Tuesday 25 March 2014

Of Unreliable Machines and Pregnant Women

Angolans are quite naturally very proud of their country.  They consider themselves the very best Africans, miles more intelligent and hard working than any other.  They laughed at Gaddafi's self proclaimed status as the King of Africa and mock South Africa's attempts to be seen as the real player in African geo-politics.  They point out the admittedly serious development that has ensued the end of the civil war, thousands of kilometres of new roads, the railways, hospitals, schools, hotels and other infrastructure, all completed in less time than it takes to resurface a mile or two of potholed road in UK.

If they are so bloody good, why then, every time it rains, the power fails in town, mobile signals die, satellite TV decoders lose their signals (not normally a source of angst for me but the Twenty20 is on) and, with uncommon irony, there is no utility water for the city dwellers?  Why then, unless you stand over them, will bricklayers try and lay bricks as haphazardly as possible on top of non existent foundations, plumbers will bodge joints, mechanics will misdiagnose problems and fuck up machinery of any kind while stealing all your tools and electricians are evidently secret pyromaniacs?

These last couple of weeks have proved a little trying for me.  First, the generator suddenly stopped.  My generator is designed to be run by idiots.  The manufacturer does not say that of course, it describes its product as 'Africanised'.  The touchy-feely types assume this means it is built rugged to cope with a harsher environment.  Bollocks.  The environment is a damn sight harsher in Maine where a generator has to work in minus 50 C to plus 50 rather than a fairly constant and agreeable 25 C.  Same goes for mobile phone services.  If the system went down every time it rained, UK would have been out of touch with the rest of the world since last summer, except for maybe God's Kingdom of Yorkshire, which has enjoyed fairly benign weather but that would have made no difference as Yorkshiremen are too tight to waste money on mobile phones. 

My generator is fitted with all sorts of sensors and a panel of warning lights.  If the temperature rises, for example or the oil level falls, with an inbuilt instinct for self preservation, it will shut itself down, emit a warning tone and the relevant warning lamp will light up.  Brilliant for fault diagnosis but utterly useless if some oik hurries to the generator and without looking, switches it off with the ignition key (cancelling all warnings) and tries to start it again.  Having an ignition key that cannot be removed when the generator is running is an oversight in the manufacturer's Africanisation of the machine.  Oh! I hear the Health and Safety types cry out, what happens in an emergency?  How does one switch the machine off?  Well, look at it from my point of view.  By 'emergency', I presume the HSE elves mean some threat to life whereas a machine related emergency to me is some threat to the machine.  If the machine detects a problem, a potential threat to its well being, it will shut itself down.  Being forced to leave the keys in the machine means that any goon can over ride these sensible safety measures and break an expensive and hard to replace machine.  If, on the other hand, a machine rips off the hand of an overly inquisitive African sticking his appendage into it without permission, so what?  He shouldn't have been doing it anyway and replacements for him are cheap and plentiful.  Besides, the machine has an emergency stop button, a bloody great red thing on the side but I have only shown Alex and Marcia how to use that lest the oiks in my employ start playing with it.

So there I was with a generator that had shut itself down and alarmed.  Presumably finding the shrill noise of the alarm annoying, the oik had switched the machine off meaning I lost the essential tool to a quick fault diagnosis, the lights on the alarm panel.  So did I risk starting it again?  No, of course not.  Not straight away anyway.  It was obviously very hot, much hotter than normal so I presumed the problem was overheating.  That, however, may only have been a symptom of some other, more serious fault.  Far better to let the machine cool right down so I could get my head in there and give it a good going over.

I can understand Marcia becoming anxious when there is no power.  We have quite a lot invested in frozen produce. 

'It's OK, Marcia, I'll hook up the portable generator, that will run the freezers at least.'

'I lent it to the builders,' she told me.

'No problems,' I told Marcia, 'I will nip up to the other site and get it.'

'It's broken,' she said.

'Broken?  How? It was brand new?'

'Fique gripado,' she told me.

'Seized?'  I was shocked.  'They have not been changing the oil, have they?'

'I don't know,' admitted Marcia.

Well, that was it then, wasn't it?  The builders live on site so the only person who would have bought them the oil they needed was Marcia.  If she had bought them oil, she would have known the oil changes had been made.  I didn't check because I did not know she had lent them the generator in the first place.  I just can't get through to anyone around here that these portable gennies are for emergency use only and, since they don't have an oil filter, must have the oil changed after every twenty hours of running.  These buggers had been running heavy wood working tools off it for nearly a month, no wonder the bloody thing had seized. 

'Well, you'll just have to wait until the big generator has cooled down enough for me to look round it,' I said.  I was irritated and in dire need of a cooling off period as well.  Marcia is, as the Germans say, in anderen umständen, in other circumstances, a very coy way of saying she is pregnant.  In anderen umständen I'd have ripped into her for once again lending out my tools and equipment without telling me but I went back to my gardening instead.

In the meantime, and unbeknown to me, Marcia's favourite Portuguese mechanic passed by the shop and noticed there was no power.  This is the same guy who stripped the original 25Kva generator I brought down here from the old house, which only needed a bit of wiring sorted out, a new alternator and starter and the exhaust welding, and is still lying there stripped.  This is the guy who the day before Marcia and I were due to attend the smart wedding we had been invited to last year, convinced Marcia it was OK to fix the leaking Jeep radiator, against my humble advice, with some form of putty, a repair that lasted long enough for us to get into the darkest, most hostile suburb of Luanda before the radiator exploded.  Don't overlook the fact that the reason the Angolans behave the way they do: crappy workmanship, lousy work ethic, mindless bureaucracy and corruption at every level, is because they were colonised for so long by the Pork and Cheese.  Marcia invited him to take a look at the generator.

