Saturday 29 September 2012

Old Kit and Memories

"Alright, Darling, you win.  But I may be sometime..."
With the over run on this project, I was becoming increasingly concerned for the state of our kit.  By kit I mean everything we own, from smart suits to microwave oven, shoes to paintings, all that which we did not need while our new house was being built and we in the meantime lived in a hovel.  The kit that for the last nine months has lain in boxes stuffed into a wriggly tin shed.  Termites will munch happily on wood and paintings, tin worm will go for anything metallic (we do live not one hundred yards from the sea) and rats will nest in anything, from the deeds of your house to your suits and bedding.  Time, I thought, to take a look.

Well, it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected.  I think I will be making a bonfire of only about half of it.

I was never a fashionista.  In 1984 I had some suits made and they still serve me well,  Since then I have bought only two more.  I have Oxford shoes that I bought 28 years ago and they are still perfectly serviceable.  I was sad to note that the rats, clearly with a taste for pure wool and cashmere of the finest quality, had munched through my greatcoat but, given where I live I suppose one must be philosophical.  When would I ever have worn it again? Still, it does get chilly at might here so the guard was enormously grateful when I gave it to him.

Some things I had not seen for ages and sight of them brought back vivid memories.  Like my old boots and gaiters.  These boots were special.  They are technically only work boots but they were made for the inclement Northern European climate.  Not only are they waterproof, unlike the standard British Army DMS (Dunlop Moulded Sole) boot of the period, they could be strapped to skis, hence the now fashionable but back then purely practical square toe caps and grooves in the heels to take spring bindings.  In my mind, I drifted back 26 years…

Boots, Swedish Army, made 1977, issued 1980.  Gaiters, Australian Light Horse, made, God only knows, issued during the First World War.  Both of them deserve LS&GC's (Long Service & Good Conduct Medals) as they are STILL serving.  These are what I wear when I sneak into the bush to slot a Bush Buck.  Definitely snake proof.  And, if it ever snows in Angola, I know I will make it home.
I was freezing bloody cold and very, very tired.  As I entered the front door I could hear the phone ringing so I dragged snow across the hall rug to get to it.

‘Av you lost a wa-ef?’ said the voice at the other end.

‘A Wa Ef?’

‘Yes, a Waa-ef!, you av e Waef, don’t you?’  I expected him to follow that up with a Monty Pythonesque, ‘You Stewpid Englishman!’

Oh, a WIFE!

‘Well, as a matter of fact, Capitain Le Francois,’ I kid you not, that was his name, ‘I av, I mean I have, I was just out looking for her’

These were the days before mobile phones, the Great Winter of 86/87, so he had been trying to ring me for hours on a landline the end of which, sadly, I had not been near for about twenty miles worth of slogging through knee deep snow.

‘Your Waef, she is Canadienne, no? Only a Canadienne could have driven the way she did tru zis snow and wretch a sef aven!’

‘Actually, I think you’ll find she’s Welsh mon ami.  Perhaps she was hungry and smelt Didi’s cooking?’

‘Bien sur!  You never could cook for shit!  No wonder your wa-ef is so skinny!’

Captain Marcel Le Francois and his enormously fat wife Didi.  French Canadians and two of the nicest people I have ever met.

It had been arctic for the last few days.  I was attending the Ammunition Technical Officer’s course but with my house only a fourteen or so mile bicycle ride away, I chose to live there rather than in married quarters on camp.  Back then, a meandering rural A road connected me between home and work.  Now it is a B road having been replaced by the M40.  Still it kept me fit and there was a decent pub on the way home, the Gaydon Inn.  It was always there when I was heading in the other direction too at Oh My God Hundred Hours in the morning but licensing laws ensured my sobriety in class, although when it came to the fuses exam, few of us could have been sober after a sleepless night revising in the Rose and Crown in Ratley, 900 years old and perched on the escarpment overlooking the fields where slaughter reigned in 1642, and our results bore that out.  Like so many leaders of men launching themselves over the top in the face of impossible odds we were, if not ratted, than at least severely hung over and well beyond caring.

My winding road was a German Autobahn in comparison with the routes taken every day by many of the permanent staff who had settled into isolated Middle England villages nestling along Edge Hill, so as the snow started to flurry, and then tumble down with the driving intensity only ever filmed by suicidal National Geographic camera men, Directing Staff began to wonder how they might get home.  They had cars all of which, saving those assembled at Longbridge, were fitted with working heaters.  I had a bicycle which wasn’t.  Mind you, so long as after my Gaydon Inn pit stop I was sober enough to balance on it and pedal at the same time, it was guaranteed to start and if I kept it on the black stuff, get me home as well.  The tarmac, however, was rapidly disappearing under a cover of, for England, unusually persistent snow.

When the poor, long suffering bastards of the Pioneer Corps were called out of their warm billets to clear the roads within the camp in conditions that had made heroes of many a late lamented English Gentleman trying to reach the South Pole, the school director called it a day and told us all to knock off and go home.

