Wednesday 23 May 2007
Which Hippo son?
The Hippo, the Hippo in the story!
Patience my boy, there’s plenty of time. The Hippo comes near the end.
Well let’s go straight to the end then!
Why do you want to wish the story away? Aren’t you enjoying it?
Yes, but we can always go back.
That, son, is something we can never do.
Tuesday 22 May 2007
No other motoring show has ever been so successful and therein lies a problem. So many still try to categorise it as a motoring programme when quite clearly it is entertainment and lifestyle; the entertainment being the antics, and the lifestyle the exotica most of us can only dream about. Why is it then, that a programme should be censured for not appealing to the masses, even though it attracted over eight million viewers in UK alone? I would be no more interested in a holiday programme, just as an off the cuff example, that claimed guest houses in Blackpool and donkey rides on the beach as its high points than a wee small hours of the morning Open University dissertation on yak farming on a ping-pong ball. I want exotic sun drenched villas and scantily clad maids dripping in sun tan oil. So why must I sacrifice elements of the show I enjoy so much so that a few anoraks can marvel at the fact that the latest Hyundai is fourpence cheaper than a Daewoo on a run through the town centre to Sainsbury’s and back?
No wonder Mr Clarkson is depressed.
And if anyone is in any doubt as to his state of mind, read the last couple of months or so of his articles in the Timesonline. Mr. Clarkson, nil illigitum carborundum, my friend, nil iligitum…
As with any delightful new experience, its devotees want more. That’s why people overdose; once they get used to one high, they want ever increasing ecstasy and if they can’t get it they become bored, boring or, much to the relief of those around them, kill themselves. After so many years, it must be increasingly difficult to come up with the fresh ideas needed to feed such widespread addiction. A significant change could very well be disastrous and ratings tumble. You are only as good as your last job so who wants to preside over the demise of a success? Certainly not Mr Clarkson who despite, or maybe because of, his morbid preoccupation with his fast approaching half-century, is still worried about the need to earn his crust for a few years more at least. I could not imagine the anguish of a man who contributed so much to the success of a programme overhearing the pub conversation dismissing Top Gear with, 'Oh, yeah, TG. Used to be good but isn't it boring now?'
Perhaps it is this uncertainty that manifests itself as brief, but worryingly persistent rumours of JC's departure, evident doubts over the tenth series format and content, and an uncertainty as to when it will finally be aired. I am writing from the middle of Africa so if any of these issues have been resolved already then I apologise for my ignorance but right now, from where I am sitting, it all looks so unnecessarily glum. I can understand, though, that having attempted to shoot a Reliant Robin into space and ski jumped a Mini, it is going to be hard to top that sort of outrageous drama.
Maybe a brief hiatus then. Less of the really crazy stuff that demands ever increasing doses of the utterly audacious, the formulation of which no doubt taxes the creativity and imagination of content managers and scares lawyers and insurance brokers witless. But what to fill the void with? Staid reviews of tin clothed motorised roller skates? Please no!
Top Gear has three good presenters. Clearly defined individuals in their own right. Eloquent and articulate, maybe some of their own interests could be exploited? I could imagine James May presenting an ‘old’ classic which, by name and commonality alone would realise very little if sold, yet the owner has spent a fortune restoring it to a breathtakingly new and, more importantly, modernised condition providing a contra point to the current crop of faux retro offerings from the motor industry. There are enough ‘eccentrics’ about who have done so. I can imagine him highlighting the best, unsung heroes, cars that really should have done better but for whatever reason never achieved the high demand they merited. The bargain buys. That should go someway to alleviate the thirst of those that long for car reviews and the lust of many who want a lifestyle they really cannot afford.
The ‘Hamster’ is evidently very interested in all things scientific. I am sure that he could come up with some very interesting video articles on the latest innovations, the weirder and zanier the better. And what about addressing the conundrum of youngsters who want the sexiest wheels on the planet, for severely limited financial outlay; and their parents who prefer their offspring to drive the safest, most boring car ever? How about getting a representative sample of cars and an equally representative sample of new drivers (remembering that girls will think differently to boys and Vive la Difference) and letting them decide? That would go even further to satisfy the review hungry, appeal to an up and coming future audience and I am sure that in the hands of the Top gear presenters, it would be bloody amusing. Maintain Mr Hammond’s credentials as the fastest man on Top Gear (or is that Captain Slow since the Veyron?) and get him to drive a Formula 1 car, or an Indy car, how about a Nascar?
