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The Cuban Missus Crisis


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There I was sitting in a restaurant in Cienfuegos, Cuba and if I was thinking of anything, it was how awful the food was and how hot it was outside and how my guts were happy not to be shoogled about any more after miles and miles on Cuban roads with more holes in them than the plot of a Raymond Chandler novel. Then out of nowhere, out of the mystic, the muse spoke and into my mind came the title of my next book –
The Cuban Missus Crisis. I know it will disappoint those of you who have been eagerly anticipating Part Two of the Montana Tale, but having thought of the title, I just had to write the book. Besides, there's a darn sight more people go to Cuba than Montana...

In this extract we come across a curious sight as we drive through the Cuban countryside.

Freddie drops his speed to a crawl. It seems a sensible precautionary measure but he seems to be going unnaturally slowly. Then turning round in her seat to address us, Alice tells us an astonishing thing, presumably apropos of the prison. 

“You know, in this country you get longer in jail for killing a cow in a road accident than a person. Yes.”  This last remark accompanied by a definitive nod of the head in response to our astonishment, as is Alice’s way. 

I have no idea what the penalty is in our country now, but once upon a time, back in the days of cattle reiving (which was especially rife in the Border country), death was the penalty – and not necessarily administered by the law either.  Meat, I know, is in short supply here and maybe milk too. Hence the severity of the penalty, perhaps. But it still doesn’t make sense to me. Just because it's road kill doesn't mean to say you couldn't still eat it.  But a dead, drunk pedestrian or even a dead-drunk pedestrian is no good to man or beast. Thus, it seems to me, the law-makers have got it all wrong.

Alice confers with Freddie to confirm the accuracy of what she is about to say next and then she comes out with it.  “If you kill a person in a road accident, eight years.  If you kill a cow – twenty years… Yes.”

Oh, my God! If it had been here, I could have just been released from the pokey! And I have no strong desire to see the inside of a Cuban jail either.  The fact is, I have to confess, that I killed one once when I was driving.  A black bullock actually. It was a black and filthy night and I didn’t even brake because I never saw it. First I knew of anything untoward was a sudden thump and the windscreen blotted out for an instant by a huge black shape before it flew over the roof of the car.  Instinctively I braked, and getting out, saw a big, black lump lying on the road behind me. Mercifully it was completely still and silent. I had made a clean job of it. And perhaps, mercifully, for me too, I was driving a poor man’s E-type Jag, a Ford Capri, with the long bonnet.

In the aftermath, I was not accused of causing death by dangerous driving, cow-slaughter, grievous bodily harm, common assault or even careless driving. For its part, the unfortunate deceased was not charged with jaywalking or even admonished for not wearing something light at night, though I suppose, being dead, it would have been a bit like putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. So who was to blame? Well, I was judged to be entirely at fault on the grounds that cattle came before cars and therefore they had priority on the roads. It sounds like a judgement far short of the kind Solomon might have made, but there it is in the Scottish statute book and I concur with Mr Bumble who memorably remarked: “The law is a ass”.

But at least I didn’t have to spend twenty years cooling my heels in the jug and it does explain why Freddie was driving so exceptionally slowly. It’s good we are on a guided tour: that’s the sort of thing the guidebooks don’t tell you.

Orchards, fields of rice and maize pass by our windows and then, suddenly, we come upon an amazing sight. The straight stretch of road ahead, extending for a mile or more, is reduced to a single track as something brown has been strewn all over it.  An army of people seems to be sweeping it up and depositing whatever it is with shovels into bulging white sacks where they stand like a line of bollards by the side of the road.  At the end of this unconventional traffic control system, a rusty old tractor with a radiator like skeletal ribs, stands already loaded with a number of these gleaming white sacks. What could it possibly mean?

“They are drying rice,” says Alice.

Of course what they are actually doing is sweeping the dried rice up (as well as anything else that happens to be on the road) with what, in Scotland, we call besoms, brushes made with birch twigs and very popular with witches everywhere as a form of aerial transport.  I am so overcome with astonishment that I don’t think to ask how long it takes for the rice to dry and therefore how long motorists are inconvenienced by the carriageway being reduced to one lane like this – I just want to photograph it as no-one back home will believe me when I tell them this cereal story.  I needn’t have worried. We come across three more instances of this unusual single carriageway, so it turned out to be a serial story too.

I am even more astonished by the sight, coming towards us, of a horse and cart driving over the rice. It does not seem to be incontinent, at least at the moment, but for all I know, it could earlier have undone the patient drying (or worse) of the rice beneath its feet. 

I don’t know how they dry rice in other countries, or if Cuba exports any to us, but one thing is for sure from now on – I am going to wash my rice extra carefully in future.

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cuban-Missus-Crisis-David-Addison-ebook/dp/B00YYEY0SQ/ref=sr_1_2_twi_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1433608774&sr=8-2&keywords=david+m+addison
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http://www.amazon.com/Cuban-Missus-Crisis-David-Addison-ebook/dp/B00YYEY0SQ/ref=sr_1_2_twi_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1433608898&sr=8-2&keywords=david+m+addison
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