For some reason I appear to have collected a lot of female followers. I’m not complaining, after all I became used to such happy circumstances at an early age but am as bemused now as I was then. After all, am I not a particularly unattractive misogynistic anti-social racist irreligious bigot?
Ah well, the state of affairs remains curious but I have to recognize it as fact. Since most of my followers are female and many have complained when I write about manly things, such as engines, I thought I would start to devote the occasional post to that dear to all female hearts and the dizzy brains they keep supplied with over oxygenated blood, gossip.
Gossiping does not come as naturally to men as it does to women. Gossiping is a skill, an art passed down from mother to daughter as early as in the womb. It isn’t just in the genes, it is also in the hormones. Too much exposure to testosterone in the womb will have sweet and adorable little Priscilla dismantling Daddy’s car with his tool kit rather than playing with dolls and disinclined, for the rest of her life, to gossip.
Careful analysis has led me to conclude that a ‘good bit of gossip’ contains a few essential elements. Firstly, it must be incredible in the true meaning of the word, unbelievable, beyond comprehension. This allows the narrator to commence bosoms aheaving with a breathless, ‘You´re never going to believe this meduck but…’ A seasoned narrator will enhance the telling with posture. Bobbing on tippy toes, rolling eyes and hands clasping cheeks either side of a slack jaw are all warning signs, especially if emulated by the listener, of a ‘good bit of gossip’. Good Gossipers respond well to encouragement and Good Listeners know this so each time the gossiper pauses for yet another gulp of air, the listener will interject a strangled, ‘No!’ or ‘Never!’ or two. Finally, however implausible, however outrageous or even physically or scientifically impossible, the story must be one the listener really, really wants to be true.
This weekend I was once again blessed with innumerable visitors first of whom were the daughter of the Tanzanian Ambassador to Angola and her friends (delightful and attractive, no photos, sorry!) who wished a pleasant place to barbecue and mysteriously chose Fort Hippo and its grumpy resident. Then there was the young lady who claimed to know me from the late Nineties. Recognizing how detailed reminiscences of that period could damage the happy marital equilibrium I currently enjoy with Marcia, I feigned amnesia occasioned by years of alcohol abuse and chose to water the vegetable beds. I still have problems coping with thunderstorms. Every time the lightning flashes, I leap out of bed shouting, ‘I’ll buy the negatives!’
Jako and his charming wife, Rianne pitched up, also to enjoy a barbecue. They had brought with them some steaks which, once I had caught sight of them, left me convinced there couldn’t have been much left of the original owner once these had been sliced off. Nevertheless, with more visitors than Jako had anticipated, I realized even these generous portions would not be enough so I hauled out more beef and set to making a beef curry. With the prep done and the curry simmering gently on the stove, I rejoined the table just as the conversation turned to funerals.
‘I should be buried in a hole and forgotten about,’ said Jako, ‘with not even a gravestone.’
I agreed with him whole heartedly and said as much.
‘I keep telling Marcia she should pay a couple of fishermen to take me out beyond Angolan territorial waters and dump me overboard.’
Marcia was horrified.
‘How many people were there at my mother’s funeral?’ she demanded.
‘Half the city,’ I conceded. I was still an alcoholic in those days and recall the horror I felt when the family, ignoring the fact I was clearly tanked up to the eyeballs, insisted I be a pall bearer. I couldn’t walk in a straight line without falling over at the best of times, never mind over rough ground unable to see my feet with a bloody body on my shoulder.
‘It is our custom,’ she said, ‘it is our duty to give the deceased a good send off. It says so in the Bible.’
‘Does it?’ Jako (deeply religious) and I echoed with a sudden intense interest.
‘Yes!’ Marcia insisted, ‘God says it is the duty of a wife to give her husband a respectful funeral which all his friends and family must attend. The wife must cater for all of them, anything less is disrespectful. What would everybody think of me?’
What would Alex feel watching his future being lowered into the ground? I am not talking about the love, care and attention his father could no longer provide, I am talking about the equivalent of his school fees for the next several years. OK, he's too young to understand school fees so ask him this; if he can't have his Dad back which would he prefer, a smart funeral for his Dad or that 50cc quad 'bike he was bugging him for?
Let me explain what is involved in a ‘respectful’ funeral.
First, I keel over and die.
Marcia makes several panic stricken phone calls before running through the village, tearing her clothes and every ten yards or so, rolling in the dirt all the while wailing louder than a bust turbine.
