Wednesday 23 January 2013

A Close Shave

Two precocious little children

What does one do with a recently orphaned child, the responsibility for whom has just landed at one's door, a child who cannot sleep at night? Little Marta is fine during the day, She does what any child of her age does, she plays with other kids, wolfs down her meals and once the mossies come out, she is one of a line of kids sitting on the sofa watching TV or playing a game together.

Alex is usually the first to flake so we lift his comatose body into the bed. Mauro, Marcia's nephew who is with us temporarily is the next to run out of steam. Our current accommodation being ever so humble, requires him to sleep in a tent in the jango. Believe me, it isn't as bad as it sounds this being a tropical climate, certainly not as potentially uncomfortable as Big Don 'Mad Kev' Alviti's decision to camp in the snow. While Number One Son Dominic was here over Christmas and New Year, the pair of us slept in the tent by choice armed with comestible goodies nicked from the shop and a fine selection of DVDs to play on the laptop.

Marcia is the next to go. Of all of us she works the hardest and puts in some long hours buying stock for the shop and running around the various government departments that interfere with honest commercial activity (while turning a blind eye to the blatant corruption endemic here) to keep our licences up to date or apply for new ones. I have offered to help on numerous occasions but she wants me nowhere near her suppliers or Government officials as she, being Angolan, can avoid paying the extra 'White Man's Tax' my appearance would inevitably raise. These last few days she has been busy clearing the first of the kit to arrive we have imported for the shop and restaurant. As I write, she is back in town again (which is a 100 mile round trip) to clear the next lot.

The first of our imported kit arrives.
Scars of months at sea evident, it will clean up.
Our eyewateringly expensive Mr Whippy machine,
99 with a flake, anyone?

With Marcia and the boys fast asleep that leaves just Marta and I.

Marta sleeps on the sofa, right next to the bed in which I sleep together with Marcia and Alex. I can usually stick it out until eleven at night but by then it is a bit of a struggle for me to keep my eyes open. Marta lies there on the sofa with her eyes glued to the TV. When I warn her that I have to pull the plug on the generator she rolls over, buries her head in the pillow and pretends to go to sleep while I arrange the mosquito net around her. 'Would you like a torch, Marta?' I ask her. I have gone through a lot of torch batteries since she arrived.

I may be an old soak but if I hear a noise at night, bearing in mind that with the gennie off and being so far off the beaten track, there is total silence, not even the hum of a refrigerator, I awake instantly if I hear something. If it rains, I wake up for it is under cover of the noise of raindrops pattering on wriggly tin roofs that the bandits come to steal, If the dogs bark, I am out there to see who or what they are barking at; me,a fat old white bloke standing there in the yard looking foolish clutching a sword in all his naked splendor.

So if a six year old starts to whimper into her pillow at two in the morning, I hear it. First time I climbed out of bed and tried to give her a hug, But I am a complete stranger. That wasn't what she wanted, she wanted her Mum and I will never be that. It can't be good for her but I crank the gennie up again and leave her in front of the TV, she watching mindless cartoons and me unable to go back to sleep instead polluting her lungs with second hand cigarette smoke, which is even worse for her.

Clearly some drastic action was needed. She is not ready to be hugged yet; on her first day here I couldn't even pick her up, she would just wriggle away so nothing could be rushed.

She is very inquisitive, a good indication of a functioning brain, and gets into everything. I turned my back for a moment and then found her stabbing the send button on my Outlook so if any of you receive unusual emails from my account, you now know why. She loves my camera and much to Alex's disgust, I let her use it the resultant voluble indication of his displeasure and the equanimity such a concession demands leaving my stomach churning every time I see my four year old stamping through the bush with a difficult to replace camera, one I am rather fond of, dangling off its strap somewhere around his knees.

This, however, is all fun and games and does nothing to engender the caring intimacy normal between children and their carers.  I was pretty stumped for ideas until I saw little Marta busy unpacking my barber’s kit.  I didn’t say anything but out of the corner of my eye, I could see her trying to figure out the electric clippers.  She had already laid out all the different clipper attachments in order of size, the scissors and the hair clips (not that I need them) and was now trying to work out how to switch the clippers on.  It was like watching ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire’, willing the guy in the chair to choose answer B only to see him repeatedly mull over answers A, C or D, burning up all his lifelines asking a friend, the audience, eliminating two wrong answers and still getting it wrong.  It was agony.  Finally she figured it out and the clippers burst into life with an angry buzz.

Her eyes lit up.  Waving the clippers dangerously close to my eyeballs she said, ‘Tio Tom, isso é para cortar o cabelo?’  ‘Yes, Marta,’ I said, ‘this is for cutting hair’.  And that is when I had what, in all modesty, I would call a jolly good idea.

‘Would you like to cut my hair, Marta?’

‘I don’t know how’ she said.

‘It’s easy, trust me’.

Look, it was in a good cause and hardly a sacrifice, my hair will grow back.  In the spirit of bonding, I had to persuade Alex to start (supposedly to demonstrate to Marta how it was done but really to encourage them to cooperate) and then let the pair of them finish me off.

I realize a haircut is stupid, insignificant, daft but while Marta was whizzing the clippers around my swede, she was in charge for a change.  Trust is reciprocated I figured, so by letting her run this noisy and potentially lethal machine round my head (she did draw blood but it was only an ear and to be fair on her, God overlooked barbers when he positioned ears) Marta would start to trust me. 

I awoke with a start.  Marta was shaking my shoulder.  ‘Can I have some tea, please?’ she asked holding up my shorts, evidently an indication I should climb into them.  I did and then, holding my hand she led me to the kitchen and I put the kettle on.  Blimey, I thought as I checked the time, my first decent night’s kip in ages.  It was 6.30 in the morning.  We had slept the whole night through.

After we had drunk our tea she announced that we had to brush our teeth, 

'Go ahead', I told her.

