Thursday, 2 September 2010

(Un)happy slapping in The Gambia

So there we were in one of the local banks, Haddy, Fatou and me…
We’re just sitting quietly waiting for our turn in the queue to see one of the advisors.
There’s no real difference between Gambian banks and British banks…
You still have to queue, but at least the Gambian ones provide seats for more than four people (Barclays please take note).
So finally it gets to the girls turn, and they are happily seated with one of the advisors with me still in one of the ‘queue’ seats when this guy walks in, opens his briefcase and throws five thousand dalasi on to the desk of the nearest advisor to me and tells the girl advisor to look after it…
He then walks into the office of the assistant manager without knocking and tells her that he is ready to be served…
She politely asks him to leave as she is with a customer and he must wait his turn, so he turns back and walks back into the main area of the bank without closing her door,
causing her to have to leave her desk to do it herself…
The advisor whose desk he’s thrown the money on asks him again to please take it back as she is with a customer also, but he just leaves it there and tells her that ‘It’s just chicken feed to you… You look after it…’
I’m just sitting there, gobsmacked.
Actually, not just gobsmacked… I was totally appalled by his attitude and his rudeness toward the staff.
By now, this guy has just pushed in front of a guy doing his business at the counter and is trying to engage the cashier in a conversation…
Haddy turns around in her chair, looks across at me and smiles…
I smile back and say loud enough for her to hear ‘Tedious tit, isn’t he ?’
Haddy giggles, knowing my propensity for summing up situations and things in a phrase or two, but this guy is so impolite that his behaviour is beginning to grate, and not just on me either…
If other customers looks are anything to go by, then this bloke has transgressed big time ?
I really don’t know why the staff don’t ask him either to shut the fuck up or leave the bank, Christ knows, I would have ?
Looking around at the staff it is quite obvious that they want to, but they are all biting their tongues.
You can see the exasperation on their faces.
Nobody in any business should have to put up with the crap that this bloke is dishing out, and he’s getting nowhere with his attitude which seems to be exasperating the bank’s customers now, as well as the staff.
Haddy and Fatou meanwhile are deep in conversation with their advisor when matey boy walks over to their desk…
I’m following him with my eyes, as I of all people know that Haddy’s tolerance level for that sort of rudeness is set at quite a low level…
That girl just does not accept it in any way.
He says something to the advisor who politely tells him to go away and wait his turn.
Then he tries again…
At that point Haddy turns around and tells him to go away and she’ll be finished when she is finished and not before.
The next moment he slaps her face with a handful of paying in slips.
She got out one word… ‘Oi’ !
It’s funny you know… I’d never really believed in the expression time stood still, probably because I never had any reason to, but time definitely stood still for at least a microsecond until everybody in the bank heard the sound of my right hand hitting his left cheek…
He couldn’t have fallen down because my left hand was wrapped around his throat, and right then I was probably as angrily suicidal as anybody else in that situation ?
To be honest I was way past caring about myself, all I knew was the old Native American expression they used before a fight…
Today is a good day to die.
‘You piece of shit ! If you ever touch my wife again in any way, shape or form, I will teach you some manners that your parents obviously didn’t…
Fatou, please tell this sonofabitch in words he can understand and I want an accurate translation of every word, that if he ever touches or disrespects my wife again in any way, I will unscrew his fucking head and use it as a football all the way to Banjul…
The rest of him I will leave for the carrion but I fear they will probably vomit…’
Fatou translated, although what the Wolof is for the expressions I used, God only knows ?
He’s trying to pull away but apart from a slackening of the left hand to let him breathe, he wasn’t going anywhere.
I needed to let him loosen because he was taller than me, and I’d figured that if he even raised one hand toward me I’d have nutted him full on, but now he’s blustering…
‘Come outside and we will wrestle…’
‘If we wrestle, then we do it here in the bank in front of the witnesses who saw you assault my wife…’
‘I was only joking with my sister…’
‘One. She is not your sister, I have met all the members of her family and you are not part of it, Allah be praised…
Two. She is my wife, so if you were joking then bring your wife here and I will slap her and we can all laugh together…
I have warned you what will occur should you ever touch her again, now leave my sight, you offend me and everybody here with your rudeness and arrogance…’
Fuck me !
He stalked over to the table he’d left his money on, stuffed it back into his briefcase and promptly walked out…
‘Are you ok, love ?’
Haddy just looked at me…
‘I’m fine, are you alright ?’
‘Yeah… I’m ok… What an arrogant pig ?’
It’s funny… The whole bank has gone totally silent and all their staff’s jaws are on the floor…
Maybe they’d been silent all the time ? Truth to tell, I couldn’t say as I hadn’t been aware of anything or anybody else while the events transpired.
I’ve also just realised that I’m in a Muslim country and I’ve just called one of their citizens, admittedly an obnoxious one, an arrogant pig…
Whoops !
Suddenly the whole place erupts with noise, so I just walked back to my seat and sat myself down to wait for Haddy and Fatou to finish, which seemed to take seconds but was probably minutes, but as soon as they had done I got up, and the three of us walked toward the door…
The thing I’m now conscious of is of everybody’s eyes following us as we leave.
Babuca (Hope I’ve spelt his name right ?) the doorman, rushes to open the door for us as we exit.
When we get outside I just say ‘That was weird… I’ll probably have to go back to apologise to the staff for my language, but who the fuck does that prick think he is ?’
Well there’s a thing…
It turns out that he’s a moneylender who lives a couple of streets away from us in Fagikunda, and in Gambian terms he’s as rich as Croesus…
He is also probably the most disliked person in the village ?
That last bit I can certainly understand.
Fatou says that it’s about time somebody stood up for the women…
I understand where she’s coming from, but in all honesty I hadn’t…
My wife and family yes, but anything else was unintentional.
As soon as we get back to the compound Fatou wastes no time in telling everybody what happened in the bank and everybody, and I mean everybody, gets all excited…
Within about two minutes everybody in the surrounding locale is aware of what occurred, and some of the things the women are saying about this bloke and some of the expressions they are using to express their absolute contempt for him, leave me, who can curse a bit, feeling more than a little strange.
Apparently, this bloke used to have a government job until the President relieved him of his post.
I don’t know why that occurred, but if his attitude was anything to go by then the President definitely made the right decision when he sacked him.
That guy is definitely a liability.
I don’t know what The Prophet says about moneylenders, but from what I’ve read about him he seems to have been a reasonable bloke, and Jesus was definitely not enamoured of the profession, so I reckon we can take it that the old biblical adage of rich men, camels and eyes of needles would probably apply ?
Within an hour we’ve got a constant stream of people in and out of the compound and it would seem that every woman in the village is aware of what took place…
The word has definitely got around and I’ve said absolutely nothing.
‘Tufa says that he deserves to feel small because his behaviour was appalling, and as for touching somebody else’s wife, that is just not done in Gambian society.
Little Mariama is equally forthright, and she’s only ten.
She wants me to go round to his compound and unscrew the bloke’s head so that she and her friends can play football with it because he is a ‘horrible man’.
It does make me wonder what this bloke has done previously if a ten year old child can be so emphatic about wanting his head, but the family’s feelings and the women of the village are pretty much mutual ?
They really do despise this bloke and his attitude towards people.
After I’ve been referred to as ‘Rambo’ a couple of times, I realise that maybe I was the first to stand up against him ?
Rambo ? Nine and a half stone soaking wet and under five foot seven inches…
They’re having a laugh… I hope ?
A couple of days later we have to go back to the bank and as soon as Babuca sees us coming a big smile lights up his face and he shakes my hand before opening the door…
‘Good morning Chris, how are you ?’
‘Hi Babuca… Look mate, my apologies for my…’
‘No, no, no, you need say nothing for there is nothing to be said…’
‘Are you sure ?’
‘There is nothing to be said’.
All the bank staff smiled at me when I’d gone in, so maybe I did the right thing by doing it wrong or maybe the wrong thing by doing it right ?
Who knows ?
All I know is, if you hurt or assault my wife, either in the U.K. or The Gambia, then you WILL deal with me.
Ain’t no escaping that.
Besides, should it ever occur again then I’d happily call the police and press charges…
But that will be after I’ve unscrewed his fucking head.

It occurs to me that writing about this particular event sets me up as a target, so I’m going to ask you, if you are reading this, what would you have done in the same circumstances ?
It doesn’t matter where ?
As far as I’m concerned the same deal applies whether I’m in the U.K. or The Gambia or any other nation on this earth, and the deal is… Don’t assault my wife/partner/girlfriend/family whatever ?
If you do, then beware the consequences, so come on… You’re reading about it and I’m setting the question.
What would you have done in the same circumstances ?
I’ll be quite honest, I didn’t even think of any possible consequences when I let him have it, so come on, your thoughts on the matter might affect my behaviour pattern should it happen again ?
I doubt it, but common sense ought to prevail regardless ?

