Sunday, 27 November 2011

Time Out For A Tea Break...

So there we were, laying in bed that night, and I turned toward Haddy and said ‘What happens now ?’ ‘What happens with what ?’
‘What happens with Mariama ?’
‘I don’t know… That’s the trouble…’
Silence.
‘Are you happy with what she wants to do ?’
‘Yes… But I know there will be problems…’

 What the hell ?
She isn’t going to change her mind in a month of Sunday’s so why not just forget it ?
Chalk it up to karma.
If it happens, it happens, and if it doesn’t, then…
Karma.
She has our total support and I think at some point she’s going to need it ?
It’s not just the whole of her society but her religion as well.
Female drummers are just not ‘done’.
The weight that could be brought to bear is astronomical but I still don’t see a problem ?
It’s her ambition for Chrissakes ?
Nobody has the right to get between a child and their ambition…
Can I finally switch off and go to sleep now, please ?



Blimey !
It’s morning… And we’ve run out of teabags.
A pit stop at the supermarkets and a quickie into the bank for some more cash are in order, I think ?
We’re going out for a meal at some point and hopefully the Chinese restaurant at Bakau is going to get the vote ?
I’m still lobbying just for a change from La Mer, but we’ll see ?
Right, bank first…
Stock up on ginger beer, Fanta, Vimto (foul muck, but the younger ones love it) and Coca-Cola, and…
Tea bags.
Which are on special offer in both establishments…
Ok, we’ll go for Liptons, it’s a recognisable name after all.
It’s funny how you do it ?
I just started reading the Liptons box…
And discovered something a little strange.
Ok, most of the print is in Arabic of some kind, but the bit that wasn’t was intriguing…
There on the box, down the right hand side of the top is a flash stating ‘Catering Pack’ and there on the bottom left of the top, is a diagonal flash stating, in English, ‘Not For Retail Sale’.



Oh dear…
It looks like we’ve just bought some dodgy gear ?
To whit, yer honour…
One box of Lipton’s Yellow Label Finest Blend Quality No 1 boxes of one hundred tea bags.
Catering packs go to hotels and prisons, even ships at sea, but one place they do not go is into the local supermarket to be bought by all and sundry…
And both supermarkets had piles of these boxes.
Pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap…
Especially if they’re knocked off, eh ?
Even the baby mini-mart at the top of the road is flogging them…
It seems after a bit of local investigation that the whole of the local Gambian grocery retail establishment has a bunch of these boxes to sell off ?


Tut tut !
Methinks a container went missing somewhere ?
(I hope Mr Lipton is reading this ?)
Oh well, they were cheaper than usual so I guess we all benefit, don’t we ?
Except for Lipton Tea and the Gambian economy, let’s say…
But thieves and retailers seem to benefit most of all.






Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Afro-Manding Band Practice

Early that evening, the three of us, me, Haddy and Mariama, taxi off to Westfield…
Mariama has stopped talking, which means she’s gone off into ‘serious’ mode.
Who knows what thoughts are going through her eleven year old head right now ?
She’s been invited to watch some of the guys she admires playing music that she knows, understands and loves, and that’ll do for her.
We arrived early at about half past six.
A couple of the guys are already there with their prayer mats out and nothing will be happening until they have all arrived and made their devotions, and so we grab a couple of tables and three chairs facing the band.
It’s a funny thing… The musicians are all praying outside in the car park before they practice which is not something that the vast majority of musicians would do back in the U.K. but it seems so natural and unforced ?
I can’t say I totally understand the reason behind why they should do it, but it just seems so natural here, like it’s the right thing to do ?
The difference between cultures has thrown a total curve-ball, but is it so different from me telling everybody to sod off about ten minutes before my time onstage ?
I just want to be by myself with no distractions and think through what I’m going to do.
It’s not necessarily what is going to come out, but I want and need that time to mentally prepare a framework for the gig’s set without any interruptions, so although it might sound as if it’s two totally different things, I think it’s a totally natural thing.
Somebody more knowledgeable than me would have to clue me in on the finer points, but somewhere inside my head I know it’s the right thing for these guys to do.

I quite like Jokor as a venue.
Haddy and I had been there before to see a couple of gigs.
It’s a raised outdoor stage with covered sides as a roofed area, and the bar runs along the left hand side, and we are sat facing the band, just in front of the bar area where the guys can plug in their microphone and two amps.
Makumba comes over to greet us and to tell us that they have two missing members tonight, a singer and a drummer, but that they will be running through their album as a warm-up before heading off into their newer tracks which have not been recorded yet. Hadim gives us a smile of acknowledgement as he sits to tie his drums to his legs, and
Bubacarr (Jally) the kora player calls over to Haddy to ask if she has any money for a taxi back, and Haddy replies that he hasn’t done anything yet, which gets a laugh from the others…
I just feel honoured, if that’s the right word, to have been asked along to watch ?
Unfortunately I haven’t got my minidisk recorder as the damn thing broke, so there will be no recording at all on this trip.
And suddenly Makumba counts in, and they are away…
We all recognise the track from their album ‘Duniyaa’, and three sets of feet start tapping in tempo.
Ok… Just so everything is clear, here are the participants in the evening’s action

Makumba Nyass. Lead Djembe

Muctarr Bittaye. Dungdung Drum
Arafang Faal. Tama Drum
Hadim Nyang. Bukarabou Drum.
Lalo Sarr.   Singer and dancer

Bubacarr (Jally) Suso. Kora and Doudou Bittaye, the band’s manager.

Sambou, the other singer, and Mam Jam, the Sabarr drummer have not managed to get here for tonight’s practice.
Midway through the second number, Lalo dances over to our table and grabs Mariama’s arms, pulling her to her feet and telling her to dance with him.
A very nervous little eleven year old moves into the centre with Lalo, and starts dancing until the track ends, then she moves back towards our tables, but Lalo is having none of it and takes her back as the band go into their third number.
When it finishes Makumba calls her over.
We are too far away to hear what is said, but she is taken to Lalo’s chair next to Arafang where Lalo’s drum stands, and an even more nervous little girl sits in front of a drum…
Poor thing… She looks absolutely petrified.
Makumba counts off and they’re away…
Mariama’s hands stay on top of the drum…
I keep looking at her and try to catch her eye and make drumming movements with my hands…
And suddenly, just like that, she is off and away, her small hands finding the rhythm of the band and locking her body into it.
Her legs are clasping the drum closer to her body as she hunches herself over it, finding the most comfortable position for the drum size and then slowly loosening her grip when she knows where it is best suited for her body.
My concentration is now totally on Mariama, filtering out all of the other drummers.
She’s found her groove and now she’s playing with it.
Now the others…
Arafang, sitting next to her, is playing a totally different rhythm…
Hadim, closest to us, is playing something totally different to Arafang and Mariama.
Muctarr, punctuating the sound with what to western ears, sounds close to a tympani, and Makumba, the rhythm master, keeping the basic beat, but taking it where he wants it to go.
Bubacarr’s kora, playing out a melody over all of the drummers, and Lalo, vocalising with Bubacarr over the top of it all through their one microphone that Doudou is holding for them.
It sounds like musical chaos trying to describe it verbally, but nothing could be further from the truth.

