Saturday 9 August 2014

Well, I'm glad you're out- er... back

All this talk about me coming home and having a car waiting for me put me in mind of this clip from a classic British film...

Obviously young Charlie Croker got off lightly; he only went down for two years, not twenty.

Marcia rang me out of the blue this afternoon and told me that Dr. Abel and his (charming) daughter Maya were coming to stay.  I wasn't quite sure what to say.  The last time I saw Dr. Abel, he was slashing my leg with a scalpel and then he and a beefy nurse tried to strangle it.  As one operation followed another in UK Marcia apparently told Dr. Abel that in the opinion of his esteemed professional colleagues in London, he was a butcher.  Now it is entirely possible that after my bloody encounter with him I may, as I limped away from his clinic, have suggested something along those lines but I never expected Marcia to attribute those sentiments to Doctors in UK and inform Dr. Abel on my behalf.

'Well that explains why he hasn't rung since I returned to find out how I am,' I muttered bitterly when Marcia told me what she had said to him soon after I got back. I never expected to see him again and was wondering just which doctor I could see now in an emergency. Dr. Abel was literally the family doctor, he's Marcia's cousin.

I dug out a couple of bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon and uncorked them to breathe before hauling out the ingredients for Lasagne.  Not knowing exactly when they would arrive, I thought an oven finished supper safest.  Pressed into military service, Dr. Abel had honed his craft during the civil war so I knew he could take a joke.  No doubt he would if not laugh off such a slight, at least just shrug it off.  He was coming to stay so that was a good sign.

I shook his hand as he walked in. 

'No need for me to ask how you are,' he said, 'since you have been treated by the finest Doctors in Europe.' 

Irony so dense it caused ripples in the Earth's magnetic field.

Sunday 3 August 2014

I Think, Therefore I Am. At least I think so...

Cottages are shaping up, just need glass and varnish

I have just been asked by a sensibly cautious man in West Sussex to prove I exist.  I could tell from the careful wording of Charles’s email to me that he was ever so slightly uncomfortable with having to ask but, believe me, with the time I have spent in Africa, I can well understand why he wasn’t going to risk exchanging any kind of information, however seemingly innocuous with a potential scammer (as he delicately put it).

Doing business here is murder (it really is sometimes).  If you live in UK or any other civilized country, send an enquiry to a supplier and they will fall over themselves trying to sell you something.  If they read an email enquiry and realize it has come from West Africa, they will call in an IT expert to have their laptop scanned for viruses.  I can send out a dozen enquiries and receive only one response which, paradoxically, makes me nervous about the respondee.  There is no point me lying and trying to pretend I am in UK for that in itself is a deception easy to uncover and then impossible to explain.  I tend to say I am ‘on contract’ in Angola rather than admit to living here.  It isn’t really a lie for every time I need to replenish the beer tokens, I take a contract.  In the meantime, I am building my restaurant but you try explaining why any sane and honest man would want to make his way here in this shithole?  You could not do that in a single short paragraph which is all you would have before the recipient was hitting the delete key and changing all his passwords.

I know how they feel, though.  I made two transfers recently, one to Germany and one to China.  I wasn't worried about the one to Germany, that was to my brother and I know he exists.  That transfer has arrived.  The one to China is for commercial kitchen equipment and 400 metres of panel fencing.  It was for a not inconsiderable amount of money, enough to really make my eyes water if it disappeared.  That transfer has not arrived.  Before I made it, I checked out the recipient.  Unless you pay a professional due diligence company to do this for you, it isn’t easy to prove that the company with the impressive web site or the very nice man speaking reasonable English on the other end of the phone actually exist.  I did all the usual internet checks and had someone in China verify that the factory existed at the address given, that all the phone numbers listed also existed and were answered by real people who admitted involvement in the production of commercial kitchen equipment and even turned up a file in the New York legal archives listing a case where the same company had been unsuccessfully sued in a New York court.  Normally, finding evidence that a potential supplier had been sued would cause a carillon of alarm bells but in my case I was reassured.  You can’t sue a non-entity and besides, the case was thrown out the company having been deemed by the presiding judge to have complied with the terms of the contract to supply equipment and was not liable for the plaintiff’s inability to clear the goods through customs.

The fact remains, the funds have not arrived, I am sick as a dog and really pissed off with a bank whose only response to my concern is, ‘you have to ask the recipient to ask their bank to start a trace from their end’. 

Even the transfer to Germany wasn’t painless.  Micky received a call from his bank demanding to know why someone was trying to send him money from abroad.  Their concern was something to do with money laundering legislation and the source of the money being a country on the ‘watch list’.  Money laundering, it’s all a load of bollocks.  It has bugger all to do with money laundering by criminals and terrorist organizations and everything to do with taxation.  Governments can’t stand the thought of citizens getting away with not paying the ludicrously high taxes imposed to fund fantastic levels of debt created by self-serving politicians who have forgotten that the big flaw with Socialism is that you soon run out of other people’s money.  In an attempt to control the movement of money around the system, so it can be taxed, they have come up with these draconian laws justified, once again, on an overstated threat.  It took an age for Micky to convince his bankers that the money was from me to buy a reverse osmosis water treatment plant and a rowing machine.

Just finding a supplier for the water treatment plant was an exercise in itself.  No one was interested.  Sure, there were large multi nationals who would send in a team and build me a water treatment factory by the sea capable of supplying clean water to a city, but finding someone who would sell me a small plant capable of supplying just 12 tonnes of potable water per day to a small tourist complex was a bit harder.  Nervous enough of me being an individual in Africa and not the flush representative of a corrupt regime, as soon as I asked them for their bank details so I could make the transfer, they stopped replying to their emails and took their phones off the hook.

Micky has a day job which keeps him busy enough as it is but in the evenings, he occasionally has to act as my European broker disbursing the funds I send him to suppliers on my behalf.  I can’t use my UK bank to do this as, since the unfortunate incident when they allowed some Nigerian scammers not only to empty it but gave them an unsecured loan as well, I am reluctant to trust them.  Read about it here and you will understand why.  I wish Mr. Charles had been my banker.

I did speak to my bank, by the way.  Actually, I spoke to someone in Liverpool which is where my call ended up.  My bank is in Ashby where I finished school.  He told me that in accordance with EU regulations any transfer coming in that exceeded 10,000 euros would be reported.  Beating me to the drop he went on to confirm that a series of deposits of 9,999 euros would also be reported.  I suppose he thought he was being helpful when he pointed out that if I had continued to have all my pay deposited in my UK account I would have all my money in UK and not Africa.  Unless you give it all away, I thought.

So, what is my interest in Charles, the undoubtedly decent man from West Sussex and what do I want of him?

I rather fancy his Stag.

