Archive for the ‘The Diary of Abbot Buggly’ Category

Scams and Fraud: Part one of two parts. “The Diary of Abbot Buggly – Diamonds.”

September 28, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog has just received a new post from TheGirl outlining a fiendish scam originating in Yemen. Clever but fiendish! And potentially very expensive for the unwary victim. I’ll run her post in a minute. First here’s something on scams from the Hugh Paxton Blog archives.

BLOG ED NOTE: Nine years ago my wife and I had a daughter. We were in Namibia at the time and I decided to record her first year of life in diary form, ostensibly written from her perspective.  All the events described in the book, no matter how improbable they may sound, actually occurred. The book, titled “The Diary of Abbot Buggly” trotted around a few publishing houses who all said the same thing. “It’s a charming book but…” The problem was that the book didn’t slot neatly into any established publishing genre. So that was that. At one years-old my daughter had already joined the long list of aspiring authors to hit a brick wall. Not that she noticed. The story didn’t quite end there. With a little help from her Daddy, Annabel (my daughter) approached Air Namibia’s in-flight magazine, Flamingo, and for the next six years ran a monthly column describing her African adventures. She was, and remains, Africa’s youngest travel correspondent.

‘Abbot Buggly’, incidentally, is just one of many ridiculous nicknames we have inflicted on the poor girl during her lifetime. Some time I’ll tell you why but not now.

It’s scam time! Hey ho! Let’s go!

 

Excerpt from The Diary of Abbot Buggly: START:

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN:  Diamonds.

Akiko (our Flat A tenant and my godmother) has a new Owambo boyfriend named Paulo.

 

For some reason whenever I see him I start screaming. He tries to be friendly but I scream. Oddly no other individual I know has that effect on me. I’ve met Basters who’d give Freddy Kruger nightmares but all I do is smile at them. I’ve been barked at by enraged baboons. No problem. I’ve even seen some of my father’s drinking buddies  – not a sight for the faint hearted – but all they do is make me chortle. Paulo turns up, wearing a suit, Mr. Respectable, smiling tenderly, and I just let rip!

 

“Waaaaaaaahhhh!”

 

It embarrasses my parents but he seems to take it in his stride.

 

“She just hates me,” he explains.

 

Paulo is some sort of director at Namdeb, the parastatal that controls Namibia’s diamond mines and the domestic diamond industy. Namibia has a LOT of diamonds.

 

At one time they were so plentiful that they could be collected by moonlight – lines of poorly paid serfs would shuffle forwards on their hands and knees out in the desert looking for their pale reflective glow.

 

Its not that easy now. You need to dig for them, or dredge off shore at the river mouths, particularly the Orange river mouth. But there are still a lot of them about.

 

 

ABBOT BUGGLY ADVISORY TO WOULD-BE DIAMOND SMUGGLERS.

 

If you are a diamond dealer and receive an invitation to Namibia to view a diamond that has fallen off the back of a lorry, so to speak, the invitation has in all probability been sent to you by a policeman.

 

The same rule applies if some chap surreptitiously saunters up to you outside the Hidas Shopping Centre or the Maerua Mall.

 

Fish are caught by shiny lures and so are diamond smugglers. It’s an expensive business, being hooked, what with the crippling fines and legal costs and whatnot. But it keeps the State coffers stocked.

 

Inserting diamonds into orifices of one sort or another (but usually the first sort that springs to mind) is also inadvisable. The concept is neither new nor imaginative.

 

A cleaner at Namdeb made unfortunate headlines by leaving NamDeb’s premises through an X-ray machine weighing a few more carats than he had when he’d entered the building.

 

His name was – and this is probably why the arrest made the headlines – variously reported as Mr. Sodem or Mr. Sodom.

 

A lot of people DO smuggle diamonds. The illegal trade comprises anything up to 15% of annual global turnover. But they’re usually Lebanese, Angolans or have their own private armies

 

And the black market keeps a lot of potentially rich countries perpetually poor as drug crazed warlords rampage and fight and lay waste the land (see my father’s hideous novel, Homunculus, for grisly details).

 

No, take my advice, go with the nappy ploy (see Chapter Two).

 

Or leave Namibia, sun-bronzed, happy and about as rich as when you came. Diamonds may be forever (they’re at least 4 billion years old) but a ten stretch is no tick of the clock.

 

While we’re on the subject of receiving uninvited offers you cannot refuse from Africans you’ve never met and never heard of, take the Abbot Buggly stance. Just say no.

 

My father and mother regularly receive emails from Nigeria, or Senegal and most recently from Cameroon and Cote D’Ivoire.

 

The emails come from government officials disgusted with the state of corruption in their respective countries, or from earnest NGO workers appalled by the mismanagement of state funds, or from bankers who want to mobilize public money  (that would otherwise be wasted by self-serving politicos) for the benefit of the poor.

 

Occasionally the mails come from a lawyer who has just discovered that a very distant relative of my parents has died leaving 500,000 acres of oil-rich land to them to apologize for not having kept in touch.

 

In every case there is a request for funds to be transferred to an account, or a request for the fortunate recipients of the email to provide their own bank account details. So that funds can be transferred to their own account, you understand.

 

You see, in every case there is the offer of making my lucky parents rich for facilitating the financial procedures.

 

My father has just been offered ten percent of five million greenbacks if he could only help a human rights activist release the said sum from a Nigerian account held by a dead member of the former military dictatorship. The money would help in promoting democracy.

 

“Yeah,” my father said, “right.”

 

Strangely a large number of people actually get suckered in. To quote a recent Nampa-Reuters report, “The so-called 419 scam, named after an article in Nigeria’s penal code outlawing it, has been so successful in the past 20 years that campaigners say it is now the third largest foreign exchange earner in Africa’s most populous nation.”

 

The third largest!

 

One wretched German was informed by a “government minister” in Lagos that that old staple, a distant relative, had died leaving an estate worth well over ten million pounds. In order to transfer the property to the German, funds were needed to smooth the procedure.

 

This is not Europe, the German was regretfully informed, this is Africa and sadly riddled with people whose palms need greasing before things get done.

 

The amount of grease needed in this case could have kept an armored division rust free for the best part of a decade; several hundred thousand smackers. There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. Emails to the German, more money transferred to Lagos fro the German.

 

The German then received a communication from the Lagos police authorities.

 

The German was, they regretted to inform him, the victim of a criminal gang specializing in mail fraud.

 

The good news, however, was that the authorities were on to them. The fiends would be arrested. The money returned.

 

But this is not Europe, the police told him, this is Africa and sadly in order to get things done funds were needed to facilitate things.

 

By this stage most people would be entertaining serious doubts when encountering a Lagos government letterhead, no matter how nicely forged it was.

 

Not the German. No expense was spared to help the law track down the scoundrels who had duped him. Hundreds of thousands. But he was determined to fight to the bitter end.

 

This came when he finally ran out of money.

 

And never heard from anyone from Lagos again.

 

An even more extreme case occurred when a retired Czech doctor was taken for $600,000. Understandably disgruntled, the man stormed the Nigerian embassy in Prague last February, and shot dead the leading consul.

 

Of course Interpol takes a keen interest in these shenanigans, but more amusing is the phenomenon of scam baiting. Scam-baiters lead the con artists along with a view to humiliating them. One Englishman is building up a large collection of scammers’ photos.

 

First he gives the scammer his name. It is a false name. Then feigning keen interest in the scammer’s proposals he requests photos of the scammers holding a placard displaying his false name. It’s so he can see who he’s dealing with, he tells them.

 

One scammer obliged by sending a photo of himself, beaming amiably into the camera and proudly holding aloft a piece of paper reading “Iama Dildo.”

 

That gets it said.

 

……

 

Back to diamonds. Yesterday there was a robbery . Three men made off with several cases of shiny stones from Namdeb down in Orangemund .

 

Early evening, Paulo came over with a gift of two large frozen fish (the deal being that my father will cook them and then everyone will gather and eat them). After the fish had been appraised, praised and manhandled into the freezer compartment of the fridge – they weren’t large fish really, they were huge fish – my father asked about the Orangemund incident.

 

After I’d stopped shrieking at him (it took a long while), Paulo gave a derisive snort.

 

“We’ll get them. Those guys were SO dumb. So DUMB! Idiots!”

 

Seems the robbers were wearing overalls and balaclavas to hide their identities. Clever. After making their getaway they changed their clothes, dumped the overalls, but one of them forgot to remove his birth certificate from a pocket.

 

Why would anybody bring their birth certificate along on an armed robbery ? Shotguns, yes. Balaclavas, yes. But a birth certificate ?

 

Dumb. Real dumb.

 

….

 

This morning the phone rang unfortunately early. Our caller had seen the advertisement in the window of our Isuzu trooper.

 

“How does it work ?”

 

My father launched into his patter. “Well, it’s a smooth runner, has 170,00 kays on the clock give or take..”

 

“No,” the voice interrupted. “I mean how does the deal work?”

 

“Well, I guess you come and see the car, we take it for a test drive, if you like it you give me money, I give you the car.”

 

 

“So you want money for the car?” The voice was now sounding furtive. Sleazily furtive.

 

“Uh huh. Yes. ”

 

“Can we work it differently?”

 

“What differently? You mean you take the car but don’t give me any money ? “

 

“There can be ways of doing things. Shall we make a plan?”

“Go away.”

 

A moment later the phone rang again. A different caller, this man got to the point fast in a strangely offensive “jiveass” pseudo-black-1960s-American pimp accent.

 

African pronunciation of English is mainly a wonderful thing. It is solemn, considered, structured, sincere; it employs a splendid, entertaining, enthralling vocabulary.

 

It is possible to listen to a politician making the most outrageous ly deranged statements  and find yourself nodding; awed, overwhelmed by the richness of the voice, the syntax, the steadied rhythm. Unless they’re some racist monstrosity like Mugabe.

 

That man could be singing Grand Opera a la Pavarotti only better. You’d still want to throw eggs.

 

But this jiveass thing. Yech! Drives my father wild. He was now fully awake. So was I.

 

“Hey man I need the wheels. Your Land Cruiser.”

 

“My Land Cruiser is an Isuzu Trooper. And why don’t you go away?”

 

“S’right, man. Cool. The Trooper. I’ve got to be over the Angolan border by seven tonight. We’ve got to make speed. I’m packing stones.”

 

“Where are you ?”

 

“The Tech.”

 

“Windhoek Polytechnic ?”

 

“Ya man. The Tech. Can you pick me up ? We got to check this thing out.”

 

“Go away.”

 

“Heeyyy! We need to work on this!”

 

“Go away.”

 

 

Catherine is a colleague of my mother. She’s from Kenya but is on a one-year renewable contract with UNDP’s Environment Unit here and she intends to stay in Namibia.  Catherine is willowy, elegant and altogether lovely. Fantastic telephone manner. Makes great cakes.

 

But this is not germaine to my tale.

 

She advertised that her car was for sale and she got similar telephone calls.  Subsequent encounters with the prospective buyers indicated that they were all criminals seeking to convert smuggled diamonds into something more legally sellable than lumps of compacted carbon.

 

Cars don’t last forever but at least they are useful.

 

Catherine did sell her car eventually, but not before she and her mother were lured by a smoothly packaged individual into a small room with a Chinese gentleman sitting behind a desk. On the desk was a neat little suitcase.

 

Pop went the suitcase’s locks.

 

“Take a look,” said the Chinese gentleman, or words to that effect. They looked. The stones, supremely indifferent to the passage of billennia and their current surge in popularity – a mere nothing in geological time-scale –sat there.

 

Catherine and her mother got out fast. Then they sold their car to someone who wasn’t waving minerals at them.

 

Wendy summarized the whole phenomenon perfectly.

 

“If they want to buy a car why don’t they sell their diamonds and use the money to buy the car?”

 

Why not indeed?

 

Akiko coming back with Paulo pointed out that if my father was interested in buying stones and making a huge profit he’d need to know whether the stones were worth anything.

 

My father admitted that he knew nothing about diamonds.

 

Akiko gave a gay laugh. “Of course not, you’re not Jewish.”

 

Good point.

 

Paulo was equally well informed.

 

“They sell you glass. Your car crosses the Angolan border. That’s it. Your glass. Their car.”

 

Then he said, “Hello, Isobel!” and gave me a wide smile.

 

Isobel????

 

Isobel!!!!

 

I screamed at him. He fled.

 

Speaking from a five month old perspective, if I saw an uncut diamond I’d ignore it. Dull, soapy looking pebble of a thing. Perhaps if someone had cut it so that it reflected light and sparkled, I’d swallow it.

 

Or choke on it. Or throw it away. Or lose interest in about thirty seconds. My question to the world is this. Why are wars, atrocities, madmen in Sierra Leone/Angola/ Liberia/Congo beating baby’s brains out being funded by these silly little things ? Why don’t the people buy small yellow furry octopi that squeak when you squeeze them instead?

 

They’re fun.

 

And I don’t think that anyone has killed anyone over a soft furry yellow octopus that squeaks when you squeeze it.

 

Or tried to exchange one for a car.

 

But, heck, I’m young and I’m sure the world has things to teach me.

 

 

 

 

 

The Diary of Abbot Buggly: Chapters thirty two and thirty three

March 6, 2011

Hugh Paxton’s Blog contiues with its serialisation of my book The Diary of Abbot Buggly, a true, if frequently unbelievable, account of his daughter’s first year of life in Namibia.    

Hey ho! Let’s go!

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO:  More Home Improvements.

 I woke this morning to hear the thud of mallets, splintering wood, collapsing masonry and a bellowed bellicose exchange in Afrikaans and Oshiwambo. 

 Yup, you got it. Home improvements.

 I really wanted to sleep but it was impossible. 

 The onslaught of noise put me in mind of the Uruk Hai assault on Helm’s Deep.

 No, I haven’t read the book (and I believe nobody has read all three – they bog down when elves appear, or when the Ring’s been destroyed) but The Two Towers is one of my favourite videos.

My father first tried me on Bill and Ben (I screamed), then something called The Telletubbys (my father screamed and then stamped on the cassette which fractured irreparably ). The Telletubby wreckage then flew through the window, disrupting the feeding activities of a flock of mouse birds.

They scattered from the water melon rinds left for them beneath the pepper trees in a fluttered panic, perhaps wondering if they’d done something to offend.

My father then gave me a lecture on a bunch of British Achievements; Caxton, Chaucer, Shakespeare, the British Empire straddling one quarter of the entire planet, Wordsworth, Livingstone, Turner, the BBC’s World Service, CS Lewis, sausage and chips with an accompanying pickled onion and pot of curry sauce obtainable from the chip shop at Shap village, heavy rain, Sherlock Holmes, HRH Prince Charles, Ryton Organic gardens, Christopher Wren, shooting loads of French people… 

Finally he got back to the Telletubbies.

“This is rubbish!” he said. “Great British rubbish!” Then he asked me if this was the best Britain could do? He asked me if Britain could rise above Teletubbies? Achieve GREATNESS AGAIN?

“Urrrgghh. Beep. Razzz !” was my response.

“That gets it said,” said my father bleakly. “Decline. Fall. Then at rock bottom, the Telletubbies.”

“And Tony Blair’s wife needs plastic surgery. She looks like the Joker,“ he added.  Totally irrelevantly.

He then put on The Two Towers and the sight of screaming hordes of Uruk Hai being flung off battlements and belting elves with hatchets had a strange effect on the pair of us.

We calmed.

Yes, The Two Towers is definitely my favourite. Although I also doze off during the beach landings in Saving Private Ryan and the escape sequence in Black Hawk Down.

Logically, the infernal row generated by home improvements ought to have the same soothing effect but this morning, strangely, it didn’t.

I think it was the way billowing clouds of stinking dust were wafting into my bedroom accompanied by whining shards of concrete shrapnel.

And the immense, half naked, bald guy with the sledgehammer who was whacking the bejasus out of the tiles on the Stoop wasn’t what you’d call a hundred percent reassuring. 

Ovambos come in all shapes and sizes and if he’d been hanging in a clothing store’s rack this one’s label would have read XXXL.

But he wasn’t. He was swinging his sledge and yelling out a battle chant that went “Jai jai jai!” If those Uruk Hai had had him on the team, Helm’s Deep wouldn’t have lasted more than a couple of minutes.

“Jai! Jai! Jai!”

Crunch, crunch, kerrrunch!

The Baby Centre says I should currently be sleeping a minimum of 11 hours a day.

I say, some bloody chance.

Then events took an unexpected turn for the weirder. As usual.

“We may have a problem,” I heard a voice say in that relaxed, rather amused and incurably understated macho style that I have come to associate with southern African men. The women tend to get shrill when there’s a problem. They take problems more seriously. Probably because they have more of them. Most of them generated by southern African men.

I tried to place the voice that had the problem.