I was born and brought up in Germany so a bit of snow wasn’t going to stop me.  Sure, I wasn’t dressed for it.  It had been a bit parky these last few mornings but, pedalling hard, I’d kept the blood flowing and was unusually alert in class as a result. Barrack dress shoes and trousers, a good old British Army woolly pully and cotton battle dress jacket had done the trick so far and although I knew a beret would not keep my ears warm, it was only fourteen miles with the welcome chance to warm up a bit at the Gaydon Inn twixt Kineton and home.

I turned left out of the gate onto the main road and already I could see there were some serious problems.  I wasn’t going to freeze to death on the way home to be found stationary ear deep in snow with hands frozen to my handlebars and a face fixed in an expression of grim determination, I was going to be side swiped by an out of control car or articulated lorry and then, with bones shattered to dust and a bicycle saddle enema have my corpse recovered days later from a ditch with an equally grim, but distinctly more unsettling countenance.

By the time I reached my intended pit stop, I was really worried about my wife.  She worked in Solihull, a southern suburb of Birmingham and about three times as far away as I had to travel to get home.  The inevitable accidents had blocked the road and of the no doubt overstretched emergency services, there was no sign.  Everything had ground to a halt and the ever driving snow, now drifting, was burying the road and all the cars on it.

I dumped my ‘bike round the back of the Gaydon Inn and pressed on with Shanks’ Pony.  We had been knocked off at three in the afternoon.  I had covered just ten miles since then and it was already dark.  Just after the old Gaydon airfield, I cut across country directly to my house because the drifts and out of control lorries had made the road, the usual route, far harder going.

My house was on top of a hill.  It was so prominent that the US Air Force in their A10’s used it as a navigation point on their low flying cross country exercises.  Ensconced in its warmth in winter (it had central heating but being an old house still had a Rayburn in the kitchen and open fireplaces in every room) the sudden roar of a ‘Warthog’, its American pilot, spurs jingling as he gave it a boot full of rudder while banging his throttles wide open over my lounge was for most guests, a little disconcerting.  In summer, when we were sitting in the garden serving the vicar a Gin and Tonic, it was bloody exciting as one had no inkling of their imminent arrival overhead until, as they say, the earth suddenly moves.  The A10 tank buster was due to be decommissioned, a demise staved off by the first Iraq war.  I can well believe the scenario where a bewildered and mortally wounded Iraqi tank commander’s last words, ears still ringing from the bang were, ‘Well I never heard THAT one coming!’

From the vantage point of a front lawn deep in snow, I could see a long line of stationary head lights marking the road along which my wife used to come home.  Would she have had the sense to stay in a hotel close to work or, like me, would she have been determined to make it back one way or another?  On the off chance I rang her work number.  No answer.  That could only mean she was stuck on the road somewhere, along with hundreds of other motorists none of whom, I suspect, were in any way whatsoever prepared for a night out in temperatures well below freezing.  I pulled out my Bergen and stuffed it with warm clothes and flasks of hot food and drink, strapped on my Langlauf skis and was about to set off when Frank, a local councillor called by.  ‘We are opening the school’, he told me, ‘but we need bedding, can you help?’  I explained that my wife was out there somewhere and I was going to find her.  I gave him the keys to my house.  It had five very roomy and fully equipped bedrooms, the heating was on, there was a large lounge, a dining room, several other rooms and a fully stocked pantry.  At a push, I told him, you could put twenty or thirty in here if the fit adults didn’t mind sleeping on the floor and I was sure some of the women could rustle up a nice meal for everyone.  Councillor Frank advised me that the police had closed the road where it crossed Fosse Way because Chesterton Hill was impassable even to snow ploughs, so that meant I only had about three miles to cover.  If her car wasn’t stuck in those three miles, she would probably have holed up somewhere. 

I rang the Orderly Officer back at camp.  He knew what was going on and was already mobilising teams with Landrovers.  I strapped my greatcoat on top of the Bergen and skied off into the blizzard. 

It was like something out of a film of Bonaparte’s retreat from Moscow.  I was in a hurry to get to the Fosse Way junction but I had to keep stopping to give thoroughly alarmed, freezing people directions.  It was the first time I had seen such a large number of really frightened people.  Just head for the lights, I said, it isn’t far and there are some neighbours waiting for you who will get you to somewhere warm.  There were jack-knifed trucks blocking the road with cars paralysed behind them all slowly being buried in the drifting snow.  I came across our local Bobby, freezing his bloody nuts off trying to convince the stubborn to abandon their vehicles and make their way to safety before they were buried.  I gave him my greatcoat the insignia of which suddenly gave him the rank of Inspector and said that in my opinion he shouldn’t waste time trying to convince some single bloke to leave his car but just to concentrate on those cars containing women and children.  Once I had made the climb to Chesterton Wood it was an easy ski down to the junction.  All the vehicles on the downhill stretch had already been abandoned and were buried up to their door handles.  There was no sign of my wife’s car.  The Police told me the council would not even try to clear the road until daylight so I headed back.

It was as I was kicking my skis off outside my front door that I heard the phone ringing and so burst in trudging snow over the hall rug and grabbed the receiver from its cradle.

‘So your wa-ef’, he continued, ‘She sleeps ‘ere with me!’

I had just covered ten miles on a bicycle, followed by four on foot and then six on skis so how the hell did my wife make it to Central Ammunition Depot Kineton, which was fourteen miles beyond her intended destination?  I had just slogged up the road from CAD Kineton to the Fosse Way junction and back and nothing was moving.  It was then I noticed the house was full of women and children.

