Saturday 31 August 2013

Accents by Trevor Noah

I had never heard of this guy Trevor Noah before.  This extract from his hour long show is probably the closest he got to political correctness.  Dominic is spending a few days with me and brought the DVD along to show me.  Like him, I thought it was hilarious.  'Why don't you put it on your blog?' he suggested.  'Because, Son, it is many megabytes and would take three years to upload.' 

'Just put a clip on' he said.  He could tell by my expression that I hadn't a clue how to do that.

He pushed me out of my chair, opened programs on my computer I never knew I had and within fifteen minutes had cut a clip out and recorded it in a format that vastly reduced the file size.

This clip is not only amusing, it is testament to my fourteen year old son's vastly superior computer literacy.  I guess it won't be long before he is hacking into my bank account.  What really pleases me though is that although he had just demonstrated all the symptoms exhibited by geeky computer nerds, he isn't.  He chases girls, rides a motorcycle, can do doughnuts with my Jeep AND is brilliant with computers.

Dominic, bon vivant, virgin converter, discoverer of one of the rarest phasmids in the world, rally champion on two wheels and four, crocodile castrator, apprentice Bambi Basher, computer expert and hacker yet still stupid enough to photograph himself on the beach with my car after I expressly forbade him to take take it onto the beach.
L-R: Dominic (14), little Marta (6), Cristina (16) and Ritinha (17)
Lanky sod, isn't he?

Thursday 29 August 2013


A not quite five year old little bandit

The neices came for a visit.  My they have grown.  Dominic could ride a motorcycle at four, could drive my car at nine and now with fourteen years can comfortably handle my truck.  I was astonished, therefore, when Cristina at sixteen admitted she had never been behind the wheel of a car.  Alex can't reach the pedals of the Jeep but he can steer us all safely from the restaurant to the shop site.  He knows how to start the car, put it into gear and release the handbrake.  He knows how to adjust the seats and set the aircon.  For these reasons, I keep the keys on me all the time but, although many would argue against teaching a child such things, I believe that by familiarizing them with such activity early, by the time they hit the road, they won't go crazy because it will all be old hat.  They will be more responsible as driving a motor vehicle will be nothing new to them.  I am forty years older than Dominic and fifty years older than Alex so, on current form, I very much doubt I will be around to guide them through their twenties.  I need to teach them as much as I can now.

As a car to learn in, a 5.7 litre V8 would perhaps not be the first choice of a driving school but it was all I had to hand if we exclude a three tonne truck with no power steering.  I let Dominic drive us to a bit of flat ground on the property just to give the girls a bit of confidence and then let Cristina take over.

She stuck it in gear and floored the accelerator.  The car leapt forward as the rear wheels dug in.  My land is right next to a river and I could see we were heading for a bath.  I was in the passenger seat so I knocked the car into neutral and applied the hand brake.  Cristina, with eyes like bloody saucers still had the throttle buried into the bulkhead and the valves were about to exit through the bonnet so I killed the ignition.

'Not bad,' I said, 'not bad at all'  I thought about getting out and retracing our route so I could find my stomach which had been left way behind.

This wasn't exactly the very best start.  If she was terrified of the beast she would never get the hang of it.  I had to calm her down.

'Think about your boyfriend,' I said.

I don't have a boyfriend!' a shocked Cristina blurted out (far too quickly).

'If you want to give your boyfriend a kiss,' I continued unperturbed, 'do you head butt him and chew his face off, or do you caress his lips gently with yours?'

Everyone in the car, Ju, Ritinha, Dominic, burst out laughing.

‘Cristina, I want you to kiss the throttle.  Ge-ently, ever so gently, just kiss the throttle.  Think of your boyfriend while you do it.’  As I repositioned the car I hoped to hell he hadn’t just jilted her.

She was fine.  She did figure of eights, learnt how to do emergency stops confirming she knew the difference between the brake and accelerator pedals.  Oddly enough, Ritinha who, at seventeen was the oldest, bottled out and refused to have a go.  Ju, at twelve, leapt at the chance.  She was miles better than Cristina.  She was so good, in fact, that I let her loose in the car with Dominic in the passenger seat just to boost their confidence even more.

I was doing so well, instilling in the kids a sense of responsibility and then Dominic asked me what oversteer was. 

I suppose, with the aid of diagrams and a lengthy explanation I could have got him to more or less understand oversteer but I was by then quite thirsty so I thought I would just stick him in the right hand seat and show him.

An officially middle aged fat bandit undoing all the good work he has done. 
How can kids grow up to be responsible with me as an example?
There are many who suggest that English is the most expressive language in the world.  I tend to disagree.  There are words in German wholly comprehensible to Germans but bewilderingly complicated to translate.  Schadenfreude is an example.  It was so bloody complicated to explain, it has entered English usage in its own right.  The word I am thinking of in this case is 'Vorfuhreffekt'.  Basically what vorfuhreffekt means is that you can do something successfully over a thousand times but as soon as you demonstrate whatever unique skill you have in front of others, you will fuck up.  And so it was with me at the Nurburgring back in '92 when a German film company wanted to film me leaving black stripes on the tarmac.  I high sided 25,000 dollars worth of Ducati motorcycle and smashed both ankles.  Obviously they were pissed off because it had cost them a lot of money to bring a film crew and all their equipment down but they weren't half as pissed off as I was, it was my motorcycle.  That's vorfuhreffekt.  As soon as I realised Cristina was filming me, I got the collywobbles and hadn't the guts to stick my boot in anymore and do a few real 360's which is why, right at the end of the vídeo you can hear the girls complain when I pull up and tell them I'm going home.  They may be delightful, but I'm not rolling a Jeep for them so they will just have to be satisfied with a couple of rooster tails.

