Tuesday 31 July 2012

Good Evening Mr Bond, I mean Boyle, and thank you...

I think I must have been the only person on the planet who, enjoying both satellite TV channels and, albeit intermittent access to the interwebthingy, missed the opening ceremony for the London Olympics.  Put that down to a deeply ingrained cynicism for what once was supposed to be an event open to all citizens to enjoy and amateur athletes to compete in, and is now just yet another example of a costly ‘prestige’ project of the kind the World Bank and IMF roundly criticise formerly Third World (to be politically correct) Developing Economies for executing.

Having read all the reviews of Danny Boyle´s Greatest-Ever-Show-On-Earth-Ever, and having downloaded, at glacial velocity some of the highlights from You Tube, I do feel a bit of a fool.  Looks like my grumpiness and scepticism led me to exclude myself from what appears to have been a great and widely regarded spectacular.  Hoisted with my own petard, so to speak.

As if still unconvinced by the evidence of his own eyes, John Gray over on Going Gently posted waxing lyrical (he really should be a professional reviewer of the dynamic Arts) asking his readers whether they concurred.  Well, much as I would have liked to respond, a few minutes of internet highlights of a three hour show hardly qualified me.

So I thought I would let John know what the Angolans thought of it by surfing a couple of their on-line newspapers, then cut and paste a few good quotes and post them as a comment on his blog.

For the Government view, one needs to read the Jornal de Angola, the state controlled media outlet.  Not a single mention.  Bugger all.  Ok, I thought, I’ll swing over to one of only two independent newspapers in Angola and the only one having an online presence, Folha 8.  What surprised me wasn’t that Folha 8 hadn’t run a story on the opening of the 2012 games, but that they weren’t there anymore.  All I found was a notice saying the site was down.

Blimey.  What’s happened to Folha 8?  I have to remind you, I live in the sticks.  We don’t even have electricity or running water, never mind a paper delivery so I do get a bit behind.

I decided to ask Marcia because she knows everything.

‘What´s happened to Folha 8?’ She snorted.

Women do that, don’t they?  Repeat an honest enquiry with the rising inflexion reserved for idiots.

‘It’s in jail’ she said.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe her, more that I was trying to imagine how one jailed a newspaper, but my mind works like that sometimes.  I mean, do you just seal all the doors and windows of its offices and presses with everyone still inside, wrap a chain around the building, padlock it and station a Screw outside?

Apparently, I wasn’t so far off the mark.

What the security services did in mid June was to raid the establishment and lift everyone and everything in it.  I’ve seen it happen before when they raided the company I worked for claiming the activities of its employees were incompatible with their status, and the Angolan Security Services are miles more efficient than the Met (the best police force money can buy).  No such impediment to rigorous law enforcement as a Human Rights Act here.

After publishing a series of frank articles irritating the government, Folha 8 did for themselves when they published a doctored photograph of the President and a couple of his senior Ministers in a police line up.  This country really has got into the ‘Name and Shame’ culture but only for ordinary citizens.  Watch the news at night and there they are, gits that should have been beaten to death in the street outside the scene of their crimes.  Instead they are paraded in front of the cameras with placards hanging around their necks.  Woe betide anyone who tries to do the same to a Party Official.  And Folha 8 certainly begat woe by publishing that image, one I have not only seen but might possibly have on my laptop.  But even I could not get drunk enough to reprint it on this blog.  I do want to live here, but not in a way that gets me a stripy suntan in Bentiaba jail.

So I did what all roving journalists do when the option of plagiarising someone else’s intellectual property is denied them, I got off my arse, struggled the thirty yards to Marcia’s shop and asked her customers.

‘Brilliant!  Absolutely brilliant!’

‘Really?’  Don't forget, I hadn't seen it.

‘Oh’ they all concurred breathlessly, ‘she is wonderful!’

Crickey, it obviously went down well then.  Hang on a sec…


‘Your Queen!  She is fantastic!’

My Queen?’

‘Of course your Queen!  The Rainha Britanica!’ and they all looked at each other in exasperation, the way people do when dealing with a retard.  I am used to that, my employers did it a lot every time I told them that it really didn’t help for them to refer to our clients as ‘ignorant jungle bunnies’ when they were the ones paying the outrageous bills.

‘You’d never see our President jumping out of a plane!’ they said.

Probably because he would never find anyone he could trust to pack his parachute, I thought.  Fuck me.  Hook, line and sinker.  Mr Boyle, there’s a whole nation that has sucked this in.  And since I am a man who can appreciate a well executed practical joke, you are right at the pinnacle of my esteem.  So who am I to burst a bubble?

‘Her Majesty was accompanied by James Bond, though’ I pointed out.

‘James Bond!  JAMES BOND!’

The shop filled with that rather provocative and not altogether unpleasant aroma of knickers spontaneously combusting.

‘Sr. Thomas, do you know James Bond?’ a doe eyed beauty asked me.

‘We served together once’, I lied eyeing her up with no hint of remorse.

Mr Boyle, I bask in your reflected glory.  Round my Manor, Guvnor, anything British is suddenly real cool…

Friday 27 July 2012

Out of the Box reviews

"professionals 'who'... not 'that'.  Still, the kit looks good.

I don't do them.  Out of the Box reviews.  Mainly because I am skint and can't buy anything new enough to still be in its box, and also because the things I do buy tend to be mind numbingly dull, such as a new laptop or fresh underwear.

For Out of the Box reviews of Gucci Boy's Toys you need to go to The Suburban Bushwacker or the Rasch Outdoor Chronicles.

