Wednesday 29 August 2012

Time to buy flowers

I was fiddling with my laptop.  Micky had brought me a new 1TB back up drive but none of the films he had stored on it would play so clearly I needed some sort of plug in and that is what I was searching for when peace was interrupted  by someone bashing on my door saying there was trouble at the shop.  Fer Feck’s sake, there’s always trouble at the shop, especially this time at night.  I don’t know how many times I have told Marcia it is a shop, not a bar.  People should come, select and pay for what they want, and then Fuck Off.  Instead, she let’s them sit there.  The place is a bloody Shabeen and I hate it.  Especially the bloody litter I have to collect in the morning.

So I wasn’t exactly in anything approaching a sympathetic mood as I stomped down the path towards the shop.  I kicked open the door and found myself staring down the business end of an AK 47 behind which was a uniformed Gentleman by whose eyes I could tell was out of his tiny little mind, always assuming he had one in the first place.  Not something you can bet on here.

It is possible to take in your surroundings without swivelling your eyeballs.  Mine were transfixed on the 7.62mm diameter black hole just under the foresight.  I did take in, however, the sight of a dozen clients all doing the sensible thing and playing like meditating monks, avoiding eye contact with the lunatic and Marcia, as white as any Negress can be with fear, transfixed next to the counter.  And no, of course I could not tell if the safety was on or off, that only happens in films.  Besides, I was too busy shitting myself.

Bollocks, I thought, this is going to Fucking hurt with a capital F.  Selfish, aren’t I?  Then, only then, was I angry.  Very, very flaming angry.  No-one should ever have to experience this peculiar mix of rage, fear and sense of impotence.  The guy was built like a brick shithouse and clearly off his trolley.  In the second drawer down on the right hand side of the desk I had but a moment before been sitting at, I had a CZ 83 loaded with 7.65mm tranquilisers, ideal for this sort of situation.  Next to my desk were two sabres, one ceremonial the other definitely a weapon of war and only recently honed to a keen edge.  All of them, swords and pistol, might as well have remained in the manufacturer’s stores for all the good they were to me now, clad as I was in cheap Brazilian flip flops, shorts and a soon to be bloodstained T Shirt.

‘You!’ I shouted pointing my 12.5 mm forefinger at him, ‘What the fuck are you doing in my shop with a weapon?’

He gobbed off something incomprehensible and cocked his weapon, ejecting the round he already had up the spout which clattered across the floor accompanied by a collective moan from all present.

‘Stand to Fucking attention when you talk to me!’ I bawled.

‘Marcia!’ I shouted at her, ‘How many times have I told you that customers must leave weapons outside the door?’

'Take that weapon outside now or I will bar you’ I said turning my attention back to the maniac before Marcia, bewildered beyond belief, could answer. ‘And we don’t give credit so if you haven’t got any money, FUCK OFF!’  This wasn’t strictly true, we always give credit to fishermen.

He hesitated.

‘Right, that’s it, give me the fucking gun’, I took a pace forward clamping the muzzle beyond the less painful side of my armpit, tapped him gently between the eyes with my forehead and steered him out of the shop. ‘If you want to drink, the gun stays there’ I said, indicating a bit of pavement to the left of the entrance.  Now that I had the gun and he had a headache he was suddenly very polite.

I didn’t need to tell Marcia, she was already on the phone and everyone else who had been in the shop were already doing personal bests at sprinting.  The police came and took him away.

Afterwards, I was mad as hell.  In the post crisis analysis it became clear that while I was behind my laptop tinkling the keys, Marcia was staring down a pissed up loony with a gun.

‘For Christ’s sake, Marcia, why didn’t you tell me straight away?’

‘Because you would have fought him’

Fucking right I would have.  I’d have at least slipped a 1 inch AF spanner up my sleeve and caressed his temple.  That way I wouldn’t have had to play ‘Guess what’s going through the mind of the Criminally Insane’ while a clinically interesting example was pointing a gun at me.  A quick swing and all I would have had to do is wait for him to wake up and then ask him.  As if I would have been interested.  Man I was angry. ‘How dare you Marcia? How fucking dare you risk yourself like that!  Are you fucking mad?  Who would look after Alexander if you were dead?  How do you think I would feel if I had to bury you knowing that some shit bag got away with murdering you?  Don’t you fucking ever do that again!’ 

And more stuff along those lines.  I was a teensy weensy bit annoyed.

Marcia burst into tears and left the room.

Dominic coughed discreetly.



‘You know I love you?’

‘Yeah, sure, of course I know.  If you love me, pull me a cold one out the fridge’

‘You’ve never told me that you love me’

‘Hang on a sec Son, of course I have.  Loads of times’

‘No you haven’t Daddy, not once’

‘Are you sure?  I mean, really sure?’

‘I’m sure, Daddy’

‘Not even when I taught you to ride a motorcycle all those years ago?’

‘All you told me was not to fall off, I remember that Daddy’

This was all starting to get bloody uncomfortable.  I know that Dom’s Hols are over and he has to go back in the morning so he is a bit disappointed but I am just as gutted.  Not that I would admit that to him, of course.

‘Dominic, what’s on your mind?’

‘Well,’ he squirmed on the sofa a bit, ‘it’s just that Marcia really loves you’

‘Me? Bollocks! She just tolerates me.  What makes you say that!’