That was yesterday.  I spoke to Josh next door and asked if I could charter one of their boats just to give the kids a run up the river.  The charter has just been confirmed.  I tossed Dominic a cool bag, told him to nip over to the shop and fill it with soft drinks and cookies.  He came back and asked me if I could give them a lift over to Rico's.  'Bugger off!' I said chucking him the keys to the Jeep, 'I'm off for a shower, you can drive yourself.'  I know it is only a matter of eight hundred metres; driving off my property and onto Rico's place but this was freedom and a whole lot more for him.
He is fourteen years old.  In the passenger seat of the V8 Jeep he is driving he has a drop-dead-gorgeous girl with come-to-bed eyes and he is going to take her for a ride on the river.  He probably won't get laid but at least he'll get an inkling of where to start.  I wish my Dad had given me presents like that.

Maybe when he gets his licence, he'll be cool rather than crazy.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Wiggly Amps

Gunter is another big Boer who visits regularly to go fishing.  He is also an electrical engineer.

At the moment I have an electricity circuit spreading out like a spider’s web from a fuze box fitted behind what will be the bar, the kitchen/toilet block with no real circuits at all (I have an extension cable coming in through the window to power the TV, fridge and computer) and a shop also fed off an extension cable.  Considering that the lappa has a thatched roof, twisted electrical cables and overloaded extension sockets with no earth protection are an uncomfortable mix.  If I switch the toaster on, the lights go out.  Everything is still temporary.  I needed to make it permanent, but safe.

Since the contractor paid to do all this and everything else had gone bust, Marcia and I were left with no choice but to bring someone else in to finish the job.  Marcia arranged an electrician and he now holds the record for the fastest time between turning up on site and getting sacked.  He lasted less than ten minutes.  I was trying to explain to him what I wanted.  I want a bloody great distribution board here, I told him.  He said I did not need it.  I want a three position heavy duty switch here so that I can connect the generator to it.  He said I did not need one.  I want fuse boxes fitted to the kitchen and the canteen.  He rolled his eyes, said something in Portuguese to his mate I did not catch and they both laughed.

Marcia has expressly forbidden me from punching anyone anymore, especially locals, so I walked stiffly back to my room, poured myself a slug of scotch and lit a cigarette.  Thus calmed, I returned, grabbed his tool bag and threw it back in his car.  ‘Podes ir embora’ I told them.  They appeared confused and seemingly unable to understand basic Portuguese.  ‘Fuck Off!’ I told them.  They’d seen enough American films to understand that much English.

Unlike most English contractors working abroad I have met, Gunter’s only ambition is to earn as much as he needs in order to pay for what he really wants to do, with his family back home.  Not for him the distraction of bars, discos and whorehouses.

‘I’ll pay cash,’ I finished as I closed my pitch to Gunter.  I needed a professional and he was standing in front of me, all ten feet of him.

Three days later he was back and fitted the humungous switch I wanted.

‘Let me know when you want the permanent feed cut off so you can connect,’ I told him.

‘No need,’ he replied.

Now this I had to see.

The photograph below shows a true professional making a temporary live connection.

Look closely at the fingertips of his right hand.
He has just wrapped them up with insulating tape so he can work on live cables!
That isn't my head he has in an armlock, btw, that is his knee.
Clearly, this is the right man for the job.  He is due back at the weekend and will do everything in only two days.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

On being Crook, and Being a Crook

It was a bit of an uncomfortable night the night before last but I did finally nod off at about 4 am.  Why is it that all the programmes I like on the TV are shown after midnight?  Last night I watched Midsomer Murders.  This episode had Inspector Barnaby mulling over his aged mother’s concern that too many septuagenarians were popping their clogs in the nursing home in which she had a bunk.

I know it was the early hours of the morning and I was slightly distracted by the unseen beastie repeatedly stabbing my chest, arm and eyeball but even in my debilitated state, this stretched my imagination a bit.  With a violent death rate only surpassed by that of a professional and well supplied firing squad, who in Midsomer Puddle, or whatever the bloody village is called, would ever make it to retirement?  Barnaby may be a good detective but, as a resident, I’d start to wonder about a police force content to solve brutal assault rather than prevent three or four murders an episode.

Still, it was the palliative I needed and allowed me to reflect on what, the previous day, had been a truly horrible day.

It started out, as such days invariably do, very well.  I had been waiting weeks for the arrival of our imported generator which still had not cleared the port.  I had convinced Marcia to buy a 45 Kva generator off the local market in the interim.  We could always use it as a back up once the big gennie arrived.  In the meantime, we could get into our new house and I could crack on with opening the restaurant.

I had not enjoyed any internet access for nearly a week so decided I would take the boy over to Rico’s place, feed him lunch and bum their internet access code so I could pull all my emails down off their wireless network.  Just as we were arriving, Marcia rang to say she had found a brand new 45 Kva Perkins for US$6,000. 

