Wednesday 18 March 2015

Double Gosh and a Jolly Good Dollop of Golly!

Dear Mr Gowans,

Thank you for your email.

Although we ship worldwide we only currently offer shipping to selected countries. Unfortunately Angola is a country that we are unable to ship to at present.

Kind regards,

John Pugh

Internet Sales Coordinator
Cheaney Shoes Ltd

Having survived twenty years in Africa I wasn’t about to allow simple idleness to prevent me slipping my feet into a well-made pair of boots.  Having been told to march off at the high port by Cheaney’s, I wasn’t about to waste any more time trying to buy a pair of their boots either, thus ending our thirty seven year relationship. 

As all young officers soon learn, if anyone tells you something is impossible, check with the Regimental Sergeant Major, only on his say so is it really impossible.  Appropriately, I found that the boots I wanted were also made by a man called Alfred Sargent.  He can’t spell his own surname but he does make very good boots.

Given the lethargy of UK suppliers, I was a little dismayed to discover that Alfred Sargent Zug Grain Veldt Boots are about as rare as hen’s teeth.  If Cheaney’s was an attitude endemic among Northamptonshire boot makers, the chances of me finding a supplier sympathetic to the logistic problems of getting a pair to me in Angola were slim.  I wasn’t holding my breath then, when I wrote to Tredders of Castle Ashby, Suppliers of Fine Footwear.  Once again I explained that I lived in Angola and was in urgent need of a pair of decent boots. 

I didn't think it possible to receive a reply shorter even than that of Mr. Pugh at Cheaneys but I did:

No problem Tom,

It is my pleasure.

Will you be paying by credit/debit card? 

Kind Regards

Glen Bogle
Tredders Quality Footwear
Tel: 0845 121 4012

Tredders ofCastle Ashby have their own regular shipping agent with whom they and their clients are very satisfied but Mr. Bogle was nevertheless pleased to obtain a shipping quote from my preferred shipper, DHL Express, and was shocked, he wrote to me, at the price they quoted.  I wasn’t, I had provided him the link to DHL and knew they wanted £172.95.  But, the man who was beginning to test my heterosexuality (I was overcome with an inexplicable urge to have his babies) went on to say he had approached his regular shipper and had asked him to try and get a better quote from DHL, he’d get back to me.  Gosh!  Eight minutes later another email from the soon to be canonized Mr. Bogle popped into my in box.  Express shipping with DHL would be £95.  Double gosh and a jolly good dollop of Golly!

I would have been grateful just to find a supplier willing to sell me the boots and let DHL come and collect them.  Instead I had Saint Glen of Castle Ashby performing miracles for me.  If he bent any further backwards, he’d be picking gravel out of his ears.  Not only was I going to cheat the Chancellor of his twenty pieces of silver, DHL were not going to charge me the leg I needed to usefully employ the pair of boots they were sending me.

Tredders of Castle Ashby’s commitment to customer service is evident, even in their choice of location.  They’re on the Castle Ashby estate no doubt, so that the Marquess of Northampton’s footman doesn’t have too far to walk to collect his master’s new boots, as well as providing an appropriate environment in which other clients can road test their quality footwear. 

My new Alfred Sargent Zug Grain Veldt Boots and a blade appropriate to the boot style
You may have noticed I haven’t yet mentioned the boots now in my possession, instead using up my store of superlatives on Tredders of Castle Ashby.  The thing is, I am not the first expatriate whose desire for old country quality has been thwarted by individuals unwilling to lift even a finger to execute an order in any way unusual, so the discovery of a supplier not only traditional in the quality of its products but also, despite the laziness displayed by other on line outlets, still providing a traditional customer service is something worth banging a drum for.

The lovely Angie, one of three young followers of St Glen of Castle Ashby 
all eager to help you slip into something comfortable.
I have it on good authority they are black belts in Sokushindo

I asked for and paid their invoice and, six days later, I am wearing the boots I wanted, the boots they had much pleasure selling me and I had great pleasure in buying.  There’s no question of Alfred Sargent’s boots not being worth the money.  Like their shoes, they are hand made in Northampton using quality leather to a very high standard.  My boots are constructed using the Veldtschoen method, which is traditional for English country and hiking boots being sturdy, comfortable and waterproof.  The last pair of Veldtschoens I had lasted over thirty years and these Alfred Sargents should do the same.  The boots they replaced I had bought in a hurry and they were the best I could get at the time.  They were cheap (?!) at £145.00 and guaranteed for life. 