‘She knew you would fight the guy so she kept quiet ‘cos he had a gun’

‘Yeah well I took it off him so what’s the problem? By now he’s probably getting the shit kicked out of him in jail.  I’m just pissed off she didn’t tell me straight away instead of sending that dickhead down here when it was too late with some garbled message so I had to face the guy down in my fucking underpants.  Where’s that cold beer I asked for?’

He gave me the beer. Then the phone rang.  It was the boss of TecnoCarro, a really big company here in Angola and the employer of the loopy guard with the gun.  He was sorry he said.  He wanted to know if there was anything he could do.  Were we alright and that sort of thing.  Fuck me, no-one has ever apologised to me in Angola before and just because one of his guards got pissed and a bit out of hand, no-one could reasonably blame the boss, after all he must have about three squillion employees and odds alone would say at least one would be crazy.  We’re fine, I assured him with rare respect.  He told me that he would send some managers over just to make sure.  I was beginning to wonder if they would arrive walking on water.

I was starting to calm down.  Just to put this all into perspective, I had been terrified out of my wits.  One fuck up on my part and I could have lost Dominic and Marcia (Alex had been safe watching Ben 10 on TV only three feet away from the CZ his Daddy really could have done with) and the thought of losing them made me want to vomit.

‘I have never told you I love you?’  I had ripped the filter off a local SL cigarette, lit it and was dragging in a serious blast while Dominic was hugging his brother Alex on the sofa.

‘Nope’ he said not even averting his gaze from the TV for a second.

Bugger.  If I told him I loved him now he’d only think I was just saying it.  Is it really possible that in thirteen years I had never told the lad I loved him?  Fuck, I adore him.  I am so proud of him.

‘I guess if I told you I love you right now’, I ventured, ‘you’d think I was a bit of a dick?’

‘No I wouldn’t’ he replied, eyes still locked on the TV.

‘I do love you, Dominic,’ I said, ‘More than anything’

‘Marcia was really scared,’ Dominic responded after a deadly pause, ‘She was frightened you might get shot.’  He rolled over and looked at me, ‘Daddy, I was scared.’

‘Sorry about that’.  What else could I say?

Marcia has just come in and gone straight to bed.

Dominic and I exchanged glances.  I thought they were the sort of knowing glances between men faced with cantankerous women but no.  ‘Do yourself a favour’ said Dom, ‘tell Marcia you love her.’

Thirteen years old?  Do yourself a favour?  By God his English is good.  I am so proud of him.  And I love him, as I do Marcia and Alexander.  I guess I just need to tell them every once in a while.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

How Deep is Your Pond?

A body of water

Recently, I dug a pond.  Actually I rented a sodding great digger which came complete with an operator who knew what he was doing, so the only digging I did was into my wallet.  Anyone who knows me will agree that this will have required some serious physical effort.  I was exhausted, traumatised when I got the bill.

When I bought the land on which I built my last house, the countryside was virgin.  I kept getting lost in the bush trying to find it and believe me, the fauna may know the terrain like the backs of their cloven hooves but when it comes to giving directions, they are bloody useless although I will admit, my propensity for shooting first and asking questions later may have diluted their community spirit somewhat.

I planted more trees and the countryside provided rich pickings for Dominic, fascinated by anything that crept and crawled as he was.  He once surprised me by dumping a scorpion on the dining table and impressed me even more when he discovered an incredibly rare Phasmid (stick insect to you and me) taking the only photo of it in existence and one which now graces the British Natural History Museum archives and website. Mind you he was subsequently impressed with me when he ignored my considered opinion that the venomous snake he had just unrolled onto the kitchen counter was not dead when it decided not to pretend to be dead anymore but be very much alive.  You try digging one of those out from behind the fridge before your wife gets home.

Sadly, the area was rezoned residential and the navvies with their pick axes and shovels and cement mixers moved in.  Where once the boys and I could picnic in splendid isolation, collecting a few indigenous plants for transfer to our garden, we were now hemmed in by cement block walls and forced to walk ankle deep in mud along rain eroded dirt roads.  And then there was the litter.  Household refuse piled up on every as yet undeveloped lot or just thoughtlessly discarded along the verges.  The spindly branches of the few Acacia trees that survived, once home to the rare Phasmid, were adorned with plastic bags like some hideous parody of decorated Christmas trees.  The gates of my property were now the boundary between perfumed Heaven and sulphurous Hell.

So we moved South and three days later God sent me a message saying he did not like the thatched cottages or the restaurant I had built with the money I had saved by living a frugal Christian life avoiding dens of iniquity so sent mighty waves to wipe the slate clean leaving me with a blank canvas and waterlogged lungs with which to start again.  Or maybe he was after my neighbour and I was just collateral damage.

If God is so keen on Nature (and why shouldn’t He be? After all He invented it), perhaps I could do my little bit to help.  A pond seemed like a good idea.

Not only would it provide a haven for wildlife steadily being pushed out by development, I would enjoy a very attractive and peaceful feature of my garden, digging it out would provide a thousand cubic metres of soil with which to build up the rest of the land and, suitably stocked, an excellent place to fly fish (so you didn’t do this just for Me after all you disingenuous git? God).

Everyone I mentioned my idea to turned out to be an expert.  How did I intend to line the pond?  If that quantity of liner was too expensive, I could mix laterite soil with 5% cement and spread that out.  The water would be too salty.  The water would be too muddy.  There would be no water.

I went to the contractor to rent the bloody great digger I had in mind.

‘I want to rent a machine to dig a rather large hole in the ground, two metres deep, thirty metres long and twenty five metres wide’.  I said this in fluent Portuguese.

