Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Crocodile and the Washing Machine.

Living half way up a mountain in North Wales has its advantages; having a new washing machine delivered is not one of them. Getting it into my flat required the strength of ten men. We settled on two old farts and a ta… er, my nice landlady. Blood, sweat and tears were updated to, ‘Fuck, shit, and I need a beer.’

The new machine is very smart. Looking, that is. As for being smart, as in clever, I personally believe computer chips shouldn’t dictate how your shit filled underpants should be cleaned. But first I had to unpack it. If I had been evicted, I could easily have used the packing to create a shanty tent and a double mattress out of the polystyrene. Gordon Brown might then come by and say, ‘Poverty on holiday.’

I read the instructions, which were extremely baffling. Washing machine instructions are designed for woman to get so confused, that in they end, they pay huge amounts for it to be installed by ‘experts’. This is a fallacy, proved when my girlfriend last year insisted on these so called experts, install and run her new machine. Laugh? I filled my pants due to these monkeys. Oh, they installed it alright, but when asked to run a program to see if it functions within known parameters, they replied that they didn’t know how this model worked (hundreds of green LEDs glowing evilly away), and that wasn’t their job. That will be an extra £55 for connecting the water and waste. Thank you very much.

Super, hey! Well guess what? The wankers didn’t tighten the cold enough and three days later the ceiling in the room below was flooded and partially collapsed. Captain Chaos (me) to the rescue as usual. So when my generous and kindly landlady delivered my super-dooper machine this weekend (a very sexy shade of metallic grey), I insisted I was more than qualified to connect three hoses and an electric plug.

Things went rapidly downhill as fast as she and her husband exited. After exhausting myself with the packing, I realised that I needed to unlock some bolts at the back. Of course, I, along with every other member of the British Isles, carry constantly a No 10 mm ratchet spanner in the back pocket. Actually, I have a whole box of them, just lying around, waiting for a new washing machine. That problem eliminated, it seemed pure simplicity connecting the hot and cold pipes (saved from the deceased last machine, that had inexplicably decided never to stop, until I pulled the plug on it), when, amazingly the instructions said I needed a ‘Y’ type connection. Huh! I want to wash my Y fronts, not standing around asking why all of a sudden I need a pipe with a Y.

Why me? Why can’t this be simple? Why it say, ‘Do not connect to hot.’ Just the cold and then it must have a Y and go into two holes in the machine. Well, obviously, I didn’t have such an adapter amongst my Y fronts. So I had to reluctantly drag my sorry arse down the hill to the local DIY shop.

You know that secret desire of what we want to do with a celebrity of choice, should we win such a lottery. I will tell you mine. I would want Kate Bush. I would make her go up the hill to my pad, and when she gets there, I would say, ‘Now fucking sing your running up that hill with no problem!’
All beside the point – I am just pointing out that I have been forced to exert myself, when I could have quite happily insisted on the landlady vomiting up a quick pony for a Barmouth idiot to install the washing machine for me. Hah-hah, such is my life.

Meanwhile…down at the DIY, I am greeted by the owner. This bloke makes Bryan Ferry’s hair style look non-greasy.
‘I say, dear chap, you wouldn’t have a moment to hear of my complicated issues with my new washing machine by any chance.’

Obviously not. His body language pointed out he has DIY 1 as a number plate on his AUDI and didn’t get that by wasting time with riff-raff. As he so nicely put it, ‘Ask my attendant.’

Attendant was extremely helpful and after waiting for fifteen minutes, whilst he rummaged in the warehouse for the mysterious ‘Y’ adapter, what I then nearly purchased would have been as useful as a shuttlecock in a Wimbledon tennis final. It certainly had the Y factor, but it would have been easier connecting it to the space shuttle than what I wanted it for. The attendant concurred and asked if I had not been supplied with such an intricate and complicated piece of piping; as in his knowledgeable history in such matters, they usually do.

