Monday 29 April 2013

Watch With Mother (I mean watch with John Gray).

For whatever reason, we have lost all the BBC Children's channels.    It has been like this for over a week. Naturally Alex has been pretty frustrated.  He likes Charlie and Lola.  He loves Shaun the Sheep (I do too) and he likes 'Mr Maker' (utter shit in my opinion, an ultra cheap version of Blue Peter).  So I had to do something.
I was sure there were ways of making videos and posting them.  Everyone else seems to be able to do it so surely I could master a skill iindigenous to the masses.
Obviously, inept as I was, I needed something to keep my boy's face in front of the hitherto unused web cam built into my laptop lest my viewers decided they were not so much volunteers in this experiment as victims staring at my bemused visage.  As I fiddled with the system I realised it was possible to have the web cam little thingy with the green eye above the screen active while looking at other stuff on the screen below its all seeing eye.  Ha ha.
It is tough to get a four year old to stand in front of a green light peering at him from the top of a laptop screen.  Bugger me, having figured out moving digital pictures thus far, I was as bored shitless as the boy especially considering I was shirtless and dirty having just lugged a dead generator off the truck and onto a bit of hard standing so that I could sort it out.
There was no way he was going to waste time talking to his reflection on a screen.  With the digital satellite system dead, what I needed was 'Watch with Mother' internet style.   It was a very close call.  I tended towards Cro Magnon.  Surely the boy would go nuts over HMS Dangerous?  Nope.  All I did was pull up opening pages of blogs and let him choose.  Guess which page we finallly discusssed here?

I think I glossed over the boy's kissing boys bit fairly well.

Sunday 28 April 2013

True Grit – What’s Your Definition?

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, CVO, OBE FRGS
Look at his grim expression.  He suffered from True Grit.  It could be jolly painful (but chaps didn't discuss that) and in Victorian times, other than awfully long walks of the kind that made you miss tea, Ascot, Henley and the Debs coming out, there was no cure.

I read with interest an article published in today’s Independent explaining how US psychologists have identified ‘True Grit’ as a distinctive personality trait.  Good Lord, really?

No doubt after years of highly funded research they have determined that "People high in grit are more passionate about their goals and more dedicated to accomplishing them, so the importance of success should be higher for gritty people."  That and soft toilet paper.  After all, a diet of grit must be wearing on the old sphincter.

“According to academic studies gritty adults achieve higher education results, gritty kids spell better and gritty military cadets are more likely to graduate with honours from elite military academies.”

Let me get this straight.  Gritty adults achieve higher education results?  Adults? Grittty adults achieve higher education results?  Send me back to school for my fifty-fourth birthday and I'd cream my Eleven Plus exam.

I think this is all codswallop.  All they have done is re-identified character traits such as intelligence, focus and desire to succeed.  Plenty of people have these qualities yet lack ‘grit’.

“Researchers in the United States believe it is the reason why among groups of equal intelligence, some people achieve more.”

What they are suggesting is that success and grit are linked.  I achieved Cadet Government at Sandhurst, an institution which by the author’s loose definition could be considered an elite Military Academy, placing me in the top 5%.  On my Returning Officer’s Course at the same academy I won a Director of Studies award and at the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham, I came top of my entry yet at school, I was as thick as two short planks and failed my ‘A’ Levels.  Having been rubbish at school but having done rather well at an ‘elite’ military academy, does this mean ‘grit’ can be acquired? Clearly I did not have it as a teenager but seemed to have it in bucketloads in my early twenties.  Can it be ground into the heads of cadets in some way?   Hitherto useless could I suddenly achieve outstanding success by rubbing grit into my eyeballs or even going so far as to eat it?  Do Americans really eat ‘Grits’ for breakfast?   If so, then it debunks the theory that it is a distinct, genetically acquired personality trait already identifiable or deniable in a child’s ability to spell. 

The report seems to suggest that people are born with ‘grit’.  I am suggesting that it is more to do with circumstance and experience.  Are we saying that all the richest people in the world have True Grit?  Are we saying that the least successful in the world lack this useful quality?

