Monday 30 January 2012

Not For The Faint Hearted

John Gray, over on Going Gently is about to send two pigs he raised to slaughter.

I know that a lot of the blogs I follow, and the readers who follow mine, are very keen on shooting and fishing. I know I am, and I have already taught my oldest son, Dominic, to handle a weapon safely.

To me, just as there is to most ‘honest’ hunters, there is a bloody huge difference between shooting for the pot an animal that you have had to find and track yourself, and trophy hunting. It is a huge generalisation but I am sure that guys like SBW, Bashing Bambi and Rasch would agree with me that the average ‘Trophy Hunter’ nowadays is usually some fat sod with too much money, willing to spend a fortune on visiting a game ranch and, with the help of local guides, be led to the exact spot where a half tame animal can easily be shot.

Equally though, I am sure that SBW, Bambi Basher and Rasch would agree that a lot of endangered species would be extinct were it not for the fact that some people ARE willing to shoot them, have them mounted to hang over their Californian or Texan fireplaces and spin story after story to no doubt enthralled guests. It is the fact the business, and it is a business, is worth so much money that makes it economically viable for individuals, at great expense, to enclose vast tracts of natural habitat, providing their stocked game with a natural existence and support the mainly human resources required to keep out the poachers preventing the total collapse of breeding groups that would inevitably result if the stock were left, unprotected, to their own devices.

It is all very well saying we should ban hunting, especially trophy hunting and leave all the animals alone on a reserve but it never works in practice and there is plenty of evidence to support this contention. Angola has nearly a dozen reserves and you’d be hard pressed to see anything moving on them. There are similar stories from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda although these countries are the best at managing their wildlife resources in Africa along with South Africa. Most African governments haven’t even the wit to provide essential services and stop their leaders dipping their very sticky fingers into the collective till, preferring instead to preside over civil wars and shocking infant mortality and whip up support by suggesting that the well managed reserves and productive farmland they inherited should, merely because the hard working family that turned bush to employment and income for many, should be parcelled up and returned to the masses since the owners are white. Just look at the results of Mugabe’s social land redistribution policy on the economy and living standards of Zimbabwe and the devastating effect it has had on the country’s natural environment and its indigenous wildlife.

Other countries realised the necessity for managed wildlife. The United States, Canada, UK, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia just to name a few famous shooting destinations, all have managed habitats, strict rules and personnel who manage the environment and its wildlife stock. Like any farmer, they know how many animals can be supported per acre, or in the case of wildlife habitats, per square kilometre so with little or no natural predation, stock levels could increase to the point where the whole breeding group collapses, dying of starvation. This is why it is necessary to cull. If more Lebensraum is not an option, then excess stock needs to be removed. South Africa exports many animals lost to other African countries, Angola even imported Elephants from there. Sometimes, though, there are no takers so affording the opportunity to an individual willing to pay good money, thereby financing the continuance of the whole operation and especially the specie involved, seems to me like an equable and reasonable solution.

It is an unassailable argument for managed wildlife sanctuaries and, rather than rattling collection tins outside supermarkets begging for donations or asking the taxpayer to foot the bill, the need to cull can be profitably achieved by allowing paying clients to do the job. Beardy Bill Oddie would be horrified but, without a hunter willing to pay, there would be a lot less wildlife and our walks in the park or our game drives would be a lot less interesting. Stroll through the Black Forest in Germany and you will see several types of deer, whole herds of them led by magnificent stags, wild boar, all sorts of game birds. I have lived in Angola for nearly twenty years and have never seen a giraffe, a lion, a leopard or an elephant in this country although I did in South Africa and Uganda, on managed reserves. My sons were born in Africa and they have never seen any at all, not even in captivity. Mind you, I can go to the local artisan market and buy a leopard skin so there must be some wildlife still hanging in there by the skin of their teeth.

So, although I would not pay money to shoot anything I could not subsequently eat, I would pay to go and shoot a wild boar, or a deer. I would recognise that the money I pay is helping to keep the enterprise alive, along with, paradoxically, all its viable breeding stock. For those shipping home the heads of the African ‘Big Five’ they paid to shoot, they should be issued a certificate informing the outraged that by paying a frankly outrageous amount to shoot these five animals, the man with their preserved heads on the wall has ensured the survival of hundreds more.

As usual, I appear to be rambling but I have just made a distinction between hunting for the pot and trophy hunting. By exploring that distinction, however, I realise that if anything, the man who goes out on his own and blows away a bit of genuine wildlife, even if it is destined for the pot so getting his food for free, is perhaps behaving less ethically than the man who is willing to pay to shoot whatever he wants knowing the stocks are managed and sustainable.

When it comes to the management of its own resources, be they animal or mineral, Angola is a basket case and a lot of other countries around the world are no better. I have just realised, as I type, I have just talked myself in a circle and into the realisation that there is no difference between shooting for the pot and trophy hunting and that anything else is merely poaching, the theft of a natural resource, be it the property of the nation as a whole, the food supply for a dependant community, or from his Lordship’s managed estate.

On the now rare occasions I get to go shooting, the first thing I do is go and see the traditional leader, the Soba, of the area across which I would like to shoot. Just as man cannot live by bread alone, they realise that they cannot live by meat alone either so I bring them sacks of meal flour, pulses, pasta and cooking oil. The currency may take a different form and my quarry only one I can cook and eat but how can I be distinguished from the trophy hunter? Both have us have paid for the opportunity. The Soba soon realises that by managing, by protecting his stock of wildlife, he has a resource. Instead of allowing his men to kill everything in sight before they are forced to move on and find new hunting grounds, he now knows that within his gift is a commodity that some people will pay to access. By hunting, therefore, we not only provide the catalyst to protect a wildlife resource, we are also providing stability to the population dependant on that same resource, be they the residents of a local village or the landowner who gives up the fruitless production of hopelessly under priced crops and instead turns his land over to the preservation of wildlife, a natural habitat both rewarding his considerable number of staff and providing him the motivation to carry on.

Hunting is eco farming.

John, who is a bit of a virgin when it comes to raising animals, with which anyone who husbands any of God’s creatures will form a natural bond, is understandably nervous now that the whole point of the exercise is upon him. Tomorrow he takes his two pigs to slaughter.

