Saturday 25 December 2010

Christmas in Angola

Bah! Humbug?

No, not really...

We are following the weather in Europe on the satellite news channels. I know that for the denizens of the North it must be a real inconvenience, but I rather wish I was there to experience it. I am sure the novelty of sub-zero temperatures would wear off quite quickly as digits unaccustomed to anything cooler than dessicating heat suddenly seize up and refuse to soldier, but warming them up afterwards in front of a roaring fire in some local public house clutching a pint of the landlord’s best bitter would make near fatal hypothermia worth it. Thinking about it, I would gladly sacrifice a frostbitten toe or two for a firkin of real ale.

Most of Europe seems to be grinding to a halt, but in Angola we are similarly paralysed. North of the Equator, the culprit is snow, ice and in the UK, a lack of grit, both the crunchy and the John Wayne kind.

Here it is incessant rain. This is by far the wettest rainy season I have seen in a decade. The roads now resemble long, straight archipeligos; vast pothole-concealing muddy brown lakes dotted with the occasional small island on which forlorn pedestrians cluster, wondering which way to step next. Perhaps over the bonnet and roof of that half submerged car? Maybe by clinging to the perimeter walls of adjacent properties they might advance a few yards closer to home? Or, as most do with typical stoicism, strip off shoes and with dresses and trousers hoiked up as high as they will go, just wade through, possessions wrapped in bundles balanced precariously on heads, feet scrabbling for grip on eroding substrate.

Fort Gowans is to the right of the road, I mean lakes. And we are on the high ground...

It is a great equaliser. The owner of the grand 4x4 is as stuck as the driver of the aged compact saloon and all must join the car-less masses trudging through the same sticky goo. Gardens flood and turn to slurry. Despite best efforts, floors are impossible to keep clean. None, regardless of status, dress in more than shorts and T-shirts and no-one has clean shoes anymore. Neither fuel nor water tankers can reach the neighbourhood so we all muck in together and trade when necessary. Eggs for bread, water for diesel, meat for vegetables. Within the community, we have all we need. For the time being, anyway.

Marcia could not complete the Christmas food shopping and was nearly stranded; a friend with a more rugged vehicle had to go and rescue her. Our truck fell into a particularly nasty pothole and damaged its suspension or, as I suspect and since we are on the subject of holes, that Shithole of a driver of mine crashed it into a water filled ravine at high velocity and trashed its undercarriage. I won't get it back until after Christmas, always assuming the roads get a chance to dry out.

Water tanks, all set into the ground here, are flooded with run off and the water that does cough and splutter its way out of taps resembles well brewed English Breakfast tea, though clearly not as appetising. Especially first thing in the morning when, after yet another sticky night with no power, having traded sleep for the resignation of being little more than a packed lunch for voracious mosquitoes, all you want is a cool, cleansing shower.

At Fort Gowans, we still have a reserve of clean water and the freezer in the pantry is full of buckets of frozen water which the neighbours collect, both for something cold to drink and to help keep food fresh in cool boxes. Last night and this morning, Marcia made loads of cakes to give to the neighbours so they at least had a little festive fare as they too could not complete their shopping. I will be making trays full of ginger, chocolate and spicy biscuits as well as gingerbread men, assisted by two able bodied volunteers, Dominic and Alex. We may not have managed to find a turkey, but we do have plenty of butter, flour, wild honey from the forest (so wild, it still has bees floating in it and I guess they were pretty angry when they fell in), brown sugar, fresh fruit from local trees, vegetables and eggs from the chucks in the garden, along with a cupboard full of spices. Dinner may not perhaps be one usually associated with Christmas (I will do a Beef Wellington with roast sweet potatoes dug out of the field nearby accompanied with rain washed vegetables and a rich onion gravy), but the munchies will definitely be festive. And who could object to a Ginger and Mango steam pudding with fresh cream? Oddly enough, beer and fags seem to make it through the deepest of quagmires.

By now those in the Northern Hemisphere will have tired of the picture postcard, chocolate box wintry environment they are enduring rather than enjoying, but how many in the past have wished fervently for that romantic White Christmas, chestnuts roasting over an open fire, miraculous transformations of cynical souls and the perfect harmony of erstwhile strangers standing in snow, crisp and even, singing 'Good King Wenceslas Looked Out' while dispensing mulled Christmas cheer (the kind I like) and mince pies?

All we want for Christmas here is the sun and today that's just what we got. As the icing on the cake (although I hesitate to type these words in case Fate considers it unreasonable temptation and kicks me in the teeth), the power has just come on after nearly a week's absence so even my gasping generator, supplied by R Cratchit and Son, might enjoy a festive break.

So, in spite of everything, and likely as not it is the same in an Arctic Northern Hemisphere, we are not only making the best of it, we are enjoying ourselves.

Naturally, excluding waterlogged access, poisoned water supplies, mosquitoes, termites eating my wooden floors and erratic power, not everything could remain perfect for Christmas at Fort Gowans.

Marcia has just rushed in to say a snake, presumably its usual residence outside being flooded, has just slithered into the pantry and is now hiding in amongst the sacks of rice and pulses destined for our table. From her description, I expect to see a writhing monster fluffing up hundredweight sacks of flour to use as pillows having shoved the freezer out of the way to give itself more room. Knowing Marcia, it is more likely to be the size of a boot lace and, probably half drowned, just as animated. Nevertheless, if I am to get at the ingredients and realise the munchies, I guess I am off on a snake hunt. Actually, I can’t be bothered so Dominic and his mate have just volunteered. Personally, I would like to leave it to settle in and stand guard over my cereals against the constant onslaught of mice. Thinking about it, I will go and find it. If it is a constrictor, I will convince Marcia to allow it remain as a new addition to the household and enjoy all the rodents it wants as trite revenge for the fact she would never let me have a cat.

The thought of a snake in the house is bound to give Marcia kittens so by this time next week, I am certain she’ll have found a neighbour with a spare one for me to raise as a rat catcher supreme. Yet another festive blessing!

To all of you, best wishes for a very enjoyable Christmas and a prosperous and healthy 2011.

And may your God go with you… but best take your Wellies, just in case.

Saturday 4 December 2010

Flowers Can't talk, But They Say So Much

Who has time to feel for the single bud that out of a whole garden, lost its chance to bloom?

Jenni's Story. Created by Steve & Fiona on 03/12/2010
"From the window of the maternity room where Jenni was born you could see the sun shining on the nearby lighthouse, and her Dad thought at the time, what a perfect start to a life.

We often think that something of that sunshine stayed with Jenni throughout her life, as there was something about her smile that could always light up the day.

Jenni had Rett Syndrome, and although it is usual today to say of people like Jennifer that they have special needs, and that is quite true, we prefer to think of her as just special, and we know that she touched the lives of everyone who met her. Friends, teachers, nurses, everyone seemed to feel that special something about Jenni, that indefinable quality that just made you feel better. Nothing was quite so good as a cuddle with her, and at the end of a grim day 5 minutes sitting with her put it all back in perspective. Jenni could not walk or talk, or hold out her arms for a cuddle, but she definitely knew more than she was letting on, and you always knew how she felt about something...."

I am not asking you to share the grief of my lifelong friends, Jenni's parents, I am asking you to join them in celebration and gratitude for the short time that Jenni graced this earth bringing, in her own special way, joy and happiness to those who had the privilege of being with her.

Please see Jenni’s story at and leave a little message.

Our Earthly garden has lost a lovely little flower and I am so very sad. But who knows in what comfortable bed, and under which warming sun, caressing rain and tender hand she blooms now?

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Driven to Distraction

There is something exquisite about playing a cold shower of water over mosquito bitten ankles. Relief from the incessant irritation is fleeting, but welcome nonetheless. Sadly, there is no salve for the regular-as-clockwork power outage at precisely 7pm each weekday evening and its unwelcome consequence.

I have one of the few houses in this still developing neighbourhood with both a generator and an unlocked gate. I also keep my satellite TV subscription up to date. The Seven O’clock outage is coincident with two things, one dear to my heart and the other a severe test of my patience. I cannot comment on Crossroads, East Enders, Coronation Street, Dallas, Dynasty or any of the truly awful programmes that led to generations of ‘soap opera orphans’, feral children depending for their sustenance on whatever their malnourished statures allowed them to root out of fridge or pantry because, I can honestly say, I have never watched a single episode.

