Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Beware! Boys WILL emulate their Fathers

Marcia wanted to leave for the bank early this morning.  Roddie turned up on time for a change so I tossed him the keys of the Jeep and told him to check the fluids etc, while I made him a cup of tea.

Finally, Marcia was satisfied with her hair, her outfit and the contents of her handbag so the pair of them left in a cloud of dust.

Great, I thought, feed Alex, watch the news, check emails.  I like my morning routine.

I was sat behind the laptop when Alex started shouting, ‘Daddy! Daddy! A snake! Come and see!’

If it’s not a snake, it’s a monkey, or a big bird, or an interesting pebble, he always has something new and exciting to show me.

‘OK, Son,' I called out not really paying attention, 'bring it in here’

So he did.

‘Is it poisonous, Alex?’

‘I don’t know’ he admitted, ‘is it?’

I am going to have to stop snake wrangling in front of him.  At least until he can tell the difference.

Had that been a Mamba, despite his Superman shorts and T-shirt, he'd be dead by now.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

As my Drill Sergeant said, if you make a mistake, stand still


This blogging lark actually has something going for it. 

I have an intense dislike for social media sites and soon-to-be ex-friends with whom I have entrusted my email who then give it to I-am-a-Twit, Your-face-looks-like-it-has-been-hit-by-a-telephone-directory-book et al, leaving my Outlook in-box swamped with reminders; ‘Reminder, you still haven’t replied to so and so’s invitation to become a mindless social outcast’ drive me to the most intense state of irritation.  These morons know how to get hold of me, they have my email address.  All they want is to have more ‘friends’ and be ‘liked’ by loads of people.  I also hate internet trolls but I do feel these sites should have a ‘hate’ button.  That way, if I receive an unsolicited request, I can swing over and click it.  Perhaps that would cause people to think twice before divulging my email address to a venal conglomerate.  Far more satisfying than going through all the clicks necessary to just politely decline an invitation. 

If someone, an old friend, an acquaintance long since off the radar wants to get hold of me, they’re going to have to put in a little effort.  They can ask around I suppose, but most resort to a search engine.  Googling my name produces a plethora of Tom Gowans’ (I never realized the name was so common) so you have to be determined enough to wade through a few pages before references to me turn up.  I wonder how many people Google their own names for a laugh, by the way?  I have just Googled mine and came up with a comment on a blog I was wholly unaware of which stated:

If you're in Luanda, look up the endlessly entertaining Tom Gowans

Now that was nice, wasn’t it?  Clearly I have another friend.  If I live long enough I might make a handful.

A few entries later, the links to Hippo on the Lawn start appearing.

I was delighted this morning to receive an email from a brief acquaintance of eighteen years ago. He obtained the address by discovering my blog.  Naturally, he could not be sure he had found the ‘right’ Tom Gowans and introduced his email thus:

“Hi! I am looking for the Tom Gowans who got pissed on by a lion in Zimbabwe.  If you are not that Tom Gowans, I apologize for the unsolicited email”
Terribly polite young man, don't you think?

Back in 1995, I needed to be stitched together again in a local Angolan hospital so took a post-operative holiday in Zimbabwe and stayed on a game ranch.  The game warden was English and had an affinity to the amber nectar as healthy (?) as mine and since the rates were all-inclusive, I could help myself to as much of it as I could swallow.  Naturally, having become friendly with this guy, we sat together on the stoep of my cottage in the evenings staring at a wonderful sky and drank the lodge dry.

The lodge ran sundowner trips to the top of the local mountain, ensconcing their clients in massive 4x4’s and driving them through the bush, onwards and upwards, so they could snap as many photos of wild animals, including lions, as they had film in their camera before enjoying boozy snacks on the hill.

‘Aren’t you coming with us?’ I asked my new friend as I was about to climb into the vehicle on my first night there.

‘No, I run up the kopje to keep fit’

Kopje is Afrikaans for ‘Little Head’, in this context, a small hill in a generally flat area.

‘Hang on a ‘sec,’ I said, ‘I can see a bloody great big pile of granite, what I would call a mountain. Where’s this kopje you’re talking about?’

He did a few seconds of running on the spot, clad in his singlet, shorts and running shoes.

‘No, that’s it,’ he confirmed, ‘you just relax in the car,’ he said, a touch too condescendingly for my liking, ‘I’ll meet you at the top’

I think I must have been born stupid.  90% of my frequent visits to Accident & Emergency were as a direct result of ‘Go on, I dare you!’  I had anticipated a relaxing holiday so had not thought to pack running shoes.  Besides, the stitches were only just out and my employer funded holiday was intended to allow me to recuperate.  I was in standard safari rig which included sturdy boots, the only footwear available to me.

‘I’ll race you’ I said, climbing back out of the vehicle.

So off we set.  I was 36 years old, he was in his early twenties.  I could tell he was taking it easy in case he had to deal with an old man’s coronary in the middle of the bush.  I already knew that the vehicles, taking their circuitous route, would get to the top in about an hour.  We, I could see, were following a more direct route.  After about fifteen minutes, I got my second wind and cracked the pace up a bit.  I started to feel really good as the endorphins kicked in.  There is virtually no industry in Zimbabwe so the air is clean, clean.  The forest smelt so fresh.  It was exhilarating.  It was evening so every bird and animal was giving voice to the end of another day, presumably celebrating their survival.  I could see why this kid preferred to run up the hill rather than ride.  It was his daily chance to get away and hide in his own mind in these fabulous surroundings and get his head straight ready for the next day.  I was breathing easy, inhaling over two paces and exhaling over two paces.  I could feel my muscles warm and powerful.  I felt as if I could run forever.  I’m going to give this lad a run for his money, I thought, then I’m going to ride back down in the truck with a gutful of gin and tonics.

‘What the fuck was that!’ I yelped having just about leapt out of my skin.

‘Stand still!’ he called, ‘It’s a lion!’

For the last ten minutes or so I had heard them roaring but had assumed they were all in cages or something.

‘I thought as a ranger, you were supposed to be armed?’ I asked him.

‘Yeah well, technically I am supposed to be when out in the bush with a client but you took me by surprise.  Here he comes, be quiet now and just face him off and, whatever you do, don’t run’  He was commendably calm but then it was me the lion appeared to be keen to chew the fat with.

'You could be OK,' he hissed, 'It's a big male, not a female'

As if I bloody cared?  Bugger me, sexism in the bush!  I made a mental note to write this one down in my diary if I ever made it back to the lodge.  Besides, what did he mean, I could be OK?  Of course, while the king of beasts and I were engaged in a one way exchange of DNA, the lad would earn back the money he paid for his running shoes.