A word or two about rhythms…
African rhythms are poly-rhythmic.
They are not linear like a western rhythm, in that there is no accent on the first or third beat.
Most western rhythms as we know them, especially in rock or pop music are in 3/4 or 4/4 time.
An African rhythm on the other hand, might have three, four, five or six differing rhythms occurring at the same time.
This creates confusion in most listeners who tend to just put it down to ‘drum noise’.
The fact that it is more complex than western music doesn’t even occur to them, but it’s fact.
What Mariama did, very nervously to begin with, was to create a rhythm of her own, and then merge it with the other rhythms being played around her, a sort of counter-rhythm, which only she is playing.
This merging of her rhythm into the rhythms of others is what creates a true drummer in the African sense.
The fact that she is listening to maybe three other rhythms at exactly the same time is what creates that poly-rhythmic sound, and when it is done seamlessly without jarring, is what natural African drummers do as a matter of course.
Rhythm sharing is one way of putting it, and it is a reasonably accurate description.
The fact that most western drummers tend not to play with other drummers, leaves them way outside the scope of the Africans.
Think of your favourite bands ?
How many use two drummers ?
Some use a drummer and a percussionist, but two drummers ?
No, it’s a very few.
The other thing is that it is not improvisational.
Most of the rhythms are traditional and this does not really give any space for improvising or experimentation.
It is the merging of the rhythms that creates the complexity where you have threes beating against fours and this creates a form of harmonic tension.
This, as most Africans will tell you, is best resolved by dancing or by singing.
The more I learn about this subject, the more interesting and fascinating it becomes.
So now you know… Ok ?

By the time the band have finished playing the last track on their album, Mariama has been totally integrated into their sound.
At one point she looks as if she’s concentrating on something totally outside of what’s going on, but her hands are still beating the drum.
The new material, which none of us have heard yet, is the clincher.
The last three or four items played on the night are all brand new to us, and to be honest, a much harder, rockier sound, if we are using a western musical expression ?
And she’s there…
She’s never heard these tracks before in her life, but her rhythms just slot in effortlessly with the rest of the musicians.
At one point in a song, Bubacarr, the kora player, starts singing a verse addressed to Haddy, who grins and shakes her head, before putting on her ‘headmistress’ face and admonishing him by shaking her finger.
I’m grinning, knowing exactly what is to come when they finish.
By the time it’s over and the band are packing up before the nightclub has to open, I finally get a word out of Haddy.
‘Well… What did you think of your daughter ?’
‘She did well… I did not know…’
And her voice tailed off…
One thing about my wife…
She has the most expressive eyes I know, and they were shining.
Bubacarr calls over to us for his taxi fare and the others all start laughing.
His nickname is ‘Mey ma pass’, (pronounced may, mar-as in Martha, and pass as in passive) It means ‘I am begging money for my fare’.
‘Hey ! You think just because you sing to my wife, you get money ?’
He laughs and says ‘I am a family man…’
‘Yeah man… So am I…’
More laughter from the rest of them…
I pull out two hundred Dalasi (taxis are five and ten, remember ?) and hold it up so they can all see it, then hand it to him.
‘Get home safely my friend…’
The moment he takes it he is surrounded by all the others, who are all telling him that since they have no money, they need their fares too…
Honestly, it’s like sharks around a bleeding surfer.
When Makumba comes over, he asks what we thought of the newer material, and I tell him that it sounds harder since the band slimmed down, a harder, rockier sound if we were we talking in western terms ?
He seems satisfied with the answer.
‘Now all we need is the money to record’
I ask him how much, and am amazed that it’s going to cost about the same as it would in the U.K.
That is going to be a serious stumbling block.
We say our goodbyes and look around for the little one, but Mariama has vanished with some of the band, and is helping them load up their vehicles around the back.
It has definitely been a pleasant intermission in our break, but it has also been a definite eye-opener for someone.
We walk around the back and wave our goodbyes to the drivers, then head back to the main road with Hadim.
He’s walking back to his place, and we’re taxiing back to Fagikunda.
Before we leave him I tell him to give us a couple of days and then pop into the compound if he’s passing, and I’ll have burned the photo’s we took onto disc, and he can share them around the band.
When we finally get a taxi, I asked Mariama if she enjoyed her time drumming, and I got her ‘serious’ face again, and a one word reply…
‘Yes’.
Says it all, really.
To be fair to her, I think it was probably a little overwhelming and Lord knows what thoughts are going through her head right now ?
I’m not sure I would have known what to say after something like that if I were eleven ?
Just let her calm down inside herself... Right now the adrenaline is probably still pumping and she needs time to re-adjust to the world. 
But the thing is, she has the talent.
Haddy was definitely surprised at how well she did.
That certainly took her by surprise.
I know she asks the older girls sometimes when they ‘phone each other, ‘How is Mariama doing’, and the answer is usually the same… ‘Drumming’, or ‘She has finished her homework and now she won’t stop drumming…’
But being told is very different from witnessing it yourself, especially when it’s your own daughter.

As soon as we get back to the compound, the lights go out…
It’s a power cut.
Bummer !
The only light outside is now from the lights of the taxis plying their trade up and down the road.
On the plus side, Hassanatou is back from her college course, and so the whole family is back together again.
I think I’m going to sit quietly at the back with a beer and think about what I've just seen while Hassa’ goes through her week…
Anything for a quiet life, that’s me.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Think This Through With Me...

Politics…
The best thing to do is stay away from them but unfortunately we all now live in a political world and if you don’t take note of what is going on around you, then you find there are problems further along the line.
We’re not talking party political politics either, family politics cause just as many problems, if not more ?
Hassanatou is due back from her college trip tomorrow, and Hassanatou is not talking to Amadou, Ida’s husband and Omar’s Father.
She’s not just not talking to him, she’s blanking him totally.
The guy might just as well not be there for all the notice Hassa’ takes of him.
The problem has apparently been going on for a month.
So what caused the problem ?
Politics.
That’s what caused the problem.

It arose one morning on the President’s clean up day, when everybody clears all the rubbish from in front of their compound and the municipal trucks come along to collect the bags of rubbish.
Hassanatou had showered and was still in her wrap-around towel and Sainabou was towelled-up and about to dive into the shower when the truck turned up.
Now with two complete sackfuls of household rubbish plus all the rest that had been swept up previously, there was quite a weight in the bags, and because both girls were not dressed for going outside, Hassanatou had asked Amadou to help them get the bags outside and lifted onto the truck.
Amadou’s answer was to tell Hassanatou that he didn’t do ‘women’s work’ and that they should carry the bag out themselves…
Now it’s one thing to say it…
But it’s quite another to act it !
Amadou wouldn’t lift a finger to help and so the two towel-clad girls had to manoeuvre two sacks of rubbish outside and between them lift the bags onto the truck, causing all manner of mirth and admiring looks from the truck gang and totally embarrassing the pair of them in the process.
If you don’t believe me, try lifting a sack of your own household rubbish above your head whilst dressed in only a towel ?
It isn’t that easy to do without an accident happening to the towel...
As far as Hassanatou was concerned it was the last straw, and so she blew her stack...
Loudly.
Lazy… Pays no rent… Pays nothing for our electric… Pays nothing for our water…Eats our food… Gets us to baby-sit his child and won’t even lift a finger to help in cleaning up or taking out his own family’s rubbish ?
That stops now.
And she did.
From that moment on, she refused point blank to have anything whatsoever to do with any of it, if it appertained to Amadou, Ida or Omar.
As far as Hassa’ was concerned, Ida was Amadou’s wife and she could do it all.
She was not going to lift a finger to help any of them.
She wasn’t prepared to cook food or share her food with them, neither was she prepared to let Ida use the family’s charcoal to cook with.
‘Amadou is your husband, let him work to provide you with the things you need, it is not for us to keep you fed’.
And we’ve just walked in on all of this ?
Great !
Sainabou and Husainatou are doing their best to try and keep the peace while  Hassanatou is not there, but it has been an uphill battle.
Amadou thinks ‘women’s work’ is beneath him and refuses to do any,
Ida needs somebody to keep an eye on Omar because he is into everything right now, plus, Omar’s nose had been put out of joint by Jalika coming into the family, and so he is behaving as all bullies do, by being as spiteful as he possibly can toward Jalika.
Jalika won’t take any form of bullying when it’s directed toward her and is apparently fighting back in her own sweet way, although to be fair, we hadn’t seen it occur since we’d arrived.
Mariama and her best friend Ida are both getting older, and neither of them particularly want to baby-sit Omar because they have their own things to do.
In Mariama’s case, she daren’t even get her drums out unless somebody else is playing with her, because otherwise Omar will attempt to muscle in and mess about with them.
And what’s more, she is right when she says that they are her ‘tools for her job’ and she does not want people to play about with them.
Until she decides not to be a drummer, then I think she is perfectly correct to have that attitude, but then, that’s me…
Gambian politics are not my thing unless they affect me directly.
I have enough problems with U.K. politics to want to get involved in another country’s politics… Even another country’s family politics...
The problem is, I am involved whether I like it or not ?
Problems, problems, problems…

