Saturday, 29 June 2013

Santana Cemetery

An early start, 4 am.  I had spent the previous day preparing my kit like all old soldiers do.  My shoes were polished to a gleam, I had sponged my suit down and pressed it and my shirt was gleaming white and so well starched I knew I would crackle when I moved.  I even managed to find some dark socks with no holes.

I do not drive anymore so I had offered Roddie, my driver, a bed for the night since it is a long drag from the city to my place but he insisted he would be here at four.  I went to bed early but left the TV on.  Lying in the dark before I am well and truly knackered often leaves my mind dancing gaily down insanity beach until the sun rises leaving me wondering where the night went so sometimes it is easier to try and concentrate on something as soporific and repetitive as Sky News and wake up refreshed thinking, ‘Oh Jesus, I left the TV on’.

This night, however, the old tricks weren’t going to work as I knew the next day I was going to help my wife bury her mother.  I hadn’t seen Marcia, or Alex, since they rushed off to town on Sunday morning.  Marcia had robbed all the cash out of the till leaving me with nothing, banks aren’t open on a Sunday after all, but I wasn’t particularly concerned and there are many who looking at me would say that I could do with a few fewer meals anyway.  Like most men I just picked the fridge empty; last night’s meal being stale bread with tomato ketchup, mayonnaise, ultra hot pepper sauce and a tomato which I found frozen in frost right at the back of the fridge, all washed down with beer.  There’s plenty of cold beer left in the shop.  Sleep was basically out of the question.

I had nothing to do with the funeral arrangements.  I had been relegated to holding the fort.  Marcia would ring me occasionally informing me that a decent coffin would cost this much, transport would be a problem unless I could come up with a convoy of vehicles and could I please speak to Alex who, when he came on the phone sobbed, ‘My Granny, she’s, she’s, she’s DEAD!’

Marcia has two older brothers, both successful.  One is an agricultural engineer in the Ministry of Agriculture, the other a petroleum engineer who has been working in Canada these last fifteen years, Saldanha.  The Canadian’s mother in law was an inseparable friend of Theresa, Marcia’s mother.  When she heard that her lifelong friend had died, she had a heart attack and is now in intensive care in hospital.  The poor bastard had flown all the way to Angola to bury his mother and was now having to arrange a flight for his wife in case she had to do the same.  This was slowly turning into a Greek tragedy.

I was feeling pretty bloody sad yesterday afternoon but became incandescent when Marcia rang me to say that my bank, the account I hold there of which she is a signatory, had refused to allow her to make a withdrawal.  I cannot remember exactly what I said to the bank manager when I rang him but I know it involved him handing the cash over right then and there on the condition that I was standing outside his bank this morning to countersign the withdrawal slip.  Apparently, as they had not seen me personally for nearly five years and, according to their records, regular monthly salary payments had stopped over two years ago, they were rather curious to know if I was still alive.  What sixth sense is it that bureaucrats possess enabling them to strike with red tape at the most inconvenient moment?  The funeral cortège was due to leave the deceased’s house for the cemetery at 9 am.  Clearly if the bank would only open at nine I would not make it.  I thought about just letting the bank manager go hang himself but then that would be the last time he ever handed cash over without a signature on my word so after being number one in the bank queue and a quick scrawl later, Roddie had the pedal to the metal through the Luandan rush hour to get to the cemetery on time.

Santana cemetery is in the middle of the town, the part known as the Alta Cidade, High City.  The local authorities had evidently scraped together enough funds to white wash the entrance but it was still a pretty dismal place.  We parked up right next to the entrance so I could see, through the impressive wrought iron gates, the rows of mausoleums beyond.  Santana cemetery is vast and desolate.  I know, this was the third time I would see someone buried there.  The first was back in the old days.  My side kick, an Angolan Police liaison officer assigned to me for special investigations had been ambushed outside his house by the very gang we were closing in on.  Since we had arranged to meet at his house to compare notes, I arrived only minutes after the incident in time to see him die.

Clearly, the funeral of Marcia’s mother would not be the first or only funeral that day.  Every ten minutes a cortege would appear.  Some could afford an expensive hearse.  Most turned up in Mitsubishi L200 or Toyota Hilux conversions, the rear load bays neatly glassed in and the bodywork resprayed black.  The coffins of the poor were unloaded from the backs of battered pick-ups.  Waiting for them were the cemetery staff.  Dressed in workman’s overalls they stood there in bored groups around their biers, crudely welded frames fitted with balloon tyres to better cover the rough terrain.  Every time a hearse turned up, waiting relatives and friends would surge forward to establish whether this was ‘their’ funeral.  The disappointed ones would dissolve into chattering groups while the main party dissolved into tears.  At least one or two women per coffin fainted.  So mundane were these scenes to the cemetery staff I noticed one taking the opportunity to enjoy a casual slash up the wall while the mourners were distracted.  With a captive audience, street hawkers filtered through the crowd flogging tat;, phone cards, fake Ray Ban sunglasses, artificial hair, watches, newspapers, canned drinks, wreaths made from plastic at $50 a pop, you name it.  With all that dust around, I was looking for the shoe shine boy selling whisky and cigarettes.  I never found him.

