Tuesday, 29 October 2013

A thoroughly decent chap.



Kitchen Master Frank

A Gentleman engaged an employment agency to find for him the perfect Gentleman’s Gentleman.  Our American cousins refer to these stalwarts of any decently managed household as ‘Butlers’.

Our Gentleman was offered many Gentleman candidates for this honourable position, all of whom proved dissatisfactory in one way or another.

Having been given one last chance, the Agency sent to their frustrated Gentleman client a certain Mr. Hoddle

On his first day, Mr. Hoddle created upon the mind of his potential employer the most gratifying impression.  Polite without being servile.  Attentive without being intrusive.  Notable for our Gentleman was the skill with which Mr Hoddle had motivated the other household staff to produce a most excellent supper, the loving care with which he had decanted the wine and the inoffensive manner by which he had ejected the ‘hanger’s on' from his Gentleman employer's house.

Our Gentleman was satisfied he had finally found his perfect Gentleman’s Gentleman.  All that remained for the man under scrutiny to do to secure a lifetime’s gainful and most honourable employment was to draw a bath for his Gentleman.  Unsurprisingly, it was perfect.  The water, the correct temperature and laced with just the right amount of salts.  As the Gentleman sank beneath the steaming, beautifully scented waters, grateful on so many levels, he let out the most enormous sub-aqua fart.  Suffused with embarrassment, he glanced at Hoddle who merely fluffed up a towel preparing it for his Gentleman’s inevitable exit from his bath and retired from the room.

‘Fuck Me!’ thought the Gentleman, who was nouveaux riche and inclined to such outbursts, ‘I am going to employ this guy!’

A little while later there was a discreet tap at the door.  ‘Your hot water bottle, Sir’, said Hoddle entering clutching the same.

‘But I never asked for a hot water bottle, Hoddle,’ protested our Gentleman.

‘Begging your pardon, Sir, as you climbed into your bath, I distinctly heard you say ‘whataboutahotwaterbottlehoddle’.

 

Frank is fourteen years old.  Frank isn’t his real name but it is close to his real one and he seems happy with the moniker I have given him.  His real name is Francisco.  My Father was called Francis but everyone called him Frank.  So I called Francisco Frank.

Frank’s father is a serious alcoholic.  Coming from me, that is saying something. Two years ago, Frank’s mother died, of exhaustion presumably.  That left Frank, at twelve, effectively in charge of the household.  I did not know any of this when I met him.  To me he was just another kid on the street.

I have had many maids in my time and despite the unending Dor de Cabeça (headache) they have caused me, I only change them out when I move house.  Even though they steal like magpies, I always thought along the lines of better the evil you know.  The only things I had of my Grandfather were a pair of gold and onyx cufflinks and a tie pin.  All I had left of my Father was a gold watch and a pair of gold cufflinks.  I had to travel light so was happy with these small tokens.  No-one knows what became of them, everyone denies knowledge.  Suffice to say, they have gone.

I was delighted, therefore, when as a result of this latest move, our old maid refused to move with us.  I can look a man in the eye and tell him he is a useless prick and that if he is still on my property in five minutes I’ll beat him to death with the soggy end of the arm I rip off him but I cannot sack a woman.  They get all emotional.  They bang on about the kids they have to feed, how near to death they all are and how it will all be my fault when they have to start burying the decaying fruits of their prolific wombs.  I did not have to sack my old maid, she refused to walk the extra half kilometre to work so I commiserated and paid her off.

‘What do we do now?’ Marcia asked me.

‘I’ll do it, Marcia,’ I said.  And for a month, I did exactly that.  I washed and ironed.  I sorted out electrical problems.  Every night there was a meal on the table, a table I had to restore.  I rebuilt broken machines and fixed stuffed up cars.  I washed and dried dishes and kept a clean house.  I finished off the kitchen installation, unpacked all the boxes and found homes for all our kit.  I sorted out the plumbing and realigned the satellite dish so Marcia could watch her soaps on the Portuguese channels.  Every day I was up at the restaurant site making sure the guys were working and had everything they needed to keep working.  Every evening, I bathed my poisoned foot in salt water and wondered when my toe would finally do the decent thing and fall off.