So with all that in the background Haddy and I are heading off to Banjul to visit Uncle Pa, and then to see if Hadim is about in the market ?
We spend a pleasant hour with Pa in his office.
He has a larger one now, on the top floor of his compound, and thank the Lord for that.
The previous one suffered from a total lack of space.
I think it had previously been a walk in cupboard ?
This one is beginning to feel the same but at least he can get another chair in it, and, it has a window to let some light in.
That is a definite improvement.
Finding his mobile under the clutter on the desk, or the computer mouse without following the connecting wire is virtually impossible, but it’s definitely a major improvement on the last one.
Visit over, we go back downstairs and walk to the market.
Hadim has his own stall now in Banjul’s craft market.
His younger brother Badou has one also, and since they’ve both become friends and what shall I say ?
Colleagues and teachers, I think is the right way of putting it, in Mariama’s drum education ?
I’m always happy to see them.
The craft market in Banjul is around the far side so the easiest way is to literally follow the road around the left hand side from the entrance and then turn right when you see the wooden or cardboard signpost, or whatever they have up on the day ?
This is where the travel companies bring their tourists and coach parties.
You can haggle to your hearts content over the price of anything and sometimes you can get a serious bargain.
But… The political problems of the world’s banking system and the resulting recession has hit hard, and the tourists are not coming as they used to, and now everybody is scrabbling around for a little money.
Things are hard everywhere, but in a poor country things are hardest of all.
Hadim is not there.
Apparently he had a gig last night.
Ok, fair do’s, that’s understandable.
Badou is, and he greets us both with outstretched arms and a big hug, before telling us that we are welcome and that he hopes we brought along lots of friends and tourists with us so they could buy lots of gifts ?
Is it really that bad ?
Apparently it is.
Shit !
That ain’t good.
Those in the craft market are just about scraping a living.
I’d done thirteen and a bit years as a market trader in the U.K. and gone through one major recession so I’m a little bit clued up on what their problems are.
It’s pretty much like it is in the U.K. but unfortunately nobody believes that in The Gambia if you’re white.
To them you are just a ‘tourist’ and you have money to spend because you come from a rich country and can afford your flights and hotels etc…
Nobody believes that you can be in the exact same position as they are, if you’re white.
So they play the ‘screw the toubab’ game, and screw them for anything they can get.
It’s difficult not to feel insulted when they try it on, but I can at least understand why they persist in doing it.
It’s just difficult to live with, when it’s happening to you.

I left Haddy to talk to Badou while I went for drinks at the small café, and what do I get ?
‘Hey… You’re back… Do you recognise me ?’
It’s a big guy sitting at one of the tables…
Think, think, think…
‘Drum practice right here, right ?’
‘You remembered…’
I ask him how is it going with the band and he tells me it’s not so good ?
The band has slimmed down somewhat to an eight piece and they’ve had to let the singers and dancers go, but the eight piece is practising hard and has some new material that they want to record for their second album, when they have managed to save the money.
They are not quite ready yet, but they are practising every Friday at Jokor, the nightclub at Westfield, and would I like to come and watch ?
Oh yes…
For sure I would, and could I bring Haddy and Mariama, because she’d love to watch the guys playing ?
‘Ah… The little girl who wants to drum… Yes, please bring her, too…’
‘You’ve heard that she wants to be a drummer, then ?’
‘All the local drummers know that she wants to be a drummer…’
Well don’t that just figure ?
I tell him we’ll be there, but right now I must deliver the drinks or Haddy and Badou will be pools of grease if they don’t get something cool in them.
He laughed…
‘I am Macumba… I will see you tomorrow.’
‘It’s a date… See you there at about seven-ish’
Now I know why I like going to Banjul ?
Stuff just happens.

When we arrive back home we find that the guys have been round to fix the water pipe, so thankfully we can wash the dust off.

Cold water only, but any water is better than none at all.
Then we greet the constant stream of visitors to the compound…

Fatou had sent Sainabou some shoes from the U.K. and Sainabou was in absolute hysterics just looking at them.
They were ladies fashion type, and had a high heel that was at least six inches from tip to shoe.
The precarious balancing act required to walk in them without going over and breaking an ankle or two was keeping everybody in absolute stitches of laughter.


Awa, who had popped over for a visit on her day off, was going to be the bravest of the brave…
She was actually going to attempt to walk in them.
Everybody has their fingers crossed as she straightens up and takes a couple of faltering steps before wobbling, stopping, re-balancing and trying again…

Hmmm… Not sure they are suitable for even the fashion conscious younger members of the family, but what do I know ?
Haddy is off trying to sort out a meeting for one of her committees, so it looks like I’m the dj for the rest of the afternoon ?

That evening we tell Mariama about the invitation and ask her if she’d like to go ?
She just looks up at us with her ‘serious’ face and utters one word…
‘Yes’
She certainly wasn’t expecting that, I know that much.
Still, It’ll be an eye-opener for her, watching the guys play.
We’ve probably ruined any form of concentration in lessons at school for tomorrow, but hey ?
She doesn’t get invites like that every day, so she might as well make the most of it.
It feels like it’s been a long day when we finally crawl into bed.

The guys turn up early to fill in the hole above the pipe, which is nice.
At least that means Gordon can go back to his normal wall and not have to keep a wary eye out for a marauding cat.
Gordon ?
Gordon is the house gekko, and he lives inside or outside the bathroom window depending on the weather or his mood.

He’s a godsend when the mosquitoes are out in force, so nobody attempts to harm him except Princess, but so far Princess hasn’t yet learned to climb a vertical wall…
Oh come on…
He’s a gekko for God’s sake, so what would you have named him ?
I think Oliver Stone would be quite pleased that his ‘creation’ lives and breathes in reality ?

We spend the morning with Haddy’s sister, who has come to visit.
In the afternoon we are visited by two of her Aunts.
I get the feeling that they are looking for handouts and presents above and beyond the shoes and material that Haddy has brought over ?
It’s strange…
There is no way that we can afford a monetary handout, it’s been hard enough to get the fare over here, but that ‘screw the toubab’ thing is always at the back of my mind.
Why is it that because you live and work in the U.K. you are supposed to be rolling in money ?
I don’t know and I don’t care.
What I do know is that we are finding it hard enough over there and I have a full time job.
Nobody who has inferred that we have loads of money is either maimed or sick, so why not find a job yourselves ?
I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s not impossible.
When we get back, we are going to have to up the amount we send to the kids just to keep the younger ones in school and everybody fed, which leaves nothing for anybody else…
It’s hard times on the planet, believe me ?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

'Cause When Life Looks Like Easy Streets...'

