Thursday 27 February 2014

Stung Into Action

Last night I was stung by a bee.

I can still remember the first time I was stung by a bee, it was while playing in the garden of our house in Viersen so that must have been 47 years ago.  I don't recall the pain, only the fact I hobbled across the lawn shrieking like a girl until Dad caught hold of me and, hoiking my foot in front of my face so I could see my toe better, pointed out how the bee sting was still pulsating, pumping poison into my system.  I was fascinated and horrified at the same time.  I cannot recall ever being bitten by a bee since but always accorded the little blighters plenty of nervous respect.

I think all of us have heard about African Bees, killer bees that swarm around stinging everyone and everything to death.  In documentaries I learned that unlike European bees, African bees will chase a perceived threat for hundreds of yards.  I leant that carbon dioxide in exhaled breath stimulates the sting response.  The film  makers ably demonstrated this by tossing a child's fluffy toy at a swarm who just ignored it.  The next fluffy toy to be tossed in had been fitted with a tube through which CO2 passed.  The bees went berserk and within seconds the toy was buried in a mass if writhing, stinging bees.   Quite clearly the message was, if attacked by killer bees, stop breathing, something I suppose one would, under the circumstances, do quite quickly anyway.  I did witness a mass attack by African bees while clearing mines in Mozambique.  Grown men in absolute panic ran across an uncleared minefield, so frantic were they to escape and so persistent the attack.  That no one was killed, either by bees given their terrible reputation, or by landmines was quite remarkable.

My next close encounter with bees was in Cabinda Province in Angola.  I wanted to buy some wild forest honey and was told where to go and find the Honey Boy.  I found him sitting in his yard surrounded by pots of honey, chunks of beeswax and millions of bees.  Containers of any sort are at a premium in Angola so I had brought with me half a dozen empty 1.5 litre water bottles which he proceeded to fill, honey spilling down the sides of the bottles making them all sticky.  The bees swarmed all over the bottles, him, his hands especially and me.  Any second, I thought, I am going to inhale one of these buggers.  He dropped the bottles into my carrier bag for me and I left with 9 litres of dark honey and half a colony of bees in tow.  Back at camp, I submerged the bottles in a drum of water and tossed the carrier bag before cleaning myself up.  Eventually the bees thinned out and I was allowed back into the communal area.

If what they say about African bees is true, how was it possible that a boy clad only in flip flops and shorts could make a living robbing natural beehives of their honey?

The honey in Angola is the best I have ever tasted.  It is dark, the colour of well brewed tea and, apart from a few bits which float to the top (usually dead bees) is very clear, not at all cloudy.  I make no claims to its properties as a natural anti-biotic but from experience can confirm its efficacy as a salve on tropical ulcers, sceptic insect bites, infected cuts, even snake bites.  Mixed with lemon juice and a bit of hot water, it provides relief for tickly coughs and is, of course, great on pancakes.

With the well I dug, I have access to fresh water and plenty of it gets spilt, notably by the locals collecting their supplies of drinking water and by me when I am watering the beds.  I have placed a plastic bowl under the drain of one of the air-conditioning units so the dogs have a constant supply of clean water with no effort on my part and all this has attracted bees Sir, thousands of 'em.  They come in the evenings, just as the sun is setting and cluster around dripping taps, pools of water, and, if the ice cream machine is in use, its nozzles. I have to keep the kitchen window closed lest they cluster around the kitchen tap or drown in the sink.  I used to drink soft drinks straight out of the can, now I use a glass and insist Alex does the same; in their determination to access fluids, especially sugary fluids, at least one will end up in the drink. 

And yet I have never been stung.  When the bees first started coming, I was nervous.  OK, I'll admit it, I was afraid of being stung.  If the bee buzzing me was too insistent, I would move away.  I wouldn't even try to swat or squish it lest I annoyed it and its mates.  Over time, though, I have learnt to ignore them and yesterday was a case in point.  I had left a can of Sumol, a fizzy fruit juice, on my desk and sure enough, the bees located it.  I sat down at my desk to type out some emails and noticed them buzzing around the can and also, confused perhaps by the brightness, crawling over the laptop screen.  I ignored them.  Engrossed in my task, I did not give the tickle on my neck a thought as I absent-mindedly gave it a scratch.  I felt a hot pin prick, no more than that, and my hand came away with a bee between my fingers. I asked Marcia to take a look at my neck and sure enough, sticking in the flesh was a sting which she pulled out.  And that was it,  A momentary irritation, a slight swelling and then nothing to write home about.

So why am I blogging about it?  Well, if that was the sting of the terrifying African Killer Bee, it explains how kids in shorts and flip flops can shin up trees and steal honey.  If kids can get honey, why can't I?  Until I moved here and dug the well, I hardly ever saw a bee let alone loads of them so just assumed the area was far too arid and flowerless for them.  Instead I have found there must be millions of them and if there are lots of bees, there must be lots of honey.  And I like honey.

I am getting bored see, this is the problem.  Time passes very slowly when you are sober and I am running out of things to do and everything that I do do ends up with me having to wait.  I cleaned up the whole garden, have bought a bag of grass seed but must now wait for the rains so the seed takes and grows strong enough and quickly enough to survive the arid season being fed only with water from a hose.  Same thing with my raised beds.  They are all done but again I must wait for the good soaking the rains will bring before planting out all the herb and vegetable seeds I have waiting, unlike me, patiently in my drawer.  I have finished Stalag Luft III but must now wait for the chickens and Quail to be available.  I rarely go down to the other site as there is little I can do there, I just have to be patient and let the Filipino carpenter, who is doing an excellent job, finish the huts but he, in turn, is having to wait for the electrician who thrice has failed to show so I am now looking for another electrician willing to travel this far out of town.  I paid a Chinese contractor to bulldoze the rest of the land flat at the restaurant/lodge site but two things happened: firstly the bulldozer broke down and secondly, the Chinese foreman fell off some scaffolding and fell three floors breaking an awful lot of his little oriental bones and scuffing his yellow skin to hell.  I have to wait until his replacement arrives.

