Saturday 30 November 2013

Only in Africa!

Yesterday, I was delighted to receive a visit from my old boss, Andy, and a former work colleague, Jaco who is an emaciated South African Boer.
Life in Africa is a case of Kill or be Killed, survival of the fittest so Boer females give birth on the move and Boer children are expected to keep up with the herd or perish in the bush having been scavenged by Rooinek predators (an animal whose habits are somewhat similar to jackals and Hyenas but not as well tolerated).  When Boer children start teething, generally at three weeks of age, they are not given teething rings or salves from Boot's the Chemist, they are given strips of cured and dried Rinder Fleisch to gnaw on.  This intense amount of protein at such an early age makes them as big and strong as the Buffalo they farm.  Clearly Jaco, at only a shade over 250lbs was the runt of the litter so I am pleased that Andy saw fit to keep him on by employing him on light duties hauling sixteen tonne generators into position before connecting them up.
Naturally I was happy to show them what I had been doing since I left them after the heart attack.  To be honest, since the snake bite I had done absolutely nothing save issue vague orders so now ambulant again, this was the ideal opportunity to see how my instructions had been executed.
Marcia and I are fencing the next plot but one down from us.  I was keen to see how they were doing.  Andy has bought several plots of land so I wanted to show him the fencing I was using.  To me it was the right balance between economy and quality, miles better than a simple chain link fence and only a fraction more costly, an extra expense easily recovered through lower labour costs.  Over the past two days I knew the labourers were installing a rolling gate across what will be the driveway and entrance to the site so I suggested we walked that far so I could see how they were getting on before jumping into his car and continuing down the road to visit the restaurant site.

I have known Andy for a number of years, he was my boss for two of them.  I knew exactly the burning question he wanted to ask.  'Why build a gate behind a tree?'  He was too polite to do so but we have known each other long enough so I answered it for him.  'I have no idea why they put the gate here,' I said.  It was a nice gate.  Strong, well constructed, but about as much use as a chocolate fucking fire guard.  Chopping trees down is easy, although I hate doing so if it can possibly be avoided, the hard work is digging out the stumps.  All this extra effort and the death of a tree through sheer stupidity.

Fortunately, the Chinese labourers had arrived in a bloody great front loader with a back hoe so I asked them just to knock the one tree down and rip out the stumps.

Andy, Jaco and I leapt into the car and carried on down to the restaurant site.

The land is getting a bit overgrown but the cottages are going up nicely, rising out of the bush.  Three of them have their roofs on.

Boyet, the Filipino carpenter on top of the job.  The dark stains on the walls are the waste oil we are applying to the inside before cladding.  We will sand the outside and apply a lighter oil based wood preservative.  It pays to read Big Don Kev Alviti's blog 'Sawdust in my Socks'

I think I have mentioned it before but every bit of timber is rough and has to be planed and shaped on site.

A very skinny Boer making his way through the site.  He is wearing a typical South African dual colour Egyptian cotton safari shirt.  They are available very reasonably priced per square metre from Rent-a-Tent in South Africa.  He has combined this with a pair of genuine American button fly Levi 501's available in his smaller size from Wal-Mart's 'Junior Texas Ranger' clothing collection in Houston and all other good North American outlets catering to the undersized.

On Sunday I am hoping that the bull dozer will turn up to clean up and level the rest of the land so we can continue the construction.  I have to do this now because we need to start laying electricity cables and other utilities.

Clearly my Chinese is not what it used to be.  As we passed the site being fenced on the way home, the front loader back hoe was gone and the tree and stump were still there.  Another case of Communists working to rule rather than doing a chap a favour.  Now I am going to have to pay to get the machine on site again. 


Friday 29 November 2013

This post is Piss!

God, I wish I could do that!

When I was a young kid, I peed the bed.  I used to get beaten for that.  The more I was beaten, the more I peed the bed.  I was so terrified I used to take my pillow and sleep on the floor and would then swamp the carpet.  I didn’t mean to, I just couldn’t help it.

Marcia and I toilet trained little Alex very quickly but, being only a toddler fresh out of nappies he swamped the bed occasionally too.  Fortunately we had a large palm tree right outside our door.  I made it a nightly Man ritual for the two of us to stand there in the dark and piss on the palm tree before retiring to bed.  Alex thought this was amazing fun.  Marcia thought it was disgusting and complained which made it amazing fun for me too.

Pretty soon Alex stopped peeing the bed and would even wake me and in a sleepy voice say, ‘Daddy, I need the palm tree.’  It will be a lovely little code between us bemusing all within earshot in the future.  So many people are coy when it comes to the loo.  Americans even go so far as to call them rest rooms.  This confused me as a kid growing up in Southern Germany where lots of very hospitable Americans and Canadians were stationed.  We'd get invited onto the base and the first thing we would be asked was whether we needed the 'Rest Room'.  We would always thank our hosts politely and tell them we weren't tired.  In future, we will be able to ask our guests if they need a palm tree.

