful, a shock and surprise all rolled into one), despite all those shocks, I have rebuilt the shop and sell stuff I haul from the city at city prices (no gouging at Fat Hippo’s). The kids get fresh bread and fresh vegetables. They get fresh meat which makes a welcome addition to occasional catches of fish. Much to Marcia’s irritation (after all, she is trying to run this all as a business) I tell the fishermen to help themselves from the freezers and pay me back in fish. Ok, sometimes we have to wait a while to settle accounts but all us real fishermen know it is a precarious sport or, as in their case, livelihood. I know it is bad for their teeth but the kids always get a lollipop or a packet of biscuits. Dashed odd how the kids only appear after Marcia has departed for town and after I have had the morning pot of tea which they have realized usually induces a benign complacency in me they work to their advantage. No surprise there then.
I wanted to build a clinic but I am now embroiled in a bureaucratic nightmare. I did not want to make money out of it but was astonished (not quite a shock but more than a surprise) when the local medico bureaupoliticocrat told me I had to charge patients a ‘consultancy fee’. I was outraged (as good as a shock but with a tadge more emotion involved) when another git in a suit told me I that I would not get permission to supply clean water to the population if I intended to give it away. Something, apparently, to do with the difficulty the government has taxing something that is free.
I was achieving bugger all and if it wasn’t for the grief I would cause my two boys, I would have fired that last round from my old CZ straight through me old swede (the old Viking hates it when I do that). But, as I fingered the pistol, I saw my dead Grandfather frowning at me. I was understandably surprised. This was a man who tried to follow in his father’s footsteps, become an architect and design some of the most famous buildings in Berlin and spend the rest of his comfortable life choking down Berliner Weisse and HB cigarettes on the shores of Wannsee. Instead he was alarmed (surprise with hopelessly loose bowels) to find himself hoiked out of university and put in charge of a bunch of tanks the Russians were using to broil Germans and create their own recipe for Eisbein mit Sauer Kraut. The frozen limbed Krauts thus broiled were understandably sauer. He survived, became a famous architect and quite clearly was not someone you fucked with. Naturally, if the guy is now finally dead and buried yet takes time out from wherever to come and visit me, I think you would agree that for an ardent catholic atheist this was bloody scary (a surprise with a just a dash of incontinence). If he was on the other side waiting for me I was in for a good arse kicking so I decided to postpone our encounter, put the pistol back in its special drawer and dug a well instead.
The authorities said I could not dig a public well on public land. So fuck ‘em, I would dig it on my land and save the box of CZ ammunition for the next guy in a suit that trespassed on MY land. As I dug I sensed my Grandfather the Architect leaning over my shoulder. ‘Dig more to that side, keep the shaft vertical’, he advised. ‘Are you sure there’s water here?’ I asked. It was bloody hot down that hole. ‘Trust me’ he replied, ‘just put your back into it for goodness’ sake. Jesus, you want to see how fast we could dig a hole deeper than that through perma-frost when Ivan was coming!’ Nice to see that death hadn’t robbed him of his sense of humour but I have to admit that in his ethereal form he was bloody useless at hauling buckets of spoil up out of the pit.
|A very expensive bonfire|
Photo Dominic Gowans (aged 13). All rights reserved
As I tried not to dwell upon how expensive the bonfire on the beach was as I watched the last remnants of my cottages go up in smoke it occurred to me that in 2011, seven children under five died in the village of water borne disease. In 2012, the year we were seeing out, not one.
So no matter that for me personally 2012 was the worst year of my life, maybe it wasn’t such a wash out after all. Now that’s a surprise.