Saturday 31 March 2012

Deep Joy

Well, maybe not the deepest joy but any kind of progess here is sexy.

The truck loaded with the timber for the new shop and house finally arrived at some indecent hour of yesterday morning. I could tell by the way the trailer tyres seemed half flat that the forty foot HiTop container on the back was loaded to the brim and so it turned out.

First job was to get all the wood stacked in the Jango which, once the woodworking machines arrive, the planer thicknessers, table saws etc., will become a temporary woodworking shop and out of this mountain of wood we will carve two buildings.

And those buildings will be erected on my new piece of land here:

Ignore the odd bit of builders waste, isn't it beautiful? The shop will be on the area in the foreground and the house will be built on the higher bit of land towards the back of the site. A bit of a clean up and some irrigation, and this plot will look lovely.

There'll be no parties in the Jango for the forseeable future but the smell of all that wood stacked up was evocative of my time in the Black Forest. I am also going to end up with a heap of sawdust and shavings to practice my fish smoking and this thought was just as pleasant. It took from early morning until nightfall to unload the container so I thought I had better throw a another fish on the barbecue:

Just a four foot tiddler but enough for half a dozen tired and hungry blokes.

The only bummer was my old truck shearing a propshaft UJ mount late last night so we had to have that towed in this morning and, it being a weekend, there'll be no chance of the simple part to execute the simple fix until Monday. The Lord giveth, and He taketh. Wish I could work out a way to jimmy His scales in my favour for a change.

Thursday 29 March 2012

Evening water run

It's a bit of a ritual now, the evening water run, but not at all an inconvenience. I park the truck down by the river and leave Alex in charge of the truck. He supervises the loading of the water containers.

Then it is just a case of cruising through the neighbourhood stopping every time someone bangs on the cab roof.

And here's the dogs:
This is 'Dog' sitting in the unusually relaxed way she always does.

'Dinge' which is German for 'thing'

and 'Three' which is English for, erm, three. This is the dog that sort of adopted me.

Finally, I make no real comment on the last photo as when it comes to arguing the effects of nutrition on child development, I think it speaks for itself.
From left to right: Wewe age 5, Pascual age 7 and Alexander age 3.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

A typical day in Paradise

I think I mentioned that I am without a camera and have to keep jumping at the chance to borrow one every time the opportunity presents itself, so I cannot post as many photos as I would like.

I have a replacement camera waiting for me in Germany but I am too tight to have it DHL'd over so am hanging on until I hear of someone trustworthy heading this way from Europe. I did take a load of photos with Joaquim's camera and then, at the end of the day, when I asked him how he downloaded his photos, he looked at me with that sort of blank look which leaves you in no doubt that what you are about to hear will be less than encouraging. I'll summarise it. Joaquim has a digital cammera but no computer or any other way of storing or sharing his photos. Since he never needed them, he has lost all cables but the charger. Bugger.

Yesterday we went fishing and I suffered a really bizarre accident.

The weather was pretty overcast and the sea that sort of slick oily swell that has you chumming it with your breakfast in no time. Joaquim was driving the boat and I was minding the rods trying to decide whether I had the energy to crawl up and lean over the side or just vomit where I lay. Joaquim, on the other hand, had munched his way through the crackers and was now busy emptying my hip flask. At that moment, one of the rods struck and the line tore off the reel. I jumped up, grabbed the rod, set the hook and then put my back into it. Now we only have a very small skiff. The sort of thing you can rent by the hour on an English pond and would never, by even the greatest stretch of the most fertile imagination expect it to be granted a seaworthiness certificate but I am a) poor, and b) a keen fisherman, so sod HSE.

Trouble was, the boat was rocking like billy-oh and on pins already weakened by age and nausea, I was about as steady as the Millenium Bridge Mark I. There are those who contend that there is no such thing as an accident (litigation lawyers love them) and that an 'incident' is merely the distillate of a series of minor events. Well, in my case, I needed only two events. The fish, still pulling line like an express train decided to double back at exactly the same moment Joaquim decided to turn into the fish to save my line and, ironically as it transpired, my back breaking effort.

Suddenly relieved of the drag I was leaning against, my feet shot out from under me and I went backwards straight over the side but not before folding myself double on the side of the boat in a manipulation my spine was never designed to cope with. Now a decent multiplier and carbon fibre boat rod is a not inconsiderable investment so I suppose I should not have been as surprised as I was when I surfaced and realised I was still hanging on to the rig like grim death. I was in agony and had inhaled half the Atlantic Ocean and then I saw Joaquime leaning over the side so I held out the rod so he could pull me in towards the boat. I got my arm over the side and he took the rod, no doubt to dump it on the deck before hauling me in.

Joaquim is, like me, mad on fishing. Abandoning me to my watery fate, he reeled in the slack and started to play the fish. He called down to me to see if I was OK. 'I can't climb in by myself, Joaquim', I called out. 'So cinco minutos', he replied. Only five minutes, a true professional.

He brought the fish in and then he landed me.

So here we go with a pictorial record of some of my day. First, our little boat:

Next, Joaquim with the only fish we caught because we had to end the trip early because I fell out of the boat breaking my back in three thousand places:

Another shot of the smug fat bastard holding what should have been my fish. I mean, I set the hook. Of all the dirty tricks to tip me overboard. Did I mention he was a complete bastard?

I ask you, does that look like a completely smashed and deformed back or what? Still, we needed to bag the fish so what is a little transitory pain especially with all those blokes around ready to take the piss?

A wash and a change of clothes later, I sit on splintered shards of vertebrae and put on a brave face.

Alex wants me to go down to the river to swim with him. I explain that Daddy has done enough swimming for today and Daddy's back really hurts. You can see Alex was deeply skeptical.

Then Marcia says she has run out of soft drinks and asks me to drive the six clicks up to the top village and buy some off the Lebanese guy. Six clicks isn't far but it will be in a truck with Brunel suspension over local roads. This stretch is the good bit. I can hit third gear briefly.

On the way, we passed Joaquim's house. How crass of me to assume he had a laptop.

Once we arrived at the top of the hill, we had a wonderful view of the valley and river estuary that is now my home.

On the way back, Joaquim finally took pity on me and said he knew of just the place I could get the urgent medical attention I so obviously needed so we stopped off.

Back at Ops HQ and unaccountably refreshed, there was little else to do but write it all up.

It's bloody hard work buildiing a restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

But, there is no peace for people like me. The sun is setting and I must now do the village water run.

This morning's catch

A few more fishy pics for you to identify

Two tiddlers together. It's the eyes, always the eyes that get me.

No idea what this one is

Looks a bit lilke a baby Tuna

Finally the paths are laid, no more muddy feet going to the loo!

Dog and gooose prints all over the wet concrete. Bastards.

My new little truck...

Tuesday 27 March 2012

What? A school run at 52?!

Alexander has been pestering the hell out of me and Marcia. He wants to go to school.

I keep telling him that at three, he is a bit young and that he will really enjoy himself at the crèche (he was due to start next month).

‘But I can count, Daddy!’

‘Go on then. Son’

‘One, Three, Seis, Quatro, Seven, Nine, Five, Dez! And, Daddy, Daddy! I can write my name!’

In years to come, some sub Saharan equivalent of an Egyptologist or cryptoanalyst will discover that piece of paper and spend his whole life writing a thesis on it. In the meantime, Alex’s cheques will bounce. As monikers go, it would be hard to forge but would hardly fit along that thin strip on a charge card taking up, as it did, all of a sheet of A4 writing paper and a lot of my coffee table.

Alex is big for his age. Today he sat alongside his six year old friend as we all enjoyed lunch and he dwarfed him. Having played together all morning and enjoying a bowl of real comfort food, Feijoada com Arroz, he was dismayed when his friend headed off to school leaving him behind. He dwarves most other kids as well so has been hanging around with his own gang, not one of them less than five years old. Anyone younger, he has realised, is usually snot nosed and wrapped in a shawl on its mother’s back and can’t kick a football for shit or ride a bicycle and they certainly do not know how to catch crabs at low tide.

This is a socialist society. The State dictates everything. Just registering him was a nightmare. At three, Alex may now enter a crèche, find his own corner in which to soil his nappies and then dutifully fall asleep. Clearly since he can dress himself in fresh skids and shorts and, when necessary, perch himself on the toilet and shit like anyone else wiping his own arse afterwards (so long as the toilet paper is within reach), and does not sleep between the hours of Five in the morning until Ten at night, I could see a degree of incompatibility between him and his peers.

Marcia agreed.

Alex, of course, had no idea but sat at the same lunch table today was the headmistress of the local school. I expected Alex to behave like a complete bastard. Toss his food, refuse to eat it or even sit at the table. I even expected him to dismount his chair and relieve himself at the side of the Jango. Instead he stood on his chair, supervised the equable division of the contents of the pans before sitting down and tucking in.

‘Alex’, queried her Royal Headmistressness in Portuguese, ‘why do you want to go to school?’