When Alex gets his first serious girlfriend, I’ll remind him of that.  Every young suitor could only be impressed with his Dad having introduced to him his burning heart’s desire and the father opens the engagement with, ‘Do you remember how you used to swamp your mattress…?’

Mauro, who is ten and is staying with us for a while has swamped his bed a few times now.  He is dreadfully embarrassed about it and when Marcia made a few jokes, with the best intention of letting the boy know she did not see it as an unforgiveable crime, I checked her fearing public discussion of the boy’s nocturnal toilet habits would only increase his shame and worsen the problem.  The thing is that when a kid gets tired, it goes to bed and can’t be bothered to visit the loo first.  Make peeing fun, though, and it will look upon the act as an amusing ritual.

There are loads of palm trees in our new garden but I have recently developed a slight aversion to wandering around the garden at night so I had to think of another fun place to pee.  If it wasn’t to be anywhere in the garden, that left only one other alternative, pee off the veranda!   Naturally, to make it even more interesting, we can see who can pee the furthest, or who can hit that coconut husk.  I reckon that in no time at all I will have cured Mauro of his bedwetting without having to delve into any psychological reasons for a ten year old boy to be bedwetting.  I am in no way qualified for that and feel so long as he is treated with love and affection along with the opportunity to piss himself with laughter at Marcia’s reaction (heartily encouraged by his lunatic ‘Uncle’), he’ll cure himself.

I can’t make this post a long one, I’m busting for a slash.  Marcia has just arrived home and we've been saving it all day!

WARNING! Unpleasant Photos

Seriously, this is nothing to do with my toe; some of these photos ARE distressing and show graphic pictures of war in Angola.

My toe is healing at an almost miraculous rate.  I have finished the lengthy course of antibiotics I was on and last night fell asleep in bed before I had read even a single page of my book.  At four in the morning I ran out of ammunition.  The guy to one side of me was dead, to the other side the young lad whose name I kept forgetting was staring at me with impossibly wide open eyes, a huge red stain spreading across his shirt and his mouth opening and closing like a fish ashore as he drowned in his own blood.  Then they were on top of me, teeth bared, bayonets fixed, insane with blood lust.  I screamed. 
Marcia shook me awake.  Little Alex was sitting up in his bed looking terrified, Marcia also looked very concerned.  I was bathed in sweat.  The sheets of the bed were all in a tangle and soaking wet.
'Have I been talking in my sleep again?' I asked Marcia.

Jean Charles Gutner was everything I expected a war photo journalist to be.  Tall, slim, indecently good looking as only blonde long haired Frenchman could be and very, very fit.  He dressed, looked and acted the part.  While everyone else was either keeping their heads down or at the very least keeping low and moving fast, he had his head up and was taking photographs.  I had been billeted in what was supposed to be only temporary accommodation for me in the same guest house as a number of international journalists and stringers.  That’s where I first met Jean Charles along with the BBC stringer, Chris Simpson and the Reuter’s correspondent, Nicholas Shaxson.  We are all friends to this day.  Chris and Nick had laid bets that I would not survive three months.  If I was up against long odds, I couldn’t imagine what Jean Charles’ were.
It wasn’t my job to take photographs and the few that I did have not survived.  Jean Charles was, however, kind enough to give me a few hard copies of his photos taken while we were together which I fortuitously concealed in a large book (on Swedish Architecture actually) so they wouldn’t get bent and I dug them out this morning to take a look.  Maybe by looking at them again, I could once again come to terms with what I had witnessed and put those memories to bed in the hope they would lay dormant for at least another decade.  Since they cover the subject of my nightmare last night, I reproduce them here along with a little explanation of each.

A moment of peace, Cubal, Angola
Captured enemy weapons, Huambo 1995
Independence Day celebrations.  Angola gained independence in 1975. 
The civil war carried on for another 27 years.
Russians, Cubans, South Africans and mercenaries of every nationality fought on Angolan soil.
The rich in the capital, Luanda, largely unaffected by the war, played on the beautiful beaches of Mussulo Island.
While civilians in the rest of the country buried their dead in the soil that they thought,
after a long struggle for independence, belonged to them.
Children of war.  Caimbando, Angola.
Boys as young as fourteen were pressed into service.
Girls of fourteen were raped.
Civilian casualties being buried in a communal grave after a night artillery bombardment
during the battle for Gabela.
Civilian killing his cow, they had to eat.