Let Jeremy continue his assault on the lunatic fringe that man the barricades of political correctness. Let him answer the questions that many of us have, those whose mortgages are now thankfully paid off and have rediscovered disposable income and now want to know what they should buy. Is there a new car out there that would fit the bill or should it be Jeremy’s nemesis, God forbid, a beautifully restored classic?
Critics say the programme bears little relationship to reality, encourages a yob culture and is politically incorrect. The first two criticisms are utter nonsene but I cannot deny that TG is wildly PC insensitive. I do relish, however, the fact that at least someone has the couraqge to fling the garbage back in the faces of the severely mentally challenged, arrogant twits who tell us what is correct. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t hurt to involve the public more. Clearly, eight million viewers are not sufficient endorsement (the head of BBC must be bewildered by the unfairness of it all), so get some of the public in front of the cameras and onto our screens. It is good to see the interaction in the studio between audience and presenters; even better to let a lucky few get their hands on the cars. Now wouldn’t that be absolutely compatible with a programme designed to make us dream? There’s a limited number of ‘Stars’ out there but an awful lot of normal folk, the hard working man-on-the-street joe now used to interactive programmes, reality TV and instant on-line surveys. Get some of them involved, after all, it is these same citizens who have come out in the defence of a damn good programme.
Top Gear obviously likes to travel so how about showing us some of the best drives in the world? And I don’t mean the usual crop of Italian alpine curves or romanticised US highways, I mean the best in the world. And those of us that have travelled, I mean really travelled, all know of such places. Top Gear is a global phenomenon now so why not appeal to a global audience. There may be occasions when Jeremy would need reminding that when in Rome, especially if the locals carry AK 47’s, it might be better not to poke a verbal stick in their eyes but his commentary would still undoubtedly be hilarious. If he cheers up, that is.
I see plenty of mileage in Top Gear but it might have to get off the Autostrada and explore a few more B roads but please, please don’t let it turn into a pastiche of the really inane 5th Gear or a TV equivalent of ‘What Car?’ Like I said, Top Gear is entertainment. It provides an hour-long weekly escape from the day to day drudgery that most people have to endure.
There are over eight million in UK and a whole bunch more abroad who like Top Gear as it is. For those few who don't, there are dozens of other channels out there, both terrestial and satellite and the average four year old can help you switch between them so there is no excuse really. No-one has tied you to a chair with telephone flex and is forcing you to watch Top Gear. If you still insist on statistics, go into Smith’s or Exclusive Books and look around. There’s shelf loads of it and for a few quid, you can exercise your God given right to overdose without boring the rest of us to death.
Sunday 20 May 2007
The long and the short of it is that it is vital that the divorce is not contested. Otherwise, she could go for half of everything again. That'll teach me to laugh at guys like Richard Burton but at least Mr Burton masochistically repeatedly married his wife thereby legalising his subsequent flaying. I have paid out once already and am still trying to get the same four year process concluded and yet there always seems to be just one more, invariably costly impediment that must be surmounted. It is like hiking in the Alps. You go cantering and singing over the crest of, ooh, I don't know, about the thousandth hill so far only to discover that all these highly paid experts have somehow forgotten to tell you about the sodding great mountain that still sits between your exhausted body and Switzerland. Sound of Music? There is something noisily rushing through my mind at the moment but it has more homicidal than poetic overtones. Naturally, the lawyer confirmed all my worst fears by explaining to me that his practice would fight loyally on my exclusive behalf and that everything would go OK...unless I ran out of money.
In my favour, I have kept everything out of my name. On the bad side, the court will want to see my bank statements. Bad enough with the amount of money I have pushed through it of my own but bloody disastrous when all the company money that went through it to build the site is noted. Try convincing an Angolan court faced with a foreign plaintiff and an Angolan respondent that none of that was mine. I think I need to take the bank manager out for lunch. I think I will be buying a lot of people lunch in the coming few weeks...