Back in the old days, before I had a pump installed and a generator to power it, in order to deliver clean water to the locals I had to haul the water up out of the well using a bucket, fill the twenty litre containers and load them up onto my truck before making the deliveries.  All that exercise has probably added months to my life so I shan’t complain.  It was during this time that I first met Frank.  He was the only one that would leap on board the truck and help me.  Everyone else took it as their natural birthright that a white haired wheezing old codger should deliver them free water without them having to lift a finger.

I wasn’t sure about Frank when I first met him.  He is a tall, gangly youth but decidedly thick, or so I thought at the time.  I know my Portuguese is not perfect by any means but Frank’s Portuguese, his mother tongue, was incomprehensible to me.  I found my self peering into his mouth wondering if he had a tongue in there so slurred was his diction.  Not being in any way politically correct and most mornings a tadge insensitive I decided he was a retard, mentally deficient.  Perhaps he had been dropped on his head as an infant or his Creator had not been kind to him when it came to issuing brains. Still, he could swing a 20 litre container of water off the ground and onto the truck and off again when we were making our deliveries through the village, and for a skinny kid like him, even if I had to shout at him and dig him in the ribs to make him understand, he wasn’t bad.  I could have 120 containers on the back of that truck but he knew to whom each belonged and exactly where they should be dropped off.  One volunteer is worth ten pressed men so even if he had mental issues, I was glad to have him along for the ride.  I respected him, realised that he had problems but he was a willing young man and certainly not one I would call stupid even if I could not understand a word he said.

Marcia always got very upset with me when she discovered I had been giving credit in the shop. Or sweets to the kids, powdered milk to poor mothers, tinned sardines and biscuits to fishermen under the usually unfulfilled promise of payment by a portion of their catch.  This was why she banned me from the shop.  Marcia could not understand why I was going to all the effort to deliver water to what she considered ungrateful neighbours so I could hardly reach into the till and pull out a few Kwanzas to pay this kid for helping me.  So I used to pay him with food from the shop.  Nothing exotic, just staples; a bag of rice or pulses, sugar, salt, dried meat or fish.  That’s all he ever asked for.  I’d give it to him when Marcia wasn’t around but usually slip in a few packets of biscuits into his plastic shopping bag.  Like I said, the kid wasn’t stupid and he’d figured out the score, I was scared shitless of Marcia so it was our little secret.

Now I have the pump installed on the well.  I have piped all the way to the entrance and installed a generator.  The locals can come with their containers and help themselves to clean water so my water deliveries have stopped.  There’s no need for me to cart water once a day, they can collect it anytime they want.  And this presented Marcia with a problem.  All the neighbours would see me hanging washing.  Visitors would find me rinsing dishes or cooking.  This was women’s work and Marcia was embarrassed so she employed another female maid. 
 
The maid lasted three days.  Like I say, I don’t like sacking women but I had taken an immediate dislike to this woman.  Now I know a lot of people would say that was wrong, a flaw in my character.  I just think that people disliking each other on sight is something that happens occasionally.  Of course she didn’t help her case by turning up late, leaving early, bitching half the time and spending the rest of it nosing through my stuff.  If I had complained to Marcia I know she would have taken my dislike of her choice of staff personally and put it down to me being a grumpy old sod, which I am.  So decided I would ‘Constructively’ dismiss the new maid.  I loaded the work onto her.  Do the dishes.  Mop the floors.  Do the laundry.  Rake the yard.  Wipe polish over the floors.  Dust the surfaces.  Iron the sheets and clothes.  Fold them up properly and lay them on the shelves.  Not like that, like that.  OK, that’s the house sorted, now start on the shop.  I wasn’t asking her to do anything I wasn’t already doing.

All my kitchen cupboards are neatly laid out.  Theoretically, I should be able to find the utensil or pot I need blindfolded.  Not with this one (or most of her predecessors either).  They’ll stick an open packet of milk under the sink with the detergents and wonder why I complain about the source of the smell.  They’ll jam pots in wall cupboards so the doors won’t close and mix crystal glasses in with cast iron ware and wonder at all the broken glass they have to clean up.  Last time I went to the city, the maid took the suit I wore to Marcia’s Mother’s funeral, the only one I could still climb into, and put it through an African hand wash.  To be fair, I have put so much weight on in the last couple of years, I need a new suit anyway.

