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


  1. Nice one Tom:) as always your're entertaining the masses haha, not surprising. Besides practice for the restaurant it'll get you ready for us...less than one month to go - excited yet?:) By the way the cheeky reply to Mercedes in the BMW add was actually: " the bens" as in 'beats the bends'... See ya;)

  2. Ah yes, you guys are coming. Just enough time to buy a Mercedes...

  3. you are a calmer man than me gunga din!

    the older I get, the less I can cope with housefulls of people, noise and politeness!
    well done!

  4. Calm, John?

    You should have seen me last night. I left footprints across the ceiling.

    I'm sleeping on the sofa again, by the way, and not even a dog for company.

  5. Our generator has just had its house built and should be operational soon. We are in a complex of four and ours is the only generator so we might end up in your boat. However, it's not too bad in Malawi... rarely longer than 3 hours, usually only once a day but as often as not 6p.m. I think Malawians eat after nine and that is why. My solution has been double dinners - the dinner you get with power and the dinner you get without power.

  6. Roslyn, I hope it is the power cuts that are three hours long and not the soaps...

  7. I don't watch soaps. Well, I probably watch one Australian one but it's too good to be a real soap! Packed to the Rafters and it is only an hour.
    By the way, if you have a postal address I can send the other astrology info from Oz when I am back.

  8. excellent post. man that is one beautiful car.

  9. You are obviously a man of good taste. It is an example of the E9 series and is a 3.0Cs/Csi produced between 1971-75. Arguably the most beautiful 4 seat coupe ever produced, at the very least timeless in its elegance.

    And BMW can still sell you all the parts...

  10. That pillar-less coupe is .. ahh almost perfect. From the days when beemer almost carved the cars from blocks of solid steel. Tsk look how old you've made me feel.
    Keep well

  11. In that case, Chris, I had better sober up and read it.

  12. tom
    no posts for a while!!!!
    dont be drying up on us!!!!

  13. Sorry John,

    My brother visited me from Germany so the family and I have been enjoying his company. He has now left so I will have some time to post.


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