Yes, the manufacturer, Doc Martens, guaranteed that if the boots failed in my lifetime they would repair or replace them.  Three years into the rest of my life the sole separated from the uppers.  But the boots giving up the ghost was only the end of a sorry saga.  I quickly found while walking through the bush that every thorny bit of vegetation I stepped on would pierce through the air cushioned sole effectively nailing the branch to my foot.  After a couple months the boots looked shabby and no amount of polish improved the situation. 
A false economy
No amount of polish could stop them leaking either.  After a year or so the what can only be described as cardboard insole perished and the soles were so perforated and flat that instead of the air cushioned ride I was promised, stepping on ants bruised my feet.  They were a complete waste of money and one of the reasons I never bothered to test their guarantee.  I will never wear a pair of Doc Martens again.  The other reason, of course, was that it would cost me more to send the boots back than they were worth.  My Alfred Sargents, on the other hand, will only have to last me six years and they will work out cheaper than the Doc Martens.

I have been wearing my Alfie Esses all day and even though they are new, they are very comfortable.  They do make a bit of a clumping noise as I walk across the wood floors of the cottage.  This annoys Marcia but to me is quite reassuring; they are obviously sturdy enough to be snake proof but with the seismic they create, any snake in the vicinity will have buggered off long before I get to squash it into the ground.   As for the Goodyear welted sole, it’ll be nice to take a walk in the bush without worrying about my feet being pinned to the countryside.

Marcia has found all this fuss over a pair of boots quite amusing but, being a girl, it is as hard for her to understand how important a single pair of good boots is to a man as it is for a man to understand why a woman needs more shoes than there are days in a year.  She had the last word as I sat down to type this.

‘I suppose we shall be burying you in your new boots then?’

No you bloody won’t, I thought, these will be passed down to Alex.
Alex road testing my boots waving another sword appropriate to his shirt

Solar eclipse to disrupt German power system

"Power operators in Germany are bracing for potential disruption from the solar eclipse expected on Friday, which will knock out almost all solar-generated electricity in an "unprecedented" test for the network."

Makes me wonder how they manage when it unexpectedly gets dark every night...

Sunday 15 March 2015

You Know You Want It

Have you ever caught a glimpse of something and for no logical reason, really wanted it?  I have. 

This weekend was a bit of a wash out.  It wasn’t convenient for me to collect Dominic this weekend which was a huge disappointment.  Still, I was still looking forward to golf with Alex followed by lunch at the Mangais restaurant.  The first F1 race of the season was kicking off in Australia so, with them being hours ahead of us, it looked as though today would be an early start, Formula One over breakfast, golf and then a leisurely lunch.  Not a bad way to spend a day.

It started raining last night and it chucked it down all through the night.  Alex woke up half way through the race so I made him breakfast while we sat with faces glum as the rain thumped the roof and Hamilton drove 58 times round Adelaide.  With one Ferrari out, Alex was only half interested so spent his time running in and out of the cottage to prove to me that he wasn’t getting that wet.  He really wanted to play golf and I think he has the right temperament to be good at it; only a madman would want to go out in a torrential downpour and knock a ball around.

For his sake, I was praying it would stop raining but had given myself a deadline of nine-thirty; if it hadn’t stopped by then, I’d call the instructor and confirm what he already probably presumed, we weren’t coming.  We got ourselves dressed and at the appointed time, the rain stopped.  We hadn’t even made it to the main road when, with an almighty clap of thunder, the heavens opened again with a real vengeance and suddenly we weren’t riding bikes, we were navigating a river.  Alex rode into a pothole and was stuck. I tried to turn round, caught my front wheel in a submerged rut and went over the handlebars grazing ankle, knee, shoulder and head.

‘Oh dear,’ I said.

I wasn’t going to quit first, though.  I remember once really wanting to do something with my father, we had tickets to the Motor Show at Earls Court but the weather was so bad, so atrocious, that he had second thoughts.  The forecast was for freezing fog, black ice, downed power lines, jack-knifed lorries and closed roads.  I think they were even thinking of calling the Army out.  When my dad cancelled, I thought he was a wimp.

Alex and I made it onto the dirt road on the Golf course before he bogged in again.  I was finding it hard going but not even in the lowest of his eighteen gears could Alex make any headway at all. We couldn’t even walk in the stuff, two steps and the morass had sucked our shoes off.  Even though he looked miserable as hell with the conditions, he still left it to me to suggest we knocked it on the head and went home.

Alex went straight in and I rinsed the mud off the bikes under the deluge cascading off the roof.  Marcia came out onto the veranda, obviously having made none of the preparations women usually subject themselves to if they know they will be seen in public.

‘Are we still going for lunch?’ she asked.

‘Of course, darling, I’ll just get changed’

Somehow, the thought of sitting in an air-conditioned restaurant in the middle of a thunderstorm didn’t really appeal to me, half the fun was being able to sit on the deck over the river and enjoy the scenery but if they really wanted to go, we would.