'No, Uncle, we must do it together,' she said and, taking me by the hand, led me to the bathroom, told me where to get the water from, showed me her toothbrush, inspected mine for quality and cleanliness, frowned at the toothpaste I had squeezed along the side of her brush instead of square on top of the bristles and then after we had brushed, told me to rinse twice because, she told me with the candid innocence of a child, my teeth were horrible.  While all this was going on, Alex woke up and came out to find us.  Trying to get him to brush his teeth is like trying to persuade a politician to tell the truth.  Seeing Marta and I, primed toothbrushes in hand, he dived for his.  Having already decided I was inept, Marta squeezed his toothpaste out for him.  Afterwards I brewed more tea and fried up a load of scrambled eggs all the while under Marta's critical gaze.  'Why are you putting milk into the eggs, Tio Tom? ', 'Why are you putting the bread into the oven, Tio Tom?', 'What are these, Tio Tom?  Mushrooms!  Do I like mushrooms, Tio Tom?'  'Can I have skinned tomatoes too? They are not spicy are they, Tio Tom,? I don't like spicy', 'Is that bacon?  You eat it for breakfast!'  'Beans!  I am not sure I like beans, Tio Tom, but I like soup.  And cake.  Can we have cake too Tio Tom?'

Quite the little chatterbox this morning.  Well worth a head of renewable hair.

Just a short back and sides, son, easy on the top... I get the feeling my parting is wider than usual...

OK, Marta, your turn... not the eyeball, please, the loss of it will ruin my snooker game..
How's it look at the back?  Does it look OK?
I've always fancied Hardy Krüger, can you do me a Hardy Krüger?
Absolutely bugger all to do with this essay but since he just popped into my head as I was writing, this is Hardy Krüger:

One can only admire a man hard enough to wear polo neck

OK, my hair is a bit darker but it is parted on the same side.  There is a bit of Hardy Krüger there, surely? 
I am the guy on the right, by the way.
It was frowned upon to wear polo necks in those days.  Something to do with a Queen's Shilling. 
Or maybe just Queens, I can't remember which.
The Colonel is kindly doing my button up before I go on stage.
Never mind a face that's launched a thousand ships, this is a face that's been kicked in a thousand bars. 
A consequence of being a Southpaw, fuck up and you collect all the damage to the right hand side.
Damn fine haircut though. 
Need to buy the girl a cut throat razor and a strop and I might look half human.
I am sure that UK social services would never allow a bloke like me me to adopt little Marta but, thankfully, they have bugger all to do with it.

Egg and steak tonight,  Undoubtedly Marta will be on hand to tell me how to do it.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Testing Time

How to test the structural integrity of a replaced joist and a bar counter in a thatched building destined to be a restaurant.

Step one:  Call in the finest structurally engineered engineers available

Have them conduct a load test on the bar counter.

Next check the clearance between the counter and the joist.

Check that the joist is correctly seated.

And check the counter is free of splinters.

Ensure the height of the counter leaves everything within easy reach.
It's a tedious job I know but an HSE requirement in order to get my Building Certificate.  Another tick in the box.

Monday 21 January 2013

Meet Marta

Marta, aged six is on the left and still a little shy in spite of the apple I gave her. 
Alex, aged four is on the right. 
I think Marta needs the same sort of home cooking Alex and I have enjoyed.

Marta is six years old.  Her father never acknowledged her and offered no support to her mother, Nanda, let alone played a part in his daughter’s upbringing.  Nanda, a distant cousin of Marcia, did her best by all accounts.  Having been burnt once, she did not make the same mistake twice and Marta is her only child.  Nice Paul says she is the sweetest little girl he has ever met and I tend to agree.  Alex, normally a little thug exhibiting all the selfish symptoms of an only child has really taken to her and is showing a commendable protective spirit (along with a tadge of bossiness taken in good humor by Marta) which is truly heartwarming.

For her Birthday, Marcia received a number of really useful presents for which we are all grateful.  A tent along with all the gear; a barbecue the sturdy construction of which reinforces the manufacturer’s boast it is guaranteed for life; stuff for the kitchen; outfits some of which even I like; furniture for the new house (I am listing these in order of my preference, not hers) but I never imagined her wish for a daughter would be fulfilled.

Nanda, still only in her early Twenties died of Malaria a few days before Marcia’s birthday party.  In anticipation of the party, she had already bought as a present a group of four Chinese sauce dishes set on a teak base ideal for dips.  Marta, nervous, bewildered and clearly upset, brought them along with her to the party.

Families are hugely extended here so I never even knew of Marta’s existence.  No-one had briefed me on the tragedy that led us to making our acquaintance.  And I guess this was part of the family plan.  My first impression of Marta was that she seemed a bit ‘clingy’.  She seemed a little overwhelmed with the party and above all, sad and withdrawn.  Well, I couldn’t have that, could I?  For goodness’ sake, this is Fat Hippo’s, no-one can be miserable here especially such a delightful little girl!

So I spent a lot of time with little Marta.  She helped me with the barbecue, helped me serve drinks and was ace with the mixer as we whipped the cream for dessert and believed me when I said that my shirt and trousers would wash clean of the few, insignificant little bits the mixer threw out of the bowl all over me so she shouldn’t worry about it so much.  Honestly, Marcia once threw a whole bowl of ice cream mix over me when ever so slightly stressed so half a pound of cream splattered around the kitchen was hardly anything to cry over.  I could see that Alex was starting to get jealous.  He had plenty of other kids to play with but clearly he did not like the idea of his Dad spending too much time with a six year old so he came over to join us.  Together we assembled the various dishes; he showed little Marta where to get the ice; taught her the difference between a beer and a gazoza (soft drink) and the pair of them learnt how to sneak the juiciest, tenderest bits of meat off the barbecue an act of theft which, of course, I never noticed.  As a budding restaurateur, I could not have been in better hands.

I never counted heads as the guests left but the following morning I realized there was an extra mouth at the table. 

‘Marta might be here for a few days’, said Marcia.

‘I think she is lovely,’ I replied.

‘Actually, she might be here for a few weeks’, Marcia added.

‘Marcia,’  I said shoveling more scrambled egg, bacon, beans and skinned tomato down my throat, ‘I couldn’t care less if she was here forever, she’s delightful and she’s great for Alex, they are inseparable in case you haven't noticed.’

Marcia filled me in on the background I was missing.