No luck at first, but then, yes! Got him!

He was a member of my choir! Not just that. He was the LATEST addition to my RAPIDLY EXPANDING choir!

AN ABBOT BUGGLY ADVISORY TO THE MUSIC INDUSTRY.

If you say “Mama, mama, mama,” to your baby, endlessly, repetitively, sooner or later your baby will start saying “Mama” back. The same deal applies with adults, no matter how original or mature they think they are.

In certain countries people have to listen to chants of “Death to America the Great Satan!” or “USA! USA!” or “Huddersfield United Will Never Be DIVIDED!” or “Kill the foreign devils!”

At first they probably think, “How irritating. How repetitive. And Huddersfield United hasn’t won a game in three hundred years. Is there still a Huddersfield United?”

Or “Hang on, I went to the US and everybody was really friendly. Didn’t see Satan anywhere apart from at Customs and Immigration. The Infernal One was disguised as a horrid looking woman with a passport stamp who made me fill out a form saying I was not affiliated with Nazi Germany or her allies or guilty of moral turpitude. After I’d been finger printed and cleared Satan, I had a great time.”

But then, after even more and more, more, more, more repetition, they decide to give it a try. 

“Huddersfield United!” they cheer in initially desperate, buffaloed confusion. Then it becomes a natural state of mind. “Huddersfield United! Huddersfield United!”

Repetition echoes like..well…echoes.

Anyone who visits Number 11 Wurlitzer Street won’t hear “Death to America!” or anything about Huddersfield. They are, however, guaranteed a stirring rendition of ‘Fur Elise’ (the Taiwanese version) thanks to me pressing the same button on my (repaired) podule.

Again. And again.

This moving melody, so pregnant with a wistful, fleeting, elegantly fragile tint, so frequently played, gets first into the ears of visitors, then on their nerves and finally crawls deep into their previously un-fathomed subconscious layers. Where it lodges with claws of steel.

They start humming it. They whistle it. They have joined my choir!

This extraordinary man smashing the Stoop to pieces is probably immune to Fur Elise.

What with all the “Jai, jai, jaiing!” I think it unlikely that he’d be able to hear an elephant stampede and what with all the sledge hammering he’s probably deaf. But the foreman/chief builder, Tokkel, has spent many hours in the vicinity of my musical podule and he now whistles Fur Elise almost as often as I play it.

I pride myself that the infection has probably spread to his wife and family by now. And to his fellow passengers in his taxi. And to most of his neighbours.

At just seven months of age I have single-handedly brought Beethoven to the Namibian public.

So take note, music industry, if you want to peddle a tune in Namibia– any tune, no matter how distasteful or cacophonous – simply install it in my podule. I’ll handle promotion.

Alternatively, of course, you could send it to Steven Beresford at Radiowave 96.7. 

He shares my philosophy. Play it again and again and again, Sam. But no Rap or Hip Hop. We don’t want to start a plague.   

Here ends the advisory.

…..

Yup, I was right. It was the foreman but he wasn’t (for once) whistling Fur Elise.

He had, you might remember, a problem.

He was waving a sloughed puff adder skin. Quite a big one. The former occupant must have been considerably fatter than my arms, and slightly fatter than my thighs.

He had found it in the storage room that is currently being “improved.” 

All work in the store room stopped. Understandably. No-one in their right mind would continue rummaging through the mass of junk that has accumulated in the storage room if, as the skin indicated, it was the lair of this chunky, venomous species of reptile.

 Especially if this particular viviparous specimen of Bitis arietrans, like my comrades the lizards, had just given birth to a healthy and vigorous brood of between twenty and forty puff adderlings, each capable of injecting sufficient cytotoxin to keep the recipient in agony until he or she either decided to die of kidney failure or have something (like a treasured limb) simply rot and fall off.

 ABBOT BUGGLY PUFF ADDER FACTOIDS.

Large females in East Africa may give birth to up to 156 live young, the most for any snake. Puff adders aren’t the most poisonous snakes in southern Africa but they’re aggressive, strike readily and account for 60% of all serious bites in the region. When they are annoyed they puff themselves up and hiss like a boiling kettle. On very rare occasions they’ll eat a tortoise but they mostly stick to rodents or birds.

 …

 My parents have a “Don’t kill snakes” philosophy. They argue that snakes have as much right as any other living thing to exist (though I notice that they have inserted a clause into this ecologically utopian world vision that makes smashing mosquitoes perfectly acceptable).

 My father, who had just come back from Porkys the butchers with the latest Afrikaans bon mot “The devil arrives in the form of a builder” and another half ton of slithery boerwurst sausage for the oppressed and hammering masses, stared at the snake skin.

 He then gave the foreman the same slick and easy smile that the guy who sold him his exploding car had given to my father.  

 He’s a fast learner sometimes. Not often. But sometimes.

 “No problem,” he said. 

 A number of faces – concerned but trusting faces, black faces beaded with sweat – surrounded my father.

 That smile of his came on again. As Stephen King would say, slicker than owl shit. 

 “No worries. I found it in the mountains. Ages ago. It’s a decoration. Like the seal skull or that fake shrunken head made from goat skin I got in the Andes.”

My father has some highly peculiar ideas when it comes to interior decorations.

One man looked confused. “Thass poffadder!” he said. “Thass poffadder!”

My father said, “There isn’t a snake here. Trust me.”

Work resumed. There wasn’t a snake. No one was shipped off to hospital in convulsions or with necrosis.

But how I wondered could my father tell – at a glance, mind you – that this puff adder skin was the same puff adder skin that he’d found in the mountains?

My mother put the same question to him over lunch.

Before he could start lying and smiling that exploding car salesman smile she reminded him of the fact that the puff adder skin he’d found in the Erongo mountains was (and has been for some months) on a book shelf in Flat B’s breakfast room.

“Have some more mashed carrot,” my father said to me rather hurriedly. “Who’s a good little Buggly then?”

Me, I thought. And who is prepared to commit criminally negligent manslaughter in the interests of converting the store room into a dining room and library?

You, I thought.

Tsk!

ABBOT BUGGLY ADVISORY ON BABY FOOD.

Someone gave us an extraordinary book recently. Let us turn to page five. Here, accompanied by impressive visual aids, there is a recipe for Roast Duck With Cranberry.  The instructions are elaborate. Creating this culinary marvel will take many hours and will involve many subtle and costly ingredients.

And when finally the duck has been roasted, garnished with watercress, splashed with cranberry sauce what does Page Five insist you do? Stick it in a blender and mash the thing to sludge and then feed it to your bug.

Same deal with Sole Meuniere, Venison And Truffles, Spinnach And Mushroom Frittata, Lobster Vientianne, Scallops Aux Provence, Bollox A La Ponce… 

Quite why this book exists is a mystery. I suppose some proud parents might like answering questions about how their offspring is eating with an understudied, “Rather a good appetite, actually. She dined this very evening on a repast of mashed Toro sushi in porpoise milk butter, followed by splattered Ballotine of Chicken (slurried Gnocchi, Polenta and Devils’s Foot Root as a side), and wound the meal off with assorted sludged savouries, sweets and a glass of old ruby port. She’s got rather a good nose actually. Think she spotted the vintage and year. ’37. Rare to get a ’37 nowadays. Most was confiscated by Hermann Goring when France got the jackboot in 1940. But we know a little village in Provence that hid its entire cellar in a hollowed out donkey..”  

I suppose that must be it.

Personally, mashed carrot does me fine.

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE:  The Earthquake And Other Convulsions.

Home improvements have been going on now for four days straight and number 11 Wurlitzer St has witnessed labor disputes, criminal behaviour (one theft and one illegal dumping of concrete in Windhoek Marsh – subsequently retrieved ), a lot of “jai jai jaiing” and an earthquake.

Yes, I know one doesn’t associate Namibia with earthquakes. It’s been hit by loads of meteorites (including the Hoba meteorite which is touted as the largest in the world to survive impact and be displayed in a shopping Mall), many millions of years ago there were a numerous active volcanoes, and dinosaurs have left lots of fossilized foot prints.

But Namibia isn’t on the Ring of Fire and, geologically, is in its dotage.

Ancient, going on geriatric, it has the world’s oldest deserts and by and large it’s content to sun itself in lazy, well-earned seismic lethargy.

Then, Thursday night, at some point between 2200 hours and 2300 hours there was an earthquake. It wasn’t a 7.2 Richter scale Kobe job. Nothing collapsed. 6,394 people weren’t killed and the repair bill certainly won’t amount to $US 99 billion.

There was just a big bang and glasses rattled in people’s cupboards.

Several intriguing things about the earthquake.

One: The epicenter was between the twin suburbs of Eros and Klein Windhoek. This is precisely where we live – precisely ! – although I hasten to add that neither we nor any of our home improvements were in any way responsible.

I think.

Two: Windhoek has two seismological stations but at the time of the earthquake neither was working. Office renovations. There is another monitoring station at the small town of Tsumeb. That wasn’t working either. Freak storm apparently. Water leakage.

Namibia doesn’t normally have earthquakes but it does normally (and for no obvious reason that a young bug such as myself can see) have people monitoring seismographs.

Oh woe! When Namibia DOES have an earthquake, all of the seismographs don’t work.

Three: Rainer Wackerle, an official at the geophysics department in the Ministry of Mines and Energy , no doubt annoyed that he’d missed the earthquake on his machine, said;

“We are not sure whether it was an earthquake or just another explosion.”

Just another explosion ?

ABBOT BUGGLY ADVISORY TO RAINER WACKERLE ON NAMIBIAN PR.

Rainer, there are three words calculated to place my father’s planned guide book to Namibia in jeopardy; “Just Another Explosion”.

How off hand! How throwaway! How unlikely to reassure potential tourists!

This isn’t Baghdad or Bogota for Pete’s sake! What on earth is my father’s publisher to make of a comment such as “just another explosion”?

Dear, dear!

……

Four days of home improvements and my father is beginning to show the strain. An average morning begins with builders and painters arriving without any equipment.

Then my father drives off with a wish list of highly expensive tools to a distant hardware store owned by a certain Mr. Pupkewitz in Windhoek’s Southern Industrial Estate.

He returns with the tools and Tokkel, the foreman, then says that he needs some roof sealant.

My father drives off again, tries three different relatively close shops and then, bowing to the inevitable, heads for distant Pupkewitz.

“This paint is past its sell by date,” he is informed when he gets back. “We can’t use this.”

Ag! Fok! And he’s off again.

By mid-morning it is time to start preparing lunch for the ravening hordes. Off to Porky’s Butchery. 

Back with Boerwurst and an off colour joke about a Mexican capable of urinating tequila – I’ll spare you the sordid details.

“This man’s paint roller’s broken.”

“Argh!”

“Jai! Jai! Jai!”

Kerump, kerash, kerrrrunch.

The metallic tinkle of Fur Elise.

Baby wailing.

“Mr.Paxton, the carpenter says he refuses to eat the orange. He says that people are going round Namibia injecting oranges with HIV-AIDS.”

“Wendy, the man’s a moron. The virus can’t live in an orange. Never heard such claptrap.”

“Yes, Mr Paxton. Also he says he cannot eat maize porridge. “

“Tell him we’re not running a bloody restaurant here.”

“Yes, Mr Paxton. We have run out of sugar.”

“Yeah, OK. I’m going, OK? I’m going! Now listen up! Everybody! That includes you lot on the roof with the …the…what the hell are you doing to my sky light?”

“It’s painting.”

“You’re painting my skylight green? The hell you doing that for? Stop it at once! Tokkel ! They’re painting my skylight!”

“Stop fokkin painting the skylight! And don’t paint the fokkin solar panels!”

“Yes, chief.”

“You fok ops!”

“Right, listen! Everybody! Joshua! Joshua??? What are you doing?”

“I am putting this concrete on the scorpion’s head. It will be dead.”

“Yes, right. I see. Big one. Great. Didn’t sting you did it? No? Fine. Mind you it’s got big pincers so it’s not so dangerous. The smaller the pincers the more deadly the species. That’s the rule of thumb.”

“Thumb?”

“Not important. When it’s dead you can put it on my bookshelf. Now, for the last time, is there anything else that we need? Anything at all? ”

A lusty chorus of ‘No’.

My father, he departs. He comes back. He unloads the car.

“We have run out of turps,” explains Tokkel glumly. “And this man’s paintbrush has broken…”

And so it goes.

My father’s own fault, of course. He started all this. But even so one cannot help pitying the man.

The Diary of Abbot Buggly: Chapters thirty and thirty one

February 24, 2011

Hugh Paxton’s Blog resumes its serialisation of my book The Diary of Abbot Buggly, an account of a young girl’s life first year of life in Namibia.

CHAPTER THIRTY: A Christmas Entertainment.

 This is the email I sent to my relatives in distant countries.

 “Ladies and Gentlemen !

 It is Christmas Eve and while I am unable to be with you in person (I’m on a game farm in the Kalahari) let me assure you that I am with you in spirit.

 I have been informed that it is traditional in our family to have a Christmas Entertainment and I have put together the following Christmas Entertainment for your amusement.

 Merry Christmas !

 Abbot Buggly.

 Dec 24 2003.

‘TWAS THE BUG BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

 ‘Twas the bug before Christmas and all through the Hall,

Something was moving; not sleeping at all.

At two in the morning a razzing was heard,

Then cheeping and gurgles and cooing occurred.

At three in the morning a thump then a cry,

And a shout and a bellow of “That was my eye!”

At four in the morning some crawling took place,

Then a podgy fist flew into somebody’s face.

By five, before dawn, the drumsticks were flying,

There was rolling and wailing, bug faces and crying. 

The sun rose like fire at just six o’clock,

“Fa crying out loud ! It’s eating its sock!”

‘Twas the bug upon Christmas and all through the Hall,

Something was snoring; not moving at all.

A poem by A. Buggly.”

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE:  Happy New Year.

New Year’s Eve passed fairly uneventfully. For us at least. We were back in Windhoek. My parents took me for a walk. They did the walking, of course. I just sat in my push chair and blew bubbles like a tidal crab.

We found leopard spoor in Windhoek marsh. 

Interesting to live in a city where a leopard leaves spoor only 100 meters away from one’s house.

Mind you, leopards have mastered the knack of being virtually invisible. In Nairobi a leopard escaped from a menagerie. Box traps were laid in the suburbs. Two leopards were caught – neither was the escapee. 

And when builders were brought in to sort out the Nairobi soccer stadium a leopard skeleton was found under the roof. For years thousands of fans had hooted, cheered, roared approval and cursed referees, oblivious to the fact that above their heads a leopard was waiting for the match to end and leave it in peace to clear up dropped burgers, stray dogs cats, rats and street children.

They say that there are even leopards (or panthers, which are the same thing, only black) in England. They’ve been seen, they’ve been hunted, they’ve been unconvincingly photographed by people using those ever popular ‘totally blurred but tantalizing’ camera settings, but no-one’s caught one.

We had a look for the leopard in the marsh but were unsuccessful.

That’s leopards for you. Total no-shows.

Then dawned New Year’s day – January 1, 2004 AD.

We celebrated the grand event by gracing Chez Wou at the Windhoek Country Club with our presence. 

It’s a Chinese restaurant, has never been busted for having poodles in its freezers, and it overlooks a casino, which, like every casino my father has lost money in, operates in a lightless, timeless, 24 hour a day, murk. 

There were a few stubborn and joyless figures morbidly losing chips in the shadowland  below us, and a few other diners at the tables of Chez Wou. But overall the Windhoek Country Club could not honestly have been described as buzzing with activity.

After the Beijing Duck and some mildly chillied soft pork (“pre-chewed pork” to quote my father) we wondered where the owner was. A nice chap, he normally drops in at our table and asks us about immigration rules and regs in New Zealand or Australia and whether he might qualify. Chucks my chin. Gives my father a shot of Special and Auspicious Chinese Wine on the house.

 Sadly this performance will not be repeated. 

 We were, in a round-about-subtle-and-Oriental fashion informed that he’d shot himself (or been shot by someone else). He had incurred gambling debts. One of the risks of running a restaurant above a casino I suppose.

 After hearing the news we decided to skip dessert and after wishing the new management better luck (and really meaning it) we opted instead to tour the grounds.

 …,

 It is, I have been informed, de rigeur for any establishment that calls itself a country club to have a golf course. Windhoek Country Club has one and it has greens. 

 Along the Skeleton Coast there are several more golf courses. They don’t have greens as such, more like browns. And lots of sand traps.

 No-one was playing golf when we visited. 

 Paulo informs me that the greenest golf course in the entire country lies in Orangemund in the off-limits diamond area. Its grass is mown by oryx.

 After we’d explored the Country Club we returned home and as we drove we listened to Radiowave 96.7 FM “Namibia’s Number One Hit Music Station.” 