Unquestionably, being determined is a facet of True Grit and many successful people are so because of their single minded focus but just being determined doesn’t endow the individual with True Grit.  The vast majority of people are successful because they were simply very good at their jobs; they were clever and may have studied hard.  Some were blessed with good fortune or a damn good idea, being in the right place at the right time. Do they have True Grit? 

How many intelligent, successful people have stepped out of their upper floor office windows just because their business had failed?  Did they have True Grit other than that they acquired gratis as their bodies slammed into the pavement?  All those people who accepted Fate’s poisoned chalice and in desperation drunk deep, meekly accepting their fate, did they have True Grit?

True Grit is born out of adversity and failure.  True Grit is having your teeth kicked in and your face ground into the dirt yet being able to get up, dust yourself off and start again. True Grit is the timorous lad who suddenly rushes out into withering enemy fire to rescue a fallen comrade.  The poorly rewarded who freely give of themselves to the service of others have True Grit.  The otherwise unremarkable individual who, suffering some terrible calamity, rebuilds his life against all odds, he has True Grit.  Children fighting debilitating disease, they have True Grit.  The thick, uneducated Private soldier on duty at a railway station in Northern Ireland all those years ago who threw himself onto a parcel bomb thrown into the concourse and minimized the blast with his own body saving countless lives, he had True Grit.

Yes, determination is an essential characteristic of those who possess True Grit but I do not think success is necessarily a measure of it.  As I have suggested, even a moron can stumble across success and geniuses so often blow it.  Success is fickle.  Grit is something else entirely and has fuck all to do with intelligence, success, genes, money, satus or the lack of it. 

Shackleton was spectacularly unsuccessful but no-one would deny he had True Grit.  Clearly he was driven.  He wanted to cross the Antarctic from sea to sea and raised the funding to mount an expedition.  It was his goal, his dream, his reason.  But what he wasn’t prepared to do was sacrifice the lives of his men chasing it when it all started to go wrong.  Not only did he have the True Grit to consign his raison d’être to unfavorable history and return home, not as a success to be lauded by xenophobic press, but as a failure suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, he was more concerned about saving his men trapped on unforgiving ice and embarked on an epic, and to this day, unsurpassed feat of leadership, seamanship, navigation and personal endurance to bring them all home. 

I think there are other qualities of True Grit not mentioned or measured by our esteemed American academicians:

Honesty, Integrity, Compassion and Self Sacrifice.

Blimey.  I've stumbled across the Four Pillars of Leadership.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Some of God's Creatures Deserve to Die

A fluffy little bastard

The Idiot Gardener has just posted about his frustration with domestic cats defecating in and destroying his seed beds.

I am not sure it is enshrined in our unwritten constitution but the basic right of any UK resident to keep pets appears inalienable.  The society to prevent cruelty to animals, the RSPCA, is a Royal society whereas the society to prevent cruelty to children is only a national society (NSPCC).  It’s quite bizarre really.  Not a year goes by without at least one child being mauled to death by someone’s cuddly little pet and dozens of others being scarred for life. Within the last few months, two children were even mauled by foxes in the ‘safety’ of their own cots.  Yet libertarians howl in rage at the suggestion we should return to dog licences, the tagging of pets and good old fashioned fox hunting.  They would go berserk at the idea of the ordinary citizen being able to blow them off their lawns.

I have, of course, merely cited a fraction of the most extreme consequences of keeping carnivores with a genetically coded hunting instinct as pets and no longer being able to rid the countryside, and increasingly our urban areas free of dangerous vermin.  I can legally buy, and place around my property, rat poison.  Rodents are scavengers and survivors.  They will eat a tiny bit of something and see if there are any ill effects.  If there aren’t, they will tuck in.  So rat poison has to be firstly attractive enough for the rats to eat, and then slow acting enough, usually two weeks, so the rats, lulled into a false sense of epicurean security, tuck in and  eat a lethal dose.  It is a horrible death.  The poison is an anti-coagulant and the victim slowly and incredibly painfully bleeds to death.  Their intestines disintegrate.  They defecate oily black blood and their eyes bleed.  They rot from the inside out.  It is a slow, miserable, messy and lonely death.  Most decent people don’t like to think about the details when they lay down the poison but, let’s face it, a rat in the house is terrible. A single rat dropping can close a restaurant and an infestation can bankrupt a farm.