‘Fine’, I said, ‘but don’t be surprised if I get really fucking pissed off if they take her away like they did little Cila.  As far as I am concerned she is our daughter and Alex’s sister and I don’t want no jack shit git turning up in a year or two, just when she’s settled, and haul her off.  This time I will spill blood’.
Hopefully I passed the family test and can hang on to this little orphan.  In the meantime, the pair of them, Alex and Marta, are sat on the sofa watching Tin Tin on the TV and munching something lovely that Marcia has knocked up.  I have no idea what it is but it certainly smells nice.
In the morning, Alex and I need to teach her how to fish.  I bet she can't swim either.  There's another job for us.

Grumpy Old Bastards

Nice Paul came round to spend the evening with us.  He’d had what we using the vernacular would describe as a pretty shit day.  The boats had all gone out and headed south but he headed north.  They all came back loaded to the gunnels with fish and he caught bugger all.

Marcia thought it was not so much the lack of fish and all to do with his girlfriend not coming to see him immediately he got back from his trip down to the bottom end of Angola so he could get his leg over, but I knew it was far more than that.  Comes a time in a man’s life and he realizes it is nearly over.  Some guys do well and are scooting about in private jets or being rocked to sleep on a super yacht.  Others are lying in the sand underneath a car trying to swap out a bust differential having realized that some bastard has nicked all the tools out of the box.  This was the kind of day Paul was having and he is my mate.  Little Alex loves him and I am sure Marcia is fonder of him than I should really accept but there is no question that he is a really nice bloke.  He is built like a brick shithouse and at 63 can still hold an engine block steady while someone gets the bell housing bolts in place.

So Paul and I had some G&T´s.  Actually, I had one and left the rest to him so I could revert to whisky.  I had never seen Paul smashed out of his head before and explained to a worried Marcia that occasionally a chap just needs to blow it out of his system.  Now Paul is a big bloke.  Even Alex, taking my cue calls him a ‘Horse of a Man!’ so, having seen him nod off on the sofa, I was pretty bloody alarmed when he suddenly leapt to his very unsteady feet and declared he was going home.  Clearly, he wasn’t going to make it ten yards.  In fact he never made it past the coffee table before tumbling over.

‘I’ll do this myself’, he said peeling himself off the snacks Marcia had just laid out. 

Normally, he takes the short cut back to Rico’s place along the river bank but I suggested with the utmost sincerity that if he wished to walk back, he should take the high and dry road.  This, he assured me he would do and off he set.  I hurried off to find a torch. 

I found him lying in the prone position on the beach.  It may sound romantic sleeping under a tropical sky on an Atlantic beach but what W Somerset Maugham doesn’t mention in his novels are the sand fleas, sand flies and the mosquitoes, any one of which can do you for a few weeks of fever followed by a White Man’s Death.  I have the utmost respect for this man.  He has fought in some of the shittiest places in Africa so when he tells me to fuck off and leave him alone, what should one do?

I understood why he was on the beach (and amazed he had covered so much of it).  In his state it would have been unseemly for the guards to have seen him so rather than return to his scratcher using the easy route down Rico’s drive, Nice Paul had evidently tried to reach the beach (despite my earlier nervousness of him staggering anywhere near water), do a right flanking maneuver and attack his bed from the unexpected direction of the sea.

Nice Paul is a big bloke as I have already pointed out.  He stands a good half foot taller than me and while only ten or so kilograms heavier than I, his weight is all muscle and sturdy bone rather than my milk and fat.  I tried to encourage him to his feet but the most I achieved was to raise his arm whereupon he decided he did not want his arm lifted and put it back on the sand towing me down with it.  As we lay there, the surf crashing onto the beach and hissing back, I knew I needed some serious reinforcements so I staggered to my feet and fetched Marcia.

I have always been impressed with the Girl From Uige and still cannot understand why she hooked up with me.  I realize I no longer wear the trousers in my household but she does let me wear shorts allowing me to feel a little bit involved.  She even gives me pocket money.  So when Marcia tells you to get up, you get up and that’s exactly what Nice Paul did.  Having tossed him into a bunk we all went to bed.

Now chaps don’t subsequently talk about this sort of thing but Marcia did, laying it on as thick as the butter she was spreading over our breakfast toast (the sight of which turned both of us green), telling us exactly where, in her opinion, we were going wrong.  Evidently we were taking life too seriously.  We were allowing little things, such as being jilted by a lover and not catching any fish as in Paul’s case (as if the two were comparable, a fruitless fishing trip is truly heartbreaking) and in my case discovering that the new shop needed to be rewired and my residency application process had gone adrift in immigration for the third time, to get us down.  In her delightfully lighthearted way she compared us to children bereft over a misplaced toy.  She went on to say that I needed to keep myself occupied and suggested that I might like to fit the kitchen in the new house.  I muttered something about me wanting to do this but Nice Paul hadn’t lent me the floor sander yet.  She suggested that Nice Paul should get himself a nice girlfriend and Paul muttered something about me promising to introduce him to B which I hadn’t done yet.   If that isn’t behaving like children, I don’t know what is and all the more laughable considering our combined age is 116 years.  Marcia thought it amusing too.

‘Do you know what your problem is?’ she asked us both, obviously tickled pink at the thought, ‘It’s like that film, isn’t it?  You are just two Grumpy Old Men!’ and off she went leaving only the fading notes of her dainty laughter.

Sunday 20 January 2013


The 1950's...

So Man let Woman out of the kitchen and see where it got us:


Just a very short post today because, as you can see, I am still recovering from Marcia'a Birthday party yesterday...

Wednesday 16 January 2013

End of the Hols

'Too Risky'
Fifteen years after I last saw it, the very first boat I bought in Angola pitches up in my yard!
God did I have some fun skiing behind that!

Dominic is on his way today after spending the holidays with me.

It was great.  We went fishing, swimming in Rico’s pool, more fishing, went bird watching, more fishing, collected and delivered water to the locals, more fishing, went out plinking crabs with an air rifle, did some more fishing, you get the idea.   We like fishing, by the way.

Understandably, he is a bit sad.  Right now he is sitting in front of the TV waiting for the car to come and get him.  He told me that he had enjoyed a great holiday.  I corrected him by pointing out that WE had enjoyed a great holiday.  I am sad too.

