Wednesday, 22 January 2014

A Day in the Life of Ivan ‘Hippo’ Denisovich


“Work was like a stick. It had two ends. When you worked for the knowing you gave them quality; when you worked for a fool you simply gave him eyewash.”

Starting to get light and I am awake.  Must be about 5.30.  Alex has his arms and legs hooked around me and is breathing deep and slow; he has an hour of kip left in him still.  Alex can be a restless bugger so I am not surprised to see that Marcia has swapped the matrimonial bed for his vacated one.
I gently untangle myself from Alex, slide out of bed and as quietly as aching limbs allow, pad round Alex’s bed to select a clean pair of undies from the shelf.  I step into them and my work shorts, grab my sandals and stumble off to the bathroom where I ease springs, splash water over my face and peel my eyelids fully open before giving the old teeth a good seeing to.

In the kitchen, I set the kettle on to boil and then head out to the washing line to select one of five identical khaki short sleeved shirts that dried on the washing line overnight.  The hounds, their night’s watchdog duty over, come belting towards me in excitement vying for attention and doing their best to get underfoot and trip me up.  The air is crisp and clean, belying the sweaty heat to come. 
Pulling on my shirt, I stroll over to the seed beds and inspect progress.  Apart from the Kohlrabi, bugger all.  No sign of the leeks, carrots, tomatoes, water cress, marjoram, sage or thyme I planted with eager anticipation.  Perhaps the seeds after so long in storage were stuffed?  Only time will tell, I suppose.  I continue on to the generator, check the oil and water and then switch it on.  I hear the well pump kick in and I stretch out the hose and give the beds a good watering.

Kettle is boiling furiously as I walk back into the kitchen.  I make myself a big mug of tea and sit drinking it on the stoep thinking about how far down my list of things to do I am.  I have built and filled all the raised beds, 60 square metres of them which required twenty cubic metres of rich soil to be dug out and transported by wheel barrow to the beds.  I had built the shelter for the generator and finished its roof yesterday.  The radiator had been removed from the Jeep to be sent into town for reconditioning and it had come back, all clean and pressure tested last night.  Refitting it would be my first job of the day. 
Over the weekend, I had dug another well on site 3, a hundred metres down the road and had hit water at 2.5 metres.  My old submersible pump is stuffed so I need to find another one so that I can pump the water out as I dig at least another metre.  Good submersible pumps are readily available and cheap as chips in the civilized world.  Here they are expensive and crap.  Just another reminder of how things either take ages here or are never completed through lack of decent tools and equipment. 

Yesterday I had sawn the eucalyptus logs which will form the supports for the 5 x 12 metre enclosed chicken run to length, dug the metre deep holes they needed and sunk them into the ground.  I had to stop last night because I ran out of 12 cm nails.  The builders will bring me some from the restaurant site this morning and then I can finish off fitting the battens that will support the shade netting sides and roof.   I need to dig a small pond so the chucks and ducks have clean water and dig a trench so I can bury the irrigation pipe that will feed it.  I will need cement to make the pond.  I added cement to the shopping list.  I have aggregate sitting in a big pile over at the restaurant site so I will need to take the truck and shovel a load onto it.  On the way back I need to stop at site 3 and load up the unused building blocks.  More hot and sweaty manual labour.  Still, the weight is falling off me and while I may not feel it, I am at least looking healthier.  I finished the last of my tea.  Bugger, I thought, I still have loads to do.
Frank appears all sleepy eyed so I tell him to grab all the tools from under the stoep and take them over to the chicken run.  Without nails, there was little to be done there so I make him help me fit the radiator.  Naturally, there is a bolt missing.  Usually if I take something apart and then reassemble it, I end up with a handful of bolts and screws the manufacturer evidently did not need but this is a bolt I definitely cannot do without.  True to the cost saving mantra with which anything is constructed nowadays, this one bolt secured the left hand side of the radiator, the air con cooler and the bonnet slam plate.  In such circumstances it is always best to remain calm allowing for clear thought, a mental state not helped by Marcia breathing down my neck complaining about how I am ruining her day and muttering darkly that her friend had managed to remove the radiator in only a few minutes so why was it taking me so long to refit it?  Clearly, to work out what had happened to the bolt, I must think like Marcia’s mechanic.  Or stop thinking altogether.  As I dummy fit the radiator, I realize I am missing much more than just a bolt.  The plastic grill of the car is loose yet I cannot see any brackets to attach it.  The radiator should bolt to the air con rad.  I examine the brackets on the radiator and see the flanges through which the bolts specific for the aforementioned purpose pass are torn.  I examine the corresponding flanges on the heat exchanger and see one nut and bolt hanging there.  I can see that an Allen key is required to remove this bolt.  Now I realize that the rubber bushes into which the radiator bottom locating pins fit are missing.  Then I notice that the bottom hose has been hacked off.  I know this to be true because a hose that has been clipped will bear the crimp marks as witness and the end of it will have a smooth finish.  Now I have a hose that is probably too short and of the jubilee clip I need to secure it, also no sign.  I add up all the evidence and come to the conclusion that all Marcia’s mechanic had done was undo the few bolts he could, remove the slam plate and then, for lack of the correct tools, just ripped the radiator out.