A dead rat that died a miserable death
And yet under UK/RSPCA law, if I caught a rat with my bare hands and ripped its head off killing it instantly, which I have done on numerous occasions, I would be liable to prosecution especially if I posted on U Tube a short video entitled ‘How to Catch a Rat With Your Bare Hands and Kill it Instantly By Ripping It’s head off (Warning, Graphic Content)’.  I am sure the RSPCA would also bring in a prosecution if I happened to film one of my dogs cornering a rat in my shop and tearing it to shreds.  But it is OK to poison rats.  And it is perfectly OK for cats to wander into their owner’s home and drop the little present of a dead mouse on the carpet or the corpse of a little bird robbed off the feeding table.

The Idiot Gardener  has his bit of God’s earth and is determined to suck out of it all Mother Nature, her fertile erogenous zones suitably tickled by spade, compost and liberally applied seed, can be tempted to offer.  He travels the country in search of the Holy Grail of seeds, be they potatoes, onions, herbs, spices, exotic tobacco, no matter.  The back of 34 Winsome Gardens will be the Shangri-La he has worked his whole life for and invested in.  One day he will lie there supine on a deckchair surrounded by the aroma of home grown combustible intoxicants and fruiting healthy vegetables knowing that the mortgage and school fees are paid.   

Instead his neighbor’s cats shit and piss all over his effort and dig over his beds.  Yet if, while sitting on his stoep, he put down his ice cold Gin and Tonic, shouldered his properly licensed shotgun and blew a neighbor’s cat defecating on his radishes to smithereens, he would be prosecuted.  If IG collected all the cat poo dumped in his garden and shoved it through the letter boxes of their respective owners, he would be prosecuted.  If he trespassed on his neighbor’s property and laid an enormous, charcuterie induced walnut whip in the middle of their lawn, he would be prosecuted.  If he dug up their flower and vegetable beds, if he pissed on everything in sight, if he had wild and noisy sex on the roofs of their conservatories and sheds in the middle of the night, he would be sectioned.

My father had a wire haired Dachshund that used to lie in wait concealed in the shrubbery surrounding the bird feeder.  Beppo caught and killed seven cats and one fox in total before the surviving cats learnt to stay away.  My father would quietly bury the evidence and even managed to look sympathetic while denying to distraught owners having seen their little tinkerbell recently.  Sadly, neither Beppo nor my Father are with us anymore but I am sure my Father would have happily lent Beppo to IG for a couple of weeks.  The difficulty would be if IG’s garden was overlooked by neighbors.  Beppo had mastered the art of stealth but still had a lot to learn when it came to the technique of killing silently.

The area surrounding my last house in Benfica was infested with cats so feral even my dog was frightened of them.  After little Alex was bitten and scratched by one that had entered the house, I borrowed a high powered .22 air rifle and shot every cat I saw.  A .22 air rifle is not enough to drop a cat dead in its tracks but if they didn't die a lonely, miserable death and survived instead, they learnt not to come near my property anymore.  I suppose for the people IG describes, cats make nice pets but to me, like foxes and rats, they are vermin.  I had turned my garden from desert to oasis.  When I bought the land it was little more than desiccated scrub infested with the lice from the goats that grazed there.  There were no birds, no wildlife whatsoever except rats.  I planted trees and exotic shrubs, flowers and herbs.  I irrigated and within a few years, the birds came back.  They nested in the new trees, under the eaves of my house, even bats moved in, snatching moths and other insects midair and drinking water off the surface of the pool on the fly.  The garden was truly a very pleasant place to sit and I was proud of it.  Then the cats came back, robbing the nests, raiding the house and intimidating both children and my dogs.  They dug up my seed trays and shit and pissed all over the place.  Had I been seen in UK shooting a cat off my asparagus tips, I would have been prosecuted.  Had I, instead of shooting the cat, sought damages from its owner, I would have been laughed out of court.  But this was Angola.  So I shot them.