Alex was busy shovelling Marcia’s Feijoada into his mouth but he paused, emptied his mouth and answered, in English, ‘Because school is impotent’.

‘Muito importante,’ I translated hurriedly and went on to point out that the lad would, pretty soon, be fluent in two languages.

A couple of months ago I had scored a supply of English Lemon Barley Water and it was on the dregs of one of these that Alex started sucking noisily, his straw just too short to reach the bottom of the bottle.

‘Alex’, I said, in English, ‘bin the straw and just tip the rest down your neck!’

Which he promptly did.

He starts school in a class of five year olds on Monday.

Sunday 25 March 2012

Fish pics for Josh

Here you go, Josh. In the photo below, Dominic is holding a small version of the fish I want to try fileting and smoking. They are usually much bigger so if you can positively identify it...

All these are tiddlers but it gives you an idea of the variety. The photos are high res so if you click on them they enlarge sufficiently for you to get a good look. As I catch the bigger ones, I shall put photos of them up on the blog for you.

This last photo is of a decent haul of Dourado:

More fishy pics soon...

ps: Chris, eat your heart out. These were all caught by Dominic when he was only eleven. When can I expect to see you here?

Saturday 24 March 2012

It's all the way you package it...

Wrapping it up nicely obviously works. If it didn’t, manufacturers wouldn’t waste millions making packaging companies and advertising agencies rich.

If I ever needed proof, it has just landed on my desk.

Marcia is understandably quite excited about her new shop. The trucks with all the materials to build it have still not arrived allowing even more time for her eager anticipation (and impatience) to intensify. Our current little shop has done well. I call it an African Trading Post because that is what it is. It has tiled floors, not swept mud, and glass in the windows, even a false ceiling and electric light as well as freezers and coolers but the lack of aircon, crude wooden shelves and counter lend it an impermanent, out in the bush air.

While hanging on to her existing client base, Marcia wants the new shop to be significantly further upmarket. Certainly the building will be. It will look something like a Black Forest Delicatessen and will be built out of wood on sturdy supports so that customers can sit and drink coffee or whatever on its wide wood decking and look over the surrounding countryside. It’ll be nice.

For that reason, our current stock range which, if only for reasons of filling the shelves in a shop six times larger, is inadequate.

At the moment our shop is not called a shop in Portuguese, it is called a Cantina. This is only one step up the ladder from a ‘Janela Aberta’ an ‘open window’, the sort of hole in the wall shopping experience you only get in the rougher neighborhoods where letting a client into the shop is asking for trouble. Marcia does not want to be known for running a Cantina. She wants to be referred to as the owner of a Loja, a shop. In order to guarantee her social aspirations, she has been searching for products worthy of her new emporium and, as I mentioned at the beginning, one such product has just landed on my desk.

A 500g pack of Milaneza Lasagna sheets (from Portugal) costs around 400 Kwanzas here, about 4 US$. We sell 500g packs of Fortaleza Spaghetti (made in Brazil) for 100 Kwanzas. Both make excellent bases for Italian pasta dishes and both fly off the shelves. Both are simply packaged in unimaginatively designed but functional plastic bags. Same goes for the tortellini, fettuccine and macaroni. At least you don’t have to worry about patching the layers of lasagne, half the pack is already no more than irregular sized patches, such are the hazards of transportation.

‘How much does this cost?’ I asked, admiring the packaging I had first thought contained a bottle of malt whisky or something else equally worthy of such care and attention to detail.

‘700 kwanzas’

‘700 Kwanzas! What would you have to sell it for?’

‘I paid 700 for this packet just to show you. The supplier says if I buy in bulk he would give me a big discount’

‘Did he also say he had plenty in stock’

‘Oh yes, how did you know? He says he’s got loads!’

I could tell by the condition of the Pasta visible through the cellophane box window and the condition of the packaging in general that there was no real need to check the sell by date but I did anyway. Good until 2014. This is a box of pasta that is already at the pricier end of the market in UK. Sainsbury’s sells plain lasagna sheets for a dollar but sell Garofalo Lasagna at three dollars. I was going to have to sell it here for seven dollars but if Marcia could negotiate a bulk reduction then we might at least break even if I can resist turning our profit into Lasagna-in-my-stomach. Sometimes you drop lucky but generally, if a wholesaler has plenty of stock and is offering discounts, there’s a reason for it. Let’s hope that in this case the average Garofalo Pasta buyer does not shop in Lebanese run warehouses and that his regular buyers weren’t willing to take the plunge when they can sell as much Fortaleza as they can carry.

The thing is, it was always my intention to go up market. Starting at the budget end was a realistic option faced with operating off a building site. Certainly we could never expect to sell Garofalo products out of the existing shop. That is one reason I bought the other piece of land closer to the main road (and out of reach of the sea) and have paid enough to make sure the new shop will be nice.

‘I think this is a brilliant idea, Marcia’


‘I think it is very clever to devote half the new shop to higher quality products to attract the more discerning client’

She looked at me clearly unable to decide if such was sarcasm and deserved a kick in the teeth or I was being genuine.

What Marcia has forgotten and I haven’t is that I want to build a large cold smoker and start preserving some of the excellent fish being hauled out of the sea on our doorstep. There is a fish here the locals call Maccarao but when I look it up on the internet to get its latin or English name all I come up with is Portuguese macaroni recipes. It is a fast full bodied fish weighing anything from 15 to 25 kilos and its flesh is pink and makes ideal sushi. The South Africans next door call it Kingfish but then they seem to call a lot of fish Kingfish so I can’t be sure. It fights like hell and will take all your line unless you let it ‘take you for a walk’ which is how the fishermen here refer to having to follow the fish with the boat until it gets tired. It would not be the first time that with muscles burning I have said to the boatman, ‘here, you take the bloody rod and I’ll drive’.

I reckon it would smoke beautifully and am convinced it could be the African equivalent of Scottish smoked salmon. In Germany, there is a company called Lava which makes vacuum packing machines. The one with my name on it is a heavily discounted thousand US (with a 400mm triple sealing self cutting head, ooh, sexy). If I had my cold smoker, I could smoke filets of this fish and any other likely candidates and package them properly for sale in the shop. Quality products for a quality shop. I could also similarly package the Parma style hams I am going to produce after air curing them in the rafters of the thatched Jango.

So you see, if I encourage Marcia in her quest for quality products, I am one step closer to my smoker and vacuum packing machine. And it will all have been her idea.

‘Tell me, Marcia, what made you go for this particular product?

‘Well, the box was so nice…’

Now there's a business plan.

Sunday 18 March 2012

A 'Licious Day

I can’t imagine anyone who knows me thinking of me as anything less than an irritable old sod.

I only go to Embassy functions because I know I will be able to catch up with a few other irritable old sods while dodging those who insist on trying to be pleasant to strangers. It is harder at the bar, of course, as one can end up cheek by jowl with the very worst sort.

‘Hello! My name is Frank and I work for Mega Inc. in Angola!’

‘Hello Frank.’

‘What’s your name?’

‘It is Tom, Frank’

‘Hi Tom!’

Oh please God I thought and tried desperately to get the barman’s attention.

‘Who do you work for Tom?’

‘Nobody Frank’

‘No, what I meant was, what do you do in Angola, Tom?’

‘Nothing Frank’

‘You must do something Tom, everybody has to do something, I mean, how did you end up in Angola?’

‘I got lost, Frank, you should try it’

The ones that really drive me nuts are those who try to ‘engage’ a whole group of irritable bastards at the same time. This requires the presumption of a common experience. The only guaranteed common experiences I attribute to humans are breathing, eating, shitting and dying and they hardly make for stimulating cocktail party conversation, unless they were all somehow humorously combined. Perhaps having inadvertently inhaled one’s soup, one had a fit, soiled one’s DJ and died. The humorous part being that the host had lightly excused the obvious fatigue of his guest and had carried on regardless.

No such luck with guys like Frank.

‘Where were you all when President Kennedy was assassinated?’

‘Frank, would you say that you were older than me?’

‘I don’t think so Tom’

‘Well, apart from Peter here, who might well have been the man on the grassy knoll, I am the oldest and I was four when Kennedy was shot’

‘Well how about the moon landing then?’

‘I was asleep in bed when Armstrong made his small step but I don’t think I missed anything because I am still waiting for the promised giant leap’


‘I was shagging my maid and only found out the earth had moved after the fact’

I could see he thought I was kidding. The trouble with guys like Frank is that they fail to appreciate that what may appear to be momentous on a world stage, no matter how tragic, generally matters not a jot to the average guy on the street. We will still have to get up in the morning and go to work, the wife will still hate us and the bills will need to be paid.