Thinking about it now, a couple of months after the event, all I can say is that I know enough about the psychology of bullies to realise that he is one seriously damaged
sad person.
His behaviour pattern alone showed that to be true.
Maybe he’s been getting away with it for a long time (probable) or maybe it was just a temporary aberration (doubtful) but either way I wouldn’t have liked to be in his house when he got home, because that sort of attitude ALWAYS gets taken out upon the innocent…

Friday, 20 August 2010

The Sixth Gambian Experience (Brought On by A Simple Twist Of Fete)

You know what ?
I’ve spent nearly four months looking for my house deeds and when I went through all my papers for the fourth time I actually found a letter from the solicitors who originally did the conveyancing asking me did I want them left in their safe storage facility ?
See, that’s the problem when you have or had your own business.
You can close it down but you’ve got to keep the records for at least ten years after the event, and when you deal with invoices then you end up with thousands of them along with letters and all the rest so there’s a good twenty carrier bags full of crap to go through, but…
One ‘phone call later and I finally know where they are.
Thank Christ for that.
Now we can move along.

There’s a Parnassus Performance event for Digswell Arts Trust at The Farmhouse in Fairlands Valley Park before anything else, and we’re all going along to support it.
Jo Taylor from Lika Sharps (a band) is one of the artists in residence and had asked if any of us wanted to support their open day and so I’d punted the idea around the group of us and came up trumps.
We’re nearly all of us up for it.
Joy’s coming up from North London, Sarah’s putting together a poetry workshop for the youngsters and we’re working with another of their artists in residence, Jon Falconer so it’s going to be poetry all Saturday afternoon (whether people like it or not ?).
The following Tuesday I’m off to The Gambia to deliver the documents that Haddy needs to get here and I’ve covered everything.
There’s certified copies of everything I need here like my driving licence, which they haven’t actually asked for, but I’m leaving nothing to chance otherwise they’ll query it and it’ll go on for ever.
Everything else is as original as they want it.
Bank statements, pay slips, e-mail addresses of bosses at the council…
They’re going to end up knowing more about me than I do, but at least that’s better than having them refuse the application because there’s something missing…
Like when they charged me twice for Haddy’s visa last year knowing that it takes over twenty eight days for post to get there…
Who takes bank statements on holiday after all ?
You ?
Me ?
None of us do that so we got charged twice because they could get away with it.
The fact that we were refused on the grounds that I wasn’t who I said I was is unbelievable…
Well, it would be if they’d actually carried out any checks on me, but they didn’t.
What an easy way to con money out of people ?
Don’t do a check and just send them a standard letter refusing them…
Thankfully we’ve got a new government.
Hopefully it’s going to be less corrupt than the last one but I’m not holding my
breath ?
But I’m off again in three days and I can’t wait to see her and the kids again.
I’ve really missed them.

But we’ll do the gig first, shall we ?
Get there at half past nine with the p.a. and set it up in the garden for eleven o’clock when proceedings are supposed to start.
Everything seemed to go ok on the day so I won’t go on about it, I’ll let somebody else do that for a change.
We’d got our ‘orders’ not to upset people, as there were likely to be councillors present, and all the artists wanted to stay in residence there, so we were a nice genteel Parnassus and suitable for children of all ages.
If you want to know what occurred then please click this link to Grant’s Page and you can look at more photo’s too…

It was a most enjoyable day on the whole, and probably benefited from us not going all out.
It was only my fourth gig all year, and I’m only compereing the stage at Rhythms of the World this year, but that means one less thing to worry about.
It would be nice if Haddy’s visa arrived in time for ‘Rhythms’ as it’s only six weeks away.
That should be long enough, though… Even for The British High Commission ?

It’s the usual early morning flight but on Viking instead of Monarch this time so we’re off an hour later than usual.
Blimey !
Haddy’s daughter Fatou is on the same ‘plane.
I hadn’t seen her at the airport and while I knew she was travelling the same day, I was expecting her to fly from Glasgow where her husband, Vincent, is based.
Oh yeah… That got forgotten about in all the excitement.
Fatou had got married about two months before Haddy and I did.
She and Vincent had met in the U.K. and had got married.
Vincent is Ghanaian and works in Scotland.
I’ve not met him yet, but he’s a nice guy on the telephone.
But no, she’d come down a day earlier and stayed over in London so we’re sharing a ‘plane, her at the front and me at the back which means that once the trolleys are going back and forth we’ve no chance of a real chat…
Anyway, I digress.
That probably has something to do with British Summer Time, but the cruddy 20kg limit at Gatwick is still the same and the searches are still going on and on…
The aircraft is different, too.
There’s even less room than usual but I’ve got my aisle seat so I can at least stretch my legs when there isn’t a trolley stuck in front of them.
For the first time ever I was able to write ‘family’ on the Gambian arrivals card, which raised an eyebrow or two when we’d got to immigration at Banjul, but hey, it’s true so what the hell ?
The lass processing my passport had a giggle anyway, after asking me when I’d got married ?
November 26th… I remember it well.
But I’m through, and there she is and there’s ‘Tufa, and bloody hell ! He’s got his own taxi…
Now that’s new.
Nobody told me about that.
I’ll tell you what, though ?
It feels good to be back.
All I need now is a quick trip to the supermarket to buy some tobacco for Ebrima and Lamin.
Prices are going up everywhere… Especially in duty free shops.

It’s share out time on the clothing that I’ve brought over, hoping that it’s all going to fit ?
Little Mariama isn’t so little anymore.
She’s grown like a weed in the time I’ve been away and is probably a good three or four inches taller which means those three quarter length white jeans that I was a bit worried about fit her like a glove, as do all the jeans I bought for Sainabou and the twins…
T-shirts and tops are no problem, but jeans are guesswork every time I come over.
I mean I know their sizes but it depends on the cut and these Chinese made things are different every time…
If I could afford it, I’d stick to Levi’s and Lee Cooper’s.
At least they’re consistent and they don’t start falling apart after five washes.

I’ve managed to forget to bring all the photo’s we were going to give out after the wedding. They are all still at home where I left them in the bedroom.
I did manage to remember the computer stick with all the fire station and lifeboat pictures that my brother wanted to give to Ngagne at Bakau fire station, but that’s all. The shots of the mosque at Bakau, Pat’s footballing shots, they are all back in the U.K. where I left them so I’ll have to give them out next trip or maybe give them to someone I know who’s going out there.
Actually I’ll probably end up doing it all myself.
Pillock !
I spent so much time checking and re-checking the official visa documentation that I forgot the personal…

Here’s a list of what they want from me, if you’re interested ?
Certified copy of passport
Certified copies of all pages of passport appertaining to trips to the country.
Certified copy of all mortgage agreements or rental arrangements or housing deeds.
Certified copy or original end of year P.60.
Original copy of marriage certificate.
Wedding photographs.
Original copies of any previous divorce certificates
Original copies of the last six months worth of all bank statements
Original payslips.
Original copies of all utility bills for previous six months (Gas, electric, water etc)
Children’s birth certificates if school or Uni’ age.
Copies of any photographs that support any and all of this.
E-mail address, telephone number and postal address of employer or manager of department worked in.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten a couple of things, but I added a certified copy of my driving licence plus a copy of the American newspaper that covered the wedding.
Of course they want exactly the same plus more besides from Haddy…
But the thing is… It’s all there exactly as they’ve asked for it.
Oh yes… Nearly forgot… They want six hundred and forty four pounds for processing the application, and it will help if you’ve got five thousand quid sitting in one of your bank accounts, but they don’t tell you that bit.
That’s there because we don’t want any more freeloading paupers turning up on our shores, do we ?
Like the majority of Eastern Europeans, Afghan’s, Iraquis, and Asians that we’re all now having to pay for…
Typically, the bloody price had gone up the week prior to me flying out.
Trust me to miss it by a week ?
Bummer !
But hey… That’s our wonderful new Tory/ Lib Dem coalition policy for you.
Yeah, I know… I’m being sarcastic.
But the question is, could it ever be worse than the previous Labour government’s non-policy on immigration ?
Or worse still, could it be as racist a policy as the last Labour government’s ?
You don’t know what I’m on about, do you ?
Well it’s a funny thing…
If you go back a few years to when the bar was put in place to stop Africans getting visas to the U.K...
Guess which European directive it coincided with ?
Now guess which political party started getting very popular in the U.K. at exactly the same time ?
Conjecture ?
Maybe ?
Or maybe not, but we’ll come to that in time, and believe me, there’s a lot more to it if you follow the timeline backwards into the Labour years…

It’s the beginning of the Gambian rainy season.
They’ve only had two storms so far, so we’re not too far into it.
I’d done a July trip out and that was definitely WET.
Hopefully the last ten days of June would be better because we were going out to the beach bar for a few days ?
We weren’t staying, more like a few days relaxing in the sun and on the beach for me, while Haddy and Fatou go through what’s happened since Haddy’s been running it while Fatou was in Scotland.
Apparently my darling wife had brought in extra business with another firm running tourists out there for a day on the beach, so that’s a plus.
So I’m going to lay in a hammock or swim in the sea and then lay in a hammock and I might even have an occasional beer while the girls talk business…
Who knows ?
Apparently there’s a heatwave in England ?
If that doesn’t show that my Gods have a sense of humour, then what does ?
The World Cup, perhaps ?
Bloody hell !

