I suppose it was bound to happen. All this running around behaving like a native navvy, digging holes, carting soil, sawing logs and timber then nailing them together was just asking for it.
I was late out of bed this morning. The last of yesterday evening I remember was getting to the part of William Boyd’s ‘An Ice-Cream War’ where Captain Cobb (of the Duke of Connaught’s Own West Kents, reluctantly attached to the 69th Palancottah Light Infantry) is bayoneted in the abdomen by an Askari in the Kaiser’s employ and then resting the book on my chest while I considered my own similar experience of nineteen years ago. Clearly, such memories have become, over the intervening years, powerfully soporific for the next thing I knew, it was well past dawn and no members of my family or the ‘uninvited’ guests were to be seen.
Now this suited me fine… because I was knackered.
A tea and a coffee later (the uninvited guests, having risen earlier and no doubt quickly realizing I was still unconscious and unable to police them, had polished off everything edible in the fridge depriving me of a more substantial breakfast), I staggered out across the sand of my soon to be lawn under the weight of 250 square metres of rolled up shade netting with the avowed intent of nailing as much of it as required to the completed framework of Stalag Luft III. Quickly concluding there was no way I was going to be able to achieve this on my own, I lit up and sitting comfortably on the roll, choked a cigarette down; I didn’t even have the energy to go and look for Dominic so was content to play the waiting game. Looking furtively in the wrong direction, he eventually scurried into view attempting a right flanker through the trees from the shop to the cottage and rather than avoiding me, he ran slap bang into me.
‘Morning, Daddy,’ he offered morosely, ‘do you want some help?’
As a matter of fact, I did. All the help I could get but one look at his face and I knew he wasn’t up for yet another day of hard labour beneath unrelenting sun; he was supposed to be on holiday, perhaps I was taking this father son bonding a bit too far.
‘Look,’ I said, ‘you have a choice: help me get this shade netting up and this damn chicken run finished or,’ I paused and looked at his crestfallen features (if his shoulders had slumped any further, I would have had difficulty distinguishing them from his knees), ‘or,’ I continued, ‘we could spend a day on the beach with your brother.’
‘Let’s get it over and done with, Dad,’ he decided.
Well, that settled it. ‘Get your swimming togs!’ I said and hurried off to find Alex. ‘Alex! ALEX!’ I called. No answer. ‘Alex! Do you want to go to the beach?’ I called again. ‘Yes please, Daddy!’ he replied immediately appearing from under the house where he had been playing. He was filthy.
‘Get him hosed down and into a fresh set of clothes,’ I instructed Dominic, ‘and pack a spare set in a rucksack so he can get changed after swimming!’ I called after his retreating back.
Ten minutes later we were in the Jeep heading for the beach, the dogs loping effortlessly alongside. Try as I might, I cannot stop the dogs doing this. It irritates the shit out of me and it irritates Rico when I turn up to his restaurant with dogs in tow. So we did not go to Rico’s. Instead, I turned north and headed for a place I wasn’t even sure was open. But I knew the guards and they would let us play in the massive swimming pool on the beach this sometimes open, sometimes shut and always under new management restaurant had to offer.
The restaurant was open and, even more of a surprise, had the same manager who introduced himself to me as the new incumbent nearly a year ago, the very charming, fluent English speaking Sr. Cipriano.
‘Are you still making ice cream?’ he asked me as we settled down to a cup of his excellent coffee.
‘You have tried my ice cream?’ I was a little surprised; I had never seen him at the shop.
‘It is the nicest ice cream I have ever tasted,’ he replied, ‘every time I filled the car up I would stop at your place and have some but I notice you aren’t selling it anymore.’
This was true. Not the best ice cream in the world bit (I reckon he can’t have travelled much so was limited in the old gelato department) but that I had stopped making it.
‘It has been dead over Christmas and New Year,’ I told him, ‘so it wasn’t worth me making it, we just weren’t selling it quickly enough and you can only keep it so long.’
He nodded his head in sympathy. ‘It was dead for me too,’ he admitted, ‘but I am full every weekend now.’
‘Well that’s good!’ I said and I meant it. I had been worried just how quiet a period I had expected to be busy had been. Clearly I hadn’t yet worked out the market so it was reassuring to learn what I thought would be longer quiet periods were, in fact, the busy season.
‘Do you do A La Carte at the weekend?’ I asked him.
Not on Sunday’s apparently. Sundays he did a buffet offering an impressive range of fruits of the sea prepared in a variety of mouthwatering ways all for $60 a head. Realizing the place was open and obviously under good management, I had sensed an opportunity and was now delicately blueprinting the client before setting him up for the closing question.