 Steven Beresford was on the air. But then Steven Beresford is always on the air. The man’s stamina is not so much awe-inspiring as supernatural. My father admires him immensely for two reasons. He will under no circumstances broadcast any rap or hip hop music. “The radio station without the rap. We don’t PLAY Rap!!!” is one of the call signs of Radio 96.7 FM.

 And if you miss the beginning of a song you only have to wait ten minutes before he plays it again.  

 Steven, you’re our man!

 Please don’t shoot yourself.

The Diary of Abbot Buggly: Chapters twenty eight and twenty nine

January 18, 2011

Hugh Paxton’s Blog continues its serialisation of my book, The Diary of Abbot Buggly, a true if frequently improbable account of my daughter’s first year of life in Namibia.

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT: “Flight To The Kalahari.”

Oh dear, there’s been a row. Also a moth invasion, two probable deaths and a rapidly organized trip to the Kalahari.

The chain of events started a couple of days ago but at the time no-one knew it.

Least of all me.

I’ve been preoccupied recently with attempting to speak; passing that momentous milestone in Babyhood – The FIRST WORD ! I’ve been importunate, noisy, I’ve joined in conversations and drowned out TV programmes and I’ve kept sleepy people awake with gusts of “Warraghs” “Wozzas” “Aaaaagggs” “Mumumumums” and “Ta tas”.

I may have stretched a few nerves with my elocution exercises. Yes, I confess I may have forged my own small link in the chain of events.

But I wasn’t the only one.

My father, as you’ve no doubt gathered by now, knows a lot of people who either keep dying or who have relatives that keep dying. He’s also got this thing about home improvements.

The two came together. And thus was born the row.

It was around eight o’clock on a muggy evening. Muggy and buggy. For some reason there had been a massive hatch of moths. Thousands of them. They were fluttering away at the windows, squeezing through small chinks in the windows to flutter some more inside the house, they were fluttering for the ceiling lights on the stoop then getting beheaded by the blades of the whirling fan and falling in dusty ruined drifts on to my father; into his beer, into his computer lap top.

The geckos by the wall lantern on the Stoop were getting fat. The moths were getting everywhere. They were also getting on my father’s nerves. He tried turning off the fan but the motionless air was suddenly shrill with the whine of mosquitoes.

The ceiling fan went back on. The headless moths resumed their fall.

It was a sullenly miserable evening that required a distraction. A burst of vitality.

Stephen phoned with just that. He excitedly informed my father that there was a man in Rundu who had fifty planks of high quality wood for sale at $35 a plank.

There was another man who was driving a truck to Windhoek with enough space in his truck for the planks.

On impulse my father abandoned his lap top, the depressing cascade of mutilated moths, did a bit of muddled thinking, then suggested that Stephen should go to Rundu and oversee the transaction.

Rundu is ten hours drive north if you’re driving sensibly but most people seem to manage it in eight. Unless they crash.

My father’s logic was a trifle tortuous but well-meaning. He didn’t need the wood. But at the same time he didn’t NOT need the wood. It’s always useful and he has a number of mildy insane home improvements schemes in mind.

He also figured that Christmas was coming. Stephen’s family live in a village near Rundu. He could go north all expenses paid, say ‘hi’ to Mum and his sister, buy the wood, come back…you know, the thing would work out well for everyone and everyone would be happy.

Kill a few birds with one shipment of wood.

My mother is beginning to be rather concerned about something she calls ‘finances’ ‘money flow’ and ‘going bankrupt’.

She reacted to the news of the ad hoc wood purchase scheme somewhat coolly and then things got rapidly more complicated.

And cooler.

As Christmas draws closer, so do many Namibians. The two ladies who act as car guards on Independence Avenue got closer to my mother than usual and dropped obvious, if charmingly phrased, hints that they were in need of hard cash to go north and visit relatives and go to their church. One of them was pregnant again. Her seventh.

A male car guard at the Hidas Shopping Center who routinely greets my father on his shopping expeditions with a firm African double handshake and the polite enquiry, “Where is my wife?” (he means where is my father’s wife –his English is crap) got closer to my father. He, too, planned to go North. He didn’t mention money. He understood that it was understood. My father understood that it was understood. He coughed up.

Wendy was planning a trip south. With a guilty but ingratiating grin she offered to wash the car.

My father doesn’t care if his car is dirty. “It’s a car not a beauty contest.” is his practical, if un-suburban, philosophy.

“Forget it, Wendy,” he said. “Car’s fine as it is.”

Wendy withdrew.

But reappeared at a most unfortunate moment.

“You are probably wondering why I asked to wash the car,” she said.

“No,” my father retorted. He’d been trying to rationalize his photo slide library and had a headache.

“Do you know why I asked…”

“No.”

“I was hoping for a tip.”

“But you’ve just had your Christmas bonus!”

And so it had been going on. The chain of events getting ever more heavy and beginning to jingle and strangle.

Everyone imaginable had been closing in and hitting on Number 11 Wurlitzer St for money.

It was getting out of control.

My mother, in particular, was becoming fed up.

Then the phone rang.

Stephen from Rundu. In tears. His younger sister had died. He desperately needed $1,500 to pay for the funeral. My father said yes, he’d send the money ASAP. My mother came home after funding a wedding, several more trips north, heard the news and observed that my father was a “soft touch”.

“Look at the timing ! He goes north and suddenly his sister dies? Totally unlikely!”

My mother then discovered that Wendy and her boyfriend had just approached my godmother, Akiko, for a loan of $2,000.

Akiko had, not unreasonably, demurred. If there was a Namibian dictionary, the definition of the noun, “loan”, would be “unrepaid”. And in any event, she was about to catch a plane for Brazil. She had, however, offered to lend all the remaining Namibian dollars she possessed. Three or four hundred.

Mother went ballistic.

Stephen phoned again. His sister’s baby daughter had just died, too, in his arms on the way to the hospital, “of shock.”

The big question was, was Stephen on the level? It was an appalling dilemma.

At Christmas, normally honest, reliable, trusted individuals sometimes go off the rails.

To take one derailment example, my father used to have a friend called Paul. Nice, likeable, open faced; then Paul got onto the ghost train, seriously left the tracks, cleared out his parents house – took everything, even the light bulbs – and cleared off. No-one’s seen him since.

Was Stephen being “clever”? (By “clever” Namibians mean “downright lowdown scheming crooked”). Or was he a friend in genuine distress ?

My father thought the latter. My mother was of a different persuasion.

“I can’t very well ask him for photographic evidence !” my father muttered. “He’s my friend ! He was crying on the phone ! Jeez! His sister, his niece…It was heart breaking!”

“Anyone can cry on the phone!”

My mother was still furious about the Wendy/Akiko loan business. If Wendy hadn’t pulled that little number – if my father hadn’t ordered the wood, if half of Windhoek hadn’t sidled up to deplete the coffers of Number 11 Wurlitzer St – I don’t think the row would have happened.

But they had and it did.

Stephen then proved to be clever. He faxed through a death certificate. “Died At Home” was listed as the cause of death. He also faxed through a copy of his own identity card.
He promised to work off the cost of the funeral.

“Anyone can forge a death certificate!” my mother fumed.

“Why would anyone forge a death certificate?”

“To get money out of a stupid white man like you…”

My father tried for the light touch. “That’s hardly fair. I’m sort of pink at the moment. The heat…”

The phone rang again. It was Mr. Shibongo. Oh, dear. Talk about bad timing.

“I’m going north,” he began.

“Enjoy the trip. Byee!” The phone banged down on a no doubt disappointed Mr. Shibongo.

“Let’s just get the hell out of here,” suggested my father.

“Ag,” I said. MY FIRST WORD! Mally would have been proud if he’d been here to hear it. But he wasn’t. My mother had thrown him out after he’d turned up (drunk) hinting that he needed “helping out.”

Neither my parents noticed MY FIRST WORD.

“Get the hell out to where?”

“The Kalahari!”my father suggested wildly.

Two hours later, the packing was over. We were climbing into the car. The phone rang.

“That’ll be the President. Saying he’s going North…”

“Byee!”

We left Windhoek laughing. The row was behind us. So was the phone. So were all the people who were going north and hadn’t got round to finding our phone number or street address. The Kalahari lay ahead. To the east.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: Eningu.

There are several nice things about the Kalahari. There’s the name for one. Kalahari. Has a ring to it! Kalahari! Yes, it just rolls off the tongue (unless your vocabulary consists only of “Ag.”) and with the name comes one vast sun-drenched avalanche of romance; red sand, thunderstorms, San bushmen, black-maned lions roaring at the fat, full desert moon…

Then there’s the airport hotel.

Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport actually has several airport hotels.* They’re not the inhuman variety of generic architectural horrors that cling mollusk like to the concrete shells of LAX or La Guardia and that operate shuttle buses that consistently fail to locate you.

Nor are Namibia’s airport hotels particularly close to the airport.

Another advantage.

You don’t get volume-bombed by incoming 747s. Or feel that you’re next door to 300 square miles of warehouses, kudzu covered plots with rusting chain link fences, flood lights, lost and wandering shuttle buses, and burger joints that serve the sort of withered beef patties slammed between leathery baps that would make a hyena barf.

You are, in short, spared Airport Americana. What you get at a Namibian airport hotel is Airport Namibiana.

We passed the first airport hotel, then after another twenty minutes drive we passed the airport. My father made a brief detour to observe the unusual sculpture that is the symbol of the airport.

It stands proud and tall. It looks like a buckled propeller after a particularly traumatic crash landing. He took a photograph to support a humourous column he is writing. We resumed our journey.

Five kays on down the road that would take us to Botswana if we let it, we resisted the temptation and turned off the tarmac of the Trans-Kalahari Highway and began to bounce around a bit on gravel.

We bounced, bounced a bit more, and as we bounced we saw the landscape turning redder and redder.

The Kalahari.

Eningu Lodge is one of Hosea Kutako’s airport hotels. It’s 65 kilometers away from the airport, true, but that’s how it bills itself. Eningu means porcupine.

ABBOT BUGGLY PORCUPINE FACTOID.

I have it on the good authority of Steve Wright, a DJ for BBC Radio Two, that the average porcupine has, on average, 30,000 quills. And that’s just an average porcupine!

How many quills is an above average porcupine lugging about? That’s what I want to know. Also who is it that spends their time counting porcupine quills?

Food for thought, eh?

Eningu was built by a German named Volker and it took a bit of building. Volker trained as a chef back in Deutschland, married a delightful Namibian named Stephanie, then spent some considerable time making clay bricks.

120,000 clay bricks to be precise.

He put his bricks together. He turned only he knows how many wooden roofing poles. Eh voila! Eningu!

The wonderful thing about clay brick built buildings is that they stay five degrees cooler in summer and five degrees warmer in winter. A great place to lurk during the extremes of either.

The wonderful thing about Volker is that he looks just like someone called Volker who is also a chef.

There’s a lovely “Screw you! I’m not here for small talk! I’m here to cook your dinner and it’ll be one of the best you’ll have in Namibia! Because I’M the chef!” atmosphere about Volker.

Stephanie by contrast is warmth, discretion, and hospitality itself.

She took to me immediately. And my mother and I to her.

My father took to Volker.

Whether Volker took to my father, who can say?

Volker offered to show him how a solar powered oven worked. Neither turned up to the appointment. Both might have had hangovers.

….

The Kalahari is often referred to as a desert. It isn’t. It is a vast mantle of red sand that extends over nine countries. It is covered in surprisingly green and often peculiar vegetation

It is very alive.

During our visit it was very alive with THE MOTHS ! Yup, them again, the same bunch who were so busy at Number 11 Wurlitzer were equally busy here at Eningu.

But so were a lot of other things. There were pale chanting goshawks dive bombing mongooses (the plural of mongoose is not mongeese, but I feel it should be), springbok, haughty oryx, hartebeest, bat eared foxes and there was a lynx – all long legs, glowing eyes and tufted ears – caught briefly in our car’s headlights.

By day bee eaters flashed and darted between the bushes.

By night bats made subtle passes through the shadows and scorpions trundled between the buildings.

I had my first Jacuzzi to the background flare of heat lightning and the distant yip of moon-struck jackals.

Christmas dinner consisted of roast zebra (or in my case, pureed butternut) by candle light. A brass band turned up from a local village called Dordabis. I say local, but actually Dordabis is nearly an hour’s drive away. Still, it’s the closest village there is.

All the members of the band were in the same family. Their instruments gleamed. Their eyes shone. They played up a storm. Carols.

While they played, I played, too. With a pangolin shell in the lodge’s cozy library.

Now that’s my idea of an airport hotel !

The Diary of Abbot Buggly: Chapter 24 (The Creeps that Stole Christmas) and Chapter 25 (Midgard)

December 28, 2010

Hugh Paxton’s Blog continues its serialisation of Hugh Paxton’s book The Diary of Abbot Buggly; an account of the first year of his daughter’s life in Namibia.

As Ripley remarked – strange but true.

Hey ho! Let’s go!

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: The Creeps That Stole Christmas.

Alaine has just come round with a wooden sliding door and bad news.

 My parents first met Alaine on the fog-shrouded streets of Luderitz back in 2001.

 Strange town, Luderitz.

 It’s deep south, on the coast, and most of the buildings could double as sets for a Scooby Doo adventure. Some of the strongest winds in Africa lash Luderitz’s haunted house mansions and when the winds are still the sea fog slinks in.

 Nearby, all but swallowed in the sand, is the ghost town of Kolmanskop. This was once a boom town built on diamonds; it had a hospital and the hospital had its own wine cellars; the chief doctor believed wine to be medicinal and frequently prescribed it with the result that it was a very merry hospital. It was also the owner of the first x-ray machine in the southern hemisphere. The good times rolled; there was dancing, there was a skittle alley, the ladies sported the latest Paris fashions…

 Then the supply of diamonds stopped. And so did Kolmanskop. The entire population cleared off for pastures new and the desert resumed control. One story, perhaps apocryphal, has it that not only did some residents abandon their furniture, but also forgot to turn their lights out.  

Strangely, brown hyenas still check out the butchery –closed this many a year – driven by some queer ancestral memory. They pad in thinking who knows what hyena-ish thoughts, snuffle fruitlessly through the sand, then pad off and away, leaving the lonely butchery to its ghosts until next time.

Luderitz had the sea, fishing, a port, and it also had diamonds, not to mention beaches of agates. It survived its doomed neighbour. But there’s still an eerie sort of something in the air.

Elaine, his wife, Suzi, and son, Danny, were part of a madcap convoy (that included my parents) preparing to depart on a three day dune drive to an abandoned diamond camp.  Kickoff point was Luderitz which was why the deathly calm was disrupted that chill, foggy morning by the sounds of four wheel drive vehicles revving, voices bawling, dropped tools clattering and excited children shouting. 

The trip was exhilarating, hazardous, by turns terrifying and awe-inspiring (for a more detailed account check out http://www.japantimes.co.jp and enter Paxton in search. Quite a few of my parents’ travel columns are posted there). The upshot was that Alaine, Suzi, Danny and my parents became firm friends.

Alaine, like I say, turned up with wooden sliding doors and bad news.

 The doors were ours; part of all this ongoing home improvements nonsense that continues to disturb my peace with the whine of drills and thud of hammers.

 The bad news was Alaine’s.

 Last night he’d hosted an office party for his staff. While all involved were sleeping it off, a bunch of botsostos crowbarred the front gate open, tiptoed past the sleepers and helped themselves to 55,000 dollars worth of computer hard drives, clothing, bank notes and assorted valuables.

 Alaine looked understandably incensed.

 It’s been nine years since he was last burgled and the thought that unknown men, possibly armed, had violated his home, office and privacy, well, it’s not a comfortable thought to think. 

 If Suzi, Danny and Anoushka had been present perhaps the alarm might have been raised; Anoushka, like myself, tends to wake several times a night at the moment. And when she wakes, so does Suzi.

 But Suzi, Danny and Anoushka are down in Cape Town visiting relatives.

In a way that might have been a good thing. If the thieves had been discovered there could have been violence. Alaine has a pistol, the thieves might have had AK 47s or equally lethal, coca cola bottles or oryx horn lances. 

 I’ve spent many peaceful afternoons there and I don’t like the idea of the house and garden, with its pet chickens, and my favorite rabbit, and Anoushka’s bedroom with the mobiles and brightly colored pictures, being full of gun smoke and fist fights and people trying to kill each other.  

I’m a small person. Live and let live, say I.

On hearing the news of the burglary, Wendy sighed and said again that it was better in the old days.

This struck me again as odd. By the ‘old days’ she means the Apartheid era of South African occupation.

Not an international success story.  

“For Heavens sake, Wendy !” a liberal sort of person might say, “Black people like you were segregated because of the colour of their skin ! Where’s the justice in that ?”

