Wednesday 23 November 2011
It’s getting bloody hot again in Angola. I am actually perspiring. How distasteful.
John Gray over at Going Gently recently posted a link to a blog called The Idiot Gardener. I repeat it here because I have not enjoyed such a good laugh in ages. I read IG’s post on the difference between men and women and sniggered all the way through. Then I read his post about Lloyds TSB and had to stop. I have not had my stents put in yet so there was a distinct possibility I would die laughing and since I had not yet enjoyed my supper, this would have been a shame and probably annoyed Marcia who hates seeing food go to waste.
John, the St Francis of Assisi in Wales, also posted earlier about a house guest he was expecting who preceded his visit with an explicit set of instructions regarding the standards of hygiene expected, an email which commenced with, ‘the house had better be fucking clean when I get there’, and went on to list all the proscribed items he did not want to see such as dead rodents in the kitchen.
I can imagine that if you were the owner of a cottage in the Welsh countryside as well as a menagerie mostly housed in the garden but occasionally found on a sofa or under a kitchen table, it would be bloody hard to expect you to guarantee the absence of everything zoological right down to the tiniest beasty and this reminded me of my brother’s first visit to my house in Angola.
If the generally benign setting of John’s cottage can throw up a sometimes overwhelming variety of unwanted visitors, just think what the African bush can offer. Only the other day I was summoned by a frantic phone call from the young lady, my new neighbour, to find that the cause of her not inconsiderable angst (OK, dribbling hysteria) was a five foot snake wrapped comfortably around one of her veranda plant pots and gently hissing at anyone within range. Her six foot six, 220lb guard was also dribbling so I told him to go and change out of his uniform trousers and back into civvies and I would take it from there. I don’t know much about snake wrangling but I have seen enough Discovery Channel to know that trying to piss on a snake may not be a good idea for any number of reasons and I certainly was not going to suck out the poison. I rather fancy my neighbour so would rather see a man writhe in horrible agony than give her the wrong idea about the bloke she has just moved next door to.
One definition of Bravery could be, ‘The extraordinarily stupid things men have the capacity to do when suffused with Lust’, the definition of lust being, ‘a condition that makes men stupider than they normally are by diverting blood flow away from the brain’. Alcohol, of course, exacerbates both conditions.
This was a mean looking snake and I had no idea what it was. I thought I could recognise the vipers we get around here as well as the harmless African House Snakes and, more importantly, make the distinction but this was something else. It most definitely wasn’t a baby python or any other kind of constrictor. This was lean and mean and, scariest of all, didn’t seem inclined to slither off with the sudden attention it had aroused. All this went through my mind in a split second along with idle speculation of just how far it could fling its jaws from the plant pot.
I could, of course, have wimped out, gone back to my house and returned with my sword and slashed the bastard to death but that would hardly be the heroic, Steve Irwin like lasting image I wanted to leave the delightful Nela to ponder as she snuggled safely between her sheets later that evening. But, we mustn’t forget, Irwin was an expert and he still got killed, poor sod. Imagine if I ended up in heaven having arrived with a system overloaded with neurotoxins and had to spend the rest of eternity being followed around by a motor mouth telling me where I went wrong. Was the very slim chance of a shag worth such a risk?
So, with the definitions of bravery and lust, and one cause of their stimuli already explained, I grabbed the snake’s tail and gave it a tug.
For the first few seconds, this was a good thing as the snake appeared keener to hang on to the pot than sink its jaws into my groin, which would not have been the way I would have chosen as a test for any blossoming affection my neighbour may have held for me. A man’s last words should not be, ‘So you don’t love me after all?’
Now I know we have all seen Real Blokes, usually in shorts and stupidly battered bush hats, grabbing snakes by the tail and the Real Blokes waving them around while giving a spellbound audience a narrative of just how deadly the reptile is but I have decided that all those snakes must have spent the night in the fridge or be doped up on something because I have never, I mean never, seen anything on earth move as fast as this bastard did. All of us blink, even with eyes like bloody saucers and veins full of adrenalin we still have to blink. So I blinked and when my eyes opened again the snake was no longer around the pot, its jaws were planted firmly through the bottom of my trouser leg and into my boot. And it wasn’t as if it was just hanging on (I told you it was mean), it was actually gnawing away. Now I really understand the expression, ‘Madder than a sack full of cut snakes’. I was only hanging on to one, and then only by its tail but by heck was it angry.
Perhaps I have been a bit flippant in my references to the late, great and hugely entertaining Mr Irwin and perhaps he was more worried about spending eternity with me (my first two wives never managed a decade between them) than I was spending a similar amount of time listening to him calling me a pommie poufter because without thinking, I reached down and grabbed the snake behind its head and was able to unwind it and display it, jaws gaping and hissing horribly at a terrified audience.
And then I was stupid again. I let go of the tail, and the snake wrapped itself around my arm. I wasn’t bothered. Much as it evidently wanted to, it could not bite me and shit, I must have looked so cool. So cool in fact, that I decided I wanted to show Marcia, my soon to be wife, which is pretty shabby really when you consider that I hoped that Nela’s knickers were moist for reasons different to her guard’s and now mine. I actually took her parting comment, ‘Now that’s one crazy white man’ as a compliment.
So I trotted off back to my house and strode into the sitting room.
‘What the Fuck! Are you mad?’, exploded Marcia as fast as she grabbed Alex and leapt over the back of the sofa.
Now Angolans, which is surprising to me since they live amongst all these beasties, are scared of anything. Even the kids, as soon as they can walk, learn to stamp on or throw rocks at anything that moves so I was rather enjoying myself.
‘That’s a Surucucu’, she said. By then she had reached the other side of the dining room table with an equally wide eyed Alexander..
‘A Surucucu. It will kill you faster than we can reach the clinic’
The clinic is a recent addition to our neighbourhood established by a soon to retire Doctor who spent most of her professional life working for international oil companies so she is clearly competent and would know what to do. The salient point, though, is that her clinic is only two streets away. You could walk there faster than it would take to back the car out of the garden and drive round the block. So, the rather fetching bracelet wrapped around my arm, its reptilian blood warming up nicely as were, presumably, its reactions, came from the ‘Death in Sixty Seconds’ collection.