I was having a quick fag and whisky break from loading timber onto the truck (there's three very fit young lads out there I am paying so why do I need to bust my aged arse?) and was having a bit of a surf (the only emails I get are spam and every time I open up Skype I get the message, 'Your contacts haven't been in touch lately', sad isn't it?) when I stumbled across this well written and interesting article by Sam Biddle on Gizmodo.com.  It wasn't just interesting it was, I suppose, a bit scary.

I was in bombed out Sarajevo in the early nineties and bumped into this guy whose actual job I never found out but he evidently had some desire to see that whatever I did there complied with whatever mysterious plan the people paying me had.  Very Orson Wells.  We got on like a house on fire which is a bit of a sick analogy when you think of the smouldering ruins of the city we were in.  I told him that I was happy to stay on and do a bit more work but I really needed to get a message back to my wife in Angola.  'No probs' he said, 'come to dinner'.

Whereas I was billeted in the converted freezing cold cellar of an old couple's house surviving now by offering Bed & Breakfast, he was staying in a magnificent, turn of the century apartment block.  All the windows had been smashed out and were now covered by sheets of plastic, the facade bore the evidence of shellfire and there were bullet holes all over the plaster walls and ceiling.  Apart from that, it was delightful and I was warm for the first time in ages and starting to get a bit self conscious.  You know how boots that haven't been thawed out for weeks smell when they start getting less stiff?

The food was excellent but, if I wasn't already on the back foot with surpise, after pouring me a large Slivovitch as ice cold as my accommodation, he settled into a sofa, fiddled with some cables and positioned a computer on his lap and said, 'Right, what´s your wife's number' I must have looked like a slack jawed village idiot.

'But you can't phone out of Sarajevo' I said, 'only on the military systems and they won't let scum like me near them'.  That wasn't entirely true, there were systems that the press for example used but the cost was horrific and getting a slot unless you had a bit of pull, of which I had none, was bloody hard.

This guy was the first real computer geek I had ever come across.  Like all geeks, he liked to show off so having given him the number, he then treated me to a running commentary as he hacked into various systems, then satellites, yet more systems and then his phone rang.

'Well go on, answer it!' he told me and settled back with his drink.  I lifted the handset, heard a ringing tone and then my wife answer.

We were used to me being away a lot and were also accustomed to the fact that the sort of people who employed me didn't usually send me to nice places, the kind with a Tesco's and International Direct Dialling so we got the whole exchange of how everything was going on both sides and that I was going to stay on a bit longer over in about 30 seconds flat and I hung up.

'What did you do that for?'

'I didn't want to run up your phone bill'

He looked at me as one does the breathtakingly stupid.

'I don't pay phone bills' he said.

'Well who pays for that call then?'

'Who cares?  We won't.  Do you want to talk to her again?'

There will be loads of geeks out there who know how he did that but I was in utter awe of him.  Here I was sitting in a bombed out apartment with war and snipers raging all around us having a chat with my wife on the phone, a continent away.  And not just any continent, Africa where even today communications systems are distinctly fourth world.

Sam Biddle's article detailing how even the supposedly most controlled trade can slip effortlessly under the radar reminded me of that vey bizarre evening, but what got me giggling was not that you could, if so inclined, beat the system and buy all you need on-line to overthrow a dictatorship, but the thought of SBW or Rasch doing an Out of the Box review from that supplier!  I mean, they will deliver anywhere you want, even to a GPS reference. 

I would like a Remington Sendero in .300 Rem Ultra Mag  (long butt, I need the eye relief, I wear glasses now) with a couple of boxes of Swift A frame and an appropriate scope delivered to 9o 20' 26.46" S  13o 09' 08.41" E.  Cash on Delivery.

Amazon won't even deliver a UK configured laptop to Germany.

These guys, on the other hand, offer world-wide Death-in-a.Box and can do so with some really clever interweb trickery.  And that is the really scary bit.  All I want to do is drop a bush buck at long range, I'm getting too old for hours of bush bashing just to get downwind so I can get close.

If it arrives, I will do my first Out of the Box review.  I am still dealing with this land invasion shit so it would be nice to get my eye in again.

Monday 23 July 2012

Angharad Rees

A few perceptive readers noticed that this post appeared, then disappeared.  That was because He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named asked me to take it down.  So I did.  For just a bit until I could, in what is now common parlance, redact it.

A happy couple.  Wrong of me, I know, but I was very jealous.  I have no idea what the demarcation in the middle of the photograph denotes.  Yes, I know I nicked the image from the internet.  Perhaps it was from an old Colgate advert showing they were entering the Rectangle of Confidence.

There are times when I feel a shade cut off from the rest of the world.  With an internet connection about as useful and effective as two empty bean cans linked by a bit of string (when it is working) idle surfing isn’t really an option for me although I do try to keep up with my favourite blogs and catch up on the news.  Skype?  Forget it although I must confess that a few days ago all the planets must have aligned for not only did I get through to He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named in Germany, he was actually at home (presumably re-supplying for the continuation of his world tour).  Not only that, he had time to chat.  Hours of time in fact.

We have not seen each other in years and have only managed the three or four few day get-togethers in the last decade because he dragged himself down to Angola, invariably exhausted and bewildered by time zones and jet lag and occasionally worryingly traumatised having just left yet another bloody war zone.  Unlike me, he’s not an ex soldier, he’s an engineer and gets embarrassed when, relaxed by a few drinks, he pours it all out and then says things like, ‘I’d like to shoot the fucking lot of them’, meaning, of course, the members of whatever dictatorship were in force in the countries he visited.  Sadly, I know that he couldn’t hit a barn door at two paces with a shovel (or at least know instinctively when to get his flaming head down) so he would be quickly slaughtered, but I do sympathise with the natural instinct to fight against injustice, especially the suffering of the innocent.  He hasn’t had his Jean Claude van Damme moment, thank God, but he did smuggle a lot of film back to the UK media from places like Libya and Syria.  He does give me sleepless nights.