‘She says it’s far too much for her’, said Marcia when I asked her why the maid hadn’t turned up for a week.

‘Fair do’s, I didn’t like her anyway’, I admitted; ‘just another one of those lazy cows who spends all her time emptying our fridges to cook herself a humungous lunch in-between nicking anything valuable’.  I could get away with saying that to Marcia now because the maid had left of her own bat claiming overwork and not enough pay as her reasons rather than my irascibility.  Here the standard excuse in any kind of labour dispute with a white employer is ‘racism’ so I was doubly grateful that I had not even a finger in her employment or the payment of her salary, and that my hand in getting rid of her had not been recognised.

‘I need a boy to help me clean up the garden,’ I told Marcia, ostensibly changing the subject, ‘I was thinking of Frank.’

‘Frank?’

‘Frank, Francis, Fransisco, whatever he is called, the boy who used to help me with the water, I like him.’

‘But he’s deaf!’

‘Is he?’ I asked genuinely surprised as hell.

‘You mean you never noticed?’

‘No, I didn’t,’ I admitted, ‘I used to just slap him round the head when I thought he was ignoring me.  But I would like him anyway.’

‘How long do you want him for?’

‘Well, as long as it takes.  The garden looks like a building site and is strewn with builder’s rubbish and litter.  Also, we need to cut the dead palm fronds off the trees; they are a real fire hazard.  There’s loads he can do to help me.’

Marcia considered this for a moment.

‘I don’t need a maid, Marcia, I need an extra pair of hands’, I said, risking buying back the deal.

‘I think that is a good idea,’ Marcia said, ‘but I will pay him his salary in food from the shop.  He has two younger brothers and a baby sister to look after.  If I give him money his father will steal it to buy whisky.’

‘Now THAT is an excellent idea!’ I said, closing the deal.

So Frank came onto the payroll (food roll). 

Never mind all the other things this lad can do well (the garden is getting towards immaculate, his timekeeping perfect), boy can he keep a clean kitchen!  Everything is in its place.  There is not only a dustbin in the kitchen (a recycled 20 litre paint container he had the sense to retrieve), it has a plastic liner.  It is these little touches that count for so much.  He never greets me in the morning on his punctual arrival by enquiring (like a cloying sycophant) after my health or whether I enjoyed a good night’s sleep.  A fresh packet of cigarettes always appears on my desk yet I never seem to be able to either fill the ashtray or run out of whisky.  He ALWAYS knows where I have left my car keys, telephone or sandals yet I never see him!  How can a boy who I now know to be largely deaf, learn how to creep about the place the way he does? 

I hated it, you have no idea how badly I hated it, when maids helped themselves to anything I had in the fridge and scoffed the bloody lot.  If I complained, I was being unreasonable.  What right does an employee have to eat off my bone china using silver cutlery when we make do on a daily basis with Chinese porcelain and stainless steel? I wouldn’t have minded if they had fed me and Alex a slice or two but all of them happily watched the little boy starve. 
 
Frank asked for permission to gnaw on a day old bread roll.  I wasn’t having anything of that.  He likes eggs I discovered.  So does Alex and so do I.  So I taught him how to make scrambled eggs on toast.  Not the scrambled eggs they make here, merely tossing a few into a vat of oil, stirring them around a bit and then serving a heart attack on a plate.  No, I taught him how to whisk the eggs nicely in a bowl, adding a bit of salt and ground black pepper, a little bit of milk and then introducing the fluffy mixture into a pan only lightly greased with butter, banging the lid on and letting nature take its course while the bread, neatly sliced in half, crisped up in the oven.  I showed him what a cheese grater was and how with its product we could dust the omelette before slipping it out of the pan and serving it and how much nicer it all tasted if one was sitting at a table with a pot of decent tea, full cream milk, sugar and a bit of indulgent tomato ketchup.  I only had to show him once.  Goodness, if this lad can encourage Alex to sit at the table every morning and eat a decent breakfast he’s worth his weight in gold.  I might even be tempted to eat breakfast myself if he added a few mushrooms.

Entirely separately, Marcia and I had come to the same conclusions.  Maids are generally useless and this boy deserves a bit of a bunk up to look after his siblings.

