TOM MANDALL'S WEEKLY COLUMN FROM MARPLE BRIDGE - EVERY FRIDAY
Friday, 23 April 2010
Gin-less in Greeneland
Still in Freetown, Sierra Leone
They ran out of gin at the Hotel Barmoi the other night. Perhaps gin and tonic is less of a staple today of than it was in the colonial days Graham Greene wrote about.
I did think of nipping outside the hotel to replenish supplies: our road has a row of hawkers selling sachets of Pegler Gin for about 15p a tot, but then I thought better of it.
So here we all are, waiting for the plane to take us home. I hope that Mrs M and the boys won’t take it amiss, but really I’m not very bothered about the delay. Yesterday the manager, Miss Newlands, moved me to a new room with a Plasma Gold air-conditioning device. Also, if I poke my nose out onto the balcony for a minute, I can glimpse, through the tangle of water tanks and palm trees, a rocky cove with small surf breaking over it and the Atlantic beyond. That, and the gentle whoosh of the Plasma Gold, certainly beats fighting the boys for the computer in the cupboard we laughingly call Daddy’s Study.
We certainly have interesting company here at the Barmoi. Quite a lot of the guests are foreign and white. There are the modest ones in sensible shoes, who pull their own wheelie bags, and are wonderfully polite to the staff. I met one at the ministry the other day, and she turned out to be impossibly clever and well-read. Then there are the chaps who do something up-country and quietly spend their days off watching football and drinking beer. To the despair of my boys, the beautiful game does very little for me.
Our visitors include local colleagues and dignitaries who join us by the pool. The hotel also receives a number of young ladies, who come and join a few of the gentlemen for drinks of an evening. I saw some of them in the village outside the hotel, where I popped in to buy a packet of dried Peak Milk for my tea, and stayed for a chat at the bar. They’re so friendly here. A very nice lady gave me her coffee-coloured little boy to hold.
I do wish you could get a good cup of tea here. Fortunately Mrs M allowed me to bring some Cooperative tea bags, even though these aren’t normally allowed in number 72, where the naked leaf prevails, as does proper butter.
A lot of the talk is whether or not it’s worth trying to get out by Accra Nairobi and Cairo to Frankfurt, or just waiting for things to change. Most of us are making the best of it. The other night, I managed to separate a young man from his Blackberry where he was constantly looking up the latest ash forecast, by persuading him to order a lobster, on the grounds that it would be slightly cheaper than a club sandwich and chips. The restaurant served up four grilled lobsters without blinking, but not before the waitress had popped out to apologise that the kitchen had run out of rice. Would we mind chips instead?