He said, ‘O que?’

Go to any other country anywhere in the world and the natives are rather flattered if you give their patois a go.  The Angolans love it.  They may giggle a bit, they may even burst into paroxysms of laughter but they’re on your side straight away. Pork and Cheese expatriate contractors on the other hand take the piss.

‘Listen you fat Chouriço munching git’, I stabbed my finger out his office window at a big excavator, ‘I want to rent that to dig a hole’.  I said this in English and at a volume every Englishman has the born right to use when faced with uncomprehending foreign peasantry guilty of gross impertinence.

‘What’s it for?’ he said.

‘What’s what for?’

‘The hole’

‘Does it matter?’

Lots of eye rolling, tut tutting and then in the sort of voice primary school religious education teachers use on children who wonder out loud who begat Adam and Eve’s surviving son’s wife, he sneered (sneered I tell you), ‘Well of course it matters!’ and then went on to explain cellars, foundations, soil structure and how about I get a geologist in to survey the ground?  All this in Pork and Cheese, of course.

‘All I want is a pond’, I said.  Actually I said ‘Lago’ which is Portuguese for something the size of Lake Superior, the sort of body of water you can sail ships on.  I had no idea what the word for pond was, the sort of thing the English float ducks on and the Portuguese drain their household crap into.

With a smirk, an expression that said 'Hah!' and would be much enhanced with my boot planted in the middle of it, he eased his bulk back into his creaking office chair and said, ‘How are you going to line it?’

Time for a fag and a deep swig from my flask of Scottish Tea lest I damaged my toe caps..

‘Do you recall the Great Autumn Flood?’ I continued.  He did.  Good. ‘All I want to do is get about a 1,000 cubic metres of soil from one bit of my land and spread it out over the rest to raise the level so it won’t flood again’

‘But you’ll end up with a pond!’ he exclaimed.  Actually, he said ‘lagoa’ so now I know what ‘pond’ is in Portuguese.  What a difference an ‘a’ makes.

You’ve got to hand it to the Portuguese, haven’t you? Until they were let into the Common Market and allowed to dip their snouts into the trough, they were a third world country with no roads or electrickery and shitting in lagoas.  Now they’re patronising fucking geniuses.

‘Just dig the effing hole.  Por Favor’.

The digger, a massive tracked vehicle with a bucket the size of a skip and borne hither on a low loader made short work of the job.  The resultant hole filled up quickly and stayed full. 

Afterwards everyone told me they knew it would.  Of course they knew.  I wonder what c**t is in Portuguese?  One of the best ways to build up vocabulary when learning a foreign language, by the way, is to point at something and ask what it is called in, in this case, Portuguese.  Then all you have to do is remember the word and hope that the guy answering your query didn’t have a similarly warped sense of humour leaving you demanding from startled shop assistants willies instead of batteries.  Actually, that wasn’t such a good example as ‘battery’ in Portuguese is ‘Pilha’, whereas ‘willie’ is ‘Pila’.  What a difference an H makes.

I really could bang on about this childishly but best back to the pond, which I did and promptly fell into.

There was a tadge of excitement between me deciding to visit the pond and the falling in bit.  Even though it’s still a lunar landscape, I was impressed that the local wildfowl were settling in, or at least checking on progress.  The stuff that came out of the pond to be spread over my garden was a bit gooey to say the least so I have to wait for it to dry out before I put the smoother scraper machine in.  Birds come and go, after all, they are flighty creatures but are nevertheless most welcome to stay and I am sure they will once I have all the water bamboo and other plants growing around the pond’s circumference but what had me running for the camera was Varanus niloticus, the largest lizard in Africa.

A bloody big lizard
My first ex wife (divorce is the single most expensive habit of mine, closely followed by whisky and cigarettes which have overtaken crashing motorcycles) once described me as a lizard.  I hadn’t a clue what she was on about twenty years ago as I was never a lounge lizard, I just propped up the bar.  Evidently the judge did though as he awarded her my house but there remains an enduring affinity between me and big lizards.  Snakes too.  Even though there is a remarkable resemblance between them and my ex wives in that they are also cold blooded and all too often venomous, I am fascinated by them.

The locals aren’t.  They are scared witless and will kill anything that moves.  And that is a shame.  I know there are some pretty deadly snakes around but the majority of them stay away from human habitation.  African House Snakes, though, love human habitation and their colloquial name reflects this.  They are Man’s friend gobbling up as they do all the baby rats they can from the nests they are very adept at finding.  Do they get any thanks?  Of course not, they get a rock on the head instead.  Similarly, Water Monitors are treated with the same fear and violence as crocodiles.  Yet they are beautiful, interesting creatures, benign vestiges of dinosaurs. 

Walking to the pond, Dominic scoped a huge water monitor emerging from a hole in the ground.  You couldn’t miss it unless you were as blind as I am (my eyesight is so bad I would only have spotted it if I had stepped on it) so I missed it at first.  Dominic’s excited cries attracted the attention of the locals who started to run around like headless chickens screaming Jacaré! (Crocodile).  Now, I decided, is a good time to show them that these things aren’t dangerous so marched up to it, facing down all its arrogant posturing and grabbed it by the tail.

‘They’re strong little buggers, aren’t they?’ I said to Dominic as I picked myself up out of the mud before asking him to locate the bottle bottom glasses the creature had just smacked from my face by giving me a stinging side swipe to the head with its tail. 