I was in a borrowed car, the owner a non-smoker so every time I wanted a cigarette I would get out and lean on the bonnet under the increasingly hot sun.  There isn’t much to cheer a chap’s soul parked up outside a cemetery.  Roddie and I tried playing the Tottie spotting game the rules of which are very simple but rely on honesty.  We both scan the crowd and call a good looking girl to the other’s attention.  If by mutual agreement she tops the scales, the guy who calls her is in line to win the bet.  We spotted plenty of astonishingly good looking girls but in such a bleak environment it was a pretty miserable pastime so neither of us had our hearts in it.

My phone rang.  It was a family member of whom I had no recollection saying that the body had now left the house and would arrive at Santana within the hour.  So Theresa Tito, mother of my wife and adored grandmother of my son was no longer Theresa Tito, she was ‘the body’.

Finally it was our turn.  I saw Marcia climb out of the hearse but she was quickly swamped by relatives and friends so I hung back a bit.  I was the only white man there.  She looked so distraught, so desperate it was as if something evil was stamping on my heart.  Roddie, seeing tears suddenly cascading down my cheeks dug his maw into my upper arm and said, ‘Força Sr. Tomas’.  I can’t bear to see Marcia so miserable but at African funerals, it is women who blub, not men.

Marcia comes from a well connected family so there were Ministers there, even a Governor or two so each had to have his say.   The coffin on its bier was pushed inexorably forward ten yards at a time.  At each pause another person had his chance to share a eulogy.  Short of stabbing my way through the crowd, there was no way I would make it to Marcia’s side.  Several times she made eye contact with me but about twenty rows back what was I supposed to do, punch her relatives and friends out?

Finally we got to the end of the pavement.  From here on in, not even 4x4 biers could cross a terrain obstructed by the rubble of demolished tombs and head stones long dead relatives had failed to keep up the rental payments on.  The graves were no more than six inches apart.  I looked down and realized I was standing on the prone headstone of someone called Manuel da Souza and his family.  He died in 1898 and the last of his family to be interred in this forlorn spot died in 1970.  I am sure the once undoubtedly esteemed Sr. Souza would not have appreciated my plates of meat all over his grave let alone, bearing in mind he died in colonial times, those of the natives as well but I was grateful for the stable platform his memorial provided and the irony of being witness to the prediction that the African would trample on the body of his white oppressor did not escape me, especially as I was the only living white man present.

To my horror, Marcia’s older brother pushed through the crowd and laid a firm hand on my back, guiding me toward the coffin.  I lined up with the other brothers and uncles and took hold.  My last recollection of Marcia’s mother was of a slight, if tall, woman.  Emaciated by lingering death I could not work out how she could be so heavy.  With my vision restricted to the six inches separating me from the nape of my brother-in-law´s neck I had no idea what my feet were doing as they clawed and stumbled their way over one grave after another and all the intervening rubble.  Apart from a bit of unmanly blubbing when I first caught sight of Marcia as she arrived, I had been pretty cool.  Now I was sweating like a condemned man on his way to the gallows.  If I, as the only white man present caused five of Marcia’s brothers and uncles to stumble, dashing the coffin of their dear relative open on the ground I would quite justifiably have had my bludgeoned corpse tossed into the same grave.

We made it to the hole and even I, with my restricted vision, could see there were a few problems.  So could my brothers and so we laid Theresa down on a neighboring grave.  A canopy had been erected over Theresa’s grave which was a nice touch except that the central supports precluded swinging the coffin in over the hole the gap between them being only three feet.  While the choir sang we dealt with this pretty quickly by unclipping the legs of one support to provide the clearance necessary.  Stuffing a loved one down a hole is a pretty grave moment in anyone’s life so you can imagine the distress caused when everyone suddenly realizes the hole isn’t big enough.  I could see that.  Everyone else could see that.  Everyone except the cemetery staff who evidently thought they should just give it a go.  Twice they tried to rattle Theresa into her grave and twice Theresa refused to go.  And the choir sang on.  Once again Theresa was parked in the sun on top of a neighboring grave while the grave diggers set to adding another foot to the grave.  This meant chipping into the concrete sarcophagus at what would be her feet.  Mere shovels couldn’t dent 100 year old cement so pick axes were brought in.  And the choir sang on.

At the graveside I had finally been reunited with Marcia who clung to me sobbing her heart out.  I was looking at a couple of idle concrete chipping wasters wishing I could cut their hearts out.

On the third attempt, they finally managed to slot her in, feet in someone else’s grave.

Marcia’s older sister gave the graveside eulogy.  All this had been too much for me and the taps opened again. She spoke clearly and eloquently.  In less than a minute she said all that needed saying.  I stood tall and supported a weeping Marcia on my arm but the tears flooded down my cheeks.  A bunch of amateurs were consigning Marcia’s mother to the dirt from whence she came.  As we each cast a handful of soil onto the coffin, the choir from the Catholic Church gave voice once again.  They sang in the language of her home province, Kimbundo.  I could not understand a word but the tune was Auld Lang Syne.  I have no idea what they were singing but I sang, ‘Should auld acquaintance be forgot…’  It was beautiful.  The choir harmonized, I have never heard anything so moving.  You should not rate funerals, they are all miserable but this, despite the hiccups, was the best funeral I have ever attended.

