Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Cyclone And A Funeral

The decaying remains of what had been tropical cyclone Marcia clattered into my staff's house at ten past three on Saturday morning having already smashed and flooded several towns to the north.  Here in Piggy Paradise it was a perfect balmy night as always.  There was a bright moon, the stars glittered like diamonds and a gentle breeze stirred the basil and coriander plantations, wafting the sweet scent towards my twitching nostrils.  Next to me lay Zalika, one of my favourite lady pigs from my harem. She stirred slightly then settled, snoring softly. Ethel was next in the lengthy queue for my attention.

Back at my staff's house my staff were snoring not so softly - from both ends.  Then suddenly, whoosh! Marcia arrived, waking my staff with the hiss of horizontal rain against the windows.  An angry wind roared through the trees and rattled at the doors impatiently, making my staff feel grateful that they had cleared everything loose from the deck.  The lounge was now cluttered with the outdoor dining suite, bird feeders and baths, plants and the cane coffee table.  If they'd forgotten to bring all this stuff inside there is little doubt that most of it would be well on the way to the house next door, some five hundred metres away.  My female staff's frantic sister and her exhausted partner house sat for my staff a few years ago while my staff were away.  Unaware of just how strong the wind can get on this ridge they failed to peg their clothes to the washing line firmly enough.  My male staff still finds socks, underpants and bras dangling like strange fruit from trees in the garden after all these years.  He shakes them down, washes them and sells them to second hand shops.  It's quite a lucrative little side business.

By seven the storm had passed and my staff ventured out to see if any damage had been done.  There were a few large branches on the ground and lots of water laying around, but nothing major.  Down in the gully at the little dam thousands of frogs were croaking happily and some watery blue sky started to appear between blankets of dark clouds.  Peanut and Pecan the guinea fowl were okay to my staff's relief.  They looked wet and miserable, but otherwise they were fine.  It must have been a rough few hours for them, clinging to their perch in the Norfolk Island pine, battered by gale force winds and thrashed by stinging rain.  They trudged unhappily through the puddles in search of worms and leeches for breakfast.  Seeing the two birds foraging reminded my staff that it would soon be time for coffee and cake so they rushed inside and dressed hurriedly - a little too hurriedly as it happens because they'd put the wrong clothes on.  Male staff quickly slipped out of my female staff's dress and got her to undo her lacy black bra for him.  Female staff hopped out of male staff's trousers and climbed out of his shoes, which was just as well because frankly it looked as though she was standing there with each foot in a canoe.  Racing out to the Hyundai Getz they reached the front door together and got jammed briefly before both popped out the other side.  Male staff realised he was still clutching female staff's pink handbag so he lobbed it to her over the car roof to her and dived in.

The two road into town were both cut by flood water so my staff had to drive back past their house to the Bruce Highway, drive all the way past the town and approach from the southern side.  This is how desperate they were for a good cup of coffee.  This time the road was clear.  At their favourite cafe they met an acquaintance - Gunther, a middle aged German fellow who had a large, gentle dog of doubtful pedigree.  Once my staff had molested the poor animal they inquired after Gunther's health and general well being.  His wife had passed away a few months ago.  He said he was well, but that his Mother-in-Law had also died a couple of week ago and there had been a few "problems" at the funeral.  He explained in his German/Aussie accent.

 "Vell mate," he said. "Zere ve all vere at der crematorium und my muzza-in-law's sister decides that she vants to see her just vun more time before she disaappears into ze oven .  Und so I say to her I vill take you up to see her.  She is very old und does not valk vell so she hangs onto my arm und ve valk slowly up to ze coffin.  Ze man from the crematorium removes ze lid und zere is some silky material covering my muzza-in-laws face.  So I pulled it back und zere is my muzza-in-law, but she looks so different now.  She looks so much younger, und I sink to myself - My God if zat is vat dying does for you, all I can say is bring it on, I can't vait.  Zen her sister who is still hanging onto my arm  says "It's not her." At first she says it quietly, almost a visper.  Zen she started shouting. "IT'S NOT HER!"  Suddenly about six people from the crematorium vere rushing towards us viz panicked looks on zeir faces.  I looked at my muzza-in-law again and her sister was right.  It's not her.  Ze voman in ze coffin must be at least thirty years too young to be my muzza-in-law."