Those who read John’s blog will realise that he is a very sensitive and caring man. And I would agree. He is sensitive, a quality to be admired especially in men. And he is also a Man. He is going to go the whole hog with his pigs and, as far as regulations allow, accompany them on their final trip. Now that takes a lot of courage because, unless you were a cold, heartless and sadistic bastard since birth, I defy any of my hunter readers to confess that they felt no remorse after their first kill and even now feel something for the animal lying dead at their feet. It’s a kind of respect. It may seem incomprehensible, bizarre to some, even gruesome to others but after a kill, I always stroke the animal and mentally apologise that mine was the part in the great scheme of things that ended its life. Then I gut it and eat it.

That animals must die so that higher orders in the food chain can live has not escaped John. That some of us do it ourselves, especially as sport horrifies others. For those no matter how committed to the welfare of their animals while under their care, the first time they are instrumental in the death of the fruits of their labour can only be disturbing. John will remember the last meal his pigs ever ate long after they do. He is making every effort to ensure his pigs are transported as stress free as possible to the place they will, under the carefully formulated animal welfare regulations extant in UK, be stunned by an electric charge, have a sling slipped over a hind leg and be hoisted, twitching above the floor and have their throats cut so that they bleed out into a bucket. Since this is processed killing, they may have to stand in a queue. I am unsure of the basic mathematical comprehension of a normal pig but when the pig at the front, in piggy language squeals ‘God, that hurt’, I am sure the rest are thinking, ‘Christ, three more to go and that’s me’.

John is doing it as kindly as he possibly can. Wouldn’t it have been better all round, though, if he was licensed for a decent pistol, could encourage his piggies stress free into a familiar pen and then while their snouts were buried in a handful of feed, shoot them between the eyes or, better still, in the very back of the neck to destroy the cerebral cortex? From experience, at the safe end of the weapon I freely confess, there is nothing more unexpected and, under the circumstances humane, save perhaps the old buck having enjoyed his life so far in completely natural surroundings, the only thought in his head the choice of dams at his disposal when suddenly, a 30 odd Six core locked soft point takes his heart out. Given the choice between standing in a queue, weeing with fright before being plugged into the mains or being dropped in the bush with a hard on, I know which way I would prefer to go.

I have a few odd pieces of land. Other than over growing with weeds, they weren’t doing much so I thought, why not buy a baby bull, a Bobby Calf, one off the teat that we could fatten up? By the terminology I have just used, the experienced will realise I hadn’t a clue.

He was walked to my house, trying to graze on bits and pieces here and there but since the guy beating him along with a stick was paid by the job, not the hour, the poor little Boi, (pronounced Boyo, not a Welshman, this is what they call cattle here) was pretty bloody thirsty and hungry when he got here and looked so sweet so I emptied all the milk I had in the fridge, heated it up to blood temperature in a sodding great big pan and gave to him.

In the morning, I woke up to find he had guzzled the milk and eaten everything green in my garden. I ran round the garden cursing like hell studying every brown bit of dirt now bereft of anything green with a manic intensity and he just stood there in the middle of the yard, head down but not so far that he could not fix me with his brown eyes. I gave him a bucket of water and he dropped a real good country pancake on my yard.

I’ll tell you, herding soldiers is a damn sight easier than encouraging a calf along. Soldiers will do as they are bloody well told but a calf? He’ll stand there all day sucking your fingers but try and get him to move in anything close to the right direction and you’re stuffed. And don’t, whatever you do, try and push them from behind. I don’t know how many stomachs bovines have but evidently there is some invariably explosive relief afforded by pressure on their buttocks, and all those extra stomachs make the result pretty spectacular to the casual observer.

I was pretty miserable by the time I got him to the overgrown hectare that would be his new paddock.

I returned home knackered, with clothes and flesh the same colour as healthy countryside and shins scuffed to buggery. This bastard didn’t only dump on me, he raked me with his cloven hooves. I had carried enough water, much to the amusement of indolent female neighbours (only women carry water here and rather more efficiently I might add) and filled the half oil drum which I had scrupulously cleaned to provide a trough so he was OK for the night he would settle in to his new surroundings and the night I would need to recover. I poured a stiff scotch and dug out Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Meat Book and decided how I would cook him in a few month’s time.

Well, he was a big hit with the neighbourhood kids. They just loved him. They would play football with him, or at least have a kick around in his yard and he would chase after the ball and if some kid did not swipe it away from under his nose he would sniff at it and push the ball around with his front feet or have an experimental chew. The dogs would follow the kids over the wall into his yard and join in by trying to worry him but he would just put his head down and sucker them before kicking them over the horizon. He never wanted for water or feed. The kids saw to that. In those days most of this neighbourhood was unbuilt plots so the kids would mow all the abandoned lawns and every day he received more than enough hay.

Another neighbour, he had many Boyos, dropped around one morning and said Boyos need nuts as well as well as hay and water. Nuts? I definitely had no nut trees on my property but I had also been on this guy’s property, a man of many Boyos, and I knew for a fact he hadn’t got any bloody nut trees either. These guys love to take the piss out of a foreigner so I have to be careful.

That afternoon he delivered a bag of what to me looked more like squirrel pooh than nuts but he assured me that I should mix this in with the feed once a day.

I did a mental calculation. Cost of feed versus anticipated pounds of steak and how much each plateful would end up costing me. Apparently, if I used this stuff, in no time I would have one mother of a beefcake. Ta, I said, and handed over the cash giving the bag to my juvenile hay collectors and telling them to mix an empty powdered milk tin full of squirrel pooh in with the hay once a day. They dumped the whole bag in the middle of the field. Then it rained and $200 of pellet mound stopped looking like squirrel pooh. Now it looked like the pancakes he was dumping at regular intervals so I am not surprised he ignored all the concentrated nutrition that, had he tucked into, would have turned him into the Mike Tyson of bulls.

Another sack of pooh nuts later, I was feeding him these high protein pellets by hand and he grew. I tried to train him as an explosives sniffer dog (since the heart attack I have been pretty bored) and when it came to pooh, you couldn’t fool him although I am convinced he cheated because every time I turned round while I was trying to bury this stuff he was leaning over me trying to nibble my hat. Even if I tied him to the gate and only let him loose once I had buried the pooh over the far side he would gambol over once I set him loose and snuffle up the stuff. The only explosives I had to hand were bullets. He was rubbish at that.

But he grew up and the time came to turn him from a rather ungainly pet into recognisable chunks of meat, the sort you buy in Sainsbury’s or Morrison’s if you are up north.