I think the best bit for him was the unexpected arrival of the Scouts.  Here, scouts and scoutesses all mix in together so when he received an invite to come over for lunch on the beach with them, he leapt at the opportunity taking little Alex with him.  They are the friendliest bunch of young people anyway but since Dominic and I were now delivering clean water to them as well as stuff from the shop at cost to save them having to resupply from town, they were falling over themselves to be nice.  I told the Scout Master (would that be Akela?) that once I had my restaurant land leveled and since his troop were so well behaved and polite, in future he could camp on my land and enjoy access to the facilities.  I gave Dominic my pocket book on Knots and Splices by Cyrus L Day years ago and quite by chance he had it with him.  Having become quite adept, he gave lessons in tying knots which, let’s face it, is an essential badge to earn as a scout and earned him many an admiring glance.
How's that for a neat way to tie a bottle carrier?  No wonder the girls were impressed with Dominic's knots

On their last night here they had a beach barbecue and invited Dominic.  He is not quite fourteen but is as tall as an eighteen year old and very mature.  I know that some of the scoutesses (some of them as old as 21 so legal game for me as well) had their eyes on him. 
Scoutesses.  Every sleeping bag should come equipped with one

It's not me she's looking at with 'Come To Bed Eyes', it's Dominic behind the camera
He knows that I WILL start to get nervous if he isn’t home by 2300hrs.  And that’s only if I know exactly where he is.  If I don’t I am already hitting the panic buttons at sundown.  It got to 23.30 and I was debating with myself whether to keep the generator running, the lights of the restaurant acting as a beacon to safety, or go and get him.  I hated the idea of going to get him.  Imagine, there he is, a doe eyed firm breasted virginal but soon-to-be-converted dusky maiden clasped in his arms as they, leaning against a palm tree under the stars contemplating a moonlit Atlantic finally pluck up their adolescent courage for a bit of serious snogging only to be interrupted by some white haired fat old bloke limping and cursing his way across the sand shouting for his son.  He would have died of embarrassment. 

But what if he had fallen into the sea and no-one had noticed?  What if he had left for home in the dark and been knocked down and was lying in agony in a ditch wondering when his Dad would miss him and come looking for him?  What if this scout troop was the troop from hell and had introduced my son to pot and free sex (in which case why wasn’t I invited?).

At 23.30 I was still dithering when Dominic walked in.

‘Have a good time, Son?’ I asked, feigning nonchalance.

‘Dad! It is brilliant!  They invited me to sleep over but I told them I really should be getting back or you would be worried’

‘I wasn’t worried Son, I trust you and I am VERY pleased you came back before midnight, this makes me trust you more.  Would you like to grab your toothbrush and nip back?’


Woggles, toggles and boggles.  In order of increasing seniority left to right

‘See you in the morning Son’ I said and then, sotto voce, muttered a fervent prayer at his rapidly receding back, ‘hope you get laid!’ and went to switch the generator off.


A bit of entertainment. 

By now we are used to the police or whoever in authority coming round and demanding handouts.  A while back I was quaffing a G&T over at Rico’s place when a delegation came in and, to cut a long story short, wanted a hand out to pay for some party for some visiting police general.  Rico was away so it was his new manager that had to decide.  Seeing his indecision and his clear lack of Portuguese, the police asked me to translate and point out to him that had we not been free of police raids, visits by the economic police, immigration etc.?  Al Capone could not have done it any more smoothly.   ‘Make your request in writing’ I said, ‘any donation like this is tax deductible and we need it for the Ministry of Finance’.  They pushed off.

It was still broad daylight when I left my place to fetch water and I did notice this car parked there on the inside of Rico’s gates so when I returned, hours later and in the pitch dark, I was surprised to see the same car still parked there.

Marcia breathlessly filled me in. 

A senior policeman had gone into Rico’s place with his girlfriend, tucked into the buffet, drank at the bar, swam in his pool and then tried to leave without paying.  When confronted, the guy had gobbed off at Rico.  It was the usual routine, ‘Do you know who I am?’  Well of course he bloody didn’t.  ‘You don’t want to know who I am!’  So like me, I guess Rico didn’t bother to ask.  ‘This is OUR country, Whiteman!  We go where we want to!  This is our land, you go home!’  So Rico told his guards to lock the gates.

‘You mean the guy has been sitting there all this time?’ I asked.

‘WITH his girlfriend!’ she laughed, ‘He’s been phoning everybody and Rico’s guards have just chained the gates and cleared off!’

This was true, they were all drinking in Marcia’s shop.  Bloody good on his guards for loyalty; most of them would have been intimidated and let the guy go.  Also drinking in the shop were a bunch of heavily armed, green clad frontier police.  I looked at Marcia quizzically.

‘Oh, I invited them in case the guy in the car tried to shoot Rico’, she explained.

Well, that was damn thoughtful of her, I thought.  Gunfights between the various police forces or the police and the military aren’t exactly that uncommon here and the shop was filled with plenty of witnesses to the outrageous behavior of this particular copper and as each can of ice cold beer was sunk, the retelling was ever more lurid.

‘Rico was ever so polite’, said one witness spilling a bit of Indian scotch down the front of her heaving bosom in excitement, ‘he said that this was his house and how would the policeman feel if he came into his house and abused his hospitality?’  Fair point but I was still coming to terms with the words ‘Rico’ and ‘polite’ in the same short sentence.  That would be like a witness for the prosecution describing my behavior during the argument that led me hand cuffed to the dock as reasonable.  The locals were siding with the white man.  So long as Rico did not lose his cool and call the guy a monkey, he was on a winner.   As an aside, I avoid the universal outrage that the blatant racism of a white guy calling an African a monkey elicits by calling my protagonists a Panina instead (PANINA –a Penis-Vagina. Used when someone has a very small penis, is a transsexual or has both a penis and a vagina).  That usually gets them going enough to throw the first punch leaving me in the clear as all my brief has to say is ‘my client merely defended himself, M’Lud’, as well as getting a good laugh from an appreciative crowd bored with television.

‘All Sr. Rico wants is an apology’, said one of his guards sticking into another beer, ‘if the guy just said sorry, Rico would let him go’

I strolled over towards Rico’s driveway.  The guy was pressing his car gingerly against the chained and padlocked gates.

