Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Fourth Gambian Experience Part One. (Eight Miles High... And When You Touchdown...)

Photo's from the top:-
Omar and Mum Ida.
Pussy's new family (again).
2x Omar

It’s the middle of February and I’m literally freezing my tits off at work because it’s so cold and I’ve got no protection against it apart from yet another layer of clothing which is beginning to cause me grief as moving is becoming difficult.
Everything I can buy thermal wise, I’ve got.
Socks, underwear, shirts, plus thick sweaters and when I say I’ve got everything, I mean everything.
But… According to my erstwhile and so called manager I have to wear the Council’s sodding green uniform jacket over the top of everything topside and it won’t fit over a fleece lined leather jacket which is definitely the warmest thing I possess and which he, in his undoubted wisdom, has decreed I cannot wear over the green jacket.
Of course if it fitted me the other way round I would have done it but it doesn’t and because my job involves walking and not driving about on a quadbike or somesuch vehicle, I apparently, do not qualify for any of the Council’s cold weather clothing.
It is apparently ok for me to keel over with hypothermia which I’ve managed to do twice previously and which he knows about, but actually taking serious notice of what is a life or death problem for me would seem to be beyond him.
It wouldn’t be so bad if they actually implemented their own Council’s rules and regulations regarding staff health as supplied to all members of staff in the handbook we are all given when we join as opposed to just paying lip service to it, but that is only done when it is convenient for them…
Fuck everyone else !
You know what their reason was for not allowing me the clothing ?
If they give it to me then everyone might want some ?
Yep !
That was it… The official reason.
I’ve had fifty two years of getting used to what I could do, and three years since the heart attack to get used to what I now can’t do, and despite me telling them about it (as I am supposed to do according to their own staff handbook) when anything affects my health, their idea of my health and safety is to ignore it totally because it is not convenient for them…
Health and safety ?
Yeah, right !
And that’s not even including the fact that they’ve decided that I’ve got to start work a half hour before anyone else because somebody else made a mistake and when I complained about it as the job I’d already done had to be repeated for a second day running, the whole thing got dumped on me because a colleague had recently been promoted and decided NOT to back me up.
I use the word loosely.
Telling the truth wouldn’t have hurt him and it might even have done the bloody department some good, but it’s so much easier to dump on someone else… Isn’t it ?
Now the pills I have to take to survive are kicking back.
One is fighting another in the early hours and is causing me serious aggravation.
You can fool them for maybe a couple of days if you can shovel food in at the right times but the constancy of having to do it on a weekly basis is making me ill with cramps and knots that seem to twist your stomach into agonies that those uncaring bastards couldn’t even dream about.
Oh well… What goes around comes around, as they say…
But I do have eleven days holiday to come which has to be taken before the end of March, and so with that in mind I wandered into the local travel agents thinking maybe I can afford another week away with Haddy in The Gambia ?

Maria, the blonde girl behind the counter, immediately looks up while she’s serving another customer, excuses herself, and asks me if I’ve come in about The Gambia again and when I say yes, asks me to ‘Hang on until she’s finished with her customer because she thinks she’s got some very good news for me…?’
Sounds ok to me so I’ll hang on…
It was definitely worth the fifteen minute wait.
As soon as she’s finished packing them off to Mexico or the Dominican Republic or wherever it was they ended up going to she’s on the ‘phone to check prices, asks if it’s the usual flight only ? and then tells me that she can get me over there for three hundred and twenty four quid for fourteen days…
It was six hundred and something for seven days in November when we went out to do the gigs.
We check the calendar…
What with weekends and all, if I fly out on the seventeenth of March I can fit the fourteen day break into my eleven days.
Great !
Step outside to ring Haddy who immediately says yes.
Now all I have to do is book the time off at work.
The following day they let me take an early lunch break and I shoot off down the town to book it. Done.
I’m going.

When Joy and I flew out back in November she had been in touch with a guy named Mark who runs a charity organisation named Roots Nursery thinking that it might have something to do with the Roots Nursery School at Fajikunda ?
It doesn’t.
There are a lot of Roots Nursery charities apparently, most of whom are capitalising on the book by Alex Haley, and let’s face it, it did put The Gambia on the map, but the one Mark looks after is in Albreda and Juffreh where Alex Haley’s Kunta Kinte ancestor is reckoned to have come from, and I’d visited it with Haddy on my first trip out.
There are some photo’s attached further back in the blog in 2008 if you want to go back that far ?
So I rang Mark and found out that he was flying on the same day as me but his team of three were only going to be out there for seven days.
We can however, meet up at Gatwick before the flight which is the usual 7.50am-ish job.
It’s a horrible time to fly in one respect, as having to get to Gatwick for that time in the morning with the earlier check in times, means leaving home at about 2.30am if you want a clear run on the M.25 ?
If you leave it until later and the early morning work traffic has started then one accident on the M.25 could blow out your holiday so it’s a good idea to get there and hang about for the extra hour rather than rush it.
Oh well, at least there were no problems at Gatwick apart from me being two kilos over the baggage limit…
To be honest I’d cut down and cut down but I’d got all Mariama’s drumming cd’s, a couple of bits for Haddy and some clothes for the girls and Amadou and I couldn’t cut anymore so I paid the excess but I did manage to blag myself an aisle seat on the flight.
20 kilos is a very light allowance anyway and damn near every other airport has a 30 kilo baggage allowance, but not our wonderful Gatwick however.
They’re still stuck in the dark ages.
I’m stopped at the passport control stop and search as usual, and as usual they go through the electrics in the luggage…
Yes, it’s a laptop… That’s a minidisk recorder… They’re the extension speakers for the minidisk or the computer… That wire connects to this, that wire connects to that, I’ll fire the mutha’ up so you can listen if you like ?
No ? Ok, thank you…
I only had to take my boots off twice this time so that was a plus but finally I’m in departures and buying the usual duty free.
Some tobacco for Ebrima and Lamin and a bottle of brandy for Haddy and that’s it…
Find a strong black coffee to help keep me awake for the next crucial couple of hours until I’m on the plane, and text Mark to say that I’m here.
Thirty minutes later he rings and says they’re in MacDonalds, second table to the left and we meet and greet…
The more I do this stuff, the more I realise that there really are some selfless people in this world who will put themselves out to help others if they can, and Mark and his two companions all fit the bill.
They raise money in England to help a small community of people a couple of thousand miles away and they do it because they want to and they have the abilities to do so.
My mate Bernie http://www.morewriting.co.uk/user/306 who writes a pretty nifty set of words himself, and who has been an aid worker in Africa reckons that Africa’s problems can only be solved by the Africans.
I would agree with that but sometimes people only need a sort of leg-up to the next rung on the ladder and that is what Mark and his team are supplying.
The leg-up… and whichever set of Gods you believe in, thank him or them for those who get off their arses and actually do something worthwhile to help.
And all this from one holiday and a paid trip to the village on a package holiday ?
You’ve got to have some sort of admiration for somebody as selfless as that.
It’s just a shame that governments of countries don’t feel the same way about it.
Oh yeah, they’ll donate money in aid to poorer countries if they think they might get something out of it, but in general terms the real work is done by people like Mark who do actually make a difference by going into a community and finding out what they actually need as opposed to the money going into some scheme that might benefit somebody if you’re lucky but looks really good on paper.
The village of Albreda is on the river and is in a severe malarial zone and so apart from anything else, they are supplying one thousand mosquito nets for all the schoolchildren of the village.
Anybody who hasn’t visited anywhere where Malaria is a serious problem wouldn’t have a clue as to why that is so important but Malaria is a killer disease and it could be eradicated, but only if people start with the basics and the basics are literally a mosquito net costing about two and a half to three pounds, English.
Less than twenty cigarettes.
So I’m asking… Is it not worth that to save a child’s life or to save them from what can be a terribly debilitating disease ?
I know what my answer is, but you’ll all have to think about your own ?
Anyway, let’s cut the sermon because I’m sure you really don’t want to read it ?
We get our seats on the plane, I’m in the middle and they’re right at the back so that’s a good excuse for a walkabout for all four of us.
The batteries on the computer died before I had a chance to show them the photo’s and there was a really crap movie starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman titled ‘Australia’ which couldn’t decide if it wanted to be ‘Red River’ (Or ‘Lonesome Dove’ for those in their twenties and thirties) or ‘Pearl Harbour’ and all set in the land of Oz…
(That’s Oz as in Oz-tralia, mate).
Christ ! You could have made three good films for what they must have spent on
that one…
Or even sponsored a few of the starving kids around the world for a few
years ?
Face it, if they’d done that then the makers might have ended up with a better return on their investment ?
I got pulled over at Banjul for the first time and they went through the luggage.
I think they were looking for mobile phones if I got the gist of the woman being searched next to me ?
But I’m clean, I’ve got the two allowed only and that’s that.
Which meant I managed to miss saying goodbye to Mark and his crew, but I can text him later on when we get in…
Except there isn’t a we…
‘Tufa is there to greet me as usual, but there’s no Haddy.
‘Tufa tells me what’s going on while we’re driving back to the compound.
Apparently, Haddy’s elder sister’s husband had just died of cancer earlier that morning and so she was with the family and she will see me later on, but closer to tonight.
I was told about six pm but she finally turned up at eleven looking completely exhausted.
Had I been looked after ?
Of course…
I’d turned up at the gate and the guys had grabbed my case to take in and that was it, hugs from Mariama, the twins, Sainabou, Little Ida, Neighbour Ida, Ida’s Mum… The works.
Oh yes, I’d been looked after, fed, the lot.
Eldest daughter Fatou who I’d known in England had returned from her new beach bar at about eight…
What new beach bar ?
Things were definitely happening around the compound, and then finally Haddy had got back and started to explain to me the workings of a family vigil.
It’s not with the body but with the bereaved, and the whole extended family turn up and eat and drink them out of house and home.
That’s a brutally frank way of putting it because whatever money the family have left after a breadwinner (In this case) has died, is frittered away on food and drink leaving the poor bereaved soul worse off money wise than before, and then the extended immediate family decide who is to take in the bereaved or are they to stay in their own compound or house, whatever ?
After having it explained, I have to admit that it’s a system that doesn’t sit too well with me.
What a waste.
But here in The Gambia it is the tradition in both Muslim and Christian households, the only difference being that the Muslims end it in twenty five days and the Christians in forty.
Forty days ?
Believe it.
Haddy explains that she has other people staying as well for some of the family’s relatives were in Senegal and they’ve come over to be here at this sad time.
Hey… Slow down… Go To Bed… I was up all night last night, had a six hour flight and I’m not sure I can manage another all-nighter ?
Come on, love… I’m exhausted, you’re exhausted, try and get some sleep and I’ll see you in the morning…