Normally, I hate it when spotty faced adolescents tell me what to do but considering that I had never faced a lion down before, if a four year old convinced me he knew the secret, I’d have done exactly as I was told.  So I shut up and watched a big male lion coming towards me in ten yard dashes.  Ten yards, a roar, then lie down as if ready to pounce.  Another few yards, lie down again. 

You read in adventure novels when the hero’s mouth goes dry?  It’s a natural reaction to mortal danger.  My tongue and lips were suddenly so dry they were gluing themselves together faster than superglue and rubber.  If the body can do that to your mouth, why can’t it do the same for your bladder?  What was God thinking about?  Would the loss of a few fluid ounces of piss help me run faster, out run a lion?

‘Keep still’ whispered the boy responsible for the safety of the lodge’s clients, ‘he’s checking your scent so keep quiet’ he added.

I fucking hope he likes German aftershave, I thought, but kept still anyway as my boots filled up.

After about three million years, the lion stood up and walked slowly to within a couple of yards of me.  If I had tried to break the ‘keep quiet’ rule and attempted to say anything, only dogs would have heard me, I’d have been squeaking that high.

The big old lion looked me up and down.  The golden fur of his face was marked with the black scars of innumerable scraps.  I would like to say that I could smell the beast’s foetid breath but he was a good two yards from me.  I could see his teeth, however, so my imagination filled in the gaps.

Have you seen a male take a piss?  Men are lucky if they can hit the bowl.  Dogs lift a leg and can squirt halfway up a tree.  Male lions, I can tell you from experience, can piss backwards.  Evidently deciding that I wasn’t worth the effort, he turned his back on me and inundated me with a high pressure spray of the stinkiest, most acrid solution my eyes and olfactory organs had ever dealt with.  The only favour the big old bastard did me was disguise my own little negligent discharge.  I was soaked from head to foot.

With all that extra adrenalin, it was a cracking pace the two of us cut to the top of the mountain.  You try running uphill over rocks with your eyes sticking out the back of your head. I needed a very stiff drink, a ride back down, a long shower and then a change of everything.

I tried to be social, introduce myself to my fellow guests.  They were strangely disinterested, each one moving quickly away when I approached.  Ok, I was forced to sit alone on a downwind rock but at least I did not have to queue at the improvised bar.  I was generally, by mutual consent, served immediately.

When it came time to leave I could see that the lodge manager was a trifle embarrassed.  She had a quiet head to head with the young game warden.

He strolled over to me.  ‘Um,’ he started, ‘I am to stay here and keep you company.  They will take everyone else back to the lodge and then send a vehicle for you’.  He produced a bottle of scotch and a plateful of delicacies.  Well, it was a five star joint, after all.

‘That bad?’ I asked.

‘Man, you stink!’ he said.

‘Any cigarettes?’


'OK.  Five star lions but only a four star joint,' I said, 'you pour.'

Monday, 29 July 2013

It's that time of the year...

I live only nine degrees south of the equator.  Last time I checked, that definitely fell within the tropics.  Should be hot and humid all year round eh?  That's what I expected.  So why am I so bloody cold at night?  Marcia, Alex and I huddle up in the same bed covered not only in blankets but also a fluffy eiderdown.  If it wasn't for the fact that they are evidently suffering as much as I am and are unquestionably a lot younger than me, I would conclude I was getting soft in my old age.

The other morning, once again unable to sleep, I grabbed the camera and as the grey light of dawn began to illuminate the countryside, I took this picture:

The view is obscured by the fog that rolls in off the sea from the cold Benguela current.  The moisture was condensing on the wriggly tin roof of our accommodation and dripping onto the pathways.  I do not care that the BBC on line weather forecast predicts a nighttime low of a balmy 20 degrees C for Luanda, right where I am, so close to the sea, it feels perilously close to freezing.  Yet there is no rain whatsoever.  For over three months, not a drop.

This is the time of year when people get sick.  Runny noses and chest infections are endemic.  Everyone, especially heavy smokers like me, cough their lungs out and hawk Docker's Oysters up onto the street.

The worst though, are the eye infections.  They call it Pink Eye, or Madras Eye.  It is a highly infective condition affecting the skin of the eye and the inner side of the eye lids.  The relative coolness and desiccating dryness of this time of the year seem to favour the viruses or bacteria that cause it.  I can't stop Alex playing with other kids.  I can't seal him up in preventative quarantine.  It only requires one person to become infected and it rips through the community.  Rubbing one’s eyes, a natural reaction, provides only further doses of agony.

For those who have been lucky enough to avoid this particular affliction yet are curious to experience the symptoms, toast some bread, grind it up in a blender, and then rub the crumbs into your eyes.  Fine sand works as well but only if well-seasoned with salt and pepper.

Inevitably, Alex came down with it.

Now he looks sorry for himself

Followed quickly by Marcia and I.  Gentamicin, unlike rubbing one's eyes, provides almost instant relief even if accompanied by a little initial smarting as the drops go in.  There is no pharmacy close to hand and even if there was, most parents round here could not afford the medicine.  As Alex's friends appeared each morning to steal his biscuits and watch cartoons, I lined them all up on the sofa and dripped drops into their eyes.  It is a ridiculously expensive cure at $50 a 10ml bottle.  Did I do it out of altruism?  No, of course not.  Well, OK, maybe a little.  Mainly, if I wanted Alex to avoid a reinfection, I was left with little alternative but to cure his pals as well, and Marcia and I while I was at it.

Finally able to open my eyes for more than a couple of seconds at a time, I saw Charlie the dog crawling up the driveway.  I tried to pick him up, unsure what the hell was wrong with him and he howled piteously.  This dog was in serious pain.  I made a bed up for him (usually he sleeps outside) whereupon he fell asleep exhausted.

If you look carefully, you can see his displaced shoulder
I fried up some steak, sliced it up nicely and then fed it to him a morsel at a time.  Every time I tried to examine him, he didn't just cry out, he shrieked.  I am not a vet but, in my time, I have seen some bush wounds and scored a few in my time.  I reckon he had been hit by a car and collected a bust shoulder.  This was bad.  There's not a vet in Angola who could open him up and pin his shoulder.  If I made the two hour long trip into town, all I would do is get into a fight with a vet telling me the only course of action would be to put my dog down.  Charlie isn't a pure breed, you see, so not considered worth the effort.  Alex, my son, he's not a pure breed either but I wouldn't see him put down just because he fell off his bicycle and snapped a bone or two.

Finally, Charlie let me examine him.  I am looking for broken bones so I have to dig around a bit with my fingers.  If it got too much for Charlie, he would grab my hand firmly in his jaws, staying my hand as it were but he never really bit me.  Alex helped.  He stayed at Charlie's head end and reassured him while I poked around the dog's shoulders.