The keys for the generator were safely stowed in my pocket so Marcia had to come to me to get them.

'It's OK,' she told me all smug like, 'the Portuguese has looked the generator over and the only thing wrong was that it was low on oil.'

'So he's put oil in it, has he?' I asked.  I had dipped the oil, it was one of the first things I had done, and although it was low, the level was still within limits so it would not have shut down because of low oil and just being a little down on oil would not cause the machine to overheat.

'Yes,' she said.

'How much?'

'About half a litre.'

I strolled over to the generator and dipped the oil.  It was now over full.  It is just as bad running an engine with too much oil as too little, you can blow all the oil seals if it is over filled.  With the engine cool, I had a good root around.  It is hard to get in there and see because of all the safety guards but by jamming your head inside the soundproof canopy and wriggling a bit, you can get a squint at the fan belt.  Or you would be able to if it was there.  I rooted around some more and found what was left of it wrapped around the crankshaft pulley.  I teased it out, placed it to one side and went looking for Sr. God's Gift to Mechanics.

'It's fixed then, is it?' I asked him in Portuguese.  Marcia was just serving him a cold beer.

'Esta bem, tudo bem,' he said, 'podes ligar!' he assured me.  I suppose in one sense he was correct, the machine was OK and it was safe to start, but I knew it would not run for long.

'OK then, let's go and start it,' I suggested.

As we walked back to the generator I reminded him that it had overheated.  Because of low oil, he told me, exuding the sort of arrogant confidence only a Portuguese could.

'But you agree, it did overheat?' I asked him.  He agreed.

'So when it stopped, it would have shown an overheat warning light?'  And a low oil level light, he said, reminding me of his superiority.

I started the generator.  It ran for about ten seconds and then shut down emitting a familiar shriek of protest.

'It shows a charging fault,' I told him, 'look for yourself.'  He looked.

'So if we agreed when it first stopped it must have alarmed on over temperature and presumably a charging fault as well, what do you think could cause that?'

He hadn't a clue and started banging on about needing to pull the head off.  I told him that it had just been done.  He suggested that Andy's team hadn't torqued the head down enough and the head gasket had blown again.  If I hadn't been there, Marcia would have let him do exactly that, strip a perfectly serviceable engine down.  God knows what else he would have found that needed replacing and how much he would have charged.

I picked up the shredded belt and handed it to Marcia.

'It needs a new fanbelt,' I said, 'I have a spare one, it'll only take about half an hour to fit.'

Two days later, the airconditoning compressor pulley bearing failed on the Jeep.  Marcia, who was in town, asked me if it was safe to drive the car home.  Now that is a bugger of a question to answer.  Without being able to see the problem, how could I make a decision on which the safety of my wife and child might depend?  After all, I did not know it was a pulley bearing.  All Marcia was telling me was that the engine was making a horrible noise.  I asked some sensible questions.  What kind of noise?  Does the engine stop and start?  Good.  Was the oil pressure normal?  It's zero, what, even if you rev the engine?  Yes darling, start the engine and tell me what the oil gauge reads.  That's normal.  Leave the engine running and look under the bonnet, where is the noise coming from?  The big thing with the pipes coming off it. 

I don't know if you have ever looked under a bonnet at an American V8 but it is big and there are lots of pipes coming off it.  Without being there, this was a very hard game of twenty questions and I could tell Marcia was becoming irritated.  Women can detect even a fraction of a rise in octave so I had to keep my voice even and oozing honey.  Can you describe the big thing with pipes coming off it for me, honey?  You don't know the name of it in English?  Well what is it called in Portuguese?  Compressor de arcondicionado?  I know what that is, darling, just switch the engine off.  Is the engine off?  Good.  Just grab the pulley, the round thing the fan belt goes around on the front of the compressor and try and waggle it, does it move?  Yes.  Ok, darling, how far are you away from the auto parts stores in Benfica?  Not far, good.  You need to go to one that sells fan belts, call me when you get there and buy me some phone credit, I have run out, I can't even send messages any more.

I waited and I waited.  In the meantime I looked up the length of an aircon pulley bypass belt.  All I can say is thank God for chatty Americans.  They love their forums.  There's forums dedicated to anything and everything out there.  The Jeep forum is brilliant.  All Marcia had to do was go to the relevant parts store, by a shorter belt the exact specification for which I now had and the car would run safely with the aircon compressor out of the system.

I waited some more.  No message from Marcia with my phone credit so I could not phone her to find out what was going on, whether she was Ok.  Had I made a misdiagnosis and allowed her to drive that short distance and now something had gone seriously wrong?  I was frantic with worry.  The boy wasn't around so I walked down to the main road to buy phone credit, they did not have any and neither did every citizen I asked to allow me to make a quick call on their phones, bastards.

Hours later, Marcia arrived home. 

'I rang the Portuguese and he said it was safe to drive the car home slowly,' she told me.

'Did he?' I muttered, absolutely furious.

'I stopped off at his place on the way back, that is why I am late, and he says we have to change the pump for a new one.  He is coming early in the morning to take it off and then he will go into town and find a new one.'

For a start, you can replace the clutch and bearing for the compressor without having to remove the pump from the system and losing all the refrigerant in the process.  It comes in a kit and costs around a hundred bucks.  I know enough people in the States who could stick a kit in the DHL for me.  Secondly, on this guy's previous form, the car would be off the road for weeks during which time all the expensive components of the air conditioning system would corrode.  The sensible solution would be to spend sixty bucks on a bypass belt and run the car until the pulley kit arrived.  That job takes less than an hour.  I convinced her of this but it still meant a long taxi ride to the parts store she had been so close to only the day before to buy the belt.