Then the brothers climbed into the hole and proceeded to smash the coffin with pick axes.

Marcia hurried me away and Roddie drove us to the wake.  Now I really needed a good slug of whisky and Roddie didn’t let me down, stopping at the first roadside stand and getting me a bottle.

‘It’s a scam’, he told me after I had swallowed a good belt.  ‘Marcia bought a very expensive coffin.  The funeral agency tip off the cemetery workers so no sooner is the body in the ground, they dig it up again, tip the body back into the hole and collect a few hundred bucks from the funeral agency who sell the coffin again’.

I took another swig and lit a cigarette.  ‘So you mean to say, it is possible to be buried here in a second hand coffin?’ I asked him.

‘A coffin like that,’ he said, ‘maybe three or four times unless, of course, the family smash it’

Over 500 people turned up for the funeral and subsequent wake not counting the congregation of the Catholic Church of which Theresa was a member.  Tradition dictates that Marcia must spend the next seven days in her mother’s house so I am here alone with Alex who is now sleeping quietly on the couch with a belly full of my very special Tagliatelli Carbonara, his favourite.  Theresa was just my Mother-in-Law.  I hardly knew her so my grief at her passing is only fuelled by my wife’s sorrow.  Alex has lost his beloved Grandmother.  He, at four years of age, has seen her cold dead body sealed into a casket and clumsily buried.  Now, in the absence of his mother, with just the two of us here for the next seven days, he keeps asking me if his Mummy is OK.  ‘Sure she is’, I say handing my mobile over, ‘do you want to call her?’

‘Can I call Granny as well?’

Monday, 24 June 2013

Marcia's Mother

We all knew it was inevitable but it was still hard for Marcia when the phone rang during the night and she was informed that her mother, Theresa, had just passed away at the age of 69.

I can still recall the pain I felt when my father died suddenly so I feel very, very sorry for Marcia and the rest of her close knit family.  I also feel sorry for poor little Alex who, with both Grandfathers dead, has just lost the only Granny he knew who, like all Grannies, spoilt her Grandson rotten.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Life expectancy

The life expectancy for men in Angola is 51 years (so I have beaten that) and for women, 53 years.

I have always found it amazing that statistics prove women out live men in Africa yet they generally suffer lives of servitude, hard labour both of the physical and maternal kind, all kinds of abuse and are generally considered as second class citizens.

Well they are not second class by any measure.  Africa, generally a basket case of violence, exploitation and corruption would collapse completely if it were not for its women.  If it were not for women, the men would simply starve to death.  The fields would not be tilled.  There would be no water to drink let alone wash or cook with and the crap would pile up on unswept yards.  There would be no informal markets so no razor blades for the men to shave with and no clothes would be washed.  The very first thing a girl having mastered the art of walking learns, is to carry a heavy pot on her head.  Six year old girls already know how to carry water and wash dishes.  Nine year old girls not only know but are expected to make funge, the staple diet made from manioc paste requiring a muscular effort to beat the mix that even eludes me.  At fourteen the men consider them eminently fuckable.  It is a hard life bereft of anything we in the developed world would call a childhood.

Marcia's mother has beaten the odds by a long way.  She is 69.  By contrast my mother is 76 and still going strong and although frail and complaining, my grandmother is still alive and in her very late nineties.

Alex loves Marcia's mother, his Granny, because she spoils him rotten.  Every now and then, Alex would demand to be taken into the city so he could spend a few days with his Arvo (Granny) before returning completely full of himself.  Three or so days at his Granny's required a week at least of retraining so much licence did she give him.

I am a lot older than Marcia so sadly know what it means to lose someone close.  My father died too young.  My nephew died indecently young aged only three when he fell into a neighbour's pool.  I have helped bury a lot of people in my time some of whom where colleagues but experience doesn't make it any easier, especially when you know what the main mourner is going through.

I love Marcia so much.  Apart from my two boys I have never loved anyone with such intensity.  If only it were within my gift to spare her such pain. 

Marcia's mother is dying,  Marcia is with her now in hospital.  I am babysitting Alex, dusting off my dark suit and polishing my shoes.  I really wanted to be with her but I agree with Marcia, perhaps it isn't such a good idea to let a four year old watch his Granny die.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

YP's flying Ryanair!!!

SS Ohio entering Valletta Harbour under tow with only a foot of freeboard and, for the island of Malta, a life saving cargo of fuel oil.  One of only five of the original fourteen merchant ships, but arguably the most important to make it.  We are outraged at the cost of fuel now.  The cost of the fuel on the tanker that saved Malta was, according to official reports:
1 Aircraft Carrier sunk (Eagle)
2 Light Cruisers sunk
1 Destroyer sunk
9 merchant ships sunk
1 aircraft carrier damaged
2 Light cruisers damaged
2 submarines sunk (interesting that submarines lost with all hands equate to less than a damaged light cruiser)
1 heavy cruiser damaged
1 light cruiser damaged (Again!  That's three light cruisers damaged and two sunk now isn't it? You can't sneak them by us one by one, the bean counters will notice in the end)
1 Submarine damaged
And what is not so well recorded, all those poor bastards who stood their posts and went down with them.
A few days ago Yorkshire Pudding posted that having endured a couple of months in Thailand before returning to England, he will once again abandon his beloved English shores.  And he accuses me of being an escapee expatriate.  He spends less time amongst the verdant hills of England than a swallow.