Hah-hah. This country makes me weep.
‘No, actually you are totally correct young man. I am simply here to see if I can clone a few and sell them on Ebay.’
‘Maybe they are inside the machine.’ That was his next piece of sound advice.
‘Certainly. Why not? I will simply dismantle the entire back of the machine to see if they have been inadvertently popped in there by some bored minimum wage worker.’
Actually, I didn’t say that. I had a ghastly feeling that the stupid pipes were most probably in the drum. Still, on my side, I could point out the instructions didn’t say, ‘Missing pipe is in drum.’ All was not in vain because I did need some fancy adapter to make the small waste pipe fit into a large hole in the sink’s drainage pipes.

After running up that hill (not), I staggered in and having found the missing pipes, plumbed up 78.5kgs of shiny new toy, and loaded it up with smelly soils. Looking at the ‘instructions’, it appeared that the machine had an extra crap cleaner program that boils all the bacteria to death. I wasn’t sure about that. Back in Rhodesia, the locals washed in the river using ‘Cold Power’ powder, and after thrashing their rags on the boulders, seemed to get them shiny and very smaaart clean. Oddly enough, the crocodiles down stream were voted in 1977 as the leanest, meanest, and cleanest killing machines in Africa. The farmers in the area always laughed about the effect the crocs consumption of Lever Brother’s soap suds had. One common quip –
‘Ag Man, poor old Phineas. He was doing some fishing, the poaching bastard, and fuck-me, if a flatdog didn’t just take his leg ‘clean’ off.’ That never failed to raise a drunken laugh out of the future farm evictees.

With that in mind, I like to keep my clobber rather cool. After a few beers to help me get my head around the various programs, I settled on the one marked ‘idiots’ and hit the power button.

About 45 mins later, its merry chirping turned into frantic coughing, reminiscent of a throat cancer patient and promptly lit up like a Christmas tree. It had more flashing lights than the town’s only disco. Frantic checks in the trouble shooting section pointed out that something was not quite right. Well, that was obvious. I was advised to switch it off from the mains for a minute and then try again. High Tech all this. I would have to re-boot the WM. That meant dragging the thing out from under the counter. Reset, and go baby go, and baby not go far before the same happened all over again.

As a great detective once said, ‘If all possible explanations have been eliminated, call a Polish plumber.’ I have had lots of experience with Polish plumbers: I wouldn’t let them near a watering can. Further look at the notes hinted that perhaps there was a blockage. A quick go at the ‘Pump’ setting concluded the only pumping up going on was the volume of its torturous screams.

Dragging it out once again, I disconnected everything bit by piping bit, huffing and puffing down pipes and tubes, to no avail. I stripped down the recently bought adapter connected to the waste, thinking that I had been sold a sabotaged one. Finally, more in desperation than divine inspiration, I had a cursory peep down the end of the outlet pipe. Well, well, well - looky here what I found in the pipe, and not in the instruction manual. A dark blue plastic stop-plug shoved about an inch inside it. Now who would have guessed on that!

Happily for me, lying around was a set of long, super thin, electricians crocodile nosed pliers that extracted my problem with ease. Amazingly this was the tumour and I had successfully cut the cancerous lump out. The patient recovered immediately and my wash came out smelling of …dunno, but at least it was clean.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Legend of the Hippo and the Porcupine - German Style

Canoe Safari in the '90s. Keeping a wary eye on the hippos. Lower Zambezi.

Now, I cannot recall when, or who, told me the Legend of the Hippo and the Porcupine, but one evening, many years ago, I tried to tell it to my German children.

Timon (Timi), would have been about four and David approaching seven. They were sort of semi-bilingual and had been to Zimbabwe several times.

Timi, Mana Pools Nat Park.

David, Mana Pools Nat Park

So the bedtime story went a bit like this –

‘YOUR children are in bed and it is YOUR turn to tell them a gute nacht geschichte.’ Thus spoke the wife.

The two were sitting up in the double bed, a huge illustrated fairy tales book next to them.

‘I am not reading out of that.’

‘Why not?’ says David.