When I moved down here to the Barra de Kwanza, we again had a rat infestation.  They were everywhere, they chewed all my computer and electrical cables.  They got into the drawers of my desk and chewed up my paperwork.  They chewed our clothes and the stink, it was dreadful.  They even ran over us in bed at night.  I put down poison, but since all poison looks like an enticing sweetie for a toddler, we could only place some in the spaces inaccessible to a child. 

Finally, I persuaded Marcia to overcome her phobia and allow me to introduce African House Snakes into the house.  They are not venomous, they are constrictors, grow to a metre in length but are no thicker than your thumb.  They leave no discernable piles of poo, need no looking after and keep themselves to themselves.  In other words, ideal house guests.  Marcia missed the point entirely when she ridiculed the idea saying that there was no way such a snake could kill a rat.  She was desperately, flushed with horror at the idea of live snakes crawling under the bed, trying to scotch the idea but also quite correct, such a snake could not take on and kill an adult rat.  What it can do is kill babies.  It finds rat's nests and gobbles up future generations.  Since I introduced snakes into our humble accommodation, we have no rats or mice and the dogs do an excellent job of keeping cats, goats and pigs away.  I do like natural solutions to natural problems.  I no longer need to lace house and countryside with poison or blast God’s inedible furry little creatures away with my rifle, I am just allowing nature to take its very satisfactory course.

Well I have rambled on a bit, all the time hoping that a solution to IG’s problem would pop into my head.  If he doesn’t have a dog like Beppo and doesn’t want the responsibility owning a dog entails, his easiest solution is denied him.  Since cats are quite large, relative to rat’s babies, if he chose the reptile route, he would need a pretty healthy sized constrictor but they tend to slither off if left unattended and would really upset the neighbours if they ate the wrong kind of baby. 

So, quite frankly, I am at loss.  He can’t shoot domestic cats, it’s against the law.  He can’t put down poison; that is indiscriminate and, therefore irresponsible.  The snake option isn’t one he can coil his mind around.  If he electrifies his boundary fences and a burglar cooks himself, he’ll be on a manslaughter charge.  If he lays gin traps and is in any way like me, he’ll forget where he laid them until he finds himself in A&E after a weeding session.  And yet pet owners, unless their animal mauls someone half to death, are largely immune from any claim for compensation.  There is a planting season.  If someone’s ball of fur comes along just as the green shoots are sprouting and digs the lot up, that’s it for a year.  And what would the owner and the RSPCA say?  Well, animals will be animals, it’s only natural.

Armex Sniper
150lb compound crossbow

With FREE Walther competition red dot sight!

Possibly the best quality and value for money compound crossbow available in the UK.

"Yes, yes.  But will it kill cats?"

The only thing I can suggest, IG, is a cross bow with broad heads fitted to the quarrels.  Crossbows are silent and a broad head will kill a cat pretty much instantly (so long as you can shoot straight) but please avoid practicing in your overlooked back garden in daylight.  Neighbours are nosey, tend to gossip and stupid as they can be sometimes, are often  able to put two and two together.  Also, a 150lb bow can send a quarrel a long way and it will easily punch a hole through a pine lap garden fence so think about where the quarrel will end up once it has ripped its way through the cat eviscerating it in the process.
Oh yes.  These will kill cats.
Photos courtesy of
Of course I didn't ask them first and given the enormous disclaimer on their site regarding the legality of bow hunting in UK, I am positive they would not condone slotting neighbour's cats.
Please remember. Hunting with bows and crossbows is illegal in the U.K. !!!! 
But can be so satisfying.
(OK, I added that last bit myself)

Go on, IG, I KNOW you are tempted....

So You Want to Walk the Streets at Night?

Luanda once used to be known as the Nice of the West African coast.  The city surrounded a huge natural port so beautifully positioned; strategically, economically and aesthetically that the Dutch and the Portuguese fought over it.  The Portuguese, who eventually came out on top, created a wonderful boulevard, lined with palm trees and street side cafes.  The Fortaleza overlooking the Marginal as it was known was the spectacular start and finish for the Angolan Grand Prix, a race that formed part of the Springbock Series and saw famous European and American teams dueling it out during the European off season with the latest Ferraris, Fords and Porches racing through the streets of the city.  The Le Mans winning GT40’s were tested here.

