Sunday, 21 April 2013

School Fees. Are you prepared?

"Payment in installments for the uniforms?  You always have a nice little joke for me, Sir. 
I shall just invoice you at the end of the month as usual"

I spoke to Dominic yesterday morning before his exam.

'I did what you told me to do,' he said. 'I didn't revise last night and I slept with my books under my pillow,' he reminded me (oh yeah, THAT advice).

'I thought your exam was supposed to start at nine?' I asked him.

'The exams started at Nine, Daddy, but they are doing it by year. There's some younger boys ahead of me so I guess I will be starting in about an hour as I am Grade Nine'.

Crikey. I remember how nervous I used to be before an exam. Imagine pitching up all ready to go and then being told to get in a queue. An Embasssy with all its formality can hardly present an atmosphere conducive to calming the beating heart of a fourteen year old, never mind the poor nine year old who was wheeled in first.

'Well, good luck son, call me as soon as you have finished'

And so started the long wait.

Hours later, the phone rang.

'It was easy, Daddy!'


'Yup. Piece of cake!'

He babbled on, more enthusiastic than I had heard him in a long time but he was making no sense.

'Can I talk to your Mother, please Dominic?' I asked him.

'He did well then,' I said as Bina came onto the phone, 'but when do we get the official results?'

'Could be as soon as Tuesday but he did impress the interviewers'

'I thought if he passed he would be going to Portugal in September but he was babbling on about having to go there soon?'

'Ah, yes, I didn't realise that either,' Bina continued, 'this was just the first stage. If he passes this one he has to go to Portugal for final selection'.

Goodness, the poor sod, he wants this so bad and the agony drags on. 'And how long is that?'

'Four days'

FOUR DAYS! Four days to select kids for a school? And they have to fly in from Lusophone countries all over the world? For goodness' sake, that's tougher than the Regular Commission's Board.

'And his fees will need paying as soon as he is accepted'. Of course. The Portuguese are slow at everything except when it comes to receiving money.

'Can you get Dollars out of the country?' I asked Bina, 'you know I am still not a resident so I am having a few problems on that score'.  Right now I am trying to get a measly five grand out so I can bid on a bronze and I have until Tuesday to do it.  So far it is not looking good.

'No problems', she said, 'get the money to me as soon as you can. Have you renewed Dominic's UK passport?'

'Yes', I lied.

Now there's a rush job for me next week. I wonder if the British Embassy still sends all applications for new and replacement passports to South Africa? If so, I am deep, deep in the shit because that'll take bloody ages. And it isn't as if I can ask for any special favours having, as a recluse, steadily ignored the dwindling invitations to British Embassy functions over the last couple of years. Oh, woe is me. I doubt I even have a suit left I can stuff my corpulence into. And, I have just remembered, I gave my blazer away to Eddie because he needed one and I thought I wouldn't need it anymore. Bollocks. I am being dragged back into the real world.

'I'll have the money and passport dropped round sometime next week', I said at the same time rejecting the idea of asking my ex-wife to get the five grand out for the bronze lest she start asking about overdue maintenance payments.

'Apparently there is a recommended tailor in Lisbon who fits them out for their uniforms, once I have the list I shall send it to you'

'Yes, dear'.

I'll have to call Roddie to bring the car. There is no way I am driving all the way into the city. This'll take more than a day. I can't face the drive in and out of that hell hole two days on the trot so I'll need somewhere to overnight. Christ, I haven't been in the city for nearly three years. For two years I have never been further than three kilometres from the Barra de Kwanza. I know, I'll bunk with Klein. As he's a sixty three year old German bachelor, he won't try and drag me out on the town.

I don't know why, but I rang my Mother. I haven't spoken to her in, ooh, I don't know how long, Dominic must have been three or four so that is over ten years. I could not remember her telephone number so I had to look it up on the BT website. I kidnapped my son, got him out of Angola and tried to hand him over to my mother in UK who refused, so after a worldwide round trip, I eventually gave up in Cape Town and paid the consequences. Naturally, I lost custody of the boy and had to take a bit of a hard time from the authorities. There's a bit of history between my Mother and I as a result.

