Monday, 5 August 2013

My Sexuality is in Question...



'School children, Sir.  Thousands of 'em'

It bothers me to see an almost complete restaurant and no one using it.  I don’t have the full complement of tables and chairs yet but we have enough to seat 36 in comfort.  Our grill area is complete and ready to barbeque in.  We have power, and fridges and drinks coolers, even working loos.

Every weekend, there are school trips to the Barra de Kwanza.  The kids come by the bus load, all smartly dressed in their school uniforms and bringing all the makings for their own food.  Then they sit there on a sandy beach with their plastic plates on their laps chewing an unfortunate mixture of protein and wind-blown silicates. 

Naturally, they always run out of water.  A child will step on something sharp and need medical attention.  Then, like all kids, they prefer to use a proper loo rather than do the necessary behind a palm tree under the giggling gaze of their classmates.  So they come to me.

‘Why don’t you just settle the kids down in my place?’ I asked one of the teachers a while back.

This weekend it was the turn of the Colégio Triangulo, oddly enough the private school Marcia and I are thinking of sending Alex to.  He will be five in September.  I was pleased to see how well behaved all the children were, and there were many; how the accompanying staff maintained order and kept an eye on all their charges, and they all cleaned up after themselves, one boy politely asking me if I had any more bin bags.  Considering the norm here is to just toss rubbish into the street, I was very impressed.

I don’t mind waiting on kids at all.  They are generally polite, fair, patient, forgiving and bereft of arrogance, totally unlike any other restaurant guest.  I knew I was right in demanding my restaurant tables were one metre square; a more than comfortable dimension for four adults, but easily large enough to accommodate eight children, two on each side.  Having got them all seated, plated up and watered, I retired for a fag and a slug of scotch.
Bit of a full house
The English teacher sidled up to me.  I generally hate Angolan English teachers because their English is execrable and all they seem intent on doing is buttonholing Englishmen to try and prove just how good their English is.  I have tried to explain our quaint customs to them on innumerable occasions, principally the unwritten rule that if you see an Englishman with a lit cigarette in one hand and a full tumbler of whisky in the other, it’s his polite way of saying, ‘Leave me alone’.

‘This really is very decent of you,’ he said.

‘Eh?’

‘There aren’t many people who are so generous,’ he continued by way of explanation.

‘Eh?’

‘I’m awfully sorry, I thought you were English,’ he apologized before translating our brief exchange into Portuguese.

‘But I am English!’ I protested.

I was well on the back foot.  I could so easily inadvertently insult him now by expressing surprise that an Angolan could speak English so well but I went ahead anyway.

‘Never,’ I said, ‘have I ever heard an Angolan speak English as beautifully as you do’

‘I studied in London,’ he modestly confessed, ‘I keep up with it now by watching BBC Entertainment and the other English channels on DSTV.  It costs me a shade over $100 per month but I look upon it as an investment’

‘Fuck me!’ I said in awe, as much at a loss for words as he was eloquent.

‘It is an expensive subscription, isn’t it?’ he replied, not picking up on the true reason for my astonishment.

‘I really like the cookery programmes,’ he continued, ‘I suppose with you opening a restaurant, you are rather fond of them as well?’

‘Erm, yes, I suppose I am,’ I admitted adopting the casual reserve with which two English gentlemen converse on first encounter, ‘although I have reservations about Gordon Ramsey’

‘I couldn’t agree more,’ said he agreeing with me, ‘I find him a boorish bore’

I would have described Ramsey as a prick.  Boorish bore says it all and is so much more refined.  There was an awkward pause; I really was at a loss for words.  I dearly wanted to ask him why, with his command of English, he was content to be a teacher in a suburban college rather than raking it in with an oil company but that would have been as plebian as asking the man how much he earned (which I was also curious to know).

‘Please don’t be offended,’ he said breaking the silence, ‘but watching you serving at the tables, the way you interacted with the children, your mannerisms, your physique, they all reminded me of Jonathan Phang. Have you heard of him?’