‘Because reading Deutsche out loud is as pleasant as coughing up cigarette phlegm’

‘Flem? Was ist flem?’, Timi asks. ‘Daddy stinks of cigarettes…And beer.’

Knowing that this would be thirsty work, I took a large slug from my ever present brown bottle. ‘Beer makes me big and strong,’ say I, wiping the froth from my mouth.

‘Then why did Mummy say you crawl to bed last night,’ says the eldest one.

‘Something was wrong with my legs.’

‘And your head,’ says David knowingly.

‘Daddy ist ein dumkopf,’ agrees Timi.

‘Okay, that’s enough. Now I am going to tell you a story from Africa’. This immediately brings grins of anticipation.

‘I want the one about the bicycle in a hole and it pulled off your head.’

‘Timi, not that one again.’

David quips up, ‘Daddy, tell us about when you got paid to shoot tourists.’

‘What? I never shot tourists.’

‘Yes you did. When you were a policeman.’

‘Terrorists. I was supposed to shoot terrorists. Not tourists.’

‘Wots a terra-rist?’ says Timi.

‘It’s a tourist who has a gun instead of a camera…Okay! And I didn’t shoot anyone. Now can we get on with the story?’

A porcupine

‘Aha. Okay. ’

David giggles, ‘Alles klar.’

‘Alles Scheisse!’ This is Timi’s latest new proverb.

‘Anyway, one day on the banks of the Zambezi…’

‘Beer, not bank,’ comments David.

‘What you talking about?’ Now I am getting more confused.

‘In Zimbabwe you drank Zambezi.’

‘Castle auch,’ adds Timi. ‘I also drink Castle in Zimbabwe.’

Timi with castle

I finish my bottle whilst contemplating my revenge. I shout out, ‘Wife, bring me another beer. This is going to take a while.’ Ignoring their little mind games, I devise my own.

‘This is the story about the hippopotamus and the porcupine.’

‘Was?’ says Timi.

‘Nilpferd und schweinehund,’ translates David helpfully.

‘Not a schweinehund. It’s... Wife, what’s a porcupine?’ as I am presented with another beer.

‘Stachelschwein.’ She wanders off.

‘Alles Scheisse. Scheisse, Scheisse.’ says Timi.

‘Quiet. Shut up before one of us dies. Anyway, Timi, you will love this story because it is about your favourite word.’

‘Scheisse?’ Timi says hopefully.

‘Ja, scheisse, because did you know that when the hippo has a scheisse, it spins its tail around and around and sprays it everywhere.’

‘Cool,’ is David’s impressed response.

Timi is still a sentence or two behind. ‘Was ist ein stachelschweine?’

‘It’s a small animal with lots of black and white quills.’

‘Kills? Wot he kill?’ asks Timi.

I need to sort this out fast. ‘Look, you boys must remember when we went fishing at Kariba.’ They nod their heads enthusiastically. ‘Now what did I use as a float?’

‘The corks from Mummy’s wine bottles.’ David immediately acknowledges.

‘No man. The long, thin pointy things.’

‘Aah, alles klar,’ says Timi.

‘Anyway, long, long time ago, the hippo ate meat.’

‘People?’ asks David hopefully.

‘Who cares what kind of meat? They just ate meat. Well, one day the hippo got some stuck in his teeth.’

‘People?’ says David craftily.

‘And the people shouted, “This is scheisse”.’ With that shot from Timi, both boys fell over laughing.

‘Very clever, Timi. Now, the hippo can’t get the bit of meat out and it is driving him mad. Then he comes across the porcupine on the way to the market to sell his quills to the fisherman.’

‘How much he get for them?’ asks my materialistic orientated eldest.

‘I don’t know. It’s not the point. Anyway, the hippo asks to borrow a quill so he could poke out the meat. The porcupine agrees but says he wants it back when he returns from the market. When the porcupine is gone, the hippo digs and digs in his mouth and just as he gets the meat out - he swallows the quill!’

‘Scheisse,’ says Timi.