‘She’s safe is she? Good, I’ll call you back’, I said and hung up.

‘Was that that nice French gentleman Marcel?’ a young lady asked me, ‘If you are Lieutenant Gowans, he’s been ringing for the last hour to say your wife is safe.  Gosh, you look perished, would you like a cup of tea? I’ve just made a pot.’

As I walked through the house gratefully sucking on my tea I reckon there must have been fifteen or so, all women and children nicely settled in. After the cold, my ears were burning, not because of gossip, but because they were painfully thawing out. I was still in uniform and the snow and ice clinging to it was melting leaving me decidedly clammy.

‘Frank said I must make a list of everything we have used’, said the young lady handing me a piece of A4 neatly inscribed with details down to the last tea bag, ‘we cannot tell you how grateful we are’.

There was no point me telling them all to make themselves at home as they had clearly, under the guidance of Councillor Frank, done exactly that.

I trudged up the lane to the school to see Frank who had based himself there.  Evidently he had persuaded the whole village to empty their larders of Cuppa Soup packets and Pot Noodles and, as is so terribly English, those members of the Women’s Institute resident in our village had reported for duty and were doling out yet more tea.  All that was missing were the ARP wardens.  And maybe Captain Mainwaring and his platoon.

‘I hope you don’t mind’, Frank apologised, ‘but I put the single women and children in your house’ he said. ‘I did put someone in charge’, he continued, ‘She’s an accountant on her way back to Banbury’.  Well that explains the neatly written list, I thought.  But it left me with a problem.  If the Council had designated my house as for women and children refugees only, where was I going to sleep?  I certainly didn’t fancy the floor of the school hall.

On the top of a hill as we were, the wind had so far done a good job of keeping the lanes clear but now the wind had died down and the snow continued to fall relentlessly, no vehicle was moving here either.  I made my way home, packed the Bergen with spare knickers and other womany things, a clean uniform for me and strapped on my skis again.  ‘I’ll see you in the morning’, I said to the nice lady accountant.

As I passed it for the third time that day, I could see the Gaydon Inn was doing a roaring trade but I resisted the temptation and slogged on.  Gaydon is on a hill too so the lucky ones had their cars parked up around it and the landlord clearly recognised no Peeler would be dropping in to check what time last order was called.  As I descended into the valley towards Temple Herdewyke, the lights of CAD Kineton beckoning me on, I could see just how many vehicles were abandoned to the snow, even some of the Orderly Officer’s Landrovers.  Well, they were on his flick this God awful evening, so it would be his problem to explain to the CO the following morning why the Warwickshire countryside was littered with Army property.

I reached the camp gates and saw that those poor bastard ‘Chunks’, the Royal Pioneer Corps, were still shovelling like mad to keep the road clear between the main gate and, presumably, the Officer’s Mess.  What was the point?  The only thing that was going to reach those gates would be a tracked vehicle, or a frost bitten and oh so very pissed off young officer on skis. 

‘Ah!  You are crrrazy Tomas!’ Marcel exclaimed as he opened the front door, the bell of which I was leaning against, ‘Didi!  Ah present you eh snowman!’ he announced with Gallic flourish.  ‘Hélene, ma petit choux!  Ur lunatic usband, e iz ear! Ah told you, zis dust of snow would not keep ‘im from ur arms!’

Didi gave me a massive hug that splintered most of the accumulated ice off me as well as shattering a couple of ribs.  Like I said, she was a big girl.

Marcel Le Francois and his wife Didi were French Canadians for whom being snowed in was an annual event lasting about four months so they were completely unphased by what for us locals was an extraordinary event.  I had covered 34 miles since saying cheerio to him at the school at 3pm and no, I didn’t want a glass of his indisputably verry faan waan, I wanted a very large scotch and a plate of anything hot Didi had on the stove.

My wife explained that on reaching the road block at Fosse way, she had dodged west and then south making it to the back gates of the camp (only ever opened in times of war) where sympathetic guards had let her in.  That could only have been the Orderly Officer who authorised the opening of those gates so I made a mental note to volunteer to be his defending officer at his inevitable Court Martial for losing so many Landrovers in one night.

As I thawed out with a glass of mulled wine (Marcel was always too persuasive to resist and I have to admit, his was a better choice), I explained to my wife that her nice orderly house was now a refugee camp.  She wasn’t best pleased and the atmosphere, hitherto deliciously warm, became colder than the outside I had just stumbled in from.  There followed, let’s say, a somewhat animated discussion about whose fault this might be and the best course of action that would ensure my wife’s pearls where still on her make up table the following morning.

I suppose I could see her point about me turning her home and everything therein over to strangers, literally off the street but I was mightily pissed off as I strapped the skis on again and headed the 14 miles back home.  As I tried to leave the camp, the Guard Commander told me he had just received orders that no one was to pass out through the gates anymore.  I would dearly have loved to have passed out there and then, in a crumpled heap, and seriously thought about arguing with him so convincingly he would have no alternative but to jail me in his nice warm cells and save me a long cold slog, but he then remembered the order specifically concluded with, ‘in vehicles’.  No mention of feet, or skis attached thereto so I was reluctantly allowed to continue.  The reluctance was all on my part, of course, not the polite and irritatingly efficient Guard Commander.

