Africa 2009: 01 Romford Road

Delayed and Darwin

We’re delayed, as usual. The journey south, however, has begun: I’ve moved from Suffolk to London and historically, in our relationship, I am staying with Barry at 121 Windsor Road, east London. It’s two years since his divorce but still I am a secret, awaiting the delayed (as usual) and extended build on Petra’s new house so she can move out from the family home and ease away from the 35 year marriage comfortably. As I’ve openly maintained – if I should ever get divorced, from Barry would be ideal for he is fair, considerate, faithful and supportive to that 30 year relationship. With Petra wintering in the Far East, we’d chanced an overnight stay. It has extended into a week, juggling all the layers of preparation from the car to sorting Barry’s business. Putting myself in Petra’s shoes there are (passive voice) times of uncomfortablness and no doubt Nina, Petra’s friend who lives opposite, sees me come and go. But logistically it has been useful and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the unexpected East London experience.

I’m feeling Barry’s roots:  ‘I’m proud to live in the biggest house on the Woodgrange estate’, he comfortably declares, and in the next breath drums into me to use the burglar alarm and to close and lock doors on cars and houses, all anathemas to my trusting country life.

The lobby fills up with jerry cans, tents, torches etc. B’s a great shopper. In little India, there are Pound shops which stay open until mid-night, and while B shops for manly things like string, tools, rubber door stoppers, I search for tiffins and food stuffs such as marmite and brown sauce.

Darwin at the Natural History museum. As we prepare for our modest voyage, how fitting to come into the orbit of this historic voyager. Darwin was only 22 when he sailed on the Beagle, which in his own words was ‘the most significant experience’ of his life. The voyage itself was 5 years. They travelled with the prevailing winds from east to west reaching their political objective, to map the coast line of south America, via the Cape Verde Islands, South Africa, Far East, Australia. The young Darwin not only assiduously documented and collected diverse species, he asked the profound questions that now dominate our world view of evolution: how are species connected? Why do some species become extinct and why are some similar? He didn’t publish his findings for 20 years. He mulled on them. Aware of the dynamite quality they would have to a religious centric universe, he put off the moment.  What finally spurred him into publication, was not his ultimate conviction, but a true Darwinian a survival of the fittest  – another scientist was about to pip him to the post with his theory, drawing also from Malthus, and also concluding that competition drives the spread of advantageous traits. So Darwin published his now famous ‘Origins of Species’. At the end of the exhibition were some contemporary talking heads on Darwin versus the Creationists.

‘Without the theory of evolution, linking together, science is like stamp collecting’.

‘Evolution is the only theory in science that explains diversity’.

Winds of Change

Rosa SAT so that King could WALK, so that Obama could RUN.

Inauguration day is a sharp cold but bright day in Washington as record numbers, expectant,  massed along Pennsylvania Avenue awaiting the ritual of change. Obhama’s much anticipated speech dived unequivocally and immediately into the grave challenges that America (and we all)  faced. It felt shocking to hear acknowledgement of climate change: ‘Nor can we consume the worlds resources without responsibility for effect’. Like a veil of denial swept aside and stark truth, beautiful and rude on its clarity, revealed, unabashed. The integrity that comes from telling it as it is. His words of criticism for the past philosophy of Bush (‘We reject false the choice between our safety and our ideals’), were not mealy mouthed but exhibited with straight lined courage.

As our pound slides below $1.40, Barry and I are doing our bit to prop up the English economy by pouring our money into the system. I move from food to electronics. ‘How exciting to prepare for an expedition’ said young Darwin, buying the latest technology – a telescope. I voyaged underground emerging at Tottenham Court Road, lined with electronic shops staffed with extended Indian families. A treat of a movie camera. Bob advises.

Needless to say Barry and I have our different emphasis of needs and wants:

‘I’m not saying it’s pointless – I’m just suspending my judgement on the need for a fridge’ (But of course I’m as prejudiced as the next –  he wants a fridge for his beers, I think, an unnecessary pleasure!)

Darwin, before getting married, did a list of pro’s and cons of female companionship

Pro: Children, better companionship than a dog, female chit chat, good for health, but a terrible waste of time.

Weights lifting, Windows Tinted

Obama hits the ground running. Change at all levels is effecting, and is both unsettling and exciting.

Petra called this morning:

‘Not exactly’, I heard B say as he walked out of the kitchen with the phone, ‘I’ve got a co-pilot….’

It’s out. B feels relieved, he said. Petra said she’s known all along. Which of course she has. The human condition, desires not to know.

An unusual nagging pain under my arm, (surely diseased lymph glands, precursors to breast cancer?) had been backgrounding since leaving Suffolk. My potential premature death effects me with surprisingly calm in this unexpected dress rehearsal. Is this how it is?

‘Yes, we’ll leave tomorrow, if I live,’ I say to B, who has no truck with sentimentality over serious illness and gets me checked out at his private clinic. As Lorraine, worldly wise, observed: Caroline’s recent pre-emptive death naturally feeds my dark doubt. Dr Marks found nothing – except a growing arthritis in my neck. Oh age cometh. We celebrated with lunch in Ilford’s Pie and Mash. As I read Obama day 2, Those Big Obhama Questions answered – So can he dance?

I’ve studied the footage of Obama doing eight dances in the course of the festivities this week and I think he’s a good all-rounder, he has great musical interpretation. I saw the one dance where he was doing a bit of bump and grind – it looked really good, quite funky. I thought the president’s and first lady’s “first dance” at the inaugural ball was particularly good. I couldn’t really give it a name – it was more of a smooch. But it had a nice musicality about it. Considering it was like your average wedding dance, I thought it was very nice.

