Confessions of an expat – You’re listening to Radio Expat

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Who’s the guy on stage? Oh, I thought I recognised him

There have been times when, in my capacity as a freelance journalist, I have found myself in press conferences where I knew nothing and nobody. Not long after we arrived in Suriname, there was just such an instance.

Picture the scene: a dark room like a small theatre, with rows of seats filled with local journos. The photographers and TV cameramen, for whom seats are not appropriate, are setting themselves up around the sides and at the back. Presumably they have been banned from the front, because otherwise that’s where they would be, hogging the spectacle at the expense of everyone else. You can hear them thinking, “You pen and notebook people can use your ears, but this camera needs to be fed.”

We are here because one of the political parties that made up the coalition has been ditched, accused of making trouble in the ranks. It leaves the government with a tiny majority with which to push through matters that come to a vote.

That is as much as I know as I go into the conference, and it’s as much as I know when I come out too, because, although I recently gained a diploma in Dutch at beginner  level, that means I know slightly more than someone who knows nothing at all. And since the proceedings are, understandably, conducted in the official language of Suriname, I am effectively deaf. What I do know is that my presence has been noted. Because I look different and he hasn’t seen me before, the MC glances at me as he welcomes the “international press”.

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TV reporters in the Caribbean (and elsewhere) tend to be female and pointedly, deliberately attractive. While the technicians and producers labour to keep up with technology, it is true of every small community that its visual presenters’ minimum requirement is to talk when prompted and not fall over. That’s how it is back home in the Channel Islands and it’s how it is here. You even find it on the less conspicuous parts of the BBC, CNN and so forth. The best people get the high-profile positions at home, while the others are parked in front of cameras  of departments transmitting to the rest of the world.

That means that enthusiastic young people who started off in the local media before getting lucky at an interview and being fast-tracked to the world stage  are doing their chirpy stuff out of context. It’s all very well being bright and breezy, emphasising every word to make the annual village flower festival sound interesting, but when you apply the same approach to more serious matters, it makes you look and sound like an airhead.

A  print journalist such as myself can get away with youthful incompetence because there is a barrage of people between your raw words and the finished article. There is probably a sub-editor, whose job is to make sure it reads okay, and perhaps a proofreader, whose obsession is with weeding out grammatical and spelling errors. Your 200 lamentable words don’t immediately find themselves exposed to the general public.

Radio is much the same everywhere: you can either do it or you can’t, “it” being to keep talking for as long as necessary. That might sound easy but in practice it quickly sorts out the men from the boys, the parrots from the budgies. The life and soul type who is loud and hearty in social situations can find himself powerless, like Samson after a haircut, when it is just him and a microphone, with no one to bounce off. He may end up as a newsreader – still a broadcaster and doing a worthy job,  but not one requiring much spontaneity or joie de vivre.

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Hi, you’re listening to Radio Expat. And now… let’s go back in time with a bit of Donna Summer

All over the world the jingles, links and station ‘idents’ all sound like they were recorded in the same studio in Miami and issued like off-the-peg suits, with just the station name different. Radio ‘insert your name here’, such-and-such a number FM, the voice of ‘……’

It is important for the expat to catch a bit of local media in order to keep abreast with what’s going on in his or her new home, but radio is a hard way of doing it, even if they broadcast in English. Most stations have regular news bulletins, but what comes between them are inane pop songs, the same current ones over and over again or easy-listening blasts from the past, and home-made attempts at entertainment. On a Saturday afternoon in Paramaribo as you trail from shop to shop in one of the two malls, the radio that constitutes the aural ambience is occupied by a deep-voiced, intense man who covers every aspect of personal relationships, from awkward courtship and infidelity to divorce, but without any of the happy bits.

What qualifies him to pontificate in this way? To find that out I would have to concentrate, and quite frankly I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

Small media operations, particularly the broadcast variety, don’t have the luxury of specialists. Nor do they have the luxury of a big budget, which makes the viewer aware of how good the real pros are. The recent local coverage of the European football championships made me pine for the big broadcasters, with their privileged studios overlooking the pitch and their batteries of well-known experts, while the local boys seem to have been allocated a broom cupboard with some shiny plastic to hang as a backdrop that reflects the lights. In place of the high-profile ex-professional giving his expert opinions, the less fortunate outfits wheel out a guy who used to play at a reasonable level in their small part of the world and is now a taxi driver but has managed to get the afternoon off to be a pundit.