I was hoping to file my accounts and reports to head office today so that I can finally go on leave tomorrow. Server’s down. I have rung Dubai and they assure me that they will get me on line again. In the meantime, I am idling around mainly trying to stop Dominic, who is with me at the moment, setting fire to anything. He’s unfortunately a chip off the old block and shows all the signs of being a true pyromaniac. And while he doesn’t know what to do with them once he has won them over, he regularly charms the wits out of a seemingly never ending series of highly attractive women. Yesterday it was the Chinese waitress in the restaurant. God she was stunning. Took him about five minutes to get her name and telephone number. Not bad considering that her command of either English or Portuguese was about as good as Dominic’s Mandarin Chinese. Sitting opposite a cynical Teutonic lawyer, I did my best to keep up the pretence of being a responsible, cruelly cuckolded husband all the while that Dominic exhibited every sign of being a highly trained hound bringing the best birds home to its master. Believe me, if it hadn’t been for the presence of the worst kind of witness and with Marcia locked up in a tower for safe keeping by her family and all, relief of the sort that Dominic was arranging and I could have so easily closed in on would have been particularly welcome. Having to accept the addition of frustration to my list of woes is particularly irritating. All the accommodation on the site is full so I cannot nick a spare mattress out of one of the other rooms and at eight, Dominic is well able to fight for his space in the bed so I slept on the floor of the container, separated from hard, unyielding steel by only a millimetre or so of linoleum. It was a rotten night not helped by the dogs who, loyally intent on demonstrating that they at least still loved me and delighted that I should choose to sleep with them, tried to lick me to death and shared everything they had with me, including foul breath, buckets of saliva and clearly starving ticks.
Just received a phone call from the lawyer. I must pay him $5,000 before we can pass ‘Go’, and to get round the board, so long as I do not land on any community chest or go to jail squares, will cost me another 10-15, just his ‘legal’ fees you understand. Gulp. I told him to get on with it. Odd isn’t it? I was hoping that the whole deal wouldn’t cost me much more than five grand but took 20 out of the bank on Friday. Bastard must have been hiding behind the pot plants.
Is 14.00 too early to start on the scotch?
Oh, what the hell.
Friday 18 May 2007
Realising I had better do something fast to sort out the Marcia issue, I felt it about time to fix bayonets and come out of the trench fighting. I wouldn’t just tackle the ‘Pedido’ issue, I would get to the root of it and file for divorce. I realise that one of the consequences may be my deportation from the country but I am trusting on the support of friends and, hopefully, my soon to be won over new family to avoid such a calamity. Like those poor bastards on the Somme, though, I have run straight into a withering hail of machine gun fire.
What I needed was a decent lawyer. Choosing a lawyer has to be about as scary as choosing the means by which one will be tortured. Do we prefer the bamboo splints under the fingernails or the wet towel over the face? Perhaps a good beating with rubber hoses or a toasting over hot coals? However horrible, if the pain is defined and anticipated, one can at least prepare for it. In this case, all I have to aid me in my choice is a series of nameplates on doors, the potential horrors within completely unknown to me but enhanced by nervous imagination.
I am really frightened of lawyers. They seem to have the finely honed skill of assessing their victim’s, I mean client’s worth and then exhausting all of that in the pursuit of an increasingly academic outcome. Securing the divorce their client wanted may be another success for them but the fact that their client is now ruined doesn’t seem to count against them. A victory is a victory, even if it was a Pyrrhic one. Perhaps this is why I have left it four years before finally taking the plunge.
First thing I did was to ring my wife.
I was pathetic. The last thing a wife wants to hear is their estranged husband bleating on about how much he loves his girlfriend and how he only wants to build a new life with her. For no matter how long said husband has been with said girlfriend, as far as wife is concerned, the silly girl is just the latest in a no doubt long string of doomed alliances and merely further justification of her decision to leave said husband in the first place. Naively bearing one’s chest like that only gives her one more opportunity to stab it with a bread knife.
Reeling on my back foot, I hung in there and eventually an agreement was reached. Naturally, all costs are down to me. The wording of the paragraph in the petition dealing with custody of my son will have to be formulated with the delicacy and careful eloquence that would tax a trained and experienced diplomat.
Having been given the green light, I now had to appoint a lawyer. With so much riding on the outcome, I lacked the courage to make the decision by myself so solicited the advice of those few trusted friends I have here. As they are all normal, well balanced individuals, other than for business matters, none of them has had any experience dealing with lawyers in the resolution of personal issues. They could also recognise a mine field when they saw one and none of them wanted the moral burden of a recommendation that could so easily go horribly wrong. Polite and sympathetic as they all were, not one was willing to make any kind of commitment and I received only the vaguest references. Oh, they all seemed only to eager to man the dressing station and patch me up if I survived but the final assault on enemy positions would be my honour. Essentially, I was on my own.
