Sunday, 15 April 2012

Of Bibles and Snakes

The Sermon on the Beach

The Universal Church is evidently causing the Catholic Church here some angst. The UC is very big in Angola. Whereas a typical Catholic Church will be a breeze block construction with a wriggly tin roof, UC’s are massive, spacious arenas with vaulted ceilings capable of accommodating congregations numbering in their thousands. The UC is so wealthy it has bought a sizeable acreage of the beach up the road from me and with a no doubt considerable investment, judging by all the hardcore they trucked in and all the heavy plant needed to push it around, the poor pastors have their version of paradise on earth complete with air conditioned condos so that they can ‘retreat’ in comfort between sermons. All paid for by their genuinely poor parishioners.

Rather than wait for Catholic brethren to come to church, the Catholic Church is now coming to them. I received my visit yesterday. Now I am not talking about a couple of breathlessly earnest geeks clutching Watchtower drivel and jamming their feet in the door as you repeatedly slam if harder and harder in their faces, I am talking about a whole crowd of devotees including a priest who pitch up and conduct the full Catholic multi course meal. Now I let myself in for this. The weekend before last, some of the devoted, having spent the day treating other sinners to the salve of God’s love in human form pitched by my shop to sink some beer and whisky so, being the sort of sociable bloke I am when I am looking at some big and unexpected turnover I joined them rather than just serving them. They were all dressed the same and apart from the priest (who unlike the Irish Catholic Priests I remember from my youth, preferred Gin to Whiskey), were all women. Some of them were really good looking, definitely in the extremely hot category and with bras clearly not part of official attire and nipples tracing circles on thin, sweat moistened T shirts, already I was damning myself with very impure thoughts. Please don’t be appalled, I have always fancied shagging a nun but I guess cuckolding God would be a bad idea which is probably why Catholic priests go for altar boys instead.

It just popped out and then kept coming. I am not religious. In fact I can be very irreligious but even I could not believe I could do such a thing. I admitted that I was Catholic. Not only that, I buried myself further by telling them I had been an altar boy. Unable to stop digging I told them of how peaceful I felt hearing the church bells pealing across a Black Forest valley summoning the faithful to Sunday morning service and how the Church used to be the focus of the real communities that now, sadly no longer exist. As I started to tell them that it bothered me a bit because I had not been to confession in nearly twenty years, Marcia started frantically studying the labels of the whisky bottles in case she had inadvertently bought in counterfeit hooch made from industrial methyl alcohol.

Joking aside, I have seen, and heard them on their rounds. They don’t amble around as an unholy rabble, they process with candles and all and they sing, boy can they sing. It is truly spine tingling, lump in the throat stuff. I have never heard anything so wonderful as the harmonised choruses they pour out like warm honey. You can’t beat live music but when you hear this kind of passion and simple devotion captured in every nuance of their vocals, you are talking top of the charts stuff. Don’t ask me how the date was picked, except to say that perhaps it would be nice for such an occasion and the inevitable party to coincide with his birthday, but Alex will be christened in the local Catholic Church in September and these people, this wonderful choir will sing at the service. In keeping with the biblical significance of such an event, I will slaughter some animals and roast them up. Since relying on some hippie to turn water into wine might be a long shot, I will truck loads in.

A week later, then, I received my own personal mass on the banks of the river. I honestly thought that they were going to strip me and dunk me in it but no, they were really quite restrained. The amazing thing was that even though they were speaking Portuguese, I knew where I was during the service and could remember it all in German. So while they gently intoned in what is quite a musical language, I laid on with a thick layer of guttural discordance. Still, they were all terribly pleased with me and I felt quite unaccountably chuffed. It really is nice to have a bit of a community get together and since the Catholic Faith is the best of all in that you can do what the hell you like and with a few Hail Mary’s, or maybe working through a whole Rosary if you have been really naughty, a simple confession grants you absolution. Maybe I’ll get to shag a nun yet.

I am very pleased to read that after a long and sometimes frustrating search, Josh over at Agrarianista has finally found himself a lovely looking dog. She looks gorgeous and sounds just the ticket. I really hope that Josh details her training. I am pretty pathetic at training dogs and count it a success if they come back when they are called anything more than half the time.

Sadly Dinge, who you may recall was ripped from his mother’s teat and flung into a cage with a Python as the snake’s supper, has had a pretty bad run in with a snake again. I was typing at my desk with the door open as usual and I could see the dogs beating about some scrub clearly worrying some beastie. They do this all the time and usually it is a lizard or a mouse they are after. I paid them little attention until suddenly I heard Dinge yelping furiously, running around in circles clearly very distressed. Just catching him was a hell of a job and when I did, other than the fact he was clearly panic stricken and seemed to be really bothered about an area on his flank, I could see nothing wrong. There were no broken bones, no blood, so bemused I let him go again.

Still he kept worrying at that area on his flank, jumping around like a puppy chasing its tail. I noticed that his back was starting to arch and that he was tottering on tip toe, his back legs stiffening. Several times he all but toppled over. His eyes were wide and frantic and he was panting desperately. Then he really started to whimper, a keening series of quick yips followed by longer yowls. I grabbed him again and tried to take a really good look but he wouldn’t keep still. His muscles were all strung as tight as steel hawsers and saliva was pouring from his mouth. Every time and every where I touched him he flinched and shivered and yipped and yowled. I tried to brush back the stiff fur on his side to see if I could see anything but I could only see a millimetre of his flesh with each sweep and as it was clearly causing him enormous discomfort, I gave up.