'I can't be sure, Alex,' I told the boy, 'but I think Charlie has a dislocated shoulder.  Gently feel here on the good side.  Now very gently feel here.  Can you feel a hollow there while there isn’t a hollow on the good side?  See how all his shoulder muscles are bunched up?  Everything else seems to be OK, though.  His leg is fine'

Alex nodded his agreement.  For a four year old, he picks things like this up pretty damn quick.

'Let's give Charlie a break,' I suggested. 'I'll cook him some more steak, you feed it to him and then you are going to have to hold his head'.

I once had a dislocated shoulder stuffed back into place by a couple of grunts and I can tell you, it is jolly painful.

I'll say this for Alex, he's got guts.  He hugged Charlie ever so tightly, his face only inches from the dog's jaws.  ‘If this doesn’t work, Son, we’ll have to take Charlie to Town tomorrow and see if we can find a vet who can help him’

I took a firm hold on his upper leg with my right hand while feeling the joint with my left.  I gently moved the leg around a bit and could feel the gap closing so I gave it a little twist and the bone slipped back into place.

Charlie howled.  Alex howled.  The boy from the shop came running and burst into the room.  Charlie shot off into the bush which annoyed me.  ‘Don’t you bloody knock?’ I snapped at the boy.

‘I’m sorry, Sr Tomas, I thought the dog was attacking Alex’

Considering the boy is scared witless of dogs and my goose, I thought it commendable that he would overcome his own phobia in order to save Alex.

Come food time a few hours later though, I was pleased to see Charlie turn up on all four pins.  I called for him to come to me so I could take a look at his shoulder again but he was having none of that.  Apart from a limp, he seemed fine and didn’t look anywhere near as sorry for himself as he had done only a few hours before.  I fried up loads more steak and asked Alex to give it to him.  Charlie is very protective of Alex so I wanted to make sure the dog’s confidence in him, and his obvious affection for the lad, had not been irreparably dented.  As Charlie tucked in, Alex felt around his shoulders.  ‘It’s fine, Daddy!’ the boy called out while the dog munched on unperturbed.  Well, that was OK then.  I could just leave Charlie in the very capable hands of Nurse Alex.

I usually wake up at around four in the morning.  Last night I awoke at three to the sound of feral pigs trashing the dustbins.  Now I have had enough of this.  Obviously with Charlie sleeping indoors, these foraging big bastards had recognized the coast was clear and were making hay.  This time, I was going to make at least one of them rue the day so I drew my sword from its scabbard and snuck out the door and around the building.  My eyesight is not what it used to be and is especially bad at night.  As I reached the corner of the building around which the pigs were truffling, I realized I had made a serious tactical error.  I had gone left flanking which meant, with the sword in my right hand, I was going to have to step out from behind the corner fully exposing myself before I could take a swing.  These pigs survive because they have a finely honed instinct for self-preservation.  By the time I suddenly appeared in front of them, had raised my sword to strike and inefficient eyes had focused on anything moving allowing me to take a half accurate swing, they’d be moving alright, well out of reach of my blade.

Picture the scene.  It’s foggy.  There’s no moon.  There’s the corner of a building.  On one side of the corner, feral pigs have their heads stuck into the household waste they have liberated from overturned trash cans.  On the other side, stands a naked, portly and visually impaired white man clutching a sabre.

I was so annoyed with myself.  If I reversed my steps and made my approach round the other side of the building, I was most likely to fall over something in the dark.  If I went back to the room and switched the outside lights on, the swine would be off in a flash.  I know they can be very vicious if cornered but I so badly wanted to kill and eat one of these bastards, I did not care.  So further impeding my already compromised vision was a red mist in addition to the cold clammy fog off the Benguela current.

I leapt around the corner and in a classic overhead sabre stab, drove my blade into the first bulky object I saw.

There was an explosion of squealing followed by the sound of trotters beating across the ground.

I dusted myself off and went back to bed.

‘Did you kill a pig?’ asked Marcia surprising me by being awake.

‘No, Marcia’ I admitted, ‘but there’s a bin bag out there that needs intensive care’.


Saturday, 27 July 2013

Angolan Art

I want to hang a few paintings in the restaurant so naturally considered ethnic art.  Unlike Our-Man-In-Thailand, the famous expatriate spy and undercover hit man, the Fifth Columnist (serialization of his life's derring deeds only to be published in the Times after his demise), I have no taste. 

As I write I am wearing a pair of shorts fabricated from three different shades of blue material of man made origin combined with a khaki safari shirt and a pair of dusty old sandals.  Hardly sartorial.

When it comes to the critique of art, my otherwise extensive vocabulary is limited to either, 'I like it', or 'I don't'.  An aesthete I am not.  A true aesthete may quickly recognize a shallowness of cultural appreciation in me but would graciously acknowledge that if three garishly painted plaster of Paris ducks on my lounge wall please me, I should jolly well bang the nails in required to hang them so long as at dinner, I seat him with his back to said wall lest his appetite becomes as tarnished as my (oh God, it's only plated) silver.

Try as I might, though, I cannot find it in my heart to appreciate Angolan paintings.  I am reluctant to influence the opinions of my dear readers, opinions by writing this I actively seek, but I think they're shit, tat, kitsch.  I beg you all to differ; to point out the quality I have evidently missed.  The skill of exucution that eludes me.  The metaphysical meaning and depth that, in the educated arouses passion and in me arouses derision.

I would like to know why they sell like hot cakes, some of them for many thousands of dollars.  I would like everyone’s opinion but especially those of the world renowned experts I am lucky enough to have occasionally reading my blog, Cro Magnon, The Irish Aesthete and, of course, the Fifth Columnist who turned the proceeds of a career slotting enemies of the State into a fine art collection.

I have simply two questions:

Does anyone see anything at all in these paintings?

Would you hang them on your walls and inflict them on your customers?

I like art that is tactile, mobile, something you can interact with and appreciate and involves all the senses.

This is the kind of Angolan art I like:

No, this is not my wife and, sensibly I thought, not destined to be my girlfriend either.
This is a very charming young lady visitor to the right breast of whom
I was pleased to offer some sadly temporary support.
Note that I have kicked off my six inch stilletos and allowed her to keep hers on
so as not to intimidate her with my height and ever increasing bulk.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Gentleman’s Relish

A big hole filled with water, a compound of Hydrogen and Oxygen from which all life on earth emerged

You may recall that last year I apparently took leave of my senses, brought in a massive digger at not inconsiderable expense and consumed a quarter of my plot by excavating a bloody great big hole.

I could not describe Marcia’s reaction as magnanimous.  God, however, was beneficent and filled the hole with fresh, clean water.

My pond was so pleased with me for bringing it into existence; it gave me a big wet hug (oh alright, I fell in).

As a means to wash Dhobi, the pond has its drawbacks

Everyone, and I mean everyone who laid eyes on this wonderful example of landscape engineering said I was mad as a hatter.