So there I was, out in Africa with the World Cup starting, six African nations represented in the group stage, South Africa as host nation and a whole continent of football crazy nutters let alone the Gambian ones, to watch the games with…
I’ll tell you what…
Passions were definitely running a bit high.
So let’s talk a bit about the World Cup, shall we ?
Sorry darling, it’s about football for a bit… Pop out and make us a cuppa’, there’s a good girl…
Go on, I dare you…
Challenge the reader…
That’s what you have to do to get them to think.
I think it’s probably safer not to go down the tea route, though ?
So the next bit is about football and you can take it or leave it as you will ?

I’m not really sure where to start ?
It’s probably fair to say that the whole of The Gambia was supporting all the African teams as choice one.
England, Spain, Holland Italy or Brazil as choice two, depending on who your favourite players were ?
So we’ll start with the first game, which obviously featured South Africa.
You know what ?
When that first goal went in I was as stunned as anyone…
What a goal to score for your own nation in front of the World’s camera’s ?
I can’t even remember the guy’s name, but he can be proud of that one for the rest of his life.
Brilliantly taken strike and absolutely World class.
One of the goals of the decade if not the century ?
Then there was England vs U.S.A.
Not good.
We were quite honestly… CRAP.
My brother had already said from across the water that the Americans had the confidence to beat us…
He wasn’t too far out, was he ?
We played at a fraction of the talent (if you could call it that ?) on show.
Appalling !
Crap !
Shite !
What else do you want me to say ?
Disappointed ?
The Gambian public were, and that’s a fact.
They expected a lot better from our team.
Nobody could understand that ?
And then we played Algeria…
You know what impressed me ?
The Algerian team.
They came on with a little bit of trepidation against our stars and suddenly realised that we were all hype and no substance…
They matched us pass for pass and kick for kick and they got away with a nil-nil draw.
That was impressive because Algeria is not really thought of in the West as a major footballing nation, but out in Africa they know better.
They’re a bloody hard team to beat and we took them lightly…
Dumb… Dumb… Dumb…
So now it’s all to play for, and here we go into our third game which I didn’t see because we were watching one of the African teams instead.
Apparently we won but it wasn’t too impressive.
This means we haven’t won the group stage and means we meet West Germany in the knock-out stages…
Oh what fun that’s going to be…
Oh God !
What can I say that hasn’t already been said ?
In a masterclass of football they took us to pieces.
Yes, we were unlucky with the disallowed goal but then football is a game of ‘what if’s’ ?
What if he hadn’t missed a penalty, missed a sitter, been tripped, been sent off,
scored ?
There’s too many imponderables down that road so we’ll have none of that.
How about ‘What if they were a better team than us ?’
It’s probably a little more honest ?

This is what they said in the 28/29th June edition of Foroyaa

The following morning after every ‘Salaam Aleikum… Good morning how are you ?’ came ‘What happened in the football ?’
I’m not kidding you, it was embarrassing…
What could I say ?
4-1 ?
We were put to the sword by a couple of old timers and, compared to us, a bunch of kids.
It was a great game to watch… But…
Don’t worry, I hadn’t forgotten them…
Vincent would probably have a few choice names to call me if I did ?
Cameroon hadn’t even been worthy of their reputation.
South Africa hadn’t made it.
Nigeria seemed to give up after Cameroon did.
The Ivory Coast and Algeria had battled and tried but had got nowhere…
And then there was Ghana…
And the night they went through to the knock-out stages was amazing.

Every seat in the house was full.

You have to realise that being the only African club left in the competition with a chance of qualifying for the knock-out stage brought immense, and I really do mean immense, pressure on those poor eleven blokes on that pitch.
How they did it, I’m still really not sure, but win they did and the whole house erupted…

That’s not strictly true, the whole compound erupted…
Ok, the whole village erupted…
Well make it the whole of Africa erupted then, because that is closer to the whole truth.
Within a minute of the game finishing at ten pm Gambian time the drums had started in the compounds and within a couple more minutes the streets were full of partying villagers.
What a night !
We had to drag Mariama off the street with her drum at about half past one in the morning because she had school in about six hours…
It was definitely a party.
A whole of Fagikunda, Serrakunda, Gambian, Sennagambian, African party and it’s probably fair to say that the whole footballing world joined in, somewhere,
anywhere ?
Joyous does not even come close to describing the atmosphere.
I’ve no idea how much Vincent and Fatou spent on phone calls but it was probably a lot ?
It was a lot more than joyous, and what is more, it meant more than that and it went a lot deeper, too.
I actually felt total pride in what they had done.
It was a totally emotional moment and don’t forget, I’m an English and England patriot.
There’s nothing wrong with England…
Just some of the people in it.
And being out there for that particular match brought it home that you can take a lot of pride in a game well played, even when it’s not your team playing in it.
It brought a smile back to my face after watching England, anyway.
It was a special moment.
Now think of how those poor eleven players felt after the game ?
Think of what they must have felt ?
I couldn’t do what they must have been feeling, justice.
Heroes, each and every one of them.
It really was a special moment.
As for the next game, well they faced Uruguay with Diego Forlan in player of the tournament form.
Uruguay had impressed.
Seriously impressed, and Forlan had been what can only be described as magnificent…
Sadly, Ghana managed to make the penalty shoot out, but just when they needed confidence it seemed to desert them and they lost on penalties.
Ah well, the dream may be over for four years but they know what it’s about at that level now, and believe me they have nothing to fear from any other international side on the planet.
Africa put on a great world cup.
I hope it really did and does do something for some of those African sides ?
They should all know now that they have the abilities to play at this level and the only thing lacking is confidence.
Don’t believe the hype, believe in yourselves and you’ll go further.
At some time in the future it will happen and there will be an African winner, I have no doubt of that.
Hopefully, I’ll be out there when it happens because I can’t think of a better place to be, and that’s a fact ?
Ok, footballing bit’s over…
You can let the missus read it again, now.
(Hope you enjoyed your cup of tea ?)

Little Omar is now a mischievous toddler and wants to be involved with everything.

He gets under your feet more than the late and sadly lamented Pussy ever did.
Poor old Pussy had been killed in the early morning by a taxi in the street outside about a month before I flew.
To put it mildly the whole family was devastated.
She’s now resting peacefully at the back of the compound under the banana tree.
It’s Pussy’s place, and I’m ok with that.
There’s a ring of flowers around her grave and I’m not sure if the family will be getting another cat ?
The strange thing is that her ‘boyfriend’, a ragged and quite wild Tomcat visits the site in the evening and just sits on the window ledge above her, and not just sheltering from the rain either.
It’s like he comes, pays his respects, and then leaves to do what tomcats do.
Cats are strange creatures sometimes.
I should know, I’ve had three of them.
My last one, Stella, had passed away about eight weeks after Cozmic had to be put down.
It’s probably fair to say that she died of a broken heart.
They used to argue and fight all the time but when Cozmic went, Stella was bereft and there was no way of pulling her back.
God knows I tried, friends tried, but it was all in vain.
She’s now buried under the apple espalier in the back garden.
Animals get to you, and there’s no doubt that Pussy was part and parcel of the family.
She could be a vicious little sod at times, but after she’d got to know you, she was fine…
Especially if she knew there was cat food about.
I miss her, and I know the family does.

We have decided to give Mariama swimming lessons in the pool at Ocean Bay.
The problem is the weather.
Everytime we make plans, it clouds over.
It’s still very hot, though.
Definitely in the nineties and that’s quite warm for me, but finally we get a day when she’s not at school, the sun is shining, and we can go first thing.
It had taken us ages to find her some blow up armbands because it was the end of the proper holiday season and the shops hadn’t re-stocked but we’d finally got a couple of pairs.
Talk about taking to it like a duck takes to water…
Once she was in the pool we couldn’t get her out.

She’d been in for about an hour when she decided to doggy paddle and/or swim
from the shallow end to the deep end which scared the living daylights out of Haddy, but she had the confidence to do it with her armbands, and the last hour was spent trying without them but she’s not there, yet.
Another couple of lessons to get her breathing right and she’ll be fine.
That was definitely six hours well spent.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Poetry Festivals, Poems And Things...