I deliberately had not given him a name. There was no point giving him a number or an ear tag, he was only one. He was the only football playing failed explosive sniffing dog bull in the neighbourhood.

‘I’m not going to kill him’, said Marcia.

I hadn’t even taken the pistol out of the drawer, there was no way I could shoot him.

‘Marcia, isn’t there anywhere else where they do this properly?’

‘Oh, sure’, she said, ‘just down the road’.

The driver went with me and we drove the beast the three kilometres to the abattoir. When I say, driver and drove, don’t get the wrong idea. You try pushing a bull into the back of a truck. We walked. We drove this bull in the same manner as recorded by Constable in his paintings.

When you get there, they are pretty quick. I was a bit shocked when I saw the abattoir.

They led him in, very gently and tied him to a post. I know it was a bit insensitive, sick really, but I got the camera out. It was too late to back out now, I had already called Marcia to let her know we had arrived and told her to come with the truck to pick up the remains.

I didn’t know at the time but since it was a slow day, they were going to give an apprentice a bit of experience. On my bull. Apparently the technique is to stab the animal through the back of the neck, severing the spinal chord and this pretty much does for them.

He fucked it up. My bull flinched and looked over to me briefly and then hung its head down breathing heavily . I swallowed a big lump and screamed at the bastards to stop arguing whose fault it was and get on with it. So they pulled my bull in close to a post and the expert took over, lining up well…

And my bull was down.

Goats just get their throats cut.

Then the expert butchers take over.

Since then, I do it myself and, believe me, they don’t see it coming or feel a thing and to this day I always stroke them and, for what it is worth, say sorry.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Leaving Blues

Akwá, a diminutive of what a waste of rations

I don’t mind. Really I don’t. If I tell myself enough times then maybe I will believe it and avoid spending the rest of my life in an Angolan prison having been convicted of mass murder. Maybe, if I squeeze my eyes shut really tight and click my heels I will wake up in an intensive care unit in Europe with all of me well and truly smashed up being fed via a tube up my nose and realise that the last twenty years have been but a bad dream.

Given the horror stories we see on the various news channels, the poverty, the deprivation, the corruption that is Africa you might be surprised when I attest that this is the ultimate disposable society.

We are well into the Africa Cup of Nations. Just pause and think about that for a second. What we are talking about is a bunch of African national teams (eleven guys per team all playing as individuals in the hope they will one day play for Chelsea so, as teams they are rubbish) competing for the title of best team in Africa. So why isn’t the competition called the Cup of African Nations?

I detest soccer. I used to be a good schoolboy player and really enjoyed a good kick around but those were the days of Nobby Stiles when you barged on the ball, tackled hard and if your legs were chopped out from under you, you got to your feet and unless you had suffered a compound fracture AND it was pissing blood, you carried on playing. We wore shin guards for a reason. Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer played half a match in the 1970 World Cup semi final classic against Italy with a broken collar bone. Yes, Beckenbauer had a fracture but there was no blood so he soldiered on. Nowadays it is a pissy game for pissy girly prima donnas out for an Oscar, whistle happy referees and followed by the same sort of moron that believes professional wrestling is a sport.

As an aside, and just to assure the reader that I really was very keen on soccer, 26 years after what was described as the Game of the Century between Italy and Germany at the Aztec Stadium in Mexico City, I took a team there to play in the Cup of American Nations, representing Belize, and we opened the tournament against Columbia and scored the first goal. Columbia did recover and banged half a dozen into the back of our net but still, I join a relatively small group of player/manager/trainers (we were short staffed) who can claim to have scared, however briefly, the shit out of a team like Columbia. Although we lost all three of our opening group matches, we managed to score in every game against world class teams. Which isn’t bad, considering our team consisted of cooks, bottle washers and mechanics and we were blown away by both the altitude and the evening delights of Mexico City’s Zona Rosa.

I suppose I still love the game. After all these years I still remember the very first goal I ever scored. Bugger bending it like Beckham, I had the ball in the back of the net from a corner kick and I was a damn sight better at taking penalties. Now, the beautiful game is painful to watch. I was in Uganda moving an oil rig during the 2006 world cup and drove miles to the only tourist lodge on the shores of Lake Albert with satellite TV so that I could watch the Angola matches. Agony. Like many African teams, certain players are selected because they have connections. The poor trainer or manager is told who he will field. Angola lost their opening match, a blood match with their old colonial masters, Portugal. Only one nil but still a loss. Portugal is not a sniffy team but the maddening thing was Angola could have had them. The problem was their star striker, Akwá. He was going to win the World Cup single handed. If he didn’t get the ball, he refused to play. If he got it, he refused to pass, preferring a hopeless shot on goal or diving instead. I admire the balls of the manager who dropped him after that game. Angola drew the next two matches proving they had the talent but it wasn’t enough.

Our bairro, or neighbourhood, has had no town power for three weeks. All my neighbours have bought generators but apparently they are all bust. My generator has been running for nearly five years. Yes it is a bit wheezy and I bet it isn’t delivering the power on the label anymore but it still runs and it has clean oil and new filters. These bastards will buy a gennie and then keep stuffing fuel into it and running it until, with a choked up radiator and oil the consistency of water it seizes with an almighty bang leaving them in complete darkness. Then they will get a likely lad who will strip it, try and repair it before finally declaring it dead.

So now that the African cup of Nations is on, guess where they all pitch up? No problems. I can read a book, or type on the old laptop but it is hard to ignore a football match and that’s when I go crazy.

That wasn’t a foul.

You’re telling me that was a foul?

The bastard dived

Look, there’s the replay. Where was the contact?

Why is he being stretchered off?

Effing poufters.


Cross it!

For Feck’s sake! CROSS IT!

Oh fer God’s sake, what a wanker.

I can assure you, this sort of running commentary does not go down well here. There has been a bit of scandal in UK about racism in football recently. I can confirm that even if it is my house, my TV and my fridge full of cold beer and Coca-cola, all powered by a generator I maintained, with a house full of uninvited Angolans you do not say that African football is shit because all black players are mincing diving tarts and Vinnie Jones, who just happens to be white, holds the record for opening whistle to red card and would kick the shit out of the lot of them.

Being forced to watch football with a bunch of tossers though, is not the real needle.

