Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Forget the coffee, I think it's a dry sherry while the roast burns...

Community Court V. Hippo.  Post trial report and verdict.

Two hours in, I knew I was dead…

Well that was quite a long day.

I went in there with my head held high, sat in the chair they indicated to me, crossed my legs and lit a cigarette.  I did not want to honor them by over dressing for the occasion so I wore a safari suit.  I was annoyed when I could not find my cravat and incandescent when I found that the dog had chewed the belt for the jacket but then decided that the open necked loose fitting blouse approach was probably best.

I don’t know if any of you read Ursula’s blog.  I’d be surprised because she is barking mad.  I really would like to leave a remark or two on her blog occasionally but I am so often left dumbfounded.  Without the faintest idea what she is on about, it is hard to formulate a comment.

When I  returned from the kangaroo court, I discovered a load of emails and several comments left on my blog post wishing me luck and giving me advice.  The venue was changed at the last minute but I still decided to perambulate through the neighborhood rather than drive.  Marcia would easily be able to survive an impounded husband but an impounded truck would definitely affect the bottom line.  The last piece of advice I saw before I left was from Sir Owl of The Wood.  He suggested I armed myself with ashtrays.  Clearly he has recognized these as my weapon of choice.  Sadly, although the pockets of a Safari Jacket are capacious enough for several, I have but one ashtray and that had been impounded as evidence.  Besides, they would have ruined the lines of the suit.

Ursula’s advice, which I only read after the event, was to leave my joke book behind.  This I had done as I was under no illusion what might become of me if the decision went the wrong way.  Although this was a community court it’s decision, should they determine I was guilty of attempted murder, would leave the police with no option but to bang me up and investigate and that could take years.

This isn’t the first time I have had a brush with the Angolan legal system.  I first met Dominic’s mother in 1995.  In order to get about a country busy bashing itself to death I used UN light aircraft.  To get a seat, I had to book in at the UN Flight Section of the World Food Program.  She worked there and I couldn’t help but notice her.  It appeared that she and her female colleagues also noticed me.  In fact it was her friend who had the real crush on me but as it so often works out in these situations the one who really fancied me, missed out. In those days I was still fit and slim and dressed in jeans.  Jeans shirt, jeans jacket and, of course trousers.  In the bush jeans are easy to wash in a river, robust, dry out quickly and don’t need ironing.  Everything I owned was carried in a small rucksack slung over my shoulder.  Whereas everyone else calling in to the Flight Section arrived in air-conditioned Landcruisers, I pitched up without a helmet on an old Ural motorcycle which eventually, as I was a frequent traveller to all the hot-spots, I was allowed to park in the hangar so it was waiting for me when and if I got back.  The girls called me the ‘Old Hippie’.

These were light aircraft so I was only allowed 10 kgs of baggage.  Most of the passengers were self-important UN officials from Geneva or New York so they would argue furiously about such a feeble baggage allowance.  After all, in the resolution of all the world’s conflicts, these people were impotent  important.  So it was no use asking them if they would take a package and deliver it to some poor bastard employee of theirs who had been months in the thick of it and really needed a Red Cross parcel.  Since the heaviest item in my kit was only ever a bottle of whisky, I was always happy to oblige and once they realized that I didn’t just dump the parcel at the arrival airfield and presume it would somehow find its way to its intended recipient, I tracked the person down and delivered it myself, I became a regular courier, made a lot of new friends, and got myself a beautiful girlfriend who would be the mother of my first child..

I felt sorry for the fact she had to walk from home to the nearest UN bus stop so as we were by then a bit of an item, I offered to buy her a second hand car.  She went for a reasonably priced Nissan Blebird which looked in good nick.

A few months later, she asked me if she could sell it as she had enough saved up to buy a 4x4.  We weren’t married, it was her car as far as I was concerned, she could do what she liked.  What I didn’t realize though, was that she sold the car to a colleague at work on the ‘Never-Never’.  She broke two fundamental laws regarding used cars here.  Firstly, only ever sell them for cash on the nail, Caveat Emptor.  Second, never sell a used car to a friend.

Three months later she confessed to me that while the guy had paid a two grand deposit, he had not made a single payment to service the outstanding six grand debt.

‘Well go and see your boss then’, I said.

‘I did but he said it was not a matter for the UN and that the UN could not get involved in local issues.’

Well that sounds like yer typical slope shouldered, lily livered limp dick UN official.

‘Can you have a word with him, please?’ 

What the hell did she expect me to do, stick my Makarov in his face?  I told her to stick a complaint against in at her office and get a lawyer to write a letter to him saying he either coughs up or gives her the car back.  He actually had the audacity to come and create a fuss at my place of work.  I told him to fuck off.  A couple of months later, he gave her the car back.  In bits.

‘Just put it down to experience’, I told her.  It had already cost over 500 bucks in lawyer’s letters.  Imagine how much it would cost, and how long it would take, to get him to court.  And to what end?  The court, unable to fathom the ‘He said, ‘She said’ shit would just say, ‘Put it down to experience’.  I know it rankles but sometimes it really is better just to walk away, a little poorer perhaps, but a heck of a lot poorer.  I tried to explain to her what a Pyrrhic Victory was but I don’t think it helped her sleep any better.  I couldn’t see why she was so hot and bothered, it was my money after all and I had, by now, bought her a brand new RAV 4.

We were married, finally moved into a decent house in one of the smarter neighborhoods of Luanda and she fell pregnant with Dominic.  I flew down to Cape Town, bought a nice house in Constantia overlooking the vineyards, put my step-daughter into St Cyprian’s, employed a Gentleman to drive her around in the Mercedes I had bought her and returned to Angola to work.  In due course she gave birth to Dominic in the Constantiaberg clinic.  I had flown her mother and my mother down there for the event and she thanked me my being late to pup.  Have you any idea what it was like for me living in the same house as my mother AND my mother-in-law?

So there I was, back in Angola, family safely tucked up in Cape Town when the house guard told me there were some gentlemen in the street who wanted to talk to me.

‘Invite them in’, I said.

They issued me with a Summons.  My wife AND I, were jointly charged with fraud, a crime carrying ten years in gaol if convicted.  To say I was confused would be an understatement worthy of a man whose Sang was so Froid, there were icebergs in his arteries.  Then they arrested me because I had failed to answer two previous summonses.  I pointed out that I had never received either of the first two summonses.  They had no answer for that neither could they tell me what it was all about, they had only been instructed to find and fetch me.  They took me to the same police station where, a year before I had as part of my duty as a foreigner living in Angola been obliged to register myself.

