Friday, 28 May 2010

Wok the Line

Slow down Joanna:

The enthusiasm with which the ladies of the night greet me in Cape Sierra village ought to be embarrassing, but it makes me smile. I will pass over the telephone call that reached me in the Freetown City Council Chamber, where I was in earnest discussion with the members of the City Health Committee. I must impress on my young friend Mamood to be careful whose telephone he borrows to ring me.

I had arranged to meet Mamood at 6pm to run along the beach as usual, but he was nowhere to be found when I jogged into Cape Sierra village tonight. He does not have a watch. I waited outside the cafe, with the ladies and the little brown baby Frankie. We discuss the night’s work ahead, the bars and restaurants they will visit. "I don't envy your job", I offer, rather gallantly I hope. "We don't like it either," is the reply, "but life is very complicated." The proprietor keeps her eye on us. Somehow I imagine that she is my chaperone, her comfortably padded form guaranteeing my fidelity to Mrs M.

No sign of Mamood, so I jog off down the road to Aberdeen Circle, and onto Lumley Beach. It’s a good two miles from here along the gentle curve of the bay to the Atlantic Bar at Lumley. If the Atlantic's loudspeakers haven’t been fully wound up, you can relax in the big cushioned wicker chairs.

Otherwise, my preference is to use the plastic chairs on the beach where the staff get sand in their shoes to bring your Star Beer or Schweppes tonic water. I like to sit just above the high tide, somewhat smarter I fancy than Canute, watching the light fade into a thick humid sky, feeling the "fresh breeze", that everyone likes here. Between mouthfuls of tonic and free popcorn, I say “fresh breeze” over to myself. I try to copy the lovely soft Freetonian French “r”. It cools you just to say it.

It’s a run-walk-run session this evening. It takes me an age to get to the big “Africell” mobile phone advertisement billboard that marks the half way point to the Atlantic Bar. I think this must be the hottest and most humid time of the year. The rains are still just an occasional downpour, though we had strong winds last night, bringing down trees and advertising hoardings. We will have to wait till July before the gods open all the taps. Then everyone who has a house just has to sit inside till the rain stops, or till the house gets washed off the hill or into the sea.

There are empty coconut shells on the beach, but I have yet to locate someone who sells them, so settle for a coolish Fanta from one of the vendors outside the Atlantic. Nobody would mind if I pranced into the Atlantic in my “Stockport 10” running top, but, over the last 19 years, the 3Ms have instilled an iota of shame in me. The funny thing is that Mrs M has taken the opposite tack: once prone to raise a well-trained eyebrow at a misuse of the word “pardon”, she may yet dance naked in the garden beneath a full moon. It is better to travel hopefully, they say.

Wok Tok

Mamood intercepts me on the return journey to Aberdeen. He has been doing his laundry. He says he has not been to wok since I was last here. Between puffs of warm air I explore the significance of this wok. It seems that the Chinese frying pan in question refers to some form of paid employment on the beach, which he does when he is not in school.

I conclude that Mamood is keen to tell me that he has been going to school, and I share his pleasure in this. I don’t normally do this sort of thing, but for the price of two shrimp kebabs at the Barmoi Hotel, I was able to settle the unpaid portion of his school fee on my last visit. As I hope to be coming here for up to three years -  what joy for a freelancer is such a prospect! - I thought I’d at least be able to keep in touch with him, so we can see how it goes. I feel a bit sheepish about this, but my colleague Lance tells me he has four boys in Malawi, where he worked for many years. They are now all adults. He talks of them as fondly as of his grandchildren, and of his other favourite subjects, which include the opera and Premier League football, the latter more useful for small talk here than the first.

Mamood is studying twelve subjects, he tells me in the walking bits, but maths is difficult. Outside the oddly named bar, Family Kingdom, a motorcycle has left a convenient tyre track in the sand. I draw markers across it with my finger: a circle for Aberdeen Circle, a bottle for Atlantic, and the Africell Billboard in the middle. We put numbers underneath, and a zero under Africell. The ladies come past in a taxi, on their way to Roy’s, and stop to say hello.

Mamood and I play hopscotch along our number line. +2 -1. What’s that? +1-2. What’s that?