By the time Alex and I were showered and dressed again, Marcia had changed her mind (come to her senses, more like).  This suited me fine, now Alex was blaming her instead of me.  I rustled up as nice a lunch as I could and afterwards listlessly read a book.  Even though I had selected a Frederick Forsyth, staple fare for anyone bored out of their skull, I couldn’t get into it, instead becoming increasingly annoyed with every technical error: ‘A shaped charge only blasts forward…’, bollocks, try standing behind a High Explosive Anti-Tank shaped charge when it goes off, it’ll do a bit more than ruffle your hair.  It’s like Hollywood when the hero fires a recoilless weapon from inside a car. Jesus, they’d only do it once in real life.

So I started to scroll through past auction results and realized I had just missed Maximilian Schell’s old car.  Maximilian Schell was a fantastic stage and screen actor, one of a bunch of post war German speaking actors who starred opposite American and British counterparts in every classic war movie as either snarling Nazis or, usually in Schell’s case, reasonable Wehrmacht or Luftwaffe officers coming to terms with what was turning out to be a bit of a losing streak.  When, in ‘A Bridge Too Far,’  the characters of Hardy Kruger and Maximilian Schell were discussing where and why all these British paratroopers were landing and the possibility they were after the General, Hardy Kruger said, in German, ‘Perhaps they’ve already landed in the General’s soup’ to which, with an impeccable delivery Schell replied, ‘Yes, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?’  Brilliant.

Now I wouldn’t pay a premium to own a car just because a famous bum had nestled in its upholstery but I would be interested in a one owner, molly-coddled example of an R107 Mercedes SL.  The car had been bought for Herr Schell new by the MFG film studio in 1977 and he had kept it ever since.  He took it for its last outing aged 82 when he married his long-time girlfriend who was 35 years his junior.  At the time this induced a bit of friendly speculation as to which was older, the car or his bride.  Clearly he loved both.  The thing that made his SL special for me was the trim, gorgeous blue coachwork over a saddle tan leather interior.  I would have enjoyed Maximilian Schell’s car knowing that he and I had the same taste.

The exquisite taste of the late Maximilian Schell, a Magnetitblau-metallic V8 Mercedes SL
with saddle tan leather upholstery and an opera singer.

The auction house which handled the sale of this car also does fine art.  I know nothing about fine art except that I can’t afford it.  Still, it’s nice to look at so I thought I would scan the lots in their forthcoming Easter sale.  They give you the choice of either downloading their pdf catalogue or just scanning an excel style list with thumbnail images.  I chose the latter, hardly the best way to appreciate what I was looking at but I pay per Mb here so I am tight. 

The sale is in Salzburg so there were the expected religious paintings, mountainous landscapes and figures in lederhosen and I was scrolling faster and faster when my eye was caught by a quite unremarkable painting.  It appeared to be a group of five figures standing somewhere forlorn but it was the way the subjects were arranged, almost in two distinct groups that attracted me so I clicked on the link to go to the more detailed page.  With a much higher resolution I could see that there was definitely something going on there.  This was a depiction of two groups, together in space and time but separated by some strong emotion.  I could see in posture and expression, the bleakness and lack of detail in the landscape, the pile of discarded garments the strength of feeling between the participants.  There was a story here, raw and savage.  Then I looked at the title of the painting, ‘Duel on the Beach.’ 

I have no idea who Alfeo Argentieri was.  He may be considered a painter of daubs, a waster of good canvas and paint but in my opinion here he has caught men at their most intimate, when they are about to try and kill each other.

It isn’t a large painting, only 40 x 60 cms, and he has been a bit mean with the paint in places.  It is described as ‘Krakelee, Reinigungsbedürftig’, which means it is dirty and the paint is cracked but I like it.  I like it so much I’m going to have a punt on it.  I may be buying what the knowledgeable would be too polite to describe as a heap of shit, I don’t care.  And I suppose that’s what art is all about.  It isn’t to brighten a room up or cover an unsightly patch in the plaster, it isn’t to fit in with the décor, it is something far more personal.  Even as a 200 pixel wide thumbnail, it caught my eye and I have been staring at the high resolution image of it I downloaded all afternoon.  I know that if I am lucky enough to own this painting, it will give me pleasure every time I look at it. 

I know exactly where it is going to go, right above my desk.

One of these gentlemen has seen his last sunrise.

Thursday 12 March 2015

Trudging Through Treacle

It has been raining a lot here recently.  This is good, we haven’t had decent downpours in years.  As well as knocking out all communications and the satellite TV, rain clears the air, brings out the flowers which in turn bring out the butterflies and humming birds.  Sadly, it also brings out these:

I killed three today.  Charlie is a bloody useless ratter.  He’ll catch them but not kill them, he’ll just stand there like a dope with the thing shrieking in his jaws and then, just as I get to him, he’ll drop the bugger.  If I arm myself with a club so that I at least stand a sporting chance of being able to twat the bastard thing as it scurries off, he drops them all the sooner.  I have never beaten Charlie but clearly the sight of me approaching him swinging a 3 wood has made him decide against taking any chances.  Rocky seems keen to have a go but I can’t blame him for backing away from a cornered rat, especially rats this size.