Every plug socket in my house has a charging phone attached to it. I appreciate that a charged mobile phone is fundamental to existence now. They are the elixir of life, God’s breath into parched lungs and salvation in an emergency so I do not begrudge my neighbours the opportunity of squeezing a bit of life into them. But if they are going to leave them under my charge, so to speak, why can’t they switch the bastard things off?

At first, I ignored them but in Angola the mobile phone norm is that if the call is unanswered, just keep hitting the redial button. Irony is wasted on your average Angolan, undoubtedly something being lost in translation so instead of answering the phones, I switched them off. This got me into hot water as there was no record of missed calls. I am now an expert on Nokia, Samsung and any other make of phone. I can quickly change them over to silent mode and back again when the owner comes to collect it and I have discovered that redial tenacity can be curbed by answering, ‘Ministerio do Interior, Investigação Criminal’ (Ministry of Interior, Criminal Investigation). No one, no matter how desperate for social interaction wants to get involved with those guys.

The neighbours know I have sold the house and will be moving shortly.

‘How soon will you be moving out’ said the neighbour comfortably ensconced on my sofa with an ice cold beer of mine, not even looking at me while he watched Mali get thrashed by Ghana.

‘Not for another week’, I said.

‘Great, we’ll catch the final’.

I am so looking forward to getting out of here.

Friday 27 January 2012

Child Psychology

Regular readers of my blog, and I gratefully acknowledge you gallant few who wade through the ‘Long Form’ as SBW calls it (I haven’t a clue what he means and can’t be bothered to look it up assuming it means nothing more than rambling and long winded), will know that I am an avid follower of a blog penned by a Nurse hailing from Sheffield and now living with his partner Chris in Wales on a small holding that, according to John (for that is his name) and much to the irritation of my half brother, Vladimir from Kyyiv, looks like a Ukranian village.

John’s blog has all the ingredients of a soap opera, a Welsh one. Some may call it banal, who wants to read about the day to day activity of a Welsh crofter? But believe me, just like any soap, once you are drawn in you are hooked. John is a sucker for a sob story, especially if it involves animals. Not a week goes by without him adding to his menagerie. God knows how his partner, Chris, copes and when John recently displayed the human fallibility we all have by allowing a sink to overflow and flooding the house I could only imagine Chris’ reaction when he was issued a set of flippers, mask and snorkel in order to swim into the kitchen and fix his breakfast (presumably Sushi, the only necessary ingredient of which he shot under the floating kitchen table with the spear gun the ever considerate John provided him). And we have all read about how careful John is with anything valuable, such as antique furniture.

As I said, John is a nurse by vocation. And nursing is a vocation. If it were considered a profession or even just a trade, nurses would enjoy a decent salary and the respect they deserve. John is basically one of those really nice guys the rest of society use as foundations for their own existence. If anything goes wrong, there will always be a John. Won’t there?

I will be the first to admit that while I read every single comment on my blog carefully and with consideration, and have never deleted a critical comment, I do sometimes skim read the comments posted to the blogs I follow. However cursorily, though, I do take the time to read them as often, they can be the best part of the blog post even if they drift way off topic. Imagine how boring the dinner party if you, as guests, were only allowed to discuss the one topic your host had presented?

I was scrolling through the comments on one of John’s posts when I came across one from a Nick. Nick was complaining that John had posted a comment on his blog that had caused controversy and that John should hurry over and clarify what he meant.

John? Our John? Controversy? John causing controversy would be about as likely as the singing nun doing a striptease on Oprah. So I had to click the link to Nick’s blog and see what all the fuss was about. Nick’s blog is easy to read and entertaining. Some of the posts are frankly brilliant but I do live in Angola so anything even half well written is likely to be entertaining in comparison to state controlled media. And this is what I like about the blogosphere. I can’t remember how I first stumbled across the blog of a Welsh St Francis of Assisi (John) but undoubtedly it was through a link on someone else’s blog, and I discovered Nick’s blog the same way, through John’s.

Nick’s post detailed the trauma of a mother accused twenty five years ago of killing one of her sons. Her husband left her taking with him with her one remaining son and she was ostracised by her community. After a quarter of a century and a life of abject misery, she has finally been cleared of wrongdoing.

John’s comment suggested that the death penalty would have helped in this case.

Evidently, the concept of irony, so fundamental to English Sangue Froid and humour escaped many of Nick’s readers as some of the subsequently posted comments expressed varying degrees of disquiet over John’s comment. Even Nick admitted he did not understand it. For all I knew, John could have been on a night shift and by the time he returned home, had slept himself back into some semblance of humanity, speared some Sushi in his kitchen and logged on, he could have been nothing more than well flamed charcoal. So I dived in there and posted my own comment explaining what to me was blindingly obvious, that John felt this was yet another example of why we should NOT have the death penalty, a post that was graciously acknowledged by Nick.

Skim reading the comments, however, I had failed to notice that a poster called Ursula had already made this point, a correct supposition that neither Nick or I had acknowledged, something that evidently upset her enough to provoke her to post a further comment leaving us in no doubt how she felt. I read her original comment carefully and there was no arguing, she had hit the nail on the head early on. So what was the controversy Nick referred to? As far as I could see it had been cleared up within hours of John’s comment appearing on Nick’s post. So I posted another comment apologising to her. After all, I was new to Nick’s site and would hate to have upset one of his regular readers. She came back with a caustic but very witty response and I suggested that since this was Nick’s site, and we were now off topic, a very serious topic at that, we should go over to each other’s blogs and continue. In the meantime, I swung over to Ursula’s blog to learn a bit more about who had briefly clashed swords with me on what was turning out to be an enjoyable jousting field.

Ursula, I have decided, is barking mad. Sadly, this isn’t the sort of yoghurt knitting, tree hugging lunacy so easily dismissed. She is witty but the wit I am talking about is not the beer fuelled ready riposte one might expect to be flung from one end of the village pub bar to the other, this is a wit born of serious intellect but tempered by a lifetime’s experience I could not begin to fathom. Mad as a hatter yes, stupid no. After all, she was the first to correctly interpret John’s comment, the catalyst for all this. I am told that it was impossible to have a serious conversation with Einstein and I know that senior Army officers were always nervous of subordinates with any notion more abstract than climbing over the top when ordered to do their duty and bayonet the enemy. I have no idea who Ursula is or where she calls home so I am relying on the remoteness of Angola to prevent me, moth like, being entranced into her orbit only to be found the morning after our night out at the Chinese Restaurant porcupine like having been stabbed with every chopstick to hand merely because I suggested sex with her. All I know is that really clever people make normal people nervous.