To which the answer must surely come, “ There isn’t any.”

Maybe the old days were when Wendy was young.

With most adult people I’ve noticed them talking about how the old days were better even if the old days were lousy.

Perhaps the Cockneys have it right when they talk about the “good old/bad old days.”

There’s wisdom in a London Cockney.

Or so my father says.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: Midgard.

 This morning my mother left for a place called Midgard. 

 There’s a conference there between officials from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and the UNDP’s Environment Unit.

 They’re planning the creation of a vast national park that will stretch down from the mountains in Angola, hook east to take in the upper Zambezi and Victoria falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe, head west again, incorporating Etosha, the Kaokoveld and Damaraland and then surge south down the entirety of the Namibian coast, cross the Orange River and envelope South Africa’s Richtersveld.

One heck of a proposition in my small opinion.

Not a national park. An international park! A super park that will restore the ancient wildlife migration routes, tear down the fences and make Namibia one of the wonders of the world.

That’s my mother for you. She thinks BIG! So does the Private Secretary, and the UNDP Environment Unit.

Even the President’s on board and raring to go. In his way.

They’re also planning to refurbish and improve the existing national parks, making them the jewel in the crown of African conservation.

Not bad, eh?

….

At a little after noon she phoned to inform my father that one of the UN vehicles had rolled over (twice) on the Midgard road. The Land Cruiser was a write-off. It hadn’t cruised over the land, it had crashed into it, and the only person now cruising anywhere was being cruised off to hospital with a bunch of broken ribs. 

The sad aspect to the incident was that the vehicle had only just been bought. A mere 69 kays on the clock.

And then this clown, Gabriel, goes and tries to overtake at high speed. On a gravel road. On an S-bend.

Dear, dear, dear! The UN!

There followed a lengthy lecture from my mother to my father on driving safely, not flooring the accelerator, watching the verges for leaping antelope and for two cheetah that were cleaning up a kudu kill on the road, making sure I was safely strapped in, had a towel to screen me from the sun. Blah blah.

As this went on and my father said, “Yes, of course I will. No of course I won’t. Yes, I know. No, I’ve told you I won’t. I’ve said that three times! Blah blah and de dah de dah,” it dawned on me that I, too, would be going to Midgard.

Today I am six months old. Today, it seems, that I will be also witnessing history in the making at this Midgard place.

And, reassuring thought, my father will be driving me there.

Not Gabriel.

My father had strict instructions to depart at 3.30 but was preoccupied with purchasing essential supplies (beer and a sack of Nam Ice attractively labelled “Nam Ice is Damn Nice” for the cooler box) and we didn’t actually hit the road until 3.31.

Slack.

But despite the late start, I’d have to say it was an interesting trip. The road to Midgard begins just beyond Kapps Farm which lies beside the road to Hosea Kutako International Airport.

We reached the police checkpoint and stopped by the little white line drawn across the road. Every road in and out of Windhoek has a police checkpoint. It is advisable to keep your eyes firmly fixed on the little white line.

Vile criminals who stop ten centimeters beyond the white line are accused of ignoring road signs. And justly so! The fine is a mere bagatelle. The paperwork involved is tediously and studiedly designed to waste hours of the criminal’s time.

Give Namibia’s police force its due, though. The boys and girls in blue (or desert fighter camouflage complete with hip slung AK 47s) don’t extract bribes, hint they’d like a little contribution for their pension fund, or otherwise shake down motorists.

If you want that sort of constabulary you have to go to Angola. If you’d like to be shot as well, try the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The DRC bit stands for Down Right Crazy.

The only time my parents have been subjected to extortion by the police in fact was when a member of the Special Field Forces spotted a bag of jelly babies on the dash board. He didn’t actually say anything but his eyes assumed the desperate yearning look of a cocker spaniel beside a Christmas dinner table.

My father gave in. It was simply impossible to resist the expression of mute but desperate desire on the face of this battle hardened ex-bush fighter. 

ABBOT BUGGLY TRAVEL ADVISORY.

If you value your jelly babies, keep them in the glove box. And if you ever do rashly offer an African a bag of sweets don’t expect him or her to take one and pass the bag back. He’ll or she’ll grab a massive handful. You might then get your bag back. But don’t count on it.

We stopped on the legally correct side of the little white line and waited. We waited a bit more. We wondered if we were being waved through by the two coppers who were slumped by the semi-permanent shelter. Was it a wave? Or were they just stifling yawns or wafting away flies? Were they even awake ?

If my father actually possessed a cell phone, and if that cell-phone possessed a thermometer it would have read close to 40 degrees. The two rozzers looked totally zonked.

“Those guys aren’t about to arrest anyone,” my father remarked, taking off in a cloud of dust.

The little white line receded behind us and was lost to sight.

The Midgard road was mildly crummy. Gravel, washboard, occasional patches of sand and we made slow progress. My father kept to a steady 40 kph but even so we slithered about a bit. The guy, Gabriel, had apparently been doing over 100 kph when he went airborne. 

We didn’t pass another vehicle but that’s not unusual in Namibia. We did, however,  pass baboons. Lots of baboons. The fearless sort of baboons that saunter across the road and then stop and look at you with the sort of “Yeah? You got a problem, buddy?” expression that starts fights in bars frequented by the US military.

We also passed oryx and kudu. The oryx looked serene. The kudus were pure elegance. They don’t run, they sort of float away in slow motion bounds. Clearing a four meter fence is nothing to a kudu. It simply flows over the thing.

Eland can do the same thing though its hard to imagine how. They’re immense, bulky, wattled, cow-like creatures – the largest antelope in the world.

Disappointingly we didn’t see the two cheetahs. They must have dragged their kill into the bush.

…..

Midgard is, in a word, bizarre. The complex was built by the richest man in pre-Independence Namibia and boasts, among other things, a pagoda, a church, an amphitheatre and a fire engine museum. The whole place, which is absolutely immense, appears to have been designed by at least 100 different architects each working independently. 

Schizophrenic city, that’s Midgard.

It was all but deserted when we finally rolled in. Yes, there was a flock of geese waddling past Reception, and, yes, far away across an equestrian race track there was a teenage boy fishing around in a swimming pool with a rake, but that appeared to be about it.

It creeped me out. It even perturbed my father.

“Where the blazes is everybody?” he muttered uneasily. “Where’s the receptionist? Where’s the conference hall? Why would anyone build a fire engine museum deep in the Namibian bush?”

I had no idea.

The geese honked. The honks echoed through a courtyard that was flanked by quiet buildings that looked as if they’d been airlifted in from at least eight countries; Germany, Italy, Gabon…

A poster announced that there would be a Mexican buffet and dance on New Years Eve. There was a plaque explaining that Midgard had been opened by none other than our esteemed president, Dr Sam Nujoma. I wondered if perhaps he’d then changed his mind, come back and closed it.

Bees droned around the flower beds; roses, cacti, a sign that read “Grow, damn you, grow!” a few tribal fetishes, a half hearted sprinkler and some sort of Nordic goblin.

The sun beat down. Heat. Stillness. I sat in my push chair swaddled like a Bedou. My father pushed me here and there looking for human life. The geese left.

And then, wow! A receptionist arrived!

She blinked as if surprised to see us. She rootled for keys. They were attached to a withered seed pod, very well varnished. Apropos of nothing she said that the Italians had left (which Italians? I wondered) and that she loved Italian ice cream.

My father remarked that he’d forgotten to pack any. She laughed. It was a surprisingly vital and encouraging sound. When she’d finished laughing the soporific silence of Midgard took over again.

We drove off with our key pod to find our room. 

Like lots of bits of Midgard it was a long, long way away.

…..

The conference was held in a hall that could have accommodated the best part of a Nuremburg rally. The number of conferees might have partly filled a modest garden shed.

The conference went well.

Like all conferences it had its unusual moments. One delegate suggested that Etosha national park could help pay its way by selling 30 of its black rhinos.

This approach to conservation is called “Wise Use”. The idea is to make wildlife profitable either by charging rich people lots of money to shoot it, shooting it yourself and then selling the valuable bits, or simply selling it “on the hoof” so to speak.. The philosophy is invariably tempting and usually, as in the case of this rhino suggestion,  controversial. 

People pay large amounts of money to go to Etosha to SEE black rhinos. Etosha is one of the world’s best places to see black rhinos.

Selling them to pay for the park’s upkeep could be seen as being on a par with selling the roof of your house to pay for repair work to the drains.  

Like my father, I was invited to dinner to meet the delegates. It was a braai, the southern African word for a BBQ. Before we left to join the festivities, my father received another lengthy lecture from my mother.

Executive Summary: “Be Good.”

Ie don’t GET political, BE political. That’s to say; don’t say anything offensive, no rampant opinion airing, for Heaven’s Sake stay away from the subject of “wise use” and no bad language or sudden fist fights, even if the man on the other side of the table is in dire need of a sound smacking.

The lecture struck me as sensible but in a way I feel that my mother misses the old days. 

She has to be polite almost all of the time now.

It’s what you do if you are in the UN.

After one dinner party she remarked that “Ten years ago we wouldn’t have listened to that for ten minutes.”

She eyed my father with a mixture of relief and disappointment when they left that particular shindig. He’d been good. She’d been good. But she seemed afraid that the pair of them were getting old.

 They are. That’s what we do. My father has pretty much joined the ‘Mr. Pleasant’ crowd at official events. But there have been incidents.

 “Be good!”

 “Of course I’ll be bloody good !!! I’ve told you that three times! Where’s the restaurant?”

 “A long long way over there.”

 We set off on foot and in pushchair. The MIDGARD logo on the hill was glowing like the HOLLYWOOD sign. As was a cross on top of the hill.

 My mother, rather rashly told my father about the rhino sales proposal. 

 “Those Wise Users!”

 (Derisive snort).

 “They just killed that friendly elephant, the silly bastards…”

 “Be good!!”

 ……

 The Midgard post conference braai witnessed my father being fairly good.  

 The subject of trophy hunting came up immediately. 

 It arrived courtesy of my father who, for no reason I could discern, described a website that his friend was designing for a hunting farm. The farm’s owners had put together several package deals.

 For a certain fee the gallant hunter was guaranteed a bag of 1 hartebeest, 2 kudu, and a warthog. If the hunter had deeper pockets the deal was expanded to include all the aforementioned plus a wildebeest.

 Then there was The Special. All the above plus an eland. And get this! Two dassies thrown in free of charge!

 Dassies are rock rabbits. Well, not exactly. If we’re speaking strict taxonomics they’re the closest living relatives to elephants and dugongs. But they look rabbitty. Or guinea piggy.

 They’re hardly big game. No great white hunter in history has been gored to death by a charging dassie. No mud hut village terrorized by the deadly night stalking dassie (dassies spend about 23 hours in a day in their holes half asleep).

 “What kind of turkey would want to boast that he’d flown all the way to Africa, shot his way through a laid on shopping list of inoffensive herbivores and got two rabbits on the house? Free of charge!”

 My father snorted laughter.

 “A German!” bellowed a Belgian lady delightedly. “They’ve got to be Germans!”

 A gentleman of German descent stiffened.

 Someone pointed out that one dassie consumes seven times more forage than a sheep and that charging people to shoot them was a great idea.

 “But dassies live in rocks! They’re not in competition with sheep! And Black Eagles rely on dassies for food.”

 That was someone else. Various other people began speaking simultaneously. Midgard was becoming animated.

 “Hunting is one of the mainstays of conservation in this country!”

 Whoever said that was not lying. Hunting is important to Namibia. And a lot of previously over-grazed areas of veldt have been relieved of their cows and returned to their original natural grazing population. In the interests of hunting.   

 The Belgian lady then raised the topic of the radio collared “friendly elephant” that had just been shot in Damaraland by a hunter, thereby destroying years of scientific research and pissing off all the non-lethal safari lodges in the area who relied on guaranteed elephant sightings for their living. The shooting also irked a lot of tourists who’d paid a lot of money to enjoy the spectacle of a wild elephant that was not in danger of being shot ten minutes after they’d seen it. Or, worse, before they’d seen it. [1]

 “It’s too tempting.” My mother had arrived in the conversation. “A local community can earn $30,000 just by letting one hunter arrive and shoot one elephant. They don’t even have to do anything. If you compare that to the logistical hassle of maintaining a community run camp site that charges a tourist twenty dollars to pitch his tent it’s much easier…”

 “And $30,000 can build schools, clinics…” said somebody.

 “And $30,000 buys a lot of beer.”

 Oh dear, it was my father again.

 Someone ignored him and said that often community-earned money from sustainable resource utilization was pumped back into conservation and community development

 “Community Involvement” has become something of a Mantra in international donor circles. The idea is that it works for the mutual benefit of community and conservation.

 My father suggested that it sometimes didn’t. 

 “I turned up at the Twyfelfontein community conservancy and there were maybe thirty people lying around in the shade fast asleep. Looked like slaughtered seals. One bloke managed to make his way over and the first thing he did was ask for money. He told me he was ‘struggling’. I told him the only thing he was struggling to do was struggling to stand up.”

 Some people laughed. Others, and this next point is significant, the Others included my mother, didn’t. 

 My father resumed his website anecdote. Perhaps he was under the impression that a little more humour might pour oil on waters that were looking increasingly troubled. 

 Yes, perhaps he was. Or maybe he was on the point of becoming ‘bad’.  

 “Anyway, the funny thing about the website – apart from its content – is that if you move the cursor to a hidden spot the hunter’s head inflates like a balloon and the slain hartebeest at his feet shrinks to dassie proportions. The idiot’s still posing like Hemmingway but looks like some encephalitic action man with rickets who’s just shot the neighbour’s pet. It’s a scream!” 

 My father then yelped. 

 Courtesy of a perfectly aimed and directed hoof to the testicles delivered under the table by my mother.   

 The talk shifted away from trophy hunting and Wise Use.

 It shifted, in fact to me.

 I was jolly, I burbled, I gnashed my toothless gums, I was charming. Most importantly I was a neutral focus for meaningless comments. I prevented the braai from degenerating into a heated argument then a disaster.

 Just six months old today and I’ve salvaged an internationally important conference.

 By being good. Or so I congratulate myself.

 …..

 We left Midgard the next day.

 I was rather irked by the fact that I didn’t get to see the fire engine museum.

The Diary of Abbot Buggly: Chapters nineteen (News Shorts) and twenty (Christmas Is Coming)

November 29, 2010

The Diary of Abbot Buggly CoverHugh Paxton’s Blog continues the serialisation of The Diary of Abbot Buggly, an account of the first year of a young girl’s life in Namibia.

CHAPTER NINETEEN: News Shorts.

Namibia’s female soccer team, The Gladiators, is unlikely to astonish the world by sweeping the field clean come the Beijing Olympics.

But The Gladiators have just astonished Namibia.

On the evening prior to an Olympics qualifying match with South Africa’s women’s squad, Banyana Banyana, some of the girls stayed up late into the night watching pornographic movies on their hotel’s pay per view TVs.

Not just a couple of pornographic movies; six pornographic movies !

The next day, exhausted by this marathon, they lost 13-0.

The coach, Lucky by name, distinctly unlucky by nature, was given the boot.

In a return match with Banyana Banyana here in Namibia, The Gladiators compounded their disgrace by losing 13-1.

The sad irony of the affair is that if The Gladiators hadn’t vocally refused to pay their pay to view bill (N$800) the hotel wouldn’t have then publicly printed out the list of movies watched as evidence.

They’d still have lost 13-0. But that would merely have earned them a slot on the back page of The Namibian newspaper.

Instead they made front page and those of them who keep scrap books can paste in the banner headlines, “Gladiators prepared for key match by watching porno.”

Wendy, who was half watching two crazed Lesbians from “Somewhere Shameless, Tenessee” trying to kill each other’s cheating lovers on Gerry Springer (Wendy is a fan of Gerry Springer) huffed with disgust as she read of The Gladiators fall from Grace.

But otherwise there was no comment. The grappling lesbians now had her full attention.

If America wants to make a fool of itself, that’s entertainment. If Namibians do the same, it’s a private disgrace and shameful.

In other news, the Skeleton Coast has just acquired some more skeletons. The Skeleton Coast is one of the most striking, desolate, human-life threatening landscapes on the planet.

If you are a tourist, with your act together, this is its attraction. You drive in your air conditioned cocoon with your cooler box stuffed with ice and water and soft drinks or perhaps a bottle of crisp white South African wine and a Tupperware container filled with sandwiches or cold roast chicken, slices of ham, jellied beef tongue, perhaps a honeydew melon, and you cruise north of Swakopmund in your car.

You don’t even need a four wheel drive. This loneliest of roads is smooth, driving off it is prohibited (though you can stop and walk at any time, just don’t get lost) and as you drive, on every side there is a fantastic abundance of nothing.

