The Hoe & The Gun

In Pebane Angelo Rodrigues was the big cheese, the capo di tuti capi, boss of all bosses. No-one crossed him. He sat upstairs in the Restaurante Lisboa in the war-ravaged town and held sway over those he had suborned to his will. It was 1987. Through the open window wafted the hot smell of Africa; the smell of dust and vegetation, charcoal burning on stoves as meals were cooked by the privileged few who had some food. Outside was a dusty street, laid out as a dual carriageway, but with a surface of packed earth that was riddled with potholes. Nothing moved in the soporific tropical heat. No cars drove past because there were no cars.

Down the road a strange tusk-like shape protruded towards the sky advertising the site of a filling station that had seen no fuel for nearly twenty years. Nearby, another building had become a heap of rubble, victim of dynamite when last the bandits came to town.

Angelo was an ugly man with a pockmarked face and a powerful body, somewhat gone to seed. The spare flesh around his midriff singled him out in a starving community where very few ate enough. His African hair showed just a tinge of russet at the ends. It stemmed from a liaison in earlier generations between one of his Mozambican forebears and a Portuguese trader. This played into his hands. People were terrified of him. When there had been a report of the Red Cross calling for blood donors, the primitive fear of ‘chupa sangue ’ raged through communities in the province . ‘Chupa sangue’ was a person who had the black art, it was supposed, of sucking the blood from your body while you slept without waking you. Who else would be this devil, but a ruthless man with hints of red in his hair? And if he was ‘chupa sangue’, could he also be ‘tira coração ’, that other magical being who could reach into your chest and pluck your heart out. Angelo fostered this idea by threatening people with a simulated act of reaching out with his right hand and twisting and squeezing. It struck blind terror in all who were on the receiving end.

One by one his henchmen appeared in front of him and he gave out his instructions. In the years of the late 1980s not a kilo of food was stolen from the aid programme in Pebane without it passing through his hands. At this moment a small mousy sort of man stood nervously in front of him, his eyes cast downwards in a sign of subjugation. Chales was the number two in Pebane for DPCCN, the Department for the Protection against Natural Calamities.

Rodrigues fired questions at him in an uncompromising manner that brooked no argument or contradiction. “When’s he coming, this new DPCCN delegate?”

“He is on his way, chief,” replied Chales.

“What do you know about him?”

“He is very young, chief; just twenty two. He has no relatives in Pebane.”

“Good,” said Rodrigues. “Then you will catch him stealing. His pay is only 5000 meticais a month , and in any case DPCCN will pay him three months late. He has no family here to give him food. He has no machamba to grow vegetables. As he will not have money to buy food, he will have to take some to live, or else he will be stupid and starve. When he does, you will catch him and bring him to me. Then he will do what he is told or he will go to jail. I will make sure of it.”

“Yes, boss,” mumbled Chales, while still staring at his own feet.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Get moving! Meu Deus! Why do I have to suffer fools everywhere? And remember that the police do my bidding. If you fail you will end up seeming to be shot by bandits. No one will ask any questions, and your family will be left without the food that your dishonesty brings them.”


Rodrigues was seated at a rude wooden table with his back to a wall that had been painted a vibrant red many years ago, but had faded into a shocking chipped pink. The bare concrete floor was by contrast a dull grey/blue colour. The overall effect was garish. On the wall was a primitive mural of people sat dining with a woman bringing them food. Part of the mural was a fancy freehand scroll with the words, “Visitem o restaurante Lisboa que estará ao seu dispor – Pebane”. (Visit Lisbon Restaurant that will be at your disposition – Pebane).

He spat on the floor, and then reached for an AK47 that leaned casually against the pink. Tapping roughly on the table with the stock of the weapon, he shouted, “Mas cerveja. Rapidamente.” He pronounced it rapidamenche in the Brazilian fashion. He had been to Maputo and seen Brazilian soap operas on the TV, and he thought that the accent gave him an exotic air and set him apart from the primitive people around him. The landlord raced to his table and served him another beer, and then backed away, bent over in deference. He needed Angelo to be happy or he might easily be paid with a round of bullets from his gun.


Ten years earlier Jowan Penrose had travelled homewards on the school bus one summer’s day. It was a familiar journey; one he had made for the previous six years of his scholastic life. There was the usual din of kids messing about. Boys showed off boisterously; girls chattered in a high-pitched scream. An outside observer would have had nothing but sympathy for the bus driver. Jowan sat quietly and stared out of the window. His mind was elsewhere.