My artificial Gotterdammerung coincides with me starting to prepare dinner for the family, an agreeable duty, and the evening soap on TPA, the very cash strapped Angola Popular Television channel, which I detest.

We were only recently connected to town power and until last month, supplies were erratic. Clearly, the state distribution company has finally figured out that in the evening, the city wide load soars and they cannot possibly produce and distribute enough energy to go round, and that by cutting some neighbourhoods off, can maintain the Haut Metropolis. We are not in the main city but at least the outage is now predictable and, therefore, manageable. During the day, I can check oil and water, fill up the tank and make sure the generator is good to go. Unfortunately, the brief experience of the evening electricity that fired up their new TV’s gave my neighbours a taste for soaps surpassed only by the evidently abject sense of loss the 7 pm curfew brings.

I did not mind at first; it is quite nice to have the house suddenly full of unexpected visitors, they are our neighbours after all and, seeing the kids tired and hungry after a day in school, I could easily stretch the food to cover a few more plates while their mothers gorged themselves on kitsch and there were always enough ripe Papayas on the tree to give them a healthy dessert. It would be grossly unfair to describe the situation in which I now find myself as an opened Pandora’s Box or can of worms but there is no doubt that I have latched onto the thin edge of a very thick wedge. Every evening, as regular as the power cut, I have the house full. Still, it is all good practice for when the restaurant opens.

Tonight’s episode, and I am ashamed to be sufficiently well informed to be able to relate the plot but with an open plan lounge, kitchen and dining room, it’s unavoidable, seems to revolve around a young lady who was impregnated and then dumped by a cruel and arrogant rich bloke and so, to exact a very peculiar and to me bewildering form of revenge, she has decided to name the fruit of their illicit liaison after him. Naturally, her husband is less than keen on the idea. Surprisingly, he seemed more concerned over his wife’s choice of name for the child rather than the fact she’d clearly been shagging his nemesis, but then again, that’s probably good for another ten episodes. Given that this soap was originally filmed in Spanish and crudely dubbed into Portuguese, it can only add to the excruciating torture I must endure every evening when night descends over the borough.

It is the adverts, however, that provide me the light entertainment I feel I deserve while flipping countless burgers to satisfy those fleeing darkness in favour of Latin histrionics and a good feed. Risqué they are not, sadly, just jaw droopingly cheesy. I shan’t bore you with the details, save to say they all concern products which, once in possession of, guarantee unbridled sex if you are a Man, or accolades from the Women’s Institute for being the ‘Perfect Wife’ if you are female.

It may not be the latest (in Darkest Africa we are often a touch behind the curve), but the Mercedes advert is worthy of mention. I only picked it up halfway through but Dominic tells me it concerns a lone motorist who suddenly realises he has a passenger and that this passenger is Death incarnate. Death looks across at the understandably shocked driver and, given his gruesome duty quite affably says, ‘Sorry’. The driver, having been so distracted now looks to the road ahead and sees an overturned articulated lorry and its discarded load of logs into which he is about to crash and give the soul collector his due. Its brakes slammed on, the car in an impossibly short distance, comes to a controlled halt and it is now the driver’s turn to apologise to a frustrated Death.

God, Death, the Devil and the promise of an Afterlife. All abstract notions for so many of us nowadays but as a betting man, with no chance of collecting if I was right after all, I tend to think twice before openly wagering against the existence of a higher force, and I am not talking about the superior retardation offered by the latest in ceramic brake discs.

Pride is a deadly sin and I think Mercedes have it as finely tuned as their motors. Would you climb into, let alone buy a car the manufacturer of which has just slapped Death in the face and said, ‘I Dare You’? And that begs an interesting philosophical question. If you believe in God, you might be concerned at antagonising the Black Angel. But then again, you wouldn’t care as the afterlife is so much better. If you think all religion is humbug then you could also care less so perhaps we can conclude that Mercedes’ target market in this case are Atheists, or those stoic Christians keen to join their maker as fast and as stylishly as possible… if only those damn brakes didn’t work so well. An interesting test of faith: if you Believe, don’t in extremis stamp on the middle pedal and scream into a rapidly inflating airbag like us normal folk would.

I should end there but given I am being driven round a bend of my own making, the guests still not fully sated (there are so many of them here there is no room left for me at my own dining table, hopefully I’ll get to gnaw on a leftover chicken leg later), I shall relate to you the true story of the Mercedes that spilled off a curve on a notorious stretch of road in Cape Town. Having tumbled down a mountainside the occupants all survived and Mercedes turned that thankful and well reported outcome into an advert trumpeting the effectiveness of their passenger safety cells. Their main rivals, until the South African Advertising Standards Authority reined both parties in thereby ending what promised to be an entertaining exchange, coolly responded with:

‘BMW… Drives round the Benz’

Don’t tempt Fate, drive a BMW

Monday 8 November 2010

In days of old, When knights were bold, and paper had not yet been invented...

Amongst the small, but I like to think very select group of bloggers to which I belong, there is a tendency to compile what seem to be called Saturday Blog Rodeos. Started, correct me if I am wrong by Albert Rasch, they are collections of various blogs stumbled across in the ether and worthy of mention. Not only do the recommended blogs generally provide excellent reading, they save a hell of a lot of surfing.

But today is Sunday and, besides, I hate being accused of a lack of imagination so I shall call mine the ‘Sunday Afternoon and I Have Washed All the Lunch Dishes and I Still Have Time To Kill Before the Brazilian Grand Prix Starts Blog Round Up’. Catchy.

I am, I have to confess, very keen on Formula One. As enthusiastic as any portly, middle aged bloke who in his youth just knew he could have thrashed anyone around Monaco and now blows regularly hot and cold about the diminutive multi-billionaire ex-used-car-salesman who has turned the sport into the money spinning business it is, and how dull it has all become.

OK, Tom, you stuffed it off a perfectly decent bit of road and into a ditch. So what's your excuse?

Over the last few years, I admit, it has become a bit tedious. Out of a starting field that usually numbers no more than a shade over twenty cars, seven of the drivers are German, a nationality that stunned us all into stupor with over a decade of dominance, and not one has been caught with his hand up a promo girl’s skirt. It would, however, be unfair to single out the Germans. Apart from a few tantrums, no driver seems to have more character than a windows laptop and if they crash, have as many excuses as Bill Gates.

I had hopes for Mark Webber. Chiselled jaw, uncompromising attitude and a knowledge that this might be his last season. His spat during practice in Brazil held out a promise that he might have told the marketing and image boys to stuff off and snotted someone, Vettel for instance. Webber’s a real bloke. After all, there’s no poofters in Oz, except maybe those two woosie coppers that nicked Hamilton for not only being an Abo at the wheel of a Mercedes (internationally recognised valid grounds for a stop and search) but proving he could handle the car as well, but no, Webber has let us all down. Instead of a haymaker, the only thing he swings is the corporate line. Bet he drinks Fosters.

It was a damn sight more interesting in the old days. Graham Hill, Stirling Moss et al, gentleman sportsmen one and all. They weren’t worried about taking the strain off a young blonde during a post race party by lending a hand to support her bared 36 C cup in front of the press. Boys and girls, they were all good eggs up for a jolly good laugh in those days.

When motor racing drivers were Real Men

(pic from Jeremy Walton's book "Only Here for the Beer - Gerry Marshall." Buy it.)

If you have not been following the series this year, however, you have missed a treat and the closer we get to the last race, the more exciting it becomes. I am not talking about the fact that there are still five drivers technically in the running for World Champion, it is the delicious scandal.

Team mates have alternately vowed, and tried, to kill each other rather than cede position in accordance with team orders that of course, don’t exist, or professed undying loyalty, even when tipping their colleagues into the kitty litter. Alonso may win this year’s championship because Massa infamously let him through at Hockenheim, the poor Brazilian lad now threatened with a jail sentence in his home country if he does the same again today. No-one should be surprised, therefore, that Massa, having to choose between the vindictiveness of Ferrari or a death sentence, failed to make the cut for the last qualifying session and will start from a relatively safe eleventh on the grid and suddenly there’s another Deutscher with bum fluff on his jowls in pole position. Nico Hulkenberg, who is he? Williams, strapped for cash will be delighted, as I am too but will he be yet another Top Gear Stig Robot? He is young; at least once he should be caught halfway down the Chinese Ambassador’s flag pole having scrawled ‘Free Tibet!’ across the flag.