As I pushed on up the hill towards Gaydon, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped snowing and the sky cleared.  Under a nearly full moon and a canopy of stars, the snow covered landscape was etched with stark contrast.  Few people ever really enjoy perfect silence but on this night, with no traffic at all and everyone either in bed or frozen into immobility, it was eerily quiet.  Apart from, that is, my wheezing lungs and my all too frequent curses as my skis fell through the snow tipping me into a heap rather than allowing me to glide smoothly over the top.  I would like to have reported that the scene was breathtaking, awesome, even majestic but there was no breath left in me.  Still, two out of three wasn’t bad.

I could see as I slid past that the Gaydon revellers had burnt themselves out and when I eventually arrived home, I found the doors to my house locked.  By now I was starting to get a little pissed off with efficient people.  Damn the bloody Banbury accountant, damn that bloody Guard Commander and damn my flaming wife.  It was now four in the morning so I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to find the school locked up and no bugger awake.  Clearly Councillor Frank, normally very efficient, had forgotten about stragglers coming in from the cold.

I let myself into my shed, also happily my store of booze and, ignoring all my training, part of which warned that alcohol accelerated the onset of hypothermia, spent the next couple of hours choking down Benson & Hedges and 25 year old Glenfarclas malt while watching the smoke drift from the chimneys of my house.  Next time you make a mental note to change the light bulb in your outbuilding by the way, don’t just think about it, do it.  It was a black night.

At seven, I detected movement in the house so I knocked on the kitchen door.  There was much rattling of keys as they found the right one and then, as I passed into shocking warmth, Miss Banbury Accountant 1986 said, ‘Gosh Lieutenant Gowans, you look perished, would you like a cup of tea?  We have a fresh pot brewing.’  I can’t remember exactly what I said.  I think it was something like, ‘I hope you all had a comfortable night?’ and not, ‘FUCK AYE! YES PLEASE!!!’  I would never have said that.  I am sure the assembled women and children were only shocked by my appearance. I was as confident of that as I was the fact Miss Banbury becoming ever more attractive by the minute had absolutely nothing to do with the sudden urge I had to brush my teeth and run some water over my body.  And splash myself with a rather too many droplets of Eau Sauvage.  They say that when men die, they do so with an erection, a last futile attempt to spread their seed.  Under those criteria, clearly I was at Death’s door.  Either that or during the preceding couple of hours in self imposed incarceration in my wine cellar I had dozed off, enjoyed an erotic dream and had been frozen to attention.  At least I now knew what a Blue Veiner was. Unattended, they are jolly painful, by the way and ruin the cut of one’s uniform.  Without wishing to brag, they can be a bit of a conversation stopper.  We’re talking women and children here, after all.  Us chaps just take them in our stride.

I skied back to camp in blazing sunshine.  On the way I noticed that every single vehicle stuck window deep in the snow had been vandalised.  Every bit of glass had been smashed.  Every instrument on every dash was splintered and every stereo had been ripped out.  The father of one of my Corporals had built him a convertible MG B fitting it with a Rover V8 engine.  It was a work of art and even had a brass plaque on the dash reminding the boy every time he drove it who had put in so many man hours and that it had been given to him by a clearly doting father for his 21st birthday.  The roof was slashed as was the leather upholstery.  It was heart breaking.  Half of the owners of these now wrecks I bet had only third party insurance so would have to bear the loss themselves.  If my wife’s car had been one of these trampled and smashed along that road, as a strapped young officer depending on her contribution to the family income, I might have been in the career stalling embarrassing position of not being able to pay my mess bill. Even the Landrover’s released to the service of society by the very brave previous night’s Duty Officer had been comprehensively stuffed.  Imagine the effect of such criminally destructive behaviour on someone like the budding Banbury accountant just starting to make her way in the world?

I arrived back in camp.  My wife had already left for work through the back gate dressed in the fresh clothes I had brought her the night before.  Lessons were cancelled so we all wired in with cleaning the camp up and getting it operational again.  By the end of the day, the snow ploughs and recovery trucks had reopened the road and someone, can’t remember who but evidently senior enough, ordered I be taken home in one of Her Majesty’s few remaining Landrovers.  At the Gaydon Inn I asked the driver to stop as I had to collect my ‘bike and invited him in for a pint.  He refused as he was on duty.  I said fine, thanks, bugger off then as I was in no hurry to go home and face a real shit storm.

Two hours later and tanked up with quite a few flagons of Wadsworth 6X, I wobbled up the driveway and walked into my house. 

‘Lieutenant Gowans!  You’re back!’  Miss Banbury 19 eighty whatever, I couldn’t remember, was still there.

‘Darling!  You’re home!’ said my wife, with a warmth and generosity that belied her spirit of the previous evening, before turning back to her new friend.

Twenty four hours full of bleeding surprises and a fuses exam in the morning.