I searched his expression for any sign he was taking the piss but his interest seemed perfectly genuine and his observation had been politely delivered.

Jonathan Phang provides excellent entertainment.  I love the cookery series of his currently showing here all about Caribbean cuisine.  I have only seen three episodes so far, the only reason I know who he is.  His enthusiasm is infectious.  He comes across as affable and considerate.  I like him. 

He is also as camp as a tent and very portly.  This very well spoken man had just compared me to a fat effeminate.

‘Really!’  I exclaimed, ‘he looks more oriental to me and he doesn’t have so much grey hair!’

‘I’m not saying you look exactly like him, you just remind me of him’

‘I wish I could cook as well as he can,’ I continued warming to the topic, ‘he’d be great here’

‘I heard that his temper can on occasion be alarming’

‘Well that only makes us more alike,’ I said ruefully (or should that be, guiltily?) as I stubbed my cigarette out in my heavy ashtray, ‘but he, nevertheless, comes across as a most agreeable fellow’.  Christ, I was even beginning to talk like an Angolan English teacher.

‘Maybe he will make a television series in Africa,’ he ventured, ‘After all, they all do in the end.’  He then proceeded to list several celebrity TV chefs who had travelled to Africa and filmed cookery programmes here finishing off with Keith Floyd.

‘There’s a little bit of Keith Floyd in you too,’ he said as he watched me down my glass.

Oh, so now I am an alcoholic fat effeminate?  I was beginning to really like this guy despite the fact that in our first thirty seconds of conversation he had insinuated that I was an overweight man of questionable sexual orientation with a drink problem.  He had a wicked and very dry sense of humour.  The other reason I liked him and all the other teachers present was that they were willing to give up their weekend to look after their charges on a run ashore.  Any big city can be a dismal place for children and Luanda especially so.  There is nowhere to play except on busy, litter strewn streets.  How nice for them then, a day spent beside a beach?  Teaching isn’t a profession; it is a vocation and certainly not one to become rich by.  Yet teachers have the power to enrich the lives of children, preparing them better for their varied futures.  Teachers rank alongside scout masters and Duke of Edinburgh scheme volunteers; people willing to give up some of their time for the benefit of others, in this case children.  Here was an intelligent, well-educated and unnervingly observant young man who eschewed the altar of Mammon in favour of service to the community. 

It came time for the children to leave.  They had cleaned up all their mess and returned the Lappa to the condition in which they found it.  The children all filed by saying they had enjoyed a wonderful time and then the teachers made their leave.

‘Good luck with the restaurant,’ said the English teacher.

‘With a role model like Jonathan Phang,’ I replied, ‘I can’t fail!’

I was so pleased with the whole day and bloody chuffed to be compared to Jonathan Phang (I know some may consider that bizarre but I was pleased), I told him to hang on a second, went into my room and pulled out an armful of books and some DVD’s.

‘Here, take these, you can bring them back next time you are down here’

Jonathan Phang? 

Who’d have thought it?  Me, effeminate.

I do like his taste in shirts, though.
At least Phang hasn't got his hand on his hip like a real tart!
 


24 comments:

  1. I taught in an English Prep' school for a while where all the children were unbelievably polite. I remember my wife turning up one day, where she was immediately approached by several children asking if they could help. Even SHE was impressed. I presume that the very attractive open-sided building is (will be) the restaurant. It looks very inviting.

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    1. That is the Lappa and will be the restaurant. If you decide to go through a Gauguin phase in the tropics, you are most welcome. Like most astute restauteurs, I feed and house artists in return for paintings.

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  2. I really like this story.
    Well done.

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  3. I am having a uncharacteristic ally down day today
    This cheered me up

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  4. Heartwarming, uplifting, charming, funny... I could go on! Thanks for a great post~.
    Els

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  5. When I can be bothered to plough through all those blooming words of yours: I am usually (read always) amused, envious and ever so slightly in love with the old roué. Hard man he aint. He'd love you to think so.