Of the 190 undisputed states and the 16 whose sovereignty is questionable comprising the world, YP with a passport the size of a  bench pressed volume of Encyclopedia Britannica still had a blank page begging an immigration stamp on page number 237. 

Now I realise, dear reader, that this just doesn't add up.  206 countries in the world, 16 of them disputed yet he has already reached page 237 in his no doubt cumbersome international personal identity document.  But bear in mind that YP is no spring chicken. He was present at the signing, and corrected the grammar of the Magna Carta.  Not only states but empires have risen and fallen during his tenure of the mortal coil.  So with the incomprehensible algorithmics available to all through Google and Trip Advisor, our YP realised he had missed one soverieign state, Malta.

Already on his death bed after an exhausting trip to Asia where he was massaged close to death, his only sustenance now his life depended on the NHS rather than almond eyed school girls being chunks of real Real Yorkshire Pudding dripping with gravy hand fed to him by genuinely chuncky northern lassies letting him lick their fingers and drip feeding him Tetley's beer, he raised a clenched fist in that iconinc anti-Thatcher salute and said, 'Book me a flight to Malta'.

'Malta?' said the nurse, a wee young trainee from the Philipines. 

'Mebbe he want drink make kid go sleep at night, Maltina', shrugged the Polish duty consultant signing off an extra cocktail of intravenous drugs.

Well, when you wake up, YP, this is what you have to look forward to flying Ryan Air courtesy of Tristan St James who has more Air Miles than all the NASA astronaughts combined.

Sorry there was no time for you to get the book about Operation Pedestal, but if you have the time in Malta, score a few photos of Valletta Harbour for me especially where the Ohio eventually settled on the putty.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

I still miss him

I was Bloggered yesterday and for some inexplicable reason, could not post on my own blog but I could post comments on other blogs. Perhaps it was my turn to have all my electronic communications and data surfed by the NSA and GCHQ using PRISM to find out if I am, in fact, The Angolan Connection.

I coined a term a few posts ago, 'Gogglers', those who use Google Glasses and deserve a kick in the googlies. The latest term I shall use from now on is being 'Bloggered'. I think it neatly sums up some of our experiences with Blogger and yesterday I was well and truly Bloggered so the post I really wanted to go up yesterday, only appears today, If Blogger were half decent and had a sense of humour, they would dispense with the enormous variety of truly uninformative error messages, useless in that they only tell you what you already know and not how to resolve the problem, with a far simpler one: 'You've been Bloggered.' Right this second, as I type, a message has popped up (or should I coin another term and say 'Pooped up') telling me that there was an error saving or publishing my post and that I should please try again before giving me an option to 'Ignore Warning'. Guess which button I clicked on.

Just recently, I have been complaining about disturbed sleep patterns. Once again this morning I was wide awake before 5 am. Now this is very irritating given that the amount of weight I am putting on due to enforced inactivity clearly means I am still a growing boy and, as we all know, growing boys need their sleep. I am then faced with a choice. Sit in the jango so I do not wake Marcia and Alex and be eaten by mosquitoes or just lie quietly in bed with a racing mind? Why is it that I can't concentrate on the nice things of my life? Why is it that the only files my mental search engine can find are unpleasant ones? Everything from excruciatingly embarrassing moments to the howling mistakes I made, such as leaving the Army for love; my first wife hated being an Army wife but nevertheless ran off with another bloke two years after I resigned my commission, taking my SL Mercedes along with her. I know which I miss the most but such an admission would upset the feminists.

For the last week, however, floating there in the semi-conscious zone between sleep and wakefulness every morning, I have dreamt of my father. Vivid dreams in full Tecnicolor. I have never, ever, been able to recall dreams with such clarity. He is evidently not particularly impressed with me but, rather than dress me down as an employer would an unsatisfactory employee, he talks to me as a father counseling a son in grave danger of severely disappointing him. It is a pretty bloody sobering way to start the day but I think that's his intention. Still, I am so pleased to see the Old Man again, and looking so good for a man long dead and buried, even if the nice bits of our increasingly regular morning conversations are laced with acerbic wit at my expense. Dad, if you're reading this, if you want me to pay attention, then at least offer me a decent coffee at that Godawful time of the morning.

Everyone, and I mean Everyone, knows that God is an Englishman. But I have my doubts. Unless my father has scored the celestial nightshift (and who knows how long a hevenly apprenticeship might be when one has all of eternity to play with), heaven must be on a different time zone. If it wasn't, why doesn't he contact me during normal office hours? If heaven, God's HQ, is on a different time zone, it can't be in England, can it? Unless, of course, God is also an expatriate escapee... Since my last employers, based in Dubai, used to call me at 4 am, I can only assume that Heaven is somewhere around the UAE. Imagine the reaction when the locals discover that the top Christian has been living and operating undiscovered in their midst for two millennia? They should not feel too bad about it though, as I have it on good authority (Sky News) the UK Border Agency is just as efficient.