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Cozmic the cat's Obit.

Cozmic Cat.
Born:- Spring-Summer 1993 – Died:- March 16th 2009. R. I. P.

Cozmic the Cat, or to give him his full given name, Really Cozmic, or just Coz’ to those who knew him, died today aged about fifteen and a half years in human terms.

Cozmic was about three to six months old on the morning of 30th October 1993 when he walked into my shop, looked around, walked up the stairs and ‘crashed’ under a record browser.
I, of course, was none too happy with this turn of events so I closed the shop, picked him up and took him down to the other end of the High Street where I left him…
Needless to say, he beat me back to the shop and was waiting outside the front door when I’d walked back, so I unlocked again and he immediately charged in, shot up the stairs and went to ground in the same place as he’d done previously.
I got him a saucer of water and left him to it, business being business after all and anyway, apart from the fact that we had an old listed building from the 1600’s, we’d already cleared the mice so he was going to be superfluous to requirements whether he liked it or not ?

The fourth or fifth person through the door that day was a guy who is really no stranger to those who read this blog or his own outpourings in his own wonderfully musical Kombat Blog http://nuzzprowlinwolf.blogspot.com/ and that was a certain Nuzz Prowling Wolf, who, when told of the aforesaid intruder, shot up the stairs to go and look for himself…
“Wow, man… A black cat the night before Hallowe’en ? That’s really cosmic !”
And a name was born and Cozmic he became and Cozmic he stayed.

Two days later and he still hadn’t moved, despite me leaving him there all night so I sent out for cat food and a litter tray and left him to it…
The problem being that Kocaine (the band I was in at the time... So named because we got up people's noses...) were gigging around Hertfordshire and we had quite a lot of gigs so there didn’t seem any point in taking him home.
On the third day at Emma’s (one of our two guitarists) insistence, I finally take home the cat…
I tried so hard to give him away to all and sundry but for various reasons it never happened, I even put up a notice in the local Vet’s but both families who turned up to look said he wasn’t theirs.
Well, to put it in a nutshell the longhaired black furball stayed.
He was an awkward little pest when I first got him, never wanting to go out, so we’d find lumps of fur that he’d regurgitated all over the house.

You’d think over fifteen years he would have managed to break the habit, but no… He kept hawking them up despite my blandishments and entreaties and telling him off every time I heard him start up… It seemed to be his favourite occupation for a while until once when loading the car with a p.a. I arrived at a gig I’d been booked to play to find I’d also brought a four legged hairy black furball with me.
Would you believe he loved it ?

Loud music was never a worry to him and when he’d sussed the audience was sitting on chairs he just cased them until he spotted an ample lap and without asking just jumped up upon it, settled himself down and watched me along with the rest…
Ok, the man or woman whose lap he jumped on was a usually a little surprised to find a few kilos of cat on it for the duration but usually a call of ‘Don’t mind him, he’s with me…’ or ‘Sorry darlin’… He’s my security…’ and no worries.
He was a strange cat in other ways also…
He’d perch himself in front of the television, usually sat upright where you’d want to step, for any nature, vet rescue, or Western film that involved horses…
No other animal fascinated him so much as horses.
Or else he’d drape himself over the Bass cabinet in the corner and wait for Sharon, my girlfriend of the time, who he absolutely adored.
You could never leave a full cooling cup of tea on the carpet or you’d hear slurping sounds within seconds of doing so.
He did like his cups of tea.
Chicken, whether leg or curry was immaterial to him.
Spaghetti Bolognese, tins of Tesco value tuna and prawns.
Any of the above in any configuration and he was in gastronomic heaven.
He’d greet guests at the front door and usually escort them through to the lounge before waiting for them to sit so that he could find a nice warm seat.

Over the years he was joined by Jodie and later on by Stella both of whom were left with me by ex-girlfriends although in Stella’s case it was at least by mutual agreement as Marina found she was totally allergic to cat fur, but finally the years caught up with him like they do all things and over the last year he managed to get cat diabetes, arthritis in both back legs and blind in one eye but he just carried on and despite the obvious discomfort of descending and climbing the stairs every time he wanted food or to use the litter tray, he still would not move downstairs to stay.
As far as he was concerned his bedroom was at the front of the house so he could peer out of the window and decide which visitors to come and greet and may God help any interloper who decided to sit on his chair…
If they didn’t have red stripes (no, not the lager) when they sat in it, then they more likely would have after he’d complained to them about it and that only took two miaow’s.. If they hadn’t moved after the second one then he must have figured that it was either him or them, and it was his chair so he wasn’t in any mood to back down.

It was recommended that he be put down last November when they discovered the diabetes and gave him a ‘couple of weeks at the most’ but as usual the stubborn little so and so defied all expectations and continued with his normal life style and there was no way I wasn’t going to give him a major pig-out at Christmas, so I held off…

On March 16th prior to flying out to see Haddy in The Gambia for two weeks, I made the decision.
He was definitely unwell and despite it all he would always mope when I took a break and so I made the final decision…
He went as soon as the liquid went in.
He’s now reunited with Jodie again, and I’m quite sure the Great Cat God is going to have his paws full when those two start arguing…

He wasn’t just a cat, he was my mate and I’m gonna miss him.

There's a true story that I turned into something I do onstage on
and his last pictures (in the snow this year, are posted above)

Rock on, Puss Cat !

Saturday, 7 February 2009

The Dick Tators at myspace

Hey guess what ?
myspace have disabled my link to this blog ?????

It really does make you wonder when the same blog on my myspace page carried a link to a petition about Form 696 which all musicians and stage performers should be aware of...
Punch it into your search engine and look it up for yourselves...
It's a real bastard, that one.
and a link to no. 10 Downing Street.

Strange as it may seem, those two links were not touched...
Just MINE !

Hey !
Were in 2009 now not 1984... although our government are doing their best to take us to Orwell Land and so, it would seem, are myspace too.

I reckon they're just jealous of this site 'cos most of the writing is done on it...

Anyway, stick Form 696 into your search engine and prove to yourself something that some of us already knew... That the Police ARE a racist organisation and are now using 'type of music' liked, to stop gigs and to get your names, addresses and phone numbers on their 'shitstem'
(Bob Marley definitely had the right pronunciation and spelling for System, didn't he ?)
Oh yeah, and sign the petition on my (or anyone else's) myspace because it WILL affect all of us if it's not smashed and brought out into the open.