The Prize. There can be only one… The First Ladies of Motor-sport. Inhuman automatons programmed to ruthlessly annihilate their competitors. Actually, that was Microsoft but equally valid in this context.

There’s a contract out on Massa but it was Jenson Button, on his way back to the Hilton Hotel (Hilton? I thought these guys were millionaires and could afford to stay somewhere decent) who was nearly taken out by half a dozen Brazilian machine-gun toting bandits, afterwards having the decency to praise the skill of his driver who, bashing six or seven other cars out of the way, got his ‘principal’ out of the firing line. By the way, all praise to the McLaren boss who insisted his team members should travel in armoured vehicles but, having been accommodated in such a shitty hotel, surely a disgusted young Button could have treated us all to a widely publicised photo of him leaving the hotel in his underpants via a sixth floor balcony and into the swimming pool below without getting a drop of chlorinated water into the open bottle of champagne and two glasses he happened to be holding?

Before the conspiracy theorists fire themselves up, nobbling Button was largely pointless and although Alonso attracts a lot of hatred in the non Latino world, a small portion of it unjustified, no self respecting Brazilian mobster would do anything to help him. After all, Ferrari team orders deprived a fellow countryman of a win, and besides, soon after, the Sauber team were rumbled as well and lost all their laptops. Clearly they didn’t subscribe to the same risk management company as Martin Whitmarsh but this isn’t Ferrari software dropping into McLaren’s hands, this is Sauber’s. Who would want it? All you can say is that this is nothing more than ‘Welcome to Sao Paulo, hi-jack and kidnap capital of the world’, but it still makes delicious reading and a good omen for an exciting race.

Monday, 8th November

Clearly, I was more interested in the race than my Sunday Blog Rodeo and, having rambled on a bit without even getting as far as reviewing a single blog before the warm up lap started, gave it up in favour of the sofa and the TV.

Those of us that are interested will know the outcome and that the five have now become four. A tabloid journalist today described the race as prosaic but he writes for the Daily Mail so his views are largely irrelevant. Perhaps I am being unkind. After washing dishes, anything would be interesting.

Red Bull won their first Manufacturer’s Championship and, mathematically, either of their drivers could beat Alonso to the Driver’s Championship. Hamilton, who could be heard complaining on the team radio throughout the race, is the fourth and final contender. The very ambitious Vettel is now in a perfect position to help his team mate Webber in Abu Dhabi but, during the post race interview in Interlagos, ducked a direct question posed to him about whether he would, or not, by revealing that his parents had always teased him by sometimes failing to answer his direct questions (presumably about where babies come from) so now it was his turn to tease the press. The little tyke.

I have no problems with orders designed to help a team win a manufacturer’s championship, it means big bucks for the team and the drivers are, after all, employees. Any enterprise would take a dim view of an individual who, in his attempt to become Employee of the Year cost his company a big contract. Will Red Bull just let their drivers race or, given that Webber says he is going to retire, is Dietrich Mateschitz as I write, promising Vettel the earth to do ‘the right thing’ and come in second behind his team mate thereby relegating Alonso to third and a title chance lost to Webber? By next Sunday afternoon, we may have an answer.

Whatever happens, for the first time in years, it is all down to the last race and it is bound to be exciting.

There are only a few blogs out there about Angola most of which, I find rather dull. My interpretation of them could of course be coloured by my familiarity with the place so comments by the authors on how awkward things can be here (when they cannot find their favourite and to us obscure staple in Belas shopping), or how awful is ‘funge’ the local staple, I will likely find soporific. I am with the denizens of any country who, faced with visitors with nothing positive to say will invite them to go home and if they take the piss as well, give them a good kicking.

Jeremy Johnson, author of ‘Globe Trotting Geologist’, subtitles his blog with a quote from Mark Twain:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

A kindred spirit then.

Rather than denigrate a country and the people who live there; with a wry, self deprecating humour he describes the pitfalls and difficulties all of us face with a perceptiveness unusual in such a recent arrival.

His latest post, ‘Mother, Your Son is a Filthy Crim’, opens with:

‘A sinking feeling struck me as our car hurtled south on the dual carriage highway out of Luanda. Without hesitation I started rifling through my bag, as my stomach began to turn at the embarrassing prospect of what I had to say. “I’ve forgotten my documents…” ’

Classic! And it is a sinking feeling. No matter how many checkpoints you have managed to negotiate for weeks and months not having to show your documents, the one time without them, you will be stopped, and by the Angolan immigration official equivalent to the head of the Gestapo for whom the sight of pain and suffering is more rewarding than frantic offers of paper portraits of Benjamin Franklin.

I am frequently without legal documents (well, once a year at least) when, having over run my visa yet again, I have to hide while a solution to an issue created by a lethargic immigration visa renewal department is negotiated. I am now very familiar with the cross country route from my house to the golf course so that during such times I can avoid the main road and its checkpoints and get a round in.

Jeremy is a Geologist, not a Geophysicist, by the way. I was never sure of the difference either until I first worked in the oil industry but suffice to say, it can be summed up by this old joke:

The daughter of a staunch Irish Catholic geologist walks into her father's study and announces her intention to marry a Protestant Geophysicist. ‘A GEOPHYSICIST!’ he thunders.

This joke can be modified to reflect any strong prejudice, the stronger the better in fact but if you have read some of my posts, I can hardly be called politically correct so have no wish to add yet more coals to an already raging furnace. At my age I have heard them all anyway and am now quite fond of the notion, ‘a quiet life’, so think it best to avoid provoking a Jihad.

It seems that Jeremy is also acutely aware of just how easy it is to inadvertently commit a faux pas in a foreign country. In another post he states:

‘It seemed fitting to inflate the bagpipes once more, leading to an impromptu attempt at a philistinic highland dance exhibition by myself and two French friends. The inaccurate flailing of arms was soon cut short however when we learnt from an irate elder that a funeral procession had just passed and the village was in mourning…’

A seismic survey in progress. Note simultaneous deployment of the sophisticated 'Clouseau' apparatus (a world famous French Detector) in close proximity to the Shockwave Generator. High Tech and environmentally friendly...except to dogs and beneficiaries of deceased estates who fear the dead may wake.

I rather suspect, with acute powers of deduction, that young Jeremy hails from somewhere north of Hadrian’s Wall so, given that 90% of Scotsmen live abroad having been encouraged to do so by venal English landlords, perhaps he should modify Twain’s quote thus: ‘Explore. Dream. Discover. Survive…’

Before any ginger haired bearded Celt clad in tartan trews ('cos the English banned men in skirts) and wielding an effing great Claymore, or at least adept at the art of Glasgow Snogging takes offence, I really am trying to be as PC as I can. My name is Scottish too and if you are familiar with all the verses of Auld Land Syne, specifically the third, you would know that my name translates as ‘Tom Daisy’, a fact I discovered in obligatory music classes as a young lad. No wonder I ended up on the school boxing team. Those were the good old days of healthy competition, of tormenting the weak, a solid grounding for life; teachers enjoyed thrashing us and we were allowed to bash each other, whether in a ring, on a rugby field or, round the back of the chemistry lab in which case punishment was only meted out if you failed to satisfactorily answer the House Master’s apparently oh so casual enquiry as to who won. Fighting a boy in your own house outside a boxing ring was definitely not done but a lot of scores were settled with flailing studs in a ruck.

Jeremy’s blog is well worth a read and a link to it is under my ‘Interesting Blogs’ list.

I wonder if he does weddings? That'll piss the neighbours off.

My second and for now final review (Marcia is getting irritated with me interpreting as she does, time behind a keyboard on any activity that offers no financial return as a peculiar sort of European indolence) is a truly excellent source of information on the restaurants and other nightlife attractions available to the roving Gastronaut in Luanda.

