Does Tom ever do any work?
Le Club Med Africana, Tokeh Beach 2009 by Steph Malyon
It’s not that I pine for Mandallay on my excursions to foreign fields. Still, by the end of a Saturday that is too hot or wet to do anything much but listen to the air-con, I’m ready for anything: even a meeting of the Freetown Hash House Harriers on Tokeh beach, which they tell me is about 10 miles out of Freetown.
I hitch a lift from a “hasher” in a diplomatic Land Rover. I think it may have been one of ours, but off duty as it were.
The road from Freetown to Waterloo is paved with good intentions, and little else. At least as far as Tokeh. As long as I’ve been coming here, it’s been in the process of reconstruction. One day it may be finished, so that taxis and poda-podas can run up and down, taking people and produce hither and thither. Until then, Tokeh is a long way out.
A hand-painted arrow on an abandoned tanker directs us to the beach. We pass a heap of tangled concrete and steel bars, and drive onto the beach, a great arc of white sand, with a flat rocky platform in a crystal sea. We pull up in a glade by the only intact structure, a pleasant villa.
The Hash House Harriers tell me that they are “a drinking club with a running problem”. They give themselves curious names: Brown Nose, Black ‘n’ Pecker, Star Babe. I understand this last is in honour of a West African beer.
We stood around in a circle and shouted at each other. This advanced shouting technique is familiar to me as it is the way people got me to do things at school. I also practise it frequently with the boys. Several of the Hashers are, I understand, management consultants.
After the circle, some of the more energetic hashers ran around in larger circles shouting “On On” and blowing a horn. The rest of us had a very pleasant morning. It had rained heavily the night before, so it wasn’t too hot. We plodged behind the runners though soft warm flood meadows, green blades of grass shooting from glistening water. Every now and then, there would be a cry of “False Trail” when the paper trail the runners were following gave out. Soon afterwards, runners wearing fluffy ears in tooth-grinding hues of orange and green would dash back past us. So we could gently turn around, to resume our conversations and our ambling in the opposite direction. I met all sorts of people.
Then it was circle time again. This time they poured beer over their own or each others’ heads and other body parts, then sang “Swing low, sweet chariot” with gestures.
Several local people watched this patiently. A very persuasive villager called Barry sold me a coconut which he opened expertly with his cutlass. It was full to the brim with cool milk. His friend sold me half a dozen delicious oysters, after which I considered it safest to close my eyes, before anyone tried to sell me anything else.
Brown Nose must have chosen this moment to start telling me how, before the civil war, Tokeh was an outpost of that great French institution the Club Med holiday village: Club Africana Tokeh. It seemed, I reflected, a long way from the Mediterranean, but then M1 and myself are in full agreement that France is a state of mind...
“Bonjour monsieur Mandall, Gentle Member. I ‘ope you have travelled well from Angleterre. I am your Village Chef, Henri Toulouse Lautrec. You can call me Chef. And I will call you Gentle Member."
"Please don't. I find it embarrassing."
"But Gentil Membre, it is an indication of our respect to you. Montez dans mon ‘elicopter, and I will whisk you to ze Club Africana Tokeh. ‘Ave a meringue.”
“No thanks, chef. I’ve just put one out.”
We land in the palm-fringed bay, on the platform of rock. A bridge connects it to the shore. Little golf carts are taking us around like extras in Port Marion. Chef shoos away a film crew for a Bounty advert, and resumes his commentary.
“Ere we ‘ave ze village, ze village bar, ze ‘urts with all ze modern convenience, and ze hunderd bed hotel... and ‘ere is la piece de resistance, ze village dance floor for ze crezzy hokey tokey.
“We ‘ave all sort of diversion for your degustation. There is Jacques Cousteau making ze scuba. See, Gentle Member, where Presidents Mobutu and Giscard play at 'Risque' -"
"I said, please do stop all that 'member' business. I know it's different in France, but still -"
"It is, 'ow you say: "to err is 'uman'?"
I resist the temptation to say that Tou-louse is stupid.
"- et voila Jean-Jacques who runs his classe extra-murale de philosophie, and Brigitte Bardot who is modelling for Paul Gau - "
I awake to find the Hashers packing up the remaining cases of Star beer. I’ve missed the fried chicken and rice. Barry and his mates are drifting away. They did quite well with the coconuts, but, strangely enough, there weren’t any other takers for the oysters.
Some kids hang around hungrily, hoping for tips. Club Med kept Tokeh in work, before it got destroyed in the war: ten, twelve years of dreadful comings and goings. Just the busted concrete remains. I don’t look too closely for stains and chips on it.
Now there are a few fishing boats, but, with the road so bad, it’s hard to get it to Freetown to sell the catch. Still, there’s a new hotel being built. Maybe one day the road will be finished. Things'll brighten up yet.
I apologise for late publication this morning. We ran out of internet here.