Well, I reckon it was reported by a copper and myspace did it automatically.
We'll find out soon enough when all the links are taken out of this one...


and keep censorship off the web, too.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

The Third Gambian Experience Part Nine (Hold It ! Crash, Bang, Wallop, What A Picture...) Some Shots We Also Liked.

Here are some photo's we took that we liked, but didn't have room for in the narrative...
They are, as you can see, a mixed bunch.
All those with dates on are Joy's as she managed to forget to redate her camera and we never spotted it until we downloaded.
All the photo's we took or that came out are in http://myspace.com/chrisrippleparnassus
Just click on 'view my pic's' and when the page changes click on The Third Gambian Trip.

The Third Gambian Experience Part Eight (Isn't Going Home A Low An' Lonely Ride...)

Photo's from the top:-
Haddy, Sainey and me.
Joy, Sainey and me.
Joy & Sainey.
Joy & Haddy.
It's a (wo)man's world.
Joy & Ida.
Joy & 'Tufa.
Play us out, mate...

It's my last day here and as usual I'm feeling quite sad...
I woke early and showered in hot water which was a plus, but I still managed to miss the kids before they went to school.
Haddy and Saina' are sorting out breakfast with Ida, and little Omar is fast asleep in his net in the middle of the compound.
Pussy is getting underfoot because she wants real catfood as opposed to having to wait for us to finish so she can eat up the scraps we leave, and she knows there are some pouches in the refrigerator, so I sort her out and then she can feed her four kittens when she's done.
Finally, we're ready to eat and Joy turns up in time to grab another plate and eat it hot.
Tomatoes, fried egg and one chicken frank each, along with the usual baguette and we're done save the tea or coffee...
I don't know about Joy, but I'm going to miss them all terribly.
Truth is, I'd rather be here than there, anyway.
But the day will come...
Oh yes... The day will definitely come.

Visitors start appearing as soon as we finish breakfast...
Ebrima... Off to a job, pops his head round the compound door and wishes us a good flight and he'll see me again soon...
Too right he will.
He doesn't know if he'll be about at midday when we have to leave, so a hug for Joy and a handshake and an embrace for me.I must ask him next time what he thought of Joy, as she definitely invaded his posse's male preserve a couple of times ?
Little Ida's mum comes over, apologising for not coming earlier, and I get a hug and best wishes for the flight and could Ida have a copy of her and Mariama's poem ?
Of course.
It seems everybody wants to say goodbye.
Hadim turns up with a rattle for Mariama...
The drummers have heard the news already and he says that when Mariama gets the drum and he gets a chance, he'll pop round the compound for a practice session, but right now the drum remains a secret until her birthday at Christmas.
These guys are so giving that my innate cynicism that living in England gives everyone free gratis is taking a bit of a pounding, but I know I'll need it when I get back home, and then Sainey appears with his guitar to 'play us out' as it were.
Both Joy and I are firing off photo's left, right and centre trying to get everybody in and hopefully they'll all come out, but who knows ?
This is one sad occasion and don't I know it ?
Lamin turns up to say goodbye and he thinks he might have found the wood already...
I know Mariama's drum will be in safe hands if he has anything to do with it.
We can't wait any longer as check in time is rapidly approaching and although Mariama has just turned up back from school, it looks like we're going to miss the twins...
I gave Mariama the rattle from Hadim and she choked up...
"Look after it Mariama, and make it your own... It's yours and you have to learn it's secrets by yourself, what it can do and what it can't...
It's not a drum but it's your start, so look after it little one... keep it safe and make it your own..." Christ !
She had me choking up at that moment but the bloody car is ready to go and so one last hug with Sainabou, Ida, little Ida...
Handshakes with a couple of the guys and Sainey... and Ebrima who has just turned up as we're bundled inside the car and driving up to the main road.
At the top of the road just as we're about to turn left we spot the twins coming home from school so it's me and Joy back in the street to hug them goodbye and now we're really off.

Back home.
A six hour flight to a country I don't even recognise as my own anymore.
Why don't I recognise it ?
Ask the fucking politicians who run it for their own benefit...
Ask those who would justify their own positions by keeping people divided...
Ask them, but don't ask me.
I've done complaining about it and now I just don't care anymore.
Life's too short and there's never enough time to do the things I really want to do, so fuck the country and fuck the government.
Fuck 'em all for their lies and hypocrisy...
Ain't none of 'em worth a bucket of piss !

Oh dear... I seem to have gone off on one...
Should I edit it out ?
What do you think ?
Whose blog is it anyway ?
No... I won't edit it out.
They brought it on, so they can take the criticism and if they can't and they start up their bullying then it just proves the point without question, and I despise them utterly from the centre of my being.
In The Gambia I'm treated as a human being whether I'm there on holiday or to work like this trip.
Yeah, I know it doesn't sound like work, but believe me, it is, so why can't I be treated like that in my own country ?
Because some people want possession of my soul and it's not for sale.
I stand for the freedom to think, to talk for myself, and to take responsibility for my own actions and my government and their Lords and Masters in Brussells are doing their level best to take those basic freedoms away from me so I stand in opposition... and I know I'm not alone.

When we reach the airport I check out the check in time with the guy on the gate and he motions me on through...
Not yet...
More hugs from 'Tufa and Haddy...
C'mon Joy, make it quick because I really hate this bit.
I'd much rather go through without any tears but I know Haddy is close, and hanging about is going to make it ten times worse.
Don't look back whatever you do... and we head for departures through security and the scanner only to find that I'm stopped for a search...
Yeah, I know... I've got an honest face.
Open the case...
What's this ?
A music stand.
And this ?
Another music stand.
No, I'm a poet, not a musician...
Yes, I've just done two gigs in The Gambia to raise money for a local youth group...
And what are these ?
He looks like he's just discovered the crown jewels when he discovers my Nicorette capsules...
Yes, they're drugs... and so are these and these and these and these and these and these...
No, those are for malaria and all the rest are for my heart condition.
They're an aid to help me stop smoking... You put them in this little gadget here and you inhale pure nicotine without any of the smoke.
How long do they last ? About twenty minutes if you don't inhale too hard...
Where did I get them ?
I was prescribed them by my doctor to help me stop smoking.
Yes, I'll change one over now and you can watch it all happening, it's quite simple, you twist this and take out the old one... Bin please... Thank you... and then you stick in another one and start sucking on that, and I'll tell you now, they are a godsend on aeroplanes...
Yes, they work in that they certainly help you cut down on smoking cigarettes...
Don't worry guys, you're going to see a lot more people carrying them in the future, and you might even begin to sell something like it in The Gambia soon as there are certainly a lot of smokers here, especially among the Gambian youth, so who knows ?
Thank you... thank you... It's ok, just let me get my boots on again and I'll be out of your way...
No worries mate, I'll be back again in the not too distant future...
An honest face, huh ?
And I'm finally through to departures.
Now where's Joy ?
Chatting up the bloke behind the bar when I spot her, but she has brought two beers and one of them is for me...
It goes down in one.
And now another...
It'll be my last because I'm driving home from Gatwick.
It's tea, coffee and fruit juice from here on in.
We get a snack from the snack bar on the terrace.
It's way overpriced but it's fresh food so I don't care, and at least their sandwiches are made at the bar and not stuck in polystyrene packets in machines or cold coolers.
I'm beginning to wind down and relax even though I dislike flying intensely and here's our plane just arriving from England.
Another hour and a bit while they refuel and re-equip and we'll be on our way.
I just hope I haven't been lumbered with a window seat as there is no room to even breathe in those.
No, Joy got it, but she's happy looking out of the window and I'm piggy in the middle...
It'll have to do.
The flight is uneventful.
I slept a bit and wrote up some notes and Joy watched the in-flight film which was Will Smith in 'Hancock', one of those superhero type things.
It has a few good moments near the beginning as far as the script is concerned but tails off mid film into tedium and lack of ideas before a good bit of demolition and destruction at the end...
It's light entertainment with the emphasis on 'light'.
Please fasten your safety belts before landing...
And we're back in good old Blighty.
I wish I felt like that, but I can't summon up the energy...
I wish I were back in The Gambia and that's a fact.
Look, I know the grass is always greener and all that, but really... What have we actually come home to ?
The temperature outside Gatwick is apparently minus one centigrade and we've just flown back from a warm thirty four C.
Apparently there is an informal sweepstake going around some of the passengers to guess who is going to get stopped by British Customs and guess who can't get anything but even money ?
Yeah, right !
And you know what ?
They were right.
As soon as I walked into the green light area I'm stopped by some Asian woman in a uniform...
Am I travelling with anyone else ?
Who ?
Joy who ?
The lady up ahead who's waiting for me.
(Now she's been stopped also)
Yes, I can open my case...
They're music stands...
They're the leads for the minidisk recorder...
Those are extension speakers, either for the computer or the minidisk...
Yes, I've just done a couple of gigs in The Gambia...
Yes, I packed my own case.
Yes, one jar of peanut butter which the family made for me... It's rolled up in a sock to stop the jar breaking...
No, I don't think it contains any drugs... I was given it by Mariama and she's nine on Christmas Day, what would she be doing with drugs ?
Why would I buy drugs in The Gambia when if I wanted them, I can buy better in England ?
You may have gathered that I'm not very helpful to these people.
Well if they stopped going by how people dress they might have a bit more luck in their endeavours and might catch the right people.
Like I'm going to smuggle drugs dressed as I am ?
Are these people taught to be complete pillocks or is pillockdom something they are born with ?
No, I'm not prepared to compromise on my dress sense.
I wear what is comfortable for me and if that makes me look like a drug smuggler, whatever a drug smuggler might look like, then so be it.
As far as I'm aware most people caught at airports smuggling drugs are female, young and stupid...
Hey, don't have a go at me for quoting straight out of the newspapers who report the stories...
Most of those caught are female, young and stupid.
I'm a bearded male and I'm not that young.
As for my stupidity, well that's a matter of record and depends upon how you view things but I'm not THAT stupid.
So if these people are going by looks, as they did in this case then their stupidity is as great as those who smuggle.
Why not check the businessman's briefcase, or is the fact that he's wearing a suit proof positive that he's not a drug smuggler ?
Jesus ! If they haven't worked that out yet, then it's no wonder the streets are awash with the stuff.
When they realise I'm doing just a bit more than sending them up, they let me go.
Having said that, I also know I'm going to be trailed at least by C.C.T.V. until I'm outside.
Joy's bloke, Kieran, is waiting for her and I finally get to meet him when we get through, so I tell him thanks for letting me borrow her for the week and I owe him a beer at least for that, but he can have her back now...
I get a hug from her before they depart and now all I want is to sit somewhere warm and have a cup of tea and a fag but there's no chance until I'm outside the building for the cigarette and where am I going to get a cup of tea ?
At the garage on the outskirts where I stop for a cornish pasty is the answer, so I pull into one of their parking bays and relax a bit.
The tea is in one of those cardboard double layer heat mugs and tastes like heaven to a bloke who's been drinking aeroplane tea for six hours and the pasty wasn't too bad either.
Thanks guys...
I wouldn't have known you warmed things up if you hadn't told me, and making me a cup of tea with a kettle ?
Top marks guys, and no messing.
It's just past midnight when I get home but then I'm not working today (or tomorrow depending on how you look at these things) so I just clear up after the cats who both greet me quite grumpily when I get in.
Thanks Dave, for feeding them while I was away...
A day to clear up, do the washing, that sort of thing... before heading back to the Insanity Factory.
Yabba fuckin' dabba doo !