In the years that I have been here advising clients on asset protection and risk management, I have made a few contacts and am aware of some of the more reputable legal firms. Most of them are affiliated to Portuguese firms and support the various industries here in Angola. Not one of them, not one, would touch a divorce in Angola. It is hard to remain confident when, having delivered my protestations that I had the assurance of my wife that the divorce would be uncontested so it was merely a bit of form filling and filing, I saw the man on the other side of the desk barely able to hide an incredulous sneer at my evident naivety.
The subsequent conversation always went something like this:
‘So you separated over four years ago?’
‘And this separation was confirmed by a Notary Public and registered with the court?’
At this point the lawyer would fiddle with the papers on his desk, avoiding eye contact, preferring to glance instead at the door through which he was no doubt praying his clerk would emerge to breathlessly remind him of that ever so important appointment with the Minister now waiting for him in his chambers. The clerk, of course, would fail to appear and the lawyer would sigh.
‘You married under the regime of ‘Communiao de Bens’ (joint assets)’.
‘Yes, but at the time of the separation I paid my wife out. I gave her the house in Maianga and I sold the house in Cape Town’
‘And these payments and transfers of title were recorded and duly notarised by a Notary Public?’
Now there was no disguising the look of utter stupefaction on the man’s face.
‘Since this, erm,' his eyes searched the room for the right phrase, 'non-legalised separation, you have made investments?’
‘Well, yes of course, I have the house in Benfica, the farm, another big plot in Benfica and I am buying a riverside plot on the Rio Kwanza.’
I could see him doing a quick mental calculation.
‘And your wife, how much is she worth, do you think?’
‘Haven't the foggiest idea. Apart from the house, not much I would have thought.’
‘You see the point I am making?’ He studied me carefully as a schoolmaster would a particularly dim-witted pupil, in an attempt to discern any kind of comprehension whatsoever.
Despite what I had previously felt about lawyers, these were reputable individuals that had no desire to preside over the financial destruction of a client.
‘I really hope that your divorce will be uncontested but, sadly, we find ourselves unable to take you on. I really do wish you the best of luck’
And they were sincere, I am sure of it. I am also convinced that they were left incapable of understanding how anyone, with even the remotest modicum of common sense, could allow themselves to be so exposed. In a nutshell, it was because I was scared of losing access to my son. This isn’t my world. I am a very small fish in a large, very strange pond predominantly inhabited by predators. Hiding in the weeds has kept me alive so far but only served to delay the inevitable. Perhaps I wasn’t hiding in the weeds all this time after all. Maybe I was just dancing on the end of a hook. I will find a lawyer and I can only hope that small as I am, and at my age, I can still swim as fast as I am going to have to over the next few months.
My current motto may have proved singularly appropriate to me. I wish, though, it had been, ‘Semper letteris mandate’.
PS: On the subject of awful latin, 'Divorce' is latin for 'extracting a man's wallet through his penis'
For the last two weeks, however, I have watched with increasing dismay, the coverage of the Madeleine McCann abduction. Instead of taking tea in my room every morning, I am now jumping out of the shower, dressing hurriedly and slurping my breakfast down while glued to the screen hoping like mad that I will see the breaking news banner announcing the little girl’s safe return to her anguished parents. Instead, it’s a feeding frenzy. The London studio has been emptied of its ‘top’ journalists (I say that in the loosest sense) and we are treated to live, on location reporting at its disgusting, vile worst. I have no doubt that the intense media interest will put pressure on the poor Portuguese police to redouble their efforts but, if I know the Portuguese, their love of family and all its values, they would be doing all they could anyway. Their own population would demand it. Such crimes are almost unheard of in Portugal and I can understand to a certain extent how the Portuguese press, reflecting popular opinion, suggests that this heinous crime could not possibly have been committed by a Portuguese national. And yet, completely forgetting so many equivalents that ended in tragedy and grief in UK, the British press have lambasted the Portuguese authorities for inefficiency and have completely ignored the constraints of the laws under which they operate. Laws, I might add, that do nothing to inhibit the ability of the police to investigate, indeed enhance it, and do much to protect the rights of the individual. If, as a policeman, I reacted to a tip off and kicked a citizen’s door in only to subsequently discover that the information was flawed, it is a damn sight easier to apologise to the individual and pay for a new door than see his whole life destroyed and his wife and children permanently traumatised by seeing their daddy’s photograph in all the papers under headlines proclaiming him all but tried and guilty of some disgusting crime. Shit sticks, even to the innocent and Sky are tossing a lot of it around. And none of it is helping the police to concentrate on the job in hand, which, surely, has to be more important than ratings? As a policeman desperately trying to find a poor little girl, I would love to operate in secrecy. Just see how many bloody doors I would kick in then.