Last night I was stung by a bee and this morning I stumbled across this blog: Brixton's Bounty.  It is entertainingly written by some bloke called Oliver Riley who lives in Grantham, not Brixton, and is a nice mix of gardening, cooking and bees.  Unlike most UK apiaristas, he's gone for a top bar hive, more commonly seen in Africa than Lincolnshire.  Clearly this was a sign from God (or the Devil wishing to find work for idle hands) so I read loads of his posts and then refined it (after learning a sure fire way to make sauerkraut) to all his beekeeping posts.  A very useful guide to Apiary for Dummies.

I have absolutely no idea how to trap a swarm of bees but while I wait for inspiration, I am going to build a top bar hive and put a welcome sign in bee language over the entry hole.  I will make sure the top bars have some beeswax foundation and sprinkle lemon grass oil in there (apparently they like that) and maybe even a bowl of sugar water. 

All that will attract bees, no doubt about that but worker bees on their own aren't much good.  What I really need to learn is how to attract a queen.

Saturday 22 February 2014

A Little Out of Joint

I am getting a bit pissed off with falling off ladders.  Still, the work will not complete itself so I have to take my chances balancing on a flimsy Chinese step ladder and trying to hammer nails into unyielding wood.  Next time I fall off, and I have no doubt there will be a next time, I shall try to resist the instinctive urge to stick my hand and arm out to break my fall as landing on it has left me feeling distinctly out of joint.

My elbow is a little uncomfortable as a result and I can no longer straighten my arm.  Fortunately, it is my left arm and all I ask of my left hand is to hold the nail steady while I hammer it home so I see no need to inconvenience Marcia by asking her to drive me into town for an X-ray.  A visit to the tailor is also unnecessary as I am adept enough at sewing to shorten my own jacket sleeve should it prove necessary.

Last night as I was sitting behind my laptop talking to my brother in Germany via an unusually well behaved Skype, I received an unexpected visitor which, after circling the room, settled on my laptop keyboard.  The first thing such visitors do when settling down is have a poo but this one, seeing my hands suddenly still, hopped onto my finger.  Well I never!  I thought.

A most welcome surprise visitor, a Collared Dove (Streptopelia roseogrisea)

I used my laptop to take a photo of it fearing that at any second she may take fright but she seemed perfectly content in her new and no doubt unusual surroundings.  I placed her on my printer on top of which lay my old beret into which she settled. 

Alex came in from the shop and I showed him our new guest.

'Can I hold her Daddy?' he asked.

'Don't grab her,' I said, 'just stick your finger out in front of her,'

To his delight (and mine, I love to see him happy), she hopped onto his finger and stayed there.  So I took a photo with my camera.

I left the windows and the doors open all evening.  Occasionally, she went for a little walk all around the house but always came back to my desk where I would pick her up and return her to my beret.

This morning, I made a cup of tea and sat out on the veranda as usual.  As I sipped my tea, she stuck her head out of the open door, saw me and flew up to the veranda rail which she walked up and down cooing away as if having a conversation.  Then, with one last look at me, she said something else and flew off.

I Googled a translation of what she had cooed in parting.  The result came back as:

'Not a good day for climbing ladders.'

Thursday 20 February 2014

Bulls Testicles with Peaches and Dill Cream Sauce

There was a big argument in Britain a while back about what constituted a ‘National Dish’ and, given there are many worthy of the accolade, which dish it should be.  Should it be the traditional English Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding Sunday Dinner (eaten at lunchtime)?  Should it be Steak and Kidney Pie?  Roast Gammon?  Roast Leg of Lamb?  Fish and Chips served in newspaper?  Bangers-n-Mash with Mushy Peas?  The humble but ever so enjoyable Bacon Sarnie?  Or perhaps the unarguably world famous heart-attack-on-a-plate, the traditional English Breakfast with all the trimmings?

The discussion became heated, tempers flared and feathers flew.  The scots banged on about their beef and salmon.  The Welsh reminded everyone of their close affinity to sheep and rarebits.  It all became rather distasteful until one, hitherto silent participant suggested, quite reasonably, that a ‘national dish’ was surely the most often eaten, most popular dish within any given country.  You cannot argue with the logic of that, after all things do change.   When Homer penned his Odyssey, he was surviving on acorns which can hardly be considered the national dish of Greece pre austerity.  In America, apple pie is out, shrimp and grits are in.

A national survey was conducted and the results came in.  Nothing, apparently, better satisfied the British palate than a damn good curry.

Marcia had just left to take Alex to school this morning when I received a phone call from Manny.  She manages Rico’s place, the lodge next door to where I am building mine.  She has, bless her, a distinctive South African accent, all the more remarkable because it is wholly incomprehensible to all but her fellow Boers.  Before my morning cup of tea, I stood no chance.  All I understood were the words ‘rubbish’ and ‘impotent’.  Now this confused me as, to the best of my admittedly shaky recollection, I had never slept with her.  Still, I thought it wise to climb into the truck and drive down there.

‘Ah!  Tank gudnis u ev aroived,’ she guttered, ‘de impotent visitah is to aroive any minit an oi needs to get rid a all de sheet and ar trrike iz bust!’  The way her lads thrash that little three wheeled motorcycle pick up, I wasn’t surprised it was tits up.

‘You said something about rubbish, Manny,’ I said relieved that her visitor was important and I presumably normal.