Civilians executed by UNITA rebels, Balombo.
The photograph has been cropped so you cannot see the children.
They were forced into a large water tank, petrol was poured onto them and then they were set alight.
Atrocities like this occurred all too frequently.
Most African soldiers had their Fetishes, their Ju Ju dolls to protect them.
I'd have been happier if they had just kept their fucking rifles clean.
The artillery bombardment of Gabela begins.
The rebels had already withdrawn, any men left in the town had melted into the bush. 
All that was left in the town were terrified women and children.
Many medals for bravery were won.
A moment to relax.  Mabubas Dam.
A lost child, Benguela.
Government held cities were flooded with orphaned street kids.
Many sought refuge in the drains at night and begged during the day.
More fresh graves being dug

Civilians, desperate to flee, trying to storm an aircraft during the UN evacuation of Huambo.
Huambo was fucking hammered afterwards.
An assault group moving into position through the bush prior to an attack near Ganda.
Logistics were woeful and it was impossible to stop the men stealing anything they could eat from civilians.
All men of fighting age who were not involved in the conflict would do a runner leaving the women and children defenceless.
You can imagine that by then, my opinion of the bravery of the average African man was somewhat tarnished, a view shared by no less than Che Guevara in his Congo diaries.
As a soldier, the average African is a complete waste of fucking rations yet capable of the most unspeakable brutality against his own people.
The UN tried very, very hard but it was impossible to evacuate whole populations.
I forget the name of the tall UN official, the guy with the sunglasses sticking his finger up to say he could only take one more passenger but he was brilliant.
As you can see, he stood head and shoulders above all of us.
I bet he got no recognition whatsoever for his sterling efforts.
Just think how his heart bled having to turn people, especially kids away.
Some mother's son, 
Sadly for him, he was on the wrong side and met a good man behind a bayonet.
Landmines and booby traps were a constant threat for citizens moving around Angola,
as they are in Afghanistan and the countless other conflict zones engineered by
venal politicians and the lobbyists who support them.
Twenty people died in this refugee transport, most of them women and children.
Lucapa. 1995.  One of the few photographs of mine that survived.
And here I am whining like a wussie about a piddly little nightmare. 

Look at this young Orphan of War.

Who is going to stroke his poor little head when he wakes up screaming?

Wednesday 27 November 2013

You Silly Goose!

I have to service the generator every 200 hours of running time.  In practice, I just do it every two weeks.  Besides an oil filter, two fuel filters and an air filter, I need eight litres of oil. 

It also means that every month, I have to dispose of sixteen litres of waste oil.  Here, most people just dig a hole and tip the waste oil into it.  After a few years of that you do not need to be an environmental scientist to appreciate what the ground looks like or how unproductive it has become.

Fortunately, I still have a use for it.  I soak the bottom few feet of the wood piles that support the new cottages I am building in it to stop them rotting and to keep the termites away.  I drain the oil from the generator into a bucket and then I carefully transfer it into a 200 litre drum.  This time, however, I was distracted so left the oil in the bucket.

I was sitting on the sofa watching the news when the kids ran in shouting excitedly that Goosie had 'painted' himself.  We have no paint here.  How the hell had Goosie managed to paint himself?

Place three children together with an easy going adult who hardly ever raises his voice and never offers corporal punishment and you have the ideal environment for budding pranksters and practical jokers.  Some of their pranks are really quite good.  I smoke SL cigarettes, a local brand.  They are white their entire length.  One day they carefully extracted all the cigarettes from a nearly full packet and replaced them the other way around.  An experienced smoker can remove a cigarette from the packet and light it without taking his eyes of whatever task he is engaged in.  I know I can.  It is highly unusual to have the kids sitting in a row, being perfectly still and well behaved, while watching me type.  Being a heavy smoker, however, they knew their patience would not be overly tested.  I finished the paragraph I was typing and then, as I was proof reading it I reached for my cigarettes.  They all stifled sniggers.

'What?' I asked turning to look at them as I placed the cigarette between my lips.

'Nothing, Daddy!' squealed Alex.  Mauro and Marta were squirming, their faces twisting as they tried hard not to laugh. Well something has obviously tickled them, I thought as I lit up and dragged in a lungful of the poisonous fumes produced by the burning filter.  As I hacked up my sphincter the kids shrieked with delight and rolled about in paroxysm of mirth.

'Very funny!,' I told them, but I meant it; it really was clever and I told them so while lighting up another cigarette.  A DOUBLE whammy!'  The kids howled, they couldn't believe their luck!

With that kind of track record, I wasn't just going to take their word that Goosie had somehow managed to paint himself without first considering what practical joke I might be walking into.  Ever more insistent, they persuaded me out into the garden.  Goosie had indeed painted himself.

Can Geese look sheepish?

For some inexplicable reason, Goosie had stuck his head into the bucket of waste oil.

One unusually well behaved oily goose

Nothing else for it but to get out the detergent and give him a good but gentle sponging followed by a bath in fresh water.

My God!  I am going bald!
Wash Day at Uncle Tom's Cabin

Normally, Goosie is, as our American cousins would say, an 'Ornery Critter'.  He must have known I was trying to help because he stood there between my legs and let me get on with it. For a goose whose favourite pastime is to hide under the house next to the steps and then burst out suddenly surprising the hell out of anyone descending before chasing the unfortunate individual across the garden, wings outstretched administering painful pecks on bare calves, he was very well behaved.

