Monday, February 11, 2008

World Cup Glory?

Hello all

It's been a while since I last put fingers to keyboard to recount the daily challenges that comprise my attempts to get through this life I've been given / shaped / accidentally run into etc. It's not that I've given up writing or blogging, but rather that my life is no longer such an interesting journey. The last couple of months have seen us adjust more firmly to living a life of poverty, and we are now all very adept at scraping a living. Ravel sells his wooden carvings out of a layby on a trunk road about 2 miles from the barn. Dolores has become the hamlet's leading house-compantion, and now visits over ten elderly people on a regular basis. I have set myself up as a home tutor teaching biology to struggling students. The twins have started attending a secondary school after some protracted negotiations (and a few white lies). Number 3 is now 10 months old and is doing well - he's already walking and charming visitors with a ready smile.

It's so quiet round here that I've had plenty of time to reflect on my own shortcomings. Perhaps more than anything, I've come to realise that I can't simply blunder through life in the belief that my instincts will always bring a satisfactory conclusion. Looking back over my mis-adventures of recent years I was astonished to find just how many times I was the architect of my own down-fall. What was even more disturbing was the fact that I could never see things coming. This latter observation caused me some consternation, and so I approached Ravel one morning for counselling.

'Yes boss?', he asked as I approached. My trusted assistant was carving a piece of ash into what looked like a scale replica of the World Cup trophy.

'Ravel - I, er, need your advice'.

'Huh? Are you sure boss? Sure, fire away at me.'

'Yes, well, I know this might sound unusual, but I want to find something out about myself, and I think you might just be able to help.'

Ravel put down his chisel and blew gently over the top of the wooden trophy. He cleared a chair (a fine piece of furniture made from birch twigs, an old baking tray and old milk cartons) and motioned for me to sit down. The chair sagged under my weight, and made a sound like a whoopee cushion, but held firm - the milk cartons acting as some kind of cushion.

'Comfortable, boss?' asked Ravel as he sat cross legged on the ground.

'Comfortable enough. Right, so, you see - it's like this. I've been thinking about things, and I've sort of come to the conclusion that I need to undergo some kind of re-evaluation of who I am and where I'm going with my life. As part of that process I want you to be totally honset.'

'You know I am honest always. I am proud of my honesty. I hide nothing from you, boss', said Ravel, his voice raised as if indignant.

'I'm not questioning your honesty Ravel. I'm just asking you to be totally honest when I ask you some potentially difficult questions. You see, I am also very aware of your loyalty, and I'm slightly worried that I might force you into a conflict of interest situation by placing your loyalty up against your honesty.'

Ravel looked at the ground, and then at his trophy. There was a slightly awkward pause before he finally spoke again, his voice flat. 'What is it you want to tell me, boss?'

'Right, so long as we are clear, I'm just trying to find out where I've been going wrong. We've been through a lot together and I thought you would be the best person to ask. So don't hold back, Ravel. Just be completely open and honest.' I sat back on the chair and held out my hands as the milk cartons expelled the remainder of their flatulent air. Ravel looked at me with narrowed eyes for a moment before turning back to his trophy, chisel in hand.

'Like you say, boss, you have put me in a conflicting interest. Dolores say I must not massage your ego, but you are the boss, so I cannot not massage your ego, but you say I must be honest, so I cannot be not honest at same time as not massage your ego at same time as not making you upset because you are the boss.'

'I see', I said, not really seeing anything at all. Ravel had almost turned his back on me. I was momentarily minded to admonish him, but of course he was right. I had put him in a difficult position. 'Sorry', I muttered as I rose from the chair. The milk cartons made a sucking noise as they expanded. Temporarily unsure as how to respond, I watched Ravel as he carefully chiseled away at the base of his carving. It then struck me that I should engage in a little polite conversation, to signal that there were no hard feelings. 'So, that's a nice carving', I said slowly.

'Yes boss. I have been thinking that the world cup is coming, and I can move into the market for what you call nick nacks. This will be a best seller. I carve it from memory but I know for sure the measurements are correct.'

'Er, OK, Ravel. So, er, the World Cup is in 2010, yes?'

'I know boss. I take great care so need to start early. I need to build up stock to make sure no-one is disappointed. Simple business rules.'

I sat down again. One of the milk cartons collapsed and I ended up sitting at a slight angle. On the one hand I was keen to promote Ravel's artistic talents, but at the same time I was wary of the need to meet supply and demand criteria whenever one was undertaking any kind of business venture. 'It could be a best seller indeed', I ventured, trying to be diplomatic. 'So, er, who are your customers Ravel?' I looked around the room as if trying to locate them.

'China, boss.'

'Huh?' I exclaimed loudly, as the realisation of his mistake dawned on me. 'Only one problem with that, my good man. I think you've got the World Cup and Olympics mixed up. The World Cup is in South Africa. It's the Olympics that are in China - and they're on this year!' With that, I stood up and patted Ravel on the shoulder.

'I know boss,' replied Ravel. 'I keep up with the news on my winding up radio. I send to China then China send them to football fans all over world. I have contract. They come next week to take photograph. They...'

'Huh?', I exclaimed again. 'Hold on. You're telling me you have a business venture in China? You didn't tell me about it? Who is coming? Have you signed something? We can't afford to lose anything Ravel!'

My faithful companion could sense I was getting a little anxious. Now it was his turn to pat me on the shoulder and inject a dribble of patronising tone into his words. 'Boss, I know what I am doing, yes? They bring money or there is no deal. Sit down and let me explain, ok?'

I sat down on the milk-bottle chair once again, drew breath in an attempt to stop the palpitations that had suddenly gripped me, and listened to what Ravel had to say. He told the story in a rather long format, so I'll give you the abridged version. Essentially, he'd been out one day selling his carvings of mushrooms, woodland animals etc in the usual layby just outside the village. A man had stopped and was perusing the nick-nacks whilst humming the famous England football anthem 'Vindaloo' by the popular band 'Fat Les'. Ravel had never heard the song before, but was intrigued by its melody, and offered the man a mushroom in return for him teaching the song. The two of them started chatting about football and wooden nick-nacks and all manner of things, including the Olymics. Now, it turned out that the man who bought the mushroom was travelling to China the following week to sign some business deal related to the Olympics, and the little wooden object was to be a present for his business-partner. Ravel asked if such things were popular in China, to which the answer was 'probably not'. However, it then turned out that the man's business partner was a great football fan, and had always dreamed of holding the World Cup trophy aloft. Something like a wooden lightbulb lit above Ravel's head at this point, and he offered on the spot to make a (carbon?) copy of the trophy in whatever wood the man desired. Three days later, he'd carved a perfect replica in ash, using only his memory of pictures of the trophy for measurements.

To cut a long story even shorter, the man took the trophy to China and came back two weeks later with an abundance of praise for Ravel and his talent. He also came back with an order for 30 more trophies and a promise of 'handsome payment'. The deadline was next week.

'Are you sure this isn't a scam?', I asked after Ravel had finished his story, still not sure whether to believe what I had heard.

'I am sure not.', he replied, holding up his latest replica to inspect the finish. 'You wait, boss. Soon our money worry are finish. I teach your boys how to carve - we sweep up in China, no problem.'

I left at that point, not wishing to dampen his enthusiasm by any logic devaluation of his dream. If it is a scam, I guess it hasn't cost us anything except several hours of Ravels time when he could have been carving wooden mushrooms instead. Dolores was pleased when I told her, saying that my attitude towards Ravel had much improved of late. She was so happy, in fact, that we had an, er, early night - the first in over 6 months. That made me so happy that I decided to blog again.

World Cup glory here we come!