After my recent spell in a London hospital and the brief run ashore I enjoyed in England and Wales recently, I am determined to come back.  Marcia is up for it which pleases me enormously.  I will finish off Fat Hippo’s, get it running and then get a foothold in UK again.  I still have to overcome the slight problem of how to explain where all the money came from to buy a house in UK.  In touch with estate agents as I have been, I now know that they cannot take a cash payment.  I also know that if I transfer the money to my UK account, the account will be frozen and it will take a lawyer and a very expensive accounting firm to thaw it out again.  It is harder, apparently, because I am a British Citizen.  If I was an Angolan, it would be easier.  Marcia’s friend has just bought a house in London for which she paid by transferring the whole amount in one go to the selling agent the explanation for her wealth being that her dear departed husband left her a sack of diamonds that he, along with other ordinary Angolans blessed with the riches their country has to offer in abundance, had dug up out of the ground.  Russian oligarchs and Libyans can pay cash for houses in UK, Angolans with husbands very much alive can buy houses in UK, an honest Englishman can’t.  So Marcia will be buying the house in her name.  I just hope I do not have to die to convince the HMRC man she acquired the money legally although I suspect he would demand nothing less.

Seven years ago when I first wrote about Triumph Stags I said that I could not think of a new car that would excite me enough to buy it.  I still can’t.  If I am going to be visiting UK with ever increasing frequency I will need transport.  Hire cars are all well and good but they are rather like renting a house, you get the convenience but are effectively burning money.  When it comes to a long term hire, a month or so, you might as well buy a runabout and stick it through an auction on departure. Or leave it with all the others in a Heathrow multi storey.  I am all in favour of public transport.  If I lived in London, I wouldn’t bother with a car.  But I do not want to live in London.  I want to live in a semi-rural environment close to a good school.  If I want to go house hunting in the sticks, I need my own transport so why not buy a nice car, one that would be accepted in any environment, one that is attractive and enjoyable to drive and one that, if looked after, would not depreciate as fast as a new car?  House hunting can be pretty soul destroying so at least the travelling should be a pleasure.  I am fifty five years old with a dicky heart and a gammy leg, I don’t want a hot snot sports car and neither do I want a cramped soulless Eurobox.  I need the ‘something for the weekend, Sir?’ type of car and I think the Stag, often cruelly described as a hairdresser’s car fits the bill nicely.  Besides, if I am hard enough to get away with wearing pink trousers, I can carry it off in a Stag.  With it, I would be just as comfortable stopping at a greasy spoon for a Full English as I would be parking it in the Kurhaus Tiefgarage in Baden-Baden after a leisurely lope through France.

The Stag, beautiful as Michelotti penned it, did have its problems which was why, even though it was designed with the North American market in mind (in right hand drive the weight of the petrol tank, the driver and the heavy battery are all on the same side so it is impossible to balance the corner weights) it only lasted a couple or three years before collapsing sales figures and warranty claims persuaded Triumph USA to can it.  Its Achilles heel was the fragility of its V8 engine which, distressingly for owners of Stags, tended to self-destruct.  Nowadays, the engine can be sorted with a few modifications and proper, though not onerous maintenance.  Bugger all, though, could cure its sometimes wayward handling principal of which was the notorious ‘Stag Twitch’ which has propelled many a bewildered Stag pilot sideways through the pearly gates.  Nothing, that is, until a very clever bloke in true English ‘Garagista’ form noted that a 3 series BMW rear suspension set up could with only the tiniest modification bolt straight up to a Stag rear end.  This not only cured the handling issues and gave you an unburstable differential, it also endowed the car with the novelty of efficient brakes, disks all round.  I have driven a Stag all the way to up to the restaurant on the side of Gossglockner, the highest peak in Austria and the superb Alpine cuisine and fantastic view off the restaurant balcony perched high above the Paterze Glacier was only marred by the thought of driving back down the Hochalpenstrasse with the ever attendant risk of Stag Twitch twitching me off it and thousands of feet down to an icy death on the glacier below, or boiling brakes effecting the same.  It took me ages to wipe the seat clean after I got home.

Bringing the fish home.
It's alright for him, he's on a bike, I have to push the barrow.

Charles’s Stag has not only been restored, it has been fitted with these highly desirable modifications and I am very keen to learn more about them.  I know that they aren’t cheap.  Bigger BMW brake calipers mean bigger wheels with an unusual offset to ensure the wheels are central in the arches.  Image is a company in UK that sells these wheels and they are £1200 a set not including the rubber with which to clothe them.  Charles’s Stag has been painted a rather, shall we say, breathtaking though not unattractive blue.  There is another very pretty fully restored Stag available in a more subdued hue for four grand less, a difference that would go a long way toward funding the desired modifications.  It all boils down to us talking together, something we aren’t doing yet because I have yet to prove that I am me and not some black hearted Langa in wrap round sunglasses, pointy shoes and trousers too short to conceal white nylon socks.

Some people who are in no doubt whatsoever I am what I am are the family.  After a long spell of to them culinary indifference, I am back in the kitchen again.  Last night I made Chelsea buns.  Any fool can whip up something passing for a sponge cake and that’s all you can get here.  Birthday cakes are big sponge cakes covered in a tooth decaying sticky sweet concoction that crumble to staleness as soon as they are sliced and differ from equally disappointing wedding cakes only in that they lack a plastic bride and groom on the top but they are covered with an A4 sized piece of rice paper bearing the dissolving bright green image of Ben 10 or other popular cartoon character printed, no doubt, on a desk top printer using normal highly toxic ink jet cartridges.

Baking with yeast is a wonderfully satisfying experience.  It requires patience but this is rewarded with the smell and the evidence of a risen dough.  Alex had delightfully moist Chelsea buns for breakfast this morning accompanied by hot chocolate.  I have had no joy finding strong flour to make bread so if anyone reading this in Angola has any ideas, please let me know, I struck out at Shoprite which was the only place I could think of that might stock it.

Doggie was run over and killed the other day (no messages of commiseration please, she was so wild and ill-disciplined she would only have needed to bite one more child and I’d have shot her) so now Charlie gets the undivided attention of his master.  I have no reason to doubt Marcia when she says the dogs were simply not eating while I was away and not being starved through lack of care as I first assumed.  Thinking about it, Alex was a bit scrawny as well, apparently he had been off his food too so I got to it and started rattling the pans again.  Local cuisine is all well and good but you can’t beat the old meat and two veg so it was regular roasts, meat pies, rich stews, sizzling steaks, full English breakfasts the bacon having been sliced off a whole side.  Now Marcia is worried that Alex is getting fat.  I'm worried that she is getting fat but am too scared to say anything.

So that Charlie bulks up quickly, I arranged a treat for him, pork ribs.  I can buy a ten kilo box for ten dollars, that’s five quid in real money and the box fits nicely on the bottom shelf of the fridge.  All I have to do is throw a bunch of them onto a baking tray and roast them in the oven.  At that price the dog, I thought, can have as much as he wants in addition to his normal food.  Except that it isn’t the dog that gets to tuck in, it is the family, and any visitors because they all have opposing thumbs and can open the oven door to nick the ribs, the dog hasn’t so he can’t.  Spare ribs, honestly, they are the secret to familial bliss. 