I must have Irish blood in me because with the luck of the Irish, it was the same Chief Inspector who had almost fallen off his seat backwards when I walked into his police station a year before saying that in accordance with Angolan law, I needed to register at the police station responsible for the suburb in which I lived.  ‘No foreigner EVER does that!’ he had said at the time.  I formally signed the summonses, received my copy and instead of being banged up, was allowed to leave.

My wife was in Cape Town suckling my only son so she wasn’t around to help me.  I asked my boss if I could go and see the Angolan lawyers my employers had on retainer.

‘This is very serious,’ they informed me with due (and expensive gravitas), ‘You are looking at ten years if convicted’. 

‘But what have I done?’ I asked.

‘We’ll need to make an application to the Criminal Court.  In the meantime, you will need to deposit US$2,000 in cash at our offices no later than tomorrow morning.  You did the right thing to come and see us’.  Lawyers ALWAYS say that, don’t they?  I didn’t even get a cup of coffee.

A week later, remarkable only for my lack of sleep, they came into the office, called my boss and had a meeting.  So much for client confidentiality, after all, my employer’s weren’t paying the bills in this case.  Ignoring me completely they informed my boss that a year before I joined his company, I had committed fraud.  I had ignored two summonses and had now been arrested, cautioned to appear, and been released.  My boss, one of the sharpest tools in the box and the best administrator I had ever seen looked at me.

‘I haven’t a fucking clue what it is about!’ I protested and then, somewhat wimpishly added, ‘Honest!’

‘What are the charges?’ my boss asked quietly of the lawyers.

‘Fraud!’ they exclaimed in unison, ‘Ten years in jail!’

I don’t think it was an icy stare he gave them (I couldn’t really see as I had averted my eyes from him and had fixed my gaze on the lawyers such was my eagerness to know why my life was suddenly crashing around me).  An icy stare would have frozen them to the spot.  I think he gave them the briefest glimpse of the fiery hell that awaited them if they continued to jerk him around.

‘What   Did   He   Do?’

‘He sold a car with the wrong engine in it’.  One of them confessed hurriedly.

‘I see’, replied my boss.  ‘Thomas?’

‘I still haven’t a clue what they are on about!  I have never even owned a car here much less sold one…  I have only ever bought cars for my wife… hang on a sec…  What car are they talking about?’

It was the Nissan Bluebird.

Once I got a glimpse of all the court documents that I had paid $2,000 for, I could see the timeline.  Immediately AFTER my wife left the UN and started the new job I had arranged for her with a drilling company the manager of which just happened to be an old motorcycle racing pal of mine this git had initiated court proceedings against her listing her address as Care Of the UN.  For good measure, even though he knew at the time I was still only her boyfriend, he had thrown my name into the melting pot as well.  Having failed to answer two wrongly delivered summonses, I was already guilty as hell.  The argument was that I had sold the plaintiff a Nissan Bluebird that actually had a Nissan Stanza engine fitted.  A Nissan Stanza is the hatch back version of the four door Bluebird.  As far as I was concerned, the engines and drive train were the same.

Corruption is rife here.  It is not a question of the law; it is a question of either who you know or how much money you have.  Blessed with both, some people get away with murder.

I had none of the former and very little of the latter.

The lawyers suggested a plea bargain.  We would confess to the crime, pay compensation and spend no more than six months in jail.  I sacked them.

First thing I had to do was track the car down and pray that it had not been overmolested.  At the time of the War Over the Car, I had been working for a provider of ‘hard’ security services which was why back then I had a Makarov I was licensed to use and was increasingly regretting not having done so.  When the car came back all stuffed up I had given it to my side kick, a police inspector assigned to me so that if in the course of my duties I shot anyone he could write the report and everything would be OK. His reports always made brilliant reading.  I was still learning Portuguese at the time so I had to ask him why he started them all off with ‘Era uma vez…’  Apparently that is Portuguese for ‘Once Upon a Time’.   I had also given him all the car documentation and had no copies.

Having retrieved copies of the documentation, having physically confirmed the chassis and engine numbers matched the documentation I went to Nissan Angola and asked them if they could confirm that there was no difference between a Bluebird and a Stanza engine.  They told me that of course there was.  Bluebird engines are fitted to Bluebirds and Stanza’s to Stanzas.

I rang my brother in Germany.

‘I’m facing ten years in nick for fraud’

‘Only ten years?’ he asked, ‘can’t have been worth the effort, especially if you can’t even get away with it’

Within 24 hours, courtesy of Nissan Germany he had the complete build sheet for the car.  The engine fitted to this particular Bluebird was the one it left the factory in Japan with.

Let us forget the fact I still hadn’t got a lawyer and the court appearance date was already peering over the horizon; I had another, far more serious problem.  My wife.

She had also been summoned.  If all this went badly wrong, she also faced time inside.  I had sent her to Cape Town, setting her up nicely so that my son could be born in a decent clinic (and good job too, she was in labour for eight hours and it turned out the umbilical cord was wrapped around Dominic’s neck) and grow strong in a civilized environment well stocked with nutritional kit from South African supermarkets the shelves of which were groaning under the weight of healthy produce the likes of which the Angolans were not to see for over another ten years).  I was slow off the mark reproducing.  When Dominic was born, I was already forty years old and mildly surprised that my tackle still worked.  The thought of my son having to be handed over to a wet nurse or do time inside an Angolan jail with his convicted mother made me sick.

I could have just bolted.  I had a house in Cape Town, we were all nicely set up and, given my line of work, I would have quickly been able to arrange another well-paying job anywhere in the world except Angola.  They had confiscated my passport but, let’s face it, the lack of one is hardly an impediment to international travel for the determined.  Especially in Africa where they are too dim to realize that most international businessmen have more than one and a few hundred bucks in cash at immigration on your way out deals with the lack of an entry visa.  At one stage I had three passports.  Two of them were in my name.  But even without a single passport, I could easily have pitched up on my Cape Town doorstep.

Running, though, was not the answer.  I had to clear the family name.  She was my wife and now with a son, they were my family so, for better or worse, I would stand by them.  They were Angolan.  My entire wife’s family was in Angola.  She should suddenly become a fugitive, stateless, unable to return to her home? There was no way I was going to allow them into the clutches of the Angolan authorities.  Trouble was, I hadn’t got a fucking clue what to do and the clock was ticking.