Thus alerted, everyone and anyone pitches up to my house and stays there. And I really do mean, stays there. I can see it now. Every inch of floor space, inside the house, inside the shop, the verandas, the garden will all be covered with bodies every one of which will require feeding. Military style field kitchens will be set up and our fridges and freezers emptied to sustain the five thousand. Others will come to pay their respects and they will need to be fed and watered (alcoholed) as well. The funeral will be delayed until relatives from abroad can make it to Angola. Marcia will pay a fortune for the services of some venal undertaker so that I can rest in a lacquered box with glitzy handles and be transported in a real hearse rather than in a cardboard box in the back of my perfectly fit for purpose truck. During the funeral, Marcia will need to be supported but at frequent intervals, even her slight frame will be too much for aides and she will be allowed to sink to the ground and roll in the dirt. Under an unforgiving sun, countless oiks, most of whom I successfully avoided in life, will give never ending eulogies. Tribal Elders (with an automatic right to speak) will relate incomprehensible parables of ants defeating elephants and living forever as impatient worms either side of my grave queue up to get in and turn me not to dust, but shit. After the funeral, everyone who attended will repair to Fort Hippo for another feeding frenzy. A week later is the ‘Missa’ when everyone again comes to stay for the night and get fed.
It’s all mindless shit, isn’t it? Christ, they’ve even commercialized death. What difference would it make to me if I were given a smart funeral or be fed into a wood chipper and spread as fertilizer across my land, other than the former option condemning the surviving members of my family to penury? It would be cheaper me insisting my body was flown back to Germany for disposal.
To illustrate her point, Marcia came up with a bit of good gossip.
Just recently, a man called Avelino de Almeida died. He knew he was popping his clogs and being a wealthy and influential citizen, used the time he had left to make his own, very exact, funeral arrangements. About the time of his death, another man, also called Avelino de Almeida (it is a very common name in Lusophone countries) also gasped his last. Both cadavers were consigned to the mortuary in Luanda. Even though the rich Almeida’s death was hardly unexpected, his widow was much overcome and some of her duties, amongst which was the washing of the body, were taken up by others. Being wealthy, the family could pay to have this done and, after a good lathering the body was dressed in the deceased’s very expensive clothes, deposited in his luxurious coffin and transported to the wake. The son, apparently, suggested that the body before them was not that of his father. The widow, however, insisted that it was and that the undertakers had merely made him up to look younger and healthier. The widow’s confusion was later put down to the enormous shock the realization of suddenly being incredibly wealthy in her own right had occasioned.
The funeral was attended by all the great and powerful of Angolan society. The passage of the cortege shut the city down. Everyone waxed lyrical at the loss of such a giant among men as the gleaming coffin, hand made by craftsmen and imported at great cost, was lowered into the soil in the smartest corner of the cemetery.
Pretty much around the time grave diggers were patting the soil down over this Avelino de Almeida, the family of the other Avelino de Almeida were at the mortuary to collect their dear departed so they could wash his body and prep him for his funeral. Being impoverished, they had an old suit in which to dress him. Resigned to their loss, they were not as overwrought as the rich Sra. Almeida so had no hesitation in pointing out to mortuary staff that the unfortunate soul presented to them was not their Avelino de Almeida. Poor they may have been but they still wanted their corpse, not someone else’s.
Faced with no choice, the relevant authority informed both families of this most unfortunate cock up. The rich widow was disinclined to denude her purse further by restaging a massive funeral and agreed it was, under these extraordinary circumstances, perfectly reasonable for poor Sr. Almeida to continue to rest peacefully in his smart digs, which would henceforth belong to his family and not hers. Instead of a wake and a funeral, poor Sr. Almeida’s family settled for a service around his opulent grave content in the knowledge he was resting in a fine spot dressed in a thousand dollar suit. Since there was an open grave and an old but clean suit going spare, rich Sr. Almeida was quietly interred there.
‘Don’t you see?’ asked Marcia, ‘the rich man was buried in a cheap suit in a pauper's grave and the poor man got a rich man’s burial!’
Marcia was missing the point, of course. Neither of the two Sr. Almeidas could care less. Realizing that there had been a monumental fuck up but that honour had nevertheless been satisfied, rich Sra. Almeida didn’t really give a flying toss about how her husband was actually buried. The whole expensive charade had been just for show.
‘It’s true!’ insisted Marcia mistaking my cynicism for scepticism, ‘I heard a woman talking about it in the taxi; she heard it on the radio!’ Ah well, it must be true then.
Still, it was a good bit of local gossip. Both Jako and I enjoyed the story and we really, really wanted it to be true.