God… I miss her.
I’ve still got most of the house to tidy up after the carpet was laid.
Got to get rid of loads of stuff but that’s difficult because I don’t know what she wants out there, so that bit’s going to have to be postponed until we’re together
again, and we can ship a trunk ?

My parents are not in the best of health, either.
The old man’s pushing ninety next month and seems to be in and out of hospital every other month, so I made a decision to cut the gigs down to those already booked.
Hopefully this will calm me down somewhat ?
There’s a nice one coming up at The Elephant & Castle, tho’…

It’s a weekend poetry festival and I was asked if I was interested after last year’s Rhythms of the World, as was my mate and stage colleague, Grant Meaby.
They’ve got different guest poets either day and we’ve both been booked on the same day along with John Hegley, Chris Bowsher and Al Damidge among others.

Now I have to admit, because of something that occurred when I was a lot younger (mid teens if you need that info’ ?) I’m no fan of ‘The Elephant…’ and to be honest I’ve never been back since, but hey ! Everything changes in time, so like the tart I am (we are… Sorry Grant) we joined up to train and tube it down…
Actually we’re up against some stiff opposition ‘cos Chris and Al ain’t bad, and programmes on poetry on Radio 4 aren’t just given away to slouches so Mr H. will definitely be a force to be reckoned with, so quite independently of each other we’d both decided to just ‘Go for it’ and to hell with the ‘Grauniadista’s’ that tend to infest the audiences of these things.
I have no time for their political correct attitudes, telling us what we can’t say or write or think, so I tend to treat them with utter contempt.
Grant on the other hand, just rips the piss out of them when they get on his goat (Notice a bit of bestiality creeping in there, did you ? Oh well, fuck off to the R.S.P.C.A. and report it then… There’s a good little narc’…)
Seriously tho’… They get on my tits so I ignore them… Even at poetry festivals.
John Hegley however, is the real deal and so we spend the train journey sorting out set lists.
I have to say it’s a nice little venue.
Unfortunately, a couple of the others who were supposed to appear, pulled out at the last moment and so apart from an open mic’ slot for anyone in the audience, it’s down to the five of us.
Ok… One, two, three… Go !
Grant, me, John Hegley, Al Damidge and Chris Bowsher…
John was working with his brass accompanist, Al with his guitar and Chris with a backing track and so Grant and I were the only ‘solo verbal’s’.
How did we do ?
We did ok.
Held our end up without any problems.
I overran on my twenty minutes…

Time flies when you’re having fun, and I was sailing…
I have to say, thinking about it after the event, that it was probably one of my best ever London gigs ?
There was an old George Robey one that I remember with affection from the nineties, but this one was up there with the good ones.
I thoroughly enjoyed it and the audience seemed to as well, so that’s the bonus.
I’d never met John Hegley before that night, seen him a couple of times but never met, and he’s a nice bloke… Funny too, and with a great audience rapport.
I mean, I just attack ‘em, John just takes the piss but he does it in such a way that you couldn’t take offence.
All in all, for a couple of ‘Shire’ poets hitting the city with serious ‘opposition’ we did ok… maybe good even ?
The audience seemed to think so if all their comments after the event were to be believed ?
So we trained it back with big smiles on our faces.
If you are ever asked to do a Pullens Poetry & Spoken Word Festival at the Elephant & Castle, then do it.
Can’t be fairer than that.
I can’t speak for Grant but I suspect he’d jump at being asked back, as would I ?
Nice gig, guys…

Now all I have to do is find my bloody house deeds for the documentation that Haddy needs to get her visa and that is proving somewhat difficult.
I’ve got papers strewn everywhere all over the house, but buggered if I can find
them ?
The bank statements arrive sometime in the next six weeks along with a current P.60 so I’ll have to wait until then at least, but the shops are finished except for the electrics…
We’re getting there slowly.

Now I’ve just got to finalise my stage for this year’s ‘Rhythms of the World’ festival and I’m up to date.
Nearly there, though.
We eagerly await news from our South African poet, but I have the feeling his visa application will be refused… Dunno why ?
I just have that feeling.
Maybe after the shit we had to go through last year to get Tatyana Lar from Russia ?
We managed to get her visa’d up with about four days to go, but the visa situation has got a lot worse since then, and with an election looming to vote out the worst and most venal bunch of crooks Parliament has seen since the days of the ‘Rotten Boroughs’, it ain’t gonna get much better…

Here's a thing that just 'occurred' one night...
(If you are old enough then you know the rhyming structure ?)










Dunno' why I wrote it in capitals but I did, and cut and paste is so much easier, isn't it ?
And then there was something that occurred while I was watching a dvd of The Long Riders, Walter Hill's Jesse James story with all the acting brothers in, Carradine's, Keach's, Quaid's, Guest's et al playing the related gang members, and as they got to the scene in the bar when they argue about which songs the musicians are going to play...(great soundtrack by Ry Cooder...)

REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE (Originally 'I'm a Good ol' Rebel')

Political correctness
is a plague upon this land
Add control freaks in our government
Those things go hand in hand
They want us to stay uniform
to their eternal shame
It’s easier to control us
if we all think the same ?

Don’t talk of immigration
‘cos that will get them mad
They’ll refer to you as racist
(And other things twice as bad)
But what they keep forgetting
And why people make a fuss
Too many are fuckin’ scroungers
paid for by all of us

We were born with brains to think with
and a sense of humour, too
But it’s now a crime to use them
It might cause a to-do
We beat the bloody Nazi’s
so that people could speak free
Not for another tyrant
to gag both you and me

Listen to Harriet Harman
Or then again, p’raps not ?
She’s the best recruiting sergeant
that the B.N.P. has got
Fill jobs with bloody quotas
either ethnic or woman
And we’ll flush the ‘Great’ in Britain
directly down the pan

and here's a golden oldie and the one that John Hegley really liked at the festival...


I left school feeling lonely and blue
Got all my exams but I didn’t have a clue
‘till I thought of an idea that sounded grand
I’d get me mates together and we’d form a band
and make it really big in the music business…

But starting at the bottom, no-one cared
We played all the covers and the money got shared
and in a couple of years we’d got a few fans
then the singer buggered off… He’d got marriage plans
So we had to start all over again…

So we all pulled together… got a new front man
and a new direction… Well, that was the plan
But one day the bassist didn’t show
and that’s down to the whiz’ or maybe the blow
Didn’t matter, ‘cos he was a loser anyway…

So we hired another and the years went by
We thought we’d make a recording… Give it a try
But it cost a few quid and we hadn’t got it
and we did have a chance, but we just shot it
arguing over who spends what ?

So we drifted along ‘till the band fell apart
The others blamed me but they had no heart
It wasn’t my fault, I wasn’t to blame
We all did our best and I thought it a shame
that we never had a chance of making it big…

Then one night I was down the pub
Talking to this bloke about some new club
And he said ‘Man, if you picked up your guitar
and got yourself a band, then you could go far…’
And I thought ‘Been there… Done that… What a tosser…’

But the more I thought, the more it appealed
I’d been straight for too long… My fate had been sealed
So I rang up me mates, we rehearsed a bit
Even found a drummer who had his own kit
and believe me… That is a miracle in itself…

So we hit the pubs and the clubs and we strutted our stuff
Put the money in the kitty so we all had enough
And we started building up a real fan base
With guys buying us drinks and groupies to chase…
You know… Just your average rock’n’roll sycophants really

But we kept on playing ‘till the shit hit the fan
While driving back from a gig in our clapped out van
For our lead guitar, who’s the mildest guy you could meet
Said ‘It’s a shame we’ve got a drummer who can’t keep a beat’
which was definitely the wrong thing to say…

Because the drummer got mad instead of mellowing out
he rose to the bait and gave the guitarist a clout
and before you knew it the fists were swinging
I got punched in the face and my ears were ringing
And we all ended up in a ditch at the side of the road…

And when I finally got home that night
My girlfriend met me at the door, asked if we’d done alright ?
I was covered in bruises from head to foot
but so were the others ‘cos I’d put in the boot
and steel toecaps and human bones don’t really mix… Do they ?

So I gave them a day to piss them all off
I rang ‘em all up but they just said ‘Fuck Off’ !
They’d decided I was at fault and they hadn’t a prayer
with me in the band, but that was unfair
‘cos I was writing all the material…

So a few years passed… I’d put down the guitar
I had a straight job and I’d gone quite far
But escaping one night from the T.V. cops
I channel surfed straight into Top Of The Pops
And Jesus Christ Almighty ! I used to play with them…

And my tears flowed down as the memories came back
When we were out there doing it just for the craic
Me, rocking on rhythm… Lead guitar screaming
Singer out front either posing or queening
The bass player trying to turn up the heat
and the drummer… who never could stay on the beat
And my son turned to me and he said with a frown
‘I dunno why you’re upset and it’s bringing you down ?
They’re crap !'