‘You!’ he shouted, ‘Let me out, NOW!’

‘I don’t work here’, I pointed out quite truthfully, ‘I am just noting down your registration number so I can let Sr. Rico know who bust his gates’ and then I strolled back to the shop.

‘He’s still there,’ I said, ‘and he’s really angry’.  Everyone fell about laughing so I invited everyone to my Jango, which is right next to Rico’s gates, for a ringside seat.  Think of his poor girlfriend.  She thought she was going for a romantic lunch for two beside the river and now, here she was with her increasingly apoplectic policeman boyfriend trapped behind locked gates only twenty yards away from a hooting crowd.  Television is crap here and this was pure live soap.  The guy got out and spread a blanket over the windows of his car so we could not see in (they had the interior light on).  The crowd howled with glee and I sold yet another round of beers.  The guy got out again and told us to piss off lest he arrest us. 

‘Policia na cadeia, policia na cadeia!’ the audience chanted in response (police in the prison) which, you have to admit, was rather witty.

I asked Marcia if I could nip over and offer them room service.  ‘Don’t you dare!’ she said but I could see she was tickled.

At around nine in the evening, about five hours after their incarceration, the Rapid Intervention Police pitched up.  Obviously they were separated from the victim by a high gate secured by an overly dramatic length of chain.   One of Rico’s guards dashed off to let Rico know the heavies had arrived and in due course, Rico strolled up nonch as hell.  None of us could hear what Rico said, probably something along the lines of, ‘is there a problem, officer? But we could all hear the reply.  ‘Open the bloody gate!’  There was an immediate hush so we could quite clearly hear Rico say, ‘When I get my apology’ and he turned his back and started to walk away.  This was cooler than a spaghetti western, I mean, these guys are really tooled up and it was all happening live in front of us.  And the thing is, Rico is teetotal so he must have known exactly what he was doing.  It was awesome.  Actually, it was surreal.  The place was illuminated by security and headlights.  Long shadows were cast, the audience now breathless.  In my mind I heard Enrico Morricone’s haunting score to ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’ and immediately lit up a cheroot. OK, it was just a local SL cigarette.  Beneath us is a beach, just sand but you could still have heard a pin drop and I could have sworn I heard Rico order five coffins from his carpenter.

‘Oi, Senhor, faz favor!’ called out the leader of the intervention force.

Now this shows respect so Rico stopped and turned round.

‘Por amor de Deus, só pede desculpe e vamos voltar em casa!’ said the exasperated copper to the guy behind the locked gate.  For God’s sake, just say sorry and let us all go home.

We did not hear the apology but clearly Rico did because he ordered his guards to unlock the gates.  As he strolled back up his very long drive clearly fuming with rage, I couldn’t help myself, I cupped my hands and called out, ‘Hey, Big Don Rico!  You need a horse’s head, I got one!’ 

This morning, two of Rico’s boys came round for a chat.  Wesley and Bradley.  Nothing special about them apart from the fact they are built like brick shit houses and smile a lot.  ‘Wazzer! Bradders!’ I called out.  After all, if you are going down, might as well go down in flames.

‘Rico’s cracked’, Bradders said.  Oh Bollocks I thought.

‘Yeah, he wants your water’ said Wazzer.  Bradders just nodded.  A man who just nods without being obviously pissed out of his swede scares me more than a man who talks.  It is a bloke thing isn’t it?  Two guys go into a bar and pull their chairs up real close, invading a guy’s personal space, letting him know there is no place to run.  It’s like, we are going to have a chat now and you got ten questions which, if you answer correctly, you don’t get a million, but you do get to go home.  Shit, this WAS my home.  It’s not like I had far to walk.

‘Water?’ I gulped.

Is this some South African gig?  Italians just rip your eyeballs out having drilled a knee cap or two.  Were they now going to dig through my abdomen and rip out my bladder?  For Christ’s sake, it was only a joke.

‘And lobster’ said Bradley.


‘Thirty five of them’ confirmed Wesley.

‘Hang on a sec,’ guys, ‘why has Rico cracked?’

The boys told me that before I called out to Rico, he was mad as hell.  Then he heard my remark and started laughing.  He was still laughing when he got back to his lodge.  Then he heard from his guards how Marcia had arranged some neighborly back up in case things got nasty and how, once I arrived home and heard what was going on, had repositioned my truck so I could block the exit if the guy had tried to smash through the gates.

Bradley and Wesley know all about the antipathy that existed between me and Rico and how I had been trying to get on with him as best I could by helping out wherever I could.  I had good reason to be pissed with him; he flooded all my land by digging drainage channels in an attempt to save his place during the Great Flood and when I complained, told me it was my problem.  Any help I received from his side was arranged surreptitiously by one of his staff.  Now he was formally, and in his own name if not in person, asking me for help.

I cannot tell you how delighted I am.  Neighbors don’t necessarily have to like each other but they should get on.  Two people cooperating rather than fighting can achieve miles more than the sum of their individual effort.

Naturally I will supply Rico clean water from my well.  Naturally I will supply him lobster when he wants it.  Bradley and Wesley also told me that as soon as Marcia’s new shop was open, Rico would enter into a formal contract with her to supply his lodge.  That would double her turn over and help fund the patisserie I know she has set her heart on. Rico’s lodge managers are forever coming to us for cakes or anything they can offer as a dessert; wouldn’t it be good for them if Marcia had her patisserie?  Rico’s place, the Kwanza Tarpon Lodge, and Fat Hippo’s would become THE places for fine dining in beautiful surroundings.

Could this be the start of a wonderful relationship?

One tip though, if you eat here, don’t try doing a runner…

Friday 11 January 2013

A Personal and Public Apology to Big Don Alvito, I mean Alviti.

Ah SHIT!  Now how the hell am I going to get to work without polluting the planet?

They nicknamed me Gobber Gowans at Sandhurst because I just didn’t know when to keep my trap shut.  Now, with my latest post (which could very well be my last post), I have upset the under boss of one of the most powerful families in UK.