Gunther stopped talking and looked at my staff.  They were at a loss.  What should they say?  What should they do?  Should they console Gunther?  Say how sorry they were and how upsetting it must have been for everyone?  They wanted to laugh but didn't think it was appropriate.  Then Gunther smiled and continued.  "It vas ze best damned funeral I haf ever been to.  Everybody in ze chapel came to have a look. Ve just couldn't believe it, und you know vat ze best thing is?"  My staff shook their heads.  "Vell, my muzza-in-law vas in anuzza chapel somevere vaiting to surprise anuzza family. Zen vun of ze crematorium people slammed ze slid on ze coffin und caught vun of her colleagues fingers in it.  He vas not happy, poor man.  He shouted SHIT! und zen looked horrified zat he had shouted SHIT! at a funeral.  He vas just apologising to everyvun ven I heard tyres screeching in ze carpark outside ze chapel.  I sink it vas vun of ze uzzer crematorium people rushing off to find my muzza-in-law.  I haf never seen a hearse move so fast."

 "So what happened?' Asked my female staff.  "What did they do about it."
 "Oh, it vas all okay in ze end." Said Gunther with a grin and a shrug.  "Ze funeral people apologised again und again.  Zey asked us all to go home vile zey sorted out ze mess, und later zey called us to say zey had found my muzza-in-law and vood hold ze funeral again ze next day.  Zey said zat zey vood charge nussing for ze funeral und vood ve like a free painting of my muzza-in-law as a memorial?  Ze family agreed zat zey did not vant a painting because zey vood probably paint ze wrong person."

 "Vell, I must be going now." Said Gunther.  His dog was straining at his lead, impatient to continue his walk.
 "Cheerio Gunther." Said my staff.  "See you again soon. So sorry that the funeral was such a mess."
 "Don't be sorry." Shouted Gunther over his shoulder.  "I haven't had so much fun since my vife died."  My staff weren't sure what he meant by that last comment but they decided not to pursue it.


The biggest kerfuffle this weak had nothing to do with the syklone thingy.  Uncal Billy's staff made the mist ache of putting me on the flaw wile Tom was still down there.  Yoosually wot happens if they do that is I mooch about pretending not to be intrested until Tom like comes over to say hullo, then I like mount him wen he's not looking until Uncal Billy's staff can get to me and grab me, witch is taking longa and longa as they get older.

Tom prowdly showing off his butt furr wot he hazzunt got any more.

So anyway they like put me on the flaw and I start chattering my teef witch I like to do cos it intimmu
intimaday scares the living bush chocklit owt of Tom, and he like runs off at top speed with me after him chattering as I go.  He makes the mist ache of shooting under a chair wear Uncal Billy's staff can't reach so I follow him and Uncal Billy's staff are like laying flat on the flaw trying to reech me but they can't cos their arms are too short.  Meenwile I deeside not to mount Tom, but to byte his bum just for a change.  So I take a chomp at his butt fluff and then run owt with this grate lump of brown and wite furr in my mowf.  Then all ov a suddin its all my fawlt and I'm "a very bad piggy" ackording to Uncal Billy's staff.  Tom (minas harf his furr) is snatched up by Uncal Billy's femail staff and I'm left to wanda around on the flaw with furr in my mowf wondering wot I dun rong.

Sunday, February 15, 2015



Science has done many, many wonderful things for humans but it has done us animals few favours.  Most scientists will swear black and blue that animals don't have emotions.  They scoff at animal lovers for anthropomorphizing.  However, what they forget is that humans are just animals too, and if they have emotions, as they clearly do, why do they assume that guinea pigs or hippos or whatever have none.  They will have you believe that we are little more than automatons, pre-programmed by millennia of evolution to act the way we do.  Well okay, maybe that is true to a limited extent, but it is also true of humans.  I think science and scientists have to think this way to justify experimenting on fellow sentient beings.  Yes that's right - guinea pigs for example.

It doesn't matter if you are a mouse in a laboratory with a human ear growing on your back or a five tonne tusker living wild in the Serengeti, you have your own unique personality.  Any human who has ever taken the time to make friends with an animal will tell you that.  So surely if you have your own individual personality you have the ability to feel emotions.  Isn't that really what personality is all about - emotion?  Joy, sadness, grief, empathy, anger, fear, love, even guilt when we know we've done something that our humans had rather we didn't do. Hate?  I hesitate to mention hate because I think it's really part of fear.  Animals don't hate for the sake of hatred like humans do.  If an animal hates something it's because they fear whatever or whoever it is that they "hate".

Let me give you a few examples.

