Postcard from Lille, Part 19

Moments of Intimacy

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Manila Vista
© Always Worth Saying, Going Postal 2019

I can’t understand why people are rude to the staff. I was always getting told off for being kind, or even just polite, to the maids and servants, or ‘helpers’ as they were often known.

I was hissed at for always saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Enquiring politely about their families was frowned upon and helping them with their chores got the second greatest insult of all.

‘You are right, mister’, meaning I was wrong.

Or even the worst,

‘You are always right, mister’.

Which meant I ‘d been sent by the devil, to pick up bits of paper and put them in the maid’s bin.

It wasn’t even uncommon for servant girls to be struck by their employers.

The cars took a battering too, and I was scolded for helping the men to fix them, which wasn’t allowed, even if it meant we couldn’t go anywhere. When our tale moves to 5227 San Augustin Street, Makati City (Narissa or ‘Issa’, the attorney’s house), we will have the use of an embassy car.

It was a Toyota Camry and was indestructible.  The bottom half was armoured, whereas the top half was just reinforced, which gives you an idea of their priorities. Protecting the sump and the muffler (silencer) was more important than protecting the diplomats. It was right-hand drive and had Corps Diplomatique (CD) plates which meant it could be driven, and parked, anywhere on any day, which was useful.

Gisele had explained, ‘Even plates on even dates, odd plates on odd dates. It reduces the traffic by half, apparently.’

Bear in mind, it was the car that was the diplomat not me so if we’d been caught, we would have been in trouble. Or rather I would have been in trouble as (despite my kindness to the staff) the diver, bodyguard and maid would have hared off into the roadside shanty towns, leaving me to face the flashing lights and machine guns.

More precisely, I’d be in even deeper trouble. If you read back, you’ll notice that nobody said anything about it being a British embassy car. Being right-hand drive will narrow it down for you.

Alright, I’ll tell you, it was a Japanese Embassy car. I am an anonymous, average, ordinary looking chap, easily ignored, but I must say, although bluff is an important competence, I’ve never passed as, from any angle, a Japanese ambassador, and especially not when I was in my twenties. Needs must and all that. I got away with it, nearly all of the time.

The embassies used to import their own cars, modify them and after so long, so many miles (or so much damage) sell them on. You were supposed to take the diplomatic plates off but didn’t. You think a car is worth more with a full-service history and one careful owner? Trust me, it’s worth a lot more with diplomatic immunity. There’s a lot to be said for having fewer rules and then ignoring them anyway. (I recently bought a new car. Not only that, I sold a second hand one and tried to swap the number plates about all at the same time. It was like negotiating Brexit, at Yalta, while landing Apollo 13).

Meanwhile, back in our story, remember to be kind to the staff. There’s an excellent saying,

‘Be nice to people on the way up because you’ll meet them again on the way down’.

That is true but is only half of my kindly selfishness. They say an author should ‘show not tell’, so allow me to illustrate.

The consultant has access to fifty medical records, the patients currently in his care. The minister for health, none, the filing clerk, three hundred thousand. The chairman of the board has access to not much. The cleaner visits every room and empties every bin and can pull open every unlocked draw. The driver sits with someone for hours on end listening to them complain. The girl in reception knows everybody in the building, and their movements. The director only handles his own mail, the old chap in the mail room, on light duties, handles everybody’s.

Who do you want to cultivate? The top one percent or the bottom one percent? That’s why I’m selfishly selfless with the staff.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
© Always Worth Saying, Going Postal 2019

I’m on Josephina Island in the Philippine provinces. It’s the middle of the night. The electricity is off (a ‘brown out’). Myself, the Girl Twins and their mother, Nini, are hunkered down in our respective bedrooms because of the typhoon. I’m lying on a mattress mat on the floor, well covered up despite the heat. A gecko calls out. All of the house is in a quiet, sleeping darkness. A young helper, called Matilde, has crept into my room and kneels beside me. She has brought a plastic basin and jug of water with her, to disguise our purpose. She leans towards me and whispers.

We both know what’s going to happen next. There will be some moments of intimacy (not what you think). I will give her a little something (behave). Every time she touches her ear or wrist, she will think of me (can you tell what it is yet?).

I’m determined to avoid the modern obsession with sex, violence and profanity but repressing these things does result in rising innuendo.