You’ve got to start somewhere, though, and there are obviously plenty of good, competent and talented people  at small stations working their way up or happy where they are. There’s a guy on CNN, now a respected business correspondent, who I remember hearing on BBC Guernsey in 1996, filling an afternoon with bits and pieces about the snow that had brought the island to a standstill (it doesn’t snow there often and always catches people out – oh, wot larks!) And there’s a female presenter on BBC Radio Four’s influential early-morning Today programme, who gritted her teeth through an apprenticeship that included  Channel Television, where she was regularly obliged to have a bit of banter with the station mascot, a soft toy called Oscar Puffin. If anything were ever needed to get her out of bed at two in the morning to go to work, that thought must surely do it.

 

Ref! On the farce that is Formula One

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee and all-round sports expert Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant

 Referee

Evening lads,

Just for a change let’s talk about something other than football tonight, okay? Such as? What do you mean, such as, Dave? There are other subjects in the world. We just naturally talk about football because… yes, Baz, it’s what we do – very profound.

So how about Formula One? Very popular sport. A man’s sport, you could say, because it’s all blokes in here tonight and they’re all talking about it. Well I tell you what, I don’t see the appeal. I lost interest when it stopped being called motor racing. Now it’s Formula One or even F1. It’s lost its way, you know.  Too clever for its own good. I don’t even understand it half the time. Well, Baz, do you? You do? Because you are also a driver. Yes, you’re a lorry driver. You can call it a truck driver if you like but here in Britain you’re a lorry driver, mate. And it’s hardly the same thing, is it?

Okay, I’ll grant you that you and Lewis Hamilton both have to have a basic understanding of motor vehicles, but that hardly means you have a lot in common. Okay, I will test you. What was all this nonsense about tyre pressures on Sunday? And why did Hamilton have to start last? And if they’ve perfected a new head protector on the cars why aren’t they using it?

You see? None of it is about actually driving. It’s all technical stuff. No, Dave, I can see he’s trying to answer and I deliberately gave him three questions at once because the whole thing is confusing. They change their tyres two or three times during a race, they’ve made the engines quieter but some people think that spoils the fun. They could actually go faster than they do but there are restrictions on that. It’s cobblers, mate. Nonsense.

Cheers Gary, I’ll have a cocktail please. The most complicated thing they can make. I don’t care.

Look, if other sports did what F1 does there’d be an outcry. You pole vaulters can’t use those poles because they’re too good, so you’ll have to use an inferior one. Mo Farah, you’ll have to use soft spikes and stop halfway and put wet weather ones on. And you can use a headset to communicate with your coach, but you can only use it a certain number of times or they’ll penalize you.

Whatever happened to just getting in the fastest car your team can make and driving it as fast as you can? No, Baz, that isn’t what they do. There’s all this other stuff that gets in the way. You hear that Fernando Alonso is one of the fastest drivers and Jenson Button is a more naturally gifted driver than Hamilton, so why do they not win races anymore? It’s like saying Dave is a better singer than Pavarotti because he’s got a better microphone.

It’s like making cricket bats with holes in them to stop the great batsmen scoring so many runs.

Absolute nonsense, mate, the world’s gone mad and Bernie Ecclestone and the rest of them  are out of their heads on money, intoxicated by cash. Cheers Gary, what the bloody hell’s this?

 

 

Just a song

In 1969 short-lived supergroup Blind Faith released their first and only album. Keyboards and vocals: Steve Winwood, formerly of Traffic and the Spencer Davis Group. Unique voice, very soulful but liable to crack and skid off the note. He would later become the organist of a parish church in England when he wasn’t busy touring and recording. Guitarist: Eric Clapton, still with years of drug and alcohol problems ahead of him, not to mention a hugely successful solo career. He wrote this song. Drummer: Ginger Baker. Like Clapton, he was formerly in Cream, and is my favourite rock drummer. Bass: Ric Grech, formerly of Family. I don’t know why they called themselves Blind Faith or how they managed to smuggle such an obviously Christian song onto an album of blistering rock and soul. I certainly didn’t think about it at the time.

