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.


  1. Sounds right to me, Tom. Between the idea for the store and the manner in which you've run it, you've definitely got some community credit built up. A question: Did you let him see you taking pictures?

  2. "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."

    Absolutely brilliant! Just make sure he doesn't have any of said relevant authorities in his hip pocket on graft. Don't tip him off though and let him see you taking any photos. Happy reading!

  3. Tom, since you appear to be a hands-on-man: If you were a woman how'd you recommend to best deal with you, the man?


    PS You weren't a Russian spy once, were you? Are you paranoid or something? To break into your comment box one needs two pairs of contact lenses and some imagination

  4. "... 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. ..."

    Fucking unearned income - bullshit! Those arseholes need to appreciate the amount of 'earning' a serviceman's wife and family have to go through in a lifetime hitch just to keep them in a comfortable 'earner' without someone shoving a bayonet up heir rear end as they are frog-marched to a pockmarked brick wall or a stake on a beach at low tide.

    btw - you handled the Rico situation well but heed the advice of not being copped taking the photos and just who he may have in his pocket! Be prepared and stay alert!

  5. Ursula,

    you are quite right. This word verification thing on blogger is just about incomprehensible and deeply frustrating. I have the same problem commenting on my favourite blogs. I have killed it on mine now so I hope that makes things easier for everyone.

    I never had anything to do with the Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti. Certainly not since 1991 and me suddenly resigning my commission and leaving for Africa about the same time as STASI files fell into West German hands was a vile coincidence.

    Josh, Phil, what kind of dictatorial society do you live in to be so afraid of taking photos?

    Angola is a People's Freedom Loving Democracy and under the eternal leadership of The Father of the Nation the Freedom Loving Peoples understand their duty to denounce anyone who disagrees to the State Security Services who dutifully remove their contaminating influence on society by jailing them.

    As this is a democracy, we now neeed evidence so I am authorised to take photographs, wallets, fingertips etc.

  6. Johnny D...

    I am so glad you picked up the heavy irony in that remark of mine. What reflection on our society that for my Mother, who was looking forward to retirement with my Father was actually better off with him dead.

    Clearly I can't ask him how he feels about it but two weeks before he died we were both in Bratislava buying antiques to stock the shop he was going to run in retirement so we both had plans which, for the first time in our lives, included each other.

  7. Hippo, mine wasn't paranoia so much as a request for advice. Is it preferable in this situation to let him know, or are you putting it together secretly for now?

    I'm ignorant because I come from a society civilized enough to have separated the classes more clearly: no bloke with that much cash would have lived close enough to me to cause him any trouble.

  8. I hope this neighbour of yours doesn't read your blog. No point in tipping your hand unduly.

    I think you showed great restraint and that you're right.

    On the 100,000 vs 1,000,000 thing, yes one number is lower than the other, but percentage-wise, you may have lost just as much or more. If you are tapped out at this point whilst he still has revenue and savings, then you have lost more.

    Easy to see why it'd be hard to like him.

    Since the full moon coming in the next few days, the tides will run a bit higher and lower. Twould make more sense to wait until the moon wanes, mark where the high water went, and take things from there.

    good luck,

  9. You see, Tom, I live in the dictatorial society of the US, where we are entitled to as much justice as we can afford. The wealthy screw the impoverished - and the political officials are happy to shake hands with the masses and pick the pockets of the wealthy, doing their bidding for them. In other words, a highly civilized society...

    Freedom loving democracy you say? What's next, fairness and justice? For all peoples? No sir, not here. In the US, we have a Congress and a President, and then we have the general public. Essentially two wolves and a sheep deciding what's for dinner...


Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.