The house was immaculate.  Every bit of linen, every pot, pan, knife, fork and spoon, every cup, plate and bowl had been cleaned and returned to its usual home.  The rugs were free of slushy mud stains and Councillor Frank had somehow managed to get in an impressive bunch of flowers from Leamington Spa for Helen.  Not only would I have to be defending officer for a man who had exhibited under stress balls the size of a planet, I was now morally obliged to vote Labour.*

I think I fell asleep somewhere between the soup and the main course so missed out on that delectable English dessert, Banbury Tart dressed with Wife under lightly fluffed eiderdown.

As I cycled to work the following morning along newly cleared roads, I wondered how it was possible that 99% of the population could be so selfless, yet 1% could be such utter shits.

*For US readers, this would be equivalent to a life long Republican from the Lone Star State suddenly voting Democrat

Monday 24 September 2012

Antiques Roadshow

Not often I ask anyone for help.  Must be a Man thing, like driving around for a whole day rather than stopping and asking for directions.  Mind you while I was on the Bomb Squad I did crack once looking for the local police station and told my driver to pull up alongside a promising looking native, but merely winding my window down so I could talk to him set the oik orf.

‘WHAT D’YOU WANT, SQUADDIE?’ he bawled at me revealing some quite shocking dentistry.  I got a good look as he insisted on holding his face only six inches away from mine.


You can imagine I was somewhat taken aback. So much so, in fact, that had I recoiled any further, my head would have been in my driver’s lap.

‘…I’m looking for the police station?’


‘You mean there’s more than one?’  Naturally I was confused, this was only a small Norfolk town after all.


While my Corporal Driver was pissing himself at his Captain’s obvious disquiet and, I couldn’t help but notice, chewing the top of his steering wheel to prevent himself bursting out in laughter (which would have been downright insubordinate), I tried again.

‘Er, the police station in THIS town?’


We found it in the end learning the salutary lesson that if you want decent directions, ask a policeman…

What I would like from you, dear readers (all three of you) is advice on a small but very cherished bronze I fell in love with and just had to buy.

It is bronze, not spelter, it is too heavy for that, and is signed either O or D Hafenrichter.  This little lady stands 30cms tall from the base of her plinth to the tip of her outstretched arm.  It isn’t that clear in the following photos but while the rest of her is a golden bronze colour, her garland and the flower between her breasts have a subtly contrasting copper tint.  She is incredibly detailed right down to her finger and toe nails as well as her facial features.  If you were to be ungentlemanly enough to flick her raised foot, she rings softly like a bell.

I have tried googling Hafenrichter but come up with very little.

I would be very grateful if anyone out there in the blogosphere could tell me a little bit more about this Art Deco beauty and her obviously skilled creator.


Just looks a bit tarnished to me so I will get the Scotchbrite and Brasso out.  That'll really make her shine.

Sunday 9 September 2012

Lord Have Mercy...

Having enjoyed a few days at the Barra de Kwanza, the last of the family who all descended on us for Alex's birthday party have finally departed.  Family visits are notoriously awkward.  Visitors are, after all, like fish.  After a while they start to smell.  Not in this case though and I was sorry to see them go.  Especially Dominic who like me, acquires an odd spring in his step when surrounded by Marcia's nieces.  Sod the loopy Kardashian's, they should be filming the Francelina da Graças.

With such pleasant diversion lost to me until their next visit, I was looking forward to going fishing today. I allow a few people park their boats on my property, it saves the owners having to trailer them to and from town, a 160km round trip a third of it through awful traffic.  I refuse to accept payment. Decently, they all offered to cough rent for their spaces but as I am still too poor to buy my own boat, I prefer compensation in kind.  I’ll supply the cold beers from the shop and they provide me the fishing.  So far it has worked like a charm. 
Last night the owners of one particular boat turned up settling themselves into Rico’s bar and  then invited me over to join them for a drink.  As they sluiced suds down their necks they asked me if I fancied a trip offshore.  Is the Pope Catholic?  This would finally give me a chance to properly test the spinners and lures I was gifted from Fish Creek Spinners.  They warned me that they would be setting out at six in the morning.  No problems, Gabby the Goat makes an excellent alarm clock even though she has only one setting, 5am and bloody loud.  I finished my drink and left them to it so I could stroll home, get the video camera on charge and the rest of my kit ready.

Marcia has found an excellent supplier of brine cured hams, ideal for boiling and then roasting with a honey and rosemary glaze.  I tried one the night before last and enjoyed it so much, I made it again last night and invited Nice Paul to join us.  As the restaurant opening is now nearly a year behind schedule, I want to keep my hand in and like any kitchen tart, I thrive on praise.

He looked a bit frazzled when he arrived. 

One of the partners in the fishing lodge next door where Paul works is determined to suck the juice out of life and anything else he fancies.  Every now and then but clearly still too often for Paul, he pitches up with a mini bus full of girls following his massive and blinged to shit Nissan Tundra and takes over the lodge, five rooms this weekend just for his doubled up bedwarmers (it is chilly this time of the year but, really!  No wonder he looks like a dried dog turd in the mornings).  I usually avoid going over there when this partner is in residence. I hate the noise and I bloody hate it when some tart buttonholes me for a cigarette exuding all of the partner’s second hand authority.  ‘R says give me a cigarette’ ‘Tell R to go soak his head, I don’t work here love’. 