Two weeks of this has left me feeling desperately sorry for the family, terribly concerned for the welfare of the child, pity for the Portuguese authorities and completely nauseated by Sky News.
Just when I thought that they had got to the very bottom of the sleaze barrel, they come up with Devon Sims. This is a Sky News exclusive. It could be exclusive because of the keen investigative journalism of the Sky News rep in China. It could be that Mr Sims approached Sky News for help in publicising his plight. It could also be that no reputable news agency was willing to touch the story in the manner it was finally aired. The end result, however, is that Sky got its story, and Mr Sims was left wandering down the road, clutching his son’s hand, no doubt into a heap of trouble and probably the waiting arms of the Chinese police.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with the Sims case, Devon Sims is the six year old son of a British businessman and his now estranged Chinese wife. Sims senior has been working in China for over a decade and during that time he married a Chinese girl and had a son. Sadly, two years after the birth, the marriage fell apart. Even though the Chinese courts granted visitation rights, he has not been able to see his son for four years and has now resorted to kidnapping his boy off the street near to his school. While the Sims case cannot match the McCann case for tragedy, the report, or the manner of its reporting, was just as cynical. In addition, the parallels between Mr Sims situation and mine are uncanny.
I too, live in a foreign country. I also married a local girl and had a son. My marriage also broke down leaving me to tussle for access. Immediately after the break up, with boiling blood and no common sense whatever, I left the country with my son and returned to England. I was now jobless and the sight of my boy wandering forlornly around the garden in a strange country broke my heart. Whatever happened between his parents, he still had the right to see both of us. I got on the plane and flew back.
Mr Sims may have thought that the British Ambassador in Beijing could help him. Sky News were evidently aware of Mr Sims imminent arrival in Beijing on the night express since they were there to film it. Selecting that day to turn up at the embassy could not have been a coincidence with the UK Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett due to give a press conference at the embassy later in the afternoon. Mr Sims, obviously at the end of his tether and under increasing stress as the full realisation of what he has done dawns on him, could be excused for assuming that the Ambassador could do something for him. Sky may argue that they have provided valuable publicity for the Sims’ plight but they really should have known better than to be complicit in an act that will severely undermine Mr Sims’ position. Mr Sims could very likely go to jail. He will lose his job, if he hasn’t already lost it and will lose all rights to Devon. There would be no chance of him ever being allowed to holiday in UK with the boy. One may argue that he wasn’t enjoying any of his rights anyway so what other course of action was open to him? Just because it seems that all options have been exhausted cannot be an excuse for resorting to an act not only illegal, but self-defeating and with no chance of success. A far better story would have been the Sky news reporter dissuading Mr Sims from prosecuting the act and then accompanying Mr Sims to the Embassy so that he could hear for himself how, under the circumstances, it would be extraordinarily difficult for the British to intervene on his behalf. To be seen to support a felon, as Mr Sims is now, would be impossible for the British authorities. Had Sky prevented the crime and then used its influence to gain an audience with the Ambassador for Mr Sims, it could have set the scene for quiet diplomatic negotiation and still provide all the publicity desired. And what of the boy? Devon is at the heart of all this and one must question whether any of this is in his best interests. Hard though it is, in such situations parents must set aside their own feelings and be prepared to sacrifice certain ‘rights’. To be near my son, I have resigned myself to a life here in Angola and I will make the best of it. When the boy is sixteen, he can decide for himself.