‘Big scheisse,’ I agree, ‘so he hides when the porcupine comes back. The hippo then thinks that if he has a…’

‘Scheisse!’ shouts Timi.

‘Correct, but he thinks that to find the quill better he will spin his tail very fast and scatter his scheisse, making it easier to find it’

‘And does he?’ David asks.

‘Well, that’s the whole point of the story, because he never found it, and to this day, the hippo still hides from the porcupine and he stills spins his tail when he has a sheisse and looks for the quill. And he is frightened to eat meat in case it sticks in his teeth again because he cannot go back to the porcupine for another quill. So since that time the hippo only eats grass.’ With that triumphant note I wrapped the story up. ‘Did you kids like that story?’

Together they replied, ‘Alles SCHEISSE!’

A Scweinehund

Monday, April 06, 2009

Wilbur Smith and the Rhinoceros

Many Africa fans will know the author Wilbur Smith. For people my age, being brought up in Victorian style Rhodesia, his debut book, When The Lion Feeds, was the nearest thing we got to soft porn. I don’t think our school or local library had it, so at 15, I had to stand in the queue as it did the rounds of Class 3b1 in 1973. (The book was written in 1964, but I wasn’t exactly going to get excited by it whilst aged 6!)

Ironically, after a trip to the UK in ‘75, returning to Rhodesia, I smuggled past customs a copy of one of the hottest books of the time – Xaviera Hollander’s The Happy Hooker. As it was cooling a bit after two years of publication, I picked it up ‘dirt’ cheap from – Woolworths! Just behind the shelf for ‘pic –n –mix’.

I lent it out and, by the time it did the school circuit, it came back in bits. Not a lot of them.

Anyway, this is all beside the point. Writing this I looked at Wiki about Wilbur. There were some interesting little facts. He wrote When The Lion Feeds whilst working as an accountant for Salisbury Inland Revenue. Amazing, the guy was looking at my father’s tax returns whilst thinking up saucy stories.

I remember vividly the cover on that paperback, especially the woman with those voluptuous breasts. Sadly I could not find an image of that particular cover. I always believed that the hero in that book, Sean Courtney, was influenced by a real life character by the name of Frederick Courteney Selous. I am sure Wilbur would have popped down to the local archives for some research on Frederick, who was very much the larger than life character. (It doesn’t take much imagination to see the similarity in the names.)

There is a great photo of Selous in the National Archives in Harare. I purchased a copy a while ago and it hangs above my PC screen. The same one on the net has been cropped.

He became a bit of a legend, and had acted as a guide for C.J. Rhodes’s Pioneer column into Mashonoland. During the Bush War the Rhodesian forces created a special anti-terrorist unit in his name – The Selous Scouts. I also recall a special First Day Cover issued in 1971. I had one, but don’t know where I have put it. It is interesting to note that Selous’s heirs were stripped of their property rights in Salisbury, because his marriage to three African women had been done under African traditional laws. This is interesting stuff that does not appear in the Encyclopaedia of Rhodesia, I wonder why?

Rhinos are rather large. This one is in Etosha Nat Park. 2008

Anyway, back to Wilbur Smith. It can be pretty certain that he will never win any literature prizes. He sticks to a rather stereotyped set of characters, but I still admit to reading all his latest books - as fast as they appear in the charity shops.

Now, completely out of Africa’s blue skies, I received a short story purportedly a true life experience written by Smith. My guess it is genuine. The anecdote is very much his style and with his trademark use of imagery.

It is hilarious…

Rhino skulls outside Mana Pools Nat. Park’s office,1993.

About half were poached.

This could be seen by the machete cuts in the skull from removing the horn.

The plight of the Black Rhinoceros is, or course, due mostly to the value of
its horn and the ferocious poaching that this engenders. However, a
contributory factor to the declining rhino population is the animals
disorganized mating habits.

It seems that the female rhino only becomes receptive to the male's
attentions every three years or so, while the male only becomes interested
in her at the same intervals. A condition known quite appropriately as
"Must" The problem is one of synchronization, for their amorous
inclinations do not always coincide.