‘Yah!  I call da boy nar,’ and she hurried off.

I hauled two truckloads of rubbish and kicked it all off at the dump with the help of da boy.  Stinking, foetid rubbish, well stewed in overstuffed and torn plastic bags heaving with maggots.  Even trying to bounce beer bottles off snuffling feral pigs at twenty paces did little to raise my spirits.  I was in the middle of an African rubbish tip under a hot African sun, birth place of every bloated fly in the universe scooping up the putrefying remains of countless meals with my bare hands.  Instead of a full nuclear, biological and chemical suit complete with respirator, I was dressed in shorts, T-shirt and sandals.  Some people find the sensation of maggots squirming between toes interesting.  This was a shit job and it got even worse when the head of my broom fell off and refused to screw back onto the handle, so I had to get down on my hands and knees to sweep the truck bed clean of the last of this biomass.  Still, I thought as I jumped out of the back of the truck, I was lucky not to have cut my finger on a piece of broken glass, that really could cause a nasty infection.  I landed on a broken wine bottle and gashed my foot instead.

Rico has a special cottage for VVIP’s.  It’s a house really, with its own separate kitchen so that meals can be prepared exclusively for the guest staying there.  Clearly Manny had left giving that a good root out to the last minute as well because as I drove into the lodge to drop the boy off, I was treated to the sight of cases of empty drinks bottles and dozens of fat black bin liners stacked up outside it.  The boy was knackered.  I was knackered.  Neither of us had eaten, it was now nearly three in the afternoon and if I looked as disgusting as he did, it was reasonable to assume that he was as pissed off as I was.  I’ll give him that though.  Having loaded on another truck load, he made to climb into the cab.  ‘Forget it,’ I said, ‘I’ll do this one by myself.’  He was very grateful but I wasn’t being charitable.  If he went with me, I would have to bring him back.  God knows what I smelt like but I could not stand the smell of him so I reckon we were both happy to part company.  Besides, this was fresh rubbish, nicely crated up or bagged.  This run would be easy.

As I left Rico’s and turned onto the road, four local fishermen flagged me down and asked for a lift to the main road.  I told them I was going via the dump and then onwards only as far as my place.  No problems, they said, I could drop them off at the turn to the dump.  As I drove, I realized that with four healthy blokes in the back, they’d have the rubbish tossed off in seconds.  As I pulled up at the turn, I offered to take them all the way to the main road if they helped me dump the rubbish.  ‘No thanks’, they said, ‘we’ll walk’.

Bastards.  They’ll happily scrounge a lift but if they have to do something in return, they’re not interested.  I flew down the track to the dump and had the last bag off before the first had even landed.  I caught up with them still two clicks short of the main road.  I drove very sedately up behind them. 

‘Oh!’ they said when they saw me, ‘can we have a lift?’

‘Vai te fuder.’ I replied.

When I got home, I saw that Marcia had a house full of Angolans who were to stay the night.  This meant Marcia had been cooking and the nice clean kitchen I had left in the morning now resembled the rubbish tip of recent acquaintance.  Misinterpreting my expression, Marcia hurried to explain that although she was cooking Angola fare, she was preparing English food for me.  Now I like some Angolan food.  Not all by any means but quite a few dishes appeal to me so I was strangely irritated that she would lump all Angolan food into a category disliked by Europeans.  Her motive became clear to my cynical mind when she translated this for her guests in a manner which called attention to her Goddess-like preoccupation with her husband’s wellbeing.  I was like a child, unwilling to try anything new or unusual so she had to prepare me a ‘special’ meal. 

As I had climbed the steps to the veranda, I had every intention of stripping off my vile garments and striding naked through the lounge to the shower to douse myself with oven cleaner.  I had instead remained clothed and was now paused in the lounge so that I could exercise the last remnants of civility still within my gift and now Marcia, having humiliated me now addressed me as if I were a child returning home after playing on a dung heap. ‘Thomas!  Go and have a shower!’  Thus dismissed, I entered the bathroom and found my towel had disappeared.  I checked the bedroom.  No clean towels.  Now this was annoying, hadn’t I just put them all through the washing machine yesterday?  Had I not used my clean towel this morning and hung it on MY rail?  I chased Marcia down.

‘I need a towel.’

‘They are in the bedroom.’

‘No they’re not.’

‘Yes they are.’

‘You go and look then .’

‘I am busy Darling.’

‘I am dirty.’

‘Yes I know, go and have a shower, dinner is nearly ready.’

Marcia turned to her companions, ‘He wants a towel.  Honestly, men!  Unless they fall over whatever it is they are looking for, they cannot find it!’  Everyone tittered except me.  I was reminded of scenes from Reggie Perrin.  I went into the spare bedroom and found it unusually tidy with all the towels neatly folded on freshly made beds.  Clearly Marcia’s visitors were impotent as well. 

I came out of our bedroom stripped with a towel around my waist.

‘Your food is ready,’ said Marcia.

‘Just stick it on the table,’ I replied, ‘I’ll be right out after my shower.’

Clean, I dragged on some fresh clobber and reappeared.  There was no one in sight.  Lonely on the dining table was a covered plate flanked by a knife and fork.  The TV channel had been switched from incessant bloody soaps to the Winter Olympics.  Typical!  Only when they have something else to do that interests them more, do they switch the channel to something I might like.  I stuck my head out of the veranda door.  At a beautifully laid table sat my family and our guests.  Was I expected to eat alone at the dining table?  Was it a case of foreign food inside, Angolan food outside in the fresh breeze and setting sun?  I had a look at what they were eating.  Moamba da Galinha.  I love Moamba da Galinha.  It is chicken casseroled in a peanut cream sauce, it is divine.  I went back to the dining table and peeled the cover off my food.  Two pieces of filet the size and shape of testicles, three chunks of a quartered boiled potato, and two thin slivers of fried aubergine.  I checked under the aubergine but my first impression had been correct, there was no sauce.