A week ago, she rang me to say the car was making a horrible noise again and was it safe to drive home?  This time I divined that it only made a noise when it was moving and that it was coming from underneath the front.  I was convinced it was a drive shaft bearing but told her to go to a garage and get a mechanic to look at it.  She did as she was told this time and I was able to speak to the mechanic.  It was a front diff bearing so as long as she took it easy, she could drive home.  Yes, he had a replacement kit in stock.  'Buy it,' I told Marcia.

When Marcia got home I asked to see the kit.

'He was a crook,' she told me, 'he insisted on selling me bearings for both sides for $350 but I only need one.'  She had brought the Portuguese guy with her which hadn't done much for my already dangerously high blood pressure and then exacerbated it further by continuing, 'he'll strip the bearing and go into town tomorrow to find another one, he says he has a friend with an identical Jeep.'

If it is an identical Jeep the owner of which is selling out for parts, that means it must already be knackered.  Swapping out a bearing for a used one is like fitting second hand brake pads or changing engine oil without changing the filter, or washing your hands and then drying them with used toilet paper.  Besides, you always swap out bearings in pairs, what's the point of fitting new bearings on one side and ignoring the other?  How long would it be before the bearings on that side failed?  I was speechless.  Marcia was, as I have already mentioned, a little fragile so really no point in me venting my spleen.

'By all means strip out the bearings, on BOTH sides,' I told the Portuguese, 'I'll nip into town tomorrow and buy the kit.'

As it happened, Marcia saved me the trip by giving the money to the driver of the bus that serves the village from the city.  The garage was on his route and he kindly stopped off and picked the kit up for us.

Internet access was by now non existent.  That did not bother me too much, unless something else broke and I needed information.  Then the mobile network started to falter.  Again, the only person it really affected was Marcia, she seems to spend most of her time with the phone glued to her head like a Sony Walkman.  When the satellite TV signal started to fail, I was really irritated.  Normally, I only have the news playing while I go about my business but I really enjoy watching international cricket, not test matches but Twenty20.  It wasn't going to happen, I'm afraid, so I hauled my laptop and speakers out to the veranda, set them up to play my favourite tunes and set to work in the garden.  Laying bricks to make beds, sawing wood to make window boxes, carting soil in wheelbarrows, all these chores were a delightful diversion as Santana and other old classics played in the background.

Marcia is having a rough time of her pregnancy.  If it's going to be anything like her first time, she is in for another couple of months of hell.  She spends most of her time either in bed or lying on the sofa.  I can see she is faint and weak and know that her irritability is only a symptom of a greater malaise so must be patient.  I do all the cooking and washing and try to make life as easy as possible for her.  Alex seems to be doing all he can to get on her tits so he is keeping me on my toes.  He was sick as well last week.  We thought it might be malaria but it turned out to be a tummy bug, we think something he ate at school, but he gave me a few sleepless nights shuffling a washing bowl backwards and forwards between one vomiting patient and another.  I hate it when women and children are suffering, especially when there isn't much I can do about it. 

The other day I made a beef fricassee and, as I always do, added cream to it.  Just the smell of the cream made Marcia ill so now I have to cook within the tiny window of opportunity her transient culinary fancy allows.  This really tests my logistics skills.  Over the weekend she suddenly decided she wanted something called Miengele.

'He's dead,' I told Marcia having misheard.  Besides, he would have been the last doctor I would have sought an appointment with.

Miengele are the spinach like leaves of the Butternut Squash.  Thankfully, a quick phone call to Jamie up at the Comuna turned up a basket load.  Boiled they are delicious and must be rich in the folic acid and iron Marcia evidently needs.  She is eating a lot of bread and also has an evidently insatiable appetite for Funge, a wall paper paste like goo made from manioc flour.  Last night she wanted Bacalhão, dried salted cod.  This afternoon it was smoked ham rolls, egg custard tarts and white grapes. 

As I was typing this, she came up to me, bared her breasts for inspection and said,

'They hurt, and don't you think they are getting bigger?' 

I admitted that her nipples were certainly prouder than I had seen them in a while but thought better of telling her that on a diet like hers, her arse would get a lot bigger as well.

Naturally, Alex never fancies anything that Marcia wants, which forces me to cook separately for him.  Alex and I are eating a lot of pasta... 

It is a quarter after four and Marcia has only just finished her ham sarnies and now wants fried fish and rice pudding.  It will be a girl, she has told me.  She knows this because of what the baby is making her eat.  Obvious, really, only a female would make someone eat all that then force them to spend half the night and most of the following morning throwing it all up again.

There now follow a load of pics to show what I have been up to in my spare time...

A few weeks ago I acquired a bit of banana tree that had been crudely hacked off.
I placed it in a bucket of water and after a few days, a root appeared.
A week or so later, there was a profusion of roots...
So I planted it and protected it with a few building blocks to prevent the goose nibbling
the new leaves or some local trampling on it.
The local chapter of the Barra de Kwanza Pregnant Wives Hair Braiding Association.
Like the Women's Institute only scarier.
Andy Mallett visiting to inspect progress on the cottages
(and bring me a slab of Stilton!!!)
Andy checking the wooden sliding doors
(did I mention he brought me a slab of Stilton?)