My male staff had been away from the family home for almost a year.  He'd been traveling through Australia, Malaysia and Thailand.  He had been living in England with his Mum and Dad and had yet to kidnap my female staff.  His dad collected him from Heathrow airport and drove him home where he was met by his tearful mother.  She was tearful because she thought she's finally got rid of him and now here he was back at home again.  This meant that she's have to evict the lodger who'd taken his room twenty minutes after he'd left.  Anyway the family dog Hannah, a boxer crossed with something mysterious, perhaps a kangaroo, at first didn't recognise my male staff and completely ignored him as he sat consoling his distraught mum.  This was Hannah's usual mode of reacting to strangers in the house.  She wasn't much of a guard dog, unless an unwanted intruder had a phobia for being utterly ignored.  Then suddenly, about an hour after my male staff had walked through the door Hannah realised who it was.  She ran up to my male staff whining and wiggling, her tail whacking into anything that got in the way and then running around in circles with what could only be described as slobbery grin on her face.  Then she flopped down on the floor, her legs waving in the air begging for a tummy tickle. My male staff wished that all females reacted to him in such a way - even if it did take an hour.

My staff's friends Jane and Dennis have a horse called Claudia.  For years Claudia lived in a nearby paddock with a another horse called Joan.  The two were the best of pals, both mares, both getting on in years.  They were never apart, it was as though they were attached to each other by an invisible rope.  Only if one or the other went out riding with their owners were they separated.  Then last week Joan became seriously ill.  The vet was called and sadly said that there was no option but to put her to sleep.  Joan's owners phoned Jane and Dennis to tell them the situation and they rushed to the paddock to see if there was anything they could do to help.  There wasn't, but as the vet gave Joan the lethal injection Claudia, who had been standing nearby looking on with concern started to cry, a soft whinnying whimper.  She was inconsolable.  Tears filled her beautiful big brown eyes and she refused to be led away from the scene.  It was so heartrending that soon all the humans including the vet were in tears too.  Tell me that's not grief.

I was always a great believer in empathy myself before I crossed the Rainbow Bridge to Piggy Paradise.  When my female staff was sad over her mum being so poorly I would waddle over, sit on her feet and gaze up at her, willing her to stop being sad, trying my best to cheer her up.  I never did this when she was happy.  Let's face it nobody wants to get their snout too close to human feet without good reason.  It seemed to work anyway because she'd pick me up and cuddle me and soon forgot about her sadness for a while.

There are many examples of animals showing empathy.  The lioness and the gemsbok calf for example.  In Kenya's Samburu National Reserve a lioness found an orphaned gemsbok calf.  Normally this would not end well for the gemsbok, but the predator tried to adopt the baby, keeping it with her, nuzzling it from time to time for more than a week.  The calf would even be seen nibbling the lionesses ears.  Both animals were hungry, the lioness had not hunted since she'd adopted the calf - unwilling to leave it, and the un-weaned calf of course had no milk.  Eventually the lioness' hunger got the better of her, but she didn't eat the calf.  Instead she tried her luck with a herd of adult gemsbok but was unsuccessful.  Was she trying to get meat for the calf to eat?  Eventually and inevitably the calf died.  The lioness had done her best, but to no avail.

Karen Paolillo, hippo expert and author of the brilliant book A Hippo Love Story has witnessed hippos rescuing antelopes from the jaws of crocodiles at her Hippo Haven sanctuary in Zimbabwe.
She has seen them chase the crocodile away and then drag the injured antelope gently up the river bank to safety.  Scientists may say that this just territorial behavior, but if that's all it is, why would the hippo then drag the victim to safety?  Yes animals show empathy.  Of course we do.

Most humans know what a guilty dog looks like.  You come home to find the chocolate yule log missing from the kitchen table and two dogs who won't look you in the eye and who, if they were human would be a peculiar shade of green.  This is what happened to my male staff's mad sister the Christmas before last as described in my blog "The Dog Ate The Log" 29 December 2013.  Fortunately the kilo of chocolate the two consumed between them did them no harm.  Guilt is one emotion that we guinea pigs definitely do not possess.  We're far to smart to worry about things that we've done that perhaps weren't such a good idea.  After all, if for example you happen to pee on your staff's lap you can't reverse the process and slurp up the pee through your willy by pressing a button marked reverse, so why worry.  It's done and nothing can change that fact.  For guinea pigs guilt is a useless emotion.

These are just a few examples of we animals showing emotions that we are not supposed to have.  There are many more examples, far too many to bore you all with in this blog and I don't want you to start thinking that I am a half baked science denying flat earth, climate change is "absolute crap" merchant like our beloved Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.  That would be terrible.  All I'm saying is that scientists would learn a lot more useful stuff about us animals if they took time out to befriend us instead of injecting us with unspeakable things to see how quickly we keel over and die and making us perform dumb tricks for treats.  Read Karen Paolillo's book. I get the feeling that she is one human who agrees with me.


