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).