I am sure heaven is not in Angola. God would never have had his residency visa application approved. I mean, what would his criminal record sheet look like? Encouraging incest (Adam, Eve, two sons, one murdered; where did the rest come from?). Criminal damage and mass murder by flooding the World. The subjugation of women. The destruction of several cities and all their inhabitants (Sodom, Gomorra, Jericho et al). Plagues in Egypt and the ever trendy slaughter of first born sons. Turning water into wine thereby evading alcohol duties. The Crusades. The list is endless. Which country with even half decent border control would let a homicidal religious maniac like that get past immigration in the first place, much less let him stay?

Anyway, I digress. My father would have been 85 yesterday, the 7th of June. Instead he died young of a massive heart attack (Yeah, thanks for the genes, Dad. I'd sooner have had a pair of Levi 501's) and I miss him terribly.

Father dressed for the beach
About the only time I ever saw him not wearing a tie.
And yes, he was a Real Man, he wore a vest under his shirt.

I'm sorry Dad, I did remember your birthday, it was just that I was Bloggered.  If there is a heaven, do me a favour and put a word in so that when a Blogger encoder arrives there, you can send him straight to hell.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

New Tenner

Grace Darling spotted the wreck and survivors of the SS Forfarshire on a rocky island near to where she lived and rowed out with her father to rescue 13 survivors - despite the terrible storm

The Governer of the Bank of England's recent announcement that the image of Elizabeth Fry would be dropped from five pound notes in favour of Winston Churchill has caused a bit of a furore as it means that, apart from the Queen, no English bank note will feature a woman.  Feminist agitators have set up an online petition which already has over 25,000 signatures.

They do have a point.  Women are under represented in so many walks of life yet their contribution to society is just as important as Man's.  Just being a good housewife is worthy of recognition and let's not forget the old adage, 'Behind every great man is a great woman',  I am effectively a House Husband now and I can tell you at times it can be a damn sight harder than my old job, the only difference being I am allowed to have sex with my boss which isn't a bad perk at all (not that I would have wanted to have sex with my old boss, who reads this blog and will be mightily relieved).

Good housekeeping aside, there are plenty of women who are worthy of immortalisation on a bank note.  Emmiline Pankhurst?  Without her, women would still be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.  If you are going to put Churchill on a bank note, why not Margaret Thatcher?  She was the first female British Prime Minister after all and during her tenure, the two highest offices in the land were held by women.  Put Thatcher on a bank note and we could enjoy the sight of trendy lefties burning their own money.  How about Boudicca?  She had attitude and very nearly stuffed the Romans at their own game and although no contemporary images of her exist, according to the later romantic images, she had great tits.  Perhaps it's her genes that gave the British their fighting spirit, spitting in the face of overwhelming odds. 

Then there is Octavia Hill, the first 'Eco Warrior' and an all round philanthropist who reformed housing and marched thousands of tenement children across beautifully preserved countryside for a breath of fresh air.  A co-founder of the National Trust, without her, much of what we consider British Heritage would have been lost. 

My particular favourite (apart from Boudicca) is Grace Darling.  She embodied, in a life cut so tragically short by TB, the true Community Spirit and, I have to say, feminine instinct, by risking her own life to save others.  Men can be terribly brave when it comes to taking lives, and are even awarded medals for doing so but you need to see how courageous a woman can be when it comes to saving them.  Another reason I prefer Grace Darling is that she was not born into a privileged family,  She was an ordinary person, just like 99% of the British population.  Who better then, to represent the spirit of British womanhood, their courage, their loyalty, their endurance?  And in the face of death, stoicism?

Sadly, now that we are all fascinated by reality TV, Towie, BGT etc. if left to the public imagination, we would end up with a racier, more popular choice:

'Tom!  What are you doing?'
'Just fondling my money, darling'

Any Such Thing as a Sweet Deal?

Of course you would buy a car from this man

In my last post I explained how I unloaded a truck of mine.  Yorkshire pudding said;

You cunning s.o.b.! I don't know why but at the end I still feel that Roddie has been duped.”

You see? It is only natural for people to be suspicious of a good deal.  The truck is worth 12 grand simply because I had an offer of 12 grand.  Things are worth what people are willing to pay for them. Roddie is going to get it for $9,600 and I am going to provide him interest free finance in exchange for one trip a week for Marcia's shop.  I just need to accept a degree of risk.  This way we both can make money.  I am not exploiting him, I have empowered him.  It is up to him to make it work.  Does this make me a Capitalist or a Socialist?  I'm making money yet I am spreading it around.  He agreed a fair rental for the truck was three grand.  I have given him a lease purchase deal for $800 a month yet both of us will still be winners.

Do you know why this system often works?  Honesty, Integrity and a lack of Greed.  And, as I said to the Thai Spy, the Fifth Columnist, a willingness to accept a degree of risk.  Ten years ago Roddie came to me as a driver.  He was forever loyal; what price loyalty?  Now he is my friend.  I was not selling him the deal of a lifetime, he knew it was generous from the moment I opened my mouth.  I was selling the deal to Marcia.    First of all, she wanted to keep the truck even if it was doing nothing.  Then she, like most people would, preferred a cash deal whereas I wanted co-operation, a mutually satisfying and ultimately far more rewarding deal.