‘The last manager here, the muscle bound Portuguese guy…’ Cipriano nodded to indicate he knew who I was referring to, ‘…complained he did not have enough freezers to hold stock for the restaurant?’
‘I have all new freezers,’ said Cipriano proudly, confirming the problem had been solved.
‘Can I look at your menu, please?’ I asked him, ‘plenty of people stop by the shop on their way to Rico’s who are only going there because they think you are closed,’ I added, throwing him a bone. What I really wanted to know was what he was getting away with charging his clients. I scanned the menu and did a quick mental calculation. A meal for two with a couple of drinks would run out at $140. If they stayed the afternoon to swim in the pool and have a few more drinks, there’d be no change out of $200. I had done my profit and loss calculation based on fifty bucks a head. It is always good to balance your projected costs against a conservative estimate of income so I was very pleased.
‘No desserts?’ I commented.
‘My Chef is brilliant but he isn’t too hot on desserts,’ admitted Cipriano. I knew his chef. He had poached the only decent chef Rico had ever employed by the simple expedient of offering the man a huge pay rise. Samuel’s lobster curries were divine but, it was true, his desserts were shit. To be fair, if allowed to concentrate just on desserts, he would probably have excelled in that department as well but to expect one man to do everything, and in a small kitchen to boot was probably asking a bit much.
‘What you need,’ I said, ‘are desserts ready-to-eat’ and before he had time to properly consider that remark I asked him, ‘how much would you charge for a portion of ice cream, say two scoops?’
By that stage we had been joined by someone who, judging from his intense interest in the conversation I suspected was Cipriano’s head waiter, a suspicion confirmed only seconds later.
‘Five dollars,’ said Sr. C.
‘Eight dollars,’ corrected the interloper, ‘four dollars a ball, more if we fruit it up.’
‘This is my head waiter,’ said Cipriano introducing me to him. I smiled sweetly. I was selling my ice cream at one dollar for the equivalent of two scoops (or balls).
Then the penny started to drop for Mr. C.
‘How much did you pay for your machine, Sr. Tomas?’
‘Fourteen thousand dollars with the spares and maintenance pack,’ I lied easily, more than doubling the actual cost, ‘mine is a commercial grade machine.’ I could see he was a bit disappointed.
‘But,’ I continued, ‘there is no point you lashing out on an expensive machine like that only to watch it rust away in the salt air like your big espresso machine.’ I had noticed our coffee being made with a domestic espresso machine rather than the no doubt very expensive but idle Italian 3 cup espresso machine he had behind the bar counter.
‘How about I make you up trays of individual ice cream desserts in a variety of flavours with different toppings and deliver them to you every week before the weekend?’
They liked the sound of that but I still had to plant in their minds an idea of quantity and price so needed to make the deal as sweet as my desserts were going to be.
‘We could start off gently with only 100 desserts per week until word of mouth causes demand to soar and,’ again giving them little time to digest that, ‘rather than serving them in nasty plastic throw away containers, I could prepare them in elegant glass bowls ready for the table which, with every new delivery, I could collect, sterilize and reuse saving you endless amounts of bother. You’d get them at four dollars and sell them at eight dollars a pop,’ I added casually, almost as an afterthought. Before it went quiet over the holiday season and I was selling them quickly enough for the mix not to spoil, I was making a profit at a dollar a portion. Four dollars a portion was for me a very sweet proposition.
So the day had not been wasted after all. I was bloody chuffed as I made my way to the pool to join the boys. We splashed and we played. Alex, who is only five, remember, swam two lengths of the pool to prove he did not need to wear his buoyancy jacket any more. Dominic had several attempts at beating my record for mushroom floating, managing to hold his breath each time for over a minute in a futile effort to beat my wholly fictitious record of three minutes. Then Dominic reminded me how I had taught him when he was just a little boy like Alex to stand upright on my shoulders, arms held out to the sides like a circus acrobat so I taught Alex to do the same, his fear of falling mitigated by the presence of water promising a soft landing. Of course, Dominic, now a big lad as tall as me and a lot heavier than he was all those years ago fancied a go and I was carefree enough to crouch down, let him stand on my shoulders and then try to jerk upright.
It felt as if someone had stuck a rapier in one ear and out the other. Dominic spilled into the water and I floated there face down, gargling pool water unable to move. Dominic pulled me to the side. Just getting out was agony. Getting into the car was even worse. Dominic hurried off to pay the bill and then drove us all home.
I had just made it back into the lounge and was perched stiff backed awkwardly on the edge of a dining chair when Marcia arrived home.
‘Daddy’s hurt his back,’ Dominic informed her.
There was little sympathy forthcoming.
‘You wanted to do everything in the garden by yourself,’ she tut-tutted, ‘I did warn you…’