Nick posted that he agreed with me, it was his blog and, rubbing salt into an unexpected wound, not only deleted all our comments but posted a comment telling his readers he had done so going on to say that if we did not understand why we had upset him so terribly (he laid it on a bit thick) he had nothing further to say. Gosh. I am reminded of the expression that when one is up to one’s arse in Alligators it is hard to remember that one’s original intention had only been to drain the swamp. I really would like to be able to visit John in Wales and see his Ukranian Village but, if I go out for a pint with him I might think carefully about swinging a punch again on his behalf. So far I have only been savaged.

My father was quite fond of dinner parties. Except he never referred to them as such. He merely invited a few friends around for Supper. Sometimes he would delight my Mother, reminding her how important she was to him, by pitching up after work with the as yet unwritten guest list in tow, pulling fridge doors open and muttering there must be something in there and what the bloody hell is a microwave for before drifting off to the drinks cabinet.

His was truly an open door policy and if he did realise that one of his guests was being insufferable, he would pour two large scotches and invite him for a walk in the garden claiming a sudden irresistible urge for a puff of his Three Nuns tobacco. There, no doubt, they would look at the stars together while my father explained how, in the Western Desert, he would navigate by them. If that proved insufficient, he would then talk about conkers. His trees, he would say, have produced champion conkers. All the school kids from miles around would come to gather his conkers. If a boy was particularly polite, he would even show him how to tie the best knot so the conker would hang in there despite the most intense thrashing. Even the most belligerent guest would return subdued to the dining table.

I have been wading through a book by Kate Fox called ‘Watching the English’. To acquire the material for the book she put in a lot of field work, much of it consisting of identifying a particular norm of behaviour acceptable to the English and then deliberately disobeying it. She is an anthropologist so I guess it is her job. It is entertaining and I would commend it to anyone, even be they English, to read it if they are even remotely interested in what makes the English, well, so identifiably English.

I have learnt, for example, that I am not ‘posh’. Posh is a working class term. Neither am I ‘smart’ (not an indication of my intelligence but a measure of my status in England’s class ridden society) because I have always referred to the place I sit now, typing this, as my lounge. Smart people recoil instinctively from anyone who calls his sitting room a lounge, merely tolerating them from then on rather than accepting them. It is an interesting book, certainly more so, and a damn sight easier read, than Debrette’s bible on etiquette.

I’m not really into abstract study. I like empirical measurement. Hit someone annoying you hard enough under the jaw and he will fall down. There is plenty of empirical evidence to support this and laws designed to preclude further casual experimentation in the high street along such lines.

When it comes to children (and I have a three year old that refuses to sit anywhere else but on my lap as I type), we adults have to resist the temptation to introduce our offspring and their many, invariably highly irritating companions, to the soporific effect of a swift kick under the chin.

Alexander is too young to understand what a ‘baleful’ gaze is. Perhaps someone should take a photograph of me as I observe him and his delightful little friends trampolining on my lounge (sitting room) furniture while I struggle between paternal love and homicidal instinct.

Sorry, I have to return to this distinction between lounge (not very smart) and sitting room (terribly smart). If we follow Ms Fox’s very illuminating line of reasoning based on her accurate observation and then progress slightly, are we suggesting that smart people lounge in their offices all day before returning home to sit in their prescribed place on a Sofa in a room set aside for such purpose and so named to avoid confusion while explaining to Mummy (smart people refer to their mothers as ‘mummy’ until mummy dies after which they contact their solicitors to contest the will, Daddy long since having shot himself in the drawing room) how busy they have been since breakfast and how much they are looking forward to Supper since lunch was so ghastly? And that Plebs sit in their offices all day before returning home, collapsing on their settees, complaining about the crap dinner in the company canteen and lounging, in a room set aside for such indulgence and appropriately named, while their wives cook tea?

I have drifted on to the subject of food through the misery of boisterous children, only one of them attributable to the issue of my loins. The staple diet here in Angola, and the rest of Africa, is pounded yam, manioc, a tuber given many names but essentially starch. It fills the stomach. It doesn’t just fill the stomach, it pastes it, glues it into one glutinous mass. A full belly and an overloaded digestive system will stave off the pangs of hunger and help the child to sleep but this stuff provides no nutritional value whatsoever. Bereft of protein and the vitamins and iron only found in meat and green vegetables, these kids exhibit all the characteristics sadly associated with Africa: indolence and distended bellies, an inability to concentrate and a consequently retarded physical and mental development.

I cannot compare Alexander with his European contemporaries but here, he is very big for his age. He is as big as an average five year old. He has taken to wandering the neighbourhood to visit his friends so I have taken to ensuring the gates are kept closed. He has taken to jamming himself between the waterpump housing and the main gate and forcing the gate open so I have taken to ensuring it is padlocked. He has taken to climbing over the six foot high boundary wall so I have taken to giving up. Short of chaining him to the wall, about as acceptable as knocking him out every time he wakes up, I am at a loss.

Every morning, therefore, I unlock the gate and let the kids in. I abandon any notion of Sky News and switch over to Cbeebies or whatever the channel is called. I am fluent, as far as, ‘Please do not jump all over my blasted furniture’ is concerned, in English, French, German, Portuguese and the Lingua Franca of their various tribes. Inadvertently, I am running the local crèche.

Come lunchtime, I have to feed Alexander. It is no use asking him what he wants. He likes Pappa, a mealy porridge. He likes Funge, the wallpaper paste made from manioc I mentioned earlier. Meat, vegetables? Forget it. But he will bite your arm off for a lollipop. So with Alexander, I learnt to be sneaky. No good placing a plate in front of him with meat and two veg clearly delineated on the plate. He’ll just ignore it. I made stews, exotic stir fries, dishes baked in the oven all of which he helped me to make (sort of), all of which concealed the essential elements of healthy nutrition. He wised up in no time. If it wasn’t accompanied by an enormous pile of funge, he’d feed it to the goose.

It was the same with my Crèche kids. Obviously with a houseful of snot nosed little bandits I couldn’t just feed Alex and leave them to starve so I made for everyone. I even laid the table with place settings and glasses for all. Unless it was pappa or funge, they ignored it. Sure they drank all the juice off the table and checked my desk drawer for lollipops (Alex knows all my hiding places) but would they eat a decent meal? Not a bleeding chance.

