Friday 11 May 2012

Beef. Still expensive at half the price...

I have been a bit crook over the last ten days or so. Actually, at one point I thought I was dying and then I began to worry why it was taking so long. Had I been in possession of a bathtub, it would have been a most convenient repository for my festering body, all Marcia having to do being sluicing me down with a bucket of water every now and then. I shan’t go into gruesome detail save to say it was awful. In Africa we must all carry the germs, bacteria and parasites endemic to the region but a normal, healthy individual’s immune system beats these back into a benign state of equilibrium. If one does get the upper hand, however, weakening the body, the rest of the opportunistic little bastards dive in to give their host a good kicking so what may have started out as a bout of malaria quickly degenerates into Typhoid, Dysentery and Bronchitis, the muscular spasm occasioned by a hacking cough eliciting unpleasant and uncontrollable explosive venting at the other end.

I was so ill, I could eat no food whatsoever for four days without quickly transferring it from the very temporary home that was my ravaged stomach into the bucket which by then had become my constant companion. I could not even bear the smell of scotch, let alone get one down my neck and have not touched a drop since so some good has come from all my suffering. I can’t see alcoholics getting such treatment on the NHS, though, unless they were admitted for something else and were infected by the food and hygiene standards.

Still, I am on my feet now (I am lighter on my feet by several kilos as well) and, unusually sober, can start considering the birthday party Marcia wants to throw for me on Saturday. Marcia has been planning this for a while but whenever she asked me anything at all about my preferences while I was in extremis, I hardly encouraged her. Who would I like to invite? No-one. What did I want to eat? I gagged at the thought. Did I want a cake? Marcia, please go away and die a thousand deaths…

With only a day to go it is really too late for me to invite anyone but I know that Nice Paul will come and Dominic will be here so that’ll do me. Marcia, though, has invited loads of people so the place will be humming. With a lot of mouths to feed Marcia and I decided that we needed plenty of Picanha (top sirloin cap) and Lombo (tenderloin). We decided that 20kgs of Picanha and 14 of Lombo would be about right. The Lombo we would barbecue whole, some of the Picanhas we could roast and slice thinly, others we would cut thick so they stand on their edges and grill Brazilian style with plenty of rock salt on the edges before searing the sides quickly and then butterfly cutting the slices open. We would also have plenty of sauce chasseur, sweet potatoes, grilled plantain, salads, coleslaw, beans in palm oil, funge, quisaca (a spinach made of pounded manioc leaves and peanuts), lobster salad, crabs etc. No one will leave hungry, that’s for sure.

Picanha (Top Sirloin Cap or Coulotte)
Lombo (Teenderloin)
I will be honest with you, I have no feel for the price of things nowadays. Beyond that which interests me, I haven’t a clue. I know how much fags and whisky are but a litre of milk? No idea. So I was more than a little stunned when I saw the invoice for the meat. US850 (£531). Gulp. How can meat be so bloody expensive? And these were wholesale rates from Marcia’s supplier. We sell meat in the shop so I trotted down there and looked in the freezer. Sure enough, we were selling, albeit smaller cuts, at much more than the wholesale price per kilo, and we could not sell it fast enough. Gosh.

Last year, an international survey declared Luanda the most expensive city in the world. Clearly, then, this was an example. I wondered what the same quantity and type of meat would cost in UK, so I went on line and had a look. I was in for another shock. Had I bought that meat in UK from Smithfields, the bill would have come to $1472 (£920). Crickey! That’s only a hundred quid short of being double the price in Angola! How is that possible? UK has excellent worldwide communications and easy access to world markets, a huge and efficient transport and distribution infrastructure and loads of competitive retailers so how come Angola, with all its problems, can sell imported meat cheaper, nearly half the price they do in UK? I wonder what the wholesale price would have been in Brazil or Argentina…

By the way, I realise I do know the price of one other commodity, fuel. Petrol is 60 US cents a litre, about 37p. Diesel is 40 cents (25p a litre). SL cigarettes are $1 (62p), imported fags double that and whisky (Grants, White Horse, Famous Grouse) $12 (£7.50). Carlsberg beer is $1.25 (78p) for a 33cl bottle. These are retail prices. Wholesale you can knock a third off.

Since I am evidently in the mood, I nipped down the shop to check out the prices of some other staples. Bear in mind these are our shop prices so there is quite a mark up. Thai polished jasmine rice is $1.24 (78p) a kilo, bread is 30 cents (19p) a loaf, eggs are $4 (£2.50) per dozen, milk is $1.50 (93p) per litre, bottled mineral water is 83 cents (52p) per litre, 100% fruit juice litre $3.50 (£2.18), 250g coffee $3.50 (£2.18), sugar kilo $2 (£1.25), butter 250g $1.50 (93p), choc chip cookies 150g $1.50 (93p), tinned fruit salad 450g $2.50 (£1.56), flour kg $2.50 (£1.56), cooking oil litre $3 (£1.87) tinned tuna 185g $1.50 (93p). I have no idea how the grocery prices compare with UK and I can’t be buggered to look them up. I left UK over twenty years ago but I have a sneaking suspicion if I ever went back there I would be left slack jawed at the prices. Perhaps someone will post a comment and let me know how much a pint of decent bitter is.

