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.


  1. my "pond" is 4 feet x 8 feet
    hey ho
    good job I am not a size queen!
    (good post tom!)

  2. Looks like a perfect size for dynamite-fishing. You're going to get awfully bored using that cruiser on the new pond though ...

  3. Now that's what I call a pond! Jesus Christ it's big enough to appear in Google Earth as a new sea! What are you going to call it? The Sea of Tranquility? Doubt it somehow!

  4. In Australia, especially out around my location, man-made 'ponds' are as common as dirt (and in times of drought, turn to dirt holes in the ground) and we call them either 'tanks' (old term going out of favour since commercial water tanks hit the market) or, more commonly 'dams'.

    If they are 'natural' occurrences, they are called waterholes or billabongs - the latter being a native description.

    Your dam looks great and no doubt will be attractive to wildlife. Try putting some 'Yabbies' (Freshwater crustacean) in there.

    Catching yabbies, or "yabbying", in rivers and farm dams is a popular summertime activity in Australia, particularly with children. The most popular method involves tying a piece of meat to a few metres of string or fishing line, which in turn is fastened to a stick in the bank, and throwing the meat into the water. The string is pulled tight when a determined yabby grasps the meat in its claws and tries to make off with it. The line is then slowly pulled back to the bank, with the grasping yabby usually maintaining its hold on the meat. When the meat and the grasping yabby reaches the water's edge, a net is used to quickly scoop up both the meat and the grasping yabby in one movement.


  5. I hate people who ask what you're going to do with things when you ask them to do a job. What the fuck has it got to do with you; just dig the hole you twat!

    Learning to swear in a foreign language is essential. Once a friend and I spent a very late night in a hotel bar in Hoi An. The staff wanted to learn some English, so they stayed and had a drink with us (they didn't realise just what that meant). At 4am they were marching around the swimming pool chanting: "Cunt, Fuck, Shit, Wank" over and over again.

    We finished off our drinks and adjorned to a balcony to watch the fun when the French manager - who spoke excellent English - arrived in his pyjamas. Luckily we knew a few french swearwords, so we shouted them before creeping off to our rooms.

  6. The pond looks bigger in the photo, I suppose it is around 800 metres square but I wanted something big enough to cast a fly on as well as be a centrepiece for what I hope will be a beautiful garden. I blame this sudden urge to till the earth on the Idiot Gardener, if he can do it... What I really enjoy about this project is that everyone, including Marcia, thinks I am mad, who would dig a pond when his land is on a river next to the sea?

    John D, I have never seen a yabbie or freshwater crayfish here. There are PLENTY of catfish so maybe their presence precludes the survival of crayfish. I suppose the only way to find out would be to make a Yabbie Trap, like a small lobster trap, and see what I catch so if you have any more advice on that, I would be grateful. Put a piece of meat on a string and drop it into the river here would leave you with a meatless bit of string in about 30 seconds as all the small voracious little fish dive in there.

    Mr Pud, I was thinking of calling it 'Hippo's Folly' and I am sure if my few buildings show up on Google Earth the pond will. Trouble is I live in such an insignificant part of the world, the image of my area is only updated once every five years or so. Having recently been updated just before I dug the pond, I suspect you won't be seeing it for a while.

    Sir Owl of the Wood, that cruiser is a mighty expensive bit of kit. And a piece of shit. To me, it represents the caravan of the seas, a wasteful, stupid, purposeless lump of gas guzzling plastic. If you can't fish from it or ski behind it, it isn't any use to me so I would become awfully bored with it on any expanse of water. It belongs to some shady guy connected to the government. He imported it from the States but tried to come into the Kwanza river mouth at night using GPS and knackered his drives when he went aground. I let the guy haul his boat onto my land so he had a safe place to store it while he gets the parts in. It was a decision I have come to rue. Six months ago he promised he would have it fixed in three weeks.

    IG, like I said, while interacting with foreigners so as to learn their language is a good idea, there is always the danger of meeting someone with a sense of humour as wicked as yours. Ok, ours and I obviously agree with you about those who seem to know better. Once I let a satellite dish installer work for days on an installation because he had decided I was wrong about the position of the satellite I wanted to hook up to. He was on a fixed price contract and I charged him for his food and his unanticipated need for accommodation on my site.

    To the Welsh St Francis of Assissi, it's not size that matters, is it dear boy?

  7. Can't wait for the sequel - A Hippo in the Pond

  8. Hello Hippo,

    Having chuckled many a time at your comments on Tom's blog and elsewhere, I thought it was time to pop over to Africa for a visit.

    Very funny post. Brightened up, immeasurably, yet another grey English day.


    P.S. Please don't eat the goose.

  9. A Hippo in the Pond, I like that! Mr Delayney!

    Nice to have you over for a visit and I hope you like the posts as much as some of my comments on Tom's Blog (he did delete one which was a bit risqué)


    Much as sometimes I would like to strangle the goose, intead I am going to pimp for him and get a couple of dolly birds in. Hopefully he will be too shagged to start honking and hooting at sun up! If that makes him worse, I will just have to satisfied with the eggs


Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.