‘I heard a woman shouting at us to run away otherwise we would get bitten’ said Dominic, ‘did you hear her?´

‘No’, I admitted, ‘I was busy trying not to get bitten’
Essential visual aid restored to me I said, ‘Right, after the bastard!’  This really wasn’t turning out like the David Attenborough documentary I had hoped for.

The water monitor plopped into the pond and swam leisurely across to the other side leaving us tramping around the water’s edge until we discovered it hiding underwater next to a bit of vegetation.

I ordered one of the thickest soldiers under my command to grab it by the tail but then decided I should lead by example
‘Right, son,’ I instructed, ‘get ready with the camera, I’ve got him now’
Regimental Diary:  A sudden thrash in the water and the OC was lost to the swamp
I stuck my hand in the water and took a firm grasp of the beastie’s tail with my right hand and reached forward with the left to grab him under the body.  There was an explosion of water and suddenly I realised my thumb was clamped firmly in its jaws.  A millisecond or so later I realised I was in the water.  Having made its point, the Monitor disappeared to a deeper part of the pond.  I was impressed by how clean the water was.  Standing up to my neck in it I could still see the breast pockets of my shirt containing my cigarettes and lighter and even the trouser pocket housing my mobile phone.  Couldn’t see my boots, though, they were stuck in the mud.  ‘Do me a favour, Son, stop laughing and pull me out’.

'Sarge, why does the OC want a fucking pond anyway?'
'Don't know son, ask him.  He's just crawled out of it.'
Since I was soaking wet and the kids were eager for more of the sort of entertainment only someone as inept as their father could provide, I suggested we tried catching fish in the river with which to stock the pond.  Dominic shot off to borrow Nice Paul’s Seine net and we set to.  I have to admit, he is pretty good at swinging that net.  ‘It’s all in the wrist action!’ he would tell me every time I asked how he managed to get a perfect circle of net plopping onto the river surface rather than the tangled rat’s nest with which I would depth charge the water every time I had a go.

Don't eat them Alex, just put them into the bucket

I can’t wait to get the smoothening flattening machine in to finish the job off so I can start planting.
This pond is going to be brilliant.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

‘You got shit on the beach’ ‘Really? How often I got do dat den?’

Something nasty on the beach
I do like to read the obituaries column in the Telegraph.  Not through any morbid fascination but because to be included, the late lamented was clearly a cut above the rest of the dying population.  Many of them are truly inspiring describing as they do lives of selfless sacrifice, extraordinary bravery or remarkable achievement, littered with anecdotes such as, ‘He finally gave up flying aged 87’, or, ‘He remained an active member of the Blankshire Beagles until he took up Archery aged 75’.  I am still waiting for one saying ‘His untimely death, aged 90, was due to being shot by a jealous husband’.

As inspiring as they generally are, they can at times be a little deflating.  Here we have some chap who was still donkey walloping and cautioned by the police for decking an odious little snot as an octogenarian and I can’t even inch a 50 litre drum of water along a smooth concrete pathway without putting my back out.  I am in agony and both mentally and physically pathetic.  First there is that sudden very sharp pain which, like a frozen video leaves one paralysed neither fully upright nor sensibly prone but somewhere excruciatingly between.  Then the sharp pain recedes and is replaced with a dull yet incessant and very debilitating agony that spreads steadily North and South so that a day later legs are throbbing and operating mysteriously independently and the top of the skull is ready to burst.  The merest breeze has me unbalanced and tottering, eyes suddenly watering so perhaps it is possible to imagine the real grief when a three year old launches himself at the so afflicted, punching him expertly and devastatingly accurately in the pills saying, ‘C’mon Daddy, let’s fight!’ 

‘Not right now my darling and ever so lovely Son,’ is about all I can manage to squeak.  Tender, ever so tender words to that effect anyway.

Talking about watering eyes, Dominic is with me.  Elections are due this month in Angola so the government has decided that the normal two week winter school break should be doubled to four weeks.  I can’t explain what possible motive there could be for such a decision.  Perhaps the government feel that if parents are stuck looking after their offspring they won’t have time to indulge in riotous assembly.  Amazingly, his mother has graciously allowed the boy to spend that time with me at the Barra de Kwanza rather than sit bored out of his skull in the city.  Or maybe she wants to indulge in a bit of riotous assembly herself and needs him out of the way.  I hope that is the real reason, for a well aimed shot by one of the country’s valiant security services might simultaneously solve the two further headaches I have to endure over and above a wonky spine, those of custody and alimony.  I mustn’t think like that.  No, really, I mustn’t.

Back to watering eyes.  Dominic has lost none of his increasingly wicked sense of humour.  Recognising that I am a bit off colour, he has been very attentive.  Having lulled me into a false sense of security with a constant supply of tea he volunteered to test the new hair clippers Brother Michael brought for us from Germany.  ‘Just a little bit off the back and sides,’ I said, ‘I know you are itching to have a go.’

‘I’m sorry Dad, it’s just so hard to know when to stop’, he said afterwards.  ‘Can I make you a sandwich?’

‘Will it make my hair grow back faster?’

I like fresh bread.  Ever since I was a kid in Germany and at 6.30 would be dispatched down the hill to the baker to collect the Broetchen for breakfast I have loved bread and would still be prepared to argue with the Big Man that one can survive on bread alone.  If we were all suddenly directed by Higher Authority to survive on only one staple of our choice I would sacrifice meat and fish and choose fresh bread.  Not constrained by any such directive, I like my bread with cheese, mayonnaise and whatever salad vegetable is available.  Today it was tomatoes.  I really like them as well.

