Monday, 3 March 2014

The Considerate American


A while back I received an email from an American lady who said she knew me from my blog.  Oh dear, I thought, I am forever poking fun at Americans and occasionally some touchy feely people in soft shoes confuse my rational views on women with misogyny.   I read on.

Nancy had started reading my blog when she learned that her employers were posting her to Angola.  ‘Tis a sad reflection on the dearth of blogs emanating from Angola that she persevered.  Either I failed to paint a bleak picture of life in Angola or her entreaties to be posted anywhere else fell on deaf ears because come here she did.

She was, she informed me, going back to the States soon and wanted to know if there was anything she could bring back for me?  Well how considerate is that?  My first thought was a full service kit and new air-conditioning compressor for the Jeep but she qualified her generosity by excluding ‘heavy Jeep parts’.  If Nancy knew all about my Jeep, clearly she had kept herself up to date with goings on at Fort Hippo.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Alex and his boxing gloves.  Before I actually met Nancy, I did not want to explain on my blog exactly how I got them.  It was Nancy who brought them back for me along with his punch bag, a pair of 501 jeans for Dominic, pills for Marcia, loads of seeds for me and, something I was delighted about, a sweet fig tree (Ficus Hardy) .  The original idea was that shortly after her return to Angola, she would come down to Fort Hippo for lunch, bringing the kit with her.  Unlike me, though, she has a real job and work precluded her coming down for a few weeks so she kindly arranged pick up of the goods by Marcia in town.

Nancy had been worried about the fig tree.  It had been posted from Chicago to Texas during the Great Polar Vortex so, unsurprisingly perhaps, on arrival in Texas, all its leaves fell off.  I knew it was a long shot to try and have brought in a potted sapling and find it still alive at the end of a lengthy journey but Nancy administered first aid and lugged what was now little more than a twig extravagantly packaged in a huge box filled with expanded polystyrene beans all the way to Angola, unpacked it and stuck it on her fridge.  It does not look good, she told me in an email.  I was sad.  There are no sweet fig trees here in Angola as far as I know.  What they call figs here are nasty hard green little things, bitter as hell and more stone than edible fruit.  Monkeys love them apparently but I don’t.  I was convinced sweet figs, originally from the Mediterranean, would flourish in this environment.  They are hardy and drought tolerant and they grow fast; saplings bear fruit within two years.  I know that normally one plants trees for one’s grandchildren but with a fig tree, I stood a good chance of enjoying the fruits of my labour.

The day before Marcia made the pick up, Nancy called me, ‘The fig tree is sprouting two leaves!’  Clearly Nancy wanted the little well-travelled sapling to live too and it had responded to all that love for it Nancy had been emanating around her apartment.

First thing I did when I unpacked it was give it a drink of water and let it get a breath of fresh air on the veranda.  The next day I carefully repotted it in my special mixture of dark soil, fine wood shavings and goat poo.


Where it has done rather well:

 
Finally Nancy was able to visit and brought with her three friends, Rae Anne, Don and José.  Naturally I decided that rather than boring old steak or chicken, I would give them a seafood treat so it was lobsters, fish and clams.  Marcia prepares the best clams in the world; even the juices left in the pan make for a delicious soup.  Marcia is paranoid about her clams having any traces of sand in them so actually lugged gallons of sea water to the house in which she left the clams overnight changing the water twice.  Her effort paid off, they were delicious.  All I did was prepare the lobster.  Not really hard work, all I had to do was drop them a few at a time into a heavy pan of boiling water.

Round the table clock wise from the left:  Nancy, Rae Anne, Jose, Don, Alex
Naturally, Alex had to be the centre of attention so started performing...

I want someone to sculpt this and cast it in bronze for me...
Alex and his home-made bow and arrow.
If you think there is only one obvious use for something, let a child disavow you of that.
But he prefers punching it...


Rae Anne and Don are very musical.  They have their own band, one which they pulled together here in Angola.  It is called ‘ThirteenthFloor’.  That’s a cool name for a band so I asked them how they came upon it.  ‘Because we live on the thirteenth floor’ they said.  Fair enough.  It is still bloody cool, though.  Nancy lives on the tenth floor of the same apartment block so I suggested that if she started a band, she could call it ‘Three Floors Down’.  That’s a cool name too.

I told Rae Anne that Alex had a guitar, a cheap old Chinese job I had bought Dominic years ago.  He was never interested so the thing had been knocked and bashed around and had never been tuned.  I brought it out and together, Rae Anne and Don tuned it.  Don had an app on his phone I noticed.  The app would play a note, Don would hum it and Rae Anne would tension the strings.  Bugger me if it didn’t play!  So we were treated to some songs, all of which I liked.  Sat there in the middle of nowhere surrounded by palm trees I said we all looked like a bunch of aid workers enjoying themselves, the only difference being we weren’t driving top of the range Landcruisers or smoking joints.  It was all very Woodstock.