I feel rage welling inside me.  I want to scream and curse.  I want to kill Marcia’s mechanic.  The fucking useless twat!  Even if I could find replacement parts, they would cost a fortune.  The car has survived over a decade and nearly quarter of a million kilometres only to be fucked in less than half an hour, if Marcia is to be believed, by an Angolan.
Marcia calls us all in for breakfast.  We have run out of porridge so it is rice pudding instead.  You may think rice pudding is an unusual first meal of the day but I can assure you, with a few hours of work under your belt, there’s nothing like the sweet stickiness of rice pud to fire up the old boilers again.  Marcia asks me how I am getting on.  I detect frostiness and am tempted to let fly a broadside but settle for a milder form of truth.  I am, I tell her, taking the opportunity to do a few other jobs on the car.  Marcia reminds me she wants the car urgently in a ‘stop fucking around and get it done’ tone of voice.  She gives everyone a second helping of rice pud but pointedly does not serve me any extra.  Instead, she asks me whether she should call her mechanic to give me a hand.  Rather than even attempt a smile, which I know would be all too wintry, I leave the table.


Breakfast with the crew
I collect from a drawer in my desk a set of Allen keys, a roll of wire, insulating tape, some odd bolts and washers, some long cable ties and then call the builders who still have not turned up with my nails.  Have you ever tried explaining to a Filipino who does not speak English what a bottom hose and jubilee clip are?  I want him to remove the bottom hose from the old Cummins generator and bring it with its clips to me along with the nails.  I run out of phone credit before I am even remotely convinced he has understood.  Fine, so long as he pitches up with my truck, I can drive back to the site and do the job myself.  In the meantime, I get on with wiring and cable tying my car back together.  I manage to get the bolt requiring an Allen key off despite its stripped threads and slowly refit everything as it should be.  A test fit of the bottom hose reveals it is just long enough but without a jubilee clip, I am still stuffed.  Then I remember the box of surplus plumbing parts hidden away under the house.  I crawl through the dirt disturbing a swarm of hungry sand flies and find it.  I search for a good ten minutes through the box and am literally itching to scream when I find two clips, a bit on the large size but I pray that they will screw tight enough.  I crawl out from hell and then wonder why I hadn’t just hauled the box out and inspected its contents in comfort.
The clips fit and I am pleased.  Marcia stalks up to me while I have my head under the bonnet and tells me that she has cancelled her appointments and will now only go into town tomorrow because I have taken far too long and don’t I know how bad the traffic is at lunchtime?  I mean to answer but at that moment my spanner slips and I graze my knuckles and curse.  Marcia lets fly at me for swearing at her.  I straighten up to tell her I wasn’t cussing her, I was just saying bad things about her God but it is too late, she has already stomped off.  I can hear her telling all the clients in the shop what an incompetent fool I am and if only I had just let her call her mechanic.  The clients titter sympathetically.

