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Cape Town Secrets

This is a story told to me by my grandfather ( he wasn’t actually my grandfather) about being a spy in the 1930’s and 1940’s ( not true). It was believed, in fact, that he ( let’s call him Archie, which was his name), had been a member of the Peruvian Secret Service (preposterous), which later transformed itself into MI6. (True, incredible as that may now seem.)

He was six foot seven, shiny bald, sported an incredible red handle bar moustache (dyed) and a blue goatee. No eyebrows. He generally sat in an inflatable Queen Anne armchair in a flowing silk Persian battle robe with a mad black and white Minnie Mouse motif. Yellow jockstrap. “ I’m a stickler for tradition”, Archie would boast, whirling about before he settled. “ You can get some damn good stuff in Tehran markets if you bargain hard. Most people don’t know Walt Disney was from Iran. If you say you do, well, you can get an Iranian camel for a pack of minty gum.” ( Some of this isn’t true but it’s too involved to pick it apart and in the process slow up a good yarn.)

“I didn’t intend to be a secret agent,” Archie said when I recently shared a whiskey with him in his Sunderland back garden. ( Sunderland, Peruvia, he loved to call it, because he had a Peruvian pre-Columbian Shepard dog ( perro Chiribaya) that used to shit all over the shoes of visitors. (This I can attest to ).

“I’d always wanted to be a baker and drive a bread delivery van like my aunt Russell.” (Some of this is true.) “ But after being sent to Eton on a snooker scholarship at age seven (the school would not comment) I went up to Oxford, Christ Church, and read something or other and ( Archie never read anything, from the day he was born to the day he died) met Billy Brix.”

“ Billy Brix was a swot and the most intelligent black Nigerian atheist I’d ever met. ( Brix was a white Anglo Saxon Jew from Cape Town with Dutch Lutheran Christian tendencies.) In fact, he attended classes for me, which was quite common in those days, especially among upper class future politicians and Prime Ministers. (This cannot be disproved). Anyway, Brixie got me totally ‘top of the class’ results while he let himself slide, smoke opium, catch diseases of the pleasurable type and get kicked out of Oxford the week before I graduated.” ( Brix came first, Archie second and my grandfather, doing nothing at Oxford for several years, developed a heroin addiction and the habit, when trying to kick, of drinking a lot of coffee and having orgies of up to ten cleaning women, dust bin men, butlers and assorted cooks on any given bank holiday you could mention. (True) By the time he left university he was mostly addicted to penicillin, which had been invented at Cambridge by Sir Arthur Rance as a way of undermining the reputation of rival Oxford.

“ The penicillin addiction, alas, is true. It’s a terrible curse. It creates a lust that cannot be stopped. The freedom you see. That’s why Oxford was closed down for five years in the early forties. (True, according to the Daily Mail).

We finished our first bottle of whiskey and opened a second.

“Would you like some cheese and crackers ? I’m peckish.”

We ate in silence for three hours.

“ My wife loved mature cheddar and cream crackers” Archie motioned to the garden where he had, he said to the BBC, buried Doris after stoning her to death with the potatoes she had dug up too early. (The BBC would not comment.) However, Doris did indeed vanish while going to the loo at a Wimbleton Women’s Final, suspiciously on a break point. (The Sun reported, decades later, that she was living with a white Anglo Saxon Jew exhibiting fundamentalist Christian tendencies and published pictures of her, totally dishevelled, crawling out of Cape Town Casino after losing two million rand at Texas hold’em poker.)

“ Rubbish” sneered Archie. “ Of course she loved her poker, but that woman was obviously Asian. I mean, I could dig Doris up. I’d never marry an Asian” ( The Peruvian Shepard, after shitting a second time on my shoes began digging furiously until Archie pulled the choke chain.)

Archie rose, went to his shed and came back with a shovel.“ It’s too fucking hot to dig anyone up.” (True) He dropped the shovel, went into the house and returned with another bottle.

“If you empty two bottles with a friend you must have a third. Philby’s Law. ”

Archie filled my glass halfway and then, after having a few ‘chins on chest’ fifteen minute naps and several half hour stares into zero, swig-finished that third, stood up, whirled, sat down, and continued.

“ The Peruvian Secret Service,” he said. “ It wasn’t Peruvian at all. That was the beauty of it. It fooled nobody. Which made them confused, you see. Once confused they are beaten.”

“They?” He became flustered.

“ Everybody. Anybody. Even me.” He bent forward to let the Irish wolf hound lick his scalp. Dog spittle dribbled past his ears but he was refreshed. ( You believe that you’ll believe anything.)

Archie decided on a fourth bottle but came back with a Cornetto. He glared and almost snarled, “ Last one.” ( A lie ) He paced, chomped, swerved between dog turds and became feverish as the memories, at last, started to flow.

“ Of course we joined. Me and Brixie. Who I admire beyond reason in spite of him running away and marrying my wife in Cape Town, then having five kids with his Asian mistress.”

He says, “I know someone in the PSS old sod. That’s the Peruvian Secret Service. Shall we join? ”

“It‘s either that”, I smiled, “or climbing mount Everest or going to the South Pole. I don’t like heights and you hate the cold.” So we signed to the PSS the next week in a camouflaged tin hut at the end of Southend Pier. In six weeks we were in Cairo.”

“ I don’t think that’s true.”


“ That you were in Cairo.”

“ No. No, I wasn’t. “



“Gibraltar? Not Gibraltar !”


“ Thank god.”

He walked stiffy but firmly to the inflatable Queen Anne. Aiming like a Himilayan frontier marksman. He sat down. He finished the cornetto.

“ Should have brought you one of those,” he said. Sorry about that. But in the concentration camps down there, it was every damn soldier for himself. The ice cream truck was often mobbed and after the last cornetto was handed out ... there was never enough to go round ... the bastards made sure of that. Finally, one August, the sun relentless, we tipped the truck over, set fire to it, dragged the ice cream man out and left him bloody and dead on the ground. No more cornettos. Never again. Maybe sausage on a bun. Uncooked. Out of a tin wash basin. On random Fridays. We dropped like flies.”

Archie started to cry.

It was seven thirty.


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