Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Strolling on the Beach

I have about half a dozen incomplete posts.

I also have about three million, two hundred and twenty eight thousand, four hundred and sixty three unfinished chores on the list, give or take one or two.  I mean, if the guttering has already fallen off the eaves, do I really still need to clean the leaves out?

What I really need to do is fit the kitchen in the new house.  I hate fitting kitchens and I have always had a perfect excuse.

Instead of a 'Good Morning Darling!  Did you sleep well?' from Marcia I get, 'Will you fit the kitchen today?'

'The floor needs to be varnished first’ I reply.

'Why isn’t the floor varnished?'

'No point varnishing a floor until the ceiling is painted'

Bloody hell, all this before I have had a cup of tea.

Yesterday, I had run out of excuses.  The ceiling was painted, the floor sanded and varnished.  There was nothing else for it, it was kitchen fitting time.

Most people taking on projects like these do so one task at a time.  If they want a kitchen, they nip down to the local hardware store or kitchen supplier, hand over the measurements and a not inconsiderable sum of cash before returning home with their kitchen in boxes.  Any errors by the supplier, therefore, are usually evident within days. 

Here, we plan ahead.  We have no choice. 

The kitchen is chosen on the Interweb.  Drawings and designs are exchanged.  While the kitchen manufacturer saws wood up and glues the pieces together into kitchen cabinets, we build an entire house to accommodate the dimensions of the kitchen which have been determined by this professional company in UK.  The container ships and then arrives.  Problems with the sloppily produced way bill mean there are delays and extra demurrage but, hey, no problem, the house isn't finished yet.  The container when it finally lands on site has to be destuffed immediately so all the packages comprising a complete kitchen get piled one atop the other in some still vacant corner.

Over a year later (yesterday) I start to dig through this jigsaw puzzle with no instructions or even a picture on the front of the box.

Took me ages to realise that the reason the kitchen around which I designed and built my house did not fit was because instead of sending me one wall corner unit and two base corner units, they had sent me two wall corner units and no base corner units whatsoever.  Try complaining to the original supplier a year or so after the fact.  I don’t know what it is about UK suppliers but as soon as they know it is for export to somewhere as forlorn as Angola, they dust the ratshit off all the unsold boxes at the back of their warehouse and then invite you to sue them when you complain.

Marcia always said I had designed the kitchen too big but I like big kitchens so had dug my heels in on the promise of a luxurious installation complete with automatic dishwasher and a fridge freezer you could hide bodies in. 

The dishwasher doesn’t even have a front on it.  Me and the Flip unpacked it and I just couldn’t figure it out.  There was a door frame, but no front. Both of us sifted through the packaging hoping we would discover a few square feet of brushed stainless steel but to no avail.  Imagine what Marcia’s reaction would be when she discovered I did not have the kitchen to fill the large space she would have preferred to have been part of her lounge?  Like I say, I designed and built the house around her kitchen and it was a fuck up so it was my arse that was going to be slowly toasted.

Yesterday afternoon I was pretty dejected.  The Filipino and I had tried all sorts of combinations but nothing was working.  So I gave up and went for a walk on the beach with Alex.  I trudged through the sand while he bounced gaily between the high and low tide water marks.  Presently he brought me a shell.  ‘What is it?’ he asked.  ‘An oyster shell’ I answered, ‘Angolan oysters are very big’.  ‘Can you eat them?’ he queried. ‘Sure, Son, but I prefer the ones from Cape Town’.  Still, as oyster shells go, it was a whopper so he had every right to be pleased with himself and I was just being mean by being grumpy.  After all, the sunset was spectacular, the beach clean white sand and the air fresh.  People pay loads and travel thousands of miles just to do this.

Then Alex got all excited and demanded I come look at something.  Half buried in the sand it didn’t look like much but together, we dug it out.  It was magnificent.  I said to Alex, ‘This is magnificent’ and he was very pleased.  I was pleased too.  I was pleased because he was pleased because I was pleased that he was pleased.