While all this was going on I still had a job to do.  I was pissed off with the standard of service I was getting from the security service provider so I arranged a meeting with the owner.  Now I liked this guy.  When I first met him he drove a Ssangyong Musso.  After the expulsions of all the expatriate security men and realizing that I had managed to hang on, he offered me a very reasonable percentage of the contract value if I could swing the international clients his way.  We are talking lots of million dollar contracts here.  I did not hate him for that, it is after all, the standard approach here in Angola and, I guess, elsewhere in the world.  Everyone I had spoken to had offered me a similar deal.  But there was something about him that I liked.  I felt sure he could provide what I wanted.

‘I tell you what,’ I said, ‘if you give me the ten percent you are offering me as a reduction on the contract value instead, buy some new vehicles dedicated to us, I’ll call it quits’.

‘Ah,’ he said, the 'Maneira Inglés’ 

The English Manner.  Here, twenty years ago ‘The English Manner’ amongst the Angolans was a synonym for ‘Honesty and Integrity’.  Not entirely sure what’s happened to that since.

Anyway, I was sitting in the guy’s office berating him about the reliability of his response vehicles and the execrable English of his control room operators when he asked me what flea was really chewing my nuts, so I told him.

He was very angry with me.  He called his secretary in and ordered her to fetch someone else.  While we waited, he continued to berate me.  Why hadn’t I told him IMMEDIATELY!!!  Didn’t I realize that this was SERIOUS?  I could go down for TEN years!!!! 

Ten is a good round number.  By this stage I was a shadow of my former self.  I wasn’t eating and I was drinking far too much.  Sleeping was something I remembered doing as a kid but clearly, in the absence of my Teddy who, only known to me was an outstanding kick boxer and could keep all demons at bay, I was having a few problems.

I was quite depressed.  Not least because everyone I spoke to about this appeared evidently confident I was somehow responsible.  While one should be grateful either way, for various subtle reasons, there is a distinction between friends assuring you that the charges are without foundation and will be disposed of accordingly, and the attitude I found prevalent here suggesting ‘you’re a guilty bastard, you old rogue but we have the connections to get you off’.  They were going to get me off but on what grounds?  And at what cost? 

Oh it wasn’t the money.  I’d have gladly sacrificed anything material to protect my family but I was stuck between the most ancient rocks of Africa and an even harder place.  By accepting their help, knowing such a course would flout due legal process, I was effectively conceding my guilt and the debt I owed a system I despised.  My wife thought I was mad but as I tried to explain to her on the phone, I just couldn’t do it.  Had the Ministry of Justice, looking at the evidence, decided there wasn’t a case to answer so it did not need to go to trial, fine.  But they had told me that because I had failed to show for two summonses and was now out on police bail, only a trial could provide closure.

‘OK’. I told my mentor.  ‘I want to go to trial, but, I want to answer the charges by myself’

Family and face in Africa is very important.  In a lot of cases it causes what the rest of the world call corruption and they, the Africans, see as merely obligation.  I say ‘merely’.  Here it is a bloody serious obligation.  Often, the whole family saves and clubs together just to send one family member to school.  If he makes it, he doesn’t just earn just for himself, he earns for a vast, extended family.  It’s the way it works here.

Now, with a very weak hand, I was going to play them at their own game.

‘I am the head of my family’, I said.  ‘If any member of my family commits a crime I, and I alone am responsible.  If you want to help me, make sure I can appear in court and answer singularly for my family and if there is any debt to pay, I pay it.’

‘Are you sure?’ he asked me.

‘Actually, I am scared witless’, I told him, ‘but this is a matter of Honor.  The whole thing is a crock of shit, what’s the worst they can do to me, bang me up for a couple of years in Bentiaba?’

‘Ten years’ he said.

‘For a Nissan engine?’ I replied.

His man came in.  He tossed him the file and said, ‘Go to the Ministry of Justice, identify the process and have the girl’s name removed from it’.

He turned back to me.  ‘Seriously, that’s all you want?’

’Look at it this way,’ I said, ‘She is Angolan.  If she has a criminal record, she is stuffed.  If I go down, I’ll spend a bit of time inside and then they’ll expel me, you know that.  I’ll go off and work somewhere else, she’ll get the house in Maianga and we’ll meet up anytime we want in Cape Town, so what’s the big deal?  I want the right to face the court and defend myself.’

This guy does not drink, he doesn’t smoke and he certainly does not use the Lord’s name in vain but I could have sworn I heard him say, ‘Fuck Me’.

I had appealed to African law and they agreed.  As Head of the Family, I argued, I answer for my Family so at the appointed hour I appeared, was duly re-arrested, finger printed and manacled.  I wasn’t entirely happy (largely because they confiscated my hip flask and fags) but I knew it was me and me alone that was standing there and not the mother of my boy.  She and the boy were safe in Cape Town, probably eating waffles with ice cream in Cavendish Square for all I knew but they were safe and that was good enough for me.

It is difficult for me to make an accurate comparison between a UK court room and an Angolan courtroom from the client’s point of view.  Many times I have been called as an ‘Expert Witness’ to Crown Courts in UK but I just answered the questions posed to me with absolute honesty (once much to the obvious frustration of the prosecution, I was only ever a witness for the prosecution, but what these buggers failed to appreciate is that our job, as they reminded us as we took the stand, was to tell the truth) and avoided looking at the guy in the dock.  I noticed enough, however, to recall that there was a dock, a place for a man to sit, a rail for him to lean on.  But I never experienced it from the peculiar perspective of a man facing a beak. 

What I got in Angola was a box.  Not a box to sit in but a small box to sit on.  With my arms manacled behind my back, like I was some sort of axe murderer, in the middle of the floor.

Trials of any kind tend to be a bit of a draw for those dismally bereft of anything vaguely recognizable as a life in any country but I have to confess that a chained up white man in Africa was justifiably quite a draw so I could excuse the fact  the courtroom was packed.  Sadly, because of the resultant heat, I was sweating like a rapist and feared such obvious discomfort hardly stood me in good stead.  Bereft of a lawyer, they had trawled the local kindergartens until they found someone who could, as near as dammit, tie his own shoe laces.  Seeing him sweating more than I was, I felt marginally reassured.  By this stage, dear reader, one should understand that I was beyond suicidal and, being already dead, was merely a dispassionate observer.  Not so dead or dispassionate to fail to recognize that handcuffs are jolly uncomfortable.  I can handle the pain, don’t get me wrong, but at my age, if you have to go, you have to go so you end up shouting at your minders offering them the choice of unzipping the flies, reaching into the Y Fronts and grabbing the tackle to point it in the right direction or releasing the damn cuffs.  They cracked first time.  This is a Man thing.  Heterosexual or gay, no man wants to swamp his trousers in court and even jailors understand this.