Before we head out to Ocean Bay we’re going to visit the younger ones’ school.
Mariama had changed schools the previous year and instead of languishing at number forty-one down the class of fifty-five, she’s basically had the ‘kick up the arse chat’ from me.
She had one from her Mum as well, but mine was… Let’s say a little more pointed…
‘Mariama… You know what a contract is ?   
A contract is where the promotor who is booking the musicians gets the musicians to sign it to say how much the musician is going to be paid for doing the gig… You understand ?   It also says how much the promotor is going to take off your money for his expenses… So messing about in school when you are supposed to be learning how to count and how to read is pretty damn stupid if you want to be a musician…
How are you going to read what the promotor has written… How you gonna add it all up and read what he wrote ?
Because if you can’t do the mathematics and you can’t read the contract then you aren’t going to earn any money at all being a musician, so you may as well start studying to do something else because you’ll never be a successful musician… You’ll never earn any money. 
The promotor, the agent, and, if you’re any good, the management will take all your money and you will be left with none…
You understand what I’m talking about here ?’
A very solemn faced nod of affirmament.
‘You do… Whatcha gonna do about it, then ?
Silence. 
‘Oh well… I’ll let you think about that, but I’m serious, it’ll never happen unless YOU are prepared to put the work in…’

Jalika, on the other hand, is so shy and quiet that you wouldn’t think she was there half the time.
Admittedly this has a lot to do with the sadness of her childhood so far.
Jalika’s mother was Haddy’s eldest daughter Fatou’s best friend at school.
As soon as she left school, she fell pregnant with Jalika.
Unfortunately and tragically she died giving birth to her daughter.
For the first six years of her life Jalika had been brought up by her Mother's family, specifically her Grandparents, but now they couldn’t cope any more, and so Fatou had said no worries, we’ll take her.
No worries ?
Another girl ? 
And one who had been teased unmercifully by some of the local children about her not having a Mother…
This teasing had hurt her so much that she developed a way of stopping it as soon as it started…
She hit the main perpetrator.
She didn’t warn them, she just hit them and she only needed to do it the once.
It mattered not to Jalika that some of them were older and some were younger.
As far as she was concerned they were being spiteful and horrible and so she stopped it the only way she knew how.
Smack !
One little fist straight at the target, which in the majority of cases was approximately the same height, and another body bites the dust screaming with a bloodied mouth or nose.
Boy or girl, it mattered not a fig to Jalika.
Nobody had the right to impugn her Mother’s memory or to tease her about it, and if they were stupid enough to do so ?
Smack !
The same person rarely did it twice unless they were totally stupid or trying to get her into trouble.
It didn’t matter to Jalika, the result was always the same.
She’d take the trouble, but she wasn’t prepared to take their spite.
Smack !

So we were off to school to see their teachers...
Hopefully the kids wouldn’t feel too embarrassed when we turned up ?
The school system in The Gambia, rudimentary as it sometimes is, has one clear advantage over the British system.
Parents are encouraged to visit the school.
They don’t have to ring to make an appointment (although that would be a nice touch) they can just turn up in lesson time.
I’m not sure how it works with the senior children, but the juniors ?
Just turn up, tell the headmaster/mistress, and you’re sorted.

So what did we find out ?
That Mariama is actually making a bit of an effort.

Forty-first to eighth in her class (and first in French ?)
Something has definitely changed.
Whether the change in schools helped we don’t know, but Haddy suspects that might also have had something to do with it ?
And Jalika ?
In the twenties out of the usual fifty-five to sixty students in the class.
Sometimes painfully shy and not wanting to join in.
Always on the edge of what is going on.

Wanting to get involved sometimes, but holding herself back.
My heart goes out to the poor girl.
She’s just turned seven and she’s frightened of involvement.
I can certainly understand why ?
She’s a year behind the rest in the class, but she’s got the intelligence and ability to catch up.
She just needs the confidence.
Her life has just gone through a big shake-up.
Whatever Haddy and I do, she’s going to be feeling like a bit of an outsider for a time.
We’ll just have to show her that she’s included and not excluded, and THAT is going to be easier said than done…

Photographs of the classes which will be sent on, were taken with their teacher’s permission, and we’re off again…
A whole day of relaxation…
IF… Haddy can be persuaded to turn off her mobile ?
Ocean Bay Hotel at the top end of Bakau.
Ocean Bay is a four star hotel.
It has a programme for the guests who are looked after with an expertise and a lot of hard work, by Mr Kamara and his staff.
One day, when we can afford it, I’d like to spend some time there.
But in the meantime, I’ll take a ‘Pool’ ticket and avail myself of the swimming pool and their chefs on a daily basis.
It is a beautifully kept, landscaped and relaxing ‘escape’ as far as I am concerned, and I can ‘live’ next to, or in their pool, for as long as they’ll have us.
One of the positives of the way I look and dress when I’m in The Gambia is recognition and the hotel is a classic example.
Straight out to the ‘Pool office’ with my ticket and the guy gives us a big smile, welcomes us both back, hands us our towels for the sunloungers, and asks me if I’ve managed to give up smoking yet ?
No ?
Ok, he’ll bring me an ashtray.
Now THAT is service.

As I’ve mentioned previously, when you avail yourself of a pool ticket at Ocean Bay,  you get a voucher that entitles you to one hundred Dalasi off the price of a meal from the poolside restaurant.
That’s fine by me, because after discovering one of the joys of Ocean Bay’s cuisine, I’m sticking to it.
Food is food, but when it’s this good it’s something else and as far as hotels go, I’ve never had better.
I love this meal.
It has everything in taste that anyone could possibly want, and so recommendations go out to anybody and everybody.
If you are in the hotel, either staying as a guest or visiting, then try it.
You certainly won’t be disappointed.
Taste-bud heaven.

Prawns in Citrus Salsa.
I keep trying to make it at home but I can’t get close to it.
Oh well, one day if I keep practising ?

Haddy has the grilled fish in garlic sauce, which I know she enjoys, and we just kick back and while away the sunshine.

One day I’ll manage to get her in the pool but she’s resistant to water and swimming like most Gambians.
Maybe later when I can get the two little ones in ?
Mariama has been telling Jalika what fun it is, and so with a little trepidation Jalika is looking forward to her first go in the water later in the week.
They’ll both be armbanded up, but that’s for later.
The ‘phone starts going off the wall at about four in the afternoon and so we head back home.
Haddy has some meetings to organise and sort out with the women’s groups.
Oh well… It was nice while it lasted.
It turns out that’s not the only problem…
We’ve got a compound full of people and we’ve had a burst pipe.
Not good.
Everybody pitches in for dinner, and the rest of the digging out can wait until tomorrow.
What a cheek !
‘Baby’ Sarjo has turned up with Alagie, one of his friends, after telling him that because Uncle Chris and Naneh Kombo are back, and Uncle Chris has a digital camera then he’ll take our photographs…
You’ve got to hand it to the guy… He’s got the cheek of ‘Old Nick…’
Ok, say cheese…
Sorted.

The one member of the family who hasn’t been mentioned yet is getting herself ready for another night on the tiles, and this is causing much laughter and hilarity among the rest of us…
I refer, of course, to Princess… The family cat.


With about five or six ‘boyfriends’ in the local vicinity, her morals are being questioned rather a lot.
All I can say is ‘What a slapper !’
Her behaviour is definitely a bit suspect.
Find a quiet corner and flirt outrageously and then, at the top of her voice, consummate the ‘friendship…’
Princess, you’re a slut.
And if you wake me up tonight by having one on the roof you little madam, then you are going to be in serious trouble tomorrow morning, believe me…

Monday, 19 September 2011

THE FIRST DAYS ARE THE HARDEST DAYS...