Rae Anne had delighted us by bringing half a dozen of her world famous scones.  Who says scones have to be boring?  Rae Anne bakes many flavours, exotic in their excess.  Our scones were Cranberry Lemon and Blueberry White Chocolate.  Alex scoffed one immediately and then tucked into another half which Marcia finished off.  That left four.  After they all left, I tidied up the dishes and then just had to have a bite.  As soon as the pastry hit my palate, I was transported back to the West Country.  There was only one way to finish off Rae Anne’s scone and that was with a decent cup of tea.  Not any old tea brewed in a mug, but Zimbabwean tea brewed in a warmed pot and served in bone china tea cups.  I laid everything out, switched on Alex's favourite TV channel and together we had a proper English tea with scones.  That left two.  One went into Alex’s school lunch box the following morning.  That left one.  All day it called to me but I resisted.  Alex arrived home and there in the middle of the table was a plate with one scone on it.  'Is that for me, Daddy?' asked Alex.  'I saved it for you Son.'  'Thanks Daddy!' he said swiping it.  All is not lost, though, for Rae Anne makes scones to order or sells the dough so traditional cream teas will become a feature at Fort Hippo’s.  Those living in Aberdeen, Pinehurst or Southern Pines in North Carolina (I think that is somewhere deep in the backwoods of one of the ex-colonies), can have their scones delivered from Pine Scones where Rae Anne’s team of dedicated professional sconierres is hard at work in her absence.
I had a nibble and then knew I had best immediately take a photo, they weren't going to last long!

Nancy too has talents beyond finding hydrocarbons for her employers so they can extract, refine and sell it.  Nancy made the shirt José was wearing and was half way through making a dress for Rae Anne.  My shirt making ability is limited to cutting three holes for head and arms in a gunny sack.
Jose in his hand made shirt and Nancy

It was a lovely day, all the more remarkable as I only got to meet these nice people through my blog.  You know how parting with, ‘we must do this again sometime soon’ can be laced with insincerity?  Well I was absolutely sincere when I suggested that.  Next time we will go for a walk down the beach, hopefully when Dominic is here as he knows where to dig up fossils and can identify all the varied birdlife.

Nancy, by the way, not only brought me the seeds I had asked for, she also brought me a load of drought resistant flower seeds to, as she said, ‘brighten up the garden and attract butterflies and bees’. 

Like I said, how nice and considerate was that?

44 comments:

  1. Very nice and considerate, I'd say! Well done Nancy.

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    1. It was thoughtful of her. Do you know any sculptors who could cast Alex's form in an eight inch or so bronze?

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    2. Could a mould be made of him?! They're rather good at making bronzes here, but usually by that method, and not sculpting. The finished product would make a delightful adornment to a bird bath/fountain in your garden.

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    3. Nota Bene had surprisingly realistic statues made of him and his family using 3d printing technology. That would provide the statue from which the mould could be cast. Now I just have to fly Alex to London...

      http://bradstockboys.blogspot.com/2014/01/land-of-giants.html

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  2. I take back everything I've said about Americans in the past. How wonderful that the fig twig survived...

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    1. I am so pleased the tree is doing well. Not many people are willing to put themselves out like that.

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  3. Well Go figure!!! Had I known I could have had some of her scones when we made a mad dash to Pinehurst last July.
    http://isserfiq.blogspot.com/2013/07/maine-to-pinehurst-north-carolina-and.html

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    1. Well, now you have a good reason to go again. I once drove all the way to the Black Forest for an ice cream-

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  4. Funny that strangers who have read our blogs both turned up recently.
    Mind you I didn't serve my visitors lobster!
    Just a few eggs!

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    1. It's eggs that are a bit of a luxury here at the moment, not lobster!

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  5. What a great story, and fab new pals too! Have you ever posted a photo of Marcia? I would love to see her too.

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    1. They are very nice people.

      Yes I have posted pictures of the native Memsahib:

      http://hippo-on-the-lawn.blogspot.com/2007/05/pedido.html

      Bleeding hell, I've just noticed from the date of the above post, we have been together over eight years!

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    2. Marcia looks gorgeous . Very interesting post accompanying the picture too.I have only been reading you for less than a year, so good to catch up on earlier times.

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  6. that was so nice of nancy. i will be anxious to see how the fig does there. is it a brown turkey fig? i have them in my gardens. they produce a lot of fruit. there is nothing like a sun warmed fig fresh from the tree!

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    1. It seems to be doing OK, I am sure it will thrive here. The Ficus Hardy is originally from the Mediterranean so I guess it is pretty much the same as your wild turkey figs. I first ate fresh figs in Cyprus, they were delicious!

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  7. How cool is that meeting people in the flesh who know you so well ~ and what a wonderful afternoon of entertainment. I reckon that is the icing on the cake Hippo.