‘Why on earth,’ they exclaimed, ‘would I use up a third of my expensive real estate by digging a hole?’

Marcia looked so crestfallen, they comforted her.  They assured her there was no shame in discovering her husband was a mental case.  They told her about the psychiatric treatment available for people like me which consisted of handcuffing the patient to a manhole cover and leaving them under a very hot sun until they came to their senses.  Occasional beatings would be necessary, they informed her sympathetically before reminding her that sometimes, especially when dealing with a man bereft of his senses, one has to be cruel to be kind.

‘So what are you going to do with it?’ Marcia had demanded back then.

‘I am going to stock it with fish’, I informed her.

To appreciate the reaction, you have to understand that the pond is two hundred yards from the Atlantic Ocean and fifty yards from the second largest river in Angola, both of which, no-one could deny, were pretty full of fish so why couldn't Icatch them there?

‘Ah, but those fish aren’t mine,’ I said, ‘I want to catch and eat my own fish’

Marcia’s brother, commendably concerned about his sister’s future welfare, asked her if he shouldn’t take me down there and then.  Apparently he had a tow rope in the back of his car that would either serve to restrain me or whip me back to my senses.

I live in a poverty stricken fishing village full of expert fishermen so, if they're so clever and aren’t all rich, their advice was a mystery to me.

‘Nothing will live in that’, they said.

‘It’ll dry out’

‘It’ll be too salty’

‘Without a constant flow, there won’t be enough oxygen’

‘It will breed mosquitoes’

I had a couple of advantages over these people.  Firstly, I had seen ponds of a similar size all over Europe that were thriving eco-systems well worth fishing and, secondly, as an alcoholic recluse I could not give a flying toss what they thought.  I was, therefore, arrogantly immune to ridicule.

Living in Africa, I have had to give up so many things a Gentleman takes for granted.  Pubs serving an honest pint of real ale.  Wine that doesn’t taste like vinegar.  Romeo y Juliettas.  Branston pickle. Effective medical services.  Dry Cleaners that don’t melt suits.  Litter free and, God forbid, tarmacked streets.  Rye bread.  Butter. Vegetables. 7.65mm ammunition to end my miserable existence.  Camembert cheese.  Horseradish sauce, English mustard. Carr’s water biscuits. Patum Peperium. Thick cut orange marmalade. Melton Mowbray pork pies.

I think you have a general idea of what I want for Christmas but I was only joking about the ammunition.  I have a drawer full of it.  The trouble is that when I am deep in  my cups and have a go at shuffling myself off this mortal coil, I am too pissed to shoot straight and keep missing.  I have a couple of extra and pretty permanent partings and Marcia is ever so angry about all the holes in the walls.

I have to fly fish, though.  That’s why I dug my pond.  I blame George.  His beautifully photographed excursions along England’s rivers reminded me of just how relaxing fly fishing is as a pastime and God knows I need to relax.  I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed untroubled sleep.

I paid the kids with biscuits and such.  Bring me a bucket of live fishlings out of the river and you’d get a packet of genuine Middle Eastern Halal Jammy Dodgers or Kosher pork scratchings in exchange.  Try as I might, I couldn’t catch anything with the circular weighted nets they use here so I lent mine to them and they caught loads.  So in addition to packets of this and that, I gave them Coca-Cola and Fanta as well.

I dug the pond a year ago.  Two months ago (unable to sleep), I went for a walk to the pond at around four in the morning and discovered a local netting it.  These were the same sarcastic bastards who said it would never work and now here they were poaching my pond.  I wasn’t best pleased but have learnt from the ashtray incident so left no marks on his body and he hasn’t come back to me to reclaim his net.

I am not an eco-warrior or a marine biologist so I really have no idea what I am doing, putting my trust in Nature instead.  All I do know is that if you want Nature to work her mysterious ways, let her get on with it without interference.  So for a year I have been stocking and guarding the pond, not letting anyone take anything out of it.  I knew I needed to establish a breeding population so that the recently created system would be self-sustaining.  I trawled plants out of the river and introduced them to the pond to provide a more natural habitat.  I let the grass and other vegetation grow around the banks.  I was pleased to see Kingfishers hovering over it. 

Very early the other morning, I was sitting in the Lappa and I saw a Fish Eagle dive and scoot low over the water trailing its talons creating a V shaped ripple across the surface before soaring away clutching a fish.  So when Marcia came home and said that because she had been delayed at the bank and had been unable to go shopping, there was nothing for tea, I said, ‘No matter, how do you fancy fresh fish?’

‘Fresh fish?’ she exclaimed, ‘Where are you going to buy fresh fish at this time of night?’

I sensed a degree of skepticism but I have always been a little sensitive by nature.

‘I am not going to buy the fish, my Darling, I am going to catch them’

Now I was sensing derision.  I can take derision in the work place or a bar, it isn’t anything a quick smack in the mouth can’t resolve but we’re talking about my wife here so I was pretty bloody crushed.

The other thing that wives do so well and unconscious derisionists don’t, is dig the knife in.

‘I’ll heat up some beans and rice’, she informed me with ill-disguised impatience.

You have to excuse her.  I know, as I suspect many of you dear readers know as well, what it is like to come home after a hard day’s travail to a cold kitchen.  But I honestly thought she would bring with her the ingredients I needed to prepare a delightfully romantic dinner for two (two and half, Alex including Alex) so, as all good husbands would do, I pulled out my rod determined to satisfy her.

She wasn’t impressed.

Considering it is over seven foot of telescopic whippy yet permanently stiff carbon fibre, I was chastened to say the least when I trudged through the countryside toward the banks of my pond.  The ever loyal Charlie, my dog, dogged my heels and made a nuisance of himself, barking joyously at shadows, of which there were many.

After a couple of disconsolate casts, I was delighted when Alex appeared clutching a plastic bag containing a few cold beers for me and a couple of stims for him.  You see?  She may think I am mad but Marcia still loves me.

‘Can I have a go Daddy?  Pleeeze?’

‘Sure son, fill yer boots’, I said handing him the rod before knocking the top off of a beer.

‘Alex! Lift the rod up! You’ve got one!’

‘Keep the rod up and just reel it in gently,’ I advised him.

‘This is fun, Daddy!’ he said as we landed the fish, ‘Can we do it again?’

‘Oh yes!’ I said badly in need of some marital bliss, 'Just do whatever you did again!'

And he did.  Twice more in the time it took me to finish another beer.

‘How many fish do we need, Alex?’ I asked him, selfishly keen for both food and nuptials.

‘Four, five, three, ten!’ he said, counting all three.

‘Do you want to show these to Marcia?’ I asked him. ‘Shall we give these fish to Marcia to fry up for dinner?  Do you think that one fish for you, one for Marcia and one for me is enough?  That’s three fish.  One, two, three!’