As an aside, I am beginning to think Frank's deafness is psychological, a device against his abusive father and everyone else who took the piss out of him when he was a scared and very lonely little boy.  I have snuck up on him a couple of times and softly called out his name, ‘Frank’ I’m the only one who calls him by that name, and he has turned round every time.  Others can scream ‘Francisco’ until their lungs turn inside out. 

He knows I know.  But that’s Ok.  So long as he keeps my kitchen cabinets in order and sneaks the odd bottle of whisky out of the shop for me, it can stay our little secret can’t it? 

Being selectively deaf is a huge attribute for a Gentleman’s Gentleman.

 

 


46 comments:

  1. what a beautiful story! you are softer than you like everyone to think :)

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    1. Even some films can make me cry!

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  2. How utterly wonderful! Your maid story resonates. We have the most wonderful maid I have ever employed, and I would be completely lost without her. She had to go and look after her ailing father for about two months a couple of years ago, and I missed her terribly. We tried a temporary, but after showing her how to make the bed properly practically every day, we decided to give up and do everything ourselves. I know how to keep house, but I'm not keen on doing it. I've been fortunate enough to have "staff" all my life, but from the very youngest age my parents taught me an invaluable lesson - to respect them and to remember that they are your employees, not friends, (although as children the amahs were our nannies I suppose). Before the angel we have now, we had a series of about 5 who didn't last very long, because clearly they had no idea what to do, even after explaining the job requirements patiently to them. When you've got a good one, never let go. The amah we had in Hong Kong was with us for about 20 years. We still have yum cha with her when we visit, and we always squabble over the bill, which she's usually paid in advance.

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    1. Good staff are as rare as hen's teeth. I was bemused that the divorce settlement my second wife screwed out of me (literally as well as figuratively I suppose) included the maid.

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    2. My friends Ama, lays in her bed all day watching tv, eats all the food. Then before she comes home for the day, she spray polish in the air, irons the sheets whilst they are on the bed, instead of washing them.

      She has tried to fire her twice each time she has cried, said she will be deported and all her family will die of starvation.

      she just buys extra food, as her one redeeming feature is she can get things fixed quickly like the tv and internet. else she might have to clean due to no tv or web browsing

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  3. I don't employ staff, but my people did. Female staff for inside the house; male staff for outdoors. The indoor staff were usually lazy, over chatty, and with their owns ideas of interior design. And the outdoor staff were all tea-drinking geriatrics. Nowadays I do it all myself even though I'm lazy, over chatty, with my own geriatric ideas of interior design.

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    1. Gosh, we obviously came out of similar moulds!

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  4. What a fascinating post. I have never employed any staff, living in a small semi in Hertfordshire, as I do! Frank sounds wonderful. I am so pleased that you are helping him and his family. My husband spent a year in Botswana in 1964 ( with VSO helping with voting) and tells many tales of " servants" and their funny ways. A maid once pulled the bedding off him as he slept because she needed to wash it!

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    1. Your husband obviously had quite an effect. Botswana is about the most stable country in Africa, politically and economically.

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  5. great post as usual! :-) when's the book coming out! :-) also, I'm trying my hardest to come home next year, if I do I will knock at your door! :-D all the best

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    1. Look forward to seeing you! I'll buy you an ice cream!

      Re the book, you're in London, find me a publisher and I'll split it with you. Maybe you could proof read it for me to make sure I am not getting too close to the bone about Bloody Africa!

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    2. eh eh, not that well connected I'm afraid :-) but tell you what, I did self-publish a book about my first time back in Angola using Lulu (http://www.lulu.com), and it was really easy! I can give you a hand doing something like that if you want. Would take a good old while, as we'd have to get all the posts out of blogger one at a time but it definitely works, the books that come out are of decent quality - well, they look like real paperbacks put it that way. Tell you what, if you're up for it please reply with the first post you want to see in the book and I'll start copying the content over to the "publishing infrastructure". Got my nerd scripts for it somewhere, will locate it over the weekend.

      kandando

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  6. Another awesome story. I think Frank knows what a good bloke you are and I hope your arrangement flourishes. In any environment, a volunteer will always be worth umpteen pressed men.
    As for selective hearing, as I get older I find it a bit useful sometimes.