I had passed over my carefully compiled defence file with notarized translations into Portuguese from both the German and British Embassies as required and all supporting evidence.  The car as sold was as it left the factory, just with a few more miles on it.  This would all be over in five minutes.

It took a week.

The judgement, when it was finally delivered to the hollow eyed suicide risk sat on a box in the middle of the courtroom was simple. 

I was not guilty because, as the Judge pointed out to remind those present that he was Wordly wise and had travelled abroad, it is common practice to swap out a bust engine for a serviceable replacement from the same manufacturer.

‘BUT IT’S THE SAME FUCKING ENGINE!’ I wanted to scream.

This all started off costing me eight grand for a car.  My first wife sold it in on credit with a deposit of two grand and never collected the rest.  The car when we got it back was not worth it so I was down six grand.  The guy took us to court to get his two grand back.  I paid seven and a half grand defending myself and although pronounced not guilty, I was not awarded costs.  When I rang my wife and told her she could relax, it was all over and it was safe for here to visit Angola again she told me that she hadn’t been worried because she knew I would find a way around it.

Now, accused of attempted murder and sitting there in that Jango, on a plastic garden chair this time instead of a box, the Community Court judges in front of me and the hostile family of my ‘victim’ surrounding me, I was having a bit of a Déjà vu.

All the prosecution witnesses, and there were many, had their say.  It took ages.  Each knew they had the floor to themselves and an enraptured audience.  There was a brief pause while one of the witnesses composed herself, the memory of such brutality on my part having clearly upset her so, Carpe Diem; I asked the judge if they had any drinking water.  He told me they did and ordered proceedings to continue.  I lit another cigarette which immediately glued itself to parched lips.

One ‘witness’, Toto, berated me at length.  He invited me to imagine what the likely outcome would have been if the whole village had retaliated by attacking me and my family?  ‘After all’, he pointed out, ‘it is just you, your wife, and a boy. We are many!’  he shouted threateningly pointing his finger directly at me.  He then went on to say that I was thoroughly unjustified to attack a lonely citizen when we, meaning, I suppose me, Marcia and Alex, outnumbered them.  Them?  Oh yes, I remember, the guy that attacked my wife had two other guys with him although, to be fair, they did fuck off pretty sharpish once I started swinging the ashtray.  It says a lot for African wife beating men that they consider three of them against one old white man, his four year old son and young wife as being unfairly outnumbered.  Consider this, though, if there were so many witnesses present in the Community Court, all of them sympathetic to and testifying in favour of the plaintiff, just exactly how outnumbered were they in my Jango that fateful night?  As outnumbered as I felt right there and then in their court?  Of all the witnesses who had a go at me, I was most surprised at Toto.  He was the one that witnessed Marcia paying over the money for the disputed land that everyone now denies was ever paid but I guess he was just having a go at me because, as he subsequently claimed, I once attempted to kill him.  Actually, all I did was grab him around the neck and put him to sleep for a while because he was beating his wife to death in front of Marcia’s shop.  As I said to him when he woke up, do you what you like to her in your own home but you can’t smack a woman like that on my property.

We weren’t the only people in my Jango when the trouble started, but rather as I expected, none of them were present now to speak up on my behalf.  Not surprising really, they were all women so they don’t count here and they know damn well that careless words cost lives.  Or at least earn you a good hiding.  Joaquim, who is widely accepted as male was present but, if they were stamping medals for cowardice, he would get the equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

Everyone having made themselves hoarse shouting at me, the Committee then moved onto the reason for the argument, the question of the disputed payment.  The plaintiff’s bank statements, stained with blood as I noticed with intense gratification, were produced.

Still I kept my parched mouth shut.

These were waved around as evidence of Marcia’s fraudulent attempt to rob this honest citizen of forty one dollars and my complicity in this terrible crime by striking down this honest citizen when he, with all due respect and courtesy had attempted to secure his honest due.

That was when Marcia spoke. 

I thought she was going to go nuts.  She had been tense for a long time and as an ex bomb disposal officer, I really knew just how terrible it could be if she exploded in such a confined space.

‘Look at the date of the Bank Statement’ was all she said.

There was a big huddle as they all got together.  They muttered amongst themselves for ages but then finally had to agree that the statement they were holding in their hands, all three pages of it, was dated 2012.

Composing themselves, the Committee declared that the issue of the contested payment was neither here nor there and would, henceforth, be ignored but there was still the matter of me assaulting a citizen.

Finally, I got my chance to speak.  I looked over at Marcia because she had begged me to really, really try as hard as I could to keep my mouth shut.  I got the green light from her.

I stood up.

‘I am not fully aware of the reasons for the original confusion’, I said before pausing in the best Shakespearian manner, ‘but if any man enters MY house and assaults MY wife ( I paused again), I WILL kill him or die trying.’

‘Furthermore’, I continued, ‘Which man among you would respect me, a husband for not having defended his wife in his own house and which woman among you would not spit on my shadow for allowing her to be beaten by a Gatuno?’

Gatuno is a very inflammatory word.  It’s marvelous.  It’s a wonderful mix of Cunt and Bandit.

And then I sat down, lit yet another cigarette and glanced over to Marcia who was holding her head in her hands.  C’mon, after four hours I was gagging for a drink. There was Fuck all I could say that would make any difference and I was certainly not going to crawl.

There was uproar.  The family of the victim went mad.  They don’t issue the Judges of a Community Court gavels so he banged his fist on the table to restore order.  A few were violently expelled which meant a break in the proceedings while the blood was mopped up from the floor.  I sat tight and finished my fag.

Order restored, the Judge summed up.  Did I not realize that the Angolan Government was, after decades of civil war trying to re-establish order?  After twenty years here was I still unaware of the mechanisms through which an honest citizen could derive legal redress?  And so it went on.  Apparently, seeing someone attacking my wife, I should have strolled down the road to the Coordinator’s house, got him out of bed and asked him to come back to my place and intervene on our behalf, presumably arriving just in time to take my wife to hospital, assuming it was still worth the effort.

I just let it all wash over me.  They knew the guy I hit was a git; he couldn’t prove a debit on his account in Marcia’s favour, it was all a load of bollocks.  I’d smacked the guy with an ashtray, a crime I freely admitted so I was going to go down.  So what?  A partisan crowd was baying for blood.  Let ’em fucking have it.  After twenty years in this shit hole, I’d had enough.   I drifted off back to a nice place, Belize.  I was twenty five years old and shagging the Mexican Ambassador’s girlfriend on the end of a jetty on St George’s Caye with Hazel O’Conner’s ‘Will You’ oozing out of the speakers when her sister surprised us and I died a thousand deaths of embarrassment until she invited her sister to slide in alongside us.  I was in paradise…  it was amazing… and then together the pair of them…

Marcia nudged me in the ribs.