‘One, two, three,’ he repeated, counting out the haul. ‘One each!’ he suddenly exclaimed demonstrating a greater mastery of division than addition.

There is something special about catching your own dinner and I could see that Alex couldn’t wait to show his Mummy what he had caught.

‘We eat these tonight, Daddy?’ he kept asking me as we made our way back.

‘Yes, son, we eat these tonight, with rice and beans I guess.  Are you sure you don't want me to help you carry the fish?' I asked him noticing them slipping out of his grasp every two paces to end up floundering in the dirt.
'I can do it, Daddy!'
'I know you can, son.  Look, you've got more fingers than I have, just stuff one finger each into the gills of the fish and they aren't going anywhere.'

‘I don’t want gindungo (the local hot pepper sauce)’ he told me after we had covered a few more paces thus, ‘I want tomato ketchup’

‘Tomato ketchup sounds good to me,’ I told him as I stumbled along after him.  Bugger me, the fish hadn’t even stopped flapping, yet he was busy deciding just how he was going to eat them.

Anyone who has ever rented plant knows that the day rate, along with the relocation, is eyewatering but it was worth every penny to see the expression on Alex’s face as he handed these three fish over to his mother. 

That's a battered old 12" pan and not a bad fish supper..
If I haul out 2,997 more of these, I might just break even.

Four years old and he’s already put food on the table.  Fish caught in his Mad Dad's pond.



Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Willie Buchling

I have a mate.  He is called Willie Buchling.  Yes, you try and keep a straight face.  Actually, it is quite easy if you ever square up to the guy, the last thing you want to do is smirk.  He is big.  Most people just dodge the issue by calling him 'Sir' or 'Mynheer'.

I let some people park and launch their boats off my land.  Most of them commit bugger all effort to maintaining their boats and then I hear them cursing when the damn things don’t start.

Willie, on the other hand, comes here and spends a whole day not on the water, but servicing his boat.  This weekend was no exception so after he had finished tinkering, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised when his two Mariner 50’s started first touch of the button.  This was the sign for me to put the kettle on while he scrubbed up.  I set the tea makings out in the Lappa and we sat down together to enjoy it.

‘You’ve made some progress’, he informed me looking around.

I know it was a genuine compliment but it still hurt, this place should have been finished ages ago.  As if reading my mind, he said,

‘Henry tells me you’ve been screwed by your contractor?’

Again, I know he was only trying to be sympathetic but that knife dug deep.

‘Have you been out hunting recently?’ he asked now unconsciously twisting the serrated edge of his blade through nerves and sinew.

‘Not since I dropped that bush buck last year,’ I replied with so much spit running backwards down my throat there was no room left for a sip of tea.

Willie has a spread back in South Africa where he breeds Golden Wildebeest.  Bulls go for around US$40-50,000 and cows with calves about a tenth of that.  The record for a bull was over US$100k.  I’d need to flip a hell of a lot of burgers to get that much into the till.

Every time Willie comes to see me, he always brings a bloody great container filled with Boerwors, biltong and other delicacies.  Alex loves him.  All this stuff is home cured from game he has shot.  It is delicious.  This time he apologized for there being so little.  He did not have time to sit around back home waiting for this latest batch of animals to be processed and cured before coming back to Angola as he had only a couple of days in SA, one of which he spent hunting.

In Angola, most of the game has been poached out so, at best, it takes about a week’s worth of stalking to drop one animal.

‘So how many did you bag on your day trip?’ I heard myself ask.

‘Five.  Couple of Kudu, an Eland, gemsbok, warthog, that sort of thing’

Five? In ONE day!  Bloody hell, if I shoot one a year I have an involuntary emmission.

Any doubt that I am a closet masochist will have been dispelled with my last request.

‘Email me some photos of your place and some of the kills, will you?’

Looking at the photos below, I would say that young Willie has his life well sorted.

For all the single girls out there, yes, he is financially responsible, he is good looking, he is fit and hard, he does not drink alcohol and doesn’t smoke.  He is polite and very considerate.  He is an all-round success and very, very (and this is the bad news for all you young ladies) faithful to his wife.
I am pleased about that last quality because every time Marcia gets within ten feet of him, her knickers spontaneously combust.

The animal Marcia rather fancies is the one holding the rifle.

Very, very little of this Kudu will be wasted
I really would like to call him a wussie for wearing a riding hat but everyone knows it makes sense.

Now you see?  I'd be grinning like an idiot.  Not him, he's too cool.
The young lady is smiling because she knows after an unbearable absence,
he has brought the meat home.
He has invited me.  I can't wait to go shooting with him.  I'll need to get fit first though if I am ever going to stand a chance of keeping up with Willie.
Actually, now that I think about it, I need to renew my bloody visa or I am going nowhere except jail.


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Booze, Lust and American Cars (Time for coffee, by the way)

My mate Henry, who makes all the cans for the beer and soft drinks companies in Angola had, a few days before, delivered the stainless steel barbecue grills he fabricated for me when Mike, the Swimming Pool King of Angola pitched up for a beer and a chat.  Mike is a very nice guy.  He is quiet, polite, reserved but he has that look about him that all experienced bar fighters recognize; if you fancy taking a swing at someone, pick someone else.  He built the two swimming pools over at Rico’s place so I had seen him around but I was on little more than nodding terms with him so I was a little surprised, but not upset, to see him sitting in my Jango (which, he tells me, is called a Lappa).  Clearly he had something on his mind.  If it’s about building the two swimming pools I need installing, I thought as I stepped towards the shop to get him a cold beer, he’s out of luck as with my cash flow problems the last thing on my list of priorities were swimming pools.  I just want to get the bloody restaurant open.

‘Is it alright if I pitch a tent on your land this weekend and have a braai over the weekend?’ he asked me as I poured his beer.

‘Sure’, I replied, ‘but better you erect it here in the Jango, I mean Lappa’, I told him, ‘Here you have cover and Henry has finished the braai so you can barbecue.’

Then he came to point of his visit, and this stretches coincidence. 

A few weeks ago, I thought I had pulled off a sweet deal with a surplus truck.  Roddie never came up with the two grand I wanted up front and I wasn’t going to let it go on a promise.  Then Henry and I were sinking a few in my Lappa (Jango is out now) when Henry asked me about my truck.  I told him I had completely overhauled it and showed him the invoice folder.  Like most beer fuelled conversations, no one was taking it really seriously but I could see he was impressed with the vehicle history folder.  Henry had a late 90’s model, fully loaded Jeep Grand Cherokee.

My Father once dismissed Japanese cars pointing out that they rusted so badly because they were made of recycled Pepsi-Cola cans.  Naturally, I respected my father’s opinion so restrained my juvenile yet enquiring mind and did not ask him what Alfa Romeos and Lancias were made of and why Japanese cars, unlike his Dagenham built Ford, could start on a cold day.  American cars, he went on to say, were only driven by pimps, wogs and pop stars.