Oh God, I have just realized the gentleman with whom I am so keen to discuss the Stag has the same name I have given my dog.  I hope he understands it really is just a coincidence.  Perhaps it will serve to reassure him that I really am who I say I am, after all, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

"Just one tray of spare ribs today, ladies?"

Back to the ribs.  With something as inexpensive and evidently popular as a box of spare ribs, it would be selfish in the extreme not to share them.  The arrival of a new consignment of spare ribs cannot be concealed from the local youngsters all of whom lug free drinking water from my well twice a day as it is, so the ever patient Charlie has to watch me dole out a few plastic bags full of his treats all the time slavering like a Nile crocodile.  The odd thing is, I can’t stand spare ribs, which is probably why they weren’t on the menu before; I only bought them to feed the dog.
There you have it.  One restored Stag with the desirable modifications.
Yours for £13,500  (Verifiable I.D. required for purchase).
This one is four grand cheaper but without the desirable modifications
A Stag or a second hand Eurobox for the same money?  Let me think...
Charles may have come to a conclusion about me but I have come to some about him and his car.  He clearly is not desperate enough to throw his natural caution to the wind which leads me to suspect that he is not in a hurry to sell the car.  This means that it will be harder for me to knock his price down, something all buyers are duty bound to try on.  It also could mean that the car is every bit as good as he describes and that the photographs really don't do it justice.
At one point today, I was looking for excuses to fly back to UK and arrange an appointment to see the car myself but then I remembered that my visa has less than a month to run so if I leave the country now, I will have to stay out of the country until my visa is renewed and that could take three months.  Besides, the return flight would cost me a third of the price of the car.
Charles was worried he might have upset me.  He hasn't, of course.  He has just reminded me of how bloody difficult everything is here and reinforced my resolve to get back to UK, lousy weather, unbearable taxation and all.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

No Sleep!

Sleepless night for me, I am afraid.  Usually this was the time of day I wrote my best stuff but back then my creative juices were fortified with Scottish whisky and not the Ceylon tea I am drinking now.  Alex has a chest cold, a pretty miserable affliction at the best of times but awful in the tropics.  Marcia is desperately tired so I am doing the night shift as duty nurse so that she can sleep and I can keep Alex propped up on his pillows to help him breathe.

The internet connection has been pretty much useless since I returned from England.  While I was there I bought myself a wireless router, a device marketed as a ‘MiFi’ which promised to improve my connection and also allow me to set up a personal hot spot.  The hot spot would allow Marcia to connect as well.  Sounded wonderful except that the local internet service provider refused to configure it (or give me the configuration settings) as they had not sold it to me.  It took me a while to work out but I am now linked to you and the rest of the world through the device, as is Marcia, so up yours Movinet.  Much to my dismay though, as I have to pay for the gigabytes used, I notice that the connection has improved so markedly that Marcia was able to watch her favourite soap channel as a streaming video this afternoon.  Having extolled both the virtues of the device and my own technical prowess, I can now hardly complain if she enjoys its benefits to the full.  Alex is only five but he has already worked out how to stream Ben 10 cartoons onto his Samsung Tablet.  Until the novelty wears off (or the monthly quota of internet wiggly amps is exceeded) the TV appears largely redundant.

For want of tools, I was unable to finish off the installation of the FrankenPump, the working water pump I created out of the dead bodies of two other pumps, so with spit running backwards have had to accept the need to call in a local plumber.  Naturally, he did not turn up so we passed another day of lugging water in buckets from the well to the cottage.

The Jeep is looking years younger now that I have bent my finger joints backwards giving the coachwork a good going over with cutting polish.  Sadly, I can see through its makeover and know that beneath its buffed skin lies a heap of trouble.  It is about time I replaced it with a new car.  Marcia sportingly suggested I buy something small such as a little Corolla.  I put my foot down.  There was no way I was going to allow her and little Alex to travel backwards and forwards to town in a car notable only for its origami like qualities when involved in a collision and I told her this.  So she asked for a Range Rover instead.  I hate Range Rovers.  Sure, they are good looking and very capable 4x4’s but they are so bloody unreliable and outrageously expensive to repair.  I suggested a Volvo XC90.  They’re brilliant.  Comfortable, reliable and understated, everything I could wish for in a car.  No dice, she might stoop to a VW Touareg.

It is hard to buy a decent car here at a decent price.  I generally do not buy cars new, people who do lose a quarter of the value of their investment as soon as they drive it out of the showroom.  I prefer to let someone else take the hit and buy a low mileage year or two old example.  Finding such a car here is, as I have said, tough.  It will either be knackered or overpriced so the only course left is to import.  I have imported a few cars, all of them bought unseen, the decision to buy having been based on photos and the declarations of sellers, a highly risky strategy you will undoubtedly agree but I have been lucky.  I do try to mitigate the risk.  For a start, I will only import used cars from Germany.  Of all the nations in the world, they, along with perhaps the Swiss, have draconian roadworthiness directives and, with a genetically programmed need to keep things neat and tidy, tend to look after their cars. 

Import duties for vehicles are not simple.  They are anything from 2% to 50% and depend on the use to which the vehicle will be put (making it cheapest to ride around in an ambulance), the age of the vehicle (the older it is the more expensive the duty), the type of fuel and the cubic capacity of the engine.  A low mileage Range Rover is cheaper to buy in Dubai than in Germany.  But all Dubai RR’s have hot snot turbo charged large capacity V8 petrol engines so attract 50% duty whereas the smaller capacity diesel engined version in Germany may cost more but only attracts 20% duty if it is less than three years old.

I am too tired to think about cars tonight, it will have to remain a niggling anxiety until I work something out.

Well, it is six in the morning, Alex and Marcia are sleeping peacefully and my laptop battery is about dead so I shall try and snatch a few myself.  Germany won the world cup as we all know and I am sure you picked up on the fact that it is the first world cup a united Germany has won.  Well, with the ex DDR mob involved, it isn’t so hard to believe that Germany cheated.  This new, brash young team were bred from birth to win…

7 Up - They don't like 7 Up in Brazil.

Monday 14 July 2014

Cock and Bull Stories

A big cock

The internet is more down than up.  Things keep breaking (the well pump has just burnt out so I am busy stripping it and an old pump to try and get one good pump going) and my blasted swollen leg will not give up annoying me.  I used to find the time to write my posts in the wee small hours, usually tanked up to the eyeballs.  Now I am generally busy during the day and go to bed knackered and early.  This, I am informed on good authority, is a healthy lifestyle.