‘Is it silenced?’ I asked only a few feet from a well made rum and coke served over Rico’s bar.

‘I’ll call you back,’ she said.

Cool, I thought as I grabbed the drink.

I had just served Alex a plate of swordfish cutlets and chicken drumsticks and started to download my emails and upload my most recent posts when the phone rang again.

‘The generator will be there in a few minutes, get to the site’

It was an order, not a request.

Now this was pretty much a bleeding miracle.  In the time it had taken me to serve Alex his plate and collect my Cuba Libre (Free Cuba, what we call Rum and Cokes here), Marcia had been able to drive all the way from the city with a generator.  I started to smell something pretty close to a done deal here.  After all, she hadn’t rung me back to say it was silenced or not.  I guessed I had just bought a generator whether I liked it or not.  I prefer Cummins but a 45kva, hopefully silenced Perkins for six grand delivered here in Angola ain’t that bad and the only thing holding us up was a decent generator, our new one having been stolen two days before we moved down to the site.

‘Get that food down yer neck quick, Son, we’re off to the site’ I said as I came back to the table and slugged my Cuba Libre.

‘They have ice cream!’ wailed Alex.

‘Ice cream?’

‘Yes, Daddy’

A badly needed generator is one thing.  Vanilla ice cream entirely another.  I have it on the very best authority that if a child does not enjoy at least one over full bowl of ice cream per month, they overheat and die.  I am not a child care nutritionist but I wasn’t willing to take a chance with my own son’s life.  Besides, I fancied a bloody great bowl of ice cream as well.

By the time I got to the site, they had already bogged the truck in.  I don’t have a driveway see, just a ditch and lots of sand.  I could have pointed that out to them had they waited.  I could have pointed out all the timber I have lying around with which we could have quickly made a temporary driveway but they had pressed ahead anyway and now they were stuck.  I am not stupid so when I bailed out of Rico’s place in such a hurry, I had nicked the bottle of rum and a carton of juice for Alex so the two of us made ourselves comfortable on the veranda of the new shop while we watched one monumental fuck up after another without me getting involved.  Marcia hates it when I get involved sometimes but there was no chance of that.  This was a clear case of it being their truck and their job to drop the gennie on its concrete base so I had no intention of getting involved.  My only regret was that I did not have my camera with me.  Some sights, such as a large lorry buried up to its axles in my garden and the ever more frantic attempts to free it should be recorded.

Finally, the crane swung the generator from the truck and onto the concrete base and I had my first opportunity to inspect it.

I have lived with Marcia for over eight years and still don’t understand her completely.  She could be described as very patient yet at the same time she can be incredibly impatient.  She plans well ahead and then surprises me by being impetuous.  Despite my well demonstrated love for and devotion to her as well as my absolute fidelity, she is insecure and can be insanely jealous.  I had to be very careful therefore, how I pointed out the various discrepancies with what was written on the six thousand dollar invoice and what was actually now sitting by the side of my new house.

Marcia was expecting and had the cash ready to pay for a brand new 45 Kva generator.  What I was looking at was not brand new.  I lifted the exhaust flap and wiped my fingers inside.  They came out black.  Even before I opened the doors I could see crudely chopped off cables so I knew the gennie had been hooked up.  I opened the doors and checked the hour meter; 5,400 odd hours, a bit more than just delivery miles.  Then I checked the specification label; 16 Kw.

Marcia likes to do things by herself.  She has an ardent desire to prove herself as competent as the best.  But she is young and is still unaware of the many ways evil people will scam the gullible and innocent.

I looked at the oily shit who had turned up in the flash 4x4 accompanying the truck to whom Marcia was about to give $6,000 and really had to fight hard to overwhelm the sudden urge I had to ‘get involved’.

If, on the other hand, I told Marcia she had been duped, that she had stupidly fallen victim to yet another Angolan scam, she would have been very upset and angry with me for slighting her in public.  If I even suggested that she had bought a heap of shit, I’d be testicle-less and penis-less dead meat.

‘Marcia?’ I called to her, ‘I think they have made a mistake and delivered the wrong generator!’


‘Come and look,’ I said, ‘look at this, it is only 16 Kw, they must have loaded the wrong one!’

Having lit the blue touch paper, I just stood back and became decidedly uninvolved again.  Well, sort of.  I called one of my labourers over, Abrão.  I stand a head taller than he does but he is built like Mike Tyson.  I explained to him what was going down, that these guys were trying to scam Marcia, that Marcia was dealing with it but if he could just get a couple of the other lads and keep an eye on the situation in case the gennie guys tried to get nasty.

Now I hadn’t succumbed to my first instinct and called these guys thieving scamming bastards and had, instead, merely suggested they had made a simple mistake and loaded the wrong generator.  Marcia was also towing the same line when I rejoined the group the conversation amongst the members of which was becoming heated.

‘Meus Senhors!’ I said as expansively and all embracing as I could.  ‘Gentlemen, there has obviously been a terrible mistake.  Just reload the generator, take it back and bring us the correct one. No harm done!’

‘I still want paying,’ said the truck driver, not to me thankfully (he was a big bastard as well) but to the oily generator salesman. 