Afterwards I went to decant the oil into the drum.  As I got to the bucket, I realised that under the sun, the still surface of the oil made a surprisingly good mirror.  I resolved to redouble my efforts to find anyone round here with a couple of female geese for sale.  If poor old Goosie tried to mount his own reflection, clearly he is in desperate need of a leg over.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Taking a Hint

My first Father-in-law (a sad reflection on my character to have to admit to more than one) had a dairy farm in Leicestershire.  In addition to his herd of milkers, he had a duck pond and was raising ducks, selling their eggs and culling excess birds.  I remember helping him when I was on leave from the Army.  We’d string ‘em up by the feet and stab ‘em through the eyeballs, straight through the brain.  I was just an amateur when I first started so often had to chase back up the line to finish a ‘flapper’ off.  Bryan used to get very angry with me if I ballsed one up and made it suffer.  He could do it clean and had no tolerance for inept morons like me.
It was a nice little earner for him until a fox recognised an easy source of food.

I had just returned from Central America with my trusty old Remington 700 BDL in 30 odd Six calibre.  That wouldn't just kill a fox; with soft point core locked ammunition, it would spread it across the countryside. 

This persistent fox was going to screw his business up so I rashly volunteered to kill it.

I selected an ideal firing point on the landing of the wooden stair case leading to the second floor of one of his barns overlooking his yard, separated from the duck pond by a four foot high dry stone boundary wall.
It was a cold November night and the fog settled in.  Pretty soon I could not see the pond well enough to guarantee a clear shot.  Since it was only a hundred yards and night, I had taken the scope off and was going to shoot using the iron sights but, don't forget, I had done all my hunting in the tropics so I was unused to freezing fog.  I needed another firing position.

Rather than wander around with a loaded hunting rifle, I left the rifle where it was on the landing, crossed the yard and hopped over the wall close to the pond to find a better position.  As I sat there thinking that the position behind the wall I had found, in the shadow cast by the yard lights was ideal, the fox trotted past me, bold as brass, crossed the little bridge to duck island and entered the coop.
My Father in Law, a sensible God fearing farmer had always been sceptical of his wild son-in-law so had laughed when I suggested I could shoot his fox for him by staying up all night.  In his critical eyes, I was a pastiche of a Great White Hunter.  Well fuck him, I thought.  Welshmen are nothing more than Irishmen who couldn’t swim.  I could not only swim, I could shoot straight.  I’ll bring him his damn fox, I thought.  But it was jolly cold.

Now I found myself with the fox in my field of vision but not within the sights of my rifle which lay a hundred yards beyond my grasp.  In the Army we were always taught that our rifles were our wives and we must keep them close, sleep with them.  I had committed a cardinal sin by laying the rifle down and abandoning it.  If my Father-in-Law lost a duck this night, I was doomed to incessant ridicule.

So I went after the fox.  They are bloody fast.  As I came over the bridge, this one was out of the coop in an instant and dived into the back end of the frozen pond.  It was the ice that did for her.  She could neither swim nor scrabble over the ice which just collapsed under her weight.  I dived on top of her with the most enormous splash and she bit the shit out of me.  I held her under the ice cold water until she stopped struggling and the jaws clamped onto my hand relaxed.

Pretty bloodied, I struggled up the muddy bank and deposited her body onto the frost crispy grass.  Amazingly, she was still alive but exhausted.  I was bloody exhausted as well and freezing my nuts off.  But I hadn’t given up.  This animal lying next to me had though.  It had accepted it was going to die by my hands so just lay there waiting for the inevitable.  I had it by the throat and my leg over its body so it wasn’t going anywhere as we each caught our breath.
What a beautiful creature.  She was a hunter like me.  No.  She was a real hunter.  If I came home empty handed, I could go to a supermarket and stock up feed for the family.  If she failed to kill, she and her offspring would die.  The stakes in our game were vastly different.  She started to struggle and bit me again so I strangled her a bit more and sank my teeth hard into her ear.  What she didn’t realize was that it was very important for me that I present her to my Father-in-Law.  Having thus bonded but not trusting each other in the least, with a firm grip around her snout and body, I carried her into the farmhouse while she did her best to scrabble the shit out of my ribs.

I think they had all been expecting my abject failure or, in the unlikely event I had been successful, the corpse of a fox.  What they weren’t expecting was me walking in, soaking wet and freezing, with a live one under my arm.  I could see that they were all ready for bed and evidently quite prepared to leave me outside in sub-zero temperatures.  My Father-in-Law very decently offered me a warming scotch but with me having only two arms, both of which were fully occupied taming the untameable, I could only stare at the glass.  My Mother-in-Law was worried about fleas.  My young wife, to her credit, seemed more concerned about the blood I was oozing.
Naturally, the question arose, what were we to do with it?  I guess my Father-in-Law would have been happier had I just shot it (and I wasn’t about to explain to him why I hadn’t managed to do that).  Faced with an infestation of fleas now that I had introduced a wild animal into her lounge, I think my Mother-in-Law would have been more comfortable with supporting her daughter during the funeral of a husband who had been mauled to death by a wild animal in a lonely field, anything but beasties in the house.