Monday night before the flight and it’s the usual cramming everything into pockets…
Haddy still hasn’t worked out the importance of pockets when you’re going to be overweight on the flight.
To whit :  ALWAYS wear the things with the most pockets as it’s quite amazing how much the weight comes down when you’re wearing the weight.
Yes, it can be uncomfortable hanging around the airport, but you can always cram the items into your piddly little five kilo maximum bag that you can take onto the ‘plane whilst you’re in flight, and then just carry the bag off at the other end whilst you wait for your luggage.
We’ve booked a two week stay for the car at one of Gatwick’s most outlying car parks, but at least I’ve been there before so there should be no trouble finding it.
Right… Are you ready, love ?   It’s two o’clock in the goddamn morning, so let’s go…
Apart from the fact that I’d been up since six the previous morning, it’s such an easy run down to Gatwick at that time.
There is literally nothing on great stretches of the journey apart from us, a few delivery vans, and the long distance truckers, so nobody is jostling for position and it actually makes the M25 a pleasure to drive down apart from the coned off areas…
Hand over the paperwork in the car park, get my ticket and wait for the coach to Gatwick South.

First things first…
Wait at the check-in to see if they’ll let us weigh upfront ?
Bollocks !
They’ve changed the system…
After a bit of re-packing we’re three kilo’s over and have to pay the full whack.
Shit ! Bollocks ! and Fuck it !
Buy a newspaper, sit and drink a black coffee to stay awake, find a chair and stuff some of the sarnies we’ve brought down with us, get up and go outside again for a last fag and then hit the departure lounge…
Strip off jackets, shoes, boots, belts and the whole rigmarole to get through the scanners…
Do it a second time because one penny had got stuck in my jeans pocket…
Put clothes back on again and collect the gear…
Which as soon as I hit the departure lounge I realise is short by one set of keys, my camera and my mobile phone…
Back through the ‘No Entry’ signs to ask where the staff have taken them ?
‘Oh, are these yours ?’
Yes, actually, and if you hadn’t moved the tray onto the sodding floor and had left it on the belt, I wouldn’t be missing them, would I ?
Buy brandy for us when we’re out there, and a three pack of giant Toblerone for the kids.
They’ve sold out of any reasonable tobacco, so I’ll wait and chance it when I get there.
Finally, the flight is called and we start the damn near three quarter mile trek to the farthest gates to board the ‘plane, where we finally collapse into our seats.
Can I sleep now, please ?
Typically, Haddy is now wide awake, while all I want to do is get some zzz’s.
Oh well, as soon as we’re up, maybe ?
Stuff an inhalitor in my mouth and lord it over the poor sods who have all forgotten to buy one.
As soon as we’re up I doze for about an hour before the cabin staff start their routines…
Coffee ?   Tea ?  Drinks ?   Duty free ? 
That wakes me up… And… There’s a deal on Golden Virginia tobacco.
Right… Two five packs for thirty eight quid.
That sorts out me, Lamin and Hadim and the guys over there who smoke.
God knows what the film is ?
It’s totally forgettable anyway, so Haddy sticks the radio on and I doze off again until dinner.
‘In flight’ chicken and veg’ as usual…
And now we’re over the Sahara desert…
Another cup of ‘in flight’ tea…
Ugh !
Last pee on board as we’re on our way down…
And we’re there.
Banjul airport, and it’s three o’clock… And it’s got to be about thirty five degrees out there ?
Coach to the terminal and let the fun begin…
The uniformed lass in the booth checks the passport and the card and asks why I’ve put down ‘visit family’ for the trip ?
‘Because I’m visiting my family’ I answer.
‘My wife is behind me, and we’re visiting the children…’
‘You are married to a Gambian woman ?’
‘Yep’
‘Where do you live ?’
‘Fagikunda, when I’m here…’
She smiles at that point and hands me the passport back, now it’s Haddy’s turn.
It may sound like it’s a problem getting in, but it isn’t really.
The reason it sounds like I’m getting the third degree is that there is no hotel listed on the immigration form, and since unlike parts of Europe, sleeping on the beach is frowned upon and you could get picked up for any number of offences from vagrancy up to drug smuggling or gun running, the immigration staff ask.
It’s no problem.
All you have to do is answer their questions.
If they don’t like the answers you give them, then you’ll soon know about it…
No ‘Tufa ?
Apparently his taxi was absolutely totalled by a relief driver, and so the poor guy is jobless again, but we’re picked up by someone Haddy knows, and driven straight to the compound.
Now the thing is… Haddy had told her daughter Fatou that we were travelling on the Friday and not the Tuesday because she did not want a house full of visitors when we arrived.
It’s a bit sly I know, but bearing in mind the jungle telegraph is a damn site quicker than a mobile ‘phone out there, it seemed a reasonable thing to do.
So as soon as we walked through the compound gate there is a very audible scream from Sainabou…
Surprise surprise !
Followed by hugs all round from Husainatou, Mariama, Jalika, Little Ida and Omar and Mum Ida, and then the noise began as everybody started talking at the same time…
Our missing twin, Hassanatou, is on a college course and is staying with the rest of her classmates at a hotel, and so we won’t be seeing her until Friday.
Then the kids all ran outside to tell everybody that Naneh Kombo was home...
So the following couple of hours were absolute chaos.
Unpack ?
Forget it.
Check the freezer for Julbrew ?
Good, they remembered to buy it.
Cheers… I’ll have a beer… Or maybe three ?
And just let them get on with it.
Finally, at about one-thirty the following morning, we collapse into bed.


One of the reasons that we’re here, apart from seeing the kids and the family, is to extricate Haddy from some of the organisations that she’s a member or secretary of.
Most of that involves money and about forty to fifty women of the village.
When you are a bank signatory of an organisation and you live in the U.K. then if the other signatory falls sick or dies or has any other problem involving them not getting to the bank, then problems tend to arise.
Sainabou has been looking after the accounts since Haddy moved, but now they need somebody else to take over Haddy’s position and therefore elections need to be held or organisations closed and the saved money shared back out between the members and Haddy has three of these to sort out.
You’d think that was easy wouldn’t you ?
I mean, put as simply as that then it should be, right ?
Would any Gambians reading this please stop laughing ?
I’m not Gambian, ok… I’m writing this from a European perspective so please do me a favour and cut the hilarity.
Talk about easier said than done.
If one person is prepared to make decisions and stick with them for the good of the group as Haddy did, then obviously Haddy is the person to do the job, which is why they all said she should do it in the first place.
Now, with Haddy retiring from her position, other problems are going to come into play.
Problems which we don’t seem to get too much of in Europe, but this is emphatically not Europe, this is Africa and specifically The Gambia and so you have to factor in the usual things like competence, availability and honesty and then you have to factor in things like jealosy and tribalism…
To tell you the truth, I can see this lot going seriously pear-shaped, but first things first…