You might think that being a fishing lodge, most of the clients would be young fit huntin’ an’ fishin’ types and a lot of them are but there are also a surprising number of what I would call adventurous retirees, usually Germans from Namibia and with all the prissiness of the Weimar Republic they try to replicate in an unforgiving desert that looks nothing like the Gruenewald amongst the trees of which I was apparently concieved.  There is no room service to the cottages in which the lodge accommodates its guests so residents have to repair to the main dining room where a buffet is set up three times a day.  On one, memorable occasion I happened by, Mr R had set up a disco inside the dining room and a trio of his fillies clad only in miniscule G strings were dancing provocatively on one of the dining tables.  ‘Good Grief!’ I thought looking forward to a leisurely gin and tonic.  ‘GOTT IN HIMMEL!!!’ exclaimed the elderly German couple trailing me into the dining room.  Somehow, I don’t think there will be any repeat business there.  I kip far enough away from the lodge to fall over about half a dozen times on my way home and I couldn't get a wink of sleep because of the noise of the disco, God knows what it must have been like for tired and hungry guests (the old couple had immediately lost their appetite) begging for enough Egyptian PT to have the strength to get the hell out of there the following morning berthed as they were, only yards away.
It wasn’t Mr R who was straining Nice Paul’s world class patience, though, it was the two guys who had promised to take me fishing the next day.

‘You won’t be going fishing’, he told me with unusual gloominess, ‘they’re pissed as rats’.
To be honest, I had never seen either of them sober so they must have really been pushing the boat out if there was such a marked difference in behavior.  Apparently they kept dropping glasses out of nerveless fingers and had tried to feed each other, a revolting display of dribbling food over themselves, the tables and the floor.  The last straw for Paul was when they tried to persuade a couple of Mr R’s girls back to their cabin.  Paul warned them of the distinct possibility of Mr R having the two men in jackets and shades following him around everywhere tying something heavy around their ankles and them ending up on the bottom of the river sipping sewage but it made no difference.  So Nice Paul joined us for dinner rather than be witness to a Mob hit.

At five this morning I was up, bright eyed and bushy tailed.  By six I had done the shit, shave and shampoo bit, Gabby the Goat had a gutful of milk inside her and me a gutful of tea.  Goosie had scoffed the left over rice, Charlie and Doggie were gnawing on pork bones still juicy with meat until about thirty seconds after I threw them down.  At seven I made coffee and choked down another cigarette.  At eight Marcia and Alex crawled out of bed so I made more tea and platter full of pancakes.  Half an hour later Nice Paul pitched up so I made yet another pot of tea.

‘Where are these guys?’ I asked him.
‘They crashed their boat off the jetty and instead of killing the throttles, they ran full tilt up the beach.  They’re trying to dig it off now’

Ah well, that’s that then.  I guess Fishcreek will have to wait a little longer for their review.  Bollocks.
As Paul and I sat there slurping gobfuls of English Breakfast Tea instead of the effluent I really hoped these tossers were drinking, they drove up towing their boat. 

‘You fat fucking Boer bastard lightweights’ I called out to them, 'what's Wanker in Afrikaans?'
‘Oh, THAT’s nice!’ one called back.

‘About as bloody nice as making a chap crawl out of bed at five to be ready to fish at six!’.  I think I used the plural of the 'C' word as well just to round it off.
‘Bugger, we forgot’, was all he said.

Now I thought they were going to join us for a restorative cuppa once they had finished parking their boat up but instead Paul and I saw them driving off down the road.  Paul rang the lodge.  ‘Did those two arseholes pay their bill?’ he demanded.
Paul hung up and looked at me, ‘Do you have their telephone number?’

‘Nope, why?’
‘They’ve just done a runner’

Now why didn’t we see that coming?
I read recently in the Telegraph that the EU are funding to the tune of millions ‘Project Indect’ which aims to use CCTV surveillance and internet usage patterns to identify abnormal behavior, presumably to detect and prevent crime before it happens.  Thought Police.  That’s scary.  I wonder if the Thought Police will offer a reduced sentence if one confesses to a crime before committing it?  ‘I confess to this dream, M’Lud and I ask for twenty three other lurid dreams principally concerning my nieces to be taken into consideration…’

“I confess to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts but not my deeds, in what I have dreamt about but have so far managed to avoid, not out of any sense of decency or fear of God, but sheer terror of Marcia's unquenchable wrath.”

Friday 7 September 2012

It needs a name

I realise this state of affairs occurs with monotonous regularity but Marcia is not best pleased with me again.  It isn’t as if I go out of my way to her annoy her.  I think it is because she is both female AND foreign so any possible comprehension between opposite sexes is lost in translation.  Nevertheless, I do admire her skill at picking the most effective times to buttonhole me.  Her two favourites are when I have just fallen asleep and in fevered dreams am about to climb into bed with her nieces leaving me, in my befuddled state having been rudely awoken wondering how the hell she found out while I hurriedly attempt to get my wits about me, and before I have had my morning cup of tea.  These are the only occasions when I cannot talk faster than my interlocutor can think.

