Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Bloody Typical

In an emergency, I would expect God to throw up all sorts of obstacles to its resolution.  This is, after all, His job.  He must ensure that our faith is regularly tested by visiting upon us disease, disaster, pestilence and war,

I was not the least bit surprised, therefore, when Marcia rang the bank to arrange a withdrawal of hard currency from our US Dollar account so I had some road money to take with me tonight and the bank said, 'Sure, no problems, you can have it tomorrow.'  I sighed, rang up my mate and he gave me a bung of ten grand, the maximum Angolan currency laws allow me to take out of the country.

I was only vaguely bored rather than irritated when God made British Airways tell Marcia that there were no seats left on the aircraft.  I rang up my brother in Germany and he booked me a seat on line which Marcia was able to collect from the BA offices here.

So, I have cash, I have a seat on the plane and Micky is already in London waiting to pick me up.  I am ready to go.  Micky tells me there is a tube strike.  I don't care, I find taxis far more comfortable.  Apparently all the hotels are full.  No problems, he put up at my club and I will be staying in a different kind of hotel.

I went to bed last night confident I had all the bases covered.  Being a tight bastard I bitterly resent a simple boil costing the family so much money and inconvenience but am looking forward to being able to visit my aged grandmother in Baden-Baden once I get out of hospital.  I love her dearly and have not seen her in over five years.  I cannot think of a nicer place to recuperate than the Black Forest in May.  Both Dominic and Alex were very concerned at the thought of me having to travel to Europe for treatment and have given me a list of the things they would like me to bring back for them.

While I was sleeping, God was scheming.

I woke up this morning and felt great.  The antibiotics have clearly kicked in and arrested the spread of the infection.  I was actually able to walk unaided out onto the veranda and see how my neglected plants were getting on.  Now that I have lashed out all that money, now that I am committed to going, God has made me start to heal, taking away the need to go.  How's that for a sense of humour?

My upper left thigh.
Believe it or not, this looks much better.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Thanks for all your good wishes!

Not often a chap gets to read his own epitaph.

Back in 1995 I was declared dead.  I only found out because the UK press contacted my employers, de Beers, asking for a statement so they contacted me up country in Angola demanding to know why, if I was dead, I was still drawing my pay.

It was touching to read John Gray's description of a mythical figure, as rugged as the life he leads and realise John was writing about me.  I was also moved by the overwhelming number of messages of goodwill I received, they were most heartening.

Yes, I have been a bit under the weather recently and yes, I broke a lifetime's habitual aversion to hospitals by checking myself in rather than the usual, being carried in unconscious.  I am not really up to relating what would make a truly entertaining yet terrifying post of my experience in an Angolan hospital suffice to say it involved scalpels, hydrogen peroxide, squirting blood, the insertion of a garden hose in my thigh (which I later learned was called a drain), forceps, swabs four catheters each of which the inept nurse required five attempts to hit the vein and then managed to tear one out again after not realising he had taped his surgical glove to it and, above everything else, a remarkable absence of any form of anaesthetic, Angolan pain management evidently consisting merely of a couple of burly hospital porters pinning the patient down while muttering, 'Squeal, white boy, squeal.'

Sadly, not even Angola's finest were able to reverse or even slow a quite worrying infection so plans are being made to fly me back to UK on Wednesday.  This will be my first time back in UK in over a decade so I expect the taxi fare from Heathrow to the hospital in central London will come to a bit more than ten shillings.  For me, the stay in hospital will be unbearable knowing that not more than a few hundred yards away will be a pub with all the London Pride I could choke down.  To be honest, more than ever I am extremely grateful I kicked the booze for to cope with a stay in hospital AND a dependency on alcohol would have been too much for me.  I just hope they hand out nicotine patches on the NHS.

My brother will be flying over from Germany to meet me and take me to hospital.  He's a decent cove.  He told me not to burden myself with luggage, he would pick up everything I need in London.  He asked me my sizes and then said that for trousers, he would pick up the safari kind that have the legs that zip on so they can rapidly be converted to shorts.

'That's thoughtful of you,' I told him, 'in case the bandages make my leg too thick to fit down the trouser?'

'No,' he replied, 'in case by the time you come out of hospital you don't need a left trouser leg anymore.'