‘Of course you do!’ I said all sweetness and light, ‘It isn’t your fault that this man,’ I indicated Oily, ‘loaded the wrong generator and now you must load it again and take it all the way back to Luanda.  How much extra is that going to cost?’

Having set the cat amongst the pigeons, I gave the generator a good going over.  Made in Spain, not bad.  Obviously it had been well serviced as I could see the inspection tags neatly filled in.  I started it and the exhaust fumes were clear and it ran oh so quiet.  It was three phase rather than the single phase we wanted and a lot less power but, still, it was a good generator. 

It was also stolen.  I had no doubt whatsoever that this generator had been stolen.  If you are going to move a generator, you disconnect the cables, you don’t chop through them with bolt croppers.  Yes, they had a set of keys but, believe me, people tend to leave the keys in their generators so that they don’t lose them and can start and stop the damn thing on demand, after all, it is safely parked on their property, isn’t it?.  There were no spare keys or owners manuals and they wanted cash.  The more I looked around it, the more nervous Oily became.  He thought he had been dealing with Marcia, a girl he had clearly underestimated and now he was dealing with me.  This thing had been nicked as sure as I am a fat reclusive alcoholic with a very bad temper if riled.  I rejoined the group.

‘Load it up and let’s get out of here,’ I announced.

‘Hang on a sec,’ said the truck driver getting all menacing, ‘I want my money or I’m not going anywhere!  This is my Dad’s truck and he’ll kill me if I don’t come home with some money’

A perfectly reasonable attitude to adopt, I thought.  After all, an honest tradesman deserves his consideration.

‘Who chartered the load?’ I asked him.

‘He did!’ he said pointing to Oily.

‘And how much does he owe you?’ I asked.

‘Five hundred in cash.’

‘Well,’ I said to Oily, ‘It looks like you owe this man five hundred and, if you want your generator back, you owe him another five hundred.’ and walked off without upsetting Marcia by ‘getting involved’.

‘I’m not leaving here without my money!’ Oily bawled.

Just at that moment the truck carrying all the timber for my restaurant cottages hurtled by.

‘Suit yourself,’ I said, ‘I’m off!’ and climbed into the Jeep to chase after my timber.

As I climbed in, Abrão came up to the driver’s window.  ‘Are we really going to load the generator up again?’

‘Nooo!  You just do what I asked you to do and look after Marcia’

I charged up the road after my truckload of timber.  While I was driving, I called Marcia.

‘Offer them a thousand dollars cash,’ I told her when she answered, ‘no more and make it clear to the truck driver that if they accept it, he gets his five hundred bucks in cash from us otherwise it’s no deal and he deals with them.’

‘But they want six,’ said Marcia.

‘I know, love, just hit ‘em with a grand and see what they say, trust me’

I was just catching up with the timber truck when my mobile rang.

‘They’ll take fifteen hundred plus the five for the driver,’ Marcia told me.

I knew it was stolen.

‘Do the deal,’ I said.  Fifteen hundred plus transport is what you would pay for a portable gennie.

I did not have time to consider the fact I had not only handled stolen goods, I had received them.  Now I needed to unload twenty cubic metres of wood on the restaurant site.

‘Where’s your crew?’ the driver asked.

‘I paid delivery,’ I said, ‘delivery means on the ground’

‘Suit yourself,’ he said, ‘I’m going back to Luanda, take it up with my boss in the morning but I am not unloading this truck,’  Inside the cab sat a doe eyed beauty in an impossibly short pink lycra dress which left nothing to the imagination.  What was it someone once said to me?  Nipples like cigar butts stabbed into Jaffa Cakes.  I always preferred the expression, 'like chapel hat pegs.'  In the driver’s position, I’d be in a bloody hurry too.

Oh, how the tables had been turned.

‘Give me five minutes!’ I pleaded.  ‘Let me get you a cold beer from the shop,’ I offered, ‘maybe a Bacardi Breezer for the lady, just give me five minutes, please?’

I rushed into the shop.  There were three guys there drinking beer.  ‘How much have they drunk,’ I demanded off the Boy.  ‘A couple each,’ he said.  Good, they’re probably still sober, I thought.  ‘How would you guys like to earn a bottle of whisky apiece to unload my truck?’ I asked them.  They didn’t say anything but their body language, as they rushed en-masse out of the door suggested, ‘bring it on’.

There was a lot of bloody wood and we needed to be quick so I dived in and helped.

I was lying on the bed with my chest on fire when Marcia brought me a cup of tea.

‘We’re ready to go’, said Marcia as she sat on the back of the sofa to be close to me (that’s how small our accommodation is).  It was true.  We were ready to go.  The team was in, the wood had arrived, next week we could be sleeping in our new house and cracking on with the restaurant.

‘Do you remember how we felt when they stole our generator?’ I asked her.

‘Do you really think this generator was stolen?’ she asked.

I immediately regretted saying that.  Alex will soon enjoy an air-conditioned bedroom with his own flatscreen TV and iPad.  Marcia will have her flash kitchen complete with dishwasher (a complete waste of bloody time since I could employ a dishwasher here for a little over a hundred bucks a month).  I would have an office area and shelves on which I could store my rotting book collection.  For the first time in nearly two years, we would have bedrooms separated from the lounge, a dining area, hot and cold running water in a bathroom we can enter from within the house.  I would be able to open the fridge door without first having to ask everyone present to breathe in and would have a veranda on which I could relax while trainee waitresses clad in impossibly short pink lycra dresses with nipples like organ stops (seriously, at my age I'm not too fussy when it comes to nipples) serve me ice cold pink gins.