Yes, it's taken from experience... Not necessarily mine, however...
I actually started off as a drum roadie and I can't play guitar to save my life but travelling, rehearsals, gigs and the attitude that keeps you going... Yeah, I know all about that stuff.
The rest is just what happened to others we knew in the early '70's...

Wednesday, 4 August 2010


It’s time to go back to The Gambia and I’ve managed to lose my Nicorette Inhalitor somewhere along the way.
This is a total bummer as what with patches and inhalitor I’d made a brave attempt at stopping smoking.
I’d only had two the previous day, which for me is near miracle status.
We’re joined on the trip by Haddy’s Uncle’s wine merchant, Sam, who runs a bar off the Serrakunda market and who has just delivered six bottles of the most gorgeous rioja, one of which we’d put to bed the night before.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like a drop of wine and a good red at an affordable price is a good find these days, but Spanish reds used to leave me cold. I never did like them.
Probably because I was buying rubbish as opposed to the good stuff, but who can afford the good stuff nowadays ?
The rioja that Sam brought was wonderful.
He most definitely recommended it, and Sam seems to know a fair bit about a good red wine, so that’s something to explore when I get back to England.

The taxis are rapidly filling up as we get to the rank, but there are three of us now and with Sam as elder statesman as it were, we manage to grab four seats.
Sam is in the front passenger seat, and Haddy, the luggage and me are in the middle. It’s cramped, but not half as bad as it was on the way here.
I must admit I dozed through the outskirts of Dakar and began to take a bit of notice of my surroundings when the driver stopped to fill his water bottles.
We passed small villages with large churches, villages where the only dwellings were traditional grass huts, scrubland, salt flats… It’s all here if you look ?

The closer you get to The Gambia on the way back, the worse the road gets.
Potholes, bits washed out, bits being laid by heavy machinery…
Basically, whatever problem you can envisage driving through, you have to traverse ?
But finally we’re at the rank and getting out.
A quick stretch of the legs and we’re hailing a taxi to the border where we sail through customs and immigration for the ferry crossing.
When we took the ferry first thing in the morning it was chaos trying to get off it, but I’m a seasoned pro’ now… I know what’s coming…
What I wasn’t prepared for, was another Brit’, female this time, shoving me along on the narrow gangway toward the ticket collector.
After the second overbalancing act I knew it was deliberate so I just stopped, turned back and said ‘Don’t do it again, darlin’, I don’t push…’
Why did I waste my bloody time ?
She shoved me forward again, not that I was going anywhere in that crush, with the result that the heel of my para’ boot somehow managed to rake her leg from shin to foot…
I really don’t know how that occurred…
It must have been one of those unfortunate accidents you read about ?
But she ain’t pushing now.
Hmmm… Funny that ? We didn’t get charged extra for the suitcase, either.
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind trip, but at least when we go back I’ll know the score for next time.

Back in The Gambia we are working out what we have to do in the few days we have left.
A trip to The British High Commission to register the wedding as it says to do on their website is the priority, but that involves a trip to Banjul to pick up our completed wedding documents which Pa has picked up for us, so we combine it with a trip to the market to give Hadim his present, which is now on it’s third continent as I’d imported a couple of copies of it.
Boy ! Was he surprised or what ?
One of the books I’d got Mariama was Planet Drum by Mickey Hart, the Grateful Dead drummer whose own interest in these things had turned into a couple of books and Planet Drum was the culmination of a lot of journeys into ‘sound’ from his own spiritual perspective and then asking other drummers around the world for their own feelings about it, and then doing a little detective work in museum’s archives, of his own.
Hence the mysticality and the spiritual quest to see if there was a link to all the drummers ?
Actually, I think he proves there is without a doubt.

Anyway, it fascinates Mariama, who still needs bits of it read to her at the moment, but is quite happy to look through it as a drum reference book at the same time.
Hadim had seen it at the compound and had gone through it from cover to cover, amazed that such a book had been written, and even more amazed that an American could have written the book in the first place, but glad that somebody had finally written down something that he already knew was true from within himself.
So Hadim was getting a copy of Planet Drum of his own.
You know what ?
It’s the little things, isn’t it ?
I just thought that of all the people I knew out in The Gambia, Hadim and Lamin out of all the people I knew, would understand why the book had been written and would understand why I wanted them to have their own copies of it, and so it proved.
Lamin would get his copy when we got back, but in the meantime, Hadim, and Badu his younger brother, have managed to invite themselves to the ‘spag’ bog’ that I’d be cooking that night…
It was OUR first ‘dinner party’.

The first time WE had ever invited anyone back to share our meal in The Gambia.
I mean, people had stayed with us, people had popped round and we’d fed them, but this really was a historic first.
When we finally saw them off it was nearly midnight and all the food had been eaten, all the ginger beer had been drunk… and all the neighbours were probably fed up with the sound of drums…
We’re going to get a pool ticket and relax at Ocean Bay tomorrow.

Famous last words… Relax at Ocean Bay tomorrow…
Our photographer, Batch, had popped the wedding photo’s round that morning so we could go through them in peace and quiet.
Unfortunately, wedding photo’s seemed to bring out laughter and shrieks in the compound, but having said that, at least seventy five per-cent of them are excellent and could hang in the wedding photographer’s hall of fame which is a huge relief to me as all we seem to get in the U.K. are stories of wedding photo’ disasters, so we were doing quite well on the relaxing front at Ocean Bay

and I’d even managed to get Haddy in the pool (which was another first) until about half past three, when her ‘phone went…
Fatou had collapsed at the beach bar and had been taken to hospital in Fagikunda by her Father…
It turns out when we get there that it’s malaria and it’s a pretty heavy dose.
Haddy cannot understand why she’s in hospital at Fagikunda, which is only a small building with very few facilities, when there are two more modern ones on the way from Sanyang that have been passed on the way ?
Fatou is on a drip when we arrive, and there are no mosquito nets whatsoever.
The room that she’s in, however, is infested with them.
I stayed for a couple of hours and then walked back to the compound with Mariama…
I couldn’t take any more of the mozzies that were dive-bombing all of us.
There is something going on… I can feel it.
Since all the hospital stays and drugs have to be paid for, Fatou’s father has put her in the cheapest one, expecting Haddy to drop everything and nurse her daughter, but Haddy is having none of that and something which reminds you of Vesuvius at Pompeii has just erupted… Followed by threats of court action if anything should happen to her daughter, and the upshot is, Fatou is being moved to a hospital WITH facilities, that afternoon.
I’d never seen malaria up close until then, but the shivering, vomiting and sweating scare the crap out of me.
That girl is seriously ill, and I mean serious.
Haddy sends the rest of the family home and will stay with her until later.
She finally gets home at nearly midnight… Exhausted.
The following morning we’re all off to visit her.
She’s slightly better, but it is only slight.
This one is going to take its toll.
They say they might discharge her in the afternoon, but I think she’ll have to get a lot better, first ?
Back at the compound, we are being besieged by visitors enquiring about Fatou’s health.
Lamin pops in, and that gives me a chance to give him his copy of the book also, and just like Hadim, he is really pleased with it and I’m glad I made the effort and paid the excess on Gatwick’s sodding baggage allowance (it’s still an insulting 20kg to every other main airport’s 30kg) to get them here.
These guys miss out on stuff like this, and apart from poverty there is no reason why they should ?
Both of them are drummers, both of them understand the mysticism and spirituality surrounding the drum and now both of them have a book which goes a fair old way toward explaining the thing that rules or governs the ‘Rhythm’ of their (and our) lives throughout the world.
It really is a ‘Planet Drum’ when you think about it ?
Fatou is being discharged this evening which pleases Haddy, unfortunately it is probably a couple of days too soon because as soon as she gets home the vomiting starts and the fever starts burning her up, again.
There is nothing we can do to help her until tomorrow and so Haddy, ‘Tufa and I hit the Chinese restaurant at Bakau for a last meal together before I have to go.

You know when they write restaurant menus and it’s not done in the native language but an approximate translation ?
‘Tufa orders (a) roasted chicken Chinese style which comes with fried rice on the side and with that he orders Gambian rice…

I’m a bit worried about the order as the waitress just keeps asking ‘You want
chicken ?’
Sure enough, when the orders turn up he’s got one whole roasted chicken with two huge portions of rice. One Chinese style and fried and the other Gambian style and bright red…
You couldn’t make that up, could you ?

He did manage to eat half of it, but the rest is going to have to come back with us so he can boast of having so much money he can afford to give food away to his friends…

I guess that’s the trouble when you’ve got three ‘wind up’s’ out together… One rubs off on the other…
Having said that, their food is quite good and reasonably priced, so that was a bonus.