This is the message he sent me.  Very carefully worded and easy to convince a jury at a RICO trial that this was all nice and friendly but read between the lines…

Kev Alviti said:

I love the link, but I must pick on one fault (believe me I hate to do this and when you see what it is you'll understand why).

My name is Kev. Not Ken. Kev. I know this doesn't make it sound any better, in fact Ken might be the better choice. Although I like the name Big Don Alviti more, but alas we already call my father the Don - but it will be my turn one day!

I thought I'd say now before months had past and I'd just let you carry on, then there would have been that akward moment where you relise you'd been saying the wrong name and I just let you carry on!

I'm glad you like my surname though, I've always been rather partial to it - one people won't forget.

As for your builders maybe I should meet them! I've sacked plenty of guys in my time and if they're taking as long as you say maybe it's time to give them the push or go further and concrete them into the building, that way at least they'd be of some (structural) use!

Can I also say that your posts are written with such a degree of skill and humour that they are a joy to read (and I normally go for blogs with lots of pictures).

Thanks again and if you’ll excuse me I'm off to make a dress for my daughter out of some loo roll and an elastic band (we're not skint honest...) as it sounds like we have a wedding to attend to!
End of message

Whichever way you look at it, I am in the shit, aren't I?
I might be a dead man walking but I had to at least do the honourable thing and apologise so, this is to Mr Alviti:

Excelentíssimo Sr. Don Alviti,

This is why the Alviti Family and your Teflon Don have done so well.  Nothing sticks.  See, like I know there’s some veiled threats in there but the way you worded it there is nothing a decent prosecution lawyer can sink his teeth into:

believe me I hate to do this”  (I don’t believe you for a second, we are both professionals. Bet you do it for a living and lose no sleep whatsoever, unlike me tonight)

“My name is Kev. Not Ken. Kev”  (like don’t ever make that mistake again. ‘I won’t I promise’, I say. Cue you saying, ‘You won’t, I promise’)

“but it will be my turn one day!”  (meaning: I am on borrowed time)

“I thought I'd say now before months had past…” (I know, I know, and then you’d have to kill me and still lose no sleep.  It is passed by the way, before months had passed, just thought I would mention it.  Oh God, now you are going for the nail gun)

"one people won't forget"  (Your name, yes, I know.  Kev Alviti, not Ken.  I will forget because I will be dead with my feet nailed to the floor boards but I take your point)

“I've sacked plenty of guys in my time”  (well, I have to admit, that is the best way to get rid of evidence, bag it up and deep six it)
“or go further and concrete them into the building”  (I was going to risk being flippant and ask how you could possibly concrete someone up in a wooden building but then I remembered that you could get a bunch of teamsters and enough cement lorries in at the drop of a Tommy Gun and a fur felt fedora hat to dump my car with me in the boot into my lounge and bury, me, my car and house in a pile of finest Portland cement and I shudder to think where the golf clubs I normally carry in the boot will have been parked)

Mr Alviti, Don Alviti in-waiting… Padrão Kev.  What can I say?  I meant no insult to you or your family.  I hold you and your father, 'Even Bigger' Don Alviti in the highest regard.  Even my Grandfather told me when he was bouncing me on his knee fifty years ago that although he had never heard of the Alviti Family (not surprising really, he was German and we were in Germany), I should never be disrespectful to them.  I disgraced not only myself but my wise old mentor, may he rest in peace (he was shot dead aged 90 by a jealous husband by the way but hey, most of us go out on the job in our business, don’t we?)

Please accept my humblest apology and let me make it up to you by sending over a load of Angolan handmade 3 ply toilet paper.  This is good stuff and doesn’t fall off the back of a lorry by itself (well, quite often it does, the roads are terrible here).  Only the best dress material for Ever-So-Big Don Alviti’s grand-daughter!
Would you mess with a Teamster?  Would you mess with a teamster who just happened to be the Under Boss for the Alviti Family?  No, I wouldn't either.

Nice to see that Alviti Family employees comply with the latest HSE dress codes mandated by the EU for hitmen.

Photo courtesy of Interpol

Of course my family and I would be honoured if you could attend the wedding.  Ok,the houses are wood but there will be a lot of concrete pathways so maybe we can discuss my contractors on site?  I realise that a pathway is only about a metre wide but we could always fold them in half?  The contractors, I mean, not the paths,

There you go, dear readers, Big Don Kev Alvito, hand crafted purlins, perfectly sorted suspended wooden flooors (and why ventilate them indeed?), stair cases and bannisters, walk in closets, beautifully fitted decking, pergolas, kitchens and jacuzzis.  And made-to-measure wooden overcoats (by special unattributable order only available through Amazon).

Thursday 10 January 2013

MANT! Half Man, Half Ant - All Terror!

The girl on the right in the foreground is saying, 'It's so Big!'
The girl in the red dress looks curiously satisfied.

I am bored.  Intensely bored AND irritated.

Four days ago was the anniversary of me paying the contractor the proceeds of my house sale up front to complete, what he assured me would be a six week job, namely to build me some cottages and finish the restaurant off.  A year later my family and I are still living in a breeze block shack with a wriggly tin roof.  It has been a game of poker, the stakes ever higher with the first to stack being the loser.  This forced indolence is driving me slowly insane and the share prices of Scottish whisky distilleries and British American Tobacco up.

But, as I explained to Marcia, 2013 is the year we WILL move into our new cottage.  2013 IS the year her new shop will open.  This is the year we will serve our first paying clients in Fat Hippo’s, the bar and restaurant that by next Christmas, EVERONE will be raving about. 

I have tried to keep myself occupied with various community projects some of which have met with gratifying success.  Normally impatient by nature as I am, the contractor has given me a new definition of stoicism:  he grins and I bear it.  I have also realized that by giving him the job, he has finished only my tools.  There’s not a single one left.  The tropical rain forests are safe in his hands as his projects are small and progress is glacial.

The fact that Marcia has not discovered to her horror (or relief, I can’t be too sure now), me dangling by the neck from the rafters of my own Jango having kicked the chair from under my feet is testament to the therapeutic effect of blogging.  It does help one maintain a tentative grasp on the real world; that and reading the Telegraph Online.