Everything is now as it should be so I must now fill the radiator with a mix of water and anti-freeze.  Somewhere I have a five litre container of it.  I used to keep it next to my desk but I notice it has disappeared.  I risk asking Marcia.  She tells me it is in the shop.  I trudge back to the shop and ask the idiot boy Marcia has serving there.  He produces a mostly empty container.  I ask him where it has all gone.  He tells me he has been putting it in the generator.  I ask him if the generator is using water.  He tells me lots.  I do not bother asking him why nobody has called this to my attention and add a thorough check of the generator cooling system to my long list of things to do.  I am very thirsty so I ask the moron to fill the container with water from the tap outside the shop while I select a cold can of tonic water from one of the fridges.  As I pour the first of it down my parched throat I glance outside to see the mong tipping away the last of the anti-freeze.  ‘But you told me to fill it with water!’ he said.  I knew I shouldn’t even have bothered asking.  If there is a God, only he knows what goes through these exceptional examples of the minds He created.
I finally fit the radiator cap and go to start the car.  The starter relay clicks like a toy machine gun.  The car battery is dead and this is my fault.  The job took much longer than I expected and all that time the car doors were open with the interior lights blazing their way through the battery’s juice.  Well, not all my fault.  Marcia’s mechanic had not latched the bonnet shut so the under bonnet light had been burning for two days.  Deep down I knew that a cardinal rule when working on vehicles is to disconnect the battery first.  I look around but there is thankfully no sight of Marcia.  Just then the builders turn up with nails, a saw and, bugger me sideways, a bottom hose and two jubilee clips.  They tell me they took so long because the hose was seized onto its fittings and they had to be ever so careful while easing it off so as not to damage it.  I thank them, hand them a ten mil spanner and tell them to fetch the battery from the truck. 

I used to have a set of jump leads, like I used to have a full tool kit and all sorts of power tools, like I used to have a video camera, my deceased father’s gold watch, loads of things but they have all been stolen so I am not going to jump the car safely.  I perch the truck battery under the bonnet as close to the car battery as I can, hold it in place with my gut and make the connection using two large spanners across the terminals.  I tell one of the builders to crank the engine over.  He floors the throttle.  5.2 litres of V8 American muscle screams into life and I step back in shock.  The truck battery falls to the driveway and cracks open.  The concrete fizzes and I shout at God again.  The builder thinks I am shouting at him so switches the car off.  This time I shout at him.  Alex, who had appeared to say hello to the builders, repeating it perfectly, asked me what the very bad word I had used meant.  You should never use that very bad word, I tell him, and I was wrong to call the builder that, I said.  Of course I was wrong to call the builder that, I think to myself, cunts are useful.
In front of our property is a car.  It has been in front of our property for nearly three months.  One day, three guys had driven up in it, had a few drinks at our shop but when it came time to leave, the car would not start.  They promised they would be back with a mechanic.  After a month, I drew the attention of the police to the car suggesting that in my opinion it may have been stolen.  Weeks later, I asked the police about the car.  They confirmed it had been stolen and they would come and collect it.  In the meantime, someone has broken into it and nicked the radio and spare wheel.  I hand the ten mil back to the builders and tell them to nick the battery off this car while I go and fetch my battery charger.  Marcia catches me walking out of the house with the charger and asks me what’s wrong.  The car battery is dead, I tell her.  What about the truck battery? She asks me.  That’s dead too I say truthfully.

The builders settle down for lunch and I make myself scarce at the back of the garden and start cutting battens to length for the chicken run.  An hour later I feel the battery has enough charge which it does, the car starts and I keep it running.  The battery even has enough charge to start the truck which I also leave running.  I get inside the car and switch the air-conditioning on full blast so as to load the engine.  I want to see if it runs hot.  I am busy sawing battens when I hear the car stop.  I am annoyed.  It hasn’t had enough time to run really hot and in all probability it will not have charged the battery enough.  I brace up for a shout at someone and hurry to the car.  There is no one around.  I look in the car; all the ignition lights are on.  I try and start the car and the engine turns over nicely but does not start.  I look at the petrol gauge.  It is showing empty.  Marcia is inside watching a soap so I grab some cash from the till and drive to the petrol station in the truck.  I get back and have the car juiced up and running just as the soap ends. 
I have missed lunch so I turn my attention to the chicken coop.  I cannot find my hammer.  No point asking Frank to search around for me, even though since he had packed the tools away last night and stuffed them under the house, he was best placed to do so.  No sign of it under the house, nor the last place I used it.  Oh well, I would just have to manage with the flat end of an axe, not exactly a handy tool for driving in nails while balancing precariously on the top of a knackered aluminium step ladder. 