Well bollocks to that, I’d show these bastards what strange food foreigners like to eat!  I went to the fridge and took out a carton of fresh cream.  Pouring some into a bowl I added salt and pepper and some chopped dill.  I took out a can of peach halves and opened it.  Rooting among the pans on the stove I found there were more testicles in the frying pan.  I heaped them onto my plate.  I then arranged a peach half on each, poured cream over them and then drizzled the beef tea from the pan over the potatoes and aubergine.

‘Room for one more?’ I asked as I strode out onto the verandah.

‘Don’t you want to watch the Olympics?’ Marcia asked me, ‘the channel changed automatically so I knew you had saved a reminder.  We came outside to eat so as not to disturb you.’

‘Oh,’ I said.

‘There’s more steak in the pan,’ Marcia went on, ‘it’s just that I know you like Moamba da Galinha so I only put a bit of steak on your plate to leave room.’

‘Righto,’ I said making my way down the table to sit next to Alex, ‘that was very kind of you.’

‘What have you got there!’ Marcia asked in astonishment as the plate descended below the level of her eyes on its way to land on the table, ‘are they peaches?’

Naturally everyone at the table had to have a look.  No Moamba for me, I was going to have to finish what was on my plate or really lose face.

‘I don’t want this!’ said Alex pushing his plate of Moamba away, ‘I want what Daddy is eating!’ confirming in the minds of the Angolans present that we Europeans eat some odd stuff.

Alex and I proceeded to polish off the plate.

‘What is it?’ the visitors asked having been persuaded to try some.

‘This,’ I said, good humour fully restored, ‘is England’s National Dish,'  I paused long enough to allow them to swallow, 'Testículos de boy com pêssegos e molho de natas com endro.’

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Rocky Marciano Jr.

Alessandro Manuel (to give him his Angolan name), by Tom 'The Bomb' Gowans (undefeated Light Middleweight), out of Marcia Francelina da Graça Manuel.

When is a boy old enough to learn to box?

Recently I had occasion to ask Alex if there was anything he wanted.  I was thinking of something small and lightweight, easily hand carried.

'Boxing gloves,' he answered.

'Do you know what boxing gloves are, Son?'

'Yes Daddy.  I want boxing gloves.'

'Are you sure, Son?  Wouldn't you rather have a radio controlled car or a colouring set?'

'If you don't want to buy me boxing gloves then don't.' 

How the hell did a five year old learn to pack so much into a simple sentence?  He was simultaneously calling into question the reason for me even bothering to ask what he really wanted if I was then going to argue his choice, and demonstrating his complete indifference to a negative response.  There was no doubt about it, his little heart was set on boxing gloves.

That evening I told Marcia that Alex had asked for boxing gloves.

'Nem pensar!' she said, shocked, 'he is far too young and besides, he has too much energy as it is.'

I would have thought her last point was a damn good reason to get him the gloves.  He'd soon get knackered swinging six ounce gloves around.

So I ignored Marcia and got him the gloves.  I not only got him the gloves, I got him a proper punch bag as well.

The bag is made of a very heavy canvas and is designed to be filled with sand.  That would make it weigh a ton, Alex might as well be punching a wall and that would be both painful and not very realistic.  If he punched someone his own size, that person is going to give a little (or, hopefully, give a lot and fall down) but if he punched an immovable object, Newton's third law says it'll damn well hurt.  Alex weighs in at half a Bantam weight and ideally the bag should weigh his body weight plus around 30% to give him something to punch against without breaking his arm.  I decided to fill the bag with wood shavings mixed with sand.  First, though, I needed to work out where to hang it.  The veranda seemed the best place but there were no conveniently exposed beams so I had to put one in.  Naturally this attracted Marcia's interest, she still didn't know I had the gloves and bag.

'Hanging baskets,' I told her, 'they'd look nice here.'

Beam up and tested (if it'll hold up to me swinging on it, it would do as an engine hoist) I waited 'til the next morning with Alex in school and Marcia in town before going into the garden and filling the bag.  I think I overdid it a bit because my legs felt pretty wobbly as I climbed the stairs up to the veranda and there was no way I could hold it up at the right height for Alex with one arm and get the wire over the beam and through the shackle suspending the bag with the other.  I had to prop it up on a chair and wire it up that way.  Out of curiosity, I fetched my fish scales and weighed the bag, 35 kilos (77lbs).  Lighter than it felt, I must be getting old.

Alex returned home from school, saw the bag and immediately started punching it.  Marcia rolled her eyes heavenwards and tight-lipped stalked into the house.

'Hang on a sec, Son, you need these,' I said producing the gloves.

'Boxing gloves!  Thank you Daddy!' he said giving me the biggest hug ever.  Any doubts I had about the wisdom of this evaporated.  The gloves were real nice, as pro as junior gloves could be; good wrist support and a stitched thumb to avoid injury.

'OK matey, give it a go,' I told him and he let loose.  Most kids of his age would tend to slap, not punch, and then they would only throw one, pause and then throw another.  Not Alex.  He not only punched, he threw blisteringly fast triple combinations and had the bag flying about all over the place.  OK, he lacks any form of technique, obviously, but these are things that can easily be taught.  What impressed me was the instinctive way he put his weight behind the punch, the force of his punch and his footwork.

I hope it will burn up some excess energy, which he has in abundance, as well as building up his confidence.

I set my camera to shoot several frames in sequence and asked Alex to thump the bag for me.  Bear in mind, the bag weighs 77lbs and was static when he hit it with a single punch.  Take a look at these:

And he never took his eyes off it. 