The reporting in both cases, the McCanns and the Sims is shocking and shows a cynical disregard for the victims. Instead of concentrating on looking for Madeleine, the Portuguese police now have to divert valuable resources in managing the media to prevent their investigation being scuppered by indiscrete revelations. The degree of collusion in the commission of an ill-conceived and illegal act in China will never be known but again, the reporting was irresponsible. Whose interests are being served? The poor families involved? The right to know of viewers? Or simply ratings?
There is not much that I can do except hope and pray for both families. And stop watching Sky News.
Tuesday 15 May 2007
I first met Marcia over two years ago. I had separated from my wife some two years before that but, for reasons of permanency in this country (after nearly fourteen years I still do not enjoy residency status), I have not yet had the courage to divorce her. Being married to an Angolan seems to help with the visa renewals, however temporary. Being here allows me to be close to my son who, unless I kidnapped him, could never live with me in Europe. A difficult situation then, and one that I happily accept in order to have some influence on my son’s upbringing.
In Angola, it is considered unnatural, positively weird for a man of my age not to have a girlfriend, or maybe three. My ex secretary Bella, therefore, took it upon herself to introduce me to a succession of delightful and mostly highly eligible spinsters in the hope that I would hit it off with one of them. Despite much effort on her part, she never succeeded. Until Marcia, that is. I am convinced that Marcia was an afterthought, more a companion for Bella at one of my dinner parties than another possible candidate for 'Mrs Tom'. Marcia was enjoying a few weeks leave from university in Belgium and I am sure that Bella only brought her along for someone to talk to as she could never be sure which of my eclectic group of friends I had invited this time and, as a result, what the evening’s conversation was likely to consist of.
Halfway through the evening I confessed, rather unkindly I will admit, that I had never met anyone so dizzy as Marcia and could never imagine myself having a serious relationship with her. Marcia and I have been together ever since.
Until yesterday evening that is.
When I met Marcia, I owned a piece of land in the southern suburbs residential development that I had bought with what little I was left after the separation agreement. While I was away in Uganda, she grabbed the reins and built a beautiful house on the property, which is now being sold for a quite frankly ridiculous amount. Disciplining my finances (which meant denying me access to cash; I kid you not, I tried to make a withdrawal today and they said I needed Marcia's OK), she bought a considerably larger plot on which we will build another eight houses. While managing all this, she bought a farm in Lubango which, while never having turned in a profit, has paid for itself and the land has gone up in value ten times. Last Saturday was my birthday and on Sunday morning, while I slept off the effects of a jolly good knees up and a near drowning the night before (don’t, as a 48 year old heavy smoker, go for a midnight swim in a fast flowing river with a gutful of whisky), she secured a prime river side plot, a lifetime’s dream for me and one which will give me somewhere to park my sport-fishing boat, another lifetime’s dream.
Life could not be better then; going swimmingly in fact, if you’ll excuse the pun. Until we got home.
‘We need to have a serious talk’, this out of the blue as we neared the site.
‘Eh? Serious! Why?’ Mental images of hauling prize Tarpon out of the Atlantic and into the teak lined cockpit of my Hatteras accompanied by the adulation of those that had been lucky enough to receive one of my invites evaporated suddenly. The driver, a stoic, diplomatically locked his eyes on the road ahead and politely pretended to be deaf.
‘Best wait until we get home’ was the ominous reply.
Disconcerted? You have no idea. I was not only wide-awake but stone cold sober as the driver pulled into the yard. What the effing hell had I done now?
I have never understood women and with two failed marriages behind me never bothered trying with Marcia, preferring to accept these sudden mood swings as a fact of life but the prospect of a set to was no less unpleasant. I tried to recall all the conversations of the night before. Had I said anything crass? I know she was annoyed at my near drowning even going so far as to say, a little unkindly I thought, that she would have apportioned no blame to the skipper of the boat as she knew what an idiot I was. OK, I know that it was my fault that I went overboard but to allow me to drift for nearly 10kms in a crocodile infested river before hauling me out again was at least a trifle unprofessional. I could not think of a damn thing that I had said or done that could have annoyed her so I resigned myself to a bit of a verbal bashing, my survival depending on faculties diminished by fatigue and alcohol.
‘I think you regret splitting up with your wife.’
We were back on the site, in our room and I could not have been taken less unawares if the guard had leapt out of the wardrobe and beaten me over the head with 1937 Morris Oxford starting handle. Of course I had no answer and the inability to respond immediately, to eloquently deny such a vile accusation was further proof of my guilt. My problem was that I tried.