Having seen the interiors of a few luxury American cars I have to confess, I tended to agree with him.  If you wear slip on shoes with tassles, trousers (pants) an inch or so too short with white socks, wear loud shirts in built up areas, tie your tie so that it hangs one inch above your belt and address everyone by their Christian names before confiding to a complete stranger the most intimate and often graphic details of personal health and family issues, I am sure you would enjoy quilted leather seats, shag pile carpets, genuine plastic wood trim machine cast from Formica trees and tolerate the incessant binging and bonging noises every time you got within three yards of your car to remind you that, yes, it is a car; that, yes, you have opened the door; yes, you’ve put the key in the ignition; and, yes, your flies are undone.

A couple of years ago, I had a top-of-the-range V8 Toyota Landcruiser fitted with every warning device possible.  It once shut down and refused to start.  I am sure it had detected high blood pressure and incorrectly diagnosed the imminent onset of road rage.  What was annoying me was that it was a Dubai sourced car.  The advantage was that it was well specced and, having been supplied by my employer, free.  The disadvantage was that as soon as I exceeded a very moderate, mundane, extraordinarily soporific 120 kph (74mph), the whole bloody dash lit up and the binging and bonging was manic.  Think about it. If I am passing a line of slow moving trucks over a crest on a blind bend while attempting to use the buttons on the steering wheel to skip the CD forward a few tracks to my favorite, undoing my seatbelt so I can retrieve the lit cigarette that just dropped into my lap and telling Marcia on the phone that I am nearly home and asking her if she wants anything special from the supermarket, I really do not need that kind of distraction.  Damn it, once I was so completely taken by surprise, I spilt my whisky.

Despite my father’s opinion of American cars, however, I always felt that cubic inches could not be beaten and yes, I have to confess, I admired Henry’s Jeep.  Its sodding great V8 American engine just purred when started.  The car was red.  In my younger days, red used to be my favorite colour.  Now that I am older, I prefer metallic silver but the red coachwork, and the growl of a ‘no shit’ motor rekindled that youthful lust so all my senses were suddenly alerted when Henry asked me about my truck.

‘Well,’ I said, taking a pull on my beer, ‘Roddie hasn’t come up with the deposit so I guess I’d be open to offers’

‘Would you be willing to deal?’ he asked me equally nonchalantly before pulling on his beer.

‘I like the kind of deal,’ I said lighting a cigarette, ‘where someone lays enough cash on the table to help me get over any emotional attachment.  I mean,’ I pointed out while taking a long drag on the fag, ‘Me and the truck go back, know what I am saying?  And now you want I should just sell him?’

‘Him?  HIM! It’s a bloody truck and it’s not doing anything!’ he protested.

‘Neither is my wife in bed but I’m still not going to divorce her.’  I replied.

I am sure he knew I knew he wanted my truck and I was sure that he knew I wanted his Jeep.  So we were playing poker with all but one of our cards face up.  The hidden card we each held indicated how badly I wanted his Jeep and how badly he wanted my truck.  Oh, how desperately I wanted to catch a glimpse of his card and I am sure he felt the same about mine.  On the other hand, it could have been a double bluff and a question of how badly he wanted to get rid of his Jeep and how badly I wanted to get rid of my truck.  Were we holding aces, or deuces?

Henry is a genuine Hard Bastard, I just pretend to be one but both of us came to the same conclusion.  Better to feign indifference.

Now, between two guys like Henry and I, such an impasse can last years. 

So instead we drank some more beers.

Henry knows that I am a reclusive beach bum and, therefore, not exactly in a hurry so he cracked first, but in an Oh so clever way.  Recognizing that money really doesn’t turn me on, he switched to friendship.

‘I’m not going to keep the truck’, he announced.

‘I know,’ I said, ‘you’re gonna flip it, you know someone who really wants it.’  I didn’t know at all, of course, but if you really want to get someone off their stride, get right up their nose, just let them think they aren’t telling you anything new.

Henry is such a nice bloke.  He has always been straight with me and bugger me if he hasn’t done me some favours.

If my truck was parked in the capital, Luanda, I’d have been inundated with offers for it.  Instead, I live in the bush.  It may be completely overhauled but it is still, considering the location in which it is, slowly rusting, a white elephant.  Henry lives in the city. 

‘I’ll do you a deal with my Jeep’, he said.

You see, this is the problem dealing amongst friends.  He knows I want a decent car again.  He knows I am getting a bit pissed off bouncing over potholes in a truck.  I can’t say it, it would be too cruel but I do wonder whether he had this meeting in mind when he lent me the car to go to the funeral.  He knows I will have been hurting for Marcia but I bet he was laying odds that on a four hour round trip, I might notice how nice the car was.

All I can advise when it comes to money is that if you shake hands with a Boer, count your fingers afterwards.  In fact, if you are one of those wussies who wears his watch on his right wrist, check that as well.

So I closed the deal with Henry.  In exchange for my truck I would receive a lovely Jeep.

Did I discuss this with Marcia?  Of course I didn’t.

I have lived in Angola for twenty years and have overcome many problems.  One has so far been insurmountable.  I do not have residency.  This means everything I own, I don’t.  Well, not legally at least.  The fact she has not stabbed me through the heart yet is, to me, clearly an indication of her undying love for if she did, she gets to keep everything.

And this brings us, in my usual roundabout way, back to Mike; his problem and the surprising coincidence.

The truck was bought and registered in Marcia’s name.  She holds the title and only she can sign the transfer documents.  It appeared that not only had Henry flipped the truck even before he had laid his hands on it, he had flipped it to Mike who now needed Marcia to sign the paperwork.

I burst out laughing.

‘You mean to tell me,’ I said, ‘that you have been passing by that truck every day since it arrived here and instead of making me an offer, you have bought it from Henry?’

‘I didn’t buy it,’ Mike corrected me, ‘I swapped an old Landcruiser for it’

Henry, the old Wheeler Dealer!  Obviously if Mike wanted to unload a 4x4, he clearly would not be interested in the Jeep.  So Henry had swapped his Jeep for something Mike would be interested in, my truck.  How’s that for living the Good Life in a cashless society?

Naturally I would be delighted for him to set up his tent in my Lappa, I reaffirmed, and christen Henry’s stainless steel barbecue grills (also obtained through barter).

In total, five tents appeared along with over twenty people of all ages, including Henry who was delivering the Jeep and would go home in the truck.  Then two Landcruisers turned up, a party of overlanders from South Africa in desperate need of somewhere to stay, a wash and scrub up and to do their dhobi.

‘Join the party!’ I invited them and showed them where to pitch their tents.