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    1. BTW ~ I didn't think they had thirteenth floors? Here is a song from Aussie favourite Paul Kelly ~ I thought it was 13th floor ~ but when I checked its 16th floor ~ I am sure they could adapt to give themselves a "band song"
      http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Xzw8zZwWZ7o

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    2. All the more surprising, Carol, since those who know me well usually do all within their power to avoid meeting me...

      I'll check out the link in the morning when the signal is better. It is up and down like a whore's drawers at the moment. I can get away with using an expression like that with you because you are so innocent you will think I mis-spelt Hors d'oeuvres.

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    3. I love Horses Do Overs Hippo :)

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    4. Alright, maybe not that innocent...

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  8. that's really lovely. Friends appear exactly when you need them.

    p.s. Marcia is beautiful! what a stunner

    wish my legs were like that

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    1. I believe chemists (pharmacists) sell deep tanning creams but they are quite expensive. Kiwi Dark Tan boot polish is just as effective...

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    2. I meant beautifully long and slim! you know that, naughty man *raspberry*

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  9. Figs are extremely hardy, they will probably outlive all other plant life. I predict your first real crop will be in 2015, at which time I will forward my simple recipe for preserving your glut.

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    1. Dashed decent of you, Old Boy!

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  10. Mmmm figs....and if the fig tree came from the Carolinas, chances are it's either a Brown Turkey or Celeste. Both are delicious!

    And what a sweet generous lady!

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    1. It is a Chicago Ficus Hardy and it was ordered from Hirt's Gardens via Amazon:

      http://www.amazon.com/Hirts-Hardy-Chicago-Edible-Plant/dp/B000PD7REO/ref=pd_sim_sbs_lg_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=1GFBV90KFERNMR522XC6

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  11. 1) I am glad you sobered up - because a woman like Marcia is a once in a lifetime love - you be a lucky man

    2) Dang Alex is adorable when hes so macho!!

    3) Is that buttered parsley potatoes on the table w/the lobsters? dang.

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    1. Adorable until he punches you! Yes, a big bowl of buttered parsley potatoes. Out of shot was a big bowl of crispy lettuce and cucumber salad. I forgot to take a photo of the clams and fish but next time I will. Dessert was, of course, freshly made ice cream.

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    2. I'm salivating at he very thought of it!

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  12. Awww. That's lovey and goes to show that meeting people via the internet is not all bad.

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    1. I've met more bad people in real life, sadly.

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  13. Tom. How is that other bronze I rescued from the south

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    1. Ah, the Silver Fox lives! I was just thinking about you the other day and how nice it was I hadn't heard from you in years! Damn, I am going to have to move again.

      The dancing lady is fine and standing on my sideboard.

      What are you up to now? Surely you must be close to your bus pass?

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    2. Bastard. Thanks for reminding me. Still with SLB but from south of the Cunene river round to Ethiopia. 28x28. Office in Nairobi. Home still CPT

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    3. At first I read that as you have a 28x28 office. You always bragged about your office. You can send me an email through this blog, you just click to see my profile and then can send me a message. Good to know you are OK!

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  14. Yup, if anyone finds themselves making a left turn and ending up in Angola I highly recommend a visit to Fort Hippo. Marcia, Tom and Alex are a wonderful family and Tom is pretty much as I expected after reading his blog for 1.5 years. I’m happy he was wearing sturdy leather boots so I didn’t have to look at his healed (I think) snake-bit toe. Aside from falling off the ladder the day before my visit he was getting around well. We got the grand tour of the restaurant and cabins after Marcia fixed a scrumptious meal. The ice cream was heavenly. I’m happy to know now where Tom lives so if there is ever another long period of blog silence I’ll be able to check up on the crazy Brit. Tom, if my trip had been scheduled one week later I could have brought you gaskets for that generator of yours! My mother, who was caretaker of the fig tree for about a week, will be very pleased to see it is doing so well. We thought it was a goner. Looking forward to fossil hunting with Dominic next month!

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    1. "Tom is pretty much as I expected "

      A bumbling fat old eccentric?

      You are welcome back anytime, we all had a lot of fun and I know Dominic will enjoy a stroll down the beach with you.

      Marcia says lobster are down to Kwz 1,000 a kilo and there are plenty available so let the others know and let me know if you want some. I'll do the icky boiling thing for you.

      Like I said, the fig tree responded to some good 'ol southern love from your mother and you!

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  15. Yes. It is amazing what blogging can do if you go with the flow. Sounds like a great afternoon with nice people.
    By the way you mentioned Ficus Hardy. Isn't that what Nelson said as he lay dying - "Ficus Hardy! Ficus!" - well something like that anyway.

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  16. Since my role in your life appears to have evolved to pricking bubbles in your balloon: When will the fig leaves be large enough to cover your shame?

    U

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  17. Yep, blogging is fantastic. It lets you "meet" a whole range of wonderful people you would never have known before. sounds like a great day.

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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.