Naturally, the authors are French. What other nationality would come to Angola and rather than write about piles of rubbish, impossible bureaucracy and poverty (endemic so hardly newsworthy) would, with Gallic shrugs of indifference, instead concentrate on the positive and entirely selfish side of a cosmopolitan society?

They do not pull any punches either and based on the restaurants that I am familiar with and they have reviewed, give a very fair assessment of what the diner can expect.

Perhaps the Globe Trotting Geologist would be intrigued to note that the Shanghai Baia Restaurant on the Ilha serves a somewhat amibigous "deep fride garlic Hong Kong Abderdeen style". That solves the mystery of the missing geophysicists then.

The Portofino Restaurant, owned by the President's wife and described by Luanda Nightlife as, '...completely empty. It is brand new, very neat and very chic...'
I told you they pull no punches. Personally, I prefer a quiet restuarant, the service is usually marginally quicker so I will try it.

I doff my beret to the Luanda Nightlife team. I have been here sixteen years yet still discovered reviews for places I had never heard of, opening to me a whole new vista of entertainment. To distant observers, this place might seem exciting but, believe me, it is all too easy to suffer from a routine induced boredom so this site will do much to reduce the numbers of expatriates returning home with pencils up their noses and their underpants on their heads having successfully convinced a human resources department that a transfer might be in order.

I imagine the Nightlife team use that last point as an excuse to justify their no doubt extraordinary expense claims to an outraged finance manager. Let’s hope their epicurean activities are not curtailed before my own restaurant opens.

Anyway, well worth a look whether you live here or not. They have completed 116 reviews so far not counting the nightclubs. I shall be sending them a separate correspondence explaining my understanding of ‘Quid pro Quo’. They are clearly knowledgeable in matters bacchanalian, so I would rather prefer it if they could be gentle with me in their first review of Floridita.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Is the apology you make to someone who has already apologised to you worth anything?

I am a keen follower of the Suburban Bushwacker and as a result, so is my eleven year old son, Dominic. In case you are unfamiliar with SBW’s blog, he talks all about the things boys love and are now, sadly, being deprived of as the nanny state increasingly wraps our offspring in cotton wool turning blind eyes to those who get up to the sometimes lethal mischief no longer restrained by a policeman’s friendly slap round hitherto unresponsive ears.

Having just mentioned the rot in our society one might be surprised that I encourage Dominic to read a blog all about guns, knives and killing fluffy little creatures. But SBW’s blog is so much more than that. In his casually eloquent and self effacing way, SBW enthuses about the sustainable exploitation of nature’s resources, engendering a respect for the countryside and its denizens and, by example, teaching us all how to behave responsibly.

I was appalled, then, when Dominic having downloaded a video SBW had posted, came to me with an ever more alarming set of questions, the reasons for which I could only fathom by watching the video, together with him and accompanied by an increasingly acute sense of discomfort.

Now most of us know that the man lampooned in the video happens to be a complete fop, one of these television survivalists with even less military experience than George Bush, who manages to cope with the deadly environments in which he and his couple of hundred strong support crew find themselves when they step out of their comfortable hotel in the morning. Observed in that light, the video has merit, even if, as one of SBW’s readers commented, it provokes an involuntary gagging response. If you are Bulemic, this video is so much more refined, in the most relative of senses, than a tonsil tickling index finger.

Considering that this had been posted by the Lord Baden-Powell of bloggers, the author of the modern Boy’s Own Journal; healthy and stimulating, nay, essential reading for all men, young and old, this was for any of us from the old school, just as shocking as Julie Andrews flashing her boobs in that awful film.

I had to dash off a comment.

On his blog, SBW encourages his readers to respond, going so far as to reassure them that they are welcome to disagree and that life would be too boring if we all agreed with each other. I never expected my comment to get past his moderation let alone receive a reply from him in return expressing regret for apparently having let me down. He did no such thing of course, it is his blog after all. He also made a fair admission that he had never considered anyone under thirty reading his blog and, by implication, be exposed to the sight of a man in congress with a fallen log (those of you reading this who have still not swung over to SBW’s post should do so at your earliest convenience or this article will make no sense whatsoever).

Dominic is an avid fan of SBW’s blog, and Rasch’s too, and I know he prints off some of the articles to show his friends, so there are rather more readers under thirty keen on SBW’s blog than he imagines, and I think that's a good thing.

Because of SBW, I had to get Dominic a Smith and Wesson hunting knife The knives SBW reviewed were not available here but Dominic doesn’t mind. The one I got him holds a good edge, easily slicing his biltong and it has S&W engraved on it, which is close enough, so I have convinced him it is an SBW Special.

Because of Rasch, I have had to promise Dominic that next year we will do a Spiral Horns Safari in South Africa. Not cheap at the best of times. Bleeding extortionate when you factor in the cost of a trip for Marcia to Canada to visit her brother, which was the only deal I could cut to ensure the Safari was boys only (c’mon guys, who takes cake to a party?).

Because of Amish Tom, and through his rather overwhelming generosity, a Genesis Reflex bow and broadheads are on the way to Angola so very soon Dominic will be able to slot the feral truffle hunters destroying my gardens.

All thanks to chance encounters in the ether.

The blog world is more influential than people might imagine. By the time I was Dominic’s age, I had lived in several different countries throughout Europe and even Libya where my brother happened to be born. US Immigration gave him so much of that 'Good 'ol 'Merican hospitality' every time he visited that he voluntarily transferred regions to, yes, you guessed it, the Middle East.

Granted, Dominic and now Alexander can watch National Geographic and the Travel channels but the musings of the disparate blog community give a much more personal insight to other cultures; the thoughts, feelings and motivations of people who, quite frankly, sound so affable in the written word Dominic would like to meet a select few. That latter point is to me, the mark of all good blogs. If the authors can engender enough empathy that the reader really would like to meet them, they can only be good. Besides, it improves the boy’s English and is a damn sight cheaper than using DHL to ship books out to Angola from Amazon UK.

Drifting away from this very veiled apology, I have to refer to yet another comment on SBW’s infamous video post, this one made by Albert Rasch.

Rasch, the archetype mountain man and a damn sight more convincing than Bear Grylls, expressed gratitude in his comment for being safely tucked away in Afghanistan. I am assuming he was referring to the video and not my somewhat intemperate remarks but just in case he had risen in defence of SBW, he probably is safer in Afghanistan after all and I might join him to enjoy similar levels of security. Marcia caught the maid stealing (I had long suspected as much but, as the reader will learn, it does not pay to argue with Marcia). Not unreasonably, she chased the maid off.

This morning the ex maid reappeared and with an audacity so brazen it left the crew wide eyed and slack jawed, demanded the rest of her remaining month’s salary. Now the maid is a big woman, easily able to straight lift a 25 litre water container from the ground and onto her head with one pull. I tried that once and was only able to struggle the bucket up to my midriff giving boots and trousers a good soaking in the process. As well as successfully lifting large quantities of water, the maid was also probably guilty of lifting the equivalent of several month's salary if the evidence of my frequently denuded wallet and Marcia’s hopelessly unsecret envelope were anything to go by. Worse still, she had cleverly engineered resultant enquiries so that suspicion fell alternately on Christina or Dominic, something I could never accept and I developed a healthy loathing for the woman as a result. I couldn’t argue with Marcia’s contention that she was good with Alex, though, so the summary execution I favoured was repeatedly stayed. 'Auntie' Madu would never steal and that was that.

Now blessed with irrefutable evidence to the contrary (despite what many of you irreverent bastards say and until this morning I included myself, there is a God), Marcia told the maid, by now howling like a fishwife, to eff off. In Portuguese, naturally.

It sounded so much more satisfying in Portuguese. The F word has been so abused that even vulgar, failed footballers reduced to failing celebrity chefs get their own prime time slot, slap in the middle of children’s viewing hours, just for its over use.

‘Vai-ti Fuder’, (Go Fuck Yourself). Miles better. It allows two opportunities rather than just the one afforded by ‘fuck off’ to spit your bottom lip out from under your upper teeth for extra menacing emphasis. Try it in front of a mirror at home, which one sprays more venom?