‘Pay attention, they’re delivering the verdict’

The Judge rose from his chair and the jango fell silent.

‘Sr Tomas’.

His pause was miles better than mine as he prepared to pass Judgement:

‘Don’t do it again’

Friday, 22 February 2013

Welcome to Purgatory. Get off your horse and drink your milk


Sind Sie Wahnsinnig!  To cross ze vire is DESS!!


I think most of you regular readers of my blog will know that I have a problem with alcohol.

Actually, I have no problems with it.  I rarely spill it and there is always another bottle in the shop.

Just recently though, I stumbled (as alcoholics usually do) across this blog:

I would urge you to follow the author’s instructions and read it from the beginning.  I stopped after the rather harrowing description of the miserable death of a once fine man, a productive individual and loving father.

I emailed John Gray and asked his advice.  He said what I really needed to do was check myself into a residential rehabilitation clinic.

I emailed my brother and asked him, since he is in Germany blessed with a superb internet connection, functional telephones and something called ‘Common Sense’, to look into it for me.

What I imagined was Stalag Luft XIV.  I would be taken there in a truck and dumped into the icy slush of the courtyard, German Shepherds straining at the ends of their leashes to get a chunk of me.  Detoxification would consist of being chained to a wall in the Cooler.  Every time I reached for my once daily bowl of gruel would see a jackboot crushing down on my already well smashed knuckles.  If I was lucky and the shackles allowed, I would be able to catch and munch down on a cockroach.

The reality appears to be somewhat different.  It is all terribly ‘Touchy Feely’.  I was willing to pay several thousand pounds a week to have the shit kicked out of me.  I know there’s not a single city in UK where with a few well aimed waspish comments I couldn’t get that for free at closing time but I think you know what I mean.  I pictured an institution not too dissimilar to Dartmoor Prison in a permanent state of winter.  Rather than the gentle tap on my bedroom door announcing the arrival of my breakfast at the not unreasonable hour of Ten, I expected Jackbooted guards running their batons along the bars of my cell shouting, ‘RAUS! RAUS! APPEL!’ at Oh My God Hours.  I expected freezing cold showers, hard labour and nothing but contempt from not just deeply unsympathetic but sadistic bastards.  I expected the psychiatrist to be Stasi trained; instead of a couch I would be manacled to a rough wooden chair with a lamp pointing in my face and be beaten with a rubber hose if I gave ‘ze wrong’ answer.

Recognizing that I really needed a boot camp (or maximum security prison) rather than a humane environment, my brother came up with a place in Scotland.  Scotland!  Excellent!  Nothing could surpass the bible bashing flying spittle of an ardent Presbyterian condemning my soul to the fires of everlasting, all-consuming hell unless I repented.  Porridge with salt.  Being head butted in the showers.  Digging peat for the whisky stills in the pouring rain. Losing at Rugby in the pouring rain.  Having my chest caved in by a still animate tonne of Anglophobic Scottish beef in the pouring rain. There'll be a gnashing, A GNASHING of anguished teeth.  But Father, I haven't got any teeth.   TEETH WILL BE PROVIDED!!!!


So I wrote to the Clinic explaining that I wasn’t really into knitting yoghurt and hugging trees and for their fee of 3,450 English (I mean Scottish) pounds per week I expected a jolly good thrashing.  I summarized my email to them thus:


Do you have an evil Sergeant Major who will personally dig a highly polished toe cap into my ribs at six in the morning to toss me out of bed?

Do you have an occupational therapy programme that includes digging soil from one part of the garden, transporting it to the other side and then for no discernable reason whatsoever, transporting it back again?

Are your staff allowed to give lazy and uncooperative inmates a jolly good kick up the arse?

If inmates stray within twenty feet of your security fence in search of distilled grain and cross the wire, can your guards open fire?

Will I be absolved if in twenty years’ time I am accused of pinching a nurse’s bum?

If the answers to all these are 'Yes', please sign me up.

My Angolan wife is hugely supportive.  I showed her the costs and she patted me on the back and said, 'Go for it my Darling.  As you are British, if you die here in Angola we would have to pay to repatriate your body to England by air and that would be far more expensive'.  

The clinic replied.  Apparently I am not an Alcoholic, I have a Dependency.  This is not an Addiction, it is an Illness. 

Bollocks.  No-one forced this stuff down my neck, I did it all to myself.  This is a self-inflicted wound but I do recognize, now that I am addicted and lack the moral fibre to sort it out myself, I need help.  The major part of the programmes offered by private clinics (yes, I have to go private) comprises of Psychoanalogy, the main aim of which is to define, and then help the inmate come to terms with the reason he or she is drinking.

Well that’s an easy bleeding question to answer.  I drank because I liked the taste and I can’t wait for God to come out with a Mark II liver that’s a bit better than the useless one he issued me and everyone else so that we can all drink twice as much and help the government balance its books. 

The rest of the time seems to be taken up with Group Therapy.  My God, if ever there was a hell on earth it is listening to other wasters describing their miserable lives and how they were buggered by their Maths' teacher as kid which turned them into mass murdering drug addicts.  With these guys it is always someone else’s fault.  No, if I were to open one of these meetings it would be with, ‘Let’s get one thing straight, we are ALL worthless shits.  The idea of this programme is to see just how much of it is worth recycling’.

So I was pleased to receive a list of the activities included in their ‘Complimentary Occupational Therapy Programme’ which I have appended below.  I also accept that their ‘Clients’ are not ‘Inmates’ but ‘Patients’.  Pedantic Celts.   I have added my comments, which I kid you not I sent to them (along with a plea for them to add fly fishing, riding, clay pigeon shooting, chopping trees down and cooking lessons), beneath each activity:

Art Group  

Wonderful, maybe I'll churn out a Hockney, recover the fees and get a dinner invitation from Cro Magnum, the most powerful paintbrush in France, or maybe even the Fifth Communist (I read recently in the Telegraph, Columnist, that some old guy, ex journalist, is still looking for you, by the way.  Just deny you ever went to Cambridge and I reckon you’ll be OK)

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyper-barbaric Oxygen Therapy?   People pay to lie around in an oxygen tent?  Doesn't sound too H O T to me.  Can I have a fag while undergoing the treatment?

Equine Assisted Therapy

So they let me, a man who has ridden to hounds on the Quorn and rode over the Vaca Plateau in Central America in search of ancient Mayan ruins, lead a donkey to water and then make me sit together with all the other whacked out donkey wallopers and explain what the experience of being close to a donkey and leading it to water meant to me?  Does the expression, 'I seriously need a drink' spring to mind?