Detail of the steps
(Stilton on lightly toasted fresh bread is divine)
I didn't mention the broken tap, did I?
Well, the post was getting too long and Marcia needed feeding again.
Note the handy 'shelf' for my tools.  It is a baby chair designed to hook onto a table.
I was going to throw it out a few weeks ago thinking it wouldn't be needed again...
The offending tap, good Chinese quality casting.  It just fell apart when I tried to open it.
Naturally, on a pressurised system, unless I sealed the pipe, the pump would run forever.
So I dug around in my 'odds and ends' box and came up with a union, the seal from an electrical box
and a one Kwanza coin.
Stacked together like this, they made a perfect seal to screw into the end of the water pipe.
Yes, I know the photo is incorrectly orientated but I have been Bloggered again, whatever I
do this photo appears on its side and I cannot be arsed anymore.  Blogger has been doing all sorts
of strange things recently.  I appear to have lost a whole post while I have been away. 
Not that it matters, it was a rubbish post anyway.
Rusty speakers and a grimy laptop.  Can be pretty dusty around here but that's still no excuse.
Must get round to cleaning it. 
At least you can see which keys I commonly use!
The fig tree doing ever so well.  The top of the stem died off as two new stems at the bottom flourished.
Next to the fig tree, a few Italian Grape Tomato seedlings.
A tray of aubergine seedlings in the foreground.  Next a tray of coriander and behind them a mango sapling.
Outside the veranda rail, one of my new balcony boxes in which are growing sage and dill.
More mango saplings, a bowl with banana seeds growing, more pots with sage and a nice flower.
More pots and containers with Royal Palms, Avocado, Yellow Blooming Silk Acacia
and another box with Cardamon plants.
No prizes for bricklaying I know but soon it will be obscured with flowers.
In there I have pineapple, Nasturtium and Zinnia, the last two courtesy of the
considerate American and already sprouting.
Note how well the banana tree is doing just beyond the wheelbarrow.

The finished Stalag Luft III just waiting for the arrival of the first batch of prisoners,
Guinea Fowl from Lubango, about 1,300 kms away by road,
nothing more than a quick dash in a country this size.
The raised beds to the rear of the shop, all of them dug over with goat droppings mixed in and all planted.
Top left with Yellow blooming African Tulip Trees and Jacaranda trees.
Middle, I forget, foreground carrots and Swiss chard.  The goose will have those.
The beds closest to the back of the shop.  Water melon, Kohlrabi (Celeriac?), aubergine,
Tomatoes, sweet granadilla, giant granadilla, hot peppers.
Goosie follows me everywhere in the garden.
These next four photos are for some American reader of mine who wanted a better idea of the layout of my property.  I explained to him that I have several properties, the two main ones being the cottage and shop location, and the restaurant lodge location.  I can't understand such an interest in detail.  Perhaps he works for the NSA and they want to make sure that if I ever take the piss out of America or its inhabitants again, when they order a drone strike it will get me and not the Chinese Embassy.

View of the back of the shop (left) and the cottage (right).  Stalag Luft III
is out of shot to the right.  This is the part of the garden I am working on now.
In front of the trees laid out  irrigation pipe can be seen.  I must dig these in.
The area to the right of the previous shot.  Still a lot of cleaning to do in this part of the garden.
View from the side of the shop to the cottage.  This area is clean and smooth how I like it.
As soon as I have all the irrigation dug in, I will start on the lawn.
View of the front of the shop with the little footbridge from the road.
My overworked, battle scarred little truck.  The manufacturer says that its load capacity is 1,800 kgs.
That's four tonnes, good enough for me.  Note the bashed and warped bumper, smashed indicators and the missing
off side rear view mirror, it's been Africanised as well...
I did not mention this in the main post either, it was beginning to turn into a litany of disaster but, I also had to deal with an electrical fire in the shop.  Not exactly the sort of thing anyone would welcome but damn scary in a wooden building.  Interestingly, the board did not trip and I had to cut the power by hand.  The electrics for the shop were installed by a contractor I sacked so I guess I am going to have to go through the whole shop electrical system.  In fact, I am so concerned, I may bite the bullet and have the whole place rewired.  This is galling as all the wiring has been concealed between double skinned walls.  To rewire it I would either have to rip the inner walls out or surface lay the cables.  I think the latter but it is still bloody annoying. 

'Darling, I think a light bulb has blown...'
Definitely toast.
Right, I have to water the beds.  Rice pudding anyone?  There's plenty left...

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Bioeasy Plus - Teste de Gravidez

Marcia found me digging in the garden in the rain when she arrived home.  I had been digging in the rain all day.  36 hours of solid, tropical downpour.  The few plants that had made an appearance in my raised beds had been smashed to hell.  Of the thousands of seeds I had planted, only three sage, four tomato and two dill had germinated.  Of the coriander, the leeks, the carrots, the radish, the rosemary... not a sausage.  I appeared to be good at sowing seed, just not at the right time I guess.  Now even these few plucky examples had been beaten by the very thing they craved, water.

It isn't that the soil is infertile, far from it.  It just seems impervious to water.  I tried to salvage the plants that had gamely struggled up out of the soil and discovered that only three inches down, the soil was bone dry.  How could this be?  If a torrential downpour had failed to penetrate the soil, my hours of sprinkling had clearly been of no use whatsoever.  So I decided to dig everything over again only this time I would mix in tonnes of fine wood shavings.  Now was the time to do it, it was pissing down.  Mixing in the shavings and giving the soil a good turning over would definitely moisten and loosen it all up ready for me to have another go at planting.  If the rains hold up, then the seed would be in with a good chance.

God knows what possessed me to take up gardening.  I had done all the digging I wanted to while in the Army.  Civilians have fond memories of walks through the Brecon Beacons.  I have nightmares about the place.  Besides, I know bugger all about gardening and was always far to impatient a person to even consider it as a pastime.  Might as well watch planks warp.  I can now say, though, that I am a keen, if very inept gardener.  I may have been very slow starting (I'll be fifty five in May) but I am slowly getting the hang of it.  I know my efforts will bear fruit.