I have a collection of little scent bottles I carry with me in my blue Berghaus backpack. Some of them are free samples, bluffed by pretending to be interested in a perfume franchise. Some of them were quite expensive, many of them are authentically branded. The best ones I keep safely concealed in the secret fold inside the padding of my pack, next to my other passport.

Matilde, and a number of girls like her, can earn a free perfume during a little chat. The better the chat, the better the perfume.

Bear in mind, dear reader, that if you’re at an important business lunch, and a simple but sweet-smelling waitress seems to be leaning towards your table as she passes with a tray, that I may well find out what’s been decided over the braised lamb, before the stock market does.

The partitions between the rooms are wafer thin. The important adults talk amongst themselves and Matilde overhears. There is frightened, whispered gossip between the servants too.

‘Officer Biong is a goon for Senator Webb, his tart pawns Camila’s jewellery. Commander Filig and Joey Filig are close relatives.’

Gold dust. And Matilde creeps away from the gentleman’s bedroom, in the middle of the night, without a second of scandal. At least not one including myself and Matilde.  That’s why ‘the powers that be’ send church going, repressed prudes like myself to these exotic places instead of alpha males.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Bluff, Demeanour and Permissions
© Always Worth Saying, Going Postal 2019

The next morning, order was restored. The sun came out, the typhoon had passed, my business associate Gisele burst into the house having finally arrived from Manila.  She waved a wad of letters of permission that her relative Senator Webb and Brigadier General Atayde had issued for us. She was also excited about another franchise opportunity that we must explore on another island, not nearby but reachable within the day. But first we’d go around her bakery outlets collecting the flood ruined cakes. We should take them down to the coastal villages to distribute to the typhoon devastated poor. A photographer from the local paper would be there and probably a crew from the local TV station, owned by a cousin.

They might even point the lenses at my ugly mug. I’d survived an assassination attempt in the South which had troubled the newspapers down there, and even managed a line or two in the nationals, albeit between the crossword and the adverts for magic potions to fortify fighting cocks.

Those noises you made in the playground, or heard in old war films, are very misleading. There will be a tap, tap, tap, tap noise. Everybody else will hit the ground while you stand there asking,

‘What’s that tapping noise? Why are you all lying on the floor face down with your arms wrapped around your heads?’

A swarm of children will appear offering to sell you the spent casings and a passing old lady will point out your cartoon outline on a wall behind you, drawn in bullet holes.

Before you call the police, bear in mind it might be off duty police officers who’ve been paid to kill you and, if you hear sirens, also bear in mind that they might be on duty police officers paid to finish off the job. Being south of Cebu and white, the assumption was that I was a lot more important than I really was. Usually only senior politicians, clergy or businessmen would take the risk. An illusion I did nothing to contradict.

Being worthy of assassination raised my stock further, as did being lucky enough to survive it. It would be naive not to think that, beyond a natural kindness and hospitality, part of the reason Gisele and her family (and others) had latched onto to me was because they thought I could be influential, profitable and fortunate on their behalf.

They say that turnover is vanity, profit is sanity and cash is king. And they are right. We were living on the turnover, nearly all of which was cash but flowing in late. I was burning some of my salary and had lost track of the profit. Something that had caught on was Computer Club. The children were very keen and so were the parents. Due to cheap labour and cheap land, some of the latest computer hardware was assembled locally and reasonably priced. Extra accessories were required, such as a black box to even out the unreliable voltage and current. Portable generators were needed for the ‘brown outs’. All very do-able. Another time I’ll tell you about my aptitude for coding but, for the time being, suffice it to say that I had discovered that I could talk to the computer in much the same way that Dr Doolittle could talk to a two headed lama.

Back in the day, when I could stay awake all day and all night, I could visit Computer Club during it’s down time, swapping data about and defragging the hard drives. Simultaneously, with some of the brighter pupils, we were on ‘all nighters’ pursuing our own software projects. Fascinating stuff, but we really needed an introduction to re-sellers. I crossed my fingers and said my prayers and, as now, Gisele was there to keep my feet firmly on the ground.

‘Quick quick, busy busy, mister, bakery, typhoon poor and cameras. And have you heard the news? The Holy Father is coming. We must help. About that franchise, I’ve already signed it, and, for the saving of time, signed it for you too.’

To be continued….

© Always Worth Saying 2019

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