Friday, 16 July 2010

Cry Freedom

I return to the theme of waving flags.

Here I am, right up to the minute. It’s only five days since the final whistle and I’ve just taken in Wavin’ Flag, the official Coca-Cola anthem of the FIFA World Cup.

I hate football.

Wavin’ Flag was on the radio again. M3 had imbibed the lyric and was singing along to it. So I got him to tell me the words. Loud and slow, as to a foreigner, which I am.

Once upon a time, I may have imagined, like the song’s author, K’naan, that “When I get older, I will be stronger.” But I certainly I will not admit that I ever fancied that “They’ll call me Freedom, just like a Wavin’ Flag.”

So why is it that I feel a small flutter in the breast, a tear behind the visor? Drat! Yet again, Coca-Cola is teaching the world to sing, and yet again I’m a sweet sucker for it.

I find it helps me to apply the concept of freedom generously, and then I find it in plenty. Once upon a time, for instance, I had the freedom to stare at any one of the four walls of my empty cell, or even at the TV. Today I have the freedom to decide whether or not to attempt to evict M3 from the Mandall marital bedroom, where he is demonstrating remarkable skills in multi-tasking: channel-hopping, reviewing Facebook, conducting a stretch-test on the laptop cable, complaining that his phone hasn’t got internet, and demanding that I (that’s right: me) that I fetch his phone from the Fiesta, because I offered to get it fixed, so I must retrieve it. (He found the wretched thing in the creatures formerly known as his jeans.)

Such freedom! Happiness is mine.

At this moment, I am claiming the freedom to shut myself in the L-shaped cupboard, laughingly called Daddy’s Study.

“Give me freedom, give me fire, give me reason, take me higher”, sings K’naan. Perhaps it’s the big Zulu thump on the beat. Or perhaps it’s just that damned F word: I can’t help it.

Cry Freedom! The word, especially in a South African context, makes this freelancer weak. The chains of the profit-and-loss and the logical framework, the environmental appraisal and the Executive Summary all fall to the floor.

* * *

It’s Sunday 1st May 1994, and I’m flying into Jan Smuts Airport, Johannesburg for a small joust at the expense of the tax payers of the European Community. (Do you remember those halcyon days, when we were still a Community and the whiff of Ludwig Van’s Eau de Joy still lingered over the Brandenburg Gates? Ah, Freedom!)

The polling stations for the first free South African elections have just closed. From the 747 window, I see a new South African Y-Front flag flying over the police hut by the runway. Later that night, Uncle Percy stops the car in an empty white suburban street. He steals me an election poster off a lamp post. He holds it at arms’ length and stands quite still, beaming back into the smiling face of Nelson Mandela. Madiba (as we came to know him) got a bit bent in my suitcase, but it’s still here in the cellar at Mandallay, in amongst the Mandall family’s abandoned instruments of music, sport and torture.

* * *

K’naan didn’t start out with the Coca-Cola FIFA version of Wavin’ Flag. This version of Wavin' Flag, on t'internet as northern wags like to call it, seems to be about waiting and wanting in Mogadishu.

Born to a throne, stronger than Rome 
But Violent prone, poor people zone
But it’s my home, all I have known 
Where I got grown, streets we would roam 
But out of the darkness, I came the farthest 
Among the hardest survival 
Learn from these streets, it can be bleak 
Except no defeat, surrender retreat

* * *

My job is to make you smile but it’s hard today. Trinny has died, beloved sister of Susannah, our friendly little two-year old cat who has kept us all company and made us laugh on dark nights and sunny days.

Trinny was victim of a hit-and-run driver outside Mandallay. In the daytime, we Bridgers are the most considerate of drivers, waving each other through, smiling and greeting on our way to the station or the church. But when night seizes the Bridge, we like nothing better than to clip a carousing teenager, or crush a crazy kitten – then scarper.

Trinny sometimes denied that she lived on the edge, but usually owned up.

Looking out of an attic window one day, I observed parallel wobbly white scratches on the slates of the West Wing. A few days later, Mrs M brought Trinny in, confused, panting, and bleeding. We kept a vigil all night, and by morning Trinny was fine. She professed not to know anything about it, and said that her cat food must have been spiked. In any case, she promised Polly, our old bitch* retriever, not to do it again.

But there was no stopping her. The roof of the West Wing has more stripes than Trinny’s tartan top.

I remonstrated with Trinny about the risks of base-jumping. Of course, there’s nothing you can do.

Freedom!” she miaoued, and skipped off across the road, wavin’ her bag.

So long Trinny

*Polly is the old bitch formerly known as Bruno in this column. Polly told me she doesn't do butch, and didn't want to keep up the pretence any longer. I do appreciate, incidentally, my continuity editors who check my column for errors. Thanks to you, Mandallay is settling down to a standard location and orthography on Longhurst Lane. Your corrections give this old freelancer that rare and lovely feeling that he is being listened to. 



HADDOCK Fannie, nee Mae, and Johnny found capsized in their tank on 14th July. Married only for one week, Fannie and Johnny have gone to re-join their beloved Freddie, who departed this life on the 7th of this month.

WOODALL Trinny suddenly on Longhurst Lane on Monday. Missed by her sister Susannah, by all the Mandalls, and possibly by the bitch, Polly. Laid to rest ‘neath the Leylandii. Free to roam without fetters. No fish please.

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