'I need to pee, Andi,' Marcia told me as she passed by heading for the house.  She always calls me Andi, don't know why.  I don't call her Frank (her second name is Francelina) but I do call her Mars One Alpha occasionally.  I don't know why I do that either.  I also found it momentarily confusing that Marcia should appear to ask me before using the loo, she's always managed on her own so far.

'Did you buy the test kit?' I asked.


'Shouldn't the test be conducted in the morning, first pee and all that?' I asked.

'I am going to do it now,' she told me.

'Wait, wait!' I called after her tossing the shovel and wiping the dirt from my hands on my shorts. 'I want to see!'

'You are not watching me pee,' she told me as I hurried after her.

'How long does it take?'

'One minute,' she said closing the door.

Gosh, I thought, that's quick.  About the same time as it took me to get her pregnant.  If she was pregnant.

A little while later she came out and handed me a little white stick with a coloured band on it.  Towards the end was a line with an arrow pointing at it.  Only one line.  I knew enough to realise that two lines were a positive indication.  So I sat there holding it waiting for the second line to appear.  Nothing.

'Can you see?' asked Marcia.  Actually, I could not see very well, my specs being smeared with mud, rain and honest sweat so I asked her to polish them for me.  Still only one line.  Further up the stick was a red band.  It was next to this that Marcia indicated with a delicate fingernail.  Two purplish lines. 

'So you are pregnant!'

'Yes, Darling, I know.  I have known since last week.'  Blimey, no wonder she was teasing me with all those vague references to pregnancy, she was sounding me out!  Thank God there are some things I just don't joke about.  Goodness, in fifteen years I will have had three children.  Nine years between the first two, Dominic and Alex, now five years between the next two.  I am picking up the pace!

I gave Marcia a hug and a kiss and told her what a clever girl she was.  Men say dopey things like that, don't they?  But I suspect that's just what newly expectant mothers like to hear,

'Oi, Alex!' I called out, 'You are going to get a brother or a sister!'

'I already have a brother,' he said matter of factly, eyes glued on the TV.

'Well, you're going to get another one, Mummy is going to have a baby!'

At that moment, a bat flew into the house so he lost all interest in anything else.  So did I, to tell you the truth; together we tracked it until it settled on the hot water tank.

'Bats are nice,' I told Alex as I snapped a photo, 'they catch insects, especially mosquitoes in mid flight.'

'Wow,' he said, clearly impressed, 'can we catch it and keep it so I can show my new brother?'

See, he was paying attention.

'You had better ask your mother,' I told him.  And he did, and his mother was very pleased.  Then she told me to get rid of the bat.

There's lines all over the bloody thing!
A bat on a hot tin pipe
I suppose I had best start letting the family know...

Monday 10 March 2014

Something Strange Happened Last Night

It rained.  And it was still raining this morning.

Yes Son, water is falling from the sky...

We have been in the house since September and this is the first time it has rained.  The local police chief was here the day before yesterday, scrounging a plate of food again and was impressed with all the seedlings and saplings I am starting.  We had a chat about how the garden was coming on.  He asked me if I intended to grass the garden.  'Yes,' I told him, 'as soon as the rains come.' 

'You have had the rains,' he told me.  Well, it is raining now so I hope he is wrong.

He did though, make up for all his free meals by bringing me a dozen coconut palm tree saplings yesterday.  His form of benign corruption is an art form.  I know exactly where he got the saplings from, a large and very expensive nursery on the way to the capital but still within his area.  From me he gets free meals and a discreet locale where he can treat his occasional lady friends to a nice dinner in exchange for his men keeping an eye on my place.  God knows what he does for the nursery to earn free palm trees.  Or maybe the nursery is growing more than just palm trees and he is turning a blind eye.  Certainly the Chief accepted Nice Paul's and my explanation that the plant we had growing round the back of the restaurant was not what most might think it was but Italian Grape Tomato instead.

Italian Grape Tomato. 
I am sure it was about to bear fruit but Marcia tore it up and dumped it,
I guess she prefers her tomatoes big and juicy.

Then, to round off a generally odd morning...

Marcia has been complaining of feeling unwell these last few mornings. 

'Do you know how I feel?' she demanded not half an hour ago.

'With your hands?' I asked.  I really need to watch myself.  Two wives intent on becoming ex's cited my inability to take anything they said seriously as one of many reasons for leaving me.  I can't help myself, I still think it is dangerous to take everything a woman says seriously.

'I feel exactly the same as I did when I was pregnant with Alex.'

Oddly enough, flippancy for once failed me.

Friday 7 March 2014

Yes, It's a Volkswagen!

Well done Linda!

I owe you a low calorie Lobster dinner.

Volkswagen Phaeton Long Wheel Base Limousine.

Well that was fun!  I'll go and water the flowers now.

Update:  Went to water the flowers and noticed something hanging under the Jeep.  It was a bit of the fanbelt.  The parts stores close for the weekend in five minutes time.  That's us buggered for the weekend.  Volkswagen fanbelts never break, of course.

Now for something completely different...

We discovered that Frank's younger brother and sisters had not eaten for days.  Frank is the lazy fourteen year old toss pot we employ to do odd jobs out of school hours in exchange for food for his family.  He is a waste of rations but he is disarmingly incompetent,  I've sacked him I can't remember how many times but he always turns up the next day, works feverishly to pick up any litter and sweep the floor before, after an hour of honest graft, retiring to some lonely corner and going to sleep.  Ah well.

Frank's father is a total waster and apparently had nicked all the food in their house and swapped it for booze.  No point, then, in sending more food down there so we told Frank to collect his brother and sisters and bring them here for a good feed.  Nothing smart, just good honest fried buffalo liver in onion sauce, rice with julienned carrots, sautéed wild cabbage and as much fruit juice as they could swallow.  Bugger me, those kids are skinny and malnourished.  They spent the rest of the evening chomping through my secret store of choc chip cookies while watching Mr Bean on TV.