And that got me thinking. Reptiles can survive months between a feed. Clearly God blessed them with enormous reserves of patience and only God knows how long they can hold a grudge but most likely far longer than I could stay awake keeping my fist clenched around this one’s neck, especially considering that such a game of 'blink first and you lose' would be spent in the garden banished from the house as in Marcia’s eyes, a future husband with a Surucuco wrapped around his arm and an affinity for his new neighbour are justifiable grounds for instant expulsion. In other words, the snake was hardly likely to get bored, unwrap itself from my arm and slither off without exacting some form of terrible revenge on my exhausted and comatose form, whether that be a lethal bite or an equally terminal beating from Marcia. How the hell was I going to get it off my arm and preferably a mile away in less time than the sod could react?
A willing volunteer would have been a bit of assistance. Maybe someone who would grab the tail and help me unwind it but I think we can all imagine the scenario. I’m hanging onto the head, my brave saviour is hanging onto the tail and we are saying to each other, ‘So is it, one, two, three, throw? Or is it throw on three?’ Neither of us would want to be left hanging on to a single end of the beast and given my own reluctance to trust anyone nearby, I can hardly feel too hard done by when they, in turn, told me I was on my own with this one.
I suppose I could have asked someone to dig the garden shears out of my store and sever its head from its body but then I really would have been in for some shit when I inevitably ran into Mr Irwin, especially considering I have spent all my fatherhood teaching sons not to stamp on or stone things but to study them leading to a listing for Number One Son on the Natural History Museum of London’s website as the ONLY person to photograph an incredibly rare Phasmid, aged ten.
On the other side of my property to the delectable Nela’s, the land is undeveloped (and possibly the source of her unwelcome visitor) so even though I wasn’t entirely sure how I could persuade it to release its embrace, I knew where I at least, would prefer it to be.
I do not suppose that many of you have experienced such an unusual situation but I ask you to think about the simple physics. In your left hand, you have hold of the neck of a venomous snake the body of which is wrapped around your left arm. By reaching somewhere behind your neck you can, with your right hand, grab its tail. Unwinding it requires you to lower your left hand so that your right, clutching its tail, can pass over the left and so on with to me at least the unexpected, but to anyone of the meanest intelligence, the bleeding obvious consequence of putting a twist in the snake’s body. For a five foot snake, that’s quite a few twists to the spine and by the time I had the bugger unwrapped, it was as stiff as Moses’ staff.
Even pissed as rats, most of us are blessed with the coordination required to open both left and right hands simultaneously. This would be an action as simple as grasping a short length of garden hose by both ends, raising one’s arms over one’s head flipping the hose over one’s back as if preparing to skip, and then letting it fly. I was so scared though I actually sent mental test signals down each arm to my hands to check they weren’t paralysed with fright. I raised my arms over my head and felt the thump of the snake’s body on my back. Now I had the sudden image of me throwing my arms forward and letting go only to find the bracelet had become a necklace as the body of the snake hung up round my throat. I used to box, light middleweight, but was a tosser when it came to skipping and regularly used to tangle myself up in my own rope. While I stood there, arms outstretched, head bent forward, a snake dangling across my back considering my ineptitude, I must have looked like a Jesuit performing some bizarre penance.
‘I know’. I thought, ‘just as I throw it, I will duck my head down’
So I went for it.
When I came to my senses, I realised I was lying flat on my back on the poolside decking.
There was no sign of the snake but it did have its revenge. I had head butted the garden wall so hard I had knocked myself out.
Which brings me back to my brother, Micky.
He is a construction Engineer and works for a prestigious German company. As a result his standards are extremely high.
‘So this is the place you designed and built, is it?’
‘Yes, what do you think?’
I never knew it was possible to say ‘Hmn’ and sniff at the same time.
‘What’s that brown trail up the wall?’
‘Termites. Bastards are eating the place up and they make themselves little tunnels out of chewed dirt to get from one bit of the house to the next. Shit, with all the chemicals I use, HSE would condemn this place as a health hazard’
‘What the fuck was that noise?’
‘Oh that? That’s cats in the roof’
‘You have cats living in the roof?’
‘Feral cats, mean as fuck if you corner one. Even the dogs leave well alone but they do keep the mice down. I only wish they would go outside to piss. You see that dark patch on the ceiling above your head? I think that’s where they do their business 'cos it drips sometimes’
Micky moved from one armchair to another.
‘Are there lots of mice?’
‘Shitloads. Especially during the rainy season. You try sitting here late at night, they’re running over your feet and rattling the dishes in the rack. We use a kind of glued paper to catch them. You can hear them squeaking all night long as they struggle. I used to try and peel them off and throw them over the wall but now I just roll the paper up and beat it a couple of times with a rolling pin. That usually does the job. By the way, don’t be surprised if you open a draw and a gecko pops out. They crawl in there to catch the cockroaches’
‘Marcia has knocked you up a fish curry’, I continued since Micky was strangley mute, ‘you’ll love it. I’ll just get you a plate’
‘But there’s a clean plate here on the table’
‘That was the remains of Alex’s food, I think the dogs licked the plate clean. What do you want to drink?’
‘Anything that comes in a sealed can’
Monday 14 November 2011
I am now officially divorced from Dominic's mother. It only took eight years.
Before Balbina Maria Mendes Goncalves Gowans and I entered court (she breathtakingly elegant and composed, me still sweating and shocked to realise there was no glass in the window frames and that I had left the Nitrolingual at home, a couple of squirts of which I desperately needed), the clerk warned us that we would not be allowed to address each other directly, no doubt tired as they were of uncontrolled acrimonious outbursts between estranged partners, so we could only communicate with each other through the judge. Bearing in mind I had instinctively avoided all but the most essential contact with my wife for nearly a decade and that this is pretty much a male dominated society, I started to relax. Even if she had a finely honed Sabatier knife in her Hermes Birkin handbag, with such close supervision Bina was unlikely to get close enough to me to stick it through my worthless heart.
I tend to cross my legs like a girl, especially when I am nervous, so proceedings having barely started, were briefly halted again while the court clerk reminded me I had to sit to attention, crossed legs either being a sign of guilt, in which case he was doing me a favour by making me open my legs to show I had nothing worth hiding, or a sign of apparent disrespect in which case he was behaving like a typical officious git invested with the briefest moment of power leaving me suffused with the barely controlled impulse to hurl him through the glassless window to see if his Halloween black cloak would, like a swig of Red Bull, give him wings. The reason for my sudden discomfort was the awful realisation that the Judge was a woman.