Anyway, I no longer feel as aggrieved as I did when I first saw that meat invoice so I might actually enjoy eating it rather than choking on it while mentally working out how much each mouthful was costing me or, worse still, calculating just how much the scraps left on the plates would come to.

So tomorrow, I shall just be grateful I have made it to 53 and shall do my best to stack on all the kilos I just lost so if you turn up, keep your hands and feet away from my mouth and you should be OK.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Fat Hippo's

I am not much in the mood for writing. I spent all last night alternatively shivering and sweating myself through another bout of Malaria and, of course, I had forgotten to get in a resupply of Sulphate of Quinine after the last episode a couple of months back so I just had to chew on the pillow and be brave. Marcia was very considerate and with all the tossing and turning, the groaning and the staccato rattle of chattering teeth, she asked me if I might not be more comfortable on the sofa instead of the matrimonial bed. To cap it all, I had to make a sudden dash to the toilet and fell arse over tit in the dark when I tripped up over Three who with inexplicable loyalty, insists on sleeping on my doorstep. All in all, last night was the pits and I hardly feel any better today. Even my whisky tastes foul. That’s how bad it is.

Still, the work must go on. Now that the carpenters are here I cannot let a mere lethal disease stand in the way of progress. Pflicht is Pflicht and Dienst is Dienst so regardless that today is a communist worker’s paradise holiday, I dragged myself out there. If the lads were giving up a day getting smashed on the beach, it was the least I could do.

After days of seemingly just restacking and shuffling wood around, Robin the Filipino carpenter is really getting stuck in. His reorganisation was designed to create for himself an efficient working area and, judging by the speed he is planing and shaping the timber, it was worth the effort and I am starting to believe him when he says he’ll have the first two buildings up in six weeks. Now I know that even by geological time frames that is way behind schedule but if he can achieve it, I might just forgive his boss. Even Marcia has stopped giving me the most merciless hard time for employing a mate to do the job, compounding the error by paying him up front, and if I wait until about 2 am when she is really fast asleep, I can crawl into bed with her. So long as I don’t have malaria, of course.

Considering that Robin is working all this timber essentially by hand, I was very impressed with the pile of wood panels he had finished by lunchtime. The buildings will be double skinned and with the thickness of the panels, they will be all but bullet proof. They will be substantial structures and if the sea gets really nasty again, then at least I will be able to paddle away in my own Noah’s Arks.

I have one of these touch pads on my laptop, by the way. I hate them, much preferring a mouse but I agree that they save space. But with sweat pouring off me like a thrashed horse, I seem to be shorting it out or something so keep having to wring my hands dry with a towel and then when I wipe the touch pad, it does select all, delete in one single sweep. Like I say, it’s not really my day today.

There has been an entertaining exchange of comments on a few of my recent posts not least those regarding the name of my enterprise. One suggestion for the sport fishing bit was ‘Gobber’s Shark Expeditions’. Now I realise that this remark was made with all flippancy (although cleverly alluding to my nickname at Sandhurst) but once I started to think about it, it wasn’t as daft as it first appeared. Then I thought about the name of the business, Flordita. It was supposed to be Floridita, in honour of Hemingway’s favourite watering hole in Havana but a typo by the licencing authority in Angola meant it lost a ‘i’ and would henceforth and forever be Flordita.

Now that sounds very ‘twee’. It gives more an impression of sombre moods, maitre d’s, sommeliers, hors d’oeuvres and amuse bouches than a rip roaring grill restaurant and bar with scantily clad waitresses and even scantier clad sport fishermen swinging from the rafters and chugging beers. Clearly then, while Flordita would be an admirable name for the big a la carte restaurant I will build, for the grill and bar, it is a toss name. Now that Chris over on Grow, Fish, Eat had me going, I got to thinking and decided that ‘Fat Hippo’s’ would be an excellent name. Think about it. There you are a roughy toughy oil worker on shore leave and with cash burning a hole in your pocket and someone asks you where you are going for the weekend. Would you rather say, ‘Well, actually darling, I thought I might spend a quiet evening dining at Flordita’, or would you rather say, ‘I am going to get blitzed at Fat Hippo’s, shag the new waitress and then go fishing at Gobber’s’?

Chris has kindly said he will think about a logo. Between bouts of shivering, sweating and chundering, I’ve been thinking about it too. Does anyone remember the old Coppertone sunscreen adverts which showed a little girl having her bikini bottom peeled off by a puppy revealing her tan lines? Well how about a modern version of that but with a busty beauty suspended by her bikini bottom, revealing a nice bit of pert botty, on the tooth of a grinning fat hippo? Now that’s the sort of class logo I think speaks volumes for the quality of my joint:

Fat Hippo’s Grill Bar and Whorehouse (Double Green Shield Stamps on Saturdays).