Eight happy kids

That cheered me up.  Then I received an email from a friend of mine in Europe with details of a second hand vehicle he thought I might be interested in.  I have imported a lot of cars into Angola and usually was able to run them for a year or so and then sell them for more than I paid for them.  Free motoring, anyone can do it.  Can't understand why people buy new cars.  But you need a supply of suckers (or too wealthy to care) in order to have a supply of good used cars.

This one is very nice.  4 wheel drive, (has to be for here, doesn't it?), 4.2 litre V8 with 334 bhp, very low mileage (15,000), first registered December 2012.  Blimey, that's not even run in.  This one has virtually all available extras and is the long wheel base version.  Pretty economical consuming only 13.1 litres per 100 kms (20 mpg) so with the price of petrol here, it would cost me less than two dollars to deliver and collect Alex from school.  Price new?  US$156,000.  Price to me? US$ 30,000 straight from a main dealer.  Wow!  In sixteen months it has lost 80% of its value!  Actually, I am playing with stats a bit.  If I wanted to buy it to use in its country of origin, the attractive price would go up considerably.  The car's manufacturer's warranty would have to be honoured so the dealer covers himself in the asking price; add 20% making the base price $39,000.  The dealer is going to have to find space for it in his showroom and pay someone to sell it and all the time it is sitting there, his money is tied up so add another 25%.  Then there's taxes, add 20%.  The cheapest I could get it would be $58,500 so the vehicle has only lost a shade over 60% which is about right.  Don't forget, exotic extras don't really help a particular model hold its value better, they just make it easier to sell. when the time comes and quick turnover is manna for dealers.  So why am I being offered this car?  Why doesn't the dealer push it out quickly at a reduced profit?  Well, one thing, there are quite a few of these cars on the market so even fully loaded, he will likely have it gathering dust for quite a while.  Secondly, if he knocks the price down, he has to do the same for all his other cars of the same model.  If he sells the car for export, it is cash in hand, no need for guarantees, no special test tickets needed, and it frees up space in his yard or showroom.  That's why I am being offered the car for just $30,000.  It would then cost me another ten grand to transport and import it here so I could be running around in a virtually brand new luxury motor for 40 grand.  The first Angolan with cash who clapped eyes on it would easily part with 60 to 70K for it. 

I checked the petty cash.  I am so tempted!  But, like my dealer friend, it would mean tying up a chunk of my cash for the couple or so months it would take to get the car customs inspected that end, stuff it into a container and have it shipped down here before clearing it this end.  I keep banging on at Marcia about sticking to the project plan, not to be distracted so I could hardly justify having a punt on a car.  Especially a luxury car.  Luxury cars depreciate faster than the Zimbabwean dollar did.  But God, am I tempted.  I know I could shift it quickly.

Anyway, take a look and see if you can guess what it is.  The winner will get a lobster lunch at my place.  If the winner is from abroad, leave your trip here for three months or so and I might be picking you up from the airport in it!

Plenty of legroom for Alex
His own fridge to keep his juice cool
His own TV screens
and plenty of buttons to play with to adjust his airconditioning and individual rear seats...
complete with cup holders and DVD remote

My office
I've airbrushed the manufacturer's logo away...

4.2 Litre V8, 334 bhp, top speed limited to 155mph.
Subtle V8 badge on the boot lid. 
Even the boot is airconditioned so your shopping doesn't melt (or bodies start to smell)
It is a hell of a lot of car for the money.  Should I or shouldn't I?  It is late, I think I'll go and sleep on it.

Wednesday 5 March 2014


A lot of men have sheds.  A lot of men spend a lot of time in their sheds.  Other people, mainly women, either get irritated with, or ridicule men who have sheds and spend a lot of time in them.  Father’s garage was his shed.  He had two real sheds but he preferred his garage.  It was big.  In addition to the cars, it had room for work benches and shelves, neat tool racks, space for whatever carpentry job he was working on (he liked to build garden benches), room for his comfy chair, a two ring hob and a hi-fi on which he used to listen to Richard Tauber.  It was bloody draughty and in winter perishing cold but he liked it.  As young men, I have to confess, we boys thought he was a little barmy.  After all, he could have been sitting comfortably in his wing back surrounded by his beloved books being warmed by a roaring fire. Instead, he preferred his cold and damp garage.  What on earth possesses men and makes them yearn for uncomfortable solitude?  His body was found there after a search party was sent looking for him when he failed to show for dinner.  He had spent all day in there, had finished another bench and had died.

These last few days have been an official holiday in Angola.  Tuesday was Carnival and no-one could expect the Angolans to turn up for work today after a heavy night’s partying so today was declared a holiday as well.  Since there was only one day between weekend and Carnival Tuesday, no one went to work on Monday either.  For the weekend and the next three days, therefore, four of Marcia’s nieces and nephews have been staying.  Martha is six, Fininha is thirteen, so is Ju and Mauro is ten.  Oddly enough, Alex at five is Mauro’s uncle.  They were here to enjoy themselves and keep little Alex company.

This morning, there was a lot of shouting from Marcia who wheeled a very frightened little Alex into the house and demanded that I gave him a hiding.  Regular readers will know that I have never laid a hand on a child.  Apparently, in the shop, he had dropped his shorts and swung his pelvis to and fro as if giving something a good rooting.  I was shocked.  The best thing, as always when dealing with a woman verging on hysteria, is to do nothing so I sent Alex to his room.  Just in case my female readers, of which I know I have many, think I am being sexist, well I am.  I usually punch hysterical men or, if they are much bigger than me, hit them with something heavy enough to leave a lasting impression.  Hysterical women who want to thrash their child with a length of garden hose are protected by law.