It obviously plugged the maid into the mains because in a flash she was swinging a meaty fist backed by a hundred or so Kilos of muscle toned by years of hard labour towards a face supported by a slender fraction of that weight. Both I and the driver, little more than amused observers ‘til then, launched forward, if only to catch Marcia on her way down and restrain the maid when, in the blink of an eye, Marcia ducked the assault and returned with an uppercut that snapped the maid’s screaming gob shut with a sickening clatter of teeth, a blow so unexpected and vicious the awe it inspired was only surpassed by its effectiveness. I couldn’t have been more surprised if I had just witnessed Amir Khan drop Wladimir Klitschko with the first punch of the bout.

Marcia was always terribly upset with me if I got into a fight so I was amused, no cackling with glee when she tried all the same excuses on me that I had used on her. By the time she got to the term, ‘unforgivable lack of respect’, I was roaring with laughter. Those of us who are not psychopaths have all suffered from post pugilistic remorse as the red mist clears, especially when cleaning someone else’s blood off a favorite shirt, so I could easily recognize the same emotion when I saw it.

Driver Jorge and I helped a very subdued maid to her feet and suggested it might be best if she left. I could not understand exactly what she was trying to say, lockjaw evidently having set in but I think she means to come back with her husband in the morning.

Having seen Marcia in action, I don’t rate his chances but, sadly in a way, I don’t think things will pan out like that. Jorge is very loyal, especially to Marcia so I wasn’t all that surprised to catch him taking the heavy jack handle out from under the seat of the truck this evening and position it within easy reach on the veranda.

All this does beg the question though, which is worse for an impressionable young lad? SBW’s video, or the sight of his Dad’s girlfriend decking the thief who framed him…

Having considered this carefully, I think the latter will leave the most indelible and, let's face it, comforting impression.

Monday 25 October 2010

Is Your Swimming Pool Half Empty... Or Half Full?

It is half past five and I have just lost a whole day of hard work.

John over on ‘Going Gently’ posted a few days ago complaining of rain. As I read it I wondered if it was a bad omen.

I am busy rendering the pool walls and floor. I and my trusty foreman, Samuel, had managed three of the four walls and today we finished the fourth so we were game on to do the base tomorrow when suddenly, the heavens opened.

Are they as patient as vultures or did the geese know it was about to be filled with water?

I don’t think it was John who jinxed me, he seems far too nice a guy. I suspect I was hoisted by my own petard.

We were only recently connected to a very irregular town supply of electricity and are still waiting for the water main the council are laying to reach us so until then, this most necessary element has to be tankered in at great expense. When I drained the pool of the rainwater that had accumulated during the time work on it had been suspended, I pumped as much as I could into the plastic tank I had borrowed from a neighbour. The rest, mainly sludge, I pumped and then scraped into buckets and dumped onto my new herb beds.

Having used the tank of water to render the walls we had managed so far, I was just remarking to Samuel where we could get more, after all, ordering a 30 tonne tanker for a mere cubic metre of water would hardly be economic, when Nature provided the answer.

Apart from the wasted effort, there is something depressing about watching an amalgam of sacks of the imported special cement required for rendering swimming pools and the requisite ratio of the finest sand slough off the face of a reinforced concrete wall like flesh from a vampire exposed to sunlight. I couldn’t even send the truck out for more as the roads, compacted dirt around here, quickly turn to slurry under such an onslaught and are impassable to anything other than slithering amphibians and water buffalo within minutes. To be honest, it was my driver who pointed this out to me and none too politely either, muttering something along the lines of if I were to insist, I had better go with him armed with a shovel as he wasn’t going to effing well dig the truck out when it inevitably bogged in. Loyal to a fault my crew.

This is actually the Mark II version of the swimming pool, the first having failed spectacularly while unsuccessfully weathering its first rainy season. I underestimated the sheer quantity of water that could be collected by the roof of the house and dumped overboard into my garden during an Angolan El Niño so the ground works were overwhelmed, the pool flooded with the dust, quickly transformed to mud, and other accumulated rubbish the erosive power of which left the structure of the pool so fatally compromised even the house foundations were threatened. I was left with no alternative but to dig the whole lot out and start again and quickly too lest the master bedroom changed its address in favour of the sink hole that was once the deep end of the pool.

The Mark II version is miles better. All the hard and expensive lessons learned from the Mark I disaster were incorporated into its design. The walls and base are RPG proof solid reinforced concrete. The ground around it was left to settle through an entire rainy season and back filled and compacted as required. The ground was then covered in more reinforced concrete, its surface gently sloping away from the house and on to a new drain. Unlike the first one, the walls of this pool are now slightly higher than ground level and the wooden decking, once installed, will float over the ground allowing easy drainage.

The massive downpour today may have trashed a day’s hard graft but at least it proved that the design works and little Ju and I were also able to scoop up enough water in buckets to refill the water container, solving that problem as well.

It isn't Bloody Rain, it's Free Water...

Faced with little else to do, the day was now a write off, I went dripping inside and made a huge pot of tea while the family and crew dried off.

Not so long ago, a calamity like this, and I would have considered it as such, would really have stressed me out. I would probably have vented my frustration on anyone within range and become thoroughly unpopular, consigning myself to a self imposed and miserably lonely evening, selfishly ignoring the fact that this is only a swimming pool. I intend to float around in a hundred cubic metres of sparklingly clear water drinking ice cold Caipirinhas when the only running water many in this country will see is the seasonal deluge we had just experienced, a stinking diseased river of trash depositing its detritus over the few remaining belongings they have that weren't swept away along with their collapsed shacks.

In Europe, divorced as one could be from the harsh reality of life in a developing country, I suppose it is excusable to be more concerned with how one might pay for the latest plasma TV or which restaurant to visit that night while giving passing thought to the increased burden of taxes required to prosecute incomprehensible war but for me, right in the middle of a humanity struggling in a cruel sea like so many passengers left bewildered as their stricken vessel founders beneath their feet leaving little prospect of salvation in this world, such self centeredness is inexcusable.

So instead of bartering recriminations, we all sat around my dining table and while the rain did its damnable work outside, talked about our families, our hopes and aspirations. And drank tea.

Tomorrow the sun will shine and we will all pitch in to help those of the community who suffered. If I am still impatient to bob about drinking cocktails, there's always the bathtub.

Rather than lose a day, I became part of a reinforced community spirit.

Now that’s got to be worth a few lost sacks of cement.

Friday 15 October 2010

A Great Escape

I was enjoying a whisky in the bar at Belas Shopping this morning when an American strolled in.

He looked a bit lost so I helped him buy what he wanted from the bar. Not to say that Yanks are stupid but if you don’t speak Portuguese here, you’re stuffed. Turned out his ancestors came from this neck of the woods and he just wanted to get a feel for the ‘Old Country’.

When he said his ancestors came from this neck of the woods what he meant, and I understood, was that they were dragged kicking and screaming off their farms, linked together in chains and marched to the coast before being shipped to the New World and an uncertain future.

His ancestors at least, had obviously been blessed with both good fortune and dogged determination for the man now happily dividing a bottle of scotch with me presented a fine figure. Obviously highly intelligent and clad in expensive looking Chinos, a shirt the make of which I could not ascertain but doubt I could afford and I bet his loafers were genuine Gucci, this was the kind of guy you really did not want to introduce to your girlfriend. Even if he and she had behaved honourably, you’d know she’d never be satisfied in your company again. Compared to my artisan cotton, he was the silkiest of silks.

Apparently the security advice for the company to which he was providing consultancy services, a job he only took on because he wanted to see Angola, suggested that venturing further south than the southern suburbs and the only decent shopping centre in Luanda was to court horrible death.

He would hardly get a feel for the root of his existence standing in the plastic veneer and chrome plated pastiche of a Portuguese run bar in Luanda's only half decent shopping centre, so I jumped into his car and told his driver to head south to the Barra de Kwanza.

On the way we had a really good chat. It became clear that he had relocated to Texas and had bought a small place, about 5 million acres if I heard right. I confessed a love of sport fishing which, I pointed out, was excellent here. Animated now, after all, we were well below the label of the bottle of scotch I had liberated on his behalf from the bar, he explained that with his place being so close to the coast, he had been unable to resist a sportfisher. All fifty five, twin caterpillar powered brand new feet of it.