‘I can hold her down and you can shoot her if you want,’ I suggested to Bryan, ‘after all, she seems pretty calm with me’.  Having been expelled from the house the two of us were now sitting in one of the stalls of his barn, the fox cowering in the corner, my hand still on its neck.
‘Alright, you hold her and I will shoot her’, I suggested when he said nothing, ‘I just need to go and get the rifle’

We sat there a while longer in silence.  Bryan was never really talkative.  Not with me anyway.
I hauled out my hip flask from the inside of my Barbour jacket with my left hand and we each took a few slugs of whisky.  Despite my heavy winter clothing the sleeves of my jacket had been torn to shreds and I was bleeding from my face and hands.

‘She’s beautiful, isn’t she?’ I said, only to break the silence while I lit up a cigarette.

This Vixen had destroyed Bryan’s duck business.  He had every right to be angry.  Foxes, like rats, are vermin and should be shot on sight.
Bryan got up and came back with a shovel.  In the right hands, a shovel is a pretty effective way of dispatching a wild animal but it is bloody horrible to watch, especially if you are the one holding the unfortunate beastie down.

Bryan looked at me.  He was a tough Welshman who made his living off the land.  As far as he was concerned, I was just another soft city kid. Not only that, I was an Englishman who had shagged his wife and consumed his daughter’s cherry.  He hated me.  I could tell by the way he gripped the shovel.

‘How about we just let her go?’ I said, ‘She’ll never come back’.   
He stood over me for a while, long enough for ash to drop off the end of my cigarette.

‘See that she doesn’t,’ he said before leaving me alone with the fox in his barn.

And do you know what?  Having had the fright of our lives, neither of us ever set foot or paw on the farm again.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Time for a whole box of Black Magic

Mmm.  Milk and dark chocolate with a soft centre.

‘He’s here’, said Marcia walking into the lounge.

Marcia is from Uige, the Bakongo tribe.  She is to all outward appearances educated and cosmopolitan but she is still African.  She will eat international dishes using cutlery but use the fingers of her right hand if it is a traditional dish and there are no foreigners present.

I was bitten by a snake that even I admit I did not see and two months later I am, if anything, worse.  I am not going to muck about with typically British understatement anymore, I am in agony.  I have not slept in weeks.  Marcia is doing all the work because I can’t walk.  It started with a nip on the toe, now my whole foot is involved.  All the Docs say is to keep swallowing the antibiotics and, most recently, iron tablets as well.  I am sick and dizzy with the pain and all the tablets I am ingesting.  I am sadly all too familiar with the bowl of my toilet as I vomit into it every night as quietly as I can so I do not disturb hard working Marcia’s sleep or that of little Alex.  Saturday afternoon I finally keeled over out of sheer exhaustion and Marcia thought I had suffered another heart attack so squirted a whole bottle of Nitrolingual between my teeth.  I am still recovering from the bloody headache.

‘Who’s here?’ I asked, not interested in the slightest.

‘The N’Ganga’

I averted my gaze from my book and surveyed the N’Ganga.  He must have been right at the back of the queue when God was handing out skin and fat.   Talk about ‘chiseled’, or ‘muscle definition’.  There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him.  All his veins stood out, pulsing in time with his heartbeat.  He was at least a foot taller than I was and had to bend down to come in through the door.  The man was bloody scary.  I had no idea what an N’Ganga was.

‘He has come to look at your foot,’ explained Marcia.

‘Oh, he’s a Doctor?’

‘Sort of,’ said Marcia.

He examined my foot carefully.  ‘It’s Gimbassa,’ he announced.

‘I knew it was Gimbassa,’ Marcia said.

‘What’s Gimbassa?’ I asked.

‘Mina Tradiçional,’ they both chorused.

‘A Traditional Landmine?’ I translated in my head.  I must have come across as a little bit confused so Marcia reminded me of her brother who had, apparently stepped on one last year and in the end had his leg amputated just below the hip.  I remembered the amputation but I hadn’t realized he had stepped on a mine.  The N’Ganga told me, with a gravitas that would make a high court judge summing up before awarding a penalty of death look like a standup comedian, that this was very serious and definitely life threatening.  He told me to take my trousers off.  One look from Marcia silenced the outraged objection about to fly from my lips.  He examined my leg.  ‘It has nearly reached his knee,’ he told Marcia, ‘if it goes above the knee, he will die.  There is no time to lose, I must treat him now.  Has he been circumcised?’ The two of them were now conversing across me; I felt like a laboratory animal under inspection.  What the hell does a foreskin have to do with a snake bite?  I tell you, I was bloody relieved that Marcia could confirm my todger had already been snipped.  The way this conversation was going, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had whipped out a razor blade and told me to drop my keks and behave like a man.