It's a long time since I rang a UK number but the ringtone is distinctive. Then a woman answered.

'I'm not sure if I have the right number', I said, 'I want to speak to a Mrs Gowans'


It didn't sound like my Mother so I thought I had better test the voice further.

'Do you have a son in Germany and one in Africa?'

'Who is this and what do you want?' she replied.

Well, that definitely sounded like my mother, thick German accent and all.

'It's Andy, your son', I said.

There was a pause.

'Andi? Wo bist du?'

I explained to her that I was still in Africa, that Dominic was trying for the Portuguese Military Academy, that little Alex was a horse of a man and that Marcia, the black girl she had refused to meet, the mother of the whore’s spawn, as she had described the issue of my loins, was lovely. She confesssed that she was seventy six and hated being old. We spoke for an hour. I had to recharge my phone another time with my last card and as I heard the beeps warning me even that charge was running out I explained my phone was about to die. I wasn’t hanging up on her, I had run out of credit.

‘I’m sorry’, she said, ‘tell Dominic…’ and the line was dead.

Today is Sunday.  All the shops are closed.  I cannot buy any more recharge cards until tomorrow unless I do a 140km round trip to the city.  Bugger that.

Was she sorry because my phone had run out of credit?  Was she merely about to be polite regarding my son’s exams?  Or was she sorry for letting me down when I turned up desperate with my little boy ten years ago begging for someone to look after him until I got myself organized?  Was she sorry that as a result I was condemned to stay in this truly awful place, not as a normal citizen but as an officially expelled undesirable staying here under licence with no rights whatsoever?  Was she about to finally acknowledge her half black grandson by wishing him good luck?

To be honest, I have more serious issues to deal with, starting with Dominic’s passport.  If he has breezed the exam as he seems to think he has, then I don’t want to be the one who lets him down because I was too bloody idle to renew it.


  1. And I worry about a bout of sciatica!
    Can I help? I could give her another message for you

    1. I hope your telephone voice is really butch. Don't forget she denied my nephew because he came out as gay. God only knows how she would react if she found out that her roughy toughy son's best blogger friend was a screaming Queen. I'll call her next week once I get Dominic's confirmed results. I'm amazed I even called her in the first place but who can you call if you can't even call your own bloody mother?

    2. I can sound like Russell Crowe if THAT helps?

    3. Like an Australian red wine: heavy bodied, high octane; that could work.

  2. get your hand in those deep pockets ;)

    1. Good Lord, I have to do that myself? I thought that was what ex-wives were for!

  3. Hippo, you're such a mess sometimes it makes my armpits ache just reading about the situations you get into. Way up here from the comfort of my own dull life in California, though, I'm wishing for the best for you and your little family. And of course I'll keep reading, because your writing has me hooked.

    1. I am not a mess. It is only Tuesday. I had my hose down and shave in the Yard on Sunday so I am good for another five days.

      I make your Armpits ache? Seriously?

  4. As usual, your life doesn't sound easy. Generally the embassies, or consulates, go overboard if it's an emergency, so the passport SHOULD be OK. Will he fly to Portugal alone? Good luck to him, and I hope you get your bronze (we shall want to see pix).

    1. I have missed out on the Bronze but it has taught me a lesson. If Dominic has to fly, he will fly. Last time I wanted to go to Europe, the UK Embassy threw up all sorts of difficulties so I walked into the German Embassy and told them who I was. They apologised for the delay and wondered whether I would be terribly annoyed if I returned the following morning to collect the passports and visas. UK is not all it is cracked up to be.

  5. Damn it man, if my UK school geography serves Angola and Portugal are both in Upper Europe so why not simply take the train?

    That sounds like an excrutiating torment to put a chap through to get into a skule - must indeed be a ruddy good one!

    Hell do it alright.

    1. Apparently a few revolting natives up the line making things awkward.

      I nipped down the port to see the shipping agency chappie. He had apparently died ages ago so some young oik attended. I was outraged to learn that the last package steamer to Europe left in 1975. Well that is hardly convenient, is it? Bloody Portuguese.