Looking at this, I need to raise the bag a bit. 
I'll get the boy to lift it while I make the adjustment.

So to answer my original question, when is a boy old enough to learn to box?  I would say, when he wants to.

Saturday 15 February 2014

Coturnix coturnix africana and other fowl issues


Klein came by the other day and dropped a load of books off.  They’re all about raising chickens, ducks and geese.  I was fascinated.  Or perhaps I was just bored with Montgomery’s tedious six hundred page tome, ‘A History of Warfare’ (and his part in it), a Director of Studies prize I received at Sandhurst in 1985 and with which I was so delighted, it is the only book in my household I have not managed to read to its conclusion.

There are lots of books out there on raising poultry and all the information anyone could wish for is available on the internet.  What makes these books special is that they were published in an age when small holders had little choice but to be largely self-sufficient and able to improvise.  One, the Muskator Geflügelbuch was written in 1956 and another, Hadlington´s Australian Poultry Book ten years earlier in 1946 (Australia: Large island south of the civilized world, famous for football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars.  Population: Largely imported from Asia).  Both are full of handy tips and hints, Hadlington’s more for the commercial poultry farmer while Muskator seems aimed at those raising chickens for food while rebuilding a country. 

Nice bloke.  Mad on chickens.

While implicit in Hadlington’s advice is an assumption that everything required can be obtained from an emporium dedicated to the poultry farmer, Muskator illustrates artisan drinkers made from bottles, flower pots or tin cans and feeders made from what look like spent artillery shell cases and steel helmets.  Thankfully, the German who wrote Muskator’s guide had heard of S.I. units of weights and measures.  I was keen to learn what and how much of it I should feed to a laying hen each day.  Hadlington advises a morning mash made of pollard, bran, Lucerne meal, wheat, maize (whole and cracked), meat meal, linseed meal, coconut meal or cake, and salt.  The liquid may be offal soup, milk or just water, preferably hot.  He also advises an unlimited supply of shell grit stating that no other substance is of use.  Oyster shells are the best. Yes, yes, yes, I thought, but what are the quantities?  ‘A kerosene or petrol tin is the measure most frequently used,’ advises Hadlington leaving this keen reader still none the wiser, ‘as well as the most common conveyor of poultry food on the farm.’  Depending on the product, a kerosene can holds between 12 and 18lbs I discovered after many more pages of this.  It’s all delightfully vague, isn’t it!

Living here in Africa, I don’t need books which list all the latest techniques and are full of glossy pictures illustrating all the Gucci must have kit every smart poultry farmer can’t live without; I need the sort written by those living in the dark ages before Amazon was invented. The chapter entitled ‘Selbstbau, zweckmäβiger Hühnerställe’, offers detailed plans for practical self-build hen coops for 5 to 8 chickens, 10 to 14 chickens, 20 and 50 chickens.  They appear so simple to construct I think I shall buttonhole the Filipino carpenter in the morning and tell him to knock some up.  This poultry farming lark is beginning to look easy.

Marcia collecting a day's egg production while wearing zweckmäβiger clothes.

Klein also had the prices for birds.  I asked him what breed of chickens they were and he said, ‘Brown ones’.  I know enough about chicken breeds to be confident that brown ones lay more eggs so US$15 per bird seems pretty reasonable as at 80 cents an egg, they would only have to lay twenty each to cover their purchase price but buying 100 of them will dent my piggy bank a bit so I will go for 30 instead and see how I get on.  45 bucks a beak for ducks made my eyes water a bit but they are made in Peking apparently so should crisp up nicely.  I had planned on 40 of those but half that has a nicer ring to it, I think.  Geese are still unobtainable so poor old Goosie is going to have to wait a while longer before he gets his first leg over.  I was very disappointed that in a country where they run round wild (just not round here), Guinea Fowl were also off the menu.  Klein asked me if Coturnix coturnix africana would do instead.  Coturnix?  Sounded like an under garment Asterix the Gaul would wear.  ‘Codorniz,’ he said in Portuguese witnessing my baffled expression.  ‘Wachtel,’ he tried in German.  ‘Quail?’ I asked querulously. ‘Ja! Qvail!’ he confirmed, ‘nur neun hundert pro stück!’  Nine hundred Kwanzas, nine bucks a bird.

I did a very quick mental calculation and decided to bin the ducks for the time being and get quail instead.  The chickens would provide eggs, the quail would be for raising and eating.  I’ll go for fifty or sixty quail and blow the rest of a thousand bucks on chickens.  I will wait until the restaurant and cottages are all fenced and then buy the ducks and geese and put them on the pond, they’ll be happier there than here although God knows how I will find my duck eggs.

Feed is available in Luanda.  50 kgs of chicken feed is $38 (compared to the US or UK, is that chicken feed or is it expensive?) and quail feed is $46 a bag.  I have absolutely no idea how much a quail eats but I have tentatively concluded that a laying chicken eats 110 grams of feed twice a day.  Please correct me if I am wrong!

So there you go!  I was a bit worried that I had all those varieties of sea food on the menu but not much exciting as far as fowl was concerned, I mean, who is going to come all this way just to eat chicken unless it is in one of my amazing curries?  Quail along with the guinea Fowl when I lay my hands on them should really add something to the menu especially as I will also be offering venison.

Coturnix coturnix Africana. Lovely, tasty little game birds.
I want them to go from here...

... to here.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Caro Cliente!

Dear Client,

Welcome to MoviNet Portal, the best wide-band internet of Angola.

This site is a way to communicate with you! Inform you about your modem, discount promotions and new services that only Movicel Have.