Nature shaved bare. Raw. Ruthless. Gravel plains where nothing grows but lichens, moonscapes, towering Barchan dunes, all swept by the merciless eye of the sun by day and chilling sea fog by dawn, dusk, mid afternoon, and night.

There are plenty of skeletons on the Skeleton Coast; rusting hulks of shipwrecked merchant men, surrounded by raucous, stinking herds of bellowing Cape fur seals; the lonely and corroded debris of exhausted diamond mines; the forlorn graves of dead aborginals unearthed by the wind to reveal stick thin ribs; whale bones, bleak and huge; yes, the place is aptly named.

It is also used as a dumping ground for stowaways by budget-conscious captains of tramp freighters plying the wild west African shipping lanes.

Stowaways are a ship owner’s nightmare. International law stipulates that if stowaways are discovered, the ship must be impounded until the owners have organized and paid for the repatriation of the illegals. If the stowaways then claim refugee status things can become protracted.

Time is money. Particularly for cargo ships.

So, find a stowaway ? Skip the paperwork. Chuck him over the side. The odds of him (or her) making it through the gauntlet of the Skeleton Coast are slim to none. Chinese skippers seem particularly keen on heaving their uninvited passengers over the side.

Today nine west Africans from Gabon beat the odds. Two rafts made of oil drums were spotted by a roving Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources team on a fish tagging expedition with the Oranjemund Angling Club. Clinging limply to the drums were five girls and four men. All very salty, very scared.

Four other stowaways did not make it.

“There is little hope of finding them alive,” was the verdict of The Windhoek Observer’s editor, Smithie.

“There is little hope of finding them. Period,” was my father’s verdict.

If they’ve drowned, what’s left of them after the bronze whaler sharks (bronzies) have had their share will wash up to bleach then smother beneath sand blown by the ever restless wind.

If they make it to land, well, there are jackals and brown hyenas (and occasionally lions) that cruise the shore subsisting on seals and whale carcasses; there’s no water, no hope.

No hope at all.

……

To end on a brighter note – I’ve noticed news broadcasts like doing that – environmental officials have successfully rescued 45 hippos that had become bogged down in gluey mud after their river evaporated in the far north. One more hippo had to be shot after it charged its rescuers and one crocodile was also plugged after it, too, decided to bite the hands that were helping it.

Many other carcasses were found in the area and 27 elephant tusks were also retrieved. The eles had died after becoming mired two years earlier when the Kwando river level dropped.

Namibia only has four permanent rivers and even these aren’t terribly reliable.

But I’m glad they got the hippos out. Yes, I know hippos kill more people in Africa than any other mammal (human beings excepted), yes, I know they are bad tempered, fart a lot and probably wouldn’t romp home with first prize at a beauty contest. But they’ve got the most delightful laugh – a fat hurrr, hurrr, hurr – that rolls jovially across the water, the merry rumble of the River God. And there’s something about the way they wag their ears.

Yes, I’m glad they got the hippos out.

CHAPTER TWENTY:  Christmas Is Coming.

Nearly the end of November and I’ve just sent off my Christmas cards. It will be interesting to see whether they arrive.

The postal service here likes to keep its customers in suspense. That’s the fun of the thing. Most of the time the mail gets through and then suddenly it doesn’t, or it gets routed through North Korea and turns up eight month’s later with lots of weird postmarks…

To take today’s example, my mother’s newly arrived Japanese colleague has just taken possession of eleven boxes that she posted sea mail from London.

And that’s about all she took possession of.

Eleven boxes.

Somewhere between “The Smoke”(London) and “The Heat”(Windhoek) someone decided to unpack them for her.

All her books, a large consignment of clothes she’d earmarked as a donation to the needy of starving Namibia and Zimbabwe, her food stuffs – favorite nibbles, little luxuries – cassette tapes, the lot. Indeed practically the only items not liberated by the box raider were a handful of Japanese language books and a packet of glutinous flour used to make octopus tentacle dough balls.

The strange thing about the incident was that the box raider chose to reseal the boxes and send them on their way.

Perhaps he or she (or both of them) had enough boxes of their own.

ABBOT BUGGLY INTERPOL ADVISORY.

Keep your steely eyes peeled for someone who handles boxes anywhere between London and Windhoek, can’t read Japanese and doesn’t like octopus tentacle dough balls.

Then bust him or her (or both) but good.

….

We are also preparing various other festivities to mark the Yuletide. My father has asked Mr. Shibongo, his wife and daughter to help him roast a goat and stop my father burning it on the outside while keeping it raw within. That’s my father’s normal operating procedure.

I believe that roast turkey or goose is more British, that hams come out in the USA, the Norwegians favor semi-fermented trout and boiled sheep’s heads, and my father informs me that they do something clever with snails in France. Here, though, we’re going with goat.

We may be the only people eating it. Everyone we know, and everyone they know, seems to be clearing off.

It’s always the way, apparently. When December arrives, Windhoek departs. It’s like Sundays only more so. Everybody goes to the coastal resort town of Swakopmund (where it’s slightly cooler) or to farms or back north to the villages (where it’s significantly hotter).

Business and government offices all but shut down. Nothing much gets done.

For about six weeks.

Or in the case of the Parliament, longer. Already insufficient politicians are attending to make parliamentary business legally binding.

The busiest people in Windhoek at this time of peace and goodwill to all humankind are the private security companies. Them and the botsotsos (burglars, bad guys, habitual criminals) who turn up to loot the deserted houses.

My father spent the first four months of our stay here hoping that the botsotsos would leave Number 11 Wurlitzer Street well alone. He’s now hoping they won’t.

The reason he hopes someone will try to storm our house with rape, murder and pillage in mind is that he’s just had a chap called Van Zyl install a 7 line electric fence along the front wall. Unlike the clowns who put in the security gate (which took over two weeks to install and still doesn’t work properly – it opens of its own accord from time to time) Mijnheer Van Zyl got the fence up and clicking in two days.

The deal is that if anybody touches it, it triggers a silent alarm. Several hundred yards away from where we live is Windhoek Marsh. Unless it has rained it’s not much of a marsh, more a wild tangle of tall, dry reeds and dessicated trees shot through with shallow gulleys and baked, cracked mud decorated with half shredded plastic bags .

Lurking within Windhoek Marsh are a couple of cars painted with designs designed to intimidate and crewed by bored hard-cases cradling pump action shotguns. Should any botsotsos brush against the electric fence two things will immediately occur.

An alarm will sound, the cars will be alerted, the guys will exchange evilly delighted grins, then gun the engines and come roaring out to gun the botsotsos.

Simultaneously the electric fence will deliver a non-lethal zap guaranteed to discourage the casual enquirer or, more accurately, bring a Frankenstein monster to life; a sort of AC numbing thud that will knock the recipient flying, and send him staggering off dazed (and my father hopes with his arse on fire) into the welcoming gun sights of our lads in blue.

Strangely, ‘tis I, a small person who would not hurt a fly and who has never entertained a single malicious thought in my head, who is the inspiration for this potentially lethal set up.

Child rape, including the rape of very small babies, is an unpleasant but remotely possible event.

Namibia, I must stress, is one of the safest countries in Africa.

But there is one school of thought, perpetuated by certain traditional “healers” or, let’s cut to the chase and dispense with political correctness, witchdoctors, that maintains sex with a virgin will cure HIV-AIDS.

And you can’t get more virginal than a five month old baby.

Baby rape happens. Not just in Namibia but throughout southern Africa.

But its not going to happen here at number 11, Wurlitzer Street.

My father is waiting (with an expectant look in his eyes) to see if his electric fence works on the botsotsos as well as it did on him when he touched it to see if it was working.

It worked then.

No reason to suppose it won’t work again.

Just as dramatically.

I feel that I can sleep safely. But I fear for Santa Claus if he can’t find chimney access when he’s coming over from Finland to fill my rather small sock.

“’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,

Nothing was stirring, not even a mouse.

They were all out on the street, exchanging gunfire, screaming, and Rudolph’s nose was really red because it was on fire.”

A Christmas poem by A.Buggly.

The Diary of Abbot Buggly: Chapters seventeen and eighteen

November 19, 2010

Hugh Paxton’s Blog continues its serialisation of my book detailing the first year of a young girl’s life in Namibia. As usual strange. But true.

The Diary of Abbot Buggly CoverCHAPTER SEVENTEEN:  Just Another Day.

Tuesday morning, and yes, just as I predicted we now have TWO painters. Mally turned up looking as fresh as a man who’s spent the weekend in the company of nourishing vegetables and who has successfully resisted the seductive winks and twinkles and forget-me-nots of Madame Turpentine.

He was waving a copy of The Namibian newspaper. One of his friends, an ex member of the now defunct Koevoet field police had just been sentenced to two life sentences and his grinning picture with his defiant raised fist salute (along with the prison bars) had been captured for posterity by The Nambian’s photographer.

Mally was amiably furious that the man had been photographed giving a communist fist in the air salute. “Why give a foking SWAPO salute ? Ag! Fok!”(fiendish cackles).

My father suggested that if he’d given a Nazi salute it might have hurt his chances of being released early on good behaviour.

Mally then started blathering on about how this character – once his sergeant –  had gunned down his own wife and her boyfriend with an AK-47 he’d liberated from a police station.

According to Mally he’d “been confused.” A lot of people, Mally, explained had become “confused” after being in the war.

Stephen turned up to start painting. Presto! My father couldn’t very well send one of them away.

Two part-time gardeners. Two part-time painters. Wendy. Two guys discovering that they’d brought the wrong size mosquito screens for Flat B. Again.(My father sent them away without compunction after informing them that they were idiots). One guy suffering from a highly infectious strain of influenza fooling around with the security gate. Udo, back to check one of the boilers that is leaking. And my father who had been planning to spend the morning in bed with me, mulling over the plot development of yet another novel that he won’t be able to sell.

The safari tour guides, those robust, sun-burned, khaki-clad characters who wake to hear the Dawn Chorus of dazzling birds, wake to smell the fragrant wisps of smoke rising from the smouldering leadwood campfire of the previous night, wake to see another glorious African sun rise to warm the grey majestic backs of the elephant herds, have this saying, “Another shitty day in Paradise.”

Then they have a cup of coffee and cheer up.

Or they become “confused” and dwell on how much fun it would be to take that couple of five star jerks from San Francisco that they’re escorting (for a meager per diem of $70 Namibian, $10 bucks American) and who keep complaining about the coffee and the slightly limp lettuce, down to the water hole, slather them in rotting offal, and then peg them out for the hyenas.

…..

My father was on the point of becoming “confused” – there really were a lot of people about – and to forestall it he did a quick run to Porkys Meat Market to buy several yards of slithery boerwurst sausage to sustain the malnourished multitude currently swarming in Number 11 Wurlitzer Street.

And to pick up a slightly more elegant phrase than, “Another shitty day in Paradise.”

The owner of Porkys, Andreas, has a fine supply of optimism combined with just that necessary hint of pessimism, realism and fatalism that makes for useful humour.

Porkys butchery, incidentally, is located just over the street from Windhoek’s blue mosque.

When the faithful (who are mainly Embassy staff ) answer the call to prayer they have to run the gauntlet of a large smirking pig.

“They told me to smile. They told me that things could get worse. I did. And then they did.”

With that thought for the day supplied by Porkys my father left for his home with sausage and a smile.

I was delightful this morning. I rolled, I gurgled, I blew raspberries (the technical term is “razzing”), I smiled, I laughed now and then.

I’m five months old today and I’m becoming a 9-5 girl. Off to sleep at nine, up for the day’s first feeding at five. Those early days of hollering every two hours are a thing of the remote past.

My mother has just phoned to report that she has just suffered an attack of gas. My father suggested pepto bismol and my mother asked if that worked for tear gas. Apparently a neurotic young American intern with a Morphine habit had brought a canister to the UNDP office and a co-worker had pressed the release lever to see what happened.

The office was evacuated. That’s what happened.

Funny things go on in that office of hers.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN:  Diamonds.

Akiko (our Flat A tenant and my godmother) has a new Owambo boyfriend named Paulo.

For some reason whenever I see him I start screaming. He tries to be friendly but I scream. Oddly no other individual I know has that effect on me. I’ve met Basters who’d give Freddy Kruger nightmares but all I do is smile at them. I’ve been barked at by enraged baboons. No problem. I’ve even seen some of my father’s drinking buddies  – not a sight for the faint-hearted – but all they do is make me chortle. Paulo turns up, wearing a suit, Mr. Respectable, smiling tenderly, and I just let rip!

“Waaaaaaaahhhh!”

It embarrasses my parents but he seems to take it in his stride.

“She just hates me,” he explains.

Paulo is some sort of director at Namdeb, the parastatal that controls Namibia’s diamond mines and the domestic diamond industy. Namibia has a LOT of diamonds.

At one time they were so plentiful that they could be collected by moonlight – lines of poorly paid serfs would shuffle forwards on their hands and knees out in the desert looking for their pale reflective glow.

Its not that easy now. You need to dig for them, or dredge off shore at the river mouths, particularly the Orange river mouth. But there are still a lot of them about.

ABBOT BUGGLY ADVISORY TO WOULD-BE DIAMOND SMUGGLERS.

If you are a diamond dealer and receive an invitation to Namibia to view a diamond that has fallen off the back of a lorry, so to speak, the invitation has in all probability been sent to you by a policeman.

The same rule applies if some chap surreptitiously saunters up to you outside the Hidas Shopping Centre or the Maerua Mall.

Fish are caught by shiny lures and so are diamond smugglers. It’s an expensive business, being hooked, what with the crippling fines and legal costs and whatnot. But it keeps the State coffers stocked.

Inserting diamonds into orifices of one sort or another (but usually the first sort that springs to mind) is also inadvisable. The concept is neither new nor imaginative.

A cleaner at Namdeb made unfortunate headlines by leaving NamDeb’s premises through an X-ray machine weighing a few more carats than he had when he’d entered the building.

His name was – and this is probably why the arrest made the headlines – variously reported as Mr. Sodem or Mr. Sodom.

A lot of people DO smuggle diamonds. The illegal trade comprises anything up to 15% of annual global turnover. But they’re usually Lebanese, Angolans or have their own private armies.

And the black market keeps a lot of potentially rich countries perpetually poor as drug crazed warlords rampage and fight and lay waste the land (see my father’s hideous novel, Homunculus, for grisly details).

No, take my advice, go with the nappy ploy (see Chapter Two).

Or leave Namibia, sun-bronzed, happy and about as rich as when you came. Diamonds may be forever (they’re at least 4 billion years old) but a ten stretch is no tick of the clock.

While we’re on the subject of receiving uninvited offers you cannot refuse from Africans you’ve never met and never heard of, take the Abbot Buggly stance. Just say no.

My father and mother regularly receive emails from Nigeria, or Senegal and most recently from Cameroon and Cote D’Ivoire.

The emails come from government officials disgusted with the state of corruption in their respective countries, or from earnest NGO workers appalled by the mismanagement of state funds, or from bankers who want to mobilize public money  (that would otherwise be wasted by self-serving politicos) for the benefit of the poor.

Occasionally the mails come from a lawyer who has just discovered that a very distant relative of my parents has died leaving 500,000 acres of oil-rich land to them to apologize for not having kept in touch.

In every case there is a request for funds to be transferred to an account, or a request for the fortunate recipients of the email to provide their own bank account details. So that funds can be transferred to their own account, you understand.

You see, in every case there is the offer of making my lucky parents rich for facilitating the financial procedures.

My father has just been offered ten percent of five million greenbacks if he could only help a human rights activist release the said sum from a Nigerian account held by a dead member of the former military dictatorship. The money would help in promoting democracy.

“Yeah,” my father said, “right.”

Strangely a large number of people actually get suckered in. To quote a recent Nampa-Reuters report, “The so-called 419 scam, named after an article in Nigeria’s penal code outlawing it, has been so successful in the past 20 years that campaigners say it is now the third largest foreign exchange earner in Africa’s most populous nation.”

The third largest!

One wretched German was informed by a “government minister” in Lagos that that old staple, a distant relative, had died leaving an estate worth well over ten million pounds. In order to transfer the property to the German, funds were needed to smooth the procedure.

This is not Europe, the German was regretfully informed, this is Africa and sadly riddled with people whose palms need greasing before things get done.

The amount of grease needed in this case could have kept an armored division rust free for the best part of a decade; several hundred thousand smackers. There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. Emails to the German, more money transferred to Lagos fro the German.

The German then received a communication from the Lagos police authorities.

The German was, they regretted to inform him, the victim of a criminal gang specializing in mail fraud.

The good news, however, was that the authorities were on to them. The fiends would be arrested. The money returned.

But this is not Europe, the police told him, this is Africa and sadly in order to get things done funds were needed to facilitate things.