The man on the left is an 'ACTOR' and only pretends to have balls the size of planets.  The cool dude on the right is He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named and is NOT my brother.  In fact I have no idea who he is and am wondering why I am posting a photo of a complete stranger on my blog. Perhaps it's because I like his watch.
You would have thought that given the unexpected gift of not only voice, but video too, we would have had loads to discuss.  Having confirmed that our respective family members were all in good health, each of us insisting that bored offspring drag themselves from whatever they really wanted to do to stare into a laptop instead and say ‘Hello He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named’, we dried up.

Then He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named asked me if I had heard that Angharad Rees had died.

I thought for a moment.  ‘You mean Poldark´s wife?’  (Yes I know that is terribly sexist but I was born in the fifties when women knew their only function was to be pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen)

Bugger.  Now I know that actors and actresses hate to be typecast and that both Angharad Rees and Robin Ellis contributed so much more than just Poldark to the theatrical world but in Poldark, they were a hell of a team.  And that series aired just when He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named and I were in our teens, bodies flushed with hormones and ready to take on the world and all the women in it. 

Don’t forget, this was a time when the UK had crawled through four day working weeks, power cuts and Heath, the leader of our nation, so in love with Europe he crashed his boat, Morning Cloud into Belgium missing his intended destination, France, by a whole country.

He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named and I had witnessed bailiffs coming in and lifting anything they fancied out of our house or off its driveway that my father, after 23 years service in the British Army had tried to procure to improve his family’s standard of living.  Soaring inflation, rampant fuel price increases and the loss of overtime as factories slowed production or stopped altogether did for him.  What he couldn’t understand, probably because he had a lifetime of duty and sacrifice behind him, was why his union (yes, he was forced to join one if he wanted a job, this was the Seventies) were also forcing him to strike when he knew it would not only kill the company he worked for but also the source of income he needed to sustain his family.  Our Dad was a Black Leg and received neither pay (because the company went bust) nor any union benefits (because some shitbag communist had decided my Dad was a traitor). 

He'd have gone down the pit to feed his family if the Unions had let him.

All he wanted to do was work, something which, as a man, he took pride in.    Both He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named and I did two paper rounds a day and as many odd jobs as we could get from neighbours.  My mother worked all the hours God sent in Smith’s (she was German and got an A Level in English Literature after that which left me wondering how busy Smith’s was during that economic depression) yet still managed to rustle up a family supper.  Heaven for us kids, as the adverts said at the time, was a bowl of Angel’s Delight.

Poldark for us boys, therefore, hit everything on the nail.  You can see the allegory, can’t you?  There’s some poor bastard who has been away serving his country and when he gets back, he’s comprehensively fucked over. 

A decade or so ago, there was a survey asking teenagers who they respected the most, who they would most like to be like.  Richard Branson came out tops. I can't argue with that, after all, he started in a garage or loft or somewhere menial flipping vinyl yet ended up taking British Airways on leaving its directors clutching their bruised balls in the Savoy Grill. 

If they had asked me in the Seventies who I aspired to the most I would, without hesitation, have said ‘Ross Poldark’.  Here was another man, away for ages in the service of his country (boys do identify with their Fathers) who had been screwed.  Not just by venal authority, but by the very same from whom he could have expected a bit of relief.  And in Poldark’s case, as if it wasn’t already enough, his smart fiancée stabbed him in the back by running off with someone who he really could have assumed to be a mate (as in friend, a rock, rather than in the biblical or zoological sense).  Back then, I didn’t see anyone offering a bit of a bung to my Dad who had to switch his engine off and coast on the downhill stretches to work between Chaseterrace and Wolverhampton in order to save petrol.

At the time I wasn’t just brushed gently with a warm glaze of discontent provoked by plastic socialists and lying politicians, I was incandescent with impotent rage.  They could have used me to fire up the power stations solving the country’s energy problems in one go I was so angry at the lot of them.

A normal man would have loaded his pistol, swallowed the last of his port and put a ball through his head, but not Ross Poldark.  And neither did my Dad even though all the paraphernalia required were at his disposal.

Just as my Dad would not have pulled through to respectable success without my Mother, neither would have Ross Poldark without his Demelza,  Not only did I want to be as hard, courageous and decent as Ross Poldark (dreaming that I could get back at some of the bastards who screwed my Dad), I wanted to marry someone like Demelza.  Truth be known, I aspired to be like Robin Ellis and was in love with Angharad Rees.

Her death, untimely and very, very sad, led me to reflect on those times we all sat glued to the television, power cuts permitting, soaking in the superb performances of two actors, two professionals who really were one of the most memorable teams to grace the living rooms of over fifteen million viewers.  Even God had to join the queue as church services were rescheduled to take account of broadcasting times.

I always wanted to emulate Poldark and find my own Demelza.  Clearly I wasn't going to take him on and nick his Missus, he'd spend the rest of his life hunting me down.  As it turned out, I did my years of service overseas and returned to find that my wife had run off with someone I quickly learnt to hate with a vengeance, while the lawyers saw to it I lost everything I had saved up and worked for.  Imagine how you would feel if the man that cuckolded you was living in your house, shagging your wife and, worst of all, insisted that your son called him Dad?