Truly momentous moments are deeply personal. I remember where I was when my sons were born. I was with their mothers in hospital. I remember teaching Dominic to ride a motorcycle and then a bicycle (arse about face I know but that’s how it worked out) and I will always remember today because today is the first time I took both my boys fishing together. Dominic is an old hand but today was the first time Alex rode in a boat, was deep in the bush, probably further away from his mother he has been in his entire three years of life and old enough to overcome his initial nervousness and really start to enjoy himself, with his Dad and his older brother.

OK, we didn’t catch any fish but we scored ten lobsters which Marcia boiled up and Alex described as ‘Lishous. Another first for him and a delicious day for all of us.

Alex, age three. He will kill all the sharks. You'll see...

Saturday 17 March 2012

Chaos Theory

The Idiot Gardener and The Suburban Bushwacker will know how I feel. I suppose there are a lot of blokes out there who will know how I feel. Most of them of course will say in hushed, incredulous tones, ‘How could you be THAT stupid?’

Bambi Basher would probably just do the decent thing and put me down out of kindness.

Not that any of them would argue with the logic I applied to come to the decision I did. Not at all. The logic was sound. What they will marvel at is that I, a trained soldier with experience on many of the World’s battlefields would use logic as my only defence against the wrath of a woman. A very thin line indeed and about as much use as a chocolate fireguard.

You see. I contracted a mate to finish off the restaurant.

To me, he was the obvious choice. I am tired of using local odd job men. It never works out cheaper in the long run and then I am left to live with doors that don’t close properly, door handles that fall off in my hand and drains that remain stubbornly blocked. Unless you are on top of them, they will finish the tiling and then send the plumber in who will smash everything to hell again. They don’t know what on earth an earth circuit is so it is entirely possible to be electrocuted by your own washing machine and since they now use plastic water pipes instead of steel ones, the old trick of earthing the chassis of such appliances to the nearest pipe no longer works.

I have a 200 square metre thatched dining area and no-one would be surprised to learn that I am dead keen the wiring is done properly lest I see a not inconsiderable investment turn to ashes. Besides which, overdone clients are worse for business than overdone steaks.

My mate, therefore, was the ideal man for the job. He has his own construction business, a lumber concession and his own sawmill. Among his staff he boasts trained electricians, carpenters, plumbers, mechanics and brickies. Being a Brit, he understands basic building regulations and promised to have the job done in six weeks.

Marcia agreed with me in the end, but only in the way women do when they say something along the lines of, ‘No Darling, that’s fine. I understand, truly I do!’ and then drive the stiletto home by muttering into their dinner, ‘Have it your own way’.

The six weeks elapsed mid February. There is no point me blaming the delay on the Angolan authorities who have been, even for them, stunningly slow in renewing my mate’s visa leaving him stuck amongst his trees down south rather than beavering away industriously on my land. It would only strengthen Marcia’s argument that we should have contracted thieving, inefficient Angolan jobbing builders who can’t even bang a nail in straight. There would be no value in pointing out I am similarly afflicted, my visa having expired in December meaning I had to be smuggled down here from the old house and am now stuck here lest I fall prey to the transit police between here and the city and to suggest that, by her logic, maybe she would have been better off marrying an Angolan might only serve to give her ideas I would find disconcerting.

My mate is both apologetic and sympathetic but he is safe half way up a mountain with his trees and it is me that has to live in close proximity to Marcia. I want the sand dunes between me and the sea to build up, not erode them with me pacing backwards and forwards along the beach which is about as far as I can get away from her if she is in a mood short of diving in and striking out towards Brazil.

I can cope during the week but at weekends I feel the loss of business as keenly as Marcia. It is just that Marcia is rather more demonstrative. I was a salesman once, and I did look at potential clients as persons walking around with my money in their pockets. Clearly she feels the same way and with every one of them that walks away disappointed having learnt we are still not open, she gives me hell. Financially, we are in that happy equilibrium espoused by Mr Micawber, "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness.” but Marcia feels that while there is no reason expenditure should not remain the same, annual income could be considerably enhanced were it not for a decision I made.

I could not give a damn about some butterfly wasting a lifetime's worth of accumulated nectar by flapping its wings in China thereby provoking a tidal wave in the Americas (although I have had my fair share of one of those recently), all I know is that some lazy git in an Angolan Visa office managed, by doing absolutely effing nothing, to cause me and my mate a perfect shit storm.

Friday 16 March 2012


There is crime here. Only a little in our village compared to the big city of Luanda but even that metropolis compares favourably with London, Paris, New York and especially Johannesburg. The local plods spend more time eating breakfast in my place than investigating crime, not through idleness but because there is simply nothing for them to investigate. They are all tooled up to the eyeballs and, especially the ones fresh out of training, are itching to shoot someone. Instead they spoon scrambled eggs down their throats and finger their pristine Glocks. As this is a maritime zone, their responsibilities also include anti smuggling patrols (this is a perfect place to bring contraband in) so I once jokingly suggested that I could easily arrange for a boatload of laptops or fags to come up the river and instead of outrage or at least a friendly warning all I got was a ‘Could you? Could you really do that for us?’ You have to understand, these are nice guys doing a very difficult but generally boring job.

Some weeks ago my generator along with two others in the neighbourhood were nicked and that caused a ripple of gossip. We all knew it had to be an inside job and, sure enough, at his fourth attempt the guy responsible was collared and turned out to be the village crook so now we wait with eager anticipation the results of the police enquiries. Unlike UK, I suspect, the Second-in Command of the local police force came round to fill me, a victim, in on progress (this is real Community Policing) but politely declined my offer to dangle the guy’s feet over a lit barbecue and subsequently dispose of the charred remains in the river. It was not because he, as an individual, had any objection to this, it is just that Angola is trying very hard to embrace Human Rights and as an officer of the law, he was bound to uphold them. I was sympathetic to this impediment to the rapid conclusion of his investigation but since its outcome would only be an opportunity to see castrated justice served rather than the return of the generator, the relief I really craved, what’s a few more weeks or months? I have already ordered the new one anyway.

As a village shopkeeper, for that is what I am, I am possibly in the best position to pull together local rumour and gossip into a coherent version of events. And last night, murder cast its shadow over us.

I have to confess, murder is good for business. You can’t discuss murder in church so the only other places to congregate are the street, which is long and unfocussed, or my shop with its endless supplies of cold beer, fruit juice, tinned tuna and bread, enough to sate even the most voracious gossipy appetite. It also has the only working generator after nightfall.

Oh, I can joke about the fact I had a bumper night, a week’s worth of takings in just a few hours but all this was tempered with the knowledge I had just lost two clients. One dead and the other incarcerated and God only knows what will happen to the kids. As a shopkeeper, it is my job just to sell what is on my shelves or in my freezers but with every beer or packet of biscuits I sold last night, I was reminded of a very troubled and abusive man married to a very patient wife.

The police have been in, made their enquiries and drawn their conclusions from the cold, salient facts. Some of the details, the more human aspects bother me though.

I sold a man I was never too keen on half a dozen beers and then a bottle of whisky and watched him get tanked up to the eyeballs and ever increasingly belligerent. He went from affable to alternately homicidal or suicidal, switching between whiningly servile or outright aggressiveness with bewildering rapidity. I was delighted, as were my other customers, when I could finally push him out the door and set him on his path home. I don’t have to like all my customers. This one he has cash. He asks for beer, I give him beer. He asks for whisky, I give him a bottle. He pays, so why should I care? Suddenly I am social services as well as a shopkeeper? As he staggered off, I really thought he would never make it home. Now I regret that he did.

On arrival, he beat the crap out of his missus. One of the neighbours tried to intervene and was threatened. The neighbour suggested to the woman that she should take her kids and stay with him, which sent the nutter right over the edge. Clearly, the woman was too terrified of the consequences and sent the neighbour away.

According to the neighbour, the fight died down and eventually all was quiet, our lad presumably having fallen into drunken slumber.

Sometime during the night the missus went into her kitchen, hooked the best knife she could find and planted it right in the middle of his chest.

The gossip this morning was all about her courage. The guts it took to kill in cold blood, everyone was impressed. After all, she let the guy fall asleep first so technically it was not self defence. And this gave the police a problem. If only she had stabbed him while he was beating her.

‘Who says she didn’t?’ I said as I served up the scrambled eggs and bread for their breakfast.

‘She did, she’s admitted everything’

‘Admitted what?’ They like their tea sweet here so I poured half a packet of sugar into the teapot and gave it a stir.

‘That she stabbed him while he was asleep in bed’

‘No. That’s where he lay down to die after she stabbed him in the kitchen while he was beating her, the neighbour can testify to that.’ I poured the tea.

‘How do you know that?’

‘How does anybody know anything? All the court will know is what’s in your report and all you have to do is ask the neighbour the right question so you get the answer you want’

I could see they were thinking about this.

‘I would be happy to testify that I threw him out of my shop because he was drunk, violent and abusive and those who were in my shop at the time and want to continue shopping there will be my witnesses’

I may not have done his wife any favours by selling him so much booze in the first place but I would damn well perjure myself if necessary to make some sort of amends.