I don't no mutch about syunce myself, all I no is that most of the norty stuff wot I do is cawzed by my whoremoans.  I no this coz Uncal Billy's staff are always saying so wenever I try to like mount Toby.  They say stuff like "Stoppit Baci, leeve Toby alone. I no it's your whoremoans but that's no eckscoose."  Well if it's no eckscoose why botha menshunning it in the furst place.  Of coarse its an eckscoose.  I bet if they had whoremoans fludding throo their vanes like wot I have they'd be mounting everything wot mooves too and maybe even sum things wot don't.

I hayte it wen Uncle Billy's staff show peepul my baby fotos it's like so embarrassing.
Anyway, this is me with my layte Uncle Boris.  He's the hooge fluffy wite thing and I'm not.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Medical

Have you applied for a job lately?  My male staff has.  Yes I know he already has one, by day he's a mild mannered reverse people smuggler, but at night he hopes to become a supermarket replenishing operative. (Shelf Filler)  Having four guinea pigs to feed and house is an expensive business, so he's hoping to pick up a few hours and dollars stocking shelves to even out the times when not so many people want to be smuggled.  But honestly, all he has to do is wheel a few pallets of boxes of tinned vegetables or whatever from the warehouse to the shop floor, and since its one of those supermarkets that don't even bother with shelves he just plonks the pallet down and goes to get another one.  There's no need to stack anything or put individual items neatly in a display.  Just stick it where it's supposed to go and let the punters fight over it in the morning when the shop re-opens.  However, for this he's already had a group interview, there were eight in his group, all of which had to introduce themselves to the other interviewees and the Area Manager who was conducting the interview.  I assume this stage is to weed out the applicants who are obviously unsuitable for the work. For example quadriplegia would be a definite disadvantage.  Those who are clearly dangerously insane, drug crazed or have a face full of steel and tattoos are usually referred on to McDonald's.

Anyway, my male staff didn't fit into any of the above categories and so was contacted by the supermarket chain's Area Manager the day after the group interview.  He congratulated him as though he'd just won the lottery and said that he'd made it through to the next stage - a thorough medical.  He was then told that if he passed the medical he will have an individual interview.  "Wow!" thought my male staff. "An individual interview with the Area Manager. "I'll be sure to bring along my autograph book."  Of course what he actually said was "Oh fantastic, thank you very much."

That same day he received a form by email entitled "Pre-employment Medical"  It went on for pages and pages.  In fact my male staff is going to send the supermarket and invoice for the cost of a new ink cartridge for his printer.  There was a list of every illness known to man and some that my male staff thought only dogs contracted.  He had to put a tick next to any disease that he had ever suffered from and list any operation he'd ever had during his entire life.  He then had to detail any residual side effects from that operation.  He'd only ever had one operation so he used all the space available on the form to describe it.  He'd had his tonsils removed when he was four years old, he stated.  The surgeon had promised that after the operation, if he was a good little boy he would be given ice cream to soothe his throat.  He's still waiting for his ice cream fifty three years later.  The side effect of this betrayal is that nowadays he can't walk past an ice cream shop without diving in and buying the biggest one he can find to make up for the trauma of the surgeon's deceit.

So anyway my male staff turned up for his medical last Thursday, and as you know he rarely goes anywhere without at least one guinea pig secreted about his person. On this occasion it was Alfie.  He's a big boy so my male staff had to choose a pair of trousers with capacious pockets.  This done they set of in the Getz for the doctors surgery with Alfie sitting on a towel on the front seat with his red eyes firmly closed so as not to have the bush chocolate scared out of him by my male staff's driving.  He'd still feel the bumps as they went off road across median strips and ploughed fields as my male staff's feeble concentration was distracted by various animals, ("Oooooh look Alfie, what a beautiful cow.")  but at least he wouldn't be able to see the looks of horror on the faces of the other road users' and various livestock's as the Getz approached.

Leaving behind the usual trail of chaos and destruction Alfie and my male staff arrived safely at the surgery and Alfie was thrust into my male staff's front trouser pocket, the one that didn't contain his wallet.  Alfie can't be trusted not to chew things.  He then checked his appearance in wing mirror of a nearby Toyota Corolla to ensure the lump that was in fact Alfie wasn't too obvious.  This rather alarmed the driver of the Toyota - a smartly dressed middle aged lady who was sitting in the drivers seat  talking on her cell phone and clearly not expecting to see a man twisting and turning in front of her wing mirror just outside her window as he admired the large, writhing lump near his groin.  Before the lady could end her call and dial the police my male staff decided that perhaps his pocket wasn't really the best place after all and returned to the Getz, where he transferred Alfie from his pocket to the front of his trousers, (A place my regular readers will know that I am all too familiar with.) then he untucked his shirt so that it covered the lump where Alfie was, just below the waistband.  Here there was more room for Alfie to stretch out and doze off and so by the time my male staff returned to the Toyota's mirror he was still and the guinea pig shaped lump was virtually invisible.  Satisfied with this, my male staff smiled sweetly at the shocked lady and strode confidently into the doctor's surgery.