Drumming Therapy

We can all sit in supervised a circle on the lawn and beat a drum?  After an overdose of oxygen and leading an ambulant Findus lasagne to water with no alcohol to numb the senses, I'd be drumming someone's head alright.


'Please, I can't stand this place anymore!  Stick the needles into my eyes!  No! Deeper!  You have to spear the Cerebral Cortex!’

Mindfulness Meditation

Mind Fullness?  What the f*** are they on about?  I saw those Master/Grasshopper movies, I thought the idea of meditation was to EMPTY the mind…  I still can’t walk on rice paper without screwing it up, by the way.

Thai Massage

OK, THAT I am into.  It had crossed my mind that after six weeks incarceration without Marcia I would have bollocks the size of static water tanks, be walking like John Wayne and parting herds of donkey's like Moses did the Red Sea.  Maybe I’ll go for some more HOT treatment so I can keep my end of the deal up.  If the Thais aren’t up for it at least the bloody donkeys will be too scared to come near me.


Sniff.  'Ye-es, I think that's a 25 year old Glenfarclas and' sniff, 'this is a Laphroig, I can smell the peat'.  Can I drink them now?

Relaxation Therapy

Relaxation Therapy?  I call it 'sleeping' or to give it its technical name, 'Egyptian PT'.

'Don't forget to pour me my nightcap and fluff up the pillows before you go, there's a good chap.  Oh, one other thing Old Boy, tell all these other muttering oiks lying on rubber mats on the floor to piss off and, you see that guy in white pajamas up front going, OM, OM, OM?  Just shoot him for me, will you'


I prefer the targeted Acupuncture unless ‘Dance’ means watching naked polish pole dancers.  In which case, maintaining the spirit of the occasion, I would drink only Vodka.  Chilled, of course.

I finished off by telling them that I really wanted to do this.


Before they start the admissions procedure, though, they want my telephone number so that their resident psychiatrist can have chat with me first.

 What on earth for?


Tuesday, 19 February 2013


I caught four year old Alex watching TV after I had told him to brush his teeth.

'Alex!  I thought I told you to go and brush your teeth?  Right, that's it!  No more Ben 10 for you until you brush your teeth!'

Wasting as little effort as possible, he changed channels.

'Alex!  Go and brush your teeth!'

'But I'm not watching Ben 10, Daddy...'

Saturday, 16 February 2013

I'm Out

I am very tired.  Just glugged down a pint of yoghurt and am going to bed.

I will post in the morning by which time I may have regained the sense of humour Ursula wisely advised me to zip.

Repent Sinner! For Your Time Is Nigh!

No shit!

Tomorrow I face the public tribunal for wilfully and maliciously bashing an ashtray, itself a relic of war, into the head of a poor Angolan citizen with intent to kill, after first having stunned him with a one two combination breaking my left hand in the process,  The lattter being the meat of the initial confrontation forming the assault charges just in case they don't get me for attempted murder..

Well of course I am guilty. Mind you, if the bastard had gone down with the first combination I wouldn't have had to hit him with the ashtray so wouldn't now be facing the 'with intent to kill' bit which, as my lawyer says, is a bit of a nuisance.  Well I will bear that in mind next time I am defending my wife from an apparently homicidal maniac. Sadly, I am used to lawyer speak and 'bit of a nuisance' translates into 'doomed'.

I was actually naive enough to ask Marcia if my presence at the tribunal was actually neceesary.  Why couldn't I just sit there in my room, small pack containing everything I would need in prison; a few undies, a big jar of Vaseline, condoms etc. and wait for the decision?  Whichever way you looked at it, I was buggered.  Was there any chance I could save myself the public humiliation?

Marcia wasn't having any of that.  Apparently the Big Guns are coming tomorrow.  Cheery news indeed but tomorrow is Saturday.  Those wishing to see me dance a jig at the end of a rope have a vested interest in pitching out of bed.  Will the big guns, right at this very minute getting slammed out of their heads in downtown Luanda remember that ever so teensy weeny and insignificant appointment they may have agreed seventy kilometres south of bed spaces filled with willing whores?  I think not.  As plans go, Marcia's was brilliant.  Except that it is total Bollocks.

So we are going to Plan B.

First thing in the morning a few loyal retainers are going hose me down and turn me from this:

Into this:

So that hopefully I can go back to being this:

Instead of this:

As plans go, it is pretty bloody thin I know.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Time for Coffee; A St Valentine’s Day Menu

The writing of this post was interrupted by the fight at Fat Hippo's OK Corral so is a fraction out of date and too late now for Big Don 'Mad' Kev Alviti's Valentine's Day Dinner.  Still, I promised to give him the recipe for German Red Cabbage and then, as usual, I went overboard a bit.

A little while back Big Don ‘Mad’ Kev Alviti posted an excellent recipe for pheasant having landed a brace or two demonstrating that at heart he was more a family man than the ruthless underboss of a powerful family.  He also asked if any of his readers had other recipes for pheasant so I posted a comment detailing the way I cook Guinea Fowl which are, I suppose, Africa’s pheasants.  I suggested he served the dish with German style red cabbage, spaetzle and cucumber dill salad.
This is Sauerbraten (a marinaded roast beef) with Spaetzle and Red Cabbage.
The dish will look something like this but, delete the beef
and exchange it for the Guinea Fowl/Pheasant in the picture below:

He seemed pleased but wanted to know how to make German style red cabbage.  I think German cuisine is much maligned and definitely hovers in the shadow of its culinary powerful neighbor France in much the same way as good, honest English food does.  I would be hard pushed to state categorically which my favorite dish was but I can say categorically that it would not be French.  I have no desire to upset any of my French readers.  You are the world’s epicures.  Most of the lexicon of culinary terminology is derived from your language, a language also highly regarded for its power to seduce women, so I think the French cottoned on to the idea ages ago that most living creatures on Earth are motivated by instincts to survive and procreate so why not do it stylishly.  And so the French fashion industry was born, Citroen and Facel Vega made barking mad cars, Brigitte Bardot proved that God was having a really good day when he made Woman and every Chef the world over strives for a Michelin star.

If I had to choose one English dish, honey glazed roast pork with roast potatoes and parsnips, boiled cabbage and parsley sauce would be right up there.  The German dish would be any Wild Gericht, (wild boar, venison) in a creamy mushroom sauce served with red cabbage and spaetzle, the German pasta and it was the latter I suggested to Big Don Alviti since we were dealing with pheasant.