Last night I made a frankly quite outstanding stir fry. This had everything good in it. Beef filet, countless Chinese vegetables, mushrooms, the most exotic sauce. Everything these kids refuse to eat. I made a bucket full of it and once it was cool enough, I stuck it in the fridge and went to bed. The kids had turned my furniture into the Somme and having shouted a mere ‘Halloo’ over no man’s land in defence of John I was now nursing a gutful of internet shrapnel.

This morning I was ready for the little bastards. I am rebuilding my truck so there are bits all over the yard. All morning I had them wheeling truck tyres from one end of it to the other. There are plenty of verandas to sweep so I had the girls doing that and picking litter.

In the past I have put an extraordinary amount of effort into getting them to sit around the table. So long as I remember to switch off the TV they will do this but they won’t eat. This time when I called them in, there was no table nicely laid out. On the coffee table, in front of the TV, there were a dozen forks and one, nicely reheated, bloody great pot.

Alexander went first and hauled out a forkful of Chinese cabbage and grimaced. Not to be outdone, the other kids went for it. Alexander, realising he was losing ground, started to fork like mad. It was a race, who could stuff the most into their face, Cartoon Network no distraction whatsoever. In no time at all, the pot was empty and they were clamouring for juice to drink. Competition. It is healthy and yet there was no animosity, just a shared joy and some pretty full bellies. I was pretty chuffed too. Finally I had managed to get the little bandits to eat a decent meal. So I unlocked my desk drawer and fetched out the lollipops.

With the kids content I checked my emails and surfed the various blogs. Nick has expunged me. He has even eradicated his own replies to the comments of mine he deleted such as ‘Hippo - Thanks for that. Clearly none of us quite understood the irony John intended, even though I for one am solidly English!’ and ‘Hippo - Please do put a link on your blog. The more links, the merrier!’.

The fact that Nick hates me enough to try and eliminate me from history should be no impediment to you visiting his blog, it is rather entertaining. But be warned, catch him on the wrong day and he can be bloody sensitive. So just be careful what you say.

Ah well, John’s impeccable reputation remains intact, I have been barred and, best of all, I have finally found a way to get the kids to eat using psychology. Thanks Ms Fox.



The Daily Mail (yes, I read the Daily Mail but I also read the Telegraph and Spectator) has run an article today on how Google tracks users in order to identify trends and demographics in order to tailor the irritating advertisements that pop up all over the web pages we visit.

Deep within Google’s massive databases, every site we visit, every search term we enter, is recorded and used to slot us into virtual pigeon holes. So this is news? All big organisations and especially governments spy on their customers or citizens. The digital age has just made it easier.

What made this article interesting is that it pointed out to me something I did not know, that we can access the information held on us, Google’s subjective view of our like’s based on our browsing history.

I briefly considered my browsing history and some of the search terms I had used, took a deep breath, and clicked on the direct link. This, apparently, is what Google thinks floats my boat:

Arts & Entertainment
Food & Drink - Cooking & Recipes
Jobs & Education - Education - Standardized & Admissions Tests

These are my ‘Categories’. Google have not made their minds up about my demographics stating that no demographic information is held for me. Funny that, half the adverts are served up in Portuguese.

Hang on a sec, I am supposed to be a roughy toughy, not a dear little luvvie. Am I really THAT boring? What about the shooting and fishing sites? What about London Pride and Scottish Distilleries? What about Piston Heads and all the other motoring sites? No wonder I keep getting adverts offering me on line degree courses or cooking holidays in bleeding Tuscany, I am 52 years old for goodness’ sake, what do I want a bloody degree for? I have just sold the house and will shortly be cooking for a living so it’s too bloody late to start learning now.

You can, though, add or amend information about yourself. I am going to enter my interests as fishing, shooting, fast cars and women of less than strict moral virtue and see what kind of adverts I get after that. That should be a giggle.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Home Alone III

I entered 2012 full of optimism. The house is sold, the money is in the bank, the crew who will finish off the restaurant are mobilising and a bit more spanner action will see the truck back on the road again.

I was so confident, I was already recruiting. Flordita is quite a way out of town so some key personnel will have to live on site, especially over the weekends, which is when we expect to be busy. No sweat, I’ve got it all covered. I will poach Natalia from my old employer and she can be the head housekeeper and Roddy will sort me out a driver, again from my old company. There are a couple of secretaries who would rather work for me, even only as waitresses so I’ll have them as well because I know they are all loyal, honest and bloody pissed off in their current posts. Down at the Barra de Kwanza, we’ll all be one happy family and just rake it in.

Naturally, I needed a qualified accountant. One familiar with the ever changing reporting requirements of the Ministry of Finance and MAPESS, a government sponsored organisation any ardent socialist would have been proud of as it has made this country, Angola, officially recognised as the most difficult in the world to discipline or sack an employee. If the person helping me slide by that shit was a family member, so much the better. If that person was also about to qualify as an accountant, only a few months short of finishing a four year university degree, paradise.

Marcia’s nephew knew he would walk straight out of university and into a family business. Marcia was pleased. I knew she liked the guy and I did too. 22 years old, obviously intelligent and very personable. He knew that we are kicking into gear and that next week he and I were going to work on the spreadsheets we would need to control expenditure and receipts and keep MinFin and Mapess off our backs.

Saturday morning he went over to Mussulo, invited by some eighteen year old he was shagging. They call it an island but really it is only a long bar 30 kms in length so everyone nips over the bay by boat rather than face the long drive. Compared to Luanda, it is heaven on earth and all the smart set have their beach houses there. The restaurants are no better than anywhere else but with such a location you could serve tinned dog food and get away with it so the fact they serve lobster and curried fish soup along with ice cold beer and mind numbing Caipirinhas makes the place an absolute hit, especially for young lads keen on scoping girls in string bikinis.

Saturday afternoon they pulled his body out of the bay.

As soon as Marcia received the news, she pushed off to her sister’s place to give her whatever support she could.

I felt bloody awful. I lost my nephew when, aged only two, he drowned in a swimming pool in UK. In South Africa, or in many other countries but still not in UK, legislation recognises the right of a citizen to have a pool or a pond but demands a fence around it to prevent this sort of accident. But this was no pool, it was the Atlantic Ocean and he was a fit young man, not a child. Maybe he had enjoyed one Caipirinha too many and failed to realise as he splashed in the sea, perhaps showing off to some girl clad only in a bootlace, that his prospects for being a father, let alone a grandfather were becoming increasingly bleak until it was too late. It is sad, but it happens.