Sadly, the city and more importantly its West African harbor and oil resources would be fought over again as America, itself a country born of revolution, made the same mistake it had with Cuba and failed to embrace the Angolan revolution.  The Angolans then made the same mistake as the Cubans and turned to the Soviet Union and the seeds for the proxy war were sown.  The war for Angolan independence started, officially, on the 4th of February 1961 and ended fourteen years later at 11 O’clock (at night) on the Eleventh day of the Eleventh month of 1975.  It should have been eleven in the morning but, being Africans, they were late.

Then the proxy war started.  America and South Africa supported and supplied the rebels, and the Soviet Union and Cuba supported the government.  Twenty seven years later, in 2002, the proxy war ended.  Over a million were dead, millions were displaced and starving, the country was littered with the dangerous detritus of war and the country’s infrastructure was trashed.  Luanda, a vibrant and beautiful city of two and a half million at independence was now groaning with an extra three and a half million refugees living in abject squalor.  Raw sewage ran down the streets and oozed across the shattered pavements of the once charming marginal and into Luanda Bay.  Where once families enjoyed evening strolls along a park like avenue lit by the many cafes and restaurants on one side and soothed by the sound of gently washing surf on the other, now only the foolhardy or the desperate ran the gauntlet of the many police and military checkpoints set up amongst the rubble in the total darkness of a capital city with no power and people willing to murder for a piece of bread.  Homeless children, many of them refugees fleeing the terrors of the interior and failing to hook up with family in the city, begged in the streets and slept in drains.  Girls as young as twelve prostituted themselves in order to feed their families and were eagerly devoured by some UN employees and other expatriates who flooded the city and frequented the illicit bars and nightclubs that sprang up in broken down buildings.  The black market flourished and armed car hi-jackings were a daily occurrence.  Not a night passed without the chatter of automatic weapons and the sight of little red comets of tracer streaking through the sky.  The stench of the place was unbelievable.   It wasn't just a horrible city, it was a desperate one which is far worse.

Eleven years after the war, things couldn’t be more different.  All the main roads have been repaired and new ones built.  Now we can say that the electricity, in the city at least, is more on than off.  I have lost count of the number of new hospitals, the airport has been refurbished, and the police are almost human.  Whereas before you were doomed whatever if they stopped you, now if you are bang on legal, they will wave you on with a salute and a smile and if you are only slightly illegal, it’s still open to reasonable negotiation.  It is all terribly civilized.

The Marginal is unrecognizable.  It has been widened.  They have rebuilt the bridge over to the Ilha and have obviously reclaimed a chunk of the bay.  Neatly trimmed grass grows between well laid pavement shaded by countless palm trees.  It is a three mile long park.  There are intersections connected by dual carriageways to get you there.  It is all quite astonishing. 

Naturally, it is not just the well-heeled who are attracted to the marginal and its restaurants and other diversions.  Anyone wishing to exchange the eye bleaching view of yet more apartment blocks from their own can quickly be sucking on an ice cream, happy family in tow, strolling down the marginal with a westward view towards Brazil only interrupted by the curvature of the Earth.

Sadly, the well thought out marginal attracts not only the honest citizen but the odd and the criminal.  Often, it is hard to distinguish between the two, I pity the police, but instead of family groups, this wonderful initiative, this public investment was being dominated by thugs and groups identifiable only by their dress.  Bleach blond Mohican haircuts and a tendency to dump litter as soon as they had evacuated the contents of their beer cans.  A willingness to square up to anyone who tried to pass through ‘their territory’.  Muggers, pickpockets. If you wanted drugs or a prostitute, this was the place to go and I am certain not what the city burghers had in mind when they made this enormous investment on behalf of their citizens.