Most Europeans think of Africans as living cheek by jowl with lethal wildlife and domestic animals and some of them do.  But Marcia is different so is mightily pissed off that I adopted a lost goatling.  I know that in England, and other civilised countries, pet dogs get to sleep in the same bed as their owners or at least get a spot on the sofa in front of a warm and comforting fireplace but to Marcia, the idea of cultivating such affection from a food source is not only alien, it’s revolting.

Having rescued the shivering and ever so weak little tyke, force feeding her at first to keep her alive, I cannot bring myself to toss her out of the door at night and let her fend for herself among the marauding wild dogs for whom she would be a welcome snack and she, in turn, cannot when barred from her new ‘mother’ by a closed door, allow us a wink of sleep, crying like an abandoned babe with lungs the size of an obese opera singer.

So, much to Marcia’s disgust, it sleeps in our room.  One of the comments on my previous post asked how I intended to house train a goat.  Well, I had no idea.  I have never tried to domesticate a goat before.  I have seen plenty slaughtered.  I served with the Ghurkhas for whom slaughtering goats with one swipe of a Kukri was a tradition, and goats form part of the staple diet here.  All I know about goats is that they destroy gardens, pooh everywhere and taste great in curries.

I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when the little goatling only peed on my floor (and then by the door) on its first night.  Since then, no noxious and ill directed issue within the confines of our humble abode.  Not only that, give it its final feed of the night and then take it for a walk to the spot she has, only three days old, decided is perfect for relief, she’ll sleep the whole night through and only wake me just before first light demanding a refill.  Early to bed, early to rise and all that stuff, this little creature could be good for my health, wealth and happiness.  I am beginning to understand why only an awful night shift can slightly dull the keen edge of John Gray’s effervescent personality.

It now follows me everywhere but I am sure her sight is impaired (a factor that may have contributed to her losing her flock).  Either that or she has a rare interest in the beauty of her natural surroundings and is easily distracted for if I walk too fast and she loses sight of me, she’ll run around in circles bleating plaintively.  So I have taken to whistling her as if she were a dog.  Goatlings don’t just shuffle to change orientation, they hop like gambolling spring lambs.  A whistle will have her a foot in the air and then landing pointing in the right direction, ears all a twitch before launching herself at me, head butting my legs.

The sight of me and my little shadow is a source of considerable amusement for the denizens of my shop.  My knee, barely healed after falling off the narrow path between my room and the generator (not the straight and narrow path the priest told me I must follow when preparing me for First Holy Communion, I fell off that years ago) has taken another bashing when on the way back in the dark, having shut the generator off I tumbled over the little bleeder in the dark.  It isn’t just because my clients cannot reconcile the sight of someone like me, with my previous, walking along trailing a goatling, it is because they love taking the piss.  And I have to admit, it is hard not to take the piss out of a portly 53 year old white bloke who has made a pet out of his dinner.

In the meantime, it needs a name and for the life of me I cannot come up with anything.  I’ll take the ribbing until it gets out of hand, then I’ll crack a few skulls.  Right now though, she is bleating for her afternoon feed so I need to rinse her bottle out and warm her milk.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

My Doorstep

What is it about my door step?

I have mentioned that my dogs are feral by instinct.  Doggy disappeared into the bush to give birth and I only found her hidey-hole two days after she alerted me to her imminent part by disappearing. 

Number Three disappeared several days ago.  Surrounding my little patch of God’s earth are square kilometres of virgin bush, home to a variety of wildlife including all manner of bird, reptile and mammal, including two very noisy, but not noisome troops of monkeys.      If a dog wants to hide from prying eyes, it could not be in a better place.  Just from a military point of view, I could hide a battalion of infantry complete with artillery support in the forest behind my house.  Recognising that she was in labour, much to Marcia’s disquiet, I had made a bed up for her in our room.  First time the door was left ajar, however, she was off.

After three days of her absence, Dominic and I knew we had a job on finding her.  If things had gone according to plan, she would have found a secluded spot that suited her, dug a hole and given birth in it, then reappeared, skinny and wasted demanding food and would have then, nervously perhaps but with the trust the bond between man and dog creates, led us to her litter.

It was Dominic who found her dead in the feeble hollow she had tried to scrape.

‘Daddy, can’t you cut her open and save the puppies?’

Her eyes were glazed and her dry, lolling tongue was already home to teeming ants.

‘I don’t think so, Son’

‘But I can feel movement!’ he cried frantically pressing his hands to her abdomen.  I knew it was pointless but I followed his lead and gently felt her distended stomach.

We had spent hours beating around the bush so heartless as it may seem, I saw no reason to beat about further.

‘What you are feeling, son, are the gases of decomposition gurgling in her guts.  She’s been dead over 24 hours.  I am sorry, but there is nothing we can do.’

I could see that this was tearing his heart out.  ‘The puppies,’ he said, ‘the poor puppies’

‘They will just have gone to sleep like their mother did,’ was all I could think to say, ‘I can cut her open if you want but don’t you think it would be better if we left them all together?’

He agreed but he was busted up, I could see that by the way he was trying not to let me see him cry by averting his eyes from mine and staring deeper into the forest in which this lovely, ever so loyal and ultimately unfortunate dog, our Number Three, had suffered her lonely death.

There’s nothing like a bit of hard labour to avoid introspection.