It’s my last day and we shoot off to the High Commission with the marriage documents, where we are told we don’t have to register the wedding after all.
It says we do on their website, but the staff say we don’t and cannot understand why they have had so many enquiries recently ?
Then we are signed in and taken around the back to a small office to ask about Haddy staying on in The Gambia to get her two shops finished, and are told ‘No problem. Just apply for the visa when you are ready…’
When we return, we take Fatou to the local clinic for some injections of something that should stop the vomiting…
I hate to leave Haddy like this, but I have to catch a late afternoon flight back to the U.K. so I miss the twins and Sainabou, but the little monster is home as soon as school finishes if not sooner, and she comes with her mum to hug me goodbye…
Needless to say, there are tears.
Now it’s overpriced food at Luigi’s in the departure lounge at Banjul where the duty free has run out of tobacco, but I can get a good but way overpriced cheese and onion baguette…
I wonder if they’ve got any tequila ?

Being sat near the back of the aircraft, I got all four of the tobacco boxes from their duty free plus two bottles of tequila from the airport, so that’s me red-lighting it at Gatwick.
Hmmm… Did you know that passengers from The Gambia are now being classed as passengers from Jamaica, in that we are all suspected ‘drug mules’ until proven innocent ?
No ?
Neither did I until we’d landed.
The customs guys seemed to think it odd that a bloke dressed as I was, would actually go through red and declare overages.
I just told them while I was being prodded and scanned and all the rest and watching my poor suitcase being subjected to a severe unpacking, that it was immaterial where I went through, I was going to be stopped anyway.
I always am regardless of how I am dressed, so what’s the point in getting caught up in a queue in which, to be honest, I can’t be arsed, when I can have them all to myself in the red zone… and besides… Listen to that lot the other side of the barrier…
(Loud protestations of innocence or ignorance of regulations…)
Honestly… I just can’t be arsed…
They seemed to find it amusing and/or refreshing anyway, and I was waved off without any further ado.
I like the red-zone at Gatwick. You meet a much nicer breed of customs officer there.
Look… I am going to say this regardless…
If there is ever an airport authority worker or customs officer reading this ?
I (and I’m quite sure a lot of other people in this world, too) do not like being treated as arrogantly as some of you treat us…
Just remember it’s us who pay your wages when it comes to it, as without passengers you wouldn’t have your fucking job in the first place.
So if you cannot treat me as a human being, then you get no help whatsoever from me, and I will rip the piss unmercifully…
A female Asian officer tried it once in the green zone… Needless to say, she couldn’t win because I hadn’t brought anything whatsoever through, so what was the point of the exercise apart from showing herself up as a pig-ignorant arsehole ?
The guys in the red-zone are, to my experience, given that I always do it when I’m over, the most polite people in the whole airport complex.
I don’t know why that is, it just is ?
So thank you to those who do actually talk to me as if I were a human being.
It’s appreciated, guys.
(I bet that surprises ‘em)
But still… Why the hell do we put up with it ?
The rudeness and the arrogance of a lowly little worker in a uniform ?
Talking at us instead of to us ?
God knows I won’t.
Politeness costs nothing and is much more civilised, so if you can’t give me that then I suggest you just F*** O** !
(There you go… I’m being polite).

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

When First Into This Country A Stranger I Came...

It’s five o’clock and the local mosque is calling…
And I’m just dozing back off to sleep when…
Omigod !
It’s another one… And it’s right in my ear and it sounds awful.
This guy’s speaker system cannot cope with what he’s putting through it and is distorting like crazy.
He’s got it turned up to the max, which causes maximum distortion so you cannot actually hear anything resembling a word let alone a call to prayer.
All you can hear is distorted noise.
I wish he’d learn something about sound dynamics and turn down slightly, then we wouldn’t be suffering the distorted racket that he’s inflicting upon all and sundry.
Please use a bit of common sense and then the calling would be clearer and I wouldn’t be writing this and if anybody wishes to take it as a criticism ?
It is !

A speaker system which copes with amplification would suit a lot better than a couple of tannoy speakers and a cheap microphone, believe me.
When I mentioned it later I’m told it is the building opposite…
Ouch !

Oh well, we’re awake now, so hit the shower and get dressed for breakfast.
One full length French stick and a few Kraft Dairylea cheese triangles with black coffee for me, and chocolate for Haddy and we’re off for a walk along the beach which is less than a quarter of a mile away.

Wow !
What a beach !
Golden sands stretching out to the sea.

It’s a bit like the beach at Frinton in the U.K. but a hell of a lot bigger, and with a lot more flies.

You know what lets it down ?
The litter.
Some of it has obviously been collected and is piled high in mounds, giving off the overripe aroma of the local town dump, and it really is such a shame.
It’s a wonderful natural resource to attract tourist investment and litter is dropped all over it…

That, of course, attracts even more of the flies.
I’d wondered, because wherever we went, either in the house or out of the house, we were always fighting them off.
They look like Bluebottles with bright red heads, and are absolutely revolting.
I reckon Beelzebub lives in Dakar, and I kid you not.

We walked for about half a mile through the haze along the sand dodging the litter and then we saw something that made both of us angry…
An adult male has caught a seagull which he’s tied a piece of fishing line to…
Every time he lets the bird fly off, it comes crashing down on the sand when the line tightens.
What a bastard !
You know what ?
If there is a God and that sonofabitch meets him, then I only hope God does the same to him as he’s doing to that bird.
That would really be justice.
You could understand it if it were kids doing it.
It still wouldn’t be nice, but you could understand them doing it.
But an adult about thirty years old ?
No !
That’s just nastiness personified.
It spoils the walk for both of us, so we returned to the house where all the lads are on their computers logged on to the internet.
I showed them my myspace page and they clicked on one of the local band links…
Now that IS strange.
Here I am in French speaking Senegal in West Africa and the C.C. Smugglers are blasting out of the computer’s speakers…
Not only that, but the guys are totally enjoying the music that they’re listening to, which according to one of them is nothing whatsoever like the music in Senegal (True) but it’s certainly being enjoyed, as feet are tapping and fingers and hands are drumming on tables and they go through the songs on the widget at least three times…
I’ll have to tell them they made a hit in Senegal when I get back.
Trouble is, knowing Richie he’ll want to come out and play a gig for them the following week and I’m not really sure that Senegal is quite ready for that lot, yet ?
Still… Stranger things have happened so it’s something to ponder.
They’ve certainly made a hit with Aunt Rose’s sons.
Here’s a link if you want to check them out ?

We spend the rest of the day hanging around the house (or maybe it’s a villa, I’m not quite sure ?) checking out the garden in the central courtyard and me getting to know the family and the local area and shops.

The weather is very humid and although the sun comes out occasionally the weather feels oppressive.
Maybe a good storm will clear the air ?

The following day we’re up and ready to go to the market in the centre of the city to buy a few bits and pieces like clothes for me, maybe ?
Well, that’s the idea.
However, first things first…
I need to change some travellers cheques so we head for the banks…
We seem to have hit a problem ?
None of the banks want to change the cheques as they are in pounds sterling and they’re only prepared to change dollars and euros…
So much for Gordon Brown rescuing the economy !!!
Did my bank warn me ?
No it did not, but it’s possible that it doesn’t know ?
Believe me, it will when I get back…
Eight well known world wide banks refused point blank to change up sterling travellers cheques until finally, just on the off chance, we tried the Bank of Senegal…
Ninth time lucky ?
Well I have to admit I wasn’t confident but the guy behind the counter asks for my passport, checks the amount on his computer and I’ve got money…
Thank you, thank you, thank you to the Bank of Senegal.
If I lived here I’d bank with you guys, no sweat.
As for the rest and their multi-national global connections ?
Fuck ‘em !
They’re useless.