He'd barely had time to pick up a tattered National Geographic from May 1974 when he was called in.  Sucking in his stomach to give the doctor the impression that he was fit and full of vitality (as well as giving Alfie a little more room) he breezed into the doctor's office.  The doctor - an older, rather severe, no-nonsense lady ordered my male staff to take a seat.  There then followed a series of question about my male staff's health.  He pointed out that he had already answered the same questions on the "Pre-employment Medical" form which he handed to the doctor, but she said she's like to go through it again anyway.  She was very concerned about hernias.  Could my male staff correctly and safely lift fifteen kilogrammes repeatedly from the floor to the height of his waist? Yes, no problem.  Has he ever had a hernia? No.  Has a member of his family ever had a hernia? Not as far as he was aware.
 "Okay." Said the doctor.  "Let's have a quick look.  Just undo the top of your trousers please."  My male staff froze.  What would the doctor think when she discovered a large white rodent down the front of his trousers? He had to think fast - not easy for him.  In fact thinking at any speed can be quite a challenge, but fast...........?
 "I'd umm......rather not if you don't mind."
 "Why on earth not?  Not shy are you man?  Good heavens, it says on the form you've been married for twenty five years.  I've been married for forty years myself."
 "Not to me you haven't" thought my male staff but said nothing.
 "Come on, let's take a look or I can't finish the medical and then you'll have no chance of getting the job."
 "If you do take a look and find a rodent down there I've got no chance of getting the job anyway." Thought my male staff, but said  "Well I didn't have chance to have a shower this morning, so it might be a bit sweaty and smelly down there. Perhaps I could come back another time when I've had a shower."
The doctor smiled, seeming to relish the challenge. "Don't be ridiculous, I'm a doctor, I've smelled far worse odours than your body could ever produce."  My male staff doubted that, but reluctantly and slowly he loosened the top of his trousers and the doctor thrust a hand in.  My male staff flinched.  Her hands were cold.  Without looking she pressed her fingers into his lower stomach feeling for any signs of a hernia.  Her hand seemed to be down there for five or six hours, but when my male staff looked at the office clock it had been less than thirty seconds.  She withdrew her hand and washed it thoroughly.  "There we are" She said, "that wasn't so bad after all was it?  It all seems to be in order down there.  No sign of anything untoward."  She hadn't noticed Alfie, thought my male staff with a flush of relief.  He must have settled in further down.

There were just a couple more questions and then my male staff was free to go.  He stood up and went to shake the doctor's hand. Suddenly he felt another warm flush.  This time it wasn't relief.  Well, it may have been for Alfie.  He looked down and saw a dark, wet stain spreading across the front of his trousers.
 "You'd better sit down again." said the doctor.  "You didn't mention on the form that you suffered from bladder incontinence."


I'm like so glad Uncal Billy's male staff didunt chews me to go to the dokta with him.  There's no way I cood have sat still four so long and I sertunly wood have had to byte any hand wot was poking abowt in Uncal Billy's male staff's trowsers.  But at leest my bladda is stronger than Alfies so I woodunt have peed in there.  I can't promiss there woodunt have bean a lot of bush chocklit coming owt of the bottom of his trowser legs tho.  It wood have bean like the Grate Escape moovy all over again.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Heading South (Part 3 of 3)

If you've been following this blog for the last two weeks you will know that it's late July 1978 and my male staff and his friend Andy are hitchhiking (unsuccessfully) from Dieppe in northern France to Gibraltar at the southernmost tip of Spain.  You will also know that they have just arrived in the Spanish port town of Algeciras, just across the bay from the Rock of Gibraltar.  If you haven't been following this blog over the last two weeks, why not? Where have you been and do you have a note from your Mother?  You do realise that there will be a test at the end of this week's post don't you?

They found the ticket office of the ferry from Algeciras to Tanger and discovered that they could not get a through fare to Gibraltar - only a one way ticket to Tanger.  Once they got to Tanger they'd have to purchase another ticket from there to Gibraltar.  This meant that they would have to change some of their pounds sterling to Moroccan Dirham. At least they would have plenty of time for that.  The ferry to Tanger was due to arrive at three in the afternoon and the connecting ferry to Gibraltar was to leave Tanger at eight that evening.