Hospitals are boring.  The last time I was in hospital for any length of time was after my first heart attack.  I was flown down to Johannesburg in an air ambulance and was wide awake when we landed.  I persuaded the ambulance driver to take the scenic route so I could see something of the city.  On the ICU they could not keep me in bed.  Also on the unit was a very frail old lady who received no visitors.  All day she would lie there clutching a beautifully bound volume of The Story of Civilisation - The Age of Reason Begins so I started to read it to her.  It was a very interesting book and passed the time for both of us but it wasn't half as interesting as her life once she opened up and started talking.  Leaving her to her inevitable solitude again was my only regret when an exasperated consultant told me, 'Do you know?  You are the fittest man I've ever had in intensive care, you can go home.'

I am not looking forward to going to hospital.  I am dreading the flight.  I have to walk onto the 'plane.  If I can't, the airline are going to want a medical clearance certificate to clear me to board.  Fortunately, Luanda is not like Heathrow so I will not have far to walk.  I am, though, going to have to climb the steps to the aircraft which will bring a tear to my eye.  This should, however, be unremarkable as most people cry when they leave Angola so hopefully mine will be mistaken for tears of joy.

I have no idea what is in store for me but I shall endeavour to keep you all abreast of developments.  I am sure that once I have had my first decent full English breakfast washed down with a mug of Quartermaster's Tea I shall be right as rain, especially if my brother does the decent thing and smuggles in a pot or two of Patum Peperium, a chunk of Stilton and a packet of Bath Oliver's.  In fact, I rather suspect that after exhaustive tests, the consultant will conclude that all I need do is buy larger underpants as the old ones were cutting off the circulation to my legs.  And that reminds me of the sad tale of poor old Arthur Pennington;

Poor old Arthur suffered all his life from an excruciating pain in his back which reached all the way to his neck.  No doctor or specialist could find a cure.  Finally, one consultant informed Arthur that relief could only be provided by castration.  Although aware of the effect such drastic action would have on their love live, Arthur's wife was supportive pointing out they were unlikely to have any more children at their age and could still enjoy a fulfilling life in each other's company with him finally free of this incessant pain.

After the operation he was indeed free of pain but very depressed so his wife, in an effort to cheer him up, suggested he had a new suit made.

'Which side do you dress, Sir?' asked the tailor.

'It does not matter,' replied Arthur somewhat embarrassed.

'Oh but it matters a lot, Sir,' said the tailor solicitously, 'if your trousers are cut the wrong way it causes a terrible back pain that reaches all the way up to your neck.'

Ta-ta for now...

Saturday, 12 April 2014

It Can't Be The Water, Maybe The Air's Bad?

The last time I was in hospital with malaria in Angola

We were all recently invited by the Nice Americans to a barbecue on Mussulo Island this weekend. Mussulo isn’t really an island although it might as well be.  It is a long bar, a sandbank only attached to the mainland some 50 kms south of the capital, Luanda.  The only realistic way to get there is by boat across Mussulo Bay.  When I first visited some twenty years ago, there were only a few old Portuguese built weekend chalets (some of which were rented and done up by oil companies), a few stick and palm frond fishermen’s huts, loads of palm trees and golden sand.  If you had a boat, it was a great place to camp out for a weekend and barbecue on the safe, bay side and the sheltered waters were usually glass smooth and ideal for my favourite pastime, water skiing.  With fingers missing from my left hand, I was never much good at slalom skiing.  I could really cut myself a slice on the left hand side of the boat but everything, including me, let go when I tried to haul myself through a turn on the right hand side.  What I was good at though, was speed skiing and, for a time, held a couple of unofficial records here for top speed and the shortest time taken to ski between Mussulo and the mainland.  A couple of years after I arrived, a restaurant and lodge had been built.  It was paradise.  Lounging there in a deckchair, an ice cold Cuba Libre to hand, Luanda across the bay looked almost civilized.
Along with the invitation also came a request for lobster.  No problems with the lobster but there were a couple of impediments to us attending the barbecue.  The first was that Marcia is frightened witless by water.  When I first met Marcia I lived in a shack on the Ilha de Luanda, also a long bar enclosing Luanda Bay but this one had a dual carriageway straight down the centre and was filled with bars and restaurants.  I only had to walk a hundred yards in either direction and I was in the bay (not really a good place to swim) or the sea.  On Sundays, I would lunch in one of the restaurants and then lie on a deckchair doing my best to free Cuba by drinking one rum and coke after another, cooling off between drinks with a dip in the sea.  Now that I was with Marcia, who looked damn fine in a bikini, I would take her along.  She would eat the meal, she would lounge on the beach.  There was no way I could entice her into the water.  Same with boats.  If I organize a river fishing trip or even just a family run up the river sightseeing, she’ll pack sandwiches and stuff the cool box with drinks for us but no way will she come along.  The second impediment was her condition.  Poor Marcia is having a rough time of this first trimester. 
In addition to nausea, she overheats regularly and must lie down for a rest in cool shade.  A day in hot sun would do her no good at all and the sight of someone clearly not enjoying themselves would be unfair to others.  Marcia said I should take Alex and go, the Nice Americans had suggested precisely that on hearing of Marcia’s reservations and for a while, I was up for it.  Alex would have had a whale of a time.  Sadly, last Sunday I came over all poorly.  Monday I felt better and then had a practice run at dying on Tuesday; you could have fried eggs on my forehead.  From there, I became steadily worse so one of the Nice Americans, Rae Ann, drove down yesterday to collect the lobster.  Knowing she was coming, I dragged myself out of bed and into some clean clothes and actually felt a little better, still rough as a badger but at least I was on my feet.  Rae Ann came and went, very kindly leaving us three batches of her exceedingly good scones mix.  There was no way I could make it to the barbecue so I asked Rae Ann to pass my best wishes on to Nancy and Don, the other two Nice Americans, whose birthdays would be celebrated at the barbecue.