    A chap went to the doctors and said "When I touch myself on the arm here, or the chest here or my leg here, it really hurts." The doctor examined him and diagnosed a broken finger!!

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    1. And possibly should have come with a "get the coffee on" warning. ;)

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    2. Get the coffee on warnings only come when the article is longer than six pages in Word. This one was just shy of that!

      Actually, it was a lot longer but a little bird told me to be ruthless when editing an article. He told me I needed to tighten up. Tighten up! sez I. I'm tight every day!

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Oh, what a shame, you removed your comment and it was such a sweet one too.

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    2. Only removed it because it went on under the wrong account then had to rush off without commenting at all.
      Glad to hear he is not really deaf.. but then what is the problem with his speech ? Sounds like you have found a real diamond there.

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  8. Heart warming stuff..a great story to add to all your others...I hope he continues to shine now that you've given him the opportunity - that's all peo0ple need isn't is? The opportunity

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    1. I have been badly let down on occasion in the past but the successes more than make up for it. It's like a sort of micro-finance, a small investment that can make a huge difference.

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  9. I loved hearing about Frank and how it all worked out.
    Unfortunately, I have no idea what's going on in the rest of the world since I now spend my mornings reading your posts instead of the morning paper.
    Fascinating stuff.

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  10. Good Lord, yet another reason for me to feel guilty!

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  11. Next you are going to tell me that Beethoven's hearing was perfect.

    Should I ever be in need of a good (bedtime) story - once I've gone blind - will you oblige? Thank you.

    One can always tell the colonial type by their use of language: "Thoroughly decent chap". Good. Excellent. My father-in-law (British Army) called his odd job help "my little man". Baffled me for years considering that the man in question was huge. Still, one does get used to these isles' ways.

    Since we are on shaming and blaming: I once had a cleaner (standards need to be maintained and I was hunting gold all hours). I thought her naturally fat. Until she gave me notice. Why would she leave a cosy job? Didn't I tidy the house BEFORE her arrival and my departure? Didn't I pay her a fortune? Did she think me a stuck up cow swanning off in designer suits leaving her to do little? No. She was eight months pregnant. Unnoticed by me. I nearly died. There and then. Five kids later she is still fat. I rest my case.

    I am not a gentleman. Only a woman who does.

    Best of luck to Frank. May you be an inspiration to him (not in all quarters).

    Oh to have your every whim and fancy anticipated!
    Wooster and Jeeves greetings,

    U

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    1. Why wait until you go blind my blonde haired little Aryan beauty? I could nip over with a blindfold and read you all the bedtime stories your little heart desires and at least have a go fulfilling your every whim and fancy (I might need a smoke break halfway through).

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  12. Your Frank is a treasure; bring him along well. He's only 14.

    He has great taste in shirts, too, by the way.

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    1. Don't worry, if he steps out of line I will give him a clip round the ear.

      I am just waiting for Sky News to cotton on and slate the Hippo brand for employing child labour.

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  13. Sounds like a good kid - kudos to you for giving him the chance.

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    1. Pure idleness on my part I assure you. I wasn't going to clean the garden up!

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  14. we are in real need of an odd job man, there are things in the garden that we just don't seem to get sorted and lots of little things I need doing like shelves hanging, pictures hanging. it would suit a semi retired person who used to be a handy man. I put 2 cards up one in wilkinsons and one in the post office. I am offering more than my hourly wage. I haven't had one bite, not one call. I will pay them in food if they want...

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    1. I work for whisky and cigarettes?

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    2. At least that's what Marcia pays me now. If you gave me food as well, that'd be a pay rise!

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  15. OH MY GOD!!!!!! *squeal* is that wall paper or tiles with SOL written on it? do you think I could get it in England

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    1. I have long been a fan of yours so I just had to decorate my kitchen with your name all over the walls!

      Actually it is half inch thick coated marine plywood made for wet areas in a house by a company called Sol onto which I will stick the kitchen tiles. I just haven't got round to finishing the tiling yet.

      It comes in sheets 2.2 metres by 1.2 metres so I will need a big envelope to send you some.