I must have been tired because I missed Mosque-man…
Usually I wake with the early morning call to prayers, but not this time…
This time I slept straight through until I got a nudge and heard the sound of a most welcome cup of tea being placed on the bedside table and a voice I seem to recognise from somewhere coming through the fog and telling me breakfast is on the table.
Ok…
Gimme fifteen minutes and I’ll be there…
Possibly ?
Ah… Gambian breakfast.
Lettuce, tomato, sliced onion, cucumber, tinned sardines, tapalapa and mayonnaise.
That’ll do me, thanks very much.
Tapalapa ?
It’s a cross between a baguette and a finger roll.
The shape of a finger roll and the length and consistency of a baguette.
It’s the local bread and it’s baked fresh every day at the local bakers round the corner.
Ok…
Shower… In cold water, because the kids have run off all the hot before they went to school and college.
Ask Sainabou what we’re short of, provision wise, in the house ?
Get a taxi to the top of the road and then another to Westfield and pick up some money which we’ve sent via Western Union to our bank, and then hit the supermarkets, which thankfully, are together but on opposite sides of the road.
I’ve promised Sainabou that by the time we leave, she’ll be cooking some of the recipes I’ve brought with me.
Sainabou can cook and cook very well, but she wants to learn more about other types of food, not just Gambian or West African, so it’s a good time to stock up on some ingredients.
They’re going to cost a fortune compared to the U.K. but what the hell…
Herbs and spices for instance.
Just under a pound up to two pounds depending on the spice in the U.K.
In The Gambia it’s just under two pound fifty up to five pounds per same sized jar, and that’s if they sell it ?
Food wise, all the prices have gone through the roof over there.
The worldwide problem with the banks and the recession has finally hit them, and it is hurting them badly because it’s a petrol or diesel based economy.
Everything has to be trucked around the country.
The taxis, whose prices are regulated by law, are screaming at the government to let them be allowed an increase in fares because fuel has gone up so much.
So far the government has resisted because otherwise people will not be able to get to their place of work or school or college, whatever ?
But it will have to change soon and they’ll have to put up prices and everybody knows this…
They just want to put it off for as long as is possible ?
JEEEZUS !  How much ?
That was me at the supermarket checkout.
Christ mate, I just want this stuff, I wasn’t planning on buying your bloody shop !
Ouch !
That was a shock to the system, believe me.
We’ve spent probably in U.K. terms, an extra twenty to twenty five quid on the stuff that I’d normally buy when I’m over here.
The herbs and spices are up slightly, but the basics have gone through the roof.
I think I need to get home before my wallet suffers another seizure…
We unpack it all when we get back…
It doesn’t seem a lot when it’s all laid out on the table.
Hey Saina’… Tomorrow we cook.
Moroccan meatballs on cous-cous…
Sainabou is none the wiser… But she will be tomorrow night.
I just hope that we can keep the food within the family, as although I’m just a self-taught cook, when the word gets out that I’m doing the cooking we do seem to get an inordinate amount of visitors at food time…
Not just the blokes, who come over to take the piss out of a man doing the cooking, (It’s women’s work in The Gambia… Men just sit around on their arses and wait)
but the women and kids, too.
Everybody wants a plate of what Uncle Chris has cooked…
Which is why anybody taking the piss out of my cooking the meal won’t be invited to the next one.
This attitude might be a bit less friendly, but I’ll tell you what… Once the word gets round that the food was good, then it stops as suddenly as it starts.
The local vulture population doesn’t want to miss out…

As soon as we arrive back, Ousman appears.
Ousman looks after Haddy’s land compound plot at Killy on the Soma road.
I’ve only been there once on my first trip out here, but he looks after it, grows as much rice and vegetables as he can on the land, and then sells it, giving a proportion to Haddy.


The problem out there is lack of water as there are no pipes yet, and so it all has to be carried  by donkey cart from the nearest well.
Ousman is a good old boy, and we can talk vegetables without any problem.
He’s been trying to get some dwarf green beans to grow, but the local insect population discovered their taste before they were ready and stripped the lot.
That’s a shame because a kilo of dwarf green beans could get seventy five Dalasi a kilo from the local hotels and fifty Dalasi a kilo on the veg’ markets and at forty two Dalasi to the English pound, that’s a considerable amount if you have a reasonable harvest.
Oh well, keep trying.
If ever a country needed a figure to learn from, then I reckon Scotland’s Robert The Bruce would be perfect for The Gambia ?
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.
We will get those beans to grow.
Don’t know which year, but it WILL be done.

I’m told we are going to see one of the village elders and the village’s oldest resident this afternoon, who I’ve never actually met before.
He has been one of the elders for so long that most people cannot remember him not being one, nd is eighty nine years old which puts him a year behind my Father.
The fact I’ve not met him previously is quite surprising because he’s drum-maker Lamin’s Father.
A couple of years ago, he’d been knocked down by a car and seriously injured and  one of his hips had been put out.
Did it stop him getting about ?
Did it heck ?
It made him a bit slower and he now has to rely on his stick a bit more, much to the local kids discomfort if they should come within range of it, but stop him ?
No chance.
The other visit is going to be Ebrima’s Mother at her own compound.
She had already popped over to visit us last night when she had heard we had arrived, but respect says we go to her.
That I know I’m going to find difficult.
I don’t think of it as a duty, it’s something that I have to do, but I know in myself that it’s going to be a hard one.
It’s the first trip where the old pirate hasn’t come over and given me a hug, and said ‘Hey Chrees, you are welcome…’
So yeah… That’s going to be a hard one.

The noise level has gone up because Mariama and Jalika have just arrived back from school, and little Omar, who is not so little now, but a big, chunky, misbehaving brat of a child, has decided that they are going to play with him.
The sooner that child starts school and learns a little discipline, the better.
Ida, his Mother, refuses to chastise him at all, and so when he does something naughty or spiteful then it’s left to Sainabou, who is slow to anger, but bloody quick when she’s reached boiling point.
Apparently Ida’s cries of ‘You are going to kill my child…’ are getting a little monotonous around the compound.
Oh well, simple answer…
Clout him yourself !

We spend a pleasant hour talking and chatting to Lamin’s Father who requests a photograph to remember the visit.
No sweat.
That’s something we are happy to do.
Now it’s back to the compound and then off to see Ebou’s mother…
As soon as she sees us coming she bursts into tears and has to go inside to compose herself before she greets us, but Ebrima’s brothers are all there to look after us while we wait.
We both get hugs, and tearfully she tells us that Fatou Manta, Ebrima’s wife, is going to leave the compound and go back to her own family.
This means that she will not be seeing Amie or Samsidine, her grandchildren, unless they come for a visit at Koriteh or Tobaski and it upsets her greatly.
Haddy tactfully says that since Fatou Manta now has a stall on the market, then she will be better placed to look after her children, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference.
She is upset.
To add insult to injury, Fatou Manta will be taking her son’s possessions with her including her late husband’s bed.
I don’t quite understand the politics of these decisions, so I do my best to remain understanding and sympathetic.
I’ll have to ask Haddy later.
One thing I do notice is that their compound is a lot quieter…
The local lads do not visit anymore, therefore she has nobody to talk to as she used to while they waited for her son.
I gave her a copy of ‘Ebou’s Song’ and tell her that most of it comes from the times I spent with Ebrima, therefore this is how I will always remember him for these are the things we spoke about whilst we drank tea here in the evenings, and she asks one of the brothers to read it and translate it for her.
As he begins to read the first verse it becomes so silent you could definitely hear a pin drop, even into the dust…
The second verse is in Wollof however, which is when Ebou’s brother starts choking over the words…
Shit !
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea ?
He finishes, and the tears are flowing…
I’m finding it hard, but I think the whole family have ‘lost it’ ?
Ebou’s mother takes the paper back from his brother and takes it away to put it indoors somewhere ?
I don’t think she expected this ?
The brothers just cluster around, wiping back tears and hugging me…
One of them saying that ‘He always said you were his true friend and never judged, just said the truth before God…’
I'm not quite sure that comment was totally accurate from my perspective as Ebou' and the guys took no prisoners, but it's close enough.
I was just happy that I didn't come over as some sort of prat.
But by that time I was about to lose it, too...
Haddy hands me her handkerchief and we force back the tears together.
Christ !  I wish I knew what to say ?
Maybe what is written is enough ?
I don’t know ?
What I do know is that you cannot have too many friends in this world, and I’ve lost one of mine.
That is certainly enough to make a grown man weep.
As soon as we can, we make our excuses and leave…
Ain’t no disguising it, I need a brandy.
 