By this stage most people would be entertaining serious doubts when encountering a Lagos government letterhead, no matter how nicely forged it was.

Not the German. No expense was spared to help the law track down the scoundrels who had duped him. Hundreds of thousands. But he was determined to fight to the bitter end.

This came when he finally ran out of money.

And never heard from anyone from Lagos again.

An even more extreme case occurred when a retired Czech doctor was taken for $600,000. Understandably disgruntled, the man stormed the Nigerian embassy in Prague last February, and shot dead the leading consul.

Of course Interpol takes a keen interest in these shenanigans, but more amusing is the phenomenon of scam baiting. Scam-baiters lead the con artists along with a view to humiliating them. One Englishman is building up a large collection of scammers’ photos.

First he gives the scammer his name. It is a false name. Then feigning keen interest in the scammer’s proposals he requests photos of the scammers holding a placard displaying his false name. It’s so he can see who he’s deaing with, he tells them.

One scammer obliged by sending a photo of himself, beaming amiably into the camera and proudly holding aloft a piece of paper reading “Iama Dildo.”

That gets it said.

……

Back to diamonds. Yesterday there was a robbery . Three men made off with several cases of shiny stones from Namdeb down in Orangemund .

Early evening, Paulo came over with a gift of two large frozen fish (the deal being that my father will cook them and then everyone will gather and eat them). After the fish had been appraised, praised and manhandled into the freezer compartment of the fridge – they weren’t large fish really, they were huge fish – my father asked about the Orangemund incident.

After I’d stopped shrieking at him (it took a long while), Paulo gave a derisive snort.

“We’ll get them. Those guys were SO dumb. So DUMB! Idiots!”

Seems the robbers were wearing overalls and balaclavas to hide their identities. Clever. After making their getaway they changed their clothes, dumped the overalls, but one of them forgot to remove his birth certificate from a pocket.

Why would anybody bring their birth certificate along on an armed robbery ? Shotguns, yes. Balaclavas, yes. But a birth certificate ?

Dumb. Real dumb.

….

This morning the phone rang unfortunately early. Our caller had seen the advertisement in the window of our Isuzu trooper.

“How does it work ?”

My father launched into his patter. “Well, it’s a smooth runner, has 170,00 kays on the clock give or take..”

“No,” the voice interrupted. “I mean how does the deal work?”

“Well, I guess you come and see the car, we take it for a test drive, if you like it you give me money, I give you the car.”

“So you want money for the car?” The voice was now sounding furtive. Sleazily furtive.

“Uh huh. Yes. ”

“Can we work it differently?”

“What differently? You mean you take the car but don’t give me any money ? “

“There can be ways of doing things. Shall we make a plan?”

“Go away.”

A moment later the phone rang again. A different caller, this man got to the point fast in a strangely offensive “jiveass” pseudo-black-1960s-American pimp accent.

African pronunciation of English is mainly a wonderful thing. It is solemn, considered, structured, sincere; it employs a splendid, entertaining, enthralling vocabulary.

It is possible to listen to a politician making the most outrageous ly deranged statements  and find yourself nodding; awed, overwhelmed by the richness of the voice, the syntax, the steadied rhythm. Unless they’re some racist monstrosity like Mugabe.

That man could be singing Grand Opera a la Pavarotti only better. You’d still want to throw eggs.

But this jiveass thing. Yech! Drives my father wild. He was now fully awake. So was I.

“Hey man I need the wheels. Your Land Cruiser.”

“My Land Cruiser is an Isuzu Trooper. And why don’t you go away?”

“S’right, man. Cool. The Trooper. I’ve got to be over the Angolan border by seven tonight. We’ve got to make speed. I’m packing stones.”

“Where are you ?”

“The Tech.”

“Windhoek Polytechnic ?”

“Ya man. The Tech. Can you pick me up ? We got to check this thing out.”

“Go away.”

“Heeyyy! We need to work on this!”

“Go away.”

Catherine is a colleague of my mother. She’s from Kenya but is on a one-year renewable contract with UNDP’s Environment Unit here and she intends to stay in Namibia.  Catherine is willowy, elegant and altogether lovely. Fantastic telephone manner. Makes great cakes.

But this is not germaine to my tale.

She advertised that her car was for sale and she got similar telephone calls.  Subsequent encounters with the prospective buyers indicated that they were all criminals seeking to convert smuggled diamonds into something more legally sellable than lumps of compacted carbon.

Cars don’t last forever but at least they are useful.

Catherine did sell her car eventually, but not before she and her mother were lured by a smoothly packaged individual into a small room with a Chinese gentleman sitting behind a desk. On the desk was a neat little suitcase.

Pop went the suitcase’s locks.

“Take a look,” said the Chinese gentleman, or words to that effect. They looked. The stones, supremely indifferent to the passage of billennia and their current surge in popularity – a mere nothing in geological time-scale –sat there.

Catherine and her mother got out fast. Then they sold their car to someone who wasn’t waving minerals at them.

Wendy summarized the whole phenomenon perfectly.

“If they want to buy a car why don’t they sell their diamonds and use the money to buy the car?”

Why not indeed?

Akiko coming back with Paulo pointed out that if my father was interested in buying stones and making a huge profit he’d need to know whether the stones were worth anything.

My father admitted that he knew nothing about diamonds.

Akiko gave a gay laugh. “Of course not, you’re not Jewish.”

Good point.

Paulo was equally well informed.

“They sell you glass. Your car crosses the Angolan border. That’s it. Your glass. Their car.”

Then he said, “Hello, Isobel!” and gave me a wide smile.

Isobel????

Isobel!!!!

I screamed at him. He fled.

Speaking from a five month old perspective, if I saw an uncut diamond I’d ignore it. Dull, soapy looking pebble of a thing. Perhaps if someone had cut it so that it reflected light and sparkled, I’d swallow it.

Or choke on it. Or throw it away. Or lose interest in about thirty seconds. My question to the world is this. Why are wars, atrocities, madmen in Sierra Leone/Angola/ Liberia/Congo beating baby’s brains out being funded by these silly little things ? Why don’t the people buy small yellow furry octopi that squeak when you squeeze them instead?

They’re fun.

And I don’t think that anyone has killed anyone over a soft furry yellow octopus that squeaks when you squeeze it.

Or tried to exchange one for a car.

But, heck, I’m young and I’m sure the world has things to teach me.

The Diary of Abbot Buggly: Chapters Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen

November 4, 2010

The Diary of Abbot Buggly CoverHugh Paxton’s Blog would like to apologise for the brief pause in transmission of the Diary. I’ve been down with the flu. Better now. I resume.

CHAPTER ELEVEN.  The Wind.

I awoke around eight thirty to the now familiar voice of Mally saying “Ag.” And “Fok!” And “what, what, what, what.”

He was on the stoop just outside my bedroom window drinking a beer and for some reason was explaining about how he’d been in the South African army and had shot lots of SWAPO guerillas back in 1990.

1990 was the year South West Africa achieved independence from South Africa after UN supervised elections. It was also the year Namibia became Namibia.

I wondered why Mally was here. He’s agreed to do some more painting but he’s not due until the weekend after next.

“They were coming over from Angola and we said you can’t come over the border until the elections but they came anyway so we fokking shoot the guys. Chased them all the way back to Angola. Ag, what, what, what.”

“You know, I’ve never understood that episode,” I heard my father say. “The UN had the elections set up, SWAPO was virtually guaranteed a landslide victory and then suddenly, instead of waiting for it, they invaded. On April Fools day.”

“And we shot them. What, what, what. Here, my dear, I’ve brought you some putty. Can I have twenty bucks to buy bread?”

A loaf of bread I should explain costs $4.50 at the local Portuguese shop. Delicious crusty bread rolls are less than fifty cents at the BP shop on Nelson Mandela Avenue.

“Twenty bucks” is the price of a good gurgle of lager and will happily cover a small bottle of Cape brandy. Draw your own conclusions.

My father certainly did.

“No.”

Mally, I have learned, is a Bastard. No, I’m not being offensive. In the late nineteenth century an ethnic group comprised of individuals with mixed Khoi-Khoi (Hottentot) and Dutch blood, moved north from South Africa and settled in Namibia at a place called Rehoboth just south of Windhoek. They proudly call themselves Basters (or in some uncommon cases, and lets face it, Mally is about as uncommon as they come,Bastards).

Don’t ask me why. My father says it’s a dignity thing.

Wendy then joined my father and Mally and asked Mally if he could lay his hands on a goat. She’s got a baptism coming up. And baptisms, like weddings, funerals, confirmations and other such events involves providing a budget-crippling feast for ravenous relatives.

Joshua arrived. His full-time job, it turned out, carried with it a salary of $100 Namibian a week. He earns just a little less than that here in a day. My father had already hired a replacement named Stephen. So now we have two gardeners because the sight of Joshua’s nervous and embarrassed smile melted my father’s heart and instead of saying, “Sorry, Joshua, old chap, we simply don’t need two gardeners,” he said, “Ah great! Now we’ve got two gardeners! Super! What a treat !”

The man’s soft. And if he carries on like, this he’s veering dangerously in the direction of bankruptcy, not to mention serious overpopulation in Number 11 Wurlitzer St..

Mally was now on the subject of the “fokking” SWAPO government and how when the South Africans were running the country you didn’t have to stay all night outside the hospital so you could be first in a queue to see a doctor who wouldn’t see you anyway.

“Ag.”

“But you’re in the best of health, Mally. A pint of paint thinner a day keeps the doctor away, hey ?”

“Right, man, Hugh.There’s nothing fokking wrong with me, man.”

(Hacking coughs).

“Where must I plant this bottle brush tree ?”

“That German guy’s just come to replace the flat C geyser.”

And so on, and on. Frankly all this racket on the Stoop was beginning to get on my nerves

Then the wind arrived.

It was frightful. But at least it made everyone go away.

…….

One minute all was still, the next ? Mayhem. The house was shaking, leaves and twigs and newly planted flowers were flying through the air, my father was chasing a whirling cloud of paperwork that had taken it into its head to check out Kampala and the temperature had crashed.

That wind, that gale, was constant for two days and two nights.

I could barely hear myself howling!

Apparently this happens once a year and is caused by heavy rains in the Cape. Not sure how. The Cape’s well over 1,000 kilometers away.

One blessing was that it didn’t freeze – some years it does, you know. Then instead of being blown away all the newly planted bottle brush trees just die of frost bite.

Probably the only inhabitant of Number 11 Wurlitzer St not to be driven to the brink of insomnia – nay, insanity – by the wind moaning and wailing and making the pepper trees thrash and groan and threaten the roof with the possibility of their collapse was Wortus.

Wortus is my tortoise.

Wendy’s boyfriend, Hermann, found him asleep on the highway to Etosha and picked him up. Strictly speaking he shouldn’t have brought him here. Wortus is a rare tent tortoise and should have been left where he was. But if he’d not been picked up he’d have become a pancake tortoise smeared into a truck tyre’s waffle headed for Zambia. Or someone else would have stopped to pick up Wortus and roasted him over leadwood ash. Or pinched him for themselves.

Or so I rationalize it.

My father has doubts. He’s said that he’d like to take Wortus back to where he was found. The problem here is that one kilometer of road to Etosha looks very much like another. Quite where Wortus hails from is a matter of conjecture.

Wortus sleeps a lot.

Indeed if Wortus was ever to race a hare, the hare could not just take 40 winks in front of the finishing line, it could raise a large family, dig itself a very complex and elaborate warren, grow to a ripe old age and then be cryogenically preserved. It could subsequently wake up several millennia later to enjoy a brave new world where poverty sickness and people who jug hares are unknown.

And while the hare was doing all that Wortus would still be peering reluctantly at the starting line.

Barely awake.

Amazingly all the weaver birds’ nests weathered the gales. My father was particularly relieved because one of the weavers has built a sort of … tower block. One neat little spherical nest hangs by woven grass from the tree. Below that hangs another, suspended from the penthouse by another slender string of woven grass. And below that yet two more.

Rob Simmons who lives over the street is one of southern Africa’s premier bird experts. When he’s not writing or illustrating a bird book he’s researching a bird book. He says he’s never seen a multi-storey masked weaver bird nest before.

Mind, it hasn’t done the architect much good. He’s still a bachelor.

CHAPTER TWELVE:  Traffic, STUFF, Preparing For Etosha.

Today is Thursday, October 30. Tomorrow we are going to drive north to Etosha national park. It is my first safari and at the moment my father is wandering around, summoning the energy to find all those essential bits and pieces he’ll need to pack into the car.

My father tells me that when he was 22 he traveled around the Philippines with only a small shoulder bag. He did the same thing in Thailand. And in Peru. And a couple of other places. Two pairs of socks, pants, T-shirt, pen, camera, tooth brush, map, and books. That was about all he needed.

Then he got married and as every year passed his bags got bigger and fuller and heavier. Hair driers, my mother’s clothes, my mother’s reference books, increasingly complicated camera gear, more maps, brochures, tape recorders…  He thought that he’d finally reached his carrying capacity. That things – luggage, suitcases, backpacks -simply could not get heavier.

And then I arrived.

With all my stuff.

AN ABBOT BUGGLY ADVISORY TO PARENTS ON HOW MUCH STUFF A SMALL PERSON NEEDS.

A British infantryman weighing, let us say, a hypothetical 200 pounds, hits a hypothetical invasion beach with a 70lb pack on his back. It contains all he needs.

An Abbot Buggly born at the weight of 7 lb 2 ounces (coincidentally the same weight as a British infantryman’s rifle), invades the house with approximately three times the weight in gear.

There’s prams, cots, mobiles, milk bottles, milk bottle sterilizers, books on babies, magazines on babies, brochures sent by baby suppliers, lots of free samples also sent by baby suppliers, clothes (in my case tons of clothes, mainly from Blackpool), lots of pink cards saying hello and referring to “bundles of joy” sent by noodle-minded well-wishers, nappies, baby wipes, charts to be updated by midwives, cuddly toys, cuddly mattresses, cuddly rugs with Pooh Bear on them, bundles of cotton wool, forms to fill in…

In the case of the hypothetical British infantry man he hauls his backpack up the beach engages the enemy and kills the foul swine making the world a safer and far more democratic place.

In the case of Abbot Buggly, the one to die is the poor sod who has to carry all the stuff a small person needs.

He’ll also have to carry 7 lbs 2 ounces of Abbot Buggly. And that will only get heavier, too.

Would be first-time fathers, you’ve been warned.

…….

It’s five hours drive from Number 11 Wurlitzer Street to Etosha but people who live in Namibia don’t think much about long drives. In fact, five hours drive doesn’t really qualify as much of a drive at all.

Roads here are long and interesting.

They’re tarred if they’re important; they’re gravel if they’re fairly important; they’re made of mashed salt if they’re along the Skeleton Coast north of Swakopmund; they’re made by the devil if they’re in remote areas; and in the really remote areas they look as if they haven’t been made by anything or anyone at all.

But people still drive on them.

Often erratically.

The other day I overheard a discussion on road safety. A Belgian lady started it by explaining that her husband (who was on a bicycle in the middle of the Namib desert at the time) had just been hit by a car driven by a lady who was a) 82  b) drunk and c) unable to walk without the aid of crutches. Apparently the Belgian lady’s husband was “doing well” at Windhoek’s excellent Medi-clinic.

A German tourist then explained that he’d been driving in the Kalahari – nothing around for miles – then a San bushman had popped up beside the road wearing a loin cloth and clutching a bow. The bushman had waved, the German had waved back and then, overwhelmed by the encounter, had veered off the road and smashed into a termite mound. Car Versus Termite Mound ? No contest. You need an aardvark or Semtex to damage a Kalahari termite mound. Rented cars simply aren’t up to it.

The Bushman had then waved again and jogged off, soon to be lost in the simmering mirages.

“I always crash when I’m on holiday in Namibia,” the German then said with a touch of what sounded like pride. “Last time a kudu jumped through my windshield. The roof caved in.”

It was clearly “battle of the stories time”.

My father looked smug. He loves “battle of the stories time”. Some of his spectacularly victorious stories are even true.

He described an incident in which he encountered a pick up truck filled with Ovambos looking surly on a track in the Kaokoveld wilderness. The pick up (southern Africans call them ‘bakkies’) had smashed into a cliff face.

Standing by its ruin, lowing reproachfully, was a sad-eyed cow with a broken leg.

My father stopped, dispensed water and apples, and then listened to the Ovambo driver complain that the Himba were a liability, letting their cattle wander all over the place.

My father eventually bored of the man’s litany of complaints about Himba – Himba are nomadic pastoralists; very gentle, frequently half naked, covered in copper colored ochre, and their lifestyles are very much their own. My father likes them a lot.

My father then drove off and two hundred yards later encountered six dead cows and one more thrashing around with a broken back.