This wasn't the first time I have been in court in Angola and I shan't bore you with all the details save to say that both times were scary.
The first time I faced ten years in an Angolan jail if convicted. Clearly I wasn’t found guilty as I am writing this although I suppose with good behaviour, I could have been out by now. This, the second time, I faced financial ruin so was unable to sleep the night before my scheduled appearance, succumbing instead to my well documented weakness for distilled grain and adding a hideous argument with Marcia to my woes. By the time I had covered the three hours into town early in the morning having left hollow eyed at some indecent hour after a sleepless night to make an eight o'clock appearance, jumped out of the car when stuck in immobile traffic two miles from my destination, accosted a young lad on a motorcycle begging him for assistance in extremis to help me cut through the congestion, then climbing ten floors to the family court with a heart ready to burst out of my chest and sweating like a Sowetan bricklayer knowing that the recent loss of email and telephone access due to the burglary meant I had unwittingly failed to respond to two summons and this was the third and final chance before inevitable incarceration for contempt, I wasn’t so much a lamb to slaughter as an old bull that, for pity’s sake, should be put down.
Had the Court's judgement been to throw me dehydrated out of the window saving me the effort of returning down those ten flights of stairs humiliated and ruined, I would have been grateful for the brief relief the sudden rush of cooling air would have provided as I descended by the express route.
After that I wouldn't have cared less. I do not think I would have had time to consider the effect of impact on the nice suit I was wearing, though that would have been a cause for some regret had I by some miracle remained conscious on the pavement below long enough to consider my threads and, after all, handmade shoes are handmade shoes. If there is an after life, I would have been pissed to see the Langa that tore them off the feet of the broken Branco that providence had dashed on the pavement in front of him (before the bewildered copper arrived to secure the remains of an ageing white bloke foolish enough to try and escape Angolan justice by jumping out of a tenth floor window) clomping around in them embittered because the finest English suede doesn't take a good shine.
Sitting there legs decently uncrossed in a sweaty suit that could now definitely benefit by pressing, even if only suddenly on a sun baked concrete slab by the weight of its occupant, surveying a judge who like her clerk was clad as if she had been interrupted half way through tricking or treating her way through an ungenerous neighbourhood and bore the sour expression to match, I was a tadge nervous.
By Angolan law, the judge is obliged to make one last attempt at reconciliation, even quoting the relevant parts of those laws.
Considering that I was there to divorce, it was hardly the moment to appraise the woman in black who would shortly decide if not my ultimate fate, then certainly how miserable a future I could expect on my way towards it but I couldn't help noticing that she was a remarkably fine looking lady. She must have been knocking on sixty but Naomi Campbell would pay a fortune for whatever skin cream she was using and if ever the Judge became tired of dispensing justice, she could earn a fortune dispensing dietary advice instead to ageing Hollywood starlets. This was one good looking girl and intelligent to boot. If only I had met her five minutes before meeting the estranged wife sitting so close to me.
The judge, having illuminated us with the relevant extracts of legislation, asked us if we were determined to proceed. Both of us responding simultaneously and so positively with unsurpassable conviction must have had some bearing on her decision to end this one as quickly as possible, after all, she had a waiting room full of similar cases to hear.
The issues of maintenance and access were quickly dealt with, Bina and I having agreed all this before hand and when it came to the division of spoils, I rather like my shirt so didn't feel too hard done by when I was allowed to keep it.
Recognising that Portuguese was only my third language and that Bina and I had shown little inclination thus far to rip each other’s eyes out, the rule precluding direct communication between Bina and I was steadily, if informally relaxed until Bina was acting as my interpreter. I even crossed my legs, but this time as a means to relax rather than out of discomfort or unwitting flagrant contempt.
So, the divorce was granted. Rather than the harrowing experience that, with my guts tied in knots in awful anticipation had left me sleepless the night before, it was one of the more pleasant of the frequent brushes I have had with the forces of law and order and, in this case, justice.
It may take a long time to get a case to court in Angola but once it is there, the amount of preparation that preceded the hearing is evident. The Judge was clearly familiar with every deposition and statement either Bina or I had made so knew all about our personal situation, the children involved (Bina had confessed to two more with her new boyfriend and I one with Marcia since our separation not forgetting, of course, our mutual offspring, Dominic).
In granting our petition for divorce, the Judge warned us that it was only provisional, a Decree Nisi, rather than Decree Absolute but that, if neither of us rescinded within the next ninety days, it would be final without further intervention and that after that date, we would be legally free to remarry.
While the court recorder battered out the ruling and printed it out so that we could sign, the Judge, now as relaxed as we all were, expressed her regret that she had never had children.
Now I have no idea from whence it came or why I said it. Bearing in mind even crossing my legs was a sin and I was so close to leaving the court to all intents and purposes a free and solvent man, I must have been mad or suffering from Coprolalia.
Addressing the Judge directly, I said, ‘Well, Madam, it appears that in only ninety days, I will be legally free to help you out there’.
The court recorder stopped typing. Bina’s jaw slopped open. The court clerk looked at me with the sort of vicious hatred that only triumph provokes knowing, as he did, it was me that was going to be flung through an open window and not him. All eyes swiveled inexorably towards the Judge.
Now even though my breakfast had consisted only of whisky and started around midnight the evening before, I suddenly realized that the spectre of a Langa in my shoes wasn’t so far fetched after all.
Her shoulders started to jerk. Then she sniggered, and then burst out laughing. She was far too elegant and refined to let a real belly ripping laugh go but her eyes were moist.
Turning to Bina, presumably in one last dutiful attempt to secure reconciliation she said, ‘How can you divorce such a nice man?’
To which Bina, now my ex wife dryly replied,
‘Try living with him’.
Saturday 12 November 2011
I evidently have Outlook Express installed on my computer. I didn’t install it, it must have come with one of these software bundles no sensible person wants and presumably why they are given away for free. I also have Microsoft Office Professional which was bloody expensive and use Outlook as my default email programme. Why then, every time I start my computer do I get a window pop up offering to speed up Outlook Express by compacting my messages when there are no messages to compact?