I have watched clips of lots of the presidents’ inaugural dances and Obama ranks up there with Jimmy Carter, who is my favorite. Carter is by far the most naturally talented. The worst was George W Bush. He was embarrassing. You can tell by people’s faces when they are doing something they don’t want to be involved in – and that is Bush’s dance vibe. The main thing with dancing is that you have to do it with confidence – it’s just the same as being president. Obama’s confidence really showed on the dance floor. If I was judging him on Strictly, I would give him a seven.
• Len Goodman is head judge on Strictly Come Dancing

Barry says, spooning in the classic secret green sauce over eels,

‘As if it mattered.’

‘How a man eats,’ I begin, ‘describes to me how he will make love. How a man walks tells me how confident he is, how a woman dances tells me how she manages her business…’

‘Shush’, he said, embarrassed at my posh voice warming up a theory in the Ilford Pie and Mash, and I am reminded of how I sound on a tape recorder – bossy!

Friday Outings

Obama shuts down networks of CIA Ghost prisons – far beyond the closure of Guantamano Bay.

I am outed to a succession of Barry’s friends, characters I’ve known for years from his conversations.

I’d already met Ken on my first visit to the Friday ritual Blakesley public house, but that was a Saturday and now it WAS Friday night and Martin was there. Barry is ambivalent about Martin: he’s one of the 3 regulars with Ken and Alfe but Barry cannot temper Martins blatant lack of interest in Barry s fascinating traveling life.

‘I’m off to Africa tomorrow, Martin.

‘Are you?’ says Martin.

‘Driving across the Sahara.’

‘Ah’, says Martin,

Like Darwin, Martin had one seminal traveling experience early in his life, hitching through France for 3 months, which informs the rest of his modest and relatively static life. For the last 5 years he’d been nursing his mother.

‘I’d do it again’ he said simply.

‘What a waste’ says B.

I’m seeing the Blakesley in its decline, they tell me. Karoke – with no one participating all evening – blasts out so we all have to shout and I am too old and contemplate my optimistic youth that accepted. B loves it. At the end of the evening with a bit of drink inside, they sing and dance and he self conscious of his constraint, enjoys the others freedom.

Saturday – SlumDog Millionaire

On the eve of our departure, (perhaps) we take a dip into India. What a great movie with heart beat sound track. No washed and pressed dhoti’s of Richard Attenburgh’s Gandhi, but how it is raw street life, you can smell the gamut of shit and jasmine sticks. Street level camera shots, two boys running (chased by policeman), shot from a curled up mangy sleeping dog in doorway, opens one eye to commotion passing. The film was brutal in parts (I hid as usual). The Indian Fagan and Bill Sykes. Was the property racketeer based on Bal Thakery demolishing Dahaj to build Mumbai sky scrappers? It ends with Bollywood dancing in VT station.

Greyling says on Radio 4: Passion about religion is no different to passion about Boy Scouts. Barry likes this.

B and food: He cannot eat passed 6 for it would interfere with his intake on Friday night drinking. After drink he must have cheese or certain foods that sop up alcohol. Some greens are called  greens, and others are not considered greens. Salads can be eaten only at certain times of the day, definitely not in the evening. ‘But I’m not fussy’, he says.

Monday Still here

No news on the Mali hostages (Chris says not to worry, situation usually resolved), but further excellent news from fellow land cruiser traveller last december, and Chris provides tip on all the Fiche and paper work we need for boarder controls.

I hovered, mindful of the fact that floors are of particular interest to Barry. Years of practice directs his critical vision to them. Meanwhile B packed the car, including his bespoke shower and toilet seat.

The final outing, fittingly, was Marlon, Barry’s son of 37 years. He walked straight up and embraced me, ‘continental style’, as Barry observed afterwards.  ‘He’s nothing if not forward’ B explained, as I said how touched I was.

There was no time for shy hesitation, for Marlon gave me his views. On Obhama: he’s either a saint or an anti-christ. On the conspiracy theories around 9/11: of course they knew what they were doing, they did it deliberately, trained them up on purpose (like Barry i often do not know who they is). On the devastation we are causing the earth. Is it that bad, I asked? What of mother Ganga’s ability to recover? May be i’m out of touch, i said.

We left that evening, in time to join the rush hour out of London, arriving at Dover after dark for the last sailing that night at 10.

…………………………….

Breaking news: Search on for kidnapped tourist Jan 24 2009 12:01:26:377PM

Police in African neighbours Mali and Niger have launched a major search after four European tourists were kidnapped along their common border. However, the search was being hampered by both countries’ denial that the kidnapping happened on their territory.

Two Swiss nationals, a German and a Briton, were returning by road from a Tuareg cultural festival when they were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen.

The region has almost no government representation to speak of.

The border area is controlled by Peul militias who might have taken the hostages to sell them to Salafist terrorist groups with Al-Qaeda links also known to travel around the region. Two Canadian diplomats, one of them the United Nations envoy to Niger, disappeared in Niger in early December and are presumed kidnapped.

The US State Department earlier this month issued a warning against travel to northern Mali, because of a kidnapping threat against Westerners.

“Because of recent armed conflicts, kidnappings, armed robberies, and the continued presence of al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Department of State strongly urges that US citizens avoid all travel to northern Mali,” the State Department said in a statement.

It appears to be in the same general area to where 2 Canadian UN staff were kidnapped in December (still not released). Two Austrians who were kidnapped in Tunisia this time last year, were released in Northern Mali in November, and it was reported (in the NYT) that a $2m ransom was paid. Are we ransom-able?

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