This is the logo of my internet service provider in Angola, Movinet, and what they have to say about themselves on their website.  Although a suggestion of further useful information is made, there is none other than a reminder of my account due date.  I pay US$100 per month for which they promise 2 GBs of traffic at a speed of 3 Mbps.

Is it just me or does their logo look like a misshapen molar?  If it does, then at least they are being honest about that even if they are lying about everything else.

Movinet makes my gums bleed.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

He Does Not Look Happy...

Alex's first day of school today.

Yesterday evening we unpacked new clothes and shoes for him, his school bag, writing books, pencils normal and coloured, his juice bottle and snack box and he was so happy!

Normally, recourse to tyre levers is the only way to get him out of bed at six in the morning.  This morning he was up at five, tugging at my hair shouting, 'Daddy! Daddy!  It's time to go to school!'

We left the Barra de Kwanza at seven and arrived in front of the school at ten to eight.

Would he go in?  Would he hell!

If looks could kill!

Marcia went in with him to help him settle.  Ten minutes later, she came out again assuring me that everything was OK.  Thirty seconds later, Alex bolted out the gate with a member of staff in hot pursuit.

'I am sorry!' she said as Alex clung to his mother, 'I only took my eye off him for a second and he was gone!'

Picking him up, it was a different story; he didn't want to leave.

'Daddy!  They have a crocodile!  They have lots of birds!' he ran back inside.

They also have an ostrich, I discovered, but the crocodile was quite small, only about three feet long.

Class sizes are acceptable, there are sixteen pupils in Alex's class.  For children his age, apart from the 'Three R's', they concentrate on physical education (on their own playing field), swimming (in their own pool), music lessons, drama, singing and field trips using their own buses.  It is Angolan fare but the food is good, prepared as it is in their own restaurant.  It is a longish school run every day, a hundred kilometres there and back but, because of its location in the southern suburbs of Luanda, I can dive off the main road before I hit the traffic and go cross country through the bush and do the trip in less than an hour.  I say I can; Marcia goes up to town three times a week so she can do it on those days!

Alex has already invited two of his new friends to come and stay for the weekend which I think is a smashing idea.  Naturally I have already offered to host his year group here at the Barra where I can knock them up a decent nosh and take them on a fossil hunt down the beach.

Alex had a great time today and I am pleased.  I had a miserable time.  This house and garden is a bloody big and lonely place without Alex getting under my feet and up to all sorts of mischief.

Monday 10 February 2014

Generators and Eccentric Germans

Andy’s boys turned up on Friday and set to rebuilding the generator.  There were three Sri Lankan Mechanics supervised by Jako ‘Slim’ Nieuwenhuizen, a damn great Boer who told me never to call him ‘Slim’ so naturally he’s called Slim.  No slight is intended.  It is just the same as calling a vertically challenged individual ‘Lofty’, a particularly skinny bloke ‘Billy’ (as in Billy Bunter) and a non-reflective bloke (am I still allowed to say that?  I want to say black man, but I know that’s illegal now) ‘Chalky’.  So, for example, I was flattered, not offended when my ever considerate CO in the Army at his weekly ‘O’ Groups, clearly reluctant to overtax his subordinate would, with an appreciative nod in my direction often state, ‘No point asking Captain Stupid’.

They had brought with them an impressive variety of filters, gaskets and seals as well as the reconditioned head of my generator engine.  They had, they claimed, removed about two kilogrammes of sooty carbon and clinker from the ports which did not make the heavy cast iron lump feel any lighter but certainly left it looking cleaner and rather like someone who had rapidly sucked a handful of Fisherman’s Friends, able to breathe easier.  The problem, apparently, is that the generator is running under a woefully insufficient load. 

US$665 worth of filters, gaskets and seals
So that's what a head is supposed to look like!
Without a decent load, I was told, the engine would run inefficiently, half the diesel fuel turning to clag rather than burning clean, and produce far more pollution.  I was not only wasting fuel, I was damaging the engine as well as our precious environment.  Diesel engines, like women, need to be worked hard to get the best out of them.

And that got me thinking.  Most people who are off grid buy generators powerful enough to cope with the maximum load that can be expected but virtually all the time, these generators are just yawning along well under capacity.  I considered my own case, what were the chances I would have absolutely all my electrically powered devices running at the same time?  I have some heavy load items on the circuit, the water pump, the oven, the washing machine, several air-conditioning units and seven large fridges and freezers but they are never all running at once.  The pump only clicks in if the water pressure drops as a tap is opened and shuts off as soon as the tap is closed.  The oven is on about twice a week and then only for a couple of hours, less if all I am doing is crisping up yesterday’s bread, and things like aircon and fridge compressors only spool up as required.  At any one time, the most my appliances were drawing was about 5 amps on each phase, perhaps an extra ten when the ice cream machine was freezing the mix.  Had I known when I ordered the ice cream machine that merely by digging a well I would encounter a reliable supply of fresh cool water, I would have ordered a water cooled machine instead of the power hungry air cooled model I have now but even so, it is hardly worth my generator getting out of bed in the morning just for 25 amps.

I have decided, therefore, to install a hybrid system.  The extra amps the generator is capable of producing will be used to charge a bank of batteries.  While the generator is charging the batteries, it will be running at around 80% capacity and far more efficiently.  Once the batteries are charged, the generator will switch off and my power requirement will be drawn through an inverter from the battery bank.  The generator will run a third of the time it is currently running, I will save loads of fuel and treble the service interval.  By running the generator at full chat for a shorter period, I will actually reduce my carbon footprint.  Before anyone congratulates me for Going Green, let me assure them that my motives are to save money, not the planet which is why I will not go the whole hog and install tens of square metres of very expensive solar panels.  With diesel costing 40 cents a litre here, it is cheaper to run a generator.