What else is a man to do but fly in the face of a convention that still exists today and marry his maid?

And, despite the occasional Poldarkesque twist in the plot, Marcia and I are doing rather well together.

I am very triste about the death of Angharad Rees but was delighted to discover, as I disconsolately surfed Wikipedia (local Angolan internet service provider permitting) in an attempt to read all I could about such a wonderful actress and childhood sweetheart, that Poldark (I mean Robin Ellis), a real hero for me (some of his most powerful performances were outside Poldark), is still alive and kicking in France and has his own really nice blog.  He has also written books on how to dine well with type 2 diabetes, an all too common affliction, not only in my family.  Once again that old hard case Poldark, I mean Ellis, is influencing my lifestyle. 

Sad as I am over the death of Angharad Rees, I am pleased there are people who remember her for what she was, a bloody good actress, delighting millions with her performances and exercising a benign subliminal influence that hopefully she is now aware of.

Like I said, I never met her, but I was rather fond of her.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Say 'Ah!'

The one in the middle, the one with the tail dipped in white paint?  He's mine and he's called Charlie.

I have to admit, I am a deeply anti-social bastard, a recluse.  I hate invitations to supper and abhor dinner parties.  I can just about cope with cocktail gatherings since no-one really cares whether I turn up or not.  There is usually plenty of free booze and amongst the crowd there will invariably be someone who lays himself wide open to a bit of acid, and for me, entertaining wit; they’re usually from the United Nations or World Bank by the way, and are keen to point out they fly first class but occasionally, through the incompetence of airline staff, have to endure business class. Their profligate expense accounts though, they confide with a nod and a wink, more than compensates for such occasional inconvenenience.

'So you work for somebody?' usually gets rid of them.

I like journalists, or Correspondents as they like to call themselves when they are away from their desks and on an overseas allowance.  When they come to Angola they seek out the Old Africa Hand for a bit of gossip so I love pouring myself a generous measure of their scotch and saying things like, ‘Actually, the Party is quite happy with the President, they are just concerned about his bi-sexual proclivity’ and seeing how long it takes to get into the mainstream press.  Actually, I don´t do that anymore, ever since I was invited to a Hat On, No Coffee interview with the President's spokesman, Aldemiro de Conceiçao who, apart from being Dominic´s mother´s Godfather, is someone you really don't want to piss off.

I really have no idea how someone like me could end up with a family.  Don´t get me wrong, I love my boys and am very proud of them but I cherish my solitude and that is at odds with having a girlfriend half my age and a family now so extended I end up re-introducing myself to bemused relatives leaving them muttering something about us only having been together last week before wandering off convinced I am barking mad.

Doggy has had her pups, ten of them.  Since Doggy, the late Dinge and Number Three were strays I had somehow inherited, I never gave them real names and never bothered taking them to a vet in town for injections and documentation.  Doggy had her litter in a hole in the bush and I only found them because, out of idle curiosity, I was wondering why she had suddenly disappeared.  Having found them, I could hardly leave them there to be devoured by a python so stuffed them all into a pillow case and made up a new safer berth in what will be the bar of the restaurant.  Where they did rather well and all ten have survived with little intervention, other than the relocation, on my part.

Left to Nature, the mother would be part of a pack and would hunt prey, eat of the kill as much as she could before returning and regurgitating half digested remains down the throats of her pups.  This not exactly being a natural environment and Doggy not being part of a pack, left to nature they would all die so when I realised that her milk was drying up and she was kicking the pups, now with eyes wide open, off her teats, I needed to step in.

I dug out an old cast iron frying pan, it had to be big if I was to get ten of the little beggars around it at the same time, and heated up a pan of milk.  They devoured it.  Just as Man cannot live on bread alone (a tired old excuse for every womanising philanderer), I realised that these pups could not live on milk alone.  So I fried up some really well ground up beef and mixed that into the milk.  They scoffed that too. Last night, I boiled up half a dozen chicken legs and shredded the meat into puppy bite sized morsels and they disposed of all that in seconds flat.  Doggy and Number Three, whose turn it is now to be pregnant I fear, disposed of the bones.

A few weeks ago, recognising that I might have to be a shade more dedicated to the care of these dogs, an unexpected but not really unwelcome addition to my family, I asked my brother to get those medicinal supplies necessary for canines and send them to me from Germany which of course, with Teutonic efficiency, he did.

While Doggy was lactating, I didn´t think it would be a good idea to de-worm her and while they were all licking each other like mad, dousing them with DDT was perhaps also not such a good idea so I waited.  Now that the pups have been weaned, though, this was the time I thought.

I may not be an expert on canine husbandry, I´m a novice,  But one thing I do know is that if you want to get medicine down a dog´s throat, starve it for a couple of days first.  It´ll wolf the fucking lot down before it realises you've played a dirty trick and the food has been laced with something nasty. So getting the de-wormer down was no problem.  If that was the hard bit, surely the administration of a de louser would be easy?

Technically, yes.

But, you see, I have an extended family.  There is no little space, however humble, I can truly call my own.  At the old place I had a study.  I designed the house so that my study overlooked the pool and it had a door with a lock on it.  In it I had my old mahogany desk and bookshelves and I stored there anything of value to me.  So it looked like a cluttered junk shop, heaped with papers, old photograph albums, Persian rugs, paintings, books and, most dear to me, tools. Tools of all kinds; hand tools, workshop tools, machine tools, grinders, routers, planers, you get the idea. 