So both of us sat there on the beach and decided that we were both very pleased and what we had excavated was truly, indescribably magnificent.  In fact words failed us and we just sat there watching the sun sink into the Atlantic while little Alex contemplated just how clever he had been and I contemplated how pleased I was to be with my little boy.

As we considered our prize I said to Dominic, ‘Son, I know someone who would just love this.  He has a beautiful swimming pool, a pirate ship AND a beard’

I could see Alex was impressed so I carried on.

‘He makes the most fabulous breakfasts, he has two dogs and ALL his garden is covered in GRASS!!!’

‘And he is a pirate?’ asked Alex.

‘Cap’n Cro Magnon,’ I announced, ‘Scourge o’ the Spanish Main.  Even your Dad,’ I confided in him, ‘was too scared to take him on’

‘You were frightened?’ Alex asked me in astonishment.

I made a big deal about shivering me timbers and all that. 

‘It wasn’t that I was frightened, Son, although I will admit that when me and Cro were at close quarters, he could cast the ice of fear into any grown man, me included.  It was that he could handle a ship better’n any man who ever lived.  Brutal he was with his crew, but fair lad, mark you that.  He never asked anything of his men he couldn’t do himself. Whether it was swinging a cutlass to sweep a deck clear of boarders or loosing a stay sail in a gale, his crew knew they’d be hard pressed to best their skipper and they respected him for that.’

‘Cap’n Crow had a sword?’ asked Alex, ‘Like the one you’ve got?’

‘All those scars on my blade’, I pointed out to Alex (he is very familiar with my sword), ‘are scores left by Cap’n Cro’.

‘So he beat you, Daddy?’ asked Alex.

‘Um.  Let’s just say he was older, a bit more artistic and definitely a lot more experienced than me’, I said evading the honest answer.

‘Was it Cap’n Cro who cut your fingers off?’

Damn it all, this was MY story yet I had already carelessly fought myself into a corner with some bloke living in France I have never met. But wasn’t this fantasy tale during a delightful stroll down a beach washed by Atlantic surf going well?

‘Yes, son, it was Cap’n Cro’

I paused so I could think of any way Cap’n Cro could cut my fingers off without him appearing dastardly or me inept.

‘Cap’n Cro was a notorious French pirate Captain of obscure English origin’ I continued, ‘No-one knew a lot about him save his taste for titled ladies, fine wine and an almost pathological hatred of anything painted orange.  In his younger days, Cap’n Cro was a bit of a lad and thought the Spanish a bit arrogant for calling the Caribbean the Spanish Main so he set about sinking their vessels and helping himself to their fabulous cargos of gold and silver.  Like I said, son, he was an outstanding seaman, able to sail closer to the wind than any man I saw.  A Captain would think he was maneuvering for a broadside and in the blink of an eye, Cap’n Cro would luff up and next thing you knew, it was you that had a broadside up the chuff.  Just hearing that ‘La Petite Rolls’ was offshore would keep many a vessel in port, their crews too frightened to set sail’

‘La Petite Rolls?’

‘That was the name of his ship, Son, a 150 tonne Brigantine with over a 100 pirates on board mounting over a dozen heavy cannon and four swivel cannon.  But he didn’t sail alone.  He had two fast and agile sloops, ‘Le Bok’ and ‘Le Full Monty’ which, with their fore and aft sails could sail within a few points of the wind.  No Spaniard could out run Le Bok or Le Full Monty and they would harry the Spaniard until La Petite Rolls overhauled him.  Mostly, the Spaniard would just heave to knowing the game was up’

Alex and I were now sitting on a sand dune staring out to sea in absolutely no hurry to get home.

‘What happened next, Daddy?’ asked Alex, clearly enthralled.

‘Well, son, even though Cap’n Cro could be bloodthirsty if needed, he stuck to the Pirate’s Code’

‘The Pirate’s Code?  What’s a code, Daddy?’