Rocky has settled in well and is beginning to obey simple orders such as ‘Drop that shoe NOW you little shit!’ and when it comes to food, he is a walking swill bin.  Do you remember this photo taken soon after I had found, scrubbed and fed him?

He is still very fond of what was supposed to be his temporary basket and sheet and when I make up a larger bed for him and take the basket away, I can hear his little nails rattling to and fro across the floor all night as he searches for somewhere he wants to lie down.   Between circuits he will stop, scratch on the bedroom door and whine piteously.  I always crack, return his basket and give him a bowl of milk to shut him up.  His diet of beef, chicken, liver, heart and milk seems to be working for him, look at him now just three weeks later:

A few posts ago I came in for some real ribbing.  Some of you suggested I looked a bit of a state so I decided to do something about it and get a haircut.  Unless you were transfixed by the rat above, you may even have noticed.

Two Germans and a Boy

Harald Klein came for lunch.  Alex really likes Klein.  He thinks Klein is such a nice man who always lavishes plenty of attention on him.  Klein also always brings Alex a big bag of chocolates which I am sure have nothing whatsoever to do with Alex’s affection for the man.  Klein is a German, born in Angola soon after Diogo Cão discovered the place, who owns a few thousand hectares in Kwanza Sul, most of them covered in the Silky Oak trees I am going to chop down and stuff through my workshop.  For a long time during the civil war, Klein did what most of the white farmers who hadn’t been killed and buried on their own land did and retreated to Luanda which was where I met him.  At the time I had access to vehicles and men armed to the teeth so we decided we would take a peek at his farm and try and find out what happened to his neighbours, also German.  Sadly, both had been trashed, only the mute remains of derelict buildings and a small mound of stones beneath which lay his neighbours.

Now that title to his land has been restored to him, he is trying very hard to make a go of what was once a coffee plantation (hence all those Silky Oak trees which were imported to provide shade to the coffee plants).  It is the same old story, though.  Farms do not spring to life overnight, they require years of effort and tons of investment.  Klein has neither time left nor cash and he knows, with no descendants to whom he can pass the farm, the locals already encroaching his land are just waiting for him to die. 

Another neighbour of his owns the sawmill local to his plantation.  We saw that too as we made our incursion deep into UNITA territory all those years ago.  The rebels had destroyed everything they could not steal, it was bloody heart breaking.  Amazingly, after hostilities ceased in 2002, he returned there and got the mill going again but without the proper investment, all he could do was enough to stop himself starving.  Klein tells me he wants to throw in the towel, get what he can and bugger off back to Europe. 

Klein has the trees so owning a mill as well seems a good idea on paper.  Klein went to the bank to see if he could raise the capital needed to buy his neighbour out.  This would require a lot less capital and provide a far quicker return than buying everything he needed to get the land tilled and replanted with coffee plants, and then wait years for the crop to build up.  Interest rates are a lot higher in Angola than they are in Europe but it wasn’t this that put him off.  I am quite surprised he wasn’t aware of this but then again, if he has never approached a bank here for a loan before, there is no reason he should. 

I think that’s why he came to lunch. He needed someone to listen to him vent his spleen who wouldn’t immediately report him to the racism police.  Whatever amount you borrow from the bank, a percentage of it goes into the pocket of the bank official who authorized the loan.  If you aren’t willing to pay, you don’t get the loan.  So the only people who are willing to take out a loan are those who don’t mind being stung because they have absolutely no intention of repaying it.  The bank officials don’t care, it isn’t their money they’re losing and they are on a roll. 

I’d have been bloody angry in his position too; they demanded 20% so obviously considered him desperate.  If you tell them to get stuffed and then negotiate hard, you can get them down to 5%. 

Two Germans and a Puppy sitting to table

The Euro has taken quite a bashing recently but I think parity with the dollar is about as far as it will go so wanted to get some dollars out and into a Euro account in Germany.  The bank told me that I could send money out for personal reasons, say to support a relative, but the limit was $2,000.  If I wanted to send it to a commercial account, I could send as much as I had in my account but it had to be against a commercial invoice for which I had obtained, and paid the tax on, an import licence.

Doing business here is like trudging through treacle.

Monday 9 March 2015

Dominic is Sixteen Today

And all I get to see of him is a couple of bleeding Selfies...

Right elbow Son, it's too low...
Happy Birthday, Son, I'll see you at the weekend.