Naturally I wanted to reply and explain how one prepares red cabbage German style but then I realized that we are so close to Valentine’s Day, a significant anniversary for families like the Alvitis so, I thought, why not go the whole hog and do a St Valentine’s Day Massacre Menu?

As a result, this is a long post and since I have never photographed the dishes I describe in the past, all the photos you see have been culled from the interweb thingy but I will correct that when I prepare all this for Marcia in a few days time.

First, the recipe I suggested to Big Don Kev for pheasant a few days ago:

This is how I prepare Guinea Fowl so it will work well with pheasant. It works with chicken and duck too.

Portion the birds and place in a glass bowl. Add a couple of bay leaves, roughly chopped onion, carrots, pepper corns, juniper berries, a few whole cloves and cover with red wine. Cover and leave overnight in a cool place (we have to stick it in the fridge in Angola).

Next day, brown the portions of bird off on high heat in a bit of olive oil in a cast iron casserole. Add a couple of tablespoons of flour to the sizzling birds, give it a good stir around and then add the strained liquid from the marinade. Best to do it gradually while stirring gently so that the wine combines with the flour and juices.

Strain a jar of pickled pearl onions (the really small ones) and place them in another heavy based pan, add brown sugar, a tablespoon, and caramelize. Don’t burn it, keep it all moving, and then add that to the birds.

Add wild mushrooms, can be dry but the heavier the flavor the better (button mushrooms are a bit bland), and a chopped up big chunk of smoked bacon (not the water injected sliced stuff you get in vacuum sealed packets) and also a pinch of black pepper.

Let this simmer gently for an hour or two. Check every now and then to see it isn’t burning on the bottom of the pan but be careful not to knock the flesh apart. Add chicken stock to prevent the sauce over thickening and burning and, towards the end, check seasoning. They like lots of salt here but you may get enough out of the bacon for your taste. If not, add a pinch or so to taste. Then take it off the heat and let it settle. Before serving, add cream to the sauce which by now should be thick as gravy.

I have never used a ‘Crock Pot’ but I imagine such a device would be ideal once you have assembled all the ingredients into one pot. As I have already said, this works with chicken as well but you get the best flavor if you use the genuine free range ones that are tougher than the farmed varieties.

This dish is best served with red cabbage (cooked German style), German Spaetzle (to soak up the sauce) and a cucumber dill cream side salad.

That was the end of my original comment.  So now, just for Big Don Kev, here is the rest…

Red Cabbage, German style (well, my style anyway!)

Chop up one large onion, place in a big heavy pan with a bit of goose fat or beef or pork dripping (or olive oil) and fry them off until they are clear and slither about the pan.  You can caramelize them slightly but don’t let them burn!  Burning ingredients brings many forms of bitterness;  in your heart when you look inside the pan and say, ‘Shit! I’ve burnt them, now I have to start again’; for the flavor of the dish and finally, for your family who eat it and think to themselves, ‘I wish Mum had cooked tonight’.  So don’t burn anything!

Peel and thinly slice a couple of tart apples (coring them first obviously) and chuck them in.

Slice a red cabbage up into thin ribbons discarding the heavy white core and chuck them in.  Give it all a stir and then add a bloody good slosh of wine vinegar, about half a whisky glass full, give it another stir and bang the lid on the pan to let the lot steam for a couple of minutes.

Add a bay leaf, a few whole cloves, a few pinches of salt, a heaped teaspoon full of brown sugar and a loaded tablespoon full of thick plum or damson jam, the stuff that looks brown rather than artificially purple.  The Germans call that jam Pflaumenmus and instead of being gelatinous like ordinary jams, it resembles the slurry oozing out of a Russian industrial estate but believe me, it is fantastic.  I am sure you must be able to get it in UK by now.  If not, go for any fruit rich plum or damson jam.  If it is homemade, even if it is runny, so much the better.

Beef stock or wine?

Now you have a choice and I know my dear old Granny (yes, I am in my mid-fifties and my German Granny is, thankfully, still alive) would argue with me on this but, bear with me while I explain.  This stuff has to simmer for at least a couple of hours so the liquid we have added so far will not be enough.  There are those, curiously putting their health before culinary happiness, who say you should now add plain water.  What a load of tosh.  There are those, my dear Granny included, who say we should add white wine.  Granny, my darling Granny, matriarch of the Von Borken family, we have wine vinegar in there, why do we need to add only wine?  Naturally, when I am in Baden-Baden and in her kitchen, I do it her way but when I am beyond her stern gaze, I add beef stock and only a dash of wine.  This red cabbage is served as an accompaniment to rich game so we need to give it some legs so it can punch the diner’s tonsils on the way down.  So I would suggest keeping the mixture simmering in beef stock, adding maybe another dash of wine vinegar an hour into the process.    For the beef stock, the real stuff is of course best but an OXO cube dissolved into a litre of water is fine, you’ll probably only need half the stock anyway so you are not going to over flavor it.  Knorr is rubbish, by the way.

For the last half hour, you want the liquid to reduce so you need to keep an eye on the pan stirring it occasionally because IT MUST NOT BURN!

Once it is no longer sloppy and with a wooden spoon you can extract a real heaped spoonful , turn off the heat, bang the lid on again so it can rest and finish off the other dishes.

I realize that if you want to do your Pheasant/Guinea Fowl/Wild Chicken with Rotkohl and Spaetzle you will need to be around to rattle the pans for a couple of hours but believe me, with practice, you can do all that and in the meantime mow the lawn, install a new loft hatch and service the truck. Oh and wash the pans, of course.  All before the wife gets home.

It is nearly Valentine’s day so if you are up for the Pheasant dish and the red cabbage, just buy the Spaetzle, I am certain it’s available in any decent delicatessen and all you have to do is cook it like pasta.  It is, though, incredibly easy to make but you really need one of these, a spaetzle press:
A lot of people hate doing things manually, they want to see an On Off button but this is so easy

It is also good for ricing potatoes and squeezing the water out of soaked socks so they dry quicker on the radiator.  The socks, not the potatoes.

With one of these, all you have to do is follow the step-by-step instructions for making Spaetzle in less time than it has taken you to read this far on this excellent site:  http://step-by-step-cook.co.uk/sidedishes/spaetzle/

Dominic has been making himself spaetzle with my press since he was nine.  He has it for breakfast frying up chopped bacon and mushrooms in a pan with loads of butter and then adding the spaetzle.