The driveway was now full of vehicles of every shape and size.  Among my visitors, apart from Mike and Henry, were a Cuban dissident, a diamond dealer, a charming couple who own a large vineyard and fruit orchard in the Ceres Valley, an engineer doing essentially the same thing I used to do, installing power stations, an absolutely stunningly beautiful, ever so petite young lady from Portugal (as a grumpy old recluse, I am not very good with superlatives but out of ten, I’d give her one), a couple who, in addition to touring Angola had also agreed to carry a parcel from the parents of an incarcerated drug smuggling son, currently residing in Viana Gaol, hordes of very well behaved children, fussing mothers and animated fathers.  As I have often reminded those endeavoring to intrude on my private space (about two hectares, I start to get irritated if anyone comes withing a hundred metres of me), I am a recluse but I could not have wished for a more eclectic and entertaining group.  Naturally, I had to watch my usually colourful language.  Boers are not only hard working, they are eerily God faring folk going to Church EVERY week, not just for funerals and weddings.  Imagine that.

The only downside to what turned out to be a most memorable evening was that Marcia and Alex were in town for the Missa.  Tradition dictates that a week or so after the funeral, the family must reconvene at the deceased’s house.  In an awful twist of fate worthy of a Greek tragedy, Marcia’s brother in law, on his way down to Luanda from Uige Province for the Missa, rolled his car and killed himself so the Missa turned into a wake and Marcia’s return was delayed.  Much as I felt sorry for Marcia, I felt really sorry for Alex.  He was missing out on a great party and two deaths in as many weeks would give any kid the heeby jeebies at night.

Henry launched his boat and took all the kids on trips up and down the river.  Since there were only a limited number of lifejackets, there was a queue which I kept occupied by teaching them to fish in my lake while Henry ran his tanks dry running repeat river excursions.  My new barbecue area proved perfect (it has a thatch roof and did not burn down) as did Henry’s grills.  The drinks flowed, the food seemed inexhaustible, I ran the overlanders up to my other place and filled all their freshwater tanks with sweet water from the well.  I engineered (much to the amusement of everyone else who all knew it was a set up) a lively discussion with the Cuban dissident who, when I discovered what he was, informed him I admired Castro and really wanted to meet him.  I was well ahead on points using the old, ‘do you really want Cuba to return to the old Batista and Yankee Mafia days’ ploy but then left myself open to a devastating right hook when I swung a crude haymaker suggesting that even Ernest Hemingway, my favorite author admired Castro.

‘Yes!’ exclaimed the Cuban with glee, ‘and he shot himself!’

I was down for the count.  I hate remarkably well informed opponents.

It was a heck of an evening and only ended around four in the morning.  At six, my bladder sent a message to brain saying, ‘Tell Tom to get out of bed and go for a slash or I’ll tell willie to ease springs right now’

Clearly, this was a Flash signal, UK Eyes Only, demanding an immediate response so I leapt naked out of bed, no time to fumble for glasses, and burst out of my room to release the whole of the previous evening into one superbly satisfying stream onto the palm tree adjacent to my door.

‘Jesus, that’s good!’ I gasped.

‘By Christ, I needed that!’ I exclaimed, leaning against the tree.

‘Fuck!  It’s never ending.  I’m pissing like a champion!  Bugger all wrong with MY prostrate’ I told the tree.

Giving the old tadger a good shake I was startled to hear a rather reserved cough.  Not quite as gentle as an ‘ahem’ but nowhere near anything as dramatic as someone hawking up a docker’s oyster on the sidewalk.

I did a smart right turn, tackle still in hand, and saw all the South Africans and other guests, presumably already having thanked the Lord for his bounty, enjoying breakfast in the lappa not ten yards distant.

I should start eating breakfast again, I thought.  Apparently, middle aged men who do not eat breakfast can increase their chances of a heart attack by twenty five percent.  I could see why.  By not joining them decently dressed I'd damn nearly died of one.

I could see by their faces that the kids thought this was way better than the breakfast cartoon channels they were used to while masticating Cocoa Pops and milk and, on the road in Angola, were evidently missing.

I was crushed.  Now I knew that by the irrefutable evidence of her own eyes, Miss Gorgeous from Portugal (I had really wanted to enjoy lurid dreams about her but given that it now takes me all night to do what I used to do all night, two hours sleep wasn’t enough) would know I wasn’t worth the effort.  All it needed was for some wit to say, ‘Do you know?  I honestly can’t see what Marcia sees in him’.

I can normally hold a gaze without any problem but I found hers, Miss Absolutely Perfect from Portugal, and her Mona Lisa smile cast across the table while we were having lunch, quite disconcerting.  I briefly wondered why she chose to sit exactly opposite me and had personally plated and served my food but was too hung over to tax my brain further than ensuring my fork hit my mouth.  Having, to my undying shame, urinated copiously and horribly naked in her lovely presence, I was disinclined to add to my ever increasing woe by dribbling food down my shirt.  She had reduced me to little more than a timorous school boy.

Then her husband turned up. 

I think everyone round the table knew I harbored ill-disguised and now, suddenly, illicit desires for this girl.  I didn’t know she was married.  Just because she has two delightful children in tow doesn’t in today’s society imply she is in any sort of permanent relationship.  Apparently, she lives in Portugal and he, her husband of whom I had no inkling, lives in Angola.  She had come to Angola to see him and after nearly two weeks, had not yet managed to hook up with her errant husband.  Yet as soon as he, on the grapevine, had picked up that she was to spend a whole weekend in the company of various expatriate strangers at my place, he had bust his gut to get here.  To be honest, I am being necessarily modest here.  I think he heard his wife was going to spend a night with a Hippo so bent the pedal to the metal.

He turned up in a shiny new Tundra, a mammoth 4x4 pick up usually driven by pimps, wogs and pop stars.  I have never before encountered anyone who met the criteria for all three.  His handshake, when I was introduced to him, was unnecessarily firm.  He was a monster.  Honestly, only a DNA test could separate, or confirm as I suspected, his connection to the missing link between us humans and the carnivorous homicidal maniacs that roamed the earth so many millions of years ago.  I could so easily imagine him using mammoth tusks as toothpicks.

They say that realizing you are about to die, your whole life flashes before you.  Either I am extremely odd or this is all bollocks because as he advanced towards me, I had a vision not of the unremarkable years of my existence but of Man’s discovery of fire.  I saw the coincidence, financially opportune for all future restaurateurs, of a man in a cave chipping at a flint axe and striking off a spark just as this guy let one rip in a confined space.