There is another vegetable/fruit or whatever the damn things are called that grow like fruit but are sold in the vegetable section of Sainsbury’s which grows here in abundance.  Gindungo.  Such an innocuous name for natural Nitro Glycerine, no, Napalm.  Actually, with the blend of its explosive and pyrotechnic properties, it is perhaps an evil combination of both.  Used in Saffron like quantities it can turn even the blandest meal into something memorable adding rich warmth to stews and a pleasant heat to curries.  Used in place of tomatoes and in similar quantity it is nothing short of lethal.

That wasn't tomato was it?
No.  It wasn't tomato.  Good joke you ferkin bastid.  Honestly, these are tears of mirth I am wiping away.
My spine is already shattered so I am really not looking forward to another spine shattering experience on the bog tomorrow morning.  Gindungo gives good value for money.  It burns on the way in and is bloody incendiary on the way out.  Still, at least I have remembered to put the toilet paper in the fridge.

If I thought God had, through the warped mind of one of his younger souls, given me enough to endure, he sent Nice Paul to me (yes, Nice Paul is back, hurray!).

‘I’ve found something nasty on the beach I need you to take a look at’, he said.

‘Paul, I feel like fucking shit, I don’t need to go look at anymore’

‘But I need your advice’

‘Shove it back into the sea’

Be reasonable, Dear Reader, surely I was entitled to be grumpy by now?

‘I can send the car round for you’

‘Piss off Paul’, I said, ‘I’ll walk’.  Hobble more like.  You try walking with eighty squillion smashed vertebrae, shards of which are poking out your eyeballs and the knowledge that all there is between you and Vesuvius like Armageddon are your tightly clenched butt cheeks.  Shit, it would take more than a few centuries to dig this place out after the pyroclastic flow I was brewing.

They used to call me the ‘Twix King’ when I was a Captain on the bomb squad in UK.  During what we called the ‘Silly Season’ and all normal citizens called ‘Summer’, we could get a hundred calls a month.  Often this meant we were on the road for days at a time and only returned to base, in my case Colchester, when we ran out of explosives.  Yes, we used explosives to get rid of explosives.  Back in the boom of the Eighties, Wimpy’s, Bovis Homes at al were digging up the East Anglian countryside faster than a communist agricultural revolution and all to often, something nasty fell out of the digger bucket.  The whole area had been a military training site during the war and men pressed reluctantly into service with responsibility for the assets of the Army back then were happy to make their lives easier by saying the ordnance on their flick had gone ‘Bang’.  I was now making a career of sleeping in police cells and eating for free while claiming NRSA (Nightly Rate of Subsistence Allowance) and making things really go bang.  If I had been an MP, the Telegraph would have loved me.

We travelled around in souped up Ford Transits fitted with V6 engines and twin long range fuel tanks, one on either side.  When it came time to refuel the driver, much more than a driver, the Number Two of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team would swing into the petrol station equidistant between the pumps on either side.  If there was a queue of traffic, a quick blip of the Blues and Twos usually dealt with that.  The Blues were also bloody useful for Indian takeaways when we were finally running back to base and parking was difficult.  We had the very first Vodaphones so a quick call as we were hauling arse down the A12 ensured that as we pulled up outside Patel Singh’s Burning Bum By Morning Indian Takeaway, there was a waiter on the pavement handing over the goods and me signing a chit while we stopped the traffic and the Number Two retorted to irate passing motorists that he would be delighted to ‘off’ himself in the manner suggested if only he had somewhere to park his dick.

While the No 2 stretched hose and stuffed nozzles into tanks I would carry the Shell charge card to the kiosk to pay for the fuel and would always buy a full box of Twix as well. Her Majesty was always intolerant of malnourished subordinates.  I never bought charcoal.  Oddly enough, a slow barbecue seemed pretty boring in comparison to the day job.  What burns well with Shell?  Nikki Lauda.  The old ones are always the best.  Like the old Coal Board advert, ‘Come home to a real fire.’  ‘Buy a cottage in Wales’ said Not the Nine O’Clock News’.  Back in the old days it was a sick job and we had the sense of humour to match.

But then I had a run of chemical jobs.  Lewisite, Phosgene and especially Phosphorous.  So they started to call me the Chemical King.  I did have one job with nuclear implications.  We always had to consider secondary hazards best explained this way. a kilo of explosive in the middle of a farmer's field will be a damn sight easier to deal with than the same kilo strapped to a petrol tanker parked in the High Street.   Secondary hazards, see?  They can turn an otherwise boring day into something terribly interesting.  So you can imagine how I felt when I was on my way home (I thought) and got tasked to a suspicious package at Sizewell B nuclear power station.  How's that for a secondary hazard?  Mind you, had I fucked up I was at least guaranteed a full front page spread in any surviving newspaper.  15 milliseconds of fame, don't knock it.

I’ll admit that heights make me go weak at the knees but doing a chemical job in a government issue charcoal impregnated suit that a carelessly discarded fag could burn through in the blink of an eye and respirator (cheapest contractor wins the bid) really had my arse doing sixpence half-a-crown bit as it pumped all my bravery out to the beat of the Bee Gee’s ‘Staying Alive’.  Scared?  That’s why you wear puttees in the Army, you don’t get shit on your boots, which would, of course, be a chargeable offence even if it did make the seats of the Ford Transit more comfortable.