Like many addicts, Clapton’s search for the something-missing took him down a variety of blind alleys and it wasn’t until he cleaned up for good in 1987 that he became serious about God. Although he doesn’t make a big thing of it in public, he has been quoted as saying this:

I had found a place to turn to… From that day until this, I have never failed to pray in the morning, on my knees, asking for help, and at night, to express gratitude for my life and, most of all, for my sobriety. I choose to kneel because I feel I need to humble myself when I pray, and with my ego, this is the most I can do.

The Blind Faith album cover was controversial and was prohibited in the US. According to the art director who came up with the idea, there was not supposed to be anything erotic or suggestive about it, but they certainly wouldn’t get away with it now.

Bloke in the Kitchen. Degrees of cheating

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Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

Regular readers will know that this blog is not about fine food and intricate recipes. It’s about being able to put a decent meal on the table for yourself, your family and your friends. It’s really a branch of the do-it-yourself advice which shows you how to wire a plug, fix a dripping tap or put up some curtain poles. It’s about not being reliant on other people to provide basic services.

With food, though, there is any number of shortcuts, a huge array of ready-made options in the shops, takeaway Chinese and Indian food, pizzas, chip shops, fried chicken places and so on.

So why bother to do it yourself? Three reasons.

  1. It’s cheaper
  2. If you made it, you know what’s in it
  3. It’s the natural thing to do and there is a feeling of satisfaction about it.

In all the recipes we have looked at over the last year or so, not one has contained anything expensive, not one has been difficult and not one has been time-consuming.

They don’t contain hidden quantities of salt, fat or chemical additives that might be tomorrow’s health-scare headlines.

It amazes me that the best customers of the takeaway food joints seem to be low-income families. It astounds me that you see unhealthy-looking physical specimens adding to their woes by the crap they’re eating (and washing it down with sugary fizzy drinks).

It saddens me to hear people almost proudly saying they can’t cook. It makes me wonder what other elementary human skills they have yet to master and in fact have no intention of mastering.

And yet it is they who need the help most, so today we’re going to look at ways to make their life easier.

One thing that even professional chefs will grant the rest of us is permission to use ready-made pastry. That means we’re going to be making pies and suchlike, which are often synonymous with excessive calories and salt, but if it gets someone in the kitchen like a novice with a self-assembly wardrobe because he is clearly not going to be making his own from scratch, then fine.

Similarly, there are jars of pasta sauce, so all you have to do is boil the pasta, heat this stuff and pour it on.

The world is full of curry powder and paste, so all you have to do is supply some cooked meat or defrosted prawns and, again, apply heat, mix and serve – once you’ve mastered the art of boiling some rice, that is.

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This one even lists the ingredients, so why not make it yourself?

This is the one that gets my goat, as it happens. What could be easier than throwing a few spices into a pan yourself and creating a taste over which you have some control?

When I lived in Tobago, little sister island of Trinidad, I was writing some features for a tourist magazine and one of the subjects I was given was a local speciality, curry crab (they don’t say “curried”).

There’s a place by a popular beach with a cluster of curry crab cabins, so I went there and found a legendary woman who had been making this for decades, as did her mother before her and so on. I asked her what the main ingredients were. “Well, curry powder,” she began, and I missed the rest of it because I was so disappointed that she was not really doing it herself after all.

Perhaps I was 100 years too late and really needed to have gone there before mass production and ease of distribution made it so easy to be lazy.

It’s a similar story in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a relatively unspoilt group south of the Bahamas. Their speciality? If, like me, you were hoping for something exotic involving their legendary big pink-shelled seafood, conch,  or coconuts or some root vegetable we’ve never heard of, you would have been as dismayed as I was. The national dish is macaroni cheese. And not even home-made, but shop-bought packet garbage. For a special occasion, eating out, many would go for fried chicken.

It is the reverse of the old Crocodile Dundee line, where the veteran bushman is extolling the virtues of eating a certain type of beetle. “You can live on it. But it tastes like sh*t.” In this case it would be, “It tastes great. No nutritional value, but the carbohydrates might just keep you alive.”