Sunday 8 March 2015

'Bitter? I'm not Bitter!' said the Lemon to the Lime

‘The boy has talent,’ the golf pro reassured me as he took my bundle of notes, counted them and placed them in the till.  After just one session with him, Sr. Pedro had just persuaded me to sign Alex up for extra, one-on-one tuition.

‘I want him to be the next Tiger Woods,’ I said.

‘Oh no, he’ll never be the next Tiger Woods,’ said Sr. Pedro closing the drawer of the till and handing me the receipt, ‘he’ll be the first Alex.’

Ok, I can live with that.

Circumstance has presented us with a wonderful opportunity.  How many parents have such a sporting facility right on their doorstep?  A facility, staffed by child friendly professionals, one you don’t have to pay through the nose or queue for bloody hours to get into? 

Why did it have to be golf?  Why couldn’t I have decided to live next to a motor racing circuit? 

Each lesson is an hour and a half, which I think is plenty long enough to test the attention span of a six year old.  If it hadn’t been because I could watch my son doing anything for hours on end and not tire of it, I’d have been bored watching people bat balls over the horizon in about thirty seconds.  The pro told me to make myself scarce as he did not want me distracting the lad so I had to do something else besides encouraging the other practicing golf batters with an occasional, 'Oh, shot!'.  I rode home again.

I am really enjoying my bike.  Alex is too but all kids do, don’t they?  My problem is Charlie.  He’s grown accustomed to accompanying me everywhere (yes, even there, Marcia gets so annoyed) which was fine while I was riding Shank’s pony but bloody annoying now that I am on a bike.  If I want to go anywhere further than I used to walk, I have to hit the main road.  Charlie has no road sense whatsoever and one other habit which, while we are in the bush doesn’t matter a damn but is potentially lethal near a main road, he likes to herd animals.

The first time Alex and I rode our bikes, he ran alongside us, which was very sweet until we got within a hundred yards of the main road.  There Charlie spotted a herd of goats in the bush and hurtled off after them.

‘Quick, Alex!’ I said, ‘while Charlie is distracted, we can shoot across the road to the petrol station and put air into the tyres!’  So we quickly scooted across the main road and onto the garage forecourt.  We had crossed carefully.  This is a very busy road; it is the M1 for Angola, the main drag south from the capital city. 

Charlie didn’t cross carefully; he wasn’t paying any attention to the traffic.  All his attention was devoted to herding the astonished and increasingly panic stricken goats he had found across the main road to join us.  Some of the guys who pump petrol there know Charlie is my dog.  The owner of the station lunches every day at my place; he knows Charlie is my dog.  As the screech of brakes, the shrieking of tyres and the bleating of goats grew to a terrifying crescendo I stood frozen to the spot, fighting incontinence, my mind racing as I calculated the potential astronomic total of multiple suits for compensation.

To get to the golf course, you have to cross the main road near the petrol station.  There was no way Charlie was coming with us.  Wives do much to irritate their husbands and husbands do much to irritate their wives, this is in the nature of things when you place two people of opposite sex, therefore, other than for procreation, entirely incompatible, into prolonged close proximity.  Marcia excelled this morning.  Three times I captured Charlie and locked him in the spare bedroom.  Three times, just as Alex and I were about to set off, Marcia remembered something in that room so important to her continued survival that were she denied it for one second longer she would expire on the spot.

‘But he just pushed by me!’ Marcia wailed as I cursed her and chased Charlie.  Since Alex was smartly dressed, I thought I should make an effort so had ditched the ratty boots, long socks and shorts in favour of suede brogues, pressed slacks and a crisp white shirt.  Well there was nothing bloody crisp about them after I had wrestled Charlie a few times.  We were going to be so late.  By this stage Charlie had wised up so was coming nowhere near the house, instead sitting down the road in the direction he knew we were about to go.  Bastard.

‘Go and start the car, Marcia,’ I ordered.

‘And go where?’

‘I don’t care where, anywhere, off into the bush.  You can drive into the bloody sea so long as Charlie follows you!’

You may wonder then, why I chose to ride home again risking a repeat performance, rather than hang around a golf course.  Well, to be honest, even though Sr Faisca, the owner of Mangais resort is always very civil with me, I can’t help feeling that every time he looks at me he sees ‘failure’ writ large across my forehead.  My restaurant would have been open three years ago were it not for this boundary dispute.  The court judgment, when it eventually comes, will be in our favour but until then we are buggered.  Sr. Faisca seems to go out of his way to be nice to me, I have no idea why.  He once drove me all around the golf course while it was being constructed and even seemed to be taking note of the opinion of mine he had solicited on the works so far.  Try as I might, I got no sense he was rubbing my nose in it.  Still, I compare his place to mine and I can’t help feeling pretty low.