Talking to the nieces, slowly the story came out.  Marcia, now calm, had taken the truck to run an errand so it was easy for me to be my normal soft self and let the kids do the talking.

It wasn’t exactly Alex’s fault, they said.  Sure, he had dropped his keks in public but only after Claudio, that snot bag Marcia employs to look after the shop, had shown them all pornographic videos on his telephone.  They used the term, ‘Filmes de sexo’, sex films.

‘Honestly, Uncle Tom!  We did not look at them!’ They pleaded after misinterpreting my expression.  ‘Will Mummy beat me Daddy?’ Alex asked.

‘No one is going to beat anyone.’ I lied.

‘When did he show you the videos?’ I asked.

‘Already on the first day,’ one of them replied.

‘And again today?’


They have been here three days.  For three days this despicable pervert has been collaring the kids.

I told the kids to sit down on the sofa and watch TV.  I wanted to keep them busy so they did not witness what would happen next.  Best that this time they could honestly say they did not know.  I made it halfway across the garden, but Alex had followed me so I took him back inside.  ‘Can you make me some corflecks?’ He asked.  So I poured him a bowl of cornflakes.  I knew it would all end in tears if I gave way to the overwhelming desire to drag the scrote into the garden and kick the life out of him.  Better to wait for Marcia’s return and explain everything to her, then surely I would be allowed to cut him.  In the meantime, it occurred to me, he may twig something was up and delete the evidence.  I needed his phone.  I marched into the shop.  He was just making a phone call so I grabbed his wrist, gave his arm a gentle twist and caught the phone as it fell from suddenly lifeless fingers.

Now I don’t know about you, but I am pretty hopeless with phones.  All I want out of a phone is that it rings to let me know I have an incoming call as well as allowing me to make calls.  I had no idea how to access any videos on Claudio’s phone so I asked the girls.  They did not know either, so I persevered and found them.  I have seen plenty of hardcore porn in my time and this ranked right up there with the most explicit.

Marcia arrived home and I told her.  She went mad.  She screamed at the kids and demanded to know what had happened.  Frightened, they said they did not know.  She took them over to the shop to confront Claudio.  Now they had to stare the man they had accused in the face.  They folded.  It was suggested that Claudio had left his phone on charge, they had swiped it unbeknown to him and searched through it themselves.   Marcia insisted I returned Claudio’s phone.  I told Claudio he could report me to the police.  Marcia told Claudio to come to the house where we could discuss it.  I told Claudio if he set foot in my house I would kill him.

This was going to go nowhere so I rang Mauro’s father.  He said he was in a meeting and would call back.  He did not.  A couple of hours later I rang again and told him what had happened.  At least I tried but he cut me off saying he would call me back.  He didn’t.  Marcia came into the lounge and demanded I handed over Claudio’s phone.  I said I needed to talk to someone first.  Marcia laughed and said that if I was waiting for Roger to call, I’d have a long wait; she had already spoken to him and explained everything.  Everyone, she told me, knows I hate Claudio. This was probably true.  He is an oily, thieving, lying git, it is just that Marcia cannot see what I see every time she is away in town.  So that was it.  This was all down to my dislike for the bastard.  She told me it was her job to see fair play.  I told her it was my job to protect the kids.  I gave her the phone.

I could not bear to be in the same room as Marcia so I grabbed my fags and went out into the garden.  I wasn’t going anywhere near the shop so that left me few options.  I strolled across to Stalag Luft III and noticed I had forgotten to nail a section of netting down so I did that.  Then I made some handles for the door.  Inside I nailed up a couple of beams for the birds to perch upon.  With the sun dappling the netting, partially shaded as it was by palm fronds, I realized this was quite a nice place to sit, if only I had something to sit on.  The kids came over and asked if there was anything they could do.  So I made myself a garden bench and they helped.  We sat on it.  The seat was just the right height, it was very comfortable.  I lit a cigarette and took a long drag.  Peace and quiet, the tranquillity of nature, the kid’s faces glowing, knowing that they had helped, that I was not mad at them; it was a little bit of paradise.

Then it dawned on me.  I had made my own shed.

Monday 3 March 2014

The Considerate American

A while back I received an email from an American lady who said she knew me from my blog.  Oh dear, I thought, I am forever poking fun at Americans and occasionally some touchy feely people in soft shoes confuse my rational views on women with misogyny.   I read on.

Nancy had started reading my blog when she learned that her employers were posting her to Angola.  ‘Tis a sad reflection on the dearth of blogs emanating from Angola that she persevered.  Either I failed to paint a bleak picture of life in Angola or her entreaties to be posted anywhere else fell on deaf ears because come here she did.

She was, she informed me, going back to the States soon and wanted to know if there was anything she could bring back for me?  Well how considerate is that?  My first thought was a full service kit and new air-conditioning compressor for the Jeep but she qualified her generosity by excluding ‘heavy Jeep parts’.  If Nancy knew all about my Jeep, clearly she had kept herself up to date with goings on at Fort Hippo.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Alex and his boxing gloves.  Before I actually met Nancy, I did not want to explain on my blog exactly how I got them.  It was Nancy who brought them back for me along with his punch bag, a pair of 501 jeans for Dominic, pills for Marcia, loads of seeds for me and, something I was delighted about, a sweet fig tree (Ficus Hardy) .  The original idea was that shortly after her return to Angola, she would come down to Fort Hippo for lunch, bringing the kit with her.  Unlike me, though, she has a real job and work precluded her coming down for a few weeks so she kindly arranged pick up of the goods by Marcia in town.