The night before last, the day it happened, I let him crawl into our room. He always liked sneaking into my bedroom at the old place and now that we are cramped into what is destined to be a kitchen he quickly learnt that the Old Man has no peripheral vision so he could easily sneak in while I was typing and kip under the bed. Usually I would toss him out if I caught him but this time I let him in, put a bowl of fresh water and some food down and left him to it. All night long he whimpered like a baby, occasionally suffering a fit that had him thrashing around with such force I could easily feel it through the mattress. Marcia wasn’t best pleased.

In the morning, he looked terrible. It seemed as if he was half paralysed with some sort of rigor from the waist down. His back was arched and his rear legs were little more than stiff stilts. His eyes were ruby they were so bloodshot. Then I saw the swelling, the weal on his flank. The hair had fallen away leaving a dark inflamed stain of suppurating flesh, two closely connected mounds, rather like a figure of eight with the two circles overlapping. In the centre of each was a puncture mark, like oozing burst boils. Bugger me, I thought, you poor sod Dinge, you really have some bad luck with snakes.

Sadly, apart from trying to make him comfortable, there is little that can be done for him. He will either recover or he will die. Since making venom is a serious investment for a snake, often they do not inject, or if they do it is only a tiny amount, anything they do not see as prey. Their strikes may come without warning but they are just that, a warning. I am not an expert by any means but judging from the spacing of the puncture marks, this was no worm sized snake so a full dose would have killed a dog the size of Dinge, if not in minutes then certainly in less than an hour. The fact that he has survived into his second day, albeit looking like a wild eyed skeleton, is hopeful. Naturally I am worried that his internal organs, frantically trying to clean the venom out, may have suffered irreparable damage but only time will tell.

This morning he still looked awful, his ribs standing out in stark contrast to the sleekness of only a couple of days ago but he seems to be moving around better. He is still a bit stiff, a little unsteady on his pins but his back isn’t so arched and he has stopped whimpering. He is spending less time lying in my room and a bit more lying alongside Dog and Three although he doesn’t even try to keep up with them when they decide to chase a shop customer that they for some reason known only to themselves do not like, what used to be the trio’s favourite sport. This could either mean he is slowly recovering or that he is slowly dying.

It would be a terrible irony if the dog that Dominic saved from being snake food would finally be killed by one. And please believe me without any cynicism when I say I am praying hard for the little sod. Don’t forget, if he doesn’t get better, if he slowly wastes away half paralysed and in obvious pain, the vet having told me there is nothing he can do for him it being a case of wait and see, I am going to have to shoot my own dog. I would rather do it that way than make the poor bastard suffer the awful trip to town to unfamiliar surroundings and have a stranger stick a needle in him. If he is to go, then he will do so the same way he was introduced to life in my family, sleeping next to my pit on a bed of the clothes I had been wearing that day and I will do it myself so I know it is done right. It is the least of very little I can do for him.

Viper venom. Leaves a pretty mean rotting hole in yer side and just generally buggers you up.

Marcia asked me, ‘What if it had been little Alex?’

Quite. Maybe I should stop wrangling snakes in front of Alex, carrying them out into the field to release them, and just kill them on the spot instead, instilling a fear of beasties into the little boy that might just, one day, save his life.


  1. Hippo, I'm so sorry about Dinge. He, and your family, are in our thoughts.

    I had my dog put down last year, Irma, and we were lucky that a vet does house calls and she could go peacefully at home.

  2. its sobering to remember you are indeed living in africa where nature is rather more ROBUST
    as for singing locals... the African nurses that worked on my ward in sheffield would burst into song quite regulary and with some skill!!!

  3. I agree - he's a 'bush dog' - he either lives and survives or he dies! Tough world but it comes to us all, sooner or later and there are just so many 'escapes' allowed!

  4. Johnny D, remind me not to ever fall sick in your house.

    But you are right. All I can do is make Dinge comfortable and he either pulls through or he doesn't.

  5. Poor little bugger. I know you'll look after him no matter what 'cause you're a good bloke.

    Re wrangling snakes; kill the f**king things. There's more than enough risks out there by the sound of it without tempting fate.

  6. I thought he was improving last night, Chris, but today he has taken a really bad turn. He is flopping around as if he has Mad Cow disease and is obviously suffering. I can't do it in front of the other dogs or let Alex hear the shot so I am going to have to wait until Marcia gets back from town this evening so she can take them all for a walk to Nice Paul's. Then I can take Dinge down to the pond and let him relax a bit first. Poor bugger. Dominic will be heartbroken, after all, he snatched Dinge from the jaws of death and when Dom visits, Dinge goes nuts with joy and insists on sleeping alongside his real master.

    That's going to be one hell of a conversation, isn't it? Daddy, where's Dinge? I shot him, Son.

  7. Oh, Tom, i am sorry to hear Dinge has taken a turn for the worse. Good on you for being able to do the right thing, as heartbreaking as it is.

    You can tell Alex that Dinge was in tremendous pain and not going to get better, so you wanted to spare him any needless suffering.



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