I needed this generator.  I know I should have sent a runner off to the local police station not 1500 metres distant.  But what would that have achieved?  The thieves would have clammed up or even implicated Marcia.  The generator would have been confiscated and in all probability ended up powering a police station.  There would have followed hours of giving statements, all painfully recorded by hand.  My family and I would still be living in 16 square metres, them hating me with every breath they drew and Marcia damning my conscience to Hell.

‘Of course not, Marcia’, I said, ‘you just played hard ball with them and they caved.  I’m sorry I couldn’t be there while you were negotiating but you really got yourself a good deal’

‘I am good at it, aren’t I?’ she said.

‘You’re the best, Marcia,’ and I meant that on so many levels.

Let me live with the guilt.  Right now, there is someone out there who feels as bad as we did back then when our brand new generator was stolen but when I am tucking Alex into his own bed in his own bedroom before joining Marcia in hers, I am sure I won’t feel half as bad.

Friday 16 August 2013

Internet is sort of on again...

I owe a lot of people replies,  I will get round to it.  I spent the day unloading a generator from a truck that dug itself in meaning we had to dig it out again and then had to unload another truck loaded with wood for the new huts on my other piece of land.  My heart feels as if it is about to burst out of my chest.  The pain is intense and reaches all the way across my chest, down my left arm and right to the top of my head.  I think my left eyeball is about to burst.

So I am going to have a fag and a whisky, dose myself up with Inderal tablets and a squirt or two of Nitrrolingual and go to bed and hope I get a few hours decent kip before Cro Magnon and the other seniors boot me out of bed to give me a good kicking for blubbing in the dorm.

Bleeding Internet...

The whole interweb thingy connection has gone down, again.  Usually it is only for a few hours, occasionally a whole day.  Mine has now been down for many days, hence three posts at the same time.  I am now sat over at Rico's place using his connection while Alex enjoys lunch but Marcia has just rung me to say the new generator has arrived so I have to rush off to the site.  Three posts, one after the other.  Enjoy. 
Me?  I am stressed to hell.  I will reply to all your comments later but, right now, I have to dash again.

When I first came here, there were no international communications.  Only correctly registered international corporations could have international direct dialling.  To get just a local phone installed took ages.  To make an international call using one of these, you had to call and call and call the international operator and once through, hope that he or she would actually open the connection and call you back to complete it.  Using this system, it was only worth the effort if I phoned people who knew that I was in a Lusophone country AND were willing to talk to me, otherwise the guy at the other end, hearing someone babbling to him in Pork and Cheese would hang up.  I didn’t make many phone calls.  I could receive faxes from HQ in London but only through the press centre in down town Luanda, right next to the Foreign Relations building in which, not so many years before, they had tried, convicted and sentenced four British Mercenaries to death by firing squad.  It doesn’t pay to be on the losing side in this environment.  There were no such things as satellite phones, mobile phones or email.  I went months without talking to any member of my family in Europe. 

Back in ‘95, an old mate of mine in the British Forces Broadcasting Service read on the news wires that an ex-British Army Officer had been killed in Angola.  He assumed it was me and announced my demise on air, explaining to his listeners how he had introduced me to Harrison Ford as the real Indiana Jones while Mr Ford was filming Mosquito Coast in Belize and how, although sad, it was perhaps appropriate such a free spirit should die in the wilds of Africa.  It was all terribly moving apparently.  He then dedicated a Rolling Stone’s track to me before playing it.

Axel Berg, a very good friend of mine from motorcycle racing days in Germany heard the broadcast and rang my brother in Stuttgart to commiserate.  Micky, in a state of profound shock, rang the rest of the family.  None had heard the news.  He rang the Foreign Office.  They hadn’t a clue but promised to contact the British Embassy in Luanda.  Last Micky had heard I was up country running diamond security teams for de Beers so he rang them.

De Beers did have international phones and they really do care about their employees but I was nevertheless surprised when I was standing in the Codiam buying office at Serpa Pinto in Luanda having just got back from Lucapa with a shipment of diamonds and the boss called me over to the phone.

‘It’s yer brother, apparently you are dead and I forgot to notify Head Office,’ he said dryly before handing me the receiver and like all good managers, going off about his business.

Cool!  I had never been dead before and wondered if I could collect on my Death-in-Service insurance and fuck off to that beach bar in Belize I always dreamt about.

‘Oh, thank God you’re still alive!’ Micky blubbed down the phone.

‘Bollocks,’ I said, ‘being alive has just cost me quarter of a million and my ticket out of this shithole.’

It seems bizarre then, given I have been used to no communications at all, that only a few days incommunicado should irritate me but irritate me it has.  I rang Marcia in town and complained. 

‘Good!’ she said, ‘Maybe you’ll get off yer arse and fit the kitchen,’ and hung up.

‘Gosh! Her English is improving,’ I thought.