I am not easily abashed but I was pretty bloody subdued by the time we got to the Barro de Kwanza and my paltry 5 acres.

He was one of the nicest guys I have ever met. He said all the right things, could hold his booze and charmed the pants off everyone we met down at the village. He got his trip into the bush to see his real roots and wasn’t too proud to sink his expensively attired arse into the dirt when we sat in front of the Soba’s (village elder’s) house to pay our respects.

It is an old joke but I could not resist it. I showed him my humble slice of this earth and then said, ‘I bet it would take you a bit longer to show me around your place?’

‘Jeez.’ He replied, ‘It takes me all day to drive round it'

‘I had a car like that once’ I said.

So now that we had drifted onto the subject of cars and my love of them, especially classics, the Cool Dude said next time I went back to UK I should rent, instead of an overpriced modern from a Heathrow outlet, a real classic.

I, as an expatriate Englishman living in Africa, had shown an African American his roots in Angola and in return, he had pointed out where I could rent an English automotive classic.

I felt obliged to invite him home for dinner. Obliged is the wrong word. He was such an interesting guy I was willing to risk Marcia meeting him.

I can never fully appreciate what went through his mind when I showed him the slave museum, likely the place from which his ancestors caught their last glimpse of Africa, as desiccated a scene now as it must have been then. Or how he felt when he saw kids happily running around the village, an image of what life could have been like for him had Europeans not intervened.

Instead of thinly veiled prejudice, he rewarded me with the most refined company. His almost childlike curiosity and evident interest in his surroundings was infectious.

He flies tomorrow and had to get back to town meaning dinner was out of the question. So he didn't get to meet Marcia after all. Perhaps just as well.

I looked up the classic car hire company he suggested and was impressed. It may seem trite to finish like this but, if the coolest man in the world says this is where you should hire stylish wheels in UK, then next time I am there, I will definitely give them a try.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Belize, 12th May 1984

Curacol Ruins Expedition, Cooma Cairn, Mayan Mountains

Dressed in combats, it's hardly surprising that soldiers in the bush are sometimes hard to spot so I took to wearing a Panama hat. That way if shot by one of my own blokes, I would die at least with the knowledge the act was deliberate.

Thursday 30 September 2010

Citroën Survolt

I think a lot of us are bemused by the slavish adherence of the UK to the international agreements that every other signatory routinely ignores.

We happily sacrifice a wildly disproportionate portion of the Met’s annual budget to track down and repatriate some well settled and productive poor sod just because in his country of origin, the police have suddenly realised that ten years ago he was given a suspended sentence for not paying off a two hundred Zloty bank loan quick enough and therefore should not have travelled. The EU has even dished out an official warning to UK that we are not to deny illegal immigrants access to state benefits most of whom arrive via France, a country busy rounding up all its Gipsies and sending them back to Romania as an encouragement to the rest of them of every nationality who escape the cursory dragnet to hurry up and sneak through the Channel Tunnel to UK and certain security. The United States have made it abundantly clear that the Extradition Treaty is purely one way. We are, by the admission of our own leaders, the junior partner in world affairs.

You have to hand it to the French. Like cheeky children, they are constantly caught out. They are about to try their ex president for corruption but having shoulders like greased Champagne bottles, will shrug it all off with ease leaving the rest of the world charmed by their inherent style and above all, bare faced sang froid.

Unlike the English, and it was an Englishman who coined the phrase, they realise that rules, in this case those of the EU and pretty much the rest of the world, are for the guidance of wise men and the adherence of fools. The French have decided that they are nobody’s fool. They will happily sign any accord but if, in the end, it turns out not to be to the benefit of La Belle France, they’ll ignore it and refuse to be intimidated.

Bentley are recalling cars due to concerns in the US that the iconic Flying B's on their bonnets may fail to retract automatically in the event of a collision, potentially causing injury to pedestrians. Let's ignore for a moment that if hit by a Bentley the Flying B atop the radiator would only be the first of the last, much heavier and ultimately lethally destructive automotive components to pass through one's intimate orbit, and consider instead that in the face of the litigious environment the 'no win, no fee' lawyers created, Citroën, no doubt reassured by Gallic shrugs half obscured in the smoky environment of their legal department, have had the courage to produce a 160 mph, 300 BHP, £1.5 million ankle slicer.

Powered by an all but silent electric motor on each wheel, you wouldn't even hear it arriving faster than the speed of sound as you were still halfway across the road to the pub and unexpectedly footloose, chipped through a very crisp 21st Century grill. The remaining parts of your suddenly denuded torso might, as they bounce off the windscreen before being propelled into oblivion, catch a glimpse of a supremely stylish and well appointed interior enclosing a svelte Frenchman who couldn't really give a damn because unlike in UK, he enjoys affordable insurance.

Good old Citroën. I love French cars, especially now that they are pushing the design envelope again and I have to confess a sneaking admiration for the French in general.

In UK, if you trip over an electric flex at work, you sue for compensation and HSE will spend millions of taxpayer's money trying to prove the architect put the socket in the wrong place, bankrupting him in the process and putting a hundred or so people out of work.

In France they’ll give you a Gauloise cigarette to suck on to ease the immediate pain before sacking you for being evidently too visually impaired to perform the function for which you once drew your salary.

The odds, or volts it would appear, are charged heavily in favour of the French.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Airport Camp Accommodation

And the lads complain about the standards of barrack accommodation now...


Belize 1985

Those ex colleagues of mine reading this, I would be grateful if we could put names to faces.

Monday 27 September 2010

Of Rats and Humans

So termites are cockroaches after all?

Both give me a headache. If it isn't termites constructing red muddy tunnels up my lounge walls made with the mastigated paste of my ever depleted wooden floors it is cockroaches running across my desk and scurrying hither and thither in every drawer. I'll warrant I use a case of Shelltox every week holding the bastards at bay.

And then there are the African Field Mice which, I recently learnt, carry a much more lethal cargo than Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus (I haven't a clue what that is but it sounds awful) but also Arenaviruses which cause haemorrhagic fever. I know what that is and it is definitely awful but although messy for relatives who have to clean up afterwards, is mercifully quick for the victims.

The house isn't exactly infested with these little bleeders but it isn't uncommon for me to see one or two flit across the lounge floor while I am watching TV late at night and yesterday, when I dug into the rarely accessed drawer containing what silver cutlery I have left, I was dismayed to discover a nest they had made of the felt pockets containing my best eating irons.

A woman not too far from here fell sick with flu like symptoms and deteriorated so rapidly that an air ambulance from South Africa was ordered (clearly she had more money than our average neighbour). Sadly she died but tragically so did the attending ambulance paramedic and the nurse who accompanied her. All down to mice which are apparently being smuggled into UK as 'pocket pets'.

While scouring what is left of the countryside around my house for interesting beasties and seeds to send to the Natural History Museum in London, Dominic discovered four emaciated and dehydrated feral kittens and brought them home.

Marcia caught us feeding them with syringes full of milk and went mad.

Cats, apparently, kill every under five year old here because of the lethal allergies they provoke. These deaths clearly having nothing at all to do with flea and virus ridden mice, polluted water, cockroaches, flies bloated on rotting rubbish and effluent, termites, mosquitoes and every other evil beastie that infest every household and liberally dispense often lethal ailments with every multi footfall, defecation or bite.

I made the very serious mistake of presenting to Marcia my contention that Englishmen, ardent lovers of dogs and cats, a race of human beings not only allowing the animals they domesticated and trained into their close orbit but the intimacy of their beds as well, succeeded in demolishing the rest of the world, enslaving and exploiting notably Marcia's ailing ancestors, as conclusive evidence of the efficacy of something as simple as a decent mouse catcher in the house. As a result, it is me that is now occupying the vacant cattery while Marcia reclines luxuriously, and in splendid solitude, under a German manufactured eiderdown.

I love Marcia dearly but every now and then I am reminded that she is Angolan and I am English so we are occasionally about four thousand miles and a century or so apart. Rather than argue with her, and since I am kipping in the yard (at best the sofa), I will feed our chickens and geese and resist the temptation to talk to her about Avian Flu.