I had not been up to watering the plants for a couple of days and I knew they were dying of thirst so I tottered into the garden and spent a couple of very uncomfortable hours watering all the beds, pleased to see that some plants, notably my carrots, watermelon (my watermelons have been entered into an international competition spanning both hemispheres, but more on that when I am feeling better), tomatoes, kohlrabi, aubergine, sage, Italian grape tomato, mango, avocado, fig and banana trees,  nasturtium and zinnia were doing rather well all things considered, before collapsing exhausted and feverish onto the sofa.  I emptied a one-and-a-half litre bottle of mineral water and three cans of Sumol, a fizzy orange drink and crawled off to bed.  This was day three without food and the quinine sulphate was making my head shriek and churning my stomach.  I had dragged my mattress and pillows out into the sun to dry off and replaced my sodden sheets but they were still damp.  A couple of hours later when Marcia came home, they were sodden again.  My teeth were chattering uncontrollably, I was freezing cold yet I was sweating like a Grand National runner.  Some bastard had upped my temperature control from ‘medium rare’ to ‘decidedly well done’.  Marcia tried me with some vegetable rice stir fry, something I usually love.  I took one forkful, swallowed with difficulty and was immediately ill.  Marcia suggested I went to hospital.  I suggested she laced my water bottle with a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon of sugar and the juice of a couple of lemons.

It was a bloody awful night.  It was stupid of me, just as I was starting to feel better, to lug countless 25 litre buckets of water under a boiling sun to the plants out of reach of my ridiculously short hose.  Just to ram the point home and to remind me He has a sense of humour, at four this morning, God made it rain.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Cheaper By The Dozen

As you all probably recall, I took under my wing a young local lad of whom I had high hopes.  Aged fourteen, as tall as I am but I doubt he would tip the scales at a hundred pounds fully dressed and soaking wet.  We went through a dodgy patch together, I had to sack him a few times but, slowly through trial and error, we have found the tasks he likes doing and those better left to me.  For example, he hates weeding but will happily clear all the extracted weeds and dispose of them.  So I do the weeding and he does the clearing.  He has picked up my logical system for washing dishes and no longer sees it as a chore but keeps me on my toes by not placing anything back in the cupboard from which it came.  He keeps the fridge stocked with cans of fizzy drinks and milk, knows which are my favourite biscuits, ensures fresh bread is bought every day, sweeps the garden for litter and empties the bins.  He even knows when I am running out of cigarettes and, something I never thought I could train an Angolan employee to do, he knocks before he comes in. 

Slowly I am teaching him English.  Already he is fluent in profanity and is easily getting to grips with simple instructions such as, ‘put it on the table,’ ‘give water to the dogs,’ ‘go to the corner and buy me phone credit,’ and ‘Bugger off, I’m busy.’  I even caught him sitting on the sofa watching cricket, a knowledge and enjoyment of which being pre-requisites of civilised human beings.  That is why Americans, no matter how affable and pleasant, can never call themselves truly civilised yet Pakistanis, who spend all their time blowing each other up can.  But life is full of such conundrums.  Finally, he has accepted my advice and now comes here after school to do his homework sitting on the veranda.