Early this morning Marcia asked me why African football teams never did so well in international competition.  I was just being handed the keys to my fully restored Triumph Stag, on the hand stitched leather passenger seat of which Kylie Minogue was working out how best to arrange her legs for maximum effect, and now suddenly I was being dragged back to reality.  It was a bastard of a way to wake up.

Since my return I have been ever so slightly, just a teensy weeny bit guilty of reminding Marcia what a shithole this place is, how useless everyone who lives here is and how bloody corrupt everything is so thought, just for a change, I might try a softer approach to filling this awful gap in her knowledge and lie.

‘African countries do not have the population or infrastructure to support the large number of well-populated leagues they have in Europe,’ I said.  ‘African teams really do not have the local competition or get the practice they need to compete at an international level,’ I continued, ‘the only quality players they have are those who play in European or South American club football.’  This utter codswallop seemed to satisfy Marcia so I sloped off to the kitchen to satisfy myself with a cup of tea.  Political interference and corruption along with a huge dose of selfish arrogance rather than team spirit, I thought, that’s why African football teams are crap. Mind you, the selfish arrogance bit applies just as well to England.

We turned on BBC news in time to hear a breathless reporter quote a Cameroon Football Association representative: "Recent allegations of fraud around Cameroon 2014 Fifa World Cup three preliminary games, especially Cameroon vs. Croatia, as well of the existence of seven bad apples in our national team do not reflect the values and principles promoted by our administration.” 

It begs the question, what’s left that does?  But I did not say anything to Marcia.

Last night I briefed the new building crew chief.  I have kept my original Filipino carpenter but I have now sacked all of the old crew bar him.  I know I had their issues sorted the day I arrived after hurrying back from UK but I lied to them as well.  I thought it best to get them back to work and not stick them full of leaky holes but I could not allow them to get away with trying it on with Marcia while I was away.  It has taken me only a few weeks to find another crew and this time I was not lying to the original team members at all when I told them if they were still on my land by nightfall I would stick them full of leaky holes.

Marcia’s car was overheating more than when I left so it is not purely down to the engine running lean.  I still cannot forgive Marcia for the artisan repair she allowed the Pork and Cheese mechanic to effect, though, as the problem is a leaky radiator.  It will cost me 400 bucks for a new one (quite reasonable for Angola) so while I am at it, I might as well cut the old fan off and replace all the bits damaged by the ‘repair’.  My life would be much easier if I could find a wrecked Jeep and pillage the parts from that.  It is a hell of sight easier to swap out an assembly rather than strip and fix one.  In UK (or anywhere else civilized for that matter), you’d just by an exchange reconditioned part.

My one week’s freedom in UK has spoiled me rather.  In Milton Keynes I was in a Sainsbury’s store bigger than the largest (and only) shopping centre in Angola.  It didn’t just sell food, it sold everything.  I had gone in there not to buy food, oddly enough, but to buy an Amazon gift voucher because that’s where said I could buy some.  Since the Visa debit card on my Angolan Bank was being laughed at in UK, Amazon gift vouchers were the only way, apart from asking a friend to use his card and me refunding him in cash, I could make on line purchases.  The shop was so large and I was so precarious on my pins, I asked an assistant for help locating them to save unnecessary walking.  In other words, like all good explorers I procured for myself the services of a native guide.  On the way we passed a rank of fantastically futuristic looking devices lined up on display.  I gave up trying to work out what they were (I considered water filtration devices or pumps but remained unconvinced) so asked my guide.

‘They’re vacuum cleaners,’ he said, his voice as flat as his expression.


In Angola, the fastest I travel is about 80 Kph.  That’s a maximum.  Usually it is about walking pace in traffic.  Any faster than that and I start to get very nervous.  Now this might surprise some people, especially those who tried to keep up with me in Germany when I was stuffing sports cars or motorcycles through the scenery as fast as I could.  If I were the only person on an autobahn, I could still make it a race; I would have to beat my fastest time between two locations and if I had never been there before, I would still want to set a benchmark.  I can still remember some of those benchmarks today:  Three hours and fourteen minutes from Venlo to Baden-Baden; fourteen hours and twenty minutes from Split in Yugoslavia to Bielefeld in Germany (both in Golf GTI’s if you are interested, proving that nippiness beats brute power).  The fastest I have travelled while still in contact, however tenuous, with the Earth’s surface was not on a race track, but on the A33 from Bielefeld to Paderborn riding a motorcycle, 170 mph.  What at normal speeds were virtually unnoticeable curves, now required me to lean the ‘bike over far enough to get my knee down.  Being passed by a large capacity motorcycle at full chat doing a hundred miles an hour faster than you were must have been heart stopping for a dear old lady in a VW Polo.

When I left hospital, I did not have far to walk.  Trains to Milton Keynes leave London from Euston and the hospital was only across the road.  Walking was bad enough but standing still was misery so when I saw the queue to buy tickets from the counters, I decided to use a Virgin Train as they had half the station devoted to machines from which passengers could buy tickets without having to queue.  Sadly, of the fifty or so identical machines, not one took good old cash so I had to ask a rather hyped individual dressed in red trousers and waistcoat who I correctly assumed was a Virgin employee.  It says everything about a modern cashless society (and rubs in the difficulties I was experiencing sans plastic) that there were only three, dusty and forlorn looking machines tucked away in a corner that accepted cash.

My old friend Paul was waiting for me when I arrived at MK Central.  Paul had tried hard to convince me that he should pick me up from the hospital.  I supposed he imagined me being wheeled out in a chair and deposited at the road side.  This, as I explained to him, was madness.  It would take him hours to fight his way into Central London, would cost in petrol and congestion charges and, since I would not know exactly when I would be released, would involve one of us hanging around waiting for the other.  Much better for me to walk a few hundred yards, pay fourteen quid, and be in MK thirty minutes later.  Besides, he had a wedding to arrange, his, so hardly had the time. 

I must pause here to consider his fiancée Karen who I had not yet had the pleasure of meeting.  As far as she was concerned, I was just some oik who her husband-to-be had met years ago (I was his armed bodyguard in Angola back in the mid Nineties), I had been rushed into an infectious diseases ward of a London hospital after arriving suddenly from darkest, Ebola infested Africa where, despite best efforts, the beasty causing this awful flesh eating affliction had not been identified and now, just two weeks before their wedding, Paul wanted to put me up in their house.  The fact that she obviously allowed this is testament to the true love I hope they enjoy for the rest of their lives for I wouldn’t have gone within a mile of myself had I the choice.  Karen, as I expected, was completely laid back, allowed me to use my e cig in the house and fed me everything my heart and stomach craved which really came down to anything with salad and horseradish sauce.  Paul seemed a bit tired of salad (the fridge was full of it) but I couldn’t get enough, salad is a luxury in Angola.