Thus it was that after scaling what felt to me like the Himalayan mountain chain quickly followed by a hike through the Andes and on through Saharan sand dunes, not a single intact bone in my body and a stomach threatening riotous assembly, I saw this poking out the sand at me:

Any language issues?
‘What do you think, Tom?’ Nice Paul asked me.

‘I think I seriously, urgently, earnestly need a shit’ I said.  Caught unawares by the sincerity with which he invited me for a stroll on the beach I had forgotten my puttees so was loathe to allow myself the instant relief my body craved.

‘Couldn’t we just burn it?’ volunteered Nice Paul.

I thought of Bhopal in India.

‘I don’t think so,’ I replied.

Apart from a dump what I really needed was a fag but I remembered that this stuff was graded ‘Severe’ when it came to explosion hazard and these cans had been well corroded with salt water so I denied myself that luxury too.

What do you reckon?  Past the sell by date or can we stick these back on the shelves?
Phostoxin is a commercially available chemical for use by trained and licenced professionals for gassing bulk stocks of grain and such like.  Releasing a canful into something as voluminous as a warehouse will kill anything crawling, walking or flying and requires a period of 36 hours to pass before personnel in Self Contained Breathing Apparatus can enter with specialist detection equipment in order to determine that the lethal gas produced has deteriorated to safe levels and consumers can no longer get a whiff of it on their cornflakes.  I think the Boeing Aircraft Factory boasts the largest covered area in the world.  What I was looking at was sufficient to stuff their workforce and all their pesky roaches about three times over and the cans were rotten rusty.

There is a ‘wet’ method of disposal but this requires someone brave enough to open rotten tins (preferably and wisely a non smoker using demagnetised or non ferrous tools, OK, a coin will do) and copious amounts of water mixed with a surfactant to break down the solids.  Then there is the question of what one does with the resultant slurry and the body of the man armed with a florin who opened the cans without the aid of SCBA.  Adding this stuff to just pure water accelerates the production of gas and will provide the can opener with the sight of his own lungs coughed painfully out across the sand before he expires.  Salt water, pretty much surrounded by which we were, can have quite a spectacular pyrotechnic and lachrymatory effect.

‘Have you got a buoy net?’ I asked.

I dug out the cans, over twenty in all, and stuffed them into the net weighted down by some rocks and dropped the lot into a 200 litre drum of waste oil.  Both back and sphincter, threatening some awful reprisal, unanimously voted I should leave it at that.

This gives me time to think.  I reckon the best option would be to deep six the lot out at sea.  Since whales don’t breathe underwater, the Land Rights for Gay Whales mob, they’ve got some pretty heavy support, should leave me alone.

So let’s drag my pained and oh so weary body back to tomatoes in all their plump and juicy sweet ripeness.  I was convinced we had loads so there was no excuse for the Chernobyl Gobful of Gindungo Dominic served up to me instead but he, maintaining the respectable illusion of innocence, insisted we had none. 

‘What about my Italian Grape Tomatoes?’ I argued, ‘Í water them every flaming day!’

He was right, though, not a budding tomato in sight.  Last time I buy seed from the bloody Dutch.
Not a tomato in sight.  A crap back, a crap day and now a crap tomato harvest.  I give up.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Mewwy Chwissmas Misser Lawwence

Boy Flies Kite.  Film at Eleven.
I am delighted to have Dominic here, of course I am.  I just love seeing the joy on little Alex’s face now that he has his much older brother to play with.  I am also really impressed with Dominic’s patience.  It isn’t easy for a thirteen year old to devote all his time to a three year old.  Naturally, they get up to some mischief but it is generally harmless.  I wasn’t too impressed when Dominic splintered one of my plastic garden chairs to pieces with his new catapult but, ho hum, I was a lad once.  I was ever so pleased though, when Dominic taught his little brother to ride his ‘bike without stabilizers and also to fly a kite although my brother had a hand in that.  Fathers can do so much but there is nothing like having an older sibling to learn from.
Parents impressed

As a parent, we all like a bit of peace and quiet every now and then but as parents we know that not hearing the kids is a danger sign.  It’s that sudden realization that it is quiet, too quiet.  What the fuck are the little bastards up to now?
We all know that Dominic has a sense of humour as odd and macabre as his Father’s so when I realized the countryside surrounding my little place was quieter than usual, the wails of complaint about whose turn it was to ride the bike or someone having more dessert than the other being absent, I decided to investigate.

Next to the Jango is a big pile of sand.  The builders say they will get round to using it, in the meantime what was once a mountain is gradually collapsing into a beach across the driveway.  It was here I discovered Dominic, camera slung around his neck, shovel in hand.

I used to investigate accidents involving ammunition or explosives when I was in the Army during which I learnt a few things.  Firstly, blow someone or something up without permission and the shit will hit the fan.  Secondly, in the Army, the shit flies a long way (we have better fans than civvies) and so, thirdly, everyone, witnesses and culprits alike, lie like cheap Japanese watches.

It took only a split second, a single glance at 13 year old Dominic for this 53 year old very experienced cynic to know something was up.  All I could see was Dominic as described and the pile of sand surmounted by an upturned wheel barrow.

‘Where’s  Alexander?’

Dominic knows better than to lie to me and I could see he was, shall we say, considering his options but they were suddenly narrowed when I heard a plaintive cry from under the wheelbarrow.

‘Daddy, peese help me!’