‘I don’t want Alex to see this,’ I informed Dominic, ‘It is his birthday.  We should bury Number Three now.  Go and get a shovel and an enschada and we’ll do it together.

So we did, burying her were she fell in that lovely forest setting.  She was a wreck when I found her on my doorstep but at least she enjoyed nearly a year of TLC before, as it ultimately turned out, foolishly getting pregnant.  At least she had a good shagging in her short lifetime.  Nice Paul was at the party and after I told him what had happened, he sat with Dom and explained to him that sometimes it was better to let nature take its course.

The day after Alex’s birthday party, I said goodbye to Dominic as he headed back to school and with Marcia in town, I was suddenly acutely aware of the empty sofa from which Dominic regaled me with his stories and the suddenly enormous space under my desk formerly occupied by a dog so loyal it followed me everywhere and would groan with pleasure every time I stroked her.  But these dogs are wild.  Like the soldiers once under my command, they only followed me out of idle curiosity and only obeyed the orders they felt like obeying.  As far as the dogs were concerned, that single order was ‘OUT!’.  I made a special effort to teach them that one as I could understand my neighbour’s point of view that me sitting in his restaurant surrounded by wild dogs was putting his other more civilised clients off the food they were paying him for.

I don’t know what it is about my doorstep.  I do not wander around the neighbourhood handing out leaflets extolling the salvation to be found at the Church of Tom’s Doorstep but, bugger me if I didn’t stumble over something again at four in the morning when I was off to water one of the palm trees.

It’s always girls, I notice.  Is there something about me that leaves girls feeling safe?  There she was, remnants of her umbilical chord still hanging, collapsed on my step.  She could only have been a few hours old.  How did I know in pre dawn darkness that this was female?  Easy.  In this part of the world the only things you are going to find collapsed on a doorstep are drunk errant husbands so this still intoxicated but no longer errant husband automatically assumed that this example of one of God’s creatures looking nothing like a husband must be female and in distress.  I wasn’t wrong.

Having watered the foliage I picked her up and dumped her on the sofa.  An ambulant air breathing foetus makes a nice snack for some of the beasties around here so she was better off inside.  Marcia didn’t see it that way when she woke up and found it snuggled into the clothes she had carefully laid out the night before.  ‘This is a GOAT!’ she bawled.  ‘Is it?’ I said with all the astonishment my hangover allowed.

Those of you enjoying long and happy marriages don’t need advice from some git on his third time around but if there are those out there willing to learn from someone else’s mistakes, leave your joke book at home when your wife is pissed off with you.  The fairer species have a radar specially tuned to detect piss, especially when it is being taken out of them without authorisation, along with fists designed to home in at a frantic pace on the jaws of those breaking this simple rule.

‘Ok, it’s a goat’ I said wondering whether it was still worth trying to brush my teeth, ‘I found it last night’

‘You FOUND it!!!’

Go on then, clever clogs, answer that one before even having a half a whiff of the early morning, oh so necessary Cuppa T that is every decent chap’s right.

Of course I bloody found it.  It isn’t as if, charged by some ethereal flaming instruction delivered to me during a dream I went hunting naked through the bush at four O’clock in the morning and sought out a goatling for some obscure religious purpose.  I just fell over the damn thing like I do my boots or any of Alex’s toys when I am busting for a slash.  But merely to say ‘Yes’ at this juncture would appear flippant and with demolished teeth, I was quite keen to hang on to reasonably serviceable ribs. At least I´d still be able to laugh about it afterwards.  Let’s face it, I wasn’t even out of fucking bed yet so looming over me with God only knows what culinary device to hand, she had the advantage of me.

‘A goat?  Gosh!’ I lisped, hoping I looked as stupid as she thought I was.

Marcia pulled on a different outfit and stormed off to town.

Well, there I was in urgent need of a decent dentist and a less that 24 hour old kid on my hands which was now following my lead and bleating painfully.

Nice Paul came round for Elevenses (a shared big pot of strong tea).  ‘That’s what I hate about goats’ he said when he clocked the little tyke, ‘the mothers abandon so many of their kids.’ 


‘Survival,’ Paul continued, ‘They drop their kids and if they can’t keep up with the herd within an hour, they’re history ‘cos the Hyenas will have ‘em’

So I did what anyone would do under the circumstances.  ‘Alex!  Time you learnt how to drink out of a mug’.  Confiscating his bibirão (milk bottle or whatever these things with nipples on the end are called in English, seriously, I have forgotten) I prepared a mix for the goat.   Took me bloody ages.  The little bastard seemed determined to die.  As fast as I poured the milk down it, it vomited it all over my shirt and then flopped weakly into a corner.  Right, that’s it, I thought, I can’t be doing with this sort of wilful malingering.  ‘DRINK THIS OR CHOKE AND DIE. YOUR CHOICE YOU LITTLE SHIT!’

Amazingly, it was not only born speaking English, it responded to discipline.
Mum, you know you smoking is bad for me?
Not half as bad as when Marcia finds out you are drinking from Alex's bottle. 
So do us both a favour and glug it down as quickly as you can.
Now all I need to do is come up with a name.  And stop it climbing all over the furniture and jumping up on the coffee table.  Two days old.  Good grief.

Making friends with the other denizens of Fort Gowans