"I have never seen that thing," he marvels. "They have never taught me this." It is possible that he has realised that I am mad. I say that the number line is the greatest thing in mathematics, and the zero in the middle was invented by an Indian. I don’t know these things to be true, but they are good enough for now.

Mamood says he will come to bring me his maths homework. Not now I hope. It is past my bedtime. We leave early tomorrow for Port Loko.

A freelance is the happiest of men.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Triplets alive and well

A little research shows that Stockport, not specifically Marple Bridge, has longstanding associations with Beziers and Heilbronn. I'm not sure about the latter, but Beziers sounds a handsome town with almost as many locks as Marple.

Here we are, all having a grand time together at a Masterchef competition between the three boroughs.

"The dessert competition saw a competition between, from left to right, Bastien Boudiaf from Beziers; the winner Carolin Haeussermann from Heilbronn; and Tom Curbishley from Stockport"

Well done, everybody!

So that's alright. Still, I think it makes the three boroughs triplets not twins. By which logic, Marple Bridge, as a small part of a small part of Stockport, is perhaps just a great nephew or niece.


* * *

The pudding club meets tonight at number 72. So I've been instructed to kick the shoes under the chesterfield, and put the dog out.

Mrs M has decreed that we shall have read Mrs Dalloway by Mrs Woolf, or was it the other way round? By any standards, this is a hard read.

Sitting in the suburban spare bedroom that looked on to the little patch of lilac-shaded grass passing for a garden, it was as doubtful to Thomas as to the few readers of his weekly scribble whether he could coax the clacking keys to a finale, even allow one half-formed hackneyed thought to pass; to contemplate the smallest act as entire and complete as that of the blackbird on the lawn collecting a worm for its nest, without the unbearable cost of reflection. No, he said to himself, for he knew his place was far from the extended sub-clause, and nicely nuanced semi-colon; from the conveyance of the nagging of a glove seam that will not yield to a clumsy mannish hand, through the ingenuity, incomprehensible to him, of a third person gerund.

I know my place. I've got a Dead Man's Leg and a Spotted Dick to make. With Bird's yellow Custard.

And the last 39 pages of Mrs D to read. If that doesn't sound much to you, try it.

Lost twins? Shock horror!

Approaching Marple Bridge from distant Glossop, and still a mile or more before reaching what I regard as my beat, I was surprised to see this sign in a remote lay-by:

We have a twin! Nay twins! Callooh Callay.

But where are they? Has anybody seen?

Hold the front page! I must find out more.

Fear not. I'll report back with a special late edition before Friday's out.

Your intrepid local scout,


Friday, 14 May 2010

Country Matters

“I think,” said Mrs M – always a worrying start this – “I think,” said Mrs M on Tuesday night, “that it may be time to open up a new line of communication.”

We were watching our very own lib-dem MP, Andrew Stunell, on the TV news, seated at a wood-effect Round Table. He really is looking a bit thin: we should have him in for shepherd’s pie.

Not quite knight

“God’s Truth, Woman!” I was tempted to say. Why should anybody want to open up more communication, when there is clearly far too much already? Andrew and co. were already far too busy, nipping in and out of Millbank and Walworth Road. If they had to enter into discussions with Mrs M at number 72 as well, we would have no Government this side of Whitsun.

Mind you, Andrew’s battle-hardened for Westminster. All these years he’s been fending off Staffies on the Cherry Tree estate and bottled blondes in Marple. Yes, we’ve got a bit of most things in Hazel Grove constituency: a few vestigial mills making cardboard under contract for China; green hills to set off desirable dwellings; posh preps and bog standard high schools; air-conditioned executives waiting on Dan Bank for the A6 Relief Road. There are inter-war estates with privatised porches; dying pubs and late night clubs. We can even rise to an occasional gangland shooting.

You’d think that 13 years of listening to us all moaning on would be ideal training for Westminster. But I worry this coalition might be more interested in what make us the same than what makes us different. We’re now in the civil sinews of a con-dem embrace. Those who aren’t with us are... with us.