Don't forget, when I had my motorcycle dealerships in Germany, I saw loads of guys who wanted to hock themselves up to the eyeballs to own the latest hot snot Yamaha walking in with wives in tow who were wondering desperately how they would put food on the table if their husbands signed the contract. 

Sure, I could have banged the lads up with Midland or Barclays International Finance (serious scumbags, by the way, as bad as these Pay Day loan companies.  The banks, not my clients.  Once I started to do serious business they flew me back to UK so desperate were they for another scumbag prepared to stitch his clients up) but would I ever see my client again after he had been dragged bankrupt to the workhouse?  Would I be able to sleep at night knowing my Mercedes SL was paid for while the poor woman clutching her delightful, if noisy child in my showroom spent her subsequent nights unable to sleep through hunger pains because I had stitched her husband up?

Of course not. 

I wanted repeat business.  We all have dreams and they are all generally far more expensive than we can afford. 

Besides, motorcycles are dangerous and I defy any salesman to say he has sold a motorcycle to a dead customer. Let’s face it, you’re never going to get finance for them, not even from Barclays (actually, now I think about it, I probably could have done, after all Nat West gave me a £10,000 overdraft and a £25,000 unsecured loan all on the say so of some Nigerians and then gave them new bank cards in my name allowing them to set up £1,000 instant credit accounts with every shop in London).

As a professional salesman, you have to blueprint your clients, slot them in to what they really need.  And what they can afford.  OK, so the guy wants an FZR 1000.  He’ll never make the payments and he’s going to kill himself.  Oh, I could get him the finance and if he smears himself down the highway, isn’t that what insurance is for?  But isn’t it miles better for me to tell him all about the GSX 400 RR, a full blown racing ‘bike.  It may only do 125mph flat out but it revs to 15,000 rpm, can out handle an FZR on any normal road, costs a third and looks way cooler?

I won’t load him up with unaffordable finance.  His kids, as a result, will continue to be fed.  His wife will indulge his pastime and give him a regular blowjob and he will tell everyone he meets that the best place to buy a motorcycle is Superbike Centre in Bielefeld.  When I faxed through a credit application to a bank, it was all done by fax in those days, it was approved immediately because even those venal bastards knew I had properly blueprinted the client.

To paraphrase, ‘You can rip some of the people off some of the time, but you can’t rip all of them off all of the time’.  It’s much easier just to do straight deals.  Ok, I have lost big time sometimes.  Look at the restaurant project.  Jesus, if ever I was taken to the cleaners.  But I will bounce back and at least I know I may have punched a few guys out in my time but I never ripped anyone off.  My handshake was worth something and it still is.

Roddie gets my truck at 75% book value.  He gets interest free finance.  All he has to do is run a load a week for Marcia for one year.  Six days a week he earns his bread.  Then, after only a year, he is the proud owner of a truck.  He has the opportunity to make money whereas I’m only recovering what the vehicle owes me and saving a year’s worth of costs.  Since the vehicle will eventually be his, he is going to look after it, not mistreat it like any driver I employ.

It’s like micro finance.  I’m giving Roddie the opportunity to make his own way.  He’d never get a deal like this from a bank.

It’s sweet, it really is a sweet deal.

Just so long as he doesn’t wreck the fucking truck and kill himself in the next twelve months.

Saturday, 1 June 2013


The first truck I bought here hasn’t moved now in eight months, we are doing everything with the newer drop side truck.

It cost me $28,000 six years ago.  I ran it for four years before the driver finally trashed it by running it into a ditch and ripping the front suspension off reducing its value in his instant of inattention to zero.  It cost me, therefore, $583.33 per month.  I was paying the driver (now permanently disabled and unable to drive anymore, not because of the accident but as a result of the subsequent debrief)  $800 per month so the use of the vehicle cost me $1,383 per month.

I could have sold the vehicle for scrap but I didn’t.  Instead I invested $4,000 and had it rebuilt.  If you write a commercial vehicle off the books over five years, at the time of the accident the vehicle was worth $5,600.  Add the four to repair it and I was in for $9,600.  Even on a bad day at the auction, it was a solid $12k so I was still ahead.  If I chose to sell it.

Marcia had other ideas.  I had already bought a new truck so the old one just sat there.  Now any operator of a fleet of commercial vehicles would wince at the thought of all that revenue lost by an idle vehicle and I have to agree.  The situation was not just stupid, it was irrational.

In the metropolis, a vehicle like mine could rake in $500 a day.  But I do not live in the metropolis, I live 80 kms south.  There is no way I could find cargo for it or trust a driver to do so.  He would just run his own loads and return to me just enough to cover his salary.

Consequently, for the last 18 months, this fully refurbished light commercial vehicle has been sitting here doing nothing.  Now in the big scheme of things, $9,600, what the vehicle owed me, was diddly squid in comparison to some of the bills I have been paying but, as I tried to explain to Marcia, if we look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves.  Besides, it just irritated me to see a vehicle standing idle.