Aboard the ferry my male staff and Andy leaned on the rail and watched in mild frustration as Gibraltar slowly shrank into the hazy distance, and then a couple of hours into the trip the whitewashed buildings of Tanger hove into view, clustered around the town's low hills. The boys cleared customs quickly once the officers found that their guitar cases held only guitars and were not stuffed, as they had hoped, with hashish.  Andy and my male staff soon discovered that the ticket office inside the port was closed, as indeed was the currency exchange office.  This meant that to find a travel agency to sell them a ferry ticket and a currency exchange office they would have to venture outside the security of the port gates and run the gauntlet of touts, thieves and other undesirables waiting for naive tourists whom they could expertly fleece before you could say "Hey! Where's my wallet?".  My male staff was not so naive that he was unaware of this as he'd visited Tanger a couple of times before, so it was with some trepidation that they plunged into the crowd beyond the port gates.  It didn't take long.
 "Hey my friend. You Ingleesh?" Asked an unshaven man in a dirty Djellaba.  Here we go, thought my male staff.  "You like buy carpet? Special price for you.  My bruzza have best carpet shop in Tanger.  You come look, no buy is fine. You just look."
 "No thanks." Said my male staff politely.  "Maybe another time."
 "Anozza time no good." Insisted the man. "Special sale, half price today only.  You come now."  The man grabbed Andy's wrist with a grubby, calloused claw and tried to pull him towards the nearby kasbah.
 "Oi! Get off me!" Yelped Andy and shook the man's hand off.  We don't want a fuckin' carpet.  Do I look like I want a fuckin' carpet?" The man had to admit that at that moment it seemed that Andy was not particularly interested in floor coverings and he melted away into the crowd muttering darkly in Arabic.  The boys pushed on, sweating under the afternoon African sun.  They found a policeman and asked if he knew where they could find a travel agency.  The cop pretended not to speak English and referred them to a trio of tough looking youths dressed in skin tight jeans, flip-flops and faded tee-shirts.
 "What you want?" Asked the lead youth as the other two looked slyly on.  The boys explained that they wanted to buy tickets for the ferry to Gibraltar, but that first they'd have to exchange some money.  The youth's eyes lit up at this news.  "Come with us." He said. "We take you."  Andy and my male staff looked at each other.  My male staff shook his head, but Andy shrugged.
 "What have we got to lose? Let's go with them."
 "What have we got to lose?" Hissed my male staff. "How about all our money, our backpacks and our clothes for starters."  Unfortunately he didn't hiss quietly enough.
 "You think I am liar?" Snarled the youth. "You call me liar? I take you to money changer, then to travel agency for ticket. Why not you don't trust me? I take you, but if you call me liar again I cut out your eyes."  He pulled a penknife from his jean's pocket and opened the largest blade for Andy and my male staff to admire.  They hoped that the brown stain on it was rust.
 "Well, okay then lead the way." Said my male staff trying to sound unconcerned.  The youth led them into the crowded bazaar, his two henchmen walking behind to cut off the boys retreat in the labyrinth of narrow alleys filled with stalls spilling all manner of fruit, spices, vegetables, hardware, carpets and leather goods onto the walkway.  An open air butcher's stall displayed a variety of fly covered gore above which hung three camels heads with what appeared to be large sprigs of parsley stuffed up their nostrils.

 The bazaar at Tanger

After fifteen minutes or so the lead youth disappeared into a shop selling touristy leather products.  He was greeted by a middle aged man in a smart suit who hugged him.  They spoke for a moment in Arabic, then the youth said "This my Uncle.  He change your money."  Andy and my male staff stepped into the shop, but not before the youth had demanded ten dirhams (about one pound), presumably a tip for not cutting their eyes out.  The boys were shown into the back of the shop where they were surrounded by more youths who started to tell them how much they need to buy a camel leather pouffe and even a large stuffed camel leather camel.  The salesmen were making little headway and were soon joined by the proprietor in his suit who offered the boys some ultra sweet mint tea which they gratefully accepted.

An hour later they left the shop with one of the young salesmen who took them to a travel agency to purchase their ferry tickets.  During those sixty minutes the man in the suit had exchanged a few of the boys' precious pounds for dirham at about half the going rate and had persuaded them that they both needed camel leather passport covers and souvenir leather belts.  They were not required to part with any of their cash for these items but the man in the suit generously relieved them of their guitars in exchange.  Why did they not resist?  Well, they were stuck in the back of a shop tucked away in a back alley of the Tanger bazaar surrounded by tough, acne scarred youths, each one probably toting a rusty penknife.  Their Gibraltar ferry departure time was rapidly approaching and they had no idea of how to get back to the port.  In the end they were just relieved to get out of there with both eyes intact.

