Thursday, 7 February 2013


Dare I say that we are looking close to the completion of the build?  Well, there it is, I've said it and mention it only because I realise I need to chase up the bits that will transform it from a building into a restaurant.

Many of you epicures will have noticed that one of the many things distinguishing a restaurant from a street side hot dog stand is furniture.  Restaurants do need a lot of furniture.  I need 24 tables and 96 chairs just to get going.  You can imagine my horror, therefore, when a cursory search of all the usual suspects revealed that a 60x60 cm table and four chairs all made of the flimsiest stained matchwood was all I could find for under a grand.  Yes, a thousand of your United States green backs.  I did a quick mental calculation, then a longer one before my brain overheated but I knew that I would have to serve a hell of a lot of meals just to cover the costs of the chairs my clients bums were parked on, always assuming the chairs on offer hadn't collapsed before they had paid for themselves..

I know what I want for the furniture,  I want simple, but sturdy ladderback chairs and tables 100x100cms to give my clients some elbow room and space for all their plates, glasses and tureens full of delicious food.  The tables need to be tough enough so that even the most hamfisted client can bang his beerstein on the table with gusto.  In keeping with the rustic style of the building, they should be of solid wood (I always think a decent table setting looks far nicer arranged on a polished wood surface than a table cloth) and heavy enough not to be shaken or even stirred by the clumsy. I don't want anything fancy, I am a leg-at-each-corner man so I want it simple-stupid, robust but elegant in its simplicity.    Having explained all that to the salesman, he wished me Good Luck before moving off to push his trying to sell overpriced tat to another prospective client.

I have to confess, I was jolly irritated.  Seasoned African hardwoods used to be one of this country's finest agricultural exports so where has it all gone?  I suppose a few trees did get knocked down or blown up during the war but with a timber industry stopped dead in its tracks, the rest of the trees must have done what they were supposed to and carried on growing.  The war has been over for ten years so why can I only buy flimsy rubbish imported from Asia?

Then I remembered I had a few secret weapons in my arsenal.  I have a bunch of hand tools.  I have a planer/thicknesser.  I have a router.  I have a Mitre Saw.  I also have a good man to put on the end of them.  So why not buy the rough timber on the local market and start from scratch?

Marcia tends to get worried if she sees me suddenly enthusiastic as it usually ends up costing us a lot of money, if only to get me out of jail, but I was sure we could do this.

I am still trying to decide how I want to do the seats (I rather like the idea of a solid wood seat rather than upholstered) but see what you think about the ladder back chairs so far...

Bit of space needed to plane all the wood
Quite a pile of shavings but they will be good mixed into the sandy soil along with a load of goat poo. 
I think Charlie, the dog, has just deposited his contribution.
A covered area for the finer work.  Note the high quality benches...
...and the latest in wood working tools...
Lots of repetitive cutting, sanding and gluing
Followed by component assembly
And the (almost) finished product starts to roll off the assembly line.
With solid wood seats, the clients will sit uncomfortably on their full wallets and will seek to empty them...
(their wallets, not their seats, God forbid).
We also do doors.  Both panelled...
...and with glass.  Except we haven't put the glass in yet.
Personally, I am quite pleased.  We are fabricating everything on site now and with a bit of sanding and finishing, it will look great.  Cost per chair?  About ten dollars.

I was feeling a bit crook this morning so only made it to the site around midday having fed Alex (he is way improved from the recent shock he gave us and scoffed his omlette AND mine so I went hungry rather than eat Marcia's as she had been on the site since morning and would have chiselled my eyeballs out if I failed to bring her lunch on site).  As we were sitting there, Marcia sharing her food (not only the omlette I had brought her but fresh bread and sardines in olive oil she had scored from the Comuna) with a still ravenous Alex while I sucked sulkily on a beer, a guy pulled up and asked for permission to come onto the site.  'No problems', I said, 'I can do with any kind of company that doesn't require me to watch people eating.  You wouldn't happen to have a Mars Bar on you?  No? Never mind.'.  He didn't get the joke but most Angolans think I am a bit weird anyway.  If I was in England, I'd be sectioned.