Sometimes, I do not want my computer to make all those binging and bonging noises familiar to the owner of every American made car (to remind their no doubt dozy owners that they are in a car to encourage them to please try and concentrate), so I disconnect my speakers and another window pops up to say, ‘You have just disconnected a device’. If I decide I will listen to a bit of music as I tap away, the family now bored with soaps and cartoons and all in bed so I can kill the TV and connect my speakers again, I get another pop up telling me that I have just connected a device.
Are Microsoft engineers so firmly convinced that all but themselves suffer from advanced Alzheimer’s? Maybe this boils down to intimidated Microsoft staff who, every time they open an office door are brusquely told by a startled geeky boss and his embarrassed secretary, ‘You just opened my door!’
Clearly, this is something foreign and undeniably American. We English know when we are in a vehicle. We can recognise an open car door because velocity provides an accompanying blast of, if we are in England, invariably cold and damp air that demands more attention the faster we drive and even the dimmest of us can recognise, through the rear view mirror, a back seat denuded first of our briefcase and then the son that gamely tried to catch it without the benefit of another bleeding binging noise and all of us, honestly, know when we have opened an office door or connected or disconnected a pair of bloody laptop speakers.
Japanese cars are the same.
I live in Angola, where American and Japanese cars and recently Chinese ones too, are the market leaders. They all bing and bong and yet no-one seems to mind. Why?
I stand out a bit in my neighbourhood. Not just because I am slightly eccentric, it is far more obvious than that. If someone wants to find my house they ask for the ‘Old White Guy’s Place’. I have a man who delivers fuel for the generator. He refers to perhaps his best client as the ‘Velhoto Branco’. I can hear him shouting across the Bairro, ‘No, I can’t stop now, I am delivering fuel to the old snowflake’. Even the kids call me Mr Whitey. I am not offended in the slightest. The fact that they precede ‘Snowflake’ or ‘Whitey’ with Senhor is a sign of respect and the casual enquirer will always get accurate directions to my humble abode if they describe me as I am, an old white guy, rather than try to be politically correct and then die a lonely death lost in the bush as a result of inaccurate directions
'Do you think he meant the old white guy?'
'Well, he didn't say so did he?'
'Yeah but you sent him out to the old race track, he'll die out there'
But I differ in one far more fundamental respect. I remain resolutely English, which is rather ironic for a man born and brought up in Germany.
Having a cheap plastic dashboard remind me that my seatbelt is not fastened, that the keys are still in the ignition, the lights are on or my dick is hanging out of my trousers is an affront. I once spent a day, a whole day, trawling through the wiring of a brand new company car, a Toyota Landcruiser, snipping every wire that led to a bonger or a beeper just so I could sit there with the door open, keys in the ignition and listen to the CD player without that incessant ‘Bing, Bing, Bing’.
Angolans don’t seem to be bothered, they just turn the stereo up to full volume whereas I, perhaps being English, find it all a desperate intrusion into my privacy, my right to decide for myself and an impertinent slur on my ability to drive a car.
As I said, I was brought up in Germany and when I went to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, I was in for a social shock. For a start, when an Englishman greets you with what to all intents and purposes sounds like a genuine enquiry as to your health and general wellbeing with a ‘How do you do?’, the natural response (assuming you are feeling pretty perky) is, ‘Fine, thank you’. Wrong. Amongst polite society in England, etiquette dictates you answer a question with a question, in this case, parrot like, repeating the question with another ‘how do you do’ delivered with much gravitas.
All well and good, I got the hang of that in no time. It was the next bit that seemed tricky for everyone, old hands and new boys (social climbers) alike. If it is considered bad form to march up to someone, anyone, shove your hand out and say, ‘Hi. My name is Tom’, how the hell do the English actually get to know one another? Clearly they do, and quite successfully as the Government is now considering ways to hold the population under 70 million a total which, for a tiny island, is admittedly rather a lot but they did not get into that situation relying on potential breeding pairs staring each other fixedly in the eye repeating, ‘How do you do’ (without the interrogative inflection because, as we have already established, it is not really a question) ad infinitum.
It is perfectly possible for a young, single chap, however keen to make friends, to go through a whole dinner party not having been introduced to anyone (etiquette precluding him introducing himself) and leave, exhausted, having discussed only the variable English weather with a succession of women he would dearly loved to have bedded amongst whom there was probably at least one who would have welcomed a decent bit of sex instead of meteorological speculation and the fruit of the host’s dubious wine cellar.
The English are sometimes appalled by the Americans. George Bush actually touched the Queen! Being English HRH had the good grace to appreciate that the man was merely demented, no doubt woeful that he wasn’t one of her subjects so she elected not to have him beheaded on the spot but then the English are like that, rightfully disdainful, yet simultaneously compassionate to those less able than themselves.
Magnanimous as we English are, it is still a shock to discover that foreigners can afford tickets on British Rail and also insist on conducting that most vile practice of testing their execrable English on anyone within earshot. Despite ruffling our Times newspapers and responding to impertinent attempts at interlocution merely with a ‘Hmmn’, we have to endure the life history of our temporary travelling companion all the way to Luton (no-one to my knowledge has, under such intolerable duress, made it further than Leicester before hanging themselves with their own tie).
The rest of the world calls our natural, well bred reticence arrogance but it isn’t. Just look at us in a social environment. The English display a degree of social ineptitude that educated foreigners find bewildering but this is due to our love of privacy and an inherent shyness.
For many it would seem that when a number of strangers gather together, an obvious ice breaker would be to ask, ‘What do you do for a living?’ But this would be to commit a faux pas guaranteed to exclude anyone from every future dinner party invitation. Far better, therefore, to discuss the weather. If the English are so reluctant to reveal their own occupation, imagine how they react to the American telling them over a plate of delightful Amuse-Bouche about his wife’s recent hysterectomy?