He was a typical Cornish lad; a little on the swarthy side with features burned by the sun from work about the farm and time spent in the North Cornish surf. He was of medium height with the look of the natural athlete. His hair was curly and dark, but with an element of sun bleached highlights. Not for him the non-stop pandemonium of his peers. He was a quiet lad with an air of self-sufficiency; no longer a schoolboy, but a mature young man. Some of the girls glanced surreptitiously at him from time to time and a gaggle of the younger ones would glance his way and whisper and giggle. Jowan remained oblivious to this and sat deep in thought.

The driver took the coast road out of Bude towards Widemouth Bay and the vast and dramatic vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and the wild North Cornish coastline soon came into view.

“From Hartland Point to Padstow Light Is a watery grave, by day or night.”

Jowan’s mood and the wonderful view were not unconnected. Being brought up with a horizon that stretched way out to sea and from Trevose to Lundy excited the imagination of a young lad. He became more and more conscious of a great big world that lay beyond that horizon, about which he knew little. It sparked a determination to go out there and find out more; and it had all come to a head on this day.


It had been busy. That morning he had gone to a Jobs Fair for sixth formers. Some local businesses had set up tables around the school hall. Miss Penhaligon, the school careers teacher, was flying around in something of a panic to try to make sure that it all went smoothly. Two people from the Careers Advisory Service were there and she really wanted to impress them. Among the tables that represented factories, holiday businesses and a couple of supermarkets were two more ambitious displays.

Suddenly Miss Penhaligon had spotted Jowan entering the hall. He was a favourite of hers and she secretly thought about him sometimes in her lonely flat at night, but would have died of shame if anyone had ever found out.

“Jowan,” she had called out as she headed towards him. “Why don’t you come and see Mr Rose from Exeter University? They are really keen to get people like you.”

“Thank you, Miss,” he replied politely, “but there is somewhere else I wanted to go first,” and he headed towards the Army recruitment stand and was soon in earnest conversation with a very smartly dressed sergeant.

Over lunch he had sat with a group of friends in the dining hall and ate his rather insipid school meal with little interest. While the others discussed their ideas for a career, he remained deep in thought until his friend Rich said, “Hey, Jowan. What about a record in the 800 this afternoon?”.

Jowan awoke from his reverie with something of a start. “Jeez,” he replied. “I almost forgot the school sports,” and he took his last mouthful, deposited his plate in the receptacle, and rushed off to grab his kit and find the PE teacher. His group of friends looked at each other with surprise. They knew that Jowan had trained really hard and thought of little else for weeks. “Blimey,” commented Rich. “Was that the real Jowan Penrose?”

Perhaps his earlier preoccupation had served to protect him from any excess of nerves. He had looked like the winner from the gun. Settling in easily behind the early leader, he had been content to run on his shoulder until the bell. At that point he had unleashed a massive acceleration, which had taken him into a big lead by the back straight. Any thoughts the others had that he might have gone too soon were dispelled as he just seemed to continue to get faster around the final bend and he breasted the tape with a substantial

lead. The PE teacher pressed the stopwatch and then ran to Jowan and held it out for him to see.

“Wow!” he shouted excitedly. “Smashed the school record!” It had taken something rather important to divert Jowan’s thoughts from his running triumph.

Eventually the bus pulled up at the end of a lane pointing to Treghow Farm. The name sounded better in the Cornish than its translation. In English it would have been Stump Farm. He walked down a typical Cornish lane with high hedges and soon came to an old farmhouse. Walking through the kitchen door, he threw down his school bag and went straight to the fridge. There was no sign of his mum or dad. Both would be out working somewhere around the place. With a doorstep sandwich in his hand he went into the living room and turned on the TV in time to see Grange Hill. He was still watching when his parents came back to the house.

“How’d it go,” asked Jowan senior.

Jowan might seem an unusual name, but it underlined the lineage of their family. Penrose was clearly a Cornish surname:

By Tre, Pol and Pen Shall ye know the Cornishmen!

Less well recognised was the first name, Jowan, which is the Cornish for John, and had been passed down through generations of the Penrose family.

“I signed up,” Jowan junior replied.

“What do ‘ee mean,” dad asked. “How do ‘ee sign up for a school race?”

“Oh, that! I won – new school record. I meant that I signed up today – for the Army!”

The Penroses were a very close-knit family unit, and Jowan senior and Mary were able to cope with this piece of news in a very sensible manner. It had long been clear that Jowan junior would not be content to stay at home. There were no histrionics, but dad did advise him nonetheless.

“That be fine, boy,” he said; “Whatever ‘ee does, us’ll be proud of ‘ee. However, ‘ee can’t be a soldier all your life. One day ‘ee’ll have to come back into Civvi Street, so just make sure ‘ee learns a trade. Otherwise what be ‘ee goin’ to do? There’s very few job adverts that sez, <<Ability to fire an assault rifle an advantage.>>”.

End of Foreward