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So here, for the benefit of the absolute novice who is almost too lazy to breathe and doesn’t really want to go to the trouble of chewing food, is this week’s recipe. Buy a packet of dried noodles, the type with some “flavor” already in them. Boil some water and soak the noodles in it until they’re soft.

Slurp it down and collapse into your armchair with a bright green soft drink. And good luck to you.

 

The wisdom of pop songs – Fire

Pop music being about youth and excitement a lot of the time, it’s not surprising that fire crops up. Not in the literal sense, that is, but as an indication of emotion.

One that did purport to be about the real thing was 1968’s Fire by  The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, a rabble-rouser if ever there was one, and appealing to teenagers even now. Sadly for Arthur, he burned brightly for a very short time and that was his only hit, although he has recorded plenty of music over the years and is apparently still at it. Incidentally, his band originally contained keyboardist Vincent Crane, who went on to form Atomic Rooster, into which drummer Carl Palmer later followed him before becoming part of Emerson Lake and Palmer.

Brown toured with Jimi Hendrix and managed to get thrown off the tour for safety reasons, in spite of Hendrix’s own predilection for squirting lighter fluid on his guitar and setting fire to it. And of course Hendrix had his own song called Fire, in which he urged the object of his affections to let him stand next to her “fire”. A figure of speech, no doubt.

Jerry Lee Lewis’s contribution to the theme came merely as part of an exclamation, goodness gracious, Great Balls of Fire, again as a result of an incendiary woman.

The Rolling Stones were also just playing with words when they wrote and recorded Play With Fire, a warning by the singer to a girl not to mess with him.

Deep Purple’s perennial favourite, Smoke on the Water, was about a real incident when Montreux Casino burned down after a concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. As the song tells us, “some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground”. This mattered to Deep Purple because, for whatever reason, they had intended to record an album in the casino, using the Rolling Stones’s mobile recording equipment.

And so was born a guitar riff that sounds easier to play than it really is, as fledgling rockers have been finding out for almost 50 years.

Many years later, Saturday Night Fever included Disco Inferno, in which the writers (no, not the BeeGees) imagined a blaze, so hot was the atmosphere in this particular palais de dance.

The Pointer Sisters, during their 1980s heyday, claimed to burst into flames courtesy of a kiss, although science has for centuries failed to prove or disprove the phenomenon of spontaneous combustion.

Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire is supposedly an attempt to absolve his rock’n’roll generation of the blame for the world’s ills – although it sounds more as if he’s just enjoying a bit of a reminisce and trying to make it sound like a rock song.

Possibly the most gentle fire song is Jose Feliciano’s acoustic guitar-powered version of Light My Fire, which was written by the Doors and recorded by them with a rampant organ… err, a  driving, organ-based accompaniment.

Self-indulgent as ever, I must mention The Fire by one of New York’s new wave bands of the 70s, Television. A dead-slow, basically nonsensical but emotional-sounding piece of poignant fantasy, I won’t bother you with a track to listen to, but if you ever come across their second album, Adventure, it’s on there. And tell them I sent you.

One that has always made me quite angry is The Prodigy’s firestarter, a vile and puerile piece of vitriol that makes me want to go round their house and lob a Molotov cocktail into the shed, if they think it’s so damn funny. It’s only a pop song, of course, but does this add to the beauty of human existence?

Current world favourite Adele mixed her metaphors with reckless abandon on Set Fire To The Rain, but then she could sing the Koran  in Greek and it would be a hit.

On one final note of self-indulgence, I give you Etta James (real name Jamesetta Hawkins – that’s what it says on Wikipedia, anyway), perpetual   bridesmaid in the pantheon of female soul singers. Well known in certain circles in the 1960s with songs such as I Just Want To Make Love To You, she faded badly before re-emerging in 1986 with an album called Seven Year Itch, on which she breaks your heart one minute and rocks like a bitch the next on tracks like Jump Into My  Fire.