Paul had come to collect me in his toy.  I have been so long in Angola I had never seen a Porsche Boxster in its tin flesh.  It looks miles better in real life.  Paul is a geologist and does mathematics as a hobby.  His brain is about the size of a small planet but he is by no means a geeky intellectual.  For a start, he is a big bloke and I often wondered who would be protecting whom if the shit had hit the fan in Angola.  I suppose he felt comfortable knowing I had a gun and was licenced to use it.  One of the most interesting walks I had was with him along a Cape Town beach listening him explain just when and how all the rock formations surrounding us were formed.  He is also mad keen on motor sport, especially Formula One.  I am sure it is no coincidence that his lovely house is set in the North Buckinghamshire countryside within sight of Silverstone Circuit. 

After admiring the Porsche from the outside, I then had to get into it.  This was easier said than done for me as one has to slot oneself down into it, not an easy feat with a gammy leg but worth the effort, the Germans do make exceedingly good cars and when Paul started it, it was an aural delight as well, especially as the hood was down. 

We purred menacingly out of the station car park and I was just wriggling myself into a comfortable position in the soft leather upholstery when all hell broke loose.  One second I was feeling all soft and fuzzy, next something punched me hard in the kidneys and I was wondering why I was staring at the sky with my head welded to the headrest.  My stomach, I suspected, was lying as surprised as its ex owner in a moist and slithery heap in the car park.  Bloody hell the car was fast.  Did you know that a cricket ball making its rapid progress down the wicket actually gains weight?  It’s something to do with relativity.  I too felt as if I had gained weight, a lot of weight but I think that had more to do with inertia as, when we arrived suddenly at a junction I lost all sensation of weight before regaining it again when I hit the limit of the seatbelt.  The car must have brake disks the size of dustbin lids. 

If someone had driven me that fast in Angola, I would have ordered them to stop the car before shooting them by the roadside.  It was different with Paul, though.  Not only is he a very competent driver, he knew both his car and the road we were travelling along like the back of his hand so I was really enjoying myself, terrified but having fun as people do, for example, on maniac roller coaster rides.  As he slotted the car through another roundabout, expertly hitting every apex I marvelled at the car’s grip.

‘This car has a hell of a lot of grip,’ I said but then stopped myself from concluding with, ‘I haven’t heard the tyres squeal once.’  That really would have been a bit of an invitation.  Well, maybe not, Paul is very sensible but I didn’t feel like putting his maturity to the test, there’s an eighteen year old lurking dangerously in all of us.  I was in a spinning mid-engined sports car once, it was a Ferrari and I had just lost control of it.  Let me tell you, mid-engined sports cars spin like a top and once they’re spinning, there’s bugger all you can do about it until they either stop of their own accord or, more usually in such a circumstance, wrap themselves and their about-to-be-deceased passengers around something unforgiving.

It wasn’t for that reason, however, that I was relieved to be travelling to Wales in Paul’s Saab.  Going there in the Porsche would have been miles more fun but there was no way I would have been able to cope with my legs stretched out horizontally in a cramped cockpit unless Paul took along an engine hoist to get me out again.  Besides, I like Saabs.  I know that towards the end they lost some of their quirkiness and have now finally gone bust but their cars were always interesting and driven by a ‘certain’ type of person.  You were more likely to see one driven by an architect (or a geologist) than a rep.  Naturally Paul’s Saab had the bigger engine with twin turbos so it was no slouch either.  I have never, ever been in an estate car that could corner so fast and was so comfortable.  They are rare cars, I only saw one other on the journey which, by amazing coincidence, was the same model and colour as Paul’s and parked in the car park of the same restaurant at which we had stopped to have breakfast.  The affinity amongst dying breeds, such as Saab owners, must be strong for Paul and the owner of the other Saab exchanged waves to acknowledge their shared automotive and gastronomic taste.

The fact that I was travelling to Wales at all was by pure happy chance.  I had been fortunate enough to meet two fellow bloggers while I was in hospital.  Both Pete, better known as the Idiot Gardener and Sten, aka the Suburban Bushwacker had come to see me on several occasions cheering me up immensely and both of them couldn’t have been more helpful.  I was disappointed I could not take them up on their offers for get togethers once I was out but I really was in no position to be doing any travelling more involved than climbing onto a train at Euston and getting off again half an hour later.  I was hoping to meet JayGray in London on my way out but it transpired that I would be flying the day before he arrived in the city.  Paul had obviously picked up on this for he asked me whereabouts in Wales John Gray lived.  Paul was to travel to Wales to meet up with his son in Llandudno.  After checking on the map, we realized he would pass within a couple of miles of the Ukrainian Village and its small suburb, Trelawnyd.  I would get to visit John and Paul would have company on the journey.

Paul wanted an early start.  As I was still on hospital time (for over four weeks I had been woken at five every morning by the temperature and pressures nurse) this was no problem so even though Paul intended to stop for breakfast on the way, I had plenty of time for a cup of tea and a few slices of toast.  Coming into the village of Stony Stratford soon after setting off, Paul drew in on the High Street saying he needed the cash point.  Almost as an aside he told me that the hotel opposite us, the Cock, was one half of the Cock and Bull legend.  The other half, the Bull was only a few yards further along.  I was fascinated.  I had never given the origin of a ‘Cock and Bull’ story much thought.  I thought it meant a load of rubbish.  Now that Paul was explaining it to me, I realised it didn’t necessarily mean that.  It was really a case of how stories got better in the telling; which did you believe, the story you heard in the Cock while sinking a pint or the Bull version you heard over another pint only a few paces down the road?  Staring at the Cock and Bull set in this typically English town made me aware of England’s rich heritage.  Even the place names have meaning, revealing their ancient Briton, Roman, Saxon, Viking and Norman roots.  I attended school in Ashby-de-la-Zouch and had a girlfriend living in Thorpe Constantine.

Americans love this sort of thing, direct links all the way back to their ancestral origins.  That’s why once a year on the 17th of March a good proportion of Americans paint everything including themselves green and drink so much green stout that the resultant sewage turns the Chicago River the same colour.  Or that in late January every year grown American men of pale complexion and red hair pull on skirts and spend the evening getting rip roaring drunk on whisky, head butting each other and the ground eventually throwing up the frankly awful substitute for Haggis they have there.  Bizarrely, imports of Haggis to the United States were banned in 1971 as one of its principal ingredients is sheep’s lung, which evidently posed a severe threat to the health of citizens.  Such concern (even though ludicrous) could, I suppose, be considered heart-warming until you note that America only got round to banning the use of lead in paint 44 years after the Europeans did and American canners were still using lead solder in the manufacture of food containers until as recently as 1993.  No wonder their Generals are all crazy, they’ve gone mad on a diet of tinned army rations. 