The guy was a thug, a waster, a very disturbed violent wife and child beater. I am sorry it had to end this way but I admire the woman’s courage. I agree with the gossipers. It takes a hell of a lot of guts to choose a knife, walk into the bedroom and take the life of the father of your children. But then I guess that whatever connections short circuited in her brain defaulted to protecting her children regardless of the consequences she may have to face.

There is a lot less paperwork required for a clear case of self defence than that required to prove pre meditated murder. I just hope the Police draw the same conclusion. If not, I’ll spit in their porridge.

Saturday 10 March 2012


After my last post I seemed to be the butt of a bit of toilet humour but the deepest wound was inflicted by a prolific author and altruist I admire who suggested that my effort was not only long, it was shit. Milder wounds were inflicted by a meerkat who used American literary precedence to suggest that not only was I talking shit, I was shit. An antipodean commentator admitted that he had lost interest half way through this alleged verbal shit of mine but for them, when it comes to literature, anything longer than the instructions necessary to inject coins into a vending machine and get a cold tinny out are superfluous and, therefore, shit. And if you ask the maid who had to chuck water down my non flushing dunny, there was nothing fucking alleged about that shit.

I put my heart and soul and just about everything else I could expel through my shredded arsehole into that post and you lot are taking the piss. I mean the shit.

Now I could bleat and whine about how Bloggers are supposed to encourage other bloggers.

But you know that’s not my style.

So, Gentlemen, I hope your next shit is a hedgehog. No need to name you, you'll know who you are in the morning.

Thinking about it, you have been such nice guys so I wouldn't want you to suffer terribly. So stick the band aids and the toilet paper in the fridge. It'll make it easier. Trust me.

Friday 9 March 2012


My loo is quite an interesting place. Not aesthetically, you understand. It has white tiled walls and floor and the usual amenities. No, what makes my loo special is the window high up the wall overlooking the hard standing to the side of the shop along with its outstanding acoustics.

Mine is but a village shop. I suppose being in Africa and on a river by the sea it should be called a trading post and I should wear breeches and a pith helmet. And maybe change the name of this blog from a Hippo on the Lawn (since there are no hippos although we saw a croc the other day, just a little one but enough to remind one that it must have a Mum and Dad somewhere) to A River by the Sea.

I have a lot of regulars now and from about seven in the morning the shop is busy. Like all village shops (although just a rose tinted memory in UK), it has become a community centre. I even dug out all my dining room chairs and put them out so that villagers could sit, natter and of course, buy more. The fact it is still a building site bothers none. The fact that just recently they have either had to time their visits according to the tide or accept taking their shoes off and wade to get to it seems to bother them even less. They know that at the end of their damp journey is a dry oasis (?! If it is dry, can it be an oasis?), where they can sit and drink an ice cold beer (so it IS an oasis after all).

Normally, they like to clog the hard standing in front of the shop but occasionally, if the conversation is to be private and, as anywhere in Africa, animated, the combatants will retire to the hard standing coincidentally opposite the window of my loo.

Late yesterday afternoon Marcia made me Calalu (a fishy stew), beans cooked with palm oil and funge. I love this dish but as I was busy I left it to eat later and promptly forgot all about it. Thinking that I would be eating it within ten or so minutes, Marcia merely covered it with another plate and also promptly forgot about it. We managed to close the shop at half ten, did a bit of admin and prepared for bed. That’s when I realised I was bloody hungry so I asked Marcia where she had put my food.

‘I left it on the table in the Jango, you’re not going to eat it are you?’

‘I’m starving, it’ll be OK’

‘Let me reheat it properly for you…’

‘Don’t bother, you should have seen some of the stuff I ate on operations in the jungle.’ Old soldiers, you see, never die. They just get very boring.

It must have been around three in the morning when I woke up not knowing quite why. Then my abdomen moved in a manner reminiscent of a scene from ‘Alien’.

An hour of misery later, Marcia stuck her head around the bog door.

‘Are you alright?’

‘Oh God Marcia!’ I groaned.

‘Is there anything I can get you? Some water?’

‘Please. Fetch me a torch, my book, my fags and a glass of whisky.’ She made to move.

‘Wait, better bring me the whisky bottle, I’m in for the long haul’

She came back with everything I had asked for and, thankfully as it turned out, a couple of litres of mineral water and an extra bog roll.

I was still there when Marcia woke up and brought me a cup of tea. It was only then it occurred to me that Marcia had never once said, ‘I told you so’.

Anyone with even half a mind knows that if you want to end it all, eating a fish supper that has stood for six hours in this climate is one way of doing it but a bullet through your head is a damn sight quicker and lot less painful. But bent up double with legs paralysed through lack of blood flow, even though I knew the white tiled wars and floor would make mopping up afterwards easier, I knew I stood no chance of making it around the building and to my desk drawer in which I knew I had the ultimate 7.65 mm pain killer.

Marcia came back in again and replaced the two empty bottles of mineral water with another and noted I had not touched my whisky. I was wracked with another sudden spasm at the thought.

‘Oh Please, Marcia’, I gasped, literally scared shitless she was going to pop in again and offer me a plate of the eggs and bacon I could smell her cooking.

Since I had screwed up the plumbing yesterday, I could not flush so had to rely on the water stored in a big plastic bin and a bucket. You have to understand, I was in agony and had sweated like a thrashed race horse all night long and was in a confined space. It was deeply unpleasant. So I dipped the bucket into the cool water in the bin next to me and, still sitting on the bog, poured it all over myself. Alerted, perhaps by the flood of water out from under the toilet door, Marcia had another look to find me drenched and clutching the sodden roll of toilet paper I had forgotten to lift off the floor before taking my unconventional shower.

‘I’m off to town for more stock,’ she informed me, ‘Edu will look after the shop. Here is your mobile, I have put more credit in’. A minute later she was back with a new bog roll. I heard Marcia and the driver exchanging a joke I couldn’t quite catch but must have been very funny and then they were gone.

The drenching must have done me some good as I started to feel better as well as less disgusting. I tried smoking a cigarette and, apart from the usual early morning hacking cough, enjoyed it. I turned to my book which, in the dark of this truly awful night had been ignored because, having tried all ways, I had decided it was impossible to hold a book, a torch and simultaneously hang on to a bog seat. Feeling slightly better and in dawn’s light, I could now free one hand for the book and keep one dedicated to my stability (I did mention my legs were numb and useless, didn’t I?)

I reached the point in Richard Benson’s book, ‘The Farm, The Story of One family and the English Countryside’ where his parents had just sold their old farmhouse (the farm business having gone bust) and were now living in caravans and hopefully (I cannot predict the end of the book) by self building, jumping up the property ladder the same way my father did and this reminded me of when our family lived in two caravans in a farmer’s field.

Sleep deprivation is recognised as an effective method of extracting information along with the more controversial ‘water boarding’ favoured by the Mafia and the US Military. My sleep deprivation was involuntary, I cannot claim it wasn’t self inflicted as I had ignored Marcia’s advice after all, but I had voluntarily water boarded myself so clearly my mind was wandering. I remembered how wonderful it was to be out of the town and slap bang in the middle of the countryside. TV seemed less important as there was so much for us kids to do. The farmer showed us a badger sett and, oblivious of the fact that badger baiters would only come well after our bedtime, we spent hours guarding it. The farmer showed us how to catch and bake hedgehogs in clay and once, while guarding his fox ravaged duck pond, hiding quiet as mice in the shadow of a wall, we saw the vixen on another raid pass no more than a few feet away from us through the autumn mist and onto the little bridge leading to the island and its duck house and we jumped up and shouted and chased across the bridge after the fox who, having run a complete circle causing us to jump out of the way, sprang into the pond and swam for it.

‘We SAW it!’ we insisted, half soaked and covered in mud, ‘I jumped in and tried to catch it,’ I added. I was the wettest and muddiest so I could get away with such a blatant lie. I had been so scared when it ran back at us I had fallen in.

‘It’s well dark’, the farmer grumbled, ‘yer mother’ll be worried an’ you’ll catch yer death. Best clean yersel’s up at the sink’.

‘He never even said thanks’ I said to my brother as we washed up.

‘Well, YOU didn’t catch the fox, DID you’ replied my brother, clearly pissed at me for claiming I had tried when in actual fact it was he who had remained on his feet to face the fox down and then had to haul me out of the mire.