Kaycee’s Klasic Films – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Siobhan Kennedy-Clarke’s classic film reviews
Our fictitious reviewer Siobhan (KayCee) didn't have much of an education but she's passionate about films

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Yeah going back a bit again 1969 some people think of this as a western but I don’t it’s set in those times but it ain’t at all like all those old cowboy films from the 50s its what is now known as a buddy movie.

There are four things I like about this first Paul Newman and Robert Redford both rather tasty don’t you think well I do. Second its funny some of the lines are hilarious its dry wit though kind of supple and I like that. Third the other characters there all good and fourth the music which is unusual I suppose done by Burt Bacharach and sometimes sung by the Swingle Singers who do arabella music with no instruments and no words just singing sounds you may not like that and I can’t say I’ve got much on my iPod but for the film it works great.

Butch and Sundance are outlaws part of the Hole in the Wall Gang it’s Butch’s gang really and they’ve been away for a while so when they get back to Hole in the Wall their hideout this giant guy Harvey thinks he’s taken over. He wants to settle it with a fight cos he’s so tough but Butch walks up to him and says he won’t start till they get the rules sorted out and he goes “Rules? In a knife fight? No rules,” and Butch kicks him right in the cobblers and wins.

Oh, even before that right at the start we find out that Sundance is a famous gunfighter he’s playing cards and someone accuses him of cheating. Butch comes in and tries to reason with the guy but he won’t listen and Butch goes, “I can’t help you Sundance.” The guy just about craps himself and says “I didn’t know you were the Sundance Kid when I said you were cheating. If I draw on you you’ll kill me.” And Sundance goes, “There’s that possibility.” Cool as a cucumber.

You know sometimes when I write these things I don’t want to tell you any good bits because if you haven’t seen it already there’s nothing like the first time but something like this you’ve probably seen before so shall I carry on I guess so.

They rob a train and the owner of the railroad is sick of it and hires a posse of the best lawmen, trackers and that that he can find. Great line from Butch: “If he’d just pay me what he’s spending to make me stop robbing him I’d stop robbing him.”

The screenplay (script) is by William Goldman and if this was all he ever done (which it wasn’t) he could of died happy it’s so good.

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Sundance has a girlfriend Etta (Katharine Ross) and they all decide to move to Bolivia to get away from the posse. There’s this nice bit of brown and white film as an interlude while they go to New York and get the boat to South America and the soundtrack goes all Swingle Singers and they arrive in this one horse town and Sundance is furious and then they find they have to learn Spanish to rob banks to tell the people what to do so Etta teaches them. It all gets very difficult and uncomfortable so she goes back home she’s a teacher and eventually the boys find themselves with half the Bolivian army against them.

Its great so funny nice scenery good music and everything I know it word for word but I still love watching it cos it ain’t one of those macho bang bang things although there is a bit of shooting.

 

 

The English Pedant – And so to Z

iTunes might seem like a strange resource for looking at language, but it’s where I went when I found myself writing about the letter Z. Not only is that the last letter of the alphabet, but it’s probably the most underused.

In English that may be because we often pronounce s as z (was, because etc.) So interchangeable have they become that there is a transatlantic split. The spellchecker on Microsoft Word, being a US national, automatically changes my spelling of organisation to organization, just as it changes centre to center and so forth. Regardless of its being pronounced zee rather than zed, clearly there are more z’s in the USA than in the UK, but it is much more common in Eastern Europe.

So, iTunes. Being a music buff, I have more than 2,000 songs at my disposal, but not one title starts with z. As for artistes, iTunes complicates the search by its insistence on using first names for alphabetical order, but the only two bands in my list are ZZ Top and Zero 7 (whom you’ve probably never heard of and I’ve only ever heard one track, so don’t worry about it).

Thinking about second names, there’s some Frank Zappa among my souvenirs, and The Zombies. You may recall In the Year 2525 by Zager and Evans, but I  never liked that.

Album titles: Zuma by Neil Young. Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust is in there somewhere, but not under z because the album is officially called The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

Look up any list you like and you’ll find the same story. Films: Ice Station Zebra. Actors: Billy Zane.

US presidents: Zachary Taylor (1849-50). UK Prime Ministers: a couple of Fitzsomethings but no first letters.