He was politely enthusiastic as I showed him the house.  He executed a very credible impression of someone awed by my well full of fresh water and agreed it was better than bottled mineral water but when he saw the chairs he became suddenly very businesslike.

'Where do you get these from?' He asked.  To be honest, it was more of a demand and, given that I was both liverish and hungry, I was glad I had not been pinned to the wall and beaten with a rubber hose.  After all, he had arrived in a brand new Landcruiser with a police escort so was clearly a man of means.  Just how mean he could be was not something I was keen to test.

'I make them', I volunteered.  Given that almost anything you do in Angola could be considered a crime, such a confession could be suicidal.  So where did you get the wood from?  A tree.  Would this be the sacred tree of the Kimbundas?

'How much for a chair?' he said.

I cast my eyes (they almost focused) over to Marcia for help but saw her stuffing sardines on toast down Alex's throat saying, 'Coochy Coo litttle boy, just one more little aeroplane', so I knew I was on my own.

'For a bulk order with hardwood seats, a hundred bucks each', I said.  C'mon, I was really hungry by then.

'How quickly can you deliver two hundred?'

'Two hundred?!!!'  Think Steve McQueen in the Great Escape.

Looks like I am in the furniture business,


  1. Is this chap going to use the chairs to hit six-inch spiders with?

    Have to agree wholeheartedly with you - why does this planet build tat and crap instead of doing as you have done and building nuclear-bunker quality stuff to last? When I am officially crowned Ming the Merciless, Ruler of Earth I'll have bloody industry turning out mahogany and brass Dyson vacuum cleaners and cars with starting handles again.

    I was in a similar position in '95 - needed sixty large free-standing easels to support large paintings. Took one look at the prices and more importantly at the quality and built 'em myself. Remember putting the last coats of stain on the last ones the evening before their first exhibition, at about midnight ...

    Those chairs look like good, honest, proper chairs.

    1. I guess that's why the antiques market is doing so well, Sir Owl, people are beginning to realise that quality easily surpasses modern convenience. That's why I would never buy a new car. Frankly, if you rely on a 'collision avoidance system' perhaps you shouldn't be driving in the first place.

      If you are ever crowned, I shall flash by Owl Towers and do a Gay Gordon if that's what it takes to be appointed your Adjutant.

      The chairs are solid and heavy enough to leave an impression on anyone's mind should there be a bar fight.

  2. Hmmm, what's his game? It'd be my luck that he was putting in a restaurant that would draw my business to his, with me building the chairs for it.

    1. I have never been afraid of competition, Barbee. In fact, we could do with a few more restaurants here (I am actually building two, an A La Carte place called Fat Hippo's and Marcia's shop which will offer cafe style food). The more we have here, the better as it will encourage people from the city to come here knowing that there is a very good chance they will get fed rather than the current situation where so many are turned away. Rather than be bothered about assisting the competition, I would derive satisfaction that I was earning out of his business as well as my own!

  3. You'd think there would be a surplus of craftsmen in a country where most people work with their hands. Your chairs are lovely pieces of work, sounds like you'll be busy for a while.

    1. Sadly here, artisan means crude. They have the materials but few are willing to pay for the extra hours involved in turning out something nice. Don't forget that few here have electricity and even fewer can afford the investment in power tools.

      According the the World Bank, average annual income for an Angolan is US$3,830. I will pay this guy $1500 per month as he does what I tell him and has the skill, the finesse. But, I am going to have to invest about $50K to set up a permanent workshop and then buy a chunk of land on which we can store timber and season it properly before processing. If it works, it should provide direct employment to a dozen at least and indirect employment to those cutting the timber, transporting it etc. And if people start to buy goods locally manufactured from local renewable resources, it should help the country's balance of payments. It is just an idea but one I am becoming fond of.