Many times I suggested to Marcia we ought to unload it.  Sell it.  Many times I was ignored.  The new truck performs faultlessly but Marcia’s supply chains are now so intricate, so sophisticated she  relies on a fleet of trustees all of whom know what she wants and where to buy it and deliver to a central collection point in Benfica.  At Benfica, the bus driver, evidently completely under Marcia’s spell, as I suppose I am, loads it all up and delivers it all to our door.  I defy Fortnum’s to beat Marcia’s distribution system here in Angola. Even the new vehicle has been downgraded to local duties and the old one just sits here.  It’s a case of simple economics.  A truck costs money to buy, it costs money to run and it costs money to maintain.  Added to that, the cheapest we could hire a driver for would be $800 per month even though we only really need him one day a week.

Whereas before it was costing me $1,383 per month not including fuel and maintenance to keep Marcia’s shop supplied,  now it was costing me $200 a week all in.  You have to admit, Marcia knows her sums and with the $600 she had saved, she reckoned she was the bee’s knees.

It was about time, I thought, I showed her how to cut a real deal.

Just to remind you, the vehicle, doing nothing, owes me $9,600 and it costs $800 per month in transport to keep the shop supplied.  I’m writing this up on the blackboard now because I know you are not paying attention.

Yesterday Roddie rang me saying he was coming to visit.  Roddie  (Rodrigues), and I go back.  Roddie lives in Luanda.  He needs a truck exactly like mine,  just he doesn’t know it yet.  And this is the art of selling, you point out a need the client never knew he had.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  It can be a painting.  Unless that painting is on that wall, that wall will forever be boring.  In this case I needed Roddie to realise he needed to get into the trucking business and for that, obviously, he would need a truck.  Just like mine.

I cleaned the truck up and parked it in the middle of the driveway.  This meant when Roddie arrived he would have to park his car up short and walk round the truck.

I had an ice cold beer waiting for him and Marcia, as usual, had a plate of local food to offer him.  Roddie is an ‘Amigo de Casa’, a friend of the house so he gets the full works.

Marcia, as is the custom, was sitting quietly in the back ground just in case a guest needed a refill so could hear everything that was said.

It took an hour and several refills but finally Roddie asked me about the truck.

‘Yeah, I meant to ask you about that Roddie, how much do you think I could rent it out for?  It’s doing nothing as you can see.’

‘You’d need to score three grand a month just to cover your costs’

‘Roddie’ I said, ‘this truck can earn someone $500 a day just running loads between Luanda and Viana’

Marcia was now getting very interested in this conversation.

Please don’t forget, all I am trying to do is sell a truck that owes me $9,600.

‘Jesus, Roddie, ten loads to Viana and ten back again.  That’s ten grand.  But I can’t do it from here.  How the hell am I supposed to find cargo sitting in the Barro de Kwanza?  I guess I had best sell it.  How much do you think I could get for it?’

Roddie looked at the truck, rubbed his chin (a buying signal) and said, ‘Ooh, I don’t know, maybe ask 25 and accept 20?’

‘Roddie’, I replied quickly, ‘It would take me ages to find a buyer at that price, I’ll tell you what I will do, I’ll sell it to you for 12 grand cash’

Roddie had pitched up with a mate, also an ex-employee of mine and he pitched in, ‘I’d buy it for that!’  Now a salesman cannot get a better buying signal than that but this wasn’t the deal I really wanted to cut.

‘Roddie’, I continued before he had time to think, ‘I know you like the truck and haven’t the money to buy it so let’s do it this way.  You said a rental was three grand a month.  How about I rent it to you (with emphasis on the ‘you’ to bond salesman and potential buyer, this deal was unique for him) for $200 a week? ‘

Please note, my budding trainee salespersons, the subtle switch to a weekly rather than monthly cost.  The punter himself suggested a monthly rental of $3,000 per month and had agreed a run to and from Viana was worth $500.  I was now offering a rental of $200 per week.  The only figures in his head he is comparing are 3000 versus 200 and 500 when we all know it is 3000 versus 800 and a lot of hard work getting the loads.  Still, it’s an amazing deal.  So amazing, in fact that Marcia leapt out of her chair and protested.  Excellent, I still have the touch, I just knew she would plug herself into the mains and dive in.  She was now playing the role of a patsy, someone market traders plant in the crowd when they are giving their spiel about the goods responding favorably and buying the first lot in order to encourage the punters to start shelling out.  No one likes to go first so seeing someone else go for it inspires a bit of confidence.  Hence the expression, ‘Confidence Tricks’.

Now I had Roddie’s mate, who has already offered me 12 grand cash for the truck, and Marcia protesting that I had taken leave of my senses and there was no way she would allow me to sell the truck that cheap.

First, I needed to appear to appease Marcia.  I had to convince her.  I could ignore Roddie’s mate for the time being but obviously, if I didn’t cut the deal I wanted, his offer was a nice fall back.

‘At that price, Roddie, you know you are responsible for everything, keeping it road legal, maintained, the lot, how does that sound?’

‘Fantastic!’ he replied.

‘But when the new shop opens, I will NEED that truck’ Marcia protested.