The exchange rate had been falling for most of the time we were out there and at the beginning of December the banks started to crash all around the world starting in America and hitting Britain within days...
They lost so much money because of their dubious practices that our Prime Minister started giving away my money (and yours) to shore them up.
Within a few days they had started failing all over the world and billions of our money was poured into their coffers to support them and to stop them failing.
Then the economy started to fail as the rescued banks decided to keep the money for their shareholders as opposed to helping their borrowers with it, causing those with large mortgages to default on payments and when they did that, the banks sent the bailiffs in...
Now, at the end of January 2009 we are in a global recession, the banks have been bailed out again with my (and your) money and the British economy has well and truly collapsed.
Now forgive me if I'm wrong but wasn't this clown of a Prime Minister the Chancellor Of The Exchequer throughout the whole term of B'liar's government, and that being the case if he didn't spot what was coming down the pike then I think it quite fair to call his and the bank's senior executives' competence to account.
We as a country might weather it better than a country a lot poorer than ours as the residual and knock-on effect on some of the poorer nations is going to be nothing other than catastrophic.
I suppose that since we can all now be charged with a crime if we even attempt to stop burglars stealing our money and our property, then one more of the thievin' bastards ain't gonna make tuppence worth of difference ?
At least I've still got the music... but the Jilted John hit's chorus seems to be the most appropriate right now...
(Along with Dylan's Masters of War, The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again and Lindisfarne's Bring Down the Government...)
You're scratching your head as if you don't know ?
Ok, I'll sing it for you...
Gordon is a moron, Gordon is a moron...
Repeat ad infinitum.
And you wonder why I totally despise these people ?
You're having a laugh !

Haddy tells me it's hurting everybody in The Gambia except one...
Mariama got her drum for her birthday and hasn't stopped hitting it since.
Every day when she returns from school she starts drumming again and apparently there are definitely three female drummers in The Gambia.
They've been shown on Gambian television all playing together.
(Apparently, according to my sources... Some of the guy's were quite impressed...).

There is an old African proverb...
A village without music is a dead village.
Make of that what you will...

Here's a quick poem for the occasion...

Gordon (Golden) Brown Remix # 3.
The 'He's got the whole world in his hands and he's dropped it' mix
(Thanx to The Stranglers for the rhyme and metre)

Gordon Brown, What did you do ?
The country's collapsing all around you
You squandered our wealth
on a shareholder's health
You can't let THEM go down
Can you, Gordon Brown ?

'We've saved the world...'
We heard what you said, you did it by stealing everyone's bread
So surely you jest
You're just like the rest
That's hardly renown
Is it, Gordon Brown ?

Gordon Brown, What did you expect ?
Some of our workers are feeling quite vexed
Their jobs on the line
Labour's immigration crime
It's our country not theirs
Nor yours... Gordon Brown.

This is the fourth version (all different)
and if you wish to see the earlier ones, hit this link (They're in the 'Song Lyrics' section)

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Third Gambian Experience Part Seven (Drums Keep Pounding Rhythm To The Brain...).

Photo's from the top:-
Fatou N'jai with Mum and Lamin.
Fatou N'jai with Mum.
Joy in pool at Cape Point.
4 shots of drum practice

It's morning again and I've missed the usual wake up calls...
The tinnitus has subsided somewhat thanks to some screwed up toilet roll and some olive oil (It's what we in the West call an 'Old Wive's Trick') and I've got about thirty percent hearing back in my right ear.
Ok, if anybody whispers I can't hear it if it's on my right side but when you have it you learn how to compensate by the way you incline your head and thirty percent is just under half of what it normally is when it calms down so it should be gone and me back to normal, or whatever passes for it, in about three or four days as it gets progressively better by the day until you're back to your 'normal' hearing.
Mine is about 97 percent in the left and 65-70 percent in the right over the constant white noise going on in the background.
At least it's beginning to subside, that's the main thing.
It's not comfortable but it's on the way toward it.
Knock, knock...
"Are you decent ?"
It's Haddy...
"Yeah... Just woken up and still in bed, though ?"
"Can I come in ?"
" 'course you can"
And she did and sat on the bed.
"I spoke to Mariama this morning..."
Oh yeah... and what's the verdict ?"
"She really does want to be a drummer"
"I know... I want to go see Lamin this morning or at some point today... Like officially ! Will you come with me 'cause I want to put a bit of business his way. Remember when he said he'd make me a drum ? I'm gonna take him up on it, but it's gonna be for Mariama so I'd like you there to ok it 'cause I want to do this right. Lamin'll know what I mean, but I want it to come from the village and not just one for the tourists... This one's got to be special. Sorry, but I'm weird like that and it'll make a difference to me because it's heart and soul will come from the right place... If you can get your head 'round that ?"
She smiled... and said "I'll make sure he's in"
"Thanks... What's for breakfast ?"
"There's sausage and egg if you want it ?"
"Race you to the shower..."
Which she won as I got my feet tangled in the duvet and went arse over tit onto the floor...
She was still laughing when she came out wrapped in a towel...
"Ok, my turn... Aaaaarrrgh, it's cold..."