I was away a lot, abroad, so when I finally scored the use of a satellite phone while standing next to Lake Albert in Uganda, I wanted to hear how badly I was missed, not that the pump had failed,there was no water and that the man was there but needed a ten millimetre spanner.  What can a chap do other than tell the light of his life where he'd hidden the key to his study?

When I got back there was fuck all left except the carpets.  The Philistines.  I say philistines because I was rather insulted the thieving bastards discriminated against my rugs.

Now I am camping next to a river by the sea and am living in the kitchen of what will be my restaurant.  In sixteen square metres we have a double bed, a broken chest of drawers, a sofa, a TV and stand, a coffee table, a bank of shelves for clothes and my old desk.  Where once I had three hundred square metres 10 % of which I vainly tried to call my own, I now have six drawers in which to store anything dear to me merely one of which is now sufficient to store all the tools, once so plentiful and now all I have left.

I dug through the box Micky had sent me from Germany and found the de-louser.  I had gone for the ‘One Spot’ I had noticed received a five star rating on Amazon.  Undoing the cap, I realised that the end of the nozzle, dispenser, whatever you want to call it, was sealed over.  What I needed was a pair of scissors.  So I opened the top drawer of the right hand side of my desk where I keep such useful implements (I noticed the other day that my stapler had disappeared and kept meaning to enquire of Marcia as to its whereabouts so made a mental note do so) and then realised that the scissors were weren’t in the drawer.

Dogs aren’t stupid and knowing that they are normally never allowed to come into my room let alone be locked up in there, they were becoming nervous.  The snacks I had used as an inducement were long gone and now they were pacing around and looking at me knowing something was up.  They had never savaged me before, or even taken a nip at me but faced with a terrible unknown, there could always be a first time.  And my scissors were gone.

I don´t know if you have ever tried to bite open one of these stupid little 5ml plastic containers but it is impossible to hold it with sufficient force to allow you to get your teeth around the top and chew through it without applying pressure to the container itself.

One spot of this shit has a five star rating for clearing a whole dog of ticks, fleas and lice and is guaranteed to last for three months.  Imagine how you would feel if you got a couple of year´s worth squirted at high pressure right to the back of your throat?

For want of a pair of scissors, or a universally respected space where I could safely store such paraphernalia and call it my own, I may not have lost a Kingdom but when things started to get hairy, I realised it wasn’t just One Spot I was hacking up, it was my sphincter.

Thursday 12 July 2012


A moral or legal obligation; a responsibility

 When someone recognizes a duty, that person theoretically commits themself to its fulfillment without considering their own self-interest.

Just before I, along with a bunch of other keen young men, was commissioned I attended a morning Church service in the Royal Memorial Chapel.  When I say I attended, what I mean is we were compelled to but it represented the end of a pretty arduous year of training and confirmation of our status in society as Gentlemen.  So unless one of us went mad and shagged the vicar on the altar, in less than 24 hours we would be Officers.  And on a cold December Morning, that was bloody cool.

On the wall of the chapel is an inscription.  Actually there are hundreds, all dedicated to ex Sandhurst cadets who fell in the line of duty, and unless they rebuild and vastly extend the chapel, there is no more space for such poignant reminders of the fragility of young officers faced with concentrated enemy machine gun fire while trying to lead understandably reluctant subordinates over the top.

The inscription we all giggled about, the one I am on about read, and please hopefully Peaceful Soul, forgive me for not remembering your name but I, as well as every other about to be commissioned officer in the British Army, can remember your memorial at least… ´In loving memory of Blah Blah Blah… accidentally shot by his gun bearer´, or something along those lines.  The killer (c´mon, we were all in hysterics by now) was the final line: ´Well done thou true and faithful servant´.

Someone paid to have this carved in stone as a memorial to their dearly departed.  If he had a gun bearer he obviously must have been a sport.  Let´s hope he was a good one.

What made that service so special though, was the fact that every cadet sitting in those pews would have laid his life down for his Country that very second if need be.  Everyone who knows me recognises that I am a cynical bastard, invariably only in it for the beer (and in this case a very smart fanny magnet uniform) but I felt exactly the same way.  Had Ivan and his massed hordes been pushing their tanks through the gates of the college they would have been annihilated.

Remembering how proud and honoured we all felt to be serving our country it is sad to see how many in public service are genuinely only in it for the beer.  Mr Blair inherited a rich country as a poor man and left a financially devastated country a rich man.  But he isn´t unique.  It appears de rigueur for politicians and increasingly, anyone senior in the civil service to surround themselves with PR teams, hamstringing themselves.  All initiative and strength of character diluted in an effort to stay on the gravy train that little bit longer and hang the electorate.  Members of the Lower House are more concerned with holding onto their seats than dealing decisively, perhaps unpopularly, with the serious issues facing the country.  As Chancellor of the Exchequer, we need Mr Micawber, not George Osborne or his ilk (Gordon Brown, accurately if unkindly described by Jeremy Clarkson as a ´one eyed Scottish git´, should burn in his Presbyterian hell).  We don´t vote these people in to play the markets or sell off the family silver, all we want them to do is balance the flaming books.

Recognising that all our politicians are essentially mercenaries to gluttony, we should not be unduly concerned, for we have an Upper House the members of which are little influenced by public opinion.  While not always successful, their neutrality having been heavily watered down by successive governments creating Life Peers and their powers being limited anyway, they still do a reasonable job of sense checking proposed legislation.

Mr Clegg sees the existence of an un-elected Upper House as an affront to democracy.  Really?  Perhaps he would prefer the American model?  One in which big corporate interests dictate both domestic and foreign policy? 