Now you need an entrée.  Buy a bag of frozen King Prawns (like if you want to go crazy Big Don, buy lobster tails), let them thaw out and peel them.  Buy some really crispy lettuce, a few cherry tomatoes, some celery and some ripe Avocados.  Now you need some Heinz Salad Cream, Tomato Ketchup and some Tabasco Sauce.  Beat up in a bowl (sorry about all the washing up) a 50:50 mix of salad cream and tomato sauce.  Add a few drops of Tabasco (we don’t want ‘Burning Bum By Morning’ but we do need a little piquancy), salt and pepper, give it all a stir and place to one side.  I am surrounded by ravenous dogs so ‘placing to one side’ for me means higher than they can jump.  Shred the lettuce and make a bed of it on a large flat plate.  Don’t go mad, Mad Big Don, this is just a garnish, we’re not disguising a grave with vegetation here.  If the prawns/lobster tails are from a reputable source, such as Findus, then place them in a colander, boil up a kettle of water and blanche them to remove any trace of equine DNA before sticking them in the fridge to chill.  If they are from your local EU unlicensed fishmonger then they are likely to be raw and unlikely to be anything else other than prawns or lobster tails so just steam them in a colander over a pan of hot water with a bit of chopped garlic, onion and wine for a few minutes and then chill them in the fridge.

Don’t be tempted to slice into the avocados until moments before you assemble the dish unless you really hate your guests.  There are many ways of testing the quality of an avocado (poking the end, squeezing it) but I subscribe to the John Gray method.  I realize Scotch Eggs do not grow on trees but they are more or less the same shape and scoffing a couple on the way home is a sure fire guarantee of quality so remember to buy a couple extra.  I can go through Avocados at the rate of about one every ten miles, if I am driving, more if I am the passenger.

Slice a couple of the cherry tomatoes into as thin strips as you can.  Slice four inch sticks of celery into as thin strips as you can.

Shit, I forgot the Mangos.  Peel a ripe Mango and slice the flesh off.  It is always easier to peel just a bit of the skin off, slice the exposed flesh and then peel it a bit more and so on.  Peeling the whole thing and then trying to slice it makes the flesh mushy.

Bollocks, I forgot the fresh coriander leaves as well.  Seriously, I am rubbish at writing about cooking but stick me in front of the pans…

So nip back to the supermarket and buy a bunch of fresh coriander leaves.

When you get back, give everything a stir to make sure it isn’t BURNING and then chop some of the coriander up finely.

Peel the avocado.  This is dead easy.  Just attack it with a knife.  I usually kill them cleanly by quickly slicing them in half and giving them a twist so the big brain in the middle falls out.  Peel the skin off and then slice them lengthways but not quite to the end.  This way, pressing a hand down on top of them causes their earthly remains to spread out in a wonderful fan.  Slide a Chef’s knife or spatula underneath and lift this onto the restrained bed of crunchy lettuce.  Squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over the avocado.   On top of this lay a few slices, we are talking no more than two or three wafer thin segments here, of mango.  Now assemble the prawn/lobster tail on top.  Over this sprinkle just the tiniest hint of the chopped fresh coriander leaves.  Then as artistically as clumsy fingers allow, spread some of the salad cream/tomato sauce mixture over the pile.  A good dollup.  Don’t be shy but bear in mind, your guests are interested in what they are about to eat so while they are thanking God for what they are about to receive, they may also be grateful for a glimpse of steamed crustacean so they recognize what they are about to receive.

Toss the celery and tomato in a bowl to mix them up but not beat them into submission and then add a small multi-coloured bird’s nest of finely sliced celery with a hint, a mere smidgin of  the finely sliced tomato on top.  Crown this with the tiniest, thinnest slice of Mango and a few larger coriander leaves.

So we have sorted the Entrée out.  You know how to prepare your pheasant/chicken/Guinea Fowl, the German style red cabbage and you are going to buy ready-made Spaetzle (like most Germans do) so now we are just missing the side salad and a dessert.

I have maids which makes it easy for me.  I honestly hope you have a dishwasher because we need more bowls.

Peel and thinly slice a couple of cucumbers.  Lay the slices out in a bowl and finely sprinkle a bit of salt over each layer.  Do not go overboard Big Don Mad Alviti, just the very lightest dusting.  Think where the Boss says, ‘Give him a good kicking but don’t kill him’.  I know once you have a loaded packet of salt in your hand it is hard, but this time we need subtle. 

Stick the bowl in the fridge and forget about it for an hour or so. 

Where I live, Big Don A, I can only buy UHT cream which tends to come out of the packet as a stream of water followed by disgusting lumps which needs a good hiding with a whisk to get it looking half normal.  I am sure where you are, you can buy really nice fresh cream.  Buy some of that, give 250 mls or so a little stir in yet another bowl (you run out of bowls yet?) and mix in some finely chopped fresh dill, at least two tablespoons full.  If you have left the cucumber for a couple of hours you will find it is swamped in salty water.  Drain the salty water off and add the cream and dill, stir it up and stick it back in the fridge.  This will be your palate cleansing side salad.

Apart from the pheasants which you had to go out and shoot, everything I have mentioned in this Valentine’s menu is available in a supermarket so let’s keep up the momentum and talk about dessert.

Buy a big tin of peach halves in syrup and a normal sized can of pitted black cherries.  If you can't get tinned pitted black cherries, no matter, just warn everyone and provide a small plate for the spits, I mean pits.

Open the tins but only pour out the syrup into a heavy based pan (more washing and scrubbing I know).  If you have one, chuck in a sliced vanilla pod.  Also add a small piece of cinnamon bark and a clove and reduce the liquid to about a quarter of the volume.  Then remove the whole spices.  The juice should be quite syrupy. Add the peach halves and black cherries and fry them up.  You will need to gently flip the peach halves over a few times.  DON’T BURN THEM!

You could, and I urge you to try, flambé them at the table in front of a startled audience but I have found that while my sons are delighted by my theatrical extravagance, my wife is more concerned about our thatched roof.  If your wife feels the same way as mine, call the kids through to the kitchen on the pretext of collecting the plates and eating irons to lay the table, slosh in the Cointreau or Cognac and let rip.  It is a bonding experience when the kids rush back into the lounge shouting gleefully, ‘Mummy, Mummy! Dad’s just burnt his eyebrows off and had to put his head in the washing up bowl!  It was EVER so funny!’

Covered in Vanilla ice cream and the rest of the whipped fresh cream, this makes an excellent dessert.

Bon Appetit Monsieur Big Don 'Mad' Kev Alviti!

Go on, admit it.  How many of you having read my last post saw the title of this one and thought, shit, it's turned into a shoot out at Fat Hippo's?