Mrs Farmer asked us to hurry home. She said she would have phoned our parents to say we were all right but she knew we didn’t have a phone in the caravan. I was suddenly depressed, everyone knows we are poor, I thought. Even the kids at school took the piss. I had no idea what a Pikey was but apparently my Dad was one and so were we. Every time I fancied a girl and tried to talk to her she would say, you’re the family that live in the caravans. In retrospect I have to confess that the ‘vans were pretty bleak. Drop a bar of soap in the shower and you had to go outside, crawl under the ‘van and retrieve it, there were so many bloody holes in the floor. And in winter it truly was an experience. I have no idea how my mother coped. Dad had a plan and he had clearly convinced Mum and she was right behind him, 100 per cent. Every day she would make sure his suit was immaculate, he had a clean shirt (Dad, ex military, polished his own shoes) and would make sure we all had a decent breakfast inside us before Dad left for the office and us for school. As the temperature dropped, Dad installed Calor gas heaters. A gas heater blazing away in a cardboard, plastic and wood framed mobile hut would, by today’s HSE standards be considered a marginal fire risk but I now assume he had realised that the risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning (CO being heavier than air) was minimal as it could escape through the holes in the floor, and he always positioned the heaters very carefully and told us that under no circumstances were we to put anything near them or even touch them. At night, in our highly inflammable, non kite marked, impossible to get out of in hurry sleeping bags, we snuggled up to them as close as we could.

Us having washed up, Mrs Farmer told us to cut along quick. ‘Here’, she said offering a brown paper back (you remember them?). ‘No peeking and don’t drop it. This is for your Mum’. As we turned to leave, without looking up from his paper Mr Farmer said, ‘I wouldn’t want to try and grab a vixen wi’me bare hands. Would you Dot?’ Mrs Farmer winked at us and we left.

When we got home, Mother beat the crap out of us and then opened the bag, In there were a dozen ducks eggs and a big bag of freshly made Welsh cakes.

Such thoughts wander aimlessly through the minds of those afflicted by the very rarest form of dysentery, for this is what I decided I had, an affliction so unique it is pointless for me even to attempt to describe as, with out experience, no one could ever comprehend its symptoms, not even a doctor who, forgetting his Hippocratic oath would hastily scribble out a prescription for antibiotics and get me out of his office as quick as he could, thereby missing the chance of a Nobel Peace prize for medicine. In civilised countries the greatest killers are not heart attacks or cancer, it is Man Flu. What I was suffering from was far more lethal. Man Dysentery. I had struggled into the bog weighing three thousand two hundred and eighty nine kilograms and now I was so light I was in danger of being dislodged from the toilet seat by the beat of the wings of the mosquitoes who had added to my hell all night long.

I won’t go into awful details but you get pretty bored losing your mind in a 2 x 2 metre khazi and I decided that had I opened the bog door, I could have been deadly accurate at up to twenty paces.

Then I heard the voices. Clearly they had retired to the side hard standing and where now being captured by the unique acoustics of my loo.

Angolans always gob off. Their stereos do not have volume controls, they only have on-off switches. These two were going full tilt at each other.

I recognised the voices before I picked up the thread of the conversation. They were going at each other hammer and tongs. Any moment blood would be spilt. I was in no fit state to lend a hand but I definitely wanted to see it if only to stop them bashing each others heads against my shop window.

‘Well, I think it is scandalous!’ That came through, clear as a bell. Mr X, married man, works weekends at the nearby Universal Church as a chef, comes in every day first thing in the morning during the week, drags over two beers until lunchtime before switching to wine and buying a slab of beef or pork ribs and a sack of rice which he takes to cook at home.

‘How can YOU say it is scandalous?’ Ah Mr Y. Fisherman. Single. Goes out according to the tides. Since it was now (I hurriedly consulted my mobile display) 7.45, he must be back by now. He is good for two tins of sardines, fresh bread, a small jar of mayonnaise, some tomatoes, a litre carton of red wine, a chicken and two packets of spaghetti. If he has had an average night, I swap for his fish and always throw in a couple of extra tins of sardines. He always asks for tinned sardines but I am sure he cannot see the irony. If he has had a good night, he can walk away with 500 bucks in cash. With all the high tides, he is earning more than me at the moment.

Bugger the regular business, I like them both and really did not want to be peeling either of them off the concrete but as far as relocating my evil body was concerned, my effective range was about a yard and a half.

‘You know Miss Z is mine!’

‘How can Miss Z be yours? You’re fucking married!’

‘I was shagging her before you!’

‘And now she’s shagging me, so go back to screwing yer missus, no-one else will!’

Shitty fucking death!

This required a Herculean effort and sensitive diplomatic intervention on my part so I hauled myself up on the bog seat so I could stick my head out the window, thought about it briefly before yelling:

‘Oi! You two. Knock off the fucking soap before I come out there and shag the pair of you instead.’

I can’t believe it. You’ve got a married man screwing another girl who is screwing someone else and he is outraged by her infidelity. Christ, with all the waves I would have thought that at least I deserved a shit in peace.

Thursday 8 March 2012


Today I had my first delivery of water.

Not the sea water which comes free with every high tide but good, honest, I’d nearly but not quite trust it to drink sort of water.

Despite the damage to my land, the invading sea water only ever came perilously close to flooding the actual accommodation confining itself to knocking down a few half built cottages.

I have been busy. I have not spent all my time staring at or writing gloomy reports of biblical floods. I have been doing Man stuff as well. In UK, water systems work under the pressure a decent head of water gives. Here, unless you mount your tank on a high pedestal (making it impossible for the tanker to unload), you need a pump.

First job then was to install the pump and make the connections to the 15,000 litre above ground water tank. Simple, eh? A couple of hours later the tank was connected to the pump and the pump ready to plug into the electrical supply.

Next connect the pump to the building pipe work. Took me a while of digging around the foundations but eventually I found the inlet pipe to the building. Cool.

Another hour and everything was connected up ready for the arrival of the tanker.

Ten thousand litres of the cleanest water I had seen in over a month. I cupped my hand under a leaky union on the tanker and swilled a bit around my mouth. It wasn’t salty, it had no grit or bits in it. I was pleased.

I stuck the plug of the pump lead into the generator and it kicked into gear. Once the system is pressured up, it should stop running. It didn’t. I opened the outside tap and water gushed out. Clearly the pump was pumping and not spinning air so it wasn’t a priming problem. I closed the tap and the pump kept going.

Shit, the toilet I thought. I can’t call it a bathroom as it has only a bog and a sink, no bath or shower. Sure enough, the sink tap was wide open so I turned it off.

Still the pump kept going.

The building I am talking about is destined to be the kitchen and the male and female toilets of the restaurant. Until shortly before we arrived it was in a raw state and I asked the contractor to fit a toilet and sink in the Men’s lav, leave the ladies lav and fit windows and doors to make it our temporary accommodation.

Still this bloody pump would not switch off.

I checked the toilet again. Tap closed, no leaking toilet cistern.

Must be the pressure switch on the pump, I thought. I pulled out the screw driver and started to tweak.

Still the pump ran.

Come on Tom, don’t get angry or frustrated, nip to the shop, help yourself to a cider, have a quiet smoke and think this one through.

So there I was sitting comfortably by a racing water pump, halfway through a bottle of Savannah and smoking a tab when I heard this almighty scream and Marcia came hurtling around the building shouting the Portuguese equivalent of ‘What the FUCK are you doing?’

Have you ANY idea how fast and how far water, powered by a good couple of metres of head and a 1KW pump, can spurt out of the end of an uncapped water pipe?

Yes, I had turned the tap off in the loo, but I had completely forgotten the not-connected-to-anything pipework to the kitchen that was our temporary bedroom and the ladies loo that was now our kitchen.

In a few hours I had achieved all by myself what the sea and the moon had been trying to do for the last few weeks.

And Marcia had only just started talking to me again.

Still, it has been good drying weather today.

If all else fails, Pray.

Still two more days of high tides to go. Nature is relentless and I cannot believe how calm I am. A couple of years ago I would have been crawling all over the walls and ceiling and lashing at anyone or anything in sight.

This afternoon, after today’s high water I went and inspected the damage. I have not been sleeping too well. I can hear when the waves start breaking over. From a distant swish the sound becomes a more insistent and longer drawn out woosh and I know I am being flooded again. I know that the cresting water has no way to roll back into the sea and drawn by gravity, must find an alternative route back to where it belongs. I agree it took millions of years to erode a barren wasteland into what is now the Grand Canyon but that was only rainwater over hard sediment. Imagine what the Atlantic Ocean can do to soft soil in only a few weeks.

Naturally, my neighbour bringing in some heavy plant and building a dyke to deflect the onslaught of the waves around his property and across mine instead has had a slightly exacerbating effect. My inspection of this afternoon revealed I have lost a quarter of my land as the deflected sea water runs in torrents to the river scouring topsoil away and the remaining two thirds is a lake. Where I once had a ramp to launch boats, I now have a tidal estuary. During the night, the tide will be high but tomorrow, it will top two metres above average. Even the once confident and dismissive locals (this happens every ten years, don’t worry) are coming to me and asking me to print off tide tables. For why? What are you going to do, shout at God and wave your printed forms and say the tide is higher than Google says it should be?

Whatever is going to happen will happen and there is sod all that we can do about it. Better to hunker down, hang on for the next few days (Saturday will be the last night) and then on Sunday, after Church, go and inspect the damage. Then, as a Community we can decide, according to need, what needs to be done.