The man is mad and is missing the nub of the argument entirely (hardly surprising, I am reliably informed he can´t even find his own nub in the dark).  Why do we need two houses?  Everyone in every country in the world whines about bloated civil services.  Look at Europe.  If Mr Clegg argued for a reduction in bureaucracy and was going to start with the House of Lords, I may not agree with him but I would at least be able to see his point.  Any company, their shareholders at least, could argue convincingly for a leaner, meaner board of directors.  Yet while attacking an institution of his own country, one that has played its part in providing us unprecedented political stability and a buffer to venal interests, he is in favour of subordinating the democratic right of this country´s elected parliament to set its own laws for the people it represents to the greatest unelected bureaucracy the world has ever seen.  He can’t have it both ways.

Perhaps he would be decent enough to piss off back to Spain and help them pay their bills out of his own pocket rather than ours.

What the Country needs is strong and courageous leadership, with a bit of dignity, please.  And that´s what the Army tries to provide for its soldiers, the men and women officers are charged to lead and look after, requiring them to swear their loyalty to a monarch, not a dictator, and through a simple church service, reminds its new young leaders of their Duty.

I think it should be obligatory for incumbent Prime Ministers and other senior civil servants to attend the morning service of the day of the passing out parade at the Royal Memorial Chapel, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and lend their voices to those of the young men and women who really do know what it means to selflessly serve one´s country, and sing this without blushing:

Turn those speakers up and stand to attention!  Thumbs in line with the seams of your trousers!  Press down on the thumbs!  Lock those Elbows!  Stomach in!  Chest out!  Neck in the back of the collar!  LOOK UP!  For Christ´s sake, I never knew they could stack shit that high!  Call yourselves Fucking leaders of men Gentlemen?

The lyrics for those who can´t pass the ´Cricket Test´:

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,
I haste to thee my mother, a son among thy sons.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

By higher (democratic) authority we are now discouraged from singing the second verse as it is considered politically incorrect,  potentially causing offence to previously disadvantaged minorities.  Remarkable then, that our leaders seem so keen on the sound of guns in distant lands and can shuffle shamelessly through the dying, the dead and the economic ruin of their own country.

Monday 9 July 2012

And so to supper

Well, we missed afternoon tea and biscuits so Alex and I had to make do with fresh avocado, raw tuna (I called it Sushi meaning I really could not be arsed to fry it), tangerines, water melon, a salad of lettuce and tomatoes laced with cream and dill, and  thinly sliced filet of beef which Marcia did fry to perfection (like I said, I wasn´t in the frying mood tonight but I did arrange it all artistically on the plate) and the perfect seafoood sauce consisting of salad cream mixed with tomato ketchup, a dash of hot pepper and ground black pepper.

Naturally, there was a lot of juice left on our plates (of blood and citric origin) and watching Alex heave his to his lips and slurp the lot down his throat, I knew he was over his Nitrolingual overdose.

He´s a bit of a lad.  But he is Our Lad.

Can´t see that dish on any European menu, can you?  But it was great.

Alex thought so.

Turf Wars

Oh for Goodness´ sake!  It must be Tea Time by now!
From my last post readers will be aware that there is a little bit of a turf war going on at Fat Hippo´s.

I cannot say there are two sides to this, there are instead many facets to a rough diamond that will either turn out to be FL or one with all sorts of irritating and expensive internal characteristics. Expensive in the sense you paid for flawless but got screwed.  

A week ago, it looked to be Included.  After yesterday, William Hill are giving favourable odds on Slightly Included but I have the inside knowledge that the Soba, who just stuck his head round my door and told me that he had spoken to the protagonists, hinting at a possible solution, has been working on my behalf so I reckon anyone betting on VS1 could enjoy a windfall.  I am still holding out for FL but, having endured a negotiating skills course in Dubai of all places, have already decided that I would go to VVS2, the difference between that and FL coming, inevitably, out of my pocket.

Being white, I thought I had best keep as low a profile as I could and leave the negotiations to Marcia.  To say that Marcia was incandescent with rage when these locals came onto our land while she was away in town and planted their posts would be an understatement equivalent to describing the nuclear test programmes in the Pacific as a ´bit of Cumulo-Nimbus´.

A couple of years ago, another piece of land we owned was occupied by primarily discharged Angolan Army veterans.  Now, as an ex serviceman myself, I had a degree of sympathy for them for, as any ex serviceman knows, once you are out, you are pretty much on your own and pretty much unemployable.  In a place like Angola, you are stuffed.  I did help a former employee of mine, also an ex serviceman, set up a security company getting him his first contract which employs only ex servicemen.  They are disciplined, paid well by local standards and intensely loyal.  A fact that is increasingly being recognised and the company´s client portfolio is growing.  And my old, loyal employee is now building his second house having moved out of his rented shack a year ago.  I feel that friends should stick together as tightly as do Asian families in UK.  They do seem to do rather well, don´t they?

Still, losing the serious investment the land represented was a bit of a kick in the guts but Marcia said she would deal with it and left immediately.  An hour or so later, having heard nothing, I rang her.  I could barely hear her over the noise of automatic gunfire. ´I can´t hear you, Darling,´ she said, ´because of the gunfire… the land is being cleared now, though, so don´t worry!´

I tried to picture the mother of my son standing, Rommel like, in the turret of an armoured car calmly directing machine gun fire on those foolish enough to occupy her land.  Shortly afterwards, this time me behaving like Pontius Pilate, I sold the land and washed my hands of it and bought the land here at the Barra de Kwanza instead.