 
I woke up the following morning with a thick head…
You can take that any way you like ?
Today I’m definitely staying a little closer to home.
So I become the ‘gift monitor’ as the piles of clothing that we brought over slowly start going down and we finally see parts of the bedroom floor.
When you look at it laid out, with paper names on top of each pile then you realise how much we actually brought ?
It’s no wonder that apart from underwear and socks and a few t-shirts, I’ve got two changes of clothes only.
My only ‘work’ today, is going to be the cooking and so as soon as is convenient, me and Sainabou get together to plan a course of action.
The cooking bit is easy, but what do we serve it with ?
I think cous-cous and salad, the cous-cous as a change from rice and Saina’ seems ok with that, so she shoots off early down to the mini-market to pick up the salad’y bits before all the good stuff goes.
We’ll start the preparation when Mariama, Ida and Jalika get back from school, as then we can involve them, too.
If we don’t then they’ll only keep sticking their noses in, and asking what we are doing, so if we involve them then it’s a win-win situation…
Besides… making meatballs can get a bit messy, so who better ?
Yeah, I know… Cold calculating git.
It’s just seems that way.
The reality is that like most kids that age, they want to help so rather than have them get in the way, let them do something helpful… Especially if it’s messy.
It used to work with my two when they were young and it works with these two now.
They won’t do it for ever, I know that.
But for a first grounding in different foods, then getting involved, especially at the beginning, is invaluable.

First things first… Amadou has popped around for a visit.
We don’t see Amadou too much these days.
He’s stuck at college but is getting out as much as he can.
God ! He’s getting tall…
He’s going to dwarf me soon.
He and Sainabou discuss the forthcoming feast…
Feast ?  What feast ?
Oh God ! They mean the meal tonight…
Actually, I should have thought about the ‘How many we could possibly feed and still have some left for ourselves ?’ question, but I sort of stuck it at the back of my mind, which was pretty stupid when you think about it ?
Sainabou does the calculations based on the approximate size of a meatball and how many the family are going to get in each portion.
Yes… It really does come down to that.
As soon as she’s worked it out to her satisfaction then they start the usual messing about.

Those two have a relationship between them that goes beyond care, love, family and friendship.
Sainabou was originally adopted by Haddy when she was young, and Amadou was born when Saina’ was about six or seven, so Saina’ has always looked at Amadou as if he were her responsibility to look after.
Now of course, he’s a young man of twenty-one and she’s twenty six-ish but they still have that special relationship.
Nowadays Amadou can take the mick out of it, being a big growing lad and all, but Saina’ gives it back all the time, causing much hilarity to the rest of the family…
They really are like some old bickering married couple.
Hey !   The kids are back…
Right you two… If you want to help then go and change and then wash your hands… I want to be able to smell the soap on them…
Hey Saina’, we ready ?
The nodded head signifies the affirmative…
Right… Let’s hit it !


Know what ?
We could have made twice the amount and it still wouldn’t have been enough.
We still had people coming into the compound as the last finger wipings of sauce were being licked from fingers.
Chalk up another one.
Sainabou judged it as ‘different, but good’.
That’ll do me.
I ask if she’s going to make it, and she says yes, it was the lemons that made it different and not like Gambian food at all.

Tomorrow I’ve been promised a day off from the chaos and we’re going to rest up at Ocean Bay.
I can just loiter in or out of the swimming pool and Haddy can hopefully just turn off her mobile ‘phone and relax.
It probably won’t happen like that, but that’s the plan.
I want to go to the craft market at Banjul at some point and see Hadim, give him his gifts and all that. 
The likelihood is that he won’t be there anyway, but I can always leave them with his brother, Badou, if he’s away.
The thing about the Craft Market is nowadays I can just hang there and relax.
I don’t get hassled to buy all the time.
It’s not as if I’m not easily recognisable, and Haddy seems to be known at most places she goes, so we can just drift around and talk to the traders without pressure.
Ok, it’ll probably cost me a bit in Coca-Cola’s, Fanta’s and coffee, but what the hell ?
Anyway, that’s for the future and that changes by the hour.
Right now it’s time to play some music…
The choice seems to have come down to African vs Pop hits (Beatles, Abba, Aretha Franklin… They are all classed as ‘pop hits’) or Reggae ?
OK, mix and match…
Anything’s got to be better than the interminable ‘soap’ that the kids are watching inside ?


































Thursday, 1 September 2011

LIFE IS JUST A BOWL OF...

Life is a funny old thing when you think about it…
No matter what you do or what you plan for, it still ends up as a catalogue of disasters that you end up trying to salvage as best you can.
It had taken about a year out of my life to get Haddy into the country, and as for the cost ?  
Don’t even go there.
Basically, any reserve I had was now pretty much wiped out.
Physically and mentally I was completely shattered, and to make matters worse my Father’s health was beginning to deteriorate badly.
This, of course, put extra strain on my Mother who quite frankly couldn’t cope with the situation that was beginning to occur, but who struggled on regardless because the alternative was moving my Father into a home, and there was no way that was EVER going to be considered.
He had been in and out of hospital over the last couple of years, usually with the same infections that never seemed to get cleared up, but they would chuck anti-biotics at  him until they said he was fit enough to leave and then they’d release him into my Mother’s care and send him home.
Of course within a week or two or a month at most he’d collapse at home again, the paramedics would be called again, and he’d be back in hospital, in the same ward usually, with the same complaint… And this was happening on an average of once every six weeks…
The situation was not helped either by my Father losing his hearing (He was now profoundly deaf) or, belligerently refusing to have anything to do with hospitals whatsoever.
When he collapsed at home, my Mother didn’t have the strength to help so it was going to have to be hospital regardless of his objections…
I’ll tell you… Life doesn’t get easier.
I’m sixty miles away at the top of the coned off section of the M.25 and I’m the
nearest member of the family, so who you gonna call every time he collapses ?
I’ll give you a clue, it ain’t fuckin’ Ghostbusters…
To make matters worse (could it ever get better ?) the pair of them have made promises to each other that they’d never be parted from each other and they’ve been together for over sixty years…
This is the stumbling block that everybody in the family who is trying to help is finding out about when they fall over it.
Dad doesn’t want to go to hospital even though he’s obviously ill and so Mum ignores the illness and does her best to cope at home.
Dad collapses because he’s ill.
Dad gets taken to hospital.
Dad moans about being in hospital.
Mum capitulates before they find out what’s wrong with him and takes him home.
A month later the same thing occurs again…
And a month later the same thing occurs again…
And a month later the same thing…
You get the drift ?
There’s a pattern to it.
A child could see it for Christ’s sake…
So why not break the pattern ?
I sometimes wonder why I bother ?
Still, Christmas is coming and it’s supposed to be the season of goodwill and all that stuff…
Haddy and I were hopeful about going out to The Gambia for Tobaski at the end of November but that’s been put on hold because it conflicts with half-term holidays over here and so the flight fares have rocketed from about four hundred pounds each to seven hundred and ninety nine each…
Never mind… There’s always next year but first we have to get through Christmas and there’s only so much overtime I can do to pay for it.
And then it occurred…
My Father had been taken into hospital after a fall at home.
He had apparently been left for four days without anybody helping him or changing his clothing…
When my Mother rang me (In floods of tears, naturally) I hit the roof…
The whole family got told what was GOING to happen if things didn’t change.
Needless to say they all objected to it and I was immediately sidelined and forbidden to do anything about it whatsoever.
Was it wrong of me to want somebody at Epsom Hospital Trust’s head ?
I don’t think so ?
You don’t leave a ninety year old man to live in his own filth for four days just because you can’t be bothered or you’re short staffed…
But apparently THEY do.
And so I wanted somebody’s head to roll…
Not to be hushed up, not to be glossed over and swept under the carpet, but a big and loud complaint in capital fucking letters…
It was ‘Verboten’.
Never in a million years…
My Mother who wouldn’t make a complaint at the time, wouldn’t stand for it…
And so my brother was going to deal with it.
The fact that he lives in the U.S. of A. didn’t seem to have crossed anybody’s mind…
Ok…
Fuck it !
You try, because somebody HAS to do something, but if nobody is interested then let them sort it out…
My kids from my first marriage are ‘Oop North’ and in Spain respectively, and my brother is in the U.S.A…  And now he’s got to come over to sort things out.
Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Since the e-mail had been sent I was now persona non-grata anyway, so I was going to have a rest and get on with booking The Arcadeclectic Stage at Rhythms Of The World…
Thank God for a bit of sanity.

