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.