I keep banging on about the English, ignoring that the United Kingdom, a realm under one monarch, consists of not only the English, but also the Welsh, the Scots and a still occupied portion of Ireland, regions the populations of which still have a recognisably individual identity. But with typical sang froid, the English (some of whose proud families trace themselves all the way back to the Norman French) can easily dismiss the victims of their ancestors. The Welsh are generally all ex miners or sheep farmers who burn holiday cottages in their spare time (only those owned by the English foolish enough to buy the wrong side of the Long Mynd) and are all descended from Irishmen who could not swim. Scotland is a northern province of England inhabited by a population who refuse to wear knickers under their skirts (I am talking about the male population, if you want to find females of a similar inclination you should return south to the English county of Essex where, it is alleged, the only difference between the girls and shopping trolleys is that the trolleys have minds of their own. Get fresh with a Scottish lass on the other hand, and she’ll split your lip with an infamous Glasgow kiss). The Scots are only tolerated as part of the Union because they, irritatingly like the Welsh, occupy the same small island, albeit the rougher, less fertile extremes but unlike the Welsh, invented whisky and have a decent bit of oil and gas. The Welsh did give England the coal and more than a few men to fuel her territorial ambitions. We should not overlook that.
Even the Germans, and I know because I grew up there, can distinguish between the English and the Welsh, the Scottish and the Irish (with whom they have much sympathy) so those Northern and Western tribes can consider themselves excluded when I say that the Germans, not generally noted for a refined sense of humour and considered by the English at least, as even more stiff and arrogant call us Brits ‘Insel Affen’. Island Apes.
Now that’s bloody funny and a damn sight wittier and imaginative than our calling them ‘Square Heads’ and demonstrates that they too have the disdain, almost a contempt surpassing our own for all things foreign. Yes, I agree that Wogs begin at Calais but just compare a BMW, a Mercedes, a VW, Audi, Skoda, Rolls Royce, Bentley Aston Martin, even, dare I say it, the sublime French Citroen C6 with the equivalent English product and you might just start to appreciate whatever vague, meandering point I am trying to make.
Like any old man whose only intention was to stroll down to the corner shop and buy a paper but was then easily distracted by that rich soup of acquaintances and memories so spent his time discussing, as we English do, the weather instead (such dawdling being inconsequential if you had the foresight to bring an umbrella), I digress.
The point I am making is that one, clearly identifiable trait of Englishness is our reluctance to wear our hearts on our sleeves as well as a revulsion for personal disclosure. Combine this with an abhorrence for those being earnest rather than sincere and it is evident why Baptist preachers never made it big in England (we threw the last lot out on the Mayflower and banished the rest to Wales and Scotland leaving Ireland to the Pope) and we cannot make our minds up whether Presidential speeches are risible or an emetic.
Angolans are completely different.
Recently, a frustrated neighbour and wife stood in the middle of the street and speculated, at the top of her voice ,how a man with such a small dick and so useless in bed (evidently her husband) could possibly service the young lady down the road with any degree of satisfaction. Even I could see that she was bloody angry.
We all like to gossip and men do it as much as women, about two thirds of our conversation is gossip of one form or another but men and women do it in different ways. Especially in England.
Men will never admit they gossip but they do. They will stand there at the bar supping their pints and one will, in a dour voice say, ‘Old Jonesy has fucked himself’
Another will draw deeply at his beer and venture, ‘How so?’
‘His Missus caught him fucking the Au Pair’
Now notice the brevity of the conversation and the liberal dose of macho expletives yet it imparted everything one needed to know in a male bonding way. Let’s look at how the women handle it.
First of all, the girl about to impart the information must be breathless and excited and, according to English etiquette, her companions must respond accordingly, willing fish rising to the bait.
‘You’ll never guess what!’
‘What?’ All her audience with the ‘Please tell us, we are dying to know’ expression.
‘Sarah threw Alan out on the street!’
‘Oh my God! Why?’
‘She caught him bed with the Au Pair!!!’ (much intake of breath and patting of palpitating bosoms)
‘I told Sarah right at the beginning that the bitch was a slut’ etcetera.
Now fortunately for pub landlords, this is good for another hour or so of sophisticated social interaction and countless dry sherries but if a man pitches up, the conversation will stop dead.
In England, privacy is sacrosanct and by gossiping, we stray into the excitement that only being ever so slightly naughty provides. Between a man and his wife we may have a male, female gossipy interaction, but under no other circumstances can males and females gossip. To do so would mean breaking a rule of etiquette and the English, whether they know it or not, live by rules. The same ingrained rules I live by.
I was banging out a few emails on the laptop when a neighbour came by, looking pretty miserable. I said ‘Hello’ and then went back to my work leaving her to settle down in the lounge with Marcia.
I don’t, ever, listen to other people’s conversations but there were certain key words that pierced my consciousness. Like ‘Sex’. There were other words of the same ilk but you get the idea. I may not have turned my head from the keyboard but my ears had swivelled like a horse’s in the direction of the two chattering girls sat behind me.
You know that ‘Fight or Flight’ response that is ingrained in all of us? Well I was mentally pulling on my running shoes when Marcia suddenly turned to me stopping me in the starting blocks by saying, ‘What do you think?’
Bearing in mind I am now hard wired to only reluctantly hand over my name and restrict conversation to the weather with strangers, it was with some trepidation that I ventured a rather weak, ‘Think about what?’
‘Her husband!’ Marcia said with some irritation and then, recognising the usual blank incomprehension went on, in horribly graphic detail to explain that the husband of our poor dear neighbour had arranged a girlfriend as his wife, the forlorn figure now in our company, was useless in bed.
Now I am a bloke and I know that many will rise up in frothing indignation when I say this but even if a girl is comatose, she isn’t entirely useless in bed. Clearly there was more to this than I dared to know.
I knew this undoubtedly attractive lady on nodding terms. If I saw her on the street I would pay her a compliment and wish her ‘Good Day’ but now she was sitting in one of my armchairs with an unforgivable Earnest expression no less, asking me for advice on how to encourage her wayward husband back to her bed. I am supposed to be English. I am English so I am not supposed to be thinking, ‘Bugger yer husband, get yer kit off and let’s talk about the weather’, especially with Marcia within reach of the kitchen knives.
With two pairs of eyes staring at me (earnestly and possibly sincerely) this was no time for flippancy so my default reaction of, ‘Well let’s go and beat him up’, would have been, perhaps inappropriate.
Inspiration came from an unlikely source and confessing its origin means an admission that not only do I read the Daily Telegraph on line, I also read the Daily Mail. Coverage of the recent Victoria Secrets Lingerie show was far better in the Daily Mail and it was those images, transposed across the morose young lady now before me that gave me the answer.