Once on the M1, I saw my first wind turbine.  God they’re a shocking eyesore, a real blot on the landscape.  I told Paul this.  He told me to wait a while, I hadn’t seen anything yet apparently.  With his cruise control set to just a tadge under 100mph, a while was not long at all.  The national speed limit on the UK’s motorways is seventy miles per hour (112 Kph) by the way but it is speeds of or above 100 that really cause the Federales to lose their composure.  Quite a few years ago I hired a hot snot Mercedes at the airport because I was in a hurry to get to the Midlands and was dismayed to find it had been limited to 100mph.  I might as well have rented a weedy compact.

Occupying the whole of the vista in front of us were bloody great white windmills, hundreds of them.  That was bad enough but I realized just how ludicrous all this was when Paul pointed out that only a third were actually running.  Wind turbines, another Millennium bug style scam.  They are only economically viable to their owners because of tax payer subsidies.  You can’t get away from them.  As soon as one lot faded into the distance, another lot hove into view.  What I was witnessing was the tip of the ice berg.

There were none of the problems I expected crossing the border from England into Wales, not even the sight of a startled farmer caught with the hind legs of a sheep stuffed into his wellies.  The sun was shining, something I thought hardly ever happened that side of the rain shadow, and Liverpool could be observed from the safety of the Flintshire side of the Mersey.  My finger was now tracing our course across the one inch to four mile road map accurately at a speed commensurate with our progress (it had lagged behind til now, so deceptively fast was the smooth riding Saab) and I knew we would be at John’s in less than fifteen or so minutes.  We were running late, I had said to John that we would arrive mid-morning, it was now lunchtime.  Where we had lost time I wasn’t sure.  Traffic had been reasonably light, I suppose we had dawdled over breakfast but I was sure John wouldn’t mind.  I had a clear image of John in my mind, an image developed over several years of reading his blog and our occasional email exchange.  What if he was nothing like this image?  What did I really know of him?  He was a nurse who lived with his partner in Wales.  He kept animals, liked scotch eggs and zombie films and was very community spirited.  Whilst I would risk asking him to care for one of my animals, I would never entrust him with the care of my car.

First cottage after the Church he had told me.  We couldn’t miss it, not because it was a huge country pile, but because it was exactly as I imagined, only nicer.  The lane was narrow, bounded by high stone wall capped verges.  Just down the hill the road curved to the right in front of a gate towards which was walking the unmistakable figure of John.  Through my open window I called out in my best BBC voice,

‘I say, old boy, I’m looking for a rather affable gay Welsh raconteur!’

And so, twixt cottage and field in the middle of Flintshire, the Hippo met Mr. Gently.

A load of Bull

Wednesday 25 June 2014

There's No Place Like Home...

Well, I am back in Angola and, after UK, I was stunned into introspective silence.  God, it’s a shithole.

The flight on BA was every bit as bad as I feared.  I made the mistake of slipping my shoes off.  On arrival, my left leg and foot were so badly swollen, I had to hobble down the steps to the waiting bus and through immigration and customs shoeless as well as a little clueless; it was the first time I had entered Angola through the rebuilt terminal so long has it been since I travelled. 

Sensibly, I had taken my friend Paul’s advice and booked a minicab to take me from his beautiful house where I had been staying since leaving hospital, to Heathrow.  There, in Terminal Five, the agony started.  Despite being assured by BA customer services that I was entitled to two check in bags, the BA computer at the airport said ‘No’ so I was forced to lug everything across to another desk and pay the £65 they demanded for Alex’s boxed ‘bike.  The reason given was that although half the size of a maximum standard suitcase in two dimensions and weighing only one third of the maximum weight, it exceeded the maximum length allowed by three centimetres and required, therefore, ‘special’ handling.  I rejoined the check in queue and if I wasn’t already annoyed, became incandescent while witnessing a guy in front of me checking in a suitcase and a full size golf bag with no problems.  Wisely, I bit down hard on my tongue when told I could not check Alex’s ‘bike at the check in desk at which I had twice queued but had to take it instead all the way to the other end of the terminal to check it in at the oversize baggage desk.  I had already decided that BA’s flagship terminal was crap when I hit security.

I had two rucksacks.  A large one, marketed as the maximum size allowed as hand luggage, and a smaller one in which I had my laptop, two Samsung Tablets, an iPhone, a Samsung Galaxy smart phone and all my e-cigarette kit.  Now I am not sure if you are familiar with e-cigarettes but they consist of a USB rechargeable battery the size of a chunky fountain pen, an atomizer which comprises a dual heating coil contained within a clear glass tank (for the e-liquid) into which the battery screws.  Assembled, it looks uncannily like the time pencils wartime SOE agents used to blow up things behind enemy lines and does, in fact, contain two of the essential components of a viable bomb, a power source and an initiator.  I also had with me several 100 ml bottles of tobacco flavoured 24mg nicotine strength e-liquid (marked with the international symbol for poison, a skull and crossed bones) and one 150 ml bottle of Buttercup Syrup.  The rest of the bag was filled with enough medical dressings and ointments to stock a small pharmacy.

Buttercup Syrup, as every child in England knows, is the finest tasting medicine in the world and so free of noxious active ingredients it is licensed for children as young as two.  Like any child, Alex occasionally suffers from a chesty cough.  In Angola, the doctors prescribe antibiotics.  The Doctors in Angola prescribe antibiotics for pretty much everything and, as we have seen, this nearly had dire consequences for me so I wanted Marcia to rely on something other than the advice of men who apart from dressing in white coats, really know no more about medicine than an actor in Casualty.

The bag containing all this was maneuvered off the conveyor returning scanned bags to their owners and into the ‘special attention’ pile where a sullen young lady proceeded to examine every item in detail, even ignoring my advice to be careful with the contents of one particular plastic bag which, she discovered for herself, contained unwashed and wound contaminated grundies.  Yes, I know, why would anyone pack soiled laundry in their hand luggage?  Well, I had already packed everything (a feat of engineering in itself) when I realized I had forgotten to take these becoming surplus after showering and changing into account.  The box containing the ‘bike was well sealed with duct tap and releasing the catches of my suitcase would have caused a minor seismic event so into one of the rucksacks they went.

Although she was curious enough about the quantity and variety of dressings to ask me if I was a doctor, she ignored everything to do with e smoking and turned her attention to the bottle of Buttercup Syrup.

‘I shall have to confiscate this’, she told me.


‘Because it is more than 100 mls.’

‘OK, I’ll drink a third of it,’ I suggested.

She gave me a wintry smile.

‘I am serious,’ I assured her, ‘I’ll drink the top third now.’

‘The bottle will still be too big,’ she finally said.

‘So if I drank the lot, or poured it away, I still would not be allowed to carry the empty bottle?’

All the time we were having this rather bizarre conversation, other passengers were drinking the tops off their bottled water and soft drinks and, lying in amongst my now scattered possessions but clearly visible, were ten 100 ml plastic bottles of something largely made up of propylene glycol and marked as poison.  Clearly, it wasn’t quantity that mattered to this young lady, it was size.

