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 ?
‘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…

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


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 ?’
‘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.
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.
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 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…
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.
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.
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…