‘Are we talking about the same young lady that used Angolan law to keep my house in Luanda and required me to sell my house in Cape Town if I wanted to see my son again?’
‘I think that really, you want to have her back’
‘...and the three kids she has had in the meantime? For Christ’s sake, she’s had four kids by three different men and cost me a fortune and you, you silly cow, think that I would take her back?’
I was outraged but realised an instant later my outburst had cost me the high ground and I was routed. She packed a small night bag and left.
To add to the discomfort of watery lungs and the misery of spending my first night without Marcia for reasons other than operational, a spider bit my hand and I am now dragging a very painful boxing glove around. I did not sleep a wink and goodness knows what I looked like at this morning’s briefing for the delegation that are the Ambassador’s guests to Angola.
On the way to the briefing, my driver’s telephone rang, oh, I don’t know, about a thousand times and I knew, just knew, it was Marcia. I held my tongue for at least half an hour, about 100 yards of Luandan traffic jam, before finally cracking.
‘What did she say?’
The driver nonchalantly negotiated a pothole before replying.
‘Donna Marcia says that you want to use the profits from the house sale to rebuild your wife’s house’
‘Yes, she says that you are just using her to make enough money so that your wife will abandon her boyfriend and come back to you’
The thought of my wife coming back to me was almost as terrifying as life without Marcia.
I got back to the site after the briefing and scanned through my emails. Urgent, reply soonest, accounts due etc. Nothing imperative then. I skulked off miserable as hell to my room and listlessly scanned the websites for the fishing boat that now would remain but a dream. What use a nice riverside house and Hemmingway standard sport fisher without Marcia to share it with? I was beginning to wish that I had drowned.
Then the phone rang. Marcia’s aunt, a ferocious creature who I can well believe, as family lore suggests, beat her husband stupid. So, they were bringing the big guns in.
‘This is a very difficult situation.’
‘Marcia is but a little girl, you understand?’
I hadn’t a clue what she was driving at but couldn’t argue with her so far.
‘The family had hopes for you’
The use of the past tense was worrying.
‘I know’ I lied. The mobile phone felt greasy and slippery against my ear I was sweating so badly.
‘What to do, what to do?’ Mai Ines said. What to do indeed. I wasn’t even sure what had happened let alone be able to formulate a plan to deal with the disaster.
At this morning’s briefing, the subject of corruption, or what was perceived as corruption came up. With the example I was given, I tactfully suggested that at times, not only in Africa, it was better to throw money at the problem, the end result being far more cost effective than what would inevitably become a long drawn out course of action which, while morally unquestionable, might lead to much bigger problems in the future. It was such a choice that I was faced with now.
Most of us are used to civil law but there is also moral, or traditional law. Like anything devised by men, neither is perfect; something forgotten by our more militant brothers who use literal interpretation as justification for commissioning some really quite hideous crimes and practices but, in their true spirits, both types of law try to encourage adherence to socially accepted norms. In my case, whilst not transgressing civil law, I had offended moral law. Marcia, young by any standards, especially in the eyes of her adoring family and definitely by comparison with me having just turned 48 two days ago (by mid-day today I was beginning to realise why my birthday was at least, in part, a catalyst), had lived with me for over two years and I had never formally requested permission of her family for her to do so. I had never made a declaration of my honourable intent. I had not submitted the ‘Pedido’. In the eyes of her increasingly sceptical family, she was living in sin with a foreigner who at any moment could up sticks and return to the wife in UK that no-one knew about and to exacerbate my already shaky position, I could not deny that I was still officially married to another Angolan. Apparently all the local stationers sell the pre printed forms that assist the illiterate make ‘The Request’ so I really had no excuse.
Time, then, to follow my recently given advice and throw money at the problem. I called Victor, one of my steadiest drivers, a man I have known for over a decade and explained the problem to him. What I needed, I said, was a Consiliatori, an advisor. That most trusted of individuals to whom one bares one’s innermost secrets and problems and then slavishly follows their advice.
‘It’ll cost you’ he said, and then he rang Mai Ines.
It’ll cost you a lot more,’ he said when he had finished on the phone, ‘the family are going to fine you’.
This, apparently, is what will happen.
Marcia is banned from spending another night with me until Honour has been satisfied.