Somehow the Ovambo driver had managed to plough through a herd of cattle, killing six, mortally wounding a seventh and then, and this is the point, had driven a further TWO HUNDRED yards, hit ANOTHER cow. And then rounded the performance off by crashing into a cliff.

All this on a road that doesn’t see another vehicle (or a cow) sometimes for days.

Now THAT is bad driving!

Both the Belgian and the German agreed. And both looked a little put out.

The battle of the stories wasn’t going well for mainland Europe.

Perhaps if the visitors had been from Italy they’d have had more ammunition.

Most car rental companies in Windhoek have their office walls covered in photographs of overturned vehicles and their back yards piled high with shattered wrecks.

Apparently 30 percent of tourists who take power steering vehicles onto gravel roads overturn. It’s the sheer glory of the country’s emptiness that does it. The overwhelming freedom of the roads. They speed. They may have watched Mad Max when young and impressionable. Or some other movie involving cars going fast. They accelerate. Grit flies from the Firestone tires. The road then does a dip. They skid. They over compensate with the power steering.

Wheels lock.

Bam. Gone in Sixty Seconds.

Still on the subject of car crashes, my mother has just come home. After a car crash.

True! No, seriously, I’m being serious, it’s true!

What happened was this. We’ve just had some torrential rain – 12.2 millimeters fell in under two hours. As usual this extraordinary phenomenon arrived without warning and

departed without explanation leaving everybody slightly giddy and unprepared.

The roads were wet and slick. My mother slowed to avoid a traffic accident but the car behind did not. There was a smash, a rending shriek of torn metal and her rear bumper was no longer in what could be described as peak condition. A policeman who had been attempting to wave traffic away from the scene of the first accident immediately radioed for help.

This turned out to be a good idea.

No sooner had he done so than a third car arrived, slithered, swerved and then thumped into a house.

Things were getting tiresomely repetitive but at least my mother didn’t need to go to the police station to make a statement. Thanks to the first crash the police had personally witnessed the second crash and, indeed, the third.

My mother left before the fourth traffic accident. No-one was hurt but the body shops in Windhoek’s Northern Industrial Estate will be pleased with the evening’s work. And so will the junk yards in the Southern Industrial Estate. Their premises resemble the aftermath of the battle of Kursk (which was, as you probably don’t need to be told, the largest tank battle ever fought).

My milk was late.

Tsk!

Oh, and my father is now finally trying to fit all my STUFF into the back of our car.

His language would make a sailor blush.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Etosha.

Namibia has some of the most beautiful scenery in Africa. But in between the beautiful scenery there’s a lot of, well, Namibia.

The drive north to Etosha has its moments – strange troll-like boulder formations, hills, the occasional sounder of warthogs trotting happily in line along the road verge , and the three towns of Okahandja (where members of the Herero nation try to sell you huge wooden hippo carvings, giraffes, ju ju masks and salad bowls), Otjiwarongo (which has flame trees on its streets), and Outjo (which has people who say “Hi” and whittle your car’s registration number on a makalani palm nut while you’re not looking then offer it for sale – you then feel obliged to buy it and add it to your already extensive Makalani nut collection -, a good bakery and also The Etosha Garten Hotel which serves some of the best apfelstrudel in the country).

But most of the drive is dull; it’s just something that needs doing.

I let my father do it. And yes, I’m definitely a car baby at the moment. I slept most of the way.

My father was so impressed by my good behavior that he shaved five years off my “bicycle sentence.”

This I should explain is a disciplinary thing. Each time I spew milk all over his Laura Ashley cushions or kick him in the testicles or do something unspeakable when he’s changing my nappies he increases the number of years I will have to wait before he buys me my first bicycle.

Before we set off for Etosha I’d sadly calculated that I would not be receiving my first bicycle until I was 73. 73 minus 5? 68. Still a while to wait.

And as for pocket money and a pony, well I won’t be seeing either of those until 2075.

….

My father has more maps of Etosha national park than anybody else in the whole of Namibia. Each time he visits he realizes that he’s forgotten to bring any of them with him and has to buy another one from the small shop run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts at Okaukeujo camp site.

After he’d done that we checked into our accommodation.

…..

Etosha is immense. Its central salt pan was once a lake the size of Switzerland.

The ghost of the lake resurfaces very occasionally when there has been rain. And when the water has reached just the right depth thousands upon thousands of flamingos turn up to breed and raise young.

How they know conditions are right is a mystery. They just do. One day they’re all down on the coast, sifting the still waters of Walvis Bay for miniscule crustaceans.  The next ? Poof! They’ve gone, flying north at night by moonlight in vast silent flocks.

Just one of Namibia’s countless natural miracles.

The National Park has three enclosed camps with bungalows and places to put up tents. The camps have swimming pools and restaurants and BBQ areas and beyond the wire there are 22,000 square kilometers of deadly dry land teeming with animals.

That’s one of the most striking and confusing aspects to Etosha. “How,” you wonder as you stare out across heat seared gravel plains speckled with occasional thorn bushes “How on earth can anything live here ?”

“And what,” you wonder as you watch a large flock of ostriches running across the simmering inferno of the salt pan “What on earth do they think they are they doing out there ?”

And “Good God!” you exclaim in bemused wonderment, “Was that a frog I just saw ? A frog the size of a heavily muscled cow pat ? Chewing a snake ?”

That’s Etosha for you. A place where the going isn’t just tough, but weird, unexpected, consistently dramatic, and downright mind-bogglingly tenacious.

A lot of people spend a lot of time haring around Etosha’s tracks desperate to fill their Big Five tick-list.

The Big Five, as you probably know, are the five species traditionally considered the most dangerous by hunters which is why hunters pay ridiculously high prices to shoot them.

Often, I might add, at no risk whatsoever to the trophy hunters no matter what they might tell you to the contrary back home in their studies with their walls covered in stuffed heads.

Here they come. The Big Five.

Cape Buffalo.

Lion.

Leopard.

Elephant.

Rhino.

Being a small person (and small in my opinion is beautiful) I will now address this blatant sizeism and list The Little Five.

The Buffalo weaver bird.

The Ant Lion.

The Leopard tortoise.

The Elephant shrew.

The Rhino beetle.

“Big Fivers” tend to be obsessive and my father thinks they’re missing the point. In fact it could be said that when it comes to the subject of Big Fivers my father tends to be obsessive. My mother thinks they’re jerks, too.

One overheard conversation at the Okaukeujo water hole:

(Surprised male voice) “Hey! It’s a giraffe !”

(Excited female voice) “Is that in the Big Five ?”

(Uncertain male voice)”Um..”.

A riffle of guide book pages.

(Disappointed male voice) “Uh, no.”

(Second voice, all interest gone). “Oh. What’s that over there ?”

(Uncertain voice) “Looks like some kinda piggy thing.”

(My father’s voice sotto voce but excited) “It’s a black rhino.”

(First voice, rather smug). “We already saw one of those in Okapoka”.

(My father’s voice). “No you didn’t. Okapuka has white rhinos. That’s a black rhino. Quite a sighting. There were 65,000 blacks in Africa in 1970, numbers plunged to maybe 2,000 plus minus by 1980 due to poaching for horn for Yemeni dagger handles and the Traditional Chinese Medicine trade in fever cures and its no exaggeration to say that… ”

(First voice again, interrupting). “Looks white to me.”

(My father’s voice). “Well, yes. That’s because it’s covered in saline dust. And it’s flood-lit.”

(First voice with authority) “No. That’s a white rhino. We already saw ‘em in Okapoka.”

(Female voice, whispered, – my mother’s voice – coming to relieve my father from Abbot Buggly sentry duty) “What’s going on at the water hole ?”

(My father’s voice, back in whisper mode) “Great sightings. One black rhino and two prize turkeys dressed like Ernest Hemmingway. They flew in all the way from Manhattan.”

(My mother) “Are turkeys in the Big Five ?”

(My father) “With butts that size ? You better believe it.”

…..

ABBOT BUGGLY ADVISORY TO PEOPLE WHO TALK ABOUT “THE BIG FIVE.”

You know who you are, and most of you are from the northern American continent.  And yes, that includes you guys in Canada. In fact you’re some of the worst offenders.

Be warned, anyone who starts talking about “The Big Five” is courting a credibility collapse of enormous, irreversible proportions.

It’s on a par with arriving in England’s Lake District and telling every grizzled sheep farmer in The Rotting Lamb Inn or the endlessly helpful folks in Windermere’s  Tourist Information Office that you’re there to see “Wordsworth Country.”

It’s like turning up dressed as Elvis Presley almost anywhere, or checking into a safari lodge wearing a pith helmet or zebra-striped jacket. Or, I don’t know, trying to be groovy when you’re 45 at your daughter’s 16th birthday party and saying things like, “I dig rap, let’s shake some booty.”

Admittedly this whole Big Five deal (like Wordsworth Country syndrome) is partly the fault of marketing companies. They’re always blathering away about the Big Five.

But they’re paid professionals. In it for the money.

So guys, be advised. If you don’t want to be automatically consigned to the “instant idiot” mental filing cabinet of anyone who actually knows anything about African wildlife – your safari guide, your waiter, your toilet cleaner, the halfwit who sits drooling by the petrol pump – don’t mention the BF words.

If you’re paying them, they’ll smile and smile, but you’ll still be an “instant idiot.”

In any event, you won’t get to fill in your BF check list in Etosha. If you want buffalo you have to go further north and east. Or go back south, hang a left and scale the Waterberg plateau.

….

Anyway, as I say, we checked into our accommodation – a two bedroom National Wildlife Resorts (NWR)bungalow. It was fairly clean because the tap had burst and flooded the place. Yes, it was as neat as a bungalow can be when its swimming with water, fairly cheap, with air conditioning that worked.

Then we went out to explore.

Each of the three NWR camps is fenced to keep lions out (a lion vaulted in a few years back and ate as much of a German tourist as it could before the Etosha vet shot it, but the fences have since been heightened making a repeat performance unlikely). Each camp has a flood-lit water hole. In the rainy season the animals disperse throughout the park drinking from surface puddles and temporary pools. In the dry, they congregate in huge numbers by Etosha’s few permanent water holes.

All the life of the park can be seen by these waterholes; the fights, the hunts, the mating, the power plays.

Being a small person, I occasionally had a look. But if there’s one thing more interesting than watching two fractious elephants flapping threatening ears at each other or thirty giraffe waiting until a female lion has abandoned all hope of catching anything and been almost impaled on the horns of a charging oryx, it’s my dummy.

My dummy’s rubbery, fits in my mouth, and I can now stick it in my ear and throw it away to watch people pick it up for me.

A lot of fun.

I’d overheard my parents wondering whether it was socially responsible to bring me to observe the waterhole. Supposing I cried or made a commotion ? Would that be fair to other people who were here on the safari of a lifetime ?

As it was, there were Italians watching the waterhole and the noise they made was sufficient to drown out any commotion that I might have managed. Then they left and some very vocal French persons turned up. In the back ground a school trip was having a fire side sing-a-long.

“My mammy and my pappy are so far away,

Who is going to sing to me at beddy bye time ?”

Who indeed ?

The other animals were also busy making noises of their own.

Despite all the racket, me, my dummy and I, were content. Quiet.

The Diary of Abbot Buggly: Chapters nine and ten: fire and phones. Where is Maria?

October 21, 2010

The Diary of Abbot Buggly CoverHugh Paxton’s Blog continues its bi-daily serialisation of his book The Diary of Abbot Buggly, an account of the first year of a young girl’s life in Namibia.

CHAPTER NINE:  Fire And Phones.

This morning there were palls of smoke muddying the skies to the north and the south of town. It’s bush fire season.

When my parents first arrived in Namibia their rented house nearly burned down.

My father woke up to smell what he thought was a pan left on a hot oven ring, he heard hissing and snapping and crackles and pops, but it wasn’t until he stuck his bleary-eyed head out of the window and realized the hill side was one flaring nightmare of smoke and flame that he decided to phone my mother who had taken the car to the office. At that time they only had one car. More of cars later. A lot more, actually.

“Come quickly! We’ve got get our stuff out of here! The damn place is about to burn down!”

“I can’t come now,” she responded, “I’m busy. I’ve got a meeting.”

My mother takes her job very seriously. She believes in what she does. I suspect that this is an unusual phenomenon – particularly with the UN – but that’s just the way she is.

“Cancel the meeting! It’s an inferno out there !“

“Look, I can’t talk now….”

“But….”

By the time my mother arrived (after her meeting was over) the wind had veered and the fire was racing off and away, back into the mountains it had come from. The air was full of fine white ash. One fat Afrikaner was spraying a hose at a burning bush but everything else was out. Or smoking weakly. Our fire didn’t even make The Namibian newspaper. Or summon the Fire Brigade.

Everything here’s so dry the fires move fast. So fast they don’t even damage the trees. They just guzzle the grass and waft about.

Unless they become monster fires. Then there’s hell to pay.

At that time my parents’ place was right next to the bush. And although my father made a song and dance about “his”fire, it didn’t amount to much in the end.

We’re now living a couple of hundred yards away from the bush and there’s not much chance of Number 11 Wurlitzer Street going up in smoke unless my father gets careless with the vile cheap cigars he smokes or some geriatric electrical fitting goes haywire in the loft.

For a while my father and I watched the distant smoke and he told me that it made him think of Djinn. Then he explained that bush fires were started by shards of broken glass or shards of quartz or micah that focused sunlight on one spot and that you could do the same thing with a magnifying lens or a watch glass if you were ever in a survival situation and had forgotten your matches.

ABBOTT BUGGLY VERBAL COMMUNICATION ADVISORY.

I was in the Baby Clinic recently waiting to be inoculated and the room was full of mothers sticking their babies faces in front of their own and chanting, “Mama, Mama, Mama.”

It was, frankly, embarrassing. They sounded like a flock of seagulls. Repetition is of course soothing and helpful but in my opinion, babies appreciate variety, too, and a bit of adult conversation.

If you treat them as equals, tell them about Djinn, Arab Israeli conflicts, Samoan street gangs and how bushfires start, it won’t hurt (even if they don’t understand a blind word you are saying).

Of course you run the very remote risk that the first word spoken by the young may not be Mama or Dada. It may be “Ag”, “Fok”, or “Spontaneous combustion.”

But where’s the harm in that ?

Thirty minutes later the smoke was gone and my father had about run out of bush fire anecdotes.

“Enough chat. Time to get to work,” he announced.

By which he meant that he was going to take a shower.

Five minutes later, the phone rang. My father eventually arrived and picked up.

“Hello, 230 708.”

A voice asked, “Where am I?”

My father said he had no idea.

The voice said, “I want to speak to Julia.”

“I think you’ve got the wrong number. “

“No I haven’t,” said the voice. It sounded determined and impatient.

“You have. This is Hugh Paxton.”

“No it isn’t.”

“I promise you, it is. I know. I’m here. And whoever, Julia is, she isn’t.”

The line went dead.

Telephone etiquette in Namibia is distinctly peculiar, particularly when it comes to wrong numbers. Many callers begin the conversation by asking where they are, then are convinced that they are somewhere else. And that whoever has picked up the phone is in the wrong place.

My father departed, wet and mumbling.

The phone rang again.

“Am I still there ?” said the voice after my father had finally made it back to the phone.

“No. I am. That’s to say I’m here. And yes, I guess you’re still there. Wherever there is.”

“Where’s Julia ?”

“I have no idea. But of one thing I am sure. She isn’t here and never has been.”

Is Marcus there then? I shall speak to him.”

“Who’s Marcus?”

“Julia’s sister.”

“Julia has a sister called Marcus ?”

“No, it’s his brother.”

“Go away.”

We get wrong number action like this on average once a day. The calls are all a bit different (this was the first time anyone was convinced they were connecting to Julia or Marcus) but they do share one common theme; they take place when my father is in his newly solar powered shower.

I understand this timing phenomenon is by no means confined to Namibia.

Telecom Namibia, incidentally, is in no way responsible for wrong numbers. The phone links and infrastructure, given the scale of the country and the harsh environmental conditions, are phenomenal. My father tells me that you can call New York from a Telecom box in Etosha National Park and sound as if you’re phoning from Manhattan or next door but one. The background roaring of lions and the yip of jackals admittedly gives the game away. Or perhaps not. On the news today some guy in New York was having a tiger and a crocodile confiscated. He’d been keeping them in his flat.

If there are any technical snarl-ups, beeps, shrill electronic shrieks, crackles of static, some ghostly voice interrupting your conversation with its own conversation, wrong numbers and so on, that’ll be down to AT&T.

Apparently they’re quite good at all of that. Or so my father says. Bill Bryson agrees.

And my father, who has read all Bill Bryson’s travel books, says that Bill Bryson is always right.