At least the election was good fun while it lasted. M3 was up all election night, or at least long enough to discover that the big blue numbers were not Labour seats after all. (He set his iPhone for 3 am, but we have been sabotaging their gadgets ever since Mrs M dropped M1’s bleeping Tamagotchi in the bath.) Our newspaper has a new section called a “viewspaper”, which its new owner feels conveys the mission to his intellectually challenged readers. However, I’ve been pleased to report that the “viewspaper” has been getting quite well buttered at breakfast over the last week.

“I wonder what my brother thinks,” says my lady. It is now Wednesday evening. On the TV, Nick ‘n’ Dave are in matching grey suits, but sport coloured ties, so you can tell them apart.

Ah, that’s it, then: The Brother.

“Do you think it’s a good time to ring him?” It’s too late for golf, and there are no Rugby Union fixtures that I know of. So the worst risk is a police drama on Sky HD.

Mrs M goes in search of a telephone, saying something about a “constitutional”. That would be nice: a pleasant stroll over the hill to Knowle Farm perhaps, exchanging greetings with sundry canines and ladies in riding boots.

“I wonder what he thinks about it all”.

At this point, it is important to state plainly that The Brother has nothing in common with Gordon’s opinion of Gillian Duffy. No one would accuse The Brother of being other than forthright in his opinion, and of backing it up on the stump and in the bar.

I don’t care whether he’s with the Levellers or the Luddites, the Monday Club or the Moonies. At least he knows they’re all different.

By Thursday, a third young man has taken to the podium. This one has a red tie. That’ll be nice then: Dave ‘n’ Nick ‘n’ Dave Miliband too.

Is that how it’s going to be now? All the same except for the colour of our ties?

Not here we’re not.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Keep the Red Flag Flying

Don’t be so miserable, Les

At the end of the day, I plump for the reds.

I only discovered this recently, when I was pinned in front of the telly by a squad of Ms. It was another Derby between Manchester City and Manchester United. The boys have long since despaired of trying to interest me in the game, take them to a game, or even to the big screen at the Spring Gardens. But I am obliged to put in the occasional appearance on the chesterfield.

So I was a little surprised to discover, that when the game stood 1-1, I had a surge of desire (everything is a surge, nowadays) for Man U to go one up. In fact, I think they did. And won.

To what do I attribute my surge (there’s another) of satisfaction? Maybe it’s because I had the pictures of the nineteen sixty six squad on my bedroom wall, and could even name most of them. Or because of a boy called Edwards seemed to know everything there was to know about them, such as Denis Law’s opinion about being put on the transfer list.

Nope: it’s just the colour. For me, blue is not the colour. Would I side with Everton or Liverpool? Spurs or Arsenal? It’s not difficult. We’ll keep the red flag flying here.

I’m not going to nail my political colours to the mast. Though M1 did suggest that a certain blue tie would be just the job to hang a parliament with, only he didn’t put it so politely.

I am happy to report that there has been a small outbreak of political activism at number 72. Someone in the household felt so passionate that they wanted something “new” (or was it something “fair”, or was it just “change”) that a very polite man in a grubby panama planted a flag on the front wall. At least it isn’t blue.

M3 is planning to stay up all night I think. He says that I should be pleased he’s so interested in politics. I’m delighted, I say. Though of course the chance of learning anything about politics in the course of a general election is remote.

Still, I wouldn’t have minded staying up with the neighbours, if I didn’t have work on. We could have baked a ham for the wake.

It might have been a chance for a rant, but I am no better at talking politics than football. However, as you’ve waited so patiently, here is my up-to-the-millennium analysis.

We are really a nation of pillagers, adventurers, freelancers. We’re happiest when we’re sacking London, painting the world pink, saving it from tyranny, or cornering the market in markets. But when we don’t have any special tournament on, we freelancers just to go to pieces.

So here we are, leaning on the old lance, and wondering why it’s all gone wrong. Every few years we bundle ourselves up, and clank over from the Blue Queen’s court to the Red King’s court, or back again. Until someone stumbles across something brilliant, or an invention, or something they've nicked from a foreigner – like the periodic table, printing, boy scouts, or selling euro-bonds.

In the absence of brilliance, give me a nag and a contract.

We’re off!

That’s more like it, children.