Buffer Hole Resort, Belize 1984

A high class resort then.

As soldiers, we weren't too bothered about the ban on litter and guns, it was the ban on coolboxes of booze and indecent behaviour that put us off... They are the BIG No's evidently so you may have to click and enlarge the photo.

78 Force Ordnance Company Belize 1984

I am front row, fifth from the right, smirking because Captain Allan Inions to my right has just suggested, not so sotto voce, that the man behind the camera on this very hot day might like to effing well get on with it.

Somewhere in that lineup must be Cpl Callahan. When we all played cricket, I would be put into bat first. Callahan would bowl me out, every time, with a full toss and then I would score for the rest of the match.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Perceptions of Angola

We are all aware that web browsers seem to know where our computers are in the world (or at least the IP address of our internet service providers), and can then feed irritating region specific adverts onto our screens.

Anywhere else in the world, typically, we would be offered a selection of beauties just gagging to meet us (we have all seen these adverts: Angola Babe aged 21, apparently living next door, who is invariably Caucasian and if she walked the streets of Angola dressed the way she appears in her photo would have no need to resort to an internet dating site to attract mates but rather hire bodyguards to beat them off), and other adverts rather conveniently informing us that free romantic weekends away for two in some Michelin starred hotel are only a few mouse clicks away, or those from anonymous institutions suggesting that handing over our life’s savings would guarantee instant financial security.

So what does the Big Brother lucky dip offer us in Angola?

Ads by Google

Bulletproof Vehicles
Learn about our superior protection
Get an armored car in Angola today.

I have never had any problems spending my own money so can't see the point in paying someone else to help me. I have a girlfriend and she seems to manage on that score without charging me extra. So I definitely prefer the free romantic weekend and am happy to take my chances getting there.

Sadly, I think it is teenagers on their way to London schools who need Armormax's services more than I do. Or perhaps that is just my perception of UK.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Floridita Provisional Menu

The opening day for Floridita is still over the horizon but I am busy, with the help of a friend of mine in Australia, putting together the Floridita website. I want to include the menu and links to recipes. When I light the burners for the first time, I want to simultaneously go on line.

The menu relies heavily on locally available produce, both out of necessity and a desire of mine to become a local food hero. If you come all this way, do you really want a burger and chips or would you prefer the fresh produce you know was hauled out of the sea by artisan fisherman, was dispatched at dawn by the discharge from an ancient Baikal or dug out of the ground and rinsed clean the day you eat it?

I will flip you a burger if you insist but shan't be particularly impressed.


 Prawns and Mabanga (local clams), poached in a fresh coriander, garlic and gindungo (local hot pepper) spiced coconut cream sauce (mild), on a bed of fresh watercress with sliced sweet fruit of the season. Apart from the fruit garnish, a warm dish.

 Prawns on a bed of sliced avocado, shredded salad leaves, baby tomatoes with a rich cocktail dressing. A cold dish.

 Spring rolls with sweet & sour and spicy dips

 Liver paté, toast, butter

 Sliced Presunto (cured smoked ham) served with sliced honey melon

 Lagosta (Steamed or grilled Lobster)

 Carangueijo de Namibe (Steamed Namibe Crab; small, sweet and full of flavour)


 Spicy Fish with sliced spring onion, lemon grass, tomato and cayenne.

 Cream of Butternut.

 Sopa de Feijao (bean soup, very popular here)

Main Courses

 Chicken Curry, steamed rice, sliced Mango or Pineapple, Minted Yoghurt on the side.

 Chicken Satay, steamed rice, mixed salad

 Fried Chicken drumsticks and thighs served with chips and mixed salad.

 Charcoal grilled Steak with herb butter, black bean sauce, fried egg, steamed rice, chips, mixed salad (they call it Bife a Portuguesa here).

 Chilli con Carne with steamed rice and mixed salad.

 Lasagne with a mixed salad.

 Guinea Fowl in a rich red wine sauce, with späetzle, red cabbage and cucumber dill salad.

 Forest Buffalo filet medallions served with a cream mushroom sauce, spaetzle and red cabbage.

 Tagliatelli Carbonara, fresh green salad

 Poached fish of the day with butter, steamed potatoes, green beans/steamed asparagus with sauce hollandaise

 Fish of the day poached in fresh coriander flavoured Coconut milk sauce, steamed rice, mixed salad.

 Garouper Grelhado (grilled Grouper filets), lemon butter sauce, chips or boiled potatoes, mixed green salad.

 Fried fish filet, steamed baby potatoes, watercress salad with natural yoghurt sauce.

 Choco Grelhada (grilled squid), steamed potatoes, green salad, onion and parsley flavoured olive oil and vinegar dressing.

 Bacalhao com natas (salted, dried cod that has been soaked for 24 hours before being shredded and braised in cream and other select ingredients, a huge favourite in Angola and I love it too).

 Chicken and mushroom pie, green beans, mashed potatoes and a rich gravy.


 Flambeéd Fruits of the season with vanilla ice cream and cream

 Fruit salad made with fresh fruits of the season, with or without vanilla ice cream

 Pudim flan (Crème Caramel)

 Ananas (pineapple) fried in brown sugar and butter with a dash of dark rum, coconut cream sauce and ice cream.

 Crepes suzette, flavoured with mountain honey and lemon

 Barbas de Camelo (a dessert made of layered, powdered Marie biscuits, a custard type sauce made with eggs and condensed milk and cream. The literal translation is Camel Spit. Tastes delicious though).

 Bananas fritas with hot cinnamon flavoured buttered mountain honey.

I realise that I should have posted this on my other blog, 'Cooking in the Front Line' but having ignored it for so long, no-one is reading it anymore. What I will do now is cook everything on this menu and, apart from the boring chicken or steak and chips dishes, photograph the meals under preparation and post the menus over at the other blog.

Feedback, no pun intended, gratefully received.


It would appear that an 'All Day Breakfast' is in demand. I shall have to call it the 'Fisherman's Breakfast' to remain in keeping with the theme of Floridita but it will consist of any, or all of the following:

Bacon, Eggs fried or scrambled, baked beans, South African Boerwors (best sausages in the world), black pudding, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, devilled kidneys, onion gravy, roasted sliced normal and sweet potatoes, honey roasted carrots and parsnips, sweet and spicy chutney, English mustard, fresh bread, fried bread, ordinary toast, mountain honey (Americans pour honey on their bacon not just their toast, a taste I too have acquired, witness my expanding girth), various other jams, natural home made yoghurt, coffee, tea, fruit juice, a selection of cereals, fresh milk and anything else you want that I might have in my fridges or behind the bar. Like a beer to wash that lot down.

My father, and he should know because that's what he died of, used to call such a feast a heart attack on a plate. But you ask the golfing crew that pile round my house most weekends for a post Golfista 'snack', what they think of the brunch I knock up.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Angolan Common or Garden Beasties...

Over on the Suburban Bushwacker, SBW has been teasing us with his 'identify the beasty' quiz, awarding solid gold bushwacker stars to the first to come up with a positive ID.

I was the first, not by much I admit, to get his latest one correct and because, as he then realised, it was pretty damn easy (it being a common garden spider, Araneus diadematus), the miserable sod awarded me and the other fine blogger who got it right, Murphyfish (who quite correctly described the roughy toughy Suburban Bushwacker as 'A big girl's blouse) a measly two stars each. Tight bastard.

Still, it got me thinking about the beasties we encounter in my garden every now and then so I trawled through the photo album to find any my son may have photographed and having given it a full five minutes of effort, have come up with three.

This spider made its home amongst the rebar of the new pool. They are very common and have a good six inch span. Only two Hippo points for this one.

Common in all Angolan gardens...

A couple of points for this one too. We all know it is a viper, but which kind?

The dog savaged it so I finished it off with a rock.

I can't sympathise with all you yoghurt knitting tree huggers out there. It was in my yard which, in common with the neighbourhood, is usually full of kids. I would sooner stamp on a thousand poisonous snakes than see one child suffer a limb amputation or death because of one of these beasties. It is reported that sharks are an endangered species now. Only endangered? I shall have to go out and gaff a few more. Sharks do have their uses, though. Like crocodile skulls, their jaws make impressive ornaments. And in case the fluffy bunny lovers reading this don't hate me enough already, yes, I used to shoot foxes on my ex Father-in-law's farm... with a model 586 Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum pistol or my 30-06 Remington 700BDL rifle. Overkill I know, but after all, we can't have the poor little verminous swine suffering now, can we?