Breakfast of baguette, fried egg, fried or raw tomato and chicken frankfurter...
You can't beat it.
I'm really going to have to check out Tesco's for those chicken franks when I get back as they really are quite moreish.
I forgot the two cups of tea that go with breakfast but if you've read this far then you'll know about them, anyway.
Haddy drinks tea but prefers coffee.
I'd happily have coffee but it would have to be black and it won't do me any good first thing in the morning.
I'd sooner drink it in the evening or at night or by the swimming pool if we can get into Cape Point today... But I've got to check out Lamin first or I'll probably miss him if we wait for the evening as the guy gets about a bit and we're supposed to be going out for a meal as it's me and Joy's last night here.
(Yes, I know it's grammatically incorrect but if you put 'It's Joy and I's last night here' then it sounds awful), besides, who's writing this, anyway ?
I'll give you a clue...
It ain't you.
Right, back to the action...
Within ten minutes Joy has turned up for breakfast so we drink another cup of tea and I tell her I'm just popping out with Haddy to do a bit of business, but it shouldn't take long...
Famous last words.
Lamin is in and so we wait while he sorts himself out...
I don't think he was expecting business callers this early in the day. Ok, it's about 9.30 in the morning but the longer we can stay at Cape Point's swimming pool will be just fine with me.
Lamin is now ready, so I make the pitch...
"Lamin... Do you remember last time I was here and you offered to make me a drum... ?"
And everything was going fine and normal for at least ten seconds until I said it was for Mariama...
He looked at Haddy...
He looked at me.
He looked back at Haddy and said...
"Mariama... ? Little Mariama ?
"Yep... !"
"I knew it... I knew it... I knew it from about two years ago... She had a feeling about her (She's going to be nine on Christmas Day December 25th 2008 if anyone wants to send a card ?)
I've known for some time... What did she say ?"
"I asked her what she wanted to be when she was bigger and she said a musician... Then I asked her what sort of musician and she said she wanted to be the best Mandinka drummer in The Gambia... I asked her what about the world ? and she said, that too... Scary isn't it ? Oh yeah... and when I asked her she said she'd always wanted to be a drummer... Nothing else... Just a drummer"
"Good !"
Good ? Is he mad or what ? Haddy's going to curse him later because I know what she's going to have to put up with. The lad who lives next door to me back in England is learning the drums on a full drumkit and he can be a bit noisy through the wall... and I'm not living with it, just next door to it.
In fairness, the lad (Jason) is doing it properly and taking lessons at school in their music classes and he's getting quite nifty in his rolls and paradiddles and things, but living with it is going to be something else...
I explained why I wanted him to do it rather than me just buy one and he seemed quite pleased.
"You know the drum has a soul, Chris... A Spirit... Because it is made of wood and wood is a living thing ?
"I know... I'd never really thought about it until I read a book by a drummer who explained it so simply that I understood what he was on about implicitly... I mean, I really knew... (The book is ; titled 'Drumming At The Edge Of Magic' and it was written by Mickey Hart and I thoroughly recommend it to everyone who has an interst in drums or drumming) That's why I'm here because I knew you'd understand why I want it done properly and since I have to go back home tomorrow, I'd like to ask you if you would arrange for it to be done properly... If you say yes, I'll send you the money as soon as I get back ?"
"Of course I must do it"
"No problems about her being a girl ?"
"No... She will be a good drummer and it will be good for the drum... and the drummers... It is time"
I didn't like to press for what it was time for, although I do have a sneaking suspicion, so I stood and we shook on it.
"I will look for the wood right away... When I am happy I will slaughter the goat..."
"I'll send you the money and you'll have it by the third day I'm back"
"Thank you. Thank you for coming to see me"
Oh yeah, I forgot to say that they make the drums with goatskin...
Never mind, you'll get over it I'm sure.
I'd not even asked him how much it was going to cost but that isn't an issue, sometimes it's best not to know.
If it's a couple of hundred dearer than those I could buy in the market then so what ?
Do it right and for the right reasons.
The rest is immaterial.
Haddy stood up to leave with me and Lamin asked us to hang on, and he'll come back part of the way with us.
As we stepped out of his compound onto the pathway Haddy said she was just crossing over to the small crossroads market as she'd got things to buy, and so she'd catch us up.
I adjusted my pace to Lamin's (He walks with crutches for those who haven't read either of the previous trips out)
"Thank you, Chris... This is a good thing you are doing"
"Hey... No problem. I just want to do it right, you know ?"
"You are becoming more African, Ebrima..."
"Ebrima ? Some people are calling me that now... But I'll never be an African... I can try and understand it if I have the years left, but I'll never be an African"
"It is Ibrahim or Abraham in yours"
"I know... That's the root, and the root of Ebrima is Ibrahim or Abraham just as you said..."
He'd stopped.
"Do you remember this young lady, she was the one who introduced us ?"
There was a lady in front of us carrying a very healthy looking young baby...
I looked... I didn't remember the lady but...
No !
It's not...
"It's little Fatou N'jai... But she's not so little now.."
The lady (her Mother) laughed..."No, not so little now... Heavy baby..."
"Oh, she looks lovely..."
And she wasn't taking a blind bit of notice of me... Just looking around her with inquisitive eyes...
"Is she a good baby, no crying through the night ?"
"No... Only for food sometimes"
I asked her if I could take their picture and Mum graciously aquiesced.
I'd sent Haddy the picture of her holding the baby on her naming day and so I knew Mum had been given the picture for the family's collection, so I fired off 3 or 4 quickies trying to get her to look my way, but her gaze went everywhere but...
Oh come on... I'm not that ugly... Ok, I'll be the first to admit I'm not Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp but I'm not that bad for a bloke who looks a bit 'lived in', well I don't think so, anyway.
Lamin was stopping off across the road at this point, but he said he'd call on us later, so I gave him what I knew of our movements and we parted.
The whole thing had taken about an hour and threequarters... I knew I shouldn't have quoted anything timewise to Joy, who, when I got back was chatting away quite happily with Sainabou and a couple of other local ladies.
We'll wait for Haddy to get back and then nip off up to Cape Point where the swimming pool keeps beckoning me.

It's past eleven when we finally get to go... Forget rewards in heaven, I'll take mine now thank's very much, and my reward is nearly one whole day spent idly lounging in and out of a swimming pool... Hopefully ?
Haddy doesn't swim so it's just Joy and I for the water but I tell you what... I need this break.
It's so peaceful without the constant visits and visitations and nothing to think about apart from what to eat at lunchtime.
We get our pool tickets at reception and Haddy leaves a message for the manager who is at a meeting currently, that we are back in his establishment and through we go to the pool.
The pool attendant asks me do I still smoke ?
What ?
I'm remembered ?
My God, he's good...
I've only ever been here twice before as a poolside guest and both of those times were over five months ago, so him remembering is astounding but then I'm told the doormen at the big hotels in London can do exactly the same thing even if the guest is only there for a few minutes so why should I be surprised ?
Because I'm in Africa ?
These guys are as professional as they come at Cape Point and I know the manager runs a very tight ship so why shouldn't they be as professional in their jobs as anyone else in the world ?
No reason at all...
And it certainly gives the lie to the contentious bollocks that all white (or black) people look the same to the vast majority of the white (or black) population.
Some things just ain't true... Mind you, the bandana and the red hair probably jogs the memory occasionally as out here I won't go without it, otherwise the top of my head is really going to burn so it's a safety thing as well as a choice thing.
I could wear a hat but I dislike 'peak's' over my eyes. I much prefer sunglasses and a bandana which also helps cover the back of my neck, and if you've ever been sunburnt there, then you will know how painful that can be ?
Three sunloungers, two towels, two small poolside tables to fit between the sunloungers and two ashtrays and we're set for the day.
Awa, Haddy's adopted daughter, comes over to say hello between jobs as she works at the hotel as does one of the security guys who we met last time out, along with three of the girls who work as chambermaids and cleaners and the head waitress from the poolside restaurant who also remembers us from last time.
Awa and one of the girls had been at the first of the gigs and both of them seemed enthusiastic over what we had done and both said they'd enjoyed our portion of the show...
I'm glad I recorded it because listening to it back in the privacy of my own place, back home, always gives you a more honest perspective on it and you can pick out places within the set that do work and also those that didn't.
I'm not saying I don't believe anybody who told us they liked it but I thought it ended shambolically and I want to see if that was the case and people are just being nice, or did we really do a good set that was cut short prematurely ?
Only a listening session without any distractions whatsoever is going to tell me.
One of the reasons I record all the gigs I do (If I remember to turn on the machine) is to listen back and see what I said as half the time the links between items are unknown to me and I've said them.
Yes, the poems and songs seem to come out ok, but it's the joining of them together to make a complete whole that is the tricky part and if you can get that right then you have the makings of a half way reasonable live cd.
I've got one nearly ready to go for when I get back.
Some people think it's an ego thing, listening back to yourself, but it's just a learning curve really. How do you know if you screwed up if you don't listen back ?
After all, most of it is a one chance operation, and also most of the time you never remember the links you have used to get from one poem or whatever to another, so playing it back after the event is the only real way to find out what really works.
One of the cd's that we'd brought with us to give away is a complete set of a gig that Joy and I did as Bass Relief with Olly' (bass guitar) and Adam (saxophones) at a festival in 2007.
It's not the best recorded gig in the live recording canons of all time, but it was a good gig for us, as when you are playing with two musicians who are totally improvising the music as they go along, sometimes the arrangements can get a bit weird, but that gig came pretty close to what I'd envisaged all those years ago when Mark, our previous bass player and I started Bass Relief back in late 2001 and personally speaking, there was only one track we'd played on that day that I wasn't overly happy with, but Olly and Adam and Joy had liked it so we didn't edit it out.
We are a democratic group after all.
Everybody gets an equal vote and majority gets it...
Seems to work everytime for us.