If I appear a little acerbic today, by the way, put it down to the fact that yesterday, while delivering water, I broke my little toe.  The left one.  I am just as fond of my right little toe as I am the left, as indeed I am of all my remaining digits but it is the left little toe that is currently the focus of my attention.  It bloody hurts.  Marcia, of course, insisted I be rushed to hospital.  To what end?  To divest myself of a few hundred dollars paying for a considered and qualified opinion, backed up by an even more expensive X-ray that I had broken my left little toe?  I can see that for myself and Dominic confirmed the fact when he cruelly gave it a tug and saw just how far the skin stretched.  And then what would the treatment be?  Planting my foot in a tub of plaster of Paris?  I am close enough to howling at the moon in frustration as it is.  This is a hot and sweaty environment and Athlete’s Foot is, as a result, an all too common affliction.  Imagine being denied the relief of a good scratch and a dose of Mycota powder?  So sod it; as Harry Palmer once said to his boss, I’ll walk.

I can live with the fact that the power steering on the truck does not work and when fully loaded, my only recourse when trying to affect the direction of its motion is to plant a foot on the dash and haul on the steering wheel with all the might arm muscles like spider’s kneecaps can induce, so I shall be interested to see how I cope with the three or four million gear changes required between here and the gas station over pot-holed roads bearing in mind that the heaviest clutch the manufacturer could find is installed in my truck and is operated by the left foot.  Broken toe or not, we still need fuel for the generator, water to wash in and cook with.  Sitting here typing is only delaying the inevitable and if Marcia gets back from town and finds me still sitting here after my macho refusal of definite medical attention, I suspect I will definitely be in need of medical attention.

One of the things I really like about the Blogosphere is its unpredictability.  Most of the blogs out there, like anything else, are crap but when you find a good one, it is a delight.  It is the electronic equivalent of browsing well stocked bookshelves.  Unlike regular authors and publishers, however, bloggers tend to recommend other bloggers they like by posting links to them on their sites.  If I find a blogger I like, I then click on all his links and give them a go.  That’s how I discovered one of my favorite bloggers, John Gray, the St Francis if Assisi in Wales.  I didn’t wake up one morning, slurp my tea down to recover from yet another hang over and suddenly decide to plug the words, ‘Charming’, ‘Gay’, ‘Raconteur’, ‘Twingo driving health professional animal sanctuary Wales’ into Google.  I just tumbled across him through someone else’s blog.  Mind you, with a million zillion followers and three times as many hits to his blog, I suppose it was inevitable.  Blogging is rather like Embassy parties but without the free booze.  You meet a lot of people from around the world and just occasionally, you hit it off rather than start a war.

I found Magnon’s Meanderings the same way, by meandering through other people’s blogs.  Cro Magnon’s blog is exactly what it says on the tin and is an indication of what life could have been like for me had I not had such an incurably romantic notion of a life of adventure.  Now I fully understand what my Father was trying to say when he warned me to be careful what I wished for and also that the expression, ‘May you lead an interesting life’ is actually a curse, not a blessing.

I think SirPud of the North found me.  He is a semi-retired English teacher living in Yorkshire, a keen fell walker, outstanding photographer, and given his lifetime’s vocation quite literate as well.  I say semi-retired as he is currently in Thailand teaching English to, well, Thais but he is also the head of marketing for the Real Yorkshire Pudding Company.  I’d never heard of them either but the puddings are nice.  Learning that his departure on temporary contract to Thailand was imminent, I begged him to use his time there fruitfully and find me a decent Chef for my restaurant.  I have this idea of a sort of Asian-African Fusion.  He assured me that so long as he could find the right kind of flour and some proper chicken eggs ‘like as what ‘e ‘as at ‘ome’, he would train someone to make the perfect Yorkshire Pudding and send him to me. 

Just as I use Going Gently, Magnon’s Meanderings, Megan Blogs and Yorkshire pudding as salutary reminders of the value of maturity, humility, dedication to study and good old hard work, I use other blogs to distract me from the knowledge that these are qualities I generally lacked. 

The IdiotGardener is hilarious, often irreverent, occasionally risqué when it comes to nieces (mind you, so am I) and definitely entertaining.  He recently visited the city of my birth, Berlin, and was distinctly underwhelmed which proves that not only does he have eyes in his head, they are connected to a functioning brain.  Sir Owl of the Wood is completely and delightfully barking mad.  If ever I was masochistic enough to marry again, he would be my first choice as photographer.  Imagine, an African wedding recorded in sepia; me in uniform and stiff collar, the bride in traditional robes, bare breasted natives in attendance, a dead lion or two on the lawn and ivory much in evidence.  Naturally I would have to invite Bashing Bambi over to run the honeymoon safari and provide the fresh meat but I could see my bride having an issue with him if he insisted she marched up the aisle at a 140 beats to the minute and ordered the page boys to swing their f*****g arms waist belt high, press down on their thumbs, have their necks in the backs of their collars and to LOOK UP!!! 

Mr Bananas, the World’s leading anthropological ape, would naturally have a role to play discreetly and diplomatically advising guests on matters of etiquette and protocol in an African environment.  Although since, as a guest, it would not be expected of him, I am sure he would be useful in ejecting any gate crashers, principally the Baboons who, no matter how hard they try to change their appearance, cannot disguise the fact that unlike any of my legitimate guests, they sport blue arses and throw pooh rather than bread rolls at each other (I will need to introduce Sir Owl to Mr Bananas to avoid an embarrassing mistake).

The FifthColumnist would be invited to add a much needed touch of class and, should he choose to accept such a delicate and dangerous mission, design the décor.  I very much doubt that a man of his taste would be twee but if he did decide that the semi-naked bridesmaids should enter with fluffy sheep in tow (in favour of the goats more common here), John Gray could bring some with him along with heaps of Scoggots, a sort of cross between Scotch Eggs and Faggots, to add to the festive board.  They are, he assures me (Scoggots, not goats), tasty, camp and very expensive, though I am sure he says the same about his partner, Chris.  I have it on good authority that Chris describes John as tasty, camp and usually covered in mud.  Chris had the builders in before Christmas and when, on Christmas morning, Chris showed John the results of his investment, John was overwhelmed and wiping tears of joy from his eyes thanked Chris for the new sheep dip.  ‘Sheep dip?’ said Chris somewhat bemused, ‘Sheep dip?  This is your flaming bath!  Unless you go through this every night, you ain’t coming in the house!’  I had to laugh when the RFWF told me that but I will never reveal my sources.  I am also digressing.