I knew she was trying to piss me off and she knew she had succeeded.

‘Can I have a receipt?’ I asked, ‘that way I can go to Boot’s in the terminal and buy it back again.’

There was nowhere set aside for passengers to repack their bags.  I dragged everything across to a customer services counter, spilling much on the way and, much to its owner’s annoyance, proceeded to carefully repack everything.  As every experienced traveler knows, once unpacked again, a bag will never repack anywhere near as efficiently as it did the first time.  An official minced over and demanded, in a way suggestive of me having committed a crime, to know if I had been offered help to repack my bags. 

‘No,’ I told him somewhat relieved I wasn’t about to be arrested, ‘but I am missing a Terry’s Chocolate Orange.’ 

‘I had two but now I only have one,’ I added helpfully after deciding his vacant expression was a sign of incomprehension. 

Missing Terry’s Chocolate Oranges being evidently beyond his brief, he hurried away.

I went to Boot’s the Chemists but they did not stock Buttercup Syrup.  I thought it ironic that the two things that would either be confiscated or nicked would be items for a five year old boy while what, to all intents and purposes, could have been the components of a spectacularly effective improvised explosive device passed muster.  With regards to current methods of airport security and its effectiveness, I haven’t seen such a blatant money making scam since the Millennium Bug but it does serve as an uncomfortable reminder to those living in the West that events in the Levant and further east do affect their national security and are worth the billions spent and lives lost providing a robust response. (For those readers somewhat vague about irony, the needles on your Irony Detection Devices should be at full deflection now.  If they aren’t, they’re not working so go and get your money back)

After shuffling in unaccustomed heat for two hours in the Angolan immigration queue, I finally made it to baggage reclaim to discover that having had special handling in UK, Alex’s bike was receiving special handling in Angola.  Instead of being delivered to the baggage hall, it had been delivered direct to Angolan Customs.  This was annoying.  The reason I was so hot and sweaty, apart from the physical effort involved in lugging along a leg twice its normal size and, presumably, twice as heavy was that I was wearing a large raincoat.  The reason I was wearing a large raincoat inside a building in a hot country where the likelihood of rain, even outside, was nil,  was because its voluminous pockets now contained the two Samsung tablets, Marcia’s new Galaxy smartphone and Dominic’s new iPhone 5S Gold that had until very recently resided in my rucksack, the contents of which would now be innocuous to cursory examination by curious customs officials. 

It was one thing walking past customs officials while hidden amongst a load of tired and impatient passengers, quite another to be standing isolated in their midst hours later when, having examined four plane loads of tired and impatient passengers they had the time, tired and impatient and probably not a little vindictive themselves, to deal with me.  A limping, sweaty white man in a bloody great raincoat standing in his socks would arouse the special interest of even the most retarded bureaucrat.  And, of course, the box didn’t just contain a bicycle.  I had stuffed the free spaces with car parts, items that for some reason known only to the ministries of finance of countries in which cars or their parts are not made, attract ludicrously high levels of import duty.

Also in one of the pockets was a bottle of perfume I bought for Marcia on the ‘plane.  I don’t normally avail myself of the duty free offerings on airlines but finding myself with a bunch of surplus and in Angola largely useless UK pounds, and realizing that in amongst all the computers, telephones and car spares I had bought, there wasn’t a single ‘personal’ present from me for Marcia, I decided to lash out on a nice bottle of Dior.  There were two types on offer, both seemingly identical yet one cost eighty quid and the other sixty.  Marcia, I knew, would be able to tell the difference so I asked for the more expensive kind.  The cheaper kind had a subscript below the Dior pour Femme blazoned across the front of both cartons but it was too small for me to read off a glossy magazine page under a dim overhead light in a darkened cabin.  I made and paid for my order.  At two o’clock in the morning (in spite of my increasing discomfort I had just managed to doze off) a stewardess brought me my perfume sealed up in a natty little carrier bag.  I opened it.  Accuse me of lacking trust but I do like to see and hold what I buy.  This carton had the unreadable subscript and should have only cost sixty quid, not eighty.  I pointed this out to the stewardess.  Into her hand held machine, she punched in the item number from the in-flight duty free magazine for the more expensive bottle and it came up with the cheaper item but at a price of eighty quid.  I asked the stewardess to punch in the item number for the cheaper bottle and it came up with the same item but at sixty quid.

‘Hmmn,’ I said.

‘Hmmn,’ said the stewardess.

‘Is this a popular item?’ I asked her pointing to the more expensive item.

‘Oh, it’s our bestseller,’ she said proudly.  Normally an item being popular turns me off.  Shell suits are popular but I still wouldn’t wear one.

‘But everyone who orders the eighty quid item advertised in the brochure gets, in fact, the sixty quid item from the brochure?’

‘Perish the thought,’ I continued in order to cover the embarrassed silence, ‘ but one could almost draw the conclusion that British Airways were ripping off their tired and inattentive passengers.’

‘You owe me twenty quid,’ I said taking the perfume.

‘I’d rather not sell it,’ she said.

‘And I’d rather not write to Sky News,’ I said, ‘so can I please have my perfume and twenty quid change?’

I have no idea whether I got a good deal or not but it is gratifying to get something, however small, over on British Airways.

By the time the Customs warehouse opened I had been joined by Marcia, who was happily playing with her smartphone, and Alex who was happily playing with his tablet computer.  Also waiting was a fellow expat (for a bicycle, what a coincidence) and an Angolan lady.  Compared to our boxes, that of the Angolan lady was massive, every inch of it coated with adhesive tape to a depth only a seismologist would be able to determine.

‘Sign and print your names next to your box numbers,’ said the Customs official handing us expats a clipboard, his eyes locked on the box belonging to the unfortunate Angolan lady.  We signed and buggered off sharpish.

I had now been on the go for 24 hours, my dressing had come loose and slipped down my trouser leg and I was in agony.  Still, we fought our way through Luandan traffic so that I could stop by my ex house (‘ex’ not in the sense of the house of my ex-wife but in the sense of the house that used to belong to me) and gave a delighted Dominic his iPhone 5S Gold.  Yes it does have gold trim but is actually quite tasteful, not at all Liberace.  Once out of town and cantering south to the Barra de Kwanza I noticed the Jeep was making worrying noises.

‘How long has it been doing that?’ I asked Marcia.

‘A few weeks now but the Portuguese mechanic sprayed some oil underneath and said it was OK.’

We arrived home and the first thing I did was go for my tool box.  I knew that once I lay down, I would be down for days so wanted to put Alex’s bike together.  All my tools had gone.