Responsibility for sorting out this distressing state of affairs fell to the local Police Chief. Clearly the old technique of declaring more than three collected together as an illegal manifestation and machine gunning them all to death was no longer acceptable.  Equally he understood that arresting them all and consigning them to an overloaded court system would serve no purpose either. They’d be out of his cells in hours and by the time the case, even if it ever came to court, arrived in front of a beak, it would have cost the taxpayer a fortune and would be dismissed through lack of evidence.  He could, of course, ask his troops on the ground to keep moving them along but we are talking about a three kilometer long and very wide boulevard so it would be like trying to keep track of the letters in a frequently stirred bowl of alphabet soup.

So do you know what this guy did?  He sent a fleet of vehicles down the marginal after midnight and rounded up everyone who looked dodgy.  Now looking dodgy in Angola isn’t exactly a crime so he didn’t arrest them and throw them into cells.  What he did was have them driven 100 kms south of the city limits (which is bush) and dumped.  They then had to make their own way back to the city.  His argument, and let’s face it, questions were bound to be asked, was that if they were old enough to be out after midnight and cause problems, they were old enough for a bit of exercise.  If the police moved into a town centre in UK, rounded up anyone who looked ‘dodgy’ and took them for a one way ride into the countryside, it would cause outrage but I bet there would be plenty of long suffering citizens who would roundly applaud the man who ordered the operation.  And that’s exactly what happened here.  As a government official being interviewed on a government controlled TV station he wasn’t exactly given a hard time but his reasoning, if we ignore the basic human rights issue, was flawless and smoothly delivered to a wide eyed, slack jawed and largely delighted audience.  No-one was hurt, the court system wasn’t clogged with petty offenders; all that happened was that those citizens hell bent on inconveniencing other citizens were themselves inconvenienced.

No-one can deny the effectiveness of the initiative; once again it is a pleasure to stroll down the Marginal.  Maybe I have been here too long but try as I might, I can see bugger all wrong with this low cost zero tolerance approach.

Misbehave here and it could be a long walk home

Sunday 21 April 2013

School Fees. Are you prepared?

"Payment in installments for the uniforms?  You always have a nice little joke for me, Sir. 
I shall just invoice you at the end of the month as usual"

I spoke to Dominic yesterday morning before his exam.

'I did what you told me to do,' he said. 'I didn't revise last night and I slept with my books under my pillow,' he reminded me (oh yeah, THAT advice).

'I thought your exam was supposed to start at nine?' I asked him.

'The exams started at Nine, Daddy, but they are doing it by year. There's some younger boys ahead of me so I guess I will be starting in about an hour as I am Grade Nine'.

Crikey. I remember how nervous I used to be before an exam. Imagine pitching up all ready to go and then being told to get in a queue. An Embasssy with all its formality can hardly present an atmosphere conducive to calming the beating heart of a fourteen year old, never mind the poor nine year old who was wheeled in first.

'Well, good luck son, call me as soon as you have finished'

And so started the long wait.

Hours later, the phone rang.

'It was easy, Daddy!'


'Yup. Piece of cake!'

He babbled on, more enthusiastic than I had heard him in a long time but he was making no sense.

'Can I talk to your Mother, please Dominic?' I asked him.

'He did well then,' I said as Bina came onto the phone, 'but when do we get the official results?'

'Could be as soon as Tuesday but he did impress the interviewers'

'I thought if he passed he would be going to Portugal in September but he was babbling on about having to go there soon?'

'Ah, yes, I didn't realise that either,' Bina continued, 'this was just the first stage. If he passes this one he has to go to Portugal for final selection'.

Goodness, the poor sod, he wants this so bad and the agony drags on. 'And how long is that?'

'Four days'

FOUR DAYS! Four days to select kids for a school? And they have to fly in from Lusophone countries all over the world? For goodness' sake, that's tougher than the Regular Commission's Board.

'And his fees will need paying as soon as he is accepted'. Of course. The Portuguese are slow at everything except when it comes to receiving money.

'Can you get Dollars out of the country?' I asked Bina, 'you know I am still not a resident so I am having a few problems on that score'.  Right now I am trying to get a measly five grand out so I can bid on a bronze and I have until Tuesday to do it.  So far it is not looking good.