The little darling.  Alexander can’t say ‘please’ yet so keeps asking for a vegetable instead.  He can’t say ‘go for a walk’ either.  When he asks for the opportunity for post prandial perambulation, the casual observer will hear a three year old telling his father  ‘Daddy! Go fuck?’  I am all for allowing kids to learn as much as they can as early as they can but there are limits.  When he drops something onto the floor or knocks a glass over, though, he enunciates, ‘Oh Fucking Hell’ perfectly and I am afraid that IS down to me.  Like I say, he’s a clever lad.  Chip off the old block.

Right now, though, this little chip appeared to be under a wheelbarrow.

‘He’s under the wheelbarrow’ Dominic volunteered hurriedly, unnecessarily, but sensibly zeroing in on the truth.

‘Let’s take a look at him then’ I suggested.

The older one becomes, I say, the less imaginative.  Might be something to do with being comfortable with what we have and our invariably inexplicable routines and habits.  I bloody hate it, for example, when someone moves anything on the wreckage covering my desk.  So what if my ashtray is overflowing with more ash than Mount Etna has spewed on Sicilian villages in the last hundred years?  I’ll get round to emptying it when I grow tired of cleaning my computer mouse of combusted detritus and have no stable foundation left upon which to balance my whisky bottle.

For the true, unbridled expression of verdant imagination you need a kid and in Dominic’s case, this is likely to be completely off the wall, mad avant garde.

Dominic peeled back the wheelbarrow to reveal Alex buried up to his neck in sand and sporting my Solar Topee.  Luckily for Dominic, Alex was grinning like a Cheshire cat as if it was he that had played an enormous joke on his Dad.

Every parent will recognize that moment when they look at the issue of their own loins and think, ‘What the fuck…’ and it was so I cast a baleful eye over my eldest son.

‘I thought it would make a funny photograph for your blog’ he said.

I can still recall the uncomfortable reaction I had from some of my readers, notably the terribly sensitive and decent soul John Gray, when Dominic persuaded me to take and post a photograph of him apparently eviscerated when we were gutting a Bush Buck together.  God knows how the Welsh St Francis of Assisi would react to the sight of a toddler buried up to his neck under a merciless African sun.

Alexander started to squirm ineffectually.

‘Have you taken the photograph yet?’ I asked Dom.

‘I was about to’

‘Best get on with it, lad, but perhaps I could suggest a low angle?’

‘Peese Daddy!’ came from somewhere about our feet.

‘Just hang on a sec Alex, this could be amusing.  And stop smiling, you are supposed to be miserable’.  He grinned even more.  He’s only three but he knows you smile in front of a camera even if being buried up to your neck in sand means you can’t strike a pose.

Dominic snapped the photo.

‘Now dig your brother out’, I said.

"Dominic, evidentally not as sentimental as Captain Yonoi, buries his brother"

I went back to my desk grateful I had two boys who could play so quietly and nicely together.  And Dominic is pretty nifty with my camera even if he does overdo the staging.

"Can't be doing with these shenanigens.  Get yer bodies through the washroom and then report back 'ere, there's a guardroom behind me as needs painting."
Rifleman 'Two Dinners' Gowans
(Yes, I know it's a sword, not a rifle)
We're not allowed to call them smoke breaks in the Army anymore, apparently it sets an evil precedent for young soldiers.
'OK, kid, this is the score, I give you a tab, you hand over the lucifers'
'...and when you've finished the Guardroom, yer barracks need varnishing... What do you mean you can't reach?  Why are you so short anyway?  Are you scared of Fucking heights?  Alex can do the bottom third.  Dominic, you do the middle and I'll do the top '
'...front AND back you work shy little bastards...  Come on, it's yer own time you are wasting now'

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Not the Sharpest Tool in the Box

Me that is, not the
Chef’s Choice Diamond Sharpener 110
I’m only doing this review of an electric knife sharpener because the Suburban Bushwacker asked me to when he heard I was buying one.  He’s a nice bloke and since the contractor building my house hasn’t turned up today, I have bugger all else to do.  Besides, I am getting tired with Marcia interrupting me asking for confirmation that she is fat.  For Christ’s sake, I’ve seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil.  If I agree with her and say she’s a slob, I get a kick in the pills.  If I pay her a compliment and tell her she is barking fucking mad if she thinks she is overweight, she gets strangely upset with me.  What it boils down to, of course, is that she is broody again. She is so broody, in fact, that if she sat on a golf ball it would hatch.  How old is Alexander?  Just over three years?  That means I must have serviced Marcia less than five years ago.  Given that Dominic is thirteen, clearly she hasn’t figured out for herself that I am a communist working to Ten Year Plans and just as productively.  Some women are bloody unreasonable.

To distract myself from disquieting thoughts of matrimonial duty, I dug out the electric knife sharpener my brother brought me from Germany. 

I have always believed one cannot beat a quick lashing with a decent steel (assuming one isn’t on the receiving end) but with a girlfriend who has both combusting knickers and a tendency to use my knives to saw open tin cans because she cannot be arsed to use a can opener, it’s hard to keep an edge on anything so I asked Micky to lug an electric knife sharpener all the way from Europe to Angola as well as a complete set of chef’s knives to replace the all but one of my set that have disappeared.  The one very heavy dropped forged chef’s knife I have left has chunks out of the blade as big as the Bay of Biscay and just as rough so there was no point trying to swipe that through my new toy.  The new knives had an edge on them so perfect there was no way I was going to risk putting them through the sharpener.  This is me we are talking about, if you want something ballsing up, just ask me, 100% satisfaction guaranteed (although Marcia might disagree).  What I needed was another blade.  It had to be decent steel, something worthy of this machine’s attention and then I had it.  My sword!