Nancy had been worried about the fig tree.  It had been posted from Chicago to Texas during the Great Polar Vortex so, unsurprisingly perhaps, on arrival in Texas, all its leaves fell off.  I knew it was a long shot to try and have brought in a potted sapling and find it still alive at the end of a lengthy journey but Nancy administered first aid and lugged what was now little more than a twig extravagantly packaged in a huge box filled with expanded polystyrene beans all the way to Angola, unpacked it and stuck it on her fridge.  It does not look good, she told me in an email.  I was sad.  There are no sweet fig trees here in Angola as far as I know.  What they call figs here are nasty hard green little things, bitter as hell and more stone than edible fruit.  Monkeys love them apparently but I don’t.  I was convinced sweet figs, originally from the Mediterranean, would flourish in this environment.  They are hardy and drought tolerant and they grow fast; saplings bear fruit within two years.  I know that normally one plants trees for one’s grandchildren but with a fig tree, I stood a good chance of enjoying the fruits of my labour.

The day before Marcia made the pick up, Nancy called me, ‘The fig tree is sprouting two leaves!’  Clearly Nancy wanted the little well-travelled sapling to live too and it had responded to all that love for it Nancy had been emanating around her apartment.

First thing I did when I unpacked it was give it a drink of water and let it get a breath of fresh air on the veranda.  The next day I carefully repotted it in my special mixture of dark soil, fine wood shavings and goat poo.

Where it has done rather well:

Finally Nancy was able to visit and brought with her three friends, Rae Anne, Don and José.  Naturally I decided that rather than boring old steak or chicken, I would give them a seafood treat so it was lobsters, fish and clams.  Marcia prepares the best clams in the world; even the juices left in the pan make for a delicious soup.  Marcia is paranoid about her clams having any traces of sand in them so actually lugged gallons of sea water to the house in which she left the clams overnight changing the water twice.  Her effort paid off, they were delicious.  All I did was prepare the lobster.  Not really hard work, all I had to do was drop them a few at a time into a heavy pan of boiling water.

Round the table clock wise from the left:  Nancy, Rae Anne, Jose, Don, Alex
Naturally, Alex had to be the centre of attention so started performing...

I want someone to sculpt this and cast it in bronze for me...
Alex and his home-made bow and arrow.
If you think there is only one obvious use for something, let a child disavow you of that.
But he prefers punching it...

Rae Anne and Don are very musical.  They have their own band, one which they pulled together here in Angola.  It is called ‘ThirteenthFloor’.  That’s a cool name for a band so I asked them how they came upon it.  ‘Because we live on the thirteenth floor’ they said.  Fair enough.  It is still bloody cool, though.  Nancy lives on the tenth floor of the same apartment block so I suggested that if she started a band, she could call it ‘Three Floors Down’.  That’s a cool name too.

I told Rae Anne that Alex had a guitar, a cheap old Chinese job I had bought Dominic years ago.  He was never interested so the thing had been knocked and bashed around and had never been tuned.  I brought it out and together, Rae Anne and Don tuned it.  Don had an app on his phone I noticed.  The app would play a note, Don would hum it and Rae Anne would tension the strings.  Bugger me if it didn’t play!  So we were treated to some songs, all of which I liked.  Sat there in the middle of nowhere surrounded by palm trees I said we all looked like a bunch of aid workers enjoying themselves, the only difference being we weren’t driving top of the range Landcruisers or smoking joints.  It was all very Woodstock.

Rae Anne had delighted us by bringing half a dozen of her world famous scones.  Who says scones have to be boring?  Rae Anne bakes many flavours, exotic in their excess.  Our scones were Cranberry Lemon and Blueberry White Chocolate.  Alex scoffed one immediately and then tucked into another half which Marcia finished off.  That left four.  After they all left, I tidied up the dishes and then just had to have a bite.  As soon as the pastry hit my palate, I was transported back to the West Country.  There was only one way to finish off Rae Anne’s scone and that was with a decent cup of tea.  Not any old tea brewed in a mug, but Zimbabwean tea brewed in a warmed pot and served in bone china tea cups.  I laid everything out, switched on Alex's favourite TV channel and together we had a proper English tea with scones.  That left two.  One went into Alex’s school lunch box the following morning.  That left one.  All day it called to me but I resisted.  Alex arrived home and there in the middle of the table was a plate with one scone on it.  'Is that for me, Daddy?' asked Alex.  'I saved it for you Son.'  'Thanks Daddy!' he said swiping it.  All is not lost, though, for Rae Anne makes scones to order or sells the dough so traditional cream teas will become a feature at Fort Hippo’s.  Those living in Aberdeen, Pinehurst or Southern Pines in North Carolina (I think that is somewhere deep in the backwoods of one of the ex-colonies), can have their scones delivered from Pine Scones where Rae Anne’s team of dedicated professional sconierres is hard at work in her absence.
I had a nibble and then knew I had best immediately take a photo, they weren't going to last long!

Nancy too has talents beyond finding hydrocarbons for her employers so they can extract, refine and sell it.  Nancy made the shirt José was wearing and was half way through making a dress for Rae Anne.  My shirt making ability is limited to cutting three holes for head and arms in a gunny sack.
Jose in his hand made shirt and Nancy

It was a lovely day, all the more remarkable as I only got to meet these nice people through my blog.  You know how parting with, ‘we must do this again sometime soon’ can be laced with insincerity?  Well I was absolutely sincere when I suggested that.  Next time we will go for a walk down the beach, hopefully when Dominic is here as he knows where to dig up fossils and can identify all the varied birdlife.

Nancy, by the way, not only brought me the seeds I had asked for, she also brought me a load of drought resistant flower seeds to, as she said, ‘brighten up the garden and attract butterflies and bees’. 

Like I said, how nice and considerate was that?