'No problems', she said, 'get the money to me as soon as you can. Have you renewed Dominic's UK passport?'

'Yes', I lied.

Now there's a rush job for me next week. I wonder if the British Embassy still sends all applications for new and replacement passports to South Africa? If so, I am deep, deep in the shit because that'll take bloody ages. And it isn't as if I can ask for any special favours having, as a recluse, steadily ignored the dwindling invitations to British Embassy functions over the last couple of years. Oh, woe is me. I doubt I even have a suit left I can stuff my corpulence into. And, I have just remembered, I gave my blazer away to Eddie because he needed one and I thought I wouldn't need it anymore. Bollocks. I am being dragged back into the real world.

'I'll have the money and passport dropped round sometime next week', I said at the same time rejecting the idea of asking my ex-wife to get the five grand out for the bronze lest she start asking about overdue maintenance payments.

'Apparently there is a recommended tailor in Lisbon who fits them out for their uniforms, once I have the list I shall send it to you'

'Yes, dear'.

I'll have to call Roddie to bring the car. There is no way I am driving all the way into the city. This'll take more than a day. I can't face the drive in and out of that hell hole two days on the trot so I'll need somewhere to overnight. Christ, I haven't been in the city for nearly three years. For two years I have never been further than three kilometres from the Barra de Kwanza. I know, I'll bunk with Klein. As he's a sixty three year old German bachelor, he won't try and drag me out on the town.

I don't know why, but I rang my Mother. I haven't spoken to her in, ooh, I don't know how long, Dominic must have been three or four so that is over ten years. I could not remember her telephone number so I had to look it up on the BT website. I kidnapped my son, got him out of Angola and tried to hand him over to my mother in UK who refused, so after a worldwide round trip, I eventually gave up in Cape Town and paid the consequences. Naturally, I lost custody of the boy and had to take a bit of a hard time from the authorities. There's a bit of history between my Mother and I as a result.

It's a long time since I rang a UK number but the ringtone is distinctive. Then a woman answered.

'I'm not sure if I have the right number', I said, 'I want to speak to a Mrs Gowans'


It didn't sound like my Mother so I thought I had better test the voice further.

'Do you have a son in Germany and one in Africa?'

'Who is this and what do you want?' she replied.

Well, that definitely sounded like my mother, thick German accent and all.

'It's Andy, your son', I said.

There was a pause.

'Andi? Wo bist du?'

I explained to her that I was still in Africa, that Dominic was trying for the Portuguese Military Academy, that little Alex was a horse of a man and that Marcia, the black girl she had refused to meet, the mother of the whore’s spawn, as she had described the issue of my loins, was lovely. She confesssed that she was seventy six and hated being old. We spoke for an hour. I had to recharge my phone another time with my last card and as I heard the beeps warning me even that charge was running out I explained my phone was about to die. I wasn’t hanging up on her, I had run out of credit.

‘I’m sorry’, she said, ‘tell Dominic…’ and the line was dead.

Today is Sunday.  All the shops are closed.  I cannot buy any more recharge cards until tomorrow unless I do a 140km round trip to the city.  Bugger that.

Was she sorry because my phone had run out of credit?  Was she merely about to be polite regarding my son’s exams?  Or was she sorry for letting me down when I turned up desperate with my little boy ten years ago begging for someone to look after him until I got myself organized?  Was she sorry that as a result I was condemned to stay in this truly awful place, not as a normal citizen but as an officially expelled undesirable staying here under licence with no rights whatsoever?  Was she about to finally acknowledge her half black grandson by wishing him good luck?

To be honest, I have more serious issues to deal with, starting with Dominic’s passport.  If he has breezed the exam as he seems to think he has, then I don’t want to be the one who lets him down because I was too bloody idle to renew it.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Oh Cock! He's grown up...

Dominic is fourteen years old and needs to go to a decent school.