I’m not sure how sincere he is. My guess is he’s probably hoping that Bill Bryson will read this section, feel flattered and unwisely endorse this book and write something like “This is the funniest book ever to come out of Namibia,” signed Bill Bryson. Then everyone will buy the book and my father will retire happy. And rich.

CHAPTER TEN:  Where Is Maria ?

Maria has vanished. You may recall that Maria has full-blown AIDS. Yesterday evening she lost control of her body; couldn’t walk, could barely talk, and needed nappies. The people at the Auob farm where she was staying decided to call an ambulance. While a wedding celebration continued she was loaded into the back and driven off.

She’s not been seen since.

Wendy’s mother visited Katutura hospital first thing this morning fearing the worst. There was no sign of Maria. Nor was there any record that anybody called Maria had been admitted.

In a panic she contacted Wendy.

And thus began a day of phone calls. I sat beside the desk in the living room grappling with my furry octopus and heard them all. My father began the festivities by phoning the Town Ambulance Services.

They’d never heard of Maria (or at least the man my father spoke to hadn’t). He was referred to Windhoek Central Hospital. No dice there, either.

They referred him back to the Town Ambulance Services who connected him to Katutura hospital who reconfirmed that no record of Maria existed.

“Maybe she’s not in a bed. Maybe she’s dead. Can I speak to the morgue?” My father said.

“We have some forms that we fill in when this type of thing happens.”

“What sort of thing?”

“This one. I will check them.”

After twenty minutes on hold, no forms had been found.

“Just let me speak to the morgue!”

“My telephone does not want to connect you. There is a problem with it now. I will give you the direct number.”

“Yuh,” a voice answered. “Town Ambulance Services.”

“You again! Jeez, I’m going in circles! Do you have a morgue ?”

“Askus?”

“A morgue, a place where you put dead bodies.”

“I will connect you.”

“Thank God! Now we’re getting somewhere.”

After a pause a now familiar voice said , “Katutura Hospital. Yuh ?”

“Argh!”

My father was clearly beginning to lose it, so Wendy took over. She phoned all the same institutions my father had phoned, plus a few more for good luck.

“These people are idiots,” she eventually announced. For Wendy this is strong stuff. Normally she sticks to “These people are not serious.”

“How in the name of all that’s holy can an ambulance and a dying woman vanish into thin air? Wendy, are the people at Auob sure they sent her off in an ambulance ? Are they sure they are sure?”

Another call. Auob were sure they were sure.

“Sometimes they drop them off without filling the forms,” said Wendy.

“Shambolic! A total shambols!”

“If she’s not in a hospital she will die. Maybe it wasn’t a real ambulance.”

“You’re suggesting that on a whim some guy decides to impersonate an ambulance driver, just happens to drive out to this remote farm, picks up a sick woman and makes a run for Botswana ?”

Young as I am, even I thought that this scenario was a little unlikely.

Wendy just looked embarrassed, fraught and desperately worried.

……

At five twenty she packed a brown paper bag, announced that she had “taken some toasts” and waddled off down Wurlitzer street and into the city. My father would have gone, too, but he has me to look after.

A forlorn figure, he watched her recede.

Alone. Looking for Maria.

…..

Post Scriptum:

Where was Maria ?

The answer emerged the following day.

Maria was in her house. Feeling a lot better.

“Well why the hell didn’t anyone …”

My father was off again.

I slept.

The Diary of Abbot Buggly: Chapters seven and eight.

October 13, 2010

Hugh Paxton’s Blog will be out of town for the next couple of days visiting a tiger temple so there’ll be no new posts till we get back. I’m therefore posting the next two chapters in a (normally) bi-daily serialisation of my book describing the first year of a young girl’s life in Namibia.

The Diary of Abbot Buggly CoverCHAPTER SEVEN: Dead Dogs And The Galapagos Affair.

This morning my father spent several hours kicking furniture and blaspheming. This unseemly outburst was prompted by an invitation to visit Ecuador and the Galapagos islands.

Twelve days, all expenses paid, free international and domestic flights, a specially chartered yacht, free food and drink; the whole magnificent jamboree starting on September 11.

All he had to do in return was write about the trip in the Japan Times newspaper.

And they were even going to pay him to do that.

By like TOTALLY unhappy coincidence , however, September 11 will see the arrival of a party of Japanese tourists here in Namibia. They are participating in an ecotour organized and led by none other than my father. The poor fool!

My mother pointed out that he’ll be seeing elephants (“I’m up to my effing ears in elephants!” he raved), stalking leopards and radio-tracking cheetahs (“Screw ‘em! Bring back the fur trade!” he ejaculated), visiting some of the most magnificent national parks in Africa (“Parks, schmarks!” he howled), spectacular scenery (“Scenery? Don’t talk to me about scenery! If I see another African sunset over burnt mountains and endless gravel plains dotted with acacias and herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically about, I’m going to barf!! Do you hear me? Barf!” he snarled), and that he’d have a nice group of Japanese ladies to look after and drive several thousand kilometers – all by himself !

This last comment appeared to leave him speechless. He just goggled at her. Then left the room.

If you ask me, he’s spoiled. A safari in Namibia is the holiday of a lifetime for many people.

It didn’t quite end there. My mother caught him furtively phoning a free-lance safari guide and offering the man an indecently large sum of money. She terminated the call and informed him brusquely that the Japanese were coming because they’d read HIS books, HIS newspaper articles, HIS damn silly Ecotour advertisement…

“OUR articles, OUR books, darling,” he pointed out. Unwisely.

My mother then informed him that if there was any more pissing and moaning SHE would lead the ecotour and leave ME with HIM for ten days.

For some reason he blanched and staggered as if he were a man dazed or pondering a monstrous peril.

Odd.

But since then we’ve not heard a yip out of him about the Galapagos.

Oh, and another dog’s body has been found at one of Windhoek’s Chinese restaurants. Finding it presented no difficulties. It was skinned and cleaned and lying in the courtyard of The China Grand for all to observe. Indeed, one of my mother’s colleagues saw it from her apartment’s balcony.

Management when confronted with this compelling evidence of culinary and commercial malpractice (the word “dog” is noticeably absent from The China Grand’s menu) explained that it was a butchered springbok.

Just for the record, and you probably already know, springboks are lithe, graceful,  antelopes. Namibia has many of them pronking (springing) over its dry grass plains and none of them bear any physiological resemblance to dogs.

When this was pointed out, Management then said that the dog had been left there by competitors to discredit the restaurant. If they’d tried this line first it might have worked.

But the “It’s a springbok” ploy had been a fatal mistake.

The Yangtzee restauranteurs then issued a statement to the effect that The China Grand’s ingredients were having an adverse effect on their own business. Customers were getting muddled; were confusing the two establishments and avoiding both.

“They’ve got a point, I suppose,” my mother remarked, putting down the copy of today’s The Namibian newspaper. “No-one’s found a dog in the Yangtzee’s kitchen freezers for what? Must be almost a year.”

“What perplexes me is that beef, lamb, meat here’s not just some of the best in the world, but it’s cheap! Why cook dogs ?” my father muttered.

Search me. I’m four months old today and can’t see why anyone bothers cooking any of them.

Milk’s the thing. Stick with milk and you won’t go wrong.

CHAPTER EIGHT: Home Improvements.

At 7.20 this morning something unprecedented occurred. A workman turned up on time.

The fact that he turned up at all was remarkable – Namibians have a flexible approach to keeping appointments. One prominent government minister, to take one memorable example, kept a conference hall full of comatose figures waiting for something like 12 hours before he finally deigned to arrive and deliver a speech.

To take another example, one closer to home, we are still waiting to see a window installer who vowed to come round four weeks ago.

A peculiar business. Give him his due he did come once. He measured this, he jotted down that, he said “Not a problem. This is really not a problem.” He then said goodbye and that he’d be back at nine o’clock sharp and we haven’t seen him since.

The same thing happened with a plumber. And a builder. And a security consultant. And another builder. And this morning, it happened with Joshua, our new gardener.

No sign of him or his hose.

The workman who did come is called Udo and he is installing solar powered water heaters on our roof. Given the current temperatures I wouldn’t be surprised if the boilers explode.

At 9.30 our run of good luck continued. Another workman turned up. Also on time!

Albeit a day late. But the time was perfect. 9.30. On the dot.

This guy would be charged with painting the breakfast room in Flat B.

Udo is a German Namibian, I find him handsome and enthusiastic, and if I yelled at him, I’d like to apologize. I shouldn’t really call him a workman, perhaps – I think he owns the solar power company – but he is a man and he does lots of work.

The second workman who turned up was a man. Sort of. But I wondered if he worked.

He was an unusual-looking chap; small, with an extremely wrinkly yellowish brown face and a woolly bobble hat jammed tight over his ears despite the searing heat. Someone at some time had knocked out most of his teeth, he had gangster tattoos and his ragged clothes were completely covered in paint.

He looked, my father said, like something Jackson Pollock and the Marquis de Sade might have put together after an acrimonious divorce. What he meant by that I’ve no idea.

I sat on the stoop and watched the painter open a can of Hemco matt “Lime Froth”. He then produced a bottle of paint thinner. After he’d taken a long pull, he belched, wiped his lips and wandered erratically away in search of his brushes.

“I suspect that this one may need some supervision,” my father remarked.

“They drink that on the farms,” said Wendy. “They don’t care about themselves.”

Whatever the effect the paint thinner may have had on his liver, it didn’t influence his painting. It is now nearly two o’clock. He’s finished Lime Frothing one room and is half way through another. I’m not sure whether he should actually be painting that second room. Can’t recall anyone asking him to. But he’s painting it with energy and precision.

Still no sign of Joshua.

……..

Six o’clock now, or as near as makes no difference. All afternoon big Germans have been clambering around on roofs, hammering things, drilling, shouting, and wrestling with boilers and solar panels.

Joshua has just phoned.

My mother asked what he said.

My father looked confused. “To be frank I’ve no idea. He kept going on about how he was going to sell his car…”

“But he doesn’t have a car!”

“And he said he’d found a full-time job.”

“Well that’s good news. I guess. What was all that stuff about coming on Sunday ? “

“He said he’d come on Sunday. I told him not to come on Sunday, that Sunday was a quiet family day and that we didn’t really encourage visitors on Sundays, and then he said he’d see us on Sunday and then the phone went dead.”

……

At six thirty the next morning the door bell went into action. It was the painter. Two and a half hours early ! My father reeled out. The painter reeled in. From the look of him he’d probably spent the night in the bush. Or if not the bush, a bush.

He asked for a beer.

“The day’s a bit young I’d have thought,” my father said.

The painter explained that his head was “fokking hurting, man, chief.” My father decided that it was probably better to dig out a beer than leave this unusual individual with the paint thinner.

He added a stiff shot of whisky.

“Thank you, my dear,” said the painter.

A short while later there was a shouted request for a cigar.

My mother couldn’t believe her ears. “Am I going mad or did he just ask you for a cigar?”

“No and yes. And he called me, ‘my dear.’”

My mother informed my father that under no circumstances whatsoever was he to let that sottish hobgoblin anywhere near me. Nor was he to let me out of his sight. Not for one minute.

Loud singing announced the arrival of our German neighbor, Alfred. He’s a professional singer and sings a lot. He’d brought a gardener with him to collect some hedge trimmings. You may recall that our hedges are tall. The previous inhabitants of Number 11 Wurlitzer St had refused to trim them. As they grew higher and higher Alfred’s view of the mountains from his leisure area had become obscured. Things had degenerated into acrimony. Hedges tend to do bad things to people. Particularly neighbors. In England someone murdered their neighbor over a hedge-related dispute.

My father had decided that Alfred should be able to see his mountains . Joshua had trimmed the hedges. Alfred had promised to cart the wreckage away.

He was as good as his word.

“Why’s everyone so bloody early in this country ?” my father wailed. This struck me as a slightly inconsistent bit of whingeing, even by my father’s standards. He’s spent many an hour complaining about how everybody’s always bloody late.

“Brrraaaakkkk. Brrrrraaaakkk!” The door bell was off again.

Not yet seven o’clock and Number 11 Wurlitzer Street was already filling up!

I drifted off and slept well, despite the hammering of Udo and the Germans, despite the sound of thumping footsteps on the ceiling, the discordant singing from Flat B, the crash of stepladders, the incessant “brraaaaaaak” of the bell…

When next I woke it was to see the painter clutching a can of Hemco matt Peppermint Pink (destined to coat the walls of my room, which is known, stupidly in my opinion,  as the Woozelarium, or offensively, again in my opinion, as the Buggery).

The painter had removed most of his clothes because of the heat and was perched amiably in front of a Rugby match on television.

Italy had just let the Tongans score a try.

The painter ‘s name apparently is Mally. For some reason he and my father seem to have hit it off. The painter was doing an imitation of a Samoan slitting someone’s throat and my father appeared amused. I needed clarification.

If he’d been doing an impression of a Tongan slitting someone’s throat that would have made some sense. Not a lot, admittedly. But some.

But for some reason the painter was discoursing on Samoan street gangs. How my father and he had got onto the topic was unclear.

“I’m Mally,” Mally said to me with a hideous wink and a flash of pink gums when he noticed I was awake. “I’m the greatest!”

When the game was over, the news came on. As usual the Israelis and Palestinians were blowing each other up.

“Jeeze, these people are boring ! You know what, Mally? Last year, I watched the news. First item, a suicide bomb, second item a settlement being demolished. I went north. For three weeks I’m tearing around Namibia with a Japanese TV crew and a neurotic  F-1 driver who has this nervous collapse after we bump into this leopard. All that time I don’t see a TV. I get back. I want the news. First item ? A suicide bomb. Second item ? A settlement being demolished ! There must be something else going on in the world!  The BBC are saving money, that’s my guess, they’re just showing repeats!”

My father has a point. Young as I am, even I begin to weary of watching suicide bombs and demolished settlements.

“Ag, girl,” said Mally, bringing me into the conversation. “Those fokking people’s always fighting. I don’t know. Why don’t they have peace. That Arafat ! That fokking what’s his name ? That fokking Israeli guy. What what what what what! Ag. Fok.”

I like Mally. He doesn’t talk down to babies. A lot of people do, you know. Also he drools.

Just like me.

I’ve been wondering what to say as my first word.

“Mama ?”

“Papa ?”

“Ag?”

Or “Fok!”

…….

You can say a lot of rude things about Germans, and most of them aren’t true. Not in my opinion. Not after today.

My father’s been drowsily tapping away on his computer in the shade of the stoop and he’s been sweating like a man who’s been locked in a sauna for forty eight hours. I’ve been under a lazily revolving fan in the relative cool of the living room and I’m quite damp.

One of Udo’s Afrikaaner colleagues, Attie Tromp, has just come off the roof after spending the whole afternoon fighting with piping and planks.

“Excellent!” my father announced in the sort of voice he develops after a couple of cans of Tafel Lager. “I see the solar shower principle does indeed work!”

The poor man was drenched in sweat. He looked, well yes, I suppose my boorish father had a point, he looked as if he’djust taken a shower but without taking off his clothes. Or as if some jolly prankster had heaved him into a swimming pool, then held him under for five minutes. And, yes, it was courtesy of solar energy.

“It’s 72 degrees under the roof,” Attie said politely. “One of the guys had a cell phone that checks temperatures. He checked it. 72 degrees. I think I may have heat exhaustion.”

“Would you like a drink?” said my father. I knew ,though, that while concerned about the health of this suffering Attie, he was mainly wondering why the hell anybody would install a thermometer in a cell-phone.

I’ve heard him going on about cell-phones in the past. He’s almost as boring as the Arab-Israeli conflict when it comes to cell-phones.

When I’m older I will buy three. It will annoy him and that’s always fun.

Judging by the speed with which newer and ever more essential features are being added to cell-phones, I am confident that my cell-phones will not just run up massive bills and poison my brain with radio-active waves, but will also be able to take my pulse, cook dinner, let me know how many meters I am below sea level, advise me on astrological shifts, change my nappies and teleport me to the Planet Blarg whenever someone mentions the topic of pureed carrots,spinnach and vitamins.

Call it a hunch, but I suspect that my parents will be trying me on solid food in the near future.

I’m not enthused.

Oh, and the boiler at Flat C has just exploded.

It was the only boiler that was not solar-powered.

……

AN ABBOT BUGGLY HEALTH ADVISORY NOW FOLLOWS ON THE SUBJECT OF BREAST MILK.

Breast feeding can be a bit of a chore initially and if the baby has gnashing gums, nipples can become tender. But persevere my dears! Breast milk is good for babies. It strengthens their immune systems. Indeed it is now recommended on tins of milk formula as superior to the milk formula contained in the very same tins.

And count your blessings. At least you’re not a pig. Those poor sows have a serious quantity of teats. You’re only burdened with two.


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