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.


  1. Well in some ways justice has been done...everyone happy(ish). Anyway, it looks a lovely colour....hope the ice cream was nice too!

    1. I would have preferred Cummins Yellow but thieves cannot be choosers. This ice cream was great, so was the Cuba Libre!

  2. Once the dam has burst there is little to do downstream except climb to higher ground. [Confucius, circa 1973, during his hippie phase].

    I can only pass on to you the advice that my mother gave me as a child. File off the serial numbers, give it a respray and for crying out loud, chain it to something substantial so that it doesn't get re-nicked.

    Splendid. Now, about your taking it easier and doing no heavy work such as unloading a small rainforest from the back of an HGV ...

    1. You could always come over and give me a hand. Oh no, that wouldn't work, you are scared of spiders...

    2. Ian, is it too late to meet your mother? I like those of a practical proactive mind: File and respray NOW, do NOT repent later.

      Don't worry about Tom. Any advice totally wasted on him. He'll do what he does best and that is to get himself into scrapes. Never mind spiders. The guy lives on adrenaline. He thinks he needs whiskey. He doesn't. Just put him into a snake pit with a generator (colour immaterial) and he'll thrive.


  3. I didn't know you could get The Soviet Red flag coloured Agas in Angola.


    1. You can get anything Soviet here. I can do you a nice, one owner low mileage Gaz truck painted any colour you like so long as it is green...

  4. Somewhere a small child is weeping.

    "But Daddy, why can't I watch Ben Ten?"

    The child's mother stands still as a stone, eyes fixed on the non-functioning washing machine. The air is hot. The fan blades don't turn.

    The father steps away from his crying child and comatose wife, looks at the concrete pad where - until very recently - the generator once stood, and then walks off towards the tall tree, the rope in his hand.

    I hope you're proud of yourself. Two grand delivered? That's a fucking steal!

    1. Oh Man! I have just walked all the way back from the site (I need the exercise). I come in , sit down, pour a whisky and read my blog comments. The whisky tastes like battery acid now and I have just punched the dog and told Alex to piss off (or was it the other way around?).

      I have just ripped half the kitchen out again. One side just didn't look quite right and I knew, I just knew it would irritate me. So I am going to do it all again.

  5. While waiting for this blog, I read one of your earlier numbers from last year when you updated a video of the area. I looked up your place on Google Earth. It looks stunning.
    Another great read.

    1. P.s. How about a new updated video?

    2. Someone nicked my vídeo camera but my brother is due out for his annual visit and will bring me another.

  6. I'm sure you seen pictures of 'The Seven Sisters' white cliffs near Dover. There are about 4 cottages at the west end of the cliffs that are god-forsaken, no electricity, no water, no mains sewers, etc, etc. A mate of mine owned one of them.

    In a little outdoor shed he had a HUGE, green painted, 1940's, petrol powered, generator, with an enormous fly wheel. What a wonderful bloody machine. It NEVER failed!

    1. I've not only seen pictures of them, I have walked across them.

      I bet your mate's gennie would run on used chip fat.

    2. I think it was an early Perkins.

  7. If you don't start to be more careful of yourself the whole damn place will go unfinished because you won't be there to finish it !!!

    1. Yes Mummy. Sorry. I will try. Alex's Mummy says she will buy me a bicycle to help me get fit again. I hope she buys me one with the clickers on the spokes and tassles on the handlebars.

    2. I hope she gets you some trainer wheels as well...
      O deary me, Hippo, how will we get you all better again?

  8. Well I have just made myself sit down for half and hour to read your blog and Helsie is right... But saying this to you is , I know , a bit like pissing against the wind....
    You are , what we call in the trade..... A para suicidal character
    Now I mean this lovingly and With affection
    All it means is that you live life on the edge ( and probably always have done) have always been prone to accidents, danger, and injury
    Telling you to be careful
    Is as useful as a fart in a space suit

    1. I think you know me well enough to know you can say anything you like without insulting me.

      Besides, Para Suicidal sounds quite special!

      Was Ernest Hemingway a para suicidal before he, um, committed suicide?

      If that is my destiny then I need to hurry up and write this book! (and lock my pistol away!)

  9. I'm with John Gray on his observations. Your tales are amusing for us, but I don't think that's justification for depriving some delightful sounding people in your immediate circle. I've been experiencing some "God" moments here in the Highlands. We were traversing the moors behind the castle this afternoon, blighted now by those infernal wind turbines, and worse to come. But the other evening we sat in the garden and listened to...nothing. It was quite exquisite, no wind, no midges, but the occasional flash of nature, including the roe deer in the parkland, rabbits, hares, pheasants, partidges and of course grouse. I want to stick around a bit longer, (on earth). Scotland will have performed its magic by the time we depart...until the next visit.

    1. Wind turbines blighting your property? Can't you paint little targets on the blades and take pot shots at them to save clays?

  10. I hope you've got that generator re-painted by now. May I suggest blue.

    1. Perhaps it was the evening light. Perhaps a camera in the hands of an idiot but in real life the generator really is more red than Cro Magnon orange.

    2. I tell you what I am going to do and I think you might approve.

      I am going to buy loads of paintbrushes and loads of diferente coloured paint. I am then going to invite the boys and the neices to paint it however they want.

    They chanted, when he did not listen they armed themselves with burning torches....

    Seriously CLASSIC H,O,T.L brilliant


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