Now I’ve managed to get the money out of the bank I’ve got to hold onto it, and the ‘Opportunistas’ are following us all through the market…
They might as well call ‘fresh fish’ as I stick out like a sore thumb down there, so thank the Lord we’ve got Jeano with us.
One persistent sod is shadowing me everywhere and making signals to one of his mates who is shadowing us on the other side of the street and he’s making signals to another guy behind the one shadowing me…
Confused ?
Don’t be.
They’re after ripping us off.
It gets to the point where I stop suddenly and turn and ask if I can help him ?
He says he can help me, but ‘non merci’ is not having any effect whatsoever, and after about five of those I’m getting seriously pissed off.
He’s still making signals to his mates though, and now even Haddy can see what is occurring.
Right ! Politeness goes out the window from here on in.
If he does it again I’m just going to have to tell him loudly to fuck off and eat ‘merde’.
Jeano stops at a t-shirt stall and asks the guy if he knows where so and so is ?
Turns out that the guy he’s asked about has gone for a break but he’s due back anytime, so I start perusing the stock and pick out an African motif black job for my stage partner, Joy, back in the U.K.
When Jeano’s mate appears, Jeano lays out the problem and the guy just points at five of these pests and motions them away.
Five ?
Christ ! I’m losing my touch. I only clocked three of them.
It doesn’t work though because they are still following us, albeit at more of a distance and so Jeano takes us into a small indoor shopping mall…
That cures it.
They’re not allowed in.
There’s a little unit upstairs though…

I’ve just spent about £60 on a shirt, and believe me I’ve never done that before but it’s beautiful.
It’s a black number with white piping round the edges and it’s going to look great on stage. An Italian designer job that the guy wanted £75 for, but we managed to get him to come down a bit.
I tried on a couple of t-shirts too, but he didn’t have my size which was a shame.
Right… Back to the t-shirt stall to ask his mate about African clothes for me.
The shadows are still hanging about outside but it looks like they’ve got another mark in their sights right now, so we shoot off quickly and thankfully they miss us in the crowd.
Jeano’s mate says he thinks he knows a place that might help and so he’ll come with us this time.
It’s off the main drag and quite murky inside but the clothes look great.
This time I let Haddy do the talking but they’re having trouble with ‘Noir’ and ‘Bleu’.
I have to go through every colour imaginable until finally I get a black and white off the peg African suit and a really beautiful linen shirt which Haddy insists I buy, even though it costs as much as the suit.
Mind you, she does seem to know what suits style wise and I really do like it, so that’s me spent up but pleased as punch by what I’ve bought.
The tension in that market, though ?
Knowing you are a ‘mark’ for every cheapskate con artist and bag snatcher is a palpable, physical thing and it’s exhausting.
Time for a taxi back home, methinks…

When we get back Aunt Rose has cooked creamed mashed potatoes with roasted lamb and it’s delicious, and then her husband brings out the red wine…
I’m told I woke up for the evening meal and then went to bed again waking at 4.00am totally slept out, but it has obviously done me some good because I cannot feel any tension inside whatsoever…
For a guy who’s had one heart attack and who lives on nervous energy, it feels great.

The next morning I left Haddy nattering to Aunt Rose and went shopping with Ngani, one of the girls, who is taking me to the fruit and veg’ market as none of the local shops stock what I need.
I’m short of mint and yoghurt for the dip I’m going to make.
The problem is, West Africa seems to have a sweet tooth and I can only get sweetened yoghurt. Nobody has any plain so I’m going to have to improvise on a home made Riata with lots of lemon or lime juice to cut the sweetness and hope it all approximates out ?
If I’d had the time I’d have made my own, but unfortunately the time is creeping on.
We finally get the sprigs of mint at the far end of the market…
Now all I need is access to the kitchen, but what with Aunt Rose and Celestine, the maid and cook, I’m not having a lot of luck.
Now the thing is… Aunt Rose can cook.
I can cook, but not like Aunt Rose can cook.
Like me she’s completely self taught, but unlike me, she has the confidence to just cook for the sake of it and she’s brilliant.
She completely took over Fatou’s kitchen for the wedding reception and so why she needs a cook like Celestine, who can also cook a lot better than I can, is beyond me ?
So the kitchen is their turf and me wanting access, even if it’s just to make a simple dip, is causing some grief.
Finally though, I get access to the chopping board and knife for half an hour.
Success of a kind, though…
It’s a bit sweeter than it ought to be, but Aunt Rose pronounces it ‘Tres Bon’ and Celestine sticks her finger in it, licks it clean and then does it again.
She’s smiling now.
Ok, leave it in the refrigerator for a few hours topped with black pepper and it’ll be ready for those watching the football tonight for a Pringle dip-athon…

That afternoon I went swimming with another of Aunt Rose’ sons…
Now it’s a nice enough beach and the sea looks good.
The waves are only about eighteen inches high but you don’t see too many people swimming in it…
I was about to find out why ?
There I was, happily swimming away, when a big wave shot me shoreward…
And the suction took me back out.
Farther out than I’d started from.
Then it happened again…
Then I got hit by the cross currents… Left… Right…
I was getting hit from all over, so I arrowed in toward the shore…
And promptly got sucked back out again.
This ain’t good.
Ok… Sideways… Pull and kick.
And again.
Turn the other way and do the same again…
I’m moving forward but it’s very slow.
Look at the ring on my finger and keep on pulling…
Turn on the other side and do it again…
And again…
And again…
And again…
Finally I got to a place where I could stand up so I literally threw myself forward toward the shore…
I’m now waist deep but I’ve no strength left and I can’t even walk through the suction…
One foot and then the other…
Keep moving…
Just get out of this bloody water…
I made it, although how I don’t really know, and collapsed onto my towel with my heart pounding, every muscle in my body screaming for mercy and shaking like a leaf in the wind…
No fucking way am I ever going out there again.
I’ve never been so scared of water in my life as at that moment.
I’ve been in rough stuff and I’ve been in currents but this one takes the biscuit for the complete all in one bastard.
It was playing with me, and the logical outcome would have been my carcass being dragged from the water somewhere up the coast if I hadn’t come straight in, and I nearly didn’t manage that.
All that got me through was me thinking that I’d just got married to a wonderful lady who I love like crazy and we haven’t even started a life together yet…
Listen God, if that was a test then you win mate, no contest.
How I walked back I don’t know ?
I was ready to collapse at any second.
So there’s a warning for you…
The beach at Dakar looks good and the sea looks like fun…
It ain’t.
It’s psychotic and it could kill you.
That’s me cured from swimming at Dakar, folks…
It’s knee high paddling or nothing from here on in.

Watching the football that night and stuffing Pringles and dip revived me somewhat which was nice… As was the meal Aunt Rose had prepared...

And when Manchester City had finally stuck four past Chelsea I was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat.
Sorry ‘Tufa but when I get back I just might remind you of tonight’s scoreline ?
Unfortunately I’d decided to go with beer that night and Senegalese beer is as close to watery piss as watery piss is…

Quite honestly I’d have shot the horse !

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Travel broadens the mind (and loosens the wallet...)

Tomorrow our honeymoon starts officially in Dakar, Senegal, at Haddy’s Aunt and Uncle’s place and we have to catch the early morning ferry at 7.00am to take us from Banjul to Barra and then walk over the border where we’ll either be getting a bus (if we’re lucky) or a taxi to Dakar.
It’s a five hour journey by road so I’m not exactly looking forward to it.

After a maximum of three hours sleep we’re up again, showered, dressed and ringing ‘Tufa to take us to Banjul…
God I’m tired...
So there we are, happily driving down the dual carriageway heading toward Banjul when we’re stopped at an army checkpoint and we all have to vacate the vehicle…
Oh, look… A suitcase… It must be full of… clothes ?
Sorry to disappoint you guys, but it wasn’t us you were after.
As Haddy is going through the case with the guy in charge, the other one asks me why we are on the road at that time in the morning ?
I just tell him it’s the start of our honeymoon and we got married two days ago which causes him to grin and ask where we are going, so I tell him Senegal… We’re going to stay with Haddy’s Aunt Rose and her Uncle.
He smiles, and says that is a good thing as I am acting like a proper Gambian man by visiting family…
Then he calls to the other one who is still going through the case and they apologise for stopping us and hope we understand, and then say we can go.
As we get back in the car I ask the friendly one what they have been searching for ?
Drugs or money.
It’s always drugs or money, or illegals or guns, or a variation of the four and apparently early morning is a good time to do a stop and search…
More people are caught.
I wish him luck and goodbye, and we’re off again.
It’s taken just under twenty minutes so there’s going to be a queue for the ferry and we’re going to be stuck in it, and that’s only if they have tickets left ?
As soon as we arrive at the docks ‘Tufa barges into the queue for tickets and returns ten minutes later with two…
Nice one, ‘Tuf’.

Now… I was under the impression that Moslems prided themselves on being polite…
I dunno where I got that idea from ?
If you take a ferry ride from Banjul to Barra, then you are going to find and experience the exact opposite…
In fact, I’d like to warn any reader thinking that they might like to take that journey one day…
Get your elbows sharpened by a professional before you even attempt it.
Never wear sandals. Stick to boots and preferably those with steel toe-caps…
That’s a word or two to the wise.
There will be those who think I’m exaggerating ?
But they are idiots, so we’ll discount them immediately and just concentrate on those with a small modicum of common sense.
Look… You don’t believe me ?
Do what you like. It’s immaterial to me but don’t say I didn’t try to warn you…

Getting on was bad enough.
Staying on was cramped and uncomfortable…
But getting off ?
That’s when you need a few things that you’ll probably have forgotten to bring otherwise…
Like a cattle prod or a Taser ?
I mean I’ve been in queue’s trying to get off or out of places and things, but even I was not prepared for this…
All stampede together and the Devil take the hindmost.
Absolute mayhem !
A moving juggernaut of people stepping, pushing and trampling on anyone who might be impeding their progress or who might actually be in front of them.
Bloody Hell !
That was an eye opener… And there’s me, the obvious foreigner trying to remain polite…
That lasted until the gouging bastard who collected the tickets told us we had to pay for the suitcase…
(We’d already checked that we didn’t)
But it made no difference to that thieving bastard… He was going to gouge us because I was white and so obviously had money…
It wouldn't be so bad if he'd gone for everybody else who carried one but he didn't...
Just us.
I don’t know what Haddy called him, but I hope it insulted his parentage right back to the dog that bore him ?
We paid the thieving cunt just so we could get off but it really fucking rankled.
People talk about the corruption in Africa, but it’s so ingrained into the psyche that any and every chance is taken to do it.
Trouble is, most of the people you meet are scrupulously honest and pride themselves on it, but where you have someone in a position of lowly authority that's where you find that the main chance is going to be taken... and we were.
One day an honest man will step up and unfortunately will probably be silenced by the mob that will hound him for even suggesting that the practice is stopped…
Either that, or he’ll be ‘silenced’.
Make of that what you will…
I really don’t think I’ve got to draw you a picture ?