Marcia and the rest of her family were obviously waiting for the body to be released. The lad died on a Saturday afternoon so his earthly remains stayed in the morgue until today so that a post mortem could be conducted. In the meantime, the family had collected together and rolled around in the dirt wailing and screaming, Marcia among them I guess.

No one should belittle or ridicule the way Africans mourn their dead. When I heard my nephew had drowned, much to the alarm of my employees, I kicked my desk to matchwood before getting a grip of myself, retrieving the phone and booking myself a flight to UK. From that moment on and to this day, I kept it all buried. The grief, the unbearable grief. Africans, they just let it rip.

The autopsy report came out this afternoon. There was no water in the lad’s lungs. Evidently he was dead before he went surfing so we are looking at a murder enquiry.

This is Angola. They do not have sophisticated crime scene investigation, they cannot collect and analyse DNA, who could from a body washed up on the tide? It would be a miracle if they could even establish the real cause of death unless he was riddled with bullet holes which he wasn’t.

All I know is that three days ago some fucker killed my wife’s nephew and he is probably going to get away with it.

It is Marcia’s birthday today. She’ll be 31 but don’t tell her I told you. I’ve been alone, looking after the house which is sold anyway. Talk about a spare prick at a wedding. In the drawer of the desk on which sits the computer I am writing on I have a loaded Cz 83 the magazine of which I would love to empty. If only I could recognise a legitimate target.

Do you know what it is like? You are as mad as hell and want to take them on. Your wife is real miserable so it hurts even more. Your three year old kid is understandably bored with watching his aunts roll themselves on the deck and wants to come home and watch CeeBeebies instead. You may be in your fifties but you know you can still hit a running Gatuno at two hundred paces if only God would give you the bastard chance, the only problem being you don’t know who is ‘them’.

A tough Weekend, I had to do something decisive. Anything to take my mind off boiling frustration.

So I baked Marcia a birthday cake. It is as close as I could get to a Black Forest Gateaux but I had to use strawberries instead of cherries and dipped the strawberries I used to decorate the top in molten chocolate and used a sweet liqueur instead of Kirschwasser to lace the chocolate sponge. It’s in the fridge now.

Sometimes I am less than fond of this place.

Tuesday 10 January 2012


HS2 is a symptom of the disease Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas. Although superficially similar to Haemophilia in that both afflict the ruling classes, Haemophilia is hereditary whereas VVOV is contagious and affects mainly commoners elected to high office, a typical vector being the socio biological mechanism tentatively understood by psychologists and some medical practitioners to be Honores Mutant Mores. With one it is the host that bleeds to death while with the other, it is the carrier that enriches himself by sucking the blood out of others.

VVOC in its HS2 variant is distinctive because as a subject it is colourless when debated, in its physical form is politically poisonous and has, as a briefly recognisable characteristic to those about to succumb, the odour of rotten eggs. An interesting diagnostic clue to extreme poisoning by HS2 is the complete absence of anything of value in the pockets of its victims, the humble taxpayer.

Utopia to Dystopia. Fritz lang warned you in 1927.

Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas: 'Vanity of vanities; all is vanity'. Also, and far more poignantly translated as, 'Meaningless, it's all meaningless', an allusion to selling one's soul in this life for what, in the ultimate scheme of things, will be transient gratification regardless of the numbers trampled underfoot.

Honores Mutant Mores: 'Honours change the customs'. In other words, the higher up the food chain you are, the less the law and common decency apply.

And they say Irony is the preserve of the English.

Monday 9 January 2012

A sense of humour, perhaps?

Neither photograph has been Photoshopped. These are genuine establishments trading in Luanda, Angola.

Portas Janelas e Acessorios translates as Doors Windows and Accessories. I mean, look at it. At least he is being honest.

'You want doors or windows Guv? Give me yer money and I'll Fuck you over'.

"Any sauce with that?"

"Oh c'mon. Or rather don't, I can't wait that long"

I haven't managed to acquire photos of the following two establishments (it can be surprisingly hazardous taking photos in the street here) but there is a store selling car parts called 'Lady Diana Autoparts'. Just don't go there to buy Mercedes brake pads.

Not to be out done, across the road the photo and photocopying stand renamed itself 'Paparazzi'.

I kid you not.

Credit for the photographs go to my very esteemed colleague and intrepid reporter Ed Corbett, who wishes to remain anonymous.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Please Mr Bursar Sir! Can you give me an education?

Dear Sir,

I am a British expatriate living in Angola. I have a 12 year old son, Dominic, who is bilingual in English and Portuguese. He has been educated at a private Angolan college in the capital, Luanda. Without wishing to be critical of my host country’s education standards (the long running civil war only ended in 2002 so the country has a lot of catching up to do), I am concerned that my son will, in comparison to his developed world counterparts, be left behind.

I have relatives living around Ashby de la Zouch and it is the proximity of family able to provide support, plus the impressive presentation on your website about School House and its facilities that leads me to write to you.

I would be most grateful if you could send me details of admissions procedures and full boarding fees. I understand that admissions are awarded on the basis of interviews, not exams and that I will be required to travel from Angola to Ashby with Dominic for this. You will excuse parental pride but I am sure that once you meet him, you will be impressed by his intelligence, an intellect malnourished under the Angolan education system. He loves sporting activity but also has a keen interest in nature which I encouraged by providing him a microscope and field observation kit and was rewarded when in December 2009 he rediscovered an incredibly rare Phasmid, first 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. Dominic is now credited on the British Natural History Museum’s website on Phasmids with the only photo of this Phasmid in existence

Sadly the face on which the stick insect is crawling (to give a necessary idea of scale he insisted although I suspect it was due more to his sense of humour), is that of his father.

I am sure that with the help of the extra curricular cramming sessions you offer (or the additional ones you deem necessary), he will be a credit to the school. More importantly, his particular skills and interests could be identified and developed.

On the sporting side, and I am very pleased to note that you recognise a healthy body leads to a healthy and receptive mind, his latest desire is to represent Angola in some future winter Olympics at Biathlon, an urge borne of his skill with a .22 target rifle and the undeniable ease with which he learnt to ski on a recent holiday to Germany. He learnt to ride a junior motorcycle aged only four and holds a local record for catching a 90 kg Tarpon which, typical of a boy who believes one should only kill that which is intended for the table, he elected to tag and release rather than land. With his Olympic ambitions in mind, he is currently training so that he can beat his father’s personal record (achieved twenty five years ago, I hasten to add) of running three miles in fifteen minutes across country. That will give him the stamina. I shall have to leave it to my brother in Germany to develop his Langlauf skills during the winter holidays.