    I hate to say it Tom, but there is an uncanny resemblance. Camp as custard and that's just you man!

    LLX

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    1. Camp as custard? I like custard...

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  6. Replies
    1. Thankyou Commander-in-Chief, I'm pleased you enjiyed it.

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  7. I agree with you about people who help out like that. My wife took over the local cubs and has a waiting list to join. The saying goes that if you want something done, ask a busy person. She even asked just now if it would be ok if she swapped a shift with someone. This meant not going out to the theatre on a family trip she organised. Women. You can't live with them and you can't live with them.
    The main visual difference between you and Phang is that you are offering more support to your lady.
    Good story.

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    1. Maybe she had seen some early reviews of the play?

      If it wasn't for people willing to give of themselves, the world would be sorrier than it already is.

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  8. "Here was an intelligent, well-educated and unnervingly observant young man who eschewed the altar of Mammon in favour of service to the community..." A man in my own mould if I might say though I grew pretty old as the years of teaching passed by...Actually old chap - I didn't want to say this before but you do remind me of the British TV personality Julian Clary with a little Larry Grayson thrown in for good measure. Ciao!

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    1. Believe it or not, I had to Google Julian Clary to find out who he is.

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    2. I bet Julian enjoyed it. Being googled I mean.

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  9. ‘There’s a little bit of Keith Floyd in you too,’

    Yeah. Like a stick of rock dude
    SBW

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    1. Trust you to get straight to the knob, I mean nub of the matter...

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  10. Don't worry. Considering some of your more robust comments flying in my direction and love for your nieces there can be no doubt over your sexuality.

    What intrigues me - and makes my heart sing - that you are clearly so very fond of John (as he is of you). I myself once questioned not my sexuality (I am a woman) but my mental state: I fell for a gay guy (of Irish Trinidadian extraction), brought up in Canada. Dear dog in heaven, Tom. No woman was ever wooed more (other than me by my second husband) than I was by GG. Three years into our friendship he abandoned me. On the whim of his psychiatrist's advice. Tragedy. If ever there was one. I went into mourning. Big time.

    You summed up the teaching profession perfectly. I have very fond memories of my teachers, even those I didn't get on with, and those who didn't exactly take to me either. You could always tell the genuine article from the pay packet "Beamten"

    Gordon Ramsay? Well. Give the guy some slack. Playing to the camera and all that. In real life he is probably a really nice guy. The one who'd make me a little nervous is Marco Pierre White. Not least on account of his broad shoulders. Cleaver in hand.

    Keith Floyd? Loved the guy. Yes, how to enjoy life, fall into a hole, crawl out again. Whilst making an omelette. He did it well.

    Stay Tom aka Hippo and you, Tom, and anyone crossing your path will be just fine.

    U

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  11. I am feeling chuffed at getting the 'in joke' "as I stubbed my cigarette out in my heavy ashtray".

    Now I am feeling silly at the amount of time I debated where to use single and double quotes there. Thankfully I do not do that visually.

    In Angola good education was a luxury afforded to those that could send their kids overseas. I hope that it is spreading further these days. Where do you find teachers - let alone good ones - when you have had no education system for close to 30 years.

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  12. A very enjoyable piece and I think that I am flattered . I am nearly as grey as you now.
    Who says that my temper is alarming ?

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    1. Oh hello! Sorry I never acknowledged your comment earlier, I've been a away from the blog for a while.

      References to you were most definitely intended to be complimentary and those to the thug, derogatory.

      Can't for the life of me think where I got the notion you might have a temper. I shall just have to watch all your programmes again, see if I can spot a wee hint of it.

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  13. I clicked because of your title and was pleased to find humor and good writing, both of which are sadly lacking in the blogosphere. I teach English in Costa Rica, and can never decide whether I'm more appalled by the English skills of the tico teachers in the schools or by the native English speakers, most of whom have taken up the profession on a whim to fund their extended surf vacations without knowing the difference between an embedded question and their posterior. Anyway, good story, well told.

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Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.