‘Well son, they’re like rules of combat’, I explained.  ‘You see, Cap’n Cro didn’t really want to be mean to people, he just wanted to help himself to Spanish treasure which is perfectly reasonable, even today judging by current bond rates so, if the Captain of a vessel he had captured gave up without a fight, he would just take their cargo and then let them sail on’

‘And what happened if they didn’t give up, Daddy?’

I made a big deal of shivering me timbers again.

‘Very few Spaniards put up a fight and of those that did, none were ever heard of again,’ I said with due gravitas, ‘I guess their bones are at the bottom of the sea’.

‘So how did Cap’n Cro cut your fingers off?’ he persisted.

‘Cap’n Cro was a Frenchie, Alex, and England in those days was fighting the French because the French were upset about the import taxes the English levied on their wine and brandy exports to England so encouraged smuggling and started calling us Ros Bifes’

‘What’s smuggling Daddy?’

‘Smuggling,’ I pondered, ‘Smuggling is when Daddy occasionally sticks an extra carton of duty free cigarettes in your Spiderman trolley bag before we go through Customs’.

‘What’s Customs Daddy?’

‘Do you want to know how I lost my fingers or don’t you?’

He did, so I continued.

‘Cap’n Cro was already very experienced’. I told Alex, ‘I was newly commissioned and my first posting was the Caribbean.  It was my duty to catch him.  I spent half my life chasing him.  I searched for him in every port, restaurant and art gallery in Central America and the Windward Islands.  He was always a day’s sail ahead of me.  I had to deal with malaria, scurvy, two divorce suits, once even a near mutiny when I was so close I could smell his breakfast but instead, I had to put into Port O’ Prince to give the crew a run ashore lest I ended up weighted down sipping seawater instead of French Brandy.’

Finally, I had him boxed in at the Tortugas.  It would have been folly for me to try and take the port.  While Cap’n Cro had sweet water, brandy, port, fresh fruit, meat and loads of preserves, we were down to brine in our water barrels and hard tack biscuits full of mealie worms.

I heard the watch call out, ‘Ahoy that vessel!’ so I went on deck in time to see a boat sculled alongside.  By the light of a lantern I saw as mean a man as I could ever imagine standing in the prow.  A good six feet tall sporting a fine, if very seasoned tunic coat, his head surmounted by a plumed sombrero de tres picos which he pulled off and waved at first sight of me peering over the rails.

‘Boa Noite Capitão Tomás!’ he called out. ‘Tenho um convite de Capitão Cro! Ele este um pouca de preocupado da saúde da Vossa Excelência. Ele acha que você este a morrer de forme.’

Alex speaks Portuguese as well as he does English so was amused at the thought of me starving to death blockading the port in which I had finally cornered Cap’n Cro yet Cap’n Cro was sending me an invitation to dinner because the famous pirate captain was concerned about my health.

‘A guarde um instante, faz favor!’ I called back, equally concerned about my health, before hurrying to my cabin to don my finest tunic and buckle my sword on. So Cro has crewed Portuguese navigators, I thought to myself, the clever old sea dog, no wonder he sailed bloody rings around me.

‘You see, Alex,’ I pointed out to the boy, ‘Cap’n Cro and I had been at it for years and in all that time I had come to respect him as an outstanding seaman, artist and cook.  Now I could not resist the chance to meet him’

‘Cap’n Cro looked younger than I expected,’ I told Alex, ‘he was fit.  This was a man who even at his age could haul a spar up a mast or build a new ship in a tree in his back garden’

‘As I sat down at his table he said, “So this is the Captain Hippo?” ’

‘I felt strangely deflated. Alex, I can tell you.  All my life I had been chasing this man, I admired him and this was all he had to say about me?  I was hurt but said nothing because I was really hungry and now finally I had a crack at Cap’n Cro’s famous cuisine.’ 