The family will meet this afternoon and decide the form and amount of tribute I must pay.
For my ignorance and lack of respect, a fine (Multa) will be applied.
This will all be embraced in a formal letter, which if I am lucky, will be ready for collection tomorrow.
Having analysed the contents, I will get a rough estimate from Victor before going to the bank and withdrawing the required amount and then go on a shopping spree.
Once I have everything on the list, which will include bolts of cloth, groceries, suits, you name it (I am sweating about the fine, I have grown rather fond of my new pick up truck), I then notify the family formally with the letters and forms I must submit, that I am ready.
They then notify me of the time and place (which could take ages if they all have to trawl in from the provinces and there is some doddering old uncle whose opinion, even though he has never met me and is only vaguely aware of marcia's existence, is essential, but he lives somewhere in Portugal) and the result is by no means whatsoever a foregone conclusion. If I have seriously pissed off the family, the whole could be a carefully engineered and costly exercise in public humiliation. Is Marcia worth it? Of course. Could I cope with it? I haven’t been so scared since I was gargling the Rio Kwanza two days ago.
And that brings me back to the beginning, the bit about extremes. I was on the biggest high, the future looked absolutely rosy, Hemmingway dreams. I had started the climb by myself and with Marcia, soared to new heights. Now I am staring down a hole so deep and terrible I feel sick. I was guilty of an arrogance that just may cost me almost everything and destroy all my dreams, hopes and plans for the future for I cannot do this without Marcia. Whatever it takes, I will do all that I can to get away from the edge of the awful hole I am staring down right now. Both sides may feel they have the moral high ground. Both believe that they have behaved honourably but, right now, I am going to chuck as much at the problem as I can and bugger what anyone else thinks. It will be cheaper and miles better for me in the long run. Bloody Africans. I said I would marry her. Is the word of an Englishman worth so little nowadays? I guess not if one fails to show due respect and then caps it all by demonstrating one's mortality. If I had drowned, my legal spouse would have got everything.
And that just wouldn't have been fair. So who can blame Marcia's family for forcing me to do what I should have done ages ago?
Sunday 6 May 2007
Saturday 5 May 2007
I have been scanning the auction results, H&H, Brookes etc. and I still cannot find a car that would satisfy me as much as a well sorted Stag. I want four seats. I would like something lazy and effortless to drive and I would like an elegant car. I used to race but am now at the age where if my driver exceeds 100kph I get nervous (40kph in town). Last time I was in UK I was white knuckled and sweating just driving from Heathrow and onto the M25, only relaxing once I got north of Luton. They're all maniacs in England now and so desperately aggressive. I was a soldier by trade, the family always stuffed their intellectually challenged offspring into the military, in my case aged 15 (the more fortunate or dedicated of my siblings became architects and engineers). I have plied my trade on three continents but I was never so scared as when walking through Leicester (near which I was sent to finish school so that I could join the British Army) and seeing all the thugs that comprise our youth nowadays roaming the streets with complete disregard for their fellow citizens. As a young lad, I was once stopped by a constable and asked for my name. My response, 'Micky Mouse' earned me a good thrashing and engendered a renewed respect for the police. Sadly, in today's litigious society, such a swift and effective response is no longer an option available to long suffering law enforcement officers. My nervousness at the fast pace of life in Europe, however, does not mean that I would not enjoy cruising swiftly on an uncrowded Autobahn or, once the car arrives here, the coast road down to the excellent fishing of the Barro de Kwanza or that most amazing of drives, 30 odd kilometres of switchback curves climbing over 2,000 metres up the Serra de Lebas escarpment on the way to my farm, a route that rivals anything the Alps can offer.
I live in Africa but my family, what's left of them, live in Baden-Baden. It would have to be a pretty special car if, when parking in the Kurhaus carpark, I am to avoid the cold disdain of Teutonic aristocracy. And I do intend to tour Europe in the car before finally shipping it here. As my late father always advised me, an immaculately presented classic will always carry more kudos than any kind of modern offering. At the time I considered that as his excuse for running around in worn cars that reeked of dogs, Balkan Sobranie and garden fertilizer, pretty much like his suits. I understand what he meant now. So if modern cars fail to excite, and I am considered eccentric (at least) for wishing to invest 50K on a Stag, can anyone suggest an alternative?