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.

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