‘I thought maybe we would start with Tournedos Rossini’ Cap’n Cro said, ‘A sauteed beef filet served on a circular crouton, then garnished with a slice of foie gras, a truffle slice and, finally, Madeira sauce.’

‘A fancy beef burger without a lid on it’, I said completely forgetting the Sang Froid for which the English were famous.

‘Then’, he continued unperturbed, ‘you must try my Homard a la Parisienne.  A simple dish for a genuine Frenchman, perhaps harder for an Engishman to create. This Classic of French Cuisine is prepared by poaching lobsters, removing the cooked flesh, then stuffing the empty shells with a mayonnaise-dressed vegetable mixture topped with the meat of the lobster. The lobsters are artfully arranged as only the French can, on a platter, and garnished elaborately with such items as truffles and artichoke bottoms.  I hear you like looking at the bottoms of girls, Capitaine Tomas? Maybe I can tease you with an artichoke?’

‘Maybe’, I said.

‘Then, my dear Capitaine Hippo, we have Poularde Derby Chicken’

I’d heard of Derby.  It’s in England, somewhere between Leicester and Nottingham.  I am sure it is.  Or maybe it is a bicycle race.

‘Stuffed with rice, goose liver and truffles, then roasted and lavishly garnished with more truffles and foie gras.’ Cap’n Cro went on.

‘Sounds nice’ I said eyeing the bottles of Jamaica rum lining the bar.

‘Then, Selle de Veau a la Prince Orloff!’ he announced with a flourish.  Slices of a roasted saddle of veal coated with Sauce Soubise, rice, and mushroom puree, then reassembled on the saddle in their original position. The roast is then covered with Sauce Mornay and browned.’



‘Yes son?’  I think I may have been both day dreaming and talking at the same time.

‘I’m really hungry’

‘Me too, let’s go and find the Red Car and go home’

‘It’s not the Red Car, Daddy, it’s the Jeep’

Ever since I bought the thing a couple of weeks ago, he called it the Red Car.  I kept telling him it was a Jeep.  Now he is picking me up.

The car was exactly where we had left it and still in one piece which is always a pleasant surprise in Angola.

Chicken Fricassee I thought as I drove home, that’s what I’ll cook.  I’ll do the rice with a bit of coconut milk.  I’ll use the chicken stock for the sauce and add cream.  I’d fry up a bit of finely chopped bacon, onions and garlic to start the base for the sauce before adding a bit of flour and then the stock.  I had a tin of asparagus tips which I had been saving; they would go in as well.  I’d also figured out how to sort the kitchen in the new house.  It is amazing what a walk on the beach can do.

Alex played with all the air-conditioning buttons and then adjusted his electric seat to his satisfaction.  He likes his seat half reclined but high, the aircon on full blast but his window open.  I like it that way too because that way he can’t reach the stereo.

‘So why did Cap’n Cro cut your fingers off, Daddy?’ he asked.

‘Easy,’ I said as I steered the car home, ‘After wheeling me through all the food he had prepared, I told Cap’n Cro I preferred a plate of beans on toast.  He had his sword out and my fingers off in a flash as I reached for a croissant.’

‘Beans on Toast!  Can we have beans on toast tonight, Daddy?  Please!’

Beans on toast.  Not Chicken Fricassee, beans on toast.  I know exactly how Cap’n Cro felt when he sliced my fingers off but if that’s how Alex wants to round off a perfect day, beans on toast it is.


The magnificent piece of driftwood, the oyster shell and a Nokia phone to give an idea of scale.
Note the Cro Magnon Orange backdrop.


  1. I have seen a photograph of Cro Magnon and he certainly does look like a pirate - now immortalised in your tale from the beach. But shouldn't you have been assembling the kitchen? I'm just saying.

    1. When I started spinning my yarn to Alex, an image of Cro just popped into my head. He also built a pirate ship tree house for his grandchildren. He was an obvious choice really.