This time I had Charlie penned in before he knew what was happening.  Marcia was in the shop so just in case she snuck up behind me and let the dog out again while I was  bent over fiddling with my bicycle clips, I locked the cottage and only gave her the key as I passed the shop.

Alex was still batting balls when I got back to the course.

We decided that pink trousers and a bright blue shirt were sufficiently stupid for golf.

‘Look Daddy, look!’ he cried as I pulled up, ‘I can hit the ball MILES!’  He was in such a hurry to prove it to me that with his next swing he took a bloody great divot out of the tee.  He doesn’t know it yet, but what just happened to him is called the Vorführeffekt.  Like the German word gemütlich, there is no literal translation to English.  Basically vorführeffekt means the more people there are watching you demonstrate something you are normally very good at, the more likely you are to fuck it up.

In order to pay for his lesson, Alex and I had to go with the pro to the clubhouse.  The club house is co-located with the restaurant shame, embarrassment, insecurity, whatever, had persuaded me to avoid all this time.  It is very nice.  Really nice. 

I feel uncomfortable taking photos inside a restaurant so you’ll have to take my word for it that it is as nice inside as out.  Actually, it's nicer, there’s no airconditioning outside.  Having been persuaded to part with more to ensure private tuition for Alex, we were just on our way out when we ran into Sr. Faisca.

While riding around the golf course the first day we had our bikes out, Alex and I had met Sr. Faisca coming the other way in his car.  He had made to pull over, presumably for a chat but I was in no mood to talk to him so, quite rudely I suppose, I just pushed on.

‘Are you here to eat, Sr. Thomas?’ he asked stretching out his hand to shake mine and then in that uncomfortably familiar way the Portuguese have, pulling me close for a hug.

‘No, Sr. Faisca,’ I said, ‘I am just paying Alex’s golf lessons’

‘But you MUST come to eat, I really want your opinion of the food!  Come, let me show you…’

He dragged me in for a tour of the restaurant.  Since I was with Sr. Faisca, members of staff who had ignored me only a few moments before were eager to meet me.

I shan’t bore you with a description of everything I saw, save that in my opinion he had been miserly with the dimensions of the underfloor beams (the silverware on the tables trembled a little as we passed), but the tour finished with an introduction to the restaurant manageress, Sra. Sofia who graciously received Sr. Faisca’s instructions to look after Marcia and I royally if we ever chose to dine there. 

I wasn’t really that impressed with him for remembering my wife’s name.  Anyone who has ever met Marcia takes a while to get over it but I will give him one thing, if he is taking the piss, he’s a master at it.

I booked a table for next Sunday.

Mangais Restaurant

As I said, child friendly.

Saturday 7 March 2015

Mother Care

Alex burst into the cottage.

‘Mummy has bought me a pomba but says you will let it go!’

We are a multi-lingual family and, I suppose in common with many others, quite lazy in our choice of language, mixing them up as is convenient.  He had me with pomba though.  Mind you, I hadn’t really heard him that well.  As far as I was concerned he could have been on about a pump or even a bomb.  His attitude didn’t really give me much time to consider it either, he was pretty damn aggressive.

‘If Mummy bought it for you, I’m sure I wouldn’t, Son’ I said.

‘So I can bring it in, then?’

‘You can manage by yourself?  It isn’t too heavy for you?’

He gave me a bewildered look and ran back to the driveway.  I just hoped it wasn’t anything lethal such as the bow and arrows he was given recently.

Alex had been stamping around the bush surrounding the cottage when he came across a funny little man.  I know he was a funny little man because Alex brought him home.  No more than five feet tall and wizened like an old tree root, if he spoke Portuguese, it was like no dialect I had ever heard.  I think it was my grandmother who told me that every child is born able to speak any language and is blessed with all God’s knowledge but then an Angel comes along and seals the child’s lips with his thumb, which is why we have an indentation on our top lip.  Mind you she also explained to me how our buttocks came to be in two halves, a story in which figured a madman with an axe so I took her tales with a pinch of salt and considered angels spoilsports.  If it wasn’t for angels, there’d be no need for school.  Mind you if it wasn’t for my Granny’s madman, women wouldn’t look nearly so good in G-strings.

It nevertheless amazes me that for children, a lack of fluency isn’t an impediment to communication.  While I hadn’t a clue, Alex and this little man seemed to understand each other perfectly.  The only word he said that I understood was ‘Namib’.  I decided he was a Herero* but what he was doing so far north escaped me.  Alex explained to me that he had found the Herero hunting birds in the bush.  The man nodded his agreement and said something entirely incomprehensible.  Alex translated.

‘He wants to give me his bow and arrows.’

‘I’m sure he doesn’t, Son, I think he probably needs them.’