I have been able to finish my emails and write all this while Marcia and our neighbour are out shopping for sexy lingerie. I did offer to go along with them so I could venture the impassionate but considered opinion of a man but it was Marcia, I noticed, who turned that offer down with alacrity. Maybe there is some English reserve in her after all.
Thursday 10 November 2011
A bit early I know but who knows when some bastard will nick my laptop again leaving me incomunicado?
OK,Bambi Basher, I know that the type of weapon used was unlikely to hold more than four rounds. I know that the hunter fired five rounds yet dropped six animals while ejecting only one spent case but, overlook the continuity errors and all of you accept my best wishes for the forthcoming festive season.
Wednesday 9 November 2011
Sunday 6 November 2011
I can't even remember what I wanted to write about. Oh yes, more a comment, really.
If Steve Williams at the annual caddy awards had merely said that he would like to stick his trophy up Tiger Wood's arse, a man who treated the caddy who helped him to 13 majors so abominably despite his own conduct being reprehensible, everyone would have laughed and hurriedly booked seats for the event.
Instead he said 'Black' arse and now even the new owner of the bag Williams carries, Adam Scott, recent beneficiary of his experienced new employee's undoubted skill, is under fire for accepting an apology rather than bowing to frothing media and sacking him. I guess he's got balls too. Not the kind you whack with clubs but the fleshier kind attached to a decent chunk of manliness and a brain to control them.
Please. Are our coloured cousins still really so desperately insecure that they cannot tell the difference between racism, something decent people abhor, and an accurate description of the proposed destination of a bit of bling?
Of course not. In the old days if someone pissed me off I could walk up the road, knock on his door and then smack him in the mouth when he opened it and, regardless of who evenutally beat the crap out of whom it was solved, usually over a pint and under the stern gaze of a landlord keen to ensure we didn't get up to any more mischief. Nowadays such minor spats cause the antagonists to either pull concealed knives or lawyers. Whatever happened to honest fisticuffs?
Tiger Woods appeared on TV stating that Williams' comments were 'regrettable', and that Williams had apologised. Woodie's interview would have been all the more convincing had it been filmed in the casualty department as his lip was being stitched up.
Personally, had I been Woods' missus, I would have used his own golf clubs to whip his arse, oblivious of its colour and, if I remember correctly and to her great credit she did. Given the number of concubines Woods entertained and in some cases cruelly treated with disdain, I think Mr Williams would have to join a lengthy queue to stuff something uncomfortable where the sun doesn't shine.
Since when did a frank, humorous and usefully descriptive confesssion of one's intentions become racism?
And besides, Williams is an Antipodean. They stick their tongues out at you before beating you half to death on a rugby field and call a spade a spade.
Mr Williams, a straight up bloke and a bloody good caddy. Not sure if he drinks whisky but I bet he doesn't drink Foster's...
Thursday 3 November 2011
Two days after her departure I was sitting in front of the TV. It was about ten at night and the doors to the veranda were open allowing a cool evening breeze to circulate around the lounge when I had to answer a call of nature.
Sadly, there are a lot of people who would recognise the symptoms of waking up frequently during the night, gagging with thirst and having to make frequent trips to the bathroom only for the issue to be disappointing. I am so jealous of young Dominic who can, in the course of an average day, consume pints of milk and litres of fruit juice and then hold it all in while sleeping the whole night through in the tender embrace of his guardian angel before releasing it all the following morning in one long and satisfying stream. When I have to go the urge is irresistible and one which, to avoid inevitable and crushing embarrassment, must be attended to immediately.
So I trotted off to the bathroom.
Unlike Dominic, whose bladder must be the size of a reservoir of sufficient capacity to serve a medium sized town, mine measures no more than the volume occupied by a peanut in space, so I wasn’t gone very long.
As I returned to the dimly lit lounge (we were running on town power, a voltage insufficient to elicit more than a weak glow from bulb filaments but just enough to keep the TV going) I saw a figure turning from my desk. Now all he had was four yards to cover to the open veranda doors while I had twelve yards from one end of the lounge to the other. Since the last robbery, I had a sword by my desk, clearly not an option now as Fagin was between it and me and I really hoped he wouldn’t notice the gleaming hilt so near to his grasp, and another by my bed which, if it came to sword play, was well out of the reach of this indignant homeowner. Despite my precautions it was happening again and instead of a keen blade with which to run the bastard through, I had my dick in my hand and believe me, that wouldn’t scare even a virgin. The brief moment I was rooted to the spot in mute astonishment was all he needed to nip out and with the agility of a gazelle, vault the garden wall leaving me seething at the intrusion and then frothing with incandescent rage when I realised he had nicked both my laptop and mobile phone. I had not only been humiliated, I was effectively incommunicado and before any Techie gleefully tries to instruct me on the value of ‘backing up’ let me remind him that I do so religiously once a week on Saturday nights so, by the most appalling coincidence, the thief struck while my back up drive was connected to the laptop and not locked safely away in the bottom drawer of my recently denuded desk so that had gone too. Angry? I was madder than a sack full of cut snakes and beat the dogs up and refused to feed them for not barking, the indolent bastards.
As the dogs gave up their vain attempt to scrabble frantically over a boundary wall so recently and elegantly scaled by an athletic bandit, instead skulking fearfully in the furthest and darkest corners of the garden, it occurred to me. Why hadn’t they barked their lungs out?
My house isn’t vast so the thief, no doubt lurking in the garden had, apart from the open windows, a calculated window of opportunity measured only in seconds and obviously knew exactly what he wanted and where it was. Clearly this was a local job.
Without lashing out on another computer and all the vastly more expensive software needed, I was effectively off line but I could at least exchange the dinner and beer money Marcia had left me for another mobile phone and chip.
The reason that Microsoft Outlook has an address book, and mobile phones allow us to store telephone numbers, is a recognition of the fact that the average person can just about remember a couple of pin numbers. I had no idea what Marcia’s number was, especially her temporary Congo number or any of those of my friends so even though I had a pristine mobile phone and was now uncommonly sober and dieting to boot, I would sit in splendid isolation until the first of the mildly interested pitched up to see why I had suddenly plunged off their radar screens. Since I did not owe anyone any money, I felt I could be in for a long and hungry wait.