Note the clinically clean environment in which the engine is being reassembled
With the engine bolted back together, the time came to start it.  I had no idea whether the influx of water, normally occasioning disastrous consequences for a compression ignition engine, had stuffed the bottom end of my motor.  Jako has the optimism which only comes along with a deeply religious upbringing.  If your belief is intense and sincere enough (I fail on both counts) nothing can go wrong but if it does, it is merely God’s mysterious way and nothing to get upset about.  I have known Jako for must be six years now.  When we first met, we had to come to a mutually acceptable understanding.  He had to understand that my soul was, in my opinion, beyond salvation so he need not waste his time.  I just wanted to understand him.  English is not his first language, as it isn’t for many Boers who were, let’s face it, yet another race treated appallingly by the English so were understandably disinclined to learn the hated sprache.  With his help I learnt to understand the peculiar syntax and grammar of Afrikaans English.  I give you a simple example: ‘I are wearing a jeans pant’.

Jako was standing at the downwind end of the generator when it coughed into life.  He immediately disappeared in amongst a cloud of the thick white smoke spewing out of the exhaust.  Fuck me, it never did that before, I thought. 

‘Normal!’ shouted Jako coughing his lungs up, ‘they always do that after a rebuild!’  The guys quickly shut the generator down again.  We all moved upwind and gave it another go.  This time it started easily and the smoke quickly disappeared.  I was delighted.  Marcia appeared looking equally happy.  Then I noticed Jako and the Sri Lankans weren’t sharing our joy.  Actually, they looked anything other than happy, not quite ready to throw the towel in but still the wrong side of glum.  I said nothing and Marcia folded her arms in the way women do when they suspect things aren’t going as swimmingly as their husband’s had suggested.

It was only running on two of its four cylinders.  Injectors were swapped around to see if the fault followed them.  It didn’t so the injectors were OK.  I heaved a huge sigh of relief.  These things are indecently expensive.  The fault was traced to the injector pump.  This is hideously expensive and can only be properly rebuilt and set up in a laboratory.  My heart was in my boots again.  The thing is, and there was no point me trying to kid myself, I had not been able to tell the difference between a diesel engine running on four cylinders and this one running on only two so there was no telling how long it had been running like this before it finally gave up the ghost.  If the pump was knackered then, once again, it was my fault.  The fuel system had been fitted with an extra, very expensive and very efficient fuel filtration and water separation unit made in Germany and universally held in high regard by those who know what they are.  I didn’t.  I did not know that the unit I thought was merely a water separator also contained a 10 micron filter so never changed it.  Naturally, these guys knew all about Separ Filters and the first thing they had done when they were stripping the engine had been to attempt to remove this filter.  I say ‘attempt’ because through such prolonged neglect, it had collapsed and was bloody hard to fish out of its housing.  If the pump was gummed up, this was why.

Air intake makes a good drinks cabinet
At times like this, rather than moping over the shoulders of those who really do know what they are doing,  it is far better to leave them to it and get on with something within one’s limited skills base.  I went back to the kitchen and busied myself finishing off the much delayed lunch.  I was just cruelly boiling lobsters alive when Jako came in and asked if it was OK to throw the trip switches on the generator to feed power to the house and shop.

‘Is it running?’ I asked in astonishment, ‘I can’t hear it!’

I looked through the kitchen window.  Normally, if the generator was running, there was a faint exhaust haze discernible.  I couldn’t see any sign of it.  I had to go out onto the veranda before I could detect a very gentle humming noise.  I was impressed.

‘I just need to shut the small gennie down and take it out of the circuit,’ I said hurrying off across the garden.  They waited until I got to the big generator before throwing the switch.  The revs hardly altered.  ‘No load,’ they said knowingly.

'So what was wrong with it in the end?' I asked.

 'You got shit in the injector pump,' replied Jako.

 ‘Really?' I said. 'How often should I do that?'
A typical snack at Fort Hippo's
We had lunch and then the generator alarm went off.  This time I remained calm, it was only a low fuel warning.  Jako and Marcia headed off for the gas station to fill the drums with diesel on Jako’s car while the Sri-Lankans and I set about changing the oil on the Jeep.  If you recall last week’s episode, I had drained the oil from the generator and changed the oil filter with a new one, not the correct one but one that fitted, that I had found lying around amongst the mechanical related clag I kept in a box under the house.  Since, after an engine rebuild, it is always advisable to change the oil and filter after only a few hours, it was decided to run with my filter rather than the new Perkins one which I would use when I changed the oil next week.  The Sri-Lankans told me that the filter I had bought for the Jeep would not fit.  Sure enough, the new filter supplied by Jeep downtown had a much larger diameter thread.  Naturally, I was reluctant to put new oil on the car and then fit the old filter.  That would be like washing your hands scrupulously clean and then drying them on an oily rag.  ‘See if the Perkins filter fits,’ I told them.  It did.  So I now have a generator running with filter for which the true application is unknown, and a Jeep running with a Perkins filter.  Never mind, that’s two oil changes needed in the next few days.

Jako and Marcia crawled up to the shop in low gear.  An old white guy on a push bike was following close behind.  I looked at Marcia quizzically.  ‘He’s German,’ she said.  Oh well, that explains it then, I thought.  ‘I found him at the petrol station,’ she added as if he were no more than a particularly interesting bit of driftwood she had stumbled upon, ‘he needs a place to stay.’

‘I am looking for somewhere to stay,’ he said, no doubt to eliminate any doubt.  Do I really wander about all day looking confused?

‘What sort of place are you looking for,’ I asked him in German, ‘a tourist place?’

‘Somewhere very cheap,’ he said.

‘That’ll be us, then, ‘ I told him, ‘wheel your bike up to the cottage.’