Christmas came and went with me taking one day off to visit my parents…
Thankfully my Father was back at home and not incarcerated.
I don’t think I’m ever going to actually be able to speak to him as his deafness is getting worse or his hearing aids don’t work or worse than either, every time I try and speak, my Mother decides to butt in on the conversation and answer for him…
It’s driving me fucking mental, but what can you do apart from let her get on with it ?
According to Haddy the strain is beginning to show…
I don’t know when I’m next going to spend any time with my wife as it just seems that every time I try and get something planned, the whole thing comes crashing down around me ?

The first week of January I’m doing a gig for Mark Astronaut at Club 85.
Apart from compering at ‘Rhythms’ it’ll be my first gig since the previous February and I’m out of practice.
I can ‘fake’ it, but that’s not my style so I need a re-think.
Right…
The first live outing of ‘Ebou’s Song’, with Haddy on the Wollof bits.
She’s scared witless, but addressing audiences is the same as addressing political rallies and meetings, so what’s the problem ?
The rest I’ll fit around it, and leave out most of the ‘greatest hits’ stuff.
I’m on third with a duo from Primal Device first, Smige (pronounced Smidge) second, and Silent Smiles, a young rock band from Harpenden way, topping the bill…
What’s more I’ve managed to persuade Mark to give me a thirty minute set.
Now the thing is, I’ve booked Silent Smiles and Smige for ‘Rhythm’s already, but they’re sworn to secrecy because the bill isn’t yet finalised, so I know what I’m on with…
They, on the other hand, haven’t got a clue about me.
Joe from the Device duo has seen me before, but he’s the only one.
Right… Let battle commence…

Pheeeew !
That was a scorcher…
According to Silent Smiles’ parents, who drove all their gear there, and Smige’s girlie posse, and Bob who runs the place, I was either, ‘the best thing on the bill’, or ‘the best I’ve ever seen you…’
So that’s alright then…
Cheers Mark, for sticking me on… And thank you so much to my darling wife for making the difference and conquering her fear.
Jonny T and Jo from Lika Sharps who were both in the audience concurred with the above, as did Jon Falconer, another local poet who we’d worked with last year at Twist of Fete.




Sometimes the Gods smile…

The following week we’re back to normal with another collapse from my Father…
I really don’t think I can survive much more of this ?
Still, I’m halfway through booking Rhythms of the World but it’s beginning to get difficult to get artists with the right outlook.
I can get artists…
We’re over subscribed in artists and bands, but Jesus…
Some of them seem to think that it’s just a question of them asking to be on and they’ll be put on.
Try again, people…
Try somebody else because you haven’t a prayer of getting on the Arcadeclectic Stage unless you’ve got the right attitude.
It’s difficult to put into words but I want artists who are happy in their skin.
I don’t care how many fans they have, don’t care what style of music they play, and I certainly don’t care if they are commercial or not…
I want artists who are prepared to stand out from the norm by dint of what they do on that stage…
And that’s difficult because they are becoming harder to find.
Every time I find one, they tend to get nicked the following year for one of the bigger stages anyway, so I seem to be consistently hunting for new blood.
This year I’ve got the biggest of all the local bands ever to reform, and when it hits the grapevine and the publicity machine I know I’m going to get some feedback on that, but again, we’re currently keeping it under wraps and only Steve, the Performance Director, and Bob, know for now.
I’d like to get some Gambian musicians but we can’t get them from The Gambia because of the government bond we have to put up of £5000 per musician if they don’t have a British or European agent, and very few have.
The problem we have with the Gambian musicians that are already here is also one of attitude…
They seem to have imported an attitude that I’ll refer to as ‘Let’s screw the toubab…’ wherein the only thing they are interested in whatsoever is money, and as much of it as is humanly possible, heading their way.
It’s not a game I play when I’m in The Gambia where anybody even attempting to try it on with me will be told to fuck off in no uncertain terms, but those who have moved here have brought it with them and it’s a constant in any dealings with Gambian ex-pats.
I don’t mind paying for a quality outfit, but trying to tell me that a bloke from Manchester, another from Bristol and a couple from London ‘could’ constitute a band to play the festival when they’ve never even met before, is an insult to every musician playing it.
Oh well… It’ll change one day when they actually take a little pride in their culture and traditions rather than trying to flog off a third rate imitation for money.
So for the third year running I won’t be booking any, and for exactly the same reasons each time.
The fact that a couple of them might get together to play a naming ceremony does not, in my book, constitute a band that can entertain a crowd at a festival, and besides, I don’t like being told that it’s going to cost me another eighty quid to get one bloke down from Manchester.
I know the price of fuel has gone up, but the price of taking the piss has definitely gone up with it…
Enough !
Sod it !   We’re going to The Gambia whether we can afford it or not, and my mobile is going to be turned off for the duration…
I know it sounds harsh, but I need a rest and if it’s impossible to get one here, then I’ll take one somewhere else.
Besides, it’ll be nice to see the kids again, and see how they are coping without their Mum, and so we booked the flight for the first week of March and left everything and everybody else to it…
Sanity was beckoning…
Which just goes to show how little I knew.
Of course back in the real world, my Mother is now having second thoughts about having my Dad at home because she is just about at the end of her tether and beginning to get just a teensy-weensy little bit hysterical over having to cope with him on a daily basis…
(For teensy-weensy read ‘a hell of a lot…’ I’m being sarcastic)
And my ‘For Christ’s sake get him in a home and we might not lose you, too…’ is being echoed by my brother.
So…
Care homes are now being looked at, and Brother Pat is coming back over here in March…
Personally I don’t give a damn when he comes over… I’m past caring.
Besides… We’ve booked, and there’s no way we’re changing, cancelling or deviating from OUR script.
I’ve had to put my whole life on hold for over a year and I’m not prepared to do that anymore, but until Pat got involved, nothing I’ve ever said has been taken seriously, but now he’s saying the same things, people are listening…
And you wonder why I feel as I do ?
He’s coming in March but we’ll be back for a couple of days before he flies in…
All we have to do is find room in our twenty kilogram each allowance for all the stuff that we’re supposed to take out there, which is certainly easier said than done.
We’re being sent stuff on a daily basis from Fatou, and so in the end Haddy has to tell her ‘NO MORE !’
We’re about twelve kilos overweight, so we’re definitely going to need a re-think and a re-pack.
But finally, only five kilo’s over by the bathroom scales, which is going to cost me fifty quid if I can’t sweet-talk somebody at the check-in desk, we are ready to go…