Marcia had travelled to the laughably named ‘Democratic’ Republic of Congo. A vast country, bigger than the largest Australian state which, if you believe Beardy Bryson and any atlas you care to buy, are undeniably enormous but, unlike Australia (a generally placid country the greatest threats of which are natural if you exclude the occasional mutilated backpacker), Congo is plagued by murderous insurrection. Yet Congo hospitals are apparently staffed by French and Belgium trained doctors, paradoxically very experienced, who the Angolans at least, a contention supported by the considerable cross border traffic, consider superior to the Portuguese and Cuban trained Doctors we have here.
Dominic’s mother once told me the harrowing tale of her younger brother who, having fallen out of a tree and broken his arm, concealed his injury for three days, three days, lest Cuban doctors amputated it. Most people who come to Angola assume that the limbless hobbling at every intersection and roundabout were so afflicted as a result of landmines. Not at all. The majority were due to ordinary accidents, the sort that occur if you hang suicidally around busy intersections or roundabouts and duel with the unyielding 4x4’s of the rich in the hope of the few casually discarded pennies which may mean the difference between slow starvation and, well, slower starvation. Couple this with the fact that so many pouring into the city to escape the bush war hadn’t the slightest idea how to cross a busy road safely simply because they had never seen one before and it becomes obvious why there were ten times as many road accident victims as there were from landmines. It was the lack of reconstructive surgery skills and a belief that a swiftly wielded scalpel was a measure of clinical adeptness that left so many hobbling on crutches along with a coincident boom in the sale of bull bars for 4x4’s.
That last contention is desperately flippant and could be construed as cynicism. Let me put it this way. You are a hard pressed, under funded and badly equipped surgeon overwhelmed with casualties and before you lays an individual, a child with a crushed limb say, and you know that with the skills you possess followed by proper post operative care in clean and hygienic surroundings, both the little lad’s life and his leg could be saved. But those conditions do not exist and without them, the prognosis is a foregone conclusion, the wound will infect and the child will die. So you amputate the kid’s leg knowing that it’s his best chance but he will never bend it like Beckham or, if you follow that line, have the chance to even try. And it is even worse for the girls. Put your hand up if you would marry a ‘Mutilada’. Or even employ one. Be honest.
I was a bomb disposal officer and then went into humanitarian mine clearance so I am not suggesting that mine clearance is a waste of money, far from it. My lads worked in appalling conditions risking their lives every inch of the lanes they cleared but as much as I was convinced that such indiscriminate weapons should be banned and dragged out from the face of the Earth, I did wonder sometimes whether the funding would have been better dispersed merely marking off the danger areas and sinking the rest into recuperative healthcare and clean water. Free mosquito nets would have saved more lives than I ever did demining and, remembering the shattered remnants of colleagues I cradled in my arms waiting for the casevac flight, that is a sobering thought.
It really is a chicken and egg situation. If there were no landmines, there would be fewer injuries. Most people in Angola though, one of the most mine polluted countries in the world, suffer traumatic amputations through causes other than by mines. Those causes are, however, less emotive than images of Princess Diana clutching some poor child who, having attempted to collect the scraps of wood her mother would need to light a fire and cook a meagre evening meal lost not only her leg, but her future and self respect in one searing detonation. Long lists of road traffic accident statistics just cannot compete for international funding. So, as for so many poor doctors, what choice for the aid agencies competing for limited funds from donors motivated more by politics and emotion than common sense? Would that the world could grant licence to the venal, ambulance chasing lawyers to sue the manufacturers of such devices to compensate non combatants who suffer as a result of their products performing according to specification.
Pity really, because if the arms manufacturers had to pay for the treatment of and compensate every civilian, as opposed to congratulating themselves on the number of soldiers their products took out, dismissing the rest of the indiscriminate carnage as collateral damage, there would be a little more money available to treat the little kid dying of malaria or dysentery, or rebuild the leg of one run over by a 4x4 as well as a dramatic disinclination of major corporations to get into the currently highly lucrative killing business.
The border between Congo DRC and Angola is as efficient and well staffed as a first world country. I was going to say as slick as Heathrow or any US port of entry but that would give you entirely the wrong impression. This place is organised and populated by those who not only understand, but exhibit patience, respect and, in many cases, sympathy and on the Congo side are rewarded with a salary of just $30 per month for all their commendable effort. Exhausted, hollow eyed yet still dedicated Congolese doctors get a whole $50 a month. Bear that in mind next time you are stuck in a very long queue and one of them tries to sting you for a ‘fee’ to help you jump it. Personally, I have never seen the need for extraordinary payments having anticipated the crush, and I rather enjoy chatting to new acquaintances and allow myself the time to do so. For our collective amusement, there will always be at least one expatriate who loses it and rants and raves to be instantly selected for the more personal and hopefully intimate attention of the authorities. The immigration services at Miami International are famous for that.
It was this economic disparity that left me with Marcia a country away securing the most affordable medical attention for her cousin while I unwittingly provided some thieving shit a shop till you drop, all you can carry is free opportunity.
If the President of the United States or the Prime Minister of UK disappeared for more than five minutes or longer than it took to do something with a cigar and an intern, there would be a furore (if it were the Italian President, there would only be that respectful silence and uncomfortable wait as his loyal security services, ridiculous feathers in their bonnets, discreetly stuffed all the girls into their respective taxis as they stumbled one by one bleary eyed, exhausted and presumably enriched into the pre dawn light).
As a non entity, therefore, I was impressed when after only three days, a man appeared at my door and thrust a phone into my face on the other end of which was an agitated Marcia.
‘Don’t worry Honey’ she said, ‘The thief will bring the things back’.
There are lots of things I like about America. Vast protected natural reserves, hunting and shooting, the best sport fishing boats in the world, Remington rifles, breathtaking architecture, wonderful authors and, believe it or not, the friendliest policemen I have ever had the pleasure to hand over on the spot fines to but there are other things I hate. Like freezing cold and so very, very tired, having been tasked with driving a low boy from the panhandle down through Mexico and on to Belize with a D6 and ripper on the back and, pulling into a Texas Dairy Maid roadside café to be told, no, they don’t have fresh milk just dairy substitute (and we all know that Americans are expert at taking that wonderful natural product, coffee, and turning it into anaemic piss). You try standing there at six in the morning, the place full of ‘real’ truckers gorging on supersize plates of grits and corned beef hash swamped in eggs and beans, the bacon covered in sickly sweet maple syrup and hear some dolly bird dressed in a poncy uniform shouting out, ‘Hey, this guy wants to drink milk! I think he’s from England!’