Maybe God is related to Gordon Brown and I am being punished for not paying taxes these last twenty years but it is still no reason for me to run around like a headless chicken and beat myself to death against one of my few remaining palm trees or step into a new ravine to be swept out to sea and be devoured by sharks.

Out of the blue, I received two emails. One from a fellow blogger suggesting she might be able to find a donor to pay for the water filtration system for the village. Fresh, potable water forms about the most essential part of disaster recovery so the timing was excellent. Would that all agencies could react so quickly, the disaster hasn’t even played out yet but we already have a plan.

Now I realise that most of the village is built on higher ground so will ride all this out a little better than me and so long as my shop survives they will all be happy, because if it doesn’t, they’ll be back to boiling brackish water again and the under fives will be dying either from beasties in their guts or an overdose of salt. So this was a really cheery email and lifted my spirits enormously.

The second email, and I am typing fast as I can as I can hear the waves whooshing again, was from a dear friend of many years who told me that every time he responded to the Tyler’s Toast, he thought of me.

Then 'ere’s to the sons o' the Widow,
Wherever, 'owever they roam.
'Ere’s to all they desire, an' if they require
A speedy return to their 'ome.

A verse from the Tyler’s Toast

Just when you need a bit of a lift, two really inspiring emails.

A single drop of water is all a seed needs to germinate and I am grateful for the chance to have a crack at the water treatment plant (don’t want to say too much now in case I hex myself). Imagine the power of a single offer of assistence let alone the addition of an emotive reminder of a fraternity. So W. Bro. Paul:

Thanks to want me ‘ome,
I'd really like t’oblige,
I still owes a clinic see,
an’ a water treat aside.

The sea will smash us stupid,
an’ the kids’ll start to cry.
They’ll choke on salty water
An’ the crops’ll start to die.

Bastard waves will carve out bays,
And wives will start to wail
But fishiemen still need their pie
So it’s dooty to comply.

So please take a sip for me,
an’ enjoy yer festive board.
This Widow’s Son, and 'is mates,
need the prayers from all.

Four verses of shit from me. So what shall we call it? The lament for the fisherman who has to venture out in a dangerous sea to catch fish while his Missus is bailing out his house but if he does not go out his kids will starve? Not catchy enough.

According to these woefully inaccurate tide tables, it’ll all be over after Sunday Mass which will provide the priest, along with the best damp footed congregation he has ever enjoyed, further evidence of the power of the cloth. As he holds the Host up on high, the waters will miraculously recede allowing us to kneel on Terra Firma without drowning and as he says 'Corpus Christi'. we'll say 'Amen' and get our first bread snack in days.

Right now I am praying like mad and writing poetry. How can I still be so cynical?

Tuesday 6 March 2012

High Noon (I mean high tide)

The sea is misbehaving itself again. Apparently it is something to do with an Equinox but with all the shortages evidenced by the largely empty shop shelves we endure here I am not really surprised that I have not heard of the latest Chrysler MPV or personal hygiene product, especially as I do not drive anymore and wash in a river. My neighbour, who being a white South African has absolutely no comprehension of irony tried to correct my vision of the cause. ‘It’ll get worse over the next few days with the tide peaking at an unusual two metres over mean on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and that means 40 cms over the top!’ he said with inexcusable earnestness. What we’ve had so far then were just the free aperitifs poured out by cost conscious diplomats at the Embassy Cocktail party but now we were in for the full three day pub crawl hosted with the largesse only the biggest multi-national of all, World Oceans Inc., could throw.

But I have jumped ahead a bit so let’s wind back time say, ooh, ten minutes?

I was sitting in the Jango reading my book. A lot of people read books to take their minds off the reality that is theirs which, according to my father were generally desperate but then he was a soldier all his life and read a lot of Kipling and retired from the Army just in time for Heath’s government, the four day working week, power cuts, rocketing petrol prices and a job with the gas board. In Business they say timing is everything. By that standard my father was a lousy businessman but, with the impeccable timing that had eluded him throughout his life, he had the decency to die in his garage six months before retirement so my Mother cashed in the full military, company death in service and widow’s pensions. Inland Revenue call that unearned income, so have most of that away but still, when he keeled over, it was the thought that counted.

I was reading because I hadn’t anything else to do and, apart from my fractious relationship with Marcia, hadn’t a care in the world. Even the fact that the sea was swilling around my ankles didn’t bother me. Sand, under an African sun gets bloody hot so a cool saline footbath was very welcome especially since I have only just been able to start breathing properly and can once again carry a full a pot of tea in my right hand.

The Soba and his crew splashed by on their way to their fishing boat and the Soba called out, ‘What are those guys doing?’ and pointed behind me.

I looked over my shoulder and saw what looked like a chain gang working along my fence. I hadn’t a clue what they were doing. I could only see the top halves of them anyway but they were clearly doing something and putting a lot of energy into it. And then a front loader with back hoe arrived.

In UK, or anywhere else civilised for that matter, interaction between neighbours is generally quite formal and brief. A nod and a wave over a communal boundary fence, a bit of jealousy over the new Mercedes or instructing lawyers about a particularly horrible extension. In Angola, it can all get terribly interesting so if you do decide to get nosey, be prepared for the long haul. So I pocketed my fags, a spare lighter (these Chinese made ones always fuck up when you are a mile away from a replacement and amongst a group of non smokers); into my back pocket went what in America they call a ‘Fifth’ of whisky and what I call a ‘nip’, and into my hand went a cold beer out of the fridge as I was faced with an indecently long walk of over two hundred yards to get to those now industriously engaged on my boundary.

I think I mentioned that the Atlantic Ocean is busy trying to eat that bit of Africa I bought until it can unite with the Indian Ocean and that I had decided it was pointless fighting nature so if it wanted to swamp over my land creating a lake and a river, so what? I would let the flowing water decide on the route back to the river it was most comfortable with and then construct a garden with a free water feature around it. You can’t buy one of those in B&Q and the modern version of Inigo Jones is well out of my reach.

Evidently, my neighbour was less sanguine. A fully equipped basic Cabana runs to about $60,000 US here and he had lost 15 of them (I only lost one and five halves, the five half built ones and the nearly complete one with the thatch that was to be our new home). Me? OK, I crapped myself when it happened and scared the life out of my brother in Germany when I stood there up to my arse in the relentless onslaught of Atlantic waves and phoned him saying I and everything I owned was going under, literally. You buy a beachside plot in a place like Angola, or anywhere really, and you are playing baccarat at a high table where Nature has the shoe and she can load the cards in any order. What did I drop? About a hundred grand? My neighbour dropped nearly a million and that is not including lost revenue (apart from scoring three fishing rods and reels from my clients on Saturday, I have had no revenue). Now that’s a serious kick in the nuts for anyone who can’t spread the misery across a load of shareholders and Lloyd’s names and still claim his bonus. The thing is, though, the sea is relentless so I could understand my neighbour’s agitation when I strolled up barefoot and shirtlless clutching an ice cold tinny.

I have never seen Rico do anything that might cause him to break out in a sweat so I was mildly interested when I realised that under a hot sun he was supervising a load of guys swinging enschadas and digging a ditch round his property leading straight onto mine. Naturally, the sea was keen to exploit such industriousness and the resultant weakness to soil structure and I realised why I had enjoyed both a cup of tea and a foot bath at the same time. Some people who know me, or think they do, always assume I am a pessimist and stop there in their analysis. They are the ones who are shallow. Of course I get upset occasionally. Of course I rail at the Gods of Misfortune that have plagued me all my life. Other people think I tend to violence too easily, a proclivity to throwing punches rather than resorting to reasoned discourse. If something goes badly wrong, it is human nature to be disappointed and if the man responsible happens to be in front of you then a quick smack on the jaw can be a tremendously rewarding, if only fleeting thrill but grounds for further grief. If one faces a disaster, then thoughts of murder, suicide and getting smashed out of one’s head pervade. It is either that, or suffer on in silence and take it.

‘Rico’, I said, ‘are you flooding my property?’

‘Oh, It’s you’ he said. ‘I have to do something. I’m losing everything.’

Now this situation was a real disaster for both of us but only relatively speaking. If I lose a 100k he would have to lose a million to hurt as much I guess but we were united and on common, if now unstable ground in that both of us faced ruin. Even though I had tried hard to like the guy and he had rejected every such consideration, right now I felt was a good time to bury the hatchet and co-operate.

‘Rico, we can engineer our way out of this. I am happy to lose a bit of my land and using your back hoe we can dig drainage that would take the stress off your land and release it through mine. I would end up with a lake but that would be a stable hydraulic sump to absorb the stresses between sea and river. All we have to do is get through the next few days and then we can do the civils to stabilise the drainage infrastructure afterwards’

‘You are not using my digger. I will just end the drain here’, he indicated the boundary to my property, ‘and what you do after that is your problem’.

Like I said, a hard to like guy.