The messages on Haddy's phone are coming through thick and fast.
I've implored her to turn it off while we're here, but at least apart from another 'ping' as yet another message comes through, it's not ringing...
Joy is first into the pool and starts doing a couple of laps before treading water in the shallow end and just as I'm ready to go in, Haddy calls me back and says we've been invited to Hadim's band's practice session at Banjul market tonight and don't forget the drums which are still at Haddy's place since the gig.
I'm up for it if we can do it timewise, but the three of us and 'Tufa are supposed to be going out for a meal together tonight so I suppose I'd better ask Joy ?
My days of diving straight in are over, so I'm going in down the ladder thanks very much as it's not such a shock to the system when you hit the water.
Joy introduces me to a couple of teenage girls she's been talking to who are their with their parents and have not yet managed to get rid of their supply of pens and notebooks that they have thoughtfully decided to bring with them for the local kids schools, and so I suggest Roots Infants as those little ones definitely don't seem to have enough of anything, except maybe talent, a willingness to learn and a lot of charm and the pair of them think that's a reasonable idea, so maybe... ?
We give them Haddy's address and if they want to donate them to 'Roots' then we'll take them up there tomorrow.
A few laps later and I need food so it's out and order my grilled king prawn in lime and coriander glaze sauce with fries and salad, Joy's steak sandwich and fries and salad, and Haddy's chicken and fries and salad... And we get 100 dalasi off the bill for ordering it from the poolside restaurant which is a bonus (It's one of the hotel's deals for those with pool tickets like us).
That prawn dish is absolutely delicious, well, it is if you like prawns I guess ?
and it definitely goes down well with a bottle or two of Julbrew...
I've tried cooking it at home and I can get an approximation but that's all.
Oh well, practice makes perfect and I certainly don't mind practicing.
Joy is up for the market trip and so we ask 'Tufa to pick us up at 4pm which should give us enough time to do both, meet the rest of the band and get a meal afterwards.
Ok, I've got to be honest... We were late and it was all my fault because I'd insisted on a coffee while we were waiting for 'Tufa, but he'd turned up sooner rather than later and then the manager came out to say hello and so we had a little chat and then we got stuck in traffic on the way back to Haddy's to change and pick up the drums, so I was in the doghouse but all was forgotten as soon as we got there.

Banjul craft market down by the sea and the docks with nobody really left but the traders and the last dregs of customerdom.
I used to do a stall on Hitchin market three days a week, so I know how much like hard work it is for these guys, but Hadim and Jally, who is also there, introduce us around and we sit and watch and listen as the drums come out.
One of the guys' little son is there dressed in his (I think Messi plays for Barcelona ?) football kit but that is not what impresses...
What impresses is the fact the little one is one of the most gifted natural dancers that I've ever seen and he couldn't have been any older than four years old.
Amazing !
He danced to everything that they played.
Straight rhythm with just drums or with melody from the kora over the drums, he just swayed, twisted and turned and stamped his little feet, moving all the time until the musicians stopped playing when he'd stop and then starting again as soon as they did.
To say he had magic in his feet is definitely not an overstatement.
Maybe I'm just lucky in the crowd that I fell in with, but what with Mariama and her drums and Lamin's endorsement of her, and now this little one and his dancing...
These kids are so talented, and not only that, their love of what they are doing shines through.
We'd sometimes felt over the last couple of days that we would have to tie Mariama up to stop her bashing out rhythms on Hadim's drums and that was before she'd told anyone about her future dream.
I don't care because I have this vision of Mariama in about ten years time leading her own group out onto the stages of concert halls all over the world and I can already see it in my mind.
I can't hear it yet as I have no doubt that her thoughts will vary as she gets older but she has a singlemindedness of purpose about her, and always has had for the year I'd known her, but now I know where she's going to channel it I cannot say I'm surprised.
A lot of things have fallen into place since she came out with her dream and I understand some of her nine year olds actions a little more now, and as for Haddy, I think she's pleased that her youngest has a dream but it wouldn't surprise me if she was a little worried by it, too ?
When it comes time for the market gates to be locked at around 8pm we are all ushered out so we say our thanks and goodbyes to the band and both Joy and I buy cd's from them.
Their publishing company is in London even though the recording was done in The Gambia so I'll try and do them some good when I get back.
I don't know what yet, but whatever I can do for them, I will ?
I need to stop at a cash machine and the first one is out of order but the second yields results.
Do you want to have a laugh at my expense ?
I put the card in and promptly pressed 100... Me thinking it was English pounds...
Oh bugger !
Even the security guard stationed outside laughed before I managed to get it to cough on my second attempt.
Now I've definitely got enough for the meal.
We're going back to La Mer at Bakau because we know the food is good, and Joy doesn't mind a good bit of fish.
It's delicious as usual and we all emerge a couple of hours later, stuffed to the gills...
I'm definitely going to sleep well tonight, but it's only half a day left before we have to go and I'm beginning to wish I'd come for eleven or fourteen days instead but the cost was a bit prohibitive.
Eleven days was more than twice as much as seven, so I don't know how these things are worked out ?
We drop Joy at the guest house on the way back and tell her to come for breakfast tomorrow if she's up early enough ?
Before I retire I shoot over to Ebrima's compound to give him the last of our Bass Relief cd's.
He's hanging with the boys and I'm knackered so it's only a quickie...
No mint tea on this visit, and then it's time for bed...

Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Third Gambian Experience Part Six (We're Having A Party... Everybody's Swinging...).

Photo's from the top:-
All shots from the wedding reception.
The bride is in the second to last in the middle in the green dress, but someone stuck an arm out...