The Herero handed his bow and arrows to Alex.  The way something is handed to you in Africa is important.  If something is just handed over, you are being given it to try, it is a temporary transition of possession.  If, on the other hand, the item is passed to you balanced on two upturned palms it is very literally being offered to you.  To keep.  This is how the Herero passed his bow and arrows to Alex.

To be honest, I wasn’t particularly concerned.  The bow and especially the arrows looked pretty bloody artisan, I doubted you could squirt one very far.  No wonder the bloke looked starved.  I fetched him a cold beer from the fridge.  While he drank it, Alex had a go with the bow.  As I expected, the arrow barely covered three feet.  Clearly the guy was knocking these out by the hundred and flogging them as little souvenirs, although who round here would pay for them I had no idea.

The Herero finished his beer and took the bow back from Alex.  Alex retrieved the arrows for him.  Brian Blessed is the only man I have ever seen who could draw an English Longbow.  There is a slow, methodical determination in doing so that has its own grace.  I know that this little bow was nothing in comparison but I expected a little more than an arrow launched from a crouching position in the blink of an eye.  I know he did it in the blink of an eye because I blinked and I missed it.

‘Where did the arrow go?’ I asked Alex as I scanned the ground a few yards ahead.

‘Over there,’ said Alex pointing way into the trees.

Pretty soon, under the Herero’s patient tuition, Alex was launching arrows from one side of the garden to the other.

Alex decided that he wanted to shoot birds as well and this both saddened and worried me.  This is the trouble with weapons like these.  Very soon, boredom with inanimate targets sets in and a moving target is required.  I will teach him to shoot and I will teach him to hunt but right now he is too young to distinguish between hunting, and killing for the sake of it.  He is also far too young to understand the enormous responsibility of handling a lethal weapon.

Bows and arrows make me nervous.  Anything that fires a projectile makes me nervous and I am not alone.  I think everyone is uncomfortable having a weapon pointed at them.  The other day a local slapped Alex for merely pointing a bright green plastic water pistol at him.  That time public opinion was on my side when I knocked the man down and squirted the entire contents of Alex’s pistol up his nostril, but if Alex ever pointed a drawn bow and arrow at anyone or, God forbid, loosed one off, we’d really be in trouble, never mind the awful trauma of accidentally taking a life, or putting someone’s eye out.  After the Herero left, I quietly hid the bow and arrows, but only after having a quiet go myself.  I was rubbish.

Alex returned with something cupped in his hands, close on his heels one of his friends from the village. 

‘Oh, a pigeon!’ I said.  Laying in his hands, legs bound together with plastic, was a very frightened pigeon.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘are you going to let it go?’

I placed it temporarily in a waste paper basket where it was less likely to
flutter in panic and hurt itself

Well, ordinarily I would and Marcia evidently knows my thoughts on this well enough to have warned Alex.  I don’t mind shooting pigeons, they can be as much of a pest as rats so I will shoot them, yes for sport as well, but mainly for the pot.  One minute they will be gorging themselves on the farmer’s corn, next oblivion and my fileting knife as I carve the meat off the carcass.  The idea of keeping one in a cage, though, does not appeal to me at all.  As an extraordinary concession I would, however, allow Alex to keep the pigeon in the same pen as the ducks.  It is completely enclosed in shade netting and has over two metres of headroom, enough space for the bird to stretch its wings.  Pigeons are very sociable creatures so it seems a bit mean to keep one on its own but on its own, unless it can rejoin its flock, it’ll be a sitting duck for any of the many hawks and eagles around here looking for just such a loner.  It may even fall to one of the Herero’s arrows.  Perhaps this one will act as a decoy and lure others in.  If I scatter a bit of feed around, they may hang around, in which case I can make an opening in the netting to let them in and out.  That would be nice.  What it might do is encourage in Alex a little more respect for these creatures and a little more circumspection about killing them.

Mother Care
At that moment, the Mothercare lady turned up.  She is a Sungueira, a woman who makes a tenuous living buying cheap products from a wholesaler and then carting them through the countryside selling them for a very marginal profit.  There was a time not so long ago when they were never seen here, why should anyone stray off the beaten track to a poverty stricken fishing village?  The new church and all its devout adherents have changed that so at weekends, we do see the occasional Sungueira, and they’re great fun.  Sure, they’re selling tat but when it comes to shorts and T shorts for the boy, the kit is good enough.  I told Alex to pick out some shorts and shirts and since his little friend was running around only in a pair of raggedy old shorts, I told him to pick an outfit as well.  After haggling harder than a desperate carpet salesman, I knocked her down 20 cents an item and kitted the boys out for 500 kwanzas ($5).  I only had a 1000 kwanza note.  She had no change (of course she didn’t) so I gave her a cold coke as well.