Now of course the problem was that without their guitars they had no source of income whatsoever once they arrived in Gibraltar.  Not that they would have made much anyway unless people were willing to pay them to go and play elsewhere, which actually is quite likely.  The pair had already prepared themselves for the usual comments from the public on their musical skills.
 "Can you play Far Far Away?"  and "Do you do requests?" Certainly sir. "Good, then bugger off."
Anyway having paid a suspiciously high price for the ferry tickets at the travel agency they then paid another dodgy looking youth to guide them back to the port where they boarded the Mons Calpe bound at last for Gibraltar.  Night was closing in as they rusty old tub pulled away from Tanger harbour and my staff and Andy stood on deck enjoying the salty breeze, happy to be nearing their final destination and even happier that their final destination was a place where almost everyone spoke English and nobody was likely to pull a rusty penknife on them.

Now I'd like to say that as Andy and my male staff were steaming towards Gibraltar they were soberly contemplating the rich history of the place, but actually they were soberly contemplating whether or not to spend some of their dwindling funds at the bar.  Nonetheless Gibraltar has such a rich history that I feel compelled to give you some of the highlights.  Pay attention now, there will be a test afterwards.  For starters a Neanderthal skull was found there in one of the many caves long before they found the one in Germany that gave the prehistoric man his name.  It's just that nobody realised the importance of what they had found at the time.  The Romans were there of course and the Moors, who built the great cubic Moorish castle that dominates the north end of the town during their occupation of the Spanish mainland between the years 711 and 1492.  In fact Gibraltar is a corruption of the words "Djebel Tarik".  Tarik was a Moorish leader and Djebel is Arabic for mountain - hence Gibraltar was Tarik's Mountain.

Spain ceded Gibraltar to the British in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and the place has been in Their hands ever since.  In 1967 a referendum was held, asking the population if they'd prefer to remain under British rule or be returned to Spain.  Only 44 voters out of 12672 wanted to become Spanish. In 2002 another referendum was held.  By then the population had reached 20678 (Gibraltarians are mostly Catholic after all.) but the result was much the same with only 187 voters wanting to become Spanish citizens.  In short as far as Gibraltarians are concerned Spain is about as popular as a herd of guinea pigs in a cucumber plantation.

Gibraltar.  More British than Britain

Andy and my male staff stood on deck as the Mons Calpe slid past Rosia Bay towards the Gibraltar ferry terminal.  It was dark but they could see the Levanter cloud hanging over the town.  This streamer of cloud often clings to the uppermost peaks of the Rock in summer.  It's caused by warm, moist easterly winds from the Mediterranean striking the sheer east face of the Rock, being forced upwards so that it cools and condenses into a cloud that can hang for a week or more over the town while the eastern beaches remain beautifully clear.  My male staff told Andy about Rosia Bay.  It was where Admiral Horatio Nelson's body was brought after being killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.  He was placed in a barrel of rum to preserve him on the trip back to England.  The jolly Jack Tars on the ship that transported him said they'd never tasted rum with so much body.  It makes shoving worms into tequila bottles seem almost sanitary.

Having disembarked, my male staff and Andy trudged the short distance into town and checked into a cheap and nasty hotel that my male staff knew of.  It may have been cheap and nasty but it was still going to finish off their remaining funds in just five days if they didn't get a job of some sort in that time.  They didn't of course and five days later they checked out of the hotel with fifteen pounds between them.  By day they wandered the hot streets, eking out their money on the cheapest food they could find and by night sleeping in their sleeping bags on Eastern Beach near the 007 Bar where in happier times my male staff had spent long hot afternoons and steamy nights with a group of friends drinking copious quantities of vodka and lime and playing Eagles records on the juke box.  That was only a year ago when he was there with his mum, dad and mad sister.  Then he had a job and money.  Now he had a cheap sleeping bag and a leather passport holder.  A year ago the proprietor of the 007 Bar had a large brown dog with demonic yellow eyes named Kano which he kept as security.  Kano was still there and he barked most of the night, but my male staff couldn't think of a better place for them to spend their nights so they put up with it.

When their money ran out altogether they ate figs which fortunately for them were in season and hung in great clusters from the trees which lined the streets.  The figs kept them going in more ways than one and it was fortunate that there were quite a few public toilets around the place.  For almost a fortnight they slept on the beach and ate nothing but figs, drinking from public drinking water fountains.  It was hot, but they were able to shower at the beach showers at Eastern Beach so that they didn't smell too badly, but washing their clothes was a problem - there was nowhere to dry them unless they laid them over the sea wall and stayed with them all day to make sure they weren't stolen.
They were hungry, so hungry all the time.  Their energy levels drained and they dragged themselves around the sweltering town like zombies looking, hoping for a job - any job.