  4. Almost every time you come up smelling like roses. Or nicely sawn wood.

    1. Maybe God thinks that Alcoholic Recluses deserve the occasional break as well!

  5. You want to hope that this guy buying the chairs won't read your blog or he'll see your mark up!
    The chairs look good and solid. I like them, I hate it when people try to make things too complicated, simple design is normally best (unless we're talking about womans underwear where I like a few frills).
    As for your tools I have the same "blue chip" marples chisels from whhen I started and still use them to this day. Don't have a machette yet though...

    1. Seriously, Big Don 'Mad' Alviti, I'd have made a good Captain for you, we think the same way and I can take a guy's kneecap out at twenty paces.

      When it comes to explaining the mark up, that's easy. I'll just suggest he finds another supplier. Sure, once other entrepreneurs cotton on I might have some competition but I bet they haven't got fire insurance...

      Simple stupid is always the best except, and once again we are on the same playing field, when it comes to lingerie, although I subscribe to the Brazilian maxim, 'menos e mais', less is more.

      Joking aside, Big Don, I don’t want to varnish them. Here they produce something that looks great and then they daub it with dripping sticky varnish. I would rather use something akin to wiping a cricket bat down with linseed oil. I will take all the advice you can give me.

    2. I always go with oil if I can. Boiled linseed oil is my favourite as it's cheap, smells great and gives good protection. Although the old matra of an oiled finished is never finished does spring to mind! Make sure it is boiled linseed oil you go for or it takes ages for it to dry.

    3. You can use any oil like rape seed etc(except olive oil which goes rancid) the nut oils are pretty good as they harden as they dry.

    4. Linseed oil. I wonder if I can persaude anyone to hand carry a gallon out from UK?

      I just whizzed down to the shop. We have olive oil, of course, but we also have Refined Deodorized Palm Oil with Anti-Oxidants for cooking. Would that work? I could always stand the chairs and tables in the sun for a bit. Would such an oil mix well with a bit of thinners so it really soaks in?

      I think I shall try it on an offcut and see what happens.

      Thanks Kev. Especially in this neck of the woods I really appreciate someone who takes time out to give me a bit of sensible advice.

  6. I salute your talents. Is there no end to them, I wonder? Initially I misread your post and thought you were irritated by all the chairs and tables costing one thousand dollars, but I see you mean for a set. For the sort of thing you are looking for, that does indeed seem over the top, which you have proved, (except I don't suppose you've factored in your time and sweat). My time and sweat are very expensive, so a set, even if I knew how to hammer in a nail straight, would be about ten thousand dollars, and the resultant piece of artwork, (for it would indeed resemble that more than a chair or table), would make the wood working equivalent of Damien Hurst proud. (Personally I think his "art" is a load of tosh, but I digress.)

    Whilst the temptation is to make the 200 chairs for the passing landcruiser chappie, are you not being sidetracked for your own restaurant requirements? Perhaps they are not so immediate as a twenty thousand dollar cash injection. I hope you take at least a 50% deposit, and get the other 50% before you make the second hundred. Or preferably cash up front for all 200.

    1. Columnist, since you appear to be a shrewd no-nonsense businessman: What's with the turnover? At those prices who'd buy your precious sets? Most certainly not Hippo.

      However, Tom, Columnist has hit on a fabulous idea how to enhance the culinary experience Chez Hippo: Tiny little phials with a few drops of your freshly bottled manly sweat. The perfect after dinner gift for the ladies.

      And yes, Columnist, I agree with you: If Damien Hirst were a fully blown up balloon I'd prick him.


    2. My time and sweat, Fifth Columnist? My time and sweat consists of driving a couple of kilometres, struggling manfully with a cool box loaded with cocktail ingredients to haul it out of the truck, order a labourer to carry it to the verandah so I can set myself up comfortably to issue instructions.

      Expanding my business only requires the employment of the requisite number of extra natives.