No, darling, I am from Turkmenistan, bend over your hot plate and I’ll prove it.
What I really hate is the unquestionably American endearment, ‘Honey’.
I am not a sweetie. I am the sort of bloke who, if you accused of being violent, would smash your face in with a half brick or that very honest tool of an English thug, a length of 4x2 and I bear the scars of those times I tried and was painfully overwhelmed. Honey? Where the hell did Marcia dig that one up?
Now couple being called ‘Honey’ with the knowledge that while having a leak I let some dick head rob my house. My spit was running back at a rate too fast to swallow.
Marcia, recognising that there was no point wasting her Congolese telephone credit trying to quench the super heated steam from a boiling pot, assured me that within five days of her return, all our goods would be returned.
Bearing in mind that earlier in the year we had been robbed and Marcia, with the skills of a bloodhound and Sherlock Holmes combined had not only identified the thief but recovered the goods within two hours, I settled down to await her return.
On her advice I had not called the phone company to cancel the mobile but against her advice, after a week, I called my old number and it was answered. I hung up hurriedly knowing that my new number was not recorded on my old phone and, to be honest, I was scared shitless that Marcia would find out and beat me stupid. She may be tall and skinny but she is from Uige and has a vicious right hook and the only way I would be able to stop her beating me senseless would be to kill her but I am, after all, rather fond of her so if I have the opportunity to avoid a confrontation, I will snap it up even if that means joining the dogs in the darkest corners of the garden.
A week later, Marcia pitched up and was quickly in contact with the new owner of my old phone. In what to me initially seemed little more than an inconsequential exchange, Marcia determined that this person was deeply religious so went on to remind her listener that lying now would condemn her soul to an eternity of hellfire. Quickly absolving herself of her earthly sins, Marcia’s victim confessed that the phone had been left with her to charge by a neighbour and that she not only knew who this person was but where she lived.
Now in possession of the phone, Marcia urged her Centurions to whip her Legion into line and descended upon this new address, the resident of which capitulated immediately and (rather sensibly, I thought) freely revealed that the phone had been offered to her son by a fellow passenger during a Taxi ride from Benfica (where we live) to Samba. Armed with a description, Marcia wheeled her troops and in good order advanced from Samba to Benfica and descended on the taxi rank, not three hundred yards from our house.
Angolan taxi drivers are a tough breed. Their existence is miserable. Long hours and an income dependant on the reliability of aged Toyota Corollas imported from Belgium. An English copper foolish enough to pull a warrant card and try and intimidate them in the course of his enquiries would be murdered on the spot yet within five minutes, Marcia had a description that more or less matched two known bandits in our neighbourhood.
Exhausted and so close to home, I staggered back. It had been three weeks since the laptop was lifted. By now it had been sold on Roque Santeiro Market and its disgusted new owner would have realised that the battery was crap and it would only work with the adapter still by the side of my desk. My family photos and everything else dear to me were by now probably in the bottom of a bin. Marcia had recovered the phone, which was a commendable effort, but the laptop surely was history. What I needed now was a cold beer and a cigarette.
I had no sooner slumped down into my chair when the door burst open and Marcia, accompanied by a posse, marched in two forlorn looking guys.
OK the mob, their contorted features vaguely recognisable as my neighbours, weren’t brandishing flaming brands and pitchforks but they looked pretty mean nevertheless. I thought the two lads they had in tow were going to spew on my carpet at any moment.
‘Which one was it?’, Marcia demanded as the crowd edged forward ready to slaughter either or both of the two sweating youths while their mothers wailed in the background. Brutal retribution was now my gift.
Of all the youths in the neighbourhood that matched the description I had given Marcia on the basis of the briefest glimpse in poor lighting conditions subsequently reinforced by the taxi driver, these two, I have to admit, were a pretty good match. All I had to do was point to one of them and I would have the right to beat the crap out of him, to vent my rage, to wreak my vengeance.
‘Which one?’ demanded Marcia.
I looked at her helplessly, aware that all the neighbours were looking at me as well. I am not into this. It’s only a fucking laptop. If I had caught the bastard fair and square, maybe with a sword in my hand, I’d have cut him to ribbons but don’t ask me now, after the event, when I can’t be sure, to condemn either of these sweating lads to a beating.
‘I’m not sure, Marcia’
‘What do you mean, you are not sure? It is one of these boys!’
‘You are probably right, Marcia, but I cannot say which one’
Clearly, the crowd thought I was a wimp as I did too I suppose. I would dearly have loved to thrash the bastard that nicked my laptop, the one who had the audacity to watch me through my lounge windows and than dart in when I nipped off for a piss. One of them was guilty, of that I had no doubt so I suppose thrashing them both would mean the guilty bastard got his due and the innocent one would learn the salutary lesson of growing up looking like the local thief and then compounding the error by hanging around with him.
I am not shy of throwing a fist when I have to and sometimes I come off worst but I have never punched a man that could not defend himself much less one whose guilt was in doubt. Both of them were strapping lads and in a fair fight I would have been hard pressed but I wasn’t going to see either of them kicked half to death in a most unfair contest. No matter how much, deep down, I thought they probably deserved it.
I turned to the lads and asked them straight out, ‘Which of you two stole my computer?’
Both of them avoided my gaze and said nothing. They were guilty as fucking hell but I had only seen one that night and could not now, in all honesty, identify him.
Recognising that I wasn’t going to play ball, Marcia took over.
Rolling her eyes back into her head she announced that unless the laptop was returned, the thief’s eyeballs would explode in his head. Furthermore, and as bizarre to me as it was to her slack jawed audience, she went on to intone, back arched, arms splayed, unseeing eyes peircing the ceiling and on to wherever her particular Gods resided, that on the laptop was lots of music and this would play incessantly in the stomach of the thief so denying him sustenance and rest. My lounge cleared faster than a formula one grid.
The next day we opened the veranda windows to discover the laptop placed neatly by the door.
It was exactly five days since Marcia’s return.