Then one glorious day their luck changed.  My male staff bumped into a friend from his previous trip to the Rock.  His friend - Darren, was staying in Royal Air Force quarters with his father, mother and sister.  His father - Corporal Steel was a chef in the RAF.  The next day Darren came to where they slept on Eastern Beach and brought them half a dozen croissants and an apple each which Andy and my male staff demolished rapidly.  Darren had some incredible new which almost brought tears of gratitude to the boys tired, bloodshot eyes.  Darren's dad - Corporal Steel would rent them his spare room and feed them two meals a day.  My male staff pointed out they they had no money at all, not even a penny.  Darren then told them that Corporal Steel had found them a job as warehouse operatives with the N.A.A.F.I. (Navy Army & Air Force Institute).  The N.A.A.F.I. operate retail supermarkets and clubs etc for the benefit of families on British military bases across the the world.  They are the equivalent of the American PX.

Just a month later Andy and my male staff were healthy, well fed and had enough money to leave the wonderful Corporal Steel and his family in peace and move into a workers hostel.  Most of the residents were Moroccan.  In 1969 when Franco closed the border between Spain and Gibraltar most of the Rock's manual workforce came from Spain - the town of La Linea and the surrounds.  Then overnight Gibraltar suddenly had no labourers and La Linea's unemployment rate doubled.  This was more of a problem for Spain than the British who simply organised a labour force from Morocco instead.  This was all very well, but for Andy and my male staff it meant that you had to be very careful getting up for a pee in the middle of the night because you were likely to trip over someone saying their prayers on a prayer mat on the way.  "Allahu Akbar. Owwww! Watch where you're going you clumsy great oaf!"

The boys wages were low, just enough to pay for their room and buy some food and they wondered how long it would take them to save enough money to get home.  It would be about ten years at the rate they were going, but then what if they lost their jobs?  They'd be homeless in days and back sleeping on the beach, eating figs and rushing for the nearest public toilet again.  Then on the day that the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal departed Gibraltar for the final time on route to Southampton and then the scrap yard my male staff received some very welcome news.

The N.A.A.F.I warehouse where the boys worked was right at the dockside and they watched as the huge ship slowly pulled out from her berth into the harbour.  Sailors in dress uniform lined the flight deck and her paying off banner streamed from the superstructure.  Wafts of music blew across the water.  The ship's band was playing Rod Stewart's "Sailing" of course, what else?  The late afternoon sun glittered on the still, oily water.  It was quite a spectacular and emotional moment.  It was 2nd October 1978 and Andy and my male staff had been in Gibraltar for approximately two months.  They had planned to hitch hike all the way from northern France and then make a lucrative living playing a stilted version of Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water on their cheap acoustic guitars to adoring crowds.  As often happens with humans and my male staff in particular things didn't quite work out that way.  In the end they reached Gibraltar without seeing the inside of a single car and had their guitars conned out of them before they even reached their destination and thankfully without playing a single note.

October 2nd 1978.  HMS Ark Royal steams out of Gibraltar for the final time. Somewhere in the distance my male staff and Andy are standing watching the event.

Before my male staff left work for the day the warehouse manager called him to his office.  Fearing the worst - that his employment was about to be terminated my male staff knocked on the door and was invited to enter.  He could almost feel the gritty sand in his sleeping bag again and was wondering if figs were still in season when the manager leaned across his desk and handed my male staff an envelope.
 "You can open it." Smiled the manager. "It's not a termination letter."  Hurriedly my male staff tore open the envelope and stared in disbelief at the contents.  It was a cheque for three hundred and forty eight pounds.  "I met your old boss Alberto Carreras."  The manager explained.  "It's more than a year since you left that job and went back to the UK.  I mentioned to him that you now worked for me at the N.A.A.F.I. and he said That's lucky, I have a cheque for him - back pay and holiday pay. I didn't have a forwarding address.

Well, as you can imagine my male staff couldn't believe his luck.  Here was a ticket home for both himself and Andy.  What's more they could afford to fly - no more hitchhiking or trains.  As it happens Andy decided to stay on a little longer but my male staff was back in the UK by the end of October.  By November he was complaining about the cold and wishing he was back in Gibraltar.  Some humans are like that.  Never satisfied.


Okay, so like wears the test?  Uncal Billy sed there'd be a test and now I find there's no test at all.  I've been like cramming for ours and worrying abowt this bluddy test and wot wood happen if I didunt pass.  I thort maybe I mite get like evicted from my cage or sumthing if I got sum kwestyuns rong and now there's no test after all.  I wuz like all panikking for nothing.  I wuz thinking that if I got sum of the Kwestyuns rong the only thing that mite get me over the pass mark is my spelling.