Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Bicycles Have Arrived!

They arrived in Angola a week ago to be exact.  With the heavy rain the city has been enduring, however, we felt it prudent not to venture all the way to the Central Post office in the Baixa Cidade, a journey only the likes of Mungo Park would entertain under current conditions.

These are the second and third parcels I have now consigned to Angola using normal parcel post (as opposed to courier firms) and I must say, the system seems to work.  This being Angola, though, when the Post Office employee rang Marcia last Thursday to alert her to the shipment's arrival, they asked her not to bother coming to pick them up the next day as, it being a Friday, they didn't feel like working so the following Monday would be more convenient for them.  It was pretty civil of them to phone.

Looking at the picture of the shipment, the scars of battle very evident, you may wonder why two bicycles should each require such a very large box.  Oddly enough, a normal bicycle sized box of around 125 x 75 x 30 cms (0.28 cubic metres) exceeds the maximum allowed dimensions for international parcel post so would cost more like 600 Euros each (the price I was quoted by Lufthansa, you may recall).  If, however, the 'bikes were repacked into a box measuring 120 x 60 x 60 (0.43 cubic metres) they would fall within the maximum allowed dimensions and cost only 90 Euros each.  So nearly twice the cubic volume for a seventh of the price. DHL is owned by Deutsche Post and the boxes came in on Lufthansa.  No bastard demanding over 600 Euros a box from me at DHL or Lufthansa told me about the very cheap and just as secure alternative operated by the same companies across the same infrastructure.  I had to find that out for myself.  Is it just as secure?  You bet; just like a DHL Express shipment, you can track it online. 

Marcia is into Dan Brown at the moment.  Until she started on him the only book I have ever seen her read was the bible so I shouldn't really be surprised she has a taste for esoteric fiction.  Since there was quite a bit of free space in the boxes, I ordered a copy of 'Digital Fortress' for her which Micky had tossed in with the bikes.  Normally it is only a very impatient Alex I have to deal with when a Red Cross parcel arrives but this time I had Marcia hovering.  It was quite late in the evening and it would soon be dark, not the time to be opening boxes out of which any number of not already lost small parts might fall.  In addition, some of Alex's friends from the village were still hanging around providing a very compelling reason to delay revealing the contents.  I'd like at least the chance to build the bikes up before they get nicked.  But Marcia was insistent.

'I don't even know which box the book is in!' I said.

'It's in that one,' said Marcia pointing to the less damaged box.

'How do you know?'

''Cos I saw it when Customs inspected the contents!'

'If you saw it when customs opened the box, Marcia, why didn't you take it out there and then?'

You will note from the white 'Alfandega' sticky tape that Customs opened the boxes up side down.  I would like to think that these cunning revenue men supposed that if any contraband was concealed within, it would be at the bottom so best go in that way, but I suspect it was because they were pissed off with me for already having looked up the tariff code and told them how much I should be paying, eliminating a potential private revenue stream for them. 

This is the first book I have bought Marcia that's in Portuguese.  The others have been in English and they have improved her command of that language no end.  In addition, reading has provoked in her a desire to occasionally converse rather than spend the evening watching soaps, which makes a delightful change,  Conversations are sometimes bloody bizarre (how she can reconcile her faith with a belief in African magic escapes me) but anything is better than 'Paixão Proibida'.  The other day she asked me if the next book I bought her could be in Dutch. 

Dutch?  Marcia studied in Belgium, the bit that doesn't speak French.

'But Marcia, your English is better than your Flemish, Dutch is about as useful as Afrikaans.'

'How can you say that?' she retorted, 'you saw when we had problems at Brussels airport and I explained everything to the Ambassador and he called the head of Brussels Airlines and sorted it out!'

This was true, I did have a problem at Brussels airport when they refused to board Dominic because he did not have an Angolan entry visa in his UK passport.  I had been under the misapprehension that his Angolan passport granted sufficient authority to enter Angola and had been unable to conceal my disappointment when the nice Belgians pointed my stupidity out to me.

'Marcia, that was the French Ambassador, you were speaking French,'

'Oh yes.  But it proves I am good at languages!'

It proves you can bloody terrify Ambassadors, I thought.

I opened up the boxes, retrieved her book and gave it to her.  I resisted the temptation to dive straight in and assemble the 'bikes.  Having spread the bits out to evaluate what was there and, more importantly, what might be missing (nothing, as far as I could tell), the 'bike parts are now stored safely inside the cottage.

As I was stacking the bits neatly Marcia looked up from reading the fly leaf of her book.

'Do you know that Dan Brown is the all time best selling author?' she announced.'

'And malaria is the all time killer,' I replied. 'I know which I'd rather take my chances with.'


  1. better you than me...i hate putting things together but at least maybe you have all the parts!

  2. Can smiles ever get bigger than that one on Alex's face? If I had the time, I'd come and help you assemble.... it's one of my favourite occupations.

    1. I doubt Alex would allow me to wait for you but you would be most welcome to help me assemble the machines when they get here...

  3. Christmas comes to Fort Hippo again courtesy of Santa Gowans, and the recipients of your largesse seem delighted, which is the most important thing. Ingrates are a tiresome bunch, so it must give you pleasure too. Happiness all around; I do approve.

    1. I have enrolled Alex at the golf club for lessons three times a week. When they start we will be able to ride down there together.

  4. Bet it doesn't take you long to assemble those two... and I bet I know which one you put together first ! That Marcia is a clever woman. Hope she is keeping well ?

    1. I shall do mine first so that he does not ride off by himself!

  5. Good luck putting the bikes together Cap'n! Think of it as a living reality TV show version of "The Krypton Factor". The Angolan customs people will surely have removed a vital something such as the instructions manual!

    1. Instructions? I don' need no stinkin' instructions...

  6. Presumably you have built a concrete vault to store them in and keep them from wondering off like your tools did. I know Mercedes cars have satellite trackers to locate them when they are stolen. I wonder if they have put them on push bikes as well.

  7. There's something exciting about a parcel arriving in the mail.

  8. Those are some pretty neat bikes! I hope you and Alex are having fun riding them. Despite arriving in those weathered boxes, it seems like they’re still in good condition. And that bit about the packaging costs was a nice find. Anyway, I hope the weather there is doing fine now. Thanks for sharing this with us!

    Brandon Bowman @ State Transport


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