The lads who were digging muttered about digging drains onto a neighbour’s property being illegal. A lot of them were local and bought beer and groceries in my shop. I could see they were uncomfortable and having seen me break my hand on an official’s nose I guess they were wondering what I would do to a white man.

‘Ah well,’ I said, ‘Just don’t bust my fence’

If someone nicks your wallet, spends all the cash and has sold the credit cards you have already cancelled and you catch him later, that’s the guy you punch. If someone trashes your car and you know he is never going to be able to compensate you so you have to swallow the hit, that’s the guy you punch. If you have some Angolan official who is so low down the pecking order and is crude enough to try and sting you in front of witnesses, that is the guy you punch. On the other hand, a guy that breaks the law in front of witnesses very sympathetic to you the results of which will cause some very obvious damage to your property, that is the guy you do not punch. That is the guy you are real nice to while searching for the before photos on the laptop and taking the after photos which will be duly presented to the relevant authorities deciding the level of compensation.

Marcia was all for rabble rousing, the village turning up with burning brands but I hope she has seen it my way now.

There are times when swift action is appropriate. There are others, usually when it is a real disaster, that merit calm contemplation.

I poured myself a scotch and went back to my book.

By the way, it is called No Angel by Tom Bower, the secret life of Bernie Ecclestone.

A very good read. Especially if you need any hints about fucking someone over.

Sunday 4 March 2012

A Fish Supper

The clients came yesterday. I am used to African time so even though they had told me that they would be leaving the city at six in the morning, I figured I would be lucky to see them by ten. At dawn I had more or less found a comfortable hollow in the mattress and an arrangement of pillows that allowed me to rest without the fear of spearing a lung with a bit of shattered rib or instinctively slapping a mosquito with a busted hand. The night before I had blasted myself with half a bottle of scotch for medicinal purposes and was feeling pretty bloody fragile. As I lay there, the sun reminding me it was a new day and I had a business to run, I gave up and crawled out of bed.

I like routine, I think I mentioned that I hate it when people mess with my desk and move so much as a pen, never mind having the temerity to tidy it up. I have only been here a month and am living on a building site but already I have my routines. During the day, I have the doors and windows open and Alex is anyway roaming the countryside or splashing in the river but when it is time for him to sleep, I stop smoking and have a place for my cigarettes and lighter so I know exactly where they are when I stumble out of bed the following morning. The ashtray is always positioned closer to my hand than my drink, be that a scotch or the only non alcoholic drink I enjoy, my morning cup of tea, so that I do not spill ash into the drink.

My desk may appear chaotic but it is organised. Having read and enjoyed a particular book, I am reluctant to consign it immediately back to the bookshelf like a whore I have paid and used so they stack up a bit. Sometimes I have three or four books on the go as I need to do the author justice by re reading passages as often, my interpretation of what someone appears to say or write is not what they mean, or is at least open to some interpretation or at the very least, careful consideration.

The middle draw of the right hand bank of my desk contains those tools every man needs to prove to his partner/wife/concubine that he is useful around the house. The top drawer of the same bank contains items in high demand such as paperclips, nail clippers, spare batteries, my hairbrush, a bicycle pump, heart pills and spray, and ink for my fountain pen. The remaining four drawers are similarly organised, each with a more or less generic role. Imagine if, in extremis and blinded with pain, you grasped hurriedly for the nitro lingual and died having sprayed WD 40 down your throat all because someone fucked around with your desk.

I really feel uncomfortable if someone messes with mine.

So my strict adherence to routine but an inability to get up on at least this particular morning found me greeting my clients clad only in boxer shorts, tea kettle unboiled and a toothbrush stuck in my mouth.

I had spent the night coughing up what I was convinced were lumps of congealed blood. At least one of my lungs had collapsed and other injuries had forced me to cancel all forthcoming piano recitals and there I was standing mostly naked on a dirt track, bereft of tea, with two guys offering me an ice cold cider at eight in the morning. Cider.

What a cool start to the day.

And it just got better. I packed them off into their boat and although they didn’t hook into a big one, by the time they got back I was properly shaved and dressed and the barbecue was lit. I had warned them that I wasn’t open yet so they had turned up with half of Waitrose. I am supposed to be running a restaurant but all I did was supply them a boat and a grill and they did the rest. They served us the best meal we have eaten in ages. The wine was divine. The conversation so refreshing. We were sat in a building site but they still said so many encouraging things and convinced me they were looking through the same rose tinted spectacles I was. Even Marcia was infected, producing a delicious salad and new potatoes doused in olive oil kissed with salt and even addressing me directly on occasion.

They told me that they had been reading my blog and expressed their disappointment that neither Dominic or Alex where there before giving Marcia fine Italian patisserie, a bag full of pretty much everything a three year old like Alex would desire and fishing rods and reels for Dominic.

Before they left, which was far too soon, they asked to settle up. Settle up? For the rest of their lives these two guys will stay and eat here for free. I realise that this is not the way to run a business but since this business is mine and I do not have a bean counter on my back anymore, I am so happy to be able to make an incontestable executive decision.

Marcia, who as I have found is not averse to breaking backs for carelss altruism was also entranced. So much so she even slept in the same room as me last night. Not in the same bed, I have to confess, but on a sofa but one at least twenty yards closer to me than the bunk she chose the previous night so, given the confines of the room and the reletive locations of bed and sofa I would say that this was about a thousand percent improvement, so something to be optimistic if not wholly cheerful about.

I had chartered the boat for the whole day and the lads had only used it for two hours but I explained to the owner that a day’s charter was a day’s charter so stumped up the cash on the nail. A deal is a deal as far as I was concerned and after all, just the rods and reels they left for Dominic at Angolan prices were worth miles more especially as Dominic is thirteen on Friday and giving a lad what he wants on his Birthday is priceless.

The boat owner was bloody reasonable. He knows I am a keen fisherman and he pointed out that I had paid all the fuel and mix and now a full charter so this morning he took me out fishing.

I hooked into everything. At one point I had to tell the man to kill the engine and help me as I had two on the go. These are only small skiffs with a 40 horsepower on the back so there are no fancy fish boxes or anything like that. We were skidding on the deck with nowhere to plant our feet as it was swilling with fish, big buggers, all between 20 and 25 kilos. I was sunburned to shit. My hands were all cut up from grabbing leaders over the side so Bota could get them with the gaff. This evening I realise that my right hand is size extra fat again, I have teeth marks all over my remaining fingers from tugging lures out and my ribs are really killing me but then, there out on that water six or seven miles into the Atlantic with all those fish? I reckon you could have drilled me with a 12 Gauge and I wouldn’t have noticed.

Finally Bota says that unless we want to paddle back (and, by the way, we don’t have paddles), we need to head in as the fuel is gone. How many times have you sport fishermen been out there and finally given it up because you have endured a whole day without a nibble and have run out of beer? Imagine throwing in the towel through lack of fuel when the fish are trying their hardest to give themselves up? Well I’ve never been there before. This was an outstanding day cut short by poor logistics. All I can say with absolute confidence is that unless you were debilitated by sea sickness (and the sea was rough), under the same circumstances you would be madder than a sack full of cut snakes.

We got back in and started to unload and clean the fish. The locals pitched up and then Marcia appeared and asked Bota how much for some of the best ones she had her eye on.

‘Ask Sr. Tomas,’ he said, ‘It’s his charter and he caught them’

What a decent bloke. I let Marcia choose a couple and then offered the rest to Bota. He offered my charter fee back.

This evening I cooked Marcia and the family a fish supper during which Marcia actually engaged me in animated conversation. It was pretty good, (the fish supper I mean as, with only a side of decent ribs left and one clandestine attack with a broom behind me I was on my guard a bit at all this unexpected civility), at the end of which Bota once again offered me the fee back in exchange for all the fish that, as far as I was concerned were already his.

Bugger that, I said, keep the fish and the fee and let’s go fishing again.

I think we are looking at the start of a beautiful relationship.

Saturday 3 March 2012

No Problem

I have my first clients coming tomorrow. Not clients as in customers for the shop but clients who want to come here, go fish, eat and drink.

But I am not open, I pointed out to them. No problem.

But it is a building site, I said. No problem.

Next door is a smart place with smart sport fishing boats, airconditioning, they even have BUILDINGS! No problem, it is the idea of slumming it that attracts us.

Well, thanks for that. But… My first clients. I am putting in a shit load of legwork. I need to rent the best boat in the village. That would be Sr. Bota. I don’t have his number and can’t nip round his place because Marcia is busy in town instructing lawyers to legally separate me from her and everything I have which is all in her name anyway but in the meantime I am in charge of the shop and cannot leave it unattended as she’ll need all the profit if she is to afford those outrageous lawyer’s fees.

This being a real community, however, with everyone knowing everyone else and, as I discovered this morning, their business as well no matter how private, it was easy for me to persuade someone to nip round to Sr. Bota’s on my behalf and give him a message to contact me.