It is terribly easy to insult an African so rather than leap to my feet shouting, ‘Who the Fuck is this guy?’ I merely asked what a traditional landmine was. Marcia translated for the N’Ganga.  They both laughed the sort of laugh people use when they realize they are in the presence of the congenitally stupid.

‘There is someone who wants to kill you,’ Marcia started to explain.  I suppose some people would be quite shocked if their wife casually pointed out to them they were on a hit list but I found it amusing.  Someone?  I thought.  I am sure there are many, I could write a list; ex wives and girlfriends, outraged fathers, people who owe me money, most recently the guy I smacked with the ashtray… ‘so this person has gone to a Quimbandeiro and he has arranged for you to step on a Mina Tradiçional.’ Marcia concluded.

‘Quimbandeiro? A witch doctor?’

So I hadn’t been bitten by a snake after all, I had been Hexed!  Cool.  Imagine having someone who cared enough about you to have you hexed.  I was quite flattered.  Whoever it was hadn’t the guts to square up and try planting one on me.

Sensing I wasn’t taking this at all seriously, Marcia tried again.

‘Andy!’ she always calls me Andy for some reason.  (My last boss was called Andy so maybe I should have him hexed just in case Marcia had liked more than just his name), ‘you are going to die!’

Ooh I was so tempted to be flippant and point out that her prediction was one she could bet on, but I could see she was genuinely upset so bit my tongue.  Being blessed with a wife who loves you so much she is willing to try anything to keep you alive is not something to ridicule so I would play along.  But, no matter how much I cared for Marcia’s feelings, I wasn’t letting this guy anywhere near my dick.

He unpacked a small, genuine Gucci leather Man Bag made in China out of plastic and pulled on a white robe before laying out a cloth and a bottle of Eau de Toilette.

‘Can I get my camera and take pictures of this?’ I asked Marcia.

‘Tómas!’ Marcia shot back, horrified.  She only ever calls me Tómas if I am in the shit.  Pity really.  I would have thought an image of a tall black African dressed like the Pope kneeling at the feet of a fat white bloke clad only in his underpants could have excited a few comments on my blog.

‘I need a plate you no longer require’, the N’Ganga announced.  Marcia hurried off to fetch one.  Have you ever noticed that if you ask your wife for a glass of water she will bring you one in whatever cheap bit of molten and molded silica that’s quickest to hand but if a complete stranger pulls up and asks for the same, she’ll serve him with your best crystal and probably offer him first dibs off the plate of scones you had been patiently waiting to cool down?  I haven’t got much decent bone china left so was quite relieved when Marcia returned with a bit of market bought porcelain.  Obviously she had already decided the value of my life had a limit.

The N’Ganga, clad in his robes, performed a more detailed inspection of my afflicted appendage and announced that there were five points of infection.  Fair do’s I thought.  I still couldn’t see any sign of a razor blade so I was pretty relaxed.  He sprayed his hands with Eau de Toilette again and then started to massage my foot, which wasn’t so relaxing and then unexpectedly clamped his lips on the base of my toe and sucked hard which was pretty alarming.  Before I could jerk my foot away, he leant over the plate and spat out a damn great black thorn.  I was surprised, not least because at over three inches long, I reckon I would have noticed its presence in my toe long before he decided to perform religious fellatio on it.  Four more times he performed the same procedure on my foot, each time resulting in a new object spat onto the plate; a palm seed, a pebble tied with string, a dried berry and, finally, a bit of twisted dried root; a regular Houdini regurgitating the keys to a cure. I was really disappointed when I glanced over towards Marcia.  Instead of seeing her creasing up with mirth, thereby allowing me to explode with laughter and, with my good foot, kick this charlatan out of my house, her face was as inscrutable as a championship Chinese Mahjong player’s.

The N’Ganga went into a fairly convincing catatonic state but I did notice he rolled one eyeball down to see what I was doing.  I was staring at him slack jawed.  No doubt reassured I was paralyzed with awe, he continued doing nothing.

‘It is a woman,’ he announced suddenly.

‘Who is a woman?’ I asked.

‘Ssshh!’ hissed Marcia.

I shushed.  For God’s sake.  I reached over to the coffee table, grabbed my fags and lit up.  ‘You can’t smoke!’ protested Marcia.  I bloody well can, I thought and, as if reading my mind the N’Ganga said it was perfectly in order for me to smoke.  So I poured myself a whisky as well.

‘It is a girl your husband knows very well’, he intoned.

Ah well, that’s Marcia then.  I always knew she would tire of me and kill me in the end.  Jeez, I’m amazed I lasted this long.