In the early Sixties, I was invited, along with a host of journalists and
other luminaries, to be present at an attempt by the Rhodesian Game and
Tsetse Department to solve this problem of poor timing.

The idea was to capture a male rhino and induce him to deliver up that which
could be stored until that day in the distant future when his mate's fancy
turned lightly to thoughts of love.

We departed from the Zambezi Valley in an impressive convoy of trucks and
Landrovers, counting in our midst none other than the Director of the game
department in person, together with his minions, a veterinary surgeon, an
electrician and sundry other technicians, all deemed necessary to make the

The local game scouts had been sent out to scout the bush for the largest,
most virile rhino they could find. They had done their job to perfection
and led us to a beast at least the size of a small granite koppie with a
horn on his nose considerably longer than my arm.

The trick was to get this monster into a robust mobile pen which had been
constructed to accommodate him.

With the Director of the Game Department shouting frantic orders from the
safety of the largest truck, the pursuit was on. The tumult and the
shouting were apocalyptic. Clouds of dust flew in all directions, trees,
and vegetation were destroyed, game scouts scattered like chaff, but finally
the Rhino had about a litre of narcotics shot into his rump and his mood
became dreamy and benign.

With forty black game guards heaving and shoving, and the Director still
shouting orders from the truck, the rhino was wedged into his cage, and
stood there with a happy grin on his face.

At this stage, the Director deemed it safe to emerge from the cab of his
truck and he came amongst us resplendent in starched and immaculately ironed
bush jacket with a colourful silk scarf at this throat. With an imperial
gesture, he ordered the portable electric generator to be brought forward
and positioned behind the captured animal. This was a machine which was
capable of lighting up a small city, and it was equipped with two wheels
that made it resemble a roman chariot.

The Director climbed up on the generator to better address us. We gathered
around attentively while he explained what was to happen next.

It seemed that the only way to get what we had come for was to introduce an
electrode into the rhino's rear end, and to deliver a mild electric shock,
no more than a few volts, which would be enough to pull his trigger for him.

The Director gave another order and the veterinary surgeon greased something
that looked like an acoustic torpedo and which was attached to the generator
with sturdy insulated wires. He then went up behind the somnolent beast
and thrust it up him to a full arms length, at which the Rhino opened his
eyes very wide indeed.

The veterinary and his two black assistants now moved into position with a
large bucket and assumed expectant expressions. We, the audience, crowded
closer so as not to miss a single detail of the drama. The Director still
mounted on the generator trailer, nodded to the electrician who threw the
switch and chaos reigned. In the subsequent departmental enquiry the blame
was placed squarely on the shoulders of the electrician. It seems that in
the heat of the moment his wits had deserted him and instead of connecting
up his apparatus to deliver a gentle 5 volts, he had crossed his wires and
the Rhino received a full 500 volts up his rear end.

His reaction was spectacular. Four tons of rhinoceros shot six feet straight
up in the air. The cage, made of great timber baulks, exploded into its
separate pieces and the rhinoceros now very much awake, took off at a

We, the audience, were no less spritely. We took to the trees with alacrity.
This was the only occasion on which I have ever been passed by two
journalists half way up a Mopane tree.

From the top branches we beheld an amazing sight, for the chariot was still
connected to the Rhinoceros per rectum, and the director of the game
department was still mounted upon it, very much like Ben Hur, the

As they disappeared from view, the rhinoceros was snorting and blowing like
a steam locomotive and the Director was clinging to the front rail of his
chariot and howling like the north wind which only encouraged the beast to
greater speed.

The story has a happy ending for the following day after the director had
returned hurriedly to his office in Salisbury, another male Rhinoceros was
captured and caged and this time the electrician got his wiring right.

I can still see the Rhinoceros's expression of surprised gratification as
the switch was thrown. You could almost hear him think to himself. "Oh
Boy! I didn't think this was going to happen to me for at least another
three years".