Aged only four he learnt to ride a Yamaha PW 50.  Aged only nine he could drive my Range Rover and now he can drive my truck.  He is a demon on a jetski and knows how to handle a rifle safely and can comfortably hit what he aims at.  Just today we were discussing the Periodic Table of the Elements.  He explained to me that the most abundant element in the universe was iron and that, in fact, all life on earth depended on its iron core the motion of which providing as it did, the magnetic field that protected the planet's surface from solar radiation.  He went on to say that iron was the most stable element of the universe and all other elements either side of it on the Periodic Table tended to decay towards it.  He'd lost me by now.

'Dad, you did nuclear physics, you know all about decay!' he protested.

No, Son, I am old and sick, that's why I know all about decay I thought but, blimey, I was impressed.

But he is absolutely corrrect, of course.  Iron is the most abundant element and if our earth with its elliptical orbit wasn't constantly being massaged by the sun's gravitational pull creating internal friction, our liquid iron core would cool, denuding the magnetic field that so far has protected us from the mother of all storms, a solar one.  Solar winds, hitherto deflected would strip our atmosphere away and Earth would resemble Mars in no time.

Regular readers of this blog will know that the only reason I am still here is that I separated from Dominic's mother over ten years ago and, since she was Angolan, lost custody of him.  The only way I could have any influence on his development, therefore, was to give up my career and stay in Angola and take any shit job I could and just make the best of a generally bleak situation.  I call my blog 'A Hippo on the Lawn' but I subtitle it, 'Diary of an Involuntary Expatriate'.  I didn't choose to be here.  As far as I am concerned, I could easily do Life in a UK prison.  You try doing twenty years in this shithole.  The whisky will get me before I get parole.  My liver would have been better off had I been in prison all this time but I have a son and even if the law will only allow me to be near him on certain occasions, I have an obligation to him.  That's why I taught him to ride a motorcycle aged four.  It is why I bought him a telescope so he could look at stars those in the Northern Hemisphere could only dream of.  I taught him to fish and got him a microscope so he could study the beasties we collected on our walks together.  His English isn't perfect but it is pretty damn good.  At fourteen he can drive my truck.  It is time for him to go to a decent school.

A few years ago, I put his name down for my old school and since, like so many others, they had embraced the interweb thingy, Dominic could see what was on offer.  I could see he wasn't terribly impressed.  I have to confess, I wasn't either.  There were videos you could download of boys playing Health and Safety Rugby, a game which, as far as I could tell, involved running as far away as one could from the ball.  Clearly, a lot has changed in UK and when we got to the Domestic Science bit, both Dominic and I decided to grab our rifles and go and shoot something.  Honestly, UK schools are crap.  In fact, in a recent survey of First World countries, UK came bottom in Education and bottom on the scale of nice places for children to grow up.  You only have to watch Sky News to see what a shithole UK is.  I did not go through all this to send my boy somewhere almost as bad as Angola.  Frankly, I was stumped.

Dominic wasn't, though.  I had bought him and taught him how to use a computer.  So he searched the web and found a school he liked the look of.

That was eight months ago.  If that is what he wants, I thought, that's what he gets so we applied.

One week from today, at 0900 hrs Saturday, Dominic will sit his entrance exam at the Portuguese Embassy in Luanda.  I beg you all to keep your fingers crossed, he really wants this.  And if he wants this so badly, so do I.  Even though I am estranged from his mother, I know she has had a hand in this and has done an excellent job raising my son (I admit this grudgingly) after all, which father is caught on the hop by a phone call from a fourteen year old wishing to clarify matters pertaining to both chemistry and physics?  Sadly, I cannot tutor him.  I answered his questions and then advised him to study his notes hard until Thursday night.  Friday night, the night before his exam, I told him he should relax, chill out.  Eat a good meal and watch some TV.  Then, at a decent time, go to bed but place his notes under his pillow but under no circumstances, study.  I could not explain to him how this works but it does and I so desperately want him to succeed because I know he wants this.

Is it genetic?

Why do sons invariably follow in their father's footsteps?

Dominic is going for the Portuguese Military Academy.

'You're next.  Remember, first blood doesn't hurt THAT much...'

I remember that, Chapel is boring!

But Tanks are fun!

They teach them to ride horses as well and how to dance with a lady.  If he passes his exam, I will be saying goodbye to him in just three month's time.