Tomorrow, Alex starts his golf lessons.  Next year the Mangais Golf Resort will host a round of the PGA championship and as part of this, they want to hold a junior tournament. 

Golf is not something that really excites me but Alex wouldn’t be the first mixed race player to make a fortune at it.  If he can keep his dick in his trousers he might get to keep it.  Anyway, I hope he enjoys it.  In civilized countries I understand it is quite hard to get time on a PGA standard golf course.

Marcia is very excited about this.  So excited, I even caught her watching golf on TV.  I thought that might be because she wanted to understand the rules although they could hardly be considered complicated, just take turns hitting a ball until it goes down a hole, then do it again seventeen more times.  But no, she was watching it to see what the players wore.  I was disappointed she hadn’t asked me first.  I would have Googled a picture of Payne Stewart and shown her that.  She has spent the afternoon washing pretty much every item of clothing the boy possesses and even now as I type is showing me various bits of apparel and asking my opinion.  Intellectually, this is a strain.  A polo shirt is easy, all I have to say is no Darling, you need a pony with that, but it is difficult to find something amusing in an ordinary pair of navy blue chinos.

The Herero is an ethnic group inhabiting parts of Southern Africa. The majority reside in Namibia, with the remainder found in Botswana and Angola. About 250,000 members are alive today. Groups in Angola include the Mucubal Kuvale, Zemba, Hakawona, Tjavikwa, Tjimba and Himba.  The Tjimba, though they speak Herero, are physically distinct indigenous hunter-gatherers.   

Sweet and Soggy

With a puppy in the house dead set on chewing everything in sight, I am quite keen for bedroom doors to be kept closed and things put away out of reach of inquisitive little jaws. 

Marcia did the fuel run yesterday afternoon.  Alex likes fuel runs because there is a little café at the petrol station where one can buy quite passable sticky buns.  Alex had, for whatever reason (children really do not have to try that hard) incurred his mother's wrath earlier on so when he leapt off his chair clearly wanting to accompany her (he never asks if he can 'go' with you, he asks if he can 'accompany' you) she stopped short of a refusal but did tell him to make sure he brought his own money as she would not be buying him a cake.  Naturally, the lad was a little crestfallen as, being only six, he's not in salaried employment yet so I motioned him over (I was busy trying to adjust the saddle of my bike at the time) and In-between overloud instructions to, 'Hold the bike steady for me, Son!' and ‘He won’t be long, Marcia!' I passed him a few hundred Kwanzas, told him to stick them in his pocket and when he and his mother arrived at the petrol station, to shoot into the café and buy himself a cake.  While he was at it, I said, he could buy me one as well.

The fuel we buy for the generator is shit.  Well it's mostly diesel but it's full of shit, so in addition to the fuel filter one normally finds fitted to a diesel engine, I have a Separ filter.  This contains a washable membrane that filters down to 60 microns which, as the man from Separ UK said on the phone when I ordered it, is pretty bloody small.  It also has a separator to get rid of the water.  Note I did not say get rid of 'any' water, I said get rid of 'the' water because a good percentage of it is water.  Although I only service the generator every couple of hundred hours, if I have the opportunity, I whip the Separ apart and clean it.  I was doing this when Marcia and Alex returned with the fuel.  They went into the cottage and I finished off.  Naturally, I forgot all about my sticky bun.

Much later a gnawing emptiness reminded me of the bun I hadn’t seen, let alone eaten.  Now that I am determined to get my weight down to something less than portly I shouldn’t really be eating cakes but with all this exercise I am getting, one every now and then couldn’t hurt.

‘Did you buy me a cake, Alex?’

‘Mummy has it’

‘Marcia!  Where’s my cake?’

‘I left it on the chair…’

Which chair she didn’t say but it didn’t matter, any of our chairs are within Rocky’s reach.  Fortunately, Rocky was more interested in shredding a brown paper bag than eating the patisserie therein so it wasn’t too badly masticated when I retrieved it.

I showed the bag to Alex.

‘Do you want to eat it?’ I asked him.  It was a rhetorical question but we haven’t got onto such devices in his studies yet.

He politely declined.

Marcia was changing in the bedroom.  ‘Do you want this cake?’ I asked her.  This wasn’t a rhetorical question, this was malice aforethought.

‘Doesn’t Alex want it?’

‘No, Marcia, not now that Rocky has chewed it.’

She stuck her head round the door, ‘and if I’d said I wanted it?’ she asked eyeing the soggy bag.

‘I’d have let you eat it and told you afterwards’

About three this morning I woke up with a mad craving for sugar.  There was nothing to satisfy it, no biscuits, no choccy bars, nothing.  On the dining table lay Rocky’s paper bag.  Under torch light the cake didn’t look that bad.  So I ate it.

Sorry Rocky, you had your chance