Finally, we’re off to the taxi rank to get us to the border crossing which we make in good time, passports stamped on both sides and we’re in Senegal where we’ve managed to miss all the buses, so it’s a taxi ride to Dakar…
Seven of us plus luggage crammed into what we Brit’s once called a station wagon along with the dust and the flies for the next five hours.
Let me say this for the record…
When I was younger I did some crazy things when trying to get from A to B when travelling, but this was the craziest of all…
Never again.
Never, ever again.
If we have to do the return trip the same way then we pay for an invisible man to share our seating and pay for three instead of two but I will NEVER travel like that again.
So let it be written, so let it be done.

We are only stopped once on the journey at a police checkpoint to make sure everything is as it should be ?
The poor guy who’s moving a television hasn’t got the right documentation or maybe he hasn’t paid the duty ?
Either way, it’s a forty minute stop which is a relief (in more ways than one) to all the other travellers and not just me.
It gives us a chance to shake off the muscle cramps and stretch out legs at least, and sample the soft drinks of Senegal which as far as Fanta is concerned, is uniformly foul.
It certainly doesn’t taste like Fanta does in the U.K. or even in The Gambia.
It’s just soda water with E-numbers in it and no fruit taste whatsoever.
It’s horrible.
Finally we get to Dakar, which is probably as big as London from N.W. whatever to S.E whatever… Dakar is BIG.
Now we have to get a taxi to Aunt Rose’s which we accomplish in about fifteen minutes plus a journey time of maybe another twenty five ?
And we’re there…
Finally we’re there.
It’s totally different to The Gambia.
The architecture is more Arabic or maybe I should call it French Colonial ?
Anybody wanting to make a film about Beirut or Algeria or the middle east of twenty years ago, could film here without too much trouble.
As soon as we’ve unpacked our suitcases we are presented with plates of garlic- cooked lamb with fries and salad followed by watermelon that doesn’t taste like watery pulp, and bananas.
Truth to tell, all we both want to do is sleep.
Either the innocent or the damned isn’t going to matter one iota right now, so as soon as is polite, we make our excuses and…

Monday, 19 July 2010

Eid Al Adha or The Tobaski Festival

We wake up to Eid Al Adha…
The Tobaski Festival.
For those who have never experienced one, it is one of the Muslim celebratory days and is a public holiday apart from essential workers needed to keep the infrastructure going.
Ok… Tobaski…
Tobaski is a sacrificial feast day to commemorate God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son, Ismail.
All married men and/or heads of households are expected to buy a sheep (or goat, cow, chicken, or whatever they can afford) and sacrifice it, cook it and give most of it away to those less fortunate than themselves, and then feed their family with the remainder.

It is literally a day for sharing whatever you have been able to afford and the whole country turns into one gi-normous barbecue.
All normal people can enjoy Tobaski...
Notice I said normal.
If there are a bunch of you holidaying in the country and some are vegetarian or vegan, then it's probably a good idea to have them locked in their hotel rooms so you don't hear their whineing...

Everybody, male and female alike dresses up in their finest clothes and that includes all the children who run around begging small coins from every adult they see to buy ice creams and sweets with so make sure you have lots of small denomination coins in your pockets because you are definitely going to need them.

Parents and extended family are visited and I’m quite surprised it can all be fitted into one day.
It really is one countrywide party.

All the hotel workers seem to know about us now, as the word seems to have got round that we got married yesterday, so we are literally inundated with congratulations and kind words by the few staff that have had to come in.
The gardeners, the maids, the cleaners, the kitchen girls and the chef, the desk guys… Even the lad in the hotel shop closes for three minutes to come round and offer us his congratulations…
Know what ?
When something like that occurs, it completely chokes you up.
It choked me up, anyway.
Even Ousman, our head of security, who is having to work all through the day offers his dalasi worth, and I’m going to repeat his, because I think it is worth repeating…
Actually he says I didn’t do too badly if I had to pick a Jola to marry…
But he’s smiling when he says it behind those ubiquitous shades, which is probably just as well because Haddy will never let him get away with saying anything like that, but then he says, addressing me…
‘If you find a woman… A good woman… One with love in her heart… Then you hold onto her as they are worth more than riches or money…’
I know the quote is accurate because I asked him to repeat it and I had my ‘phone on record…
Aaaahhh Ousman… You big softie, you…
But you know what ?
He’s right.
Sage advice from my Serer friend, and I intend to do just that…
In fact he’s so right that I gave him a big hug after he’d said it.
Ok, we’re both big softies…

Looking around at that moment, it strikes me that most of the staff are out of uniform…
Ousman for instance is in a dark yellow outfit with gold piping.
Even in his uniform he has a certain √©lan with his shades on, but in this outfit, shades included, he’s something else.
The waitresses, the maids, they all look absolutely stunning, and the whole hotel is an absolute riot of colour.
There will be absolutely nothing open today so we lounge around the hotel totally relaxed until the evening.
Pat decides to go out to give us some time together.
He’s taken his cameras but he’s a big boy now and hopefully he doesn’t need his big brother to hold his hand ?
Apparently, the sheep has been bought on my behalf for the compound and is being cooked while we wait.
I don’t know how many of the hotel staff cannot get back to their families on this day so between us we work out that we can feed at least four including Ousman, who is having to work all day, and the old man who looks after the gardens, so we make a couple of ‘phone calls…
‘Tufa will be doing the delivery run, later.
Ousman has a wife and son, and the old man is on his own, so that’s four portions going to good homes.
I have no idea how it’s going to be served up, but Haddy tells me that tin foil is fine and it will include rice and vegetables too.
When it comes to it, Ousman is amazed that we’d done it, but as Haddy said…
‘Even beggars and Serer’s have to eat…’ at which he laughs because he knows she’s just got him back for his ‘Jola’ jibe earlier.
Honestly… The pair of them never stop winding each other up.
The old gardener is a lovely man and he definitely knows his way around a garden, so when Haddy tells him that since he is working, we know he will not have been able to get anything for himself, so please accept this small offering from us for Tobaski, he is quite overcome and has to sit down.

He definitely wasn’t expecting that…
Small offering ? It was in a cardboard box the size of a shoebox !
But he’s worth it.
He really is a lovely old guy, and when I first met him and asked about some of the plants that I didn’t know, he took me literally all around the hotel showing me loads of things I’d never come across before.
His English is very basic, and my Wolof was non-existent at that time and is not that much better now, but somehow we conversed about the plants and he was surprised when at the end of my first trip out I told him he had taught me so much that I would have to put it into practice when I got back to the U.K.

Pat gets back in the early afternoon after nearly walking to the other end of Bakau.
Apparently he was stopped and greeted all the way by those who recognised him from the hotel and loads more besides, who are amazed that he kept asking questions about the country, about Tobaski, about everything he thought he might get an answer to, actually…
They all wanted to know about the wedding so it seemed like an information swap to him, but he also got invited back to a couple of compounds for Tobaski.
He turned them down with regret (thankfully) but thanked everybody for their kindness in such a way that it totally disarmed any questions about his American(Mid Atlantic) accent.
(Please remember that Muslims and Americans are not actually getting on too well around the world at this point… They keep killing each other…)

He’s a newspaper editor in real life and so with that journalistic background it comes easily to him but they didn’t know that, and he says he got some great pictures…

Late afternoon and we’re ready to go, so we say our goodbyes to the staff still there, and ‘Tufa collects us to take us home.
This is so strange because officially I’m now head of the household…
But the kids are the kids and so we’re not really aware of any difference, as there really isn’t any.

In the Gambia in the vast majority of things I will always defer to Haddy.

Mariama has got friends round already,

and we start to receive our first guests officially…

I also have to take a picture of my first (cooked) sheep’s head to commemorate it…
Yeeeeuuuk !

Sainabou and the twins have all been invited out,

so they are seriously dressed up, and when we finally get back to the hotel it is past midnight.
I could definitely do this again.