Is it morning ?
It must be, I can see sunlight.
Half past eight...
I wonder what I've missed apart from the Mullah, the chickens and the hot water ?
Oh well, I'm getting used to cold showers.
Dry off, drag on some clean clothes and venture outside...
Everybody else is still asleep so quietly, quietly does it... open the compound gate and go outside with trusty paper and pen and prop myself against the wall to write a few more notes.
With the best will in the world, this isn't working.
I think everyone else in the village apart from a few teenagers and late to bed youngsters are up and about, and most of them are stopping to talk to me.
'Good morning Uncle 'Chrees'
'I/we really liked your poem about the children and The Gambia...'
'Thank you for your poem about the children and The Gambia'
'You did a poem about Mariama and she's in my class at school'
'That was a lovely thing you wrote about the children...'
Thank you, thank you, thank you...
Thank you everyone who stopped by that morning and said all those positive things...
Truth be told, it set me up for the rest of the day.
I tried to capture something about the two kids and the country in a short, simple little piece and if I succeeded then all well and good.
The only criteria for judging these things is always other people's reactions and it's difficult when you're writing about people that the whole village know...
I mean what if I'd got it wrong ?
I'd been happy with it after I'd written it and apart from one word change it had not been altered in any way, shape or form which is usually a good indication, but you still have that nagging worry that you might have messed up, especially since a. They are only children, b. They are not my children, and c. I'm writing it from the perspective of an outsider who has maybe caught a glimpse of something through the chinks of light that sometimes come your way. But should children be the future of a country then The Gambia will probably be in safe hands if these two ever got hold of it ?
Safe, but probably a bit noisier if Mariama has anything to do with it.
The beauty of the pair of them is in the balances between them as Ida is the quieter one of the pair but should you put them together then they level each other out like a perfectly balanced set of scales... It's just that the decibel level goes up somewhat and more mischief is likely to happen around you.
Don't get me wrong, they're not naughty in the sense that we would use the word in the West, but they are both nine years old and they can both be as lively a handful as any other nine year old can be.
It's just when you put them together then the liveliness factor is louder than the sum of it's parts.
I haven't heard anything from the guys about the money yet and I know I'm going to, so I hope Haddy mentioned it to them because that worry shouldn't be on their backs along with everything else, so I make a mental note to ask her when she wakes up.
There had been some talk last night while I was dj-ing of going to a wedding or somesuch with Sainey tonight, but I'm still reasonably clueless as to what that is about so I must find out about that too ?
Aha... A lifeform...
Haddy is up.
"Good morning... Did you sleep well ?"
"Yes thanks... I slept... Which was more than I did the night before so I think I'm awake now and ready for anything... So long as it doesn't involve any work, thought, or me getting up off my backside to do anything other than eat and drink, I'll be fine... "
She grinned because she knows me too well.
I'd worked with her in England for four years as a colleague and partner, so she should do.
"Have you let the guys know about the money yet ?"
"Kawsu knows, and there is a meeting here at eleven"
"Good... Now what's this thing about Sainey and a wedding ?"
Apparently, Sainey has invited Joy and I to be his guests at a wedding reception held tonight where he will be playing with his band... and can we take some pictures of them playing ?
I'll find out from Joy when she surfaces but I can't see that happening any time soon as that girl could sleep for England when she's tired, and she must be all of that.
Come eleven o'clock we'd breakfasted, the kids are all up and the gang's all here, so can I come in for the meeting ?
Kawsu starts it off..."Chris, Haddy has told us of what you have done and..."
He'd stopped because I'd held my hand up.
"Ok... Look, I only want to say this once without going over it forever... You didn't make any money for the club but it was a brave attempt.
I think, with hindsight obviously, that you bit off a bit more than you could chew when you went for the money but it's an honest mistake to make when you do this sort of thing... I've done it myself so I know what it's like... All I want to say about the money is that you must think about it as a donation to the cause... If I hadn't believed in it then I wouldn't be here anyway so just think of it as a donation to the cause and if you haven't lost anything then you've gained some knowledge and experience for free.
You guy's have no spare money. I know that, but that's all it is... Money.
It may seem important but it's not really.
Happiness, being straight with my friends and peace of mind are a lot more important to me than money, and since you guys are my friends, just take it and welcome to it as I can always earn some more...
I've got to earn some more because I want to come back and do it again... smaller venue and better p.a's next time though, guys..."
And I grinned...
(Please God let the grin cut through the solemnity of the occasion. These people take this stuff very seriously and whilst I understand that and respect it, I don't want there to be any feeling of obligation on their part because it's money)
It's only money"
They all seemed to rise as one.
"Thank you, Chris"
" 's all right, mate... No problem... Anybody going past Right Price at Westfield today please see me before the trip and pick up some money for some ginger beer, thanks ?"
And that is how it ended.
I know it was a huge big deal for them, me getting them out of the hole but they're my friends so why not ?
I also know they are going to feel a bit embarrassed about it but I hope they don't and it passes soon.
There is no spare money in this country so if I can help with what is really a couple of weeks of me working overtime to pay for it, then why not ?
I do overtime damn near every week to pay for some of the finer things in life like jetting off to see Haddy and the kids in The Gambia, a few musical bits and bobs (and my cats tuna treats... Why has the price of tunafish gone up so much... Anyone know ?) so I'm hardly going to miss a couple of weeks of it, but that's the difference between the two countries.
I can do that in England but they can't do it in The Gambia.
All The Gambia has is peanuts and cotton and with the trade tariffs and the Chinese monopolising the cotton trade currently (and making some pretty shoddy crap items... We're talking really cheap and really crap t-shirts which fall apart on the second wash and shapeless jeans and shirts which don't fit anybody properly...) it's no wonder they don't have a stronger economy.
There is always tourism but that's a double edged sword (Torremelinos and Club 18-30 anyone ?)
especially for a predominently Moslem country.
I don't want to see that here and I don't reckon they do, either.
Yes, the money it brings in would be good, but picking drunks up out of the nearest gutter would create a definitely bad impression to any normal tourist let alone a native of the country who just might feel that their country's hospitality was being abused, so I think that's a no-goer, too.
The country is already high on the twitcher's list of places to go and it's not too far down the league for fishing either, so keen bird watchers and fishermen already know about the place but too few others.
It seems to be full of missionary types, the odd charity worker or two and some second homer's as far as whiteface goes, and apart from the tourists very few others, and yet it's peaceful, parts of it are beautiful, the local food is ok, the hotel and restaurant food is very good and the people are great, so what's not to like ?
Ok, it doesn't have a bar at every corner and apart from the hotels and some of the restaurants you can't buy alcohol, but is that really a problem ?
No, it's not really, is it ?
It can be a bit difficult to get around but most of the hotels hire out bicycles, or you can taxi (reasonable) or minibus sort of taxi in a 4 x 4 which most of the locals do as it's cheaper than a taxi.
Ok, that's an experience I wouldn't recommend to any elderly or infirm ladies or gents as it takes a little bit of getting used to, but everybody should try it at least once.
The expression 'rammed' springs to mind.
Or crammed to overflowing...
Something along those lines, anyway.
I've been pressed into service to go and buy the meat for our main meal from the local market as apparently we're having palm oil stew which I've never had before so that's a first, and Mariama has been pressed into service to guide me even though I know where to go, so we walk down together, she holding my hand to make sure I don't get into trouble or fall over or something, so I take the opportunity to ask a question that has been at the back of my mind for nearly a year and I know is at the back of her mother's...
"Mariama, what do you want to be when you get bigger ? I know about the twins, but what about you, what do you want to do ?"
I got the supercilious look that children reserve for adults that ask questions that are going to be unanswered, and so I persisted...
"Come on, Mariama... How can I even attempt to help if I don't know... Come on, you can tell me... You know that you can be anything you want to be, you just have to work hard at school to get it, that's all"
She looked up at me with her big brown eyes as if to say maybe I can trust you with the answer and then she answered the question...
"A musician..."
Ooops... No wonder she'd kept that quiet.
"Ok... That's not a bad thing to want to be... What sort of musician would you like to be... ?"
And there's me thinking along Western lines such as a guitarist or pianist or even saxophonist ?
"A drummer..."
Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrgh !
"A drummer eh... What sort of drummer ?"
"A Mandinka drummer"
"Ok... Well that's probably not impossible... I'm sure there are courses for musicians at some universities... I know there's one in America in Berkeley in California, and I'm certain there's one in England but I really don't know about The Gambia, I do know someone who will, though"
"I want to be the best Mandinka drummer in The Gambia"
Now you're talking...
"So why stop at The Gambia, why not the best in the world ?"
"That as well..."
Blimey ! She doesn't want much, does she ?
"Ok... We'll see what we can do... You know that you have to make sure you get all your school work done before you do any drumming, don't you ? You have to have something to fall back upon just in case it doesn't happen for any reason like accidents or illness..."
"I want to be a drummer..."
"Ok, little 'un, we'll see what we can do..."
And all the while I'm thinking that there's going to be a few difficulties, not the least of which is the fact that in The Gambia I haven't heard of a single female drummer... I'm definitely going to have to find out, and quick, but if that's what she wants to be then why not ? A musician is an honourable profession near enough everywhere in the world but it's bloody hard work and I should know... I've worked with them on and off stage with only one break since 1971.
No sleep, bad food and the temptations are endless, but if you have a talent for the instrument and are reasonably good and you can keep it together then you'll make it, although how far you go is usually with very few exceptions, in the lap of the Gods.
Right... We're here...
Just in time to see the last portion of meat on the stall being sold to the woman in front of us.
Oh well... and back we traipse to the compound.
"Why a drummer... Have you always known you wanted to be a drummer ?"
"Ok, so long as you're sure ?"
I think this news is going to have to wait a little before it's imparted...
"Haddy, we missed it by one customer, they'd sold out to the lady in front"
A taxi is called for as we're now going uptown to the market on the main road and as soon as we get out Mariama leads me up a dead end with no butcher's stall in it.
"It must be the next one" she says, as we reverse our steps.
If there's anybody who wants to know what a crowded market is like in The Gambia then think along the lines of 'no room to swing a cat' and totally claustrophobic...
We got halfway back down the passage when we (and the two ladies in front of us) met a wheelbarrow coming in the other direction toward us...
This poses a slight problem in that there is only room for one person or the wheelbarrow, going in any direction.
After the recriminations have died down it is decided that every able bodied gent in the vicinity is going to have to help lift the two ladies over the wheelbarrow and guess who the second nearest bloke is ?
It took five of us but we managed it with both ladies shrieking as they were lifted over, then I lifted Mariama over into the bloke pushing the wheelbarrow's arms and because I'm wearing trousers, managed to get around and over it by myself, somehow.
After looking back at the queue waiting to get over I wished the bloke luck and he grinned back... "It happens, man"
It surely does...
The second passage off the market was the right one and so we waited patiently in the queue until it was our turn and I lifted Mariama up so she could give the butcher our order.
"Ah... I know this one... And what would you like today, Mariama ? I enjoyed what you did on stage... It was very different to Gambian music"
"Thank you... It's very different to most English music, too"
"Half a kilo of b'iftek and a kilo of meat and bone"
"Ok... What's it for ?"
"Palm oil stew"
"Right... I've put a little extra in... Tell your mother to set another place, I'll be round to help eat it"
"Thank you"
"Cheers my friend, and thanks for liking us"
"No problem... I enjoyed it"
And we made our way slowly back through the teeming crowd.
"So... Is that one of your boyfriends, Mariama ?"
"No... One of Saina's"
Right... Taxi back and relax before dropping the bombshell on her mother is, I think, the order of the day.
When I got back I asked Haddy about the butcher who had obviously known Mariama...
Apparently he was one of Sainabou's boyfriends and he and Mariama definitely knew each other...
What had happened was Haddy had been sold some boney meat when she wanted steak and so Mariama had taken it back and flung it at the butcher... all the while calling his honesty into question at the top of her voice so everyone in the market could hear her...
The meat was changed and an apology was issued and they'd never taken Mariama lightly since.
The mind just out and out boggles...