It is a pretty ancient piece arriving in my hands via my German Grandfather’s having seen action at the Battle of Königgrätz in 1866 with his Grandfather and is still on duty with that esteemed Gentleman’s Great Great Grandson as my last line of defence sitting quietly these last years by my desk.  With an edge as blunt as my libido, if anything deserved a good sharpening, it did.  After all, it is a blade, only longer.  Naturally, my son Dominic was all for it.

The manufacturer describes this appliance as for domestic, not commercial use.  They are quite clear about that.  That was OK then.  My sword was only ever destined for domestic use. It would be terribly inconvenient to skewer a bandit off my property requiring, as it would, considerable effort to drag his leaking corpse all the way back to my place before calling the police.  And I am too bloody old for that.

The Chef’s Choice 110 comes with three diamond grinding wheels.  I’m sorry, I have to pause here for a moment.  They’re not bloody diamonds are they?  There may be a few tiny crystals of diamond in the amalgam making up the grinding wheels but for the money this machine cost, that’s got to be it.  Anyway, let’s not be unduly pedantic, three diamond grinding wheels.  The one on the left of the machine is for serious grinding only and for that reason has a World War II fighter pilot’s cap over it to make you think twice before using it.  The other two slots on the right are for progressively sharpening and honing, all you should really need in a day to day kitchen environment.

The slots are designed so that if you lay the knife along the guides, the perfect grinding angle is guaranteed.  Knives come in all shapes and sizes but I bet the design team never considered an Eighteenth Century Sabre so I was interested to see if it could fit into the slots.  It did.

I was going to say, 'Look! Even kids can do it', but we all know when it comes to technology, kids are invariably more adept than cack handed old gits

There’s an art to this, especially if you are wielding a metre or so of fine Prussian steel.  Pull it through too fast and the blade bounces.  Press down more than gently on the blade as you guide it through and the motor gives up and groans to a halt.  Draw the blade through too slowly and the grinding wheel binds on and the motor throws in the towel again.  This is not an industrial grinder by any means.  Treat it gently, however, and it’ll purr away nibbling away at the blade, etching it with what looked to me like a reasonable edge.

One thing I did notice was that the blade became magnetized.  At least I knew the heavy shit grinder was doing something.  Last time I saw iron filings like that was in a physics lab.  No wonder the manufacturer places a plastic cover over that slot to make you think twice before using it. 


Before I started, the blade edge was dull, corroded and pitted in places.  A few passes and I could see I had something to work with, even if I could see the striations left by the rough grinder, so I moved to the next stage.  Again I had to be careful to draw it through evenly and horizontally, not easy with a blade that long and curved, one hand on the handle and the other steadying the grinder so it didn’t flip over.  The grinder comes with suckers for feet, ideal for the kitchen work surface it was designed for but I was using it on a rough wooden bench.  It is a knack easy to acquire, however, and within a few strokes I had the hang of it (Marcia would disagree, of course).


At this point Marcia pitched up with a raggedy old chef’s knife and asked me to sharpen it.  I gave it two passes either side on the rough, then a few passes either side on the sharpener and then a couple of swipes on the honer.  With a blade that short relative to a bloody great sabre, it was easy and the results very impressive especially considering that before I started, this knife of Marcia’s bore all the scars of the tins it had opened.

I went back to the sabre and passed it through the honer.  Again it bound a bit and I realized the first pass at each stage needed to be suave, a really light touch.  The weight of the blade alone was enough; all I had to do was ensure I kept it on the guide.

The question now was, would it cut the mustard?  Cutting mustard seems to be some sort of benchmark but I can cut mustard with my bare hands so I asked Dominic to nip off and ask Marcia for a hunk of steak.  Steak is expensive here so I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised when Dominic returned with a lump of kidney telling me that Marcia wasn’t going to allow me to experiment on good meat with a blade that once sliced through an Austrian.  Bloody irrational, it must have been cleaned a few times since then but like I say, she is broody.

After... a clean slice

Still, steak is actually quite easy to slice with even a rubbish knife.  Slippery, slimy kidney is a different kettle of, er, fish. Let’s just say kidney is slippery and slimy and harder to slice finely than steak which has a bit of, er, meat to it.

Well, a once dull and corroded blade certainly cut the mustard, I mean kidney.  I would not say I could have shaved myself with the edge (then again who would want to risk trimming off morning stubble with a sword?) but it was sharp and I was impressed.  I tracked Marcia down and asked her about the knife I had sharpened for her and she was also evidently impressed.

The whisky bottle is only there to add a sense of scale.  Honest.

So what conclusions can I draw?  For one, Chef’s knives longer than a metre are pretty awkward to handle no matter how keen the edge.  Secondly, whilst this electric knife sharpener probably could not match a good man with a steel, it comes closer than any normal person could manage coping admirably with a both historic swords and kitchen knives.  As such, it deserves a place as a ‘wise’ accessory in every domestic kitchen, well sharpened knives being safer than blunt ones of whatever quality.  One flick of a switch, a couple of swipes later and those ripe tomatoes are thin enough to lay out on any homemade pizza.  I am pleased with my new toy and it will be fine for normal domestic use which, let’s face it, is all most of us could wish for.

I suppose there is one other observation I could make: sharpening your over worked girlfriend’s knife so she can prepare dinner for you while you are wasting time and she is hot to trot really does not cut the mustard.  Actually, it’s pretty bloody suicidal.