I would definitely invite Ian Morley of ‘A Buzz About Life’ and his lovely new family. He holds the title, by Royal Charter, of Master Beekeeper of the North and is a dab hand at converting honey and other hedgerow fruits into the more palatable form.   If this is to be a traditional, medieval wedding (otherwise Sir Owl would cancel and have me horse whipped for wasting his time) we need, in recognition of my mixed European origins, mead, Bärenfang, and elderberry wine to augment the fermented palm sap and iced ganga tea cocktails on offer here.  I am sure that he and John Gray would get along famously as they are both fascinated by queens.  In addition, Marcia is pretty religious so a secular ceremony wouldn’t do but I would want it at least to be ecumenical rather than wholly Roman Catholic.  Swing over to Ian’s blog and take a look.  I could mark him down as the duty Rabbi, couldn’t I?

Who else?  Well, Megan of course.  The Bitch on the Blog, Ursula, claims Megan is really my mother but then she also claims to have seen Elvis shopping in Tesco’s as recently as last Tuesday.  Ursula’s blog should really be called ‘Mad Teutonic Bitch on the Blog’ and while at first I hesitated to include her because Marcia just would not understand the necessity for me to give her the shagging she so evidently desperately needs in international arrivals, I am sure she would be wonderful as after dinner entertainment when Mr. Bananas locks her up in a cage on the lawn along with the gate crashing baboons allowing guests to bet on the outcome.  I know where I will be placing my money.  A quick tip, if Ursula buttonholes you, drink copious quantities of iced ganga tea, it won’t hurt as much.  Megan will be the voice of calm reason and will probably get on well with Mr. Bananas passing the time discussing the rather odd way naked apes start to behave when exposed to intoxicants.  In an emergency, I warn you, Megan packs a blade and knows how to use it.  Promiscuous sailors have girlfriends in every port.  Megan has a rather gruesome collection harvested from over amorous and now emasculated men from every port.  Megan and Mr. Bananas, together with Bambi Basher will, I am sure, have every aspect of security covered.

Although Mr Bananas would, as head of protocol, sort out the seating plan, I would urge him to place the Fifth Columnist and the Sarcastic Ninja on the same table, though not within arm’s length of each other.  I am sure the conversation would be both lively and entertaining.  When it comes to critiquing art, Ninja San suffers from Coprolalia, whereas Fifth Columnist is appalled at the mere mention of dust on his urns.  If I can avoid the magnetic attraction of the waitresses, I shall try to spend time at their table.

Until recently, Chris of Grow, Fish Eat, held the distinction of being the only blogger to have two of his blogs listed on my site.  Sadly, and for reasons I do not understand but genuinely hope were not traumatic, he lost his title of Master Bee Keeper by failing to post on Bees Make Honey for so long, the Royal Commission had no choice but to strip him of that honour and award it to Mr. Morley the Rabbi instead.  I hope there will be no ill feeling there but, just in case, I will with the utmost servility (rolling over on my back to expose my belly, throat and genitals), advise Mr. Bananas to seat the two of them on separate tables.  There can be no suggestion, however, that Chris is not THE Cecil B DeMille of blog videos and competitions.  I am sure that, suitably armed with his video camera, he would capture the less formal, human side of the festivities such as Ursula dominating the baboons and teaching them to harmonize to Lili Marlene or me breaking the all-time record of vow- to-divorce by goosing the waitresses.
George from The Flee and Float gets an invite too.  There is so such thing as a free meal so he will understand when I ask him to catch the fish course using his incredibly fine hand-made floats.  Perhaps he could make a few big ones so that we can try shark fishing with Ursula (as live bait) once she has finished the baboons off.

Just recently, I stumbled across a blog by the rather exotically named Mr. Alviti.  This is a name straight out of a Graham Greene novel or a collection of short stories by W. Somerset Maugham.  (Head of SIS speaking: ‘Tom, I would like to introduce you to Mr. Alviti, he is Our Man in Havana’.  This said in sonorous, respectful tones while the air around is suddenly scented by the aroma of the secretaries knickers spontaneously combusting).  Really cool until you learn his first name is Ken.  Why spoil an outstanding surname like Alviti (quickly smoke about half a dozen Capstan Full Strengths while thinking of Eartha Kitt and then say it…  Alviti) with a first name like Ken?  Just think if he had been born a girl?  His name would, I daresay, have been Barbie.   Barbie Alviti. 

Action Man, I mean Ken, is a worker of wood and, if you look through his blogs, quite an accomplished one.  He is also, like me, trying to live as self-sufficiently as possible.  I hope he is doing so out of choice and not the necessity that being skint imposes although, having seen that the only footwear he can provide his baby daughter are a couple of plastic bags, I fear it may be the latter.  He also looks a bit ‘ard so he gets an invite so long as he is willing to provide a bit of free retina surgery with his undoubtedly finely manicured chisels on those blind gits calling themselves carpenters currently working on my site.  Big Don Alviti (Ken to his closest Made Men) is now the man with two blog links on my site. Honestly, it was an offer I could not refuse.  Exactly how do you make brawn out of a horse’s head by the way?  I’ll ask cook. 

If you are into carpentry and trying to live the good life, Ken’s blog is one to follow.

Why all this talk about weddings suddenly?  Well, follow my reasoning.   My decree absolute came through nearly a year ago (gosh, how time flies; must buy myself a watch and save on airfares) so now Marcia, the longtime girlfriend has been encouraging me to ’commit mant’.  Commit what?  I Googled Mant and all I got was ‘half man, half ant’.  It sounds bloody awful and whatever it is and however you achieve it, I don’t fancy it.  I suppose I am just like the next bloke and enjoy a bit of kinky sex once in a while but which bits of me does she want ant-like?  Jeez, I could have understood her desire more if she had said that she wanted parts of my anatomy donkey-like but ant-like? 

Do you think if I married her she would forget all about me having to commit mant?

With apologies to Matt and the Daily Telegraph