Thursday 8 October 2020

Little Brown Jobs


A while ago, long before Marcia abandoned the family leaving me to look after the children by myself (on Valentine’s Day last year if anyone is really that interested, a date notable only because it left me with a bunch of roses I suddenly had no use for), I paid for her to go to catering college.  Having passed the basic course with flying colours, Marcia then went on to specialize in patisserie, so I think you can all understand how extraordinarily pissed off we were when she left.  The children and I loved nothing more than a well-made sticky bun.

I like bread.  I know that bread isn’t exactly patisserie but it is made with yeast and generally comes out of an oven that has just scented a kitchen for at least an hour or so.  As a child in Baden-Baden I would happily walk down, and then necessarily back up, a mountain at six in the morning to collect the fresh Brötchens which constituted the main ingredient of our breakfast. I like bread so much that sandwiches, or at the very least if I have forgotten to load the fridge with lettuce, tomatoes and ham, a supermarket bun loaded with cheese and mayonnaise, forms part of my nightly routine, along with a good book.  These are habits ruinous to my waistline.  According to the BBC, if I catch Covid, I will probably die.  My survival, apparently, depends upon me giving up bad habits. I understand what the BBC are/is saying (correct me someone), but one has to ask oneself, denied inspiring literature, is life really worth living?

Marcia is so much younger than I so which person of reason could deny her the opportunity to step over the traces and gallop for a bit?  Patience is its own reward and in my case this bunch of bollocks actually seemed to work and a couple or so months ago it was with delight we welcomed her back for reasons, I hasten to add, far deeper than budget Bounties and light cream filled pastries. Now, it appears, she is a bread revolutianry.

For a while now I have had trouble sleeping.  I have no trouble actually going to sleep, I can do that in an armchair at eight in the evening.  But at no later than four in the morning, I am wide awake and worrying.  Just one, only one, of the things pressing my being to insomnia recently has been how to get 29 vehicles from Luanda to Menongue, with only half as many drivers as there were vehicles.  To achieve the seemingly impossible, a big hole was required and happily, today, I found one.  Not at all easy in the middle of a big city but there it was, the police shooting range upon which, years ago I trained.


Other matters pressing remain but it was with a much lighter heart I returned home this evening only to be confronted by Marcia.

I will be the first to admit to an occasional loss of patience with a tradesman, or baker as in Marcia’s case.  I will also confess the subsequent glorification of the ensuing confrontation to anyone not too bored to walk away, a desire to justify, but really an attempt to salve a growing realization of an inexcusable loss of composure. 

Marcia was foaming at the mouth.

‘Are you aware that a bread roll now weighs only 40 grammes?’

Tired and now struck dumb, I was saved by the twins.

‘Sabre tried to eat a baby bird!’ they chorused. 

‘Gosh,’ I said.

Sabre is an Alsatian.  I have trained him to kill, or at least seriously maul, anyone who comes onto the property with ill intent.  Sadly, only having a doggy brain driven by instinct, he has interpreted this somewhat liberally as an instruction to kill anything that moves except, and I am so grateful for this, children.  Our Brazilian neighbour, an adult lady, did not meet Sabre’s limited criteria so I had to cough the hospital bill for stitching her bottom back together.  There was a motion to have Sabre destroyed.  After some heated negotiation, I installed a door bell and disseminated instructions for its use.

Still, this latest transgression of his, the attempted murder of a baby bird, was far more serious than the weight of a bread roll, so I diverted my attention accordingly.

When I was a child, I felt an instinctive duty of care for anything less fortunate than myself, an emotion I carry to this day.  Chicks do fall out of their nests, and with the knowledge that left on the deck, unable to do more than flutter inches above the ground, they were destined to become extra rations for feral cats, I would always pick them up and carry them home.  Only to be told that I had, to all intents and purposes, killed them.  Merely touching them ensured their mothers abandoned them.  By moving them from where I had found them, I had condemned them to lonely starvation.  That is a lot of guilt for a five-year-old.