I am using salvaged wood.  After over a year in the sun and what little rain we have enjoyed, it is well seasoned but sadly warped.  Being an African hardwood, it is also as hard as the nails I am using.  The top row of battens has to be nailed to the equally tough eucalyptus poles exactly 225 cms off the ground, the height of the poles.  I try but fail to do this by myself, the battens at four metres long are just too awkward for me to handle while trying to balance on the step ladder hanging onto an axe and a nail.  I give up and go and find Frank.
I carefully explain to Frank what I want him to do.  It cannot be easier.  All he has to do is hold his end of the batten up as high as he can while I nail the other end to a pole.  Driving a 12 cm nail through one bit of hardwood into another bit of hardwood is not easy.  To be honest, I think I would not be able to do it with an ordinary hammer.  The back of the axe is good, I think, it is heavy.  I can tell when I am hitting the nail straight on the head because it sings a note to me with each perfect strike.  I am nearly through the batten and about to start driving into the pole when Frank notices that his end is not lying square on the pole.  Of course it isn’t, it is warped.  I take an almighty swing with the axe just as Frank decides to twist his end flush.  The nail twists away from me and I hit my left index finger a mighty wallop.  The end of my finger bursts and squirts blood.  I squeal and fall off the ladder.  Frank laughs.

The blood makes the nails slippery so I ask Alex if he could spare me one of his plasters.  I show him my Doi Doi, a babyish term derived from the Portuguese for pain which he uses to describe any injury from a slight graze to decapitation.  He disappears into the house and takes an age.  Eventually he comes back with a plaster on his knee.  Sowwy Daddy, he explains, Mummy says we had only one left and I needed one for my knee.  I tear a strip from my handkerchief and tie my finger up.
I try again.  It is hard enough getting the nail through the batten.  Even lying the batten down on a hard surface and driving the nail in until it is just poking through makes no difference; as soon as the nail hits the eucalyptus, it just buckles into an ‘S’ shape.  I am really frustrated.  I tell Frank to fetch me a tonic water from the shop while I have a puff and a think.  I suddenly realize something I suspect Marcia has known for a long time.  I am an idiot.  Instead of trying to knock the nail into the side of the pole, why don’t I just nail the top row of battens to the top of the poles? 

With the top row complete, I decide I need two more poles but I don’t have any eucalyptus logs long enough.  These poles will be inside the chicken run and more or less obscured by the netting I was going to use to enclose the run so they did not have to look pretty.  I find four off cuts and decide to nail them together using scrap pieces of wood to make two poles of the right length.  I am glad that the builders brought me a big bag of nails because I am bending most of them but, with the sun setting, I have two poles.

Frank holding up a pole
Some fat old bloke holding up a pole.  You can hardly see the join...

I finish the work day as I started by watering the beds.  I am pleased to see more green shoots poking above the soil.  I can’t tell what they are.  I know what I planted but cannot remember where in the beds I planted the Marjoram, Sage or Thyme, all I know for certain is where I planted the watercress, tomatoes, leeks and kohlrabi and only the latter is showing any sign of life.  Maybe now I have some herbs as well.

I am far too tired to cook supper so I take out two frozen pizzas.  Alex likes pizzas, especially if I cover his with loads of sliced olives.  I like olives too but also load mine up with sliced red hot local peppers.  While the pizzas are in the oven, I strip off and have a shower.  The well pump is pretty much at its limit.  The house sits a few metres higher than the rest of the property so if the locals come to collect water and turn the tap on outside the shop, the water pressure in the house drops to zero.  I am fully lathered up when someone turns the shop tap on.  I call to Marcia but she and Alex have left the house and are down at the shop.  I wait patiently for the pressure to come back with the soap drying on my skin.  Then I remember the pizzas.  I wrap a towel round me and run out of the shower, through the lounge and into the kitchen.  No tea towels.  I can see the pizzas must come out of the oven now.  I peel my towel off and haul the pizza tray out.  I am standing there naked in the kitchen wondering where I can safely put the hot tray down when the veranda door slides open and Marcia walks in with two ladies from the Church. 

