Many of you epicures will have noticed that one of the many things distinguishing a restaurant from a street side hot dog stand is furniture. Restaurants do need a lot of furniture. I need 24 tables and 96 chairs just to get going. You can imagine my horror, therefore, when a cursory search of all the usual suspects revealed that a 60x60 cm table and four chairs all made of the flimsiest stained matchwood was all I could find for under a grand. Yes, a thousand of your United States green backs. I did a quick mental calculation, then a longer one before my brain overheated but I knew that I would have to serve a hell of a lot of meals just to cover the costs of the chairs my clients bums were parked on, always assuming the chairs on offer hadn't collapsed before they had paid for themselves..
I know what I want for the furniture, I want simple, but sturdy ladderback chairs and tables 100x100cms to give my clients some elbow room and space for all their plates, glasses and tureens full of delicious food. The tables need to be tough enough so that even the most hamfisted client can bang his beerstein on the table with gusto. In keeping with the rustic style of the building, they should be of solid wood (I always think a decent table setting looks far nicer arranged on a polished wood surface than a table cloth) and heavy enough not to be shaken or even stirred by the clumsy. I don't want anything fancy, I am a leg-at-each-corner man so I want it simple-stupid, robust but elegant in its simplicity. Having explained all that to the salesman, he wished me Good Luck before moving off to push his trying to sell overpriced tat to another prospective client.
I have to confess, I was jolly irritated. Seasoned African hardwoods used to be one of this country's finest agricultural exports so where has it all gone? I suppose a few trees did get knocked down or blown up during the war but with a timber industry stopped dead in its tracks, the rest of the trees must have done what they were supposed to and carried on growing. The war has been over for ten years so why can I only buy flimsy rubbish imported from Asia?
Then I remembered I had a few secret weapons in my arsenal. I have a bunch of hand tools. I have a planer/thicknesser. I have a router. I have a Mitre Saw. I also have a good man to put on the end of them. So why not buy the rough timber on the local market and start from scratch?
Marcia tends to get worried if she sees me suddenly enthusiastic as it usually ends up costing us a lot of money, if only to get me out of jail, but I was sure we could do this.
I am still trying to decide how I want to do the seats (I rather like the idea of a solid wood seat rather than upholstered) but see what you think about the ladder back chairs so far...
|Bit of space needed to plane all the wood|
|Quite a pile of shavings but they will be good mixed into the sandy soil along with a load of goat poo. |
I think Charlie, the dog, has just deposited his contribution.
|A covered area for the finer work. Note the high quality benches...|
|...and the latest in wood working tools...|
|Lots of repetitive cutting, sanding and gluing|
|Followed by component assembly|
|And the (almost) finished product starts to roll off the assembly line.|
With solid wood seats, the clients will sit uncomfortably on their full wallets and will seek to empty them...
(their wallets, not their seats, God forbid).
|We also do doors. Both panelled...|
|...and with glass. Except we haven't put the glass in yet.|
I was feeling a bit crook this morning so only made it to the site around midday having fed Alex (he is way improved from the recent shock he gave us and scoffed his omlette AND mine so I went hungry rather than eat Marcia's as she had been on the site since morning and would have chiselled my eyeballs out if I failed to bring her lunch on site). As we were sitting there, Marcia sharing her food (not only the omlette I had brought her but fresh bread and sardines in olive oil she had scored from the Comuna) with a still ravenous Alex while I sucked sulkily on a beer, a guy pulled up and asked for permission to come onto the site. 'No problems', I said, 'I can do with any kind of company that doesn't require me to watch people eating. You wouldn't happen to have a Mars Bar on you? No? Never mind.'. He didn't get the joke but most Angolans think I am a bit weird anyway. If I was in England, I'd be sectioned.
He was politely enthusiastic as I showed him the house. He executed a very credible impression of someone awed by my well full of fresh water and agreed it was better than bottled mineral water but when he saw the chairs he became suddenly very businesslike.
'Where do you get these from?' He asked. To be honest, it was more of a demand and, given that I was both liverish and hungry, I was glad I had not been pinned to the wall and beaten with a rubber hose. After all, he had arrived in a brand new Landcruiser with a police escort so was clearly a man of means. Just how mean he could be was not something I was keen to test.
'I make them', I volunteered. Given that almost anything you do in Angola could be considered a crime, such a confession could be suicidal. So where did you get the wood from? A tree. Would this be the sacred tree of the Kimbundas?
'How much for a chair?' he said.
I cast my eyes (they almost focused) over to Marcia for help but saw her stuffing sardines on toast down Alex's throat saying, 'Coochy Coo litttle boy, just one more little aeroplane', so I knew I was on my own.
'For a bulk order with hardwood seats, a hundred bucks each', I said. C'mon, I was really hungry by then.
'How quickly can you deliver two hundred?'
'Two hundred?!!!' Think Steve McQueen in the Great Escape.
Looks like I am in the furniture business,