‘Does she live in the village?’ asked Marcia.  What a daft question, I thought, of course you do!  Then I went cold.  This was getting dangerous.  If he said this was a jilted lover of mine living in the village, I was in deep shit with a life expectancy less than a First World War pilot.  Marcia has forgiven me for many things but I really did not want to test her tolerance to accusations of me tucking into the local natives.  I was as regularly unfaithful to two previous wives as they were to me, the only difference being they got theirs for free.  Marcia is my last chance and I really did not want to literally and physically fuck it up so in all the years I have been with her, I have never stepped over the traces.  If she can believe that this guy just sucked a thorn out of my foot, what chance did I stand trying to convince her that the guy was a lying con man if he accused me of infidelity?  Grabbing a kitchen knife and stabbing him through the heart before he could utter another word would be construed as a sign of guilt hard to argue against in an Angolan court of law so I held my breath wondering what dramatic turn my life was about to take.

‘She lives’ he pronounced before pausing to great effect (please, I thought, just get on with it, I am sat here only in my flaming underpants with a lot less material available to soak up a bit of unexpected incontinence), ‘in the CITY!’ he finished.  Thank goodness for that!  Even Marcia knows I have only visited the city twice in the past three years.

‘I have only visited the city twice in the past three years!’ I told Marcia, ‘and on each occasion Roddie drove me!’

‘Three times,’ she said, ‘are you forgetting when you drove to town yourself to collect Dominic?’

Oh hell.  I’d forgotten about the time I was so angry when my diver welshed on the agreement to bring Dominic down here for his hols so I jumped in the car and went to fetch him myself.  Normally it would only take about four hours but we just had to keep stopping off to buy delicious snippets at the various markets and a football and a really cool pair of swimming shorts for little Alex on  the way back.  We had a great time.  It took six hours.  Marcia was frantic by the time we got back.

‘Ok’ I said, ‘so I was in Town six months ago.  This happened six weeks ago.’  Wonderful how women can ignore pure logic.  So somehow, during this flash trip to the city, I had stepped on a traditional mine laid by an irate female city dweller hell bent on killing me blessed with the skill to wire in a six month time delay to detonation.  To be brutally honest, I really wasn’t buying it but wanted to avoid an argument at all costs.  Besides which, most of the women I slept with in the past carried stilettos (thin bladed knives, not high heeled shoes) in their handbags and resolved issues with non-paying clients in seconds, not months.  This would have to be someone who had held a grudge, nurturing murderous intent for over seven years, the time I have been with Marcia and then suddenly decided, that’s it, I’m gonna kill him!

‘This is a woman who knew your husband well and is jealous.  She does not want you to have him, she wants to drive you apart’ he told Marcia.  Death would do that I suppose.  Young wives do like to have their husbands stiff, but in a bed, not a coffin.  It was impossible to read Marcia’s expression so the N’Ganga continued. ‘Perhaps, on his last trip to the city, she saw him in his expensive 4x4 and became jealous.’  Expensive 4x4?  It’s a ten year old Jeep with 235,000 kilometers on the clock that cost me $2,000 and a dead truck!  And who, in their right mind, could possibly be jealous of any woman with the courage and fortitude to take me on?  This was, as my old English teacher once told me having read an essay of mine, a load of bollocks but if Marcia became convinced I’d been playing for another team, the razor blade would come out and I’d lose a lot more than a bit of useless skin.

‘I know who it is,’ Marcia announced.  On such scanty evidence, even Poirot would have been impressed at the deductive powers I was witnessing.  ‘It’s obvious, isn’t it?’ Marcia continued, ‘It is your ex-wife!  She wasn’t going to let you have Dominic so you drove all the way into town and fetched him!  Of course she hates you!’ 

Well I am sure there is no love lost between my ex-wife and me but with all the alimony I owe her, I doubt she wants me dead.  At least not until I pay up.  Had the N’Ganga invented a secret concubine, however, Marcia would want me dead so I guess I was pleased with the result.  Just to set the record straight, Dominic’s mother was perfectly happy for me to have Dominic.  I hurtled off solo into town angry as hell not with her, but my driver who had once again let me down deciding that he could only collect Dominic the following day.  Any parent separated from their child would agree that even just one extra day with them was worth burning rubber.  Did you know, a V8 Jeep Cherokee will do an indicated 120 mph and fly over potholes?  I am still impressed with my old Jeep.  So was Alex, strapped in the back shouting ‘faster Daddy!’  As I said, on the way back we meandered, just having to stop at every roadside market.  Chicken gizzards roasted over charcoal, delicious in the company of two boys separated by ten years, yet exuding the love and respect that exists only between siblings.  Sad isn’t it that adults, who should know better, fuck everything up to the detriment of their own offspring?

Apparently, under local lore, anyone stepping on a traditional mine who, before they died a horrible death, had the prescience to engage an N’Ganga could not only be cured, but arrange to return the compliment.  I was now offered the opportunity to occasion the demise of my ex-wife using traditional means.  Dominic is widely regarded as a polite, well behaved and intelligent young man.  I had no hand in that.  The good man he is turning into is all down to his mother and I am very pleased with the result.  The very last thing I wanted to do was curse her.  She and I may have been incompatible but there can be no question, she was a better mother than I was a father so the last thing I wanted to do was anything that would disturb this happy equilibrium. I may not believe in this Hexing shit but I wasn’t about to let people start opening fire just in case traditional stray bullets existed.  Dominic loves his mother and in my book, that makes him a real man.