Frank has a brother and two sisters ranging in age from six to twelve.  With ever increasing frequency they are coming here to be fed.  Márcia always gives Frank essentials such as cooking oil, rice, pulses, fish and meat to take home to guarantee the kids get something to eat but I can understand why they prefer to come here and get the full meat and two veg while watching TV.  They don’t even have electricity in the bordão one room shack they call home.

The other day Márcia asked me if she could buy batas.  Batas are the little white lab coats that state school children must wear.

‘I thought you had bought school uniforms for Alex?’ I replied.  I knew damn well she had because I took a photograph of him dressed up for school.  I did not realise he needed batas as well.

‘Not for him,’ she said, ‘for França’s siblings.’

‘Oh.’ I said, ‘of course.’  I could see that this wasn’t all.

‘The kids aren’t allowed to go to school.’ She finally admitted.

‘Why can’t they go to school?’  I was quite perplexed.  After all, we are only talking about some tiny little village school up at the comuna about three or four clicks distant.

‘They have no batas..’

‘So buy them batas!  I’ve already said yes,’ I interrupted. 

‘…and the teachers say they are dirty,’ she finished.

‘Dirty?  Dirty by African standards?  Blimey!’ I said.

‘They have no one to look after them, to wash them, feed them, clean their clothes.  They are orphans!’

With a dead mother and a father like that they’d be better off if they were orphans I thought but Márcia was right.  França was doing his best but he has more than enough on his plate for a fourteen year old.  Fuck I was angry.  This bastard village.  They all knew the deceased mother, they grew up with her.  Now there isn’t a single friendly neighbour to pop in and see to the kids.  So much for the great extended family Africans keep banging on about.  And, instead of helping the kids, their bloody teachers deny them an education because they do not have uniforms and stink.  But they’ll all go to church and listen to sermons about suffering the children to come to Him.  Fuckwits.  That’s why I fucking hate religion.  All that blasted time, which would have been better spent helping those less fortunate, wasted listening to some pompous self important git telling fairy tales.  I had a Jewish mate in the Army.  He really wanted to go to a Catholic midnight mass.  We were in Germany, the best place to see the opulence of the Catholic church short of the Vatican.  Before we went in, I insisted we got tanked and while we were doing that, he asked me what it was like to be a Catholic.  ‘Fucking expensive,’ I said downing another large Asbach, ‘you have to pay to get in, pay to stay in, and pay to get out.’  When we got to the church, we discovered that the midnight service had been held at ten so we camped out on the steps and played gin rummy until the early morning mass.  I have always said that God hates me, he let the bloody Jew clean me out of a month’s pay.

‘I can pay a neighbour to look after them,’ Marcia continued, ‘it’ll only be a hundred dollars.’

‘Fuck the neighbours,’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t piss down their throats if their lungs were on fire much less pay them to do what they should have been doing all along. Scumbags’ 

It’s just so bloody typical,  They won’t do anything unless there’s something in it for them.  Think back to when I offered to dig a well for them.  The administrator insisted I dug it on his land so, as I learnt just in time, he could charge his villagers for water.  Now I have installed a tap by the entrance to the shop so they can help themselves for free.

‘Right,’ I said, ‘tell França that every day he must bring the kid’s dirty clothes with him in  the morning.  I’ll wash them and if they need more clothes, go and buy them.  Before they go to school, they can come here with França and have breakfast.  They can eat here in the evenings when they want as usual.  They can sit at the table with França and do their homework while he does his.  It would be good for Alex too, he can sit down with them and do his homework as well and I can keep an eye on them.’

Márcia could see I was seething.  ‘I’ll go and tell França,’ she said.

By the time she got back, all of five minutes later, I’d had a better idea,

Dominginho (França’s younger brother) is Alex’s best friend from the village.  The kid is like França was.  When I first met França, I thought he was a retard.  Then I thought he was deaf.  Then I realised the kid just didn’t know how to interact.  Anonymity was his protection.  If he did not acknowledge the existence of an outside world, it could not hurt him.  He was safe in a private little world of his own creation.  França laughs a lot now, especially if I accidentally hit myself with a hammer or fall off a ladder.  He laughs even more if I get mad at his obvious delight in my discomfort.  I have never seen Dominginho smile.  It is almost futile asking him anything.