      I shudder to think what your mark up would be on the ‘Arty Chair’ but, just as I do not begrudge Hurst for using his wit to secure a comfortable living selling tat, I admire your ability to turn over quality art for a richly deserved profit. I perhaps cannot carry myself as confidently as a jet-setting male model art dealer so I asked for a 40% deposit, another twenty once the client saw the raw product and the last 40% prior to delivery.

      Ursula. Please, I beg you, take your medicine. Either that or climb on the British Airways flight direct to Luanda so that I can give you a healthy dose of what you really need, you barking mad teutonic bitch. Seriously, Ursula, once I am open I will be very upset if you do not come to visit me. In the meantime, leave my nice friends alone, they are hard to come by and I don't have many. Unlike you, they are sane.

  7. That's how business empires are born. I must say, I'm very impressed by your chairs; I'm about to equip my barn with a very long home-made table, but have decided on accompanying BENCHES..... so much easier.

    1. Benches are a great idea in a place like yours, a sort of medieval hospitality. Here, sadly, it's best to break them up into small, easier to control groups. I am talking about the expats of course...

  8. Might I be the first person to point out the error with your chairs. Now, I am prone to making things myself. I built the kitchen table that currently resides in our dining room, I cobbled together the Idiot Greenhouse, the Idiot Beds and a set of bedroom furniture. I am in the process of designing a meat-curing cabinet.

    I know the difference between a tenon saw and a coping saw, I can look at materials and know what TPI a saw needs to give a clean cut, I know which end of a nail to hit, and I enjoy the smug satisfaction of knowing that a torx head screw will go in and out for years to come without rounding off.

    If there's a tool to do a job that I need to do, I have it. I have my tools, many of the my now decased father's tools, and tools of his father before him.

    Therefore, I am fairly certain when I tell you this small fact, this one thing that shows you haven't done the job thoroughly. Indeed, it is a rookie mistake, but one that hopefully, with time and patience, you will learn to overcome.

    Here's your basic error.

    All the legs are fucking straight!

    1. AND the chairs don't wobble meaning I have somehow accidentally made the legs all straight AND the same length. As an oft reader of my blog I know you are aware of my predeliction for distilled grain so I will put my error down to being under the influence. Again.

  9. Well done indeed, sir. I guess you'll be the Chairman of the Board of this new operation!

    1. Chairman of the Board, Ninja San? Fat chance! Marcia is and always will be in charge but, as a shareholder, I am comfortable with that. Besides, it's not often that one gets to shag the boss every night.

      From you, however, I need ideas for suitable paintings to adorn the walls of the restuarant. The recently displayed one on your blog, 'Dangerous Cooks' might be pushing the envelope though.

  10. I alway take a deep breath and steel myself for whatever your new post brings: what disaster, epiphany, conspiracy, miracle, mayhem, absurdity or some other fresh hell will I find? You should have the kind of pre-page that Google has with the link [I'M FEELING LUCKY...]. and should I click it? Honestly, I think I've got whiplash. LOL

    Your woodwork is wonderful! Your design - simple, classic. I don't know what kind of wood you are using, but I love the grain. You've got some real talent there (yourself & your crew). I'll side with columnist - get a good deposit up front.

    Also, it might be a good idea to design an identifying label/signature marker to add to your work.

    That way when someone, somewhere (your's or another well-appointed establishment) is lying on the floor, dazed and confused, he (for certainly not a she) can look up from under the furniture, discern the artist who's sturdy (and locally made) construction so effortlessly rearranged the shape of his cranium, will take a moment to nod a painful salute to your brilliant handiwork and then, comforted, knowing it took the best to bring him down, slips into unconsciousness.

    Yep. Sounds like a good advertisement to me. ;-D

    1. Wonderfully amusing comment.

      I have to say, though, having laid myself to rest on many a bar floor having been bested by a better man on the end of sturdy furniture, not once did I notice a manufacturer's label. On occasion, I did notice the make of boot driving into my face, usually Caterpillar or Doc Marten (I much preferred the air soles of the Doc Marten's by the way) so I shall have to print large a Fat Hippo logo on the underside of the chair, the last thing one usually sees before the legs crash into one's skull.


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