I want to retire to the Barra do Kwanza.  I want to spend my days in peace and harmony with my new neighbours fishing and trying to write like Hemingway.  I don´t want to spend the rest of what could be a considerably curtailed life passing backwards and forwards through the village in an armed convoy and manning the balustrades at night.  Of course I am angry.  Of course I´d like to tie the guy responsible to a tree and rupture his internal organs with relentless blows of a rubber hose.  Yes, it would be nice to see one of Marcia´s infantry firepower demonstrations and even nicer if I was allowed to give a demonstration of my marksmanship but, unlike the land at Benfica, I want to live here.  In peace.

I agreed with Marcia that we have legal title to the land.  I agreed with Marcia that she had every right to throw them off.  I agreed with Marcia that we would win any litigation.  I agreed with Marcia that ´they´ didn´t deserve any of our largesse (she has stopped credit in the shop and banned me from doing the water runs or giving a lift to anyone but I got round it by giving old Joaquim the keys to my truck so it isn´t technically me that is giving them lifts although it is my truck.  A decent lawyer would have me off in no time.).  I tried to tell her that I did understand.  After all, how homicidal would you feel if, leading your three year old down to the river at the bottom of your property you came across some git manning an improvised checkpoint, a bit of rope strung between two posts supporting a crude stop sign to be told that this was now private property?

Asking Marcia to be reasonable was like asking the Americans to adopt an equable and democratic foreign policy.  My fear was the knowledge of what impetuousness by the Western Powers has done for their homeland security.  Seeing the Queen shaking hands with Martin McGuiness must have stuck in many a craw but it was better than bombing the crap out of Afghanistan and all its consequences.  A sort of firm patience and skilful diplomacy by the British resulted in a handshake that implicitly acknowledged the sovereignty of the Queen over Northern Ireland.  The six counties are more or less at peace so who won in the end?  Well, everyone involved really, and isn’t that a nice outcome?  But I realised I would have a job on to convince Marcia to wait generations for an equable solution.  It took so long in Ireland because there were some serious wounds on both sides that were suppurating rather than healing.  What I needed to do was avoid the wounds in the first place.  After all, we had only suffered a minor nick in the flesh.  As an ex soldier and then irregular, I know all to well the consequences of war and was keen that Marcia should at least grasp that.  We weren´t talking about Right or Wrong as Mr Blair so glibly quipped before launching Britain into an un-winnable conflict that would contribute so much to the country´s financial and moral bankruptcy, we were talking about the future harmony we could enjoy within this impoverished community.

I asked her what the roof of our restaurant was made of.  I asked her how much it had cost.  I asked her how much it will have cost us once it is all wired and plumbed in and full of equipment and furniture.  ´But we will earn all that back in less than a year´, she said.

´Not if someone comes along during the night armed with five litres of petrol and puts a match to the thatch,´ I pointed out.  It would take too long to explain what a Pyrrhic Victory was but I think she got the idea.

So yesterday the Soba pitched up with two intermediaries.  One which he hoped would be acceptable to Marcia and I, and another clearly there to represent the antagonists.  I noticed, with regret, that the Soba was pissed as a rat but had dressed himself up in my old No. 4 Dress uniform jacket that I gave him a while back (very Daktari and colonial British Administrator).

Marcia quickly eliminated any doubt as to title.  She then went on to confirm that the president of the Angolan Council of Barristers was a relative and that I had the money to pursue litigation into the next century.  All of which I reluctantly acknowledged but made a mental note to ask her for a squint at the bank statements as clearly, I was flusher than I thought.  When it comes to family, you cannot allow your wife to lose face so have to at least publicly agree even if you are silently begging God to strike her dumb.

The woman sat at the other end of the table from me was the mother of the man who had brokered the deal.  I could see why she was there.  Obviously if, as the antagonists were now contending, the sale of the disputed piece of land was illegal and we had lost our money, her son was in my sights at least.

I thought she was gorgeous.  Petite, perfectly formed and with beautiful teeth.  Look, I wasn´t sizing up a horse but in a country where dental treatment is even worse than that offered by the NHS in UK, it is rare to see such a stunning smile.  Even if her son (coincidentally the one who tried to kill his girlfriend outside my shop the other day causing me to throttle him half to death) was her first, and they do start young here, I figured she must be knocking on her half century. 

Everything she said made sense.  Every time, in her own very calm way she made a point, the Soba, now sticking into a bottle of my wine would interrupt.  As soon as he did, she would stop speaking immediately and lower her head and eyes in respect.  I wondered what she would have made of herself in a different environment, one where she was treated as an equal and had good access to a decent education.  I wanted to brain the Soba, knock him out.

I interrupted the Soba.  ´I need to go for a walk with this young lady´, I looked directly at the woman opposite me, ´Do you mind?  Just a hundred yards or so…´

As we walked the short distance so I could show her what I thought was mine and what had been taken from me, I asked her name.

I had a girlfriend called São, I said, she looked just like you.  In fact, had I married her, she´d be the same age as you.

I didn´t marry my São, I replied to New São, because her Padre said she could not marry anyone outside her Church and that kind of religion scares me.

´Did you love her, Sr Tomás?´

‘Yes I did, Donna São, very much indeed but it was all a long time ago´

´Was she a baixinho (shortarse) like me?´

´You are exactly as I remember her´.