‘Are you hungry?’


‘Yes, do you want something to eat?’

‘Something to eat?’

‘Food, boy, do you want food?’


‘For fuck’s sake França!  Find out if your brother wants anything to eat!’

What these kids needed was to get out of the village.

‘Marcia, why can’t we send them to the same school as Alex?’  I hurried on so as not to give her time to object. ‘They can all go together with Alex, come home together and do their homework together.  We can feed them, clean them and keep an eye on them.’

Márcia was silent

‘I know we can’t house them, they will have to go home to sleep but, you know…’ I petered out but then finished with a burst of emotion.  ‘I just hate the idea of paying a neighbour to look after them and the school on the hill, it’s shit!  A shit fucking school with shitty fucking teachers!’

‘The portable generator was too small to run the carpenter's tools,’ Márcia said suddenly.


‘It’s not powerful enough, we have to buy a new one, a bigger one.’

‘Are you saying we can’t afford the school fees?’

‘No Honey, if we have to buy a new one anyway, we could give the old one to them so they have electricity at home.  You would just have to remember to change the oil every week.’

That was fucking rich coming from her.  The only reason we bought this latest generator was because Márcia gave our emergency generator to the carpenters without telling me so the oil was never changed and it seized.  Further investigation of the sudden need for a generator down on the other site when they were already connected to power revealed that what they really needed wasn’t another generator closer to where they were working, but a longer extension cable.
I'll have three more sets of these, please...

Well, that’s decided then.  The kids will all go to Alex’s school.  He will be pleased.  There is, however, one teensy problem to be overcome.  It appears that the births of the children were never registered.  They do not have birth certificates.  Officially, they do not exist.  The administrators of their new school, unsurprisingly, do like to have sight of a cédula, a child’s registration document, before enrolling them.  The question is, can we sober the father up enough to remind him that these are his children and will he stay conscious long enough to make a statement to that effect in front of a registrar?  Fortunately, Márcia has said I had best not accompany them on that trip lest the registrar thought something fishy was going on; what’s an old white bloke doing here trying to register some Angolan kids?  Whatever the reason, I’m cool with that.  I wouldn’t want to ride in the same car as him, I’d tie him to the bloody roof first.

There is one thing that Márcia has not considered; if the kids have no cédula, they have never been inoculated.  The new school will also want to see up to date vaccination certificates.  I will break that one to her gently.  Just think, a bit of legwork followed by a stroke of a pen and Angola’s population will leap by four.

Speaking of having a hand in increasing the population, Márcia went for her first scan the other day.  On the one hand, Márcia consistently fails to acknowledge that I do have a lot of experience, I did come top of my entry at Shrivenham so am not completely thick, and I know quite a bit about quite a lot of things but then she surprises me by handing me an ultra sound image expecting me to understand it and explain.  I know a lot about the outside of female anatomy but have only ever had a limited feel of the inside.

‘Hmmn,’ I said, completely bewildered, ‘looks good to me.  Did they say if it was a boy or a girl?’

‘It’s too early to tell they said.  Do you see anything else?’

What’s there to see?  What was Márcia driving at?  What was I supposed to say?  I handed it back to her. 

‘They said everything was OK, though, didn’t they?’ I asked her, suddenly worried.

‘They think it might be twins…’
One final thing, sorry to bore the rest of you but Sol, a regular reader has been bleating on about a toe update.  I promised her next post so here it is:
For those of you concerned about the nail varnish, I agree, it is a little gaudy. 
Next time I'm in town, I shall pick up something a little more restrained.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Aye Aye! What's This?

This is a test post for Cro in order to find out if my 'I's are definitely lighter in appearance.  I will take it down again as soon as he has seen this.

These 'I's have been typed straight into the compose window of Blogger (interspersed with other letters for comparative purposes:


And these ‘I’s have been typed first in Word and then cut & pasted:

IIIIiiii I I I ABCIDIEFGIHJIKLI A I B I K I L I M I I FEEL LIKE AN IDIOT DOING THIS But I must now dash as the cricket is starting.  I wonder who will win?  Do I root for SrI Lanka or the West Indies?  I think Sri Lankan women are beautiful so I think they deserve to win but I lived in the Caribbean for many years so I would like the West Indies to win as well.  Whatever happens, I think it will be an interesting match.

I have had enough of this!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

A First Class Funeral

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.