‘Marcia, we only need transport one day per week, for that we should employ a driver at 800 a month and pay the fuel and maintenance?’  Note, once again the shift from weekly to monthly costs. ‘I am sure Roddie would help you as he always has.’  I looked to Roddie and he did not let me down.  God, I am good at this.

‘Marcia’ he said, ‘I will provide you the truck, complete with driver, anytime you need it’

I could tell he was sincere.  Marcia could tell he was sincere.  It was time for me to slip in the fine print, drop the sweetener and close this deal.

‘OK Roddie, you run the truck and pay me $800 per month.  Marcia gets four shopping trips a month into town.  Let me down and you have to provide an alternative vehicle and driver or I charge you 200 bucks to cover her costs.  You are responsible for all running costs but the vehicle remains mine for one year, fuck up and I take the vehicle back.  Wreck it and you owe me 12 grand.  If you haven’t got 12 grand, I take that car’.  I pointed to the car he had arrived in. ‘Are we clear so far?  You really need to be because Marcia will draw the contract up with a Notary Public and I will have the lien on your car as security.  Don’t forget, I know where you live.’

Again, my dear students, note how I asked for only four trips a month rather than one per week.  Four a month sounds like a lot less than one a week.  Also note how I am tying him into a legally binding contract and making him aware of the consequences should he break it.  Since Roddie and I go back, he knows I’m not joking.  Note, however, the phrase I used, “but the vehicle remains mine for one year”.

Roddie was sold on the deal but was now considering the possible consequences of not being able, for whatever reason, to comply with the terms and conditions.  No-one likes to consider the possibility of having their knee caps attended to by a maniac on the end of a hammer action drill.  He took a look at his car which, next to his wife was his pride and joy so it was time to throw in the sweetener.  His wife, by the way, is also called Marcia which led to a hilarious roadside confrontation when, as my driver, I ordered him to stop because I finally really, really wanted to know why when his phone rang he would say, ‘Marcia, darling, I can’t talk to you right now’.  Call me Brian Ferry, I’m just a jealous guy.  Roddie was just being a professional driver and would not talk on the ‘phone whilst driving.  Oh how we laughed afterwards at such a coincidence as we dabbed bloody noses and swabbed roadside dirt from our tunics.

‘Roddie, you pay me 800 a month without fail and give Marcia a shopping trip to town every week, and after one year, the truck is yours.’

‘WHAT?’ Marcia screamed.

Asking Marcia to trust me would be futile.  After all, we have been living together for eight years and I am famous for fucking things up.  But Marcia is one of those very rare creatures, a loyal wife.  Even though her spit was running backwards, she kept schtumm as I held out my hand to Roddie and asked him if we had a deal.  He shook it. I had closed the deal.

The very least I could offer Marcia afterwards was an explanation.

Let’s deal with the risk first.  Obviously, if it isn’t cash on the nail, it’s a risky deal.  I had an offer from Roddie’s mate but I knew he did not have the cash and, like I said, it wasn’t the deal I wanted.  He offered me twelve grand.  It can’t have escaped the attention of any of my dear readers that the fact I elect to live in Angola and am willing to take a swing at blokes far fitter than me suggests I am a bit of a gambler.

I’ve known Roddie longer than I have Marcia.  He is the only Angolan employee of mine with whom I have fought but that was because, paradoxically, we were becoming friends and as men, had to redefine our relationship.  Just because I was the boss no longer meant I was always right, he had the right to an opinion as well as his own wife called Marcia. 

Roddie, having agreed the deal would never intentionally let me down.  Sure, if the vehicle breaks down and he can’t afford to repair it or his driver wrecks it, he may have difficulties meeting his obligations but don’t forget, the reason the vehicle was replaced with a new one and I was faced with a big repair bill in the first place was because Marcia’s driver trashed it.  So whether I give the vehicle to Roddie under these terms or employ my own driver and put the vehicle to work, I face an identical risk.  It’s all a question of greed and trust.  Am I that greedy I would try to extract the full potential from the vehicle with all the headaches that may entail?  Or do I trust Roddie, who will earn nicely out of this, and accept a reasonable return?

So let’s look at the figures.

The vehicle is idle at the moment; it’s earning me nothing and owes me $9,600.  Or…

I will receive $9,600 over the next year in rental.

I will save $800 per month in shop resupply runs over the next year, also $9.600.

So what I have done is turn an idle vehicle that owes me $9,600 into a deal worth $19,200.  And both parties are very happy (a situation ALL professional salesmen know is essential not only to repeat business, but referrals).  Roddie will make a mint, Marcia’s shop will stay full, I have recovered my investment and I have one less vehicle blocking my driveway.

All successful salesmen earn bonuses.  Mine is being able to refute Marcia’s allegation that I am drinking and smoking more than I am earning.  Nearly ten grand?  That’s got to be good for at least three months.

Yes I know it is chicken shit but as they say, look after the pennies…  and the liver will look after itself.

Oh, the video.  I nearly forgot.  If you want to survive two divorces and convince a third wife you are worth hanging onto, this isn’t a bad training film.  He climbs the objection staircase; he overcomes buyer’s remorse, handles numerous distractions and still cuts the deal.  If you want to enjoy a very funny film in which the hero uses all the classic salesman’s techniques to talk his way out of a sticky situation, watch this!