The thing is, I have been fitting her kitchen.  First I had to work out the jigsaw puzzle.  Then I had to figure a way around all the missing bits and repair the damaged-in-transit bits.  Then Marcia rejected the first layout, the one she had agreed and I had designed and built the house around, so I had to reposition all the cabinets again, which meant the plumbing for the sink and dishwasher, and the electrics for the oven and extractor hood were on the wrong walls.  The house is built from sturdy, double panelled timber so it was easy during the build to hide all cables and pipework.  Swapping everything around would mean either ripping all the interior kitchen walls off or surface mounting everything, neither option appealing to me.  Fortunately, the house is built on stilts. As I, together with the plumber and the electrician pondered the problem, the solution came to me.

‘Drill straight through the floor,’ I decided, ‘and run everything underneath the house.’

There then followed a discussion about the size of the holes necessary.  The dishwasher requires a water inlet, a waste water outlet and a supply of electricity.  The cable was fitted with a chunky UK standard plug.

‘Cut the cable,’ I told the electrician.

The water inlet has a device the size of a packet of butter at the end of the pipe just where it is supposed to screw onto the water inlet pipe.  I have no idea what it does but I assume there was a good reason Bosch thought the extra expense was worth it so rejected the plumber’s suggestion to just cut it off and fit a new union to the pipe once it had been passed through the floor.  This resulted in quite a sizeable hole.

‘We will have to fill the gaps,’ pointed out the plumber, ‘else snakes will get into the house’

‘I never considered that,’ I admitted, ‘don’t bother filling the gaps’

‘But, Sr Tomas!’ he exclaimed, ‘Snakes!’

‘Snakes perhaps,’ I said, ‘but no rats.’  I hate rats and I really like snakes that eat rats.

With all the floor cabinets fitted and the plumbing and power supply decided upon, I started to fit the cabinet doors.  The hinges come in three parts and have to be assembled and screwed to the doors and then the cabinet carcass.  Naturally, and with my experience of this UK supplied kitchen so far, I wasn’t in the least bit bloody surprised that none, not one of the pre-drilled holes lined up.  And this is the problem with buying ‘bespoke’ kitchens.  They’re not really.  Bespoke is when craftsmen turn up on site to chisel and plane away wood and make it fit.  This company’s idea of bespoke is to run through all the permutations offered by a massive bin of generic parts made in China and cobble together something that almost, but never quite fits and leaves the client to sort it out.  I probably have cabinets from their Lancashire range and doors from the Yorkshire range.  Hardly a marriage made in heaven.

The door hinges came with something called ‘soft close’.  I didn’t know that as among the other things the supplier had omitted to supply was an installation manual.  As I ripped the hinge packs open, I noticed these strange hydraulic devices and hadn’t a clue what they were.  The doors seemed to open and close perfectly well without them.  ‘But they must have been included for a reason?’ I reasoned.  So I fiddled around.  I played with the three bits comprising a hinge trying the components first this way, then that.  Alex thought this was a brilliant game and happily kept me company.  I lit a cigarette and poured myself a scotch into the cut down plastic water bottle I was using as a glass to help me overcome the enormous sense of frustration overwhelming me before having another go.

‘No, Daddy, you are doing it wrong!’ Alex exclaimed, ‘you do it this way!’ and proceeded to assemble in the blink of an eye, a perfect soft close hinge.

‘Wow!’ I said.  I tossed him another bag of hinge bits.  ‘Do it again.’  And he did.  It was so simple, it was child’s play.

Under Alex’s supervision, I retrofitted all the installed hinges with the soft close component.  I tried slamming the doors as hard as I could.  I tried just gently nudging them closed.  It made no difference.  Two inches short of fully closed, the door slowed to a snail’s pace and quietly settled into place as if guided by an Angel’s hand.  The last time I had seen doors as well behaved as these was on Star Trek.  I called the plumber and let him have a go.  ‘Brilliant!’ he exclaimed.  I called the electrician so he could have a go as well, ‘Amazing!’ he said.  For the next ten minutes, all three of us played with the doors as men do when they are supposed to be working (thank God there are no nail guns on site) and then Marcia got back from town.

All the base units had been fitted and levelled.  The dishwasher positioned, the built in oven fitted.

‘What do you think?’ I asked Marcia, ‘and get a load of these doors!’ I continued, giving her a demonstration.

‘Is that where the fridge is going to go?’ she asked.  I nodded, my enthusiasm slightly deflated.  I wasn’t expecting her to give me a blow job there and then but a few ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ and maybe a peck on the cheek would have been nice.

‘I think it would look nicer over there,’ she said pointing to a wall bereft of electrical connections.




I had made the beef jerky stew, the red cabbage was delicious, the beans were cooked nicely and I had just put the rice on when Marcia rang.

‘Can you pick me up from the main road, please?’

‘I thought you were in the truck?’ I said.

‘They can’t load the new generator tonight,’ she said, ‘so Roddie will stay in town with the truck.  I came back by taxi’

Oh bugger me effing sideways.  That means she is going to be bloody tired and in a really, really bad mood.  Thank Christ I had dinner more or less prepared.

‘Alex!’ I shouted, ‘get yer kit on!  We have to collect Marcia from the Curva!’

‘I’m watching Ben 10!’ he complained, ‘You said it was my turn!’