This was a homecoming, a time of joy so I shrugged and suggested we went down to Rico’s place where they had tools.  There Alex got his bike, a decent bike, one made not in China but crafted in Birmingham, England.  Against his mother’s wishes, I let Alex ride it home, me following in the Jeep and by now very worried about the aural evidence of mechanical pain the car was going through.  I said nothing at the sight of my dead garden, in a way it was no more than I expected (apparently my Italian Grape Tomatoes had done well but all but one plant had been pinched) but I was concerned at all the oil around the generator.  A gentle enquiry revealed that the Portuguese mechanic, while servicing it, had been unaware of the sump pump so instead of using it to drain the old oil into a suitable container had merely undone the sump plug and allowed the waste oil to drain into the canopy from where it was now leaking out across my yard.  I added servicing the generator and an Exxon Valdiz cleanup to my ‘to do urgently’ list.

The list grew as alarmingly large as my leg.  The problem with the car was a failed front differential bearing so I had to drop the front propshaft while I order the parts.  While mucking about with the car, I noticed the dip stick was missing.  I asked Marcia about that and she told me the handle had broken off.  I asked her where the dip stick was so I could make a new handle, after all, we still needed it to dip the oil.  She told me that it was in the engine but that the Portuguese mechanic had said it was OK to run like that.  Even the most mechanically inept, I would imagine, could conceive of the catastrophic consequences of the engagement of loose metal strips and spinning crankshafts.  I added the retrieval of the errant dip stick to the list.  While doing that I noticed that someone had crudely welded the car’s cooling fan to its clutch housing.  The only way to get it off now would be to strip the front of the car down and cut it off with a blow torch.  The spares required to rectify the resulting damage will cost a fortune.  The Portuguese mechanic had suggested this artisan repair as a cure for overheating.  I had brought my cure for the car’s slight tendency to overheat in very heavy traffic (something I was aware of) in the form of an ignition overhaul kit: new plugs, new leads, new distributor cap and rotor arm, a new fuel filter.  The car was overheating slightly because the engine with ancient plugs and ropey leads was running lean on the crap fuel here, not because the fan wasn’t spinning fast enough.

Of course, the car would no longer start on the button, it had to be jump started using homemade jump leads and a slave battery which Marcia carried around with her in the back of the car.  The Portuguese mechanic had sold her two new batteries, Marcia told me, and they still did not work.  I looked at the batteries and could see neither was new but they still should have worked and was a bit bemused until I saw one of the lads start to jump the car by connecting the slave battery, amid a shower of sparks, with opposite polarity.  A quick check of the car’s alternator revealed that its rectifier had been blown, presumably through just such an inept opposite polarity connection.

Things were no better in the house.  The microwave was stuffed because someone had tried to heat up their lunch in an aluminium cooking pot.  There was no water in the loo so the solenoid controlling the influx of water into the washing machine, which had been left on in the vain hope water would magically appear, had burnt out.  I had been welcomed home enthusiastically by an ecstatic Charlie but of my other dog, Eddie, there was no sign.  He had crawled under the shop and died, I was told.  The ice cream machine has been unplugged and pushed into a corner.  I daren't go there just yet, not until I have sorted out the damage caused to the fuse box when someone messed with the shop wiring.

Compared to the foregoing, the rest of the stuff on my list is just petty and not worthy of mention but I am still bewildered that so much could go wrong in just six weeks.  And none of this had anything to do with the urgency with which I returned home.  Faced with losing the Filipino carpenter and my building crew, I had to come back if ever there was to be an end to this incessant build.  Ironically, all the labour issues were sorted out in less time than it took the boys to sink the cold beer each I had given them.

No one could blame any of this on Marcia.  I shouldn’t say because ‘she is just a girl’ but the fact remains, she is just a girl and it takes the special kind of girl I would hesitate to marry to wade in amongst and intimidate a bunch of recalcitrant labourers.  Few men, let alone women can fault diagnose something as mechanically complex as a car or, under stress, realize the solution to a lack of water is as simple as replacing a filter.  Yes, I was sick but I was receiving the best medical attention available in the world, I could trust the people advising me.  She, on the other hand, was left holding every single baby except the one she really wanted to hold.  With all the stress she miscarried and had no one she could rely on.

I have been back two weeks.  Happily, the car is nearly finished (all bar replacing the front diff bearing but that will have to await the arrival of new parts; it’ll run as a 2wd in the meantime), we can take a shower and wash our clothes, even the microwave works again.  The evidence of Alex having been left unattended in the cottage with his village children friends has been scrubbed from the walls, Charlie is putting on weight and work progresses down at the site.  My leg remains tender but not an issue that unduly concerns me.  Although the part of the wound where the graft failed is still raw, I was taught by the best nurses how to tend to it and for once I am religiously following their advice.

One good thing that has come from my time in hospital, in addition to giving up the smokes, is that I no longer watch TV.  I have paid only a passing interest in the World Cup.  I felt it appropriate that Brazil, as hosts, scored the first goal of the tournament and commiserated with them that it was into their own net.  I was looking forward to the Germany matches and was enjoying the drubbing they were giving Portugal but missed most of the second half when the new shop boy stuck his head in and confessed to emptying a 20 litre container of petrol into the diesel tank of the running generator.  Naturally I limped across the garden pretty damn sharpish to switch the generator off before we all witnessed the effect of high octane fuel in a compression ignition engine.  A few months ago, I would have killed him but instead heard a strange man (who turned out to be me) congratulating him for having the courage to admit his mistake early enough for me to prevent disaster.  Together we spent the rest of the evening draining and swabbing out the tank and flushing the fuel system.  While we were at it, we swabbed the waste oil swilling about the bottom of the canopy as well.  To be truthful, he did all the swabbing while I held the torch and puffed on my e-cig giving him the benefit of avuncular advice.

I get tired early in the evening and recognize the value of putting my leg up (rather than over) so retire to my room to read a book, Winnie the Pooh.  Together Alex and I make hot chocolate, ensure we have an adequate supply of choccy biscuits and lay together propped up in bed while we read all about Pooh’s adventures.  I can think of many fine ways to end a productive day and this ranks high among them.

I realize I haven’t written of the unexpected trip to Dubai I mentioned in my last post or of that other, far more mysterious place twixt England and the Irish Sea I ventured into or properly thanked the good friends who stepped in and helped me while I was in England but I think the glue must have set by now on Marcia’s car and I really should finish off the installation of her new headlights before sunset.  Araldite was perhaps the most useful purchase I made in England, by the way.  The presents went down well but a surprising hit were the bags of Pork Scratchings I used as shock absorbing packing around the more fragile purchases.

For supper tonight I have prepared a mild chicken curry with a peanut and coconut cream sauce.  First time I have cooked in months so things are definitely looking up although I notice that along with my tools, some bastard has nicked all my chef’s knives…
Alex with a fine example of British engineering and some children
who would be unlucky to learn engineering.from the Portuguese. 
Dawes made weapons and supplied bikes to the British Army during the world wars
and we won, twice, so their bikes must be good.