Marcia arrived bringing little Alex with her.  Honestly, a decent producer could turn this into a profitable television soap.  Apart from indecently exposing myself in front of children, I had done nothing wrong but I would be deluding myself if I expected it to escape Marcia’s attention that I was being stalked by Tyrannosaurus Rex in a smart suit while everyone else openly discussed (as people do at parties) at what point during the evening I had cuckolded him.  Old T-Rex didn’t really bother me; I have taken plenty of beatings in my time.  What really scared me was the idea Marcia would buy into the idea that what provoked a guy to drive hundreds of miles through the night to get here was true.  In that case I’d be mincemeat.  Jesus, I may once, or possibly twice, in my cups, have admitted a fancy to the girl but I always kept at least a dining table between us.  For goodness’ sake, I can’t see what all the fuss was about.  After all, it doesn’t matter where you get your appetite, so long as you eat at home.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if Marcia bashed me on the shoulder and said, ‘You old scallywag! I can’t leave you alone for five minutes, can I?’

I honestly didn’t expect Marcia to see it that way. 

If I left Marcia alone with all the gossiping girlies in the group, I was dead meat.

So I showed Marcia her new car. 

I plipped the plipper, opening and closing the doors.  I showed her how to electrikerytronically move her seat in three million directions.  Then I twisted the ignition and prayed to the over forty Presidents of the United States, Lee Iacocca, Caroll Shelby, Jay Leno’s garage mechanic, the Founding Fathers, all the reporters of NBC and the players, coaches, managers, owners and fans of the Chicago Cubs that the bloody thing would start first touch of the key.  And, of course, it did.  American engines are born to live and die hard.  And it purred, all eight cylinders.  I could have kissed its burbling exhaust.  You can’t beat cubic inches.

Marcia went for a quick spin.

She came back, tossed me the keys and told me to nip to the next town, buy a few crates of soft drinks and whatever.  It was the first time I had driven the car and I was enjoying the experience.  I had enough money to buy everything Marcia wanted plus a bottle of whisky and a couple of hundred cigarettes.  As I relaxed in its sumptuous interior, I realized two things.  Americans do know how to make cars for use on dirt roads and, secondly, I had got this restaurant thing all back to front.  I had filled my restaurant for the first time ever but instead of the clients coming in and paying me to feed them, they were feeding me so that they could use my restaurant.  Still, it had been a hell of a night.

Then I realized why Marcia had let me loose in her car.  The binging noise I could not at first identify was trying desperately to let me know the car was about to run out of fuel.  So as soon as I hit the main road, I pulled into the gas station and told them to fill it up.

‘You have pulled up to the diesel pump’, said the smugly helpful attendant, ‘this car runs on petrol’

Of course, silly me, force of habit and all that.  I realigned the car to everyone’s satisfaction and it started to take a drink.  After about five minutes or so, I checked underneath the car in case the fuel tank had a massive hole in it.  Then I checked the boot (trunk) and footwells to see if they were filling up.  Ten minutes later my brain was racing the pump counter which was inexorably racking up my bill, and comparing it with the cash I had on board.

‘Stop!’ I yelled.

Petrol is twice the price of diesel here, I know that, but I can fill either of my trucks with fifty bucks worth of diesel and it’ll last me a week and theyl haul three tonnes.  I had just dropped fifty bucks into the tank of the Jeep and as I pulled away, the needle of the petrol gauge barely registered a quarter full, such is the cost of relative luxury.

Naturally, the things at the top of Marcia’s shopping list are Starred Items (I get them or die).  The things on the bottom, my stuff, are optional.  Marcia’s car got it’s glug of fuel so whisky and fags were off the list for me.

On the highway, this car is smooth.  As I crested the mountain, I was in range of 96.5 FM from Luanda.  I haven’t a clue what radio station it is, what it is called, it’s just a number on the dial, but it is the best in Angola and I hadn’t heard it in two years.  When I peeled off the highway toward the Comuna and on to dirt road again, I was listening to ‘Gimme Shelter’ by the Rolling Stones.  For me, Gimme Shelter is the archetype soldier’s song.  It is redolent of sweaty jungle, of Marlboro packs secured in the rolled up arms of T-shirts, festering tropical ulcers, malaria, hunger, fatigue and not enough ammunition.  Back in the early nineties I was in NE Angola looking after some diamond buyers when the Army and the Police decided they had a score to settle.  The house being used as a diamond buying office was half way along the street along which, from opposite ends, the two groups were spraying evidently limitless amounts of ammunition at each other.  I didn’t have to encourage the buyers into their safe room and told the security team not to return any fire (any rounds hitting the villa were accidental, none of these bastards could shoot straight) and if any of them came over the wall surrounding the villa to just usher them out the back gate at the point of an Uzi.  In the meantime, I sat on the verandah out front, leant my chair back against the wall so only my eyes were peering over the low ornamental balustrade and cradled my Z-84 while listening to the Rolling Stones playing at full blast on the boogie box next to me.  The loud music and the fact I left the external security lights on were all an indication to them that they could fight to their heart’s content amongst themselves but leave us the fuck alone otherwise they would quickly grasp the military advantage of ‘careful, aimed shots’.  With the tracer flashing backwards and forwards only twenty yards in front of me and Gimme Shelter blasting out was one of those surreal moments the memory of which is etched indelibly on my mind.

The gear box on the Jeep has something called ‘Quadra Trak Shift On The Fly’.  Apparently, you can climb walls with it.  I left it in two wheel drive and as I came off the tarmac and onto the dirt, I gave it a boot full of right foot and entered the Comuna sideways on opposite lock kicking up rooster tails in one long power slide.  Gosh, I was enjoying this car.  First time I have driven a car in ages.  Alex thought it was brilliant.  I thought it was brilliant.  Everyone else dived for cover.

I was in an exceptionally good mood when I returned.  I was chirpy.  I’d forgotten all about the fact that Marcia can be exceedingly jealous, a condition which, as far as it concerned me, should carry the direst of health warnings.

Then I saw Marcia and Miss Universe of Portugal engaging in animated conversation.  Christ, when it came to beating me up, there’d be a queue.  I only hoped T-Rex would be first, he would be stupid enough to knock me out first punch.  Marcia would take her time torturing me.

‘Andy!’ Marcia called out.  She calls me Andy, by the way, ‘Come and say hello!’

Considering I had spent the whole of the previous evening wanting to say ‘hello’ to this girl and then do the ‘coming’ afterwards, I was a tadge bemused.

‘Can you get a piece of paper and a pen?  We want to swap telephone numbers and email addresses!’ Marcia exclaimed.

I must be one of the spawniest bastards alive.

‘Sure,’ I said walking on air towards the room.

On the way the couple carrying the parcel for the incarcerated drug smuggler intercepted me, thanked me for my hospitality explaining they had to leave and then asked me how to get to Viana Prison.

Hmmn. How to get to Viana Prison? I thought.

I was on a high and bouncing gaily down insanity beach with a gutful of booze, only two hours sleep under my belt and loins full of unpunished lust.

‘I don’t know,’ I said, ‘murder someone?’