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.