  6. It's great to hear that you have renewed contact with your mother so now why not make sure you contact her on a fairly regular basis - in spite of what happened in the past. Blood is thicker than water you know and if she died in a month, a year, or ten years from now you would surely come to regret your obstinate silence.

    1. I'm not sure my blood is thicker than water. Her mother is still alive. These German girls are indestructable. YP, she thrashed the fuck out of me with a bamboo cane when I was a kid. She intimidated every girlfriend I had. She denied my offspring. If she died tomorrow I'd almost be tempted to have one of your Thatcher parties. But, for the sake of my Grandmother who I adore and for whom all this is painful, I made the phone call. It is up to my mother now.

  7. I'm all for parental reconciliations...except in my own case...hope it goers the way Dominic expects and that you don't get rumbled for the passport

    1. Not you too as regards parents. I loved my Father but he died so young.

      Always leave the back door open I was taught as a soldier. If the British give me a hard time I shall cross over the lines to the Germans.

    2. Just as an aside, and I find this outrageous, they are saying that because I was born in Germany and Dominic was born in Cape Town with a foreign national as his mother, he does not have the right to British Nationality or the right to reside in UK. I joined the British Army. I went to Sandhurst and was commissioned, I held the Queen's Commission. I became a Bomb Disposal Officer, perhaps the most dangerous job anyone can choose and now these chinless fucking gits are saying that my son, my son is not English enough? Balkan peasants can live at the taxpayer's expense in Central London but I have to queue up in Angola and apply for a visitor's visa for him? Bollocks. I'll send him to Portugal.

    3. Be outraged, Tom. It won't make an iota of difference. Main thing is to keep your cool.

      Some things in your narrative do not add up, make no sense:

      First of all: Why does Dominic need a British Passport? His mother's nationality is irrelevant. Virtue of their father being a German National, affords Dominic and Alex all the rights they need within the EU (and many countries beyond). I take it you did register their births in Berlin; and if you didn't then I am sure you can still do so. A German passport will give both your sons all the access to the UK they need, including residing in what you call 'a shithole' as long as they like.

      I do realize there is a subtext going on here. Possibly not the moment to address this. Other than that: Good luck. Contact your nearest German Embassy, get the gist, prepare to despair since Bureau Crazy (as I call bureaucracy) has a way of teaching you patience instead of giving in to impulse to bash your head against the next brick wall. And be polite: Only Germans work in German Embassies so no use blowing your top. Sarcasm is not advisable. And remember: The poor sod/dess you talk to on the other end is only an executor of rules he/she didn't make.


  8. Education is so over-rated, as are uniforms, and telephones, and Mothers.

    I caution against contacting a Mother. They suddenly expect you to do a load of Son things, even though you were just tapping them up for a favour. Mine even expects cards at Christmas, Birthday and Mothers Day. She even wanted to visit once, and then ate all my food before watching shit on the telly with the volume up really loud.

    1. Goodness! Sounds like you are the ideal son. I just ignored my mother for ten years. Given that her mother is 96 years and she is only 76, I have programmed a reminder in my MS Outlook to look her up in ten years time.

  9. I do hope you can get the passport sorted.

  10. The UK passport renewal thing is a pain in the derriere, so I'm doubtful that you wont have problems. Living in Thailand we have to send ours for renewal in Hong Kong. It took 2 weeks, (and that was good). You can download the forms from your embassy site. They too are not immediately clear, so I had to ring the GBPxx per minute line to have that explained to me. Good luck!!

    1. "I'm doubtful that you wont have problems..."

      Fifth Columnist Terrorista, this is perilously close to a double negative. Am I to understand that, in your esteemed opinion, I WILL have problems?

      It is merely yet another bridge I shall have to cross but to do so, I must first reach it.

    2. Double negative indeed. Check with the site. It might be a piece of cake in Luanda, but the FCO has cut back on so many services, and centralised where passports can be issued - certainly in our case in Thailand, where we are required to do it in Hong Kong. The system works, but it takes at least two weeks door to door.


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.