Its rarity makes z an exotic letter. Zen sounds mysterious because of the letter at the start. If it was called Ken, it wouldn’t have the same je ne sais quoi.

It does crop up as a penultimate letter from time to time, though, which is what brought it to my attention. In an article about the disgraced American Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, written by an American, it told how Lochte was “a jock” (that means Scottish where I come from)  and how university students give newcomers to their fraternity a good “hazing”. Adrift on this sea of Americanism I eventually decoded it. A jock is an athletic type, a fraternity house is like a men’s hall of residence and hazing means giving someone a hard time to the extent of humiliation.

Although it is easy enough to find the definition in a dictionary, the origin of this word is unclear, as is the reason for its recent popularity.

Perhaps it is something to do with the word “faze”, which became widespread a few years earlier. To be fazed by something is to be deterred, put off or intimidated and it is often heard  in a testament to someone’s fortitude. “Nothing fazes him”.

And that has nothing at all to do with the word with which it is sometimes confused, phased, which is occasionally used as a verb to describe a gradual process. “Steam engines were phased out in the 1950s.”

Dispensable though those two words are, at least they  breathe a bit of life into the struggling z.

 

Confessions of an expat – Salute to an unsung heroine

There is a lot of patriotism in Suriname, which is, perhaps, surprising, bearing in mind the amazing blend of cultures involved. The national flag flies everywhere. The ‘I heart Su’ slogan is emblazoned on t-shirts and bags. There are even songs blasting out of car radios, celebrating the claims of Paramaribo as one of the world’s cool cities. But few people here recognize that it is a bona fide world leader in something.

No, not mining, although that is a key industry. Not installing security fences and razor wire, although for better or worse there is plenty of that. But where this country shows the rest of the world how it’s done is in the art of car washing.

All over Paramaribo there are people offering to rinse the grime off your four-wheeled darling for a small amount of money. There are little one-man operations and more sophisticated-looking places with three or four berths, and the good news for motorists who care about their delicate paintwork is that, for reasons of lack of finance, the washing methods here are gentle.

Elsewhere, car wash technology has developed to the extent that in some countries it is completely automated, with whirling bars flailing plastic strips moving on rails forwards and backwards, lashing the panels so hard it’s surprising the metallic bits in the paint don’t jump out. You certainly wouldn’t want to see a human being washed by one of these – and we’re self-healing.

So despite its unwanted limitations, Suriname finds itself at the forefront of an industry because in this case less really is more and less efficient is also less damaging. This is the land of buckets and sponges, with the slicker operators using high-pressure hoses to separate dirt from paintwork. It’s a good thing it rains so much around here, though, because in a country concerned with water conservation – and there are plenty of them, from the deserts to climate-changing Europe – you’d never get away with sending 100 litres of nature’s essential supply down the drain.

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This was a charity event

This admiration for an industry dawns on me as I sit on a plastic patio chair on a street corner halfway along busy, grimy, unfashionable Franchepanestraat, relaxing for half an hour while a highly industrious woman of Chinese ancestry takes a break from badgering her teenage son into doing his homework (I couldn’t understand a word of the conversation, of course, but the sound of a scolding mother is universal) to do a vehicle makeover.

She’s a hard worker, this woman, running an internet café and a carwash business from her  sun-baked shack. I had seen her before as I walked past her premises during the long weeks while a bank and a garage went through their interminable bureaucratic procedures. Now, finally, it is my turn to occupy the waiting area and watch her in action.

It’s not a glamorous job for a woman. You get hot, you get dirty and you get wet. Which makes me wonder why she is wearing flip flops. Wouldn’t something waterproof on her feet be a better idea?

She opens all the doors and cleans the windows on the inside, spraying some supermarket glass cleaner and wiping/polishing with a crumpled sheet of newspaper. Then she drags a small vacuum cleaner out of the shack and does the business with that, after removing the mats and spanking them on a wooden pillar that holds the roof up.

Next she gets out the water jet gun and shoots the dirt off the exterior of the car, powering the water into the wheel arches to get rid of the caked mud.