I refer to twins.  They are not really twins at all.  Only one is the issue of my loins, my daughter Charlotte, Charlie.  The other is Cheyenne.  Cheyenne is Marcia’s niece, the daughter of Marcia’s sister.  Marcia’s sister died.  Sad enough in itself for young Cheyenne but then, after the funeral, her father returned Cheyenne to her mother’s family on the grounds that the family had provided him a defective woman. The child, therefore, was no longer his responsibility.  Regrettably young Alex, who I really do not want to grow up to be a man who resorts too quickly to anything more extreme than a verbal exchange of difference, witnessed what I think by now we have all agreed is a jolly rare and, yes, I suppose, unforgiveable, loss of self-control.  Once the dust settles, and Cheyenne’s father regains sufficient mobility to sign the necessary documentation, I will formally adopt the girl.  In the meantime, Cheyenne lives with us and, much to the confusion of the till girls at Shoprite, our supermarket of convenience where we three, the old bloke, Charlie and Cheyenne, are now well known, I refer to the two of them as my twin girls.  Biologically, I tell anyone I am intent on teasing, it is possible for the twin issue of a mixed race couple to exhibit individually the extreme characteristics of both parents.  ‘It’s all a question of eggs’, I lecture them as I pack my groceries into non bio degradable plastic bags.  It was hard enough convincing the Shoprite belles that I wasn’t the girls’ grandfather.  Now I am satisfied half of them believe they are witnessing one of nature’s miracles.  The twins don’t mind; they get free sweets.


Alex hunts.  He is eleven now but he has hunted since he was old enough to draw a bow.  I am pleased to note that he has adopted my mantra, if you are not going to eat it, don’t kill it.  Sabre is sometimes a bit ambitious but obeys pretty much the same rule.  I am sure that given the opportunity, and the time, he would have devoured my Brazilian neighbour, burying what he could not manage at his first sitting.  The twins, however, still with this blessed instinct to save life and oblivious to life depending on mortality, had rescued a baby bird from Sabre’s jaws of death, leaving me with a bit of a headache.

I have no idea what this baby bird eats.  I don’t even know what kind of bird it is.  I know Guinea Fowl, I shoot them regularly, and I know they can survive, until shot of course, on grain.  I tried Google and Wikipedia and discovered that the main font of ornithological expertise resides with ‘twitchers’, who suggest that this is an ‘LBJ’.  Something rare, undiscovered even?  No, it means ‘Little Brown Job’ betraying, I suspect, similar bewilderment.  Looks like a Sparrow to me but I am in Africa, do we have Sparrows here?  If this bird dies, the twins will hate me.


Back to where I came in and bumped into an effervescent Marcia.  Apparently the baker is now using extra yeast, and proving his bread for longer than the legally established period….

(The production of bread is regulated here?  Bugger me, I never knew that, but Marcia has done the course, don’t forget)

…so that a reduced amount of flour and other essential ingredients results in the same size bun, but with less weight.

 In essence, Marcia was aggrieved about paying for hot air. I agree with her 100%, long live the revolution.

Under the circumstances, I think my best course of action is to keep the bird alive, and find a new baker.


  1. Your twins are adorable. You and Alex are outnumbered.

  2. What a great post Tom.... You haven't lost your touch. Good to have you back.
    Those little girls are beautiful, and look very happy. I do hope that you can save the bird, and that Sabre doesn't eat anyone else !!!

  3. Great Stuff. The twins are adorable and you are going to end up seriously outnumbered . I have two sons ( one over 6 foot ) and the youngest is my Daughter . I know who I am wary of lolol....

  4. I am so happy that through John Gray I have found you. I hope it pleases you to write because it pleases me to read what you've written.

  5. There is an art to the cliff hanger. You manage several in one post.

    Cheyenne is one hell of a lucky kid to have bagged her uncle in absence of her father.