In due course the runner returned and said Sr. Bota was not there but his brother said please feel free to ring him. But I don’t have his number, I said. No problem. The runner ran off and returned with the number and I rang Sr. Bota and explained my problem, I needed a boat. No problem, says Sr. Bota. Yeah, but there is another problem, I need the kit as well, the rods, reels, lines and lures. No problem, he said. These guys want to leave town at six in the morning so they will probably be here ready to go by eight. No problem.

Then my brother rang from Germany and said that Marcia had just sent him an sms asking for help. No problem, I said, tell her to fuck off.

Look you ALL must know by now that I am a misogynist and can’t stand bleating, whining, ungrateful, emotional, weepy, unstable, expensive, vindictive, unreasonable and irrational females and the only reason I have anything to do with them at all is that God blessed me with both a dick and the occasional urge to park it somewhere. Some blokes are lucky and were given light rear echelon duties with their own kind but some of us, no doubt in the interests of the procreation essential to the survival of any species, were born to be frontline troops and must endure the not inconsiderable artillery women have at their disposal as any reasonable bloke who has head butted a Le Creuset casserole after an agreeable night out with colleagues will testify. Women claim to be intelligent adults and want equal rights, well if that is so and if they don’t like the person they chose to live with, why waste hours of good TV and a whole mealtime pointing that out at the tops of their irritatingly strident voices, rather than just going away and leaving an honest chap in peace?

They talk about pre nuptial agreements and marriage contracts. What the hell is wrong with: You live with me, I’ll provide you a roof over your head, put food on the table, let you watch your soap on TV for an hour a night and in exchange you will keep the house tidy, look after the kids, cook all the food, wash and iron all the clothes, run the shop, carry water from the river and let me shag you if and when I feel like?

No problem, says Micky, I’ll talk to her.

Micky is a sop. He is the sort of guy that writes poetry about women comparing the only bits of them I find useful to soft scented flowers, twittering skylarks in azure blue skies, the gentle kiss of an early morning dew over freshly mown green grass. Like I say, he’s a dickhead and probably the right person to talk to Marcia.

In the meantime, relationships of whatever kind are to be enjoyed, not worked at. In the absence of physical abuse, which are altogether different circumstances, if you are not enjoying it any more, just go, and resist this awful tendency to make the other poor sod’s life a misery. If the relationship is less than harmonious, take a long look in the mirror before starting to throw the crockery. And that’s another thing I do not understand about women. Life without the finest Meissen porcelain would be unbearable so you go to Dresden and melt the card but that’s the first thing they’ll toss on the floor. Women complain about everything, whereas I can put up with virtually anything. All I ask is an occasional bit of peace and quiet and for no one to mess with my desk or bookshelves. Is that too much to ask? Shit, I even bloody cook.

Have you ever noticed how you can pass the whole day in icy silence and the moment you pick up a book, or start typing, the dragoness from Hell decides that Now is the moment to bring up some grievance from days, weeks, months, years ago or even a period when she was living with some guy in Palma who according to her had a longer dick, a deeper wallet and something that never occurs to ex girlfriends, evidently more sense ‘cos he dumped her? And if you happened to have been indiscreetly reaching for the whisky decanter at the moment she decided to let loose, you duck and make a mental note to buy more Meissen shares. That’s what I am talking about.

Look at how many Gentleman’s clubs sprang into existence providing an ambience agreeable to the exchange of intellectual ideas. What do these bastions of the fundamental foundations of male dominated society have to compete with? The Women’s Institute. ‘I am sorry love, I have no idea what an atom is made up of or how to wire up a plug but we do a nice cup of tea and you should try the scones’.

Desperate, the Associated Examining Board tried to show some equality for those studying English Literature by including, surely only by default, that awful tome Wuthering Heights. ‘Oh be still my beating heart’. Centuries of English Literature students could have been spared what seemed like decades of mental anguish if only Heathcliffe had just raped the shit out of Cathy in the first chapter and done what any decent bloke would have done and stabbed everyone else in the chest, especially Hindley. Instead Emily Bronte is up there with Shakespeare but should have been burnt at the stake for inventing soaps.

Shakespeare was pretty good if you treat his output as fairly incomprehensible contemporary political satire (I did spend a week in a Stratford upon Avon theatre one night and the ghosts around me seemed to know what was going on but then they’d had centuries to digest it while I had an exam at the end of the week) but it was still pretty dull for a teenager only intent on boning the young girl in Bird’s The Confectioners just down the road from school where we got our sticky buns and were all desperate to leave one of our own. But school rules and an irritating inhibition on her part precluded shagging her over the counter, especially in uniform as this would not be deniable. I believe that some of my contemporaries did go into politics but have no idea what became of the reticent sticky bun vendor but rather suspect she married the lad most likely to endure a well insured mortgage and an apparently successful career in local banking before hanging himself on the landing.

In the time I have taken to write this, scribble a few words with a smashed hand while attending the shop, Marcia has returned. Naturally no words have been exchanged and the Atlantic Ocean must be frozen half way to Brazil by now. She has just brought me in an outstanding fish supper. I would like to eat it as I am starving. I ought to eat it as it represents an olive branch, an unspoken admission if not of defeat, women never throw the towel in, but at least an honourable armistice. Of course she could have transferred everything into her name at the lawyers today and the fish is now laced with poison which means that a few hours from now I will be vomiting my liver onto the floor, a feat in itself and a monster task for those people they send in afterwards to clean up but it is also just as likely to be an honest fish supper.

And this is what women do not understand. They expect us men to be Alpha males. They would never have allowed us to shag them in the first place otherwise. They want us to slug our way through life, casually destroying opposition while remaining impassionate and unperturbed. Men are supposed to compartmentalise, kill people during office hours before returning home to tuck the kids in and read them a story. I have done that literally but I can imagine it is just as hard for a man who has just duelled his way through a whole day of office politics without the aid of a Z84 sub machine gun which is truly excellent for stopping an argument dead in its tracks. Women, of course, demand that men recognise that they have something wholly unique to them called hormones and fatigue granting them licence for the only legally accepted form of homicide, death by Meissen Porcelain the only requirements of which being that the (male) victim is married to the (female) discus thrower. Having run out of Porcelain, Marcia used a broom on me which she cunningly swung while my back was turned. Even I had to admit that was a good move having all the hallmarks of an adept bar fighter being both vicious and unexpected so in addition to a smashed hand I now have a couple of broken ribs. This osteoporosis shit is really starting to piss me off. I never used to break so easily so I guess I need to drink more milk.

The best of it though, and something that really irritates homicidal women, is that having given me her best shot I turned round, looked at the stump of the broom handle in her hand and the rest of it shattered on the floor and said, 'Did you just hit me?' Believe me, I wasn't trying to be a hero, I just had not realised how badly she had hit me or why, for that matter. I know that once a month she goes crazy for a couple of days but this has been two weeks of fucking hell and I am not sure how much more I can take. Not all of it her fault by any means, I broke my own hand after all and I know she is trying to make up but I only have so many bones in my body and believe me, when you lie in bed at night, every broken one demands attention. I can't breathe for a start and I have clients coming tomorrow so wiil have to spend the day bouncing around in a boat with a rib cage that doesn't work and a hand as about as much use a chocolate fire guard. Bliss.

I need to eat this excellent fish supper but I can’t. I know it is all heat of the moment shit but it really cuts deep when the girl you love nearly as much as your two boys says she never loved you. When she says she’ll fuck you over good and proper and you’ll walk out of here clad only in underpants by the time the lawyers have finished with you. In addition to the food She has brought me cold beer and despite the sms earlier today telling me to leave off the expensive scotch, she’s brought me a bottle in.

I don’t say stuff like she did. The most you will get out of me is an admission of regret that it all should end this way and perhaps she would be decent enough to close the door on the way out. Because of the mosquitoes, of course. Now this strikes me as perfectly reasonable but appears to drive women nuts and send them running to engage legal services for reasons utterly beyond my comprehension.

The dinner, the cold beers, the scotch, I know what she is trying to say, but like all women, she can’t say it out loud and like all men, I shan’t be nursing just a bust hand and a couple of floppy ribs, but a far more grievous wound and I won’t talk about it either and retreat instead to my desk, leaving the beautifully prepared food to go cold on the table.

I lived by the sword but recognised that the pen was mightier. A noble sentiment I thought so I fought hard, accepted any injuries with stoicism and tried to learn how to write (and get a less dangerous job).

But try dealing with the ill considered lash of a loved one’s tongue.

I am tempted to retire to a corner with the dogs (far more loyal than women; come when they are called, don't hog the bed and know their place is in the back of the pick up) and lick a few wounds but, as everyone around me today has said, ‘No Problem’, I can hardly appear prissy about all this. And which real man failing to turn up for morning parade would offer as an excuse, 'My Missus beat me up'

Besides, I have my first clients coming tomorrow so if no one else is going to man the burning deck...