This was true.  All day he had been faced with a choice: play by himself or watch the Ashes.  I know England have retained the Ashes but it is nice to see that someone has plugged the Aussies into a charger and they are now giving England a run for their money.  No sportsman feels comfortable with a whitewash; it’s the close ones that earn bragging rights.

‘Righto, son, I’ll see you in a bit!’

‘I’m coming, Daddy, I’m coming!’ he shouted leaping off the sofa.

Marcia hates to be kept waiting and I don’t like the idea of her standing on the corner of a main road in the dark with every trucker hauling his rig up thinking she is a prostitute up for a free ride.

‘Where’re your shoes, son?’

‘I’ve found one, I don’t know where the other one is!’

‘Bugger it, we’re only going to the main road and back, go barefoot!’

‘But I want my shoes, Daddy!’

There’s no arguing with him.  He wants to go with me but only with his shoes and I am in a bleeding hurry. I scrabbled like a crab all over the floor.

‘Here! Here is your shoe!  Let’s get going!’

‘My biscuits, Daddy!’ he wailed.

Bollocks.  Talk about a rod for my own back.  Every time Alex and I rode in the truck and now in the Jeep, he gets a packet of biscuits to munch on.  It’s a thing we do.  He would scoff a biscuit and then hand me one.  We always made a big deal out of it.  I was driving so he had to feed me since I couldn’t take my hands off the steering wheel.  It is little things like that which help us bond.

I ran down the shop and grabbed a pack of choccie chip cookies.

‘Ready?’ I asked him as I settled behind the steering wheel and started the engine.

‘No, it's too hot,’ he replied fiddling with every knob on the dash.

I stabbed the aircon button and set off at a lick.

It is three clicks to the main road.  There is some tarmac but it is only what’s left from colonial days.  Basically it is just one pothole after another.  I misjudged and hit a particularly big one launching the car violently into the air.

‘Do you want to live alone?’ Alex asked me.

‘Eh?’ I replied.

‘If you kill me, you'll have to live alone,' he explained.

How does this kid's mind work?  He's not supposed to understand irony at his age!

I slowed down.  Alex and I shared chocolate chip cookies, I let him fiddle with the stereo and the aircon.  This was a real Man moment.  We were cruising.  Two blokes together.

In the meantime, the rice burnt and Marcia fumed.


At last, a decent photo!

Last night Ria’s husband Jaco, a mountain of a man, a true Afrikaner with only the most basic grasp of de rooinek sprache (English), decided to cook a Potje.  Except he pronounced it ‘Poikey’ but assured me it was spelt ‘Potje’.  Mind you, being a true Afrikaner, if you asked him what he was wearing the night before, don’t be too dismayed (if you are a lover of the English language) to hear him reply, ‘I were wearing a blue jeans pant’.

A potje is basically a stew made with meat, vegetables, herbs and spices in a heavy cast iron pot very reminiscent of a mini witch’s cauldron.  This pot is placed onto glowing charcoal and left for hours.  Traditionally they were placed on the glowing embers of a fire in the morning and left all day, the food being ready in the evening.  They were the original slow cookers and were just added to as the food within was consumed.  It certainly must have saved on the washing up.

The resultant stew is delicious; the meat tender (don’t forget, sometimes they were cooking with some pretty tough cuts) and the gravy rich.  If they were eating this morning, noon and night, no wonder the average Afrikaner is twice the size of the equivalent Homo Sapiens to which they can only be loosely related.

Jako’s potje was no exception.  I am not given to over eating, most of my calories come in liquid form, but I surprised everyone by going for seconds.

So why am I writing a post about something mundane as a stew?

Well it is all to do with people such as Ian Hutson, Cro Magnon, Yorkshire Pudding, George (of the Flee and Float, not the jungle), the Fifth Columnist et al.  They ALL take beautiful photographs.  It seems that every blog I follow is enhanced with stunning photographs.  Even gay Welsh raconteurs take better pictures than me.  The photos on my blog are not just amateurish, they are crap. I love photography.  I have an expensive digital SLR with interchangeable lenses.  I bought it because I read all the reviews and it had the most stars on Amazon in my price range.  Well, if it so good and I can’t be bothered to read and digest the mammoth instruction manual so just set it to automatic in the expectation it will do it all for me, why does it take such rubbish photos?  The thing that really irritates me about it is the pop up flash.  It will not go off when I want it to and will go off when I don’t.  I really wanted to take a photo of the witch’s cauldron steaming on its bed of glowing charcoal but the flash kept going off, the resultant photo being, as usual, crap.  I tried placing my hand in front of the flash but then the camera would not focus and not take a photo.  Everyone had a fiddle with it.  We pushed buttons, we entered and were quickly lost in a maze of menus, the battery died, I fitted a fresh one from the charger, we finally found a way to disable the flash and then it wouldn’t take a picture at all.  In the meantime, the pot bubbled.

‘Right, that’s it!’ I thought and pressed the factory reset button undoing half an hour of collective effort.

I framed the shot of the pot.  I then put my left hand on top of the pop up flash to physically prevent it doing what it was designed to do and pressed the shutter release.  I heard the beep beep of the auto focus and the click of the flash release.  Obviously, with my maw holding the flash down, when the shutter released, if it did flash, the camera flashed its own guts.