Look! Shouts Alex unnecessarily, Daddy’s naked!

52 comments:

  1. Well, their immediate ancestors walked around naked most of the time. I hope you remembered your manners and offered them some pizza.

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    1. I didn't to be honest but now that I think about it I should have given them a slice each of my hot chilli laced pizza to spice up their lives even more!

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  2. Oh Lord....one of your days is like a lifetime for most others. You have to be made of stern stuff to live like this but it's you're making this life for your boys. Stay safe and healthy.

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    1. It was just another shitty day in paradise.

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  3. Easy on the digit damage there, you are already short on a couple and don't have any spares left. Next time try pre-drilling. Glad to hear you saved the day and got the jeep going again. Its a hard job when some thoughtless mook messes up the removal not considering that it has to go together again. Did you ever fix the door handle problem? The trick with the spanners to jump the battery is a good one, almost as good as these fellows. http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=b02_1385453273

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    1. Ah, the old Kalashnikov ploy!

      The stuffed door is on the truck, not the Jeep and is still not fixed. I need to employ an accomplished car thief to open the door with a bit of wire or whatever tools of the trade he has.

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  4. So, just another average day chez Hippo. You make me feel extremely lazy, yet very content.

    I am a useless mechanic, but will always have a go. Most people had a father who'd show them the basics; I didn't. I may well now have nightmares thinking of Marcia's bloody car!

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    1. Odd that, considering it was your industry that shamed me!

      I learnt to fix cars out of greed. I could buy a small decent car in running order or, for the same money, buy something outrageous but broken and then fix it.

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  5. i have learned three things about DIY mechanical work:
    1. it is always more complicated than it first seems
    2. the estimated time to completion can easily be doubled, even when the job is almost finished
    3. when one's car is in pieces, dont even imagine it will be drivable on the same day

    and thats all in sydney, where everything is in our favour

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  6. ah - so now we know where the grey hair comes from...

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    1. Yes, but Marcia is only doing what all women do to their men.

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  7. You certainly put my life into perspective; a happy perspective. Thank you! and for the chuckle.

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    1. I am quite jealous of you at times! Your lifestyle appears idyllic and just when it might become boring, the natives throw a bit of a street party for you.

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  8. I feel exhausted after reading that (and it's only breakfast time). Think I'll go for a lie down. Silly question time - why do you need anti-freeze in a hot country?

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    1. Not a silly question at all, Sue, Don't forget the silliest question is the one you don't ask!

      To be correct, I should have called it Engine Coolant but it is basically anti freeze. The solution is, however, a corrosion inhibitor and helps prevent radiators and coolant passages within the engine becoming furred up. Even when there is no chance of freezing, it is very important to have the correct mix of anti freeze in the engine.

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  9. Glad Sue asked the question. It seemed strange to me too.
    Don't know how you do all this stuff and probably in appauling heat and humidity too. Life needs to be a bit easier than this don't you think?

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    1. It is all good fun! Besides, imagine working day in, day out in an office bosses leaning over you, the fight to hit targets, to make your bonus, back stabbing arseholes, incompetence of others affecting your performance, the drudgery, the boredom. Now imagine setting your own working hours, setting your own targets, working in the fresh air, doing what you want when you want, spending loads of time with the kids...

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    2. "incompetence of others affecting your performance" - you do not have that? and "back stabbing arseholes" - sounds like a description of several of the people in the local village. Nothing a sturdy artillery ashtray would not fix. ;-)

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  10. You're a fucking lazy bastard x

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    1. And you're a tart. You're just jealous that pretty soon your Ukrainian village will lose its 'exclusive' status!

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  11. Back stabbing arseholes is one of my favourite expressions, and fucking idiots. Your post today made me laugh all the way through.

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    1. Gosh, Rachel! I would love to be a fly on the wall when you have one of your Staff Motivation meetings...

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    2. I think Rachel must work in the office where I am at the mo, to have that as a favourite expression. its like lord of the flies

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  12. ROFLMAO! I'm confident I wouldn't be strong enough to live your life but it sure makes for great entertainment ;)

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    1. I had to Google ROFLMAO to find out what it meant.