      Ah, the kitchen, what a bloody headache. The double sink is too big for the standard base units. Now I realise they did not supply the sink base unit.

      I really do need a Big Don Kev Alviti!

    2. He does look too kind though to be a Robert Newton character........
      More like a benign captain Bligh

  2. Yes you are a storyteller. However, it is quite a reputation Cro has to live up to now. If I were in Cro's shoes, I wouldn't worry so much about what impression I made initially. I would just produce a little box containing severed fingers. That would likely impress Alex, it certainly would me.

    I'm not sure how Cro can procure the fingers though. Maybe a want ad:

    WTB severed fingers. Will pay by check or trade green beans.

    Failing that hopefully he has friend who is a mortician.

    1. As you can see from Cro's comment, he kept my fingers as a gruesome reminder of a worthy opponent.

    2. Actually it should have occurred to me that Cro kept the fingers. I would have. Not sure where I would have kept them...maybe in the out building where everything else is stored. That is if I could squeeze one more thing into that building.

  3. Never, ever, ever, have I read such an accurate account of my buckle swashing days. Do explain to Alex that I have kept the fingers, and that they now reside in a priceless gold casket; awaiting a talented surgeon who could sew them back on.

    That's a mighty piece of driftwood, but I was half expecting him to have discovered the brushed stainless steel front from a dish washer!

    1. Takes one to know one, Cro!

      I am flattered you kept the fingers. Can't you do a Damien Hirst on them and sell them to the Tate? Either that or have them cast in bronze as a Churchillian cigar rest.

      The piece of driftwood really is nice, the photograph doesn't do it justice. Now I need to decide how best to display it.

  4. Do you think when you re-tell this tale to Marcia it might take her mind off the fact that the wall corner units are hung a tad too low? No, I don't think so either.

    1. I think we both know you answered you're own question my dear Fifth Columnist!

  5. On a point of 'housekeeping', Tom: A few paragraphs in you said "Dominic" Instead of Alex. Happens. My mother too would run the whole gamut of names till the right child got the intended message.

    Why not try IKEA or Habitat? There will always be that one vital screw missing.

    I know many men (not in the biblical sense) and boy oh boy oh boy you shall know them by the way they approach DIY. A good friend of mine, he bought my mansion, does fucking everything himself. And he is good. No doubt about it. Unfortunately he also takes before and after photographs. First law of cordial relationships: Only bore me, at length, whilst plying me what only money can buy (that's wine - white in my case).

    Then there is the kind my second husband was: That Habitat and its flat packs didn't drive him to the brink is only because I got there first.

    I am not making fun of men, the hunter gatherers, in search of a kitchen. Not at all. My heart goes out to you. Though do have to say: Know your limits.

    And why not get Kev in? He could probably do with a busman's holiday.

    Good luck, Tom, and the only reason future was invented because otherwise hope would have nowhere to go,


    PS Is Johnny Depp Cro Magnon reincarnated? Only more beautiful.

    1. Johnny Bloody Depp MORE BEAUTIFUL????? Wash your mouth out! Cro x

    2. Dominic has been on my mind a lot recently, I haven't seen him in months.

      Try not to upset my fellow commentators, Úrsula. Johnny Depp indeed...

  6. Awesome tale Hippo.
    Magnificent thing too.

  7. Another awesome story. I guess that the only downside is that you are not sleeping well.
    Will we get an update how Dominic is doing?
    Great piece of driftwood though.

  8. Another awesome story. I guess that the only downside is that you are not sleeping well.
    Will we get an update how Dominic is doing?
    Great piece of driftwood though.

  9. Couldn't you have saved money and made the kitchen out of driftwood?


  10. Ah the joys of kitchen fitting and pirates! I have yet to fit a kitchen where all the bits have turned up or been right! It must be one of my least favourite jobs.
    Cro sounds quite the man to be up against On the high seas.


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