My handling of the camera may have been slightly unorthodox but I was nevertheless quite pleased with the result:

Monday 12 August 2013

The Luanda International School is a private, non-profit, coeducational day school

Alex will be five on the 2nd September.

Naturally, I have been thinking about his schooling.  I have not just been thinking about his schooling, God knows if you are a regular reader of my blog you will know I have been losing sleep over this and any number of other issues.

Acknowledged as the finest school in Angola is the Luanda International School.  It offers the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme and operates under the auspices of the ‘New England Association of Schools and Colleges.’  The NEASC eh?  So I looked them up.
"The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) provides accreditation services for more than 2000 public and private institutions in the six state region - Pre-K through university.  NEASC accreditation uses self-reflection, peer review and best practices as integral components of its assessment process."

I know that I am a cynical old soak but I understand that Marcia wants the very best for her first born and only son so I handled her gently when she brought me the prospectus for the Luanda International School that I was now dutifully flogging my way through, 'Umming' and 'Aahing' at regular intervals with as much conviction as TV chefs do tasting their own dishes on camera as I flipped the pages.

‘International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme’ sounds to me more like Microsoft Office Home Edition rather than Microsoft Office Professional.  Understandably I wanted to know whether this school was a registered Baccalaureate exam centre and what their pass rate was.  There was nothing at all in the prospectus answering either question.  The only thing I could find was on their very thin Wikipedia entry which stated: 'The IB Middle Years Programme is being implemented in grades 8-10'.  So it's not ready yet then?  That's what you're saying on your website, isn't it?  Be honest.

New England Association of Schools and Colleges sounds more provincial than international to me.  In fact it sounds just like those irritating adverts Google throws up at its users offering International on-line degrees with the Cambridge University College the whereabouts of the campus of which is uncertain since no one has been able to locate them in Cambridge (one of the two main university cities in England).

Determined not to piss Marcia off by screwing the prospectus up into a tight ball and using it to light my barbecue, I read on:

“The most significant and distinctive feature of the IB Primary Years Programme is the six transdiciplinary themes."

Is the six transdisciplinary themes?  Is?  Since there are no less than six features, surely it should read "The most significant and distinctive features of the IB Primary Years Programme are the six transdiciplinary themes."

"These themes are about the issues that have meaning for, and are important to all of us.  The programme offers a balance between learning about or through the subject areas, and learning beyond them.  The six themes of global significance create a transdisciplinary framework that allows students to ‘step up’ beyond the confines of learning within subject areas”

What on earth does that mean?  I have quoted this faithfully from the prospectus, as written and punctuated including the words in bold type so would be grateful if anyone with a reasonable command of the English language could enlighten me.

The six transdisciplinary themes help teachers to develop a programme of inquiries-in-depth investigations into important ideas, identified by the teachers, and requiring a high level of involvement on the part of the students.  These inquiries are substantial, in-depth and usually last for several weeks

If I sent my child to school and he wasn’t highly involved, I’d be a bit annoyed.  So if the curriculum consists of a series of inquiries-in-depth investigations each lasting several weeks, what are they?

Who we are

Where we are in place and time

How we express ourselves

How the world works

How we organise ourselves

Sharing the planet

Blimey.  Answer all those questions and you'd be up for a Nobel Peace Prize.

‘Whatever happened to the three R’s?’ I thought to myself as I struggled through pages of this drivel to the end of the prospectus.  I want little Alex to learn how to read, to write and do sums, not learn how to hug trees and knit yoghurt.  I had this horrible vision of Alex as a teenager having attended this school running down Oxford Street with his hair in dreadlocks smashing up shop windows clutching a placard demanding Land Rights for Gay Whales.

I then turned to the insert to the prospectus, the fee schedules.

Annual fee:  US$35,448

Registration and Annual Facility Fee:  US$15,000

Let me remind you, as if you weren’t already suffering the same heart palpitations as I was and were, like me, hurriedly reaching for your Inderal heart tablets and Nitrolingual spray, this is a DAY school, not a boarding school.  US$50,448 per annum.  If you want your child to join the other children for lunch, by the way, that is an extra US$1,915.

Christ Almighty, this is the sort of fee prestigious boarding schools charge in UK, schools who in return for the fee all but guarantee your son a career in the City or a Commission in one of the three services afterwards.  Universities only charge £9,000 (US$14,400) per annum.

Just reading the curriculum in the prospectus I began to wonder what planet these people were on.  Having seen the fees I am now convinced they are part of a solidly grounded organisation the sole purpose of which is to scam the desperate.

I am unsure how to conclude this post.  Even after sleeping on it a night, I am still in shock.  I would gladly pay the fifty grand a year if I was convinced it was a good school, but I am not willing to pay that much just so Alex can learn how to share the planet and, and… hug trees and knit fucking yoghurt.

I am faced with three choices:  swallow gallons of backward running spit and send him to the International School; consign him to the truly awful Angolan system; or send a five year old abroad to boarding school.  It would break my heart to be separated from yet another of my boys.

Answers on a post card please.
PS:  I am just about desperate enough to offer YP 50 grand a year to tutor Alex and send him to a local Yorkshire school but then I know I would see my boy on Sky News smashing up Oxford Street and stealing frocks from Harvey Nichols.