      IAESGYLI

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  13. Hippo, you must preface your stories with ~ make yourself a coffee or two coffees or even a stiff drink(oops Dom Tom).

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    1. I have it on good authority that you read all my posts while soaking in a bath drinking ice cold champagne and eating caviar topped smoked salmon open sandwiches... with all the curtains drawn.

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  14. I'm worn out just reading this! I'm assuming that allen keys are the same as an allen wrench?

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    1. Having no idea what an Allen wrench is I cannot be sure but Allen keys are hexagonal 'L' shaped keys.

      Reading my blog should form part of all reputable dietary programmes.

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  15. You're slacking again. Photos without the lovely ladies you often manage to get in! I rather thought you had been a bit busy of late. Maybe you need your own header tank for your shower? Are you working up to giving us the next installment of your big story? Please do.

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    1. More photos of half naked teenage girls, Check.

      Definitely been busy.

      Header tank is on the cards but I need a stronger pump whatever I do.

      Regarding the next chapter of the book, to be honest by the time I get in I am too knackered! But the mood will strike me and then I will dash another chapter off. I know everyone wants to read about the Battle of F Coy Accommodation in which our hero takes a 40mm in the chest so burns down some government property.

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  16. My day pales into boring in comparison. You probably made those two church ladies' day!

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    1. Sadly, all I did was propagate the myth that African males are better hung.

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    2. Ahhh Tom, that explains it... I think your phase "African males are better hung" was misinterpreted by those good ol' boys in the southern states

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    3. You are assuming, Nigel, that mine was a Freudian slip...

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  17. too much work for me. I think I am partially hibernating. Roll on summer. then I can give the neighbours an eyeful gardening at 5am in my dressing gown and garden clogs. early bird catches the slug and all that...

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    1. I have no such excuse. It is summer all year round here!

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  18. I don't know how you got through all of that without retorting back to Marcia. I am normally reasonable and affable but tend to react strongly if I believe I have been unfairly slighted by those closest to me. with those not as close, I let it flow off like water off a duck's back.

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    1. Put it down to having been beaten into submission and being emotionally spent.

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  19. I would have given Marcia a piece of my mind too. Probably wouldnt do any good mind you

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    1. Oh don't judge Marcia too harshly, Jenny. Like all women she has her cranky days and then she has her periods.

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  20. Your narrative did takenyou a while to get undressed, didn't it?

    U

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    1. I don't know. Seemed like a logical progression to me. Start day, get dressed. During day, stay dressed. End of day, get undressed.

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  21. Christ Almighty! - as the "ladies from the church" might have said - that was a day and a half! Like "Carry on Angola" with Sid James as Hippo, Joan Sims as Mrs Hippo and Kenneth Williams as Frank. Re. "Holding Up a Pole"? Did you imagine you were a German border guard?

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    1. "Holding Up a Pole"? Did you imagine you were a German border guard?

      Classic!

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  22. You have some very long days there. I got tired just reading all you did in one day. I also think you showed great restraint in not saying anything to Marcia; any time Himself is fixing something, i find it best to give him a wide berth and only ask if everything is all right of if there's anything i can do after i hear a loud, crashing sound.

    I wish i could have seen the look on the church ladies' faces when they walked in and got an eyeful.

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    1. Megan, when i or my other half hear a loud crashing noise, we never ask if everything is all right, that would usually receive a sarcastic reply.

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    2. Nigel, i usually wait until the loud crashing noise subsides. If i hear muttering or swearing, i don't need to say anything. If there's a hushed silence, i like to affirm i don't need to call for an ambulance. This was established early on when Himself was carving a bit of wood. I was in the other room, heard a strange noise, hushed silence, and then Himself said, "Megan you need to come here." He had gouged himself with the carving tool and was applying pressure so blood wouldn't spurt out. I bandaged the wound, made a tourniquet, and he drove himself to the doctor's despite my volunteering to do so (this was when were dating).

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    3. Marcia knows to stay well away if she hears a loud crashing sound followed by me cursing!

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  23. That made me laugh out loud! I particularly liked your use of the word mong - not heard that since school! Pre drill for the nails, it doesn't make you less of a man. Also qhy do you need antifreeze? I didn't think you really had freezing temperatures over there?

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Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.