I realise that after being pounded like this, a positive ID is more likely to come from a Forensic Pathologist than a Naturalist...

And now, a full five stars for identifying this one, an insect with dragon's wings. When threatened, it made a noise like a badly maintained chainsaw flinging out these black apppendages. Unlike the woosie SBW, I have given you an idea of scale. Assuming, that is, you all appreciate the average size of a human head...

I have no idea what this is so we will need some references to support any identification...


I have just been contacted by the world’s leading authority on Phasmids (clue) regarding the last of the beasties in the above post.

He has informed me that the beastie in question is a good match for one recorded in 1889 described from a single female collected from Golungo Alto in 1856. Apart from brief details of that record, nothing has been published since and the archive containing these records in Lisbon was destroyed by fire.

It is a pity that the only photograph the world now has of one of these incredibly rare and undocumented specimens has my ugly face as a backdrop.

Dominic will be thrilled to learn he has discovered something so rare and every penny I spent on bringing in his microscope and other paraphernalia to encourage his naturalist instincts was well worth it.

I shall now task us with the self imposed duty of acquiring more specimens and get them back to the good Professor of Beasties back in UK. Not that easy, I suspect as I have been here sixteen years and this is the only one I have seen. Still, instead of walking aimlessly around the countryside together in the pursuit of fresh air, now at least Dominic and I will have a motive for our perambulations.

Given its astonishing rarity, I think I need to award at least ten gold stars and a genuine Angolan carving of the ‘Pensador’, sent to the address of choice to anyone who can positively ID this one.

The professor was kind enough to be discreet and not spoil our fun but he has earned his five gold stars which he may cash in for a free stay at Floridita and an entomological field trip of Quissama National park. That place is crawling with beasties and I am terribly keen to find out how many are undocumented.

In UK, a recent lengthy experiment established that preventing children from raising their hands in class and rewarding good performance with days out at a funfair encouraged children to learn twice as fast. Imagine the concentration on the task in hand of a young lad aware that he might have a hitherto unknown beastie named after him?

Hopefully in the future he may be able to retort to an enquiry from a University entrance board as to his poorish A level results by saying, 'Granted, but at least I did spend weeks in the bush, discovered and together with the Professor, described and categorised 'Beastialis Dominicus Australis'.

Friday 3 September 2010

Kitchens. Best place for kids...

I realise they should be wearing flourescent jackets, flame proof overalls, safety goggles, bone domes and chain mail gloves...

Keeping my extended family busy does require a little ingenuity so right now they are all making chicken and mushroom pies.

Dead easy. I just throw out a couple of cutting boards, give the kids some very sharp knives and various piles of things to chop. Onions, garlic, sweet peppers, mushrooms and a pre boiled chicken from which they must strip the flesh. Each ingredient, minus severed finger tips, must go into individual bowls prior to assembling the dish and everything else must be washed, wiped, cleaned or bound with bandages as necessary.

Fry the ingredients off, add a tablespoonful of flour and then the stock from the boiling of the chicken before spooning the mixture into ramekins. Then the fun really starts. Roll out the pastry, cut the lids and naturally, I want every dish to have a design personal to the family member to whom it is destined, only then into the oven. Keeps 'em busy for hours!

Anyway, from left to right in the photo: Dominic (11), Christina (13) and Ju (10) Not in the photo are Alex (2), Mauro (7) and of course Marcia (29). I (51) am behind the camera lens.

Mauro was a bit of a hard case to crack when he arrived. He would only eat a tiny portion of boiled rice. The kid was so skinny he had to run around in the shower to get wet and, as a precautionary measure, I would put the plug in the bath in case I lost him down the drain. A year after his arrival at Fort Gowans he is now making his own pies and has just scoffed a whole one.

Ju was the little girl who lost her Mum and arrived a very traumatised little kid scared out of her wits. Now I think she is Marcia's Second-in-Command, bossy little minx!

Christina is calm and sensible beyond her years and I am not sure how I would cope without her. The neighbours think I have a capacity to mete out real violence if provoked, an impression I do little to dilute now that an unhealthy interest in her has been aroused in the local lads.

Alexander loves the girls who in turn dote on him, and fights constantly with Mauro so I guess it is situation normal.

Dominic is sitting next to me as I write having swiped Marcia's pie, his second, which he is chucking down his neck as fast as he can choke it down. He felt guilty about nicking her dinner but since she wasn't that hungry and, as I pointed out, we have plenty of puff pastry left so can make her another tomorrow, he is going for it. Nice to see the boy eat so well. If you can interest children in preparing and cooking food, they will invariably devour the fruit of their own labour without the dissent normally associated with half a dozen highly individual and picky eaters.

One of the last of Dominic's baby teeth, a molar, has just fallen out. He decided it should be sterilised so dropped it into my whisky glass. He loves his little tricks. He is fond of doctoring my cigarettes with match heads tightly wrapped in tin foil so that they explode when I smoke them.

Having complained that the hole in his gum once housing the tooth now soaking in my whisky was hurting like hell, I suggested he rubbed neat salt into it.

'Honestly Dad?'

'Yes Son'

Vengeance is sweet.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Deep Fried Beer - Only in Texas!

Patent Pending...

Get a gutful of this

Texan inventor Mark Zable has, after three year's work, apparently come up with a recipe for deep frying beer while maintaining its alcoholic content.

First we couldn't Drink and Drive, now we can't Eat and Drive.

Picture the Metropolitan Police canteen:

Detective Chief Superintendant: 'I smell beer. Is anyone drinking on duty?'

Coppers: 'No Sir, we're just having a spot of breakfast...'

I mustn't be mean to the Met, they are the best Police Force money can buy.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Dominic's Grand Day Out

No father can spend enough time with his son and it is even harder for a bloke estranged from the lad's mother so any day out with The Boy is A Grand Day Out.

Add to the mix a sportfisher and the pretty, fertile waters of the Atlantic and such a day becomes truly memorable.

Put your back into it, Son

We headed straight out to the blue rigged for Billfish but youthful impatience prevailed and after an hour or so we headed back in and trolled across the mouth of the estuary. It wasn't long before Dominic was in.

A wee tiddly Dorado. It went back over the side but at least it was a start

Pretty soon, Dominic was busy.

This one we couldn't resist having a few slices off, drenched with lemon juice. Don't tell me you don't take a lemon with you when you go fishing...

Nothing big this trip but that wasn't the point. It was a boy and his father messing about on the water together. There was just enough action to make his arms ache a bit and remind him where his Dad was heading.

Coming back in to the Barra de Kwanza

My land is the neighbouring property. It's a building site at the moment but pretty soon it will look as good as this.

Something to aspire to

The other boat stayed out in the deep and by mid afternoon, their patience had been rewarded.

That's a few kilos...

...Dominic just had to check them out

Being his father's son, Dominic is pretty competitive so he couldn't resist inspecting the catch of the other boat. I really hoped that his wonderful day out hadn't been tarnished by the thought of his haul being insignificant by comparison. I needn't have worried. 'Dourado, all of them', he announced, 'why do people kill things they aren't going to eat?'

Bloody good point. Once I have a couple of decent Dourado the rest go back over the side or, if they are hell bent on committing suicide, I move somewhere else. If anyone out there has a killer recipe for a fish that to me tastes like cotton wool soaked in mud, I would love to hear from you.

Good. Dominic looks pleased with himself

Dominic's haul though, was ideal. A decent variety. Just clean and fillet, braise in coconut milk, fresh coriander, lemon grass, a hint of hot peppers, a pinch of ground turmeric, coriander and cardamon, a thinly sliced tomato for garnish and serve over boiled rice. With good, fresh ingredients, simple stupid is always the best.

Dominic can not only catch fish, he can prepare and serve them beautifully. Good job too because pretty soon he and his lttle brother Alex are going to have a place like this:

Soon, Son. Very soon...