I showed São the marker post they had knocked down, the amount of my land they had taken but really I was thinking about my São.  This, I said standing on the old marker post and indicating towards the fallen tree, was where I wanted to put my fence in.  Everything to the left, I would give to the Povo to use as their port.  To the right, that would be my bit.  I didn´t mention the clinic or the water, Marcia had done that I was sure.

Today the Soba pitched up saying that the intermediaries had spoken to everyone and now they all wanted to talk to us.  I told him to wait until Marcia got back from town.

I really love Marcia.  I have been with her longer now than any other woman and she is the mother of my beloved Alex but right now I hope that São, or her unexpected reincarnation at least, can quench the embers of bloody warfare because at my age, the last thing I expected to be doing was polishing the edge of my sword with a steel.

São, arguably the most beautiful woman in the world.  All 5´2" of her.

After all, I am bloody tired of prejudice and extremism in all their forms.

Marcia has just arrived and seen São´s photo on my laptop as I write this.  If I fuck up the next five minutes, I could be fighting on two fronts... and as so manycommanders in the past have realised to their cost, such a position is almost invariably untenable.

Friday 6 July 2012

53, going on 90

I may have mentioned that a few days ago my heart started to misbehave again and Marcia, reacting like all wives do when they think their husbands might pull through, emptied half a bottle of Nitrolingual down my throat and, I am sure, had I not regained consciousness, would have stuffed my nostrils full of Inderal tablets.

I never noticed, and I guess the emergency being over Marcia didn´t either but the spray bottle of Nitro remained on my bedside cabinet.

Today I was bashing happily away on the new laptop.  I had just been to see the boss of the company from which I had been renting my excavator and told him that I had paid for three effing days and only received one day of work out of the machine and he backed down.  So I was bloody chuffed.  Now I will get two more days but with a new, lighter machine, ideal for smoooothing.

So I was working on the accounts (which are well overdue) when I smelt something familiar.  Alex was bouncing up and down on the bed while watching Little Red Tractor on TV so he was happy.  I was busy trying to decide how hard I could load up capital expenditure and whether I could jimmy the necessary receipts and then there was that smell again.

I glanced over at Alex and in his hand he had a spray bottle of red liquid.


´ALEX!  Did you spray this in your mouth?´ He is only three and was terrified so he lied.  ´No Daddy´

´OK Son, it´s alright, give Daddy a kiss´.

His breath reeked of the stuff and the bottle was half empty.

There is no 999 or 911 here.  Marcia was in town with one truck, the other was dead,  The nearest hospital was two hours away and just trying to check a patient in would take another couple of hours always assuming I had the cash on me they would demand which I didn´t.  I thought about ringing Marcia but then realised, what´s the point? All I would do is provoke a mad rush back from town and the death of my beloved wife and mother of our beautiful son in some horrible car smash.

Basically, there was fuck all I could do.

Alex went very pink.  It was hard to hold him down, he was off the wall.  He was panting like a post race greyhound.  Then he fell asleep and try as hard as I could, I couldn´t feel his heart it was just so slow.  I died a thousand deaths and offered myself unreservedly to whatever horrible fate the Almighty may have chosen for me in exchange for this little boy´s life.

Then Marcia rang.

`I have your Visa charge card´ she said, dead chuffed. ´And you´ll have your passport back next week!...´

and then since I didn´t ooze joyful backflips down the phone...

´How´s Alex?´

´Fine, but I think you should come home´

Now that was pathetic but I defy anyone reading this faced with the same circumstances to come up with anything better.

In the meantime, Alex slept in my arms.

Before Marcia got home, Alex was awake and leaving footprints across the ceiling.  He demanded I take him over to Rico´s and terrorised them as well.  ´Them´ were a bunch of BP employees on one of those management training sessions.  They were very impressed with how high Alex could bounce off the sofas and confessed they had never seen a three year old break dancing on dining tables.  Given English cynicism, I wasn´t sure whether I should be proud of my son or be expected to shoot myself but I was so pleased to see him alive I told them to find another table.  Sort of.

This was clearly a very smart management session as they had brought not only a photographer, but a film crew and even an artist whose unasked for caricature of me, I feel, captured my mood and about how old I felt at the time.

The phone rang.  It was Marcia, now at home, demanding to know where the hell we were.  Like all mothers, she just knew something was up, had set fire to the only decent tarmac leading south from the Capital and was ready to stuff into that dickhead of a husband she had left in charge for less than a day.

I explained to her what had happened.  She was mortified that she had left the Nitrolingual by the bed and I said, ´Let´s just be more careful in future, after all, I should have noticed as well´.  To be honest, I was just too knackered to have a fight and I don´t know how many times I have told Marcia to keep the medicines hidden away.  Seriously, if I find them lying around, I throw them in the bin and they are fucking expensive here.

Marcia is pretty angry about the way the locals have come in and nicked a chunk of our land.  She is young and feisty, twenty odd years my junior, and up for a punch up.  All I want is to settle down, to try and write like Hemingway and go fishing.  So long as the boy´s school fees are covered, I´m happy.  I have paid for a local clinic and also a water purification plant.  After the land invasion, though, I agreed with Marcia that we should convert the clinic into a few extra cottages and then, like that arsehole dickhead of an instructor I had in the Army, taunt the thirsty and exhausted by pouring drinking water into the ground.

Much as you can hate anyone, though, who could wish the anguish of watching a child suffer on anyone, even if they are complete fucking arseholes.

´We need a clinic here, Marcia´ I said.

´I´ll go and see the Administrator tomorrow morning´, she replied.

I asked Alex how he felt.  He said, ´Let´s fight Daddy´ and punched me in the balls.

Who´s going to look their best after not one of their best days?