Is there a nearby Army or Combined Cadet Force he could join in addition to all the many other extra curricular activities you offer? And does nearby Heather Hall still offer riding lessons? There used to be a tailor on Market Street. Up the road from Natwest Bank and pretty much opposite the Bull’s Head where I scored my first illicit pint in the company of the luscious but finally ungenerous Sally Bent, forget the name. Is he still in business? He (or probably his son by now) could measure Dominic up for all the suits and jackets he would need. I still have the suits they made for me in 1984.

I am reluctant to admit to you that I attended Ashby School because if my records still exist, you will find I was hardly a credit to the establishment despite best efforts by long suffering staff who, I am sure, wanted to throttle rather than nurture me but with admirable restraint, forced enough education down my throat to allow me to enter the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and be commissioned into the Royal Army Ordnance Corps as an Ammunition Technical Officer. Mr Jagger, Head of Sixth Form at the time lamented, I am sure, the moral decline of a once proud Army reduced to such desperation when it came to recruiting although he was kind enough to swallow his bile and congratulate me on my unwarranted success exhibiting all the good humour of a man finally able to shrug off an intractable burden, one that legislation had prevented him from thrashing daily. I served as a Bomb Disposal Officer in Northern Ireland, England, Germany, Bosnia and Latin America before leaving the Army to run humanitarian mine clearance projects in Mozambique and Angola, a country which, in spite of all the mayhem, I fell in love with and, to the undisguised pleasure of many in UK and Germany, finally settled down somewhere, anywhere, but gratifyingly far away.

Dominic has dual British and Angolan nationality so although England is a country foreign to him, he is technically not a foreign student. He can converse happily in English but his written English will be poor for his age. He is also, like his father, weak in mathematics. His date of Birth is 9th March 1999 so, subject to vacancies and a satisfactory interview, I would be looking to get him in this coming September.

I did not do so well at school, largely due to immaturity but also because what I wanted to study, art and literature, did not coincide with my mother’s desire for me to become an Architect and follow in the footsteps of her very successful father, and my father’s contention that all artists were unemployable left wing anarchists (Citizen Smith was the comedy programme on TV at the time). Although not entirely sure whether it was merely due to an adolescent knee jerk reaction against right wing racist parents or a deep rooted conviction, I remain a socialist to this day, my twenty years in Africa leaving me with the firm belief that it is the duty of the state, the representatives we elect to run the country on their citizen’s behalf, to provide affordable drinking water, education and energy and not tax the shit out of individual enterprise.

I tried to get away from home by signing up as an apprentice deck officer with the Blue Star line but needed the parental consent which wasn’t forthcoming as my mother felt I would lead a debauched life. In spite of the fact that aged sixteen I was selling enough paintings at local exhibitions to pay for a family holiday, my parents insisted that Maths and Physics were best for me so I failed my ‘A’ levels and ended up a bomb disposal officer. A rewarding career if, after a 'job' you have the time to realise that you won this particular game of chess and aren’t so much fertilizer spread all over the countryside. Miserable and scary as hell. Bosnia was the weed seed of all my nightmares and I never painted again. Instead, I became intimately familiar with every den of iniquity and the girls inhabiting them from Lagos to Cape Town acquiring along the way a predilection for distilled grain and a firm conviction that the only tolerable funeral was the one you couldn't remember until the day after.

Given the benefit of hindsight, I am sure my Mother would have still dug her heels in regarding the Blue Star Line apprenticeship but would have bought me more Yellow Ochre and Cobalt Blue for my paint box, and my father would have lashed out on the green parka and cherry blossom Doc Martins (de rigeur for any 70's revolutionary), let me grow my hair long and allowed me to pretend to study Economics while I listened to Jimmy Hendrix dancing whacked out all along the watch tower.

I would like my boy, under the guidance of professional educators in a well run institution, to be allowed to make his own mind up, to develop and mature and walk the path he chooses, not the one thrust upon him. In Angola, he stands no chance at all and I certainly do not want him to follow in my footsteps.

Yours faithfully,

Tom Gowans

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Tony Blair, RIP

Publius Quinctilius Varus, a man not averse to wealth who, rather like the fox that lost its tail in Aesop's Fables and presumably for the same reason, decided that affordable dentistry should be denied to the masses

The BBC have recently been accused of being insensitive (making a change from accusations of bias) by commencing the research they need to film an obituary for Tony Blair, presumably knowing full well that the bugger is still very much alive and advising some very dodgy governments on how to stone women without attracting publicity and complicating the Palistinian question while bemused, but still patriotic Englishmen, sit freezing over Christmas in slit trenches in Afghanistan wondering why he sent them there.

"Leading Labour figures were said to be shocked to be approached by BBC producers putting together the tributes to Mr Blair"

Tributes? TRIBUTES?

In June 2007 BBC Newsnight held a competition for the best maximum fifteen word epitaph for Blair's political career. Sadly, I missed that but can now see it as the vicarious authority driving the BBC.

I am forced to revise my opinion of Labour MP’s. It appears that they are, after all, decent human beings who have their ethical limits. Claiming for double mortgages or employing half of one’s family at the taxpayer’s expense are one thing (or two in the case of some clumsy MPs educated in Comprehensive schools leaving them bewildered by the simple mathematics required to fiddle their accounts) but no one could reasonably be expected to stress their integrity so far as to come up with a tribute to Tony Blair.

Tony Blair is on the left. The guy on the right is some dead bloke he sucked up to.

Lacking original thought, a gift bestowed sparingly upon those at the front of the very long queue I backed up before joining the even longer queue for willies, I quote Valleius Paterculus:

‘He came to a rich province a poor man, but left a poor province a rich man’.

OK, seventeen words rather than fifteen, but who would quibble about two extra words except Blair’s PR team? Nevertheless, wouldn't that be the most appropriate epitaph?

I know he is only 58 but maybe the BBC know something we don’t. I wait with the sort of mildly detached anticipation I do the recent threat by Greek authorities to drag their unproductive country out of the Euro if the UK, German and French taxpayer funded bailout for them doesn't work.