      You have me thinking now. Nowadays anyone can print a photo book, have a novel printed into paperback or hardback form, have posters knocked up. Why can't you nip down to the wallpaper shop and have them print off as many rolls of your wallpaper design you want?

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    2. i'm pretty sure it is possible to get custom wallpaper. i'm a fount of useless information that i cant reference.....

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  16. I like Frank, and i've a feeling he's helping you as much as you're helping him.

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    1. I am beyond help but Frank deserves a break.

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  17. Frankly, Frank sounds as if he is worth his weight in gold. I am tempted to put in an offer for him - like a football manager nicking your best player. Are you sure that employment laws allow you to pay him with food? Over here in England employees usually expect money.

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    1. It's all these bastard laws... Look I am not going there.

      The kid and his siblings need food. He is just a kid, So instead of doing a paper round like I did in UK, he spends his time productively with me. I spend my time teaching him. I encourage him, trust him. No.one has ever trusted him before and he goes home with the bagful of groceries that will feed him and all his siblings.

      If I pay you cash, you still have to walk to and from the shops. All I am doing is cutting out the middle man and ensuring the lad's Dad doesn't piss his son's wage up against the wall. I am also paying his school fees directly. No way his father can get his hands on the cash.

      I know in the developed world there is a huge furore about child labour and I agree with it but, be real. Are you telling me you never did a job as a kid to earn pocket money?

      I have the most enormous respect for Frank because, rather than money, all he wants, by the fruits of his own labour, is to feed his brothers and sisters. An enormous burden for the shoulders of a fourteen year old.

      If it were not for the fact that he is the sole breadwinner, I would be doing everything I could to send Frank to you so that he would enjoy a decent education, a wonderful mentor (even if you are a bleeding Communist), and would turn into the man he deserves to be while you enjoy a sparkling kitchen and a well tended garden.

      We have just finished English lessons so now I am going to teach him how to mix and appreciate the perfect Rum and Coke.

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    2. The fact that parents spend all their welfare money on booze is the main problem we have here with aboriginal health. Drunken parents abuse their children , and don't provide them with food and other necessities and the children end up going along the same path so paying Frank with food is a brilliant idea and will have a much better outcome for him and his family.

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    3. Hippo - when you were in the army they should have just given you grub and same for you Helen - when teaching, just a freezer full of kangaroo meat every month. No money so no inessentials like whisky, cigarettes, petrol, quilting materials or holidays abroad.

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  18. Frank sounds wonderful! And kudos to Marcia for knowing so much about him and his family - I'm afraid she showed you up on that score. Because my knees are so bad and I use a rolling walker, I have had housekeeping help for the first time ever. Started 2 years ago when I was able to get someone to come once a month, for 1 hour, cheap! Through the auspices of the county health dept (I'm also a senior, so that helps). The dept ran out of funding at the end of that year, so I had to find someone new. This woman was a dream - she came twice a month and usually spent 2 hours, cleaning more thoroughly than I ever did. Note - I have a 1-bedroom apt. so, except for all the cat hair, it doesn't need a lot of work. Then she got her full-time job back and I had to look again. My new help is a powerhouse, but she's also a talker. I'm not going to complain, though, because she is really helping me clear out stuff, unpack old boxes to sort through them and pack what's going in the car to get ready for my move back to Georgia - less than 2 weeks now. At this point I don't care if she stops to talk or helps herself to my chocolate stash! I'm too grateful to complain!

    Nancy in Iowa

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    1. Alex, my five year old boy can sniff out a chocolate stash faster than any maid!

      I really hope Frank works out. He appears miles more willing than any of the maids. For the first time in six months, it rained here. There he was, working away in the garden,

      I hope your move to Georgia goes well and you remain comfortable. Georgia is in the Deep South isn't it? I always had an image of Deep South Good 'Ol Boys hawking up into spittoons before going off to shoot something, or someone, so I hope we will stay in touch and you can disavow me of such an impression.

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  19. yes I am childish - I giggled at "he let out the most enormous sub-aqua fart." then guffawed at "whataboutahotwaterbottlehoddle"
    I then had to leave my desk (at work of course) to go and distract myself so that I could finish your prose without spontaneous - very childish giggling. Yes my inner child is still very much there.

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    1. Bloody hell. In that madhouse in Luanda, we were such good mates, weren't we?

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