    On behalf of Sabre (and - having grown up with an Alsatian myself - I love the look of him): Humans not only send mixed messages they don't know a smell when it's right under their nose.

    Your five year old self and saving a bird the mother then won't touch again brings back an unfortunate memory. Not that my grandfather made me feel guilty. Even at your and my age (five) I knew about damage limitation. Cost/benefit. We nurtured it as best we could. When strong enough to fly it had to find its own way in the world. Talk about empty nest syndrome. That's the downside of procreating.

    As to being left with a bunch of red roses you may wish to compare notes with my brother-in-law. My sister too is an accomplished baker. She also played Earth Mother very well. Until her true calling came along. In the name of discretion, and to protect my nephews and my niece, I can't go into detail. Let's just say she doesn't come cheap.

    You ask whether life is worth living. It is as long as we are alive, Hippo. Torture and 40 g Broetchen notwithstanding.


  6. Great post. Congratulations to Marcia as the bread revolutionary extraordinaire. Hard on family life but still a great accomplishment. Sounds like a business in the making. Your transport issues resolved...another good feat. Your twins are adorable and their smiles are precious. Heartwarming. Youtube has some videos on bird care (a friend made a splint for an injured bird and the bird recovered). Amazing. Sounds like keeping Sabre out of trouble is a priority.

  7. A lot has happened since you stopped posting. Perhaps that's why you stopped.

  8. I'm so glad to finally see a photo of the beautiful Charlie! And her twin is adorable, too! It will be good for the girls to have each other as they grow up.

    Baby bird tip: try offering bits of moist dog food on a toothpick. Even seed eating birds feed their youngsters protein foods. I've raised and released many a tiny little LBJ, and it will take a LOT of feeding at first. They fledge out pretty quickly, though. Also, don't feel too bad it doesn't make it. I know it will be hard on the girls, but tiny birds like that are delicate, and bacteria from a dog's saliva isn't exactly good for them either.

  9. Great post. Every child needs a home and family were they are a part of the family, even little birdies

  10. Feed it the tiniest of bugs, mixed with some egg yolk,, ground up seeds (like sunflower} and breadcrumbs. Add water if necessary. Roll into tiny balls and place in the back of the beak. Hopefully he'll start eating them by itself soon. Look for the parents. He is almost fly ready!
    Love from Amsterdam

  11. I too found you through John Gray and really enjoy your posts. Charlie and Cheyenne look so happy - definitely a huge win for Cheyenne and your family! It is good to know that Sabre has a seriousness of purpose even though it is occasionally misdirected. And, wonderful that he listens to the twins or Alex to release the small bird. And, regarding the prior post - you as they say, clean-up well. Very dapper! Thank you for improving what you can improve. Most of our contributions are not so life-changing.

  12. Oh it is early, I am only partially finished with my morning coffee, so you will have to settle for a half witted response. My question? Why are you required to find a new baker when you have a perfectly good one under your own roof. In my fog, that is the question niggling at my mind. Your children are gorgeous.

  13. Hi! I work for a website called Expat Arrivals and was wondering if you might be interested in filling out an interview about your experience as an expat in Angola? Would be great to have a fresh perspective as most of our Angola interviews are close to ten years old! Anyway, please get in touch if you're keen at Thanks!

  14. I am so happy you are blogging again, you have such interesting tales to share. Your girls are both beauties, and I see you have fun convincing shop girls they are twins.

  15. Wow! Welcome back, Hippo. I knew it was really you this time because of the way you - and only you - can write. I think I can see why your blog came to an abrupt stop; you had serious problems.
    I'm glad Marcia is back where she belongs and feels better able to stay and, maybe, use her expertise in bread-making (amongst other things.)
    It's so good to 'see' you and I look forward to more of your wonderful posts.

  16. Are you going to pop up every few years and tease us ? Hope all is well with you and the kids and Marcia. x

  17. Happy New Year Hippo!!

    Hope to hear more from the banks of the Rio Kwanza...


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