By Jac Dowling
Have you ever backed a lobster, king crab or butterfly? I have, and with very mixed results.
Here’s how it happened.
Mauritius was a distant tropical dream. An island about which no-one knew much other than it was slowly raising its profile as a holiday destination. A farmer friend engaged in advising the Mauritian government on pig farming, heard that we might be going there on an explore so, as a quid pro quo, he offered us intro to high office if we took a bundle of pig – lit over for him. Sounded a good idea, so we did.
The hotel was a group of bungalows close to Grand Bay and ours, accessed via a palm lined coral path, opened right onto the beach. Bliss. Next up came water transport and that meant an old salt by the name of Soon. He owned a pirogue with sails operated by toe while hand was busy on tiller, and we had a week of great excitement skimming over the reef into the open sea, fishing a bit and exploring the coral reef for giant clams and other exotic local shells. These we left in situ after photographing them from all angles and in all lights.
An appointment was made with the Foreign Minister’s office to offload the pig-lit and shake hands. Expecting an Indian elder statesman to meet us, I was almost bowled over when a young, extremely handsome, suave young Creole with a mop of gloriously glossy black curls on top addressed us with the traditional French welcome, invited us into his office and accepted the bundle of papers with alacrity. He was, he said, back for a month from his home on Cap d’Antibes and would like to take us out for the evening. Things were looking up.
A Peugeot 404, followed by another, collected us at 6pm and transported us rapidly and hairily to a wedding feast where FM was waiting. It was quite a formal affair, very colourful and smiley but we didn’t stay long because next stop was the Russian Embassy for a drink-up.
FM, flanked by the two 404 drivers, greeted the ambassador and his wife, introduced us as his SA guests at which juncture we turned a little pale because it was in the days when we had ‘kommuniste’ around every corner out here. And definitely a bad smell. But all was well. Comrade A, canting somewhat to the west due to the load of medals on that side, gave us a pudgy handshake and a smile which crinkled his eyes into tiny slits. He wore a uniform of pristine white – with a fair amount of gold here and there. Madame A had cottage-loafed herself into a shimmering and shattering bright purple lame gown; hair, raven black, scraped back into a tight bun. She attempted a slight inclination of the upper body in welcome; no buttons popped off.
And then the fun began. In the form of trays of Caspian caviar, loaded almost to the ceiling, biscuits to act as shovels, and a platoon Chinese vassals in grey Mao uniform (yes, even then) pressed on us chilled shots of vodka, over and over and over. The toasts began – and eventually ended with the Internationale sung rousingly before further replenishing of glasses. We eventually left and were taken to a Chinese restaurant and casino in Port Louis. FM had a private room and we were each given a fistful of rupees to spend at the tables. Croupiers in peaks and thick glasses sat behind large light boxes on which were squares containing images of various creatures. FM suggested I stick with him and he’d show me the way around the track. An hour later I had a pile of rupee notes which would have paid for six holidays! And all from backing a lobster.
Pumped up with success I set off for the same table, but solo and had another few bets. Returned to our friends with what I’d started out with – a small bundle of rupee notes. Oh well, it wasn’t ours in the first place so I returned it to 404 driver #1.