Joy turns up just after midday...
"You ok ?"
"Yes thanks... I had the most wonderful sleep..."
"Good, so you're feeling fit then ?"
"Why... What's happening ?"
"Apparently we're off to a wedding reception tonight with Sainey's band, if you want to go, that is ? But I have no intention of working at anything today... It's Sunday and I'm going to be totally lazy all day"
"I'm with you on that... Besides you said from Sunday it's our holiday time"
"Right !"
"So what's this about a wedding, then ?"
And so I told her everything I currently knew which was only the bare details but it was enough...
We're going.
Sainey is coming to pick us up later as the reception is the other side of Fajikunda...
The other side of the main road anyway, and I've never really been over that side apart from the butchers in the market, a couple of the shops and the pharmacy.
There's some beer left in the refrigerator and so long as we don't go mad on it we should be ok for tonight.
Stick a quarter of a lime down the neck of the bottle and drink the beer through the lime and you have the original lager and lime and very refreshing it is, too.
Julbrew, the local beer is about 4.7 on the alcohol scale.
It's not strong for a lager beer but it does have a taste as opposed to some of the designer dreck that they drink in England and a lump of lime tranforms it perfectly, although the taste isn't bad for a guy who used to drink lager all the time when he was younger.
After lunch 'Tufa turns up with a dozen ginger beers which are even better in this heat so I peel off enough money to pay for them and give it to Haddy who has probably paid for them anyway (she had) Then he brings in another six bottles of beer and some ice lollies for the kids.
Haddy, you little darling... You thought of everything.
One bottle of Julbrew costs 25 dalasi in the supermarket or 30-35 in a hotel or restaurant and the going rate right now is 37 dalasi to one English pound so it's a better price here than in England that's for sure, and truth be told it tastes so much better than some I could mention...
Fosters anyone ?
How anyone, including a continent full of Australians can enjoy that insipid pee is beyond serious comprehension ?
A nice lazy afternoon just hanging out and doing nothing except shooting the breeze and eating and drinking... Ah this is the life.
I think I'll wait until there's nobody else around to impart the news of her youngest daughter's aspirations to Haddy.
Sainey appears at about five o'clock in a 4 x 4 which Joy and I scramble into and we're off again... The reception is being held about three quarters of a mile into the warren of tracks that comprise the roads the other side of the main road through to Banjul.
The first thing you notice are the amount of holes in the tracks that would definitely constitute an amazing obstacle course for a normal car, but being in a 4 x 4 means you can (just about) be safe as the car traverses the occasional hole at an angle of about 45 degrees.
There is some moaning going on in The Gambia about the state of the roads (tracks) but if the country doesn't have the money to instigate the road building programme that it needs, what can you do ?
Slow and steady and eventually these things will occur. That much I'm sure of and I've only been here three times.
It's no good wanting it done immediately. It'll happen, I'm sure of that but it's a long term thing.
There is no instant solution.
The Gambian President has earmarked it as a ten to twelve year job or so I read in the newspapers, but I reckon the way things are with the world's economies going down all around the globe, he'll be lucky if he brings it in at fifteen but it is a worthwhile project so I certainly wish him luck and it'll certainly help their tourist industry when it's done.
It will also help to keep down the problems caused by malaria as those holes fill with water during the rainy season and those little buggers are a menace to everyone's health, so stopping some of them breeding in the stagnant holes will be a lifesaver for some.
Right... All out, we're there...
Sainey manages to get us safely through the throng where chairs have been thoughtfully provided for us old 'uns.
Mine is next to the stage left main speaker and Joy's is inside of it next to Sainey who's going to be sitting to play his electric guitar as opposed to his acoustic for most of the night.
The rest of the musicians are all drummers and percussionists apart from the two female and one male singers, although one of the drummers is also well versed on the guitar.
This, as they say, is going to be interesting...
The speaker connection is two bare wires stuck into a microphone connection socket which comes out every time a child barges their way through while all the adults step over it, so I move my chair even closer to the speaker...
Interesting... and painfully loud, but the guy behind the desk seems to know what he's doing which after what we'd been through, was nice to see.
I've noticed that musicians here like playing with the treble fully up as well as the bass.
The bass I can handle better than the treble which affects my one eared tinnitus badly and tonight was no exception and it was exacerbated by Joy blowing her whistle that she takes to the Notting Hill carnival every year.
You know what ?
That Sainey can't half rock !
His electric style is totally different from his acoustic.
That African rolling rhythm just isn't there when he plays electric.
It's more akin to the sort of heavy metal blues style like... trying to think for a minute... the late Jeff Healey maybe, or Gary Moore... Somebody like that.
The drummers are uniformly great and as for the singers ?
Jeez, I've never seen a couple of lasses work so hard on stage.
They never stopped moving, either singing or dancing for at least five to six hours and no slow stuff either...
Breakneck tempo after breakneck tempo...
They motored.
As darkness falls I know I'm in trouble and the longer it goes on, the worse it's going to get.
The bride, who appears after the gifts are shown to everybody at twilight, is without a doubt one of the most absolutely beautiful women I've ever seen in my life, and that's a fact.
She looked absolutely stunning... or to use an oft used English expression, drop-dead gorgeous...
A very pretty girl.
Unfortunately, she, like the musicians, never stood still long enough to get a good picture so you'll just have to take my word for it. I tried so often to get her in the frame but either somebody got in the way or she was moving too fast, dancing.
The reception lasted until 10.30pm when the live music outside permit ran out, so that's when it stopped and the dj took over, and in near total darkness and in near total deafness, I tried to make Joy understand that a. I couldn't hear a word, and b. Unless we ring Haddy I've no idea how we are going to find our way back to the main road ?
Half an hour of trying to contact somebody and Joy finally gets through, gives the phone to Sainey who tells her where we are approximately, and poor old 'Tufa is despatched to pick us up. Apparently they were trying to contact us but we must have been in a dead reception area as neither Joy or I had anything register on our phones, and neither had Sainey.
I'll be glad to get back... Total silence is what I now need or I'm screwed.
The noises, whistles, pops and white noise in my right ear sounds like an aeroplane engine when it screams down the runway for takeoff and it's bloody painful when it gets to that state.
I need sleep and maybe the tinnitus won't be as bad in the morning ?
But before I go, I call Haddy over for a word and holding my right ear shut so that the working one gets all the help it can get, I drop the bombshell...
"I found out what Mariama wants to be when she grows up..."
"Did you ? She's never told anyone to my knowledge"
"I asked her on the way to the market..."
"Oh please tell me... What is it ?"
"A musician"
"A musician ? What sort of musician ?"
"A drummer. She wants to be the best Mandinka drummer in the world..."
I saw the eyes widen and the jaw drop, but luckily I was nearly totally deaf at that point so I didn't really hear the "Aaaaaaarrrrrrgh !"
"That's funny... That's what I said when she told me, too"