Marcia always suspected that I still held a candle for my ex-wife ignoring the fact it was me, finally exasperated, who walked out on her.  I didn’t want her dead though, so once again I found myself treading carefully through a mine field.  If I did not leap immediately at the chance to suffer horrible death on the mother of my first born son, could this confirm all Marcia’s suspicions? 

Maria reads the bible every night (I also read every night before going to sleep but I tend to choose a good book).  Just like everyone else around here, she manages to reconcile a belief in traditional magic with Christian religious dogma.

‘I am sorry,’ I said, ‘but Jesus says I should just turn the other cheek.  Thou shalt not kill’

Now that was rich coming from me but they both bought it.

Having agreed I was happy with just a cure and not revenge as well, he sprayed Eau de Toilette directly into suppurating wounds.

‘Ouch!’ I said as my glasses steamed up as a result of the sweat I broke into.

Then he unwrapped a squib of newspaper, about the size of a walnut, exposing a black crystalline powder.  It looked very worryingly like the smokeless powder contained within modern firearms cartridges.  I put my cigarette out and surreptitiously pocketed my lighter.  He rocked back and forth moaning as he waved his hands over the powder before sprinkling some over the sores and rubbing it in.


It was jolly painful.  My eyes watered ever so slightly.  I may even have squirmed a bit.

‘Força!’ encouraged the N’Ganga, telling me to be brave.  Bugger the seventh Commandment; I wanted to strike him dead.  As full blown shock set in, the pain subsided a bit.  Fortunately the loss of circulating body fluids that occasion shock had exited through my pores and not my willie.  The N’Ganga then announced he had to inspect the garden.  I hobbled after the two of them as far as the verandah so I could see what was happening.

The N’Ganga hauled out his Eau de Toilette again and started giving each fence post a bit of a squirt.  Having covered fifty yards he finally realized what I had figured out immediately I saw his strange ritual start; 250 mls was never going to be enough.  To do my place he would have needed a crop sprayer.  Still, it was fun to watch the solemnity with which Marcia, at a respectful distance, accompanied his every move.  Finally the N’Ganga stopped and inspected an otherwise unremarkable patch of sand.  He returned to the house, collected the plate on which rested the surprising contents of my foot and his packet of powder and asked Marcia for an empty rice sack.  He spread out the sack, laid the plate upon it and sprinkled over the last of his powder before igniting it.  There was a bit of a woosh and I was pleased to sense in the breeze the scent of sizzled hair as a brief column of white smoke rose to the heavens around his ears.  Then, using his walking staff, he smashed the plate with an enthusiasm suggesting he was pretty annoyed about the loss of his eyebrows.

We all settled back in the lounge.  I have no difficulty with Portuguese but occasionally like to play the illiterate so Marcia translated giving me confirmation of what I had just heard the N’Ganga tell me.  The evil spirits he had sucked out of my foot had been cremated allowing the wind to scatter them.  I was now cured.  Magic, I thought, why does it still hurt?

I suppose I could be pissed off that I survived being a bomb disposal officer in the British Army.  I survived clearing landmines in Moçambique and Angola.  I survived running diamond shipments through bandit country.  I have been blown up, shot at, stabbed, suffered all sorts of tropical diseases, had my head kicked in more times than I care to remember, have been evacuated by air to South African hospitals twice to be patched up, have had two heart attacks and now, in retirement, I was finally disabled by stepping on a traditional landmine (they’re not covered in the three volumes of Ammunition and Explosive’s Regulations so I was not trained to deal with them let alone recognize them). 

No, what really pisses me off is that after two months of ingesting antibiotics and letting Nature take its course, my foot was about due to start healing anyway.  But, when it does, it won’t be as a result of modern medicine, it will be because of the intervention of a Witch Doctor.

‘So What?’ I hear you all say, ‘So long as you can walk again!’

Yes.  I agree.  But I will never hear the end of it.

Once he'd gone, I got the camera out
The plate may be dead but the sack'll still do for bagging the rubbish

A young priest took over the parish of an old, retired priest.  Every Sunday, as the young priest rode past on his bicycle on his way to Church they would exchange pleasantries.

One Sunday the old priest noticed the younger one pitching up, late, on foot.

‘What happened to your ‘bike?’ asked the old priest.

‘Somebody stole it,’ said the young priest.

‘Ah,’ said the old priest. ‘What you need to do now is give a sermon on the Ten Commandments giving special emphasis on Thou Shalt Not Steal’

The next Sunday the young priest rode up on his bicycle.

‘Told you it would work, didn’t I?’ says the old priest.

‘Well, not exactly, Father.  I got to Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery and I remembered where I had left the ‘bike’