The car looks fine to me, and the sun will dry it in five minutes, so I imagine that’s it. But no. She shouts for junior, who emerges from his reluctant studies with a bucket, fills it with soapy water and proceeds to lather my pampered Toyota, giving his mother a kiss before she applies some chemical or other to the wheels. Then the water lance comes out again and I’m grateful for the occasional accidental cooling spray as the Queen of Clean brandishes her weapon.

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And this is how they do it in the less sophisticated areas

The soap now on the ground, floating on water two inches deep, I guess this really is it.

Wrong again, as she comes back with a cloth and proceeds to wipe the panels. To get at the roof she has to open doors and stand on the sills, which she has just cleaned. How is she going to do that with her muddy footwear?

I watch in humbled admiration as she lets the flip flops slide from her feet with practised ease to stand on there with her bare soles. She may be no ballerina, but this place is the Bolshoi of its own world.

More newspaper, more squeaky windows. She quoted me 20SRD last week ($2.50 US), but surely that was for the basic job, rather than this de luxe treatment.

The quote stands. 20 SRD and a smile. This woman is a star. An unknown, unsung, unpretentious heroine in her tiny, obscure part of the planet.

 

 

 

 

Ref! On the Olympics and George Michael

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads,

So, what did we think of the Olympics then? Needs a rethink, Dave? I don’t disagree with you, mate, but I wonder if we have the same thoughts on the general principle.

Well, it’s a paradox, isn’t it? A paradox, Baz, is… kind of hard to explain. It means two things exist together when you’d think it doesn’t make sense. Like George Michael and Aretha Franklin, Dave, thank you. The American Queen of Soul and an English berk who was a teenage girls’ heartthrob until he got arrested for gay activity in public toilets.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Baz? I appreciate that we’re men of the world and despite your Neanderthal appearance you’re trying to keep up, but actually there is something wrong with that. Not necessarily the gay part but the public aspect. Look, we’re going wildly off the subject; what’s the matter with you two tonight?

The Olympics, gents. What I was trying to say is that on the one hand it’s supposed to be a celebration of man’s physical gifts – stop it Dave – and yet you can’t believe any of it because you don’t know who’s been taking performance-enhancing drugs. Now I know we once had a spliff before that match against Woolford, but we didn’t ever do it again because cannabis is not performance enhancing. It robs you of your edge.

There was a time when Malcolm Allison was in charge of Manchester City and he caught one of his players in the middle of a match gazing at the sky and when he asked him what the hell thought he was doing the guy said he was looking at the birds flying overhead. That’s only performance-enhancing if you’re a landscape painter.

But athletes seeking to gain an advantage, they’re taking drugs to make them stronger, bigger, fitter. Yes, it’s been going on for years, but it’s got to stop. I don’t know if there is a drug to make George Michael sing as well as Aretha Franklin, but there are some that will make him think he’s as good as her.

Cheers Gary, I’ll have a shot of Jagermeister and see if I get arrested by the thought police because it looks dodgy.

No, you see, it makes football look like an innocent’s game. Apart from Maradona that time with his wild eyes that had “out of me head” written all over him, I don’t reckon the beautiful game has a drug problem. They’ll push the boundaries with things like injecting sheeps’ placenta into an injured knee – afterbirth, Baz; yes I’m serious, believe it or not – but you don’t find footballers looking like Ben Johnson.

I know Gianluca Vialli when he was Chelsea manager gave everyone half a glass of champagne before a match, but that was psychology. You’re never going to win a game if you’re pissed, and that’s what footballers like to do of an evening.

Of course I’m not saying everyone’s at it, Dave. Probably not even all of the Russians, but you just don’t know, do you? When Maria Sharapova, who looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her lap, admitted taking meldonium but said it was for a heart condition and she knew it by a different name and anyway she’d stopped before it became banned – when that happens, lads, we have to admit the current system is  a lost cause.

 

 

Just a song

I don’t think Stephen Stills, best known as part of Crosby Stills Nash and Young, is religious, but he wasn’t afraid of mentioning Jesus on this song, which sounds like a love song for a Christian girl. Incidentally, the Dallas Taylor whose name appears on the cover was not the Christian musician of that name. He was a drummer who played on both CSN and Deja Vu, had problems with alcohol and drugs, had a liver transplant, started working with young addicts and died last year, aged 66.