A 61 year old German and his 28 year old 'bike
Dr. (Ing.) Stefan Frotscher is 61 years old, comes from Coswig near Dresden and is barking mad.  He is riding from Cape Town back to Germany on a 28 year old standard bicycle which, were it not missing a basket in front, would look like the sort of wheels a butcher would issue to his delivery boy.  His only luggage consisted of a couple of small panniers front and rear the limited volume of which, he admitted, was mostly taken up by water.  He had covered 121kms that day and was, he said with heartfelt sincerity, ‘very hungry’.  There are only two places he could have stayed around here that night, the cheapest of which was $400 a night so he was bloody fortunate to have run into Marcia.  He was even more fortunate that the Sri-Lankans had not eaten everything so, much to his delight, he was immediately served a plate of chicken curry and a couple of lobsters with a nice dipping sauce along with an ice cold beer.  His timing had been perfect; two hours before, we didn’t have any cold drinks.  He was halfway through Angola and, best of all, did not speak a word of Portuguese.  His next country will be Congo.  He doesn’t speak French either.

After dining, of course, he really wanted to bathe.  I showed him to his room and told him to dump all his kit in a pile and I would run it through the washing machine for him.  All through Angola he had been sleeping in medical posts or police stations and washing out of buckets.  Figuring that he already knew water in Angola was a precious commodity so he would probably just have a splash and dash to save my water, I told him about my well and its limitless supply of fresh, clean water.  Sie können ruhig unser Wasser gnieβen,’ I assured him.  The sum total of all his clothes (I had lent him a fresh set of mine) wouldn’t have stretched a Tesco’s carrier bag so I threw a load of my stuff into the washing machine as well.

When he came out, much refreshed, I asked him if he wanted to catch up on the news in German.  He did, very much.  As I switched over to Euro News and changed the language, I casually asked him what he thought about Angela Merkel being dismissed for drunkenness.  ‘WHAT!!!?’ he exploded.  I had intended to wind him up further knowing he must be months behind on current affairs but the thought of old Angela being tossed drunk out of her office had clearly nearly given him a heart attack so thought I had best not tell him that Germany had pulled out of the Eurozone and changed all deposits held in German banks from Euros to Deutsch Marks at a one to one rate; the last thing I needed was to explain a recently expired German to the Angolan authorities.

As I have already intimated, there was something quite eerie about Dr. Stefan’s timing.  There is an old Portuguese guy who has a bakery on the outskirts of Luanda where we used to live.  He has a van and working to a strict schedule best described as ‘when he feels like it’, he runs his van full of bread down to the Barra de Kwanza to sell it to the two tourist lodges and Marcia’s shop.  The bread is really nice, especially his rolls, quite unlike anything bought from the State bakeries and very similar to the bread available in France or Germany.  It freezes well and is delicious when crisped in the oven.  To announce his arrival in the village, he has fitted an ice cream van style electronic Glockenspiel to his van with a volume control which is either off, or more usually on so you can hear him coming miles away.  I was just making an early morning pot of tea and had only just asked Stefan what he missed the most and learnt it was buttered fresh brötchen with jam for breakfast when I heard the Glockenspiel. 

‘Is that an ice cream van?’ he asked.

‘No,’ I said, ‘it’s selling your breakfast.  Why, do you like ice cream?’

‘I love ice cream,’ he confessed.

‘What flavour?’ I asked.


Timing again.  Now that the power was back on, Marcia was mixing up a batch of ice cream.  Our machine can do two flavours at a time.  I asked Marcia to make one of them rich cream and the other, just so he had a taste of the tropics, coconut flavour.  It is also bloody fast, probably why it draws so much power.  Stefan enjoyed his fresh bread rolls with butter and Guava jam and for me, the sight and smell of it was so evocative of my time in Germany, for the first time in years, I had breakfast too.

Andy Mallett appeared in the doorway along with Richard, a mutual friend.  Keen golfers, they had just finished an early morning round at the nearby resort and dropped in, as Andy stated, to quality control the work on the generator.  Lunch was Tagliatelli Carbonara with ice cream for dessert.

By now, Stefan was making some serious, ‘I’ve got to go’ noises.  He intended to split the seventy odd kilometre trip to Luanda into two stages as he only needed to arrive in Luanda on Sunday so that he could get his visa from the Congolese Embassy on Monday.  There is only one sizeable village between here and Luanda and while it offers places to stay for tourists, the cheapest is about a 100 bucks.  Furthermore, it is only 25 kilometres down the road so seemed to me hardly worth the effort; after all, he had covered 121 kms the day of his arrival.  Why didn’t he spend another night with us and start off very early Sunday morning and do Luanda in one day?  He was adamant.  He would never spend more than one night in the same location otherwise, he said, he would never get back to Germany.  Fair enough, I thought, but I still felt he would end up cycling into Luanda in the early hours not having found anywhere to stay on the way.  Marcia wrote him out a note in Portuguese which stated.

‘Hi!  My name is Stefan, I am German.  I am riding from Cape Town to Germany and I would like somewhere cheap to stay the night.  Thank you for your help’

Cynically, I thought this translated as:

‘Hi! I am vulnerable, please take me down a dark alley and rob me’ but kept such unpleasant thoughts to myself.

Before he set off, I noticed him carefully logging his mileage in a book.

‘How many kilometres have you done with this 28 year old bike?’ I asked.

I was not ready for the answer.

‘342,000 kms,’ he said indicating the speedometer on the bike.

‘Bloody hell!’ I said, ‘you must have done some long trips on it!’

‘I have,’ he confirmed, ‘don’t forget, I had to ride to Cape Town from Germany down the eastern side of Africa before I could ride back up the western side…’

He thinks he will get home by March… next year.

Mad.  Stark staring mad.  But what a bloke, eh?